The Keeper of the Springs

Peter Marshall was a Scottish-born Presbyterian pastor who served as the U.S. Senate Chaplain during the Tru­man administration. His wife Catherine wrote over 200 books, including A Man Called Peter and the bestselling novel Christy. Although he lived only to age 46, Marshall gained a reputation as an eloquent and passionate preacher.

He probably is best known as the author of a sermonic parable, The Keeper of the Springs. At one point or another, almost every pastor eventually tells this powerful story. The Keeper of the Springs is a word of encouragement to those who work behind the scenes of a church with a spiritual gift of serving or helps. Serving gifts are vital to the health of the church. The Keeper of the Springs reminds us why. Here’s the story:

Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. It was sheltered in the lee of the protecting heights, so that the wind that shuddered at the doors and flung handfuls of sleet against the window panes was a wind whose fury was spent. 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 which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure. It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town. Millwheels were whirled by its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air. Swans sailed on its limpid surface, and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.

But the City Council was a group of hard-headed, hard-boiled businessmen. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of a Keeper of the Springs. Said the Keeper of the Purse: Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town’s work life. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary. Therefore, the City Council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs, and to build a cement reservoir.

So the Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir. When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface. There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town. At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane.

The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city’s plight, and frankly it acknowledged the mistake of the dismissal of the Keeper of the Springs. They sought him out of his hermit hut high in the hills, and begged him to return to his former joyous labor. Gladly he agreed, and began once more to make his rounds. It was not long until pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir. Millwheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back.

If you’re serving the Lord faithfully behind the scenes where people don’t see you, please be encouraged. Your work matters. Don’t quit!

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