The following is an extract from one of Archibald Alexander’s Letters to the Aged, which are included in his excellent book Thoughts on Religious Experience (available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom).
IT may be that the lives of some are lengthened out that they may offer up many prayers for the church and for the world, for, after all the activity and bustle and zeal apparent, there is no service which can be performed by mortals so effectual as prayer. Here there is a work to which the aged may be devoted.
While Joshua and the men of war contend with the Amalekites in the battle, Moses assists by lifting up his hands in prayer; and when he is, through fatigue, no longer able to hold them up, he is assisted by Aaron on one side and Hur on the other. If you cannot preach, you can, by prayer, hold up the hands of those who do. You can follow the missionary, who leaves all to go and labour in heathen lands, with your daily and fervent prayers. It is not in vain for you to live, while you have access to a throne of grace.
Before the advent of Christ there were some aged persons who seem to have been preserved in life that they might pray for this event, and that they might enjoy the pleasure of seeing the answer of their prayers, and embracing Him in their arms whom they had so often embraced by faith. While all around was spiritual death and desolation, and corruption and error had infected all classes, from the priesthood downward, there was a little band who had taken up their residence in the temple or often frequented this holy place, who were waiting for the consolation of Israel.
Two of these were Simeon and Anna; but there were others of the same character; for we read that this very aged and pious widow, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day, “spoke of Christ (after she had seen him) to all them who looked for redemption in Israel“. The darker the times, the more closely do the truly pious adhere to each other. This little knot of praying people knew each other, and no doubt spake often one to another; and in this case the Lord hearkened and heard: for the object of their desires and prayers was given to them. Was the life of Anna an unprofitable life, although she never left the temple, and did nothing but fast and pray? Was Simeon a useless member of the church because he was probably too old for labour? The truth was – and the same is often verified – that the true church of God was at this time confined to a few pious souls, while the priests and the scribes and the rulers had neither part nor lot in the matter.
As God preserved Simeon, according to a promise made to him, until he saw the Lord’s Christ, so He may be lengthening out the lives of some of you, my aged brethren, until you may have the opportunity of seeing the salvation of Israel come out of Zion. Do you not wish to be witnesses of the rise and glory of the church? Pray then incessantly for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem. Consider it as your chief business to pray that the kingdom of God may come.
What though the signs of the times be discouraging – what though you live in troublesome times – what though the church may be shaken and the prospects of her increase be dark, yet remember that she is founded on a rock, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. The vessel which carries Christ, though it be buffeted by storms, is in no danger of being wrecked. But to govern and direct does not belong to you; your duty is to pray – to pray without ceasing – to wrestle with the angel of the covenant, and not to let Him go until He bless you.
Give Him no rest until He establish and make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth. You cannot offend by importunity, but by this you will be sure to prevail, for “will not God hear his own elect, who cry day and night unto him?” Therefore, never hold your peace, but as long as you live intercede with Him to fulfil His gracious promises, and to cause the earth to be filled with the knowledge of Himself as the waters cover the sea, when His people shall be all righteous, and there shall be no need any longer for anyone to say to his neighbour, Know the Lord, for all shall know Him from the least to the greatest.