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Emblems of the Word (7):

by Rev. David Blunt

An emblem is an object which symbolises something distinct from itself and yet is very suggestive of that thing. An association exists between the emblem and the reality which puts certain ideas into our minds. We use signs, badges and motifs to this purpose today. In the Bible God employs familiar objects to represent His inspired word to men: each emblem shows us vital truths concerning the word of God which make it so precious to have and so necessary to use. In this series we look at some of these emblems.

First published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue 27, July-September 2002.


WE cannot do without water. Neither can any living thing. In the beginning of the world when God created the heaven and the earth He made an abundance of water. We read that His Spirit moved "upon the face of the waters" (Gen.1:2). God divided these waters by forming the 'first heaven' or sky containing the clouds (1:6,7). The waters remaining below on the earth were then gathered into seas (1:9,10). At that time there was no rain; a mist ascended from the earth and watered the ground everywhere (2:5,6).

When God planted a garden in Eden for man to dwell in it was watered by a great river (2:10). In the garden Adam and Eve walked with God and rejoiced in their surroundings. They feasted upon the delightful fruit. Eden was a paradise for man in both the spiritual and the physical sense. After Adam sinned God pronounced the creation cursed. The beauty of the original world was marred. The former harmony was affected by disease and death. The balance of the original climate disappeared, to be replaced by fluctuations and extremes. These facts testify to man that things are not as they once were between him and His Maker.

We learn from the Bible that God in His providence may judge the sin of man by sending or withholding rain. The Lord intervened in a special way in Noah's day when He punished the wickedness of man with a flood. He broke up the fountains of the great deep and opened the windows of heaven (Gen.7:11). For forty days it rained constantly until even the mountains were covered with water. All terrestrial life outside of the ark perished (Gen.7:19-21). In Elijah's day God withheld the rain for three and a half years after wicked Ahab provoked Him to anger by his idolatry. (1Kings 16:33; 17:1; Jam.5:17). Severe drought and famine followed (1Kings 18:2).

Because we have easy access to plentiful supplies of clean water we often fail to value it as we should. This was not so in Palestine and its neighbouring countries, where the sun burns with a scorching heat for many months of the year and much of the land is desert. Nor is it so today in those parts of the world where water is still scarce. Sometimes the only source of water is a well or a pool or a stream at a great distance. Much of the day is spent in the labour of collecting water for the needs of man and beast. The word of God may be compared to this precious water.


Have we ever considered that the Bible itself is like a great river? Its source is high up in God's holy hill, in heaven where it is settled (Psa.119:89). It sprang on earth and began to flow when the Lord first revealed His will to men and then by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit committed the same to writing. One after another the different books, all running in the same direction, came together, swelling the stream. There are places where the waters are turbulent, as the law is declared and sin is exposed. There are peaceful currents too, where the wonder of salvation in Jesus Christ is described.

With its banks filled by God's revelation since our Lord came in the flesh and spoke God's last word to men, the Bible is now watering the earth as it is translated into the various languages of the different nations and distributed. In our day the gospel river is flowing far and wide throughout the wilderness of this world. The church of Christ is advancing in once dark continents through the witness of sincere, zealous believers. "The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it" (Psa.68:11).


Dry ground is barren and dead and cannot sustain any life. When the soil is moistened however it is transformed in its character. It seems to be invested with life. Seeds spring up and grow, strong plants develop and bountiful crops follow. The land has drunk in the water falling upon it and this is the happy result.

If the natural world depends upon water to make it alive and fruitful then in the spiritual realm we rely upon the word of God. "For as the rain which cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa.55:10,11).

The gospel can make the desert wastes of the sinner's heart to "blossom as the rose" (Isa.35:1). In Scripture we find water employed as an emblem both of God's precious word and of the Holy Spirit. The Bible attributes God's gracious operations upon our souls to both. It is a reminder that in salvation there is a coming together of grace and truth, of the Spirit and the Word. The Spirit is the efficient agent and the Word is the outward means He makes use of in calling sinners to Christ. The Spirit blesses the gospel to the good of our souls, just as water is to the good of our bodies. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the Lord's..." (Isa.44:3-5).

It is the plain teaching of the Bible that the whole of mankind is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph.2:1). No spiritual life can come forth from us except it first be implanted in us by God. We need to be born "of water and of the Spirit" (John 3:5). Ordinarily it is under the preaching of the gospel that God's Spirit is pleased to perform His renewing work (1Pet.1:23; Jam.1:18). As we proclaim the word of life we wait with confidence for drops of blessing to fall upon needy souls!


When any individual is burdened by sin an important question begins to occupy his mind. It is one posed in the Bible itself. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?" (Psa.119:9). We sense that we are guilty and defiled in the sight of God. But what can a sinner do? He may try mending his ways and reforming his character. He may give himself to the practice of some religion or other. But these remedies are doomed to failure. They can do nothing for the soul. The psalmist gives the true answer immediately: "by taking heed thereto according to thy word."

The religion of the New Testament is simple and spiritual, in contrast to that of the Old Testament which abounded in ritual. Many of these former ceremonies involved washing with water. In the light of God's word they instructed the people concerning their need of cleansing within. The King and Head of the church has left us with one such ordinance today. The sacrament of baptism testifies to us our need of union with Christ and partaking of His saving benefits.

It is a tragedy when people seek salvation by the water of baptism rather than by Christ! There are those who see grace in every drop of water which is sprinkled upon every infant, but in vain is a pure heart looked for from the font. The sprinkled water points us to the "blood of sprinkling" (Heb.12:24) which Jesus shed once to take away sins. That atoning blood is applied to our heart when we repent of our sins and trust in Him. Only the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit can create a clean heart within us. It is by faith that we receive Christ and His justifying righteousness. Jesus said to the disciples: "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3).

We need the pardon of our sins in justification but we also need the continual purging of our sins in sanctification. Our Lord taught the disciples this distinction on the occasion when He washed their feet, saying to Simon Peter: "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" (John 13:10). How may we grow in grace? Our Saviour gave Himself in life and death for His church, to purchase her full salvation. Now He sanctifies her "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph.5:26). If we would be holy we must give ourselves to the prayerful study and sincere practice of God's perfect law.


There are times when the rain does not come as expected. Month after month passes by and the skies remain cloudless. When there is no water for a long period then the land becomes weary and languishes. Even the most fertile land becomes unfruitful. Life begins to decay and will eventually die if there is no relief. There is a spiritual parallel to this.

God uses His word to give us new life and that new life is not content unless it is being fed continually by communion with God. Sometimes in His loving wisdom the Lord appoints a season of drought for our soul. The Lord seems far away and our spirit becomes low. But, like the psalmist, in our discontent we pant after God. "My soul thirsteth for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" (Psa.42:2). At length the Lord reveals Himself to us in the word of His grace – perhaps under a sermon. His truth falls gently upon our soul to revive us and the "streams in the south" flow again (Psa.126:4). We have experienced what Moses spoke of in his song: "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: Because I will publish the name of the Lord" (Deut.32:2,3). The same word which gave us life when we were dead is able to revive us again and again, refreshing our soul.

Have our souls been truly blessed? "As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country" (Prov.25:25). The very best news has come to us from the land that is very far off. There is a thirst in the heart of man which only God can satisfy. He sent His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for sinners. Our Saviour said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (John 7:37).

Oh, for great showers of gospel blessing to fall upon us and upon our poor land once again!