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age

September 23, 2009

A couple of years ago a friend forwarded me an amazing bit of writing. It was crafted by James Russell Miller a Presbyterian pastor who lived from 1840-1912 and who pastored churches in Pennsylvania and Illinois. I assume from the first sentence that represents the opening lines of a book geared toward young people, perhaps a nineteenth century equivalent to Don’t Waste Your Life. It is full of soul-stirring reflections on the brevity of life and the importance of living each day for the glory of God. There is practical wisdom (“Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow.”) and there are meditations on the person and work of Christ (“only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy.”). It is, in sum, a powerful encouragement to live a godly life always with a view to the end. Read it, and be sure to read to the end!

*****

This may scarcely seem a fitting theme to introduce in a book meant chiefly for the young, and yet a moment’s reflection will show its appropriateness and practicalness.

Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood. We are each, in all our earlier years, building the house in which we shall have to live when we grow old. And we may make it a prison or a palace. We may make it very beautiful, adorning it with taste and filling it with objects which shall minister to our pleasure, comfort, and power. We may cover the walls with lovely pictures. We may spread luxurious couches of ease on which to rest. We may lay up in store great supplies of provision upon which to feed in the days of hunger and feebleness. We may gather and pile away large bundles of wood to keep the fires blazing brightly in the long winter days and nights of old age.

Or we may make our house very gloomy. We may hang the chamber-walls with horrid pictures, covering them with ghastly spectres which shall look down upon us and haunt us, filling our souls with terror when we sit in the gathering darkness of life’s nightfall. We may make beds of thorns to rest upon. We may lay up nothing to feed upon in the hunger and craving of declining years. We may have no fuel ready for the winter fires.

We may plant roses to bloom about our doors and fragrant gardens to pour their perfumes about us, or we may sow weeds and briers to flaunt themselves in our faces as we sit in our doorways in the gloaming.

All old age is not beautiful. All old people are not happy. Some are very wretched, with hollow, sepulchral lives. Many an ancient palace was built over a dark dungeon. There were the marble walls that shone with dazzling splendor in the sunlight. There were the wide gilded chambers with their magnificent frescoes and their splendid adornments, the gaiety, the music, and the revelry. But deep down beneath all this luxurious splendor and dazzling display was the dungeon filled with its unhappy victims, and up through the iron gratings came the sad groans and moanings of despair, echoing and reverberating through the gilded halls and ceiled chambers; and in this I see a picture of many an old age. It may have abundant comforts and much that tells of prosperity in an outward sense—wealth, honors, friends, the pomp and circumstance of greatness—but it is only a palace built over a gloomy dungeon of memory, up from whose deep and dark recesses come evermore voices of remorse and despair to sadden or embitter every hour and to cast shadows over every lovely picture and every bright scene.

It is possible so to live as to make old age very sad, and then it is possible so to live as to make it very beautiful. In going my rounds in the crowded city I came one day to a door where my ears were greeted with a great chorus of bird-songs. There were birds everywhere—in parlour, in dining-room, in bedchamber, in hall—and the whole house was filled with their joyful music. So may old age be. So it is for those who have lived aright. It is full of music. Every memory is a little snatch of song. The sweet bird-notes of heavenly peace sing everywhere, and the last days of life are its happiest days—

“Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Rich in a faith that has grown with the years.”

The important practical question is, How can we so live that our old age, when it comes, shall be beautiful and happy? It will not do to adjourn this question until the evening shadows are upon us. It will be too late then to consider it. Consciously or unconsciously, we are every day helping to settle the question whether our old age shall be sweet and peaceful or bitter and wretched. It is worth our while, then, to think a little how to make sure of a happy old age.

We must live a useful life. Nothing good ever comes out of idleness or out of selfishness. The standing water stagnates and breeds decay and death. It is the running stream that keeps pure and sweet. The fruit of an idle life is never joy and peace. Years lived selfishly never become garden-spots in the field of memory. Happiness comes out of self-denial for the good of others. Sweet always are the memories of good deeds done and sacrifices made. Their incense, like heavenly perfume, comes floating up from the fields of toil and fills old age with holy fragrance. When one has lived to bless others, one has many grateful, loving friends whose affection proves a wondrous source of joy when the days of feebleness come. Bread cast upon the waters is found again after many days.

I see some people who do not seem to want to make friends. They are unsocial, unsympathetic, cold, distant, disobliging, selfish. Others, again, make no effort to retain their friends. They cast them away for the slightest cause. But they are robbing their later years of joys they cannot afford to lose. If we would walk in the warmth of friendship’s beams in the late evening-time, we must seek to make to ourselves loyal and faithful friends in the busy hours that come before. This we can do by a ministry of kindness and self-forgetfulness. This was part at least of what our Lord meant in that counsel which falls so strangely on our ears until we understand it: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

Again, we must live a pure and holy life. Every one carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one’s degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the color to our skies and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailings of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God’s works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music. So it comes about that this whole question must be settled from within. The fountains rise in the heart itself. The old man, like the snail, carries his house on his back. He may change neighbors or homes or scenes or companions, but he cannot get away from himself and his own past. Sinful years put thorns in the pillow on which the head of old age rests. Lives of passion and evil store away bitter fountains from which the old man has to drink.

Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow. Nothing brings such pure peace and quiet joy at the close as a well-lived past. We are every day laying up the food on which we must feed in the closing years. We are hanging up pictures about the walls of our hearts that we shall have to look at when we sit in the shadows.

How important that we live pure and holy lives! Even forgiven sins will mar the peace of old age, for the ugly scars will remain.

Summing all up in one word, only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy. To have a peaceful and blessed ending to life, we must live it with Christ. Such a life grows brighter even to its close. Its last days are the sunniest and the sweetest. The more earth’s joys fail, the nearer and the more satisfying do the comforts become. The nests over which the wing of God droops, which in the bright summer days of prosperous strength lay hidden among the leaves, stand out uncovered in the days of decay and feebleness when winter has stripped the branches bare. And for such a life death has no terrors. The tokens of its approach are but “the land-birds lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven.” The end is but the touching of the weather-beaten keel on the shore of glory.

March 30, 2009

According to a new “Video Consumer Mapping” study by Ball State University, Americans aged 65 and older spend an average of 420 minutes per day in front of a television screen. 420 minutes per day. Let that sink in for just a moment. That is seven hours; seven full hours. Every day. On average. That means that half of the days it would be more than seven hours. Is that three hours in the morning, perhaps 8 until 11 and then four more in the evening, maybe 7 until 11 PM? How is it even possible? It is unbelievable. And it does not even include time spent watching DVDs or Tivo.

But perhaps it should not be that surprising considering that the average American of any age spends just over five hours per day watching TV. Older Americans, those who have retired, simply add a couple of extra hours onto the television they have already been consuming. America is obsessed.

I read this study and had to think about my life and whether I am on the kind of trajectory that will lead me to a useful, profitable, godly “retirement,” or the kind of retirement that will leave me spending endless hours in front of the tube. Some day I do hope to retire from the day-to-day money-earning responsibilities I have now. If God wills it, a time may come when I can dedicate more time to other things. But I hope and pray that it is something better, more spiritually-profitable, than television.

This was on my mind as I went to church yesterday. At Grace Fellowship Church we had the privilege of recognizing the hand of God in the life of one of our brothers as he was set apart as a pastor and elder. He is a man I’ve come to know well in the past few months and one I’ve come to respect a great deal. The gifting and call of God on his life is so clear, so obvious, that it was a joy to recognize it and to celebrate it together. Our pastor preached a sermon that, while it was directed specifically at this new elder, had application to all of us. He preached from 1 Timothy 4. There were a few words from that passage that stood out to me and resounded in my mind. “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” The pastors’ charge revolved around this: “The greatest gift you can be to our church is to be full of God.” In other words, “Be godly!”

“Godliness is of value in every way,” said the Apostle, “as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” And surely if it has value for now and value for eternity, it also has value for the time between now and eternity! So it must be that godliness will protect me from being a senior Christian, a gray-haired retired old man, who has nothing more to do with my time than to spend seven or eight hours of every day in front of the television screen. This passage was speaking to me, challenging me to be a godly man, a godly Christian. In his commentary on these verses, Philip Ryken says, “The word “godliness” (eusebeia) occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, but nine of them are in this epistle. If someone had asked Timothy what Paul’s letter was about, he might well have said, ‘Well, I suppose it was mostly about the life in God’s household, but the thing that impressed me was my personal need for godliness.’” And like that Timothy of so many years ago, I want to be godly.

Ryken says as well, “Above all else, God wants his people and his ministers to be godly. This is why Paul did not give Timothy seven steps to boost church attendance, or helpful tips about becoming a better administrator, or a thorough critique of his preaching style. Instead, he gave him the most practical instruction of all: a good minister is a godly minister.” And, of course, a good Christian is a godly Christian. Though this letter is directed at Timothy as a pastor, it is directed as well at all of us as believers. “When it comes to physical conditioning, it usually helps to have a trainer. These days, if people want to get their bodies in top condition, they hire a personal trainer. The trainer’s job is to set up a schedule of exercises to get the client into shape. There is a sense in which every Christian has a personal trainer: the Holy Spirit, speaking in Scripture. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to produce the life of God in the soul. What makes people godly is reading, hearing, studying, and meditating on the Bible. As John Stott points out, ‘We cannot become familiar with this godly book without becoming godly ourselves.’”

John Piper has recently released a little booklet called Rethinking Retirement. This is what he says about finishing life to God’s glory: “So finishing life to the glory of Christ means using whatever strength and eyesight and hearing and mobility and resources we have left to treasure Christ and in that joy to serve people—that is, to seek to bring them with us into the everlasting enjoyment of Christ. Serving people, and not ourselves, as the overflow of treasuring Christ makes Christ look great.” I suppose it is obvious that taking eight hours of every day to watch television would radically reduce a Christian’s ability to live that kind of a life. It is difficult to make Christ look great while basking endlessly in the glow of a flickering 37-inch rectangle.

In Piper’s booklet he quotes Ralph Winters of the U.S. Center for World Missions who says this: “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a blessing… .Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?” Piper says, “millions of Christian men and women are finishing their formal careers in their fifties and sixties, and for most of them there will be a good twenty years before their physical and mental powers fail. What will it mean to live those final years for the glory of Christ? How will we live them in such a way as to show that Christ is our highest Treasure?” Will that involve seven or eight hours of television every day?

Just a few more words from Piper: “When I heard J. Oswald Sanders at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School chapel speaking at the age of eighty-nine say that he had written a book a year for Christ since he was seventy, everything in me said, ‘O God, don’t let me waste my final years! Don’t let me buy the American dream of retirement—month after month of leisure and play and hobbies and putzing around in the garage and rearranging the furniture and golfing and fishing and sitting and watching television. Lord, please have mercy on me. Spare me this curse.’”

I was convicted yesterday that to avoid this kind of a retirement, this kind of a curse, I need to be and to become a godly man. I need to continually recommit to godliness, knowing that godliness will profit me now and in eternity, but also in all of those periods of time between now and eternity—and perhaps especially in those years when so much else is being taken away. Godliness is of value in every way.

September 30, 2007

Just a few days ago I found out that a dear old friend died last week. Though we had not spoken to him for several years, he is a man who, along with his wife, left a deep impression on Aileen and me. When we were young and newly married we held up this man and his wife as the example of elderly godliness; we did aspire and still do aspire to be like them someday.

A couple of weeks ago a reader forwarded an article to me written by James Russell Miller a Presbyterian pastor who lived from 1840-1912 and who pastored churches in Pennsylvania and Illinois. As I read it again today I couldn’t help but think of our old friend and the beauty of old age that he and his wife displayed. This article is worth the read just for the closing sentence.


This may scarcely seem a fitting theme to introduce in a book meant chiefly for the young, and yet a moment’s reflection will show its appropriateness and practicalness.

Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood. We are each, in all our earlier years, building the house in which we shall have to live when we grow old. And we may make it a prison or a palace. We may make it very beautiful, adorning it with taste and filling it with objects which shall minister to our pleasure, comfort, and power. We may cover the walls with lovely pictures. We may spread luxurious couches of ease on which to rest. We may lay up in store great supplies of provision upon which to feed in the days of hunger and feebleness. We may gather and pile away large bundles of wood to keep the fires blazing brightly in the long winter days and nights of old age.

Or we may make our house very gloomy. We may hang the chamber-walls with horrid pictures, covering them with ghastly spectres which shall look down upon us and haunt us, filling our souls with terror when we sit in the gathering darkness of life’s nightfall. We may make beds of thorns to rest upon. We may lay up nothing to feed upon in the hunger and craving of declining years. We may have no fuel ready for the winter fires.

We may plant roses to bloom about our doors and fragrant gardens to pour their perfumes about us, or we may sow weeds and briers to flaunt themselves in our faces as we sit in our doorways in the gloaming.

All old age is not beautiful. All old people are not happy. Some are very wretched, with hollow, sepulchral lives. Many an ancient palace was built over a dark dungeon. There were the marble walls that shone with dazzling splendor in the sunlight. There were the wide gilded chambers with their magnificent frescoes and their splendid adornments, the gaiety, the music, and the revelry. But deep down beneath all this luxurious splendor and dazzling display was the dungeon filled with its unhappy victims, and up through the iron gratings came the sad groans and moanings of despair, echoing and reverberating through the gilded halls and ceiled chambers; and in this I see a picture of many an old age. It may have abundant comforts and much that tells of prosperity in an outward sense—wealth, honors, friends, the pomp and circumstance of greatness—but it is only a palace built over a gloomy dungeon of memory, up from whose deep and dark recesses come evermore voices of remorse and despair to sadden or embitter every hour and to cast shadows over every lovely picture and every bright scene.

It is possible so to live as to make old age very sad, and then it is possible so to live as to make it very beautiful. In going my rounds in the crowded city I came one day to a door where my ears were greeted with a great chorus of bird-songs. There were birds everywhere—in parlour, in dining-room, in bedchamber, in hall—and the whole house was filled with their joyful music. So may old age be. So it is for those who have lived aright. It is full of music. Every memory is a little snatch of song. The sweet bird-notes of heavenly peace sing everywhere, and the last days of life are its happiest days—

“Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Rich in a faith that has grown with the years.”

The important practical question is, How can we so live that our old age, when it comes, shall be beautiful and happy? It will not do to adjourn this question until the evening shadows are upon us. It will be too late then to consider it. Consciously or unconsciously, we are every day helping to settle the question whether our old age shall be sweet and peaceful or bitter and wretched. It is worth our while, then, to think a little how to make sure of a happy old age.
We must live a useful life. Nothing good ever comes out of idleness or out of selfishness. The standing water stagnates and breeds decay and death. It is the running stream that keeps pure and sweet. The fruit of an idle life is never joy and peace. Years lived selfishly never become garden-spots in the field of memory. Happiness comes out of self-denial for the good of others. Sweet always are the memories of good deeds done and sacrifices made. Their incense, like heavenly perfume, comes floating up from the fields of toil and fills old age with holy fragrance. When one has lived to bless others, one has many grateful, loving friends whose affection proves a wondrous source of joy when the days of feebleness come. Bread cast upon the waters is found again after many days.

I see some people who do not seem to want to make friends. They are unsocial, unsympathetic, cold, distant, disobliging, selfish. Others, again, make no effort to retain their friends. They cast them away for the slightest cause. But they are robbing their later years of joys they cannot afford to lose. If we would walk in the warmth of friendship’s beams in the late evening-time, we must seek to make to ourselves loyal and faithful friends in the busy hours that come before. This we can do by a ministry of kindness and self-forgetfulness. This was part at least of what our Lord meant in that counsel which falls so strangely on our ears until we understand it: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

Again, we must live a pure and holy life. Every one carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one’s degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the color to our skies and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailings of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God’s works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music. So it comes about that this whole question must be settled from within. The fountains rise in the heart itself. The old man, like the snail, carries his house on his back. He may change neighbors or homes or scenes or companions, but he cannot get away from himself and his own past. Sinful years put thorns in the pillow on which the head of old age rests. Lives of passion and evil store away bitter fountains from which the old man has to drink.

Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow. Nothing brings such pure peace and quiet joy at the close as a well-lived past. We are every day laying up the food on which we must feed in the closing years. We are hanging up pictures about the walls of our hearts that we shall have to look at when we sit in the shadows.
How important that we live pure and holy lives! Even forgiven sins will mar the peace of old age, for the ugly scars will remain.

Summing all up in one word, only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy. To have a peaceful and blessed ending to life, we must live it with Christ. Such a life grows brighter even to its close. Its last days are the sunniest and the sweetest. The more earth’s joys fail, the nearer and the more satisfying do the comforts become. The nests over which the wing of God droops, which in the bright summer days of prosperous strength lay hidden among the leaves, stand out uncovered in the days of decay and feebleness when winter has stripped the branches bare. And for such a life death has no terrors. The tokens of its approach are but “the land-birds lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven.” The end is but the touching of the weather-beaten keel on the shore of glory.

November 03, 2006

Friday November 3, 2006

Conference: Information for the 2007 Children Desiring God conference has been released. Speakers include Piper, Grudem and Mahaney. (HT: JT).

Liveblogging: There will be liveblogging at this weekend’s Alpha & Omega National Conference which will include a debate between James White and John Shelby Spong. You can keep up with the conference here.

Audio: Paul has posted links to “Haykin’s History of the Whole Church,” a series of lectures delivered by Dr. Michael Haykin. “We crammed well over 100 folks into our gym and for one Saturday climbed aboard a luxury airliner with Dr. Haykin at the helm, guiding us over 2004 years of Christ’s work in preparing His bride. It was glorious!”

Interview: Here is the transcript of Dr. Mohler’s interview with Andrew Sullivan.

September 10, 2006

You may recall that last year I did several interviews and posted them to this site. I interviewed, among others, Sam Waldron, Wayne Grudem and Derek Webb. I would like to put together another series of interviews to be posted sometime this fall and winter. I am thinking of turning them into podcasts, posting audio of the interviews this year rather than transcribing them as I have done in the past. I’ll decide that later. In the meantime, I am interested in gathering suggestions for people I may like to interview. I am not likely to have access to many of the top-tier Christian personalities (this blog may be reasonably popular but it is still, after all, only a blog) but am certainly not afraid to seek out interviews with anyone. The worst they can say, after all, is “No!” I suppose they could laugh at me too, and that would hurt my feelings. But either way, I’m not afraid to do the legwork and to request interviews.

I do not think I’ll have a topical focus this year from interview to interview. Rather, I’ll approach each differently based on the person I am interviewing. I would prefer to interview people with interesting stories than people who are simply the most popular. So feel free to send along your suggestions, either in the comments or by email. They can be Calvinist or Arminian, Christian or non, male or female, theologians or musicians…