(portrait of Laura E. Newell)
AS THE LIFE OF A FLOWER
“…All the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof fadeth away” (1 Pet. 1:24)
INTRO.: A gospel song which reminds us that all the glory of man is as the flower of the grass is “As the Life of a Flower” (#570 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #556 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Laura Emeline Pixley Newell, who was born on Feb. 5, 1854, at New Marlborough, MA. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Pixley, but orphaned as an infant, Laura was adopted by her aunt, Mrs. Hiram Mabie, who at the time lived in New York. In 1858, the Mabie family moved to a farm south of Wamego, KS, with an abolitionist colony. Two years after the move, Mr. Mabie died, and his wife resumed teaching. In 1860, Mrs. Mabie accepted positions in Topeka and then Wabaunsee KS, before starting a school in her home near Zeandale where she taught for many years.
Under her adopted mother’s tutelage, Laura received her education. As early as age twelve, Laura was writing rhymes, and two years later her poems began to appear in local newspapers. She had no thought of a literary career but simply wrote to give vent to her poetical mind. In 1871, Laura married Lauren Newell, a carpenter from Manhattan, KS. They lived in Tabor Valley, KS, had at least six children, one of whom died accidentally from a fall, and belonged to the Congregational Church at Wabaunsee, commonly known as “Beecher’s Bible and Rifle Church.” In 1873, Laura was listening to an address by a speaker who lamented the death of genuine hymns, and she resolved to try her hand in that line of work.
That began a long period of writing songs both sacred and secular, services for all anniversary occasions, cantatas, and adapting words to music and music to words. Laura’s best known hymn, “As the Life of a Flower,” was produced in 1904, shortly after her adoptive mother passed away, and first appeared in Sonnets of Praise, edited by Emmett S. Dean at Waco, TX, for the Trio Music Company in 1907. The tune was composed by George Henry Ramsey (1858-1915). Born in Erath County, TX, the son of William and Bristiana Lemley Ramsey, he married Clara Jane Whitacre and died at Lingleville, TX. Mrs. Newell, a very modest and unpretentious lady, was indeed a prolific writer, penning several hundred poems annually. She had over eight hundred poems published in a single year, a most remarkable record. Her verses numbered in the thousands prior to her death on Oct. 13, 1916, at Manhattan, KS.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “As the Life of a Flower” has appeared in the 1938 Spiritual Melodies and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 both edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal and the 1960 Hymnal both edited by Marion Davis; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1971 Songs of the Church edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song encourages us to remember that life is short and to use our opportunities here wisely in preparation for eternity.
I. Stanza 1 says that our lives are like a flower in terms of their brevity
As the life of a flower,
As a breath or a sigh,
So the years that we live
As a dream hasten by;
True, today we are here,
But tomorrow may see
Just a grave in the vale,
And a memory of me.
- Many figures of speech are used in Scripture to describe the brevity of life: Job 7:16, Ps. 90:9-10
- Today we are here, and it is the only time we have promise of: Heb. 3:13
- Tomorrow may and some day surely will see us in the grave: Heb. 9:27
II. Stanza 2 says that our lives should be like a flower in terms of their sweetness
As the life of a flower,
Be our lives pure and sweet;
May we brighten the way
For the friends that we greet;
And sweet incense arise,
From our hearts as we live
Close to Him who doth teach
Us to love and forgive.
- Flowers are pretty to look at, and our lives can brighten the way for others as we strive to be the light of the world: Matt. 5:14-16
- Also, most flowers smell good, and our actions can be a sweet smelling aroma to others: Phil. 4:18
- But we can accomplish these aims only as we live close to the Lord: Jas. 4:8
III. Stanza 3 says that our lives can be like a flower prepared for God’s garden above
While we tarry below
Let us trust and adore
Him who leads us each day
Toward the radiant shore
Where the sun never sets,
And the flowers never fade,
Where no sorrow or death
May its borders invade.
- This eternal garden is described as “the radiant shore where the sun never sets”: Rev. 21:23, 25
- It is also pictured as a place where “the flowers never fade”: Rev. 22:1-2
- And it is a place “where no sorrow or death may its borders invade”: Rev. 21:1-4
CONCL.: The chorus again emphasizes the brevity of our lives on earth.
As the life of a flower,
As a breath, or a sigh,
So the years glide away,
And alas, we must die.
Our time here is given to us by God as preparation for eternity. Since we simply do not know when the Lord will return or even when we must die, we always need to be ready and remember that our earthly existence is “As the Life of a Flower.”