Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
“Keepers of the Springs” is remembered by many as one of the great sermons of the twentieth century. It was preached in the late 1930’s by Peter Marshall, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C., and twice appointed Chaplain of the United States Senate. The 1955 movie “A Man Called Peter” was about Peter Marshall’s life and ministry. The sermon begins with story:
Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range…High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs. He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water bubbled up through the sand and down clean and cold and pure…
The story continues with the town flourishing, as the springs became a river of life to the growing populace. Millwheels turned with its flow, fountains danced, swans swam on its surface, children played on its banks, and gardens were refreshed.
But one night the city council met and the salary paid to the town’s Keeper of the Springs was questioned. “We never see the man”, one council member complained. “A Keeper of the Springs is not necessary to our town’s work”, it was concluded. The council thus voted unanimously to dispense with the unnecessary expense of a Keeper of the Springs.
You might see where this story is going as in time the waters of the town did not seem the same. Green scum grew on the water surface, mill machinery clogged with slime, swans found another home, children stopped playing on the shores, and an epidemic ravaged the town.
The city council called an emergency meeting and acknowledged “the mistake of the dismissal of the Keeper of the Springs”…and “…begged him to return to his former joyous labor.” Soon the waters sparkled again with freshness and millwheels turned as of old. The foul stench disappeared, sickness waned, the swans returned and children were back playing on the water’s shore. The Keeper of the Springs was back doing his job.
When I first read the sermon “Keepers of the Springs” I thought of the imagery of today’s Scripture taken from the wisdom book of Proverbs: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” For the Hebrew people the heart:
…is not merely the home of the affections, but the seat of will, moral purpose…The stream parts into many heads, but has one fountain. To the Hebrew thinkers the heart was the indivisible, central unity which manifested itself in the whole of the outward life. (Alexander Maclaren, Sermons on Proverbs)
The heart is symbolic for the whole inner person (Proverbs 3:5) and is the control center of one’s life. Jesus said that all of our actions flow from “out of the heart” (Matthew 15:18-19). Thus, our Scripture text says that the heart must be carefully and closely guarded. Double locked!
The Hebrew of our text is quite emphatic: “More than all your guarding, guard the heart.” That is, more than we guard anything else in our lives, we must guard our hearts. More than we guard our money, retirement, house or jewelry, we must guard our hearts or inner lives.
That means guarding those times of prayer and daily devotions, largely hidden from others. For from our inner selves “flow the springs of life” soon known and felt ‘downstream’. No one sees or knows the times we spend or don’t spend with God, but it will be manifest to all by our words and by our actions (Mark 9:21). So more than all your guarding, guard your heart!
Let us be ‘Keepers of the Springs’!
Grace and peace,
P.S. Water from Rock’s Advent devotional “And the Word Became Flesh: Daily Reflections on the Incarnation for Advent 2015” is available now. Order copies for yourself, your family and friends, study group, Sunday School class, church, etc., by using our order form.