The author trusts that the volume may prove a help to those who accept Scripture as the word of God and have confidence in the gracious guidance of the Holy Ghost, who is sent down from heaven to glorify our Lord Jesus. Critical questions have been sparingly discussed here: elsewhere they may be entered into more fully; for truth has nothing to fear, much to gain, from the most thorough sifting, if it be but competent and candid. On the present occasion, however, direct interpretation has been the aim, and the practical profit of souls.”
Guernsey, Feb., 1868.
That the Spirit of God, when inspiring Matthew, had in view the aspirations and wants of the Jews, the evidence of the Messiahship of Jesus, and the consequences of His rejection both for them and the Gentiles, is a truth which has forced itself on most Christians who have examined the Gospels with any discriminating care. So large and varied are the internal proofs of such a design that the only wonder is how an intelligent mind could dispute the facts or the inference. Yet we are told that, had a Jewish aim been steadily kept before the Evangelist, the visit of the Gentile Magi could not have been exclusively related by Matthew, any more than the circumcision of Jesus and His frequenting the passovers at Jerusalem could have been exclusively related by Luke if he had written for Gentiles. The objection has no force when it is seen that the Spirit meant by Matthew to trace the alienation of the Jews from such a Messiah as their own Scriptures portray, not alone externally glorious, but first as a divine person though a man, intimating in His very name that He was Jehovah, coming to save His people from their sins, and not merely from their enemies (chap. 1). What a picture follows in chapter 2! Jerusalem troubled at the tidings of His birth, and distant Gentile Magi from the East coming up to do Him homage! Is this the refutation of Matthew’s special design? What more beautiful illustration of it could be looked for? And if Luke gives us the most charming glimpses at the godly remnant of Israel, and the Lord Jesus presented first in their midst with the most exact heed to every requirement of the law, how does this set aside the testimony of a Gospel which teems with evidence that God gives us there Christ as traced up to “Adam, which was the son of God,” not down from Abraham and David, the depositary of promise and the stock of the kingdom in Israel? Did the objectors forget that the great apostle of the Gentiles regularly carried out the principle on which he insists — “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek?” The inspired writers reflected the richness of God’s ways of grace, not the technicality of a human routine.
It is evident also that the apparent discrepancies in the concurrent accounts of the synoptic Gospels must spring either from the infirmity of the human instruments or from the far-reaching wisdom of the Spirit who impressed on each a special design, and so inserted, suppressed, or variously presented, the same substantial fact or truth in pursuance of that design, never giving anything but truth, yet only thus giving the whole truth. Why does unbelief affirm that such a difference of design is an à priori theory? The habitual testimony of each Gospel must decide this question. What can be more manifestly à priori than to impute, on such a ground as this, “demonstrable historical inaccuracies” to the inspired historians of the weightiest matters ever given to man to record? If the sole method of writing a life were that of simple sequence, there might be some appearance of reason; but some of the most famous biographies among men depart in general or in part from the mere order of occurrence. What would be thought of assailing their credit for such a reason as this? The fault lies in those who object, not in Scripture.
It is to me certain that Matthew and Luke were led to follow an exact order, one dispensational, the other moral; that they are far more profoundly instructive than if one or other, or both, had adhered to the very elementary manner of an annalist; and that it is a mere blunder therefore to characterize any resulting difference of arrangement (such as Matt. 8:28, etc., compared with Mark 5:1, etc., and Luke 8:26, etc.) as a real discrepancy. Let such defenders of the faith do their worst: the Christian has nothing to fear, but only to believe, and he shall see the glory of the Lord and the beauty of the truth. Undoubtedly a different arrangement consists with and supposes the same incident variously placed, and with deliberate design, so as to bring out the truth more fully; but how does it prove a “real” discrepancy?
It is allowed on all hands that the Lord may have repeated the same truth, as He often repeated similar miracles. But a difference of design alone accounts for all the phenomena of the Gospels, and this not to the dishonour of the writers, but to the praise of their true and divine Author. Eye-witness and apostolicity fail to meet the case, for two out of the four Evangelists were neither. The foundation of the new building consists of prophets as well as apostles; and though God did supply eyewitnesses, He proved His supremacy by furnishing the most graphic details of our Lord’s ministry by the very two who had not seen what they describe with more lifelike touches than are found in those two who describe what they saw. So false is this criterion even in the two apostles, that John alone does not give either the scene of the agony or that of the transfiguration, yet he alone of the Evangelists was among the nearest to both. He alone gives the fall of the armed band to the ground, yet Matthew beheld it equally With himself. And Matthew gives with the greatest fulness the prophetic discourse on Olivet; John not at all, though he is the only Evangelist who was present to hear it.
The Spirit’s purpose is the true and only key in every instance. Thus, as to the inscription on the cross, nothing is simpler than the perfection of each report for each Gospel; while it may be that the actual writing contained John’s with the addition of Matthew’s opening words, the Holy Spirit appropriating each form to His aim in the respective Gospels. Plenary inspiration in no way excludes, but accentuates, special design. The true question is, Are we to attribute their differences of form to the wisdom of God or to the weakness of man? Again, difference of reading is a question of human copies, not of the inspired original. Lastly, the apostle insists not merely that the men were inspired, but that the book — yea, every scripture — is divinely inspired.
There is the strongest evidence to prove that the Greek of Matthew is the original and not a version, though possibly the Evangelist may have also written it in Hebrew for the early Church in Judea. This might lapse, and what was permanently needed abide.