Mark the fainthearted

W. J. Burrows, New Zealand

Part 1 of 3 of the series Some Character Sketches

IT is always wise to draw the screen of a discreet and considerate silence over the failures of others. The well-seasoned adage of many years past is still perfectly true—" People who live in glass houses should not throw stones." We arc far too prone to behold the "mote" that is in our brother's eye, while we conveniently forget the "beam" that is in our own (Luke 6. 41, 42). It would be a most unseemly thing to drag the defection of John Mark before the gaze of the readers of these columns had we no other object than the exposure of what appears to be certain weaknesses in his character.

However, we can assure the reader that such a malig­nant purpose is far removed from our mind. Rather we desire to place before young believers, for whom these articles are written, certain features of the life and testi­mony of John Mark, which seem to suggest faint-hearted-ness, in order that,

Beacon-like, they may serve to warn us all, writer and reader alike, to keep clear of those rocks which may easily wreck the most stoutly-built ship of Christian testimony.

Having thus stated the purpose before us, we turn to what appears to be the first reference to John Mark, and we note that he was evidently blessed with a mother who was a woman of prayer. This interesting fact is recorded in Acts 12. 12, and we do not think we should judge wrongly if we suggested that Mark was one of the "many " who " were gathered together praying" at the time when Herod the King sought, by murder and imprisonment, to thwart the purpose of God and the spread of the gospel. What days of fierce opposition they were! But what of Persecution, Proud Potentates, and Prison, when met by the Power of Prayer? Let us find the answer in Acts 12. 17—Peter " declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison." Surely the recital of Such a Wonderful Deliverance would have its effect upon John Mark, as on all others who heard it. Let us then put these facts down on the spiritual balance-sheet as decided assets in Mark's favour— a godly mother, and a wonderful experience of the power of God in answer to believing prayer. If those who read these lines have known the priceless blessing of such a mother, and the influence of a home sanctified by the spirit of prayer, they do well to appreciate them highly. Such circumstances are splendid foundation-stones in the building of a sterling Christian character.

Now we follow Mark a little farther, and find him in association with Barnabas and Saul, who have doubtless " laid their hands " upon him, with the expectation that he would be a useful brother in the work of the Lord {see Acts 12. 25). When Barnabas and Saul set out together on their service for the Lord, we are told that " they had also John to their minister" (Acts 13. 5). The word " minister " in this instance means " an under-rower," or " assistant," and may suggest comparatively mundane forms of service, other than the public ministry of the Word of God. See Acts 20. 34 and 24. 23 for a similar use of the word. Alas for John Mark! He did not go far in such congenial company, for in Acts 13. 13 we read, " John departing from them, returned to Jerusalem." The work may have been too strenuous, the path too exacting, the travelling difficult. We know not the exact reason for such a seemingly retrograde step. The sad fact remains, that John " turned back in the day of battle " ; possibly preferring the ease and comfort of his home in Jerusalem. When, some time later (see Acts 15. 36-40), Paul and Barnabas set out on a journey of pastoral visitation, and " Barnabas determined to take with them John," the suggestion meets with strong oppo­sition from Paul, insomuch that tempers are frayed, and contention is created. Paul contends that Mark had left both the workers (" departed from them," v. 38) and the work at Pamphylia, and it would not be prudent to saddle him again with a responsibility from which he might run away. Nevertheless Barnabas proceeds to Cyprus, with Mark as his companion. He stood in natural relationship to Mark (Col. 4. 10), and this may have controlled his action. It is quite evident that Paul Had the Fellowship of His Brethren in refusing to take Mark (v. 40), and very significant that the name of Barnabas is not mentioned again in the Acts of the Apostles.

Having thus considered what the Scriptures reveal of the character of John Mark, the reader may ask, " Why speak of him as faint-hearted?" Well, we should judge that, to use a word coined we believe by the late C. H. Spurgeon, it is true of Mark that he lacked the " bump of stickability." He seemed ever to need the inspiration and spiritual energy of others to urge him forward in life and witness for Christ. He was, seemingly, carried along by others. Note how it is said of him that others " took " him (Acts 12. 25; 15. 37, 39) in paths of service; while the Apostle writes to Timothy concerning him, " Take Mark, and bring him with thee " (2 Tim. 4. 11). This is a trait which is noticeable among believers today. The habit of leaning upon one another does not make for spiritual vitality.

It is also significant that when the Spirit of God records the fact of Mark departing from the " work " at Pamphylia (Acts 15. 38), He uses a word which is rendered " labour " in Phil. 1. 22. Therefore we believe that The Lessons of John Mark's Failure are obvious and plain. If we would be good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we must learn to " endure hardness"; receiving our marching orders and instructions from the Captain of our salvation, while we endeavour to " keep rank " with those who are our fellow-soldiers in this holy warfare from which " there is no discharge " (Eccles. 8. 8).

Service for God, and in the gospel, will demand unre­mitting zeal and arduous labour.

Indeed it is a true, if somewhat crude, saying that " Inspiration and perspiration are equally necessary in effective service." A mere passing wave of enthusiasm, producing a form of service that is spasmodic rather than systematic, will not accomplish much in abiding result. The late Dan.Crawford used to say, " Hats off to the past, coats off to the future !" The implied suggestion of sanctified energy is good. Moreover, we must ever remember that to abound in service, we must abide in communion.

The Arm of Flesh will Fail Us, and we must learn to count always upon God for every requirement in our feeble attempts to serve Him. He alone " giveth power to the faint," and " they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," enabling them to mount up in communion, run in service, walk in fellow­ship, and continue with unfainting zeal (Isa. 40. 29-31). Look at the description of the Christian warrior, fully equipped, as given in Eph. 6. 10-17, and then hear the rattle of his armour as he drops upon his knees to pray! (v. 18). Let us never forget the importance of prayer, and ever remember that it is the spiritual exercise in which we most quickly grow weary. A glance at Ex. 17. 10-13 reveals the significant fact that while the hands of Moses, upraised in prayer, became very weary, there is no suggestion that the hands of Joshua grew weary of their work with the sword. It is more easy to use the sword than to pray.

And now, in common fairness to John Mark, and by way of encouragement to those of us who, sad to confess, are too often among the " fainthearts," we would draw the readers' attention to 2 Tim. 4. 11, " Take Mark, and bring him with thee ; for he is profitable to me for the ministry." Even a " faintheart," when restored and re-commissioncd, can be a vessel unto honour and meet for the Master's use. Such is the wondrous grace of our God ! Therefore " let us not be weary in well-doing : for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not " (Gal. 6. 9).