On receiving notice from the publisher that a second edition of The Training of the Twelve which first appeared in 1871, was called for, I was obliged to consider the question what alterations should be made on a work which, though written with care, was too obviously, to my maturer judgment, stamped with imperfection. Two alternatives suggested themselves to my mind. One was to recast the whole, so as to give it a more critical and scientific character, and make it bear more directly on current controversies respecting the origin of Christianity. The other was to allow the book to remain substantially as it was, retaining its popular form, and limiting alterations to details susceptible of improvement without change of plan. After a little hesitation, I decided for the latter course, for the following reasons. From expressions of opinion that reached me from many and very diverse quarters, I had come to be convinced that the book was appreciated and found useful, and I thence concluded that, notwithstanding its faults, it might continue to be of service in its primitive shape. Then, considering how difficult in all things it is to serve two masters or accomplish at once two ends, I saw that the adoption of the former of the two alternative courses was tantamount to writing a new book, which could be done, if necessary, independently of the present publication. I confess to having a vague plan of such a work in my head, which may or may not be carried into effect. The Tübingen school of critics, with whose works English readers are now becoming acquainted through translations, maintain that catholic Christianity was the result of a compromise or reconciliation between two radically opposed tendencies, represented respectively by the original apostles and by Paul, the two tendencies being Judaistic exclusiveness on the one hand, and Pauline universalism on the other. The twelve said: Christianity for Jews, and all who are willing to become Jews by compliance with Jewish custom; Paul said: Christianity for the whole world, and for all on the same terms. Now the material dealt with in The Training of the Twelve, must, from the nature of the case, have some bearing on this conflict hypothesis of Dr. Barr and his friends. The question arises, What was to be expected of the men that were with Jesus? and the consideration of this question would form an important division of such a controversial work as I have in view. Another chapter might consider the part assigned to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles (alleged by the same school of critics to be a part invented for him by the writer for an apologetic purpose), seeking especially to determine whether it was a likely part for him to play—likely in view of his idiosyncrasies, or the training he had received. Another appropriate topic would be the character of the Apostle John, as portrayed in the synoptical Gospels, in its bearing on the questions of the authorship of the fourth Gospel, and the hostility to Paul and his universalism alleged to be manifested in the Book of Revelation. In such a work there would further fall to be considered the materials bearing on the same theme in other parts of the New Testament, especially those to be found in the Epistle to the Galatians. Finally, there might not inappropriately be found a place in such a work for a discussion of the question, How far do the synoptical Gospels—the principal sources of information regarding the teaching and public actions of Christ—bear traces of the influence of controversial or conciliatory tendencies? e.g. what ground is there for the assertion that the mission of the seventy is an invention in the interest of Pauline universalism intended to throw the original apostles into the shade?
In the present work I have not attempted to develop the argument here outlined, but have merely indicated the places at which the different points of the argument might come in, and the way in which they might be used. The conflict hypothesis was not absent from my mind in writing the book at first; but I was neither so well acquainted with the literature relating thereto, nor so sensible of its importance, as I am now.
In preparing this new edition for the press, I have not lost sight of any hints from friendly critics which might tend to make it more acceptable and useful. In particular, I have kept steadily in view retrenchment of the homiletic element, though I am sensible that I may still have retained too much for some tastes, but I hope not too much for the generality of readers. I have had to remember, that while some friends called for condensation, others have complained that the matter was too closely packed. I have also had occasion to observe in my reading of books on the Gospel history that it is possible to be so brief and sketchy as to miss not only the latent connections of thought, but even the thoughts themselves. The changes have not all been in the direction of retrenchment. While not a few paragraphs have been cancelled or reduced in bulk, other new ones have been added, and in one or two instances whole pages have been rewritten. Among the more important additions may be mentioned a note at the end of the chapter relating to the farewell discourse, giving an analysis of the discourse into its component parts; and a concluding paragraph at the end of the work summing up the instructions which the twelve had received from Jesus during the time they had been with Him. Besides these, a feature of this edition is a series of footnotes referring to some of the principal recent publications, British and foreign, whose contents relate more or less to the Gospel history, such as the works of Keim, Pfleiderer, Golani, Farrar, Sanday, and Supernatural Religion. The notes referring to Mr. Sanday’s work bear on the important question, how far we have in John’s Gospel a reliable record of the words spoken by Jesus to His disciples on the eve of His passion.
Besides the index of passages discussed which appeared in the first edition, this edition contains a carefully-prepared table of contents at the end, which it is hoped will add to the utility of the work. To make the bearing of the contents on the training of the disciples more apparent, I have in several instances changed the titles of chapters, or supplied alternative titles.
With these explanations, I send forth this new edition, with grateful feelings for the kind reception which the work has already received, and in the hope that by the divine blessing it may continue to be of use as an attempt to illustrate an interesting and important theme.
Perhaps the best recommendation that I can give the book, however, is to tell you that although I have many hundreds of books in my growing library, all carefully cataloged and filed, shelved and ordered, I have just realized that The Training of the Twelve has never been officially included in my library! The reason is simple. Ever since I purchased my copy, years ago, it has stayed either on my desk or at my elbow with a handful of other books which I need to refer to constantly. I just haven’t been able to part with it long enough to let my secretary put it in its proper place! On second thought, it is in its proper place right where I can get hold of it quickly. I hope your copy will find such a place in your life and experience.
The section of the Gospel history above indicated, possesses the interest peculiar to the beginnings of all things that have grown to greatness. Here are exhibited to our view the infant church in its cradle, the petty sources of the River of Life, the earliest blossoms of Christian faith, the humble origin of the mighty empire of the Lord Jesus Christ.
All beginnings are more or less obscure in appearance, but none were ever more obscure than those of Christianity. What an insignificant event in the history of the church, not to say of the world, this first meeting of Jesus of Nazareth with five humble men, Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and another unnamed! It actually seems almost too trivial to find a place even in the evangelic narrative. For we have here to do not with any formal solemn call to the great office of the apostleship, or even with the commencement of an uninterrupted discipleship, but at the utmost with the beginnings of an acquaintance with and of faith in Jesus on the part of certain individuals who subsequently became constant attendants on His person, and ultimately apostles of His religion. Accordingly we find no mention made in the three first Gospels of the events here recorded.
Far from being surprised at the silence of the synoptical evangelists, one is rather tempted to wonder how it came to pass that John, the author of the fourth Gospel, after the lapse of so many years, thought it worth while to relate incidents so minute, especially in such close proximity to the sublime sentences with which his Gospel begins. But we are kept from such incredulous wonder by the reflection, that facts objectively insignificant may be very important to the feelings of those whom they personally concern. What if John were himself one of the five who on the present occasion became acquainted with Jesus? That would make a wide difference between him and the other evangelists, who could know of the incidents here related, if they knew of them at all, only at second hand. In the case supposed, it would not be surprising that to his latest hour John remembered with emotion the first time he saw the Incarnate Word, and deemed the minutest memorials of that time unspeakably precious. First meetings are sacred as well as last ones, especially such as are followed by a momentous history, and accompanied, as is apt to be the case, with omens prophetic of the future.1 Such omens were not wanting in connection with the first meeting between Jesus and the five disciples. Did not the Baptist then first give to Jesus the name “Lamb of God,” so exactly descriptive of His earthly mission and destiny? Was not Nathanael’s doubting question, “ Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? “ an ominous indication of a conflict with unbelief awaiting the Messiah? And what a happy omen of an opening era of wonders to be wrought by divine grace and power was contained in the promise of Jesus to the pious, though at first doubting, Israelite : “Henceforth ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”!
That John, the writer of the fourth Gospel, really was the fifth unnamed disciple, may be regarded as certain. It is his way throughout his Gospel, when alluding to himself, to use a periphrasis, or to leave, as here, a blank where his name should be. One of the two disciples who heard the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God was the evangelist himself, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, being the other.2 impressions produced on our minds by these little anecdotes of the infancy of the Gospel must be feeble, indeed, as compared with the emotions awakened by the memory of them in the breast of the aged apostle by whom they are recorded. It would not, however, be creditable either to our intelligence or to our piety if we could peruse this page of the evangelic history unmoved, as if it were utterly devoid of interest. We should address ourselves to the study of the simple story with somewhat of the feeling with which men make pilgrimages to sacred places; for indeed the ground is holy.
The scene of the occurrences in which we are concerned was in the region of Pera, on the banks of the Jordan, at the lower part of its course. The persons who make their appearance on the scene were all natives of Galilee, and their presence here is due to the fame of the remarkable man whose office it was to be the forerunner of the Christ. John, surnamed the Baptist, who had spent his youth in the desert as a hermit, living on locusts and wild honey, and clad in a garment of camel’s hair, had come forth from his retreat, and appeared among men as a prophet of God. The burden of his prophecy was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In a short time many were attracted from all quarters to see and hear him. Of those who flocked to his preaching, the greater number went as they came; but not a few were deeply impressed, and, confessing their sins, underwent the rite of baptism in the waters of the Jordan. Of those who were baptized, a select number formed themselves into a circle of disciples around the person of the Baptist, among whom were at least two, and most probably the whole, of the five men mentioned by the evangelist. Previous converse with the Baptist had awakened in these disciples a desire to see Jesus, and prepared them for believing in Him. In his communications to the people around him John made frequent allusions to One who should come after himself. He spoke of this coming One in language fitted to awaken great expectations. He called himself, with reference to the coming One, a mere voice in the wilderness, crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” At another time he said, “I baptize with water; but there standeth One among you whom ye know not: He it is who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” This great One was none other than the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel.
Such discourses were likely to result, and by the man of God who uttered them they were intended to result, in the disciples of the Baptist leaving him and going over to Jesus. And we see here the process of transition actually commencing. We do not affirm that the persons here named finally quitted the Baptist’s company at this time, to become henceforth regular followers of Jesus. But an acquaintance now begins which will end in that. The bride is introduced to the Bridegroom, and the marriage will come in due season; not to the chagrin but to the joy of the Bridegroom’s friend.3 easily and artlessly does the mystic bride, as represented by these five disciples, become acquainted with her heavenly Bridegroom! The account of their meeting is idyllic in its simplicity, and would only be spoiled by a commentary. There is no need of formal introduction: they all introduce each other. Even John and Andrew were not formally introduced to Jesus by the Baptist; they rather introduced themselves. The exclamation of the desert prophet on seeing Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” repeated next day in an abbreviated form, was the involuntary utterance of one absorbed in his own thoughts, rather than the deliberate speech of one who was directing his disciples to leave himself and go over to Him of whom he spake. The two disciples, on the other hand, in going away after the personage whose presence had been so impressively announced, were not obeying an order given by their old master, but were simply following the dictates of feelings which had been awakened in their breasts by all they had heard him say of Jesus, both on the present and on former occasions. They needed no injunction to seek the acquaintance of one in whom they felt so keenly interested: all they needed was to know that this was He. They were as anxious to see the Messianic King as the world is to see the face of a secular prince.
It is natural that we should scan the evangelical narrative for indications of character with reference to those who, in the way so quaintly described, for the first time met Jesus. Little is said of the five disciples, but there is enough to show that they were all pious men. What they found in their new friend indicates what they wanted to find. They evidently belonged to the select band who waited for the consolation of Israel, and anxiously looked for Him who should fulfil God’s promises and realize the hopes of all devout souls. Besides this general indication of character supplied in their common confession of faith, a few facts are stated respecting these first believers in Jesus tending to make us a little better acquainted with them. Two of them certainly, all of them probably, had been disciples of the Baptist. This fact is decisive as to their moral earnestness. From such a quarter none but spiritually earnest men were likely to come. For if the followers of John were at all like himself, they were men who hungered and thirsted after real righteousness, being sick of the righteousness then in vogue; they said Amen in their hearts to the preacher’s withering exposure of the hollowness of current religious profession and of the worthlessness of fashionable good works, and sighed for a sanctity other than that of pharisaic superstition and ostentation; their conscience acknowledged the truth of the prophetic oracle, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away;” and they prayed fervently for the reviving of true religion, for the coming of the divine kingdom, for the advent of the Messianic King with fan in His hand to separate chaff from wheat, and to put right all things which were wrong. Such, without doubt, were the sentiments of those who had the honor to be the first disciples of Christ.
Simon, best known of all the twelve under the name of Peter, is introduced to us here, through the prophetic insight of Jesus, on the good side of his character as the man of rock. When this disciple was brought by his brother Andrew into the presence of his future Master, Jesus, we are told, “beheld him and said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas”—Cephas meaning in Syriac, as the evangelist explains, the same which Petros signifies in Greek. The penetrating glance of Christ discerned in this disciple latent capacities of faith and devotion, the rudiments of ultimate strength and power.
What manner of man Philip was the evangelist does not directly tell us, but merely whence he came. From the present passage, and from other notices in the Gospels, the conclusion has been drawn that he was characteristically deliberate, slow in arriving at decision; and for proof of this view, reference has been made to the “phlegmatic circumstantiality”4 with which he described to Nathanael the person of Him with whom he had just become acquainted.5 But these words of Philip, and all that we elsewhere read of him, rather suggest to us the idea of the earnest inquirer after truth, who has thoroughly searched the Scriptures and made himself acquainted with the Messiah of promise and prophecy, and to whom the knowledge of God is the summum bonum. In the solicitude manifested by this disciple to win his friend Nathanael over to the same faith we recognize that generous sympathetic spirit, characteristic of earnest inquirers, which afterwards revealed itself in him when he became the bearer of the request of devout Greeks for permission to see Jesus.6 notices concerning Nathanael, Philip’s acquaintance, are more detailed and more interesting than in the case of any other of the five; and it is not a little surprising that we should be told so much in this place about one concerning whom we otherwise know almost nothing. It is even not quite certain that he belonged to the circle of the twelve, though the probability is, that he is to be identified with the Bartholomew of the synoptical catalogues—his full name in that case being Nathanael the son of Tolmai. It is strongly in favor of this supposition that the name Bartholomew comes immediately after Philip in the lists of the apostles.7 Be this as it may, we know on the best authority that Nathanael was a man of great moral excellence. No sooner had Jesus seen him than He exclaimed, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” The words suggest the idea of one whose heart was pure; in whom was no doublemindedness, impure motive, pride, or unholy passion: a man of gentle, meditative spirit, in whose mind heaven lay reflected like the blue sky in a still lake on a calm summer day. He was a man much addicted to habits of devotion: he had been engaged in spiritual exercises under cover of a fig-tree just before he met with Jesus. So we are justified in concluding, from the deep impression made on his mind by the words of Jesus, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.” Nathanael appears to have understood these words as meaning, “I saw into thy heart, and knew how thou wast occupied, and therefore I pronounced thee an Israelite indeed.” He accepted the statement made to him by Jesus as an evidence of preternatural knowledge, and therefore he forthwith made the confession, “Rabbi! Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel”—the King of that sacred commonwealth whereof you say I am a citizen.
It is remarkable that this man, so highly endowed with the moral dispositions necessary for seeing God, should have been the only one of all the five disciples who manifested any hesitancy about receiving Jesus as the Christ. When Philip told him that he had found the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth, he asked incredulously, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” One hardly expects such prejudice in one so meek and amiable; and yet, on reflection, we perceive it to be quite characteristic. Nathanael’s prejudice against Nazareth sprung not from pride, as in the case of the people of Judea who despised the Galileans in general, but from humility. He was a Galilean himself, and as much an object of Jewish contempt as were the Nazarenes. His inward thought was, “Surely the Messiah can never come from among a poor despised people such as we are—from Nazareth or any other Galilean town or village!”8 He timidly allowed his mind to be biased by a current opinion originating in feelings with which he had no sympathy; a fault common to men whose piety, though pure and sincere, defers too much to human authority, and who thus become the slaves of sentiments utterly unworthy of them.
While Nathanael was not free from prejudices, he showed his guilelessness in being willing to have them removed. He came and saw. This openness to conviction is the mark of moral integrity. The guileless man dogmatizes not, but investigates, and therefore always comes right in the end. The man of bad, dishonest heart, on the contrary, does not come and see. Deeming it his interest to remain in his present mind, he studiously avoids looking at aught which does not tend to confirm his foregone conclusions. He may, indeed, profess a desire for inquiry, like certain Israelites of whom we read in this same Gospel, of another stamp than Nathanael, but sharing with him the prejudice against Galilee. “Search and look,” said these Israelites not without guile, in reply to the ingenuous question of the honest but timid Nicodemus: “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” “Search and look,” said they, appealing to observation and inviting inquiry; but they added: “For out of Galilee ariseth no prophet”9 —a dictum which at once prohibited inquiry in effect, and intimated that it was unnecessary. “Search and look; but we tell you beforehand you cannot arrive at any other conclusion than ours; nay, we warn you, you had better not.”
Such were the characters of the men who first believed in Jesus. What, now, was the amount and value of their belief? On first view the faith of the five disciples, leaving out of account the brief hesitation of Nathanael, seems unnaturally sudden and mature. They believe in Jesus on a moment’s notice, and they express their faith in terms which seem appropriate only to advanced Christian intelligence. In the present section of John’s Gospel we find Jesus called not merely the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Israel, but the Son of God and the Lamb of God—names expressive to us of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity, the Incarnation and the Atonement.
The haste and maturity which seem to characterize the faith of the five disciples are only superficial appearances. As to the former: these men believed that Messiah was to come some time; and they wished much it might be then, for they felt He was greatly needed. They were men who waited for the consolation of Israel, and they were prepared at any moment to witness the advent of the Comforter. Then the Baptist had told them that the Christ was come, and that He was to be found in the person of Him whom he had baptized, and whose baptism had been accompanied with such remarkable signs from heaven; and what the Baptist said they implicitly believed. Finally, the impression produced on their minds by the bearing of Jesus when they met, tended to confirm John’s testimony, being altogether worthy of the Christ.
The appearance of maturity in the faith of the five brethren is equally superficial. As to the name Lamb of God, it was given to Jesus by John, not by them. It was, so to speak, the baptismal name which the preacher of repentance had learned by reflection, or by special revelation, to give to the Christ. What the name signified even he but dimly comprehended, the very repetition of it showing him to be but a learner striving to get up his lesson; and we know that what John understood only in part, the men whom he introduced to the acquaintance of Jesus, now and for long after, understood not at all.10 title Son of God was given to Jesus by one of the five disciples as well as by the Baptist, a title which even the apostles in after years found sufficient to express their mature belief respecting the Person of their Lord. But it does not follow that the name was used by them at the beginning with the same fulness of meaning as at the end. It was a name which could be used in a sense coming far short of that which it is capable of conveying, and which it did convey in apostolic preaching—merely as one of the Old Testament titles of Messiah, a synonyme for Christ. It was doubtless in this rudimentary sense that Nathanael applied the designation to Him, whom he also called the King of Israel.
The faith of these brethren was, therefore, just such as we should expect in beginners. In substance it amounted to this, that they recognized in Jesus the Divine Prophet, King, Son of Old Testament prophecy; and its value lay not in its maturity, or accuracy, but in this, that however imperfect, it brought them into contact and close fellowship with Him, in whose company they were to see greater things than when they first believed, one truth after another assuming its place in the firmament of their minds, like the stars appearing in the evening sky as daylight fades away.
1 Omina principus inesse solent.—Ovid. Fast. i. 178.
2 verse 41.
3 John iii. 29.
4 Luthardt, Das Johan. Evang. i. 102.
5 ver 45.
6 John xii. 22.
7 Ewald lays stress on this in proof of the identity of the two, Geschichte Christus, p.327. In Acts i.13 Thomas comes between Philip and Bartholomew.
8 Stanley thinks Nathanael meant to single out Nazareth from the rest of Galilee as of specially bad notoriety. In that case the argument would be fortiori : Can any good come out of Galilee, and specially from Nazareth, infamous even there?—Sinai and Palestine, p. 366.
9 John vii. 52 The Revised Version has: “Search and see that out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.”
10 The use of such a title by John at such an early period does certainly give one a surprise. And yet is it not more surprising to find such a passage as the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, on any interpretation of it, in an Old Testament book? And being there, why wonder that this title was in John’s mouth? That John understood the full import of his own words we are not bound, or even entitled, to believe. Why should not the utterance be as much a mystery for him as, according to the Apostle Peter, similar utterances by older prophets were to them?
Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11.
The twelve arrived at their final intimate relation to Jesus only by degrees, three stages in the history of their fellowship with Him being distinguishable. In the first stage they were simply believers in Him as the Christ, and His occasional companions at convenient, particularly festive, seasons. Of this earliest stage in the intercourse of the disciples with their Master we have some memorials in the four first chapters of John’s Gospel, which tell how some of them first became acquainted with Jesus, and represent them as accompanying Him at a marriage in Cana,11 at a passover in Jerusalem,12 on a visit to the scene of the Baptist’s ministry,13 and on the return journey through Samaria from the south to Galilee.14 the second stage, fellowship with Christ assumed the form of an uninterrupted attendance on His person, involving entire, or at least habitual abandonment of secular occupations.15 The present narratives bring under our view certain of the disciples entering on this second stage of discipleship. Of the four persons here named, we recognize three, Peter, Andrew, and John, as old acquaintances, who have already passed through the first stage of discipleship. One of them, James the brother of John, we meet with for the first time; a fact which suggests the remark, that in some cases the first and second stages may have been blended together—professions of faith in Jesus as the Christ being immediately followed by the renunciation of secular callings for the purpose of joining His company. Such cases, however, were probably exceptional and few.
The twelve entered on the last and highest stage of discipleship when they were chosen by their Master from the mass of His followers, and formed into a select band, to be trained for the great work of the apostleship. This important event probably did not take place till all the members of the apostolic circle had been for some time about the person of Jesus.
From the evangelic records it appears that Jesus began at a very early period of His ministry to gather round Him a company of disciples, with a view to the preparation of an agency for carrying on the work of the divine kingdom. The two pairs of brothers received their call at the commencement of the first Galilean ministry, in which the first act was the selection of Capernaum by the seaside as the centre of operations and ordinary place of abode.16 And when we think what they were called unto, we see that the call could not come too soon. The twelve were to be Christ’s witnesses in the world after He Himself had left it; it was to be their peculiar duty to give to the world a faithful account of their Master’s words and deeds, a just image of His character, a true reflection of His spirit.17 This service obviously could be rendered only by persons who had been, as nearly as possible, eye-witnesses and servants of the Incarnate Word from the beginning. While, therefore, except in the cases of Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Matthew, we have no particulars in the Gospels respecting the calls of those who afterwards became apostles, we must assume that they all occurred in the first year of the Saviour’s public ministry.
That these calls were given with conscious reference to an ulterior end, even the apostleship, appears from the remarkable terms in which the earliest of them was expressed. “Follow Me,” said Jesus to the fishermen of Bethsaida, “and I will make you fishers of men.” These words (whose originality stamps them as a genuine saying of Jesus) show that the great Founder of the faith desired not only to have disciples, but to have about Him men whom He might train to make disciples of others: to cast the net of divine truth into the sea of the world, and to land on the shores of the divine kingdom a great multitude of believing souls. Both from His words and from His actions we can see that He attached supreme importance to that part of His work which consisted in training the twelve. In the intercessory prayer,18 e.g., He speaks of the training He had given these men as if it had been the principal part of His own earthly ministry. And such, in one sense, it really was. The careful, painstaking education of the disciples secured that the Teacher’s influence on the world should be permanent; that His kingdom should be founded on the rock of deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of the few, not on the shifting sands of superficial evanescent impressions on the minds of the many. Regarding that kingdom, as our Lord Himself has taught us in one of His parables to do,19 as a thing introduced into the world like a seed cast into the ground and left to grow according to natural laws, we may say that, but for the twelve, the doctrine, the works, and the image of Jesus might have perished from human remembrance, nothing remaining but a vague mythical tradition, of no historical value, and of little practical influence.
Those on whom so much depended, it plainly behoved to possess very extraordinary qualifications. The mirrors must be finely polished that are designed to reflect the image of Christ! The apostles of the Christian religion must be men of rare spiritual endowment. It is a catholic religion, intended for all nations; therefore its apostles must be free from Jewish narrowness, and have sympathies wide as the world. It is a spiritual religion, destined ere long to antiquate Jewish ceremonialism; therefore its apostles must be emancipated in conscience from the yoke of ordinances.20 It is a religion, once more, which is to proclaim the Cross, previously an instrument of cruelty and badge of infamy, as the hope of the world’s redemption, and the symbol of all that is noble and heroic in conduct; therefore its heralds must be superior to all conventional notions of human and divine dignity, capable of glorying in the cross of Christ, and willing to bear a cross themselves. The apostolic character, in short, must combine freedom of conscience, enlargement of heart, enlightenment of mind, and all in the superlative degree.
The humble fishermen of Galilee had much to learn before they could satisfy these high requirements; so much, that the time of their apprenticeship for their apostolic work, even reckoning it from the very commencement of Christ’s ministry, seems all too short. They were indeed godly men, who had already shown the sincerity of their piety by forsaking all for their Master’s sake. But at the time of their call they were exceedingly ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, full of Jewish prejudices, misconceptions, and animosities. They had much to unlearn of what was bad, as well as much to learn of what was good, and they were slow both to learn and to unlearn. Old beliefs already in possession of their minds made the communication of new religious ideas a difficult task. Men of good honest heart, the soil of their spiritual nature was fitted to produce an abundant harvest; but it was stiff, and needed much laborious tillage before it would yield its fruit. Then, once more, they were poor men, of humble birth, low station, mean occupations, who had never felt the stimulating influence of a liberal education, or of social intercourse with persons of cultivated minds.21 shall meet with abundant evidence of the crude spiritual condition of the twelve, even long after the period when they were called to follow Jesus, as we proceed with the studies on which we have entered. Meantime we may discover significant indications of the religious immaturity of at least one of the disciples—Simon, son of Jonas—in Luke’s account of the incidents connected with his call. Pressed by the multitude who had assembled on the shore of the lake to hear Him preach, Jesus, we read, entered into a ship (one of two lying near at hand), which happened to be Simon’s, and requesting him to thrust out a little from the land, sat down, and taught the people from the vessel. Having finished speaking, Jesus said unto the owner of the boat, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Their previous efforts to catch fish had been unsuccessful; but Simon and his brother did as Jesus directed, and were rewarded by an extraordinary take, which appeared to them and their fishing companions, James and John, nothing short of miraculous. Simon, the most impressible and the most demonstrative of the four, gave utterance to his feelings of astonishment by characteristic words and gestures. He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
This exclamation opens a window into the inner man of him who uttered it through which we can see his spiritual state. We observe in Peter at this time that mixture of good and evil, of grace and nature, which so frequently reappears in his character in the subsequent history. Among the good elements discernible are reverential awe in presence of Divine Power, a prompt calling to mind of sin betraying tenderness of conscience, and an unfeigned self-humiliation on account of unmerited favor. Valuable features of character these; but they did not exist in Peter without alloy. Along with them were associated superstitious dread of the supernatural and a slavish fear of God. The presence of the former element is implied in the reassuring exhortation addressed to the disciple by Jesus, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Slavish fear of God is even more manifest in his own words, “Depart from me, O Lord.” Powerfully impressed with the super-human knowledge revealed in connection with the great draught of fishes, he regards Jesus for the moment as a supernatural being, and as such dreads Him as one whom it is not safe to be near, especially for a poor sinful mortal like himself. This state of mind shows how utterly unfit Peter is, as yet, to be an apostle of a Gospel which magnifies the grace of God even to the chief of sinners. His piety, sufficiently strong and decided, is not of a Christian type; it is legal, one might almost say pagan, in spirit.
With all their imperfections, which were both numerous and great, these humble fishermen of Galilee had, at the very outset of their career, one grand distinguishing virtue, which, though it may co-exist with many defects, is the cardinal virtue of Christian ethics, and the certain forerunner of ultimate high attainment. They were animated by a devotion to Jesus and to the divine kingdom which made them capable of any sacrifice. Believing Him who bade them follow Him to the Christ, come to set up God’s kingdom on earth, they “straightway” left their nets and joined his company, to be thenceforth His constant companions in all His wanderings. The act was acknowledged by Jesus Himself to be meritorious; and we cannot, without injustice, seek to disparage it by ascribing it to idleness, discontent, or ambition as its motive. The Gospel narrative shows that the four brethren were not idle, but hard-working, industrious men. Neither were they discontented, if for no other reason than that they had no cause for discontent.
The family of James and John at least seems to have been in circumstances of comfort; for Mark relates that, when called by Jesus, they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him. But ambition, had it no place among their motives? Well, we must admit that the twelve, and especially James and John, were by no means free from ambitious passions, as we shall see hereafter. But to whatever extent ambition may have influenced their conduct at a later period, it was not the motive which determined them to leave their nets. Ambition needs a temptation: it does not join a cause which is obscure and struggling, and whose success is doubtful; it strikes in when success is assured, and when the movement it patronizes is on the eve of its glorification. The cause of Jesus had not got to that stage yet.
One charge only can be brought against those men, and it can be brought with truth, and without doing their memory any harm. They were enthusiasts: their hearts were fired, and, as an unbelieving world might say, their heads were turned by a dream about a divine kingdom to be set up in Israel, with Jesus of Nazareth for its king. That dream possessed them, and imperiously ruled over their minds and shaped their destinies, compelling them, like Abraham, to leave their kindred and their country, and to go forth on what might well appear beforehand to be a fool’s errand. Well for the world that they were possessed by the idea of the kingdom! For it was no fool’s errand on which they went forth, leaving their nets behind. The kingdom they sought turned out to be as real as the land of Canaan, though not such altogether as they had imagined. The fishermen of Galilee did become fishers of men on a most extensive scale, and, by the help of God, gathered many souls into the church of such as should be saved. In a sense they are casting their nets into the sea of the world still, and, by their testimony to Jesus in Gospel and Epistle, are bringing multitudes to become disciples of Him among whose first followers they had the happiness to be numbered.
The four, the twelve, forsook all and followed their Master. Did the “all” in any case include wife and children? It did in at least one instance—that of Peter; for the Gospels tell how Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of a fever by the miraculous power of Christ.22 From a passage in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian church, it appears that Peter was not the only one among the apostles who was married.23 From the same passage we further learn, that forsaking of wives for Christ’s sake did not mean literal desertion. Peter the apostle led his wife about with him, and Peter the disciple may sometimes have done the same. The likelihood is that the married disciples, like married soldiers, took their wives with them or left them at home, as circumstances might require or admit. Women, even married women, did sometimes follow Jesus; and the wife of Simon, or of any other married disciple, may occasionally have been among the number. At an advanced period in the history we find the mother of James and John in Christ’s company far from home; and where mothers were, wives, if they wished, might also be. The infant church, in its original nomadic or itinerant state, seems to have been a motley band of pilgrims, in which all sorts of people as to sex, social position, and moral character were united, the bond of union being ardent attachment to the person of Jesus.
This church itinerant was not a regularly organized society, of which it was necessary to be a constant member in order to true discipleship. Except in the case of the twelve, following Jesus from place to place was optional, not compulsory; and in most cases it was probably also only occasional.24 It was the natural consequence of faith, when the object of faith, the centre of the circle, was Himself in motion. Believers would naturally desire to see as many of Christ’s works and hear as many of His words as possible. When the object of faith left the earth, and His presence became spiritual, all occasion for such nomadic discipleship was done away. To be present with Him thereafter, men needed only to forsake their sins.
11 John ii. 1.
12 John ii. 13, 17, 22.
13 John iii. 22.
14 John iv. 1-27, 31, 43-45.
15 Entire in Matthew’s case, of course; in the case of the fishers, not necessarily so.
16 Matt. iv. 13.
17 It is not assumed here that the Gospels, as we have them, were written by apostles. The statement in the text implies only that the teaching of the apostles, whether oral or written, was the ultimate source of the evangelic traditions recorded in the Gospels.
18 John xvii. 6.
19 Mark iv. 26.
20 Universality and Spirituality are admitted by the Tübingen school to have been attributes of the religion of Jesus as set forth by Himself. This is an important fact in connection with their conflict-hypothesis.
21 Throughout this work great prominence is given to the moral and spiritual defects of the twelve. But we must protest at the outset against the inference that such men must remain permanently disqualified for the task of being the apostles of the universal religion, the religion of humanity. Everything may be hoped of men who could leave all for Christ’s society. Where there is a noble soul, there is an indefinite capacity of growth.
22 Matt. viii. 14; Mark i. 29-31; Luke iv. 38, 39.
23 I Cor. ix. 5.
24 The words recorded in Luke. xxii. 28, as spoken by Jesus to the disciples on the night before His death, “Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations,” might be referred to as tending to prove both the continuousness of the companionship of the twelve with Jesus and the early date of its commencement. The saying is directly intended to bear testimony to the fidelity of the disciples, but it bears indirect testimony on the other points also. They had been with their Master, if not as a constituted body of twelve, at least as individuals, from the time He began to have “temptations,” which was very early, and they had been with Him throughout them all.