Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw near, when you shall say…
Old age is a distant port for which the whole human race start, toward which they steer. More than half perish at the commencement of the voyage. Thousands and thousands are born who should have had a right in life, but whose hold is so brittle, that the first wind shakes them, and they fall like untimely fruit. Some fall by accident, some in the discharge of duties which call them to offer up their lives as a sacrifice for the common weal. The greatest number, however, are deprived of a good old age by their own ignorance or by their own misconduct; and those that reach that old age too often find that it is a land of sorrow. Now old age was not designed to be mournful but beautiful. It m the close of a symphony, beautiful in its inception, rolling on grandly, and terminating in a climax of sublimity. It is harmonious and admirable, according to the Scheme of nature. The charms of infancy, the hopes of the spring of youth, the vigour of manhood, and the serenity and tranquillity, the wisdom and peace of old age — all these together constitute the true human life, with its beginning, middle, and end — a glorious epoch. Every one of us, but especially those who are beginning in life, is aiming at a serene and happy old age, and I propose to put before you some considerations which shall direct your attention to the methods of attaining it.
1. There are many physical elements which enter into the preparation for a profitable and happy old age. The human body is an instrument of pleasure and use, built for eighty years' wear. His body is placed in a world adapted to nourish and protect it. Nature is congenial. There are elements enough of mischief in it, if a man pleases to find them out. A man can wear his body out as quickly as he pleases, destroy it if he will; but, after all, the great laws of nature are nourishing laws, and, comprehensively regarded, nature is the universal nurse, the universal physician of our race, guarding us against evil, warning us of it by incipient pains, setting up signals of danger — not outwardly, but inwardly — and cautioning us by sorrows and by pains for our benefit. Every immoderate draft which is made by the appetites and passions is so much sent forward to be cashed in old age. You may sin at one end, but God takes it off at the other. I do not object to mirth or gaiety, but I do object to any man making an animal of himself by living for the gratification of his own animal passions. Excess in youth, in regard to animal indulgences, is bankruptcy in old age. For this reason, I deprecate late hours, irregular hours, or irregular sleep. People ask me frequently, "Do you think that there is any harm in dancing?" No, I do not. There is much good in it. "Do you, then, object to dancing parties?" No; in themselves, I do not. But where unknit youth, unripe muscle, unsettled and unhardened nerves, are put through an excess of excitement, treated with stimulants, fed irregularly and with unwholesome food, surrounded with gaiety which is excessive, and which is protracted through hours when they should be asleep, I object, not because of the dancing, but because of the dissipation. But there are many that I perceive are wasting their lives and destroying their old age, not through their passions, but through their ambition, and in the pursuit of laudable objects. I know of many artists that are wearing out their lives, day after day, with preternatural excitement of the brain; yet their aims are transcendently excellent. I know of musicians that are wearing out, night and day; yet their ambition is upward and noble. They are ignorant that they are wearing out their body by the excitement of their brains. While alcoholic stimulants waste and destroy life, and prevent a happy old age, the same thing is also done by moral stimulants. The latter is not as beastly, but it is just as wasteful of health. Whatever prematurely wears out the thinking machinery, or destroys health prematurely, carries bankruptcy into old age.
2. There ought, also, to be wisdom in secular affairs, in the preparation by the young for the coming of old age. Foresight is a Christian virtue. Every man should make such provision for himself as that he shall not be dependent upon others. Provision for moderate comfort in old age is wise. It is far better than an ambition for immoderate riches, which too often defeats itself. If men were more moderate in their expectations; if, when they had obtained a reasonable competency, they secured that from the perils of commercial reverses, more men, I think, would go into old age serene and happy.
3. In looking upon old age, we are forcibly struck with the necessity of taking pains early, and all the way through life, to accumulate stores for social enjoyment. Sociability is a part of Christian duty. Every man should take great care not to cut himself off from the sympathies of human life. Old men should take care that they be not deprived of enjoyment in the society of the young; and if a man would derive comfort from the young in his old age, he must cultivate an attachment for the young in his early life. In youth and middle age you are to secure the provision that shall supply you in old age, if you are to be nourished and made happy on such joys as these. Be not, then, selfish in your youth. Grow to your fellow-men, instead of growing away from them, and strive to live more and more in sympathy with them and for them.
4. Let me speak of the intellectual resources that are to help you in old age. Education has a more important relation to manhood than it has to the making of your outside fortune. If you are to be a lawyer, a physician, a minister, or a teacher, you need an education in order to succeed in your calling; but if you belong to none of these callings, you need an education to succeed in your manhood. Education means the development of what is in man; and every man ought to be developed, not because he can make money thereby, but because he can make manhood thereby. Education is due to your manhood. Keep your lamp full of oil, and lay up such stores of intellectual provision, that when you go into old age, if one resource fails you, you can try another. If you have learned to look under your feet every day while young, and to cull the treasures of truth which belong to theology, natural history, and chemistry; if every fly has furnished you a study; if the incrustation of the frost is a matter of interest; if the trees that come in spring, and the birds that populate them, the flowers of the meadow, the grass of the field, the fishes that disport themselves in the water — if all of these are so many souvenirs of the working hand of your God, you will find, when you come into your old age, that you have great enjoyment therein. Let me, therefore, recommend you to commit much to memory. Oh, how much a man may store up against old age! What a price is put into the hands of the young wherewith to get wisdom! What provisions for old age do they squander and throw away! It is a great thing so to have lived that the best part of life shall be its evening. October, the ripest month of the year, and the richest in colours, is a type of what old age should be.
5. I have reserved for the last the most important, namely, the spiritual, preparation for old age. It is a beautiful thing for a man, when he comes into old age, to have no more preparation to make. If piety is the garment you have worn through a long and virtuous life, you may stand in your old age in the certainty of faith, waiting only that you may pass from glory to glory. A part of this spiritual preparation consists, I think, in living all the time with the distinct consciousness that our life is a joined one; that the best part of it is that which lies beyond; and that we are not to live for the life that lies between one and eighty, but for that which lies between one and eternity. The habit of associating all your friends and friendships with this future life, while it will afford you great comfort and strength all the way through life, will give its choicest fruits and benefits in old age. As you grow old, childhood's companions die around you every year; but if you have been living a true Christian life, although the world may seem desolate for a time, yet your thought is this: "My companions, my fellow-workers, have gone before me; I am left alone in the dreary world, but am every day being brought closer and closer to that world of everlasting blessedness. One has gone before; another has gone; the wife of my bosom, my eldest child, one after another of my children, and of their children, have gone; one after another of my neighbours and the friends of my youth have gone, and I am left behind; but I am close upon their steps. They are all there waiting for me. I have but a few days to wait, and I shall be blessed again with their high and holy society."
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;