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. IN THE MUTE ORGANS OF THE FADED LEAVES IS A TENDER WARNING. God turns every hill-side and meadow into an allegory. The tiny little monarch grappled with life, captured the forces of nature, and vigorously ministered all summer. But feebleness is creeping over it, it grows weary, its lustre is fading, nerves waxing weak. It rustles, it trembles in the gentle zephyr, and the, falls. "As the flowers of the field, so man floursheth." How tenderly God begins to warn us of the coming king of terrors. Each leaf carries its own secrets, giving no premonition which shall first fade. So tender is God's mighty providence I No harsh voice calls out, Set throe house in order, for thou shalt die and not live. The messenger comes in a little rheum, a periodic pain, a little exhaustion of breath, fainting moments, the love of ease, the failing of memory, and little changes in the disposition. God hides the grim visage of fatality under shadows. But the angel of death is absolutely there.
II. ON THE LEAF TWO FORCES ARE EVER AT WORK: THE VITALIZING OR ORGANIZING, AND THE DISSOLVING OR DECAYING. The coal-beds of the earth tell the story of the battles of these powers contending for the supremacy. There are the generations of the faded and fallen, metamorphosed, petrified, stratified. There are some leaves whose very luxury causes them to decay. This is one of the mysteries of life among men. The brilliant geniuses endowed with courage to inspire, intelligence to enlighten, and sensibility to refine, being first misunderstood and then misrepresented, contradicted, or embittered by neglect, their very richness of soul and fatness of mind cause them to sicken under the pale hand of languor. There are some gorgeous leaves which carry in themselves the beauty of the blossom and leaf together. They die early. There is the young scholar, gorgeous in intellect, prematurely ripening. His youth is adorned with loveliness. Of the wealth of his graces we have but the prophecy in the bud. He has a face like a cherub, and God sends His angel to pluck it while it is unsullied by the scorching sun or the chills of autumn. At the other extreme is gorgeous old age.
III. There is a process of — injecting colour into the fibres of plants to make them bright or sombre, as one may wish. Thus affected, THE LEAVES FADE DIFFERENTLY. There in also a method of inoculating the life of man. To the character can be given the bright tints of pleasure as of those who delight in goodness. When the heart is inoculated with the graces of Christ the perspective of the character is determined, the somber shades of despondency are transfigured. Some leaves are flabby and develop a gloomy, morbid colour. They wither and decay as unsightly things. Except for the grace of God, men born in a murky moral atmosphere gather cloudiness and opacity as they grow older and perish in gloom. Some leaves are beautiful from first to last. Like Samuel, they are dedicated from birth to a whole life in the ministry of goodness. Such is many a Christian life. The innocency of youth is beautified b a gracious spirit. Middle life comes on in the strength of a righteous character.
IV. LEAVES IN FADING DEVELOP SPECIFIC CHARACTERISTICS. Each species has its peculiar tints. This represents the racial types of men in the development of their spiritual or mental traits. When they come to fade and to die the individual trends of character come forth in colours widely differing. The fatalism of the Chinaman is joyless and fearless, a dogged indifference. The pantheism of the Brahmin brings its devotee to sink into a gradual sleep, a dull withering. The Mohammedan, whose heaven is sensual, has spasms of fearful passion. The Catholic, who has been taught that ceremonies save him, in dying eagerly longs for a priest, a cross, or extreme unction. The agnostic comes to his end glowing in the white heat of apprehension. The true Christian has the face of one going home. Again, family groups have their differentiation. On a given tree, all the leaves are fashioned after a common type in colour, form, and texture. But as they grow they acquire individual oddities. Even so, one family of people, nurtured by the sap of a common civilization, develop the most striking idiosyncrasies.
V. THERE IS NO DISGRACE IN FADING. Grey hairs area crown of glory when they are anointed with goodness. If we have made good use of the sunshine, if the fruit of our labour hangs in clusters on the vine, if in God's vineyard we have faithfully ministered, then the fading tints are our laurels. The fading shows two powers. The spirit that animates the form is preparing the old trunk for dissolution. Yet while it unties the twisted cords of earthly life it lifts up the affections, dislodging the corruptible from the incorruptible, the mortal from the immortal, and spiritualizes the mind. In one case the man goes on walking with God until the fire of the flesh dies out, and the spirit is left aglowing. In the other, passions may burn the soul into a cinder. Richness in fading leaves is not an accident. It depends on sunshine, atmosphere and soil. The beauty of age is the fruit of right character. It is the result of effort.
VI. The leaf fades, falls, and becomes buried. But IN THE CORE OF THE RIPE LEAF WHILE PULSATING IN THE SUNLIGHT, A JOYOUS YET MYSTERIOUS SOMETHING PASSES THROUGH THE STEM TO THE TWIG UPON THE STURDY BOUGH. It leaves there a scar, the sign of the leafs immortality, a nucleus of the new life to bud in the resurrection of the spring. Among leaves are four degrees of future life. The first but lightly marks the place of its departure, a mere trace as of a tear on a cheek not washed. Inward life swells the branch and its memory is blotted out. The second class leaves a scar which is not effaced, but no active life will come out of its grave. The third will raise a little knoll and stamp its epitaph indelibly as by a signet. No luxury of growth or biting frost can remove it. These little monuments are the geometric scales on the bark of the palm and the fern. The fourth class not only scar the tree, but leave behind the conditions of a new germ which will bud and become a new branch. Here is a perfect emblem of four classes of men. The first is the class who live only to themselves. The second class are generous, liberal-hearted, and full of noble deeds. They have a memory in their own times, but die with those who had personal knowledge of them. The third class send down their roots into the soil of future generations. They in-web their deeds in the fibre of history. They build institutions of charity, bequeath to posterity resources which will develop a better manhood. They are a sort of lepidodendron leaves. Their scale-marks are fixed. The fourth class inspire new buds. They are the great thinkers. Out of them come new branches of civilization. But some leaves have a small eternity. Thousands of years ago they built great forests and bogs. They faded and fell. Earthquake catastrophes buried them, and their graves are the coal-beds. To-day they have a resurrection. The sun-power caught by the leaves millions of years ago, to-day warms our homes, lights our streets, and creates thousands of industries for the elevation of man.
(T. Parry, 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.