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We now come to Jolin, the brother of James the elder, and the last named, though certainly not the last in merit, of those four friends and partners, the fishermen of Bethsaida. The particulars of his call to be an apostle of Christ have already been related, together with some other circumstances respecting him, in the lives of Peter and James. We have seen that he ardently loved his Master; that he was distinguished by that Master's peculiar regard; and that, although he was sometimes betrayed into unworthy expressions of ambition and anger, for which he was justly reprimanded, his disposition was remarkably amiable, gentle, and affectionate.
There is not much told of him, individually, until towards the closing scenes of our Saviour's ministry and life. At the last supper, which he and Peter had been sent to prepare, we are told that “there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved." This disciple was John himself; who was so fond of the distinction which his. Master's attachment conferred on him, or, to speak more properly, was so gratefully sensible of the value of the attachment itself, that he continually speaks of himself, in his history, as the disciple whom Jesus loved, - a title which he surely would not have assumed unless it had been really conferred on him. His place at the supper is an evidence that he was high in the favor of Jesus. He was leaning or lying on his bosom; that is, he was the next below him, and, as it was the custom of the ancients to recline at their meals, his head was brought in contact with his Master's breast, - a situation which used always to be reserved by the host at an entertainment for the person whom he most honored or esteemed. It was while he was thus leaning, that Simon Peter beckoned to him that he should ask of Jesus who it was who should betray him. John did as he was requested, and Jesus showed him who the traitor was by giving Judas a sop. All this seems to have been done in private, and apart from the knowledge of the other disciples, and proves the great measure of condescension and confidence which was exercised by the Master toward this his favorite follower.
After Jesus was betrayed and seized, John is supposed to have been that other disciple who went with Peter to the palace of the high priest, and gained him admittance there by means of his acquaintance with that dignitary.* However this may be, he was the only one of the twelve who had the fortitude to attend his beloved Master to the cross. How touchingly is it manifested on this awful occasion, that the softest natures are often the noblest and most fearless too; and that those which are apparently the most daring and masculine may yet shrink away in the time of peril and distress! Who, in that hour of darkness, - darkness in the heavens and in the hearts of men, - who, in that hour of abandonment, when even the Son of God cried out that he was forsaken, — who, of all his followers, were with him then, to support him by their sympathy, and prove to him their love? In the midst of scoffing soldiers and brutal executioners, under the lowering sky, and just below the frightful cross, we behold four weeping females,* and one disciple, the youngest and the gentlest of the twelve, braving the horrors of this place of blood, braving the anger of those in authority and the insults of those who do their bidding, determined to be near their friend and Master in his agonies, and ready, on the spot and at the moment, to share them. And what is it that braces up the nerves of this feeble company to such a singular pitch of fortitude and daring ? The simple but unconquerable strength of affection; the generous omnipotence of their attachment and gratitude. In the might of their love they ascend the hill of Calvary, and take their station beneath the cross ; hearing nothing amidst all that tumult but the promptings of their devoted hearts; seeing nothing but their dying Lord; remembering nothing but that he was dear to them, and that he was in misery. O, how loftily does courage like this rise above that ruder and earthly courage which rushes to the battle-field, and is crowned with the applauses of the world! It calls for none of those excitements and stimulants from without which goad rough spirits into madness, but relies on those resources that are within, those precious stores and holy powers which are the strength of a single and faithful breast. That is the courage of the animal, this is of the soul. It is pure, it is divine. To say all in one word, it was such as moved the complacent regard of the Saviour himself, even in the height of his sufferings. Hanging on the cross, bleeding and exhausted, yet when he saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he was touched by their constancy; his thoughts were recalled to earth; the domestic affections rushed into his bosom; and with a tender care which provided at once a protection for his parent and a reward for his friend," he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, , Behold thy mother!” Where was there ever so affecting a bequest as that which was then made, when love and filial piety triumphed over suffering? Where was there ever so affecting an adoption as that which then took place, when attachment and fidelity triumphed over fear ? The last earthly care of Jesus was accomplished. His mother was confided to the disciple whom he best loved. The favorite disciple eagerly accepted the honorable and precious charge ; for,
*“That disciple was known unto the high priest.” John xviii. 15. The early writers busy themselves to find out in what manner John became acquainted with Caiaphas. Jerome says, that he belonged to some order of nobility; which, however, seems to be very inconsistent with the occupation of his father. Nicephorus relates, that he sold his paternal estate in Galilee to the high priest, and with the money purchased a fair house in Jerusalem, and so became intimate with him. These stories seem to me, like many other similar ones, to prove two things : one, that the early Christian writers were exceedingly anxious to explain the slightest hints in the Gospel histories; the other, that they were much too apt to write down the first report which came to their cars, glad to catch something, and not careful to sift the truth, or, rather, too ready to sacrifice truth to the gratification of a minute and inordinate, though not perhaps absolutely idle, curiosity. H the contradictory statements with which their works are full.
* They were Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome the mother of James the Greater and of John. There were other women in company with them, but these four probably stood nearer the cross than the rest.