We find Mary at the feet of Jesus on three different occasions in her history, each one full of the deepest comfort and instruction. Let us look a little at them in their order.
That which stands first in moral order, is found in Luke 10. "Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house." And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dolt thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
There is something very blessed in the way in which her position and occupation are here described, she sat, and she heard; she had found out, in her measure at least, somewhat of His attractions, and her heart was restful enough to be quiet and still before Him, she could afford to sit at His feet. Alas! how little there is of that among us — so little real repose of heart and soul, and therefore so little real waiting on the Lord without distraction. It is an utter impossibility to make the Lord our one object, while we are as yet an object in ourselves, or while our hearts are restless and cumbered; and it would seem as if Satan's great aim at the present time was to introduce almost anything to the exclusion of Christ; things good and lawful in themselves, which have their own place and importance, are thrust by Satan in upon the minds of God's people, if by any means Christ may be thereby excluded from the one sole exclusive position which is His, namely, the absorbing, commanding motive and object of the heart. Take service, for instance, the blessed privilege of the saint, yet where it is the motive or object, Christ is displaced. In the history before us, Martha was, we are told, cumbered, and the Lord told her she was careful and troubled about many things. As yet she had not learned to sit restful at His blessed feet; she was thinking with anxiety how best she could serve His body. Mary sat at His feet, in repose and quietness — heard His word — thus meeting His heart and thoughts; her heart is at rest, her eye is turned towards Him, and her ear is opened to His voice. She is absorbed; He is her one object, she has but one thought. Oh, how blessed it is when this discovery is made — He has eclipsed and distanced all else.
And, observe, the order here is important, she sat and she heard; there is no place for the word of Christ in the ear, no liberty to hear, unless the heart is silent. There is a remarkable instance of this in Colossians 3, "Let the peace of Christ [not God] rule in your hearts," etc. Then follows, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Observe, the word of Christ dwells, where the peace of Christ rules; this latter decides all questions, is the umpire or tribunal under which the heart rests. But let me here guard against any misunderstanding: I have occasionally heard saints speak as if they were the antitype of Martha, because they were engrossed with their own concerns or cares; their businesses or their family commanding their entire thoughts, they excuse themselves by bringing Martha, the sister of Mary, down to their own level. Now this is entirely a mistake; it was no selfish, personal interest with which Martha's mind was occupied; she received Jesus into her house, and she busied herself in order to serve Him; but herein consisted the great difference between her and Mary, the latter served Christ according to His thoughts while Martha sought to render Him service according to her own thoughts. Mary consulted His heart, while Martha consulted her own, and hence the difference in the service. And is not this to be found largely among the saints at the present moment? How few there are who get near enough to the heart of Christ to know what would suit Him, and then to give Him according to all the thus discovered desires of His heart. This was Mary's better blessed part in this her first position, she sat and she heard; she was all repose, all ear, all eye for Christ. May the Lord grant His beloved people to know it more abundantly in these last restless days.
The next occasion finds her at His feet as a mourner. (John 11.) The bright day and dark day in her history, if I may so speak, serve to bring out the resource which He is to her. Lazarus, whom Jesus loved as well as Mary, has sickened and died; the desolations of the wilderness, the sorrows of the way, are to be known. There is but one place where the sun goes not down at noon. A three days' journey and no water found, and then what is discovered, bitter, taught Israel what sort of a place the wilderness was; and the tree cut down to sweeten the bitter waters, unfolded to them God's interest and care, if they only would learn it. We know how Israel carried themselves at Marah. (Ex. 15.) Let us see Mary there in John 11, and first notice how such a Marah does not break her rest: "Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him, but Mary sat still in her house." She who sat at His feet and heard His word, will not move without His word, but as soon as this message reaches her, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee," then we read, "As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him." She tarries for His word, His call, even in her deep, deep sorrow; but as soon as she has His word, she is as fleet of step to reach Him, as she was slow to move before. O! how blessed this is, dear reader, to wait thus for the Lord and trust in His word. But this is not all, for as soon as she reaches Him, she casts herself down at His feet — a well-known spot to her — with the simple confession of the glory of His person on her lips, "Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died." Now, mark what a contrast to all this is found in Martha; restless as she was when she heard that Jesus was coming she went to meet Him, with her heart charged with thoughts of the relief which she might get from Him. "I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." There is no time in which the unsubdued restlessness of our heart manifests itself more than the day of sorrow and bereavement. Relief is the highest and best thought we have in such a day, if we are unrestful; and hence you find it marked in Martha. But not so Mary; she finds her solace, comfort, and resource in Him, at whose blessed feet she cast herself: and He who spake to her and walked with her in this the day of her sorrow and anguish, is now actually Himself filling the blank in her heart.
And let no one think or say this is insensibility; superiority to that which presses upon your heart, is surely not to be insensible to it; but it is one thing to have sorrow rolling over you like a great wave, above which your head is never lifted, it is another thing to find in Christ that which sustains and uplifts the soul in the darkest day, when death has spread its sable mantle over all the heart could prize. I feel convinced that God intended us to feel the sorrow, and I am persuaded that the deepest acquaintance with Christ, and what He is in such an hour, is in nowise inconsistent with keen feeling.
"Many long years ago I was wounded with a wound, which has been green ever since. The Lord be praised for that blow! Through eternity it will proclaim His love to me!" Such is the language of one who has learned what it is to be solitary, and yet superior to it all in Christ. The wound may be green, while the heart finds its resource in Him who was dead and is alive again for evermore.
I have said relief was the foremost thought in Martha's mind: "I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." Who cannot see to what this pointed? It was the cry of the heart for relief. Is it amiss to look for such? Does God never give it?
Ah, reader, let me tell you what you will find to be real blessing: it is a resource known ere relief comes that gladdens the heart of Christ; the relief in His service, and He does serve us, blessed be His name. The resource is Himself. Herein lay the wide difference between Mary and Martha in John 11: the former found Him her resource, when death desolated her heart and her home; the latter looked to Him as the servant of her need. He would lead her higher, even to set before her heart Himself, who was the resurrection and the life, but she was not up to this; and hence, I feel sure, when "she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come and calleth for thee," it was the testimony of her own conscience, that she could not meet Christ, but that Mary could. The Lord was above Martha; in one sense, indeed, He was above and beyond them both, for they both in their turn speak of death, but life is His great theme. He had life in Him and before Him; and as another has blessedly expressed it, "The empty sepulchre displayed and celebrated it (John 20); the risen Christ imparted it." (John 20.) But, to return, how blessed it is to see the Lord Jesus, keeping the truth of Himself, as a resource before them both in such an hour, and to Mary He does not speak a word about His intention to raise up Lazarus, though He was on the road to do so at that time; and why? He is her resource, and fills the blank in her heart at that moment; and this she has ere relief comes. Is the relief less sweet when it comes, because He, whose service it is to us, is first known as the resource of the heart?
May the Lord give each of us to know this better as we pass through a desert land, the valley of the shadow of death.
Let us turn now and look at Mary "at his feet," on another occasion, for which those we have considered prepared her. In John 12 we find her there again; but how different from the two former or previous occasions. He was the contributor in these, she in this! She expresses Him as she had learned and known Him. It was a peculiar moment; death seems to have been in all their thoughts; the chief priests, in the hatred of their hearts, would seek to put to death the man who, alive among men, was the living exponent of Him who is the resurrection and the life. The Lord Jesus Himself thinks of death, that death by which He was about to glorify God and put away sin; and never did it come more forcibly before Him than when a picture of the kingdom presents itself. Israel for the time owning Him, and the Greeks wanting to see Him: then it was that those blessed words dropped fatness from His lips, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." But there was one beside whose thoughts were filled with death at that moment, and so we read, "then took Mary," etc. The action here recorded and commended of the Holy Ghost, was the fruit of acquaintance with the heart of Christ. She made His heart and His desires her study, not her own. This is the great secret of true and approved devotedness. Many are rendering Christ service, which is all very well in itself, but dates its origin no further back than their own wishes and desires. Mary's thoughts were formed by communion with Himself, and found their fitting expression at this moment, and how much they met the desires of His heart, these words tell, "She hath wrought a good work on me." (Mark 14:6.) There was but One who commanded Mary's affections at this moment, and there was but One who understood her; misapprehended and blamed for what was but waste in their eyes, Jesus vindicates her. O! how blessed to hear Him say, "Why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me."
Their greatest, loftiest thought, was to be a benefactor of man — it were waste to anoint the body of Jesus — the expression of communion with His thoughts, as well as the Father's thoughts about Him — but to bestow it upon the poor, to benefit man, what could be more praiseworthy, or desirable?
Again her action here told her estimate of all, even the very best, when He was going to die. Her world she will bury with Him. If He dies, all that could any longer detain her heart here is dead, too. Alas, how little we who have Christ alive in glory, know what it is to find our all there where Christ is. Not only not having it here, where Christ was, but is not, like Mary, but having it there in glory where Christ is, with whom the Holy Ghost has united us, and given us the consciousness of that union in our souls.
May we learn the blessedness of having to do with Christ, and as we know Him, to be the expression of Him in this poor world, until He come forth to receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also.