« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
New. Peter may be accepted as the type of the devout Jew, looking eagerly for “Him who was to come." At first he apprehended Christ only in his character as "a teacher come from God." It was long before his prejudices were so far softened, and his conceptions so broadened as to recognize in the man of Nazareth the true “King of Israel;” and not until shortly before the final act in the great life-tragedy of Jesus did the truth flash upon him that his Master was in reality “the Christ, the Son of the living God."1 When fully possessed of this, however, it entered into his being and became a part of his very life; so that he ceased not to preach and teach thenceforward that "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”? But Peter, although the leader of the apostolic band, did not grasp the idea that Christianity contained the elements of a new religion. He, in common with the iest of the disciples, seems to have regarded it as merely a reformed and purified school of Judaism; or at most, a system to be engrafted upon the old, and designed to exist simultaneously with it. It is not strange, then, that they were found continually in the Temple. The worship of the Temple and Synagogue went on side by side with that of the Christian assembly. The impossibility of fettering the free Christian spirit with the rigid forms of a legalistic bondage, was not yet clearly seen. It was matter of a revelation yet future. Nevertheless, Peter's work of preaching, as the Apostle of the Circumcision, the Gospel to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel," was of incalculable importance. To disciple the thousands of the people of the very city which had crucified his Master, was a task worthy of an angel's powers. To this and to the subsequent evangelization of Palestine, his efforts were directed, and with what success we know. Yet one work remained to be accomplished before Peter should have reached the summit of his apostolic career—the "opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles." This Peter was enabled to effect in the case of the Cæsarean Centurion. We might almost conceive of him as pointing to the great Apostle of the Gentiles, to whom he was thenceforward to yield outward supremacy, while he said, with holy resignation and content, “There cometh one after me mightier than I.” “He must increase, but I must decrease.” For many long years thereafter he is almost completely hidden from view. We catch but rare glimpses of him until in latest life he appears once more, writing letters of fraternal counsel and encouragement to his brethren of the Dispersion, and also “ to all that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ." The evening of his life he employs in labors manifold but obscure, on the far-off plains of Mesopotamia, and at last joyfully seals his witness for Christ with his blood.
1 Matthew xvi. 16,
3 Acts iv. 12.
8 Acts 1.
• 2 Peter i. 1.
But where, during the years of Peter's primacy, was the “beloved disciple”? Of a character and temperament the direct opposite of Peter's, he shrank away, in modest self-distrust, into a position of complete subordination.
He never appears as a chief actor in the scenes and events recorded in the Acts, and when he is seen at all, it is only in the shadow of Peter. But why is this? Surely not from any lack of individuality of character or ability at self-assertion when occasion required. It was chiefly because Peter and John stood in every respect in antipodal relations to each other. Each was endowed by the great Head of the Church with divine gifts suited to the part he had to perform in the divine economy of redemption. Peter has been styled "a man of the present," and such he eminently was, while John lived in the far-off future. Peter's calling was to plant the church; John's, Apollos-like, to water it.' Peter laid the foundation, John completed the spiritual temple, and “placed thereon the cap-stone with rejoicing." There seems to be a deep meaning in the Scripture representation of John, as ever close at Peter's side. Gifted as the latter was, his wild and often wayward impulses, his headstrong and imperious but often fickle energy, needed just such a check and counterpoise as was furnished by the mild but firm, the cautious but courageous, the slowly but deeply-moved spirit of John. He was at hand to restrain as well as to impel, to counsel and comfort him, who, to outward appearances, was the animating soul of the church in its earliest
age. How clear the wisdom of God in this! In the kingdom of grace, as well as of nature, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time." :
The life of James, the brother of the Lord, and author of the Epistle bearing his name, does not form a separate epoch in the history of Christianity; nor does his character seem to have left so permanent an impression on the church, as those of his fellow-apostles. His mission was temporary and local. James is the representative of the earliest phase of Jewish Christianty, and it is simply as the head of the mother-church at Jerusalem that we consider him; for as an apostle of the circumcision he sinks into insignificance beside the statelier and more imposing form of Peter. The summit of his power was reached when, as a president of the apostolic council, he bore a chief part in its deliberations, and exercised a controlling influence in its decisions. The tradition of Hegesippus that he assumed the 1 Scbaff's Apostolic Church, 410.
? Ecclesiastes iii, 11.
priestly garb, attempted to exercise priestly functions, and, in short, to incorporate both the spirit and ritual of the Mosaic economy into the Christian system, must be rejected as untrustworthy; but there is evidence that by the exemplary strictness of his life, and his compliance with such Jewish forms as were not hostile to the genius of Christianity, he won many trophies to the faith from among the chosen people. “According to the most ancient arrangement of the books of the New Testament, that of James stands first on the list of the epistles.”! This certainly is not conclusive evidence as to its early date, but internal evidence would seem to point in the same direction. The whole spirit of the book is more strictly primitive than that of the other epistles. Competent authority has declared it to be, with the exception of the Apocalypse, the most thoroughly Jewish book of the New Testament. It contains no allusion to the existence of party divisions in the church, such as characterized the later period of Paul's apostolic activities. No mention is made of Jew as distinguished from Gentile. In fact the entire membership of the church is apparently regarded as belonging to the “chosen race." This, also, is the only book of the New Testament in which the church is designated as a synagogue. If this view of the early date of the epistle is accepted, all attempts to array James in hostility to Paul regarding the matter of justification by works as opposed to that by faith, at once fall to the ground. The faith which James speaks of as dead, and unable to justify, was not Christian faith, but that of a lifeless Jewish orthodoxy, and presumptuous confidence of personal security on account of merely natural descent from the great “Father of the faithful.” It has been said that the Epistle of James is to the other epistles as the teaching of John the Baptist to that of Christ. James dwells on the "first principles of the doctrine of Christ,” insists on practical morality and the keeping of the law, but it is the moral Mosaic, and not the ceremonial law of which he speaks. There seem to be fewer points of resemblance between James the Just, and John, than between any other apostles coming under our present consideration; but after all they exhibited perfect unity in all essential points of doctrine. Both looked at the same Jesus, but “each caught different rays of his ineffable glory.”
Paul was in some sense the second founder of the church, though he is more properly considered as its great missionary propagator and extender. His mission was, as he himself has told us, to proclaim that which to the Jew was the mystery of all others incomprehensible: "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” 1
1 Stanley, Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, 304. 3 Stanley, Lecture on the Epistle of St. James, 305. 3 Lightfoot's Commentary on Epistle to Gal., p. 207; Amer. Ed.
In Paul one of the most colossal of human intellects was united with the geatest and noblest of souls. But do we ever ask ourselves what he would have been, but for the converting grace of God? Some have pictured to themselves a possible Maccabæus? or Gamaliel, but his spirit would rather have been that of a Domitian or an Alva. His native nobility of soul would have been completely overcome by the foul spirit of Pharisaic bigotry and exclusiveness; and his only fame must have been that of the arch-enemy and persecutor of the church of God. But made what he was by the operations of Divine grace, the same traits which but for this, and developed in a wrong direction, would have rendered him a fiend in human shape, now combined to form the most perfect of merely human characters.
Champion of Gentile freedom as he was, he was yet a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" in the truest sense, and remained so to the end of his life. But from his education in the schools, and from the breadth of mind which was the fruit of liberal culture, resulted a complete catholicity of spirit, and the broadest sympathy with universal humanity.
It has been well said, therefore, that "in him extremes met, Jew and Gentile being completely blended in one person.” The great work assigned to Paul was the full development of the truth that the Divine purposes of mercy were co-extensive with the race, that thenceforward there was room within the church of God for every human soul, and that the terms of salvation for all, Jew and Gentile alike, were submission to Christ, and faith in his atoning death. This work, in spite of Jewish bigotry, pride, and prejudice, he fully accomplished; and he left to the true Catholic church, as his bequest, the glorious truth, that admission to the full participation in the blessings of the "covenant of grace" is the free and unlimited gift of "the one God and Father of all.” Considering then the successive steps of progress thus far taken, we see that Peter was commissioned to bring salvation to the Jews, James to guide, guard, and rule the parent church of the new faith, but Paul to Christianize the world.
But where, we return to ask, during these many long years, was the " beloved disciple”? The Inspired Record furnishes no means of answering this question. Doubtless he was somewhere engaged like Peter, whose star of earthly greatness had already set, in active but unobtrusive labors for the One he loved. He was tarrying yet with patience until his Lord should come, commissioning him to some
1 Ephesians iii. 6. 2 Stanley, Sermons and Essays on Apostolic Age, 165.
wider and more public sphere of toil. How beautiful, how divine was the spirit filling the breasts of these chief servants of the Lord! Each one, with gifts and station varying according to God's appointment, but with united heart and aim, performs his allotted task, and then, without thought of rivalry or envy, lays down his work in silence, and passes to his reward.
Between Paul and John there were fewer traits in common than between Paul and Peter. During the earlier years of their apostolic labors, Peter and John were most intimately associated, while the great apostles, respectively of Jews and Gentiles, met but at rare intervals; yet between the writings of the latter, there is a much closer resemblance of form and coloring, than between those of the former.
It is worthy of note that at the close of his Second and Catholic Epistle, Peter takes especial pains to commend to his readers the writings of him whom he styles his " beloved brother Paul"; he defends them against the attacks of adversaries, and adds the testimony to his own apostolic sanction to their authoritativeness. He nowhere mentions John. Perhaps it was Paul's public rebuke of Peter that so greatly endeared him to the now aged saint. John may have been too gentle and timid thus ever to assail his fellowdisciple. One thing John and Paul have in common to a greater degree than any other of the twelve-depth of insight into the profoundest and most mysterious truths of Christianity. But the mode
? of apprehension was totally different. Paul viewed them through the medium of a mind keenly constituted, and disciplined by long and careful training in the schools. His office was to develop and promulgate the great doctrines of Christianity in such a logical systematic form as to convince the intellect, as well as affect the heart. John, on the other hand, was a man of strikingly subjective character, and possessed a mind naturally prone to contemplation, and disposed to screen itself from outward gaze by hiding within the dark depths of its own recesses. To him belonged an almost superhuman power intuitive penetration into the secret essence of truth. What other man was ever so fitly constituted to be the organ of apocalyptic visions, and to be entrusted with a knowledge of the “deep things of God"? We have said that his most characteristic trait was the unparalleled development of the emotional nature. None were ever capable of passively receiving, or actively exercising such love as he. This accounts for the divergence of his writing from other parts of the Scriptures in profundity of thought and vastness of scope. In his love he possessed the magic key which unlocks the divine
1 Schaff's Apostolic Church, 411.