Rivers of Living Water
Chapter 1 - The River of Life
Our key Scripture will be found in the Gospel by John, chapter 7,
"Now on the last day, the great
day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man
thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me,
as the scripture hath said, out of him shall flow rivers of living
water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed
on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because
Jesus was not yet glorified."
The part of that paragraph to which we are giving special attention
is the phrase: "rivers of living
Around that I want to gather some other passages of Scripture.
First of all in the book of Genesis, chapter 2, verse 10:
"And a river went out of Eden to
water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four
Then in the prophecies of Ezekiel, chapter 47, verse 1:
"And he brought me back unto the
door of the house; and behold, waters issued out from under the
threshold of the house eastward, for the forefront of the house
was toward the east: and the waters came down from under, from the
right side of the house, on the south of the altar."
Let your eye run on down the chapter to refresh your memory on the
particulars connected with that river.
We pass from there to the Gospel by John again, chapter 4, verse 14:
"But whosoever drinketh of the
water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that
I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up
unto eternal life."
And finally, the book of the Revelation, chapter 22, verses 1,2:
"And he showed me a river of water
of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God
and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this
side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve
manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves
of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
"Rivers of living water". John's comment on those words of Jesus,
you note - a comment written long after Jesus uttered the words,
with all the full and long experience of the Apostle behind the
comment - was: "This spake he of the Spirit, which they that
believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given;
because Jesus was not yet glorified." The first part of that comment
gives the key to the meaning and the nature of rivers in all the
Scriptures. It is the Holy Spirit. If we take all these references
to rivers and wells, springs and flowing water, to which I have just
turned you, as symbolic of the Holy Spirit, then we have certain
quite simple and clearly defined thoughts of God.
Intention for His People
To begin with, this, and not the contrary, is God's mind for His
people. God's intention is that the Holy Spirit should be as "rivers
of living water." That is the mind of God. Anything other than that
is either short of, or contrary to, the mind of God. The Bible
begins with this, and the Bible ends with this. In a certain sense,
the whole Bible is gathered into this: God's thought and God's mind
is that which is meant by rivers of living water. That is, all this
represents the great disposition of God to give - what we may call
the 'givingness' of God. God is set forth as one who desires to
give, whose inclination is to give, and to give abundantly. That is
the simple, basic fact about God, to be taken hold of by faith.
Sometimes, when we are away in a hot country and we are going to
have that very delightful function, a picnic, it is necessary for us
to find water. But if we have had long experience in the matter we
do not just go searching round for water. We lift up our eyes to see
where there is verdure, foliage, and we know that water will not be
far away: so we make for the verdant foliage and, sure enough, we
usually find a stream. And you can always tell where the Lord really
is, or has been, by the, so to speak, spiritual verdure, by the
greenery, by the foliage. The Lord leaves His mark in that way; that
is His disposition, His very character.
This, then, is God's mind; and, from the Scriptures which we have
read, we infer certain other things about that mind of God, very
simple things. God's mind for the individual believer is this: "If any man thirst... He that
believeth... out of him shall flow rivers of living water..." That
is in the singular. The thought of God for us, individually, is that
out from us shall flow rivers of living water. The individual side
is so clearly noted in the Lord's talk with the woman at the well of
Sychar - "shall become in him
a well of water springing up unto eternal life."
But this is His thought for the Church also. In the last chapters of
the book of the Revelation, we have the city brought into view, with
the river "in the midst of the street thereof". If this is a
symbolic presentation of the Church, as verily we believe it to be,
then God's vision for the Church at the end, toward which He is
working all the time, is that out from it to the nations shall go
this overflow of fulness, this effluence, this river of the water of
life. And what is true of the Church as a whole, universally, is of
course intended to be true of every local expression of it. God's
idea for every company of His people, wherever they may be, is that
out from them shall go rivers of living water. You notice the
correspondence between the book of the Revelation and the book of
Genesis. In Genesis we read that the Lord God planted a garden (Gen.
2:8). In Revelation: "To him that overcometh... will I give to eat
of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).
The last chapters of the Revelation give us to see the tree of life
by the river of the water of life. So that the garden in Genesis is
a foreshadowing of the Church, a foreshadowing of the paradise of
God: God's eternal thought of something out from which His rivers
the Secret of Inflow
Let us be very clear about this: if we, individually or
collectively, locally or universally, lose our outflow, we lose the
justification of our existence! This matter of outflow must be most
jealously guarded. The peril is to draw in, to draw toward
ourselves, not only individually, but also collectively. What a vast
amount of energy and activity and enterprise and what-not is
expended upon trying to get people to come, trying to fill some
place, trying to collect and make something! Look at all the
attractions that are set up, all the efforts made, to bring, to
bring - to bring to some place, or to some thing, and to build that
up. That is the common way, is it not? Indeed, no other way seems to
be known. But that is not God's way; that was never God's order.
You cannot find anything like that in the Bible. God's way is this:
pour out, and you will get - it will come back.
The Martin Luther film that was shown in London in 1954 was preceded
by a film showing some of the sketches of that great artist Leonardo
da Vinci. The last phase of the film showed the last absorbing
occupation of his life. We are told that in his last years he was
almost entirely taken up with water, water, water - deluges and
floods of water, coming down in terrific torrents, with terrific
force. It caught his artist's imagination and drew his pencil. But
one thing that struck me (especially as I had this present word in
mind) was this: that water, flowing out and pouring out in great
volumes and torrents, when it reaches a certain limit, recoils upon
itself and comes back with equal force, in great waves that roll
over and over one another. It is easy to understand how all the
beautiful light and shade, swirls and eddies and so on, would catch
the imagination of an artist. But this was what came to me from it:
if you pour out enough, in great enough volume, in great enough
strength, it will come back; it will all come back in overflowing
The Lord put this in another form: "Give, and it shall be given unto
you"; and He went on: "good measure, pressed down, shaken together,
running over, shall they give into your bosom" (Luke 6:38). It is a
principle, you see, of God - a principle for life. Do you want to
receive, do you want fulness, do you want enlargement? Do you want
all that this means - "rivers of living water"? It will come from
giving; it will be the return from pouring out. Of course, you have
to have something to pour out, something to give; but that just
brings us back to the Divine thought, and to this statement. I am so
happy to think of John, this old man, after his long life of
ministry, work and service, at last taking up those words of the
Lord Jesus, and saying, 'This is what He meant!' Read into that all
that it implies. An old man, who you might think is a spent force -
he has been giving all these years, and might now be running out -
he says, at long last, 'This
is what Jesus meant! The Holy Spirit would be in the believer like
rivers of living water, pouring out.' God grant that we may be like
that to the last, never running dry.
This is the Lord's mind, and this is the real nature of service. It
is the secret of life. If we draw toward ourselves, we become an end
in ourselves. But if we are turned outward and are always seeking
from the Lord that which we can give, it will be to our own
enrichment and enlargement. It is the secret of life. It is the
secret of service. See, from the day when the river opened in
Jerusalem - the day of Pentecost - the 'givingness' that
characterized everybody. Peter and John going up to the Temple and
seeing the lame man who asked an alms, said: "Silver and gold have I
none; but what I have, that give
I thee" (Acts 3:6). It is the disposition to give that characterized the
Church at the beginning, because the river had broken out.
There is a story told about Thomas Aquinas and the Pope of his time,
Pope Innocent II. Thomas went in to the Pope one day, and found him
counting a large sum of money. The Pope said, 'You see, Thomas, the
Church can no longer say, "Silver and gold have I none."' 'No', said
Thomas sadly, 'neither can it say, "Rise up and walk."'
It is the effect of the outgoing, not just the selfish gratification
of the incoming, that is the real secret of life and service. If we,
individually or collectively, try to draw to ourselves, things will
become artificial: that is, we shall have to do everything, and we
shall be extended to all our wit and ingenuity. But if we are of the
disposition to give, to pour out, to see that others get the value,
it will not be artificial - it will be spontaneous.
of Living Water
Now what we have been saying has all to do with function, the
function of the Spirit, the function of the Church, the function of
the individual believer, to be a poured forth fulness of God. We go
on to say a little about the nature of this life, this ministry;
that is, about the characteristics of the Spirit as water. They are
very simple; here they are. The definition is that it is living
water: that is, that the effect of the life of the believer and of
the Church, locally and worldwide, is to create conditions of life,
to make for 'livingness'; and that is always the test of values.
That is always the ultimate proof of truth. The ultimate proof of
truth is not rational - that is, we cannot argue it out, and by
argument bring somebody to be convinced that we are right. The
ultimate proof of truth is vitality; not just what it is in itself,
even though it may be truth, but its effect. And the effect of the
truth is always intended to be life: life and truth go together. The
proof of everything is in the 'living' conditions which may result,
can result, and, if given opportunity, will result. The Lord's
intention, then, is that our presence, the sum of our life, should
mean that others live and that living conditions - conditions of
life - have been created.
Another evidence of the river is fertility.
I need not take you to all the Scriptures; they leap to the mind at
once. Fertility is an essential feature or characteristic of living
water. We have in the Bible one instance, at least, of water that
was not living - what we might call 'dead water' (2 Kings 2:19-22).
It lacked some element, and the result, you will remember, was that
all the fruit fell before it ripened - nothing reached its intended
end and purpose. It was dead water! And the men of Jericho said,
'The water is evil, is bad'. Well, the prophet put that right.
What are we giving? Are we giving dead water, so that nothing goes
on and gets through and gets to maturity? That is not God's thought.
Living water means fertility; it means productiveness and
reproductiveness; it means abundance. "Upon the bank of the river
were very many trees" (Ezek. 47:7). "Very many trees". That is God's thought - that you
and I shall leave this scene with a testimony left behind in many
'trees', in many lives, that God has been this way and the water has
reached those lives through us. That, again, must be true both
individually and collectively.
Further, freshness. Living
water is fresh water. The fruit of the tree borne every month
declares freshness, does it not? It almost seems as if nothing were
allowed to get old. Old age, or 'oldness', if I may use an archaic
word, was forestalled, anticipated. Before there was a chance for it
to make itself felt, something fresh was produced.
There are other illustrations and metaphors in the Scriptures of
this same principle of newness and renewing. We read about 'mounting
up with wings as eagles', 'running and not being weary', 'walking
and not fainting'. That, as you know, is introduced by this: "Even
the youths shall faint and be weary" (Is. 40:30,31). So this is
something that is not natural. You look for running without
weariness, and walking without faintness, in youth; but here is
something that is different from that, superior to that - there is
newness, freshness, renewing, all the way along. "They that wait
upon the Lord shall renew their strength." This is something
presented to us for faith's apprehension.
Again, persistence. The
word is: "rivers of living
water", and there is a tremendous persistence about a great river. I
have seen the Euphrates and the Tigris, whose beginnings are
referred to in Genesis 2:10. What an immense volume is coming down
there, carrying everything before it, almost terrible in its force
and power, allowing nothing to stand in its way, persisting,
persisting, persisting, irresistible. When we transfer this from the
symbol to that which it symbolizes, we can, of course, understand
the Holy Spirit being like this - rivers of living water that will
go on and on and on again. But remember that what we are really
called to realise is that this has to be in us, and then has to go out from within us. Thank God
for the repeated and again repeated renewings of the Holy Spirit to
keep us going on! Thank God for His persistence! Where should we
have been but for the Holy Spirit? Where should we be today but for
this persistence? He comes on and He comes on again.
We note another thing: the presence of health-giving trees by the river. "The leaves of
the tree were for the healing of the nations." Here is living water
with its health-giving properties. How much there is in the Word
about the Holy Spirit's work of bringing about healthy conditions!
We could spend much time with that alone. The Holy Spirit will, if
He has His way, always bring about healthy conditions. All the evil
maladies and diseases of a spiritual kind which afflict the Church
will be carried away when the Spirit has free course. Unhealthy
conditions only say that the Holy Spirit is being hindered
somewhere. This fulness of Divine life should make us together
healthy people spiritually, full of vigour, full of vitality.
And then: "There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city
of God" (Ps. 46:4). There is gladness
by the river.
Now this is all very simple; it is only a beginning, a foundation.
But it is a challenge - indeed, it may be a rebuke. Does it rebuke
you? It rebukes my heart; it challenges, it calls; it says, 'This is
what the Lord wants, and this is what the Lord has provided for, and
this is what the Lord does when He has His way.' But I refer you to
the Lord's own word: "If any man...
He that believeth on
me..." It is the challenge to faith: do you believe that this is
possible with you - with you?
Do you believe it can yet be, in you? Is this just a general,
beautiful, grand idea, but which passes by you personally, and you
cannot see or think how it can be true of you? The Lord Jesus simply
says to you, personally: "He that believeth..." Do you feel dry,
dried up? Faith can change that situation. And it is not just faith, mark you, which changes
the situation; it is faith in
what God has said. It is something that faith lays hold
upon - something for you to take hold of by faith "He that
believeth... out of him shall flow rivers..."
Further, the challenge is this, as I said earlier: If this is not
true of us as the Lord's people, individually and collectively, the
justification for our claiming to be the Lord's people is not there.
It seems to me that that is the heart of the Lord's challenge and
rebuke to the churches in Asia at the beginning of the book of the
Revelation. Some of them had become smug and self-satisfied and
self-sufficient; some of them had just been turned in upon
themselves in other ways. The challenge seems to have been that the
rivers were not going out. 'If the rivers are not going out', the
Lord says, 'there is no justification for you claiming to be a
church, a people of God.' But the comfort, the encouragement, is
that, if God has shown it to be His will, and if He has made it the
very justification of our existence, and has certainly made
provision in that He has given His Spirit - and He gives His Spirit
without measure - then it can be, it
I believe that the Lord desires the recovery of this in His people
in a new way. But we must always be very sure of our ground; and one
thing we must be sure about is: Does the Lord mean it? Can we really
prove that the Lord means that, that that is the will of God? If
only I can be fully assured that a thing is the will of God, then I
have something to go on - indeed I can go ahead. And here it is. The
Lord has shown that He is a God of 'givingness' in no mean or small
degree, and that He wants to pour Himself through us - just pour
Himself through us. "Out of him shall flow rivers of living water":
that is His desire. May our meditations together have that result,
so that all the dry channels shall become full, all the parched land
shall become saturated, all the low ebb of spiritual life shall give
place to a full tide; and in a new way, although we know ourselves
to be altogether insignificant people, individually and
collectively, yet it will be known that the Lord has passed this way. It is not too much to
say that there could be enlarged measures unto the nations, unto the
very ends of the earth, because of what the Lord does in us. Let us
hold on in faith for that.
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