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Previous: 27. Timber-trees Up: The Language of Parable Next: 29. Clouds

28. Water

In what two ways is water useful to us personally? It is useful for washing and for drinking. Water cleanses because it has the power of penetrating between the body and dirt which stains it, and so loosens it and carries it away. Water which we drink, besides being cleansing, has also the use of softening and dissolving food which will be nourishing to the body, and circulating it through the currents of the body to the parts which need it.

Water circulates through the great world around us much as it does through the little world of our own body. It falls as rain and snow, runs through the springs into the brooks, and so into the rivers and at length to the sea. There it still sweeps on in great ocean currents, and ebbs and flows with the tide, till it is drawn up into the clouds, and by and by falls again as rain. And wherever it comes it cleanses the air and the earth. Also it sets useful things in motion. Gradually it wears away the rocks and forms fertile meadows; it dissolves from the earth nourishment for the plants and carries it up by their roots and branches into the leaves and fruit. It sets in motion mills and factories; it carries ships and cargoes to and fro, on a grand scale circulating the food of the earth to the parts that are hungry for it. The uses of water in the world are similar to its uses to ourselves. Let us try to learn what spiritual thing does corresponding uses for our minds.

First, the use for washing. Suppose we find a child who has been playing in the city street, and is stained with dust and dirt. Suppose the child has also met bad company and come in contact with bad influences, and has become spiritually unclean and stained. What shall we do for this child? To clean his body, we shall take water and wash away the dirt. To help him spiritually, we shall begin kindly to teach him that some things are wrong, and to show him the difference between wrong and right. And this does for him spiritually just what the washing did for him naturally; it distinguishes and so separates between the child's real life and the unclean things which cling to him, and helps him to throw them aside. What is the spiritual water which has done this cleansing for his character? It is the plain instruction, or truth, to use a shorter word, in regard to right and wrong. (AR 378; AE 475)

Second, the use for drinking. Have you ever tried to listen to a Chapter or to learn one from a book, and given up in despair because it was so dry that you could not relish it? Perhaps it was a Chapter in geography or in French. Can you think what would make these same Chapters interesting and easy to learn? Would they not cease to be dry if the teacher should agree to take you a journey through the country whose geography and language you were learning? or in some other way should show you the application and practical usefulness of the subject to yourselves? The knowledge or truth, to use the short word, which shows the relation of things to you and how you can make them useful in your own life, is the water which gives spiritual food a relish and sets it moving in the currents of the mind. (See Chapter 6) In this case the spiritual water is the truth which shows how we can appropriate and use good things; in the other case it showed how to separate useless things from us. The same truth does both.

Again, suppose we are in a fever of excitement. We are in danger, are dreading some misfortune, are anxious, and feel utterly help less. If now some one comes to us who is perfectly cool, and in a calm, practical way points out to us what of the dangers can be avoided, and what can and should be done, the advice cools our excitement and anxiety and sets the currents of our paralyzed thought in motion. Here also it is the plain, practical advice, or truth, showing what can be done under the circumstances, which comes to us with the refreshment of cooling water. (AC 8568; AE 71 )

We have sometimes, when enthusiastic in some enterprise, had our ardor "dampened " by practical advice - too cruelly practical, perhaps. We say that "cold water" is thrown upon our project.

Water falls from the sky as rain. Does practical truth of life ever come into the world in a corresponding way? It comes as rain when it comes from the Lord in His Holy Word, or as a gentle perception from within, showing what is right and wise. (AC 3579; AE 644)

Water runs through the streams into the salt sea. What becomes of practical truth which we learn? It is active for a time in our minds, or in the public mind, and is perhaps the moving power of "current events." Then is it lost and forgotten? No, but it is laid away in the storehouse of memory and history, colored and flavored by the applications which have been made of it. (AE 275; AC 28, 9755)

Water sometimes falls as snow, or takes the forth of ice. It is the same water but takes these forms when the weather is cold. Are we spiritually sometimes in warm and sometimes in cooler states? (Chapter 4) The cool states are when our affections are not active. If we then hear truth from the Lord's Word or elsewhere, we receive it with intellectual enjoyment in its beauty, but with no desire to put it into immediate use. It lies in idle drifts, or as hard facts. But if something wakens our interest in doing some good work, quickly all this idle truth melts and becomes warm and active in the mind. (AE 644, 411)

So many beautiful passages from the Bible come to mind, that you can easily find them for yourselves. We will suggest just a few which will help to make clear the correspondence of water with plain truth of right and wrong, and of what is practicable to do.

"Wash you, make you clean," the Lord commands by the prophet Isaiah. We know it is a command to remove from our lives what is not good, even before we read the words which follow: "Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well." (Isa. i. 16, 17; TCR 670-673) Frequent washings were required of the Jews (Lev. xxii. 6, etc), especially of the priests, at the laver in the tabernacle or temple court. (Exod. xxx. 17-21) The Pharisees kept these laws in a literal way. "For the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not." (Mark vii. 2-4) But the laws had an inner meaning which they did not keep. The external washings were representative of cleansing of the heart from "evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man." (Matt. xv. 19, 20) The water itself by which the spiritual washing is done, is the Lord's plain teaching of right and wrong, especially His ten commandments. (AR 378; AE 475; AC 3147, 10243, 10244)

Why did John the Baptist baptize those who listened to his message? Was that natural washing a picture of some spiritual work which he was doing at the same time? Read Luke iii. 3-17, and show me the spiritual water which John was applying to those who came to hear him. (AE 475, 724; TCR 690) We still use water in the sacrament of Baptism to represent the cleansing of our lives from evil, by the guidance and power of the Lord's commandments. The sacrament gives real help in doing this spiritual work. (TCR 670-673; AC 10386-10392; AE 475; NJH D 202)

When the Lord sent two disciples to prepare the passover, He said, "Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in." (Luke xxii. 10)  What does this teach us must be our guide, if we would prepare for union with the Lord? (TCR 722)

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: . . they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it." (Amos. viii. 11, 12) The passage explains itself. It describes a state in which there is no satisfaction in heavenly uses and no knowledge of the right ways of life. (AC 8568; AE 71) "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." (Ps. xlii. i) The hart is a gentle creature related to the cattle and the goats, but wild. It must correspond to some gentle, innocent but natural affection. And its panting after the water brooks, means the longing of such an affection for true instruction from the Lord. (AC 6413; AR 956)

"Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass." (Deut. xxxii. 1, 2) These beautiful verses say distinctly that the Lord's teaching and speech are the rain and dew of the soul. As the rain falls with gentle, cooling refreshment to the tender plants, so the Lord's teaching encourages and quickens our growing knowledge even of humble and simple kinds. (AC 3579; AE 644) "As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isa. iv. 10, 11) The verses distinctly tell us that the rain and snow from heaven are a picture of the Lord's refreshing truth falling gently into the mind. It comes as rain when the affections are warm and ready to make immediate use of the Lord's instruction; as snow when it is received with cool, intellectual interest and allowed to lie idle till affection for some good work calls it into use. (AE 644; AR 496)

Your Father in heaven "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. v. 45) The shining sun pictures His love, and the rain His truth, which He sends continually to all, even to the unthankful and the evil. (AE 644; D P 173, 292; AE 401)

Remember what is said of the promised land; that it is "a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills." (Deut. viii. 7) "For the land whither ye go to possess it is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowest thy seed, and waterest it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: but the land whither ye go to possess it is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven." (Deut. xi. 10, 11) The verses bring to mind the rainless land of Egypt, where water is laboriously lifted from the river and led by the gardener's foot from the irrigating canals into his field; and in contrast, they bring to mind the bountiful springs and refreshing showers of Palestine. What does it tell of the difference between the natural state which Egypt represents and the spiritual state represented by Canaan, in their reception of truth for daily needs? In the natural state we look down to the stream of current opinion and the reservoirs of memory. In the spiritual state we receive living instruction from the Lord; for our minds are open to heaven and to truth from His Word. (AE 5118, 644; AC 2702, 8278, Chapter 38i)

What is meant spiritually by these words of the Lord: "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward "? (Matt. x. 42) We give a cup of water when we give some true instruction, encouraging to innocent, childlike affection; or when we embody something of the truth we know in a good act, however small. We do it in the name of a disciple when we give not as if the truth were our own, but acknowledging that it is received by us from the Lord. (DP 230; AE 624, 695)

As we are lifting our thoughts from natural water to the spiritual water of plain truth of life, with its corresponding uses, remember the Lord at Jacob's well, and His words to the woman of Samaria: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John iv.13, 14; SS 2; AC 2702, 3424, 8568) Remember also the river of water of life described in the Revelation. "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." (Rev. xxii. 1; AR 932; AE 11335, 2702) "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Isa. xi. 9; AE 275; AC 28, 9755)

Through many such passages we become accustomed to water as the symbol of truth in regard to what is right and wise; in its best sense, truth received from the Lord in His Word, but in its plain, natural form, applicable to practical daily life. What does water mean in the Psalm where we read: "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: . . . then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul; then the proud waters had gone over our soul "? (Ps. cxxiv. 2-5) Plainly it means teaching that is false and thoughts that are not true, against which we need the Lord's protection. (AE 5118; AR 409) Quite similar is the meaning where we read, "the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon " the house built on the rock or on the sand. (Matt. vii. 24--27; AE 518, 419; AR 409) We see what spiritual condition of the world is representatively described in Genesis: "And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. . . . And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth. . . . And all flesh died that moved upon the earth." (Gen. Vii. 12-24) It was a time when deadly falsities prevailed, and shutting men off from the light of heaven nearly destroyed all spiritual life. (AC 660, 661, 705; AE 633, 763)

What two dangers into which evil leads us and from which the Lord saves us, are suggested by fire and water in passages like these? "Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: and ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water." (Matt. xvii. 15) "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." (Isa. xliii. 2; AC 739; AE 504, 518)..


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28. Water

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