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The Christian world is greatly indebted to him for the gospel he composed, and is justified in receiving it as the testimony of one who was accurately informed of the circumstances of which he wrote; for although he was not numbered among the twelve disciples and Apostles of Jesus, and there is no evidence to prove that he was an attendant upon the ministry of Christ, indeed he must have been exceedingly youthful at the time of our Saviour's preaching ; his mother's house was the resort of the Apostles and other members of the Christian church, a presumptive proof that he himself was,
at that time, well acquainted with the history and doctrines of our sacred religion ; and he was, in turn, the companion of Barnabas and Paul, and Peter, by the last of whom, especially, he is honored with the affectionate title of “son.” He enjoyed, therefore, the best opportunities for gaining the most accurate information and learning the exact truth of “those things which are most surely believed among us;" and it is, moreover, the united testimony of antiquity that he composed his gospel under the immediate superintendence and direction of Peter ; and, if so, it must be received rather as the work of Peter than his own. Coming to us with the sanction of the chief of the Apostles, its authority is most unquestionable ; and this authority is increased by a consideration of the contents of the book, and of their harmony with those of the other Evangelists.
To John Mark, then, we owe an instructive and delightful epitome of our Saviour's life and doctrines, which unites with the others in assuring us that we have not received « a cunningly devised fable," justifies our faith in the Redeemer, and sanctifies it with the word of God. To him, also, we now proceed to say, and, in his personal character, we owe a lesson, which we shall do well to imprint on our minds, and to employ for the government of our own behaviour. We have said that he was the companion of Barnabas and Paul. He joined them on their journey to the east, but accompanied them no farther than Perga in Pamphylia : at this place he took his leave of them and returned to Jerusalem. No particular reason is given for this change, but the strong displeasure which Paul felt at it, shews that it was culpable; and the probable interpretation of the matter is, that the young man's zeal began to cool. When he left Jerusalem, he felt as warmly disposed as the two Apostles to propagate the gospel 'among distant nations, but he was not aware of the difficulty and hazard of the undertaking ; he had not counted the cost ; and he was not ashamed, after having put his hand to the plough, to look back. But it would be unbecoming in us to speak with severity of this instance of infirmity. The Evangelist was, at the time of the journey, a very young man; he was not fully acquainted—no uncommon case with his own character; he knew neither where its strength nor its weakness lay, but he was sincerely desirous of being useful when he commenced the undertaking, and if he did not carry it through to its completion, such an issue was as opposite as possible to his expectations. He meant well; he intended to render the kindest assistance to Barnabas and Paul, to minister to them, whilst, with untiring zeal, they preached the glad tidings of salvation, and with steadfast courage resisted all opposition : if his resolution gave way and his heart failed him, it is but one instance of many in which good resolutions have not been kept. We have not introduced his name in this paper for the purpose of passing a severe judgment upon him, but that we may advise others to avoid similar errors.
It would betray ignorance of the human character, if we were to say that such an instance of weakness as the writer of the Acts relates, is uncommon. Facts to the contrary are continually presenting themselves before our eyes, and there are feelings within us which make us confess that we have not been always free from it. Nor is it confined to the young-in which case it would admit of some excuse ; but we sometimes see persons of more mature age and longer tried virtue, withdraw from an undertaking that was commenced with vigour, and was as worthy of completion as when they first engaged in it, and lose their courage and firmness at a time when they are most needed. Such instances are greatly to be lamented ; for those who have been long engaged in active pursuits, and gained more experience both of themselves and the world, who have undergone for a considerable period, the moral discipline of Providence, and seen the advantages of a continued devotion to good and virtuous pursuits, ought to show some firmness and consistency, to do credit to their years, and to prove that they have been anxious, not only to commence, but to complete works of usefulness to themselves and others.
But this unsteadiness is the peculiar fault of the young. To them life is new, and their character is unformed. They have not acquired habits of firmness and perseverence -habits which are essential parts of a decidedly moral character—and the acquirement is not made without the occasional manifestation of qualities of an opposite kind. They also place a confidence in themselves, which events prove to be rash and unfounded. Much too often do we see them, after they have begun well, and given the promise of perseverance and final success in the best and worthiest objects to be sought in this world, breaking this promise by faltering in the pursuit, and finally, and unhappily, withdrawing themselves entirely from it. Whether it be their aim to carry into effect some judicious plan for the benefit of others, to secure for themselves some mental benefits, to attain to some honorable distinction, or to cultivate the higher and nobler virtues which belong to our nature, they are equally in danger of being allured from their path by some tempting objects, or yield to the indolence which often blights the fairest promises of moral success and triumph. We are aware that attacks are made upon their principles by base minds. The choice of their companions is not always made with sufficient judgment; and amongst those with whom they occasionally associate, there is danger of meeting with some who hold morality and religion in little esteem, and are more intent upon sapping the foundation of another's morals than improving their own. When this baseness is concealed under a pleasing exterior, it is more insidious in its attacks and more fatal in its consequences. The apparently goodnatured and easy manners of the profligate, inake their way to the hearts of the unsuspecting, who do not dream that the flowery parterre conceals an adder, and render them a more easy prey to their designs; for when they have ingratiated themselves, they too often succeed, with ease, in seducing the virtuous from the walks of goodness and religion, and causing them to relax their exertions in every honorable direction.
One of the most formidable weapons with which the base contend against virtuous resolutions, is ridicule. When all other arts have failed to weaken them, this has proved successful. For it requires considerable strength of mind to hear, unmoved, the scornful and bitter jests which low and unworthy minds cast upon all that is good in principle and practice: and this strength is not usually a feature of the youthful mind-nor so often, as it might be, of the more matured. And hence, the laugh and the taunt have caused his resolution to give way, over whom all other arts of seduction had in vain essayed their power. But what a despicable pleasure it is, to turn to ridicule every thing that is esteemed good and honorable, and sacred among men—to attempt to force the blush of shame upon the countenance of the youth who professes à regard for his parents, his best friends, and his duty; who is bold enough to avow that modesty, and sobriety, and integrity, are commendable; and to profess his belief in a righteous God and a state in which the wicked shall cease from troubling. How corrupt and abandoned inust he be who