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Words: John Willard Peterson (b. Nov. 1, 1921; d. Sept. 20, 2006)
Music: John Willard Peterson
Note: John Peterson was a prolific and influential gospel song writer, during the latter half of the twentieth century, and on into the twenty-first. He not only produced books of songs for church congregations, but choral works as well. The present song was published in 1950.
Conflicts in other parts of the world have driven multitudes from their homes into crowded and verminous refugee camps. We see these tragedies played out in the news. Makeshift shelters, overcrowded and unsanitary communities, filled with worried, fearful people. One of their greatest needs is a continuing supply of clean water.
We live on a watery planet. Nearly three-quarters of the earth is covered with it. Yet in a given location, drinkable water may be in short supply. Stagnant, stinking ponds there may be, brackish water, fetid swamps, foul pools polluted by human or animal waste, or poisoned by industrial chemicals, all will be consumed by human beings at great peril.
Fresh, clean water–the Bible has a term for it, used a number of times. It’s called “living water.” The phrase suggests both movement and superior quality. Living water comes from flowing streams and spring-fed pools (also called “running water,” Gen. 26:19). It is fresh and sparkling, refreshing and life sustaining. And since it is flowing, there is also the promise of continuance and abundance, providing all the water that anyone could need.
When the prophet Zechariah speaks of the second coming of Christ (Zech. 14:3-4), he describes a dramatic change in the topography of the land of Israel: “In that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur” (vs. 8).
Several times the Bible uses our phrase as poetic imagery. In the Song of Solomon, the bridegroom speaks of his beloved as “a well of living waters” (S.S. 4:15). And in Jeremiah the Lord uses the phrase of Himself, saying:
“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns–broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).
Many in Israel had turned away from the living Lord to go after false gods. They had forsaken the One who is the source of life, and embraced impotent, lifeless idols.
In the Gospel of John, the work of the Spirit of God in bringing new life and salvation to the soul is described to a Samaritan woman by the Lord Jesus:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water….The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn. 4:10, 14).
Later, the Lord declared: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” And John comments, “This He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (Jn. 7:38-39).
The Samaritan woman had had five husbands, and was now living with another man (Jn. 4:18). It’s clear there was no lasting satisfaction in these relationships. She was a thirsty soul, ready to listen to the message of the gospel. And here, indeed was One who seemed to know all about her. His prophetic insight suggested to her that here might be the long expected Messiah. She went with that message to others (vs. 29). They came to Jesus too, and many believed on Him (vs. 39, 42).
Published over sixty years ago, Peterson’s gospel song Springs of Living Water celebrates the revitalizing work of God in the soul. It echoes the words of Christ to the woman of Samaria, that He could give her “living water, and she would “never thirst.”The life-changing message of the gospel has had a similar affect many times, down through the years. Dry emptiness of soul has been transformed by living water. The hymn says:
I thirsted in the barren land of sin and shame,
And nothing satisfying there I found;
But to the blessed cross of Christ one day I came,
Where springs of living water did abound.
In the words of Christ, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Those who put their faith in Him are reborn and renewed by the Spirit, who comes like refreshing waters to the soul.
1) What are some things about pure, fresh water that parallel the spiritual life given by the Spirit of God to the seeking sinner?
2) Jeremiah speaks of “broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13). They seem to hold water for awhile, but it soon seeps away. What are some things in which the world seeks, but fails to find, true and lasting satisfaction?