Progress in Decay
Isaiah 40:8
The grass wither, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

There are at least two sides to everything. To everything in morals there is a dark and a bright side. Every truth is a revelation of God — a Theophany — a Shechinah. And as the Divine pillar in the Exodus had sometimes an aspect of cloud, and sometimes of fire, so is it with all truth. Its appearance alters with our own changes of character or condition; to the eye of sense it may be a Shechinah of gloom, to the eye of faith a Shechinah of glory. Thus is it with our text.

I. LET US CONTEMPLATE IT FIRST BY THE EYE OF SENSE. Let us sit solemnly together in the shadow of the Shechinah. How depressing seems the thought! What a tender and fragile growth is "the grass"! How short-lived all the goodliness of "the flower of the field"! Yet such is human life! "The flower fadeth!" How impressive the truth when we think of others — the beloved of home and life! Where are the happy children who sat with you in the school, and went forth in your holiday?rathe men and women who shared with you life's heavier tasks and strangely saddened joys? How many of them do you meet to-day?

2. "The flower fadeth!" How impressive the truth when you think of yourselves! Where now is me bounding heart of your childhood? Where the unclouded hopefulness of youth? As the tide of time rolls on, first, youthful beauty fades like a flower. Then activity declines: the airy step of childhood flags into the slow measures of weary feet! Then strength decays: the right arm loses its cunning, the form bends under its load! Meanwhile, even the moral man seems to share the infirmities of the physical; the tender affections are chilled, the glorious intellect unhinged or exhausted. And it is all saddening — this withering of the human blossom, and the heart recoils from its emblem — a fading flower! Let us so live that it may be said of us truly, "His glorious beauty was a fading flower." For the fading flower hath fulfilled well its ministry! Was its life long or short; was its beauty great or little; was its sphere wide or narrow; the flower had done well the special work God gave it to do. Richly varied and full of splendour was the flora of the now barren Palestine in the days when Isaiah swept from his harp this requiem to the withering flower! In nothing, perhaps, are there more notable differences than in the spheres and services of flowers. In the wild howling desert the stately palm waves its radiant flower-tuft, and many a lowly plant and shrub open fragrant blossoms. And amid Polar ice-fields and in the fissured lava of volcanoes come forth these sweet children of the summer in their ministry of beauty and of love. Meanwhile, earth's fairer fields are beautified, like old Eden, with their blessed omnipresence. They are all of different classes and uses; but each, in its own season and sphere, makes its little life a blessing — and the air of heaven is sweeter, and insect-life is fed, and the heart of childhood is thrilled with joy, and the soul of wearied manhood is made happier and holier, because of the silent yet earnest ministries of the fading flower!

II. TO THE EYE OF FAITH THE SHECHINAH IS GLORIOUS. Indeed, did these tides of time roll over a sinless world, every premonition even of our mortal decay would awaken only joyful anticipations and emotions. For what, after all, is a flower? Is it in itself a perfection — a consummation? No! far from it! It is, at most, a phenomenon of progress! And its decay is only the passing away of a good thing, giving place to a better! The great end and purpose of all vegetable life is the perfected seed! And analogous to this is the progress and development of man's mortal life. Its earthly offices and uses are only for the strengthening within of the spiritual and immortal; our present life, with all its activities and enjoyments, is but the flower-form of a being whose fruit-form or seed-form is in an after and higher life! And death itself is no more than the falling of the petals from the well-set fruit. Therefore, as the wise husbandman grieves not when his orchards shower their gay blossoms, but rejoices, rather, because this is but a prophecy and promise of the golden wealth of autumn, so we should not grieve when, in the development of man, the mortal flower-leaves fall away from the swelling fruit of immortality!

1. It applies to individuals. Fruit is always of greater value than flowers. Therefore, the trained intellect, the calm judgment, the sanctified affections, the subdued passions, the strong, retruant conscience of the mature man, are worth incalculably more than the fiery impulses, the hot and headlong passions, and all the prodigal bloom and aroma of his younger and fairer life. It applies as well to communities or nations — to that organic life of the race which constitutes its oneness. Here, too, the fruit is worth more than the flowers.

2. The world has had its radiant spring-time and its gorgeous flora. In Rome, Greece, Persia, Egypt, Assyria, Judaea, human nature put forth splendid blossoms until the whole air was fragrant with intoxicating aroma. The old philosophy, the old mythology, the old arts and eloquence and poetry — the whole power and passion of the young imperial genius of old time gave to earth the seeming of a fairy palace filled with shapes and sounds of surpassing splendour. And verily that weird glory hath passed away t. But have we lost by the decay? Are earth and life sadder than .in those heroic times? Would you exchange your printing-press for all the pencils of old artists, and the tongues of old orators, and the harps of old minstrels? Would you barter railroad and telegraph and steamship for all the radiant dreams of the old idealists? Would you give up your simple Christian faith for the old gorgeous mythology?

3. We are considering the whole of earthly life as the flower-form, rudimental to the heavenly fruit-form; and the analogy between flower-life and man-life is manifold.

(1) Flowers differ widely in their beauty and glory. Among species ranking as equals, how the lily differs from the rose; and both from the violet! And so is it of humanity. It has its roses, and lilies, and violets; and now and then a magnificent or monstrous aloe, and always its countless myriads of flowers of the grass. And although to the eye of sense the value of flowers is according to their outward manifestations; yet, true wisdom regards colour and aroma as only phenomenal of progress. Presently the petals, alike of the grand flower and the tiny blossom, will wither, and of both the value seems only in the accomplishment of their Maker's purpose with the fruit or the seed. So God accounts of His children. The king, the conqueror, the man of imperial gifts and genius will die as fades the great aloe, and the humble pass away as the flower of grass. And then the search, as material for the Judgment, will be the fruit or seed of the developed character.

(2) Flowers differ widely in their seasons and spheres of influence. Fair children die like snowdrops in the early spring. Then come the summer flora. Men in the meridian splendour of their powers passing away, as vineyards and orchards and meadows shower their prodigal blossoms. Nor is the human winter without its flowers of exquisite fragrance and beauty. We have them in our midst, men whose grey heads are our crowns of glory. And as in their seasons, so in their spheres, men, like flowers, differ. At the foot of the awful arctic glacier did our heroic Kane find blossoms of delicate beauty; and in the dreariest waste of Sahara the eye of the fainting explorer grew bright as it fell on a bursting flower. So is it of human influence. In the loneliness of obscurity, in the humiliation of poverty, in the dark chamber of patient, unpretending suffering, have saintly spirits wrought a gracious work.

(3) Meantime, human life and flower-life are alike, mainly because both are phenomenal of progress. Earthly life is short, and we would not have it longer. The season of flowers is full of peril to the tender germ of fruit. Having perfected the seed, nature's next care is to disperse or distribute them. Some are borne away on their own airy wings, and as they float up in the sunshine, freed of their heavy earthy beauty, the perfected seed, as a spiritualised blossom, seems fairer than all flowers! Some are borne across oceans, and take root in other continents. Such is the progress and development of that whose young life was born of a fading flower! Oh, to a prescient eye what possibilities, what colours of beauty, what forms of majesty, what felicities, what glorious hopes, what ineffable fruitions, are embosomed in a seed! And analogous to this — but immeasurably more wonderful — are the embryonic powers, and shall be the development of the human soul in the after-state!

(C. Wadsworth.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

WEB: The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever."

The Word of Our God
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