Like Grass Which Grows up
Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"In the morning they are like grass which grows up. In the morning it flourishes and grows up. In the evening it is cut down and withers." Psalm 90:5-6
Such has always been the condition of human life. This complaint was uttered more than three thousand years ago, by one over whose grave a hundred generations have passed. In the climates of Asia, Moses looked out with these eyes upon the vanity of man. David followed him with the same insight many ages after. Thus, scores of centuries before we were born, they were making their moans over the transitory nature of this mortal state.
When we arrive at an age to realize that life is "a vapor which appears for a little time, and then vanishes away" — it seems as though we had first made the discovery. But they were chanting their melancholy airs over this subject before Rome or Greece or Jerusalem was born, and have been singing it to the ears of the passing ages ever since.
The figure in our text is very striking. In a bright summer's morning, you behold a verdant meadow. Its freshness and beauty charm your eye. Your imagination sees in it a perpetual Eden, and dreams of reposing upon it from every care, and wearing out life among its charms. You return towards evening — and how changed the scene! The mower's hand has been there. The waving grass lies still. Its virgin beauty has fled. The lovely green that mantled over the plain, has faded in withered heaps. The whole enchantment is broken. You turn away with a sigh and say: How fleeting was all that beauty! How vain to reckon on it as a charm which was to last!
So man comes forth in the morning of life blooming with health and beauty — active and sprightly and winning; full of spirits and gladness; glowing with expectations, undisturbed with care, fearless of evil.
But he returns a few years after, and his youth has faded; the traces of old age are upon him; his sprightliness is gone; care and sorrow have furrowed his cheeks; his hopes have been disappointed; the world has not been found what he expected; the friends of his youth have fallen around him; and instead of calculating on a long train of happy years — he is looking for a place where to lay his weary bones.
Such is the change which a few years make in a town or city. See those streets filled with youth and health, mirthful and sprightly and bustling in business. The people who are flourishing there seem to expect and seem to promise that they shall long flourish such as they now are. But return a few years after, and most of them have moved; many of those who remain, have been unfortunate in business and are reduced to poverty; and all of them are sobered and cramped and stiffened with age. Some are presenting a face pale with decay; others are alarming your ear with the hectic cough; others are supporting their rheumatic or gouty limbs with a staff.
And when you look around, you find the streets mostly filled with new faces. A new race of men have occupied the places and engrossed the business. "Alas!" you say, "where is the generation that lately flitted through these streets, so active and mirthful and hopeful? Just so, the glory of the world passes away."
Look at one of the courts of Europe. Mark the fashion, the splendor, the rival efforts to shine, the gaiety, the dissipation, the ambitious aim at power, the shifting forms of pleasure. Is all this brilliancy and delight and glory, to be so fleeting? Yes, return a few years after, and everything is changed. Another monarch has ascended the throne — and another generation compose the court. Not one of the old faces remains. The few that are left above ground are at their homes, groaning and dying under the infirmities of old age.
Let one who used to envy the former court, but cast an eye around on the new group — and with what very different eyes would he survey them. Envy a butterfly — envy a falling rose as soon!
Look at Nineveh and Babylon and Thebes and Memphis and Palmyra. The splendor and strength of those ancient cities exceeded anything that modern eyes have seen, and gave promise of enduring and shining forever. But where are they now? Long ago they were reduced to utter ruin, and the site of some of them is unknown! Could you have stood in their streets, and seen the glory of their temples and palaces, and the activity and joy and hope of the bustling crowd — the enchantment would have been much the same as in looking, in a summer's morning, on the pride and glory of the meadow. How hard would it have been to realize that all that pride and glory would so soon be mowed down and withered!
The successive empires of Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome sprang forth youthful and fresh as the grass, and waved their luxuriant beauty over their respective fields. Their power and grandeur successively filled every eye, and their fame and exploits were the theme for every tongue throughout the known world. How strange would the prediction have seemed that their authority and glory were to pass away! Yet the mower's hand has laid them low — and the very ground which sustained them (except a small section of the last empire) is now trampled by barbarous feet, and groans under the oppressive weight of Mohammedan imposition! The lumber of ignorance and brutality is piled up on every spot which witnessed the splendor of Babylon, the pomp of Persia, and the polished arts of Greece!
Look at Egypt, once the mother and seat of science, inscribed all over by the arts, covered with cities, filled with wealth and with arms, reflecting back the sun from its unnumbered temples and palaces, astonishing the world by its excavations, its temples carved out of solid rock, its pyramids and its mausoleums. Now it is dismantled and demolished, overrun by barbarians, ground down by oppression, buried in ignorance and in filth, and reduced, according to the emphatic prediction of Ezekiel, to be "the basest of the kingdoms." Who would have thought that all that glory would so soon pass away?
So it has fared with whatever has been great or glorious, beautiful or splendid, mirthful or delightful — in the genius, acquirements, or state of man — from the east to the west, from the north to the south, wherever the earth has been peopled — and in every age in which it has stood. Yesterday an paradisaical field — waving its beauties to the sun; today cropped and withered — and all its loveliness is gone!
Ever since the flowers of Eden were turned to briers and thorns — vanity and change have been written on everything which touches a soil accursed for sin! The earth exhibits beauties, to show that God is merciful still — but she suddenly draws them back to teach us that this poor world is not our home. She spreads them out to cheer us in our pilgrimage — but she wraps them up again to ring in our ears this perpetual warning, "Arise and depart, for this is not your rest — because it is polluted!" She gives them to us to encourage us on to God — but she takes them away lest we should make a God of them.
Such is the fleeting nature of human life. "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure." "At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; until the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep." Job 14:1-2, 7-12
Such, to bring the subject nearer home, is the fleeting nature of our own mortal existence. The other day we began life, and came forth in all the freshness of the grass of the field. There was a charm in every scene around us, and we scarcely felt that the joy was ever to end. To look forward to old age seemed like a little eternity. But many of us have seen the end of that delusion. While we were eagerly pursuing the dream of earthly happiness, and rushing on from disappointment to disappointment, fondly hoping that we would yet find in the creature what hitherto we had failed to find — we awoke and found that the thing sought, so far as it had any existence — was behind us and not before us — that we had passed it in the pursuit. We found that most of the happiness which the world could give, had already been enjoyed, and that old age was coming on, and the evil days drawing near, of which we should say, "We have no pleasure in them!"
And now as we look back, we see that the other day we were children. We are convinced at last at what our fathers failed to make us believe, that "We spend our years as a tale that is told." Now we can feel the striking force of the figure in our text. "In the morning they are like grass which grows up. In the morning it flourishes and grows up. In the evening (of the same day) it is cut down and withers."
We see that our youthful joys were but this morning. We see them withered before 'tis night — withered to be green no more. The grass can be turned in one hour to withered hay — but the hay can never return to its former freshness.
We look back on our early joys and say, "They are as a dream when one awakes." How short was the vision — and where has it fled? We were just preparing to live — but now we have awoke, and found that we have nothing to do but to prepare to die! For what has happened to the joys of life — will shortly happen to life itself. "In the morning they are like grass which grows up. In the morning it flourishes and grows up. In the evening it is cut down and withers" in the grave.
We have already passed the greater part of life's comforts. Every hour is carrying us still further from them. We cannot return — but an irresistible current is bearing us down into the gulf of eternity. There is no return — there is no stop. It will be but a moment — and we must go to our long home, and leave the mourners to go about the streets. We cannot be younger — but we shall soon be dead. And on a dying-bed, we shall feel the truth of our text and the propriety of its figure more than ever. All our life will seem but a single day. And having passed the short day of dreams and shadows — we shall disappear. We shall take an eternal leave of earth, and wing our way to the judgment bar of God.
The places which now know us — will know us no more. Our lands and houses will go into other hands. Strangers will occupy our substance, and walk over our graves without knowing that we were buried there. Our names will be forgotten on earth. The world will go on as before. The sun will arise and set as usual. Mirth and pleasure-seeking will be as brisk as ever. None will take thought of our pleasures or pains — while we shall be either mounting the regions of life and soaring high in salvation, or shrieking to the ear of Hell and sinking in the pit that has no bottom!
And now what shall we say to these things? A number of reflections crowd upon the mind which ought not to pass unnoticed.
1. It is in vain to seek for a paradise or a home in this poor, delusive world.This we are too prone to do. We covet a rest here. We covet a residence fitted up with as much care as though it were to last for ages. Whatever breaks in upon the pleasantness or permanency of such arrangements, irritates us. But what would it profit if all Eden bloomed around us? With these imperfect minds — it would not be an Eden to us — it would only embitter our joys by drawing our hearts from God. But be it what it might — it would be but for a moment.
How foolish to feel at home — where we are to stay but for a night! How foolish to set our hearts on a world in which we can only find a grave!
Under a realizing sense of the certainty and nearness of that eternity into which we are entering — let our hearts be weaned from this vain world. Let us neither seek nor wish for a home on this polluted and moldering turf. Let us feel like pilgrims and strangers on the earth — and nourish a holy indifference to all its joys and sorrows; sending our affections far away from this mighty graveyard, and lodging them in the Heaven of heavens. Let us live above the world — and cultivate a heavenly mind!
2. After all, we ought not to weep too much over the vanity of life.Human life answers the purpose for which it was given. It is short indeed — it was never intended to be eternal. It is long enough, with a wise improvement of it — to prepare us for a better world. That is all that it was designed to do. It was never meant to be our permanent state. This world was not made for our home. Heaven is our home, and eternity is the season to enjoy it.
The shortness of our pilgrimage would not disturb us, but for some guilty cause. It is the perversion of the design of life and our attachment to the world as a home, together with the weakness of our faith to discern a better and eternal home, and the consequent lack of our preparation for it — which render the subject so gloomy.
The men of the world talk of the shortness of life and the decay of all things — as a subject which is only gloomy and allows no transition to a brighter theme. Not so did the inspired Scripture writers. They passed from this topic, to a happier one — delightfully set off by the contrast.
Thus David: "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him!" Psalm 103:15-17
Thus Isaiah: "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall — but the Word of our God stands forever." Isaiah 40:6-8
We ought not constantly to fill our eyes with bones and sepulchers. We should lift them from graveyards — to the regions of immortal life. The sickly hues of decay which are spread over all things here — should send our thoughts to the unfading bloom of heavenly paradise! There is no need to sink into sadness in view of the fleeting nature of sublunary things. We ought to contemplate the subject, to prevent an undue attachment to this poor earth — but we ought to cheer ourselves by a glance, a gaze at that world where all is eternal and satisfying.
It is melancholy to read the inscriptions of decay and death on all the life and things of this globe; but we have abundant reasons to be satisfied with this order of things, yes, to rejoice in it with exceeding joy. What Christian would consent to live forever on earth — and be forever exiled from Heaven? It is an infinite privilege, that a godly man will die. Should a decree pass, dooming all who remain alive to this eternal prison of earth — one universal groan would fill the world!
3. It ought not to be a ground of despondency to godly men, that they are growing old and beginning to decay, and drawing rapidly towards a termination of their pilgrimage.It is gloomy to human nature, to find the better part of life gone, our strength beginning to fail, and everything within us bending down towards the grave; to count how few the years before old age must disable us — and death close the scene. To mere human wisdom — death seems to be the end of all things.
But to faith, the prospect is very different. Faith discerns another and a happier country. There is another and a better life after this present life is closed. Death will not swallow up all. "There is a land above the stars!" The godly man has no reason to be sad that he is so near his earthly journey's end. His eye may be so dim, that he can no longer see the enchantments of nature. His taste and his ear may be blunted, like those of old Barzillai, that he can no longer taste what he eats or what he drinks, nor hear the voice of singing men and singing women. He may have buried all his kindred in the same grave with his youthful joys, and may stand alone, like a blasted oak upon the plains. He may have taken his last leave of an empty world, and may have nothing left but his Bible and his God. His tottering limbs may be supported on his staff, and every hour he may be looking for the final summons.
And yet that aged saint has no reason to be sad. He is indeed done with the joys of youth; he is done with earthly comforts; the wide world has no charms for him. But he is standing on the threshold of immortal glory! Like old Simeon, he is standing with the Savior in his arms, saying, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace — for my eyes have seen Your salvation!" The king on his throne is a wretch — compared to him!
4. The delusive and fleeting nature of all earthly things, and the afflictions which are largely mingled with them — ought to make us long more earnestly after Heaven.When we cannot here find a place on which to rest the sole of our foot — then that ought to endear to us the thought of our eternal home. This world of shadows — ought to send our desires to that solid and enduring substance.
Is the captive in Algiers goaded by his taskmaster to remember his father's house, and to pant after that circle where to him all is love and tenderness? And should not the vanities and hardships of the present life — make us sigh for that world where all is bliss and rest? Shall not the afflictions which here break our hearts — make us stretch out our hands towards that country where God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes?
5. The shortness of life, and the unsatisfying and perplexing nature of all that it has to bestow — ought to stir us up to diligence in the proper business for which life was given us.So beset with evil, so annoyed by the vanity of the creature — life is of little value but as a season to do good and to prepare for Heaven. To purchase the shriveled joys and the pains of this scrap of time with the happiness of a whole eternity — what madness! To linger among its thorns — and lose our eternal inheritance — what fatal folly! If this poor world has so little else to give, at least let us draw out of it something to make us blessed when sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The work is great — and the time is short! Greater is our work, than an Alexander ever accomplished — and how short the time is, none of us can tell. At longest it is but a span — and it may cease before my sermon ends. Every moment then, is of incalculable importance. O let us rise up to our everlasting business, and work while the day lasts, for "the night comes when no man can work."
6. I have a message from God to deliver to each one of you."Thus says the Lord, set your house in order — for you shall die, and not live!" 2 Kings 20:1
This message I am commanded to deliver to you one by one.
I come to the fathers first. Thus says the Lord, you aged and you middle-aged people — set your house in order — for you shall die, and not live.
I go up to the youth. My dear young friends, you have been calculating on a long and happy life — but, as flushed as your cheeks are with health and expectation — I have an errand from the Lord to do to each one of you! Thus says the God who made you: Set your house in order — for you shall die, and not live. It will be but a little while — and not a soul in those seats shall be found on this side of the eternal world! Others will come in to occupy your places, while you will be reviewing from eternity, with indescribable pains or pleasures — these seasons in the house of God.
Set your house in order! This is a mighty business, and the more difficult for having been so long neglected. All your business with God must be done — all your accounts with God must be settled. All your debts to Him must be paid, or must be forgiven. All His gifts to you must be acknowledged. By humble repentance and application to the blood of atonement — obtain from Him the pardon of your sins. Acknowledge before Him — His mercies and the talents which you have received from Him. Arise, and use those talents in His service.
Nor yet is your work finished. You must search into the state of your own soul. You are going to the judgment bar of God, to be tried for your life. The statute-book by which you are to be judged — is in your house. The record of your actions is in your memory and conscience. The evidence which supports or destroys your title to mercy — is in your hearts and lives. These statutes and documents must all be collected and arranged, that you may know beforehand what your sentence will be. If any part of all this work is left undone, it cannot be performed after your decease. It must remain eternally undone.
Lost sinners, awake! The sentence of death has gone out against you — and the executioner is on his way! Some disease commissioned to do this work has already deposited its seeds in your veins — and is there nourishing the ailment which is to nurture the deadly growth. You say that you are well — but the poison is working within! Presently your faces will gather paleness. The efforts of your physicians are baulked.
You take to your bed. Anxiety begins to seize your friends. Your strength daily decays. At length it is pronounced that you must die! O the shock of that word! You dart a terrified eye forward, and cling to life. But every hold is broken, and now you know that go you must. You would give ten thousand worlds in that hour — that you had not slighted the warnings of your minister! But it is too late! The Spirit which you have resisted — now refuses His aid.
You try to pray, but your words are cast back with this dreadful reproof: "But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke — I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you — when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me — but I will not answer; they will look for me — but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke — they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes!" Proverbs 1:24-31
Forsaken by God and man — you die. Shall I follow you further? Shall I mark the terror when you first open your eyes in eternity? Shall I follow you through unmeasured ages? No, I will return, and cry to my living hearers, "Prepare to meet your God!" By all the agonies of an eternally ruined soul, "Prepare to meet your God!"