THE FIRST APOSTLES.
VICTORIOUS over that concentrated temptation, safe from the fiery ordeal, the Saviour left the wilderness and returned to the fords of Jordan.
The Synoptical Gospels, which dwell mainly on the ministry in Galilee, and date its active commencement from the imprisonment of John, omit all record of the intermediate events, and only mention our Lord's retirement to Nazareth. It is to the fourth Evangelist that we owe the beautiful narrative of the days which immediately ensued upon the temptation. The Judæan ministry is brought by him into the first prominence. He seems to have made a point of relating nothing of which he had not been a personal witness, and there are some few indications that he was bound to Jerusalem by peculiar relations, By station St. John was a fisherman, and it is not impossible that, as the fish of the Lake of Galilee were sent in large quantities to Jerusalem, he may have lived there at certain seasons in connection with the employment of his father and his brother, who, as the owners of their own boat and the masters of hired servants, evidently occupied a position of some importance. Be that as it may, it is St. John alone who narrates to us the first call of the earliest Apostles, and he relates it with all the minute particulars and graphic touches of one on whose heart and memory each incident had been indelibly impressed.
The deputation of the Sanhedrin (to which we have already alluded) seems to have taken place the day previous to our Lord's return from the wilderness; and when, on the following morning, the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, he delivered a public and emphatic testimony that this was indeed the Messiah who had been marked out to him by the appointed sign, and that He was "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." Whether the prominent conception in the Baptist's mind was the Paschal Lamb, or the Lamb of the morning and evening sacrifice; whether "the world" (kósmos) was the actual expression which he used, or is merely a Greek rendering of the word "people"; whether he understood the profound and awful import of his own utterance, or was carried by prophetic inspiration beyond himselfwe cannot tell. But this much is clear, that since his whole imagery, and indeed the very description of his own function and position, is, as we have already seen, borrowed from the Evangelical prophet, he must have used the expression with distinct reference to the picture of Divine patience and mediatorial suffering in Isa. liii. 7 (cf. Jer. xi. 19). His words could hardly have involved less meaning than thisthat the gentle and sinless man to whom he pointed should be a man of sorrows, and that these sorrows should be for the salvation of His race. Whatever else the words may have connoted to the minds of his hearers, yet they could hardly have thought them over without connecting Jesus with the conceptions of sinlessness, of suffering, and of a redeeming work.
Memorable as this testimony was, it seems on the first day to have produced no immediate result. But on the second day, when the Baptist was standing accompanied by two of his disciples, Jesus again walked by, and John, fixing upon Him his intense and earnest gaze, exclaimed again, as though with involuntary awe and admiration. "Behold the Lamb of God!"
The words were too remarkable to be again neglected, and the two Galilæan youths who heard them followed the retreating figure of Jesus. He caught the sound of their timid footsteps, and turning round to look at them as they come near, He gently asked, "What seek ye?"
It was but the very beginning of His ministry: as yet they could not know Him for all that He was; as yet they had not heard the gracious words that proceeded out of His lips; in coming to seek Him thus they might he actuated by inadequate motives, or even by mere passing curiosity; it was fit that they should come to Him by spontaneous impulse, and declare their object of their own free will.
But how deep and full of meaning is that question, and how sternly it behoves all who come to their Lord to answer it! One of the holiest of the church's saints, St. Bernard, was in the habit of constantly warning himself by the solemn query, "Bernarde, ad quid venisti?""Bernard, for what purpose art thou here?" Self-examination could assume no more searching form; but all the meaning which it involved was concentrated in that quiet and single question, "What seek ye?"
It was more than the two young Galilæans could answer Him at once; it meant more perhaps than they knew or understood, yet the answer showed that they were in earnest. "Rabbi," they said (and the title of profound honour and reverence showed how deeply His presence had impressed them), "where art thou staying?"
Where it was we do not know. Perhaps in one of the temporary succôth, or booths, covered at the top with the striped abba, which is in the East an article of ordinary wear, and with their wattled sides interwoven with green branches of terebinth or palm, which must have given the only shelter possible to the hundreds who had flocked to John's baptism. "He saith to them, Come and see." Again, the words were very simple, though they occur in passages of much significance. Never, however, did they produce a result more remarkable than now. They came and saw where Jesus dwelt, and as it was then four in the afternoon, stayed there that day, and probably slept there that night; and before they lay down to sleep they knew and felt in their inmost hearts that the kingdom of heaven had come, that the hopes of long centuries were now fulfilled, that they had been in the presence of Him who was the desire of all nations, the Priest greater than Aaron, the Prophet greater then Moses, the King greater than David the true Star of Jacob and Sceptre of Israel.
One of those two youths who thus came earliest to Christ was Andrew. The other suppressed his own name because he was the narrator, the beloved disciple, the Evangelist St. John. No wonder that the smallest details, down even to the very hour of the day, were treasured in his memory, never to be forgotten, even in extreme old age.
It was the first care of Andrew to find his brother Simon, and tell him of this great Eureka. He brought him to Jesus, and Jesus looking earnestly on him with that royal gaze which read intuitively the inmost thoughtsseeing at a glance in that simple fisherman all the weakness but also all the splendid greatness of the mansaid, giving him a new name, which was long afterwards yet more solemnly confirmed. "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Kephas;" that is, "Thou art Simon, the son of the dove; hereafter thou shalt be as the rock in which the dove hides." It was, indeed, a play upon the word, but one which was memorably symbolic and profound. None but the shallow and the ignorant will see, in such a play upon the name, anything derogatory to the Saviour's dignity. The essential meaning and augury of names had been in all ages a belief among the Jews, whose very language was regarded by themselves as being no less sacred than the oracular gems on Aaron's breast. Their belief in the mystic potency of sounds, of the tongue guided by unalterable destiny in the realms of seeming chance, may seem idle and superstitious to an artificial cultivation, but has been shared by many of the deepest thinkers in every age.
How was it that these youths of Galilee, how was it that a John so fervid yet contemplative, a Peter so impetuous in his affections, yet so timid in his resolves, were thus brought at oncebrought, as it were, by a single look, by a single wordto the Saviour's feet? How came they thus, by one flash of insight or of inspiration, to recognise, in the carpenter of Nazareth, the Messiah of prophecy, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world?
Doubtless in part by what He said, and by what John the Baptist had testified concerning him, but doubtless also in part by His very look. On this subject, indeed, tradition has varied in a most remarkable manner; but on a point of so much interest we may briefly pause.
Any one who has studied the representations of Christ in mediæval art will have observed that some of them, particularly in missals, are degradingly and repulsively hideous, while others are conceived in the softest and loveliest ideal of human beauty. Whence came this singular divergence?
It came from the prophetic passages which were supposed to indicate the appearance of the Messiah, as well as His life.
The early Church, accustomed to the exquisite perfection of form in which the genius of heathen sculpture had clothed its conceptions of the younger gods of Olympusaware, too, of the fatal corruptions of a sensual imaginationseemed to find a pleasure in breaking loose from this adoration of personal endowments, and in taking as their ideal of the bodily aspect of our Lord, Isaiah's picture of a patient and afflicted sufferer, or David's pathetic description of a smitten and wasted outcast. His beauty, says Clemens of Alexandria, was in His soul and in His actions, but in appearance He was base. Justin Martyr describes Him as being without beauty, without glory, without honour. His body, says Origen, was small, and ill-shapen, and ignoble. "His body," says Tertullian, had no human handsomeness, much less any celestial splendour." The heathen Celsus, as we learn from Origen, even argued from His traditional meanness and ugliness of aspect as a ground for rejecting His divine origin. Nay, this kind of distorted inference went to even greater extremities. The Vulgate rendering of Isa. liii. 4 is, "Nos putavimus cum quasi leprosum, percussum a Deo et humiliatum;" and this gave rise to a wide-spread fancy of which there are many traces, that He who healed so many leprosies was Himself a leper!
Shocked, on the other hand, by these revolting fancies, there were many who held that Jesus, in his earthly features, reflected the charm and beauty of David, His great ancestor; and St. Jerome and St. Augustine preferred to apply to Him the words of Psalms xlv. 2, 3, "Thou art fairer than the children of men." It was natural that, in the absence of positive indications, this view should command a deeper sympathy, and it gave rise both to the current descriptions of Christ, and also to those ideals, so full of mingled majesty and tenderness in
which we see in the great pictures of Fra Angelico, of Michael Angelo, of Leonardo da Vinci, of Raphael, and of Titian.
Independently of all tradition, we may believe with reverent conviction that there could have been nothing mean or repugnantthat there must, as St. Jerome says, have been "something starry"in the form which enshrined an Eternal Divinity and an Infinite Holiness. All true beauty is but "the sacrament of goodness," and a conscience so stainless, a spirit so full of harmony, a life so purely noble, could not but express itself in the bearing, could not but be reflected in the face, of the Son of Man. We do not indeed find any allusion to this charm of aspect, as we do in the description of the young High-priest Aristobulus whom Herod murdered; but neither, on the other hand, do we find in the language of His enemies a single word or allusion which might have been founded on an unworthy appearance. He of whom John bore witness as the ChristHe whom the multitude would gladly have seized that He might be their kingHe whom the city saluted with triumphant shouts as the Son of DavidHe to whom women ministered with such deep devotion, and whose aspect, even in the troubled images of a dream, had inspired a Roman lady with interest and aweHe whose mere word caused Philip and Matthew and many others to leave all and follow HimHe whose one glance broke into an agony of repentance the heart of PeterHe before whose presence those possessed with devils were alternately agitated into frenzy and calmed into repose, and at whose question, in the very crisis of His weakness and betrayal, His most savage enemies shrank and fell prostrate in the moment of their most infuriated wrathsuch an One as this could not have been without the personal majesty of a Prophet and a Priest. All the facts of His life speak convincingly of that strength, and endurance, and dignity, and electric influence which none could have exercised without a large share of human, no less than of spiritual, gifts. "Certainly," says St. Jerome, "a flame of fire and starry brightness flashed from His eye, and the majesty of the Godhead shone in His face."
The third day after the return from the wilderness seems to have been spent by Jesus in intercourse with His new disciples. On the fourth day He wished to start for His return to Galilee, and on the journey fell in with another young fisherman, Philip of Bethsaida. Alone of the apostles Philip had a Greek name, derived, perhaps, from the tetrarch Philip, since the custom of naming children after reigning princes has always been a common one. If so, he must at this time have been under thirty. Possibly his Greek name indicates his familiarity with some of the Greek-speaking population who lived mingled with the Galilæans on the shores of Gennesareth; and this may account for the fact that he, rather than any of the other Apostles, was appealed to by the Greeks who, in the last week of His life, wished to see our Lord. One wordthe one pregnant invitation, "Follow me!"was sufficient to attach to Jesus for ever the gentle and simpleminded Apostle, whom in all probability he had previously known.
The next day a fifth neophyte was added to that sacred and happy band. Eager to communicate the rich discovery which he had made, Philip sought out his friend Nathanael, exercising thereby the divinest prerogative of friendship, which consists in the communication to others of all that we have ourselves experienced to be most divine. Nathanael, in the list of Apostles, is generally, and almost indubitably, identified with Bartholomew; for Bartholomew is less a name than a designation"Bar-Tolmai, the son of Tolmai;" and while Nathanael is only in one other place mentioned under this name (John xxi. 2), Bartholomew (of whom, on any other supposition, we should know nothing whatever) is, in the list of Apostles, almost invariably associated with Philip. As his home was at Cana of Galilee, the son of Tolmai might easily have become acquainted with the young fishermen of Gennesareth. And yet so deep was the retirement in which up to this time Jeans had lived His life, that though Nathanael knew Philip, he knew nothing of Christ. The simple mind of Philip seemed to find a pleasure in contrasting the grandeur of His office with the meanness of His birth: "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write;" whom think you?a young Herodian Prince?a young Asmonæan priest?some burning light from the schools of Shammai or Hillel?some passionate young Emîr from, the followers of Judas of Gamala?no, but "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
Nathanael seems to have felt the contrast. He caught at the local designation. It may be, as legend says, that he was a man of higher position than the rest of the Apostles. It has been usually considered that his answer was proverbial; but perhaps it was a passing allusion to the word nazora, "despicable;" or it may merely have implied "Nazareth, that obscure and ill-reputed town in its little untrodden valleycan anything good come from thence?" The answer is in the same words which our Lord had addressed to John and Andrew. Philip was an apt scholar, and he too said, "Come and see."
To-day, too, that question"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"is often repeated, and the one sufficient answeralmost the only possible answeris now, as it then was, "Come and see." Then it meant, come and see One who speaks as never man spake; come and see One who, though he be but the Carpenter of Nazareth, yet overawes the souls of all who approach himseeming by His mere presence to reveal the secrets of all hearts, yet drawing to him even the most sinful with a sense of yearning love; come and see One from whom there seems to breathe forth the irresistible charm of a sinless purity, the unapproachable beauty of a Divine life. "Come and see," said Philip, convinced in his simple faithful heart that to see Jesus was to know Him, and to know was to love, and to love was to adore. In this sense, indeed, we can say "come and see" no longer; for since the blue heavens closed on the visions which were vouchsafed to St. Stephen and St. Paul, His earthly form has been visible no more. But there is another sense, no less powerful for conviction, in which it still suffices to say, in answer to all doubts, "Come and see." Come and see a dying world revivified, a decrepit world regenerated, an aged world rejuvenescent; come and see the darkness illuminated, the despair dispelled; come and see tenderness brought into the cell of the imprisoned felon, and liberty to the fettered slave; come and see the poor, and the ignorant, and the many, emancipated for ever from the intolerable thraldom of the rich, the learned, and the few; come and see hospitals and orphanages rising in their permanent mercy beside the crumbling ruins of colossal amphitheatres which once reeked with human blood; come and see the obscene symbols of an universal degradation obliterated indignantly from the purified abodes; come and see the dens of lust and tyranny transformed into sweet and happy homes, defiant atheists into believing Christians, rebels into children, and pagans into saints. Ay, come and see the majestic acts of one great drama continued through nineteen Christian centuries; and as you see them all tending to one great development, long predetermined in the Council of the Divine Willas you learn in reverent humility that even apparent Chance is in reality the daughter of Forethought, as well as, for those who thus recognise her nature, the sister of Order and Persuasionas you hear the voice of your Saviour searching, with the loving accents of a compassion which will neither strive nor cry, your very reins and heartit may be that you too will unlearn the misery of doubt, and exclaim in calm and happy confidence, with the pure and candid Nathanael, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel!"
The fastidious reluctance of Nathanael was very soon dispelled. Jesus, as He saw him coming, recognised that the seal of God was upon his forehead, and said of him, "Behold a true Israelite, in whom guile is not." "Whence dost thou recognise me?" asked Nathanael and then came that heart-searching answer, "Before that Philip called thee, whilst thou wert under the fig-tree, I saw thee."
It was the custom of pious Jewsa custom approved by the Talmudto study their crishma, or office of daily prayer, under a fig-tree; and some have imagined that there is something significant in the fact of the Apostle having been summoned from the shade of a tree which symbolised Jewish ordinances and Jewish traditions, but which was beginning already to cumber the ground. But though something interesting and instructive may often be derived from the poetic insight of a chastened imagination, which can thus observe allegories which lie involved in the simplest facts, yet no such flash of sudden perception could alone have accounted for the agitated intensity of Nathanael's reply. Every one must have been struck at first sight, with the apparent disproportionateness between the cause and the effect. How apparently inadequate was that quiet allusion to the lonely session of silent thought under the fig-tree, to produce the instantaneous adhesion, the henceforth inalienable loyalty, of this "fusile Apostle" to the Son of God, the King of Israel! But for the true explanation of this instantaneity of conviction, we must look deeper; and then, if I mistake not, we shall see in this incident another of those indescribable touches of reality which have been to so many powerful minds the most irresistible internal evidence to establish the historic truthfulness of the Fourth Gospel.
There are moments when the grace of God stirs sensibly in the human heart; when the soul seems to rise upon the eagle-wings of hope and prayer into the heaven of heavens; when caught up, as it were, into God's very presence, we see and hear things unspeakable. At such moments we live a lifetime; for emotions such as these annihilate all time; they
"Crowd Eternity into an hour,
At such moments we are nearer to God; we seem to know Him and be known of him; and if it were possible for any man at such a moment to see into our souls, he would know all that is greatest and most immortal in our beings. But to see us then is impossible to man; it is possible only to Him whose hand should lead, whose right hand should guide us, even if we could take the wings of the morning and fly into the uttermost parts of the sea. And such a crisis of emotion must the guileless Israelite have known as he sat and prayed and mused in silence under his fig-tree. To the consciousness of such a crisisa crisis which could only be known to One to whom it was given to read the very secrets of the heartour Lord appealed. Let him who has had a similar experience say how he would regard a living man who could reveal to him that he had at such a moment looked into and fathomed the emotions of his heart. That such solitary musingssuch penetrating, even in this life, "behind the vail "such raptures into the third heaven during which the soul strives to transcend the limitations of space and time while it communes, face to face, with the Eternal and the Unseensuch sudden kindlings of celestial lightning which seem to have fused all that is meanest and basest within us in an instant and for everthat these supreme crises are among the recorded experiences of the Christian life, rests upon indisputable evidence of testimony and of fact. And if any one of my readers has ever known this spasm of divine change which annihilates the old and in the same moment creates or re-creates a new-born soul, such a one, at least, will understand the thrill of electric sympathy, the arrow-point of intense conviction, that shot that very instant through the heart of Nathanael, and brought him, as it were, at once upon his knees with the exclamation, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel!"
We scarcely hear of Nathanael again. His seems to have been one of those calm, retiring, contemplative souls, whose whole sphere of existence lies not here, but
"Where, beyond these voices, there is peace."
It was a life of which the world sees nothing, because it was "hid with Christ in God;" but of this we may be sure, that never till the day of his martyrdom, or even during his martyr agonies, did he forget those quiet words which showed that his "Lord had searched him out and known him, and comprehended his thoughts long before." Not once, doubtless, but on many and many a future day, was the promise fulfilled for him and for his companions, that, with the eye of faith, they should "see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."