I have been young - The idea in this whole passage is, "I myself have passed through a long life. I have had an opportunity of observation, wide and extended. When I was a young man, I looked upon the world around me with the views and feelings which belong to that period of existence; when in middle life, I contemplated the state of things with the more calm and sober reflections pertaining to that period, and to the opportunities of wider observation; and now, in old age, I contemplate the condition of the world with all the advantages which a still wider observation and a longer experience give me, and with the impartial judgment which one has who is about to leave the world. And the result of all is a conviction that religion is an advantage to man; that God protects His people; that He provides for them; that they are more uniformly and constantly blessed, even in their worldly affairs, than other people, and that they do not often come to poverty and want." There is a sad kind of feeling which a man has when he is constrained to say, "Ihave been young;" for it suggests the memory of joys, and hopes, and friends, that are now gone forever. But a man may have some claim to respect for his opinions when he is constrained to say it, for he can bring to the coming generation such results of his own experience and observation as may be of great value to those who are "young."
And now am old - This demonstrates that this psalm was one of the later productions of its author; and the psalm has an additional value from this circumstance, as stating the results of a long observation of the course of affairs on the earth. Yet there is much that is solemn when a man is constrained to say, "I am old." Life is nearly ended. The joys, the hopes, the vigor of youth, are all gone. The mature strength of manhood is now no more. The confines of life are nearly reached. The next remove is to another world, and that now must be near; and it is a solemn thing to stand on the shores of eternity; to look out on that boundless ocean, to feel that earth, and all that is dear on earth, is soon to be left "forever."
Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken - Forsaken by God; so forsaken that he has not a friend; so forsaken that he has nothing with which to supply his wants.
Nor his seed begging bread - Nor his children beggars. This was a remarkable testheony; and though it cannot be affirmed that the psalmist meant to say literally that he had never, in any instance, met with such a case - for the language may have been intended as a general statement, yet it may have been true to the letter. In the course of a long life it may have occurred that he had never met with such a case - and if so, it was a remarkable proof of the correctness of the general remarks which he was making about the advantage of piety. It is not now universally true that the "righteous" are not "forsaken," in the sense that they do not want, or in the sense that their children are not constrained to beg their bread, but the following things, are true:
(a) that religion tends to make men industrious, economical, and prudent, and hence, tends to promote prosperity, and to secure temporal comforts;
(b) that religion "of itself" impoverishes no one, or makes no one the poorer;
(c) that religion saves from many of the expenses in life which are produced by vicious indulgence; and
(d) that, as a general rule, it saves men and their children from the necessity of public begging, and from the charity-house.
Who are the inmates of the poor-houses in the land? Who are the beggars in our great cities? Here and there, it may be, is one who is the child of pious parents, reduced by sickness or misfortune, or a lack of practical good sense - for religion does not alter the constitution of the mind, and does not impart the "skill" or "talent" upon which so much of the success in life depends; but the great mass of persons in our charity-houses, and of beggars in the streets, are themselves intemperate, or are the wives and children of the intemperate. They consist of those whom religion, as it would have made them virtuous and industrious, would have saved from rags and beggary. It may not now be literally true that anyone who has been young, and who is become old, could say that he had not once seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread; but the writer of these lines, who has this day - the day on which he pens them (Dec. 1, 1859) - reached the sixty-first year of his life, and who is constrained to say "I have been young," though he may feel a reluctance to add, "but now am old," can say, as the result of his own observation in the world, that, as a great law, the children of the pious are not vagrants and beggars. As a great law, they are sober, industrious, and prosperous. The vagrants and the beggars of the world are from other classes; and whatever may be the bearing of religion on the destinies of men in the future world, in this world the effect is to make them virtuous, industrious, prudent, and successful in their worldly affairs, so that their children are not left to beggary and want, but to respectability and to competence.
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