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THE WELL-SPRING OF SALVATION
‘Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.’—ISAIAH xii. 3.
There are two events separated from each other by more than fifteen hundred years which have a bearing upon this prophecy: the one supplied the occasion for its utterance, the other claimed to be its interpretation and its fulfilment. The first of these is that scene familiar to us all, where the Israelites in the wilderness murmured for want of water, and the law-giver, being at his wits’ end what to do with his troublesome charges, took his anxieties to God, and got for an answer the command to take with him the elders of Israel and his miracle-working rod, and to go to the rock, ‘and the Lord shall stand upon the rock before thee and them, and the water shall flow forth.’ It was not the rock, nor the rod, nor Moses and the elders, but the presence of God that brought the refreshing draught. And that that incident was in Isaiah’s mind when he wrote our text is very clear to anybody who will observe that it occurs in the middle of a song of praise, which corresponds to the Israelites’ song at the Red Sea after the destruction of Pharaoh, and is part of a great prophecy in which he describes God’s future blessings and mercies under images constantly drawn from the Egyptian bondage and the Exodus in the desert. Now, that interpretation, or rather that application, of the words of my text, was very familiar to the Jews long, long before the New Testament was thought about. For, as many of you will know, there came in the course of time a number of ceremonies to be added to a feast established by Moses himself—the Feast of Tabernacles. That was a feast in which the whole body of the Israelitish people dwelt for a week in leafy booths, in order to remind them of the time when they were wanderers in the wilderness; and as is usually the case, the ritual of the celebration developed a number of additional symbolical observances which were tacked on to it in the course of centuries. Amongst these there was this very memorable one: that on each of the days of the Feast of Tabernacles, at a given point in the ceremonial, the priests went from the temple, winding down the rocky path on the temple mountain, to the Pool of Siloam in the valley below, and there in their golden vases they drew the cool sparkling water, which they bore up, and amidst the blare of trumpets and the clash of cymbals poured it on the altar, whilst the people chanted the words of my text, ‘With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.’
That ceremonial had been going on for eight hundred years from Isaiah’s time; and once more the period came round when it was to be performed; and on the seven days of the feast, punctually at the appointed time, the procession wound down the rocky slopes, drew the water in the golden vases, bore it up to the temple, and poured it upon the altar; and on the last great day of the feast, the same ceremonial went on up to a given point; and just as the last rites of the chant of our text were dying on the ears, there was a little stir amidst the crowd, which parted to make way for him, and a youngish man, of mean appearance and rustic dress, stepped forward, and there, before all the gathered multitudes and the priests standing with their empty urns, symbol of the impotence of their system, ‘on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.’ Brethren, such a commentary, at such a time, from such a commentator, may well absolve me from the necessity of enforcing the evangelistic bearing of the words of my text. And so, then, with that understanding of the deepest meaning of these words that we have to look at, I ask you to take them in the simplest possible way, and to consider three points: the Well of Salvation, the Act of Drawing the Water, the Gladness of those that draw. ‘With joy shall ye draw water out of the fountains of salvation.’
Now, with regard to the first point, let me remind you to begin with, that the idea of the word here is not that which we attach to a well, but that which we attach to a spring. It does not describe the source of salvation as being a mere reservoir, still less as being a created or manufactured thing; but there lies in it the deep idea of a source from which the water wells up by its own inward energy. Then, when we have got that explanation, and the deep, full, pregnant meaning of the word salvation as a thing past, a thing present, a thing future, a thing which negatively delivers a man from all sin and sorrow, and a thing which positively endows a man with beauty, happiness, and holiness—when we have got that, then the question next cries aloud for answer—this well-spring of salvation, is—what? Who? And the first answer and the last answer is GOD—GOD HIMSELF. It is no mere bit of drapery of the prophet’s imagery, this well-spring of salvation; it is something much more substantial, much deeper than that. You remember the old psalm, ‘With Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light’; and what David and John after him called life, Isaiah and Paul after him calls salvation. And you remember too, no doubt, the indictment of another of the prophets, laying hold of the same metaphor in order to point to the folly and the suicide of all godless living: ‘My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves broken cisterns.’ They were manufactured articles, and because they were made they could be cracked, but the fountain, because it rises by its own inherent energy, springing up into everlasting life, is all-sufficient. God Himself is the well-spring of salvation.
If I had time to enlarge upon this idea, I might remind you how nobly and blessedly that principle is confirmed when we think of this great salvation, past, present, and future, negative and positive, all-sufficient and complete, as having its origin in His deep nature, as having its process in His own finished work, and as being in its essence the communication of Himself. That last thing I should like to say a word or two about. If there is a man or a woman that thinks of salvation as if it were merely a shutting up of some material hell, or the dodging round a corner so as to escape some external consequence of transgression, let him and her hear this: the possession of God is salvation, that and nothing else. To have Him within me, that is to be saved; to have His life in His dear Son made the foundation of my life, to have my whole being penetrated and filled with God, that is the essence of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. And because it comes unmotived, uncaused, self-originated, springing up from the depths of His own heart; because it is all effected by His own mighty work who has trodden the winepress alone, and, single-handed, has wrought the salvation of the race; and because its essence and heart is the communication of God Himself, and the bestowing upon us the participation in a divine nature, therefore the depth of the thought, God Himself is the well-fountain of salvation.
But there is still another step to take. If these things which I have only just been able to glance at in the most superficial, and perhaps, therefore, confused manner, in any measure commend themselves to your judgments and your consciences, let me ask you to go with me one step further, and to figure to yourselves the significance and the strangeness of that moment to which I have already referred, when a man stood up in the temple court, and, with distinct allusion to the whole of the multitude of Old Testament sayings, in which God and the communication of God’s own energy were represented as being the fountain of salvation and the salvation from the fountain, and said, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me.’ Why, what a thing—let us put it into plain, vulgar English—what a thing for a man to say—‘If any man thirst.’ Who art Thou that dost thus plant Thyself opposite the race, sure that Thou hast no needs like them, but, contrariwise, canst refresh and satiate the thirsty lips of them all? Who art Thou that dost proclaim Thyself as sufficient for the fruition of the mind that yearns for truth and thirsts for certitude, of the parched heart that wearies and cracks for want of love, of the will that longs to be rightly and lovingly commanded? Oh, dear brethren, not only the Titanic presumption of proposing oneself as enough for a single soul, but the inconceivable madness of proposing oneself as enough for all the race in all generations to the end of time, except on one hypothesis, marks this utterance of Him who has also said, ‘I am meek and lowly of heart.’ Strange lowliness! singular meekness! Who was He? Who is this that steps into the place that only a God can fill, and says, ‘I can do it all. If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink’?
Dear brethren, some of us can, thank God, answer that question as I pray that every one of you may be able to answer it, ‘Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ; Thou art the everlasting son of the Father. With Thee is the fountain of life; Thou Thyself art the living water.’
But I think there is a still further step to be taken. It is not only that our Lord Jesus Christ, in His nature, in His person, is the communicator of the divine life to man, just as—if you will let me take such a metaphor—just as up in the hills sometimes you will find some little tarn or loch all shut in; but having trickling from it a thread of limpid life, and, wherever it flows, the water of the loch goes; only, the one is lake and the other is river, and the latter is the medium of communication of the former to the thirsty pastures of the wilderness. And not only so, but—if I might venture to build upon a word of the context—there seems to be another consideration there. The words which precede my text are a quotation from a song of the Israelites in their former Exodus: ‘The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.’ Now, if our Bible has been correct—and I do not enter upon that question—in emphasising the difference between is and is become, mark where it takes us. It takes us to this, that there was some single, definite, historical act wherein God became in an eminent manner and in reality what He had always been in purpose, intent, and idea. Then that to which my text originally alludes, to which it looks back, is the great deliverance wrought by the banks of the Red Sea. It was because Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in it that Miriam and her musical sisters, with their timbrel and dance, not only said, ‘The Lord is my strength,’ but ‘He has become my strength’—there where the corpses are floating yet. What answers to that in the matter with which we are concerned? Brethren, it is not enough to say that God is the fountain of salvation, it is not enough to say that the Incarnate Christ is the medium of salvation. Will you take the other step with us, and say that the Cross of Christ is the realisation of the divine intention of salvation? Then He, who from everlasting was the strength and song of all the strong and the songful, is become the salvation of all the lost, and the fountain is ‘opened for sin and for uncleanness.’ A definite, historical act, the manifestation of Jesus Christ, is the bringing to man of the salvation of God. So much, then, for that first point to which I desired to ask your attention.
And now let me say a word or two as to the second. I wish to speak about this process of drawing from the fountain. That metaphor, without any further explanation, might very naturally suggest more idea of human effort than in reality belongs to it. Men have said: ‘Yes; no doubt God is the fountain of salvation; no doubt Christ is the river of salvation; no doubt His death is the opening of the fountain for sin and for uncleanness; but how am I to bring myself into contact and connection with it?’ And there have been all sorts of answers. Every kind of pump has been resorted to. Go up to the Agricultural Hall and you will see no end of contrivances for bringing water to the surface. There are not so many there as men have found out for themselves to bring the water of salvation to their lips, and the effect has always been the same. There has been something wrong with the valves; the pump has not worked properly; there has been something wrong with the crank; the pipe has not gone down to the water; and there has been nothing but a great jingling of empty buckets, and aching and wearied elbows, and what the woman said to Christ has been true all round, ‘Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.’ Ay! thank God, it is deep; and if we let our Lord be His own interpreter, we have only to put together three sayings of His in order to come to the true meaning of this metaphor. My text says, ‘With joy ye shall draw water’; and Christ, sitting at the well of Samaria—what a strange combination of the weakness and the weariness of manhood and the strength and self-consciousness of Divinity was there!—wearied with His journey, said, ‘If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him and He would have given thee living water.’ So, then, drawing is asking. That is step number one.
Take another word of the Master’s that I have already quoted for other purposes, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.’ So, then, drawing, or asking, or coming are all equivalent. That is step number two.
And, then, take another word. ‘He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.’ So, then, drawing, asking, coming, all melt into the one simple word—believing. Trust in Him, and thou hast come, thou hast asked, thou hast drawn, thou dost possess.
But whilst I would lay the foundation thus broad, thus simple, do not forget, dear brethren, what I was saying about a definite historical act. You will hear people say, ‘Oh, I trust in Christ!’ What do you trust in Christ? You will hear people say, ‘Oh, I look to the goodness of God.’ Be it so. God forbid I should say a word to prevent that; but what I would insist upon is that a mere vague regard to a vague Christ is not the faith that is equivalent to drawing from the fountain of salvation. There must be a further object in a faith that saves. It must lay hold of the definite historical act in which Christ has become the salvation of the world.
Do not take it upon my words, take it upon His own. He once said to His fellow-countrymen in His lifetime, ‘I am the living bread’; and many of our modern teachers would go that length heartily. Was that where Christ stopped? By no means. Was His Gospel a gospel of incarnation only? Certainly not. ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ Anything more? Yes; this more, ‘and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. He that eateth Me he shall live by Me.’ ‘Well,’ say some people, ‘that means following His example, accepting His teaching, being loyal to His Person, absorbing His Spirit.’ Yes, it means all that; but is that all it means? Take His own commentary: ‘He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.’ Yes, brethren, a Christ incarnate, blessed be God! A Christ crucified, blessed be God! And not the one but both must be the basis of our faith and our hope.
Now, will you let me say one thing about this matter of drawing the water? It is an act of faith in a whole Jesus, and eminently in the mighty act and sacrifice of His Cross. But to go back again to the context: ‘He also is become my salvation. ‘That is what I desire, God helping me, to lay on the hearts of all my hearers—that a definite act of faith in Christ crucified is not enough unless it is a personal act, unless it is what our old Puritan forefathers used to call ‘appropriating faith.’ Never mind about the somewhat dry and technical phraseology; the thing is what I insist upon—‘my salvation.’ O brother! what does it matter though all Niagara were roaring past your door; you might die of thirst all the same unless you put your own lips to it. Down on your knees like Gideon’s men; it is safest there; that is the only attitude in which a man can drink of this fountain. Down on your knees and put your lips to it—your very own lips—and drink for your own soul’s salvation. Christ died for the world. Yes; but the world for which Christ died is made up of individuals who were in His heart. It is Paul’s words that I would beseech you to make your own: ‘The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Every one of you is entitled to say that, if you will. You remember that verse filled with adoring contemplation that we sometimes sing, one word in which seems to me to be coloured by the too sombre doctrine of the epoch from which it came:—
‘My soul looks back to see
The burden Thou didst bear,
When hanging on the accursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.’
‘He also is my strength and my song. He is become my salvation; therefore, in joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.’
Now, I have left myself no time to do more than say one word about that last point, the gladness of the water-drawers. It is a pretty picture in our text, full of the atmosphere and spirit of Eastern life: the cheery talk and the ringing laughter round the village well, where the shepherds with their flocks linger all day long, and the maidens from their tents come—a kind of rude Exchange in the antique world; and, says our prophet, ‘As the dwellers in the land at their village springs, so ye, the weary travellers at “the eye of the desert,” will draw with gladness.’ So we have this joy.
Dear brethren, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meant for something better than to make us glad, but it is meant to make us glad too, and he is but a very poor Christian who has not found that it is the joy and rejoicing of his heart. We need not put too much emphasis and stress upon that side of the truth; but we need not either suppress it or disregard it in our modern high-flown disinterestedness. There are joys worth calling so which only come from possessing this fountain of salvation. How shall I enumerate them? The best way, I think, will be to quote passages.
There is the gladness of forgiven sin and a quieted conscience: ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.’ There is the joy of a conscious possession of God: ‘Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day.’ There is the joy of fellowship and communion with Jesus Christ and His full presence: ‘I will see you again; and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh away from you.’ There is the joy of willing obedience: ‘I delight to do Thy will.’ ‘It is joy to the just to do judgment.’ There is the joy of a bright hope of an inheritance ‘incorruptible,’ ‘wherein ye greatly rejoice,’ and there is a joy which, like that Greek fire they talk about, burns brighter under water, and glows as the darkness deepens—a joy which is independent of circumstances, and can say, ‘Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.’
And all that, brother and friend, may be yours and mine; and then what this same prophet says may also be true: ‘The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads’—that is for the pilgrimage; ‘They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’—that is for the home. There is another prophecy in this same book of Isaiah: ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters’; that was the voice of the Christ in prophecy. There is a saying spoken in the temple courts: ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink’; that was the voice of the Christ upon earth. There is a saying at the end of Scripture—almost the last words that the Seer in Patmos heard: ‘Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely’; that was the voice of the Christ from the throne. And the triple invitation comes to every soul of man in the world, and to thee, and thee, and thee, my brother. Answer, answer as the Samaritan woman did: ‘Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come hither’ any more to draw of the broken cisterns.
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