WATER OF THE BIBLE
Water is the means of motion to all the materials of the earth, and the medium of communication between the air and the earth. It partakes of the nature of both; on the one hand being readily resolvable into oxygen and hydrogen, and also mingling with the air in its own aerial form of vapor, and on the other, having the weight and substantial character of a mineral, and in the form of ice, some of the hardness of the rocks. It is the privilege of water to give motion to the materials which plants desire for food. The offerings of the earth cannot be absorbed by the roots except in solution; the water, therefore, introduces them through the spongy doors, and conducts them up the staircase of wood to the leaves. In the leaves it receives also the nutritive portions of the atmosphere admitted through their little windows, and holds all subject to the action of the sunshine, and of the vital forces of the plant. When thoroughly prepared, it bears the digested food to the fruit and the wood for their increase.
The same excellent office it performs in the economy of the animal kingdom: it gives mobility, through arteries and veins and all proper tissues, to the various materials which nourish the body and compose its secretions and excretions. Abstract it from any part, and that part becomes dead as a chip; diminish it in any considerable degree throughout the body, and the sluggish fluids refuse to respond to the vital impulses of the spirit; so that the spirit must needs separate itself from them and cast them off.
The bountifulness of the supply of water and the perfection of the means provided for its distribution show its importance in the eyes of Him who provides it. Everywhere it drops from the clouds—originally, no doubt, the whole descended from the watery atmosphere—and, after supplying the immediate wants of every living thing, and filling the earth and every reservoir and crevice that can hold it, it runs merrily off in brooks and rivers, giving motion now tomills and logs and boats, and finally mingles with the sea. Nor does it there rest in idleness, but enters the great system of ocean currents, which cool the tropics, extend the habitable zones to the north and the south, and undoubtedly contribute much, in ways that are still obscure, to the healthfulness of the earth for human habitation. In the ocean, too, it bears up the ships, and serves as a means of communication among all the countries of the earth. Invited from the ocean by the air and sunshine, it enters upon a new sphere of usefulness. In the very act of expanding into vapor, it absorbs the excessive heat of the air, which it is ready at any moment to restore, if desired, assuming again for itself the form of dew or frost, rain, snow, or hail. Besides equalizing the temperature of the air, it softens its otherwise too drying contact with plants and animals, and combining with its nutritive materials, accommodates them to the uses of life. At the same time it deepens the blue of the sky, renders the air clearer, and holds the impurities in readiness to be carried off by the rain.
It is a little difficult to put one’s finger upon the spiritual correlative of this admirable substance, and hold it for examination, on account of its transparency and mobility. But if we were consuming with fever and thirst, we should be likely to recognize the natural element which we need. Suppose, then, that we are burning with spiritual fever, our affections are excited by the apprehension of a great injury or misfortune, we are restless, eager, and feverish with anxiety. A friend comes in, cool and quiet, brings out some hopeful points in the situation, shows what is unreasonable in our feelings, and presents clearly the right and practicable thing to do. If we are sane, the restless burning will be quieted, and we shall set about what it is possible for us to do, in a healthy manner. Possibly our friend’s practical advice is spiritual water; at any rate, a liberal application of such common sense to unwise zeal is familiarly called “pouring cold water” over it. In this case the spiritual element employed is truth which discriminates between good and evil, between the practicable and the impracticable, and sets the thoughts running in useful channels. The common expression, “thirst for knowledge,” as applied to spiritual thirst, so far appears to be justified, with the qualification that this particular kind of knowledge is understood. Let us see whether this will answer to the other uses and conditions of water, or what modification of our definition, if any, is required.
And first, if it be true spiritual water, it is not only useful in feverish states, but is a daily necessity to the life of the mind. The food of the mind is knowledge of good and pleasant things, and of all things that increase its affection and desire. When the mind is nourished by such food, and good desires are strong in it, it inquiresimmediately what it is right and practicable for it to do. The knowledge it already has is good and pleasant, but it cannot live from it, nor even take it into active consideration, and so assimilate it, till a knowledge of what is practicable and right sets it flowing. The same spiritual element seems here to meet the requirement.
But food must be combined with water, that it may be tasted and received at all, not only that it may circulate through the body. Perfectly dry food on a dry tongue has no taste and cannot be swallowed. And so the knowledge of good things, which is food to the mind, cannot be received till it is brought into some sort of relation to us; if perfectly dry and uninteresting to us, we reject it. And it is brought into relation to us by a knowledge of what is universally right and useful, which is like water drunk with it; or, better still, by a knowledge of what is right and useful to us, which mingles with the food, and moistens it as with our own saliva. This brings out the real quality of the seeming good in its relation to us, and we know whether or not it is agreeable to our life.
Another important use of water, very different apparently, and yet performed by its power of giving mobility, is in washing. The soiling matter, which in its dry state clings to the garments or the skin, is separated by water, which penetrates between the filth and the organized substance, gives wheels to the loosened particles, and trundles them off. Spiritual defilement, we are taught, is from thinking and doing evil—from “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” And when the spirit is defiled by thinking these, or by affection for them, the means of cleansing is manifestly the truth which shows these things to be hurtful and wrong. Such truth, if fairly applied, separates the particles from the mind, and carries them off.
It is because this practical repentance is spiritual washing that baptism, which represents it, is the appointed sign of introduction into the Church. Rightly received, it is an expression of desire and resolve to purify the life according to the truth into which one is baptized; and therefore it admits the recipient to the society of men and angels who are in the same effort, and entitles him to their assistance. The same is signified by the entrance to the Land of Canaan through the River Jordan, and also by John’s baptizing in the Jordan. And, for a similar reason, washings of the body and the clothes were a prominent part of the Jewish ceremonial. But this that we are now speaking of is knowledge of hurtfulness and wrong, and we were before considering the knowledge of what is useful and right, which appears to be a different thing. The difference, however, is only in appearance; for a knowledge of what is right gives the means of recognizing what is not right, and of judging it justly according to its opposition to the right. The truth which teaches what is useful to be done shows also what is to be shunned. Thus the difference is not in the truth, but in the application of it.
In the Apocalypse John says, “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.” By this pure river, Swedenborg tells us, is meant “the Apocalypse now opened and explained as to its spiritual sense, where Divine truths are revealed in abundance from the Lord, for those who will be in His New Church, which is the New Jerusalem.”
In the Apocalypse are now laid open the evils and falsities of the Church, which must be shunned and held in aversion, and the goods and truths of the Church which must be done, especially concerning the Lord, and concerning eterWATER 203 nal life from Him, which are meant in particular by the pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Apocalypse Revealed #932)
Another difficulty which may appear serious is that we seem to be confounding right and wrong with practicability or expediency; whereas these seem to be quite distinct, since a given course of conduct may be entirely practicable, but wholly wrong. But it must be remembered that water is not in itself fixed and rigid like iron and stone, but yields and adapts itself to things which are fixed. Neither is it exclusive in its associations; it laves, with equal readiness, golden quartz and the slime of the docks, and ministers alike to the olive tree and the humblest moss. Spiritual water, likewise, is neither law nor fact, but the truth of life under all the circumstances of any case. We call that “practicable” which considers the external circumstances, and that “right” which considers the Divine laws. Spiritual water considers either, or both, when both enter into the case. It teaches a man how to repent of his sins, and to do his duties to God and his fellowmen; it teaches him also how to build his house under the conditions of the laws of health, and how to conduct his business under the laws of economy and honesty. It teaches the little bird how to protect her featherless young from the storm; it leads the wild goat to conceal her kids among the mountain crags, and the lioness to make her den in the thickets; it guides the salmon, in breeding time, up the rivers, and shows the butterflies where their offspring will find suitable food; it causes the flowers to expand their delicate petals to the sunlight, teaching some to fold them up again at the approach of cold or wet. It is just as essential to Nature in carrying out her ideas as it is to man. Solid fact and fixed law we shall find in the rocks and metals; it is not these. It is truth which, adapting itself to every variety of circumstances, shows what can be done in those circumstances, under the impulse of a given desire. It does not alter the nature of the truth, that animals obey it “instinctively,” and plants perhaps “mechanically,” and man conscientiously and thoughtfully; it is the same natural truth of life to all, showing what is wise or unwise, right or wrong, in their respective situations.
Almost colorless itself, it appears everywhere in the colors of the subjects to which it is applied. In general forms of knowledge of life, it takes the color of our mental skies, reflecting the clear blue of Infinite Intelligence, or the dullness of human obscurity; in relation to particular men or masses of men, it takes their colors, and is formed by their circumstances; regarded as the truth of Nature, we see it in all the bright colors of natural life. In Nature, it is the wisdom of Nature; in affairs of the world it is practical wisdom; in moral affairs it is the truth of right and wrong; in history it is the wisdom of experience; in Scripture it is the wisdom of revelation. No useful life is possible without it. It enters into every development of intelligence, every theory, every plan of life. It is the living part of our knowledge of history and of natural history, of the works of God and the works of men. The waters are as important and abundant in our mental world as in the physical; and we shall find them subject to corresponding influences, appearing in corresponding forms, and doing corresponding uses in every particular.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875