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PROV. Chap. XVI, Ver. 31.
The hoary head is a Crown of Glory, if it be found in the way
The Old Age and Venerable Character of the Man whose corps now lies before us, led to the choice of this Text; for this Congregation, and every other Congregation however numerous, may be divided into two classes of People--either those whose Heads are already boary, and silvered over by the Hand of Time; or those who hope and wish to arrive at that stage of life.
How to render our old age honourable in the eyes of the Young, and to render our boary Hairs a crown of Glory to ourselves, if peradventure God should crown us with the patriarchal blessing of living to a good old age, is, therefore a matter of the most serious concern—especially in an age and country, when the petulance and forwardness of Youth, lead them to tread on the Heels of their Seniors, with such rude and rough steps, as if they wished to push them off the stage, before their short act of life is finished, in order to make room for themselves.
Certain it is that Providence hath not cast us into so bad a world, (bad however as we must confess it to be) but that old age may be rendered happy in itself, and respectable in the eyes of all that behold it; and Solomon, in the text, hath beautifully told us how it may be done;-namely, by “ exercising it in the ways of Righteousness.”
Righteousness is, indeed, an ornament to all stages of life; but it sits peculiarly graceful and glorious on old age and the boary lead; and the reason is, because its opposite, Vice, is peculiarly disgraceful to years of Gravity and Discretion.
The young and unthinking generally find some excuse, though indeed a bad one, by pleading want of Experience, the Strength of Passion, and Rage of unsubdued Appetite, as an apology for their Imprų. dences, their Follies and Extravagances; but for the Aged—those whose Heads are boar; whose Brows are furrowed over by Time; whose limbs are tottering on the brink of the Grave and Eternity; whose gust for sensual Pleasure is palled and almost dead ;respecting them, I say, to retain the Inclination and shew a Disposition for Vice, after all its Temptations have left them-how enormously ridiculous'do they render themselves! and what fatal Stabs do they give to the Cause of Truth and Holiness! How grievously do they mistake all the laws of Propriety and Decorum; and how little do they consider the conduct that becomes them; and that an old age which is found in Sobriety and Righteousness, according to our text-an old age which is exercised in Peace and Virtue; an old age which is become respectable for giving good Advice to all around, and improving the World by its Example—is a Conduct, which can alone give us Joy, when all other earthly Joys can please no more; and will command the Veneration and Esteem even of the most Dissolute and Flagi. tious!
Old Age, my Brethren, generally comes accompanied with many Infirmities both of Body and Mind; for the World hath no new Hopes to flatter it with, and hath many Fears to present to it, through its near Approaches to the confines of another world. Wherefore, since dying naturally gives Terror, and living gives little else but Pain, it is surely worth inquiring-whether such an old age be possible, as will mitigate the chief Pains of living, and remove the chief Terrors of dying ? and that this is possible, we cannot entertain the least Doubt, without questioning the Goodness of our Almighty Creator, who hath made every thing good in its season. He who hath taken Care to provide for all the former Stages of a Man's Life, would not surely leave the last and most ripened stage of it, void of its share of Comforts; especially if it be found in the way he hath appointed—that is, in the Way of Righteousness.
Since, therefore, old age, how much soever men may complain of it, may be rendered both honourable and happy in this way of Righteousness; let us inquire what are the assistances, which Virtue and Piety, or Righteousness, will give us when nothing else can be of any comfort to us.
And first-if a proper foundation hath been laid in our early years--the fruits thereof will be our com
fort in age. The irregularities of youth are the chief cause of an infirm and painful old age; loading our declining years with perplexities and distress, which a timely care and foresight might have prevented For as the son of Sirach tells us*_ If thou hast gathered nothing in thy Youth, how canst thou find any thing in thine Age?”—If our Creator has been neglected in the “ days of our youth,” if our first and best years, the Strength and Vigour of our Body and Mind, have been consecrated to the Service of Satan and Sin, what are the Dregs of our old age?-Can we with any confidence, offer them as a Sacrifice to that Gracious and Good Being, who gave us both Youth and Strength? The reflection that we have so long forgotten Him who can alone shew us any good, instead of comforting, will deprive us of all those calm and heartfelt Joys, that ought to revive and warm our drooping Frame, and will add to all our other growing Pains, the terrible apprehensions of Wrath and Punishment to come.
Oh then! that those who are busy and employing all their cares to lay up some Worldly Provision, (as is indeed fit and proper) for the bodily Support of their old age,
would consider farther that all this care will avail them nothing, unless they lay up also some Spiritual Provision, a Treasure of Righteousness, in a Life well spent; considering farther the true Inter. pretation of old age, according to the words of the wise mant, “ that it standeth not in Length of Time, nor is measured by Number of Years; but that Wisdom is the gray hair unto Man, and an un. spotted Life is Old Age.” Did men, therefore, seriously consider these things, they would not employ their Youth to make their riper years unhappy. They would not make it their whole Study to croud into a narrow space of their Time, all the self-indulgence which they can possibly grasp at, till they almost destroy their Relish for sensual Pleasure, by the Excess of its Enjoyment; but they would provide, as more proper, a store of those home-felt, Sweet and Virtuous Reflections, which will still grow upon Enjoyment, and will never, no never, satiate or disgust us!
* Eccles. Chap. XXV, Ver. 3. + Wisdom, Chap. IV, Ver. 8, 9.
Nevertheless, as the laying up a store of Comfort for old age by an early course of Virtue and Righteousness, although the main thing, will not be sufficient alone; but, when that period comes, we must avoid the faults to which it is peculiarly subject, and pursue the duties to which it is peculiarly obligated.
Now one fault, which too often creeps on with old age, to render it despicable, is extreme Avarice and Penuriousness. Though the aged, above all persons, as having but few years left, are in least Danger of wanting, yet they are often the fondest of boarding up; and the farther they advance towards getting out of the world, the faster they stick themselves to it, by a strong Attachment to its Goods; insomuch that, by an ill-timed Parsimony, they will not give that Assistance to their own Children, which Nature and duty prescribe; till the Time comes, when they can hold it no longer; when there is no Merit in Giving, and what they give, comes too late to save their Fa