The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."
I. THE DECAY OF NATURE. "The grass withereth" - that which feeds the dying race of creatures upon earth. "The flower fadeth" - that which regales the physical senses of man. Each generation learns this great lesson, and it is interwoven into poem and song in every literature.
II. THE SYMBOLISM OF NATURE. These pictures of decay are to teach us how frail is the earthly life of man: "He cometh up and is cut down like a flower" "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower thereof." So that his best life, his soul, will demand the greater care; that must be rooted in the everlasting. The inspiring of the human is a pensive enough consideration at times; we can only be comforted by the faith which, uniting us with Christ, enables us to say, "Though the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day.
III. THE ETERNITY OF TRUTH. The Word of our God shall stand for ever." It is blessed to be able to say "our God," because that implies not only reconciliation, but interest in his kingdom, and that kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. There is the written Word, and that lives and is translated into almost every language and dialect on the earth. There is that Word as it lives and breathes in the regenerated hearts and histories of the saints of God. There is the eternal Word himself, the Logos, the Lord Christ, the Inspirer of all truth in all the ages, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Lord God Almighty. - W.M.S.
The grass withereth.
I. THE NECESSARY DECADENCE OF ALL THAT IS SIMPLY MATERIAL AND EARTHLY.
1. The world had never looked upon a more splendid civilisation than that which greeted the eye of the prophet as he looked down in vision upon the great empire of Nebuchadnezzar. For a thousand years Babylon had been the seat of empire, but under her present sovereign she had risen to a glory of which her founders had never dreamed. Nebuchadnezzar, following in the footsteps of Nabopolassar, his illustrious father, had extended his empire by conquest until he was in fact as well as in name, "King of men." Northward, he held all Assyria in subjection, and reigned to the limits of the frozen zone. Southward, he had subjugated Egypt with its vast empire, and reigned to the limits of the equatorial belt. Tyre, with all her world-wide commerce, was his vassal, and so his fame had been carried to the remotest borders of the great west. This vast empire it was now the ambition of Nebuchadnezzar to consolidate and unify. For this purpose he had opened long lines of communication between its remotest parts. Canals, one of which was five hundred miles in length; highways across the great deserts connecting with the hills of Arabia and the Mediterranean Sea, with caravansaries, fortified garrisons, wells of water, etc., at all needed points; walled cities along the great thoroughfares as storehouses and resting-places for man and beast — these were amongst the wise provisions for bringing the people of various nationalities and races into the cordial relations of mutual interchange and commerce. But the purposes of the great conqueror went further than this. To give stability to his empire he sought to bring about an amalgamation of all the races and a unification of all the religions within his realm. This was the significance of the image of gold which was set up in the plain of Dura, and which all were required to worship on penalty of being thrown into the furnace of fire. And when, in obedience to the Divine voice, the prophet declared all this might and glory to be but as the evanescent and fading flower, you and I, if we had been present, would have looked upon him as some misanthropic churl. And yet, what were the real facts in the case? Within less than forty years from the time to which the prophet alludes, the city was captured and pillaged, the seat of government removed, and the empire distributed among the conquering allies.
2. We find ourselves to-day in the midst of a civilisation as much more splendid than that of Rome as the latter was superior to that of Chaldea. In all that constitutes true greatness; in all that is at once beneficent and beautiful; in liberty, in philanthropy, in literary and aesthetic culture, in adventure of science and perfection of art, there seems scarcely anything more to be desired. Humanity seems at last to have attained its goal. Culture is in its richest and most perfect flower. We are ready to say, "Surely this consummate civilisation of our race shall not wither like that of Babylon or Rome!" Has it any elements of durability that its forerunners had not? The answer to these questions will be found in the answer to another, namely, whether this civilisation shall root itself simply in that which is material, or shall be permeated by that which is spiritual and Divine? For amidst all the decadence of the past, there has been ever that which could not perish, which was not subject to change, and which had the power of communicating its own stability to all that came under its influence.
II. THE STABILITY OF THAT WHICH IS SPIRITUAL AND DIVINE. "The Word of the Lord." Other things undergo mutations, but it abides ever the same. It has also this marvellous property, that it communicates the elements of its own permanence to all that comes under its influence. It is thus like a seed cast into the soil, which takes up inert matter, incorporating it with itself, and thus imparting to it the life which is immanent in itself. Of this life-containing, life-imparting power of the Word of God we may find beautiful illustration in the history of the decline and fall of the empires to which we have referred. Look first at Babylon. Is there anything that shall survive the wreck of the imperial city? Yes, there is a captive people, despised, toiling as slaves in the erection of the splendid architectural monuments of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Few and feeble apparently they are, overshadowed by the countless hosts of Chaldea. But they are believers in the Word of the Lord. That Word has, as an incorruptible seed, found a lodgment in their hearts. It has imparted to them its own immortality. Babylon, that rejects this Word, shall perish; but Israel that believes it and lives upon it shall survive. That which we have seen to be true in this respect of Babylon was equally true of Rome. The eternal city was "laid on heaps," but from the ruins came Christianity in all the beauty of undying youth. The Vandals that destroyed everything else had no power over it. Nay, in the breasts of the very slaves whom they bore to their northern homes, they carried this incorruptible seed. The religion of the slave conquered the master; and hence came that hardy type of Celtic and Saxon Christianity which made the north of Europe the seed-bed of the Reformation. There are preserving salts which, taken up into the pores of the frailest grass and the most delicate flower, do, as it were, transfigure them in their beauty and so preserve them for ever from decay. And thus the religion of Christ has power to give immortality to that which is most fleeting and evanescent. It lays its wand upon that frail flower of physical beauty which lasts but for a day, and it transforms it into the undecaying beauty of the resurrection. It enters into the pulses of youthful ardour and enthusiasm, and makes them beat high and warm in pursuits that can never be interrupted and from motives that never pall. It lifts ambition to a higher plane. It gives to all the activities of the soul their normal and healthful development. It brings the favour of God which is life, and His loving-kindness which is better than life. And what it does for individuals it does in a certain sense for nations also. Let the atheistic materialism, which is seeking to supplant Christianity, become the dominant influence in this country, and Ichabod is written upon all our institutions. The fate of Babylon and of Rome will be ours. The nation and kingdom that will not serve God shall perish.
(T. D. Witherspoon, D. D.)
The flower fadeth
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!
1. Looking exclusively at the fact itself, there is nothing but sadness in the fading of the flower. It seems a wanton destruction of so much life and beauty; and we are apt to ask, "To what purpose is this waste?"
2. But much as we mourn all these fading flowers, the human as well as the natural, we cannot wish them to abide for ever. It is the fading flower that is so wonderfully beautiful. Fix its beauty unchanged, and you make it an artificial flower, a dry mummy. It is the fleeting human blossom that is so tenderly dear. We love each other more devotedly owing to the shadow feared of man that falls upon and consecrates our love; because we must soon, we know not how soon, be parted. We should feel everlasting flowers to be utterly incongruous in a world of change and decay; their steadfast continuance, when there was no reason for their continuance, would weary and offend our. minds.
3. But the truth of the fading flower has another and a brighter side. It is not all death and desolation. We shall pass at once out of the shadow into the sunshine when we consider the reason why the flower fades. The flower fades that the fruit may take its place. The fading of the flower, rightly viewed, is therefore a natural and necessary phenomenon of life. In itself it is joyous, and not grievous. In the unfallen Eden the fading flowers suggested no thought of gloom to Adam, but only of bright progress from life to fuller life, from a lower to a higher stage of development and perfection. Viewed, then, in the light of Him who hath brought life and immortality to light in His Gospel, and free from the cloud of sin, the fading of human-life and of flower-life is not in reality sad, but joyful. Man dies, but his life on earth is only for the formation of the eternal life. Every gift we receive is but a promise; every beauty we behold but a prophecy; every pleasure we enjoy but a foretaste. The Christian's whole life is but the earnest of the inheritance that awaits him. We see by faith, although we are slow of heart to believe it, that our very losses and privations are ministering to a noble and goodly development pregnant with an everlasting promise. Death itself is the act of blossoming. It is a scientific fact that it is the dying plant alone that flowers. Blossoming is the highest point in plant life. When it has produced its blossom it perishes. In human life it is so likewise. Our existence here is but a daily dying, the continual production of a blossom, within whose petals as they wither is expanding the immortal fruit; and death is but the final falling of the sere petals from the fruit when it has set. It is not destruction, but development; the mortal not destroyed, but putting on immortality.
4. Then, consider that the blossom belongs to the plant itself, the fruit to the race. The blossom is the end of the selfish life; the fruit is the beginning of the unselfish.
5. Further still, the plant that flowers is confined to one spot; but when it fruits and seeds it gets wings, as it were, and can fly away from its natal place to long distances, as you have often seen the thistle-down or the fleecy parasol of the dandelion do, to make the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Is it not so in human life? That death which seems to bound our life, in reality gives us wings, and takes us out of this cramped and narrow sphere of change, and sorrow, and sin, into the freer air and larger sunshine of God's everlasting kingdom. The fruition of life is not the limitation, but the freedom and enlargement of life. And who knows what life and beauty and blessedness to others may spring from seed dropped by our losses and death? Looking thus at this life as only the flower-form of our being, we see the reason of its brevity. The life of the blossom is short because it has to prepare the way for the fruit; and the season in which it is put forth is dangerous to the formation of the tender germ. We should welcome the growing infirmities and decays of life as signs that summer, the season of fleeting glories, is passing away, and that autumn, the season of enduring fruition, is drawing nigh. They proclaim to us that now our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
6. But I reserve the grandest thought connected with my theme to the last. The flower fades and falls off the plant, but it does not altogether vanish; it does not perish utterly. Some part of it, larger or smaller, according to the species, remains behind to form the nucleus of the fruit. In every case the lower part of the central and most important part of the blossom is left, and it is out of it that the fruit is formed. A good deal of the fleeting flower, indeed all that is essential in it, is thus made permanent in the enduring fruit; and the fruit itself may be looked upon as a more perfect and lasting blossom, retaining the colour, and fragrance, and grace of form that distinguished the blossom, but superadding qualities, such as nutritiousness and flavour, which the blossom lacked. Is not the analogy here very instructive and consoling? Not only do all our sanctified losses turn to gains, but the gains are largely composed of what we lost. We take up with us into every stage of our advancing progress what was best and most serviceable in the previous stage; and in the fruit of our achievements we can trace much of the fair blossoms of hope and aspiration which led to its formation. Nothing that is really good in human life ought to be thrown away as useless when we have outgrown it. The good of childhood ought to remain in manhood. The enthusiasm, the freshness of interest, the innocent simplicity, the spirit of hope, inquiry, and wonder which characterise our early years, ought to endure late in life, under the calmer and quieter outside of maturity. Let us not mourn, then, that so many fair and precious things pass away from us as we go on to our immortality; for nothing that is really essential to our well-being shall perish utterly, but shall be absorbed into our souls and become their eternal wealth.
(H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
(W. R. Nicoll, LL. D.)
The Word of our God shall stand for everI. WHAT IS MEANT BY "THE WORD OF OUR GOD"? You answer, "The Bible." I think not. At least, and certainly, to Isaiah it could not mean more of the Old Testament than he possessed — a mere fragment of the Book in our hands. Even to Peter it could not have meant all the records we have, seeing that some had not been written when he repeated the prophet's statement. What, then, are we to understand by this phrase, "the Word of our God"? Simply, truth. Truth in its very widest sense, whether in the Bible or out of it, is "the Word of God."
II. Higher criticism proposes to solve for you and me, what we have neither the time nor ability to do for ourselves, TO WHAT EXTENT INTERPOLATION HAS GONE ON. It is a strictly honest, unbiassed, sincere scrutiny into the claims, history, authorship, date, and language of the books of the Bible.
III. WHAT WILL BE THE RESULT? Only good. If we are honest we shall want only the truth; and after the examination is completed truth will stand more grandly than ever before us.
IV. OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD HIGHER CRITICISM may well be for these reasons —
1. One of welcome. We rejoice in every honest and reverential inquiry for truth.
2. One of hope. The future of our faith looks all the brighter from the discussions and questionings of to-day. Men are beginning to think. An interest is awakening in the vast questions that relate to our higher life.
3. One of confidence. Are we wise in our fear for the safety of "the Word of our God"? Does "the Word of our God" need our defence? Is not He pledged to its security? That which cannot stand the test of criticism had better go; but truth, "the Word of our God, shall stand for ever."
(J. E. W. Cook.)
1. That God, the perfect moral being, exists.
2. That He has spoken to mare The Word of God, speaking in conscience, in revelation, is like God Himself — above the waterfloods of change; it lasts.
(H. P. Liddon, D. D.)I. Since the Word of our God shall stand for ever, the BIBLE WILL REMAIN.
1. Think of the Bible as history. "The Old Testament is supported by the exhumed records of the kings of Egypt and Babylon and Nineveh and Moab. We are now shown in the Boulag Museum at Cairo the very body of the Egyptian king who oppressed Israel. At a hundred points confirmatory evidence has been dug out of the Assyrian ruins. In the day when the Bible was attacked by unbelief, there appeared out of the very ground hosts of defenders. God's Providence supports His Book."
2. Think of the Bible as to philosophy. John Stuart Mill will tell us, "It is impossible to find in the ideas of any philosophy, even the latest, a single point which is not anticipated and ennobled in Christianity."
3. Think of the Bible as to science. It is true, as one has said wisely and wittily, that "the intention of Holy Scripture is to teach us to go to heaven, and not how the heavens go." And yet the great astronomer Sir John Herschel will tell us: "All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truth contained in the Sacred Scriptures."
4. Think of the Bible as to morals. Those words of James Russell Lowell, spoken so bravely at a dinner in London, before a company of sceptics, are well worth treasuring: "The worst kind of religion is no religion at all. And those men, living in ease and luxury, indulging themselves in the amusement of going without religion, may be thankful that they live in lands where the Gospel they neglect has tamed the beastliness and ferocity of the men who, but for Christianity, might long ago have eaten their carcasses like the South Sea Islanders, or cut off their heads and tanned their hides like the monsters of the French Revolution." This Bible, the Word of God, which history substantiates, which philosophy cannot anticipate, which science reinforces, which is the source of all true morals and secure civilisation, is to abide.
II. Since the Word of our God shall stand for ever, THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS TO ENDURE AND CONQUER. For the very heart and kernel of God's Word is the revelation of the certainly vanquishing kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
III. Since the Word of our God standeth for ever, HEAVEN WILL SHINE ON US AT THE LAST.
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). There is a tacit antithesis between the Word of God and man; what man says is uncertain and precarious, what God says cannot fail. Thus understood, it includes prediction, precept, promise, and the offer of salvation; and although the latter is not meant exclusively, the apostle makes a perfectly correct and most important application of the verse when, after quoting it, he adds, "and this is the Word which is preached (εὐαγγελισθέν) unto you"; that is to say, this prophetic declaration is emphatically true of the Gospel of Christ.
(J. A. Alexander.)
(J. E. W. Cook.)
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