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.
I. WHEREIN THE GLORIFIED LIFE IN HEAVEN WILL BE SIMILAR TO, AND WHEREIN IT WILL DIFFER FROM, SPIRITUAL LIFE ON EARTH.
1. The first truth that meets us in this passage is, that the influences which will sustain the future life in heaven are described in precisely the same figurative language as that used by our Lord and the inspired writers in relation to the spiritual life on earth. That which John saw flowing in the midst of the street from its perennial source in the throne of God and the Lamb was a river of "water" of life. This is exactly the language used in Scripture to indicate the powers and influences which sustain the spiritual man in this world. Isaiah invites men to partake of spiritual blessings in the words: "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." Jeremiah thus laments over the unfaithfulness of the Jews: "'For my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewn out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." We are clearly taught, therefore, by this vision of the apostle, that while the outward condition of the life in heaven will be vastly changed, the weak and sinful body giving place to one like the glorified body of Christ — yet the life itself will be the same. We shall then continue to be what we begin to be now. Heavenly life, in its deepest and inmost reality, is begun on earth. As, in the unopened bud, there are in microscopic form all that will afterwards expand into the flower; as, in the child, there are all the incipient faculties that will afterwards develop into the full power and maturity of manhood; so with man as a spiritual being. Grace is the infancy of glory, and glory is the manhood of grace. Natural death, which, when seen from the human side, appears an overwhelming catastrophe, can have no power over that life — it only separates the germ from the material husk in which it has been enclosed.
2. As then the future life will be a continuation under changed conditions of the life we possess now, it follows not only that present experience must in its measure be the only true interpretation of the future, but, further, the glory of that future life reflects light back upon the present. It becomes us not only to fix our hopes upon the blessings yet in reserve, but to prize highly those we have already received. While we think of heaven as the one hope of the present life, let us learn to set more value on and use more diligently the grace which sovereign mercy has already bestowed.
II. WHEREIN THE GLORIFIED LIFE IN HEAVEN WILL DIFFER FROM SPIRITUAL LIFE ON EARTH.
1. Observe, as the first special characteristic of this water of life, that it flows in a river, at once suggesting the idea of unfailing abundance. Our great rivers never become dry. Generations of men are born and perform their part in life and then die, while the rivers of which they drank, and beside which they built their cities, remain the same. Some, like the Nile, have been flowing from long before historic times. "Men may come, and men may go, but they flow on for ever." And the blessings that will be given in the future to sustain the spiritual life of the believer are here symbolised by a river of water of life, denoting certainly, among other things, that in heaven there will be an unfailing abundance of whatever is necessary to sustain the life and growth of the spiritual nature. No pressing need will ever darken the brightness of that Divine home, or promote the decay of spiritual vigour. The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. Its source is perennial. Sooner shall all the powers of the universe fail; sooner shall God Himself cease to be God, than the fountains from which spiritual blessings flow become dry or empty.
2. Observe, as a second point, that John saw the river of water of life flowing in the midst of the street. To understand the symbolism here, we must remember that the street is the place where men meet together, where they pursue their varied occupations. And the golden undefiled street of the New Jerusalem represents the scene of the common activities of the life there. And the position of the river flowing in the midst of the street teaches the truth that whatever the occupations may be, there will be nothing in them antagonistic to the highest interests of the spiritual life. Now the street is the scene of ears and toil. Here on earth it is the place where temptations have to be met, where sin assaults and wickedness displays itself. No river of water of life flows in the midst of our streets, but rather the waters of ungodliness and iniquity. The man who longs for communion with God does not go into the open highways of human traffic to find strength and peace: he goes, rather, into his closet. He must put the world outside in order to pray for the lessening of the power of the world within. But in heaven fellowship with God will need neither abstraction nor privacy. Every occupation will harmonise with the highest aspirations of man's renewed nature. All outward things will perfectly accord with and promote the well-being of his spirit.
3. Observe, further, John speaks in the most emphatic manner of the purity of that river. "A pure river of water of life clear as crystal." Spiritual influences, the truth that enlightens, the Divine grace that quickens and sustains the spirit, are in themselves always pure. But how continually on earth they become dimmed and weakened by mixing with what is human and worldly! How strangely truth becomes mixed with error, and Divine influences marred and weakened by human passions and prejudices! What man can maintain that he has received and holds only the truth? that he has made no mistakes? that in him the grace of God is unmarred by any human weaknesses or by any contrary affections? But in heaven the river of water of life is "pure, clear as crystal"; it has no admixture of error or imperfection; it has never become adulterated by inferior elements.
4. Then observe, as a last point, this vision of John teaches that in heaven faith will give place to sight. John "saw the river of water of life proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb." How much of unbelief and misbelief mingles with the strongest faith on earth! How insidiously doubts creep into our minds and rob them of their joyful confidence! There are times when our fear suggests that the ground of our faith is slipping away from beneath our feet. But those who will drink of that pure stream will behold the source whence it comes; they will have no need of faith, and they will have no temptation to doubt. Every joy will be permeated and intensified by a sense of blessed certainty that it is the true gift of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.
(W. H. King.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.