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if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" And this was written by John himself, whom the opinion concerned, and (as is conceived) many years after, when Peter had suffered and fulfilled the prophecy of Christ.
For the particular conceit, the foundation is weak, nor can it be made out from the text alleged in the Apocalypse; for beside that therein two persons only are named, no mention is made of John, a third actor in this tragedy. The same is also overthrown by history, which recordeth not only the death of John, but assigneth the place of his burial, that is, Ephesus, a city in Asia Minor; whither, after he had been banished into Patmos by Domitian, he returned in the reign of Nerva, there deceased, and was buried in the days of Trajan. And this is testified by Jerome, by Tertullian, by Chrysostom, and Eusebius* (in whose days his sepulchre was to be seen), and by a more ancient testimony alleged also by him, that is, of Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, not many successions after John; whose words are these, in an epistle unto Victor, bishop of Rome: Johannes ille qui supra pectus Domini recumbebat, doctor optimus, apud Ephesum dormivit. Many of the like nature are noted by Baronius, Jansenius, Estius, Lipellous, and others.
Now the main and primitive ground of this error was a gross mistake in the words of Christ, and a false apprehension of his meaning; understanding that positively which was but conditionally expressed, or receiving that affirmatively which was but concessively delivered. For the words of our Saviour run in a doubtful strain, rather reprehending than satisfying the curiosity of Peter: as though he should have said, "thou hast thy own doom, why enquirest thou after thy brother's ?-what relief unto thy affliction will be the society of another's ?-why pryest thou into the secrets of God's will?-if he stay until I come, what concerneth it thee, who shalt be sure to suffer before that time?" And such an answer probably he returned, because he foreknew John should not suffer a violent death, but go unto his grave in peace. Which had Peter assuredly known, it might have cast some water on his flames, and smothered those fires which kindled after unto the honour of his Master.
*De Scriptor. Ecclesiast. De anima.
Now why among all the rest John only escaped the death of a martyr, the reason is given: because all others fled away or withdrew themselves at his death, and he alone of the twelve beheld his passion on the cross. Wherein notwithstanding, the affliction that he suffered could not amount unto less than martyrdom: for if the naked relation, at least the intentive consideration of that passion, be able still, and at this disadvantage of time, to rend the hearts of pious contemplators, surely the near and sensible vision thereof must needs occasion agonies beyond the comprehension of flesh; and the trajections of such an object more sharply pierce the martyred soul of John, than afterwards did the nails the crucified body of Peter.
Again, they were mistaken in the emphatical apprehension, placing the consideration upon the words, "If I will," whereas it properly lay in these, "until I come." Which had they apprehended, as some have since, that is, not for his ultimate and last return, but his coming in judgment and destruction upon the Jews; or such a coming, as it might be said, that generation should not pass before it was fulfilled; they needed not, much less need we, suppose such diuturnity. For after the death of Peter, John lived to behold the same fulfilled by Vespasian: nor had he then his nunc dimittis, or went out like unto Simeon; but old in accomplished obscurities, and having seen the expire of Daniel's prediction, as some conceive, he accomplished his
But besides this original and primary foundation, divers others have made impressions according unto different ages and persons by whom they were received. For some established the conceit in the disciples and brethren which were contemporary unto him, or lived about the same time with him. And this was, first, the extraordinary affection our Saviour bare unto this disciple, who hath the honour to be called the disciple whom Jesus loved: now from hence they might be apt to belive their Master would dispense with his death, or suffer him to live to see him return in glory, who was the only apostle that beheld him to die in dishonour. Another was the belief and opinion of those times, that Christ would suddenly come; for they held not generally the same opinion with their successors, or as descending
ages after so many centuries, but conceived his coming would not be long after his passion, according unto several expressions of our Saviour grossly understood, and as we find the same opinion not long after reprehended by St. Paul:* and thus, conceiving his coming would not be long, they might be induced to believe his favourite should live unto it. Lastly, the long life of John might much advantage this opinion; for he survived the other twelve—he was aged twenty-two years when he was called by Christ, and twenty-five (that is the age of priesthood) at his death, and lived ninety-three years, that is sixty-eight after his Saviour, and died not before the second year of Trajan: now, having outlived all his fellows, the world was confirmed he might still live, and even unto the coming of his Master.
The grounds which promoted it in succeeding ages, were especially two. The first his escape of martyrdom; for whereas all the rest suffered some kind of forcible death, we have no history that he suffered any; and men might think he was not capable thereof; for as history informeth, by the command of Domitian he was cast into a caldron of burning oil, and came out again unsinged. Now future ages apprehending he suffered no violent death, and finding also the means that tended thereto could take no place, they might be confirmed in their opinion, that death had no power over him; that he might live always, who could not be destroyed by fire, and was able to resist the fury of that element which nothing shall resist. The second was a corruption, crept into the Latin text, for si reading sic eum manere volo; whereby the answer of our Saviour becometh positive, or that he will have it so; which way of reading was much received in former ages, and is still retained in the Vulgar translation: but in the Greek and original the word is έàv, signifying si or if, which is very different from ourw, and cannot be translated for it: and answerable hereunto is the translation of Junius, and that also annexed unto the Greek by the authority of Sixtus Quintus.
The third confirmed it in ages farther descending, and proved a powerful argument unto all others following-because in his tomb at Ephesus there was no corpse or relick
thereof to be found; whereupon arose divers doubts, and many suspicious conceptions; some believing he was not buried, some, that he was buried but risen again, others, that he descended alive into his tomb, and from thence departed after. But all these proceeded upon unveritable grounds, as Baronius hath observed; who allegeth a letter of Celestine, bishop of Rome, unto the council of Ephesus, wherein he declareth the relicks of John were highly honoured by that city; and a passage also of Chrysostom in the homilies of the apostles, "That John being dead, did cures in Ephesus, as though he were still alive.' And so I observe that Estius discussing this point, concludeth hereupon, quòd corpus ejus nunquam reperiatur, hoc non dicerent si veterum scripta diligenter perlustrassent.
Now that the first ages after Christ, those succeeding, or any other, should proceed into opinions so far divided from reason, as to think of immortality after the fall of Adam, or conceit a man in these later times should outlive our fathers in the first,—although it seem very strange, yet is it not incredible. For the credulity of men hath been deluded into the like conceits; and, as Irenæus and Tertullian mention, one Menander, a Samaritan, obtained belief in this very point, whose doctrine it was, that death should have no power on his disciples, and such as received his baptism should receive immortality therewith. "Twas surely an apprehension very strange; nor usually falling either from the absurdities of melancholy or vanities of ambition. Some indeed have been so affectedly vain as to counterfeit immortality, and have stolen their death, in a hope to be esteemed immortal; and others have conceived themselves dead: but surely few or none have fallen upon so bold an error, as not to think that they could die at all. The reason of those mighty ones, whose ambition could suffer them to be called gods, would never be flattered into immortality; but the proudest thereof have by the daily dictates of corruption convinced the impropriety of that appellation. And surely, although delusion may run high, and possible it is that for a while a man may forget his nature, yet cannot this be durable. For the inconcealable imperfections of ourselves, or their daily examples in others, will hourly prompt us our corruption, and loudly tell us we are the sons of earth.
Of some others more briefly.
MANY others there are which we resign unto divinity, and perhaps deserve not controversy. Whether David were punished only for pride of heart for numbering the people, as most do hold, or whether, as Josephus and many maintain, he suffered also for not performing the commandment of God concerning capitation, that when the people were numbered, for every head they should pay unto God a shekel,*—we shall not here contend. Surely if it were not the occasion of this plague, we must acknowledge the omission thereof was threatened with that punishment, according to the words of the law: "When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, that there be no plague amongst them."+ Now how deeply hereby God was defrauded in the time of David, and opulent state of Israel, will easily appear by the sums of former lustrations. For in the first, the silver of them that were numbered was an hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and threescore and fifteen shekels; a bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary; for every one from twenty years old and upwards, for six hundred thousand, and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men. Answerable whereto we read in Josephus, Vespasian ordered that every man of the Jews should bring into the Capitol two drachms; which amounts unto fifteen pence, or a quarter of an ounce of silver with us; and is equivalent unto a bekah, or half a shekel of the sanctuary. For an Attick drachm is sevenpence halfpenny, or a quarter of a shekel, and a didrachmum, or double drachm, is the word used for tribute money, or half a shekel; and a stater, the money found in the fish's mouth, was two didrachmums, or a whole shekel, and tribute sufficient for our Saviour and for Peter.
We will not question the metamorphosis of Lot's wife, or whether she were transformed into a real statue of salt;
* Exod. xxx.
+ Exod. xxxviii.