The Aged Christian

Charles Buck, 1855

There cannot be a more melancholy sight than an aged person insensible to religion, and hardened in the ways of iniquity. To see a person on the verge of eternity, who has devoted all his life to ungodliness, who is still unmindful of the interests of the immortal soul, deaf to reproof, and abandoned to vice, is of all things the most affecting. Who can behold such an object without pity, without sorrow, without the most lively concern? Who, possessed of the least benevolent feeling, but must say, "O that such were wise, that they understood, that they did but consider their latter end!" Deuteronomy 32:29.

On the contrary, what a pleasing, what an interesting sight to behold the aged turning their back upon the world, walking in the path of godliness, and longing for a better state! "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness." Proverbs 16:31.

Piety is always ornamental. In youth, how lovely and amiable! In middle age, how bright and useful! But in old age, how venerable, how commanding, how respectful!

This is, indeed, a crown of glory, which, notwithstanding the decrepitude of the physical frame, and the decay of the intellectual powers, yet adorns the possessor, and reflects a splendor in the circle where he moves. How delightful to behold the aged Christian contemplating with gratitude the divine conduct towards him, and still ardently imploring the continuance of the divine blessing! How pleasant to hear him, with the psalmist, saying, "O God, you have taught me from my youth, and hitherto have I declared your wondrous works. Now also, when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not, until I have showed your strength unto this generation, and your power to everyone that is to come." Psalm 71:17, 18.

But we are not going to draw the aged Christian as the picture of perfection. Allowing that he may have greater claims both to knowledge and experience than others—yet it must be remembered that he is still in the flesh, and consequently subject to sins and infirmities. Yes, there are some things which are more peculiar to old age than to any other part of human life, and which even the best and wisest Christians in that stage find too powerfully operating in their own hearts.

The weakness brought on by length of years often disposes them to be peevish and fretful. A little thing makes an impression on their spirits. They are ready to imagine everything militates against them. They will hardly indulge the young in a sprightly conversation, or a lawful vivacity. As the powers begin to be contracted, and the senses lose their accustomed operation, the mind often sinks into a state of gloom, and this gloom becomes a medium through which they are apt to look at surrounding objects. Hence their complaints that everything is worse than formerly; that the present age is so much inferior to the past. "Do not say: 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." Ecclesiastes 7:10

How often does covetousness also strive to predominate at this time of life! How many fears perplex the minds of the aged, lest, during the remaining small portion of their lives, something should happen to deprive them of their property, or expose them to poverty! How do they sometimes forget the Providence which has always attended them, and act as if they thought they were destined to live many years, as if there were many needs to be supplied, and as if the same kind Providence would not take care of them when they shall be once more reduced to that state when they can not take care of themselves.

These things too often injure the minds of many; and hence arises that lukewarmness to be seen in some aged professors. It is a sad thing, however, to behold Christians declining as they draw near the grave. For to be anxious about the world when we are going to leave it, indicates a heart little influenced by grace; and is as inconsistent as for a man to adorn himself with gold and silver just as he is going to bed. While, therefore, the natural infirmities of the aged demand tenderness, and excite our sympathy, yet we cannot but pity and deplore the case of those who make complaints, indulge avarice, and imbibe a worldly spirit.

Aged Christians in general, however, have not so learned Christ. They feel these evils, indeed, struggling within them, while they often stop and drop a tear that they who are on the confines of Heaven should at any time feel themselves alive to the world. It is not their element. They are seeking a better country; they are desiring to enter into that rest which is prepared for them above. Yes, we are thankful that the Christian church produces so many instances of long-standing monuments of divine grace, who have been preserved, notwithstanding the crude blasts of opposition and the fiery trials to which they have been exposed; and which, blessed be God, shall yet stand, immovably stand, through death and everlasting ages.

We will now proceed to consider what is more particularly characteristic of the aged Christian's experience.

And, first, we may observe in the aged Christian that wisdom and knowledge which are not generally found in those of younger years. "Days speak, and multitude of years teach wisdom." Job 32:7. The aged have learned much by their experience; the length of time they have been in the world has taught them knowledge. What revolutions have they witnessed in the world! What changes in families! What vicissitudes in everything about them! What different appearances have surrounding objects assumed! What strange events have taken place! In what different circumstances, perhaps, do they behold themselves, compared to those in which they once were! As they have long been on the narrow way, what a multitude of objects have presented themselves to their view! How have they been tried by their own hearts! How often have they been drawn away by their own corruptions! By what sad experience have they arrived to a knowledge of themselves! How severe, sometimes, has been the conflict with the enemy of souls! How have they been deceived by his insidious snares! How constantly have they been opposed by his attacks! How wearied and exhausted have they been by his fiery temptations! What have they suffered from the world, from its frowns, from its smiles, from its cares, its connections, its allurements! What dark providences, what unexpected and accumulated afflictions, have they, in the course of their long pilgrimage, been called to bear!

Have they gained nothing by the view and the experience of all these circumstances? Yes, truly. How has it enlarged their minds! What a different idea have they of things to what they once had! The vanity of the world, the mutability of the creature, the sudden transitions from pain to pleasure, from dignity to contempt, from friendship to enmity, from the calm to the storm—which they have so frequently witnessed in this world, make them moderate in their enjoyments, prudent in their measures, cautious in their pursuits, and suspicious of that security which the world promises to afford.

They have seen enough to wean their minds from sublunary things, and to excite them to place their hope and confidence in God alone. "My soul, wait only upon God, for my expectation is from him: He only is my rock and salvation. I will, therefore, look unto him, and not be afraid. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him." Psalm 72:5, 6; Isaiah 12:2; Lamentations 3:24.

But this leads us immediately to consider the aged Christian in his proper character, as dead to the world. Indeed, everything about him and within him, rightly considered, has a tendency to remind him of his duty in this respect. The voice of nature cries, nor can he be deaf to her calls. His mortal tabernacle, like an ancient dwelling, gives evident signs of decay. Already, indeed, parts of the feeble mansion have fallen. Death has begun his attack. It appears in the faculty of vision, over which the last enemy has drawn a veil. It has filled the countenance with a pallid look. It has benumbed the physical frame. Strength is nearly gone: "the evil days are come, the years wherein there is no pleasure; the grasshopper becomes a burden, and desire fails." Ecclesiastes 12:1, 5.

What an affecting sight, also, now presents itself! He looks around, but where are the objects that formerly delighted him? Yonder habitation, once possessed by a friend, now becomes the habitation of a stranger. There dwelt the companion of his youth, and the associate of his middle age; but he is no more. Behold that whole family that bid fair to withstand many a storm, now all swept away by death! He has seen almost everything decay.

O, how he looks back to the spot where he formerly enjoyed happiness, where he beheld the objects of his affection, where his comforts were thick about him!

He revisits the place, he sighs over the spot. It is all barren now. He can only drop a tear, and return. He now finds himself almost a solitary being in the midst of a new generation, whose faces he hardly knows. The shadows of his departed friends rise up before him, and warn him that it is time to depart. Both nature and Providence summon him to be gathered to his fathers. Reason admonishes him, that, as his predecessors made way for him—it is just that he should give place to those who have risen to succeed him on this busy stage; who for a while shall fill it with their actions and their sufferings, and then shall, in their turns, withdraw, and be joined to the forgotten multitudes of former ages.

But, above all, his nearness to Heaven admonishes him to leave the world. "How long have I to live," said Barzillai to the king, "that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old; and can I discern between good and evil? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? Why, then, should your servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king? Let your servant, I pray, turn back again, that I may die." 2 Samuel 19.32, etc.

Thus, too, the aged Christian can say: "What is the world to me? I am sick of its vanities, I am weary of its cares. What are all its grandeurs, its riches, its pomps, its pleasures? These are only golden chains, that would prevent me from soaring to a better world. Why should I, whose body is infirm, whose powers are decaying, whose connections are almost all dissolved, and who am continually receiving warnings of my mortality—why should I still cleave to this poor world? Indeed, what can there be attracting on earth, to one who is every day waiting for Heaven, and longing to be in the presence of God in a better world?"

Thus the Christian hears the voice of nature, of Providence, and of eternity, calling him away.

But though the Christian is in a measure dead to the world, yet he can take no delight in himself. However retired, however calm his last days, yet he cannot help remembering his past imperfections. Hence we may consider self-abasement as entering peculiarly into the experience, and forming a striking part of the mind and character of an aged saint. The retrospect which he takes of his past life fills him with shame; and though it has always been his desire to glorify God, and to be employed in his service—yet he knows that he has done nothing as he ought to do, and is humbled under a sense of his little fruitfulness.

This world now resembles the view which a traveler takes from some eminence of a barren country through which he has passed, where the heath and the desert form the chief prospect, diversified only by a few scattered spots of imperfect cultivation.

Let us hear his confession. "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been. What secret backslidings have I been guilty of! How cold have been my affections! What innumerable mercies have I received! but alas! what feeble returns of gratitude! How has the world bewildered and deceived me! And though I have been preserved from the ruin to which it endeavored to draw me, yet how often have I been imposed upon by its smiles, and in what difficulties have I been involved by its cares! How little have I done for God! How weak my exertions! Alas! how few have been enlightened by my instructions, awed by my reproofs, impressed by my conversation, or reformed by my example! How much time has run to waste! How have I been deceived by procrastination! How has old age crept upon me before I can say anything has been done! And now I begin to be incapable of doing much. O, if my life were to begin over again, methinks how different should it be spent as to many things! I am filled with shame that so many years have past away, comparatively barren and unfruitful."

Thus the aged Christian is humbled under a view of his past life; and though there may be a great difference among Christians as to their devotedness of mind and their usefulness in the world, yet they all have to complain. For where is the man, however enlarged his mind, however eminent his piety, however useful his endeavors—but must feel some uneasiness on reviewing what is past? Can any aged Christian, standing on the verge of eternity, look back with confidence, and say that he has done all that he could, all that he ought; that there have been no moments of indolence or unconcern; that no evil propensities have ever once been indulged; that he has served God with all that spirituality of mind, that ardent zeal, that constant attention, that he ought; that he has discharged his duty to his fellow creatures with perfect propriety, and that in nothing he could have done more than he has?

Alas! on the contrary, the older, the wiser, the holier the Christian is—the more he is humbled and grieved under a view of himself; the more, like Job, he is ready to exclaim, "Behold, I am vile; I abhor myself!"

Another thing we may distinguish in old age is that cool deliberation, wise caution, and just gravity, not so discernible in the inexperienced. Youth is too hasty, too confident of its own wisdom, too often ready to act when it should retire.

But old age is deliberate, wise, and cautious. How many sad sights has the aged Christian beheld! What numbers he has seen ruined by their rashness, involving themselves and their connections in the deepest distress by their impatience, their precipitate measures, their self-will! He is therefore determined to view things on all sides, to examine them in all their bearings. He is cool, patient, persevering, knowing by experience how much better it is to wait than to be in haste.

Hence, too, his gravity may be accounted for; not because he has lost the fire of youth only, but he has seen the vanity of all things: he feels the consequence of his own errors; he has witnessed a continual scene of vicissitudes. He has beheld earthly enjoyments, like the flowers of the field, raise their heads, expand their leaves, exhibit their bloom, then wither and die! And this, says he, is human life.

It is only the world above that is worth seeking. It is only the joy that arises from the hope of the celestial inheritance that is permanent. I sigh for that blessed abode, while I would watch against everything that would take off my attention from that glorious object.

We are not to suppose, however, that the aged Christian is void of pleasure; that the view he takes of life, however humbling, embitters everything to him; and that his gravity and cool deliberation degenerate into apathy and unthankfulness. On the contrary, he experiences a pleasure which it is impossible for a young Christian to possess. What a rich feast does it afford his mind to contemplate the dispensations of Divine Providence! During a course of forty, perhaps fifty or sixty years—what wonderful events have come to pass! He has seen the lofty mountain become a plain; the most distressing circumstances become the occasion of the most abundant joys; the death of one comfort the life of others; the very things which were dreaded as the most formidable evils, overruled for bringing about the most extraordinary events!

And what a peculiar pleasure, also, arises from the contemplation of himself, as being the special object of the divine care! He has beheld himself, indeed, circumvented in one place, and tried in another; connections formed that once he had no idea of; his habitation fixed in a part of the world he was long unacquainted with; strangers becoming friends, and friends becoming strangers; little events, so called, leading to those of an important nature—but all under the direction of the Disposer of all things. With what thankfulness can he recollect the evils he has escaped, the comforts he has enjoyed, the various times when his needs have been supplied, and, indeed, the kindness of Providence on a thousand occasions!

The Christian in old age, then, is not destitute of joy. Besides the satisfaction which arises from a wide view of a wise Providence, his very state and situation often shields him. It is true, his infirmities prevent him from relishing many of those comforts which once he delighted in; but then, "if he is a stranger to the vivacity of enjoyment, he is free at the same time from the pain of violent and often disappointed desire. Much fatigue, much vexation, as well as much vanity—attend that turbulence of life in which the younger part of mankind are engaged. Amidst those keen pursuits and seeming pleasures for which they are envied, they often feel their own misery, and look forward with a wishful eye to the season of calmness and retreat.

If old age throws some new distresses onto the scale—it lightens, also, the weight of others. Many passions, which formerly disturbed his tranquility, have now subsided. Many competitions, which long filled his days with disquiet and strife, are now at an end. Many afflictions, which once rent his heart with violent anguish, are now softened into a tender emotion of past woe. In the beginning of life there was room for much apprehension, concerning what might befall in its progress. His hopes were interrupted by many anxieties and fears. Having finished the career of labor and danger, his anxiety ought, of course, to lessen.

Ready to enter into the eternal harbor, he can look back, as from a secure station, upon the perils he has escaped, upon the tempest by which he was tossed, and upon the multitudes who are still engaged in conflicting with the storm.

Lastly, we may consider the aged Christian as waiting for Heaven. He has nearly finished his work. His race is almost finished. The conflict will soon be over. Behold him calmly resigning his relatives and friends to the care of Jehovah. His eye is fixed on the heavenly mansion. He trusts in the merits of the Savior, and, as he gently passes on towards the celestial gate, his heart ascends to God in cheerful praises, and with heavenly strains he sings,

"My God, my everlasting hope,
I live upon your truth;
Your hands have held my childhood up,
And strengthened all my youth.

"By long experience have I known
Your sovereign power to save;
At your command I venture down
Securely to the grave!

"When I lie buried deep in dust,
My flesh shall be your care;
These withering limbs with you I trust,
To raise them strong and fair."

Reader, are you drawing near to an eternal world? Has death begun his work? Are infirmities increasing?

Perhaps you are not among the number of those who are thus exercising faith in the divine promise; but, influenced by unbelief, and distracted with care, are making your last days, your most gloomy days.

But if you are a Christian, then why indulge unnecessary fears? Why add to the infirmities of old age—the pains of anxiety, the miseries of impatience?

Remember what abundant encouragement is held forth for the support of declining age. That gracious God, who has adapted his sacred Word for every state and condition of life, has not forgotten those who feel the sorrows of an infirm body, and are on the confines of the grave and an eternal world. How cheering, how appropriate are his promises to such!

"Your shoes shall be iron and brass; and as your days—so shall your strength be!" Deuteronomy 33:25

"Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone!" Psalm 71:9

"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." Psalm 71:17-18

"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

"Hearken unto Me! I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you!" Isaiah 46:3-4

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day! For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Learn to trust, therefore, in him who can alleviate every pain; whose presence and promise can bear you up when everything else is receding from you. Be not ashamed now to trust in him whom yon have always found faithful. Let the wicked be anxious, and careful, and miserable in this declining season; but you, who have a God, a promise, a guide, a Savior, you should never despond.

Consider how soon you will be in Heaven! It is but a short step you have to take. A few moments, and the clock will strike your last hour. A solemn hour, indeed; but an hour, above all others, the most delightful to you! The hour in which you shall put off the shackles of mortality. The hour in which you shall bid adieu forever to all the pains and sins, temptations and sorrows, with which you have so long conflicted. For this happy hour, aged Christian, wait with tranquility. It is fast advancing; it will surely come. Let your heart rejoice in the thought of its arrival. Look up to Heaven, that you may catch a beam of celestial glory; that your countenance may yet shine; and like a faithful servant, listening with eager attention to hear that voice which will shortly say, "Come up hither, and sit down with me on my throne!"

While, however, it is the divine will that you should continue here in this poor world—so be ever anxious to set a good example. How many look up to you! How many watch your temper, and observe your conduct! "The aged (says the apostle) should be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, and in patience." Titus 2:2.

Be faithful to your post. Watch against the evils attendant on old age. You know the truth; you have long experienced its power. The day is now nearly gone; the evening is at hand; let the sun go down in its glory, and, like that luminary, irradiating surrounding objects, and reflecting its splendor even when itself is no longer visible to the naked eye. So shall many rejoice in your light, and give thanks to the Father of mercies that you have been enabled to adorn his Gospel, and at last to die in his service.

Let young Christians learn to revere the aged. There is always something venerable in old age; but there is something beautiful in it, when it is adorned with the Christian graces. "It is indeed infinitely better to be full of grace than full of days; but to be full of days and full of grace—what a venerable spectacle! To be full of years and full of faith, full of good works, full of the fruits of righteousness which are by Christ—how lovely and beautiful!"

Draw near, young Christians, to these venerable characters. Sit down at their feet; light your little taper from their flaming torch; ask them about the way which they have traveled; respect their report; listen to their declarations. So shall you obtain wisdom from their instruction, prudence from their advice, and gather a thousand fresh motives to go forward in the heavenly path.

Remember, too, ever to treat them with tenderness, bear with their infirmities, request their prayers; soften, as much as possible, every care—that they may go down to the grave undisturbed, and bless God in beholding others coming forward to supply the places of those whom old age has palsied, or death has snatched away.

My dear reader, do you wish to be happy in old age? Then learn to be wise while young. To give the first-fruits of our time to the God of this world, and the dregs of our lives to the God of Heaven—what an insult! No wonder the old age of some is so dreadfully embittered, when they have spent all their lives in a course of rebellion. Learn, then, to give up yourselves immediately to God, and think not of foolishly procrastinating until old age comes upon you.

There are very few instances of aged sinners being reformed. Vice hardens; the commission of every sin is like forging another chain to bind the soul in misery. It is adding strength to corrupt nature, and exposing to the greatest danger. The very thought of this should make every man tremble who thinks the care of his soul necessary, and yet is for deferring it to the last part of life.

But supposing remission of sins and repentance to be granted at last—how miserable will it be to reflect on the evils committed, the long train of painful consequences that have followed, and which, perhaps, can never be remedied—no, not in eternity! O, how awful to think that I, by a sinful example, have been the occasion of the everlasting ruin of a son, a daughter, a servant, a neighbor! What feelings must I have, what tears must I shed, and what an awful gloom will be cast over old age!

Let me entreat my dear reader, if you be still unacquainted with divine things, no longer to indulge the thoughts of delay. It is true religion alone that can make old age pleasant, and death welcome.

Holy Spirit, penetrate the hearts of the unconcerned. May they seek you while you are to be found. Show them their misery and sinfulness. Lead them to the Savior of sinners. On him may they now rest, and when the declining days of life shall come, may they go down with peace to the grave, and be forever with the Lord! Amen.