George Everard, 1884
You see a hot, sultry land, the burning sun overhead, and the dry, parched ground seems to crave the fertilizing rain and shower. In this sandy desert, you see the inhabitants fainting and dying for something to slake the thirst that oppresses them. Yet, strange to say, it is their own fault. Close within reach, you see a springing well of pure, fresh, sparkling water. The streams burst forth and the water flows in rich abundance. The weary traveler may come, and his parched lips may drink from this sweet well, and he may go on his way strengthened and refreshed. But a fatal blindness has closed their eyes that they cannot see it. Like Hagar in the wilderness, the well is near — but they see it not.
Though here and there one discovers it to his great joy, yet for the most part those around know nothing of the blessing that is so near at hand. So they take another course. They endeavor to obtain water for themselves. You see numbers of them taking huge pains and trouble digging out little cisterns in the clay or sand. Perchance for the moment there is a temporary reward. A few drops of water are found, but it is brackish to the taste, and very soon the cistern is cracked and the water is gone. Yet still they continue their hopeless task. If one fails, another may do better. So again and again, spade in hand, they toil on and make fresh attempts. Thus they weary themselves in vanity, until strength is exhausted, and they lie down to die.
It is the voice of our Father in Heaven that speaks to us of this: "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the Fountain of living waters — and hewed out cisterns — broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Ah, double folly! Why close your eyes to the Fountain and the River which is ever flowing, where there is more than enough for all your need? Why go to cisterns, at the best but narrow and contracted, as your portion and the source of your joy? Yes, more, are not these but "broken" cisterns — cisterns which soon have many a leak, and thus lose all they contain? Yes, more, these broken cisterns need hewing out — need much pains and labor to obtain — whereas the Fountain of Life is near, and free to all who go to it.
It is no imaginary picture. It is just the story of men everywhere, and how they act. With God is the well of life. He is the only Source of all that is holy and beautiful and good. He is the bountiful Bestower of all that can contribute to our happiness and peace. He is plenteous in mercy and His loving-kindness is beyond estimate. Yet men forsake Him who is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort — and seek their happiness where it can never be found.
Broken cisterns! How many turn to them!
Did not Eve, when she tasted of the forbidden fruit, hoping to find gratification to sight and sense and human pride, and forgetting the bitterness of the sorrow which would follow?
Did not Solomon, when he ransacked the earth for new springs of enjoyment — and when he had to confess that all was vanity and vexation of spirit?
Did not Ahab, when he was not content without Naboth's vineyard, and at length took it by deceit and cruelty?
Did not Haman, when he coveted the highest position in the Court of Shushan, and at length fell into the trap he had laid for Mordecai?
Did not Herod Agrippa, when he accepted the flattery and idolatrous homage of the men of Tyre and Sidon, and was soon after eaten by worms, because he did not give God the glory?
Broken cisterns! WHAT are they? Whatever men put in the place of God. Whatever men make their chief delight, instead of the love and favor of a Father in Heaven. Whatever men rest in and lean upon as their rock of confidence and strength — these are broken cisterns, and one day they will discover them to be altogether in vain!
Some confide in a mere human system of religion. Amaziah sought after the gods of the Edomites — and they were the ruin of him. Ahab sought after Baal — but Baal could not help him in the day of trial. Modern Romanism, and every system that follows it — is but a broken cistern, full of cracks and leaks. Boasting about the true Church, trusting in the mediation of Mary, of saints and angels, reliance upon a human priesthood, the system of the Mass, of auricular confession, of the worship of relics and images — what is all this but a religion which has no warrant from the Word of God, which God never appointed, and which He will never accept?
To do well in business and get rich, is to many people a "broken cistern." No doubt it is our bounden duty to be diligent in all our work, and to seek such a measure of prosperity as God may grant. But this is quite a different thing from making success in acquiring wealth the one aim in life. With such, to get rich is everything. It absorbs the whole life. Day and night, week after week, it engrosses the whole attention. It leaves room for nothing higher. It is the grave of every earnest Christian feeling and effort.
If prosperity comes — such people sit down among gold and bank notes and securities of property, and care little for the true gold of grace, for being rich in faith and good works, for the treasures at God's right hand.
If failure and adversity comes — they are borne down with distress and anxiety, and know not which way to look.
Such eagerness to get rich often defeats its own purpose. Here is a father who slaves all the year round in a London warehouse to lay up wealth for his family. But he is never at home. He never looks after their education. He sees but little of them, and never wins their affection — so that it turns out that their father's great riches do them but little good. Less means and more care and family affection — would have contributed far more to their real comfort and happiness. More than this, it is a course of life which, no less than gross immorality, utterly unfits a man for the heavenly home. "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs!" 1 Timothy 6:9-10
This spirit of over-anxious money-getting has a terrible power to encase a man in utter selfishness. It is customary in certain broken bones, to wrap the limb up in a cast, which gradually hardens, and then becomes so firm, that it is not easy to remove it. This is done to immobilize the limb and promote healing — but in the covetousness of which I speak, there is something very similar which becomes a very death to the soul. There is an enwrapping in selfishness and love of money which hardens and contracts the soul, and works the destruction of all higher and nobler feelings!
I shall not soon forget the words of one who had been a large employer of laborers — a fairly liberal man and a regular church-goer. When past seventy he was unable longer to go to business, and saw the end was approaching. "I have been so wrapped up in my work and in business duties, my mind has been so entirely given to it, that it is quite impossible for me to think of being fitted for the presence of a holy God!" Such was the man's feeling, and though the Word of God brought a glimmer of hope and consolation, even to the end much darkness and gloom remained.
At the best, to make the pursuit of gain as the first thing — is but a broken cistern. It cannot . . .
give comfort in the day of trouble,
relieve a guilty conscience, or
give one ray of hope in the hour of death.
With some, the "broken cistern" is simply a life of pleasure and self-indulgence. I had lately a letter which gave me great sorrow. A young lady had once very serious religious impressions; but she succeeded in casting them off, and then plunged headlong into every kind of worldly pleasure. Night after night she would go to the dance, or the play, or something of the kind — and when I wrote to her, she replied that she "was quite happy, and had no wish to trouble herself with the thought of religion."
But what is such happiness worth? How long can it last? But a little crack in the cistern — and the water is gone in a moment! A bad headache, a few days illness, an unkind remark, a slight in the ball-room — a very small thing indeed, and your imagined store of happiness takes wing and is gone.
Experience in such matters, is often the best teacher. Let us listen to the testimony of one who could speak from personal knowledge.
A few years ago a rich man with a magnificent estate, and everything that could make life desirable, was laid for months on a sick bed. In days past, without hindrance, he had gone in for all that wealth and position could afford. In Paris, in London, and elsewhere, he had been among the foremost of the world's votaries. The constant excitement of the life he led — hunting, horse-racing, the gambling-table, together with the late hours that he kept — soon told upon his constitution, and his sun went down while it was yet day.
But during the quiet months passed in his sick room, he had time for reflection. He was led to see the folly of his past course, and the wisdom of those who choose another path. Gathering together his family and his servants around his bed, he spoke a few plain words to them about the deceitfulness of the world's promises. He told them that they could never hope for greater opportunities of enjoying it than he had possessed — and with him it had been an utter failure. He then affectionately counseled them to serve the Lord, and to find their pleasure in doing His will. He had found the world a "broken cistern," and he would have those he cared for, seek their joy in a purer source.
Recently I read a short incident that tells what is this source of peace. A young lady wore a locket of blue enamel and gold around her neck. A friend asked her to let her look within. It was a secret, she said, and for the moment she refused. But she yielded to her friend's wish, and so the friend opened it and saw written in small letters, "Whom having not seen, I love."
Such is the well-spring of lasting joy. It is faith and love in the unseen Savior. It was the witness of Peter, "Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not — yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." 1 Peter 1:8
"He is with you! Your own Master,
Leading, loving to the end;
Brightening joy and lightening sorrow,
All today yet more tomorrow,
King and Savior, Lord and Friend."