In turning to the Gospels, we find them written by four servants of the Lord, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But we must dismiss from our minds at once the thought, that they were written by men who recorded what they had known as facts, each one according as his memory served him. This is how men generally write biographies; but it is quite certain that the writers of the gospels often omitted to mention facts with which they were most conversant, and recorded at length other circumstances of which they had no personal knowledge. Let us turn to a few examples. In the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, we are distinctly told that no one was present with the Lord but Peter, James, and John; and yet, most striking as the fact is, and most important too in the history of our Lord's ways, neither of them refer to it; but Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who were not present, all name it, and enter into particulars of it.
Again, at the time when the Lord's compassion was so drawn out toward the widow of Nain, who was attending the funeral of her only son, that He then and there raised him from the dead in the presence of crowds of people, and as we might expect, would be talked of far and near, yet neither of the Apostles refer to it, and Luke only has recorded it. Whether he was present or not we are not told; but such a marvellous miracle, and so full of tenderness to a bereaved widow in raising her son to life and delivering him to his mother, if the writers were merely recording facts from memory, as people naturally would do, it would certainly not have been omitted.
In the transfiguration also, we find that only Peter, James, and John were favoured to be present, to behold the pattern of the coming kingdom. But neither of them have recorded in their writings the particulars of it. Peter alludes to it in his second epistle, and says, "We were eye-witnesses of his majesty;" but neither John nor James tell us anything about it, important beyond all expression as the event was.
Then again, look at our Lord in Gethsemane. One would have thought that every one there present with the Lord in that time of bitter agony and exercise, as anticipating the sorrows of the cross, then immediately before Him, would have fully described the scene. But it is not so. Perhaps no one entered into it more feelingly than that disciple whom Jesus loved, and who leaned on His bosom at the supper; but he gives us no details of it, and only makes the briefest allusion to it. Peter, so heavy with sleep there, tells us nothing about it. James, also, is entirely silent; but Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who might not have been near enough to have seen the Lord in such sorrow bowed down to the ground in earnest prayer, each give us a detailed report of it; and yet more remarkable still, after leaving the garden, and going over Cedron with His disciples, when they met Judas and his band of men, and, as the effect of the Lord's words, "they went backward and fell to the ground," John only mentions this.
Now these examples are surely enough to convince us, that the gospels were not written as men write a biography, by merely gathering all the well-attested facts they could, and putting them together, for it must be clear to every fair mind this was not the case, but that each wrote according to the direction and guidance of the Spirit who inspired him.
Instead, therefore, of regarding the four gospels as the writings merely of four biographers however true, and trying, as people say, to study "the harmonies of the gospel," we find that each writer had a distinct and definite line of truth to convey, in no wise contradictory of each other, but each gospel written with a definite object. This, when seen, enhances each of the four gospels immensely, and our interest in them becomes largely intensified. It is intelligible enough that four architects might give us the plans of a square building, each taking a separate side; and although they were all of them different in some particulars, so that no one could understand them till he knew that each represented a different side of the same building, yet then, and not till then, would he get the true idea of what the building really was. So with the Gospels. Matthew clearly sets forth the Messiah in relation to God's ancient people, the Jews; Mark, the Son of God as a perfect Servant; Luke, Son of God born of Mary, yet Son of Man; and John, the Son who came forth from the Father, came into the world, and went back to the Father.
Because MATTHEW presents Him to us as the Messiah promised to Israel, to set up His kingdom on earth, as predicted by prophets, He is at once introduced as "the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." His genealogy is traced, not on Mary's side, but in connection with Joseph, as legal Heir to the throne. In the first chapter He is called Jesus, meaning Jehovah our Saviour; and though born of Mary, is really surnamed ― God with us. In the second chapter He is said to be "born King of the Jews," and the prophet Micah is referred to as to Bethlehem being the place of His birth into this world; and there it is added, to show the infinite glory of His Person, "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." In the third chapter, John, His forerunner according to Isaiah and Malachi, called on the nation to "repent," because the King was there, and ready to set up the kingdom of heaven. It was therefore "at hand." In Matthew only we have the expression, "kingdom of heaven," for this the Jewish people were taught to expect by the prophets; and Moses especially spoke of "the days of heaven upon earth." (Deut. 11:21.) The expression, "kingdom of heaven," occurs about twenty-eight times in this Gospel. John the Baptist had to seal his testimony of "the gospel of the kingdom," first by imprisonment, and then by death. Jesus, however, takes up the same testimony, and adds to it the signs of His being the Messiah, by miraculous power, and gives in the sermon on the mount, the principles on which the kingdom must be set up, then touches a leper and by His word heals him, and also a palsied man. The healing of the one showed, that however degraded and unclean the nation might be, there was grace and power in Him beyond all ordinances, however good, for healing; and on the other hand, however helpless the people, He could not only heal the body but forgive sins. In the tenth chapter, He gives power to His apostles also to work miracles, and preach the glad tidings of the kingdom, which was a further testimony of His Messiahship. Afterward we find Him feeding thousands once and again on a few loaves and fishes, and baskets of fragments remaining after every one was filled. Now why was this? It was a further testimony to His being the Messiah, because it had been written in Psalm 132, "I will abundantly bless her provision, I will satisfy her poor with bread." So we might go through the Gospel if our space permitted, only we cannot fail to see that it sets before us a line of instruction found nowhere else in scripture, and yet in perfect keeping with all that had gone before or came after. It is well to notice, that in the twelfth chapter the Messiah is so entirely rejected by the Jews, that they take counsel to destroy Him (ver. 14); in the last chapter of Matthew He is seen risen from the dead, but not ascended, a risen Man on the earth. And why is this? Because the Messiah's sphere as such is not ascension glory as His church will have with Him as Bridegroom, Head of His body, and Lord of all; but His earthly people, while they will know Him as having died for that nation, and therefore risen, will know Him as reigning here on earth, before His ancients gloriously, and sitting in David's throne; thus fulfilling all the prophecies of Him, and all the promises to Abraham and his seed. Then of the Jewish people it will be truly said, "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." This they will know and rejoice in, when they sing, "Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases." (Isa. 33:24; Ps. 103:1, 3.) Such a truly Jewish character has this Gospel, that here only the expression of the wicked people, "His blood be on us, and on our children," is recorded; and in neither of the other Gospels have we such particular and prophetic instruction as to the great tribulation, the coming of the Lord to Israel, and His judging the nations.
Mark's Gospel. Here the Lord is looked at more particularly as to His service. We have therefore no genealogy, no account of His birth, and His ways are traced from the baptism of John to His sitting at the right hand of God. Throughout, as the elect and righteous Servant, He is seen doing most perseveringly the will of Him that sent Him. We find the word translated "immediately," "straightway" and "anon" much more frequently than in any other Gospel. The looks and feelings of the perfect Servant are referred to in a way we have not elsewhere. We are told that "He looked round about on them with anger;" that "He sighed;" and that "He sighed deeply in his spirit." He went on so diligently serving with His disciples, that "they had no leisure so much as to eat;" and again, "They could not so much as eat bread," so that His friends went out to lay hold on Him, for they said, "He is beside himself." The sufferings of Gethsemane and on the cross are briefly recorded, and, having accomplished the work of redemption, as risen from among the dead He sends His servants into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature, and afterward, though received up into heaven, and sitting at the right hand of God, He confirms their ministry with signs following.
As has often been remarked, in Mark we have the events of our Lord put before us more in historical or chronological order, while in Matthew they are arranged more in regard to dispensational order, and in Luke they are more in moral order.
Luke's line of things in his Gospel is clearly Jesus as "Son of man." As born of Mary He is contrasted with John who was born of Elizabeth, the son of Zacharias. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born Son of God, and Son of the Highest; but John was only the prophet of the Highest, and though he was honoured to be the forerunner of our Lord, his testimony was, that he was unworthy to loose the latchet of His shoe. It is in Luke's Gospel only that we have the account of our Lord at the age of twelve years, and that He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man."
The genealogy of our Lord is traced in Luke to the "seed of the woman." We, therefore, have Mary's line through Heli brought out; through David also, for she was of the house and lineage of David; and Abraham, Noah, and Enos to Adam, because in this Gospel He is looked at as Son of man.
In Luke's account of Him, He is not only brought before us praying on seven different occasions, but in Gethsemane also His humanity is specially marked out in His being in an agony, and praying more earnestly, when His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Here, too, on the cross, He makes intercession for the transgressors, and comforts the penitent malefactor with the assurance of present salvation ― not mentioned elsewhere. In resurrection also, when some were terrified because they thought He was a spirit, He said, "Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is myself; handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them." (Chap. 24.) Now, why are these details as to the actual resurrection of our Lord from among the dead given us in Luke's Gospel only? Is it not because He is there by the Spirit of God brought before us as Son of man? But further, after His resurrection, He ministered the word to them, gave commission to preach the gospel, bade them tarry in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit to endue them with power from on high, and having led them out as far as to Bethany, and blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. The Man Christ Jesus, whom they had seen and known as incarnate, as dead on the cross, as buried in the sepulchre, and as risen from among the dead, they saw ascend up to heaven, till their eyes could no longer trace Him. Having now their understandings opened to understand the scriptures, they were filled with such joy, that they were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.
In John's Gospel we have the Deity of the Son, and sent by the Father into the world, in richest and abounding grace to us. In it we have the endearing relationship of children of God by faith in Christ Jesus clearly set forth, so that duties and affections might be formed and maintained suitable to such relationship. There is, therefore, no genealogy in John. He was "the Word" in the beginning, before creation, with God, and was God ― a person with God, and yet eternally divine, for He was God, and the Creator of everything that was made. In due time "the word was made [or became] flesh and dwelt among us." If we have the human side of Jesus as Son of man, born of Mary, in Luke, and as Son of David, "king of the Jews," in Matthew, we have the divine side of our Lord and of His ways in John. He is the Fountain of Life, for "in him was life" in the first chapter; the Source of eternal life to every one that believeth, in the third chapter; the One who gives an unending supply of living water in the fourth chapter. He, the Son, quickens or gives life to whom He will in the fifth chapter; and is the Bread of Life, (through His flesh, which He gave for the life of the world,) in the sixth chapter. In the seventh chapter Christ Himself is the alone Source of that living enjoyment which enables testimony for Him abundantly to flow out. With all His amazing grace to man, His words are rejected in the eighth chapter; His works in the ninth chapter; and not believed on as the Good Shepherd, because they were not His sheep, in the tenth chapter. In the eleventh chapter, as has been often pointed out, He is rejected as Son of God; in the twelfth, first as Son of David, and then as Son of man; and after having shown Himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, in bringing Lazarus out of the grave to life again, He willingly goes into death as the Son of man lifted up to save sinners. The Corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die, or He would be alone. Solemn moment beyond all description. He then keeps the passover, Judas goes out, and when alone with His eleven true ones, He instructs us as to our course during the time of His absence, promises to send the Holy Spirit to abide with us for ever, bids us to be without fear or care, but to believe on Him; and though the path be one of tribulation, to be of good cheer; and assures us that He will come again and take us to the Father's house, to be where He is for ever. Having said these things, He commends them and all who shall believe on Him through their word to the Father, before He goes to Calvary's cross to glorify the Father, and finish the work that He gave Him to do. Gethsemane is only just touched on in John, and at the sound of the Saviour's voice, those who came to take Him went backward, and fell to the ground; and on the cross, He is presented as saying, "I thirst," in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, in bringing Him vinegar to drink, according to Psalm 69. All then being fulfilled as it is written, He said, "It is finished," and bowed His head and gave up His spirit, according to His word in the tenth chapter, when speaking of laying down His life: "no man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself; I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father." It is the Son here glorifying the Father, whose prayer, when under the shadow of the cross, had been, "Father, glorify thy name."
In beautiful keeping with this divine side of Christ in John's Gospel, we find only here the account of His message by Mary after His resurrection, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God and your God;" He meets His disciples with "Peace be unto you," fills them with joy, for they "were glad when they saw the Lord," thus giving them a taste of the blessedness of His being in the midst; and communicates risen life by breathing on them, and saying, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." Eight days after He meets Thomas, a type of the Jewish remnant who will not believe till they see Him; and in the last chapter a striking picture is given of millennial blessing when He will formally take His place as the last Adam, and reign before His ancients gloriously.
If it be asked why we have thus glanced at each of the four Gospels, our reply is, In order that it may be clearly seen, that while each honoured the Lord, the lines of truth in all differed from each other, though there was nothing contradictory, and all divinely perfect. The most positive proof is afforded by it, that all was written according to the purpose of one Master mind, and could be none other than the ministry of the Holy Spirit. When we consider how much of the Gospels is made up of our Lord's own words, and works, and ways, how frequently the Old Testament scriptures are authoritatively quoted, and how much of their prophetic teaching was actually fulfilled; and when we add to all this, that the spirit of them all is so manifestly according to the operations and testimony of Him who is the Glorifier and Testifier of Jesus, and Guide into all the truth, it is impossible not to discern the clearest possible proof of their being inspired, or God-breathed.