Jesus and John, or
The Loving and the Loved
A Tribute to the Late Rev. William Marsh
by Octavius Winslow,
Bath, September 1864
The substance of these pages owes its publication mainly to the skill of the short-hand writer (but for which it could not have been secured) and the expressed desire of some who heard it from the pulpit, that this tribute of affection to the character of one whom each branch of the Christian Church claimed as its own — for each had an interest in his prayers and he, in return, a place in the esteem and affections of each — should assume a more permanent form. The love of the writer for the subject of his sketch was too deep and too ready not to respond to a wish so sacred — imperfect and unfinished as production necessarily must be. Alas! The race of godly ministers, of whom William Marsh and John Angell James were distinguished types, is fast diminishing. Who among us will wear their mantles? Let us perpetuate their Christian excellencies and seek grace from God to imitate their holy example, as they imitated Christ.
"The disciple whom Jesus loved, … who also had leaned on His bosom at the supper." John 21:20
It is not surprising, considering how closely, and at all points, the humanity of our Lord touched our own, that there should exist between the more delicate and exquisite traits of our nature and His — a strong feeling of attraction and sympathy. While He would feel a deep interest in man, finding his nature in its crudest form, its darkest hue, its lowest depression — He would yet be sensible of a peculiar and powerful affinity and communion with its higher, more lovely and lovable qualities.
It is this perfect concurrence of Christ's humanity with the highest type of ours which explains the fact — otherwise, perhaps, inexplicable — why, loving all His apostles alike, He should yet cherish and manifest an especial and marked favoritism for John, admitting him to a confidence and repose not granted to any other of the twelve. There must have existed in this disciple some natural quality in more perfect unison with the character of his Lord.
Is it difficult to surmise? While Christ would admire the zeal and magnanimity of Paul, and commend the ardor and intrepidity of Peter, and applaud the practical piety of James, and be awed by the stern integrity of the Baptist — He would be touched and drawn by the winning gentleness and love of John. This may explain the distinctive appellation which he wore and the privileged place which he occupied as "the disciple whom Jesus loved, … who also had leaned on His bosom at the supper."
There was not, I imagine, any intellectual superiority in this disciple or even higher attainments in personal holiness than the others; nor did there attach to him to him any ecclesiastical supremacy or power in the apostleship above the rest, supplying a solution to this marked preference. But we must refer the distinguished position of John as the beloved disciple — to those natural traits of character, and congeniality of disposition and taste, which were in more complete harmony with Jesus than that of any of the other apostles.
There was, probably, more heart in John — he was more loving and lovable than the rest; and so he became the favorite disciple of Jesus, and nestled in a deeper and warmer cloister within the bosom of his Lord. Over all this, how beautiful the robe of humility which he wore! Instead of assuming an air of superiority or presuming upon the favoritism of the Master, he suppressed his name while recording the fact; and both in the gospel and the epistles which he penned betrayed no spirit but lowliness, and breathed no word but love.
I have intimated my desire to pay a public tribute of respect to the memory of the late Rev. Dr. William Marsh, with whom it was my privilege to be on terms of a long and endeared friendship. Residing for twelve years in the same beautiful town, we were necessarily thrown much together in public and social life and were permitted in various ways to unite in promoting the glory of our common Lord and Master. Having served his own generation by the will of God, he has fallen asleep and has been gathered to his fathers in a full age, like a shock of corn comes in in his season. It was a solemn charge once alleged by God that "The righteous perish — and no man takes it to heart."
We have lost, alas, the holy life of this eminent servant of Christ; let us not lose his death — but while yet the shadows of the sepulcher are draping his coffin, seek to rescue from their oblivion the lessons of holy instruction and comfort which God by this melancholy event would impress upon His one Church.
In searching for a scripture portrait illustrative of the character of my departed friend, not one struck me as presenting so true and perfect a resemblance as that of "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The accuracy of the likeness, in some of its most essential and lovely features, will at once impress the eye of all who were admitted to the privilege of his friendship. It is not often, amid the infinite variety of God's creations — that either nature or grace produces from precisely the same mold, two characters so strangely alike as these which now awaken our admiration and invite our study.
Another confirmation, however, is afforded to the truth of God's word that there are instances in the history of the saints in which "He fashions their hearts alike" (Psalm 33:15). The passage suggests two features for our consideration: The Loving One — and The Loved One.
First, The Loving One.Who is He? There is but One! Loving hearts there are, throbbing with deep and pure affection for us amid earth's sufferings and tears, and with still deeper and purer love amid the splendor and bliss of Heaven. But in a universe pulsating with love, there is only one Loving One worthy of the name — one heart only that loves us as Christ loves. "Jesus loved." Take these words apart from the rest — as a precious gem from a rich cluster — and examine their import, and, if possible, estimate their worth.
"Jesus loved" — and stooped to our nature. The most stupendous and marvelous of all the facts of which the history of the world is composed, is the stoop of Deity to humanity — the Son of God clothing Himself with the vesture of flesh — the Godhead in unity with the Manhood. "Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh!" In a world of wonders that will engage our study through eternity — there is no wonder like this. Contemplate it — study it — fathom it!
If at first you see nothing in it to awaken your astonishment and to arouse your love — then go and gaze upon it again. And if still its magnitude does not open to you, and its glory does not unveil and you behold nothing to fill you with marvel and admiration and love — then go yet again! Bethlehem's manger contains the Ancient of Days as an infant of days — the Mystery of mysteries — the Wonder of wonders — the most stupendous of all that is stupendous, marvelous, and sublime — the Divine and loving Redeemer clad in our real, our suffering, our human nature.
Thus deeply did Jesus love! No other principle supplies a solution to this profoundest of profound mysteries.
The mystery of godliness — is the mystery of love.
The incarnation of God — is the incarnation of love.
The stoop of Deity — is the stoop of love.
The whole scene of the manger is resolvable only in the words, "Jesus loved." We have no line to sound the depth, no scale to measure the height of this love — the love of Jesus linking Himself with our human infirmities, sins, sufferings, and temptations. Bereaved and suffering one! Jesus loves you. The nature He wore on earth — He wears still in Heaven, in the deepest sympathy with yours. Comfort yourself with this truth.
"Jesus loved" — and became our Law-Fulfiller. Our justification with God is strictly legal. That is, it is based upon Divine law — a law once broken and desecrated — but now fulfilled, magnified, and made honorable. "Christ is the end of the law" — the end of its preceptive fulfillment, the end of its anathematizing and condemnatory power — "for righteousness, to everyone who believes." Glorious truth this! Our Law-Giver — becoming our Law-Fulfiller. Angels well may marvel. The vilest sinner, repenting and believing — well may hope.
See your righteousness, my brother! Behold your true, your present, your eternal position before God. You stand upon the footing of a law fulfilled in its every precept — by the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ; its nature illustrated, its holiness magnified, and its history made glorious in the eye of celestial intelligences as they never beheld it before.
Here is love! Oh, wondrous love of Jesus, that condescended to be made under that law — to obey it in His life, imputing to us who believe, that obedience as the righteousness of God, in which we stand accepted and complete. In default of all righteousness of your own — receive in faith this righteousness, and you shall have "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"Jesus loved" — and died for us! His soul-sorrow in Gethsemane, His pains and blood, His sufferings and death on Calvary — were sacrificial, atoning, and substitutionary. He bore our sins — suffered the death-penalty of our transgressions — and so gave a full equivalent to Divine justice on our behalf. "Christ has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God." The suffering and death . . .
of the Just One — for the unjust;
of the Innocent One — for the guilty;
of the Eternal Son of the Father — for the rebel man;
finds no solution of its mystery but in its vicariousness; and its vicariousness, there is no solution in scripture but in love.
Oh yes, love explains the fact . . .
why Jesus took upon Him our sins and transferred to us His righteousness;
why He pressed His blood-empurpled brow in sobs of grief to the cold, damp earth of the garden, with the cup trembling in His hand;
why, so pure and innocent — He expired as a malefactor, transfixed, in hours of long, lingering agony, upon the cross!
Penitent sinner! Weeping tears of bitter anguish over your transgressions, look to this loving, dying Savior and believe; look and live; look and be forever saved. All this, O penitent, was for you.
"Jesus loved" — and having given Himself for our sins, He rose again for our justification. The fact of Christ's resurrection is a vital tenet of the Christian faith. I fear we deal too superficially with this truth and do not sufficiently see its vast importance, or exhibit it in its sanctifying power. And yet, how glorious and precious is this doctrine! The resurrection of Christ is God's full acceptance of His finished work. The resurrection is the quickening fact that enables us to "seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." The resurrection is the Divine pledge that, if we believe in Jesus, we shall be saved. It is the spiritual life of the soul and the first-fruits of our resurrection unto glory, honor, and immortality. We shall rise again — because Christ our Head rose, and we rose in Him. We shall live again — because Christ our Lord lives, and we shall live forever with Him.
"Jesus lives! No longer now
Can your terror, Death, appall us;
Jesus lives! By this we know
You, O Grave, cannot enthrall us."
Let us visit the graves of the holy dead — not with requiems of mourning, but with hymns of praise; not to bedew them with tears, but to deck them with flowers. Flowers — stars of earth, emblems of heaven — are given to us by God to plant upon the Christian's tomb. Look upon them as sacred when you find them there!
"Watch on, you flowers, and softly guard
The treasure laid beneath this sward,
And Heaven itself will stoop to tend
The bed of flowers which couch a friend."
"Jesus loved" — and ascended up on high, to appear in the presence of God for us. He flew back to Heaven, having finished His work, upon the same wing that brought Him down to earth — the wing of everlasting love! "I will pray the Father for you," was the pledge He gave when below of His advocacy above. Having furnished His Church with a boundless store of infinite merit — He returned to glory to employ it on her behalf. He passed from the altar of sacrifice — to the altar of intercession; and at this moment presents for us the incense and fills Heaven with the fragrance of His one offering for sin. "Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, … but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."
Think not, then, O believer, that your faith shall fail — or the soul you have confided to His keeping shall be lost! "He ever lives to make intercession for us!"
"Jesus loved" — and sympathizes with human grief. Christ, when He robed Himself for Heaven, did not leave in the grave the body He wore on earth. Glorified with the glory He had with the Father before the world was — He would still retain the body that bore Him through the battle and the storm. And because He sat down at the right hand of God as man, with the infirmities and sorrows of our humanity, He is still in the closest, tenderest sympathy. "We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses."
Suffering believer! "Jesus wept!" Are you not awed by this inimitable picture of pathos? Are you not soothed and solaced in your grief by this marvelous distilment of human sympathy from the Fountain of Infinite Love? One spectacle alone surpasses it — the tears of blood He shed on Calvary. No longer nurse in loneliness — that deep, unpitied grief. Jesus knows it; Jesus compassionates it; Jesus soothes and heals it. Oh, entomb your sorrow within the sacred shrine of His loving bosom, and it shall rise again a sanctified blessing, a beauteous flower of unfading blood and undying sweetness. "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."
"Jesus loved" — and will appear again the second time to receive us to Himself. We look, according to His promise, for the Lord from Heaven. "I will come again!" And then He depicts the magnificence and solemnity of the advent: "The Son of man shall come in the clouds of Heaven, in His own glory, and in the glory of the Father, and of all His holy angels, with a great sound of trumpets!" Scene of surpassing sublimity! Event of unparalleled solemnity! The great white throne — the Judge robed in majesty — the encircling angels — the gathered saints — the trumpet's clarion — the opening graves — the thronging myriads — the judgment — the doom — the wail of horror — the shout of joy — the Hell — the Heaven! "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened." "Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God?" Prepare, oh prepare, to meet Him!
Yes, Jesus is the Loving One. Oh, how He has loved and loves His redeemed ones still! As we have no line to sound the depth of our fall into sin and sorrow — so we cannot sound the depth of that love of Christ that stooped to raise us!
And still He loves to receive sinners. You may be in your own eyes, the vilest; you may deem that your iniquities place you beyond the pale of Christ's salvation; you may have grown old in transgression; despair, like a funeral pall, may enshroud your soul. Yet, behold the love of Jesus to sinners — His love to you — if, contrite and penitent, you are found prostrate at His cross, in humble, believing supplication.
Yes, Jesus is the Loving One! All other love may pass away; inconstancy may chill it; distance may sunder it; death may extinguish it. But the love of Jesus, through all the changes of life, the vicissitudes of time, and the solemnities of death — will cling to us, unchanged and unchangeable. "Having loved His own who were in the world — He loved them to the end."
Second, the Loved One."The disciple whom Jesus loved, … who also had leaned on His bosom at the supper." Of whom did John speak this? Of himself — or of some other disciple? The veil of humility with which he sought to conceal his identity, is too transparent. John himself is the disciple whom Jesus loved.
John speaks of himself as a disciple of Jesus — literally a learner. A disciple of Jesus is a learner of Jesus — a pupil in Jesus' school. He sits at the feet of Jesus as the great Teacher, the Prophet come from God — and by Him he is taught the truth as it is in Jesus.
We need to hold firmly and to contend earnestly for the prophetic office of Christ in the present day. There are those whose cry is, "Hear the Church!" The voice from the excellent glory is, "This is My beloved Son — hear Him!" It is not the authority of the Church which we are to recognize; it is not the dictum of the Church we are to receive; it is not the laws of the Church we are to obey. It is Christ's authority — Christ's teaching — Christ's laws alone, in the momentous matter of our soul's salvation, that we are to regard. We receive nothing, believe nothing, obey nothing — which has not the Divine imprimatur of Christ; nothing that He has not authorized or taught.
Oh, become His lowly, loving disciple — the disciple . . .
whom He delights to sit at His feet,
whom He admits to His bosom,
to whom He makes known the mysteries of the kingdom,
whom He teaches and disciplines for Heaven.
John speaks of himself, not only as a disciple of Jesus, but as the disciple whom Jesus loved. John had a personal interest in the heart of Jesus — a home in the affections of Jesus!
Believer, what a pavilion of comfort is this — the love of Christ! To know that the affections of Jesus embrace and entwine around us, to be assured that He loves us each one as though we were the disciple — the only disciple — whom he loved; what a privilege and a bliss! And yet so it is, Jesus loves you, cares for you, watches over and sympathizes with you — as if you were the one and the only disciple whom He loved. "He loved me — and gave Himself for me." Seek this individual consciousness of Christ's love, and you will be supremely happy.
John portrays his posture and repose. "Who also had leaned on His bosom." The attitude was as expressive as the resting-place was privileged. The bosom of Jesus still pillows the head of the weary, loving disciple of the Lord. There is no real rest, but in Jesus. He who believes in Him, has ceased from his own works and has entered into rest. Where should the Christ-loved, the Christ-loving disciple lean, with his sins and sorrows, with his weariness and want — but upon the bosom of his Lord? It is the place of repose, of faith, and of love. There is room for you there amid the countless ones who fly to it for consolation, safety, and repose. Go and lean with your burden, your grief, and your sin — where the beloved disciple reclined, and you shall realize the blessedness of the oneness, confidence, and affection which exist between Jesus and all the disciples whom He loves.
There was also intimate and holy fellowship between Jesus and John, "who also leaned on His bosom at supper." The Lord's Supper is still the hallowed scene of the closest communion between Christ and His people. If there is any one place which brings Jesus and the believer more closely and touchingly and confidingly together than another — it is this. It is then, if ever, we lean upon His bosom. What an opening of hearts is here! What reciprocated fellowship, confidence, and love! "While the king is at his table — My spikenard sends forth its fragrance!" Oh, let your observance of this ordinance ever be a personal realization of Christ's presence and of your closest communion with Him! Retire not from the hallowed service — until you . . .
have seen the King in His beauty,
have felt your heart dissolved into penitence and love, and
have bowed your head and leaned it upon His gentle bosom.
And oh, what a heaven of glory is that into which William Marsh has passed!
It is soothing to meditate upon the present happiness of those who sleep in Jesus. They have entered into eternal life. Absent from the flesh, in no dreamy unconsciousness do they repose — but are present with the Lord. Not, indeed, in their perfect glory or full happiness. They have yet to put on their resurrection robes — then will they, body and soul, have their consummation in perfect and eternal bliss. "Then the righteous will shine forth in the kingdom of their Father." "Men shall be like the angels" — not in nature, for the human nature in heaven is higher and more glorious than the angelic — but in blessedness.
What will be the splendor of the soul — when the light of the body shall outshine the brightness of ten thousand suns! There shall be no natural evil — no toil nor suffering nor sorrow. There no evil of the flesh shall arise — no sickness, no misery, no need. No gnawing of hunger, no parching of thirst, nor cold nor heat nor faintness. There will be no more pain. No couch of languor, no bed of suffering, no restless pillow.
There shall be no moral evil — no sin to taint, no corruption to betray, no foe to assail, no element to tempt. There shall be no Satan, no fiery dart, no accusing adversary.
There shall be no misunderstanding, no jealousy, no envy, no malice, and no tongue of slander there. Sensibilities shall not be wounded; words shall not be misinterpreted; actions shall not be misconstrued.
There love never chills, nor friendships change, nor judgments divide, nor distance nor death ever separate.
There the wicked cease from troubling — and, in ineffable repose, the weary eternally rest.
There no hearts bleed; no eyes weep; no passing cloud of sadness flings its shade upon the sunlight of the spirit.
There the loved disciple, resting in the glorified bosom of the Loving One — is swallowed up in God, and God is all in all! "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man — the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."