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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

John 4



Other Authors
Verse 1

1.When, therefore, the Lord knew. The Evangelist, intending now to give an account of the conversation which Christ had with a Samaritan woman, begins with explaining the cause of his journey. Knowing that the Pharisees were ill-disposed towards him, he did not wish to expose himself to their anger before the proper time. This was his motive for setting out from Judea. The Evangelist thus informs us that Christ did not come into Samaria with the intention of dwelling there, but because he had to pass through it on his way from Judea to Galilee; for until, by his resurrection, he should open up the way for the gospel, it was necessary that he should be employed in gathering the sheep of Israel to which he had been sent. That he now favored the Samaritans with his instruction was an extraordinary and almost accidental occurrence, if we may be allowed the expression.

But why does he seek the retirement and lurking-places of Galilee, as if he were unwilling to be known, which was highly to be desired? I reply, he knew well the proper way to act, and made such use of the opportunities of usefulness that he did not allow a moment to be lost. He wished, therefore, to pursue his course with regularity, and in such a manner as he judged to be proper. Hence too we hear that our minds ought to be regulated in such a manner that, on the one hand, we may not be deterred by any fear from going forward in duty; and that, on the other hand, we may not too rashly throw ourselves into dangers. All who are earnestly desirous to pursue their calling will be careful to maintain this moderation, for which they will steadily follow the Lord even through the midst of deaths; they will not rush into them heedlessly, but will walk in their ways. Let us, therefore, remember that we must not advance farther than our calling demands.

That the Pharisees had heard. The Pharisees alone are mentioned by the Evangelist as having been hostile to Christ; not that the other scribes were friendly, but because this sect was at that time in the ascendant, and because they were filled with rage under the pretense of godly zeal. It may be asked, Did they envy Christ that he had more disciples, because their stronger attachment to John led them to promote his honor and reputation? The meaning of the words is different; for though they were formerly dissatisfied at finding that John collected disciples, their minds were still more exasperated, when they saw that a still greater number of disciples came to Christ. From the time that John avowed himself to be nothing more than the herald of the Son of God, they began to flock to Christ in greater crowds, and already he had almost completed his ministry. Thus he gradually resigned to Christ the office of teaching and baptizing.

Verse 2

2.Though Jesus himself baptized not. He gives the designation of Christ s Baptism to that which he conferred by the hands of other, in order to inform us that Baptism ought not to be estimated by the person of the minister, but that its power depends entirely on its Author, in whose name, and by whose authority, it is conferred. Hence we derive a remarkable consolation, when we know that our baptism has no less efficacy to wash and renew us, than if it had been given by the hand of the Son of God. Nor can it be doubted that, so long as he lived in the world, he abstained from the outward administration of the sign, for the express purpose of testifying to all ages, that Baptism loses nothing of its value when it is administered by a mortal man. In short, not only does Christ baptize inwardly by his Spirit, but the very symbol which we receive from a mortal man ought to be viewed by us in the same light as if Christ himself displayed his hand from heaven, and stretched it out to us. Now if the Baptism administered by a man is Christ’s Baptism, it will not cease to be Christ’s Baptism whoever be the minister. And this is sufficient for refuting the Anabaptists, who maintain that, when the minister is a wicked man, the baptism is also vitiated, and, by means of this absurdity, disturb the Church; as Augustine has very properly employed the same argument against the Donatists.

Verse 4

44.For Jesus himself testified. The apparent contradiction which strikes us here at first sight, has given rise to various interpretations. There is an excess of subtlety in the explanation given by Augustine, that Christ was without honor among his own countrymen, because he had done more good among the Samaritans in two days only than he had done, in a long time, among the Galileans; and because, without miracles, he gained more disciples in Samaria than a great number of miracles had gained him in Galilee. Nor am I satisfied with the view of Chrysostom, who understands Christ’s country to be Capernaum, because he dwelt there more frequently than in any other place. I rather agree with Cyril, who says that he left the city of Nazareth, and departed into a different part of Galilee; for the other three Evangelists mention Nazareth, when they relate this testimony of Christ. The meaning might indeed be that, while the time of full manifestation was not yet come, he chose to remain concealed in his native country, as in a more obscure retreat. Some, too, explain it to mean, that he remained two days in Samaria, because there was no reason why he should hasten to go to a place where contempt awaited him. Others think that he went straight to Nazareth, and immediately left it; but, as John relates nothing of this sort, I do not venture to yield to that conjecture. A more correct view of it is, that when he saw himself despised in his native city Nazareth, he rather withdrew to another place. And, therefore, it immediately follows (verse 46) that he came into the town of Cana. What is next added — that the Galileans received him — was a token of reverence, not of contempt.

A Prophet hath no honour in his own country. I have no doubt that this saying was common, and had passed into a proverb; (88) and we know that proverbs are intended to be a graceful expression of what commonly and most frequently ( ἐπὶ τὸ πολὶ) happens. In such cases, therefore, it is not necessary that we should rigidly demand uniform accuracy, as if what is stated in a proverb were always true. It is certain that prophets are usually more admired elsewhere than in their own country. Sometimes, too, it may happen, and in reality does happen, that a prophet is not less honored by his countrymen than by strangers; but the proverb states what is common and ordinary, that prophets receive honor more readily in any other place than among their own countrymen.

Now this proverb, and the meaning of it, may have a twofold origin; for it is a universal fault, that those whom we have heard crying in the cradle, and whom we have seen acting foolishly in their boyhood, are despised by us throughout their whole life, as if they had made no progress, since they were boys. To this is added another evil — envy, which prevails more among acquaintances. But I think it probable that the proverb arose from this circumstance, that Prophets were so ill-treated by their own nation; for good and holy men, when they perceived that there was in Judea so great ingratitude towards God, so great contempt of his word, so great obstinacy, might justly utter this complaint, that nowhere are the Prophets of God less honored than in their own country. If the former meaning be preferred, the name Prophet must be understood generally to denote any teacher, as Paul calls Epimenides a prophet of the Cretians, (Titus 1:12.)

Verse 5

5.Which is called Sichar Jerome, in his epitaph on Paula, thinks that this is an incorrect reading, and that it ought to have been written Sichem; and, indeed, the latter appears to have been the ancient and true name; but it is probable that, in the time of the Evangelist, the word Sichar was already in common use. As to the place, it is generally agreed that it was a city situated close to Mount Gerizzim, the inhabitants of which were treacherously slain by Simeon and Levi, (Genesis 34:25,) and which Abimelech, a native of the place, afterwards razed to its thundations, (Jude 9:45.) But the convenience of its situation was such that, a third time, a city was built there, which, in the age of Jerome, they called Neapolis By adding so many circumstances, the Apostle removes all doubt; for we are clearly informed by Moses where that field was which Jacob assigned to the children of Joseph, (Genesis 48:22.) It is universally acknowledged, also, that Mount Gerizzim was near to Shechem. We shall afterwards state that a temple was built there; and there can be no doubt that Jacob dwelt a long time in that place with his family.

And Jesus, fatigued by the journey. He did not pretend weariness, but was actually fatigued; for, in order that he might be better prepared for the exercise of sympathy and compassion towards us, he took upon him our weaknesses, as the Apostle shows that

we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, (Hebrews 4:15.)

With this agrees the circumstance of the time; for it is not wonderful that, being thirsty andfatigued, he rested at the well about noon; for as the day, from sunrise to sunset, had twelve hours, the sixth hour wasNoon When the Evangelist says that he sat thus, he means that it was the attitude of a man who wasfatigued

Verse 7

7.A woman came from Samaria. When he asks water from the woman, he does it not merely with the intention of obtaining an opportunity to teach her; for thirst prompted him to desire to drink. But this cannot hinder him from availing himself of the opportunity of instruction which he has obtained, for he prefers the salvation of the woman to his own wants. Thus, forgetting his own thirst, as if he were satisfied with obtaining leisure and opportunity for conversation, that he might instruct her in true godliness, he draws a comparison between the visible water and the spiritual, and waters with heavenly doctrine the mind of her who had refused him water to drink.

Verse 9

9.How dost thou, who art a Jew? This is a reproach, by which she retorts upon him the contempt which was generally entertained by his nation. The Samaritans are known to have been the scum of a people gathered from among foreigners. Having corrupted the worship of God, and introduced many spurious and wicked ceremonies, they were justly regarded by the Jews with detestation. Yet it cannot be doubted that the Jews, for the most part, held out their zeal for the law as a cloak for their carnal hatred; for many were actuated more by ambition and envy, and by displeasure at seeing the country which had been allotted to them occupied by the Samaritans, than by grief and uneasiness because the worship of God had been corrupted. There was just ground for the separation, provided that their feelings had been pure and well regulated. For this reason Christ, when he first sends the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, forbids them to turn aside to the Samaritans, (Matthew 10:5.)

But this woman does what is natural to almost all of us; for, being desirous to be held in esteem, we take very ill to be despised. This disease of human nature is so general, that every person wishes that his vices should please others. If any man disapproves of us, or of any thing that we do or say, (73) we are immediately offended without any good reason. Let any man examine himself, and he will find this seed of pride in his mind, until it has been eradicated by the Spirit of God. This woman, therefore, knowing that the superstitions of her nation were condemned by the Jews, now offers an insult to them in the person of Christ.

For the Jews hold no intercourse with the Samaritans. These words I consider to have been uttered by the woman. Others suppose that the Evangelist added them for the sake of explanation, and, indeed, it is of little consequence which meaning you prefer. But I think it more natural to believe that the woman jeers at Christ in this manner: “What? Is it lawful for you to ask drink from me, when you hold us to be so profane?” If any prefer the other interpretation, I do not dispute the point. Besides, it is possible that the Jews carried their abhorrence of the Samaritans beyond proper bounds; for as we have said that they applied to an improper purpose a false pretense of zeal, so it was natural for them to go to excess, as almost always happens with those who give way to wicked passions.

Verse 10

10.Jesus answered. Christ now, availing himself of the opportunity, begins to preach about the grace and power of his Spirit, and that to a woman who did not at all deserve that he should speak a word to her. This is certainly an astonishing instance of his goodness. For what was there in this wretched woman, that, from being a prostitute, she suddenly became a disciple of the Son of God? Though in all of us he has displayed a similar instance of his compassion. All the women, indeed, are not prostitutes, nor are all the men stained by some heinous crime; but what excellence can any of us plead as a reason why he deigned to bestow on us the heavenly doctrine, and the honor of being admitted into his family? Nor was it by accident that the conversation with such a person occurred; for the Lord showed us, as in a model, that those to whom he imparts the doctrine of salvation are not selected on the ground of merit. And it appears at first sight a wonderful arrangement, that he passed by so many great men in Judea, and yet held familiar discourse with this woman. But it was necessary that, in his person, it should be explained how true is that saying of the Prophet,

I was found by them that sought me not; I was made manifest to them that asked not after me. I said to those who sought me not, Behold, here I am,
Isaiah 65:1.)

If thou knewest the gift of God. These two clauses, If thou knewest the gift of God, and, who it is that talketh with thee, I read separately, viewing the latter as an interpretation of the former. For it was a wonderful kindness of God to have Christ present, who brought with him eternal life. The meaning will be more plain if, instead of and, we put namely, or some other word of that kind, (75) thus: If thou knewest the gift of God, namely,who it is that talketh with thee By these words we are taught that then only do we know what Christ is, when we understand what the Father hath given to us in him, and what benefits he brings to us. Now that knowledge begins with a conviction of our poverty; for, before any one desires a remedy, he must be previously affected with the view of his distresses. Thus the Lord invites not those who have drunk enough, but the thirsty, not those who are satiated, but the hungry, to eat and drink. And why would Christ be sent with the fullness of the Spirit, if we were not empty?

Again, as he has made great progress, who, feeling his deficiency, already acknowledges how much he needs the aid of another; so it would not be enough for him to groan under his distresses, if he had not also hope of aid ready and prepared. In this way we might do no more than waste ourselves with grief, or at least we might, like the Papists, run about in every direction, and oppress ourselves with useless and unprofitable weariness. But when Christ appears, we no longer wander in vain, seeking a remedy where none can be obtained, but we go straight to him. The only true and profitable knowledge of the grace of God is, when we know that it is exhibited to us in Christ, and that it is held out to us by his hand. In like manner does Christ remind us how efficacious is a knowledge of his blessings, since it excites us to seek them and kindles our hearts.If thou knewest, says he, thou wouldst have asked. The design of these words is not difficult to be perceived; for he intended to whet the desire of this woman, that she might not despise and reject the life which was offered to her.

He would have given thee. By these words Christ testifies that, if our prayers be addressed to him, they will not be fruitless; and, indeed, without this confidence, the earnestness of prayer would be entirely cooled. But when Christ meets those who come to him, and is ready to satisfy their desires, there is no more room for sluggishness or delay. And there is no man who would not feel that this is said to all of us, if he were not prevented by his unbelief.

Living water. Though the nameWater is borrowed from the present occurrence, and applied to the Spirit, yet this metaphor is very frequent in Scripture, and rests on the best grounds. For we are like a dry and barren soil; there is no sap and no rigour in us, until the Lord water us by his Spirit. In another passage, the Spirit is likewise called clean water, (Hebrews 10:22,) but in a different sense; namely, because he washes and cleanses us from the pollutions with which we are entirely covered. But in this and similar passages, the subject treated of is the secret energy by which he restores life in us, and maintains and brings it to perfection. There are some who explain this as referring to the doctrine of the Gospel, to which I own that this appellation is fully applicable; but I think that Christ includes here the whole grace of our renewal; for we know that he was sent for the purpose of bringing to us a new life. In my opinion, therefore, he intended to contrast water with that destitution of all blessings under which mankind groan and labor. Again, living water is not so called from its effect, as life-giving, but the allusion is to different kinds of waters. It is called living, because it flows from a living fountain.

Verse 11

11.Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with. As the Samaritans were despised by the Jews, so the Samaritans, on the other hand, held the Jews in contempt. Accordingly, this woman at first not only disdains Christ but even mocks at him. She understands quite well that Christ is speaking figuratively, but she throws out a jibe by a different figure, intending to say, that he promises more than he can accomplish.

Verse 12

12.Art thou greater than our father Jacob? She proceeds to charge him with arrogance in exalting himself above the holy patriarch Jacob. Jacob, ” she says, “was satisfied with this well for his own use and that of his whole family: and hast thou a more excellent water?” How faulty this comparison is, appears plainly enough from this consideration, that she compares the servant to the master, and a dead man to the living God; and yet how many in the present day fall into this very error? The more cautious ought we to be not to extol the persons of men so as to obscure the glory of God. We ought, indeed, to acknowledge with reverence the gifts of God, wherever they appear. It is, therefore, proper that we should honor men who are eminent in piety, or endued with other uncommon gifts; but it ought to be in such a manner that God may always remain eminent above all — that Christ, with his Gospel, may shine illustriously, for to him all the splendor of the world must yield.

It ought also to be observed that the Samaritans falsely boasted of being descended from the holy Fathers. In like manner do the Papists, though they are a bastard seed, arrogantly boast of the Fathers, and despise the true children of God. Although the Samaritans had been descended from Jacob according to the flesh, yet, as they were altogether degenerated and estranged from true godliness, this boasting would have been ridiculous. But now that they are Cutheans by descent, (2 Kings 17:24,) or at least collected out of the profane Gentiles, they still do not fail to make false pretensions to the name of the holy Patriarch. But this is of no avail to them; and such must be the case with all who wickedly exult in the light of men, so as to deprive themselves of the light of God, and who have nothing in common with the holy Fathers, whose name they have abused.

Verse 13

13. Every one that drinketh of this water. Though Christ perceives that he is doing little good, and even that his instruction is treated with mockery, he proceeds to explain more clearly what he had said. He distinguishes between the use of the two kinds of water; that the one serves the body, and only for a time, while the power of the other gives perpetual vigor to the soul. For, as the body is liable to decay, so the aids by which it is supported must be frail and transitory. That which quickens the soul cannot but be eternal. Again, the words of Christ are not at variance with the fact, that believers, to the very end of life, burn with desire of more abundant grace. For he does not say that, from the very first day, we drink so as to be fully satisfied, but only means that the Holy Spirit is a continually flowing fountain; and that, therefore, there is no danger that they who have been renewed by spiritual grace shall be dried up. And, therefore, although we thirst throughout our whole life, yet it is certain that we have not received the Holy Spirit for a single day, or for any short period, but as a perennial fountain, which will never fail us. Thus believers thirst, and keenly thirst, throughout their whole life; and yet they have abundance of quickening moisture; for however small may have been the measure of grace which they have received, it gives them perpetual vigor, so that they are never entirely dry. When, therefore, he says that they shall be satisfied, he contrasts not with Desire but only with Drought

Shall be a fountain of water springing up into eternal life. These words express still more clearly the preceding statement; for they denote a continual watering, which maintains in them a heavenly eternity during this mortal and perishing life. The grace of Christ, therefore, does not flow to us for a short time, but overflows into a blessed immortality; for it does not cease to flow until the incorruptible life which it commences be brought to perfection.,

Verse 15

15.Give me this water. This woman undoubtedly is sufficiently aware that Christ is speaking of spiritual water; but because she despises him, she sets at naught all his promises; for so long as the authority of him who speaks is not acknowledged by us, his doctrine is not permitted to enter. Indirectly, therefore, the woman taunted Christ, saying, “Thou boastest much, but I see nothing: show it in reality, if thou canst.”

Verse 16

16.Call thy husband. This appears to have no connection with the subject; and, indeed, one might suppose that Christ, annoyed and put to shame by the impudence of the woman, changes the discourse. But this is not the case; for when he perceived that jeers and scoffs were her only reply to what he had said, he applied an appropriate remedy to this disease, by striking the woman’s conscience with a conviction of her sin. And it is also a remarkable proof of his compassion that, when the woman was unwilling of her own accord to come to him, he draws her, as it were, against her will. But we ought chiefly to observe what I have mentioned, that they who are utterly careless and almost stupid must be deeply wounded by a conviction of sin; for such persons will regard the doctrine of Christ as a fable, until, being summoned to the judgment-seat of God, they are compelled to dread as a Judge him whom they formerly despised. All who do not scruple to rise against the doctrine of Christ with their scoffing jests must be treated in this manner, that they may be made to feel that they will not pass unpunished. Such too is the obstinacy of many, that they will never listen to Christ until they have been subdued by violence. Whenever then we perceive that the oil of Christ has no flavour, it ought to be mixed with wine, that its taste may begin to be felt. Nay more, this is necessary for all of us; for we are not seriously affected by Christ speaking, unless we have been aroused by repentance. So then, in order that any one may profit in the school of Christ, his hardness must be subdued by the demonstration of his misery, as the earth, in order that it may become fruitful, is prepared and softened by the ploughshare, (76) for this knowledge alone shakes off all our flatteries, so that we no longer dare to mock God. Whenever, therefore, a neglect of the word of God steals upon us, no remedy will be more appropriate than that each of us should arouse himself to the consideration of his sins, that he may be ashamed of himself, and, trembling before the judgment-seat of God, may be humbled to obey Him whom he had wantonly despised.

Verse 17

17.I have not a husband. We do not yet fully perceive the fruit of this advice, by which Christ intended to pierce the heart of this woman, to lead her to repentance. And, indeed, we are so intoxicated, or rather stupified, by our self-love, that we are not at all moved by the first wounds that are inflicted. But Christ applies an appropriate cure for this sluggishness, by pressing the ulcer more sharply, for he openly reproaches her with her wickedness; though I do not think that it is a single case of fornication that is here pointed out, for when he says that she has had five husbands, the reason of this probably was, that, being a froward and disobedient wife, she constrained her husbands to divorce her. I interpret the words thus: “Though God joined thee to lawful husbands, thou didst not cease to sin, until, rendered infamous by numerous divorces, thou prostitutedst thyself to fornication.”

Verse 19

19.Sir, I perceive that thou art a Prophet. The fruit of the reproof now becomes evident; for not only does the woman modestly acknowledge her fault, but, being ready and prepared to listen to the doctrine of Christ, which she had formerly disdained, she now desires and requests it of her own accord. Repentance, therefore, is the commencement of true docility, as I have already said, and opens the gate for entering into the school of Christ. Again, the woman teaches us by her example, that when we meet with any teacher, we ought to avail ourselves of this opportunity, that we may not be ungrateful to God, who never sends Prophets to us without, as it were, stretching out the hand to invite us to himself. But we must remember what Paul teaches, that they who have grace given to them to teach well (77) are sent to us by God; for

how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:15.)

Verse 20

20.Our fathers. It is a mistaken opinion which some hold, that the woman, finding the reproof to be disagreeable and hateful, cunningly changes the subject. On the contrary, she passes from what is particular to what is general, and, having been informed of her sin, wishes to be generally instructed concerning the pure worship of God. She takes a proper and regular course, when she consults a Prophet, that she may not fall into a mistake in the worship of God. It is as if she inquired at God himself in what manner he chooses to be worshipped; for nothing is more wicked than to contrive various modes of worship without the authority of the word of God.

It is well known that there was a constant dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans about the true rule of worshipping God. Although the Cutheans and other foreigners, who had been brought into Samaria, when the ten tribes were led into captivity, were constrained by the plagues and punishments of God (78) to adopt the ceremonies of the Law, and to profess the worship of the God of Israel, (as we read, 2 Kings 17:27;) yet the religion which they had was imperfect and corrupted in many ways; which the Jews could not all endure. But the dispute was still more inflamed after that Manasseh, son of the high priest John, and brother of Jaddus, had built the temple on mount Gerizzim, when Darius, the last king of the Persians, held the government of Judea by the hand of Sanballat, whom he had placed there as his lieutenant. For Manasseh, having married a daughter of the governor, that he might not be inferior to his brother, made himself a priest there, and procured for himself by bribes as many apostles as he could, as Josephus relates, (Ant. 11:7:2, and 8:2.)

Our fathers worshipped in this mountain. The Samaritans at that time did, as we learn from the words of the woman, what is customary with those who have revolted from true godliness, to seek to shield themselves by the examples of the Fathers. It is certain that this was not the reason which induced them to offer sacrifices there, but after that they had framed a false and perverse worship, obstinacy followed, which was ingenious in contriving excuses. I acknowledge, indeed, that unsteady and thoughtless men are sometimes excited by foolish zeal, as if they had been bitten by a gad-fly, so that when they learn that any thing has been done by the Saints, they instantly seize on the example without any exercise of judgment.

A second fault is still more common, that they borrow the deeds of the Fathers as a cloak to their errors, — and this may be easily seen in Popery. But as this passage is a remarkable proof how absurdly they act who, disregarding the command of God, conform to the examples of the Fathers, we ought to observe in how many ways the world commonly sins in this respect. For it frequently happens that the majority, without discrimination, follow those persons as Fathers who are least of all entitled to be accounted Fathers. Thus in the present day we perceive that the Papists, while with open mouth they declaim about the Fathers, allow no place for Prophets and Apostles, but, when they have mentioned a few persons who deserve to be honored, collect a vast group of men like themselves, or at least come down to more corrupt ages in which, though there did not yet prevail so gross a barbarism as now exists, yet religion and the purity of doctrine had greatly declined. We ought, therefore, carefully to attend to the distinction, that none may be reckoned Fathers but those who were manifestly the sons of God; and who also, by the eminence of their piety, were entitled to this honorable rank. Frequently, too,we err in this respect, that by the actions of the Fathers we rashly lay down a common law; for the multitude do not imagine that they confer sufficient honor on the Fathers, if they do not exclude them from the ordinary rank of men. Thus, when we do not remember that they were fallible men, we indiscriminately mingle their vices with their virtues. Hence arises the worst confusion in the conduct of life; for while all the actions of men ought to be tried by the rule of the Law, we subject the balance to those things which ought to be weighed by it; and, in short, where so much importance is attached to the imitation of the Fathers, the world thinks that there can be no danger in sinning after their example.

A third fault is — a false, and ill-regulated, or thoughtless imitation; (79) that is, when we, though not endued with the same spirit, or authorized by the same command, plead as our example what any of the Fathers did; as for instance, if any private individual resolved to revenge the injuries done to brethren, because Moses did this, (Exodus 2:12;) or if any one were to put fornicators to death, because this was done by Phinehas, (Numbers 25:7.) That savage fury in slaying their own children originated, as many think, in the wish of the Jews to be like their father Abraham, as if the command, Offer up thy son Isaac, (Genesis 22:2,) were a general command, and not rather a remarkable trial of a single man. Such a false imitation ( κακοζηλία) is generally produced by pride and excessive confidence, when men claim more for themselves than they have a right to do; and when each person does not measure himself by his own standard. Yet none of these are true imitators of the Fathers, most of them are apes. That a considerable portion of ancient monachism flowed from the same source will be acknowledged by those who shall carefully examine the writings of the ancients. And, therefore, unless we choose to err of our own accord, we ought always to see what spirit each person has received, what his calling requires, what is suitable to his condition, and what he is commanded to do.

Closely allied to this third fault is another, namely, the confounding of times, when men, devoting their whole attention to the examples of the Fathers, do not consider that the Lord has since enjoined a different rule of conduct, which they ought to follow. (80) To this ignorance ought to be ascribed that huge mass of ceremonies by which the Church has been buried under Popery. Immediately after the commencement of the Christian Church, it began to err in this respect, because a foolish affectation of copying Jewish ceremonies had an undue influence. The Jews had their sacrifices; and that Christians might not be inferior to them in splendor, the ceremony of sacrificing Christ was invented: as if the condition of the Christian Church would be worse when there would be an end of all those shadows by which the brightness of Christ might be obscured. But afterwards this fury broke out more forcibly, and spread beyond all bounds.

That we may not fall into this error, we ought always to be attentive to the present rule. Formerly incense, candles, holy garments, an altar, vessels, and ceremonies of this nature, pleased God; and the reason was, that nothing is more precious or acceptable to Him than obedience. Now, since the coming of Christ, matters are entirely changed. We ought, therefore, to consider what he enjoins on us under the Gospel, that we may not follow at random what the Fathers observed under the Law; for what was at that time a holy observation of the worship of God would now be a shocking sacrilege.

The Samaritans were led astray by not considering, in the example of Jacob, how widely it differed from the condition of their own time. The Patriarchs were permitted to erect altars everywhere, because the place had not yet been fixed which the Lord afterwards selected; but from the time that God ordered the temple to be built on mount Zion, the freedom which they formerly enjoyed ceased. For this reason Moses said,

Hereafter you shall not do every one what appears right in his own eyes, but only what I command you,
Deuteronomy 12:8;)

for, from the time that the Lord gave the Law, he restricted the true worship of himself to the requirements of that Law, though formerly a greater degree of liberty was enjoyed. A similar pretense was offered by those who worshipped in Bethel; for there Jacob had offered a solemn sacrifice to God, but after that the Lord had fixed the place of sacrifice at Jerusalem, it was no longer Bethel, the house of God, but Bethaven, the house of wickedness.

We now see what was the state of the question. The Samaritans had the example of the Fathers for their rule: the Jews rested on the commandment of God. This woman, though hitherto she had followed the custom of her nation, was not altogether satisfied with it. By worship we are to understand here not any kind of worship, (for daily prayers might be offered in any place,) but that which was joined with sacrifices, and which constituted a public and solemn profession of religion.

Verse 21

21.Woman, believe me. In the first part of this reply, he briefly sets aside the ceremonial worship which had been appointed under the Law; for when he says that the hour is at hand when there shall be no peculiar and fixed place for worship, he means that what Moses delivered was only for a time, and that the time was now approaching when the partition-wall (Ephesians 2:14) should be thrown down. In this manner he extends the worship of God far beyond its former narrow limits, that the Samaritans might become partakers of it.

The hour cometh. He uses the present tense instead of the future; but the meaning is, that the repeal of the Law is already at hand, so far as relates to the Temple, and Priesthood, and other outward ceremonies. By calling God Father, he seems indirectly to contrast Him with the Fathers whom the woman had mentioned, and to convey this instruction, that God will be a common Father to all, so that he will be generally worshipped without distinction of places or nations.

Verse 22

He now explains more largely what he had briefly glanced at about the abolition of the Law; but he divides the substance of his discourse into two parts. In the former, he charges with superstition and error the form of worshipping God which had been used by the Samaritans, but testifies that the true and lawful form was observed by the Jews. And he assigns the cause of the difference, that from the word of God the Jews obtained certainty as to his worship, while the Samaritans received nothing certain from the mouth of God. In the second part, he declares that the ceremonies hitherto observed by the Jews would soon be at an end.

22.You worship what you know not, we worship what we know. This is a sentence worthy of being remembered, and teaches us that we ought not to attempt any thing in religion rashly or at random; because, unless there be knowledge, it is not God that we worship, but a phantom or idol. All good intentions, as they are called, are struck by this sentence, as by a thunderbolt; for we learn from it, that men can do nothing but err, when they are guided by their own opinion without the word or command of God. For Christ, defending the person and cause of his nation, shows that the Jews are widely different from the Samaritans. And why?

Because salvation is from the Jews. By these words he means that they have the superiority in this respect, that God had made with them a covenant of eternal salvation. Some restrict it to Christ, who was descended from the Jews; and, indeed, since

all the promises of God were confirmed and ratified in him,
2 Corinthians 1:20,)

there is no salvation but in him. But as there can be no doubt that Christ gives the preference to the Jews on this ground, that they do not worship some unknown deity, but God alone, who revealed himself to them, and by whom they were adopted as his people; by the word salvation we ought to understand that saving manifestation which had been made to them concerning the heavenly doctrine.

But why does he say that it was from the Jews, when it was rather deposited with them, that they alone might enjoy it? He alludes, in my opinion, to what had been predicted by the Prophets, that the Law would go forth from Zion, (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2,) for they were separated for a time from the rest of the nations on the express condition, that the pure knowledge of God should flow out from them to the whole world. It amounts to this, that God is not properly worshipped but by the certainty of faith, which cannot be produced in any other way than by the word of God. Hence it follows that all who forsake the word fall into idolatry; for Christ plainly testifies that an idol, or an imagination of their own brain, is substituted for God, when men are ignorant of the true God; and he charges with ignorance all to whom God has not revealed himself, for as soon as we are deprived of the light of his word, darkness and blindness reign.

It ought to be observed that the Jews, when they had treacherously set aside the covenant of eternal life which God had made with their fathers, were deprived of the treasure which they had till that time enjoyed; for they had not yet been driven out of the Church of God. Now that they deny the Son, they have nothing in common with the Father;

for whosoever denieth the Son hath not the Father,
1 John 2:23.)

The same judgment must be formed concerning all who have turned aside from the pure faith of the Gospel to their own inventions and the traditions of men. Although they who worship God according to their own judgment or human traditions flatter and applaud themselves in their obstinacy, this single word, thundering from heaven, lays prostrate all that they imagine to be divine and holy, You worship what you do not know It follows from this that, if we wish our religion to be approved by God, it must rest on knowledge obtained from His word.

Verse 23

23.But the hour cometh. Now follows the latter clause, about repealing the worship, or ceremonies, (81) prescribed by the Law. When he says that the hour cometh, or will come, he shows that the order laid down by Moses will not be perpetual. When he says that the hour is now come, he puts an end to the ceremonies, and declares that the time of reformation, of which the Apostle speaks, (Hebrews 9:10,) has thus been fulfilled. Yet he approves of the Temple, the Priesthood, and all the ceremonies connected with them, so far as relates to the past time. Again, to show that God does not choose to be worshipped either in Jerusalem or in mount Gerizzim, he takes a higher principle, that the true worship of Him consists in the spirit; for hence it follows that in all places He may be properly worshipped.

But the first inquiry which presents itself here is, Why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual ? To understand this, we must attend to the contrast between the spirit and outward emblems, as between the shadows and the truth. The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.

Hence arises another question, Did not the Fathers worship Him spiritually under the Law? I reply, as God is always like himself, he did not from the beginning of the world approve of any other worship than that which is spiritual, and which agrees with his own nature. This is abundantly attested by Moses himself, who declares in many passages that the Law has no other object than that the people may cleave to God with faith and a pure conscience. But it is still more plainly declared by the Prophets when they attack with severity the hypocrisy of the people, because they thought that they had satisfied God, when they had performed the sacrifices and made an outward display. It is unnecessary to quote here many proofs which are to be found everywhere, but the most remarkable passages are the following: — Psalms 50:0. But while the worship of God under the Law was spiritual, it was enveloped in so many outward ceremonies, that it resembled something carnal and earthly. For this reason Paul calls the ceremonies flesh and the beggarly elements of the world, (Galatians 4:9.) In like manner, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that the ancient sanctuary, with its appendages, was earthly, (Hebrews 9:1.) Thus we may justly say that the worship of the Law was spiritual in its substance, but, in respect of its form, it was somewhat earthly and carnal; for the whole of that economy, the reality of which is now fully manifested, consisted of shadows.

We now see what the Jews had in common with us, and in what respect they differed from us. In all ages God wished to be worshipped by faith, prayer, thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time did he delight in any other sacrifices. But under the Law there were various additions, so that thespirit and truth were concealed under forms and shadows, whereas, now that the vail of the temple has been rent, (Matthew 27:51,) nothing is hidden or obscure. There are indeed among ourselves, in the present day, some outward exercises of godliness, which our weakness renders necessary, but such is the moderation and sobriety of them, that they do not obscure the plain truth of Christ. In short, what was exhibited to the fathers under figures and shadows is now openly displayed.

Now in Popery this distinction is not only confounded, but altogether overturned; for there the shadows are not less thick than they formerly were under the Jewish religion. It cannot be denied that Christ here lays down an obvious distinction between us and the Jews. Whatever may be the subterfuges by which the Papists attempt to escape, it is evident that we differ from the gathers in nothing more than outward form, because while they worshipped God spiritually, they were bound to perform ceremonies, which were abolished by the coming of Christ. Thus all who oppress the Church with an excessive multitude of ceremonies, do what is in their power to deprive the Church of the presence of Christ. I do not stop to examine the vain excuses which they plead, that many persons in the present day have as much need of those aids as the Jews had in ancient times. It is always our duty to inquire by what order the Lord wished his Church to be governed, for He alone knows thoroughly what is expedient for us. Now it is certain that nothing is more at variance with the order appointed by God than the gross and singularly carnal pomp which prevails in Popery. The spirit was indeed concealed by the shadows of the Law, but the masks of Popery disfigure it altogether; and, therefore, we must not wink at such gross and shameful corruptions. Whatever arguments may be employed by ingenious men, or by those who have not sufficient courage to correct vices — that they are doubtful matters, and ought to be held as indifferent — certainly it cannot be endured that the rule laid down by Christ shall be violated.

The true worshippers. Christ appears indirectly to reprove the obstinacy of many, which was afterwards displayed; for we know how obstinate and contentious the Jews were, when the Gospel was revealed, in defending the ceremonies to which they had been accustomed. But this statement has a still more extensive meaning; for, knowing that the world would never be entirely free from superstitions, he thus separates the devout and upright worshippers from those who were false and hypocritical. Armed with this testimony, let us not hesitate to condemn the Papists in all their inventions, and boldly to despise their reproaches. For what reason have we to fear, when we learn that God is pleased with this plain and simple worship, which is disdained by the Papists, because it is not attended by a cumbrous mass of ceremonies? And of what use to them is the idle splendor of the flesh, by which Christ declares that the Spirit is quenched? What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for thetruth of the worship of God consists inthe spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage. And here again it must be observed, that truth is not compared with falsehood, but with the outward addition of the figures of the Law; (82) so that — to use a common expression — it is the pure and simple substance of spiritual worship.

Verse 24

24.God is a Spirit. This is a confirmation drawn from the very nature of God. Since men are flesh, we ought not to wonder, if they take delight in those things which correspond to their own disposition. Hence it arises, that they contrive many things in the worship of God which are full of display, but have no solidity. But they ought first of all to consider that they have to do with God, who can no more agree with the flesh than fire with water. This single consideration, when the inquiry relates to the worship of God, ought to be sufficient for restraining the wantonness of our mind, that God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence. And if hypocrites are so blinded by their own pride, that they are not afraid to subject God to their opinion, or rather to their unlawful desires, let us know that this modesty does not hold the lowest place in the true worship of God, to regard with suspicion whatever is gratifying according to the flesh. Besides, as we cannot ascend to the height of God, let us remember that we ought to seek from His word the rule by which we are governed. This passage is frequently quoted by the Fathers against the Arians, to prove the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, but it is improper to strain it for such a purpose; for Christ simply declares here that his Father is of a spiritual nature, and, therefore, is not moved by frivolous matters, as men, through the lightness and unsteadiness of their character, are wont to be.

Verse 25

25.The Messiah is about to come. Although religion among the Samaritans was corrupted and mixed up with many errors, yet some principles taken from the Law were impressed on their minds, such as that which related to the Messiah. Now it is probable that, when the woman ascertained from Christ’s discourse that a very extraordinary change was about to take place in the Church of God, her mind instantly recurred to the recollection of Christ, under whom she hoped that all things would be fully restored. When she says that the Messiah is about to come, she seems to speak of the time as near at hand; and, indeed, it is sufficiently evident from many arguments, that the minds of men were everywhere aroused by the expectation of the Messiah, who would restore the affairs which were wretchedly decayed, or rather, which were utterly ruined.

This, at least, is beyond all controversy, that the woman prefers Christ to Moses and to all the Prophets in the office of teaching; for she comprehends three things in a few words. First, that the doctrine of the Law was not absolutely perfect, and that nothing more than first principles was delivered in it; for if there had not been some farther progress to be made, she would not have said thatthe Messiah will tell us all things. There is an implied contrast between him and the Prophets, that it is his peculiar office to conduct his disciples to the goal, while the Prophets had only given them the earliest instructions, and, as it were, led them into the course. Secondly, the woman declares that she expects such aChrist as will be the interpreter of his Father, and the teacher and instructor of all the godly. Lastly, she expresses her belief that we ought not to desire any thing better or more perfect than his doctrine, but that, on the contrary, this is the farthest object of wisdom, beyond which it is unlawful to proceed.

I wish that those who now boast of being the pillars of the Christian Church, would at least imitate this poor woman, so as to be satisfied with the simple doctrine of Christ, rather than claim I know not what power of superintendence for putting forth their inventions. For whence was the religion of the Pope and Mahomet collected but from the wicked additions, by which they imagined that they brought the doctrine of the Gospel to a state of perfection? As if it would have been incomplete without such fooleries. But whoever shall be well taught in the school of Christ will ask no other instructors, and indeed will not receive them.

Verse 26

26.It is I who talk with thee. When he acknowledges to the woman that; he is the Messiah, he unquestionably presents himself as her Teacher, in compliance with the expectation which she had formed; and, therefore, I think it probable, that he proceeded to give more full instruction, in order to satisfy her thirst. Such a proof of his grace he intended to give in the case of this poor woman, that he might testify to all that he never fails to discharge his office, when we desire to have him for our Teacher. There is, therefore, no danger that he will disappoint one of those whom he finds ready to become his disciples. But they who refuse to submit to him, as we see done by many haughty and irreligious men, or who hope to find elsewhere a wisdom more perfect — as the Mahometans and Papists do — deserve to be driven about by innumerable enchantments, and at length to be plunged in an abyss of errors. Again, by these words, “I who talk with thee am the Messiah, the Son of God,” he employs the name Messiah as a seal to ratify the doctrine of his Gospel; for we must remember that he was anointed by the Father, and that the Spirit of God rested on him, that he might bring to us the message of salvation, as Isaiah declares, (Isaiah 61:1.)

Verse 27

27.His disciples came, and wondered. That the disciples wondered, as the Evangelist relates, might arise from one of two causes; either that they were offended at the mean condition of the woman, or that they reckoned the Jews to be polluted, if they entered into conversation with the Samaritans. Now though both of these feelings proceeded from a devout reverence for their Master, yet they are wrong in wondering at it as an improper thing, that he deigns to bestow so great honor on a woman who was utterly despised. For why do they not rather look at themselves? They would certainly have found no less reason to be astonished, that they who were men of no note, and almost the offscourings of the people, were raised to the highest rank of honor. And yet it is useful to observe what the Evangelist says — that they did not venture to put a question; for we are taught by their example that, if any thing in the works or words of God and of Christ be disagreeable to our feelings, we ought not to give ourselves a loose rein so as to have the boldness to murmur, but ought to preserve a modest silence, until what is hidden from us be revealed from heaven. The foundation of such modesty lies in the fear of God and in reverence for Christ.

Verse 28

28.Therefore the woman left her pitcher. This circumstance is related by the Evangelist to express the ardor of her zeal; for it is an indication of haste, that she leaves her pitcher, and returns to the city. And this is the nature of faith, that when we have become partakers of eternal life, we wish to bring others to share with us; nor is it possible that the knowledge of God shall lie buried and inactive in our hearts without being manifested before men, for that saying must be true:

I believed, and therefore I will speak, (Psalms 116:10.)

The earnestness and promptitude of the woman are so much the more worthy of attention, that it was only a small spark of faith that kindled them; for scarcely had she tasted Christ when she spreads his game throughout the whole city. In those who have already made moderate progress in his school, sluggishness will be highly disgraceful. But she may appear to deserve blame on this account, that while she is still ignorant and imperfectly taught, she goes beyond the limits of her faith. I reply, she would have acted inconsiderately, if she had assumed the office of a teacher, but when she desires nothing more than to excite her fellow-citizens to hear Christ speaking, we will not say that she forgot herself, or proceeded farther than she had a right to do. She merely does the office of a trumpet or a bell to invite others to come to Christ.

Verse 29

29.See a man. As she here speaks doubtfully, she might appear not to have been greatly moved by the authority of Christ. I reply, as she was not qualified to discourse about such high mysteries, she endeavors, according to her feeble capacity, to bring her fellow-citizens to permit themselves to be taught by Christ. It was a very powerful stimulant which she employed to excite them, when she knew, by a sign which was not obscure or doubtful, that he was a prophet; for, since they could not form a judgment from his doctrine, this lower preparation was useful and well adapted to them. Having, therefore, learned that Christ had revealed to the woman things which were hidden, they infer from it that he is a Prophet of God. This having been ascertained, they begin to attend to his doctrine. But the woman goes farther; for she bids them inquire if he be not the Messiah, being satisfied if she could only persuade them to seek, of their own accord, what she had already found in Christ; for she knew that they would find more than she promised.

Who told me all things that ever I did. Why does she tell a lie, by saying that Christ told her all things ? I have already shown that Christ did not reprove her for a single instance of fornication, but that he placed before her, in a few words, many sins of her whole life. For the Evangelist has not minutely recorded every sentence, but states generally that Christ, in order to repress the woman’s talkativeness, brought forward her former and present life. Yet we see that the woman, kindled by a holy zeal, does not spare herself, or her reputation, to magnify the name of Christ: for she does not scruple to relate the disgraceful passages of her life.

Verse 32

32.I have food to eat which you know not. It is wonderful that, when he is fatigued and hungry, he refuses to eat; for if it be said that he does this for the purpose of instructing us, by his example, to endure hunger, why then did he not do so always? But he had another object than to say that we ought simply to refuse food; for we must attend to this circumstance, that his anxiety about the present business urges him so strongly, and absorbs his whole mind, so that it gives him no uneasiness to despise food. And yet he does not say that he is so eager to obey the commands of his Father, that he neither eats nor drinks. He only points out what he must do first, and what must be done afterwards; and thus he shows, by his example, that the kingdom of God ought to be preferred to all the comforts of the body. God allows us, indeed, to eat and drink, provided that we are not withdrawn from what is of the highest importance; that is, that every man attend to his own calling.

It will perhaps be said, that eating and drinking cannot but be avocations which withdraw some portion of our time that might be better employed. This I acknowledge to be true, but as the Lord kindly permits us to take care of our body, so far as necessity requires, he who endeavors to nourish his body with sobriety and moderation does not fail to give that preference which he ought to give to obedience to God. But we must also take care not to adhere so firmly to our fixed hours, as not to be prepared to deprive ourselves of food, when God holds out to us any opportunity, and, as it were, fixes the present hour. Christ, having now in his hands such an opportunity which might pass away, embraces it with open arms, and holds it fast. When the present duty enjoined on him by the Father presses him so hard that he finds it necessary to lay aside every thing else, he does not scruple to delay taking food; and, indeed, it would have been unreasonable that, when the woman left her pitcher and ran to call the people, Christ should display less zeal. In short, if we propose it as our object not to lose the causes of life on account of life itself, it; will not be difficult to preserve the proper medium; for he who shall place it before him as the end of life to serve the Lord, from which we are not at liberty to turn aside even for the immediate danger of death, will certainly reckon it to be of more value than eating and drinking. The metaphor of eating and drinking is so much the more graceful on this occasion, that it was drawn seasonably from the present discourse.

Verse 34

34.My food is to do the will of him who sent me. He means not only that he esteems it very highly, but that there is nothing in which he takes greater delight, or in which he is more cheerfully or more eagerly employed; as David, in order to magnify the Law of God, says not only that he values it highly, but that it is sweeter than honey, (Psalms 19:10.) If, therefore, we would follow Christ, it is proper not only that we devote ourselves diligently to the service of God, but that we be so cheerful in complying with its injunctions that the labor shall not be at all oppressive or disagreeable.

That I may finish his work. By adding these words, Christ fully explains what is that will of the Father to which he is devoted; namely, to fulfill the commission which had been given to him. Thus every man ought to consider his own calling, that he may not consider as done to God what he has rashly undertaken at his own suggestion. What was the office of Christ is well known. It was to advance the kingdom of God, to restore to life lost souls, to spread the light of the Gospel, and, in short, to bring salvation to the world. The excellence of these things caused him, when fatigued and hungry, to forget meat and drink. Yet we derive from this no ordinary consolation, when we learn that Christ was so anxious about the salvation of men, that it gave him the highest delight to procure it; for we cannot doubt that he is now actuated by similar feelings towards us.

Verse 35

35.Do you not say? He follows out the preceding statement; for, having said that nothing was more dear to him than to finish the work of the Father, he now shows how ripe it is for execution; and he does so by a comparison with the harvest. When the corn is ripe, the harvest cannot bear delay, for otherwise the grain would fall to the ground and be lost; and, in like manner, the spiritual corn being now ripe, he declares that there must be no delay, because delay is injurious. We see for what purpose the comparison is employed; it is to explain the reason why he hastens to perform his work. (83) By this expression,Do you not say? he intended indirectly to point out how much more attentive the minds of men are to earthly than to heavenly things; for they burn with so intense a desire of harvest that they carefully reckon up months and days, but it is astonishing how drowsy and indolent they are in gathering the heavenly wheat. And daily experience proves that this wickedness not only is natural to us, but can scarcely be torn from our hearts; for while all provide for the earthly life to a distant period, how indolent are we in thinking about heavenly things? Thus Christ says on another occasion, Hypocrites, you discern by the face of the sky what sort of day to-morrow will be, but you do not acknowledge the time of my visitation, (Matthew 16:3.)

Verse 36

36.And he who reapeth receiveth reward. How diligently we ought to devote ourselves to the work of God, he proves by another argument; namely, because a large and most excellent reward is reserved for our labor; for he promises that there will be fruit, and fruit not corruptible or fading. What he adds about fruit may be explained in two ways; either it is an announcement of the reward, and on that supposition he would say the same thing twice in different words; or, he applauds the labors of those who enrich the kingdom of God, as we shall afterwards find him repeating,

I have chosen you, that you may go and bear fruit, and that your fruit may remain, (John 15:16.)

And certainly both considerations ought greatly to encourage the ministers of the word, that they may never sink under the toil, when they hear that a crown of glory is prepared for them in heaven, and know that the fruit of their harvest will not only be precious in the sight of God, but will also be eternal. It is for this purpose that Scripture everywhere mentions reward, and not for the purpose of leading us to judge from it as to the merits of works; for which of us, if we come to a reckoning, will not be found more worthy of being punished for slothfulness than of beingrewarded for diligence? To the best laborers nothing else will be left than to approach to God in all humility to implore forgiveness. But the Lord, who acts towards us with the kindness of a father, in order to correct our sloth, and to encourage us who would otherwise be dismayed, deigns to bestow upon us an undeserved reward.

This is so far from overturning justification by faith that it rather confirms it. For, in the first place, how comes it that God finds in us any thing to reward, but because He has bestowed it upon us by his Spirit? Now we know that the Spirit is the earnest and pledge of adoption, (Ephesians 1:14.) Secondly, how comes it that God confers so great honor on imperfect and sinful works but because, after having by free grace reconciled us to himself, He accepts our works without any regard to merit, by not imputing the sins which cleave to them? The amount of this passage is, that the labor which the Apostlesbestow on teaching ought not to be reckoned by them hard and unpleasant, since they know that it is so useful and so advantageous to Christ and to the Church.

That he who soweth, and he who reapeth, may rejoice together. By these words Christ shows that the fruit which the Apostles will derive from the labors of others cannot give just ground of complaint to any person. And this additional statement deserves notice; for if in the world the groans of those who complain that the fruit of their labor has been conveyed to another do not hinder the new possessor from cheerfully reaping what another has sown, how much more cheerful ought the reapers to be, when there is mutual consent and mutual joy and congratulation?

But, in order that this passage may be properly understood, we must comprehend the contrast between sowing andreaping Thesowing was the doctrine of the Law and the Prophets; for at that time the seed thrown into the soil remained, as it were, in the blade; but the doctrine of the Gospel, which brings men to proper maturity, is on that account justly compared to the harvest. For the Law was very far from that perfection which has at length been exhibited to us in Christ. To the same purpose is the well-known comparison between infancy and manhood which Paul employs, when he says, that

the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth not from a servant, though he be lord of all, but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father,
Galatians 4:1.)

In short, since the coming of Christ brought along with it present salvation, we need not wonder if the Gospel, by which the door of the heavenly kingdom is opened, be called the harvest of the doctrine of the Prophets. And yet it is not at all inconsistent with this statement, that the Fathers under the Law were gathered into God’s barn; but this comparison must be referred to the manner of teaching; for, as the infancy of the Church lasted to the end of the Law, but, as soon as the Gospel had been preached, it immediately arrived at manhood, so at that time the salvation began to ripen, of which the sowing only had been accomplished by the Prophets.

But, as Christ delivered this discourse in Samaria, he appears to extend the sowing more widely than to the Law and the Prophets; and there are some who interpret these words as applying equally to the Jews and to the Gentiles. I acknowledge, indeed, that some grains of piety were always scattered throughout the whole world, and there can be no doubt that — if we may be allowed the expression — God sowed, by the hand of philosophers and profane writers, the excellent sentiments which are to be found in their writings. But, as that seed was degenerated from the very root, and as the corn which could spring from it, though not good or natural, was choked by a huge mass of errors, it is unreasonable to suppose that such destructive corruption is compared tosowing Besides, what is here said about uniting in joy cannot at all apply to philosophers or any persons of that class.

Still, the difficulty is not yet solved, for Christ makes special reference to the Samaritans. I reply, though everything among them was infected by corruptions, there still was some hidden seed of piety. For whence does it arise that, as soon as they hear a word about Christ, they are so eager to seek him, but because they had learned, from the Law and the Prophets, that the Redeemer would come? Judea was indeed the Lord’s peculiar field, which he had cultivated by the Prophets, but, as some small portion of seed had been carried into Samaria, it is not without reason that Christ says that there also it reached maturity. If it be objected that the Apostles were chosen to publish the Gospel throughout the whole world, the reply is easy, that Christ spoke in a manner suited to the time, with this exception, that, on account of the expectation of the fruit which already was nearly ripe, he commends in the Samaritans the seed of prophetic doctrine, though mixed and blended with many weeds or corruptions. (84)

Verse 37

37.For in this is the saying true. This was a common proverb, by which he showed that many men frequently receive the fruit of the labor of others, though there was this difference, that he who has labored is displeased at seeing the fruit carried away by another, whereas the Apostles have the Prophets for the companions of their joy. And yet it cannot be inferred from this, that the Prophets themselves are witnesses, or are aware, of what is now going on in the Church; for Christ means nothing more than that the Prophets, so long as they lived, taught under the influence of such feelings, that they already rejoiced on account of the fruit which they were not permitted to gather. The comparison which Peter employs (1 Peter 1:12) is not unlike; except that he addresses his exhortation generally to all believers, but Christ here speaks to the disciples alone, and, in their person, to the ministers of the Gospel. By these words he enjoins them to throw their labors into a common stock, so that there may be no wicked envy among them; that those who are first sent to the work ought to be so attentive to the present cultivation as not to envy a greater blessing to those who are afterwards to follow them; and that they who are sent, as it were, to gather the ripe fruit, ought to be employed with equal cheerfulness in their office; for the comparison which is here made between the teachers of the Law and of the Gospel may likewise be applied to the latter, when viewed in reference to each other.

Verse 39

39.And many Samaritans out of that city believed. The Evangelist here relates what was the success of the woman’s announcement to her citizens, from which it is evident that the expectation and desire of the promised Messiah had no small vigor among them. Now, the word believe is here used inaccurately, and means that they were induced by the woman’s statement to acknowledge Christ to be a Prophet. It is, in some respects, a commencement offaith, when minds are prepared to receive the doctrine. Such an entrance to faith receives here the honorable appellation offaith, in order to inform us how highly God esteems reverence for his word, when he confers so great honor on the docility of those who have not yet been taught. Now, their faith manifests itself in this respect, that they are seized with a desire to profit, and, for that reason, desire that Christ should remain with them

Verse 41

41.And many more believed. From what followed it is evident that Christ’s compliance with their wish was highly proper; for we see how much fruit was reaped from the two days which he granted to their request. By this example we are taught that we ought never to refrain from working, when we have it in our power to advance the kingdom of God; and if we are afraid that our readiness in complying may be liable to unfavorable reports, or may often prove to be useless, let us ask from Christ the Spirit of counsel to direct us. The word believe is now used in a different sense; for it means not only that they were prepared for faith, but that they actually had a proper faith

Verse 42

42.On account of thy speech. Though I have followed Erasmus in rendering this word by oratio, (speech,)because loquela, which the ancient interpreter uses, is a barbarous term; yet I wish to warn my readers that the Greek word λαλία has the same meaning with the Latin word loquentia, that is, talk, ortalkativeness; and the Samaritans appear to boast that they have now a stronger foundation than a woman’s tongue, which is, for the most part, light and trivial.

We believe. This expresses more fully the nature of their faith, that it has been drawn from the word of God itself, so that they can boast of having the Son of God as their Teacher; as, indeed, it is on his authority alone that we can safely rely. True, indeed, he is not now visibly present, so as to speak to us mouth to mouth; but, by whomsoever we happen to hear him, our faith cannot rest on any other than on himself. And from no other source proceeds that knowledge which is likewise mentioned; for the speech which comes from the mouth of a mortal man may indeed fill and satisfy the ears, but will never confirm the soul in calm confidence of salvation, so that he who has heard may be entitled to boast that he knows In faith, therefore, the first thing necessary is, to know that it is Christ who speaks by his ministers; and the next is, to give him the honor which is due; that is, not to doubt that he is true and faithful, so that, relying on so undoubted a guarantee, we may rely safely on his doctrine.

Again, when they affirm that Jesus isthe Christ andthe Savior of the world, they undoubtedly have learned this from hearing him. Hence we infer that, withintwo days, the sum of the Gospel was more plainly taught by Christ than he had hitherto taught it in Jerusalem. And Christ testified that the salvation, which he had brought, was common to the whole world, that they might understand more fully that it belonged to them also; for he did not call them on the ground of their being lawful heirs, as the Jews were, (87) but taught that he had come to admit strangers into the family of God, and to bring peace to those who were far off, (Ephesians 2:17.)

Verse 45

45.The Galileans received him. Whether or not this honor was of long duration we have not the means of determining; for there is nothing to which men are more prone than forgetfulness of the gifts of God. Nor does John relate this with any other design than to inform us that Christ performed miracles in presence of many witnesses, so that the report of them was spread far and wide. Again, this points out one advantage of miracles, that they prepare the way for doctrine; for they cause reverence to be paid to Christ.

Verse 46

46.And there was a certain courtier. This is a more correct rendering, though Erasmus thinks differently, who has translated βασιλικός by a Latin word, Regulus, which means a little king. (89) I acknowledge indeed that, at that time, they gave the name of Reguli (or, little kings) to those who are now called Dukes, or Barons, or Earls; but the state of Galilee at that time was such that there could be no person of that rank dwelling in Capernaum. I think that he was some nobleman (90) of the court of Herod; for there is some plausibility in the opinion of those who think that he was sent by Caesar. (91) This is expressly mentioned by the Evangelist, because the rank of this personage made the miracle the more illustrious.

Verse 47

47.When he had heard that Jesus had come. When he applies to Christ for aid, this is some evidence of his faith; but, when he limits Christ’s manner of granting assistance, that shows how ignorant he was. For he views the power of Christ as inseparably connected with his bodily presence, from which it is evident, that he had formed no other view concerning Christ than this, — that he was a Prophet sent by God with such authority and power as to prove, by the performance of miracles, that he was a minister of God. This fault, though it deserved censure, Christ overlooks, but severely upbraids him, and, indeed, all the Jews in general, on another ground, that they were too eager to behold miracles.

But how comes it that Christ is now so harsh, who is wont to receive kindly others who desire miracles? There must have been at that time some particular reason, though unknown to us, why he treated this man with a degree of severity which was not usual with him; and perhaps he looked not so much to the person as to the whole nation. He saw that his doctrine had no great authority, and was not only neglected but altogether despised; and, on the other hand, that all had their eyes fixed on miracles, and that their whole senses were seized with stupidity rather than with admiration. Thus, the wicked contempt of the word of God, which at that time prevailed, constrained him to make this complaint.

True, indeed, some even of the saints sometimes wished to be confirmed by miracles, that they might not entertain any doubt as to the truth of the promises; and we see how God, by kindly granting their requests, showed that he was not offended at them. But Christ describes here far greater wickedness; for the Jews depended so much on miracles, that they left no room for the word. And first, it was exceedingly wicked that they were so stupid and carnal as to have no reverence for doctrine, unless they had been aroused by miracles; for they must have been well acquainted with the word of God, in which they had been educated from their infancy. Secondly, when miracles were performed, they were so far from profiting aright, that they remained in a state of stupidity and amazement. Thus they had no religion, no knowledge of God, no practice of godliness, except what consisted in miracles.

To the same purpose is that reproach which Paul brings against them, the Jews demand signs, (1 Corinthians 1:22.) For he means that they were unreasonably and immoderately attached to signs, and cared little about the grace of Christ, or the promises of eternal life, or the secret power of the Spirit, but, on the contrary, rejected the Gospel with haughty disdain, because they had no relish for any thing but miracles. I wish there were not many persons in the present day affected by the same disease; but nothing is more common than this saying, “Let them first perform miracles, (92) and then we will lend an ear to their doctrine;” as if we ought to despise and disdain the truth of Christ, unless it derive support from some other quarter. But though God were to overwhelm them by a huge mass of miracles, still they speak falsely when they say that they would believe. Some outward astonishment would be produced, but they would not be a whit more attentive to doctrine.

Verse 49

49.Sir, come down, ere my child die. Since he perseveres in asking, and at length obtains what he wished, we may conclude that Christ did not reprove him in such a manner as if he intended altogether to reject him, and refused his prayers; but that he rather did so for the purpose of correcting that fault which obstructed the entrance of true faith. And we ought to remember — what I have formerly stated — that this was a general reproof of a whole people, and was not peculiarly addressed to one individual. In this manner, whatever is improper, or distorted, or superfluous, in our prayers, must be corrected or removed, that dangerous obstructions may be taken out of the way. Now courtiers are usually fastidious and haughty, and do not willingly submit to be treated with harshness; but it deserves notice, that this man, humbled by his necessitous case, and by the dread of losing his son, does not burst into a passion, or murmur, when Christ speaks to him roughly, but passes by that reproof in modest silence. We find the same things in ourselves; for we are astonishingly delicate, impatient, and fretful until, subdued by adversities, we are constrained to lay aside our pride and disdain.

Verse 50

50.Thy son liveth. The first thing that strikes us here is, the astonishing kindness and condescension of Christ, that he bears with the man’s ignorance, and stretches his power beyond what had been expected. He requested that Christ would come to the place and cure his son. He thought it possible that his son could be freed from sickness and disease, but not that he could be raised up after he was dead; and therefore he urges Christ to make haste, that his son’s recovery may not be prevented by his death. Accordingly, when Christ pardons both, we may conclude from it how highly he values even a small measure of faith. It is worthy of observation that Christ, while he does not comply with his desire, grants much more than he had requested; for he testifies as to the present health of his son. Thus it frequently happens that our Heavenly Father, while he does not comply with our wishes in every particular, proceeds to relieve us by unexpected methods, that we may learn not to prescribe to him in anything. When he says, Thy son liveth, he means that he has been rescued from the danger of death.

The man believed the word which Jesus had spoken to him. Having come with the conviction that Christ was a prophet of God, he was on that account so much disposed to believe, that, as soon as he had heard a single word, he seized it and fixed it in his heart. Though he did not entertain all the respect that he ought for the power of Christ, yet a short promise suddenly awoke new confidence in his mind, so that he believed the life of his son to be contained in a single word of Christ. And such is the promptitude with which we ought to receive the word of God, but it is very far from producing always so immediate an effect on the hearers. For how many will you find that profit as much by many sermons as this man, who was half a heathen, profited by hearing a single word? So much the more ought we to labor with zeal to arouse our sluggishness, and, above all, to pray that God would touch our hearts in such a manner, that we may not be less willing to believe than He is ready and gracious to promise.

Verse 51

51.While he was still going down. Here is described the effect of faith, together with the efficacy of the word; for as Christ, by a word, restores to life this child who was just dying, so in one moment the father, by his faith, regains his son safe and sound. Let us therefore know that, whenever the Lord offers his benefits to us, his power will always be ready to accomplish whatever he promises, provided that the door be not shut against him by our unbelief. It does not always happen, I acknowledge, and even is not frequent or ordinary, that God instantly displays his arm for giving us assistance; but whenever he delays, he has always a good reason, and one that is highly advantageous to us. This at least is certain, that so far is he from delaying unnecessarily, that he rather contends with the obstacles which we throw in the way; and, therefore, when we do not see his immediate aid, let us consider how much of concealed distrust there is in us, or at least how small and limited our faith is. And we ought not to wonder if He is unwilling to allow his benefits to be lost, or to throw them at random on the ground, but chooses to bestow them on those who, by opening the bosom of their faith, are ready to receive them. And though he does not always assist his people in the same manner, yet in no instance will the faith of any one be fruitless, or hinder us from experiencing the truth of what the Prophet says, that the promises of God, even when they seem to delay, are in reality making great haste.

Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come,
it will not tarry, (
Habakkuk 2:3.)

Verse 52

52.Therefore he inquired at them. That this courtier asked his servants at what time his son began to recover, was done by a secret impulse from God, that the truth of the miracle might be rendered more conspicuous. For by nature we have an exceedingly wicked disposition to extinguish the light of the power of God, and Satan labors, by various means, to hide the works of God from our view; and, therefore, in order that they may obtain from us that praise which is due to them, they must be made so manifest that no room is left for doubt. Whatever then may be the ingratitude of men, still this circumstance does not permit so illustrious a work of Christ to be ascribed to chance.

Verse 53

53.And he believed, and his whole house. It may appear absurd that the Evangelist should mention this as the commencement of faith in that man, whose faith he has already commended. Nor can it be supposed that the wordbelieve — at least in this passage — relates to the progress of faith. But it must be understood that this man, being a Jew and educated in the doctrine of the Law, had already obtained some taste of faith when he came to Christ; and that he afterwards believed in the saying of Christ was a particular faith, which extended no farther than to expect the life of his son. But now he began to believe in a different manner; that is, because, embracing the doctrine of Christ, he openly professed to be one of his disciples. Thus not only does he now believe that his son will be cured through the kindness of Christ, but he acknowledges Christ to be the Son of God, and makes a profession of faith in his Gospel. His whole family joins him, which was an evidence of the miracle; nor can it be doubted that he did his utmost to bring others along with him to embrace the Christian religion.


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 4:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, August 17th, 2017
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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