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Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.'* — John xl 5.
It is difficult for us to form any conception of what can be the mode of the operation of the mind of the Eternal One — ^what it is for God to be angry, or to love, or to be in any way aflFected by the sight either of evil or good. And even among those who profess belief in the doctrine of a great First Cause, there is a danger of resolving the theory of a Deity merely into the theory of the existence of a principle — something which is destitute of animation or affection; powerful and operative, but lifeless and loveless. Mr. Erskine has written on this subject with great power, challenging the profession of many, as fashioning for themselves a god out of a bundle of doctrines without having their minds impressed with thoughts of a living Person whom these doctrines describe ; and Dr. Chalmers, in his " Bridgewater Treatise," has followed in the same course, with his usual power of impressive illustration, showing how many who profess belief in the existence of a Qod have no other feeling in regard to Him than they have in regard to the principle of gravitation, or of any other of the great laws of nature — confessing his existence, confessing his power and the
wondrous order and mutual adaptation of his operations, but at heart denying Him as a living Person who presides over the universe with a moral administration ; so that
just as no man can love the principle of gravitation, so they cannot love God. The object must be a living and a moral one before we can contemplate it with emotions of affection.
I have on former occasions illustrated how the Incarnation of the Son of God, among other purposes which it serves, comes to our aid in enabling us to realise God ; to have some defined operative conceptions of Him as an active, living, moral intelligence; a Person, and not a
mere principle-^" He that hath seen me," He said, " hath seen the Father." As God manifest in the flesh. He displayed in our own nature, so that we can comprehend and estimate them, what are the moral attributes of his Father. He was the Deity acting through the medium of humanity ; I would not say reduced to our capacity, but accommodated to our capacity; so that the question is removed from the airy region of metaphysical abstraction to the sphere of observation and experience ; and when we inquire, How does the eternal God feel towards the perverse and the penitent ? we have only to turn to Christ and witness his feelings towards the Pharisee on the one hand, and the Magdalene on the other, and then calculate upwards to his Father, and conclude that similar are the emotions of the mind of the Almighty, the all-creating and all-goveming Spirit of the universe. For Christ is the image of his Father — ^his express image ; and, as one of the objects of his mission, was manifested in this world and in our own nature, to illustrate what the divine nature and character are.
This is a lesson pregnant with use and application to the conduct of our own life, and the judgments we pronounce on others. When at any time we might wonder and be in doubt about the views which the Almighty
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Judge takes of certain modes of acting, and when we might be in danger of relaxing the laws of morality by dealing with ourselves aft^r the sceptical manner, " Of what concern to the Eternal One can be the conduct of insignificant man ? " — " Look at Christ/' says the gospel, and be saved from the delusion. Imagine what treatment He would have given you had you come in his way. If your heart is avariciously set on wealth, or the aggrandizement of yourself and your own family, so as to be steeled against the claims of the poor and the gospel; if you are a debauched or unclean person; if you are quarrelsome abroad and unkind at home ; if you were prayerless and unsanctified when Christ met you, and if He had seen no signs of penitence in you, with what kind
of a look would He have surveyed you, in what kind of language would He have addressed you? It is easily imagined: the look and the language would have been those of rebuke and indignation; whence learn what view God takes of thee, for Christ is his image. And if He had come on you when, in the circle of your companions, you were making apologies for the wicked, and endeavouring to smooth the horror of their chai*acters, oh 1 I am certain of it, that the holy Jesus would not have borne with thee for a moment, but would have broken in upon thy impure charity with the denunciation of one of his sharpest woes, as on a traitor to the cause of righteousness.
And Christ's measurement of men, remember, is God's measurement of them. When He spake woe on earth it was but the echo of the voice of his Father speaking woe from heaven. Or imagine, again, that He came upon thee in thy closet and overheard thy prayer of penitent confession, with what encouragement He would have
pronounced on thee the benediction of pardoned sin ; or if, when entering the cottage of sickness and penury. He had found thee by the bedside with thine alms and condolences, how He would have breathed on thee his salutation of peace ! Well, it is again the echo of his Father's voice.
This principle, that we learn in looking at Christ what are the feelings and judgments of the Eternal One whose image He is, I have on former occasions illustrated at considerable length. To-day, I have a lesson allied to it, if possible, of greater interest.
From the time of his entrance on his public ministry till his death, we can easily comprehend, in a great number of instances, at least, what were the feelings of our Lord. We can understand how He felt when He was angry ; and how He felt when He wept. But, after his death, when as watchers we have taken our station before his sepulchre,
and are witnesses of his resurrection, there is a danger that our confidence in his sympathy commence to suffer a diminution ; that it continue to wane, as, during his forty days residence on earth, we obtain only occasional glimpses of Him ; and that, when we see Him ascending from Mount Olivet, the clouds which receive Him out of sight should sadly cloud our faith in bis fellow-feeling with those He has left behind. But especially is there danger when we are told of the hosannahs with which He was welcomed back to his throne by the angelic host, and his reinstatement there by his Father as the Governor of the universe ; as our minds expatiate on the imagination of his glory, there is danger, I say, that our confidence in his kinsman-affection and sympathy undergo an entire extinction.
Observe, brethren, what it is precisely of which I say
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there is danger. I do not speak as if it were possible for any person, who retains the least portion of Christian faith, to entertain the unworthy 8us|)ieion of Christ, that elevation to honour and power should operate on Him as it does on some mean natures in this world, who, when they have been raised to a higher situation, forget and despise the companions of their poverty. None of us surely requires to be guarded against any such impression. Neither do I advert, at present, to our being in danger of losing confidence in Christ, in this respect, that because of his absence, as if we were not still under the observation of his eye, his benevolent regards will suffer a diminution of affection. Here is the case: we need more than benevolence on which we may meditate. We are afflicted with such a complication of evils, and, withal, we are so sensitive even to small grievances, that we need a particularity and minuteness of affection which we can obtain only from a kinsman. One who is so much a stranger to our nature, that he only knows it without having experience of it, will not suffice us. We must have one who can sympathize even with our tempers and childish complainings and foolish regrets, which might be
overlooked or mocked at by one who, howsoever benevolent, has not himself had a trial of our constitution.
Now, brethren, is it not true that we are in danger of beginning to lose confidence in this sympathetic kinsmanship of Christ the moment we witness his resurrection ? Not, indeed, of beginning to lose confidence in his benevolence and mercy, but in that peculiar tenderness which is characteristic of one of our own lineage ; and by the time we have seen Him seated on his heavenly throne, have we not almost entirely lost sight of his humanity, as if He were now only the God, and no longer the Man
also, to give us a brother's sympathy ? So that, just as
ia the case of the Eternal Father, we are ready to wonder what is feeling in Him, we also begin to wonder what is feeling in Christ. Whence it comes to pass that, just as we have need to be referred to the actings of Christ that we may learn what his Father is, so we have need to be referred to what Christ was in his humiliation, when He tabernacled among men, that we may know what He is now, when as the King of Glory He occupies the throne.
I should think that those of you who are possessed of any Christian experience will perceive clearly whither these remarks are tending ; but I am anxious that no one should fail to observe their bearing. Mark, therefore, that here is the evil to be guarded against. That though no believer can question or doubt the mercy which at present occupies the heart of the Redeemer, yet is there a danger that the more we contemplate the splendour of his crown our confidence should become weaker in the familiarity of his attentions; not because we think so unworthily of Him as to fear that in his exaltation He will despise the companions of his lowliness, but because we are ready to conceive of Him as if his nature were somehow changed (that is the exact idea), as if He had lost his human feelings, so as to make it impossible for Him to sympathize with men, as He once sympathized, and that we can only expect from Him a kind of stately,
king-like favour, much to be prized, no doubt, but rather of a general nature, and wanting in those special attentions and that sympathizing tenderness which all sensitive hearts so much require. Such is the evil and misconception which it is my present object to prevent or remedy.
Observe, therefore, that Christ is the same to-day that He was yesterday — the same in heaven that He was on
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earth — the unchanged and unchangeable. If we wish to know how Christ feels at present, let us review how He felt eighteen hundred years ago. He sits on his throne now, frowning on all Pharisees of the present day with the same feeling of indignation with which his soul was
moved against the heartless pretenders of the generation of old. " That fox " was his denunciation of Herod ; and think ye that Christ is partial, or that He has lost his moral sensibility, and that He can contemplate with coolness and indifference the blood-shedding perpetrated by certain Continental monarchs whom the demon of despotism has let loose on the world?* "That fox!" There is a rich sound of gospel, brethren, in these words of our Lord. They contain assurances for us, that there is indignation in heaven, burning hot against injustice and oppression, and waiting its time for avenging the cause of liberty, and redressing the wrongs of an abused and injured world.
Our more pleasant study, however, is to review the merciful acting of Christ when He was here in his humiliation state, that we may learn what He now is on high in his state of glory. Let the widowed and childless mother, therefore, reflect that Christ has not changed from what He was when He took compassion on the widow of Nain ; let the bereaved father reflect that He continues possessed of the same heart with which He entered the house of Jairus ; let those who are pained with disease reflect that, though in the altered circumstances his wisdom does not lead Him to act in the same manner in which He showed mercy to the palsied, and fevered, and
leprous, and impotent of former times, yet is his sympathy for affliction unabated from what it was, when virtue * Preached in John Street Church, Glasgow, in 1851.
went forth from Him to stanch the bloody issue, or when He rebuked the fever and it was quenched, or when He said to the sick of the palsy, " Take up thy bed and walk," or said to the leper, " Go, shew thyself to the priest that thou art clean ;" let the blind who dwell in darkness reflect that they have in Him who now reigns in the land of light a friend, if possible, more sympathetic than He was, when He summoned Bartimeus to his presence to have his eyes gladdened with the shining of the sun ; let the poor reflect that no change has passed over the heart of
Him who had compassion on the hungry multitude, and spread a table for them of such abundance in the desert. He has not yet forgotten, even after two thousand years of celestial glory have rolled over Him, what were his own sensations when He was tried with hunger in the wilderness. The raptures of Paradise have not effaced the remembrance of it, so as to make Him cease to be a High Priest who may sympathize with poverty. But, oh! especially let the distressed conscience reflect that at this hour He is as easily moved by the tears of penitence as when He pronounced his blessing on the Magdalene. And you who are distressed about a perverse son or naughty daughter, whence this faltering of heart in prayer for your child's reformation ? as if Christ had changed, and could no longer sympathize as He did of old with a parent's sorrow, when He ejected the demon, and gave the father back his son sound and in a right mind.
It would be easy, brethren, to multiply such references ; but I invite your attention especially to the cottage of Bethany, where dwelt Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and whither our Lord so frequently resorted. Whatever we discover in Him there let us transfer to heaven as being still the character with which He occupies the throne.
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The cottage of Bethany was situated in the country, a short distance from the city of Jerusalem, low on the side of the Mount of Olives. The landscape was exceedingly beautiful. I do not, of course, make great account of this, but neither am I disposed to let it go for nothing. The human soul of Christ was endowed, I believe, with what is called taste, in a state of high refinement, and is so endowed still. Yea, the eternal and unincamate Father Himself delights in the lilies of the field — otherwise He would not have arranged them so beauteously ; and although Christ's sympathies lie especially with what is spiritual and moral, yet, aU other things in this respect being equal, his spirit must prefer the rural scene, and, generally speaking, his saints will find Him more easily there. " Man made the town, God made the country :'*
we may therefore surely calculate that we are more likely to meet Him in the midst of his own works. But I shall not make a great complaint though some of you should treat the observation as being a mere sentimentalism.
Again ; The cottage of Bethany inside was clean and orderly. We may be sure of this from the character of Martha; and we detract jfrom the character of Christ — we injure his humanity — if we do not think that this was a recommendation of it when He tabernacled among men. And now that He is on his throne, I appeal to his lilies and all his flowers, as He Himself once did, if He do not still delight in simple elegance, orderliness, and external beauty. But again, I shall not complain heavily, though this be slighted also as a mere sentimentalism.
Consider now, yet further, the inmates of that cottage, and learn in what kind of characters Christ delights at present, since He delighted in them of old. They are three orphans, I suppose. Therefore learn, you who are
fatherless, but, especially, you who are both fatherless and motherless, that you have a peculiar share in the sympathy of the Son of God. He honoured the cottage of the orphans, by making it his place of sojourn, above all the dwellings of Israel Be faithful ; and his brotherhood will more than supply the loss of all earthly parentage. And you who are at present rejoicing in a father and mother's cherishing and care, what provision are you making against the time of their being withdrawn from you ? Have you provided yourselves with this heavenly brotherhood, of which you can never be bereaved ? And you parents, why so troubled and dismayed at the idea of your children being left orphans ? What grounds did He ever give for the suspicion that He would leave the children of his saints without guidance and protection ? Watch yourselves — ^that is, watch your own souls, and Christ will watch your children. Leave them the legacy of the blessing of his covenant.
It must be admitted, however, that the orphans of Bethany were in their personal character distinguished for their excellence. First, they were most affectionate towards each other. Never, no, never, would Christ have honoured their cottage by accepting of its hospitality, had there been harboured there the spirit of discord and contention. That both sisters loved Lazarus is beyond question ; that he loved them may be assumed unhesitatingly. That Mary loved Martha, her general character forbids us to doubt. And he would be an unreasonable person who would question Martha's love for Mary merely because of that fretful word which she used against her sister on a particular occasion. Let it be remembered that the cottage was Martha's, and that her sister and brother appear to have been her dependants. I am dis-
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posed to think that Martha had the strongest family affection of the three. But it is invidious to make preferences in such a case. They emulated one another in love, in mutual deference, mutual service and help, and mutual tenderness for one another's feelings.
To this scene Christ loved to resort. And not less even now does He delight to visit where brothers and sisters dwell in unity — where all the members of a family dwell in unity, whatever their relationship may be. It is no sentimentalism at all events now. Are there not some present, who feel themselves frowned upon from the throne of Him who of old selected this family group for the honour of entertaining Him while on earth, because their dwelling was one of peace and love ? Oh ! though there should be no enmity, or malice, or hatred at the root of the contention and discord, let even the bad temper be controlled, lest the discordant sounds make the Bedeemer pass by your dwelling, neither honoured nor comforted by his visit, though in prayer you had fervently invited Him.
But observe, secondly, that besides being a family of mutual affection, loving one another warmly, they all
loved God. It was religion which induced them to offer Christ the entertainment of their house. It was as the Messiah they received Him, and were so attentive to his comfort. You and your sister and brother may be distinguished for mutual affection ; not only the family pride, but the genuine family love may be strong. Yet what will it signify in the trying day, when no earthly friendship is of any avail, if the fear of God be a stranger to your house ; if, in all your conversation, no acknowledgment is made of Him ; if amid all your songs there is none to his praise ? It is only those who do his Father's
will to whom Christ will be a brother ; and without his brotherhood what comfort will any earthly brother, the
most affectionate, bestow on your dying hour? Nay, should your brother die before you, who shall comfort you over his death ? Who shall comfort you when you visit his grave, if the Son of God be not present with his sympathy ? Learn from the case of Mary and Martha of what importance it is, when a brother dies, to have a brother in Christ to bespeak the hecurt with the fraternal assurance — '^ I am the resurrection, and the life : he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live : and whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die." Lazarus is not dead — he only sleepeth. He shall wake again, and that not long hence.
Twice blessed they — those sisters and brothers — of whose union the common brotherhood of Christ is the principal bond 1 There is little brotherhood else worth the having; the sweeter it is at present, the more bitter wiU it make the cup of death. And oh, that eternity ! It cannot but be that ungodly sisters and brothers, how affectionate soever here, shall assail one another there with the most bitter recriminations, that they were so cruel to one another's souls, without mutual warning, as without mutual encouragement and help in respect of one another's best eternal interests. So will it be for ungodly spouses; so for all ungodly companions and friends. Deceive yourself not with the imagination that
though you should Ml under the judgment of God, you will at least have sympathetic friends with you to mitigate the affliction of that region of woe ; one of its greatest torments will be the mutual recriminations of those who were once the dearest friends. Tell me not, then, of the peace and love of your family circle, unless
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you can tell me of more — even that the Son of God is that common kinsman in whom your mutual affection is heightened, sanctified, and rendered perpetual, without apprehension that it shall ever be dissolved. Such was the love ©f the cottage of Bethany.
Thirdly: We are called to admire the fortitude of this
family. To be associated with Christ in any form, in those days of his humiliation and persecution, required firmness and courage of character ; but to be known and marked as the family who gave Him the shelter and hospitality of their dwelling required fortitude as well as affection in a higher than ordinary degree. Chj-ist loves the bold heart, for He Himself was bold. And how does not the bravery of these weakly women, in those times of scorn and danger, expose the cowardice of many who will boast of their independence, and yet be so afraid of the laugh of the infidel or profligate, as to manage that they will enter and retire from the company without having excited the suspicion, either by a look or a word, that they held the name of Jesus in the least respect ! Let .such beware of deceiving themselves with the thought that, notwithstanding, He may reveal Himself very intimately to their hearts in secret. I repeat that his delight is with the bold and brave.
Fourthly: Let us now look at the three separately. First, there is Martha. She gets far too little credit for her excellence. Beflect, she is the head of the house, and that it is to her principally that Christ was indebted for its shelter and hospitality. It is distinctly said that " A certain woman, named Martha, received him into her house " (Luke x. 38). To call her worldly-minded, then,
is an imputation as absurd as it is ungenerous. In her love of Christ she risked the loss of all through the per-
secution of his enemies. That which was wrong with her, and for which she was gently rebuked, was, that on that particular occasion she was cumbering herself too much with her household arrangements — proper enough at other times, but attention to which she should have relaxed, and taken more advantage of the opportunity of his presence to have her mind enlightened in divine truth. That opportunity Mary eagerly cultivated, and showed herself thereby to be at the time the more spiritualized of the two, though Martha seems to have profited by the rebuke, for at the time of the death of Lazarus,
both her conduct and the confessions of her faith excel those of Mary. As for Lazarus, he must have grown up to man's estate, for Christ calls him " friend Lazarus," which He could scarcely have done had he been a child or mere boy. From this we conclude that he was weakly in body, possibly weakly in mind ; for otherwise he would have been made an apostle. Whatever may be the case, he must have been peculiarly amiable, and warmly attached to Christ, for Christ loved him with special endearment. Such was the family whom Jesus loved, and with whom He had his most intimate and endearing communion. I might make the practical appeal in this way — ^Are our families such ? Do we strive to make them such ? But I turn it this way — Let each of us imagine we were in these olden times at Jerusalem, and heard that Jesus was at Bethany, would we have left in the evening, and made our journey to that cottage and endeavoured to get entrance ?
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