How solemn is the period of old age! When the body is feeble, and bends toward the grave; and the mind, if clear, is filled with the retrospect of time and the prospect of eternity. When the hoary hairs, the wrinkled skin, the dim eye, the dull ear, the silvery voice, the trembling hand, the tottering step, betoken nature's decay and the final passing away from this world, the putting off of this tabernacle, and the entrance into the spiritual and eternal state. How repulsive is old age to the worldly mind! How many strive to keep the bloom of youth or the vigor of manhood! How many would fain deceive others, how many would fain deceive themselves, respecting the advances of age! How perfectly unprofitable do the years of decrepitude seem to the carnal eye! How peculiarly precious, therefore, are those promises and effects of the gospel, which make the old age to the eye of faith perhaps the most happy and fruitful period of life.
The psalmist describing the righteous, who are planted in the house of the Lord, comparing them to the palm-tree and the cedar of Lebanon, says, "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." There is a beauty in the old age of the Christian. "His leaf shall not wither." The frosts and storms and droughts of a lifetime have not checked his growth. He is, like the cedar and the palm, ever green. Where on earth is a lovelier sight, to the eye that can discern true spiritual beauty, than an aged saint, ready to fall into the grave, but leaning upon the Lord; the outward man perishing, but the inward man firm and strong; the darkness of night gathering, but only setting forth the radiance of his holiness. The bloom of eternal youth is seen beneath the snowy locks of age. How delightfully is the eye relieved to see scattered amongst the naked, moaning trees of yonder mountain the stately pines and cedars, even in midwinter, dressed in the verdure of spring. Yet "not Lebanon with all its trees," yields so beautiful and sublime a sight as the hoary head, which is found in the way of righteousness.
But there is more beauty and sublimity here. "They shall still bring forth fruit." The believer, under the infirmities of age especially, if his life has been of active Christian labor, is no doubt often tempted to think that his work is done; that he can be of no more use to the world, and may as well be removed. But this is not the prompting of true religion. The true servant of God is not only willing to "wait all the days of his appointed time, till his change come," but feels that God is lengthening out his feeble life for a purpose. It is not hard for such an one to see what that purpose may be. On the other hand, some on whom the burden of years is heavy, are troubled because they cannot do more in the active service of God. While they feel that God is prolonging their life that they may still bear fruit, they feel as if they were bearing no fruit. They should reflect that they may serve God and benefit others by suffering as well as by acting.
Patience is perhaps the brightest of the Christian graces, because it shines amidst darkness. Let not the aged soldier of the cross think that he can do nothing for his Master, so long as he can suffer for him. Suffering is, with the true Christian, doing. The Christian spirit of submission is not far from that of active obedience. It is an element of that spirit of heavenly strength, by which the believer overcomes all evil, controls it all, and makes it serve his own religious improvement. It turns the sword into the ploughshare, and the spear into the pruning hook; the instruments of destruction into implements of divine husbandry for his good. Whence does this spirit of submission come? Not form the natural heart, as the cold resignation of the Stoic, to his fate, but from Christ. It is the Spirit of Christ, working in the believer, to will and to do.
In Christ it is said, "Not my will, but thine be done." It makes the Christian say the same. In Christ it said, "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down, and I have power to take it again." In Paul it said, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." In every believer it ought to say the same. "I take this burden upon myself. Neither God, nor man, nor Satan, forces it upon me against my will. I know, that I, like the Captain of my salvation, am to be made perfect through suffering. I willingly, gladly suffer, as of my own accord. I lay down my life, that I may take it again. I live by Christ living in me; and I know that in him I have power to lay down my life, and have power to take it again." This is the real character of the Christian spirit of submission. With it, suffering and acting are one. How it changes the character of all affliction! How it lightens the burden, cheers the gloom, strengthens the weakness, and fills with activity the otherwise unprofitable hours of old age!
Thus the aged disciple brings forth fruit, if in no other way, still by his example of patient waiting in Christian hope; by showing to those who would say, Where now is your God? that the Lord does not cast off his people in the time of old age; that religion outlives the decay of nature, and cheers the saint to the end with a hope which no delay of the promise can impair.
Dec. 1, 1855
Elder Gilbert Beebe