Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Black Letter Days
Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England
by John Mason Neale

London: Joseph Masters, 1872. Third edition.


S. David. March 1.


THIS day calls to our remembrance a saint, who has left, as it were, a pattern of what the old ought to be like. S. David, who was Archbishop of the place in Wales since called S. David's from him, not only served GOD from his youth up, but continued to serve Him in this world till he was one hundred and forty-six years old. His hoary head was indeed to him a crown of glory,-- for he brought in multitudes of sinners to serve the true and living GOD. He indeed bore the burden and heat of the day,--and a very long day it was:--and no doubt his reward on high was as great as his labours here.

Now as this saint is an example to the old, how that up to the last moment of their lives they should be occupied in the work of GOD,--so the text I just read to you ought to be the comfort of the old,--that if they are thus occupied, they shall bring forth more fruit.

More fruit than what? The sense must be,--more fruit than they ever did before. They may be weak,--they may be poor,--they may be sickly,--they may be able to do little,--their strength, as the prophet speaks, may be to sit still;--but here is the promise: " they shall bring forth more fruit." Now this is a most important question for most of you:--for, if it be a promise to you that you shall bring forth more fruit, that is, that you shall do more for GOD'S service, now that you are old, than you did when you were young, then it is your parts and duties to see that this promise be fulfilled. When GOD gives us a promise that we shall be able to do any good deed, then, depend upon it, He intends that we shall avail ourselves of it.

But now, what is this fruit which you are now able to bring forth?--Why, there are several kinds.

And the first is, patience. It is not an easy thing for the old to be contented with that state of life to which they are called. It is not easy to say of those whose weak childhood we can remember, but whom we now see starting up to take our places,--"He must increase, but I must decrease." It is not pleasant to feel that becoming a burden which was once no burden at all;--to have less and less to do with things as they go on around us;--to feel, as the proverb goes, that our day is over. And therefore we know that complainingness and peevishness are generally the faults of old age;--faults the more likely to be committed, because, at first sight, they do not seem so very great. Those who would shrink back with horror from some great sin, such as stealing, or lying, or blasphemy, will fall without any difficulty into that which seems to them a far less sin, discontent and mourning all the day long. And the more natural this is, the greater example of grace we give when it is overcome. Those who have old age, and sickness, and poverty together,--if they are cheerful, if they are thankful, this is indeed so letting their light shine before men, that their heavenly FATHER may be glorified. They have more opportunity to show forth this grace in their old age:--it is an occasion of pleasing GOD which He gives them now, but which He never gave them before.

Again:--they have more time to serve Him. He graciously calls them off from the business of this life, and forces them, as it were, to look to the Life to come. And for this reason it often happens--whatever you may think to the contrary,--that the old age of the poor has a greater advantage in it than that of the rich. A poor man, who has worked hard with his body all his life, cannot go on working in the same way to the end of his days. He must stop. He is laid aside whether he will or not. But those who have worked with their minds, are not necessarily laid aside in the same way. I do not know a sadder sight than to see an old man busied about the business of the world, which he necessarily must give up so soon:--the lawyer, for example, studying his cases of law to the last:--the merchant making up his books and reckoning his gains to the last. But now from this the poor are laid aside.

And to what end? That they may have time for repentance, and time for prayer. You, for example, when you were in your working days could not, without sin, have given up that time to GOD, which, now, you cannot without sin, keep back from Him. Then you had families to attend to;--then you had your bread to earn in the sweat of your brow; and, as it is written, " If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Now you have no such thing. Now you may serve GOD as much as you will. Now, as you are drawing nigh to that other world, so He gives you a breathing time to prepare for it.

And this is true, if of any, most of all of you. Would to GOD that, in every town in the land there were a college like this, where those who are aged might be gathered together, might, to a great degree, be taken out of the world,--where the word of GOD might be brought very near them,--where the means of grace might be almost forced upon them!--Think how many a poor servant of GOD has been left in his old age in some cottage, far from the church, and no means of his getting there,--far from the priest,--and but few opportunities of being visited by him,--far from all the common means of grace,--and then compare his state with yours!--I might use our LORD'S words--"Many righteous men have desired to see the things which ye see, and have not seen them,--and to hear the things which ye hear, and have not heard them!" And all this, to the end that you should "bring forth fruit."

And now one more reason for the saying in the text. Old age is in itself a talent. It gives people influence over others. Just as we think that a learned man's advice must be good, because he has read much,--just as we think that a man who has mixed much with others is worth listening to, because he has seen much,--so what an old man says has weight, because he has had so much experience. We see this in the Bible itself. When David is telling us that the righteous are never forsaken,--he does not say,--I have read much, and am therefore learned,--or, I have had the opportunities of knowing much, because I am a king: but "I have been young "and now am old." That he gives as the reason why we should believe what he says. So constantly we read of the honour due to old age. Elihu said to Job and to his three friends, "I am young, and ye are very old: wherefore I durst not speak, nor show you mine opinion"--Solomon says: "The hoary head is a crown of glory: if it be found in the way of righteousness." All this gives you influence,--which GOD expects you to use for Him. If your words have more weight now than they had fifty years ago; all the more careful you must be then that they are to His glory. All the more zealous you must be that what influence you have should be on GOD'S side, and not on the devil's. Very soon indeed, you will stand before that Judgment seat, where inquiry will be made whether you did bring forth more fruit in old age or not. What answer you will then be able to give, depends on what lives you now lead. And Lent comes to help you still further. GOD gives you every means of salvation. If you are condemned, there will be no possibility of excuse for you. As Moses said of the Israelites, so I say of you, "Oh that they were wise,--that they would understand this,--that they would consider their latter end!"

And now to GOD, the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY GHOST, be all glory for ever. Amen.

Project Canterbury