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  • THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
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    I. THE HISTORICAL BOOKS, VIZ.,

    THE FOUR GOSPELS, AND ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.

    ST. MATTHEW

    This evangelist is supposed to be the same who is also called Levi, son of Alpheus. He was by birth a Jew; and, like the rest of our Lord's disciples, a native of Galilee; and appears to have been at first a collector of the public taxes under the Roman government. He was called by our Lord to be a disciple when sitting in his public office by the seaside, near the city of Capernaum.

    He was placed by our Lord in the number of his apostles, and continued with him during his life. After the ascension of Christ, he was at Jerusalem; and received the Holy Spirit with the rest of the disciples, on the day of Pentecost. His gospel (i. e., his history of the incarnation, preaching, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord) is generally allowed to be the most ancient part of the writings of the New Covenant. It is very probable that he wrote this book in Hebrew, about the eighth year after the ascension of our Lord, or A. D. 37, and that it was, by himself or some other, translated into Greek about A. D. 61.

    Matthew being a constant attendant on our Lord, his history is an account of what he saw and heard; and, being influenced by the Holy Spirit, his history is entitled to the utmost degree of credibility. Whether he was martyred for the truth, or died a natural death, is uncertain.

    ST. MARK

    This is the same who is called John Mark; and who traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, and afterward into other countries. Acts xii, 25; xii, 5.

    It is supposed that he wrote this gospel at Rome, about A. D. 64, and that he died at Alexandria, in in the eighth year of the reign of Nero, the Roman emperor. It is very probable that he had seen the gospel written by St. Matthew, as he omits several things which are amply detailed by that evangelist. At the same time he inserts several curious particulars not mentioned by any of the others.

    ST. LUKE

    St. Luke is the most elegant of all the evangelical writers; his language being purer and much more free from Hebraisms than any of the rest. He was an early convert to Christianity, and was St. Paul's fellow laborer, (Philemon, ver. 24,) and accompanied him when he first went to Macedonia; and from Greece, through Macedonia and Asia, to Jerusalem; and from Jerusalem again to Rome, where he stayed with him the two years of his imprisonment in that city. It is generally believed that he finished and published his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in Greece, about A. D. 47, both of which he dedicates to Theophilus, an honorable Christian friend of his in that country. His gospel, like those of the preceding evangelists, gives an account of the birth, preaching, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. It is supposed that he died in peace about the eightieth or eighty fourth year of his age.

    ST. JOHN

    This evangelist was the son of a fisherman named Zebedee, and his mother's name was Salome. They were probably of Bethsaida; and the father and his sons James and John followed their occupation on the sea of Galilee. Both these brothers were called to the apostleship; and John is supposed to have been about twenty-five years of age when he began to follow our Lord. It is likely that he was one of our Lord's relatives; and was that disciple whom it is said our Lord loved: that is, he had a peculiar affection for him. He was also an eye and ear witness of our Lord's labors, journeyings, discourses, miracles, sufferings, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension.

    The gospel of John presupposes the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke: the grand facts he has in common with them; but he supplies many particulars which are not found in the others. St. Matthew seems to labor to prove the fact of the reality of our Lord's incarnation or humanity: on the other hand, John takes up the eternal divinity, which he powerfully establishes; and gives us many invaluable discourses and conversations of our Lord with his disciples, as well as several miracles that are not found in the other evangelists. No one of the gospels gives us the whole history of our Lord; we must read all four, to have this complete. John was banished by the Roman emperor, Domitian, to the isle of Patmos, in the AEgean Sea: but his successor Nerva having recalled all the exiles banished by Domitian, John returned to Ephesus, where he died, aged upward of one hundred years. The holy Virgin is said to have lived with him till her death, which took place about fifteen years after the crucifixion.

    ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

    The book of the Acts of the Apostles is the fifth and last of the historical books. It was doubtless written by St. Luke, probably about A. D. 63; and is dedicated to the same noble personage, Theophilus, to whom he dedicated his gospel. The design of the apostle in writing this book appears to have been twofold: 1. To relate in what manner the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost were communicated on the day of Pentecost; and the subsequent miracles performed by the apostles, by which the truth and divine origin of Christianity were confirmed. 2. To deliver such accounts as proved the claim of the Gentiles to admission into the church of Christ. In this book we see how the Christian church was formed and settled. -- The apostles simply proclaimed the truth of God, relative to the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ; and God accompanied their testimony with the demonstration of his Spirit. The consequence was, thousands embraced Christianity, and openly professed it at the risk of their lives. They were converted, not merely from one religious sentiment to another, but from sin to holiness. Their tempers, passions, and moral prospects were all changed; and they only lived to bring glory to God, and to do good to men. This mighty change is everywhere in this book attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit, which took of the things which were Christ's, and applied them to the souls of the people. Such was the Christian church at its formation: and such it must be to the end of the world, if it deserve the name of Christian.

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