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HALTING BETWEEN GOD AND THE WORLD.
“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.”
AFTER the separation of Israel and Judah, the kingdom of Israel fell into gross idolatry. Jeroboam, foreseeing that if the people went up to Jerusalem to sacrifice in the House of the Lord, they would turn from him to the kingdom of Judah, took counsel, and set up two calves of gold, and made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people. All this he did as a scheme of policy, to keep the people of Israel under his allegiance. The effect of it was, that they soon fell into the idolatries of the Zidonians and Ammonites. Baal was the god of the Zidonians, and his worship was set up by Ahab, through his marriage with Jezebel, daughter of 55Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians. He also made a grove for the rites of idol worship. Idolatry became the popular and national tradition; the whole force and support of public opinion sustained it; all the presumptions and usages of public and private life were full of it; all things around them confessed Baal, his godhead, and his worship. They were thoroughly possessed with a belief of his divinity. To dispute it was to attack a sort of religious common sense.
This was the state of Israel when Elijah was sent from God to gather out the remnant of His elect. His witness and his miracles had confounded, and half convinced the people. Some were, perhaps, altogether convinced in secret; but they hung in suspense, wavering and doubting what to do. Baal was strong, and his worship was loud and splendid. The prophets of Baal were four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred; and they were in the favour and protection of the royal house. They did “eat at Jezebel’s table.” I need not recount the detail of this well-known history. In a word, Elijah challenged them to a trial on the heights of Carmel. There they built an altar, and laid on it a sacrifice, and invoked fire from Baal to consume it in token of his power and godhead. And Elijah mocked them as “they cried and cut themselves 56with knives and lancets. “And when the heaven was serene and silent, and there was no voice, nor any to answer, in the fury of despair they leaped upon the altar and broke it down. When mid-day was past, Elijah builded an altar of twelve stones in the Name of the Lord, and laid the sacrifice upon it, and poured water thrice upon it, and filled the trench round about it with water. And about the time of the evening sacrifice, he came near and said, “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel.” “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and they said, The Lord He is the God; the Lord He is the God.”
Now this history strikingly illustrates a very common fault of character. I mean, indecision in religion.
First, we have here a type of the worship of the world set up within the Church of God; and of the insensibility which comes upon worldly Christians. The greater part of men, if they do not grieve and resist the Spirit of their baptism, fall into a low, dim, relaxed Christianity, which is the Christianity of the world. They are nominally 57Christians; but splendour, society, rank, high connexions, great friends, money, pleasure, and the like, are the real objects of their anxiety and labour,—that is, of their worship. To such people the rule of life is the custom of the majority. Their standard of judgment is the opinion of those by whom they wish to be well thought of. They measure their duties by the example of the patrons whom they serve or follow. Their maxim and theory of life are founded upon the average practice of the society in which they live. Their religion is the religion of the greater number. What is practicable in religion is what the world will allow them to fulfil. Whatever is beyond it, is overstrained, indiscreet, singular, and in bad taste. Sometimes, many better qualities are mingled in such minds; as, for example, reverence for established usages, the customs of former generations, the names of forefathers, and the like. But these, though they mitigate the personal fault of yielding to the way of the world, do not change the quality of indecision, nor avert the danger of it.
The effect of all this is, to produce a dulness of spiritual perception. Whatever is above the average standard is to them enthusiastic and visionary, or conceited and singular. The precepts and counsels of devotion and holy living are to them refinements and excess. They cannot see 58them to be a duty, or to be profitable, or even to be safe. Such minds have either very faint, or no clear insight or faculties of the Spirit, to which you can appeal. The more perfect forms of holiness, which ought to be instincts in the regenerate, must be laboriously proved to them. The higher those precepts are, the more need of proof.
What is the plain meaning of all this? It is, that the world weighs heavy upon the visible mass of Christians, and lowers them to its own standard. Only individuals rise above it; and the mass keep each other in countenance; denouncing them as dreamers. “The prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men, and the prophets of the grove four hundred men,” and “they eat at Jezebel’s table.” The world loves its own, and follows them because they wait upon it.
But next we see here how light sometimes forces itself upon such people. God sends to them a witness and a warning. Sickness, danger, the loss of those they love, worldly adversity, such as ruin of fortune, disappointments, and the like:—these things make them look deeper than the surface. They find the world’s religion to be an imposture, a conspiracy to keep up a decent appearance, and to keep out the stern reality of the Cross. Little by little they begin to see that ease, glitter, smoothness, comfort, a free life, a fair opinion of themselves, 59are not the signs of Christ’s servants; that in such things there are no tokens of the Crucifixion. These are not the array of repentance, nor fit trappings for fallen sinners. They begin, therefore, to doubt the truth of their past self-persuasion; they begin to see that their active thoughts and powers are bestowed with a fearful concentration upon this world, and that God and His kingdom are but faintly remembered: that their prayers and repentance are not states and habits, but momentary acts or feelings. Their whole life of private devotion, perhaps, would not fill one hour in the twenty four. Whatever is right, this must be wrong. New truths then begin to glimmer,—old truths, long slighted, to break out full upon them. They see enough to convince them that they cannot go on as in time past; that they have been walking in a vain show; that their religion has been a dream, and that the world has been their reality; and that this is an open contradiction of Divine Truth; for “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
They are, in this way, brought to a stand between two things. On the one side is the world, as loud, fair, alluring, persuasive, commanding, as before. On the other is an inward world, which has burst upon their conscience,—awful, majestic, 60and eternal. Between old habits and new convictions, how shall they steer their course? Can they break away from the world, forsake its pleasures, refuse its gifts, endure its enmity, bear its scorn? Dare they turn from the light of the Spirit, the Passion of Christ, the kingdom of God? What shall they do? It is not hard to tell what in the end many will do. They will “halt between two opinions.” They try to reconcile their new and unwelcome convictions with their old life of worldly aims and practice. Sometimes they plunge into them even still deeper, if by any means they may escape the light of truth. But it follows them into every path. They go back to the same frivolities and follies, the same hollow vanity and noisy levities. They try to drown the warning of Him who stands at the door and knocks. But all in vain. His hand has a thrilling stroke, which pierces through every other sound;—through the mirth of feasting and loud revels, laughter and gladness, and the voice of music. It has a thrill which penetrates the ear,—clear, articulate, and emphatic. They cannot choose but hear, and know Who calls them. It is the Voice come again. They hurry to and fro to elude the pursuit of conscience; but go where they will, the truth is there before them. He meets them in every house, stands on the threshold of every door, sits at every board, is 61first in every throng. He besets them behind and before, ever saying, “How long halt ye between the world and Me?”
This is not only a very miserable, but a very dangerous state; for such people grow to be morally impotent. To know truth, and to disobey it, weakens the whole character. Even such truths as they knew and acted on before, are enfeebled by it. The whole tone of their character is lowered. And with the loss of moral stedfastness comes loss of consistency; and with loss of consistency, loss of inward peace: then comes irritability of mind; soreness, arising out of self-reproach; bitterness to others, because they are galled by themselves. They begin to dislike the truth they shrink from, and to rebel against what they fear. Religion becomes a sore subject to them; and they grow utterly estranged. They lose both their old comfort and their new. According to that Divine and just paradox, “Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”3535 St. Matt. xiii. 12. O most miserable religion of the world! always promising, and never fulfilling; always fair, and always false; strict enough to vex the soul, but not strong enough to cleanse the heart; without which cleansing, no man shall see the kingdom of God.62
Now, let us not think that this is an extreme or uncommon case. I have only stated broadly what in some degree is true of perhaps every one of us. It is true of every one who yields to the world more than he feels to be right; more than he would, if he dared to break with it: of every one who has light higher than his life; convictions beyond his practice: of every one who has once been more earnest, and has been toned down, or rather dulled and tamed by the world: of every one that is easy, consenting, unenergetic, pliant, irresolute in any degree; for just in that degree he will halt between the world and God. And who is there that can say, “This does not take hold of me?”
If this be so, let us see what is the reason of it.
The first reason is, that such people will not decide one way or another. Next to wilful sin, indecision is the most pitiable state of man. To hang in doubt between time and eternity, the world and God, a sin and a crown of life, is, we may believe, if possible, more incensing to the Divine jealousy, than open disobedience. It implies so much light, and so much sense of what is good, that doubt has no plea of ignorance. The irresolution is not in the understanding or in the conscience, but in the will. The fault is in the heart. It convicts them of the want of love, gratitude, 63and all high desires after God: it reveals the stupor and earthliness which is still upon the soul. It proves the absence of faith; of a living consciousness of things unseen, and an active power of realising what they believe, without which faith is dead. There is upon them a spiritual insensibility, a kind of mortal apathy, a listless inattention to any thing which does not make itself felt by forcing its presence upon the senses of the body. And this at last deadens the perceptions of the soul.
Such is the moral character of indecision in religion:—surely most guilty and ungrateful in His sight Who was pierced for us. To be a member of Christ, without an earnest and kindled heart; to look unmoved on Him whom we have wounded; for this our Lord has reserved a warning of almost unexampled severity. “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works: that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.”3636 Rev. iii. 14-16.
Another reason of this irresolution is, that sometimes, when people have clearly decided in their own minds on the better course, they will 64not act upon the decision. This is the state of many. It is a cheap thing to know what is right; to make right decisions; even to resolve. The trial is in the act. Many die in their sins, for want of moral earnestness to break them off. A weak will is their perdition. But there is even a sadder case than the end of those who never begin to act upon their faith. There are some who make a struggle, and for a while set themselves free, and seem to make their choice for ever. After a time they waver; and after wavering, go back. But they are never as they were before. As a stream, checked by a momentary dam, bursts with greater vehemence; so it is for the most part with relapsing Christians. They go back each man to his particular sin, with a harder boldness, and a sevenfold greater abandonment of life and heart. For instance, worldly people, who have been brought by sickness and sorrow to sadder and wiser thoughts, if they go back to the world again, are proverbially the most worldly of all. So in other kinds of sin: for despised truth deadens the conscience; and light departs from those who will not follow it. The darkness of a relapsed soul is of all the greatest.
Now, if this be the cause and the danger of indecision, let us see how we may detect and overcome it in ourselves.65
What has been said shews—
1. That the right way to know the truth, is not speculation, but practice; not to reason about it, but to do it. There are many things which cannot be proved by reasoning; or if they can, reasoning comes in so tardily, as to form no real part of the proof; like as it is in the fact of day-light, or of our waking consciousness, or of the sight of our eyes. All these are perceived and known in act, by instincts which outstrip and go before all reflection. It is by putting the decision of the conscience and the will to the test of practice, that we become sure we have judged aright. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” For instance, people who live a free life shrink from a decided course of religion, because they think it must be austere and straitened. They would fain taste the peace, before they commit themselves to it; and ascertain its freedom, before they trust it. When they read, “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee thy heart’s desire;” they think, ‘If He would give me my heart’s desire, I would delight myself in Him.’ When our Lord says, “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye may have life;” they say in themselves, ‘Give me life, and I will come;’ that is, they would have life without coming. In 66fact, they cannot make up their minds to trust God, and take Him at His word.
And this is specially true in respect to all doctrines of faith. People will not believe them till they see the reasons. But they never can see the reasons till they have believed. Faith is the condition on which we, who were born blind, receive our sight. Intellectual knowledge depends in chief on the spiritual perceptions. And spiritual perceptions issue out of our spiritual nature, as it is matured by faith. But faith is the decision of the soul, trusting itself altogether to the hand of God. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind, and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”3737 St. James i. 5-8. We shall never see the harmony of truth, if we first ask for proof. When faith has received the doctrine, reason will see it as in the light of noon.
2. Another truth taught us by this is, that the effect of a faithful and decided life is to strengthen and confirm the choice we have made. There is no knowledge like the knowledge of experience. 67How hard it is to realise the look of any country by description in a book; or to know the spirit of a man from his written life: or to appreciate sweetness from illustration, or harmony from the written language of music. How the least personal experience by sight or hearing gives to all these a vividness and reality which makes them at once part of our minds for ever. For example, people who live in a habit of prayer will tell us that it is full of peace, of a peculiar happiness. They never knew it till they tasted it: they never tasted it till they tried it. Take, as a proof, those who long shrunk from frequent Communion, partly for fear of binding themselves to a stricter life, partly from a notion that frequency would produce irreverence or insensibility. Ask them, after some years of frequent Communion, they will tell you that they never thought to attain such clear and undoubting certainty of the deep reality and exceeding reward of that great precept of love: that now they have forgotten the duty in the blessedness: that it is not so much obedience as delight: that so far from losing the sweetness of that Holy Sacrament, they never tasted it before: that now they fear to lose, far more than once they feared to approach it: that a new world has opened to them, of which the altar is the centre, and the Sacrifice which lies upon it is the life. In it they see all God’s mercies, 68the incarnation and atonement of His Son, the love of the Holy Ghost. It is to them now as a reflection of His goodness and His beauty, His very presence and the vision of peace. And so it is in like manner also with a life of repentance, from which men recoil as from a life-long sadness. Nothing can persuade them that repentance has a peculiar calm and joy. In no way can it be realised but by actual participation. Every day deepens the sense of the Divine forgiveness: the deeper their humiliation, the sharper the yoke upon their neck, the clearer, brighter, and more serene their inmost heart, The darker it is to the eyes of the world without, the fuller of light within. What the world calls ascetic rigour and intolerable gloom, is to them freedom and the joy of a holy sadness.
There is nothing we oftener say than that sorrows are tokens of God’s love; and yet when they come, how few really so receive them, and give themselves up to be led and taught by Him. They shrink, and seek out their own consolations, and shape their own ways, with a real though disguised feeling that God has made an inroad upon their peace; that they must build up again what He has overthrown. And what misery is this; to beat ourselves to pieces against the Divine will, which stands firm as necessity and iron. Even when we do not directly clash with it, yet how sore it 69is to bear His rod, only because we cannot ward off His strokes. How blessed, if we would with a deliberate and decisive choice choose what He chooses; and make His will our will, His purpose our purpose, and His work our work; so that even in our sorrows we may be fellow-workers together with Him, that both by His chastisement and by our own desires we may be made “partakers of His holiness.”3838 Heb. xii. 10. When any trial comes, then, let us not halt between His will and our own will; but say, “Thou art my God; shew me Thy intent, and accomplish Thy perfect work in me.” Ask those who have sorrowed after this sort, whether even home in its brightest hours had more of peace. Ask even those who, after halting long, at last have chosen well, and are now entered on the sure though strait path of the Cross. They will tell you what is their reward; what they so nearly lost, but now have attained, by trusting God, for ever.
3. Lastly, we may see that where obedience and experience bring strength, they give also insight and intuition into the whole range of truth. As, for example, we know that God is with us from our childhood; but from the time we began to act upon that truth, how different have been our perceptions of it. How different has been our sense 70of awe, faith, reverence, in our private prayers, and in public worship; how far higher and deeper our belief and knowledge of His mysteries of grace, of the Church, and the Holy Sacraments.
And this intuition spreads outwardly on every side, into the whole sphere of our life. All relations, duties, events, are seen under a new light; as if, after long twilight, the sun had risen upon the earth. We begin to see our real site in God’s world, the end of our creation, the value of time, the true secret of our own heart, the just price of all things that “perish in the using.” And this will be found true in the whole of our spiritual life.
But that we may make an end, let us come to particulars.
Are you conscious of any sin or fault, your chief one, still unsubdued; sometimes committed through weakness, sometimes willingly indulged? Perhaps you throw this into the general view of your character, as the one lingering infirmity, notwithstanding which you may look upon yourself to be religious and devout. This is plain halting between God and a besetting sin. Sometimes it may be a greater, but for the most part it is a lesser sin, as men judge, which holds Christians in their irresolute state. A great sin generally decides the balance for itself. Carefulness about money, personal vanity, ambition, love of the world’s 71honour,—these hold men in a state of religious indecision. Now, are they sins or not? If they are not, why does God condemn them? If they are, why do you give your hearts into their power?
And once more: are you conscious of any duty either neglected or seldom fulfilled? I will say, the reception of the Holy Sacrament. To come to the Blessed Sacrament is either a duty, or it is not. Which is it? If a duty, why do you neglect it? If not, why not say so at once? Or if it be a duty, why do you come so seldom? If not a duty, why do you come at all? Is not this halting between two opinions? Again, the Holy Sacrament is either a blessing or it is not. If it be not, why do you ever come to it? If it be, how can you turn away? Did our Lord Jesus Christ say, “This do in remembrance of Me,” or did He not? If He did not, why call it a Sacrament? If He did, how can you despise His command? What halting and contradiction is all this!
Perhaps some may say, “All this is right; but I am not fit to come to the Holy Communion.” And yet this only removes the indecision one step higher up. Why do you not make yourself fit? If you are not fit for the Holy Sacrament, are you fit to die? or if you hope that you are fit to die, are you not afraid of saying that you are not fit for the Holy Sacrament? Can you be fit for the 72 greater, and not for the less? Oh, let us make up our minds to something; let us be resolved one way or the other; let us be either cold or hot; choose life or death. But let us not deceive ourselves with a dreamy, heartless, halting Christianity. “No man can serve two masters.” “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” What would you give, upon a death-bed, for one short hour to be at last decided? Choose now, and choose wisely; for one false choice may become eternal. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Oh, just and awful words. Be in earnest one way or the other: for Me or against Me. “And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”3939 Rev. xxii. 11, 12.73
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