THE OLD MAN’S SERMON
Extract from a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon
“Oh God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not;
until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” Psalm 71.17-18.
David has here spoken as an aged man, and what he has said has been echoed by thousands of venerable believers. His experience of the past, his prayer for the present, and his aspiration for the future, have all occurred to others who are his equals in years, and those of us who are in middle life will ere long be glad to say “Amen” thereto. “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.” David in this passage may be regarded as the model of an aged believer converted in early life, and we feel quite safe in taking all his expressions and putting them into the mouths of veteran soldiers of the cross.
I. The first thing we shall dwell upon this morning will be HIS SCHOLARSHIP, or a good beginning. “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth.” The Psalmist was an instructed believer. He had not merely been saved, but taught: conversion had led to instruction. I call the attention of all young Christians to this. How desirable it is not merely that you should be forgiven your sins, and justified by Faith in Christ Jesus, and that your hearts should be renewed by the operations of the Holy Ghost, but that you should go to school to Jesus, and take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him.
All his instruction the Psalmist traced to his God. “O God, thou hast taught me.” He had entered Christ’s college as a scholar. Most wisely had he chosen to learn of Him who has infinite wisdom to impart, and divine skill in communicating it. The Lord not only endeavours to teach, but He does do so; He knows how to make His children learn, for He speaks to the heart, and teaches us to profit. ‘O God, thou hast taught me.” What a blessed thing it is when we are fully convinced by the Holy Spirit that to learn anything aright we must be taught of God.
David also had the privilege of beginning early. “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth.” I was a scholar in thy infant class; I was put to thee to learn my letters, and when I learned to spell out thy
name as my Saviour and Father, it was thy grace which taught it me. All true learning begins at Christ’s feet, and it is well to be there in our boyhood.
Further, notice David tells us he kept to his studies. He says, “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth,” which implies that God had continued to teach him: and so indeed He had. I hope you can say, “O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth. I have not bowed my soul to every wind of doctrine, and made myself as the bulrush, which yields to every passing breath of air; but I have been steadfast, unmovable, holding fast the word of truth.”
It is equally clear that he was still learning. The oldest saint still goes to school to the Lord Jesus. Oh, how little we know when we know most. The wisest saints are those who most readily confess their folly. The man who knows everything is the man who knows nothing. The man who cannot learn any more is the man who has never learned anything aright. To know Christ and the power of His resurrection creates an insatiable thirst after a still closer acquaintance with Him. Our eager desire is yet more fully “to know Him.”
II. Secondly, we now pass on to consider HIS OCCUPATION. His scholarship was a good beginning, his occupation was a good continuance,Â—”Hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.” This was David’s chief employment. It is true he had other work to do, for he was at first a shepherd, he then became a royal harper, afterwards grew into a warrior, and at last climbed to a throne; still his life’s main bent and object was to magnify the Lord, by declaring His wondrous works. David magnified the Lord by his psalms. How sweetly has he therein declared God’s ways of mercy and of Faithfulness! He glorified God by his life, especially by those heroic deeds which made all Israel know the mighty works which God could do by a feeble but trustful man. He no doubt often declared the wondrous works of God in private converse with believers and unbelievers, by narrating his personal experience of the Lord’s mercies. You and I, if we have been to God’s school, must follow the same occupation. Some of us can preach; let us be diligent in it. Others of you teach in the school; I beseech you put your whole hearts into that blessed work. All of you can by written letters or private conversation, and especially by consistent lives, declare the wondrous works of God, and make men know the glories of the God of grace; let us be eager in this sacred work. Men do not care to know their God, but we must not allow them to be ignorant. Tell them of that love of His against which they daily offend, and of His readiness to forgive their provocations. Publish and proclaim salvation by grace. It is sweet in old age to remember that you did this.
Notice here, dear friends, that David had chosen a divine subject. “Hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.” God’s works he had declared, not man’s. He had not talked of what man could do or had done. Note verse sixteen-“I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.” Neither the virtues of saints, nor the prerogatives of priests, nor the infallibility of pontiffs, nor anything of that sort, had degraded the Psalmist’s lips, but those lips had reserved themselves for the glory of God alone. “My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long.”
We ought to speak of what God has done in creation, providence, and grace, and especially should we point out the marvellous nature of those works, for there is a wonder about them all.
Now notice that while David’s subject was divine, it had also been uniform. He says, “Hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.” It is a sad thing when a good man turns aside to error, even if it be but for a little season. Some ministers have preached motley; I should think they themselves do not know what they have taught, for they have gone from one line of thought to another, and contradicted themselves over and over again. Beware of being men given to change, ready to catch every new disease. I confess I feel an admiration for a man who can say, “What I taught in my youth I teach in my old age. That which was my hope and confidence when first the Spirit of God opened my mouth, that and no other is my hope and confidence still.” As men grow in years they ought to think more deeply, to understand more clearly, and to speak with greater confidence, and it is their wisdom to correct many errors of detail which occurred through the immaturity of their early days; but still it is a great thing to hold fundamental truth from the very first. There are not two Christs nor two gospels; if there be another gospel, it is not another, but there be some that trouble us. O, my brother, if the Lord has taught you from your youth, abide in that which you have learned, hold to it now that your hair is grey.
But, dear friends, notice that the style which David used was very commendable. “Hitherto have I declared,” says he. Now by declaration I understand something positive, plain, and personal. David’s teaching about his God had not been with an “if,” and a ‘but,” and a “may be,” but it had been “Thus and thus, saith the Lord”; he had declared the truth openly; his teaching had not been misty and foggy, so that his people could make what they liked out of it according to their tastes; neither had it been mystical, metaphysical, transcendental, and philosophic, but he had declared it, cleared it, explained it, and brought it into prominent notice, so that he who ran might read it. He had also declared it as known to himself, and certified by His own experience.
David’s style had in it very much of holy awe and loving devotion,
for he says, “Thy wondrous works,” which shows that he himself had wondered while he spoke. I like to hear a good man talk of God’s love, feeling it to be too deep for him; speaking of it with tears, as though it overcame him; telling his tale as though it were more marvellous to him than he could make it appear to his hearers. David had done his work in the spirit of adoring wonder and grateful love; for, my brethren, he had ever before him this one object, to make God great in men’s thoughts.
III. Thus I pass on to the third thing in the text, namely, HIS PRAYER, which was a good omen,-“Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.” What a plaintive prayer it is. It shows you, brethren, that David was not ashamed of his former reliance.
He felt that he should not have come so far if God had not led him. He saw his absolute dependence upon God in the past, the necessity which had always existed for his entire reliance on the divine omnipotence. I hope that from our youth we have known the necessity of dependence upon God, but I am certain that dependence is a growing feeling. Growing Christians think themselves nothing; full-grown Christians think themselves less than nothing. Good men are like ships, the fuller they are the lower they sink in the stream. The more grace a man has the more he complains of his want of grace.
This proves, dear friends, that David did not imagine that past grace could suffice for the present. Past experience is like the old manna, it breeds worms and stinks if it be relied upon. The moment a man begins to pride himself on the grace he used to have six years ago you may depend upon it he has very little now. We want new grace every day. The presence of God with me yesterday will not suffice for the present moment; I must have grace now. David acknowledged his present dependence, and it was wise to do so. Men always stumble when they try to walk with their eyes turned behind them. It is very remarkable that all the falls, as far as I remember, recorded in Scripture, are those of old men. This should be a great warning to us who think we are getting wise and experienced. Judah and Eli, and Solomon, and Asa were all advanced in years when they were found faulty before the Lord. Cool passions are no guarantees against fiery sins, unless grace has cooled them rather than decay of nature. There was great need for David to say, “O God, forsake me not,” and his own case proved it.
The Psalmist saw that many enemies were watching him, and therefore he pleaded, “Forsake me not.” He had many temptations to grow weary in his Master’s service, and he prayed, “Forsake me not.” He felt also the natural decay of his physical force, and he
cried, “My strength faileth,” and therefore he pleaded, “Forsake me not.” The Psalmist by this prayer confessed his undeservingness. He felt that for his sins God might well leave him. Hence that prayer in the fifty-first Psalm, “Cast me not away from thy presence; take not thy holy spirit from me.” But he humbly resolved not to be deserted, he could not bear it, he held his God with eagerness, and cried in agony. “O God, forsake me not.” His heart was desperately set upon holding to his one hope and consolation, and so he pleaded as one who pleads for life itself.
You now have the prayer before you; what think ye, brethren, will the Lord answer it? You who are feeling your strength fail through old age have been praying, “O God, forsake me not”; what think you, will the Lord answer your prayer? Aye, that He will! It is not possible for Him to do otherwise. Do you think it is like our Lord to leave a man because he is growing old? Would any of us do it? Son, would you cast off your father because he totters about the house? Brother, would you leave your elder brother because he is now aged and infirm? Do we any of us, as long as we have human hearts in our bosom, pitilessly desert the aged? Oh no, and God is far better than we are, and He will not despise His worn-out servants. The feeble meanings of the most afflicted and infirm are heard by Him, not with weariness, but with pity. Do you think the Lord will turn off His old servants? Would you do so? Among men it is common enough to leave poor old people to shift for themselves. The soldier who has spent the prime of his life in his country’s service has been left to beg by the roadside, or to die of want. Even the saviours of a nation have been suffered in their old age to pine in penury. How often have kings and princes cast off their most faithful servants, and left them naked to their enemies! When time has wrinkled the handsome face, and bowed the erect figure, the old man has no longer found a place in the throng of courtiers. But the Lord dealeth not so. The King of kings casts not off His veteran soldiers, nor His old courtiers, but He indulges them with peculiar favours. We have a proverb that old wine and old friends are best, and truly we need not look far to see that the oldest saints are frequently the best esteemed by the Lord. He did not forsake Abraham when he was well stricken in years, nor Isaac when he was blind, nor Jacob when he worshipped upon the top of his staff.
Why, brethren, if the Lord had meant to have cast us off would He not have done so long ago? If He wanted occasion for discharging us from His service has He not had plenty? My Lord has had reason enough to send me packing hundreds of times if He had willed to do so. He has not waited all these years to pick a quarrel with you at the last, I am sure, for He might have justly removed you from His household years ago. If He had meant to destroy you,
would He have shown you such things as He has done? If He meant to leave you, would He not have left you in your troubles twenty years ago? He has spent so much patience and pains, and trouble over you that He surely means to go through with it. Why should He not? Has He begun to build and is He not able to finish? “Ah,” say you, “you are only a young man, it is very well for you to talk.” I know it; I know it; and yet I believe that when I grow old I shall be able to talk as I do now, and even more confidently, for I trust I shall then be able to say, “He who taught me from my youth and kept me to this day will not now let me go.” O, my brother, though you cried in prayer, “O God, forsake me not,” do not sink so low as to imagine that He can forsake you, for that were to mistrust His royal word, wherein He said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
IV. Our last point is this, here is HIS WISH, or a good ending. “Forsake me not till I have showed thy strength unto this generation and thy power to every one that is to come.” He had spent a lifetime in declaring God’s gospel, but he wanted to do it once more. Aged saints are loath to cease from active service. Many of them are like old John Newton, who, when he was too feeble to walk up the pulpit stairs of St. Mary Woolnoth parish church, was carried up to his place and preached on still. His friends said, “Really, Mr. Newton, you are so feeble, you ought to give over,” and he said, “What? Shall the old African blasphemer ever leave off preaching the grace of his Master as long as there is breath in his body? No, never.” It is harder work to leave off than to go on, for the love of Christ constrains us still, and burns with young flame in an aged heart. So here the good man pines to show forth once more God’s strength. I think I hear somebody say to the aged man, “You are very unfit to show forth God’s strength, for by reason of years your strength is failing.” But such a speech would be foolish, for the very man to show forth the Lord’s strength is the man who has none of his own. It is no small thing to be in a condition to need great help, and so to be fitted to receive it, and qualified to illustrate what great things divine power can accomplish. My aged friend, your weakness will serve as a foil to set forth the brightness of divine strength. The “old man eloquent,” feels that if he could bear one more testimony everybody would know it was not the strength of his natural spirit or his fine juvenile constitution which upheld him. If he spoke up for his Maker all men would say, “That feeble old man who testified so bravely for his Lord is himself the best of all testimonies to the power of divine grace, for we see how it strengthens him.”
Moreover, he thought that if he witnessed for his Lord the young people would note the strength of divine grace which could last out for many years; they would see that many waters could not quench love, neither could the floods drown it; they would see the strength
of God’s pardoning mercy in blotting out his sins so long, and the power of God’s faithfulness in remaining true to His servant, even to the end. Because of all this he eagerly desired to bear one more testimony.
And, do you notice the congregation he wished to address. He would testify to the generation that was growing up around him. He wished to make known God’s power to his immediate neighbours, and to their children, so that the light might be handed on to other generations. This should be on the mind of all who are going off the state of action: they should think of those who are to come after them, and pray for them, and help them. The aged man’s thoughts should be fixed upon the spiritual legacies which he will leave; and as good old Jacob gathered up his feet in the bed, and then divided his blessing among his sons, so should the venerable believer distribute benedictions. Your work is almost done, it only remains to leave behind you a monument by which you may be remembered;
marble and brass will perish, but truth will remain: set up a memorial of faithful testimony. Not much longer will you mingle with the sons of men; your seat will be empty here, and the place which knows you today will know you no more; hand on, then, the blessed treasure of the gospel. You die, but the cause of God must not. Speak now, so that when you are gone it may be said of you, “He being dead yet speaketh.” Call your children and your grandchildren together and tell them what a good God you have served; or, if you have no such dear ones, speak to your neighbours and your friends, or write it down that other eyes may read it when yours are glazed in death. Reach out your hand to the ages yet to come, and present them with the pearl of great price. Pray God to enable you to set your mark upon the coming generation, and then set about winning youth to Jesus by a cheerful, bold, unhesitating witness to His love and power. Willing to go we all ought to be, but we ought scarcely to desire departure till we have seen the interests of the cause of God secured for coming time. If there is one more soul to be saved, one more heart to be comforted, one more jewel to be gathered for the Redeemer’s crown, you will say, dear friend, I am sure “Let me wait till my full day’s work is done.”
“Happy if with my latest breath
I may but lisp Thy name.
Preach Thee to all, and say in death,
‘Behold, behold the Lamb!'”