According to Harris, the river Ezekiel described is not a literal
river, but metaphorical.
Outlines of sermons on
the miracles and parables of the Old Testament
By W. Harris, 1878. p. 364.
I.--The healing, because living waters came from the midst of the temple.
In the midst of Eden there was a well-head of water which, after it had watered the garden of God, divided into four rivers and went forth to fertilize the whole of the surrounding country. So the Church of God does not absorb all the blessings of the Gospel within herself; the whole world is to be blest through the Church. The leaves of the tree of life which John saw by the side of the river of God were "for the healing of the nations" (Rev. xxii. 2). Hence the parting charge of our Lord, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark xvi. 15).
II.--The source of this stream of blessing--the living God.
God had returned to dwell among His people before the stream of life issued forth (chap, xliii. 7-9). The river of the Apocalyptic vision has its origin in the "throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev. xxii. 1). He only is the well of Living Water (John iv). The Eternal God is self- sustaining. His blessedness is from Himself and His store is enough to satisfy, not merely a few of His creatures, but the universe itself. His living temple can drink of "the river of His pleasures" (Psa. xxxvi. 8), and find an overflow sufficient for the needs of every sin-stricken soul. "For with Thee is the fountain of life" (Psa. xxxvi. 9).
III.--The river of life will widen in its influence, and therefore increase the blessedness of the race as it flows onward.
The longer the waters flowed, the wider and deeper the river became (verses 3-5). This is the law of a river, and therefore it is a most fit emblem of the blessed influences of God's kingdom. Beginning, as it did, with the small number of disciples whom Christ left upon the earth, it has gradually increased in its power among the nations of the world, until it has acquired the width and depth which we see to-day. And it must, from the necessity of its nature, go on to grow until the whole earth shall acknowledge the Crucified as King. "And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, .... and the Lord shall be King over all the earth" (Zech. xiv. 8, 9).
IV.--This river of living water will change the curse into a blessing.
Wherever the waters came, "they healed." The sea, of verse 8, is generally considered by commentators to be the Dead Sea, whose existence is a most vivid illustration of the death which follows sin.
When the stream of life flows into this sea of death, it, too, shall become living and life-sustaining. Its waters shall abound with fish, and its hitherto solitary shores shall be thronged with busy men. So is it with every sin-blighted soul. As the touch of God in Christ healed the bodily diseased, so the same lifegiving hand can and will heal the soul. And when the earth is filled with healed souls the curse pronounced at Eden will be no more (Rev. xxii. 3).
We learn from the whole subject,--
I.--That until God's gospel comes into contact with the soul of man it is dead. Where the river did not come, and while it did not come, there was death. Where there is nothing to refresh the earth there can be no fruitfulness nor beauty, and consequently no life. God is the life of the soul, and nothing less than the life-giving flow of His salvation into it can give it fruitfulness and beauty.
II.--It is a Divine ordinance to bless some by means of others. This law is in operation in every-day life. Those who have good in their life or circumstances which others lack are expected by man, and ordained by God, to minister the same "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter iv. 10). The Dead Sea of the human ignorance of the young is a sea into which the waters of knowledge must flow, if the coming generation is to be an improved edition of the present. But this healing water must come to them through the knowledge of others,--from minds that are filled with the waters of knowledge. Those who have riches are expected to minister to the wants of those who are in poverty. If a wealthy man does not help his poor brethren he is cursed by man and condemned by God. And it is pre-eminently the duty of those who have the riches of spiritual knowledge to be the channels of spiritual blessing and life to those who are spiritually ignorant and dead. And God has ordained that it shall be so. The church of God in the first ages possessed the living Spirit of God in the hearts of her members, and though God had ordained that Christ's kingdom should extend to all nations yet these nations could only be reached by human souls who carried within them the wells of salvation. Wherever spiritual life and health was, or is found in the world, it was first carried there by a human soul who had believed, and consequently out of whose heart had "flowed rivers of living water" (John vii. 37). And so the waters from the living temple have gone forth, and still flow forth, to heal the Dead Sea of a sin-stricken world.