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our term Gospel, compounded of two Saxon words, which signify good tidings, expresses it with happy precision. It is now generally used for the whole dispensation of mercy through Christ to mankind; and in this general sense we find it in several passages of the New Testament. The word has, however, a restricted use, as the title of each account of the four evangelists. There it imports the history of the birth, actions, ministry, doctrine, death, resurrection, and ascension, of our Saviour ; but with constant reference to the joyful import of this intelligence, and the unspeakable benefits which are thus conveyed to mankind. For the same reason the four inspired historians of our Lord are called “evangelists," publishers of good tidings ; and they are four, not that many accounts of Christ, called also “Gospels,” were not published even in early times, doubtless of various degrees of merit, and the most fabulous of them recording some truths which had been handed down by tradition ; but these four only appeared invested with the authority of the churches generally. Lardner has proved that no spurious or apocryphal Gospels whatever were read in the assemblies of Christians when they appeared ; nor admitted into the volume of Scripture; nor alleged as authority by different parties ; nor noticed by the adversaries of the Christians. Up to the earliest times, however, the four Gospels which we now possess are not only mentioned, but have this exclusive seal of their acknowledged inspiration put upon them, that they only were read in churches, and they only referred to as infallible authorities in matters of controversy. Two of these were written by apostles, Matthew and John; and two by companions of the apostles, Mark and Luke, the former having been the companion of St. Peter, and the latter of St. Paul. We have, therefore, in some Greek MSS. and ancient translations an arrangement of the Gospels according to the rank of these authors, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark ; but in the majority of the Greek MSS., in all the old translations of Asia and Africa, and in catalogues of the canonical books, that chronological order is observed, which was most anciently and universally received, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. This circumstance is important, as it assists us in explaining the peculiar character and object of each Gospel. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History says, “ Matthew, who at the first taught among the Jews, published his Gospel when he was going to visit others. When Mark and Luke had also published their Gospels, and these three had fallen into the hands of many, he, John, gave his approbation and testimony to their veracity; but something was defective in them, on which account John included in his Gospel that space of time which the rest had omitted, and those parts of the history of our Saviour which occurred within it.” But long before this, in the second century, Irenæus declares, that, as to this chronological succession, there was no uncertainty, or difference of opinion. Whether Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek or Hebrew, not only tradition, but internal evidence, shows that it was in the first place designed for the Jews, and was therefore first published in Palestine. Mark certainly wrote for the use of Gentile converts, as appears from his adding explanations to names of places and of things, which were familiar to Jews; and that he wrote at Rome, and for the use of the Latin converts in the first instance, is the best supported opinion. Luke inscribes his Gospel to a Greek ; and from his long connexion with the churches of Greece, and Asia Minor, he wrote his Gospel in that part of the world, and especially for their use. John wrote after the rest, and no doubt in Asia Minor. The very composition of his Gospel shows that he had seen all the rest ; and that his chief object was to supply many of the longer discourses of Christ, and to render his account the means of refuting the heresies which had recently grown up.
It may here be generally remarked, that the evangelists do not profess to give a complete account of all the circumstances of our Lord's life, nor to record all his miracles and discourses. This is expressly disclaimed by John: “ And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” xx. 30. And again, “ And there are also many other things which Jesus did.” The other evangelists also occasionally mention many important transactions in brief. In this, curiosity may be somewhat disappointed; but faith is edified. The manner of these writers—so simple and natural, so subdued as to their own emotions, and so far from any intention to produce effect upon the reader by so wonderful a narrative as that committed to them-has often been referred to as a strong internal proof of veracity. The absence of so many facts, conversations, and discourses, from that narrative, which they were well able to supply, is a strong presumption of their inspiration. To add to the deep interest of their writings, and advance their own fame as authors, would have been strong motives to minds not under special divine influence; and to gratify the eager desire of new Christians to know ALL the particulars possible respecting their adorable Lord, would present itself as a pious and laudable inducement to greater copiousness; but enough only is communicated to unfold the character and claims of Christ,
the leading principles of his heavenly doctrine, and the evidence of his mission as it stood confirmed by stupendous miracles, and accomplished prophecies. Enough is written “ that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have life through his name.” For the rest, the very tradition, though doubtless fondly cherished by many of the first believers, has been permitted to perish; and we are referred to that approaching state of perfect knowledge and vision, when these will no doubt be among the subjects which shall be communicated by Christ to his glorified servants, or by those servants to each other.
Nor do the Gospels taken together form a complete history; for although there are passages in each evangelist which do not occur in the others, they were so far from having the design of writing together one complete and consecutive history, that the same events and discourses frequently appear in each. This arose from the importance of the facts or doctrines which they each state, and generally from their connexion with the evidence of our Lord's mission. For as the Gospels were at first published separately, it was necessary that each should contain sufficient to exhibit the true character of our Lord, the truths he came to declare, and the circumstances of his death and resurrection. In other respects, and subordinate to this leading design, they are modified by the particular views under which their composition was undertaken, and by that inspiration of the Holy Spirit which directed each evangelist both as to insertions and omissions, with reference to that subsequent collection of their accounts which was to be made in the church; that they might be read together, by Christians of succeeding times, who had not, as most of the primitive believers, though they might possess but one Gospel, the opportunity of learning from some of the apostles, their companions, or their immediate successors, those further particulars which the whole four Gospels transmit to us.
As to the number of evangelists, Chrysostom in his prologue to the Homilies on Matthew, justly remarks, in answering the question, “ How then, was not one evangelist sufficient to say all ?”—“ Certainly one might have sufficed; but as there are four such authors, who did not write at one and the same time, nor in the same place, who neither met together, nor acted in concert, and nevertheless speak as it were out of one mouth, hence arises a stronger proof of their credibility. But it is replied, the contrary rather took place, many passages being dissimilar. This also is a greater proof of credibility ; for if they agreed minutely in all, both as to circumstance and expression, their opponents would never believe that they had not written their memoirs by agreement, or by personal understanding.” “ They are clearly separate and independent historians," says Mr. Nares; " and their close agreement in the most important circumstances of their narratives, forms a coincidence of collateral testimonies which cannot be paralleled in any other example. ”
It is disputed whether the title, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT Matthew, was originally affixed by himself. Of this we may be tolerably certain, that he did not give himself the appellation of “Saint,” however deserving of it in its highest sense. The title is indeed found differently varied in MSS. ; and the probability is, that after the other Gospels were published, the inscriptions were added for the sake of distinction, and to transmit the testimony of the primitive churches as to the authors. Chrysostom, however, says that Matthew himself called his work “ The Gospel,” δια τουτο ευαγγελιoν την ιστοριαν εκαλεσιν, κ. τ. λ.* The titles of each finally became, with some variations in the MSS., the Gospel xala Ματθειον, καλα Μαρκον, &c. “ So the most ancient teachers of the church cite them, not as the Gospel of Matthew, of Mark, but according to Matthew, according to Mark," + &c.
The time when St. Matthew's Gospel was published has been matter of debate among critics ; some fixing as near to the ascension of our Lord as A. D. 37, others extending it to A. D. 62, and others fixing upon several intermediate dates. The later dates rest chiefly upon an equivocal passage in Irenæus, and the more early have the reason of the case in their favour. It is much more probable that the first apostolic account of the life of our Lord should be written within a few years of his death, than that it should be so long delayed, A. n. 61, or 62. Eusebius is express in fixing the time A. D. 41, in the third year of Caligula, that is, eight years after Christ's ascension. It is true, that, as a matter of evidence, this does not much affect any question ; for the immediate spread of the Gospel among such multitudes in Palestine, and its metropolis, and elsewhere, can only be accounted for by the unquestionable and supernatural character of the facts on which the whole Christian system rested, and the evidence of the miracles wrought by the primitive teachers themselves; and further, all the Gospels, if fixed at the latest dates which have been assigned to them, were certainly published whilst a considerable number of
persons were still alive, who from personal knowledge were able to affirm whether . Homil. I. in Matt. Præf.
+ Hug's Introduction.
the alleged facts, so particularly stated by the evangelists as to time, place, and persons, were true relations or not. The Jews especially had every motive to sift these accounts, and transported would they have been could they have refuted them. But this was never attempted. They attributed, on the contrary, the works of Christ to satanic agency, and continued long to do so; and thus admitted the grand facts on which Christianity was founded, by the very theory on which they accounted for them. Still many became Christians in Judea, and other countries, who could only be generally and vaguely acquainted with the public life and discourses of their Redeemer; persons brought to faith and salvation by the impression of the miracles of the apostles, the convincing native energy of truth, and the secret influences of grace upon their hearts, for whose confirmation in faith, and the holy comfort of the Gospel, that history of Christ, that exhibition of his doctrine, that powerful impression of his whole extraordinary character, which every single Gospel contains, was essential. The Gospels were books to be read in their assemblies, as being placed upon a level with the sacred books of the Old Testament by their inspiration, and as being also the key to the Law and the Prophets; and copies were rapidly multiplied to be the light of every Christian family, and to afford counsel, comfort, and the subject of hallowing meditations, to individuals in their walks through life. All these present strong reasons for an early composition of an authorized history of Christ, and favour, as a presumptive argument, the early dates ascribed to that of St. Matthew, which was undoubtedly the first published. Add to this, the greater number of critics agree in the opinion that it was published not later than about eight years after the ascension of our Lord.
That the Gospel of St. Matthew was first and more immediately designed for the Jews in Palestine, and of course also for the same people scattered throughout the principal cities of the world, appears to be indicated both by its early date, and from its being so eminently adapted to convince the Jews of the Messiahship of Jesus, by the frequency with which it points out the fulfilment of many of their ancient prophecies in him. A still further proof is, that this evangelist does not, like Mark, whose history was anciently called the Gospel of the Gentiles, add those explanatory remarks, as to various Jewish customs, sects, and other circumstances, which were sufficiently familiar to Jews, but wholly unintelligible to almost all other people. When Mark represents the Pharisees as complaining, “ that the disciples of Jesus ate xoivais xepowv; that is,