07 July, 2016

Isaiah 55:1-3—“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat ...”

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. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David (Isaiah 55:1-3 KJV).

This text is often cited in support of the well-meant offer of grace and salvation on the part of God to all men.


Philip Rainey

a) A Misinterpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3 

Recently a Reformed Presbyterian minister in N. Ireland gave the following interpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3. He began by drawing attention to those who, at the end of the seventeenth century, “limited the call of the gospel to those who showed signs of regeneration.” He said that, in this view, only those who are referred to as being thirsty in Isaiah 55:1 were called by the gospel. This was, and is, wrong, according to the preacher. The truth is, according to this man, that “everyone that thirsteth” means all men without exception. All men are thirsty and all men are trying to satisfy their thirst by spending money on that which is not bread etc. (v. 2).

The preacher went on to say that every person is in some way thirsting for God, but that the thirst mentioned in Isaiah 55:1 is not a thirst for righteousness. Everyone is engaged in trying to satisfy this inner longing for God. They are spending “money for that which is not bread,” and labouring “for that which satisfieth not ...” (v. 2), and so the call of the gospel comes to all men and calls them to “eat ye that which is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” They are called to “incline your ear, and come unto me” (v. 3).

We see how this line of reasoning ties in with the previous point, that the supporters of the free and well-meant offer add to the Scriptures. For all men there are gospel privileges and good scriptural food and drink. Furthermore, according to this preacher, “there is a God-shaped void within every man” that leads them to, in some way, seek God and to thirst for something better than that which they are at present experiencing in their lives. This sense of unfulfilment and unhappiness can only be satisfied by the gospel. All men are athirst, all men are called by these words, all men are well-meaningly offered such gospel privileges. There is absolutely no limit to either the call or the provision. All men thirst for God; all men are provided for.

This teaching is erroneous. The unregenerate are not in any way thirsty for God. In his unregenerate state, the wicked man does not want to come to Christ; he is not aware of his lost condition; he is satisfied with the pleasures of sin and the world and its food and drink; he is not seeking God. He does not even want to seek God. This is the clear teaching of Scripture:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Ps. 14:1-3).

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Rom. 3:10-12).

The wicked are full—full of unrighteousness. They are not hungry; they are satisfied by their own evil lusts; they “eat up my people as they eat up bread, and call not upon the LORD” (Ps. 14:4). They are thirsty for unrighteousness and hungry for the sweetmeats of the devil—“having eyes full of adultery ...” (II Pet. 2:14). They are those that “walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness” and those who “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (II Pet. 2:10, 15). The wicked are full of unrighteousness:

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Rom. 1:28-32).

As far as such people are concerned, they are getting along nicely. They do not see any need of being justified before God. They do not thirst for righteousness. The gospel is foolishness to such a person, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).  In the same way, the gospel was foolishness to the ungodly in Noah’s day before the flood.  We read in II Peter 2:5 that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness.” Evidently, Noah preached to the people of his day, but to them it was foolishness and they just carried on in their wicked ways. God tells us about man’s total depravity in Noah’s day (and today):

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5).

… and the LORD said in his heart … the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth … (Gen. 8:21).

The natural man is full of evil. Continually full of evil!

b) The True Interpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3

This will be considered under the following headings:

i) Who is here addressed by the prophet?
ii) What is their spiritual condition?
iii) What is the nature of the call and the benefits conferred therein?

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 that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David (Isa. 55:1-3).

i) Who is here addressed by the prophet?

“Every one that thirsteth.”

ii) What is their spiritual condition?

They are thirsty for God and His righteousness. This is clear from the preceding chapter: “This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD” (Isa. 54:17). In Isaiah 54:1-16, God comforts His church with gracious promises, even declaring, “In righteousness shalt thou be established” to those who were “afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted” (v. 11).

The spiritual condition of those “that thirsteth” is that they are thirsty for God’s righteousness—the “living water” (John 4:10)—and hungry for “that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). They do not have anything to contribute to their satisfaction (no self-righteousness), hence the gracious provision is for “he that hath no money” (Isa. 55:1).  Indeed, as Mary testified, “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Luke 1:53). There are some that God sends away empty; for them there is no gracious provision.

iii) What is the nature of the call and the benefits conferred therein?

It is an effectual call. The prophet calls all those “that thirsteth” to “come, buy, and eat.” The call is to come to the gracious provision that God has made, and to be satisfied. Money gives means to someone; with money they have the means to attain that which is desired. But, those “that thirsteth” do not have any money; they do not have anything of themselves which will satisfy their thirsty souls. That is not to say that they do not have literal money; or that they do not have the means to attain some form of self-satisfaction or self-righteousness. Judas Iscariot bought himself what he thought was satisfaction by betraying the Lord; but he was very far from having satisfaction. Our first parents, after their fall, tried to stitch up a righteousness of their own, for “they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Gen. 3:7). They tried to get away from God and His righteousness, until the Lord issued that gracious call in Genesis 3:9: “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” Then God clothed them with “coats of skins” (3:21), a type of the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah 55:2 simply means that those “that thirsteth” were engaging their own strength and means in carnal religion—labours that could never satisfy them—just like the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. They were partaking of the religious dross which Paul calls “dung” (Phil. 3:8). All the things that Christians do in their own carnal strength are the things that the prophet is speaking of in Isaiah 55:2.

The benefits conferred in this gracious call are the privileges and the promises of the gospel: the water and the bread of life. The benefits are “the exceeding great and precious promises” (II Pet. 1:3-4).



John Knox

[Source: On Predestination, in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist [1560], p. 118; (spelling and punctuation modernized; emphasis added).]

And wonder it is, that in the words of the prophet and in the words of our master Christ Jesus also, you see not a plain difference made, for the prophet calls not all indifferently to drink of these waters but such as do thirst [Isa. 55:1-3]. And Christ restrains his generality to such as did travail and were burdened with sin [Matt. 11:28]; such, I say, he confesses himself to call to repentance, but to such as were just and whole, he affirms that he was not sent [Mark 2:17] … That we thirst to do good, that we have some power to execute the same, this proceeds from the supernatural grace, by the which we are regenerate and newly born to a better and more godly life. Behold then what God works in his children: first, putting away their perverse nature [as to its dominion], he conducts and guides them by his Holy Spirit in obedience to his will.



Pierre du Moulin

[Source: Anatomie of Arminianism, pp. 321-322 (emphasis added)]

They [i.e., the Arminians] scatter some little motives [i.e., appeal to certain texts?], as that Isaiah 55:1. They that thirst are invited by God, that is, those that are desirous of reconciliation with God, and of salvation. And that Matthew 11:28. They that are heavy laden are called, Come unto me ye that are weary and heavy laden: By those that are laden, are noted out, those that are pressed down with the conscience of their sins, and sighing under the burden of them: Therefore (say they [i.e., the Arminians]) they were already desirous of salvation, and were pressed down with the conscience of their sins, before they were [externally] called, and regeneration is after calling: And therefore in the unregenerate there may be a saving grief, and a desire of remission of sins; but I affirm that those men so thirsting, and so laden, were not unregenerate: For that very desire of salvation and the grace of God, and the sighs of the conscience, panting under the weight of sin, by which we are compelled to fly to Christ, is a part of regeneration: And that beginning of fear (if it be acceptable to God) is an effect of the Holy Spirit moving the heart: For what hinders, that he who thirsts after the grace of God, hath not already tasted of it, and as it were licked it with his lips? What hinders that he who is commanded to come to Christ, should not already move himself and begin to go, although with a slow pace? Doth Christ as often as he commands men to believe in him, speak only to unbelievers? Yea, this exhortation to believe and to come to him, doth especially belong to them, whose faith being new bred, and weak, doth strive with the doubtings of the flesh.



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

If I preach in my congregation: I promise ten dollars to all who have no work and are in need, if they come to me, then that is a general proclamation of a particular promise. The proclamation is general, the promise is particular. It is a particular offer … When God calls: O all ye that thirst come to the waters, then this is proclaimed in general, but the promise concerns only the elect … And since it is God Himself who must work the true [thirst], it is as plain as day that all these passages basically concern only the elect.



More to come! (DV)

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