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Our Lord in Work and Rest
'Jesus being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well.' He carried His work to the point of weariness, and He rested in readiness for new labour. It was at the noontide of the day, and He was already worn out by His effort. Thus there is authority for Christians exhausting themselves in their service. This is a world of seeking, and He was seeking souls. He sought them as men seek for wealth and power, and never grudged the pains nor spared Himself. Every day found His strength drained. Little by little life was weakened and driven back. The throbbings of His heart, the journeys of His feet, wore and wasted it. He never indulged in the thought of what might have been. He gave all that was asked of Him, and measured the nearness of His access to the Father not merely by the time He passed, but by the life He expended. The way was weary because He was bearing His cross. It was weary because, with long and clear and bitter prevision, He saw the end. He went bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, knowing the things that should befall Him there. Yet He went forth without faltering, and trod the stony path till His feet were transfixed on the cross. In His heart was a thirst for souls and a homesickness for which there was no cure but one. His death brought Him into the heart of His desires at once.
I. So we see Him in rest. He sat thus on the well, tender, eager, patient, loving, ready to be found even of those who sought Him not. He had earned rest, and it is in the repose we have worked for that many of us are most selfish, and most in danger. But though He was weary He was full of peace, not passing, insecure, momentary, but unbroken and lasting. He sat on the well, and He Himself was a Well, a Well of love and pity, and life and strength. Never for an instant had He forgotten the claim of His Father, the claim of souls. Still His lamp was trimmed and bright.
We behold our example in work and rest. So much we know, and Christians generally recognise that they must have fellowship with Christ in suffering if they are to be truly one with Him. They know that none but a suffering Christ can help them. Then were the disciples glad when they had seen the Lord, when they recognised Him by the secure and comforting mark of the nails. Slowly but surely the Church begins to understand that the Christian life must be sacrificial, that sanctification and tribulation are indissoluble, that they must sooner or later take the road to the terrible Jordan with Christ and be baptised with His baptism.
II. It is enough that the disciple be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord. He will give us the strength we need not more, but that. Perhaps the Master Himself had no more. As His day was, so was His strength. That we know. But was it greater than His day? If we find that the day is greater than our strength we are not on the true path. Our Lord does not lay upon us what we are not able to bear, but often, and indeed always, gives us a cross of which we are sometimes weary, and from which we sometimes seem to shrink. Yet the heart may be at rest under it, at rest with Him.
III. The Christian self-renunciation is not of pity, it is of love. Love which is of God and knows no turning back cannot take wing, cannot detach itself from the soul. It is in proportion as that love kindles in our heart and is blown to flame that we can share the shepherdly work of Christ and labour and rest in His service. He will give us that love if we seek it, a love which, though wounded and deceived, will pursue its painful journey in spite of repulses and heartrendings.
Yet how broken are our service and love, our rest and labour! How good to have them made perfect in the place we have never been able to come at in all those years, in the city where our dreams are living and waiting for us! Meanwhile, 'Blessed and happy are they who can keep the name of Jesus always sensibly before them: taste that honey: see that sapphire: hear that music: scent that incense'.
Our Lord Sitting By the Well
He being weary. When we are weary then, we are bo far like Him. But further. This His weariness was, so to speak, the cause of one of His most wonderful doings the reason that He spoke with the woman of Samaria, and converted her, from being a grievous sinner, to be His servant and His saint. Now I do not find that His disciples were weary. He being weary sat thus on the well but they were gone into the city to buy food. It follows then that it is not always those who have most of this world's strength who are most active, who are most ready to stir hither and thither, that really do most for the service of God.
I. He was weary and therein He showed Himself true man. And notice this: that His strength and His weakness were equally for our salvation. It was His strength that created us from nothing; it was by His weakness that when we had been made from nothing He redeemed us.
II. He sits. Here again He left us an example. For we are so perverse that often, when it is God's will concerning us that we should bestir ourselves against our spiritual enemies, we are slothful, and will not strike a stroke for His honour. And again, when we are laid aside by Him from all active work, when He says concerning us as His prophet did of old, 'Their strength is to sit still,' then we must needs exert ourselves to work, and labour when He would have us rest.
III. He sat thus by the well. This well is a type of God's grace which brings us salvation.
J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 166.
References. IV. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2570. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 1. W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 182. J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 24. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 419. IV. 6, 82. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 188. IV. 7. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 200. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2423.
Lowering the Standard
John 4:7 ; John 4:15
Jacob's Well seems to be a reality. Modern travellers to Palestine have visited it, inspected it, measured it. They record that it is dug in the firm rock, is nine feet in diameter, was originally 105 feet deep, and, although it is now choked at the bottom, there is still about fifteen feet of water in it at certain seasons of the year. All this, if it had been necessary, serves to stamp the story of Christ and the Samaritan woman with the mark of genuineness. The scene of their conversation is naturally, and simply, and easily pictured. There is no occasion to dwell on the details. I have chosen two fragments from the whole conversation because they appear to me to contribute to and sum up the issues of the whole discussion.
In order to get at the purpose and meaning of our Lord's opening request, 'Give Me to drink,' let us inquire at the outset what conditions of human life did this woman represent in our Lord's eyes.
I. Whenever our Lord dealt with individuals He was in Reality dealing with Classes and with Types whom these individuals represented. Behind persons our Lord read certain conditions of life, or vocation, that had in a way helped to create the character that was confronting Him. In the person of this woman our Lord at once detected certain conditions of life which He was determined to attack. He saw in its lowest forms, of course, materialism, or what St. Paul calls carnal-mindedness, that state of mind which has been the bane of every age, and assumes different forms and shapes, which is so dominant in our own times, which attacks every class. This was the product of that over-close and exclusive absorption by the cares and duties and pursuits of the world which, in the long run, often disqualifies the mind and the understanding of men and women from any capacity for apprehending or feeling the blessings of religion. We need not deal hardly with this poor woman. She was no doubt industrious in her drudgery. She was, like so many of her kind, a product of circumstances. She was no worse than her neighbours, and our Lord had nothing but tenderness and love in His protests and rebukes.
II. Two Results Proclaimed Themselves in her Character:
(a) She could not rise to any sort of appreciation of spiritual things, even when they were put before her by the Son of God Himself.
(b) The second product of this woman's way of looking at these things was this It lowered her whole standard of spiritual and social life. Our Lord summed it up in the tender reproach, 'Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband; in that saidst thou truly'. We can hardly deny, in our own day, that the high standards of social life are fast degenerating, that departures from pure ideals do not appear sinful to so many people, and yet that the land which calls itself Christian is far less shocked than it used to be at condiditions which are a reproach to the Incarnation. Where a revivalist preacher would probably have commenced to rate her for her sins, Christ simply commences by asking her a favour. And we observe that this method of Christ's at once prevailed. The idea that she could minister to Him, or that, if she refused, her help would really be missed, had never occurred to her before. She was touched by the Divine compliment paid to her. She was still in the dark about the ministry of the living water, but at least she had felt the need, and the feeling of a need is very often the first impulse of a soul's awakening, the first impulse towards that life that it longs to possess.
III. No Scene is more frequently Repeated in Modern Life than this Simple Scene at Jacob's
Well. Jesus Christ and the Samaritan woman are meeting each other today. In whatever vocation of life you are, there is Jesus Christ, always taking the higher path and the truer line in that particular vocation. And He calls to you men and women to spread His kingdom there, and to make His power felt there. That is the way in which He says to you, 'Give Me to drink'. Can we answer to that cry? Have we ever really tried to answer it? Have we any sense of what the Christian calling really means? If we only really tried to answer it, the result would be that, perhaps, for the first time we should begin to realise, Who it is that saith to us, 'Give Me to drink'. We, too, might be heard to give thanks to the Christ. We should be able to pray more earnestly in His name, because we should begin to realise that there is no other name but His whereby we can be saved.
References. IV. 7. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 195. IV. 7-42. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 171.
Is there no harm in never looking farther than the worst motive that can possibly be imagined for the actions of our political adversaries? Are we to consider the opposite party as so many Samaritans; and is there nothing that we have ever heard or read which should induce us to abate our Jewish antipathy to these brethren of ours who do not worship at our temple? This is an illustration from which political bigots cannot escape. Even their own pretensions of being always in the right will only bring the instance more home to them. The Jews were right about the matter in dispute between them and the Samaritans. 'Salvation is with the Jews.' But this is never held out to us as any justification of their behaviour.
From Sir Arthur Helps, On Party-Spirit.
Our brother man is seldom so bitter against us as when we refuse to adopt at once his notions of the infinite.
Sir Arthur Helps.
References. IV. 10. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 80. B. W. Noel, Penny Pulpit, No. 1701, p. 647. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 32. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 467. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 782, and vol. xxxviii. No. 2277. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 204. IV. 10-14. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 278. IV. 11. G. Talalun Newton, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 241. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2897. IV. 12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 166.
To believe that, whatever may be the substitute offered for the righteousness of Jesus, a substitute however sparkling, yet 'whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again'; to desire truly 'to have strength to escape all the things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of Man,' is the one authentic mark and seal of the household of faith. Those who share in this belief and in this desire are fellow-citizens of the 'city which hath foundations'. Whosoever shares in them not, is, or is in danger of any day becoming, a wanderer, as St. Augustine says, through the 'waste places fertile in sorrow.'
M. Arnold in A Psychological Parallel.
Jacob's Well is admitted to be one of the best authenticated holy places in all Palestine, and the Greek Church has it happily in possession. 'Pilgrims throng to this small inclosure, with its low-roofed house, for their entertainment, its chapel built about the well, its bushes covered with tiny pink roses; but when I was there the hour was so early that not even a patient and pathetic Russian was before me. Birds were singing above the roses. From the hospice came a young man to take me to the well. It is very deep, and he let down a wooden tray with candles stuck upon it to light up the darkness, till far below I saw a gleam of still water. As I looked, bending over the small orifice, with the silent monk beside me, I remembered those other words said here so many hundreds of years ago, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst".'
Robert Hichens, The Holy Land.
References. IV. 13,14. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 26. IV. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 864, and vol. xx. No. 1202. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 107. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 214. IV. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 770. IV. 16. J. M. Wilson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 195. IV. 17. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 317. IV. 19. J. T. O'Brien, The Nature and the Effects of Faith, p. 223.
In Blackadder's description of a Covenanting Communion held in the fields of Teviotdale, in 1677, we find this paragraph: 'Though our vows were not offered within the courts of God's house, they wanted not sincerity of heart, which is better than the reverence of sanctuaries. Amidst the lonely mountains we remembered the words of our Lord, that true worship was not peculiar to Jerusalem or Samaria; that the beauty of holiness consisted not in consecrated buildings or material temples.'
'Here I live opposite a church,' Goethe wrote in 1782, to Frau Stein, 'which is a terrible situation for one who prays neither upon this nor upon that mountain, and who has no prescribed hour for worshipping God.'
References. IV. 21. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 288. IV. 21-24. Ibid. vol. i. p. 377. IV. 22. J. Clifford, The Christian Certainties, p. 31. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 333. IV. 23. R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 214. U. R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 234. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 288; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 468. IV. 23, 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 695. M. J. Savage, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 249. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 1. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 400. IV. 24. N. H. Marshall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 321. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 44; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 195.
'I have often thought that the benefits of true silence are far too little sought after, even by those religiously disposed; and this I do not say as a Quaker, but as one who has some little experience of the necessity of having the human nature brought into subjection before God, in order to render Him acceptable worship. It is in the stillness of all flesh that we must approach the Father of Spirits. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And wherever you may be in future, or however circumstanced, you will feel the comfort of sometimes uniting in this solemn silence, if it were only for a very short time.'
Rachael Gurney, to her newly-married sister, Mrs. Fowell Buxton, Gurneys of Earlham, ii. p. 166 f.
Compare Major Hume's remarks in his volume Through Portugal (pp. 300-801), as he viewed the Roman temple and the Catholic cathedral side by side at Evora. 'The great cathedral I have just left is as empty and silent now as the temple to the unknown God before me. In successive ages surely the same old yearning is re-born for direct appeal and nearer personal access to God, free from the trammels and man-made mediations with which all creeds in time burden the simplicity of their faith.... As the thirst for equal direct appeal for all souls overthrew the gods of the temple, so the same longing empties the great fane that has departed from the serene sincerity of the age that founded it; and thus the gods do come and go, whilst God lives on for ever.'
References. IV. 25. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 393; ibid. vol. x. p. 9. W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 297. IV. 25, 29, 42. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 83. IV. 27-30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1678. IV. 28. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 197. IV. 29. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1632, p. 101. IV. 31-38. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1901. IV. 32. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 1. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. viii. p. 372. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 447.
The Dedication of the Will
It has been a matter of controversy time out of mind which is the true well-spring of religion; and to this question, which is fresh in every age, there are two answers which demand attention. On the one hand there are many reverent thinkers who trace the roots of religion to the reason. It is because we are reasonable beings that we know the infinite reason, which is God. On the other hand, there have been many thinkers who have denied this primary place to thought It is not from reason that religion springs, they tell us; it is from the deeper region of the feelings.
I. When we turn to the word of Jesus Christ, and to its translation in apostlic doctrine, we discover that neither thought nor feeling is laid at the foundation of religion. 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me;' the well-spring is in the region of the will. The first thing is the dedication of the will; the response of a free man to a great God; the yielding of self to that imperious claim which is made by the loving Father in the heavens. Of all men the most hopeless in Christ's sight was the irresolute and undecided person; the man who refused to take a spiritual stand, and who was contented aimlessly to drift. It is further notable in this connection that Jesus never overpowered the will. It was His glory to empower it, but to overpower it He scorned.
II. We might further illustrate Christ's emphasis on will by some of the relationships in which He sets it. (1) Think first of its relationship to action. It is not the action in itself that Jesus looks at; He has a gaze that pierces deeper than the action. He sees at the back of every deed its motive, and that is the measure of value in His sight. (2) Or think of the relationship of will to knowledge if you want to know how Christ regarded will. 'If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.' Let a man refuse to submit his will to God, and the gateway of truth is closed to him for ever. (3) Or think of the relationship of will to fellowship man's spiritual fellowship with his Redeemer. That friendship is not based on fellow-feeling; it is based, according to Christ, on fellow-will.
III. In the life of Christ this is the crowning glory a will in perfect conformity with God's. He is our Saviour and our great example because of that unfailing dedication. The will is the very citadel of manhood. To be a Christian that must be yielded up.
G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 154
References. IV. 34. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 302. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 163; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 136; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 223; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 33.
Our Lord here teaches the ripeness of the world for the highest blessing; He declares that the spirits of men are ready for ingathering into the Church of God. Men everywhere are religious that is, they have a certain religiousness of nature; they have religious ideas, capacities, instincts, aspirations. Not only, however, is religious capacity present; there is in all men a felt need for the truths, the grace, and the hope of the Gospel. But, whilst we grant all this, we often fail to believe in the immediate readiness of mankind for the salvation that is in Christ; we suppose that much has to be done before we can hope to see men saved. This spirit of doubtfulness and postponement our Lord rebukes: 'I say unto you, The fields are white already'. Let us observe several cases in which our Lord's rebuke applies today.
I. Take the conversion of the young. Go to them at once with a spiritual appeal, and expect the spiritual effect II. Take the conversion of the masses. (1) Take such of the masses as are ignorant. What do they want? Education, say many. But on trial it turns out very differently; the people intellectually despicable discover a spiritual faculty of the utmost acuteness. (2) Take such of the masses as are worldly. (3) Take such of the masses as are vicious. How readily Christ found the missing chord in publicans and harlots! The rationalistic critic is sorely puzzled because Christ addresses the loftiest and most spiritual utterances to a sinful sensual woman, and on that ground he declares the narrative is not literal; but here is a great truth that Christ wished His Church to learn that the guiltiest men and women are able to apprehend the sublimest truths, truths which convict, truths which save.
III. Take the conversion of the sceptical. Whilst you sometimes doubt your belief, is not the atheist compelled to doubt his doubts? Speak not so much to the sceptic as to the man.
IV. Take the conversion of the savaye portion of our race. 'The isles wait for His law.'
V. Take the conversion of the world at large. The world waits for the Church to go in and gather the living corn. Where there are no external signs of Christ's action He moves along subtle lines of influence, and gives to souls in dark places Divine susceptibilities and desires.
W. L. Watkinson, The Blind Spot, p. 83.
References. IV. 35. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 706. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 163. J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 74. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 442; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 3. IV. 35-38. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 112. IV. 36, 37. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1546, p. 1.
The Double Joy
I. 'One soweth, and another reapeth.' That is one of those old harvest proverbs, which leap to light, no matter where we turn in the affairs of man. It is the inequality of things which stirs the irony of the cynic. It would seem that part of the world's gain must come repeatedly from people who are in advance of their age. Theirs it is to strike out fresh methods or ventilate new ideas; yet often, so far as regards credit, they are superseded by inferior men who, with less originality, possess the knack of exploiting such ideas and carrying them into practice. The pioneer must apparently yield now and then, in fame and name, to one who is able to put the last touch to what he finds already more than half-completed, be it in science, or in politics, or in commerce, or in religion. In the glow of the harvest, the sower is too apt to be forgotten, and his work ignored.
II. 'One soweth, and another reapeth.' It is, however, the consoling aspect of this truth to which our Lord seeks to direct the mind. The encouragement is this: that for sower as well as for reaper there is a joy, and a joy larger than purely personal success. Both contribute to a long, sure process. There is a slow continuity in Providence which links together the efforts of all who co-operate in a work, rendering each at once a dependent upon his predecessors and a contributor to posterity.
III. Wise and becoming is it for every age to be reminded alike of its debt to the foregoing generation and of its responsibility to the next. The one thought saves it from the selfishness of pride, the other from the selfishness of disappointment. The success and strength of any age must go back, could we but realise it, to unhistorical characters, to men and women who made a conscience of doing sound work quietly, of foregoing applause; of making sacrifices, for example, on behalf of their children, and of denying themselves in many ways in order to let their charges or their offspring be fitted for the work of life. All such, in the home or society, sow for the unseen.
IV. The parent and the teacher offer very conspicuous cases of this law. For even when they live to see the success of child or pupil, the young person is often unconscious of the extent of his debt to these early influences, and his recognition of them must be at the best inadequate.
V. Every individual who allies himself with the cause of God, unselfishly labouring on behalf of his Church and generation, is truly a sower. He benefits those who come after him as well as those who live round Him.
References. IV. 37. W. J. Mitchell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 102, and vol. xlviii. p. 282. Bishop Welldon, The Gospel in Great Cities, p. 194. IV. 37, 38. F. W. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 131.
As the corn laws, on the currency; as the amelioration of the criminal code, on Catholic emancipation he was not one of the earliest labourers or quickest converts. He did not bear the burden and heat of the day; other men laboured, and be entered into their labours.
Bagehot on Sir Robert Peel.
References. IV. 38. F. Hastings, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 131. J. Crossfield, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 49. IV. 39. Bishop Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 212. IV. 39-42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1053, and vol. xlv. No. 2623. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 120. IV. 41, 42. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 124.
The office of authority in religion is essentially educative. Like every good teacher, it should labour to make itself superfluous. The instructor should not rest content till his pupil says, 'Now, I believe, not on thy saying, but because I see and know for myself.
References. IV. 42. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 18. IV. 43-54. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 268. IV. 44. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 186; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 339. IV. 46. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. v. p. 443. IV. 46-53. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1865. IV. 48. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 278. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 317. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 353. IV. 49. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 217. IV. 60, 51. Charles Brown, God and Man, p. 66. IV. 60-53. Ibid. p. 66. IV. 53. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 109. IV. 54. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 223. V. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 136. V. 1-9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 744. V. 2. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 133.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany