When the Horse Is Dead

By Dan King

I am not sure where the saying came from originally, though I suppose it to be an old cowboy expression; but like so many other witticisms and adages, there is a lot of truth in it. It goes like this: “When the horse is dead, dismount.” I can picture in my mind a fellow on horseback, spurring, whipping the reins back and forth, and shouting “Giddy-up!” – but to no avail. The equinus (“hoss”) is deceased! Pretty silly thought, isn’t it?

Yet in such a comical notion there lies much homespun wisdom. In fact, it is wisdom which is found in the Word of God in quite different settings, and in different words – but the idea is exactly the same. Let me point out how:

1. God Gives Up On People. This may be a notion that is hard for you to accept, but it is true. At times people reach a point beyond which they may no longer be helped. It is not that God will not forgive them if they repent. It is rather that they will not repent.

The book of Hebrews (6:4f) describes such folk as having “fallen away” from all the good things in Christ, and having reached a point where they cannot be touched by anything the gospel has to offer. “it is impossible to renew them again unto for the forgiveness of the sins of people like this: it is sin unto death (1 Jn. 5:16, 17).

Paul writes that God abandoned many Gentile people to their evil ways and dishonorable practices: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness . . . God gave them up unto vile passions . . . And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28-29).

Please understand, God gives up on people! And he will even give up on you and me if we force him to do so. “When the horse is dead, dismount!”

2. God Gives Up On Churches. Jesus warned the church at Ephesus, though it long had served faithfully, that he would come and “move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5). God takes more into account than the sign on the building! A congregation of saints must be about the task of fulfilling its mission as a church of Christ, else the Lord will not identify it as such. It is not the larger brotherhood of believers that will ultimately judge a congregation repentance” (v. 6). John says we should not pray as “sound” or “unsound,” “faithful” or “unfaithful,” nor is it a “directory of churches” that will put us on the right list, but God who is the judge of all the earth.

3. God Gives Up On Cities. People who collect into localities very often think alike and act similarly. That is one of the reasons they stay together rather than going somewhere else to make a life for themselves. The Christ instructed his disciples to be selective about how they spent their precious time and efforts in spreading the Word. Where people were responsive they were to remain and work, but where people were not, they were to “shake the dust from off their feet” (Matt. 10:14-15). Often brethren today do not show the same wisdom. Though the horse is dead, they fail to dismount! They will spend many years working in an area where the gospel does not thrive or grow, when people in other areas are much more reachable. Jesus said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine” (Matt. 7:6). Our time and labor is too precious to throw away!

4. God Gives Up On Nations. When God promised Abram the land of Canaan, he put off the realization of the promise for four generations, saying that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:15). Later, in a chapter that sums up a number of moral evils, and warns the Israelites not to take up such behavior, Moses says: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:24, 25).

Frankly, when I read of the evils of our nation today, and see illustrations of it in the public media, it concerns me deeply. At times I wonder how long the righteous God of heaven will endure such vileness without bringing an end to it. At this point there is little we can do, except: Take our religion deadly seriously, raise up our families in the wisdom of the Lord, and live exemplary lives. Hopefully, by our prayers and our “light seen in the world,” we will not have to leave it. But if such a time ever comes, let us have the courage to “dismount.” Remember Lot’s wife!

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 18, pp. 545, 567
September 17, 1992