W. Graham Scroggie: The following address was delivered at the Keswick Convention on Sunday evening, 22nd July, 1923, in the Eskin Street Tent, about two thousand people being present. This Sunday evening is the occasion during the Convention when, in the Tent, the service is evangelistic, a special effort then being made to secure the presence of many of the inhabitants of Keswick. Of course, the great majority of those attending the service are Convention Visitors and Christians, so that the evangelistic appeal is made to a very limited number in the great congregation. Yet, the effort is well worth while, and is owned of God. At the close of the following discourse seven or eight publicly signified their desire and intention there and then to accept Christ as their personal Saviour.
The address has been revised by me, but remains substantially as delivered.
W. Graham Scroggie: I would ask your attention this evening to the words in verse 21 of 1 Kings, Chapter 18, part of which we read:
How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him.
What most impresses us as we read these words is their downright common sense. There is nothing here affirmed. The prophet is not saying that Jehovah is God; he is not saying that Baal is not God. He is making a practical proposition, and exhorting to a common-sense line of action. If Jehovah be God, follow Him; if He be not God, then do not follow Him. If Baal be God, follow him; but if he be not God, then do not follow him. Whoever is God should be followed. The prophet then applies a test - that was inevitable and necessary.
This is one of the most wonderful scenes in human history; and one that might well engage the genius of some artist - eight hundred and fifty priests, four hundred and fifty of them the priests of Baal, and four hundred others who ate at the table of Jezebel. There they stand on the one hand, and the great crowd of Israel on the other hand, and in the center stands the prophet, this rugged man whose creed was summed up in his name, El-i-Jah, Jehovah is God. Turning aside from the priests, he addresses the crowd, and says, "If Jehovah be God, follow Him, but if Baal be God, then follow him; but why halt between two opinions! Believe something! Stand somewhere!" That is the challenge thrown down to these people of old, and it comes to us also across the ages.
[If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything!]
1. The prophet here draws a sharp distinction between God and the gods. There is only one true [supreme] God, and we should discover Who He is. Is Jehovah God, or is Baal God? That is an enquiry of the utmost significance and the greatest importance. The heathen people, then as now, had their gods, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Moloch, Baal, the gods of the Amorites and the Moabites, tribal deities; and they supposed that Yahweh also was a tribal deity, a god like their own, and with the limitations of their own. The prophet, however, believed that there was but one God, and that we must discover who He is.
Who is God? There can be no reconciliation between the true God and rival claims and interests. This is the teaching everywhere in the Scriptures, and they never leave us in any doubt as to its meaning on the subject.
There is here no neutral ground; no "No man's land," no border-land where rival interests can shade into one another; no middle ground on which we may take our stand without being under any necessity to commit ourselves to the views on the right or on the left. In Scripture on this matter everything is clean cut, the thinking is clear, the teaching is unmistakable; there are only righteousness and unrighteousness; light and darkness; right and wrong; truth and error; heaven and hell; God and the gods; Christ and the Devil; the upward way and the downward way. There can be no reconciliation between these; they are eternally antagonistic.
Men may halt between them but they cannot combine them. It will be well for the sake of our souls if we think clearly here. We are bidden understand what we are called upon to do, and there is an absolute necessity that we choose between the true and the false. Most people might be disposed to say, "Well, I am not going to occupy myself with these matters at all, and I am under no necessity to make a choice between these rival claims." Oh, but you are. Choice is not optional, but obligatory and necessary. No man can serve two masters, but every man must serve one. God or Mammon, but not God and Mammon.
It will be well for those of us who are Christ's, who have already professed and confessed Him, to remember this. As between these things there can be no agreement. Here there must be no compromise. These rivals are eternal rivals; they are irreconcilable; they are contrary in their very natures, contrary in their foundations and roots, contrary in all their aims and objects, and we may not compromise here. Our Lord said, "He that is not with Me is against Me" (Matt. 12:30). We must make a choice, because there is the distinction. There are the alternatives, there are the facts of the case, and the prophet says you must keep this distinction clear. You will never act independently and decisively unless you think clearly, and the Scriptures on this momentous matter help us to think clearly.
2. In the next place, the prophet rebukes the dilatoriness of the people: "Why halt ye between two opinions'?" He calls their attention to the absurdity of such an attitude. What does it mean to halt between two opinions? It means to sway first one way and then the other, to stand first on one foot and then on the other, to look first this way and then that way, to hop like a bird from this bough to that, fore and back, fore and back, and the prophet says, "How absurd! Have you no conviction? Have you no intelligence? Have you no judgment? Cannot you make up your mind? Cannot you stand somewhere and believe something?"
I frankly confess that if I had not resolved to be out and out for Christ I would not meddle with Christianity at all; I would at least endeavor to get out of this world all that it holds for me.
The attitude of the matter is eminently unsatisfactory. A person who oscillates as did these people, who sways to and fro, who is first here and then there, whose heart at one time appears to be in the Church, and at another time in the world, who is first in the company of God's people, and then in the company of the ungodly - such a one enjoys neither Christ nor the world; he has the duties of religion without its joys, and the love of the world without its pleasures. It is eminently unsatisfactory. I have sympathy, within limits, with the people who never darken a church door; they at least are not hypocrites, first here and then there, swaying to and fro, looking this way and that, grasping time with one hand, and clutching at eternity with the other, seeking to make the most of both worlds.
Such an attitude is altogether unsatisfactory, and the prophet is resolved to make an attempt at least, to bring that halting and hesitating attitude on the part of Israel to an end. "Why halt ye between two opinions?" "Why talk a double language? Thy speech betrayeth thee."
3. But further he would remind them of the perilousness of such an attitude. Destiny may overtake them before they have made their decision, and destiny stares every one of us in the face. We dare not procrastinate. We have life now, but we have no promise of it to-morrow; and while we are endeavoring to reconcile the irreconcilable, while we are hopping from this position to that, hesitating, halting, limping along the way, destiny may overtake us and settle the matter for us.
The prophet says we cannot maintain this attitude; we must do something; we must stand somewhere; we must make some sort of a confession. We are rational creatures endowed with conscience and will, with intelligence and freedom, and we must make a choice. No one can choose for us. God Almighty cannot choose for you and for me. You and I can put God, Who made us and Who gives us the breath that we breathe, at arm's length and say, we will not yield to Thee; or, we can turn to Him, through the gracious operations of His Holy Spirit, and receive His great salvation. But the responsibility is yours and is mine.
4. Having drawn this vital distinction between God and the gods, and having rebuked the dilatoriness of the people, the prophet now calls for immediate decision in the light of the facts - and so do I.
This great Convention Movement is not an evangelistic Movement; it is thoroughly to the core of it evangelical, but it is not evangelistic according to the common use of that word. It is a Movement for Christians, but it draws many unbelievers in its wake, and they get truly converted to God. I suppose there is never a Convention in which souls are not "born again". This meeting (the closing Sunday evening of the Convention) is held especially for the purpose of making an evangelistic appeal. I suppose the majority here to-night will feel that this message is not exactly suited to their need. It was not intended to be.
We are here to-night with a message for the minority in this tent, for those sitting here or there, who have never made the great decision, who have never come to the Lord Jesus Christ and received Him as their personal Saviour. In the circumstances is such an appeal worth while? Yes, verily, for "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:7). It were worthwhile holding the whole Convention from last Friday week to next Tuesday for the salvation of one soul.
Christ died for you, and Christ died for me. Heaven's music is silenced to listen to the sob of the repentant soul, and when that soul turns to God and receives Christ, all Heaven's Choirs are started again, and there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one. Where is that one to-night in this great congregation? You are called to immediate decision in the light of the facts.
What is the ground of the claim? It is found in the words, "If the Lord be God." Decision must spring from conviction, and conviction must rest on proof, and proof is here given. You are not asked to act without any guarantee or evidence. There are thousands of years of evidence behind us. Proof is accumulated heaven-high that Christ can do what He claims to do.
When He says, "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28), and you ask what evidence there is that He can do and will do what He says, the answer is - the history of the Church of God is evidence; redeemed souls of all the ages are evidence; "the great multitude that no man can number, of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues, who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9), is evidence. All the saved souls under this canvas to-night are evidence. I am evidence. Christ saved my soul thirty-seven years ago, and I speak not from theory but from experience when I say that He can save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him.
His blood can make the vilest clean,
His blood availed for me.
The Lion of Judah can break every chain
And give you the victory again and again.
Decision springs from conviction, and conviction rests on proof. One conviction is worth tons of opinions. Opinion never yet saved anybody. Naaman had the opinion that if he washed in the waters of the Abana or the Pharpar instead of in the waters of Jordan he should be made clean. "I thought," he said and if he had continued so to think he would have continued to be a leper. Your opinions may easily keep you back from Christ, and rob you of salvation.
It is not what you think, or what I think, but what God says that matters. "All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way" (Isa. 53:6); that is not a matter of opinion, it is a fact, a fact of revelation, and a fact of experience.
The people of our test had opinions: first their opinion led toward Baal, and then their opinion inclined them towards Jehovah, but they had no ruling conviction; and Elijah says, "Look here, you must forsake your opinions, and arrive at some settled conviction in the light of the facts. 'If Baal be God, follow him; if Jehovah be God, then follow Him' - but go one way or the other. Do not be racing to and fro. Make up your mind. Decide! Choose!"
The ground of the claim is plain. What, then, is the nature of it? This, that God be followed. If there be a God serve Him. If there be a judgment prepare for it. Let there be an end of this miserable vacillation. Place yourself somewhere, and be something. Have a creed of some kind. If you will not have a Christian creed then have a devil's creed, but have a creed. Believe something. Stand somewhere. Go one way or the other. Do not - for God's sake - do not be jumping from one thing to another. Do not rest in opinions about this and opinions about that, with no intelligence or decision in them. That is the challenge, and the call of the ancient prophet, and also of all true prophets. If the Christian life be right, carry it out; and if it be not right, give it up.
My last word is this - that the claim is urgent. "How long?" There are people here to-night at the crossways. You know in part, but not fully, all that has led up to your being here, and for you this must prove a night - and this a place of solemn decision. "How long halt ye between two opinions?" I come to you in all seriousness as a man to man and woman with this common-sense and vital question. I would press it as the prophet pressed it of old. I appeal to your intelligence, I appeal to your conscience. I appeal to your common-sense, I appeal to all the longing in you for things better and higher. I appeal to your unsatisfied souls. I appeal to those aspirations that will rise within you, in spite of all your efforts to crush them. I appeal to you in the ancient words, "How long?"
These people had had three and a half years' opportunity of judging. "How much longer do you want?" the prophet says. And I would ask, how long have some of you been halting? Twenty years' Thirty? Forty? Fifty? Are you halting to-night? How much longer do you want before you are convinced? How many more sermons do you want to hear preached? How many more Sabbaths must roll away wasted? How many more prayers must ascend to Heaven on your behalf before you make the great choice? How many more opportunities do you want before you decide? How many? How long?
These are the two great questions: Why? and When?
Why are you living as you do? Why are you oscillating in this way? Why is it that there is no decision in your actions, no principle running through your life with regard to the deepest and highest and eternal things? Why?
And how long is this to continue? Will you make a date? Will you fix a time? Will you make a compact with God that when you have had so much more of the kind of pleasure that you are now pursuing, then you will come?
Think of the case of the prosperous man. His fields are producing abundantly, his barns are too small for his crops, and he says to himself, "What shall I do? I am resolved what to do. I am going to pull down these little shanties, and am going to build great barns, and I will fill them with the produce of the earth, and will say to my soul, `Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.' Now, it was all right for him to say, "My barns, my fields, my crops, my soul," but when he says, "My to-morrow," he impinged on the province of God. You cannot mortgage time. To-morrow is not yours. To-morrow is not mine. And so when this man dared to talk about "his to-morrow," he heard a voice which said, "You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you, and then whose shall these things be?" (Luke 12:20)
Everywhere in Scripture the transitoriness of life is taught. It is likened to the grass, that groweth up in the morning and is cut down in the evening; to a weaver's shuttle, to a passing cloud, and to a tale that is told. We are ever being reminded of the transiency and brevity of life. Life at the longest is very short, and the place that knows us to-day soon shall know us no more. The voices of these speakers soon shall be silenced; this canvas soon shall cease to look down upon this congregation. We shall go the way of all the earth. The generations have passed, passed, passed, and we hear the tramp of others to-night moving on and out into another life, into another world. Whither? [Where to?]
"What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Your soul is of more value to you and to God than the whole universe. It is the worst of bargains to barter away your soul for the world, even though you could ever get the world. But no man ever yet had the whole world. We can get only a fragment of it, a fraction of it, and yet men jeopardize their eternity for that little bit. Dare you?
Elijah called for a decision in the light of the facts, and so do I. "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." People of Keswick, with your abounding opportunities, with your great privileges, think of your responsibilities. People of Keswick - a place greatly honored those forty-five or forty-six years, a place in which the spirit of God has wrought and manifested Himself as in few places on the earth - you are right here where the Shekinah light is blazing, right here where you hear the music of the voice of God from year to year.
And great is your responsibility, for it is in the measure of your opportunity. What then are you going to do with Christ? It is not a question of whether you will do anything with Him or not, but only of what you are going to do with Him, for do something you surely must.
You young fellows looking out upon life with all your ambitions, having visions of prospects in State and Church and commerce, do you think that you stand to lose by making choice of Jesus Christ, by yielding your life to Him, by accepting His great salvation? The answer of the Bible and the Church is "No!" Such a decision is infinite gain, and you are called upon to make it.
"How long, then, halt ye between two opinions?" Stop your halting. Stand! Think! Understand! Decide! Decide on the right side, and take the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour. He died for you; He loves you; He is wooing you by His Holy Spirit; He has preserved you thus far; He has surrounded you with gracious influences, and He is calling you again to-night.
Do not trample over the prayers of a glorified mother or father any longer. Do not resist any longer the pleadings of a faithful Sunday School teacher or minister, do not be despited to the Spirit of grace, do not crucify to yourself the Son of God afresh and put Him to open shame. By all the love of Calvary and all the compassion of the Risen Saviour, I beseech of you, make decision here and now for Jesus Christ.
Christ died for you in a public place. Cannot you decide for Him in a public place? Naked He bled on Calvary for you. Cannot you to-night accept the clothing of His righteousness for your filthy rags? I beseech of you, come to Jesus. Take Christ as your personal Saviour. If I could make the choice for you, I would make it here and now, but I cannot. You alone are responsible to God for what you do with His Saviour-Son, and the time has now come for you to say what that will be. Let us pray.
Sermon preached by W. Graham Scroggie, Keswick, England. 1923
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