The hoary head is a crown of glory ( Proverbs 20:29 ). (For "crown," see on Proverbs 17:6 .) Old age is the reward of a good life, and therefore is an honour to a man (comp. Proverbs 3:2 , Proverbs 3:16 ; Proverbs 4:10 ; Proverbs 9:11 ; Proverbs 10:27 ). If it be found —rather, it shall be found— in the way of righteousness; the guerdon of obedience and holiness; whereas "bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days" ( Psalms 55:23 ). It is well said in the Book of Wisdom (Wis. 4:8, etc.), "Honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age."
The glory of old age
I. OLD AGE MAY BE CROWNED WITH GLORY IN THE COMPLETION OF LIFE . it is not natural to die in youth. We talk of the bud gathered before it has opened on earth, that it may bloom with perfection in heaven, etc.; but we must confess that there is a great mystery in the death of children. If God so wills it, it is better to live through the whole three score years and ten into full old age. The broken column is the symbol of the unfinished life. "Such a one as Paul the aged" could say, "I have finished my course."
1 . Life is good. It may be sorrow stricken and it may be wrecked on the rocks of sin. Then, indeed, it is evil. There was one of whom it was said, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born" ( Matthew 26:24 ). But in itself life is good. Men in mental sanity prize it. The Old Testament idea of the value of a full long life is more healthy than the sickly sentimentalism that fancies an early death to be a Heaven-sent boon.
2 . Time is for service. Therefore the longer the time allotted to one, the more opportunity is there for doing good. This, again, may be abused and misspent in sin. But the old age of a good man means the completion of a long day's work. Surely it is an honour to be called into the field in the early morning of life, and to be permitted to toil on till the shadows descend on a long summer evening.
II. OLD AGE MAY BE CROWNED WITH GLORY IN ITS OWN ATTAINMENTS . A bad old age presents a hideous picture. A hoary-headed sinner is, indeed, a spectacle of horror. Mere old age is not venerable in itself. Reverence for years implies a belief that the years have gathered in a harvest of venerable qualities. Old age has its defects, not only in bodily frailty, but in a certain mental stiffening. Thus Lord Bacon says, "Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success;" and Madame de Stael says, "To resist with success the frigidity of old age, one must combine the body, the mind, and the heart; to keep these in parallel vigour one must exercise, study, and love." But, on the other hand, there are inward attainments of a ripe and righteous old age that give to the late autumn of life a mellow flavour which is quite unknown in its raw summer. "Age is not all decay," says a modern novelist; "it is the ripening, the swelling, of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk." It has been remarked that women are most beautiful in youth and in old age. The wisdom, the judiciousness, the large patience with varieties of opinion which should come with experience, are not always round in old people, who sometimes stiffen into bigotry and freeze into dreary customs. But when these graces are found in a large and healthy soul, no stage of life can approach the glory of old age. Even when there is not capacity for such attainments, there is a beautiful serenity of soul that simpler people can reach, and that makes their very presence to be a benediction.
III. OLD AGE MAY BE CROWNED WITH GLORY IN ITS PREPARATION FOR THE FUTURE . In unmasking the horrible aspect of death and revealing the angel face beneath, Christianity has shed a new glory over old age. It is the vestibule to the temple of a higher life. The servant of God has been tried and disciplined by blessing, suffering, and service. At length he is "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." He can learn to resist the natural melancholy of declining powers with the vision of renewed energy in the heavenly future. Or, if he cares for rest, he may know that it will be a rest with Christ, and he can say, with the typical aged saint Simeon, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."
The gentle life
Portrayed with exquisite sweetness and beauty.
I. AN HONOURED AGE . The biblical pictures of the aged pious are very charming, and Polycarp, with his eighty-six years upon him, passing to another crown, that of martyrdom, is sublime; also "Paul the aged and the prisoner." The text points out what we must all recognize for an aesthetic truth, that it is the association of age with. goodness which makes it truly respectable, venerable, beautiful.
II. MORAL HEROISM . The heathen type of heroism was strength of arm—bodily strength, manly courage against an outward foe. The spiritual and the Christian type is in strength of will against evil, self mastery, self-conquest, sublime patience. Better than to be members of any knightly order, "Companions" of the Bath, or any similar society speaking of the lower and carnal virtues, to be "companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ."—J.
The crown of old age
Many are the crowns which, in imagination, we see upon the head. Many are eagerly desired and diligently sought; such are those of fame, of rank, of wealth, of power, of beauty. These are well enough in their way; but
1 . It means a prolongation of life ; and life, under ordinary conditions, is greatly desired, so that men cling to it even tenaciously.
2 . It means the completion of the course of life. Age is one of its natural stages. It has its privations, but it has also its own honours and enjoyments; those who have passed through life's other experiences may rightly wish to complete their course by wearing the hoary head of old age. But in connection with age, there is—
I. THE CROWN OF SHAME . For it is not always found in the way of righteousness. An old man who is still ignorant of those truths which he might have learned, but has neglected to gather; or who is addicted to dishonourable indulgences which he has had time to conquer, but has not subdued; or who yields to unbeautiful habits of the spirit which he should long ago have expelled from his nature and his life; or who has not yet returned unto that Divine Father who has been seeking and calling him all his days;—such an old man, with his grey hairs, wears a crown of dishonour rather than of glory. But while we may feel that he is to be condemned, we feel far more inclined to pity than to blame. For what is age not found in the way of righteousness—age without excellency, age without virtue, age uncrowned with faith and hope? Surely one of the most pitiable spectacles the world presents to our eyes. It is pleasant, indeed, to be able to regard—
II. THE CROWN OF HONOUR . When old age is found in the way of righteousness, it is a crown of honour, in that:
1 . It has upon it the reflection of an honourable past. It speaks of past virtues that have helped to make it the "green old age" it is; of past successes that have been gained in the battle of life; of past services that have been diligently and faithfully rendered; of past sorrows that have been meekly borne; of past struggles that have been bravely met and passed; for it was in the rendering and in the bearing and in the meeting of these that the hair has been growing grey from year to year.
2 . It has the special excellency of the present. "A crown of beauty" (marginal reading). In the "hoary head" and in the benignant countenance of old age there is a beauty which is all its own; it is a beauty which may not be observable to every eye, but which is there nevertheless; it is the beauty of spiritual worth, of trustfulness and repose, of calmness and quietness; it is a beauty if not the beauty, of holiness. He who does not recognize in the aged that have grown old in the service of God and in the practice of righteousness something more than the marks of time, fails to see a crown of beauty that is visible to a more discerning eye.
3 . It has the blessed anticipation of the future. It looks homeward and heavenward. A selfish and a worldly old age is grovelling enough; it "hugs its gold to the very verge of the churchyard mould;" but the age that is found in the ways of righteousness has the light of a glorious hope in its eyes; it wears upon its brows the crown of a peaceful and blessed anticipation of a rest that remains for it, of a reunion with the beloved that have gone on before, of a beatific vision of the Saviour in his glory, of a larger life in a nobler sphere, only a few paces further on.—C.