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God's Veterans

by Theodore Cuyler (1822-1909)
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"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green."
                                            —Psalm 92:12-14


Young Christians are like an orchard in May; every blossom is full of promise. The same people, after the sunshine and showers of forty or fifty years, become like an orchard in October, when the ripe apples are ready for the bin. In this fast age, there is a clamorous demand for young men, and sometimes a disposition to shelve those who are past threescore; but there are some men who will not be shelved, or, if they have been, the public necessities take them down again, and demand their ripe judgment and experience. 

When a difficult case comes into court, it is commonly a veteran lawyer who is called on to make the decisive argument; when the young physician is baffled by the novel disease—the old doctor, who has hunted down every malady known to mortal flesh, is called into consultation.

For many of the achievements of life, youth and early manhood and womanhood are the most favorable; but for certain others—the long experience, the compacted mental fiber and matured judgment of old age, are the most serviceable endowment. Some people do not get their full growth, until they have passed the meridian. A great deal of wicked nonsense has been written about "the dead line of fifty." The author of that preposterous phrase could never have heard that Milton wrote the "Paradise Lost" and Benjamin Franklin began his philosophical studies, when they had passed that "dead line." 

Chalmers at sixty-three was the fieldmarshal of the glorious exodus of the Scottish Free Church; John Wesley at eighty-eight preached every day and still held the helm of Methodism; and Richard S. Storrs at seventy-five can outwork and outpreach a legion of brilliant pulpiteers whose armor sparkles with the "dews of youth." My beloved British brother, Newman Hall, still finds his bow abiding in strength at fourscore; and a most vivacious letter from Neal Dow, the father of "prohibition," now lies before me, written at the completion of his ninety-second year!

There is a vast difference between being old in years—and being old in mental and spiritual force. Some young people have the weakness of senility, while many veterans have the fiber of life's morning far into its afternoon. The secret of keeping young—is to keep at work and never allow the rust to collect on one's weapons. Worry corrodes—but steady mental work strengthens; especially when one obeys the simple laws of health which God has written on our bodies. Actual "retiring from business" is very apt to rust any man out speedily. If a man resigns his store, his shop, or his profession, let him lay hold of something else useful to his fellow men. 

The celebrated Archibald Alexander kept young, by doing a certain amount of intellectual work every day, so that he would not lose his touch. He was as full of sap on the day before his death—as he was when he mounted his horse and rode through Virginia on his missionary tours at the age of twenty-two. He prepared, and often used, a prayer that was so beautiful that I quote a portion of it for my fellow-seniors on life's arena: "Oh, most merciful God, cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. May my hoary head be found in righteousness. Preserve my mind from senility and imbecility, and my body from protracted disease and excruciating pain. Deliver me from despondency in my declining years, and enable me to bear with patience, whatever may be your holy will. I humbly ask that my reason may be continued to the last; and that I may be so comforted and supported that I may leave my testimony in favor of the reality of religion, and of your faithfulness in fulfilling your gracious promises. And when my spirit leaves this clay tenement, Lord Jesus, receive it! Send some of the blessed angels to convey my redeemed soul to the mansions which your love has prepared; and oh, may I have an abundant entrance ministered unto me into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." This petition of the veteran servant of God was sweetly fulfilled; and he fell gently asleep, to wake to the exceeding glory. 

Mental vigor often continues through old age, and we know that the spiritual graces often grow in depth and vigor by the lapse of years. The Indian Summer of many a life, is its most beautiful period. Its leaf, instead of withering, turns to bright scarlet and gold. Faith grows in its tenacity of fiber—by the long-continued exercise of testing God and trusting his promises. A veteran Christian can turn over the leaves of his well-worn Bible and say, "This Book has been my daily companion, I know all about this promise, and that one, and that other one, for I have tried them for myself. I have a great pile of checks which my heavenly Father has cashed with precious blessings." 

The Bible of my dear old mother was full of pencil marks set down alongside of the passages which had been her "rod and staff" through a pilgrimage of eighty-five years. To those of my readers who have reached the threescore or the fourscore, I would say that you ought to grow better as you grow older. Veteran soldiers become more expert in the selection and use of their weapons. In spiritual combats the Christian who has vanquished Apollyon often with the sword of "all-prayer" is able to say, as David said to Abimelech, "there is none like it—give it to me!" 

The testimonies of men and women who have known not only what, but Whom they believed, carry vast weight. I defy the conceited, scoffing skeptic to answer the experimental arguments of a humble needle-woman of my acquaintance who has known Jesus Christ intimately for fifty years. "Paul the aged" spoke with the authority of a long experience, as well as with the higher authority of a divine inspiration. "The glory of young men is their strength—and the beauty of old men is the gray head." The silvery crown is often worn by those mountain peaks which tower highest toward heaven. As they who voyage toward the Spice Islands catch the fragrance when they approach the shores, so the voyagers to the Better Country inhale sweet foretastes when they draw nearer home. 

Bunyan locates a Christian old age, in the land of Beulah, in full bright prospect of the Celestial City, where the singing of birds was heard, and the sun shone night and day. Fellow-pilgrims, be of good cheer! Make happy inventory of your mercies, and never give way to peevish and fretful lamentations. Keep every window of your mind open to new ideas, and strive to keep step with the progress of truth and of our Master's glorious kingdom. While the love of Jesus flows like the vital sap into every limb and leaf of your nature—let your fruits of grace fall abundantly into the laps of your fellow-men. Every hour of life is precious—don't idle away the evening, when the morning of glory may break so soon!
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