Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
In some parts of England autumn is still called “fall.” The common word used overseas for the waning part of the year is the familiar word “autumn,” an expression derived from the French. But however widely this French word gained the field, the original word is by no means passed away, and in ordinary conversation one still uses the descriptive, significant word of “fall,” precisely the same word that is used for the fall of Adam and Eve in paradise.
Autumn is the fall, the slow insinking of the season, the time of year of the failing series. Spring climbs and goes upward, in summer to reach its highest point; autumn, on the other hand, goes down to seek its lowest point in winter.
If winter is the delineation in nature which God gives of death and of the grave, autumn shows us on the part of God the languor of disease, which pulls down and consummates itself in dying.
This delineation of God in autumn images the decline of vital forces in the visible. “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more” (Ps. 103:15).
It images the decline of the spiritual life in the soul. “He shall be like a tree, whose leaf shall not wither. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (Ps. 1:3).
It images the decline of well-being and prosperity: “Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth” (Is. 1:30).
Yea, it even images the decline that awaits all the glory of the world: “The heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their hosts shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine” (Is. 34:4).
And finally it is the image of the judgment that cometh: “I will surely consume them, saith the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, yea, the leaf is faded” (Jer. 8:13).
Though thus, with the exception of Jude, verse 12, the Scripture does not mention autumn by name, because in Israel the seasons were differently divided, yet Scripture knows well the nature-image which we call autumn, and describes it by like terms, as the fall, falling, the falling off of the leaf.
According to one’s age, impression differs, which spring and autumn make upon us.
When we are young, for the language, for the speech of spring, we are all ear. We drink in with full draughts the fragrance of spring. We perceive how really, in spring alone, nature outside of us tunes in perfect accord with the speech of our own heart. Autumn, on the other hand, fills everyone who is not young with sadness. The appearance of autumn is not the expression of his life. He lives through the fall as a necessity from which there is no escape, but not as a pleasure. Because spring still sings in his own heart, autumn cannot accompany him in the song of his soul.
But when you are in the decline of your days, and your locks grow thin, even as the foliage of the oak, your impression is quite the opposite. Then spring still refreshes you, but more as a joy that has had its day, that comes upon you strangely, and you are in your element only when the leaves begin to turn yellow, presently to fall. Then autumn is to you the significant season of year, which agreeswith your own life and condition. And more than from spring and summer, from autumn there goes out to you a language to which, of itself, the echo resounds in your own state of mind and heart.
Yea, as in autumn you see the fall before your eyes, so actually it happens in your own life.
You were child, and have been young: the summer of your life is come; and now you are getting old. Not at once, but imperceptibly and slowly. The eye sees no more so sharply, your movements are less quick and easy. You seek a place to sit down, where before, when you had to sit down, you longed to stand. The mind unfolds less luxuriantly. For what used to give you pleasure, you have no more taste. The blood once so young flows more calmly through the veins. You feel how the yellowing of the leaf in nature is the image of your own withering.
This continues till the wind lifts itself, and the autumn storm in accident or sickness drives through your branches. And then with you, too, falls the leaf, and the foliage begins to be transparent. And time and again it tells you that, from the period of decline, you have passed over into that of demolition.
Till finally the last autumn days come, which will presently lead you into the sleep of winter, those cold, anxious days, of which the preacher sang: “When the keepers of the house (i.e., the hands) shall tremble, and the strong men (i.e., the legs) shall bow themselves, and the grinders (i.e., the teeth) shall cease, and those that look out of the windows (i.e., the eyes) shall be darkened. When the doors shall be shut to the street (i.e., the ears), and you shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree (i.e., the gray head) shall blossom, and as a grasshopper you shall be a burden to yourself. For man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about in the streets” (Eccl. 12).
Then, when with you it comes to this, the autumn of your life runs to its close, that on your deathbed winter might come upon you.
Well for him who, by faith hidden in his Savior, knows that for him, after that winter, the spring dawns of the eternal morn.
Yet this end of the autumn is not all of it, and this season of year is also preceded by a period of transition, sometimes with a beauty of its own.
When the first autumn storms have spent their fury, there follow sometimes quiet, beautiful days, which affect you beneficently, and entice from you an utterance of admiration. Not least in our land this autumn loveliness comes out in its soft colors in a most charming manner, and not least from those autumn tints have our national painters borrowed their most fruitful impressions.
Spring and summer are at times highly colored even to weariness. The tints are few, the colors overwhelmingly many, often too brightly hued.
But in autumn it seems as though these high colors are dulled and changed into soft tints.
Thereby contrasts are less strong. Everything fuses more readily together. And of itself a wondrous harmony is born.
This is brought about in part by moisture in the air, which breaks the force of the light-beams, and in part it is the weaker life-force in nature itself, which makes it stand out less sharply defined.
And thereby God reconciles us to the loss of summer.
Extreme heat no longer oppresses us, and there is no cold as yet to drive us indoors.
Evenings are no longer very short, and yet not too long to be wearisome. Days begin to shorten, but not yet so short as to prevent going out.
So in every way autumn occupies a sort of middle ground, and maintains a certain poise, a certain harmony, which puts you into a restful state of mind and relaxes you after the tension of the summer.
And not only that by so doing God reconciles you to the decline of the year, but that by this autumnal beauty He also reconciles you to the decline of your own days.
By autumn He shows how, even in later years, you still have a calling of your own, by your character, your disposition, your expression of life, to develop something in you, that thus far has remained hidden, to wit: the beauty of calm, of what is restful, of what is softly tinted. No more distraction but poise. As far as possible among men, completed harmony.
He who in old age is still irascible, is still driven by his passions, or shuns the middle way to walk in sidepaths on the outer edge, makes an unpleasant impression.
A soul, a human heart, a character, that in old age still exhibits a fiery temper, striking colors, wild tossings, and has not come to poise, provokes first your disgust, after that your anger, and finally your laughter.
Autumn rebukes such an one, and passes judgment upon his wasted opportunities of self-discipline.
Like autumn with its softened tints, so in your old age should be the tenor of your inner life.
If such be not the case with you, as man with a human heart you stand ashamed and confused before the face of nature.
Still a third mark of autumn is that of nobler, finer harvest.
Even the word herfst with us is derived from that third mark; for it is the same word as the English harvest.
Harvest is the gathering in of all ripe fruit; and in this general sense there is a harvest in every season of the year, winter alone excepted.
In spring, harvest of the first vegetables, early fruit, in part even grass, that shall turn into hay.
In summer, you continue the harvest of the grass, of green vegetables, to end it with the ingathering of the grains.
Thus harvest by itself is no distinguishing mark of autumn. On the contrary, as such it is common to spring, summer, and fall.
But the nobler mark of autumn is that then harvest is not gathered from the land, but from what grows on vines and branches; grapes and all sorts of fruit from trees.
As high as the tree top lifts itself above the ground in which it roots, so high in quality stands tree fruit about the fruit of the earth. In paradise, fruit of the tree was man’s food.
This mark of autumn, too, brings you in your older days an admonition of deep seriousness.
There must be fruit on you also in the decline of your days. Not purposeless must be the life of your old age, but a giving out of nobler and finer fruit of soul, of head and heart, than that wherewith thus far you had refreshed the members of your family, your environment, and your compatriots.
The time of spring greens is now past. Time also is gone when grain in full measures is carried away from your field.
Now your family, your associates and friends expect yet nobler, finer fruit.
The fruit of calm wisdom, the fruit of quiet harmony, the fruit of purer love, the fruit of ripened faith, the fruit of unshakable hope.
There are old men and women of years who are still intent upon money, and with money are busy in their hidden thoughts; who, grumbling and peevish, are burdensome to all; and instead of being much to others, demand from others everything for themselves.
Oh, withered souls, when on your autumn dish you see the noble fruit of vine and peach tree as it were smile on you, by that bunch of grapes and by that noble peach, become at length wise.
Wise for yourselves, wise for your fellowmen, wise for your God!