Scripture Characters

"A FRIEND loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. A man that hath (or would have) friends must show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart; so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend"
(Prov. xvii. 17; xviii. 24; xxvii. 6, 9, 17).

Such are the maxims of inspired wisdom concerning friendship; and they must surely impress us with the conviction of its being, if not a necessary duty, at least privilege, whose value can scarcely be over-estimated. The conditions, also, of a pleasant and profitable friendship, are pointedly indicated in these proverbs. To love at all times, and especially in adversity; to give open manifestations of a friendly spirit, and abound in all friendly offices; to stick close even closer than a brother to be faithful in inflicting necessary wounds; to refresh with hearty counsel as with the fragrance of a grateful perfume; and to stimulate and sharpen the whole inner man by the collision of mind with mind and heart with heart, as the eye is kindled into brightness by the quick sympathy of a congenial glance; such, according to the inspired standard, are the qualities of a genuine friend.

Love, constant, active, and close; honest in reproof, kind and cordial in advice, keen and spirit-stirring in converse; such is the essence of scriptural friendship. For an example of it, we have Jonathan's love to David, "wonderful, and passing the love of women." And a greater than David - David's Son and Lord - "loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus;" and, as has been well observed, from among the twelve whom he ordained to be apostles, chose out one, "the disciple whom Jesus loved."

[It may not be out of place to quote in full the passage in Boswell's "Life of Johnson" here referred to. It is a conversation with a Quaker lady, about Soame Jenyns' book on the Internal Evidence of Christianity: "BOSWELL: ‘You should like his book, Mrs. Knowles, as it maintains, as you Friends do, that courage is not a Christian virtue.' MRS. KNOWLES: ‘Yes, indeed, I like him there; but I cannot agree with him that friendship is not a Christian virtue.' JOHNSON: Why, madam, strictly speaking, he is right. All friendship is preferring the interest of a friend to the neglect, or perhaps against the interest, of others; so that an old Greek said, "He that has friends has no friend." Now Christianity recommends universal benevolence, to consider all men as our brethren; which is contrary to the virtue of friendship, as described by the ancient philosophers. Surely, madam, your sect must approve of this; for you call all men friends.' MRS. KNOWLES: ‘We are commanded to do good to all men, "but especially to them who are of the household of faith." JOHNSON: ‘Well, madam, the household of faith is wide enough.' MRS. KNOWLES: ‘But, doctor, our Saviour had twelve apostles, yet there was one whom he loved. John was called "The disciple whom Jesus loved." JOHNSON (with eyes sparkling benignantly): ‘Very well indeed, madam. You have said very well.' BOSWELL: ‘A fine application. Pray, sir, had you, ever thought of it?' JOHNSON: ‘I had not, sir.'" Vol. iv. pp. 147, 148.]

That disciple was surely formed for the cultivation of friendship, for loving and being loved. His writings breathe throughout a spirit prone to friendship; and, if we may believe the traditions of history, he was wont to have upon his lips, in his extreme old age, the one precept, "Little children, love one another." The relation between him and his Divine Master is full of an interest almost too sacred to be rudely handled. But we seem to have a reflection of that relation in his intimacy with his brother apostle, Peter. The indications of that intimacy, slight and incidental as they appear to be, suggest a study full of profit. The two disciples were men of very different temperaments; and their ages, also, differed much. Peter was probably a man comparatively advanced in life when our Lord's ministry began; while John did not reach the limits of the human term of existence here until nearly half a century had rolled on after that ministry was closed. But they were a pair of friends, though one was young and the other might be, if not actually "seventy-three" yet verging on the borders of his seventh decade. ["A pair of friends, though I was young, and Matthew seventy-three." WORDSWORTH.] And the circumstances which originated and matured their friendship may be traced, without much difficulty or doubt, in the evangelical histories.

We shall notice, at present, the successive stages which, as we think, may be observed in the rise and progress of this Christian and apostolic friendship; reserving for separate illustration those more affecting instances of it that occurred towards the close of the Lord's ministry on earth. The earliest hint of any connection between Peter and John, is to be found on the occasion of their first introduction to Jesus.

The two apostles are brought before us together, as fellow-disciples of the Baptist, on the day when he personally and publicly identified Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the Saviour, whom he had been previously announcing as about to come: "Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!" (John i. 35, 36.) Of the two disciples here referred to as in attendance on the Baptist, one was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (ver. 40); the other was the Evangelist and Apostle John himself. Such, at least, is a very general impression among interpreters, who gather from John's ordinary manner of writing in his Gospel in which, whenever he points to himself, he is careful to write without intruding his own name that it was he who was Andrew's companion on this occasion. Andrew's first impulse is to find his own brother Simon, and announce to him with eager joy the discovery they have made: "We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ" (ver. 41).

And here it would almost seem that we might detect the old man's complacency for John wrote his Gospel in extreme old age as, looking back along the line of half a century of toil and woe, he recalls that scene of his early youth, and with fond and affectionate pride records what he alone notices the very marked reception which he saw Jesus give to his friend, when they were as yet both strangers to him. For it is John who tells us, that when Andrew introduced his brother to Jesus, the Lord said, "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, A stone." It is John who tells this; and as we read, we feel glad that, of all the evangelists, it is John who tells it. Passing the marriage at Cana in Galilee, at which some have imagined that they could recognise John in the bridegroom, and possibly Peter also in the ruler of the feast, we find them together beside the Lake of Galilee, plying their hereditary trade as fishers, and called hence forth to be fishers of men, (Luke v.)

The two ships were in company, Peter, the owner of the one, and Zebedee, the father of John, the master of the other, being probably associates in business as well as private friends. For the families seem to have been neighbourly and intimate; Peter and his brother Andrew, on the one hand James and John, with their father Zebedee, on the other. They were accustomed to go up to the feasts at Jerusalem together. When there, they frequented the ministry of the Baptist together in the wilderness of Judea. They thus became acquainted with Jesus together; and though some time elapsed between their first making his acquaintance, and their being summoned to follow him as his disciples, a year, as most reckon, during which they carried on their ordinary occupations, yet doubtless, all the while, they had much communing together respecting the extraordinary person to whom the Baptist had introduced them as the Messiah. And as they continued to hear of him, and even frequently to meet with him, they had their expectations of some great and glorious discovery, about to break upon the world, wound up to the highest pitch.

Thus their intimacy must have become closer; the sons of Jonas - Peter and Andrew - being much in company, both for work and conversation, with their more youthful associates, the sons of Zebedee. And in particular, notwithstanding a very considerable disparity of years, Peter, as it would appear, was contracting an ardent friendship for John, which John as ardently returned. Of the other brothers - Andrew, Peter's brother, and James, the brother of John - but little comparatively is known. That they were highly esteemed by their colleagues, and highly honoured James especially by their Master, sufficiently appears from what afterwards occurred in the course of their attendance upon Jesus. But already we have discovered something like an indication of the strong and special tie that knit Peter and John in one. And reflecting back some of the light of subsequent and more tender disclosures, on that early transaction of the miraculous draught of fishes, we seem to see John gazing, with deepest emotion, on the Being at whose knees Simon Peter, with characteristic promptness, has fallen down, and entering with fullest sympathy into the impetuous exclamation, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord" (Luke v. 8), the same John, who himself long, very long afterwards, in the lonely Isle of Patmos, when he saw the same Lord in his risen glory, "fell at his feet as dead" (Rev. i. 17).

Thus summoned together to forsake all and follow Jesus, they were thereafter never separate. During the whole of our Lord's ministry he kept these two disciples very near his person; nearer, as we may fairly gather from the narrative, than all the rest of his chosen followers. It is always Peter and John whom we find using the greatest freedom in speaking to him. And if Jesus did draw John closer to his bosom, as the disciple whom he loved, it was for Simon Peter that, with a special interest in his most interesting character, his Master prayed, that in the critical hour of Satan's sifting trial his faith might not fail (Luke xxii. 32). They were colleagues, not only in the apostleship or company of the twelve, who were with Jesus in his public labours, but in that more exclusive triumvirate, or band of three, whom he made his standing, select, and triple staff of witnesses to the more private incidents of his mediatorial work. Following out the maxim of Moses, "that at the mouth of two or three witnesses everything is to be established," the Lord invested with a peculiar character, for that end, Peter and the sons of Zebedee; that such particulars of his ministry as, for good reasons, he wished to have concealed during his lifetime, might, after his death, be attested by a competent number of credible men, not limited to the very lowest amount of testimony barely allowed by law, yet not extended beyond what would be fully acknowledged on all hands to be sufficient. Hence the two friends, with James, who was to them both as a common brother, were thrown much together. More particularly, not to speak at present of the raising of Jairus' daughter, they were the only persons present on the mount of the transfiguration and in the garden of the agony.

And oh! what a depth of joint insight into all that is glorious in heaven, and all that is terrible in hell, must these men ever after have had, to make them one, one in a sense unknown to common friendship, one as the thrilling ecstasy of heaven's love, and the shuddering horror of hell's unutterable hatred, may be imagined to make souls one. To have stood together within that glorious cloud which overshadowed them on the mount, to have sunk together under the overwhelming drowsiness with which the heavy and mysterious sorrow of that fatal night in the garden seemed to have charged and loaded the very air; what gorgeous day-dreams of youth, shared together what dark and dreary cup of woe, drained together, ever had such power to be a bond of friendship as these experiences?

Especially in after years, when the real meaning of these transactions came to be better known to themselves, and when they were left alone, James, the brother of John, having been slain with the sword (Acts xii. 2), with what bursting fullness of heart may we conceive of Peter dwelling on that glorious scene, of which none now on earth, but only himself and John, can speak! "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Pet. i. 16-18). Peter is anticipating his departure, as he says, "Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me" (ver. 14). A cruel martyrdom is before him, and having long lived with an eye to it, he now feels it to be near at hand. But to him the bitterness of death is past. It was past so soon as he learned, under the Spirit's teaching, the awful import of his Master's agonizing cries, as well as of his own and his friends' irresistible drowsiness in the garden, on that night when it was as the very gate of hell. And now it is a brighter vision that fills his soul The Lord, who then gave vent to strong crying and tears, is coming in glory. For it is no fable this, cunningly devised; it had been miserable folly to follow a fable. To Peter, it is an actually seen and witnessed reality.

It had been given to him, as he rejoices to declare, to behold the very glory in which the Lord is coming. And with what thoughts of inexpressible tenderness towards John - John, so soon to be the sole survivor of the three who had been witnesses of it - does Peter make this reference to the transfiguration of the Lord! For doubtless he has John full in his mind and on his heart. He is about to leave him behind in the world, to leave him perhaps, for anything he knows, till the Lord come again ; yet, in any event, not to leave or lose him for ever. What emotions, what recollections, what hopes, must have been gushing forth within him, when embracing, as it were, his long-tried and dearly -loved friend in his arms once more, the old man gave utterance to these noble words: ‘We - John and I - have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were ourselves together eye-witnesses of his majesty!'

Many circumstances of resemblance, and bonds of intimacy, might be pointed out as occurring in the dealings which their Master had with the two disciples severally, and they with him, during the ordinary course of his ministry. For there is a similarity in these particulars not always noticed. Did the Lord, for instance, see in Simon such a temper of mind, or did he foresee in regard to him such a turn of destiny, as to warrant his being named Cephas, or Peter a stone, the rock whether in reference to his indomitable strength of resolution, or to the services he was to render in the first founding of the Church? Did he not, also, give to John and his brother James, on similar considerations, the perhaps even more expressive name of Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder? James, alas! lived too short a time after the Lord's departure to verify the appellation. It must have been John, therefore, especially that the title was meant to note and characterize, as destined to show himself vehement and bold in his Master's cause, and powerful in dealing with his Master's foes.

Peter, on one occasion, incurred the Lord's displeasure, and received his stern rebuke "Get thee behind me, Satan" when, giving utterance to his feelings of personal attachment to the Saviour, with little or no regard to the work and ministry which he came to accomplish, he would have stood in the way of his going up to Jerusalem (Matt. xvi. 23). It was very much the same spirit that moved John and his brother James to propose that the inhospitality of the Samaritans, who would not give the Saviour passage through their town, should be visited with swift resentment, and that fire from heaven should be called down to destroy them. The Lord turned and rebuked them, and said, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke ix. 55, 56). It was the same love to Christ's person, generous, disinterested, and even violent, but without enough of intelligent sympathy with his mission, that made John propose to avenge the insult put upon him by others, and moved Peter to seek to lay an arrest upon his purpose of going up to Jerusalem to die.

Again, the forwardness of Peter to profess his attachment to the Lord, and to claim pre-eminence in respect of fidelity over his fellows "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee" (Matt. xxvi. 33, 35) has its parallel not only in the ambitious proposal of the sons of Zebedee, that they should have the first place in the Lord's kingdom, sitting at his right hand and at his left, but also, and especially, in the fearlessness of their reply to the question which the Lord then put to them: "Can ye drink of my cup, and be baptized with my baptism? They say unto him, We can" (Mark x. 38, 39).

Even the weakness of Peter, brought out in his yielding under the very trials of his faith he had himself courted, as in the instances of his walking on the water, and his denial of the Lord, would seem to have its corresponding feature in the character and conduct of John; if at least, as many think, John is the young man spoken of by Mark who followed Jesus at first with seeming courage when he was apprehended, but afterwards, being himself laid hold on, left his upper garment and fled (Mark xiv. 51). Altogether, there is surely more congeniality of natural temperament between Peter and John, as well as more agreement in their spiritual experience, and in the progress of their faith and love, than is often supposed. For there is a vague notion in the minds of not a few respecting John, that a certain unmingled sweetness and mild amiability of character distinguished him as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He is regarded very generally as a man of soft and sentimental, and almost feminine tenderness, having in his composition something of what David, as we have seen, attributes in his lamentation to Jonathan, when he says, "Very pleasant hast thou been unto me; thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."

That John should even be compared with Peter, or placed on the same footing, may seem to some offensive; so much are they accustomed to conceive of Peter as a hard, common-place, every-day sort of character, the very opposite of the refined, and somewhat romantic, ethereal, and transcendental quietism, which they are pleased to ascribe to the gentle spirit of John. There is an idea, also, that the writings of John, like himself, breathe only mildness, suavity, and serenity; those of Peter being comparatively rugged and harsh. Now, we are far from denying that there was a real difference between them. It is brought out both in their manner of acting and in their style of writing. Peter evidently was a man of a more practical understanding and active temperament than John; inquisitive, alert, hasty; expert in the use of arguments; prompt in deciding and speaking; ready for emergencies, and fertile in expedients. John, again, was of a deeper and calmer, and perhaps slower, mood; swayed more by inward emotional feeling than by mere reason or external impulse; deliberate, therefore, rather than abrupt, and not fluctuating, but uniform and consistent. Still, there is in both the same under-current, strong and clear, of warm and even passionate devotion; frank, unselfish, single-eyed - only it seems as if, in the one, the stream met with more eddies, rocks, and cross currents; while, in the other, it ran in a less broken channel.

Their respective writings, if carefully studied together, might bear out this comparison. John, indeed, in his epistles, seems to know no theme but love, and in his gospel he opens the very heart of the loving Saviour; while Peter's letters turn more on the business of the Christian life, its hard work and its rude trials. But where, in all the Bible, are there more enthusiastic out-bursts of tenderness than that of Peter: "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." (1 Pet. i 8.) Nor is this a solitary example, for many other similar instances of sublimity might be quoted. And as to John, if severity, wrath, and terror, are to be found anywhere in the word of God, let the beloved disciple's writings be searched for such qualities. Not Peter's sword cutting off the ear of the high priest's servant is sharper than John's rebuke, when he indignantly denounces the pre-eminence-loving Diotrephes, and debars every heretic from the house and home of a believer, and forbids any to pray for the unpardonable sin (3 John 1; 2 John 10 ;1 John v. 16).

The truth is, there is a fallacy abroad, and an ingenious self-deception is practised by certain minds, by means of the distinction which they would fain draw between the milder and more amiable apostle, and him whom they put aside as "made of sterner stuff." It is like the preference which some affect to give to the Gospels above the Epistles, or to the New Testament above the Old, or to the gentleness of James above the hard sayings of Paul. It is like what we sometimes see in common life; a worldly man attempting to set off the meekness of a retiring saint against the fire and fervour of a hard-fighting soldier in Christ's host. He is partial, it seems, to what is serene and sweet; he loves repose, and dislikes all that looks like haste, or hurry, or violence. If Christianity were all modelled after the pattern of a weeping Magdalene or a mystical Madonna, it might be tolerable; but your men of rude speech and action break the spell and dissolve all the charm.

It is a most suspicious compliment, however, that these would-be Christians pay to the devotees whom they profess to admire. For themselves, they are but seeking, like those of whom the children in the market-place complained, to cast the blame of their rejection of the gospel on something wrong in the manner of presenting it, and not on what they are conscious is the real cause, its deep distastefulness to their own evil hearts of unbelief. And, as regards the style of piety which they pretend to honour at the expense of that which really disturbs them more, they little understand how entirely at heart Peter and John understand and sympathize with each other, and are in everything at one. For surely, if there be in Peter any of the uncompromising, rugged, stubborn sternness which his name of the Rock might indicate; there is a fire in John's bosom, and a bolt in his hand, that amply justify his appellation of a Son of Thunder.

Go To Scripture Characters No.15


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