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TAKE YE AWAY THE STONE.

Sermon

PREACHED AT REGENT SQUARE CHURCH,
ON SABBATH MORNING, NOVEMBER 16TH, 1890,

BY THE

REV. JOHN MCNEILL.

TEXT.-“ Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.

He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”—John xi. 39, 44. FROM which passages preachers, ever since the beginning, I

suppose, have found occasion to descant on this theme : that while the Lord does the work, and the Lord gets, or should get, all the glory, He will not do for us what we can do for ourselves. It is a legitimate use of the text, and a most needful subject for teaching and exhortation. May the Spirit of God open up and apply to us this Scripture.

You know the circumstances. Lazarus, to the great grief of his sisters, had died. He had been buried, and had now lain in his grave four days. The Lord knew about their trouble at Bethany, and yet stayed away till all was over. Festina lente,” says the Latin proverb; He “made haste slowly” to come to them. He allowed the sickness to do its worst, so that, in the issue, He might increase their faith, and bring glory to His holy name. “I am glad for

Vol. III.—No. 2.

your sakes that I was not there,” He said, “to the intent ye may believe. Nevertheless, let us go unto him.”

When the Lord arrived at Bethany, you remember how they gathered round Him, the sorrowing sisters, the partlysorrowing and partly-curious neighbours. You remember also that natural, human question He asked, “ Where have ye laid him ?” And their natural answer, Lord, come and see.” And it is just there that our text introduces us to the solemn, awful scene at the grave's mouth, where our Lord Jesus Christ brought dead Lazarus back again to life. He dried His weeping eyes, and theirs, and ours, with the last best only solace—the resurrection from the dead.

But now to our subject. “Take ye," He said, “ Take ye away the stone.” On this side of what He afterwards did, the stone is a great thing. On the other side it is nothing, or next to nothing, and I want you to look at that. Here is a great supernatural work, the greatest work that Christ did, made to depend, or to wait upon, such a small thing as this. “ Take ye away the stone.” He will not do it. He could have done it. We all sympathize with Bishop Hall, who, in his pithy way, says that if a thousand rocks and mountains had been piled upon dead Lazarus, Christ, by His word, could still have lifted him up. " How then,

he says,

“ does He seem to stick at this mere shovelful : 'take ye away the stone ??” Ah, He sticks at the shovelful surely in order to draw our attention to the shovelful, in order to convince us that, as Bishop Hall again says, “ until our hands do their utmost, His do not move." Then, to come to the application to Christian work and workers, it just comes to this : Do we want to see Lazarus up again ? Do we love our brother enough to want to see him restored ? I speak now spiritually; I do not take time to prove that there is here a parable and symbol of spiritual death and spiritual restoration. I take that for granted, and come at once to the point, and to what we are all talking about in these days, General Booth's plan, through the agency of the Salvation Army, for bringing up again from the graves of lust and drunkenness, starvation and physical misery, the “ submerged tenth.” Do we want to see our brother raised ? Do we want to see death rolled back and life brought in ? Do we want to see misery undone, souls saved, this quarter of society sweetened and made clean ? Then the proof of the reality of our wanting to see that is, bend your back and lift. " Take ye away the stone." Until God sees us in “ dead earnest,” bending our backs, leaving our “dainty loves and slothful sympathies,” and taking a two-handed grip of all manner of obstructions, He will not move. He cannot be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever we sow, that we shall reap;” and if we only sow sentiment and half-heartedness, do not let us expect to reap social and individual regeneration.

“ Take ye away the stone.” This was the stone, as Dr. Cuyler puts it, “the stone that stopped the blessing," and many is the stone that stops the blessing at this very day. Let us look again at that-stones that stand between Christ and the quickening of dead souls, dead families, dead cities, dead nations, a dead world. Well, here is one great stone that Martha mentioned at first : “Lord, by this time he stinketh. He has been dead four days. Let the stone alone. Do not meddle with it—it is too late." We are almost thankful to Martha for bringing it out blankly and openly. “Lord, Thou hast come too late, even Thou. Thou shouldest have been here four days ago, and

earlier.” It is well to bring it out—that one great stone that stops the blessing is what, for want of a better name, we must call Christian unbelief. Even while our hearts are wrung at the misery and distress, there is this hard rock within them: “It is too late; can't be done. No use trying.”. May the Lord help us to roll away that stone. It is a real obstacle—take ye that away. Do we believe, Christian brothers, do we believe this grave can be emptied ? Do ye believe the drunkard can be taken out of his pit? Do ye believe that she whom we pharisaically call the “fallen sister" can be saved ? That the masses can be reached ? Take all these pits, and caves, and graves, with their swollen corpses; now, do ye believe that if we uncover them, if we show the road out of them, the Lord of life and glory will do His part—“Yes” or “No”?

Before we tackle General Booth's scheme, before we go. a step further with our own smaller schemes—for his is just on a big scale what we have all been doing in a smaller way

for years—before we tackle it, let us see that we have got this stone rolled away that lay big and heavy on dear Martha's heart. Nobody will accuse Martha of indifference, She would fling her arms round her brother if she could only get him back. But see what a blinding thing unbelief is. “Lord, Thou hast come too late," she virtually says. When we think of the “submerged tenth," and how they have got there, and how long they have been there; when we think of the four days, and their fast-multiplying corruption, how fares it with our Faith and Hope ? For I believe that, physically, Martha was right. I think you are wrong if you take the view that God kept that body from the natural process of decomposition. When we think, I say, of the grave, and the stone at the mouth of it, and all the

riot of death within, do we believe that there is a Power in the Cemetery—a Power on the field, not too late, not too weak, but adequate most marvellously to undo what sin, and death, and hell have brought about?

Some commentators say that the Lord said gently to Martha, " Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” I don't believe there was a gentle tone or syllable in what He said. I believe if ever the Christ of God was roused to rebuke His own, it was then; and that He turned round firmly, with no softness or gentleness in either voice, or look, or emphasis : “ Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” The Christian Church needs that to-day. We all need it gathered here this morning. “ Said I not unto thee—what do ye count Me for?” saith the Lord, as He steps on the scene.

Why will you work out your calculations for the regeneration of the individual, or society, or the race, and leave out this tremendous factor, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, AND I AM HERE.' “The Son of Man is come, and that alters every calculation.” The very multiplication-table, the four days, this “Ready-Reckoner" of unbelief is fallacious.

We come back to this : “Is the stone lifted ?" Take away the stone, first of all, of unbelief, of poor faith, of grief that has made its eyes so blurred and red with weeping that it cannot see the Lord. That is weeping overdone. Dry your eyes from that grief as quickly as you can, and set your face on His. Aye, there are many stones. A hundred years ago the Church was asked to face the task of foreign missions. This was the stone that lay, between her and that Divine work : " Ah," she said, “it is not the Lord's time. Can't be done." Not “ too

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