The great honor it is to be an old disciple
Particular 1.All men will honor an old disciple. Proverbs 16:31, "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." God requires that the aged should be honored: Lev. 19:32, "You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man" (the old man here is by some expounded the wise man), "and fear your God, I am the Lord." Hoariness is only honorable when found in a way of godliness. A white head, accompanied with a holy heart, makes a man truly honorable. There are two glorious sights in the world: the one is, a young man walking in his uprightness; and the other is, an old man walking in ways of righteousness. It was Abraham's honor that he went to his grave in a good old age, or rather, as the Hebrew has it, with a good grey head, Gen. 25:8. Many there are, who go to their graves with a grey head—but this was Abraham's crown, that he went to his grave with a good grey head. Had Abraham's head been never so grey, if it had not been godly, it would have been no honor to him. A hoary head, when coupled with an unsanctified heart, is rather a curse than a blessing. When the head is as white as snow, and the soul as black as hell, God usually gives up such to the greatest scorn and contempt. "The old men are treated with contempt." Lam. 5:12, and this God had threatened long before. "The Lord will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like an eagle. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young." Deut. 28:49-50.
I have read of Cleanthes, who was accustomed sometimes to chide himself. Ariston wondering thereat, asked him, Whom are you chiding? Cleanthes laughed, and answered, I chide an old fellow, who has grey hairs indeed—but lacks understanding, and prudence worthy of them. The application I will leave to the grey heads and grey beards of our time, who have little else to commend them to the world but their hoary heads and snowy beards.
Particular 2.God usually reveals himself most to old disciples, to old saints. Job12:12, "With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding." God usually manifests most of himself to aged saints. They usually pray most and pay most, they labor most and long most after the choicest manifestations of himself and of his grace; and therefore he opens his bosom most to them, and makes them of his cabinet council. Gen. 18:17-19, "And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; for I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him." Abraham was an old friend, and therefore God makes him both of his court and council.
We usually open our hearts most freely, fully, and familiarly—to old friends. So does God to his ancient friends. Ah, what a blessed sight and enjoyment of Christ had old Simeon, that made his very heart to dance in him! "Now, Lord, let you your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation," etc., Luke 2:29. I have seen him, who is my light, my life, my love, my joy, my crown, my heaven, my all; therefore now "Let your servant depart in peace," verses 26-28. So Anna, when she was eighty-four years old, was so filled with the discoveries and enjoyments of Christ, that she could not but declare what she had tasted, felt, seen, heard, and received from the Lord. She was ripe and ready to discover the fullness, sweetness, goodness, excellency, and glory of that Christ whom she had long loved, feared, and served. So Paul lived in the light, sight, and sweet enjoyments of Christ, when he was aged in years and in grace, Philip. 4:5,7,9. So, when John had that glorious vision of Christ among the golden candlesticks, and those discoveries and manifestations of the ruin of Rome, the fall of antichrist, the casting the beast and false prophet into a lake of fire, the conquest of the kingdoms of the world by Christ's bow and sword, the binding up of Satan, and the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven—when he was old, when he was aged in years and in grace.
The Lord speaks many a secret in the ears of saints, of old Christians, which young Christians are not acquainted with, as that phrase imports, 2 Sam.7:27, "You, O Lord God Almighty, have revealed to your servant;" so you read it in your books—but in the Hebrew it is, "Lord, you have revealed this to the ear of your servant." Some wonder how that word "to the ear" comes to be left out in your books, in which indeed the emphasis of the verse lies. We will tell many things in an old friend's ear, which we will not acquaint young ones with. So does God many times whisper to an old disciple in the ear, and acquaints him with such things that he hides from those who are of younger years. And by this you may see what an honor it is to be an old disciple.
Particular 3.An old disciple, an old Christian—he has got the art of serving God, the art of religion; got the art of hearing, the art of praying, the art of meditating, the art of repenting, the art of believing, the art of denying his natural self, his sinful self, his religious self.
All trades have their mystery and difficulty—so has the trade of Christianity. Young Christians usually bungle in pious works—but old Christians conduct themselves like workmen that need not be ashamed. A young carpenter gives more blows and makes more chips—but an old artist does the most and best work. A young Christian may make most noise in pious duties—but an old Christian makes the best work. A young musician may play more quick and nimble upon an instrument than an old one—but an old musician has more skill and judgment than a young. The application is easy, and by this you may also see what an honor it is to be an old Christian, etc.
Particular 4.An old disciple, an old Christian, is rich in spiritual experiences. Oh! the experiences that he has of the ways of GOD, of the workings of God, of the word of God, of the love of God! "I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning." 1 John 2:14.
Oh! the divine stories that old Christians can tell of the power of the word, of the sweetness of the WORD, of the usefulness of the word! Psalm 119:49-50, as a light to lead the soul, as a staff to support the soul, as a spur to quicken the soul, as an anchor to stay the soul, and as a cordial to comfort and strengthen the soul!
Oh! the stories that he can tell you concerning the love of CHRIST, the blood of Christ, the offices of Christ, the merits of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the graces of Christ, and the influence of Christ!
Oh! the stories that an old disciple can tell you of the indwellings of the SPIRIT, of the operations of the Spirit, of the teachings of the Spirit, of the leadings of the Spirit, of the sealings of the Spirit, of the witnessings of the Spirit, and of the comforts and joys of the Spirit!
Oh the stories that an old Christian can tell you of the evil of SIN, the bitterness of sin, the deceitfulness of sin, the prevalency of sin, and the happiness of conquest over sin!
Oh! the stories that he can tell you of the snares of SATAN, the devices of Satan, the temptations of Satan, the rage of Satan, the malice of Satan, the watchfulness of Satan, and the ways of triumphing over Satan!
As an old soldier can tell you of many battles, many scars, many wounds, many losses, and many victories, even to admiration; so an old saint is able to tell you many divine stories even to admiration.
Pliny writes of the crocodile, that she grows to her last day, Hosea 14:5-7. So aged saints, they grow rich in spiritual experiences to the last. An old Christian being once asked if he grew in goodness, answered, Yes, doubtless I do; for God has said, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," Psalm 92:12-14, (now the palm tree never loses its leaf or fruit, says Pliny); "he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." A fellow to this promise, Isaiah mentions, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Isaiah 46:3-4
There is nothing more commendable in fullness of age—than fullness of knowledge and experience. Nor is there anything more honorable—than to see ancient Christians very much acquainted with the Ancient of days, Dan. 7:9, 13-22.
It is a brave sight to see ancient Christians like the almond tree. Now the almond tree does flourish and is full of blossoms in the winter of old age; for as Pliny tells us, the almond tree does blossom in the month of January. Experimental religion is far beyond mere notions and impressions. A sanctified heart is better than a silver tongue. No man so rich, so honorable, so happy as the old disciple, who is rich in spiritual experiences; and yet there is no Christian so rich in his experiences but he would be richer.
As Julianus said, that when he had one foot in the grave, he would have the other in the school; so, though an old disciple has one foot in the grave, yet he will have the other in Christ's school, that he may still be treasuring up more and more divine experiences. And by this also you see what an honor it is to be an old disciple, etc.
Particular 5.An old disciple is very stout, courageous, firm, and fixed in his resolution. An old Christian is like a pillar, a rock; nothing can move him, nothing can shake him, "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken." Psalm 62:1-2 What is sucked in in infancy—will abide in old age. Old soldiers are stout and courageous; nothing can daunt nor discourage them. When Joshua was a hundred and ten years old, oh how courageous and resolute was he! Joshua 24:15, 29, "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Soon after this, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110."
Ah! none so courageous, none so divinely fearless, none so careless in evil days—as ancient Christians. An old Christian knows that that good will do him no good—which is not made good by perseverance; his resolution is like that of Gonsalvo, who protested to his soldiers, showing them Naples, that he had rather die one foot forwards, than to have his life secured for long, by one foot of retreat. Shall such a man as I am flee? said undaunted Nehemiah, chapter 6:11. He will courageously venture life and limb—rather than by one foot of retreat, discredit profession with the reproach of fearfulness. It was a brave, magnanimous speech of Luther, when dangers from opposers did threaten him and his associates, Come, says he, let us sing the forty-sixth psalm, and then let them do their worst.
When Polycarpus was eighty-six years old, he suffered martyrdom courageously, resolutely, and undauntedly.
When one of the ancient martyrs was very much threatened by his persecutors, he replied, There is nothing of things visible, and nothing of things invisible—which I fear. I will stand to my profession of the name of Christ, and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints—come what will.
Old disciples, old soldiers of Christ—have the heart and courage of Shammah, one of David's worthies, who stood and defended the field when all the rest fled, 2 Sam. 23:11-12. The Hebrews call a young man Nagnar, which springs from a root that signifies to shake off, or to be tossed to and fro, to note how fickle and how constant in inconstancy young men are, Mat. 19:20-22. They usually are either of no resolution for good, or of weak resolution; they are too often won with a nut, and lost with an apple. But now, aged Christians in all earthquakes—they stand fast, "like mount Zion, which cannot be removed." And by this also you may see what an honor it is to be an old disciple, an old Christian.
Particular 6.An old disciple, an old Christian, is prepared for death; he has been long a-dying to sin, to the world, to friends, to self, to relations, to all—and no man so prepared to die as he who thus daily dies.
"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done." Revelation 22:12
An old disciple has lived sincerely to Christ, he has lived eminently to Christ, he has lived in all conditions, and under all changes, to Christ; he has lived exemplarily to Christ, he has lived long to Christ—and therefore the more prepared to die and be with Christ. An old disciple has a crown in his eye, a pardon in his bosom, and a Christ in his arms—and therefore may sweetly sing it out with old Simeon, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace," Luke 2:29. As Hilary said to his soul, Soul, you have served Christ this seventy years, and are you afraid of death? Go out, soul, go out.
"Many a day," said old Cowper, "have I sought death with tears, not out of impatience, distrust, or perturbation—but because I am weary of sin, and fearful to fall into it." Nazianzen calls upon the king of terrors, Devour me! Devour me! And Austin, when old, could say, Shall I ever die? Or shall I die at all? Yes. Why, then, Lord, if ever—why not now? So when Modestus, the emperor's lieutenant, threatened to kill holy Basil, he answered, If that is all, I fear not; yes, your master cannot more pleasure me than in sending me unto my heavenly Father, to whom I now live, and to whom I desire to hasten.
Said old Stephen Martial a little before his death—I have not so lived that I should now be afraid to die; but this I can say, I have so learned Christ that I am not afraid to die. Old Christians are made no more worried to die—than to dine. It is nothing to die when the Comforter stands by, Isaiah 57:1-2.
Old disciples know that to die is but to lie down in their beds; they know that their dying day is better than their birthday; and this made Solomon to prefer his coffin before his crown; the day of his dissolution before the day of his coronation, Eccles.7:1.
The ancients were accustomed to call the days of their death Natalia, not dying days—but birthdays.
The Jews to this day, call their graves—the houses or places of the living. Old Christians know that death is but an entrance into life; it is but a Passover, a jubilee; it is but the Lord's gentleman-usher to conduct them to heaven; and this prepares them to die, and makes death more desirable than life. By this you may see that it is an honor to be an old disciple.
Particular 7.An old disciple, an old Christian, shall have a great reward in heaven.
Old Christians have done much and suffered much for Christ; and the more any man does or suffers for Christ here—the more glory he shall have hereafter. It was the saying of an old disciple upon his dying bed, "He is come, he is come"—meaning the Lord—"with a great reward for a little work." Agrippa having suffered imprisonment for wishing Caius emperor, the first thing Caius did when he came to the empire, was to advance Agrippa to a kingdom; he gave him also a chain of gold, as heavy as the chain of iron that was upon him in prison. And will not Christ richly reward all his suffering saints? Surely he will! Christ will at last pay a Christian for every prayer he has made, for every sermon he has heard, for every tear he has shed, for every morsel he has given, for every burden he has borne, for every battle he has fought, for every enemy he has slain, and for every temptation that he has overcome.
Cyrus, in a great expedition against his enemies, the better to encourage his soldiers to fight, in an oration that he made at the head of his army, promised upon the victory, to make every foot-soldier a horseman, and every horseman a commander, and that no officer that did valiantly should be unrewarded. But what are the rewards of Cyrus compared to the rewards that Christ our General promises to his soldiers? Rev. 3:21, "To him that overcomes, will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and have sat down with my Father in his throne." As there is no King compared to Christ, so there are no rewards to Christ's rewards. His rewards are the greatest rewards. He gives kingdoms, crowns, thrones! He gives grace and glory! Psalm 84:11.
It is said of Araunab, renowned for his bounty, that he had only a subject's purse--but a king's heart. But Jesus Christ has a king's purse as well as a king's heart--and accordingly He gives!
And as Christ's rewards are the greatest rewards, so his rewards are the surest rewards: "He is faithful, who has promised," 1 Thes. 5:24.
Antiochus promised often—but seldom gave; upon which he was called, in way of derision, a great promiser. But Jesus Christ never made any promise—but he has or will perform it, 2 Cor. 1:20, nay, he is often better than his word, 1 Cor. 2:9, he gives many times more than we ask. The man sick of the palsy asked but health, and Christ gave him health and a pardon to boot, Mat.9:2. Solomon desired but wisdom, and the Lord gave him wisdom, and honor, and riches, and the favor of creatures, as paper and pack-thread into the bargain, 2 Chron. 1:10-15. Jacob asked him but clothes to wear, and bread to eat, and the Lord gave him these things, and riches, and other mercies into the bargain.
Christ does not measure his gifts by our petitions—but by his own riches and mercies. Gracious souls many times receive many gifts and favors from God that they never dreamt of, nor dared presume to beg, which others extremely strive after and go without.
The prodigal desires no more but the place of a hired servant—but he is entertained as a son, he is clad with the best robe, and fed with the fatted calf, he has a ring for his hand, and shoes for his feet, rich supplies more than he deserved, Luke 15:19-25. Jacob's sons, in a time of famine, desired only grain, and they return with grain and money in their sacks, and with good news too—Joseph is alive, and governor of all Egypt, Gen. 42.
The rewards which men give are like themselves--fickle and inconstant, they are withering and fading. As Christ's rewards are greater and surer than other rewards--so they are more durable and lasting than other rewards. The kingdom which He gives is a kingdom that can never be shaken; the treasures which He gives are incorruptible treasures; and the glory that He gives is glory which never fades away!
Xerxes crowned his statesman in the morning—and beheaded him in the evening of the same day!
And Andronicus, the Greek emperor, crowned his admiral in the morning, and then took off his head in the afternoon!
Rossensis requested that a cardinal's hat be sent him—but his head was cut off before it came to him. Most may say of their crowns as that king said of his, O crown! more noble than happy. It was a just complaint which long ago was made against the heathen gods—they could give their favorites great gifts—but they could not maintain them in the possession of them. The world may give you great things—but the world cannot maintain you in the possession of them; but the great things, the great rewards that Christ gives his people—he will forever maintain them in the possession of them, otherwise heaven would not be heaven, glory would not be glory. Now by all these things you see that it is a very great honor to be an old disciple, an old Christian; and this honor you will never attain to, except you begin to be really godly early, except in the morning of your youth you return to the Lord, and get a saving interest in him.
I shall now come to make someUSE and APPLICATION of this weighty truth to ourselves.
You see, beloved, that it is the great duty and concernment of young men to be really godly early. If this be so, then,
Use 1. First,This truth looks sourly and sadly upon such young men who are only seemingly good, who make some shows of goodness—but are not right towards God at the root.
As Joash, when he was young, he seemed to have good things in him towards the Lord, while godly Jehoiada lived; but when Jehoiada was dead, Joash's goodness was buried with him, 2 Chron. 24:1-6, 13-16.
Ah! how many in these days, that have been seemingly good, have turned to be nothing, very nothing, yes, stark nothing!
It is said of Tiberius, that while Augustus ruled, he was no ways tainted in his reputation; and that, while Drusus and Germanicus were alive, he feigned those virtues which he had not, to maintain a good opinion of himself in the hearts of the people; but after he had got himself out of public sight, there was nothing in which he was not faulty, no crime to which he was not accessory.
Oh! that this were not applicable to many young people in these days, who have made great shows and taken upon them a great name, who have begun to outshine the stars—but are now gone out like so many candles which had burned out—to the dishonor of God, the reproach of the gospel, the grief of others, and the hazard of their own souls.
It was a custom of old, when any was baptized, the minister delivered a white garment to be put on, saying, Take this white vestment, and see you bring it forth without spot at the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ; whereupon one Maritta baptizing one Elpidophorus, who, when he was grown up, proved a profane wretch, he brings forth the white garment, and holding it up, shakes it against him, saying, This linen garment, Elpidophorus, shall accuse you at the coming of Christ, which I have kept by me as a witness of your apostasy.
Ah! young men and women, your former professions will be a sad witness against you in the great day of our Lord Jesus, except you repent and return in good earnest to the Lord, Proverbs 14:14.
Oh! it had been better that you had never made profession, that you had never set your faces towards heaven, that you had never pretended to love God and Christ, that you had never known the way of righteousness; than, after you have known it, to turn from the holy commandment.
Cyprian, in his sermon de lapsis, reports of many who, forsaking the faith, were given over to evil spirits and died fearfully.
Oh! the delusions and the Christ-dethroning, conscience-wasting, and soul-undoing opinions and principles that many young ones, who once were hopeful ones—are given up to! That dreadful scripture seems to be made good in power upon them: "O Lord, the hope of Israel—all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water." Jer. 17:13. To begin well and not to proceed, is but to aspire to a higher pitch—that the fall may be the more desperate. Backsliding is a wounding sin, Hos. 4:14. You read of no armor for the back, though you do for the chest, Eph.6:11-18. He who is but seemingly good will prove at last exceeding bad. 2 Tim. 3:13, "They wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived."
The wolf, though he often disguises and closely hides his nature, yet he will one time or other show himself to be a wolf.
In the days of Hadrian the emperor, there was one Ben-cosbi, who, gathering a multitude of Jews together, called himself Ben-cocuba—the son of a star, applying that prophecy to himself, Num. 23:17; but his mask was taken off, his hypocrisy discovered, and he found to be Bar-chosaba—the son of a lie. This age has afforded many such monsters—but their folly is discovered, and their practices abhorred. This was the young man's commendation in the text, "That there was found in him some real good towards the Lord."
Use 2.This truth looks sourly and sadly upon such young men who are so far from having good things in them towards the Lord—that they give themselves up to those youthful lusts and vanities which are dishonoring, provoking, and displeasing to the Lord—who roar and revel, and gad, and game, and dice, and drink, and carouse, and what not. These make work with a witness for repentance, or hell, or the physician of souls.
I shall but touch upon the evils of youth in the next chapter, and then come to my main point.