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ON INDECISION IN RELIGION.
1 Kings xviii. 21.
“ And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, how long
halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him.”
A MORE striking appeal is scarcely to be found in the whole volume of inspiration. It was delivered under circumstances peculiarly impressive, and by one of the most eminent and most honoured among the prophets. According to the history of the transaction, we are to imagine a vast concourse of people assembled by the command of Ahab, at Mount Carmel : the prophets of Baal, and the prophets of the groves, and the multitudes of Israel. In the presence of this assembly came forth the prophet Elijah: he stood, as he believed, single and unsupported, amidst the thousands of his countrymen : but it was in the name of Jehovah,
that he appeared, and he addressed them with all the energy of a messenger of God. The sin which he reprehends, is that strange indecision of mind which led them to unite the objects of heathen adoration with the eternal Jehovah ; mixing with the worship of Him who created the heavens and the earth, an idolatrous regard to the work of their own hands. Those times have long since passed away; and to some persons it may appear that, in this age of the world, and under the circumstances in which we are placed, it can answer little purpose to recur to them. We are not planted in the midst of heathen nations, that we should be tempted to follow their example of idolatry: the danger is not now lest we bow the knee to Baal: yet the principle itself
very powerful in its influence, and very fatal in its effects, even in the heart of a Christian country, and the bosom of a Christian church. Wherever we look, we cannot but discover a great want of that sincere, and pure, and undivided spirit of religion, which is essential to the faithful worshipper. How many things do we perceive continually joined with religion, the tendency of which is to debase its character and to lower its excellency! As if the service which God requires were not the service of the heart; as if it were sufficient to render to Him occasional homage, or the worship of the lips, while the general feelings of the mind are at variance with our professions !
If the prophet, who addressed in these striking words the Israelites at Mount Carmel, were permitted to stand up in a Christian congregation, to how many among ourselves might he direct the same awful appeal, How long halt ye
between two opinions ? " What can be the reason of this conduct? And what will be its end? If the Lord be God, follow Him : but if Baal, then follow him: make your election; and remember that you must abide by the consequences.
The subject on which I am to address INDECISION IN RELIGION; and it is my intention to consider the NATURE, the GROUNDS, and the UNREASONABLENESS of it. Let us endeavour to bring home the subject personally to ourselves, entreating Him, who searches the heart, to give us a right view of our own character, to preserve us from this treacherous habit, and to keep us firm and immovable in the simplicity of the gospel of Christ.
I. As to the NATURE OF THIS INDECISION
The expression in the text, “ How long halt ye between two opinions ?” is strictly a figurative mode of speaking. The idea, in the original, is taken from birds upon a tree moving quickly from branch to branch, and never remaining settled or at rest. The persons, therefore, whom the prophet had in view, and to whom we may fairly apply his language, are not those who insult the majesty of God by a deliberate rejection of the truth, or who designedly pour contempt upon His name: these men are sufficiently decided in their opinions: they have made their choice. The address of Elijah is applicable to those who, with some knowledge, possess no stedfastness; who, with some desire to be right, are easily turned out of the way; who with some sense of the excellency of true religion, are unhappily drawn aside from the pursuit of it; at one time like the idolaters in the wilderness, when they exclaimed, on sight of the golden calf, These by thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt: * at another, like the Israelites mentioned in this chapter, when they cried, The Lord, He is the God! |
* Exod. xxxii. 8.
+ Verse 39.
We shall probably not err very widely in our estimate, if we represent such persons, in these days, as generally well-meaning, and, in a worldly view, very respectable men. They offend not, in any notorious degree, either against the precepts of God, or the laws of civilized society. The question with them is not so much between different objects of worship, as between true religion, and the mere profession of it: between conscience and indolence: between a holy and spiritual obedience, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, that kind of submission which is partial, defective, and compromising. It is not an avowed rejection of God, for the sake of mammon, but a coalition between them: a wish to serve God and mammon at the same time: a professed acknowledgment of God, and yet a practice inconsistent with that acknowledgment.
If you inquire into their creed, you will probably find them, in general, correct: they are, to a certain extent, very right in their opinions, and fail chiefly in not following out those opinions in their practical conclusions. They believe, for instance, that there is a God of infinite holiness, majesty, and power: that the world was created by His word, and is