The Distinct Character of the Several Writings of the New Testament

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"Have an outline of sound words, which [words] thou host heard of me, in faith and love which [are] in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim. 1:1313Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13). New Trans.)
In spiritual subjects, there is need of much distinct converse in them to be able to present them primarily and vividly, so as to lead the way to fuller investigation of the divine mind.
The expression of one's own thoughts, and and the acting so as to awaken similar thoughts in others, I find by experience to be two very different things and the latter to be a rarer and more self-denying attainment than the other. By God's Spirit alone can it be done in power. I shall state, as simply as I can, the thoughts, and leave their development where chiefly they will be found of value in the daily course of Christian reading.
I allude to this—I believe that the Gospels are by no means mere concurrent and coincident testimonies to Christ, and valuable simply as corroborative one of the other. Of Course they are so, nor do I despise this positive help to the acknowledgment of the instrument and standard of faith—the written word. But the believer, acknowledging this as his foundation, seeks for the enlargement of heart which the fuller and more complete apprehension, of that word may give him. I believe them to be (recognized as true and all bearing Witness to the same great facts, and showing thus their unity) the testimony of the Holy Ghost to distinct characters, in which the One Person they bear record of was revealed, and which He filled. All fullness dwelt. in Him, not only of the Godhead bodily as to His person, but the accomplishment of every character in which He could meet the requisition of God from man, and man's necessities, or satisfy the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the word of old, as exhibiting the divine glory. He came in " by the door," so that to Him the porter should open; and thus He became " the door," the only door in or out to all else.
Now the Gospels generally fill up their peculiar place in their witness in this respect; they fill up the place of representing JESUS from His birth to the resurrection, sealed by. His ascension into heaven, wherein He became properly the second Adam-the spring from which all the ministration of the living word flowed, and on which it was established-and the testimony of the righteousness of God set forth as His glory to be revealed. That is, all that JESUS was, is that which will be exhibited in glory: we see its substance, its texture, the beautiful order of all its filaments in His unglorified state; yet is He none of these things which He is meant to be, that is-save to faith. The glory exhibits it to the world. The artist skilled in the composition of the structure can see the exquisiteness of its parts—the nicely adapted arrangement of the materials-the perfect wisdom with which it is composed. Its presenting as a whole to the world will give the whole result externally.
He was the. Son of man in all the varied moral truth which that name conveys; He will be the Son of min in glory. He was the Messiah in all the requisitions and gifts which had been appointed, and even recorded by prophets; He will be Messiah in the reign of His glory. He was the Son of God in His person,- as conversant in the, world; He will appear in His glory as Son. As the potter's work goes in with all with which it will 'come out, yet would the eye unpracticed see nothing of its beauty-none but the potter could see it; so none but One eye, and those taught of Him, can see the exquisite beauty which was in all this fullness of JESUS, or understand the, beauty and glory and true majesty, in which He shall be revealed when every eye shall see Him. They " saw no beauty in Him that they should desire' Him " yet He was but cast into the fire that He might come forth to their astonishment with all the beauty which God could set upon Him—" His Father's glory and His own "—the glory of administered power, in the glory, the results of grace-" to be glorified in His saints, and 'admired in all them that' believed." Nothing can exceed the delight and profit I apprehend, through perception and connection of this glory of what JESUS was, in the veiled perhaps, but heightened and beauteous order of all His character in grace, with the glory in which it shall be revealed in the day of His appearing to His saints and the excellency of His kingdom.
The testimony and ministrations founded on these great truths, as building the church upon them belong to the Epistles and the subsequent contents of the New Testament, and not to the Gospels, whose office it is to state the facts, and develop in conversations the universal truths on which it is founded.
Now, there are three great characters besides His personal biography, in which the Lord is set forth: as the Messiah; as the new Man known in the moral character of the divine nature which God required, the second Adam; and, which is the climax of them all, His personal glory from which all flows as Son of God. First, His character properly Jewish; secondly, that in which it was co-extensive with the term man, and applied itself to, this as coming from the hands of God; thirdly, that in which it was paramount to either, His personal association with the Father of Glory as the Son of God, in which the value was attached to the others; and the power of quickening, in which alone they could have unity, was established and verified.
This, I say, (as establishing promises, exhibiting grace, and founding the stability of both, in the person of Him in whom they we're fulfilled, with the personal grace and graciousness of His conversation and ministry in the world,) forms the respective subjects, more especially of the four Gospels. We find them exhibited in John 11., 12 that is, the Savior exercised or owned in them by His power and the ordering of the divine counsels on His rejection by the Jews.
Chapter 11, exhibits His resurrection power after that rejection "for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." Chapter 12, His kingship over the Jews as the Son of David; and, secondly, His headship over the Gentiles, His standard of conversion and attractive power in death, In that which took place in the desire of the Greeks to see JESUS.
Of the first of these characters which I have mentioned, Messiah, the Lord's connection with the Jews, Matthew is the appointed witness. Of course, the same truths are recognized everywhere. Luke exhibits our Lord in His converting character, and detecting in moral principles the inconsistency of man's estate with the divine character. John eminently presents Him in His person and Sonship. Matthew, as fulfilling the law and the promises, " the minister [as the apostle speaks] of the circumcision for the truth of God:" Luke as a witness of what is in man, and of the openness of the Father's house, and the love of the Father's heart to them that return, to the returning prodigal. " that the Gentiles should glorify God for His mercy." John tells us " that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and was God; and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father full of grace and truth," I believe the notice of this conduces exceedingly to the understanding of the different Gospels.
The evidences of it are some of them bilious, others more from use. We have one immediate one in the genealogies: traced in Matthew, to the sources of Jewish dispensation, David and Abraham: in Luke, to Adam, the Son of God. Again, if anyone will compare the first two chapters of Mat-and Luke, they will see how completely the one is appropriately Jewish; the other presents us with the Child, one who " grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."
Another thing is remarkable; it will be found on examination, that, except in the positive necessary facts of His birth and death, Luke states circumstances, not according to their chronological order, but according to their moral connection; hence affording a most, important link of interpretation. This is so, not merely in unconnected facts, where it is obvious, but even in the temptation in the wilderness. The sermon on the Mount, the character of the parables, of which Matt. 13, and Luke 15, may be taken as the types, all confirm and illustrate the position I am taking; and this is the real interpretation of the different language used in parallel passages. In one, the Holy Ghost preserved what bore upon the subject, of, one Gospel; in the other what bore upon that of the other, and gave what the church needed and God, pleased: if all had been, given, "the world could not have contained the books." (John 21:2525And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. (John 21:25).).' The whole of Luke 7;8, illustrate in a string of circumstances the moral application of facts. A comparison of the closing scenes of our Lord's intercourse with His disciples and the Jews, and the prophecies consequent thereupon, further remarkably illustrate the difference.
In Matthew is given the full development of Jewish dispensation, and this so much so, that I could not apply any of the statements in Matt. 24, or the like to Gentile circumstances; whereas Luke explicitly opens the door, and brings them into the scene, as may be seen in the close of chapter 21. Whence also, I believe he introduces " all the trees," the fig-tree being the specific emblem of the Jewish corporate nationality. The close of the Gospel of John is equally distinct, or more evidently so in its character. But I do not feel in this synoptical view, that I need enter into any explanation of the Gospel of John. It is evident upon the face of it, that the Person of our Lord, as paramount to dispensation, though as coming subject to it, is its declaration.
The Gospel of Mark I believe to be the declaration of the personal ministry of our Lord, "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," and the circumstances of that ministry, to trace from circumstance to circumstance the character of minister in our Lord, His personal character, not in broad facts or prophecies the Messialp.hip, the faithful and true Witness, the Lord from heaven, the Son of God, one with the Father, but He who was all these become the patient considerate Servant, in actual ministry of those with whom He was conversant. Hence it commences with His ministry or baptism, giving no account of His birth.
When I retrace all the enjoyment which I have had through the Spirit of grace, and of God, in that from which these observations are drawn, the studying our Lord in them, I am doubly conscious how little they can in any sort convey to another the resources of that enjoyment; nor indeed can this be. All I can hope is, that they may be instrumental in leading the minds of others into the same sources or streams, in which the infinitude, the unspeakable infinitude, of divine grace flows from and in HIM in whom they are all concentrated, and concentrated for us, even JESUS the Lord, in Whom "dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." It is in communion with Him in the word, that these blessings are found; and communion whose depth, whose height, is never reached, but the fullness is ours, and that in the very peaceful strength in which He has adapted Himself to us. May He open our mouths in the understanding of His praise. It is this, after the establishment of our faith in the great truths of the Epistles, explanatory truths, that leads us back to the Gospels, to enter into and dwell upon the blessedness and fullness of Him in Whom all the truths have their center and accomplishment.
While my own mind rests specially on the Gospels in this view, as illustrating the person of our Lord, I add a short synoptical view of the hooks of the whole New Testament, which will, at the same time, strengthen and confirm the remarks I have made upon the Gospels. It appears to me to be a presenting of Christ, the subject- Jesus, from His incarnation, which associates Him with David, and Abraham, and Adam, and presents Him as the substantiation of the mind of God, of which they are but prefigurements, though real ones, to the time when He shall return again—His second coming—when He shall illustrate all that He is in power. Hence, in the Gospels, we have all that He was traced to Adam, David, Abraham, the Word of God, and shown forth hi ministry with the great facts on which the testimony of the Gospel was founded.
In the Acts we have the founding of the church of Christ stating His resurrection and ascension, on which the Jewish and Gentile' Church is built, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit-the Acts not of the apostles, but of the apostles Peter and Paul (though recognizing of course the others, particularly those who seemed to be pillars), that is, of the apostles of the circumcision and uncircumcision the ordering. of the church by the deacons; the sub ministration by evangelists, deacons "who have purchased to themselves a good degree and great boldness in Christ Jesus; " the general diffusion of the word of the gospel by all the faithful preaching (Acts 8:44Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. (Acts 8:4)); and the foundation of the Gentile church, more particularly so called, on the ascended glory of Christ, that it might be " Christ in them the hope of glory " (Col. 1:2727To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:27)), with the ordering by the Spirit of all their labors.
We have, then, in the Epistles, the ordering and care of the church and churches of Christ thus planted, in their various necessities, arising from the weakness of men, and permitted thus to arise that we, "upon whom the ends, of the world are come," might have the answer, the rescript of God upon the case. In the Epistle to the Galations, we have the great basis. laid of justification by faith, and its connected doctrines, to the exclusion of all judaizing to such an end, In the Romans we have a whole body of divinity in the way of dispensation, just' ly coming first, to chapter 8., developing all that was short of " no condemnation "stating the whole of the christian position in chapter 8., on the basis of thanksgiving for Christ; and from chapter 9. out, tracing the positive dispensations of God ordered beforehand, and resulting therefrom, closing with practice and a résumé of the whole dispensation. In the two Epistles to the Corinthians we have the internal order and management of a church by the Spirit of God in the apostles It would appear as if there had been no elders, that we might have direct from the apostle the arrangements necessary and pleasing to God for the purposes of the divine order; at least, elders do not at all appear throughout the books, but the directions are immediate to the church. I think this is a remarkable and singular providence; to us at least it is so, and worthy of notice. For surely no goodness and provision for our weakness and folly is singular with God; 'boundless, multiplied, have they been. There are some who would despise it, as of little or no profit for the, purpose for which it is given. What elite is it for? I can conceive nothing more base, than, having by perverseness disabled one's self from the use of means which. God has provided, to turn round and say the means are deficient, without a symptom of humiliation for the real cause.
The Ephesians and Colossians bear many stamps of identity of purpose, but they are very beautifully distinct: They both follow up the dispensation into its fullness; but the Ephesians views it it in the glory, the conferred or predestinated glory of the body—the Son's the Colossians looks at the fullness of the Head of the body, as constituting that, through which the whole is brought into this order in and by the Head. The Phil. 1 would, give as depicting the affectionate interchange of love in the intercourse between the parental apostle and his beloved and, attached churches. Thus he unfolds his hopes, for in this way does the doctrine come out, and leads them in the same healthful train, opening the blessed truths to them, and so of his estate and thoughts of theirs.
The two to the Thessalonians are the building up of the church in the great doctrine of the Lord's second coming, as an immediate and protracted expectation and hope, and the result of this special apprehension of it in the very healthful state of the church. These epistles afford, very full doctrine on the subject, and guard against the only prejudices which the vanity or wit of man could form out of it, or abuse.; I need hardly say, that Timothy and Titus are the ordering of the church, as to its government and management by those set over it in the Lord (justly coming last with others first), the character of those appointed, and the use and service of such a ministry specially in guarding against evil, with all the absolute or external arrangements of the ministry and its dependencies, and the manner of using it. Its importance will be fully noticed by the service it is applied to, and its abuse at the present day. Its uniformity of character is given by adding the Epistle to Titus, and variety of use according to the circumstances in which it is placed. In Philemon we have the evidence of that minuteness of care, apostolic care, which recognizes the ordering of an individual's concerns, and what would now- be so multifariously despised-the church in a house.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is an instruction to the church, not an apostolic address to a church as such, of the way in which the types of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ, and how He was the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, answering to Moses and Aaron, but after another order; and how, consequently in this also (as with the saints of old) it was a dispensation of faith, and we must therefore " go forth to Him without the camp," as well as be strangers in the world, while Christ is on high, Thus we see how the Church, being built and ordered by a wise master builder under JESUS, closed by this important testimony to the Hebrews, carrying forth the principle of faith to them and bringing in all the value of their ministrations to us in JESUS, as that, principle of faith.
We have, however, some further developments of the mind of God before we close,. but by other hands, that these pillars might all, prop up the beauteous arc of God's canopy of heaven over the Church, the shield of order and beauty. The Epistle of James is the order of righteousness, the test of church order as a moral question, the statement of practical wisdom and righteousness, with a " Show me." This is the Church's part. " The Lord knoweth them that are His the other side of the seal, not the sovereign claim and authority, but the order and recognition of His power and character. " Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." This latter part James the just administers in its principles; and the principle of its application "show me," first in purity, secondly in goodness or merry; while the sovereignty of the Lord is fully recognized and declared. It is then church righteousness, and order, I mean in its principles. This fully explains the reasoning of the Epistle, and the comparison with the reasoning of the Apostle Paul one giving the root; the other the manifestation. If taken not as acts of faith, the works James refers to were bad works-one the slaying a man's son, the other, betraying a person's country.
Peter's Epistles, or to speak more properly, the instruction of the Holy Ghost by Him, gives us further light. They show, though there is but one body in glory, the continuing care in ministration of the gracious and unchanging God over the Jews, "the strangers scattered ('sojourners of the dispersion') among the Gentiles, where they thought our Lord spoke of going and losing Himself—for such are the persons addressed in the first Epistle. His great thesis is the resurrection, and leading the believing Jews in this to their right place in faith, and showing the appearing again of JESUS to be the great time of bringing in the promises by it; that the remnant were the chosen people who had not stumbled at the stumbling-stone, but had, according to the word of the Lord testifying of His own resurrection in Psa. 34, " tasted that the Lord is gracious;" identifying Jesus and Jehovah the stone of stumbling, but of preservation—the Lord of Hosts Himself but for a sanctuary. The whole of the Epistle is addressed to the Jews, or rather to the two houses of Israel or their remnant, and pleads the resurrection and patience. The order and dispensation and the parenthetical 'character of this are very distinctly drawn in from verses 10-13 inclusive, of chapter i. The second Epistle, though savoring of that character of ministry in all its motives and argument, is general in in its address "to' them that have obtained like precious faith with us," more particularly however embracing Israel in the Apostle's mind, as we may see in chapter 3. I. It declares the judgment on apostasy,, stating the adequacy of supply or the means of preservation in the memorial of the written word, founded on the faith of the seen and coming Jesus, and the instruments' of that apostasy, false prophets and teachers, the character of it, and the remedy in that great subject which he had presented before them-the coming of the Lord, which is here presented to the apostates in the character of judgment, "the day of the Lord." And he exhorts them to diligence, that they may be found of Him coming, to be in that day without spot and blameless.
In the deeply interesting Epistle of John we have the intrinsic evidences of the power of Christianity as flowing from God; its essential and internal abiding character; our strength in it, as giving fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ; and hence in the knowledge of His love, or rather of love, by that which has brought us into this fellowship, security against the haughty assumption of anti-Christian seduction, in the assurance which flows from that fellowship, and is conscious that it is already in that which is 'falsely assumed to be presented, or which we may be charged with being without; while this, characteristically presented in its necessary fruits, guards against deception on the one side and the other. This is effected (first on declaring its source in chap. 1.) by the two personal evidences, He laid down His life, " by His spirit dwelling in us; " and external as a guard against the assumption of others and the denial of our own righteousness, by keeping His commandments, and loving brethren. The unity of the testimony to Christ's glory, in the Spirit, the water, and the blood, is there stated; and the internal and external witness distinguished; one, the blessing of the believer: the other, the condemnation of the world; closing with thee general contrast " we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness," [or, in the wicked one.'] "We know that the Son of God is come, and He hath given us an understanding:" the next point is, "to know Him that is true;" and the next, " we are in Him that is true, even His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." He is the " true God and eternal life." Amen. All else is but "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
How blessed is the testimony that in JESUS we are in the true God, and-which is our interest, and blessing, and everlasting comfort in it-eternal life in Him! In JESUS we have eternal life, and in association with Him are thus capacitated for understanding and enjoying all that is in Him the Lord and true God. In the second and third Epistles we have the individual, living, and faithful care of the Spirit in the apostle against any falling into the seduction of losing the true doctrine of Christ: whoever fails here, that is, abides not here, has not God; and direction for the uncompromising boldness in rejection of such as partake of his evil deeds; the directions being, in the one, not to receive seducers, or we are partakers of them; in the other, to receive faithful witnesses of truth, because in them we are partakers in the truth. Both rest on this, "walking in the truth; " they are the details of Christianity, such as develop themselves in service.
Jude returns to the apostaty, but in a, more generic character, that is in its principle, tracing it as developed from Cain; its address, therefore is universal. Further, all ungodliness is shown to be apostasy in character; while the force of it through false teachers is shown in 2 Peter 2 The Epistle, though short, is full of depth and beauty of moral power, though severe as needing it in its character. Nevertheless nothing can be more full of gracious beauty than the directions for our portion, till the mercy comes which holiness is taught to expect; for as the Lord's first coming is grace to sinners, so His second is glory to saints, and destruction to all those who have heard and not known His name. The Lord hasten it in its day, and us to it!
How fitly the Revelation fills this up and closes this book, I need hardly say, The apostasy has been shown previously to have come in, the tares sown among the wheat. This closed the care of apostolic ministry, and fitted in, as it were, to the great final apostasy. The Lord is therefore shown at once judging in the midst of the churches: and in His own immortality of glory and holiness on His Father's throne, in the intermediate time, governing till He comes forth in His power, and ordering all things for His church; "making all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose; " ending with the perfection of the blissful state, the heavenly Jerusalem come down, and the joy of the whole earth thus blessed in communion with it, sorrow gone from before the presence of God, where it never can abide, when He comes forth in power; and in power He does then come forth, and no evil remains before Him. Meanwhile the church is comforted with seeing the Lord cognizant of all the troubles and circumstances through which she is to pass, and is, ready to join in the cry of the apostle with which he closes the Book of God's testimony, "Even so, come Lord Jesus." The first part of the book gives the care of the Lord; the second, the character of the apostasy, and of course how it resulted in judgment. Thus the dealing begins with judgment at the House of God, and ends with judgment on the ungodly and sinners -two distinct classes; and then blessing from Him from whom the book, the testimony came.
I do feel, in writing thus rapidly (I trust for the profit of the church), the extreme solemnity of the truths, thus by the mercy of our God brought before us, that we might enjoy the blessings which are their result. To HIM whose it is be all the glory and praise; and may He keep us, adding of His grace in our ways, " that an abundant entrance may be ministered to us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Erratum.-on 5th Line of Article Commencing Page 30 (February " Remembrancer "), for " Fixed' Read " Mixed,"