Man -- short-sighted man -- often raises impossibilities when God does not. It is hard for rebellious unbelief to lie submissive and still. In moments when the spirit might well be overawed into silence, it gives utterance to its querulous questionings and surmisings rather than remain obedient at the feet of Christ, reposing on the sublime aphorism, "All things are possible to him that believeth." In the mind of Martha, where faith had been so recently triumphant, doubt and unbelief have begun again to insinuate themselves. This "Peter of her sex" had ventured out boldly on the water to meet her Lord. She had owned Him as the giver of life, and triumphed in Him as her Saviour! But now she is beginning to sink. A natural difficulty presents itself to her mind about the removal of the incumbent grave-stone. She avers how needless its displacement would be, as by this time corruption must have begun its fatal work. Four brief days only had elapsed since the eye of Lazarus had beamed with fraternal affection. Now these lips must be "saying to corruption, Thou art my father; to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister." Death, she felt, must now be stamping his impressive mockery on that cherished earthly friendship, and, attired in his most terrible insignia, putting the last fatal extinguisher on the glimmerings of her faith and hope. "What need is there, Lord," she seems to say, "for this redundant labour? My brother is far beyond the reach even of a voice like Thine. Why excite vain expectations in my breast which never can be realised? That grave has closed upon him for the 'for ever' of time. Nothing now can revoke the sentence, or reanimate the silent dust, save the trump of God on the final day."[16]

Thus blindly did Martha reason. She can see no other object her Redeemer can have for the removal of the stone, save to gaze once more on a form and countenance He loved. Both for His sake, and the strangers assembled, she recoils from the thought of disclosing so humiliating a sight.

Alas! how little are fitful frames and feelings to be trusted. Only a few brief moments before, she had made a noble protestation of her faith in the presence of her Lord. His own majestic utterances had soothed her griefs, dried her tears, and elicited the confession that He was truly the Son of God. But the sight of the tomb and its mournful accompaniments obliterate for a moment the recollection of better thoughts and a nobler avowal. She forgets that "things which are impossible with men are possible with God." She is guilty of "limiting the Holy One of Israel."

How often is it so with us! How easy is it for us, like Martha, to be bold in our creed when there is nothing to cross our wishes, or dim and darken our faith. But when the hour of trial comes, how often does sense threaten to displace and supplant the nobler antagonist principle! How often do we lose sight of the Saviour at the very moment when we most need to have Him continually in view! How often are our convictions of the efficacy of prayer most dulled and deadened just when the dark waves are cresting over our heads, and voices of unbelief are uttering the upbraiding in our ears, "Where is now thy God?" But will Jesus leave His people to their own guilty unbelieving doubts? Will Martha, by her unworthy insinuations, put an arrest on her Lord's arm; or will He, in righteous retribution for her faithlessness, leave the stone sealed, and the dead unraised?

Nay! He loves His people too well to let their stupid unbelief and hardness of heart interfere with His own gracious purposes! How tenderly He rebukes the spirit of this doubter. "Why," as if He said, "Why distrust me? Why stultify thyself with these unbelieving surmises. Hast thou already forgotten my own gracious assurances, and thine own unqualified acceptance of them. My hand is never shortened that it cannot save; my ear is never heavy that it cannot hear. I can call the things which are not, and make them as though they were. Said I not unto thee, in that earnest conversation which I had a little ago outside the village, in which Gospel faith was the great theme, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?"

This Bethany utterance has still a voice, -- a voice of rebuke and of comfort in our hours of trial. When, like aged Jacob, we are ready to say, "All these things are against me;" when we are about to lose the footsteps of a God of love, or have perhaps lost them, there is a voice ready to hush into silence every unbelieving doubt and surmise. "Although thou sayest thou canst not see Him, yet judgment is before Him, therefore trust thou in Him." God often thus hides Himself from His people in order to try their faith, and elicit their confidence. He puts us in perplexing paths -- "allures" and "brings into the wilderness," only, however, that we may see more of Himself, and that He may "speak comfortably unto us." He lets our need attain its extremity, that His intervention may appear the more signal. He suffers apparently even His own promises to fail, that He may test the faith of His waiting people; -- tutor them to "hope against hope," and to find, in unanswered prayers and baffled expectations, only a fresh reason for clinging to His all-powerful arm, and frequenting His mercy-seat. He dashes first to the ground our human confidences and refuges, shewing how utterly "vain is the help of man;" so that faith, with her own folded, dove-like wings, may repose in quiet confidence in His faithfulness, saying, "In the Lord put I my trust: why say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?"

Reader! It would be well for you to hear this gentle chiding of Christ, too, in the moment of your spiritual depression; -- when complaining of your corruptions, the weakness of your graces, your low attainments in holiness, the strength of your temptations, and your inability to resist sin. "Said I not unto thee," interposes this voice of mingled reproof and love, "My grace is sufficient for thee?" "The bruised reed I will not break, the smoking flax I will not quench." "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." We are too apt to look to ourselves, to turn our contemplation inwards, instead of keeping the eye of faith centered undeviatingly on a faithful covenant-keeping God, laying our finger on every promise of His Word, and making the challenge regarding each, "Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not bring it to pass?"

Yes; there may be much to try and perplex. Sense and sight may stagger, and stumble, and fall; we may be able to see no break in the clouds; "deep may be calling to deep," and wave responding to wave, "yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me." If we only "believe" in spite of unbelief; hoping on, and praying on, and trusting on; like the great Father of the faithful, in the midst of adverse providences, "strong in faith, giving glory to God," He will yet cause the day-spring from on high to visit us. Even in this world perplexing paths may be made plain, and slippery places smooth, and judgments "bright as the noonday;" but if not here, there is at least a glorious day of disclosures at hand, when the reign of unbelieving doubt shall terminate for ever, when the archives of a chequered past will be ransacked of their every mystery; -- all events mirrored and made plain in the light of eternity; and this saying of the weeping Saviour of Bethany obtain its true and everlasting fulfilment, "SAID I NOT UNTO THEE, IF THOU WOULDST BELIEVE, THOU SHOULDST SEE THE GLORY OF GOD?"

xiii the grave stone
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