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bear the earliest witness, of all the apostles, to the truth of Christ.*
He left several writings behind him, which have been preserved in the Church from age to age, and which of themselves bear witness to the affectionate mildness of his character. His Gospel was written after the three others; which accounts for its omitting many things which they relate, and relating many things which they omit. It is John alone who tells us of the resurrection of Lazarus; of Christ's washing his disciples' feet; and especially of those divine discourses which he held with them just before he was betrayed, and which were treasured up in the faithful memory and kindred heart of the beloved disciple, with a minuteness which proves how deeply he had been impressed by them.
The Book of the Revelation, which antiquity also ascribes to John, though not with an entirely unanimous voice, has both exercised and baffled as much critical ingenuity and research as ever were bestowed on any writing in the world. The majority of its interpreters have regarded it as a series of particular prophecies; and these supposed prophecies have been applied to so many events, past and to come, that the reader is at last convinced that the truth does not even lie between the differing hypotheses. It may be that its splendid visions are really of a prophetic nature, and that they are not yet accomplished. But perhaps the most rational theory is that which several learned men have adopted, and which supposes that the whole Book of the Revelation is a general prediction, in the form of a religious drama, of the glorious success of Christianity in the world, and its triumph over its numerous foes, without any reference to the political condition of certain states and empires, or to the downfall of particular hierarchies or heresies. This opinion has been explained and supported by the German professor, Eichorn, in a commentary on the Revelation; and in earlier times had been maintained by able expositors, and espoused by no less a man than the poet Milton, who thus speaks in his Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty. " And the Apocalypse of St. John is the majestic image of a high and stately tragedy, shutting up and intermingling her solemn scenes and acts with a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies; and this my opinion, the grave authority of Pareus, commenting that book, is sufficient to confirm.” But whatever difference there
* So respectable a writer as Chrysostom asserts, in one of his sermons, that John was an hundred years old when he wrote his Gospel, and that he lived twenty years afterwards. But this is worthy of but little credit. Again, many of the ancients entertained the notion that this apostle never died, but was translated, like Enoch and Elias.
concerning the intention of this book, there can be none with regard to its composition. It is undoubtedly a magnificent specimen of holy poetry; and reminds us more constantly and strongly of the sublimest of the Jewish prophecies than any other book in the canon of the New Testament.
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 of 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 in a caldron 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 respect
ing 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
* There is also generally introduced in the pictures of this saint the figure 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.