Speaking To The Heart


"Gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not." - HOSEA vii. 9.

Fire low - the order which generals have often given to their men before fighting began - suits the pulpit not less than the battle-field. The mistake common both to soldiers and speakers is to shoot too high, over people's heads ; missing, by a want of directness and plainness, both the persons they preach to and the purpose they preach for. So did not the prophet Nathan, when, having told his story of the little ewe lamb, and kindled David's indignation, he fixed his eyes on the king to say, "Thou art the man."
So did not the Baptist, when, recognising in the crowd Pharisees swollen with pride and rich with the spoil of orphans. he cried, 0 generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come And, though with speech less blunt and rude and unpolite withal, as some might say, so did not the great apostle of the Gentiles, but directed his addresses, like arrows, to the hearts and habits, the bosoms and business of His audience. In Athens, full of false gods, he proclaimed the true one; in Corinth he denounced the vices which made her name so infamous. Before the Hebrews, who clung so tenaciously to the sacrifices of lambs, bulls, and goats, he set forth the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world - like an expert physician applying to each disease its own direct and appropriate remedy.
Arraigned at a judgment bar, it furnished him with a topic of discourse. He proclaimed the judgment to come, and, with the skill of an orator and the courage of a martyr, preached to an intemperate and unrighteous judge of temperance and righteousness, till, as the captive flashed and thundered from the bar, the judge on the bench grew pale and trembled. In this he followed the example of Him, the Prince of Preachers, whom the common people, enchanted and enchained with his speech, heard gladly - speaking, in the judgment even of his enemies, as never man spake.
With matter divine and manner human, our Lord descended to the level of the humblest of the crowd, lowering himself to their understandings, and winning his way into their hearts by borrowing his topics from familiar circumstances and the scenes around him Be it a boat, a plank, a rope, a beggar's rags, an imperial robe, we would seize on anything to save a drowning man; and in his anxiety to save poor sinners, to rouse their fears, their love their interest, to make them understand and feel the truth, our Lord pressed everything - art and nature, earth and heaven - into his service. creatures of habit, the servants if not the slaves of form, we invariably select our text from some book of the Sacred Scriptures. He took a wider, freer range; and instead of keeping to the unvarying routine of text and sermon with formal divisions, it were well, perhaps, that we sometimes ventured to follow his example; for may it not be to the naturalness of their addresses and their striking out, from the beaten path of texts and sermons, to their plain speaking and home-thrusts, to their direct appeals and homespun arguments, that our street and lay preachers owe perhaps not a little of their power?
Illustrating the words of the great English dramatist -
"Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything,"

our Lord found many a topic of discourse in the scenes around him; even the humblest objects shone in his hands as I have seen a fragment of broken glass or earthenware, as it caught the sunbeam, light up, flashing like a diamond. With the stone of Jacob's well for a pulpit, and its water for a text, he preached salvation to the Samaritan woman. A little child, which he takes from its mother's side, and holds up blushing in his arms before the astonished audience, is his text for a sermon on humility. A husbandman on a neighbouring height between him and the sky, who strides with long and measured steps over the field he sows, supplies a text from which he discourses on the Gospel and its effects on different classes of hearers. In a woman baking; in two women who sit by some cottage door grinding at the mill; in an old, strong fortalice perched on a rock, whence it looks across the brawling torrent to the ruined and roofless gable of a house swept away by mountain floods - Jesus found texts. From the birds that sung above his head, and the lilies that blossomed at his feet, he discoursed on the care of God - these his text, and Providence his theme; and with gray hairs on our own head and hoary heads around, we feel that his practice justifies us in making these our text; and addressing you, as I proceed to do, from these words - " Gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not."
I. Gray hairs are a sign of decay.
Giving a mane to the lion, antlers to the hart, to the males among birds a brighter plumage, and among four-footed beasts a bolder carriage and a bigger form, God, the maker of all, has distinguished the sexes, not only among mankind,,but among the higher orders of the lower animals. He had a wise purpose in this. A God of order and not of confusion, he has for wise purposes also given distinctive features to the different periods of human life, from the cradle onwards to the grave. In roaming over the mountains, we often find on the tops of all but peaked and picturesque ranges, a level space - a table-land, as it is called, between the ascent from one valley and the descent into another, where the water, having no run, gathers into tarns, or stagnates in a black morass. Human life between the ages of forty and fifty presents such a level. Travelling onward with little change in our appearance, in our powers of body or of mind; after growth has ceased and before decay has begun ere the signs of youth have entirely left us or those of age have come; arrived at full maturity, with waste and supply in perfect balance, it were hard to whether we are yet ascending from the cradle, or, having turned the hill-top, are on our way down to the grave.
It is a solemn position that culminating point, where we see the cradle we have left on this side, and the grave where we shall lie on that! Yet it is not of much practical consequence to know whether we are going up or down hill, since there are in disease and the chapter of accidents many causes which make it the lot of few to number the appointed threescore years and ten. Death strikes down his victims at all ages; and of the crowd that started together, but two or three stragglers reach the natural term of life. Many more die young than old: and death so extends his ravages over the whole period of life, that, whether with buoyant steps we are pressing up or are tottering down hill beneath a load of years, we tread on graves; the road, if I may say so, is paved with burial stones; and on every side the tombs of all ages, each with its memento mori, tell the young not less than the old to prepare to die.
"Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the north wind's breath;
And stars to set; but all -
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, 0 Death "

Still; as where no river flows, or mountains rise to divide one kingdom from another, though the border land between life's growth and decay is not often very clearly marked, our Maker, for wise and kind ends, has given very distinct and distinguishing features to infancy, to youth, to manhood, and to old age. Infancy, in which man of all creatures is most dependent on others, requires constant help and care; besides needing these, old age, marked by its gray hairs, has sacred claims on our sympathies and respect. Nature herself teaches us to look with reverence on age, even in the pages of an old book; in the leafless branches of an old tree; in the silent, deserted halls of an old roofless ruin: still more in one whose head is white with the snows of fourscore or a hundred winters; still more in yon aged pilgrim who sits on Jordan's bank, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse of the shining ones that wait to welcome him beyond death's dark flood. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness," as seen in Simeon in the temple, where, with Jesus held in arms that trembled with joy more than age, he bent his hoary head to gaze with awe, and affection, and adoration on the infant's face; and raised it to astonish the bystanders - admiring only in them the beautiful conjunction of age and infancy, of life's rosy dawn and evening's gray - with this ardent, heavenly, this death-defying and death-desiring wish, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.'
Gray hairs, what tender authority do they add to the law, "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee!" I care nothing for the religion of man or woman who, neglecting, aged and venerable parents, leaves them to the care of strangers; casting those on the cold charities of the world whom they should have protected and nourished, in return for the kindness that watched over their feeble years, and bore with the foibles and follies of their youth. Although the deserted, dying savage, beating the withered breasts at which a son drank in life, has complained of him who forgot even in the pressure of sorest want a mother's kindness and a mother's claims, yet for those wandering tribes that, pressed by hunger, and ever on the verge of famine, feel the old men who cannot hunt and the old women who can not walk to be burdens, and throw them off, there is some excuse; but for those of us who neglect the claims of parents - none. In such men's profession there is no reality or truth. He who does not revere a father he has seen, cannot love a Father whom he has not seen.
Other gray hairs besides those of parents have claims on our respect. "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man," is a command that speaks to our hearts, and is in harmony with the best feelings of our nature. Nor in public assembly have I ever seen a feeble old man, bending under the weight of years, or, perhaps, of sorrow, left standing, while stout youth and manhood sat lounging at ease, but the spectacle has recalled the words of that noble Greek who, seeing an aged man left to stand a butt for youths to jeer at, rose in indignation to rebuke the crime, and tell his degenerate countrymen how, in the better days of the republic, on an old man entering an assembly all rose to their feet to do him reverence.
Gray hairs mark the decay of man; but contempt for gray hairs, and want of respect in children for parents, or in youth to age, is a sign that virtue, society, and the Church of God decay. There is no worse or more evil-omened feature in American society than the forwardness and pretensions of its youth; nor, for we have our own faults, is there a greater social evil in this old country than the growing indifference that children shew to the feelings or comfort of their aged parents. To cast them, without strong necessity, on public charity, however agreeable it may be to law, is contrary to nature, to the dictates of the gospel, and to the blessed example of him who from his dying cross cast looks of love on Mary, and committed her with most touching tenderness to the care of John.
In my text, however, gray hairs are not associated either with parental honours, or with the ripe wisdom of age, or with the piety of the venerable Simeon. They are here but the tokens of decay, marks of age, the premonitory symptoms of dissolution; and so the truth it announces is that men, many men, live in ignorance, and act in disregard of signs that should warn and alarm them.
In illustration of this, I remark
1. It appears in the history of States.
These words were first spoken of the kingdom of Israel. In the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy, in the corruption of morals and the decline of true religon, the prophet saw the signs of his country's decay - these the gray hairs that were here and there upon them, and they knew not. Nor, is that uncommon. Fell consumption wears roses on her cheek, nor parts with hope but with life; and kingdoms, as well as men and women in decline, stricken with a mortal malady, have descended into the grave, blind to their dangers and their doom. What an example of this the disruption of Rehoboam's kingdom! The dissolute habits of his father's court, with such a tendency as water has to seek a lower 1evel, had extended to the community, and corrupted its morals; the palace, from which religion had been scared by the introduction of idolatry and strange women, had forfeited all claim to public respect; - the crown, associated with open profligacy and the basest selfishness, had lost its brightest gems; the throne that David had left to his descendants,- with none to rally round it but men enervated by luxury and debased by vice, was ready to fall at the first shock; while the people, restive under their burdens, were ripe for rebellion.
Such were the circumstances in which, at Solomon's death his son was called to the helm - breakers ahead; breakers on the lee bow; - white roaring breakers on this side and on that! But the pilot was blind. When circumstances called for the most skilful seamanship, reckless, he ran his ship ashore; straight on ruin. Insensible to his dangers, he had not even the discretion to return a civil answer, a decent refusal, to his people's petitions; telling those who asked that their burdens might be made lighter, the yoke, less grievous, "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you,with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions."
What man ever so played the fool on a royal stage, or more plainly illustrated the words of the heathen moralist "The gods first make mad those whom they intend to destroy " Such was his answer. The result was not long to wait for. In less than four and twenty hours the country was in arms; what, well guided, had resulted in reform, exploded in a revolution which hurled this madman from the throne of Israel, and left him but a fragment of his father's kingdom. Grayhairs were here and there upon him, and yet he knew not
May his fate be our warning! We boast of our wealth; that our commerce extends to every region; that our manufactories are the workshops of the world; that our armies have pushed their conquests to the ends of the earth; that our Queen rules an empire on which the sun never sets; that the slave who touches our shore is free, and the beaten patriot who flies to its refuge is safe; how, beneath the aegis of Liberty, Peace sits crowned, while Plenty pours a full horn into her lap; and best of all, how the Bible is open, and its preaching free; and that religion, while it commands the respect of all, is enthroned in the hearts and rules the lives of many. We think that our mountain stands strong; and that we are as safe amid the revolutions that shake other countries as this island, guarded, by its rocky cliffs, amid the storms that agitate the sea. I am not sure of that; there are gray hairs on us. What do you say to an amount of illegitimacy that, disgraces our Christian name, and calls on masters and parents to guard the virtue of their homes? What say you to the drunkenness which costs us, year by year, vast millions of money and whole hecatombs of human lives? What do you say to the loose morality which, imported from the Continent, is fast destroying the claims which the upper classes of society have on the respect of the lower ? What to the altars that stand in ruins in so many households, to the multitudes that take their pleasure on God's holy day, and to the audacious attempts made to turn our Sabbaths into days of worldly pleasure? What to the thousands in our large, the tens of thousands in our larger, and the hundreds of thousands in our largest cities, that have thrown off the profession of religion, and from year's end to year's end never enter a house of God?
In these I see gray hairs, signs of national decay; nor could I, but for one thing anticipate any other fate for our country than that which has entombed Egypt and Assyria, Babylon and Persia, Greece and Rome - first birth, then growth, then decay, then death, -then the grave. With gray hairs here and there on us, we do know it. Thank God, we know it; and that thousands of earnest men and devoted women, fired with love to God and souls, animated by piety and the truest patriotism, are alive to our evils and working hard to cure them. There is balm in Gilead and a physician there and though I do not know that hair once gray ever turns black ,again, our country, like an eagle, may renew its youth, and mounting as eagle's wings, rise higher and higher still To America, could my voice reach her shores, or be heard above the rage of passion and the roar of battle, and to our own country also I would address the words of the prophet: If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity, and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday; and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
2. My text applies to the false security of sinners.
It is a dreadful thing to see the happiness of a human being, like a brittle vase, shattered at a blow; the fair fabric collapse in an instant into a heap of ruins. It is more painful still to have to strike the blow. With reluctant steps I have approached the house of a young wife to communicate tidings of her husband's death. There is not a cloud in that summer's sky; nor, as she thinks, in hers. The air rings with songs of happy birds, and the garden amid which her home stands is full of smiling beauty; and fair as the flowers and happy as a singing bird comes that bride forth, rushing out to bid me welcome to her sunny home. With such tidings I felt like an executioner. I thought of victims going with garlands to the sacrifice. With Jephthah, when his child came forth with dances and delight to meet him, I was ready to cry, "Alas! my daughter ;" and when the truth was told, the knife plunged into her heart, and she, springing to her feet, with one wild, long, piercing shriek, dropped on the floor at mine, a senseless form, I felt it hard to have such offices to do. I could not give her back her dead, nor at her wild entreaties unsay the dreadful truth, or admit, poor soul! that I was but playing with her fears,
But how happy would I esteem myself to break in on your false security? Here to dream is death, but to wake is life; as yonder, when you break in on the baseless visions of a prison, and shewing an open door to the felon who has woke to the miserable consciousness of his doom, bid him rise and flee - saying, Behold, I have set before thee an open door! But, perhaps, you have no fears, at least are not much alarmed; counting yourselves rather certain than other-wise escaping hell and finding heaven at death On what grounds, may I ask have you been converted? Is Christ precious to you? Have you washed in the fountain of his blood I Have you waited at the gates of prayer? Have you made your calling and election sure? Have you the witness of God's Spirit and the testimony of your conscience within, you, that in simplicity and godly sincerity you have your conversation in the world? No: then be assured that gray hairs are upon you, the greatest dangers beset you, and, alas, you know not.
Frequenting the church, repairing so many times a year to the Lord's table, assembling once a day, or perhaps oftener, your household to prayers, you make a becoming profession. There were more hope of some if they did not. Harlots and, publicans who feel that they have nothing, and none but Christ to trust to, presss into the kingdom, leaving scribes and Pharisees at the back of the door. A plausible profession, like false hair worn to hide the gray, may but conceal the sins, of our danger. Take away from some their profession, and what remains? The outside religion subtracted, nothing; or only what might suggest the unwrapping of yon tenant of a dusty tomb on the banks of the Nile. Once it was a man or lovely woman; but now, these painted, odorous, gilded cerements, fold by fold, removed, we reach a blackened mummy - a withered skeleton. Hidden from view by a fair profession, the world, the devil, hideous and unholy passions lodge within the heart, where God and Christ should be.
Be our profession what it may, if we have habits of sin - these are the gray hairs that, unless grace convert and mercy pardon, foretell our doom. Thick as these on the head of age, some men's lives are full of sin; they are going to hell as plainly as one whose form is bent and whose head is hoary is going down to his grave. But you may have abandoned many sins! Ah, but what is this? Here is a sin, small indeed, and secret, and unknown to the world, of which no man even suspects you; yet, like the one gray hair among her golden or raven tresses, which the vain beauty sees with dismay, it points to the grave. Oh, trust to no Saviour but Christ, nor to any evidence of a gracious state other than an entire abstinence from all sin; or, at least, godly sorrow for it, and daily resistance to it! So long as you see one star in the sky, the sun is not risen; so long as one leak admits the water, the ship is not safe; so long as one sin reigns in a man's heart, and is practised in his life, Jesus is neither his Saviour nor his King. The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
3. This appears in men's insensibility to the lapse and lessons of time. It is one of the most beautiful and beneficent arrangements of Providence, that children, if sensible of their helplessness, are not ashamed of that which awakens our lpve and sympathy; it gives them no pain. Nor less kind on God's ‘part is it that our minds are formed to adapt themselves to the circumstances of advancing years. Indeed we often glide so gently, so gradually down the decline of life, as to be little disturbed with the premonitions of its close. I remember the saying of a venerable lady, who had seen the changes of fourscore summers: "Let no one trust to this, that they will turn to God, and seek a Saviour when they feel old; I don't feel old." - , And though the young perhaps will hardly credit it, men with furrows in their brow, and gray hairs on their head, often find it difficult to remember that they are old; to believe it; to realise the approach of their end; how near they are to the grave. Daftth seems to flee before us, like the horizon which we ever see, and never reach. The river that springs like an arrow from its rocky cradle, to bound from crag to crag, to rush brawling through the glen, and, like thoughtless youth, to waste its strength in noise, and froth, and foam, flows on smoothly, slowly, almost imperceptibly, as it approaches its grave in the bosom of the sea.
And so is it often with man The nearer we draw to our end, through a natural callousness or otherwise, the less sensible we grow to the evils and approach of age. And when a man has not left his peace with God to seek in old age, his greatest work to a time when he is least likely to do it; when a man, having made his calling and election sure, has left nothing for a dying hour but to enjoy the comforts and peace of piety; in such a case it is a most blessed thing that old age does not make our hearts old, or benumb our feelings - that gray hairs are on us, and yet we know not.
But where, in such a case, is the hope of those who have trusted to turning religious when they turn old, and attending to the concerns of a better world when they have ceased to feel any interest in this? Death and a man, so runs the story, once made a bargain - the man stipulating, lest he might be taken unawares, that Death should send him so many warnings before he came. Well, one day, years thereafter, to his great amazement, the King of Terrors stood before him. He had broken the bargain, so said the other, who clung to life. Death, he alleged, had sent him no warnings. No warnings? His eyes were dim; his ears were dull; his gums were toothless; and spare and thin were the hoar locks on his bent and palsied head; these, Death's heralds, had come, not too late, yet all in vain. Amid warnings, but unnoticed or despised, his salvation was neglected; his soul lost; gray hairs were on him; and, so far as any practical effect was concerned, he knew not. Literally, or not, they are on us. Every setting sun, and every nodding hearse, and every passing Sabbath, warn us that days of darkness come, and opportunities of salvation go. Be up, therefore, and doing - asking yourselves such questions as these: Am I saved? Have I been born again? Have I embraced the Saviour? If not, oh, - seize this flying hour!
He taught a solemn truth who painted Time as an old man, with wings on his shoulders, scythe and hour-glass in his hands, and on his wrinkled forehead one lock of hair. All bald behind, and offering us no hold when it is past, let us seize Time by the forelock. Be saved this hour! That hoary preacher addresses you, as he shakes a glass where the sands of some of us are well-nigh run, and points his finger to the grave which, a few years hence, shall have closed over all this living assembly. Like other preachers, he shall die. Death himself shall die; but we never. Blessed or cursed with immortality, we shall live to wish we had never lived, or to rejoice that we shall live for ever. And, whether they fall late or early, happy then and happy now, such as, not ignorant that there were gray hairs on them, guilt in their lives, and sins on their consciences, sought salvation in Jesus Christ - washing their stains away in that atoning blood ; which both cleanseth from the vilest sins, and is free to the worst of sinners.

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