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" Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" — John l 47.
In Nathanael our Lord has sketched a character which is a universal favourite, in the way of contemplation at least, howsoever little honoured it may be in the way of imitation. Yet is it evident that Christ would have our attention fixed on Nathanael especially for the latter purpose — that in admiring him we may copy his example, and not incur condemnation by professing our approbation of that in the conduct of others which we make no effort to transfer to the conduct of ourselves. This remark for caution is peculiarly requisite in regard of our treatment of this saint. There is not, perhaps, another portrayed in the Scripture which, when it attracts our love, is BO ready to be denied our imitation. There is no earthly glory in it; it requires a spiritualized mind to be ambitious of being adorned, like Nathanael, with the beauties of holiness.
Before I proceed to display the example of this highly commended saint, and enforce it on our imitation, I may observe, that when otherwise we might have wondered that one so excellent as Nathanael was not assigned a
place among the apostles, the wonder is prevented by the
* Fnneral sermon preached on occasion of the death of the late Mr. James Roberton, oldest member of John Street Session, Glasgow, who died in November, 1868.
explanation, that there seems to be no reason to question that he had a place among them, under the name of Bartholomew. This is the tradition of the Church from very early times. Accordingly, we find him under his first name, Nathanael, in intimate fellowship with Peter and the other apostles at the time of the resurrection of our Lord. And (which almost amounts to a demonstration) when, in the list of the apostles, they are enumerated not
only according to the times when they were called, but in pairs, we find both that Bartholomew must have been called early and that he was paired with Philip. Now both of these requirements are found in Nathanael. He was early introduced to Christ, and he was introduced by Philip. This, I say, almost amounts to a demonstration that Nathanael and Bartholomew are different names for the same person.
Supposing, then, that the tradition that Bartholomew is Nathanael is correct, observe how it increases the horror of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew — that the tyrant of France, under the instigation of the Court of Rome, should have selected the day which superstition had consecrated to the memory of the most guileless of men for the perpetration not only of the bloodiest, but of the most treacherous act which is recorded in the annals of crime. England, too, had its Bartholomew's Day under the vilest of its tyrants, for whose restoration annual thanksgiving is presented in all the southern churches — an annual insult both to God and the nation. Our Charles placed himself next to Charles of France in this world — I know not if next to him in that which is to come — when, by the Act of Uniformity, he, on Bartholomew's Day too, ejected from their pulpits two thousand of the best of the ministers of England — the
Baxters and Henrys and Howes — not only driving them forth to wander houseless, but forbidding them, on pain of fines, imprisonment, and transportation, to open their mouths in preaching the gospeL Charles IX. and Charles II. and Nathanael ! The juxtaposition helps us at once to a more hearty detestation of the characters of the two monsters, and a more affectionate appreciation of the character of the saint.
In displaying and recommending to imitation the character of Nathanael, it is customaiy to dwell especially on his guilelessness. This, as we shall afterwards see, is a social virtue — an excellence in the intercourse
between man and man. Now, of great importance though the social virtues be, and much though the Lord insisted on their performance, yet we may be assured that He whose system of ethics made its first command, ** Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," would not have pointed his followers to a man as worthy of admiration who was distinguished only for his observance of that which holds only the second and subordinate rank in his system — " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Let us be unremittingly on our guard, brethren, in this matter. There was a time when men needed to be admonished that religion demanded more than this ; that besides the first command — "Thou shalt love God" — there was a second, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour." But at the present day, when, notwithstanding all our reasons for complaint, there are cases not a few of liberal benevolence, the course of exhortation behoves to be somewhat reversed, and men require to be admonished that the social duties form but the half of our duty, and the least important half besides; and that there is no kindness shown a fellowcreature which is acceptable, unless it be preceded by the
love of the Creator, and have its origin in this divine and heavenly source.
Observe, therefore, what is the force of our Lord's expression when He designated Nathanael an Israelite. This does not merely imply that he was a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh. Had this been all that was meant, the term" Jew or Hebrew would have been the one employed, as being at that time the terms in common use. The designation " Israelite " has a spiritual reference. It marks him as being of the same character with Jacob, whose name was changed to that of Israel because he prevailed with God through the earnestness of his prayers. It seems to be in the same sense that the apostle employs the term, when, in the Epistle to the Galatians, he pronounces a benediction on the Israel of God, that is, on the spiritual Church even of the Gentiles, which, like Jacob of old, is characterized for its prayerful
spirit. In like manner he says in the Epistle to the Romans, "They are not all Israel who are of Israel," that is, all those who are naturally descendants of Jacob are not of the same mind and class with their prayerful ancestor, so as to inherit that blessing which is the peculiar property of the spiritual seed. Yea, even in the case of the word "Jew" we find the same apostle saying, "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly" — ^with a heart, and not merely a body, circumcised. See, therefore, the meaning of the emphasis when our Lord says of Nathanael, "Behold an Israelite indeed ! " — one who is such not in name only, or by carnal descent, but in the spirit of his mind.
Having made this explanation, let us now consider what would entitle Nathanael to the designation of an Israelite in the estimation of our Lord.
First, I observe that he must have been one who prayed much in secret. Had he merely frequented the courts of the temple or the halls of the synagogues, and united in the public devotions of the congregation, I am certain he would not have received the praise of an Israelite's character from Him who prescribed this as the rule of prayer — " When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and ^hen thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret." Of the observance of this rule He gave an example in his own conduct. How frequently we are told of his retiring aside from his disciples, and engaging in acts of private devotion ! We are informed that on one occasion He spent a whole sleepless night in praying to his Father. Some critics, it is true, have preferred translating the passage to which I have just referred after this manner — that He spent the night in the Proseuche of God — one of these small oratories or chapels which were numerously erected throughout Judea, always standing open, into which the devout wayfaring man might enter and disburden or refresh his spirit in an act of worship, and at one of which Paul first met with Lydia.
Though this, however, should be received as being the proper interpretation, it will not essentially aflfect the case of our Lord. If He went to the praying-house of God that night when He dismissed his disciples to cross the sea, we may be certain that it was with the view of enjoying its retreat for the end on account of which it was erected and consecrated. How like Jacob ! Christ Himself was an Israelite indeed ; for let it be remembered that it was after a night's wrestling in private prayer that Jacob received his new name. But we are not left to mere inferences that Nathanael, as an Israelite, must have been distinguished for his private praying : " When thou wast under
the fig-tree, I saw thee," said our Lord. All interpreters
agree that this must refer to some act of secret devotion in which Nathanael was employed.
Second. At the same time, however, that I am persuaded that it was principally his private praying and devout meditations which gained for Nathanael from Christ the sanctified designation of being an Israelite, equally am I well assured that He would not have honoured him thus and set him forth as a model to be imitated, had he been one of those who make private prayers an apology for their neglect of public and social worship. I question, indeed, if there be such a person in existence as a man who is a closet prayer, and who does not seek for communion in prayer with brethren; and who, if he cannot find a brotherhood already formed with whom he can conscientiously unite, will not endeavour to form one anew. There is nothing so social as the spirit of prayer. Nathanael, I am persuaded, besides being a regular attendant at the synagogue on Sabbath, and, when at Jerusalem, a constant waiter on morning and evening sacrifice, must have frequently wandered out of an evening among the ProseuchcBy to see if he might find a pious friend by whose side to kneel down, and with him to adore and supplicate their common Father. What may have been his conduct in respect of family prayer I know not, because I do not know if he had a family. But of this I
am sure, that if he were the father of a family, Christ would not have prostituted on him the name of an Israelite if he made no family acknowledgment of God.
Third, Having thus established for Nathanael the character of a prayerful man, and one whose prayers were accepted and approved of, there are several other traits of character of a devotional nature which we may infer
with certainty. He must have been a reader and a ponderer of Gtod's word as the rule and aliment of a prayerful spirit; and, as a believer of that word he must have been one of those who waited for the consolation of Israel, in the raising up of the great Messiah who was
promised to the fathers.
I now proceed to use the illustration of Nathanael's character for a commemorative illustration of , the exr cellences of our departed friend Mr. James Roberton, but I must do so with brevity. In the first instance, however, I remark, I have no knowledge of what were Nathanael's constitutional or natural properties, with which I may compare those of our friend. These constitutional properties, or those which are innate — those with which we are born — ^are of great consequence ; and in this respect Mr. Roberton was highly gifted. Intellectually he was sharply perceptive of the state of any matter on which he was called to judge, and cautious in forming his opinion. In temperament he was ardent but not impulsive, not easily excited, seldom what you could call passionate ; in sentiment he was warmly compassionate, largely charitable, and as devoid of selfishness as any one I ever knew. Though he was forward and firm in expressing his opinion, there was not in his character a shade of vanity. I finally observe here that he was warmly companionative ; and though solid in his character, with nothing frivolous in his intercourse with his friends, he was not pretentiously grave, but enjoyed the innocent jokes of others, and was at times felicitous in making a humorous one himself.
Such he was constitutionally by nature, but it was all sanctified, and confirmed, and improved, and elevated by grace. This induces the comparison with Nathanael. So
far as the matter of Israelitish prayerfulness is concerned^ I have no opportunity for making the comparison very particularly. But from what I know, not only from our friend's love of the house of prayer and its ordinances, but from his solemnly uttered sentiments in private conversation, I am well persuaded that there must have been many scenes in his life of which the Lord might say the like of that which He said of Nathanael, "When thou wast under the fig-tree." And this I know for a certainty, that
there are few men indeed whose religious opinions were so little taken up and professionally put on according to the common mode and popular course of Christian belief. He was very decidedly a Protestant in the exercise of private judgment. All he professed to believe he had studied and pondered, and was, from personal examination, convinced of its being the truth of God.
As for his guilelessness in social life, his integrity, his truthfulness, his universal honourableness of character, were I to begin to sketch it, I could not well proceed without just repeating what I have said of Nathanael — with the addition, however, remember, of that compassion and liberal charity in his attentions to the poor for which I did not find an opportunity, from anything the Scripture records, for celebrating the memory of Nathanael.
In evidence that I have rather underrated than overestimated the excellences of the deceased, I might appeal, were they present, to all those who had dealings with him in business, to aU whom he employed as workmen, to all with whom he was conjoined in municipal office, to all with whom he was associated in committees of various institutions of benevolence and education: as it is, I appeal to those who are present — to the brethren of the Session especially, but also to all who were accustomed
to attend our church meetings. What a confidence he was for his patriotic interest in its welfare and honour, for the wisdom of his counsel, and his peace-making and peace-preserving brotherliness !
In conclusion, brethren, though for his children and more intimate acquaintance it is a time of pain, from the wrenching of the ties of a long-established friendship, yet is it less a time for sorrowing than for thanksgiving ; there is little in it comparatively of the pain of hopes cut off, which in many cases are the chief embitterment of death. From failing strength and the increasing burden of old age, we had little more to expect from him. We have
reaped the harvest of his excellence; he had long and faithfully served his generation, so that our principal feeling should be thanksgiving for the great profit and advantage which we have gained from him as an agent of the Lord for our help and blessing ; at the same time thankful that we have been spared the affliction of witnessing those scenes of the imbecility of dotage which it is so painful to witness in one whom we once admired and respected. Nor is our reason for thanksgiving little, that we were saved the pain of witnessing in him the protracted troubles of a deathbed, when he so gently fell asleep, and entered into that rest which remaineth for the people of God — to wait in secure and happy repose for the resurrection of the just.
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