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The proneness of the Jewish nation to actual idolatry, was a very remarkable trait in the character of that people. Repeated instances are recorded in the Old Testament, of their offending in this way, and it was not until after the severe chastisement of the Babylonish captivity that they were cured of it. The particular case referred to in the text was, the idolatrous worship set up by Jeroboam, on the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam, the son of Solomon; and the Baal here mentioned is generally understood as the same with Belus, or the Sun. This was the most ancient form of idolatry in the world. That the idol was a material one, the context informs us; and that it had its too crowded temples, priests, and sacrifices, similar to those appointed for the worship of the true God, established in Jerusalem.
Now, my hearers, I doubt not but that it seems a strange thing, that rational beings, especially those who were favoured with an express revelation of and from God, could so far be deluded as to render homage and worship to a senseless block of matter, and put their trust in a graven image made by themselves, for help and deliverance, either in life or death. Yet it differs in nothing from the virtual idolatry of wealth-worship, world-homage, and pleasure-service, so prevalent in the Christian world. The essence of the sin lies not in the thing worshipped, but in the departure of the heart from God. And we become just as criminally idolaters by setting up an idol in our hearts, as by falling down before it in our houses. The man who puts his trust in uncertain riches makes gold his god. The slave of sensual pleasure sacrifices to the flesh. The man who pursues the honours and state of the world bows down at the shrine of ambition; and the giddy, thoughtless votary of folly and fashion worships the glittering and ever-changing idol of the world and dissipation. And however various the idols, yet one common character is stamped upon the worshippers—God is not in all their thoughts; their hearts are gone away from him.
In the present circumstances of Christians, then, the right application of the word Baal is to whatever profit, pleasure, or pursuit interferes with and supersedes the gospel, and draws them off from the duty they owe to God, and the care of their
immortal souls ; and the appeal made in my text is to the unreasonableness of such a course of conduct: yet how dead is the world to so fair a proposition; how readily can those who feel that it applies unanswerably to their particular condition put it away from them. Yea, how many of those now present, both young and old, will nevertheless hug their idol closer to their hearts, and stifle the reason of their own minds and the affectionate warning of God's holy truth, in a more devoted worship of their particular Baal. Thus is that light which is given to guide them to their duty and their happiness, exchanged for darkness; and thus is the god of this world permitted to blind the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them ; yea thus, and for this cause, does God send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie—that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Oh! how similar in every age is the spirit of infidelity in its effects, whether it be manifested in the gross idolatry of graven images, or in the more refined influence of philosophical unbelief and disregard of revelation. How is the heart dead to God, even under the clear disclosure of that love and mercy in which he is manifested by the gospel, to the faith and fear of his redeemed creatures.
What numbers are wilfully ignorant of what he hath spoken unto us by his son. What still greater numbers hold themselves back from every improvement of the knowledge they do possess, and never take one step towards the mercy seat; never withhold themselves from the desire they can gratisy ; never think of Heaven, of Hell, of Death, of Judgment; never bend the knee in prayer, or ask, what must I do to be saved? What multitudes strive to reconcile the service of God with that of the Baal whom they worship, and are straightway offended, when a faithful Elijah strips the mask from their idol, uncovers the iniquity of their hearts, and shows them its enmity to God. Above all, when he appeals to their reason, as in the words of my text, to prove that their Baal has no power to help or save them, but is cheating them out of their souls--that their boasted honesty and morality are but selfish sins, and not atoning saviours—how does the pride of unhumbled hearts swell and rise against the truth, and a preached gospel become the savour of death, of double death, to those who will listen neither to reason or revelation in behalf of their souls.
O if there be any such present this day, any who, by neglect of the word and worship of God, are joined unto their idol, let the message wherewith I am charged come to their ears and to their hearts, in the power and spirit of the God of Elijah, and awaken them to consider whom they serve, and what wages they are to receive. 0 let them for once hear the words of truth and soberness: and if the LORD, the LORD JESUS CHRIST, be God, follow him ; but if the world, the flesh, or the devil, be God, and a God mighty to save, then follow them. Be no longer crippled by divided opinion, be no longer deluded with the vain expectation that this world and the things that are in it, and the world to come and the things that are in it, at the right hand of God, are to be gained by the same means. No, there is a gulf between them which we must pass in the present life.
Over this gulf there is but one straight and narrow way, marked with the blood of Christ, and lighted up with faith and holiness. It is strewed, indeed, with self-denial and sometimes with suffering, but it leads to eternal life and heavenly glory. O that you may this day hear your heavenly leader's voice calling unto you strive to enter in at the straight gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction.
II. Secondly I am to inquire into the general causes of that hesitation and reluctance to embrace religion which is so manifest amongst us.
To attempt a statement of them all, my friends, would exceed your patience and my strength. Every one, however, by a little attention to the frame of his or her own spirit—to the motives and expectations of his or her conduct, may supply what may either necessarily or inadvertently escape my notice.
The first I will mention is, ignorance of what religion really is. This, as it is a very effectual cause of hesitation, so is it a most inexcuseable one, and what men are seldom guilty of in any matter of worldly interest. That it exists and operates to
the injury of thousands, is capable of such instant proof as no honest and sincere man can deny.—As thus :
Let me ask those present who have no concern with religion, (I fear I might ask some who call themselves Christians,) whether God's message to the world by his prophets, by Jesus Christ, and by his apostles, has received as careful a consideration of its evidences, and as deep a study of its doctrines, its discoveries, its rewards, and penalties, as the most common calling and profession by which men earn their daily bread ? Have its advantages been inquired into as diligently, and what are considered its disadvantages by worldy men, been weighed and estimated with as much care as would be given to the poor concern of the purchase of an estate ? Has the loss or the gain, exhibited in its eternal sanctions, been revolved in the mind with the same caution that is bestowed on a speculation of worldly interest ?
Let those concerned answer these questions according to truth, and then consider how enmity to God, the only possession of the carnal or worldly mind, is thus detected in its very elements, and manifested in this neglect of his word and worship ; and let them further reflect, how justly they may be charged with the idolatry of the heart, who give their affections to, and place their dependence upon, some temporal good, Alas ! when ledgers, and law books, and novels, and the tools of our trade, hunt the Bible out of doors, and not even the Lord's day is spared from the business and the pleasure of the world, what is it better than open renunciation of God, and, under the light of the gospel, how is it less criminal than the actual idolatry of Heathen lands?
What! shall God speak ? shall the Most High God, the maker of heaven and earth, reveal to us his will, and disclose all the wonders of his love for our good, and the sinful creature for whom all this is done, turn his back upon it, and put it away from him as a thing of less consequence than business, or profit, or pleasure, and yet think to stand excused? Would we excuse any dependant who should thus treat us ? would we permit him to plead ignorance, when it was his first duty, and his highest interest, to inform himself, and to act accordingly? No, indeed,
How then shall those escape who neglect so great salvation ? And why shall not the same measure be meted out to them wherewith they have measured to others! And what but hesitation and reluctance, yea, and actual hostility to religion, can be expected from those who are carelessly ignorant of God, of his gracious purposes of mercy towards them, and of his wonderful means to sanctify and save sinners!
A second cause of hesitation and reluctance to embrace religion is, love of the world.
By love of the world I mean, such delight in and engagement with the poor portion it has to bestow, as swallows up the care of the soul, and drowns men in destruction and perdition.
In such persons, sense so far prevails against faith as to hide from them the baits with which Satan is continually drawing them further and further into his snare. Arguments in favour of the reasonableness and necessity of religion fall upon a preoccupied ear and a blinded mind. Religion is not seriously considered in its origin, its use, its end. Even the occasional convictions of conscience are escaped from, if not stified; and excuses, which even at the moment are felt to be unsafe, resort:
Oh! how readily can the spirit of the world make "the worse appear the better reason.” To what poor perversions and miserable sophistry will men, fallen men, resort, to obscure and resist the truth, and give the god of this world, his advantage against the gospel of Christ. My brethren and hearers, shall we be warned that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, that if any man love the world and the things that are in it, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, the love of the Father is not in him ; shall reason, and revelation, and expe. rience all combine to prove to us, that all its enjoyments are vain, transitory, and unsatisfying, that they cannot fill the aching void in the heart of an immortal spirit, while separated from God the only and the enduring good; that the whole purchase of its power, and praise, and honour, and splendour, cannot! reach the value of one soul, or give to God a ransom for its for: feit. Shall all this be told us, and by the Son of God himself, and any yet hesitate, between God and this Baal? Is there no help in either faith, fear, or love, against this modern Moloch, to