Page images

with them aown into the vale of years, the vigor of youth. The muscles lose their elasticity, the eye grows dim, the ear is dull of hearing, and the whole body bends toward the grave. How gloomy to see the old man leaning upon his staff, or advancing with slow and cautious steps, and interrupted by every obstacle that used to increase his speed, till at length he seats himself to rest, and pants as if he had made his dying effort. The grasshop per has become a burden. The slumbers of the night are interrupted with pain, and the least exertion brings on an almost insupportable lassitude. He aches for the repose of the grave, and hopes for no alleviation till his body has crumbled into dust. He seems to live merely to sigh, and groan, and suffer.

Nor can he fail to draw the contrast between his present and his youthful days. It seems but yesterday when every power performed its functions with agility, and when he could see none about him who were more active and sprightly than himself. Action was his enjoyment, and when he had toiled, his rest was long and sweet. Now when he has made his mightiest effort he is still a child, and trembles at the shaking of a leaf. He anticipates the hour when he must be thrown, in all his imploring helplessness, upon the support of his offspring.

2. That period of life is attended not only with a weakness and failure of the bodily powers, but with a decay of the mental energies. The mind that had seemed to mature with the body, seems now to be verging with it to the brink of destruction. The power of thought, of reflection, of association, and of reasoning, the power of recollection and of memory, seem all to partake of the same weakness as do the powers of the body: How does it affect our hearts, when an aged and venerated father begins to lose the countenances of his children, forgets their names, repeats in their hearing the same tale told an hour since, and now again rehearsed with all the animation and interest of novelty—when it is seen that the plainest matters of fact are controverted, and the most sacred pledge of confidence unredeemed—when the lapse of an hour seems a year or an age, and the same friend is accosted many times during the same interview, as then for the first time recognised, and constrained to reply again and again to the same interrogation, till the kindest feelings become the prey of fatigue.

And, perhaps, amid the whole, there is, to the man himself, no conviction of failure or decay. There is the same entire confidence in every dictate of the mind, as when it remained unimpaired in the man of fifty. Occasionally, perhaps, we do see all its former excellence. The mind makes one effort before it recollects its weakness, and there is in that effort all the vigor of matured reflection; but it sinks immediately, and then is witnessed the imbecility of childhood.

I not long since heard an aged minister of Christ address his people, extempore, on the concerns of futurity, when there was a striking display of this mixture of strength and weakness. One moment he reached his point by some strong, condensed, and convincing argument; at the next he had lost his strength, and was weak as other men. Now he softened down the burning glories of the Godhead till human eyes would gaze and live—and while yet the figure was scarcely finished, the vision had fled; he raised his hand to give the sentiment its proper emphasis, but his hand remained stationary, and the audience were subjected to the pain of carrying out the sentiment by their own effort, or of seeing fled for ever one of the finest thoughts that ever dropped upon them from human lips. Now it does not concern, in the present inquiry, to decide whether the mind is the subject of a real decay, or whether its failure is to be attributed to the derangement of the organs through which it operates. There can hardly be a doubt but that it will appear in all its strength and stature, unimpaired by age or effort, when once it shall be dislodged from its crumbling mansion. This will be believed by all who have confidence in its immortality. But its apparent decay has at present all the effect of a reality, producing in the mind of the beholder all the pity, and brings upon itself all the diffidence, the darkness, and the distress of a real approximation toward extinction.

3. The period of which we speak is of course subjected to a distressing depression of animal spirits. When there has come upon the members of the body a prostration so total, and upon the mind a correspondent imbecility, it cannot well be hoped that there shall remain the same flow of spirits, the same animation and spirit of action, and enterprise, as when there was felt all the vigor and the impulse of youth. Hence we often see the old man gloomy and depressed. Small as are the remains of his energy, mental or corporeal, he has not sufficient ambition to put in action the powers that he does possess. He feels that he is beginning to lose all his consequence and all his influence. He is listened to with the profoundest respect, but when his sentiments are communicated, he has the mortification to know, that having wholly mistaken the point, or having failed to utter the thought which he intended to communicate, or from some other cause to him inexpli

cable, there is really no weight given to his argument, and all his labor is lost. He now begins to retire from a community who conceive, at least, that they can manage more wisely without him. But he carries gloom and sorrow into his retirement. The mind that has been active, and has commanded attention and respect, cannot, without some degree of pain, see itself neglected, and sinking into comparative disesteem. Hence we cannot wonder if we see crossing the cheek, furrowed with age, the tear of melancholy. Every dutiful child, and every man in youth and middle age, who respects himself, will readily wipe away that tear. But when all is done that filial affection and gratitude can do to smooth the aged father's path to the sepulchre, still that eye, now dim with age, must weep, and that mind, which sees decaying every organ of its communication, must naturally shrink back upon itself, and mourn that it must so early become obsolete. And we shall still more strongly expect this operation of old age, when we reflect,

4. That the man who has passed threescore years and ten, must find himself deserted of almost all the companions of his youth. He has lived to bury that whole generation who were cotemporary with his boyhood and his youth. He has parted, perhaps, with the companion of his bosom, and has been present at the interment of almost all his mother's children. He seldom meets with one who can rehearse with him the scenes of his early life, or feel any sympathy in the story of his pleasures or his escapes. He stands like a tree which was once in the bosom of a forest, but now is left to feel the full weight of every storm, while the associates of his youth, whose united energies would obtrude the blast, have all perished; and his decaying boughs too strongly indicate that he must soon yield the soil to a later growth, and permit the winds of heaven to pass unobstructed. True, he is surrounded by his children, and they are dear to him, and he to them. They feel every sigh he heaves, and would, were it in their power, return him to his former enjoyments. But they cannot restore to him the companions of his youth, they cannot relax the rigidities, or brace the weaknesses of a broken constitution. They can only nurse him, and smile upon him, while to him the world seems empty, as if some pestilence should prey upon its whole population, leaving only here and there a solitary individual, or as if some earthquake should suddenly hide from our view every human being who had known us or loved us.

It is said that the aged, while they have a keen recollection of what passed in their youth, remember with difficulty the scenes of later life. The impressions which the mind received while it was young

and tender remain, while the events more recent are lost. Hence, break up every early connection, associate with the grave and the dead all the moving scenes of life, and you have covered the aged man with a cloud, from which he will find it difficult to emerge, till he goes to his long home. Hence, it will naturally be expected, that the evening of life will be lowering and gloomy. True, if the man of eighty has loved the Lord Jesus, there still remains unbroken the tie that binds him to his best friend, and the presence of God may render him happy. I have read of an aged Simeon, who waited for the consolation of Israel, and who was enabled to sing and rejoice on embracing the infant Redeemer. But even Simeon, in the midst of his enjoyments, chose rather to depart in peace, and enjoy the fruits of salvation in some better world.

5. There must accompany that period of life of which we speak, in spite of every effort to efface it, the strong impression that every step is upon the margin of the grave. Occasionally, perhaps, the few months that remain may seem to the aged man like a thousand years, but his habitual conviction must be that his race is almost run. The ties that have bound him to life are fast breaking. Every pang he feels reminds him that his grave will soon be ready. So tardy flows the stream of life as to assure him that soon the heart will beat no longer.

Hence, should he think of forming new relationships, he could hardly hope that they would exist till they should become consolidated. If he make any new attempts to increase his wealth, he but toils for another, and so becomes a slave. Would he improve his mind, he finds it not susceptible of new impressions, and the toil wears him out the sooner. Thus is he impeded in every effort by the abiding conviction, that already his days are nearly numbered.


How indispensable that the aged have the supports of piety. Else that period of life must find its miseries tenfolded. The gray headed unbeliever has no view that is pleasant. When he looks backs he sees nothing but a dreary waste of sin and death. No deed of his past life, no affection or motive will bear a serious review; hence he is afraid to reflect. When he looks within, he sees an evil heart of unbelief, matured by a long and obstinate conflict with God, for a dreary and fearful abode in the pit. And

[ocr errors]


when he anticipates the judgment, he has no solid ground to hope that it shall not consummate his present wretchedness. Thus is added to all the gloom induced by age, infirmity, and crime, the apprehended horrors of the second death.

But when gray hairs are found in the way of righteousness, when the man advanced in years is also advanced in grace, there is before the eye of the mind one prospect bright and luminous He may sigh under his growing infirmities, may realize the temporary decay of his mind, may feel the loss of his friends, may mourn his loneliness, and expect soon his departure, but may look forward with pleasure to the scenes of a better life. Then his youth will be renewed as the eagle's, bis mind will regain its vigor, he will meet again many of the companions of his youth, every cloud that hung over him will have fled, and death be swallowed up in victory. Now he can wait patiently all the days of his appointed time till his change come ; till he come to the grave in peace as a shock of corn fully ripe.

One word to those who have approached this gloomy period of life unsanctified. Perhaps the infirmities of age may have brought upon the mind a stupidity which will forbid you to own this char

But this will not alter the reality. If you are unsanctified, the fact is known to bim who in a few days will judge you. Why not make one more effort to escape from the miseries of the second death. You have sometimes known a dying effort to prove successful. Despair has sometimes inspired the onset that has saved a besieged army. One has achieved, to save his life, or rescue his family, what had not been possible in ordinary circumstances. You may have known the case where a father, to save his child, has forced his way through volumes of fire, not to be endured but in just such an emergency, yet accomplished his object and lived. Just such an effort you should make to escape from the wrath to come. What if you do feel the weaknesses of old age ? if the soul is not safe, make it safe, or die in the agonies of a desperate attempt. Think not, my father, that this subject may be dismissed, because you have neglected the season in which it should have been attended to. To dismiss it will cost you your soul. It may be a late hour to attend to it, but it must have your attention. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Were you on your death bed, and had done nothing, we should urge upon you the possibility of making your escape, even then. But you are yet, perhaps, in the enjoyment of ordinary health. We wish you too well, to be willing that the miseries of old should at length

« PreviousContinue »