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THE following series of readings from the New Testament will embrace St. Mark's Gospel ; but continual reference will be made to the narratives of St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John, and occasionally their statements introduced.
The selection of St. Mark's Gospel is not merely accidental. Its design and character seem to fit it for being first continuously read and studied. St. Mark only has confined his narrative to that portion of Evangelical history which was strictly and properly the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the subject of apostolical testimony. His narrative embraces the period within which Christ's ministry was included—the compass of events for preserving and attesting which the Apostles were ordained witnesses. This period commenced with our Lord's baptism, and ended with his ascension.
Not that St. Mark has attempted to relate all that the Apostles saw and heard of their Master during that time. This indeed is not done by any one, nor by all together. St. John, who wrote last, and, as it is said, with a view of supplying certain omissions of the preceding three-even St. John does not pretend to have completed the full and entire Gospel narrative. He only put on record that, which, together with the accounts before given, was sufficient and right for the guidance of our faith ; and this he did, not of himself, but under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, which was promised to the Apostles in their dispensation of the Gospel, “ There are also many other things,” writes St. John at the end of his Gospel, " which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written ^."
St. Mark indeed relates fewer facts than St. Matthew or St. Luke, and is less circumstantial in his account of those which he does relate than either of the other three Evangelists. The prineiple, which appears to have been contemplated
· John xxi. 25.
in his selection of facts, and the same remark will equally apply to St. Matthew and St. Luke, although not perhaps to St. John,) was this, to preserve the tissue and connected character of our Lord's ministry. As this is a matter of great importance, and as the Gospel histories cannot be rightly understood without continual reference to it, it may be necessary at once to explain what is meant by this tissue-like connection in Christ's ministry.
Our Lord, it will be observed, very gradually communicated his revelations to his followers. Whether it was, that their prejudices were so strong, as to require that a display of truths which ran counter to those prejudices, should be very slowly and gradually made-or that it was done agreeably to the rule of “ giving to him that hath,” of rewarding faith in a little by making the believer acquainted with more-or that both these and other grounds existed; the fact is undeniable. At first, we find him perhaps merely hinting obscurely at some doctrine to be embraced, some event that it was expedient to bring to pass; then, as the first reluctance of prejudice or alarm is a little subdued, the
same lesson is repeated, and made somewhat more explicit; lastly, before the close of his ministry, it is fully and clearly stated; or else, attention and interest having been strongly excited, the promise is given, that, when the Comforter shall come, he shall teach all the truth. This was the method of instruction adopted with respect to his being the Christ; with respect to his death ; the spiritual nature of his kingdom; the abolition of the Jewish law; and, in short, with respect to all that he taught.
It was a method rendered more striking and more intelligible by our Lord's manner of teaching. He not only instructed his followers by his discourses and conversation, but also by his actions ; either explaining the meaning of those actions, or else leaving it to be gathered from something previously said or done by him, which the action naturally recalled to mind. Thus, when he washed his disciples' feet, he explained to them what he meant by the symbolical action ; but when he set a child in the midst of them, he expected that they would understand what he meant by their becoming little children, through those other lessons of his in which the metaphor of being born again and the like had occurred. Almost all his miracles seem to have had this secondary character. In some it is explained, as in the cure of the blind man related in the ninth chapter of St. John; but in most instances, the connection with his verbal instruction furnishing a ready key, the meaning was left to be the reward of docility and attention.
Now taking this view of the character of our Lord's teaching, it is clear that whoever undertook to record the course of his ministry, must have made his selection of facts with reference to this principle, whatever other object he may likewise have had in view that is, he must have selected and retained enough of our Lord's words and actions, and of the incidents of his life, to preserve this thread of progressive meaning, this tissue of Gospel revelation. In order to furnish a survey of Christ's ministry as a whole, all that was strictly requisite, was to record some portion of each progressive stage of instruction; and to take care that these parts should refer, in the way explained, the one to the other. And this is precisely what not only St. Mark will be found to have done, but also St. Matthew and St. Luke;