Irresolution Reproved, And Decision Recommended
Adapted From A Sermon By
And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21
Verse 21 of the chapter we have just read tells us how: Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
And so the matter before us this morning in this sermon by George Burder is summarized in its title: Irresolution Reproved, And Decision Recommended.
In various periods of human life, and particularly in youth, there is a remarkable hesitation as to the choice a person will make with respect to religion.
On the one hand religion demands his attention; sets before him the destructive consequences of sin, and the absolute need of forsaking it; demands that he lets go of the enticing vanities of the world, and offers him, in their place, the pleasures of a good conscience, and an eternal weight of glory in the future world.
But nearer at hand, the smiling world presents her flattering joys; invites him to taste her delights right now, and leave both the trials and rewards of religion to another day.
Are there any here who are effectively hesitating: —Here is a message from God to you: the message which Elijah delivered to the tribes of Israel on the most solemn occasion, when they were hesitating whether to worship Jehovah or Baal. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Jehovah be the true God, let him alone be worshipped: but if Baal can prove his divinity, let him have your adoration.”
After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided; two tribes only, besides that of Levi, followed the family of David, and these kept up the worship of Jehovah: the other ten tribes revolted under Jeroboam, and set up the idolatrous worship of Baal.
Now the tribes under Jeroboam were in extreme misery, having been punished with drought for more than three years. Elijah, a bold and zealous prophet of Jehovah, requests Ahab the king, one of Jeroboam’s successors, to collect the people and the priests of Baal; which he did.
He then makes a proposal. “Let them give us,” he said, “two bulls—let them choose one for themselves, and give us the other. Let the priests of Baal prepare their bull for sacrifice, and lay it on wood; but put no fire under it. I will do the same with the other bull. Let them then call on the name of their gods, and I will call upon the name of Jehovah, and the god that answers by fire let him be the God.”
This proposal was so fair, that no one dared object. But nothing happened when the followers of Baal prayed to him, and cried to him for fire from heaven; “there was no voice, and no one answered.” Finally Elijah, having ordered a large amount of water to be poured on his offering to prevent the least suspicion of deceit, called on Jehovah, saying, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel.” Immediately, the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the whole sacrifice; and the people being fully convinced fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God”
And would that an equally happy decision may be the outcome of this present sermon! Is there anyone hesitating—limping between two opinions; let this sermon by George Burder imitate the holy prophet, and challenge you, “How long will you go limping.” Why hesitate any longer? If the religion of Jesus is true and holy, and good, why neglect to be seriously religious? If the way of sin and folly is safe and right; if God and conscience approve of it; and you are sure that it will end well—then pursue it without hesitation.
Try then to give your serious attention to thoughts on the two following observations:
1. Many people, and young people especially, are irresolute and changeable with respect to religion.
2. Such is the reality, pleasure, and advantage of true religion, that it demands our whole hearts; and we should not hesitate for a moment about giving them fully to it.
Let us first observe, (and who has not noticed it?) that many persons seem to hesitate; and show that they are irresolute and undetermined, whether they will be religious or not.
It must, I think, be admitted, that there is something in religion so solemn and so grand, that it can scarcely fail, if at all paid attention to, to affect and interest the human mind. When the glorious perfections of Almighty God are displayed; when the deformity, depravity, and harm of sin are exposed; when the wisdom and grace of the redemption of Christ are unfolded; when the awful solemnities of death and judgment are described; or when the astonishing realities of heaven and hell are described; that heart must be hard; beyond the common degree of hardness, that does not feel some religious impression.
The unfortunate person, accustomed to gross and brutal inattention, or the frivolous person, used to excessive light and senseless talk, or the proud intellectual who has been cheated into infidelity, may, perhaps, succeed in resisting the impression; but it is with difficulty that it is resisted, and if the darkness is preferred to the light, it is sadly only because the opposer’s deeds are evil.
Those persons who attend a place of worship, especially those who hear a faithful and able preacher of the Gospel, can scarcely fail to be seriously impressed at times. To every such minister it may be said, as of old it was said to Ezekiel, “you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument:” (Ezekiel 33:32) —they are surprised with the grandeur of his subjects, affected with the sublimeness of his ideas, charmed with the elegance of his language—are as well pleased almost, as at a concert, or a play; but this is all; “for,” it is added, “they hear what you say, but they will not do it.”
The apostle James rightly described this temporary affection that the superficial hearer feels as “a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:23) —The word of God is a faithful mirror: the law reveals our sinful spots; the Gospel displays the cleansing blood of Christ.
There are many hearers who catch a glimpse of their spots, but do not bother themselves about them; they go their way; return to the vain and busy world, and forget to use the remedy, to make use of what can cleanse them; it is only those who attentively look into the Gospel, and continue in it; who steadily pay attention and remember the truth; it is only they who are “blessed in their doing.”
When the Word of God is accompanied by some alarming and painful providence, deep impressions are sometimes felt. Sickness and isolation bring men to themselves. Affliction forces them to withdraw from the busy and flashy scenes of temptation, and if conscience is given a moment to speak, it will plead in behalf of religion. It will accuse for past delay. It will urge to holy resolutions. If death enters the house, and seizes one of the family, how awfully important does religion suddenly then appear, and how often are some vices abandoned, and some duties begun! But the heart soon heals; the world regains its hold, and the sinner hesitates as he did before.
It is the privilege of some young people to have at hand the most faithful and the most affectionate of all preachers— that is, a pious and indulgent parent. Wisely catching the favorable moment, he drops a serious hint on the worth of the soul, the uncertainty of life, the approach of death; he recommends, from the experience of years, the excellence of religion, and says that “the Savior’s yoke is easy, and his burden light.” The youth, not yet hardened by the influence of the vicious and the infidel, heaves a sigh and perhaps almost wishes to be religious to gratify the desires of a dear father or mother, knowing that nothing on earth would make them happier than to see their sincere piety.
In this state the person resembles king Agrippa, who, under the temporary impression of the apostle Paul's preaching, was constrained to say—“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”—affected and moved but not altogether persuaded; some secret reservations are yet held on to; the stronghold of the heart is yet in the possession of sin, which, without the interposition of almighty grace, will before long regain all its former territory.
The enticing pleasures of sin once more begin to allure the soul: some youthful lusts present their flattering baits to the senses, and find within a victim eager to bite. We are fallen creatures; our minds have become carnal; and we have a strong tendency to indulge the flesh. The seed of every sin is deposited in our corrupt nature; and though the seed may stay dormant for a long time, yet, if, like a vegetable seed that has been buried deep in the earth, it is brought towards the surface, and placed in a favorable situation, it will unfold all its hidden powers, and ripen into open transgression.
Such is the fascinating power of sin, especially when it has become a habit, that it will insist upon indulgence at any cost; even at the expense of fortune, character, and life itself. And now all those promising signs before spoken of disappear and are covered, like the writing on the seashore, with the overwhelming tide.
The strong attraction of evil company is another source of danger. Man is formed for society; and we may add, he is formed by his society, whether it is good or evil. When Satan sinned and fell, he rapidly drew man into the same condemnation. When Eve was persuaded to taste the forbidden fruit, she was quick to induce her husband to commit the same trangression. It is notable, what pains are usually taken by those devoted to some pleasure or vice, to lead their companions into the same; how strongly do they encourage the young and the unsuspecting to join them in their ensnaring amusements and dangerous pleasures. Not content with their own sin and ruin, they become the missionaries of Satan, and work to make converts to hell. But would that the advice of the wise man were paid attention to—“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Proverbs 1:10)
The fear of shame, on account of religon, keeps many in a hesitating state. Glorious and highly honorable as the religion of Jesus certainly is, the advocates of sin will pretend that it is a mean and low thing, not fit for persons of discernment, of taste, of fashion; they will say that to be moved with religious affections, is to be irrational and enthusiastic; and that your religious people, with all their pretensions, are only concealed hypocrites, and all their devotion is merely whining and pious platitude. Here, perhaps, the young person is brought to a standstill. “Shall I then,” he may think, “encounter all this shame and disgrace? Must I, if religious, be treated with contempt by the world in general? Who can possibly endure this?”
But stop for a moment and let us examine this matter. What are you afraid of? Are you ashamed of acknowledging your Creator, and bending the knee before your Redeemer? Is it an unreasonable thing to credit the God of truth, or to love him who is infinitely lovable? Is it mean and lowly to make sure of your everlasting happiness even while at the same time you are promoting your best interests on earth?
If you are tempted to yield to the world because it forms the great majority, you are making a serious mistake. “There are more, far more with us than with them.” It is true that the visible crowd of deceived people take part against religion, but what are they, compared with those who stand up for it? Is not the great and eternal God with us? Does he not approve of the humble and the pious soul? Is not Jesus, the glorious Savior, with us?
He was once himself despised and rejected by men on account of his piety, and now he is exalted on the throne of glory, he knows how to pity and defend his persecuted people. On our side we boast the innumerable company of angels, whose business and delight it is to minister to the heirs of salvation. Will we be ashamed to do the will of God on earth as angels do in heaven? This is what we regularly pray for; shall it not be our practice too?
With us, we associate all the spirits of just men made perfect, who, like an immense cloud of spectators, seem to look down upon us to encourage us in our Christian pilgrimmage. Are they ashamed of their former diligence in religion? Why then should we! Indeed, we may add—(awfal thought!) the myriads of the damned, whose dwelling is in darkness and despair, now agree with us. Once they laughed at the religious, but now their language is—“This is he, whom we had sometimes in derision, and a proverb of reproach: we fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honor: now he is numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!”
There is yet another cause of hesitation: it is temporal advantage. “Must I incur,” says the halting professor, “must I incur the displeasure of my superiors, who despise religion, and who will despise me for it? Must I venture on the anger of a beloved parent, the displeasure of an indulgent husband, or the resentment of a generous patron?” The answer is: you are only to determine, whether it is better to obey God or man. You are to remember, that “one thing is necessary,” and that is the care of the soul, which must be set above every temporal good: and you should remember, that if you “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” every earthly blessing that is good for you; will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33) Call to mind the wise and holy conduct of Moses, who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt;” (Hebrews 11:26) and this he did “by faith;” for, he renounced the prospect of worldly wealth because “he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) This is the example we are to follow.
And so we see the tempted soul hesitating between two opinions. At one time, religion appears not only necessary, but excellent and beautiful: the Lord’s day a sweet day of devotional rest; the house of God has a thousand charms to invite attendance; the Bible a book of sacred instruction and entertainment; and prayer, a rational and delightful employment.
But, through the power of temptation, at another time, the scene is changed. Casually mixing with men of the world, the heart is seduced again, and gaiety, music, food and dress and worldly possessions take on new charms and captivate the affections. Then religion takes a back seat. Religion seems unappealing: the objections of the infidel gather weight and importance; and infidelity promises, not future happiness, but present gratification, and that without the restraints which were feared before. Religion offers to make the man a saint; but as this appears to be too difficult, he gives up the future hope, and choses to become a happy worldling.
But still the mind is unsetlled. Conscience is on the Lord’s side. Something within yet resists giving in, and fears that all will not end well at last. The very sight of a good man will shake its confidence. A tolling church bell, the view of a funeral, the news of a sudden death, or the fear of some serious illness, will cause alarming concern: and a faithful sermon will make the man tremble like Felix. How many are there, who, when spectators of the death of others, or under the fear of their own, have found their ground weak and shaky, and have admitted that there is a reality in religion, and that it is necessary to their peace! Should anyone today be disposed to make such a concession, he will be prepared to hear,
2. That such is the reality, pleasure and advantage of true religion, that it deserves and demands our whole hearts.
In the case before us, the question was, “Who is God—Jehovah or Baal!” It was agreed, before the decision was made, that the true God should be followed, the false deserted. May God grant that this very same determination be made in all our minds! If religion is real, pleasant and profitable, we will embrace it, let the consequence be what it may.
The trial was made. Baal’s followers sought him in vain—“There was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” But when the prophet of Jehovah cried—“Let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant;” then the fire of the Lord descended, dried up the water, and consumed the sacrifice. The people were convinced, worshipped God, and destroyed his enemies. So let it be with us; if it can be shown that our religion is of God, then let us be truly religious, and destroy whatever opposes its power and advancement.
But you may ask, What is meant by religion? That is a good question. What is meant by religion, is not a system of opinions, nor a set of ceremonies; but a humbling conviction of our ruined state by sin; the turning of the soul to Christ, as an all-sufficient Savior; and a sincere endeavor to oppose sin and live in holiness. This is real religion. The religion of the Gospel. The religion which the Holy Spirit teaches, and the disciples of Jesus learn. It is for the mind to be enlightened, so as to discover the holy character of God; to see our own deformity in the mirror of his holy law; to be humbled in the dust as penitent sinners: and then heartily to embrace the salvation proclaimed by the Gospel; to receive Jesus as our teacher, our righteousness, and our Lord, and to give ourselves up, without reserve, to be his forever.
This religion is a glorious reality. It is scriptural; it is rational; it is experimental; it is practical. It answers the true ends of religion; it makes us holy and happy. It renews the heart; it reforms the manners; and secures eternal happiness.
This is the religion, which, for substance, has been the choice and the practice of all the wise and good men who ever lived, from the days of Abel until now. This is the religion we affirm to be very pleasant and profitable; for it includes the sublime delight of a good conscience delivered from guilt by the atoning blood of Christ; the inexpressible pleasure of communion with God in his ordinances, public and private; the privilege of associating with the excellent on earth; preservation from a thousand mischiefs and miseries to which the irreligious are liable; it provides a solid ground of consolation in the unavoidable evils of life; and it sustains the soul amidst the awful circumstances of death, with a living hope full of immortality.
These and many more, are the present advantages of true godliness: but who can describe those which are to come? Who can tell what are the joys at God’s right hand—what it is to be with Christ, and behold his glory—what it is to enter into the joy of the Lord; to see him as he is; to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; to spend eternal ages in the glorious presence of God and the Lamb?
These then are the blessings of that holy religion which demands our whole hearts. And do we still hesitate—still halt between two opinions? Surely this hesitation is quite unreasonable and unlike anything in our ordinary conduct. Does the sick man hesitate whether to accept health, if it is in his power? Does the poor man hesitate when relief; when wealth is offered to him? Does the dutiful youth require a moment to determine whether or not he should love his father or his mother? Do we stop to ask whether health and life ought to be preserved? If not, why hesitate between two opinions in the greater concern of eternal life and salvation? If we hesitate, it is a proof that we are not convinced of its necessity or its advantage.
But have we not sufficiently proved that such is the reality, pleasure and advantage of the religion of Christ, that it deserves and demands our whole hearts? Now, then, let the matter be brought to a final conclusion! Now let the awful decision be made.
Witness, you angels! you benevolent spirits, who visit our religious assemblies, and sometimes carry the good news of a sinner’s conversion to heaven, witness the decision which will now be made!
Choose then, this day, this moment, whom you will serve. “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) Only remember, “you cannot serve two masters.” God will not accept of a divided heart. Does your heart say—“God forbid that we should forsake the Lord.” Then be it so. From this happy moment, let it be a settled matter: religion, serious religion, vital religion will be my first great business, and everything that opposes it will give place.
Say and do this and you are forever safe. And then we can say, as Joshua did in a similar case, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” (Joshua 24:22)
May God confirm your resolution, and by his almighty grace ever enable you to act in conformance to it!