INDECISION IN RELIGION.
1 Kings xviii. 21. And Elijah came unto all the people and said, How long halt ye between two opinions 1 If the Lord be God follow him: But if Baal, then follow him.
When these words were uttered, the ten tribes had revolted, and had established a kingdom by themselves. The throne was occupied by Ahab, a prince distinguished for wickedness and impiety. The worship of Baal had become the common religion of the kingdom of Israel, and there were comparatively few worshippers of the true God. Elijah assembled the prophets of' Baal at Mount Carmel for the purpose of testing, by a public miracle, the question whether Jehovah or Baal were the proper object of adoration. In regard to the state of things existing at that time in Israel, we may remark—
(1.) That a large portion of the nation was decidedly inclined to the worship of Baal. That worship was patronized and countenanced by the king and queen; probably by most of the royal family, and, as a matter of course almost, by the mass of the people. So extensively did that worship prevail^ that it was easy to assemble no less than four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal on this occasion, to make a public trial of the question whether Jehovah or Baal were the true God.
(2.) There were some who were as decidedly the friends of Jehovah. They were indeed few in number. Elijah thought himself alone; and was greatly disheartened at the thought that he was the only one left who acknowledged the true God. Yet God said to him that he had reserved to himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee-to the image of Baal, (1 Kings xix. 18; Rom. xi. 4); thus proving, that even in the most discouraging circumstances, and in the widest prevalence
of irreligion, there may be more real piety than the desponding hearts of the few friends of God may suppose. (3.) There was another, and evidently a large class, that was undecided. This was the class which Elijah particularly addressed in the text. They were hesitating and doubting; they were Undetermined whether to acknowledge Jehovah as the true God, or whether to bow down before the image of Baal. What was the ground of their hesitancy we are not informed, but it is not improper to suppose, that on the one hand they were inclined to the worship of Baal because it was the popular religion; because it was patronized by the sovereign; because the way to office might have "depended on conformity to it; and because it imposed few restraints, and permitted great license in the indulgence of corrupt passions ;—and, on the other hand, there was the remembrance of what Jehovah had done for their fathers; there was the conviction of conscience that his religion was pure and true; and there were his solemn commands to worship him alone, and his well-known denunciations against idolatry.
This class particularly Elijah addressed. He called on them to come to a decision. He demanded, that they should make up their minds, and come to some settled determination as to the course which they would pursue. He urged that if Jehovah was the true God, it was but reasonable that they should devote themselves with undivided affection to him.. If Baal, it was as reasonable that the worship that Was due to him should not be withneld, and that they should not approach his altars with divided hearts and with wavering minds. Jehovah or Baal, whichever was the true God, would be better pleased with settled views and determined purposes, than with irresolution and indecision, and with a system of worship that vibrated between one and the other.
The doctrine which is, therefore, taught in this pas. sage, is the unreasonableness of indecision on the subject of religion. In discoursing on it, my object will be,
I. To classify those who are thus undecided; and
H. To urge some reasons for an immediate decision.
1. Those who are thus undecided may be regarded as comprising the following classes.
(1.) Those who are undecided about the truth or reality of religion at all, or of any system of religion. They embrace no system; they make no pretensions to any religion. They are lookers-on in the world, and observers of the various forms and systems of worship, professing liberality to all, and manifesting a preference for none. They are undetermined whether Christianity is preferable to infidelity; whether Protestantism is preferable to the Papacy; whether deism is preferable to atheism] and whether any form of paganism is not as safe as the purest form of Christianity. They are not decided whether the system which proclaims that all men will be saved is not as likely to be true as that which proclaims that "the wicked shall be turned into hell"; nor are they determined in their own minds whether it is not as well to depend on their own morality as to depend on the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. They conform to any mode of worship only because it is the prevailing form, and for the same reason that they would have been Mussulmen at Mecca or Constantinople; worshippers of Confucius in China; followers of Zoroaster in Persia; or atheists in Paris, amidst the scenes of the French revolution.
(2.) A second class is composed of those who hesitate between Christianity and infidelity. On the one hand, there are all the happy effects which Christianity produces ; and all the arguments from miracle and prophecy in its favor; and all the influences of education; all the convictions of conscience, and all the offers which it makes of an eternal heaven ;—-and on the other, there is all the force of the difficulties which are acknowledged to exist in the Bible; all the reluctance to embrace its great and incomprehensible mysteries.; all the influence of pride of heart, and the love of fancied independence; all the power of corrupting passion, and the desire of indulgence in sin, prompting the individual to cast off the restraints of religion; all the love of the world; all the force of the fact that multitudes of the great, the rich, the scientific, are understood to have cast off Christianity, or to have doubts about its truth. And multitudes, therefore, are in a state of avowed or secret doubt, and are hesitating whether Christianity be true or false, and whether they shall embrace that system, or some form of the almost infinite number of forms in which infidelity manifests itself in this land.
(3.) There are those, as a third class, who are awakened to see their guilt, and who are hesitating about giving up their hearts to God. They see that they are sinners. They knew that they are exposed to the wrath of God. They have no doubt of the necessity and the importance of religion. They have no doubt of the truth of Christianity. They have long thought seriously on the subject; have often prayed and wept; and have often desired, as they supposed, to be Christians. Many of them have been trained in pious families, and in the Sabbath-school; and they have often, and long, and deeply felt that it was necessary for them to be born again. But they hesitate. There is the love of some sin which they are not willing to abandon; or there is the fear of shame, and the apprehension of'derision; or there is a secret unwillingness to be saved by the mere mercy of God, and the merit of the Saviour; or there is a disposition to defer it to some future period; or. there is deep absorption in the business of the world; or there are the allurements of youthful pleasures-; or there is the withering influence of some infidel companion that ridicules the anxiety of the soul, and poisons the mind, and is the means of often grieving the Spirit of God.
(4.) A fourth class is made up of those who are constantly forming resolutions to attend to the subject of religion, and to become decided Christians. Probably most of those who are here to-day, who have travelled any considerable distance on the journey of life, can recollect many such resolutions, seriously formed, and as often disregarded and broken.. They can recall many periods of their youth, -when their minds were tender, and when they were almost resolved to be Christians; many periods in sickness- or in other afflictions, when they proposed, and solemnly promised to God that they would live to his glory; many times under the preaching of the gospel, when they purposed to forsake their sins, and give themselves to God. But they are still undecided. Their vows, and purposes, and promises, are forgotten. Their love of the world is too strong for them to forsake it yet, and they too much desire the indulgence of sin to abandon it, and live a life of piety. Notwithstanding all these resolutions, they are to-day as undecided as they were years ago, and perhaps during many years they have come no nearer to a decision.
(5.) A fifth class is made up of those who are undecided about making a profession of religion. That it is a duty they feel and admit; and it is a duty which they often purpose to perform. Yet one opportunity passes by after another, and they are not prepared; one communion occurs after another, and they still hesitate. There is the admission that it is a duty; there is a settled purpose to do it at some period of life; but there is, on the other hand, the fear of the world, or the love of some habit that could not be indulged in consistently with a profession of Christianity, or there is the plea that they are unworthy, or that they would not be able to adorn their profession; or there is the ever-ready plea—a plea, alas! answered with so much difficulty— that many professors do little honor to their high calling. Thus life wears away. One communion season passes after another; and one year rolls on after another, and in the mean time there is no decision, nor is there any advance made towards a decision. Many an individual can look back over a dozen or a score of years, and find that during that period he has made no advance towards a decision; and some even on whom the snows of age have fallen, have been agitating this question during the better part of a century, and are now going down to the grave still halting between two opinions: In'the mean time their name is with the world, and their combined example is the argument to which the wicked appeal, that men may be as good out of the church as in it, and that if such persons of known and established character, venerable by age, and respected for their virtues, are safe unconnected with the church, others may be also. And there is no art which Satan practices that evinces more skill and cunning than in retaining such persons on what is deemed neutral ground, and in preventing, by a thousand pleas, their giving their names and their influence to the cause of decided piety, and to God.
These are the persons whom I wish to address. I have classified them, in order that there may be no mistake as to who I mean; and to each class, and each individual, I wish to address some remarks, showing the unreasonableness of remaining in this condition, and urging them to an immediate .decision—either one way or the other. This was my .
II. Second Object. Under this head, assuming mainly the form of direct address, I shall urge several considerations as reasons why a decision should be made without delay.
(1.) The first is, that our great interests, if we have any great interests, or any that are much worth regarding, are on the subject of religion. If this be so, then religion is the last thing that should remain unsettled and undetermined.' It can make very little difference to a man, whether he is rich or poor; honored or despised; sick or well; a bondman or a slave. Whether there is an eternity or not, th^se things- are comparatively of trifling moment. How soon is the most exquisite earthly pleasure passed! The charms of the. sweetest melody, how soon it dies away on the ear! The tenderest ties of friendship, how soon are they severed! The most splendid mansion, how soon it must be left! The widest reputation, how soon must we cease to enjoy it! And so with the bitterest grief, the keenest sorrow, the most agonizing pain, how soon it is all gone! Whether we are rich or poor, honored or dishonored, life is like a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. Of what importance can it be to the vapor that you see in the morning as-it lies on the mountain side, whether it be admired by a few more, or a few less mortals; or whether it roll a little higher, or sink a little lower, since it must soon Vanish in the beams of the morning sun? So of the vapor of life. The cloud that you see lie along the western sky, as the sun sinks behind the hills, so gorgeous, so changing, so beautiful, of what importance can it be whether a few more or a few less tints be painted there; or whether a few more or a few less eyes gaze upon it—for the darkness of midnight will soon conceal it all. So with the beauty and the gorgeousness of life. So with your dress, your equipage, your furniture, your dwellings. The night of death cometh, and will shut all from your view.
If man has any great interests, they lie beyond the tomb. If he has none there, life is a bubble, a vapor, a gorgeous illusion, a changing cloud, a mist on the mountain side. And if this be so, it is as well for a man to make up his mind to it, and to eat and drink, for to-morrow he dies. Then he should ascertain this, and have no trouble about the future. He should settle the question, and make as much of luxury and pastime; of the feast and the dance; of the theatre and the ball-room; of riotous indulgence and of ambition, as possible. He should so settle it as to have no trouble from his conscience in the most riotous pleasures; no fear of God in the scenes of sensual indulgence and mirth; no fear of hell while he revels on the bounties which chance may spread around him; no superstitious apprehensions of a judgment-seat while he rolls-in dissipation, and tramples on the rights of others. For if there is no eternity, it is utter folly to act with reference to it; if there is no hell, it is folly to be restrained by any such unfounded apprehension; if there is no God, then men should not be disturbed' by any superstitious belief that his eye is upon them. But if there is a God, a heaven, a hell, an eternity, then life becomes a very different thing. Then man's great interests are transferred at once to the regions beyond the grave. . Then life, now so busy and' active, becomes so trifling that it may be said that All his interests are there. The great things which are to affect us most deeply do not cease, but just commence, when we lie down on a bed of death. There, amidst the darkness of the dying scene, existence is just begun; and there we are just entering on the scenes which must thrill through the soul, and absorb all its powers forever. Then the eyes turned away from the gorgeousness of the illusive scene here—the vain pageant of this world—are opened upon the realities of the judgment-bar; the throne of God; and the splendors of the unchanging world. Then the ear made deaf by dying to the charms of sweet music, is opened to the sweet strains that float forever-over the plains of heaven, or the groans and sighs of the world of wo. Then the soul, insensible longer to the comforts or the sorrows of this life; no longer affected by the pleasures of friendship, or the evils of poverty, want, or pain, is made alive at once to the bliss of eternal love in heaven, or to the deep sorrows of that world of despair that shall endure forever. And if this be so, then whatever other interests you may neglect, assuredly this should not be disregarded. Whatever else may be undecided, this should be settled. If a choice, were to be made, assuredly better to let health suffer than the soul die; better to be a bankrupt than be damned; better be without reputation here, than to meet the ever-enduring wrath of God; better suffer your name to be blackened and calumniated, than to sink beneath the avenging arm of Jehovah ; better let men kill the body, than to fall unprepared into the hands of that God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
(2.) A second consideration is, that you would suffer no other matter to remain undecided as this does. If you are sick, you leave no means untried to secure returning health. If you were in as much danger of becoming a bankrupt as you are of losing the soul, you would give yourself no rest until, if possible, you should feel yourself safe. If you had a richly-freighted ship at sea, and there was as much danger that she and her cargo would be lost as there is that your soul will, and there were any doubt about the insurance, you would lose no time in making the proper investigation. Your business, your property, your reputation, you would not leave as you do the concerns of the soul; and if you did, it would be impossible for any man to become rich, or respected, or honored in the world. There is no otber interest so unr settled as your religious interests; there are no other opinions so unfiled; no other purposes so vascillating. You leave no title-deeds, no investments, no stocks, no bonds, no notes in the same unsettled condition: and there is not a single department of your business; a single scheme or plan of life that is not more carefully looked at, and better known than the question about eternity. Were there this day half the danger that you would come to poverty, that there is that you will sink down to hell, no words would be wanting or needed to induce you to examine your prospects, and contemplate your condition. Nay, have you never witnessed this fact? Have you not seen a man yesterday in affluence, with the luxuries and comforts of the world around him; have you not seen that man, when a b-last of misfortune has come over him, pale, and agitated, and alarmed; have you not seen how sleep has forsaken his pillow, and how he has given himself no rest under the threatening storm? And then have you not seen on the subject of religion, when the great interests of the soul are urged, and his danger set forth, how unconcerned, how listless, howTegardless of all the proofs of danger; how unmoved by even the conviction that there all was unsettled, and in danger!
(3.) A third consideration is, that it is possible to come to a decision on this subject; and if possible, an affair of so much importance should not remain undecided. It is possible for a man to find out whether there is any religion; whether the Christian religion is true or false; whether the true religion is preferable to false religion; whether Christianity is preferable to infidelity; Whether there is a God^ a Saviour, a. heaven, and a hell. "It is possible for a man to know whether there is such a thing as the new birth, and the pardon of sin; and whether there is, or is not, any such thing as joy and peace in believing the gospel. I say it-is possible, for the following among other reasons: (1.) Because it is as easy for a man to understand his own character' on the subject of religion as it is on other subjects. In the nature of the case there is no more reason why a man should not know whether he loves God, than there is whether he loves an earthly father or friend. (2.) Because thousands and millions, with no better advantages than you have, have been enabled to settle the question, and to arrive at decided views. They have so settled it that they have been enabled to look to the grave with peace, and to heaven with triumph; so settled it that doubt has fled, and left their minds tranquil and serene. (3.) Because it is not reasonable to believe that God would leave this matter to uncertainty, or put it beyond our power to arrive' at some settled views on the subject of religion. No man should charge it on him unless he has positive demonstration that he has put it utterly beyond his power to arrive at any determined views about his own character, his Creator, and the world to come. (4.) Because he has given us reason for this very purpose, and endowed us with faculties for investigating the whole subject, and if a man will not employ his reason, he must answer it to God. (5.) Because he has given us the Bible for this very end; and has, in the Bible, given us all the information which is needful in regard to his own character and ours; to the plan of salvation; to death and hell. No man can pretend that there is not in the Bible knowledge enough, if it is true, about God and the future state;—and whether j't is true or not, a man may, if he chooses, be able to understand.. And (6.) Because in the.Bible he expressly calls on us to decide; to take a stand; to be settled in our views. Thus in the text, "If Jehovah be God, then follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." Thus Moses, "I call heaven-and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; Therefore choose life." And every where in the Bible, God calls on men to be decided, and firm, and settled in their views on the subject of religion.
Now I know it is possible for men to be vacillating and unsettled on the subject of religion. But if they are, it is not the fault of God. If they have no settled views, it must be traced to something else than to a want of means to obtain them. . There is a ship, suppose, in a dark night at sea. There are rocks and quicksands near. There are currents that are setting towards the shore, and the wind is rising, and every thing indicates a tempest. There is a chart and a compass nea.r the helmsman. But he is unsettled in his views and his aims. He will neither look at his compass nor his chart, but he begins to be distressed, and he turns his helm this way and that way, and he guides his ship by caprice, and she moves in a zig-zag course, and his hope is chance, and a few more moments in this way will dash the ill-fated vessel on a rock. Meantime many a mariner has gone calmly through those seas, and stood out with a bold front and swelling canvass to the ocean, and seen the tempest rise without alarm, and been unmoved when cloud has been piled on cloud, and the ocean been lashed into foam, and the lightnings have played, and the thunder has rolled along the deep. Human life is a vpyage; and men act in reference to that, not as the skilful mariner does on the deep, but as no mariner ever did, or ever will. They have the chart and the compass in their own dwellings, but they will not look at them; and they are unsettled in their views, and when the storm arises, and danger deepens, they are alarmed, and when they die their hopes become, a wreck.
(4.) The fourth consideration is, that the things about which a man is to decide are few in number, and may easily be determined. In our text, it was a simple choice which was to be made. There were but two objects before the mind, and the call was to determine which of them was to- be acknowledged as God. So it is still. Were, the question what selection a man would make among the rabble of Pagan gods, it would be more difficult to determine. But the questions which you are to settle are all of them very simple, and may be stated in few words. They are, whether you will worship JehoVah or Mammon—for both cannot be served. Whether you will depend on Jesus Christ for salvation, or not— for you cannot depend on him and your own morality. Whether you will forsake your sins or not—for you cannot be saved while you adhere to them. Whether you will live to God, or to yourselves—for you cannot do both. Whether you will give your heart to the Redeemer or not—for you cannot be saved until this is done. Whether you will renounce the works of the flesh and the devil, and come out from the world, and abandon it's vices and its gaieties or not:—for both cannot be followed. Now, these questions are very simple. The choice here lies in a very narrow compass. The main points require little investigation, and the mind may be settled at once. Why should a man hesitate on any one of them? Why suppose that there was any thing peculiarly mysterious or difficult in regard to these enquiries? What is the necessity for delaying it from day to day, and even from year to year? These are the questions which in fact are before the mind. And these are the points> and no other, on which the mind hesitates, and is in doubt. The perplexity is here in these practical matters, and not in any imaginary metaphysical difficulty or abstruseness in
to a decision. The word of life is in your dwellings and in your hands; the lamp of salvation shines on your way. There will be no new prophet sent into the world; there will be no new miracle; no voice will be uttered from heaven to remove your perplexity; and the dead will not be raised to resolve your doubts. You have Moses, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Redeemer; and were-the dead to rise, if you will not hear the risen Son of God, you would not be persuaded though a man should come now from the tomb.
What prospect is there that there will be any increased facility for coming to a decision on the subject? That aged man, venerable already by years, whose mind is now undecided—what increased advantages will he ever have for coming to a decision? Will his mind ever be clearer, his reason more powerful, his conscience more quick, his perception of the truth more vivid? Does he not see that the powers of nature are decaying, and that memory will soon fail, and his mind become weakened and bewildered? And does he not see that his sands are few in number, and that very soon he must be removed to a world where this cannot be a subject of deliberation? That man in middle life—will he ever be in circumstances more favorable for a decision? His powers are mature and active; he canuot plead that he is urged on by the passions of youth; and he labors not yet under the apathy, the imbecilities, and the infirmities of age. He can look reasonably for no greater strength of mind; no greater tenderness of conscience; no more solemn appeals than God is now making to him. Think you, that amidst the infirmities of advanced years, it will be a more favorable time to come to a decision on the subject than the present? And how know you that you will live to advanced years? And who has given you a right to serve Mammon now, with the purpose to serve God hereafter; to devote your best powers to. the service of sin and the world, with, the design to give to God the miserable remnant of your days, in an enfeebled, and discontented, and peevish old age, when you can do no honor to religion, and no service to the world? Can it be unknown to you, that as the effect of just such a purpose as this, many a man grieves away the Spirit of God; is given up to the sordid love of gain; becomes callous to the appeals of the gospel; becomes a comfortless and a peevish old man; lives without usefulness, and dies without hope? And that interesting young man, or young female—can they have a more favorable time to decide this question-than now—To-dax? Will there be a time when the mind will be more tender", more susceptible of serious impressions, more awake to the importance of the "subject? Will there be a time when they Avill be more free from care, and anxiety, and concern about this world?" Can there be a period when it will be more proper to determine and settle definitely the course that shall be pursued through life? When a new" and gallant ship, with her sails all set, and her masts all firm, and her movement beautiful upon the waters, becomes ready for a distant voyage on a sea full of rocks and mighty currents, when is the proper time to determine what course shall be steered? When she has committed herself to the mercy of winds and waves to try her strength in buffeting them, and has been tossed on unknown seas, or when she leaves the port? Shall her master steer for some distant port, and lay down her course, and pursue it amidst all the storms that may howl, or shall the vessel start forth in her pride, and dance from wave to wave, until she strikes suddenly upon a rock? And when, my young friend, is the best time for you to be decided on the subject of religion? When you start on the voyage of life. Before the tempests shall beat, and the winds howl. Before you drift into unknown seas. Before you dash upon the rock. Now is the time to settle this great question. To-day is the proper period to determine whether you will be for God or for the world ; a Christian or an infidel; a candidate early ripe for heaven, or a candidate early ripe for hell.
(7.) I add but one other consideration. The present is the only time which you may have to decide this point. To-morrow may find you in another world. To-morrow God may have decided the question forever. This long delay, this hesitancy, this indecision may provoke his wrath; and in judgment he may come forth and cut you down as a cumberer of the ground. You cannot remain always as you are. There must be a decision; and if that decision is not made by a voluntary preference for God, it will be made by a removal to a world where it will not be a subject of deliberation. Death will close this vacillating scene. Death will clear up the doubts from the mind. Death will fix that which is unfixed; determine that which is undetermined; and render changeless that which is now fluctuating as the waves of the sea. In view, now, of all these considerations, I call'on you this day to take your stand; to make up your mind to one course or another; to resolve to serve God or to be his avowed and settled foe; to be a Christian, or to cast in your name and influence with sin, aiid against Jesus Christ; to subscribe with your own hand to this fixed purpose of life, whatever it may be; and to cast the die for time and eternity. I call on you to make a choice. I appeal to you to settle this question. I apprize you that it will be easier to settle it now than it will be on a dying bed. I ask that it may be settled on those seats; and in the name of my God and yours, I solemnly warn every one against leaving this house to-day without having made up his mind definitively on tins subject. If Jehovah be God, then follow him; if Baal, then follow him; if Mammon, then follow him; if Bacchus, then follow him. If Jesus Christ be the Redeemer of the world, then embrace him. But if there be no Saviour, then settle the point that you have no Saviour, and that, in your view, the world is without a Redeemer. If the Bible be a revelation from heaven, jthen embrace its offers, and cling to its promises. But if there be no revelation, then yield yourself to the miserable darkness of your own reason, and give no credit to the Bible as having any claims to your belief or homage. If there be a heaven, resolve here, and now, and in the presence of God, that you will seek it as the grand purpose of the soul; if there be a hell, resolve here, and now, and before God, that you will never mingle in its groans, and gnash your teeth with its pain ;—if there be neither, then go—go, miserable creature of a day—go, vapor of morning dew—go, wretched dweller in a world of sin and pain; go, thou who hast no prospect of life everlasting; who hast no hope of existence beyond the grave; who hast no God and no Saviour—go, "eat and drink, for to-morrow you die .'"