The late Peter Marshall, an eloquent speaker and for several years the chaplain of the United States Senate, used to love to tell the story of “The Keeper of the Spring,”¹ a quiet forest dweller who lived high above an Austrian village along the eastern slopes of the Alps.
The old gentle man had been hired many years earlier by a young town council to clear away the debris from the pools of water that fed the lovely spring flowing through their town. With faithful, silent regularity he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt from the fresh flow of water. By and by, the village became a popular attraction for vacationers. Graceful swans floated along the crystal clear spring, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from restaurants was picturesque.
Years passed. One evening the town council met for its semiannual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, one man’s eye caught the salary figure being paid the obscure keeper of the spring. Said the keeper of the purse, “Who is the old man? Why do we keep him on year after year? For all we know he is doing us no good. He isn’t necessary any longer!” By a unanimous vote, they dispensed with the old man’s services.
For several weeks nothing changed. By early autumn the trees began to shed their leaves. Small branches snapped off and fell into the pools, hindering the rushing flow of water. One afternoon someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tint in the spring. A couple days later the water was much darker. Within another week, a slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks and a foul odor was detected. The millwheels moved slower, some finally ground to a halt. Swans left as did the tourists. Clammy fingers of disease and sickness reached deeply into the village.
Embarrassed, the council called a special meeting. Realizing their gross error in judgment, they hired back the old keeper of the spring . . . and within a few weeks, the river began to clear up.
Fanciful though it may be, the story carries with it a vivid, relevant analogy directly related to the times in which we live. What the keeper of the spring meant to the village, Christian servants mean to our world. The preserving, taste-giving bite of “salt” mixed with the illuminating, hope-giving ray of “light” may seem feeble and needless . . . but God help any society that attempts to exist without them! You see, the village without the keeper of the spring is a perfect representation of the world system without the salt and light of God’s servants (Matthew 5:13–14).
1. Catherine Marshall, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1951), 147, 148.
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This story goes so well with a book I just read by Larry Taunton, an apologist who has debated Christopher Hutchens several times before Hutchen’s death. The book is called The Grace Effect. It takes a look at his experience in adopting a child from the Ukraine. While he was there he began comparing countries that had a Christian influence in their history with countries that did not have a Christian influence because of the political systems they set up that were atheistic – countries where the “keeper of the spring” was fired for many years.