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decked the landscape, robed the forests, is everywhere withering—“the wind passeth over it and it is gone." "The grass withereth and the flower fadeth,” &c. This is the emblem of our life : not of life in any particular stage, or sphere, or clime, but of all life. “We all do fade as a leaf.” It would be easy to multiply analogies between autumn and our mortal life, between the fading of the leaf and the decay of these mortal bodies. Let us notice a few :
I. THE LEAF FADES BY A NECESSARY LAW. There is no power that can keep the foliage on the tree. The leaf must fall. So we must decay. “It is appointed for all men once to die.” “ All Aesh is as grass,” &c. Man may and does dread death; he may and does seek to prolong life ; but he cannot by any invention or art counteract that resistless law of decay that has swept all past generations to the dust, and that is day after day, and hour after hour, working out his dissolution. As the stream flows from the hills, as the sea rolls to the shore, as the globe wheels onward in its sphere, we progress, by a force we cannot resist, to death and dust. One generation is buried in the grave of another, and future generations will find a bed in our ashes.
II. THE LEAF FADES BY A GRADUAL PROCESS. The trees are not stripped by one blast. The rich clouds of foliage do not descend in one shower, leaving nature which was full of life and beauty one moment, a miserable wreck, a mighty grave the next. No! gradually the work of decay goes on. It is so with human life. Except in cases of famine, pesti. lence and war, when men are cut down suddenly and in great numbers, the work goes on by degrees. Disease, whether it invades the infant or adult, as a rule, works progressively. The leaf of life gradually withers, until it falls. In all seasons of the year we see some leaves fade. Yes, even in spring, there may be some disease in the plant, and the leaf falls. So it is with life. In infancy, childhood, manhood, as well as old age, the fading process goes on. The gradualness of decay is a blessing. It allows time to prepare for the future. It prevents a stand-still in the machinery of the world's work.
III. THE LEAF FADES INTO
ELEMENTS. Take a leaf, in its perfection, into your hand. How symmetrical its form, how lovely its hue, how exquisite its structure, Look at it through a microscope, how delicate its fibres, how fine its lines. How infinitely in its structure does it transcend all human invention. But that leaf is only organized dust. It falls and to dust it returns. So it is with man.
These bodies will in a few years be trodden on by the beast or borne away by the winds. At death we return to our primitive elements. “ Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." It would be well for the beautiful and the rich to remember that death reduces all to the same common element. What a great variety there is in the foliage of nature. Some leaves are larger and decked in more lovely hues than others. Some grow in a richer soil, and are breathed on by more salubrious winds than others. But let a few weeks pass away and all these distinctions will be lost, all will be dust. It is ever so in society. there great variety. Some are in wealth, some in poverty ; some in velvet, some in fustian; some in beauty, some in deformity, some in the pomp of power, and some in the misery of oppression. But let a few years pass round; let 1960 dawn upon this planet, and our princes and peasants, sovereigns and subjects, despots and serfs, masters and menials will be dust.
A NEW LIFE.
IV. THE LEAF FADES AS PREPARATORY TO The leaf falls, but its place is soon supplied. It falls, in fact, because the new life, rising from the root, has pushed it off. A few months at most and others will appear, as lovely as any that have ever adorned the tree. The loss is not great, the forest will not miss the fallen leaf. So with
We die, but others will step into our place, and the world will go on. New leaves will spring out from the branch of society from which we fall, which will perhaps un
fold a lovelier hue and diffuse a healthier influence. As the great vegetable system can do without the frail leaf that falls, nay requires its fall, and will make its fall subservient to its own use, so society can do without us.
We are but tiny leaves in the ever-growing forest of humanity, we fall and are not missed,—nay our ashes may minister strength to the roots of coming ages. The race will carry on its governments, its commerce, its literature, its religion, without our help. It may require our death, make our very death serve its interests. Let us then not be proud of our position.
THE LEAF FADES AS A PROGRESSIVE STAGE OF LIFE. The tree from which the leaf fell is not dead. Its roots are in the soil and full of life. It threw off the sere leaf to put on another and lovelier garment. As the vitality of the tree continues when the leaf falls, the life of man will remain when the body dies. Yes, and like the tree, that life will dress itself in another garb. As the throwing away of the leaf is but a stage in the tree's progressive life, so the death of the body is but a stage in the onward life of man. As the tree changes its foliage every year, so we are here constantly changing these bodies. The body of infancy gives way to that of childhood, that of childhood to youth, that of youth to manhood, that of manhood to old age, that of old age
to the “ eternal house." Let us look then at the fading forest and learn what our life really is in its material aspects.
“How fraught with change is life!—The child at play,
Now I would call your attention to four states of mind existing in relation to this fact, one of which must be yours :
First : Unreasoning indifference. The great mass of mankind are stolidly indifferent. Although the certainty of death is unquestionable, they “ deem all men mortal but themselves.” Why is this? It is not for the want of mementoes. Wherever I go I am reminded of man's mortality. I enter a room, there are pictures of the dead ; I converse with a friend, there are allusions to the departed ; I walk the streets, persons meet me clad in the symbols of mourning. Funeral processions cross my path wherever I go, and cemeteries surround my dwelling. Everywhere without, and within too, there are mementoes that “ do fade as a leaf." Yet men are indifferent to the fact. They eat, they drink, they are married and given in marriage, they toil and labor here, as if this were their everlasting habitation. Is it rational, I ask, for men to be indifferent to such a fact, to an event that terminates all their relations with the world ? No, it is blind stupidity. “Oh that men were wise that they would consider their latter end ! Secondly : Intellectual stoicism.
some who look at death as the end of existence. It is but nature, say they, breaking up the organization which it at first moulded with its plastic hand. All ends in the grave. He who descends into that land of darkness, will never have a thought, feel à sensation, or perform an action again. The spark is quenched for ever. Man is reduced to eternal nothingness. Is this a state of mind you would choose to entertain concerning death? Infidels recommend this state as a rest to the mind. But if a rest, how difficult to reach ? What work must be done before you can bring your mind to this point. It must be done, by crushing all the religious tendencies of the soul, by obliterating the moral sense and trampling all our intuitions in the dust. It must be done, by quenching our aspirations for another life and destroying our nature's panting for immortality. It must be done, by condemning the pious of all ages as fanatics and enthusiasts; the Bible, that has been held as divine by the greatest intellects of all times, as a cunningly devised fable. It must be done, by reasoning down reason into folly, mind into matter, God into nature. How few can do this; and when they do it, have they rest? I trow not.
Thirdly : Terrible foreboding. There are some fearfully alarmed at the idea of death; "all their life subject to bondage” from its fear. They are conscious of what death will do for them. It will take them from their property, house, friendships, all the sources of their joy, and hasten them into an eternity for which they are unprepared. Any intimation of dying fills them with terror. Is this a desirable state of mind ?
Fourthly : Christian composure. There are some who are enabled to look at death with calm and tranquil spirits. They regard it not as the extinction of being, but as a change in its mode. They view it as that which will end for ever all their imperfections, sorrows and pains, and introduce them to everlasting and blessed habitations. They are not distressed at the fading of the leaf; its fall does not alarm them. They can say in relation to the body, Let it fall ; though I value it as the organ of the soul, though I am thankful for the impressions it has conveyed to me, helping to the training of my intellect and the culture of my heart, still let it fall. Let it fall, either in the vivacity of youth, the vigor of manhood, or the frailties of age ; “for I know that when the earthly house of this my tabernacle is dissolved, I have a building of God an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Which of these states of mind, my brother, in relation to our approaching mortality is the rational one? I need not ask which is the happiest one, that is obvious. Which will you adopt ?