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Commentary On John Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

John 11:39-44

39. Jesus saith, Remove the stone. Martha, the sister of him who was dead, saith to him, Lord, he already stinketh, for this is the fourth day.40. Jesus saith to her, Did I not tell thee that, if thou believe, thou shalt see the glory of God? 41. They therefore removed the stone from the place where he who was dead lay. And Jesus again lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.42. And I knew that thou hearest me always, but, on account of the multitude around me, I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.43. Having spoken these words, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.44. And he who had been dead came forth, bound hand and foot with bandages, and his face was wrapped in a napkin. Jesus saith to them, Loose him, and let him go.

39. Lord, he already stinketh. This is an indication of distrust, for she promises herself less from the power of Christ than she ought to have done. The root of the evil consists in measuring the infinite and incomprehensible power of God by the perception of her flesh. There being nothing more inconsistent with life than putrefaction and offensive smell, Martha infers that no remedy can be found. Thus, when our minds are preoccupied by foolish thoughts, we banish God from us, if we may be allowed the expression, so that he cannot accomplish in us his own work. Certainly, it was not owing to Martha, that her brother did not lie continually in the tomb, for she cuts off the expectation of life for him, and, at the same time, endeavors to hinder Christ from raising him; and yet nothing was farther from her intention. This arises from the weakness of faith. Distracted in various ways, we fight with ourselves, and while we stretch out the one hand to ask assistance from God, we repel, with the other hand, that very assistance, as soon as it is offered. True, Martha did not speak falsely, when she said, I know that whatsoever thou shalt ask from God he will give thee; but a confused faith is of little advantage, unless it be put in operation, when we come to a practical case.

We may also perceive in Martha how various are the effects of faith, even in the most excellent persons. She was the first that came to meet Christ; this was no ordinary proof of her piety; and yet she does not cease to throw difficulties in his way. That the grace of God may have access to us, let us learn to ascribe to it far greater power than our senses can comprehend; and, if the first and single promise of God has not sufficient weight with us, let us, at least, follow the example of Martha by giving our acquiescence, when he confirms us a second and third time.

40. Did not I tell thee? He reproves Martha's distrust, in not forming a hope sufficiently vigorous from the promise which she had heard. It is evident from this passage, that something more was said to Martha than John has literally related; though, as I have suggested, this very thing was meant by Christ, when he called himself the resurrection and the life Martha is therefore blamed for not expecting some Divine work.

If thou believe. This is said, not only because faith opens our eyes, that we may be able to see the power of God shining in his works, but because our faith prepares the way for the power, mercy, and goodness of God, that they may be displayed towards us, as it is said, Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it, (Psalm 81:10.) In like manner, unbelief, on the other hand, hinders God from approaching us, and may be said to keep his hands shut. On this account it is said elsewhere, that Jesus

could not perform any miracle there on account of their unbelief, (Matthew 13:58.)

Not that the power of God is bound by the caprice of men, but because, as far as they are able, their malice opposes the exercise of that power, and therefore they do not deserve that it should be manifested to them. Frequently, indeed, does God overcome such obstacles; but yet, whenever he withdraws his hand, so as not to assist unbelievers, this is done because, shut up within the narrow limits of their unbelief, they do not allow it to enter.

Thou shalt see the glory of God. Observe, that a miracle is called the glory of God, because God, displaying in it the power of his hand, glorifies his name. But Martha, now satisfied with Christ's second declaration, permits the stone to be removed. As yet she sees nothing, but, hearing the Son of God, not without a good reason, give this order, she willingly relies on his authority alone.

41. And Jesus again raised his eyes. This was the token of a mind truly prepared for prayer; for before any one calls on God aright, he must be brought into communication with him, and this can only be done when, raised above the earth, he ascends even to heaven. True, this is not done by the eyes; for hypocrites, who are plunged in the deep filth of their flesh, appear to draw down heaven to them by their stern aspect; but what they only pretend to do must be sincerely accomplished by the children of God. And yet he who raises his eyes to heaven ought not, in his thoughts, to limit God to heaven; for He is present everywhere, and fills heaven and earth, (Jeremiah 23:24.) But as men can never free themselves from gross imaginations, so as not to form some low and earthly conception about God, unless when they are raised above the world, Scripture sends them to heaven, and declares that heaven is the habitation of God, (Isaiah 66:1.)

So far as relates to the eyes, it is not a custom that must be perpetually observed, so that without it prayer is not lawful; for the publican, who prays with his face cast down to the ground, does not the less, on this account, pierce heaven by his faith, (Luke 18:13.) Yet this exercise is profitable, because men are aroused by it to seek God; and not only so, but the ardor of prayer often affects the body in such a manner that, without thinking of it, the body follows the mind of its own accord. Certainly, we cannot doubt that, when Christ raised his eyes to heaven, he was carried towards it with extraordinary vehemence. Besides, as all his thoughts were with the Father, so he also wished to bring others to the Father along with him.

Father, I thank thee. He begins with thanksgiving, though he has asked nothing; but though the Evangelist does not relate that he prayed in a form of words, yet there can be no doubt whatever that, before this, there was a prayer, for otherwise it could not have been heard. And there is reason to believe that he prayed amidst those groanings which the Evangelist mentions; for nothing could be more absurd than to suppose that he was violently agitated within himself, as stupid men are wont to be. Having obtained the life of Lazarus, he now thanks the Father By saying that he has received this power from the Father, and by not ascribing it to himself, he does nothing more than acknowledge that he is the servant of the Father For, accommodating himself to the capacity of men, he at one time openly proclaims his Divinity, and claims for himself whatever belongs to God; and, at another time, he is satisfied with sustaining the character of a man, and yields to the Father the whole glory of Divinity. Here both are admirably brought together by the Evangelist in one word, when he says that the Father heard Christ, but that he gives thanks, that men may know that he was sent by the Father, that is, that they may acknowledge him to be the Son of God. The majesty of Christ being incapable of being perceived in its true elevation, the power of God, which appeared in his flesh, gradually raised to this elevation the gross and dull senses of men. For since he intended to be wholly ours, we need not wonder if he accommodates himself to us in various ways; and as he even allowed himself to be emptied (Philippians 2:7) for us, there is no absurdity in saying that he abases himself on our account.

42. And I knew that thou hearest me always. This is an anticipation, lest any one should think that he did not stand so high in favor with the Father, as to be able easily to perform as many miracles as he chose. He means, therefore, that there is so great an agreement between him and the Father, that the Father refuses him nothing; and even that he had no need to pray, because he only executed what he knew that the Father had enjoined; but in order that men may be more fully assured that this is truly a divine work, for this reason he called on the name of the Father. It will perhaps be objected, Why then did he not raise all the dead? The reply is easy. A certain fixed limit was assigned to miracles by the purpose of God, so far as he knew to be sufficient for confirming the Gospel.

43. He cried with a loud voice. By not touching with the hand, but only crying with the voice, his Divine power is more fully demonstrated. At the same time, he holds out to our view the secret and astonishing efficacy of his word. For how did Christ restore life to the dead but by the word? And therefore, in raising Lazarus, he exhibited a visible token of his spiritual grace, which we experience every day by the perception of faith, when he shows that his voice gives life.

44. Bound hand and foot with bandages. The Evangelist is careful to mention the napkin and bandages, in order to inform us that Lazarus went out of the tomb, in the same manner that he was laid in it. This mode of burying is retained to the present day by the Jews, who cover the body with a shroud, and wrap the head separately in a handkerchief.

Loose him, and let him go. To magnify the glory of the miracle, it only remained that the Jews should even touch with their hands that Divine work which they had beheld with their eyes. For Christ might have removed the bandages with which Lazarus was bound, or made them to give way of themselves; but Christ intended to employ the hands of the spectators as his witnesses.

The Papists act an excessively ridiculous part, by endeavoring to draw auricular confession from this passage. They say, |Christ, after having restored Lazarus to life, commanded his disciples to loose him; and therefore it is not enough for us to be reconciled to God, unless the Church also pardon our sins.| But whence do they conjecture that the disciples were enjoined to loose Lazarus? On the contrary, we may infer that the order was given to the Jews, in order to take from them every ground of doubt or hesitation.

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