Literature on the Four Gospels
Rich as is the literature upon the four Evangelists, we do not think that many will differ from us when we say the books which will prove finally satisfactory, as completely unfolding each of these Evangelists, have not yet been written. We may add, we do not believe they ever will be. Doubtless, from time to time, God gives fresh light upon each portion of His word, embodied in some specially helpful book. Then others, making use of the light thus given, write more minutely and with further helpfulness, applying the great principles brought out by the previous writer. This process will continue again and again; while fresh truths — not contradictory to what has previously been brought out, surely — but giving a wider scope, will be found; and so, should the Lord tarry, we may count upon Him to be opening up by the Holy Spirit "things new and old" out of this, as out of every part of His Word.
We desire to speak first of those books which we may call epoch-making in their character; and of these, we speak more particularly of two which have been called to the reader's attention in other connections:
1. The Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by J. N. Darby; Vol. 3, Matthew — John.
Perhaps no uninspired writer has been so signally gifted with the ability to grasp the great, salient truths of any portion of Scripture as Mr. Darby. He has done this remarkably in the four Evangelists. There is a recognition of the general theme running through each Evangelist, which is traced throughout, and many details noticed. He is also particularly helpful in noting the dispensational features of each Evangelist. This book on the four Gospels, therefore, should be carefully read.
2. The Numerical Bible; Matthew — John, by F. W. Grant.
The great difference between Mr. Grant and Mr. Darby is that while the latter gives bold, clear outlines and follows the general current of a writer with unerring accuracy, the former is much more painstaking in detail and exhibits the perfection of each Evangelist in its structure and the order of the narratives. With this, the Numerical Bible gives an excellent new translation of the Text, with helpful references. It is therefore, particularly helpful in the study of the four Gospels where we can compare one Evangelist with the other, and where the special significance of each narrative is brought out in its relation and with its characteristic differences noted. In the chapter on Analysis, we have already indicated our adherence to the general divisions and subdivisions
of each of the Gospels as brought out in this work.
These two works are perhaps all that need be directly spoken of in this general way.
3. "The Evangelists," by J. G. Bellett.
The beloved writer of this book enjoys the peculiar distinction of having been singularly devoted to the person of our Lord. He himself would doubtless have shrunk from any such claim, but no one can fail to mark, in the minute examinations of comparatively unimportant details in the Evangelists in which our author delights, a special interest. Indeed, as a worshiper of the Lord, the fragrance of the sweet spices lingers throughout his book. Beside this, there is an accuracy of outline and a discrimination which render the work invaluable. We unhesitatingly commend it, therefore, for addition to every library in which it has not yet found a place.
4. "A Short Meditation on the Moral Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ," by the same author.
5. "The Son of God," by the same.
These,while not exactly expositions of the Gospels, are gleaned largely from them and therefore are worthy a special mention here. They have all the excellences of style and method for which the author is so well known. "The Moral Glory" dwells rather upon the meat offering aspect of our Lord's life, while "The Son of God" is a most reverent and blessed unfolding of the true character of His person.
6. "Lectures Introductory to the Four Gospels," by W. Kelly.
7. "Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew," by the same.
8. "The Gospel of Mark," by the same.
9. "The Gospel of John," by the same.
Mr. Kelly was a thorough scholar, a most competent writer of helpful literature, and a lifelong student of the Bible. His many books are a monument of untiring zeal and unremitting labor, coupled with a reverent tone and much spiritual discernment. His "Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew" have been particularly commended for these characteristics as a most rich and full unfolding of the general theme of the first Evangelist, with practical applications, and full notes as to the characteristic differences between it and the other Evangelists. His other books in like manner are of much value.
10. "The Perfect Servant," being notes on the Gospel of Mark by C. E. Stuart.
11. "From Advent to Advent," notes on Luke by the same.
Mr. Stuart was a painstaking student, with much insight into the word of God. His notes on these two Evangelists afford many helpful and profitable lessons. It is always well, where one is able, to possess himself of a number of works by different authors upon the same subject. In such a collection, Mr. Stuart's works should have a place.
12. "John's Writings," by R. Evans.
These notes on the fourth Gospel have also been well spoken of and can be recommended as another help in the Gospel of John.
13. "The Gospels, Why are there Four? Why do They Differ, and Are They fully Inspired? "
A helpful little handbook upon these three questions, in which the characteristic differences of the four Evangelists are brought out in brief compass.
14. "Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels," by A. Jukes.
It is with some hesitation that this able little book is given a place here, not that there is anything in it, so far as the writer knows, subversive of the truth, but from the fact that Mr. Jukes later on in his life was led astray into error and taught doctrines fundamentally unsound, more particularly with reference to the restitution of all things, which, instead of applying as Scripture evidently does, to the Millennium, the "all things" spoken of in the Prophets, he refers to a final restitution even of the wicked. We cannot too strongly warn our readers against such error; but, as we said, there is nothing of this, so far as the writer has learned, in the book here named. It discusses with much ability and at considerable length, the characteristic differences of the four Evangelists, with much the results at which we have already arrived.
15. "Why Four Gospels?" by D. S. Gregory.
Dr. Gregory has shown much research in this able volume. We are thankful that the writer stands for "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." Dr. Gregory's main thought of the differences between the four Evangelists has been noted in the course of the present book. He thinks that each Gospel was written for a special class of hearers — Matthew for the Jews; Mark for the Romans; Luke for the Greeks, and John for the Church. There is much that is suggestive in this, and we think, taken in connection with the main object of each Gospel — the character in which Christ is presented — there may be interesting and profitable study.
Of Commentaries, in the more general sense, upon the four Gospels there are large numbers, many of which are orthodox and give us much that is helpful and suggestive in the way of historic notes, outlines, harmony and the like. There is, as a rule, an absence in these books of clearness as to dispensational and prophetic truth, together with a haziness as to the distinction between the saved and the unsaved, the assurance of salvation, and other important truths which form the groundwork of the books heretofore noted. Still, for the Bible student, the commentary has its place and importance.
(1) We mention in a general way, the Commentaries of Lange. These are large volumes which go into their subject with much detail. Perhaps for general purposes, there is nothing superior.
(2) Other commentaries are those on Matthew and Mark by Dr. Addison Alexander. These are really excellent works.
(3) Alford's Greek Testament on the Four Gospels has a number of useful notes for the more advanced student.
(4) The Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown is also worthy of mention.
(5) The Englishman's Greek Concordance by G. V. Wigram, and
(6) Strong's Concordance, will be helpful in the word studies of the Evangelists, a most profitable and important line of work.
(7) Robinson's Greek or English Harmony of the Four Gospels will be found very helpful in putting before the eye the parallel narratives of the Evangelists. Some work of this kind will be found almost necessary if one is going to pursue the comparative study of the four Gospels.
(8) There is another helpful book of the same kind by John H. Kerr.
We come next to the "Lives of Christ" of which there are all kinds. Perhaps the best of these is "The Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah" by Edersheim. It has wide and deep knowledge of rabbinical lore and is a valuable work.
"The Life of our Lord" by Andrews is reverent in tone.
We do not pretend to give a list of the many books of this kind that have been written. They will be found in general to devote much space to the history and comparatively little to the deep inner significance of the character of the different Evangelists. We turn from reading them with a fresh conviction that if God has given us four Gospels, He intends that we should read them as four, and that all efforts at harmony should be secondary.
Trench on the Parables and on the Miracles is interesting and in many ways suggestive and excellent. He does not catch the characteristic truth as to leaven, and in some other particulars has missed the thought, but the works are scholarly and sound and reverent in tone. The same may also be said of Calderwood on the Parables.
In the list of books given above, it may be well to say as to commentaries and general works of reference, that they are for the more advanced student, who is supposed to have his senses "exercised to discern both good and evil." Sometimes in a dictionary or concordance, or a commentary, an unscriptural view may be expressed. It is understood that our commendation applies to all such books only for the purpose recommended, and not absolutely to the doctrines they may possibly contain. Of the other books, sufficiently clear and strong commendation has been given.
We have now reached the end of what was attempted in our little book. As we glance back over the various subjects that have been before us, and especially consider the analysis of each of the four Evangelists, we may well be impressed with the magnitude of the subject. And how could it be otherwise when the subject is Christ, the Lord? Poor indeed are our efforts to trace His wondrous footsteps — poor in comparison with the ineffable delight of the Father in His Beloved One — but how great the privilege! May we increasingly value, with ever-deepening wonder and worship the stupendous fact of Immanuel, God with us. "God was in Christ."
"God manifest, God seen and heard,
The heavens' beloved One."
"We know the Son of God has come." He has been in the world in which we live. He came for us, in infinite love to us individually. All His words and ways — expressing as they did absolute obedience and giving a perfect manifestation of the Father's heart and nature — were also, and for that very reason, for us. As we hear Him uttering things kept secret from the foundation of the world, in the parables; or see the enacted miracle of grace in His healing touch or follow Him step by step in His lonely path which led onward to the awful goal — wherever we see Him it is God manifest in the flesh.
Above all, when we draw near with Him to Gethsemane, and listen while He weeps such sorrow as has never been known, and then see Him led in meekness, as a lamb, until Calvary is reached — while we gaze on that wondrous cross and see something of the unspeakable woe of His desertion by God — our hearts melt with gratitude, love and worship, we fain would grasp His feet and begin the praise of heaven.
Into that heaven whither He has now ascended, faith follows Him with steadfast gaze, and, in the power of the Holy Spirit sent down by Him, enters into the fulness of the grace that He has brought to us — the blessedness of acceptance, justification, nearness of access, sonship, priesthood, membership in the Church His body, and the coming glory in which we shall be displayed.
But as we thus revel in the joy of our blessing, let us turn afresh to Him who has purchased it for us, remembering what it cost Him, and following with new light and love the path He trod from the manger to the cross. All acquires a new meaning — the love, the singleness of aim, the suitability of every act and word, are seen with increased clearness, as we are led by the Holy Spirit to pass all in review.
God forbid that we should even think of this as "knowing Christ after the flesh." The Jews and even His disciples had carnal and earthly expectations of what the Messiah would do. Some of these hopes were purely the ambition of pride; others the misapprehension of Scripture; and even those which were true were not to be fulfilled till after the completion of the present period of grace. "We trusted it had been He who should have redeemed Israel" tells of a blighted hope, which was to be displaced by something far more glorious — while later on the former prospects would all be more than realized.
Such hopes, unenlightened by the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit, may be classed as "knowing Christ after the flesh" (with the careful guarding against applying such language to the future earthly hopes of Israel, as if they were carnal), but to know Christ as He is revealed in the Gospels is not in any way such as this. It is rather to become acquainted more deeply with His personal character, His faithfulness, love, hatred of sin, kindness and compassion. Let us never think of the Gospels as something lower than the Epistles. They present to us the Person of the Son of God, in His perfect earthly path, as He revealed the Father to us.
Occupation with our Lord thus will beget in us a spirit of true self-judgment; self will be more and more seen in its true light, and in comparison with the character of our Lord, we will see how the sentence of death, inflicted by the cross, was an absolute necessity for the flesh.
Similarly, as the flesh is seen in its true character, and the world, both religious and secular, seen as the sphere fitted for the flesh and not for God, we will turn with increased satisfaction and adoring worship to a Person who filled God with delight while He was here, and who now fills heaven with the fragrance and beauty of His Person. Thus we will become more heavenly as we are more engaged with "the Son of Man who is in heaven."
May the Holy Spirit fill us with the joy of occupation with the person of the Son of God.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5-11).