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into any of the picture galleries of the great European cities, and you will find in every chamber that the portraits of S. John the Apostle are both in order of number and merit next to those of our Lord and Saviour, and of the Virgin Mary.
Of the time of S. John's birth we cannot speak with any exactitude. He was probably younger than S. James, younger certainly than S. Peter, and also than his divine Master. A life protracted to the time of Trajan can hardly have begun so early as to place him at an age, older than those I have mentioned.
He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and shared with his father the humble occupation of fishermen on the waters of Galilee. Not that we are to assume from this that he was either very poor or uneducated, for mention is especially made in S. Luke and in his own Gospel of “hired “servants," and " of his own house;" and the
” fact that he was known to Caiaphas, the high priest, has been always taken as suggesting the probability of an intimacy in early years between the two men or their families. The name of John was a common one, but if we may judge from the fact that this was the name especially given to the Baptist, we may conclude that it was the embodiment and symbol of Messianic hopes, and therefore a significant sign of that yearning and expectation which then characterised not only the more faithful and devout, but the whole nation of the Jews. We know very little of Zebedee's character, and therefore we may conclude that S. John, like many sons, derived
, his early character from his mother's influence. How many of this world's heroes have done the same, and how ready have they been to acknowledge the early influence of a wise and loving mother. It is said that in character daughters derive most from the paternal, sons from the maternal side. I know not how far this is true, but I think we may recognise its application in the present instance. From the glympses which the bible gives us of Salome's character, I should gather that she was a woman with a strong mind and loving heart, capable of giving and receiving affection, and eager for the manifestation of the kingdom of that Messiah, Whom she followed so closely, even to the foot of the Cross. Under such influence, I can imagine that the apostle's early years were passed. And with such a mother it is probable that he was well instructed in the law and the prophets, though he had no direct instruction in the Jewish schools at Jerusalem. For him, too, as bound by the law, there would have been at the age of twelve the periodical pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He would thus have become familiar with the stately worship of the Temple, with the sacrifice, with the altar, with the incense, with the priestly robes.
May we not, brethren, (as we read the after history of St. John's life) conjecture that impressions were then made which never afterwards wore off!
Assuming too that there is some harmony between the previous training of a prophet and the form of the visions presented to him, may we not recognize them in the rich liturgical imagery of the Apocalypse, in that union in one wonderful vision of all that was most wonderful and glorious in the predictions of the older prophets ?
So much concerning the early life of St. John, whom we leave for the moment plying his trade on the sea of Galilee. It was during his ordinary life there that the news broke forth that a Prophet had once more appeared. Was it the Messiah ? That was the question of the day. The answer was not long delayed. The Prophet himself responded, that he was not that light, but was sent only to bear witness of the true light: the Lamb of God who should take away the sins of the world.
But the Baptist's words were not lost upon his namesake. And then we find St. John amongst our Lord's earliest disciples, we find him with his new teacher at the marriage feast of Cana of Galilee, we find him at Capernaum, and Samaria, and Jerusalem. It is probable that he returned for a time to his old occupations till the command had gone forth that he was to become a fisher of men. It is then we find him in closer communion with his Lord, designated with the memorable distinction of being the disciple whom Jesus loved. As such he ever continued till that great occasion when he leaned on his Saviour's breast on the night before the crucifixion, and till at a still later date the clouds removed the Lord of Glory to the right hand of the Father in Heaven.
From the close of our Lord's life, we trace St. John in the Acts at the day of Pentecost, at the beautiful gate of the Temple, and in company with St. Peter confirming at Samaria the Christian converts who had been baptized by Philip.
Beyond these facts we have only traditions to fill
ир the great gap which separates the Apostle of Jerusalem from the Bishop of Ephesus. It is a natural conjecture to suppose that he remained in Judæa till the death of the Virgin released him from his trust. Putting aside therefore mere tradition, we must pass on to his later life. And when the form of the aged Apostle meets us again, in the twilight of the Apostolic age, we are still left in great doubt as to the extent of his work, and the circumstances of his outward life.
Now then, brethren, we may assume that having come to Ephesus some persecution drove him to Patmos, that the seven Churches, of which Asia was the centre, were special objects of his solicitude, that in his work he had to encounter men who denied the truth on which his faith rested. To this we may add that he outlived all of those who had been the companions even of his maturer years, and that this lingering age gave some colour to the old imagination that his Lord had promised him immortality. The picture which tradition has drawn of St. John in his old age is full and vivid, but for such a picture there is no place here. I turn therefore at once to his character and the lessons we may learn from it.
His character as gathered from the pages of the New Testament will hardly sustain the