Broken Cisterns
Jeremiah 2:13
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns…

Think over these cisterns which have been built, and have been offered to us in our time, and ask whether, after all, they are not broken, obviously broken before our eyes.

1. I thought of the immense part that, a few years ago, secularism seemed to play in the thought of London. A cistern offered to us of this kind, that man should confine his attention to the world in which he lives; that we should seek to make the most of our material and intellectual opportunities here; that we should use our time honestly and well, we should instruct one another in the affairs of the world and of life, but we should remit the consideration of religion and thoughts of God to another world if it ever comes, and not trouble ourselves with them here. That cistern of secularism, at which the men of England have been requested to drink, must always be an unsatisfying cistern — a broken cistern indeed. For what reason? Because you never can silence the deep craving of the human soul; you never can bring man within the limits of time and space, and get him quietly to remain there. If secularism could give us, as we wish, a more equal distribution of opportunities, and if every man had all that the world could offer, every man would still remain unsatisfied. Count Leo Tolstoi has told us himself how in his youth he was a nobleman with every advantage of wealth and education and social position, and, moreover, he was a man in perfect health, and there seemed to be not a cloud to cross his sky. And yet he has told how at that time his deep dissatisfaction and misery were such that he was constantly contemplating suicide.

2. And then I thought of that cistern which has been offered to us under the name of socialism. That cistern is so well constructed, and is so attractive, that I would be the last to deny that waters of a satisfying kind might for a time be stored within it. It proposes to make a framework of society in some future day complete and satisfying, but meanwhile it has no message to the millions of human souls that are passing, as it were, in a dull, dead flood, week by week, day by day, into the silent grave.

3. Then it occurred to me how much we had heard in our time of natural science and physical science as cisterns at which human beings were to quench their thirst. And I remembered how, in my earlier ministry, we were constantly told that the discoveries of science would take the place of religion, and that man would learn to live his life in the world, subject to its many limitations, in the clear light that science sheds upon the development of human life and its possible goal. Then I took up the utterance of a great scientific man today, Sir Henry Thompson, who has published his little pamphlet called "The Unknown God," in order to show us what the creed of science really is. I turn over the pages of Sir Henry Thompson's book and see what a great and candid and earnest scientific man makes of this universe, and of this life in the light of science. When I read his broken and halting conclusions, and see what he offers me as the cup of cold water to quench the ardent thirst of my soul, I cannot hesitate to say, with all reverence to so good, so honest, and sincere a thinker: "My friend, you have brought me to a broken cistern, which can give no water for the thirsty soul of man."

4. And then I thought of that which is much commoner than secularism, socialism, and science, as the solution of human life — I mean the widespread and absolute indifference to all higher things into which so many of our unhappy people fall. The men who seem agreed to live as if they were merely animals upon the earth, like the beasts with lower pleasures, like the beasts with lower pains. The men who put aside altogether ideals and dreams. The men who do not ask for either God or life or eternity. The men who do not concern themselves about moral improvement or the benefit of their fellow creatures, but drift along the path of life an aimless crowd, careless of the world, careless of themselves, indifferent to all that makes life truly worth living and significant. And it seemed to me that this was not so much a cistern which is offered, or even a broken cistern, but a dull, flat pool, a mere stagnant pond where men can never quench their thirst, but where they can be and must be poisoned by the malaria that rises from the stagnant waters. What is to happen to these men if the soul thirst should ever awaken within them? And when I thought of all these broken cisterns that can hold no water, I remembered from my text that meanwhile there is a fountain; it rises there in the far-off Galilean hills, and the stream flows through the thirsty centuries, and where it flows the margin of the stream is green and fertile. And today it seems as if it were in a sense easier to get to the spring than in any other day that has ever been. "If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink."

(R. F. Herren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters, and cut them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Broken Cisterns
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