We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away. - Isaiah 64:6
Benjamin Disraeli was both a novelist and a brilliant twentieth century statesman who twice served as Prime Minister of Britain. He wrote, “Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old Age a regret.” Looking back over his tumultuous life, he no doubt could see plenty of reasons for regret. His disastrous venture into speculative investments saddled him with crippling debt, his questionable relationship with a society lady tarnished him with scandal, his critical writings about colleagues created major disruptions in business, and his policy of “never complain and never explain” did not always endear him to the political world. Regrets there could be aplenty!
Regrets also dominated Isaiah’s thoughts as he surveyed his social landscape. He recalled with joy the days when the Lord “came down” and “did awesome things beyond our highest expectations.” “Oh, how the mountains quaked!” Isaiah exclaimed (Isa. 64:3). But those days were gone, and now he longed to see them return (64:1-2).
Isaiah lived in days when the people were ungodly. He confessed, “We are not godly. We are constant sinners, so your anger is heavy on us. . . . No one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins” (64:5, 7).
The people had been privileged beyond measure. “Since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” (64:4). But they had not “waited for” God. The Lord “welcome[s] those who cheerfully do good, who follow godly ways” (64:5). But this they had refused to do. As a result, they were like “autumn leaves” that “wither and fall” (64:6).
But the Lord had not changed, he was still their Father, still the potter who had formed them. If their regret matured into repentance, the mountains could quake again.
Not all men wait until old age to engage in regrets. Circumstances catch up with some of them much earlier in life, leading to solemn contemplation and reevaluation—and deep regret. Thoughts of what-might-have-been flood the mind. “If only” dominates reflection, past mistakes are recognized, and missed opportunities are mourned. Sometimes, but not always, it is not too late to undo some of the damage and restore some of the hope of earlier years.
To avoid an old age of regret, learn to regret and repent early. And if it’s too late for that, repent now anyway. Better late than never. It’s never too late for hope.
For Further Study: Isaiah 64:1-12