Three Arrows, or Six?
“And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice, and stayed. And the man of God was wroth with him, and said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.”— 2 Kings xiii. 18, 19.
IT is a very difficult task to show the meeting-place of the purpose of God and the free agency of man. One thing is quite clear, we ought not to deny either of them, for they are both facts. It is a fact that God has purposed all things both great and little; neither will anything happen but according to his eternal purpose and decree. It is also a sure and certain fact that, oftentimes, events hang upon the choice of men. Their will has a singular potency. In the case before us, the arrows are in the hands of the king of Israel; and according to whether he shall shoot once, twice, thrice, or five or six times, so will the nation’s history be affected. Now, how these two things can both be true, I cannot tell you; neither, probably, after long debate, could the wisest men in heaven tell you, not even with the assistance of cherubim and seraphim. If they could tell you, what would you know, and in what way would you be benefited if you could find out this secret? I believe that it would be as difficult to show that these two things do not agree, as it is to show how they can agree. They are two facts that run side by side, like parallel lines. Things are often left to the will of men; yet everything does come to pass in the end according to the will of God. Can you not believe them both? And is not the space between them a very convenient place to kneel in, adoring and worshipping him whom you cannot understand? If you could understand your religion, it would be one that did not come from God; it would have been made by a man of limited capacity, like yourselves, who was therefore able to make what you can comprehend; but inasmuch as there are mysteries in your faith, to the top of which you cannot climb, be thankful that you need not climb them.
But sometimes a practical question about these two points does arise. It is correct to say, speaking after the manner of men, “If men are earnest, if men are believing, if men are prayerful, such and such a blessing will come;” and that the blessing does not come, may be rightly traced to the fact that they were not as prayerful and as believing as they ought to have been. I believe that God will save his own elect, and I also believe that, if I do not preach the gospel, the blood of men will be laid at my door. I believe that God will give to his Son to see of the travail of his soul; but yet, if you who are his people are not earnest in seeking the salvation of souls, and they perish, their blood will be required at your hand. This remark seems to be suggested by the story before us. God knew how many times the Syrians would be beaten, and yet he left king Joash to decide whether they should be beaten three times or six times.
Next, reflect what great things may lie in a man’s hand. There stood Joash, an unworthy king; and yet in his hands lay, measurably, the destiny of his people. If he will take those arrows, and will shoot five or six times, their great enemy will be broken in pieces. If he will be dilatory, and will only shoot three times, he will get only a measure of victory; and poor Israel will ultimately have to suffer again from this enemy, who has been only scotched, and not killed. You do not know, dear friends, what responsibility lies upon you. You are the father of a family; what blessings may come to your household, or may be missed by your children, through your conduct! Dear mother, you think yourself obscured, yet your child’s future will depend upon your teaching, or non-teaching. Great events depend upon little matters, as large vessels hang upon small nails; and you who are here to-night, sitting in the pews, and meditating upon your future course of action, may do that which shall lead many to heaven; but if you decide another way, you may do that which will curse many through time and eternity. Do remember that, and recollect in what a position of responsibility you may be placed many a time in your life, and how needful it is that the grace of God should be with you, to guide you, that you may not be an injury to others by what you do or leave undone.
Once more, notice what great results may come from very little acts. It was a very trifling thing, was it not, to shoot an arrow from a bow? Your child has done it many times in his holidays. He has taken his bow, and shot his little home-made shaft into the air. This is what the king of Israel is required to do, to perform this very slight and common feat of archery, to shoot from an open window, and to drive his arrows into the ground beneath; and yet upon the shooting of these arrows will hang victory or defeat for Israel. So there be some who think that hearing the gospel is a little thing. Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown, may hang upon the preaching and hearing of a sermon. To hear attentively, and not be disturbed in the sermon, may seem a very insignificant thing; and yet upon the catching of the word may result either the attainment of faith or the absence of faith, and so the salvation that comes by faith. In our affairs that appear to be trifles, we are often shaking worlds. That which looks like a great action may turn out to be a puff-ball, and nothing more; but a little occasion may prove to be great in its consequences. The mother of mischief is no bigger than a midge’s egg; and the beginning of grace is no larger than the mustard-seed. Therefore, do not trifle with little things, for on these little things may hang the greatest things, even the great things of an eternal state.
That lesson seems to me to lie upon the very threshold of our subject to-night; but I cannot detain you on the threshold. We must enter into the theme itself.
I. First, let me speak of SOME MATTERS IN WHICH MANY MEN TOO SOON PAUSE. There are some who, having great opportunities,— and we all have them more or less,— shoot only three times when they ought to shoot five or six times.
One of these matters is in the warfare with the evil within. Some, as soon as they begin their Christian life, fit an arrow to the string, and shoot down big sins, such as swearing, or drunkenness, or open uncleanness. When they have shot these three times, they seem to think that the other enemies within them may be tolerated. My brother, thou shouldest have shot five or six times. There remains a bad temper within thee, that must be conquered; or there remains an unforgiving nature, that must be slain. There is no going to heaven with that evil thing alive. Or thou art proud and self-confident. Hast thou not an arrow for that evil, for God hates pride, and so shouldest thou. But certain people say, “Well, you know that is my constitution.” Well then, you must be constituted differently, or else you will not get to heaven. “Oh!” says one, “that is my besetting sin.” How often is that used as an excuse! If I were to go across Clapham Common to-night, and a dozen men were to come around, and knock me down and rob me, I should be beset by them; but when I stop at home, and ask them into my house, and feast with them, and let them rob me, I cannot talk about being beset, for I have invited them there. Some professors tolerate themselves in sin; I repeat, they tolerate themselves in sin. One says, “Well, you see, I always was so hot-tempered.” You must get cool, my brother. Another says, “I was always very irritable.” You must get rid of that irritableness, my dear friend; the grace of God should teach you to overcome that evil habit. We sin, but we must not tolerate any sin. It will ruin a man if he sits down, and says, “I cannot overcome that sin.” You must overcome it; every sin is to be overcome; and if you have smitten thrice, and stayed, you must not rest satisfied. The man of God to-night will not give you any peace if that is your condition; but he will say to you, “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times.” There must be a clean sweep of every sin, for Christ has died, not to save us in our sins, but to save us from our sins.
There are some who shoot three times, and then leave off, with regard to Christian knowledge. They know the simple truth of justification by faith; but they do not want to know much about sanctification by the Spirit of God. Why not, my brother? Canst thou be saved unless thou art sanctified? Some are perfectly satisfied with laying again the first principles, always going over those; but they want to know no more. I beseech you, strive to be educated in the things of God. Read not only the first spelling-book, “Believe and live,” but go on to read in the high classics of holiness and communion. Seek to be well established in the faith, and “to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” Be a diligent student of the Word; give thyself wholly to it. Lie asoak in divine truth till it colours thee through and through.
Some, again, sin in this way with regard to Christian attainments. They have little faith, and they say, “Faith like a grain of mustard-seed will save you.” That is true. God forbid that I should discourage the little ones! But are you always to be a little one? A grain of mustard-seed is not worth anything if it does not grow; it is meant to grow till it comes to be a tree, and birds lodge in its boughs. Come, my dear friend, if thou hast little faith, do not rest till thou hast great faith, till thou hast full assurance, till thou hast the full assurance of understanding. Thou lovest Christ; but why not love him more? Thou hast hope; but why not a clearer expectation? Thou hast a little patience; but why not have abundance of grace to endure affliction, and to glory in tribulations also? “Oh, I cannot get to that!” Truly, the man of God is not angry to-night; but he would be a little angry with you if he thought that you meant that utterance. You can get to it; you must get to it. You are not to be content without the prize of your high calling in Christ Jesus; but you are to run, and press forward, and not to be satisfied unless you daily make progress in the divine life.
Others, again, seem satisfied with little usefulness. You brought a soul to Christ, did you? Oh, that you would long to bring another! Do you not remember what the general said, in the war, when ono rode up to him, and cried out, “We have taken a gun from the enemy”? “Take another,” said the general. If you have brought one soul to Christ, it should make you hunger and thirst to bring another. You have been in the Sabbath-school. Keep to it; increase your class, and rest not till all your girls and boys are saved. You preach sometimes in the villages. Preach twice as often; you will do that without knocking yourself up. Some dear friends have only enough grace and enough usefulness to serve as specimens of what they ought to do. I have heard of one who, going to Paris, walked into a restaurant, and asked for a beef-steak. They brought him a little something on a plate, and he took it all up upon his fork at once, and said, “Yes, that is the kind of thing; bring me some of that.” Some people’s usefulness just serves for a mouthful to a really earnest person. We say to suck, “Yes, that is the right sort of thing; bring us some of that.” Why are you not doing much more? Thou hast done more than some others, but why dost thou stay at the third shot? “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times.”
And this spirit comes out very vividly in prayer. You do pray; else were you not the living children of God at all; but oh, for more power in prayer! You have asked for a blessing; why not ask for a far greater one? We want more Christians of the type of the importunate widow; they have become very scarce nowadays. I should like to see that woman’s successors, those who will not let the King go unless he blesses them, who lay hold upon the angel, as Jacob did, and wrestle all night until they get a blessing. Thou hast done well to pray; but thou shouldest have prayed much more. What blessings are waiting, what treasures are in the hand of God, ready for the man who can bend his knee, and stay at the mercy-seat till he wins his suit with God!
The Church of God, as a whole, is guilty here, as to her plans for God’s glory. She is doing much more now than she used to do; but even now, though she smites three times, we may say to her, “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times.” Oh, that the Church of Christ had a boundless ambition to conquer the world for her Lord! Oh, that we never rested day nor night till our neighbours knew the Saviour, till sinners of every class were made to know that there is a God in Israel! Upstart you, you who have done so little, churches that have been satisfied with now and then stirring the baptismal pool, and the adding of half-a-dozen in a year! Oh, for cries to God, and labours for God, of a very different sort from those of the past!
My time would fail me if I dwelt on this point. You will all think of many matters in which we begin well, and then we stay.
II. But now, secondly, let me speak of THE REASONS FOR THIS PAUSING. Why do men come to a dead halt so soon?
Some of them say that they are afraid of being presumptuous. You are afraid of being too holy, are you? Dismiss your fear. You are afraid of asking for too much grace; be afraid of having too little. You are afraid of conquering sin; tremble for fear of an unconquered sin. There is no presumption in taking the largest promise of God, and pleading it, and expecting to have it fulfilled.
Perhaps one says, “I have not the natural ability to be doing more, or enjoying more.” What has natural ability to do with it? When all thy natural abilities are in the grave, and thou lookest only to the spiritual strength of God, then thou shalt see greater things than these. Talk not so, I pray you. Another says, “Well, I am getting old, I cannot shoot as I used to do.” Well, dear friend, if you want to get old, the surest way is to get old. I mean this. Think that you cannot do what you used to do, and give up your religious engagements because you are getting so old; give up preaching because you are so old; give up the Sunday-school because you are so old; and you will be old fast enough: that is the sure way to make yourself old. Look at our statesmen, and notice to what an age they still continue working. One reason is because they do work on; if they gave up, they would have to give up. If we will but persevere, we shall prove that there is life in the old dogs yet. We can do something yet in the cause of God even though the hair does turn grey, and the voice is getting weak. Let us not make an excuse out of our age until it really does prevent us from doing our work for him: then we must take to something else that we can do to serve the Lord, and so bring forth fruit even in old ago.
Shall I tell you the real reasons why men pause in their work? With some, it is because they are too dependent upon their fellow-men. This king Joash could shoot when Elisha put his hand on his hand; probably Elisha only did that once, and then left him to himself, and said, “Now, you shoot.” Then he only shot three times. There are many Christian people, who are a great deal too dependent upon their ministers, or upon some elderly Christian person who has helped them onward. When he is dead and gone, or when he has moved away, then they do not shoot any more. I want you, clear friends, not to have to be carried all your days. We do not object to be nursing fathers and nursing mothers to the children; but we want you who are grown up to run alone. What would any father hero think if he had to carry his boy when he was six-and-twenty? It is time, I think, that he went on his feet. There are some church-members who still want always to have the influence of somebody who is a superintendent to them, just as Elisha was to Joash in his shooting. Do not let it be so with you; but shoot away, God helping you, and keep on shooting till your arrows are all gone.
Another reason why some pause is, that they are too soon contented. Joash thought that he had done very well when he had shot three times, and that Elisha would pat him on the back, and say, “How well you have done!” That kind of feeling creeps over many workers for the Lord. They fancy that they have done their share; they have had their time; now they will let somebody else take a turn. And they have done the work so well, too! Ah, yes, the power to do more oozes out by the leakage of contentment with what you have done! We have done nothing well enough to say, “It is finished.” Still is there much more land to be possessed; and, in the name of God, let us banish from our hearts all contentment with our attainments, or with our services, and let us do much more than we have yet attempted for that dear Lord, who has bought us with his precious blood.
Joash, too, I dare say, gave up shooting because he was unbelieving. He could not see how shooting the arrows could affect the Syrians; and he wanted to see. Oh, brothers and sisters, we do not any of us believe enough in God! Believe in God to the uttermost. Thus will you be successful workers, and accomplish great things for God. No man knows the possibilities that lie at his feet. It is impossible to measure them; only unbelief can contract them. Remember that even Christ could not do many mighty works in his own country because of the people’s unbelief; and nothing stops us from doing work for him like unbelief in the ever-blessed One.
I should not wonder, also, if Joash was too indolent to shoot five or six times. He did not feel in a shooting humour. Now, whenever you do not feel in a humour for prayer, then is the time when you ought to pray twice as much. If you do not feel in a humour to take your class, say to yourself, “You shall do it well to-day. I will make you do so, poor lazy flesh of mine!” I heard of a person who, being weary in walking to the meeting-house, stopped, and said to his legs, “Come, you have carried me a good many miles to the theatre, and I will make you carry me to the house of God!” So may we say to ourselves and to one another, “We were active enough when we ran to our amusements, and went with the giddy multitude to do evil; and we will be active now in the service of our God.” None of us will ever get to heaven on a feather-bed; no, it is a marching pilgrimage from this place to the gates of pearl.
Joash also probably had too little zeal. He was not wide awake, he was not thoroughly aroused, he did not care for the glory of God. If he could beat the Syrians three times, that would be quite enough for him. He thought that they would have had enough of it, too; and so he laid down his bow and his arrows. I wonder whether I am speaking to anybody who has just been putting up his bow and arrows, some brother who has made up his mind that he will retire from the school, or one who has so much to do in the world that he must give up that village-station. If so, turn this subject over, and ask yourselves whether you were not sent in hero to-night on purpose to be told that you ought to have shot five or six times, and done much more than you have done. God does speak to men here often; and very pointedly sometimes. Some have written to me to know who told me all about them, when I never heard about them in my life. God does speak to men’s consciences by his servants; and I put it to every child of God here whether this is not a message from the excellent glory, “Keep on; keep on as long as there is life in you; keep on growing in grace, and advancing in the service of Christ.”
III. But now, thirdly, and very briefly, notice THE LAMENTABLE RESULT OF THIS PAUSING.
When Joash had shot three times, he paused; and therefore the blessing paused. Three times he shot, and three times God gave him victory. Do you see what you are doing by pausing? You are stopping the conduit-pipe by which the river of blessing will flow to you. Do not do that; to impoverish yourself must certainly be a needless operation.
You will suffer in consequence, as this king did; for, after the three victories, the rival power came to the front again. You will suffer in many ways if you cease to draw daily supplies of grace from God, or cease to shoot the arrows against sin.
Others will also suffer with you. All Israel was the worse for Joash leaving the arrows unshot. Your children, your neighbours, your friends; who can tell how many may suffer because you are slack in grace, and in the service of the God of grace?
Meanwhile, the enemy triumphed. There is joy in hell when a saint grows idle; there is gladness among devils when we cease to pray, when we become slack in faith, and feeble in communion with God.
What was even worse, Jehovah himself was dishonoured. The worshippers of false gods triumphed over Israel, and the infinitely-glorious Jehovah did not manifest his might as he would otherwise have done. Let us not rob God of his glory, for that is the worst of robberies; but let us so live that as much glory as is possible may be gotten out of such poor creatures as we are by the ever-blessed God.
Yet again, glorious possibilities were lost. See what glorious possibilities lie before you; and do not let them lie there untouched. If you were poor, and there was a gold mine in your field at home, which only wanted the use of a spade to make you rich, would you not be sorry that you had neglected it so long? Behold, the blessed promises of God are before you! You children of God may be rich, and blessed, and happy; will you leave this mine unworked? You sinners, who as yet have only begun to seek the Saviour, seek him more earnestly, cling more closely to Christ, and you will soon get the blessing. Shall it be your own hand that locks you out of the kingdom? Suffer it not to be so.
IV. I am warned by the time that I must close; but I must say a few words about THE CURE FOR THIS PAUSING.
If we pause in our holy service, or in getting near to God, or in sucking the marrow out of the promises, remember that the enemy will not pause. You cannot make the drink traffic stop; you cannot make the harlotry of London stop its temptations; you cannot make the infidels stop; you cannot make the “Down-graders” stop. They will all be at it, with all their might, seeking to do mischief against the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ; and there is the same choice for you that the Scotch captain put to his men; “Lads,” said he, “you see the enemy there; if you don’t kill them, they will kill you.” If you do not overthrow the powers of evil, the powers of evil will overthrow you. Oh, that God would give us to have no hesitation about our choice; but may we continue, by the power of the Spirit, to shoot the arrows of God’s deliverance till Christ himself shall come!
A cure for this stopping lies in the reflection that in other things we are generally eager. If a man engages in business, he is all alive in it; if a man takes to a certain study, he will weary himself that he may understand it; and shall we do the work of the Lord halfheartedly, and, in matters of grace, slur over things, and only do as little as ever we can? The Lord save us from this spirit! A little religion is a very dangerous thing; drink deep if you would come to the sweetness of it. It is bitter at the top; but when you drink it to the very depths, the lees thereof are the choicest cordial for a fainting spirit. God grant us to know the inner core of religion, for that is where the sweetness lies!
And lastly, this question ought to prevent us from ever pausing, Can we ever do enough for our Saviour? Did he stop anywhere? Did he cry a halt when the work was half done? Did he not set his face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem? When the scourges fell, he did not turn back, and leave us. When the nails were driven into his hands and feet, he did not desert us. When he came to be forsaken of the Father, he did not forsake us; but he went through with his work till he could say, “It is finished.” Oh, that we might each of us resolve that we would go through with our work, saying, “I have lifted my hand unto the Lord, and I cannot go back”! May every Christian man and woman say the same!
And you who have not yet believed in Christ, may you be brought to believe in him who died for the guilty! Surrender yourself to him who died upon the tree; and having done so, when he looks upon you, and says, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” look up to him, and say, I bless thee for that sweet word, my Lord, and now I will serve thee all the days of my life.” May the Quickening Spirit add the divine quickening to these feeble words, and set you all shooting five or six times, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.