Now we find that three dead persons were raised by the Lord "visibly," thousands "invisibly." No, who knows even how many dead He raised visibly? For all the things that He did are not written. John tells us this, "Many other things Jesus did, the which if they should be written, I suppose that the whole world could not contain the books." So then there were without doubt many others raised: but it is not without a meaning that the three are expressly recorded. For our Lord Jesus Christ would that those things which He did on the body should be also spiritually understood. For He did not merely do miracles for the miracles’ sake; but in order that the things which He did should inspire wonder in those who saw them, and convey truth to them who understand… thus our Lord Jesus Christ performed miracles [so] that by those miracles He might signify something further, that besides that they were wonderful and great, and divine in themselves, we might learn also something from them.
These three kinds of dead persons, are three kinds of sinners whom even at this day Christ raises…For that dead daughter of the ruler of the synagogue was within in the house, she had not yet been carried out from the secrecy of its walls into public view. She was raised within and restored alive to her parents. But the second was not now indeed in the house, but still not yet in the tomb, he had been carried out of the walls, but not committed to the ground. He who raised the dead maiden who was not yet carried out, raised this dead man who was now carried out, but not yet buried. There remained a third case, that He should raise one who was also buried; and this He did in Lazarus.
There are then those who have sin inwardly in the heart, but have it not yet in overt act. A man, for instance, is disturbed by any lust. For the Lord Himself said, "Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart." He has not yet in body approached her, but in heart he has consented; he has one dead within, he has not yet carried him out. And as it often happens, as we know, as men daily experience in themselves, when they hear the word of God, as if it were the Lord saying, "Arise;" the consent unto sin is condemned, they breathe again unto saving health and righteousness. The dead man in the house arises, the heart revives in the secret of the thoughts. This resurrection of a dead soul takes place within, in the retirement of the conscience, as it were within the walls of the house.
Others after consent proceed to overt act, carrying out the dead as it were, that that which was concealed in secret, may appear in public. Are these now, who have advanced to the outward act, past hope? Was it not said to the young man in the Gospel also, "I say to you, Arise"? Was he not also restored to his mother? So then he too who has committed the open act, if haply admonished and aroused by the word of truth, he rise again at the Voice of Christ, is restored alive. Go so far he could, perish for ever he could not.
But they who by doing what is evil, involve themselves even in evil habit, so that this very habit of evil suffers them not to see that it is evil, become defenders of their evil deeds; are angry when they are found fault with; to such a degree, that the men of Sodom of old said to the righteous man who reproved their abominable design, "You have come to sojourn, not to give laws." So powerful in that place was the habit of abominable filthiness, that licentiousness now passed for righteousness, and the hinderer of it was found fault with rather than the doer. Such as these pressed down by evil habit, are as it were buried. What can I say, Brethren? In such sort buried, as was said of Lazarus, "By this time he stinks." That heap placed upon the grave, is this stubborn force of habit, whereby the soul is pressed down, and is not suffered either to rise, or breathe again.
Now it was said, "He has been dead four days." So in truth the soul arrives at that habit, of which I am speaking by a kind of four-fold progress. For there is first the provocation as it were of pleasure in the heart, secondly consent, thirdly the overt act, fourthly the habit. For there are those who so entirely throw off things unlawful from their thoughts, as not even to feel any pleasure in them. There are those who do feel the pleasure, and do not consent to them; death is not yet perfected, but in a certain sort begun. To the feeling of pleasure is added consent; now at once is that condemnation incurred. After the consent, progress is made unto the open act; the act changes into a habit; and a sort of desperate condition is produced, so as that it may be said, "He has been dead four days, by this time he stinks."
Therefore, the Lord came, to whom of course all things were easy; yet He found in that case as it were a kind of difficulty. He "groaned" in the spirit, He showed that there is need of much and loud remonstrance to raise up those who have grown hard by habit. Yet at the voice of the Lord’s cry, the bands of necessity were burst asunder. The powers of hell trembled, and Lazarus is restored alive. For the Lord delivers even from evil habits those who "have been dead four days;" for this man in the Gospel, "who had been dead four days," was asleep only in respect of Christ whose will it was to raise him again. But what did He say? Observe the manner of his arising again.
He came forth from the tomb alive, but he could not walk. And the Lord said to the disciples; "Loose him, and let him go." He raised him from death; they loosed him from his bonds. Observe how there is something which pertains to the special Majesty of God who resurrects. A man involved in an evil habit is rebuked by the word of truth. How many are rebuked, and give no ear! Who is it then who deals within with him who does give ear? Who breathes life into him within? Who is it who drives away the unseen death, gives the life unseen? After rebukes, after arguments, are not men left alone to their own thoughts, do they not begin to turn over in their minds how evil a life they are living, with how very bad a habit they are weighed down? Then displeased with themselves, they determine to change their life. Such have risen again; they to whom what they have been is displeasing have revived: but though reviving, they are not able to walk. These are the bands of their guilt. Need then there is, that whoso has returned to life should be loosed, and let go. This office has He given to the disciples to whom He said, "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven also."
Let us then, dearly Beloved, hear these things so that those who are alive may live and those who are dead may live again. Whether it be that as yet the sin has been conceived in the heart, and not come forth into open act; let the thought be repented of, and corrected, let the dead within the house of conscience arise. Or whether he has actually committed what he thought of; let not even thus his case be despaired of. The dead within has not arisen, let him arise when "he is carried out." Let him repent him of his deed, let him at once return to life; let him not go to the depth of the grave, let him not receive the load of habit upon him. But perhaps I am now speaking to one who is already pressed down by this hard stone of his own habit, who is already laden with the weight of custom, who "has been in the grave four days already, and who stinks." Yet let not even him despair; he is dead in the depth below, but Christ is exalted on high. He knows how by His cry to burst asunder the burdens of earth, He knows how to restore life within by Himself, and to deliver him to the disciples to be loosed. Let even such as these repent. For when Lazarus had been raised again after the four days, no foul smell remained in him when he was alive. So then let them who are alive, still live; and let them who are dead, whoever they be, in whatever kind of these three deaths they find themselves, see to it that they rise again at once with all speed.
Sermon 48, NPNF, s. 1, v. 6. from Treasures of the Fathers, vol. 3, pp. 42-44