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Divine KNOWLEDGE is, of all subjects that can engage the mind or the heart of man, the most important, and ought therefore to be the most interesting and attractive. All other subjects of intellectual inquiry refer to time; this alone refers to the concerns of eternity. The tendency of all other knowledge is to make us vain of the comprehensive powers of our understanding; the tendency of that knowledge which cometh down from above is to make us humble, to convince us of our sinfulness, to sanctify our affections, and to keep us continually at the feet of Jesus, that we may learn of him who is both the wisdom and the power of God.
It has pleased God, in his mercy, that all divine knowledge which is necessary to be received in order to salvation should be committed to writing. He has not left the revelation of his will to be handed down through the uncertain channel of oral or traditional conveyance, but he has raised up, from time to time, holy men of old, who, under the guidance of the Spirit, have written all that is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
The book which contains these writings is called The Bible, or The Book, by way of eminence, because it is a book which stands alone, occupying a peculiar place of preciousness and importance, to which no other book can ever approximate or aspire; and a book which should be preserved, even at the expense, if necessary, of consigning all other books to the flames, as the price of its redemption ;-for, as it has been concisely and eloquently described, it has God for its author, truth for its subject-matter, and the salvation of man for its object.
The Bible consists of two principal parts — the Old and the New TestaMENT. The designation of the Old Testament is taken from 2 Cor. iii. 14, and that of the New Testament from 2 Cor. iii. 6. The word " Testament” means a will,—and these two contain, as it were, the legacies of mercy which God has bequeathed to a lost and guilty world, written with the blood of Him who is the mediator of the New Testament, and who died in order to procure and confirm the inheritance of those blessings for all who come unto God by him.
The Old Testament has been preserved by the Jews with the most scrupulous and even superstitious care. To them were committed these precious oracles of God, and although they were justly reproved and punished for many other sins against the God who loved them, they were never censured for mutilating the Holy Scriptures, of which they were the responsible librarians. Their minute and jealous attention to the safe custody of the Bible may be ascertained from this— that they even counted the letters of which it was composed, and could tell how often each letter occurred in the course of any particular book. And yet these very people rejected that Saviour of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, wrote! But in this we see that it is possible to acquire a surprising minuteness of intimacy with the letter of the Scriptures, and yet, after all, to be destitute of that spiritual, experimental, and practical knowledge of their contents, which can alone make us wise unto salvation.
The New TESTAMENT contains a complete statement of the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man, revealed in the Gospel, of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the author and the finisher. It consists of 27 books, which are generally ranged under three classes — the Historical, the Doctrinal, and the Prophetical. To the first class belong the Four Gospels and the history of the Acts of the Apostles. The word “Gospel” signifies good news, and is used not only as the name of God's free plan of saving mercy through Christ, but also as a name given to each of the narratives of our blessed Saviour's life.
There are three qualities which we must believe the Scriptures to possess, as constituting the foundation on which we acknowledge them to be the Word of God, — that they are genuine, authentic, and inspired. By a genuine writing is meant one which is written by the person who is said in the book itself to have been the author of it; — by an authentic writing is meant one that relates matters of fact as they actually occurred;- by an inspired writing is meant one that has been composed under the special direction of the Holy Spirit of God. We do not feel it necessary to advance, here, any proofs of the genuineness and authenticity of the Scriptures. We assume that the minds of our readers are satisfied upon those points. We are not, however, at all disposed to depreciate the labours of those, who, by dint of much laborious perseverance, have collected the immense mass of irrefragable proofs with which, as with so many deadly weapons, the outworks of our most holy faith have been protected against the presumptuous assaults of an obstinate and conceited infidelity. The labours of a Paley, a Lardner, and a Chalmers, should ever be estimated, in proportion to their great value and importance, by the Church. And if any one is desirous of seeing how well attested by external evidence is the integrity of the Holy Scriptures, he will find the most satisfactory illustrations of this in the writings to which we have just referred.
The question of the inspiration of the Bible is one of the very first importance. By inspiration we mean, that the persons who were the writers of the Books which are contained in the Bible were under the entire direction and instruction of the Holy Spirit in the intellectual execution of their work, so that the Holy Spirit was in reality the author of these books, employing the writers as his instruments for performing the intellectual and manual labour of composition. Thus David says in the 45th Psalm — " My heart is inditing a good matter, My tongue is the pen of a ready writer,"—implying, that the Holy Spirit, whom he here calls a ready writer, made use of his mental faculties for the purpose of conceiving, and his tongue as the instrument for giving expression to the subject on which he was about to treat.
The first subject brought before our view in the New Testament is the history of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is contained in four books, written by the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Many fanciful reasons have been given by ancient writers why the Life of Christ should have been written by four persons, which we need not mention here. The most probable and rational cause may have been this, that there might be a sufficient number of witnesses to the important events of our blessed Saviour's manifestation in the flesh, in order that Christians in every subsequent age might have a sufficiency, or even a superabundance of testimony on which they might rest their faith; and also, that the history might be complete, each of the Evangelists being assigned that department of the work which the Holy Ghost regarded as most suitable; and all affording a narrative of the life of Christ, sufficiently full for every purpose of instruction and example. St. Matthew, for instance, who wrote first, relates for the most part the facts that were done, but seldom insists upon the order in which they were done,-his primary object seeming to be this, to prove the fulfilment, in these facts, of the prophecies of the Old Testament. St. Mark, who wrote next, seems to have taken St. Matthew's Gospel as the basis of his, giving an epitome of his narrative, but insisting more upon the order and the time in which the events took place. St. Luke appears to have written after he had seen the other Gospels; and having heard of many facts from those who were eye-witnesses, he is anxious to relate these, and to give a regular and well-arranged account from the beginning of all that Jesus did and taught until the day that he was taken up
into Heaven. St. John, who was the last that wrote, gives an account of the actions of Christ during the first year of his ministry, which the others were not led to do, and relates, very fully, the discourses which the Saviour held with his Apostles and others. His Gospel might be called, A TREATISE ON THE Sacred PHILOSOPHY OF CHRISTIANITY.
The first, then, of these narratives is THE GOSPEL BY ST. MATTHEW. His name is supposed by some to be derived from the Hebrew word mas, tribute; or, by others, from mathach, to explain. We know nothing with certainty of his history beyond what is contained in Scripture. What zeal he manifested as an ambassador of the Gospel after the ascension of his Lord and Master what labours he sustained in proclaiming the joyful tidings of a finished redemption - what countries he visited — what sinners he was the honoured in
strument of bringing to the Saviour - by what death he glorified God all these particulars have only been made the subject-matter of vague and uncertain conjecture. Probably the labours which many great and devoted men have expended in the cause of Christ, have been involved in this obscurity by the determinate counsel and providence of God, in order that—the instrumentality being thus concealed —his power and mercy may alone be recognised as the causes which led to those great results which have sprung from the diffusion of the everlasting Gospel. And perhaps it has been reserved, as one of the sources of happiness to the people of God in another and a better life, to receive from those messengers and heralds of salvation a history of all the enterprises of benevolence in which the grace and kindness of their Master enabled them to engage.
St. Matthew was a Galilean by birth, a Jew by religion, and a publican by profession. The publicans were those who were employed as subordinate collectors of the tribute or taxes which the Romans exacted from their conquered provinces. It has been generally supposed that Matthew was the same as Levi, who is mentioned by St. Mark and St. Luke, Mark ii. 14, 15; Luke v. 27, 29; but no decisive proof can be advanced for this opinion. We have stated our reasons for considering them to have been different persons, in our exposition of Matth. ix. 9, which may be found by a reference to column 326 of this volume. We have there suggested that Levi may have been the chief publican, who employed Matthew as his assistant or clerk. It is supposed that his office was to collect the custom-duties imposed upon merchandize that was conveyed over the Sea of Galilee, and the tribute which was required from the passengers. He gives an account of his call in chapter ix. 9—“And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” After this, he was selected to be one of the twelve Apostles of our Lord. It has been conjectured by ecclesiastical historians, that he continued to preach the Gospel in Judea for the space of eight years; that he then travelled into Ethiopia or Abyssinia, that he might preach amongst the heathen; and that he finally sealed his testimony with his blood.
There are various opinions as to the time when this Gospel was written. Some
say it was as early as the year 41, eight years after the ascension of Christ. Others say that it was written in the fifteenth year after that event. Others, again, argue that it was not written until the year 64. There is a passage in the 8th verse of the 27th chapter, which renders it probable that it was not written until a considerable time after the closing events of our Saviour's life had occurred, where, in speaking of the Potters' field, which the chief priests bought with the thirty pieces of silver which Judas had received for the betrayal of his Master, St. Matthew observes---"Wherefore that field was called the field of blood, unto this day.” The expressions, “ unto this day," are precisely those which an historian would naturally employ in relating events at a considerable period after they had occurred.