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oil set on fire, from the consuming fury of which he was rescued by the power of that same God who preserved the three Hebrew captives in the flames of a burning furnace. He was then banished, by the order of Domitian, into the island of Patmos, in the Archipelago; where he remained several years, instructing the inhabitants in the Christian faith, until recalled from banishment by the emperor Nerva. He then settled at Ephesus, where, about the commencement of the reign of Trajan, he died, being an hundred years old.
Q. How does it appear that St. John wrote the gospel that goes under his name?
A. The gospel itself describes the author of it under such characters as belong peculiarly to St. John; as, that he was a disciple of our Lord, and that disciple whom Jesus loved, and of whom the fame went abroad among the brethren, that he should not die." The primitive fathers, Irenæus of Lyons, Clemens of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebus, &c. ascribe this gospel to St. John, and speak of it as being universally received in the Church as an inspired book.
Q. At what time, and upon what occasion, did St. John write his gospel?
A. St. John wrote his gospel after his return to Ephesus, with a view to correct the early heresies of those times, particularly those of Ebion, Cerinthus, &c. who began to deny that Christ had any existence before his incarnation; and also with a view to supply those passages of the evangelical history which the other sacred writers had omitted. He accordingly insists principally upon that part of the life of Christ between the commencing of his ministry and the death of John the Baptist; and as he is very copious upon the sublime and mysterious subject of the incarnation, he was much extolled by the primitive fathers as an elevated and spiritual writer, and was honoured with the eminent and distinguishing title of the Divine.
Q. To whom did St. John address his epistles, and what are the subjects of them?
A. The first epistle of St. John is styled catholic, calculated for all times and places as well as persons; the other two are addressed to particular persons. They contain most excellent rules for the regulation of the Christian life, and particularly insist upon the important and sublime virtue of
1 Tertul. de Præf. Hær. c. 36.
m John xxi. 20, 21, 22, &c
Christian love, which indeed constitutes the favourite and animating topic of St. John's writings.
Q. When did he write his Revelation?
A. He wrote his Revelation while confined in the island of Patmos.
Q. What may we learn from the observation of this festival?
A. St. John returned the affection of his Lord and Master, by steady adherence to him under his dangers and adversities. Hence we may learn, that sincere love for the Saviour should lead us to bear his cross, as well as to partake of his glories; to accompany him in the sufferings and agonies of the cross on Calvary, as well as to rejoice in the manifestation of his celestial glory on mount Tabor. Sincerity, constancy, and ardour in friendship, are also sanctioned and enforced by the example of our Saviour and his beloved apostle; and if we would enjoy the exalted affection of the blessed Redeemer, we must cherish, through divine grace, those dispositions of meekness, gentleness, and love, which in a high degree animated this apostle, and rendered him worthy of the affection of his blessed Master. In the writings of St. John we behold enforced the divinity of the Saviour, and the exalted importance and obligation of Christian charity.
Q. Wherein consists Christian charity, or the love of our neighbour?
A. The love of our neighbour consists in rendering him all kind and tender offices. If he be virtuous, it will make us esteem him; if he be honest, but weak in judgment, it will excite our sympathy and attention to him; if he be wicked, it will excite us to endeavour to reclaim him. The love of our neighbour will lead us to rejoice with him in prosperity, to succour him in adversity, to conceal his defects when no good purpose can be answered by divulging them, and zealously to vindicate his reputation when unjustly attacked. This virtue will lead us to be affable, candid, courteous, and respectful in the intercourse of life; slow to anger, long suffering, and merciful.
Q. In what sense may this commandment, to love our neighbour, be styled a new commandment?
A. This commandment is, by our Lord and his apostles, so much enlarged as to the object of it, being extended to all mankind; so greatly advanced as to the degree of it, even to laying down our lives for one another; so effectually
taught and encouraged, so strongly urged and enforced, that it may very well be styled a new commandment. Neither in the Jewish law, nor in heathen ethics, is this duty raised to the elevated rank which it holds in the Christian system.
Q. What are the obligations of this duty?
A. Without the exercise of mutual kindness and love, there can be no pleasure or advantage in the intercourse of society. The best expression of our love to God, is the love of man, who is the creature of God, who bears his image, and who is the object of his continual favour and regard. This duty is enjoined on us, by the particular command and animating example of Christ; by whom it is made the distinguishing badge of the Christian profession, and who instituted the holy communion, to be a bond of love and unity
among his followers. The primitive Christians were so
eminent for this virtue, that it became the current remark of the heathen-Behold how these Christians love one another!
Q. What are the characteristics of Christian charity?
A. Christian charity should be universal, extending to all mankind; it should be sincere, solid, and substantial, leading us to unwearied exertions to advance the temporal and spiritual happiness of our fellow-men.
THE HOLY INNOCENTS,
WHAT festival does the Church celebrate this day? A. The Church this day celebrates the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, who suffered for Christ, and glorified God by their deaths; it having been the sense of the Church that they died the death of martyrs, though incapable of making the choice; God having supplied the defects of the will, by his own acceptance of the suffering.
Q. What have you to observe in regard to the epistle and gospel for the day?
A. The gospel contains the history of the martyrdom of the Innocents: the epistle describes the glorious state of those and the like innocents in heaven.
Q. What was the occasion of the death of these infants?
A. Herod, alarmed with the inquiry of the wise men from the East," and apprehending his own kingdom might be in danger from him who was born king of the Jews, endeavours at first, under a pretence of worshipping the Saviour, to get him into his power. But the wise men being warned of God in a dream, after they had been at Bethlehem, did not return to Herod, but went to their own country another way. Enraged at this disappointment, Herod sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, under the hope of involving the young child Jesus in this destruction. This massacre of the infants is mentioned by a heathen historian."
Q. How did our blessed Saviour escape this bloody design of Herod?
A. Joseph, at the command of God, by the ministration of an angel, took the young child and his mother by night, and fied into Egypt; where they remained till they were by the angel informed of the death of Herod, and commanded to return into the land of Israel.t
Q. Where did our Saviour dwell on his return from Egypt?
A. Our Saviour, on his return from Egypt, dwelt at Nazareth; thus fulfilling the prophecy, that he should be called a Nazarene; which name was applied to him as a name of infamy, by the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, Nazareth being reputed a contemptible city, out of which no good thing could come.▾
Q. What punishment did Herod suffer for his cruelty? A. The signal vengeance of God was inflicted upon Herod, who for his cruelty was smitten, with many plagues and
Q. Ought not God in his almighty providence to have prevented the destruction of these innocent children?
A. It does not become frail and finite man to arraign the proceedings of the infinitely wise and good Sovereign of the universe. The death of these children was made by God
n Matt. ii.
q Matt. ii. 16.
Matt. ii. 19.
w Josephus, lib. xvii. c. 8.
the instrument of their glory, they being thus delivered from the miseries of life, and crowned with the high rewards of martyrdom.
Q. What may we learn from this festival?
A. Herod, under the pretence of worshipping Jesus, sought his destruction: hence we may learn, that religion is sometimes used as a cloak for ambitious and worldly designs. Since innocent children were made a sacrifice to the ambition of a cruel tyrant, we may learn, that suffering and affliction are not always proofs of guilt, but, on the contrary, are sometimes the marks of God's favour. The recollection that the same Almighty Providence which rescued Jesus from the cruel purposes of Herod, is ready to succour and defend us in difficulty and danger, should inspire us with confidence and hope. On this holy festival, our minds should be led to the contemplation of the temper and disposition of innocent children, of whom, says our Saviour, is the kingdom of God.x
Q. Wherein consists that temper of mind which our Saviour commends, when he enjoins us to become like unto little children?
A. This temper of mind consists in humility and lowliness; in a total submission to the will of God; in an entire dependence upon him; and in a holy contempt of the riches, honours, and pleasures of this world.
Q. Wherein consists this humility and lowliness of mind? A. This humility and lowliness of mind consists in the true knowledge and sense of our weak and sinful condition, and in a profound sense of our obligations to God for those divine succours by which alone we are enabled to serve him. It will lead us to bear with patience contumely and insult; it will prevent us from being too much elated or influenced by the praises of men, knowing that the approbation of God alone can give us solid comfort, and that a sense of duty to him should be the governing principle of our conduct.
Q. Wherein consists the submission of a Christian?
A. The virtue of submission consists in a firm persuasion of mind, that nothing happens to us but by the will and permission of God; that he loves us better than we do ourselves, and knows the best methods of making us happy; and that, therefore, we should reverently and cheerfully
Luke xviii. 16.