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…
(with 1 Corinthians 15:51): — We know how many signs and symptoms there are in life which suggest the truthfulness of the figure. You cannot take a hill now as once you could. It makes your breathing v, burden, and the slightest incline wearies and tires you out. It all means the fading leafs Your eyes are giving you trouble. The glasses that served you ten years ago are of little use to you now. It is the fading leaf! You very frequently have to ask your friends to repeat their words. You are inclined to think it is because they mumble and murmur their speech. Nay, it is the fading leaf! There is your memory. Lately it has begun to play tricks with you, a thing it has never done before. It is the fading leaf! All these are signs, common signs, that the prime has been reached, that the leaf has begun to fade. "We all do fade as a leaf!" Such is the Old Testament conception of life — a fading leaf. Is it a complete conception, or is it only partial and fragmentary? It is the conception of the Old Testament, is it the conception of the New? So far I have only given you one half of my text. Now let me give you the other half. I have taken it from Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians: "We shall all be changed." Now put the two conceptions side by side. "We all do fade as a leaf; "We shall all be changed." The Old Testament prophet looked upon men and women who were beginning to feel the weaknesses and infirmities of age, and he said, "They are beginning to fade." The New Testament prophet looked upon men and women becoming burdened with similar weaknesses, and he ,s, aid, "They are beginning to change." "Fading" is the Old Testament word; changing is the word of the New; and in the two words you will find the characteristic differences in the two conceptions. One looks at the body; the other looks at the soul. Here is a flower-bud, in its early stages encased in its wondrous sheath of green. After a while the sheath begins to open, to turn back, to droop and to die. Isaiah looks at the drooping sheath, and says, "Fading." Paul looks at the unfolding flower, and says, "Changing." One looks at the body which can fade; the other looks at the soul, the unfolding life, which can change but never fade. One looks at the vesture, the other looks at the man. Now we know which is the Christian standpoint. Christianity warns us again and again not to confuse the man's body with the man, but always to distinguish between them, and to make the distinction a vital and influential article of our faith. When some, one has passed away, the inquiry is often made by one friend of another, When are they going to bury him? Bury him? Never! He cannot be buried! He is not here to be buried; he is risen! Bury him? No, you bury it; you bury his body, you bury that which has faded; you cannot bury the man. "Well, why not make that distinction as real in speech, as it ought to be real in faith? I am told that "Mr. So-and-So is in a decline. What do you mean? Do you mean that the man's body is declining, or the man? Immediately you reply, "The man's body.' Then why not keep the distinction to the front, that when little children hear you speak, they may catch one of the cardinal doctrines of your faith. The New Testament always keeps the two distinct. It speaks of the body, the flesh, as a house; it speaks of the spirit, the soul, as its tenant. The same distinction is made by another figure. The New Testament describes my body as a robe. Look at that. Here are outer garments of cotton and wool. Then there is another garment of flesh. And then there is the soul, the man, the woman! That is the Christian conception — the flesh is the garment, it is not the man! Tell your children that growing old and infirm just means that the flesh garment is getting worse for wear, and that the soul is preparing for itself another garment that will never wear out, a spiritual garment, a garment of immortality and light! Tell them that death just means that the spirit has dropped its old clothes, its robe of flesh, and has clothed itself with the garment that is from heaven. This is a beautiful conception, this apostolic conception of change. It takes our eyes away from the temporal and fixes them upon the eternal. It takes the emphasis away from the fading body and fixes it upon the changing spirit.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
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.