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THE UNREASONABLENESS OF INDETERMINATION IN RELIGION.
I Kings xviji. 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. And the people answered him not a word.
It is the manner of God, before he bestows any signal or remarkable mercy on a people, first to prepare them for it; and before he removes any awful judgments which he hath brought upon them for their sins, first to cause them to forsake those sins which procured those judgments. We have an instance of this in the chapter wherein is the text.
It was a time of sore famine in Israel. There had been neither rain nor dew for the space of three years and six months. This farine was brought upon the land for their idolatry. But God was now about to remove this judgment; and therefore, to prepare them for it, sent Elijah to convince them of the folly of idolatry, and to bring them to repentance of it.-In order to this, Elijah, by the command of the Lord, goes and shows himself to Ahab, and directs him to send and gather all Israel to him at Mount Carmel, and all the prophets of Baal, four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves that ate at Jezebel's table, four hundred, that they might determine the matter and bring the controversy to an issue, whether Jehovah or Baal were God.—To this end, Elijah proposes, that each should take a bullock, that he should take one, and the prophets of Baal another, that each should cut his bullock in pieces, lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and that the God who should answer by fire should be concluded to be God.
The text contains an account of what Elijah said to all the people at their first meeting, and of their silence : “ 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." To which the people, it seems, made no reply. In these words, we may observe,
1. How Elijah expostulates with the people about their halting so long between two opinions; in which expostulation may be observed,
(1.) What the two opinions were, between which they halted, viz., whether the Lord were God, or whether Baal were God. The case in Israel seems to have been this; there were some who were altogether for Baal, and wholly rejected the true God; of which number, to be sure, were Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. And there were some among them, who were altogether for the God of Israel, and wholly rejected Baal; as God told Elijah, that " he had yet left in Israel seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal, and whose mouths had not kissed him," 1 Kings xix. 18.
But the rest of the people halted between two opinions. They saw that some were for one, and some for the other, and they did not know which to choose ; and, as is commonly the case when difference of opinion prevails, there were many who had no religion at all; they were not settled in any thing; the different opinions prevalent in Israel distracted and confounded them.- Many who professed to believe in the true God, were yet very cold and indifferent, and many were wavering and unsettled. They saw that the king and queen were for Baal; and Baal's party was the prevailing party; but their forefathers had
been for the Lord ; and they knew not which was right. Thus they halted be tween two opinions.
(2.) In this expostulation is implied the unreasonableness of their thus halting between two opinions: “How long balt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Which implies that they ought to determine one way or the other.
2. We may observe their silence on this occasion : “ And the people answered him not a word,” as being convicted in their own consciences of the unreasonableness of their being for so long a time wavering and unresolved : they had nothing to reply in excuse for themselves.
I. Prop. Many persons remain exceedingly undetermined with respect to the things of religion. They are very much undetermined in themselves whether to embrace religion or to reject it.-Many who are baptized, and make a profession of religion, and seem to be Christians, are yet in their own minds halting between two opinions: they never yet came fully to a conclusion whether to be Christians or not. They are taught the Christian religion in their childhood, and have the Bible, the word preached, and the means of grace all their days, yet continue, and grow up, and many grow old, in an unresolvedness, whether to embrace Christianity or not; and many continue unresolved as long as they live.
1. There are some persons who have never come to a settled determination in their own minds, whether or no there be any truth in religion. They hear of the things of religion from their childhood all their days; but never come to a conclusion in their own minds, whether they be real or fabulous. Particularly, some have never come to any determination in their own minds, whether there be any such thing as conversion. They hear much talk about it, and know that many pretend to be the subjects of it; but they are never resolved whether all be not mere designed hypocrisy and imposture, or the mere notions of whimsical persons.
Some never come to any determination whether the Scriptures be the word of God, or whether they be the invention of men; and whether the story concerning Jesus Christ be any thing but a fable. They fear it is true, but sometimes very much doubt of it. Sometimes, when they hear arguments for it, they give an assent to it, that it is true ; but upon every little objection or temptation arising, they call it in question; and are always wavering and never settled about it.
So it seems to have been with many of the Jews in Christ's time; they were always at a loss what to make of him, whether he were indeed the Christ, or whether he were Elias, or one of the old prophets, or a mere impostor. John x. 24, 25, “ Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not.”—Some have never so much as come to a resolution in their own minds, whether there be a God or not. They know not that there is, and oftentimes very much doubt of it.
2. There are some who never have come to any determination in their own minds whether to embrace religion in the practice of it. Religion consists not merely, or chiefly in theory or speculation, but in practice. It is a practical thing; the end of it is to guide and influence us in our practice; and consider
ed in this view, there are multitudes who never have come to a conclusion whether to embrace religion or not.—It is probably pretty general for men to design to be religious some time or other before they die; for none intend to go to hell
. But they still keep it at a distance; they put it off from time to time, and never come to any conclusion which determines them in their present practice. And some never so much as fix upon any time. They design to be religious some time before they die, but they know not when.
There are many who have always hitherto continued unresolved about the necessity of striving and being earnestly engaged for salvation. They flatter themselves that they may obtain salvation, though they be not so earnestly engaged; though they mind the world and their worldly affairs more than their salvation. They are often told how necessary it is that they make haste and not delay, that they do whatever their hand findeth to do with their might, that they be violent, that a dull, slack way of seeking salvation is never like to be effectual. But of these things they are never thoroughly convinced. Some seem to resolve to be in earnest, and seem to set out with some engagedness of mind; but soon fail, because they have never been fully convinced of the necessity of it.
Many have never come to a determination what to choose for their portion. There are but two things which God offers to mankind for their portion. One is this world, with the pleasures and profits of sin, together with eternal misery ensuing : the other is heaven and eternal glory, with a life of self-denial and respect to all the commands of God preceding. Many, as long as they live, come to no settled determination which of these to choose. They must have one or the other, they cannot have both ; but they always remain in suspense, and never make their choice.
They would fain have heaven and this world too; they would have salvation and the pleasures and profits of sin too. But considering heaven and the world, as God offers them, they will have neither. God offers heaven, only with the self-denial and difficulty which are in the way to it; and they are not willing to have heaven on these conditions. God offers the world and the pleasures of sin to men not alone, but with eternal misery in connection with them; and so neither are they willing to have the world. They would fain divide heaven from the holiness and self-denial which are the way to it, and froin the holiness which reigns in it, and then they would be glad to have heaven. They would fain divide sin from hell, and then they would fully determine forever to cleave to sin.
But God will not make such a division for them. They must have one or the other of these for their portion, as God offers; and therefore they never make any choice at all.-Indeed they do practically and in effect choose sin and hell. But they do not come to any resolution in their own minds which they will have for their portion, whether heaven and holiness, or the world and hell: they are always wavering and halting between two opinions. Sometimes they seem to determine for the one, and sometimes for the other. In times wherein they meet with no difficulty or temptation, and can, as they say, do their duty without hurting themselves, or much crossing their carnal inclinations, they seem to choose heaven and holiness. At other times, wherein they meet with difficulty in the way of duty, and great teinptations of worldly profits or pleasures are laid before them, then they choose the world, and let heaven and holiness alone.There are among us vast multitudes, before whom these two things have been set hundreds of times, who have never to this day come to a determination which to have.
So they have never yet determined which shall be their master, whether God or mammon. There are but few who have undertaken the service of God, and are come to a resolution and preparedness of mind to serve God and follow Christ at all times, and to whatever difficulties it may expose them. Yet at the same time neither are they determined that they will continue to serve Satan: they are afraid to draw up such a conclusion. Thus many spend away their lives without making their choice, putting that off, though they do in the mean time practically choose the service of Satan. These are the persons of whom the Apostle James speaks in chap. i. 8, “ The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
II. To continue thus undetermined and unresolved in the things of religion, is very unreasonable, and that upon the following accounts.
1. The things of religion are things wherein we are to the highest degree interested. The truth or falsehood of the doctrines of religion concerns us to the highest degree possible. It is no matter of indifference to us whether there be a God or not; or whether the Scriptures be the word of God; or whether Christ be the Son of God; or whether there be any such thing as conversion. It makes infinite odds to us whether these things be so or not. Therefore we are under the greatest obligation in point of interest to resolve in our minds whether they be true or false. They who are undetermined whether there be any truth in religion, and are contented to be so, not inquiring, nor thoroughly using the means to be determined, act very unreasonably. They remain in doubt whether there be any such thing as a heaven or hell; are quiet and easy to continue ignorant in this matter; are not engaged in their minds to come to a determination; do not search and inquire what arguments there are to prove any such things; nor diligently weigh.and consider the force of them; but busy their minds about other things of infinitely less importance; and act as if they thought it did not much concern them, whether there be a future and eternal state.
If they think that there is not, yet it is a matter of so great importance, that no wise man would rest until he had satisfied himself; because if there be such a future state as the Scriptures tell us of, then we must have our part in it, either in a state of eternal rewards, or in a state of eternal punishment. So it is no matter of indifference to us what we have for our portion, whether this world with hell, or a life of holiness and self-denial with heaven. These opposite portions relate not merely to a few days in this world, but they relate to eternity. It is infinite madness therefore not to come to a determination.
So it is no matter of indifference what master we serve, whether God or mammon; or what interest we will pursue, whether our temporal or eternal interest; or which we prefer, the commands of God, or our pleasures, our ease and convenience. Doubtless it will make a vast odds one way or the other. We ought therefore to come to some determination which we will choose.
2. God hath made us reasonable creatures, and capable of rationally determining for ourselves. God hath made us capable of good acquaintance with those things which do especially concern our interest. Doubtless God hath made man capable of discovering the truth in matters of religion, of coming to a good determination in these questions, whether the Scriptures be the word of God, whether there be a future state, and the like. The resolution of these questions, which it so much concerns us to determine, is not above our capacities. God hath not set these things beyond the extent of our faculties.
So God hath made us capable of making a wise choice for ourselves, as to the life which we shall choose to lead. He hath given man so much understanding, as to make him capable of determining which is best ; to lead a life
of self-denial and enjoy eternal happiness, or to take our swing in sinful enjoyments and burn in hell forever. The question is of no difficult determination. It is so far from being a matter too hard for our reason, that the reason of a child is sufficient to determine this matter. Therefore men in remaining undetermined in these matters, do not act as reasonable creatures, but make themselves like “ the horse and the mule, which have no understanding," Psalm xxxii. 9.
3. God puts into our hands a happy opportunity to determine for ourselves. What better opportunity can a man desire to consult his own interest, than to have liberty to choose his own portion? God setteth life and death before us Deut. xxx. 19, “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, that thou and thy seed after thee may live.” See also Ezek. xviii. 31, 32, and chap. xxxiii. 11. What better opportunity can we desire for securing to ourselves the greatest good, than to have eternal life and unchangeable happiness set before us, and offered to our choice? Therefore those who neglect coming to a resolution, act unreasonably, because they stand so much in their own light, and miss so glorious an opportunity.
4. The things among which we are to make our choice are but few in number; there are but two portions set before us, one of which must be our portion; either life or death, either blessing or cursing ; either a life of universal and persevering obedience with eternal glory; or a worldly, carnal, wicked life, with eternal misery. If there were many terms in the offer made us, many things of nearly an equal value, one of which we must choose, to remain long in suspense and undetermined would be more excusable ; there would be more reason for long deliberation before we should fix. But there are but two terms, there are but two states in another world, in one or the other of which we must be fixed to all eternity.
And there are but two states in this world, a state of sin, and a state of holiness, a natural state, and a converted state. There is but one way in which we can come to life, which renders the determination of reason much the easier. There are but two masters, to one of which we must be reputed the servants, Baal and Jehovah, God and mammon. There are but two competitors for the possession of us, Christ and the devil. There are but two paths, in one of which you are to travel, either in the strait and narrow way which leadeth unto life, or the broad way which leadeth unto destruction.
This shows the unreasonableness of those who live under light, and have the offers of the gospel made to them, and yet remain from year to year unfixed and undetermined, halting between two opinions.
5. God hath given us all needed helps to determine us. We have all needed helps to determine our understandings, as to the truth of the things of religion, as whether there be a God, whether the Scriptures be the word of God, whether there be a future state, &c. We are not left in the dark as to these things, as the poor
heathen are, who are under great disadvantages to come to the knowledge of the truth, though they be not under an impossibility, for they may haply feel after God and find him, Acts xvii. 27. But we have a clear sunshine to guide us, we have a particular description of those things which are set before us for truth, and have great opportunity to examine them. The Scripture lies open before us, and all the doctrines of the gospel are particularly set forth, with the reasons on which their evidence is founded. We may search and try their force and sufficiency, as we will.
We have great helps to a wise and rational determination in our choice; to