And pray you that your flight be not in the winter.
There is a winter in human life, as there is a winter in the seasons of the year. Infancy is our spring; and the bud of existence which is then nourished and cherished, opens its flowers during the summer of youth. In riper years, and in the vigour of manhood, the fruit is put forth and this period we call the autumn of our days. But if death spare us a little longer, there will come ice in the blood, and snow on the brow; and all the emblems of a moral winter are thickly strewed over the man. And if there has been no fleeing to the mercy of the Lord, whilst the advance of summer and autumn has warned us that our year would soon draw to a close, it will be a hard thing, and a scarcely possible thing, when the limb has grown rigid, when the blood is congealed, and when the branches hang withered from the stem, to drag ourselves along; and the man, in the winter of his days, when his foot is halting, and his eye is darkening, and his blood is freezing, is so unfitted to brave the difficulties of the rugged path of winter, that no consideration should have more weight with the young and with the impenitent than the recommendation of our text. It will not be supposed, then, that, by any of my statements, I do at all limit the operations of grace, or insinuate that there can be no flight during the winter because there has been none before the winter. On the contrary, the mere fact of its being subject of prayer that our flight may not be in the winter, implies that flight is at the least practicable, though not then easy. First, the difficulty of flight in the winter. — Secondly, the danger that flight, if deferred to the winter, will not then be practicable.
I. THE DIFFICULTY OF FLIGHT IN THE WINTER; or, to drop the metaphor, THE DIFFICULTY OF CONVERSION IN OLD AGE. The Spirit doth strive with everyone; and by secret admonitions and suggestions, by working upon hope and exciting fear, it does summon all men to consider their ways, and allows not that any sinner should go on in transgression, and not have its ruinous result set before him. Well, then, if this statement be accurate — if it be true that all men are plied with inducements and threatenings, and that the Divine machinery is brought to bear on their consciences; it follows that the aged sinner must have resisted many godly motions: and now he stands, in the winter of his days, the hero of a succession of victories. But then, they have been victories won by the lust of the flesh, by the lust of the eye, and by the pride of life — over the benevolent strivings of holy angels, and the merciful interpositions of Deity Himself. And I ask whether it will not be necessarily true, that the man who has resisted such impressions will be found correspondently hardened against threatenings. The aged sinner must have been successful in stifling anxiety, and in drowning conscience: and thus he hath closed up, so to speak, the common avenues through which the gospel message finds entrance. Hence, there is less hope of the aged sinner. But not only has the aged sinner resisted much; but it will generally happen that he has invented much. He will have his own scheme of salvation: he will have devised some method of quieting alarm: he will have arranged some system of religion for himself. I cannot but suppose that this is ordinarily the case. I cannot suppose that there are many aged men, who give themselves no concern touching the things of eternity. Sometimes indeed we are presented with that sad spectacle — an old man hunting after money which his trembling hands cannot grasp; or an old woman tottering into the grave with a heap of new fashions hung on her shrivelled body. But I am ready to believe, that very commonly old people have some thought about the future; and, to use the common place phrase, cast up their account with God, and contrive by the most ingenious arithmetic to strike a balance in their own favour. They have sinned in their youth; but, thank God, He has given them time for repentance; and the seriousness of later years has made amends for the frivolities of the earlier. They may have offended a great deal, but then they have suffered a great deal; and the afflictions will be taken as an atonement for the transgression. Their lives have been excellent lives, no man was ever wronged by them: they were in trade for half a century, and kept unsullied the character of honourable dealers. They were engaged in the management of various societies, and received pieces of plate as compliments to their integrity. One old man is comforted because he has been a very moral man; and another, because he has been a very charitable man; and a third, because God is a God of wonderful mercy; and a fourth, because it is too late to alter, and things will probably not turn out so bad as they have been represented. I believe the observations I have thus advanced are grounds for deciding that conversion in the winter of life must be a work of great difficulty. It must be further obvious to you, that, as it would be in natural, so in spiritual things, the infirmities of the old man incapacitate him for flight. I ask you whether the old man, the withered man, the wasted man, is adapted for grappling with so stern a communication? Is his mind calculated to take in what is thus overpowering? Are his apprehensions likely to grasp the tidings in their length and breadth? Is one so timid, the being who is expected to arm for the battle, or to gird himself for the fight? If it be a time of hazard to set out upon a voyage when the vessel has just sprung a leak — and if it be an hour of peril to commence a journey in a foreign land when the sun has faded from the heavens — and it be a moment of danger to sit at the base of the mountain when the avalanche is just loosening from the heights — and it be an instant of imminent risk when the drawbridge is trembling between us and the citadel — then is old age and winter a dangerous season for man to flee from his present condition.
II. We have thus shown you that great difficulties are attendant on flight in the winter. We are next to consider THE DANGER THAT FLIGHT, IF DEFERRED TO THE WINTER, WILL NOT THEN BE PRACTICABLE; in other words, the grounds for believing, that, if men repent not before old age, they will never repent at all. One reason for praying against postponement is, the possibility that flight, if delayed, may never take place. It is a trite saying, that "tomorrow never comes;" and I may add, that few men practically think themselves a year nearer the grave, because they are a year older. Once more. It is the testimony of experience that men are seldom converted in old age. Who, then, would defer flight, when the Almighty is inviting him to join the ranks of the redeemed? Let us address ourselves to the journey. The days are short, and the sunbeams are watery; the time for repentance may soon be at an end.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.