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blessed God (1 Tim. i. 11.), as being that dispensation which exhibits the glory of all the divine attributes in the salvation of mankind;and The Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts xx. 24.), because it is a declaration of God's free favour towards all nen. - The blessings and privileges promised in the New Testament (1 Cor. ix. 23.); - The public profession of Christian doctrine (Mark vii. 35. X. 29. 2 Tim. i. 8. Philem. ver. 13.); — and in Gal. j. 6. 8, 9. any new doctrines, whether true or false, are respectively called the Gospel.
II. The general design of the evangelists in writing the Gospels was, doubtless, to confirm the Christians of that (and every succeeding) age in their belief of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom alone they can obtain eternal life (John xx. 31.), and also to defend this momentous truth against the calunnies of the adversaries of the Christian faith. For, as the Jews, and those who supported the Jewish superstition, would calumniate, and endeavour to render suspected, the oral declarations of the apostles concerning the life, transactions, and resurrection of our Saviour, it would not a little tend to strengthen the faith and courage of the first Christians, if the most important events in the history of Jesus Christ were committed to writing in a narrative which should set forth his dignity and divine majesty. This task was executed by two apostles, Matthew and Jolm, and two companions of the apostles, Mark and Luke. Of these evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have chiefly related the actions and doctrines of Jesus in Galilee, probably on account of the false reports circulated by the Jews of Jerusalem: who, being umable to deny the memorable and notorious transactions performed there by Jesus Christ, seem to have directed all their efforts to invalidate the credibility of
said to have taught and done in Galilee. This is the more likely, as we know that they held the Galileans in the utmost contempt, as well as every thing which came from that country. (John vii. 52.) Such appears to have been the reason why these three evangelists have related the transactions of Jesus Christ in Galilee more at length ; while, with the exception of his passion and resurrection, they have only touched briefly on the other circumstances of his life. On the contrary, John expatiates more largely on the actions and doctrines of our Saviour both at Jerusalem and in Judæa, and adds a variety of particulars omitted by the others.
III. The Gospels which have been transtuitted to us are four in number; and we learn from undoubted authority that four, and four only, were ever received by the Christian church as the genuine and inspired writings of the evangelists. Many of the antient fathers have attempted to assign the reason why we have precisely this number of Gospels, and have fancied that they discovered a mysterious analogy between the four Gospels and the four
1 Irenæus adv. Hæres. lib. iii. c. 11. expressly states that in the second century the four Gospels were received by the church. See additional testimonies to the number of the Gospels in the Index to Dr. Lardner's Works, voce Gospels.
winds, the four regions or corners of the earth, the four rivers of Paradise, and the four corners and four rings of the ark of the covenant! But the most celebrated analogy is that of the four animals described by Ezekiel (i. 5-10.), which was first observed by Irenæus, and after him by Jerome, and which gave rise to the well-known paintings of the four evangelists. The following table exhibits the most probable dates, as well as the names of the places, where the historical books of the New Testament were written.
37 or 38
between 60 and 63
63 or 64
97 or 98 IV. “It is a considerable advantage that a history of such importance as that of Jesus Christ has been recorded by the pens of separate and independent writers, who, from the contradictions, whether real or apparent, which are visible in these accounts, have incontestably proved that they did not unite with a view of imposing a fabulous narrative on mankind. That Saint Matthew had never seen the Gospel of Saint Luke, nor Saint Luke the Gospel of Saint Matthew, is evident from a comparison of their writings. The Gospel of Saint Mark, which was written later, must likewise have been unknown to Saint Luke; and that Saint Mark had ever read the Gospel of Saint Luke, is at least improbable, because their Gospels so frequently differ.o3 It is a generally received opinion, that Saint Mark made use of Saint Matthew's Gospel in the composition of his own : but this, it will be shown in a subsequent page, 4 is an unfounded hypothesis. The Gospel of Saint John, being written after the other three, supplies what they had omitted. Thus have we four distinct and independent writers of one and the same history; and, though trifling variations may seem to exist in their narratives, yet these admit of easy solutions ;; and in all matters of consequence, whether doctrinal or historical, there is such a manifest agreement between them as is to be found in no other writings whatever.
“ Though we have only four original writers of the life of Jesus, the evidence of the history does not rest on the testimony of four
i Irenæus adv. Hares. lib. iii. c. 11. The first living creature, says this father, which is like a lion, signifies Christ's efficacy, principality, and regality, viz John ;,
the second, like a calf, denotes his sacerdotal order, viz. Luke; - the third, having as it were a man's face, describes his coming in the flesh as man, viz. Matthew ; and the fourth, like a flying eagle, manifests the grace of the Spirit flying into t! church, viz. Mark !!
2 Jerome, Proem. in Matth. The reader, who is desirous of reading more these fanciful analogies, will find them collected by Suicer, in his Thesaurus clesiasticus, tom. i. pp. 1222, 1223.
3 Michaelis, vol. iii. p. 4.
5 See Vol. I. Appendix, No. III. on the Contradictions which are alleged in the Scriptures.
men. Christianity had been propagated in a great part of the world before any of them had written, on the testimony of thousands and tens of thousands, who had been witnesses of the great facts which they have recorded; so that the writing of these particular books is not to be considered as the cause, but rather the effect, of the belief of Christianity ; nor could those books have been written and received as they were, viz. as authentic histories, of the subject of which all persons of that age were judges, if the facts they have recorded had not been well known to be true.”
ON THE GOSPEL BY SAINT MATTHEW.
1. Author. - II. Date. -- III. In what language written. - IV. Ge
nuineness and authenticity of Saint Matthew's Gospel in general. — V. The authenticity of the two first chapters examined and substantiated. - VI. Scope of this Gospel. - VII. Synopsis of its contents. -- VIII. Observations on its style.
. 1. MIATTHEW, surnamed Levi, was the son of Alpheus, but not of that Aipheus or Cleopas who was the father of James mentioned in Matt. X. 3. He was a native of Galilee, but of what city in that country, or of what tribe of the people of Israel, we are not informed. Before his conversion to Christianity, he was a publican or tax-gatherer under the Romans, and collected the customs of all goods exported or imported at Capernaum, a maritime town on the sea of Galilee, and also received the tribute paid by all passengers who went by water. While employed “at the receipt of custom,” Jesus called him to be a witness of his words and works, thus conferring upon him the honourable office of an apostle. From that time he continued with Jesus Christ, a familiar attendant on his person, a spectator of his public and private conduct, a hearer of his discourses, a witness of his miracles, and an evidence of his resurrection. After our Saviour's ascension, Matthew continued at Jerusalem with the other apostles, and with them, on the day of Pentecost, was endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. How long he remained in Judæa after that event, we have no authentic accounts. Socrates, an ecclesiastical historian of the fifth century, relates, that when the apostles went abroad to preach to the Gentiles, Thomas took Parthia for his lot; Bartholomew, India; and Matthew, Ethiopia. The common opinion is that he was crowned with martyrdom at Naddabar or Naddaver, a city in that country: but this is contradicted by the account of Heracleon, a learned Valentinian of the second century; who, as cited by Clement of Alexandria,
1 Dr. Priestley's Notes on the Bible, vol. iii. p. 7. 2 Stromata, lib. 4. p. 502 B. Sce the passage in Dr. Lardner's Works, 8vo. vol vi p. 48. ; 4to. vol. iii. p. 159.
reckons Matthew among the apostles that did not dic by martyrdom ; and as his statement is not contradicted by Clement, it is moredikely to be true than the relation of Socrates, who did not flourish until three hundred years after Heracleon.
II. Matthew is generally allowed to have written first of all the evangelists. His Gospel is uniformly placed first in all the codes or volumes of the Gospels : and the priority is constantly given to it in all the quotations of the primitive fathers, as well as of the early heretics." Its precedence therefore is unquestionable, though the precise time when it was composed is a question that has been greatly agitated. Dr. Mill, Michaelis, and Bishop Percy, after Irenæus, assign it to the year 61; Moldenhawer, to 61 or 62; Dr. Hales, to 63; Dr. Lardner and Mr. Hewlett, to 64; Baronius, Grotius, Wetstein, Mr. Jer. Jones, and others, after Eusebius, to 41; Dr. Benson, to 43; Dr. Cave, to 48; Dr. Owen and Bishop Tonline, to 38; and Dr. Townson, to the year 37. In this conflict of opinions, it is difficult to decide. The accounts left us by the ecclesiastical writers of antiquity, concerning the times when the Gospels were written or published, are so vague, confused, and discordant, that they lead us to no solid or certain determination. The oldest of the antient fathers collected the reports of their own times, and set them down for certain truths; and those who followed adopted their accounts with implicit reverence. Thus traditions, trué or false, passed on from one writer to another, without examination, until it became almost too late to examine them to any purpose. Since, then, external evidence affords us but little assistance, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the internal testimony which the Gospel of Saint Matthew affords, and we apprehend that it will be found to preponderate in favour of an early date.
In the first place, it is by no means probable that the Christians should be left any considerable number of years without a genuine and authentic written history of our Saviour's ministry. It is certain,” Bishop Tomline remarks," that the apostles, immediately after the descent of the Holy Ghost, which took place only ten days after the ascension of our Saviour into heaven, preached the Gospel to the Jews with great success : and surely it is reasonable to suppose tliat an authentic account of our Saviour's doctrines and miracles would very soon be committed to writing for the confirmation of those who believed in his divine mission, and for the conversion of others, and more particularly to enable the Jews to compare the circumstances of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus with their antient prophecies relative to the Messiah : and we may conceive that the apostles would be desirous of losing no time in writing an account of the miracles which Jesus performed, and of the discourses which he delivered, because, the sooner such an account was published, the easier it would be to inquire into its truth and accuracy; and consequently, when these points were satisfactorily ascertained, the greater would be its weight and authority."! On these accounts the learned. prelate assigns the date of St. Matthew's Gospel to the year 38.
1 Of all the primitive fathers, Irenæus (who flourished in the second century) is the only one who has said any thing concerning the exact time when Saint Mntthew's Gospel was written ; and the passage (adv. Hæres. lib.iii.c. 1.) in which lie has mentioned it, is so obscure, that no positive conclusion can be drawn froin it. Dr. Lardner (ovo. vol. vi. p. 49.; 4to. vol. i. p. 160.) and Dr. Townson (discourse iv. on the Gospels, sect. iv. 6.) understand it in very different senses. The following is a literal translation of the original passage, which the reader will find in Dr. Lardner's works. Matthew put forth (or published) a Gospel among the Hebreus while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel at Rome and laying the foundations of a church there. Now, though it does not appear that Peter was at Rome until after Paul's liberation from his first imprisonment, A. D. 63, yet we know that the latter arrived there in the spring of A. D. 61, consequently the date intended by Irenæus must be the year 61.
2 Eusebius, who lived in the early part of the fourth century, merely says that Matthew, after preaching to the Hebrcws, wrote his Gospel for their information, previously to his going to evangelise other nations (Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. c. 24.); but he does not specify the time, nor is it mentioned by any other antient writer. In his Chronicon, however, Eusebius places the writing of St. Matthew's Gospel in the third year of the reign of the emperor Caligula, that is, eight years after Christ's ascension, or 8. D. 41.
Secondly, as the sacred writers had a regard to the circumstances of the persons for whose use they wrote, we have an additional evidence for the early date of this Gospel, in the state of persecution in which the church was at the time when it was written : for it contains many obvious references to such a state, and many very apposite addresses both to the injured and to the injurious party.
. 1. Thus, the evangelist informs the injured and persecuted Christians, that their afflictions were no more than they had been taught to expect, and had promised to bear, when they embraced the Gospel (x. 21, 22. 34–36. xvi. 24.); that, however unreasonable their sufferings might be, considered as the effects of the malice of their enemies, they were yet useful and profitable to themselves, considered as trials of their faith and fidelity (v. 11. xxiv. 9—13.); that, though they were grievous to be borne at present, yet they operated powerfully to their future joy (v. 4. 10–12.); that a pusillanimous desertion of the faith would be so far from bettering their state and condition, that it would infallibly expose them to greater calamities, and cut them off from the hopes of heaven (x. 28. 32, 33. 39.); that
1 Elem. of Christ. Theol. vol. i. p. 301. The following observations of the profound critic Le Clerc, will materially confirm the preceding remarks. “ Those," says he, “who think that the gospels were written so late as Irenæus states, and who suppose that, for the space of about thirty years after our Lord's ascension, there were many spurious gospels in the hands of the Christians, and not one that was genuine and authentic, do unwarily cast a very great reflection upon the wisdom of the apostles. For, what could have been more imprudent in them, than tamely to have suffered the idle stories concerning Christ to be read by the Christians, and not to contradict them by some authentic history, written by some credible persons, which might rench the knowledge of all men? For my part, I can never be persuaded to entertain so mean an opinion of men under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Besides, Matthew has delivered to us, not only the actions, but also the discourses of Christ : and this he must necessarily be able to do with the greater certainty, while they were fresh in his memory, than when, through length of time, he began to lose the impressions of them. It is true that the Holy Spirit was with the apostles, to bring all the things to their reinembrance, which they had received of Christ, according to his promise (John xiv. 26.): but the Holy Spirit not only inspired them, but also dealt with them according to their natural powers, as the variety of expressions in the Gospel shows." Clerici Hist. Eccles. sæculi 1. d. D. LXII. $ 9.