“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. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the true of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Our views on the above text were asked for several months ago, but we have not until now felt that we could write upon it. Even now we do not know that what we shall write will be satisfactory to our inquirer, but can give only such views as we have, leaving the issue with him who works all things after the counsel of his own will.
He who shewed this river to John was one of the seven angels “which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues.” Also, this angel had a golden reed with which he measured the city of God, its gates and its wall. John could only see these wonderful things as they were shown to him. He could not of himself see these things for himself, but was wholly dependent upon revelation. True, John was a called and ordained apostle of the Lamb, but this fact did not make him any the less dependent upon the Holy Spirit of God for all his instruction. In this revelation recorded in the last chapter of the book called Revelation, John sees the life of the holy city (the new Jerusalem) as a river pure and clear coming forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Wherever this river flows in its course, there is spiritual, eternal life; wherever it does not flow, naught but death prevails. This living water is all that makes the difference between life and death, fruitfulness and desolation.
Naturally speaking, all life naturally would cease upon this earth very soon if all water was to disappear from the earth. In the western part of the United States are vast tracts of barren deserts where no rain ever falls, where no rivers pass nor dews descend, and where deathly silence of desolation ever reigns. In some instances man has devised a way to get water into these regions by means of irrigation and where this has been done green verdure and fruitful fields abound. It is the coming of the water has wrought the wondrous transformation. Also, it is well known that the valley of the Nile River in Egypt, would be utterly barren were it not for the fact that the Nile overflows its banks every year, watering the valley on either side for many miles. Upon this yearly overflow has depended for centuries the fertility of that region. Where the last drop of the overflow ends, the first grain of sand of the Nubian Desert begins. The water compels the desert sands to come only so far, and no farther. It is wonderfully appropriate that the Spirit of divine truth throughout the Bible frequently uses the natural element of water to signify the life of the church, and the work of the Holy Spirit. All that makes the difference between the saved and the unsaved, the elect and the nonelect, is water, living water, the water of eternal and spiritual life. Where this water flows in its course as it proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and unto whomsoever it is directed by the authority of him that sits in the throne, there is to be manifested spiritual and eternal life. Wherever this water does not go, is not directed, there death never-ending prevails. Thus spiritual life is wholly dependent upon the water of this living river, and upon the divine authority that sends it forth, and which directs its course. Those reached by this river are no better by nature than those not reached; therefore salvation is not by works. It is a mercy that any are saved, and that not all are left in death to perish forever. The course and direction which this living water takes depends alone upon the enthroned power of God and of the Lamb, and not in the least upon any merit in the creature, nor upon his will, for he is dead until this water reaches him. It is significant that the Scripture here combines the words “God” and “Lamb.” When we think of God, we think of all that is awe-inspiring: of great power, infinite wisdom, unerring judgment, boundless truth, and such other great and high qualities. When we think of Lamb, we think of the crucified, of obedience, of meekness gentleness, love, compassion and mercy: such qualities as seem to mitigate the awful dignity of God to poor, fallen man. Were God simply great, wise and just, he could not have any inclination to condescend to our low estate, but because he is the Lamb as well as God he pities our destitution and his bowels of mercy wove with compassion toward those who have not the slightest claim upon so great and holy a Being. Thus, when we are told that eternal life as a pure, clear river proceeds from God and the Lamb, we know that it comes not only directed by the omnipotence and infinite wisdom of God, but as well from his mercy, love and pity. It flows out of the crucified One, front the riven side of Christ, out of the clefts of the Rock of the ages.
The tree of life is “in the midst of the street of it and on either side of the river.” What is meant by “the street of it?” In the chapter just before this, we have a full and minute description of the holy city of God, the new Jerusalem, which came down “from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. In the midst of this street of the city (not the street of the river) was the tree of life. The city of God has but one street, though the Arminian heaven is said to have golden streets, more than one street, no telling how many. However, the new Jerusalem, which is from above, and which is the mother of all the spiritually born, has one street, one only, and that street is pure gold, not golden. That which is golden way be more or less mixed with alloy. It takes very little gold to make a thing pass as golden. But that which is pure gold, as this one street is said to be, cannot have the least admixture of alloy. This one street of pure gold is the one way in which all the inhabitants of the city, the people of God walk. Here they all meet and mingle, interchanging expressions of mutual love and fellowship, greeting one another with the holy kiss, saluting their brethren with heavenly greetings. This is the way all the holy prophets went, herein walked the apostles and the primitive church, here now walk all that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all their heart, and that hope in his mercy. This street is faith. “The just shall live by his faith.” “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” The faith of God's people is the same in all ages. It is pure gold, because it is the gift of God, and not obtainable by man by any exercise of his own. It is pure gold, too, because it has successfully endured all the fiery trials to which God's people have ever been subjected in all ages. In the midst of this faith (street) is the tree of life, Jesus Christ. He was in the midst of Abel's faith, of Noah's, of Abraham's, of the faith of the whole cloud of witnesses which ever encompasses the child of God. Our faith finds its entire satisfaction and aim in Jesus Christ, faith embraces him and him only his blessed character, life, work, death, resurrection and ascension to glory, as well as his coming again, not as a sacrifice for sin, but unto salvation.
There is nothing else in the midst of the faith of the New Jerusalem but the fullness of the Godhead in Christ Jesus. Also, the tree of life is on either side of the river of life. This shows the situation, not only of Jesus, who is the tree of life, but also of the church of Jesus, which through him lives forever. Her days are as the days of this tree, so it is no accident that the Scripture uses the pronoun “her” when it says, “and yielded her fruit every month.” We used to wonder why it said “her fruit” instead of “his fruit,” but it is because of the vital oneness of Christ and his church that it so says “her fruit” - His fruit is her fruit. She has her fruitfulness in Him. She bears whatever he quickens her to bear. Therefore, the tree of life, Jesus, as well as his church, being on either side of the river, it is nourished and sustained by the water of this living stream. This tree of life is on both sides, on the law side as well as on the gospel side. Jesus and his people are seen throughout the Old Testament in the times that were legal, as well as throughout the New Testament in the times that are gospel. This tree is ever living, therefore is ever-fruitful, because the river along which it is planted is ever flowing, never ceasing, never abating its volume nor the force of its current. We are reminded of the words in first Psalms: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he, shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” This Psalm seems to us to describe the character not of David, but of Christ.
We have frequently noticed in the summer time, when we occasionally have long, dry spells, that the leaves on many trees will wither with the heat, curl up and fall off but along the banks of rivers, brooks and other streams, the trees will be more vigorous and green and show no sign of suffering from the drought. The roots of those trees so favorably situated are constantly fed by water from the stream, so that they are better able to stand the season of little rain. Thus Christ is planted alongside the river of the water of life, and the drought and and famine and pestilence, peril and desolation and sword, affect his life and fruitfulness not at all. When we look back and consider all the ups and downs through which this old earth has passed since it was first created, then consider the tree of life that has maintained its perennial bloom throughout it all, we wonder indeed at the marvelous life sustaining property of this river of the water of life. The world has been visited over and over again with famine, pestilence, wars, earthquakes, tires, and various upheavals and destructions of various free, some Scythian. His people are drawn unto him from the east, the west, the north, and the south. Some come in through the north gates of the city, some through the south gates, some through the east gates and some through the west gates. But every several gate was a pearl, so no matter from whence they came, through what diverse experiences and out of what various tribulations, they all come through the gate of pearl, for there is, after all, but one way into the city, and that the way of Jesus' blood and righteousness. Also, there were twelve apostles. These were fruits of the tree of life. All of them preached the same doctrine, but no two preached it alike. Each had his own manner of declaring it. And we emphasize the fact that the manner of the fruit, as well as the fruit itself, is all of Jesus Christ. We have many God-called ministers of God among the Old Baptists today, but we will venture to say that no two of them preach the gospel exactly alike. They all preach the same truth, but each has his own manner of doing it, each his own gift. We should not demand that our brethren in the ministry see things exactly as we do, that they should use our phraseology to clothe their views. Sister Clarice Durand once said or wrote to us that our being in the strait and narrow way did not necessarily make us narrow minded. She meant by that that a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ could maintain his own views of Scripture without compelling others to bow down to those views, or without demanding that his views be accepted as the articles of their faith. It is narrow mindedness to demand that all our brethren square themselves by our rule and level. “Let brotherly love continue and in order to this, charity must abound.”
These various manner of fruits, all of the same tree of life, the one Jesus, are all being yielded in their season, so that there is fruit-bearing all the time. Even in the cold winter time, when we feel that we are cold and indifferent to the things of the Spirit, even then fruit is being yielded. If this were not so, why would one know that he is cold and barren? A dead person does not know he is cold. Therefore, the very fact that we sometimes get into cold states, and know it, that very consciousness of coldness is a fruit of the living tree. So sometimes it is prayer, sometimes praise, sometimes thanksgiving, sometimes sorrowing, some bearing burdens, and again being delivered. But various as are the manners of these fruits, they are all yielded by the same tree, and are yielded in all seasons of our experience to suit the seasonal need.
The last clause of our text is: “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” These leaves are the promises made of God in Christ Jesus to his people, which he chose in him before the world began. Leaves on a tree show that winter is passed, that the dormant state is ended and that the time of fruit, will soon appear. Leaves prophesy fruit. All during the legal dispensation there were numerous types and shadows, which all prophesied the fruitfulness of the gospel when Christ should fulfill all those prophetic things. The leaves of the law portended the fruit of the gospel. So the leaves of the tree of life are the promises which God has made to his people in Christ Jesus. These heal the nations. They heal not simply the people of God among the Jews, but all nations, his people scattered abroad among all the kindreds of the earth. These leaves of the tree, or promises in Christ Jesus, are far too numerous for us to enumerate them all, but we must call attention to a few. Let us take the promise which God made to Abraham: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Here is veiled the truth that Christ is the seed of Isaac, which was the seed of Abraham, and that in Christ all nations (Gentiles as well as Jews) should be blessed. All nations, according to this promise, are to benefit in the salvation which is by grace through Jesus Christ.
We see how this one leaf of the tree of life, or this one promise made to Abraham and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, heals the nations, for according to it redemption is come among all the kindreds of the earth. So likewise the Scriptures are filled with these leaves, or promises, which God has made to his people in Christ Jesus. These promises are the basis of our hope and trust in him. The very hope of eternal life which God has put in the hearts of his spiritual heirs, this hope is itself a promise. We make a great mistake if we think our hope is the fullness of our inheritance. It is but the earnest of it. Some day, at his appearing, Jesus will bring the hope of his people to a glorious fruition. Then will we know as we are known and see as we are seen. In the meantime does not this hope save us from the wounds which sin has made, does it not heal the nations? Paul says we are saved by hope. This hope is a promise of better things to come, and like all other promises made to us in Christi it is a leaf of the tree of life. Paul was greatly dismayed when the thorn entered his flesh. He asked thrice that it be removed. It was not removed, but God promised him, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” It was this promise that healed Paul throughout his long and faithful ministry: the sufficiency of grace. This made him equal to all his adversities, enabled him to triumph over all hi enemies and made him able to say at last that he had fought a good fight and kept the faith. All these promises, or leave of the tree of life, are yea and amen in Christ Jesus, to the glory of God by him and God is not slack concerning his promises as some men count slackness. The thing he has promised, that will he do He changes not. In his promise and his oath he has given the heirs of glory a strong consolation through two immutable things in which it, is impossible for God to lie.
Written at the request of sister V. A Edward, of Burden, Kansas.
Signs of the Times
May 1 1915