THE DUTIES OF OLD AGE
A third letter to an elderly person
Every station and stage of life has its own special duties. Childhood has its duties; such as obedience to parents, modesty, willingness to be taught. A husband and wife have their duties; and a master or mistress theirs. Manhood has its duties; a grown-up man or woman are required to be useful in the world, and to live, not unto themselves, but unto the Lord.
And so too Old Age has its duties. I will mention some of them.
1. You should endeavour to be patient and gentle. Amidst all your pains and infirmities, how blessed if you can feel a cheerful submission to God’s will, and if you can accept, not merely with resignation, but with actual thankfulness, all that He lays upon you. Now, God can give you this patient, humble, and submissive spirit, if you will earnestly and daily seek it from Him.
2. You should try to be cheerful and considerate to others. Sometimes elderly people are a little apt to dwell too much on their own troubles and wants. Guard against this; and seek to make those around you happy. You cannot do much perhaps, but you can do something. A gentle word or two, or even a kind look, will cheer some and encourage others.
Do not grudge young people those delights which you can no longer enjoy. But put yourself often in their place, and remember that you were once a child yourself. The very feeling that you are trying to make others happy will make you happy yourself.
3. Be much in prayer, and in the reading of God’s Word. These are great helps to a Christian pilgrim; they are like so many staffs by the way. Use them diligently, and they will help you onward.
4. You should sit loose to this world, and be in readiness to leave it. This, you will say, is the duty of us all. Yes, but it is especially your duty; for the clock of time seems now to be giving its warning sound in your ears. Every day seems now to be saying to you, Prepare to meet thy God! The night is far spent; the day is at hand. The Judge standeth at the door.’
It is a melancholy sight to see an old person bent down with years, standing at the edge of eternity, and yet unwilling to loose his hold of this world – clinging to life with an eager grasp – as much busied as ever with its trifling concerns – still thirsting for its poor pleasures, and yet unable to enjoy them – all before him a blank – having no hope as regards the future. Such an old age is indeed a sad one.
But you will perhaps say. Surely when any one has grown old, when he has sown the wild oats of youth, he will, as a matter of course, become thoughtful, and turn his mind towards that world which he is so shortly to enter. But no; this does not always follow.
On the contrary, I have seen many in old age just as worldly-minded as ever, and putting from them even then the thoughts of a life to come.
Dear friend, it is only grace that can make you anxious about your soul. It is only grace that can prepare you for eternity. We all need the powerful working of God’s Spirit to draw our minds from earth to heaven, from sin to holiness.
Happy for you if heaven is the home of your heart! Happy for you, if your thoughts are centred there! Happy for you, if you can say, “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”; “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen”!
5. Your conversation should be heavenly. Your time is nearly ended; and therefore you should not think much about this world which you are on the point of leaving. Its pleasures, its riches, its occupations should not occupy your mind. You should rather busy yourself about your journey to your everlasting home. You should love to speak about your Father’s house.
True it is, that our poor hearts will ever be ‘cleaving to the dust.’ There is a weight upon our wings ever keeping us downwards. But, oh, struggle against this. Pray against it. Ask God continually to be drawing your mind heavenward, and to enable you to ‘set your affections on things above.’ Speak thankfully of His preserving mercy. Bear testimony to His goodness and faithfulness. And recommend others to trust Him without a doubt, and to devote their whole hearts to Him.
6. Try and set a good example to others. We should all wish to be useful in the world. But now that you are grown old, you feel perhaps that your time for usefulness is past. Satan may whisper, “You are too old to be useful now.” But not so; you may do something still. It is true, you cannot labour for your family as you once did. You cannot go here and there to help those who want your assistance. But you may be very useful; yes, useful, even now -useful if you are rich, and useful too if you are poor. As you sit by your fireside, you may speak Christian words, and you may show by your conduct and temper the blessed effects that grace has had upon your heart. You may, by your prayers and praises, by your patience and perseverance, by your watching and waiting, glorify God. A really Christian elderly man or woman may thus be a great blessing to the house and place where he is living. He may spread a feeling of contentment around him. He may check many a bad word, and so soften down many a quarrelsome spirit. He may show forth so clearly the power of grace in his own conduct, that he may thereby prompt others to seek it, and pray for it themselves.
Without much speaking, or much doing, you may honour God by
your Christian conduct; and thus your light may so shine before men, that they may glorify Him. We know that a nice picture in a room is a pleasant thing to gaze upon; we constantly turn to it with much pleasure. And what picture is there more beautiful than that of an aged Christian, old in years and ripe in grace? “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
Yes, remember always you may do much by your example. This will tell more even than your words. For your words may be mistaken, but your life cannot be: it must and will speak. Paul reminded the Corinthians of this, when he said, ‘Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistles of Christ, known and read of all men’ -that is, your lives plainly declare whose and what you are.
These are some of the duties which belong to Old People. Dear friend, neglect them not. Try to fulfil them. It will be for your own happiness, and for the good of others. Thus you will be ‘bearing fruit in old age.’