Words in Season
"Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone!" Psalm 71:9
"Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God." Psalm 71:18
Aged believer! you feel your dependence upon God for support and support. If he should forsake you, if he should cast you off, you would indeed be helpless and hopeless! But you rejoice in the assurance that this can never be realized. You know that he will never leave you to bear up alone the pressure of your trials and infirmities; that he will never relax the grasp which enfolds you in his love. And therefore your prayer is rather the expression of confidence, than the apprehension of fear. You ask for that which he has promised, which you are certain he will grant — the continuance of his gracious aid.
In youthful days, it may be, in healthful hours — you found that without him, you were weak and unprotected; and now in the time of old age, when your strength fails — you are more deeply conscious of your need of his help. Well, ask and you shall receive; cast your burden, cast yourself upon him, and he will sustain you. Fear not, for he is with you; be not dismayed, for he is your God; he will strengthen you; yes, he will help you; yes, he will uphold you with the right hand of his righteousness. These things will he do unto you, and will never forsake you.
"Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come." Psalm 71:17-18
"Since my youth, O God, you have taught me." How encouraging it is to look back to our early life, and recognize the goodness of God in its varied events! He was our Guide, our Instructor, our Father. He restrained us from evil; counseled us in difficulty, directed us in uncertainty; preserved us through danger. All the knowledge which we have gained of his character, of his will, of ourselves, of futurity — he has communicated to us. And how gradual, how wise, how gentle are his teachings! How patiently has he borne with our ignorance and forgetfulness! how tenderly has he imparted his most difficult lessons! And though we have been dull and wayward scholars, though we have not profited as we might have done by his Divine instructions, yet we know, if we are disciples of Christ, that we have so learned of him as to find rest unto our souls. We have learned to rely upon his strength, to depend upon his faithfulness, to trust in his righteousness.
"And to this day I declare your marvelous deeds." Grateful for his favors towards us, we have striven to live to his praise and show forth his glory. It has been our aim to communicate to others the knowledge which we have received. "We have spoken of his goodness to those around us. We have not been ashamed of his gospel, nor indifferent to his honor.
"Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God." Those who have been taught of God from their youth, and have made it the business of their lives to serve and honor him, may be sure that he will not leave them when they are old and gray-headed.
"In early years you were my guide,
And of my youth the friend;
And as my days began with you,
With you my days shall end."
"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
Ah, Christian, here is ground for your confidence in God. You have his promise that he will be with you in your old age, to support you under its infirmities, and therefore you are cheerful and tranquil. Listen to the testimony of an aged pilgrim: "What a comfort it is, as we get old and feeble, and friends drop off one after another, to remember that our God does not change! He says to us, 'I am he;' the same that I ever was; 'I am he;' the Lord who preserved and guided you from your infancy; 'I am he:' all that I have promised to be to you, all that you can possibly need. 'And even to gray hairs will I carry you.' What tender and expressive language! How can we help trusting in such a mighty and loving Friend? Whether we look at the present or the future, there is no room for fear. Those who can walk have his rod and staff to help and comfort them; and those who cannot walk find that his ever lasting arms are beneath them, and that they are borne safely onwards. We are like children, who, when they are weak and tired, are carried in a father's arms, and lifted over difficulty and danger."
Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sov'reign eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when grey hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
"Gray hair is a crown of glory; if it is gained by living a godly life." Proverbs 16:31
Old age is honorable, and commands respect. "You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man." But we cannot expect to receive true and lasting deference from others, unless our character is calculated to win their esteem. Superiority in age — should be combined with superiority in moral excellence. Multitude of years should teach wisdom. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if" — mark that, "if it is gained by living a godly life." If it be found in the way of wickedness, its honor is forfeited, its crown profaned and laid in the dust.
How is it with you, reader? Are you sanctified through faith in Christ? are you "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless?" Oh, how lovely and dignified is old age, when marked by piety and consistency!
"When piety adorns declining years,
The hoary head a glorious crown appears;
A dignity no earthly rank bestows
Marks the believer then; and sweet repose
Is stamped upon his features; all who gaze
Revere his person, and his virtues praise."
"Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil." Hebrews 6. 19.
A vessel was driving ashore. Her anchors were gone, and she refused to obey the helm. A few moments more and she would strike. If any would be saved, they must be tossed by the waves on the beach. In the midst of the general consternation, there was one person quite calm. He had done all that a man could do to prepare for the worst when the wreck was inevitable; and now that death was apparently near, he was quietly waiting the event. A friend of his asked the reason of his calmness in the midst of danger so imminent: "Do you not know that the anchor is gone, and we are drifting upon the coast?"
"Certainly I do; but I have an anchor to the soul." On this was his trust. It entered into that within the veil. It was the ground of his confidence in the storm, and enabled him to ride securely in the view of instant and awful death.
Have you this anchor, reader? Is the hope of the gospel yours? Amidst the storms and trials of life, and in the prospect of danger and death — are you calm and trustful, assured that you will soon be admitted into the haven of everlasting peace?
Or are you destitute of this hope? "Without it, how can you be happy? Without it, what will you do in the swellings of Jordan? It may be yours — yours even now — if you will seek it, if you will accept it. The gift of God is eternal life. Confidence in him — faith in Christ — will link your tempest-tossed, troubled, and perishing spirit — with perpetual repose and security — with the unseen glories of Heaven.
"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green!" Psalm 92:12-14
The palm tree, to which God's people are in this psalm compared, is remarkable for its lengthened and increasing fruitfulness. The best dates are said to be gathered when it has reached a hundred years. How beautiful an emblem of the aged believer, growing in grace and maturing in holiness to the close of his earthly existence! Each day, each year, added to his life — adds to the loveliness and perfection of his Christian virtues. His character has a mellowness and sweetness, which it lacked in earlier seasons. He is ripening for Heaven. In knowledge, in wisdom, in love, in humility, in gentleness, in patience, in peace, in usefulness, in happiness — he is steadily and constantly advancing. He is filled with the Spirit, and therefore brings forth the fruits of the Spirit.
Is this portraiture of an aged Christian yours, reader? Alas, it does not belong to all who profess and call themselves by the Savior's name. Nay, it may be feared that there are some, really and manifestly his, to whom it bears but little resemblance. They have long been "planted" in the house of the Lord — but they do not appear to "flourish" in the courts of our God; and as years augment, they seem to imagine that the infirmities of old age are excuses for their little fruitfulness. But they certainly never gathered such an idea from God's Word, nor rightly studied and pleaded his promises to themselves.
Follow not their example. Rest not satisfied with past attainments. Strive to glorify God more than you have ever yet done. Let your last days be your best days; your last fruit, the richest. "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that you may approve things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."
"How beautiful to see
The clustered fruit upon the bending tree!
Yet lovelier still the graces which adorn
The soul that's Heaven-born.
And age does not diminish — but increase
The precious fruits of love, and joy, and peace,
And gentleness, and patience; at life's close
Each Christian virtue more luxuriant grows."
"My times are in Your hands!" Psalm 31:15
Then I am sure that they will be wisely ordered. You have all power in Heaven and in earth; you are acquainted with the end from the beginning; everything is subject to your control, and the future to you is as the present; therefore there can be no mistake in your purposes — no imperfection in your plans.
"My times are in your hands!" Then I will not be anxious nor distressed about the future. Varied may be the times which I have yet to experience — times of sorrow or joy; of poverty or plenty; of sickness or health; of life or death; but I can calmly leave them to your disposal. I cannot foresee the events which your providence appoints — but I can wait and trust. The period and the manner of my departure hence are unknown to me — but I am free from all solicitude on these points, because you have arranged them for the best.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" Psalm 103:1, 2.
How animating is the sight of an aged Christian, who is rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and furnishing, by daily conduct — a bright example to others of cheerfulness and gratitude! His life is a psalm of thanksgiving; his happy look and thankful spirit fill his home with sunshine, and cast their radiance on all around him. It is impossible to be long in his society, without feeling gladdened and invigorated by it. You can scarcely tell why — but you feel less disposed to complain, and more inclined to rejoice, than you did before. Your own path seems to grow more hopeful and promising; you are reminded of mercies, which you had hitherto forgotten; and the troubles which you thought so heavy, insensibly grow lighter. The fact is, that for a time at least, you have caught his spirit and imbibed his tone of mind.
A lovely instance of real and sustained cheerfulness was the late justly celebrated William Wilberforce. "A stranger might have noticed that he was more uniformly cheerful than most men of his time of life. Closer observation showed a vein of Christian feeling, mingling with and purifying the natural flow of a most happy temper; while those who lived most continually with him, could trace distinctly in his tempered sorrows, and sustained and almost childlike gladness of heart — the continual presence of that peace which the world can neither give nor take away. The pages of his later journal are full of bursts of joy and thankfulness; and with his children and his chosen friends his full heart swelled out ever in the same blessed strains; he seemed too happy not to express his happiness; his song was ever of the loving-kindness of the Lord." Everything became with him a cause for thanksgiving. When some of the infirmities of years began to press upon him, "What thanks do I owe to God," was his reflection, "that my declining strength appears likely not to be attended with painful diseases — but rather to lessen gradually and by moderate degrees! How good a friend, God is to me! When I have any illness, it is always so mitigated and softened as to give me scarcely any pain. 'Bless the Lord, O my soul.' What thanks do I owe to my gracious and kind Heavenly Father!"
And so, when one of his friends had passed through a painful operation, "Seldom," he says, "have I felt anything so deeply. How thankful should I be to be spared such trials, my strength not being equal to them! I humbly commit myself unto Him who surely has given me reason to say, Goodness and mercy have followed me all my days!"
Aged Christian, do you sympathize with these feelings? do you share this thankfulness? do you manifest this gladness? "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace." Every allowance must be made for natural temperament. Some people are naturally optimistic and cheerful; others are naturally gloomy and desponding. But, in either case, the promises of the gospel, if simply believed and heartily appropriated, cannot fail to gladden the heart and influence the conduct. And it is no less our duty than our privilege, to "rejoice in the Lord always;" to "show forth his loving-kindness in the morning, and his faithfulness every night;" to "be thankful unto him, and bless his name." We must cultivate this joyous and grateful frame of mind; we must strive by meditation, practice, and prayer — to acquire or to strengthen it; for we ought no more to dishonor God by our unhappiness and unthankfulness — than by our unholiness.
The weakness and the infirmities of old age sometimes tend to depress our spirits and dim our hopes. Therefore let us be upon our guard; and instead of giving way to discontent and despondency, let us count up our mercies, and look more steadfastly on the bright side of things; and as often as we do, this sadness will be chased from our brow, and the self-exhortation to praise will burst from our lips: "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
"Farewell to sadness,
Let every tear depart;
Wake all to gladness,
Wake, O my heart!
Shall worldly triflers raise the song
O'er pleasures they must lose before long?
And shall not those rejoice and sing
Who love the Heavenly King?
Let saints on earth unite their voice
With saints that round the throne rejoice;
And here begin the song that through
Eternal years is new!"
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day!" 2 Corinthians 4:16
"We must, of necessity," says a celebrated writer, "become better or worse as we advance in years. Unless we endeavor to spiritualize ourselves, and supplicate in this endeavor for that grace which is never withheld when it is sincerely and earnestly sought, age infirms us more and more, and the older we grow, the more are we imbruted and debased — so manifestly is the text verified which warns us that, 'Unto every one who has, shall be given; and from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away."
In some, the soul seems gradually to be absorbed and extinguished in its crust of clay; in others, as if it purified and sublimed the vehicle to which it was united. Nothing therefore is more beautiful than a wise and pious old age; nothing so pitiable as the latter stages of mortal existence, when the world, and the flesh, and that false philosophy which is of the devil, have secured the victory for the grave."
Aged Christian, thank God for the strengthening and invigorating grace which he imparts to you. Your earthly frame is weak and enfeebled; it has lost its vigor and elasticity; it is harassed with pain and infirmity; it must soon die. But while your body decays — your soul thrives. If the one is preparing for the grave — the other is ripening for glory. Your faith grows firmer, your hope stronger, your love deeper, your views clearer.
"For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!" 2 Corinthians 4:17
"In visiting," writes a clergyman, "a poor man who has been bed-ridden for twenty-five years, I was preparing to pity him — but he called on me to rejoice.
"Are you not wearied out with the length of your afflictions?"
"Wearied, sir!" said he; "no, nature will soon faint — but God sustains me. I could lie here for another twenty-five years, if it pleased God. I have found this sick-bed to be the very gate of Heaven. Length of my affliction, sir! Oh, let me not call it long — it is short, very short, and will soon be over. These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Is not God all love? He cannot then be unkind. Is he not all wise? He cannot then do wrong. Are not his promises yes and amen in Christ Jesus? He cannot then break his Word. None who have trusted him have repented of it. Oh, sir, I dare not complain. My affliction is a mercy!"
Troubled and afflicted Christian, remember, the troubles of earth will enhance the joys of Heaven. And, compared with that weight of glory which is prepared for you above — are not your sorrows light? Measured by the eternity of the happiness you anticipate — is not their duration that of a moment? Murmur not at the present; think of the future. How striking the contrast! how glorious the change!