In accordance with general wont, the friends and relatives of the deceased had assembled to pay their tribute of respect to the memory of a revered friend, and to solace the hearts of the disconsolate survivors. They needed all the sympathy they received. It was now the dull dead calm after the torture of the storm, the leaden sea strewn with wrecks, enabling them to realise more fully the extent of their loss. Amid the lulls of the tempest, while Lazarus yet lived, hope shrunk from entertaining gloomy apprehensions. But now that the storm has spent its fury, now that the worst has come, the future rises up before them crowded with ten thousand images of desolation and sorrow. The void in their household is daily more and more felt. All the past bright memories of Bethany seem to be buried in a yawning grave.
We may picture the scene. The stronger and more resolute spirit of Martha striving to stem the tide of overmuch sorrow. The more sensitive heart of Mary, bowed under a grief too deep for utterance, able only to indicate by her silent tears the unknown depths of her sadness.
Thus are they employed, when Martha, unseen to her sister, has been beckoned away. "The Master has come." But desirous of ascertaining the truth of the joyful tidings, ere intruding on the grief of Mary, the elder of the survivors rushes forth with trembling emotion to give full vent to her sorrow at the feet of the Great Friend of all the friendless!
He has not yet entered the village. She cannot, however, wait His arrival. Leaving home and sepulchre behind, she hastens outside the groves of palm at its gate.
It requires no small fortitude in the season of sore bereavement to face an altered world; and, doubtless, passing all alone now through the little town, meeting familiar faces wearing sunny smiles which could not be returned, must have been a painful effort to this child of sorrow. But what will the heart not do to meet such a Comforter? What will Martha be unprepared to encounter if the intelligence brought her be indeed confirmed? One glance is enough. "It is the Lord!" In a moment she is a suppliant at His feet. Doubt and faith and prayer mingle in the exclamation, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died!"
That she had faith and assured confidence in the love and tenderness of Jesus we cannot question. But a momentary feeling of unbelief (shall we say, of reproach and upbraiding?) mingled with better emotions. "Why, Lord," seemed to be the expression of her inner thoughts, "wert Thou absent? It was unlike Thy kind heart. Thou hast often gladdened our home in our season of joy -- why this forgetfulness in the night of our bitter agony? Death has torn from us a loved brother -- the blow would have been spared -- these hearts would have been unbroken -- these burning tears unshed, if Thou hadst been here!"
Such was the bold -- the unkind reasoning of the mourner. It was the reasoning of a finite creature. Ah! if she could but have looked into the workings of that infinite Heart she was ungenerously upbraiding, how differently would she have broached her tearful suit!
Her exclamation is -- "Why this unkind absence?"
His comment on that same absence to His disciples is this -- "I was glad for your sakes that I was not there!"
How often are God and man thus in strange antagonism, with regard to earthly dispensations! Man, as he arraigns the rectitude of the Divine procedure, exclaiming -- "How unaccountable this dealing! How baffling this mystery! Where is now my God?" This sickness -- why prolonged? This thorn in the flesh -- why still buffeting? This family blank -- why permitted? Why the most treasured and useful life taken -- the blow aimed where it cut most severely and levelled lowest?
Hush the secret atheism! This trial, whatever it be, has this grand motto written upon it in characters of living light; -- we can read it on anguished pillows -- aching hearts -- ay, on the very portals of the tomb -- "This is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby!"
At the very moment we are mourning what are called "dark providences" -- "untoward calamities" -- "strokes of
The absence at Jordan -- the still more unaccountable lingering for two days in the same place after the message had been sent, instead of hastening direct to Bethany, all was well and wisely ordered. And although Martha's upbraidings were now received in forbearing silence, her Saviour afterwards, in a calmer moment, read the rebuke -- "Said I not unto thee, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?"
It is indeed a comforting assurance in all trials, that God has some holy and wise end to subserve. He never stirs a ripple on the waters, but for His own glory, or the good of others. The delay on the present occasion, though protracting for a time the sorrows of the bereaved, was intended for the benefit of the Church in every age, and for the more immediate benefit of the disciples.
They were destined in a few brief weeks also to be desolate survivors -- to mourn a Brother dearer still! He who had been to them Friend -- Father -- Brother, all in one, was to be, like Lazarus, laid silent in a Jerusalem sepulchre. The Lord of Life was to be the victim of Death! His body was to be transfixed to a malefactor's cross, and consigned to a lonely grave! He knew the shock that awaited their faith. He knew, as this terrible hour drew on, how needful some overpowering visible demonstration would be of His mastery over the tomb.
Now a befitting opportunity occurred in the case of their friend Lazarus to read the needed lesson. "I was glad for your sakes, ... to the intent ye might believe."
Would that we could feel as believers more than we do -- that the dealings of our God are for the strengthening of our faith, and the enlivening and invigorating of our spiritual graces. Let us seek to accept more simply in dark dealings the Saviour's explanation, "It is for your sake!" He gives us a blank for our every trial, indorsing it with His own gracious word, "This, this is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby."
The words of Martha, then, surely teach as their great lesson, never to be hasty in our surmises and conclusions regarding God's ways.
"Lord! IF Thou hadst been here?" Could she question for a moment that that loving eye of Omniscience had all the while been scanning that sick-chamber -- marking every throb in that fevered brow -- and every tear that fell unbidden from the eyes that watched his pillow?
"Lord! if Thou hadst been here?" Could she question His ability, had He so willed it, to prevent the bereavement altogether -- to put an arrest on the hand of death ere the bow was strung?
O faithless disciple, wherefore didst thou doubt? But thou art ere long to learn what each of us will learn out in eternity, that "all things are for our sakes, that the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God."
* * * * *
But the momentary cloud has passed. Faith breaks through. The murmur of upbraiding has died away. He who listens makes allowance for an anguished heart. The glance of tender sympathy and gentleness which met Martha's eye, at once hushes all remains of unbelief. Words of exulting confidence immediately succeed. "But I know that even now whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee."
What is this, but that which every believer exults in to this hour, as the sheet-anchor of hope and peace and comfort, when tossed on a tempestuous sea -- a gracious confidence in the ability and willingness of Christ to save. The Friend of Bethany is still the Friend in Heaven. To Him "all power has been committed;" "as a prince He has power with God, and must prevail."
Yes, gracious antidote to the spirit in the moment of its trial; when bowed down with anticipated bereavement; the curtains of death about to fall over life's brightest joys. How blessed to lay hold on the perfect conviction that "the Ever-living Intercessor in glory has all power to revoke the sentence if He sees meet" -- that even now (yes now, in a moment) the delegated angel may be sent speeding from his throne, to spare the tree marked to fall, and prolong the lease of existence!
Let us rejoice in the power of this God-man Mediator, that He is as able as He is willing, and as willing as He is able. "Him the Father heareth always." "Father, I will," is His own divine formula for every needed boon for His people.
How it ought to make our sick-chambers and death-chambers consecrated to prayer! leading us to make our every trial and sorrow a fresh reason for going to God. Laying our burden, whatever it may be, on the mercy-seat, it will be considered by Him, who is too wise to grant what is better to be withdrawn, and too kind to withhold what, without injury to us, may be granted.
Let us imitate Martha's faith in our approaches to Him. Ah, in our dull and cold devotions, how little lively apprehension have we of the gracious willingness of Christ to listen to our petitions! Standing as the great Angel of the Covenant with the golden censer, His hand never shortened -- His ear never heavy -- His uplifted arm of intercession never faint. No variety bewildering Him -- no importunity wearying Him -- "waiting to be gracious" -- loving the music of the suppliant spirit.
Would that we had ever before us as the superscription of faith written on our closet-devotions, and domestic altars, and public sanctuaries, whenever and wherever the knee is bent, and the Hearer of prayer is invoked -- "I know that even now whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee."