Doctrinal Teachings of the Four Gospels
The Bible is not a book of theology. Its truths are not arranged in what we might call a logical manner. In one sense the chronological method is followed. Doctrines are revealed as the occasion for making them known is reached; but even this is hardly sufficiently clear. Doctrines are found, like the precious ore embedded amongst the rocks, distributed throughout the entire Scripture. To gather these doctrines, therefore, requires a survey of the entire word. of God. Of course, in the Epistles we have doctrinal truth presented in a more abstract, connected way, but even here it remains true that the Epistles are instinct with life, and every truth presented has its experimental connection with the soul.
To borrow another illustration, the doctrines of the Bible are like the various nutritive elements found in the articles of food. Here, in the most natural and at the same time most attractive way, we find the truth associated with simple, natural narratives of God's approach to man, and of man in his dealings with his fellow, and above all in his relations to God. Out of all this mass we gather the great truths as to God and man, and man's relation to God.
In the four Gospels, as we have seen, we have Christ as the central theme. There can be no question as to this. When we remember that the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father hath declared Him, we need not be surprised to find also in the Evangelists a wealth of doctrinal truth, although not presented in a doctrinal or dogmatic way, about the great subjects of God and man, of sin and salvation.
We purpose in the present chapter to give a brief outline of the more prominent doctrines found in the Gospels. How far do they transcend the teachings of the Old Testament, and how far are they incomplete when compared with the Epistles?
1. The Doctrine as to God — the Trinity
The knowledge of God is, as some have put it, "The noblest of all sciences." We guard however against the thought that we can gain a knowledge of God as we would of the natural sciences. Indeed these do not yield their true meaning until we couple them with God, for surely He is revealed in all the works of His creation; but the knowledge of God as given to us in the Scriptures, and particularly in the New Testament, is a moral, rather than an intellectual, acquirement. It is this which our Lord declares when He says: "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."
Perhaps nowhere in the entire word of God, not even excepting the Epistles, is there such richness and fulness of doctrine as to the Godhead as in the four Gospels. The reason is not far to seek. It is the Son who is before us, and it is He who has made known the Father. It was the name upon His lips constantly. Every miracle He wrought was in obedience to the Father. Every word He uttered was to declare the Father's name and character. We need not be surprised, therefore, to find the revelation of God set before us here with a fulness that must command our reverence and adoring gratitude.
God the Father. As we have just said, it is the Father's name which is ever upon our Lord's lips, and this does not mean merely the relationship of God to the Lord Jesus as we speak of His relationship to ourselves, but it means specifically the first person of the Trinity revealed as Father, the One who declares His good pleasure in His Son.
God the Son. Similarly, the Son is of course revealed, not merely in His human nature, nor as God incarnate, but back of that we have clear intimations of the eternal relationship between the Father and the only begotten Son who was in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18). The doctrine of the incarnation, we need hardly say, is on every page of the Gospels. We will examine this more in detail later. Our object just now is to trace the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also is put before us as a divine person. He is seen at the baptism of the Lord Jesus. The Pharisees are warned against the awful sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. There is no thought here of an influence or an emanation from God, or of a supernatural spiritual Being not divine. So far from this, our Lord speaks of Him as a divine person who has a specific work to do. When John the Baptist spoke of our Lord as the One who would baptize with the Holy Ghost, or, before that, in the holy mystery of the incarnation itself, on to the precious details about the promised Comforter, we are again and again brought face to face with the truth of the personality and deity of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
It is not the manner of Scripture to give proof-texts in the bare, literal way that men naturally crave. It would seem as though the Spirit of God purposely avoided this for as we have said, the knowledge of God is not an intellectual, but a moral perception. Of course the intellect is involved, but much more is necessary. Therefore we find nothing of a formal character, as though the doctrine were introduced for the sake of making orthodox statements. There is the most absolute freedom and absence of restraint in the narrative of the Gospels. All flows along with a simplicity and clearness, with a fervor and a depth which mark it as the work of God. There are, however, passages where the fulness of the Godhead shines out in an unmistakable way. Thus, at our Lord's baptism, significantly at the very time when He takes the lowliest place in anticipation of the cross where He goes for His people's sin, we have a glimpse of the Trinity. The Son is before us; His true glory veiled but not dimmed by His tabernacle of flesh. The heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove upon Him, while the Father's voice from that heavenly glory proclaims His beloved Son. Thus, Father, Son and Spirit are alike revealed.
After His resurrection, as recorded in Matthew, our Lord meets His disciples in Galilee, and sends them forth to make disciples of all nations, to bring, we may say, all into subjection to God, to establish the Kingdom of Heaven upon the earth. They are to make disciples of all nations in a twofold way, putting the name of God upon them in the outward act of baptism, and instructing them in all that the Lord had made known. Baptism was to be "unto the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Here again, then, we have the full Trinity (Matt. 28:16-20).
In His last words with His disciples, before His suffering, as we have them in John, our Lord again speaks in the clearest way of Himself, of His Father, and of the Holy Spirit. Who that reads, for instance, in the 14th chapter of John of the coming of the Comforter and of the indwelling of the Father and of the Son, can doubt that our Lord gives us again a view of the trinity of divine Persons? These are but instances. The very fibre of the Gospel narrative is made up of truth as to the three blessed persons of the Godhead. We are at present, however, speaking merely of the fact of the Trinity, and confine ourselves to this.
Let us ask but one question. Can the reader conceive of a fourth person being mentioned, coordinate with the three blessed Ones of whom we have spoken? Or can he conceive of only two? This in itself, in the most impressive way, convinces us of the truth of the Trinity.
2. The Attributes of God
(1) God, a Spirit. Of the nature and attributes of God as thus revealed in the Trinity, the four Gospels furnish us with abundant material. "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24); "No man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18). These and other scriptures declare the spirituality of God as contrasted with man His creature, or the universe His creation.
"The devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain" (Matt. 4:8); "Angels came and ministered unto Him" (Matt. 4:11); "Those possessed with demons" (Matt. 4:24); "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53.) These and many other scriptures speak of spirit-creatures. We read of the prince of the demons, the wicked hosts of fallen spirits, as the legion that possessed the demoniac of Gadara; of the angels who ministered to the Lord, the multitude of the heavenly hosts, more than twelve legions of whom would gladly have responded to the Father's command to attend upon His Son; but immediately we recognize that none of these can for one moment be thought of in any other way than as creatures. They are either fallen creatures like the devil and his kindred spirits, or the unfallen angels who delight to attend upon the Son of God. Thus, not only is God's spiritual essence declared in distinction from all material existences, but in contrast with all the hosts of spiritual beings who are His creatures.
(2) His Infinity. "He that sent Me is with Me" (John 8:29); "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee" (Mark 14:36). These and other scriptures suggest the infinity of God. Even an archangel, mighty as he is, is a finite being; Gabriel can only stand in the presence of God as before his Master whose presence is infinite.
(3) His Omniscience and Omnipresence. Thus, too, "Thy Father which seeth in secret" (Matt. 6:4) tells His omniscience. "Your heavenly Father feedeth them" (Matt. 6:26) shows His providence (ver. 30).
(4) His Eternity. "The glory that I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:5); "The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1:2), declare His eternity. There was never a time when God was not. At the beginning,with His Son, He was present. The glory of the divine Beings was but manifested in creation, a glory which had existed from all eternity.
(5) His Unchangeableness. "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). "Have ye not heard that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female," etc. (Matt. 19:4); "As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began" (Luke 1:70). Such scriptures as these show the unchangeable character of God. There has been no alteration in His purposes and of course none in His Being.
We come next to speak of those attributes which we usually call "moral," as contrasted with those that speak of knowledge or power. In the abstract it is possible to conceive of a being, we will not say with infinite (for that would be to think of the Godhead) but of immense power and knowledge, yet devoid of those moral attributes without which the others would be exercised for evil. Such a creature is Satan: with attributes of knowledge and of power (not inherent as in God, but by virtue of his creation), and yet "he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning;" "He abode not in the truth." He is a tempter (Mark 1:13), the arch enemy of man and of God, The heathen have deities whom they have invested with superhuman and well-nigh limitless powers, and so uncertain has their moral character been, that they had to be placated, cajoled, deceived, treated as human beings, only with great power for harm and a certain amount of power for good, if they could only be induced to exercise it. Such deities are in reality but the demons of which Scripture speaks; and they have probably been correctly characterized, at least in some of their attributes. In contrast with all these are the changeless, moral perfections of God.
(6) His Righteousness. "O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee" (John 17:25); "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory," etc. (Matt. 25:31) — the judgment of the living nations is here spoken of. Throughout the Gospels, wherever judgment is spoken of, or the law of God,we find this attribute of divine righteousness unmistakably declared.
(7) His Holiness. "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name" (John 17:11). Similarly, throughout the four Gospels there is the insistence upon holiness as the inherent character of God. Perhaps in no way is this more strongly manifested than in its contrast to the unholiness, for instance, of the demons (Mark 1:23), an unclean spirit; or the sinfulness of man (Luke 7:37), "the woman that was a sinner;" and expressed in the general declaration, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
(8) His Love. "God so loved the world" (John 3:16); the whole parable of the Prodigal Son and multitudes of other instances bring out this precious attribute of God, declaring He is love.
(9) His Goodness. Perhaps this should not be differentiated from His love, and yet it is displayed where men have no eye for His love. See Matt. 5:45 "He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good." Throughout the Gospels, we have the constant testimony to His goodness, forbearance, longsuffering, etc. These general attributes may be classed under this one head, suggesting His benevolence. As has just been said, this is in close connection with His love. The distinction however can be recognized.
(10) His Truth. "To know Thee, the only true God" (John 17:3). Here also we are in close contact with the attributes of righteousness and holiness. The element of truth, however, can be recognized and distinguished. Thus, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8:12); "If it were not so, I would have told you" (John 14:2); "The Spirit of truth" (John 16:13). Remembering that our Lord has declared or exhibited the Father, every moral attribute in Him is a shining out of the same in His Father and in the Godhead generally. This is a most important and precious thought to remember in connection with any effort at giving an outline of the divine attributes. They are not, as is so often the case with men, partial or one-sided, but each attribute permeates and characterizes all the rest, so that our conception of God includes every attribute. We cannot think of Him as sacrificing one attribute for the exercise of another. His righteousness shines forth in His love, and His holiness is declared in His judgment,while His long-suffering and patience are manifested even in the final judgment of the ungodly.
But we must pass from this brief and partial characterization of the blessed God, to speak a little more in detail of the separate persons of the Trinity.
The Father. To quote the passages referring to the Father would be to give a synopsis of all four Gospels. Throughout this entire portion, His name is ever upon our Lord's lips. Particularly in John is it prominent and all the more striking because here we have the essential Godhead of our Lord more directly before us. We will therefore give no texts of Scripture in speaking of the Father.
The Son. The person of Christ is the great "Mystery of godliness." We are in the presence of an inscrutable truth. Our Lord Himself has told us that "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father" (Matt. 11:27). Our safety lies in holding fast to all that Scripture reveals, not seeking unduly to harmonize it, but recognizing that whatever God states must be true, and, were we able for it, capable of perfect understanding. Indeed there is no difficulty for humble faith in apprehending all sides of the truth as to the Son of God. Unbelief alone stumbles here, but faith rejoices in it all and does not intrude into that which God has not revealed.
In speaking of the person of Christ there are three features:
(1) His deity. "The Word was God" (John 1:1).
(2) His humanity. "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).
(3) The unity of His person. "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29).
These three passages from the first chapter of John will suffice to set forth the person of the Son of God. Throughout that Gospel, and indeed in the Synoptists as well, we have constantly put before us the person of the Lord. Sometimes we see His deity shining forth in an unmistakable way, as when He arose and stilled the storm on the Lake of Galilee. Sometimes His humanity seems exclusively before us, as when He slept, or was wearied with His journey, or was hungry.
It is His full person that is before us in all four Gospels, though from the standpoint of incarnation. Thus, the truth as to the person of the Lord somewhat resembles what we have been seeing as to the attributes of God. They can be distinguished, but must not be separated. The two natures in our Lord are evidently there, but in His humanity we will find His deity shining, and in His Godhead we will see His humanity. Thus all is preciously blended together; and when we think of His miracles, of His teachings, it is God who is working, but the dependent Man as well. It is One who is giving us the words of God, and yet who spake as never man spake. This truth applies to His entire life and work — all has the stamp of His entire person upon it. This apprehension of the person of Christ is most precious. We commend it to the constant and prayerful study of the children of God.
The Holy Spirit. What we have already said as to the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit will suffice to give the key to the teachings of the four Gospels upon the third person of the Trinity. We find both at the beginning and throughout the entire narrative, that He is referred to in various ways, and always as a person. He is seen as the agent of new birth (John 3:5); as the One who led and guided our Lord and by whose power He wrought His miracles; as the divine Being whose presence was manifested in all that our Lord did and said, and therefore, if these acts and teachings were ascribed by any to Satan, it was the sin against the Holy Ghost which has never forgiveness. Particularly in chapters 14-16 of John, the teaching as to the Holy Spirit is rich. We see Him here as sent by the Lord from the Father; as sent also by the Father; as bearing witness to the truth; as convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and as leading His people into all truth. The special promise of the Spirit is given in Luke, and we are told that our Lord would baptize with the Holy Ghost.
These and other scriptures must suffice. They show the deity and personality of the third person of the Godhead in an unmistakable way.
We have now taken a rapid survey of the teaching of the four Gospels as to the Godhead, and looked at the special instruction given as to each of the divine Persons. It is scarcely necessary to say that in no portion of the word of God is this teaching more rich. Indeed, we might say, nowhere is it so rich as here, though of course we do not hold up one portion of Scripture against another. But the glory of the four Gospels is that they reveal to us Christ in the fulness of His person, as God, as Man, in one person. It is the special joy of our Lord that He reveals God the Father to us in His attributes, in His character, His love; and the Holy Spirit unites in this blessed ministry. Thus, the Gospels are most rich in what may be called theology — the knowledge of God.
3. The Doctrine as to Man
We come next to inquire what the four Gospels teach as to man. We will first briefly notice what is said about the constitution of man in general, and then devote more attention to what is said of him as he is.
The constitution of man. "He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female" (Matt. 19:4); "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4); "The rich man died and was buried, and in hades he lift up his eyes being in torments" (Luke 16:22, 23).
These scriptures show us that man has a body, characterized as the bodies of animals, so far as that is concerned; but the body is evidently not the larger or more important part of his being. There is a spirit. which does not die, and which is conscious when the body is buried. Thus, our Lord, in speaking of death, calls it "sleep," as applying to the body. The soul, the seat of the affections and desires, is spoken of, as in Luke 12: "This night thy soul shall be required of thee." The spirit is not always differentiated from the soul, but in the passage referred to in Luke 16, evidently the man is seen as a spirit. Indeed, while we can clearly distinguish between the two spiritual departments of man, his soul and spirit, they evidently are to be taken together. Thus, it is the man who has desires, affections and feelings, and yet his spirit is a higher department of his personality, including, conscience and the mind. Thus, as to the constitution of man, the Gospels, in harmony with all the rest of Scripture, show him as a tripartite person, with body, soul and spirit united together, all of them essential for the full truth of manhood. We find therefore no lack of teaching as to the resurrection of the body. "Those that are in their graves shall come forth" (John 5). In the resurrection,the natural relationships of the present life, while remembered, are not renewed. They do not die, nor are given in marriage (Luke 20:35, 36).
Man as he is. "He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21); "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20); "From within, out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts . . . all these evil things come forth from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
These scriptures, which are but samples of what occurs on well-nigh every page of the Gospels, teach the threefold condition of man under sin. He is a transgressor whose sins have put him into a place of guilt from which alone he can be released by the mercy of God. The grounds of this we shall see later. He is also unclean, for sin brings not only guiltiness in the sight of God, but corruption. This defilement is seen to proceed from within. It is not a question of the hands, but of the heart. Our Lord's constant testimony against the Pharisees was that, while scrupulous about the outside of the cup and platter, within they were full of all uncleanness. He charges them with being like unto sepulchres full of dead men's bones within, though beautiful without; with being like graves that appear not, and those who walk over them are not aware of them.
The whole controversy of our Lord with Pharisaism is on this ground. The law must be fulfilled to its last jot or tittle, but they, while breaking the spirit of the law and violating the commandments of God,were pretending to adorn themselves with it. Thus, the Pharisee in the temple thanks God that he is not as other men are, and cites his religious observances as a proof of this.
Beside being guilty and defiled, man is also helpless. Sin brings helplessness and this could not be more distinctly stated than in the scripture we have quoted, referring to the necessity of new birth. Here, a leader of the Jews, a teacher, comes to the Lord, and the necessity for new birth is pressed upon him. This shows how helpless the natural man is, not only guilty, not only corrupt, but also powerless to help himself.
In the chapter on Miracles, we dwelt upon the various spiritual conditions set forth in the different maladies with which men were affected. Each of these gives its testimony as to sin. A debtor forgiven presupposes trespass; a leper cleansed presupposes defilement; and a paralytic healed presupposes a helpless condition, which is seen in its absolute character in a dead person. Thus the teaching,while necessarily not presenting matters in the doctrinal, abstract form of the Epistles, gives a most unequivocal testimony to the lost and fallen condition of man.
4. The Doctrine of Salvation
We use the term "salvation" in a broad sense as including the whole or any of the parts of the work of grace which meets the fallen condition of man. As we have just seen, this condition has three aspects: of guilt, of defilement, of death or helplessness. The work of grace which meets this will have, therefore, at least three forms. For guilt, there will be forgiveness; for defilement, cleansing; and for helplessness, new birth or life. The principle which we have several times stated will be helpful here. We can distinguish, but must not separate. The condition of man can be distinguished as having this threefold character, but one of these is never present without the other two. Thus, we cannot think of man being guilty, as having transgressed the commandments of God, without also being defiled and helpless. So, too, in the work of divine grace, we cannot think of pardon being extended, in the scriptural way, without its having been accompanied by quickening and cleansing. If this truth were always remembered we would be spared much confusion in endeavoring to divide asunder that which God has joined together.
We are also quite free to say that salvation in its fullest sense looks on to the final deliverance from the very presence of sin — the consummation in heaven. There is also a governmental and external salvation; such, for instance, as is spoken of in our Lord's prophetic discourse: "He that endureth unto the end shall be saved." This, we need hardly say, does not refer to the salvation of the soul, but the deliverance from the Great Tribulation through which the Jewish remnant will be called to pass, with an indirect application to us also.
We have said enough, however, to guard against any misinterpretation of our designation of this general subject as salvation. We will now look at each of the three aspects of this saving work as presented in the Gospels.
(1) Forgiveness. As having committed sins, man is guilty and has a load upon him which must be removed by forgiveness. The truth of forgiveness is most blessedly set forth in the Gospels. Possibly the Gospel of Luke presents this precious theme more fully than either of the others, not even excepting John. The reason is not far to seek: the "gospel" is the prominent theme in Luke, and forgiveness lies at the very basis of the gospel. Thus, we have the forgiveness of the woman that was a sinner (Luke 7), and in the same narrative we have the parable of the forgiveness of the two debtors. In the Prodigal Son we have a divine picture of forgiveness and justification, and in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican we have two added thoughts" God be merciful (literally, be propitiated) to me the sinner" (Luke 18:13). "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other" (ver. 14). The first of these gives us an intimation of the need of expiation of a sacrifice. "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many." The second speaks of justification the full acknowledgment before all of acceptance and clearance in the sight of God. Justification, which is Paul's theme, shows one of those links which we have mentioned between Luke's Gospel and the ministry of the great apostle to the Gentiles. Justification is exemplified by the best robe put upon the returning prodigal. The Father's kiss would suggest forgiveness, but the best robe suggests a standing given only by justification. Wherever we find salvation in this full sense in any of the Gospels we find this thought of justification connected with it. For instance: the publicans are gathered together at a feast in the Lord's presence. He justifies this by saying: "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick," contrasting their past and their present. The man out of whom the legion was cast, was seated at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. These set forth the precious truth of justification. Repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in the name of our Lord amongst all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). Thus, the blessed news of forgiveness was to be spread far and wide.
(2) Cleansing. The truth of cleansing is so intimately connected with that of the defilement which made it necessary, that the passages which bring out one declare the other also. The leper, for instance, suggests, as we have been seeing, the guilt of sin and its defilement as well: "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean;" and our Lord's answer is: "I will, be thou clean." The leprosy is cleansed; the defilement is removed; the shame is taken away. There is no question that a gospel which proclaims forgiveness without a corresponding deliverance from the defilement of sin is only a half gospel. Forgiveness lies at the basis, but, as our Lord declares, the way to make good fruit is to make the tree good. The words of mercy to the woman of whom we have lately spoken, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace," intimate in the strongest way her deliverance from her sin. So, too, with the woman in the 8th of John, where indeed our Lord says: "Go, and sin no more." The soul is made at home in the presence of infinite holiness, as well as of infinite love. The love which has forgiven is too great to allow the forgiven one to be still defiled. We need not say how this is reiterated in every miracle of our Lord.
(3) New birth. Closely connected with the truth of cleansing, is that of new birth. Indeed, they are but parts of the same great truth. New wine must be put into new bottles. The sinner must be born again, must have a new nature, if he is to be a vessel which can contain the energy of the divine life. As dead, man needs quickening. This is the condition described in the parable of the prodigal son. He was not only lost and now found, but dead and now alive. The first suggests his distance from God. The second shows his need of new birth. This is the great theme of the Gospel of John, where we have, not only the truth of new birth, but of eternal life, the accompaniment of that birth.
Without entering into controversy, we may say in brief that life must have a beginning, and that, in ordinary language, birth is the beginning of life. The expression "eternal life" in the Gospel of John is used frequently, and no doubt in a broad way. It evidently suggests the work of the Spirit in us, but also the work of God in connection with our Lord Jesus Christ in a marked way. Eternal life is the result of faith in Him — John 3:16; 5:24, etc. This eternal life may be looked at as the opposite of condemnation (John 3:18, 36), and therefore includes forgiveness. It is out of death, and therefore includes new birth (John 5:24). It is on the ground of His sacrificial work, and therefore includes expiation (John 6:54). It is eternal, for none can pluck the believer out of the hands of our Lord (John 10:28). It is expressed in communion and enjoyment of God, therefore it is the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. It will thus be seen that the expression "eternal life" as used in the Gospel of John is the general one covering the whole theme of which we have spoken. Without doubt, there is the more abundant character of this life in the present time, that is, the fulness of revelation of the person and work of Christ; and above all, the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer giving a fulness and freedom to the eternal life as we now know it. Further, there is an aspect of eternal life which looks on to glory. This we have in the Synoptists. "If thou wouldest enter into life;" "In the world to come, everlasting life."
(4) How available. We come now to ask how the blessedness of forgiveness and deliverance is to be made available for sinful man. The Gospels are as clear in this as in all the rest. "Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" are written all over their pages. The whole preaching of John the Baptist was a call to repentance. It was thus alone that the way for the Lord could be prepared; thus alone would the people be in readiness to receive Him who should come after.
Our Lord took up the same word and preached repentance; and when the Pharisees questioned Him as to His authority, He referred them back to a prior question as to John the Baptist's ministry. Had they bowed to his call to repentance? If this was not the case, they were unable to believe. So too in describing the work of grace in the soul (Luke 15), the Lord calls it repentance. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." Here it includes both the judgment of sin and the pardon that goes with it.
As illustrations of repentance we have the publican in the temple: "God be merciful to me a sinner," he says, and that of the woman washing our Lord's feet with tears. It is this brokenness of heart which God does not despise; it is repentance, and is pressed constantly throughout the Gospels. "They that are whole have no need of a physician."
Faith is always the accompaniment of true repentance. Indeed, they are but two sides of the same act. Repentance is a look at myself as in the presence of God; and faith is a look at God as for my need. Nearly every miracle wrought by our Lord was conditioned upon the faith of the recipient. "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief" "All things are possible to him that believeth." "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief." So we find throughout the Synoptists; and when we come to the Gospel of John, it is not merely faith in the Lord's power to work a miracle, but faith in Himself. "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children of God" (John 1:12). "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish." So, constantly, through this Gospel, faith in the person of Christ is pressed and the result of that faith is pardon and eternal life.
(5) As to the world. What is the testimony of the Evangelists as to the world? There are three expressions used in the Gospels which are all translated "world:" kosmos, meaning the material earth as inhabited by man, but with a moral significance in the Gospel of John; oikoumene, "habitable earth," or as we might say, the civilized world, referring to the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1) — this is of infrequent occurrence; and aion or "age," used in a dispensational way to describe the course of time and the moral character of the period. We have thus, "Neither in this world (age); neither in the world (age) to come" (Matt. 12:32).
As has been said, in the Gospel of John the word which we might translate "earth" has the moral significance of "age" often connected with it. Sometimes, indeed, it seems to refer to the religious world, as we call it. "Ye are of this world." Whatever the word used, there can be no question that our Lord was not of this world. In the Gospel of John, He declares that His disciples are not of this world, even as He is not, and throughout that Gospel we see Him as outside of it all. It is outside this He leads His sheep, and when He leaves them, He commits them to the care of His Father to be kept from the evil that is in the world.
We find also in the Synoptists, the term "age" constantly used for the present dispensation and that which is to succeed it — the millennial. The Lord traces the course of the present age, He shows its ending and how the next or millennial age will be introduced. There can be no question as to His teaching here. So far from the world gradually yielding to the beneficent influences of the truth and being brought under its power, it goes on unchanged. His own are ever a remnant in the midst of it. The close of all is by judgments. Then, He will purge His kingdom of all that offends, and them that do iniquity.
We remark at this point that, beyond two anticipative references as to the Church (in Matt. 16 and 18) and in the parable of the pearl, we have nothing distinctive as to the formation of the Body of Christ in the present interval of grace, in a dispensational way. It is the time when the seed is being sown, when the enemy also is introducing the tares and the leaven of error is spreading, while profession is also extending like a mustard tree. It is the proclamation of the Kingdom, together with baptism as the initiatory rite, or the precious truth of forgiveness and membership in the family of God together with the memorial of the Lord's Supper; but "Church truth," as unfolded in the Epistles, must wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the sending forth of the chosen vessel fitted by grace to make known this great mystery.
(6) The Future. Those who have studied the Lord's great prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives cannot fail to have seen how clearly is taught the truth of His second coming. It is connected, however, not with the rapture of the Church (a mystery as we have already seen not then made known), but with the judgments preliminary to His establishing His millennial Kingdom. The Kingdom of the Son of Man is to be introduced, as we saw, by judgments of the most fearful character upon His enemies who have their place with the devil and his angels in the Lake of Fire. The future for the saved is described not merely in its millennial characteristics, but in the eternal state. "In My Father's house are many mansions:" these are the everlasting habitations. "Abraham's bosom" too, from a Jewish point of view, sets forth the blessedness of the people of God after death. There is no need for the grotesque interpretation of some that our Lord released the Old Testament saints from the bondage of sheol where they had been confined until His resurrection. The saints are evidently comforted, as Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, and this is the Kingdom of God where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are. The judgment of the 25th of Matthew, as has been said, is a judgment of the living nations prior to the Lord's coming to set up His Kingdom.
The judgment of the dead is suggested in Matt. 11:22: "More tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you." This judgment of the dead is spoken of in John 5:29 as taking place at the resurrection of the wicked, separated, as we know, by a thousand years from the resurrection of the righteous. The moral distinction alone is given in John.
We are thus brought to the end of time with one question still to be answered. What does our Lord have to say of eternity for the saved and for the lost?
As to the saved, He declares: "In My Father's house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again (the nearest approach we have in the Gospels to the truth of the coming for the saints of the present interval) and receive you unto Myself." All the truths of eternal life and of heaven tell of this eternal blessedness, which is the portion of every believer in the Lord Jesus.
For the unsaved, the testimony is equally clear, and from the same lips: "It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43, 44). Here, and in numbers of other passages, we have not merely hades spoken of as containing a place of torment for the wicked (Luke 16), but Gehenna, "the fire that never shall be quenched." It is this that renders so intensely solemn our Lord's word to the Pharisees: "How shall ye escape the damnation of hell?" — Gehenna.
We cannot fail to see in reading the Gospels that the Lord Jesus with all the energy of His holy soul spoke of the eternity of future punishment for the lost. It was this that brought Him from heaven, that led Him to plead with men, that made Him agonize for souls. It was this that led Him to the cross to open a way for men to escape the wrath of God. It is fitting, but most solemn, that nowhere in the entire word of God is the teaching as to future punishment so clear as in the Gospels, and from the lips of Him who said: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
We have thus, in this rapid and partial summary, gathered a few of the salient teachings of the four Gospels as to the great outlines of doctrine. We find that they are particularly rich in setting forth God and the person of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ; that the way of salvation is made plain, and the future, both for the saved and the unsaved, is clearly stated. When we compare these truths with those of the Old Testament we see an immense advance in every particular. All that went before was partial. God dwelt in the thick darkness, revealing Himself, as we have it in the epistle to the Hebrews, "in many parts and in many ways." There is unquestionably a theology of the Old Testament, and from the very beginning, we could not fail to recognize God as a Being of infinite power, holiness, righteousness and goodness; but all things were pointing forward, and we have not the truth as it is in Jesus made known in the Old Testament.
Similarly, when we compare the Gospels with the Epistles, we find in the latter an advance over the former in certain directions, but it is suggestive that the truth as to the persons of the Godhead reaches its climax, we might say, in the Gospels. As we remarked in another connection, while the Epistles give us unquestionably the highest form of truth, it is not so much in contrast with, as the necessary corollary to the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ as given in the Gospels. These latter come to a close with the disciples intently looking up into heaven, whither Jesus has gone, and waiting for "the Promise of the Father" to be sent down from there. In the Epistles, as has been noted, the Spirit is present and all things are brought to our remembrance which the Lord Jesus "began both to do and to teach." Eternal praise be unto His blessed name!