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AUTUMN—A PICTURE OF HUMAN LIFE.
AUTUMN—A PICTURE OF HUMAN LIFE.
GREAT and striking, my Christian hearers, is the variety of human opinions respecting the real signification and worth of the life of man; and the human character displays itself in the manner and light, in which life is accustomed to be viewed: It commonly never enters into the mind of an inconsiderate, thoughtless person, to propose the serious question, whether this life possesses any value, and what should be its aim? Yielding to the impulse of the present, absorbed in trifling cares, enchained by the diversions of the world, he fancies he adopts the best method, when he leaves his resolutions and actions to be determined by the moment; he will not be reminded of the future portion of his life, nor of the connexion of the whole, he will not be disturbed in his ease, nor torn from the slumber of his idleness. The worldly wise man, instructed by certain experience, but ruled by an earthly propensity, 290by some passion or other, strikes out for himself a plan of life, contemplates it frequently in all its parts, and fixes a value on it. But his contrivances and exertions are directed to what is vain and transient; the more plentifully the fountain of sensual enjoyment flows, the more the world offers him of its treasures, the more willingly all things near and around him accord with his ambitious plans and projects, so much the higher he estimates the worth of life, but any thing sublime and great in existence he has no idea of. The abandoned wretch, tortured by the consciousness of evil deeds, or the discontented and sorrowing being, who cannot raise himself with genuine religious disposition above the disappointments and woes of earth, despises life as a vain labour, as an illusory phantom, as an inconsequential exertion, as a burden which weighs one down from the cradle to the grave. Shall this be our view, my hearers, who call ourselves the redeemed of Jesus and enlightened by his Spirit? Or is it Christian duty and Christian sentiment, with all our sense of the imperfections of this mortal life, nevertheless, to embrace it with an affection, a cheerfulness, a regard, which is grounded on a true and worthy conception of its value, and its sacred destination for eternity? We assuredly know, as Christians, how we ought to contemplate life, for he himself, the “Founder and Finisher of our faith,” has brought to light the true life that 291fadeth not away. But we are also at all times, and in all places, reminded and strongly urged by manifold appearances and changes around us firmly to maintain a wise and refined, a pious and Christian view of human life. For certainly the earthly creation around and before us, like a temple of God, is open to us, not merely that we should with sincere joy perceive the beauty of nature; not merely that we should feed the eye with the sight of its moving life, its varying forms, its nameless magnificence; we should also perceive the voice of the Eternal, as it resounds, holy and awful, in the temple of nature; we should with a collected mind behold what is invisible in that which is visible: Serious and important is the aspect of nature, if we regard the spirit which its works reveal, the connexion which, out of individual forms and appearances of the exterior world, composes a wonderful whole, and the instructions, hopes, and feelings, with which the creation of the Eternal illumines and penetrates the inquiring mind. In its everlasting order the life of man, in its highest signification, is represented. And now the fleeting course of the year invites us to a grave, an affecting, an elevating, to a truly Christian contemplation of our life. For, in fact, my hearers, the renewed impression which the falling leaf, the fading splendour of the flowers, the desolate field, the diminishing light of day, the sight of fruits, which here are collected 292in rich abundance, and there are advancing to maturity; the impression which all this makes upon the mind, is not the only and highest consideration, which nature in its autumnal dress should present to us. Autumn points to something spiritual and invisible in this fading away and departing,. in this ripening and growing to maturity, in this wonderful mixture of death and life. It teaches us, in significant images, so to contemplate the life of earth, as a Christian must contemplate it. Let us observe them more closely; and do thou thyself enlighten us, Lord of our life, that we may comprehend and keep the serious language of nature, thy word, O Infinite, in thy creation.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever: And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you.
THE grass withereth, the flower fadeth! This observation we also make, when we see the moving, flourishing life of nature gradually disappear. And can we see this life disappear, without thinking of the transitoriness of every thing earthly, without melancholy and serious, but at the same time highly 293elevating, contemplations on the dignity, the course, and the end of the life of man? May then the autumn, as an instructive picture of terrestrial life, now occupy our attention
First. Transient and fleeting is earthly existence, its outward charms vanish, and a limit is placed to its duration; this is the first thing, of which nature in its autumnal garment admonishes us. The spring adorns our earth with a thousand various charms, and the warm summer matures the magnificence, the life, and the richness of nature. A bright variety of colours is unfolded to the eye, the blooming tree scatters fragrance around, the seeds are clothed in youthful green, the flower glitters in its gay hues, and speaks to us the expressive words of the Redeemer, “I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these3737 Matt. vi. 29..” The young grain shoots joyously up, the Lord gives growth and increase, the ears are richly filled, a hopeful life waves in all the fields. After the hours, in which night veils us with its shades, the great day-star breaks forth in his sea of flame, lights up the beauties of waking nature, sends an animating warmth into the creation; and, late in the evening, when every labour of the day is finished, and all things hasten into the arms of refreshing sleep, completes his course. In every place to which the eye is 294turned or the ear inclined, wherever a human use of enjoyment exists, sounds of pleasure salute us, kind feelings penetrate us, laughing images surround us. We would gladly secure them for ever, we could wish to stop the flying year in its course. But it regards not our wishes, it hastens on, hastens unceasingly forward, and with it fly the charms of nature. Look out into our fields! what silence, what a waste, what solitude, where but a few weeks ago all was life and motion! The green meadows languish, the flower has sunk its head, the blast of rough winds deprives the tree of its ornament, the songsters of the wood are mute, and wonderfully conducted depart to a far distance; and the sun-beam penetrates us with abated warmth, the new day comes on with lingering step, the dark shadows of evening rise with increasing celerity. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth.” And canst thou see them. fade without dwelling with musing seriousness on these images of decay, without saying to thyself, “The outward charms of my life also vanish, and its flowers fade away?” The spring of life is risen upon thee, hilarity, health, and the full feeling of strength, shine upon thy countenance; full of stirring susceptibility for the enjoyment of life, yet unacquainted with manifold cares, enslaving circumstances, and bitter delusions, thou speedest on thy path with light step winged with joy; and a golden futurity 295smiles to thee, and life looks bright with the rosy tints of hope.
Rejoice in this beautiful season; but rejoice discreetly. and wisely. Fancy not that thou wilt for ever possess what once must decay. Just as quick and unobserved, as those delightful days disappear, in which the tree is decked in its bloom, will the spring also of thy life terminate, and with it ends that undisturbed cheerfulness, that happy inexperience of the oppressive relations of civil. life, that liveliness and strength of feeling, which gives to youth its enchantment. Every thing then appears more serious and important. Hot beams often fall on thy head, and thou faintest under the burden of the day. But thou feelest still the vigour of vital energies, thou seest many of thy youthful hopes and wishes fulfilled, thy earthly connexions take a firmer and more consolidated shape, and rivet thee more strongly to the present. The summer also of thy life entwines pleasant garlands around thee. But “the grass withereth, the flower fadeth!” Time, inexorable time, bears away thy summer too on its waves. And what does it bring thee in its stead? A life, whose form is of a still graver cast, whose outward efficiency is more contracted, whose tenour grows ever more fruitful in fatigue and trouble, and more barren in the pleasures of sense. The longer thy pilgrimage to the grave lasts, so much the more weary is the way, so 296much the more monotonous appears the journey, so much-the oftener thou seest now this, now that companion of thy youth descend into the tomb, so much the more still and solitary it becomes to thee, so much the more expressively and loudly the fading colour of thy face, the extinguished fire of the eyes, the tottering step, the diminished activity of the senses announce to thee, (thou mayest hear it with repugnance or with resignation) The autumn of life is come, the day is declining, and evening draws near!
And when evening is come, the night is not far off. Nature in autumnal attire performs its last work, it prepares for slumber, and gradually coven itself in its shroud of death. The last flower of the year fades, every trace of it disappears, and the last fruits fill our barns; soon will the exploring eye, whithersoever it turns, fall upon desolate hills, deserted fields, and trees stripped of their foliage. Then solemn and awful sounds the great death-bell of nature, and tolls to rest; the life of nature passes into a state of torpor; the stillness of the grave is spread over the country; the earth, in white apparel, sleeps its sleep of death. And sinking to repose it speaks significantly to mortal man, like the voice of a spirit; Thou too, who yet walkest above me in the fulness of life, thou too shalt yield to the universal lot of this lower world, sooner or later I shall receive thee below! Know, consider, feel the impressive truth, with which a holy Bard 297of grey antiquity spake, “As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.” The life of man passes quickly, “for it is soon cut off and we fly away.” Blooming youth! the colour of thy cheeks protects thee not, death numbers not years; and though he now, silent and sparing, passes by thee, every day brings thee nearer to the grave, and time hurries unceasingly on. Cultivate, therefore, and instruct thy mind, be quick in improving thyself, believe and live, as if thou must this day depart. Man in thy full vigour! thy spring is fled, thy autumn approaches with speedy step; and who may say whether thine eyes will not be closed, even before it arrives? Live, as, when thou diest, thou wilt wish to have lived. Old man with the silver head! thou hast seen many a one depart, thou halt experienced in thyself the fleetness of time, the autumn of life has already made thee familiar with thoughts of death; contract a still closer intimacy with them, for thy end is not far.
Secondly. Is there then nothing which can bind and retain thee, O winged life of man? Art thou nothing but an unsubstantial dream? Does the stream of existence incessantly carry away our possessions and enjoyments, whatever we mould and execute within and without us? Alarming, annihilating thought! No, my hewers; he only can 298conclude thus, who looks but to the outward appearances of life, having no foresight of what is invisible, which operates in mysterious profundity. No, there is in mortal life an enduring quality, which resists decay, and shall be perfected in the flight of seasons with increasing glory: in this respect also nature in autumnal dress is a striking picture of life. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; nature. ceases to be adorned with new charms, and the recent splendour is obscured.
But has the earth lost its power? Does not the young corn shoot up from its bosom? Do not its secret energies, in the midst of the wintry sleep, cause it to thrive and increase? Does not the sun send forth its rays with equal majesty, whether it shines upon the flowers of spring, or on the falling foliage, or on the plains covered with snow? And is it not the departing summer, which, according to the eternal order of nature, fills our barns with food and gladness? Is it not the abundance of the blessing which comes from above, bent down by the weight of which the tree lets fall its branches, when the storm of autumn already blusters around and sports with the withering leaf? Are they not the most useful, the most perfect, the most refreshing of all fruits, with which the autumn furnishes us? O be welcome and blessed, sublime image of life! Henceforth be wrapt in darkness, ye stars of earthly prosperity! Henceforth fly away, ye corporeal 299charms, which adorn the fragile covering of the mind! Life has its ever-shining stars and never-fading flowers—endowments and good things which we can retain if we will in earnest; which no change of flying years can insure or deprive us of; which must continue to gain firmness, greatness, and heavenly strength to make us truly happy, the nearer our earthly course approaches its end. Holy principles and convictions, pious and Christian feelings, generous virtues, which we have acquired partly in the calm occupation of the mind with itself, partly in busy action and labour in the exterior world, partly in the violent tempests of the time; and the rewarding satisfaction of conscience, the cheering remembrance of past years, the exalting proofs of love and honour, which tribute upright and good men pay to tried virtue; these accompany us as true friends through the path of life,. they are ever fresh and perfect, when every thing else grows old; they teach us to vanquish the power of time, the mighty destroyer; the declining day of existence is made beautiful by them; with them we appear before the throne of God. Behold the pious old man in his quiet and peaceful world! With what reverence, with what confiding affection his family approach him! With what attention his advice is received! How persuasive is the instruction, how impressive the warning and encouragement, how tranquillizing the consolation, which 300proceeds from the lips of an experienced old man! How elevated one feels in his presence, when his heavenly look penetrates us also with serious thoughts of eternity, and inspires us with holy resolutions! How his eye brightens up, when he views the seed in its maturity, which sooner or later he had sown with affectionate care for those who belonged to him, and with diligent zeal in his sphere of action, and an internal friendly voice speaks to him, “Thou hast not lived in vain!” What sweet peace is shed over his whole existence! And how could it be otherwise? The age of childhood, in its higher and spiritual signification, returns again, when the pilgrim on earth draws near the end of his wanderings. The storm of passion is stilled; the contest with sensual appetite is over, the palm is no longer distant, the great and elevating thought, “the word of God endureth for ever, though heaven and earth pass away,” fills his whole heart. With sincere love, milder and kinder than formerly, he contemplates the world of man; with entire faith he soars to invisible heights; with fervent hope he addresses his God, when the angel of death approaches, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” my failing eye shall see the Saviour.
Thirdly. But life Is perfected and attains to this degree of satisfaction, this peace of God, this pure and devout state of mind in him only, who strives with unwearied diligence to serve the Most High. The 301character of the latter years of our life depends on that of the former ones. Nature in autumnal clothing reminds us in serious and significant language of this great connexion of life. Could we ever reap the blessing with which spring and summer cover our fields, could we gather in the fruits of autumn, unless the earth had with wonderful power brought the seed corn into life, unless from invisible depths it had supplied invigorating nourishment to the green blade, and to the blossoming tree; unless the Lord of the harvest had sent warm sunshine, refreshing rain, and fertilizing dew; unless human industry had tilled the land in the sweat of the brow, scattered the seed, and promoted the growth of the tender plant with watchful care? Discern, O man, as long as the spring of thy life blooms, the warning, the awakening, the encouraging voice of nature. “Whatsoever a man soweth,” saith the Scripture, “that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting3838 Galatians vi. 8.” A fearful evening of thy existence, a joyless autumn barren of fruits, is appointed thee, if thy youthful strength slumbers in idle repose, or is wasted in wild debauchery, if thou as youth or as man accustomest thyself to have no foresight nor desire of any thing higher than 302what belongs to the earth, if thou art not watchful of the affections and inclinations of thy heart, mot firm and persevering in contending against thyself, in order that serene cheerfulness may not become thoughtless levity, the inward feeling of strength an insolent wantonness which mocks at holiness and virtue, the emotion and warmth of sensibility a consuming fire of turbulent passion.
Look with contemplative and grave earnestness at the aged man, whose days decline so calmly. The wisdom, the judgment, and experience which fall from his mouth, were they not gradually ripened, as the mellow fruit of quiet communion with himself, of assiduous zeal in searching into the troth, of the unwearied attention, with which he had, when a youth and when a man, observed the vicissitudes of his life, the impressions which his mind received, the consequences of his resolutions and actions, mankind near and around him, and the ruling spirit of the age? The holy tranquillity which beams from every look, does he not owe it to the constant fidelity with which in his youthful and mature years he performed his duty, to the devout earnestness with which he suppressed the stormy ebullitions of passion, and to the works of charity, by which he dispensed welfare and blessings around him? And would his faith, his love, his hope be so firm, so sincere, so fervent, so gratifying to himself, so elevating and inspiring to others, if he had not been 303well acquainted with religious truths in the spring of life, if he had not in serious hours, in decisive moments of his existence, often and deeply felt in himself, that the peace of God is superior to any peace which the world can give, and to love Christ is better than all knowledge? Does a longing desire seize thee, on the cheering view of this good man, that so pleasant, so mild, so blissful an autumn may also be thy lot? Go then, and scatter the good seed, cherish the verdant corn, willingly bear the heat and burden of the day, where the Lord calls thee into his vineyard; and to the latest period of life thou wilt reap fruits, which will refresh both thyself and others; thou shalt reap a faith which never wavers, a love which never grows cold, a hope which is never defeated. Immoveable hope! even when the last ray of the evening sun departs!
For, Fourthly, nature now admonishes us also, that life withdraws from these earthly relations, in order to ascend to a better world. Why do unsought for images of spring so connect themselves with the appearances of autumn? We confidently hope that nature will again awake from the slumber into which she gradually sinks; the leafless tree will be decorated with fresh youthful charms, the songsters of the wood, whose cheerful notes are silenced, will hasten back to our fields, and announce a new spring. In the midst of the ruins of decay, with which nature in autumnal dress encircles us, the 304young corn springs from the earth, and we hope with pleasing confidence, that it will not perish in the winter’s frost, that it will one day fully bloom, ripen, and reward human industry. The sleeping earth collects fresh strength, in order to be renovated in youthful fulness, when the Lord of life shall summon her to rise again. Nature, after she has finished her work, advances in invariable order through the grave of winter to the flourishing spring. And shall we look forward to the autumn of our life with anxiety? Could we doubtingly ask if a delightful spring shall follow our winter? Shall not the great and sacred system and coherence, which prevails in the earthly creation of God, attach a future to this present, a resurrection to our death? No! even at the departure of autumn your souls tremble not, ye grey heads, ye who with devout seriousness, give ear to the voice of nature, to the revelation of God in the heart, to the Gospel of peace. Ye complain and mourn not, that here below there is no everlasting spring, no undecaying summer. Ye rejoice in the Lord, for that in many a severe conflict with yourselves and with the world ye have acquired a perseverance in good, a humility of heart, a firmness of faith, which fit you for a better world. It is the true and imperishable life, the life of God, the holy germ of which is contained within the mortal covering, which overcomes autumn and winter, death and the grave, and all their 305terrors. No pious Christian, thou canst not tremble at the reflection: ‘the approaching winter will perhaps also be the winter of my life; the flowers of the coming spring will perhaps blow upon my grave.’ In the kingdom of immortal spirits there is a life which never grows old, a spring which never fades, a sun which never sets. To pass through corruption to this incorruptible existence, to enjoy the delights of this ever-flourishing spring, to behold this everlasting sun in its glory, do thou render us worthy, O divine Redeemer! Sanctify us, illumine the dark path of our life, arm us thyself with the power of thy Spirit, that we may dedicate our spring, our summer, and our autumn to thee and the Father; and be with us—be with me, when the day declines, and the evening of my life is come. Amen.306307
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