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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ VI. The Gospel of Luke and the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Gospel of Luke bears distinct marks of the mind of St. Paul. It gives special prominence to the character of mercy in the work and teachings of the Master. It is the Gospel which contains the beautiful parables of the lost sheep and of the prodigal son. Luke xv. It carefully records the calling of the seventy disciples, (Luke x, 1,) who, by their symbolic number, represented not simply, like the twelve Apostles, the tribes of Israel, but all the nations of the earth. It traces the genealogy of Christ back to Adam, while Matthew stops at Abraham. It is impossible not to recognize in these various characteristics the idea so strikingly exhibited by Paul, of the abrogation of all national distinctions by the cross of Christ. The book of the Acts of the Apostles is evidently written from the same point of view. The sacred historian concentrates his powers in depicting the life and labors of the great missionary whose disciple he was; we feel that he is thoroughly imbued with Paul's doctrine, and with that conciliatory breadth of spirit which in Paul was associated with irrefutable force of argument. Luke delights to show that in their work the Apostles acted in concert.

We have already noticed that the Epistle to the Hebrews is also traceable to what may perhaps be called the Pauline school of thought.327327See Bleek's admirable commentary, "Der Brief an die Hebræer." It contains the leading principles of Paul's theology, but it presents them in a new aspect and makes entirely new applications of them. This letter, addressed, as we have seen, to Judaizing Christians, is designed to exalt the glory of the new covenant, and to show its superiority to the old economy. The author first compares Moses to Jesus Christ, and proves without difficulty that there is an immeasurable distance between the great Prophet of Israel and the Son of God. He then establishes a parallel between the results obtained by the law and those assured to us by the Gospel. He is thus led to a detailed comparison of the Jewish priesthood with the eternal priesthood of Christ. The Epistle concludes with exhortations often severe, always admirable. The last three chapters are unquestionably among the most beautiful and the most stirring portions of the New Testament.

It is at once obvious that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has a very thorough acquaintance with the Jewish religion; he interprets its types and symbols, and makes very effective use of exegesis as bold as it is learned. Every page shows traces of the Judaism of Alexandria, transfigured, however, by the Spirit of God, as the rabbinic lore of Gamaliel became in the case of Paul. The writer insists not less forcibly than the Apostle on the exalted dignity of Christ. He declares that he is far higher than the angels; he gives to him the name of God. He is the Son, the brightness of the Father's glory, the express image of his person.328328Heb. i, 3, 4, 8; iii, 6; i, 3—Ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ. These expressions bear a striking analogy to the declarations of St. John c6ncerning the Word; they are more explicit than those of Paul. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews dwells with beautiful and touching emphasis on the humiliation of the Son of God: "It behooved him," he says, "to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." Heb. ii, 17. The idea of redemption is clearly stated. Jesus Christ is not only our High Priest, he is also the Victim by whose blood we obtain peace. His "blood speaketh better things than that of Abel." Heb. xii, 24. The sacrifice of the Saviour is a perfect sacrifice, which needs not to be repeated; its perfectness proceeds from the spotless holiness of Him who offers it. Heb. vii, 27; ix, 26. The blood of Christ is not simply the pledge of the promise of God, it actually takes away sin. Heb. ix, 20-26. The redeeming sacrifice opens to us the way into the true sanctuary, into which our High Priest has already entered gloriously.329329εἰς ἀθέτησιν ἁμαρτίας. In all these respects the new covenant is incomparably superior to the old. This conception of the sacrifice of Calvary contains no element not already included in the doctrine of St. Paul. The connection is as close between suffering and holiness; but the parallel constantly drawn by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews between the economy of Moses and the new covenant leads him to make more frequent use of the language of the Old Testament, and to lay more stress on that which we may call the aspect of blood in the redemptive sacrifice. Ht affirms no less forcibly than Paul the abolition of that old law which made nothing perfect, but he has not formed so deep a conception of its preparatory work. To him it is mainly "the shadow of good things to come," (Heb. x, 1;) the type of blessings already bestowed in part upon Christians, in part reserved for the Church triumphant in the eternal habitations. Neither is the question of the appropriation of salvation treated with the same fullness as in the Epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians. We cannot grant, however, that the sacred writer makes faith to consist in a mere conviction of the mind, when we consider with what urgency he impresses the necessity of holiness.330330M. Reuss (vol. ii, p. 152) has dwelt too exclusively on passages like Heb. xi, 1. The close of the chapter, which sets forth faith as the source of religious heroism, is the commentary on that passage.

To establish that under the economy of grace the justice of God maintains all its rights; to show that the law of love is under a sanction the more tremendous because of the boundlessness of the divine mercy declared in it; (Heb. ii, 1-3;) to set forth that the God of sovereign compassions is also a consuming fire; (Heb. xii, 29;) to prove, in a word, that the superiority of the new covenant over the old renders rebellion more inexcusable, and therefore liable to severer chastisement—such is the substance of the exhortations with which the Epistle to the Hebrews concludes. The author even goes so far as to place those brought into the new covenant under the menace of an irrecoverable fall, so fearful is he that by a terrible profanation of the love of God the sinner may confound grace with impunity.331331    We can give no other interpretation to the words in Hebrews vi, 4-8. The text is clear, and cannot be evaded. Such expressions as "having tasted of the heavenly gift," being "made partakers of the Holy Ghost," have no doubtful meaning. The sacred writer does not say that such a possibility is realized, but he places it before us.
   [But what proof is there that what is always possible does not sometimes, or often, happen?]—Am. Ed.
The teaching of the Pauline school is thus brought into close correspondence with that of James, and leads to the same result. All shades of doctrine melt and blend, and the unity of the apostolic teaching remains intact.


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