In recent years, James Montgomery Boice’s hymn Come to the Waters has resonated deeply with our family. Our youngest daughter often requests it during our evening worship sessions. So, when I was tasked with writing about a beloved hymn, this one immediately came to mind.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so our souls long for the living God. The Christian journey, akin to a pilgrimage through arid lands, often finds its most profound expressions and relief in the hymns we sing–those timeless pieces of spiritual resonance that echo the deep yearnings of our hearts. Come to the Waters expresses the evangelical truth of God’s gracious invitation to salvation, a cornerstone of Reformed theology. Penned with deep spiritual insight, this hymn resonates with the rich doctrines that have shaped our Reformed and Presbyterian heritage and encapsulates the essence of the divine summons to grace, which is as refreshing to our souls as water is to a parched throat.
Come to the Waters, an invitation echoing Isaiah 55:1, is a clarion call to all who thirst. This scriptural anchor takes us back to the Old Testament where the prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents salvation as an open and free invitation from God. The hymn, steeped in this rich theological heritage, resounds with the truth of God’s sovereign grace.
The opening stanza, “Come to the waters, whoever is thirsty,” is reminiscent of Christ’s proclamation in John 4:14, promising a well of water springing up into everlasting life. In classic Reformed theology, we understand that this thirst is the deep longing of the human soul. It is a profound acknowledgment of our total dependence on God for spiritual sustenance, a concept firmly rooted in the doctrines of grace. We are reminded of our insufficiency and the sufficiency of Christ – Solus Christus, one of the five solas that were the rallying cry of the Reformation.
Furthermore, as Presbyterians, we stand firm in the conviction of the priesthood of all believers. This hymn calls ‘everyone’ to partake of this grace, reflecting our belief in the equality of all before the cross. Our Confession and Catechisms hold no person too far to be beyond the reach of God’s free gift, an echo of the ‘whosoever will’ in Revelation 22:17. This universal offer of the gospel, a beautiful tenet of Reformed theology, is an assurance that the call of salvation extends to the ends of the earth, transcending geographical, racial, cultural, and socio-economic barriers.
The hymn writer’s inspired choice of ‘water’ as a metaphor for the free offer of the gospel is deeply symbolic. Water, which is crucial to all life, is a gift from God. It is not a human creation; it cannot be claimed by merit, but it is graciously provided by our Creator. This parallels the Reformed understanding of salvation: unmerited, unearned, and graciously given. Ephesians 2:8-9 resonates strongly here, reminding us that it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Moreover, Come to the Waters aligns seamlessly with the covenant theology that is central to the Reformed faith. The hymn, in its successive stanzas, outlines the promises of God and our response in faith, reflecting the bilateral nature of the covenant. The waters, the bread, and the feast are all provisions of the Lord, offered freely, and our part is to come, to believe—to respond in faith and obedience.
The hymn culminates in a profound sense of Christian assurance. The certain promise that those who come to these waters shall “thirst no more” and those who come to this table shall “hunger no more” is the Christian’s hope and consolation. In the Heidelberg Catechism, the first question pertains to our only comfort in life and death—that we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Come to the Waters is not merely a hymn sung by the congregation–it is a theological confession, a musical sermon that every teaching elder, ruling elder, and congregant should relish. It captures the essence of the gospel message, the heart of Reformed theology, and the pastoral warmth of our Presbyterian heritage. It reminds us of the character of God, the nature of man, and the grace that bridges the gap between them. As we sing, let us remember that these are not just words and melodies, but the very truths of Scripture put to song, meant to edify, encourage, and exhort the saints as we journey homeward. Let the words resonate within and among us, spurring us on in faith until we all, at last, meet at the eternal waters from which we shall indeed thirst no more. Soli Deo Gloria.