At this time a man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
I. LOOK AT THE GREATNESS OF THE DANGER. The perils of a stupid, helpless, defense-less sheep are really but a feeble illustration of the perils besetting the Christian. We never do properly comprehend those perils. Even as it is the shepherd and not the sheep that really knows the perils of the sheep, so it is Jesus and the Father of Jesus who really know the perils of the Christian. Well is it that we know not all our perils. A perfect knowledge of them might only increase our misery without diminishing our peril in the least. We are to learn the greatness of our peril in an indirect way. We have to learn it by the provisions that have been evidently made. Jesus provides against perils that we appreciate very imperfectly; and perils we make a great deal of, he treats as passing inconveniences. The full power of Heaven is engaged for our safety; that alone should show us the greatness of our danger.
II. LOOK AT THE PLEDGE OF SAFETY. It is not a pledge of devotion and attention merely; it is a pledge of absolute safety. It lifts shepherd and sheep alike into a region where no wolf ever wanders, where no thief breaks through nor steals. It is the defense that comes from being in a totally different sphere of life. Those on board a ship in mid-ocean are perfectly safe from the fierce and mighty sharks that swim all around; safe so long as the ship is safe; safe so long as they keep on board; but let any of them come into the water, and the sharks snap them up at once. But if these same people are on land, they can go wherever they like and have no fear of the shark; they are utterly removed from his element. Each element has its own peril and its own safety. But those who have put themselves into the hand of the great Shepherd, the only Shepherd truly good, as uniting faithfulness with ability, are in an element where all the essentials of life are safe. The intent of our heavenly Father is, not that we should be delivered from dangers when they actually come upon us, but that we should rise into a sphere where dangers will not really come. Observe exactly how Jesus puts it both with reference to his protection and his Father's protection. He does not say that he or the Father will pluck his sheep from the clutches of any foe that may seize them. He goes further than that: the foe is not to pluck the sheep out of the Father's hand. - Y.
El-'Azariyeh, or the village of Lazarus, the old name not being locally known) is inhabited by twenty or thirty thriftless Arab families. Into the walls of many of the houses large hewn stones are built, some of them beveled, which have evidently belonged to more ancient edifices. Though itself squalid and poverty-stricken, the village is very beautifully situated, looking out from a cloud of fruit trees, chiefly fig, almond, olive, and pomegranate, and with abundant pasturage around. It is sheltered from the cold north and west, and produces the earliest ripe fruit in the district, On the whole, it may claim to be regarded as one of the sweetest spots in Palestine, though greatly changed in the course of long ages of misrule from what it must have been when the land nourished a free and noble people; and to one who loves quiet beauty and peacefulness combined with a certain mystery, it commands one of the most striking landscapes in the southern part of the country. The house of Martha, that of Simon the leper, and the tomb of Lazarus, are still pointed out to visitors. The last is a deep vault, hewn out of the solid rock, in the very edge of the village. Dr. Robinson (followed by many) rejects the tradition which names this as the tomb; while others, relying on the notices in the Jerusalem Itinerary ( A.D. 333), and by Eusebius and , are disposed to accept it, affirming that the vault has every characteristic of an ancient Jewish tomb both in form and construction, and accounting for its being so close upon the present village by the tendency of Jewish towns to advance, in the course of ages, toward spots reputed sacred. Most beautiful is the way in which Bethany is here named. In celestial geography, which counts places according to the saints who inhabit and beautify them, it was known to Jesus, it is known forever as the town of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. "This man was born there."
Now a certain man was sick named Lazarus of Bethany.
S. S. Times.The English reader would at first sight hardly recognize the New Testament "Lazarus" as identical with the Old Testament "Eleazar." The two words are, however, the same. In the dialect of the Jerusalem Talmud, words that begin with an aleph (in English, say, an unaspirated initial vowel, like a or e) often drop that initial. Eleazar (AL'AZR) thus becomes L'azar (L'AZR); and so the name occurs, in point of fact, more than once in the Talmud. When the word "Lazar," again, was taken into the mouth of any person speaking Greek, he naturally added to it the Greek termination os (Latin, us), and so by gradual stages the Old Testament "Eleazar" became the New Testament "Lazarus."
(S. S. Times.)
(J. Culross, D. D.)1. The facts of this chapter are a sufficient answer to the objection that there is no recommendation of friendship in the Bible. The Incarnate One Master and Model of man was a friend. Needing all the succours of our nature He sought and found those which friendship yields. Hence among His apostles there was an inner circle of three, and one of these especially "loved"; and among His general followers there was the family of Bethany.
2. It is delightful to think of Jesus there. It often happens that great men have some home where they may unbend, and where they need not be other than men, with the certainty of being loved. To Bethany Jesus betook Himself after the labours of the day, and there He felt at home.
3. Who would not like to have seen Him there? Home is the best sanctuary of the heart. It is an evil sign when it ceases to attract. We could have missed many scenes in Christ's life rather than this.
4. There were three dwellers in that house. I do not know that He would or could have found, apart from female society, what He wanted and craved. The greatest men have always a feminine element, and have always pleasure in female fellowship. The household which Jesus loved presents religious varieties —
1. These passages bring before us three types of character. Martha and Mary answering to Peter and John. On each occasion Martha is in action; while Mary is hearkening, sitting still, or pouring out her affection in unselfish homage. Of Lazarus's works and acts we know nothing; but as Jesus loved him, we cannot imagine that there was nothing in him, or that what was in him was not good; and therefore conclude that it was of a kind which does not seek publicity. So we have here specimens of the three great departments of our nature — thought, feeling and action. They all loved Jesus after a natural manner, and Jesus loved them all and gave their characteristics immortal honour.
2. Men are naturally different in soul as in flesh. Had not man sinned we have no reason to suppose it would have been otherwise. There is endless variety in nature. There is difference in the Church. As man is not made alike, so he is not remade alike. This is true also of our minor parts and separate powers; not only of thoughts, but kinds of thinking, so of emotions and actions. Why not then in religion? In the case before us, in their quiet common life the presence of Jesus brings out their characteristic qualities, and so it does in their great woe and social feast.
II. AS MANIFESTED IN CONNECTION WITH CHRIST.
1. The practical in Martha honours Jesus. It has been a question whether the world is more indebted to men of action or of thought. Both are best, and both are necessary. Strong coupling chains are as needful as good engines, and "the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee." Martha was the hand. Christ needed refreshment and she prepared it. I fancy her the bustling housewife, of robust health and good spirits, clear, but not deep in mind; warm-hearted, but not profound in feeling; ready to help, but judging help by coarser tests; honestly wishful for Mary's help, but not displeased to have it known that she was doing alone; a woman who had no idea of letting the "grass grow under her feet," and could express a bit of her mind. There are people of this sort in the Church: men of practical genius and active habits. I have known some never cool but when in hot water, and who never slept but as a top — on the spin. Like Martha, they "serve" and feed the body. They are the sappers and miners of the army, the Levites of the congregation. Let none usurp their office, and let them not themselves neglect it. But Martha warns them against two dangers —(1) Of putting external activity in the place of the heart and essence of religion.(2) Of depreciating and interfering with the fitting and, it may be, better sphere of others. "One thing is needful," which in the fuss and flurry of such spirits is liable to be forgotten, and which alone can make their labour of any value.
2. Mary represents the quiet, tender, sentimental disciples. Gentle, retiring, with a deep power of emotion, she preferred listening to labouring, privacy to publicity, worship to work, while yet her heart could well up on occasions in acts of unwonted love that would never have entered into Mary's brains. There are Marys still, and they are not always feminine; as the Marthas are also often masculine; persons in whom the heart is the head. They are not good at general action, and are more remarkable for the fervour than the efficiency of their labours. As a rule their conception of ends is too high, and their conception of means too low. They work by impulse, and then they do more than others or nothing. They contribute to the gracefulness of religion, which requires "whatsoever things are lovely." They add taste to its talents. Marthas supply the business-like prose, Marys the poetry of religion. Marthas rear the needful things in the garden of the Lord. Marys cultivate its flowers. Marthas "serve" the meals of the household of faith, Marys bring the costly spikenard. But this temperament is preeminently the temperament of devotion. The prayers of some speed the toil of others, returning like the rain, and blessing other scenes than those from which they rose. The Marthas little think, when in the full swing of their engagements, how much of their security and success is due to the prayers of the Marys.
3. Lazarus is a type of the more reflective, recipient, passive class. Had he been a man of much speech or action something of his as well as something about him would have been preserved. He had a heart open to Christ's influence, pondered His discourse and deeds, and enjoyed a feast of wisdom and love while many were only being fed. There are such men still; they know more than they say, and feel more than they know. They are too sensitive for the rude friction of common life, and their retiring ways prevent their being appreciated or understood. They on whom Christ works may honour Him as well as those by whom He works.
III. HOW CHRIST TREATED THESE VARIETIES.
1. He recognized and honoured them. He sat at Martha's table; He proclaimed His pleasure in Mary's offering; and on Lazarus He wrought His most wondrous work. Special qualities, even when in excess, He did not reject. He looked at the motive. Whatever may be our native characteristics, love to Jesus will make them acceptable, and without that they will be an offence.
2. He guards them. When Martha would intrude on Mary's sphere, He forbad her. And when the apostles censured Mary's offering He reproved them. And still He looks with no kindly eye on those who are impatient of their brethren's different excellences. There is a bigotry of character as well as of creed. On the other hand, there is a tendency in some to despond when conscious of the want of qualities which others exhibit. But you are called to be yourselves and to cultivate your own gifts. If you try to imitate others, you will spoil yourselves and caricature them.
3. He controls them. He gently chastened Martha's anxious mind though He approved of Mary's apparently wasteful offering; as much as to say — "If there be any extravagance let it be in honouring Me." Martha's activity was in danger of becoming worldliness; but Mary might go a great length in her affection without equal peril of losing her soul. The world reserves its praise for the devotees of Mammon, and the world is wrong.
(A. J. Morris.)
(G. S. Bowes, B. A.)
He whom Thou lovest is sick.
(R. Besser, D. D.)
(Bp. Ryle.)I. THE COURSE THE SISTERS TOOK.
1. We need not doubt that they used all the means in their power for their brother's restoration. But they looked to the Great Physician. This is one of the marks of a believer, that while he uses means he does not depend upon them.
2. They sent to Jesus. Their message was —(1) Short. This should encourage our applications in sudden emergencies when long prayer cannot be offered. This is frequently the case with the sick and their attendants. It is not the length, but the faith and sincerity of the prayer that makes it effectual. The most powerful prayers have been the shortest. "God be merciful to me a sinner." "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." "What wilt Thou have ms to do?"(2) Confident. They did not ask Him to come, or to heal their brother. "All we ask is 'Behold — his languid eye, faltering breath, sufferings; we have confidence in Thy love and wisdom, and leave the matter in Thy hands.(3) Humble. They send no panegyric, nor mention any quality that might interest Christ. All they remind Him of is His love. This is the only ground on which we can build our faith and shape our prayers.
II. THE GRACIOUS ANSWER. This was sent for present support until a complete answer could be given; and is so worded as to put their faith and patience to a severe test. The way by which Christ leads His people is that of simple confidence in Him. He directs them not to judge Him by the outward appearances of His providence at a dark and unfavourable moment; but by His sure word of promise (Isaiah 50:10). This answer may be viewed as the Lord's general answer to His people — "for the glory of God." The sorrow of the world has a different tendency (Revelation 16:10, 11). How mysterious must it have seemed after this message that their brother should die; but the mystery was afterwards unravelled, and the affliction, instead of terminating in death, was the occasion of giving physical and spiritual life.
(J. Haldane Stewart, M. A.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)I. THE REALITY OF CHRIST'S FRIENDSHIP. That Jesus should have passed His life in solitude was impossible; how could it be that His Spirit, wrapped up within itself, should be alien to all human impulses. This friendship grew as do others. There may have been some restraint at the first interview, but this soon melted into respectful familiarity, and then into reciprocal union. Christ must have endeared Himself to many, but it did not always mature into friendship. To love another as a sinner, as a Jew, a townsman, a relative, was altogether different from His affection for this family. They were His friends. We may not be able to tell all the reasons of this friendship, but we doubt not it was founded on mutual esteem and like-mindedness.
II. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS IS NOT AFFECTED BY VARIETIES OF INDIVIDUAL TEMPERAMENT. Such varieties as existed in these people have existed in all ages. Divine grace does not produce uniformity in human nature. It left in their own prominence the valour of David, the genius of Isaiah, the pathos of Jeremiah, the fervour of John, the reasoning powers of Paul. So there are some believers in whom intellect predominates, in others emotion; others ruminate on what God has done for their soul, and others look forward with the full assurance of hope. I feed on doctrine says one; I live in practice responds another. The nature of one excites him to battle as a missionary, that of another fits him to endure as a martyr. Every gift is useful in its place.
III. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS DOES NOT EXEMPT ITS POSSESSORS FROM AFFLICTION. Jesus might easily have ordered it otherwise, and even the appeal to His friendship did not move Him. His religion does not free us from, but often leads us to, suffering. Its object is to train the mind, and it takes advantage of suffering to aid it in the process of tuition. The stars appear as the gloom falls; so the promises assume new lustre and power to the spirit lying under the shadow of suffering. I may rejoice in the attachment of my friend, though I have never put it to a severe trial; but if I am suddenly brought to ruin, and he as promptly rescues me at great sacrifice, I may safely say that I never knew the value of his friendship. It is therefore in the period of suffering that the soul is brought into nearer contact with God, and finds His grace sufficient. In this case the event proved that God's ways are higher than man's, and are not to be judged of in human weakness. They might have questioned His friendship during those four mysterious days, but afterwards they saw, as they could not have seen otherwise, how He loved them.
IV. While the friendship of Jesus does not exempt from affliction IT DEEPENS INTO SYMPATHY WITH THOSE WHO ENDURE IT. Even during His absence Christ's soul was in Bethany. Once and again did He refer to it, and at last said Lazarus is dead. His mind thus brooded over the scene, and now, though His life was in peril, He did not hesitate to go. As He met Martha He could speak in a firm tone of assurance, but when He saw Mary weeping bitterly He was deeply moved. And as He took the first step to the tomb His emotion could no longer be restrained. There was no stoicism in His constitution. Try not to be above the Saviour.
V. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS IS NOT INTERRUPTED BY DEATH. What breaks up all other ties has no such effect on it. Friends walk arm in arm till they come to the tomb, and then one of them resumes his solitary path. Our Lord said of him who died, "He sleepeth," recognizing the friendship as still existing. The objects of Christ's affection, when taken out of the world, are brought into closer union with Himself. So it was with Enoch: today he "walked with God" on earth, tomorrow he walked with Him in heaven.
(J. Eadie, D. D.)
I. A FACT. "He whom Thou lovest is sick." The sisters were somewhat astonished; "behold," we love him and would make him well directly. Thou canst heal him with a word, why then is our loved one sick? We need not be astonished, for the sick one —
1. Is only a man. The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of life. The covenant of grace is not a charter of exemption from consumption or rheumatism.
2. Is under a peculiar discipline. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." If Job, David, Hezekiah must each one smart, who are we that we should be amazed if ill?
3. Is thereby benefited. How far this was so with Lazarus we know not, but many a disciple would have been of small use but for affliction. Strong men are apt to be harsh, imperious, and unsympathetic, and hence need to be put into the furnace and melted down. There are fruits in God's garden as well as in man's which never ripen till bruised.
4. Is a means of good to others. Throughout these nineteen centuries all believers have been getting good out of Lazarus's sickness. The Church and the world may derive immense advantage through The sorrows of good men; the careless may be awakened, the doubting convinced, the ungodly converted, the mourner comforted through their testimony.
II. A REPORT OF THAT FACT. The sisters sent and told Jesus. Let us keep up a constant correspondence with Him about everything.
1. It is a great relief. He is a confidant who can never betray, a friend who will never refuse.
2. He is sure to support us. If you ask Him, "Why am I sick?" He may be pleased to show you why, or He will make you willing to be patient without knowing why.
3. He may give healing. It would not be wise to live by a supposed faith and cast off the physician, any more than to discharge the butcher and the tailor and expect to be fed and clothed by faith; but this would be far better than forgetting the Lord altogether, and trusting to man only. Some are afraid to go to God about their health; and yet surely if the hairs outside our head are all numbered it is not more of a condescension for Him to relieve throbs inside.
III. AN UNEXPECTED RESULT. No doubt the sisters looked to see Lazarus recover; but they were not gratified. This teaches us that Jesus may be informed of our trouble, and yet act as if indifferent. We must not expect recovery in every case, for if so nobody would die who had anybody to pray for him. Let us not forget that another prayer may be crossing ours. "Father, I will that they also," etc. But Jesus raised him, and will raise us. Some want to live till the Lord comes, and so escape death; but so far from having any preference such would miss one point of fellowship in not dying and rising like their Lord. All things are yours, death included.
IV. A QUESTION. Does Jesus in a special sense love you? Many sick ones have no evidence of it because they do not love Him. If Jesus loves you and you are sick, let your friends, nurses, etc., see how you glorify God in your sickness. If you do not know this love, you lack the brightest star that can cheer the night of darkness.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. A PRIVILEGE OF INCOMPARABLE VALUE — to be loved by Christ. To be loved by some is no advantage; their love is carnal, selfish, fickle. But Christ's love is —
1. Tender — so tender that in all our afflictions He is afflicted. We are as dear to Him as Himself.
2. Constant. It is not founded on any mistakes as to our characters; as to what we have been, are, shall be. Men sometimes withdraw their love because they discover imperfections never anticipated.
3. All-sufficient. It has at command ample resources to supply all our wants, ample power to sustain, guard, and bless us, and that always.
II. A TRIAL STRIKINGLY SUGGESTIVE. Why did Christ permit His beloved friend to be sick?
1. Not because it was agreeable to Him. The sufferings of those whom we love are always painful to us. "He doth not afflict willingly."
2. Not because He could not have prevented it. He who hushed the storm and raised the dead had power to keep off disease.
3. It was for some useful end. The afflictions of Lazarus were a blessing to himself and his sisters. It strengthened this faith and intensified their joy.
III. A FAITH OF REMARKABLE POWER. So assured were they of the genuineness and strength of His love that they felt that the mere statement of Lazarus's sickness was enough. True love requires no persuasion. The appeals to benevolence that stream from the press and pulpit imply a sad lack of faith in the philanthropy of the land.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
Power of Illustration.I feel that repeated afflictions come, not as lightning on the scathed tree, blasting it yet more and more, but as the strokes of the sculptor on the marble block, forming it into the image of beauty and loveliness. Let but the Divine presence be felt, and no lot is hard. Let me but see His hand, and no event is unwelcome.
(Power of Illustration.)
(J. A. James.)
I. A HAPPY FAMILY. It consisted of a brother and his two sisters. They were happy because Jesus loved them. The essence of real happiness is not riches or any temporal distinction, but an interest in Christ's favour. His love is no empty sentiment. Whom Jesus loves He blesses. How rare are families whom Jesus lovest Individual believers are numerous, but "households" of faith are rare. Why? Is it because there is so little of family worship?
II. A GRIEVOUS TRIAL WHICH BEFELL THEM. This is no new thing. The children of God have never been promised a smooth life of it (Acts 14:22; Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:7, 8). The afflictions of believers are quite another thing from God's ordinary visitations. God visits them in mercy not in judgment, for the best purposes (Romans 5:3-5). Better is it to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25, 26; Job 5:17, 18).
III. THE REMARKABLE CONDUCT OF OUR LORD WHEN HE WAS TOLD OF IT. There was nothing strange in a friend of Christ's falling sick (1 Peter 4:12), but Christ's conduct was very strange. Doubtless they expected Him as soon as the distance would admit of it. How we hasten at such a summons, and the consciousness of being able to do something quickens our steps. Yet Jesus, who had all power as well as all love, tarried. How trying this delay to the afflicted sisters — how heartbreaking when all was over that Jesus was not there. But stranger still Christ delayed out of love. No love is so high as that which prefers the real interests of its object before his present comfort, which aims at permanent good rather than momentary satisfaction. We often seek to gratify another's feelings rather than to promote his good. But Christ is not a parent who gives His children everything they cry for, but everything that is best for them. He withholds a lesser mercy that He may impart a greater. Instead of raising Lazarus from a bed of sickness He raised him from the grave. Conclusion: The great lesson here is the duty of waiting patiently for the Lord in regard to answers to prayer — blessings — success.
(A. Roberts, M. A.)
S. S. Times.I. THE SOURCE OF AFFLICTIONS. Not spontaneous (Job 5:6, 7). God appoints (Psalm 66:10, 11; Amos 3:6). God regulates their degree (Isaiah 9:1; Jeremiah 46:28). God determines their duration (Genesis 15:13, 14, Isaiah 10:25). Not willingly sent (Lamentations 3:33; Ezekiel 33:11). Consequent on sin (Genesis 3:16-19).
II. AFFLICTIONS OF THE SAINTS. Saints must expect them (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). Tempered with mercy (Psalm 78:38, 39; Psalm 106:43-46). Comparatively light (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). Are but temporary (Psalm 30:5; 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 5:10). Are joyfully endured (Romans 5:3-5; James 5:11). Are shared with Christ (Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 4:13, 14). Express God's care (Hebrews 12:6, 7; Revelation 3:19). God with afflicted saints (Psalm 46:1, 5; Isaiah 43:2). God preserves them (Psalm 34:19, 20; Romans 8:37). Christ with them (Matthew 28:20; John 14:18). Christ delivers them (2 Timothy 4:17; Hebrews 2:18). They secure a crown (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).
III. AFFLICTIONS OF THE WICKED. Sent as judgments (Job 21:17; Jeremiah 30:15). Sent for impenitence (Proverbs 1:30, 31; Amos 4:6-12). Are multiplied (Deuteronomy 31:17; Psalm 32:10). Come suddenly (Psalm 73:19; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 29:1). Sometimes humble them (1 Kings 21:27). Sometimes harden them (Exodus 9:34, 35; Nehemiah 9:28, 29). Consummated in the judgment (Matthew 25:41; Luke 13:27, 23).
(S. S. Times.)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.)
I. TO DISCOVER TO US OUR TRUE CHARACTER — whether Christians or worldlings. Christ is like the crucible which tries the gold.
II. TO MAKE US KNOW GOD.
1. His authority and our dependence on Him. Christ tells us how easily He could crush us, and how all our safety depends on His power.
2. His faithfulness supporting His children and proving that His grace is sufficient for them.
3. His goodness in standing by us, giving us the consolations of His gospel, and letting down into our souls an anticipated heaven.
III. TO GIVE US TO FEEL THE PRECIOUSNESS OF JESUS. Even in health the Saviour is the chief among ten thousand, etc., but His value is especially felt when sickness has brought us to look into the eternal world.
IV. TO ENABLE US TO ESTIMATE THE INFINITE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION. Then the most obdurate is constrained to feel the difference between the righteous and the wicked. The believer then feels more than he ever did, his unspeakable obligations to God for having forgiven his sins and sealed by His Spirit.
V. TO SHOW US THE VANITIES OF THE WORLD. On the bed of sickness, honours, pleasures, riches, the pursuit of which occupies the lives of so many men, to the forgetfulness of their soul, heaven, God, lose their lustre and appear but phantoms.
VI. TO BENEFIT OUR NEIGHBOUR AND GLORIFY GOD. Thousands of examples might be adduced of persons who received their first impressions from the conduct of Christians in dangerous illnesses.
(H. Kollock, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)Etruria was because she had a stormy wind abaft, chasing her from New York to Liverpool, But to those going in opposite direction the storm was a buffeting and a hindrance. It is a bad thing to have a storm ahead pushing us back; but if we are God's children and aiming toward heaven, the storms of life will only chase us the sooner into the harbour. I am so glad to believe that the monsoons, and typhoons, and mistrals, and siroccos of land and sea are not unchained maniacs let loose upon the earth, but under Divine supervision.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place
S. S. Times.The English word "loved" is ambiguous; it may apply to all kinds of love — the love of friendship, for instance, or the love of man and woman. There is not the same ambiguity in Greek. The word used here is one (agapao) which conveys delicately the meaning that the love of Jesus for Martha and her sister was not the love of man for woman, but the love of friend for friend. The ambiguity of the English word makes this explanation necessary.
(S. S. Times.)
(J. Culross, D. D.)
I. CHRIST'S DELAYS ARE THE DELAYS OF LOVE. We have all had experience of desires for the removal of sorrows, or for the fulfilment of wishes which we believed to be in accordance with His will, and no answer has come. It is part of the method of Providence that hope in these respects should be deferred. And instead of stumbling at the mystery, would it not be wiser to lay hold of this "therefore," and by it get a glimpse into the very heart of the Divine motives?
1. If we could get that conviction into our hearts, how quietly we should go about our work! How encouraging that the only reason which actuates God in the choice of times is our good.
2. Sorrow is prolonged for the same reason that it is sent. Time is often an element in its working its right effect. If the weight is lifted the elastic substance beneath springs up again. As soon as the wind passes over the cornfield the bowing ears raise themselves. You have to steep foul things in water for a good while before the stains are cleansed. Therefore, the same love which sends must protract the discipline.
3. The grand object and highest blessing is that our wills should be bent until they coincide with God's, and that takes time. The shipwright knows that to mould a bit of timber into the right form is but the work of a day. A will may be broken at a blow, but it will take a while to bend it. God's love in Jesus can give us nothing better than the opportunity of saying, "Not my will, but Thine be done."
II. THIS DELAYED HELP COMES AT THE RIGHT TIME. Heaven's clock is different from ours. In one day there are twelve hours; in God's a thousand years. What seems long to us is to Him "a little while." The longest protraction of the fulfilment of a desire will seem but as a winking of an eye when we estimate duration as He estimates it. The ephemeral insect has a still minuter scale than ours, but we should not think of regulating our measure of long and short by it. God works leisurely because He has eternity to work in. But His answer is always punctual though delayed. Peter is in prison. The Church keeps praying for him day after day. No answer. The last night comes, and as the veil of darkness is thinning, the angel came. Mark the leisureliness of the whole subsequent procedure. God never comes too soon or too late. Take again the case of Sennacherib's army.
III. THE BEST HELP IS NOT DELAYED. The preceding principle applies only to the less important half of our prayers, and Christ's answers. In regard to spiritual blessings the law is not "He abode still two days," but "Before they call I will answer." The only reason why people do not get the blessings of the Christian life lies in themselves. "Ye have not because ye ask not, or ask amiss, or having asked you go away not looking to see whether the blessing is coming or not."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING. Evil in connection with love in one who could remove it. Whatever may be said to lessen this mystery the facts are so. There was no doubt about the malady of the man, none about the mercifulness of the Master. And so we say still. Christianity is not responsible for the difficulty, for as Sir W. Hamilton observes, "No difficulty emerges in theology which had not previously emerged in philosophy." Looked at alone the facts are not consistent but opposed. A God of love and a world of woe regarded as bare facts are a moral contradiction; and no wonder if through the veil of tears we cannot always see His goodness. Pain is evil in itself, and suggests evil. The consciousness of sin interprets it as the token of the Father's frown; and the Bible teaches that suffering came by sin; but it also says, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," and makes suffering the necessary evidence of love and the choicest instrument of profit.
II. THE RESOURCE OF SORROW.
1. They sent to tell Jesus. It was natural even if they thought only of telling Him. True love will always tell what befalls it from natural dictate, because it likes to tell it, and because reciprocal affection has a right to know it. When John was killed "the disciples went and told Jesus," and so should we, whenever our hearts are full, even if nothing come of it. Our words are modes of receiving as well as communicating. God hears best our prayers when we can hear them too; we pray best for ourselves aloud.
2. They merely informed Jesus. They must have meant and expected more. Both sisters exclaimed, "Lord, if Thou hadst," etc. Was it not then to prevent his dying that Christ was told. But they did not know He knew. We do. Our prayers are not to inform God; He wants to know our prayers — the expression of our feelings, not the instructions of our wisdom.
3. They did not ask the boon they expected. Was it modesty or faith? We cannot tell; but the more we approach to this mode of prayer the better, at least, as to things of a temporal kind. The more we leave them to God, and remember that we are to "ask according to His will," and that only spiritual blessings, are blessings always, the better. Many a parent has prayed the life of a child, whom afterwards he had wished had found an infant's tomb. Many a merchant has craved the success of a venture, whose success has been the beginning of soul-destroying prosperity. But there is no danger or excess when we ask for salvation and holiness.
4. Note the way in which they said what they did say. They do not mention themselves, nor Lazarus's love for Jesus, but Jesus' love to him. They might have put it as the afflicted mother did — "Have mercy upon me," or, "Him we love is sick," or," He who loveth Thee." They thought Christ's love was the best argument, and as there was no need to mention his name, verily it was. We always prevail with God when we make Him our plea, "for Thy name's sake."
III. THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE. Why did He not hasten to Bethany. Even if He did not chose to prevent Lazarus dying, He might have soothed him and his sisters. He did not go because He wished him to die, and intimates (ver. 15) that if He were at Bethany He could not let him die. He delayed because He meant to raise him. Herein is a picture of Providence.
1. The transformation of evil into good.
2. The material made instrument of the spiritual.
3. Fellowship. One sickening and dying for the health, joy, and higher life of many. Conclusion: We have talked of Christ's love and man's sorrow. Here only can the two be found together. There are two states before us, one, in which there will be sorrow without love, and another in which there will be love without sorrow. Suffering without Christ — this is hell. Love with no trouble or death — the love of Christ ever present, filling the heart with joy unspeakable — that is heaven.
(A. J. Morris.)
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