The River of Life
September 30th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE RIVER OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-30-79 8:15 a.m.
On the radio it is an infinite delight for us to share with you this early morning service in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The River of Life. It is an exposition of the first twelve verses of the forty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel; Ezekiel chapter 47:
Afterward the angel brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward,
Then brought that angel me toward the way of the gate northward,
And when the man that had the line in his hand, when the angel went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; and the waters were to the ankles.
Again he measured a thousand cubits, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; and the waters were to the loins, to the waist.
Afterward he measured a thousand cubits; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over – unfordable.
And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me back, and caused me to return to the banks of the river.
And when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.
Then said he unto me, These waters issue toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea, the Dead Sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.
And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the river shall come, shall live: and there shall be a great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.
And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from En-ge-di even unto En-eg-la-im; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the Great Sea, as the fish of the Mediterranean, exceeding many,
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for food, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof cease: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for healing medicine.
I suppose one of the most meaningful and beautiful of all of the prophetic visions of the Bible is this one we’ve just read.
The prophet, in the previous chapter, in verse 21 of chapter 46, was in the outer court of the temple [Ezekiel 46:21]. And then the angel messenger brought him to the door of the sanctuary. And as he stood there at the door of the sanctuary, he saw waters pour out over the threshold, down by the side of the altar, into the dry Kidron wadi, and then following the torturous course precipitously fall into the Dead Sea [Ezekiel 47:1-8]. And the angel caused him to wade in the water. He measured a thousand cubits, 1800 feet, a thousand cubits; and as he waded in the water it was to his ankles [Ezekiel 47:3]. And the angel measured another thousand cubits, 1800 feet, and the waters were to his knees. Then he caused the prophet, wading through the water, to proceed another thousand cubits, 1800 feet, and the waters were up to the loins, to the waist [Ezekiel 47:5]. Then he measured another thousand cubits, 1800 feet, and it was a river, could not be passed over [Ezekiel 47:5]. It was a vast, vast and swollen stream. Then the angel caused Ezekiel to walk back, and to behold the banks of the river. And there were trees lining the banks of the river. And the trees were filled with fruit, and the leaves were for the healing of the people [Ezekiel 47:6-7]. And the angel said, "Look at these waters as they proceed and go down through the torturous desert, and finally precipitously fall into the Dead Sea; and behold, the sea was healed, and it was filled with fish [Ezekiel 47:8-9]. And the fisherman stood on the west shore at En-ge-di," I have been there, it’s a miracle place. In that dry and awesome desert, waters gush forth in a beautiful fountain at En-ge-di. "And they shall stand at En-eg-la-im" [Ezekiel 47:10], that’s on the other side of the Dead Sea; that is, the breadth of the sea, all of it shall be beautifully and wonderfully healed. And these trees shall grow as in the garden of Eden, coming out of the sanctuary of God, and the leaves of the tree shall heal the people [Ezekiel 47:12]. That, I suppose, is one of the finest symbols and prophetic visions of the message of God that could be thought for or found in this Holy Word.
The background, of course, lies in the brooding of the prophet Ezekiel over Judea, and especially Jerusalem. Practically all of the great cities of the world are on some kind of a water course. But Jerusalem is high among the hills in a rocky and barren land. The barrenness of the land and its desperate need for water enters largely into the history of the Holy City. Pontius Pilate infuriated the Jews when he took money from the temple and built a conduit from the pools of Solomon into the city of Jerusalem. But not only were military leaders and political leaders conscious of the desert scene and the barren sterile rocky landscape around Jerusalem, but the prophets also in their visions always pictured Jerusalem in the millennial age as being filled with an abundance of water.
For example in Psalm 46, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" [Psalm 46:4]. Again in Isaiah 33, "Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a place of habitation, a tabernacle not taken down. . . for there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams" [Isaiah 33:20-21]. Look again in Joel:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord and shall water the valley of Shit-tum, even Moab; the valley of Shit-tum shall be filled with the fullness of the Lord’s presence.
Then in Zechariah, "It shall be in that day that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem. . .and the Lord shall be King over all the earth" [Zechariah 14:8-9]. And in the climactic visions of the New Jerusalem in the Revelation,
I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely [Revelation 21:6]. And He showed me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits. . .And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the people.
It is a vision constantly recurring throughout the prophetic revelation of God: the abounding abundance of water that flows out from the sanctuary of God in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Now this of course means many things. And had we opportunity we could speak of many of those things the vision would refer to. For example, it is a picture of the city in the millennial age, when Jesus shall set up His kingdom in the earth, and when Jerusalem shall be the capital of all God’s creation [Revelation 20:9]; the millennial day of the Lord. And it will be in the midst of a garden of Eden, and the river of life shall flow aboundingly, copiously, abundantly [Zechariah 14:8]. But it also means another thing, and it is that thing we shall speak of for these few minutes this morning. It is a picture of the blessings of God in truth and grace that flow out from the sanctuary in Jerusalem [Zechariah 13:1]. For it was there in that holy city and in that dear place that the Holy Spirit of God was poured out without measure, and the message grew and it grew and it grew as it touched the whole lost dark desert kingdoms of the earth [Acts 1:8, 2:1-4].
First, a rivulet, one hundred and twenty [Acts 1:15], the few disciples of the Lord who gathered in one upper room [Acts 1:13-14]; then it began to grow. Herod Agrippa the II sought to leap it and to dam it, but he only made it into a bigger stream by his persecutions, and the river continued to flow and to grow. And the Roman Caesars became alarmed by it, and sought to drain it and to dam it; but the river overflowed the banks, and continued to grow in torrid streams and rivers and proportions. Do you notice that it always begins in the sanctuary of the God? It starts in our Jerusalem. And that prophetic view of the outpouring of the blessings of the truth and grace of God are always characteristic of that stream. It flows out from a Jerusalem:
· The Jerusalem of Judea, and all of the blessings that followed after [Acts 207].
· The Jerusalem of Syria, Antioch, and the great missionary outpouring of the grace of God [Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3].
· And the Jerusalem of Asia, and the establishment of the seven churches of Asia from it, and all of Asia hears the Word of the Lord [Revelation 2-3].
· The Jerusalem of Macedonia, Thessalonica, Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 1:8, "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord to all the world."
· The Jerusalem of Italy, Rome, and the missionaries that went out to Rome, even to our forefathers in the land of the Angles in England.
· And the Jerusalem of England, Kettering, and the modern missionary movement born to the ends of the earth.
· And the Jerusalem of America, these local sanctuaries, always the message of Christ pouring out of the sanctuary of God in a local Jerusalem.
Would you like a man to go to the hot equatorial jungles of Africa and there build a hospital? Where would you find him? Would you like a man to build a mission under the Arctic Circle in the bitter cold? Where would you find him? A man to go without recompense, without compensation, but just for the love of God, where would you find him? You’ll find him in the church. Out of these local sanctuaries pour forth the great blessings of the Lord. And it is in the building of these Jerusalems and these local sanctuaries that the strength of the stream pours out to the ends of the earth. And if we fail here, we fail in all of the blessings that God intends for the entire creation.
When I was a young man, I listened to Dr. J. B. Lawrence, who for a generation was secretary of our Home Mission Board, a man of God. And he described a southern city, a great, one of our great southern cities in which lived a very wealthy Chinese grocery man. And one of the people of the board went into the beautiful, luxurious store and was talking to the Chinese owner. Asked him how long he’d been in America; he’d been here twenty years. Asked him if he was a Christian. No. Asked him if anybody had ever spoken to him about the Lord. No. And the man, speaking to the Chinese, was very amazed that he’d been there in that southern city for twenty years, grown to be a most affluent grocery man, described in Dr. Lawrence’s word as a millionaire, and yet no one had ever spoken to him about the Lord. Then Dr. Lawrence said a day or two after, a few weeks after he had heard that story about that Chinese man that he picked up the paper and read in the paper where the Chinese grocery man had gone back to China. And then the secretary said,
As I read that paper, I could well imagine the people of his town in China to which he had returned, gathered round him and said, ‘You know they’re sending missionaries from America to China. And they bring to us a new religion and a new God. You’ve lived in America for twenty years. What kind of religion is it? And what kind of a God is this new and strange God?’
And then the secretary said,
I could easily imagine the man replying, ‘Well, I lived there for twenty years, and it’s an unusual religion, and it’s an unusual God that they worship. They build fine buildings, and they have great Sunday schools. And they have beautiful worship services, and they attend them in great numbers. But they don’t care anything about you, and they don’t care anything about me. For I lived in their midst for twenty years, and in those twenty years no one ever said anything to me about my soul or the church or this new God.
The might and the strength of the river that pours out is found in its source; it’s found in the sanctuary, it’s found in the church, it’s found in Jerusalem. And our first dedication always and everlastingly is that. "You are to be witnesses unto Me, beginning in Jerusalem, and then to Samaria, and Judea, and to the ends of the earth" [Acts 1:8]. Dear people, our commitment and our consecration is just that: however we pray God shall increase the stream, as it ministers its healing grace and saving power to all the peoples of the earth, dear God, how could it ever be unless it flows out of the sanctuary in the Jerusalem where we live and minister before the Lord?
Will you notice a second thing about that river of life? Not only does it flow out of the sanctuary of Jerusalem, here where we name the name of the Lord, but do you notice also its course? It follows the torturous desert path of the dry Kidron wadi, and finally falls into the core of the Dead Sea [Ezekiel 47:1-8]. And coming into that sea, what a dreary and desolate place do those waters fall. Ah, it is a place of death, of bitterness, of bitumen, dreary, saline, dead. There’s not a living thing in that part of the world. There’s not a fish in the sea. There’s not a flower on the shore. There’s not a bird that flies over the place. It is dreary and doomed and dead. And not only that, but in the bosom of that Dead Sea hides the mystery of the wrath of God against the cities of the plain that are buried beneath its waters. Ah, what stories those cities could tell were they resurrected and able to speak to us today, a sea of Sodom, a lake of Gomorrah, the waters of hell, deep, damned, and dark.
But do you see the marvel of this vision? The connection between the death and the damnation of that sea and the sanctuary of the Lord God in Jerusalem is this river of living waters; they are both connected, one end and the other. Thus it is with the saving message of the gospel of Christ. It pours forth into the dark places of the earth, the dark and damned human heart, the dark and damned cities of the plain. My brethren, I am reminded hereby that we are never to be discouraged or to lose heart; but to pour forth the gospel of the grace of God everywhere and anywhere in the earth. No man is too difficult or too vile a sinner to be changed by the grace of God. No home is so filled with despair and misery but that it can be lifted up and healed by that living stream. No city is so sunken in sin but that it can have a great visitation from heaven, and a might revival. Wherever there are people who are lost and damned and darkened in sin and deepened in iniquity, there should the river of life flow aboundingly, healingly, livingly, abundantly.
One other thing: do you notice its course of depth? Look at it. As it continued, it grew of itself; no tributaries, it just grew of itself. The angel took the prophet and had him wade in the water. He waded a thousand cubits to the ankle. He measured a thousand cubits and he waded in the water up to the knees. He measured a thousand cubits, waded through the water, they were to the loins. Then he measured a thousand cubits, and it was a great river he could not pass over; waters to swim in, a river unfordable and impassable, a great, broad stream [Ezekiel 47:3-5]. So our lives in whichever direction they follow: they grow and they grow and they grow in that direction. If my life flows toward God, it grows and it grows in that direction. If my life and heart flow toward God, it grows in Christian knowledge, in Christian understanding, in the love for the Word and the study of the Book. It grows and it grows, just as there’s a dawn, and then a daybreak, and then a noontime; just as there is the tender blade, then the stalk, then the corn; so it is in our Christian lives: when we face God-ward, we grow in knowledge and understanding of the Lord. And we grow in Christian experience. When our lives flow toward heaven, more and more and more do we grow in the Spirit and in the likeness of our Lord. The direction, if it’s God-ward, we grow in the grace and understanding and love of Christ Jesus. But the other is also tragically true: if the direction of our lives is away from God, we grow in that direction also – ankle deep in sin, knee deep in iniquity, waist deep in compromise, and finally drown in the overflow of this condemnation that shall fall upon the world.
That’s why – and this is something I never understood for the many first years of my life – that’s why in eternity we are just ourselves. Eternity is just an extension, an elongation of what we are in this life. Character solidifies, and we grow more and more, whatever we are. As Ecclesiastes 11:3 says, "Wherever the tree falls, as the tree falls, so shall it lie." And if the flow of my life is away from God, then in eternity I just keep moving away from God, away from the light, away from the grace of the Lord, away from the love and happiness and joy of the faith. That’s why our souls need to be turned. "Lord, Lord, take the direction of my life and turn it heavenward." The Bible calls that repentance, change. "Take the direction of my life and turn it heavenward, turn it God-ward, turn it Christ-ward." And when I turn, the river of the water of life grows in my soul, an ankle, a knee, a loin, a vast river of infinite joy and peace and wonder and glory.
Now may we stand together?
Precious Lord, grant to us that turning. Following our own selfish bent, increasingly steepened in waywardness, and prodigality, and sin, and misery, and unhappiness, turn us, Lord, as the streams in the south; turn us heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward. And in that love and grace, may we grow in this life and in all the eternity that is to come; still facing the Lord, still standing before the throne, still praising the name of our wonderful Savior. But first, we must turn [Ezekiel 33:11]. The waters must issue out of the sanctuary. Then having turned let them grow. Lord, Lord, make us more like Thee, growing in grace and in the image of our Lord.
In this moment that we sing our hymn of appeal, our men will be here at the front to welcome you. And down one of these stairways and down one of these aisles, "Pastor, today, I have decided for Christ, and here I am, and here I stand." Or, "I want to put my life in the fellowship of this dear church. I’m bringing my whole family with me." Or just two of you, or just one somebody you, while our people pray, while we wait, while nobody moves unless moving down here to the altar of God, make that decision now, and come. "I’m on the way, pastor, and here I am," while we pray, while we wait, while we sing.
RIVER OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The climax of this millennial vision
B. The angel messenger
II. The measuring of God
A. God does nothing haphazard, by chance, or at random
B. We live in the doctrine of the measurements of God
1. Seek God’s plan
2. Wait upon God
III. The river of life
C. More glorious things
1. Out of ruins, reconstruction
2. Growing in depth
3. Life-giving streams