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LIVES OF THE FOUR EVANGELISTS.
ST. MATTHEW. The Hebrew name of this Evangelist is MATAI, contracted from Matatai, and it has been generally supposed that he was the same person with Levi, whose conversion is mentioned by St. Luke, though some learned commentators, particularly Grotius, are of opinion that these were two different disciples.
Thus much only are we acquainted with respecting St. Matthew, that before his call by our Lord, he was a Publican, or a collector of the tribute exacted by the Roman government. This was an office particularly offensive to the Jews, who therefore held in abhor. rence such of their countrymen, as accepted the appointment. But among the Romans this employment was accounted so honourable, as seldom to be conferred upon any, but persons of the best families. It is not to be denied however, that in the provinces, these publicans, or tax-gatherers, were justly detested, on account of their oppression and avarice. That this was their general character, we learn from the confession of Zaccheus
after his conversion ; “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. (Luke xix. 8).
The residence of St. Matthew was either at Capernaum, or very near that place; consequently he must have had many opportunities of witnessing the miracles of our Lord. These, however, did not induce him to leave his employment, for we read that at the very time, when Jesus wrought a wonderful cure upon a man sick of the palsy, “ Matthew was SITTING, at the receipt of custom,” indifferent to the astonishing circumstance that passed before him, and closely attentive to the accumulation of wealth. But the instant our Saviour addressed him with this powerful call, “ follow me,” the man who liad been so intent upon the things of the world, immediately forsook his profitable concern, and enrolled himself among the disciples of Jesus.
Hlere certainly was a striking instance of the force of truth; and of the excellence of our Saviour's doctrine and character. Matthew was possessed of a good estate, engaged in a lucrative employment, and supported by: the power of the Roman government. These were considerations and advantages of too, immediate an interest, not to be duly appreciated by a person in the situation of Matthew, And yet we find thai he actually renounced all his worldly comforts and emoluments, to embrace a life of abstinence and poverty, trouble and persecution. The inference is obvious, that nothing but a conviction of the truth of the Gospel, and of the divinity of Jesus, could have operated upon his mind, to produce such an instantaneous conversion, and an immediate change of life.
After our Lord's ascension this Apostle continued in Judea, about eight years, and then he went to preach the gospel in various heathen countries, extending his labours as far as Ethiopia, where he gathered a church. Of his death various accounts are given, some antient writers asserting that he suffered martyrdom, while others maintain that he died at an advanced age, and was buried at Hierapolis in Parthia.
St. Matthew wrote his gospel at Jerusalem, for the sake of the converted Jews, and at their desire, about the eighth year after our Lord's ascension.
ALL ancient writers of the church, concur in the opinion, that this Evangelist was the same person with Mark the son of Mary, who accompanied St. Paul in some part of his travels, and Mark who is mentioned affectionately by St. Peter, as his son or immediate disciple. His original name was John, and the surname of Mark was assumed by him, when he left Judea, according to a practice very common among his countrymen, when they visited the European provinces of the Roman empire. The mother of this Evangelist resided at Jerusalem, and so zealous a disciple was she, that the believers of that city held their assemblies regularly at her house, during the persecution of the church under Herod.
St. Mark was cousin to Barnabas, with whom and St. Paul, he was joined in a mission to the Gentiles, but, on some occasion which is not mentioned, Mark quitted those Apostles at Pamphylia, and returned to Jerusalem. It seems that this conduct of Mark gave offence to St. Paul, for when afterwards Barnabas proposed to take his cousin with them, in a visitation of the churches, St. Paul refused, which produced a contention and a separation,