The Thirsting Sinner
or Buying Without Money
L. R. Shelton, Sr.
There are two great doctrines that run parallel throughout the entire Bible
– one is The Sovereignty of God in all of its absoluteness, and the other one is
The Responsibility of Man in every respect that the word implies. These two truths never cross
or contradict each other; and they meet only at the throne of God’s grace. The individual Bible
student who does not see and recognize these two great parallel truths is blinded to the Word of God,
and if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, blinded by the god of this world (II Cor. 4:3,4).
God in His sovereignty holds man responsible for his every act, word, and deed; every man must give an
account at the Judgment Bar of God, and he will be judged according to his works (Rev. 20:11-15). Many
have said to me, “Brother Shelton, I do not understand these two great truths.” My answer is
(and I'm not being sarcastic) — “I am not responsible for your ignorance.” You’ll have
to learn them where I learned them — at the throne of His grace at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ where
they are revealed by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:10).
On the other hand, the Bible does not teach anywhere the doctrine that man has a
free will. On the contrary, man has a will which can choose in only one direction, and that is, according
to his own nature which holds his will in bondage. Always in his natural state he chooses evil, and never
good. He chooses the things of the flesh because he knows nothing about the things of the Spirit.
“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).
I want to speak to you on the general theme, “Sovereign Grace Versus Free
Will.” Let’s turn to Isa. 55:1 and read — “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.” Now let’s turn to John 7:37, “In the last day, that great
day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”
Let’s read Rev. 22:17, “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the
water of life freely.” Let’s also read Rev. 21:6, “I will give unto him that is athirst
of the fountain of the water of life freely.” I have never preached on the great doctrine of the
Sovereignty of God and His Election without someone writing or phoning to call my attention to these Scriptures
and others on “The Great Invitation,” as if these Scriptures contradict all the Scriptures on the
Sovereignty of God and His Elective Grace. They do not contradict each other. Today man seems to be so afraid
of violating the will of man until he will take these choice Scriptures out of their setting to try to prove the Free Will of Man.
Once I was preaching on God’s Elective Grace when the phone rang; the engineer
picked it up, and a fellow cried out, “Tell that fool to read John 3:16 and Isa. 55:1.” Well, they
confirm what I’m preaching. Let me call your attention to this one fact, that wherever the expressions
“every one,” or “any man,” or “whosoever will,” are
mentioned in God’s Word, they are always qualified by some condition. Listen to God’s Word,
“Ho, every one that thirsteth.” The expression “every one” here is qualified
by the phrase “that thirsteth.” Listen again, “If any man thirst, let him come unto
me and drink.” The expression “any man” is qualified by the word “thirst.”
Only thirsty sinners will come to Christ. Then the expression, “Let him that is athirst come”
is also qualified by the word “athirst.” Also in the expression, “Whosoever will, let him
take the water of life freely,” the word “whosoever” here again is qualified by the word
“will,” and the word “will” is qualified by the word “freely,”
which means without money and without price. And yet you won’t have the grace of God. When God offers Christ to
you, you won’t have this Man to rule over you.
Our present subject is, “The Thirsting Sinner,” or, “Buying Without
Money.” We have read Isa. 55:1 to you, “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.”
Isn’t that a marvelous Scripture? It is the picture of a caravan crossing the desert, dry and thirsty,
and coming in sight of an oasis, where there is a well of water, and the merchantman is standing there calling
to the individual who is thirsty to come and buy and drink. And oh, how these merchantmen would drive a hard
bargain with the thirsty traveler for just one cup of water! God has transferred this picture to Himself as a
Merchantman selling His wares and likening Himself to a Trader in the market; so He cries through His ambassadors
and His Word to every thirsty sinner, “Ho!” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to
the waters ... come without money and without price.” But I find no one thirsting — I find no one
wanting it! A little girl wrote me last week saying, “Pastor, I’m thirsty, I want Christ.”
But there are not many; just one here and one there who is thirsty.
Have you ever thirsted after Christ? Have you ever heard deep down in your soul that
cry of Jehovah as a Merchant-man unto your thirsting heart, even as Christ stood one day and cried, saying,
“If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”
(John 7:37, 38). These Scriptures set forth this great truth that every sinner who ever gets saved, or can now say that
he is saved, thirsts after Christ. Once there came into his heart a deep throbbing thirst after the Lord Jesus Christ,
and nothing would satisfy that longing heart but the knowledge of Christ. As the Apostle Paul said, “I have
suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ... that I may know him, and the
power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:8-10). That thirst after Christ never ceases this side the Pearly
Gates. The Bible teaches in these verses that this thirst eclipses every other desire of the human heart. When
a person is thirsty, his mouth is parched, his tongue is swollen, and his one cry is, “Water! Water! Give
me water, or I die!” Every soul who ever gets saved, and comes to know the justifying grace of God,
experiences that thirst in such a degree that his one cry is, “Oh, give me Christ! Give me Christ! I want
no one but Christ. Oh, where can I find Him whom my soul longs after?” You don’t hear that much today,
do you? No, because there isn’t a thirst in the land today after Christ. There is practically none.
Such longing for security in Christ becomes the consuming passion of the sinner’s
heart. Brethren, security is worth infinitely more than gold. To be protected by Divine wisdom is the portion
of every believer in Christ. To be hid with Christ in God and made safe forever is worth more than worlds. My
security is not in the church, or doctrines, or the so-called good life that I try to live, nor in the religious
duties; but it is wholly and solely in Him, Christ Jesus my Lord. But my friend, I can go back yonder some
twenty-three years ago, when God put in this old sinner’s heart a thirst and a hunger after Christ that
has never been quenched. And there is that longing in this heart now after Christ.
One day a poor wretched sinner faced the electric chair. She called for her minister.
He sat down by her side in the condemned cell and talked to her about her church and all its doctrines, and
gave her absolution and tried to comfort her guilty heart with such security in the shadow of death in the
electric chair. She looked him in the face and said, “Sir, is that all you have to offer a poor sinner
like me who is going out into eternity to meet God? Go tell that to the individual who knows no sin. Sir,
I’m a sinner! I’m condemned to die!” Then the minister, looking her in the face, cried out,
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). My dear woman,
you need a Substitute. Christ died for you. Do you know Him?” Then with tears in her eyes she looked
him in the face and said, “Sir, that makes sense. Tell me about Him who died as my Substitute. Tell
me where I can find Him. Tell me about the Lord who died for sinners like me.”
Preachers, what security are you holding out to your people? What hope are you giving
them? What is the foundation of the hope that you are holding out to poor lost sinners? The only foundation
on which a poor, wretched, lost sinner can rest is Christ crucified, buried, risen, exalted at the right hand of
God as our Righteousness, our Surety, and our Security.
My friend, have you stood on the shores of eternity with all other foundations washed
out from under you and faced the awfulness of eternity with no hope, no security but Christ? Have you ever
stood there with one throbbing, burning thirst in your bosom, “Give me Christ or I die!” pleading
nothing but the shed blood of the Son of God? My friend, if you haven’t, you are not saved. You are not saved!
One day a woman lay dying. She sent for her minister. He came into the sickroom and
sat down by her bedside. She told him the condition of her heart and what a sinner she was, and said, “Sir,
I am facing eternity with no security.” He began to talk to her about a good life and coming back to
the church and renewing her vows. She looked him in the face and said, “Sir, that may do for that young
girl who has never sinned, if there is such a one, but I am a sinner. I have sinned! I am condemned to die,
because I’ve broken God’s laws, which are righteous and just altogether. My feet are sliding down
to Hell. Is that all you have to offer a poor, wretched, lost sinner like me?” He dropped his head and left the room.
She called the nurse, and said, “Send for my mother’s old preacher.”
He came — the old greyhaired, stoop-shouldered man of God — and sat down by her bedside. She
unbosomed the wretchedness of her life to him, and then asked, “Sir, is there anything in the Gospel
that you preach that can cleanse a poor sinner like me, and present me faultless before a sovereign, eternal
God, whom I have offended and wronged, and whose honor and justice and holiness I have trampled underfoot?”
He opened the Word of God and read Isa. 1:18, “Came now, and let us reason together, saith the
LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they
shall be as wool.” Then he turned and read to her I John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light,
as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth
us from all sin.” He left her to ponder those two great Scriptures. The Holy Spirit took them
and created such a hunger in her heart for Christ crucified, buried, risen (I Cor. 15:3, 4), exalted at the
right hand of the Majesty on High as her Surety (Heb. 1:3; 8:1). Days went by. The Holy Spirit opened that
heart and mind and swept away all false foundations and security and peace, and left her stranded upon the
desert of time, hungering and thirsting after Christ. Her one cry from the very depths of her heart was, “Oh,
I want Him! Tell me, where can I find Him! Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him! I must have Christ, or die!”
One night, after the Holy Spirit had broken that will and brought her stripped of all
her self-righteous rags and left her at the feet of Christ, broken, subdued, and naked, He laid in her heart
the Chief Cornerstone (I Pet. 2:6, 7), which is Christ, and laid it with fair colors. Then she came into the
rare possession of God’s everlasting love and mercy. He laid the foundations with sapphires, and made the
windows of agates and the gates of carbuncles, and all her borders of pleasant stones (Isa. 54:11, 12). The next
morning she called her nurse, and said, “Tell the old preacher that God has done it. The old account is settled:
Christ is All in All, and I am ready now to go out into eternity to meet God in Christ.” My friend, can you say that?
Brethren, Free Will says, “Live a good life, and you will get to Heaven!”
Free will says, “Join the church and do the best you can, and you are all right.” Free will says,
“Believe the right doctrines, and you have security.” Free will says, “Be baptized, and all
your sins will be washed away.” Free Will says, “Keep the Sabbath, and you are safe within the
fold.” Free Will says, “Believe the Bible, and it will make you holy.” Free Will says,
“Just rely upon the great love and mercy of God, and all is well with your soul, because God is too
good to send anyone to Hell.” Free Will says, “Keep the commandments, and you will satisfy God.”
Free Will says, “Walk the aisle, and make a decision for Jesus, and you will go to Heaven when you die.”
Free Will gives you only an empty shell, which is vanity of vanities. Free Will places your feet upon a sandy
foundation, which, when the wrath of God is displayed, will let you slide down to a devil’s Hell. Free
Will says, “You don’t need repentance to get to God in Christ.” Free Will says, “Only
believe, and it’s all right.” Is that what you have? Once I had that, but God stripped me naked before Him.
Free Sovereign Grace says, “God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love. He
is a God of justice as well as a God of mercy.” Free Sovereign Grace says that the sinner is totally
depraved (Isa. 1:5, 6), and stands guilty before a holy God (Rom. 3:9-20), and that all his works are wicked
works (Col. 1:21), works of darkness (Eph. 5:11; Rom. 13:12), works of Satan (John 8:44), and dead works
(Heb. 6:1; 9:14), all his righteousnesses are as filthy, or menstruous, rags and a stench in the face
of God (Isa. 64:6). Free Sovereign Grace says a sinner possesses a heart of unbelief (II Cor. 4:4), and
loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and cannot choose Christ because he knows not Christ
(John 1:10), and cannot find Him with his so-called Free Will. Free Sovereign Grace snips the sinner,
unclothes him by the power of the Holy Spirit and brings him before the Bar of God’s Justice, wretched,
miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17).
Free Sovereign Grace says there is no salvation for a poor, lost, doomed sinner
apart from the substitutionary death of Christ (Acts 4:10-12). Free Sovereign
Grace says that a sinner must stoop in the dust of repentance to receive
salvation from Another (Matt. 15:21-28). This breaks all his pride and rebellion.
Free Sovereign Grace says that the sinner is penniless, bankrupt, and has no
money with which to buy, no gold of goodness, no silver of sanctity, but he is
invited to come as such, to buy wine and milk of Heaven without money and
without price. Free Sovereign Grace turns all the imaginary righteousness of
the sinner to filthy rags, and all his so-called good works as ill odor in the
nostrils of God. But, on the other hand, Free Sovereign Grace makes the sinner
cry aloud, “I am wretched, but Christ is my riches; I am miserable, but
Christ is my comfort! I am poor, but Christ is my wealth; I am blind, but
Christ is my eye; I am naked, but Christ is my clothing.” Free Sovereign
Grace furnishes the foundation on which poor sinners rest; that foundation is Christ.
Yes, Free Sovereign Grace creates such a thirst in the heart of a sinner until
nothing will satisfy him except Christ. Friends can’t comfort him; foes
cannot discourage him. Unsaved preachers cannot turn him back. All the devils
out of Hell cannot defeat him. He realizes he has nothing with which to buy.
All his purchasing power is gone; all his stock with which to trade is gone.
The poor creature has no money. He has no power to think aright. He has no
power to act aright. He has no strength with which to make any money that would
pass as current coin of Heaven. He is a broken trader; he is worse than a
common beggar. He must learn to beg. He comes to realize that God is a God of
grace, and that grace in the hands of a sovereign God is given to whomsoever He
wills; therefore, he finds himself facing eternity at the disposal of a sovereign God.
By Free Sovereign Grace the sinner finds he cannot pay his old debts. Rising
before him day and night are his sins and his old sin-nature. He is absolutely reduced to bankruptcy, and
his cry is, “Oh, what a wretched sinner I am! I deserve to go to Hell.” As we have often said,
he signs his own death warrant, because he realizes “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him
that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
Then that sinner also finds that he cannot pay his present expenses;
he goes on sinning. Poor sinner. He must live; He must eat the Bread of Heaven; he must drink the
Water of Life. His soul is hungry; he even faints after the mercy of God. He is reduced to the status
of a beggar and cries, “I perish with hunger. Oh, show me where He is! Where is my Beloved?”
“If I had ten million worlds,” he says, “I would give them all if I had one glimpse
of Christ.” Brethren, that’s Free Sovereign Grace! Free Will has nothing to do with that.
Then the poor sinner finds himself so completely bankrupt he faces the future
penniless. He thinks of the needs that face him on his dying bed: “How can I press the dying
pillow in this condition?” But Free Will doesn’t help him. He thinks until his brainburns. He
tries to believe until his mind becomes blurred — all to no avail.
Then he thinks of the terrible demands on the resurrection morning, and cries,
“How can I stand before the God of the Universe on the throne as Judge,
when I have nothing to meet the demands of an eternal future?” This is a
terrible plight for a sinner to find himself in, isn’t it? Yet I would
praise God to high Heaven if every sinner in radio land were so reduced by
Sovereign Grace to that state right now. When a sinner is so reduced and
brought low, all Free Will is gone, and Grace comes in. The only hope for a
sinner who has no money to buy is outside himself. Oh, my sinner-friend, have I
pictured you? Have I drawn your picture from God’s Word? I hope I have.
So you see, my friend, there is no Free Will in these great texts. These texts
set forth a strange choice and a singular invitation, as “He that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat.”
God directs his invitation to that sinner who has nothing, because it is he who
needs mercy most. God looks not at what you have, but at what you have not. God
looks not at your excellencies but at your needs. God looks at your emptiness,
not your righteousness. God looks not at your goodness, so-called, but at your
sins. God chooses such a character that has nothing with which to buy that He
may manifest the power of His Divine grace. God takes one that is wretched and
miserable and poor and blind and naked, and He becomes riches for his
wretchedness, comfort for his misery, wealth for his poverty, eyes for his
blindness, raiment for his nakedness. It is to such a sinner the Great Shepherd
of the sheep comes, and He takes him on His shoulder and carries him home rejoicing.
Methinks I see the Great Shepherd of the sheep putting you, my child, on His
shoulder and carrying you home rejoicing, saying, “I have found My sheep
that was lost.” Methinks I hear the sinner singing,
Free Will cannot sing that song!
Only Sovereign Grace can sing, “Amazing Grace.” My friend, it is not by Free Will that you are brought to Christ.
Every sinner who has ever been saved, or who will ever be saved, will be saved
by Free Sovereign Grace, and that alone. And then he can sing,
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
and it was grace that brought me home to Christ and sealed me in Him. Thank God
for Sovereign Grace that saved a wretch like me!
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.
...Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, ‘twas grace my fears relieved!...”