The Relation of the Gospels to the Other Scriptures
It is the consideration of such amazing and wondrous themes as these which make the four Gospels unique in the entire word of God. These give us the history of the incarnation, and show us "that Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us." The Epistles give us the precious truths which flow from the great fact of the incarnation and the Cross, but the Gospels show us the Person Himself, how He lived and how He died. There must therefore be a special importance attaching to this narrative. No other part of the New Testament could be substituted for the Gospels. We will dwell upon this a little later, in seeing the relation between the Evangelists and the rest of the New Testament, but we will first take a backward glance.
The Relation of the Gospels to the Old Testament
We have already been dwelling upon this in what has been said above, and therefore add only a few words here relative to each of the four groups of the Old Testament.
1. The relation of the Gospels to the Pentateuch. Genesis gives us the account of the origin of all things, together with the various lives of the patriarchs. The four Gospels give us a new Genesis, foreshadowed by all narrated in the first book of the Bible. We have here a new beginning in which there is no possibility of a fall, though Satan is unhindered in his assaults. We have a life, compared with which the most perfect in the Old Testament is but a faint reflection. We see there, in shadowy outline, moral and other characteristics which here we find in all their distinctness and perfection.
Exodus tells of a deliverer and a deliverance which meet their full realization only through the true Deliverer, revealed to us in the New Testament. So with all the sacrifices and other types; the Gospels give the substance. Thus the Pentateuch is preparatory to the Gospels, linking with them, not directly, but through the other Old Testament groups, unmistakably pointing forward to the coming of the Son of Man.
2. The Relation of the Gospels to the Historical Books. The historical books take up the same story. They would be a mere fragment, did our Bibles end with them. The prominent characteristics are either types of Him who was to come, or, by the very contrast, show the necessity for Christ. We delight to dwell upon the character of David, his rejection, his meekness, his faith in God, his strength, his victories; but were David all, we could have but little interest in him. The special charm about him is that his whole soul was looking forward to the Son of promise. This was all his salvation and all his desire. "Solomon in all his glory" is attractive, chiefly as a type of a Greater than Solomon whom we see not in the glory of an outward display, but in the moral glory of His perfect life — one day to be manifested as "the King in His beauty."
3. The Relation of the Gospels to the Prophets. The nearer we draw to the time of the Gospels, the more do we find the faces of God's servants turned forward. We feel, in the Prophets, that things are at an end so far as the people are concerned. We can say with Isaiah: "Why will ye be stricken any more? The whole head is sick, the whole heart faint." The plowing up, the denunciations, the judgments and predictions of destruction to the nation, we feel are necessary, not so much to bring about a reformation of the people, which the Prophets do not dwell upon, but rather to show the necessity for the coming of Emmanuel. So we find, particularly in the Gospel of Matthew, that the predictions of the Prophets were being fulfilled by the advent of our Lord.
4. The Relation of the Gospels to the Experience Books. The same may be said here. The Psalms depict the experiences of the godly one surrounded by opposition on every hand, which have their fullest illustration in our Lord's life, while the prophecies as to His coming kingdom necessarily are associated with the narrative of the Gospels.
Thus, the entire Old Testament is linked, not merely with the New, but in a special way with the Gospels. We could not, for instance, link the book of Acts so directly with the Prophets, nor yet the Epistles.
We pass next to glance at the connection between the Gospels and the other groups of the New Testament books.
The Relation of the Gospels to the New Testament
The Gospels are related to the rest of the New Testament as furnishing the material without which they could not be understood, nor indeed could they have been written. They stand much in the same relation, as has been pointed out, to the rest of the New Testament books as Genesis does to the remainder of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament. This will appear as we take up each group in detail.
1. The Relation of the Gospels to the Book of Acts. It is suggestive that the author of one of the Gospels should also have written the narrative of the Acts. In the first, he gave a record of "all that Jesus began to do and teach," while in the second, he carries forward the narrative to what, we might say, the Lord continued to do. Even the wonderful fact of the descent of the Holy Ghost cannot set aside the foundation place occupied by the Gospels. Pentecost would be meaningless had there not been the previous last passover; and He whose resurrection is borne witness to throughout the book of Acts, and the gospel of His grace made known far and wide, is the same Jesus whose life is recorded in the Gospels.
2. The Relation of the Gospels to the Epistles.
Without doubt, when we reach the Epistles, we are in that which is distinctively Christian territory. The great facts of redemption, of justification, deliverance from the law and from sin, sealing with the Holy Spirit, communion. with Christ, membership in His body, the nature and character of His Church, together with all the precious forms of grace and the responsibilities growing out of them are here set forth with a fulness, variety, suitability and wisdom that stamp them as the product of the same perfect Spirit, giving now the final revelation of that which completes for us the word of God. It is no slight put upon any other portion of Scripture to say that we have here unfolded the purposes of God as nowhere else in His word. The Epistles are distinctively the literature of the dispensation of the Spirit. They are God's revelation in connection with the presence of the Holy Spirit upon earth, forming a people who are now the witnesses of His grace and will be the display of His special counsels regarding the glory of His Son throughout eternity. But Christ, and not even the blessings and glory of His people, is the theme of the Epistles. All is in subordination to Him who humbled Himself, and whom God has now glorified and made Head over all things to the Church. It would not be possible to understand the Epistles were there not the revelation of the person of Christ which we have in the Gospels.
It is to be feared that some Christians have allowed themselves to be turned from the simplicity of the Gospel narratives to the Epistles in such a way that the marvelous unfoldings of divine truth in these cannot be rightly valued because of a lack of personal acquaintance with Him who is revealed to us in the Gospels. When the apostle said: "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more," he most surely did not mean that the revelation of Christ in the Gospels is Christ after the flesh. We would rather say that it was Christ according to a mere carnal apprehension of Him, somewhat after the manner of even the apostles during our Lord's life among them, who failed to enter into the wondrous and peculiar privilege which they had. They looked upon Him as a greater David who, out of the materials at His hand, was going to fashion a great nation and set up a kingdom but even the millennial kingdom is not built up of existing fragments, but formed of new-born souls who have had a true view of themselves and a right apprehension of what the King of Israel must be. The knowledge of "Christ after the flesh" does not therefore mean the knowledge of His moral dignity, grace, tenderness, compassion, wisdom, all the precious details dwelt upon in the Gospels. Indeed, we may say that the Epistles simply give us the Gospels in their highest setting.
We feel instinctively that He who moved about in Judea and Galilee, going about doing good and bearing witness to God, was a Stranger, an Exotic in a desert land. The Epistles transfer Him to His own place and show the same Jesus to us where He belongs. Therefore, the study of the Gospels is most essential to the right and full understanding of the truths of the Epistles.
3. The Relation of the Gospels to the Book of Revelation. Nothing special need be said of the relation of the Gospels to the Revelation. If we knew Him only as the One whose eyes were as a flame of fire, or the Rider coming forth out of heaven to execute vengeance upon His enemies, and did not know Him as revealed in the Gospels, we could not feel the thrill of delight nor understand what was meant by "The Lamb in the midst of the throne."
In brief then the four Gospels present to us the person of our blessed Lord Jesus, and therefore occupy a place in the written word of God analogous to that occupied by the Son of God Himself in relation to all else that God has revealed.
One or two other remarks may be added here to guard against possible misapprehension.
The link between the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament is of a much closer character than that, for instance,between the Old Testament and the Epistles. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the New Testament is not a fifth division of the entire Scriptures co-ordinate with the four in the Old Testament, except in a very modified degree. It is a second,with the blessed significance of salvation from sin through the Son and of fellowship with God, suggested by its numerical place.
As a complete division in itself, its various parts hold together much more closely, we may say, than even the other parts of Scripture. We must be careful here, however, not to intimate that there is any looseness in the structure of the Scriptures as a whole. They are a complete, living organism in which each part has it place and functions and is vitally connected with all the rest. We are speaking, however, of those special features which can be co-ordinated and which indicate a distinct advance. Thus, the entire New Testament is characterized by the fact that God has spoken in His Son, and all that comes after this has this characteristic. This link between the Gospels and the remainder of the New Testament is suggested also in a further passage: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?" (Heb. 2:3, 4.)
Here, the "great salvation" is evidently connected in its beginning with our Lord's earthly ministry, as in Acts: 1, 2. His departure to heaven only opened up the great truth more fully, and continued the witness which He Himself had begun, a witness now confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, He had declared to His disciples: "As My Father hath sent Me, so send I you;" and in the symbolic breathing upon them (John 20:21, 22) we have the foreshadow of the gift of the Holy Ghost who came down upon the disciples at Pentecost and gave a specific character to all their testimony.
We notice further that our Lord during His life here spoke constantly with reference to both His cross and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. He said unto them: "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you but if I depart, I will send Him unto you" (John 16:7). As we have already said, were the Gospels all, particularly the narrative of the life and teachings of our Lord up to the time of His death and resurrection, we would have perfection indeed, but the perfection of the corn of wheat which still abode alone, therefore a perfection which could be of no blessing to us. There was the absolute necessity of His death and resurrection. The Cross was to mark the end of the old man, and show the way in which the new man was created.
Indeed, the disciples themselves had but a feeble apprehension of the glorious privilege they enjoyed during the life of our Lord upon earth, nor did they clearly understand, as we have already remarked, the nature of His mission. We read: "These things understood not His disciples at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him" (John 12:16).
Of course, the four Gospels were written after the descent of the Holy Ghost, and, while giving a perfect narrative of our Lord's earthly life, it was, we may say, with reference to the present dispensation and, at least in the case of the Gospel of John, from that standpoint. As to the fourth Gospel, no one can doubt that from its very beginning, all is looked at outside of Judaism and indeed of the earth. It is the Gospel of the new creation unquestionably; but we do not go into details as yet.
It will thus be seen, we trust, that it is with no intention of putting a slur upon the revelations and the character of the Spirit's work introducing the present period, that we again repeat that the four Gospels present to us the person of Him whom to know is life eternal, and whose life, teachings, and death, are recorded for us in the Gospels.
At the conclusion of this part of our subject, even at the risk of repeating what has been already said, we would guard our readers from putting one portion of the word of God in antagonism to another. All of it is equally perfect, equally inspired; all of it when rightly presented has Christ as its theme, but each part must be looked at in its own position, remembering ever that "The Lamb is the light thereof."