Seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, he found nothing but leaves.@Mark 11:13

Lucy E. Akerman, in the New York Christian Observer, circa 1858. The words were suggested by a sermon given by M. D. Conway.

Silas J. Vail (🔊 pdf nwc).

The hymn was a special favorite at the early Moody and Sankey meetings. I often sang it as a solo for Mr. Moody’s lecture on The Holy Spirit. While singing it in Birmingham a lady was convinced, as she told me afterwards, that her life had been nothing but leaves; and she then decided to devote the rest of her life to rescuing her lost sisters. She secured a building, which she called The Rescue Home, and for years she gathered in poor, wretched girls from the streets of the city, gave them employment, and taught them the way of life. Through her efforts hundreds of girls were saved. After her death the city officials took up her work, employing other women, who are still engaged in seeking the lost ones. On my last visit to England I had the pleasure of visiting this rescue home and singing for the inmates.

During the mission in 1884, writes M. C. Broadman, of Stratford, East London, the hymn ‘Nothing but leaves’ was often sung. It brought conviction to one of the stewards. He said that this song disturbed him. For years he had been a professor of religion, but with personal interest in view. He said he trusted that henceforth there would be fruit as well as leaves in his life. From that time he has been an ardent Christian worker.

Sankey, pp. 206–07

Nothing but leaves! The Spirit grieves
O’er years of wasted life;
O’er sins indulged while conscience slept,
O’er vows and promises unkept,
And reap, from years of strife—
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! No gathered sheaves
Of life’s fair rip’ning grain:
We sow our seeds; lo! tares and weeds,
Words, idle words, for earnest deeds—
Then reap, with toil and pain,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! Sad mem’ry weaves
No veil to hide the past;
And as we trace our weary way,
And count each lost and misspent day,
We sadly find at last—
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Ah, who shall thus the Master meet,
And bring but withered leaves?
Ah, who shall, at the Savior’s feet,
Before the awful judgment seat,
Lay down, for golden sheaves,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!