Rivers Of Living Water
August 16th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
RIVERS OF LIVING WATER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-16-87 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the message entitled Rivers of Living Water. It is an exposition of the central part of the seventh chapter of the Book of John. Maybe you already have it.
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.
He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his koilia—
sometimes translated “womb,” it refers to the inner body. Today we would translate “out of his soul, out of his heart”—
shall flow rivers of living water.
[John 7:37, 38]
The feast: “Now in the last day of the feast” [John 7:37]; the seventh chapter begins with Jesus attending the Feast of Tabernacles [John 7:2, 10]. It was five days after Atonement. It began the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri and lasted seven complete days. The Day of Atonement was a day of humiliation before the Lord [Leviticus 23:27]. It was a day of soul searching, confession. The Jewish community, wherever they are, observe that Day of Atonement, a day of the affliction of the soul, of a prostration before God.
Five days after that time of confession and affliction, the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:34], was by far the most joyous and gladsome and glorious convocation of God’s people. They poured into Jerusalem, the city of sublimities, from Dan to Beer-sheba. Out of every village and town and valley and hillside did they come.
You see, it was also called the Feast of Ingathering [Exodus 23:16, 34:22]. It was also in rabbinical literature referred to as the Harvest Festival. Being located in our time, in our calendar, about the first of October, it was a great thanksgiving for the harvest. And the people were in a marvelous, gladsome, joyous mood, thanking God for the gift of the increase from the vineyard, from the palm tree, from the olive, from the field.
And not only was it a time of glad, joyous celebration because of the harvest, but according to the law of Moses they were to gather by families in little booths, in little leafy walls. In the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus:
Ye shall take you on the first day—
of this feast—
boughs of goodly trees, branches of palms, boughs of thick trees, willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.
Ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites shall dwell in booths—sukkoth.
That’s the reason sometimes it’s referred to as the Feast of Succoth. The people were everywhere, living for that seven days in little tabernacles, in little booths, in little leafy enclosures. And so great was their multitude that they covered the earth around Jerusalem with those little huts—all of the Mount of Olives, all the environs around Jerusalem, they were congeries of little leafy boughs. And everybody was there: the king, the princes, the poor, the commoners in between. Everyone was there. It was a joyous festival. And not only did it celebrate the thanksgiving for the harvest, but it also—now I’m reading from verse 43 in Leviticus 23; “That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” [Leviticus 23:43].
The festival was a celebration of their deliverance from Egypt, of their forty years wandering in the wilderness, and finally a paean, and a praise, and a festival of thanksgiving for their entrance into the Promised Land, into Canaan. I can easily see the beautiful symbolism of that even for us today, dwelling in little leafy walls, temporary; and now in the Promised Land forever; our lives, so brief and so temporal; and, our home in heaven, so precious and eternal.
Now there was one other thing that obtained in that Feast of Tabernacles. For seven days, every morning at the morning sacrifice, the priest went down to the Pool of Siloam with a golden urn. And he would fill the pitcher full of water and lead a great procession of joyous people back of him. And when he came to the first step leading up to the temple, he was greeted by the multitudes with a great shout. Then coming into the temple area, arriving at the great altar, he poured out the water on the western side of the altar while the choir, the great Levitical choir, four thousand singers, two hundred eighty-seven instrumentalists [1 Chronicles 23:5]—while they sang the Hallel.
I want to read just from the one hundred eighteenth Psalm in that Hallel. I want to read these verses. This is what they sang when they poured out that water by the side of the altar:
The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacle of the righteous.
I shall not die, but live.
Open to me the gates of righteousness.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.
[Psalm 118:14, 15, 17, 19, 24, 26, 29]
That’s what they sang, that great Levitical choir and orchestra, when he poured out that water on the western side of the altar.
Now Paul uses that in a marvelous and beautiful way. In 1 Corinthians 10, verse 4, Paul writes: “They did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” [1 Corinthians 10:4]. Of course, the scene in the wilderness is when Moses struck the rock at the command of God and a great stream poured out, water of life for a thirsting throng [Exodus 17:6]. And the Lord looked upon that and standing up, cried, saying: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me . . . He that believeth on Me . . . shall have from his inner soul and heart flowing free a fountain of living waters” [John 7:37, 38].
May I begin by saying how unusual that the Lord “stands and cries, saying?” [John 7:37]. As you know, in that ancient day, all the teachers sat down to teach. That the Lord would stand and cry is an unusual introduction of His word of invitation. He is pleading with the people to come and to drink. Wouldn’t you think we would be the ones to plead? He is offering life, and pardon, and forgiveness, and salvation, and heaven. And wouldn’t it be that we sinners, lost and undone, would be the ones falling on our faces and falling on our knees and pleading with God for His heavenly blessing? It’s just the other way around. It is God who pleads with us.
Isn’t that a strange thing? We choose to die; God pleads that we live. We choose the world; God pleads we choose Him. We choose darkness and unrighteousness and lostness; He pleads for life and salvation and glory.
On that last great day of the feast when they poured out that water, Jesus stood and cried, saying, “He that is athirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” [John 7:37]. Our Lord had said in the fourth chapter of this same Gospel of John, “He that drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13]. Could anything in human experience be more unsatisfying than the rewards of this earth? Solomon, of all the kings who ever lived, had the opportunity to experience every facet of human life and, having wrung it dry, said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” [Ecclesiastes 12:8]. It is sterile. It is empty. It is nothingness.
The Scot poet, Bobby Burns, said it like this:
Pleasures are like poppy spread:
You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
Or as the snow falls on the river,
A moment white—then gone forever;
Or like the Borealis’ rays,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Vanishing amid the storm.
[from “Tam O’Shanter,” Robert Burns]
How unbelievable that we give the energies of our lives to the trifles and the trivialities of time and sense, when the realities of eternity are calling us! I have felt that deep down in the human soul, maybe unconsciously unexpressed, there is an insatiable longing for the meaning and the purpose of human life for God.
In the century past, the tremendously gifted English poet [Rudyard Kipling] came to America to visit us, and became very, very ill, and in San Francisco apparently was dying. And as he lay dying, the nurse noticed that he was whispering something. And she bowed down her ear to hear what he was saying. And Rudyard Kipling was saying, “I want—I want, I want God.”
“If any man thirst—if anyone thirsts, let him come unto Me, and drink” [John 7:37]. Could I remark on the breadth of that invitation? “If anyone, if anyone”—that was His invitation in the seventeenth verse: “If anyone will do, he shall know the way” [John 7:17].
That’s the invitation in Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” The church and the Holy Spirit say, “Come.” “Let him that heareth” repeat the glad refrain, “come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will”—that same word, thelō—“And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Come! The invitation is as broad as human life. Come! He that is grimed in sin, outcast, undone, let him come. Though he lives in seven midnights and seven foul hells, let him come. A youth, an old man, a rich man, a poor man, the common man who lives in between, let him come. Let him come. If one is uneducated and can’t read, he can drink. Let him come.
The great Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter, who lived three hundred years ago, Richard Baxter said, “Had I read that invitation and it had my name in it, I might have thought it was referring to some other man who had the same name. But when I read, ‘If anyone, if anyone thirsts, let him come to Me’ [John 7:37], then I know that it includes me. I can come. I can come.” What a gracious invitation that is! Do you notice? Do you sense and do you see? “If anyone thirsts, let him come.”
There is no suggestion that first I must find myself in self-improvement; I must somehow change myself before I come; I must do things that would be pleasing to God; I must straighten out my life. There’s no hint of such a thing that is prerequisite in my coming. “If anyone thirst, let him come, and drink” [John 7:37]. Just come as you are, not changing anything; just as you are. As that old hymn sang:
Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lost and ruined by the fall.
If you tarry ‘til you’re better,
Ye will never come at all.
[“Come Ye Sinners,” Joseph Hart]
Just come as you are. The great decision of life is always made in Him—in Him. When you make that great first commitment, all of the other things that pertain to doubt and question and doctrine and a thousand intricacies of life, somehow they will resolve themselves. It is better to face them with Him than without Him. Just as you are, come! [Revelation 22:17].
I was amazed this week. I was amazed this week—just happened to read about where that invitation hymn “Just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come”—I was amazed to read who wrote that, where it came from and how. It is written by a woman named Charlotte Elliott in 1834. And she was invalid. She was in a wheelchair, all her life invalid. And seeing around her all of these people who were strong and well and busy and working, and her life seemed so useless, she was filled with depression and doubt and despair. And out of that tragedy of darkness and hopelessness and helplessness, she committed her life to the Lord Jesus and wrote that hymn.
Just as I am—
invalid, useless, despairing, helpless.
Just as I am, without one plea.
But that Thy blood was shed for me.
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee.
O Lamb of God, I come.
[“Just As I Am,” Charlotte Elliott]
Just as you are; and if there are problems to face, and mountains to climb, and decisions to make, let God work with you, walk by your side, give you strength and wisdom for the way. Come! Come! “Come unto Me all ye that are thirsty. Come unto Me, and drink” [John 7:37].
The sum and the substance of salvation is Jesus our Lord, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last [Revelation 22:13]. All of it is summed up in Christ: “Come unto Me” [John 7:37; Revelation 22:17].
One time, I made my way to Colchester in Essex, England, on the eastern side of the island. I wanted to visit the primitive Methodist chapel where the greatest preacher who ever lived was converted, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Right over there on that side is a very large bronze plaque saying this was where he sat. It was a stormy Sunday and the young man Spurgeon was on his way to another church. But, because of the furious storm, he had to turn aside into that little Methodist primitive chapel on Artillery Street. There were not a dozen people in it. He sat there. And the preacher, the pastor, apparently couldn’t come because of the fury of the storm.
And a layman stood up to preach. And the layman took for his text: “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” [Isaiah 45:22]. And in his appeal, that primitive Methodist layman said, “The text invites us and encourages us to look to God, to Jesus: ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved’” [Isaiah 45:22].
Then he said, “Some of ye are looking to yourself. Some of ye are looking to your feelings. Some of ye are looking to ordinances, or to priests, or to rituals. But God says, ‘Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. Look unto Me’” [Isaiah 45:22].
And then, Spurgeon said, the preacher turned to him and, seeing him and looking at him, said, “Young man, you look so miserable. Look to Jesus, young man.”
And then, Spurgeon said, in a primitive, Methodist shouting, the layman said, “Young man, look to Jesus! Look and live! Look and live.”
“And,” Spurgeon said, “that day I looked, and I lived.”
The way to be saved is not devious or intricate or recondite. Had it been so, many of us would have missed it. And certainly I, as a boy, a small child, could not have found it. It is that simple: “Look unto Me.” “He that is athirst, let him come to Me” [John 7:37].
There is an inexhaustible sufficiency of pardon and grace and persevering love in our Lord. Christianity is Christ, and Christ is Christianity. Other religions are so different. They point to the truth, and they invent systems of philosophy that are supposed to lead us to the truth.
The Christian faith: Christ is the truth. He said, “I am the truth” [John 14:6]. Having found Him, I have found the way [John 14:6]. And He is so accessible; if you kneel and pray, He will be there by your side. If you lift up your heart in supplication to heaven, He will answer you in your soul. If you walk down a pilgrim way and invite Him to journey by your side, He will be right there. As I have often said, He is nearer than your hands and your feet, and He is dearer and sweeter and closer than your breath; Jesus our Lord.
May I close with just one comment? “Out of his inner soul will flow rivers of living water. This speaks He of the Holy Spirit that should come after He was glorified” [John 7:38, 39] died and ascended to heaven [Matthew 28:5, 6; Acts 1:9, 10]. What amazes me in the text is the plural of the word, “rivers of living water”—an abounding, indescribable abundance. “Rivers”—not river, but “rivers of living water” [John 7:38]. The Missouri added to the Mississippi, and the Mississippi added to the Amazon, and that to the Orinoco, and that to the Ganges, and that to the Danube and that to the Rhine—“rivers of living water,” out of the soul, of the inmost being of the one who comes to Christ.
Lord God in heaven, it is just I that limits Thee! Your gift, Your presence, Your blessing and benedictory sweetness is illimitable. Just as much as I will drink am I invited to drink. Just as much as my heart will receive am I invited to receive. And just as much of my Lord as I will open my heart thus to welcome is He ready to be my friend, my fellow pilgrim, and my Savior [Hebrews 7:25]. O Lord, that there might be less of me and more of Thee, until there is nothing of me and everything of Thee! May we pray?