THE BLESSED RIVER.pdf
BY JOSEPH A. SEISS, D.D., LL.D., There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. — Ps. 46 :...
THE BLESSED RIVER BY JOSEPH A. SEISS, D.D., LL.D., There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. — Ps. 46 : 4. WHEN the Roman Empire fell before the fierce invasions of the northern Barbarians the foundations of society seemed - to be uprooted. Consternation and despair seized the civilized world. The stress of the situation moved Augustine, the great Bishop of Hippo, to write the greatest of his works, in which he sketched and defended a better commonwealth, — one which time could not waste nor enemies destroy. He nam^ it The City of God^ meaning that imperishable kingdom and state of which Jehovah is the Head and all true believers are the citizens. He traced its history, conflicts, trials, and triumphs, from the earliest ages, through successive dispensations, from Noah to Abraham, the prophets of Israel, the Advent of the Christ, the conquests of the Apostles on to the final consummation in eternal glory. Such a City, or Commonwealth, there is, and always has been, and ever will be. The Psalmist exulted in the contemplation of it, and sung again .340
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 34 1 and again of "the City of God,"— "the City of the Lord of hosts,"— "the City of our God." And so the text speaks of "the City of God, the
holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High." This mystic City, or Commonwealth, has its centre in heaven. It is otherwise called "the kingdom of heaven." Many of its citizens are in heaven ; but many are found scattered here and there all over the earth. They are not all of one order, one nation, or one continent, tribe, or tongue. Nor are they all included in one particular association, organization, or fold. Wherever there are men and women who acknowledge and adore the true and only God, and accept and follow Jesus Christ, His only Son, as their Lord and Saviour, there it exists in sacred sovereignty and gracious benediction. And whatever gravitates heavenward, and makes for man's eternal blessedness, belongs to this City of God, the new Jerusalem, of which God and the Lamb are the glory and the light. And in connection with this City the Psalmist tells us of a River^ by which it is refreshed and gladdened. It is a mystic River, as the City is a mystic City. There is another river, very ancient and very great. It started with the tears of our first parents as they went weeping from Eden ; and it has been flowing in ever-expanding volumes through all the ages since. Its waters were early dyed with the blood of Able. In Noah's time it had swollen to turbid violence which shook the earth and en-
342 THE BLESSED RIVER. gulfed the world of mankind in a flood of universal judgment. And since that time its streams of desolation have been crashinjr through the cen-
turies destroying myriads and overwhelming the greatest empires in its course. It is the river of sin, and death, and judgment, flowing with tears, and sweat, and blood, turbulent with violence, foaming with wicked passions, and smoking with the burning wrath of .Heaven. Language cannot tell the mischief it has wrought, the miseries it has created, the hells of woe it has entailed upon our race. But the River of which the text speaks has a different record. It started in the foreknowledge and compassion of eternal Omnipotence before the earth was. It broke forth into the world when God said. The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. It gilded Adam's tears with hope. It over-arched Noah's altar with the bow of promise when he alighted from the Ark. It followed Israel in their long prilgrimage through the wilderness. It made up " Siloah's brook that flowed fast by the oracle of God." The prophets stood on its banks and cried, "Ho, every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters." Jesus told of it when He lifted up His voice and said : " If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Nor has this River ever ceased to flow in joyous and gladdening beauty, even in the darkest and the most calamitous times. Sometimes it trickled feebly among the rocks and rubbish with which depravity and falsehood obstructed its cur-
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 343 rent. Sometimes it seemed quite lost to human view. But it has never failed, and never can fail. Reinforcements of blessed rains and inspirations from heaven again and again have come to swell
its volume and augment its flow. The ancient patriarchs and the seers of Zion saw and felt it in their days, and drank of it, and called upon their ofenerations to ' ' taste and see that the Lord is good." Since the world began it has been the joyous theme of Psalms, and rituals, and many holy visions. And to this day it still is singing its way among the peoples of the earth, bearing the treasures of heavenly grace and hope upon its bosom, giving life to all it touches, and destined to wash the curse clean out of our smitten and ailing world. It is a River ; hence an open and public stream, free and accessible to all ; — a River, deep, abundant, vast, exhaustless, and at all times accessible. No winters can freeze it up. No hands can dip it dry. No obstructions can stop its onward course. No powers can fence it in. It is even the glorious Lord himself come down to be to us ' ' a place of broad rivers. ' ' And what rivers are to earthly cities this River is to the City of God. All God's people have their life-drink from it. They could not be what they are without it. There are thirsts in man which cannot be satisfied nor assuaged except by the life-waters of this sacred River. Of whatever earthly streams or fountains men may drink, they thirst again and
344 THE BLESSED RIVER. languish if the deeper wants of the soul remain unsatisfied. But those who drink of this River of God have in them springs of joy and hope welling up into everlasting life.
It is also a purifying River. Humanity, as we find it, needs cleansing. There is a leprous plague in the world from which no one in the course of nature is, nor can be, free. But there has been a fountain opened for the washing away of sin and uncleanness, and its waters flow in this River. By these the citizens of the sacred Empire are washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God. When Naaman washed in Jordan, as bidden by the prophet, his plague was stayed and his flesh came again as the flesh of a little child. And so there is perfect healing and purification in the waters of this River. From the heights of Jerusalem, on the Church's great inauguration day, there went forth a voice into all the earth to infected and perishing souls, saying, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." And everywhere, as many as comply with this word are purified in soul, and made "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people," called to walk with the king in fine linen pure and white. Beauty and joyous fertility also come of this River. What is more charming in nature than living streams, where the waters kiss the land, and the laud flushes and blooms responsive to the
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 345 gentle touch, and the trees extend their arms to embrace the laughing current, and every rush and reed and springing plant stretches up to hang out some flag or tinted bell to the Lord of the waters
and the sunshine ! Even so does this sacred River gladden and adorn the City of God. Its citizens are like trees planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth fruit in their season. ' ' They spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lignaloes which the Lord hath planted, as cedar-trees beside the waters." Rivers, moreover, are great arteries of commerce. By means of them cities secure much wealth and prosperity. They furnish outlets and facilities for profitable intercourse with distant countries. And such is this River to the City of God. By this its citizens have connection and commerce with other worlds. They do business with lands very far off, and thus secure for themselves pleasant and imperishable riches. What blessed imports from heaven come to them by means of this River ! What medicines for the soul, what joys for the heart, what riches for the spirit are thus obtained ! What treasures of wisdom, what wealth of mercies, what supports of character and dignities, what sublimities of hope, what titles to inalienable and eternal possessions do the citizens of this heavenly commonwealth acquire by means of this blessed River! Even under all the denuding calamities of a suffering Job they are richer than Croesus, or all the worldlings of the earth.
346 THE BLESSED RIVER. Nor is it difficult to find this River, or to avail ourselves of its blessedness. In God's Word and Sacraments, — in the doctrines and promises of His Gospel, — in the covenants of His grace, — in the ordinances of His house, — in the assemblies of His saints, — in the illuminations and inward
promptings of His Holy Spirit, — its presence is manifest. These are the points of man's contact with it. In these may we drink of it, and take in all the riches of its cleansing, renewing, and sanctifying power. Coming to these, we come to the very well-springs of salvation and touch the "pure River of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. ' ' This, then, is the River, the streams whereof make glad the City of God. Blessed River ! Happy City ! Happy the soul that bows to drink of these waters ! Happy the Naaman who consents to wash in their cleansing waves ! And may I ask then, dear friends, whether you have learned to appreciate and profit by what God has so mercifully arranged for our immortal good ? Some of you, no doubt, have long been enrolled as citizens of this sacred Commonwealth. You were born within its territory. From early infancy you have shared its benedictions. You have been marked with its badge and sealed with its signet. You were rocked in the cradle of its immunities, and composed to your infant slumbers by its songs. You have been reared under the sound of its bells, and led by loving hands into the halls of its oratories. You have been
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 347 taught to worship at its altars, and to rejoice in the music of its hymns. You have subscribed to the statutes of its government, and sworn by the name of its God. Have you then been faithful to your vows and loyal to your King ?
Others, perhaps, have long been hearing of this heavenly City, but never pledged allegiance to its authorities. The River of free grace that runs through our sanctuaries has been running by their doors and into their ver}^ homes, and lodged many a drop of its waters upon their hearts; but they have not been softened to penitence, nor moved to seek the salvation it carries. Sometimes there may have come a spell of serious thinking, when they were almost persuaded, and perhaps made solemn promises; but other influences interfered, and their names have not yet found place upon the roll- books of the sacred community. Many are willing to go far and spend much, to drink of earthly springs, to bathe in earthly waters, to breathe the atmosphere of rocky heights and scented hills, for bodily invigoration, health, and pleasure; but when it comes to dealing with the City of God and the life-waters w^hich alone can give health and salvation to the soul, there is often no heart for it, and many turn away in cold indifference. I see people sick, and ailing, and sad, and full of soul-aches and discomforts. I see them trying varied expedients for relief and consolation. And I wonder, Have they tried the waters that make glad the City of God ?
348 THE BLESSED RIVER. I see people who are growing old, feeble with years, bending toward the nearing grave. Most of the friends of their youth are gone. One after another of their cherished possessions has receded from them. The bubbles they once so eagerly pursued have vanished. They have run their race. Nothing more remains to them in this world
but a coffin and a tomb. And I wonder, Have they accepted place in the Commonwealth of the redeemed ? Have they partaken of the reviving waters that strengthen for ascensions beyond the reach of feebleness and death ? I see young men and maidens, full of the ardor, gayety, and hilarity of youth, eager in the pursuit of earthly pleasures, gains, and honors, and at whose hearts the subtle archer is aiming his arrow, presently to lay them with the dead. And I wonder, Are their names in the book of life? I think what a lofty inspiration dwelt in the souls of those men of old who could walk forth amid the populations of the earth and proudly say, / mn a Roman citizen ! But how paltry was that short-lived honor compared with the immunity and glory of citizenship in the sacred Commonwealth of the saints, — in the eternal City of our God ! Rome and its empire have fallen and passed away; but this City stands, and must «tand forever, with all its sons and daughters destined to a blessed immortality. Come what changes and convulsions may, amid the worst desolations of death and hell these shall survive,
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 349 and chant their Hallehiias by the crystal sea, when this vain world shall be no more. O that all who hear me this day may be duly awake and alive to the sublimity of our privileges, and find the inspiration and the peace that come by this River, the streams whereof make glad the City of God !
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