George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Perils of Middle Age
"The destruction that wasteth at noonday." Psa 91:6
In all literature, the life of man is pictured under the symbol of a day. There is something in the rising and setting of the sun that compares so closely to life's start and close that the correspondence has been universally perceived. We speak of the morning of infancy or childhood; we describe the older age as the afternoon of life; the declining years are the evening of our day; and the final efforts as the lingering gleams of sunset. It is in such language, drawn from the sphere of day, that we imaginatively describe the facts of life. This being so, you will at once perceive the meaning we may attach to noonday. The noonday of life is the time of middle age when the morning freshness of youth has passed away. And so the destruction which wasteth at the noonday, whatever its literal significance, may be referred to as the peculiar temptations of that period.
This long stretch that we call middle life is a period often overlooked. In a hundred special sermons to young men, you will scarcely find one which addresses the middle age. No doubt there is something to be said for that, for youth is the time of impression and choice, and the preacher feels that if he can influence youth, the trend of the later period is determined. But along with this wise reasoning goes another, which is as unwise as it is false and which is specially cogent with young ministers. It is the thought that after the storms of youth, middle age is like a quiet haven. It is the thought that youth is very perilous and middle age comparatively safe. I think that nothing could be farther from the truth than that and no outlook more pernicious. I am convinced that of all moral perils, none are more deadly than the perils of the noonday. And could we only read the story of many Christians who in the sight of God have failed, I believe we would find that the sins of middle age have been more disastrous than the sins of youth.
A Man's Lifework Is Usually Determined by Middle Age
Now one of the great features of middle age is that by that time a man has found his lifework. No longer does he wonder what the future may hold. No longer does he turn to the left and right wondering what path he should pursue. But whether by choice or by necessity, or by what men might call an accident, he has taken up once and for all his calling and settled down to the business of his life.
When one stands amid the Alps in early morning, it is often impossible to tell the mountain peaks from the clouds. For the rising sun, touching the clouds with glory, so fashions them into fantastic pinnacles that it would take a practiced eye to tell which is a cloud and which is a snowcapped summit. But when noonday comes, there is no longer any difficulty. The clouds have separated and disappeared, and clear and bold into the azure sky there rises up the summit of the Alps. So in our morning hour it is often hard to tell which is the cloud-capped tower and which is the hill. But as the day advances and the sun mounts to noonday, that problem of the morning disappears. For clear above us rises the one summit--clear before us stretches our lifework. For better or worse, we now have found our lifework, nor are we likely to change it till the end.
Now with this settlement into a single task there generally comes a certain happiness. We are freed from many disquieting doubts that troubled us when we stood on life's threshold. Unless a man's work is abhorrent--so uncongenial as to be utterly abhorrent--there is a quiet pleasure in those very limitations that are the noticeable marks of middle age. The river no longer swirls among the rocks nor is there now any glory of a dashing waterfall, but in the tranquility there is a placid beauty and the suggestion of abiding peace. Even more, there is an ingathering of strength--the strength that always comes from concentration. No longer does a man dissipate his power trying to open doors that have been barred; but knowing his work and limitations, he gives himself with his whole heart to his one task, and so is a stronger man in middle age than he was in the happy liberty of youth.
The Narrowness of One's Lifework
But just here arises the danger of that period--one form of the destruction that wasteth at noonday--and it lies in the narrowness of the one groove in which the lifework runs. The eager expectancy of youth is gone, and absorbed in the business on which his living hangs, a man narrows into a businessman. Strong because he is concentrated in his life's work, he may become weak in that very concentration. Quietly happy because he has found his groove, he may be further from God than in his wayward youth.
There is a question which we often use. We ask of such and such a man, "What is he?" And you know the answer which we expect to get--he is a teacher, a doctor, or an engineer. Now if the end for which a man was born was to be a doctor or an engineer, happy indeed would be that narrowness which is so clear a feature of the noonday. But when we remember what man is and yet shall be; when we think of Him in whose image man is made (which image it is the lifework to restore), what an irony it is and what a condemnation of the noonday that we should say of a man that he is a draftsman, or of another he is an engineer. Has the promise of the morning come to this? Are these the feet that are set in a large room (Psa 31:8)? Have all the blessings of God been lavished on a man that he might become only a first-rate man of his business? No matter how successful he may be, if he is impoverished and narrowed by success, then in the sight of God he is in peril of the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
Enlarging Our Being
Faced, then, by that peril as we are, how may we reasonably hope to overcome it? One way is to have some consuming interest such as a hobby. It does not really matter what it is, if it is an avenue into a larger world. It tends to keep a person from being a mere machine and helps him through the perils of the noonday.
But there is something better than a hobby. It is the symmetry of the character of Jesus. It is the thought that there once moved on earth a Man who was perfect in the whole range of manhood. That is the value of fellowship with Christ in an age when specialism is inevitable. Christ touches every string upon the harp, for He vitalizes powers we would ignore. He came to give life, and to give it more abundantly, and so saves from the destruction of the noonday.
The Peril of Deadening Faith
Another peril of the noonday is the decay and deadening of faith. There is no period in the whole course of life in which it is so hard to walk by faith.
In childhood, faith is an abiding habit. A child has a perfect genius for trusting. Dependent for everything upon the care of others, to lean on others is totally natural and a sheer necessity. And so in youth is found the lovely habit of trustful reliance upon another's love which makes the child, no matter what his faults, a type of the citizen in Jesus' kingdom.
Then in old age when the sun is setting, faith surely must become easier again. Standing so near the margin of this world, has a man no gleams and visions of the next? So soon to make that plunge into the darkness and to leave forever the "old familiar faces," how utterly and hopelessly hardened must a person be who has no thought except for the things he sees! I do not say that faith is ever easy. It is the greatest of ventures and of victories. It is the victory that overcomes the world, and not to be won without a weary battle.
But in middle age, as you will see at once, these helps and encouragement's are missing. There is neither the stimulus of youth nor that of age to lead a man to trust in the unseen. We are self-dependent now and self-reliant; it is by the work of our own hands we live. Once we depended upon another's labor, but now our livelihood hangs on our own. Then, too, in the time of middle age there is generally a reasonable measure of good health. The days succeed each other at an even pace, and before us lies an unbroken stretch of road. Not yet do we discern the shades of evening nor feel on our cheek the chill wind of the twilight. We are far away from the brink of the beyond.
It is such facts as these that hint to us of the destruction that wasteth at noonday. No period is so prone to materialize the spirit or to blind a man to the range of the unseen. Then first relying on our personal effort and through that effort achieving some success; then awakening to the power of money and to all that money is able to procure; still unvisited by signs of dissolution and reasonably secure of many years yet to come, it is in middle age we run the tremendous peril of becoming worldly and materialized. Youth has its dangers, but they are those of passion and lack of control. But the sins of middle age, though not so patent, yet in the sight of God may be more deadly, for they lead to that encrustation of the spirit which the Bible calls the hardening of the heart.
Get a company of middle-aged men together and listen to their talk about their neighbors. Isn't it certain to come around to money--to their losses and successes and incomes? I do not imply that what they say is scandal, or even suggest it is uncharitable. I only say that they have materialized since the happy days when they were boys together. There is no time when it is harder to walk with God than in our middle age; no time when it is more difficult to keep alive the vision of the eternal and unseen. The sweet dependence of childhood has departed, and the heart has awaked to the power of the material, but the hand of death does not yet knock loudly. Brethren, who like myself have entered these midyears, remember that Christ is praying that your faith does not fail. He knoweth the arrow that flieth in the morning; He knoweth the destruction that wasteth at noonday. May Christ deliver us from the hard and worldly heart. May He give us the hope that is cast within the veil. Not slothful in business, but toiling at it heartily may we endure as seeing Him who is invisible.
The Danger of Losing Faith in Man
But not only is middle age the time when we are in peril of losing faith in God, it is also a time when we are in danger of losing faith in man. The two things indeed may be said to go together, the one making way for and drawing on the other, for between faith in man and faith in God there is a vital connection. In our days of childhood we believe in men with a romantic and splendid trust. We have not yet learned the motives that inspire them. It is from our father we take our ideas of manhood, and from our mother we take our ideas of womanhood. The father is always a hero to the child, and the mother is always worthy to be loved.
And then with middle age comes the awakening. We see how different men are from our imagination. The vision we had of them is rudely shattered, and with the shattering goes our faith. It may be that a young man goes to business under an employer who is a professing Christian. He may even be a pillar in the church in which the young man was baptized and trained. But in the business there are such shady tricks, such practices incompatible with honor, that in a year or two not all a father's pleading can prevail with his son to even take the Communion cup. It may be that a woman is deceived in love by someone of whom once she thought there was no better person in the world. It may be that a daughter comes to see that the mother whom she adored is but a worldly woman. Or it may be that, without sudden shock, we slowly discover the wheels within the wheels, the rottenness in much that is called business, the worship of power in much that is called the church. Very commonly it meets a man as youth expires and middle age begins. And it is this passage from the hopes of youth to the chilling experience of middle life that is so often attended by an eclipse of faith. Some men become utterly hard-hearted; others, tolerantly cynical. To some it is a positive relief to find the world no better than themselves. But to all it is a deadly peril--it is the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
There is only one help in that temptation--one help, yet it is all-sufficient. It is to remember that though He knew the worst, Christ never for an hour lost faith in man. Despised, deceived, rejected and betrayed, still in the eyes of Christ man is precious. His own forsook Him on the way to Calvary, and yet He loved His own unto the end. Great is our need of Christ in time of youth if we are to steer our ship amid the shoals. Great is our need of Christ when we are old if we hope to enter the eternal city. But not less great is our need of Jesus Christ in the dusty levels of our middle age if we are to be saved from that destroying angel--"the destruction that wasteth at noonday."
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