Wherever the river flows, there will be swarms of living creatures and a great number of fish, because it flows there and makes the waters fresh; so wherever the river flows, everything will flourish.
I. THE SOURCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. AS the rain comes down from heaven, filters in the soil, and wells up a living spring, so the blessings of the gospel have their fountain in the very mind and heart of God himself. But, as conveyed to men, they have a well-spring human and earthly. The student of human history, who looks beneath the surface of things, and seeks to understand the growth of thought and of morals, turns his attention to the Hebrew people, wondering that from them, as from a well-head of ethical and religious life, should flow blessings so priceless for the enrichment of humanity. Yet so it is; the temple at Jerusalem is the symbol of a Divine revelation. The justest and noblest ideas which have entered into the intellectual and spiritual life of man have very largely issued from Moses and the Hebrew prophets. How far Ezekiel entered into this truth may not be certain; yet since he was a cosmopolite, in relation with Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre, and knew well the mental and moral state of the nations of antiquity, it seems reasonable to believe that he had enough of the critical spirit to compare the debt of the world to the Hebrews as compared with the people that figure so vastly in secular history. He was certainly right in tracing to Israelitish sources the waters of life, fruitfulness, and healing which were to bring blessing to mankind.
II. THE WIDENING AND DEEPENING OF THE HOLY WATERS. It is here that Ezekiel passes from history to prophecy. Possessed by the Spirit of God, he was able to look into the future and behold the wonder yet to be. It is, indeed, marvelous that, in a period of national depression, when national extinction seemed to human foresight to be imminent, the prophet of the exile should have had so clear a perception of the reality of things, and so clear a foresight of the spiritual future of the world, which must in his apprehension have appeared bound up with the continuity of the history and religious life of Israel. The river, like the temple from which it proceeded, was the emblem of what was greater than itself. Christian commentators have taken pleasure in tracing Correspondences between the gradual increase of the stream and the growth of true and spiritual religion. Beginning with Judaism, the stream of truth and blessing widened and deepened into Christianity; and Christianity itself, commencing its course in the besom of Israel, soon came to include in its ever-widening flood, its ever-deepening volume of blessing, all the nations comprehended in the dominion of Rome. And following centuries have witnessed the constant broadening of the life-giving and beneficent stream, so that none can place a limit to the area which shall be fertilized and refreshed by the waters that first flowed from the courts of the temple at Jerusalem.
III. THE BENEFICENCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. Among the results of the presence of the waters of life may be observed the following.
1. Healing. The salt and bituminous waters of the Dead Sea are represented as being healed and restored to sweetness by this inflow of the sweet and wholesome waters issuing from the sanctuary. By this may be understood the power of pure and supernatural religion to heal the corruptions of sinful society. Certainly, as a matter of fact, not a little has been done in this direction in the course of the centuries, as the Church has taken possession, first of the Roman empire, and then of the nations of the North, and as, in these latter days, it has, with missionary zeal, penetrated the foulness of the remotest heathenism.
2. Life. And this in two several directions. The prophet saw very many trees on the banks of the river, and a very great multitude of fish in its translucent waters. Life, both vegetable and animal, life of every kind and order, is the result of the stream's full and beneficent flow. Corresponding with this is the spiritual life which results from the benign and wholesome influence of true Christianity. The Lord Jesus came that men might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Life of the spirit, the very life of God himself - such is the issue of the Divine interposition and provision.
3. Fruitfulness and abundance. The fishers spread their nets and draw up from the waters a great supply of fish; the husbandmen go forth into the gardens and vineyards by the river-side and gather great crops of fruit. The river of the water of life, like the streams of Damascus creating a green oasis in the Syrian desert, brings fertility, a wealth of blossom and of fruit, wherever it flows. Righteousness and holiness, patience and peace, devotion and hope, - such are the harvest for which the world is indebted to the sweet waters of the Divine sanctuary. - T.
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.
Every thing shall live whither the river cometh.I. ITS SPRING (ver. 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 (vers. 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? (vers. 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.)
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
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.)
(J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
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.
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 (ver. 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.)
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.)Psalm 46); 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 Psalm 1, "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.)Psalm 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 (ver. 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.)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.)
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. , 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.)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.Reflections: —
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.)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.)
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.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)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.)
(J. G. Rogers.)
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