By Rev. Asa Mahan
THE FOUNTAIN OPENED FOR SIN AND FOR UNCLEANNESS, OR THE CLEANSING POWER OF THE SPIRIT.
In Palestine and surrounding countries, the people, in ages past, were sometimes in great peril from want of water, occasioned by either of two circumstancesdrought, or the besieging of cities, when the usual supply was cut off by encircling foes. Hence it was that the greatest pains were then taken by the inhabitants exposed to such evils, to provide against them.
The method generally adopted was to dig out in the solid rock beneath the surface on which such cities were built, vast reservoirs, which, in periods of rain, were filled with water and then sealed up, so as to be preserved pure until times of extremity should come. Then they were opened to quench thirst, and for external cleansing.
In searching amid the ruins of such cities, vast rows of such fountains or reservoirs have been found. Some of these fountains are from one to three hundred feet deep, and as many in diameter. We seen a city was well furnished with such sealed fountains, they would be to all the inhabitants a source of great blessedness, because they would see in them abundant security against evils which were certain to impend at some time.
When the ordinary supply of water was cut off for either of the reasons assigned, then all minds would be turned with intense desire to the sealed fountains within the city, and the opening of the same would be the object of one common, all-pervading prayer to the public authorities, to whose control such fountains were subject. While the keeping of those fountains closed at such times would be the occasion of general sorrow and regret, the opening of them would be as the first note of the trump of jubilee to the people. Such an event brought deliverance from two forms of deaththirst within, and uncleanness breeding pestilence, without.
Sometimes, when the fountains were opened, it would be found, to the amazement and horror of the expectant multitude, that through some fissures in the rocks the waters had escaped, and the fountains were dry. These were the "broken cisterns," or fountains "that could hold no water." Hence it is that these fountains afford some of the most beautiful and impressive figures found in the Scriptures. When, for example, a person was to an individual a source and cause of great serenity, peace, and consolation, and at the same time the object of most endeared affection, the former would be said to be to the latter "a fountain sealed;" "a fountain sealed is My beloved unto Me."
When individuals were subject, from any cause, to very great joy and triumph, or to great deliverances from impending dangers, the cause of such joy and deliverance was compared to a fountain opened during the straits of drought or of siege, "Thou wilt open unto him the fountains of life."
As in the land of oppressive heat, the water, cool and fresh, welling up from the heart of the earth, was, in itself, more refreshing than the rainwater drawn from the hewn-rock fountains, invaluable as the latter was in times of extremity, so when an object was to the mind the source and cause of the greatest conceivable good, it was compared to "a fountain of living water." On the other hand, when an object had been the source and cause of the highest hope, and had flagrantly wrecked and disappointed that hope, it was compared to a "broken cistern," a fountain opened in time of pressing necessity, and to the horror of the expectant multitude found empty.
When an individual was seen abandoning that which would be to him the source of the greatest good, and pursuing with eager haste that which would be to him the cause of certain ruin and death, he was compared to one who "forsakes a fountain of living water, and hews out to himself a broken cistern that can hold no water;" as if a man should refuse to taste of living water welling up from a perennial spring near him, and was seen laboriously striving to hew out for himself, in a visibly shelly and split rock, a cistern, to receive the rainwater that might run into it from the clouds above.
We may now apply the impressive figure in which the redemption of Christ is set before us in the text, together with the attitude of the heart of the Church in respect to that redemption, as the latter-day glory dawns in. The text, you will bear in mind, sets before us, in one and the same figure, the salvation of Christ, in what may be called its objective and subjective relationsthat is, salvation as it is in itself, and the state of the heart relatively to it, when Christ becomes "the power of God and the wisdom of God unto the believer."
In itself, whether men avail themselves of it or not, that salvation is "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." It contains and reveals provisions, full and complete, for all the moral and spiritual necessities of the soul. These provisions, however, only become efficacious to this end when the soul, supremely desirous to be wholly free from the condemnation, power, and inbeing of sin, sees in Christ a sovereign remedy for this death-plague, and comes to Him, and trusts in the virtue of His blood as the "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness."
Think of the inhabitants of an Eastern city in a time of extreme droughts, when the living fountains and wells within and around are completely dried; or in the straitness of a siege, when all watercourses are stopped, or turned aside by the encircling foe. In this state, everyone is perishing with a burning thirst, and terror-stricken with the apprehension of the all-pervading presence of the death-plague from uncleanness.
In the sealed fountains within the city is the only sovereign remedy for both these forms of impending death. One desire now pervades all minds, and one prayer goes up to the ruling authorities. It is, that these fountains may be opened to save the people from these terrible calamities. When the fountains are opened, what a universal rush there is to them, to obtain those waters of life! and with what eagerness are they applied to quench the burning thirst, and cleanse away the external impurity!
Such is the state of the heart relatively to the provisions of saving grace in Christ, when they become efficacious for the pardon of sin, and for moral and spiritual purification. When the mind is divided by the attractions of things seen and temporal, and drawn by "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," away from God, and holiness, and Heaven; when self-righteousness or unbelief closes the avenues of the heart to Christ and the Spirit of gracethen these provisions in Christ have no more efficacy for the salvation of the soul than if they had no existence at all. Christ is then to the soul, not a "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness," but a fountain closed.
When preached by the Holy Ghost, Christ was "to the Jew a stumblingblock, and to the Greek foolishness," because the "Jew sought for a sign, and the Greek for wisdom." That is, each held in supreme regard something incompatible with the outgoing of the heart in a supreme desire and choice towards Christ and His salvation. But to everyone that believeth, He was, and He is, "the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation," because all such appreciate the infinite value of His grace, and seek it in Him with all the heart and with all the soul. Such is the salvation of Christ in its subjective and objective relations, as it is in itself closed, and as it is unsealed to the believing heart "a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness." When Christ is formed within the soul, the hope of glory, and with perfect quietness and assurance reposes in Him for all future necessities, receiving everlasting consolation and peace through His grace, then He is to such a "fountain of living waters."
When one predominant desire possesses the mind, to be wholly free from the condemnation and power of sin, and in perfect purity to be "filled with all the fulness of God;" and when in Christ it apprehends a present and perfect sufficiency to meet all its desires and necessities, then Christ is to the soul "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." The soul realizes the blessings of a present Christ immediately, fully, and specifically flowing into every susceptibility and want of its immortal nature.
It is to a state of hunger and thirst for righteousness, to an inward panting and crying out of the whole inner being for God and the light of His countenance, that the "exceeding great and precious promises" are addressed, by which we become "partakers of the Divine nature."
When all the powers of the soul are preoccupied and filled with worldly attachments incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost; when worldly pride, the spirit of self-righteousness and unbelief, repel the approach of the doctrine of Christ crucified for our redemption; the individual who reasons with him upon righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come, and commends to him the full salvation in Christ "for sin and for uncleanness," is to him as a mocker or one that bring strange things to his ears.
In our cities are various reservoirs, the contents of which are in reserve in case of fire. What if the authorities should open these, and invite the people to use them for quenching their thirst and for external purification. You would regard your rulers as demented. Your wells and your cisterns are filled with living or pure cloud water. You have no liking for the filthy water in the reservoirs referred to and you would condemn as an insult an invitation to partake of them
With somewhat similar feelings do men who think they have all and abound, regard the provisions of grace for their redemption They esteem it quite meritorious if for once a week when convenience serves, they attend upon the services of the sanctuary where these provisions are urged upon their acceptance while the majority of men contemn even so much regard for sacred things as that.
But suppose God should send a drought in which all moisture should be burnt out of the earth beneath and the atmosphere above and around you. Your wells and cisterns and rivers are dried up and your lakes even have become stagnant pools of death-poison. One want presses upon the peoplewater. Even the street water in your reservoirs would then be regarded as of priceless value.
But suppose that the public authorities should now open sealed fountains, filled with the pure liquid which the clouds and dews of Heaven had rained down among you How would you then regard the cry, "Ho! everyone that thirsteth come ye to the waters!" With similar feelings do men regard the provisions of life in Christ when they become conscious of their real condition as sinners, and it is, we repeat, to this poverty of spirit, this inward cry for the waters of life in Christ, that the invitations and promises of Christ are addressed.
We now advance to a very important inquiryviz., what are we to understand by the declaration, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness?" The text implies that the time is coming when the Church is to attain to a new form of experience in Christ, not common, and by no means general in any preceding age. "In that day there shall be a fountain opened." There is great meaning in these memorable words "that day."
Let us inquire for the meaning of this prophecy. Christ in Himself, and in the fullness, completeness, and efficacy of the provisions of grace in Him for all the wants of the soul, "is the same yesterday, and today, and forever." "Ye are complete in Him," will hold equally true of the Church, as far as Christ's power to save is concerned, at any one moment from the beginning to the end of time, as at any other. In consequence of a change of relations of the heart of the Church, however, He may be to her in degree and in fullness a Saviour such as He had never before been.
Such a change did occur in the experience of the disciples and Primitive Christians at the Pentecost, and such a change does, in fact, occur in the experience of all believers when they "have received the Holy Ghost after they have believed." Prior to this consummation, the vision of truth is dim, and the faith of the soul takes but a feeble hold of things unseen and eternal. As a consequence, the evidence of justification is obscure, and but small degrees of virtue proceed from Christ for moral and spiritual purification.
To do, or to endure, the soul has but very little strength; and with feeble and oft-slipping footsteps, it treads its weary way in the paths of obedience and of life. In such a twilight of Divine illumination the is hope; but doubt oftener predominates than assurance. There are, also, joys and consolations; but not "peace as a river, and righteousness as the waves of the sea." There is rather more of doubt than of hope, of fear than of assurance, and "an aching void within the soul," rather than "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
But when the Holy Ghost falls upon the believer, and his soul is "filled with the Spirit," in that baptism of fire, of love, of light, and joy in God, there is a cloudless apprehension of truth, and every truth apprehended has a transforming power upon the heart and character. The face of God, the love of Christ "the glory of God and of the Lamb," are unveiled to the open vision of the mind. Hope dispels doubt, and assurance banishes fear. Weakness gives place to strength in God to do and to endure "all the good pleasure of His goodness, even the work of faith with power."
Instead of an aching void within, an infinite fullness of "living water springs up into everlasting life." In other words, there is in that day "a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."
Now it is to this higher form of experience, this outpouring of the Spirit promised to the Church in these latter days, that special reference is had in the text. You will observe that it is to "the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem"that is, for believers within, and not for sinners without, the circle of the Church, that the fountain here referred to is to be opened.
In the context we read, that the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy is to be a period of great moral and spiritual power in the Church: "He that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them." It is also to be a time of total moral and spiritual purification: "In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord." Prior to that event, the instances of such high attainments would be few and far between. Then, this is to become the common experience of the Church universal.
This era of universal and total purification in the Church, this era of mighty power for the subjection of the world to the reign of Christ, is the theme of all the prophets, "when they testify beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glory that was to follow." St. John calls its introduction, "The marriage of the Lamb." "Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give honor to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted to be clothed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints." Referring to this era of Divine illumination, God, through the prophet Isaiah, thus addresses the Church: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising."
What a contrast in the state of the Church, as it has been in ages past, as it now is, and as it is to be in that day of light, and glory, and blessedness! Now, whatever of Divine glory she possesses is hardly recognized by the world, so feebly does her light shine. Then, that glory is to become visible and all-impressive to the worldso visible, and so impressive, that the race shall be drawn from the gross darkness with which they are encircled, to the light which is radiated from the face and throne of God upon the Church; just as the people were drawn from the darkness of Egypt to the light which illumined the Land of Goshen. And then this era of illumination is never to be eclipsed. "The Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."
In that day, according to the word of God through the prophet Jeremiah, God is to make a new covenant with His Church, and this is to be that covenant: "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts;" that is, sanctify them permanently and wholly. "Then," says God through the prophet Ezekiel, "will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you."
Of the degree of sanctification referred to in all these prophecies, we are distinctly informed in Jer. i. 20: "In those days, and at that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall he sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found." The prophet Joel refers to the same state of moral purification under the representation of a universal diffusion of the Holy Spirit upon the entire body of believers: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh" [upon the entire company of believers], "and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy."
No careful reader of the Scriptures can fail to perceive that the fountain referred to in the text is to be opened within the Church, and to and for believers as such; that they all, having "washed their garments, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," may be, in Christ, "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." When the Church has thus attained, then will she become, in deed and in truth, a power in the world for its redemption. Ignorance and unbelief have hitherto kept the mass of believers straying in the wilderness with the flocks of Christ's foes. There their "follies have filled them with weeping."
In all ages, there have been a few who "have known and have believed the love of God to them," and thus knowing and believing, "their love has been made perfect." To the entire mass of believers, however, Christ is then to be "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." In that day and at that time the love of all in common will be made perfect.
WHEN IS CHRIST SUCH A FOUNTAIN TO BELIEVERS?
The most important inquiry suggested by the text here presents itselfviz., By what means and under what circumstances will believers find in Christ this opened fountain? In other words, on what conditions does the grace of Christ, and the revelation of His glory and love, act upon the soul as an all-renovating power, emancipating it from "the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God?"
We all know on what conditions and under what circumstances Christ becomes a fountain opened to the sinner for the pardon of sin. Through the power of the Spirit in connection with external and internal influences, he is led to think on his ways. In thus thinking, he distinctly apprehends the fact of his sin and of his hopeless ruin in sin. One want now presses upon him, and centers in itself the supreme desire of his soulviz., pardon and acceptance with God. In this state he opens the Scriptures, and reads of Christ as the sinner's friend, the sinner's hope; or he meets with a Christian friend who points him to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."
The Spirit now so presents Christ to his sin-burdened soul that it apprehends in Him a present, immediate, and all-sufficient fullness for the overwhelming want with which it is burdened. Christ is now to that mind a fountain opened for sin; that is, for pardon, full and free. This convert meets some other sinner, and tells him of Christ as a Saviour from condemnation and the fear of death. That sinner, convinced of his own sin, and ruin in sin, beholds in Christ the needed redemption. Christ becomes to him, as in the former, a fountain opened for sin. Whenever the soul apprehends in Christ a present fullness for any pressing necessity, then He is to that mind "a fountain opened" for that want. Now, when the soul has found in Christ "a fountain opened" for the forgiveness of sin, and when the joy and peace of its first love have passed away, it begins to feel the pressure of another want, more agonizing, if possible, than the first. It experiences an inward hunger and thirst for another blessing, more important even than pardon and the peace which the assurance of reconciliation with God can bring to the mind. It wants deliverance from "the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God." It wants to be "pure in heart," that it may "see God." It wants to find in Christ, and in the gospel of His grace, a power not only for pardon, but for moral and spiritual renovation.
It reads in the Scriptures of an "eye-salve" by which we may see, and of an "anointing" by which we "know the things which are freely given us of God." It reads still further of Christ in the soul, "the hope of glory," and of God dwelling in us and walking in us, and thus becoming "our everlasting light," while the "days of our mourning are ended." It reads of a baptism of the Spirita baptism by which and in which "we all, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory," and are enabled to "comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge," and thus be "filled with all the fulness of God." In the midst of such revelations, and in the presence of such "exceeding great and precious promises," one desire possesses the whole powers of the soulthe desire to realize in its experience the fullness thus revealed to its faith and hope. Its one inquiry in great earnestness is, how and where can this fullness be obtained?
To receive an answer to this question, the individual sets about a most diligent and prayerful research. He makes inquiry of the most spiritual believers in the ministry and out of it, and reads the memoirs of such men as Brainerd and Payson. But all in vain. The Bible is a sealed book. In it he finds no present Christ addressed to the one present want of his whole being. "With strong crying and tears" he asks this single blessing of the Father in Heaventhat he "may know Him, and understand His way, and find grace in His sight;" that he may possess and be filled with the righteousness after which he now so inexpressibly hungers and thirsts, and be "endued with the power from on high," for which he is now waiting with such intense expectancy.
While thus praying, waiting, searching, hoping, and trusting, there is, through the Spirit, a direct manifestation of the glory, the love, the grace, and the fullness of Christ to his mind. In Christ he apprehends a present available and infinite fullness for every want of his immortal nature. The faith of his soul takes such a hold of the strength and fullness of Christ, as to become at once "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might," to do, to endure, to think, to feel, and to act for Christ. "All things have become new." Hope becomes changed into absolute assurance, and faith almost into a vision of things unseen and eternal. The veil is taken away from the Word of God. Its varied revelations of truths well out in "rivers of living water." Every truth realized has a quickening, vitalizing, and renovating power upon the mind. In other words, the believer, by a way which he knows not, now finds in Christ and in the gospel of His grace "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness."
Now this individual, thus, without learning, teaching, or external help, led to Christ, begins to speak to others of "the riches of the glory of this mystery," "which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." He speaks of Divine manifestations, of a "witness of the Spirit," of "a shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart," of a Divine indwelling in the soul, of a "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ," of "everlasting consolations and good hope through grace," and of "joy unspeakable and full of glory," to all of which they are comparative strangers. Yet he speaks in a manner which renders them sensible of the fact, that "what he hath seen and heard, that he testifies." The hearing of such an experience awakens in them a thirst for these waters of life, and Christ, in this one mind, becomes to them "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." God shines into one heart, and thus gives to all around "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
So also when the membership of any one church becomes thus washed and purified, and made white "in the blood of the Lamb," Christ, in that church, becomes to all the churches and the world around, "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." Thus streamlet intermingles with streamlet, till the waters of life, issuing from multitudes of sanctified hearts, become, in accordance with Ezekiel's vision, a mighty river that cannot "be passed over," and "the redeemed of the Lord return and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy upon their heads; they obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away."
You may now see, dear reader, when it is that you may regard yourself as standing upon the very banks of the river of life, where God is about to become the everlasting light of your soul. It is when, and only when, you have such a quenchless thirst for God, for holiness, and for the indwelling of the presence of Christ in your heart, that nothing else will satisfy you, or divert your thoughts or desire from this one infinite good, and when your whole being is centered in the immutable purpose to attain it. When the disciples were "all with one accord in one place," the set time had come when they were to be "endued with power from on high." Are you, reader, in a similar state? "Then lift up your head: your redemption draweth nigh!" But if you have no such purpose or desire, remember that you have no lot or part in this matter.
You also perceive when and how it is that Christ, in and through one individual, becomes to others "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." It is not in the holding or the public advocacy of a form of doctrine or system of faith which accords with the truth that anyone occupies this Divine relation. It is, on the other hand, the holding and the advocacy of "the truth as it is in Jesus," and an inward experience and an outward life which accords with that truth. Were we an inquirer after the higher life in Christ, one of the last individuals that we would go to for light upon the subject, would be one who holds and advocates the doctrine of full redemption, and yet knows nothing of that truth as an all-vitalizing and renovating power. The most injurious influence that can exist in any church and community goes out from that person who zealously advocates that vital truth, and yet connects such advocacy with an unholy and corrupt life. The brightest jewel in Christ's crown of glory in any church, on the other hand, is the individual who holds and advocates that truth, and who has "received the Holy Ghost since he has believed." In him God dwells and walks, and Christ abides as an all-purifying, quickening, and life-imparting presence; and through him Christ and the provisions of His grace are perpetually revealed to the Church and the world around, as "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness"the Divinest mission ever fulfilled by men or angels.
We also understand when it is that in any particular church Christ is revealed to other churches and the world around, as the fountain opened, of which we are speaking. That revelation is not made in and through the creed, or through the ministrations of the Church, however accordant both may be with the truth of God. There is no more unvitalizing power on earth than resides in a dead orthodoxy. To the sinner pressing the inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" There is no spot where he is less likely to find the truth he seeks than in that place where the truth, and nothingbut the truth, is held, advocated, and preached, and where that truth is belied and neutralized by a dead faith in the ministry and membership. To the inquirer after the higher life, there is no spot to him more dark than he finds in a church, and under a ministry, where this soul-renovating and heart-vitalizing truth is held, advocated, and preached, but where it exists in no hearts as "a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." The very truth itself then becomes to such a mind a mass of darkness, and nothing else, being presented as having no efficacy for moral and spiritual renovation. To the revelation under consideration; in and through any given church, two condition must e fulfilled. The truth as it is in Jesus, in the first place, must be internally credited and openly advocated. It is "by the foolishness of preaching" that God saves those that believe. "Faith cometh by hearing." In the next place, the power, and renovating efficacy, and peace-giving and joy-imparting influence of the gospel, must be fully manifested in the inward experience and visible example of that church. Then, indeed, will that church be "a light in the world," and "have power with God and with men." Then, in and through such church, will Christ be to all encircling churches and to the world around, "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." And when the churches of our God in general shall be similarly illuminated, "washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb," and all her membership are filled with the Spirit, and together "walk in the light of God," then will the Gentiles come to her light, and kings to the "brightness of their rising." In all the world, the spot where one such church is located will be the brightest, and, "to all who look for salvation in Israel," the most attractive, because that there the glory of Christ is revealed in this one Divine relation.
We may now clearly perceive what will hereafter constitute the glory or the shame of Methodism. The central article of her creed is the great central truth of the gospel, to wit: full and free redemption in Jesus Christ. In the holding and advocacy of that truth, her ministry and membership glory before the world. In her early founders and favorite memoirs, Christ and the promises of His grace are fully and distinctly revealed to all her membership and to all the world as "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." Now, if this denomination shall remain true to her Heaven-descended mission, by continuing to hold and advocate this great truth, and by a living faith shall exemplify its all-purifying influence both before the Church and the world, this will be "her wisdom and her understanding," in the judgment of all nations, who shall hear of this great salvation. But if she should renounce faith in this great truth, or cease to advocate it, and above all, should hold it as a dead faith, instead of an all-vitalizing power, this would be her shame before God and the world. When in all the churches, in the sense explained, "there shall be a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness" then is the millennium near, even at the door.