By Professor W. N. Clarke, D. D.
That the New Testament is a book of inexhaustible richness is a matter of common remark, but how true it is they do not know who rest content with undiscriminating study. There is one kind of richness that opens itself quickly to an earnest spiritual mind, even though that mind may read the book all on one level; but as for that other richness, that internal variety, that inexhaustible freshness, that abundance of life, by virtue of which the New Testament is the richest field for study that exists — as for this, one must cease to study all on one level, and must learn to read in view of dates and scenes and histories before he can even know that it exists; and one must train his powers to keen perception if he would know with what wealth of material his studies have to do. For the illustration of this inexhaustible richness of the New Testament many themes might be selected, but among them all scarcely one would serve the purpose better than a comparative study of two epistles that stand near each other in the sacred volume — the Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of John.
In our Bibles there is nothing to mark any deep distinction between the two, and, so far as an ordinary reader can see, they might just as well stand side by side. The dates are marked respectively A. D. 64 and A. D. 90; the date 64 is, perhaps, four or five years too early for the Epistle to the Hebrews, and go is, perhaps, about right for the First Epistle of John. But dates have had little weight in the arrangement of our Bible, and have little with readers generally. Most readers may pass from one writing to another with little sense of change, beyond the inevitable change of style with change of author.
In some points these two writings bear to one another a certain resemblance; though their resemblances lead out, nevertheless, to characteristic differences. Both are unmistakably letters, written in direct address. Both are anonymous letters, the writers never revealing their names. Both omit to mention the persons to whom they are addressed. Neither of them has any opening salutation, such as Paul was wont to place on the opening pages of his letters. Each writing plunges at once into the treatment of its subject. Yet neither is a treatise, as distinct from a letter; each is full of the epistolary spirit, fairly aglow with the epistolary feeling, richly abounding in personal address. In the First Epistle of John the writer makes very much of his own personality as an element in accomplishing his purpose, although he never announces his name. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the writer's personality is less prominent, and yet he entreats, exhorts, and rebukes with the freedom of an old friend, and evidently expects that his letter will be more welcome because it is his.
As to the question who the writers were, the two letters have had widely different fortunes. Upon the epistle that we call John's, no separate question of authorship has ever arisen. It is as certain as any thing in literature that it was written by the same hand as the fourth Gospel, and the almost universal belief that the author was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, has been assailed in recent times, indeed, by many doubts, but is likely, after all, to live and prevail, with sound reason as its foundation. But as to the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews there has never been a unanimous opinion. From the earliest times there has been dispute. By some means the author so lost his claim upon his work that for eighteen centuries he has not been able to regain it. Just now, in these latest days, there is a growing opinion that Apollos may have been the author. But the evidence for that opinion is of such a kind that, even if the opinion is correct, it can never be positively established, but must always remain in the region of probability. Paul's name, which still stands over the epistle in our Bibles, will quite certainly some day be taken away from its present position, but none will ever be written in its place by force of overwhelming evidence.
As to the readers to whom the letters were addressed some things must be left unknown, but the most important facts are plain enough. Where the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews dwelt, and what were their peculiar circum stances, may not be quite so easy a question as at first sight it appears, and, perhaps, it will never be positively answered. But their general position and character can admit of no doubt. They were Christians of Jewish blood and training. The Jewish institutions had had great influence in their life, and were still powerful and fascinating to their hearts. The great questions of the time, to them, were the questions that concerned the relation of Christ to Judaism. They were converted Jews, who were held in strife between Judaism and the Gospel. Of the readers of John's epistle we know directly but little, but quite certainly they had their home in that region of Asia Minor about Ephesus, where John was so long laboring. Whether they were Jews or Gentiles there is not a line or a letter in the epistle to tell us. Not the faintest allusion to the distinction between Jew and Gentile is anywhere to be found. The Jewish questions that filled the field of vision in the other epistle are totally absent from this. If the readers of the other had their very life amid such questions, the readers of this, it is equally certain, had theirs where such questions did not exist.
This contrast everywhere appears. To the one writer and his readers the thoughts of the old dispensation are pressing and important. The language of the Old Testament is quoted on almost every page. The theme, but for which the epistle would never have been written, is the relation of the Gospel to the old revelation made through Moses and the prophets. The Gospel has to win its way against Jewish prejudices and predilections, and the author writes in order to help and strengthen it in this strife. But, in the other epistle, never a word is quoted from the Old Testament. But for a single allusion to Cain as the murderer of his brother, one would never know that an Old Testament existed. Jerusalem and the temple, Moses and the prophets, the altar and the priest, are wholly outside the range of thought. The writer has fears for his readers, but no fear that they may return to Judaism. While the other writer developed his view of Christ and his salvation through the historic and symbolic forms of the old covenant, this writer develops his as independently of these as if they had never been. He exhorts and instructs his readers in the region of pure spiritual and practical thought, in the presence, not of a hostile Judaism, but of an opposing worldliness, and not of Jewish cavils, but of philosophic speculation. The two epistles, though they stand so near together in our Bibles, have different atmospheres about them, and belong almost to two different worlds.
Certainly, then, this is a case in which we must abandon the common practice of reading the Bible all on one level. Here, as soon as we look at it, is a broad and remarkable difference between two parts of Scripture, a difference so great that we certainly can not understand the two parts that are concerned, until we possess the facts that may account for it.
The truth is, that these two writings offer themselves as windows through which we may look into two regions of apostolic life. The period that intervened between the dates of the two writings is not to be passed over as if it meant nothing beyond the lapse of time. The latter half of the New Testament has to do with the period that elapsed between the coming of the Holy Spirit and the departure of the last apostle from the earth. That was by no means an uneventful period. Great events occurred mean while, and changes of incalculable importance were wrought in the history of God's kingdom. In an important sense, what we call the apostolic age was a single period; but in a sense, perhaps, not less important, it was divided into two; and into these two periods these two writings the Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of John, enable us to look.
The first period is, of course, the period of the Jewish controversy.
The new faith was cradled in Judaism. Jesus came as the Messiah of the Jews; he would have gathered the children of Jerusalem about him, but they would not be gathered, and they crucified their king. When he had risen from the dead he still spoke as the rightful Messiah, and instructed his disciples to make Jerusalem the starting point of their work. They obeyed him strictly. They could scarcely have done otherwise, indeed, for they were them selves Jews, and all their thoughts of religion moved within the Jewish circle. From beholding their Master's ascension, they returned to the temple to praise God there; and even in their new spiritual life, when the Holy Ghost had come upon them, they knew no home at first but Jerusalem, and no mission but to tell God's Israel that his Christ had come. This was right for the time being, and yet the mission of the new faith was to all mankind. If the Gospel was not to fail, it must find its way forth to all the nations. For them all the Savior died; not for the Jews alone, but for all the Gentiles. He had already given his command to preach the Gospel everywhere, and make disciples of all the nations, and thus alone could his gracious purpose be fulfilled. And yet the new Gospel was placed first in Jerusalem; and Jerusalem was the spot of all the earth where the home-clinging was the strongest, where unbelief in the possibility of a universal Gospel was most unyielding, and where the prospect of imprisonment and languishing threatened more to universal grace than it would threaten in any other place in all the world.
Hence it is easy to see what must be the first problem of Christianity, the first struggle of the new faith. The first work was for Christianity to get out of its cradle. It must first detach itself from Judaism, assert its universal character, and take its place in the broad world as the medium of universal grace.
Now it might seem as if Christianity had been placed in an unfavorable spot for this first missionary work, for it had been placed where Jewish exclusiveness would stand up from the first moment as an adversary. But we may just as truly say that Christianity had been placed where the questions that it must first decide would be the first questions to be forced upon it. In Jerusalem the earliest discussions would be sure to take up the relations of the New to the Old. These, just as they ought to have been, were the questions of the first period. Before the Gospel could go out to the broad world it must deal with them — and it did deal with them. Not that they would all arise in Jerusalem itself. Some of them would not appear until the Word had gone forth from Jerusalem on its conquering way. But a Gospel that did go forth from Jerusalem would have to answer such questions as these: How is the new faith related to the promises and predictions in which have lain the hopes of God's Israel? What becomes of the law under which Israel has lived? What becomes of the customs which have had God's own sanction? What becomes of the chosen people? Is it right for men of other blood than that of Abraham to come directly to God, without using the ancient means of access? Is there a new principle in the Gospel, or is the Gospel only the complete expression of the old principle of law? Is any thing from the ancient system binding still? and if so, what, and on what grounds? Is it men's duty now to forsake what it was formerly their duty to cling to? In Jerusalem itself some of these questions would arise, and as soon as Christianity moved out towards its broad field of conquest, all of these, and more like them, would inevitably grow troublesome, and the strife would shake the Church to its very foundations.· Thus there had to be a period of Jewish conflict, and the significance of such a period will be still more apparent if we observe the definite limits within which that period is inclosed.
The age of organized Judaism began with Moses, and ended when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 after Christ. The age of the proclamation of the Gospel has not ended yet, but it began on the Day of Pentecost, that followed the resurrection of Jesus, in or about the year A. D. 30. The latter age came as the successor to the former, but as these dates show, it began before the former had expired.
For forty years or so, from about 30 A. D. to A. D. 70, the two ages overlapped. In this exceptional period the new Gospel of God was existing side by side with the institutions of the ancient law of God. During this time the Gospel, according to its nature, was reaching forth beyond the ancient field of the law, and thus was brought constantly face to face with the questions that have just been mentioned. Never before and never after could the relation of the New to the Old be a living question; never before, for then the New had not come; never after, for then the Old had gone. But during these forty years, the first period of the apostolic age, the relation of Christianity to Judaism was the burning question of the time. Thus the period of forty years is marked off, not only by definite dates of beginning and ending, but also by an exceptional character, by special problems, and by a definite mission for the Church.
The hero of this exceptional period is Paul. It has seemed strange to some readers that Peter, the great leader of the first days, should totally disappear from the Acts of the Apostles after the door has been opened to the Gentiles, and Paul should thenceforth occupy the entire field of vision. But Peter, while he could open the door, was not the man for the work that followed. God's chosen vessel to bear his name to all the nations was not Peter, but Paul. Never has the wisdom of God, in his Providence, shone more brightly than in the raising up of such a man as Paul just then, to face the difficulties do the work and of those forty years. He was qualified on both sides for the task. He knew the law, and he knew the Gospel, as few men have ever known them. He was a man of marvelous endowments, and his whole heart was Christ's. He was the man whom God had raised up for the service of the time, and he threw himself with all his might into the necessary work of the forty years. It was the work of disentangling Christianity from Judaism, and bringing it forth in its true nature, a free power, for the conquest of the world.
Not all of his epistles are given equally to this work, for in the earliest, addressed to the Thessalonians, it is touched but slightly, and in his latest years other aspects of the great Christian movement claimed his attention; but to this work, more than to any other, the epistles of the greatest group are devoted. The letters to the Galatians, the Romans, and the Corinthians were written in the very midst of his missionary activity, and just when the great question of the forty years was urged upon him at every turn. The objections of the Jews followed him everywhere, and he did not shrink from discussing them. The Epistle to the Galatians has for its main object to assert the relation of the Gospel to the law so strongly that the readers can never forget it. The Epistle to the Romans contains the doctrine of that to the Galatians stated more largely, proved more elaborately, and followed more triumphantly to its conclusions. In the letters to the Corinthians it appears that the same question has been raised in Corinth, and though other matters claim the chief attention, this is not omitted. In the next group the letters of the first imprisonment, the state of the Churches has brought another aspect of Christian doctrine to the front; but yet the old question is ever arising, and in the Epistle to the Philippians we find one of the most vigorous of all Paul's outbursts on the subject. And even in the final group, the pastoral, the same thoughts recur, though now the controversy is mainly in the past.
From first to last Paul's doctrine is that the law has no right to dictate to the Gospel. Law and Gospel are two things — united, indeed, in their deeper meaning, and one coming as the fulfillment of the other, yet differing from each other in the great point that one can not save and the other can, and standing, if the law is separated from the Gospel, in the plainest contradiction to each other. No trust does he permit in the principle that was enshrined in law, for salvation, now brought in by Christ, proceeds on another principle, promised in law but not revealed. Nor can any ancestral or traditional limitations, such as surrounded the law, be allowed to shut in the Gospel - for the Gospel is universal. No man must trust the law or be limited by the law, for the old institution has come to an end in Christ, and the Christian righteousness is the true fulfillment of what the law required. If the Jewish institution persists in asserting its principle as against the Gospel, it becomes an enemy of God and grace, and must be treated accordingly. The Gospel must strike out beyond the old limits as a Gospel of free redemption, and must fill the world.
The Epistle to the Hebrews quite certainly does not belong to Paul, but it opens to us another window into the period of which Paul is the hero. If not Paul's own, it is Pauline still — it comes from a circle that has felt Paul's influence. Yet, in its resemblance to Paul it has more in common with his later epistles than with his earlier, and the resemblances are stronger in some other points than in the treatment of the law. It represents a later stage of the discussion than the Epistle to the Galatians, and probably it was written after Paul had laid down the pen — probably, indeed, when Paul's head had already fallen beneath the ax of Nero's executioner. Instead of 64. the date above it should probably be 68 or 69; and that is the same as to say that within a year or two after it was written the temple had vanished in fire, and Jerusalem itself had been blotted out from the face of the earth. With possibly one exception, the Epistle to the Hebrews appears to be the last utterance of the forty years, the latest word preserved to us of the great strife between Christianity and organized Judaism.
It is a genuine utterance of that period, and gives us a real glimpse of its life. The readers are Hebrew Christians, situated just as Hebrew Christians of that time might be. They have been long enough under Christian influence to be far wiser and stronger than they are; but they are still too ignorant of the real glory of Christ, and too easily responsive to the attractions of the system in which they spent their youth. There is pressure on every side, and of every kind, to draw them back from the Christian faith into the Judaism that has slain the Christ, and trampled the blood of his covenant under foot as an unholy thing. Friends are drawing them and enemies are driving them towards apostasy, and they are so feeble and ill - grounded in the faith as to make their danger very great.
And the author writes in order to make it impossible for them to take the fatal step. For this purpose he unfolds to them the relation between the Old and the New. He does not do it in Paul's manner, for a sufficient reason. He does not exclaim against the law as the present enemy of grace among Christians. He speaks from a new historical position. Since Paul began to write, and by means of his influence, the Gospel has triumphed within the Church. Judaizing influences have been defeated. Of an Epistle to the Galatians there is no longer any need. The Epistle to the Hebrews is not directed against Judaism within the Church, but against Judaism without, set over against the Gospel, and offering its counter - attractions to win back its alienated children to itself. Hence it happens most naturally that the writer proceeds to an elaborate comparison of the two. In drawing his comparison there is no reason why he should say any thing depreciatory of the law; rather does it serve his purpose to make full allowance of all its glory. It is quite enough if he can show that, as Paul has maintained, that which was glorious hath no glory now, because of the glory that excelleth. Even more elaborately than Paul does he illustrate this. He shows that the Gospel surpasses the law in the very points in which the law was strong, and that the Gospel is excellent and effective in the points in which the law had no strength whatever. He claims that all the glory of the Old was but an intentional foreshadowing of the - glory of the New. The Gospel is with him the crown and fulfillment of the old covenant. To accept it is to be led on from dawning toward the perfect day, and to turn away from it is to go backward and downward, from the noonday toward the night again. He warns his readers, too, that if they do go back they will go to something that can not long help or harbor them. The old has now become genuinely old, and must be expected to decay and vanish. Its end is near. They who have accepted Christ have received a kingdom that can not be moved. All things are to be shaken, and all that can be destroyed will fall. In the great testing the old will perish. Judaism will be a tottering castle for them to take refuge in — the tower of eternal strength is Christ.
Such an epistle fitly closes the discussion of the great question of the forty years. Such a closing utterance was needful. In the earlier writings the essential imperfection of the legal system had been most plainly shown. That the Gospel rejects the method that served a preparatory purpose, and advances to something better, had been stated in the strongest terms. So strong had the statement been, that if it were left alone, there might almost be danger that the underlying unity of the two covenants would be over looked. From Paul's strong language, some one might think himself justified in inferring that the two dispensations were really in antagonism to each other. The Epistle to the Hebrews, last word of the great forty years contention, completes the unity of the sacred utterance. It shows, indeed, the essential weakness of the old covenant, and its inability to do the needful work for sinners. But it also shows the true honor that God put upon the old covenant, and reveals the unity of his working for the good of men, from the day when Melchizedek blessed Abraham to the day when the perfect Savior entered upon his eternal priest hood. And at the same time, by setting the two covenants in their true relation of contrast, it fulfilled the need of its own hour, and uttered the final warning to all men not to take refuge in the falling tower of Judaism.
Thus the Epistle to the Hebrews helps us to look into that exceptional period when the two dispensations were existing side by side. It is important to the understanding of the Scriptures that the existence of such a period be taken into account. Within that period of overlapping ages, and of consequent strife, by far the greater part of the New Testament was written. Matthew, writing for Jewish Christians, penned his Gospel while this great contention was still in progress. It was within the same period that Mark and Luke, turning their faces toward the great world of the Gentiles, compiled their records of the Master's life. Toward the end of the forty years Luke, now in Rome with Paul, the prisoner, wrote out his second treatise, recounting the main facts of the period respecting the extension of the Gospel. Before this was done Paul had written all his letters except the latest three, and James and Jude had written theirs. Before the forty years came to an end with the downfall of Jerusalem, Paul had written his last letters, and laid down his life; Peter, too, had written and departed. All the apostles, save one, so far as we know, had finished their course. The Epistle to the Hebrews had been written; and there is strong reason to believe that already, within the forty years, and not at the end of the first century, John on the Isle of Patmos had seen the visions of God, and given the Church the Apocalypse for her consolation amid impending trials. This may have been written later or earlier than the Epistle to the He brews - it matters little which. The two belong, each in its own way, to the very close of the period in which the Old and the New existed side by side. The epistle gives us the final word of doctrine regarding the comparison of the Old and the New. The Apocalypse gives us the outlook of inspired prophecy regarding the downfall of the Old, the conflicts of the New with other powers, and the final triumph of God in Christ. Thus the period of forty years gave us by far the larger part of our New Testament; and there are few pages in the book that will not, in some way, gain new light by being studied in connection with the period from which they came.
But at length came the great change. The older dispensation had violently refused to accept its own fulfillment. It did not know its own Christ when he came, and it had set itself as the bitterest enemy of his Gospel. Its Spirit had sought to work inward corruption in the Christian Church; but this aim had, for the most part, been defeated, and Judaism now stood as an outward enemy. It had accomplished all that it could ever do, it had outlived its usefulness, its possible good had turned to evil. God's "increasing purpose" had long been manifested in preserving its institutions, but now that same increasing purpose must be manifested in destroying them. God would not leave the perverted survival of his preparatory dispensation permanently to contest the field with the kingdom of his Christ. Forty years had been long enough to compare the fruitful with the barren tree. The barrenness of the barren was now confirmed, and the word went forth, "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? " Jerusalem perished in fire and blood, and organized Judaism was no more.
The overthrow of Jerusalem appears, when thus viewed, as an event of great significance in the history of revelation. It seems somewhat strange that an event so fraught with meaning and importance should be passed with so little mention in the New Testament. But there is reason to believe that it occupies a larger place there than has generally been assigned to it by students of the Bible. The real significance of the fall of Jerusalem has been very largely overlooked, and it has generally been held sufficient to regard the event as a type of the end of the world. It has rarely occurred to expositors that our Lord and his apostles might give prominent mention to such an event as the fall of Jerusalem and the overthrow of Judaism, because of its own importance. Hence, whenever an allusion to it has been found, it has been generally supposed that the allusion could not be primarily to the event itself, but must look forward to another event that is still future. But there is ground for a clearer recognition of the event itself, as a turning point in the history of the kingdom of God; and when this meaning is clearly perceived, the event itself will be more frequently recognized in the prophetic allusions of the New Testament.
It is plain that when once Judaism had vanished from the earth, the Christian Church was in a new position. Judaism had been the narrowing principle, but now it was no more. It would have restricted the kingdom and restrained its grace, but now its voice was silent. Hence many questions of the first period simply lapsed for the want of facts. It had been questioned whether there was any door to the Christian Church except through Judaism; but now that Judaism was gone, that question could scarcely be agitated longer. The right of the whole world to Christ, and the free access of souls in every land and race to him, could not now be contested. There still were Jews, fierce in their very defeat, and there still was a Jewish spirit working as a leaven in the Church. But Jewish and Judaizing influence could never again be bold and claim to control Christianity, now that the thunderbolt of doom had fallen on Jerusalem, and the only place where it could work strongly was in certain sects and corners of the Church. On the main issue breadth and liberty had won. Now Paul's principle was honored, that there is no difference between the Greek and the Jew, for the same Lord is Lord of all, rich unto all that call upon him. Now the claim of the writer to the He brews was acknowledged, that Christ is the sole High Priest, through whom men may come directly to God with boldness, and enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus. The Gospel had now gone forth from its cradle into its permanent life. Free from the questions and strifes of the age when Judaism was perishing, it was now advancing to meet the questions of the wide world and the strifes of the long ages.
Yet let it not be inferred that the questions of the forty years were altogether temporary, or that the forms of doc trine that arose in dealing with them may be regarded as inferior and transient. As against the inferior truths of Judaism, final truths of Christianity were proclaimed by Paul and his companions. In the assertions of that time they uttered the very substance of the glad tidings. From discussions that ended, once for all, after forty years, all Christian ages have learned vital truth. It is hard to see by what other means the universal freeness of grace could have been made for all time so clear and interesting as it became in the strife with the constraint of Judaism. In that conflict the essential glory of Christ was revealed, and all ages have seen it. And it is needless to add that the strife with Judaism suggested by no means all the utterances of inspiration in that period. The counsels of the Spirit for common life were richly given. In his later epistles Paul looked beyond the strife, and had in mind the Churches that had sprung up in many lands, and was already unfolding the sublime doctrine of a unity that embraced all of them, and more, in Christ. God does not wait for transient questions to be settled before he gives forth final truth. He uses the occasion that may be only a passing one to utter words that can never pass away.
But when the great change had passed, when Judaism was gone, when the questions of the forty years had been left behind, and the work of the new and enduring age must be taken up, what would the Spirit of revelation then impart? It would seem strange, indeed, if Scripture contained nothing that was suggested under the new conditions. Surely our whole Christian Scripture would not come from the period when Christianity was escaping from its cradle. Some parts would be given after it had won its way forth to the field and the forms of its permanent activity. Whether such expectations would be justified in advance of the facts or not, it is certain that they have been abundantly and gloriously satisfied in the Scriptures that we possess.
One apostle survived the great transition; others possibly, but one who is known to us, John, the disciple, whom Jesus loved, the profoundest, simplest, most clear - sighted of them all, lived far into the new age. Probably he was far from Jerusalem before the crisis came. The last part of his life was spent in Asia Minor, among the Churches that had sprung up in Gentile lands. Far on to the end of the century he lived, until, perhaps, for thirty years there had been no Jerusalem. Toward the end of his life, moved by a divine impulse, he took up his pen. Years earlier he had written out what words could tell of the visions of God that he had seen at Patmos. Now, after twenty or thirty years of the new age, he wrote his Gospel, the mighty Fourth, the spiritual Apocalypse. He sent forth also his great Epistle, which seems to have been intended as a companion to the Gospel; and there are preserved from him two short private letters of the same period, breathing the spirit of that age.
Hence the Gospel of John stands, in an important sense, apart from the other Gospels. It is the gift of the Spirit to the wants of another age. Hence, also, a peculiar interest attaches to John's First Epistle. The epistle presupposes the Gospel, and seems certainly, therefore, to have been written after it. The second and third epistles stand last, merely because they are shortest; we know nothing of their relative date and, in any case, they contain little additional matter. If we may leave these apart, therefore, as uncertain in date and relatively unimportant, the First Epistle of John stands as the last word of inspiration in the Scriptures. Its closing utterances are the latest words of the sacred canon. To it should be transferred the peculiar reverence that has been accorded to the Apocalypse as the final book; or rather to the Gospel and the Epistle of John together should that reverence be given, since the two are essentially one. And when we have learned the supreme value of the real, the eternal, spiritual truth, we shall know that we gain, instead of losing, by the change.
The qualities of the new age are plainly to be seen in the two great writings. One of their most striking peculiarities is the complete absence of the Jewish conflict. Very marked in this respect is the contrast between these writings and the Apocalypse. That book bears internal testimony that the Jewish question was not wholly in the past. In the letters to the seven Churches the Jews and their notions are frequently present, and in the imagery of the visions Jewish facts and forms provide a large part of the material. But in the Gospel all this is far away. Allusions not only to Jewish localities, but to Jewish customs, have to be explained. The Passover is even defined as a feast of the Jews. Twenty or thirty years before the Gospel was written, the organization of Judaism ceased to exist, and the land itself lost all present interest for Christians. As in the Gospel, so in the first epistle. The Pauline questions have no place here. The writer has his fears for his brethren and his indignations for those who oppose the truth, but not by Judaism or Judaistic teachers are they awakened. Not only is there no reference to these questions, but the tone of writing is such as to imply that they have long been settled. Christianity has gone forth from its cradle, Jewish opposition no longer restrains it, and it is advancing to meet the world. It is with the world that it now has to do, and the world is now the opposing power. The questions of the day are such as arise when men have begun to reflect upon Christianity. The germs of philosophic speculation have begun to develop. Inquiries have arisen regarding the person of Christ. Existing doubt has reference not to the possibility of a free and direct Gospel, but to the facts, or the explanation of the facts, of the Gospel that has actually been proclaimed. Christians have lived long enough as Christians to come into the region of deep ethical inquiries. The practical question is not now whether the Gospel is to be preached, but rather how the Gospel is to be lived out in human conduct, what its fundamental principles are, what it requires, and how it is to be fulfilled.
These are questions of the new age. Indeed, they are questions of the present day; for the age that was begun on the day of Pentecost, and cleared of its mixture with another age when Jerusalem fell, is the age in which we are living. When John wrote his Gospel and his first epistle, our own era had fairly begun, and that conflict with the world which Christianity is still waging had been opened. Is not this one reason why the fourth Gospel has taken so strong a hold upon the hearts of preachers? Beyond a doubt it is the favorite part of Scripture for the preacher's use, and partly because it was given by the Holy Spirit to the age in which we live, and deals with divine things in a realm as far removed from Judaism and its questions as our own. The epistle has yet to win its way to similar appreciation; but in due time it will stand beside the Gospel in the estimation of the Church.
It must be added that as the range of thought, so the writer's mood, is of the new age. The writer himself appears as one who has long been living in another world than that of Jewish controversy. From those strifes he has long been at leisure, and the new questions have laid their hold upon his heart. The Epistle to the Hebrews labored to bring its readers to a certain attitude of free faith before God; but the writer of this epistle has been living for years in that very attitude; he has taken advantage of it to learn God and his will, and to grow into fellowship with him; he has pondered the truth that he learned there, and become able to express to his brethren the inmost substance of divine revelation. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews were compelled by stress of warfare to spend much strength in maintaining that men may enter boldly into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. John, set free from that form of strife, entered boldly into the holiest, and dwelt there before the Lord. Paul had been there before him, but John was there more calmly and more at leisure. He abode there in the secret place of the Most High, and gazed his fill upon the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Thus, to meet the characteristic questions of the new age, John brings out from the characteristic Christian experience the most profoundly characteristic of all Christian truth. The early controversies ended, and the field cleared for the long spiritual strife, he utters the final words of inspiration, the highest truth that ever was spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mind of a man.
The Epistle to the Hebrews argues that the crown of divine revelation has come; the First Epistle of John shows what the crown of revelation is, as to its spiritual glory. The one epistle declares that God hath now at length spoken to us by his Son; the other epistle takes that for granted, and proceeds to tell what it is that the Son has said to us. The one says: "God hath spoken; "the other," This then is the message that we have heard of him. " And the message that John recites is rich with the greatest of truth. He tells what God is in the very substance of his being. He sets forth God's supreme qualities as imitable by man. He proclaims the true principle of imitation, whereby man is to become what he ought to be, and reach the fullness of blessing. He thus gives us the clear, com pact expression of the fundamental truths regarding God, and the strong, searching utterance of the ruling, practical truths for the life of man; he shows us these ruling truths concerning ourselves, grounded in the fundamental truths concerning God; and he shows us all this as the truth that Christ revealed. This surely is the summit. To what higher point could revelation advance?
Yet to give this rank to John is by no means to disparage Paul. John was privileged to outlive Paul. Thirty years that Paul spent with the Lord above John spent on the earth, where the record of what the Lord made known to him could be left to the Church. Those years belonged to a new period, for which Paul's labors had prepared the way; and it would be strange, indeed, if they had brought nothing new and higher to the open mind of the beloved disciple. Yet Paul saw the glory of Christ as clearly as did John, and so did Peter, and so did the writer to the Hebrews. Between these and John there is no conflict and no contrast. Indeed, there is evidence earlier than John's Gospel and epistle, that inspired thought was already moving toward the point which it was given to John to reach. In views of the person of Christ we can trace in the earlier apostles distinct progress toward what John at length made plainest. The Prologue to John's Gospel, which is one of the loftiest passages, if not the very loftiest, in all the Scripture, has no full parallel anywhere. The opening verses of John's own epistle come nearest, perhaps, to furnishing one. Yet, in the first chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Colossians, one of his later letters, there is a passage in which essentially the same high view of Christ is reached, and which is scarcely less worthy than John's own epistle to be cited as parallel to the matchless Prologue; and the opening verses of the Epistle to the Hebrews give utterance again to the same thoughts, in a strain scarcely lower than the loftiest. The course of Paul's writing goes to show that if he had lived and written on, he would have dwelt more and more upon the high spiritual aspects of truth which his later epistles present, and exactly thus would he have advanced in the way in which it was permitted John to go. When we call John's Gospel and epistle the true crown of revelation, we do not disparage any earlier apostle's work. We only say that it was given to John to live on after the others had departed, to see the new light that suited a new age, and to convey to the Church the latest words that the revealing Spirit would provide for the Christian Scriptures.
From what has been said it seems plain that a preacher of the Gospel has not mastered in full the substance of his message, and a laborer for Christ has not obtained command of his instruments of work until he has familiarized himself with the writings of both the periods of apostolic life. It is not enough to study John alone, and it will not do to confine one's study to Paul and the other writers of the earlier period. Nor is it enough to study Paul, and then John, and then Paul again, but all upon one level, as if one were turning from page to page of the same continuous book. The parts of the New Testament must needs be distinguished one from the other; the dates must be allowed for, and the significance of the great dividing event must never be left out of sight. We must study Paul as the great apostle of the first period, and John as the great revealer of the second. The present study of two representative documents of the apostolic age will have accomplished its purpose if it has rendered possible to any one a clearer and more intelligent reading of the New Testament.