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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XVI. THE OMNIPOTENT SUMMONS.

Memories Of Bethany by John Ross Macduff

XVI. THE OMNIPOTENT SUMMONS.

The moment has now come for the voice of Omnipotence to give the mandate. The group have gathered around the sepulchral grotto -- the Redeemer stands in meek majesty in front -- the teardrop still glistening in His eye, and that eye directed heavenward! Martha and Mary are gazing on His countenance in dumb emotion, while the eager bystanders bend over the removed stone to see if the dead be still there. Yes! there the captive lies -- in uninvaded silence -- attired still in the same solemn drapery. The Lord gives the word. |Lazarus come forth!| peals through the silent vault. The dull, cold ear seems to listen. The pulseless heart begins to beat -- the rigid limbs to move -- Lazarus lives! He rises girt in the swaddling-bands of the tomb, once more to walk in the light of the living.

Where Scripture is silent, it is vain for us to picture the emotions of that moment, when the weeping sisters found the gloomy hours of disconsolate sorrow all at once rolled away. The cry of mingled wonder and gratitude rings through that lonely graveyard, -- |This our brother was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found!|

O most wondrous power -- Death vanquished in his own territory! The sleeper has awoke a moral Samson, snapping the withs with which the King of Terrors had bound him. The star of Bethlehem shines, and the Valley of Achor becomes a door of hope. The all-devouring destroyer has to relinquish his prey.

Was the joy of that moment confined to these two bosoms? Nay! The Church of Christ in every age may well love to linger around the grave of Lazarus. In his resurrection there is to His true people a sure pledge and earnest of their own. It was the first sheaf reaped by the mower's sickle anticipatory of the great Harvest-home of the Final day |when all that are in their graves| shall hear the same voice and shall |come forth.|

Solemn, surely, is the thought that that same portentous miracle performed on Lazarus is one day to be performed on ourselves. Wherever we repose -- whether, as he did, in the quiet churchyard of our native village, or in the midst of the city's crowded cemetery, or far away amid the alien and stranger in some foreign shore, our dust shall be startled by that omnipotent summons. How shall we hear it? Would it sound in our ears like the sweet tones of the silver trumpet of Jubilee? Would it be to gaze like Lazarus on the face of our best friend -- to see Jesus bending over us in looks of tenderness -- to hear the living tones of that same voice, whose accents were last heard in the dark valley, whispering hopes full of immortality? True, we have not to wait for a Saviour's love and presence till then. The hour of death is to the Christian the birthday of endless life. Guardian angels are hovering around his dying pillow ready to waft his spirit into Abraham's bosom. |The souls of believers do immediately pass into glory.| But the full plenitude of their joy and bliss is reserved for the time when the precious but redeemed dust, which for a season is left to moulder in the tomb, shall become instinct with life -- |the corruptible put on incorruption, and the mortal immortality.| The spirits of the just enter at death on |the inheritance of the saints in light;| but at the Resurrection they shall rise as separate orbs from the darkness and night of the grave, each to |shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.| However glorious the emancipation of the soul in the moment of dissolution, it is not until the plains and valleys of our globe shall stand thick with the living of buried generations -- each glorified body the image of its Lord's -- that the predicted anthem will be heard waking the echoes of the universe -- |O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?| Then, with the organs of their resurrection-bodies ennobled, etherealised, purified from all the grossness of earth, they shall |behold the King in his beauty.| |The King's daughter,| all glorious without, |all glorious within| -- |her clothing of wrought gold| -- resplendent without with the robes of righteousness -- radiant within with the beauties of holiness -- shall be brought |with gladness and rejoicing,| and |enter into the King's palace.| This will form the full meridian of the saints' glory -- the essence and climax of their new-born bliss -- the full vision and fruition of a Saviour-God. |When He shall appear, ... we shall see Him as He is!| The first sight which will burst on the view of the Risen ones will be Jesus! His hands will wreath the glorified brows, in presence of an assembled world, with the crown of life. From His lips will proceed the gladdening welcome -- |Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!|

But this will not exhaust the elements of bliss in the case of the |perfected just| on the day of their final triumph. Though the presence of their adorable Redeemer would be enough, and more than enough, to fill their cup with happiness, there will be others also to welcome them, and to augment their joy. Lazarus' Lord was not alone at the sepulchre's brink, at Bethany, ready to greet him back. Two loved sisters shared the joy of that gladsome hour. We are left to picture for ourselves the reunion, when, with hand linked in hand, they retraversed the road which had so recently echoed to the voice of mourning, and entered once more their home, radiant with a sunshine they had imagined to have passed away from it for ever!

So will it be with the believer on the morning of the Resurrection. While his Lord will be there, waiting to welcome him, there will be others ready with their presence to enhance the bliss of that gladdening restoration. Those whose smiles were last seen in the death-chamber of earth, now standing -- not as Martha and Mary, with the tear on their cheek and the furrow of deep sorrow on their brow, but robed and radiant in resurrection attire, glowing with the anticipations of an everlasting and indissoluble reunion!

Can we anticipate, in the resurrection of Lazarus, our own happy history? Yes! happier history, for it will not then be to come forth once more, like him, into a weeping world, to renew our work and warfare, feeling that restoration to life is only but a brief reprieve, and that soon again the irrevocable sentence will and must overtake us! Not like him, going to a home still covered with the drapery of sorrow, -- a few transient years and the mournful funeral tragedy to be repeated, -- but to enter into the region of endless life -- to pass from the dark chambers of corruption into the peace and glories of our Heavenly Father's joyous Home, and |so to be for ever with the Lord!|

Sometimes it is with dying believers as with Lazarus. Their Lord, at the approach of death, seems to be absent. He who gladdened their homes and their hearts in life, is, for some mysterious reason, away in the hour of dissolution; their spirits are depressed; their faith languishes; they are ready to say, |Where is now my God?| But as He returned to Bethany to awake His sleeping friend, so will it be with all his true people, on that great day when the arm of death shall be for ever broken. If now united to Him by a living faith, -- loved by Him as Lazarus was, and conscious, however imperfectly, of loving Him back in return, -- we may go down to our graves, making Job's lofty creed and exclamation our own, |I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.|

One remark more. We have listened to the Omnipotent fiat, -- |Lazarus, come forth!| We have seen the ear of death starting at the summons, and the buried captive goes free! Shall we follow the family group within the hallowed precincts of the Bethany dwelling? Shall fancy pour her strange and mysterious queries into the ear of him who has just come back from that land |from whose bourne no traveller returns?| He had been, in a far truer sense than Paul in an after year, in |Paradise.| He must have heard unspeakable and unutterable words, |which it is not possible for a man to utter.| He had looked upon the Sapphire Throne. He had ranged himself with the adoring ranks. He had strung his harp to the Eternal Anthem. When, lo! an angel -- a |ministering one| -- whispers in his ear to hush his song, and speed him back again for a little season to the valley below.

Startling mandate! Can we suppose a remonstrance to so strange a summons? What! to be uncrowned and unglorified! -- Just after a few sips of the heavenly fountain, to be hurried away back again to the valley of Baca! -- to gather up once more the soiled earthly garments and the pilgrim staff, and from the pilgrim rest and the victor's palm to encounter the din and dust and scars of battle! What! -- just after having wept his final tear, and fought the last and the most terrible foe, to have his eye again dimmed with sorrow, and to have the thought before him of breasting a second time the swellings of Jordan!

|The Lord hath need of thee,| is all the reply, It is enough! He asks no more! That glorious Redeemer had left a far brighter throne and heritage for him. Lazarus, come forth! sounds in his old world-home, whence his spirit had soared, and in his beloved Master's words, on a mightier embassy, he can say, -- |Lo, I come! I delight to do thy will, O my God.|

Or do other questions involuntarily arise? What was the nature of his happiness while |absent from the body?| What the scenery of that bright abode? Had he mingled in the goodly fellowship of prophets? Had he conversed with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob? Was his spirit stationary -- hovering with a brotherhood of spirits within some holy limit -- or, was he permitted to travel far and near in errands of love and mercy? Had Bethany been revisited during that mysterious interval? Had he been the unseen witness of the tears and groans of his anguished sisters?

But hush, too, these vain inquiries. We dare not give rein to imagination where Inspiration is silent. There is a designed mystery about the circumstantials of a future state. Its scenery and locality we know nothing of. It is revealed to us only in its character. We are permitted to approach its gates, and to read the surmounting inscription, -- |Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.| Further we cannot go. Be it ours, like Lazarus, to attain a meetness for heaven, by becoming more and more like Lazarus' Redeemer! |We shall be LIKE HIM,| is the brief but comprehensive Bible description of that glorious world. Saviour-like here, we shall have heaven begun on earth, and lying down like Lazarus in the sweet sleep of death, when our Lord comes, on the great day-dawn of immortality, we shall be satisfied when we awake in His likeness!

|He that was dead rose up and spoke -- He spoke!
Was it of that majestic world unknown?
Those words which first the bier's dread silence broke -- Came they with revelation in each tone?
Were the far cities of the nations gone,
The solemn halls of consciousness or sleep,
For man uncurtain'd by that spirit lone,
Back from the portal summon'd o'er the deep?
Be hush'd, my soul! the veil of darkness lay
Still drawn; therefore thy Lord called back the voice departed, To spread His truth, to comfort the weak-hearted;
Not to reveal the mysteries of its way.
Oh! I take that lesson home in silent faith;
Put on submissive strength to meet, not question DEATH.|

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