How Grace Works in People of Differing Personalities… Contrasts Between the Apostles

Taken and adapted from, “Luther and Cromwell”
Written by, J.T. Headley
Published in 1850


Temperament and mental peculiarities do not change with the moral character.

The man of fierce and ardent nature, who loves excitement and danger, and enjoys the stern struggle and field of great risks, does not become a lamb because his moral nature is renovated. His best energies will pant for action as much as ever, but seek different objects and aim at nobler results.

Half the prejudice and bigotry among us grows out of the inability,or unwillingness, to allow for the peculiar temperament or disposition of others. The world is made up of many varieties, and our Savior seems to have had this fact in view when he chose his Apostles. As far as we know their characters, they were widely different,and stand as representatives of distinct classes of men. The object of this doubtless was to teach us charity. Take three of them, Peter, John, and Paul, (the latter afterwards chosen, but by divine direction, and more distinct,unlike men cannot be found. Peter, like all Galileans, who resembled very much the Jewish nation in character, was rash headlong,and sudden in his impulses. Such a man acts without forethought. When Christ appeared on the shore of the lake, Peter immediately jumped overboard and swam to him. On the night of the betrayal, when the furious rabble pressed around his Master, he never counted heads, but drew his sword and laid about him, cutting off an ear of the High Priest’s servant. Such a man loves to wear a sword; we venture to say he was the only Apostle who did. When Christ said, ” All of you shall be offended because of me this night,” Peter was the first to speak, declaring confidently that, though all the others might fail, yet he would not. Said he, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” A few hours after,under an equally sudden impulse, he not only denied him, but swore to the lie he uttered. Paul could not have done this, without becoming an apostate. He acted deliberately, and with forethought and decision. Peter’s repentance was as sudden as his fault –one reproachful, mournful look, scattered the fear, which had mastered his integrity, to the wind, and he went out and wept bitterly.

But the contrast we love to contemplate most of all, is that exhibited by John and Paul. In the former, sentiment and sympathy predominated over the intellectual powers, while the latter was all intellect and force. The former was a poet by nature –kind, generous, and full of emotion. He loved to rest in the Savior’s bosom and look up into his face. His was one of those natures which shun the storm and tumult of life,and are happy only when surrounded with those they love. Perfectly absorbed in affection for Christ, he had no other wish but to be near him –no other joy but to drink in his instructions,and receive his caress. Even if he had not been a Christian, he would have possessed a soul of the highest honor, incapable of deceit and meanness. He betray,or deny his master! Every faculty he possessed,revolted at the thought.

No threats or torture can unwind a mother’s arms from her child. If torn from it, she goes through danger from which the boldest shrink to embrace it again. So when the Roman soldiery and the clamorous rabble closed darkly around the Savior, Mary was nearer the cross than they all,and heeded not their scoffs, feared not their violence. There too stood John by her side, rivaling even the mother in love. He forgot he had a life to lose –he did not even hear the taunts that were rained upon him, nor see the fingers of scorn that pointed at his tears. Christ, in the midst of his sufferings, was struck with this matchless love, and bade him take his place as a son to his afflicted mother.

Throughout his life, he exhibits this warm and generous nature; his epistles are the outpourings of affection, –and love, love is his theme from first to last. Place him in what relations you will, and he displays the same lovely character. When banished to Patmos, he trod the solitary beach, lulled by the monotonous dash of waves at his feet,he was placed in a situation to develop all the sternness and energy he possessed, yet he is the same submissive, trusting spirit as ever. When addressed by the voice from heaven, he fell on his face as a dead man; and when the heavens were opened on his wondering vision, and the mysteries and glories of the inner sanctuary were revealed to his view, he stood and wept at the sight. In strains of sublime poetry, he pours forth his rapt soul, which, dazzled by the effulgence around it, seems almost bewildered and lost.

And when the lamp of life burned dimly, and his tremulous voice could hardly articulate, he still spoke of love. It is said he lived to be eighty years of age, and then, too feeble to walk, was carried into the church on men’s shoulders,and, though scarce able to speak, would faintly murmur: “Brethren, love one another.” Affection was his life, and it seemed to him that the world could be governed by love.

But while he was thus breathing forth his affectionate words, Paul was shaking Europe like a storm. Possessing the heart of a lion, he too could love, but with a sternness that made a timorous nature almost shrink from his presence. Born on the shores of the Mediterranean, with the ever-heaving sea before him, and an impenetrable barrier of mountains behind him, his mind early received its tendencies, and took its lofty bearing.

In Jerusalem, he had scarcely completed his studies, before he plunged into the most exciting scenes of those times. The new religion, professing to have the long-promised Messiah for its founder, agitated the entire nation. To the proud, young scholar, those ignorant fishermen, disputing with the doctors of the law, and claiming for their religion a superiority over his own, which had been transmitted through a thousand generations, and been sanctioned by a thousand miracles and wonders, were objects of the deepest scorn. Filled with indignation, and panting for action, he threw himself boldly into the struggle, and became foremost in the persecution that followed. Arrested by no obstacles, softened by no suffering, he roamed the streets of Jerusalem like a fiend, breaking even into the retirement of the Christian’s home, dragging thence women and children, and casting them into prison. One of these determined men, who once having made up their minds to a thing, can be turned aside by no danger, not even by death, he entered soul and heart into the work of extermination.

Inflexible, superior to all the claims of sympathy, and master even of his own emotions, he, in his intellectual developments, was more like Bonaparte that any other man in history. He had the same immovable will –the same utter indifference to human suffering, after he had once determined on his course –the same tireless and unconquerable energy –the same fearlessness both of man’s power and opinions –the same self-reliance and control over others. But especially were they alike in the union of a strong and correct judgement, with sudden impulse and rapidity of thought, and, more than all, in their great practical power. There are many men of strong minds whose force nevertheless wastes itself in reflection or in theories. Thought may work out into language, but not in action. They will plan, but they cannot perform. But Paul not only thought better than all other men, but he could work better.

As, in imagination, I behold him in that long journey to Damascus, whither his rage was carrying him, I often wonder whether, at night, when, exhausted and weary, he pitched his tent amid the quietness of nature, he did not feel doubts and misgivings creep over his heart, and if that stern soul did not relent. As the sun stooped to his glorious rest in the heavens, and the evening breeze stole softly by, and perchance the note of the nightingale filled the moonlight with melody, it must have required nerves of iron to resist the soothing influences around him. Yet, young as he was, and thus open to the beauties of nature, he seemed to show no misgivings.

But the wonderful strength of his character is exhibited no where more strikingly, than when smitten to the earth and blinded by the light and voice from Heaven. When the trumpet arrested the footsteps of John, on the isle of Patmos, he fell on his face as a dead man, and dared not stir or speak till encouraged by the voice from on high,saying, “Fear not!” But Paul,– or Saul, as he was then called, –though a persecutor and sinner, showed no symptoms of alarm or terror. His powerful mind at once perceived the object of this strange display of Divine power, and took at once its decision. He did not give way to exclamations of terror, or prayers for safety, but, master of himself and his faculties, said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Something was to be done, he well knew; this sudden vision and voice were not sent to terrify, but to convince, and ever ready to act, he asked what he should do.

The persecutor became the persecuted, and the proud student, the humble, despised disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, and leaving the halls of learning, and companionship of dignitaries, he cast his lot in with the fishermen.

This was a great change, and religion effected it all, yet it could not alter his mental characteristics. He was just as determined, and resolute, and fearless, as ever.

He entered Jerusalem and made the Sanhedrin shake with his eloquence. Cast out of the city, he started for his native city” for the home of his boyhood “his father’s house” his kindred and friends. Thence to Antioch and Cyprus, along the coast of Syria to Greece and Rome, –over the known world he went like a blazing comet, waking up the nations of the earth.

John in giving an account of the revelations made to him, declares that he wept at the sight. Paul, in his calm, self-collected manner, when speaking of the heavens opened to his view, says simply, that he saw things which were not lawful for man to utter. From the top of Mars Hill with the gorgeous city at his feet, and the Acropolis and Parthenon behind him, –on the deck of his shattered vessel,and in the gloomy walls of a prison” he speaks in the same calm, determined tone. Deterred by no danger –awed by no presence, and shrinking from no contest, he moves before us like some grand embodiment of power.

His natural fierceness often breaks forth in spite of his goodness. He quarreled with Peter, and afterwards with Barnabas, because he insisted that Mark should accompany them in their visit to the churches. But on a former occasion Mark had deserted him, and he would not have him along again. Stern and decided himself, he wished no one with him who would flinch when the storm blew loudest, and so he and Barnabas separated. Paul had rather go alone than have ten thousand by his side if they possessed fearful hearts. So when the High Priest ordered him to be smitten, he turned like a lion upon him and thundered in his astonished ear, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall!”

He would not submit to wrong unless made legal by the civil power, and then, he would die without a murmur. When his enemies, who had imprisoned him illegally, found he was a Roman citizen, they in alarm sent word to the jailer to release him. But Paul would not stir; “They have seized me wrongfully,” said he, ” and now let them come themselves and take me out publicly.” He was stern but not proud, for he Said, “I am the least of the saints,not fit to be called an Apostle.” Bold, but never uncourteous –untiring, undismayed, and never cast down –love to God and man controlled all his acts. And truer heart never beat in a human bosom. What to him was wealth! What the smiles or frowns of the great, and the triumph of factions! With a nobler aim, enthusiastic in a worthier cause, sustained by a stronger soul, he exclaimed, “I glory in the cross.” The sneering world shouted in scorn, “The cross, the cross!” to signify the ignominious death of his Master. “The cross, the cross!” he echoed back, –in tones of increased volume and power, till the ends of the earth caught the joyful sound.” The united world could not bring a blush to his cheek or timidity to his eye. He could stand alone amid an apostate race and defy the fury of kings and princes. Calm, dignified and resolved, he took the path of duty, with an unfaltering step. No malice of his foes could deter him from laboring for their welfare –no insult prevented his prayer in their behalf –no wrongs heaped on ‘his innocent head, keep back his forgiveness.

One cannot point to a single spot in his whole career where he lost his self-possession, or gave way to discouragement or fear.

An iron man in his natural characteristics, he was nevertheless humble, meek, kind, and forgiving. And then his death, –how indescribably sublime! Bonaparte, dying in the midst of a storm, with the last words that escaped his lips a martial command, and his spirit as, it passed to its eternal home, watching in its delirium the current of a heavy fight, is a sight that awes and startles us. But behold Paul, –also a war-worn veteran, battered with many a scar, though in spiritual warfare –looking back not with remorse but joy –not clinging to the earth, but anxious to depart. Hear his calm, serene voice, ringing above the storms and commotions of life: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, –there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”

Thus passed away this powerful man. I have spoken but little of his moral character, of his faith, or religious teachings, but confined myself chiefly to those natural traits which belonged to him as a man, independent of that peculiar power and grace given him by God. Hence, I have treated him with a familiarity which might seem unwise, had I spoken of him as an inspired Apostle. I wished to show how widely apart in their characters men equally good may be.