Dr. Fredk. A. Tatford is well-known as a lecturer and conference speaker. He is the author of over sixty books and editor of the Prophetic Witness, a monthly magazine. In business life he was a director of the U. K. Atomic Energy Authority, president of the Institute of Supplies, and director of the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (U. S. A.), and was widely known as a specialist on contract law.
We appreciate his kind permission to reprint his article on “Growing Old”.
A few months ago I waited in the queue for a bus to take me to the station. As it came to my turn to board the vehicle, the conductor reached down to help me on, although I was carrying only a small brief case and needed no assistance. When we reached the station, to my surprise he alighted first and helped me off. I was puzzled by the excessive and unexpected politeness and wondered at the preferential treatment, since he had proffered no assistance to any of the other passengers. But he had not finished. Holding my arm he guided me round the back of the bus and warned me to take care crossing the road, adding, “It’s a bit dangerous for old people to cross here.”
Old people? But I’m not old! What on earth? But perhaps I am. It was the first time it had seriously dawned upon me, although I had joked about old age from time to time. Since I am Well past the Biblical threescore years and ten I am, as some of my younger friends occasionally remind me, living on borrowed time. Naturally the first flush of youth has obviously gone, but old? Well, facts are facts, I suppose, and the birth certificate suffers no contradiction.
But what is wrong with being old? A friend, attaining his 80th birthday, declared firmly that he was a great deal stronger than he was 80 years before. There are a great many blessings about being old. No one expects old people to hurry or to get wildly enthusiastic about anything, or to indulge in the doubtful pleasure of gardening or the even more dubious pleasure of house decorating. Old people are almost always offered the most comfortable seats and are usually served before younger people. They never suffer the humiliation of being defeated at tennis or being bowled out at cricket, because no one expects them to play. On the other hand, they need have no limitations about discussing the performance of other players. And if they want a special TV program, others normally give way, however badly they themselves may want a different program. Yes, there are certainly advantages about being old. All this, of course, would be considered extremely unspiritual by some esteemed friends, but when one is old, it does not really matter what other people think.
There are many other advantages too. Although a few church secretaries, obviously finding difficulty in securing the services of a first-class speaker, fall back upon the aged and decrepit, the majority realize that one’s ministry belongs to the past rather than the present, and therefore wisely save their congregations from being bored by the meanderings of an old man. In consequence, there is the opportunity (so rare in more active days) of hearing someone else preach and of being able to enjoy the ministry of those who are younger and more virile. It is amazing what some of them find in the Bible too—things I have never previously seen—although sometimes I have harbored the unworthy suspicion that they may have put them there first.
The old man can turn to his books and catch up—at least partially—with the reading he has intended doing for years. And what a joy it is to read a book for sheer pleasure and not to seek points for sermons or illustrations. If his eyes sometimes close and the book slips from his hand, he may be only meditating on the things he has read, and meditation is one of the rich possessions of old age.
The Joy of Old Age
Perhaps the greatest blessing is to be able to spend so much more time in prayer and Bible study. How wonderful it is to be able to hold communion with the Lord Whom one is soon going to meet face to face. Younger men have no idea what they are missing through not being old.
What a privilege it is to bear up others before the throne of grace. I first met Dr. Northcote Deck when I was about 30 years old. When I met him in Toronto many years later, he told me that he had prayed for me daily ever since we first met. Many have since encouraged me by disclosing that they have remembered me in prayer for years. What a lot it has meant! And now, what a service one can render to others in the same way. The waking hours of the night never seem so long when one can pray about the needs and circumstances of others. Somehow too, the link of prayer seems to draw friends closer.
An active worker is always besieged, either personally or by correspondence, by friends needing help or advice. Strangely enough, this does not seem to decline as one gets older. In fact, some people inexplicably profess to believe that old age is synonymous with wisdom—a very great fallacy, of course! However, it is very comforting to feel that one can be of some little help in this way, and it is obviously possible to spend more time in research into problems and in setting out answers to questions more fully.
Young folk often pay older people the compliment of seeking their advice on every conceivable subject. The greatest of tact is needed in responding though. It is essential to appreciate that the young know everything about everything and that nothing must be said which would imply that they do not. To advise a young fellow or girl on the best books to read on a particular subject, or the most useful course to take, or how to preach, or even the most important qualities to look for in someone of the opposite sex, is a great privilege for the old. It must be recognized that, although this advice is helpful, it is not entirely essential, for, as the young usually make clear, they already know the answer and are merely glad to be assured that someone else takes the same view. One young man encouragingly told me that, in a long life, I must have made many mistakes, and that he was prepared to learn by my mistakes. It must have been an older relative of his who said that the young were always prepared to give us the benefit of their ignorance and inexperience.
Old People’s Achievements
Sir William Osier once said that, although “the effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of 25 and 40,” people who are older have sometimes produced great treasures “of human achievement in action, in science, in art and in literature.” A friend, who has been about even longer than I have, frequently declares that some of the greatest achievements of men and women have been in their old age and he cites cases like Sir Winston Churchill, David Ben-Gurion, Pablo Casals, Dame Sybil Thorndike and others. He obviously finds great comfort in this—as do many other people—but it has always seemed a lot of nonsense to me. There may be the exceptional case, but it is not very logical to expect flashes of genius at 80 if there were no signs of them at 18. Indeed, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a whole host of other troubles put a fairly effective check on the activities which otherwise might (?) be so brilliant. Doctors cheerfully declare that geriatric wards are full to overflowing, but if trials of this kind come, does it really matter very much?
There are always compensations. Prof. J. Bourret said some time ago, “Very often, what life has taken from the old person in physical strength, it returns to him in serenity, balanced judgment, greater intellectual finesse —in short, elements of the wisdom which is more than ever necessary in a human society where the old person has his place and his usefulness.” His statement cheered me tremendously. Since it was made by a professor, it must obviously be true, although if a less important person had made it, I might have been inclined to doubt it.
All this, of course, is highly unspiritual and will be frowned upon by those who are more heavenly minded than I am. Such would appreciate far more the words of my late friend, Dr. V. Raymond Edman, “One of life’s greatest achievements is to decide quite early in life to grow old, with God’s help, gracefully and graciously. But in order to do this, we must make up our mind quite definitely that we will face the adjustments which the sensible sixties and the slackening seventies are bound to bring. We must recognize that we will not always have the resilience and the buoyancy and rapid recuperative powers that we enjoyed in youth. We must live less strenuously and take more time for rest and recreation. No one needs to be indolent, but we can learn to walk slowly and rest more frequently. We may spend more evenings at home. We can find time to enjoy God’s creation more.”
There is no need to be “on the shelf,” but we cannot expect to be “in the swim.” One of the biggest mistakes made by old people is to imagine that they are indispensable and that no younger person could ever be as efficient or capable as they are—which is what my highly respected younger friend, Dr. Kingsley Rendell, would delicately describe as “a load of codswallop” (a most expressive term, the precise meaning of which I have never been able to ascertain, although I suspect that “rubbish” would be a not inappropriate synonym).
The Bible, however, which is a much more reliable guide than human wisdom, and which seems to deal with every broad problem of life, does not entirely ignore the problem of old age.
The Path of the Just
The first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs contain seventeen adresses by “the teacher of wisdom” to his pupils (or “sons”), which are remarkable for their sound commonsense as well as their spiritual content. They were—and still are—admirable advice to young people. It has often been suggested—with a certain amount of justification—that these discourses were uttered by no other than the young king Solomon soon after his accession to the throne and that they were delivered to his companions, the young men of the court. It was the moral responsibility of the sovereign to guide his people aright and Solomon drew upon the wisdom divinely imparted to him (1 Kings 3:12) for the benefit of those around him.
In the eighth discourse (Prov. 4:10-19) the royal teacher was concerned primarily with the path of righteousness, and in verse 18 he described the whole course of life of the righteous man as he comprehended it, “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more till the perfect day.”
He had so often watched the roseate hues of dawn from his palace at Jerusalem. He had seen the first rays creep along the distant horizon and then suddenly burst up to flood the eastern sky with light. He had seen the glory of the dawn, but through the hours of the day, he had also watched the sun gradually climb the heavens to reach meridian height. To the youthful monarch, the day seemed to extend from dawn to the glory of its noonday strength. He gave no thought to the subsequent decline, the lengthening of the shadows and the ultimate sunset. It was the beauty of the morning that mattered.
Gazing at the brightness of the sun, Solomon declared that this was life. The path of the just commenced with the light of dawn and became brighter and more glorious until the wonder of the noon was reached, when life, like the sun, was at its fullest. That was the perfection, or fulness of the day. “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more till the perfect day.” In the strength and vigour of young manhood, he saw nothing beyond life’s zenith: he had experienced only life’s growth and development. The gradual waning of strength and diminution of abilities, the shadows of the evening apparently did not enter his thoughts.
It was a wonderful picture—life being flooded more and more with light until the full blaze and splendour of the sun were in evidence. But life does not end at noonday. Youth never looks beyond the meridian, but the old realize that the light must fade and that eventually darkness must fall. The imagery was the beautiful symbolism of a young man. But Robert Browning aptly counselled,
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
Yet, from a spiritual point of view, Solomon was right. The spiritual life expands and develops, the light glows brighter and clearer—and there is no decline. The full day is the climax and conclusion. When the aged Christian departs, it is in the full blaze of God’s glory, to enter a new and eternal day. “The path of the just is like the light of dawn, which shines more and more till the full day is reached.”
The Evening of Life
In later years, the royal scribe looked back upon the experiences of life with blasé sophistication. The naiveté and insouciance of youth, its confidence and self-assurance, its strength and virility, had all gone, and disillusionment had clouded the clear vision. He had tasted every pleasure and indulged every desire, but now he confessed the emptiness of it all. Nothing had satisfied: everything was vanity. Old age had become a reality and what had never been visualized in youth had come upon him.
In unparalleled imagery he described the gradual loss of faculties and physical powers, as the form becomes bent and the sight grows dim, when the shadow causes disquiet and the slightest thing becomes a burden (Eccles. 12:1-7). He saw no hope and envisioned no future. The dust would return to the earth and the spirit to God Who gave it. He dwelt upon no after-life and pictured no blissful eternity. A man might live for many years and rejoice in them all, but Solomon bade him “remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many” (Ecclesiastes 11:8). Viewed “under the sun,” the outlook was hopeless and the king morbidly voiced his jèjune pessimism.
Yet he again addressed the young men of his court. Life was not always lived in the light: it must eventually sink into the shadows. Therefore, he exhorted the young nobles, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,” before disease and the decay of old age befell them. It was too late for the jaded Solomon to retrace his steps, but he exhorted the young to adjust their attitude and to ensure a right priority. Old age would come one day, with its aches, pains and infirmities and its gradual loss of capacity. The end of life was not in the glory of the sunlight, as he had fondly imagined in youth.
Is this really the end of the road? To slip away into the darkness and never to regain consciousness once more? The wisdom of Israel’s royal sage is no better than a depressing’ vacuity if that be so. How tragic that he had not learned the psalmist’s prayer, “O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared Thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed Thy strength unto this generation, and Thy power to everyone that is to come” (Psa. 71: 17,18). Solomon had not found the final answer. The New Testament gives a totally different picture.
Crossing the Bar
We watch the form of our loved ones slowly becoming more bent, we see their shadows lengthening, and are conscious that their faculties are failing. If the Lord does not come soon, we realize with a pang that we will be parted from them. Death’s icy grasp will snatch them from us. They will inevitably take their journey to “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.”
Yet death is not a foe the Christian fears (Matt. 10:28). It is only a door which swings open at the appointed moment to allow us entry into a fuller and more wonderful existence than anything on earth. It is not to descend into some stygian darkness of unconsciousness, but to enter the light and glory of the Master’s presence. For to depart from this life, is to be present with the Lord, which is infinitely far better (Phil. 1:23).
Even in the bodiless condition of the interim state, we will apparently still retain our consciousness (however difficult it may be to comprehend that now), our personality, our capacity for sensation, our memory and feelings (Luke 16). The future of the departed believer is not some murky pool of forgetfulness, but the enjoyment of the realized presence of Christ. All the sorrows and sufferings of life will be forever gone and the soul will be lost in adoring wonder of the incomparable Lord. If death is the final enemy it is not one the Christian fears.
There is no place for sorrow or dolorous lamentation when the Christian is called away. He has gone home. He has entered into unparalleled bliss and happiness beyond all that can be comprehended on earth. There is no place for tears, therefore, at his departure. As Tennyson so aptly put it in Crossing the Bar:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call to me!
And may there be no moaning at the bar,
When I put out to sea.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark.
Yet death is not the end for which we look. The believer’s hope rises above the grave to the glory.
The Advent Hope
The Christian’s anticipation is not death, but the coming of the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). One glad day the Saviour will come again and take all His loved ones to be with Himself. Frail, decaying and infirm bodies will then be transformed into the likeness of His body of glory (Phil. 3:20, 21). Old age will give place to perennial youth. We will be for ever in His presence and will for all eternity be like Him.
The shadows of this brief earthly course will be forgotten in the exquisite joy of gazing upon His lovely face. The superlative happiness of that day is beyond our finite comprehension. Soon we will be with Him in transcendent bliss, never to be separated from Him, never again to know the tribulations and sadness of this world.
And we’ll never be old again!