The River of the Water of Life

There is perhaps no imagery quite so vivid in its speech as the language of water. It is a figure that is often employed by the Holy Ghost in the Holy Scriptures. Both in the Old and the New Testament we note its speech. One of the very first Psalms that we learn in our earliest infancy is the beautiful 42nd psalm with its central theme of the thirst for streams of living water. But also in other portions of the Old Testament do we find its language. Think, for instance, of Isa. 44:3: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.” Also the vision of Joel in his prophecy of Pentecost we hear language that reminds us of water: “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out My Spirit . . .” And who does not know the voice of Isaiah when he speaks in almost New Testament language of the blessings of salvation: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. . . .”?

So also in the New Testament. More than once we have heard our Lord Jesus say: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” So also to the Samaritan woman: “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.” And, finally, we hear the same speech of water in the visions of John who received the revelation of Jesus Christ on the isle of Patmos. Time and again does this apostle speak of water. Note the first verse of chapter 22: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

The question arises: what is the meaning of the speech of water?

It seems to me that we should put the question in this way first: what does the idea of water tell us in the natural sense?

Putting the question that way I would say that the idea of natural water is as clear as crystal. Water is one of the two things that are absolutely essential to life, natural life. It is indispensable to man on earth. We can spare many things but not water. And the second essential is bread. If you have dry bread and water you have in these two things the two requisites for life on earth.

And as it is in the natural sense so also in the spiritual sense: spiritual bread and spiritual water are necessary for spiritual life.

For it is evident that bread and water as used in Scripture mean the same thing. Attend for instance on this text in John: “And Jesus said unto them: I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” Here we see plainly that bread and water have the same spiritual meaning. Coming to Christ and believing on Him are presented in this text as eating and drinking Christ.

This leads us to the next question: is there a text or texts in God’s Word that tell us what the exact meaning is of this spiritual bread and water? And the answer is yes. You find it in the Old Testament in Isaiah 44:3, half of which we quoted already. I will now quote the whole text: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed and My blessing upon thy offspring.” It ought to be clear as crystal to anyone that in the second clause of the text we find the explanation of the first. Water and floods stand for God’s Spirit and His blessings.

We hear the same thing in John 7:37b and 39. There we read: “If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink. But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive.”

So we may safely conclude that the vivid speech of water which is employed in God’s Word in a spiritual sense stands for the Holy Spirit and His blessings. And more particularly, the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ.

That water is often portrayed as finding its recipient through the further imagery of a river or of streams of the river. It is called “the river of God” or “the river of God’s pleasures”; also the Bible speaks of this river as having streams that make glad the city of God. And finally there is again that text in Rev. 22 which speaks of this same river of God: the river of the water of life.

When next we would ask what the meaning is of this speech of a river then I would say that it seems to mean distribution. I would base this opinion on Isa. 66:12a, where we read: “For thus saith the Lord, I will extend peace to her like a river and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. . . .”

In this text we find the explanation of the idea there is in the river. So it is indeed also in the natural. The Lord distributes water to the land by rivers. At least, it is one of the modes of distributing water to lands and peoples.

So we may say that when the Bible speaks of the river of the water of life the extending of the Holy Spirit with all His blessings is meant.

Further we note that two qualifications are given in Rev. 22:1 of this blessed river. First that this river is pure.

It seems to me that this means that there are no foreign elements in this water. There is no darkness or evil in the Holy Spirit as He is given to Christ and as Christ extends that Spirit to the Church. You are absolutely safe in drinking this water. When traveling through our country we note sometimes that when entering a city or village there are found advertisements of the drinking water that, read: The water supply of this city is tested and approved and therefore pure. Then these people mean that there are no colonies of bacteria in the water or an undue amount of obnoxious minerals. They mean that the elements in such water are of the right kind and of the right proportions.

So also with the water of the Spirit of Christ and His blessings. You are safe in drinking of this water. It will not harm you at all. There are no impure elements in it that would endanger your soul. And as to its positive meaning, the qualification pure, certainly means that the elements of that water are just the thing you have need of. They are the elements that belong to your nature. And also, they comprise the medicine for your condition and state. They are a pure medicine against all your ills. This river will for instance extend peace to you like a river. And the streams of this river are so pure that they will make you glad. The sorrowing and sighing will flee away when you walk on the brink of the river and drink of its pure water.

Moreover, this river, or rather its water, is clear as crystal. That is a further descriptive qualification of the same. And I would say that it stresses the fact that this water is as virtuous as God is. Using a different imagery, the Bible states that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. That is saying the same thing as when we read here that the river of water of life is clear as crystal. It means that it is as virtuous as God is virtuous. It means that if you drink it, you receive the communicable attributes of God. You drink in peace and joy and holiness and righteousness and life and light and faith and hope and love and all the virtues that are bound up in the Holy Spirit of Christ.

What a river!

One more thing I would like to accentuate before we will ask a few questions as to its origin. And that is this that the text calls this river the river of life.

That means the same thing as when this river is called the river of God’s pleasures. God’s pleasure or His good pleasure is His life. It is the pleasurable life of His covenant and it stresses the fact that when you drink of this water you will get drunk of the same kind of pleasure as God enjoys in His own covenant life. Of course, you will enjoy it in the measure and the quality of the creature. But it is nevertheless the life of God’s covenant, the life of love and of friendship. In love we shall know Him and in friendship we shall tell Him all our heart. Does not the Bible say that this is life eternal that they (and that is you) shall know Thee and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent?

Now another question. Where does this river spring? Where is its source?

And the text gives the answer: It proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Now we must not make the mistake to think that there are two sources: God and the Lamb. We might get that impression. And the reason is that these two names are placed alongside one another and connected by the co-ordinate conjunction and. We use that conjunction to co-ordinate things and persons and actions and conditions, etc. That is: by using the word and we place things and persons alongside of one another. But that is not the idea here. John uses here a Hebraistic way of expression. We will point to two others in Scripture. First to John 14:1. There we read: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” Here the Lord does not mean: You must not only believe in God, the Triune, but you must alongside of that commendable action also believe in Me, the Savior! But he means this, and then you have at the same time the central theme of that which follows in the chapter,—He means to say: Believe in God, by believing in Me.

The same use of the co-ordinate conjunction we find in the same chapter verse 6. There Jesus says: I am the way, the truth and the life!

Now, does this mean that Christ is the Way, that is one concept. And alongside of this concept, I am also the truth and the life? No, but evidently Jesus means to say: I am the Way through being the Truth and the Life. That this is so is plain from that which follows: No one cometh unto the Father but by Me.

So also in the text under discussion.

The river of the water of life proceedeth from the throne of God through the Lamb. It means that the oceans of living water are first of all in God, the Triune God. All the pleasures of life eternal as are bound up in the illimitable Spirit of Life are in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the floodgates, the Fountain head, the opening through which they gush forth is the Lamb.

Note the name of the Savior in this connection. The sacrificial Lamb. You may say: the floodgates through which the waters of eternal life are extended to me is Golgotha.

And here again we arrive at the central theme of the whole Bible: Christ Jesus and Him crucified. The water of God’s pleasures shall always be characterized by Golgotha. It shall sweeten the water, it shall make you sing and warble for evermore. It is through the manifestation of a love that beggars description that you go to heaven. God, the triune God reveals through the Lamb just how wondrously gracious and lovely He is.

And, finally, who are the blessed that may drink?

Note just three words of the text: He sheweth me.

Need I say more? No, but I would pray to God: Oh, my God, show it to me, even me!