THE FADING LEAF AND ITS MESSAGE’
‘We all do fade as a leaf.’ Isaiah 64.6.
Whatever we may think of this verse as a text, it is regularly seasonable, and falling leaves bear their own message to us. Each season of the year has its corresponding season in human life; each phase in nature has its corresponding phase in the lives of men, the springtime of sowing, the summer of growth, the autumn of maturity, and final decay and then the winter of silence and inactivity. One of the most arresting phases of autumn is the fading leaf. Leaves have at all times a wonderful human interest about them: their freshness, their seasonableness, their mystery, attract us! Summer would not be summer without them – and autumn, why, without them it would lose much of its peculiar charm But the autumn leaves all bear a message to us: it is whispered in every leaf that flutters to the ground; and it is this: ‘We all do fade as a leaf.’
Leaves fade silently. So do we! Almost all the vital developments of nature are silent: the seed sprouts in the ground in silence, the bud expands into the full-blown rose in silence. But perhaps nothing is so silent as the fading leaf. It is one of the most noiseless of all nature’s processes: one week the leaf seems all green and fair, and the next it has lost its hue, and we realise we are ‘at the turn of the leaf’. So it is in human life. We all do fade as a leaf. We were all young and buoyant and life seemed full to overflowing. But silently our ranks got thinned: one after another dropped out as noiselessly as a leaf is carried by a gust of wind! When we pause to think and reflect, the silence of these departures overwhelms us! So it will be with all of us. No awful handwriting will appear on the wall telling us in the midst of our rejoicing, as it told
Belshazzer of old, ‘Mene, Mene, tekel upharsin’. No solemn message comes to us as it once came to Hezekiah warning him: ‘Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live.’
Such events as our departure from this life are not heralded by the blare of many trumpets. We all do fade as a leaf, and when we depart some of us leave nothing behind to tell we were there. Some do nothing to keep their memories fresh and green in the hearts of those who knew them. Others leave behind them no mark other than a scar that cannot be healed, a gnarled knot that refuses to be smoothened. Some reach the close abruptly, and they come to the end of life as you would come on a precipice. But in whatever manner it happens, we all do fade as a leaf in late autumn – silently.
Leaves fade differently. So do we! In the spring and summer there may seem a sameness about the leaves of the forest; they all have a fresh and glossy green, so that we classify them all alike as the green and glossy foliage of summer. But when autumn comes they all take or different hues: the oak is different from the ash, and the birch from the beech!
Some leaves seem all covered with unsightly black spots, some decay with a colourless drabness, others decay with crimson and gold. Decay, it would seem, brings out their individual character. So it does in human life. We all do fade as a leaf but we fade differently. In youth men may seem very much alike – full of life and vitality and spirits.
But they age differently. Age reveals what the life has been with unfailing accuracy. Some get sour, discontented, querulous, ill-tempered, as they get old. Some show a tenacious grasp of the world and get more earthly-minded with each advancing year. Some complain of
Providence and say they had a hard lot and an unjust deal. Some show up the errors and follies of early life, if not always in their faces, most truly in their dispositions. Some grow old under a dark cloud, without one softening shadow. And some, thank God, grow old sweetly and serenely and contentedly. We all do fade as a leaf-but we fade differently.
Leaves fade beautifully. So may we. Can any of us have walked through the fields and forests in autumn without a sense of the glory of this season? With its varying tints and hues of crimson and gold the forest seems lit up by tongues of fire. The rowan tree looks beautiful in spring, and then in flower, and in berry, but nothing can rival its glory in autumn as it begins to decay! Each leaf of the tree seems to borrow all the tints of the sun and to hand them out to us long after the sun has set! Yes, leaves fade beautifully, and so may we! There need be no such thing as an ugly, or useless, or discontented old age. There can be such a thing as a beautiful growing old – an eventide that is rosy with life! As the man of God looks back he sees that goodness and mercy had followed him all his days; as he looks forward he sees the Father’s House at the end of the road! And he catches the light of home long before he arrives there, and so he ages beautifully.
Leaves fade hopefully. So should we! At first sight we may imagine that the fall of the leaf indicates only decay. But it is not really decay that makes the leaf fall – it is the new life behind it. Each leaf has a young bud in its socket, and nourishes it with its own expiring life. That young life that it nurses in its bosom contains all the hope of spring and summer. It is the pledge that the tree is not to die in winter, but is to live on into the spring and summer. So should we fade! We are enabled by grace to have in our bosoms that provision for the future that makes us die in hope – in glorious hope. And the more we fade, the more strong should grow the blessed hope of immortality till, finally, we have a desire ‘to depart and be with Christ, which is far better’. While our outward man perish, the inner man is renewed day by day. Since we must all fade let us fade in full possession of a good hope through grace.
‘We all do fade as a leaf – but even the fading leaf carries to us a message of comfort and good cheer.
R. A. Finlayson