"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." — Revelation 22:1.
There is peculiar solemnity in the closing chapters of the Revelation. Salvation and damnation, life and death, grace and judgment, glory and eternal torment, are the subjects of it; and whether the scene is heavenly glory, or the throne of eternal judgment, the LAMB stands most conspicuous and exalted.
Few people read the Revelation. The excuse of many is that it is so difficult to understand; whereas its title expresses its simplicity. Revelation does not mean that which is difficult, but something revealed, or made plain; but the truth is, that however simple God's word is, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." The neglect of this book, even by professing Christians, is very sad, notwithstanding it is our Lord's last letter to His beloved servants — God's last written communication to man — and that it is prefaced with, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand." Dear friends, how is it that we so neglect the Revelation of Jesus Christ?
It is wonderful how God blesses the reading of this book. Many a soul has been awakened through reading or hearing the things that are therein written; many a troubled conscience has been quieted and comforted by seeing, in the visions of glory there presented to us, that redeemed sinners are around the throne of God solely on the ground of the blood of the Lamb; while others have been preserved from ten thousand snares of the devil, by keeping the things that are written therein. Nothing shows more plainly the real importance of this book than the command in the last chapter, "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand;" and also, "Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book." What are we to understand by keeping the sayings of the prophecy of this book? Surely this book does not present to us a list of absolute commands to be obeyed, like the law of Moses did. No. It does, however, present to us the working out in result of the great principles seen around us, and so shows us the difference between truth and error, the bride and the harlot, Christ and Satan, in such astonishing ways, that it greatly helps and guides us in our heavenward journey, when we keep those sayings in our minds, before our eyes, and in our hearts.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ is divided into three parts. 1. The things which John saw. 2. The things which are. 3. The things which shall be after these.
The verse before us is among the things which are yet future. The apostle had been carried away into a great and exceeding high mountain, to behold the Bride, the Lamb's wife, and he saw her "descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God." We know, from other Scriptures, that prior to this she will be "caught up to meet the Lord in the air." Now John saw her coming forth in heavenly glory, manifested to the earthly nations; having been made partaker of the grace of God, she now shares with Christ the glory of God. She is presented to us under the symbol of a city. But I do not now propose to enter into that, but immediately proceed to our verse: "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." This is still a part of the description of the heavenly Jerusalem; for the next verse speaks of "the street of it," evidently identifying it with what had gone before in the previous chapter.
But what, I ask, does the water of life represent? Have we any Scripture proof as to what the water of life means? Let us see, and may the Lord graciously help us.
In turning to the gospel by John, it is said of Christ, in the first chapter, "In Him was life," and that He was "full of grace and truth;" and in various other Scriptures, life and grace are found together. For instance, in Rom. 5 we read, that "grace reigns, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." In 1 Peter 3:7, we read of "the grace of life." In Rom. 8:2, of the "Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." My reader will remember how the Lord Himself spoke to the sinful Samaritan woman about the necessity of drinking "living water," in order to find peace and joy. "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." Here we see Him who was the life, the dispenser of living water to a sinner dead in trespasses and sins; and He also speaks of the effects of this living water in the soul. Speaking of the water of Jacob's well, He saith, "He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." In the previous chapter our Lord had told Nicodemus the Pharisee, not only of the eternal importance of the new birth, but that it consisted of being born of water and of the Spirit, which was known only to those who believed in the Son of man lifted up; and the chapter concludes with the most positive declaration, that to be without Christ is to be without life. In the fifth of John we have Christ presented to us as the quickener of whom He will, and He declares that he that heareth His word, and believes on Him that sent Him hath everlasting life, and is passed from death unto life. The resurrection of believers is there called "the resurrection of life;" and the reproof of Christ is, that persons would not come unto Him, that they might have life. In the next chapter we again see Christ as the dispenser of living water — eternal life — promising life for evermore to every one that comes to Him, and saying, "The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life;" and when Peter was asked if he would go away, he exclaimed, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." The seventh chapter shows us that Christ is the fountain to satisfy the thirsty soul, and also that living water, taken in by faith, sinks deep into the feelings and affections, and is felt to be so precious and abundant, as to flow out copiously to those around. "If any man thirst," said Jesus, "let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Would that we knew more of this in our day, beloved! Why is it that there is not more testimony to Christ? but because we so little go unto Him and drink. The tenth chapter of John shows us that the sheep have life only through the death of the Good Shepherd, teaching us that Jesus crucified is the only fountain of living water. In the next chapter we see Jesus the life-giver, and raiser of the dead, eminently set forth; while the 12th chapter still more plainly shows us that life and union with Christ could only have come to us through His death. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." In the 14th chapter Christ is emphatically called "the Life;" and the next chapter shows us that fruit-bearing to the glory of the Father is only by living union with Christ the Life; and to pass on to the 20th chapter, after the person, death, and resurrection of Christ have been set before us, the Holy Ghost, by John, says, "These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name."
The water of life, then, is God's blessed grace unto life eternal, flowing out to man as a sinner through Christ, whether a profligate Samaritan, or an outwardly decent Pharisee. Like the river in Eden was to water the ground, so living water is blessing, eternal blessing, to the poor and needy. This seems to me proved from the many Scriptures already quoted; and perhaps the endless occupation and joy of the Church of God will be perpetually drinking this living water; ever having unfolded to us more and more of the love of God, and our souls ever rejoicing before Him with fulness of joy, when we shall sing —
For ever of His grace,
For ever of His love;
being abundantly satisfied with the fatness of His house, and made to drink of the river of His pleasure: for the Lamb Himself will be to us a fountain of living water.
But let us look a little more carefully at our verse, and notice first the ORIGIN of this living water — "proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." God is the God of grace, and Jesus Christ is full of grace. Grace, like every other good gift, is from above, and it flows to us through Jesus crucified, risen, and ascended; as we sometimes sing —
"To Jesus we our praises bring,
For grace proceeds from Him."
Many confound grace in them with the grace brought to them, and they have not peace. They must look clean out of themselves, and receive righteousness and peace from God through the Lord Jesus Christ. They will find their conscience purged only by His blood. We must first drink living water, before it can spring up in us, or flow out from us. We must receive grace for us to have peace in us. "The grace of God bringeth salvation;" and when the apostles wrote to their fellow-Christians, they usually commenced with "Grace unto you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes, grace proceedeth "out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." It is eternal in its source, and carries our thoughts back to God's "purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began;" and being eternal in its source, it is abundant, unchanging, and everlasting, in its operations; hence we read, "By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14.) Yea, God Himself is "the God of all grace;" and this is the glory of the gospel; it is called "the glorious gospel, or the gospel of the glory, of the blessed God." Could we but look into the heart of the invisible God, we should see thoughts of grace and peace to men as sinners, counsels of eternal redemption between the persons of the Godhead, pardon for the guilty, salvation for the lost. Jesus came to manifest this, and His death upon the cross was the out-flowing of divine grace; a "pure river of the water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." Happy those who drink freely!
2. Observe that the water is living; it is called "water of life." Ah, dear reader, nothing less than life, life eternal, could meet the need of those who were dead in trespasses and sins. The law could not make us righteous, or give us life; it only made manifest our sin. But Jesus came to give life. He was the overflowing fountain of living water, and whosoever drank "passed from death unto life." It is not life for a day or two, like the manna was to the hungry Israelites; no! it is everlasting life that Christ dispenses. He could say, "He that eateth of this bread shall live for ever" — "never see death" — "never perish" — "not come into condemnation," etc. In Ezekiel 47, where we find a counterpart of the heavenly Jerusalem in the prophetic testimony concerning the earthly Jerusalem, we read that "every thing shall live whithersoever the river cometh;" and so is the Lord Jesus who was crucified. You cannot come to Him, dear reader, for salvation without living for ever. "He that cometh to me," saith Jesus, "shall never hunger, and He that believeth in me shall never thirst." Oh, beloved friends, this is a deep reality! Receiving Christ into the heart as a Saviour is always connected with present comfort, and eternal blessing. A sense of peace, the new birth, present possession of life eternal, are connected with drinking living water — "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Oh, ye feeble-minded, halting, fainting, doubting, fearing children of God! be comforted, be happy, be assured by the word of the living God, that you live for ever, because you believe on the Lord Jesus; you have tasted the grace of God in Christ, you have drank the living water, and your heart goes upward to the blood-stained mercy-seat, outward in love to God's people, and onward to the coming glory waiting for God's Son from heaven. Fear not; Jesus now intercedes for you in heaven.
3. This water is also abundant; not a pool, but a "river," as Ezekiel's river, "a river to swim in," "a river that cannot be passed over." Oh, the depths of the riches of the grace of God! There is not only mercy with God, but with Him is "plenteous redemption." The figure of a river is very beautiful. Its origin is hidden, but the further you trace it from its source, the wider and deeper it becomes. So is the grace of God in Christ; yea, Jesus is full of grace. We none of us know much of its depth, and height, and length, and breadth; but this we know, that the longer we live, the more we feel that we need the glorious truths of the sovereign and unchanging grace of God to sustain us, and the more we enter into its vastness. And so we believe it will be; for yesterday the Holy Spirit said, "He giveth more grace;" to-day He says, "He giveth more grace;" to-morrow it will be, "He giveth more grace;" and the next day still it will be, "He giveth more grace;" and so on, until we see Jesus face to face, and find ourselves eternally happy in the bosom of His matchless grace.
4. But notice further, that this water is also pure. There is sometimes mercy among men when guilt is proved, and the stain not cleansed. A prisoner is proved guilty of a capital offence and condemned to die; but just before the expected execution a reprieve is sent, and though the prisoner's life is spared, the stain of guilt remains — there is pardon, but not purity. But the grace of God is pure; it is clean, and makes clean. Grace reigns through righteousness. God is just, and the justifier of him that believeth. God is pure, Christ is pure, the believer is pure; his heart is purified by faith; he is cleansed from all sin, justified from all things.
Again, God's grace is pure, because of its perfection. It is not a mixture of man's doings and God's work, not a compound of law and grace, but pure grace, the simple out-flowing of the heart of the pure and holy God, freely giving remission of sins to every one that believeth, because Christ has died upon the cross under the judgment of our sins. Oh, dear children of God, do not try to join together law and gospel! There is an amazing distinction between them. No two things can more differ. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The deadliest cup of poison that Satan can present to a sinner is a mixture of law and gospel. The mixture sets aside both law and gospel. Blessed be God, the water of life is pure; let us beware of any corruption of the pure doctrine of the unmerited love of God.
5. Lastly, the water of life is presented to us as "clear as crystal;" which, I apprehend, teaches us not only that it is pure and transparent, but also that it is glorious. When John saw the holy city, it was "like unto a stone most precious — even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." Ah, dear reader, the grace of God is truly glorious; hence we read of the "glory of His grace." "The Lord will give grace and glory." There is majesty in grace; for heaven's throne is called "the throne of grace." Yes, it flows from the eternal counsels of God, and redounds to His eternal glory; and in ages yet to come He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. The Lamb will be ever loving and ever refreshing His people.
"There we shall see His face,
And never, never sin;
There, from the rivers of His grace,
Drink endless pleasures in."
And now, dear Christians, let us remind each other that salvation is by grace alone, from first to last. "By grace are ye saved through faith." Here let us abide. Our eternal occupation will be drinking more deeply these streams of living water; then let us now, under the Spirit's teaching, seek to learn more and more of the love of our God to us. This alone will cheer us when sad, and lift us up when faint, keep us humble before God, make us sympathising and tender toward others, and strong for the service of God and conflict with Satan. Grace alone enables us to bring forth fruit unto God. "The grace of God which bringeth salvation . . . . teacheth us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," etc. Oh, beloved! this pure river is ever flowing, and when we feel barren and dark, it is not because God hath forgotten to be gracious, but because we have forgotten His grace. Oh, think often of the riches of grace! Surely it is a river to swim in, a river that cannot be passed over. There is no sinking here; for "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." Oh, to be "strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus!" for —
"Though all things change, He changeth not,
He ne'er forgets, though oft forgot;
His love's unchangeably the same,
And as enduring as His name."
Now let me address myself to the unconverted. You have heard of the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified for sinners, as the Giver of living water, and be assured that there is salvation in no other. Like the rock that was smitten in the wilderness, to give water to the thirsty people to save them from death, so Christ who was crucified is a river of life, and every needy soul that comes to Him finds it to be so of a truth. Are you, my reader, thirsting for forgiveness of sins, and peace with God? Are you not saying, Oh that I could find rest for my troubled conscience? If so, come just as you are to the Lord Jesus Christ, and receive those eternal blessings that God so freely gives to sinners. Like the prophet to Israel, we are ready to cry, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye, to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."
But I fear you are a careless sinner; you hear as if you heard not. You do not care to come to Christ that you might have life. Oh, you little think that Jesus said, "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." Oh, Christless soul! remember that "the wrath of God abideth on you." You may lie down on your bed this night and sleep, but, alas! the wrath of God abideth on you. You may go to your business or pleasure on the morrow with a smiling countenance, but the wrath of God abideth on you. Time may roll over you, and you may find yourself on a sick bed; kind friends wait upon you, and smooth your dying pillow; but you have no consolation — the wrath of God abideth on you. Your weakness increases, your limbs rapidly emaciate, your strength declines quickly, your flesh quivers, the joints of your back are loosed, your breathing becomes more and more difficult and, solemn to relate, when the vital chord is snapped by the chilly hand of death, then you will awfully and eternally prove that the wrath of God abideth on you. Oh that you may now take warning, and flee from the wrath to come. Do you not know that almost the last words in the Bible are, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely"? If, when thirsty, you passed near some sparkling, crystal-like fountain of water, and saw it labelled, "Drink freely," would you not taste the pure, clear stream? Then why will you any longer reject the water of life? why will you be deaf to that loving voice which says, "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely"?
"This fountain, though rich, from charge is quite free,
The poorer the wretch, the welcomer he;
Here's strength for the weakly that hither are led,
Here's health for the sickly, here's life for the dead.
"This fountain in vain has never been tried;
It takes out all stains wherever applied;
The water flows sweetly with virtue divine,
To cleanse souls completely, though leprous as mine."
Oh, my reader, Jesus is quickly coming! If you do not turn to Him now, He will, He must, come upon you with fiery wrath for He will soon "be revealed from heaven in flaming fire."