Isaiah 55, 1.—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.
As Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost, his servants must do likewise. Their work, like their Master's, is to save lost souls. They cannot save, like him, by their own power or merit. But as instruments in his hands they may be the means of saving. Not the preacher only, but the humblest Christian in his little sphere, is bound, in some way, and in some degree, to seek and to save that which is lost. With this commission we are all sent forth. We are not sent to a world which is merely in danger of being lost. It is lost. It is condemned already. The gospel is not merely a method of prevention, but of cure. Christ came to save that which was lost already, and to seek it, in order that it might be saved, and we, as his instruments, are bound to seek the lost that we may save them. We are not to keep back the salvation of the gospel till men seek it for themselves. We must offer it to them. We must press it upon them. We must not only spread the feast, but bid men to it. It is our business to invite men to the Saviour. "We must therefore learn the art of invitation. And we cannot learn it better than from God's example. The Bible is full of invitations, varied in form, but alike in principle, proceeding from the same source, addressed to the same objects, and conveying the same offer. Let these invitations be the models of our own, and let us, upon this occasion, take a lesson from the one before us, which is among the most earnest, free, importunate, and touching in the Word of God.
In order to appreciate and understand it, let us look back for a moment to what goes before. After various partial exhibitions of the Saviour as a prophet or divine teacher, he is fully set before us in the fiftythird chapter as a priest and sacrifice, who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, upon whom the chastisement of our peace fell, and by whose stripes we are healed, upon whom the Lord laid the iniquities of us all, who was stricken for the transgressions of his people, who made his soul an offering for sin, who justified many by bearing their iniquities, who poured out his soul unto death and was numbered with the transgressors, who bare the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors. These strong expressions, which are all collected from that one short chapter, leave no doubt as to its subject. The utmost ingenuity of Jews and Gentiles has been baffled in the effort to invent another.
Here, then, the foundation of the sinner's hope is laid, the only one that can be laid, "for there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved." In the fifty-fourth chapter, the Church is assured that notwithstanding her afflictions, she shall taste the fruit of this great expiation. She is exhorted to prepare for an immense accession; to enlarge the place of her tent, and stretch forth the curtain of her habitations, to lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes. She is told that her seed shall inherit the Gentiles, that although her national preeminence shall cease, her spiritual greatness shall be vastly magnified by being rendered co-extensive with the earth; that her children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of her children; that no weapon formed against her shall prosper, and that every tongue which rises against her shall be condemned. "This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord."
Having thus assured the Church of her enlargement and prosperity, the prophet takes a wider range; he looks towards those from among whom this accession to the Church is to be gathered; he remembere the mixed multitude of lost men who are wandering in the wilderness, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise. He sees them fainting there with spiritual thirst, a sense of guilt, an undefined, uneasy longing after something not possessed; something as necesary to refresh the soul as water to the panting hart, or to the gasping Arab in the desert. He sees them not only parched with thirst, but gnawed by hunger: nature craves something to support as well as to refresh her, and in obedience to her call, he sees them labouring with desperate exertion to dig up some nutritious root, or some buried fragment from the burning sand. He sees them wading through that soil of fire to some distant shrub which holds out the last dying hope of food, and as they reach it, he beholds them turn away from its barren stalk and withered leaves, to lie down in despair, while others scarcely less exhausted, follow in the same vain search.
Such scenes are not uncommon in the deserts of the east, where men are often found to choose between starvation and the use of food from which nature even in extremity revolts, while the agony of thirst is rendered ten times more acute by the deceitful water of the desert which becomes hot sand upon the traveller's approach. And yet all this is nothing more than a faint image of the desert in which men are born, and where they wander till reclaimed by God; a desert which is not without its hot sands and its leafless shrubs, its weariness, its bitter pangs, its thirst, its famine, rendered more tormenting by the cruel mockery of its illusions. This is the picture which the world presents to every eye from which the scales have fallen. This is the picture which the prophet seems to have beheld in vision when he stood upon the walls of Zion, and looked far off into the recesses of that desert stretching all around her, out of which he knew that some were to be gathered into Zion, and at which he therefore gazes with a yearning pity; not his own merely, but the pity of that God whose Spirit gave him utterance.
For as he looks he speaks, lie cries aloud, as if to persons at a distance. He no longer addresses himself merely to the church. His language is as wide and comprehensive as the sins and wants of suffering humanity. It is to men as men that he appeals. "Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of man," without distinction or exception. "Ho, every one that thirsteth!" He does not say every child of Israel. He does not say every godly proselyte. He does not say every upright, blameless man. He does not even say every one who repents, or every one who believes, but every one who thirsts. He presupposes nothing but a sense of need; no knowledge, but the consciousness of misery and helplessness; not even a knowledge of the method of salvation. Here then .it is thus that God begins his invitations. He appeals to that uneasy sense of something needed, what or why the sinner knows not; to the spiritual thirst by which his soul is parched, he knows not how. Where this exists, no other qualification is demanded.
That so few accept of it is not owing to the want of freeness in the offer, nor to the want of merit in those whom it is made to. But they will not hear. The voice cries in the wilderness, but those to whom it is addressed refuse to hear. Or if they listen, it is so incredulously that they hear in vain. If their attention could be fixed but for a moment, they would surely hear in earnest. When the starved and pant-. ing pilgrim, as he lies extended in the desert, hears a distant cry, exhaustion may have stupefied him so that he regards it not. Or if the sound arouses him,
he may mistake it for the cry of the wild beast, or the voice of other sufferers like himself. But if these words distinctly fall upon his ear, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters," unless despair has made him utterly incredulous, he must be startled and aroused. And even though he deem the tidings too good to be true, he will at least put forth one effort more to reach the spot from which the sound comes.
But, alas! in the spiritual desert it is harder to gain the ear of those who are dying with thirst, even by urgent calls to drink and live. They are the subjects of perpetual illusion. They continue still to hope for quick relief from some phantasma, some deceitful sight or sound, in chase of which they will not listen to the only voice which offers them substantial relief. Think how constantly the offers of the gospel are reiterated in the ears of thousands who are really athirst, whose life is spent in seeking to allay that inward thirst by copious draughts of knowledge, fame, or pleasure, or by filling their parched mouths with the burning sand of this world's gains. They are partly conscious of a void within them which the world can never fill, and yet the only voice of invitation which they will not hear is that of God crying, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." The only stream at which they will not try to slake their thirst is the river of the water of life. What shall be done then? Shall the offer be suspended? Shall the voice of invitation be less loud and urgent? "No, let those who utter it cry aloud and spare not. Let no deluded soul be lost, because the calls of salvation were too faint and few? It is true the cry will never be obeyed, nor even listened to until the ear is supernaturally opened. Till then, the sinner will be deaf as the adder to the voice of the charmer charming never so wisely. And the Christian's consolation under all discouragement from man's unwillingness to hear is this, that the call is God's call, and that when he pleases, he can render it effectual.
But while we draw from this consideration all the comfort which it is adapted to afford, let it not be made a pretext for unfaithfulness or negligence in doing our part as the messengers of Christ. While it is certain that no soul will perish which does not abundantly deserve to die; and on the other hand that none whom God elects to everlasting life will fail to hear the voice which calls them to the fountain of salvation; it is also certain that the loss of some sinners will bring aggravated guilt upon the souls of those who should have called them and who did not; or who called so faintly that it never reached the ears of those to whom the word was sent, or if it reached their ears, it never touched their hearts, so calmly and so coldly was the invitation uttered.
Let us ask ourselves this question: Are the calls and invitations of the gospel, at this moment, uttered loud enough? Are there voices enough joining in the cry, to make it audible? Is it heard in the desert? Is it heard in those dark places of the earth which are full of the habitations of cruelty? Is our voice heard there, through the messengers whom we have sent? Is it heard at home? Even among ourselves is the cry as loud and piercing as it ought to be? Even where purity of doctrine is maintained and where the evidence of practical religion does exist, may there not be a want of earnestness and fervour in proclaiming that which is really believed? May not the very dread of spurious excitement, which the church has seen abundant cause to feel, be pushed so far as to produce a coldness and appearance of indifference in publishing the offers of the gospel, which amounts, in practical effect, almost to a denial of the very truths affirmed, and a retracting of the invitations offered? It is a question to be seriously pondered, whether much of the indifference with which the invitations of the gospel are received, does not arise from the apparent absence of all lively feeling on the part of those who make them. And this, not only in relation to the public formal preaching of the word, but also in reference to those private occasions upon which the individual Christian may be called to say to those who hear his voice, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" Let the invitations which we offer in the name of Christ, be, like his own, earnest and free, addressed to all who feel the need of them. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!"
The figures here used need but little explanation, and that little only to secure a just discrimination between things which differ. The same divine grace is exhibited under three distinct aspects; water refreshes, milk nourishes, wine cheers. To the thirsty soul the prophet offers water, to the famished milk, to the despondent wine. The same grace which relieves our spiritual lassitude and weariness of life, removes the cause of these distressing symptoms, by supplying the materials of spiritual strength, feeding the soul with knowledge—not only religious but experimental knowledge—and the same grace which thus strengthens, while it gives repose, goes further, and produces holy joy. To all this the sinner is invited in the gospel. Is he thirsty? Is he conscious of a want within him which must be supplied before he can enjoy repose, and does he find that this vague feeling of deficiency is more distressing, the more undefined it is? And does this exhaust and as it were dry up the very fountains of his life, with an effect equivalent to that of parching thirst, until his soul is ready to cry out, My moisture is turned into the drought of summer? Even amidst the press of secular employments and the whirl of frantic gaiety, this thirst of spirit has been often felt; nay, it has been itself the means of plunging men in business or .in pleasure, in the hope of extinguishing that fever in the veins which will not let them rest. But in vain do they drink at the polluted springs of pleasure and the broken cisterns of man's wisdom; the fire still rages—it consumes and exhausts them more and more, until at last, the excitement of unsatisfied desire subsides into a desperate apathy, beneath which smoulder the remains of half-quenched passions, which, if once rekindled, will burn unto the lowest hell.
Society is full of those whose hearts have thus been scorched and blasted in the vain attempt to satisfy a craving soul with any thing but God. The sense of want remains, but it no longer stimulates to action; it is like the thirst of those who hare exhausted nature in the effort to find water in the desert, and have fallen down to die. The thirst which they before felt, is now but one among a multitude of symptoms which premonish speedy death. Perhaps you know such. If you do not, you at least know those whose minds are restless under disappointment, and a sense of insufficiency in every thing which this world offers to allay their inward thirst. If you know such, and would act the part of Christians towards them, do not foster their delusive hope of finding yet among the untried springs and cisterns of the world, what they have thus far sought in vain; but taking your stand by the fountain of life which Christ has opened, cry to them in a voice too loud and piercing to be heard without attention, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" Here bathe those burning brows and steep those parched lips, and slake that never-dying thirst which has become inseparable from your very being.
There are few scenes in fiction or in real life better suited to create a vivid impression of refreshment and relief, than those descriptions given by some travellers in the great Sahara, of the finding of a well, after an interval of terrible privation. The delirious joy, the frantic struggle for precedence, the impetuous delight with which the panting sufferer plunges his head into the long-sought element—the very picture brings refreshment with it; but alas! our sympathies are few and faint with spiritual objects, or we certainly should find what I have just described an imperfect emblem of the new life breathed into the soul, when plunged into the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, first, to be cleansed, and then, when all impurity has passed away, to drink. Ah, my hearers, is it possible for those who have once tasted of those waters, to forget them ?" Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon, or shall the cold flowing waters be forsaken?" Yes, such a thing is possible; for if it were not, we should not only come more constantly ourselves to this exhaustless fountain, but should cry more frequently to all them that pass by, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!"
It is related by one who had experienced the horrors of the great African desert, that the thirst which had absorbed all other feelings while it raged, was no sooner slaked, than the feeling of hunger was revived in tenfold violence; and I scruple not to spiritualize this incident in illustration of the prophet's language. The sensation of relief from undefined anxiety or from a positive dread of divine wrath, however exquisite, is not enough to satisfy the soul. The more it receives, the more it feels its own deficiencies: and when its faculties have been revived by the assurance of forgiveness, it becomes aware of its own ignorance, and of those chasms which can only be filled with knowledge of the truth. This is the sense of spiritual hunger which succeeds the allaying of spiritual thirst. The soul, having been refreshed, must now be fed. The cooling, cleansing properties of water cannot repair the decaying strength. There must be nutriment, suited to the condition of the soul. And it is furnished. Here is milk as well as water. We are called, not only to refreshment but to nourishment. The voice cries, not only " Come ye to the waters," but " Come ye, buy and eat." If refreshment only be supplied, the soul, though freed from thirst, will die of hunger. Do you know any sold in this state, fresh from the laver of regeneration and rejoicing in its change? Let us all hope to know many such. And when we do, or if we know them now, let us see to it that the first relief obtained from the waters of this fountain be succeeded by instruction—by instruction suited to the wants of babes in Christ—the sincere milk of the word. It may never be known, at least to us, in time or in eternity, how much of the fanatical abuses which have followed what appeared to be instances of genuine conversion, has arisen from neglect, or error in this very juncture. The soul has been refreshed, but it has not been fed, and inanition has excited it more fatally than it could have been excited by excess.
Has it not been a matter of familiar observation that the same men who are most successful in alarming sinners, are not always most successful in the training of new converts or the edification of established saints? And has not this diversity of gifts been made a reason for infringing on the order of God's house, and multiplying orders in the ministry? They who pursue this course forget, that while the prophet invites every one that thirsteth to the waters, he invites them at the same time to partake of milk and wine—of milk to nourish, and of wine to cheer. The supply of nature's cravings, though the first thing in order and necessity, is not the last. It is not all. The man must not only be continued in existence—his existence must be happy; it is for happiness that he desires to live, and when that which is necessary even to existence is supplied, he is not satisfied, he must have more ; as the feeling of thirst gives way to that of hunger, so the sense of hunger yields to the desire of enjoyment. To be satisfied with mere life, and with that by which it is supported, would be brutal. The nobler instincts of our nature point to something for which life is worth possessing, and the very satisfaction of inferior necessities, renders those which are higher more perceptible and urgent. As the relief of doubt and dread is not enough without the knowledge of the truth, so the knowledge of the truth is not enough unless it yields enjoyment. And it does, if rightly used. The gospel offers wine, as well as milk, and water. Come and drink, not of one, but of all, of all together. Come and slake your thirst, appease your hunger, and dispel your cares; not by different means, but by the same abundant, all-sufficient grace. God makes provision, not for one want merely, but for all. If you are cooled, and not fed—if you are fed, and not exhilarated, it is not his fault, but yours; his call is not to this or that exclusively, but "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!"
I have already directed your attention to the fact, that thirst is the only qualification required of those who are invited to the fountain. No merit, no purchase money; nay, the want of this may be considered as a negative condition. Merit and money are
not only needless, they are excluded; for you see the invitation is to those who have no money, who can pay no price. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he, (or even) he that hath no money." It is true the word " buy" is added—" Come ye, buy and eat"—but the Hebrew word is not the usual equivalent to huy: it is a word used elsewhere to denote no purchase except that of food; and even in that application may mean properly the mere act of procuring, by whatever means, though commonly applied to purchase, in the strict sense. If so, it may here be understood to mean "supply yourselves." But even granting that the word means huy —and it must be admitted that it could not fail to suggest that idea to a Jewish reader—it appears to me that it is evidently used here for the very purpose of expressing with more emphasis the perfect freeness of the offer made. They are called to buy, indeed, but who ? who are to be the buyers? Why, those who have no money; and lest this should be misunderstood as implying that some other mode of payment would be called for beside money, all misconstruction is precluded by the paradoxical, but most expressive phrase—Buy Wine And Milk Without Money And Without Peice. This full and unambiguous description of the offer as gratuitous, is any thing but needless or superfluous. It has its use, a most important use, in guarding men against a natural and common error.
The offers of the good things of this world are all made on a contrary condition: the calls of this world are to those who have money, those who can render some equivalent for thatwhich they receive. So universal is this rale, that it is often hard for men to be convinced that the offer of salvation is gratuitous. They feel that something must be rendered in return, and therefore they conclude that the forms of invitation, which imply gratuity and freeness, are to be understood as excluding merely some gross forms of compensation, that if money in the strict sense be rejected, as it must be, it is only to make way for some equivalent; and thus men, in the face of God's most solemn declarations, feed the pride of their own hearts with the delusive hope that they shall yet pay down the price of their salvation. In others, the same error may assume a humbler form. Knowing the principles on which men are accustomed to distribute their gifts, and imperfectly instructed in the principles of God's most gracious dispensations, they are ready to infer that, as they have no price to pay, they are excluded from the offer. It is just as if the poor, exhausted pilgrim in the desert, seeing others crowd around the well or cistern, should imagine that the water must be purchased, and, aware of his own poverty, relinquish all attempts to reach it.
But suppose that, just as he has come to this conclusion, a voice is heard proclaiming, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" and, as if to preclude all possibility of doubt as to the freeness of the offer, adding, "He that hath no money." How would such a person be affected by the sound? And how ought thirsting, starving, and desponding souls to be affected, when they hear the want of merit upon their part made an express condition of the offer of salvation? And above all, how ought those who make the offer, to be watchful against every thing at all at variance with this first principle of free salvation. Shall the ignorance, or negligence, or shallow experience of those who are sent forth to seek and save the lost, be suffered to convert the free and gracious invitations of the Saviour into legal bargains, in which grace is bought and sold under some specious pretext? This is no trifling or unmeaning question. There is a spurious liberality of feeling and opinion npon this point, a spirit of concession to the legal doctrine of salvation by works, as if there were really a mere verbal difference between the two. And this feeble, compromising temper, may gain access to the pulpit and the press, without any formal dereliction of the sti'ictest forms of orthodox belief.
The half-instructed youth who rushes hastily into the field of labour, under a strong conviction that the world is ready to perish for the want of his individual services, is very apt to carry with him a confused, unsettled view of this essential matter, and, by way of shunning metaphysical distinctions and scholastic formulas, to clog the glorious offer of a free salvation with the pitiful conditions of a mere self-righteousness. It has been done. It may be done again. But who will dare to do it? Who will dare with his eyes open to exclude from Christ those who are specially entitled to approach him, for the very reason that their guilt is great, their misery extreme, their own strength nothing, and their merit less than nothing? for instead of meriting reward, they merit punishment. Will you exclude them, or impede them, on the ground that a gratuitous offer will encourage sin? If you do it at all, this will no doubt be your motive. And to what does it amount? That you are more afraid of sin, and more unwilling to encourage it, than God himself. The necessary consequence of what you do is to condemn your Maker.
"Snatch from his hand the sceptre and the rod,
Be-judge his justice, be the God of God."
They who are good enough or bad enough for Christ to save, are good enough for you to seek in order to salvation. The objection is a merely theoretical objection; it is utterly at war with all experience; the abusers of God's grace have never been the true recipients of gratuitous salvation. They have been the cavillers and carpers at it. They have often been the self-sufficient formalist, and the self-deceiving hypocrite. There is no danger in obeying God, and following his example. And as he has made the want of merit, and of all reliance upon merit a condition of acceptance with him, let us go and do likewise. Let us not act the part of the ungrateful and uncharitable servant, who no sooner had obtained from his master the remission of his own debt, than he cruelly exacted the inferior obligation of his fellowservant. In the parable, indeed, the debt exacted was one due to the very man whose own debt had been just remitted. But we may be sure that if he had been equally severe in the exaction of debts owing to his lord, although his guilt would have been less, although his error might have sprung from an unenlightened zeal for the rights of Him by whose free favour he had been himself forgiven, he would not have escaped censure.
Nor shall we, if we do likewise. No, my brethren, it is not the will of Him, who, as we humbly trust, has pardoned us so freely, that in publishing the gospel of his grace, we should lay hold of our wretched fellow-sinners by the throat, and say, Pay my master what thou owest. It is not the will of Christ that the salvation which he died for, which he bought by death, and which he paid for with his heart's blood to the uttermost farthing, should be brought into the market and exposed to sale by us, as if it could again be purchased by the groans wrung from the heart of the despairing sinner, who instead of being brought to Christ is thus put from him, it may be forever. If any perversion of the truth can be insulting to the Saviour, it is this. It must needs be that offences come, but woo to that man by whom the offence cometh. The way in which that woe may be avoided is too plain to be mistaken. It is one which brings us back to the same point from which we started; the necessity of following God's own example in the offer of salvation.
If we do this we are safe. Let us all then learn to do it. Both in public and in private, as we have occasion, let us open to the sinner's view the fountain of life, and if he will not look, or if he be so far off that he cannot see it, while he dies of thirst and hunger, let us lift up our voices, and with piercing accents bid him come and live; let us tell him that he must come or be lost forever; but beware of adding any other limitation; let us call with special emphasis to those who are most destitute of all meritorious pretensions to be saved; to the ignorant, the desperately wicked, to the heathen; and as they pass by, rushing madly to destruction, whether near us or afar off, let us make their ears to tingle with the memorable words of the prophetic preacher, "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."