Today (June 1, 1919) I am fifty-nine years old, and there is not a cloud in my spiritual heaven. My mouth is full of laughter and my heart is full of joy. I feel so sorry for folks who don't like to grow old, and who are trying all the time to hide the fact that they are growing old, and who are ashamed to tell how old they are. I revel in my years. They enrich me. If God should say to me, 'I will let you begin over again, and you may have your youth back once more,' I should say, 'O dear Lord, if Thou dost not mind, I prefer to go on growing old!'
I would not exchange the peace of mind, the abiding rest of soul, the measure of wisdom I have gained from the sweet and bitter and perplexing experiences of life, the confirmed faith I now have in the moral order of the universe, and in the unfailing mercies and love of God, for all the bright but uncertain hopes and tumultuous joys of youth. Indeed, I would not!
These are the best years of my life -- the sweetest, the freest from anxious care and fear. The way grows brighter, the birds sing sweeter, the winds blow softer, the sun shines more radiantly than ever before. I suppose my outward man is perishing, but my inward man is being joyously renewed day by day.
Victor Hugo said (I quote from memory): 'For fifty years I have been expressing myself in sonnet and song, in history, biography, essays, philosophy, drama, tragedy, and fiction, but I have not expressed a thousandth part of what is within me.' And then he added, 'The frosts of seventy winters are upon my head, but the springtime of eternal youth is in my heart.' Truly, that is the way I feel these days
One of the prayers of my heart, as I grow older, is that of David: 'Now, also, when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not until I have showed Thy strength unto this generation and Thy power to every one that is to come!' David was jealous for the glory of God and for the highest well-being of his own generation and every generation that was to follow, and he prayed no selfish prayer, but poured out his heart to God that he might so live and speak and write that God's glory and goodness and power might be made known to the men of his own time and to all that should come after him. And how wonderfully God heard and answered his prayer! Oh, that God would grant me a like grace!
If the eye of any friend falls upon this testimony, let me beseech you to unite with me and for me in this prayer of David, which I make my own.
This past year has been wonderful. Since the first of January considerably over three thousand souls have knelt at the penitent-form in my Meetings, seeking pardon and purity. Seldom have I seen such manifestations of God's presence and power as during these months. I rejoice in God my Saviour, and my soul doth magnify the Lord.
I wish I knew more of it and could better tell to others the secret of growing old gladly. But some lessons that I have learned, or partially learned, I here pass on:
1. Have faith in God -- In His providence, In His superintending care, in His unfailing love.
2. Accept the bitter with the sweet and rejoice in both. The bitter may be better for us than the sweet. Don't grow impatient and fretful. If you fall into divers temptations, count it all joy, knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience; and let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
What a high state of grace that is -- to be 'perfect and entire, wanting nothing! ' And yet it is to be attained through the joyful acceptance of annoying trials and petty vexations, as a part of God's discipline. (James i. 2-7.)
3. Keep a heart full of love toward everybody. Learn to be patient with folks who try your patience. If you can't love them with complacency, then love them with compassion and pity; but love them, pray for them, and don't carry around hard thoughts and feelings -- toward them.
Here is a tender little poem by Whittier, our Quaker poet:
My heart was heavy, for its trust had been Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong; So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men, One summer Sabbath Day I strolled among The green mounds of the village burial-place, Where, pondering how all human love and hate Find one sad level; and how, soon or late, Wronged and wrong-doer, each with meekened face, And cold hands folded over a still heart, Pass the green threshold of our common grave, Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart, Awed for myself and pitying my race, Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave, Swept all my pride away, and, trembling, I forgave
4. Don't waste time and fritter away faith by living in the past, by mourning over the failures of yesterday and the long ago. Commit them to God and look upward and onward. 'Forgetting those things which are behind,' said Paul, 'and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.'
Some one has said that there are two things we should never worry over and two days about which we should never be anxious. First, we should not worry over the things that we can help, but set to work manfully to help them; second, we should not worry, over the things that we cannot help, but commit them to God and go on with the duties close at hand. Again, we should not be anxious about yesterday. Our anxieties will not mend its failures nor restore its losses. Second, we should not be anxious about tomorrow. We cannot borrow its grace. Why, then, should we borrow its care?
5. Give good heed to failing bodily strength. The Founder once said that the body and soul, being very near neighbors, have a great influence upon each other. We must remember that our bodies are to be treated like our beast, and Solomon says that 'a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.' When young we could stay up all night, eat ice-cream, nuts, and cake at midnight, and go about our work next day, not much the worse, so far as we could judge, for the shameful mistreatment of our bodies; but woe unto the man or woman, growing old, who thinks he can treat his body so!
We must remember that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost; hence, while they need sufficient nourishing food and restful sleep, they must in no sense be pampered, and all nervous excesses must be strictly avoided, or the body will react upon the mind and the spirit, and weakness and impatience and gloom will cloud the soul. And then, instead of ripening into mellow sweetness with age, the soul will turn bitter and sour; and what can be more pitiful than an embittered and soured old soul?
Oh, the joy of living a life of sobriety, of faith, of quietness and confidence, of meekness, of service, of love, of 'growing up unto Him in all things, which is the Head -- Even Christ! ' Such a life is never old, but eternally renewing itself, eternally youthful, like a springing, sparkling fountain that is fed by unfailing waters that flow down from the heights of the everlasting hills. Hallelujah!
In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust! Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men! (Psalm xxxi. 1-19.)
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith, 'A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid.'
Then welcome each rebuff That turns earth's smoothness rough, Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go! Be our joys three parts pain! Strive, and hold cheap the strain; Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!
He fixed thee 'mid the dance Of plastic circumstance, This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest; Machinery just meant To give thy soul its bent, Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.
The Future I may face now I have proved the Past.
"I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision," said Paul, and in that saying he reveals the secret of his wonderful success as a soul-winner. The soul-winner is a man sent by God, and will have visions and revelations and secret orders that, if affectionately heeded and heartily and courageously obeyed, will surely lead to success. He is preeminently "a worker together with God," and a soldier of Jesus Christ, and as such must obey. It is his business to take orders and carry them out.
"Before I formed thee I knew thee, and before thou camest forth I sanctified thee and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nation," said the Lord to Jeremiah, and when Jeremiah interrupted and said, "Ah, Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a child," the Lord said to him, "Say not I am a child, for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with thee to deliver thee," saith the Lord; "thou therefore gird up thy loins and arise and speak unto them all that I shall command thee. Be not dismayed at their faces lest I confound thee before them."
"If they had stood in My counsel and had caused My people to hear My words, then they should have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings," said the Lord of the false prophets. (Jeremiah 23:22.)
"Not what is proper, but what is right must be my fearless and constant inquiry. Jesus, still lead on!" was the motto of Joseph Parker, one of London's mightiest preachers.
The soul-winner must get his message from God and speak what and when He commands. He is a servant of God, a friend of Jesus, a prophet of the Most High, an ambassador of heaven to the sons of men, and he must needs speak heaven's words and represent heaven's court and King and not seek his own will, but seek the will of Him that sent him. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice." He must not trim his course to suit men, nor stop to ask what this man or that shall do, but he must attend strictly to his Lord and steadfastly follow Jesus. Paul tells us that Jesus was "obedient unto death" (Phil. 2:8), and again and again he calls himself "a servant of Jesus Christ."
First: This obedience must be prompt. In spite of the appeals and encouragements of Joshua and Caleb, the children of Israel refused to go over into Canaan, but afterwards, seeing their sin in refusing to obey promptly, they essayed to go over in spite of the warnings of Moses not now to attempt it, and met with bitter defeat. Promptness would have saved them forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Once the soul-winner knows the Master's will, he must not delay to fulfill it. If he is in doubt he can take time to assure himself as to what that will is. God would not have him run before he is sure he is sent, nor go before he has his message, nor falter and possibly fall because of uncertainty. But once he has received his orders and got his message, let him remember that "the King's business requires haste;" let him "strike while the iron is hot;" act and speak when the Spirit moves, and not, like covetous Balaam, dilly-dally to see if God will not change His mind and His orders.
Dewey's matchless victory at Manila was won, and the geographical boundaries of the nations changed, by the promptness with which he carried out his orders to destroy the Spanish fleet.
I have noticed that if I speak when the Spirit moves me, I can usually introduce the subject of religion and God's claims to any individual or company of men with happy results, but if I delay, the opportunity slips by, not to return again, or if it does return, it does so with increased difficulties.
Second: This obedience must be exact. Saul lost his kingdom and his life because his obedience was only partial. (See 1 Sam. 15.) So also did the prophet who warned the wicked King Jeroboam. (See 1 Kings, 13.)
"Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it," said Mary to the servants at the marriage of Cana, and when they obeyed Him Jesus wrought His first miracle. And so He will work miracles today through His chosen people, if they will do whatever He saith. The soul-winner must beware of quenching the blessed Spirit, and then he will find that it is not himself but the Spirit that speaks in him, so that he can say with Jesus, "The words that I speak, I speak not of Myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works," for does not Jesus say, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, that will I do"?
Third: This obedience must be courageous. "Be not afraid of their faces," said the Lord to Jeremiah. And again He said to Ezekiel, "And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak My words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear." He was not to say that which would please the people, but that which God gave him to say, and that without fear of consequences.
"And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandments of the Lord, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice." No wonder God cast him off and gave his crown and kingdom to another! God says, "Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee: yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness." Let the soul-winner recognize that he is on picket duty for heaven, and let him throw himself on heaven's protection and rest in the assurance of his Heavenly Father's care, and the utmost sympathy and support of Jesus, and do his duty courageously, saying with Paul, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Again and again I have comforted myself with the assurance of good King Jehoshaphat, "Deal courageously and the Lord shall be with the good," and encouraged myself with the bold declaration of Peter to the enraged and outwitted Sanhedrin, "We ought to obey God rather than men," and measured myself by the self-forgetful words of Nehemiah, "Should such a man as I flee, and who is there that being as I am would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in." (Neh. 6:11.) And of Paul "Neither count I my life dear unto myself. so that I might finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God." And of the three Hebrew children: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king; but if not, O, king, be it known unto thee that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
That is the kind of stuff out of which God makes soul-winners.
Do you ask, how can a man get such a spirit of courageous obedience? I answer by dying -- dying to your selfish interests, dying to the love of praise, the fear of censure, the hope of reward in this world, and by a daredevil faith in the reward that God will give in the world to come; by a steadfast looking unto and following of Jesus, and a constant comparison of time with eternity. I read the other day that it was only dead men who were living preachers.
Fourth: The obedience must be glad. The command is, "Serve the Lord with gladness." "I delight to do thy will, O God," wrote the Psalmist. There was no grudging about his obedience; it was his joy. It is a love service God wants, and that is always a joy service. "My meat and My drink is to do the will of Him that sent Me," said Jesus, and Paul declares, "If I do this thing willingly, I have a reward." It is a glad love service God calls us to, and once we are wholly His and the Comforter abides in us, we shall not find it irksome to obey, and by obedience we shall both save ourselves and others to whom the Lord may send us.