Most of us, my brethren, are young no longer. Much of our destined term of life lies already behind us, and silently the chariot of the hours and days and weeks is rolling on, and bearing us to a dark river and an unknown land,— and bearing us by a path which we can never pass again. For better or for worse, for good or for evil, a large and memorable portion—and indeed for the moulding of no small extent of our destiny by far the most important portion—of our lives is over; over for ever; never to be obliterated, never to be recalled. No man bathes twice in the same wave; no man lives twice in the same time. The past has glided into the dim backward; for us it has vanished for ever, and is but a decaying memory; for God it hath been recorded for ever, and is an eternal, indestructible reality. How has it been spent ? Has it been composed of " years which the locust has eaten " ?
It is a solemn question! For a few moments let us turn our faces backwards, and gaze (a sad gaze even for the best of us !) on the time past of our lives. We have reached those distant hills which once looked so blue and bright, and now, disenchanted, let us look back from these frosty and flinty steeps upon the region which we have traversed. Is it not a blank for many of us ? In forecast those years were like the garden of Eden before us,—is not their retrospect for many of us a desolate wilderness ? A fire burned before them, behind them a flame devoureth. And is it not, is it not because the locust army of our sins has settled on those fair fields, which might still have been green and refulgent, had our many good resolutions been any better than the morning cloud or than the early dew ? The locust army of our sins ; singly contemptible, collectively irresistible ; but whether singly or in multitudes, ruinous and abhorred. Why is it that, for so many men, sadness lies in looking back ? Why is it that they would give anything, short of their very being, to recover those lost years ? Is it not because their labour has been given to the locust, and their fruit to the grasshopper? How often have we prayed to be nobler, holier, better ! How often have we determined to avoid this snare, and wrestle with that temptation ! How often have we resolved to break off the bad habit, and cut short the selfish career ! How often, with stifled warnings of conscience, with forgotten prayers, and violated resolutions, have we returned like the dog to his vomit again, like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire! Must there not be at least some here for whom thoughts of sin have ripened into wishes, and wishes been consummated in acts, and acts hardened into habits, which are those rocks and bars of the gate of hell which no hand save the hand of God can burst ?—must there not be some for whom vice has become graver sin, and sin against God has become crime against, unknown it may be to all save his own soul and to God, vice, and sin, and crime have left all over the soul their darkening trails, obliterating all that was beautiful, weakening all that was vigorous, poisoning all that was pure, until it is as true of their wasted lives as ever it was of the fields of Israel, that "that which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten, and that which the locust hath left hath the canker-worm eaten, and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten " ? Is not this the reason why there is so much of sad truth in the Arab proverb, that the remembrance of youth is a sigh ?
Nothing is vainer than vain regret. It may be well indeed sometimes to glance rapidly along the faultful past; but unless we deliberately wish to fill our souls with useless misery and dangerous despair, it is a mere paralysing madness to dwell on it too long. Let us turn away bravely and wisely; let us turn to the hopeful future from the helpless past For what cause is it that God gives us the gift of time, if it be not that we may repent therein? For us, if we have been sinners, repentance is the work of life. Is the past dark ? be it so! There at least lies the future before us; forward then, and onwards ! it is as yet an innocent, it may be a happy future; it may be a noble future, a stainless future, a godlike future; take it with prayerful gratitude, and fling the withered past aside. Once more sow the seed, and plant the vineyard in the furrows of the contaminated soil. Poor may be the aftermath, scant the gleaning of grapes upon life's topmost branches that may be left for thee: yet do thou thy best to redeem these from the locust swarm. Do as Israel did when the locusts settled down. They remembered the God who had once swept away the locusts with a mighty wind, and drowned them by myriads in the Red Sea waves. "Rend your hearts," said the prophet, " and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God ; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil;" and they did turn and seek Him; and then mark God's gracious message to them,—"Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord will do great things. .. . And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten".
In one sense indeed they can never be restored; fresh years we can have, " fresh fields, and pastures new;" but not the old ones, and not the lost riches they might have blossomed with. Never can we be again as though we had not sinned at all. Let us recognise this stern truth :— The remission of sins, as you may read amid the shattered ruins of many a life, is not the remission of their consequences, nor are the perfect freedom and unvexed fearlessness of the innocent attainable by the guilty even when they have been forgiven. In a day, in an hour, in a moment we may destroy a character which on earth can never be rebuilt. For how many men has the sin of an instant proved the anguish of a life ! And even if by God's grace the deadliness of the wounds be healed, yet the unsightly scars must remain for ever on our souls, and the malicious hand of merciless man will point to them. But, thanks be to God, God is more tender, more merciful, more longsuffering than miserable man. Little need we reck of man, if God forgives us. And He does forgive us. Even the memory of guilt He will alleviate. Sometimes, as we float down the river of life, memory flashes up from the hidden depths, and the dark wave is peopled with the innumerable faces of once forgotten sins, which menace us from the waters, and prophesy of death. But God can enable us to gaze unshudderingly on those faces, and say with thankful emotion, " Those sins are not mine; they were mine, but they are forgiven. They were my heavy burden once, but now they are nailed to my Saviour's cross. They were written against me, but He has obliterated the record with His own hand, pierced for me. Such things I did,— but I am washed, but I am cleansed, but I am sanctified, but I am purified." We may say, like the Queen in the splendid tragedy, that " all old ocean's waters " could not wash away the stain of our guiltiness; and that "not poppy nor mandragora nor all the drowsy syrups in the world" could lull our diseased memories asleep;—ay, true !—but one drop of Christ's most precious blood can cleanse us for ever; one whisper of His " Peace, be still" can silence the wrathful storms of an agitated conscience, and give us songs in the midnight of despair !
The Fall of Man. p. 228.