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Bible Dictionaries

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Luke, the Beloved Physician

WE have in our New Testament two most important books from the practised pen of Paul's beloved physician. And if the style is the man in Holy Scripture also, then, what with Paul's great affection for his faithful physician, and what with his own sacred writings, we feel a very great liking for Luke, and we owe him a very deep debt. To begin with, Luke was what we would describe in our day as a very laborious and conscientious student, as well as a very careful and skilful writer. Luke takes us at once into his confidence and confides to us that what made him think of putting pen to paper at all, was his deep dissatisfaction with all that had hitherto been written about the birth, the boyhood, the public life, the teaching, the preaching, the death, and the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. And then in a right workmanlike way this evangelist sets about the great task he has with such a noble ambition undertaken. Luke has not given us what cost him nothing. He did not sit down to his desk till he had made innumerable journeys in search of all the materials possible. He spared neither time nor trouble nor expense in the collection of his golden contributions to our New Testament. Luke had never himself seen Jesus Christ in the flesh, so far as we know, and the men and the women who had both seen Him and heard Him when He was on earth were becoming fewer and fewer every day. Invidious death was fast thinning the ranks of those who had both seen and handled the Word of Life, till Luke had not a moment to spare if he was to talk with and to interrogate those who had actually seen their Lord with their own eyes. Joseph, and Mary, and James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas, and His sisters, and His kinsfolk, and His twelve disciples-so many of them as were still in life-Luke set forth and sought them all out before he sat down to write his Gospel. Mary especially. And Mary opened her heart to Luke in a way she had never opened her heart to any one else. What was it, I wonder, that so opened Mary's so-long-sealed-up heart to this Evangelist? Was it that old age was fast coming on the most favoured among women? Was it that she was afraid that she might suddenly die any day with all these things still hidden in her heart? Was it that she was weary with forbearing and could not stay? Were His words in her heart as a burning fire shut up in her bones? His words that were known only to God, and to His Son, and to Gabriel, and to Joseph, and to herself. Or was it Paul's great name, taken together with some of his great Epistles about her Son, that at last unlocked the treasure-house of Mary's heart and laid it open, full and free, to Paul's beloved physician and deputed secretary? Whatever it was, or however he got it, we have in Luke's Gospel as nowhere else, the whole hitherto hidden history of Mary's espousal, and Gabriel's annunciation, and the Virgin's visit to Zacharias and Elizabeth, as also Mary's Magnificat. And all up and down his great Gospel, and its so invaluable supplement, we have, on every page of his, fresh and abundant proofs both of Luke's industry and skill, as well as of his absorbing love, first for our Lord, and then for Paul. His characteristic Prefaces already prepare his readers both for his new and invaluable materials, as well as for an order and a finish in his books of an outstanding kind. There is an authority, and a presence of power, and, indeed, a sense of exhilaration, in Luke's two Prefaces, that only a discoverer of new and most important truth, and a writer of first-rate skill, is ever able to convey. Exhaustive inquiry, scrupulous accuracy, the most skilful and careful work, the most exalted instruction, and the most assured and fruitful edification-yes; the style is the man.

Such is Luke's literary skill, so to call it, that he makes us see for ourselves just the very verse in the Acts where his materials cease to be so many collections and digests of other men's memoranda and remembrances. With the sixth verse of the twentieth chapter this remarkable book all at once becomes autobiographical of Luke as well as biographical graphical of Paul. Could anything be more reassuring or more interesting than to be able to lay one's finger on the very verse where the third person singular ends, and the first person plural begins? We feel as if we were looking over Luke's shoulder as he writes. We feel as if we saw the same divine boldness that moment take possession of his pen that marks with such peculiar power and authority the opening of his gospel. Paul was like Cæsar, and like our own Richard Baxter, in this respect, that he went on performing the most Herculean labours, if not in actual and continual sickness, then with the most overpowering sickness every moment threatening him, and, not seldom, suddenly prostrating him. And since his was, out of sight, the most valuable life then being spent on the face of the earth, no wonder that the churches insisted that the Apostle must not any more make his journeys alone. And accordingly, first one deacon accompanied him and then another, till it was found indispensable that he should have a physician also always with him. And in all the Church of Christ that day a better deacon for Paul and a better doctor could not have been selected than just the Luke on whom we are now engaged. 'Only remember,' Paul would expostulate with the young scholar and student of medicine, 'remember well what our Master said about Himself on a like occasion,-the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.' But Luke was equal to the occasion. Luke was already a well-read man, and he had his answer ready, and that out of Holy Scripture too. "Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me." Till, when waiting for his martyrdom in Rome, Paul is able to write like this to Timothy, "I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand. Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed into Thessalonica. But Luke, and Luke only, is with me." "Honour a physician," says the Son of Sirach, "with all the honour due to him. Of the Most High cometh healing, for the Lord hath created him. And the healer shall receive honour of the King. The skill of the physician shall exalt his head, and in the presence of great men shall he be held in admiration." Luke had by heart the whole chapter, till, by the grace of God, he had it all fulfilled in himself, as Paul's beloved physician and our beloved third Evangelist.

Lessons, both literary and religious, offer themselves to us before we bring our short study of Paul's physician to a close. But chiefly religious. I do not know that there is any class of men in our day, scarcely the ministers of religion themselves, who have so much in their power, in some ways, as our medical men. Take a young medical man just settling down in a provincial town, or in a country district, and what an event that is in interest and in opportunity. It is scarcely second to the settlement there of a good minister. What sort of a man, I wonder, is he? And what place will he take among us? it will be anxiously asked. And if he at once attaches himself to the Church; if he at once becomes a Sabbath-school teacher, a deacon, an elder, an abstainer, and so on; then, as Jesus the son of Sirach, says, that physician will be honoured with all the honour due to him, and in the presence of all good men will he be held in estimation. And over and above his study and imitation of Paul's beloved physician, let every young doctor have always beside him the Autobiography, the Religio Medici, of that great writer and great honour to the medical profession, Sir Thomas Browne. And not his inimitable masterpiece only, but all his fascinating books, will make a rare shelf in any young doctor's library. If Sir Thomas Browne is such a ceaseless delight to such men of letters as Johnson, and Coleridge, and Carlyle, and Hazlitt, and Pater, what a life-long delight and advantage would he be to those who are of his own so beloved profession, if they are only of his still more beloved faith and hope. It is delightful to read of the towns of England competing and contesting as to which of them should have young Browne to settle down and practise among them: such were his attainments, and such was his character, in his student days, and in his early professional life, and such was the largeness and richness of his mind, taken together with the purity and the piety of his heart and his character. All of which purity and piety and true popularity is open to every young doctor everywhere. "Of the Most High cometh healing, for the Lord hath created the healer. The skill of the physician shall exalt his head, and in the presence of all men shall he be held in admiration," says the wise son of Sirach.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Luke, the Beloved Physician'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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