THE DROPPING WELL OF KNARESBOROUGH BY C. H. SPURGEON.
WHAT the guide-books have to say upon that most remarkable natural curiosity, called the Dropping Well of Knaresborough, we do not know; into the geology and chemistry of the wonder we have not inquired; we’ have only looked at it with the eyes of an ordinary sightseer Of a meditative turn of mind, and have been well repaid. A huge mass of rock has fallen from the face of the cliff, and seems ready to take a still further lean into the stream beneath. A constant drip of water flows over: the’ front of this rocky fragment, whose face it polishes as smooth as marble.
The water apparently rises out of the rock itself and does not percolate from the cliff above, for between it and the rock there is a wide crack into which the visit for may easily pass. A perpetual shower of the coolest crystal descends into a little pool below, and looks as if nature had determined to outdo all artificial shower-baths with one of her own.
Depending from the rock are miscellaneous articles enduring the full force of the drip; hats, shoes, toys houses, birds, birds-nests, and other objects both elegant and uncouth, are hanging, in the midst of the rainfall; they are all enduring the process of petrifaction, which the water accomplishes for them in a few months. Drop by drop the liquid fails, and leaves a. minute deposit of stony matter every time; and thus slowly, but surely, the whole substance ‘becomes coated and covered with him, and absolutely transformed to stone. The old fable of the foes of Perseus turned into stone might have been actually accomplished here, if the hero’s enemies could have been induced to remain long enough in the, shower-bath. We have heard of a certain damsel who Wishful to be considered a fine ‘lady, and declared herself, Upon some great occasion, to have been quite putrefied with astonishment; she might here have putrefied in the most wholesome manner. A little museum in the, inn contains a special selection of petrifaction’s; these curiosities appear to command a rapid sale:, for there were none to be disposed of, and many bespoken. It will amply repay any one going north, to break his journey at York, and take a run to Knaresborough, where, in addition to this marvelous well, and the cave where Eugene Aram hid his victim, there is a view from the castle which is scarcely to be excelled in England.
If there be sermons in stones, surely there must be discourses in a stonemaking well. Lot’s wife, who. may be said to have been petrified by a saline or bituminous shower, has been a standing illustration of the sad results of looking back to the sins and follies of a condemned world; she is God’s great petrifaction, preaching ever-more a divinely eloquent sermon.
The reverse of this transformation, namely, the turning of stubborn senseless stone into sensitive and tender flesh is the Lord’s enduring miracle of grace, by which he shows at once his wisdom and his power. To make flesh into stone is but a natural process, as this dropping well testifies, but to change stone into flesh is a divine act known to none but the Holy Spirit. May every one of us know by personal experience what the transformation means!
The method of moral and spiritual petrifaction is most instructively imaged by the objects at Knaresborough. Men and women are quite as capable of petrifaction as birds’-nests and old shoes, and they petrify in very much the same manner, with no other differences than those essential distinctions which must exist between a mental and a material operation. Let the world ‘with its temptations, pleasures, and cares, represent the spring, and. the specimens’ of consciences, energies, affections, emotions, and a hundred matters petrified in it are endless, and to be met with everywhere. Everything lifeless within range feels the stone-making influence of the world. Men with consciences utterly impervious to truth, and hearts entirely unaffected by noble sentiments to of plentiful. Are, alas! all Ministers whose lifeless performances of Heaven’s work mercy prove that their souls are passionless, and hearers who hear as with “the dull, cold ear of death,” are far from rarities. The current of the customs and pursuits Of the world favors religious insensibility , and creates it on all sides. As everything beneath the dropping well feels the influence of the shower, so all men in all their faculties are more or less affected by the hardening influences of the world. Spiritual life alone effectually throws off the slimy encrustation’s of the earthy drip, but were it not for frequent removals from the evil element, life itself would be unable to bear up against it. Drip, drip, drip! the soul for ever in it, and never alone with God in prayer, would sooner or later, according to circumstances, become a melancholy proof that friendship with the world is enmity against God. Preserving; grace at frequent intervals withdraws the favorites of Heaven out of the deadly shower, and so prevents their ruin, or else Martha’s being cumbered with much serving is clear evidence that even true lovers of Jesus in their very desire to serve him may get their thoughts sadly earth-bound. The work is wry gradual but wry constant. A day’s deposit would scarcely be perceptible, and weeks would not complete the work; petrifaction is the achievement of innumerable drops following each other with unrelaxing perseverance. It could not be said of any one day’s work that it petrified, or of any particular portion of the water that it wrought the change, but the whole together, throughout a long period, combined to effect the ultimate end. No one glaring sin may be adduced against the man whose heart is hardened, there may be no special season when he became incapable of feeling; but the whole course and tenor of his life in the world, and submission to its influence, must bear the blame of rendering his brow as brass, and his heart as a flint.
At the same time the action of the world is never suspended, and all its customs, fashions, cares, and pleasures are but a continuance of the same hardening operation under varying forms. The ever-falling shower, which rustles amid the leafy groves upon the river’s brink. pours forth its descending drops in unwearied armies, each drop bearing and depositing its burden of stone, and thus unceasingly petrifying everything within its range. Stars and sun alike see the well at its work. So both by night and by day, without fail or pause, carnal associations, and earth-born attractions stultify the mind, and render it unfit for the sacred sensibilities of fellowship with God. Until we shall find the well of Knaresborough ceasing to petrify, we must not expect this present evil world to pause in its evil operations.
The bands of Orion may be loosed, and the sweet influence of the Pleiades may be suspended, but the baleful effect of the world’s evil eye can. neither change nor cease. We need to watch against the honesties and graces of the world as well as against its rogueries and vices. Its influence is evil, only evil and that continually; and it has a power to penetrate the very soul of man and turn each bowel of compassion, each nerve of holy sensibility, each muscle of heroic energy into cold, cold stone; leaving the, natural fashion and shape of manhood, but driving out from it everything warm and loveable; making the human form a sarcophagus for ‘the true man, and so bringing him back to the earth from which he came by a worse method than even death itself; and all this by degrees so slow that the victim is almost and sometimes altogether unable to perceive the change through which he is passing. When accomplished the, work is exceedingly thorough and unmistakable.
The substance is stone, clearly stone, and stone throughout, whatever it may have been befo re. We saw a raven whose glossy wings had often shone in the sunlight as he flew through the air, and there he was, a hard lump, utterly incapable of flight, although the wings were surely there, the very wings which, once could mount so readily. Alas! for the heavenward aspirations which once bid fair to elevate the youth to holiness; that earthbound money-hunter knows nothing of them, and yet he is the same man, and none of his faculties are absent. A hare which had been under the spring had become so grotesque an object that one could hardly see in it the swift-footed creature which drinks the dew. Evil are the days which bring the zealous servant of God, who once ran in his ways, to become a mere stolid official, occupying a place which he cares not to use for its true ends. Asahel was fleet as a roe, how comes he to be slower than Mephibosheth? Has the world turned the man into a statue? Has the child of Abraham been east down and deadened into a stone? All that was raven and hare, had become stone, and even so some men who once ‘possessed hopeful qualities and redeeming characteristics,’ have become all worldliness, and money-grubbing hardness, till there is not a soft place in them, nor could a soul, as large as a pin’s head, find a fleshy cavity in which to enshrine itself. It were better to grow poorer than Lazarus, and more full of sores than he, than to be the willing subject of the tyranny of worldliness. Rich, famous, learned, powerful, a man may be, but he is an object for the deepest pity, if he has sacrificed the tenderness of his conscience, and the refined sensibilities of his heart. It is death above ground; it is the curse before hell, to be reduced to a mere lump of clay, or a senseless block of stone.
This curse of death in life has fallen upon whole families; hard maxims have stagnated the blood of a race, and made a house notorious for its grim worldliness. Nabal’s heart became like a stone writing him, but he appears to have died childless; other churls have unhappily left; their like behind them, and a race of stone men has cursed generation after generation. A bird’s-nest with petrified eggs, and the mother-bird lying’ in stone upon it, was a far more pleasant sight, than a family tutored in selfishness, and educated in the unhallowed wisdom of greed.
Nor is the petrifying power of the world exercised only upon men themselves, but matters which pertain to them are subject to the same power. loves, stockings, and divers articles of apparel were shown us, no longer comfortable garments fulfilling a most useful purpose, but stone; as much stone as if they had been carved from a rock. Who has not seen petrified sermons? Hard, dry, lifeless, cold masses of doctrine cut into the orthodox shape, but utterly unfit for food for the children of God. Who has not heard petrified prayers? Mere blocks of granite in which warmth and life were the last things to be looked for. Have not gospel ordinances themselves in the land of for-realists become rather the gravestones of religious enthusiasm, than firebrands to kindle its sacred flame? Charity herself cannot deny that the world’s great stumbling-block is a lifeless church, a powerless ministry, and formal ordinances. Life and its sensibilities of the highest spiritual order, are the mysterious powers by which true religion overcomes the world; take these away and it is not enough to say that the church is injured, it is destroyed outright. A worldly Church makes sport for hell, wins scorn from the world, and is an abomination in the sight of heaven; and yet churches like individuals, may in course of time succumb to the dangerous influences of worldliness, and religion may become a mere thing of stone, stately and tasteful, fixed and conservative, accurate and permanent, but inanimate and powerless; a record of the past rather than a power for the present.
It strikes the observer as he drinks of the apparently pure water of the Dropping Well, that its actual operation is not one which would apparently have resulted from it. Your usual experience of water leads you to look for softening rather than hardening, and in the case before you this is the immediate result, and indeed, the real result too, for it is not the water which petrifies, but the substance which it holds in partial solution and deposits upon the object suspended. The water must not be blamed, it is softening enough in itself, but the foreign ingredient does the petrifying business. The world’s trials ought to soften the heart and lead to holy sensibility; and its joys should evoke the tenderness of gratitude and hallowed sensibility of love; but sin is abroad, and the world is polluted thereby, and hence its outward circumstances operate far otherwise upon us than they would have done had transgression never entered. It is not the scenery of this fair earth which is defiling, as some ultra-spiritual simpletons would have us believe; neither is there anything in a lawful calling which necessarily interferes with communion with the Lord Jesus; from man proceeds the vileness, it comes neither from full nor dale, nor streaming river, nor even from the din of machinery and the hum of crowds; moral evil is the strange substance which poisons and pollutes, else earth might be the vestibule of heaven, and the labors of time a preparation for the engagements of eternity. Our gardens are still fair as Eden, and our rivers bright as the ancient Hiddekel; the same sun shines over the selfsame mountains, and the same heavenly blue canopies the earth, but the trail of the serpent is upon all things, and this is it which the spiritual have hourly cause to dread. The roses of Paradise are still with us, but we must beware of the thorns which sin has added to them.
Among the curiosities we did not see petrified hearts, but our anatomical museums frequently contain them, and the disease of a literal hardening of the heart is by no means rare. Spiritually, the petrifying of the heart by the removal of restraining grace is a most terrible judgment from God, and is the precursor of eternal destruction. Pharaoh is the type of a class who are given up to hardness of heart; the stubborn rebellion of their life rolebodes their endurance of overwhelming wrath throughout eternity. A tender heart which trembles at God’s word, is, on the other hand, a token for good; let those who have it go to Jesus with it, and trust in his blood to make them still more sensitive under the hand of God; and let those who have it not, go to Jesus to obtain it, for the awakened conscience and the tender heart are as much HIS gifts as pardon and eternal life. It is doubtful whether Hannibal melted rocks with vinegar, it is certain that Jesus dissolves them with vinegar and gall. The dropping well of Calvary softens all upon whom it rains its precious floods; happy those who leave the world’s shower, and sit beneath the atoning drops, they shall feel the tenderness which is acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Leaving the well of Knaresborough we fell to rhyming, and here is the result : — Though this well hath virtues rare, And excites a just surprise; There is yet a well more fair And more wondrous in mine eyes.
Blessed well on Calvary’s mount, Where the side of Jesus slain, Mercy’s own peculiar fount, Pours a stone-removing rain. See the heavenly blood-drops fall On a heart as stern as steel; Though ‘twas hard and stony all, Lo, it now begins to feel.
Legal hammers failed to break Flames of wrath could not dissolve, None the stolid soul could shake, Fixed in fatal firm resolve.
But the blood performs the deed, Softens all the heart of stone, Makes the rock itself to bleed, Bleed for him who bled t’atone.
As the crimson shower descends All the stone is washed away; Stubbornness in sorrow ends, And rebellious powers obey.
Hewn from out the pit of hell, And in Calvary’s fountain laid; By that sacred dropping-well Be my soul more tender made.
Till my heart contains no more Of the stone by which it fell, But on Canaan’s happy shore Sings the sacred dropping-well.
SHEEP-WASHING — A FRAGMENT SITTING the other day at a window which overlooked the lake of Windermere, I saw a sight which greatly amused me while it lasted, and set me thinking when it was over. A wooden pier ran out a little way into the lake, and upon this, with barking of dogs and shouting of men, and somewhat rough use of sticks, a number of sheep were driven much against their own tastes and desires. When the whole company were fairly at the end of the jetty, they were seized one by one and most unceremoniously pitched head foremost into deep water. When they rose they swam to the nearest shore of course, making a baahing of a very gulpy kind as if the water had spoiled the music of their voices, and looking altogether amazed and bewildered. Meanwhile, men in boats, with their oars, submerged again and again such of the swimmers as they could reach, and others drove back into the depths those poor creatures which had landed on the side of the jetty and avoided the longer route to the shore.
The water bore sure evidence in its color of the need there was that the flock should feel the cleansing flood. Great congratulations were offered by the little family groups when the lambs and their mothers had all passed the watery ordeal and were, shaking; their dripping fleeces; but those congratulations were premature, for the flock was a second time driven to the plaice of afflict, ion, and each of the sheep had again to be immersed in the troubled waters. It was a day of sore perplexity and multiplied trial such as the lambs had never expected, and the oldest sheep could scarcely remember; they’ came up all of them out of the flood like those whose tribulation is greater than they can bear, who are driven to their wit’s end.
The shepherd took the whole affair quietly enough, seeming’ to treat the matter rather joyously than otherwise, and yet ,I have no reason to doubt his tenderness, but on the contrary thought, I saw much of it in his way of handling his charge, and especially in his sparing the lambs the second plunge: which they needed less than those whose longer fleeces showed a greater familiarity with dirt and dust. Certainly he was not just then making his flock to lie down in green pastures, and the waters to which he led them were far from still, yet was he a true shepherd, and as much playing the shepherd’s part as when he carried the lambs in his bosom, or folded the flock for the night. It was a sheep-washing which I saw, and it typified the sanctified afflictions of believers. The same strife and turmoil, and hurrying and tugging have we felt, and the barking of far fiercer dogs has been in our ears. We, too, are hurled headlong into a sea of sorrows, and find it hard to keep our head above water. Harder still is it when we are pushed under and thrust down by new adversities, which cause the waves to go over us, while we sink into the depths. It is stern toil to swim to land with the heavy fleeces of our cares about us, and the waters of grief in our throats. When with much labor we pass from the present sorrow and begin to rejoice in our escape, we often find to our dismay that the process is to be repeated, and that once again we must stem the flood. Our hearts might fail us if we did not know that the good Shepherd would not subject us to unnecessary trials but sees a needs-be for them all. We are not like sheep, ignorant of the design of trouble, let us not therefore struggle against the afflicting hand; we can see the natural perverseness of our nature, and how much of chastisement is required to bring it out of us; let us therefore rejoice in tribulation, and pray that it may be divinely sanctified to us.
Swimming to shore, may we leave our pride, our worldliness, our sloth, our evil habits all Behind, and by the grace of God the Holy Spirit may we be, as a flock of sheep which come up from the washing. Child of God, struggling in the depth of affliction, look not to the present grievousness of thine adversity but to the future benefit thereof’, when tribulation shall have wrought “patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” — C. H. S.