But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities…
There are three volumes in the great work of God by which he is educating us - the written Word, Divine providence, and the world in which he has placed us. There are many pages in this last volume, and we do well to read them with reverent spirit. We may learn many things from the vegetation which clothes and adorns the world, and which supplies us with food and medicine and shelter. The fading of the leaf is particularly suggestive; we are reminded that -
I. ALL IS NOT LOST TO THE TREE WHEN THE LEAF FALLS. The leaf has been a recipient from the trunk, drinking in its vital juices, but it has been giving as well as receiving; it has been absorbing sunshine and air and moisture, and has been passing these on to the trunk, doing this in the very act of decaying, so that when the leaf has fallen its most precious part remains behind. We are large recipients from the society to which we belong, but we should be continually giving as well as taking. Before we fall, and even as we fade, we may be, and should be, imparting wisdom and truth, all wholesome and helpful principles, a reverent and holy spirit, by which the community will be the better and the richer when we are no longer seen or even remembered.
II. THERE IS AN APPARENT BUT TREACHEROUS BEAUTY IN DECAY. The russet tints of autumn are very exquisite, but it is the beauty of decay. Each particular leaf is pitted and spotted and torn, and it owes its colour to the decomposition which has begun. So is it with some fair human institutions: there may be the grandeur or the brilliancy of external prosperity - superficially regarded they are interesting, fair, admirable - but there is no inward soundness; it is not the excellency of growing life we are looking upon, but the melancholy beauty of decay.
III. THE INEVITABLENESS OF DECLINE. A psalmist and a prophet speak poetically of" trees whose leaves do not fade." But such trees, we know, are not found in the vegetable kingdom. Human hearts need not fade. They who are ever drinking in the sunshine of Divine truth, who bathe in the waters of Divine wisdom, on whom fall continually the dews of the Divine Spirit - these are "trees planted by the rivers of water," and "their leaf does not wither; ' they keep their freshness, their purity, their joy to the last; they never lose it. But human lives must. We all do fade as a leaf; the time must be reached when the physical and mental powers begin to decline, and then life lessens in its force and its range from year to year, until the gust comes which brings down the faded leaf to the earth. Prudence may put off the date, but the experience is inevitable and must be faced. We must be provided with a true and real consolation.
IV. THE MINGLING OF THE GRADUAL WITH THE SUDDEN IN THE DECLINE OF LIFE. Everything, in the history of the leaf, is a gradual process, until the last killing frost or pelting rain detaches it from the bough. Death is seldom quite sudden, usually much less so than it seems. It is generally the case that the vigour of the frame has been impaired and the vital powers lessened before the attack proves fatal. We all do fade as a leaf; we decline before we die, we fade before we fall, we walk down the hill by many paces before we take the last step and touch the bottom. Yet is there, almost always, something sudden in the great removal. The day of the Lord still comes as a thief in the night.
V. HUMAN LIFE, UNLIKE THE LEAF, HAS NO FIXED TIME TO DROOP AND DIE. We know the season of the falling leaf, but the time of failing health and of the departing spirit we do not know. Well sings Mrs. Hemans -
"Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the north wind's breath,
And stars to set; but all -
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, O Death." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.