Dead at the Top!
Men are like trees. The comparison holds in many regards; among others, with respect to growth. No tree starts tall, full-branched, fruit-covered — but is first only a seed, then a shoot, then a sapling, and finally a tree. It is ever growing into nobler and more beautiful proportions. Though it lives three thousand years — every year has its own circle of growth. When it ceases to grow — then it ceases to live.
So men's bodies grow, beginning with the helplessness of infancy, and developing into strong and vigorous manhood.
So men's minds grow. All the germs of the mental faculties, of thought, and will, and feeling — are folded up in the infant. It is the work of a true education to draw out and train these faculties, which are capable of almost limitless expansion and development, and which will doubtless continue to grow forever in the future world.
Then there is still a higher life — the life of the soul. And no character is complete without its soul-growth. This is the part of our being on which the curse of the fall chiefly rests. The spiritual nature has been blasted by sin. Not until the new blood of redemption flows into the soul — is there life there. But provision has been made in grace, for the quickening of these dead branches. Every soul united by faith to Christ, lives. And wherever there is spiritual life — there is also spiritual growth.
But there are many men whose lower, physical natures are marked by a luxuriant growth — whose higher, spiritual nature is starved and left to die! I have seen trees which cast a wide shade. Their lower branches reached far out and were covered with leaves, and gave to the tree the appearance of great prosperity. But when I have looked up toward the top, I have seen only a bare, dead, branchless, leafless trunk, rising above the greenness like the mast of a ship.
And that is a picture of many lives. In all that concerns the body or the mind — in all the lower branches of the life-tree — there is great prosperity. They are prosperous in the lower or worldly sphere. They put forth great boughs, and spread themselves out wide, and send their life-blood pulsing through great business establishments and enterprises, or through whole communities, or cities, or states, or nations. They have a marvelous growth and development — but it is all low down, close to the earth. They make a great show of prosperity before the world. Men come and rest in the shadow of their great spreading branches, and eat of the fruit of their toil and care.
But when you turn your eyes up to the higher parts of their being — you see nothing but bare branches, with no leaves nor fruit. They are like the tree, green and living below — but dead at the top, their souls stand out above all their earthly luxuriance, ghastly, bare, and dead!
Now it is well to develop one's physical nature, to draw out its powers to the utmost, and lay them on the altar for God. It is well to educate the mind, to train its power for the highest possible uses. Every one is responsible for the development and use of all the faculties God has lodged in his being.
But above both body and mind — is man's spiritual nature. It is the crown of manhood. It is the part of our being which is nearest to Heaven, which makes us akin to God, and which contains the germs of our future eternal growth toward bliss, or woe. It is on this part of the life-tree that faith, hope, love, meekness, humility, patience, and all the Christian graces grow. It is at the top, which the Master looks for fruit.
And what does it matter then, that a man has the most wondrous growth and development in the lower branches of his life — if he is dead at the top? What does it matter that body and mind are clothed in luxuriance — if the soul is starved and bare?
Men should look to their spiritual nature. They should seek, first of all — soul-growth. No life is beautiful or complete in God's sight — which is leafless, fruitless, and dead or dying at the top. But the life that is crowned with foliage and fruitage here, shall be crowned with unfading glory in Heaven!