Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.…
1. The message was not needed, nor was it immediately regarded. With the sisters nothing was more serious than their brother's sickness, and the little chamber was the centre of the world. The Saviour took other views of the matter. The sickness and death of Lazarus were not ends in themselves, but means to a far higher end. It was more important that they should learn patience than that Lazarus should not be sick; that they should be taught a quiet and strong faith than that He should not die; that God and Christ should be glorified.
2. The uses of an illness is not a common topic. Men may live and die without considering it. This lack of consideration is due to the fact that sickness is unwelcome; and to ask what is the use of it is like asking what is the use of a hindrance, indeed, of uselessness. This, however, is a disheartening conclusion; for think of the vast amount of sickness there is. There is not a house to which the struggle does not come sooner or later. It ought to, and must be incredible to any man who believes in a heavenly Father that so much of human emotion should flow away without benefit. It does not require inspiration to teach us that there must be some light in these dark facts. Shakespeare says, "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head"; and "There is a soul of good in things evil, if men would but observingly distil it out." The uses of sickness are —
I. TO INQUIRE AS TO ITS SOURCE. This is the first duty with respect to any derangement of machinery whether mechanical or vital.
1. It would be a serious mistake to trace it all to the Divine hand. This may save thought, but at the cost of reason and reverence. Many afflictions bear no Divine mark.
(1) Some arise through indolence. The forces of life have not been kept in active flow — they have rested and rusted. There has been leisure for getting into moods and moodiness, and so the nerves become shaken and shattered.
(2) Some arise through overwork whether bodily or mental. Here there are difficulties which each must settle for himself — how long he can put forth power with safety; how he can pull in when he loves his work; but still retribution stands darkly behind the overworker, and will strike some day.
(3) The same result may be produced by the care which gnaws the fine strings of the soul first, and then the nerves of the body.
II. TO LEARN THAT WE ARE NO EXCEPTION TO THE FRAILTY OF THE RACE. "Men think all men mortal but themselves." Long continued health has its snares. It engenders a spirit of boasting which forgets God and sympathy with others. Humanity is like a mighty tree, always flourishing and always in decay. Never for two moments together has it the same leaves upon it; always there are some bursting their sheath, or in their tender green, or in their full glory, or slipping from their hold. All come down at length leaving behind as rich a foliage. Thus each leaf learns its frailty in turn. And so it is with man who "at his best estate is altogether vanity." He begins to receive strange hints of difference between what he is and what he was. The eyes will give intimation that they are not as clear as they were, and would be all the better for artificial help. As we walk hills seem more formidable than they were, limbs loose their nimbleness, and lungs and heart the freedom of their play. And the chariot of sickness seems to wheel a man nearer to the presence of death; and to familiarize him with the fact that for him as for others, there is no discharge in this warfare. Not to learn this is to leave the sick chamber with one of its most serious instructions unheeded.
III. TO TEACH US THAT WE ARE NOT INDISPENSABLE TO THE LIFE AND WORK OF THE WORLD. This, like our best lessons, is humiliating because true. It seems impossible at times to conceive of the world without some men being in it; they have been here so long, hold such office, and render such service. So many seem absolutely needful — the father, pastor, statesman, monarch. When sickness comes and one is withdrawn, it is a salutary admonition to him and to the world that the world goes on, and will go on, when he is no more.
IV. TO HELP US TO REVISE OUR VIEWS OF LIFE. No one can live wisely without times of pause and quiet thought; and yet men are often too busy to think. They live either without plan, or their plan is narrow and poor, and it will never be altered to the grand dimensions it ought to assume, unless they are laid aside and compelled to think.
1. There is the sensualist with whom life has been a race after pleasure. Is there no room for him to revise his plan of life when appetite palls, and the sweetest drinks have lost their flavour?
2. May not the worldling ask, "What shall it profit a man," etc.
(E. Mellor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.