The twin sisters -- musing on the terrible past, gazing through their tears on the vacant seat at their home-hearth -- had been every now and then breaking the gloomy silence of the deserted chamber by exclaiming, "If He had been here, this never would have happened! This is the bitterest drop in our cup, that all might have been different! These hot tears might never have dimmed our eyes; our loved Lazarus might have been a living and loving brother still! Oh! that the Lord had delayed for a brief week that untoward journey, or anticipated by four days his longed-for return; or would that we had despatched our messenger earlier for Him. It is now too late. Though He has at last come, His advent can be of little avail. The fell destroyer has been at our cottage door before Him. He may soothe our grief, but the blow cannot be averted. His friend and our brother is locked in sleep too deep to be disturbed."
Ah! is it not the same unkind surmise which is still often heard in the hour of bereavement and in the home of death? -- a guilty, unholy brooding over second causes. "If such and such had been done, my child had still lived. If that mean, or that remedy, or that judicious caution had been employed, this terrible overthrow of my earthly hopes would never have occurred; that loved one would have been still walking at my side; that chaplet of sorrows would not now have been girding my brows; the Bethany sepulchre would have been unopened -- 'This my brother had not died!'"
Hush! hush! these guilty insinuations -- that dethroning of God from the Providential Sovereignty of His own world -- that hasty and inconsiderate verdict on His divine procedure.
"IF Thou hadst been here!" Can we, dare we doubt it? Is the departure of the immortal soul to the spirit-world so trivial a matter that the life-giving God takes no cognisance of it? No! Mourning one, in the deep night of thy sorrow, thou must rise above "untoward coincidences" -- thou must cancel the words "accident" and "fate" from thy vocabulary of trial. God, thy God, was there! If there be perplexing accompaniments, be assured they were of His permitting; all was planned -- wisely, kindly planned. Question not the unerring rectitude of His dealings. Though apparently absent, He was really present. The apparent veiling of His countenance is only what Cowper calls "the severer aspect of His love." Kiss the rod that smites -- adore the hand that lays low. Pillow thy head on that simple, yet grandest source of composure -- "The Lord reigneth!" It is not for us to venture to dictate what the procedure of infinite love and wisdom should be. To our dim and distorted views of things, it might have been more for the glory of God and the Church's good, if the "beautiful bird of light" had still "sat with its folded wings" ere it sped to nestle in the eaves of Heaven. But if its earthly song has been early hushed; if those full of promise have been allowed rather to fall asleep in Jesus, "Even so, Father; for it seems good in Thy sight!" It was from no want of power or ability on God's part that they were not recalled from the gates of death. "We will be dumb -- we will open not our mouths, because Thou didst it."
Afflicted one! if the brother or friend whom you now mourn be a brother in glory -- if he be now among the white-robed multitude -- his last tear wept -- for ever beyond reach of a sinning and sorrowing world -- can you upbraid your God for his early departure? Would you weep him back if you could from his early crown?
Fond nature, as it stands in trembling agony watching the ebbing pulses of life, would willingly arrest the pale messenger -- stay the chariot -- and have the wilderness relighted with his smile.
But when all is over, and you are able to contemplate, with calm emotion, the untold bliss into which the unfettered spirit has entered, do you not feel as if it were cruel selfishness alone that would denude that sainted pilgrim of his glory, and bring him once more back to earth's cares and tribulations?
"We sadly watch'd the close of all,
"But when its glance the memory cast
We have already had occasion to note the impressive and significant silence of the Saviour to Mary. We may just again revert to it in a sentence here. Martha had, a few moments before, given vent to the same impassioned utterance respecting her departed brother. Jesus had replied to her; questioned her as to her faith; and opened up to her sublime sources of solace and consolation. With Mary it is different. He responds to her also -- but it is only in silence and in tears!
Why this distinction? Does it not unfold to us a lovely feature in the dealings of Jesus -- how He adapts Himself to the peculiarities of individual character. With those of a bolder temperament He can argue and remonstrate -- with those of a meek, sensitive, contemplative spirit, He can be silent and weep!
The stout but manly heart of Peter needed at times a bold and cutting rebuke; a similar reproof would have crushed to the dust the tender soul of John. The character of the one is painted in his walking on the stormy water to meet his Lord; of the other, in his reclining on the bosom of the same Divine Master, drinking sacred draughts at the Fountain-head of love!
So it was with Martha and Mary, "the Peter and John of Bethany;" and so it is with His people still.
How beautifully and considerately Jesus studies their case -- adapting His dealings to what He sees and knows they can bear -- fitting the yoke to the neck, and the neck to the yoke. To some He is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, uttering His thunders" -- pleading with Martha-spirits "by terrible things in righteousness;" -- to others (the shrinking, sensitive Marys) whispering only accents of gentleness -- giving expression to no needless word that would aggravate or embitter their sorrows.
Ah, believer! how tenderly considerate is your dear Lord! Well may you make it your prayer, "Let me fall into the hands of God, for great are His mercies!" He may at times, like Joseph to His brethren, appear to "speak roughly," but it is dissembled kindness. When a father inflicts on his wayward child the severest and harshest discipline, none but he can tell the bitter heart-pangs of yearning love that accompany every stroke of the rod. So it is with your Father in Heaven; with this difference, that the earthly parent may act unwisely, arbitrarily, indiscreetly -- he may misjudge the necessities of the case -- he may do violence and wrong to the natural disposition of his offspring. Not so with an all-wise Heavenly Parent. He will inflict no redundant or unneeded chastisement. Man may err, has erred, and is ever erring -- but "as for God, His way is perfect!"