I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Hymn 32. (C. M.)
Strength from heaven. Isa. xl. 27—30.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Whence do our mournful thoughts arise?
And where’s our courage fled?
Have restless sin and raging hell
Struck all our comforts dead?
Have we forgot th’ almighty name
That formed the earth and sea?
And can an all-creating arm
Grow weary or decay?
Treasures of everlasting might
In our Jehovah dwell;
He gives the conquest to the weak
And treads their foes to hell.
Mere mortal power shall fade and die,
And youthful vigour cease:
But we that wait upon the Lord
Shall feel our strength increase.
The saints shall mount on eagles’ wings,
And taste the promis’d bliss,
Till their unwearied feet arrive
Where perfect pleasure is.
—from The Psalms & Hymns of Isaac Watts. Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Book I: Collected from the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 1997).
Christ Reveals the “Living Water”
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
It has been said that there are some passages in Scripture which deserve to be printed in letters of gold. Of such passages the verses before us form one. They contain one of those wide, full, free invitations to mankind, which make the Gospel of Christ so eminently the “good news of God.” Let us see of what it consists.
We have, first, in these verses, a case supposed. The Lord Jesus says, “If any man thirst.” These words no doubt were meant to have a spiritual meaning. The thirst before us is of a purely spiritual kind. It means anxiety of soul,—conviction of sin,—desire of pardon,—longing after peace of conscience. When a man feels his sins, and wants forgiveness—is deeply sensible of his soul’s need, and earnestly desires help and relief—then he is in that state of mind which our Lord had in view, when he said, “If any man thirst.” The Jews who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost, and were “pricked in their hearts,”—the Philippian jailer who cried to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” are both examples of what the expression means. In both cases there was “thirst.”
Such thirst as this, unhappily, is known by few. All ought to feel it, and all would feel it if they were wise. Sinful, mortal, dying creatures as we all are, with souls that will one day be judged and spend eternity in heaven or hell, there lives not the man or woman on earth who ought not to “thirst” after salvation. And yet the many thirst after everything almost except salvation. Money, pleasure, honor, rank, self-indulgence,—these are the things which they desire. There is no clearer proof of the fall of man, and the utter corruption of human nature, than the careless indifference of most people about their souls. No wonder the Bible calls the natural man “blind,” and “asleep,” and “dead,” when so few can be found who are awake, alive, and athirst about salvation.
Happy are those who know something by experience of spiritual “thirst.” The beginning of all true Christianity is to discover that we are guilty, empty, needy sinners. Until we know that we are lost, we are not in the way to be saved. The very first step toward heaven is to be thoroughly convinced that we deserve hell. That sense of sin which sometimes alarms a man and makes him think his own case desperate, is a good sign. It is in fact a symptom of spiritual life: ”Blessed indeed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt. v. 6.)
We have, secondly, in these verses, a remedy proposed. The Lord Jesus says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” He declares that He is the true fountain of life, the supplier of all spiritual necessities, the reliever of all spiritual needs. He invites all who feel the burden of sin heavy, to apply to Him, and proclaims Himself their helper.
Those words “let him come unto me,” are few and very simple. But they settle a mighty question which all the wisdom of Greek and Roman philosophers could never settle; they show how man can have peace with God. They show that peace is to be had in Christ by trusting in Him as our mediator and substitute,—in one word, by believing. To “come” to Christ is to believe on Him, and to “believe” on Him is to come. The remedy may seem a very simple one, too simple to be true. But there is no other remedy than this; and all the wisdom of the world can never find a flaw in it, or devise a better.
To use this grand prescription of Christ is the secret of all saving Christianity. The saints of God in every age have been men and women who drank of this fountain by faith, and were relieved. They felt their guilt and emptiness, and thirsted for deliverance. They heard of a full supply of pardon, mercy, and grace in Christ crucified for all penitent believers. They believed the good news and acted upon it. They cast aside all confidence in their own goodness and worthiness, and came to Christ by faith as sinners. So coming they found relief. So coming daily they lived. So coming they died. Really to feel the sinfulness of sin and to thirst, and really to come to Christ and believe, are the two steps which lead to heaven. But they are mighty steps. Thousands are too proud and careless to take them. Few, alas! think, and still fewer believe.
We have, lastly, in these verses, a promise held out. The Lord Jesus says, “He that believeth on me, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” These words of course were meant to have a figurative sense. They have a double application. They teach, for one thing, that all who come to Christ by faith shall find in Him abundant satisfaction. They teach, for another thing, that believers shall not only have enough for the needs of their own souls, but shall also become fountains of blessings to others.
The fulfillment of the first part of the promise could be testified by thousands of living Christians in the present day. They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith, they found in Him more than they expected. They have tasted peace, and hope, and comfort, since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need, and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed; but they have never been disappointed in Christ.
The fulfillment of the other half of the promise will never be fully known until the judgment-day. That day alone shall reveal the amount of good that every believer is made the instrument of doing to others, from the very day of his conversion. Some do good while they live, by their tongues; like the Apostles and first preachers of the Gospel. Some do good when they are dying; like Stephen and the penitent thief, and our own martyred Reformers at the stake. Some do good long after they are dead, by their writings; like Baxter and Bunyan and M’Cheyne. But in one way or another, probably, almost all believers will be found to have been fountains of blessings. By word or by deed, by precept or by example, directly or indirectly, they are always leaving their marks on others. They know it not now; but they will find at last that it is true. Christ’s saying shall be fulfilled.
Do we ourselves know anything of “coming to Christ?” This is the question that should arise in our hearts as we leave this passage. The worst of all states of soul is to be without feeling or concern about eternity,—to be without “thirst.” The greatest of all mistakes is to try to find relief in any other way than the one before us,—the way of simply “coming to Christ.” It is one thing to come to Christ’s Church, Christ’s ministers, and Christ’s ordinances. It is quite another thing to come to Christ Himself. Happy is he who not only knows these things, but acts upon them!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.