No laboured eulogium -- no lengthened panegyric could have described more significantly the character of the dying villager of Bethany. Four mystic words invest his name with a sacred loveliness. By one stroke of his pen the Apostle unfolds a heart-history; so that we desiderate no more -- more would almost spoil the touching simplicity -- "He whom Thou lovest!"
We might think at first the words are inverted. Can the messenger have mistaken them? Is it not more likely the message of the sisters was this: -- "Go and tell Him, 'Lord, he whom we love,' or else, 'he who loveth Thee is sick?'"
Nay, it is a loftier argument by which they would stir the infinite depths of the Fountain of love! They had "known and believed the love" which the Great Redeemer bore to their brother, and they further felt assured that "loving him at the beginning, He would love him even to the end." Their love to Lazarus (tender, unspeakably tender as it was one of the loveliest types of human affection) -- was at best an earthly love -- finite -- imperfect -- fitful -- changing -- perishable. But the love they invoked was undying and everlasting, superior to all vacillation -- enduring as eternity.
It is ours "to take encouragement in prayer from God only;" -- to plead nothing of our own -- our poor devotedness, or our unworthy services; they are rather arguments for our condemnation; -- but His promises are all "Yea, and amen." They never fail. His name is "a strong tower," running into which the righteous are safe. That tower is garrisoned and bulwarked by the attributes of His own everlasting nature. Among these attributes not the least glorious is His Love -- that unfathomable love which dwelt in His bosom from all eternity, and which is immutably pledged never to be taken from His people!
Man's love to his God is like the changing sand -- His is like the solid rock. Man's love is like the passing meteor with its fitful gleam. His like the fixed stars, shining far above, clear and serene, from age to age, in their own changeless firmament.
Do we know anything of the words of this message? Could it be written on our hearts in life? Were we to die, could it be inscribed on our tombs, "This is one whom Jesus loved?"
Happy assurance! The pure spirits who bend before the throne know no happier. The archangels -- the chieftains among principalities and powers, can claim no higher privilege, no loftier badge of glory!
Love is the atmosphere they breathe. It is the grand moral law of gravitation in the heavenly economy. God, the central sun of light, and joy, and glory, keeping by this great motive principle every spiritual planet in its orbit, "for God is love."
That love is not confined to heaven. It may be foretasted here. The sick man of Bethany knew of it, and exulted in it. Though in the moment of dissolution he had to mourn the personal absence of his Lord, yet "believing" in that love, he "rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory." His sisters, as they stood in sorrowing emotion by his dying couch, and thought of that hallowed fraternal bond which was about so soon to be dissolved, could triumph in the thought of an affection nobler and better which knit him and them to the Brother of brothers -- and which, unlike any earthly tie, was indissoluble.
And what was experienced in that lowly Bethany home, may be experienced by us.
That love in its wondrous manifestation is confined to no limits, no age, no peculiar circumstances. Many a Lazarus, pining in want, who can claim no heritage but poverty, no home but cottage walls, or who, stretched on a bed of protracted sickness, is heard saying in the morning, "Would God it were evening! and in the evening, Would God it were morning!" if he have that love reigning in his heart, he has a possession outweighing the wealth of worlds!
What a message, too, of consolation is here to the sick! How often are those chained down year after year to some aching pillow, worn, weary, shattered in body, depressed in spirit, -- how apt are they to indulge in the sorrowful thought, "Surely God cannot care for me!" What! Jesus think of this wasted frame -- these throbbing temples -- these powerless limbs -- this decaying mind! I feel like a wreck on the desert shore -- beyond the reach of His glance -- beneath the notice of His pitying eye! Nay, thou poor desponding one, He does cherish, He does remember thee! -- "Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick." Let this motto-verse be inscribed on thy Bethany chamber. The Lord loves His sick ones, and He often chastens them with sickness, just because He loves them. If these pages be now traced by some dim eyes that have been for long most familiar with the sickly glow of the night-lamp -- the weary vigils of pain and languor and disease -- an exile from a busy world, or a still more unwilling alien from the holy services of the sanctuary -- oh! think of Him who loves thee, who loved thee into this sickness, and will love thee through it, till thou standest in that unsuffering, unsorrowing world, where sickness is unknown! Think of Lazarus in his chamber, and the plea of the sisters in behalf of their prostrate brother, "Lord, come to the sick one, whom Thou lovest."
Believe it, the very continuance of this sickness is a pledge of His love. You may be often tempted to say with Gideon, "If the Lord be with me, why has all this befallen me?" Surely if my Lord loved me, He would long ere this have hastened to my relief, rebuked this sore disease, and raised me up from this bed of languishing? Did you ever note, in the 6th verse of this Bethany chapter, the strangely beautiful connexion of the word THEREFORE? The Evangelist had, in the preceding verse, recorded the affection Jesus bore for that honoured family. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." "When He had heard THEREFORE that he was sick," -- what did He do? "Fled on wings of love to the succour of His loved friend; hurried in eager haste by the shortest route from Bethabara?" We expect to hear so, as the natural deduction from John's premises. How we might think could love give a more truthful exponent of its reality than hastening instantaneously to the relief of one so dear to Him? But not so! "When He had heard THEREFORE that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was!" Yes, there is tarrying love as well as succouring love. He sent that sickness because He loves thee; He continues it because He loves thee. He heaps fresh fuel on the furnace-fires till the gold is refined. He appoints, not one, but "many days where neither sun nor stars appear, and no small tempest lies on us," that the ship may be lightened, and faith exercised; our bark hastened by these rough blasts nearer shore, and the Lord glorified, who rules the raging of the sea. "We expect," says Evans, "the blessing or relief in our way; He chooses to bestow it in His."
Reader! let this ever be your highest ambition, to love and to be loved of Jesus. If we are covetous to have the regard and esteem of the great and good on earth, what is it to share the fellowship and kindness of Him, in comparison with whose love the purest earthly affection is but a passing shadow!
Ah! to be without that love, is to be a little world ungladdened by its central sun, wandering on in its devious pathway of darkness and gloom. Earthly things may do well enough when the world is all bright and shining -- when prosperity sheds its bewitching gleam around you, and no symptoms of the cloudy and dark day are at hand; but the hour is coming (it may come soon, it must come at some time) when your Bethany-home will be clouded with deepening death-shadows -- when, like Lazarus, you will be laid on a dying couch, and what will avail you then? Oh, nothing, nothing! if bereft of that love whose smile is heaven. If you are left in the agony of desolation to utter importunate pleadings to an Unknown Saviour, a Stranger God -- if the dark valley be entered uncheered by the thought of a loving Redeemer dispelling its gloom, and waiting on the Canaan side to shew you the path of life!
Let the home of your hearts be often open, as was the home of Lazarus, to the visits of Jesus in the day of brightness; and then, when the hour of sorrow and trial unexpectedly arises, you will know where to find your Lord -- where to send your prayer-message for Him to come to your relief.
Yes! He will come! It will be in His own way, but His joyous footfall will be heard! He is not like Baal, "slumbering and sleeping, or taking a journey" when the voice of importunate prayer ascends from the depths of yearning hearts! If, instead of at once hastening back to Bethany, He "abides still for two days where He was" -- if He linger among the mountain-glens of distant Gilead, instead of, as we would expect, hastening to the cry and succour of cherished friendship, and to ward off the dart of the inexorable foe -- be assured there must be a reason for this strange procrastination -- there must be an unrevealed cause which the future will in due time disclose and unravel. All the recollections of the past forbid one unrighteous surmise on His tried faithfulness. "Now, Jesus loved Lazarus," is a soft pillow on which to repose; -- raising the sorrowing spirit above the unkind insinuation, "My Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me."
If He linger, it is to try and test the faith of His people. If He let loose the storm, and suffer it to sweep with a vengeance apparently uncontrolled, it is that these living trees may strike their roots firmer and deeper in Himself -- the Rock of eternal ages. Trust Him where you cannot trace Him. Not one promise of His can come to nought. The channel may have continued long dry -- the streams of Lebanon may have failed -- the cloud has been laden, but no shower descends -- the barren waste is unwatered -- the windows of heaven seem hopelessly closed. Nay, nay! Though "the vision tarry," yet if you "wait for it" the gracious assurance will be fulfilled in your experience -- "The Lord is good to them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him." The fountain of love pent up in His heart will in due time gush forth -- the apparently unacknowledged prayer will be crowned with a gracious answer. In His own good time sweet tones of celestial music will be wafted to your ear -- "It is the voice of the Beloved! -- lo, He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills!" If you are indeed the child of God, as Lazarus was, remember this for your comfort in your dying hour, that whether the prayers of sorrowing friends for your recovery be answered or no, the Lord of love has at least heard them -- the messenger has not been mocked -- the prayer-message has not been spurned or forgotten! I repeat it, He will answer, but it will be in His own way! If the Bethany-home be ungladdened by Lazarus restored, it will exult through tears in the thought of Lazarus glorified. And the Marthas and Marys, as they go often unto the grave to weep there, will read, as they weep, in the holy memories of the departed, that which will turn tears into joy -- "Jesus loved him."