Rivers of Living Water.
"He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, ont of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." St. John, VII, 38.
From very early times in the history of Christianity, mysticism has been found in the Church. That word mysticism may cover a very large range of thought and practice, for it serves to define an aspect of religion which is very interesting, and when rightly guarded essential to a complete manifestation of our Lord's teaching. The reason why we distrust mysticism is because in so many instances of its development it has not adequately safeguarded other aspects of the truth. The mystic dwells upon the notion of the illumination of the human soul, through prayer and meditation, to a degree which enables it to understand the deep things of God and to hold personal communion with Him. And so far as that, it truly represents the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the inner life of the believer. The trouble is that when one has come to believe in this interior illumination he is apt to minimize the importance of the Church's ordinances and outward observances; to disparage obedience, and to decry forms and ceremonies. It would seem often as if the human mind was incapable of balancing fairly the inward spirit and the outward form which are both fundamentally essential to our Lord's religion. Devout souls always incline to mysticism, and unless they carefully school themselves in obedience, are fain to undervalue worship and sacraments. In the East, even as early as the fourth century, mysticism ran into heresy, and did much mischief. In the West it was more moderate, and not until the later middle ages do serious errors seem to have grown out of the teachings of the more zealous mystics. It may be urged that formalism, superficial Christianity, is just as unhappy an evil as the exaggeration of the spiritual element, yet there is this about fidelity to ordinances, that it keeps up the conception of obedience, and that always restrains the soul from getting quite away from the truth; whereas unrestrained mysticism speedily becomes lawless, and practically incapable of reformation.
The Church has never failed to encourage the mystical interpretation of Holy Scripture, and the development of the contemplative life, though she insists most strongly upon hearty obedience to all her ordinances. And it appears to me to be true that there never was a time when one needed more to dwell upon the mystic and unearthly aspect of our religion than in these days. The rationalistic spirit is abroad everywhere, and has entered even into the sanctuary. Christian teachers boldly deny the truth of parts of God's holy Word, assert that the miracles never took place, and maintain that moral integrity is alone important, and that where it is found sound faith can be dispensed with. We need a revival of mysticism of the right sort, the mysticism of the deep inner sense of the Gospel.
I. Nor is this wanting in our Lord's own words. The passage I just now read to you, for a text, is a striking illustration of His mystical sayings. The first thing which attracts our attention to it is that while He quotes the words "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," as if from the Old Testament, we do not therein find any such language. There are other instances of this in the New Testament. The holy Apostles apply Scripture in ways in which we should not venture to quote it. To take a very notable instance : it is written at the end of the second chapter of St. Matthew, "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." We do not find any such language used of the Messiah in any of the prophets. And to St. Chrysostom the difficulty of St. Matthew's words is so great that he says this must be a lost prophecy, which has never come down to us. It does not appear to be necessary to take such ground if we hold that our Lord, and His followers who were inspired for their work, understood as we cannot the hidden sense of Scripture, that deeper meaning of the Spirit which no one can comprehend naturally. We are thus led to look upon the Word of God as a profound mine of supernatural truth, of which not a tithe of the wealth is visible to the superficial student, but which those who devoutly ponder, and meditate upon it, will appreciate more and more.
We do not find in the Old Testament anywhere the words "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." The nearest approach to them is in the 18th chapter of the Book of Proverbs, verse 4: "The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook." Howbeit it can hardly be supposed that our Lord meant to quote the sense of this, when He said that 'out of the belly of the believer should flow rivers of living water.' If we take a broader view of the quotation than to look for it verbatim in any of the books of the Old Testament, we shall find in various places in holy Scripture the representation of a mystical fountain with flowing streams, symbolical of the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost.
1. These rivers of living water appear first in the Garden of Eden, where starting from a common source they flow forth as four, Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates.
2. Ezekiel the prophet beholds in his vision waters issuing from under the threshold of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. As the wondering prophet guided by an angel follows their downward course, they become greater and greater, flowing towards the Dead Sea, and causing fertility everywhere in the desert through which they pass; while furthermore they fill the barren sea with good fish. "And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed."
Joel tells us also about this wonderful stream, saying, "A fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim."
Zechariah speaks yet more plainly about these waters, that they are to flow in the day of the Gospel: "And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea."
3. Then, at the very end of our Bibles, when paradise is restored as in St. John's vision, the Apostle writes, "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." You may say that all of this is mystical, and I do not dispute it, but is it not what our Lord is referring to when He says of the believer that "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water "?
4. The true source of this great flood of life is the throne of God and of the Lamb. It was prefigured by the fourfold river of the Garden of Eden, which watered paradise, sustaining its wonderful fertility. It was foreseen in vision by the prophets as proceeding out of the house of God, the type of the Church, going forth to fertilize the desert, and to fill the salt sea with great fishes, even as the Gospel has made the wastes of earth lovely in God's eyes, and filled the barren places of the divine kingdom with fish, which are the type of faithful Christian souls. It issued in mysterious power from our Lord's side on the Cross, in the form of blood and water. It shall flow eternally in the celestial paradise to be the joy of the saints. And that we are not mistaken in our interpretation appears from what the Evangelist in our text immediately goes on to say, "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive." The rivers of the flood of God are no other than the vivifying graces of the Holy Ghost, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, to sanctify all the people of God.
II. But we have by no means fully explained our text by discovering that our Lord chose to take the great underlying sense of many Scriptures, and to quote it in His own concise form for our edification. He declares not that the rivers of living water shall flow forth from Himself, because He was presently to send the Holy Ghost from on high, but that they should flow from every believer on Him, and not only from the person of the believer, but specifically "out of his belly." This is certainly a very remarkable expression. He does not say that the rivers of living water are to go forth out of the believer's heart, or out of his mind. The word used is one which necessarily suggests his having first partaken of them himself, and so personally appropriated them. Indeed He introduces the mystic verse by saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Our Lord alone has the living water within Himself inherently. He is not only all pure and un-defiled, full of grace and truth, but He is also divine, and because divine He is the well of life. The supernatural energy of the Holy Ghost must be of His sending, but in order that the believer may have it within himself, he must first be partaker of our Lord's own nature. You can see the appropriateness, under these circumstances, of the strange expression which He uses, "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," for only by having received them himself can one have them thus within him.
i. We are made to think at once of a very pernicious and quite false conception of Christianity much too common in our times, to the effect that all that is necessary is to endeavour to follow in one's outward life the example of Christ. What could be better than that, one says? For if a man seeks to be God-fearing and prayerful towards his heavenly Father, and just, gentle and unselfish among his fellows, he has certainly got the essence of Christ's religion. As a matter of fact all that he has got is an excellent type of humanitarianism, very excellent so far as it goes. But do you not see that if this is all that is important in our religion, our Master need never have died. He went about the world doing good, illustrating all those attractive virtues of love towards God and towards His neighbour, nevertheless He proceeded from that perfect example of gracious manhood further to endure all the horrible tortures of the passion and the death of the Cross. What is the explanation of these things in the Saviour's work?
2. The way in which the Church teaches Christ's religion requires on the part of the believer an actual sharing in the life of our Lord, a participation in His very nature, a something which is to supernaturalize us. I do not believe there is anything more hurtful to the spiritual life of a great many Christians than just that popular notion which satisfies so many that the only really important thing is to be good. The Church's notion of an actual incorporation of the disciple into the life of the Master has no place in their conception of duty. They have no sense of the importance of any ordinances, they feel they are doing their duty just as well whether they are partakers of the sacraments or not. The whole system of the Church however is based upon the notion of a life, a new life, which is begun in Baptism, wherein we were made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. If the life of Christ is imparted to our life, so that we do not truly live ourselves but Christ liveth in us, we can see how that which He promises is to be fulfilled in our case, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." For these rivers properly can flow only out of our Lord's life; therefore unless that life has entered into ours, and taken up ours into its own, it is not to be expected that the living water should proceed from us.
III. Let us however further note of what sort these rivers are, in order that we may the better realize how different the Bible notion of a Christian life is from that which popularly passes current among us.
1. First there is the stream of trustfulness in God's providence. Where do you find that in natural religion? Many men are stoics, others are optimists, but neither stoicism nor optimism is the same as Christian trustfulness, a serene confidence that God is ruling over all things; that He is kind, and good, and that no real harm can come to us if we but be loyal to duty.
2. Secondly there is the stream of thankful hope, the great joyous looking forward to the life of the world to come. Not indeed in any presumptuous way, for we may never forget that it is only of God's exceeding great mercy we can hope for heaven, yet because our confidence in Him is unbounded, and we are persuaded that we are His disciples, we go on day by day rejoicing in the sure expectation of immortality.
3. A third stream of living water is that of love. The man of the world cries, How can one love God when one has never seen Him. There are other ways of knowing our friends besides the way of sight. Think of that marvellous child Helen Keller, making acquaintance with the whole world of human thought, as well as of the world of matter, through the sense of touch. The Christian who shares in the life of our Lord Christ finds in prayers and sacraments a veritable consciousness of communion with his Master, and where there is consciousness of such actual communion, love goes forth spontaneously in great rapturous waves towards the one so worthy of all love.
4. There is fourthly the stream of benignity towards one's neighbours. Many merely natural Christians and religionists of this world give evidence that they possess gracious manners and kindly natures, but within one who has realized participation in the life of Christ there arises a tenderness of gentle feeling towards others which I do not believe can be learned in any school but that of sacramental religion. It springs from the way of regarding one's fellow men which is begotten of the Christ nature in us, a way of beholding them in some sort with the Lord's eyes, not with our natural eyes; looking upon and thinking of all men with a yearning for their salvation; in some small degree at least as He does.
5. Close by the river of benignity flows the fifth stream of life which we may call helpfulness, Men are often helpful to their fellows, there is an instinct of humanity in us all, but this does not generally reach very far. Our sympathies must be enlisted, and we have not sympathy for all men, rather but for a few. Universal sympathy and universal helpfulness can only arise, I believe from beholding our Lord Christ in every man. The image of the Master answers to itself. When we have His life within us, we are able to detect His life mirrored everywhere in human need, and that is the one all powerful spring of helpfulness known to our race.
6. Sixthly there is the stream of true forgivingness. We sometimes pride ourselves on our forgiving natures. We are ready to pardon anyone who has wronged us just so soon as he acknowledges his fault and asks to be forgiven. But that was not the way in which our Lord Christ forgave; He forgave His enemies, and died for them, while they were still enemies. The moving impulse of true Christian forgivingness is the consciousness of one's own need of pardon. We cannot long cherish resentment in our hearts when we are conscious of our own grievous shortcomings in the eyes of God. But we cannot realize our own need of pardon till we have become partakers in our Lord's nature, till we have come to share His life. Then we see the truth about ourselves.
7. There is in the seventh place the lovely stream of longsuffering, or patience if you like the name better. It springs from an honest forgetfulness of self. The way of this world is constant thought of one's self, in order that one may duly guard and further his own interests. But to put self interest entirely aside, to be willing calmly to be disregarded and crowded out of the way by others, to be indifferent to one's rights, to be quite content with the poorest things and the lowest places, this is acknowledged by all to be unearthly, unnatural indeed, in the eyes of many a fault rather than an excellence. Nevertheless it is one of the loveliest of the streams of life, springing only out of souls quite genuinely joined to our Lord Christ.
8. For our eighth river we have meekness toward God, that is a profound self abasement arising from the sense of His greatness and our littleness, His holiness and our unworthiness; yet it is the meekness of a little child, that is meant; a meekness accompanied by absolute trust; because one is nothing, he takes refuge with our Lord Who is everything. This is the perfection of dependence, only to be learned through conscious participation in the Christ life.
9. Lastly we have the river of self-control or continence. Holding in as with iron hand all the natural impulses, that they maybe exercised only in subjection to the divine will. The natural man, the religionist of this world, practises self-denial to gain mastery over his powers, that he may accomplish the more. The partaker in the Christ life disciplines himself in order that he may give his soul up absolutely to our Lord, getting it in hand by stern repression of its inclinations, regaining control when by carelessness it has been lost, through hearty use of sacramental penance.
IV. Are they not wonderful rivers, these nine streams which are the fruitage of the Spirit in lives sacramentally joined to our Lord Christ? For I know of no way of being actually joined to Him other than the way of the sacramental life. Out of the belly of the believer are to flow these nine rivers of living water. He must first have received them into himself before they can flow out of him. Do you remember those startling words tittered by our Lord in that solemn sixth chapter of St. John? "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me." And again: "Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." And once again, and most awe-inspiring of all is the saying: "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." The Church has never known any way of eating our Lord's flesh and drinking His blood except the receiving of Holy Communion, yet how little most Christians of our day make of that mysterious sacrament! Out of us never can flow the rivers of living water which have their spring in our Lord Christ except we have first received our Lord Christ into ourselves. "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." "He that eateth me, even he shall live by me." Yet how few eat and drink, at least with any regularity and any earnest thought of the meaning of such heavenly partaking! I would not disparage any other part of Christian duty, nor would I have you think the other sacraments are not as necessary in their place as this one, nevertheless every year I live, I am convinced more and more that the corner-stone of true discipleship in Christ is to be found in Holy Communion. It effectually marks the difference between natural Christianity and supernatural Christianity. Natural Christianity is no more than the endeavour to follow our Lord in prayer and works of mercy, that which is properly called a good life. Supernatural Christianity is the life of the believer joined to his Lord in a vital union, a partaking of His very nature; and the maintenance and development of that union by the constant feeding upon His Body and His Blood. Neglect of Holy Communion may not bring very serious consequences upon those who do not understand it, and cannot realize what it is; but for us who know, I believe the ignoring of it to be a habit most perilous to the soul. Out of the belly of the believer should flow rivers of living water, even all the fruits of the Spirit; but they cannot flow out of us unless we have first received our Lord into our very selves after the manner of spiritual food and drink in Holy Communion.