"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. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." (Isaiah 55:1-3)
OUR present subject is from a passage that has (in part at least) been hackneyed by many; and when it first came on my mind, I thought of this; but then I considered God was the same yesterday, today, and for ever, (Heb. 13:8) and he could make his own word spirit and life.
"Ho!" It may be proper to notice the nature of this call to listen, from the example of Boaz to Ruth's kinsman. "Ho! such a one, turn aside, and sit down here." (Ruth 4:1) In Zechariah also, which was God's call to some in Babylon:--"Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north;" (Zech. 2:6) which will be done over again before the destruction of mystical Babylon:--"Come out of her, my people."
The next thing was, this call is directed to none others but those here said to be thirsty: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." I may here notice the causes of thirst, one of which is heat, as also the heat of God's anger, which is described in Deut. 29, and which makes the spirit ready to fail. Another cause, hard labor, which occasions fainting and weariness, and which is brought on by the curse of the law, the burden of sin, and the displeasure of God. When all these meet in the conscience, such an one must and will labor, and find himself heavy laden and weary too; the burden will be found too heavy for him to bear. Thirst, or desire after deliverance, is to be found in such a soul. Again, it often is the case that such are kept long waiting, and hope is deferred, which make the heart sick. (Prov. 13:12) When these poor and needy seek water and there is none, their tongue is said to fail for thirst, which here appears to be from long abstinence. All these create hungerings and thirstings after the salvation of the soul, which never can be satisfied but by the manifestation of Christ as the soul's salvation. These are invited:--"Come ye to the waters."
To describe the nature of this coming, I would observe that the Holy Spirit, who is promised to the house of David, is poured out upon these poor ones, as a spirit of grace and supplication, who moves the mind to seek after God, to call, to come with weeping and supplication, (Zech. 12:10) and by his inward work, and the energy he communicates, to determine to perish, if they do perish, at the feet of Christ. "They shall come that are ready to perish," (Isa. 27:13) and at his feet they lie; but then these that cry day and night are to be heard, according to the promise; and they, coming with importunity, are to have relief. And when Christ is manifested to the soul, and revealed in us, here our hungering and thirsting is satisfied; and faith, accompanying this manifestation, feeds upon the fatted calf, with the prodigal, till we are satisfied as with marrow and fatness.
Next comes the music; "my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips." Now the waters here mentioned revealed this Christ: "whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning;" (Rom. 15:4) but we cannot be said to be made wise to salvation till we know the true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, the knowledge of whom is life eternal. (John 17:3) These waters signify the doctrine of the grace in Christ Jesus, attended with the Holy Ghost to make all effectual to the salvation of God's elect. "Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:2) Paul tells us that the Jews in the wilderness "ate the same spiritual meat, and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ." (1 Cor. 10:3,4)
The Manna pointed him out as the bread of life; the Rock, as him that was to be smitten, that the Holy Ghost the promise of the Father, which he received, might be poured forth to attend the preaching of Christ crucified in the world, to make it effectual to the salvation of millions from generation to generation; yea, they spake as this Spirit gave them utterance. Here you may see what Solomon means when he says "counsel in the heart is as deep waters"--Christ given to us as a covenant, with every spiritual blessing in him, and the Holy Ghost sent forth into our hearts to make these known to us--is God's counsel in the heart. Then says Solomon "and the well-spring of wisdom as a flowing brook." (Prov. 18:4) "He that believeth on me," saith the Saviour, "as the scripture hath said, out of his belly (or heart) shall flow rivers of living water: this he spake of the Spirit." (John 7:38) Now when the Spirit moves the heart in this counsel of God, and gives vent to sensations of the heart by words from the lips, then the well-spring of wisdom becomes a flowing brook. And thus God raises up one or another that his own Israel may have these waters to accompany them, as Israel of old had through the wilderness.
If you look into Ezekiel 47, you will see these waters under another metaphor, flowing or issuing from the sanctuary and running into the sea, which is the world, being a full salvation found by all that are led into them. First, it is said the waters were to the ankles, then to the knees, and to the loins, and afterwards a river that could not be passed over; a river to swim in so as to bear us up, or save us from everlasting death. These waters running into the sea, quicken dead sinners, and then every thing that liveth and moveth where these waters come, shall live, and have eternal life, because the waters come from the Sanctuary in order to bring sinners to Christ, that they may have life through believing in his name. And you may see how they operate upon dead sinners in this work of bringing them to Christ. It is said here, that fishers shall stand upon these waters, or the banks of this river, from Engedi to Eneglaim, which were the two opposite sides of what was called the Dead Sea in the Holy Land. The Saviour, I think, takes hence his parable of the kingdom of heaven being likened to a net cast into the sea, which gathered of every kind; for here it is said should be a place to spread forth nets, and their fish should be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea exceeding many; and the Saviour says, when they drew the net to shore, they gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. The fishers are the Apostles, and all succeeding ministers of the Spirit; the Gospel is the net which they spread; the Spirit communicates life by it to God's elect, who, by nature, are dead in sin; and all thus caught are to be gathered into Heaven.
He that hath no money being counseled to buy wine and milk, points out who shall have it; not the rich, but the poor. The Pharisee was rich, and did not see his need of the blood of Christ to cleanse him and to obtain pardon. To him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt; but to him that worketh not, but believeth, he has righteousness imputed to him as God's free gift, through the faith of Christ. (Rom. 4:4,5) The Publican had nothing; but he had faith in God's mercy, which, with his need, made him beg, and he obtained. It is of faith, which also is God's gift, when the "wine," the blood of Christ, is obtained to cleanse our sin, so that we can rejoice in God through Christ by whom we receive the atonement. Consolation follows, which is the "milk." "Spending money for that which is not bread" is fruitless toil, under the law, and attending false doctrines, and letter preaching, which never is accompanied by the Spirit, and never will satisfy a guilty conscience: nothing short of the Spirit's power attending that word which sets forth a whole Christ can do this. "Inclining the ear" is to be enabled to hearken to what the Spirit says; and "coming to him," is being enabled to believe in him so as to find life communicated to set us free from the condemnation of death in the conscience. "He that believeth in me shall not abide in darkness but shall have the light of life." "The everlasting covenant" made with us, is the new covenant fulfilled in us; "I will put my law in their mind," (Heb. 8:10) which is faith wrought in the heart. Under this work of God, we find him to be our God, and we his own workmanship; and so, his own people. His being "merciful to our unrighteousness," is cleansing by Christ's blood; and where remission of these is, the Holy Ghost bears witness he will remember our sins no more. (Heb. 8:12) "My mercy will I keep for him for evermore;" I will not take it from him, nor from these his seed,--"even the sure mercies of David."