Various important truths in this verse press themselves upon our attention, such as:
1. The nature of the blessings offered here.
2. The circumstances in which the invitation is given.
3. Those to whom the invitation is sent.
4. Those by whom the invitation is given
1. The nature of the blessings offered here. The water of life may either mean the influences of the Holy Spirit on the soul, or the blessings of the gospel generally. Cast out of the favourable presence of God, you are here invited to draw nigh to Him and be accepted in the Beloved. Exposed to His anger, you are invited to experience the manifestations of His favour. Exposed to innumerable providential calamities in this world, you are here invited to come to the Redeemer to ward off these calamities from you, or sanctify them for your benefit, and finally deliver you out of them all. Deserving all the torments of hell, you are invited to partake of all the glories of heaven. Naturally the fallen offspring of fallen man, you are here invited to receive life from Jesus as your life-giving head. Prone to seek your happiness in the world, which continually disappoints you, you are here invited to the Redeemer that He may truly bless you.
As long as you are destitute of the blessedness here offered, all the happiness you can have is not worthy of the name; whereas if you come to Jesus, you may receive ever-increasing measures of wisdom, holiness and joy out of His fulness. In this world you meet with little but disorder and misery; in fellowship with Jesus, and with His people, you will experience a peace that passeth understanding. Earthly things are all deceitful; spiritual realities answer the highest possible expectations of the soul. The world is a spiritual wilderness, full of obstacles to your progress heavenward. Jesus here offers to strengthen you by His grace for all the toils and conflicts of your spiritual course. The men that have their portion in this life are continually contending with each other for shares of earthly good. In the salvation of the gospel, there is enough for all who can apply, and an infinite fulness of good still untouched. Your sins are hidden from the sight of God under the covering of Christ’s atoning blood. Your depraved and wretched hearts are renewed and cheered by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And under the enlivening beams of Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, you may pass in safety and comfort, and even in triumph, onward through life and through death itself into the regions of glory and honour and immortality.
These exceedingly great and manifold blessings are all purchased by the precious blood of God’s own Son and offered to you freely. You have nothing to give for them; nay, you are forbidden to attempt to secure them by any personal merit. It is as persons who not only do not deserve any good, but who deserve all evil at the hand of God, that you are to come to Him – through Jesus, as destitute, ill-deserving creatures, for a salvation that is both complete in itself and freely bestowed. All you have to do is to come and take it. If you approach unto God in the public and private ordinances of His grace, and if your whole soul goes out in dependence on Jesus for pardon, peace, hope, spiritual life and strength, all these, and all other spiritual blessings, will infallibly become yours.
2. The circumstances in which the invitation is given. Towards the conclusion of the book of Revelation the two contending hosts of good and wicked beings, who have been at war through all past ages, come at length to their greatest and most decisive struggle. The followers of the Lamb are triumphant. Their enemies are shut up for a thousand years in hell. Hallelujahs are sounded forth from heaven and re-echoed by the earth, because “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”, producing everywhere upon the earth “righteousness, and peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost”.
At length, and just before the end of the world, the scene of moral brightness that the earth presented gives way to one of temporary darkness. The powers and agencies of evil are again let loose and come forth raging over the earth. Many are seduced to evil and fall away to the camp of the enemy. Once more the opposing hosts gather together to battle and while the enemies of God and of His people are, as they think, hastening forward to conquest, they are suddenly arrested by the judgements of God and finally crushed. Then all nature suddenly prepares for the great judgement. The millions of the dead come forth from their graves. The great white throne is erected in the sight of an astonished universe. The Saviour descends to sit upon it and gathers all nations before Him. The lake burning with fire and brimstone is revealed in readiness to receive the wicked. The Heavenly Jerusalem, with its walls of jasper reposing on foundations of precious stones, is also made to burst upon our view. Then the solemn announcement is given that the wicked and the righteous are finally separated, and that their character and destiny are unchangeably fixed, for He that is unjust must be unjust still, and he that is holy must be holy still (Rev 22:11).
We shall individually pass through the ordeal of these events to our everlasting state; and if we would have a blissful, not a terrifying, interest in these realities, we must now come and take of the water of life freely. It is in view of these events that the invitation of the text is addressed to all; and, no doubt, the intention is to overawe our minds into a willing, earnest reception of offered mercy by the prospect of coming judgement. Let us then look on to the awful season that is fast approaching us all; and, as our fitness or unfitness for that season depends on our reception or rejection of the Saviour now, let us feel impelled to go to Him, with an intense and agonising earnestness of heart, for all the blessings which He offers so freely to bestow.
But the circumstances in which this invitation is here addressed to us are encouraging as well as overawing. It is great mercy in God to us, in the midst of such solemn declarations of His purposes, to think of the frailties and fears of His guilty creatures and to introduce so gracious an invitation. Had the Book of God ended without any such offer, many a humble believer might have taken alarm and cast away His confidence and concluded that the Lord would then be favourable no more. But when we behold the great God, while revealing the glory of His wonderful doings, casting a look of pity and love upon the unworthy, and when we hear the Eternal sending such a message of tenderness from amidst the most awful revelations of His terrible and overpowering judgments, can we be otherwise than melted into love, and covered with tears of gladness in His blessed presence? Can we do otherwise than come at His request to the Redeemer for the blessings of His grace? Can we do otherwise than come and take of the water of life freely?
Here it may be observed that probably some of you will needlessly discourage yourselves from coming to Jesus for the blessings of His grace, of which you are in need. And others of you will conclude that you are disposed and prepared to partake of these blessings, although not in a state of mind to welcome the offer of salvation.
3. Those to whom the invitation is addressed. They are the thirsty and the willing. “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” Any one who feels his need of these blessings, or who feels his need of happiness, without as yet seeing distinctly where it is to be found, is here specially exhorted and encouraged to come to Jesus for salvation. “Let him that is athirst come.” Let the man who cannot find any peace, any rest, any satisfaction in created objects and earthly enjoyments, who, after all his keen pursuit of happiness, is still disappointed and full of tossings to and fro, let him only make trial of the privileges and blessings, the employments and prospects of a follower of Jesus; let him only believe the gospel and obey it; and he will find he has arrived at a source of life and true happiness – a full, overflowing, boundless eternal fountain of all real good – of which he had hitherto no conception.
Especially let any one who not only says with others, Who will show me any good? but knows that the good he needs is to have the light of God’s countenance lifted upon him – and therefore thirsts for God, for the living God, that he may come and appear before God – let every such individual consider himself specially called upon to come to Jesus as his prophet, priest and king. And Jesus will enlighten his mind and renew his heart and wash away his sins in the all-atoning blood. He will cover him with the garment of the all-perfect righteousness and subdue, control, deliver and defend him, and finally and entirely and for ever redeem him from all evil.
But some doubting, troubled hearers of this gracious invitation say, We fear that we are not athirst, that we are not so sick of the world and so desirous of these spiritual blessings as is necessary that we may be made welcome to the benefits of the Redeemer’s purchase and grace. To meet the feelings even of such, consider what is said in the text: “Whosoever will, let him come”. If any of you doubt whether you have the earnest longing for salvation implied in thirsting for God, yet if you have any willingness at all to come to the Saviour, even to you is the word of this salvation sent: “Whosoever will, let him come”. Your heart may be like a barren wilderness, but Jesus can turn it into a fruitful field. It may be like the dry and parched earth, but He can make it like a well-watered garden. He can put His Spirit within you as a fountain of living waters, springing up within you into everlasting life – in all spiritual knowledge and joy.
Even in this world, there is a river flowing through the city of God to make it glad. The influences of the Holy Ghost, proceeding from Jesus, fill His ordinances, and you are to come and drink of the living stream; you are to come and refresh yourselves at the wells of salvation; you are to come and find peace in the blood of Jesus sprinkled upon you, and light, life and strength from the communications of His Spirit, and everlasting consolation and good hope from the promise of His grace. You are to come and take such views of His holy and gracious character, of the security and peace of His people, and of the realities of the future unfading blessedness in heaven, as shall animate you to be devoted to His service, to cleave to His followers, and to walk with Him by faith on earth, that you may at length see Him as He is, and be for ever transformed into His likeness by the blessed sight.
It might be expected that the first sound of this invitation would make the heart of all who hear it leap for joy, and that poor perishing sinners would flock in crowds to the blessed Redeemer, receiving Him through His ordinances and cleaving to Him by a continual faith. But many hear the invitation with indifference and neglect it, or question its truth or value, or reject it with positive aversion, or, insincerely professing to esteem it, merely pretend to accept the offer. Even the few who are brought to see so far its reality and its worth, still keep halting between the idea of embracing it and the idea of putting it away from them. They come with a strange reluctance to make use of it and they are ever apt to think lightly of it again. They seldom or never feel all the activity and the joy which it is fitted to inspire.
Hence it is necessary not only to make the offer of salvation, the simple offer of which should immediately fill every one with an earnest desire to accept it, but also to follow the offer with urgent repetitions of it.
4. Those by whom the invitation is given. “The Spirit and the bride say come . . . .” Although God the Father is not expressly and formally introduced in this passage as alluring you to the Saviour, yet the revelation which He has made of Himself as full of compassion, and the melting calls which He gives you to turn to Him from your backslidings and iniquities, are certainly intended and fitted to persuade you to take refuge in His favour and loving-kindness, as the life of your souls.
Further, you are here invited to Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has filled the Scriptures with innumerable inducements and invitations to you to come to the ordinances of grace for salvation. The Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit; for “holy men spake” what the Bible contains, only as they were “moved by the Holy Ghost”. The Bible is full of all imaginable reasons for your immediately receiving, by faith, a free and full salvation; and every one of these inducements is just the voice of the Holy Spirit inviting you to come to Jesus. In every sentence of the sacred writings, the Holy Spirit is urging you to forsake your wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts and to return unto the Lord for mercy and abundant pardon.
The Holy Spirit has also filled the character of Jesus with innumerable attractions to allure you to Him. On one occasion, we find Jesus, in the midst of the inhabitants of Nazareth, quoting the prophecy about Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18ff). And, having exhibited Himself as the heavenly teacher and almighty Redeemer predicted in these words, they “all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth”. Now, what I want you to notice is that the grace which He then manifested is expressly ascribed by Himself to the Holy Spirit resting upon Him. To understand, then, how the Spirit invites you to come to Jesus, you should remember that whatever is attractive to you in the person of Christ, in His incarnation, in the graciousness of His character, in His miracles and doctrines, or in His life and death, was owing to the Holy Spirit dwelling in Him. And as the Holy Spirit has filled the person and work of Jesus with innumerable reasons to persuade you to come to Him for redemption, in this way also are you to listen to the Holy Spirit as inviting you to come.
Further still, the Holy Spirit fills the creation around you with continual proofs of the necessity and desirableness of your obtaining an interest in the salvation of the gospel. Every view that creation, the work of the Spirit, presents of material beauty reminds you of the far greater loveliness of moral and spiritual beauty. And every instance of calamity and death reminds you of your need of an interest in that world where no calamity ever enters.
And the Spirit invites you by all that He has done in and for believers since the beginning of the world. The graces they have manifested, the joys they have experienced and the intercessions they have offered up for you, are all the result of the Spirit’s work in them. Therefore, whatever motives to receive the truth which these considerations furnish are just so many invitations of the Spirit sent to you, through the medium of the saints, to come and partake of those blessings which have so enriched them.
Again, the Spirit has given you your natural conscience which often points out to you your sin, your danger and your duty. Every time the voice of conscience is heard within you warning, admonishing, reproving or encouraging you, you hear, in fact, the voice of the Spirit Himself, declaring His mind in reference to your character, conduct and prospects.
Further still, the Spirit works directly on your consciences and hearts. He awakens and strengthens within you the sense of what is right and wrong. He strives with you to bring you to repentance. He reproves you of sin and righteousness and judgement. It is the work of the Spirit within you when you are convinced that you are sinners by nature and by practice and are therefore odious in the sight of God, when especially you feel the hatefulness of unbelief in rejecting the offered Saviour, when you are impressed with the truth and rectitude of His character and claims and with your need of an interest in His finished work, when you see that no sin – and no sinner while he continues in sin – shall find favour with Jesus, and that He will take vengeance on all who know not God and obey not the gospel of His Son. And His gracious design is to persuade and enable you to embrace Jesus Christ as He is freely offered to you in the gospel.
The bride, the Church of Christ, also invites you to come. This invitation is addressed to you alike by the Church on earth and Church in heaven.
The Church on earth invites you. She is unceasing in her prayers that sinners may be converted and that saints may be edified. Her members make their light to shine before men so that others, seeing their good works, may glorify their Father in heaven. Her ministers are set apart to labour for your salvation. The ordinances of the Church are maintained as the means of leading you to Jesus and to know the things which belong to your peace.
Thus the Church invites you to come and take of the water of life freely. She does so by her privileges. Her Maker is her husband, and her Redeemer the Holy One of Israel (Is 54:5). She greatly rejoices in the Lord, and is joyful in her God; for He clothes her with the garments of salvation; He covers her “with the robe of righteousness, even as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Is 61:10). And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so the Lord rejoices in His Church. Now, when you are called to enter into the relation in which the Church stands to Jehovah and to share in her favours, is anything missing which would induce you to cast in your lot with the Church? Well may you incline your ear and give up all your sinful ways, longing to serve the Lord in the beauty of holiness and yield prompt obedience to the call which the people of God address to you: “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good, for the Lord hath spoken good concerning” us.
This invitation is also given to you by the Church in heaven. Even the angels earnestly desire the salvation of men. They pry into the scheme of redemption. They come forth to minister to the heirs of salvation and never cease their services to the meanest saint until they have conducted him safely beyond the regions of temptation and sin, into the immediate presence of God. Plainly, it is love to God and to His creatures that prompts them to take such a lively interest in the salvation of men. And we may safely conclude that the redeemed from the earth, animated by the same love, take a similar interest in our spiritual welfare. Indeed, they are expressly set before us (in Rev 6:9ff and 11:16ff) as earnestly praying for, and then adoring, the execution of God’s purposes toward this earth. No doubt the reason for their conduct is that they long for the promotion of the Redeemer’s glory in the salvation of His people. Thus joy is felt in the presence of the holy angels, over every repenting sinner, by the spirits of the just made perfect.
Were the veil now rent which separates heaven, the holiest of all, from this world, the outer court of the great temple of the universe, and were you admitted to listen to the expression of the feelings of the glorified saints toward you, with what earnestness would they unfold before you the degradation and ruin inseparable from sin, and the unspeakable blessedness awaiting everyone who embraces the mercy offered in the gospel! How eagerly would they urge you to Jesus, who has saved them and can save you to the uttermost; who has raised them, and can raise you, from the pit of ruin to the heights of glory everlasting! How would they, by all the miseries they have escaped and all the blessedness to which they have attained, and by all that is due to their glorious Lord, invite, entreat and even, if possible, compel you now to come to Jesus for His grace that you too may escape all this misery and attain all this blessedness, to the honour of His power and love!
You should contemplate the character and condition of the departed saints and contrast it with the mournful state, and the still more mournful prospects of sinners, until you feel yourselves most urgently impelled to the same Redeemer. Behold the circumstances of all who have departed from this earth to the presence of the Saviour. Their manifold iniquities are for ever pardoned by God, and blotted out from the book of His remembrance. The last vestiges of corruption have disappeared from their natures; not one spot of defilement can be detected even by the all-seeing eye of God. No tempter, no temptation and no enemy disturbs for a moment the order, harmony and blessedness of their spirits. They cannot experience any feeling of want or sickness or pain or suffering of any kind. Weakness and trouble, sin and death, have no existence in that happy world. The redeemed are there admitted to most beatific visions of God’s glory, of the absolute perfection of His nature, and of the wisdom, righteousness and grace of all His dealings. They behold the glorified Redeemer reflecting from His person with a softened, yet surpassing brightness, all the attributes and glory of the Godhead. And there the Spirit of holy love, continually flowing out from the God of love, fills, animates, and binds together in inseparable union, the whole family of saints and angels.
Are you not ready to exclaim that it would indeed be good to be there? Do you not feel the contemplation of the unmingled, everlasting happiness of the redeemed on high exciting in you a longing desire to share in the same final and complete redemption? Is it not your heartfelt wish, breathed forth now into the ear of the Lord of Hosts, that you may come out of all your tribulations and wash your robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, and so be before the throne, serving God day and night in His temple, where He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among you, and where you shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on you, nor any heat, for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed you, and shall lead you into living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes? If you would attain all this blessedness, you must come now to Jesus and take of the fountain of the water of life freely.
1. Reprinted, with abridgement, from The Free Church Pulpit, vol 1. Nixon, a minister in Montrose from 1833, was a prominent leader of the party which opposed the declension which swept through the Free Church after the mid-nineteenth century.