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'A phantasmagoria of men and events floats before the historian,' says Mr. J. H. Shorthouse; 'men seem in history to have walked in a vain show; the more he inquires into men and creeds, the more he is perplexed he finds none which he can say is absolutely right, no one fully wrong; the course of Nature maintains its impartial calm, shutting out the sight of God from him, and his constant prayer is that ejaculation of Isaiah, "O that thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down! "'
References. LXIV. 1, 2. F. D. Maurice, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. vi. p. 164; see also Sermons, p. 193. LXIV. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1538. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays After Trinity, part i. p. 212. LXIV. 4. A. Murray, Waiting on God, p. 110. LXIV. 5. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 95. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 231. LXIV. 6. S. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 283. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 261. T. De Witt Talmage, Sermons, p. 70. R. Collyer, Where the Light Dwelleth, p. 299. J. E. Vernon, Plain Preaching for Poor People (6th Series), p. 85. C. Silvester Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 230.
Fading Leaves (An Autumn Sermon)
The literal reference of these words is to a spiritual rather than to a physical condition. The sap the inner life of the Jewish people had failed, for they had separated themselves from God, who was their life (Deuteronomy 30:20 ). 'And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed; for ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water' (Isaiah 1:28 ; Isaiah 1:30 ).
The object-lesson before us is not simply a leaf, but a fading leaf. 'We all do fade as a leaf,' and fading leaves suggest four special lessons:
I. They are emblems of man's mortality. Scripture abounds with images descriptive of the shortness and uncertainty of human life, but none is more striking than the emblem of a leaf. How weak, how frail it is! By what a slender bond does it retain its place! How slight is its tenure! Even if it last a whole season and live its appointed time, it does not retain its verdure and vigour; the sap of life begins to fail; the tints which give it such a beauty are the symbols of weakness and decay. The leaf fades sooner than it falls. To change the figure, the 'flower' withers before the 'grass' upon which it glows. Man's physical and mental 'glory 'begins to decline often long before the man himself departs.
Death comes with noiseless steps. He is not heard; he is not seen; he is not perhaps suspected. He enters our chamber the chamber of the poorest; for this king knows no distinction. His majesty is so great that he can afford to dispense with the adventitious adjuncts of pomp and circumstance. His cold shadow falls upon us, and his dark form stands between us and the light of the living world. Let us look the fact in the face; let us not put it from us. And as we contemplate it in the light of Him who died upon the cross and who burst the bars of death in His garden sepulchre, the aspect of the fact will change, and we shall not fear to die. As regards the soul, like the angel who visited Peter's prison, death is but the Lord's messenger to break off its fetters and lead it from the prison-house to the open streets of the celestial city. And as regards the body, 'the grave will be like the bath of Esther, in which she lay for a time to purify herself with spices that she might be fit for her Lord'.
II. When the leaf fades it exhibits its greatest beauty, and is in this an emblem of the end of a Christian life. Before the leaf falls it breaks forth into its richest hues.
'And have you never known,' says Mr. Vaughan of Brighton, 'known better than you like to confess, by the exquisite advancing loveliness of his moral features, as by a surer symptom than any physical indication, that one whom you loved so well was going to his end? Have you not seen those mellowed glows of tempered intellect and joy and Christlike sweetness, which showed by how slight a tenure the life was held, and how soon the scene would change, and all that made earth so pleasant was all going from your sight? "We all do fade as a leaf;" but let us "fade "as the leaves do, and let our last be our best; and the truth of God be reflected and Himself made glorious in the sanctity of our later years, in the peace, and love, and grace of our dying!'
III. The fading of a leaf is a proof that its work is accomplished and that its mission is fulfilled. The leaves of trees are made subservient by an all-wise Creator to most important ends. One of their chiefest functions is to keep up the purity of the atmosphere. As Christ said of His disciples, 'Ye are the salt of the earth,' we might say of them, 'Ye are the leaves of the world'; your office is to stay the moral pollution which surrounds you and to breathe a healthy and life-giving influence. To have done this is not to have lived in vain. Who shall account how much we in this twentieth century are indebted to those who have passed away before us like the leaves of a hundred generations? Each leaf in its turn withered and went back to its kindred earth, but left behind it the elements of a continuous life. Have the deaths of patriarchs and prophets, of evangelists and apostles, of ministers and missionaries, of district visitors and Sunday School teachers, of godly parents and children, of brothers and sisters in Christ, of relatives and friends, been in vain? The teachings of their holy experience, their words, their writings, their letters, their living examples, their dying testimonies, all live on. They cheer, they instruct, they quicken us. These fallen leaves have entered into the experience of the living Church Today. They are part of our heritage, they enrich and strengthen our spiritual life. Thus also may we of this generation live, and then fade and fall. The tree of the Church will never die; it is the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God, and therefore the history of each leaf will live in it and abide for ever and ever.
IV. The fading leaves of autumn tell us that death is the necessary precursor of life. Every leaf that falls carries with it not only the memorial of death, but of resurrection-life.
J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 215.
References. LXIV. 6-8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 437. LXIV. 7 . Ibid. vol. xxiii. No. 1377. LXIV. 11. J. Marshall Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 149. LXIV. 11, 12. T. Spurgeon, ibid. vol. liii. 1898, p. 257. LXV. 1. F. E. Paget, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1919. LXV. 5. Ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1497. P. McAdam Muir, Modern Substitutes in Christianity, p. 33.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 64". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany