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i. The Four Gospels.
The Gospels (evayyeXiov, Evangelium) contain the "Good Tidings" of salvation through Jesus Christ. The first three give a general view of our Lord's Life and Teaching, and so are called "Synoptical;" the fourth is supplementary and doctrinal. They are not four Gospels, but one Gospel under four aspects, as presented to the minds of four different writers, supposed to have been prefigured by the four cherubim seen by Ezekiel in his vision (chap, i.): Matthew as a Man; Mark as a Lion; Luke as an Ox; John as an Eagle. The first emphasises the historical import of the Life of Christ; the second His Royal Supremacy; the third His Sacrificial Significance; the fourth His Divinity.
MATTHEW gives the human descent of our Lord from Abraham, as evidence of His being the promised seed, in whom all nations should be blessed. Thus He completes the Old Testament history and covenant. He is the one Antitype in whom all has been fulfilled; in Him the Old Testament passes into the New; the prohibitions of the Law into the encouragements of the Gospel; Sinai into the Mount of Beatitudes; the prophetic into the teaching office; priesthood into redemption by suffering; kingship into the supremacy of Almighty grace restoring a fallen race.
The writer, before his conversion named Levi, a publican, and collector of the tolls and customs of persons and goods crossing the lake at Capernaum, was son of Alphæus, and a Hebrew. He wrote his Gospel, mainly for his fellow-countrymen, both in Hebrew and Greek; but the latter was not a mere translation of the former, the phraseology in the two being often different. It was probably written about A.D. 42, though some fix it so late as A.D. 69. Papias, at the beginning of Cent, ii., refers to the original of this Gospel.
Its arrangement is not chronological, but in groups, in which Jesus, the offspring of Abraham, fulfils the promises of the Old Testament. His doctrine and life are the fulfilment of types, prophecies, and hopes, but disappointing to false aspirations of degenerate Judaism. The conflict, provoked by this disappointment, apparently terminates against Him; really it completes His triumph and establishes His kingdom, since His death reconciles the world to God, which is the basis of His new constitution. Thus, fulfilling the old covenant, He transforms the typical into the eternal theocracy, and He is the true Christ,—eternal Prophet, Priest, and King.
The true character of the Messiah is attested :—
1. By His lineal descent, and Divine revelation at His birth (i.—iv.).
2. By the manifestation of His triple office (Prophet, Priest, and King), in conflict with the popular ideas (v.—xvi.).
3. By unfolding the true nature of His kingdom and its future history, in contrast with that of the ancient world (xvi.—xx.).
4. By his self-sacrifice and humiliation (xxi.—xxiv.).
5. By prophetic revelations of the judgment on the Jewish nation and on the world (xxiv., xxv.).
6. By His sacerdotal presentation of Himself as the atoning sacrifice (xxvi., xxvii.).
7. By His glorification at the right hand of power (xxviii.).
This Gospel is peculiarly characterised by repeated reference to the Law and Prophets (i. 23; ii. 6, 15, 18; iii. 3; iv. 15; viii. 17, &c.); by careful enunciation of such teaching as would awaken Jews, and correct their false views; and the warnings of national calamities.
MARK, who had also the Hebrew name John, was son of Mary, whose house at Jerusalem became the refuge and earliest church of the Christian community. He was nephew of Barnabas, and the attendant of him and Paul on their first mission; but returned home from Perga (Acts xiii. 5, 13), afterwards attaching himself to Barnabas, though subsequently reconciled to Paul (Col. iv. 10). He is the reputed founder of the Alexandrine Church.
He was attached to Peter (1 Peter v. 13), from whom he obtained some materials for his Gospel; but it is evident that he had also before him both the Hebrew and the Greek copies of Matthew, since he clearly compared the differences in diction between the two, weighed their relative value, made his selection, and supplied occasional new graphic touches to the narrative from some independent witness: e.g. Christ is among "wild beasts;" the fig-tree dried up "from the roots;" Jesus is asleep "on a pillow" (i. 13; xi. 20; iv. 38). His theme is "Judah is a young lion" (Gen. xlix. 9; Hos. xi. 10); and he depicts the Saviour as the conqueror of all Satanic powers, with a brevity and vividness which add force to the heroic character pourtrayed. Hence he gives only three burning words of controversy and denunciation, not the longer discourses of the Lord; event succeeds event in rapid succession; he accumulates negatives; his favourite word is "immediately;" his tenses are present; and he supplies often the very vernacular words used in the occurrences (iii. 17, 22; v. 41). The Messiah seems to rouse every emotion of the soul,—amazement, fear, confidence, hope, joy,—and adapts His Divine power to temper each. The rapidity and completeness of His achievements, the pervading influence of His Name throughout the world, His victory over death, and exaltation to the throne of glory, are the grand characteristics of the Divine Redeemer. These are heightened and relieved by regular intervals of pause and rest, preparatory to fresh campaigns; for Mark narrates only the three years' ministry of our Lord.
I. Preparation; Christ's appearance by the side of the Baptist (i. 1—13). His conflicts 57 in Galilee after His baptism (i: 13—ix.). III. His victories in Peraea (x.). IV. His conflicts in Judaea (x.—xv.). V. His Resurrection and Ascension.
LUKE was probably of Gentile extraction (Col. iv. 10—14), born at Antioch, and a faithful colleague of Paul. His superior education is proved by the philological excellence of his writings (viz. the Gospel and Acts of Apostles, which are but two yols. of one work). His preface, in pure Greek, implies previous careful study of documentary and other evidence. He speaks of "other attempts" to write a Life of Christ, which were unsatisfactory. Though it is the same Gospel, it is narrated with peculiar independence, containing additional matter, more accuracy in preserving the chronological order of events, and complying with the requirements of history. He tested tradition by documentary records (e.g. i. 5; ii. 2; iii. 1); by comparing the oral testimony of living witnesses (i. 2, 3); and only when he had "perfect understanding of all things from the very first," ventured to compile a "Life of Christ" as a perfect man, restoring human nature, and offering Himself a sacrifice for all mankind. To him we are indebted for the history of the birth and childhood of Jesus and the Baptist, for those liturgical hymns, and the scene in the synagogue at Nazareth (vi.), which were probably communicated by the Virgin Mary. The Physician shews himself in the particular details of diseases; the Artist in the vivid pictures of lifelike scenes; the companion of Paul in the extension of the Gospel to Gentiles (iv. 16—30), and the favour shewn by Jesus to "publicans and sinners "(yii. 36—50; xxiii. 39—43). Hence his genealogy is traced up to Adam, the progenitor of the whole race.
I. The miraculous birth of Jesus and His forerunner; His manifestation in childhood, and growth to rhanhoqd (i. and ii.). II. The testimony to His Messiahship (iii. and iv.). III. His ministry in Galilee (iv.—xvii.). IV. His Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension (xviii.—xxiv.).
JOHN was brother of James, son of Zebedee, one of the earliest and also the youngest of our Lord's disciples, honoured with the distinction "whom Jesus loved." His Gospel was written at the close of the first century, or beginning of the second, long after the others had become well known throughout Christendom. He had all of them before him; he supplemented what they had omitted, corrected false impressions formed by readink them, and gave the cue to their deeper interpretation. He indirectly refers to and corroborates much that they have recorded, but abstains filom traversing the same ground. He only narrates one miracle which is common to all the Gdspels (the feeding of the 5,000), but gives us four others peculiar to him: the change of water into wine; the healing of the impotent man, and ine born blind; and the raising of Lazarus. "While the events narrated by the Sy-noptists are mainly those which took place in Galilee, John's Gospel is almost wholly occupied with Christ'i ministry in Judaea, and one-third of it is occupied with the sayings and doings of the last twenty-four hours of His life. He omits all the Paranles given by the Synoptists.
Generally, his Gospel is rather a compilation of distinct dissertations than a continuous narrative. It connects the Redemption of mankind with the Creation by the same Source of Life. Its subject id "The Eternal Word made Flesh," (1) as pre-eastent, (2) as incarnate, (3) as revealing the lather, (4) as connecting humanity with Divinity through His own incarnation by means of spiritual agency. Hence the transmission of this spiritual influence through material
substances is evidenced by the first miracle (ii.); expounded to Nicodemus (iii.); allegorised to the Samaritan woman (iv.); exemplified in the impotent man (v.); symbolised and emphasised in the feeding of 5,000, and subsequent discourse (vi.). The Revelation of the Father is developed by miracle and parable in vii.—x.; His life-giving power communicated to human nature temporarily and eternally by spiritual agency in xi.—xiii.; the perpetual transmission of that power from Himself to mankind through His apostles, and their commission to execute their functions, in xiv.—xxi. Many additional scenes in His Passion, and especially Pilate's efforts to release Him, are furnished only by John. His reckoning of time is in accordance with the division of the day from midnight, which is identical with our own.
ii. ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
This book, according to internal and external evidence, was written by Luke, and forms the sequel to his Gospel. It is the history of the foundation and spread of the Christian Church— the former under Peter (i.—xii.), the latter under Paul (xii.—xxviii.). It was founded on the Day of Pentecost; its first sons were Jews (hence it appeared only a Jewish sect in Judaea), and the former part of the book is occupied with its establishment there, with arguments in its favour, and with challenges to disprove the fundamental fact of Christ's resurrection. Its first development into an organised community, with official staff, provoked the first persecution and martyrdom, which precipitated its extension to Samaria and Syria, caused a new and more independent centre of operations to be planted at Antioch, whence under Paul (the first converted persecutor) it spread to Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, a,nd various parts df the Gentile world. The motive influence was the direct impulse of the Holy Spirit, not any preconceived plan of the Apostolic body (ii. 4; xi. 17; xv. 6, 7, 9).
Analysis. A. The Acts of Peter:—Birth of Christian Church, and Extension to Samaria, comprising (1) Foundation and Progress of the Church in Jerusalem and Judaea (i.—viii.); (2) First Persecution, and Extension to Samaria and to Gentile family of Cornelius (viii.—xi. 18); (3) Second Persecution, and Foundation of the Church at Antioch (xi. 19—xiii. 3).
B. The Acts of Paul:—Extension of the Church to the Gentiles.
(1) Paul's Call, and first Apostolic journey (xiii. 4—xv. 5); (2) Council of Jerusalem, fixing terms of admission (xv.); (3) Second Apostolic journey (xv. 36—xviii. 22); (4) Third Apostolic journey (xviii. 23—xxi. 17); (5) Paul's imprisonment at Caesarea, and voyage to Rome (xxi. 18—xxviii.). So the progress is recorded from a small Jewish sect to the universal Church. In this book all. the Articles of the Apostles' Creed may be found, chiefly in Peter's speeches (i.—v.).
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