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tion taught by Jesus Christ is called Gospel, or good tidings, in several passages of the New Testament. Hence, in time, the name came to signify the history of Christ's preaching and miracles.
The four Gospels contain, each of them, the history of our Saviour's life and ministry: but we must remember that no one of the Evangelists undertook to give an account of all the miracles which Christ performed, or of all the instructions which He delivered. They were written and immediately published by persons contemporary with the events, as is most fully proved by the testimony of an unbroken series of authors, reaching from the day of the Evangelists to the present times; by the concurrent belief of Christians of all denominations; and by the unreserved confession of avowed enemies to the Gospel. In this point of view the writings of the ancient Fathers of the Christian Church are invaluable. They contain not only frequent references and allusions to the books of the New Testament, but also such numerous professed quotations from them, that it is demonstrably certain that these books existed in their present state a few years after the conclusion of Christ's ministry upon earth. No unbeliever in the Apostolic age, in the age immediately subsequent to it, or, indeed, in any age whatever, was ever able to disprove the facts recorded in these books : and it does not appear that in the early times any such attempt was made. The facts therefore related in the New Testament must be admitted to have really happened'.
The Gospels recount those wonderful and important events with which the Christian religion and the Divine Author of it were introduced into the world, and which have produced so great a change in the principles, the manners, the morals, and the temporal, as well as spiritual, condition of mankind. They relate the first appearance of Christ upon earth, his extraordinary and miraculous birth; the testimony borne to Him by his forerunner, John the Baptist; the temptation in the wilderness; the opening of his Divine commission; the pure, the perfect, and sublime morality with which He taught, especially in his inimitable sermon on the Mount; the infinite superiority which He showed to every other moral teacher, both in the matter and manner of his discourses, more particularly by crushing vice in its very cradle, in the first risings of wicked desires and propensities in the heart; by giving a decisive preference of the mild, gentle, passive, conciliating virtues to that violent, vindictive, highspirited, unforgiving temper, which has always been too much the favourite character of the
· Bishop Tomline.
world ; by requiring us to forgive our very enemies, and to do good to them that hate us; by excluding from our devotions, our alms, and also our virtues, every regard to fame, reputation, and applause; by laying down two great general principles of morality, love to God, and love to mankind, and deducing from thence every other human duty; by expressing Himself in a tone of dignity and authority unknown before; by exemplifying every virtue which He taught in his own unblemished and perfect life and conversation : and above all by adding those awful sanctions which He alone of all moral instructors had the power to hold out, -eternal rewards to the virtuous and eternal punishments to the wicked?
The Gospel is contained in the writings of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, who are called Evangelists, literally, men who deliver a message well; from a compound Greek word which beautifully expresses their mission; since the word signifying messenger conveys the impression of a heavenly or inspired message, and the adverb asserts the fidelity with which it has been delivered 3. It would appear from the preface to St. Luke, that before he wrote his Gospel there had been many accounts of Jesus published, which were agreeable to the information received by the first Christians as the ? Bishop Porteus. ' , well; ayyedoc, angel, or messenger.
“declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us +.”
$ 1. St. Matthew. - The only certain information which we possess concerning St. Matthew is contained in the Gospels, as his name occurs but once in the Acts of the Apostles, and never in the Epistles'. He was also called Levi, forso St. Mark and St. Luke style him: but it is needless to inquire whether he carried these two names at the same, or at different times, since doublenamedness was very familiar among the Jews. He was the son of Alpheus or Cleophas, and of the same parent as of the Apostle James the Less; he was Christ's kinsman, and brother also of St. Jude and of Simon the Canaanite, all of whom are called sons of Cleophas 6. He was a native of Galilee, but it is not known in what city of that country he was born, or to what tribe of the people of Israel he belonged. Although a Jew, he was a publican or tax-gatherer under the Romans; and his particular duty seems to have consisted in collecting the customs due upon commodities which were carried to and from persons who passed over the lake of Gennesareth'. These officers were odious to their countrymen, even to a proverb. The office was however one of some trust, and the means of worldly comfort * Bishop Pearce.
5 Pictorial Bible. Dr. Lightfoot.
which it offered were in proportion to its responsibilities; and this the more enhances the self-denial of Matthew in so readily leaving all to follow One who had “not where to lay his head.” The only other fact concerning this Apostle and Evangelist which the Scripture records, (excepting that we are apprized of his conduct and presence on various occasions as one of “the Twelve,") is the entertainment to which he invited our Saviour and some of his disciples, as also, many publicans his acquaintance, probably to enable them to hear the instructions of the Christ. After the ascension of our Saviour, he continued, with the other Apostles, to preach the Gospel for some time in Judæa; but as there is no further account of him in any writer of the first four centuries, we must consider it as uncertain into what country he afterwards went, and likewise in what manner and at what time he died %.
It is generally agreed, on the most satisfactory evidence, that St. Matthew's Gospel was the first that was written; but respecting its precise date we have no certain information, and a great variety of opinions has prevailed on the point. 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
* Bishop Tomline.