Come Ye To the Waters

"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" (Isaiah 55:1-2).

We have used this passage time and again as our call to worship at our communion Sabbaths. But how does it remind and encourage in regard to our duties pertaining to our participation at the Lord’s Table? It does so by calling us to partake of Christ, by reminding us to examine ourselves and by encouraging us to cultivate our spiritual appetite.

A Call To Partake of Christ

What does it mean to "come… to the waters"? The Lord Jesus at His meeting with the Samaritan woman by the well, said unto her:

"If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water" (Jn 4:10).

It is quite apparent that the Lord was referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit when He refers to the gift of living water. And further more, a little after, He adds what appears to be an exposition of Isaiah 55:1-2—

"Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But 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" (Jn 4:13-14).

There is no doubt that water is often used in the Scripture to symbolise the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to come to the Holy Spirit? How do we come to the Holy Spirit? Moreover, Isaiah 55 does not only refer to waters, it speaks also of milk, wine and bread! Do all these refer to the Holy Spirit?

When we have considered all these, it will be hard for us to disagree with Calvin when he says:

I have no doubt that under these words, "waters, milk, wine, bread," Isaiah includes all that is necessary for spiritual life; for the metaphors are borrowed from those kinds of food which are in daily use amongst us. As we are nourished by "bread, wine, milk, and water," so in like manner let us know that our souls are fed and supported by the doctrine of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, and other gifts of Christ.

In other words, Isaiah 55 is a call to come to Christ for all that is necessary for our soul. What does it mean to come to Christ? I believe there is no other way, but to come through the means of grace He has appointed for our use, whether it be prayer, public worship, the reading and hearing of the Word of God and the holy sacraments. In a word, the call of the Lord through Isaiah is a call to come to Christ and also a call to live in Him and to enjoy Him with all the means He has appointed for our use.

We must come to Christ for He is the fountain of living waters (Jer 2:13). Christ is the Rock smitten: from which the river of water flows to quench the weary and thirsty soul of a nation of people heading towards the Promise Land (1 Cor 10:4; Heb 11:9-16). Christ is He who is able to give us the living water, which if we drink we shall never thirst again. We must come! We are commanded to come! "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (Jn 7:37), our Lord exclaims. "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" (Rev 22:17) says our Lord.

Such as have come, have tasted of the waters of gladness and healing. But as they come, they find not just water, but more than that, they find a free flow of milk, wine and bread too. It is instructive to note that these three items which we use for our bodily nourishment are used throughout the Scripture as metaphors to describe Christ and the means that He has appointed for our spiritual nourishment.

It is no coincidence that milk and wine figures prominently in Jacob’s prophesy concerning Judah and the Shiloh who was to come:

"10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. 11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: 12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk" (Gen 49:10-12).

How shall we understand verse 12, "His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk," unless we see it as referring to the fullness of Christ so that from Him all blessings flow? That is, how can we understand the reference to milk and wine here unless we take it in the same way as in Isaiah 55:1.

As to bread, was not the Lord Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem which is by interpretation, the "House of Bread"? And did not the Lord say: "I am that bread of life." (Jn 6:48)?

Moreover, is not the word of God called milk by the apostle Peter? For he says: "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet 2:2).

And furthermore, under the New Covenant, water is used in baptism; and bread and wine are used in the Lord’s Supper. Now, I do not think that the prophet Isaiah was referring to baptism and the Lord’s Supper directly in the text. However, we cannot escape the conclusion that Isaiah includes these things for he is certainly calling us to come to Christ through the means He has appointed for the spiritual nourishment of His covenant people. Notice the mention of the "everlasting covenant" in verse 3. The blood which seals this everlasting covenant is the blood of Christ shed on Calvary’s tree.

Can you see how our text is particularly fitted to call us to enjoy Christ at His Table, and how it is particularly fitted for our meditation as we think about the privilege we can enjoy as members of His body?

But let us be careful not to misunderstand that the call is a general, indiscriminate call, and that the table is open to all. And let us not misunderstand the graciousness of the call to think that it is right for us to come as we are, without any preparation, for secondly, as we shall see, our text is also…

A Reminder to Self-Examination

We know from the Scripture,—particularly the words of the apostle Paul,—that we must examine ourselves before we come to the table, lest we eat and drink unworthily and therefore eat and drink damnation to ourselves. But what are we to examine ourselves for?

Let us look at the invitation to come again. Does Christ call everyone to come and to come as they are? Does he say: "Come all of you, come ye to the waters…"? No, no; He says "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…" Notice the qualification: "everyone that thirsteth." The Lord is not calling everyone to come, He is calling such as are athirst to come. And not only here, but in John 7:37, we are told that in the last day of the feast of Tabernacle the Lord stood up and cried, saying "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (Jn 7:37). Notice the qualification, "if any man thirst" again. What about in Revelation 22? Did not the Lord say: "whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (v. 17)? Is this not a universal call? No, no; for the Lord, immediately before saying that says: "let him that is athirst come." It is those who are athirst whom Christ calls to come to take the water of life freely. Indeed, it is only those who are athirst who will be willing to take of the water of life.

But what does it mean to be athirst? We all know what it means to be thirsty. When we are thirsty, we feel dry and uncomfortable, and we feel a desire to have some water to refresh ourselves. Initially, the desire may be mild, but if we do not get a drink, our thirst gets worse and worse, and we begin to feel faint and have an urgent longing to have some water. That thirst that we experience is a physical thirst. It is a thirst that results from a lack of water and,—consequently, a need and desire for water,—knowing that water alone can cure our condition. Give a man who is thirsty, a most delicious cup of oil and he will find it repulsive. No, it is water and water alone that the thirsty man craves.

But there is another thirst that every genuine child of God will, no doubt, experience at one time or another. This is a spiritual thirst. This is a thirst that can best be expressed in the words of David:
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" (Ps 42:1-2).
"O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is " (Ps 63:1)
"I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land" (Ps 143:6).

Beloved, have you experienced what David did? What he experienced is the thirst that Isaiah and the Lord Jesus Christ are referring to. It is a feeling of emptiness in the soul and a longing for the emptiness to be filled. And it is an emptiness that can only be filled by God. It is a thirst for God. It is desire for fellowship with God. It speaks of a feeling of separation or estrangement from God. It speaks of a desire to have more of Christ, more of God.

Do you have such a thirst for Christ, beloved friend? If you have such a thirst, Christ invites you to come to the waters and to buy milk, wine and bread from Him. And He promises to quench your thirst, for He says in the 4th beatitude: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Mt 5:6). What is hungering and thirsting after righteousness, but a hungering and thirsting after Christ, for the "fruits of righteousness" in the child of God can only come "by Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:11).

Do you have such a thirst for Christ, beloved child of God? You must have it, if you are a child of God. Christ "is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom 10:4). And so if you do not at all have an appetite for righteousness or an appetite for Christ, then you cannot possibly be for real. An appetite for Christ is sure evidence that spiritual life has indeed begun. And so, a discovery of a lack of appetite for Christ may indicate spiritual deadness or spiritual declension.

Do you have a thirst for Christ, beloved Christian? Perhaps months or years ago, you felt a burning desire for Christ. That is a good indication of life begun. But the question is: Are you thirsting for Christ? If not, why? The Lord’s call and invitation,—"Ho, every one that thirsteth,"—is a call to everyone, believers and unbelievers included.

Make no mistake. There are those who will use this verse in so-called Gospel rallies, where the target of the sermon is unbelievers, and this verse is used to call unbelievers to come to Christ. In a sense, it is not wrong to do so, for the call of the Gospel is to be made indiscriminately. Unfortunately, however, such sermons have a way of making some of us think that those gracious invitations in the Word of God are only for unbelievers. So, there are many a modern professing Christians, who will shut their ears, when they hear: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come…" For they will say: "Ah, this call is for the unbeliever, it is not for me! I have already come, I have already arrived!" But where do we get the idea that this call is only for unbelievers? The fact is that this call is a call to all, believers and hitherto unbelievers who are athirst. The fact is that in this side of eternity, no Christian will have perfect fullness. No Christian, can with any honesty say: "I have perfect fellowship with God, I am already there, I don’t need to go any further."

No, no, the Christian knows that he falls short of the glory of God, and he knows that his fellowship with God is not as perfect as it ought to be. Indeed, experience shows him that he has a spiritual thirst that is akin to physical thirst. As he must drink water regularly so he finds himself needing to go to Christ through His appointed means regularly.

But there is one difference between physical thirst and spiritual thirst. If you are physically thirsty, you know it and you will not rest until you get some water. But spiritual thirst is different. There are many who are spiritually dehydrating who are not cognizant of the fact. How is that so?

It is so because there are many things in this world that acts as a kind of spiritual painkiller or other symptomatic medicine. You know what I mean: someone may be suffering from a heart disease. He feels pain in his heart. What he needs is a surgery or some effective heart medicine such as nitroglycerin. But suppose the doctor gives him a painkiller injection, and he feels better, does it mean his disease is cured?

So too is it in our spiritual experience. God made us in such a way that the void in our soul must be filled. Augustine says it well when he confessed that our soul is restless until it finds rest in God. But there are many things that may temporarily fill the void or give some temporary relief for the restlessness in the soul.

Wealth, power or prestige has a way of dulling the soul’s thirst. Can you think of any politician who was converted while in office? Now, think of the number of politicians who apparently turned to Christ after a prison term!

The enjoyments and entertainments of this world also have that effect of numbing the soul’s desires. And so do the platitudes and praises of men. These things dull the conscience and provide a false relief for thirst so that those who find satisfaction in these things feel no thirst in their soul and have no sense of their need of Christ.

The Scripture speaks of this condition as a hardening of the heart. Do you know how many times the Scripture speaks of this condition?
In Matthew 19, the Lord Jesus, answering the Pharisees as to why Moses allowed divorce between husband and wife, told them that it was because of the hardness of their hearts, that Moses made the provision (Mt 19:8).
In Mark 3, we are told that the Lord Jesus was grieved for the hardness of the hearts of those who were waiting to pounce upon Him because He was about to heal the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:5).
In Mark 8, the Lord Jesus was grieved at the hardness of hearts of His own disciples because He had warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, and all they thought about was bread for the stomach. He said unto them: "Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?" (Mk 8:17; cf. Mk 6:52).
In Mark 16, we are told even after His resurrection, the Lord had to upbraid the disciples "with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen" (Mk 16:14)
In Romans 2:5, the apostle Paul warns the unrepentant Jews that because of their hardness and impenitent hearts, they are treasuring up unto themselves, "wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Rom 2:5).
In Hebrews 3, the writer, quoting Psalm 95:7-8, warns: "Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness" (Heb 3:8; v. 15). And then he charges: "But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb 3:13).

What do these repeated references and warnings against spiritual hardening have to teach us? Does it not teach us how easily we can fall into this sin, and how easily we can be hardened without our even noticing?

Dearly beloved, we ought always to be watchful against this ailment of the soul. But particularly whenever we come to the Lord’s Table, we must make a careful scrutiny of our hearts to see if we are thus afflicted. The apostle Paul warns us that it is possible to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper unworthily and so eat and drink damnation unto ourselves by failing to discern the Lord’s body. How do we fail to discern the Lord’s body, but that we partake of the elements without any thoughts about the Christ they point to, and about how much we need Him. In other words, we fail to discern the Lord’s body and so eat and drink judgement unto ourselves, if we come to the table with hardened hearts that feel no thirst for Christ!

Beloved, are you spiritually thirsty? If you are not athirst, all is not well with your soul, for Christ does not invite you to come to Him except you be athirst. Matthew Henry says it well:

Those that are satisfied with the world and its enjoyments for a portion, and seek not for a happiness in the favour of God,—those that depend upon the merit of their own works for a righteousness, and see not the need they have of Christ and his righteousness,—these do not thirst; they have no sense of their need, are in no pain or uneasiness about their souls, and therefore will not condescend so far as to be beholden to Christ. But those that thirst are invited to the waters, as those that labour, and are heavy-laden, are invited to Christ for rest.

We can, I am sure say ‘Amen’ to these words of admonishment. What does that leave us, but to conclude that it is necessary for us to cultivate our spiritual appetite if we are to enjoy fellowship with Christ. Thus, we see that our text is also…

An Encouragement to Cultivate Our Spiritual Appetite

How shall we cultivate our spiritual appetite? Let me suggest three important exercises.

First, I would urge you spend time in self-examination. Self-examination is a very important mark of a Christian. One who makes no attempt to examine himself proves himself to be spiritually dead. Self-examination is extremely important before and after we come to the Lord’s Supper. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup," says Paul (1 Cor 11:28).

Apart from examining your interest in Christ, let me suggest for you to look out especially for symptoms of spiritual declension in your heart. Ask yourself: Am I satisfied with my faith and holiness? Do I enjoy reading the newspaper more than I enjoy reading the Word of God or a good Christian book? Do I enjoy the company of unbelievers more than I enjoy the fellowship of saints? Am I quick to engage in conversations pertaining to the news and fashions of the world, but have nothing to say when the conversation turns to the things of God? Am I quick to criticize others, but slow to see my own faults? Am I quick to excuse my own sins, but slow to forgive others? Do I excuse myself easily from the means of grace? Am I indulging in a secret sin? Do I find my sin to give me more comfort and relief from the stress and strain of this life than do the means of grace?

Dearly beloved, for every question you answer "yes," plant a red flag of spiritual declension in your conscience, give yourself no rest until these flags be lowered and destroyed by true repentance and faith in Christ.

Secondly, I would urge you to avail yourself to the means of grace that are at your immediate disposal. Resolve this day not to despise the wine, milk, water and bread that the Lord has appointed for your spiritual nourishment. Resolve not to miss any of the ‘public means’ that our Lord has by His providence appointed for your spiritual growth in grace—be they worship services, prayer meetings or doctrinal classes.

Resolve also to make use of the ‘private means’ that are at hand.

Seek to cultivate a habit of reading. Read the Word of God and enjoy its sweetness. Read some Puritan Devotional works—Divine Cordial by Watson, Sinfulness of Sin by Reynold, Remedy Against Wondering Thoughts by Steele, etc. These have all been used to strengthen the faith of believers who have ventured into them. Let the Scripture and these books plough your heart which has been harden by sin and the cares of the world.

And prayer. Resolve not to neglect this indispensable exercise for cultivating a healthy soul with a healthy appetite. Pray at daily appointed times, and pray at all times available in your hand. Pray while walking or driving or feeding the baby; read or hear a sermon while standing alone. Pray especially that the Lord will give you a deep hatred for sin, and a renewed love for Christ. Pray that He will bless you indeed. "Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayers and worn with thanks" says Thomas Goodwin.

Christian fellowship is of great help too. Will you not go out of your way to seek out someone you know have drunk deeply of God’s grace? Seek his or her fellowship. Ask him to share with you his struggles and triumph in Christ. Pray with him, and ask him to pray with you. Many of us would have experienced this: that it is in times of prayer after a soul searching conversation, that we draw closest to Christ and see our desperate need of Him.

Thirdly, I would urge you to meditate on Christ! Meditate on His life. Remember that His incarnation was for your sake. Think of the fact that Christ took on human flesh for your sake, and that every human limitation of pain and sorrow, of hunger and thirst, of sweat and tears was for your sake.

Meditate on His sufferings and His death. Consider that it was not the Jews who crucified the Lord, but it was you and I who crucified Him. It was out of love for us that Christ went to the Cross. Were it not for love, Christ could have called upon a million angels to deliver Him from the cruel hands of the Jews. But He went willingly for you and me, that we may be redeemed by His precious blood. Think of how His head was bleeding because of the crown of thorns forced upon His head. Think of His back, riven and bloodied by that cruel cat of nine tails. Think of His hands and feet, bleeding because of those cruel nails. Think of His pain, and grief when He thought about the sin of the people He loves. Think of His immense agony as He cried out "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me!"

Meditate on His sufficiency. Consider how you have reconciliation with God and eternal life through Christ. Consider how you can do all things through Christ which strengthens you. Consider how without Christ, your life is meaningless and powerless. This is the thought expressed when the apostle Paul exclaims: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:19-20).

Every true child of God knows from the bottom of his heart that life without Christ is empty and meaningless. If you are a child of God, you know you cannot live without Christ. Sometimes under severe temptation you may think you are not a child of God; or you may even be tempted to renounce Christ in order to enjoy the lust of your flesh. But you know you cannot give up Christ, for without Christ what is the purpose of living on in this miserable world?

Every true child of God will be sensible of his need of Christ. O may our meditations of Christ remind us of our need for Him that we may truly thirst after Him.


Dearly beloved brethren, are you athirst for Christ? Spiritual thirst is a healthy sign of spiritual life begun. If you are athirst for Christ, He has invited and He is inviting you to come unto Him. Come unto Him at the means of grace. Come unto Him to enjoy His love and His rest.

Christ Jesus is the man who Isaiah the prophet speaks about when he says:

"And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isa 32:2).

Are you tossed about by the tempest of strong winds in your life? Christ is a covert from the tempest! Do you feel your soul to be weary, dry and parched? Christ is as rivers of water in a dry place! Come to Christ! Come to Him that you may find rest and strength to continue in your Christian journey. There is plenty and fulness in Christ, and He is ready to feed our souls and quench our thirst. How foolish it is for anyone of us to walk alone in this world without leaning upon Him who is the lover of our souls. Amen. W