The Aged Believer's Triumph
It is appointed unto men once to die. The time is fixed by an immutable decree. "The length of our days is seventy years — or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away!" Psalm 90:10. If some are permitted to live longer, yet the infirmities of old age must arrive, bringing with them labor and sorrow, the forerunners of death. The circulation will become languid. The senses of the body will grow dull and heavy. The faculties of the mind will be impaired, and they will discover it by not remembering proper names.
In this decline of life, believers are subject to the same infirmities with other men; they have no exemption from pain, or sickness, or death; but they have that which keeps up their spirits and makes them patient and joyful. The consolations of God are then most needed, and he has promised them, and he is faithful — he never failed those who trusted in him. He has suited his promises to all the infirmities of old age. He knows our frame perfectly, and has described it with an unerring pen (Eccles. 12.), that when we feel the signs of old age — we may apply to to him for grace to profit by them. The symptoms there given are infallibly true and just, and are as so many monitors, warning the man that the vigor of life is declining, and that the body is returning to the earth from whence it came. Happy is he who takes this warning, and remembers his Creator in the days of his youth, before the wearisome days of weakness and pain come. He has fled to Jesus for refuge, and finds and experiences what he has engaged to do for his people, when heart and flesh begin to fail them.
Blessed be his grace for the abundant provision which he has made for their faith and patience: he says to them, "I will be with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you: so that you may boldly say, The Lord is our helper, and we need not fear what the infirmities of old age can do unto us!"
The psalmist thus encouraged himself in the Lord his God: "For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you!" Psalm 71:5-6. This was his trust; and God did not forsake him. He remembered his Word unto his servant, whereon he had caused him to depend. There failed not any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto him. Oh what great encouragement have believers to follow the steps of his faith! For his God is their God — the same yesterday, today, and forever, to young and old, who put their trust in him.
His promise to his people cannot be broken. Thus he pledges his Word of truth to them, giving them a warrant to pray unto him: "Let my mouth be filled with your praise, and with your honor all the day; cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails." To this prayer the Lord inclined his ear, and gave this gracious answer: "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 46:4.
These are some of his rich cordials for the aged, which he provided for them in his love, and he is sensibly touched with the feeling of their infirmities in administering them; for he himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. His compassions bind him to comfort and relieve his old disciples; and when they apply to him in time of need, he is ever present to grant them his promised help; yes, so suited to their case as to make them grow in grace as they grow in years. They bring forth fruit in their old age, the rich fruit of humility and the ripe fruit of thankfulness — fruit that endures unto everlasting life.
We have a happy instance of this in God's goodness to an ancient believer who lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old. He was the friend of God, who had blessed Abraham through life, and that in all things, and who even to grey hairs loaded him with blessings. For God had promised him, "You shall go to your fathers in peace, you shall be buried in a good old age;" and the sacred historian, relating the fulfilling of the promise, says, "He gave up the spirit, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people." His old age was good in body and soul. Whatever infirmities he had, they were intended for good, and actually did him good. He was a very cheerful, pleasant old man. The peace of his mind had a sweet influence upon his temper and behavior. It kept him from being fretful and peevish in his family. He was loving to his children and kind to his servants, God himself being witness. He was also happy in his last years; for he spent them in faith, and when they came to the end — he died in peace; with his last breath he committed his spirit into the hands of him who had redeemed it, full of years; it is in the original one word — he was satisfied; so it is rendered, Psalm 17:15, "As for me I shall behold your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with your likeness." He was satisfied with what he had enjoyed of the favor and friendship of his God; who had been his shield to defend him from all sins and enemies, and also had promised to be his exceeding great reward. This he obtained when he was gathered to his people, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, and to the most blissful communion of the Three-One Jehovah. All the children of faithful Abraham, treading in the steps of his faith, have the same God to deal with, who keeps promise forever.
It is recorded of Isaac, the heir of the same promise with his father, that he died in the same faith an old man. He was tried with many infirmities — but we read of no complaints, though he was a hundred and eighty years of age. He expired in praise and thankfulness, satisfied with life, and happy in the prospect beyond death. And his son Jacob, an hundred and forty-seven years old, when he was dying declared that he had waited for the salvation of God. Waiting faith is strong faith. And after he had blessed his children, and had given commandment concerning his bones, he quietly, as if he had been going to sleep, gathered up his feet into the bed and died in peace, an old man and satisfied.
All these lived in the world, as strangers and pilgrims, looking for a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. And they were not disappointed of their hope; they all died in faith — in an act of faith — and were gathered to their people, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born. When they came to the end of their faith — they came to Heaven. The moment they expired, they entered the city which God had prepared for them; and their bodies sleeping in the dust are in the covenant of life, and shall be raised and glorified in the morning of the resurrection. For our Lord proves that the dead shall rise from this very circumstance; he says to the Jews: "Have you not read in the books of Moses, how in the bush God spoke unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead — but the God of the living."
In this faith, the patriarchs died; being children of the resurrection, they left their bodies in the hand and care of a covenant God, well assured that he would raise them up to glory and life everlasting, according to that good Word wherein he had caused them to put their trust.
These examples of the loving-kindness of God to His aged servants were recorded for our learning, that believers, if God by his providence should bring them to old age, might be encouraged to trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with such a confidence of their hearts as not to doubt of the divine truth or of the divine power. Whatever he was to them, he is the same to us — our God as well as theirs — our covenant God engaged to glorify both body and soul; on whom we are commanded to cast all our cares and concerns in extreme old age.
If what is of nature is failing, what is of grace cannot. If the life of sense be dying, the life of faith should flourish the more; it is a life that cannot die; for the branches thrive and bring forth fruit in their old age, not of themselves — but because they are engrafted into the Heavenly vine, in which they live forever. "I am the vine," says Jesus, "you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing." But through his Spirit strengthening you, he will make you bud and flourish, and fill the face of the world with fruit. He will so fill you with the fruits of righteousness which are through Christ Jesus, to the glory and praise of God — that your last days shall be your best days.
In this view of old age, it may become a favorable time for exercising and improving faith, because the activity of the life of sense is abating, and thereby many things are removed which before obstructed the growth of the spiritual life. Now is the time to learn to walk by faith, and not by sense. A believer, young in years and young in experience, is often tempted to judge of himself by his feelings more than by the Word of God. In a good frame — then he is a good believer. Then all is well with him. But when he is walking in darkness, he is very apt to question his state — "If all is right with me, why am I thus? My present frame is very dull and uncomfortable; I am not so lively as I used to be in prayer or in ordinances; my delight in God, and the things of God, is far short of what it was formerly — perhaps I have been deceiving myself, and crying, Peace, peace, when there was no peace for me."
From this temptation, old age itself is a sort of deliverance; self-activity is weakened, and thereby, through grace, self-dependence. The believer, if he is a good scholar, will now learn to walk more by faith and less by sight. The vigor of his senses is decaying. The high spirits of youth are abating. His present lesson is very plain and simple, and while he attends to what is passing in him and about him — he has a thousand warnings calling upon him now to learn and practice a perfect dependence on those things which are always one and the same, without any variableness or the least shadow of turning — one record of God — one Savior — one Spirit — one faith, of which the Savior is the author and the finisher. This faith is made to grow and flourish, as there is less dependence on other things; and as old age itself tends to weaken this dependence, it becomes, in the hand of the Holy Spirit — a favorable time to live less upon the things which are seen, and more upon the things which are not seen. Less of sense — more of faith. One scale rises — as the other falls. The outward man dying — the inward man grows more lively — yes, grows up into Christ Jesus, and that in all things. O blessed old man! you have lived to a good time when this is your experience; when in the prayer of faith, you can cast all your burdens on your Savior: "Lord, keep me, a poor helpless creature; now I feel that of myself I can do nothing as I ought or as I wish to do. Glorify your grace in me, and strengthen me mightily by your Spirit in the inner man, that I may bless you for your salvation, and for the things which accompany salvation. Into your faithful hands, for life and death, I commit myself and all my concerns; for you have redeemed me, O Lord, you God of truth."
But it must be remembered that old age does not produce these happy effects of itself. It is not of nature — but entirely of grace, that any one is able to gain such spiritual profit from bodily infirmities. The mere natural man, fortify him with all his boasted aids of reason and philosophy — yet cannot help murmuring when old age brings weakness, and sickness brings pains. He becomes peevish and fretful. Having no friendship with God, he cannot look up for divine supports when everything human begins to fail him. Under a severe fit of the stone, or a long fit of the gout — he is often out of all patience. Uneasy in himself, he is out of humor with everybody and everything. How different is the believer in the same circumstances! His body feels pain as others' do; but his mind is comfortable and at ease. Happy in God, he has patience given him to bear his sufferings, and grace to profit from them; yes, the peace of God rules in his heart always and by all means.
An old man with this peace, which surpasses all understanding, ruling in his heart, will be so far from complaining, that he has everything to be thankful for which can render him blessed of the Lord. He is provided with an infallible antidote against all that old age can try him with. "It is true, I have an infirm body — but, thank God, I have a sound mind. Old age has brought upon me great weakness — but this makes more room for the power of God, that it may be perfected in my weakness. I have many pains — but not so many as he has comforts to give me; in the worst of them he keeps me patient. Father, may your will be done! I have an afflicted body — but I have a happy heart; although the outward man be perishing, yet I faint not, because the inward man is renewed day by day. My supports are great, the consolations of God not a few. I feel the symptoms of old age warning me daily of my approaching dissolution. Through grace I take the warning. They find me living, and I hope they will find me dying, in the faith of the Son of God. The earthly tabernacle is taken down — but he does it with much tenderness and love, and assures me that he has prepared for me a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens. May he who keeps it for me, and me for it, never leave me nor forsake me, until I be with him, where he is, and be like him, and enjoy him forever and ever! Yet a very, very little while — hold on, faith and patience — and I shall see Jesus in his glory, which is the Heaven of Heavens!"
O merciful and faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ, I bless you for your kind promises to the aged. You have suited them in great mercy to all their infirmities, and you are always with them to help in time of need. I begin to feel the sad effects of sin in my body, weakening it and tending to bring it down to its appointed end. To you I look, almighty Jesus, for your promised grace. O grant me constant supplies of your Spirit, that I may profit by my infirmities, and exercise and improve my faith in you, that they may keep me humble, and I may pray more in faith; and keep me thankful, that I may be more in praise. Your arm is not shortened, nor can your compassions fail. Stand by me then, and hold me up according to your Word. Make me strong in your strength, that I may daily put more honor upon your love and your power. In the decline of life let, me not doubt of your faithfulness to support, and, when you see it best, to comfort me. Grant me your divine consolations; when my heart and my flesh fail me, then be the strength of my heart and my portion forever. When I am weakest in myself — then make me strongest in the Lord; and if it be your holy will that I should become quite helpless, an infant again, make me to lie quiet in your hand without murmuring or repining — but believing that you are all my salvation, and enjoying in you all my desire. Grant me this, Lord Jesus; for your mercy's sake, let me die in faith. Amen and Amen.