The Arrow That Missed the Mark!
George Everard, 1882
It was well aimed, the point was dipped in deadly poison, the mark was near — and yet it failed! It might have wrought death to a precious soul, but it was received on a shield that could not be pierced, and a great victory was achieved, which it is well that every young man should remember.
What was the arrow? It was a terrible temptation, forged in Hell, that carried with it the venom of the old serpent!
Who shot it? A wicked woman, who used her position and influence in the endeavor to ruin one whom she ought to have guarded from harm and danger.
What was the mark? A young man, far from his home, and under the roof of her who would thus have done him a deadly injury.
You know the story well. I speak of Joseph, and Potiphar's wife, and the noble victory he won.
By every means she endeavored to entice him. Not once or twice, but again and again, she laid her net to take and ensnare him! She did her utmost to draw him into the sin which he abhorred. But he would not consent to her base proposals. He will neither excuse the sin to himself nor to her. He looks upon it as a black, foul, abominable thing — and a sin both against God and man. He will invent no smooth name to conceal its hideousness. He will hearken to no blathering words which will weaken his resolution. Even when she will almost compel him to evil by laying hold of his garment, he makes haste and flees and gets out, lest perchance her persuasions should conquer his purpose.
Thank God, what a young man did between three and four thousand years ago — young men may do now. The shield of Joseph's faith could not give way — the breastplate of a righteous determination against evil could not be pierced. So this poisoned dart of the wicked one fell harmless at his feet; nay, indeed, for a season it brought him sorrow and trouble — and yet deliverance even then, and light and joy beyond. Was it not so? Was it not an unspeakable benefit to Joseph to be freed from her assaults and the misery and fear they must have caused him — though it were at the cost of prison fare and a prison cell? And was not the prison one appointed step on the road to the palace? Were not those two long years which he spent there, through his unshaken fidelity to God and his master — were they not happy, peaceful years? For "the Lord was with Joseph," and he knew it. And were they not the due preparation and training for his exaltation and the happy and fruitful marriage in store for him? Ah, God does not forget not the young man that rejects temptation, and that sets his face like a flint against the sins to which many yield. Refuse to drink from the fatal, though ensnaring, draught of sinful indulgence — and God can and will put into your hand one day a far sweeter cup.
When it is for your true welfare, He will give you a holy, happy marriage — a union with one who will do you good and not harm all the days of your life. No bitter drop shall be in that cup. No secret remorse, no pang of a guilty conscience — shall be there, but it shall be sweetened by the blessed assurance that a Father's love has prepared it and put it into your hand.
I would ask each one who reads these pages, carefully to ponder the words of this brave young hero of olden times: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9).
Many plead for vice as a necessity. They assert that it can be no sin to yield to those lusts and passions which belong to our nature.
But is it not the glory of man to exercise self-denial, to curb unruly desires, to let the higher parts of our nature control and subdue the lower appetites? Is the soul to be the slave — or the master of the body? Is not daily discipline, daily watchfulness against wrong thoughts and doings — the only path to a holy and useful life?
God knows our frame, but for our health and peace and spiritual growth, He sets a limit to our indulgence of those desires which belong to our nature. He forbids adultery. He forbids all unchastity in word or deed. He would have us sober and temperate in all things. The word is plain, and is in accordance with the truest philosophy, and the laws which promote the health of individuals, and the strength and welfare of a nation.
"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrews 13:4). "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5).
Remember that in deeds of impurity there is a four-fold sin.
1. There is sin against a Holy God. It is against His plain command, in the Law, in the Gospel, and in the Apostolic Epistles. It is altogether contrary to the high standard which He has set before us. It is written, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). "Be holy, for I am holy." Even an unchaste look is pronounced by Christ to be adultery. Certainly, therefore, all impurity is forbidden. Those who willfully yield to it plainly shut the door of Heaven against themselves. "There shall never enter into it anything that defiles" (Revelation 21:27).
2. There is sin against our fellow-creatures. Had Joseph yielded, he would have sinned both against Potiphar and the woman who tempted him. He would have wronged his master, and have increased the guilt of his wife.
And if a young man sins in this way, let him never forget that he is ruining another soul as well as his own. Should any one by sweet words allure you into her den of infamy — you are adding another deed of darkness to her debt as well as your own.
And who can tell the atrocious sin of seducing one who has hitherto been pure and innocent? If the doom of one is more terrible than another, will not the lowest depths of woe be reserved for those who plunge a young life into untold sorrows, and blast all the fair promise of a happy life! Or, if it be that you should rise again and repent, and live a new life — shall you be ever free from the bitterest remorse if the victim of your sin, as will be most probable, sinks deeper and deeper in the mire of iniquity?
My young brother, never, never tempt a young woman into evil. Never by a look, by a word, by a suggestion, turn one such from the plain path of virtue. Never lull your conscience to sleep by the thought that possibly she may marry someone in her own position of life, should she be beneath you in society; or if she be an equal — that you intend to cover your sin by marriage hereafter. Never deceive yourself in this way. Never have the double guilt, the tenfold guilt of dragging down another into the dark gulf where too often a wretched, hopeless life ends in a deathbed of utter and eternal despair!
Think, moreover, of the cowardice and baseness of acting in this way. Is it not the strong trampling on the weak? Is it not taking a base advantage of a kindly feeling towards yourself? Is it not abusing a reliance upon your honorable dealing, and making this very confidence in you — a means of undermining all the peace and comfort of her who thus trusts in you? Shame, shame upon the young man who will thus act! Mothers, fathers, scorn such a one, and never let him enter your drawing-room! Oh, that society would act fairly and justly, and if the young woman is shunned and cast out — let not the young man be permitted to pollute those who are yet untainted by vice!
3. Another point here ought not to be forgotten. Vice acts and reacts on society in a marvelous way. One sinner destroys much good. The young woman first led into sin by one in a higher position in life, will oftentimes be a means of contaminating many others!
4. Neither ought you to forget that in all unchastity, there is sin against yourself. You wrong your own soul. You mar and destroy your own peace. You are planting thorns and briars which will be your own scourge. You are surely laying up trouble for yourself in days to come. You contract a blot and a stain on your conscience, which may give you many a restless hour. You are robbing yourself of the joy and comfort you might have in a pure and holy marriage. You are sowing the seeds of weakness and disease, and very probably shortening your own life.
Go into that room! You will find it probably down a narrow lane, or in a blind alley. It is a place from which the pure and virtuous keep far away. But look, what do you see? A row of coffins. Whose are they? Those of young men. Whence came their death? From the pestilential atmosphere of that room. "He knows not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of Hell!"
Oh, beware of this sin! Watch against its first approach. Be assured that it is most perilous to your welfare, and hateful and offensive in the eyes of Him from whom no secrets are hid! "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account!" Hebrews 4:13
Above all, don't play with temptation. Don't think you can break off when you will. The chain will grow stronger every day. Your only path is entire and immediate renunciation. Now and forever cast off, in God's strength, the evil habit which has injured you.
This leads me to consider a very practical question. How may you best overcome this fatal snare, whatever form it may assume? How may you gain a victory in the sore battle you may have to wage? I do most deeply feel for many young men who would rather die, than willfully sin — and yet this temptation dogs their steps, and is a continual burden and grief to them. Be assured, my young friend, there are none for whom Christ has a deeper sympathy. Remember that He knows your trial, and thinks of you, and is able to support you when you are tempted. You are not alone in this battle. Christ is by your side, and in His strength many a young man has fought and conquered the foe.
Here is the first point. You must be in living union with Christ. You must have Him with you. You must have Him dwelling in your heart by His Spirit, as the only power which can beat down this evil. Without Him you can do nothing, and only in His strength can you effectually conquer.
Another important point is this. You cannot overcome merely by resisting sin. Something higher, better, nobler must lift you above it. Overcome evil with good. If you are Christ's, throw yourself heartily into His work. Go where you will find friends and associates whose society will strengthen you in living a godly life. Take up some branch of Christian labor that will stir your sympathies and call forth your hearty efforts. Nothing more tends to foster sinful thoughts and feelings, than sloth and indolence — and nothing is a greater help in overcoming them than filling up every spare moment with some useful work.
Plenty of physical exercise is another capital antidote to temptations of this kind. I have spoken of it in a previous chapter, and therefore need only remind you of it. But there is no doubt that the gymnasium is an excellent outlet for youthful vigor, and if used with due care, is very beneficial.
No less valuable than physical exercise, is mental occupation. In the winter evenings classes for self-improvement are now very common in all our large towns, and if you have the opportunity, you will do well to join them. If these are not available, or scarcely suit you, strive to make work for yourself in some other way. Get hold of books which require some thought to master. Take up some epoch in English history and study it thoroughly. Or give time to Botany or some other natural science, until it becomes a real delight and pleasure to you.
Side by side with these safeguards, lay aside everything which experience tells you has a tendency to increase temptation. Avoid, as most perilous, pictures, books, or papers which suggest impure and sensual thoughts. Keep far away from scenes where you are likely to hear anything polluting. Prefer quiet pleasures at your fireside and in a pleasant social circle — to the theater or the dancing-hall. Be careful to avoid alcohol. Very frequently it is under the influence of alcohol, that a young man first breaks loose from wholesome restraints. It is then that he breaks down the hedge of moral principle, and afterwards is prepared to go all length in sin.
This leads me to the last point. Most earnestly would I beseech you to avoid the first downward step. Once yield to the Tempter, once overleap the barrier of self-restraint — and the descent to any depth of vice becomes fatally easy. "Flee youthful lusts." Flee from them as from a serpent! Flee from this sin as from the most virulent plague! There is no end to the harm it may do to you in mind and body, as well as to your highest and eternal interests. Boldly and determinately say "No" when any one would bring you under its power.
Pray that your thoughts may be kept from evil; and act in accordance with your prayer. Never utter or hearken to a word that may defile. Stand as firm as a rock, and like Joseph hold fast your integrity and maintain a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man.
And in this matter I would like to say to every Christian young man who reads these pages, Do not maintain a mere negative attitude in this question. Be not content with keeping yourself pure — but throw all your influence into the right scale. If there are those who are tempters, soul-murderers, destroyers of the peace of others — then you be a firm upholder of all that is pure and holy. If ever it lies in your power, be a shield to any who are tempted, and speak out manfully and boldly against sin.
I have read somewhere of one who did his part bravely in guarding the weak and defending those in peril. He was called "a brother of all women". Wherever he could, he protected them as though they were his own sisters.
In many ways you may use your influence in this direction. You may aid in checking the spread of pernicious literature, and in substituting something better in its place. You may be able to put someone who is in danger upon their guard, perhaps through the help of some Christian lady. You may give temporary assistance to some orphan who is likely to fall into the snare, unless befriended in the hour of need. You may even be able to do something in forwarding such legislation as may tend to preserve national morality. At least, do something if you can, and it may prove the eternal salvation of a precious soul.
These words may be read by one who has fallen. "I'm down there!" you may say; "how can I rise?"
My brother, never forget there is sure and mighty help for any one who is willing to forsake sin. The Merciful Redeemer comes close to you, even in your misery and sin, and stoops down to lift you up and to deliver you from its guilt and power. Only believe it. Only lift up your eye to Him in faith and self-condemnation, and His hand shall be stretched out to save you.
Many a soldier has been wounded and perhaps left for dead on the battle-field, and who yet has been healed and has done good service against the enemy. It may be so with you.
Continue in sin if you will, and you will find by and by the truth of the proverb, "Reckless youth, makes rueful old age." But cast off your sin, look for pardon and help to a mighty Savior, and His hand shall lift you up and break the chain of sin and set you free. Your sin is strong, but Christ is stronger, and through Him you may be more than conqueror. He will keep you from falling, and present you faultless before His glory with exceeding joy.
O You, to whose all-searching sight
The darkness shows as the light,
Search, prove my heart, it pants for Thee,
O burst these bonds and set it free.
Wash out its stains, refine its dross,
Nail my affections to the cross,
Hallow each thought, let all within
Be clean as You, my Lord, are clean.