Jeremiah 2:13
Great Texts of the Bible
The Fountain of Living Waters

For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.—Jeremiah 2:13.

1. “I see a wide extended valley. At its head, embosomed in trees of imperishable verdure and fragrance, amid which the birds sing strains of loveliest music, is a fountain that gushes with unabating force from depths which the eye of the vulture hath not seen. Its waters fling their diamond spray into the sunlight, and weave with its beams webs of unearthly glory. There is a safe and sheltered way to the fountain, forbidden to none, but open without fee or recompense to all. The way, however, is nearly forsaken, and the valley is covered throughout its length and breadth with busy workers, parched with thirst, and striving with might and main to hew out cisterns which the rains of heaven may fill, and from which they can drink at pleasure. This is the vision which the prophet saw, and God by his mouth tells us that amid all these cisterns there is none that will hold any water.”1 [Note: E. Mellor, The Hem of Christs Garment, 239.]

2. In Hebrew the waters of a spring are called “living” (Genesis 21:19), because they are more refreshing and, as it were, life-giving than the stagnant waters of pools and tanks fed by the rains. Hence, by a natural metaphor, the mouth of a righteous man, or the teaching of the wise, and the fear of the Lord, are called a fountain of life. “The fountain of life” is with Jehovah; He is Himself the Fountain of living waters; because all life, and all that sustains or quickens life, especially spiritual life, proceeds from Him. Now in Psalm 19:8 it is said: “The law of the Lord”—or, the teaching of Jehovah—“is perfect, reviving (or restoring) the soul”; and a comparison of the statement of Micah and Isaiah that “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” with the more figurative language of Joel and Zechariah, who speak of “a fountain going forth from the house of the Lord,” and “living waters going forth from Jerusalem” suggests the inference that “the living waters,” of which Jehovah is the perennial Fountain, are identical with His law as revealed through priests and prophets. It is easy to confirm this suggestion by reference to the river “whose streams make glad the city of God”; to Isaiahs poetical description of the Divine teaching, of which he himself was the exponent, as “the waters of Shiloah that go softly,” Shiloah being a spring that issues from the Temple rock; and to our Lords conversation with the woman of Samaria, in which He characterizes His own teaching as “living water,” and as “a well of water, springing up unto eternal life.”

3. But to forsake the law of God is to forsake God. And here it is stated most emphatically that the people had forsaken God: “They have forsaken me.” And in forsaking God they had forsaken the source of all good. They had turned their backs upon the Fountain of Gods holiness and grace. Every road was well trodden except the way to the Fountain. All the broad highways led elsewhere, and the holy way was now just a little field-track only rarely frequented, on which walked a mere remnant thirstily looking for “the consolation of Israel.”

If you never go to church, never have anything to do with a church of any kind, you may think you are not dealing with the great question of religion: but if religion is something of importance to the world, merely by letting it alone you are dealing with it, dealing wrongly with it, and it is a serious question whether you have any right to let it alone. What right has any man, when great questions are up, touching the welfare and future of humanity, to stand back merely because he happens to be comfortable, and to let them alone? You must deal with religion. Letting it alone is dealing with it, and may be dealing with it in the very way in which you have no right. For, mark you, religion is one of the most permanent elements in human life.1 [Note: M. J. Savage.]


Forsaking the Fountain

What happens when a people forsakes the Fountain of living waters?

1. First of all, when a nation turns its back upon the Fountain and loses sight of the supreme holiness of God, its fine perception of all sacred things begins to grow dim. This is not a statement of chance. It is the expression of a law which has universal sway. We retain any kind of refined perception only by continual fellowship with the highest of its kind. That is so with literary perception. It is so with exquisite musical discernment. It is so with delicate artistic taste. And so it is with a fine perception of sanctity. To retain our spiritual sensitiveness, it is imperative that we continue to hold fellowship with the Divine. If the fellowship with God is destroyed, the general sense of reverence is impaired.

Religion, in its ultimate essence, is a sentiment of Reverence for a Higher than ourselves. Reverence can attach itself exclusively to a person; it cannot direct itself on what is impersonal. All the sentiments characteristic of religion presuppose a Personal Object, and assert their power only where Manhood is the type of Godhead.1 [Note: The Life and Letters of James Martineau, i. 240.]

This is the thing which I know—and which, if you labour faithfully, you shall know also—that in Reverence is the chief joy and power of life;—Reverence, for what is pure and bright in your own youth; for what is true and tried in the age of others; for all that is gracious among the living—great among the dead—and marvellous, in the Powers that cannot die.2 [Note: Ruskin, Lectures on Art, § 65.]

As for Carlyles religion, it may be said he had none, inasmuch as he expounded no creed and put his name to no confession. This is the pedantry of the schools. He taught us religion, as cold water and fresh air teach us health, by rendering the conditions of disease well-nigh impossible. For more than half a century, with superhuman energy, he struggled to establish the basis of all religions, “reverence and godly fear.” “Love not pleasure, love God; this is the everlasting Yea.”3 [Note: Augustine Birrell, Collected Essays, i. 24.]

2. The ebbing of reverence specially leaves the family unhallowed. The sanctity of family relationships finds the flower of its expression in family worship, and among the people of Israel this flower was withering away. They forsook the Fountain, and the family altar was overthrown. Surely we may here pass from ancient Israel directly and immediately to our own time. With what consternation and alarm do we look upon the general overthrow of the family altar. And the ruin is wider than is apparent in the lapse of common family devotion. For instance, is any one prepared to maintain that the fine reverence of children for their parents is a conspicuous feature of our modern life? There is a thinness in the relationship and an irreverence in the ordinary speech which do not conduce to the health and strength of our family communion.

Fine reverence is not synonymous with restraint, nor does its practice induce anything like staleness and dull reserve. Noble reverence is rather the essential secret of an exhilarant and healthy freedom. I, for one, would welcome back into our modern life the fine, stately courtesy with which children honoured their parents in generations past; that high-born, fine-fibred, healthy grace which had such splendid expression in the days of old. But I do not know how such a reverence is to be recovered, or how it is to be kept alive and maintained in true and exquisite sensitiveness, unless there is a family altar in the home, and the corporate life of the family is centred in the reverent worship of Almighty God.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Christian World, Sept. 3, 1914.]

Although in his public life the Viceroy was of stern and unrelenting character and apparently indifferent to human life, the diary reveals in many places a tender heart and sympathetic nature. His devotion to his mother was most touching. Her last illness and death occurred in a distant province while he was immersed in important affairs of state at Tientsin. He memorialized the Dowager Empresses for a leave of absence to go to her bedside, in which he said: “She is eighty-three years old, and her constitution is breaking up; and the thought of her absent son continually recurs to her and makes her illness more dangerous. When memorialist heard this his heart burned with anxiety, and his sleep and his food were worthless. Since he bade her farewell thirteen years ago, he has never seen his mothers face.”

A leave of absence for one month was granted him, but before he could start on his journey news came of her death, and he petitioned for the usual retirement of three years for mourning, but the Dowager Empresses answered that the state of public affairs would only allow of one hundred days. But this did not satisfy his grief at the failure to reach his mother before her death, and he sent another lengthy memorial, saying: “Remorse will haunt memorialist all his life, and there is a wound in his heart that prevents him privately from enjoying a moments respite from pain, and publicly from being of any service to the state.… Even if he, separated beyond hope from meeting his mother, the living from the dead, were to spend three years in lamentations at her tomb, it would not avail to relieve his soul from the poignant and inexpressible regret he feels for his lack of filial duty.” We find that years after, when absorbed in his official duties, he records that fourteen years had passed that day since his mother died, and that he secluded himself from all callers. “With all the incidents of my life, its trials and lamentations, its moments of joy and pride, with all and every affair of life, I cannot forget my celestial mother, and all she was and is to me.”

The unique correspondence with the Dowager Empresses brings out one of the most distinguished traits of Chinese character—veneration for parents, which has become sanctified into religious worship, and also has exercised a marked influence on the political relations of the people, the Emperor being the parental head of the nation. If the fifth commandment of the Mosaic code were as faithfully observed by Christian nations as the central doctrine of the Confucian philosophy is practised by the Celestials, the social order of the Western world would be greatly improved.1 [Note: Memoirs of the Viceroy, Li Hung Chang, p. xvii.]

3. When the Fountain is forsaken, and reverence is thereby impaired, the national chivalry also begins to decay. When we lose the sense of the sacredness of the family it is difficult to retain our sense of the sacredness of man. Take the history of any nation you please. Take the history of the English people. In those seasons when God has been forsaken, it has inevitably happened that man has not been revered. Oppression may have ridden rampant in the earth, but nobody has cared. Chivalry has flown away with reverence, and the sacredness of humanity has been lost.

The English people have felt most deeply the oppressions of other people when they themselves have lived nearest to God. Does anybody imagine for a moment that if our communion with the Almighty had been keen and undimmed, and we had consequently possessed a quick and vital sense of the sacredness of man, we should have quietly tolerated for so many years the barbarous iniquities of the Congo? One of the greatest and noblest boasts of the Apostle Paul was given in these words: “Who is made to stumble and I burn not?” And that was the flame of chivalry, kindled and kept alive in the Apostles ceaseless communion with his God. Let that holy zeal begin to smoulder and the burning chivalry will soon die out. When God is forsaken chivalry is smitten at the heart. Let reverence die, and chivalry cannot hold her place.

“As he lay,” said Dean Stanley in his funeral sermon at Westminster Abbey, “the other day, cold in death, like the stone effigy of an ancient warrior, the fitful fever of life gone, the strength of immortality left, resting as if after the toil of a hundred battles, this was himself idealized. From those mute lips there seemed to issue once more the living words with which he spoke, ten years ago, before one who honoured him with an unswerving faithfulness to the end. Some say—thus he spoke in the Chapel of Windsor Castle—some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth, or a man or a woman left to say, I will redress that wrong, or spend my life in the attempt. The age of chivalry is never past so long as we have faith enough to say, God will help me to redress that wrong, or if not me, He will help those that come after me, for His eternal will is to overcome evil with good. ”1 [Note: Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of his Life, ii. 344.]


Hewing out Broken Cisterns

1. If the Fountain is forsaken we must have something to make up for God. We cannot turn our cravings away from the Father, and by the very turning find these cravings appeased. The delicate tendrils which have clung to the Almighty must seek their support elsewhere. Our spiritual instincts will demand attention, and they will need to be either narcotized or strenuously and constantly subdued. So it was with the people who had forsaken the Lord. The national life became a sort of restless vagrancy, and a wild quest took the place of a forsaken rest. “See thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done: thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways; a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure.” All of which means that this people, having forsaken the place of their rest, ran about everywhere, dipping into everything, in the attempt to satisfy the instincts which had been denied their appointed springs.

Tedium has been defined as a consciousness of time, just as in a morbid state one may become conscious of the throbbing of ones pulse. Having to wait at a railway station is a perfect torment to some people. For myself I remember this restlessness, which was very strong in me from about eighteen to eight-and-twenty. There was a constant craving to get on anyhow or any whither, only there must be no pause. I wonder how I should feel now if I were cut off from books, writing materials, and companions for some hours and were not travelling. I should be all right if some subject were buzzing in my head, as the Eastern Question has been lately, but without some such subject on which my thoughts settled naturally, I suspect I should be bored. I often grumble that I have no time to think. Should I think if I were condemned to solitary confinement for a week? What went on in mens minds when they were shut up in oubliettes? What goes on in the minds of sailors on watch or of sentries? Do they feel tedium, or does the mind, like the body, accommodate itself to the conditions in which it lives?1 [Note: Life and Remains of the Rev. R. H. Quick, 427.]

2. Let us touch upon two of the most common of those broken cisterns at which the thirsty soul seeks to quench its cravings.

(1) There is the cistern of pleasure, embroidered with fruits and flowers, and bacchanalian figures, wrought at the cost of health and rest. It is in the very nature of passion not to yield the pleasure you seek from it if you push its gratification beyond the limits assigned to it in the constitution of our moral nature. It is with the passions as it is with the appetites, with which they have a close alliance and affinity—the more moderately they are satisfied within the limits of the claims of health, the higher is the satisfaction and the longer their susceptibilities of pleasure remain. The pampered appetite becomes the jaded appetite, and at length becomes the diseased and ruined appetite. And the man who is hewing out for himself a cistern of sensual pleasure is like the dram-drinker, who derives less stimulus and delight from the same quantity every day, and has accordingly to increase the dose to supply the same excitement; who at length gets beyond the range of gratification but finds that the passion holds him fast in its serpent coils even when all its joys are for ever fled.

The human soul cannot live as an animal, seeking only to satisfy the physical nature and following only animal instincts; there is in it a rational faculty, which must have regard to a rational, or good, purpose in life, and control the animal nature in accordance with this purpose. In each of us the animal nature asserts itself, and every soul has to go through a struggle with the physical senses for mastery. If there be no such struggle, then the animal nature becomes dominant and the higher nature remains undeveloped. Only when the animal is thoroughly subdued can the soul attain to self-realization and union with the Supreme. Control of the appetites, in itself, will not suffice: the desire for sense-gratification must be rooted out. All the world over man is deeply sunken in sensuality, and a great part of his miseries and diseases are due to this. Most men in civilized communities are slaves to the senses. They indulge the animal nature, and in most cases never try to conquer it. With some it is not enough to live like animals;—for animals are pure and healthy in their instincts—nothing less than a debauching excess of sensuality will suffice them. They must wallow in slime. Indulgence in intoxicating liquor—one of the grosser forms of sensuality—is alone the cause of an almost inconceivable amount of misery. Then there are other forms of indulgence which, though much less obvious, are scarcely less serious in their consequences in wastage and disease. The external aspects of this sensuality are obvious; but the internal, or subjective, aspect, which is not the least serious, is understood only by few. Every sense-degraded soul is in misery and darkness, in degree according to the degree of its indulgence.1 [Note: R. H. Hodgson, Glad Tidings! 15.]

(2) We find in another part of the valley another earnest worker, who is hewing out a cistern of wealth. Now what shall we say to this man? It will not serve any good purpose to call him hard names. You cannot scold a man out of any sin, still less out of the sin of covetousness. Nor must we bluntly deny all that he has said in praise of wealth. In fact, he might have said a great deal more in its eulogy without exceeding the limits of truth. The power of wealth—that is, its just and legitimate power—is enormous, and is increasing day by day; and there is no reason, except such as we find in the unsanctified and ill-regulated passions of men, why it should be ought else or less than an unmingled blessing. It is when we find men mistaking its functions and properties, and labouring to hew out of it a cistern of satisfaction, that we are constrained to remind them that such a cistern will hold no water.

Far the most penetrating of all the influences that are impairing the moral and intellectual nerve of our generation remain still to be mentioned. The first of them is the immense increase of material prosperity, and the second is the immense decline in sincerity of spiritual interest. The evil wrought by the one fills up the measure of the evil wrought by the other. We have been, in spite of momentary declensions, on a flood-tide of high profits and a roaring trade, and there is nothing like a roaring trade for engendering latitudinarians. The effect of many possessions, especially if they be newly acquired, in slackening moral vigour, is a proverb. Our new wealth is hardly leavened by any tradition of public duty such as lingers among the English nobles, nor as yet by any common custom of devotion to public causes, such as seems to live and grow in the United States. Under such conditions, with new wealth come luxury and love of ease and that fatal readiness to believe that God has placed us in the best of possible worlds, which so lowers mens aims and unstrings their firmness of purpose. Pleasure saps high interests, and the weakening of high interests leaves more undisputed room for pleasure.1 [Note: John Morley, On Compromise.]

What was the danger of the possession of wealth in the eyes of Christ? What makes it so hard for the rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God? The danger and the difficulty both lie in the tendency of wealth to breed a spirit of self-satisfaction and contentment, a spirit which infects the soul with indifference, kills all high aspiration, deadens the sense of need, and even in human relationships leads to selfishness. Nor am I speaking now of great wealth, as we understand that phrase in the modern world. The collection of huge wealth into the hands of one individual was probably not known to Jesus, or even if it was known, it was no danger to the men to whom He spoke. And we should go very far astray in our interpretation of His words if we imagined that His warning as to the perils of riches applies only to millionaires. In truth, it applies to all who are living in circumstances of ease and comfort, and whose habits of life tend to deaden their sense of need. I believe we sum up the Christian attitude to wealth when we say that our Lord regarded it as a stewardship with which we are entrusted. Like all other gifts of life it is to be put to the largest and most fruitful use. It is not to be used merely as though it belonged to us; we are to think of it as loaned to us by God, and therefore to be used according to His will and purpose. The talents are placed in our hands, but we are to remember who put them there and that the day will come when we must render account of the use we have made of them. Even the man to whom comparatively little has been given will be judged by his use of that little. “He that is faithful in little is faithful also in much.”1 [Note: S. M. Berry, Graces of the Christian Character, 169.]

How is the anxious soul of man befooled

In his desire,

That thinks an hectic fever can be cooled

In flames of fire;

Or hopes to rake full heaps of burnished gold

From nasty mire!

Whose gold is double with a careful hand,

His cares are double,

The pleasure, honour, wealth of sea and land

Bring but a trouble;

The world itself, and all the worlds command,

Is but a bubble.

The strong desires of mans insatiate breast

May stand possessed

Of all that earth can give; but earth can give no rest.

The worlds a seeming Paradise, but her own

And mans tormentor;

Appearing fixed, yet but a rolling stone

Without a tenter;

It is a vast circumference, where none

Can find a centre.

Of more than earth, can earth make none possessed;

And he that least

Regards this restless world, shall in this world find rest.

True rest consists not in the oft revying

Of worldly dross;

Earths miry purchase is not worth the buying;

Her gain is loss;

Her rest but giddy toil, if not relying

Upon her cross.

How worldlings droyl for trouble! That fond breast

That is possessed

Of earth without a cross has earth without a rest.1 [Note: Francis Quarles.]

The Fountain of Living Waters


Ball (C. J.), The Prophecies of Jeremiah (Expositors Bible), 74.

Foote (J.), Communion Week Sermons, 75.

McIntyre (D. M.), Life in His Name, 207.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Isaiah and Jeremiah, 249.

Mellor (E.), The Hem of Christs Garment, 236.

Melvill (H.), Sermons on Public Occasions, 256.

Meyer (F. B.), Jeremiah: Priest and Prophet, 24.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, x. 113.

Voysey (C.), Sermons, xix. (1896), Nos. 25, 38.

Woolsey (T. D.), The Religion of the Present, 87.

Christian World, Sept. 3, 1914 (J. H. Jowett).

Christian World Pulpit, i. 481 (W. A. Essery).

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