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John, xi. 25, 26.
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. Believest thou this?
Except the cure of the two blind men at Jericho, some cures in the temple in the Passion-week, the malediction of the fig-tree, and certain manifestations of our Lord's power upon the seizure of his person in the garden of Gethsemane, - except these, the raising of Lazarus from the dead was, I think, the last public miracle performed by Christ during his abode in the flesh. It was undoubtedly among the most considerable which we read of in the whole course of our Lord's ministry; and was an apt prelude to that greatest miracle of all, the seal of his mission and of our hope, his own resurrection from the dead. Accordingly, we find him preparing himself for this exhibition of his power on the person of his deceased friend with particular care and solemnity. He was at a distance from Bethany, the place of Lazarus’s residence, when Lazarus first fell sick; the alarm of the Jewish rulers, excited by his cure of the man born blind, and by his open claim to be the Son of God and One with the Father, having obliged him to retire to Bethabara. When he received the news of his friend's illness, notwithstanding his affection for Lazarus and his sisters, he continued two days in the place where the message found him ; that the catastrophe might take place before his miraculous power should be interposed. He had, indeed, already restored life in two instances : the daughter of Jairus was one ; and the widow's son of Nain was the other. But in both these instances, the evidence of the previous fact, that death had really taken place, was not so complete and positive as our Lord intended it should be, and as it really was, in the case of Lazarus. Accordingly, it is remarkable, that our Lord's apostles, although they had been witnesses to these miraculous recoveries of Jairus's daughter and the widow's son of Nain, entertained not at the time of Lazarus's death the most distant apprehension that their Master's power went to the recovery of life once truly and totally extinguished. This appears from the alarm and the despair, indeed, which they expressed, when he informed them that Lazarus was dead, and declared his intention of visiting the afflicted family. They had so little expectation that the revival of Lazarus could be the effect, or that it was indeed the purpose, of his journey, that they would have dissuaded him from leaving the place of his retirement; conceiving, as it should seem, that the only end of his proposed visit to Bethany would be to gratify the feelings of a useless sympathy at the hazard of his own safety. “ Master," they say unto him, “ the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again ?” And when they found him deter
“that we may die with him.” They rather expected to be themselves stoned by the Jews together with their Master, and to be one and all as dead as Lazarus, in a few days, than to see the life of Lazarus restored.
I must observe, by the way, that these sentiments, expressed by the apostles upon this and similar occasions, afford a clear proof that the disciples were not persons of an over easy credulity, who may
any colour of probability be supposed to have been themselves deceived in the wonders which they reported of our Lord. They seem rather to have deserved the reproach which our Lord after his resurrection cast upon them,-“ Fools and slow of heart to believe !” They seem to have believed nothing till the testimony of their own senses extorted the belief. They reasoned not from what they had once seen done to what more might be : they built no probabilities of the future upon the past : they formed no general belief concerning the extent of our Lord's power from the effects of it which they had already seen. After the miraculous meal of the five thousand upon five loaves and two fishes, we find them filled with wonder and amazement that he should be able to walk upon a troubled sea, and to assuage the storm. And in the present instance, their faith in what was past carried them not forward to the obvious conclusion, that he who snatched the daughter of Jairus from the jaws of death, and raised a young man from his coffin, would be able to bring back Lazarus from the grave. And this, indeed, was what was to be expected from persons like them, of low occupations and mean attainments, whose minds were unimproved by education and experience: for however certain modern pretenders to superior wisdom may affect to speak contemptuously of the credulity of the vulgar, and think that they display their own refinement and penetration by a resistance of the evidence which satisfies the generality of men, the truth is, that nothing is so much a genuine mark of barbarism as an obstinate incredulity. The evil-minded and the illiterate, from very different causes, agree, however, in this, that they are always the last to believe upon any evidence less than the testimony of their own senses. Ingenuous minds are unwilling to suspect those frauds in other men to which they feel an aversion themselves : they always, therefore, give testimony its fair weight. The larger a man's opportunities have been of becoming acquainted with the occurrences of his own and former ages, the more he knows of effects daily arising from causes which never were expected to produce them, -of effects in the natural world, of which he cannot trace the cause ; and of facts in the history of mankind which can be referred to no principle in human nature, — to nothing within the heart and contrivance of man. Hence the man of science and speculation, as his knowledge enlarges, loses his attachment to a principle to which the barbarian steadily adheres, — that of measuring the probability of strange facts by his own experience. He will be, at least, as slow to reject as to receive testimony ; and he will avoid that obstinacy of unbelief which is satisfied with nothing but ocular demonstration, as of all erroneous principles the most dangerous, and the greatest obstacle to the mind's improvement. The illiterate man, unimproved by study and by conversation, thinks that nothing can be of which he hath not seen the like : from a diffidence, perhaps, of his own ability to examine evidence, he is always jealous that you have an intention to impose upon him, and mean to sport with his credulity: hence his own senses are the only witnesses to which he will give credit. I am persuaded that nothing hath so much contributed to spread infidelity among the lower ranks of people, as the fear of discovering their weakness by being over credulous, and the use which artful men have made of that infirmity.
But to return from this digression to my subject. It was our Lord's intention, that the miracle of Lazarus's resurrection should be complete and unexceptionable in all its circumstances : he continued, therefore, at Bethabara till the man was dead; and he seems to have made delays upon the road, to give time for the report of his arrival to be spread, that a multitude might be assembled to be observers and witnesses of his intended miracle. Lazarus had been dead four days when our Lord arrived ; a space of time in which, in the warm climate of Judea, a general putrefaction was sure to take place, and render the signs of death unequivocal. Martha, one of the surviving sisters, met our Lord upon the road, at some little distance from the town : she accosted him in terms which rather indicated some distant doubtful hope of what his compassion and his affection for the family might incline him to do, than any expectation that her wishes would be realised. “ Lord,” said she, “ hadst thou been here, my brother had not died : but I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” She presumes not to ask him to raise her brother; - it was a thing too great to be abruptly asked : she indirectly and mo