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The Sin-Cleansing Fountain

by Rev. David Blunt

Published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 30, April-June 2003.

"In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. "
– Proverbs 19:2.

IT has been said that a true prophet is a man with his feet on the ground and his head in the clouds. That is, he is someone who is both a man of the people and a man of God, declaring to his fellowsinners the things that belong to their peace. Such was Zechariah who, with another prophet, Haggai, brought the word of the Lord to the Jews in Judah early in the reign of Darius king of Persia, encouraging them to begin the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 5:1-2). Thirty years later he is near the end of his course in this world. What the angel showed him in vision long ago he can now see with his own eyes. The temple, God's holy and beautiful house, has been completed by a willing people, directed jointly by Zerubbabel and Joshua their civil and religious leaders, and is the centre of Israel's worship once again.

God had shown Zechariah something far more wonderful than a building though. After all, what can a building, even the most ornate and expensive, accomplish for needy sinners? The temple had been ruined before and would be torn down again. Like all true Jews, those whose circumcision is of the heart, the prophet's hopes did not rest in a ritual, in a multitude of sacrifices, in the blood of bulls and goats. The eyes of his understanding had been opened and he gazed down through the centuries to a different temple, one not made with human hands. A temple designed for all the true worshippers who have ever lived. A temple that men would seek to destroy but would not be able.

What did Zechariah see in his vision? What do all believers see by faith, such that they cry out and say, "The Lord is my God" (Zech.13:9)? Evidently something that stirs the heart, excites the affections and moves the will to make free choice of the living and true God as one's portion. That is not the normal choice of men and women; our desire is not towards Him. In our natural state sin is our choice and we spend all our days fleeing from the God with whom we have to do, just as Adam and Eve in their folly sought to hide themselves from His holy presence (Gen.3:8). In turning his face from his Maker man brought condemnation upon himself and began to reflect evil rather than the glory of God. Since the fall, "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." (Rom.3:11). Yet the Psalmist speaks of those who do draw near to God: "unto thee shall all flesh come" and "we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple" (Psa.65:2,4). How great a change then occurs in these! What is the explanation? "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts" (v.4). Electing and enabling grace! Grace which reconciles sinners to God by removing the source of their enmity: "as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away" (v.3).

In the tabernacle we are told there was a brazen laver or washing-basin; it stood between the tabernacle door and the altar and contained water in which the priests were to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifice (Exod.30:18-20). Through external cleansing they were rendered ceremonially clean and fit for the service of the earthly sanctuary; without this they were threatened with death (v.21). This was a standing ordinance and so when the temple was first constructed the Lord directed Solomon to cast another laver for the same purpose, called a 'sea' on account of its much greater size. It is said to have been 15 feet in diameter and 71/2 feet deep and it rested upon twelve brazen oxen, looking outward to each corner of the world (2Chron.4:1-4). Destroyed by the Assyrians (2Kings 25:13) this brass vessel would have been remade as part of the furniture of the second temple of Zechariah's day. Indeed there is evidence from the list of the priests who returned to Jerusalem from the captivity in Babylon that Zechariah was himself a priest as well as a prophet (Neh.12:1,4,16).

For the people themselves there were "divers washings" or 'baptisms' prescribed under the Old Testament (Heb.9:10). Again these were for the purifying of the flesh only, dealing merely with ceremonial sin. For instance, a man who had contact with death would be unable to gather with the congregation of the Lord's people until the "water of separation" had been sprinkled upon him to take away his defilement (Num.19:16-20). The prophet saw beyond these symbols of his own day to the blessed reality. He saw a fountain in which all men need to wash if they would escape everlasting death. May the Lord guide us as we look more closely at this wonderful provision of His grace.

The Opening of the Fountain

"In that day there shall be a fountain opened..."

This phrase is found so often in the prophets. Generally it looks ahead to the time of Messiah's coming and so it is here. Zechariah describes something of that great event in those beautiful words of chapter 9 verse 9: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." Here the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is foretold. And what did the Jews do with their King? They had Him crucified, as the prophet also foresaw; "and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (12:10). Jehovah pierced by the people: how could this be?

Here is the sublime mystery of Jesus Christ, that He is God manifest in the flesh. How else could the Most High refer to Him as His "fellow" or equal? "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd..." (13:7). In the foreground are wicked men with their wicked hands nailing the Lord of glory to a tree in their ignorance. In the background Zechariah sees the righteous hand of an all-holy God wielding the sword of justice against His darling Son. The only begotten has assumed our nature as the Mediator, being made in the likeness of sinful flesh. He has no sins of His own and therefore justice has no natural quarrel with Him. The sword is lying in its scabbard. It has to be called upon to awake and do its deed. "Smite the shepherd"! What is happening? The Shepherd is dying instead of the sheep, bearing their sins. His holy soul is consumed by the wrath of God as He is punished in their place. His precious blood drops to the earth. It is the satisfaction of divine justice and the provision of mercy. It is the fulfilment of the whole ceremonial law, the substance replacing the shadow. In this way the fountain of our text was thrown open for a guilty world.

It is truly a fountain of life. "For with thee is the fountain of life" (Psa.36:9). The death of Christ has brought life to the world. Because He is man He could be placed under the law to keep its precepts and suffer its penalty, to provide a perfect righteousness for sinners. Because He is God His obedience in life and death has infinite value and virtue. In the Mediator Jesus Christ the Lord has opened up a channel through which His life-giving mercy and grace can flow to the guilty and condemned sons of Adam with no detriment to His strict justice, "that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom.3:26). The righteousness of Christ is life to the believer in the legal sense: "as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." (Rom.5:18). It is also the basis upon which God creates in them a new heart and a new spirit, that they should be alive unto God, walking in newness of life, rejoicing in His salvation. There is refreshment and reviving for the weary, thirsty soul, as well as cleansing. "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" (Psa.46:4). The electing love of the Father, the redeeming blood of the Son, the sanctifying power of the Spirit, these "streams" flowing together out of the heart of God and into the hearts of His own bring delight to the Lord's people as they come to know something of them. Truly Jesus could say, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).

We must not think that because the fountain was not opened on earth nor redemption actually accomplished until Christ had come in the flesh that there was no salvation for sinners until then. Was there not a church in the Old Testament (Acts 7:38)? Did not the Psalmist sing of the blessedness of him "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered...unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity" (Psa.32:1-2)? Were there not many in Israel who had "clean hands, and a pure heart" (Psa.24:4) and walked with God? The verb "opened" which is linked to the fountain is in the participle form; it represents an action or condition that is continuous and can refer to the past, present or future. Jesus Christ is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev.13:8) in the sense that the knowledge and benefits of His atoning death were certainly communicated to all the elect in the centuries before His coming, beginning with our first parents, through the many promises, types and sacrifices given by the Lord in His Word. So faithful Abraham "rejoiced to see [my] day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56) and patient Job proclaimed, "I know that my redeemer liveth" (Job 19:25).

Jesus Christ as Saviour is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever" (Heb.13:8). This fountain was opened in God's account in eternity and will never be sealed again: it shall never run dry however long time shall last.

The Purpose of the Fountain

"...for sin and for uncleanness"

How can this fountain avail for us? What is our greatest need before God? The prophet lays his finger upon our plight. It is twofold. We have inherited moral guilt and moral pollution. We have a bad record and a bad heart. Notice that he employs two distinct words here. The first, "sin", is an interesting word. It is used in Judges 20:16, where the context is the sad conflict between the children of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. Out of Benjamin there were selected for the battle 700 men with a particular skill: "every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss." It is also used in Proverbs 19:2 where we are warned; "he that hasteth with his feet sinneth." To sin then is to miss the mark or to make a false step. It is a failure to come up to the standard that God has set for us in His holy law, summarised in the Ten Commandments. It is to contract guilt before God and to render ourselves liable to punishment. We are guilty of Adam's original sin and of the many actual sins we have ourselves added to it.

The second word used, "uncleanness", comes from a primitive root meaning to move or stray. It is most commonly translated "separation" – as in our margin. It means filthiness or impurity. Leprosy was a tragic type of this. In Israel the man who was judged by the priest to be leprous had to separate from society. "And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." (Lev.13:45-46). Leprosy is not a superficial complaint. It is an organic disease affecting the tissues and the nerves as well as the skin. Our whole natures have become corrupt through sin: "the whole head is sick, and whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores" (Isa.1:5-6).

Is there really a remedy for such a helpless and hopeless condition? Yes! By this fountain which the Lord has opened there is full pardon and cleansing. The whole of our salvation from sin is encompassed by Zechariah's description of the blessed effects of the cross of Christ. Deliverance from the penalty of sin and also from its power. In justification our legal debts are cancelled, our guilt is removed as the blood of atonement is applied to us and we rest upon Christ and His righteousness (Rom.3:25). In regeneration the reigning power of sin is broken and it shall not have dominion over us again (Rom.6:13- 14). In sanctification the pollution of sin is progressively removed (2 Cor.7:1). In glorification the very presence of sin is gone out of our hearts (Heb.12:23).

Many poor souls make the mistake of resting in the ordinance of baptism for their salvation, as though the water of the sacrament had power in and of itself to wash away sins. It is true that Jesus said that a man must be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom (John 3:5) but He was there speaking of the sanctifying effects of regeneration as the Spirit of Christ applies His atonement to sinners. It is true also that Peter exhorted his hearers at Pentecost, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), but it is repentance that is a saving grace, not baptism: these sinners were to be baptised with water, not in order to obtain the forgiveness of God but on account of the fact that they had already received it through faith in the Saviour's Name. The apostle Paul connects salvation to preaching, not to baptism, when he writes of Christ sanctifying and cleansing the church "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph.5:26).

Still others fondly imagine a cleansing from sin beyond the grave in a place called purgatory. There, they believe, souls that departed this life with debts still to pay will be purified until they are fit to enter heaven. But the Scripture knows of no such place, hovering between heaven and hell. The only purgatory revealed in the Bible is the blood of Christ, which, as John tells us, "cleanseth us from all sin" (1John 1:7). No other fountain is needed.

How much then we all need the "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit.3:5) to work in us a true faith in Jesus Christ! This alone will make us acceptable to God. What is there to keep sinners from this open fountain but their own blindness and folly?

The Beneficiaries of the Fountain

" the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem..."

The first reference of these words would seem to be to the ancient people of God, those whose kinship was with David and whose interests were bound up with the chief city of Palestine. The same expression occurs in chapter 12 verse 10 and this and the verses following indicate a reviving of religion among the Jews after the coming of their Messiah whom they would be instrumental in putting to death. Certainly there has been an ingathering of Jewish believers into the one church of Jesus Christ throughout the New Testament era, although this passage envisages something greater yet.

The important thing for us though is to learn the manner of their return to God, for this is the same for Jew and Gentile and both are in view in the prophecy. Note how it is God who takes the initiative: "I will pour...the spirit of grace and of supplications" (v.10). Here is the sovereignty of grace in action. The Holy Spirit must humble a man and set him praying for mercy if he is to be saved. Then we see the response of sinners under a gracious influence: "they shall look upon me...they shall mourn for him" (v.10). Here is that "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" which Paul testified both to Jews and Greeks (Acts 20:21). As Calvin says, "The meaning is that God would be reconciled to the Jews when they became touched with sincere sorrow, and that reconciliation would be ready for them, for the Lord would cleanse them from every defilement."

This fountain then God would have made known through the prophet's ministry to the visible church of his time, although only a number of those who belonged to the covenant people actually manifested true penitence for sin, that "godly sorrow" which "worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (2Cor.7:10). It is the same with the preaching of the gospel today. It is the church's duty since Jesus's day not only to preach the good news to those who are within the covenant but also to take it wherever God in His providence permits, and in the name of her King and Head to call upon and exhort and invite sinners everywhere to come to the open fountain and "wash away [their] sins, calling upon the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Will all believe? Will all be cleansed? Many surely will turn away, thinking that they are "just persons, which need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Others will appear to come and be cleansed by Christ, but later return to their "wallowing in the mire" (2Pet.2:22).

See how the fountain that Zechariah saw was promised for the "house" of David – those who belong to the same "family" as the godly king. When God applies His redemption to us He creates in us His own likeness. Believers are the spiritual seed of Christ, promised to Him in the covenant of redemption: "A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation." (Psa.22:30). Are we showing the family-likeness of God's own children? Do we resemble the Son of David in character? Then we have surely been washed in this fountain. Notice too that the fountain is promised to the "inhabitants" of Jerusalem. The word indicates those who dwell or abide in a place. The fountain of Christ's blood will do no good to those who are indifferent to the gospel, those who merely "pass by" from time to time. Are you without Christ? Then know that God is "the rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb.11:6) and that Jesus said that "the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt.11:12). Are you likewise determined in seeking forgiveness of sins from God? Seek Him with all your heart and the promise is that you shall find Him (Jer.29:13).

Finally a word to those who are the Lord's people. Has not the Lord pronounced His judgment upon us for our backslidings in this generation? "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." (Jer.2:13). We are so lukewarm in these dark days of declension. We have gone after other lovers and other pleasures. We need the rebuke of the apostle; "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity of God?" (Jam.4:4). Let us go once again by faith to the fountain of Christ's precious blood, praying earnestly with David, "blot out all mine iniquities" and "create in me a new heart...renew a right spirit within me" (Psa.51:9-10). A sincere repentance will bring many blessings to our souls. It will bring a felt sense of the Lord's pardon with its accompanying peace; it will enable us to walk more closely with Christ, adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things; and it will lead to a fresh endeavour to glorify God in thankfulness for His so great salvation.

May God bless His Word to each and every soul.