"Then MARTHA said unto Jesus—Lord, IF you had been here, my brother would not have died."—John 11:21
"Then when MARY had come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying unto Him—Lord, IF you had been here, my brother would not have died."—John 11:32
At no time more than on the occasion of early deaths and early graves does the sad brooding over 'second causes' come into painful, and sometimes unworthy conflict with the Christian's better faith and loftier confidences.
The words of both the Bethany mourners, which head this meditation, the natural expression of their sorrowing spirits, may help to carry with them to the heart of the bereaved, lessons alike of tender rebuke and of patient resignation.
It is unnecessary again to rehearse the narrative, which has furnished us with the subject of a previous paper. Martha had already, in her interview with her Master, and her sister Mary now repeats in broken accents, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." Often at a season of sore bereavement some one poignant thought or reflection takes possession of the mind, and, for the time, overmasters every other. This echo of the one mourner's utterance by the other, leads us to conclude that it had been a familiar and often-quoted phrase during these days of protracted agony. This independent quotation, indeed, on the part of each, gives a truthful beauty to the whole inspired story.
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 silence of the deserted chamber by exclaiming, "If He had been with us, 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 beloved Lazarus might have been a living and loving brother still! Oh, that the Lord had delayed for a brief week that needless journey to Perea, 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 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!"
Is it not, we repeat, 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 would still be alive! If that means, or that remedy, or that judicious caution had been employed—this terrible overthrow of my earthly hopes would never have occurred—that beloved one would have been still walking at my side—that chaplet of sorrows would not now have been girding my brows—the Bethany sepulcher would have been unopened—my son, my daughter, my sister, my brother—would not have 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 You had 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 cognizance of it? No! Afflicted one, in the deep night of your sorrow, you must rise above "adverse coincidences"—you must cancel the words "accident" and "fate" from your vocabulary of trial. God, your God, was there! If there are 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." It is not for us 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 poet's "beautiful bird of light," quoted in our last, had still "sat with its folded wings" before it sped so soon 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—be assured it was from no lack of power or ability on God's part, that they were not recalled from the gates of death.
Mourner! if the child whom you bewail is now in glory among the ingathered multitude, forever beyond reach of sinning and sorrowing, the turmoil and the battle—can you upbraid your God for his early departure? Would you weep him back, if you could, from his early heritage of bliss?
Fond nature, as it stands in trembling agony watching the ebbing pulses of life, would willingly arrest the pale messenger—stay the chariot—have the wilderness relighted with his smile, and the future radiant with the gleams which youthful intelligence and truth had promised.
But when all is over, and you are able to contemplate, with calm emotion, the untold joy into which the unfettered spirit has entered, do you not feel as if it were cruel selfishness alone that would divest that sainted one of his glory, and bring him back to grapple with earth's cares and tribulations?
Yes, "You have been here!" All has been ordered, arranged, appointed. 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!" 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 a wise Heavenly Parent. He will inflict no unneeded chastisement. Man may err, has erred, and is ever erring. But "The Lord is righteous in all His ways!"
Oh, sad are they who can observe