“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1
The viewpoint of the prophet is very peculiar.
Isaiah lived in a time of prosperity of a certain kind.
It is somewhat like the prosperity which we have now. There is peace, of a kind. And a great plenty.
And so it was during most of the time Isaiah prophesied in Judah.
But the first chapter of his prophecy tells us that there was a terrible condition spiritually. They had become a very sinful nation. With their mouth they praised God, but they kept their heart very far from Him.
And their sin had followed the one upon the other, until they had to be punished as a nation, and sent into the Babylonian captivity.
And that bondage, which was very cruel to the real child of God, was terrible. Hear them sing in the psalms that were made during that bondage: By Babel’s streams we sat and wept. . . .
But that sadness of God’s people was not the worst which they would experience in Babylon. There was the danger that they would lust after Babylon’s plenty, and forget their peculiar calling in the world, namely, to turn, to always turn to their Lord and their God, and to ask Him for His precious Word and grace, so that they might live, and live forever. For a man doth not live by bread alone. If he has no more than the earthly things, he will die and doth die every moment he exists upon this earth. But only those that feed on the Word of God will live forever.
And against that tendency, in the midst of this danger to lust after the things of this world in Babylon, the Lord God comes and calls His people to the fountain of living waters: Come unto Me and drink of the water of life freely.
This psalm has an historical application first of all.
Ho, every one of my people Israel that suffer in the Babylonian captivity, and that are thirsty for Me and for My covenant blessings, come ye unto the fount of living waters, and drink to your heart’s content!
It is first of all the Gospel call of the Old Testament.
But there is a far wider application of these beautiful words of Isaiah.
You see that at once when you remember how Jesus would often employ the same figure in His sermons among the people of God during His sojourn on earth. Take, for example, the occasion when He said on the great day of the feast: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink!”
Or think of the sermon He preached to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob: “. . . . whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Or when Jesus spoke to John after His glorification: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Oh yes, the call to the waters in Isaiah is of equal force today, after so many years. In fact, it is of greater force since his day and age, for since then Jesus our Lord has come, and has given an even deeper content to the concept of water.
Today, and every day the Lord God calls from the heavens and says to His people: Come ye to the waters and drink!
The speech of water and of thirst is very clear.
Thirst is symbolism for a great, for an extreme want and need.
That this is so does not become as clear to us in lands where there is water and to spare at all times. We do say: I am thirsty, but we do not really know what we say. We do not know the real meaning of physical thirst.
That is different in the land where this text was written. The Israelite knew of desert heat and desert thirst. And that is the real picture in the text. Attend to Psalm 42: As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God!
With us, in our complex and rich civilization, it is entirely different. When we note that we would relish some water, we simply turn on the faucet and drink. And the result is that none of us is every really thirsty.
But think of the traveler in Death Valley in California, who has walked for miles in a desert heat of 125 degrees or more, without water. It has happened that men dropped dead of thirst after only a few hours of that desert heat. All the moisture of their body dried up in those few agonizing hours of intense suffering of thirst.
Imagine a man in such extremes, his throat and mouth and lips are cracked with heat and thirst: he staggers as he falls. And then he hears the cry: Come ye to the waters and drink! And he rushes to the fountain of living waters and drinks and drinks from the life-giving waters.
That is the picture which we must see.
But who are so thirsty?
Everyone, is the answer of the church today. Everyone is thirsty for God and for His blessings. And when Jesus stands with His hands and arms outspread, and says: Come ye unto Me and drink! He means every one that comes within the audience of His voice.
But that is not true, and for a very evident reason. And here it is: there is no correspondence between the thirst of the world and the water of the fountain which Cod has opened at Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness. (Zach. 13:1).
Oh, I agree that the whole world is thirsty. That is very evident to anyone that knows the world. They are in great thirst for the things of this present life. They thirst for man and for humanity and for the things of this time, for sin and for uncleanness, and every sort of abomination.
And the more they drink of those things the more they thirst.
A very terrible process has been set in motion since man fell away from God. Refusing to drink of the real fountain of water, they turned under the instigation of the devil to the world and to its riches and they would drink them instead of the things of God and
His covenant, and the result is that they thirsted still more. Then they drank more of the things of the world and of sin and they thirsted still more, and this shall go on, and on, and on.
And the end is in hell where they will thirst forever. O father Abraham, send Lazarus, that he may dip his finger in water and come here to relieve me of my thirst! For I suffer in this flame. We have heard the words of Jesus in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
There is a great shortage, and absolute famine of water in hell.
But our text speaks of an entirely different kind of thirst. Certainly you will agree that there must be correspondence between the thirst and the water. If a man is really thirsty, and then I mean the natural thirst for natural, created water, and if anyone offers water to him, you may be sure that he is going to drink.
Now then, if the world, and everyone in the world is really thirsty for God, they would also drink when the refreshing and healing waters of God and of His Christ are placed within their reach. In that case they would never reject the Gospel.
Ho, every one that thirsteth!
Yes, it is addressed to “everyone”, but know surely that a very particular sort of people are meant here. They are those that are in harmony with the waters. They thirst for the waters of life, whatever they are.
And they are made thirsty because of the operation of the love of God through the Holy Ghost in their hearts. The Lord has made them taste Himself. And since then they say: “And nought can satisfy!” Or they say with David: I thirst for God!
They are called and they only are called.
Come ye to the waters! It is the call to God’s people that have learned to know that they must have the living God and His communion if they are to be happy for time and for eternity.
What are the waters?
Judging from Isaiah 44:3 it is the Holy Ghost and His blessings.
According to Psalm 42 it is to appear before God and to see His face.
Reading John 7:37-39 we would say it is the receiving of the Spirit of Christ.
But Matthew 5:6 speaks of thirsting for righteousness, and that seems to be the idea in this passage too, for in the preceding chapter, in fact in the last clause of the last verse of that chapter, immediately preceding our present text, we read: “and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord. And in verse 14 we read: “In righteousness shalt thou be established.” And with regard to the last Scripture, we must remember that it is the summing up of all the glories of salvation that shall be given to God’s people.
And then comes this invitation to come to God and to drink of the waters He will give them.
What are the waters?
I think that we must combine all the ideas which we found in various Scriptures.
The water of the fountain of life is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ which is ours by faith, and which faith is wrought in our hearts through the Holy Ghost. And to have that faith and the righteousness of God, is the blessing of the Lord.
That is the water of life.
And that is the water for which we thirst.
And that is the water which we drink from time to time.
And they satisfy, oh how they satisfy!
Note that the figure of water is enriched by the mention of wine and milk.
Together they constitute all that we really need.
By nature we are dead, fallen into the depth of degradation, and vain with the vanity of emptiness and idleness.
But the Gospel brings us quickening, exaltation and nourishment.
For such is the speech of water, wine and milk.
Water is the quickening and refreshing power of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ the Lord. Righteousness is that state and condition where all our life, in thought and word and action is done from the purest motive of love and according to the only standard of goodness. And that standard is God. That is righteousness. And that is the quickening gift which is symbolized here as water. You thirst for righteousness and you are filled.
Wine is the symbol of exaltation.
It points to the exaltation with which we are crowned through the work of Christ. He does not restore us to the state which is called the original state of righteousness, but to the much higher state of the glory of the Lord in heavenly places. And that is symbolized in the wine which exalteth the heart of man.
Milk is the picture of feeding and nourishment. The righteousness of Christ fills. Read Matthew 5:6. There we read that if you hunger after the righteousness of Christ, you shall be filled. It is the element here that feeds us unto eternal life.
Now offer (but it is nonsense!) this water, wine and milk to the world, or to the worldly, nominal, unregenerated people that gather with God’s people in church. And what is the result?
They hate the water that makes man good.
They hate the very idea of glorification to heavenly places. They sing and they joke and they have their God-provoking titles: “Heaven can wait!”, but they will have nothing of the wine of Jesus.
They hate the milk of the word of Christ’s righteousness. They prefer the crookedness and the crime of their natural estate, and they wallow in it.
But the real church of Christ is built up and refreshed, exalted and fed by the water of life, the wine of the heavenly Kingdom and the milk of the Word.
The thirsty have come and they drink!
But what is the price?
In the store of God you may, no, you must come with nothing, and then you may “buy”! Wondrous grace.
What does it mean? Why does Isaiah and Christ emphasize that we must buy without money, and take freely of the water of life?
This is the meaning: you must come with the humble confession on your lips and in your heart: I have nothing, O Lord! I am dreadfully poor. But I love Thee, and I long for the dainties which Thou hast prepared in Jesus Christ. But I have no right to them, and I have nothing in order to pay for them. I come here to buy the righteousness of Christ without money and without price, for I am tired of laying out money for that which is not bread and my labor for that which satisfieth not. I want Christ Jesus the Lord!
And that is the way it is. The Gospel and all its blessings are bestowed on us free, gratis, without money and without price.
From that point of view the Gospel is a work of indescribable grace and goodness of God.
But do not draw the mistaken conclusion that these goods are therefore without worth, just because we get them gratis, free, without money!
For nothing is farther from the truth.
The water of life is very expensive. My mind is in a whirl when I think of its infinite worth.
Jesus paid the price. And the price is His life which ebbed away in His heart’s blood. The water of life is paid for, every drop is paid for. And the price is really nothing less than the death of the Son of God. God bought these waters for you with His own blood.
From that point of view the Gospel is a divine act of strictest justice.
And together they are the adorable wisdom of God. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!
He produced the living waters! And that is the Lord our righteousness!
He produced the thirst! And that is my longing heart!