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PROVERBS 16: 31.
Time imparts a hallowed interest to whatever has long withstood its slow dissolving touch. It invests with sacredness the relic which has survived the wreck of ages, and stamps the seal of a peculiar honor on the virtue it has tested.
With slow and solemn step we walk the cloistered aisle of the deserted temple, once crowded with worshippers, the living men of a nation long since expired. Its mutilated walls, its broken pillars, its crumbling arches, its forsaken altars, its vacant niches, its fallen statues of the mighty dead, its scattered fragments and mouldering ruins, are the authentic history of centuries far remote. We delight to linger in thoughtful silence amid the venerable ruins. They speak to us with solemn pathos of the past. Let not profane lips disturb the silent eloquence of their decaying splendor. The living spirit of buried centuries is there communing with our own. We hear a voice within saying put thy shoes from off thy feet, for thou art treading upon the consecrated dust of a nation's sepulchre.
With similar emotions we behold the mighty cataract, and listen to the thunder of its roar, for it carries us far back into the solitude of ages, when no voice but its own broke the eternal silence, when no eye but that of the All-seeing beheld its massive torrent and the arching of its rainbows. The same feeling arises when we survey the rocky mountain-head, upon which " eternity hath snowed its years."
This emotion, which scenes like these uniformly inspire, indicates the existence of an original element of the mind, from which it springs. It teaches us that a regard for antiquity is a constituent principle of our nature. The most acute analysis can resolve this principle into nothing more ultimate. The emotion is well defined, and clearly distinguished from those other sentiments of grandeur, and beauty, and honor, with which it is usually connected. It is called into existence alike by the worthless relic and the magnificent ruin, by the rude moss-covered monument and the splendid mausoleum, by the vestiges of man embedded in the mountain-rock and the exhumed temples of Herculaneum. Upon the relic, which forms a connecting link between remote ages and the present moment, time has cast an enchantment. Take away the other qualities which give interest to external objects, which dignify the character and add lustre to the achievements of men, antiquity alone remaining, they still excite our veneration. It is not superstition which leads us to revere the institutions of our fathers, to venerate whatever time has thrown its mantle upon and honored with its sanctions. In doing this, we but yield obedience to a primary law of our being.
The same principle lies at the foundation of that honor which all nations have bestowed upon the man of reverend age. Culture has not engrafted this sentiment upon the original stock of the sensibilities, anticipating as it were the beauty and richness of its fruit. The unwritten law of conventional propriety did not prescribe it, as conducive to the order of society and the happiness of man. Nor was the law of its requisition written by the finger of God merely upon tables of stone. It was engraven in living characters upon the human soul. The value of the principle appears from the fact that it was combined with those elements which constitute man the image of God. Therefore it is, that we feel a strong repugnance to one who is wanting in the quality of respect for old age. Because this is an essential element of humanity, he seems misshapen, distorted, somewhat monstrous. He is something less than man, and more to be despised than any man, who can treat rudely, or with cold neglect, one who is bending beneath the honors, as well as the infirmities of age. Intelligence, wisdom, justice, and veracity always command the respect of mankind; but when these qualities are confirmed, expanded, and attempered by old age, they demand the higher sentiment of reverence.
The principle we have asserted is, that old age, as such, by a law of our nature, is entitled to a peculiar regard; but when united with righteousness, it constitutes a crown of glory to be revered. The text recognizes this principle. For there is no age in the life of man which religion does not honor and adorn. It throws a radiance upon the open brow of childhood, adds lustre to its bright eye, and beauty to its innocent sportiveness. It checks not the free spirit and elastic energy of youth, but imparts a chastened gaiety, a thoughtful confidence, and paints before its longing eye visions of a better hope. Religion bestows honor upon manhood, giving a proper control to its strong arm, its vigorous intellect, its earnest heart, and determined will. But to the hoary head it is a crown of glory. It wreaths a garland of beauty around the temples of childhood, encircles the brow of youth with ornaments of grace, covers manhood with a mitre of dignity and honor, but upon the head of venerable age it composes a more excellent adorning, even a crown of glory.
"We are led this morning to reflect upon old age, a period of life in which we cannot fail to be interested. The principle we have considered forms the ground of that interest which we cannot but feel in the man who has passed his threescore years and ten, which the decree of Heaven has fixed as the limit of human life. Interesting old age! Behold the "old man covered with a mantle!" He has "come down to us from a former generation." He may be the representative of three generations of men.* Then since he became a living soul, three times has earth been repeopled, and as often have its myriads fallen into the bed of dust. He has stood by the tomb of the universe, and while its unnumbered inhabitants have marched in long procession—an awful pomp—three times has he seen a last rank step into the abode of silence. Three armies of living men have the world's population successively become; with sure and rapid strokes death has cut them down, and swept the entire mass into a common grave, while he alone survives unscarred. He stands like the solitary oak