THE YEARS THAT ARE PAST
A Second Letter to an Elderly Person
You remember that I spoke in my last of what Moses did before he died. He was directed to go up on Mt Pisgah, and take a glimpse of that Promised Land which lay before him. Another purpose for which he ascended that high hill, was that he might from thence take a survey of all the way that he had already travelled in his wilderness journey. I said it would be well for you now and then to look back on all the years that you have passed through. Let me help you a little in doing this.
First, take a good searching look, and see what sins have marked your past life. As you look back you will feel, I dare say, that there is many an act which you would gladly blot out if you could. There are many days you would like not to recall: many a deed which you would give worlds to undo; many a bad thought which you encouraged, and which has left a stain behind that even time cannot wear out.
I know it is very painful to be thinking about our past sins; but we must not shrink from it. It is folly to deceive ourselves, and fancy that they have not been committed. There they are, and God sees them, if we will not. His eye marked them at the time, and it marks them still. They may have almost faded from our memory; but God remembers them: He forgets nothing.
Elderly people are very apt to fancy that what is past and forgotten by them is also blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance. Often, for instance, when the sins and follies of their mouth are spoken of, they just heave a passing sigh, and that is all. They think that such things are excusable in times of youth, and that God will not be extreme to mark what was done amiss in those days. They fancy that the bygone past will not be laid to their charge, as they have since become wiser and more thoughtful. But is this so? Is God such an one as ourselves? Can any length of time wear away our sins from His recollection? Is it not written that even for every idle word that men shall speak, they must give an account?
I am sure it is very good for us all, and especially for those who are drawing near to the close of life, to look fairly at the sins that we have committed. It is folly to close our eyes upon them, and persuade ourselves that they do not exist. Indeed, if we have any
spiritual life within us, whatever else we forget, surely we shall never forget those hateful sins which have defiled our souls.
But it is not enough to look at them in a sort of general way. We must fix upon them one by one, and draw them forth from their hiding places. There must be a close searching for them, as with a candle – an honest, hearty, diligent search, so that not one will escape us.
And what is the good of this? you are perhaps ready to ask. Is there any use in making ourselves unhappy? The thing is done: can it be undone? Oh, surely it is far better to discover our sins now, than to have them brought to light for the first time when we appear before God. It is far better to know how we stand with God now, than to learn it in that world where there is no more hope for the sinner.
And what are we to do with our sins when we have found them out? Is there any way by which they can be got rid of? Or must they lie like dark spots on our soul, like unpaid debts which can never be cancelled? No, dear friend; no. There is a way – only one way – by which sin can be blotted out for ever. Christ has paid the debt. Christ had bled upon the cross. Christ has died that sinners might live. And Christ is able, not only to pardon you every sin, but to cover you with His perfect righteousness, and to make you His for ever. “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him”.
Go now to Jesus, and ask Him to give you repentance. Ask Him, by His Holy Spirit, to touch your heart and make you hate your sins, and to mourn over them with a godly sorrow. It is good for us to feel grief for our sins. And depend upon it, we shall grieve over them, if we are brought under the power of God’s grace.
But remember, sorrow and tears will not wash out the stain. They cannot remove one single atom of our guilt. No; it is only the sacrifice of Christ that can pay that debt. In Him alone forgiveness can be found. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” Here, then, my dear friend, is the good of finding out our many sins. It is that we may get every one of them pardoned; it is that we may be made blessed in Christ the Saviour of sinners. He is all power and love. He is able and willing to save. He says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest”. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
There is something more we should look back upon, besides our sins; we should look back upon our many mercies. Think of the numberless acts of love and kindness, which God has shown you during the years that are past. Moses called to mind, I dare say, those forty years in which the Lord had so greatly blessed him. The whole path which he had trodden was strewn with mercies, to
himself, to his family, to his people. We are told that for forty years their “raiment waxed not old, neither did their feet swell.” When they were thirsty, “He brought streams out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.” When they were hungry, “He fed them with bread from heaven.” He led them, not by the shortest road, nor by the easiest path, but it was “by the right way”, to their promised land.
And has not the Lord dealt graciously with you Have not goodness and mercy followed you all your days? Think of your many deliverances from dangers. Think how you have been spared, whilst others have been cut off. Think of this and that blessing, which came to you when you so little deserved it. Think of God’s patience with you, when you provoked His anger. Think how He made one thing and another work round for your good. Many a time you said to yourself, “This thing is distressing; it is all against me:” and perhaps that very thing turned out to be for your greatest good.
God’s past mercies should be a pledge to you of those which are to come. You may well plead, with David, “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: now when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.” You may expect further trials as you reach the remaining stages of the wilderness. But you may be sure that the manna with which you have been fed will not fail, nor the cloud of protection which has sheltered you be withdrawn, till your wanderings are over. Be assured, God never yet forsook a worn-out pilgrim. He never yet neglected an aged servant. You know that He has promised you, “Even to your old age, I am He; and even to hoar hairs, I will carry you.” The last words of good old Dr Guyse were, “O my God! thou hast always been with me, and wilt not leave me now.”
Think of all this, and it will warm your cold heart. You will find some love kindling in you as you call to mind the goodness of that heavenly Friend who has watched over you so lovingly, and cared for you from your childhood until now. And oh! if you are a true child of God; if you have been brought to know and love your Saviour; if the path of godliness has been your path – then is there not one mercy that out-tops every other in your case? Does not your heart throb with gratitude, when you think of that grace which called you out of darkness into the blessed light of God’s truth, which turned your feet out of the path of sin and misery along which you were hurrying, and brought you into the way of peace? Of all your mercies, there is none so great as that which led you to Christ, and made you a partaker of His great salvation.
It is said of John Newton that, although his memory failed him in his old age, there were two things which he never forgot. One was that he was a great sinner; and the other was that Jesus is a greater
Saviour. Let me urge you at once to take a look back on your past sins, and on your past mercies. This is especially needful for you who have lived many hours in this world, and whose hour-glass has but a few grains yet to run out. Do it in a humble and thoughtful spirit,
and I believe you will find that much good will come of it.
Take this, and any other counsels that I offer you, as coming from me who really cares for you. But I also know that the Saviour himself cares for you. He has in store many and great blessings, which He will bestow on you. All I desire to do, in writing to you, is to lead you to the enjoyment of them.