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THE ADVANTAGES OF OLD AGE.
JOB XXXII. 7.
I said, days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.
EVERY age of life has its advantages and disadvantages, not only in respect of strength, activity, and pleasure on one side; of judgement, experience, and wisdom on the other; and as these qualities relate to the success or the happiness of our present existence; but there is in the different periods of life a system also of advantages and disadvantages respecting religion itself.
The work of salvation is before us at all ages. Youth can bring to the task sensibility, usefulness, innocency, activity—a mind yet unoccupied, and yet unenslaved by vicious habits-a strength capable of doing much good—a conscience quick and sensible -a heart warm, and susceptible of benevolent affections-a vigour of principle, and a glow of devotion, which no other season of life can pretend to. God grant that the young may use and exert these faculties and these advantages as they ought to do! But what are the advantages, or are there any, which the cold
ness and weakness of age can set against these? What is there applicable to religious improvement which the natural condition of advanced years brings with it? Those it is my purpose to set forth, as well for consolation as instruction; because if any one can feel that he is capable of making himself 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 vigour, 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 for
getfulness! 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 appearance. 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-how 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 point 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 honours 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 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