The Problem of Christian Old Age
J. R. Miller
"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. Paul has a cheering thought about the undecaying inner life. The outward man, he says, always decays—but the inner man is renewed day by day. This teaching is full of comfort for those who are advancing in years. The problem of Christian old age—is to keep the heart young and full of all youth's joy, however feeble and broken the body may become. We need to be most watchful lest we allow our life to lose its zest and deteriorate in its quality, when old age begins to creep in. Hopes of achievement appear to be ended for us—our work is almost done, we think. Sometimes people, as they grow old, become less sweet, less beautiful in spirit. Troubles, disasters, and misfortunes have made the days hard and painful for them. Perhaps health is broken, and suffering is added to the other elements which make old age unhappy.
Renan, in one of his books, recalls an old legend of buried city on the coast of Brittany. With its homes, public buildings, churches and thronged streets—it sank instantly into the sea. The legend says that the city's life goes on as before, down beneath the waves. The fishermen, when in calm weather they row over the place, think they sometimes can see the gleaming tips of the church spires deep in the water, and fancy they can hear the chiming of the bells in the old belfries and even the murmur of the city's noises.
There are men who in their old age seem to have an experience like this. Their life of youthful hopes, dreams, successes, loves and joys, has been sunk out of sight, submerged in misfortunes and adversities, and has vanished altogether. Nothing remains of it all but a memory. In their discouragement they often think sadly of their past, and seem to hear the echoes of the old songs of hope and joy, and to catch visions of the old beauty and splendor. But that is all. Nothing real is left. Their spirits have grown hopeless and bitter. Guthrie, as he grew feeble, spoke of his bald head, his trembling steps, his dullness of hearing, his dimness of eye.
But this is not worthy living, for those who are immortal, who were born to be children of God. The hard things are not meant to mar our life—they are meant to make us only the braver, the worthier, and the nobler. It is not meant that the infirmities of old age shall break through into our inner life; that should grow all the more beautiful—the more the outer life is broken. The shattering of the old mortal tent, should reveal more and more of the glory of the divine life which dwells within.
Do you ever think, you who are growing old, that old age ought really to be the very best of life? We are too apt to settle down to the feeling, that with our infirmities, we cannot any longer live beautifully, worthily, usefully, or actively. But this is not the true way to think of old age. We should reach our best then in every way.
Old age should be the best—the very best, of all life! It should be the most beautiful, with the flaws mended, the faults cured, the mistakes corrected, the lessons learned. Youth is full of immaturity. Midlife is full of toil and care, strife and ambition. Old age should be as the autumn with its golden fruit. We ought to be better Christians than ever we have been before; more submissive to God's will; more content, more patient and gentle, kindlier and more loving—when we grow old. We are drawing nearer to heaven every day—and our visions of the Father's house should be clearer and brighter. Old age is the time of harvest; it should not be marked by emptiness and decay—but by richer fruitfulness and more gracious beauty. It may be lonely, with so many gone of those who used to cluster about the life—but the loneliness will not be for long, for it is drawing nearer continually to all the great company of godly friends, waiting in heaven.
Old age may be feeble—but the marks of feebleness are really foretokens of glory. Old people have no reason for sadness—they are really in their best days! Let them be sure to live now at their best. Paul was growing old when he wrote of his enthusiastic vision of beauty yet to be attained—but we hear no note of depression or weariness in him. He did not think of his life as done. He showed no consciousness that he had passed the highest reach of living. He was still forgetting the past and reaching forth, because he knew that the best was yet before him. His outward man was feeble, his health shattered, his physical vigor decaying—but the inner man was undecayed and undecaying. He was never before so Christ-like as he was now, never so full of hope, never so enthusiastic in his service of his Master.
Those who are growing old should show the ripest spiritual fruitfulness. They should do their best work for Christ in the days which remain. They should live their sweetest, gentlest, kindliest, most helpful life in the short time which they have yet to remain in this world. They should make their years of old age—years of quietness and peace, and joy—a holy eventide. But this can be the story of their experiences only if their life be hid with Christ in God. Apart from Christ, no life can keep its zest or its radiance!