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Beside the two works already named, we have three epistles appearing in the Christian Scriptures as the productions of the apostle John. That he wrote the one which is called the first, there has never been any dispute; it is universally, and by the best authorities, ascribed to him. But the genuineness of the two others was questioned at a very early period; though the balance in their favor appeared so great, that they were admitted into our present collection of sacred books. The controversy need not trouble us, however; as the two latter epistles, beside being very short, contain nothing of consequence which is not likewise contained in substance, and almost precisely in expression, in the first. This first epistle exhibits in a more striking light, than do the rest of his writings, his great amiableness of disposition. It is throughout an exhortation ; an exhortation from the heart and soul and mind and strength of the writer, to pure, exalted, Christian benevolence; and its whole drift and spirit may be expressed in this single passage from the fourth chapter ; “ God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."
His merits as a writer, are sententiously expressed in a passage from Jerome, who says, that “ he was at once Apostle, Evangelist, and
Prophet : - Apostle, in that he wrote letters to the Churches, as a master; Evangelist, as he wrote a book of the Gospel which no other of the twelve apostles did, except St. Matthew; Prophet, as he saw the revelation in the island Patmos, where he was banished by Domitian. His Gospel, too, differs from the rest. Like an eagle he ascends to the very throne of God, and says, In the beginning was the Word."
To John, as well as to most of the apostles of Christ, are attributed by antiquity both writings and actions which are probably apocryphal and fabulous. It would be useless for me even to give the titles of the former. Of the traditions of his actions and miracles, one of the most generally known and quoted, is the story, that, during the persecution under Domitian, and just before the exile of John to Patmos, he was brought to Rome, and there thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, from which he came out altogether unhurt. In the pictures of him by the old painters, he is often represented as holding a cup or goblet, from which a serpent is rearing its head. This accompaniment refers to another legend respecting him, by one Prochorus, who tells us that some heretics having presented the apostle with a cup of poisoned liquor, he made the sign of the
cross over it, and all the venom was immediately expelled from the vessel, embodied in the visible form of a serpent.*
Stories of this kind would naturally be multiplied in that, or indeed in any age, concerning persons whose lives were singularly out of the common course, and who were in reality gifted with the power of working miracles. The ancient writers and fathers were too apt to promulgate such legends, without distinguishing them, as carefully as they ought to have done, from accounts which were worthy of credit ; and the church, finding how ready, and even eager, the multitude were to receive every tale of wonder, made it a part of its policy to cherish their credulity and strengthen their delusion. But we, who are of a more simple taste, require no such means to interest us in the history of a person, in every way so interesting as the “ disciple whom Jesus loved."
One of the best authenticated stories of his latter days, which is further recommended by its conformity with the known gentleness and
* There is also generally introduced in the pictures of this saint the figure of an eagle. This is because he is supposed to be mentioned in the book of the Revelation, as the last of the “ four beasts” near the throne, who was “like a flying eagle.” We have seen above, also, that Jerome compares him to an eagle.
amiableness of his character, cannot but please all readers, and I will therefore insert it. It is said that when the infirmities of age so grew upon him at Ephesus, that he was no longer able to preach to his converts, he used, at every public meeting, to be led to the church, and say no more to them, than these words, Little children, love one another." And when his auditors, wearied with the constant repetition of the same thing, asked him why he always said this and nothing more to them, he answered, “ Because it was the command of our Lord, and that if they did nothing else, this alone was enough.”
“ Such,” says Dr. Watts, in one of his sermons, “ Such was John the beloved disciple. You may read the temper of his soul in his epistles. What a spirit of love breathes in every line! What compassion and tenderness to the babes in Christ! What condescending affection to the young men, and hearty goodwill to the fathers, who were then his equals in age! With what obliging language does he treat the beloved Gaius, in his third letter; and with how much civility and hearty kindness does he address the elect lady and her children, in the second! In his younger years, indeed, he seems to have had something more of
fire and vehemence, for which he was surnamed A son of thunder. But our Lord saw so much good temper in him, mixed with that sprightliness and zeal, that he expressed much pleasure in his company, and favored him with peculiar honors and endearments above the rest. This is the disciple who was taken into the holy mount with James and Peter, and saw our Lord glorified before the time. This is the disciple who leaned on his bosom at the holy supper, and was indulged in the utmost freedom of conversation with his Lord. This is the man who obtained this glorious title, “The disciple whom Jesus loved;' that is, with a distinguishing and particular love. As a Saviour, he loved them all like saints, but as a man he loved St. John like a friend; and when hanging upon the cross,
and just expiring, he committed his mother to his care, a most precious and convincing pledge of special friendship.
“ O how happy are the persons who most nearly resemble this apostle, who are thus privileged, thus divinely blessed! How infinitely are ye indebted to God, your benefactor and your Father, who has endowed you with so many valuable accomplishments on earth, and assures