The Evening of Life
The busy day of life is over. Its pleasures, its duties, and its anxieties have passed away. The sunshine and the shade, which alternately marked its path, have alike disappeared; and the soft tints of evening are gathered over the sky.
The evening of life! Yes! life has its sunset hour, its twilight season. The dim eye, the silvered lock, and the feeble step — indicate that the closing period of earthly existence has arrived. How rapid has been the flight of time! How near must be the approach of eternity!
The gradual decline of health and strength
is a kind and merciful preparative for the solemn change which awaits
us. It seems to lessen the reluctance which our nature feels:
to give up life;
to wean us from the varied attractions of earth;
to soften the abrupt transition from the present to a future state of being.
The evening of life accustoms us to the consideration of death — it assists us in the realization of immortality.
The evening of life! Evening is the time forREST. The little bird seeks its leafy roost; the rosy-cheeked child throws aside its playthings and falls asleep; the weary laborer comes home from his work. The cares of the day are forgotten — and all is hushed and quiet.
And life's closing hours, Christian reader, should be distinguished by serenity and repose. You must not harass and perplex yourself now with occupations which were once both appropriate and necessary, nor repine because you are unable to exert yourself as in former days. Your strength is to sit still. Old age is the resting-place in the journey of life; and the feverish heat of noontide, is exchanged for the refreshing coolness of twilight.
An impatient, restless, grasping, or dissatisfied spirit — is not consistent with the character of an aged pilgrim. Habitual quietude and self-possession should mark his demeanor. Neither the excitements of the world, nor the agitations of the professing church — should ruffle your equanimity; for you are too experienced a traveler in this valley of tears, to be discomposed by the distractions around you, or to doubt the wisdom and faithfulness of Him who makes all things work together for good.
Your rest in Christ; your trust in him as your Savior, should be more perfect, more unwavering than in earlier years. "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day," should be the assured expression of your confidence in him. Firmly placed on the Rock of Ages, and fully conscious of the security of your position in Christ — your closing life should be a realization of that promise in which God has engaged to keep in "perfect peace," those whose minds are stayed on him.
The cheerful, all-sustaining faith of an aged Christian, is one of the best testimonies to the worth and reality of the Christian religion, and furnishes a bright and encouraging example to the lambs of the flock. Weary and distressed by the arduous conflict in which he is engaged, the youthful Christian is frequently too ready to conclude with the desponding patriarch, "All these things are against me!" Or to exclaim with the sorrowful Psalmist, "I shall perish one day!" At such seasons in his experience, his faith is strengthened and his hope is revived — as he beholds the tranquility and peace of some advanced believer, who has safely passed through similar trials and successfully surmounted similar temptations to his own, and who is now enjoying a foretaste of that rest which remains to the people of God. Such repose is to him a pledge of his own partial deliverance from toil and conflict; and the contemplation of it enables him to gird up the loins of his mind, and to run with patience the race set before him.
Then let those around you, Christian reader, see that your hope is like an anchor — sure and steadfast; that you are now confidently resting upon those principles which have hitherto sustained and guided you. Let no doubt shadow your peace; no anxiety ruffle your composure. You have struggled long with trial and temptation; you have tested in your own experience, the truth of God's promises; you have done his work among your fellow-men — and now you must calmly wait until your Father's loving voice bids you 'Welcome home!'
The evening of life! Evening is the time forREFLECTION. Amidst the busy and exciting occupations of the day, there is seldom much opportunity for serious consideration. Well-disciplined minds, it is true, can control their thoughts and gather them around high and holy subjects — even in those moments which are necessarily devoted to worldly business; but most people are so harassed and engrossed by the constant claims upon their time and attention — as scarcely to be able to cast a hurried glance on things which are unseen and eternal; and they feel how welcome and how desirable is the evening hour for quiet meditation, for self-examination, and for the formation of wise and good purposes.
Now, reader, your evening of life, should be consecrated to calm and elevated thought. Through the long period which has passed, you have not perhaps redeemed much time for hallowed consideration. Martha-like, you may have been cumbered with much serving; or, Israel-like, you may have forgotten the Lord your God. But whatever has been your previous history — you are now, by the infirmities of old age, withdrawn from active duties — that you may muse upon coming eternal realities. How thankful should you feel that there is yet a brief space allotted you for pious thought and preparation, before you go hence and are no more seen!
In the peaceful twilight hour, when we sit alone and commune with our own hearts, our thoughts naturally turn to the occurrences of the PAST day. Little incidents, too trifling perhaps to speak about, are reviewed and dwelt upon; virtuous actions which have been performed — win the approval of conscience; and wanderings from duty — call forth feelings of regret; pleasing events and painful trials — have each a share in our pensive musings. Varied indeed, are the scenes which one day's panorama brings before our view.
And then we generally glance at the FUTURE. We arrange our plans for the coming day; we look forward with glad expectance to the joys which are in store for us; or we shrink in fear and despondency from the troubles which seem associated with the morrow. And will not your thoughts, aged reader, thus chiefly divide themselves into retrospection and anticipation?
RETROSPECTION!"You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness." Old age is the most appropriate season for this consideration of the past. The judgment is not so likely to be warped by the heat of excitement, nor the feelings to be swayed by the influence of passion — as in youthful days. The veteran, as he recalls the battle-field, can mark events and form opinions far more advantageously than the soldier who is engaged in the midst of an action. Contemplate, then, your whole life from the dawn of infancy — to its present decline; trace out the many windings of your pathway through the world; survey each minute feature of your changeful history.
But is it pleasant to look back? Are there not many places in our pilgrimage where memory dislikes to linger? Are there not many facts in life's early records, which we feel happier in forgetting? True, the remembrance of our imperfections and our sins — is painful and self-condemning; yet it is always best to open one's eyes to the truth.
Enter, then, into a full and faithful examination of your past history. Scrutinize your motives by the tests with which God's Word furnishes you; and try your conduct by his holy law. Let neither pride nor prejudice hide the real state of things from your view. How important is it that, on the confines of eternity, you should be kept from self-deception! Ask God himself to be your teacher. Make this your prayer: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life!"
What, then, is the result of your investigation? What verdict does conscience, enlightened from above, give concerning the past? It may be, nay, it must be — that you find enough in your recollections to overwhelm you with sorrow and confusion! So much selfishness and worldliness have mingled with your brightest deeds; so much unfaithfulness has been connected with your professed allegiance to Christ; so much impurity of heart and defilement of life are discovered by your rigid self-inspection, that you are ready to exclaim with the Psalmist, "Enter not into judgment with your servant, O Lord: for in your sight shall no man living be justified."
Or perhaps your reflections on the past have convinced you that you have hitherto been living without God and without Christ in the world; that you have been so absorbed with the trifles of earth — as to have forgotten the attractions of Heaven; that, although a responsible being, and liable to be summoned at any moment to your final account — you have gone carelessly on in the ways of sin, and have disobeyed the commands of the Most High God.
The retrospect in either case, is deeply humbling. Yet it leads to hope, and peace, and salvation. Both to the troubled Christian and the penitent sinner — the cheering annunciation of the gospel is, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." Then, "though your sins be as scarlet — they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson — they shall be as wool." "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden — and I will give you rest." Full and free forgiveness is offered to all who seek it at his cross. Cast yourself with all your sins, however great their number or aggravated their guilt — at the Savior's feet, saying, "Lord, save me — or I perish!" and his gracious response will be, "Your sins are forgiven — go in peace!"
Let the sorrowful and self-abasing remembrance of your iniquity make Christ increasingly precious in your estimation. Your sin is the dark background which throws his love and his atonement into strong relief. Without his sin-atoning sacrifice — how dark would be life's evening! Not one star of hope would illumine the sky; not one ray of gladness would beam on your spirit. But now the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, casts a lovely and softened radiance on all around you and before you. Oh, as you behold by faith the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as you thankfully recognize in him your gracious Mediator and ever-prevalent Intercessor — can you not exclaim with the aged and rejoicing Simeon, "Lord, now let you your servant depart in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation!"
But the consideration of the past should not only awaken penitence — it should excite gratitude. You have been wonderfully preserved from many dangers; you have been safely guided through many difficulties; you have been continually enriched with numberless blessings. Surely goodness and mercy have followed you all the days of your life. Recall some of the multiplied proofs which you have had of God's tender, parental care over you. It would be impossible to recount every instance of his goodness towards you — for memory, always imperfect, is now sadly impaired, and forgets many of his blessings and benefits.
Each comfort which you have enjoyed through life — came from his beneficent hand; each impulse to good and each resistance to evil which you have felt — was through the impartation of his grace. Can you not heartily acknowledge the truthfulness of that charge which the dying servant of the Lord pressed home upon the Israelites, "You know with all your heart and soul — that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed!" Oh yes! every aged believer will testify to the faithfulness of God in the fulfillment of his promises.
You can look back to several points in your history, where, but for the interposition of God's providence, or the aid of his Spirit — you must have been overwhelmed by temptation and sorrow. Many have been the occasions when you have had to set up your stone of remembrance, and to confess that, hitherto the Lord has helped you. Even as to your trials, you can see now, with regard to some of them at least, that they were "blessings in disguise;" and you are sure that they were all sent for some wise and loving purpose. With what grateful emotions, then, should your recollections of by-gone days be accompanied!
And should not gratitude for past mercies be combined with hope for future favors and deliverances? "He thanked God — and took courage." When you think of the increased weakness and perhaps suffering which you have yet to bear; of the inevitable separation between yourself and those whom you love which will soon take place; of the valley of the shadow of death through which you must pass, and of the solemn moment when your spirit shall depart from this world — natural feeling shrinks from the scene before you. "Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone!" is the language of your heart!
Hearken to the immediate reply of the God of your salvation: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand!" Ah! you can read these assurances in the page, not of inspiration only, but of experience. You can infer with certainty, from God's conduct in past days — what its complexion will be in future moments. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and therefore in the loving-kindness which he has hitherto manifested towards you — you have the surest pledge of the continual exercise of his power and goodness. He has delivered; he does deliver; he will yet deliver. "The God who has fed you all your life long" is your God forever and ever; and he will be your guide, even unto death!
ANTICIPATION!Looking back should be combined with looking forward. The weary pilgrim, who recalls with mingled sorrow and gladness, the events which have occurred during his journey, will also think of the rest and the welcome which wait for him in his happy eternal home. The Christian traveler, as evening is closing in around him, and the objects of earth are fading from his gaze — loves to let his imagination dwell upon the many mansions in his Father's house, where a place is being prepared for him.
The morning of joy is close at hand; the things which are unseen and eternal are every moment drawing nearer to you; the promised incorruptible, undefiled, and never-fading inheritance — will soon be actually yours! Meditate on the eternal glory which shall presently be revealed. Consider how perfect in its nature, and how perpetual in its duration — is the happiness which God has provided for you in his everlasting kingdom.
An eminent minister, who was spending an afternoon with some Christian friends, was observed to be unusually silent. On being aroused from his reverie by a question which was addressed to him, he said that he had been absorbed in the contemplation of eternal happiness. "Oh, my friends!" he exclaimed, with an energy which arrested the attention of all present, "think what it is to be forever with the Lord; forever, forever, forever!"
But is the prospect of Heaven thus attractive to you? Have you any true sympathy with its joys, any congeniality of spirit with its bright inhabitants? You of course hope, when you die — to go to Heaven; the most thoughtless and worldly-minded characters hope that, not because they aspire after more intimate communion with God and closer conformity to his image — but because they associate the idea of happiness with Heaven; and it is their instinctive desire to be happy. But unless we are made fit for the enjoyments of Heaven, were we allowed to be there — would be distasteful to us. The unjust and the unholy — would be unjust and unholy still; and in a world of perfect truth and purity — they would find no source of satisfaction.
A clergyman was conversing with an intelligent woman in his parish, who was ill and dying. After he had ceased talking to her, she said with an expression of much distaste, "If Heaven is such a place as you describe — I have no wish to go there!" Such an avowal may seem unnatural — but it would be the honest confession of every unsanctified heart, if men seriously considered the character of celestial happiness. The songs of the redeemed cannot change the heart, nor the glory of the Heavenly city transform the spirit. What fellowship can light have with darkness?
Aged reader, rest not satisfied with anything short of a true preparation for everlasting bliss. It is easy to bear the name of Christian. But without "holiness" no man shall see the Lord! "Unless a man is born again — he cannot see the kingdom of God."
How shall you attain this preparation? By simple faith in Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. External acts of devotion, alms-giving, self-denial, or large charitable bequests — cannot purchase your passport for Heaven. The righteousness of God, which is unto all and upon all those who believe, and the sanctification of the heart which is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit — must be yours before you can enter into everlasting glory. And they may be yours — yours now. Put your trust in that Savior who has declared that he will never cast out those who come to him; and seek for the gift of that Holy Spirit which is promised to all who earnestly and perseveringly ask for it; and you shall have everlasting life.
But it is possible that some humble-minded and timid Christian hesitates, from a fear of being presumptuous and self-deceived, to appropriate those joys which are at God's right hand. Gladly would you anticipate the moment of your departure hence, could you be sure that an abundant entrance would be ministered unto you into Christ's kingdom. But although you cling to the Savior as your only hope of salvation, and are anxiously striving to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit — you cannot rise to that happy confidence which many Christians feel in the prospect of eternity. You cannot echo their peaceful and unwavering declaration, "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved — we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens." You are like the pilgrims on the Delectable Mountains, whose hands shook so that they could not look steadily through the telescope at the gate of the celestial city.
Yet, fear not! it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom; the promised possession is secured to you, although you are unable to realize your interest in it. It is both your privilege and your duty to seek earnestly the "assurance of hope;" but remember, for your consolation and encouragement — that the weakest believer in Christ is as safe as the most mature Christian. Keep your eye fixed upon your Savior; strive to follow in his steps; use with constancy and diligence the means of grace which he has provided; and you shall eventually attain to that perfect peace which casts out fear. "At evening time — it shall be light."
Happy are those whose hope is clear, whose faith is strong, and who, in the consciousness that the time of their departure is at hand — can look to the past and to the future, and meekly but confidently affirm with "Paul the aged," "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing." Joyful assurance! Bright anticipation! Well may such aged believers have an ardent desire to depart — and to be with Christ; well may they long for that rapidly approaching hour, when he shall present them faultless before the presence of their God with exceeding joy.
The evening of life! Evening is the time forPRAYER. Then the lisping babe folds its little hands and utters its simple words of supplication and thanksgiving; then the pious family assemble around the domestic altar; then the thoughtful Christian retires into his closet, shuts his door, and prays to his Father who sees in secret. The comparative quietude which exists in the world around him, and the repose which spreads itself over the face of nature, seem to soothe the spirit of the wearied believer, and to invite him to calm and hallowed fellowship with his Maker.
And should not life's evening, thus tranquillize and elevate his feelings? Private prayer, the delight and duty of all who have been taught of God, is an employment peculiarly appropriate to the aged Christian. Compelled to relinquish the active occupations of former days, unable to read much even of the best of books, and frequently deprived, perhaps, of the long-valued ministrations of the sanctuary — how thankfully does he retain the inestimable privilege of pouring out his heart in secret before God, and in holding sweet converse with his Heavenly Father!
"I can very seldom talk or read now," said a venerable servant of God, whose days were almost ended; "but," he added, as a happy smile lighted up his withered features, "I can pray! In my weakest moments, without opening my lips, I can make known my requests unto God, and praise him for his never-changing goodness towards me."
Let the evening of your life be much devoted to prayer; for at the close, no less than at the commencement of your Christian experience, you are entirely dependent upon Almighty support. Go therefore with boldness to the throne of grace, that you may still obtain mercy, and find grace to help you in every time of need.
Old age has its especial needs and trials; but, "Ask, and it shall be given you," is the inscription which is ever written over the mercy-seat. Implore that strength which you require in order that you may cheerfully bear God's will now; that support which you will need in the hour of death, when heart and flesh shall fail; that consolation and guidance which you desire to have imparted to those whom you must leave behind in a world of grief and danger. He who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think — will hear and answer your feeble but heartfelt petitions!
The evening of life! Have these words a melancholy sound? They tell, it is true, that the bright sunshine of youth and manhood — is past; that the health and the energy which impelled our steps in the path of usefulness and renown — have departed; that the night of death will soon gather round us, when we must close our eyes upon all that is loved and lovely here.
But are these facts unwelcome to the Christian? Nay, they are rather the incentives of his hope and his joy! Long a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth — they assure him that he is now on the borders of that country which he has so earnestly been seeking! The worldling may mourn over the flowers which have withered in his grasp — but the Christian has a treasure laid up in Heaven — and his heart is there also. The orphan spirit may shrink from the prospect of an unknown eternity; but the child of God cannot but rejoice in the thought of soon going home.
The evening of life! Aged Christian, an everlasting morning will soon dawn upon your redeemed and perfected spirit. "Now is your salvation nearer than when you believed." Mark with thankfulness the shadows of evening, as they deepen around you, for they are the necessary precursors of the coming eternal day. Calmly and trustingly as an infant that slumbers on its mother's bosom, you will soon "sleep in Jesus," to awake in that purer and happier world, which has "no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." "Absent from the body," you will at once be "present with the Lord;" you will "behold his face in righteousness;" you will "be satisfied, when you awake, with his likeness!"