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PART II. (D.)
IV. CHRIST MANIFESTING HIMSELF IN HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY, ETC. (CONTINUED)
1. In Samaria.—
(1) To the woman of Samaria as the “living water” (John 4:1-16);
(2) as a discerner of the thoughts of the heart (John 4:17-26), the result being faith in Him as Messiah;
(3) to the disciples, giving glimpses of the far-reaching effects of His and their work (John 4:27-38);
(4) to the Samaritans as the Messiah and the Saviour of the world (John 4:39-42).
2. In Galilee.—
(1) His reception by the people (John 4:42-45), His fame in Jerusalem having preceded Him;
(2) His glory manifested again in the region of nature, by healing the nobleman’s son; and the power of His mighty works to awaken faith in true hearts (John 4:46-54).
First Year of our Lord’s Ministry
1. Joh. 4:1-42.—End of A.U.C. 781 or beginning of 782 (December–January, Tebeth).
2. Joh. 4:43-54.—Beginning of A.U.C. 782. Probable place of John 4:43-54 in Synoptic narrative:Matthew 4:13; Matthew 4:13 et seq.; Mark 1:14 et seq.; Luke 4:14 et seq.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 4:1-3. These verses form an historical introductory note prefixed to and explaining our Lord’s ministry in Samaria. He left Judæa to avoid conflict with the Pharisaic party.
John 4:2. Though (καίτοιγε = howbeit, and yet).—This word is intended to indicate a partial correction of the report recorded in John 4:1 (vide also John 3:22; John 3:26). “Why did not Jesus Himself baptise? Just because He was the Lord, and as such reserved to Himself the baptism of the Spirit. By leaving the baptism of water to the apostles, He rendered this rite independent of His personal presence, and so provided for the maintenance of it in His Church after His departure” (Godet).
John 4:3. He left (ἀφῆκε).—This is not the verb usually employed. ἀφίημι means “to leave a thing to itself,” “to leave it alone,” etc. (vide Westcott, Reynolds, etc.). Here is fore shadowed the awful word of doom of Matthew 23:38.
John 4:4. He must needs, etc.—If He wished to go directly and speedily to Galilee the way through Samaria was the most direct; and Jesus, we may be assured, did not share Jewish prejudice as to this route (Luke 10:30-37). We, however, may conclude that this was a necessity of redeeming love. Samaria was a district of Central Palestine which took its name from the city built by Omri (1 Kings 16:24). It was colonised by Assyrians in the reign of Esar-haddon, the Assyrian king, after the conquest of Israel (2 Kings 17:24). The colonists were a mixed race, including five tribes or nations, each of which brought with them their own divinity, the worship of which they conjoined with the worship of Jehovah. Their only sacred books were the five books of Moses. The later Jewish prophetical and historical books they did not receive or acknowledge.
John 4:5. Sychar (Συχάρ).—This name has given rise to no little controversy. It was long supposed that either Συχάρ was simply an erroneous reading for Συχέμ (Acts 7:16), and that Sychar was therefore Shechem, the modern Nablous; or that “the change of the name to Sychar is due to the contempt shown for the Samaritans by the Jews, who charged the Samaritans with the worshipping of an Idol (שֶׁקֶר), Sychar, or falsehood, from שָׁקַר (fefellit) (Habakkuk 2:18). Lightfoot derives it from שָׁכַר (inebriavit)” (Wordsworth’s Greek Testament). But Shechem and Sychar were distinguished in ancient times (e.g. by Eusebius); and a Samaritan chronicle of the middle ages contains the name of a town called Iskar. In the Talmud also (see Westcott) a place called עין סוכר, i.e. the fountain of Soukar, is mentioned; whilst in recent years a spot has been discovered within half a mile or so of Jacob’s well called El-’Askar. If Nablous anciently extended nearer to Jacob’s well than it does now, this place might have been in reality a suburb of Shechem.
John 4:6. Jacob’s well (πηγή, עין, a spring).—The well is still called ’Ain Yacûb. Maundrell over two hundred years ago described it as 105 feet deep; but in 1886 it was found to be only 75 feet, and contained no water. It lies just under the side of Mount Gerizim. The sixth hour.—It has been much debated whether the Evangelist in his notes of time reckons according to the Jewish or Roman mode. According to the latter mode of reckoning, it must either have been six o’clock in the evening or morning. But as the time of year was December–January (Tebeth), it would thus, had it been evening, have been dark when the incident occurred, and there is nothing in the narrative to indicate that night had fallen. And it could hardly have been six in the morning, as there is no indication that the Lord and His disciples had been travelling over-night or very early in the morning. All the circumstances seem to point to the noontide hour, and to show that John used the Jewish time-reckoning.
John 4:8. To buy meat.—I.e. food.
John 4:9. The woman knew He was a Jew probably by His dress, but it may be also by His accent. It has been pointed out that the words of the question asked by Jesus in Aramaic would be תני לי לשׁחת (Teni li lish’ḥoth), whereas the woman would have said לשׂחת (lis’ḥoth) (vide Judges 12:5-6).
John 4:10. If thou knewest (or hadst known) the gift of God.—I.e. the gift of His Son (John 3:16). Had she known this in place of waiting for Him to ask, she would have been first with her petitions. Living water.—No doubt the woman had some faint conception of the spiritual meaning of our Lord’s language. Such imagery would be quite clear to Jews (John 7:37-38; comp. Zechariah 14:8; Jeremiah 2:13, etc.).
John 4:11. The well is deep.—Vide note on John 4:6.
John 4:12. Our father Jacob.—The Samaritans considered themselves to be descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, i.e. Joseph. The woman is conscious of a hidden meaning in our Lord’s words, but she does not fully comprehend them. Whence can He obtain this living water? Not from Jacob’s well; it is deep, and He has nothing to draw it with. And besides, could He give her water more sacred, more blessed, than this ancient well afforded?
John 4:15. Come hither to draw.—διέρχωμαι, come all the way hither, seems the idea expressed (see Westcott).
John 4:16. Go, call thy husband, etc.—Jesus knew by His divine insight the character and life of this woman; and His question, though at first sight a strange one, was put with the intention of revealing her to herself and leading her to repentance.
John 4:17-18. The woman answered, etc.—The mystical interpretation of this passage must be noticed. Hengstenberg and others contend that this must be interpreted nationally and spiritually of the Samaritans. The five husbands mean the five idols of the original idolatrous settlers, the gods of Cuthah, Babylon, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim; and that He whom thou hast is not thy husband is to be held to refer to Jehovah, whom the Samaritans claimed now to be their God, but on whom in reality they had no covenant claim. And there certainly seems to be some foundation for the interpretation in the fact that the conversation almost immediately turned on the validity of the Samaritan faith and worship. It has been pointed out that the idols mentioned in 2 Kings 17:30-31, are seven. It might, however, be maintained that the double idols of Ava and Sepharvaim might each be considered one. There may therefore be a double meaning in our Lord’s words, understood by His Samaritan auditor. But a calm survey of the passage seems to lead to the conclusion that the narrative must be taken, primarily at least, in its obvious and literal signification.
John 4:19-20. Thou art a prophet.—The emphasis is on Thou (σύ). “The first thought in the Samaritan’s mind is that the connexion of man with God has been authoritatively restored” (Westcott). Hence the woman’s question in John 4:20. Nothing could be more important than a decision on that point. Our fathers.—Probably refers to Deuteronomy 27:4-5, where in the Samaritan Pentateuch Gerizim is substituted for Ebal. But the reference might also be to the patriarchs in their connection with Shechem. No temple existed on Gerizim, however, it would seem, till the times of Nehemiah.
John 4:21-22. Woman, believe Me, etc.—Although our Lord directly answers the woman’s question, pointing rather to a higher universal worship which should supersede all local cults, He yet makes it plain that Jerusalem has hitherto been the centre of true worship. Ye worship that which ye know not.—They rejected the continuous revelation God gave of Himself in the prophetic word and the history of His people. It was only a partial idea of God as revealed which they had, and therefore their worship was necessarily imperfect. But to the Jews the progress of revelation tended to the recognition of God as the Father (Psalms 103:13; Jeremiah 31:9; Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10), the great truth finally established and made luminous by the Incarnation.
John 4:23. In spirit and in truth.—“Worship involves an expression of feeling and a conception of the object towards Whom the feeling is entertained. The expression is here described as made in spirit, the conception as formed in truth.… By the Incarnation men are enabled to have immediate communion with God, and thus a worship in spirit has become possible. At the same time the Son is a complete manifestation of God for men, and thus a worship in truth has been placed within their reach” (Westcott).
John 4:24. God is Spirit.—πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός.
John 4:25. Which is called Christ (ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός).—This is evidently one of the Evangelist’s interpretations of Hebrew terms for his Gentile readers. Messias.—The Samaritans seem to have had an expectation of a coming prophet and deliverer founded on the promises in the Pentateuch (Genesis 3:15; Numbers 24:7; Deuteronomy 18:15); and probably to some extent influenced by Jewish belief. The modern Samaritans expect one to come whom they call הָשָּׁחֵב, Ha.sbaḥev (from שׁוּב, to return), which signifies the one who brings back, or the one who returns or restores. Taken in connection with John 4:42, this statement of the woman would seem to imply an imperfect but so far true conception of the functions of the coming Messiah.
John 4:26. I that speak, etc.—“This is the great ἐγώ εἰμι (‘I am’) that recurs throughout John’s Gospel” (Luthardt).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 4:1-26
The woman of Samaria.—The dispute between John’s disciples and a Jew was apparently only an outstanding incident, significant of deeper under-currents of feeling. It tended, perhaps, to produce an outbreak of the latent hostility toward Jesus in certain quarters. Even in Galilee itself there seemed to be indications of a feeling of opposition to the popular enthusiasm for Christ (Mark 2:5-6, etc.). The Baptist had now been cast into prison; and on Jesus the full stream of Pharisaic hatred, which had formerly been divided, was now turned. And the hatred was all the greater because Jesus made and baptised more disciples than John (John 4:1). Therefore, in the circumstances, Jesus for the time withdrew from Judæa, practising a precept He afterward laid down for the disciples (Matthew 10:23).
I. The necessity for His going through Samaria.—
1. It was not an absolute material necessity. Strict Jews would have avoided it by going through Peræa. Those who wished to make a speedy journey, however, required to take this direct route. This did not seem to be the sole reason why Jesus chose it; for He remained two days at Sychar.
2. The “must needs” be is no doubt to be found in the incidents that follow. It is a divine necessity for Christ to save thirsting souls.
3. How does this mission to Samaria agree with the command to the disciples in Matthew 10:5-6? It was a command applying only to that special mission (Acts 1:8). And although the Saviour was sent specially to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), yet He never withheld His saving power from those ready and willing to receive it.
II. Christ’s meeting with the woman of Sychar.—
1. In the heat of the day (for even in winter, the best time for travelling in Syria, the midday sun is often very hot, and walking fatiguing), Jesus came, wearied, to Jacob’s well (Genesis 33:18-20; Genesis 49:21-22; Deuteronomy 33:28-29), near a village or suburb of Shechem called Sychar, now called El Askar, about a mile from Nablous (Shechem).
2. Jesus had journeyed on foot. The common fund evidently did not admit of hiring animals for all His company, and He therefore went with them afoot. He shared with His disciples the common fatigues and hardships of the way.
3. He sat thus, wearied and footsore, by the well, whilst the disciples went for provisions to the neighbouring village or town. He was truly human—the Son of man as well as the Son of God. He knows our toils, trials, wearinesses, and can sympathise with us in our troubles (Hebrews 4:15).
4. While He thus sat “a woman of Samaria” came to draw water. It was not the usual hour when women came to draw water, and this particular woman must have come there at that time for some especial need, perhaps also to avoid publicity, which she had reason to do. Our Lord entered into conversation with her, showing that He was free from rabbinic prejudice and Jewish exclusiveness. He asked from her a draught of water, as the disciples had probably taken with them the vessel for drawing water (John 4:11). The Saviour’s request was a real request. The sinless needs of His human nature were as ours (John 19:28; Matthew 8:24).
III. Christ leads the woman to desire the living water which He can give.—
1. Whilst the Saviour’s request was a genuine one, it also afforded Him an opening for offering this poor woman a richer gift.
2. The mere fact of doing a kindness to another leads us to take a more than ordinary interest in that person. A way is often found into the soul of a man by giving him the sense of an ability to be helpful to others. It awakens a kindly feeling toward the person helped. Here we have an example of but one of the many ways in which Christ brings sinners to Himself. Something connected with our daily duty may be made a turning-point in our life. As the man at his daily work found the treasure in the field (Matthew 13:44), so often in the pursuit of our daily duty the Lord may give us the privilege of bringing to light heavenly riches.
3. The woman was astonished at our Lord’s request. His costume (most probably His accent) proclaimed him a Jew; and, considering the relation between Jews and Samaritans, the request was a strange one (vide Note, p. 124), although we may be sure it was granted (Luke 10:33).
4. Jesus soon showed that He was no ordinary traveller, not simply a liberal-minded Jew, as He said to her, “If thou knewest the gift,” etc. (John 4:10). The water of Jacob’s well was truly a divine gift flowing for all; but there is a richer, fuller spring, giving enduring satisfaction, “living water” drawn from the ever-fresh, never-failing springs of eternal love and grace (Psalms 36:9; Psalms 87:7; Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 41:17-18; Isaiah 55:1).
5. The woman now realises that here is some one far above her, and she addresses Him courteously, Sir. But she does not yet quite comprehend His meaning. Moreover, her pride of race and religion is up in arms; and perhaps some idea of a special sanctity in this well is in her mind as she replies, “Art Thou greater?” etc. (John 4:12).
6. The answer of Jesus reveals to the woman a well of deeper depth than that of Jacob. He opens up to her gaze the deep spring of eternal love and grace. He who drinks from Jacob’s well, or any earthly spring of material joy, shall thirst again. “But the water that I shall give,” etc. (John 4:14), shall be an inner source, never failing, of satisfaction (Isaiah 55:1). And thus, too, that other prophetic word is fulfilled: “The Lord shall … satisfy thy soul in drought,” etc. (Isaiah 58:11). All fountains of earthly satisfaction cannot satisfy the soul, which needs a supply not from external sources only, but deep in itself, ever flowing through faith, and which is checked only by unbelief. It is living water, flowing from the source of all grace (Ezekiel 47:0), full and abounding for spiritual satisfaction, springing up unto life eternal. It is Christ, and His Spirit and gospel (John 7:37-40).
IV. From the well to the mount of service.—
1. The woman of Sychar, although perplexed by the words of Jesus as to the gift of living water which He could bestow, realised evidently that there was some deep meaning under these words. At all events, she realised that such a gift would be a valuable one, and in her heart a great desire for this gift was awakened (John 4:15).
2. And Jesus would fain give her this boon; but there was needed first a preparation of heart and life for its reception. Hence our Lord’s answer, although fitted to lead toward this end, would be unexpected, and, we may believe, at first unwelcome to the woman. It revealed the poor sinful woman to herself, and gave her a glimpse of the nature of Him with whom she was speaking. She had apparently lived a loose and evil life, and now Jesus brought it up before her suddenly—not simply to shame her, but with a view to lead her, and her partner in sin, to repentance. Probably her former husbands had discarded her for her wicked life. She made no attempt to cover or conceal her sin.
3. We are not, therefore, to consider the apparently strange turn given to the conversation as merely “a woman’s ruse” to escape an unpleasant and unwelcome turn in the conversation. In all probability this woman (who possessed evidently some force of character) had grown dissatisfied with her past life, but found no help and guidance toward higher things in the religion and worship of Samaria. She was evidently of the number of those who were vaguely longing for the bright new era of Messiah (John 4:25). And the thought might well come to her, “Here was one who was evidently a prophet—might He not decide this question, and give her some definite clue as to what was the truth?” There must have been some such feeling in her mind, else Jesus would not have followed the turn in the conversation, which indeed led up to the end He desired to reach. “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain” (Gerizim), etc., said the woman.
4. The answer of Jesus was truly prophetic. He had to convince the woman that the Samaritan religion and worship were erroneous, and that in the Jewish Church alone at that period the true Object of worship was adored and the way of salvation known. But, at the same time, He had to show that all merely local cults were soon to pass away, giving place to a universal, rightly directed, and true worship, when men should everywhere worship the Father (see homily on John 4:20-24).
5. In her answer to our Lord the woman of Samaria showed a deeper and truer conception of part of Messiah’s work than did the Jews. She realised that He was to come as the Revealer (John 4:25). And Jesus, recognising in this poor woman’s heart a receptivity not common in Israel, revealed Himself unto her (John 4:26). Not prejudiced like the Jewish rulers and the mass of the Jewish people, she willingly received His word. In haste, excited and rejoiced above measure at this great discovery, leaving her waterpot behind in her excitement, thus forgetting the object of her visit to the well, or having otherwise realised it (above, John 2:4), she hurried to Sychar to communicate her important news, and thus became the first preacher of Christ in that place.
John 4:7-26. A soul awakened and enlightened.—In this conversation of our Lord with the Samaritan woman, we find the Saviour employing quite another method than that followed in the case of Nicodemus. Jesus did not use any stereotyped plan in dealing with men and women regarding spiritual things. Each individual case was treated with reference to its own special circumstances and needs. There seems to be a danger of forgetting this in certain quarters nowadays—of forgetting that men cannot be treated spiritually in the mass, and run, as it were, into moulds like molten metal. There is a danger lest those whose feelings have been stirred by emotional excitement may in this state be led to grasp a shadow for the reality. It is better, certainly, that men and women should be stirred up, than that they should remain wholly indifferent. But there is room for much wise and calm spiritual guidance in their treatment. It is needful, e.g., that men should have true views of sin, else they will never have true views of God and salvation. In this conversation our Lord gives an example of faithful and wise dealing with a sinful soul. Most marked is the skill with which the Good Physician of souls led this woman to a desire for something higher—to tacit confession of her sinfulness—to a glimpse of the meaning of the true spiritual life.
I. In this conversation Jesus awoke in her heart a desire for something higher.—The woman of Samaria came to Jacob’s well, with her waterpot, intent only, it would seem, on satisfying material needs. Her life had not been a good one; and possibly, like many slaves of sin, she felt the bondage to be bitter. Even amid her sinful life also she turned her thoughts sometimes toward higher things (John 4:25). The Saviour read her heart, and His very presence helped (as it ever did) to awaken the germ of spiritual life slumbering there, and well-nigh extinct. He effected His purpose of mercy toward her and her fellow-citizens, by leading His hearer through the material occupation of the moment to the thought of the higher spiritual reality. The empty waterpot led Him to speak of the spiritual thirst of men, and to show the divine way in which alone it can be satisfied. The woman knew, as her words show, that Jesus spoke of some other water than Jacob’s well or any material spring. Perhaps it was some vague religious feeling that led her to come to Jacob’s well—some semi-superstitious thought that a blessing might come through drinking from this hallowed spring. But the toil remained—the blessing had not come. Hence she says (John 4:15), “Sir, give me,” etc.
II. Jesus led her by personal revelation to conviction of sin and to feel her need.—The inner look of the Saviour revealed this woman to herself, and at the same time showed her that she stood in the presence of One who knew her altogether (John 4:17-19). She made no attempt to deny her sinfulness. Her tacit acknowledgment was confession. But she showed her sense of her need, and her faith that He could supply it, by at once asking Him for light regarding religion and the spiritual life.
III. Our Lord revealed to her the true spiritual life, and Himself as the way to it.—The woman now in a measure understood what Jesus meant, and desired to know more. He therefore showed her the inadequacy of her present faith, and pointed out the fact that the way of salvation was revealed to Israel. But at the same time He opened to her the vista of true spiritual service, now first fully revealed, of which the Father is the centre, and Himself the revealer of the Father.
John 4:4-26. Our Lord’s dealing with the Samaritan woman.—In order to assimilate all that is beautiful, instructive, and touching in this story, to explain and consider worthily all the precious words spoken by Jesus on this occasion, would go far beyond the limits of our meditation. We shall not, therefore, consider the particulars, but rather the Redeemer’s mode of dealing with souls, as shown in this conversation; and notice the special application the whole may have in our ordinary life. We see—
I. How the Redeemer, starting from a very ordinary occurrence, one of the smallest in human life, knew how to turn the conversation with the Samaritan to the highest truths of His teaching, and the end and aim of His appearance in the world. Thus, not only in the narrower circle of those immediately around us and connected with us, but in that wider circle in which we all more or less move, in which men are not so open with each other as in the narrower sphere of friendship and companionship, even although they are not entirely strangers to each other, we often in conversation linger on trifles, on the petty occurrences of life! And when the talk turns on personal circumstances, how seldom is it conducted in such a way that profitable considerations arise from it, and the heart is moved to turn from those lesser things to things of higher import, etc.
II. Notice how the Redeemer declared Himself to this Samaritan woman in regard to the relations between the Jews and the Samaritans. He left her in no doubt regarding His opinion as to these contending claims. Similar circumstances meet us. There are many divisions of the Church of God. But when through these divisions men become embittered and inimical; when the higher consciousness of the unity of the faith, and the oneness of the Church resting thereon, vanishes; when in place of helping each other toward the knowledge and practice of the true and good they deny to each other insight, right feeling, and love of the divine,—then how unblessed are such divisions! How disastrous also! for thus the Church becomes like a congeries of small states, divided and inimical—an easy prey to the foe. If the Redeemer were asked as to His opinion concerning these divisions, He would point to a time when neither one nor another would exist … and reply that such division can become beneficial only in so far as there is a recognition of the higher unity. But we must also, in imitation of our Redeemer, not suppress our views of the subjects on which we are divided. Yet, fellowship, love, and the power of truth are to be invoked to bring about an agreement founded on better opinions. Men must be brought to an earnest conviction that the blessing of God does not rest on our divisions, but on the unity which lies at the basis of each.
III. Lastly, notice the open avowal of Christ: “I that speak unto thee am He.” We live in an age when many a one is unwilling to say who and what he is, and what his deepest thoughts, etc., are. But when the hearts of men are truly turned to God, when faith and love increase and are strengthened, when men deny themselves to what is of the earth earthy, renounce dissimulation, and desire first of all God’s eternal kingdom which Christ has opened even on earth—then when we meet others like-minded with ourselves, let us openly avow ourselves to them, and thus strengthen and comfort each other whilst pressing forward in our course.—Abridged from F. Schleiermacher.
John 4:10. Divine grace.—This gift of God which the Samaritan woman did not yet know is divine grace. It is a precious gift which we do not ourselves comprehend sufficiently, and which we do not always take pains to seek to comprehend. Hence it comes about that it is frequently received in vain. It is important, therefore, to seek to have right ideas regarding it. Of divine wisdom it is said that she works gently and yet attains her ends with power. So it may be said of grace, for grace works within us as the instrument of sovereign wisdom. Consider then, first, the gentleness, and, second, the power of grace.
I. The gentleness of divine grace.—By this attribute grace touches the sinner and becomes victorious. This gentleness is seen—
1. In this, that grace waits for us. Jesus, wearied, etc., as He was, waited to be gracious to this sinful Samaritan.
2. Grace avails itself of the times and occasions best suited for gaining its ends.
3. Grace is the first to meet us. So our Lord opened the conversation with this woman, etc.
4. What grace wishes to obtain it asks from us—it solicits and invites. The Lord entreated the Samaritan woman to believe Him: “Woman, believe Me,” etc. More, grace asks little from us that it may give much. The Saviour asked a draught of water, that He might offer to this woman a draught from the fountain of living water.
5. Grace accommodates itself to our nature and temperament. This woman showed an inquiring disposition, and the Saviour deigned to converse with her on the themes she introduced.
6. Grace does not involve us in positions of difficulty where it cannot comfort and help us. It is true God by His grace influences us to renounce the world; but only after by grace we have made known to us its vanity and danger.
II. The power of divine grace.—It has always appeared to me, and I am still of the same opinion, that one of the most convincing proofs of the truth of our faith is to see what grace does in certain souls. And if I consider only the conversion of this Samaritan, I should conclude without hesitation that there is a superhuman power that works within us. There is seen a double miracle of the almighty power of divine grace in this conversion—the one in regard to the mind, the other in regard to the heart.
1. There was a miracle of grace and power effected in the mind of the Samaritan. She was an unbeliever and was brought to faith—always a difficult process.
2. There was a miracle of grace in the power that changed her heart. She had lived an evil life, and grace convinced her of its sinfulness.
3. These miracles were evidently works of superhuman power, yet the Saviour of the world wrought them speedily. Her conversion was sudden, and its reality evident.
What lessons shall we learn from this?—
1. Hope all things from divine grace; and however great seems to be the effort needed to bring one back to God, have confidence.
2. If God in His mercy has brought you out of the estate of sin, imitate the zeal of the Samaritan, and labour like her to bring in as many sinners as you are capable of affecting, above all those who have been accomplices in your sins. Say with penitent David: “Come and hear, and I will declare what God hath done for my soul” (Psalms 66:16), and therefore what He will do for you also. Inspire us with such zeal, O God, and with Thy Holy Spirit.—Abridged from Bourdaloue.
John 4:21. The true sacredness of places of worship.—The natural tendency of men to localise worship and consecrate certain spots as sacred is checked by the true knowledge of the spirituality and omnipresence of God. His manifestation of Himself specially in Israel was suited to the childhood of the race, and to the fact that Israel alone was then consecrated to His service. But by the Incarnation the barriers of exclusiveness have been thrown down, and from every race and nation the spiritual Israel is being gathered in. So that everywhere in the Church—the congregation of the faithful—which is Christ’s mystical body, an acceptable worship ascends to God (1 Peter 2:5). Are we to say then that our churches—places of worship—are to have no special sanctity in our eyes; that they may be used for other and secular purposes, like ordinary buildings; indeed that churches may be dispensed with altogether, and men worship the Father in solitary stillness?
I. The place of worship is consecrated by the communion of true worshippers with each other.—The mere stone and lime of a religious edifice may not be more sacred than other stone and lime. Yet from the fact that the worshippers meet there in praise and prayer, united in their acts of devotion to God, the place acquires a sacredness in their sight which belongs to no other place. There the divine word has been faithfully preached for many generations; there many a one has been led to conviction of sin and settled peace; within those walls have come the weary and have found rest, the troubled and perplexed and have found comfort. There our fathers have worshipped, and have said, “It was good for us to be there.” All these memories awaken our gratitude and thankfulness, and should make our united supplications rise with more fervour and power to the throne of grace. And all this will make the place of communion sacred and dear.
II. The place of worship is also, for the most part, the place of closest fellowship and communion with our Saviour and our God.—It is so, indeed, only because the congregation statedly meet there. Hence many a church building is called—and well called—a Bethel, a place where God has manifested Himself to His waiting people. Wherever God’s people assemble, in the lowly hut amid savage wilds, in the woods, beneath the open sky, or in dens or caves of the earth, they may, and do, enjoy this communion. But in settled communities there is ever a stated place; and that place must and will be hallowed by the memories of heavenly consecration and fellowship; and it would be felt to be a profanation to use such a place for all ordinary purposes. We do not make vegetable gardens or sow corn on the spots where our loved ones lie buried. These spots are kept sacred to their memory. And shall we not also consider that place as hallowed where first the name of Christ was named upon us—where often in the sacred rite of His own ordinance we have entered into communion with our risen Lord? This is not mere sentimentality. It is a sense of the fitness of things which dictates this feeling.
III. Our places of worship are specially prepared for the purpose of social public prayer and praise.—They are set apart from the distractions of the world. “The loud vociferations of the street” do not enter them; and all the accessories should tend to distract the mind and heart from earth, so that they may be fixed on heavenly things. The art—both in the furnishing and the music—should be fitted to aid the soul in its heavenward flight. Whilst here on earth the senses and feelings and emotions are part of our being; and all must be made to contribute to and not hinder spiritual worship. It is difficult to prevent men going to extremes here—of “baldness” on the one hand, of sensuousness on the other. The remedy is to pray for and to exercise the spirit of true worshippers, who worship the Father “in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:20-24. Worship in spirit and in truth.—The subject brought before us in these verses is true worship—its Object, its universality and spirituality. Whether the whole of the conversation between our Lord and this Samaritan woman is here reported cannot, perhaps, be clearly determined. It may be that as in the conversation with Nicodemus, only the salient points are recorded. At all events, we see this auditor of our Lord led upward from her merely material cares to the loftiest of themes. A revelation is made to her of a higher and more heavenly truth than had ever before been made known to man. Not in the groves of the Academy, not in the School of the Peripatetics, not in the “Painted Porch,” was this revelation made—not in imperial Rome, learned Athens, or cosmopolitan Alexandria; but in an obscure district of Palestine, to a poor Samaritan woman, and therefore to a member of a race despised by the Jews and not much regarded by the Gentiles, was this great truth first spoken, by One despised and rejected of men, a weary traveller seated for rest and refreshment by the rand of Jacob’s well. And yet although the truth then proclaimed in all its fulness for the first time among men appeared so lofty and heavenly, yet now it has been made known it is at once seen to be in accordance with reason and with the higher aspirations of the race. And withal it is so simple that even Christ’s humble, uninstructed listener by Jacob’s well seems to have partly caught and assimilated it—a striking example of how great spiritual truths, hidden from the wise and prudent, are revealed unto babes (Matthew 11:25).
I. The object of true worship.—
1. The true worshippers shall worship the Father. By this endearing word the woman of Sychar, and since then all men, had revealed to them a thought which would set them free for ever from all debasing forms and modes of worship. In His personal relation to men God is the Father. On the throne of universal dominion there is seated not merely almighty Power inscrutable, before whom men must needs bend in dread and awe—not certainly divine wrath merely, frowning down on trembling men, and requiring to be appeased by ever richer offerings, costlier sacrifices, and bloodier rites: on that throne sits the God of love, the Father of Him whom He sent to save the race of men, and in whom, new-born, they can come with holy boldness to that divine throne, and say, “Abba, Father.” This great thought, revealed faintly and dimly to Israel, our Lord made fully known, thus elevating and enlarging the thoughts of men regarding God.
2. God is Spirit. In this word the nature, the eternal personal essence, of the Deity is described. There is no limitation in His being. He is not limited by the bounds of time and space, as we are—not to this moment of the world’s history, in this set place in the universe. Even as thought can live in eternities past or eternities future, so the divine Spirit exists yesterday, to-day, and for ever, unbounded by any limit of space or time. And in this description we are also to realise the idea of absolute freedom. It is just this freedom of will that distinguishes man as a free spiritual being: all else in his nature is under the dominion of the forces of the universe. And thus man is in his nature a complex being—strange and perplexing; on this side swayed by the forces around him, on that choosing freely to act, and conscious of the responsibility resting on him in view of his activity. But God has no limitations on the side of nature, for He is the creator of nature, which lies plastic in His hand. Therefore He is “free personality—the supreme conscience.” He knows, He wills absolutely. “He is distinguished from all His creatures, because by an act of His love He has formed them.” And in His activity “none can stay His hand from working, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” He is therefore absolute freedom, the absolute One. And thus in this conception men escape the idolatry of heathenism, with its gods each limiting the other—from the pantheistic dreams of the one substance, from fatalistic materialism. Yet again, the spiritual being is founded on righteousness and truth. It is even by these qualities of their moral being that men rise to be what they are. Without them, as the guiding principles of life and action, men may become worse than the beasts that perish. And these are the eternal and immutable attributes of the Godhead. “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” Indeed, without these qualities there can be no true spirituality, no true freedom. Where righteousness is wanting slavery reigns. “This is the God whom Jesus reveals—infinite and eternal, everywhere present and conscious, Lord and Father, merciful and holy” (Viguié).
II. The true manner of worship: it is to be in “spirit and in truth.”—
1. As are men’s gods so is their worship. According to men’s ideas of the supreme Being the form of their worship will shape itself. The pages of the world’s annals have but to be glanced through to reveal how true this statement is to fact. The cruel Moloch will demand a ritual of cruel, even human sacrifice. And on the other hand a cold monotheistic and rational conception of the Deity (such as that of the Sadducees and Samaritans) will lead to a cold, formal, lifeless worship. And the agnostic, who philosophically, and even with a sense of superiority, postulates an “unknown God,” has either no worship at all, or one so ethereal that it remains unseen.
2. But in this highest act of the spiritual life men can only find true satisfaction when they come to Him whom Christ has revealed as the Father. He is no mere abstraction of the intellect—no mere negation—no mere chimera of the human imagination. He has come near—He has revealed Himself in Christ. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). And therefore those who become His children approach in holy reverence and boldness, with gratitude and love, “as children to a Father.” Their hearts are drawn toward Him; and the spirits He has created rise into loving and joyful fellowship with the divine Spirit.
3. We are thus to adore Him in spirit. Not now by material sacrifices—not by ritualistic posturings, by ascetic penances, nor by any outward or material means merely, is God truly worshipped; but by the rising of the human spirit toward the divine in prayer and praise and spiritual communing. Nor do the true worshippers come in the spirit of servile fear, or for mere show and pretence, to gain favour in the eyes of men, or ignorantly hoping thereby to purchase favour from God. They rather “offer up to God a sacrifice of praise continually,” etc. (Hebrews 13:15). And yet again, the true worshippers are to worship God in holiness and truth. Indeed, the nearer we approach in spirit and in life to the divine likeness, the more true and spiritual will our worship become. The more we learn and know of God, the more will our worship be in truth. Because worship is not an act we can dissociate altogether from our life in general. We cannot in reality say, as some imagine we can, here lies our secular and there our spiritual sphere. They mingle and unite: we cannot separate them. Men cannot lead unholy lives and still truly worship God. Such acts of worship He counts as “vain oblations” (Isaiah 1:10-18). And thus we see how the new spiritual worship may still be expressed in the old symbolic language. There are sacrifices still; but it is our bodies we are to present “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). There are lustrations and separations still. “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded” (James 4:8). “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17). And thus serving Him here we shall rise ever nearer to that perfect scene when in the company of the redeemed we shall “serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:15).
III. The place of worship.—
1. Great would be the astonishment of the Samaritan woman and of all who heard for the first time this wonderful saying: “An hour cometh when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father.” Until that hour—unless where faintly adumbrated by psalmist and prophet—no universal worship of the omnipresent God had been thought of. Even in the case of Jehovah, although the inspired teachers of Israel had risen to some true conceptions, to the mass He was the God of Israel whose habitation was in Zion. All the gods of the heathen were more or less localised, and their shrines were the holy places of the peoples.
2. But here in a word Jesus swept away for ever all such childish and idolatrous ideas. By revealing the true nature of God, He at once made plain the true spirit of worship, and the fact that the Most High “dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshipped with men’s hands” (Acts 17:24-25). “The only temple in the universe is the body of man” (Novalis). “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19). “Thus saith the high and lofty One,” etc. (Isaiah 57:1-15). This is the true temple of God, and thus worship is universal as humanity—nay, is found wherever there are minds to know and hearts to love. At all times then, and in all places, the spiritually enlightened may offer up an acceptable service to God. No longer in Jerusalem or in Gerizim is God to be worshipped exclusively, but in all places where true worshippers meet sincerely and spiritually to call on God and to praise and glorify His name.
“Where’er they seek Thee Thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground.”
John 4:9. Jews and Samaritans.—The last words (οὐ γὰρ συγχρῶνται) are a remark made by the Evangelist, for the sake of his Gentile readers who might not know the origin of the Samaritan people (2 Kings 17:24 et seq.). It was a mixture of five nations transported from the East by Esar-haddon to repeople the kingdom of Samaria, whose inhabitants had been removed by Shalmaneser. To the worship of their national gods they joined that of the divinity of the country—Jehovah. After the return of the Babylonish captivity, they offered their services to the Jews in the rebuilding of the temple. Being rejected, they used all their influence with the kings of Persia to hinder the re-establishment of the Jewish people. They built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Their first priest was Manasseh, a Jew who had married a Persian. They were more abhorred by the Jews than the Gentiles were. No Samaritans were received as proselytes (Godet). Indeed, strict Jews were forbidden to have any intercourse with their despised and hated neighbours; and they were even forbidden to eat bread prepared by Samaritans: “He who eats a Samaritan’s bread is as he who eats swine’s flesh.” Generally perhaps the prohibition was directed against all prepared foods, as thus defiled. Fruits and vegetables, uncooked eggs, etc., were not included in the prohibition.
John 4:6. Memories of Jacob’s well.—Let us set ourselves down on the edge of Jacob’s well. The Lord had seated Himself there, weary with His journey. The way had been long, and the midday sun hot. He was athirst. Who would grudge this rest to the Son of man? Shall He not be permitted to breathe restfully in this place, whilst behind Him lies Jerusalem inimical to Him, and before Him Galilee rich in labours, and around Him strangers who still had no part in Him? Might He not, drawn thereto by the many memories clustering about this place, take refuge from the harassed present in the peaceful past? In those pleasant shades did not the figures of ancient times live and move? Jacob digging this well, where so oft the patriarch himself, his household and flocks, refreshed themselves. How he gave the village of Sychar to his beloved Joseph; how Joseph here, earnest and chaste, went in and out, solicitous for his brethren; and how at last the bones of this Israelite, royally exalted and dying highly honoured in a foreign land, were brought hither and entombed. But Jesus did not come to revel in such remembrances, although they were so poetically beautiful, but to advance the kingdom of God. He did not come again to bury the dead, but to awake the dead. He did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister; and that where He asked a gift He might bestow one infinitely richer in return.—Dr. Rudolph Kögel, “Predigt.”
John 4:24. Worship in truth.—Behold worship in truth, perfect worship and eternal, beyond which we can neither imagine nor conceive anything further. It is in truth, as the Saviour said, because it is sincerity itself. There cannot, indeed, be either division or discord between the act and the inner disposition. The disposition is here the act. It is the heart which worships, and has always its part therein. There is no place for hypocrisy. This worship is in truth because it is the perfection, the sublime flight, the culminating point, to which the whole being tends, toward which it pants, and where is seen the vision of God. Such a worship defies time and space; it is independent of everything that is contingent and perishing. It is “worship in truth” to-day, to-morrow, for evermore. It is “worship in truth” on our poor earth; but wherever you can conceive of spiritual beings existing can you imagine for them a worship superior to the worship in spirit?… Luminous spheres which dazzle our gaze, worlds innumerable which sweep through the celestial spaces and overwhelm us by your majesty, say, who are those spirits that people and animate your immensities? In our weakness here below we shall doubtless never know in perfect fashion concerning their nature and the mode of their activity. But we know one thing. They are of God, they have come from the creative hand of the Father all merciful and all holy—they are made in His image. And without doubt, if we judge from a comparison of their glorious habitations with our poor world, this divine image will be less obscured and effaced than among us. Therefore will they love more perfectly than we do, hope more perfectly, and do good. More perfect also will be their adoration, with more devotional ardour, more prayer, more fervour, more holiness. They mount up ever toward the Father, and in this come before us. Yet between them and us, unworthy though we be, there is a glorious bond of union, a spiritual resemblance, the sign and image of the Father; and that is our worship. Thus from sphere to sphere, from eternity to eternity, the same aspirations of the soul have risen and will rise toward God. It is the universal thrill, the immensity of joy, the universal attraction of spiritual beings toward the supreme Spirit—the radiant centre of everything that lives. It is the eternal hosanna, the sublime harmony, that ascends to the Lord from all worlds and from all ages. Let us join our strains to these—it is our glory to do so, our patent of nobility, the mark of our exaltation.—Translated from Viguié.
The heart must be made a temple to God, wherein sacrifices do ascend; but that they may be accepted, it must be purged of idols, nothing left in any corner, though never so secret, to stir the jealousy of our God, who sees through all. Oh happy that heart that is, as Jacob’s house, purged, in which no more idols are to be found, but the holy God dwelling there alone, as in His holy temple!—Leighton.
John 4:26. The joy and fruit of sincere Christian profession.—What good fruit did this conversation bear to the Redeemer, as subsequently men and women came to Him, saw Him and heard Him, prayed Him to remain with them, and then testified that they believed no more simply because of the speech of the woman, but because they had heard Himself! How was His spirit rejoiced by the hope that the fields were white to harvest! how gladly He welcomed His disciples with the prospect that He would send them to reap where they had not sowed! how joyously He beheld the accomplishment of His work, and the whole of the way He had yet to tread! Well, my friends, we too can find in similar fashion the strength and comfort which the Redeemer here found—yes, we also, who need it much more than did the Redeemer—if we will not set it aside through over-anxious forebodings. To us also will joyful hope be given when we openly avow ourselves to like-minded fellowmen. Although truly we cannot cast such a widely extensive glance over all that lies before us, but only on a special portion … yet what we thus see partially is also a field white to the harvest. And the hope must arise in us that God will come, that His throne is already set for judgment, and that the time draws nigh when the Sun of the righteous will shine again with noonday splendour. All that is grand and beautiful after which we sigh can issue only from a union of forces, to which each individual truly can only make a small contribution, but must do this from the heart: and the basis of this union of all the good is love and confidence alone. Therefore in all our intercourse with men let this endeavour lie at the foundation of it—to investigate and put to the test wisely and sincerely where even one seems to be like-minded, whose heart we might influence and strengthen in faith and zeal for the day of the Lord.—Translated from F. Schleiermacher.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 4:27. Marvelled.—The disciples evidently thought that Jesus would conduct Himself outwardly as did the Jewish rabbis. Those teachers said: “Do not prolong conversation with a woman; let no one converse with a woman in the street, not even his own wife” (Lightfoot).
John 4:29. Is not, etc.—Better, Can this be the Christ? or, as others, He is not however the Christ, is He? The μήτι, not however? suggests a negative reply. But the question was put to elicit, not a speculative, but a practical answer—to bring the people of Sychar to see Jesus.
John 4:30. The people “came on their way toward Him.”—She proved herself, at the first certainly, to be a greater evangelist than Nicodemus.
John 4:31-38. The disciples on their return, solicitous for His comfort, pressed Him to partake of the food they had brought. In reply He pointed them to what is far more important than material food, in view of which the want of food for the body is for the time forgotten.
John 4:34. Finish.—τελειώσω, to complete and perfect (comp. John 17:4).
John 4:39-42. The firstfruits of the spiritual harvest in Samaria were reaped at Sychar. Whilst the Jews rejected Christ, the men of Sychar received Him in simple faith as truly the Saviour of the world.
John 4:41-42. His word … thy speech (τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ … τὴν σὴν λαλιάν).—The λόγος, teaching, of Jesus was more weighty than the saying, the report, of the woman.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 4:27-42
John 4:27-34. Jesus’ spiritual meat.—The disciples found their Master, to their astonishment, talking with the Samaritan woman. It was a strange thing for a rabbi to engage publicly in conversation with a woman at all, but more especially with a Samaritan. They did not, however, express their astonishment openly, none saying, “What seekest Thou?”—i.e. What service dost Thou require from her? or, Art Thou indeed conversing with her as a teacher? Meanwhile, the woman, in the excitement of new thoughts and feelings, leaving her water-pot, hurried away to the city, and the disciples came forward with the food they had purchased, pressing their Master to eat, astonished that He had required to be asked to do so and at the apparent absence of weariness, and more astonished still at His answer; so that they said one to another, “Hath any man?” etc. (John 4:33). They then learned of that higher spiritual food which had cheered the Redeemer’s soul. We learn here:—
I. The true place of physical food in our life.—
1. It is essential, but is not the first essential, although too many make it so—living to eat, making their chief end the meat that perisheth in some of its varied forms. “What shall we eat? what shall we drink?” etc. Here is their chief anxiety.
2. Our Lord taught men that this lower must be subordinated to a higher, e.g. when He fasted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4).
3. Yet the Saviour did not neglect the claims of the body. He worked marvels to supply the people with bread. The various provisions of nature for man’s satisfaction are part of the divine plan of creation (Colossians 1:16-17).
4. Jesus also, as the incarnate Son, came under human conditions in regard to physical food. As He hungered and thirsted, so He satisfied hunger and thirst as we do, and did not despise the means of refreshing and strengthening the body (Matthew 11:19).
II. There is a higher food for our life than that which is physical.—
1. Even the sustenance of intellectual life is, we are told, conducive to a vigorous existence more than is generally imagined.
2. But there is a higher interest than merely physical comfort and pleasure. The highest duty of man is not to attend to the body, it is to do the will of God; whilst the body is to be used, and therefore duly nourished, as the instrument of the soul in doing the divine will, and in finishing, perfecting, the Father’s work.
3. Jesus had, by Jacob’s well, been experiencing this satisfaction, which his soul hungered for more than for meat or drink (Luke 12:49-50; Luke 22:15). Whilst His disciples were in the city He had been enjoying a refreshment of spirit, which showed itself even in His physical frame—before wearied and fatigued, now glowing with inward spiritual energy.
III. In this also we are to follow our divine Example.—
1. This was not a trait of Christ’s divine nature merely, but of His nature as the representative man to whose image we are to conform.
2. The highest happiness and satisfaction of man’s nature is found in doing the divine will, etc. For this he was created (Psalms 84:3). The traces of it still remain in our nature, though blurred by the Fall, e.g. intellectual work and enthusiasm lead to forgetfulness of the body’s wants (instance Kepler, Spinoza, etc.). Many an earnest student has been nurtured on scanty fare.
3. The same experience may be seen in devotion to spiritual things. See, e.g., the lives of great missionaries—St. Paul, Columba, Cuthbert, Xavier, Martyn, Judson, Livingstone, etc. The meat that perisheth is almost forgotten in the absorption of spiritual work, in doing the will of God. And this to spiritual men is the greatest joy. They eat even here of the hidden manna (Revelation 2:17).
IV. Conclusion.—This should be the chief desire of all Christians, especially of all ministers of the word. Their greatest joy should be to do God’s will, and to see His work prospering. There is always a danger that when the Church becomes too absorbed in the outward and material, the spiritual life should languish.
John 4:35-38. The joy of the spiritual harvest.—There is nothing more interesting and delightful to contemplate at the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry than the manner in which those who received Him and passed from darkness to light became in turn centres of light and life for others. Andrew and John influenced their brothers. Philip brought Nathanael to the Redeemer. And no sooner had the poor erring Samaritan woman received enlightenment and quickening by Jacob’s well than she became an evangelist, a sower of heavenly truth. And this is the peculiarity in the harvest of humanity, which the natural figure fails to represent entirely. Not only does every good seed harvested and garnered contain the promise and potency of future fruitfulness; it may become in turn sower and reaper—as an instrument in the divine Sower’s hand. We consider now:—
I. The joy at the extent and ripeness of the harvest.—“Behold, the fields that they are white to the harvest already.”
1. Then the husbandman rejoices as he looks forth on the waving fields of grain, some of them “dead ripe,” as it might be said, waiting for the reaper’s toil. Many an anxious hour has passed since months agone the seed was committed to the soil. Would it come to maturity? Would the frost blight, a rainless sky wither, or some other unforeseen contingency blast the hopes of the fruitful year? But under the kindly influences of nature, ever guided by Providence, the fields of earth year by year, and with but few exceptions, offer the ripe grain to the reaper’s toil; and again and again to man is accorded the joy of harvest.
2. It was this general truth which led to these pregnant words of the Redeemer to His disciples at Jacob’s well. All around, under the genial midday sunshine, the fruitful fields of Samaria (Obadiah 1:19) lay decked with living green, promising in the course of the season an abundant harvest. Yet four months, and then those fields would ring with the joy of the reapers, and men’s hearts be glad in the bountiful gift of heaven.
3. This joy the Saviour was experiencing in marked measure. It lifted Him above the necessities of the body, and gave Him “meat to eat” that His disciples knew not of. In the Samaritans drawing near He saw the first ripe field of that spiritual harvest which His disciples would yet gather from out of every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5; Isaiah 60:3). He saw before His vision all those kingdoms of the world which He had seen on the mount of temptation (Luke 4:6-8)—those various fields, which, being slowly brought into cultivation, shall yet yield a glorious harvest. In some the good seed will grow slowly; in some, as in Samaria, ripen as in an hour.
4. And all were “white unto the harvest.” The fulness of time, the hour of realisation, had come, and the reapers were called to go forth to their labour. And this brought joy to the Saviour’s heart.
5. Since those memorable words were spoken nearly nineteen centuries have passed away. Many a spiritual harvest has been reaped; and anew the seed has been sown, and has sprung up and brought forth fruit. But much has been wasted by the folly of man. In many a field the enemy has sown tares. And in many more the harvest has remained ungathered because the reapers have been few or careless. And all the while the field has become wider, the numbers of the human race have increased, until to-day the same voice speaks to us in tones of mingled reproach and entreaty, “Lift up your eyes, and behold the fields, that they are white to the harvest already.” Those eight hundred and fifty millions of heathen, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” etc. (Ephesians 2:0), are waiting for the reaper’s toil; whilst around and in our very midst are many waiting to be gathered in. Vast and ready is the harvest. Are we doing our part in reaping it for “the Lord of the harvest”?
II. The joy in our fellow-labourers.—
1. To have been sharers and helpers in any great work carried out by men of eminence is a cause of joy to every noble worker. To have stood side by side with some great explorer or discoverer on a lofty mountain peak, from which eminence new countries were seen—lofty mountains, great lakes and rivers, and vast forest reaches; to have helped some great scientific explorer to unfold the wonders of the material universe, and to have one’s name handed down with his in however humble a place; to have participated in the labours of a world-renowned social reformer and benefactor of his kind,—these, e.g., are privileges that bring a joy of the highest sort to all noble minds.
2. Such is the joy given in the highest degree to the Christian labourers. “One is the sower, and another the reaper. I sent you to reap that whereon ye have bestowed no labour; others have laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.” They enter into and follow up the activity of a long and illustrious roll of predecessors and witnesses to the truth—prophets and righteous men, who were the salt of the earth, and whose living influence is felt among us in these later days; for they “being dead, yet speak.” They sowed the golden seed of righteousness and truth, which we in Christian lands are reaping in a harvest of precious privileges to-day. It is surely an unspeakable privilege and joy to be successors to the long line of apostles and prophets and holy men in gathering in the harvest of humanity.
3. But more than this:
“Behold a Witness nobler still, who trod affliction’s path—
Jesus, at once the Finisher and Author of our faith.”
Christ, though Himself the great Sower and Lord of the harvest, laboured while on earth as all His servants labour. And therefore we have also His example to cheer and encourage us as we go forth to do His work, and the joy of being “workers together with Him” (2 Corinthians 6:1).
4. And as we look abroad on the world now, and on those fields of the nations, “white to harvest already,” do we not discern a noble band of fellow-labourers, of various climes and races, united with us for this great work? And although it is strange that there is not that perfect union and fellowship which should attain among those working in the spiritual harvest, yet we can rejoice in each other’s success in the work, and recognise and realise that each is fulfilling in some fashion the divine purpose—that from this diversity God will in the end bring forth a higher unity.
5. And when our labours are ended, when we have “served our generation by the will of God” (Acts 13:36), others will rise and enter into our labours, carrying on the line of succession of faithful workers—the truly universal apostolic succession—until sowers and reapers rejoice together eternally.
III. The joy in the reward of the harvest.—“He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal.”
1. The Lord Himself participated in this joy when He saw the crowds of Samaritans coming to Him and confessing their faith in Him. It is the joy of the soul-gatherer expressed by the apostle of the Gentiles. “What then is my reward? That, in preaching the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge.… Yea, being free from all men, yet made I myself servant of all, that I might gain the greater number” (1 Corinthians 9:18-19). It is ever a joy to men to see the fruit of their labours; and that which we shall view with most satisfaction when the end is reached will not be our gains material or even mental—not our possessions, not the pleasures life has yielded us, but the good we have been able to accomplish—the influence we have exerted in bringing men to God. This is indeed to “gather fruit unto life eternal.”
2. To save the life of another is a praiseworthy and honourable action. It brings with it, to well-constituted minds, a feeling of intense pleasure. How the physician rejoices to see the glow of health coming back to the cheeks of one whom he has guided, under Providence, back from the very gates of death! That is emphatically the true physician’s reward more than any material gain. The scientific discoverer (like Kepler, who lived on a miserable pittance whilst unveiling the laws of planetary motion) finds his joy in the demonstrated fact. And to the true follower of Christ there is no higher reward, nor greater joy, than to be the means of converting a sinner from the error of his ways, and thus saving a soul from death (James 5:20).
3. And this joy will be intensified eternally. When rescued and rescuer meet on earth their mutual joy expands. But it will do so perfectly and uninterruptedly in the eternal sphere. The Chief Sower and the reapers—those who are saved and those who were the instruments of their salvation—shall rejoice together.
Is this harvest joy ours?
1. Do we realise the honour and privilege accorded to us of being fellow-workers with Christ in His harvest? or is it a matter of indifference to us whether we do His work or not? Are we rejoicing in being called to enter on the labours of all the great and good who have gone before us? or are we content to pass through life leaving the harvest of the fields of humanity to whiten in vain so far as we are concerned? Apparent indifference and want of interest in this work may often be set down to unreflecting modesty, which shrinks from supposing itself called to or worthy of such an honour, and imagines such a work far above it. It is a fatal error. The humblest labourer is called and welcomed, and for such also the reward is sure; and if all Christians, inspired with Christlike earnestness and zeal, were to bring but one other as the result of their reaping, speedily and grandly would the kingdom of God advance.
2. Do we realise and seek to grasp the promised reward?—To have been able to place but one stone in the eternal spiritual building, founded on the sure foundation, to have brought but one sheaf from the spiritual harvest fields, will give more joy to a true man than the highest of earthly honours and rewards. And by divine grace to each of us this joy may be given. If the desire exists, then even to the humblest will the way be opened; and to them will be given here the joy of being workers together with God, and hereafter that eternal gladness when sower and reaper rejoice together.
John 4:28-30; John 4:39-42. A spiritual harvest at Sychar.—It must have been a joyful experience to our Saviour to meet with one so docile and teachable as this woman by Jacob’s well. The evil in her life, encouraged most likely by training and surroundings, had not wholly quenched the good. There had been in her heart thoughts of, perhaps longings for, a better life, a better guidance. And it was, it may be, with a sigh that the woman said, “I know that Messias cometh … when He shall come, He will tell us all things” (John 4:25). Here was a belief more simple and less material than the Jewish expectation. It was imperfect, very imperfect, but in the right direction. And therefore our Lord gave to this Samaritan a full revelation of His Messiaship, knowing that the “good seed” would not fall on barren soil. The first step, then, toward this spiritual harvest was—
I. Christ’s revelation of Himself.—
1. Jesus saw that this woman’s heart was ready for the reception of this great truth, the most blessed of all truths that had yet been proclaimed. He perceived that in her soul the grey dawn had risen. Dim and uncertain as yet were her conceptions of higher truth; but the moment need not be delayed when the full light of truth should flash in on her soul, dispelling the darkness for ever.
2. Therefore He spoke those words so full of divine consciousness and dignity: “I that speak unto thee am He.” What a moment that must have been to this Samaritan!—a moment like that which the man born blind experienced when Jesus stood before him, speaking of the Son of God, and then added, “Thou hast both seen Him, and He that talketh with thee is He”; or that which Saul of Tarsus experienced as a voice spoke to him and said, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest,” etc. So with this woman. Her highest hopes were fulfilled—the long-promised Messiah stood before her. The voice of awakened faith in her heart told her that it was He in reality.
II. The woman’s witness to Christ in Sychar.—
1. Like all who truly have come to know Christ, this woman must needs make Him known. In her joy and excitement she quite forgot her errand to the well, and leaving her water-pot hurried to the town, not bearing water from the well, but intelligence of the wonderful fountain of living water, etc. (John 4:14).
2. No doubt a very abbreviated version of her message is given. She would most likely give the chief points of her interview with Jesus; but it was His power to read heart and life that appealed to her, and which she was convinced would impress others with the truth of Christ’s claims.
3. Her confession showed humility and earnestness. It was no light thing to recall to the memory of her fellow-townsmen her past smirched and unlovely life. But it showed the Saviour’s power, and therefore must be done.
4. Her testimony was effectual. From occupation and rest the dwellers of Sychar hastened to Jesus, who saw them approaching, and pointed His disciples to them as indications of the coming spiritual harvest of humanity.
III. The harvest at Sychar reaped.—
1. The woman’s testimony awakened faith in the hearts of many (John 4:39), so that they entreated Jesus to remain with them.
2. This He did to the strengthening of their faith (John 4:42). Sychar was won, and the way was prepared for the entrance of the messengers of the cross a few years later, etc. (Acts 8:5-25).
John 4:35. Four months to the harvest.—In this conversation a note of time is given us in John 4:35, which has given rise to a considerable amount of controversy. Some eminent scholars (Tholuck, etc.) have considered the words, “Say ye not, There are four months, and then cometh harvest?” as a proverbial expression meaning the time which elapses between sowing and reaping. They would make our Lord’s reference to the spiritual harvest to coincide with the state of the fields around Sychar. But there seems to be no need for this interpretation of the words, especially when it is remembered that more than four months elapse between sowing and reaping in Palestine. The plain meaning of the phrase is, that the grain in the smiling fields of Samaria was still in a green, immature stage, and that the disciples had been remarking to one another that four months would still elapse ere the harvest would begin. This fixes the date of the incident at about the end of December or beginning of January in the first year of our Lord’s ministry, as harvest began in those regions some time about the end of April or beginning of May. Thus we gather that our Lord seems to have spent a considerable time in Jerusalem after the first passover of His public ministry, probably five or six months, before He left for the country regions of Judæa (John 3:22), whence He came to Samaria. And it is of pathetic interest to notice that whilst the Jewish leaders and rulers did not receive Christ’s testimony (John 3:32), in semi-heathen Samaria hearts were open to receive His word.
John 4:36. Sower and reaper.—To whom does our Lord refer when He speaks of sower and reaper, of others who have laboured, on whose labours the disciples had entered? It is clear, from John 4:38, “I sent you to reap that whereon ye have bestowed no labour,” etc., that our Lord in the first instance intended to designate the disciples as the reapers; and from this it follows, as Godet and others point out, that our Lord intended to refer primarily to the circumstances of the moment. Whilst the disciples were absent He had been sowing the good seed, which had taken such speedy root and sprung up so quickly that the harvest was at hand, a fact testified to by the multitudes coming to Him from Sychar with hearts prepared to receive the good seed, with promise of speedy fruitfulness. And here on earth the Saviour tasted, as He did not always do during His ministry, the joy of the reaper—“saw of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied.” Thus He was able on earth to participate in the joys of His servants in pentecostal days. But surely it is not necessary to restrict the application of our Lord’s words to this single incident? The spiritual fields of Samaria, we may be certain, did not limit His vision, which extended over the field of humanity. He was sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”; but in the midst of that semi-heathen community He looked forward with joy to the time when His disciples, entering into the labours of those who had gone before them, would rejoice, “bringing in the sheaves.” Thus also we must not limit the contents of the phrase “others have laboured” to our Lord Himself and John the Baptist. It is to be taken as referring (Westcott, etc.) to all God’s true labourers in Old Testament times. Our Lord is the supreme Sower, no doubt; but He was the inspirer of those Old Testament labourers. Touched by His Spirit it was His word they sowed. But few of them saw the fruits of their labours to any great extent. Slowly and imperfectly did the fruit advance toward maturity under the oftentimes unfavourable conditions, the dimmer light and chillier atmosphere of pre-advent times. But now that the “Light of men” had arisen on the world, and the quickening and vivifying influences of His baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire were beginning to shoot from heart to heart, then the seed, which had been germinating and springing up, though slowly in past ages, would come more speedily to maturity, and the disciples would begin to reap largely in joy. Here our Lord foresaw not only the harvest reaped in Samaria soon after His ascension (Acts 8:1-17), but the universal harvest to be reaped in all succeeding ages until the end of time.
John 4:37. The success of the gospel husbandmen.—And these words might be taken as not only conveying promises of success to the disciples in their labours; they were also fitted to give consolation in times of apparent failure. The disciples in pentecostal times would be both sowers and reapers. They would see and rejoice in the fruits of their labours. But not always. Sometimes it would seem as if they had laboured in vain. Yet it would not be so. As they had entered into the labours of others, so others would enter into their labours. And as the reaping progresses age after age, so will the joy increase in the heart of the supreme Sower, and among the bright inhabitants of heaven, until, when at last the harvest fields of time have been fully reaped, sowers and reapers shall rejoice together when the sheaves have been all brought in.
John 4:31-32.—Brain work and vitality.—You may kill a man with anxiety very quickly; but it is difficult to kill him with work, especially if he retains the power, which most men of intellectual occupations more or less possess, of sleeping nearly at will and without torpor. The man who has used his brain all his life, say for six hours a day, has, in fact, trained his nerve-power and placed it beyond the reach of early decay, or that kind of feebleness which makes so many apparently healthy men succumb so readily to attacks of disease. Doctors know the differences among men in this respect quite well, and many of them acknowledge that the “habit of surviving” which they find in their best patients arises from two causes—one, which used to be always pleaded, being that soundness of physical constitution which some men enjoy by hereditary right, and the other, some recondite form of brain-power, seldom exhibited, except under strong excitement, by any but those who throughout life have been compelled to think and, so to speak, use their thoughts as other men use their ligaments and muscles. If such a man is tired of life, medicine will not save him; but as a rule his will, consciously or unconsciously, compels the trained nerve-power to struggle on. Whether the brain can actually give power to the muscles is not certain, though the enormous strength sometimes developed in a last rally looks very like it; but that it can materially affect vitality is quite certain, and has been acknowledged by the experienced in all ages.—“The Speaker.”
John 4:35. Glorious harvest fields.—O glorious field of labour which presents itself to the Church of Christ to-day! “Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes,” etc. Behold, Christendom, all that extent of the vast heathen world which sighs for redemption from its miserable servitude! This is thy harvest field. Many a beautiful stretch of the field is already reaped; many weary reapers have already succumbed at their labour under sultry skies; many sheaves of ripened grain have been stored, amid songs of rejoicing throughout Christendom, in the barns of the Lord: but still the field stretches before us immeasurable; still millionfold the stalks bend to meet the reaper; still is prayer needed, and gifts, and labourers from the heart of Christendom for the wide harvest field. The harvest is great, and few are the labourers. But not alone without, over land and sea, but here in our own neighbourhood, is a harvest field for the Lord’s labourers. When we ministers of the gospel look from your fields and from your hills upon your cities, beneath whose roofs lurk so much sorrow and sin, yet also where dwell so many pious hearts, so many souls thirsting for salvation; or when here in the holy place we see gathered around us a believing congregation, then also it is as if we heard the Lord saying, “Behold your field, for it is white already to the harvest.” When among us a father and mother look on their children, then we say, “O parents, behold your harvest field!” And even although your circle of influence is limited, though it should be a narrow and a lonely chamber, though a widow’s small room should be your kingdom and your world, yet even there a rich harvest field may open before you, daily rich in resignation, in duty, and daily rich in blessing, if so be that you have but an open eye and a willing heart for the Lord’s work. “Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look!” It is necessary only to lift up the eyes and look, and each one among you will find in his or her circle opportunity, calls, powers, and gifts sufficient for the work of the Lord, for labour in truth and love. “Say not ye, There are yet four months,” etc. It is needful only to perceive the opportunity, to redeem the time, and every day will be for you a harvest day, every hour you can do some good, every evening you can bring home a sheaf of labour done in God, or at least an ear or two gathered for the heavenly garners. Let no one say, beloved: I would willingly endeavour to be useful, but I cannot do anything. I would willingly engage in good work, but I have no means, no opportunity, no field for effort. See, a true worker’s heart, a heart rich in love to the brethren, and burning with zeal for the Lord, will find ever for itself a field of labour, and will like a sunbeam find everywhere a door of entrance, an opening, a chink, through which to press in with its gracious light. The pious pastor Hiller, when he had for ever lost, through heavy sickness, his voice, formerly so beautiful and powerful, by which he had called so many souls to the Lord, and when he could no more occupy his beloved pulpit, and when it might have seemed that the voiceless pastor was now useless for the work of the Lord, sat day after day in his little room, or in his arbour, and composed to the harp, with a heart like David’s, bruised and anguished, and wrote the many hundreds of sacred songs which he gathered together in his “Jewel Box,” and through which he still preaches to-day to many thousands of hearts. Thus a true servant of God will at all times find a field of labour, and when one door is closed to him another will be opened. And what need we of further witness? Behold the Great Servant of God in our Gospel. Who prompted Him to preach a sermon at Jacob’s well? Who appointed Him to be a minister of truth to the Samaritans? Who had assigned to Him the field of Samaria, that strange and hostile land, to be His harvest field? Who had opened the gates of Sychar to Him, a Jew according to the flesh? His own heart alone—His heart burning with zeal for the Father’s honour, and glowing lovingly with desire for the salvation of His brethren. To you Christians I will not say, “Go and do likewise,” for who could do like as He, the Only Begotten, did? But from Jacob’s well the Lord calls to us also: “Lift up your eyes, and look on the field, your field of labour, which is ripe unto the harvest.” And Hiller also calls to us, and says, “Brethren, let as still do good, and in well-doing not be weary.” None need want a field of labour. Therefore
“Rise—to worldwide harvests speed!
The whitening fields stretch on and on.
Few the labourers are indeed,
But great the work that must be done.”
Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 4:36. Reaping after many days in joy.—On the eastern shore of Virginia there stands to-day one of the few beautiful old homesteads of the past. Its fences are in repair. Its beautiful lawn, shaded by magnificent trees, is in perfect order. It bears still the name given by its founder. Its broad acres remain intact in the hands of the same family to-day that held it in the past century. The neighbours are proud of its name and beauty, and they love to tell the story of its founder. They say he was a man of noted character in his day. In a certain year there was a great famine in the whole country. Corn sold at three and four dollars a bushel, and was difficult to get at that price. The great barns of this farm groaned beneath the burden of an unusually large crop from the previous year. What did the owner of these great barns and broad acres do in this crisis of the people? Did he put his men to work, dig vaults, hide his grain, and then stand at the gate with a sad smile, and swear by heaven and earth that he didn’t have a nubbin? No! He placed his men at the doors of his barns with this instruction: “If a rich man comes to buy my corn with money, do not sell him a grain, no matter what price he may offer. When a poor man comes who has no money, let him have as much as he needs at last year’s price, and take promise to pay!” Merchants offered him fabulous prices for his store that they might speculate in the necessities of their fellows. He would not sell them a peck. He sold to the poor for their promise to pay, and his children’s children are not done reaping the golden harvest. As the old inhabitant passes the gate that leads to the great clump of trees that marks this garden spot of humanity, it is no wonder that he tells you the story with moist eyes, and adds with evident satisfaction, “It’s still the handsomest place in the county.” Such places will always be garden spots. Such men have always been and ever will be the salt of the earth.—Rev. T. Dixon in the “Christian.”
John 4:38. Self-denying labour for Christ’s harvest.—About a year ago an old resident in a hospital, who had, about ten years previously, bought for himself, for a fixed sum, an asylum in a poor-house, came to a Saxon clergyman and told him that, feeling his end was near, he now wished to carry out to completion what he had for long contemplated, and of which no one knew anything. He had no near relatives, and it had long been his desire to contribute something toward the upbuilding of God’s kingdom. He had therefore lived as sparingly as possible, had curtailed his wants as much as he could, and by laying aside even the smallest coins, had gradually gathered a little sum, which he had intended to devote to the East India Mission. Finally he desired the minister to draw out his declaration formally in writing, and enter it on the last page of his savings-bank book which the minister did, the pensioner subscribing to it in his own hand. This man had been in former years a simple workman, and was known to the pastor as a pious Christian and a regular attender at divine worship. Shortly before his death he once more sent for the clergyman to visit him, and handed over to him his savings-bank book, requesting that it should be forwarded to the proper address, which was done. At the same time the pastor wrote: “It is touching to think how this one thought occupied and moved him during long years, and how he had laboured with this one aim in view until his end, as is evidently the case from an inspection of his savings-bank book.” The donation amounts to 1,760 marks. In the last will and testament of the man, who soon thereafter peacefully “fell on sleep,” which was written on the last page of the bank book, the following sentences occur: “It is a heartfelt joy to me to be able to do something for my Saviour, since He has done all things for me—redeemed me, made me a child of God, brought me to a lively hope in life and in death. I hold that the highest duty of a Christian man is to spread abroad His kingdom; for Christianity alone can bring salvation to the world.
‘Peace ne’er shall reign o’er all the world
Till Jesus’ love gain victory meet,
And, ’neath the gospel flag unfurled,
All men shall bow down at His feet.’
In my estimation far too little is done for the noblest of all works of love—for mission work. I would earnestly seek to prove that even a plain man without personal means can certainly contribute something toward the upbuilding of God’s kingdom, if only the will to do so exists. For this purpose I have laboured, laid up, saved for many years. My name is not to be made known. I seek not my own honour, but that of Christ. May He graciously accept the thankoffering which I bring to Him, and in the end deliver me from all evil, and bring me safe into His heavenly kingdom.” So far the simple but heart-touching testament of this departed brother. It is like the odour of the precious Indian nard which was poured out on Jesus’ feet and filled all the house. Who does not, on reading it, feel deeply ashamed? What say you to yourself, dear reader?—From the “Evangel. Luther. Missionsblatt.”
John 4:47-49. Men should make their requests known directly to God.—It is related that a Scottish Roman Catholic nobleman had on his estate a Protestant tenant, who, in a season of depression, was in arrears for a considerable sum. He felt himself obliged to turn for help first to one of the under-officials of the nobleman, asking him to plead with the latter for some alleviation. The official promised, but did not perform. Thereupon he went to a higher official with the same request, who also promised, but did as little as the other. Finally, the twice-deceived peasant summoned courage to approach the proprietor personally. The latter remitted the whole amount of the debt, and accompanied his tenant, as he was departing, through the great hall of the castle, on the side walls of which were hung the pictures of martyrs and saints. “Do you know,” said the nobleman, “what those paintings represent?” “No,” said the peasant. “They are pictures of the saints whom I pray to, so that they may make request for me before the Lord for the forgiveness of my sins,” was the answer. “But why do you not go to the Lord of all Himself with your requests?” said the peasant simply. “Oh,” replied the nobleman, “that would be to take too much on myself! It is far better to have mediators like the saints between God and men.” “I don’t think so,” replied the other; “and I’ll show you why. In my distress I turned first to your under-official. It was of no avail. Next I went to the higher official, who promised to do something, and did nothing. In the end I came to yon personally, and you have remitted all my debt.”
John 4:49. Earnest prayer answered.—We read of Princess Louisa Augusta Magdalene of Darmstadt, that in the year 1741, falling into a grievous illness, she herself, like all about her, was entirely doubtful as to her recovery. As she was told that she could hardly survive over the night, she called the pious minister Fresenius to her bedside, spoke with him concerning the condition of her soul, and declared she would willingly depart hence, but that she had not yet made her peace with God, and felt in her heart no assurance of His grace and the forgiveness of her sins. Therefore, and on this account only, she desired to live a little longer. And since the Lord heard Hezekiah, such a prayer must not be displeasing to Him. Fresenius was convinced of this also, and prayed with her to the Lord that her life might be spared until she had received the witness of the Spirit in her heart, of grace and pardon. In these petitions the members of Fresenius’ household and other pious friends joined together. Their prayers were graciously answered. In a few hours the physician was able to give assurance that the crisis was past; the next day the improvement was much more marked, and the patient was full of praise to God for His grace and help. Her life was spared until the following year, when she passed into the presence of the Lord, saved and assured of her reconciliation.—J. J. Weigel.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 4:43-54. Our Lord’s Galilean ministry.—Detailed accounts of His work in Galilee are found in the Synoptics (Matthew 4:12; Luke 4:14; Mark 1:14 to Mark 2:14).
John 4:44. For Jesus Himself testified, etc.—The crux in this passage is the meaning of the words His own country. There are three significations:
(1) Judæa, as the country of His nativity, and that in which prophecy declared Messiah would arise (Micah 5:2).
(2) Lower Galilee, including Nazareth, as distinct from Upper Galilee, including Capernaum, etc.
(3) Galilee as a whole. There is much to be said for each of these interpretations; but, as Luthardt points out in regard to
(1), it does not suit the connection; for Jesus was not leaving Judæa, but Samaria. Then, as regards
(2), He went to Cana, which was near Nazareth. It seems, on the whole, best to hold
(3) as the correct interpretation (Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24). What, then, is the connection of the adage, a prophet, etc., with His going into Galilee? The explanation of Luthardt, that He went to seek rest, and in Galilee would have more probability of obtaining it than elsewhere, because He would be more unobserved, does not commend itself as satisfactory. Godet’s view seems on the whole the most consistent with all the facts, viz. that our Lord did not begin an extended work in Galilee at first, quite aware of the fact that a prophet has no honour, etc.; but after nearly a year’s ministry in Jerusalem and Judæa, where many Galileans had heard and seen Him, He returned with more hope of securing recognition. And this hope was justified, as John 4:45 testifies. It might be pointed out also that there was special force in the application of this adage to Galilee, when we remember the words of Nathanael (John 1:46), and what was said to Nicodemus by the Pharisees (John 7:52).
John 4:46. The miracle here recorded is distinct from that of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:2).
John 4:52. He began to amend (κομψότερον ἔσχε).—The phrase “appears to have been used in familiar conversation, as we might say, ‘He begins to do nicely,’ or ‘bravely’ ” (Westcott). Seventh hour.—If the reckoning be in Jewish time, then this hour will mean about 1 p.m. And as it would be late at night before the father reached Capernaum, the servants could easily say that it was yesterday when the amendment in his son began, as the Jewish day closed at sunset. The Jewish sabbath, e.g., begins when the first star appears.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 4:46-54
The healing of the nobleman’s son.—This miracle is quite distinct from that recorded in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. The meaning of the term “nobleman” in this narrative is not clearly understood. The general idea is that this man was a public functionary under the government of the district, and in all probability an official of the court. It has been conjectured that he may have been either Herod’s (Antipas) Steward “Chuza” (Luke 8:3) or Manaen, that tetrarch’s foster-brother (Acts 13:1). He had no doubt heard of Jesus; the fame of the miracle at Cana had invaded Capernaum; and the Galileans who had been at Jerusalem during our Lord’s sojourn there would bring back reports of His teaching and work. But this man hitherto seems to have given himself little concern regarding this new Teacher and His doings. But a crisis in his life drove him to seek Jesus. His paternal love, well-nigh desperate at the sight of his dying boy, led him as a last resort to see if there might be hope through this Worker of miracles. The incident is not only another proof of the power of Jesus, but a history of the nobleman’s growth in faith.
I. Notice the weakness of his faith.—
1. He had some small glimmering of faith, that hope might arise in that quarter. And we may well conceive how in that sorrowful journey to Cana hope and fear alternated in his heart.
2. Although, therefore, his faith, such as it was—a kind of faith founded on report (like that of the Samaritans, John 4:41-42)—led him to Christ, it was very imperfect. He regarded Christ apparently as simply a wonder-worker, a physician with almost more than human skill, who would come and see the sick boy, touch him, perhaps administer some medicament of unknown virtue, in order to a cure. That this was his state of mind seems clear from our Lord’s reply to his first request (John 4:48).
3. This weakness of his faith is further shown in his trembling eagerness to prevail on our Lord to go to Capernaum with him (John 4:49). It is very pathetic to notice this eagerness: only parental love can fully understand it.
II. The manner in which his faith was strengthened.—
1. Through Christ’s word of promise. His eager importunity after our Lord’s rebuff (John 4:48) showed that the smoking flax was not quenched; so our Lord nursed it into flame. The presence and dignity of our Lord doubtless made an impression on him, but it was the word of promise (John 4:50) which increased his faith and hope. He remembered that Christ’s word had made the water wine. So, too, His word still has power to quicken and strengthen the weak in faith. Searching the Scripture is a means to this end, and the preached word especially has been to many the power of God, etc. (1 Corinthians 1:18).
2. His faith was still further confirmed, when on the way home his servants met him with the joyful news of his son’s recovery; and it was finally and irrevocably assured when on careful inquiry he learned that his boy completely, and in no ordinary way, recovered at the moment when Christ’s word of power was spoken (John 4:51-52). Thus “the more carefully the divine works and benefits are considered, the more nourishment faith acquires” (Bengel).
III. The proof that his faith was now assured.—
1. In his outward confession. He would joyfully recount all that had occurred at Cana, and his firm conviction that Jesus was what He Himself claimed and His disciples declared Him to be.
2. In the power of his faith to convince others (John 4:53).
John 4:47-54. The nobleman led by Jesus from faith to faith.—The faith of the Samaritans had refreshed the Redeemer as cool water refreshes a weary wayfarer; in Galilee, where He had laboured more extensively, none had believed on Him for His word’s sake. He needed to “educate” men unto faith. We also fail in this faith in Christ for His word’s sake, although we have often experienced the Saviour’s love. Let us, like the nobleman of Capernaum, allow ourselves to be instructed by Jesus and brought to true faith. We consider:—
I. The nobleman’s coming to Jesus.—
1. He had heard of Jesus, and trusted in His power to work miracles and in His goodness.
2. He went to Jesus and humbly prayed Him to give help.
II. His tarrying with Jesus.—
1. Jesus’ rebuke of his reliance on miraculous signs.
2. The patient reception of the rebuke of Jesus by the nobleman, and the repetition of his request.
3. Jesus’ words of promise; the reliance of the nobleman thereon, and his attraction to our Lord’s person.
III. His return homeward from our Lord’s presence.—
1. The nobleman’s joyful obedience to the command of Jesus.
2. The confirmation of his faith even on the way homeward, and his meeting with his son now healed.
3. His testimony to Christ among the members of his household, and the result in their belief in the Saviour.—J. L. Sommer.
John 4:47-54. The blessing of the cross.—There is a blessing in the cross laid upon us which we have to bear. We call Christ’s cross His dear cross, because He bore it. And we reckon ours to be so also when He lays it upon us to draw us to Himself. This thought seems to lie at the base of this gospel narrative. It teaches us the blessing of the cross of affliction; because:—
I. It awakens from sinful security.—
1. This nobleman was an official of Herod Antipas, whom John the Baptist warned, and whose criminal and slavish attachment to his brother’s wife led to his becoming John’s murderer. And as was the king, so for the most part would be his friends and the officials of his court. We hear of no penitence on his part. Memory alone would not let the past die. Her accusing voice even the king could not silence (Matthew 14:2).
2. But even amid such surroundings may be found traces of a better life. And the Sun of divine grace, looking down even on this moral swamp, quickened into life plants of righteousness on spots not wholly submerged.
3. How far God had already dealt with this man does not appear. But now He touches him with affliction, and his loved little boy (παιδίον) lay nigh to death. Then he would be led to ask: Whence comes this sorrow? where can help be found?
II. It drives the troubled one to the Saviour.—
1. This official resided in Capernaum, which Jesus had already visited (John 2:12). But the nobleman had not known Him, or had not been drawn to Him during that visit, even though he may have heard of the miracle at Cana.
2. But this trouble had awakened him from his sleep of indifference. In this condition he was like one newly awakened, not quite clearly conscious of his surroundings. So this man did not know which way to turn. Some in this condition frequently consider that it is too late to do anything. But God gave the nobleman an indication. He heard that Jesus, who had wrought the miracle at Cana, had returned. Here was hope! Where was He? At Cana, six to eight hours away. So he went away, leaving his son for the time, to seek Jesus.
3. It was the cross led him to Jesus—led him at first with erroneous notions as to the Saviour’s work, etc. He came to Jesus as to a mere healer of the sick; and the consequent rebuke of Jesus might have led to opposition and doubt in his heart had not the thought of his dear boy led him to persevere. “Lord, come down” (John 4:49) shows that he was learning true faith and supplication. Affliction was teaching him. And in these words we discern faith “as a grain of mustard seed.” If Jesus would come down all would be well. The dignity of our Lord’s person, His word of promise, all contributed to the growth of faith. But it was the cross that opened his eyes and led him to Jesus.
III. The incident teaches us like precious faith.—
1. That when affliction presses it may drive us to hear of Christ and to go to Him, and come praying. Then you will learn to call Him Lord, and not to despair if the answer is not at once accorded.
2. If your own cross is not sufficient to impel you, look at His which He bore for you.
3. Thus you will be given faith and assurance that He has heard, for heaven is certainly no farther from you than Capernaum from Cana.
4. So does affliction lead to Christ. It is the under-shepherd—the shepherd’s dog—to bring the wanderers back; the morning bell calling to the Church of the New Jerusalem, sounding often harshly and discordantly to the ear, but when men are in the Church leading to hallelujahs.
5. Then when faith is born Christ sustains it; it would be weak without its seal. Therefore the glad father learned, Thy child liveth: at the same hour as Jesus spoke his child was healed. Thus his faith received its seal, “and he believed, and his whole house.”—Adapted from Dr. Fried. Ahlfeld.
John 4:47-50. How does the Lord deal with those weak in faith?
Introduction.—Ezekiel 34:16; Genesis 33:13.
I. He does not turn them away from Him, but rebukes them as they require (John 4:47-48).
II. He calls them to believe in His word, on which all depends (John 4:49-50).
III. He gives them to experience the blessed result of this faith in order to strengthen them (John 4:51-53).
IV. He converts them into instruments fitted to lead others to faith (John 4:53).—Dr. v. Biarowsky.
John 4:47-54. The ladder of faith.—The ladder of faith, on which we see the man in our Gospel ascending with firm, unfaltering steps, has three divisions, and each division its rounds.
I. On the first division we see the man driven by his needs standing before the Lord.
II. On the second division we see faith and temptation striving with each other.
III. On the third division we see how the soul becomes through grace certain and joyful.
And we further notice:
1. The word of promise there laid hold of.
2. The experience there realised.
3. The confirmation of the promise given.—Appuhn in J. L. Sommer’s “Evang. Per.”
John 4:53. The importance of faith.—Faith, like a divine light, enkindles others also. It is with faith as it is with a ship which struggles on in a storm. As soon as the rudder is left such a ship will make no progress, but will drift before the gale. He believed. What did he now believe? Not that his son had been restored to health. Belief in this fact was left behind; he saw with his own eyes that his son lived. What, then? He believed that Jesus was Christ and was able to help him in every time of need. The end of the miracles of Christ is to bring about belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Ye fathers and mothers, implant faith and the fear of God in the hearts of your children and the members of your household. This will come to pass when you have a “Church in your house,” and the word of Christ dwells richly among you; when you show a good example, maintain proper discipline, and reprove such as are evil.—J. J. Weigel.
John 4:54. “This is the second miracle,” etc.—The bell had now been sounded a second time, in order that the Galileans might come in greater crowds to the preaching of the word.—Idem.
John 4:46. God wounding in order to heal.—There is an old German parable somewhat as follows: “A boy lay down on the shore of a lake and fell asleep. His father, however, was on the heights engaged in his work. But the wind rose and began to drive great waves along the shore. They mounted higher and higher, and each new wave advanced farther, till speedily they had reached the slumbering child. The father saw this from the height where he was; he raised his voice and shouted. But the boy slept on. Thereupon he came down from the hill, laid hold of and shook the sleeper. But the latter still slept peacefully on. Therefore, as the waves swelled around, the father struck him smartly on the ear, so that he might awake.” The meaning lies beneath the surface. The child who sleeps on the shore is thyself, O man, in thy sinful security. The lake is that of destruction, that every hour threatens to overwhelm thee. Thy father is thy God, who sees thy hardbeartedness with sorrow. He calls upon thee, by His holy word, which should penetrate thine ear and thy heart. He startles thee in that He punishes sinners on the right hand and the left, and passes judgment on them. He smites thee finally with affliction, so that thou mayest awake, and the flood and curse of sin may not engulf thee. Beloved brother, sister, do not shrink from thy cross. Hear, go, pray, only believe. If the Lord has begun by visiting you with the rod Woe, believe it, He will lay it aside anon and take the staff Gentleness, when He has awakened you and drawn you to Himself. Only on those who harden themselves come stroke on stroke, each harder than the other.—Dr. Fried. Ahlfeld.
John 4:53. The power of a living faith testifying to God’s goodness.—That this nobleman believed with all his heart is a beautiful example of the power of a living faith. He could not conceal within himself what he had experienced—he must needs bear witness of it and make it known to those whom God had laid on his heart and bound to him, so that they also might attain to a faith and blessedness like that he himself tasted. Faith is not self-seeking—it is indeed a divine work of grace in us, and therefore it streams out in works of love, and brings also others to like precious faith in Christ. Each genuine conversion is the seed-corn for the future conversion of others; and more especially is the conversion of the member of a family, according to God’s will, a circumstance which ought to have the very highest and most blessed result for that family (Acts 16:31). From the effect on the other members of the family the word then passes through the zeal of the converted still further to the whole people and to all mankind. Hence experience teaches us that always in the Church of the Lord, when genuine faith in the Redeemer is awakened afresh, a new and warmer zeal for missions is awakened; and thus from one centre new light and life are spread abroad to many. That which the family history of the nobleman of Capernaum and the jailer at Philippi shows in a narrow circle we see expanded in the history of missions. And so we ought to desire that everywhere genuine conversions of individuals may take place, for then from them the knowledge of Christ would speedily and powerfully be extended.—Translated from F. G. Lisco.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent