Great Texts of the Bible
The Wells of Salvation
Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.—Isaiah 12:3.
This verse is taken from the Psalm of Redemption. It is welcome as a song in the night, full of charm, full of suggestion. It thrills the heart with the joy of a great discovery, the rapture of a great triumph. It is all the more welcome because of its startling contrast with the lurid and dreadful passages, full of condemnation and human catastrophe, which precede it. As you read you seem to stand in the pathway of storm, earthquake, and ruin. The fountains of the great deep are broken up. Panic seizes upon the soul. There seems to be no escape, as the prophet lays upon the conscience the awful burden of the wrath of God. The wrath of God! We do not talk much of it now, yet it is an eternal factor in the government of human life, and in the shaping of human destiny. Let us not bind ourselves with mock comforting. Then the prophet breaks into this psalm. He bids us come from Sinai’s stern heights to Calvary’s gentler slopes.
The text looks two ways. It looks backwards to an event which happened seven hundred and fifty years before Isaiah lived; and it looks forwards to an event which happened seven hundred and fifty years after Isaiah died.
The verse immediately preceding is quoted from the song which Moses and the Children of Israel sang after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:2). Very soon after that event “they came to Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters” (Exodus 15:27). The text may be safely understood as a reference to these twelve springs of water. In course of time there grew up the custom among the Israelites of keeping a feast in memory of these wilderness experiences, which was called the Feast of Tabernacles. The whole nation left their homes and resided for an entire week in booths or tents made of the green leaves and goodly branches of the palm tree. It was a feast of joy, for it was also associated with the ingathering of the year’s produce of corn and wine and oil. On the last day of the feast, its great day, the priests were accustomed to form a procession, arrayed in the white robes of their office. The Temple band marched in front, and to the sound of the timbrel and the note of the silver trumpet, they passed through the Water Gate, down the magnificent flight of steps, round the terrace, and along the rocky slopes of the hill of Zion, till they reached the pool of Siloam. Each separate priest produced a golden vase, and, stooping down, filled it from the quiet pool, lifted it upon his shoulder and fell back into rank. To the march of music the procession returned to the Temple and formed a circle round the altar. As each priest emptied his golden vase upon the sacrifice, the Levites chanted the words, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
One day, at the conclusion of this ceremony, Jesus stepped out of the crowd which filled the Temple courts, and stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”
What is Salvation?
Salvation is three things; and it needs all the three to make it complete.
1. It is Escape. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” It is escape from that curse. “Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. It is a hiding-place from the storm.
2. It is Deliverance. It is not only escape from the penalty of sin, it is escape from the sin itself. If a drunkard falls asleep in the street on a cold night in winter he is in danger of death from exposure. Rouse him and take him home, and you rescue him from the penalty of his drunkenness. But you do a greater thing for him than that if you persuade him to sign the pledge and deliver him from his drinking habit.
One of the true histories of conversion which Mr. Harold Begbie writes in his book, entitled Broken Earthenware, is the history of “Old Born Drunk.” He was “a true Miserable, lower than anything to be found among barbarous nations, debased almost out of humanity.” Brought to a meeting, he heard some one “testify.” “While I was listening to Joe,” he said, “thinking of what he’s been, and seeing what he’s become, all of a sudden it took me that I’d find God and get Him to make me like Joe. It took me like that. I just felt, all of a sudden, determined to find God.” “Determined,” he repeated, with energy astonishing in this broken and hopeless creature of alcoholism. He tasted drink no more. “God has taken all the desire for it,” he explained, “clean away from me.”
3. It is Endowment. This is the positive side of salvation. Besides escape from the penalty, besides deliverance from the tyranny of sin, there is the gift of holiness. The love of God is shed abroad in the heart. The sinner walks in newness of life. The endowment is in one word the Holy Spirit. Then the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and all the rest of the gifts of grace.
For thirteen years I preached to my beloved people at Newcastle. I gave them upwards of two thousand sermons on salvation—for I never preach about anything else. I went back the other night to preach to my own folk, and as I went up the pulpit steps I was overwhelmed with the thought, not that it was difficult to find anything new to say, but with the thought that I had left so much unsaid.1 [Note: A. T. Guttery, in Christian World Pulpit, lxxvii. p. 69.]
The Wells of Salvation
1. The use of water as a figure for salvation is most appropriate. For water is not merely a refreshing luxury, it is a necessity of existence. In the East it is felt to be a necessity every day. As a consequence, in the gradual conquest of the land of Canaan, the question of possessing and holding the wells, the places of drawing water, was of especial importance. To hold the wells was to hold the keys of the position; it was, in fact, to subdue and hold the country.
2. It is appropriate, further, because in the East, however it may be in the West, water is recognised as the gift of God. Listen to the water-seller passing through the streets of Cairo or Alexandria with his water-skins. What is his cry? It is not “Water, water,” it is “The gift of God, the gift of God.”
Though, when in the midst of the desert and surrounded by blinding white sand-dunes, the very idea of water seems absurd, and its existence impossibly remote, yet it is often present at a distance of only a few yards underfoot. This secret reservoir—so tantalisingly close, so difficult of attainment—of what in the desert are veritably the waters of life, is a phenomenon which has always haunted the Arab imagination, and has expressed itself in all kinds of legends and quaint theories and explanations. One tradition relates, what was no doubt the case, that the earliest oases grew round springs of naturally flowing water. These in time became gradually exhausted, and on this happening the Marabouts, or priests, confronted with a danger that menaced the existence of the tribes, united in offering up solemn prayers to the Almighty for guidance. It was in answer to these prayers that the existence of the underground supply of water was revealed, and the idea of tapping it by boring wells was suggested as a direct inspiration from heaven.1 [Note: L. March Phillips, In the Desert, p. 166.]
3. What, then, are the wells or springs of salvation? Let the psalmist answer: “All my springs are in thee” (Psalm 87:7). But Isaiah himself is very clear. In the verse immediately before the text he says: “Behold, God is my salvation.” God Himself is the well of salvation, and there is none beside. But God is infinite variety as well as inexhaustible fulness. All the springs from which salvation in any measure and in any form flows to the thirsty lips of men are in God Himself.
But, God being the true fountain of salvation, notice that Jesus Christ plainly and decisively puts Himself in the place that belongs to God: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Think of the extraordinary claims involved in that invitation. Here is a man who plants Himself over against the whole of the human race, and professes that He can satisfy every thirst of every soul through all the ages. Every craving of heart and mind, all longings for love and wisdom, for purity and joy, for strength and guidance, He assumes to be able to slake by the gift of Himself. Moses sinned when He said, “Must we fetch water out of this rock? “and expiated that sin by death. But his presumption was modesty compared with the unheard-of assumptions of the “meek and lowly” Christ. There is but one hypothesis by which the character of Jesus can be saved, if He ever said anything like these words—and that is that He who speaks them is God manifest in the flesh, the everlasting Son of the Father.
Isaiah refers to the Song of Moses and says, “The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” Then St. Paul comes and interprets Isaiah and says, “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink, and live”:
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.
The Drawing of Water
How are we to draw water from the wells of salvation?
1. By Prayer. And prayer is asking. To the Samaritan woman Jesus said, “Thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Prayer is coming. To the crowds in the Temple He said, “Let him come unto me, and drink.” Prayer is believing. To the listeners by the Sea of Galilee He said,” He that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
2. By the Word and Sacraments. “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the word, sacraments and prayer.” How the Word and Prayer are associated Dr. Whyte shows by quoting from M‘Cheyne’s Letter to a Boy. “You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try to understand it, and still more to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a Psalm also; or if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an Epistle also. Turn the Bible into Prayer.” And how the Word and the Sacraments agree together he shows by quoting the old Scotch preacher, Bruce. “It wald be speered, Quherefore are sacraments annexed, seeing we gat na mair in the sacrament nor we get in the word? Thy hart cannot wist nor imagine a greater gift nor to have the Sonne of God, quha is King of heaven and earth. And, therefore, I say, quhat new thing wald thou have? The sacrament is appointed that we may get a better grip of Christ nor we get in the simple word. The sacraments are appointed that I might have Him mair fullie in my saul; that He might make the better residence in me. This, na doubt, is the cause quherefore thir seales are annexed to the evident of the simple word.”
The Samaritan woman said, “Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.” But she was altogether mistaken. For as long as we are in the body we will thirst. And the oftener we have been at the ordinances before, drawing water, the greater will be our longing to come again. “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing” (Psalm 126:1-2).
Why? Because once more they would have the opportunity of ascending the hill of Zion for God’s worship. It was because he had been there before that the psalmist said, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).
Many years ago some skylarks were liberated on Long Island, and they became established there, and may now occasionally be heard in certain localities. One summer day a lover of birds journeyed out from the city in order to observe them. A lark was soaring and singing in the sky above him. An old Irishman came along and suddenly stopped as if transfixed to the spot. A look of mingled delight and incredulity came into his face. Was he indeed hearing the bird of his youth? He took off his hat and turned his face skyward, and with moving lips and streaming eyes stood a long time regarding the bird. “Ah,” thought the student of science, “if I could only hear that song with his ears!” To the man of science it was only a bird-song to be critically compared with a score of others, but to the other it brought back his youth and all those long-gone days on his native hills.1 [Note: L. A. Banks, in Homiletic Review, xxxix. p. 337.]
1. The discovery of the well is an occasion of joy. Professor William James defines conversion. His definition is a conclusion drawn from the experience of a multitude of persons who had been converted. This is his definition: “Conversion is the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy, becomes unified, and consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.”2 [Note: Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 189.] The Philippian jailer “rejoiced in God, believing with all his house.”
The opening of a well is a time of rejoicing. “The night is passed in dancing and festivity. A goat is sacrificed at the mouth of the well. The Sheyks and Marabouts of Tamerna, and the leading men of the neighbouring villages, gather round it to recite their prayers. The musicians of Tuggurt and Temacin range themselves in the midst. The young girls surround them dancing. The men, according to their wont, fire their guns in the air. All the inhabitants give themselves up to a manifestation of triumph and delight, such as only those, perhaps, who are acquainted by experience with what the word water means in the desert can understand.”3 [Note: L. March Phillips, In the Desert, p. 137.]
2. And every time that we come hither to draw is a time of rejoicing, until the Christian character becomes a character of joy. Phillips Brooks points out that there is often a buoyancy and freshness in indifferent, unregenerate and thoughtless people which may be woefully lacking in intelligent, conscientious and patient men. The intelligent man turns into a pedant, the conscientious man turns into a drudge, the patient man grovels like a worm. We look for the interest of life, he says, not from them but from their opposites, from the man who owns no rigid service to duty and who lightly tosses off all his burdens. What is wanting? Is it more levity? No, he says, it is more profoundness. Is it less seriousness? No, it is more. These people are too good for the life of butterflies, but the secret of their dreariness is that they are still not good enough. They have not reached the central seriousness of living, wherein is joy and brightness and perpetual enthusiasm.
The Wells of Salvation
Askew (E. A.), The Service of Perfect Freedom, 94.
Bonar (A. A.), Wayside Wells, 97.
Brooks (P.), The More Abundant Life, 122.
Ingram (W. C.), Happiness in the Spiritual Life, 98.
Little (J.), The Bay-Spring, 175.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Isaiah i.–xlviii., 64.
Maclaren (A.), The Secret of Power, 212.
Christian World Pulpit, viii. 408 (Maclaren); lxxvii. 68 (Guttery).
Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., v. 266 (Woods).
Examiner, July–December 1905, 584 (Jowett).
Homiletic Review, xxxix. 169 (Reid).