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By The Sea Of Galilee
by [?]

I have often thought that the last chapter of St John’s Gospel is one of the most bewildering and enchanting pieces of literature I know. I suppose Robert Browning must have thought so, because he makes the reading of it, in that odd rich poem, Bishop Blougram’s Apology, the sign, together with testing a plough, of a man’s conversion, from the unreal life of talk and words, to the realities of life; though I have never divined why he used this particular chapter as a symbol; and indeed I hope no one will ever make it clear to me, though I daresay the connection is plain enough.

It is bewildering, because it is a postscript, added, with a singular artlessness, after the Gospel has come to a full close. Perhaps St John did not even write it, though the pretty childlike conclusion about the world itself not being able to contain the books that might be written about Christ has always seemed to me to be in his spirit, the words of a very simple-minded and aged man. It is enchanting, because it contains two of the most beautiful episodes in the whole of the Gospel History, the charge to St Peter to feed the lambs and sheep of the fold, where one of the most delicate nuances of language is lost in the English translation, and the appearance of Jesus beside the sea of Galilee. I must not here discuss the story of the charge to St Peter, though I once heard it read, with exquisite pathos, when an archbishop of Canterbury was being enthroned with all the pomp and circumstance of ecclesiastical ceremony, in such a way that it brought out, by a flash of revelation, the true spirit of the scene we were attending; we were simple Christians, it seemed, assembled only to set a shepherd over a fold, that he might lead a flock in green pastures and by waters of comfort.

But a man must not tell two tales at once, or he loses the savour of both. Let us take the other story.

The dreadful incidents of the Passion are over; the shame, the horror, the humiliation, the disappointment. The hearts of the Apostles must have been sore indeed at the thought that they had deserted their friend and Master. Then followed the mysterious incidents of the Resurrection, about which I will only say that it is plain from the documents, if they are accepted as a record at all, from the astonishing change which seems to have passed over the Apostles, converting their timid faithfulness into a tranquil boldness, that they, at all events, believed that some incredibly momentous thing had happened, and that their Master was among them again, returning through the gates of Death.

They go back, like men wearied of inaction, tired of agitated thought, to their homely trade. All night the boat sways in the quiet tide, but they catch nothing. Then, as the morning begins to come in about the promontories and shores of the lake, they see the figure of one moving on the bank, who hails them with a familiar heartiness, as a man might do who had to provide for unexpected guests, and had nothing to give them to eat. I fancy, I know not whether rightly, that they see in him a purchaser, and answer sullenly that they have nothing to sell. Then follows a direction, which they obey, to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Perhaps they thought the stranger–for it is clear that as yet they had no suspicion of his identity–had seen some sign of a moving shoal which had escaped them. They secure a great haul of fish. Then John has an inkling of the truth; and I know no words which thrill me more strangely than the simple expression that bursts from his lips: It is the Lord! With characteristic impetuosity Peter leaps into the water, and wades or swims ashore.