(Preached before the Queen at Windsor, March 12, 1865.)
ISAIAH iv. 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.
Every one who knows his Bible as he should, knows well this noble chapter. It seems to be one of the separate poems or hymns of which the Book of Isaiah is composed. It is certainly one of the most beautiful of them, and also one of the deepest. So beautiful is it, that the good men of old who translated the Bible into English, could not help catching the spirit of the words as they went on with their work, and making the chapter almost a hymn in English, as it is a hymn in Hebrew. Even the very sound of the words, as we listen to them, is a song in itself; and there is perhaps no more perfect piece of writing in the English language, than the greater part of this chapter.
This may not seem a very important matter; and yet those good men of old must have felt that there was something in this chapter which went home especially to their hearts, and would go home to the hearts of us for whose sake they translated it.
And those good men judged rightly. The care which they bestowed on Isaiah's words has not been in vain. The noble sound of the text has caught many a man's ears, in order that the noble meaning of the text might touch his heart, and bring him back again to God, to seek Him while He may be found, and call on Him while He is near; that so the wicked might forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return to God, for He will have compassion, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon; and that he might find that God's thoughts are not as man's thoughts, nor His ways as man's ways, saith the Lord; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways and thoughts higher than ours.
Yes--I believe that the beauty of this chapter has made many a man listen to it, who had perhaps never cared to listen to any good before; and learn a precious lesson from it, which he could learn nowhere save in the Bible.
For this text is one of those which have been called the Evangelical Prophecies, in which the prophet rises far above Moses' old law, and the letter of it, which, as St. Paul says, is a letter which killeth; and the spirit of it, which is a spirit which, as St. Paul says, gendereth to bondage and slavish dread of God: an utterance in which the prophet sees by faith the Lord Jesus Christ and His free grace revealed--dimly, of course, and in a figure--but still revealed by the Spirit of God, who spake by the prophets. As St. Paul says, Moses' law made nothing perfect, and therefore had to be disannulled for its unprofitableness and weakness, and a better hope brought in, by which we draw near to God. And here, in this text, we see the better hope coming in, and as it were dawning upon men--the dawn of the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was to rise afterwards, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.
And what was this better hope? One, St. Paul says, by which we could draw nigh to God; come near to Him; as to a Father, a Saviour, a Comforter, a liege lord--not a tyrant who holds us against our will as his slaves, but a liege lord who holds us with our will as His tenants, His vassals, His liege men, as the good old English words were; one who will take His vassals into His counsel, and inform them with His Spirit, and teach them His mind, that they may do His will and copy His example, and be treated by Him as His friends--in spite of the infinite difference of rank between them and Him, which they must never forget.
But though the difference of rank be infinite and boundless--for it is the difference between sinful man and God perfect for ever--yet still man can now draw near to God. He is not commanded to stand afar off in fear and trembling, as the old Jews were at Sinai. We have not come, says St. Paul, to a mount which burned with fire, and blackness, and darkness, and storm, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words, which those who heard entreated that they should not be spoken to them any more: for they could not endure that which was commanded: but we are come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the Church of the first-born which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling.
We are come to God, the Judge of all, and to Christ--not bidden to stand afar off from them. That is the point to which I wish you to attend. For this agrees with the words of the text, 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.'
This message it is, which made this chapter precious in the eyes of the good men of old. This message it is, which has made it precious, in all times, to thousands of troubled, hard-worked, weary, afflicted hearts. This is what has made it precious to thousands who were wearied with the burden of their sins, and longed to be made righteous and good; and knew bitterly well that they could not make themselves good, but that God alone could do that; and so longed to come to God, that they might be made good: but did not know whether they might come or not; or whether, if they came, God would receive them, and help them, and convert them. This message it is, which has made the text an evangelical prophecy, to be fulfilled only in Christ--a message which tells men of a God who says, Come. Of a God whom Moses' law, saying merely, 'Thou shalt not,' did not reveal to us, divine and admirable as it was, and is, and ever will be. Of a God whom natural religion, such as even the heathen, St. Paul says, may gain from studying God's works in this wonderful world around us- -of a God, I say, whom natural religion does not reveal to us, divine and admirable as it is. But of a God who was revealed, step by step, to the Psalmists and the Prophets, more and more clearly as the years went on; of a God who was fully and utterly revealed, not merely by, but in Jesus Christ our Lord, who was Himself that God, very God of very God begotten, being the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person; whose message and call, from the first day of His ministry to His glorious ascension, was, Come.
Come unto me, ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
Come unto Me, and take My yoke on you: for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
I am the bread of life. He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth in Me shall never thirst.
All that the Father hath given Me shall come unto Me. And he that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.
Nay, the very words of this prophecy Christ took to Himself again and again, speaking of Himself as the fountain of life, health and light; when He stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink.
Come unto Me, that ye may have life, is the message of Jesus Christ, both God and man. Come, that you may have forgiveness of your sins; come, that you may have the Holy Spirit, by which you may sin no more, but live the life of the Spirit, the everlasting life of goodness, by which the spirits of just men, and angels, and archangels, live for ever before God.
And what says St. Paul? See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven.
Yes. The goodness of God, the condescension of God, instead of making it more easy for sinners to escape, makes it, if possible, more difficult. There are those who fancy that because God is merciful--because it is written in this very chapter, Let a man return to the Lord, and He will have mercy; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon,--that, therefore, God is indulgent, and will overlook their sins; forgetting that in the verse before it is said, Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and then--but not till then--let him return to God, to be received with compassion and forgiveness.
Too many know not, as St. Paul says, that the goodness of God leads men, not to sin freely and carelessly without fear of punishment, but leads them to repentance. And yet do not our own hearts and consciences tell us that it is so? That it is more base, and more presumptuous likewise, to turn away from one who speaks with love, than one who speaks with sternness; from one who calls us to come to him, with boundless condescension, than from one who bids us stand afar off and tremble?
Those Jews of old, when they refused to hear God speaking in the thunders of Sinai, committed folly. We, if we refuse to hear God speaking in the tender words of Jesus crucified for us, commit an equal folly: but we commit baseness and ingratitude likewise. They rebelled against a Master: we rebel against a Father.
But, though we deny Him, He cannot deny Himself. We may be false to Him, false to our better selves, false to our baptismal vows: but He cannot be false. He cannot change. He is the same yesterday, to- day, and for ever. What He said on earth, that He says eternally in heaven: If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.
Eternally, and for ever, in heaven, says St. John, Christ says, and is, and does, what Isaiah prophesied that He would say, and be, and do,--I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the Bride (His Spirit and His Church) say, Come. And let him that is athirst, Come: and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. For ever He calls to every anxious soul, every afflicted soul, every weary soul, every discontented soul, to every man who is ashamed of himself, and angry with himself, and longs to live a soberer, gentler, nobler, purer, truer, more useful life--Come. Let him who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, come to the waters; and he that hath no silver-- nothing to give to God in return for all His bounty--let him buy without silver, and eat; and live for ever that eternal life of righteousness, holiness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, which is the one true and only salvation bought for us by the precious blood of Christ, our Lord.
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