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THE WATER OF LIFE.
(Preached at Westminster Abbey.)
REVELATION XXII. 17.
And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that
heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
MHIS text is its own witness. It needs no
man to testify to its origin. Its own words show it to be inspired and divine.
But not from its mere poetic beauty, great as that is : greater than we, in this wet and cold climate, can see at the first glance. We must go to the far East and the far South to understand the images which were called up in the mind of an old Jew at the very name of wells and water-springs ; and why the 2 *
Scriptures speak of them as special gifts of God, life-giving and divine. We must have seen the treeless waste, the blazing sun, the sickening glare, the choking dust, the parched rocks, the distant mountains quivering as in the vapour of a furnace; we must have felt the lassitude of heat, the torment of thirst, ere we can welcome, as did those old Easterns, the well dug long ago by pious hands, whither the maidens come with their jars at eventide, when the stone is rolled away, to water the thirsty flocks; or the living fountain, under the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, with its grove of trees, where all the birds for many a mile flock in, and shake the copses with their song; its lawn of green, on which the long-dazzled eye rests with refreshment and delight; its brook, wandering away-perhaps to be lost soon in burning sand, but giving, as far as it flows, Life ; a Water of Life to plant, to animal, and to man.
All these images, which we have to call up in our minds one by one, presented themselves to the mind of an Eastern, whether Jew
or heathen, at once, as a well-known and daily scene; and made him feel, at the very mention of a water-spring, that the speaker was telling him of the good and beautiful gift of a beneficent being.
And yet—so do extremes meet—like thoughts, though not like images, may be called up in our minds, here in the heart of London, in murky alleys and foul courts, where there is too often, as in the poet's rotting sea
Water, water, everywhere,
And we may bless God—as the Easterns bless him for the ancestors who digged their wellsfor every pious soul who now erects a drinkingfountain ; for he fulfils the letter as well as the spirit of Scripture, by offering to the bodies as well as the souls of men the Water of Life freely.
But the text speaks not of earthly water. No doubt the words “Water of Life' have a spiritual and mystic meaning. Yet that alone does not prove the inspiration of the text. They had a spiritual and mystic meaning already among the heathens of the East, Greeks and barbarians alike.
The East—and indeed the West likewisewas haunted by dreams of a Water of Life, a Fount of Perpetual Youth, a Cup of Immortality-dreams at which only the shallow and the ignorant will smile; for what are they but tokens of man's right to immortality,-of his instinct that he is not as the beasts,—that there is somewhat in him which ought not to die, which need not die, and yet which may die, and which perhaps deserves to die? How could it be kept alive? how strengthened and refreshed into perpetual youth?
And water—with its life-giving and refreshing powers, often with medicinal properties seemingly miraculous — what better symbol could be found for that which would keep off death? Perhaps there was some reality which answered the symbol, some actual Cup of Immortality, some actual Fount of Youth. But who could attain to them ? Surely the gods hid their own special treasure from the grasp
of man. Surely that Water of Life was to be sought for far away, amid trackless mountain peaks, guarded by dragons and demons. That Fount of Youth must be hidden in the rich glades of some tropic forest. That Cup of Immortality must be earned by years, by ages, of superhuman penance and self-torture. Certain of the old Jews, it is true, had had deeper and truer thoughts. Here and there a psalmist had said, “With God is the well of Life ;' or a prophet had cried, "Ho, every one that * thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and buy with
out money, and without price.' But the Jews had utterly forgotten (if the mass of them ever understood) the meaning of the old revelations ; and, above all, the Pharisees, the most religious among them. To their minds, it was only by a proud asceticism, - by being not as other men were; only by doing some good thing—by performing some extraordinary religious feat,
--that man could earn eternal life. And bitter and deadly was their selfish wrath when they heard that the Water of Life was within all men's reach, then and for ever ; that The