The River of God

"There the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby."

Isaiah xxxiii. ax.

Unlike most historical cities, Jerusalem had no river. A fountain or two, a well or two, and an intermittent stream were all its water supply. That fact throws light on more than one Old Testament passage: for example, on Isaiah's contrast of the waters of Siloam, symbolising God's gentle sway, with the " river strong and mighty," the symbol of Assyria's tyranny; or again, on the triumphant exclamation of the Psalmist, "There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God." The vision of living waters flowing from the Temple which Ezekiel saw is a variation of the same theme, and suggests that in the Messianic days that deficiency shall be made good, and a mysterious stream shall spring up from behind, and flow out from beneath, the Temple doors, and then, with rapid increase of depth and width, but with no tributaries coming into it, shall run, fertilising and life-giving everywhere, till it pours itself into the noisome waters of the sullen sea of death and heals even them. That remarkable want especially lights up this prophetic word, which declares what the riverless Jerusalem might be to its inhabitants, if they would trust in God.

It suggests that He can and will supply all deficiencies. The city was perched on its barren, hot rock, and its inhabitants must often have wished that there had been running down the sun-bleached bed of Kedron a flashing stream. The prophet bids them trust in God, who will be to them such a river. In all lives there are things lacking, and these may all be compensated and made up if we will hold fast by God; and though, to the apprehension of sense, we dwell "in a dry and thirsty land where no water is," faith will see flashing and flowing the glad waters of the divine presence, mirroring the stars, and by their reflection showing us the heaven above us. If there is anything in our circumstances in regard to which we often feel sadly—and are sometimes tempted to feel bitterly— how much stronger and better equipped we should be if we were otherwise, we may be sure that God can supply the want, which is really a merciful summons to seek our sufficiency from and in Him. Our felt deficiencies are doors for His entrance. "In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne," and it did not matter though the mortal king was dead, for the true King was thereby revealed as living for ever, just as when the summer foliage, fluttering and green, drops from the tree, the sturdy stem and the strong branches are made the more visible.

That divine presence, apprehended by simple trust, is also our true defence. A city with a broad, unbridged river between it and the invader is secure. The Nile was the rampart and the wall of Thebes: Babylon was safe amid the serpent-like coils of the Euphrates; Venice has lived through wild times of war because girdled by her lagoons. God's city has this river for its moat, "wherein shall go no galley with oars, nor gallant ship shall pass thereby." Not a keel shall dare to cut its waters, nor break their surface with the wet flash of invading oars. If we will but knit ourselves to God by trust and communion, it is plain prose fact that no foe will ever get near enough to harm us. That is a truth for faith, not for sense. "There shall no evil befall thee " promises not exemption from outward trials, but deliverance from the evil in them. Many a man, truly compassed about by God, has to go through fiery trials of sorrow. But the hearts that have had most acute and protracted afflictions and have borne them in faith, are experts in this matter, and have the right to speak with authority, and they will confirm the statement that sorrows recognised as sent by God are truly blessings. The old superstition was that money bewitched was cleansed if passed across a running stream; sorrow is changed in nature and effect, since it reaches us only across that river.

That river also brings us true refreshment and satisfaction. The waterless city depended mainly on cisterns, which were often broken and always more or less foul, and sometimes empty. But he who has God for his very own may laugh at drought, and fear no thirst. The river never dries up, is never turbid nor muddied, never sinks in its bed, however many thirsty lips may have drunk of it. That thought of God's eternal all-sufficiency for our needs is a commonplace; would that it were a commonplace of our experience! But too often we try to slake thirst at broken cisterns, and are like shipwrecked men who, in their agony, desperately drink of the tempting illusion that is flashing in the pitiless sunshine round them, each drop of which increases their pangs and hastens their death. If we believed that God could be to us an inexhaustible Source from which we might draw and drink for ever, should we cling so tenaciously as we do to partial and fleeting joys, or mourn their loss as we do, or neglect the one Fountain of strength, peace, and refreshment, and vainly try to find in the world what it, apart from Him, can never give? The rivers of Tartary lost themselves in the sands of the desert, none of them having volume enough to reach the sea, and the rivers from which we try to draw are sand-choked long before our thirst is slaked. So if we are wise we shall carry our pitchers to the river that flows broad, and deep, and for ever.

Isaiah's image suggests, too, the manifoldness of the gifts from God's presence. They shape themselves into varying forms according to our needs. "The glorious Lord shall be ... a place of broad rivers and streams," which latter word means the little channels by which a river is led off for irrigation and other purposes. The same idea is presented in the psalm which speaks of the streams which gladden the city of God. The broad river in its unity must be divided up into many rivulets, each of which carries verdure and life into some poor man's little patch of garden. If we cut a narrow channel, we shall have only a tiny thread of the flashing blessing; if we make it deep and broad, we shall have its depth and breadth filled. It is of little profit that a whole Niagara should roll past us; what of it will do us good is so much of it as we draw off by our own faith for our own use, How much of the river of God have we dipped up in our vessels, or taken to water our own vineyards, and refresh our own lips?

The final vision of the Apocalpyse tells of the "river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb," but we do not need to wait till the end to hear its mighty waters rolling, or to drink deep draughts of delight and of supply from God Himself.