A Parable of Holy Waters
What would the earth be without a river?
A river gives life and beauty, and rivers are associated with the most beautiful landscapes in the Bible,
and some of the best-known and loved scenes are those with a river.
The chief glory of Eden is described in this wonderful sentence,
"And a river went out of Eden to water the garden."
When the psalmist sung of the safety and peace of the holy city he said,
"There is a river, streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place
of the tabernacle of the most high."
Then in the Book of Revelation tells us of a "pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,"
and on whose banks grew the tree of life which yielded her fruit every month.
So, we see that the Bible begins and ends with a river.
If we lived in a dry and thirsty of land, a river would mean even more to us than it does in a land
where streams and rivers are numerous.
That is why the literature of the Jews had much to say about rivers.
The lands of the Bible were mostly dry and arid.
The freshness and greenness along the river banks meant all the more to the Jew.
The Jew feared the scene, but loved the the river.
This was in keeping with the life and thought of the Jew when Ezekiel was living with the exiles
on the banks of the River Chebar.
There God gave him a vision of a continual flowing river which flowed forth from the house of the Lord
and carried life and plenty wherever it went.
The prophet has had a vision of a great city and a glorious temple.
He had gone around the city and marked her bulwarks and measured the temple, and now he is brought
to the door of the House, where he beholds a stream coming from the foundations and flowing toward the east.
His heavenly conductor, with a measuring line in his hand, at a distance from the temple
made a first measurement, and the waters were only up to the ankles.
Farther on he measured and then the waters came up to the knees of Ezekiel as he passed through them.
Then as he went further, he measured again and the waters were up to his loins.
Then he made a final measurement and he found that the water was to deep to cross,
and that it was "a river to swim in."
As he followed the course of the river, he took notice of very many trees with their greenness and shade
on either side of the river.
Wherever the river flowed there was vegetation and life.
He knew that wherever the river flows things are green and fresh and tender.
"Everything shall live whither the river cometh."
This is one of the great and beautiful visions of the Bible.
It is not a real river that Ezekiel is describing, but a river which in its origin, its gradual increase,
its universal benediction, is a symbol of the power and blessedness of true religion.
To us today that mystic river is a parable of the origin, the increase, the blessings,
and the glory of the gospel as it has been carried throughout the world and down through the ages
by the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"See, the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal Love,
Well supplied by sons and daughters,
And all fear of want removed:
Who can faint, while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage;
Grace, which like the Lord the Giver,
Never fails from age to age?"
This life-giving river came from the foundations of the temple and flowed forth from the presence
of the Most High.
The gospel did not come from men.
The gospel is of divine origin.
Today the idea of the development of all religion from man's own nature casts a strange spell
on the minds of people.
The theory is that all that man possesses, both as to his physical life and his mental and spiritual life,
is an inheritance handed down to him from past generations, and each generation adding its own contribution
to the truth or error which it had received from the preceding generations.
In this case the gospel is to be traced to purely human sources and is only an expression
of the deepest religious thought and aspiration of mankind.
However popular that ideal may be, it is contrary both to revelation and common sense.
The humble disciples of Jesus who preached the gospel to the world were not men who had outrun the thought
of their own day, and by themselves had added so immense a contribution to the moral and spiritual inheritance
of the human race.
On the contrary, they disavowed any reliance upon superior knowledge or meditation,
and said that what they preached they had not learned or received of men.
When the world had failed to know God by wisdom, by its own progress and moral evolution,
then it please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
The classic expression of this confidence that the gospel something new good news a mystery
or a secret long hid, but now revealed to man, is Paul saying adapted from Isaiah,
and commonly misquoted as hearing on life after death,
"Eye have not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man things
which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit."
The fearless, triumphant, enthusiastic note with which the first apostles proclaimed the gospel to the world
was due to the conviction that they had great tidings to tell.
As a man thinks in his heart about the gospel and its origin, so will he preach with his mouth.
If the preacher is not altogether certain that the river of Christianity is miraculous, supernatural as to its origin,
springing not out of man, but proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,
that uncertainty will show itself in his lack of conviction and earnestness and joy as he declares
the mighty truths of the gospel, and urges people to accept it.
He will have much to say about religious education and influence and evolution,
but very little about a religious experience.
What laid back of the noble achievements of the apostles was not a religious education,
but a great religious experience.
They had been with Jesus, and man could not help but take note of it.
One moment of true religious experience will cancel years of religious education.
The mystic river of Ezekiel's vision gradually expanded in width and depth from a river
that was up to the ankles to a river to swim in and of a river on which ships could sail with their commerce.
There is nothing unusual about that.
All rivers are small streams near the source, and they increase in volume and depth as they flow
farther from the source.
But that increase is not due to the source and its supply.
If that were all the river had to depend upon, it could never become larger than it was at the beginning.
Rivers increase in volume because of the tributary streams which empty their waters into it
as it flows toward the sea.
The mighty Mississippi river starts as a small stream in Minnesota and ends up at New Orleans
almost like a flood.
But that enormous increase in volume is not to be accounted for by the fountain lake in the far north,
but it is due to the tributary rivers which have emptied themselves into the Mississippi.
Such tributary rivers as the Missouri, the Fox, the Wisconsin, the Miami, the Muskingum, the Beaver,
the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio.
These rivers make the Mississippi river great.
But this stream of the prophet's parable was fed by no waters only those which came from the temple.
This is a beautiful parable of the truth that the growth and the conquests of Christianity are not due
to human efforts and enterprises, but to the mighty impulse which lies at its origin,
in the redeeming purpose and the sacrificing love of God.
Christianity has given life to the world, but it has borrowed one.
Not an age, not a race, not a single person, even were he as gifted and prayerful a personality as Paul,
has added anything, to his own nature and effort, to the power and content of Christian truth.
Races and generations and personalities can illustrate the effects of the gospel,
but they can neither initiate nor add to those effects.
So from age to age, the river of God's truth has flowed through the world, sometimes through quiet valleys,
and sometimes over rocks and rapids.
Sometimes, it seems as though they had disappeared, so far as man could see,
but then emerge again with undiminished sweep and power.
It is this exploration of the river of the gospel which fills us with invincible confidence that its course
and history are directed by God and that one day the rivers shall become a flood of righteousness
which shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
"Blest river of salvation,
Pursue thine onward way;
Flow thou to every nation,
Nor in thy riches stay;
Stay not till all the lowly
Triumphant reached their home;
Stay not till all the holy
Proclaim, "The Lord is come."
This temple originated river is a parable of Christianity, not only as to its origin and its increase,
but also to the blessings which it bestows.
Wherever the river goes, there is life.
As you can trace the course of a river which flows across a desert by the fringe of green,
so you can also trace the course of Christianity in the world by the reformations which it has effected,
and the deserts which is has reclaimed and the dead seas which it has healed.
It was said in ancient times that Egypt was the gift of the Nile.
So civilization, as to what is good and abiding in it, is the gift of the river of Christian truth.
Some years ago, a minister returning from a heathen country remarked that any kind of Christianity
looks good to a man who had been in a land where men worship a cow.
Paul, the greatest missionary of all time, received his commission to preach the gospel was told
to be a witness of Christ to the nations, "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light,
and from the power of Satan unto God."
Wherever the gospel has been received, that is what has happened.
The history of Christianity was written beforehand in those words which sent Paul out everywhere
witnessing of Jesus Christ.
You can tell where the gospel has been preached by the manners and the customs of the people,
and even by the trade and business and commerce of the city or nation.
Whenever a person finds unchecked, despotism tyranny, cruel practices unrestrained by law,
low standards of living, unmitigated poverty, obscene and abominable rites in the name of religion,
then you know that that land is a stranger to the gospel.
Closed temples, fallen idols, the abolition of slavery, the dignification of labor, the abounding licentiousness
and of those things of which "it is a shame even to speak," the emancipation of women
and the safeguarding of childhood follow the proclamation of the gospel as surely as darkness flees
before the dawning light.
When a person reads even today the scoffing comments of those who owe all they have and are to Christianity,
yet revile or ridicule the church of Christ, James Russell Lowell wrote an answer for the benefit of the skeptics
and unbelievers of his day and generation:
"The worst kind of religion is no religion at all, and these men living in ease and luxury, indulging themselves
in the amusement of going without religion, may be thankful that they live in lands where the Gospel
they neglect has tamed the beastliness and ferocity of the men who, but for Christianity,
might long ago have beaten their carcasses like South Sea Islanders, or cut off their heads
and tanned their hides like the monsters of the French Revolution.
When the microscopic search of skepticism, which had hunted the heavens and sounded the seas
to disprove the existence of a Creator, has turned its attention to human society and is found a place
on this planet ten miles square where a decent man can live in decency, comfort and security,
supporting and educating his children, unspoiled and unpolluted; a place where age is reverenced,
womanhood honored, and human life held in due regard when the skeptics can find such a place
ten mile square on this globe, where the Gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way
and laid the foundation and made decency and security possible, it will then be in order for the skeptic
and the literati to move thither, and there ventilate their views."
The blessings of Christianity are not merely the facts of history, but are also the facts of today.
The Acts of the Apostles is a book to which new pages are always being added by men and women
who follow in the steps of Jesus Christ.
When we read of the changes the gospel is working in homes and hearts in darkened lands today,
the beautiful symbol of Ezekiel's life-giving river almost falls short of the reality.
Still as of old, Christ can appeal to His works and ask the doubter to behold in them the evidence
for the divine origin of the gospel and the divine nature of its Lord: "Go and shew John again those things
which you do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,
and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me."
"Everything shall live whither the river cometh."
This applies not only to the past but also into the present, to nations and races.
It also applies to individuals to you and me.
Christian faith should show itself in the fruits of the spirit which, according to Paul, are love, joy, peace,
long-suffering, kindness, goodness, meekness, self-control, "against which there is no law."
These are the graces and virtues which have never constituted a problem for legislators and reformers,
for they do only good, and no law is required to check them or regulate them.
And Paul says that these are the fruits which ought to be found in abundance
wherever the river of the grace of God has touched the lives of men.
Even remembering the graces of the Spirit brings self-condemnation to all of our hearts.
All our life, through our homes and our churches, we have been in contact with the river of water of life in Christ.
Yet there are the tares that flourished together with a good wheat in our lives.
Some are Christians in a number of areas or compartments of their life, but not at all in the remaining compartments.
And others are partly Christian and all the compartments of their lives, but not very deeply Christian in any compartment.
Christ warned us to take heed to the light that is in us, so that we shall have "no place dark."
How many dark places most we confess that are in our lives?
One is dark as to generosity and charity.
Another is dark in the Egyptian darkness as to the forgiveness of an injury.
Another is dark as to sympathy and kindness.
Another is dark as to his imaginations.
Another is dark in some part of his business life.
Another is dark in his home life.
Another is dark in his secret life with himself.
This is the life that others do not see, but which God knows thoroughly.
If the river of Christian faith has not changed our lives, then it is our fault, not the river's.
The noble vision of the prophet has one dark shadow.
After describing the beneficent effects of the river, the heavenly guide tells the prophet
that the "marshes thereof shall not be healed, they shall be given up to salt."
So it is with the progress of Christian truth in the world there has always been the shadow cast by
the lives of those who reject the truth and will not yield themselves to the healing influences of the river of life.
The Bible closes with an invitation, "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."
The river is open, free to all, but people must come and take of their own will.
What Christ said of certain men in His own day and generation up on earth has always been true,
and will be true to the end of time.
Jesus said, "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life."
The barren unhealed marshes which the river left on its flank raises an interesting question
as to the final conquest of the gospel.
At first reading, this parable of the holy waters would seem to teach the slow but certain growth
and development of the kingdom of God on earth, until God is all and in all.
That great consummation is without doubt the end promised in the Scriptures.
But that does not necessarily mean that there can be only progress, or that the present forces
of righteousness loosed in the world are all that God will loose, or that the church in its present manifestation
and constitution is to win the whole world to Christ.
No, marshes were left behind by the mystic stream that flowed from the temple's door,
and, although the river of Christianity grows deeper and grander as it flows from age to age,
we have no reason for supposing that all rebellion in all wickedness will disappear completely
from the earth under the preaching of the Gospel.
There are movements of progress, slow, certain, inevitable, to be discerned in the work of the church
on earth; but this does not rule out the abrupt break, the cataclysm, the new departure.
That also is provided for in the plan of God for the human race.
Therefore, we may expect progress and development, the Gospel of our Lord more and more
undermining the strongholds of Satan and more and more turning the hearts of men
to the obedience of the just.
But in addition to that ever forward movement we have, by the authority of God's Word,
a right to expect the opening of the new chapter in the jurisprudence of our race,
when God shall send forth those mighty agencies which shall secure for His Kingdom
it's final and glorious victory.
That great hope, what the apostle calls the "blessed hope," is summed up for us in the promise
that the Lord Jesus Christ shall come at last to crown and vindicate His church and pronounce
a final and universal doom upon all the enemies of God.
The times and the seasons of that last grand demonstration of divine love and power belong to God,
and we gain little by attempting to read history before it is written.
The hour and the day -- that belongs to God.
To us belongs the invincible hope, founded upon the promise of Christ Himself.
Therefore, we labor earnestly and joyfully as we mark the triumphs of the truth
in the lives of men and nations.
We shall not forget to pray for the coming of the King without whom the kingdom cannot come.
The Jacobities of Scotland never met one another on the mountain paths.
They never set down to a table of council and conference without lifting the cup to pledge
the return of their king and prince, Charles.
After some time, Charles came back, but only to bring to Scotland defeat, disaster, and suffering.
In every celebration of the Lord's Supper, since that last and first night in the Upper Room,
the followers of Christ have lifted the sacramental cup as a token of their faith that their King shall come.
This is the meaning of those words which we hear so often that we forget their deep importance.
Those words are, "As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup,
ye do so forth the Lord's death until He come."
Till He comes!
And when He comes, He shall not come to bring pain and suffering as King Charles to unhappy Scotland.
He will come to bind up all wounds, to set at liberty all the captives of sin,
and to wipe away all tears from all eyes.
Whether He comes in the second watch, the midnight hour, or at the third watch,
or, as He came to the disciples on the storm tossed Lake of Galilee, the fourth watch,
the hardest watch of all, when human energies are spent, when, if it were possible,
even the elect shall be deceived, when faith is hard to find and fears are on every hand,
blessed is that disciple whom when his Lord comes He shall find watching.
"Occupy till I come!"
There Is A River
There is a river, and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain, that frees the soul from sin
Come to this water; there is a vast supply
There is a river, that never shall run dry.
There was a thirsty woman,
Who was drawing from a well
You see her life was ruined and wasted
And her soul was bound for hell.
Oh, but then, she met the Master
And He told about her sin
And he said if you drink this water,
You'll never thirst again.
There is a river, and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain, that frees the soul from sin
Come to this water; there is a vast supply
There is a river, that never shall run dry."
This sermon was based on a sermon by Clarence E. Macartney from his book,
"The Parables Of The Old Testament," and from other sources by Dr. Harold L. White