THE OLD FOLKS’ VISIT

"I will go and see him before I die."—Gen. 45:28.

Jacob had long since passed the hundred year mile-stone. In those times people were distinguished for longevity. In the centuries after persons lived to great age. Galen, the most celebrated physician of his time, took so little of his own medicine, that he lived to one hundred and forty years. A man of undoubted veracity on the witness-stand in England swore that he remembered an event one hundred and fifty years before. Lord Bacon speaks of a countess who had cut three sets of teeth, and died at one hundred and forty years. Joseph Crele, of Pennsylvania, lived one hundred and forty years. In 1857 a book was printed containing the names of thirty-seven person who lived one hundred and forty years, and the names of eleven persons who lived one hundred and fifty years.

Among the grand old people of whom we have record was Jacob, the shepherd of the text. But he had

A BAD LOT OF BOYS.

They were jealous and ambitious and every way unprincipled. Joseph, however, seemed [287]to be an exception; but he had been gone many years, and the probability was that he was dead. As sometimes now in a house you will find kept at the table a vacant chair, a plate, a knife, a fork, for some deceased member of the family, so Jacob kept in his heart a place for his beloved Joseph. There sits the old man, the flock of one hundred and forty years in their flight having alighted long enough to leave the marks of their claw on forehead and cheek and temple. His long beard snows down over his chest. His eyes are somewhat dim, and he can see further when they are closed than when they are open, for he can see clear back into the time when beautiful Rachel, his wife, was living, and his children shook the Oriental abode with their merriment.

The centenarian is sitting dreaming over the past when he hears a wagon rumbling to the front door. He gets up and goes to the door to see who has arrived, and his long absent sons from Egypt come in and announce to him that Joseph instead of being dead is living in an Egyptian palace, with all the investiture of prime minister, next to the king in the mightiest empire of all the world!

THE NEWS WAS TOO SUDDEN

and too glad for the old man, and his cheeks whiten, and he has a dazed look, and his [288]staff falls out of his hand, and he would have dropped had not the sons caught him and led him to a lounge and put cold water on his face, and fanned him a little.

In that half delirium the old man mumbles something about his son Joseph. He says: "You do not mean Joseph, do you? my dear son who has been dead so long. You don't mean Joseph, do you?" But after they had fully resuscitated him, and the news was confirmed, the tears begin the winding way down the cross roads of the wrinkles, and the sunken lips of the old man quiver, and he brings his bent fingers together as he says: "Joseph is yet alive. I will go and see him before I die."

It did not take the old man a great while to get ready, I warrant you. He put on the best clothes that the shepherd's wardrobe could afford. He got into the wagon, and though the aged are cautious and like to ride slow, the wagon did not get along fast enough for this old man; and when the wagon with the old man met Joseph's chariot coming down to meet him, and Joseph got out of the chariot and got into the wagon and threw his arms around his father's neck, it was an antithesis of

ROYALTY AND RUSTICITY,

of simplicity and pomp, of filial affection and paternal love, which leaves us so much [289]in doubt about whether we had better laugh or cry, that we do both. So Jacob kept the resolution of the text: "I will go and see him before I die." And if our friends the reporters would like to have an appropriate title for this sermon, they might call it "The Old Folks' Visit."

What a strong and unfailing thing is parental attachment! Was it not almost time for Jacob to forget Joseph? The hot suns of many summers had blazed on the heath; the river Nile had overflowed and receded, overflowed and receded again and again; the seed had been sown and the harvests reaped; stars rose and set; years of plenty and years of famine had passed on; but the love of Jacob for Joseph in my text is overwhelmingly dramatic. Oh, that is a cord that is not snapped, though pulled on by many decades! Though when the little child expired the parents may not have been more than twenty-five years of age, and now they are seventy-five, yet the vision of the cradle, and the childish face, and the first utterances of the infantile lips are fresh to-day, in spite of the passage of a half century. Joseph was as fresh in Jacob's memory as ever, though at seventeen years of age the boy had disappeared from the old homestead. I found in our family record the story of an infant that had died fifty years before, and I said to my parents: [290]"What is this record, and what does it mean?" Their chief answer was a long deep sigh. It was yet to them

A VERY TENDER SORROW.

What does that all mean? Why, it means our children departed are ours yet, and that cord of attachment reaching across the years will hold us until it brings us together in the palace, as Jacob and Joseph were brought together. That is one thing that makes old people die happy. They realize it is reunion with those from whom they have long been separated.

I am often asked as pastor—and every pastor is asked the question—"Will my children be

CHILDREN IN HEAVEN,

and forever children?" Well, there was no doubt a great change in Joseph from the time Jacob lost him, and the time when Jacob found him—between the boy seventeen years of age and the man in midlife, his forehead developed with a great business estate; but Jacob was glad to get back Joseph anyhow, and it did not make much difference to the old man whether the boy looked older, or looked younger. And it will be enough joy for that parent if he can get back that son, that daughter, at the gate of heaven, whether the departed loved one [291]shall come a cherub or in full-grown angelhood. There must be a change wrought by that celestial climate and by those supernal years, but it will only be from loveliness to more loveliness, and from health to more radiant health. O parent, as you think of the darling panting and white in membranous croup, I want you to know it will be gloriously bettered in that land where there has never been a death and where all the inhabitants will live on in the great future as long as God! Joseph was Joseph notwithstanding the palace, and your child will be your child notwithstanding all the raining splendors of everlasting noon. What

A THRILLING VISIT

was that of the old shepherd to the prime-minister Joseph! I see the old countryman seated in the palace looking around at the mirrors and the fountains and the carved pillars, and oh! how he wishes that Rachel, his wife, was alive and she could have come there with him to see their son in his great house. "Oh," says the old man within himself, "I do wish Rachel could be here to see all this!" I visited at the farmhouse of the father of Millard Fillmore when the son was President of the United States, and the octogenerian farmer entertained me until eleven o'clock at night telling me what great things he saw in his son's house at [292]Washington, and what Daniel Webster said to him, and how grandly Millard treated his father in the White House. The old man's face was illumined with the story until almost the midnight. He had just been visiting his son at the Capitol. And I suppose it was something of the same joy that thrilled the heart of the old shepherd as he stood in the palace of the prime-minister. It is

A GREAT DAY WITH YOU

when your old parents came to visit you. Your little children stand around with great wide open eyes, wondering how anybody could be so old. The parents cannot stay many days, for they are a little restless, and especially at nightfall, because they sleep better in their own bed; but while they tarry you somehow feel there is a benediction in every room in the house. They are a little feeble, and you make it as easy as you can for them, and you realize they will probably not visit you very often—perhaps never again. You go to their room after they have retired at night to see if the lights are properly put out, for the old people understand candle and lamp better than the modern apparatus for illumination. In the morning, with real interest in their health, you ask them how they rested last night. Joseph in the historical scene of the text did not think any more of his father than you [293]do of your parents. The probability is, before they leave your house they half spoil your children with kindnesses. Grandfather and grandmother are more lenient and indulgent to your children than they ever were with you. And what wonders of revelation in the bombazine pocket of the one and the sleeve of the other!

Blessed is that home where Christian parents come to visit. Whatever may have been the style of the architecture when they come, it is a palace before they leave. If they visit you fifty times, the two most memorable visits will be the first and the last. Those two pictures will hang in the hall of your memory while memory lasts, and you will remember just how they looked, and where they sat, and what they said, and at what figure of the carpet, and at what door-sill they parted with you, giving you the final good-bye. Do not be embarrassed if your father come to town and he have the manners of the shepherd, and if your mother come to town and there be in her hat no sign of costly millinery. The wife of Emperor Theodosius said a wise thing when she said: "Husband, remember what you lately were, and remember what you are, and be thankful."

By this time you all notice what

[294]

KINDLY PROVISION

Joseph made for his father Jacob. Joseph did not say: "I can't have the old man around this place. How clumsy he would look climbing up these marble stairs, and walking over these mosaics! Then, he would be putting his hands upon some of these frescoes. People would wonder where that old greenhorn came from. He would shock all the Egyptian court with his manners at table. Besides that, he might get sick on my hands, and he might be querulous, and he might talk to me as though I were only a boy, when I am the second man in all the realm. Of course, he must not suffer, and if there is famine in his country—and I hear there is—I will send him some provisions; but I can't take a man from Padan-aram and introduce him into this polite Egyptian court. What a nuisance it is to have

POOR RELATIONS!"

Joseph did not say that, but he rushed out to meet his father with perfect abandon of affection, and brought him up to the palace, and introduced him to the Emperor, and provided for all the rest of the father's days, and nothing was too good for the old man while living; and when he was dead Joseph, with military escort, took his father's [295]remains to the family cemetery at Machpelah and put them down beside Rachel, Joseph's mother. Would God all children were as kind to their parents!

If the father have large property, and he be wise enough to keep it in his own name, he will be respected by the heirs; but how often it is when the son finds the father in famine, as Joseph found Jacob in famine, the young people make it very hard for the old man. They are so surprised he eats with a knife instead of a fork. They are chagrined at his antediluvian habits. They are provoked because he cannot hear as well as he used to, and when he asks it over again, and the son has to repeat it, he bawls in the old man's ear: "I hope you hear that!" How long he must wear the old coat or the old hat before they get him a new one! How chagrined they are at his independence of the English grammar! How long he hangs on! Seventy years and not gone yet! Seventy-five years and not gone yet! Eighty years and not gone yet! Will he ever go? They think it of no use to have a doctor in his last sickness, and go up to the drugstore and get a dose of something that makes him worse, and economize on a coffin, and beat the undertaker down to the last point, giving a note for the reduced amount which they never pay! I have officiated at obsequies of aged people where the family have been so [296]inordinately resigned to the Providence that I felt like taking my text from Proverbs: "The eye that mocketh at its father, and refuseth to obey its mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it." In other words, such an ingrate ought to have a flock of crows for pall-bearers! I congratulate you if you have the honor of providing for aged parents. The blessing of the Lord God of Joseph and Jacob will be on you.

I rejoice to remember that though my father lived in a plain house the most of his days, he died in a mansion provided by the filial piety of a son who had achieved a fortune. There the octogenarian sat, and the servants waited on him, and there were plenty of horses and plenty of carriages to convey him, and a bower in which to sit on long summer afternoons, dreaming over the past, and there was not a room in the house where he was not welcome, and there were musical instruments of all sorts to regale him; and when life had passed, the neighbors came out and expressed all honor possible, and carried him to the village Machpelah and put him down beside the Rachel with whom he had lived more than half a century.

[297]

SHARE YOUR SUCCESSES

with the old people. The probability is, that the principles they inculcated achieved your fortune. Give them a Christian percentage of kindly consideration. Let Joseph divide with Jacob the pasture fields of Goshen and the glories of the Egyptian court.

And here I would like to sing the praises of the sisterhood who remained unmarried that they might administer to aged parents. The brutal world calls these

SELF-SACRIFICING ONES

by ungallant names, and says they are peculiar or angular; but if you had had as many annoyances as they have had, Xantippe would have been an angel compared with you. It is easier to take care of five rollicking, romping children than of one childish old man. Among the best women of Brooklyn and of yonder transpontine city are those who allowed the bloom of life to pass away while they were caring for their parents. While other maidens were sound asleep, they were soaking the old man's feet or tucking up the covers around the invalid mother. While other maidens were in the cotillon, they were dancing attendance upon rheumatism and spreading plasters for the lame back of the septuagenarian, and heating catnip tea for insomnia.

[298]In almost every circle of our kindred there has been some

QUEEN OF SELF-SACRIFICE

to whom jeweled hand after jeweled hand was offered in marriage, but who stayed on the old place because of the sense of filial obligation until the health was gone and the attractiveness of personal presence had vanished. Brutal society may call such a one by a nickname. God calls her daughter, and Heaven calls her saint, and I call her domestic martyr. A half dozen ordinary women have not as much nobility as could be found in the smallest joint of the little finger of her left hand. Although the world has stood six thousand years, this is the first apotheosis of maidenhood, although in the long line of those who have declined marriage that they might be qualified for some especial mission are the names of Anna Ross, and Margaret Breckinridge, and Mary Shelton, and Anna Etheridge, and Georgiana Willetts, the angels of the battlefields of Fair Oaks, and Lookout Mountain, and Chancellorsville, and Cooper Shop Hospital: and though single life has been honored by the fact that the three grandest men of the Bible—John and Paul and Christ—were

CELIBATES.

Let the ungrateful world sneer at the maiden aunt, but God has a throne burnished [299]for her arrival, and on one side of that throne in heaven there is a vase containing two jewels, the one brighter than the Kohinoor of London Tower, and the other larger than any diamond ever found in the districts of Golconda—the one jewel by the lapidary of the palace cut with the words: "Inasmuch as ye did it to father;" the other jewel by the lapidary of the palace cut with the words: "Inasmuch as ye did it to mother." "Over the Hills to the Poorhouse" is the exquisite ballad of Will Carleton, who found an old woman who had been turned off by her prospered sons; but I thank God I may find in my text "Over the hills to the palace."

As if to disgust us with unfilial conduct, the Bible presents us the story of Micah, who stole the eleven hundred shekels from his mother, and the story of Absalom, who tried to dethrone his father. But all history is beautiful with stories of filial fidelity. Epaminondas, the warrior, found his chief delight in reciting to his parents his victories. There goes Æneas from burning Troy, on his shoulders Anchises, his father. The Athenians punished with death any unfilial conduct. There goes beautiful Ruth escorting venerable Naomi across the desert amid the howling of the wolves and the barking of the jackals. John Lawrence burned at the stake in Colchester, was cheered in the flames by his children, who said: "O God, [300]strengthen thy servant and keep thy promise!" And Christ in the hour of excruciation provided for His old mother. Jacob kept his resolution, "I will go and see him before I die," and a little while after we find them walking the tessellated floor of the palace, Jacob and Joseph, the prime-minister proud of the shepherd.

I may say in regard to the most of you that your parents have probably visited you for the last time, or will soon pay you such a visit, and I have wondered if they will ever visit you

IN THE KING'S PALACE.

"Oh," you say, "I am in the pit of sin!" Joseph was in the pit. "Oh," you say, "I am in the prison of mine iniquity!" Joseph was once in prison. "Oh," you say, "I didn't have a fair chance; I was denied maternal kindness!" Joseph was denied maternal attendance. "Oh," you say, "I am far away from the land of my nativity!" Joseph was far from home. "Oh," you say, "I have been betrayed and exasperated!" Did not Joseph's brethren sell him to a passing Ishmaelitish caravan? Yet God brought him to that emblazoned residence; and if you will trust His grace in Jesus Christ you, too, will be empalaced. Oh, what a day that will be when the old folks come from an adjoining mansion in heaven, and find you [301]amid the alabaster pillars of the throne-room and living with the king! They are coming up the steps now, and the epauletted guard of the palace rushes in and says: "Your father's coming, your mother's coming!" And when under the arches of precious stones and on the pavement of porphyry you greet each other, the scene will eclipse the meeting on the Goshen highway, when Joseph and Jacob fell on each other's neck and wept a good while.

But oh, how changed the old folks will be! Their cheek smoothed into the flesh of a little child. Their stooped posture lifted into immortal symmetry. Their foot now so feeble, then with the sprightliness of a bounding roe as they shall say to you: "A spirit passed this way from earth and told us that you were wayward and dissipated after we left the world; but you have repented, our prayer has been answered, and you are here; and as we used to visit you on earth before we died, now we visit you in your new home after our ascension." And father will say, "Mother, don't you see Joseph is yet alive?" and mother will say, "Yes, father, Joseph is yet alive." And then they will talk over their earthly anxieties in regard to you, and the midnight supplications in your behalf, and they will recite to each other the old Scripture passage with which they used to cheer their staggering [302]faith: "I will be a God to thee and thy seed after thee." Oh, the palace, the palace, the palace! That is what Richard Baxter called "The Saints' Everlasting Rest." That is what John Bunyan called the "Celestial City." That is Young's "Night Thoughts" turned into morning exultations. That is Gray's "Elegy in a Churchyard" turned to resurrection spectacle. That is the "Cotter's Saturday Night" exchanged for the Cotter's Sabbath morning. That is the shepherd of Salisbury Plain amid the flocks on the hills of heaven. That is the famine-struck Padan-aram turned into the rich pasture fields of Goshen. That is Jacob visiting Joseph at the emerald castle.