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…
I. LEAVES FADE GRADUALLY. The whole foliage of a tree does not fade and pass away at one time. Some leaves droop and wither even in spring, when the rest of the foliage is in its brightest and most luxuriant beauty. Some are torn away in summer, while green and full of sap, by sudden and violent storms. The great majority fade and fall in autumn; while a few cling to the branches all through the cold and desolation of winter, and are at last pushed off by the unfolding buds of the following spring. And is it not so with every generation? Decay and death everywhere and always reign. But all do not fade at the same time. Sonic die in the spring of life; some are cut off' suddenly, by accidents and fatal diseases, in ripe manhood; some fade naturally in the autumn of old age. A few survive their generation, like the last red leaves that rustle mournfully in the winter wind on the topmost bough of the tree. Friend after friend departs, family after family disappears, until the mournful record shall be written of us as it was written of the Hebrews of old — "And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation."
II. LEAVES FADE SILENTLY. All the processes of nature are silent and secret. It is God's glory to conceal a matter. And so silently do we all fade.
III. LEAVES FADE DIFFERENTLY. The autumnal foliage is very varied. No two species of trees exhibit the same appearance. And are there not similar differences in the way in which men fade and die? In the hey-day of life and happiness they may seem all alike, uniformly fair and attractive. But when death comes, it shows the true character of each. Its approach makes some men gloomy and sombre. It invests them with a dark and repulsive aspect. It clothes them with despair. But how widely different is the dying of the Christian! The idea of death to them has nothing death-like in it.
IV. LEAVES FADE CHARACTERISTICALLY. The foliage that is gloomiest in its unfolding, is most unsightly in its decay; and the leaves that have the richest and tenderest shade of green in April, have the most brilliant rainbow hues in October. The leaf of the sad and sullen ash is the last to kindle its bud, and the first to wither and fall; and its colour, always sombre, becomes blackened and disfigured in decay. The leaf of the linden tree, on the contrary, is beautiful from first to last; softly green in spring; fragrant in summer with delicate frankincense, and musical with the hum of bees, revelling in the honey-dew bloom; and gorgeous as a sunset-cloud in autumn. And so is it with man. "He dies as he lives. A life of godliness ends in a saintly death; and a career of worldliness and sin terminates in impenitence and despair. And as the fading itself is characteristic, so also are the results of the fading. The leaves of some trees when they fall, leave no trace what. ever behind. The scar left by their removal heals immediately; and on the smooth, naked bark of the bough, in winter, there is no mark to indicate that it was once covered with foliage. There are other trees, however, on which the scars are permanent. Many of the characteristic markings on the stems of palm-trees and tree-ferns are due to the permanence of these scars, when their leaves have decayed and dropped off. And is not the lesson of analogy here very clear and impressive? How many there are who fade and drop off from the tree of humanity, and leave no trace of their existence behind. Others there are, large-minded and large-hearted men, who live not for themselves, but for the glory of God and the good of their fellow-creatures; these when they fade and drop off the tree of life, leave behind them an impression which time will only make deeper.
V. LEAVES FADE PREPAREDLY. No leaf falls from the tree — unless wrenched off suddenly and unexpectedly in early growth by external violence — without making due preparation re. its departure. Before the slightest discoloration is seen upon it, there is a secret adequate provision made by nature for the inevitable hour of its passing away. Side by side with it, even in its summer beauty and luxuriance, it carries the memorial at once of its death and of a new birth. It bears the young bud that is to usurp its place in its bosom, and nourishes it with its own expiring life. This law of the vegetable kingdom is one that knows no exception. No leaf drops till a new one is prepared to take its place; no flower perishes till its house is made ready and filled with seeds. Alas, how different is it in human economy! Provision for the future is with man not the law, but the exception, of his conduct. Should we not imitate the example of the leaf in which the process of preparation for the future keeps pace with the process of decay?
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
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.