A Last Appeal
Dr. H.A. Ironside’s Final Sermon as Senior Pastor of The Moody Church
Preached on the Night of His Farewell Sunday, October 31, 1948
The first book of Kings, chapter 18, verse 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, follow him.’ And the people answered him not a word.”
I am sure that you recall the circumstances under which these words were uttered. You remember that the people of Israel to whom God had given such a wonderful revelation of His will had drifted far from Him. Many of them had turned to idolatry; Baal worship was followed throughout the whole land. The priests of Baal had the first place in the hearts of the king and the queen in Israel at this time. The priests of Jehovah had apostatized and followed after Baal, and so it looked as though the whole people had turned away from the living and true God, and it was at this junction, you remember, that Elijah appeared and he summoned the king and the people to Mount Carmel and there he bade the followers of Baal to erect an altar and place an offering upon it and put no fire upon it and call upon their god to send fire from heaven to consume the offering. He on his part built an altar and in order that there might be no deceit of any kind, flooded it with water, built a trench about it and filled it with water hauled up from the sea. Mount Carmel rises up from the very seashore. And then he placed wood upon the altar and put an offering upon it. Hour after hour the priests of Baal called on god to answer them: but there was no voice, there was no answer, there was no fire from heaven. They were crying to a god who could not answer—a god who had eyes, but he could not see, ears that could not hear, a mouth but he could not speak—powerless to do anything for his devotees. Then at last Elijah stood up and he turned to the people and said, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God follow Him, if Baal, follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”
And then he called upon His God, the God who had given His holy law from Mount Sinai, the God who had led His people triumphantly out of Egypt, led them through the depths of the Red Sea as on dry land, cared for them for forty years in the wilderness, brought them through the dry bed of the Jordan into the land, driven their enemies before them, and established them there, the God they had forgotten, and so he put the question graphically to them, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” Rather singular, the Hebrew is a little peculiar. Really it is “How long have ye tried to leap on two branches?” like a man up a tree, trying to leap on two branches, constantly in danger of falling to the ground. As perhaps that Hebrew idiom would not be clearly understood, our translators rendered it as I have read it, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him.” And we read “And the people answered him not a word.” There was no decision made; there was no turning to God, even though in a few moments fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Yet there is no record of any real, wholehearted return to the God of Israel.
Now I do not want to occupy you further with the incident itself, but I do want to put that question to any unsaved one who may be here tonight. “How long halt you between two opinions?” Let me paraphrase the rest of it by putting it like this: If the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour for sinners, if the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God who gave His life a ransom to deliver your guilty soul from going into eternal perdition: follow Him, but if there is any other way of salvation, if there is any other deliverer, then turn away from Christ and follow him. But there is no other deliverer, there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. These words that came from the lips of the prophet were a challenge to procrastinators. The people, many of them who knew the truth, failed to live in the power of it. You know I have been trying to preach the Gospel for fifty-eight years and wherever I have gone I have seen evidence of this fact: the great majority of people who are dying in their sin, who are going out to meet God with all their sin upon their souls are going out this way because though they knew how they might be saved, they kept putting it off, intending some time to settle the question and then Death crept up on them, reached for their heart strings and in a moment they went down into the pit in their sins. Men are lost because they do not hasten to accept the invitation that God has given.
You have heard the story told so many times by evangelists one is almost ashamed to use it, for fear of being called “Chestnuts.” But you remember the old story of the minister who had a dream, who wanted to preach in the power to his people, but some way his words did not seem to affect them, and he had a dream and he thought he looked into the council chambers of hell, and that Satan and his hosts were gathered together debating how best to ruin the souls of men and keep them from coming to Christ, and one demon rose and said, I will go up into the world and I will tell men the Bible is a pack of falsehoods, and I will tell them that it is not worthy of the belief of an intelligent person. I will tell them that it is a lot of myths and legends and that they should pay no attention to it.” And the Devil said, “It’s no use, they know better than that; they have seen its power in the lives of too many people to believe that.” And another demon arose and said, “I will go and I will tell them there is no God, I will tell them that they needn’t fear God because they have no responsibility toward Him because He does not exist.” And the Devil said, “That won’t do, they know better than that. The whole universe tells them there is a God. The universe could not have come into existence without one and they know it well.” Another demon said, “I’ll go and tell them the Bible is the Word of God. I’ll tell them that God exists. I’ll tell them that Jesus Christ is His Son, and I will tell them that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of sinners. And then I’ll get up close and whisper in their ears and I will say, ‘There is no use being in a hurry to accept Him; there’s time enough yet’.” And the Devil said, “Yes, you go and help by procrastination those who otherwise might prepare to enter heaven. You help people to hell and rob Heaven of those who otherwise might prepare to enter it.” Oh, how many souls have been lost by listening to that suggestion from the pit, “There is time enough yet.” How do you know there is time enough? You are here tonight in health and strength. Are you even certain that you will greet tomorrow’s sun?
“Tomorrow’s sun may never rise,
To bless thy long deluded sight.
Now is the time. Oh then, be wise!
Thou would’st be saved,
Why not tonight?”
You remember that word in the 27th chapter of the Book of Proverbs, the 21st verse: “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” How many a one went to sleep last night apparently in a measure of health and strength, and today have passed out into Eternity and alas, alas, many of them went out Christless, and will have to face God at the Great White Throne in their sin. Did you ever stop to think of this, dear, unsaved one, that every day you reject Christ, every day that you go on without heeding the Gospel message, you are adding to the things you can never undo? No matter if you should be saved some day, like those who know Christ, every one of us, though some of us were saved when very young, we can look back over the years and we remember so many things we wish had never occurred, so many things we wish we had never said, so many things we wish we had never done; so many times that we have dishonored God and done those things which caused conscience to arise in terror to accuse us and we never can undo them. It is true that God can forgive and He will forgive all those who turn to Him and trust in Christ, but forgiving sins does not undo the results of those sins. How many a one, for instance, has had an evil influence on other people, has perhaps helped others to go on rejecting Christ and then when at last saved himself, he could only undo that influence that he has had on other souls that led them to turn away from God and go on in their sins. And everyone has an influence for good or evil upon somebody. None of us liveth to himself and none dieth to himself, the Word of God tells us, and so I say every day that you reject Christ you are adding to the things you can never undo. Oh, there is a sense in which sin may be blotted out, but its awful consequences may go on affecting others for years and years afterwards.
And then another thing: every day that you reject the Lord Jesus Christ you are losing opportunities to serve and glorify Him that would mean so much to you if the day ever came that you would be saved. For we who have trusted Christ, as we look back over the years, oh, how we wish we had done more for Him, how we wish we had been more devoted; how we wish we had been more faithful; how we wish we had not let so many opportunities for serving Him slip by! You remember the story of the young man who was converted on his death-bed and his experience was put into that little song, “Must I go, and empty handed?” And, by the way, when I was in Scotland some years ago, I learned that the man who led that young man to Christ was my father’s brother, my own uncle, who was the one used of God to speak to that young man and bring him to Christ, and the young man in great distress of soul, and he said to him, “Are you doubting you are not really saved?” “Oh no,” he said, “not that; I know I am saved, but must I go and empty-handed?” He said, “If you died tonight and went to be with Christ you would have many souls to your credit: I have nothing to bring to Him at all.” And the hymn-writer was James McGranahan, who years afterwards put it into song. You remember the verse,
“Oh the years of sinning wasted,
Could I but recall them now.
I would bring them to my Saviour.
To His will I gladly bow.
Must I go and empty-handed,
Thus my dear Redeemer meet,
Not one soul with which to greet Him,
Lay no trophies at His feet?”
My friend, Christ came to do more than merely save you from the fires of hell and bring you into heaven at last. He came to save your very life. He said, “The Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” He wants to make your life a life that twill be fruitful for God, a life that will bring glory to His name, a life that will be a blessing to mankind, a life that will result in other souls being brought to the Saviour, and every day that you go on rejecting Christ you are thwarting the purpose of God. Oh, I plead with you, do not persist in procrastination. You remember the old Spanish Proverb, “The road of By and By leads to the house of Never.” How many lost ones there are tonight who fully intended sometime to be saved. How many there are who are in the depths of woe who had made up their minds that sometime they were coming to Christ, but they went on and Death caught them in their sins and now they are beyond all hope of mercy. How long halt ye between two opinions? Oh, that tonight you might settle it by turning to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have such a burden on my heart for you dear ones tonight. I have preached my heart out to some of you, many of you have sat here all through the years on the Lord’s Day evening and some of you are still unsaved. Oh, I would that I might see you coming to Christ tonight, and so I make this last appeal in the Name of my Blessed Lord, who loved you enough to die for you, and I plead with you, why not come to Him tonight, why not accept Him, accept his mercy?
I remember hearing of a dear Scottish woman who was always interested in soul-winning, but she did not know very well how to deal with people and when a meeting was going on and they came to the close, and the minister was giving an earnest invitation and she did not see people coming to Christ, she would move up and down the aisles, and if she saw some friend or neighbor she did not believe was saved, she would lean over and in her Scottish way she would say, “Friend, what ails ye at Jesus?” It was a Scottish way of saying, “what have you got against Jesus?” In other words, Why do you go on rejecting Him? What has He done who has stood at your heart’s door in sunshine and rain and patiently waited an entrance to gain? But you have keep that door locked in His face, and yet He so longs to save you. Won’t you open the door? He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man open the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” Notice that word “sup.” That indicates it is late. We sup at the evening. The shadows of the night are coming on and so it is, dear, precious soul, in your case. There is so little time left. If you are ever going to be saved at all you must be saved soon. Why not come to Christ tonight?