« Prev § III. Doctrinal Type of Peter. The First Two… Next »

§ III. Doctrinal Type of Peter. The First Two Gospels.

While James regards the Gospel as the consecration of the law in an enlarged and spiritualized form, it specially commends itself to Peter as the fulfillment of prophecy. He thus comes closer to the heart of revelation, inasmuch as the prophecy of the Old Testament had much more direct reference than the law to Messiah and his work. Thus the person of Jesus Christ occupies a far larger place in the Epistle of Peter than in that of James. The position taken up by the Apostle is very clearly described in the first chapter of his epistle. Of this "salvation," he says, "the prophets inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, 248when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven." 1 Peter i, 10-12. If we collate these words with the first sermons of Peter, we shall find they take up the habitual theme of his preaching at Jerusalem; and if we remember further, that we are to seek the special doctrinal characteristic of the various sacred writers in the solution given by them to the question of the relation of the two covenants, we shall feel that we cannot attach too much importance to this passage of the Epistle of Peter. He affirms most explicitly the unity of the old and new covenants. The Spirit of Christ which lives in the Apostles was also the animating Spirit of the Prophets, who were the true forerunners of the Evangelists, since they foretold both the sufferings and the glory of Messiah. 1 Peter i, 1. True religion rises before his eyes like a vast and splendid temple—prophecy its foundation, the Gospel its top-stone. Supremely desirous to show the close bond which unites the two eras of revelation, he does not feel called upon to give at the same time prominence to the differences between them; in his letter we have, therefore, no trace of anti-Judaizing polemics. On the other hand, he moves in a sphere raised far above a narrow Judoeo-Christianity. The religion of Christ appears to him a full and glorious development of Judaism. For the exclusive choice of one nation there has been substituted the election of all the redeemed; national 249election has given place to moral election, which is not confined to the limits of Judæa, but extends to those who once were not the people of God. 1 Peter ii, 9, 10. To the special priesthood has succeeded the universal and royal priesthood of all who are Christ's. 1 Peter ii, 5-7. The hope of the Church reaches far beyond the horizon of the theocracy. It is fixed no longer on an earthly inheritance, like the land of Canaan, it is changed into the lively hope of "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven." 1 Peter i, 4. If the Apostle says nothing of the law, and of the preparatory part assigned to it, it cannot be justly argued that he is designedly silent, fearing to reawaken bitter disputations in the divided Churches.253253Reuss, ii, 586. He is silent on this point, simply because his great purpose is to bring out the harmonious relations of the two covenants rather than the differences between them.

Peter is not, like James, satisfied with simple allusions to the person of Jesus Christ; he has not, however, the same broad and full conception as St. Paul of his nature and work. He does not go back beyond the ages to adore the eternal Son, in the bosom of the Father or ever the world was; though some divines have discerned an allusion to his preexistence in one expression in the first chapter.254254Τὸ ἐν αὐτοι̂ς πνευ̂μα Χριστοῦ. 1 Peter i, 11. It is a matter of question whether the Apostle here intends to speak of the agreement of the prophetic spirit with the Spirit of Christ, or of the sending forth of the Divine Spirit under the old covenant by the eternal Word. (See Schmid, "Biblisch. Theol.," ii, 184.) He does not speak of Christ's part in creation. He does not go into any analysis of the work of redemption. 250He simply sets forth the fact without endeavoring to explain its mystery. There can be no ground for saying that he rejects the mystical interpretation given by Paul; he neither denies nor accepts it; he passes it by. His simple affirmation is, that Christ "bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and that by his stripes we are healed." 1 Peter ii, 24; iii, 18. In his writings, however, we find, though in a less dialectic and more popular form, all the elements of the doctrine of Paul with reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter speaks of him as invested with divine honors.255255Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ᾡ̂ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰω̂νας τω̂ν αἰώνων. 1 Peter iv, 11. "To whom (Jesus Christ) be praise and dominion for ever and ever." It is by his precious blood that Christians are redeemed; the blood "as of a lamb without blemish, and without spot." 1 Peter i, 19. His resurrection was to them a being begotten again from the dead. 1 Peter i, 3. Of him and to him are all things in the present, the past, the future. 1 Peter i, 11; iv, 1; i, 4. Even in the dark abode of the dead the effects of his power and love have been felt. He went and preached unto the spirits in prison in the interval between his death and his resurrection.256256Τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασι πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν. 1 Peter iii, 19, 20. We find it impossible to give any other meaning to this passage. It is easy to see the broad distinction between this apostolic doctrine and the idea of purgatory. Here there is no suggestion of a purification by suffering, but simply of a preaching of redemption to those who had never heard of Christ. The Apostle thus gives us a wonderful glimpse of a mysterious aspect of the work of redemption. Jesus Christ is set forth as the supreme object of faith. Peter does not enlarge upon the nature of faith any 251more than upon the nature of redemption. Here also he affirms the fact without explaining it; but the exalted manner in which he sets before Christians the example of the Saviour, (1 Peter ii, 21; iv, 1,) and beseeches them to bear his likeness, and sanctify him in their hearts, (1 Peter iii, 15,) shows that he did not intend by faith simply confidence in God, but that he comprehended it in its deepest sense—that of a real union with the Saviour. Speaking to Christians under persecution, and exposed to great trials, he constantly brings them into the presence of the cross of Christ; and if he does not expressly tell them, as does the author of the Epistle to the Colossians, to fill up the sufferings of Christ, his whole epistle breathes the same spirit. The sublime conclusion of the fourth chapter gives very convincing proof of this. We find, lastly, in Peter's writings, the same sentiments so tenaciously held by Paul as to the election and foreknowledge of God. 1 Peter i, 2; ii, 9. Such a conception is closely connected with his general view of God's workings. It was this divine foreknowledge which conceived in its unity the plan of salvation, and determined its successive developments from the earliest prophecies of the old covenant to its full consummation.

We have more than once observed traces of the influence of Paul in the form of Peter's doctrinal teaching. No fact of the apostolic age appears to us more easy of explanation than the influence exercised by the great Apostle of the Gentiles. But if Peter reproduces some traits of Paul's doctrine he never surrenders his own individuality. There must be singular obtuseness of spiritual perception in those who 252see in his beautiful epistle only a copy, or a mosaic of Paul's teaching. The Spirit of God has set his seal on almost every word of this letter, so rich in consolation, and so well adapted to the Church militant in the hour of most sharp and deadly conflict.

Having thus defined the doctrinal type of James and of Peter, we may at once recognize their impress in our first two Gospels. It is well known that Mark gives a summary of the preaching of Peter; this Gospel, so brief and graphic, presents us with the most vivid picture of the life of Christ. Written for the Church at Rome, it is marvelously adapted, in its condensed force and dramatic style, to the practical genius of the Latin race: Festinat ad res. It also corresponds very exactly to what we know of the doctrine of Peter. That Apostle, in his great desire to show that Christianity was the fulfillment of prophecy, was led to dwell mainly upon the facts of the Gospel history; he gave comparatively little attention to its speculative side. It was, therefore, natural that the Gospel written under his immediate influence should bear markedly and exclusively an historic character.

The Gospel of Matthew, which was written in Palestine and in the Hebrew language, for the Jewish converts, reminds us of the doctrine both of James and of Peter. The new religion is there presented as a law more perfect than that given from Sinai. The Sermon on the Mount is the principal source from which James draws his conceptions of the permanence of moral obligation. On the other hand, Matthew seeks to establish, with scrupulous care, 253the relation of the Gospel history with ancient prophecy. He does not lose a single opportunity of giving prominence to this harmony, and he discerns it in the most minute details no less than in great and important facts. This is his one all-pervading thought, and it gives him a strong and perfectly distinct individuality.

As a whole, the first two Gospels are no more favorable to Judæo-Christianity than are the epistles of James and of Peter. The high dignity of Messiah is recognized in the most explicit manner. His divinity is clearly asserted in such declarations as these: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."257257Matt. xi, 27. Comp. Matt. iii, 17; xiii, 41. Jesus Christ himself is represented as the direct object of faith. Matt. x, 32, 37. The right of forgiving sins, which belongs to God only, is sovereignly exercised by him, as recorded by the first two Evangelists. Matt. ix, 6. What subordinate meaning can be attached to such words as these: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Matt. xxviii, 20. All the prophetic utterances concerning the glorious return of Christ are full of a declaration of his divinity; nor can these be justly regarded as in harmony only with the spirit of Judæo-Christianity, since they occupy, as we shall see, a large place in the doctrine of Paul.258258Reuss, ii, 58. The pretended opposition between the writings of the early Apostles and those of Paul vanishes before a close examination. The consideration, upon which we shall now enter, of the 254doctrine of the great Apostle, will yet more completely show the fallacy of this theory.

« Prev § III. Doctrinal Type of Peter. The First Two… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection