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He measured a thousand cubits.
Curious things in life
This chapter is a chapter of measurement. Everything is meted out, as it were, by so many cubits and inches. The voice is very dogmatic:--“This is the north side” (Ezekiel 47:17); “This is the east side” (Ezekiel 47:18); “This is the south side” (Ezekiel 47:19); “This is the west side” (Ezekiel 47:20). “So shall ye divide.” Everything is done for us in grand totals. What, then, is the suggestion of wisdom? Surely it is, Lord, teach me where I am bounded, and how I am limited, and help me with patience and eager expectancy to do my little day’s work with all industriousness and heart-loyalty, knowing that that servant shall be blessed who shall be found working steadily at his humble lot whenever his Lord cometh. By following out this doctrine of measurement, we shall get rid of a great deal of fret and worry and excitement, and we shall be able to welcome weird-looking guests into the house, and say, For God’s sake you are welcome, though we do not know you, and we do not like you at first; the Lord sent you this way; and presently, that weird face will become beauteous as the face of a child angel. How curious is life, and from certain points how utterly unmanageable! From other points of view, how beauteous is life, how well-proportioned, and how easily handled if we would only keep our own hands off it, and let God do what He will! Look at your own industry and endeavour in the market place, and in all the pursuits of business. What a curious law it is that in order to do a few things we must do many. The things you do without any positive or profitable result are really profitable to you in another way. Your disappointments are your educators, as well as your satisfactions. You are taught patience, your ambition is limited if not rebuked; you say again and again, We must do a thousand things by way of endeavour in order to accomplish half a dozen things by way of positive and literal success. What a curious thing it is that though we know that only one can find the prize, yet we all go out to seek for it! We are accustomed to the illustration of a treasure being lost in the darkness, and on the broad thoroughfare. A thousand men get to know that a purse has been lost. It was only a purse, only one individual could find it and take it, and yet all the thousand are looking round and groping about for it. Do you not know that only one person can get that? You know it, but something says to you, Perhaps you are the one person. Could we just have that amount of faith in the Christian Church, we should have a revival of godliness. Here is salvation; let us suppose that only one man can get it: who knows who that one man is? “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” A still more extraordinary thing is this, and curious in its way, that although we know we may at any moment die, our plans are laid as if we were going to live forever. Ask any man how long he will live, and he will tell you he does not know. Ask him if he may this very day die, and he will say, Certainly, this very day I may cease to live upon the earth. Now examine his plans--his plans of business, his plans of home, his plans of education--and you will not find one of them limited to the day. And the most curious part of it is that the man cannot help it. He could not be bound by the sunrising and the sunsetting. He will tell you plaintively that he may never live to see the sunset, yet his whole life is set in plans that shall endure for years and ages. He never says, Tonight at six o’clock, I may be a dead man, therefore I will draw my lines accordingly. He says, Tonight at six o’clock I may be a dead man, but the world will not be dead; the individual may go, but the race will remain; man dies, but humanity abides; and my last act, if it be my last act, upon earth, shall be an act of generous contribution to the progress of the total world. Do not stifle these voices. In all labour there is profit. Even in the things you have done without result you have found some advantage to the soul if you have laboured faithfully. And as for that larger life, we know not what it is, it is enough to know meantime that it is larger. God is always enlarging and ennobling the outlook of man. We might also notice as a curious thing in all this measurement, that when we have done our best there comes a point when we must simply leave results. We cannot follow our own labour beyond a certain point. The agriculturist has done what he can in the field; now, he says, I must wait. I cannot hasten the sun or the processes of nature. So with the training of your children: all you can do is to show them a noble example. You can be chivalrous in the midst of your family, you can give them the best education in your power, you can encourage all that is good and beautiful in their nature, and then you must wait. And so with business. You can apparently be driving your business with tremendous energy which ends in nothing. Really, a quiet industry may often do more than a vehement importance. You can be industrious, faithful, honourable, generous, and having done all you can, not as an atheist, but as a believer in God, you must say, Now, Lord, the harvest is in Thine hands: I have done what I can in my poor little field; Thou knowest that I have spared no energy and no thought: now let the harvest be as Thou wilt; if I come back in the autumn and find this field sterile, the day of harvest a day of sorrow, help me to say, Thy will be done: I will leave it all now; I have tried to be a faithful and honest servant; and then if the harvest be golden, abundant, and far beyond the resources of our accommodation, to God’s name be the praise; He always surprises us by the infinity, the boundlessness of His gifts. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Sounding the depth of Divine things
It is good to be often searching into the things of God, and trying the depth of them, not only to look on the surface of these waters, but to go to the bottom of them as far as we can, to be often digging, often diving, into the mysteries of the kingdom of God, as those who covet to be intimately acquainted with those things. (M. Henry.)
Waters to swim in.
Waters to swim in
I. The first thought of the text concerning the Gospel is this, the idea of abundance.
1. The abundant provision for the removal of sin and for making us accepted in the Beloved. Here is blood most precious, removing every spot, and a righteousness most glorious, conferring a matchless beauty, a beauty such as Adam in his perfection never had, for his was but human righteousness, but this day the children of God wear the righteousness of the Lord Himself, and this is the name wherewith Jesus is called--“The Lord our Righteousness.”
2. God’s stores for our sustenance and for our protection.
(1) For our sustenance there is bread provided from heaven such as angels have never tasted. There is water leaping from the rock such as the fathers drank not in the wilderness. There is no fear that either the heavenly granary or the celestial fountain shall ever be exhausted.
(2) And as for our protection. Think how the Lord’s right arm is uplifted, that His power may preserve the saints; how His wisdom goeth to and fro in the earth, watching for their good; how His heart of love beats high with constant affection for them; how the whole of Godhead bows itself to protect the chosen.
3. The provision made for our training and our perfecting. In addition to affliction He has provided all the truth of God in the Bible to sanctify us; He has given us the blood of Christ to purify us; He has sent forth the blessed and eternal Spirit to refine us, and, as subordinate agencies, he has provided all our comforts, and at the same time all our trials, all our companionships with holy men, and all the beacons of unholy lives, that we may be educated for the skies.
4. What “waters to swim in” have we by way of consolations and strengthenings. The Comforter puts into the inspired word a singular sweetness which the most able ministers cannot arrive at, even though they should be, like Barnabas, sons of consolation.
5. Think of what God has done for us by way of making us happy and noble. He has not only pardoned us, but He has received us into His family, and He has taken us there, not to be His hired servants, as we once thought He might do, but He has made us His own sons; and what is more than that, He has made us heirs, and not secondary heirs either, but “joint heirs with Christ Jesus”; so that we have come right up from the place of the slave into the position of the heir of all things.
6. And then, beyond! Think of that which remaineth in Immanuel’s land, beyond Jordan.
II. Our text gives us the idea of space, amplitude, room. “Waters to swim in.” Room enough.
1. First, as to thought. Think of God as He is revealed in Holy Scripture. The Father ordaining all things, according to the council of His will; take the whole line of truth which connects itself with the Father. Then consider the Son as man and as God, the surety of the covenant, the substitute for His people, the intercessor, prophet, priest, and king, the Lord who is yet to come you have a wide range of thought there. Then consider the Holy Spirit.
2. There are “waters to swim in,” next, not only as regards subjects of thought but matters of faith. Oh, how sweet to have something to believe where you get right out of reason’s depths!
3. Then, blessed be His name, there are “waters to swim in” not only for thought and faith, but also for love. Some make the doctrines of the Gospel a cold stream, like the waters of the Arctic pole, and love would be frozen if she were to venture into them; but the Scriptures are like the Gulf Stream, warm as well as deep; and love delights to plunge into them, and swim in them. In the agonies of Christ there is, to the contemplative mind, a fulness of love unspeakable, which makes the heart feel, “now I can love here without stint.” I can love the dear companion of my life; I can love my children; but there comes the thought, “I may make them idols, and I may thus injure both them and myself.” That is not “waters to swim in.” But if we loved the Lord ten thousand times more than we do, we should transgress no command in so doing: nay rather, the only transgression lies in falling short. Oh that we could love Him more!
4. There is room for the exercise and expansion of every faculty within the range of the Gospel. There are “waters to swim in,” in the Scriptures. You need not think there is no room for your imagination there. Give the coursers their reins: you shall find enough within that book to exhaust them at their highest speed. You need not think that your memory shall have nothing to remember; if you had learnt the book through and through, and knew all its texts, you would have much to remember above that, to remember its inner meaning, and its conversations with your soul, and the mysterious power it has had over your spirit, when it has touched the strings of your nature as a master harper touches his harp strings, and has brought forth music which you knew not to be sleeping there.
III. The text has the idea of trust, at least to my mind. The text speaks of “waters to swim in,” and swimming is a very excellent picture of faith. In the act of swimming it is needful that a man should float in the water. So far he is passive, and the water buoys him up. You must keep your head above water if you are to swim. We are told that the body is naturally buoyant, and that if a person would lie quite still upon the water he would not sink, but if he kicks and struggles he will sink himself. The first sign of faith is when a man learns to lie back upon Christ--to give himself up entirely to Him--when he ceases to be active and becomes passive, brings no good works, no efforts, no merits, to Jesus by way of recommendation, but casts his soul upon the eternal merit and the finished work of the great Substitute. That is faith in its passive form, floating faith. In the heavenly river you must float before you can swim. But the text does not speak of waters to float in, though this is essential. Many people never get beyond that floating period, and they conclude that they are safe and all is well because they fancy their heads are above water; whereas the man who is really taught of God goes on from the floating to the swimming. Now, swimming is an active exercise. The man progresses as he strikes out. He makes headway. He dives and rises: he turns to the right, he swims to the left, he pursues his course, he goes withersoever he wills, Now, the holy Word of God and the Gospel are “waters to swim in.” Let us learn to trust God in active exertions for the promotion of His kingdom, to trust Him in endeavours to do good. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The progress and expansion of Gospel influences
It began at Jerusalem as a tiny rivulet. By our Saviour’s preaching a few disciples were converted. These were the means of the conversion of a still larger number. But at the first, the stream was very shallow, for the whole church could meet in one upper room. Even after the Pentecostal increase it was but as a brooklet. Herod thought that he could leap across it, or could dam it up, but his persecutions swelled the stream. Very shortly after, the watercourse grew broader and deeper, till it attracted the attention of the Roman Emperors, and excited their alarm. They thought that it was time to drain the rivulet, lest it should become a torrent so great as to sweep them away. Their attempts to stay its course only added to its floods. Its current became more strong and wide than before, and on it went from age to age, till at last it had become a mighty river, watering the whole earth, and greatly blessing the nations. It is destined yet to grow until it shall be like the main ocean itself, for “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
These waters . . . go down into the desert.
Christ as a river in the desert
Though manhood seems to be a dry place, a salt and barren land, yet in the case of this Man it yields rivers of water,--numberless streams, abounding with refreshment.
I. Nature’s drought does not hinder Christ’s coming to men.
1. He came into the dry place of a fallen, ruined, rebellious world.
2. He comes to men personally, notwithstanding their being without strength, without righteousness, without desire, without life.
3. He flows within us in rivers of grace, though the old nature continues to be a dry and parched land.
4. He continues the inflowing of His grace till He perfects us, and this He does though decay of nature, failure, and fickleness prove us to be as a dry place.
III. Nature’s drought enhances the preciousness of Christ.
1. He is the more quickly discovered; as rivers would be in a desert.
2. He is the more highly valued; as water in a torrid climate.
3. He is the more largely used; as streams in a burning wilderness.
4. He is the more surely known to be the gift of God’s grace. How else came He to be in so dry a place? Those who are most devoid of merit are the more clear as to God’s grace.
5. He is the more gratefully extolled. Men sing of rivers which flow through dreary wastes.
III. Nature’s drought is most effectually removed by Christ. Rivers change the appearance and character of a dry place. By our Lord Jesus appearing in our manhood as Emmanuel, God with us,--
1. Our despair is cheered away.
2. Our sinfulness is purged.
3. Our nature is renewed.
4. Our barrenness is removed.
5. Our trials are overcome.
6. Our fallen condition is changed to glory.
IV. Our own sense of drought should lead us the more hopefully to apply to Christ. He is rivers of water in a dry place. The dry place is His sphere of action. Nature’s want is the platform for the display of grace.
1. This is implied in our Lord’s offices. A Saviour for sinners. A Priest who can have compassion on the ignorant, etc.
2. This is remembered in His great qualifications. Rivers, because the place is so dry. Full of grace and truth, because we are so sinful and false. Mighty to save, because we are so lost, etc.
3. This is manifested by the persons to whom He comes. Not many great or mighty are chosen. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He calls “the chief of sinners.” In every case the rivers of love flow into a dry place.
4. This is clear from the object which He aimed at, namely, the glory of God, and the making known of the riches of His grace. This can be best accomplished by working salvation where there is no apparent likelihood of it, or, in other words, causing rivers to water dry places. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The purifying and transforming power of the Gospel
What a mercy it is that the Gospel does go into the desert. Think of what this island used to be, when our sires wandered about in their nakedness among its oak groves. Think of the times when the great wicker image was set up, and the Druids surrounded it, and that image was crammed full of hundreds of men and women, who were all to be consumed in one dread fire, while the people stood by to see their fellow creatures offered to their national Meloch. That is all over now. No longer is the mistletoe cut with the golden sickle, or the fierce deity appeased with blood of men. The missionary came and preached the Gospel; and the Druids ceased out of the land. They were both the legislature and the hierarchy, but they could not stand before the Divine truth. They were everybody then, but they are nobody now. I do not know what may happen here yet,. But I do know this, that when the Gospel comes, the images, the idols, the filthy things, the cruel and horrible things must go. The river of life purified Britain once, and it will cleanse it yet again. “The waters shall be healed.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The waters shall be healed.
The modern Dead Sea, and the living waters
The remarkable vision, which lies open before us, is exceedingly reassuring to those who are troubled by reason of the dreadful condition of the times--and which of us is not? The prophet bids us think of those waters, drear and dreadful, known by the suggestive name of the Dead Sea! This was the “Chamber of Horrors” of the land of Canaan. The world is a veritable Dead Sea upon a gigantic scale. Such also is the city in which we live: must I call it “modern Sodom”? Every wave that breaks upon the shore of this human lake now seems to wash up remains of monstrous things, unearthly, inhuman, beastly, devilish. London is a simmering cauldron of vice and crime. O God! how long shall it be? In certain respects such is every man’s natural heart until he is renewed by grace. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and may be well typified by the Sea of Death. If we could but look into it with such eyes as God hath, what should we not set? Thus the world, the city, the heart are each symbolised by the Dead Sea. Can they ever be purged? Can these waters be healed? According to our text, the Lord saith expressly, “the waters shall be healed.” Let us believe His promise, and take heart of hope from this good hour. Here is room, my brethren, for the faith which, like charity, “believeth all things, hopeth all things.”
I. And, first, to encourage your faith, I bid you to consider the promise.
1. We feel sure that this word of prophecy shall be accomplished to the letter in due time, because He that made the promise is able to fulfil it. What can resist the thunder of His word? Who shall stay His hand, or frustrate His design?
2. The Lord will fulfil this word thoroughly. This promise shall not be kept to the ear only, but it shall be fulfilled in the largest conceivable sense. What hosts have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!
3. He will fulfil this word in connection with the present dispensation. To my mind this is clear enough, from the fact that these waters flowed forth from Mount Zion. From this I gather that our God means to use His church for His purposes of grace. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” We believe that He means to win His ultimate triumphs by the preaching of the Gospel.
4. Note, carefully, that this Divine promise, “the waters shall be healed,” will not put aside instrumentality, but when it is fulfilled it will call forth more abundant agencies. The waters run into the Dead Sea, and purify its waters; then fish begin to multiply, and then man’s part comes in: “The fishers shall stand upon it from En-gedi even into En-eglaim.” You, slothful Christian men and women, who have never gone to sea in this fishery, will then be moved to the work, and will say, like Peter, I go a-fishing.
II. I invite you, next, to consider the wonder of the healing waters, that we may be helped thereby to believe that healing will come even to the Dead Sea of this present evil world, this present sinful Babylon, this present deceitful heart.
1. The wonders of the waters which Ezekiel saw lay in many things. First, consider whence they came. The healing waters flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb. As God is God, He hath decreed and purposed to redeem His people; and in that decree and purpose is the fountain of good to men. These waters flowed in the vision hard by the altar of burnt offering. Learn hence that the one channel of mercy to the sons of men is by the sacrifice of Christ. These waters, though they flowed unseen across the temple area, presently bubbled up from under the threshold of the door of the house. You know who is the Door of the temple of God: by Him we enter in unto God, and by Him God cometh forth in blessing unto us.
2. Note next, as a wonder in connection with these waters, how they increased. You and I have waded into these waters, have we not? If so, we know how they have increased upon us. Do you not see that the God who has done all this for you can do as much for others? Can He not heal the waters of the Dead Sea of our day?
3. Notice what these waters produced. They began to flow, and very soon vegetation came into the wilderness. They flowed into the desert, and into the Acacia Vale, as Joel calls it; and soon, on both sides of the river, there were trees, and, on a sudden, the trees were bearing fruit. Wherever the Gospel goes it carries life, and growth, and fruit with it.
4. As a further wonder, note whither the stream flowed. “These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which, being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.” What a mercy it is that the Gospel does go into the desert! Think of what this island used to be, when our sires wandered about in their nakedness among its oak groves.
III. Consider the efficacy of the waters. I will quit the figure in some measure in order to explain how the Gospel is adapted to heal the wickedness of men. “What does the Gospel do?” saith one. I answer, In the Gospel we set before men the horrible nature of sin, and thus we lead them to turn from it. The Gospel gives man a hope; and that is a grand thing for the degraded and self-condemned. To have a hope that you can be a better man is a great help in escaping from sin. The Gospel purifies men because it gives them Christ Himself to be their Saviour. It brings them the Son of God to be their salvation. Moreover, the Gospel does not merely tell men certain truths, but it gives life, and power, and grace to them. There comes with the Gospel a power almighty, which changes the nature of the man; touches his understanding, and enlightens it; touches his will, and changes it; touches his affections, and purifies them. This power is the Holy Ghost, equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son--nothing less than very God of very God. The power of the Gospel to cleanse this horrible Lake of Gomorrah lies in this: that it touches the heart, it moves the affections, it changes the nature, it renews the entire man. Moreover, it binds men in a holy brotherhood, and leads them back to their Father, and their God.
IV. The lesson of the waters. God works in very unexpected ways. The Lord knows how to do His own work, and He does it by apparently slender means.
2. As the Dead Sea has to be cleansed by that stream of water, all that we can do is, first of all, to pray, “Spring up, O Well!”
3. When we have done that, what next have we to do? Why, begin fishing. Go and fish in the streets, fish in the street corners, fish in any little room you can open, fish in the great crowds if they will come to you. The stream is breeding swarms of life; be ye fishers of men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Every thing shall live whither the river cometh.
The life-giving flyer
I. Its spring (Ezekiel 47:1). The river had its spring out of sight; the fountain head was invisible; but it proceeded out of the sanctuary of God. How pointedly this tells of the Holy Spirit, the river of the water of eternal life, proceeding out of the throne of God! It is God’s own essence, communicated to us men over the Cross of Jesus, and for His name’s sake. Hence, St. John says that it proceeded out of the “throne of God, and of the Lamb.” When Christ was here on earth as God-man, no one could see where the healing virtue in Him came from; but there it was, issuing forth from the very hem of His garment, so that you had but to touch it, and be healed. He was the house or temple of God,--God’s sanctuary; God dwelt in Him, the Spirit rested upon Him, for His redeemed, “without measure.” He was its spring for His people; therefore He said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me,” etc.
II. Its size (verses 2-5). Here was symbolised the gift of the Holy Spirit to the patriarchs. It was but partial,--here and there,--now to Enoch, now to Noah, now to Abraham. But presently, after an interval, that “man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, and measured a thousand cubits” (a thousand cubits distant from their spring in the sanctuary, but they were still shallow), “and he brought me through the waters; and the waters were to the ankles.” The Holy Spirit had a wider and somewhat deeper flow amongst the pious Israelites, represented by such men as Joshua, and Caleb, and the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, and especially by the prophets. Again, another interval, and he measured a thousand cubits (two thousand cubits from their spring in the sanctuary), “and brought me through the waters” (and still they were comparatively shoal), “and the waters were to the knees.” The Holy Spirit was evidently increasing His influences just before Christ’s incarnation. Nathanael, Simeon, Anna, and others, were “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Again, an interval, and “he measured a thousand cubits” (three thousand cubits from their spring in the sanctuary), “and brought me through, and the waters were to the loins.” The holy tide was rising rapidly during Christ’s personal ministry. The four Gospels testify plainly and unanimously to the great preparation work through Christ’s teaching and miracles amongst the masses. But yet one more interval, and he measured a thousand cubits (four thousand cubits from their spring in the sanctuary), and now there was no going through the waters,--now “it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.” What have we here, but that glorious crisis in the history of the Holy Spirit, that first, sudden, grand outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is described in the first chapters of the Acts? Depend upon it, the river is flowing as deeply now as on the Day of Pentecost. It is simply that we do not see it by reason of our blindness or feeble faith, and do not avail ourselves of its present and precious blessings. There are rivers in South America rolling down water enough for all the inhabitants of the globe, and yet only here and there a roving tribe knows of them; for miles and miles they are merely sipped by birds and lapped by solitary animals. But are they not there? We should say to the sceptic, Go and see; go and satisfy yourself. Why, when Christ was upon earth, a very river of fragrancy, and healing, and blessing in Himself, men did not recognise Him as such: they passed Him by as “a root out of a dry ground.” Now, suppose, because the myriads then alive did not flock to Him, some should deny that He really was in Palestine, what should we say to them? We should say, He was there, but they knew Him not. And so now we say, Here is the majestic river of the Holy Spirit’s influence amongst us; but we are blind about it, or we voluntarily keep aloof from it, and so it is no river to us. It is here, everywhere, and in all its efficacy; but what is it to the worldly, the carnal, the trifling, the formal?
III. Its service. What did this river do? (verses 6-9). Such is the beneficent, salutary service of this river. It shall only except from its benefits the wilfully obdurate and hypocritical,--those who, having known the truth and felt it, and been urged by it, yet resist its power, and refuse to be fruitful. All others, however barren by nature, shall be visited and blessed, and transformed by it. It shall come unto hearts hard as the nether millstone, and soften them; unto families poor as beggars, and enrich them; unto neighbourhoods which have been desert, and cause them to rejoice and blossom as the rose; unto natures which have been unprofitable, and make them plenteously to bring forth the fruit of good works. In conclusion--
1. Get to know and to remember more thoroughly that this river, these holy waters issuing from the sanctuary, are what you and every fellow creature most needs.
2. Get to realise more and more vividly that this blessed river is about you everywhere, about your path and your lying down. It is the river “the streams whereof make glad the city of God.”
3. Get to open your heart to it more and more. You must go into it up to your ankles, knees, loins; nay, its waters must go over your head and wash you every whir; you must put yourself in connection with it by drinking of it, by walking in it, by floating upon it, by conducting streams of it into your own soul.
4. Go and spread the news of it and the use of it far and wide. Tell others round you what it has done for you. Let them see what life it imparts to you, what satisfaction you gather from those fruits which grow by it, what healing from the leaves, how holy it makes you, how calm, how strong. (J. Bolton, B. A.)
The healing and life-giving river
This beautiful representation of the healing stream rests on some natural and some spiritual conceptions common in Ezekiel’s day. One natural fact was this, that there was a fountain connected with the temple hill, the waters of which fell into the valley east of the city, and made their way towards the sea, and long ere this time the gentle waters of this brook that flowed fast by the oracles of God, had furnished symbols to the prophets (Isaiah 8:6). Such waters in the East are the source of every blessing to men. The religious conceptions are such as these: that Jehovah Himself is the giver of all blessings to men, and from His presence all blessings flow. He was now present in His fulness, and forever in His temple. Hence the prophet sees the life-giving stream issue from the sanctuary. Another current idea was that in the regeneration of men, when the tabernacle of God was with them, external nature should also be transfigured. Then every good would be enjoyed, and there would be no more evil nor curse. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
The master-force in character and civilisation
The prophet beholds in vision a stream of water issuing from the temple buildings, and flowing eastwards until it falls into the Dead Sea, making even those bitter, fatal waters rich with life. In the first instance this mystic stream was a symbol of the miraculous transformation which the pious Jew expected the land of Canaan to undergo in order to fit it for the habitation of Jehovah’s ransomed people. In Palestine nature was often stern and unpropitious, and large tracts of country were utterly inhospitable. The prophets cherished the expectation that one day, when Israel was wholly obedient, God would renew the face of nature, and all Palestine would blossom as the rose. But these mystic waters demand a still larger interpretation. The thought and aspiration of Israel looked forward to a time when the Messiah would send forth a tide of living influence through the nations, cleansing the corruptions, and making everything in human society and life to realise its ideal. Under the magic influence of the Gospel of Christ the most hopeless lands and classes revive, and the bitter, burning regions of sin and misery become as the garden of the Lord. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.”
I. Spirituality in relation to personal character. That momentous issues depend upon personal character, upon the cultivation and exercise of the moral virtues, most men acknowledge. A few thinkers give intellectual perfections a place above moral qualities, but the vast mass of thoughtful men perceive that character is essential and supreme. Now, morality, true morality, requires peculiar inspiration and force to sustain it; it must be rooted in the spirit, and draw its life from eternity. Of course, the secularist scouts this fundamental conviction Of ours. He smilingly protests, What a wonderful being your poor mortal is; nothing will satisfy him but divinities, eternities, infinities, heavens, hells, boundless hopes and boundless fears: surely we can keep ourselves in order and behave decently without all these vast motives and pressures. Well, to the carnal eye we may seem poor creatures, but we need these great and solemn beliefs, and we cannot get on without them. One of these days we go into the fields, and there on the sod grows a daisy--wee, simple, modest flower. But when you come to think, what a costly flower it is! The daisy owes its shape to the action of the vast terrible law of gravitation working through all the realms of space, to refresh it the ocean must yield its virtue, to vivify it the electric forces must sweep through the planet, to colour it millions of vibrations must shoot through the light ether, to build it up, unfold it, perfect it, requires an orb ninety-five millions of miles away, an orb five hundred times bigger than all the planets put together, a million and a half times bigger than the earth itself. “Vain little daisy, will not less than this do for you?” says the critic. No; less will not do, it will have the great sun, the sea, the imperial forces of gravitation, electricity, and light, or it will not grow, or it grows a misshapen, discoloured thing. So, in infidel eyes, we mortals may seem poor creatures, but nevertheless we require immense stimulations and restraints for our perfection and safety, and any attempt to narrow our sky means moral impoverishment and destruction. Many men discuss morality as if it were altogether a matter of knowledge, good judgment, and common sense; morality means utility; show men that their interest and happiness will be best secured by virtue, and they will follow the right pathway. But these philosophers ignore some of the most patent and most potent facts of human nature; the blinding processes of desire, the sophistry of selfishness, the madness of lust, the defiance of self-will, the irrationality of temper and impatience, the illusions of a wanton fancy, all these must be withstood and mastered before we can do the just, the noble, and the pure, and it is only in high, spiritual considerations and influences that we find the availing force; and, let me add, these spiritual considerations and influences are found at their highest in the Christian faith. The world had given great attention to morality before Christ came. Outside Palestine there was the boasted ethical system of the Stoic, and within Palestine the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Great and earnest thinkers in Greece, Rome, and India elaborated moral codes, defined the various virtues, and set forth strong and eloquent reasons why men should, be virtuous rather than licentious. What did those various and admirable systems of conduct lack? They lacked life; they lacked the force to assert themselves. A recent traveller through the wild wastes of the country beyond Tripoli reports that in the deserts he found great patches of brilliantly-coloured flowers, apparently in vivid and mysterious bloom, in the dried-up torrent beds of a land from which the scorching sky had licked up every atom of moisture far and wide. Upon nearer approach the unique phenomenon was explained. It was found that the flowers had been actually mummified in the drought and heat, and, with their natural tints preserved, were as permanent as if cut in paper. It was thus with the morality of Greece and Rome, and that of the Scribes and Pharisees; and they surprise us with patches of brilliantly-coloured virtues in apparently vivid and mysterious bloom, but closer examination shows that the virtues were only like the mummified flowers on the Sahara--all was speculative, academic, formal, traditional, the natural tints being preserved, but the virtues were dry and dead, only cut in paper. What a mighty change followed the coming of our Lord! “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” Christ revealing the holy God, the spiritual universe, the spirituality of human nature, the pouring forth on humanity the Holy Spirit, put a soul into morality; He gave it a sound root in a vital soil, and henceforth the righteousness of God eclipsed the righteousness of man. We are often accused of not being sufficiently teachers of morality, the Evangelical movement is accused of being defective on the ethical side, but we have a great deal to say for ourselves. Our business is, first of all, to insist on those spiritual, Evangelical doctrines, without which virtue has no root, no force, no permanence. Right in the front of John’s Gospel is our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus, and everywhere our Lord is more full of the spiritual doctrine which underlies all morality than He is in the description, or analysis, or application of the several virtues. If we preach conversion we find morality its only vitalising and sustaining root. And it is only as we persist to preach the great spiritual doctrines that we kindle the enthusiasm essential to virtuous life. “No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic,” wrote Professor Seeley; and it is certain that no theory of utilitarian morality can kindle any such enthusiasm. We want the sun here, not the aurora borealis. We want the thought of the just and gracious God, the glow of the love of God, the sense of Christ’s pure presence and fellowship, the purifying, uplifting hope of immortality. Let us then be anxious that spiritual doctrine shall have its full place in our personal life, let us cherish a vivid faith in the unseen and eternal, and a rare strength and beauty shall steal into our character and conduct. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” Oh! if we could but persuade men to taste the powers of the higher world, how decorum, etiquette, propriety, civility, chivalry, policy, prudence, and all the rest of those pretty words would disappear in the transfigured shapes of consummated virtue! And let us not despair even of the most sunken and desolate victims and areas of immortality. We have critics who argue, Some physically are born cripples, some intellectually are born idiots, and some morally are born vicious and incurable, and there is nothing for them but exclusion or extinction. But this will not do. It is a wonderful feature of our day, of its glorious humanity, that if a man is a cripple, we do not give him up; mechanical ingenuity supplies him with legs and arms, and other marvellous substitutions and repairs; if he is blind he is taken in hand, and by most skilful discipline educated into seeing; if he is dumb he is put to school and taught to talk; and even if he is an idiot we do not abandon him,--we build asylums where love and science combine to repair the ruin of the brain, and woo reason back to her throne. I know these struggles of mercy are sometimes unavailing, and at other times the cures wrought are pathetically incomplete, but they are nevertheless the glory of our age, we refuse to abandon the most hopeless, we seek and save that which is lost. And if we act thus in the physical and mental worlds, shall we be less devoted and enthusiastic in the moral world? Surely this is the special sphere of our power and glory. There is a fine picture in Manchester representing the river of Lethe. On the one side of the river, miserable, distorted, ghastly, withered old men and women are dropping into the flood, but on the other bank they emerge in sunshine and summer, young, beautiful, strong, with music and song, walking in glory. We have got the very river that the poet dreamed about; all who are morally sick, diseased, loathsome, helpless, hopeless, stepping into the crystal tide, suffer a glorious change and walk in newness of life. “Everything lives whither the river cometh.”
II. Spirituality in relation to national life and progress. The condition of all national growth is not material, military, or mental, but spiritual, and when you have gauged the spiritual elements of a nation you know what its potentialities and prospects of growth are. When the crystal river first gushed forth at Pentecost, into what a wild, waste desert it ran, into what a vast Dead Sea it fell! But the spiritual, evangelical doctrines vindicated themselves, and green bits began to relieve the awful desert, and the sea of death began to sweeten. Wherever men preached the pure Gospel, the virtue of it was manifest in raising and beautifying whatever it was allowed to touch. The river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God cleansed the earth of the foulness of the old paganism. You see its efficacy once again in the glorious reformation of the sixteenth century. There were two great streams of influence sent forth in that memorable period. One was intellectual, artistic, literary, and philosophical, and finds its representative in Erasmus; the other was purely spiritual, and finds its representative in Luther. Which of these movements, which of these men, brought about in the world that better state of things which all but blind men see? Now, where there are two possible causes for any phenomenon, it is easy to make a mistake and impute the effect to the wrong cause. For fifty years we have been told that England owes her mild climate and rich landscapes to the influence of the Gulf Stream, but now scientists assure us that the Gulf Stream is a pure myth, and that we owe everything not to marine currents, but to aerial currents. We have hitherto imputed our national power and progress to Luther, and to the doctrines of grace he preached. Are we wrong in this? Was it Erasmus and culture that saved us? No, we are not wrong. Writers of a certain school say that “Erasmus would have impregnated the Church with culture, while Luther concentrated attention on individual mystical doctrines.” The fact is that the culture represented by Erasmus was identified with Roman Catholicism, it did impregnate the Church, and Italy, Spain, Austria, and to a large extent France, are the result of the intellectual, political, and ecclesiastical movement represented by Erasmus. Holland, Scandinavia, England, Germany, and America are the creations of the pure, Evangelical doctrines of Martin Luther. Mr. Lilly, a Roman Catholic, has just published a book in which he writes scornfully of Martin Luther because he was a peasant. His Master was; and it was because the peasant of the sixteenth century took us back to the peasant of the first century, because he took us back to the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, that flowed from the throne of God, that the Protestant world today is the fairest portion of the earth, whilst all beyond is desert, or choked with thorns and briars. Again, two other movements, and two other names, challenge our attention. Two memorable streams of influence were sent forth in the eighteenth century--Voltaire represented one great movement and John Wesley the other. Now, do we owe the immense improvement of modern civilisation to the philosopher or to the evangelist? Are we to find the origin of what is truly human and progressive in modern life in spiritual doctrine, or in philosophic and sceptical criticism? What have the principles of Voltaire done for France? Voltaire, whatever might be his intentions, led his followers to what proved a river of blood, of tears, of death, to a volcanic stream, to a current of burning, blasting lava--he did not drain the Dead Sea, he set it on fire, and hosts perished in the awful cataclysm. John Wesley led the mobs of our great cities to God in Christ, he turned the river of life down our streets and highways, he caused it to flow like a crystal Niagara into the Dead Sea of our national corruption, and the wilderness became a fruitful field, and the fruitful field was counted for a forest. We must never forget that everything touching the strength and progress of our nation, and of mankind at large, depends upon our faithfulness to spiritual doctrine and fellowship. Let nothing political or social tempt us away from our strictly spiritual faith and programme. There are many wonderful methods suggested for improving society. The purification of the world, the perfection of civilisation, the bringing in of the golden age! all is delightfully plain, simple, and, certain--good fathers, pure mothers, happy homes, and the New Jerusalem. Let us make men and women and children godly as our fathers did, and everything good will slowly and silently grow into nobler forms, and everything evil will slowly and silently drop away. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” In that Gospel we have a river of God full of water which we know can clothe barrenest spots with velvet, and turn Dead Seas into crystal theatres of rejoicing life. And the spiritual power does not lessen with time. At the distance of a thousand cubits the waters were to the ankles; at the distance of a thousand cubits more the waters were to the knees; a thousand more and they were to the loins; a thousand more and they were waters to swim in. Oh! for this deepening tide of spiritual grace and power. May it come and spiritualise our churches, may it vitalise our conventional morality, may it wash away our national sins, may it transfigure our slums with the white lilies of purity and the roses of joy, may it cause righteousness and peace to spring forth before all the nations! (W. L. Watkinson.)
The vision of the holy waters
Whether we view the temple as the symbol of the Church or of heaven, or of the Divine humanity, it will amount to the same thing. And it is a sublime idea which is attained when we view these as one within or above the other, and all affording a grand channel of descent by which the Divine truth, represented by the sacred water, flows down into the world. First, from the inmost essence of the Lord, its infinite source, thence through His Divine humanity, which the apostle calls “the new and living way,” into heaven; from heaven again into the minds of the good on earth. It is the same stream of which John had a spiritual view (Revelation 22:1). The prophet describes himself as being in the way of the gate northward, and being led out of this to an utter gate by the way that looketh eastward. The leader of the prophet represents the Divine providence acting through the ministry of guardian angels. He has given His angels charge over us, to keep us in all our ways. “He brought me out of the way of the gate northward.” The quarters, East, West, South, and North, indicate earthly positions, and how we stand in relation to the Sun. They who are nearest to the Sun of heaven, by the purest love to Him, are in the spiritual east, to such the “Sun of Righteousness ariseth with healing in His wings.” In the west are they who are in little or no love to Him. The south, where the sun is at mid-day, when he gives his greatest light, represents the state of such as are fully enlightened in spiritual intelligence; while the north, the region of cold and fog, represents the condition of the ignorant. The prophet was in the way of the gate northward, to represent the ignorant state from which we all commence our heavenward journey. Gates represent introductory truths. By these we are admitted to the higher things of the Church, as by means of gates we enter a city. Of the spiritual city, the Church, it is said, “They shall call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise” (Isaiah 60:18). The Lord Himself says, “I am the door: by Me if any man shall enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). The utter gate by the river, which looketh eastward, means the most general knowledge which leads us towards the Lord, the rising Sun of the soul. This is the knowledge of the Lord as the Saviour. It is said, “He led me about, the way without, unto the utter gate.” These words conduct us to most interesting and important considerations. The circumstances of our outward life constitute “the way without.” These are all the objects of Divine care, and are made subservient to our spiritual good. Our business pursuits require us often to change from town to town, from kingdom, it may be, to kingdom. Our friends and associates are thus changed. We come into contact with new scenes, new books, new trains of thought. Our position in life is sometimes changed. We suffer afflictions in the loss of property, or in separations from those dear to us. All these changing scenes and circumstances, sometimes chequered with deep and lengthened suffering, are overruled by a merciful Providence to our highest good. Whatever the Lord permits, or whatever He ordains, is from the counsels of His love; and when the end proposed has been effected, we may look back, and see that; all has been for the best. The truths which were before only in the memory, become now lessons on which we ponder, and which give a colour to our lives. Henceforward our lives have a deeper aim, a holier aspect. We have been led about, by the way without, and have come to the utter gate, by the way that looketh eastward. “And, behold, there ran our waters on the right side.” The right side or the south side, for the south side would be the right when the front of the temple looked to the east, represents truth flowing from love. The right side is the strongest side, and truth from earnest heartfelt love is always stronger than truth from a mind chiefly actuated by faith. All the truths of heaven flow from love in the Lord. They are waters that come out on the right side. And, when the human soul is awakened to its highest interest and their true saving character, it sees as the prophet saw, “Behold, there ran out waters on the right side.” The next stage in the progress marked in our text is, “That when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles.” Our guardian angels have the power of measuring our spiritual progress. They perceive our states most correctly. When a person has not only learned and reflected upon the Divine commandments, but loved them and reduced them to practice, he has advanced a thousand. He has performed an act of spiritual multiplication to the third power; and he will find the waters of Divine truth “up to the ankles.” It is reported of the renowned Philip Neri, that he said he was saved by the right use of his eyes: in looking above, to God, before, to heaven, and below, to the few feet of earth he should one day occupy, he kept his mind ever directed to things eternal. But the right use of the feet is quite as important as that of the eyes; however steadily a person may look to the golden city in the distance, he will never get there unless he also walks. When, then, the prophet had completed the first stage, his thousand cubits, and was led across the waters, he found them up to his ankles, to intimate that now he could fully understand the letter of the Word, all that related to moral outward life. There are three grand stages in our religious life. In the first, we are governed by obedience, and inquire little further about any religious duty than “Has the Lord said it must be done?” In the second, we begin to see the beauty of truth as a glorious thing in itself, and worthy of all acceptation: it is to us a “pearl of great price.” Faith, and the things of faith, are objects of supreme importance, and we follow truth for truth’s sake. We do the Lord’s commandments in this opening of a second degree of the mind, but we do them not so much from command as from a rational admiration of their rectitude. The third stage of Christian progression is that which we enter upon by being introduced into such a state of supreme love to the Lord, that everything which comes from Him is our delight. We love His law, we love His truth, we love Himself. We have already described the state of obedience which is arrived at when the waters cover the feet. But he with the measuring line went on, measured a thousand, and brought the prophet forward, and then led him across, and the waters were up to the knees. It is a most important advance which is indicated by the rise of waters to the knees. To obey from command is good, but to open the mind to see the propriety and beauty of the command is much better. The Christian now becomes a merchantman seeking for goodly pearls. Each text, when opened, gives him a new delight. For it should ever be remembered, that it is not the knowing of the Word alone which gives light, but the understanding of it. When the mind is opened thus in its second degree by the presence of an interior love of truth, its deeper perceptions are a constant source of delightful and consolatory views when reading the Word. The pages of the Divine book become to him a garden of ever-varying richness and beauty. Here are beds of varied hues of flowers, there are trees of silver leaves and golden fruits. He comes to the Word as to the paradise of his heavenly Father below, and he finds he can meander in its sacred walks, or sit in its blessed bowers, with ever-increasing delight. Sir Isaac Newton compared himself, as a man of science, to a child picking up pebbles on the margin of the ocean of truth. And this was both a mark of the humility of the great philosopher, and of his reverence and value for the truth he found in science. But the true spiritual child of his heavenly Father has the privilege not only of finding pebbles on the margin of the holy waters, but of going through and enjoying the still-deepening stream of the river, which makes glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Nest High. But we are told, “Again he measured a thousand, and the waters were up to the loins” (verse 4). The loins are the portion of the body where the previously-separated limbs are joined. They correspond spiritually to love united with faith. And, when the mind has been so advanced in the regenerate life, that every truth we come to comprehend is seen also to be full of love, “the water is up to the loins.” When this blessed state is reached, fear and doubt are left far away. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” That secret union of goodness and truth in the inner man has been attained, which realises in each soul the Divine words (Isaiah 62:4). Thrice happy is he who has attained this heaven within the soul, in which righteousness and peace have kissed each other! Along with this entire union of love and faith within, another discovery is made. The Word is seen to be infinite wisdom, and, therefore, progression in its hallowed truths to be everlasting. Hence the prophet continues (verse 5). The delight which the blessed have in the fresh and ever brighter unfoldings of Divine truth, is meant by the blessed promise (Revelation 7:17). Fountains! what an idea of its inexhaustible abundance is conveyed by the term. Living water--how the term conveys the idea of a sparkling, glittering, sunny, pearly, living brilliancy--it can never be exhausted, never be passed over. The soul may swim in it forever, but can never get beyond. And what a glorious thought is that to the lover of heavenly wisdom! Its grandeurs will be forever disclosing themselves to him in increasing beauty. From glory to glory, from brightness to brightness, from blessing to blessing: such is the career of the just made perfect. They find the wisdom which they appreciated in some slight degree here, and the truths which they found deepening with their advancing states, have become with the larger powers of their exalted condition, “waters which have risen, a river which no man can pass over.” (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
The Gospel river
Those who have read the travels of Bruce in Abyssinia, in search of the source of the Nile, may recollect the ecstasy he felt when he thought his adventurous undertaking was crowned with success. He stood in transport beside those welling fountains--so long sought for in vain--which poured forth the river that had washed the cities of the Pharaohs, and wandered among the Pyramids, diffusing fertility and beauty along its extensive course; and we must be destitute indeed of all imagination and enthusiasm if we do not, in some measure, enter into his feelings. Taking advantage of such a scene as this, and with an allusion, perhaps, to the river of paradise, the sacred writers often compare the Gospel, in its progress and blessings, to a river increasing as it flows, and diffusing beauty and fertility along its banks.
I. The river itself.
1. Observe its source. The prophet had gone round the temple summoned up before him in vision, without observing any stream of water. His supernatural conductor, however, brought him once more to the front of the edifice which looked to the east, and now he saw a fountain issuing from under the threshold, flowing eastward, and running in a stream past the south side of the altar of burnt offerings which stood in the outer court. The spiritual meaning of this part of the emblematic vision it is not difficult to discern. Jerusalem and its temple were, so to speak, the original seat of the Gospel, and the scene of those events by which man was redeemed. It was there that the fountain was opened to the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness. It was there that the spiritual rock was smitten, and those waters flowed forth which are for the refreshment, the healing, and the regeneration of our race. There, too, it was, that the salvation wrought out in it was first applied to the souls of the guilty. “Beginning at Jerusalem.”
2. The river of which the prophet speaks, progressively increased. The symbol was realised when the knowledge of salvation, no longer confined to the Hebrews, was communicated to the Gentiles with marked success, and provision made for its extension to men of every kindred and tongue.
3. The direction in which this river flowed. “These waters,” said the prophet’s guide, “issue out towards the east country”--that is, to the region eastward of Jerusalem. This part of the prophetic symbol evidently points to the eminent and early success of the Gospel by the ministry of the apostles in Judea itself, in Samaria, and the neighbouring countries. At the same time, a more enlarged and important signification must be attached to it. Samaria was the seat, for a time, of an idolatrous worship. When, therefore, this river is represented as flowing eastward to Samaria, may we not regard it as an intimation that by the Gospel idolatry shall be overthrown? that the Gospel shall be purified from those inventions of men by which it has often been debased, and shine forth in the dominions of the man of sin in its native purity, simplicity, and beauty?
II. The qualities of the waters of the river.
1. They have a quickening and life-giving power. The sea into which this river falls is what is called the Dead Sea, which covers those cities of the plain which God destroyed with fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest. But mark the change that was to be effected when the waters of the sanctuary mingled with the briny wave! Instantly was it to teem with innumerable fishes; every species found in the Great Sea or Mediterranean would increase and multiply; and the strand on which the fisherman’s bark never rested, was to be covered with fishers from En-gedi even to En-eglaim. Here we have an illustration of the power of the Gospel to quicken those who are dead in trespasses and sins. It gives life where formerly there was desolation. It fills the world with animated and active Christians, where formerly all was stagnation and insensibility. It communicates a power to love and serve and enjoy God, to those who were destitute of these exalted capacities.
2. The waters of this river have a healing virtue. “Being brought forth into the sea the waters shall be healed.” Its pestiferous qualities shall be neutralised; its taste and smell shall be rectified; and it shall become a fit abode for those creatures that exist in other wholesome waters. As every individual who embraces the Gospel is blessed with light and purity, so in the state of society, and in the general tone of morals, it has produced great amelioration in all parts of the world into which it has penetrated. Even where Christianity has not saved, it has reformed. It has drawn into solitude and darkness the crimes that used to flaunt in the face of day. It has put an end to that systematic impurity which was practised under pretence of religion; softened the horrors of war; it has lightened the bonds of captivity; shaken the pillars of tyranny; overturned the altars of idolatry; given origin to benevolent institutions for the relief of every malady to which the mind and body of man are subject; advanced the cause of secular education; given rise to the noblest efforts, spiritually to enlighten and convert the world.
3. The waters of this river are fertilising and fructifying in their influence.
4. This river is not universal in its quickening, healing, and fertilising influence. “The miry places thereof, and the marishes thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.” How aptly does this representation typify those to whom the Gospel comes in vain, who are so sunk in the mire of sin, so saturated with the love and pollution of iniquity, that they will not yield themselves to the sanctifying influence of the Gospel. To such it is not the savour of life unto life, but of death unto death. (J. Kirkwood.)
The Gospel river
This vision refers to the Gospel under the figure of a river.
I. The Gospel as a singularly appropriate blessing. A river in the desert. Implying--
1. Its suitability. The desert needs water, the world needs the Gospel.
2. The abundant measure of its blessing. A river.
3. The sweet nature of these blessings.
II. The Gospel as a purifier of the world’s supplies. The sea represents the world’s material plenty which have been corrupted, and the Gospel is necessary to purify them.
1. This implies the superior power of holiness over evil; the river purifying the sea. The larger quantity purified by the smaller.
2. This bespeaks the ultimate triumph of holiness over sin. The constant flow shall gradually change the character of the sea. “And the waters shall be healed.”
III. The Gospel as a life-giving power in our world.
1. Life of a pronounced character. There is a difference in the meaning of the words “live” in this verse. The first means “to live and move”--nacre motion; the second means “to live and produce.”
2. Life in an abundant measure. “And there shall be a great multitude of fishes,” etc. The element congenial to life.
3. Life everywhere. “And it shall come to pass that every living creature which swarmeth in every place whither the rivers come shall live” (R.V.)
4. Abiding life (verse 12). The Gospel brings satisfaction, holiness, fruitfulness, and permanence. (E. Aubrey.)
I. Its origin. The “waters issued from near the threshold of the house.” The fountain, then, is in the holy place, the holy of holies. By this we are reminded that Christianity, as a system of truth, is not a human invention, but a Divine revelation. In it God has “bowed the heavens and come down.” But we are also reminded that Christianity, as a life in separate human lives, as a saving power for the individual and for the race, is also divinely given.
II. Its increase. Beginning in a rill, and widening and deepening to a river, beginning as a mustard-seed and growing to a great tree, beginning as a little leaven that ferments the whole lump, Christianity, at first seen in the Babe in a manger, shall govern thrones and mould empires and redeem humanity.
III. Its effects. There are two closely connected and yet not identical attributes in this visional river that symbolise the influence of a living Christianity.
1. There is vivifying power. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” There is prolific, exuberant life suggested here.
2. There is restorative power. The world lying in wickedness is a Dead Sea, a Marah. Its corruption, its bitterness, shall yield, have yielded, to the pure, loving, hopeful, prayerful influence of Christly lives.
IV. Its absence. As we read “the miry places and the marishes thereof that shall not be healed, they shall be given to salt,” we are reminded of the natural fact that the height of water of a sea is different at different times, and that if the water subsides, salt morasses and marishes rise here and there that are cut off from connection with the main sea, and become first pestilential and loathsome, then dry and barren. And by this natural fact we are warned of the spiritual fact, that where the waters of a living Christianity do not come there will be no life, no healing; and that sooner or later there will be the loathsome mire, the pestilential marsh, the salt and deadly morass. “He that believeth not the Son of God shall not see life.” (U. R. Thomas.)
The power of the Holy Ghost
God is constantly measuring the rise of the waters of the Holy Ghost within the soul and upon the world, and may God help us never to forget that He is always measuring, and that as life passes forward year after year, God is measuring with eager scrutiny to see if the waters which were once up to the ankles had risen to the knees, etc.
I. The source of the Holy Ghost. And when I speak of the Holy Ghost, I do not mean the Holy Ghost who brooded over creation, or the Holy Ghost which waited upon Elijah and Isaiah merely; but the Holy Ghost of Pentecost, that mighty power of God’s own life which through Jesus is brought to every single person, and that awaits and throbs and pulses outside the doors of our hearts this morning. The Holy Ghost of Pentecost! Will you please notice that of old the waters came from under the altar through the temple? and the temple, in the imagery of Scripture, stands for the natural man, and, above all, for the nature of the One Man, Jesus Christ. Hence He said, “Destroy this temple”--speaking of His body--“and I will raise it up in three days.” So that the temple, in its deepest significance, sets forth the nature of our blessed Saviour, the Man Christ Jesus. And you will remember, of course, that was a holy separate manhood; He was holy, separate from sin. And it is because He sitteth today beside the throne of God filled with the plenitude of power, that from Him the temple the stream of Pentecostal power proceeds. And in Ezekiel’s vision, the mention of the altar, the place of sacrifice, as being the source and origin of the stream, reminds us that it is only through the sacrificial nature of our Saviour that the power of the Holy Ghost is vouchsafed to men. If He had gone home as He might have gone from the Mount of Transfiguration, He never could have communicated the Holy Ghost to us. It was only because His nature became the altar on which He offered a sacrifice to God for the sins of the world, that sacrifice being Himself. God was able to pour through Him His own tide of life and power; just as with you and me, we never can know the indwelling power of the Holy Ghost until we have come to our Calvary, until we have too laid upon our altar everything, until we too have denied our own method and programme and ideal in order to be absolutely yielded and surrendered to God; only so can we receive the Pentecost or communicate the power that is in us, or in Him. And there the glorified Saviour, the Infinite One, lives and reigns today, waiting to bestow upon every one of us the fulness of the Holy Ghost. Hear the music of waters as they gush from the throne of God to man, as they lave the desert where you stand, as they come murmuring around your dusty feet, as they long to creep up your body, past the heart and face, until your whole being is submerged beneath that mighty, that beneficent baptism.
II. The gradual rise of the power of the Holy Ghost in the man’s life. He measured, and it came to the ankles. And I suppose in the beginning of our Christian life, our ways, our walks, our daily track of obedience becomes cleansed and purified. Is not that one of the great needs of your young life? do not your paths often take you into the midst of men and things, into contact with sins and environment which would soil and sully your pure young nature? I think it is well for you to know the evil of the world. I think you are stronger to know evil that you may know good. I don’t want to shield you as a number of hothouse plants. I think it is better to bed you out that you may know something of the taint and corruption around. We know that the whole world lieth with the wicked one. We must know it by personal observation as well as by report. But in the midst of it all it is possible for you to walk with clean feet, because the blessed Holy Spirit is always washing away and cleansing the moral impurity that otherwise might attack you. But great and good though that be, you must not stop there; there must be the rising of the waters; and I pray that even now you may feel them rising and gathering around you, for they must creep up to the knee. The work of the blessed Spirit is teaching us to make intercession. He teaches us how to pray, and He pours through the heart an incessant stream of desire for others. Be thankful that is increasingly your experience. That is not enough; there must be the rising power of the Holy. Ghost in the loins. The loins may stand for the girding up of our loins for service. In the case of our blessed Saviour the water rose to the loins, when He girded Himself at His baptism to undertake His ministry. And I think every one of us, as we stand now in our young life, on the threshold of existence, must we not be wondering how best to serve mankind? It may be just in the place we were born in, or it may be going forth upon some further expedition of the ministry. Then the measurer comes forward, until the waters are swimming; the idea being that the mighty current of the Holy Ghost has come into a man’s life, so as to take him off his feet; and as he lies back, his head, his face towards the blue sky above him, he is just borne in the mighty current onward, with ever intenser force, onward to the highest and fullest life. Do you know that? Don’t be afraid of it, let yourself go; let God have His way with your young life. My mistake has been that I have anchored to the bank, that I have anchored to circumstances, to my own ideals and plans! And let the Holy Ghost rise within you until your soul is filled with its activity; your love and affection, your imagination and power of imagery, and your spirits shall all feel the rising waters and the Pentecostal baptism that comes from the loving Christ.
III. The cause of this. Why is our England what she is today? Judging by her latitude she ought to be wild and bare. For eight months of the year her ports ought to be closed, and the ice floes banked up all round her shores; whilst within, her shaggy woods and ice-bound rivers should be haunted by furry animals, and the only value of our country be a hunting-ground for those who come to steal from the animals their fur. Why is it England is what she is today, so sunny and fair? Why is it that we have a temperate summer and comparatively hospitable winter? Why is it that our hills are covered with grass, and our valleys with corn, that there is a rich pasture land throughout our territory, upon which the shepherds may lead their flocks, or the herds may graze? Why is it? We should be in Arctic misery were it not for the river that threads the waters of the Atlantic. You know how, within the Caribbean Sea, the water of the ocean is being kept at boiling point, so to speak, and how presently some mighty force appears, of which we know comparatively little, probably by evaporation, and by currents above and below the water is forced out, strikes presently a promontory, is deflected across the Atlantic, and within a few weeks it touches our shores, and this warm river of water, surrounding England as it does, makes her the beautiful land of ocean she is. Oh! that beneficent current of the Gulf Stream. Wherever it comes there is life--spring flowers, woods, pasture land, cornfields, harvests. So is it in the inner life, for the more of the Holy Ghost; you have, the more harvest you yield. So is it in the world around us. Let the Holy Ghost come into your own soul, and the aridity will blossom into flower and fruit; let Him come irate this neighbourhood, and those public houses and houses of ill-fame, and those wretched stifling courts will be swept away; and the whole of this neighbourhood will become fair and beautiful. Let Him come into the world, and see if it be not healed. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The river of salvation
Unlike most other great cities, Jerusalem did not stand on a river. The waters of Siloam, “that go softly,” being but an inconsiderable brook, did indeed issue from the temple rock, and the bed of the Kidron, which was for most of the year a dry watercourse, bleaching in the sun, did run with a foaming torrent in the rainy seasons, but these were all. But a Psalmist’s faith had reversed the defect, and sung of the river which made glad the city of God (Psalms 46:1-11); and a Prophet had seen the vision of a time when Jehovah would be to Zion “a place of broad rivers and streams” (Isaiah 33:21). In like manner, Ezekiel casts his prophecy of the future blessings, which should flow from God’s presence among His people, into His grand image of the mysterious river, rising in the temple and pouring out eastwards, with fertility and life in its waters.
1. The first point to be noted is the source of the river. Ezekiel’s reconstruction of the temple set it on the top of a mountain much higher than the real temple hill, and levelled the land around it to a wide plain. That a river should rise, not only on a mountaintop, but in the temple itself, was obviously unnatural. But the idea to be conveyed is the same as that which the New Testament seer expressed by a slight modification of the image, when he represented the “river of water of life” as “proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The stream which is to heal and vitalise humanity must rise on a height above humanity. The water power which generates electricity must fall from a height above. Moral and social reforms, which rise from lower levels, will be like rivers in the great deserts of Northern Asia, which trickle feebly for a few miles, and then are lost in the sand. From the deep heart of God His pitying love wells up, unmotived, unsought, impelled only by its own energy. Ezekiel expresses, also, by making the river rise in the temple, that God’s presence with men is the source of all blessing. He dwells among us by the abiding with us of His Son, who, through His Spirit, is with us always. Therefore, the parched land becomes a pool, and we need thirst no more.
2. The sudden increase of the stream. A “thousand cubits” would be, according to the usual measurement, about a quarter of a mile, so that, in successive spaces of that extent, the river was ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep, and unfordable. Whence came the swift increase? Not from tributaries, of which there were none, but from the evermore abundant outpouring from the fountain in the holy place. God’s ideal is that the blessings of His presence should continually and rapidly increase, and that Christ’s kingdom should swiftly grow. So far as His Divine communications are concerned, these become more and more abundant in the measure of men’s desires and faithful use. But die Divine ideal may be hampered in realisation by men’s fault, and has been so, not only in regard to individual growth in grace, but in regard to the diffusion of the sparkling waters of the river of God through the waste places of the world. Does anyone believe that the rate at which Christianity has spread is in accordance with its possibilities of growth, or with Christ’s desire to see of the travail of His soul? Does anyone believe that the rate of growth, characteristic of most professing Christians, is the utmost that they could attain if they tried?
3. In the east, the one condition of fertility is water. Irrigate a desert, and it becomes a fruitful field; break down the aqueducts, and the granary of the world becomes barren waste. The traveller knows where there is a brook by seeing the line of green which ties on either side. There may not be a blade of pass on the level of the plain, but as soon as one’s path dips into a wady, trees line the banks, and birds sing in the branches. So Ezekiel’s river had many trees on its banks. Note the almost verbal correspondence of verse 12 with the lovely picture drawn of the good man in Psalms 1:1-6, “whose leaf also does not wither.” The continual productiveness resulting from the perennial stream is the ideal for the individual life of the Christian, as well as for the whole Church; and wherever hearts are kept open for the inflow of God’s grace, all the year will be the season of fruit bearing, and, as on some trees in favoured lands, blossom and fruit will hang together on the laden boughs. Another view of the effects of the river is given in that great saying that its waters bring healing to the bitter waters of the Dead Sea, into which they pour. Sin pervades humanity, and only by the coming down from above of a purer source of life can it be cast out. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The rise and progress of the Gospel
Water is a Biblical emblem of salvation (Psalms 46:4; Isaiah 12:3; Zechariah 14:8). Only the salvation brought by Christ fulfils Ezekiel’s idea of the healing waters from the sanctuary; and in what the Gospel has done and is doing for the world we see the realisation of the prophet’s vision.
I. The source of the Gospel. Christianity, viewed on the human side, was an outcome of Judaism. To Jesus the temple was His “Father’s house.” He taught there, and spoke of the “living water” which He would impart. His chosen apostles and first disciples were Jews. One of His last injunctions was that the Gospel should be preached to all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem.”
II. The progress of the Gospel. The beginnings of Christianity had a small and feeble look, as of a tiny streamlet which might soon be dried up by the heats of persecution. But the stream kept deepening as it flowed, until it has now become as a great highway among the nations, carrying on its broad bosom ideas that revolutionise human thought and life, and furnishing a medium of sympathetic communion between men of far distant countries and climes.
III. The beneficial effects of the Gospel.
1. Are not the great salt seas of Hinduism and Buddhism already beginning to be influenced by the quickening and healing power of the water of life?
2. But the prophet saw (verse 11) how the salt marishes, which were left by the subsidence of the sea, remained unhealed; the inflowing river did not reach them. Take care, then, Chat you do not cut yourself off from the healing and life-giving influences of the Gospel. (T. C. Finlayson.)
The influence of the Church of God
I. The striking characteristics of this influence.
1. The smallness of its beginnings. One man from Chaldea, or a dozen common Galileans, do not seem much to turn the world upside down with. That little stream, issuing out of the infant Church of Jerusalem, looked as if there would not be needed more than one hot day’s sun of opposition to dry it up. Read the prophet’s story, and see how the waters became a river that could not be passed over. So the Gospel stream, easily stepped over at the first, has gone on widening and deepening, until now it covers the world’s best places and belts the whole earth.
2. These waters of the vision were fed by no tributaries--and herein is a marvellous thing. Those waters had but one source--just those drops at the gate of the temple, and that was all. They issued out of the sanctuary; they grew and they grew. They were inherently developed. This is true of the Gospel stream coming out of the sanctuary. No other religions have swelled its waters with their inflowing tide. Nor wealth, nor learning, nor art, nor government has contributed one drop to its volume. The Christ stands and breaks His five loaves, and the five thousand and the five millions are fed by the same loaves.
3. Mark again this characteristic of the waters--they transform whatever they touch. Everywhere they spread in their onward flow, they make a place of beauty. This is the picture. What are the actual scenes marking the course of the Gospel stream down through the world? Where do you find the world’s moral garden today? Where are the high places of the earth? Places high in cleanliness and conscience, in charity and forgiveness? They are here, by the banks of the River of Life, flowing from the sanctuary. What savages have been changed to saints! What hells of opposition have become homes filled with all sweet charity! How love as a lust has been transformed into love as an inspiration!
II. Is there one thing that can be named as the sole condition of the influence of the Church? Beyond the shadow of a doubt, for the Church was to be the Church of the living God, the dwelling place of Jehovah. What distinguished this sanctuary whence flowed these marvellous waters was this--that God was there. No imposing ritual, no pomp of ceremonial, no crowd of worshippers, no countless repetitions of breathed prayer, no blood of sacrifices can account for that magic stream that trickled down from the sanctuary, and swept on and out to deserts and dead seas, leaving only beauty and fertility along its track. The illimitable God was there This picture of prophecy is the reality of history. From the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit at the day of Pentecost, whenever God has been in the Church, her influence has been immediate and beneficent. The one sole condition of power on the part of the Church is that she be filled with the Spirit of God. If the Lord God come down and dwell in His sanctuary, out of His sanctuary will issue the waters of salvation.
III. What all this determines concerning the Church.
1. Her Divine origin. See what the Church has done. See her beginning at Jerusalem. See how she has since breasted the deep currents of the world, how she has made everything live. Demanding such sacrifices, wielding such weapons as she has, she could never have gone on one step of her brilliant way if she were not of God.
2. Her worldwide triumph. What was there these waters touched that they did not heal? The Church is here in order that the Gospel may be preached unto all nations, not alone as a testimony but as a transforming power.
3. The Spirit of God in the Church is the sole condition of her influence, and He is almighty. (H. Johnson, D. D.)
The healing waters
I have somewhere seen a picture, which I will endeavour to describe. The scene is in the far East; the hour, when the earth is just lighted up with that rare oriental sunlight, which we Westerns long to see; the time, the sultry August, when the fierce sun has it all his own way, and the country has a sickly cast upon it, as if it fainted with the intenseness of the glare. The plain is scorched and arid, and the river running between its sedgy banks seems to have hardly strength enough to propel its own sluggish stream from the mountain beyond. Beneath a group of ancestral palms stands a knot of Egyptian peasants, swarthy and muscular, talking wildly to each other, and with eyes strained wistfully in the direction of the south, in which quarter there seems to hang an indescribable haze, the forecasting shadow of some atmospheric or other change. Why look they there so eagerly? Why do they gaze so intently just where the river faintly glitters on the horizon’s dusky verge? Oh, because they know, from the experience of years, that the time has come for the inundation of the Nile. They do not know the processes, perhaps, by which the waters are gathered--how in the far Abyssinia the sources of wealth are distilled; but, as certainly as if their knowledge was profound and scientific, do they calculate upon the coming of the flood. And they know, too, that when the flood does come, that scorched plain shall wave with ripening grain, that there shall be corn in Egypt, and that those blackened pastures shall then be gay with such fertile plenty, that all the land shall cat, and shall be satisfied; for “everything shall live whither the river cometh.” This picture has struck me as being a very vivid and forcible representation of Ezekiel’s vision, embodied in the experience of Eastern life. Nothing, surely, can better represent the moral barrenness of the world--a wilderness of sin--than that plain, on which the consuming heat has blighted and withered the green earth, and induced the dread of famine. Nothing can better set forth the grace and the healing of the Gospel, than the flow of that life-giving river; nothing can better image to us the attitude befitting all earnest Christian men, than the wistful gaze of those peasants to the place whence the deliverance shall come, that they may catch the first murmur of the quickened waters, and feel and spread the joy.
I. The source of these healing waters. There was a copious fountain on the west side of the city of Jerusalem. At this fountain, which was called Gihon, Zadok and Abiathar stood beside the youthful Solomon, and with many holy solemnities proclaimed him king. The prudent Hezekiah, foreseeing that in a siege the supply from this fountain might be cut off by the enemy, conducted it by a secret aqueduct to the very heart of the city; and David, deriving from this same fountain one of his choicest emblems of spiritual blessing, struck his harp and sang--“There is a river,” etc. The prestige and the sanctity of the ancient Jerusalem have passed away forever. But yet God is still present in the sanctuaries of His Son in peculiar manifestation, and there are special promises of favour for those that wait upon Him, and that call in His house upon His name. Here, as in a spiritual laver, the soul of the polluted receives the cleansing of the water and of the Word. Here the poor children of sorrow smile through their tears, as they are satisfied with the goodness of His house, and the lame halts no longer as he emerges from this Bethesda of the paralysed, whose waters have been stirred from on high. It is from between the cherubim that God especially shines; it is among, the golden candlesticks that He still walks to bless His people; and here, as in a gorgeous and well-furnished hall of banquet, believers eat of the fatness of His house, and drink of the river of His pleasure; and in the temple are at once the highest teaching and the most satisfying comfort, the closest fellowship with God and the most effectual preparation for heaven. While, however, these healing waters came through the temple, the blessing did not originate there. The springs of them were in the everlasting hills. In other words, God is the one source of life; and means, unless He vitalise them, are but the letter which killeth--the shadow of good things to come.
II. The progress of the healing waters. The narrative tells us that the progress of the waters was gradual, and that it was constant. There was no ceasing of the flow--there was no ebbing of the water. And this is a very graphic description of the progress of the Gospel of Christ. Simple and feeble in its beginnings, those trembling but earnest fishermen its earliest preachers--wealth, and rank, and patronage and power, all arrayed against it--Caesars conspiring to strangle it, and armies marched out against its fugitive sons--how marvellous was its triumph! Only think of the rapidity of its spread. Jerusalem was filled with its doctrines; Antioch, Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Athens, Rome, all trembled beneath its denunciations of their vices, and admitted its transforming energy within a century of its Founder’s death. Tertullian, one of the early apologists for the faith, says, “We are but of yesterday, and we have filled your halls, villages, boroughs, towns, cities, the camp, the senate, and the forum.” A writer at the commencement of the second century speaks of the whole world of the Roman Empire being filled with the Gospel of Christ. It is well known that Constantine the Great blazoned the cross upon his banners, and throned Christianity as the established religion of the state. And at the close of the third century, when Julian gasped out his celebrated dying cry, it was not the apostate, but the world, which the Galilean had overcome. And though, after the establishment of Christianity, there came upon the world a seeming eclipse of faith--though corruptions blemished somewhat the comeliness of the bride of Christ, its progress among the nations has been gradual and unceasing still. One after another they have received its teachings and submitted to its sway. Insensibly, here and there the institutions of society have been moulded by its impress, and it has stamped upon them its own beauteous image. Sanguinary codes have been relaxed; unholy traffic has terminated; cruelty has had its arm paralysed, and its sword blunted; fraud, and lust, and drunkenness have become things not of glorying, but of shame. There has been a gradual uplifting in the moral world, as if there flowed upon it the airwaves of a purer atmosphere, and men have wondered whence the healing came. Oh! it is the river that has done it all, ever flowing on--now through the darkening brake, now in the open plain, now fertilising the swards upon its banks, now rejoicing in the depths of its own channel, imperceptible almost in the increasing volume of its waters to those who constantly behold it, and yet, gazed upon at intervals, seen to widen and to deepen every day.
1. If we believe that this Gospel shall progress, then our faith should be strong. Christ has sent it into the world, knowing that it can do what He has sent it to accomplish, and it is never to be amended--it is never to be superseded. He has not lost faith in it, and from the moment of His first commission until now, He sits expecting until the work is done.
2. Surely there is great responsibility in being connected with a Gospel like this! What the waters do not melt, they sometimes petrify, and there are some spirits that have got so thoroughly hardened, that they are not to be broken, even by the hammer of the Word.
III. The efficacy of the Gospel of Christ. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” This is true of the Gospel of Christ. There is no desert of worldliness which the Gospel cannot change into a garden; there is no dead sea of error which the Gospel cannot purge from its pollution, and change into a receptacle of life. The completeness of the salvation is a remarkable characteristic of the Gospel, and we may rejoice in it the more, because it works thoroughly. In the Gospel there is life for all! Its voice can reach the farthest wynds of the dark sepulchre; no catacomb of the moral death is too remote, or too crowded, or too loathsome to be visited, and to be emptied, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However long the death may have continued, the Gospel can chase it from the heart again; ay, although time may have resolved the dust into dust again, and though the soul, like a mummy of the Pharaohs, has been dead, and swathed, and embalmed for many wintered centuries of years. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” And not merely shall each man be reached, but each part of each man shall be reached also. Life for all; life for the understanding, that it may no longer be preyed upon by a brood of pestilent errors; life for the imagination, that it may quench its strange fires in the blood of the Lamb, and gather from His Cross a purer flame instead; life for the memory, that it may no longer be haunted by the wrecks of ghostly sins or spectral visions of evil; life for the affections, that they may have something on which they may pour out the full wealth of their souls, without danger of idolatry; life for the whole nature, that it may be sublimed from ruin to royalty, and from sin to God; life for the destiny, that it may not be darkened, even by the shadow of death, but that there may brighten upon it, in ever-increasing lustre, the light of the everlasting day. I stood some years ago near the fair city of Geneva, where two great rivers meet, but do not mingle. Here the Rhone, the arrowy Rhone, rapid and beautiful, pours out its waters of that heavenly blue, which it is almost worth a pilgrimage to see, and there the Arve, frantic and muddy, partly from the glaciers from which it is so largely fed, and partly from the clayey soil that it upheaves in its impetuous path, meet and run on side by side for miles, with no barriers, save their own innate repulsions, each encroaching now and then into the province of the other, but beaten back again instantly into its own domain. Like mighty rival forces of good and evil do they seem, and for long--just as it is in the world around us--for long the issue is doubtful; but if you took far down the stream, you find the frantic Arve is mastered, and the Rhone has coloured the whole surface of the stream with its own emblematic and beautiful blue. I thought, as I gazed upon it, that it was a remarkable illustration of the conflict between truth and error; and in meditating upon this subject--in thinking of the flow of the healing waters, and reading that they should flow into the sea and heal it, the whole thing rose up before me, fresh and vivid as a thing that happened yesterday, and as my own view of the passage has been cleared, and my own faith strengthened by the recollection, I would fain, by this simple picture, impart the same blessedness to you. Oh! with a glad heart and free, do I believe and preach, that there is no ailment, no leprosy, no death, that is beyond the power of the healing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Is it yours? (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
The river of life
I. The success of the gospel. Rivers are often used as metaphors in the sacred writings to denote plenty, purity, refreshment, and happiness; and especially to illustrate the blessings of the Gospel.
1. Its character. Divine truth in the mind, and Divine grace in the heart, are sometimes compared to beams of light, and at other times to waters of a river.
(1) The divinity of its origin. Ordinary rivers issue from springs that rise spontaneously out of the ground. These are usually small, and in some eases imperceptible and undiscovetable. The drop of goodness that has been distilled into your mind and heart, O Christian: the rivulet of happiness that may flow at your feet, the river of salt that is now flowing through the world, must be traced up to the threshold of the temple, and the foot of the throne of God and the Lamb. Let this consideration excite our prayers, remind us of our obligations, and call forth our praises.
(2) The purity of its nature. “It is a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,” perfectly pellucid and transparent. The Bible is a holy Bible, and the Gospel is a holy Gospel. And as the river is itself pure, so it promotes purity. All true virtue, sound morality, evangelical holiness that exist in the world may be ascribed, directly or indirectly, to the influence of this pure river.
2. Its progress. The river is represented as flowing. We may regard the vision as applicable--
(1) To the gradual discoveries of the method of salvation.
(2) To the growth of grace in the heart. In the experience of the Christian it is at first a day of small things, but a promise is given him: “Thou shalt see greater things than these.”
(3) To the advancement of religion in the world. Every new convert to the faith of the Gospel--every new Christian church--every new mission to the heathen, is another tributary stream to this noble river.
3. Its effects. “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.” Man in his civil capacity lives; his liberty is alive, and he claims it as his birthright. Man in his domestic capacity lives. His wife and his children are his own; no holder of slaves can claim them. Man in his moral capacity lives; pardon lives in his conscience; gratitude lives in his memory; obedience lives in his will; affection lives in his heart; joy lives in his faith; humility lives in his prayers; holiness lives in his character, and heaven lives in his hope. Be it ours either directly or indirectly to cut sluices and channels all around us at home and abroad, that the waters of this river may be conveyed everywhere, so that universal life and purity, prosperity and happiness, might, prevail. Let us all seek spiritual life on earth, for the life must be commenced here; this must be the cradle of our spiritual being, the seed must be sown on earth that produces fruit in heaven, the bud must appear here which is to blossom there; let us then seek grace on earth that we may enjoy life and glory in heaven.
II. We are constrained to acknowledge the failure as well as the success of the Gospel. “But the miry places thereof,” etc.
1. In miry places the water hath not free passage. The apostle prays that “the Gospel may run and be glorified.” The Word runs when it meets with nothing to stop it--when it runs through the whole soul.
2. In miry places the earth and the water are mixed together. This mixture makes mire; so when the truths of the Gospel mix with the corruptions of men, or when men make use of the truths of God to plead for their sins.
3. In miry places the longer the water stands in it the worse it grows; so the longer a soul remains unchanged under the ordinances of religion the more polluted it becomes.
1. The duty of gratitude for Gospel privileges.
2. The necessity of embracing Gospel blessings.
3. The success attending the Gospel is to be very extensive.
All nations, and kindreds, and people shall be called by the Gospel; it shall not be an excluding system, like that of Judaism, for its Author tasted death for every man. Can each one of us say--I feel He died for me? (J. Wonnacott.)
The healing waters: their source and stream
I. The origin of the Gospel. As the tracing of the Nile to its source was a work of deepest interest to the sages of Egypt, so is it of interest to us to trace to its source that nobler river of which the Nile was but a picture--the river of the love of God--the Gospel. This Gospel has made our country what it is, and made us what we are. Its saving power and hallowed influence we have often seen giving strength to the weak, power to the faint, comfort amid crosses and cares, peace of mind amid the war of elements, triumph over death, and victory over the grave.
1. The Gospel originated with God, as the river originated in the temple.
2. The Gospel comes to man in harmony with the principles of the Divine government, as the river flowed from the temple without doing damage to its walls. The idea of the text, when divested of its figure, is that the outward flow of God’s love to sinners in the Gospel did not require the breaking up of the Divine character--did no violation to the principles of Divine government, but was in perfect harmony with them.
3. Eternal life is brought within the reach of man through the death of Jesus, for the water came out at the side of the altar. His wounds, His tears and cries and Cross, were channels through which His love, unfathomed, flowed and flows to man, and gave and gives him healing.
II. The progress of the Gospel.
1. The Gospel, like the river, had a small beginning.
2. The progress of the Gospel, like that of the river, has been, and ever will be, gradual.
(1) Various eras, past and present, in the history of the world’s moral renovation.
(2) Its slow but sure advancement in the world. As one solitary seed might cover the earth with vegetation, time alone being required for the task, so is the Gospel destined to affect the human race.
III. The condition of the world without the Gospel. Man is as void of piety as the sea of life. Man’s soul is as desolate, in reference to goodness, as those barren banks are to vegetation. Is this picture overdrawn? Someone might say--Surely that is not a picture of England today, or of any part of the civilised world? Perhaps not--probably not. But it is impossible for us to tell how far the inhabitants of England and of civilised Europe may be affected by the Gospel. Millions are benefited who are not saved. As embalming may, to some extent, prevent the decay of the dead, though it gives life to none, so may Christian influence arrest the progress of depravity, without producing holiness in its place.
IV. The influence of the Gospel. Like the river, the Gospel refreshes, vivifies, and beautifies all it touches. It purifies the heart, and thereby illuminates the intellect, elevates the affections, and fits men’s souls for a higher state of being. As the sun chases darkness from the world and fills that world with light, and shows the glory of creation, so does the Gospel show all the good which it finds in human nature, increases that good a thousandfold, and makes its possessor blessed himself and a blessing to all others. (E. Lewis, B. A.)
The fertilising river
The vision was designed to represent the nature, origin, progress, and results of the Gospel; and thus regarded, it suggests many important matters for consideration.
1. It is a vision of waters, and that symbolises the fertilising as well as purifying influence which the religion of Christ has everywhere exerted.
2. It is a vision of waters issuing from the temple of God; and that reminds us that the Gospel is no mere human expedient, but is indeed the revelation of God’s mercy to mankind.
3. It is a vision of waters flowing out from under the altar of the house of God; and we have thereby recalled to our remembrance the truth that men are redeemed and regenerated only through their acceptance of that deliverance which Christ wrought out for them by the sacrifice of Himself on their behalf. Ancient fable tells of a great hero, that when he died the spot on which he fell was marked by the out-gushing from it of a perennial fountain; but that old story was only a kind of poetic parable of the true.
4. It is a vision of waters gradually rising. They grew deeper the longer they flowed. That illustrates the progress of the Gospel over the world. It was not to take sudden and immediate possession of the earth, but rather to flow over it as the tide flows over the shore.
I. Take it in the first place in its bearing on men’s social condition. And here I go at once to the household. The family is the centre of human society. “Home is the head of the river,” and an influence, whether blessed or pernicious, exerted there, will affect all its after course. Now, it is capable of the clearest proof that Christianity is the only thing that has given purity and loveliness to the household. The Lord Jesus has revolutionised, if not created family life. He gave sanctity to the marriage he by re-enacting the primal law, that one man should be the husband of one wife. He restored woman to her true position as the help meet and companion of her husband. He took the little children in His arms and blessed them--for that touching scene in the Gospel narrative is only a type of the work in which He is still engaged wheresoever His message of love is proclaimed. By His tender care for His venerable mother in the very climax and crisis of His own agony, He gave a sacredness to old age which has gathered to it ever since the reverence, the affection, and the benevolence of men. On the banks of the river of Christianity domestic happiness and practical benevolence do flourish in vigorous and attractive life; and if we wish to make other nations sharers with us in these priceless blessings, we must send them that Gospel out of which among us they have sprung.
II. Look at the influence of the Gospel upon civil liberty. The Bible indeed contains no treatise on civil government, but its principles lay the axe to the root of every form of despotism. Jesus has taught us not only to assert freedom of conscience for ourselves, but to respect and defend its exercise by others. He has commanded us to “honour all men,” because they wear that nature which He consecrated by His incarnation; and wherever the mystery of His Cross is even dimly understood, men are disposed, while receiving its salvation, to sacrifice themselves for others’ good. Hence the whole spirit of Christianity stimulates men to look not only on their own things, but also on the things of others; and that is the disposition out of which true liberty is born.
III. Look at the department of literature, and you will see how, when the river of the Gospel has flowed into a nation, it has quickened that also into richer growth. Take here the stories which have been garnered up in our own mother tongue, and when you come to look into the subject you will be surprised to discover how much the Word of God has had to do with the character and quality of English literature. Up till the time when John Wycliffe sent “his poor priests” up and down England with his version of portions of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue, there could not be said to be any English literature, and there was hardly any English language. Just at the very time Wycliffe was engaged in his great work, now precisely five hundred years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer was writing those “Canterbury Tales” which have charmed so many generations of readers, and which bear on them certain indications that their author had come under the widening and ennobling influence of the truths which the parson of Lutterworth proclaimed. Nor was this in itself unlikely, for both of these men were proteges of him whom we know in another connection as “Old John of Gaunt of time-honoured Lancaster.” In any case these two between them laid the foundation of our language and literature; but as from the nature of the case the Bible went into more homes and hearts than Chaucer reached, we must attribute to Wycliffe the principal share in that literary revival which the succeeding centuries witnessed in the mother country. Nay, it is somewhat remarkable that just as Chaucer’s poems were contemporaneous with Wycliffe’s Bible, so the age of the Reformation under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, the day that is of Tindale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, and the Genevan Bibles, has always been regarded as the palmiest time of English literature; while again, the age which saw Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Southey, and that whole band which made the early part of this century so renowned, was the successor and inheritor of that in which Wesley, Whitefield, and their fellow evangelists had carried religious revival over England and America.
IV. Look at the influence of Christianity upon science. Its watchword is: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”; and so, wherever the New Testament goes, it provokes inquiry, strengthens intellect, encourages independence, while, at the same time, it imparts to the universe a sacred interest, as the work of Him who is “our Father.” Christianity has reared the platform on which all scientific associations stand today, and the very liberty which men of science have to utter unpopular opinions--shall I say even heretical opinions?--has been won for them by Christian men. Had all the martyrs of Christianity, and especially of Protestantism, been as weak-spirited as Galileo, we might all have still been groaning under the intolerance of the Inquisition. But in standing up for liberty of conscience and of opinion for themselves, the witnesses for religious truth have won also for science the right to hold and teach its own deductions and beliefs. Now, that is indispensable to its advancement, if not even to its existence; and so, when you examine it thoroughly, you will be constrained to admit that this mystic river has fertilised the roots of science also, and though for the moment there may seem to be a misunderstanding between some Christians and some men of science, for which, as it seems to me, both parties are to be blamed, yet the two departments never can really inspire each other, and the advancement of the one will invariably be accompanied by the progress of the other. Nor could we have a finer illustration of that fact than in the services which our foreign missionaries have rendered to the science of our times. Their labours in ethnology, geography, philology, botany, zoology, and even astronomy, have called forth the thanks of men of the highest eminence in all these departments. (W. H. Taylor.)
The life-giving river
Who knows what water is? Yet how we reject it! The universe could not live a day without water. It could live a little whilst the water was sinking down, but when the water really went out of it the universe itself would collapse. Christ is water; Christ is commonplace; Christ flows and trickles; Christ is not a measured wine, He is an unmeasured and immeasurable river, now a torrent, now a stream of silver, now a river that a lamb might gambol in, so shallow; and now a river so deep that navies might rock themselves in its abundance of water. What a marvellous river was this! The man “measures a thousand cubits,” and “the waters were to the ankles”--hardly more than a pool: yonder a little bird was sitting at the brink, farther on a lamb was lapping its daily portion, a little farther on and green grass was waving above the little stream. It was a beauteous lake, hardly more than a mirror, laughing at the blue heavens, and doubling them. And then there was a second measure: another thousand cubits, and “the waters were to the knees”; another thousand, and “the waters were to the loins”; another thousand, and there “was a river,” a river “to swim in.” The waters never broke, they increased; at last they demanded a sea. The river must find the sea, or make one. All this motion means a grand finale. This increase means ultimate benediction. This is the way of the Gospel in the world: first very little, then more, then still more, and then the mightiest and grandest of all objects. The year has its springtime; life has its infancy; the river reaches to the ankles at first, but at the last it cannot be passed over. Here is the law of progress, beneficent, continuous, and consummating increase. Beautiful is this imagery, but not so beautiful as the reality. Sometimes history has to lag after symbolism. In the case of Christian missions or the propagation of the truths of the Cross, history shakes off the brightest symbolism as being inadequate to express the glorious realities. We are to judge of the river, fairly, clearly, by the life which it brings. The Lord is always willing to submit Himself to practical tests, Christianity says, Judge me by my fruit, see what I do, and if I do not make the dead live, then I am going forth on false pretences. Is it true that wherever Christianity has gone--the spiritual idea, the true conception of God, the right view of the Cross of Christ--is it true that wherever this has gone life has gone? We hold it to be true upon every ground, and we undertake to prove its truth, not by tropes but by figures statistical and by facts human, palpable, and accessible. He would not enter upon any very perilous experiment, who undertook to prove that the Christian idea--by that involving the whole work and function of Christ--has done more for the commerce of the world than any other force. Christianity has turned over more money than any other thought of man. Christianity has kept more workpeople, paid more wages, patronised more art, than any other religion, or any other conception of the human mind. The highest artists could not have lived without the religious genius and the religious fact. This is true in sculpture, in oil, in music, in architecture, in literature, in poetry. “Every thing shall live whither the river cometh”: plenty of business, plenty of work,--clearing forests, building cities, exchanging merchandise; the seas alive with vessels, and the desert encroached upon for more city room. This religion of Christ is a great business thought. It is the principal factor in civilisation of an active kind, Or, leaving the commercial thought altogether and looking at moral progress, only those who have not studied the history of missions can be wanting in sensitiveness on this point. If men would read the Acts of the Apostles published yesterday, they would see that the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament is being continued in many a glowing supplement. How many people have heard, from a missionary point of view, of New Guinea? It was a heathen country, given over to all manner of debasement and corruption and foulness and cruelty. Today it blossoms as the rose. Why? Because the Gospel has been instituted there, preached there, received there; and men who once would have devoured you are now inquiring about the very highest possibilities of thought and destiny. In the name of justice, find the cause of this transformation, and acknowledge it. Has the river brought life to your house? Wherever it has come it has brought life, has turned ferocious nature, has made the feeble strong, has made the sick at heart hopeful and glad. Has the river come into your soul? If so, you are a new man. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The living waters
I. The characteristics of this river.
1. How precious is water as a beverage! Go to the burning East and see the desert strewn with the bones of human skeletons, and think how one draught of water would have been valued more than gold by those who perished there for lack of it. The water of life, the Gospel of Jesus, is what the dying sinner needs.
2. Water is precious as a means of cleansing. So truth purifies the soul.
3. Water vivifies. In time of drought the earth is not a living, stirring womb, but a sealed grave. Let the rain come in copious showers, and all things are renewed. So with the Gospel.
4. The affluence of Gospel grace is pictured in this abundant flowing stream, as in the rain or in the ocean’s vastness. Today these gifts are at your feet. All thirst, weariness, and pain are relieved. Whosoever will may take.
II. The source of this mystic river is the sanctuary. The grace of God has its appointed channels, the Church, with its worship and service. The Gospel is the true Brook Kedron flowing from Christ’s Gethsemane, tinged with His blood. The shadow of the Cross falls on its waters.
III. The expansion of these living waters. An oozing first, and then ankle deep, then to the knees and loins, and then a stream to swim in. This is true in personal experience. At conversion all things become new--the mind and heart, the sensibilities, conscience, and understanding, are all renewed. There are new hopes and aspirations. “Everything lives” whither the river runs. Forgotten vows are resumed, and decaying love becomes ardent; the proud Pharisee is humbled, and the thief made an honest man, the miser generous and the sceptic a believer; the poor, the troubled, and afflicted are comforted, and even the dying live, for the heavenly waters bear the soul away into everlasting rest.
IV. The direction of this stream. It runs to the east; that is, up hill. The Gospel runs against the bent of human depravity, but it carries all opposition before it. It makes for the sea, the Dead Sea, which rolls its sullen waves over buried cities, the grave of a God-cursed people. This place is shunned by man and bird and beast; it is a grim wilderness and a fit picture of the desolation of the depraved soul and of the world without God and without hope. The Gospel comes to purify the bitter waters.
V. Its wondrous fruit. Beauty and fertility are spread everywhere in its course. The sea to which it flows is no more bitter. Its incrustation of salt along the banks gives way to flowers, to the olive and palm, till the once repulsive expanse of waters becomes a sparkling amethyst set in a bright emerald, till the wilderness becomes as the garden of the Lord. (J. J. Wray.)
The healing power of Christianity
What this figure suggests is, that everything may be, is to be, made holy by the touch of the Divine Word. Business is to be freed from the tendency which ever causes it to degenerate into mere money grubbing; recreation is to be purified from influences which would turn to purposes of dissipation and vice; the demon of ambition is to be expelled from the world of politics; in general, the selfishness which corrupts all that is most pure and debases all that is most noble, is to be brought under such restraint, that it shall become a power for good and not for evil. Under this gracious and quickening influence, everything that has in it any element of real endurance shall be made yet stronger. Things that are worthy to live are to be endued with new life. Here, then, is the ideal of Christianity--an ideal toward which all the power that the Gospel exercises in the world is certainly working. Its promise is, that there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, in which shall dwell righteousness, and, so far as its power has been felt, the promise has been fulfilled. Not yet do we see all things put under Christ, or already earth would have been exchanged for heaven. But we do see advances made toward this end. The process is so advancing that we may, if we will, carefully trace its growth. We see it in individuals, in the conversion and the sanctification of those who are led to submit themselves, and who, in their turn, become instruments for the extension of His gracious rule. But we see it also in the extension of what may be called the indirect power of the Gospel--a power less noticed but still real and full of significance. All men, even those who scoff and blaspheme, share in the grace which God has manifested to man; or, to narrow the range of observation and put it in a more concrete form--England is a wiser, better, happier England because Jesus Christ came into the world, and because to us, as a people, has the Word of His salvation come. The presence of Christians--that is, of men honestly seeking to do the will of Christ--must itself be a blessing to any nation. So far as they can succeed in their holy endeavour, they are as the salt by which society is preserved from the corrupting influences which are ever active in the world. They are a power for truth, righteousness, and goodness. They not only have power on earth, but have power in heaven. Unbelief, indeed, will laugh to scorn the suggestion, that for the wisdom which inspires and guides the hearts of her statesmen, and the strength which nerves the hands of her workers; for the patriotism which, in times of great emergency and peril, stirs the heart of the nation so that it beats as the heart of one man; for extraordinary deliverances from peril; for equally remarkable manifestations of public virtue or worldwide sympathy, the nation is indebted to God and His grace, and that God Himself has been moved by the prayers of His servants. There seems to be no point of the Church’s faith and hope on which a scoffing scepticism has made more impression than this. Science, misunderstanding the nature of the doctrine as to the efficacy of prayer, laughs it to scorn as a piece of worn-out superstition. To the Christian it is of the very essence of religion. Its primary truth is, that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, and it is a primary duty, that as the Master has Himself taught us, men ought always to pray and not to faint. The effectual, fervent prayer of one righteous man availeth much. What must be the power of the prayers of all the saints who plead with God for the redemption of humanity? But prayers are the consecration, the stay, the support of holy lives. Christians not only offer prayers of faith, but live in the nation as witnesses of God and workers for His truth. So far as they carry out the principles of the Gospel, they are setting before men a higher ideal of character and of life: an ideal in which, to a degree, the will of God is represented. Lives in which the spirit of selfish ambition is crushed out, or, at least, subordinated to purer and nobler aims; which draw their inspiration from the Cross, and their support from the words that come from the mouth of God; in which the law of the Divine righteousness is supreme, and whose motive force is that love to God which expresses itself in sympathetic and active love to man; lives of those who, in a sense, are the world’s redeemers, since they are spent in carrying on that loving search after sinners, for which the Saviour lived and died, must influence the lives with which they are brought into contact. They may be often subjects of ridicule and scorn, their motives may be misrepresented, and their conduct misconstrued; but they impress men. Yet even this does not exhaust the influence of Christianity upon a nation. Both by its own teaching, and by the examples of its subjects, it purifies and elevates the tone of thought and feeling in a community. It creates an atmosphere of its own, in which it is difficult for selfishness to flourish, and in which, if it flourishes, it is restrained in the indulgence of its desires. It lays down great truths, which give men a new conception of their relations to each other--a conception which was never more needed than in such days as ours, when men are congregated in great societies, and the competition of life becomes keener and more intense. Mark, for example, the difference between one of the favourite ideas of science--the survival of the fittest--and the root-conception of Christianity, the value of every man, and the brotherhood of all. Christ has taught us that lesson which, when rightly learned, must change the atmosphere of all society--that man in his lowest degradation, in his deepest misery, in his most extreme alienation from the Heavenly Father, is still infinitely precious in His sight. A very little one he may be, but it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish. We are led up thus to another thought, which stands out conspicuous as distinctive of the Gospel--the blessedness of self-sacrifice. By the death of the one are the many to be made righteous. That is the keynote of the Revelation everywhere. Selfishness is to be expelled by the power of love; the sinner redeemed by the death of the Saviour; the highest joy which the universe knows, reached by the endurance of sorrow for the good of others. (J. G. Rogers.)
The river which Ezekiel saw
I have seen nothing more grandly expressive of a small beginning which has infinite possibilities in it than the bubbling spring. It is so small that a child’s thumb would cover the opening; but yet so mighty that you would find the greatest difficulty to suppress its upward pressure Like many living things, it is well-nigh omnipotent in its expansion. We have seen castles rent asunder and rocks split by the expanding energy of a seed. Perhaps next to that comes the bubbling spring. Only God knows the power that is behind it. Only He can measure the hidden and the almost immeasurable depths in many instances from whence it comes. The figure is very expressive as representing the history of a small but very mighty beginning. The stream that is only up to a man’s ankles does not generally arouse great interest, or awaken great expectations; and yet we never know the possibilities of any stream. It would ill befit a man to sneer at the Thames, though a child may leap over it in one part. Almost every river of the world begins with such small beginnings as this; but men know better than to laugh at a bubbling spring. They can little realise the forces that are behind, and the replenishing power that is ready at hand, yet out of sight. Then we see that, like every true river, this stream progressed. “The waters were to the knees.” It was deepening; but this was only the beginning. Yet “again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins.” Still it gathers volume and force. “The waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.” Again, the word that is translated “river” here is very significant. It is not the word that is expressive so much of a large constant flow as of a rushing torrent. It is applied both to the torrent itself and to the wady, or ravine through which the torrent runs. It is expressive, therefore, of a stream that has energy in it. That is the point emphasised here. In addition to its adding to its resources and volume, it adds to its force. It is a torrential stream, that digs its own channel and makes its way. It is not the sluggish river that will flow along any old traditional rut that is provided for it: it is a river that will drive itself through the heart of a mountain rather than fail to reach its destination. The river is beautifying, beneficent, and life giving. All these points might be enlarged upon. Everything shall live whither the river cometh, Rivers are always a source of beauty, if they are of this kind. Oh, how beautiful the river is to the eye! and how charming with its liquid sounds to the ear! How beneficent, too, as it gives new energy and life to every drooping plant, and quenches the thirst of man and beast. I like to see a bird wash itself in the shallows of a clear crystal stream; and a child quench his thirst at the same source; and men fill their reservoirs from the same stream. What would a country be without a river? How poor Sussex is in many parts without a river to adorn its surface! Thank God, there are rivers down under the limestone, and you know how to pump up the water; but the surface of the country is for the most part robbed of the beauty and fertility which a river brings with it. We have to go far to see a river that now meanders along the plain, and then rushes down the precipices. We thus miss largely that which charms the eye, delights the ear, and is a source of unfailing life to creatures and to vegetation on every hand. In the picture before us we find that everything lives whither the river cometh. As the Dead Sea is reached, what do we find? That awful thing--the contradiction of all nature--a dead sea; dead in itself, with barely a ripple on its surface, with no fish in its waters, and no life on its shores--became a living sea. “But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.” Only so far as the river goes does it heal. If it flows into the Dead Sea itself it will heal its waters; but the marishes beyond shall not be healed, simply because the river does not reach them. That is the only limitation. Everything shall live whither the river cometh; but there is no life where the river does not flow. Look at the history of the world from the day Christ came and tabernacled among men, and died upon His Cross, and rose and ascended. What do we find? Whithersoever the story of the Cross has gone, there has been healing and life. The old Roman empire, rotten as it was to the core, derived some blessing from it. When an old Asiatic monk rushed into the arena to separate the gladiators one from the other, and fell under the shower of stones that were hurled upon him by the spectators, who were impatient to quench their thirst for blood with the sight of that deadly conflict, he ushered in a new era by his death. It is true that before that Asiatic monk fell, one Roman Emperor, who had been touched with Christian truth, proclaimed that human life was sacred, but, like the Local Option and other measures in our House of Parliament proclaimed to be right in principle, it remained largely inoperative. But the blood of that monk, amid the dust of the arena, sealed the death warrant of those ancient gladiatorial combats. The self-forgetful spirit of Christ and His holy religion had come into contact with this selfish and brutal spirit of the world and conquered it. And throughout the ages, wherever the truth as it is in Jesus has been proclaimed and lived, there the ills and wrongs of humanity have been gradually but certainly healed. But as in the case of the river which Ezekiel saw, while everything lives that it touches, there are regions beyond its reach which are still sterile and desolate. Oh that it may advance in its glorious mission, fertilising the desolate places of the earth wherever it goes, until the desert shall blossom as the rose, and the wilderness like Eden, the garden of the Lord! (D. Davies.)
But the miry places and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.
The danger of a fruitless possession of religious advantages
This vision of Ezekiel unrolled the map of the progress of the Gospel. The scene on which he looked down--so dark, so sterile, so lifeless--is but a picture of the world at large, separated from the knowledge and influences of Christianity. The natural features of the one correspond to the moral features of the other; for man, untaught by revelation, or unmoved by revelation, is like the desert, uncultivated and unfruitful; or like the dead lake, devoid of spiritual activity and buoyancy, and fitted but to spread around him the poisonous exhalation of his native depravity. It is the Gospel which reclaims man from this state, which pours fertilisation on the wilderness, and healing into the distempered waters. The Gospel of our Redeemer is represented by the river, which poured itself over the panoramic world, on which the prophet’s eye was fixed. And we shall perceive the propriety of this emblem, if we turn our thoughts to the mystery of its origin. The prophet beheld the stream stealing forth from the threshold, but he saw not the source--the fountain from which it flowed; his eye could trace it rolling slowly from the eastern door, but he knew nothing of it till it thus opened upon his notice. All, previous to its appearance was wrapped in mystery and concealment. It is so with that wondrous development of our God’s compassion and wisdom, which we designate the Gospel of Christ. Dwelling upon this lower world, living, as it were, outside the walls of the sanctuary, we see but the revelation, the unfolding of a mighty plan which is destined to be the cause of incalculable blessedness to countless millions. We can trace its progress, and mark its footsteps, and see its marvellous results. We can cast our eye backward upon the line of bygone ages, and trace the growth and the increasing firmness of the tree from the time that it was cast a seed into the ground, till it spread its branches over many climes and many nations. And as it carried its blessings and its comforts farther and farther still, displacing barbarism and introducing civilisation, dispelling the thick darkness, and pouring out its stream of pure and golden light, we can discover the proofs and indications of its power, but we can see nothing of the fountain out of which all this issues; for that lies concealed in the sanctuary of God’s wisdom, in the dark and veiled recesses of the council halls of eternity. It lies in the depths both “of the wisdom and the knowledge of God,” unfathomable to the plummet, of mortal investigation. But we shall perceive the propriety of this emblem no less clearly if we consider the effects which the Gospel is calculated to produce. When the prophet’s eye traced the course of the sanctuary river, he saw that it carried fertility and health with its waters. He beheld wildernesses converted into gardens--a wild and cheerless waste into a second Eden. The Gospel of the Son of God is calculated to effect the same result. Already has it reclaimed a large portion of our globe from the sway of ignorance, of barbarism, of unbroken darkness, and carried along with its saving announcements the blessings of civilisation, and knowledge, and social happiness. It has proved itself powerful, not simply to confer moral renovation, but to implant the seeds and the elements of spiritual life. It is clear, from the text, that there may be spots and individuals visited by the truth, and yet unreclaimed by the truth. These are “the miry places and the marishes” of the vision--spots which the river has touched, but which it has not changed--which lie in their original wasteness and sterility, although the stream of improvement has flowed over them. And these may designate either nations, or communities, or individuals. It becomes, therefore, a point of importance for us to ascertain distinctly what constitutes that miry and marshy state which is so fearfully indicative of total disconnection with the saving blessings of the Gospel. The state of man by nature is one of spiritual deadness, for spiritual life forsook him when he became a rebel against God. If man would be saved, he must have this spiritual insensibility removed, and spiritual life implanted, There must come a quickening from the Holy Ghost, the author and giver of life, into the soul. The man must be made alive unto God. There must be life in the soul. The river of the sanctuary must not merely cleanse the wilderness, and wash away impurities from the surface, it must besides pour such a flood of quickening power into its bosom, as that “everything where it cometh shall live.” It must give you life in your spiritual desires, life in your spiritual affections, life in your spiritual duties, life in your prayers. The second effect produced by the river of life is the healing of the distempered waters. Man is not only a being dead in trespasses, and so insensible, but he is also impregnated by corruption, and so unholy. There must enter a stream of sanctifying influences into the very fountain of his innate depravity, to expel its poisons, and to heal its corruptions. And when this is done, there will be a continual aim and effort after holiness in the life and conversation. The alteration of the mind and temper and dispositions will be there, and an energy in religion will be there, and a zeal for God will be there, and the fruits of the Spirit will be there; in other words, the man or the community touched by the Gospel’s magic power will be Christian. But when these marks exist not, when there are no indications of a spiritual life being infused, or of a healing process having been carried forward, then, we say, the Gospel has effected nothing--it has passed over men without changing them; it has been preached to men without converting them; it has visited men without sanctifying them. And let it not for one moment be imagined that God will show Himself an unmoved spectator of all this insult offered to His mercy, of all this despite done to the Spirit of His grace. No; for such as will sit beneath the sound of a proclaimed Gospel, without being touched by its power, or healed by its virtues, the Lord has His sentence of doom. It rests not concealed in His treasury of wrath and indignation. It is already announced--it is already on record--it is at this moment entered upon the dark registries of condemnation. His own lips have spoken it--“they shall be given to salt.” It is a doom of deep and appalling import, for it tells of the curse of present barrenness and future destruction being poured out upon the hardened and impenitent. There are many methods by which the Lord effects this. One is by withdrawing from a heedless and obdurate people the Gospel--the ordinances of His grace--altogether. When He has made the stream to roll in its richness through it, and it will neither be healed nor quickened, shall it seem a marvellous thing if He bend the direction of the river and make it flow into other lands; if He leave spots that will not be changed, without a privilege, without one single water drop of Christian advantages? Another method by which the Lord accomplishes this decree, is by continuing to an apathetic and gainsaying people the outward ministrations of His grace, but stripping them of their faithfulness and purity. We shall allude but to one method more by which the Lord executes His doom of “giving to salt” a Gospel-resisting people. He continues to such a people the ministrations of His truth in all its purity and faithfulness, but He refuses to bless them to the salvation and improvement of the people’s souls. The river will flow, but it will not fructify. In such an instance of judicial retribution, there will be a flintiness, a hardihood, an insensibility, a paralysis over the hearers’ hearts which will resist all approaches of the truth, and fling it back, as the breakwater rolls back the tide which would irrigate the soil. (A. Boyd, M. A.)
I. The Gospel has not the same healing effect on all where it comes. Has the Gospel come unto me, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, and effectually wrought to the turning me from vain idols to the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:5)? Thus it does in all that are saved. But oh, to how many does it prove an empty sound, and who remain the same persons that they were before they heard it? They were dark and defiled, ignorant and unholy, lifeless and fruitless, and they are so still.
II. The great sin of continuing unfruitful under the Gospel, of our remaining in the same corrupt state in which it found us, and so receiving the grace of God in vain.
1. This is a reproach to the Gospel, as if it were spiritless thing, without power or efficacy to produce what it was sent for.
2. As it is a reproach to the Gospel, so also a grief to those that labour in it.
III. The greatness of the judgment for God to say of any, they shall not be healed, but be left to perpetual barrenness.
1. A soul not healed, or totally barren, is yet out of Christ: and to be doomed to perpetual barrenness, never to be healed, is forever to be excluded from Him.
2. A soul not healed, but given to perpetual barrenness, has no promise of the protection of Providence, but may be exposed to all the evils of the present life. Thus God threatens His barren vineyard with it (Isaiah 5:5-6).
3. They that are finally forsaken as incurable, and given up to perpetual barrenness, have not a moment’s security from eternal wrath.
IV. the steps by which such a judgment is brought on and how God usually proceeds to it.
1. God leaves them to a careless, indifferent spirit about what momentous things the Gospel reveals, and the concern of their souls in them.
2. Such a carelessness and indifferency is usually attended with blindness and insensibility, so as not to apprehend their disease, and mind a cure, and perceive their need of it.
3. Sometimes the waters of the sanctuary are staid, or diverted; or else, they that would not be healed by them are removed to places where they have none of the external means of knowledge and fruitfulness they once enjoyed.
4. The healing grace and influence of the Spirit may be withheld; without the help of which, the disease of the soul cannot be removed, nor its barrenness cured.
5. The Spirit being withdrawn, they may be left of God to entertain errors and to believe lies; whereby they may think themselves whole, when ready to perish, and cry Peace, peace, to themselves when sudden destruction is near (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
6. Upon this, the resolution may be taken up to let them alone, that His Spirit shall not strive with them.
1. Avoid those things which lead to this, which are such as these:--
(1) Making light of the waters of the sanctuary by neglecting or careless attending.
(2) Taking up with a mere profession of religion, and attending upon the means of grace without looking to see that their end be answered in a saving change wrought within.
(3) Neglecting or opposing the convictions of conscience, and the motions of the Spirit.
(4) Setting death and judgment at too great a distance, and flattering yourselves into stupidity from a vain presumption of having many years to come.
(5) Delaying to look after a cure till another time.
(6) Being too much taken up with the body and this present world, the cares of which choke the Word, and cause it to become unfruitful.
2. Take the course necessary to prevent it.
(1) Apprehend the dangerous case you are in by nature.
(2) Attend upon the means God hath appointed in order to a cure.
(3) Be diligent in hearing, much in prayer, for the presence and influence of the Spirit, to heal, quicken, and recover you to God, and bring you into vital union to Christ. (D. Wilson.)
The sin and judgment of spiritual barrenness
I. God is pleased oftentimes in His infinite wisdom to send the preaching of the Word unto some places wherein it shall not put forth its quickening and sanctifying power and virtue upon the souls of them that hear it.
1. He doth it principally because in those places where the Word is rejected by the generality of the people, yet there may be some secret poor souls belonging to the election of grace, whom God will have gathered, and called home to Himself.
2. God doth it for a testimony against them that receive it not, and to leave them inexcusable at the last day (Mark 6:11). Let not men boast themselves in the outward enjoyment of the Word, nor rest themselves in it.
II. The souls of all men are spiritually dead, and full of woeful distempers, until they are quickened and healed by the dispensation of the Gospel. I shall not stay to mention all the particular distempers that rage in some, and that rule and reign in all, before the coming of the Gospel--as darkness, blindness, ignorance, worldly-mindedness, sensuality, hatred of God, envy and malice--which are fixed in the souls of men by presumption and self-righteousness. There is nothing in them of spiritual life or holiness, of purity or zeal, nothing that is acceptable or pleasing unto God.
III. The word of the Gospel is, in its own nature, a quickening, healing, sanctifying, saving word to them who receive it. They bring Christ along with them, the Great Physician of souls, who alone is able to cure a sin-sick soul. They bring mercy with them to pardon sinners. They bring grace with them to cure all the distempers of lusts (Isaiah 11:5-7; Titus 2:11-12).
IV. Where the waters of the sanctuary come, and the land is not healed, that land is given up of the Lord, to salt and barrenness forever.
1. By the coming of the healing waters of the sanctuary, I intend not the occasional preaching of a sermon, although this be sufficient to justify God in the rejection of any person or people. In the first preaching of the Gospel, the refusal of one sermon lost many their souls unto all eternity (Matthew 10:12-15; Luke 10:8). But oh, the unspeakable patience of Christ to many in the world, where the Word is continued ofttimes for a very long season, and the salvation tendered therein despised! But this is that which I intend, as the rule of the dispensation mentioned: namely, when God by His providence doth cause the Word to be preached for some continuance, and to the revelation of His whole counsel--as (Acts 20:27). Nor do I mean any waters, but the waters of the sanctuary; not any preaching but the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul affirms to be his work (Ephesians 3:8).
2. What is meant by their sinful distempers not being healed?
(1) Men are not quickened; they receive not a new spiritual life; they are not so brought to the knowledge of God.
(2) The healing of these quickened souls consists in the curing and mortifying of their sinful distempers. If men are proud, worldly, sensual, they are dead also; there is no effect of the waters of the sanctuary upon them.
3. What is the lot and portion of such persons? Why, “they shall be given to salt”; that is, to barrenness, fruitlessness, unprofitableness, and eternal ruin.
(1) For other Scriptures which assert the same truth, take (Proverbs 1:25-31; Proverbs 29:1; Luke 13:6; Hebrews 10:28-30; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
(2) For the degrees of rejection (Ezekiel 10:18; Ezekiel 11:23; Hebrews 6:8).
(3) The ways whereby God doth usually proceed in giving up such persons to barrenness, and so to everlasting ruin. He casts them out of His care; He will be at no more charge nor cost with them, nor about them (Hebrews 6:8; Ezekiel 24:13; Jeremiah 6:29-30). He will sometimes utterly remove the Gospel from them; turn the stream of the waters of the sanctuary, that they shall come to them no more. So He threatened the Church at Ephesus of old (Revelation 2:5).
4. God doth this sometimes, though He causeth the Word to be continued unto them, by restraining the efficacy of it, that it shall not profit them. The second thing that God doth, in giving up an unhealed land unto barrenness, is His judicial hardening of them, or leaving them to hardness and impenitency, that so they may fill up the measure of their sins (Hebrews 6:8).
(1) Their natural blindness and ignorance shall be increased and confirmed; and that by two ways. God will send them “a spirit of slumber” (Romans 11:8)--that is, a great inadvertency and negligence as to the things of the Gospel that are spoken of, or preached unto them. God sends them a spirit of giddiness, causing them to err in their ways! (Isaiah 19:14). We have a notable instance of this judgment of God (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
(2) Obstinacy in the will, or hardness of heart, properly so called, is in this judgment of God also (Isaiah 6:10; Romans 1:28).
(3) Sensuality of affections is in this judgment also (Romans 1:26).
(4) Searedness of conscience (1 Timothy 4:2; Ephesians 4:19).
1. Of exhortation. Make use of your season, that you fall not under this sore and inexpressible judgment.
(1) If you are not healed during your season, you can never be healed. If the Gospel cure you not, you must die in your sins.
(2) You know not how your day is going away, nor when it will be over.
2. To discover the miserable condition of poor creatures, that having not in their season been healed by the waters of the sanctuary, are given up of the Lord to salt and barrenness.
(1) They know not that they are so miserable.
(2) They are pleased with the condition in which they are.
(3) No man can help or relieve them. All the world cannot pull a poor creature out from under the curse of the great God.
(4) Their eternal ruin is certain, as before proved.
(5) This ruin is very sore on Gospel despisers. (J. Owen, D. D.)
I. There are some men whom the Gospel does not bless.
1. It stagnates in them: they hear in vain; learn, but do not practise; feel, but do not decide; resolve, but do not perform.
2. It mingles with their corruptions, as clear water with the mire of the marshes.
3. It becomes food for their sins, even as rank, sour grass is produced by the stagnant waters of “miry places.”
4. It makes them worse and worse. The more rain, the more mire.
II. Some of these we have known.
1. The talkative man, who lives in sin, flooded with knowledge, but destitute of love.
2. Those critics who note only the faults of Christians, and are quick to dwell on them; but are false themselves.
3. Those who receive orthodox truth, and yet love the world.
4. Those who feel impressed and moved, but never obey the Word.
5. Those who are mere officials, and attend to religion in a mechanical manner.
III. Such persons are in a terrible plight.
1. Because they are not aware of it: they think it is well with them.
2. Because the ordinary means of blessing men have failed in their case.
3. In some instances the very best means have failed. A special river of gracious opportunity has flowed down to them, but its streams have visited them in vain.
4. No known means now remain.
5. Their ruin appears certain.
6. Their ruin is as terrible as it is sure.
IV. From these we may learn--
1. A lesson of warning, lest we ourselves be visibly visited by grace streams, and yet never profit thereby.
2. A lesson of arousing, lest we rest in ordinances.
3. A lesson of gratitude, if we are indeed healed by the life river, let us bless the effectual grace of God.
4. A lesson of quickening to ministers and other workers, that they may look well to the results of their labour, and not be making marshes where they wish to create fields rich with harvest. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It shall bring forth new fruit according to his months.
Old truths and new forms
It is one proof of the divinity of the Gospel that, while maintaining its own character, unaffected by the changing currents of human speculation, it still adapts itself to the new conditions with which it has to deal. It brings forth new fruit according to the seasons. I propose to consider what the new fruit is, which we find in our own age, to inquire which of it is good, and which so evil that wisdom at once rejects it; and as introductory to it, to consider the influences which are at work among us tending to change, and the kind of change which has already been accomplished. Great changes, which have the most enduring effect are not, in general, those which most impress the imagination by their rapidity and suddenness, but those which are the result of slow processes, that go on silently, which are hardly noticed until they are revealed in the extraordinary effects which they have produced. There are two figures by which our Lord describes the action of His truth. The one is that of the seed, the other is that of leaven, and they alike illustrate the general principle that the “kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” Both teach us to expect a subtle and inward spiritual influence gradually affecting society, not in miraculous force producing an immediate revolution. The figures, in truth, are descriptive of the history of all thought. Whether true or false, for good or evil, its power is, for the most part, of this diffusive nature, percolating class after class, spreading by seeds borne we know not how, finding lodgment in spots the most unexpected, and so springing up and bearing a harvest where we had not known there had been a scattering at all. The intellectual and moral history of individuals and of communities presents, in this respect, precisely similar features. In both sudden and startling revolutions are rare; in both a process of change is continually going on, of which there is a strange ignorance. Most men who are accustomed to look into themselves, must at times be surprised to find to how large an extent their views have been modified in the course of years, even on doctrines to which they would still give their hearty assent. They have not renounced the same creed and accepted another, but the old creed has become a new thing to them, because of the different light in which they have been brought to regard it. How could it be otherwise, in the case of minds which are not stagnant? All men who are alive to what is passing around them, who are willing to learn from all who have anything to teach, who are in the current of modern life, and yielding themselves up to it with more or less reluctance, who are ever taking at new ideas--find it impossible to retain their old position unaltered. A youth has grown up under the strong bias of education and association, He has looked at the world and men through the dimly-lighted windows of his own little cell, the glass of which may probably have been so coloured as to give him impressions very far removed from the fact. His opinions and sympathies alike have been confined within a very narrow circle, and it is difficult for him at first to understand that right and goodness may be found outside its lines. But as he comes into association with other men, and especially if he mingles with those of contrary opinions, he soon finds reason to suspect some of the conclusions he has too hastily adopted. If he is fortunate, he early learns that nothing is more to be distrusted than the arbitrary standard by which he has been too prone to judge character, and that there are those whose pure and noble qualities he is constrained to respect; whose doctrines he holds in abhorrence. He soon begins to see that truth has many sides, and that on some of them he has not looked at all, and, consequently, that some of his judgments need careful revision. The central verities may have become (if he has been living near to God, have become) more clear and distinct to him, but even his views of them have been modified by the diminished importance which he attaches to others, now seen to be subordinate, but which he once regarded as of supreme moment. The personal living Christ, his Saviour, Friend, and Lord, has come, to fill more of his vision, and he is drawn to men, or repelled from them, according to their relation to Him. The process by which he has been brought to regard as more trifles, dogmas and theories, about which his thought was once deeply interested, and in whose defence much of his energy was employed, has brought him to prize more highly those truths which he feels to be the core of all creeds. The change has thus been very great. Nevertheless, he is not less loyal to his Lord--in truth, more loyal and devoted to Him, not less simple in his trust in the great sacrifice, though less confident in his own ability to explain all its significance, or to vindicate all the ways of God to man in connection with it, not less wisely and earnestly attached to the particular Christian community of which he is a member, because he has learned to take a much wider view of the extent of the true Catholic Church. (J. G. Rogers.)
The imperishable beauty of the spiritual spring
The text is the promise and the picture of a never-fading spring. On which side of death is that imperishable beauty and fruitfulness--this or that? I think that, although the river comes down from the throne of God and the Lamb, and is, therefore, heavenly in its origin, the whole picture is an earthly scene, the springtide of human goodness, created and perpetually nourished by influences from above; the river being the love and grace of God flowing freely among us; the trees being the men who are planted by its side; the leaf and fruit being the moral and spiritual beauty and graces which they bear through their continual reception of the power and love of God into their nature. There is in this utterance a firm belief in the eternal power of goodness, a belief which also runs through the whole of Scripture, glorifying it to the last page. Is all this poetry, or is it fact? If goodness in the human spirit is to endure forever, if its beauty is not to fade, if its fruitfulness is not to fail, then there must be some sign, even on earth, of this strength and vitality. And as a matter of fact, it is my observation of the character of goodness upon earth, as a living thing, that can be taken account of, that can be watched and measured in its progress or decline, that I have seen outlasting and outliving all manner of hostile influences, that I have beheld, as fair, as tender, as generously fruitful in old age and in youth, aye, even more so; it is this surprising, moral phenomenon which has led me to this theme. No one, I think, not even the most misanthropical, would deny that in youth, or in the early days of the soul’s espousals to the Saviour, there is the charm of a perfect sincerity, of a guileless simplicity, of a warm affectionateness, of a noble enthusiasm, of a devoted self-forgetfulness. “Yes,” rejoins the cynic, “and it all vanishes when he comes into contact with the realities Of life: his ingeniousness becomes cautious prudence, his zeal measured calculation, his brotherliness a mere show of warmth, his devoutness a proper formalism; he is corrupted from his simplicity, if he ever had any.” Now, that is what I deny. Observe, I do not deny that it happens to some men--alas! to too many--to all whose spiritual life is nourished by inadequate influences, and is therefore a name not a reality; but the marvel is thereby only increased, that others should be able, by some means at their command, to withstand all blighting and perverting spiritual influences, and in their old age should he more like little children than ever they were before. You know good men and women, who, for a lifetime, have gone in and out of the cottages of the poor, unnoticed and unpraised; who have spoken words of truth to ears that seemed deaf, and to hearts that were like stone; who have sympathised with, and counselled and aided, the most hopeless of all classes; and who, now that their hair is grey and their strength failing, are abundant in labours. And they would do it all over again, if they were called of God. No regrets have they for undertaking such a task, but only that they have not done it better. No sorrow have they for having been too zealous, too prayerful, too laborious, but only that they were not more so. And through what various scenes they have passed, and what various fruits of the Spirit they have borne! In days of strength they were active, “ready to every good work.” In days of prosperity they were humble, not boasting as if they could do anything as of themselves, but gladly confessing that from Christ was “their fruit found.” In days of adversity they were hopeful, believing that “all things were possible with God.” In days of sickness they were submissive, quieting their souls with the assurances of the Father’s love. In days of disappointment they were silent, knowing that “though Israel be not gathered,” yet God would be glorified. In all days they were brotherly, kindly affectioned, gentle, upright, true, striving to behave as became the children of the perfect Father. “The trees shall bring forth ‘new’ fruit, according to their months. Hereto is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples.” But do not let us even yet pass away from the fact that while the “outward man,” the body, waxes feebler, and the brightness of the intellect is dimmed, the Divine beauty of the Spirit can shine forth with purer radiance, for “the inward man is renewed day by day.” There is the case of Moses: was he, at the end of a forty years’ struggle with the stubbornness, ingratitude, fickleness, and unbelief of the Israelites, a less ardent lover of his people, a feebler believer in God, a colder-hearted man, with less courage and less self-abandonment than when he went out frown Pharaoh’s palace a lonely wanderer, “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, because he had respect unto the recompense of the reward”? There is the case of Daniel: his youth in the court of a heathen conqueror was most attractive for its sweet simplicity, its angelic regard for spiritual rather than carnal things; well, was he at all corrupted or degraded by that court, when, next to the king, he became its most conspicuous figure? Was he less temperate, less prayerful, less God-fearing, less spiritual in tone and temper? There is the case of St. Paul: you know with what heroic courage he threw himself into the battle for Christ against both Judaism and heathenism; you know, too, how much he had to endure for the Gospel’s sake, but remark, chiefly, how much of this came from false brethren, and cold brethren, and unloving brethren, and brethren who slighted his love, and caricatured his appearance, and you will be better able to estimate the greatness of the triumph which Christ won over him, and through him. For he never slackened his labours the least, nor avoided one of his dangers, but fresh, with more than first enthusiasm, he spent every pulse of his life in his work. What is the explanation of this phenomenon? It is what the prophet gives, “Because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary.” Yes, there is a sacred place, a pure, holy fountain where the spirit of a man may cleanse itself from the dust and stains of the world, where also it may refresh itself with living water, so that it shall live forever. There is “a river of God” on whose banks we may grow as trees of life, bearing fruit for meat and leaves for medicine. We may have an eternal springtime out of this perennial stream. All depends upon the relation of the tree to the river whose waters issue out of the sanctuary, Only let the tree’s roots be within reach of the river, and then the greater the summer heat, and the fewer the showers that fall, and the more freely will it draw its supplies from thence. So the soul of man when it finds no encouragement in human approval, or fashions, or hope of present reward, or even of present success, but is rather tried by all the influences around it, clings the more earnestly and more simply to God, receiving directly from Him its impulses, and finding in Him its satisfaction. (J. P. Gledstone.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 47". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26