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self more and more ready for the great change which is approaching, it is, and ought to be, a support and comfort to him, under either the consciousness of decay, or the weight of infirmities; and also, if there be properties, of which advanced life, and advanced life alone is capable, and which tend to make us holier and happier, God forbid that we should not know them, and exercise them, and use them !
Now first, I do say, that older men are naturally more sensible of the mercies of God. I do not say that they have greater reason to be sensible of the mercies of God, but that they are more sensible of them. Young people regard their health and strength, their vigor, spirits, and enjoyments, as natural to their time of life, and what other young people possess as well as themselves. They look upon them as things of course. These blessings often fail of exciting any adequate sense of gratitude in their hearts. They do not, strictly speaking, perceive that they are blessings at all. They scarcely know the want, they have felt little of the interruption of them. They do not reflect upon the goodness of their Maker in giving them, because they see them to be general, and almost universal. Yet, how wrong is this forgetfulness! Is the goodness of God less, because he is constantly giving these blessings? Is it less, because he has given them to so many, that it is singular not to receive them? Yet you find this very constancy of his bounty, this very extent of his beneficence, becomes the reason why it is not felt and thought of as it ought to be. Was there but here and there a person in the full enjoyment of health, in the perfect possession and exercise of his faculties, that person, it may be supposed, would be filled with thankfulness to his Creator for his kindness towards him. But is he less to be thanked, because, in truth, he is more kind? because his bounty flows and spreads around to others as well as to us? to the general condition of life at certain periods? It is a sad thing that we are not touched with the goodness of God, at the time when we ought to be so most highly; that is, when we are receiving the strongest proofs and effects of it. It is a sad thing not to know or estimate the gifts and blessings of our state till we experience the loss, and interruption, and decay of them. Yet it is so. Who are the heedless, the careless, the despisers of religion, the contemners of their Creator, but the very persons who are in the fullest enjoyment of his gifts ?
Now it is a most blessed, as it is a natural effect of age, to cure this inattention, the greatest of all other inattentions. Most things, when men grow older, take a different appear
When they are to feel pain and sickness, frequent or long interruptions of health, they begin to understand what a blessing health is; they begin to wonder that they accounted so little of it when they had it, that they were so ungrateful to God Almighty for it. Who, that is advanced in life, does not make these reflections? Who can avoid making them? In like manner, when their senses and faculties begin to fail, they then begin to learn their value. When their sight grows dim, they are taught by its decay to know, what, if they knew, they probably seldom thought of before, low inestimable a gift the use of their eyes was. They begin to understand the Creator's care and mercy and bounty in our wonderful formation ; most particularly in the use we have found, and perhaps unthankfully enjoyed, of this small but astonishing organ. As their faculty of hearing grows dull
, or difficult, or imperfect, and whilst they lament its incurable decline, or strive a little longer to preserve it, they at the same time are made to comprehend how unworthily they judged of this matter, when all the reflection that passed in their mind upon it was, that they heard sounds as others heard them, that if they conversed and were entertained, it was only as others conversed and were entertained. They did not perceive it, or think it to be a blessing coming immediately from God, in the same manner as they now perceive it to be. Fast and good and salutary reflections are forced upon them by infirmities, which had very little place in their minds, when in fact they ought to have had the most, in the midst of health and strength.
Amongst other points of instruction which are gained from years, this may be one ; that they bring men to see how much the gifts of nature excel the gifts of fortune ; how much, as our Saviour expresses it, the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment; how much health, for instance, is above riches; strength and activity of our own above the help and attendance of others; nature in all things above art; beauty above dress; the use of our eyesight more precious, by a thousand degrees, than treasures of gold and silver; of hearing, than all the titles and honors and distinctions in the world. I do not say that in youth men do not believe this assertion, but they do not reflect upon it. It is a thought which does not readily come into their minds; when, if ever they live to find the declension or departure of these blessings, then they will know, that the things which they receive immediately, as it were, from the hands of our Creator, and which the poor receive equally at least, and perhaps more than equally, with the rich, are, beyond all price
and calculation and comparison, superior to what they receive by any thing that proceeds from civil or social intercourse. They are then convinced how poor and contemptible, how misplaced and miscalculated, is not only the indulgence of their bad propensities, but the objects for which they indulge them ; when they are taught that riches and honors are what they have been used to envy and covet; the gifts of their Maker are what they have neglected, passed over, and abused, what they have never thought of in relation to the Benefactor who gave them, or with a feeling of everlasting gratitude which is due to him for so great and gracious a blessing.
Again, old age brings us to know the value of the blessings which we have enjoyed, and it brings us also to a very thanksul perception of those which yet remain. Is a man advanced in life? The ease of a single day, the rest of a single night, are gifts which may be subjects of gratitude to God. He is sensible of the gift. The gifts of God are not more or greater to one state of life than another ; but a great many very important circumstances belonging to their states, which by the young and strong are regarded as no advantages, are felt by the old as very great blessings, and felt with great satisfaction and thankfulness. Ease to the young is insipid, and, if continued, wearisome; to the old it is sufficient to constitute enjoyment. It has been said of these two periods of life, that
young men are never happy but when they are in the pursuit or enjoyment of pleasure, that old men are happy when they are at ease. The young are fretful, and restless, and impatient, under the mere absence of pain ; the old, on the contrary, draw actual enjoyment from this state. I think this is a true account, and that it was intended so to be. The young were intended for activity, and they were, therefore, to be stimulated and spurred on to exertion. It would not have agreed with the intention of an all wise Providence to have made them content with ease. The old, on the other hand, were designed for repose ; which design is indicated, not only by the gradual declension of their active powers, but by the increasing satisfaction which they find
Herein old age has the advantage over youth. Ease is more readily attainable than pleasure. The time of life and state of constitution which may be made happy by ease, may be blessed with a portion of happiness which its more flourishing periods may never yet have obtained. The truth seems to be, that God has provided for each season of life its own satisfactions. A well ordered mind not only perceives this in general, but makes the very interruption and decay and
loss of former faculties, a reason for being more exceedingly thankful for those which are left. If his strength fail, he draws more happiness from the use of that which is left.
Now every thing which is of a nature to turn the thoughts to God in religion, or rather may be and ought to be a source of religion, and whatever has a tendency to make us look upon God as the father of all these benefits, see him in his gifts, refer to him all our comforts, understand our close and intimate dependence upon him both in body and soul, for our bodily ease as well as mental tranquillity; every thing, in a word, which stirs and excites our affection towards him, may produce in us a near application to religion; may carry us to it in the best way. And we may therefore say, that advanced years ought to dispose men to their religion on this very account, that they make them more sensible of the gifts and graces and blessings of our Creator than youth usually is; I do not mean to say, than youth ought to be; the contrary is the truth; but than youth usually is.
Again ; it is scarcely possible that any man can have lived to sixty or seventy years without having experienced many special blessings ; I do not mean that general providence, by which his life has been for so long time preserved and continued to him, but many special favors and mercies in the course of it. Recollections of this kind, so long as God is pleased to grant the powers of recollection, ought to employ the minds of those in particular who are advanced in years, and raise their thoughts to God.
Either they have been critically perhaps preserved from sin, which, though they did not think so at the time, they now acknowledge to have been the very greatest of all possible mercies ; or, though they have fallen, or perhaps rushed headlong into sin, they were not ruined by it, as they might have been ruined ; they escaped many of the consequences of it, which might have destroyed them. They were spared in order to repent. They were saved and snatched as a brand out of the fire. These are truly spiritual blessings. These are points and marks of Providence which ought to be peculiarly grateful to aged men, and which they should delight to meditate upon, both because they are immediately and intimately connected with that salvation in which they now ought to be more peculiarly interested, and leading their contemplation into that eternity they do certainly border upon ; and also, because the chief and natural satisfaction of old age is mental rather than bodily. But even here many recollections crowd upon a mind even less sensible to the gratifications of thought
and serious meditation. They may have been recovered and rescued in times of great bodily danger. Their lives and limbs have been preserved to them through some great perils, some extraordinary accidents, some severe sickness. They have often been drawn near to the edge and brink of their mortal fate. They have stood upon the precipice of death and confines of eternity; and what makes such preservation a mercy indeed is that which I fear too many of us but too well remember, that if they had been cut off when they were in so much danger, they had been cut off in their sins. Is not then our preservation from such dangers, both ghostly and bodily, both of soul and body, a mercy to be acknowledged with the deepest sense of thankfulness and obligation ? Still more shall we acknowledge it, if we have used the mercy and forbearance of our Maker as we ought to do; that is, if we have grown better since; if danger has alarmed and roused us; if our escape has taught us fear and caution, fear of God, and caution in offending him. If these beginnings have gone on, and have had the effect of generating seriousness of temper, holiness and purity of heart, more spirituality than was formerly felt, stronger faith and livelier hopes, a gradual rising above the follies of the world, what may we not attribute to this multitude of years, to this language, which nature and age so forcibly speak? A mature age, well instructed by experience, well versed in the changes and chances of this mortal life, ought to be expected to have where at last to fix its views, whither to point and direct all its endeavours, from whence to look for any steadfast ground of consolation, any firm security, any rational object of pursuit and confidence.