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JESUS SAID, TAKE YE AWAY THE STONE." — JOHN, XI. 39.
The text occurs in John's profoundly interesting narrative of the revivification of Lazarus. It cannot be necessary to recite the details of so well known a transaction. It may be proper simply to remind ourselves that when our Lord came to the closed sepulcher of his beloved friend, and stood there with Martha and Mary, and with the Pharisees who were watching what he would do, Jesus wept, and groaned in spirit, and then commanded the stone to be removed from the mouth of the cave in which Lazarus lay interred. Against this Martha remonstrated, as her brother had been dead four days and must be offensive. But Jesus insisted upon obedience to his command. Then they took away the stone, and our Lord, by His word of power, brought Lazarus up from among the dead.
There are some lessons suggested by this command of Jesus, under the circumstances, which seem to me very important.
The first is that God never performs an unnecessary act. We know most of God in Jesus. More than in nature, more than in any verbal revelation, God is manifested in Jesus the Christ. It is a very mellifluous line of the poet which tells us to "look through Nature up to Nature's God ;" but there is not a particle of practical good sense in it. No man ever did it. Nature seems rather a veil which the Creator has drawn over himself, so that no one would know that there is a God underneath unless He somehow revealed that fact. " For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen from the creation of the world," because "God hath shown" "that which may be known of Him." This is Paul's idea in Romans i. But in Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. The heart of God is shown to mankind in Jesus. Nature seems to be the outside and Jesus the inside of God. His motives and emotions are learned not by a long process of generalizations from the facts of the world, but by a simple, open-eyed, open-hearted, child-like ob-
servation of the movements of the intellect and heart of Jesus. If the life of jesus be the index by which men may know the workings of an Infinite Nature, then we must beheve that the
dear God, our Father, never does a single thing to afflict His human children unnecessarily, never takes any delight in their sufferings, is always ready to save them from their sins, and does whatsoever an infinitely wise and benevolent nature can suggest to make them happy. So Jesus was. So God must be.
Now, it is a remarkable characteristic of Jesus that He never spoke an unnecessary word nor performed an unnecessary deed. He never did for another what that person could do for himself There seemed to be omnipotence at His command. He claimed that there was. He performed acts which go as far as acts can go to prove such a proposition as the possession of limitless power. All disease was under His control. He could instantaneously heal lepers, open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of
the deaf, and give tone and health to chronic paralytics. All nature seemed under His control. He could still storms, and multiply bread a thousand-fold, even indefinitely, and change water into wine. He was the master of the grave. He sent His summons through its gate into eternity and called back the spirits of the long departed to reinhabit their former bodies. There is no perceptible limit to His power.
And yet He never performed a miracle to gratify His own passions or those of others. He never exerted His great power for display. If Jesus were a mere man to whom Almighty God had for a season delegated His almightiness, it is inconceivable that he should not at some time have put forth His hand to gratify the curiosity of His beloved friends, or to indulge His own desire for display, or bind the hands of His foes, or destroy them with His word of power. But He never did. I never knew a man, never heard of a man, find no record in any history of a man, so continent, so gloriously self-controlling, that he would not, at least once in a life-time, break over the bounds and exert this delegated power selfishly. Jesus never did. Then God
never does. It is the merest fanaticism to desire and pray that God will give us a sign, do a wonder, and set the universe agape at His monstrous power. He never did. He never will.
Taking the Stone away.
If His power seem glorious to us it is because that power is glorious. All that men see is what Habakkuk calls " the hiding of His power." God only does what God cannot leave undone.
Again: Our Heavenly Father never does directly what He can do through others. He has begotten children in many respects like Himself: like Him in capability of knowing, feeling, and acting : like Him in the perfect freedom of their
wills. He endows them. He gives them field. He gives them time. They must do all the rest. He will never do for any man, in any respect, what that man can do for himself. He will never do for the race what the race can do for itself. He gives wood, and iron, and coal. But He never builds a vessel, hammers out a boiler, adjusts machinery, or raises steam. He never constructs a locomotive, nor grades and lays a railway. He might have furnished Noah with a complete ocean steamer : but He did not. He let the patriarch hammer away at the ark through a century, but He did furnish him with the length, the breadth, and the height, because there was no skill in him to discover these, and they could not be known by the light of nature.
The Eternal Father could, in the very beginning, have stocked the world with all the implements of agriculture and trade, with all the facilities for the most rapid and comfortable traveling, and the instruments for scientific research, and have started His human family in house-keeping with everything complete at once. But He did not. He put man down among the great acts of God, the great facts of the uni-
verse, the great laws of His government, with all necessary physical, intellectual, and moral powers, and with due scope for their exercise, and man was to produce the result. God made the garden because man could not ; and then set man to dress the garden because God would not. That has been His way ever; and will be His way forever. It is mere fanaticism to do or desire anything different from this or contrary thereunto,
It is reasonable to suppose that the Eternal Father desires to have this earth brought to perfect cultivation, so that every spot shall be caused to bloom like the garden of the Lord or be made like a part of His holy temple, so that human life shall be enjoyed in its perfection, and the physical universe be the minister of the divine soul of man. In a moment, in a twinkling of the eye. He could make it such. But He does not. It may be centuries. It may be cycles. He leaves man to advance steadily, learning
from falls, and failures, and mistakes, each gen-
eration improving on its predecessor until the earth shall be subdued to man, and man shall be subdued to the obedience of Christ. There was no Golden Age behind us, except in the minds of the poets. There is a Golden Age before us, and to that we must continually stretch forward.
This same rule obtains in religious and spiritual man. We are taught the lesson that man'5 agency precedes God's working, that in th( spiritual regeneration of men there is first the agency of their fellow-men doing all they can do, and then the power of the mighty God doing what man cannot do. The dead Lazarus is a type of all our beloved ones who are still "dead in trespasses and in sins." The voice of Jesus in his revivification represents the voice and power of God in regeneration. But in the salvation of men God declines to do what it is possible for men to accomplish. Hence, we have human agencies, mere mortal instrumentalities, operating for the conversion of men from the error of their ways, beginning in them that resurrection unto life which can be consummated only by the Spirit of God. Hence we have
churches, sacraments, preaching, printed books. Hence we have the operation of the law of human influence, of husbands and wives, parents and children, teachers and scholars.
The Heavenly Father will not do for our children, dear brethren, what we earthly parents can do. He will not exert His omnipotence one particle toward building up our church in what we can do ourselves. He will not clean, and warm, and ventilate the building, and sing the hymns, and preach the sermons, and pay the pastoral visits, and instruct the Sunday-school. Because we can do these things, we must. He will not invite our friends to go with us to church, and exert over them the influence which we are bound to exert. But when we have gone to the end of our poor capabilities the Heavenly Father will do all the rest. He will not roll the stone from the mouth of the cave in which our dear brother lies dead, but He will stand at the mouth of the sepulcher and cry with the voice of divine, almighty, revivifying power, Lazarus, come forth.
It is in view of this permanent law of the uni-
verse that I come to beseech you as Christian men, who love your brethren, dead though they be, to go with Jesus to their grave, and consider the stone at the mouth of their sepulcher ; and while you believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, remember that he expects
Taking the Stone away.
you to do what you can, and while He does not say to you, " Bring your brethren to life again," He does say, " Take ye away the stone."
Let us consider some of the stones which it is possible for us to remove before Jesus does His mighty work.
There is the stone of indifference.
Your friend has no care for religious subjects. He does not doubt. He is far from denying. He never dreams of opposing religion or religious people. He is not a fool. There is no stupidity in his nature. He is not a hard-hearted egotist. He has ordinarily quick perception and fine emotions. He cares for many things. He is careful of himself. He guards his health and cultivates his mind and manners. He is devoted to his business and does not neglect his friends. His ear is open to the cry of sorrow and he interests himself in the advancement of his race. But somehow it has come to pass that there has never come to him a proper sense of his own spiritual condition, a making real to himself the vast and grand eternal spiritual system with which he is environed, the closeness of the spiritual to the natural, his individual responsibility to God his Father for his influence over man his brother, the necessity of seeking after holiness and living a life of faith in the Son of God.
Many things may have produced this indifference.
There is the engrossing work of life, the perpetual return of the bread question to be settled. He has perhaps always had to struggle for a livelihood, until the effort of working from day to day to keep life prolonged has grown into the habit of considering only such things as bear on that instant, immediate question.
Perhaps he is in a line above that ; but then the competitions of life are strong on him. He has heard so much of property, of merchandise and stocks, or boats and roads, of trade and gain-getting, that, feeling that he has as much brains perhaps as those who have made vast fortunes, he has entered the race. The competition is so keen that he has forgotten everything else. He is like a racer who does not notice whether the sun is shining or the clouds gathering, and takes account of nothing but his approach to the goal. All he needs is to be arrested and made to feel for a moment that he is wasting his energies for a prize he may not gain, or which if gained is not to be compared with something else he is neglecting.
Perhaps it is the indifference of ignorance. The man does not know that there is gold in
California or Australia, and keeps at his potato patch. He does not know the treasures and delights that are in a religious life, and so satisfies himself with the best things he does know, namely, his worldly pursuits and sinful pleasures.
Perhaps he is in a cold clime. There are no hearty Christian people about him to generate a warm religious atmosphere. He is freezing. He becomes stupid. When people are at the point to freeze they grow duller and duller. They desire to cease from all active exertion. They would rather die than stir. It is no mercy in a fellow- traveler to indulge a freezing man and let him take a short nap. A short nap under those circumstances may be the long sleep of death. He must tug at him, pull him, pound him, jerk him, pinch him, make him angry, anything but let him be quiet. Quiet now is death.
Your friend's indifference keeps the grave closed over him. You can at least try to take that stone away. Make him feel that nothing is so stupid, so wicked, so ruinous, as to ignore his Heavenly Father and the spiritual world. You must do this wisely, but you must do it. And 1 know no way so effectual as to make him see that whatever else you neglect, and to whatever else you may be indifferent, you are sensitively quick to all that pertains to the great surrounding and underlying spiritual world.
Another stone covers another grave. It is SKEPTICISM.
Men doubt. They hesitate. They question. But they do not yet positively deny.
There are two courses open to them. They may bury their doubts in their own hearts, and throw themselves back into indifference ; or they may open their minds to their friends. Their friends are either religious or irreligious. If the latter, they do not wish to hear anything on the subject ; and if they did hear, they have no care for such
things, no sympathy, no knowledge with which to help. If the former — you and I are of that class — what then? In religious circles the very name of" skeptic" has been doomed to infamy. Just say " he's a skeptic," and all men shun him as a leper. More so perhaps years ago than now ; but very much so now. A young man would sooner go to the pastor of his family and acknowledge himself a profane person, a drunkard, an unfaithful friend, than acknowledge he was a skeptic, skepticism being generally regarded in "evangelical circles" as worse than sin.
All that seems to me to be very wrong. Wc
Talcing the Stone away.
ought most tenderly to strive to ascertain whether this stone is over the mouth of the grave in which some dear child or some friend lies buried, and take the stone away. But if the friend should wake in the grave and find the stone and begin to bemoan his condition, would it not be most heartless in us to go away and leave him locked in there ?
For my part I would rather have all the irreligious men in my congregation intelligently and honestly skeptical than brutally indifferent. It is stupidity that is dreadful. Doubt means some attention to the subject. Doubt means being awake to the importance of thinking. Doubt means that the mind has not settled in wrong. Honest doubt means earnest study. If our religion be true, and if the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as we teach, is guaranteed to every man who sets himself to the honest investigation of the truth, then what have we to be afraid of? Many a man has been driven into sheer infidelity, into indifference, and into despair, because he did not dare tell his nearest friends what was his condition. If there be any such a soul in my congregation, let me say at least this much,
tihat he may favor me with a visit without fear that he will be despised or hated for any honest, uncaptious doubts. No, no ; I have a fellowfeeling for such a soul. The son of a minister of the gospel myself, entering the ministry in early life, and early the father of boys, having received much of my religion traditionally, not daring to say my thoughts aloud, I know what it is to fight the specters in the dark ; so that now there seems to me very little of all the great ground of truth I stand on which is not, by God's grace, conquered territory ; territory clung to all the more tenaciously and loved all the more dearly because it has been conquered in silent battles that were not easily and cheaply won.
O, my brethren, what our Master said to Thomas is true : Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believed : but doubting Thomas became a martyr for the faith ; and when the men who doubt have their doubts removed, not by sight but by faith, what blessed men are they ! Let your faith help their skepticism. Do not throw that poor man down because ye are so strong and he is so weak. Do not leave this stone on the
mouth of your brother's sepulcher. Make him feel that he is not necessarily lost because he questions, but that very many of all the Lord's most faithful followers have had just such experience as his, that Jesus sympathizes with all such souls and never wearies of them. O if we had
our dear Lord's patience with the bruised reed and the smoking flax, how many such reeds would be mended which are now broken, how many such wicks would flame into splendor which we now smother into darkness by our want of skill or want of feeling !
Another stone lies at many a grave's mouth. It is UNBELIEF IN CHRIST BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF IN Christians.
It is exceedingly difficult to persuade men, — we ourselves feel how difficult it is to believe, — that a cause must always be kept distinct from its professed adherents and defenders. Alas for the world if men were called to believe in Christians rather than to believe in Christ ! It ought
to increase the scrupulousness of Christians in all their behavior to know there are so few men of such philosophical cast or training of mind as to make this distinction. Ninety-nine out of every hundred men who are prejudiced against Christianity make a wrong use of the saying of Jesus, "By their fruits ye shall know them." The plain meaning of the Lord was that if their lives are not being brought into accordance with Christianity, these people are not Christians ; that they are to be judged, tiot Christianity.
If there be such present, I put it to your consciences whether you are acting fairly by your own intellects to acknowledge Christ's authority as decisive and not yield yourselves to his authority in all respects. You hold others to Christ's standard : who frees you ? But if you will quote the words of Jesus, are you not unfair to pervert them ? He says, " By their fruits ye shall know them," the false Christians ; but you use it as if He had said, " By their fruits ye shall know //," as if Christ had said, " Ye shall know the truth of Christianity by the evil doings' of them who are no Christians except in name." I submit to your own candor the task of correct-
ing this erroneous behavior of your intellect which is so injurious to you.
But, my dear brethren of the church, this wrong which unchristian people do to Christianity is no excuse for the wrong which our defective behavior does them. They could not make this mistake if we did not furnish the occasion. Let us look closely about us and see what is the spiritual condition of those nearest to us. The children of our neighbors are becoming humble, earnest young Christians. Ours are not. What is the reason ? Do not look, my brother, beyond yourself. Do not lay everything to their carnal minds and the pressure of the age, until you have thoroughly satisfied your own soul that you are not the stone at the mouth of the grave which holds
Taking the Stone away.
them. You will have much difficulty in settling that question. Your children love you and will not tell you. Perhaps their love has blinded them to the real state of the case. You are in their way to Jesus, and they love you so that they cannot see it. Search your own soul. If there be any evil way in us it will be sure to tell on our lives. We may be truly Christ's and He will own us at His coming ; and yet there may be some ugly streak in our dispositions, some bad manners, some unchristian roughness that perpetually perplexes our children and servants, and keeps the force of the Gospel from their hearts.
If there be present, as so frequently in this congregation there are, gentlemen who have many in their employ, heads of large manufactories, chiefs of large mercantile houses, who are communicants of some branch of Christ's church, let me beg them to consider their relations to those in their employ. My brother, how many are there in your house ? Fifty, sixty, perhaps a hundred clerks and others. How many of them are professing Christians ? You
do not know? How can you remain ignorant? If you had the slightest suspicion that one of them was a rogue, you would set your ingenuity to work and expend days in satisfying yourself, and feel rewarded by the profound satisfaction you would have in the discovery of his incorruptibility, or in the sense of safety experienced at his detection and expulsion from your house. But you do not know whether he is a Christian ?
My brother, facts sometimes come to your pastor that do not reach you. You are known as a successful merchant and a member of the Church. Mothers, off in New England or in the far South, have heard your fame. They have boys who long to be merchants and push their fortunes in this great city. It nearly kills those mothers to give up these boys. But if they can only secure situations in your house how happy those mothers would be ! Well, you take them. They are not religious. Their mothers feel so safe and happy because those boys are under your religious influence. You set them to work. You push them. You make them work when they should be sleeping, or when they should
be at the prayer-meeting. You stimulate them to undue methods of trade ; you show no care for their souls, nor your own, nor any other souls. They see you spending your Sundays, sometimes your communion Sundays, at hotels, "drumming" up custom. What then! What then ? O, m\ brother, you are not only allowing the stone to remain on the mouth of their i
graves, but you are heaping up stones and sealing the sepulchers. " Take away the stone !" Take it away this day. If all the members of my church would devote a portion of next week to tender religious care for their children and those in their employ, and the young people under their influence, the next communion Sunday would witness souls flocking into this church as the doves flock to their windows. It is related of Dr. Lyman Beecher that, while he was laboring most successfully in the city of Boston, he was asked how it was that he was able to accomplish so much. He replied, " It is not I that do it; it is my Church. 1," continued he, " preach as hard as I can on Sabbath,
and then I have four hundred members who go out and preach every day of the week."
Perhaps the heaviest stone over the mouth of the grave of those who are dead in sins is THE
INDULGENCE OF SOME VICE.
That must be taken away to let the voice of the Gospel reach the torpid conscience. And no vice so stands in the way of the progress of the Gospel as the vice of intemperance. I repeat in this sermon what I said in a speech last month, that I have found no wall so hard to penetrate, no obstruction to my usefulness as a minister of the Gospel so great as drunkenness. I tell you frankly that all the other troubles I have encountered in the building up of this church, taken together, have not been so great, so oppressive, so weakening as intemperance. " No drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God." While a man remains under the influence of strong drink the Gospel cannot reach him. So when a man is drinking the first thing is to break him away from that. Therefore, it is more than once on Sunday
night, after a day of work that had drained my vitality, I have walked and ridden until after midnight, going into places that were not seemly, intent on rescuing some man whom I loved who was going down into that fearful abyss. I knew that until by loving effort I had broker, that dire fascination over my brother all my preaching to him would be as when one pipes in the face of the whirlwind.
Brethren, I beseech you to give your earnest efforts to the removal of this great obstruction to the Gospel. Watch yourselves, however safe you may be ; watch your children and your clerks lovingly. Guard your homes. Take care that your dinner-tables on Sunday be not a gulf in which the sermons be drowned. Take care that your social pleasures have not the semblance of debauch. Take care that you do
Taking the Stone away.
not somehow cause to stumble and fail those earnest men who are striving to take the stone of intemperance from the grave of many a young Lazarus. God bless you, men. you who during the week are doing so much to prepare men for the Sunday, you who are no fanatics, who do not profess to be able to raise the dead, but are humbly striving to obey in your measure and widely the command of your Lord, " Take ye the stone away."
Finally, my brethren, let us go back to the grave of Lazarus. How Martha loved the dead, and how Mary loved him ! Their friends among the Pharisees sympathized with these sweet bereaved sisters. But they could not minister to the grief-stricken heart. They could go to the grave and weep ; but their tears could not fall in the sight of the beloved, their lamentations could not sth the dull cold ear of death. They might move the stone away, and go in, and bring Lazarus out, and slip off the grave-
clothes, and stand him upright in their presence. But there would be no comfort in that. He would still be sightless, and speechless, and deaf, and dead; and even offensive. They could
not speak him into life. There is no help for those who go to the grave without Jesus. Have you a beloved wife, or husband, or child, or brother, dead in trespasses and sins, buried in darkness, the grave covered with a stone ? Do you believe that Jesus is true when he says, *' I am the Resurrection and the Life ?" Take Jesus to the grave of your belo%ed. Jesus loves him. See how the Saviour weeps. Hear how the Redeemer groans. Do you not perceive how He loves him? Do all whatsoever Jesus bids you, as for your beloved. He will not make a mistake. He will not misdirect you. Do all He says. You can do no more. He does not require what is impracticable. He will do all the rest. But He will not remove the stone. Man's agency must precede God's power. "Take/^ away the stone," He says. Now, brethren, let us take every stone away from every grave's
mouth, and then we shall have our souls thrilled by hearing our Lord cry out, " Lazarus, come forth !" And then shall our eyes be gladdened by seeing the men who were dead in sins restored to spiritual life and added to the circle of our active Christian brotherhood.
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