Old age, physically considered, is a condition replete with calamities. It is the imperfection of childhood, with the addition of many positive and peculiar evils. The tent is sunburnt and weather-beaten, and ready to be laid aside as useless. The mansion God's chief earthly workmanship is in decay, and on the eve of absolute desolation. It is the winter of life; her vitalities are chilled and frozen; the bones have become earth, the muscles are ossified, and the whole natural man is sinking into mortality. The sun shines with as much splendour as ever, and the creation teems with as many beauties as ever, but they have no charm for the aged: the evil days have come upon them, and the years have drawn nigh in which they say, we have no pleasure.
Old age, intellectually considered, is full of instruction. The mental manifestations have undergone a mighty revolution. The intellect is under an eclipse; wit, accustomed to sparkle in bright coruscations, is apparently dead; the memory, formerly distinguished for vigour and tenacity, has visibly failed, and the creations of genius are no more. Has the soul then grown aged? Is the mind itself afflicted with infirmity? No: simple spirituality can never be essentially impaired. The mind is still full of vitality and power, it is immortally young. It is still a splendour only it occupies the centre of a cloud. The medium of its revelations is deteriorated. The corporeal organizations will not admit of its coming forth in its usual glories. The musician is as skilful as ever, but the instrument is out of tune: the workman is as clever as ever, but his tools are blunt and worn out; and the artist is as ingenious as ever, but he conducts his operations in a murky light.
Old age, socially considered, is distinguished by some of the most interesting manifestations of character. There is majesty in its feebleness, and dignity in its dependence. It puts forth some of the most amiable and magnificent instincts of humanity, and glorifies with fresh splendours passions which are soon to perish in the grave.
Old age, religiously considered, is perhaps the chief moral attraction of human nature in its earthly history. Adorned with spiritual excellence, it is redeemed from its humiliations; nor think we of its infirmities when we have grandeur so sublime to gaze upon. “The righteous shall flourish like the palmtree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing, to show that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:12-15).
The religious manifestations in aged believers.
I. They are distinguished for the activity of their evangelical sentiments.
The great doctrines which are essentially embodied in the Gospel, are of paramount value in the estimation of all Christians, but are especially so in the judgment of the more aged, partly from necessity. Necessity originating in enlightened and expanded views of the enormity of guilt; partly from spiritual sympathy affinity of mind with Supreme Excellence and partly from the obligations of gratitude obligations called into vivid consciousness by the remembrance of past forgiveness, of past tranquillity, and past joys. The Saviour personally and mediatorially is to old believers the chief attraction of the universe the sun of their system the tree of life in their paradise, and the mercy-seat in their temple. “I write unto you Fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13).
The fathers are congratulated on their having known Him, that is from the beginning. The sentiments expressed, according to ecclesiastical history, by Peter and Polycarp, just before their martyrdom, illustrate this point. See John xxi. 18, 19, signifying by what death he should glorify God. [In the case of Peter.]
To Polycarp, we are told, the Roman officer said; "Be good to thyself; favour thine old age; take the oath, and I will discharge thee; deny Christ." Polycarp answered: "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and in all this time He hath not hurt me, how then may I speak evil of my King and sovereign Lord who hath thus preserved me?" The officer threatened him with being thrown to the wild beasts. "Let them come," cried the martyr; "give me what death ye list."
II. They are distinguished for eminence in religious zeal. It is matter of observation, that intense concern for the prosperity of Zion and for the glory of God is peculiarly characteristic of the aged and the young in the church. And dividing zeal into solicitude and activity, perhaps we are correct in stating that the young are pre-eminent in the latter, and the aged in the former. Like vegetation, most vigorous in the morning and the evening of the day. Life appears valuable to those who have borne the burden and heat of the day, only so far as it can be employed in fulfilling the moral intentions of existence. As long as they are of any service in the world or can be of any benefit to man can be instrumental either by counsel, or activity, or suffering, in advancing the kingdom of God; they covet not the repose of death, nor long impatiently for their personal glorification; “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth; and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous work. Now also when I am old and grey-headed forsake me not, until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.”
In illustration of distinguished zeal in aged believers, see the exhortations given by David, and the provision which he made for the house of his God, 1 Chronicles 29, and the solicitude of Eli concerning the Ark of the Lord: “For his heart trembled for the Ark of God” (1 Samuel 4:13, &c.).
III. They are distinguished by powerful aptitudes for devotion. They have often experienced the positive advantages of devotion have again and again left their anxieties, sorrows, perplexities, and fears at the footstool of the Divine mercy; and when in prostration there, have realized lofty and mysterious joys; so that, in the nature of things, their tendencies to devotion exert a powerful sovereignty over the volitions of their minds. Joshua selected his inheritance near the place where the worship of God was celebrated; David removed the Ark to a building erected near his own palace; and Anna departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day: Joshua 19:49-51; 1 Chronicles 15:17; Luke 2:36, 37. And there is a peculiarity in the devotions of aged believers, they are eminently characterized by thanksgiving and praise. They are akin to celestial worship. The Psalms supposed to be composed by David in the concluding portion of his life, are full of this kind of devotion.
IV. They are distinguished for the elevation of their spiritual joy. The malignant passions, sources of misery, are greatly enfeebled; and their benevolent tendencies, essentially felicitous, are more vigorous and active. The contemplations of their mind associate habitually with delightful themes, and the moral condition of the heart is so sanctified that it has become a congenial dwelling for the purest joys. Amid the desolations of old age, hope is radiant, like the rainbow in the cloud; and the anticipations of approaching glory irradiate the evening of existence. “It shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear nor dark; but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day nor night: but it shall come to pass that at eventide it shall be light” (Zechariah 14:6, 7). Aged Christians have entered the land of Eden rich and fertile and are in the vicinity of Paradise. Bunyan, with his characteristic judiciousness, has placed the Delectable mountains and the land of Beulah far on in his pilgrimage.
V. They are distinguished for cordial sympathy in the final destiny of their nature. Their repugnance to death is greatly weakened. They are strangers and pilgrims in the world, as much in feeling as in condition. They acquiesce in the necessity of their nature and the ordination of God by a cheerful submission to the doom of mortality. “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:29, 30). Their bodies are becoming increasingly burdensome, and they long for emancipation from their enthralment. Their associates in Christian friendship, one after another, have been removed to eternity; and heaven to them, in consequence, has become additionally attractive. And often the calamities of life gather into extraordinary accumulations in the condition of the aged; and evils of an ordinary character are felt with a more exquisite keenness than in the days of youth and maturer life. The world loses its fascinations, and the aspirations of the aged in piety concur with the admonitions of their circumstances, and they are ready for their departure. Like the eagle making her nest rough that the young ones may consent to abandon it.
A wicked old man is an affecting spectacle. Religion removes much that is repulsive in the close of life. A motive to early piety.
Still bring forth fruit in old age.
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