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IV. Coming To Drink

Rev. Herman Hoeksema

If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink. --John 7:37.

Most generally, the words of the well-known hymn: whosoever will may come," are interpreted as meaning that salvation is a matter that is left up to the will and choice of the sinner. It is true, all men are not saved, for all men do not will to come to Christ. But that they do not will is not due to any incapacity of the will and spiritual darkness of the understanding, but simply to a wrong use of their willpower. Man is master of his own will. Even though it may be granted that by nature he is inclined to reject salvation and Christ, he has the power to turn about and accept Him. He can will as he pleases, and please as he wills. The will of man is free, sovereignly free, arbitrarily free. Man can will to accept Christ, and he can will to reject Him. And this situation prevails until he dies. Even as he is able to accept Christ today, so he may reject Him again, and apostatize from the faith, tomorrow. He may come to the Savior today, and forsake Him tomorrow. If only he accepts Him just before he dies, or is faithful to Him till that moment, he is saved. But if he should accept Him all his life, and reject Him at the last moment, he is lost. Nor is it from this viewpoint quite clear, why if this arbitrariness is essential to freedom of the will, the saints in glory are not continually in danger of rejecting Christ, and plunging from glory into desolation.

This view we reject. Not only is it contrary to all that the Scriptures teach us concerning the state of the natural man, and concerning the sovereign grace of God to save, but it is also absurd, and contrary to actual experience. An arbitrary will of man, that can turn either this way or that, that can arbitrarily will either one thing or its opposite, simply does not exist. The will is motivated in its choice. This is true in respect to natural things. Why do you will to eat? Because you are hungry. Why do you drink? Because you are thirsty. You cannot will to eat when you are full and nauseated. But the same is true spiritually. Also the will to come to Christ is motivated. Why does man come to Christ? Because he longs after the living God. Because he is weary of sin, and seeks rest, the rest of forgiveness, of eternal righteousness, of fellowship with the God of his salvation, and because he acknowledges that it is only in and through Christ that he can attain to them. Why does a man come to Christ? Because he thirsts for the living water, and the Fount of that water of life is opened in Christ alone. And this longing after God, after forgiveness and righteousness, this thirst for the water of life, this will to come to Christ, is not of the sinner himself: it is the fruit of grace.

Christ is the Fount of the water of life. The river of the water of life in the paradise of God flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb, which means that it proceeds from God through Christ. In the last day, the great day of the feast of the tabernacles, when the golden pitcher was filled with water from the pool of Siloam, Jesus stood and cried: "If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink." John 7:37. To the Samaritan woman at the well the Lord says: "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." And again: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of living water." John 4:10, 13, 14. The opening of this fountain of living water in Christ was typified and foretold ages before in the old dispensation. The thirst of the children of Israel was wonderfully quenched with water out of the rock, and the apostle Paul referring to this miracle of grace writes, that they all drank "the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." I Cor. 10:4. Christ followed them all through their wanderings in the desert, and revealed Himself by supplying them with water from the rocks. With a view to His coming, Isaiah called: "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." Isa. 55:1. And he could proclaim the blessed promise: "For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground." Isa. 44:3. Through his prophet Zechariah the Lord promised: "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." And "living waters shall go out from Jerusalem" in that day of great salvation. Zech. 13:1; 14:8. That fountain is opened in Christ, and from Him flow the streams of living water.

Let us ask the question: what is the meaning of this symbol?

Water has a rich symbolic meaning in Scripture. Sometimes it symbolizes deep affliction that overwhelms one's soul, and threatens to drown him and swallow him up. As a sign of spiritual realities, it signifies especially three things: separation, cleansing, and spiritual quickening and refreshment. The water of baptism is a sign and seal of spiritual separation from the world into the fellowship of Christ, and of cleansing from sin unto eternal righteousness. Thus the waters of the deluge were typical of baptism into Christ, for by the flood it was, not by the ark, that the church was cleansed and separated from the ungodly world that perished in the waters of the flood. I Pet. 3:20, 21. In the same way the waters of the Red Sea typified baptism, for by these the people of Israel were separated unto God from Pharaoh and his host, and the house of bondage in Egypt. And through baptism the old man of sin is swallowed up, the new man in Christ arises, separated from sin and from the evil world, and raised with Christ into a new life of fellowship with God.

It is evident, however, that when Christ is presented as the fount of the water of life, from which we must drink, the meaning of the symbol is somewhat different. It is not spiritual cleansing, but quickening, refreshment, complete satisfaction that is signified. It may be said, first of all, that living water or water of life represents principally, and in its deeper sense, the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, by Whom all the spiritual blessings of salvation are bestowed upon the Church as a whole, and upon believers individually. He is this stream of living water that flows constantly out of God, through Christ into the Church. This is evident from Isa. 44:3, for after the prophet has said "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty," he explains the symbolism by adding "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed." Thus also in John 7:37-39. The promise of living water is explained by the apostle in the words: "But this spake he of the Spirit which they that believe on him should receive." And this is also evident from the picture of the river of the water of life in Rev. 22, for the river is presented as flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. With the exaltation of the Savior and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit soon after, on the day of Pentecost, the promise was fulfilled, the river of the water of life began to flow, and the fount of living water was opened.

But the stream of living water represents the Spirit as the Author of our salvation, who realizes unto us and within us all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places that are in Christ, and which He obtained for us by His perfect obedience. These blessings are in the exalted Christ, and the Spirit of Christ takes them out of Him to bestow them upon us. He is called the Spirit of life, the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father; the Spirit of truth, that leads us into all the truth; the quickening Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge and revelation, the Spirit of holiness and sanctification, the Spirit of Christ. Accordingly, it is He that regenerates us, and causes up to be born of God, making us partakers of the resurrection-life of Christ. He gives us understanding and discernment of spiritual things, eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. It is by Him that we are called from darkness into light, from sin unto righteousness, from corruption into holiness, from death into life. All the spiritual blessings of knowledge and wisdom, of life and glory, of righteousness and holiness, and all other riches of grace constantly flow from Christ in the Spirit into the Church and into the believers. By these they live, and are constantly refreshed unto eternal life. And this stream of spiritual blessings is symbolized by the living water, or the river of the water of life.

All these spiritual blessings of salvation have their ground and heart in one, namely, perfect righteousness. Righteousness and salvation are so closely and inseparably connected, that Scripture sometimes virtually identifies them. Just as the real essence of our misery is sin, so the heart of our salvation is righteousness. Without righteousness there is no life, no favor of God, no fellowship with Him. Righteousness is life and joy. We must, therefore, be made righteous, and that, too, both in the legal and juridical sense, and in the spiritual, ethical sense of the word. We must be justified. Our sins must be blotted out and forgiven, and the perfect righteousness of God in Christ must be imputed to us, so that, even though in ourselves we lie in the midst of sin and death, we glory in our justification, and are assured that we are righteous before God. But we must also be sanctified, delivered from darkness and corruption and all defilement, and quickened unto a new life of holiness unto God. And in this comprehensive sense of the word righteousness is our salvation. And, therefore, it may finally be said that the water of life that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, is a stream of constant righteousness, forgiveness, light, holiness, love of God, eternal life! And blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled!

We must come, then, to Christ, in order to drink the water of life, that is, to receive from Him, and to appropriate unto ourselves all the spiritual blessings of grace, to obtain righteousness and life. Christ calls: "Come unto me and drink." Let us clearly understand this. The Christ of the Scriptures, the Son of God in the flesh, Who dwelled among us, Who revealed unto us the Father, and spoke the words of eternal life, Who was delivered unto the death of the cross for our transgressions, and was raised on the third day for our justification, Who was exalted in the highest heavens, and Who received the promise of the Holy Spirit, Who, finally, on the day of Pentecost poured out His Spirit into the Church, --that Christ is the open Fount of the water of life. He is our righteousness. He is our complete redemption. And He imparts Himself and all the blessings of salvation unto us through His Spirit. But this is done in such a way, that we receive and appropriate these blessings of salvation by a conscious and willing act on our part corresponding to Christ's act of imparting Himself to us. This act on our part is expressed by the words: "Come and drink!" The water of life, if I may retain the figure for a moment, is not poured down our throat without any act on our part, or even against our will. Even if such a thing were possible, we would never taste its pure and refreshing sweetness. But it is the will of God that we taste it, for we are saved to the glory of His grace in the Beloved. He wills that we taste His grace, that we consciously experience the wonder of His grace. We must come and drink the water of life!

But what does it mean to come and drink from the Fountain of this living water? It implies that we are thirsty: "If any man thirsts, let him come unto me, and drink." "Ho, every one that is thirsty, come ye to the waters!" This thirst for the living water belongs to the will to come. Unless a sinner thirsts after the water of life, that is, principally after righteousness, he will never come to Christ, nor does he have the will to drink. And this means, first of all, that there is in his soul a profound consciousness of his sinful state, of his lost condition, of his being devoid of all righteousness, and of his being full of sin and corruption that makes him damnable before God. It implies that he deplores his sin in true repentance, that he longs for forgiveness, and for the deliverance from the power and the dominion of sin. He longs to be clothed with righteousness. It signifies, too, that he recognizes Christ as the Fount of living water, as the fullness of righteousness and life out of which he must drink and longs to drink. He yearns for the full Christ and all the blessings of salvation. He thirsts for the water of life. But this is not enough. Thirsting he must hear and heed the word of Christ: "Come unto me, and drink." He must not merely recognize his own misery and the riches of the Savior, but he must now turn to Him, receive Him, believe on Him, and by faith draw out of Him forgiveness and righteousness, wisdom and knowledge, light and life eternal! Then he drinks and his soul shall be satisfied.

"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters !" "Come unto me, and drink! Let him that is athirst come! And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely!" To be sure, whosoever will may come to Christ to drink of the living water!

But who will come ? What is the relation between Christ as the Fount of living water and the sinner? Is it thus, that He is simply the overflowing Fountain of living water, that He sends out preachers to call the attention of men to this fountain, and that He now waits until they come, and drink? Ah, but in that case no one would come. All would despise the water of life! For all men are by nature children of wrath, dead through trespasses and sins, and they walk according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. They thirst, yes, but not after righteousness. They crave after the things of this world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. And always the natural man boasts of his own righteousness, and spurns the righteousness of God! And if it depends upon the will of that man, whether or not he will come to the Fountain of living water, and drink, he will never come. Nor will a veritable army of begging and hawking preachers persuade him to come. No man has of himself the will to come.

But the living Christ is first. And our will to come and take of the water of life freely is only the reaction of His own gracious act of imparting Himself to us. He imparts Himself to us, and we receive Him. He gives us spiritual eyes to see our own misery and spiritual wretchedness, and the riches of His fullness, and we behold Him as we never saw Him before. He draws us, and we come. He makes us thirsty and we drink. He changes our heart, and our mind, and our will by His Spirit and Word, and we find Him more precious than all the riches of the world, and consider all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let no man, then, glory in himself!

For if you do not thirst for the living Christ, it is only because you are blind, and dead, and naked and miserable, an enemy of God, hating righteousness though boasting of your goodness, loving the darkness rather than the light, glorying in your shame. And boast not against the Christ of God, as if you had the power to decide to come to Him whenever you please. Christ is the Lord. No one can come to Him unless the Father draw him!

On the other hand, ye that thirst, and come unto Him to drink, exalt not yourselves. Ye came not of yourselves. It was His grace that made you thirst for the living water. It was He that called: Come! and you came. It was He that imparted Himself to you, and you drank, and continue to drink unto everlasting life! He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!

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Last modified, 26-Apr-1998