Too Old to Be Useful
"Well, it is a pleasant sight to see young people actively engaged in doing good!" said an old lady, as she watched from her parlor window some of her grand-children setting forth on their weekly errands of mercy to the poor and afflicted.
Yes; it was a pleasant sight to look upon these youthful Christians, full of health and energy, devoting their time and their talents to the service of God and the welfare of their fellow-creatures; and yet the old lady sighed as she finished her sentence, and did not seem quite comfortable. Why? Listen to what she is saying now:
"Ah, I was once as busy as any of them. I could take a class in the Sunday-school, and visit the poor, and collect for the missionary society; but now I am forced to be idle and useless. My strength and my senses are gradually forsaking me; and I am but a worn-out and unprofitable servant. But come, I must not complain; I have had my share in these good works in bygone days, and I must be content to lie by now and let others labor; for I am too old to be of any use."
Was the old lady right? She meant what she said, and she meant well. She was trying to bear with patience and resignation her unavoidable exclusion from the charitable engagements of her young relatives; but old people as well as young sometimes have mistaken ideas; and it is possible that the old lady was not quite so clear upon the subject of Christian usefulness as we should like our readers to be.
It is true that the aged cannot work in God's vineyard as they used to do before infirmity or ill-health disabled them for active service — but still they are not too old to be useful.
Too old to be useful! Such words are a libel upon their characters — an insult to their capabilities. It cannot be that any Christian is continued upon earth who has not something to do — as well as to suffer for his Master. Look at the closing days of the venerable Eliot, the first missionary to the American Indians. On the day of his death, when in his eightieth year, he was found teaching the alphabet to an Indian child at his bedside. "Why not rest from your labors, now?" said a friend. "Because," said the venerable man, "I have prayed to God to make me useful in my sphere, and he has heard my prayer; for now that I can no longer preach, he leaves me strength enough to teach this poor child this alphabet."
Eighty years of age and bed-ridden! Who after this can plead their inability to do good? Who will not rather gather up their remaining time and talents and devote them to God's service? Like the widow's mite, your offering may seem poor and small; you are almost ashamed to cast it into the treasury; but bring it without hesitation — nay with gladness. What could give you more? it is your all; and your feeble efforts will meet with kind and gracious acknowledgment from a loving Savior, who said, "She has done what she could!"
Oh, it is so delightful to labor for Christ that the true-hearted Christian would gladly keep on as Eliot did to the last. Rev. John Campbell, of Kingsland, went one morning to attend an early committee meeting of a religious society. On his way up-stairs he found an old friend, remarkable for his devotedness to the cause of Christ, leaning on the banister which led to the room, and unable to proceed from a difficulty of breathing.
"What! are you here, Mr. T? How could you venture in your state of health? You have attended our meetings for a long time, and you should now leave the work for younger men."
His friend looked up with a cheerful smile, and replied, with characteristic energy, "Oh, Johnny, Johnny, man, it is hard to give up working in the service of such a Master."
How cheering then is the thought that the aged have still opportunities of usefulness afforded them! Suppose we remind our readers of a few ways in which they have it in their power to benefit others.
Well, some of you, perhaps, who cannot walk about and visit your neighbors, might send them a little tract and book occasionally. A person dies in your street — a child is born in the next house — a worldly family opposite are in trouble — a gentleman has met with an accident — — all these, and many others, are occasions when "a little messenger of mercy" might speak "a word in season." Listen to the following fact:
A man who was keeper of one of the locks on the Grand Junction Canal lived for many years apparently without any religious feelings. He possessed much personal kindness, and had been the means of saving at least twelve people from a watery grave, some of whom had plunged into the stream in seasons of frantic sorrow. In the summer of 1841 poor Matthew met with a severe accident, and was removed to the London Hospital. After he had been there a few days, he received a letter by post — of which the following is a copy — enclosing a tract entitled "Today!"
"You have suffered greatly, my friend; your poor body calls for help and sympathy, and in the hospital you are mercifully attended to, as you could not be at home. How is it with your precious soul? Are you fit to die? Had your sufferings caused instant death, where would your soul have been? Where, my friend? Where? In Heaven — or in Hell? Do think of this inquiry, and read the tract I enclose. Do not neglect this friendly warning — but attend to it while it is yet with you called 'Today.' Oh! what a mercy you were spared yet a little longer! May it be for the salvation of your precious soul. The Lord Jesus is able and willing to save all who feel their need of his salvation. Pray, then, afflicted friend, for the Holy Spirit to show you your need of mercy, and of the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to cleanse you from your sins, and to obtain your acceptance with God. This tract was written by a gentleman seventy years old. May the Lord make it a blessing to your soul. He is able and willing to save you from going to Hell, and willing to prepare you for the holiness and happiness of Heaven. — Farewell."
There was no signature to the letter; it bore the "Stroudwater" postmark — but Matthew knew no one residing there. However, the perusal of the letter induced him to read the tract; the Holy Spirit blessed it to his conversion; and he became a consistent Christian. He wished very much that he could find out who had sent him the tract; and a kind friend to whom this interesting fact was mentioned thought that he knew the person from whom it came. He wrote accordingly, and received the following note, which proved that his conjecture was right:
"My dear sir: It was in hours of weakness, and during a long detention from the house of the Lord, that I was directed one Sabbath-day to write the letter to which you refer. It used to be a saying with myself, to myself, on doing any such thing, 'Well, I have cast one grain more of the good seed of the kingdom into the field of the world — that world which still lies in wickedness,' I bless the Lord he permitted me to cast in that grain, and I praise him still more that he caused it to germinate and bring forth fruit. Glory be to his holy name, that he has seen fit to glorify the riches of his grace in the salvation of a soul by means in themselves so weak and poor. Several other such grains have been cast into the field of the world. Oh, that it may please the Lord to cause them to be fruitful also!"
Now, reader, let the example of this pious invalid win you in some measure to follow it. It does not, you see, require much money, much talent, much influence, or much strength to be useful. A few kind words written, or a good tract enclosed to an acquaintance or even to a stranger, may be the appointed channel through which God's grace shall flow into their seals. "Cast your bread upon the waters: for you shall find it after many days."
Then there is the influence which you may exert over children and young people. Not by fault-finding, or selfish requirements, or sarcastic observations; but by kind words, persuasive advice, and affectionate treatment. Your little grand-children, or your elder nephews and nieces, as they cluster round your cheerful fireside, may drink in many a gentle lesson which shall guide them in after years. If you have not any youthful relatives, you can cultivate the acquaintance of the children of your friends and neighbors. It is a lovely sight to see old age and youth sweetly blending together — old age tempering the gaiety of youth, and youth brightening the gravity of old age. The ivy adorns the oak — and the oak supports the ivy. "But young people," you may say, "are so self-willed and conceited; they think they are as wise as old folks." It is often too true — but bear with them; we have all been young in our time; and it is astonishing how grateful even the most independent among them are for a real and warm-hearted interest in their welfare. You may influence them strongly, if you are only kind in purpose and judicious in practice.
Sympathize with them in their joys and their sorrows. Show them that increase of years does not necessarily blunt the feelings or narrow the affections; that the pilgrim who has almost reached his welcome and long-expected resting-place does not forget or despise those who have but lately set out on their toilsome journey. Speak to them of your own experience of actual life; of the mental and moral discipline which you have endured; of the difficulties in the path of duty which you have met and conquered; of the comfort which has sustained you in the hour of trial and bereavement. Simple facts are more impressive than mere advice. Quietly but deeply they sink into the memory, arousing no opposition, exciting no argument; in time of need they will be remembered and turned to good account. You may thus be the honored instrument of guiding some wayward and careless heart to true peace and happiness; of imparting right principles which shall steer some perplexed spirit across the rough sea of temptation; of forming the character of those who are destined in coming years to exercise great moral power over their fellow-creatures. You may not — you will not — live to behold those happy results of your patient and prayerful efforts; but when those who die in the Lord rest from their labors, their works follow them.
An aged man carefully planted several fruit-trees in his garden, that they might grow up for the use and benefit of posterity; so may you cast into human hearts, that precious seed which will germinate and spring forth and bless the world long after you have departed to your rest. The destiny of future generations may be linked with your Christian endeavor. God grant that you may fully appreciate and fulfill your peculiar mission to the young.
But perhaps the best way in which the aged Christian — yes, and any Christian — can benefit others, is by the purity and loveliness of his example. You cannot now do much or say much for the good of your fellow-creatures; but "nothing speaks so loudly as the silent eloquence of a holy and consistent life;" nothing exercises such gentle and yet such powerful influence over the mind, as the example of one whom we love and respect. It is a practical and perpetual sermon.
Look into that quiet and half-darkened room. In the large easy-chair sits an aged lady. She is confined by constant ailment to her chair, for she cannot move herself without assistance. Her friends are forbidden to see her, as the least excitement proves injurious; and therefore a skillful nurse and a loving-hearted daughter are her only associates. But she does not wish for society; incessant pain renders her unable to converse much, and the exertion of speaking but a few words fatigues her sadly. Poor lady! the days have indeed come in which she has no pleasure; the grasshopper is become a burden; desire has failed; and fears are in the way. Her life has been a life full of good works; and now, withdrawn forever from her loved occupations, she must solace herself with the beautiful thought, "They also serve, who only stand and wait." It is a beautiful thought; she knows its truth; she feels its preciousness; her daily, constant prayer is, "May Your will be done."
Yet you must not imagine that her career of usefulness has ended — that it found its termination in that sick room. No; in that limited sphere, during that lingering illness, she has, perhaps, done more good than you or I have effected in our lifetime. How? That kind servant who waits upon her has lately grown thoughtful and pious, and she traces the happy change in her views and in her feelings to the sweet example of her dear mistress; not to her counsels, not to her persuasions — but to her example. She witnessed her patience, her fortitude, her serenity, her faith in Christ, her readiness to depart; and she felt how valuable that religion must be which could give such peace in life, such hope in death. She determined, with God's help, to make that religion her own; and now her mistress' last hours are cheered by the delightful knowledge that her grateful attendant has chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.
Glance now inside that lowly almshouse. There dwells a venerable man whose snow-white locks, bended frame, and tottering steps are plain indications that his physical energies are rapidly declining. Is he too old or too infirm to be useful? Almost, so far as active service is concerned, for he is both palsied and half blind; but the light of his example shines brightly still, and sheds a holy radiance on all who come within its reach. His upright conduct, his cheerful demeanor, his kind feelings, and his Heaven-like spirit — are perpetual living lessons to his neighbors and friends. More than one thoughtless visitor has left his humble abode with the impression, "Well, there is such a thing as real religion; I wish I were as good and as happy as that old man is." And many wavering or weary Christians have been strengthened for their earnest conflict through the remembrance of the simple faith and devotedness of this aged servant of God.
Does your life, your example, thus influence others for good? Are you an epistle known and read of all men? Does your character and conduct commend the religion of Christ? Is it your daily endeavor to "adorn" as well as profess the doctrine of God your Savior? Every Christian should look well to his example; it effects far more than his words, however well-chosen and well-expressed those words may be. But especially should the aged believer be careful to let his light shine brightly and steadily before men, because his sphere of usefulness being limited, he should make the most of those means which are still within his reach; and because soon, very soon, "the night comes," and then his opportunities on earth will be closed forever.
There is one other way that we must not overlook, in
which the aged Christian may advance Christ's kingdom in the world, and that
way is intercessory prayer. Weak and infirm, you may be unable to
converse about religion; poor, perhaps, in this world's riches, it is not in
your power to relieve the wants of the needy; but amidst your feebleness and
your poverty — you can shut your door and pray to your Father who sees in
secret. You can implore . . .
his support for the distressed;
his sympathy for the sorrowful;
his aid for the helpless;
his instruction for the ignorant;
his pardon for the sinful;
his grace for the undeserving.
You can plead with him on behalf of the heathen at home, and the heathen abroad. You can supplicate his blessing both for the queen upon her throne and the peasant in his cottage. Abraham interceded for Sodom; Job for his children; Moses for the Israelites; Jacob for his grandsons; the disciples for their persecuted brethren; the apostle for his beloved converts. Catch their spirit; follow in their steps; add to their success. "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
It is impossible to tell how richly the healthful dew of God's grace may rest upon parched and barren hearts; or how appropriately the gifts of his providence may be given to the abodes of poverty and need, through the instrumentality of those heartfelt petitions which you offer at the throne of grace. Eternity alone will fully disclose the blessings which have been linked with intercessory prayer.
Aged Christian! mourn not that your opportunities of usefulness are so few; rather rejoice that you are still permitted to have a place among the laborers in Christ's vineyard. Your department is a retired one; your employment is easy; but your path is marked out for you by the Master whom you serve. In wise considerateness he appoints to each laborer his position and his duties; and to all who honestly perform the work which he assigns — be it great or be it small — he will address those gracious words of commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant — enter you into the joy of your Lord!"
Yet you cannot but sigh sometimes when you reflect how little you are really able to do for the honor of God and the good of your fellow-men; your best services are so imperfect, your holiest efforts are so defiled. As life advances, you grow better acquainted with your own motives, and more enlightened respecting God's character and will; and the inevitable result is that you are humbled under the increasing consciousness of your sinfulness and your failures. Oh if you could but serve God as you desire to do! How unwearied, how unselfish, how unlimited would be your joyful obedience!
Wait awhile, and your longings shall be satisfied. In Heaven there will be no feebleness to retard your efforts, no imperfection to sully your actions. "His servants shall serve him." Without one difficulty or defect, they shall fulfill his varied behests and do his will. And as angels are now ministering spirits for the heirs of salvation, it is not improbable that glorified Christians will be frequently engaged on some errand of love to God's intelligent creatures. How welcome is this idea to those who feel half sorry when they consider that their work on earth is so near its close!