The River of Life; or,
Salvation Full and Free
George Everard, 1881
The River that Makes Glad
Whence Does it Spring?
The Smitten Rock
The Windings of the River
Clear as Crystal
Full of Water
Naaman at the Jordan
The Valley Full of Ditches
The Tree Planted by the Waters
Is it for Me?
The Bright City where the River Flows
"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells!" Psalm 46:4
1. The River That Makes Glad
A lady was leaning over a bridge at Leamington, watching the fresh sparkling waters of the stream murmuring beneath. Her thoughts turned to Holy Scripture, and she uttered aloud, almost unconsciously, the words of the forty-sixth Psalm, 4th verse: "There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God." A gentleman was passing by and heard the words. Turning to her, he said very quietly, "Forgive me, but is there anything that makes glad in this world of misery?" The question led to a few earnest words in reply. The lady told from her own experience, of Him who came to save, and who alone can refresh and satisfy the weary soul. She invited the inquirer to prove for himself the blessedness of trusting in Jesus. So they parted. But the message by the bridge was a word in season, and guided a thirsty soul to Him who is the Fountain of living waters and the Wellspring of all true joy.
The lady discovered this in a remarkable way. Some years after the word spoken at the bridge, a gentleman was shown into her pew in a London church. He was quite a stranger, and a place in it being vacant, he took it. He stayed for the Holy Communion, and the lady was struck with his devout bearing. As he went away, he turned to her, opened his Bible at the forty-sixth Psalm, and, pointing to the verse she had quoted, said that he had "cause indeed to thank God for her repeating that verse on Leamington Bridge."
It may be a lesson to the Christian to make greater use of Holy Scripture. A single verse, uttered at a suitable moment and in the spirit of the Master, may prove a life-long blessing to the one who hears it. It may be God's own chosen means of leading a soul to Himself.
But I would ask you to notice the connection in which these words are found. There is something very beautiful about it.
Around the city there is trouble and distress. All seems confusion. The waters roar. The mountains shake; yes, the earth is removed. Peril and danger, foes and fears, surround the city on every hand. The heathen rage. The enemies of Zion threaten to destroy. But there is a sure defense. In spite of all, there is a safe shelter. There is One in the midst of her stronger than all who are against her. So that her inhabitants may sing a triumph song, even while the peril continues. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth is removed, and though the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. God shall help her, and that right early. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge!" (Psalm 46:1-3, 5, 7).
Here is a blessed confidence. Here is a fortress which none can invade, a strong bulwark that none can overthrow.
But there is more than this. Within the city there flows a peaceful river. If the rough waves of the mighty ocean rage and toss themselves without — a river of joy and peace and quietness flows within. So that there is not only safety, but comfort and gladness and hope. "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High" (verse 4).
Here is a sweet thought for the true children of Zion as they journey along their pilgrim way. Every year brings its sorrows and losses and trials. War does its deadly work and has had its victims. Many a home is deprived of its stay. Hard times bring many to the brink of poverty and want. Each coming year will have its troubles also, and perhaps the reader may find in them many a heavy load of care and anxiety. But if God is your refuge, if Christ is your hiding-place — then you are a citizen of the heavenly Zion, and all its privileges are yours. The God of all power and might, the faithful God, the everlasting God, the God of providence and grace — is on your side! And if God is for you — then who can be against you? You too shall have access to this river of gladness. You shall "be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of His house, and shall drink of the river of His pleasures" (Psalm 36:8).
But is there anything that makes glad, in a world of sorrow such as ours? Yes, indeed there is. True heart-gladness is provided for earth's sorrowing children. What is the spirit of true religion? What is the life God would have His children lead? Is it bondage, fear, and dread? Is it gloom, sadness, a troubled and disquieted spirit? Is it a needful drudgery to be endured to obtain rest hereafter? Nay, rather, is it not "righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit"? Has not the Master told us that "His joy shall abide in us," "that our joy may be full"?
Dangers and difficulties may thicken around, tears and troubles and temptations may lie in wait for us, we may be cast down for a season and be in heaviness through the manifold trials of life; but if we trust in Jesus, joy is on the way, yes, we have it now, as through our tears, we look up to Him who is close by to cheer and uphold us.
The note was once heard from angel lips, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Then was the glad song caught up by the heavenly choir in the noble anthem: "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and goodwill toward men." Nor has the joy ever ceased from that day to this. The shepherds heard it and rejoiced. The Virgin mother with a strange joy pondered it in her heart. Simeon and Anna in the Temple took up the strain. The wise men from the East came and carried back the exceeding joy that filled their hearts. Peter and the rest of the Apostles rejoiced in the stripes laid upon them for Christ. The Eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Paul and Silas sang hymns in the dark dungeon at Philippi. And right onward from those early Gospel days, has the gladness spread from heart to heart and from shore to shore — until now, in almost every land, there are some faithful ones in Christ, even in persecution, poverty, or pain, who can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The other day I heard a touching story of a Christian's joy. It was a young girl in the Isle of Wight, who was deprived of almost every source of comfort. She was paralyzed, blind, and unable either to hear or speak. The only way in which others could communicate with her was by writing on her cheek — and she replied by writing on a slate, in some way guiding the pencil with her mouth.
A clergyman was one day visiting her. He wanted to comfort her, yet the words must be few. So he wrote on her cheek, "Rejoice in the Lord." She immediately wrote back on the slate, "He is my only joy!"
Let me give another incident, and this from a foreign land. A Muslim lady was baptized at Amritsar, having to bear for Christ's sake, much persecution and reproach from her husband and relatives. She was beaten in the face until the blood flowed, and scarcely escaped with her life. Two weeks afterwards, a relative was trying to persuade her to go back to her former faith. "Having first drunk from a muddy well and then having found a spring of clean, fresh, sweet water — do you think I would go back to the muddy well again?"
Truly she had also been refreshed by the "River that makes glad," and therefore could no more forsake its life-giving waters.
Come, reader, and drink from this stream of Divine consolation! "O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him."
In Jehovah, as revealed to us in Christ, you may rejoice continually. The ever-blessed Spirit, the Comforter, will bring near to you the knowledge of the Father and the Son, and fill you with all joy and peace in believing. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find." Open your mouth wide, and He will fill it. And all through each coming year, drink day by day of this river which flows by your side. Ever be looking unto Jesus for the grace He is ready to bestow.
O be my rejoicing, my stronghold of love,
My aim and my end;
My glory on earth, and my glory above,
O Jesus, my Friend.
2. Whence Does it Spring?
Whence comes to us the River of Life and Joy and Salvation? It is not from any earthly source. It is not from any lofty height of human wisdom. It is not from scientific speculations, or the subtle philosophy of a cultivated intellect.
For centuries men tried in vain to find out something that would cure the ills that beset us. They strove to find out a remedy for sin and evil, but they could not. To know the better, and to follow the worse — was the highest that the natural man could reach. Nor will the efforts of men in these days prove more successful. There are those who wish to ignore or destroy Christianity, and to build up a new system upon its ruins. Secularism promises its disciples great store of earthly happiness, and would teach them that it is a wise thing to cast the old Gospel aside, and live only for this life. Could they succeed in their wild designs, it would not be long before they discovered their mistake. To the overthrow of Christianity, would assuredly follow such an outburst of immorality and ungodliness, such utter hopelessness and despair in days of trouble — as would make life intolerable.
But "Salvation is of the Lord." All true blessedness, all power for holy living, all patience and comfort in trouble, is from above. The fountain-head of this River is the throne of the Most High God. "He showed me a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev. 22:1). "How excellent is Your loving-kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Your house; and You shall make them drink of the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the Fountain of life" (Psalm 36:7-9).
It is interesting to trace the course of some mighty river which spreads far and wide its fertilizing waters, and bears on its bosom the merchandise of many a land. Some reader, perchance, has been to the quiet spot where seven springs unite their waters, and form the source of the great river on which our metropolis is built.
The Hindu will take a pilgrimage thousands of miles to the little nook among the hills of North India, from which his favorite goddess, the Ganges river, takes its rise, and then will fall low on his knee and worship.
Let us learn the lesson this would teach us. Trace to its Fountain-head, that glorious River whose streams refresh the whole Church of the Most High. Not from the hills and the mountains of this lower earth — but from the Heavenly Zion, from Him who is "the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort," from Him who is "the Giver of every good and perfect gift" comes the stream of salvation. It comes to us from the very heart of our God!
Trace up this River to the infinite wisdom of the Most High. "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" When all else are powerless to remedy earth's woes, God provides for man a great salvation which meets every need of the soul. It honors both his justice and His mercy. It brings pardon for sin, strength to the weak, and a new life of holiness to those who have fallen deep into every vice. It gives full peace to the guilty conscience, and at the same time gives the highest motive to a loving obedience to His commands.
"I want a common-sense religion!" said a man of the world, meaning by this, a religion the mere human intellect could frame. Nay, we want something far, far higher than this. We want that which is the product of Divine wisdom. We need Him in whom "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." We need the blessed mysteries of the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the mediatorial work of our great Surety. Not "in the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God" — but in the unerring wisdom of the Only Wise God, do we find the salvation on which our souls can rest.
Trace up this River to the tender love and overflowing compassion of our Father in Heaven. Oh think of the love of God which bestows salvation, and which has given to man His own well-beloved Son! "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
Here is love to the unloving, to rebels, to enemies, to the ungodly. Here is love giving its best. What better gift, what greater gift, could our Father have bestowed upon us — than His own dear Son? Here is love giving peace, reconciliation, life, through the Savior's death!
Most men are sent into the world to do some work in their life — and when this work is finished they are called away. Christ was sent to do a mighty work by His death. However important in itself, the life of our Lord was nothing — compared to the work wrought out by His death. He was born to die. He lived to die. And when He rose again, it was to carry out the work of reconciliation which by His death had been accomplished. Oh, how little men believe the love of God as seen in the death of Christ! How slow to take in all its blessedness and consolation, which it brings to the troubled heart!
Not long ago I heard a true story of a fisherman in the East of England, and the way he learned to appreciate the love of God. The servant of Christ who labored in the parish where the fisherman lived, had often tried to set God's love before him. He repeated to him many a sweet promise, and showed him some of the evidences of God's love to man. But there was always one answer. He would not believe God's love — for he had nothing but toil and trouble, poverty and hardship, in his daily life. He had few of this world's comforts, and he could see no proof of love in any of God's dealings with him. So he went on his way, week after week, year after year, murmuring and repining against God, and hardening his heart in rebellion and unbelief.
By-and-by the man lost his only son at sea. While he was fishing, a storm arose; the fishing boat went down, and the son was drowned. The clergyman went to visit the bereaved family, but he went in fear and trembling. He thought within himself, "If the man murmured before — then what will he do now?" So he went expecting to hear only hasty, bitter words, as to God's dealings with him in this great trial.
But it was just the other way. The seed sown had not been lost after all. The instruction given bore fruit when least expected. The man was softened and subdued. He burst into tears, "I believe God's love now," he said. "I know what it is to lose an only son — and I see how much God must have loved us to give up His Son to die for our sake." So out of sorrow came joy, and out of the greatest trouble of his life — there came to him the hope and consolation of God's love.
Here, then, is the one source and spring of this River of Life. It is the everlasting love of the Father in giving His dear Son for our sakes. It was the saying of a dying believer, and the last word I ever heard him utter, "How wonderful is the love of God in giving His Son for us! How wonderful is the love of Jesus in giving Himself for us!"
Oh receive this love! In simple, confiding faith-welcome this wondrous love that can fill your life with hope and gladness! As a little child, take in the sweet messages that tell of His love, and let neither unbelief nor life's cares, nor business duties, nor the world's enticements, shut up your heart against its blessed influence. The Spirit of God is ready to teach you and to make you know the love of the Father and the Son, in all its reality and power.
REMEMBER this love! Wherever your lot is cast, whatever be your circumstances — think of this love and dive deeper into its ocean depths.
Remember it in prayer.
Remember it at the Lord's Supper.
Remember it in hours of darkness.
Remember it as the one antidote to coming ill.
RETURN this love! Let your heart ever go forth in gratitude to Him who has done great things for you. "We love Him — because He first loved us." Yield up your heart to God. Let every chasm be filled with the fragrance of a Father's love!
REFLECT this love! "If God so loved us — then we ought
also to love one another." Catching the warm, sunny beams of this love from
day to day, rejoicing in all the present and everlasting benefits it confers
— let us give back to those around us as we receive from above. Let there be
. . .
active, toilsome love,
Love your fellow-Christians. Love your kindred — even when there is much in them that pains you. Love your neighbors. Love the stranger and the fatherless and the widow. Love the destitute and the ignorant at home, and the heathen afar off!
3. The Smitten Rock!
We are in the presence of a vast crowd, and we hear cries of murmuring and anger. It is a story of the desert wanderings of Israel, and the people have come to Rephidim, where there is no water for them to drink. They have forgotten past deliverances — the plagues of Egypt, the mighty overthrow of their enemies in the Red Sea, the healing of the waters of Marah — and now they believe not in God's help, and are full of rage against His faithful servant Moses. They chide with him, and are almost ready to stone him. They lay it to his charge, that he has brought them up out of Egypt, and that he will kill them and their cattle with thirst.
In his distress Moses turns to the Lord, and puts the whole matter into His hand. Soon comes the promise of help; for no man ever seeks His Face in vain. The Lord Himself will stand by His servant on the rock in Horeb. He is bidden to take the rod with which he had smitten the river, and smiting the rock, water shall flow forth.
Thus again mercy conquered. When the sin of the people might justly have exposed them to God's wrath, He opens wide His hand and supplies all their needs. The rock is smitten, and streams of water burst forth. The thirsty multitude drink and are refreshed — and from that rock flows a river that henceforth tracks their footsteps through many a dreary stage of their wilderness journey!
Another proof is given them of God's patience and longsuffering. Truly is He "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." In the coming centuries of Israel's history, ever was this day remembered as one calling for gratitude and praise. "He split the rock in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers" (Psalm 88:15, 16).
Fifteen hundred years have passed, and we see another crowd. It was the joyous Feast of Tabernacles, and the last and greatest day of all. Great was the joy, loud the cheerful shoutings of the multitudes at the solemn moment when the priest brought forth in golden vessels, the water from the pool of Siloam, and poured it upon the altar. Then trumpets were sounded, and the words of the prophet were sung, "With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation!" So great was the joy that it used to be said, "Whoever had not witnessed it, had never seen joy at all."
Then a voice was heard which was to reach the very ends of the earth. He who came to redeem and save, proclaims Himself to be the wellspring of all true joy. He speaks to every weary, longing heart. He gives a promise of other water than that which had flowed in Horeb, or that which had just been poured forth on the altar. "Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts — let him come unto Me and drink. He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water!" (John 7:37,38).
Blessed words! Words of life and hope for every man! They reach to every land, they call to every soul that needs peace and consolation. We know not who in that crowd heard and received the message. Was it some among the officers who marveled at His words? Was it some stricken, guilty one, whose conscience was awakened, and who was craving some balm of healing, some hope of pardon? Was it even one of the priests or Pharisees, who in later days joined the company of Christ's disciples? We know not. But this we know, the voice still speaks to us out of the Book of God, and everlasting salvation and unchanging satisfaction is the portion of all who humbly believe and obey.
"Yes, whoever will,
Oh, let him freely come,
And freely drink the stream of life;
'Tis Jesus bids him come."
But a short time more passes by, and we see another crowd. It is not now a festal scene, one of joy and gladness — but an hour of unspeakable sorrow. The Friend of sinners hangs upon the tree. He has borne the bitter curse which sin deserved. He has drunk to the dregs, that cup of woe which the Father for our sake had put into His hand. He has paid to the last farthing, the debt of human guilt. All is done. The work is accomplished. The voices from the cross have gone forth and now are silent. The prayer for His murderers has been recorded on high. The malefactor has found a welcome, even at the eleventh hour. His mother has gone home to the house of John. Infinite love and patient compassion, has been shown both to friend and foe. Salvation has been wrought out. The great enemy has been spoiled of his prey. And by virtue of His death, the whole Church has been redeemed and saved.
Yet one thing remains before the sinless body of that Holy One shall rest for a short season in Joseph's tomb. The soldiers inquire if He is dead indeed. When they know it, the last prophecy is fulfilled. No bone is broken, but the spear is uplifted, the Redeemer's side is pierced, and "forthwith comes out blood and water."
Ah, blessed stream for the purification of defiled, sinful souls! The blood is shed. For "without shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin," and the precious blood of the Lamb of God "cleanses from all sin." The water flows side by side; for we need no less the living water — the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, to purify our hearts and to make us fit for the heavenly inheritance.
These three scenes are yet one! The first separated
by long ages from the second and the third — and yet, seen in the
looking-glass of the Gospel,
all pointing in the same direction,
all telling out the same glorious truth,
all inviting and calling us to the same Savior,
all reminding of the channel in which flows the River of Life for dying, perishing souls! For that River of Life, given to us by the free and tender love of our Father in Heaven, comes to us only from a smitten, crucified Savior!
Would you drink and be satisfied? Come to your Savior! Rest nowhere else. Be not content with Bible-reading, church-going, seasons of prayer and Holy Communion, but in all and beyond all come in your heart straight to your Savior, and receive from Him the grace that is needful.
Come to the great Rock! Take shelter within its clefts. Abide beneath its shadow. Drink freely from the blessed stream that ever issues from its recesses. Here is all that you can need. Pardon for the past, life and grace for days to come — all is yours if you stoop down and drink and live!
And doubt not for a moment that the blessing is for you. "If any man thirsts," said Christ, "let him come to Me and drink." You long for true peace and rest, you desire some spring of comfort and hope that will not fail you — therefore come. It is for all such, and there is no exception.
The wanderer is welcome.
The sinner is bidden to come near.
The backslider may find healing and new life.
Only come — and you shall receive abundantly to the everlasting joy and salvation of your soul.
4. The Windings of the River
The Word of God is a glorious circle, coming back in some sense to the place from which it starts. It begins in Paradise, and shows to us man created in the image of God. It tells of the Fall, and traces the downward course of man's increasing iniquity. It tells of the Flood, by which God manifested His sore displeasure against sin. It goes on to reveal the bitter fruits of rebellion and disobedience experienced age after age. It also speaks of that "goodly fellowship of the prophets" whom God raised up to warn men against sin and to call them to a nobler life. At length we read of the Great Redeemer who came to destroy the works of the devil and to bring in everlasting righteousness. Carrying us through the conflicts of the early Church, it leaves the child of God at last in the celestial city, where a Father's hand wipes away the tear from every eye, and where there is "no more crying nor pain nor sorrow nor death."
And it is interesting to notice how the images of the first book appear again in the last. In both you have the Tree of Life, the source of perpetual vigor and health to those who partake of it. In both you have reference to a River, giving forth its abundant streams to water the earth, and from which the thirsty may drink and be refreshed.
A fact named in Genesis as to the river which flowed from
Eden, may suggest a useful lesson. From its original spring it had its four
divisions, and these four rivers had their separate names.
The river Pishon compassed the land of Havilah,
and Gihon compassed the whole land of Ethiopia,
while Tigris went forth to the East of Assyria, and
the great river Euphrates watered the plains of Mesopotamia.
Thus we may be reminded that the River of God goes forth into all regions, and its life-giving streams reach every quarter of the globe. It is alike suited for all the families of the earth. It meets the need of Jew and Gentile, of the civilized European and the wild savage of the prairie. It is the common heritage of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues. And if from time to time those are discovered in far-off lands who seem ignorant of the very least elements of truth, yet "the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." Tasting of the waters of this River of Life, their eyes are enlightened to see those things which belong to their eternal peace.
Some years ago a tribe of wild men from the hills of Travancore, clothed in the leaves of their native forest, came to seek instruction from a Missionary of the Church Missionary Society. They were very ignorant. They seemed scarcely to know that there was a supreme Being. But the servant of Christ taught them out of the Word. "Our Father in Heaven," was his first lesson. And from that stepping-stone he led them onwards, as they were able to bear it, until at length he was able to baptize them "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Let us learn our privilege and our bounden duty. We must leave none without the knowledge of Christ. We must carry everywhere the good news of salvation. First drinking ourselves of the Living Water — we must then call on men everywhere to share the same rich blessing. We must give our warmest sympathies, our money, our prayers, our influence, and, if God call us to it, our personal service in the great mission field of the world. We must obey the Savior's own command. Just before He left our earth, as He beheld its hills and valleys, its open plains and crowded cities, He spoke the word which ought never to be forgotten: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature."
But we may gather another thought from "the windings of the River." I remember some years ago standing on the hill of Perth and noticing the remarkable turnings of the river Tay. In a very curious way it has made a channel for itself, sometimes going straight in one direction and then making a sharp bend and almost coming back to some former part of its course.
How very strange and unlikely, to our view, are the windings hither and thither of the River of which I am speaking! It flows for a season through whole continents, and then by-and-by the channel is dry, and it bursts forth in other lands where before it had not been known. It often takes a direction where you would never have looked for it. Go to Asia Minor and Greece and cities scattered over the ancient world, where flourishing Churches were once established — and now you find them almost entirely destitute of the saving knowledge of Christ. Take Rome, once the seat of so much faith and zeal, and to which the Apostle wrote his Epistle on Justification by faith — now spiritual darkness and superstition have taken up their abode within it. On the other hand, continents and islands, then without the least knowledge of God, where heathenism reigned without a rival, as our own beloved England, are now illuminated with Gospel light, and thousands of humble, joyful believers drink freely of the fount of life and salvation.
So likewise is it with individuals. Often do we find that those once the nearest, in the end are found furthest from God. Those who have long heard the joyful sound, and have been brought up amidst Christian privileges — reject the message and die hardened in unbelief and sin. While we find others who have had few opportunities and have everything against them, yet coming near to the River and drinking abundantly of its life-giving stream. Little should we have expected that Matthew the Publican should have so readily left his money-bags and followed Christ; or that the immoral woman of the city should have bathed His feet with tears; or the dying thief confessed Him on the cross; or that Saul the Pharisee should have become Paul the Apostle; or that Onesimus, the runaway slave, should have become a brother in Christ to the Apostle in bonds. Truly, "The wind blows where it wills;" and the blessed Spirit works mightily among those once furthest removed from the kingdom of God.
Let us give an example of the same truth from our own times. A young man is brought up without the least regard to the fear of God. At the age of sixteen he has never seen the inside of a church or had the least instruction in Christian truth. He then joins the army, and plunges into all the sin and dissipation common to such a position. But God has His eye on the young man, and by a way we never could have surmised, brings him to Himself.
A cousin in the same regiment, at this time serving abroad, is cut off by a sudden attack of sickness, and on his dying bed gives him his Bible for a keepsake. At quiet moments he takes up the Book, which was quite new to him; and its blessed words of truth and love touch his heart and awaken in him the desire for a holy life. Without any help or guidance but from the Word, he continues groping his way and seeing but little except his exceeding sinfulness. By-and-by the regiment goes to Canada, and a faithful gospel preacher gives him further help on his way to Zion. After a time he clearly grasped the truth; and during the remainder of his life, as a clergyman, he taught many the way of life and greatly assisted the children of God by his deep experience of spiritual things. Who would have expected to find in the careless young officer, the one who in later days was to be so greatly owned of God?
Never, never despair of anyone! Only believe in the mighty power of Divine Grace! Only pray earnestly and do what lies in you — and the wanderer may yet be brought near. Perhaps through a few lines you have written to such a one, perhaps through a word quietly spoken on a Sunday evening, or through a book or leaflet given — another soul may be won for Christ, and another pilgrim drink with you of the quiet waters of the River of Life.
Another thought here. There are times when the River winds very near to us. It comes close to the sinner, and seems to invite him to stoop down and drink. The opportunity is favorable. The Word is made very plain. The conscience is tender. The Spirit is striving. Perhaps it is a Mission season, and many are turning to the Lord, and the hitherto careless one is convinced that no time is to be lost. Blessed are those who seize the moment before it flies! Blessed are those who know the time of their visitation!
A schoolmaster had lately buried his wife, who had been brought to the grave by his own unfeeling conduct. His sin lay heavy upon his heart, and followed him day and night, disturbing his rest and destroying his health. Wretched in mind, broken down in constitution, the man was weary of life, and knew not where to look for comfort or hope. Then comes to him a word of peace. He was on a visit to a friend in the North of England, and came to a Mission service conducted by the writer of these pages. He heard an address on Psalm 46:4, "The River of Life;" and, as he heard, hope arose in that dark and cheerless heart. He gladly accepted the free pardon that is offered in Christ's Name, and learned moreover something of the sympathy of Christ as the "Brother born for adversity." He went forth as a new man to witness for Christ. Within the eighteen months that elapsed before his death, he gave away many Christian books, and spoke to many as to that which the Lord had done for him. He prayed earnestly for the conversion of an aged mother, and was the instrument of leading her to the Savior. At length he died, trusting only in Jesus and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.
5. Clear as Crystal
In the book of Exodus we read of the bitter waters of Marah. In Ezekiel, we read of the water which had been befouled by the feet of the flock. In the Epistle of James, we read of salt water, which cannot spring from the same fountain as the fresh. But in the description given of the River of Life by John, we read of it as "a pure river of the water of life, as clear as crystal."
In these waters there is nothing defiling, nothing polluted, nothing unclean. The River flows on ever sweet and fresh, and refreshing to all who drink of it. Like Him from whom it comes to us, it is holy, pure, and good. The water is pure, "as clear as crystal."
We may learn here that all the revelations of God's Word, and all the doctrines of the glorious Gospel of Christ — are pure, unsullied truth. There is no mixture of that which is false or doubtful.
Its facts are true.
Its histories are true.
Its miracles are true.
Its teachings as to sin and God and the way of life are true.
Its warnings and promises and hopes are true.
None will deceive or disappoint us. They will stand firm in the day when the fire shall try all things. "The words of the Lord are pure words — as silver tried in a furnace of fire, purified seven times." "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." "Your word is very pure — therefore your servant loves it." Yes, "every word of God is pure!" (See Psalm 12:6, 19:8, 119:140; Proverbs 30:5.)
The Lord Jesus set His broad seal on the truth of the Old Testament when He solemnly declared, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). In the New Testament the special presence of the Holy Spirit with the Apostles is a pledge of the truth of that which they wrote.
What a proof of the truth of the Gospel is seen in the life of Christ! Nothing but the Divine reality could ever have given us such a wonderful narrative. For sinful man to have imagined a life so infinitely holy; for selfish man to have given a life so brimful of love in every word and deed; for man warped by prejudice, tied by the chains of Jewish habit and feeling, to have given us a life so broad in its sympathies, so fitted to be a pattern in every country and in every age — is indeed a miracle too great to be believed. Only truth, bare, naked truth, could possibly have given us the character and life of Christ as set before us in the four Gospels.
In another way we may gain a strong assurance that Holy Scripture is indeed the inspired truth of God.
It fully meets the moral and spiritual needs of man.
It reveals and remedies every form of sin.
It detects the most subtle mischief working in the heart.
It relieves the sin-burdened conscience.
It teaches man to live soberly, righteously, and godly in an evil world.
It tells the secret of victory over every evil habit and besetting snare.
Moreover, it reaches every phase of human sorrow. The body, worn by wearying pains; the mind, oppressed by various ills, by loneliness and solitude, the empty chair, the diminished income, business in low water, the stern unfeeling husband or parent, the sentence of death already passed through some terrible disease, a bitter disappointment that turns life into a dreary desert — for every such trial or sorrow or difficulty — some appropriate consolation is provided, some precious promise, some assurance of God's tender care and faithfulness, will bring home a thought of help, and afford light in the darkest hour.
Does not this mightily confirm our faith that this Word is indeed the Word of truth? Who but He who knows all the hearts of all men could provide a remedy for every sin and sorrow and care?
But another lesson may be learned from the crystal purity of the water of life. The glorious Gospel of the grace of God brings nothing but good wherever it is received. It is only beneficial. It contains no injurious element. It has nothing defective and nothing superfluous. The stern denunciations of sin, the declaration of eternal judgment against those who reject God's mercy, the terrors of the law, the mysterious doctrine of God's sovereignty, as well as every precious promise and invitation and encouragement — all alike are profitable and helpful when rightly understood as revealed in the Word. Nothing is to be added, nothing is to be cut out, for it is all given by the same authority, and is for the instruction and edification of the whole Church.
Wherever the Word of God is received in its integrity, and the message of the Gospel believed — blessings of every kind follow in its train. Since righteousness exalts a nation, the Word that teaches men to "live soberly, righteously, and godly in this evil world" must promote the welfare and prosperity of the land in which it takes root. The more it prevails, it must check strife and envy and every kind of sin, and lead to truth, justice, self-denial, and tender charity toward those around.
Especially in home-life do we see the benefits of genuine, practical godliness. Nowhere do we see more plainly the truth of the saying that "godliness has the promise of this life as well as that which is to come," and that "godliness with contentment is great gain."
Ten thousand homes there are in England where the lack of right principle and the blight of some sin have withered all the joy and comfort, and made a little Hell of that which might have been a little paradise. On the other hand, where true religion springs up, it is marvelous the change which is speedily wrought.
I will tell my readers a true story. There was once a home where poverty and rags and every evil thing made their abode, for the father was an alcoholic. One Sunday morning the father was passing the door of a Christian man, and heard him reading aloud Isaiah 5. He was struck with the words, "Woe unto those who rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink!" It was a picture of the man's own life, and it went right home to his conscience. He went in and spoke to the man, and afterwards went with him to church. The text was singularly appropriate: "Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters!" Thirsty he was through his drinking habits, and as soon as the service was over went and drank water from a fountain near. The very fact of his doing so made him think of the living water which alone could quench the thirst of his soul.
Of this living water, he learned to drink. He found a far better and happier life than the one he had hitherto been leading. The change reached the whole household. The wife and children were led to the Savior, and before a year had passed, the grandfather, an old man of eighty, who had sunk into the lowest depths of ungodliness, was likewise reclaimed, and brought to the Savior's feet.
Within the home, all was now changed. Everything was new. Filth and rags and frequent lack of food, with oaths, cursing, and strife, were banished and cast out. The family altar was raised, the voice of prayer and praise often heard, and peace and unity and love filled the dwelling with the fragrance of a better home. "Jehovah Shammah" — "The Lord is there" — might well have been written on the door. "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but He blesses the habitation of the just."
Yes, the waters of the River are indeed "pure, as clear as crystal." May every reader drink of them abundantly! Turn away from the poisoned streams of infidelity and error and superstition and sin. Turn away from the muddy streams of self-indulgence, and the world's pleasures, and the love of money, which is a root of all evil — and drink continually of these refreshing waters of the great River!
6. Full of Water
Free and inexhaustible, is the bounty of God in Providence. "He opens His hand, and fills all things living with plenteousness." He prepares the soil for the fruitful seed. He waters the ridges abundantly with the early and the latter rain. He sets the furrows and makes them soft with showers. "He greatly enriches it with the river of God which is full of water." Thus the year is crowned with goodness, and His paths drop fatness. Psalm 65:9-11.
But in these words we may find not only a view of God's goodness in Providence — but the exceeding riches of His grace. The River of salvation flowing down from His throne of love, issuing from the pierced side of the crucified Redeemer — this River, pure, clear as crystal, is also "full of water." It enriches the whole world. It would otherwise be a barren waste desert. Poor and wretched indeed would be man's condition without it. Whence could arise a sure hope that could refresh the soul and animate the heart in times of trouble? Where could we flee in days of sorrow or suffering? What would be our prospect when all things here fade and wither and die?
But the River of life, the salvation of God in Christ, makes man rich indeed! Those who receive it are "greatly enriched." They are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. They have a life hid with Christ in God. They have a secret spring of joy that the world cannot destroy. Like a besieged city having an underground conduit of fresh water from the neighboring hills, which the enemy can neither discover nor stop — so the people of God have a source of supply which no foe can reach.
They have thus, even now, an pledge and foretaste of good things to come, and by and by "an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away."
This River of life is "full of water." It can never run short. It can never fail in supplying all who come to it. There is enough and to spare for all mankind, if only they would "stoop down and drink and live." There is a sufficiency for the utmost extremity of the most sinful or unhappy men; and if with one consent all the members of the human family would turn to the Lord, they might be filled with all the grace and consolation that they need.
This feature of rich abundance is brought out perpetually in Holy Scripture. There is no lack, no stint in God. We are not straitened in Him, but in ourselves, in our low desires, in our weak faith, in our limited expectations. Only take a few of the expressions which indicate the exhaustless fullness of His grace.
"The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin!" (Exod. 34:6, 7).
"Let him return unto our God, for He will abundantly pardon!" (Is. 55:7).
"Abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness."
"Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:17-21).
"The unsearchable riches of Christ!" (Ephesians 3:8).
"That you might be filled with all the fullness of God."
"Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:19, 20).
Such passages as these might be greatly multiplied. A God of infinite love and bounty, can give with no slack hand. His grace is beyond all our conceptions. The river Jordan overflowed its banks for a short time in the year; but this River is ever the same all the year through, and all the years of our life. The Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him, both to the sinner first seeking Him, and to the believer who has long trusted in Him — He "gives more than we desire or deserve."
Let this give an answer to those who stand on the brink of this River and yet fear to partake of its life-giving waters.
Several times the following advertisement appeared in the second column of the London papers: "Ravenspring. Bright the clear water ever flows, limpid, fresh, and free. Drink, drink, and live." I imagine these words must have been intended as a loving call to some poor wanderer. If these lines should be read by one such, by one whose soul is ill at ease, longing for a better life than the world can give — I would address them to you. Come, come, partake of free, abounding mercy! Come, turn from the wilderness of sin, from the disappointing pursuits of empty pleasure — and taste of the still waters of a Savior's abounding grace.
"Nay, I am too sinful and unworthy, I am too wretched and undone. I have nothing to bring but a life stained with evil. Salvation is not for a wretched sinner like me." Is this your cry? But remember, "the River is full," salvation is free. Whoever will, may come — and none shall be sent empty away. Oh! doubt not, question not, the freeness or the abundance of God's pardoning mercy. For Christ's sake it is offered to you, to all. It far overtops all your sins, as the waters of the flood reached above the summit of the highest mountains. It has never failed a soul that has depended upon it. Christ never rejected any, and He never will. Therefore trust in Christ, and be not afraid. There are none too vile or loathsome, for the Savior's grace!
But perhaps your hindrance is not so much the greatness of your sin, as your lack of every good and right disposition, which you think would make you acceptable in God's sight. It seems to you, that you do not possess one thing which you know to be necessary in the Christian life — no true sorrow or deep repentance for sin, no power to overcome temptation, no earnestness and perseverance in prayer, no warm, hearty love to the Savior — nothing of all this seems to be your own. You fall short of everything, and are well-near ready to despair.
But suppose this all true, what then? Will you bemoan your sad condition, that your vessel is empty — when the full River is flowing at your feet? If you fear there is no grace in you — is not this the more reason you should hasten to Him who is full of grace and truth? For whom is this, but for those who are most lacking? Is it not written, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven"? And who are these, but such as know that they are short of everything that they would gladly possess?
Be assured, none are more welcome than you. Your exceeding need shall be no barrier to your acceptance — it shall only open the way for the exceeding riches of His grace. At once, without anything of your own, He freely justifies you in His righteousness. The rest He will supply in wisdom and faithfulness as He sees best. He will give the broken and the contrite heart. He will give the spirit of grace and supplication. He will give you grace to love Him, and strength to overcome all temptation. Only believe, only come in faith and prayer, and He shall give you more than you ask or think.
One other lesson I should like to leave with you. If the River of God is full of water, why should you be content with so little? Why should you be satisfied with a few drops — when you might have a large vessel filled, and that continually? You remember when Elisha increased the widow's oil, it only stopped when there were no more vessels. Therefore bring your vessels, not a few nor small. Open your mouth wide. Expect great things. Take large draughts of the living water. Be not content with little faith, a wavering hope, a feeble love — when you might abound in every grace.
Take firm hold of that word of Christ, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly!" (John 10:10).
"Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full."
"Eat, O friends, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved!"
"Infinite fullness, Lord, is Thine,
A vast, unfathomed sea;
A fullness like Yourself Divine
That lasts eternally!
"Fullness of light and life and love,
Fullness of truth and grace;
Fullness of blessing from above,
For every age and race.
"Your fullness, Lord, is the one spring
Of all the good in me;
Grace upon grace my soul does bring
Continually from Thee.
"But from the vastness of Your love
I crave a larger store,
With all the fullness of our God
Lord, fill me evermore!"
6. Naaman at the Jordan
Very frequently in Holy Scripture, do we get glimpses of the River of God's salvation. In the Psalms and in the Prophets, we have frequent allusions to it. No less do we find it in the historical books. In Genesis we gather instruction from the windings of the river which went forth from Eden. In Exodus we have the river flowing from the rock in Horeb, and following Israel through the wilderness. And later down the stream of time, we find, in the Book of Kings, at least, very profitable illustrations of the preciousness of the river, and of the means by which the soul partakes of the benefit it brings. The story of Naaman at the Jordan is one of these. It gives us a lifelike picture of a sinner's salvation, and the way in which it is obtained.
Let us glance for a while at the incident given to us, and then how it applies to the subject which we are treating.
Jordan was but a little stream, as it made its way along its narrow, rocky, broken channel. It was nothing in comparison of the noble rivers that watered the plains of Damascus. Yet He who chooses the weak things and the lowly things to fulfill His mighty purposes of love — chose the Jordan to be the scene of a remarkable miracle. We have often heard the story, and we need but briefly to recall it to our memory.
Naaman was a great and honorable man — but he was a leper. Taught by the little captive maid, he came far to seek a cure. But when close at hand he nearly missed it. First he went to the wrong door. He brought the letter of the king of Syria to the king of Israel. But the king could give him no help. He could but rend his clothes and declare his inability to do anything that the king of Syria desired. By and by Elisha hears of it. He sends for the Syrian, and promises a cure.
And now we see Naaman failing again. He goes now to the right door, but he goes in the wrong spirit. With horses and chariot, as a great captain, he stood by Elisha's door, and looked for much honor to have been shown him. He had his own ideas of the way in which the cure was to be affected. He had expected that the prophet would at once come out to him, and by a word and a movement of his hand, the leprosy would be removed.
But in this again he receives a rude shock. A servant, not the prophet, comes to speak with him. Nor was the message one to his taste. It was a very humbling one. Naaman must lay aside his state and grandeur — he must leave his robes behind, and come forth from his chariot, and go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. But his pride rebels. He did not expect this. He despises Jordan, and has no wish to try its waters. Some other remedy would suit him better. So he turns and goes away in a rage.
But after all, he proves wiser in the end than at first. His servants are good counselors. They know their master's desire for healing. They know his readiness to give anything, or to do the hardest task, if only he might gain the benefit. So they gently reason with him, and persuade him to do the prophet's bidding. At length he yields. He takes off his outer apparel, he goes down to the Jordan, and seven times washes himself in the little stream.
He is abundantly rewarded. The plague is gone. Health is restored. His flesh is again as the flesh of a little child, and he is fully healed. Humbled and instructed, and filled with gratitude, he goes back to his country a worshiper of the God of Israel. To no other God but Jehovah, would he henceforth offer sacrifice and burnt-offering.
The whole story is full of the marrow of gospel truth. It tells of sin — and it tells of the perfect remedy provided for it.
"A leper!" A sinner! The one corresponds to the other. In several points we may easily trace the analogy. In leprosy there was defilement. The disease was loathsome and painful to a high degree. The face was often so marred, that its features could scarcely be discerned. After a while, wounds and bruises and putrefying sores covered the body.
Thus is sin above all things defiling to the soul. "How filthy and abominable is man!" "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."
Evil lusts and passions,
malice and envy,
intemperance and licentiousness,
selfishness and self-will,
the spirit of pride and worldliness and covetousness,
an unloving and ungrateful heart toward the Great Father who has made and provides for us
— how these things defile the soul made in His own image, and whose highest joy and privilege it ought to be to love and serve Him perpetually!
In the leprosy there was constant progress of the disease. It rapidly spread and increased. That which was at first but a single spot, before long caused the decay of the part on which it appeared. It passed from limb to limb, until the whole body was affected by it!
Thus sin advances and grows. The act of sin becomes the habit of sin. The habit soon becomes a second nature. One sin leads on to another, and this to some further evil. The conscience becomes hardened. The will is more set on that which is contrary to God's law. The one who at first yields with reluctance to temptation — becomes in turn the tempter of others. By and by every better feeling, every striving of the Spirit, is quenched. Thus it happens that" wicked men and seducers wax worse and worse." They go to greater lengths than formerly. They sin on without compunction and without restraint.
Another point is important. By the Levitical law the leper was separated from others. He must dwell alone. Even king Uzziah, when smitten with the disease, lived apart from others. He who had the disease, even in its hidden form, was shut out from the temple and the synagogue.
Just so does sin separate. The sinner cannot have fellowship with a holy God, with the holy angels, or with the true saints of the Most High. A man yet in his sin, unpardoned, unchanged — cannot be at home among those who fear and love God. He cannot offer true worship. In eternity, the separation will be final and complete. Far from the better Home, far from the heavenly City — he will be compelled to share the abode of darkness and despair. He must obey the solemn command, "Then He will say to those on His left: Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!" Matthew 25:41
Then we must remember leprosy had its outcome in death. No human power could provide a cure. It passed from one stage to another, until a painful death usually closed the leper's course.
Thus, too, with sin. "The soul that sins — it shall die." "Sin when it is finished, brings forth death." "The wages of sin is death" — and it is an undying death. It is not annihilation. It is not an eternal sleep. It is "the worm that never dies, and the fire that is never quenched." It is the soul wrapped in the winding sheet of its own sins — to be forever its sorrow and its torment. Alas, for him who dies in sin! Alas, for him who rejects the mercy that alone can save! "It would have been better for that man, if he had never been born!"
But there is a River of healing and salvation. There is a stream to which you can go and be cleansed and forgiven, yes, and be made perfectly whole. Despised and scorned by many, like the Jordan by Naaman, yet there is a river of mercy and grace by which you may be rid of every plague-spot of evil, and be made fit for the inheritance of the saints in light.
Beware of going to the wrong door. You must not place confidence in anyone, but the true Prophet, Jesus. You must not go to self, or Moses, or trust in your privileges or Church membership. You must go to Christ and hearken to His voice, and meekly obey His life-giving precepts.
Beware also of going in a wrong spirit. You must lay aside all pride and prejudice. You must cast away all confidence in your own ideas about religion, and simply abide in the teaching of Christ. You must utterly renounce your own good works, and right feelings, and moral character — as any ground of acceptance. Come down from your high chariot. Throw away your garments of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Go and plunge into the precious flood which burst forth from your Redeemer's side! Go near in humility and faith. "Wash, and be clean!"
It is no great thing or hard thing the Lord bids you do.
Only acknowledge your iniquity.
Only confess before Him the evil that is in you.
Only plead the blood shed for sinners on the cross.
Come thus, and you shall assuredly be cleansed and forgiven and saved.
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Your cross I cling;
Naked, come to You for dress,
Helpless, look to You for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die!"
Some years ago I remember hearing the story of his conversion from the lips of a young man. His regiment was stationed at a town or village in North India. He had long been accustomed to read the Scriptures, and the more he read, the more he was troubled in the remembrance of his sin. But he heard of a faithful missionary living some sixty miles distant, who was ever ready to counsel and help any who sought his aid. So he mounted his horse and rode over hill and dale until he reached the missionary's lonely bungalow. He told the cause of his anxiety, and was pointed to a well-known text (1 John 1:7), "The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin."
"Is that all?" was the question put.
"Yes, that is all; you have only to trust simply in the blood of Christ, and you shall be forgiven."
The message was enough. The young man found what he had long wanted. He rode back to his station, all the way rejoicing in the Savior's atoning blood.
One other thought you must not forget. "Wash seven times." Go again and again to the same precious blood. You need daily cleansing, daily forgiveness. Faults and failings and shortcomings and neglects, as well as greater sins, continually are apt to turn us aside, and whenever there is the very least deviation from the right path, there needs pardoning mercy. And it is ever to be found in the Savior's blood. It is always at hand, and never can we seek it in vain.
8. The Valley Full of Ditches
"This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches. For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink." 2 Kings 3:16-17
In many of these articles, we learn something of the
varied excellencies of the River of which we speak. We have learned
something . . .
of its heavenly origin,
of its fullness,
of the crystal purity and
of healing properties of its waters.
But it is equally important to know what is that faith which gains the blessing. In this view, there is a narrative in 2 Kings 3 that may help us. It may instruct us how best, for ourselves and likewise for others, we may receive large supplies of the living water, and spread far and wide its refreshing and fertilizing influences.
The three kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom joined together to fight against the king of Moab. They advance with the army through the wilderness of Edom, but soon are in a great strait. They find no water for their soldiers to drink. It seems likely to prove utter ruin, and that the whole army will perish for thirst.
Elisha is near the camp, so they seek him out and ask his counsel. Because he has regard to Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah, Elisha seeks direction from above. A minstrel plays, and the hand of the Lord is upon him. Then comes the word of promise and of hope. All around is dry and parched, neither is there any sign of change. But they are bidden to make the valley full of ditches. They shall see neither wind nor rain — nevertheless, very shortly, shall there be abundance of water. The whole valley shall be filled with it; therefore they must be prepared. They must make channels so as to keep it when it comes.
They fulfilled the command, nor were they disappointed in the result. The next morning the promised blessing was granted. Probably the rain had fallen plenteously on the distant hills of Edom, and overflowing its usual courses, had come and filled the country. Themselves, their animals, and their cattle could drink to the full. They had enough and to spare for every need.
But more than this, the water which brought life to them — wrought destruction to their enemies. The sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw it as red as blood. So it gave them a false impression. They imagined that the three kings had fought one with another, and that the water was stained with the blood of their armies. Heedlessly they came on to take the spoil. Thus they fell into the hand of their enemies, and Moab was utterly defeated.
In this story we may learn a lesson of faith. It is written: "According to your faith, be it unto you." Hence, whatever may instruct us as to its character, or assist us in its exercise, will not be in vain.
1. Here is faith above sight, yes, altogether against sight and present appearances.
Everything looked dark and hopeless. All around was parched with drought. The land was a desert. There was no cloud or wind or sign of rain. The soldiers were murmuring. The kings were fearing. The enemy was rejoicing.
Yet they believed God's promise when given to them. Though seeing nothing but the sandy wilderness, and knowing not how it could come to pass — they took God at His word and acted upon it. The God of truth would never deceive them.
Thus also must we believe and act. The prospect around may be discouraging. Our own hearts may seem dry and barren; those in our home may disappoint our desires and prayers for them; in the Church and the world, deadness and spiritual drought may prevail; but in spite of all, we must take the promise and plead it with God. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall rejoice — the desert shall bloom and blossom as the rose!" "The dry land shall become pools of water," and souls shall be refreshed with showers from on high. Thus we must have hope in God, and not despair. "He who believes shall not make haste."
2. Here was working faith.
We can almost imagine we see the soldiers at their unaccustomed toil. They lay aside the sword and the shield; they take the spade and begin to dig. Hard at work, they soon make many a wide trench and ditch, until their strength is well-near exhausted.
Just so, true faith is soon at work. It "works by love." It leaves not men idle and slothful and negligent. It permits them not to slumber or sleep. No, it stirs them up to holy activity and diligence. It gives them the very highest motives, in the love of Christ and in the hope of the kingdom — and thus quickens their efforts to do the work and the will of God. Look at Hebrews 11. It is the record of faith — but what a record also of wonderful toils, labors, conflicts, sufferings cheerfully undergone, through the power of the faith which they possessed.
True, there is a dead, worthless faith, which only increases a man's condemnation. The faith of God's elect, the faith that saves — is full of energy and zeal. Good works spring out necessarily of a true and living faith, insomuch as that by them a living faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by the fruit.
3. Here was faith making channels of blessing.
They could not themselves procure one drop of rain or water. They could not summon the clouds to arise and empty themselves on the thirsty soil. But they could prepare to receive that which God promised to give. They could cut deep furrows all across the valley. They could provide room for the blessing when it came.
Thus God bids men act with respect to the water of life. Make room for it. Dig the ditch — and dig it deep and wide.
Give yourself to the study of the Word. Seek to be well acquainted with its precepts and promises, its doctrines and examples.
Make time for prayer. Make an effort to go where you are likely to get good to your soul. In doing this, you are making the ditch which God will undoubtedly fill.
With respect to others also, make channels where God's grace may run. If you are a parent — then train up your children in the fear and love of God. Let them be instructed in all necessary truth. Teach them to form good habits. Enlighten their consciences in the knowledge of right and wrong. Let there be a wholesome pattern of godly living in the home. Thus you are digging the ditch, and sooner or later you may believe that the Spirit will come into their hearts, and they will prove faithful followers of the Lord Jesus.
In other ways, too, Christians may dig the ditch and
prepare the way of the Lord.
providing money to support faithful pastors,
gathering young people in Bible classes,
giving or lending Christian books and tracts,
speaking a word in season where you can,
supporting Bible and Missionary Societies,
taking care of the fatherless and the orphans
— what is all this but making channels, cutting watercourses by which the River of life may reach the desert places, and make them flourish with the fruits of righteousness?
4. Here was faith looking up and expecting the gift promised.
These men of Israel, and Judah, and Edom, dug the ditches and made the water-courses — but we may be sure they were not satisfied with this. Their eyes were upward. Where is the water that God has promised? Shall we have plenteous showers? Shall we have rivers bursting out in this wilderness? So they looked and waited anxiously and expectantly until their desire was fulfilled.
Thus now faith looks out and looks up. We have the promise, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour My Spirit on your seed, and My blessing on your offspring" (Isaiah 44:3). This you have a right to plead. You must ask, wait, expect. The name of Christ is still all prevailing. It is for God's glory that the Spirit should be abundantly bestowed. The welfare of our souls and of the whole Church demands it, and the Lord delights in giving His Spirit to all who ask. Therefore expect great things from God. "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."
5. Here was faith abundantly, marvelously rewarded.
The water came. Every ditch was filled with it. Thirsty ones drank and were refreshed. The great peril was past. The enemy was overthrown, and his cities taken or destroyed.
So likewise does God reward the prayers and hopes of His people. The gift of the Spirit is poured out. Multitudes of souls receive it as life from the dead. Longing, weary ones, rejoice with a new joy. The devices of Satan are brought to nothing. The Church is delivered from her enemies, and peace and gladness reign within her borders.
9. The Tree Planted by the Waters
The servant of God is often described in Scripture under the image of a tree bearing good fruit. And under this figure we have his verdure and fruitfulness connected with the River of God's grace. We find it both in Psalm 1, and also in Jeremiah 17.
Before dwelling upon this description, let us take something of a contrast. Hugh Macmillan tells of a remarkable plant that grows in the South American forests. It is a sort of club moss, and in dry seasons becomes somewhat of a traveler. When every particle of moisture is extracted from the soil, it will detach itself from the earth where it has been growing, and curl itself up into a ball. It is then carried away for miles by any strong wind, and remains coiled up until it reaches some marshy land or pool of water. It will then begin slowly to unfold itself, taking root and assuming its former appearance. It may grow long enough to cast its seed on the air, and when its new home becomes dry, as the previous one — it will take to its former unsettled habits, and like a pilgrim go forth to seek the water that it loves.
Truly does the author, who gives this account, compare this plant to a child of the world. Such a one has no fixedness or stability. He goes from scene to scene, from one object to another, seeking for a little passing gratification. Unsettled in spirit, tossed hither and thither by temptation, by the world's allurements, or by every breath changing opinion — finding no permanent spring of hope or consolation, at length he passes away without having ever discovered the secret of true peace and satisfaction.
The prophet Jeremiah uses somewhat of a different image. "This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6
But not so is it with the godly man. He leans on a Divine arm. His heart draws near to a Father in Heaven. His spirit cleaves steadfastly unto God. The name of Jesus is his stay and resting-place. In the darkest night of trouble he makes the Lord his hope, and encourages himself in His faithful care. And how rich is the blessing he inherits! There is no curse for him. He is not like the heath in the desert, or the rolling plant of the forest. He inhabits no parched places or desolate wilds. The very reverse of all this is his portion. "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8
What a variety of blessedness is promised here! All around may be parched and dry. Sin and worldliness and unbelief may wither up all true joy — but he still retains his comfort in God, and grace to confess the Name he loves. He casts his roots deeper and deeper, in stronger faith, in more frequent meditation — and thus drinks in perpetually from the ever-flowing streams of living water. He flourishes as the cedar in Lebanon. He grows rapidly like the palm-tree. His bough is laden with precious fruit. Even in the year of drought — in times of deepest trouble or distress — he is freed from perplexing carefulness, and still honors God by his joyful patience and holy submission to the will of God.
In the life of the patriarch Joseph, we have a
forcible illustration of the promise here given. He was ever a man of faith,
deriving all his strength from nearness to God. He was "a fruitful bough by
a well" (Genesis 49:22). Like a well-rooted tree, he was ever steadfast,
rejecting with abhorrence the sin proposed to him, and manfully performing
his duty and bearing the fruits of righteousness . . .
in the house of Potiphar,
in the prison, and
in his high position in Egypt.
"His branches ran over the wall." He was a blessing wherever he went. He brought down a blessing on his heathen master, then on Egypt, and then on all his father's house. Never, never did his leaf fade, nor were his branches found without their appropriate fruit.
But how may this blessing be yours? How may you, too, be a tree of righteousness, ever growing, ever bearing fruit through the power of divine grace?
Be sure, the River of Life is near at hand, the waters are flowing on in rich abundance, and if you will follow the directions which the Master gives, you cannot fail of the promised blessing.
Come near, and keep near, to the secret source of all life and fruitfulness.
From first to last, it is a matter of humble trustfulness. The heart of the ungodly man departs from the Lord — the heart of the godly man flees to Him. He runs, he walks, or he creeps, which ever it is — at least, he comes and draws near. Thus must you do. Set your face toward God. Remember His promises and rely upon them. Remember the precious name of
Jesus, and let this give you sure confidence. Remember God's exceeding loving-kindness. Remember His faithfulness and truth. Remembering all this, trust the Lord continually. Trust Him for all that concerns this life. Put every care and sorrow and burden into His hand. Leave all with Him, however gloomy, or painful, or threatening, the prospect may be. Trust Him with all that concerns your spiritual welfare. Trust Him when the heart feels cold and dead, that He will revive and quicken you. Trust Him when you can scarcely utter a word of prayer, believing that His Spirit will again stir up your heart in this as in every other grace. Trust Him always and trust Him forever. So will you keep close to the River, and your soul will be refreshed and comforted.
Be careful about the little things in a Christian life. No one can tell the immense difference that will be made by the use or the neglect of little opportunities — or in the matter of little duties. Remember it is the little fibers of the roots of a tree which drink in the moisture and receive nourishment from the soil, and thus promote its growth and fruitfulness.
Be very careful about these little fibers. Watch over your thoughts. Let them ever cleave to Jesus. Let them be sanctified by the remembrance of all that He is, and of all that He does for His people. Let them be filled with the sweet promises and precepts of Holy Scripture. Ever cherish heavenly aspirations, longing desires, and frequent upliftings of the heart in prayer and praise. Your highest attainments in grace and holiness will be closely connected with every secret prayer which arises to God. Just as the topmost branches of the tree are dependent upon the thin, hair-like roots that the eye can scarcely discern — so all spiritual advancement will depend on the secret walk before our Father in Heaven.
The figure of the tree shows also the importance of firmness and steadfastness in the Christian life. You must seek to be rooted and grounded in the faith, and so established that nothing can move you. Hold fast the faithful Word. Beware of new views and new opinions which are perpetually springing up around you. Stand firm and strong when persecution or reproach comes to try you. Rather suffer loss or exile or death — than dishonor or forsake your Savior.
Only lately I heard of an example of this steadfast spirit which it will be well for us to follow.
The son of a very rich man in Calcutta came to England to educate and qualify himself to practice at the bar in India. Brought up as a strict Hindu, he had no thought of becoming a Christian, though he had some knowledge of the truths of the Gospel. On his way to England a storm arose, and for three days the ship was in imminent danger. During the storm he felt how insecure was his own position; he thought of Christ, and sought Him in earnest prayer. He found spiritual peace and hope; and during his stay in London his convictions were deepened, and he was baptized.
As soon as his father heard of his baptism, he cut off his supplies — and the young man would have been utterly destitute but for a few Christian friends whom God raised up to help him.
After finishing his course he went back to Calcutta, and to his surprise his father received him with open arms. He received from his father every possible kindness, and for a time he thought his father had forgiven him. But it was only a device to draw him back to Hinduism. After about a week his father spoke to him on the subject. He told him that if he would give up Christianity, he would at once make over to him all his property. He need not practice at the bar, but might live in every possible comfort and luxury.
But the young man was not to be moved. Neither persuasions nor promises could turn him from his purpose. So he said to his father, "Not for all you have done for me, or for all you have now promised me, nor for your love, which I value most of all — dare I deny the Savior who has loved me."
Then said the father, "If this be so, you are no longer my son, nor am I your father. Begone! and never let me see your face again!"
So, without a shilling of his own, he had to go to another city and seek his living, having given up all for Christ's sake.
Another word of guidance I would give you: Endeavor to make progress. Cultivate growth in every direction. Aim at increase in every Christian virtue.
In dependence on God's grace, let there be the downward growth — the roots going deeper into the soil. Be clothed with humility. Follow Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Keep near the Savior's footstool. Strive to grow in the knowledge of your sin and unworthiness. The sense of sin ever deepens with growth in holiness, because God's light shines in more brightly, and thus discovers the evil that is in us.
Then also grow in steadfastness. As the roots of a tree go deeper into the soil, it becomes more firmly fixed, so that the winds and storms can the less move it. Thus be firm and immovable, rooted and grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus. Do not be swayed by the current of human opinion. Do not take your views from the Newspaper, or the last Magazine. Rather, hold fast by the faithful Word, being assured that not one thing has failed or will fail of all that the Lord has spoken.
Let there also be the upward growth. Like the tree shooting higher and higher, ever tending upward, so let it be with your heart. Set your affection on things above. Get nearer and closer in true fellowship with the Father and the Son. Tend evermore in true holiness toward the light of the Sun of Righteousness. Let your whole life be filled with joy and praise and thankfulness to Him.
Let there also be growth in the breadth and circumference of the tree. I mean, let the Christian grow in largeness of heart, in wide-spreading sympathies, in holy charity, in efforts to spread everywhere the savor of Christ's name. Wherever God opens to you a door of usefulness, by which you can enter without neglect of other duties — don't hold back. By intercessory prayer, by free-handed gifts, by a book given to someone going into a foreign land — your influence for good may spread far and wide, and perhaps hereafter the most precious jewels in your crown will have been won in lands you have never seen.
Above all, let your growth and fruitfulness never cease. Cleave to the Lord, and He will never fail you. He will give "more grace," and thus you shall bear more fruit. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Psalm 1:3
Oh fill me with Your fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart overflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Your love to tell, Your praise to show.
Oh use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as You will, and when and where,
Until Your blessed face I see,
Your rest, Your joy, Your glory share.
10. Broken Cisterns
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."
11. Intermittent Springs
In a village near a large seaport town, there are several springs of water which are subject to very remarkable changes. Sometimes for months they are perfectly dry. Then suddenly they send forth, as at the time I visited them, vast quantities of water. This will last occasionally for weeks or months together, and then the water ceases to flow; and perhaps for a long time there is no further flow.
It struck me that these springs are an exact picture of a certain class of people in the professing Church. Whatever religion they have, it is by fits and starts. There is nothing constant and abiding about it.
You take such a man as Jehu. When first called to the throne, you might imagine that he would be a staunch and faithful defender of the worship of Jehovah. He speaks well. He says, "Come and see my zeal for the Lord!" He slays the wicked Jezebel and the seed of Ahab, as God had commanded. He destroys the prophets of Baal, and breaks down the house of Baal, and thus roots out this form of idolatry from Israel. But Jehu stops here. His zeal for Jehovah is at an end. "Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit." 2 Kings 10:31
It was the same with King Joash (2 Chronicles 24.). For a time he was zealous for God. While Zechariah, the good priest, lives — he cannot do too much for the house of God. He bids Zechariah chide the workmen because they did not restore the breaches. He gathers money from the people, that the work may go forward. But this does not last. When Zechariah is dead he hearkens to the ungodly princes of Judah, and forsakes the Lord. He worships idols, and brings great wrath upon the land.
Perhaps we might name King Herod as an example of the same thing. We read of his calling for John the Baptist. He hears him gladly, and will do many things. But there is no depth and permanence about his religion. When something evil must be renounced, he shuts up the Baptist in prison — that he may not reprove him for his sin. His adulterous passion for Herodias is stronger than his desire for truth. So we find him from this time going farther and farther away; and he ends by joining Pilate in mocking and dishonoring our Lord.
It is just the same with people now. We have constant proof of it. There is something hopeful — but it does not last. The waters begin to flow; there is apparent life and earnestness and zeal — but they soon cease. Interest flags. Prayer becomes a burden. The Bible is left unread. Other things come and engross the mind.
You find many aroused to a temporary interest in religious truth in times of awakening. Perhaps there is a mission in a town, and a very real power is put forth. The preacher speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit awakens many to begin a new and holy life. But others are drawn in by that which they see around them, and perhaps for a time they are somewhat changed — but a few weeks pass, and you find them exactly as they were before!
You find, too, sometimes a temporary manifestation of some particular grace, but without any real depth of purpose. I have known a man kneel down and shed bitter tears at the recollection of a sin he had committed — and yet he would yield to the very next temptation.
A person will take up some work for God, perhaps in the Sunday school. But there is no steadfastness or perseverance — the work is soon neglected, or the class left without a teacher.
A member of a family will endeavor to be more considerate and kind toward the others. Self-denial is practiced for the moment, and duties performed which add much to the comfort of the home. But there is the same evil. There is no continuance in the path of well-doing. It is only a flash in the pan. It is only a stream which presently dries up, and leaves no mark behind.
The secret of the evil in all these cases, is very similar. It is lack of depth. The regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit is lacking. Religion has touched the feelings — but the will has not been yielded up to God, nor the conscience purged by the blood of sprinkling. There has been no true self-condemnation, no taking the place of a guilty sinner before God. Neither has there been any true union with Christ by faith. There may have been attendance on the ordinances of grace, but there is no reliance on the Spirit of grace.
Let our prayer be for reality and depth. "O Lord, give me life, and give it more abundantly! Humble me in the knowledge of my sin. Exalt me in the assurance of Your mercy. Make my heart sound in Your statutes. Work in me to will and to do of Your good pleasure. Put Your Spirit within me, and make Your work in me lasting, deep, and true! Empty me of self — and fill me with Your own fullness. Give me patient continuance in well-doing now, and at length the crown of glory that never fades away."
There is a promise for the godly man in Isaiah 58:11, which presents a striking contrast to the thought upon which I have been dwelling. It is true there are many like "intermittent springs;" but it is said of the servant of God, that he shall be "like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58:11
He has drunk of the great River, and he has received the grace found there. He shall not be one whose religion is fitful and uncertain. His graces shall not dry up and pass away. No, it shall be the very reverse. "His waters never fail." Others around may go back — but he abides the same. Difficulties may perplex, and trials harass him — but he has grace sufficient for him. Weeks, months, and years may roll on. Youth may pass into mature life, and middle life into old age — but his fruit shall not cease, nor Christian principle be loosened. He is "like a spring whose waters never fail." Faith, hope, love, patience, prayer, and praise still continue and follow him to his last hours.
This promise in Isaiah is exactly parallel to the words of our Lord: "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into eternal life" (John 4:14). Or again, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto Me and drink. He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said — out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7).
There is something strange and remarkable about this promise. We know that Jehovah is the Fountain of living waters. We know that from the throne of God and the Lamb, there flows a River of the water of life — as pure as crystal. But here is something quite different. Here is a poor, frail child of dust, a weak, trembling believer, one who is himself the chief of sinners. Yet such a one, believing in Christ, has within him this well of life — from such a one we read "flow rivers of living water."
"Living waters" are thus traced to a believer's heart. They "flow" not occasionally bursting forth — but constantly flowing on. They "spring up" until they reach their source, even "everlasting life." Nor are they simply waters, but "rivers". Not a tiny stream, not a single river, but "rivers" — abiding, plenteous, rich streams, ever flowing forth and spreading blessings wherever they flow!
Here then we have the great truth that the believer, receiving from the one Divine Fountain, becomes himself a little fountain of the water of life. Constantly receiving out of the great reservoir of grace in Christ — he is enabled to give back to others that which has been first given to him. Freely he receives — freely he gives. And just in proportion as he keeps in close connection with the source of life, as he abides in fellowship with the living Savior — he is a channel of blessing to those around him.
This hidden, secret spring of life and grace within the soul, is no less than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. As you are in Christ and abide in Him — the Holy Spirit dwells within you and stirs you up to holiness of heart and life, and to active zeal in the service of God.
If therefore you wish to be useful, if you wish to do good to the souls of your fellow sinners — remember that it is not natural gifts, it is not wide opportunities or much leisure time, or powers of eloquence, that determine this. But it is your daily dependence upon Christ, and your continually realizing His presence and help. The great secret of success is, that you should "live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you."
You will not then be "an intermittent spring," but will ever be giving forth out of your own heart, something of what you have received from Christ, and that which His Spirit will bless to those around.
But HOW can you do this?
Think of the power of a faithful witness for Christ. "The mouth of the righteous is a well of life." You may speak words that may lead many to know and love Christ. You may tell of His Word, of His promise, of His blood, of His free salvation. And in doing that, you may lead those who hear you to come to Him and be saved.
Think of the influence of a holy, Christlike life. A wicked or a worldly life has been compared to a filthy stream, which leaves a black mark on the meadows through which it passes, and spreads pestilence and disease abroad. But a truly Christian life, is like the fertilizing river, that in all its windings spreads fruitfulness wherever it goes.
Nothing is more certain than the power exercised by the example of one who in small and great things — endeavors to adorn his profession by a very holy and consistent walk. It becomes again and again a great means of conversion or edification to others. Let me give an example.
A conceited young Hindu attended a government college in India. One day he heard a missionary preach in the bazaar, and in a very rude way he put a question to the missionary. He expected a sharp reply; but, instead, the missionary kindly invited him to his house. He accepted the invitation, and when he called, he found the native servant had been neglecting his duty in preparing the tent for a mission journey. The neglect had just come to light, and the young man expected the missionary would have punished his servant by blows, or at least by a torrent of abuse. Nothing of the kind! A quiet reproof was all; and at once his visitor was persuaded there was something in Christianity to make him so gentle and forbearing. It was this which led him to earnest inquiry, and at length to his embracing the truth.
After a time he fell, through the bitter and determined hostility of his wife. But again he was restored through the Christian love of a missionary who did not upbraid him, but threw his arms around him and wept over his apostasy. Henceforth he followed Christ without wavering, and became eminently useful in winning others for the Lord.
Christian, let your influence and example be felt in the same way. In the thousand little things of daily life, in your conduct towards your children or your spouse, towards those in your employ — let your religion be proved to be real and genuine. It has been pithily said, "Let Christ have the best room in the house, and let Him be seen looking out at the window." Every look, every word, every action should manifest something of the mind and spirit of the Master.
Think again of the benefits that may flow from a believer's prayers.
Let the Christian cultivate the gift of intercession for others, let him believe the mighty and prevailing power of prayer through the name of Christ, let him pray in faith for those in his own circle of relations and friends, and then enlarge his petitions until he takes in the various needs of the whole Church of Christ. And who shall tell the limit of blessing that will follow?
Perhaps, when no longer able to engage actively in work for Christ — he may be touching the spring of blessing on high, and thus showers may fall, bringing grace and salvation to those he has never seen.
Think of a believer's gifts and active endeavors to do good. How many through these, may have found the hope of life in Christ, or fresh peace and consolation on the way.
Think of a believer's godly home. Each member of his family may one day become a center of good. If the piety of the parent is reflected in the children, how vast the effects may be in the next generation!
Think of the good that may be left behind after death. How many a Christian, long since sleeping in the dust — has yet, for years or even centuries, been a blessing ever since his departure. Abel being dead, yet speaks. Paul and Peter and John speak to us through the Epistles they were inspired to write. Martin Luther speaks by the glorious Gospel which he was permitted to set free from Romish error. Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Robert Leighton, John Hall, and multitudes beside, are speaking to us by their writings — and many others by the Christian hymns they have penned.
Believer, if you cleave to Christ, you cannot live or work in vain. You will fill your niche, and leave behind some good that will never be lost. Remember, the smallest drop may become the mightiest river. A single word of prayer, or of Gospel truth spoken in faith — may set at work agencies that may be instrumental in saving hundreds or thousands!
Only "abide" in Christ. Beware of all mere fitfulness in religion. Be not "an intermittent spring." "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord!"
12. Is it for Me?
I remember some time ago offering a picture-tract to a little girl washing the door-step of a small cottage. At first she hung back from taking it; then, with a look of pleasure and surprise, she said: "Is it for me?" Probably she had never had one given her before, and she thought she was too small and unimportant for any one to care for her. But when she knew that it was for her, and for her to keep — she wiped her hands on her apron, and then took it gladly. I think this tract would be carefully kept and valued.
But the question of the little girl may suggest a thought to my readers. I have been writing these articles on "the River of Life" and all the blessings which it brings. But perhaps some reader asks: "Is it for me? May I be sure that all the grace and mercy that God gives may be mine, and mine to keep?" There is one answer to this. It is plain and clear; there can be no mistake about it. "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely!'
"Whoever will" is God's word of invitation. It matters not who you are, or what you have done, or where you have lived — the call of love is for you.
A story is told of a lad explaining to a man who could not read the meaning of this word "Whoever!" He said it meant, "You, me, or anybody else!" You cannot wish for anything more universal than this. It takes in every one without exception.
Here is a message for the youngest reader of this paper. You may be only a little one of eight or ten — but you are invited. You may come and drink from the sweet water of the River — and all through your journey it will refresh and cheer you. Whatever happiness God may give you, this will sweeten it with the thought, "My Father loves me and cares for me!"
Here is a message for the oldest reader. Your hair may be grey, your steps feeble, your hand trembling, and you may have passed the ordinary limit of threescore years and ten without having one shadow of hope in Jesus. Soon your feet will stumble on the dark mountains — and you will go all unprepared into the presence of your Judge. But here is one more message of mercy. Life is drawing to a close, with all its blessed Gospel calls; your conscience tells you of sins unnumbered during each week of this year and during every year of your life. But come even now. Drink of the River! Seek mercy from the Savior. Kneel down at His footstool. Believe His promise. Trust in His abounding grace. Thus, drinking from the River, you shall never die. When you depart this life, you shall have an eternal home with the Savior and abide in His presence forever.
Here is a message for the strongest and heartiest reader. Do not trust in your health or the vigor of your constitution — but thank God for it, and use it in His service. Once a man said that he had such a good constitution that at seventy he would be as strong as most men at fifty. But fever came, and he never reached even fifty. Come to the River, you who are now in the full glow of strength and manhood. Take the grace which will enable you to spend it in the service of God. Seek the aid of the Holy Spirit, by which every day may be one of joyful service in His vineyard.
Here is a message for one whose health is failing, and whose life is very frail and uncertain. Is this so with you? Have you the cough which tells of a weak chest? Have you some sore pain which tells of mischief that cannot be remedied? Are you prepared to die, whatever the consequence may be? Have you soul-health — sin forgiven, the heart renewed, the presence of the Spirit, Christ dwelling within? If not, come at once to these healing, life-giving waters! Let down your pitcher for a draught. Trust Jesus, and He will give you that which is better than health, better than life, even His own loving-kindness, and eternal life in Him!
Here is a message for one who has abundance of this world's goods, and every comfort that life can afford. Consider what can wealth do for you — if you have not the grace of God? How much will gold and silver weigh in a dead man's hand? What profit will they bring you hereafter, if your soul is lost? Are you rich in earthly treasures, rich in lands, rich in houses, rich in securities, rich in a large and flourishing business — and yet poor in better things — no faith, no love, no peace, no comfort, no Christ? Oh, come to the River! Every drop of its life-giving water is worth more than the largest fortune! Drink of this, and you shall be "rich in faith," "rich in good works," "rich towards God," rich for eternity! You will learn, too, to consecrate your wealth to the service of God, and this will be a means of everlasting enrichment both for yourself and others.
Here is a message for the poorest reader. If you are poor now — then why should you be so hereafter? If you have but the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich down below — then why should you not sit at the King's table and feast with princes above? You who are poor, come to the River! Within those crystal waters is untold wealth of unending joy and hope! If you live by the side of "the River of Life" on earth — you will soon be in the bright city whose streets are gold and whose gates are precious stones. And as the son and heir of the Most High, you will inherit and possess all things!
Here is a message for one who is very near the kingdom of God. You are near to the kingdom, but not in it. You are near by profession and association. You mingle with Christians, sit down with them in the house of God, perhaps kneel with them at the Lord's Supper. You may have had godly parents, or at least some Christian relation or friend who has often prayed for you. You may be a Sunday-school teacher, a district visitor, a collector of money for Christ's cause. You may be a church-warden, a member of a choir, or even a preacher of the everlasting Gospel — and all the while unsaved, unpardoned.
A remark was lately made in a sermon, that each of the thieves was equally near to Christ — yet one was saved and the other lost. It is a solemn thought. You may be very near Christ — and yet lose your soul. Take heed. If there is no deep heart-work in you — come and drink of the River. Own what you are. Look to Christ at once for power and reality. Then you will be in Christ and Christ in you. You will have a place in the Father's House above.
Here is a message to one who is furthest off from the kingdom. This page may catch the eye of some stray one who has gone far away into the wilderness of sin. You have no hope, and you profess none. Your tongue has often been polluted by curses, and your life by open sin. You have gone into the thick mire of evil, and conscience tells a true tale of God forgotten and guilt incurred. But the message is for you. "Whoever will" makes it free to all, and you are not excluded. Come then, O lost and fallen one, come to your Savior! Come and find full pardon for the past, and help for days to come. Cleansing blood, sanctifying grace, refreshing consolations to the wretched — all are found in the River that flows from the Throne of God.
Yes, come each, come all, to the River! Young or old, strong or weakly, rich or poor, near to God by outward profession, or very far off by open and determined sin — you may come, and every need will be supplied, all guilt forgiven, every blessing granted! You may have it all as a free gift, without anything of your own — but your misery and ruin and utter unworthiness.
Come, every one, drink of the water of life freely. Believe, and live. Take, and be happy. Go on your way to Zion humble, yet trustful, condemning yourself, but ever rejoicing in God your Savior. Ever keep near to the Good Shepherd, who will feed you in the green pastures and lead you beside the still waters. And on your way to the Heavenly Land, where you shall gather with the saints at the River — speak to one and another of the goodness of the Lord. Call those around you to drink with you at the fords of the River. Invite your fellow-sinners to taste with you of the Savior's grace!
13. The Bright City Where the River Flows
There is a double joy in true religion. There is a present joy. Even now the believing soul can partake of the living water, and rise to some blessed foretaste of heavenly things.
The sense of pardoned sin,
the comfort of a childlike spirit,
the sweetness of a Savior's love,
the presence of a Friend always near,
the fellowship with God's people, and
the liberty of a glad and hearty service
— these may be experienced, and are experienced day by day by those who are enabled to walk in the light of God's countenance. The River of Life reaches to every portion of Christ's Church, and those who drink of its waters receive in themselves the grace and peace and hope, which is as a well springing up into eternal life.
But there is a fullness of joy hereafter. There is a city yet to come, where the saints of the Most High will still drink of the living water, but in a way beyond that which they have done here. If now the Savior "gives to him that is athirst of the water of life freely," it is but the beginning and preparation of that which awaits the Christian in his home above. We read in Revelation 7 of "the great company which no man can number clothed with white robes and palms in their hands," and we are told with respect to them that, "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Still is Christ "the Lamb," for the efficacy of His death will be the theme of endless praise. Still is He "the Good Shepherd," for He feeds and leads His people in the better land, just as He did below. Still does He bestow the streams of refreshing grace, for in a richer sense than ever before, shall those who love Him "lie down in green pastures, and be led beside the still waters." Let us lift up our eyes to the Celestial City. Let us put on the helmet of hope, that we may survey its fair battlements and its plains of glory. Let us place ourselves in thought, among the saints by "the beautiful river," and as tasting of the fruits that grow so plenteously on the tree of life.
Very expressive is the description given in Revelation 21 and 22. Underlying the various figures employed, doubtless, some hidden glory is purposed which shall then be known.
There shines upon her "the glory of God." Her light is "like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." The building of the wall is as jasper, the city as pure gold, like unto clear glass. The twelve foundations are garnished with all manner of precious stones. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. No curse is there, for the throne of the ever-blessed One and those blessed in Him alone are found there.
The perfect vision of Christ, the continual presence of Christ, the glad service of Christ, will bring with them all — and more than all — than the heart of the Christian has ever conceived!
I love to ponder the contrast between this City and the fairest city of which earth can boast. Think of it for a moment. Paul gives one view of this in Hebrews 13, "Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come." All here is fading, changing, perishing. Cities which bear the names of the greatest conquerors — Alexandria, Caesarea, Constantinople, and the like — how their glory has passed away and their power gone! So will it be soon with cities which now are in the zenith of their prosperity. But there is a thought beyond this. See the beautiful city with its noble mansions and every feature that might dazzle the eye of the beholder. Take a glimpse beneath the surface. What seething abominations lie festering there! What degrading vices and shameless pollutions might easily be brought to light!
And side by side with these, what untold miseries and sorrows are being endured by souls weighed down to the earth by evils they cannot flee! What agonizing pain and sad desolation and biting poverty, and fear, and care, and remorse, and dread of the King of terrors!
Then, too, the inhabitants are ever dying and passing away like their forefathers. The wealthy tradesman or the successful merchant has to leave his home of luxury, and be content with a few feet of earth. The tenant of the attic or the cellar has to take his place where this life's distinctions are known no more.
But in the heavenly City, nothing of all this is known. "There shall be no more curse!" That accursed thing, sin, the parent of every evil that has afflicted man, is cast out, and can never again enter. Look all through the City and you will find there no evil thing.
On Christ's last visit to the Temple at Jerusalem, we are told that "He looked round about on all things." How much of sin and pride and pollution and deadly hypocrisy did that searching glance discover!
But when Jesus, as our glorious King, shall look around the City of the new Jerusalem, it shall not be so. There will be an utter absence of everything that could bring dishonor on God, or embitter the joys of those who dwell there.
No strife or hatred,
no breath of pollution,
no lurking insincerity or unbelief,
no wounded conscience,
no bleeding, burdened heart,
no sad countenance,
no divided home,
no new-made grave
— shall be there! All through the fair plains of Paradise, and through the golden streets of the Celestial City — not one trace of sin or misery remains.
Then, moreover, all is firm, and abiding, and eternal. It is a City "which has foundations." It cannot be shaken. It has within it no element of decay. It is "incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading." It is as eternal as God Himself. So likewise is it with those who belong to it.
"There shall be no more death." They who are accounted worthy to share its bliss "can die no more, but are as the angels in Heaven."
There is a short sentence in Hebrews 11 that may assist in raising our thoughts to the exceeding glory and blessedness which God has laid up for His people. "He is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a City for them!" (verse 16).
If a great king were to profess to hold one of his subjects in high regard, and as the recompense for faithful service were to encourage his expectations of some eminent reward — he would surely wish richly to fulfill them. Were the honor and the reward less than his servant had anticipated, he would seem dishonored in the presence of those who had known the hopes he had excited.
Apply this to our Father in Heaven. Think of the hopes He has stirred in the breasts of His children. Think of the exalted promises, and the repeated assurances of a home and a city and a kingdom beyond the grave. Raise your thoughts higher and higher, you can never reach the level of hope to which God's own Word may well lead you.
And will He fail abundantly to satisfy these desires? Has He not omnipotent power, unerring wisdom, unknown treasures at His command — and all these at the disposal of His marvelous loving-kindness to His own redeemed people? Will He be dishonored before His Church and the whole universe by leaving unperformed, one iota of the magnificent promises He has made? Will it not be the very opposite to this?
When the Queen of Sheba saw the magnificence of Solomon's house, and the glory of his kingdom, she exclaimed that "the half was not told her!"
And when the Christian receives his full reward at the appearing of Christ, when his eye is opened to see all that is prepared for him — what joy will be his!
The blessed heavenly home,
the fellowship of angels and of just men made perfect,
the perfected likeness of Christ in his own soul,
the presence of the Beloved (who can rightly speak of it!),
the joys which now can neither be known nor expressed!
Then will be seen that which is true in a measure even now, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man — the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."
Reader, farewell! You have followed me as I have endeavored to set before you something of the blessedness of the River, and the City where it flows. Shall we meet there? I may never see you in the flesh. I know not your name, or your home, or the particular circumstances of your daily life. But there is a place for you by the River, if you will take it. There is a mansion in the City, if you will claim it.
Only remember, there is a darker side in the great future. There is a glorious City — but there is a doleful prison house for those who believe and obey not. Not all the sentiment or the false charity of the day, can blot out the solemn warnings of the Book of God. And all will be fulfilled in their season. Not one will fail.
Take heed that your hope is sure, and your soul is built on the Rock of Ages.
Make Christ your all.
Rely on His sure promise.
Cling to His mighty arm.
Accept His free invitation.
Walk in obedience to His precepts.
Strive to forward the interests of His kingdom.
Look and wait for the blessed hope of His coming.
Then you need fear nothing.
He will stand by you in every trial.
He will keep you from falling.
He will present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
"There is no night in Heaven;
In that blessed world above
Work never can bring weariness,
For work itself is love.
"There is no grief in Heaven;
For life is one glad day;
And tears are of those former thing
Which all have passed away.
"There is no sin in Heaven;
Behold that blessed throng,
All holy is their spotless robe,
All holy is their song.
"There is no death in Heaven;
For they who gain that shore
Have won their immortality,
And they can die no more.
"Lord Jesus, be our Guide,
Oh, lead us safely on,
Until night and grief and sin and death
Are past, and Heaven is won!"