(Revised Text) "And he showed me a river of water of life clear as crystal, coming forth out of the throne of God and the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it (the city) and on either side of the river, tree of life producing twelve fruits (or kinds of fruit), according to each month yielding its fruit, and the leaves of the tree unto healing of the nations. And every curse (or accursed thing), shall not be anymore; and the Throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face, and the name of him (shall be) upon their foreheads; and night shall not be anymore, and they shall not have need of lamp and light, because the Lord God shall shine upon them, and they shall reign to the ages of the ages."
The Apostle here continues his description of the New Jerusalem, and for this reason these verses should not have been separated from the section which precedes them. They relate to the same subject, and have nothing to mark them from what has gone before, except that they refer more to the interior of the heavenly city. The description throughout is rather external than internal. John saw from the outside, and from a distance; and his account is necessarily more occupied with what the city is to those who contemplate it from without, than with what it is in itself or to those who have their homes in its "many mansions." The reason may be that it is not possible for us to form right conceptions of things so much above and beyond all present experiences. When Paul recovered from his trance-vision of Paradise, and the third heaven, he said that it was not permitted him to tell the transcendent things which he saw and heard. And so John is not brought to such a view of the sublime palace of the saints as to tell us all about its internal economy. Yet, what was shown him, as narrated in these verses, relate more to the inside, than what we had before us a week ago. To these more inner particulars, then, let us direct our thoughts, humbly looking to God to aid us to form right impressions of his glorious revelations.
It is due to remark that we here have the final touches in the picture of the eternal future. These verses give us the furthest and fullest outlook into the everlasting economies. Precious, therefore, should it be to us. With what deep and anxious attention should we dwell on every intimation, and cherish every image! Even when about to leave off contemplating some noted earthly picture, we always turn to take a last impression to carry with us as we depart. How much rather, then, should we incline our energies to get a clear idea of these richest and fullest delineations of that ultimate home to which we aspire, beyond which there is no further knowledge to be had until we come to take up our everlasting residence there!
Very noteworthy also is it that these last glimpses of a finished Redemption end up with the same images with which the first chapter of human history begun. All worlds move in circles; and the grand march of God's providence with man moves in one immense round. It starts with Paradise, and thence moves out through strange and untried paths, until it has fulfilled its grand revolution by coming back to the point from which it started, not indeed to repeat itself, but thenceforward to rest forever in the results of that wonderful experiment. Genesis is the Book of beginnings; the Revelation is the Book of the endings of what was then begun; and the last laps back again upon the first, and welds the two ends of the history into the golden ring of eternity. There was a time of innocence, and then came a long and dreary time of the absence of innocence; and here we are shown the time of innocence returned, to depart no more. Nor is it without the most cheering significance, that in the account of the final consummation we again come upon a group of objects answering to the most conspicuous and fondly remembered in all the bright story of the original opening of the world.
I. The Apostle begins by telling us of a wonderful River.
One of the gladdest things on earth is water. There is nothing in all the world so precious to the eye and imagination of the inhabitant of the dry, burning and thirsty East, as a plentiful supply of bright, pure, and living water. Paradise itself was not complete without it. Hence, "a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted and became into four heads" (Genesis 2:10), rolling their bright currents over golden sands and sparkling gems (Genesis 2:10-12), as if meant to water and gladden all the earth. "A city without water would be a most disconsolate and unpleasant thing; therefore we see cities at the greatest pains to provide themselves with water, and those are reckoned the best which are the most happily watered. It is one of the great excellencies of Ezekiel's city, that it has a river ever deepening as it flows" (Ezekiel 47:3). And so the New Jerusalem is not without its plentiful supply of living waters. Of the angel who came to show him this great metropolis of the saints, John says: "And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, coming forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb."
With whatever tenacity the interpreters of this Book cling to the notion that waters, in prophetic language, always mean peoples, they give it up when it comes to this river. Peoples do not issue from the throne of God. But what to make of this water they hardly know. Some make it Baptism. Some make it saving knowledge, flowing out from God over all the habitable world. Some make it the grace of God through the preaching of Christ crucified. Some make it the giving of peace to the perturbed nations. Some make it "the renewing and sanctifying influences by which the nations are to be imbued with spiritual life." Some make it a mere Oriental image of abounding happiness and plenty. And many who even see in the description a picture of Paradise regained, are still so fettered down to the present world, that they cannot get on with it above or beyond what is purely earthy. Why cannot people see and read that it does not belong to the earth at all, nor to any earthly people, or any earthly good.
There is not a word said to show that these waters in this particular form ever touch the earth, or any dwellers on the earth. The river is a heavenly river, and belongs to a heavenly city, and is for the use and joy of a heavenly people. Its waters are literal waters, of a nature and quality answering to that of the golden city to which they belong. Man on earth never knew such waters, as people on earth never knew such a city; but the city is a sublime reality-the home and residence of the Lamb and his glorious Bride-and these waters are a corresponding reality. Of old, the Psalmist sung, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High" (Psalms 46:4),"the river of God's pleasures," where they that put their trust under the shadow of his wings shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of his dwelling-place, even at the headspring of life, amid visions of light in the pavilion of his glory (Psalms 36:7-9). Heaven is not a place of dust and drought. It has its glad water-spring and ever-flowing river, issuing direct from the eternal throne, whose crystal clearness cannot be defiled. There flow the immortal waters, for the joy of glorified natures, bright with the light of God, and filling all with life-cheer as immortal as themselves.
These waters are called "water of life coming forth out of the throne." They are the issuing life of the throne, as the city itself is the embodiment of God's glory. The throne is the throne of the Lamb, in whom is the eternal Godhead. The Father reigns in and through the Son, and this is the reviving and all-animating life and spirit of all this embodiment of Deity in that sublime city. It is the Holy Spirit for that celestial tabernacle, as God and the Lamb are the Temple of it. It is the divine emanation from the Father and the Son which fills and cheers and forever rejoices the dwellers in that place. These waters also come to the inhabitants of the earth, and refresh and bless them too, as these celestial king-priests have to do with the people of the earth; but they reach the earthly population in other forms, and not in the form of this voluminous river. In this form they belong to the Holy City alone.
Only these saints in glory come to the throne, and share its life and administration, and for them alone is the crystal river which issues from it. It is the Spirit of glory which they drink and embody; and it is for their pleasure and blessedness, as to no other class of the human family. Yet we are not without something of those waters in the saving administrations of the Holy Spirit, even now, and the dwellers in the New Earth shall have more of them than we have, but neither now nor then can those living in the flesh have them in anything of the unmingled purity, heavenliness, and glorious fullness with which they flow forever in the New Jerusalem. In the first Eden, "there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground" (Genesis 2:6.) There was a watering through an earthly medium. And in some such mediate way these waters come to the Church now, and will come still more plenteously to the nations when this Great City comes to its place. But in the Holy City they roll as a river, through no secondary medium, and give forth their exhaustless blessedness direct from the throne of God and the Lamb.
The Jordan is often spoken of as a sacred river, and many sacred memories connect with it. Palestine's penitent thousands there flocked to the wild Baptizer, and sought in that stream to wash away their sins. Thither the Saviour himself came, to receive upon his spotless person those same consecrating waters. But Jordan is the symbol of earthly, not heavenly life. Bright and beautiful in its cradle, it laughs away its merry morning amid the flowery fields of Huleh, then plunges with the recklessness of youth into the tangled breaks and muddy marshes of Merom; and thence it issues full-grown, like earnest manhood with its noisy bustle, dashing along until it quiets into a picture of life's sober mid-day in the placid Lake of Genesaret. Thence its course is down, down, like the declivities of age, sinking lower and lower amid doublings and windings innumerable, until it finally reaches the sea of death, where there is no remedy but to breathe itself out upon the thin air, and vanish in the clouds. Like human life, it is mostly a turbid and clouded stream. This, however, is a different river, and betokens a very different life. It rises from no dark caves of earth. It does not grow from additions from without. It has no windings, no stagnations, no obstructions, no clouds, no muddiness, no rising and falling, no sea of death, no precipitations of earthiness, no evaporations to deadly asphalt and salt. The life it symbolizes, and is, and gives, is divine life, the life of the throne of God and of the Lamb, the life that rolls forth in highest fullness from its living source, pellucid as the city which it supplies, and as unfailing and all-gladdening as the Spirit of holiness itself. O the blessedness of the eyes that see and the people who enjoy this river of God-these crystal waters of eternal life.
II. In the next place the Apostle tells us of a wonderful Tree.
What is more beautiful than trees? What a charm they add to our world! What a joy they are to the monotony of a city! How did the fancy of the Greek poets revel in the hanging gardens and artificial forest scenery with which the king of Babylon adorned his imperial city to gratify his Median queen! There trees twelve feet in circumference, fifty feet in height, grew on mounds of masonry, nodding like woods on their mountains, and still defying the wastes of time in the days of Quintus Curtius. The first Eden had its glad and glorious trees, "the tree of life also in the midst of the garden" (Genesis 2:9). It was not one individual tree, but a particular tree as to its kind, as we speak of "the apple" or "the oak," denoting a species of which there are many specimens. It has the name of the Tree of Life, because man in innocence was to keep and preserve his life by eating of its fruits. It was the symbol and support of eternal life, both for body and for soul. And it is one of the special joys and provisions of the New Jerusalem that it is supplied with this same tree, in the same multitudinous sense, fulfilling something of the same offices. "In the midst of the street of the city, and on either side of the river," John saw "the Tree of Life (in numerous specimens) producing twelve fruits (or kinds of fruit), according to each month yielding its fruit; and the leaves of the tree unto the healing of the nations."
In Ezekiel's visions of the renewed earthly Jerusalem, a similar presentation is made. There a river issues from the sanctuary and runs down into the sea, of which the angel said, "By the river, upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months; because their waters issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine" (Ezekiel 47:12). But that relates to an order of things on earth, which comes into being during the thousand years. What John describes is the order of things in the heavenly Jerusalem, which comes into existence only after the thousand years have passed away. But the one has its model in the other, the earthly is a picture of the heavenly. The trees in both cases line the river; but in the earthly order they are outside of the city; and though bread trees, they are not the Tree of Life. The heavenly River issues not from the sanctuary but from the