A Sermon Delivered by ROBERT BARCLAY, ca. 1876.
Sermons of Robert Barclay, Edit
ed By His Widow, Sarah Matilda Fry Barclay. London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1878, pages 354-360.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 3: The 19th Century.
"How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him."--1 Kings 18:21.
We read in the Book of Job, and the Book of Numbers, enough to show us that the religion of
Baal was a very widely spread, a very ancient, and a very seductive religion. Our young friends
will remember that not very far from Sidon, the city from which Jezebel came, there remains to
the present day, in the ruins of Baalbek, or the City of the Sun, an evidence of the vast power
which the religion of Baal exercised. These ruins are the wonder of the traveler, and give a solemn
reality to the scene which the Spirit of God has placed before us, for our instruction, in this
passage of Scripture. It seems certain that the religion of Baal exercised great influence over both
the educated and the uneducated. Of all false and idolatrous religions, the worship of the sun, as
the source of light and heat, commended itself most highly to the educated. To the uneducated, on
the other hand, nothing is apt to appear so important as an appropriate and gorgeous ceremonial;
and the religion of Baal satisfied the needs of both classes. It had everything in it which was most
in accordance with man's natural inclinations, while the true religion, which was confined to a very
small portion of the world, was despised, and was opposed in every point to man's sinful
The whole context of the history seems therefore to lead us to the conclusion that just at that
moment when the profession of the false religion was imperiling the true, God saw fit to interfere
by the agency of Elijah. Not only was he fitted by natural temperament, but God seems to have
educated him gradually for this great work, so that he was able in God's name boldly to demand
of Ahab, "Gather me together all Israel unto Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal, four hundred
and fifty men, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table"--boldly
to demand of the Israelites, "How long halt ye-between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow
Him; but if Baal, then follow him." The test proposed was peculiarly appropriate. "The God who
answereth by fire, He is the God." The god of heavenly fire would surely vindicate his claims, and
the people would be satisfied. The despair of the worshipers of Baal, when he sun was fast sinking
on the horizon, is vividly contrasted, in the sacred page, with the calm confidence of the Prophet,
as he built again the altar of the true God, for the darkness and the light were both alike to Him.
You know the rest of the story, how the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice,
and the wood and the stones, although drenched with water; and we seem to hear the shout of all
Israel, "The Lord, He is the God; The Lord, He is the God!"
But in contemplating this impressive scene, we must not lose the lessons which it is intended to
convey to all ages, even to the present time. "If the Lord be God, follow Him." What words for us
in this age to ponder! Is there such a thing as following Baal in tho present day? It is true the
religion has passed away, but not the spirit which gave the power to that religion. Baal worship
may stand for the religion of the world. At the present time, are not men constructing religions for
themselves very much on the same principle as that of Baal?--deifying, as it were, the forces of
nature, and endeavouring to represent, without any proof whatever, that the forces of nature have
in some undefined way an originating or creative power? What is this but substantially the error of
the worshipers of the sun, who worshiped the creature or created thing more than the Creator
who formed and planned it, and adjusted and controlled its forces, so as to produce the result in a
universe of created things? This error formed one half of the religion of Baal, and we shall find the
other half to consist in the substitution of a religion of form for one of spiritual and intense reality.
The religion of Baal has passed away, but the religion of nature and ceremonial remains.
"Wherefore halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then
follow Him." If you, my young friends, if we in middle life, or even if those among us with silvery
hairs are living in the mere outward show of' religion; if we maintain it merely because we think
the world would not go on and be kept in order without an outward show of religion, and of
morality, all will- avail us nothing. If we do not believe in our hearts that God has spoken, that the
Light of the World has come;--if we see not that
"In mortal weakness once was veiled thy might, Light of eternal day:"
all this outward semblance of religion will avail us nothing. The religion of Christ is true, and this
is the reason why God calls upon you to follow it. His words throughout the Bible, from the first
chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, are substantially of the tenor of the words of
Elijah: "If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him."
The Jew was not asked to believe in revealed religion without inquiry: and as with the Jew so with
the Christian. "If thy children ask thee in times to come, What mean these testimonies, statutes,
and judgments?" they were not taught to answer, "It is the religion of our country, your parents,
and friends; believe it, believe it." But we shall recollect they were expressly directed to explain to
their children the history of the events which led te those great and good testimonies, statutes, and
judgments, and to show them that such things were worthy of God. So in the New Testament,
every Christian is directed to give an intelligent and reasonable answer to every one who asks of
him a reason of the hope that is in him.
There is another point in which our position as Christians resembles that of the Jews; it is in our
advantages and privileges. We who have heard the word of the Gospel, and are God's elect, have
been chosen by him to hear the word of the Gospel, chosen to this special privilege. How many
millions of the human race have never had that privilege! We have been chosen to special
advantages which render it comparatively easy when we hear the voice of God calling to us, "If
the Lord be God, follow Him," to say "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. I will follow thee as
far as I understand thy requirements." How great, dear young people, are your privileges! Has not
Christ's Gospel been explained to you by loving Christian parents, friends, and teachers? We are
cast upon life in a Christian land. The knowledge and influences of Christianity have been around
our path and dwelling from our earliest years, and how often are they entwined with the heart's
best feelings, in the tenderness of a father's affection, in the depth of a mother's love!
Those parents who feel that "this God is our God for ever and ever--He will be our guide even
unto death," will not bring up their children in a spirit of worldly policy, but will delight in
showing to them both Zion's bulwarks, with their strong foundations deep ill the solid rock of
fact, and Zion's palaces-Christ's character, "in its shape how lovely!" Now that your eyes may be
touched by the Saviour's finger, may see in Him "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the
world," may see in His human character the lineaments of Heaven, brought down and revealed to
us on earth, you must, dear young people, choose whom ye will serve. The choice is now as of
old, between the religion of Christ and the religion of the world. But from what a high vantage
ground do you who have been so blessed make the great choice between good and evil, truth and
falsehood, the broad and the narrow way! You are upon the mountain where you tread the solid
rock, where you enjoy the clear moral atmosphere which a truly Christian education inevitably
gives; your eyes are not blinded by the fog, or your feet impeded by the mire of the plain; and
when by God's grace you try to make some straight steps forward, you at least can see the
narrow path before you. Is not this a position of great responsibility? God does not give us
privileges and blessings without holding us responsible for their use. We cannot, if we would,
refuse the guilt of life with its responsibilities; for after this life is another. We may, however,
reject the immortal crown which the Lord the righteous Judge will give in that day unto all those
who love His appearing; but we cannot do away with the debt of gratitude we owe to God for the
surroundings of love and the blessings of happiness and of knowledge with which our God and
Father has blessed us according to the counsel of his all wise and perfect will.
Are you halting between two opinions? If you love the truth, there is no fear which you will
choose--Christ or Baal. Then walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you. Seek
the Truth: but be sure you follow it as far as you have found it, or you will be still halting
between two opinions; you may wait until your association with the world, and your pursuit of the
things of it, blunt your spiritual perceptions-your keen sense of the noble and the base. Your
indecision may sow the seed of that most fearful thing, a gradual deterioration of moral character;
for the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and tho pride of life, will not; become less
powerful for your halting. "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth
me," says our Lord.
Let us accept a warning from the conduct of the Israelites, who fell on their knees and shouted,
"The Lord, he is the God." How many, think you, of the many thousands of Israelites who then
were convinced that the Lord was God, followed him, with Elijah, Elisha, Obadiah, and other
faithful followers of Jehovah?
If we are waiting for some further illumination, some mighty impulses which shall carry us away in
a moment, make all within us pure and holy, kindle steadfast faith, and holy love to Jesus, without
one positive effort on our part to do his will, to run, to fight, to strive by the aid of the Holy
Spirit, without the decision to take up the cross of him who bore the cross for us and follow in the
steps of his most holy life--we may wait, and wait in vain.
May the Lord breathe into our hearts a growing faith that "we have not followed cunningly
devised fables," and may we no longer "halt between two opinions," but acknowledging that the
Lord to be God, join in spirit the company who met on the holy mount, Moses and Elijah, the
representatives of the church of the past and of the present, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the
representative of the church of the glorified, the church of the future in heaven! Then shall we
thus judge, that he died for all, in order that they who live should not henceforth live unto
themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again; and following him in his humiliation,
we shall find ourselves at last where he, our adorable and most blessed Savior, is.