Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 25, 1958
NUMBER 21, PAGE 1,13c

When Is One Old?

W. W. Otey

(Firm Foundation, May 4, 1937)

When is one old, is a question often talked about. Some determine the answer by referring to the calendar and counting the years since birth. But what is it that grows old? We have a body that grows decrepit, the face wrinkled, the hairs grey, and the eyes dim. That is only the house in which the person dwells. Youth may dwell in a material house when the roof is off, the windows out, and the walls filled with openings. In some measure the same is true of us.

In youth I thought one who had passed the fiftieth birthday anniversary was very aged. Later I put the date later for one who was old. Now I find myself very near threescore and ten. But try as I may, I can't imagine myself an old man, or even nearing what we term old age. And so I have been deeply reflecting on my past, present, and future.

First of all, I dwell almost not at all in the past. I am not at all inclined to think about the past, and cannot be led to talk much about the past. When I do fleetingly think of the past, this is what I find. I have done so little of what I would like to have done for the cause of Christ that I shrink from thinking of it. I see much that I would now like to change, but can't. Mistakes I want to forget, the good is not much and will not be lost.

Truly I live in the present, today, and try as never before to do the little things that I can nearest to me now. I really feel that I have a far deeper understanding of the trials and difficulties of brethren and am better able in a small measure to give them some little help and encouragement than ever before. I verily believe that I understand the problems and pitfalls that are in the pathway of youth better than ever before in life. I feel that I can better give them the tolerant understanding and guidance away from the real dangers, and point out the dividing line between the harmful and the helpful, than years ago. While I know multitudes of our youth have thrown off all brakes and are heading for disaster in body and soul, still I am sure we have a far larger percent of youth who are real Christians than I have known in the nearly fifty years of my work in the church. I have confidence there will come after us a company of fine Christian men and women who will carry on the great work where we must soon give it up.

In my preaching, now forty-six years, I am sure I have adjusted myself to the changing conditions in general. I have not changed or modified in the least any item of truth or anything relating to Christian living. What I mean is this: Forty years ago we preached from one to two hours. It was the custom. A sermon less than an hour was not worth coming out to hear. A great change has taken place in that regard. I never reel off a sermon stereotyped years ago. Those who follow that style can't find a place to stop till the long, tedious, rambling end is reached. I talk absolutely extemporaneously, without notes, from the head and heart, forming entirely new lines of thought. This demands study, much study, real concentration; and always goes over fresh and warm. And each audience and time is carefully studied to know its need now. What to say, when to say it, and how to say it — this is always regarded. This forming of new lines of thought will compel the man who is getting up in years to be alert, the very basic mental attitude to accomplish the best for the church.

I have never in forty-six years preached a sermon that I was half satisfied with, in one hour after it was delivered. Oh, yes, many times when immediately closed, with the warm thrill of the theme still filling my mind, and many saying it had been helpful, I have felt for a very brief time that I had preached a pretty good sermon. But scarcely an hour after such an experience, reviewing the whole effort, I could see that it had not been as clear as it should have been, not as warm, zealous and inspiring as it should have been, and lacking much in force — which is measured not so much by the physical effort put forth, but is determined by the heart-force, that is in the heart of the speaker. And till this day, I have always expected my next sermon to be better in every respect than any one of the past. I am now soon to pass the threescore and ten mark on life's journey, and I feel as confident down deep in my own heart that I shall be able to preach better next year, and better still the next, as at any time in my past life. Will I be able to do this?

But, here is one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned in order to remain what I believe (and I hope I am not egotistical) to be a useful preacher till the present. I began years ago to condense, and learn to pack as much thought into thirty minutes as years ago in an hour or more. This can be done. But an old sermon outline, stereotyped thirty years ago, will have to be entirely junked, and new sermons formed; or else they will have to be boiled down. It is always my sincere aim to quit when not expected, and at the climax of interest.

What of the future? Well, I have much, very much, I still confidently hope to do. I have not been laid on the shelf. For years now my sincere prayer has been, first, to maintain health of body and alertness of mind as long as possible. Second, to find the place where I can be of most useful service. More and more I grow to want to serve rather than to bask in publicity. How long in years I shall still be actively engaged in the work of saving the lost and building up believers, no one knows but the Lord. But, somehow, I feel I have quite a number of years yet for useful service.

When my departure comes, I suppose I will likely be like all sane humanity, cling to the thread of life as tenaciously as possible. But really I now feel that when I can no longer be of real service, and would be a burden on others, I should like to go quickly, in the midst of activity. While I can't visualize death as coming to me, yet intellectually, I know it must come. I feel I have largely lost my old dread of death. My conception of death is that some day I will just step out of this earthly house and behold new visions and scenes. Just what the new things will look like of course we cannot now understand. But I believe the view will greatly exceed in beauty and loveliness anything our eyes have ever beheld. And I feel that we will be engaged actively, but in what way I have no idea. Paul said, a crown to all "who love his appearing." I think much more about the home of the redeemed than ever before. Sometimes I think I have a real desire to "depart and be present with the Lord," even now in the midst of an active life. But am I able to say in this, as I would like in all other things, "thy will be done, not mine"?