Youth Renewed In Age
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
JAMES W, ALEXANDER, D. D.
CHRISTIAN confidence and hope in God give freshness, strength and joy, even in the period of old age. " They that wait on Jehovah," or, in modern English, they that wait for him, who evince their trust in his goodness and power by patiently awaiting the fulfilment of his promises—they, though no longer young, " shall renew their strength ; they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint." The same thought is in the thanksgiving of the one hundred and third Psalm, v. 5 : " Bless Jehovah, 0 my soul, who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." From both we may conclusively gather that divine grace has influences to bestow which can counteract and often annul the debilitating tendencies of old age. We are not authorized, it is true, to teach that any degree of religious affection can turn back the shadow on the dial-plate, restore its auburn beauty to the gray head, or neutralize the physical causes of distress;. though even here, such is the power of spirit over matter, that history shows marvels of an almost youthful gladness in blessed Christian old age. But we may and can assert that he whose habits have been formed in a perpetual waiting upon God, receives a halowed unction of grace, which, so to speak, makes him young again, or, more properly, keeps him from waxing old within. In the most rapid survey we have considered some of the causes which make this season of life formidable. All ages have observed them ; all phiosophies have sought to destroy or lessen their force. The most accomplished of all Roman authors has left nothing more finished than his celebrated tract on Old Age. Short of the meridian beam of revelation and its reflections, no-thing ever showed more nobly ; yet the ray of its consolations is but a beautiful moonlight. In vain is the venerable Cato introduced to teach us secrets which Cato never knew. In this gem-like treatise Cicero refers the troubles of age to four classes. Old age, so he tells us, is feared because (1) it withdraws from the affairs of life ; because (2) it brings infirmity of body ; because (3) it abridges or ends our pleasures; and (4) because it leads to death. Already, in treating of these several heads, much is said truly, ably, and to a certain extent satisfactorily, on the first and third topics; but on the last there is nothing but melancholy conjecture. Even in regard to the other heads, of business, health and pleasure, the suggestions are infinitely beow those known by the humblest Christian rustic. For what did this great and eoquent Roman know of the oil which grace pours into the sinking and almost expiring lamp ?
It is not to be denied, when we come with candour to the investigation, that, as a general truth, old age withdraws men from the employments of life, and seals up the active business years. In the majority of instances, however, this retreat from labour is voluntarily sought long before the access of grave infirmity. Indeed, in prosperous communities many retire too early, under a chimerical hope of enjoying an elegant repose, for which they have made no provision by mental culture and discipline of moral habits. There is, it is true, another sort of recession from productive labours which we occasionally observe in old men, and which arises wholly from an unchastened selfishness. Let any one grow wealthy without the warming and expanding influences of benevolence, and he will more and more lose his interest in all that is going on in the world. Even wars and revolutions touch him only in their financal aspects, and the daily journal is to him not so much a courier of news as a barometer of loss and gain. Without religion, the circle becomes more contracted. Friends have departed by scores, if not by hundreds. What cares he for mighty movements in behalf of humanity and holiness around him ? What cares he for posterity, the country or the world, so that he can exalt his own gate, or die worth some round sum which floats before him as his heaven ? In the same degree he wraps himself in his mantle, which is daily shrinking to his own poor dimensions. This is misery indeed. Take away the blessed sun, and everything becomes wintry, frozen, all but dead take away more blessed love, and the heart is dumb, cheerless, insulated, meanly poor, so that the Latins named such a one MISER. Let us leave him, shivering in his cave, overhung with icicles, and come out into the evening sunshine to consider the aged believer. He is, like Mnason, " an old disciple." He still learns. The Greek story tells us that when Soon lay dying, and overheard some conversation on philosophy in his apartment, he raised his head and said, Let me share in your conversation, for though I am dying I would still be learning." Ten thousand times has this been more reasonably exemplified in dying Christians, who consider the whole of this life as but the lowest form of the school into which they have been entered. And in regard to activity, while modes of service must vary with the bodily condition, we are bold to maintain that innumerable Christians now living are, in advanced life, impressing the whole engine of human affairs with as momentous a touch as at any previous stage of existence. If there is wisdom, the proper jewel of age and divine, grace in its manifold actings, there need be no lack of influence. They still lift up the eagle pinion, and soar in such greatness as belongs to their nature. But the point to which we would ask more marked attention is this, that the aged believer, so far from being selfishly dead to what is going on in the world, is more vigilant and more in sympathy with all than even in his days of youth. Blessed be God, we have seen this again and again. The man who waits on God, the man of faith and hope, the man of melting benevolence, looks through the loopholes of retreat upon a world whose vast and often terrific revolutions interest him chiefly as included in a cycle of providential arrangements calculated to develop and exhibit the gory of grace. His heart beats responsive to these. The news of Christ's kingdom is as dear to him as when he was vehemently active in the field. He ooks down the ages by the lamp of prophecy, and beholds events which will take place when he shall have been long in Paradise. This connects him with the cause of Christ on earth, and redeems him from that miserable, dungeon-like seclusion of soul which wastes away the aged worldling. So far is it from being true that these portraitures are figments of religious imagination, that we have been led to the choice of the subject by knowledge and recollection of this very paradox in actual example, to wit : extreme old age made light, strong and happy by community of interest in the progressive triumphs of philanthropy and missions.
When, according to the Talmudic fable, the eagle soars toward the sun, he renews the plumage of his former days. As the serene disciple withdraws him-self from any personal agency in the entangling plans of life, he studies more profoundly what his Master is weaving into the web of history. No onger young, he has a heart which gushes in sympathy with the young, and he cheers them on. He places the weapons in their hands. He takes from the wall his sword, shield and helmet, and rejoices that God still has younger soldiers in the field. He lives his life over again in their achievements, and pictures to himself more signal victories after he shall have gone. Like the wounded hero Wolfe, he could even die more happy if the shout of victory should arouse his failing perception. Far from being shut up in morose, neglectful selfishness, he glories that God's cause still lives and must prevail.