The Lord from Heaven - 5 - THE TESTIMONY OF THE FIRST GOSPEL MATTHEW

THE Gospels may be studied either as the divinely accredited records of the Ministry, or as a progressive revelation of Christ. Not that the Lord's teaching was divided chronologically into sections, but that in the books which contain the inspired record of His teaching there is a definite and systematic "progress of doctrine." The purpose of the First Gospel, for example, is to record His Messianic mission to the people of the covenant, and it contains nothing save what relates to that mission. A fuller spiritual knowledge of Scripture is needed, perhaps, to enable us to recognise in Mark the revelation of Him as Jehovah's Servant; but no one can miss the prominence which the humanity of Christ holds in the Third Gospel; and the distinctive character of the Fourth, as the revelation of the Son of God, is universally acknowledged.
But though the Gospels thus present us with four different portraits, there is but one Christ. And while the Fourth Gospel was written expressly to reveal Him as the Son of God, it displays Him none the less as Israel's Messiah, Jehovah's Servant, and the Son of Man. For such is the divine system of a progressive revelation. 'What has yet to be unfolded is rarely anticipated, but what has been already revealed is incorporated and continued. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." This brief sentence on the opening page of the Fourth Gospel sums up the story of His Messianic mission as recorded in the First. And when we read that "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," we recall the Virgin birth. No need to set forth the manner of it, for that has been already told; and now all that remains is to give the full revelation of the Son of God.
Not even the full title, "the Son of God," is to be found in the earlier Gospels, save only in Peter's confession, in the mysterious homage accorded Him by demons, and in the charge on which the Sanhedrim condemned Him for blasphemy. That charge gave proof that He had used it in His ministry. But the Holy Spirit, in inspiring the records of the Ministry, reserved the unfolding of it for the Apostle whose peculiar receptivity led to his being known among his brethren as the disciple whom He loved. And the purpose of his Gospel is expressly stated at the close: "That ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God"; that "Jesus," the Man who was born in Bethlehem, is the Christ - Israel's Messiah - and that He is the Son of God.
But though the Gospel of John has thoroughly distinctive characteristics, it is merely an advance in a progressive revelation, and not, as some would tell us, a breaking away from all that has gone before. The figment that the other Evangelists do not teach the Deity of Christ betrays extraordinary blindness; for though that truth is nowhere asserted by them as a dogma, it is in tile warp and woof of their record of the Lord's ministry. Abundant proof of this may be found in each of the earlier Gospels, but for the present purpose an appeal to the Gospel of Matthew will suffice.
Take, for example, the "Sermon on the Mount." Of the Ten Commandrnents Moses declared, "These words the Lord spake in the Mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of tile thick darkness, with a great voice; and He added no more."' In Scripture they have a special solemnity. What, then, was the Lord's attitude toward them? "Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; but I say unto you . . And this formula is five times repeated. Was it that He thus intended either to revoke or to disparage the law of Sinai? Far from it; the words are prefaced by the declaration that that law is eternal. But the "Mount of the Beatitudes" spoke with the same divine authority as the mount of the thunder and the fire: this is the explanation of His words.
The Hebrew prophets spake from God, but "Thus saith the Lord" prefaced all their utterances. And though the Apostle Paul had abundant revelations, and he insisted that his words had divine authority, the authority he claimed for them was that they were "commandments of the Lord." He himself was nothing, and the emphatic ego's in his teaching are rare; they are usually inserted, indeed, to mark his insignificance. In Colossians, for instance, that wonderful Epistle in which the revelation of the Christ reaches its highest development - there is never an ego anywhere, save in declaring himself a servant. But in the Lord's teaching the ego stands out with the utmost prominence, and "I say unto you" takes the place of "Thus saith the Lord."
Of the law of Sinai He declared, " Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled"; of His own teaching He declared, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away. "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not commit adultery," "Thou shalt not steal," these are words for sinners. And when the great telos' comes, (Footnote- 1 Cor. xv. 24. The telos in Greek is not the end in the sense of our English word. It connotes, not cessation, but result. The end of a journey is our arrival at our destination; the accomplishment of the purpose with which we set out.) when all things have been subdued unto Him, and God has become all in all - when "the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and the tabernacle of God is with men, and God Himself shall be with them"- then the words of Sinai shall be a memory of an evil past; but the words of the Ministry of our glorious Lord and Saviour shall live as the everlasting heritage of His people. Entirely in keeping with this is His teaching recorded in the eleventh chapter. Upbraiding the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, He declared that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum. What Sodom was - that name of infamy - we know. But what had Capernaum done? He did mighty works there; He taught in its streets; He made His home in it - it is called "His own city": all this gives proof that in Capernaum there can have been no open hostility to His ministry. But "they repented not "- that is all. Sodom poured contempt upon "the moral law," whiehwas afterwards embodied in the "ten words" thundered forth at Sinai: Capernaum failed to repent on hearing the words of Christ. And yet He declared that the sin of Capernaum was deeper than the flagrant and filthy iniquities of Sodom. If His words were not as divine as the words of Sinai, the profanity of this would be astounding.
And yet then and there He owned His position of dependence and subjection, calling upon God as His Father and the Lord of heaven and earth. The most absolute subjection, here and always; but subordination, never by word or act throughout His ministry. Notice the terms in which He addresses Him-" Lord of heaven and earth": His "Lord" He never calls Him. And mark what follows. Though He was "the First-born of all creation "- the One by whom and for whom all created things were made; the Word who in the beginning, and before there was a creature made, was with God, and was God '- He had, when coming into the world, divested Himself of all His rights and all His glory; but the response of the Father was to re-invest Him with all that He had surrendered. Not, as the Neo-theology would tell us, after His return to heaven - till then, indeed, He could not re-assume the glory - but here, in the time and scene of His humiliation and rejection, He could say, "All things are delivered unto Me of My Father." And in the same breath He adds, anticipating the craving which such words excite to understand the mystery of His personality, "No one knoweth the Son, save the Father."
And then -"Come unto ME, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Another emphatic!. If words like these came from the greatest, holiest, best of men, we should fling them back with indignation. But they are the words of Him by whom and for whom we were created; of Him who spoke from Sinai, and knows the guilt and penalty of sin; of Him to whom all judgment has been committed, and who can anticipate the decrees of the Great Day; of Him - let us not forget it - who "took part of flesh and blood," and knows our burdens and our toils. And when spiritual men dwell upon His words, with thoughts like these filling their hearts, they do not sit down to frame a christology; they cast themselves at His feet and worship Him.
Many another passage might be cited, pointing to the same conclusion. "I will build My Church" ' "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst" "Behold I send unto you prophets " -two more of these great, emphatic ego's, that would savour of profanity if the speaker were not divine.
When we come to "the Second Sermon on the Mount "- chapters xxiv. and xxv.- the same conclusion is irresistible. There is no "Thus saith the Lord" to accredit His words, as He surveys the great drama of the future, and fixes the course of events, and the destinies of men. As we have seen, He never speaks of God as His Lord, but yet, once and again, He here claims to be the Lord of the people of God. If we did not know Him as "our great God and Saviour," this would be quite incomprehensible, if it did not seem utterly profane. The concluding verses of the First Gospel record the words He spoke on the Galilean I Matt. xvi. 18. ' Matt. xxiii. 34. mountain which He had appointed as the trysting-place for His disciples after His resurrection from the dead. And it is a strange enigma that any one who accepts the record as Holy Scripture can deny or doubt His Deity. He must have a mind that is not governed by reason. Who can this be who has "all power in heaven and on earth"? Who is this who commissions the disciples to teach His commandments? Who is this that dismisses them with the words, "Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the world"? And this is only the fringe, as it were. That the Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, Christian and Jew acknowledge. Who, then, is this who claims equality with both, placing His name with theirs, and taking precedence, as men would say, of the Holy Spirit?
I once had the privilege of meeting the late Dr. Edersheim of Oxford, and in our conversation he impressed on me that, when we bring the truth of "the Trinity" before a Jew, it is to his own Scriptures we should appeal. And to exemplify his words he quoted the middle verses of Isaiah lxiii. Jehovah, the prophecy declares, became the Saviour of His people.
But how? "The Angel of His presence saved them." The word to Moses was, "Behold I send an Angel before thee. . . . Take ye heed of him and hearken unto his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for My name is in him." If doubt be possible as to who it is that is here indicated, surely it is dispelled by the terms in which the promise was renewed -" My presence shall go with thee." Hence the prophet's words, "the Angel of His presence." And mark what follows: "But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit." Thus we have Jehovah, the Angel of His presence, and His Holy Spirit, as the God of the Covenant people in the Old Testament dispensation; and in the New Testament we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The nomenclature is changed, but it is the same God. Some, indeed, would argue that, because the Son is never so designated in the Old Testament, His personality began with the Incarnation. But the argument if valid would apply also to the Father; for the revelation of "the Father" awaited the coming of "the Son." And if they who worship Father, Son, and Spirit are justly chargeable with having three gods, all who own the Father and the Holy Spirit are no less open to the taunt of having two. (Footnote - 1 Ex. xxiii. 20, 21. Verse 22 is noteworthy; it Is the Angel's voice, but It is God who speaks. Ex. xxxiii. 14. ' Compare the words of Stephen in Acts vii. 61. The figure of God's fatherhood to His people is occasionally used in the Psalms and the Prophets, but" tlee Father" is not to be found In the Old Testament. Christ revealed the Father.)
But how can this mystery be explained? It is well to acknowledge plainly and with emphasis that in this matter not only the heresies that distracted the professing Church, in the early centuries, but many of the discussions to which they gave rise, assumed that by searching we can find out God, and know the Almighty to perfection.
The story is told of a meeting in a certain provincial town, at which the local clergy were holding forth on the doctrine of "the Trinity." The fool of the place, whom everybody knew as "Silly Billy," excited amusement by the earnestness with which he plied his pencil; and at the close they asked to see his "notes," The paper showed tokens of laborious effort and many failures, but as the result the following lines could be deciphered.
- "This can Silly Billy see,
Three in One and One in Three,
And One of them has died for me."
The poor town fool had got hold of what many who are "wise and prudent" miss.