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of the writers of this history; which, though penned by four several persons, and at four different times and places, preserve such a harmony throughout the whole narration, as plainly evinces, that none but men inspired by the Holy Ghost could so punctually agree in their writings. We will begin with St. Matthew, who is first in order, and whose gospel* stands first in the New Tes
St. Matthew, called also Levi, was born at Nazareth, a city in the tribe of Zebulun, and was the son of Alpheus and Mary; the latter was sister or kinswoman to the blessed Virgin, and both were originally descended of the tribe of Issachar. His employment, or way of life, was that of a publican, or tax-gatherer to the Romans, an office of bad report among the Jews, though among the Romans it was accounted a place of power and credit, not ordinarily conferred upon any but Roman knights. This office was rendered very odious to the Jews, by the covetousness and extortion of the collectors, who having farmed the customs of the Romans, they must use all manner of extortion, to pay their rent, and gain some advantage to themselves: of which, doubtless, Zaccheus, the chief of these farmers, was sensible, when, after his conversion, he offered a four-fold restitution to any man, from whom he had taken any thing by fraud or evil arts.
Of this occupation was St. Matthew, which, it seems, more particularly consisted in gathering the customs on commodities that came by the sea of Galilee, and the tribute which passengers were obliged to pay who went by water. For this purpose they kept their office, or customhouse, by the sea-side, that they might be always near at hand. And here it was, as St. Mark intimates, that Mat
Gospel. Gospel is a Saxon word; Gos with them signifying Good, as well as God, and Spel means a Word: so that this term agrees exactly with the Greek word Euangelion, which signifies good news or a good message. In this place it denotes the history of the birth, life, actions, precepts and promises, death and resurrection of Christ, which all Christians should contemplate with infinite joy and thankfulness.
thew had his station, where he sat at the receipt of custom, when our Lord saw, and called him to follow him. He had a lucrative business, was wise and prudent, and understood, no doubt, what it would cost him to comply with this new employment, that he must exchange wealth for poverty, a custom-house for a prison, and gainful masters for a poor and despised Saviour. But he disregarded all these considerations, and forsook his interests and relations to become Christ's disciple, and to embrace a more spiritual employment.*
After his call to be an apostle, he continued with the rest of the disciples, till our Lord's ascension; and then, for the first eight years afterward, preached in and about Judea. Little certainty can be had what journies he undertook, for the advancement of the Christian faith, so irrecoverably is truth lost in a crowd of legendary stories. Æthiopia is generally assigned as the province of his apostolical ministry, where, it is most probable, that he suffered martyrdom in a city called Naddabar, but by what kind of death is uncertain.
St. Matthew wrote his gospel, as is commonly supposed, at the intreaty of the Jewish converts, and of the apostles, while he was yet in Palestine, about eight years after the death of Christ: which, notwithstanding the opinion of Nicephorus and Irenæus, to the contrary, carries a great appearance of probability, from its being written before the dispersion of the apostles; for St. Bartholomew took it with him when he travelled into India, where it was afterwards found by Pantæus, amongst some that yet retained the knowledge of Christ. As to the language, he undoubtedly
Employment. St. Gregory observes, that St. Matthew did not return to his former lucrative occupation, though some of the other apostles resumed their business as fishermen before our Saviour's ascension. See John, ch. xxi. ver. 3. Some callings, he adds, are in themselves innocent, others which can scarcely be exercised without sin. The corrupt, insolent, and covetous practices of the publicans or tax-gatherers, had brought their characters into universal detestation; and had Matthew returned to his former profession, he would have been in danger of yielding to those temptations to which he must have been perpetually exposed.
wrote it in Hebrew, as primarily designing it for the use of his countrymen. It was very likely soon after translated into Greek, though by whom, is not certainly known; some say by St. John, others by St. James the less. But it matters not much by which of them it was done, since the apostles approved the version, and the church has ever since received the Greek copy as authentic.
There is no certainty as to what became of the original Hebrew, or whether the copy of it which Pantæus brought from India, was deposited in the city of Alexandria, and there kept till the time of St. Jerome, who says that he had
Saint Mark was of the tribe of Levi, and descended from Jewish ancestors. By the ancients he was generally esteemed to be one of the seventy disciples of our blessed Saviour; and Eusebius says, that he was sent by St. Peter to preach the gospel in Egypt; and in Alexandria, the metropolis of the country, he established a Christian church. He converted great multitudes of both sexes; and his preaching was attended with such remarkable success, that the people not only embraced the Christian faith, but also conformed more strictly to a holy life and conduct.
Having preached in several of the eastern parts of Egypt, he travelled westward to Libya, passing through Marmarica, Pentapolis, and other neighbouring countries, inhabited by barbarous and idolatrous people; but by his preaching and miracles he prevailed upon them to embrace christianity, and confirmed them in the faith.
Returning to Alexandria, he preached the gospel with great freedom and boldness, and constituted suitable officers of the church; but while industriously labouring in the vineyard of his great Master, his progress in his holy avocation was interrupted by the idolatrous people.
About Easter, when they were celebrating the solemnities of Serapis, their principal idol, the multitude tumultuously entering the church, seized St. Mark, and having bound his feet with cords, cruelly dragged him through the streets, and over the most craggy places, to the Bucelus, a precipice near the sea, where they confined
him in a lonesome prison. Tradition says, during the night, his great and beloved Master appeared to him in a vision, and comforted him under his afflictions, encouraging him to submit to his fate with Christian magnanimity and fortitude.
On the following morning the populace renewed their barbarity, dragging him about the streets till he expired. After this horrid murder, they wantonly mangled, and then burnt the body of the deceased. This abominable act of cruelty being perpetrated, the Christians carefully collected his bones and ashes, and buried them near the place where he had been accustomed to preach. The remains of this evangelist was afterwards removed from Alexandria with great funeral pomp, and conveyed to Venice, where they were superstitiously honoured. He suffered martyrdom on the fifteenth of April, but in what year is uncertain; though from circumstances it appears probable that it happened towards the conclusion of the reign of Nero.
His gospel was written, it is said, at the earnest entreaty of the converts at Rome. Not content with having heard the discourses of St. Peter, they solicited St. Mark, his disciple, to commit to writing a narrative of what that apostle had delivered to them. This task was undertaken with cheerfulness, and executed with remarkable success. The work being approved by St. Peter, it was commanded to be publickly read in the Christian assemblies.
The original Greek copy of St. Mark's gospel was reported to have been in the possession of the Venetians, but is now most probably in Paris, and is pretended to have been written by the evangelist at Aquileia, and thence removed to Venice, after many ages; but the letters are so worn out that they cannot be read, and the whole story appears to be a forgery but that his gospel was composed at Rome, and at the intreaty of the Christians there, is the unanimous tradition of the ancients, such as Papias, Irenæus, Clemens, Tertullian, and others; as also that it was perused by St, Peter, and ratified by his authority. Only Irenæus intimates, that it was written after St. Peter's death; and Dr. Cave seems to believe,
that in his life-time he only furnished the evangelist with materials, and gave him directions for putting them together as we now have them; but that the work was not actually composed till after the apostle's death. Clemens Alexandrinus is of opinion, that he composed it out of those discourses which St. Peter usually delivered to his auditors. It was anciently styled St. Peter's gospel; and St. Chrysostom observes, that the style and manner of expression is like that in his epistles, containing much in a few words.
Antioch, the metropolis of Syria, was the birth-place of St. Luke, a city eminent above all others in Syria, for its pleasant situation, and fertile soil; riches, wisdom, and learning, and for the politeness of its inhabitants; above all these, renowned for the peculiar honour, that here the disciples were first called Christians. Being an university abounding with learned professors of all arts and sciences, St. Luke could not fail of a liberal education, his natural parts meeting with the advantage of great improvements. Nor did he only study at Antioch, but in all the schools of Greece and Egypt, whereby he became accomplished in all parts of learning. He applied himself particularly to the study of physic, for which the Greek academies were most famous. But it does not hence follow that be was a man distinguished either for his birth or fortune; for, in the early ages, the healing art was generally practised by domestics, or persons in a dependent situation; Grotius is therefore of opinion that St. Luke went to Rome, and lived there in quality of a physician to some noble family; and that, after obtaining his freedom, he returned to his own country, and there continued to pursue the practice of physic.
He is also said to have acquired great reputation by his skill in painting; and an ancient inscription found in a vault near the church of St. Maria de Via lata at Rome, supposed to be the place where St. Luke resided, a picture of the blessed Virgin is mentioned, being one of the seven painted by St. Luke.
The Acts were written, no doubt, at Rome. In the dedication of this Book to Theophilus, it appears that it