1. God, who had been the sole life from eternity, is the life of all things. He did not lose His prerogative or give to others or creation what He is Himself.
2. Nothing lives without Him; nothing is. Animated nature, vegetables, nay, the very material substances, have their life, if it may be so called, their motion and activity in Him—the elements. What is called Nature, a principle of life, is from Him.
3. Moreover, the life He has given to Nature is but transient and fleeting. It is beautiful while it lasts, but it comes to an end. Nay, it is self-destructive; thus the water and the fire, which are the conservation, have been and shall be the destruction of the earth. And so growth tends to decay. It is the same process; all things grow to an end.
4. Thus this earth, as I have said, will be consumed. Thus the year, too, comes to an end—how beautiful spring, yet it doesn't last. The year runs a reckless course, like a spendthrift; it cannot help going on till it is nothing. So it is with bodily health—'dust thou art,' etc. We see it again in animals, which are sportive and playful when young, but get old and miserable and sullen. Thus in Nature the best is first.
5. Nature, then, has no immortal principle in it. All natural things run a course; and this is true of the soul, of the natural soul. The soul as it is by Nature, by original creation, has no principle of permanent life in it. The soul grows old as anything else.
6. Describe the engaging manners of the young—fascinating, light-heartedness, cheerfulness; affections warm; imagination, conversation, wit; all pain shaken off—what can be better? Why is not Nature enough? Wait awhile.
7. Wait awhile, for the soul grows old as anything else—as the leaves turn yellow, as the animal frame grows stiff, so wait on a few years, the natural soul too grows old; the beauty decays as beauty of person; the soul contracts, stiffens, hardens, instead of being supple and versatile, and elastic and vigorous; its limbs are cramped; everything is a burden; it is a fear to it to be pulled out into new positions; it cannot take pleasure in what once pleased—not in poetry or works of fiction, not in friendship; it cannot form new friends; it is bereaved [of the old ones], and does not replace them; it cannot laugh; disappointment breaks it; it cannot recover. Hence relapsing into natural imperfections (as crabbedness, ill-nature, etc.) which a man had seemed to overcome, having ever struggled against them.
8. Oh terrible! old people hard-hearted, without affections, careless of the loss of friends—not from high motives—they have no faith—virtue seems a fancy—with hearts like stone, etc.
9. Follow such a one into the next world. What is to be his happiness for eternity?—immortal, yet dead, eternal death. Life of the soul is in the affections; he has no affections—a closed heart. The devil cannot love God—vide St. Catherine of Genoa in St. Alfonso's Sermons, p. 335.
10. Such is the course of Nature in the soul as in the body. Nature ages; it has in it no principle of life. No, grace is the only principle of immortality. We must go beyond nature; we must go to something higher. Here, then, is one characteristic difference between Nature and Grace.
11. EXHORTATION, Eccles. xii. All saints have lived by love—the martyrs, confessors, etc., etc. St. Valentine , who connects us with the first age, shows that the Church has kept, not lost, her first bloom.