I shall now give some brief answers to the old man's scruples, and so close up this discourse.
Is it so commendable, so desirable, and so necessary for young men to be godly early, to seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of their youth, as has been sufficiently demonstrated in this treatise? Oh, then, that I could so woo aged people as to win them who yet have put off this great work to seek and serve the Lord before their hour-glass be out, their sun set, and their souls lost forever!
Oh, that that counsel of the prophet might take hold upon your hearts! "Give glory to the Lord your God before it is too late. Acknowledge him before he brings darkness upon you, causing you to stumble and fall on the dark mountains. For then, when you look for light, you will find only terrible darkness." Jeremiah 13:16
Ay—but aged sinners may reply, Is there any hope, any help for us? Is there any probability, is there any possibility, that ever such as we are should return and find mercy and favor with the Lord? We who have lived so long without him! We who have sinned so much against him! We who to this day are strangers to him, yes, in arms against him! Is there any hope that we white-headed sinners, who have withstood so many thousand offers of grace—and so many thousand motions of the Spirit—and so many thousand checks of conscience—and so many thousand offers of Christ and heaven—that ever we should obtain mercy—that ever we should have our old hearts turned—our millions of sins pardoned—our vile natures changed—and our poor souls saved?
I answer, That there is hope—even for such as you are! All the angels in heaven and all the men on earth cannot tell—but that you, even you, may obtain God's mercy and favor, that your souls be not damned. With the Lord nothing is impossible, and for the grace of the gospel nothing is too hard. Now this I shall make evident by an induction of particulars. Thus,
(1.) First, All were not called nor sent to work in the vineyard at the first hour; some were called at the third hour, others at the sixth, others at the ninth, and some at the eleventh. God has his several times of calling souls to himself. The eleventh hour was about five in the afternoon, an hour before sunset; when it was even time to leave work; and yet at this hour some were called, employed, and rewarded along with the rest.
Some of the commentators, by the several hours mentioned in this parable, do understand the several ages of man, namely, childhood, youth, middle age, and old age, wherein poor souls are called and converted to Christ. The scope of the parable is to signify the free grace of God in the calling of some in the spring and morning of their days, and in the calling of others in their old age, in the evening of their days. But,
(2.) Secondly, Abraham in the Old Testament, and Nicodemus in the New, were called and converted in their old age, when there were but a few steps between them and the grave, between them and eternity.
I have read of one Caius Marius Victorius, and had been a pagan all his days, and in his old age he inquired and hearkened after Christ, and said he would be a Christian. Simplicianus hearing him say so, would not believe him—but when the church saw a work of grace indeed upon him, there was shouting and dancing for gladness, and songs were sung in every church, Caius Marius Victorius is become a Christian! And this was written for a wonder, that he in his old age, and in his grey hairs, should become a gracious Christian.
Aretius also speaks of a certain man in his time. It is no feigned story, says he, for I saw the man with my own eyes: he was one who had been a most vile and desperate sinner, a drunkard, a swearer, a gamester, a lecherous man—and so he continued to his grey hairs; but at last it pleased God to set his sins in order before him, and the man was so troubled in conscience that he threw himself down upon the ground, calling unto Satan to take him away, provoking Satan to take him away: Devil, take your own; devil, take your own; I am your own, take your own! Whereupon, says Aretius, prayer was made for him; Christians prayed, they fasted and prayed, they prayed night and day; and it pleased God at last that this poor aged sinner was converted to God, lived a godly life afterwards, and died comfortably.
Therefore, let not the grey-headed sinner despair, though his spring be past, his summer overpast, and he arrived at the fall of the leaf. But,
(3.) Thirdly, Divine promises shall be made good to returning souls, to repenting souls, to believing souls—be they young or old. 2 Chron. 30:9, "The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return unto him." Joel 2:13, "Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you." Isaiah 55:7, "Let the wicked one abandon his way, and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, so He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will freely forgive"—or he will multiply to pardon. More of this you may see by reading of the scriptures in the margin. All sorts of sin shall be pardoned—to all sorts of believing and repenting sinners.
The New Jerusalem has twelve gates, to show that there is every way access for all sorts and ranks of sinners to come to Christ. He was born in an inn, to show that he receives all comers, young and old, poor and rich, etc. But,
(4.) Fourthly, The Lord has declared by oath a greater delight in the conversion and salvation of poor sinners, whether they are young or old, than in the destruction and damnation of such. Ezek. 33:11, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" Two things make a thing more credible.
[1.] The integrity or dignity of the person speaking.
[2.] The manner of the speech. Now here you have the great God, not only speaking, promising—but solemnly swearing that he had rather poor sinners should live than die, be happy than miserable! Therefore, despair not, O aged sinner! but return unto the Lord, and you shall be happy forever. But,
(5.) Fifthly, There is virtue enough in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, to wash and cleanse away all sin! Not only virtue to cleanse away the young man's sins—but also to cleanse away the old man's sins; not only to cleanse a sinner of twenty years—but to cleanse a sinner of fifty, sixty, yes, a hundred years old! 1 John 1:7, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin!"—not simply from sin—but from all sin. There is such a power and efficacy in the blood of Christ, as is sufficient to cleanse all sorts of sinners from all sorts of sins. There is a virtue in the blood of the Lamb to wash out all the spots that are in the oldest sinners' hearts; and therefore let not old sinners despair, let them not say there is no hope, there is no help, as long as this fountain—the blood of Jesus Christ—is open for all sorts of sinners to wash in. But,
(6.) Sixthly, The call and invitation of Christ in the gospel are general and indefinite, excluding no sort of sinners. Rev. 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man" (mark the indefiniteness of personal admittance) "hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Let the sinner be old or young; a green head, or a grey head—if he will but open the door, Christ will come in and have communion and fellowship with him. So in that Mat. 11:28. Turn to these scriptures, Isaiah 55:1, John 7:37, Rev. 22:17, and dwell upon them; they all clearly evidence the call and gracious invitations of Christ to be to all sinners, to every sinner; he excepts not a man, no, though never so old. Nothing shall hinder the sinner, any sinner, the worst and most aged sinner, from obtaining mercy, if he is willing to open to Christ, and to receive him as his Lord and king, John 6:37. But,
(7.) Seventhly, Christ's piteous lamentation over all sorts and ranks of sinners, declares his willingness to show mercy to them. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," says Christ, weeping over it, "that you had known in this your day the things that belong to your peace," etc., Luke 19:41-42. "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me!" Psalm 81:13. Christ weeps over Jerusalem; so did Titus, and so did Marcellus over Syracuse, and so did Scipio over Carthage—but they shed tears for them whose blood they were to shed. But Christ weeps over the necks of those young and old sinners who were to shed his blood! As a tender-hearted father weeps over his rebellious children, when neither smiles nor frowns, neither counsels nor entreaties, will win them, or turn them from their evil ways—so does Jesus Christ over these rebellious Jews, upon whom nothing would work. But,
(8.) Eighthly, and lastly, Though aged sinners have given Christ many thousand denials, yet he has not yet damned them—but after all, and in the face of all denials, he still re-enforces his suit, and continues to beseech them by his Spirit, by his word, by his wounds, by his blood, by his messengers, and by his rebukes—to turn home to him, to embrace him, to believe in him—that they may be saved eternally by him! All which bespeaks grey-headed sinners not to despair, nor to dispute—but to repent, return, and believe, that it may go well with them forever. Consider seriously what has been spoken, and the Lord make you wise for eternity!