by C. H. Spurgeon
From the August 1865 Sword and Trowel
HE SHARP SHRILL CRY of Acqua! Acqua! constantly pierces the ear of the wanderer in Venice and other towns of sultry Italy. There is the man who thus invites your attention. Look at him. On his back he bears a burden of water, and in his hand a rack of bottles containing essences to flavor the draught if needed, and glasses to hold the cooling liquid. In the streets of London he would find but little patronage, but where fountains are few and the days are hot as an oven, he earns a livelihood and supplies a public need. The present specimen of water dealers is a poor old man bent sideways, by the weight of his daily burden. He is worn out in all but his voice, which is truly startling in its sharpness and distinctness. At our call he stops immediately, glad to drop his burden on the ground, and smiling in prospect of a customer. He washes out a glass for us, fills it with sparkling water, offers us the tincture which we abhor, puts it back into the rack again when we shake our head, receives half-a-dozen sold with manifest gratitude, and trudges away across the square, crying still, "Acqua, Acqua." That cry, shrill as it is, has sounded sweetly in the ears of many a thirsty soul, and will for ages yet to come, if throats and thirst survive so long. How forcibly it calls to our mind the Savior's favorite imagery, in which he compares the grace which he bestows on all who diligently seek it, to "living water;" and how much that old man is like the faithful preacher of the word, who, having filled his vessel at the well, wears himself out by continually bearing the burden of the Lord, and crying "Water, Water!" amid crowds of sinners, who must drink or die. Instead of the poor Italian water-bearer, we see before us the man of God, whose voice is heard in the chief places of concourse, proclaiming the divine invitation, "He, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" until he grows grey in the service, and men say "Surely those aged limbs have need of rest"; yet rest he courts not, but pursues his task of mercy; never laying down his charge till he lays down his body, and never ceasing to work until he ceases to live.
At the door of Saint Mark's Cathedral, we bought a glass of what should have been the pure element, but when we began to drink, a pungent flavor of something which had previously been in the glass, made us leave the rest of our purchase, thirsty though we were. The water was good enough, but the vessel which held it imparted an evil taste to it; the like has often happened in the ministry, the gospel preached has been true and divine, but the unhallowed savour of an inconsistent life, or a bitter disposition, has marred the sweetness of the word. May all of us by whom the Lord hands out the water of life, see that we are clean and pure in conversation; vessels fit for the Master's use. Men who are very thirsty will drink out of any cup, however dirty; but no conceivable advantage can arise from filth, and hundreds will turn away from the water because of it, and thus a very faulty ministry may be useful because of the truth contained in it, but its sinfulness can do no good, and may serve as an excuse to the ungodly for refusing the gospel of Christ.
In the square of the Doge's Palace are two wells, from which the sellers of water obtain their stock-in-trade, but we can hardly compare either of them with the overflowing spring from which the preacher of righteousness draws his supplies. One of the wells is filled artificially and is not much used for drinking, since the coldness and freshness of water springing naturally from earth's deep fountains is lacking. It is to be feared that many preachers depend for their matter upon theological systems, books and mere learning, and hence their teaching is devoid of the living power and refreshing influence which is found in communion with "the spring of all our joys." The other well yields most delicious water, but its flow is scanty. In the morning it is full, but a crowd of eager persons drain it to the bottom, and during the day as it rises by driblets, every drop is contended for and borne away, long before there is enough below to fill a bucket. In its excellence, continuance and naturalness, this well might be a fair picture of the grace of our Lord Jesus, but it fails to set him forth from its poverty of supply. He has a redundance, an overflow, an infinite fullness, and there is no possibility of his being exhausted by the draughts made upon him, even though ten thousand times ten thousand should come with a thirst as deep as the abyss. We could not help saying "Spring up, O well," as we looked over the margin covered with copper, into which, strings and ropescontinually used by the waiting manyhad worn deep channels. Very little of the coveted liquid was brought up each time, but the people were patient, and their tin vessels went up and down as fast as there was a cupful to be had. O that men were half as diligent in securing the precious gifts of the Spirit, which are priceless beyond compare. Alas, how few have David's thirst for the well of Bethlehem. The cans sent down had very broad sides, so that they dropped down flat upon the bottom of the well, and were drawn up less than half full; large vessels would have been useless, and so, indeed, would small ones, if they had not been made to lie quite down upon their sides, along what we must call the floor of the well, and had they have been erect they would not have received a drop. Humility is always a profitable grace; pride is always as useless as it is foolish. Only by bowing our minds to the utmost before the Lord, can we expect to receive his mercy, for he promises grace unto the humble in that same verse which foretels his resistance of the proud. If there be grace anywhere, contrite hearts will get it. The lower we can fall, the sooner will the springing water of grace reach us, and the more completely shall we be filled with it.
It would be a great misfortune for those who buy their water in the streets, if the itinerant vendors should begin to fill their casks and bottles from muddy streams. At Botzen, in the Tyrol, we saw many fountains running with a liquid of a very brown color; and a seller of such stuff might cry "Acqua" very long and very loudly before we should partake of his dainties. Sundry divines in our age have become weary of the old-fashioned well of which our fathers drank, and would fain have us go to their Abana and Pharpar, but we are still firm in the belief that the water from the rock has no rival, and we shall not, we hope, forsake it for any other. May the Lord send to our happy land more simple gospel, more Christ-exalting doctrine, more free-grace teaching, more distinct testimony to atoning blood and eternal love. In most of the Swiss villages there are streaming fountains by the dozen, and the pure liquid is to be had at every corner; may we yet see the Word of God as abundantly distributed in every town, village, and hamlet in England. Meanwhile, having recorded the prayer, we resolve by divine grace, to cry more loudly than ever, "Acqua! Acqua!"