A voice says, "Cry out!" And I asked, "What should I cry out?" "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field.
I. THAT HUMAN LIFE IS CONTINUALLY PASSING. We do well to walk in the city of the dead, and let the gravestones, with their names and dates, speak to us with simple eloquence of the passage of human life. We are wise when we take some measures to recall to our thought and write on the tablet of our souls the fact which care and pleasure are so industriously trying to conceal, that, when a few more years have come and gone, we shall be numbered with the dead, and that the objects and the incidents which are everything to us now will be nothing to us soon. It is a real gain to us, in wisdom, to be reminded that we are but passengers to the unseen world, and that every step we take leaves us less of the journey to be pursued. Human life is like a flower of the field, a little while ascending to its perfection, and then a little while descending to its doom.
II. THAT ITS EXCELLENCY RAPIDLY DISAPPEARS. "All the goodliness" of human life disappears still more quickly than life itself. The most exquisite things are the most evanescent; the fairest are the frailest. The beauty, the strength, the glory of human life, - these last but a very little while; they appear above the surface and put forth their blossom; then comes the killing frost, and they perish.
III. THAT THE TRUTH OF GOD IS EVERLASTING.
1. Enlightening truth. All that he has told us of himself and of ourselves, of our nature, character, destiny, way of return, etc.
2. Commanding and inviting truth. He still says imperatively, "Return unto me;" invitingly, "Come unto me."
3. Comforting truth. It will never cease to be a sustaining and mitigating fact that "God is our Refuge and Strength," that he chastens us; not for his pleasure, but for our profit, that we may be made "partakers of his holiness."
4. Warning truth. It is as certain now, as it was in the earliest era, that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die."
5. Hope-giving truth. From generation to generation it shall be, as it has been, declared that "whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life. - C.
1 Peter 1:23-25): — Something more than the decay of our material flesh is intended here; the carnal mind, the flesh in another sense, was intended by the Holy Ghost when He bade His messenger proclaim those words. It does not seem to me that a mere expression of the mortality of our race was needed in this place by the context; it would hardly keep pace with the sublime revelations which surround it, and would in some measure be a digression from the subject in hand. The notion that we are here simply and alone reminded of our mortality does not square with the New Testament exposition of it in Peter. Look at the chapter in Isaiah with care. What is the subject of it? It is the Divine consolation of Zion. The Lord, to remove her sorrow, bids His prophets announce the coming of the long-expected Deliverer, the end and accomplishment of all her warfare, and the pardon of all her iniquity. Further, there is no sort of question that the prophet goes on to foretell the coming of John the Baptist as the harbinger of the Messiah. The object of the coming of the Baptist, and the mission of the Messiah whom he heralded, was the manifestation of Divine glory (ver. 5). Well, what next? Was it needful to mention man's mortality in this connection? We think not. But there is much more appropriateness in the succeeding verses, if we see their deeper meaning. Do they not mean this? In order to make room for the display of the Divine glory in Christ Jesus and His children there would come a withering of all the glory wherein man boasts himself; the flesh should be seen in its true nature as corrupt and dying, and the grace of God alone should be exalted. This would be seen under the ministry of John the Baptist first, and should be the preparatory work of the Holy Ghost in men's hearts, in all time, in order that the glory of the Lord should be revealed and human pride be for ever confounded. The Spirit blows upon the flesh, and that which seemed vigorous becomes weak, that which was fair to look upon is smitten with decay. The withering before the sowing was very marvellously fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist. When our Lord Himself actually appeared, He came into a withered land whose glories had all departed. But I am coming to your own ]personal histories. In every one of us it must be fulfilled that all that is of the flesh m us, seeing it is but as grass, must be withered, and the comeliness thereof must be destroyed.
I. "ALL FLESH IS GRASS." The prophet describes man by this name of "flesh," as that which strikingly sets forth his general state and ordinary habits. What is man? Is not the care of the flesh his grand concern? — the pampering the body, the gratifying its senses, or fulfilling the lusts thereof? Here and there, indeed, we meet with one who has broken its trammels;, whose soul, rising up on the wings of faith and love, seeks for happiness in God; but when we look at the world at large, we are compelled to say that it is a world whose aims, pleasures, pursuits, are earthly. Yet how vain are these pursuits! "All flesh is grass"; that is, like the grass it is liable to various casualties. If it abides to its utmost duration it soon withers and is gone. The blade when it has only just sprung above the ground may be trodden under foot, may be parched by the heat, cut off by the cold, or withered by the blight; may be plucked by the hand, or mowed down by the scythe; thus is it with man. No sooner does he appear in the world than some little casualty may at once deprive him of life. This is the state of all — "for all flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field": "the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more!" But is there no difference? Surely there are some distinctions. Yes, there are, and as Archbishop Leighton observes, this difference is beautifully expressed by the inspired writer — "the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." When we enter a field, it is not so much the common blade which attracts the eye. It is the flower — those various beautiful ornaments with which the creative power of God has adorned the face of the earth. So there are various external embellishments which distinguish some from the ordinary race of men. Every soul, indeed, is of inestimable value. Still, it must be confessed that there are properties which some possess which are more attractive — youth, beauty, honours, talent. But what are they all? But the flower of the grass. They partake of the fading nature of the plants from which they spring.
The voice said Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass.
I. THE VANITY OF THE THINGS OF THIS LIFE. Empty as is every thing in the world, and limited in its duration, it is one of the truths the most common and the least received.
1. The voice of reason teaches men that they have only a little while to live. If they will but reflect upon their constitution, they cannot but discover, both within and without, innumerable principles of their speedy dissolution.
2. This the Scripture teaches without ceasing: adapting its lessons to the importance of the awakening truth, no strong expressions are overlooked, no striking images escape the sacred writers.
3. Besides, our own experience proclaims to us the fact by the most indubitable proofs.
II. THE SOUNDNESS OF A CHRISTIAN'S HOPE IN FUTURITY. The future is as enlivening to the Christian as the past is humiliating to the man. Death, properly speaking, is only the lot of the wicked. The Christian, in the estimation of the Gospel, never dies; he falls asleep, he "rests from his labours."
II. THE WORD OF GOD IS AS ABIDING AS HIMSELF; and this notwithstanding all the attempts that have been made, by wicked men instigated by evil spirits, to destroy it. This has been their constant aim, for the Word of God has been their constant dread.
1. It abides in its doctrines. These are not evanescent theories, like some of the dicta of the philosophers; they are eternal truths.
2. Its promises endure. Its sanctions also stand for ever; namely, the rewards and punishments which are there made known. Let those who are now surrounded with many temporal blessings regard them as flowers, which the goodness of God provides to sweeten their present path; still set not your hearts upon them; they are but short-lived gifts, fading flowers. There is but one flower that will never fade, "The Rose of Sharon."
(J. H. Stewart, M. A.)
I. Turning, then, to THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN CAUSING THE GOODLINESS OF THE FLESH TO FADE, let us —
1. Observe that the work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man in withering up that which is of the flesh is very unexpected. In our text even the speaker himself, though doubtless one taught of God, when he was bidden to cry, said, "What shall I cry?" Even he did not know that in order to the comforting of God's people there must first be experienced a preliminary visitation. Many preachers of God's Gospel have forgotten that the law is the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. They have sown on the unbroken fallow ground, and forgotten that the plough must break the clods. Preachers have laboured to make Christ precious to those who think themselves rich and increased in goods; and it has been labour in vain. It is our duty to preach Jesus Christ even to self-righteous sinners, but it is certain that Jesus Christ will never be accepted by them while they hold themselves in high esteem. Wherever there is a real work of grace in any soul, it begins with a pulling down: the Holy Ghost does not build on the old foundation. The convincing work of the Spirit, wherever it comes, is unexpected, and even to the child of God, in whom this process has still to go on, it is often startling. We begin again to build that which the Spirit of God has destroyed. Having begun in the Spirit, we act as if we would be made perfect in the flesh; and then, when our mistaken upbuilding has to be levelled with the earth, we are almost as astonished as we were when first the scales fell from our eyes.
2. Furthermore, this withering is after the usual order of the Divine operation. Observe, the method of creation. There seems to be every probability that this world has been fitted up and destroyed, refitted and then destroyed again, many times before the last arranging of it for the habitation of men. What was there in the beginning? Originally, nothing. There was no trace of another's plan to interfere with the great Architect. The earth was, as the Hebrew puts it, Tohu and Bohu, disorder and confusion — in a word, chaos. So it is in the new creation. When the Lord new creates us, He borrows nothing from the old man, but makes all things new. Take another instance from the ways of God. When man has fallen, when did the Lord bring him the Gospel? The first whisper of the Gospel was, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed. He shall bruise thy head." That whisper came to man shivering in the presence of his Maker, having nothing more to say by way of excuse; but standing guilty before the Lord. If you will pursue the meditation upon the acts of God with men, you will constantly see the same thing. God has given us a wonderful type of salvation in Noah's ark; but Noah was saved in that ark in connection with death; he himself, as it were, immured alive in a tomb, and all the world besides left to destruction. All other hope for Noah was gone, and then the ark rose upon the waters. Remember the redemption of the children of Israel out of Egypt: it occurred when they were in the saddest plight, and their cry went up to heaven by reason of their bondage. As in the backwoods of America before there can be tillage, the planting of cities, the arts of civilisation, and the transactions of commerce, the woodman's axe must hack and hew: the stately trees of centuries must fall: the roots must be burned, the old reign of nature disturbed, — even thus the Lord takes away the first, that He may establish the second. As it has been outwardly, we ought to expect that it would be within us.
3. We are taught in our text how universal this process is in its range over the hearts of all those upon whom the Spirit works. The withering is a withering of what? Of part of the flesh and some portion of its tendencies? Nay, "All flesh is grass; and all the goodliness thereof" — the very choice and pick of it — "is as the flower of the field," and what happens to the grass? Does any of it live? "The grass withereth," all of it. The flower, will not that abide? So fair a thing, has not that an immortality? No, it utterly falls away. So, wherever the Spirit of God breathes on the soul of man, there is a withering of everything that is of the flesh, and it is seen that to be carnally minded is death. Wherever the Spirit of God comes, our righteousness withers as our sinfulness. There is much more to be destroyed, and, among the rest, away must go our boasted power of resolution. Still the man will say, "I believe I have, after all, within myself an enlightened conscience and an intelligence that will guide me aright. The light of nature I will use, and I do not doubt that if I wander somewhat I shall find my way back again." Ah, man! thy wisdom, which is the very flower of thy nature, what is it but folly, though thou knowest it not? When the withering wind of the Spirit moves over the carnal mind, it reveals the death of the flesh in all respects, especially in the matter of power towards that which is good. We then learn that word of our Lord, "Without Me ye can do nothing."
4. Notice the completeness of this withering work within us. The grass, what does it do? Droop? nay, wither. The flower of the field: does it hang its head a little? No, according to Isaiah, it fades; and according to Peter, it falleth away. There is no reviving it with showers, it has come to its end. Even thus are the awakened led to see that in their flesh there dwelleth no good thing. What dying and withering work some of God's servants have had in their souls! Look at John Bunyan, as he describes himself in his Grace Abounding! For how many months and even years was the Spirit engaged in writing death upon all that was the old Bunyan, in order that he might become by grace a new man fitted to track the pilgrims along their heavenly way. The old nature never does improve.
5. All this withering work in the soul is painful. As you read these verses, do they not strike you as having a very funereal tone? "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth." This is mournful work, but it must be done. Those who experience much of it when they first come to Christ have great reason to be thankful. Persons who come to Christ with but comparatively little knowledge of their own depravity, have to learn it afterwards, and they remain for a long time babes in Christ, and are perplexed with matters that would not have troubled them if they had experienced a deeper work at first.
6. Although this is painful, it is inevitable. Why does the grass wither? Because it is a withering thing. "Its root is ever in its grave, and it must die." How could it spring out of the earth, and be immortal? Every supposed good thing that grows out of your own self, is like yourself, mortal, and it must die. The seeds of corruption are in all the fruits of manhood's tree; let them be as fair to look upon as Eden's clusters, they must decay.
7. This last word by way of comfort to any. that are passing through the process we are describing. It gives me great joy when I hear that you unconverted ones are very miserable, for the miseries which the Holy Spirit works are always the prelude to happiness. It is the Spirit's work to wither. "Because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it." What doth the Lord say? "I kill." But what next? "I make alive." He never makes any alive but those He kills.
II. THE IMPLANTATION. According to Peter, although the flesh withers, and the flower thereof falls away, yet in the children of God there is an unwithering something of another kind. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." "The Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you." The Gospel is of use to us because it is not of human origin. If it were of the flesh, all it could do for us would not land us beyond the flesh; but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is superhuman, Divine, and spiritual. If you believe a Gospel which you have thought out for yourself, or a philosophical Gospel which comes from the brain of man, it is of the flesh, and will wither, and you will die, and be lost through trusting in it. The only word that can bless you and be a seed in your soul must be the living and incorruptible Word of the eternal Spirit. Do you receive it? Then the Holy Spirit implants it in your soul. And what is the result of it? There comes a new life as the result of the indwelling of the living Word, and our being born again by it. A new life it is; not the old nature putting out its better parts; not the old Adam refining and purifying itself, and rising to something better. Wherever this new life comes through the Word, it is incorruptible, it lives for ever.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Personal endowments of beauty and of form. We make our boast of beauty: of the sparkling eye, of comely features. Small is our cause for boast! That body which seemed to concentrate in it all that was beautiful, see it when wasted by accidents and by time, when blasted by the touch of death!
2. The text may be illustrated by adverting to the wisdom, as well as to the beauty and strength of man. Since the attention of man was first directed to the objects of nature, what an innumerable succession has there been of notions, of systems, of theories. And yet we look on these ill-digested systems as belonging only to days which are gone by, and as now utterly exploded. For the fact is, that all knowledge, except that which is derived from the Bible, is destined to pass away.
3. Advert to the transitory nature of those things which are the produce of the imagination and taste. Whatever the pencil of the painter has portrayed; whatever the chisel of the sculptor has wrought; whatever the skill of the architect has reared, — all these are destined shortly to be destroyed. This should convey a very forcible reproof to those who expend so large a portion of their time in the embellishments of life, in dress, and in furniture, and in equipages.
4. In reference to the possessions of men, — wealth and fortune, and their concomitants — grandeur, eminence, pomp, and luxury.
5. As strikingly is this illustrated by the emptiness of that shapeless thing, — that shadow of a shade called fame.
6. See it illustrated, also, as to dominion and power. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall — flourish and decay.
7. The world itself is an illustration of the sentiment.
II. THE DURABILITY OF THAT DISPENSATION WITH WHICH GOD HAS BEEN PLEASED TO BLESS THE WORLD. The "Word of our God shall stand for ever." This sentiment is greatly illustrated, and abundantly confirmed, by —
1. The utter impotence of persecution.
2. The utter failure of the opposition of infidelity.
3. The blessed and delightful spread given to it in our day.
4. The dispensation of truth with which God has blessed the world is the dispensation of the Spirit. The Word of our God is a living word; it is not only a dispensation of words, addressed to the understanding and will, but a dispensation of the Spirit coming to the heart of man.
(Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)I. THE WEAK AND PERISHABLE NATURE OF THINGS OF EARTH. The word translated "goodliness" signifies excellency. Every sort of excellency. Is it external? Beauty of person, strength of frame, the influence which rank, title, wealth, power, family bestow? It is but as grass, the withering flower. Is it internal? The highest order of intellect, the finest imagination, the soundest judgment, most retentive memory? But the word is wider still. It takes in all moral excellency, truth, justice, benevolence, morality, and all the external decencies of that sort of religion which often is taken for the true religion of the heart, yet is not such. It embraces that in which we are so prone to confide, human power, our own wisdom; all are as grass, as separated from the Word of God, and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The wind of deep inward temptation, of sore trial, does but pass over it, and it is gone. If man deal with us, we find it sometimes a very solemn thing, how much more when God deals with us. When He comes in the convincing power of His Spirit, in the solemn hour of death, and in the thoughts of immediate appearance before Him, ah! how wither then the flowers that have seemed the fairest. But in the midst of all that fades and perishes and is not, there is, blessed be God, that which standeth for ever.
II. THE ABIDING CHARACTER OF "THE WORD OF OUR GOD." This is true in whatever sense we take it. Is it the decree of God? (Isaiah 46:10.) Is it His written and revealing Word? (Isaiah 55:9, 10.) Is it His law? (Matthew 5:18.) But by "the Word" here, is especially and pre-eminently meant the Gospel (1 Peter 1:23-25). The Gospel stands upon the immutable perfections of God. There is not an attribute that does not uphold it. "The Word of our God shall stand for ever." It shall stand amidst all the instability of the creature, amidst all the faithlessness of man, amidst all the unfaithfulness and unbelief of our own hearts. Is the grass to be despised, the flower to be scorned? Be thankful for them while you have them, admire that God who is in them, their chief Beauty, their only real Beauty. Be thankful, seek the right use of them by seeking to glorify God in them. Is it strength of body? strength of intellect? Use them for Him, and in His service. But remember, they fade as you behold, and wither as you use them. Hold them as perishable memorials of the imperishable God. How real are the blessings of the Gospel when realised in the soul! The righteousness of Christ. It stands, it is everlasting (Daniel 9:24). Consolation is everlasting (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Light, everlasting (Isaiah 60:19). Love, everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3). Life, eternal (Romans 6:23). The blessings in the Gospel are durable riches, because the Gospel endureth. Why is it that there is so much instability among many that yet are true believers? They are not rooted and grounded in Christ.
(J. H. Brans, M. A.)
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