It is not difficult to discover that in autumn the leaves fall. This is such a common thing, so plain and manifest, that even a child observes it. Neither is it difficult to go a step further, and moralize upon their fall; for the Scripture has set us an example, and in moralizing we have but to repeat the words, “We all do fade as a leaf” (Isaiah 64:6).
It is well for us to remember our frailties. To know our limitations is one secret of power, one of the foundation-stones of success. We are weak; without Him we can do nothing: “We all do fade as a leaf.”
“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6–8).
The voice of God cries out to every person gifted with the power of speech: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear; and he that hath voice to cry, let him cry. “Cry,” says the voice of God to us; and when, in wonder and questioning, we ask, “What shall I cry?” there comes this answer to our questioning: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.”
And so, if we cry at all as the Word bids us cry, we must declare the weakness and frailty of man. But this is not all the commission. We must not stop here; having said so much, we have only begun. So far there is no whisper of hope, no thought for courage. Obeying the Word that bids us cry, and having given so much of the message, we must proclaim the rest. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but [oh, the glory of its truth!] the word of our God shall stand forever.”
This is the whole message; it is twofold—the weakness and frailty and failure of things earthly, and the power and permanency and steadfastness of the things of God.
It is a suggestion of this twofold message that is given us in the life and death of the leaves. The leaves fade and fall away; and drawing the parallel, we say that we, too, must cease our labors and pass from our places. But this is but one side of the message; there is another, for the message is twofold.
The leaves fade and fall away, it is true, but they leave behind them mighty monuments of their labors. Not one leaf lives through the summer days, but, when it fades, leaves behind that which may stand for years, perhaps ages.
The leaves fade, but there abideth that which, through the leaves, God has built. While the leaves lived, they worked to build up the tree, which remains when the leaves are gone. Gray trunks and naked limbs are the mute testimony of the gigantic task wrought by the leaves.
The work of the leaf is not in vain; something is left behind that shall laugh at the fierceness of the storm, that shall brave the cold of winter, and that shall continue the growth of the tree until its circuit is accomplished.
While we remember that the leaves of autumn fade, let us not forget that the leaves of summer work. And it is the work that is of importance. By their labor they rear the beautiful maples, the stately elms, the giant oaks. By their fading they show us how weak was the instrument through which the Creator worked.
So it may be with us.
We, too, like the leaves, do fade. All the people are but grass; all flesh is like the fading, dying verdure of autumn, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. One withers, the other fades; both are alike lost.
But our failure is not the only thing for us to consider. The great question with each of us should be: Have I, in life’s summer days, done with faithfulness the work that God gave me to do? It is the work that is of importance.
Our failure—our dying and passing from the work of life—shows how weak are the instruments that God uses for the accomplishing of His purposes. But what we leave behind, the memories of an unselfish life, the souls helped by us out into a better life—these remain to show what God can do through humble instruments.
What the leaves leave behind must in turn perish and pass away, but not so that which human lives may leave behind. It is our privilege to leave behind us an immortal heritage.
What sort of monument are you building? What kind of memorial are you erecting? If you live as you may, there shall something abide; for “the word of our God shall stand forever,” God will still carry on the work in which for a time He has given us a place. Without us, after our fall, as without the leaves after their fall, His work goes on. Of those who do His work it is said, when the fading time comes, “They rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
Faithfully let us work the works of Him that sent us, “while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
The Youth’s Instructor, December 13, 1900.