Rivers of Living Water

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The River and the House

We turn now to what is one of the most difficult books in the Bible, and yet to my mind one of the richest. It is the book of the prophecies of Ezekiel. Let us read, to begin with, chapter 1, verses 1, 4, 5a, 15, 16, 20, 22, 26; and then chapter 47. Note that this latter chapter follows straight on from chapter 46. The first verse of this forty-seventh chapter, "He brought me back unto the door of the house", takes us back to what has gone before as to the House; and now the writer proceeds: "...and behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward, for the forefront of the house was toward the east: and the waters came down from under, from the right side of the house, on the south of the altar." And then again you need to glance on to the rest of the chapter, and then into the last chapter, chapter 48. We shall refer to all this as we go on.

Let us now just remind ourselves of the key phrase to all our present meditations, in the Gospel by John - John 7:37: "On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying. If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified."

"Rivers of living water." In approaching the book of Ezekiel, it is necessary for us to be quite sure about one thing, namely, that the prophecies of Ezekiel really do contain a message for our own time - for us, now; not just that they contain little fragments which are interesting and can be helpful, but that there is here embodied God's message for us. Now, if it is true that Ezekiel has any present value, it can only be spiritual. There is much history here, and there is much prophecy, and prophecy was in the course of being fulfilled while Ezekiel was ministering; but it is of great importance to realise that, in any case, however these prophecies are interpreted, whether as historical, prophetical, or spiritual, the historical and the symbolical are but a temporal representation of the spiritual. That is so in any case. I am aware of the different schools of interpretation of these prophecies, and I say this with that knowledge. The spiritual is there in any case, and it is the important thing. The historical will come and pass; the prophetical may, or may not, have a literal fulfilment; but the spiritual is the eternal and the spiritual is the essential. Hence, we find in Ezekiel not just an imaginary, but a true representation of that which obtains, in principle, in a spiritual way in this dispensation. That has to be seen as we proceed, and it will not be difficult, I think, to make it quite clear.

The River Related to the Throne

Now Ezekiel said that he "saw visions of God". We ask, then, what did he see? He saw Heaven opened; through the opened Heaven he saw a throne, and above the throne the likeness of a Man upon it. That was in Heaven. Then he saw something between Heaven and earth: the medium of the administration of that throne in relation to this world, symbolized in fire, in 'living ones' (the word 'creatures' does not exist in the original), and in wheels. From that point onward, there is a long series of messages with illustrations, parables, signs, to carry them home; then a house, and a river, and the land apportioned for inheritance; and finally, a city, with the last word, "The Lord is there". Now, even with that simple, broad outline, it is not difficult for the discerning to perceive that this relates to something more than just history and temporal things. There are clearly here matters of spiritual significance.

In these studies, we are mainly concerned with the river - "rivers of living water". And yet it is impossible to take the river just by itself, for the river is related to all the rest. It is related to the throne; it is related to the house, for it comes out of it; and it is related to the land, for it waters it. So the river can only be appreciated and understood, and known in its value and meaning, as we see it related to these other things.

We shall begin, then, by contemplating the river in relation to the throne and the house. And lest you should be getting mental pictures and abstract ideas, let me remind you again of John's comment upon the words of Jesus about the "rivers of living water" - that He referred to the Holy Spirit; and it is really the Spirit about whom we are talking, though using the symbols. That comment of John brings us very near to what we have here in Ezekiel. You know that John and his Gospel take up one of the resemblances of the "living ones". The 'eagle' aspect of the Cherubim is that which John brings out. I am not pursuing that now, because we shall come on it again. My point at the moment is that John's message is closely related to what we have in Ezekiel. Here is the starting point: "This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." You have to come first of all to the Man in the throne before you can have the river. This comment of John, in which he chose the name, 'Jesus', introduces at once this inclusive and all-governing wonder and reality - the Divine idea as to man. It is a man upon the throne, or "the likeness as the appearance of a man upon it above", and John says, "Jesus was not yet glorified", choosing the title of His humanity, the manhood name of Jesus.

Which leads to this, that the Divine idea as to Man - firstly with a capital 'M', and then afterward with a small 'm' - is that through Him the Divine fulness should be poured out unto all His inheritance. Think of that! That God should have ordained to pour Himself out, in all His fulness, to His inheritance, through man! That is wonderful! If you turn to Ephesians 1:20, you find this: "...he wrought in Christ, when he... made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet" - there is your Man on the throne - "and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Now you know what is in this Ephesian letter in this connection: first, Christ on the throne; next, the house - the Church, as His Body - the one new man, the corporate man of which He is head; and then, from Him, into it and through it, His fulness, rivers of living water.

The River Related to the House

To appreciate and understand the river, we must recognize certain other things which Ezekiel brings out so clearly as to the house. For the house is bound up with the river, and the river is bound up with the house. It is very wonderful - we shall touch upon this in another connection at some other time - but if you make a sketch of this house, as Ezekiel presents it, you will have first of all the great area of the house, which is square, every side equal, and then, coming within that great area, you have the outer court of the house, and then the inner court of the house, and then the house itself in its own divisions. Now, if you take that square of the whole area, and draw diagonals from corner to corner, what will you find right in the very centre of everything, just where they intersect? You will find the altar, with the river flowing out. We will leave the altar for the moment, because that is another matter; but, as you see, the river comes right from the very centre of everything - it is central, and therefore it is related to, and reaches out to, all else. This is the Holy Spirit, working in relation to everything.

(a) The House Revealed

Now look at Ezekiel. First of all, we have the Spirit revealing the house. You know how frequently the Spirit is referred to in these prophecies: He is absolutely predominant - it is all by the Spirit: "The Spirit lifted me up...", "the Spirit took me up...", "the Spirit took me away..."; all the activity of the Spirit. First of all, then, the Spirit revealing the house.

Before the real meaning of the fulness of life can be known and entered into, or manifested and expressed, it is necessary for the House of God to be in clear view. The Holy Spirit has to do first of all with the House of God. That is what He has come for. That is the Spirit's object in this dispensation. Be careful not to be swung away from the object of this dispensation! There are all sorts of other interesting and fascinating things, about the future and other matters, which are not the present object of the Holy Spirit, and people are caught with the fascination of these side-lines and side-shows. They become occupied with them and are led right off the track of the Spirit's specific movement in this dispensation. Let it be understood that it is the Church, the House of God, which is the Spirit's object, and that we shall not come into the value and benefits of the full tide of the Spirit, unless we are in line with the Spirit's object, the House of God.

That, of course, carries much with it, but the first movement is the Spirit showing the House to the servant of God. It is a very great thing, a very important thing, a very vital thing to be able to recognize the Spirit's object in this dispensation. Everything else, as far as it can be, must come into line with that. Even in a piece of work for God, a valuable piece of work, a good piece of work, a commendable piece of work, if it becomes something in itself, in a circle of its own, unrelated to the central object, and not vitally a part of the Spirit's full intention in this dispensation, there will not be known that fulness of the Spirit that the Lord desires to be known, and those activities of the Spirit which belong to this dispensation.

(b) The House Measured

The second thing is measuring the house. What a lot of detail there is! Every smallest part is measured, and its measurement is fastened upon it. The Spirit is detailing the House of God, bringing the great conception of the House of God down to a detail. Now, it is something to get a great idea or conception or knowledge of the Church - such as the Apostle Paul had, for instance - but even Paul brings that down to details, and very small details they may seem to be. Yet, inasmuch as they are related to the House, they cannot be small. There is nothing that is 'private', there is nothing that belongs to some other realm, in the life of those who comprise the House of God. Every detail matters! Why stay and give so much time, take so much pains just to give attention to this little piece here, that little fragment there, and to measure it and put its measurement upon it? Why not comprehend it all and just say that the whole thing is so big? But the Spirit is meticulous, the Spirit is careful, the Spirit takes account of everything; He overlooks nothing. If we are careless, if we are slipshod about our relationship to the Lord's people, and to the Lord's purpose and the Lord's interests, the Holy Spirit is not. In so far as we are careless, we frustrate the Spirit, we limit the Spirit, and, because He is the Spirit of life, we do injury to our own life.

Paul, who is the great master-builder, deals with so many details, does he not, in every sphere of life - or rather, shall we say, the Spirit through Paul does so. And we must come to the Word of God; it is so important. Do read your Bible, and read it carefully! How often have I said this, that you can often see good Christian people who are obviously violating the Scriptures, in different ways. There is something that the Scripture says, and here is something that is an absolute contradiction. Why? Not because they are deliberately doing it. They have not read the Scriptures! The Holy Spirit gave the Word, and He is jealous about every bit of it. If you and I are really under the government of the Holy Spirit, we shall be checked up on details. Blessed be God, He is within us, and He is the enablement to attend to details.

(c) The House Ordered or Arranged

Next, we find the Spirit ordering the house, just saying where this belongs and what the place of that is, and what the particular function of this is. Everywhere He is defining place and function and relationships. To Him it is all one complete whole, making one Divine order. There is nothing independent, and there is nothing out of harmony; it is all one beautiful, symmetrical whole. The House of God is an order.

Now you understand why I said that introductory word. For there is no getting away from this: that, if we are going to know the fulness, as of the river, we have to come under the Holy Spirit's government for order in the House of God. And that does not mean just in meetings! We are the House of God anywhere and everywhere and all the time, and not only when we are together. From the heavenly standpoint, we are still the House of God even when we are not together, and we have to come under this order of the House of God. This cannot be too strongly emphasized, because it is a very solemn thing, with which so much is bound up in lives. It means the difference between enlargement and limitation, whether we are governed by this very orderly Holy Spirit or not. If we get out of our place, or if we do not get into our place, we are going to do terrible damage to the House of God, and we are going to upset the Holy Spirit's entire plan in our particular relationship. Let us be quite sure that we are where we are because the Holy Spirit Himself has put us there and has anointed us for that and has made us know that that is the thing for which He called us. We have not just drifted into it, wandered into it, assumed it or come into it in any other way. We know: This is where the Holy Spirit has put me, in this relationship, in this circle, in this company, in this place, and, having put me here, He has some purpose in my being here, in this place, and it is for me to know what that is and for me to keep within my measure and fulfil my function, whatever that may be.

And the functions are numerous. How many aspects there are of this house! - all quite definite, and yet all related. But it must be the appointing of the Spirit, not man's appointment. Do not let man - as man, as a part of some organization or institution - appoint you. The appointment, even though it may come through godly men, must come as from the Spirit.

(d) The House Shown or Expressed

In the fourth place, we see the Spirit commissioning and commanding: "Son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed..." (Ezek. 43:10). This is a ministry: you must have seen before you can show. But what is the best way of showing the house? Not talking about it, not thinking of it, but expressing it. What the Lord wants is a presentation of the house. This is the principle, undoubtedly - to have the house actually in expression, here and there and there, so that the people of God can see where the blessing of God is, where the river is flowing and where the life is, where there is spiritual fulness. 'Show it to the house of Israel.' There never was a time, perhaps, when there was a greater need that there should be an example of the House of God, where you see the river flowing; where it is a reality, it is true.

Now, all this is the administration of the Man and the Throne - it is the Spirit operating in relation to the glorified Man in the Throne. "The Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." We can turn that round. John was speaking in the past tense; that was then; but he could have added, 'But that is not so now: Jesus is now glorified, and the Spirit is now given.' The Man is in the Throne. God's appointed and chosen vessel or channel of pouring Himself out is that glorified Man, and all this is the Spirit's work: to administer the rights, the headship, the authority and the order of that glorified Man and of that heavenly Throne - I am only talking in 'Ephesian' terms, as perhaps you realise!

Knowing how careful one has to be in saying certain things, I am fully aware of what interpretation and construction could be put upon what I am going to say. You see, the Throne now is the Throne of a Man - THE Man. God's authority is vested in a glorified Man; Heaven's administration is through a glorified Man. That was God's conception and idea in making man - "Thou madest him to have dominion..." - and the Holy Spirit is effecting that. And therefore all this is essential to the river: that is the thing to which I want to keep so closely all the time. All this is essential to the river - the House, the heavenly government concerning the House, the Holy Spirit's sovereign authority in all matters concerning the House. All that the river means relates to the House, to the Church, to the Body of Christ. Where shall we find the sovereign rule of the Man in the glory by the Holy Spirit? If it is not in the Church, it is nowhere. It is essential for us to be on the ground of the House of God.

The Uniting Factor of the Name

Now, of course, this Church, this House of God, is not to be found here on the earth at present in a literal way, according to pattern. It is a heavenly House, it is a spiritual House. But it is a reality; it is not just an idea. When you and I take corporate ground in the Holy Spirit, even with one other believer, we have taken what we may call 'House' or 'Church' ground. When we gather together as a handful, in the Name of the Lord Jesus - not as something made or brought about by man, but in the Holy Spirit - we have taken the same ground. And that could be extended to many more things. The importance of it is this - that God recognizes such ground. "Where two or three are gathered together into my name..." - not 'have said, Let's have a meeting, let's set up a fellowship, or a church, or an assembly' - no, but "are gathered... into My name, there am I..." (Matt. 18:20). That is Church ground. The end of that is: "The Lord is there" (Ezek. 48:35); and wherever that can be said, that is the House, that is the Church. It is a spiritual thing; it is not an arranged thing, an organized thing; it is not something decided upon, something that we do; but, because we are the Lord's and we bear His Name, which has been called upon us, and because we gather together in that Name, that uniting Name which is called upon us, there He is. The Name is the great uniting factor.

There is a word about this in John 10. "He calleth his own sheep by name" (vs. 3). What name? He does not call His sheep by 'Tom' and 'Dick' and 'Harry' and 'John' and all the other names that there are; that is not what it means. "He calleth his own sheep" - not 'by their names', but "by name". What name? The Gospels had not yet brought in the full meaning; they were but parables and figures; and that is the way by which in the Gospels the great truth opening up later is introduced and signified. "The honourable name which was called upon you" (James 2:7). "Baptized into the name of Jesus" (Acts 19:5). And we are called by His Name.

I have given before the illustration of something that I saw in the East. On one occasion I was out in a barren, wild place, and I saw some shepherds leading their flocks from various directions, all towards a well; and when they arrived at the well, all the sheep and some goats with them got completely mixed up together, while the shepherds went off and had a 'pow-wow'. I thought to myself, Well, here is a mix-up: how ever are they going to cope with this, straighten all this out? When they had had their talk, the shepherds simply parted and went in different directions. One shepherd walked right away and left all his flock mixed up with the others. At a conspicuous point he turned, and started using just one call, one note - I suppose it was a name - which I could not imitate. It was just one sound, and he repeated this, and it echoed down to where the sheep were. Then I saw the flock begin to break up, divide up, separate, and all the sheep belonging to this shepherd went up there after him. He had only used one word, one name, and they knew! He called them - not by all their names - but by one name, and that name united them all, made them a collective whole with that shepherd.

Now that is the literal fulfilment of what Jesus said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). It is the Name which unites and makes one - the Name! That is 'House' ground, that is 'Church' ground. We are bound together by the Name. If we take that ground, we are in the way of the Spirit, we are in the way of life. You know the rest of that passage. "I give unto them eternal life" - it is the way of life - "and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" - it is the way of safety (vs. 28). That is all the meaning of being on what we call corporate ground. There is immense value and importance in it, both for surety and for food.

The River and Resurrection

To come back to Ezekiel, that is the way of the river. "Rivers of living water." When Jesus used those words, it was in the Temple, and it was at the Feast of Tabernacles. You know that the Feast of Tabernacles had one special feature which no other feast had. It had an eighth day; none of the other feasts had. The eighth day was the "last day, the great day of the feast" (John 7:37), and it distinguished that feast from all others. What is the eighth day? It is the Christian first day, the day of the resurrection. Eight is always the resurrection number, and the eighth day becomes the first day. Here you have the law of the octave: eight repeats one. The eighth day is the first day: it is the day of resurrection and it is the day of life, fulness of life. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who... begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 1:3,4). That is the eighth day of inheritance - the day of resurrection - the feast of Tabernacles. It is life, abundant life; it is "rivers of living water", in resurrection union with Him by faith.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.