The River of Life
September 1st, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
THE RIVER OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-1-85 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled The River of Life. It is an exposition of chapter 47, chapter 47 in the Book of Ezekiel. This is the climatic vision of the prophet and one of the most dramatic and full of blessing prophecies to be found in all the Word of the Lord. There has never been a study in the fifty-eight years that I have been a pastor that has meant more to me than these expositions of the prophet Ezekiel. As I said, this is the last and climatic vision in the book, and this will be possibly the last sermon that I will deliver from its sacred pages.
Now if you can, turn to the forty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, and we are going to expound particularly the first twelve verses of this beautiful chapter, Ezekiel 47. In the twenty-first verse of the previous chapter Ezekiel is in the outer court of the temple, the millennial temple. Then he begins:
Afterward this representative of God, this angel of the Lord brought me unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under, from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.
Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the outer gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.
And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles.
Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters that were to the loins.
Then he measured a thousand; 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.
And he said unto me, son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river.
Now 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 out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the Dead Sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.
And it shall came to pass, that everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and everything shall live whither the river cometh.
And it shall come to pass, that the fishermen shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, and the fish of the Great Sea – as the Mediterranean Sea – exceeding many.
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat – for food – whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: 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.
[Ezekiel 47:1-10, 12]
Could you imagine a more glorious vision than that? An historical fulfillment always follows the prophetic pattern.
The angel of God, the representative of heaven, takes the prophet and shows him a great increasing fountain pouring out from beneath the threshold of the temple. The temple faces east and the waters flow toward the east. And the representative angel of God measures a thousand cubits, a thousand eight hundred feet. And the waters are to the ankles.
Then he measures another a thousand eight hundred feet, another third of a mile. And the water’s up to the knees. Then he measures another a thousand eight hundred feet, another third of a mile, three-thirds of a mile now, a mile, and the waters are to the waist. Then he measures a thousand eight hundred feet, a third of a mile further, and it is a an impassable river, a great, mighty, life-giving stream of the Lord. Then the angel brings him back and on either side of the river, he sees beautiful trees that bear all manner of fruit for food, and the leaves for the healing of the people.
Then he sees that the river, continuing and increasing in its flow, falls precipitously in the Dead Sea. And the sea is healed. And the sea becomes a source of multitudinous fish. And the fishermen are drying their nets from one side Engedi, on the Judean side, to Eneglaim on the Moabitic side. The whole world is full of beauty, and growth, and life, and living, and healing, where now it is full of bitterness, and sulfur, and salt, and death. I repeat, there’s not any vision in all the Word of the Lord that has more meaning for us and our destiny than this beautiful river of life that Ezekiel describes in the forty-seventh chapter of his prophecy.
Now there are two things in the brief moment that I have. There are two things out of that vision that we especially consider. First is the doctrine of measurements. The representative of heaven, the angelic messenger in the third verse, he measures a thousand cubits. And then in the fourth verse, again he measures. And then in that same verse, again he measure. And then in the next verse, afterward he measured.
If you have taken time to read this millennial vision beginning at chapter 40 through [chapter] 48, thirty-five times in those nine chapters it refers to the measurements of God. Everything is measured, meticulously, schematically drawn down to the infinitesimal part. Everything is metered out, the gate is measured, the pavement is measured, the inner court is measured, the walls are measured, the buildings are measured, the doors are measured, the entrances are measured, the chambers are measured, the windows are measured. Everything is measured; the doctrine of measurements.
‘Tis an astonishing thing when you consider it in the background in the Word of the Lord; the doctrine of measurements. God does nothing by chance, haphazardly. Everything is carefully perviewed, reviewed, considered. Seems strange to us, but all things, history, creation, are in the schematic drawings and reviewings of God. Everything is carefully measured. He is not only the God of the infinite, the vast infinitude of the firmament above us, but He is also the Lord God of the infinitesimal.
One time I took the stroke of a paintbrush and put it under a high powered microscope. It looked solid colored to me, but under that high powered microscope, there were blotches and dots and open spaces in that paintbrush. Then I took the wing of a butterfly and put it under that powerful microscope, and the color was beautiful and sustained and even throughout – a beautiful thing, the hand of God in the infinitesimal.
I could easily imagine the Lord God calling Michael into His presence and saying, "I have three assignments for you, the archangel, today. First, I want you to adjust the golden rings around Saturn. Second, I want you to help David in his war against the Philistines. And third, over there in West Texas there is a tiny ant that is struggling uphill with an edible piece of a leaf in his mouth. I want you to help that ant." That’s the Lord God. He is a God of measurements. He is a God of the infinitesimal. He is a God of the schematic. That’s the Lord God; all things come under His review.
A second thing about that, the doctrine of measurements; God has boundaries to everything. It is thus far and no further. Everything is measured. There are perimeters to everything and parameters in their development. At an appointed time, I was born. At an appointed time, I shall die. It’s not a matter of "if," it’s "when." And it’s in the schema of the Lord God that I live from here to there. And all of life and all of time and all of history is measured out according to the appointed, elective purpose of God.
That’s why it is so infinitely inane for a man to live as though he were going to live forever, as though he were going to endure through all the generations. There is just a certain amount of time that is measured out, that is metered out, that is allotted to each one of us, and that is all. It is from here to here. That’s why the Lord God said to that foolish man who was building up things for himself, "Foolish man, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall be these things thou hast stored up for thyself?" [Luke 12:20]. Foolishness!
The pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James the Lord’s brother, said, "Go to you who say we are going into the city and we are going to get gain when you do not know what any day may bring forth" [James 4:13-14]. We live in the measurement of God. And it is in His elective purpose that we breathe and move and have our being.
This brings us to the inevitable corollary and addendum and necessity in our lives. "Lord God, if there is a plan for my life, then teach it to me and help me to know it, and in Thy grace and goodness, to do it." "What is God’s purpose for me?" Each one of us is born into a scheme, into a measurement, into an allocated time and elective purpose. "What is that for me, Lord?" And every day when we pray, "Lord, show me this day, what I am to do, and in strength and wisdom may I do it with all God’s might."
And one other thing that goes inevitably with this schematic program of God for our lives. We can go in our efforts and in our labors just so far. Then we must wait upon the Lord. No matter how we try, no matter how much work, no matter what we do, we must depend finally upon God for the blessing of the work of our hands. The farmer can plow and he can sow and he can cultivate, but there comes a time when he must wait upon God. The farmer cannot hasten the sun or the germination of the seed or the flowering and food of the plant; that is in God’s will. He can do so far, and then after that it’s in the hands of God. He must pray for the blessing of the Lord.
It is so in the rearing of our children. We can teach and we can train and we can admonish, but there comes an inevitably measurement of time when all we can do is to wait and to pray. However it might bring heartache or tears, it’s in the providence of God.
An institution is like that. Our Center of Biblical Studies is like that. There is a certain amount of time God can give us to build it, and to further it, and to found it, and to launch it, but there will come a time in our lives when we commend it to the ultimate, elective purpose and choice of God. We wait upon the Lord.
And even our witnessing soulwinning is like that. We can visit, and we can pray, and we can plead, and we can explain, and we can adjure, and we can do everything we can to guide and to encourage a soul into the faith and fellowship of Jesus, but beyond that, all we can do is wait and pray; in the measurement of God, the doctrine of measurements, the elective schematic purposes of God.
As you can see I am a very devout Calvinist. It is God who meters out our days and our lives, and we’re dependent upon His blessing, for all that we do. It brings us humbly to His throne of grace to plead for His blessing and His benedictory hands upon us.
Now the second thing in the moment that I have: to look at this river of life, its origin. In the first verse, he says, "The waters came down from under the threshold." And in the twelfth verse, he says, "Their waters, they issued out of the sanctuary." Out of the house of God proceed the blessings that sustain and enrich and glorifies our lives. Always they origin of it is there. It’s in God’s presence. It’s in God’s house. It comes from the throne of the Lord God Himself. That of course is a parable of all of the issuing streams of God’s mercy and truth, from Jerusalem and then the next Jerusalem and then the next Jerusalem; from the church. Oh, how we pray for a viable congregation and for a dynamic pulpit proclaiming the truth of the Lord. Out of the church, out of the temple, out of the city pour the waters of refreshing salvation and benedictory goodness.
Now do you know the course of the river? It flows east, and east is that wilderness of Judea. And east is the Dead Sea. East is that place of brine and bitterness and marshland and death, and the waters flow into the Dead Sea, one thousand three hundred feet below sea level, the deepest place on the face of the earth. And it is death. Nothing lives there, nothing.
But the river comes and it flows into that Arabah, and the whole world is one of life. The sea is freshened and sweetened, and it is filled with multitudinous fish. And the fishermen dry their nets from one side of its expanse to the other. Beneath the waters of that sea are those shadowy cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but all is now full of life and living. The refreshing waters of God have been poured upon them.
Then the Lord says to this prophet Ezekiel, "Son of man, hast thou seen this?" [Ezekiel 47:6] Then He shows him things even more marvelous and wonderful. "Hast thou seen this?" Then look again, look again. And the prophet is brought to a marvelous exaltation of vision and glory of a world and a city that is yet to come.
I marvel at the Lord God and what God intends and portends and promises and prophetically presents for His people. I stagger at it. I have to have a double portion of God’s Holy Spirit to sense it and to realize it. "Son of man, hast thou seen this; then come and look still further."
You see, at that time Jerusalem was in ruins, and the temple lay absolutely destroyed, nothing of it there. And yet out of the glory of that city and out of the marvel of that new temple are to issue these incomparable blessings that enrich the whole earth! "How can one do that? Only in the ableness and farsightedness and prophetic promise of God.
In the little, to see the great.
In the seed, to see the harvest.
In the birth, to see the man.
In the ruin, to see the reconstruction.
In the beginning, to see the consummation.
Or as it happened in the days of Elijah and the terrible drought; in the cloud, the size of a man’s hand, to announce "I see an abundance of rain" [1 Kings 18:41-44].
That’s God; in the midst of death or defeat or age or sorrow or disappointment, to see the glory of the ableness and wonder and promise of God – always living in the upside, on the sunny side, on the victorious side, the triumphant side of life, we cannot lose; God always wins! It’ll be a new world; its God’s world, its God’s will.
"Son of man, hast thou seen this; the wonder and the marvel of the work of the Lord." Look at that again. Do you see that fountain of life, that river, pouring out of the threshold of the temple of God? It starts ankle deep. The angel mentioned it; it’s ankle deep. Then it is knee deep. Then it is waste deep. Then it is a great impassable river.
How does a thing like that ever continue? There are no tributaries into it. There are no rivers flowing into it. It increases of itself. It expands and it widens and it broadens. That’s exactly the life of a devout Christian, starting and beginning. Then he grows, and he grows, and he grows, and he grows. He grows in understanding; he grows in wisdom; he grows in fellowship; he grows in the knowledge and wisdom of God, just like that.
A wonderful church will do that. It will grow in the depths of the goodness and grace of the Lord. It grows; it expands; it expands. And everything lives, whither the river cometh, all of it. There are trees, a multitude of trees, on either bank of the river. And it is filled with fruit, all manner of fruit for the feeding of the people. And the leaves are for the healing of God’s chosen, elected, anointed. What a marvelous promise of the Lord God for us!
Now, you think that’s about as far out as anything that you could ever think for. Now you wait a minute. You wait a minute. There is an earnest of that marvelous vision that happens before our very eyes today, something that is just as marvelous. Out of the miasmic marsh and out of the Dead Sea and out of the waters of brine and salt, God lifts up, you call it "evaporates," God lifts up waters, waters, waters, out of stagnate pools, out of the oceans that are brine, out of the Dead Sea that is putrid, God lifts waters. He lifts water, and they fall down on the earth in sweet raindrops of rain. Isn’t that a miracle? How does that happen? Nobody knows. It’s just the hand of God, turning the bitter, salty, briny waters into the sweet raindrops that bring life to the earth.
We’ll, God’s going one step further, one step further. Instead of doing it by evaporation, God, in the future is going to do it with a living stream that brings health and healing to the whole earth. Ah, I cannot image such a thing. It’s just beyond my thinking, what God plans in the river of life that shall bring health and healing to the whole world.
Now I have just two things to add to that and then I must close. Number one: it’s an amazing thing to me that a river, that a river of life is to flow out of Jerusalem. It is way up there high, and it is a way yonder from any stream. But everywhere in the Bible that you’ll read, it’ll read like that; "The great living streams that flow out of Jerusalem."
For example in Psalm 46:4, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God," a river, making glad the city of God. In Isaiah 33, verse 21, "There in Jerusalem, the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams." Once again, in Joel 3:18, "It shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hill 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 the Acacias."
And look once again in Zechariah [14:8]; "It shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, to the Mediterranean, and half of them toward the hinder sea: and in the winter and in the summer shall it flow," never abating, a continuous flowing of the river of life.
God has a map of this world in heaven. In this present world, it has vast stretches of deserts, Sahara’s, vast stretches of wasteland and, tundra. That’s the way the world is now. But up there in God’s heaven, there is a map of this world. And on that map of this world, those deserts blossom like the rose. And these dreary and dead places, these stony places are filled with the blossoms and the bloomings of God. And those dry wadis are running with waters that are crystal clear.
You know it’s a strange and interesting thing about the world. Men always go where the water is, always. The difference between this planet and those dead planets out there in space is water. Water brings life to the planet. It brings life to the nation. It brings life to the cities. Your great cities are built on the great waterways of the earth. Men go where water is, and the rivers of life that God will pour in profusion over this earth are the blessings of humanity.
And the ultimate and final vision is the one that we read together out of God’s Holy Book:
I saw, in this Jerusalem, I saw a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
And on either side of it, were the trees that bare all manner of fruit; and the leaves were for the healing of the people.
And the last invitation:
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 drink – let him take – of the water of life freely.
What God has for those who, in love and humility, come to Him, drinking at the fountain of life, eating from the tree that brings immortality to soul, and loving God forever and ever. It’s a beautiful promise. ‘Tis precious beyond compare, and all of it for you and for us.
In this moment that we sing our appeal, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m on the way," to give your life in the fellowship of our dear church, to answer the call of God in your heart, if the Spirit of the Lord bids you here, in the name of Jesus our Savior, welcome. Share with us the abounding goodness, the overflowing blessings of the Lord God, in heart, in home, in life, in work, in death, in the forever that God has prepared for those who love Him, come. There’s time and to spare, if you’re in the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, we’ll be here at the front, waiting just for you. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and 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