A Good Beginning
What a mercy it is to enter this world with a healthy body and sound constitution; how severely handicapped for this life, where the opposite is the case! What a blessing to be born into a Christian home, to receive our earliest impressions from pious parents, to be trained from infancy to walk in "the way of the LORD" (Gen 18:19)! What a difference it makes in the marital life, whether or not it opens with a consecration of the same to the Lord, and where the "family altar" is erected from the outset!
It is sadly true that a good beginning will not of itself ensure a good ending; yet if the former obtains not, it is unlikely that the latter will be attained. If the foundation is faulty, the superstructure erected thereon is insecure. Though it is not everything, a good beginning is much to be desired. The indolent youth rarely amounts to much subsequently. Certain it is, that as we sow in our earlier days we are made to reap later on. The same law holds good in the Christian life: the formation of good spiritual habits at an early stage does much to mold future character and conduct.
It is customary in the early days of January for our friends to wish us a happy New Year but what ground have we to expect that such a hope will be realized unless we begin the year aright? Certainly we are not justified in looking for the smile of God upon us if its dawn is celebrated with carnal gluttony and worldly jollification. That is to act as the heathen do. Nor may we count upon the providential blessing of the Lord, if He is not duly honored by us.
This is not to inculcate the doctrine of human merits, as though by any good deeds of ours, the Lord can be brought into debt to us. No indeed: rather is it a pointing out of our duty and an enforcing of God's rightful claims upon us. All of the Lord's dealings with His people are in grace, yet grace ever works "through righteousness" (Rom 5:21) and never at the expense of it. God has plainly declared, "those who honor me I will honor"; but on the other hand, "those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30). Ponder well those words, my reader, at the opening of 1949, and remember that "the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him" (Ezra 8:22).
Earnestly seek His glory and you will enjoy His blessing. Let us point out two or three things which are essential if the Christian reader is to make "a good beginning" in the new year.
First, he must start it with a clean slate. Alas, says the reader, that is impossible. I cannot undo the past. I am obliged to say, "What I have written, I have written, and I cannot erase it." True but God can! If your conversion was a genuine one, in the day of it, the Lord said, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions" (Isa 44:22). And what made such a miracle of grace legally possible? The atoning sacrifice of the Redeemer: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). And that precious blood is ever available for faith's appropriation. Then spend part of the closing hour of 1948 in putting your sins under the blood of Christ. Make a general confession, and then a particular one of every known sin, and make use of God's promise: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Plead the efficacy of Christ's blood. Make full use of that Fountain which has been "opened to the house of David [that is 'the beloved'] and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem [and every believer belongs to the 'Jerusalem which is above' (Gal 4:26)] for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1).
By sincere and penitent confession all sin may be purged from the conscience; and by a fresh application of the atoning blood of Christ all sin will be cleansed before God. Thus, you may and should begin the new year with a clean slate. That is your holy privilege, Christian friend. Nor is that statement any invention of ours, for in substance, it is clearly taught in the Scriptures. See it illustrated in Exodus 12. When the Lord's time had come for the children of Israel to leave the land of Egypt and enter upon a new stage of their history what did God require them to do? Three things:
First, "you shall put away leaven out of your houses" (Exo 12:15) "leaven" is one of the Scriptural emblems of evil (1 Corinthians 5:6; Gal 5:9); and the Christian puts it away when he abhors, mourns over, and confesses his sins before God, for it is then cast out of his affections.
Second, they placed themselves under the shed blood of the Lamb.
Third, they fed upon it "with bitter herbs" (Exo 12:8). Christ is only truly appropriated by a contrite soul, to whom sin is a bitter thing. Then the Lord gave orders: "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months" (Exo 12:2). Was not that "a good beginning" to start the year under the blood of the Lamb?
Second, thankfulness for past mercies. If we be not grateful for the blessings and bounties which God has already bestowed upon us how can we look for a continuation of them? Is it likely that the Holy One will place a premium upon ingratitude? It befits us to make hearty acknowledgment of the favors both spiritual and temporal which the Lord has lavished upon us. Alas that so many receive them as a matter of course and with hearts unaffected by the divine goodness. It is one of the foretold marks of graceless professors that in the "perilous times" they should be "unthankful," to which is immediately added, "unholy" (2 Timothy 3:1-2).
It behooves us, then, as we enter upon another period of life, to render praise to the Lord for past supplies and deliverances. See that illustrated in the case of Noah. As soon as he and his family emerged on to the new earth, which had been swept clean by the broom of destruction, he "built an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar" (Gen 8:20). Was not that "a good beginning": to express thanks for their gracious preservation from the flood? And we are told: "And the LORD smelled a sweet savor" (Gen 8:21): it was acceptable to Him. Then do you open 1949 by offering to Him a sacrifice of praise?
Third, a renewal of his consecration to God. The Christian life begins with a personal dedication to Him. They "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us" (2 Corinthians 8:5), which means that they made a complete surrender of themselves to Him, as the only suitable response to that great debt which can never be fully paid. There was an entire consecrating of themselves and all that they had to God in Christ, and a yielding of themselves to His accredited servants to be taught and directed by them the latter being the evidence of the former. Nothing less than that would give proof that they were genuinely devoted to His cause and interests here on earth.
But alas, how treacherous are our hearts! How soon is the "love of our espousals" (Jer 2:2) chilled! How quickly the things of this world draw us away from Christ, or the cares of this life unduly absorb us! How soon does the average Christian give the Lord cause to complain, "you have left your first love" the freshness and fervor which marked your conversion! And what is the remedy? "Repent [mourn over, confess, turn away from what has occasioned the sad failure], and do the first works" (Rev 2:4-5) that is, renew your dedication, make a fresh surrender of yourself to the Lord. Do so at the dawn of 1949, and that will indeed be "a good beginning." Definitely acknowledge afresh the everlasting claims which the love of Christ has upon you, and determine to spend and be spent for Him.
Fourth, a renewed resolve to live wholly for the honor of your Master. "Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Make that your motto, your constant aim, your earnest endeavor during 1949. That is the principal mark which distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian: that he serves not self but Christ, seeks not the praise of men but the approbation of God, aims not at his own advancement but at the magnifying of the Lord and the promoting of His interests. His opportunity for so doing in this scene of His rejection will soon be over.
The night swiftly hastens on when writer and reader will no longer have this privilege. Then let us seek grace to redeem the time (Eph 5:16) and enter the new year determined to do so. Our Master has left us an example so to do: "Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3). "I seek not mine own glory" (John 8:50), He declared. Completely and constantly devoted was He to the One whom He delighted to serve. How that was evinced in His first recorded utterance: "Don't you know that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). Was not that "a good beginning"? Then cry to Him for enablement to "follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21) more closely during 1949 than ever before!
A Good ContinuingJanuary, 1949
Our "New Year's" message (which appeared in the December issue) was entitled "A Good Beginning." This and the one in February are designed as sequels thereto. While a good beginning is much to be desired, it is not everything but rather a means to an end. If the ending is to be satisfactory, then we must continue well. Alas, how very few really do so! How rare it is to find a child of God who has preserved his early freshness and fervor! Of how many does it have to be said, "You have left your first love!" (Rev 2:4) Mark closely the verb employed there: it is not "you has lost your first love," as so frequently misquoted but something much more serious being referred to. One may lose a thing involuntarily but to leave "the love of your espousals" (Jer 2:2) implies deliberation, and is therefore more culpable. Hence, the one guilty thereof is bidden to "remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent" (Rev 2:5), which serves to explain what is there involved.
To "leave" our first love is to depart from that elevation of heart (the affections set upon things above) which formerly characterized us; to forsake the "mountain of myrrh" and "the hill of frankincense" (Song 4:6) previously trodden in fellowship with the eternal Lover of our souls. Many solemn examples are given in Scripture of those who made a promising start but later, belied the same.
Such was the case with Samson, of whom we read first, "The Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him" (Judges 13:24-25) but subsequently Delilah "began to afflict him, and his strength went from him And he knew not that the Lord was departed from him" (Judges 16:19-20).
How fair was the commencement of King Saul's public life but how terrible its termination! "The Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied" (1 Samuel 10:10); "But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1 Samuel 16:14).
How frequently do we see exemplified our Lord's description of the stony-ground hearer, "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away" (Mat 13:20-21). It was so under His own ministry: "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66) little wonder if such prove the case with those converted under our preaching. How soon after Pentecost were the ranks of the early church thinned by the defection and death of Ananias and Sapphira! Not only are many such individual cases recorded in the Scripture for our warning but a whole generation of Israel is set before us to tremblingly heed.
Behold upwards of half a million of them issuing forth from the house of bondage under the leadership of Moses. Hear them fervently singing the Lord's praises for His deliverance at the Red Sea. See them journeying unto, yes nearing, the promised inheritance. Alas, how tragic was the sequel! Only two of that vast host ever entered Canaan: of all the others, God swore "that they would not enter into his rest" (Heb 3:18), and their carcasses fell in the wilderness!
Does the reader object but they were not regenerate souls and therefore point no warning to Christians? We answer, Such a point does not have to be determined by us; sufficient to know that they were the people of God, in covenant relation with Him, and that the Holy Spirit declares they were "our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted," and bids us, "Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:6, 12). And again, "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (Heb 4:11).
Woe be unto those who presumptuously disregard such a danger-signal. Holy Scripture knows nothing of "Once saved always saved" irrespective of the subsequent life. The saving of the soul is a miracle of divine grace which produces supernatural effects. The one who has hitherto played the fool with the things of God and the eternal interests of his own soul is given "the spirit of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7), and the same is manifested by his now conducting himself sanely. There is placed within him a principle of holiness, in consequence of which he hates evil and is moved to strive against sin. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart, and that constrains unto a sincere endeavor to please Him in all things, and to glorify His great name. Hence, no one who returns to his wallowing in the mire has any divine warrant to regard himself as saved.
The saved are "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). Therefore, none is to be regarded as His "workmanship" who walk not in good works but who instead lead carnal and worldly lives.
Regeneration is but the commencement of the saving operations of the Holy Spirit, and those who are the favored subjects of them are assured, "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phi 1:6), causing them to grow in grace and become fruitful branches of the Vine.
Yet the divine work of grace in a soul is not carried forward mechanically without any concurrence on the part of its subjects. It is a fatal error to conclude that because the work of salvation and sanctification is a divine one that we have no responsibility in connection therewith. Scripture teaches the very opposite: we are exhorted to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in us (Phi 2:12-13). Grace is bestowed not to encourage idleness but to energize unto holy activity. The Spirit of God does not produce apathy but stirs those He indwells unto a diligent use of means. The one who was loudest in owning, "But by the grace of God I am what I am," hesitated not to add, "but I labored more abundantly than they all!" (1 Corinthians 15:10).
God always deals with His people as rational and accountable creatures. Unto those who believed on Him, the Lord Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed" (John 8:31), and not merely by lip profession. The apostles returned to their converts, "confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith," warning them that they "must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Act 14:22).
Walking that "narrow" way, which is the only one "which leads unto life" (Mat 7:14), is not the easy matter which so many vainly imagine. Rather does it call for self-denial, godly fear, circumspection, and persevering effort. "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him" (Col 2:6) must be heeded by us if we are to make a good continuance. How did we "receive Christ Jesus the Lord"? By ceasing to fight against Him, and throwing down the weapons of our rebellion. By determining to end a life of self-will, giving ourselves up to Him freely and wholly, consenting to be His forever. By penitently confessing our sins and trusting in His redeeming blood. By coming empty-handed to draw upon His fullness. How did we "receive" Him? As He is freely offered in the Gospel: "able also to save them to the uttermost all who come unto God by him" (Heb 7:25). As a whole Christ: a Prophet to teach, a Priest to atone, a King to reign over us. As a complete Savior: to deliver from the penalty of sin, cleanse from its pollution, free from its power; to sanctify as well as justify, purify, and ultimately glorify. "So walk you in him": continue as you began in subjection to, in dependence upon Him.
A Gospel faith must issue in Gospel practice. "Walking in Christ means living out of self, in conformity to Him. Only thus do we obtain evidence of having savingly "received" Him.
The genuineness of faith is always seen in what it produces. Alas, the walk of most professing Christians gives the lie to their talk. A good continuance is only made possible by our regular use of those means of grace which God has appointed for His people.
If the Word is neglected the soul will be starved.
If meditation is not practiced the heavenly manna will not be digested.
If prayer be omitted, or performed formally and mechanically fresh supplies of grace will not be obtained.
Unless the love of God is kept constantly before the heart the affections will soon cool.
Unless we draw daily upon Christ's mediatorial fullness we shall be feeble and incapable of wrestling with our foes.
Unless we tread the path of obedience Satan will quickly overcome us.
There must also be a right use of the means, or they will profit us nothing. The Word itself does not nourish unless faith be mixed with it (Heb 4:2). They must be used in a spirit of humble dependence on God, for they avail not apart from His blessing upon them. Put them not in the stead of Christ. Trust not in the mere use of them, as though your diligence therein ensured success. Yet they must be used patiently and perseveringly: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal 6:9).
A Good EndingFebruary, 1949
In order to a good ending, it is required that we heed the injunction, "Let us not be weary in well doing" (Gal 6:9). There has ever been a pressing need for God's people to pay attention to that word, for they meet with so many discouraging setbacks in their best efforts to mortify their lusts and develop their graces that they are very apt to become thoroughly discouraged, which produces a readiness to give ear unto that seductive whisper of Satan's, "What's the use?" But there is a special timeliness in this exhortation for our degenerate generation, when the vast majority of professing Christians are walking arm-in-arm with the world and the true believer himself is tempted to follow their evil example. If he is not to share their doom then he must not tread their path, for all who walk the broad road no matter how orthodox their beliefs, or what their church connections will most certainly find that it terminates in eternal and unbearable destruction!
"Well doing" consists of a sincere determination and endeavor to perform God's revealed will and a sincere effort to glorify Him. Unto those who continue so doing, the promise is given "for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." The "if" is not to be ignored, explained away, nor glossed over but taken just as it stands. To continue well is not only desirable but imperative and indispensable. There are many who appear to make an excellent start in the Christian life whose efforts are not sustained, and it has to be said of them, as of the Galatians in like case, "Who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?" (Gal 3:1). And observe well that the apostle did not say, "peace, peace," and assure them that God would certainly recover them out of the snare of the devil. Instead, he told them plainly and faithfully, "I am afraid for you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain" (Gal 4:11). So far was Paul from subscribing to the dangerous delusion which now prevails so widely that if a person has once "accepted Christ as his personal Savior," then all is well with him forever no matter to what extent he conforms to this world and indulges the lusts of the flesh. Paul declared, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Alas, that such a solemn warning should now be so criminally distorted, or disregarded. That verse has been woefully wrested by the "Dispensationalists," who make such a pretense of "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). They affirm that it merely relates to a being disqualified for and rejected from Christian "service." But the Greek word for "castaway" ("adokimos") is never used of anyone's being set aside from the ministry but in every instance refers to "something" much more serious and fatal namely to a being abandoned by God. It is translated "rejected" of the ground which bears "thorns and briers" (Heb 6:8), and "reprobate" in the other six passages, among which are Romans 1:28; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:16! In the context of 1 Corinthians 9:27, the apostle likens the Christian life and conflict, unto the running of a race and the engaging in a wrestling contest (verses 24 and 25), both of which call for strenuous effort, strict self-discipline and self-denial (verse 25). In verse 26, he changes the figure from running to boxing, and then applies the same to himself, making his body the antagonist (verse 27).
By a synecdoche (in which a part is made to comprehend the whole the "body" represents his entire sinful nature: compare the "body of sin" (Rom 6:6), "the body of this death" (Rom 7:24), "mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth [namely, the lusts of]; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (Col 3:5), where in each case, the allusion is to the totality of our inward corruptions.
Even so strong a Calvinist as Charles Hodge (1797-1878), in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, said upon 9:27, "It was not merely his sensual nature that Paul endeavored to bring into subjection but all the propensities and passions of his heart He made these strenuous exertions, lest, having preached the Gospel to others, he himself should become a reprobate, one rejected. What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a lifelong struggle for his salvation. This same apostle, however, who evidently acted on the principle that the righteous scarcely are saved, and that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, at other times breaks out in the most joyful assurance of salvation, and says that he was persuaded that nothing in heaven, earth, or hell, could ever separate him from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39). The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other."
It is only those who heed God's solemn warnings, who recognize the perils which beset their souls, who assiduously employ the means of grace which He has provided for their preservation who are entitled to appropriate the comfort found in the divine promises concerning the eternal security of the saints.
It was not that Paul expected to become a "castaway," but that he tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:27, what he did (and what we must do) in order to prevent such a catastrophe. He was not one who fondly dreamed of being "carried to heaven on flowery beds of ease," but rather was engaged in fighting the good fight of faith, seeking to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil knowing full well that unless he did so, he would be fatally overcome by them.
But it will be asked, Is not every regenerate soul "kept by the power of God" (1 Peter 1:5)? Certainly he is. But how, and where? Not by preserving him in the ways of utter worldliness, self-will, and self-pleasing but rather by leading him into the paths of righteousness; and when he wanders, restoring him thereto; by moving him to resist temptation, avoid the perils which menace, and conduct himself soberly and circumspectly.
God's power does not keep us mechanically, without any concurrence on our part; but as 1 Peter 1:5 goes on to say, "through faith": that is, through working in us a spirit of dependence upon God and obedience to Him. Believers are kept by divine power moving them to deny self, take heed to their ways, flee temptation, and by causing them to seek grace from above and to draw strength from Christ.
But does not Scripture expressly teach the final perseverance of all saints? Of saints yes but not of graceless professors or white-washed worldlings! Of thousands of them it is written, "This man began to build, and was not able to finish" (Luke 14:30); and again, "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Peter 2:20).
The final perseverance of the saints taught in God's Word is not their preservation in a course of self-gratification and sin but a perseverance in faith, obedience, and holiness. "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (Mat 10:22), and no others will be saved! Thus, it is imperative to heed that word, "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end" (Heb 3:14), which is very far from signifying a "presumptuous persuasion" that heaven is sure no matter what road I tread.
"Our confidence," as the context shows, is our "profession" (Heb 3:1); and to hold it "unto the end" is to continue supplying evidence of the genuineness of our profession, to "continue in the faith grounded and settled" (Col 1:23), to heed the exhortations in Hebrews 3:12 and 13, and the warnings in Hebrews 4:1, 11.
"Conversion is a turning into the right road; the next thing is to walk in it. The daily going on in the road is as essential as the first starting, if we would reach the desired end. To strike the first blow is not all the battle; to him who overcomes, is the crown promised. To start in the race is nothing; many have done that, who have failed; but to hold out until you reach the winning-post is the great point of the matter. Perseverance is as essential to man's salvation as conversion!" Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
We must not only begin well, but continue well if we are to end well. Unless we can truly say, "For to me to live is Christ," we are but deceiving ourselves if we imagine that "to die is gain" (Phi 1:21). Alas, if the vast majority of professing Christians were honest, they would be obliged to aver, "For to me to live is pleasure money-making or social prestige"; and for them to die is eternal loss, for they must not only leave behind their idols but enter a hopeless eternity. Face the issue squarely, my reader: is it "For me to live is to gratify self" OR "For me to live is Christ" to seek to please and honor Him? Only if the latter is the case will you end well.
A Good Ending
The former article under this title was designed chiefly for those who have come under the baneful influence of a popular type of "Eternal Security" teaching, wherein the responsibility of the saints is utterly ignored. We therefore emphasized the Scriptural fact that to begin well and to continue well are absolutely indispensable if the believer is to end well. In this article, we propose to define more closely what is signified by a good ending, and then point out some of the duties which must be attended to by the Christian, in order for him to experience the same.
There is a sense in which everyone who continues to tread that narrow way which leads unto Life has a good ending; for whatever falls he had therein, he rose up again (Pro 24:16) and held on his way (Job 17:9), neither making shipwreck of the faith (1 Timothy 1:19) nor turning the grace of God into a license for sin (Jude 4). Upon their removal from the world such have ceased from all sin and sorrow, and that is indeed a good ending.
But there is another sense in which many real Christians do not have a good ending to their earthly career: their growth in grace is arrested, their testimony for the Lord does not honor Him as it once did, they can no longer be described as burning and shining lights; rather are they more or less under a cloud before they pass away from this scene rusting, instead of wearing out.
It is often said that the young Christian is the one who most of all needs to tread warily in order to escape the snares of Satan, that it is the babes in Christ who are in the greatest danger of bringing reproach upon His holy name. But neither Scripture nor observation confirms this view. Was it in their earlier years or their later that Noah, Isaac, Moses, and David conducted themselves so carnally? On the other hand, how signally was the Lord honored by Joseph, Samuel, Josiah, and Daniel in the days of their youth! The fact is, that each stage of the spiritual life has its own peculiar temptations and perils; and there is just as urgent a need for the most mature saint to walk cautiously as there is for the one who has only just commenced his spiritual pilgrimage.
While it is true that the longer a believer follows on to know the Lord, the stronger he should become in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1) yet the more on his guard must he be against becoming puffed up with his attainments. It is also true that old age is accompanied by infirmities of both mind and body; yet for the Christian, it should also be marked by an increasing dependence upon the Lord and a proving of the sufficiency of His grace. There is abundant reason for the Christian to go "from strength to strength" (Psalm 84:7) and "from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). He has the infallible Word of God in his hands, "so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17). He has access to the Throne of Grace, where he may ever "obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16). He is divinely assured that, "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa 40:31). He has the mediatorial fullness of Christ to draw upon (John 1:16).
He has the comforting promises of the living God to rest in: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isa 41:10). "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" (Isa 46:4). "But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phi 4:19). Then ought we not to exclaim, "I will trust and not be afraid" (Isa 12:2) and "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil" (Psalm 23:4).
While it is the case, that the Holy Spirit has recorded for our warning the sad follies and falls committed by some saints in their old age, He has also described for our encouragement and emulation the good ending of others. "For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God" (Heb 11:5). Joshua's career finished as brightly as it commenced. "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:12). To the close of his long life, Daniel glorified the Lord: he "prospered in the reign of Darius [as well as Nebuchadnezzar's], and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (Dan 6:28). How many a spiritual Gaddite has proved by experience, "a troop [of lusts and temptations] shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last" (Gen 49:19). "Mark the perfect [sincere] man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace" (Psalm 37:37). Probably most of us have personally witnessed such cases.
Then why should not the writer and the reader receive fulfillment of that promise, "It shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light" (Zechariah 14:7). But in order thereto we must maintain fellowship with Him who is "light" (1 John 1:5). "He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).
"But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phi 3:13-14). Those words were penned by Paul as he neared the end of his course, and they should be translated into prayer by all elderly saints. As we advance in years there is a strong tendency to live too much in the past. As there is a sinful forgetfulness so there is a hindering remembrance. It is indeed incumbent upon us to take notice, with thankfulness, of those portions of the wilderness through which the Lord has already led us, and to raise our Ebenezers for the same (1 Samuel 7:12). It is equally our duty to "leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity" (Heb 6:1).
"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus!" Philippians 3:13-14.
We should assuredly cherish in our hearts the previous deliverances and mercies which God has given us; and yet there is a sense in which we should forget them. We should keep them in mind in order to promote thanksgiving and deepen confidence in God; but not allow the recollection of them to produce slackness in diligently seeking further blessings from Him. Do not be content with the measure of grace, knowledge, and growth already granted but continue to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31).
So far as remembrance of the past humbles and makes us walk more softly such an exercise of the mind is helpful; but if it dispirits and enervates it is harmful. Like all of our faculties, the memory can be cultivated or neglected, put to both a good and a bad use. We should frequently review the past in order to learn the lessons it may teach us, and to profit from our mistakes; but we must not become so cast down over the failures of yesterday that we are disqualified for the discharge of today's duties. It is far from honoring the Lord, if we allow the sins of our youth to fill us with dejection and despair; if they have been repented of and confessed then we should leave them under the blood of Christ.
Nor is it at all a healthy sign for the soul to be always harping upon and resting in the blissful experience of conversion; rather, should he see to it that he is now in a right attitude toward the Lord, and rejoicing in Him.
Losses and bereavements must not be dwelt upon by us so as to produce perpetual gloominess; seek to cheer other distressed souls with the comfort with which you have been comforted of God (2 Corinthians 1:4). The racer retards his progress by glancing back at the ground already covered: his task is to keep his eyes steadily on the finishing line.
In John 15, when speaking of the branches of the true vine, Christ made mention of "fruit," "more fruit" (verse 2), and "much fruit" (verses 5, 8): such proportions ought to characterize, respectively, the babes, young men, and fathers in Christ. A lengthy acquaintance with the Lord, and deepening experience in His goodness and mercy should issue in increasing fruitfulness. That fruit is described, in part, in Galatians 5:22-23. As we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord will there not be increasing love for, joy in, and peace from Him? Has not God promised, "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age" (Psalm 92:14)? But, says the aged pilgrim, I feel so helpless and useless. Ah, patient submission to God's will, contentment with His appointments, and gratitude for His provisions are also a part of spiritual "fruit." Nor need you be inactive, though confined to your bed. You now have leisure, denied to those earning their bread, and mothers of young families to engage in the holy work of intercession for God's servants and people. Seek to be an example of cheerfulness. Remember, "The hoary head is a crown of glory if it is found in the way of righteousness" (Pro 16:31), otherwise, it is a disgrace to Christ and a stumbling-block to the young!