A Letter to an elderly person
What is our life? It is a journey that is soon ended, a tale that is soon told, a day whose hours roll by quickly. It is vapour, which rises for a while, and then vanishes; a flame that bums for a moment or two, and then flickers in the socket and presently goes out. Our little life-time, how short it is!
And what are your thoughts, my aged friend, about this journey of life? Once you looked upon it as a very different thing from what it now appears to you. Once it seemed as if the days of your childhood would never pass away. You longed for manhood, or womanhood; but it came very slowly. The early stages of your journey seemed almost endless. And if it had been possible, you would willingly have taken a spring, and jumped into middle life at a bound. But now you look back, and wonder how quickly your life has passed. It seems but yesterday you were a child. Old age has crept on almost without your knowing it.
Truly the longest life is but a little while when compared with eternity. It is but as a tiny drop in the wide ocean; but as a grain of sand on the boundless shore – “so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.” And when we look forward, how soon shall we be in our graves! Very soon the silver cord will be loosed, the golden bowl will be broken, the pitcher will be fairly worn out, the wheel will make its last turn; and then we shall go to our long home, and the mourners will go about the streets (Eccles. 12.5,6).
Now I want you to open your Bible, and turn to the ninetieth Psalm. Take it, and ponder it over in your heart; and I think you will find it very profitable sometimes to use it as a prayer for yourself. Its writer, must, I think, have been an old man; and he must have written on purpose for those of his brethren who were going down the hill of life.
I once heard of an aged Christian, who used to be very fond of applying the ninety-first Psalm to himself. He loved to think how truly it set forth the faithfulness of God to him during his long life. When he was on his death-bed, he exclaimed in the words of the last verse, “With long has He satisfied me; and now I am going to enjoy the only portion which I could not have in this life – He is going to show me His salvation.”
Perhaps you are drawing towards the close of a long life. It may be that your thoughts have long been turned heavenwards. If so, I know that a word of counsel will be welcome to you. But if, on the other hand, you have been thoughtless hitherto, I will try and make you thoughtful now. Whatever has been your past history, I want to give you a few hints as to how you may turn to the best account the
time that still remains to you. I want to do you some good. I want to make your last days the best and happiest days of all your life.
I observe that elderly persons are in some respects much alike, but in other respects they are very different. They are alike in their infirmities. Their limbs shake and totter. Their bodies have grown weak. The clay house they dwell in is the worse for wear. Their minds too have lost their former strength. Memory fails them. They can recollect what happened years and years ago; but what happened yesterday is gone – all is a blank.
They are alike too in their sorrows. They have known what affliction is. Some have had to mourn over thoughtless and undutiful and rebellious children. Some have had to weep over many an open grave. Some have found from sad experience, that the world is but a sorry house to live in. In these respects elderly people are much alike.
But there is also a great difference between those who are advanced in years. Here is one stooping and groaning under a heavy burden, vexed with all around him, full of complaints, discontented with his lot, having no pleasure in life at all, and yet clinging to it as a drowning man grasps at the only plank that is left; tired of this world, and yet having no hope beyond it.
We see another with the same grey head, and the same bent body;
but there is a beam that lights up his aged countenance. He is thankful, contented, peaceful. All goes well with him. He is willing, cheerfully willing, to bear all that God lays upon him. Not a murmur escapes his lips; not a distrustful feeling dwells within. There is a calm tide of joy flowing through his soul.
How is this? What makes all this difference. It is God’s grace alone. This fills the heart with peace. This gives comfort and rest now, and awakens in the soul a sweet and blessed hope of joys to come. Such an old age as this is most desirable, is it not? And such an old age is just what I desire for you. May it be your portion.
I once heard of an old man who was brought to God late in life. He desired that, when he died, these words might be written on his tombstone: “Here lies an old man of seven years of age.” And why so? The truth was, that all the past years of his long life he counted as no life at all, for his soul was dead. It was only during the last few years he had really lived, for he had then lived to God.
I speak to you who are now grown old. The shades of evening are growing thick around you. You have come to the last stage of life’s journey. Your state is something like that of Moses, when he had travelled for forty years through the wilderness, and was now come to his journey’s end. The Lord announces to him that his death is near. But, before he departs. He bids him go up to the top of Pisgah. There he was able to look back on the path along which he had been
brought, and look forward to the Land of Promise.
It must have been very good for Moses to take a survey of that winding path along which God had led him; to cast his eye back upon the many spots where mercy had been shown him; to call to mind all the difficulties and dangers he had passed through, and the gracious manner in which his God had borne with him, notwithstanding his many sins.
Now this is just the survey which you should take, my aged friend. Get a quiet hour now and then, and look back into the past. It will be good for you, I am sure; and I counsel you to try it.