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THERE are two sayings in these verses which deserve particular notice. They throw light on two subjects in religion, on which clear and well defined opinions are of great importance.
We should observe, for one thing, what is said about baptism. We read that "Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples."
The expression here used is a very remarkable one. In reading it we seem irresistibly led to one instructive conclusion. That conclusion is, that baptism is not the principal part of Christianity, and that to baptize is not the principal work for which Christian ministers are ordained. Frequently we read of our Lord preaching and praying. Once we read of His administering the Lord’s supper. But we have not a single instance recorded of His ever baptizing any one. And here we are distinctly told, that it was a subordinate work, which He left to others. Jesus "himself baptized not, but his disciples."
The lesson is one of peculiar importance in the present day. Baptism, as a sacrament ordained by Christ Himself, is an honorable ordinance, and ought never to be lightly esteemed in the churches. It cannot be neglected or despised without great sin. When rightly used, with faith and prayer, it is calculated to convey the highest blessings. But baptism was never meant to be exalted to the position which many now-a-days assign to it in religion. It does not act as a charm. It does not necessarily convey the grace of the Holy Ghost. The benefit of it depends greatly on the manner in which it is used. The doctrine taught, and the language employed about it, in some quarters, are utterly inconsistent with the fact announced in the text. If baptism was all that some say it is, we should never have been told, that "Jesus himself baptized not."
Let it be a settled principle in our minds that the first and chief business of the Church of Christ is to preach the Gospel. The words of Paul ought to be constantly remembered,—"Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." (1 Corinthians 1:17.) When the Gospel of Christ is faithfully and fully preached we need not fear that the sacraments will be undervalued. Baptism and the Lord’s supper will always be most truly reverenced in those churches where the truth as it is in Jesus is most fully taught and known.
We should observe, for another thing, in this passage, what is said about our Lord’s human nature. We read that Jesus was "wearied with his journey."
We learn from this, as well as many other expressions in the Gospels, that our Lord had a body exactly like our own. When "the Word became flesh," He took on Him a nature like our own in all things, sin only excepted. Like ourselves, He grew from infancy to youth, and from youth to man’s estate. Like ourselves, He hungered, thirsted, felt pain, and needed sleep. He was liable to every sinless infirmity to which we are liable. In all things His body was framed like our own.
The truth before us is full of comfort for all who are true Christians. He to whom sinners are bid to come for pardon and peace, is one who is man as well as God. He had a real human nature when He was upon earth. He took a real human nature with Him, when He ascended up into heaven. We have at the right hand of God a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, because He has suffered Himself being tempted. When we cry to Him in the hour of bodily pain and weakness, He knows well what we mean. When our prayers and praises are feeble through bodily weariness, He can understand our condition. He knows our frame. He has learned by experience what it is to be a man. To say that Mary, or any one else, can feel more sympathy for us than Christ, is ignorance no less than blasphemy. The man Christ Jesus can enter fully into everything that belongs to man’s condition. The poor, the sick, and the suffering, have in heaven One who is not only an almighty Savior, but a most feeling Friend.
The servant of Christ should grasp firmly this great truth, that there are two perfect and complete natures in the one Person whom he serves. The Lord Jesus, in whom the Gospel bids us believe, is, without doubt, almighty God,—equal to the Father in all things, and able to save to the uttermost all those that come unto God by Him. But that same Jesus is no less certainly perfect man,—able to sympathize with man in all his bodily sufferings, and acquainted by experience with all that man’s body has to endure. Power and sympathy are marvelously combined in Him who died for us on the cross. Because He is God, we may repose the weight of our souls upon Him with unhesitating confidence. He is mighty to save.—Because He is man, we may speak to Him with freedom, about the many trials to which flesh is heir. He knows the heart of a man.—Here is rest for the weary! Here is good news! Our Redeemer is man as well as God, and God as well as man. He that believeth on Him, has everything that a child of Adam can possibly require, either for safety or for peace.
v1.—[When therefore the Lord knew, &c.] The connection between this chapter and the last will be found at John 3:25. The controversy between John’s disciples and the Jews was the means of calling public attention to our Lord’s ministry. It became a subject of common conversation, and attracted the notice of the principal religious teachers of the Jews, viz., the Pharisees. They had already been disturbed by the ministry of John the Baptist, and the crowds which attended it. (John 1:19-28.) The deputation which they sent to John had been distinctly told by him that One greater than himself was about to appear. When therefore "the Pharisees heard" that Jesus was actually baptizing more disciples, and attracting more attention than John, we can well imagine that their minds would be even more disturbed than before. A vague uncomfortable feeling would arise in their hearts, that this mysterious person, who had cast out of the temple the buyers and sellers in so miraculous a manner, and was now baptizing so many disciples, might possibly be the Christ. And then would come the attendant feeling, that if this was the Christ, He was not the Christ they either expected or wanted. The result of both feelings would probably be a bitter enmity against our Lord, and a secret determination, if possible, to settle all doubts by putting Him to death.
In what manner our Lord "knew" what the Pharisees had heard, we need not be careful to inquire. Possibly He knew it from information obtained by His disciples. We can hardly doubt that some of them kept up intercourse with their old master, John the Baptist, and so learned what was going on at Ænon.—It is more probable that He knew it from His omniscience as God. We are frequently told that "He knew the thoughts" of His enemies, and acted and spoke accordingly. It is good for us all to remember that nothing is spoken, talked of, or reported among men, however secretly, which Christ does not know.
v2.—[Though Jesus himself baptized not, &c.] The fact that our Lord did not actually administer baptism with His own hands, is only mentioned here in the Gospels, and is noteworthy. It shows, at any rate, that what is done by Christ’s ministers, at Christ’s command, in the administration of ordinances, is regarded as done by Christ Himself. The preceding verse says that "Jesus baptized," while the present one says, that He "baptized not." Lightfoot remarks, "It is ordinary, both in Scripture phrase and in other language, to speak of a thing as done by a man himself, which is done by another at his appointment. So Pharaoh’s daughter is said to ’nurse Moses,’ and Solomon is said to ’build the temple and his own house.’ So David ’took Saul’s spear and cruse,’ meaning Abishai by David’s appointment." (1 Samuel 26:12.)
The reasons assigned for our Lord’s not administering baptism with His own hands, are various. Lightfoot mentions four. 1. "Because he was not sent so much to baptize as to preach. 2. Because it might have been taken as a thing somewhat improper for Christ to baptize in His own name. 3. Because the baptizing that was most proper for Christ to use, was not with water, but with the Holy Ghost. 4. Because he would prevent all quarrels and disputes among men about their baptism, which might have risen if some had been baptized by Christ, and others only by His disciples."
To these reasons we may add another of considerable importance. Our Lord would show us that the effect and benefit of baptism do not depend on the person who administers it. We cannot doubt that Judas Iscariot baptized some. The intention of the minister does not affect the validity of the sacrament.
One thing seems abundantly clear, and that is, that baptism is not an ordinance of primary, but of subordinate importance, in Christianity. The high-flown and extravagant language used by some divines about the sacrament of baptism and its effects, is quite irreconcilable with the text before us, as well as with the general teaching of Scripture. (See Acts 10:48; 1 Corinthians 1:17.)
v3.—[He left Judæa, &c.] The context of the preceding verses seems to show that this movement was intended to avoid the designs of the Pharisees against our Lord. If he had remained in Judæa, He would have been cut off, and put to death before the appointed time. He therefore withdrew into the province of Galilee, where He was further off from Jerusalem, and where His ministry would attract less public notice.
Our Lord’s conduct on this occasion shows us that it is not obligatory on a Christian to await danger to life and person, when he sees it coming, and that it is not cowardice to use all reasonable means to avoid it. We are not to court martyrdom, or needlessly to throw our lives away. There is a time for all things,—a time to live and work, as well as a time to suffer and to die. Whether some of the primitive martyrs would have acted as our Lord did here may be questioned. Their zeal for martyrdom seems sometimes to have partaken of the character of fanaticism.
v4.—[He must needs go through Samaria.] Many pious and profitable remarks have been made on this expression. It has been thought to teach that our Lord went purposely, and out of the regular road, in order to save the soul of the Samaritan woman. It admits of grave question whether this opinion is well-founded.—There was no other way by which a person could conveniently go from Judæa to Galilee, excepting through Samaria.—The expression, therefore, is probably nothing more than a natural introduction to the story of the Samaritan woman. The first in the train of circumstances which led to her conversion, was the circumstance that Jesus was obliged to pass through Samaria, on His journey towards Galilee. This accounted for His meeting with a Samaritan woman.
v5.—[Then cometh....city....called Sychar.] The common opinion is, that the city here spoken of is the same as Sichem or Shechem. (Genesis 33:18-19.) Few places in Palestine, after Jerusalem, have had so much of Bible history connected with them. Here God first appeared to Abraham. (Genesis 12:6.) Here Jacob dwelt when he first returned from Padan-aram, and here the disgraceful history of Dinah, and the consequent murder of the Shechemites took place. (Genesis 34:1-25.) Here Joseph’s brethren fed their flocks when Jacob sent him to them, little thinking he would never see him again for many years. (Genesis 37:12.) Here, when Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, was one of the cities of refuge. (Joshua 20:7-8.) Here Joshua gathered all the tribes when he addressed them for the last time. (Joshua 24:1.) Here the bones of Joseph were buried, and all the patriarchs were interred. (Joshua 24:32; Acts 7:16.) Here the principal events in the history of Abimelech took place. (Judges 9:1, &c.) Here Rehoboam met the tribes of Israel after Solomom’s death, and gave the answer which rent his kingdom in two. (1 Kings 12:1.) Here Jeroboam first dwelt, when he was made king of Israel. (1 Kings 12:25.) And finally, close by Shechem was the city of Samaria itself, and the two hills of Ebal and Gerizim, where the solemn blessings and cursings were recited, after Israel entered Canaan. (Joshua 8:33.) A more interesting neighbourhood it is difficult to imagine. Whichever way the eye of a wearied traveller looked, he would see something to remind him of Israel’s history.
It is only fair to say that one of the latest travellers in Palestine (Dr. Thomson, author of "The Land and the Book,") doubts whether Sychar and Shechem really were the same place. He grounds his doubt on the fact that the well now called Jacob’s well is two miles from the ruins of Shechem, and that close to these ruins are beautiful fountains of water. He thinks it highly improbable that a woman of Shechem would go two miles to draw water, if she could find it close by. He therefore thinks it more likely that a place now called Aschar, which is close to Jacob’s well, must be the ancient Sychar, and that Sychar and Shechem were two different places.
The subject is one on which it is impossible to attain a conclusive decision. Whether the ruins now called the ruins of Shechem are really on the site of ancient Shechem,—whether the well now called Jacob’s well is really the well spoken of in this chapter,—whether ancient Shechem may not have been nearer the well than it now appears,—are all points on which, after eighteen hundred years have passed away, it is impossible to speak positively. It ought, however, to be remembered, that the opinion of most competent judges is almost entirely against Dr. Thomson’s theory. Moreover, it is worth noticing that the Samaritan woman’s words, "Neither come hither to draw," seem to imply that she had to come some distance to Jacob’s well when she drew water.
[Near....parcel.... ground....Jacob....Joseph.] The ground here spoken of seems to consist of two parts. One part was bought by Jacob of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of silver. (Genesis 33:19.) The other seems to have been his by conquest, when his sons slew the Shechemites for dishonouring Dinah. (Genesis 34:28, and Genesis 48:22.)
Let it be carefully noted that John here speaks of Jacob and Joseph and the events of their lives, as if the history contained in Genesis was all simple matter of fact. It is always so in the New Testament. The modern theory, that the histories of the Old Testament are only fables, destitute of any foundation in fact, is a mere baseless invention, without a single respectable argument to be adduced in its favour.
v6.—[Jacob’s well.] It is not known how or when this well received its name. In Genesis we find mention of Abraham and Isaac digging wells, but not of Jacob doing so. All we know about it is what we read in the chapter before us.
A well called Jacob’s well is still shown to all travellers in Palestine, near the ruins of Shechem, and is commonly supposed to be one of the oldest and most genuine remains of ancient times in the Holy Land. In fact there seems no reason for disputing the common belief, that it is the very identical well at which our Lord sat and held the conversation recorded in this chapter. It is in good preservation, and about thirty yards deep.
[Wearied with his journey.] This expression deserves notice. It shows the reality of our Lord’s human nature. He had a body like our own, subject to all the conditions of flesh and blood.—It shows our Lord’s infinite compassion, humility, and condescension, when He became flesh, and came on earth to live and die for our sins. Though He was rich He became poor. He who had made the world, and whose were "the cattle on a thousand hills," was content to be a weary traveller on foot, in order to provide eternal redemption for us. We never read of Jesus travelling in a carriage, and only once of His riding on a beast.—It supplies the poor with the strongest argument for contentment. If Christ was willing to be poor, we may surely be willing to submit to poverty. Men need not be ashamed of poverty, if they have not brought it on themselves by misconduct. It is disgraceful to be profligate and immoral. But it is no sin to be poor.—Finally, it shows believers what a sympathizing Saviour Christ is. He knows what it is to have a weak and weary body. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. When our work wearies us, though we are not weary of our work, we may confidently tell Jesus, and ask Him for help. He knows the heart of a weary man.
[Sat thus on the well.] The general meaning of these words is, that our Lord sat down on the stones, which, according to Eastern custom, formed a wall or battlement round the mouth of the well. The particular meaning of the word "thus" in the sentence, is a point that has perplexed commentators in every age, and will perhaps never be settled.
Some think, as De Dieu, A. Clarke, and Schleusner, that "thus" is a pleonasm, or elegant expletive and redundancy in the Greek original, and that although a Greek would see a meaning in it, as giving a finish to the sentence, it has no special meaning that can be attached to it in the English translation.
Some think, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Musculus, Bengel, Glassius, and Wordsworth, that "thus" means "just as He was," without any regular seat, without looking for any convenient position, without any pride or formality, not upon a throne, not upon a cushion, but simply upon the ground.
Some think, as Doddridge, that "thus" means immediately, and find a parallel for it in Acts 20:11.
Some think, as Calvin, Lightfoot, Dyke, Bullinger, Beza, Parkhurst, Stier, Alford, and Burgon, that "thus" refers to the weariness just mentioned. Jesus, being wearied, sat down on the well accordingly, after the manner and according to the fashion that any weary person would sit. He was weary, and so He sat on the well.
The question is one that I feel unable to settle. The last meaning seems to me, on the whole, the most probable one. though it fails to carry complete conviction with it. The use of the word "so," in Acts 7:8, is somewhat like it. The Greek word for "so" in that case is the same as the one here rendered "thus."
Burgon remarks on this sentence, "that Jacob and Moses each found his future wife beside a well of water; and here it is seen that One greater than they, their divine Antitype, the Bridegroom takes to Himself His alien spouse, the Samaritan Church, at a well likewise."
Quesnel remarks, "The rest of Jesus Christ is as mysterious and full of kindness and beneficence as His weariness.—It is a great matter for a man to learn how to rest Himself without being idle, and to make his necessary repose subservient to the Glory of God."
[It was about the sixth hour.] What time of the day was this, according to our calculation of time?—By far the most common opinion is, that the sixth hour here means twelve o’clock, the hottest and sultriest time of the day. It is notorious that the Jewish day began at six o’clock in the evening. Our seven o’clock was their one o’clock, and their sixth hour would be our twelve o’clock.
It is however only just and right to say, that some commentators, as Wordsworth and Burgon, maintain strongly that in John’s Gospel the Jewish mode of reckoning the hours of the day is not observed. They say that, writing later than the other Evangelists, and in Asia Minor, John uses the Roman or Asiatic mode of reckoning time, and that the Roman mode was like our own. They say, therefore, that when the disciples followed Jesus, (John 1:39,) at the tenth hour, it was ten o’clock in the morning, and when the fever left the ruler’s son at the seventh hour, it was seven o’clock in the evening. (John 4:52.) They say that when Pilate brought forth Jesus to the Jews, on the day of the crucifixion, at the sixth hour, (John 19:14,) it was six o’clock in the morning. And finally, they say that when Jesus, in the passage before us, sat wearied on the well at the sixth hour, it means six o’clock in the evening. Moreover, they plead in support of their view, that it is infinitely more likely that a woman would come to a well to draw water at six o’clock in the evening than at twelve o’clock in the day. In Genesis it is distinctly said that the "evening" is the "time that women go out to draw water." (Genesis 24:11.)
These arguments are undoubtedly weighty and ingenious, and the matter is one that admits of doubt. Nevertheless, for several reasons, I am disposed to think that the common view of the question is the correct one, and that the sixth hour in this place means twelve o’clock in the day. I purposely omit the consideration of the other places where John mentions hours in his Gospel. None of them seem to me to present any difficulty, except the "sixth hour," in John’s account of the crucifixion. That difficulty I shall be prepared to examine in its proper place. I think then that the "sixth hour" in the text before us, means twelve o’clock, for the following reasons:
(a.) It seems exceedingly improbable that John would reckon time in a manner different to the other three Gospel writers.
(b.) It is by no means clear that the Romans did reckon time in our way, and not in the Jewish way. When the Roman poet Horace describes himself as lying late in bed in a morning, he says. "I lie till the fourth hour." He must surely mean ten o’clock, and not four in the afternoon.—When the Roman poet Martial describes the Roman day, he says, "The first and second hours are employed by clients in attending levees, and the third hour exercises the advocates in the law-courts."—He surely cannot mean that Roman law-courts did not open till two o’clock in the afternoon. About the custom of the Asiatics I offer no opinion. It is a doubtful point.
(c.) It is entirely a gratuitous assumption to say that no woman ever came to draw water except in the evening. There must surely be exceptions to every rule. The fact of the woman coming alone, seems of itself to indicate that she came at an unusual hour, and not in the evening.
(d.) Last, but not least, it seems far more probable that our Lord would hold a conversation alone with such a person as the Samaritan woman at twelve o’clock in the day, than at six o’clock in the evening. The conversation was not a very short one. There is little or no twilight in Eastern countries. The night soon comes on. And yet, on the theory I oppose, our Lord begins a conversation about six o’clock, and carries it on till the woman is converted. Then the woman goes away to the city and tells the men what has happened, and they all come out to the well to see Jesus. Yet by this time, in all reasonable probability, it would be quite dark, and the night would have begun. And yet, after all this, our Lord says to the disciples, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields." (John 4:35.)
This last reason weighs very heavily in my mind, in forming a conclusion on the subject. Our Lord appears to me to have reached a resting-place for the middle of the day, according to the Eastern custom in travelling, and to have intended staying by the well for a short time, till the heat of the day was past. The arrival of the Samaritan woman at this hour of the day gave ample time for the conversation, for her rapid return to the city, and for the coming of the inhabitants to the well.
I must say that I see a peculiar beauty and fitness in the mention of the sixth hour, if it means twelve o’clock, which I should not see so strongly if it meant six in the evening. To my eyes there is a special seemliness and propriety in the fact that our Lord held His conversation with such a person as this Samaritan woman at noon day. When He talked to Nicodemus, in the preceding chapter, we are told that it was at night. But when He talked to a woman of impure life, we are carefully told that it was twelve o’clock in the day. I see in this fact a beautiful carefulness to avoid even the appearance of evil, which I should entirely miss if the sixth hour meant six o’clock in the evening. I see even more than this. I see a lesson to all ministers and teachers of the Gospel about the right mode of carrying on the work of trying to do good to souls like that of the Samaritan woman. Like their Master, they must be careful about times and hours, and specially if they work alone. If a man will try to do good to a person like the Samaritan woman, alone and without witnesses, let him take heed that he walks in his Master’s footsteps, both as to the time of his proceedings as well as to the message he delivers.—I believe there was a deep meaning in the little sentence, "it was about the sixth hour."
Augustine thinks that "the sixth hour" here was meant to represent, allegorically, the sixth age of the world. He says that the first hour was from Adam to Noah, the second from Noah to Abraham, the third from Abraham to David, the fourth from David to the Babylonian captivity, the fifth from the captivity to the baptism of John, and the sixth the time of the Lord Jesus. I can see no foundation for these things in the text. If such interpretations of Scripture are correct, it is easy to make the Bible mean anything.
THE history of the Samaritan woman, contained in these verses, is one of the most interesting and instructive passages in John’s Gospel. John has shown us, in the case of Nicodemus, how our Lord dealt with a self-righteous formalist. He now shows us how our Lord dealt with an ignorant, carnal-minded woman, whose moral character was more than ordinarily bad. There are lessons in the passage for ministers and teachers, which they would do well to ponder.
We should mark, firstly, the mingled tact and condescension of Christ in dealing with a careless sinner.
Our Lord was sitting by Jacob’s well when a woman of Samaria came thither to draw water. At once He says to her, "Give me to drink." He does not wait for her to speak to Him. He does not begin by reproving her sins, though He doubtless knew them. He opens communication by asking a favor. He approaches the woman’s mind by the subject of "water," which was naturally uppermost in her thoughts. Simple as this request may seem, it opened a door to spiritual conversation. It threw a bridge across the gulf which lay between her and Him. It led to the conversion of her soul.
Our Lord’s conduct in this place should be carefully remembered by all who want to do good to the thoughtless and spiritually ignorant. It is vain to expect that such persons will voluntarily come to us, and begin to seek knowledge. We must begin with them, and go down to them in the spirit of courteous and friendly aggression. It is vain to expect that such persons will be prepared for our instruction, and will at once see and acknowledge the wisdom of all we are doing. We must go to work wisely. We must study the best avenues to their hearts, and the most likely way of arresting their attention. There is a handle to every mind, and our chief aim must be to get hold of it. Above all, we must be kind in manner, and beware of showing that we feel conscious of our own superiority. If we let ignorant people fancy that we think we are doing them a great favor in talking to them about religion, there is little hope of doing good to their souls.
We should mark, secondly, Christ’s readiness to give mercies to careless sinners. He tells the Samaritan woman that if she had asked, "He would have given her living water." He knew the character of the person before Him perfectly well. Yet He says, "If she had asked, He would have given,"—He would have given the living water of grace, mercy, and peace.
The infinite willingness of Christ to receive sinners is a golden truth, which ought to be treasured up in our hearts, and diligently impressed on others. The Lord Jesus is far more ready to hear than we are to pray, and far more ready to give favors than we are to ask them. All day long He stretches out His hands to the disobedient and gainsaying. He has thoughts of pity and compassion towards the vilest of sinners, even when they have no thoughts of Him. He stands waiting to bestow mercy and grace on the worst and most unworthy, if they will only cry to Him. He will never draw back from that well-known promise, "Ask and ye shall receive: seek and ye shall find." The lost will discover at the last day, that they had not because they asked not.
We should mark, thirdly, the priceless excellence of Christ’s gifts when compared with the things of this world. Our Lord tells the Samaritan woman, "He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but he that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst."
The truth of the principle here laid down may be seen on every side by all who are not blinded by prejudice or love of the world. Thousands of men have every temporal good thing that heart could wish, and are yet weary and dissatisfied. It is now as it was in David’s time,—"There be many that say who will show us any good?" (Psalms 4:6.) Riches, and rank, and place, and power, and learning, and amusements, are utterly unable to fill the soul. He that only drinks of these waters is sure to thirst again. Every Ahab finds a Naboth’s vineyard hard by his palace, and every Haman sees a Mordecai at the gate. There is no heart satisfaction in this world, until we believe on Christ. Jesus alone can fill up the empty places of our inward man. Jesus alone can give solid, lasting, enduring happiness. The peace that He imparts is a fountain, which, once set flowing within the soul, flows on to all eternity. Its waters may have their ebbing seasons; but they are living waters, and they shall never be completely dried.
We should mark, fourthly, the absolute necessity of conviction of sin before a soul can be converted to God. The Samaritan woman seems to have been comparatively unmoved until our Lord exposed her breach of the seventh commandment. Those heart-searching words, "Go, call thy husband," appear to have pierced her conscience like an arrow. From that moment, however ignorant, she speaks like an earnest, sincere inquirer after truth. And the reason is evident. She felt that her spiritual disease was discovered. For the first time in her life she saw herself.
To bring thoughtless people to this state of mind should be the principal aim of all teachers and ministers of the Gospel. They should carefully copy their Master’s example in this place. Till men and women are brought to feel their sinfulness and need, no real good is ever done to their souls. Till a sinner sees himself as God sees him, he will continue careless, trifling, and unmoved. By all means we must labor to convince the unconverted man of sin, to prick his conscience, to open his eyes, to show him himself. To this end we must expound the length and breadth of God’s holy law. To this end we must denounce every practice contrary to that law, however fashionable and customary. This is the only way to do good. Never does a soul value the Gospel medicine until it feels its disease. Never does a man see any beauty in Christ as a Savior, until he discovers that he is himself a lost and ruined sinner. Ignorance of sin is invariably attended by neglect of Christ.
We should mark, fifthly, the utter uselessness of any religion which only consists of formality. The Samaritan woman, when awakened to spiritual concern, started questions about the comparative merits of the Samaritan and Jewish modes of worshiping God. Our Lord tells her that true and acceptable worship depends not on the place in which it is offered, but on the state of the worshiper’s heart. He declares, "The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this place nor at Jerusalem worship the Father." He adds that "the true worshipers shall worship in spirit and in truth."
The principle contained in these sentences can never be too strongly impressed on professing Christians. We are all naturally inclined to make religion a mere matter of outward forms and ceremonies, and to attach an excessive importance to our own particular manner of worshiping God. We must beware of this spirit, and especially when we first begin to think seriously about our souls. The heart is the principal thing in all our approaches to God. "The LORD looketh on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7.) The most gorgeous cathedral-service is offensive in God’s sight, if all is gone through coldly, heartlessly, and without grace. The feeblest gathering of three or four poor believers in a cottage to read the Bible and pray, is a more acceptable sight to Him who searches the heart than the fullest congregation which is ever gathered in St. Peter’s at Rome.
We should mark, lastly, Christ’s gracious willingness to reveal Himself to the chief of sinners. He concludes His conversation with the Samaritan woman by telling her openly and unreservedly that He is the Savior of the world. "I that speak to thee," He says, "am the Messiah." Nowhere in all the Gospels do we find our Lord making such a full avowal of His nature and office as He does in this place. And this avowal, be it remembered, was made not to learned Scribes, or moral Pharisees, but to one who up to that day had been an ignorant, thoughtless, and immoral person!
Dealings with sinners, such as these, form one of the grand peculiarities of the Gospel. Whatever a man’s past life may have been, there is hope and a remedy for him in Christ. If he is only willing to hear Christ’s voice and follow Him, Christ is willing to receive him at once as a friend, and to bestow on him the fullest measure of mercy and grace. The Samaritan woman, the penitent thief, the Philippian jailor, the publican Zacchæus, are all patterns of Christ’s readiness to show mercy, and to confer full and immediate pardons. It is His glory that, like a great physician, He will undertake to cure those who are apparently incurable, and that none are too bad for Him to love and heal. Let these things sink down into our hearts. Whatever else we doubt, let us never doubt that Christ’s love to sinners passeth knowledge, and that Christ is as willing to receive as He is almighty to save.
What are we ourselves? This is the question, after all, which demands our attention. We may have been up to this day careless, thoughtless, sinful as the woman whose story we have been reading. But yet there is hope. He who talked with the Samaritan woman at the well is yet living at God’s right hand, and never changes. Let us only ask, and He will "give us living water."
v7.—[Then cometh...woman...draw water.] The scarcity of water in the hot climates of the East makes drawing water from the nearest well an important part of the daily business of an Eastern household. We learn from other parts of Scripture that it was a work ordinarily done by women. (Genesis 24:11. 1 Samuel 9:11.) A well became naturally a common meeting-place for the inhabitants of a neighbourhood, and especially for the young people. (Judges 5:11.) The insinuation, however, of some writers, as Schottgen, that the Samaritan woman’s motives in coming to the well were possibly immoral, seems destitute of any foundation. Bad as her moral character evidently was, we have no right to heap upon her more blame than is warranted by facts.
Augustine regards this woman as a type of the Gentile Church, "not now justified, but even now at the point to be justified." I doubt whether we were meant by the Holy Ghost to take this view. There is great danger in adopting such allegorical interpretations. They insensibly draw away the mind from the plain lessons of Scripture.
Musculus remarks what a wonderful instance it is of sovereign grace, that our Lord should turn away from learned Scribes, Pharisees, and Priests, to converse with and convert such a person as this woman, to all appearance so utterly unworthy of notice. He also observes how singularly our least movements are overruled by God’s providence. Like Rebecca and Rachel, the woman came to the well knowing nothing of the importance of that day’s visit to her soul.
[Jesus saith...give me to drink.] In this simple request of our Lord there are four things deserving notice. (a.) It was a gracious act of spiritual aggression on a sinner. He did not wait for the woman to speak to Him, but was the first to begin conversation. (b.) It was an act of marvellous condescension. He by whom all things were made, the Creator of fountains, brooks, and rivers, is not ashamed to ask a draught of water from the hand of one of his sinful creatures. (c.) It was an act full of wisdom and prudence. He does not at once force religion on the attention of the woman, and rebuke her for her sins. He begins with a subject apparently indifferent, and yet one of which the woman’s mind was doubtless full. He asks her for water. (d.) It was an act full of the nicest tact, and exhibiting perfect knowledge of the human mind. He asks a favour, and puts Himself under an obligation. No line of proceeding, it is well known to all wise people, would be more likely to conciliate the woman’s feelings towards Him, and to make her willing to hear His teaching. Simple as the request was, it contains principles which deserve the closest attention of all who desire to do good to ignorant and thoughtless sinners.
The idea of Euthymius, that our Lord pretended thirst in order to introduce conversation, is unworthy of notice.—Cyril thinks that our Lord intended to make a practical protest against the exclusiveness of the Jews, by asking drink of a Samaritan woman, and to show her that He disapproved the custom of His nation.
v8.—[His disciples...gone...buy meat.] This verse is an instance of our Lord’s general rule not to work a miracle in order to supply his own wants. He who could feed five thousand with a few loaves and fishes when He willed, was content to buy food, like any other man.—It is an instance of His lowly-mindedness. The Creator of all things, though rich, for our sakes became poor.—It ought to teach Christians that they are not meant to be so spiritual as to neglect the management of money, and a reasonable use of it for the supply of their wants. God could feed His children, as He fed Elijah, by a daily miracle. But He knows it is better for our souls, and more likely to call grace into exercise, not to feed them so, but to make them think, and use means. There is no real spirituality in being careless about money. Jesus Himself allowed His disciples to "buy."
The word rendered "meat" means nothing more than "food" or "nourishment," and must not be confined to "flesh." Out of the sixteen places where it is used in the New Testament, there is not one where it necessarily signifies "flesh." The meat offering of the Old Testament consisted of nothing but flour, oil, and incense. (Leviticus 2:1-2.) The meaning of the word "meat," in the English language, has evidently changed since the last revision of the English Bible.
The whole verse is an instance of one of those short, parenthetical, explanatory comments, which are common in John’s Gospel. Its object is to explain the circumstance of our Lord being alone at the well, and the fact that He did not ask a disciple to give Him water.
v9.—[Then saith...woman...how is it...a Jew...Samaria.] This question implies that the woman was surprised at our Lord speaking to her. It was an unexpected act of condescension on His part, and as such arrested her attention. Thus one point, at any rate, was gained. It is a great matter if we can only get a careless sinner to give us a quiet hearing. We shall soon see how our Lord improved the opportunity.
How the woman knew our Lord to be a Jew, is matter of conjecture. Some think that she knew it by the dialect that He spoke. Some think that she knew it by the fringe upon His dress, which he probably wore, in conformity to the Mosaic law, (Numbers 15:38-39,) and which the Samaritans very likely neglected. One thing is very clear. There was nothing in our Lord’s personal appearance, when He was a man upon earth, to distinguish Him from any other Jewish traveller who might have been found sitting at a well. There was nothing eccentric or peculiar about his dress. He looked like other men.
I venture the opinion that in the woman’s question stress really should be laid on the word "woman." She was not only surprised that a Jewish man asked drink of a Samaritan, but also that he asked it of a woman.
[The Jews have no dealings...Samaritans.] This sentence is generally thought, with much reason, to be the explanatory comment of John, and not the words of the Samaritan woman. It certainly seems more natural to take it so. The sentence should then be read as a parenthesis. Calvin thinks it is the woman’s words, but his reasons are not convincing.
The enmity between the Jews and Samaritans, here referred to, no doubt originated in the separation of the ten tribes under Jeroboam, and the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. It was exceedingly increased after the ten tribes were carried into captivity by the Assyrians, by the fact that the Samaritans became mingled with foreigners, whom the king of Assyria sent to Samaria from Babylon and other places, and so lost their right to be called pure Jews. (2 Kings 17:1, &c.) It was further aggravated by the opposition which the inhabitants of Samaria made to the re-building of Jerusalem, after the return from the captivity of Babylon, in the days of Ezra. (Ezra 4:10, &c.) In the day’s of our Lord the Jews seem to have gone into the extreme of regarding the Samaritans as entirely foreigners, and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. When they told our Lord that He was "a Samaritan and had a devil," they meant the expression to convey the bitterest scorn and reproach. (John 8:48.) It is clear, however, from the conversation in this chapter, that the Samaritans, however mistaken on many points, were not ignorant heathens. They regarded themselves as descended from Jacob. They had a kind of Old Testament religion. They expected the coming of Messias.
The bitter and exclusive spirit of the Jews towards all other nations, referred to in this verse, is curiously confirmed by the language used about the Jews by heathen writers at Rome. Exclusiveness was noted as one among their peculiarities.—The immense difficulty with which even the apostles got over this exclusive feeling, and went forth to preach to the Gentiles, is noticeable both in the Acts and Epistles. (Acts 10:28; Acts 11:2-3; Galatians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:16.)
The utter absence of real charity and love among men in the days when our Lord was upon earth, ought not to be overlooked. Well would it be if men had never quarreled about religion after He left the world! Quarrels among the crew of a sinking ship are not more hideous, unseemly, and irrational than the majority of quarrels among professors of religion. An historian might truly apply John’s words to many a period in Church history, and say, "The Romanists have no dealings with the Protestants,"—or "the Lutherans have no dealings with the Calvinists,"—or "the Calvinists have no dealings with the Arminians,"—or "the Episcopalians have no dealings with the Presbyterians,"—or "the Baptists have no dealings with those who baptize infants,"—or "the Plymouth Brethren have no dealings with anybody who does not join their company." "These things ought not so to be." (James 3:10.) They are the scandal of Christianity, the joy of the devil, and the greatest stumbling-block to the spread of the Gospel.
The Greek words translated "have no dealings," mean literally "use not anything together with" the Samaritans. Pearce says, "The Jews would not eat or drink with the Samaritans, would not drink out of the same cup, or eat of the same dish with them." This fact throws much light on the woman’s surprise at our Lord’s request, "Give me to drink."
v10.—[Jesus answered, &c.] In this verse our Lord proceeds to use the opportunity which the woman’s question affords Him. He passes over for the present her expression of surprise at a Jew speaking to a Samaritan. He begins by exciting her curiosity and raising her expectations, by speaking of something within her reach which He calls "living water." The first step to take with a careless sinner after his attention has been arrested, is to produce on his mind the impression that we can tell him of something to his advantage within his reach. There is a certain vagueness in our Lord’s words which exhibit His consummate wisdom. A systematic statement of doctrinal truth would have been thrown away at this stage of the woman’s feeling. The general and figurative language which our Lord employed, was exactly calculated to arouse her imagination, and to lead her on to further inquiry.
[The gift of God.] This expression is variously explained. Some think, as Augustine, Rupertus, Jansenius, Whitby, and Alford, that it means "the Holy Spirit," that peculiar gift which it was the Messiah’s special office to impart to men in greater abundance than before had been imparted. (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:45.) [See also in this same Gospel: John 7:37-39; Isaiah 44:3.]
Some think, as Brentius, Bucer, Musculus, Calovius, Grotius, and Barradius, that it means "the gracious opportunity which God is graciously giving to thee." If thou didst but know what a door of life is close to thee, thou wouldst joyfully use it.
Some think, as Euthymius, Toletus, Bullinger, Gualter, Hooker, Beza, Rollock, Lightfoot, Glassius, Dyke, Hildersam, and Gill, that it means "Christ Himself," God’s gracious gift to a sinful world. If thou didst but know that God has actually given His only-begotten Son, according to promise, and that He has come into the world, and that it is He who is speaking to thee, thou wouldst at once ask of Him living water.
Some think that it means "God’s gift, and especially His gift of grace," which is now being proclaimed and made manifest to the world by the appearing on earth of His Son. (See Romans 5:15.) This seems to be the view of Cyril, Lampe, Theophylact, Zwingle, and Calvin.
Of these four views the last seems to me, on the whole, the most probable and satisfactory. The first sounds strange and unlike the usual teaching of Scripture. "If thou knewest the Holy Spirit, thou wouldst have asked," is an expression we can hardly expect at this period of our Lord’s ministry, when the mission of the Comforter had not yet been explained.—The second view seems hardly more natural than the first.—The third view is undoubtedly recommended by the fact that Christ is frequently spoken of as God’s great gift to the world. If the woman had really known anything aright about Messiah, and had known that He was before her, she would have asked of Him living water. Nevertheless, it is a strong objection to this view, that it makes our Lord apparently say the same thing twice over. "If thou knewest Christ, and that it is Christ who speaks."
The last view makes the first clause general, "If thou knewest the grace of God," and the second particular, "If thou also knewest that the Saviour Himself was with thee." Thus both clauses receive a meaning.
[Living water.] The meaning of this expression, like "the gift of God," is variously explained. Some, as Calovius and Chemnitius, seem to think it means the doctrine of God’s mercy, pardon, cleansing, and justification. Others, as Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril, Theophylact, Calvin, Beza, Gualter, Musculus, and Ferus, think it means the Holy Spirit, renewing, and sanctification.
I doubt whether either view is quite correct. I am inclined, with Bullinger and Rollock, to regard the expression as a general figurative description of everything which it is Christ’s office to bestow on the soul of man,—pardon, peace, mercy, grace, justification, and sanctification. As water is cleansing, purifying, cooling, refreshing, thirst-satisfying to man’s body, so are Christ’s gifts to the soul. I think everything that a sinful soul needs is purposely included under the general words, "living water." It comprises not only the justifying "blood which cleanses from all sin," but the sanctifying grace of the Spirit, by which we "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness,"—not only the inward peace which is the result of pardon, but the sense of inward comfort, which is the companion of renewal of hearts.
The idea of "water," we should remember, is specially brought forward in some of the Old Testament promises of good things to come. (See Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 41:17; Isaiah 44:3-4; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:8.) A sprinkling of clean water was particularly mentioned as one of the things Messiah was to give. (Isaiah 52:15; Ezekiel 36:25.) To an intelligent reader of the Old Testament the mention of "living water," would at once raise up the idea of Messiah’s times.
The word "living," applied here to water, must not be pressed too far. It does not necessarily mean anything more than fresh, running waters. Thus it is said that Isaac’s servant "found a well of living waters." (Genesis 26:19. See also Numbers 19:17; Song of Song of Solomon 4:15.) There was undoubtedly a deep meaning in our Lord’s words, and a tacit reference to the verse in Jeremiah where God speaks of Himself as "the fountain of living waters." (Jeremiah 2:13.) Nevertheless, the first idea that the words would convey to the woman’s mind, would probably be no more than this, that he who sat before her had better, fresher, and more valuable water than that of the well. The fact is, that our Lord purposely used a figurative, general expression, in order to lead the woman’s mind gently on. If He had said, "He would have given thee grace and mercy," she would have been unprepared for such purely doctrinal language, and it would have called forth prejudice and dislike.
There is a vast quantity of deep truth contained in this verse. It is rich in first principles, linked together in a most instructive chain. (1.) Christ has living water to give to men. (2.) If men would only ask, Christ would at once give. (3.) Men do not ask because they are ignorant.—The verse condemns all who die unpardoned. They have not because they ask not. They ask not because they are blind to their condition. To remove this blindness and ignorance must be the first object we should aim at in dealing with a thoughtless, unconverted man.
The notion of Ambrose, Cyprian, and Rupertus, that "living water" here means baptism, is too monstrous to require refutation. It is only a sample of the preposterous views of some of the Fathers and their followers about the sacraments.
Bengel remarks on this verse our Lord’s readiness to draw lessons of spiritual instruction from every object near Him. To the Jews desiring bread, He spoke of the bread of life. (John 6:33.) To the people at Jerusalem at break of day, He speaks of the light of the world, referring probably to the rising sun. (John 8:2, John 8:12.) To the woman coming to draw water, He speaks of living water.
v11.—[The woman saith, &c.] The words of the woman in this and the following verse, imply surprise, curiosity, and perhaps a slight sneer. At any rate they show that her attention was arrested. A strange Jew at a well suddenly speaks to her about "living water." What could He mean? Was He in earnest or not? With a woman’s curiosity she desires to know.
[Sir.] The Greek word so rendered is generally translated "Lord." This leads some, as Chrysostom, to think, that the woman’s heart was so far impressed now, that she purposely used a term of respect and reverence. We must not, however, lay too much stress on the word. It is certainly translated "Sir," in other places, where inferiors speak to superiors, Matthew 13:27; Matthew 21:30; Matthew 27:63; John 4:49; John 5:7; John 12:21; John 20:15; Revelation 7:14. Yet it is difficult to see what other word the woman could have used in addressing a strange man, without rudeness and discourtesy.
[Nothing to draw with.]—The Greek expression here is simply a substantive, meaning "an instrument for drawing water." What it was we are left to conjecture. Schleusner suggests from Nonnus that it must mean a cup fastened to a rope.
[The well is deep.] These words, according to the universal testimony of travellers at this day, are still literally true. The well is at least thirty yards deep, and to a person not provided with a rope, as the woman doubtless saw was our Lord’s case, the water would be inaccessible.
[Whence then....that living water.] The Greek word here rendered "that" is simply the article commonly translated "the." It is like "that prophet." (John 1:21.)
The ignorance of the woman in thinking of nothing but material water, naturally strikes us. Yet it is nothing more than we see in many other instances in the Gospels. Nicodemus could not see any but a carnal meaning in the new birth. The disciples could not understand our Lord’s having "meat to eat," unless it was literal meat. The Jews thought the "bread from heaven" was literal bread. (John 3:4; John 4:33; John 6:34.) The natural heart of man always tries to put a carnal and material sense on spiritual expressions. Hence have arisen the greatest errors about the sacraments.
v12.—[Art thou greater.] This question exhibits the woman’s curiosity to know who the stranger before her could be. Who art thou that speakest of living water?—It also savours of a sneer and incredulity. Dost thou mean to say that thou canst give me better and more abundant supplies of water, than a well which the patriarch Jacob found sufficient for himself and all his numerous company? Dost thou pretend to know of a better well? Art thou, a poor weary traveller in appearance, so great a person that thou dost possess a better well than Jacob possessed?
[Our father Jacob....gave us the well.] Let it be noted that the woman carefully claimed relationship with Jacob, and called him our father, though after all the intermixture of the Samaritans with heathen nations, the relationship was not very easy of proof. But it is common to find people shutting their eyes to difficulties, when they want to prove a connection or relationship. The advocates of an extreme view of apostolical succession seldom condescend to notice difficulties when they assert that episcopally ordained ministers can trace their order up to the apostles.
When it says that "Jacob gave" the well, there is probably a reference to the grant which Jacob made to his son Joseph of the district near the well. From Joseph came the tribe of Ephraim, to which, no doubt, the Samaritan woman claimed to belong. (Genesis 48:22.)
[Drink....himself....children....cattle.] These words were doubtless said to show the goodness and abundance of the water. Did the stranger at the well really mean to say that he could give any better water?
Bucer on this verse, remarks how the Samaritans prided themselves on their relationship to Jacob, and the possession of his well, while they made no effort to imitate his goodness, and points out the tendency of superstition to the same thing, in every age. "True piety," he says, "does not consist in having Jacob’s well and Jacob’s land, but Jacob’s spirit,—not in keeping the bones of the saints, but in imitating their lives."
v13.—[Jesus answered, &c.] In this and the following verse our Lord proceeds to raise the desires of the woman by exalting the value of the living water of which He had spoken. He still refrains from distinct statements of doctrinal truth. He still adheres to the figurative expression, "water." And yet He makes an advance, and leads on the woman gently and almost imperceptibly to glorious spiritual things. Now, for the first time, He begins to speak of "everlasting life."
[Whosoever drinketh....this water....thirst again.] It will be noted, that our Lord does not answer the woman’s questions directly. He keeps steadily to the one point He desires to fasten on her mind, viz.: the infinite excellence of a certain "living water" which He had to give. And first He reminds her of what she knew well by laborious experience. The water of Jacob’s well might be good and plentiful. But still he who drank of it was only satisfied for a few hours. He soon thirsted again.
We cannot doubt that there was a deep latent thought in our Lord’s word’s in this sentence. He would have us know that the waters of Jacob’s well are typical of all temporal and material good things. They cannot satisfy the soul. They have no power to fill the heart of an immortal creature like man. He who only drinks of them is sure to thirst again.
Some have thought that there is a tacit reference in these words to the woman’s insatiable love of sin.
The similarity ought to be noticed between our Lord’s line of argument in this verse, and the line He adopts in recommending to the Jews the bread of life in the sixth chapter. He showed the Jews the superiority of the bread of life over the manna by the words "your fathers did eat manna, and are dead." (John 6:49.) Just so in this place, He shows the inferiority of the water of Jacob’s well to the living water, by saying "He that drinks of this water shall thirst again." The two passages deserve a careful comparison.
v14.—[Whosoever drinketh....never thirst.] These words contain a precious promise, and declare a glorious truth of the Gospel. The benefits of Christ’s gifts are promised to every one who is willing to receive them, whosoever and whatsoever he may be. He may have been as bad as the Samaritan woman. But the promise is for him as well as for her, "whosoever drinketh, shall never thirst."—The declaration "shall never thirst" does not mean, "shall never feel any spiritual want at all." It simply asserts the abiding and enduring nature of the benefits which Christ gives. He that drinks of the living water which Christ gives, shall never entirely and completely lose the cleansing, purifying, and soulrefreshing effects which it produces.
Our English translation of this sentence hardly gives the full sense of the Greek. Literally rendered, it would be, "shall never thirst unto eternity." The same expression is used frequently in John’s Gospel. See John 6:51-58; John 8:51; John 10:28; John 11:26; John 14:16.
[The water....I....give....well....everlasting life.] To see the full meaning of this figurative sentence, it must be paraphrased. The meaning seems to be something of this kind. "The gift of grace, mercy, and peace which I am ready to give, shall be in the heart of him who receives it an everflowing source of comfort, satisfaction, and spiritual refreshment, continuing and flowing on, not only through this life, but unto life eternal. He that receives my gift of living water has a fountain opened in his soul of spiritual satisfaction, which shall neither be dried up in this life or the life to come, but shall flow on to all eternity."
Let it be noted that the whole verse is a strong argument in favour of the doctrine of the perpetuity of grace, and the consequent perseverance in the faith of believers. It is difficult to understand how the Arminian doctrine of the possibility of believers completely falling away, and being lost, can be reconciled with any natural interpretation of this verse.
Zwingle thinks, with much probability, that the words "a fountain in him," point to the benefits which grace once received makes a man impart to others, as well as enjoy himself. See John 7:38.
Rollock remarks on this verse, "Let me say in a word what I feel. You will find nothing either in heaven or in earth, with which you will be satisfied and feel supplied, except Jesus Christ alone, with all that fullness of the Godhead which dwells in Him bodily."
Poole says, "He who receiveth the Holy Spirit and the grace thereof, though he will be daily saying give, give, and continually desiring further supplies of grace, yet he shall never wholly want, never want any good thing that shall be needful for him. The seed of God shall abide in him, and His water shall be in him a spring supplying him until he comes to heaven."
v15.—[The woman saith, &c.] In this verse, I think, we see the first sparks of good in the woman’s soul. Our Lord’s words aroused a desire in her heart for this living water of which He had spoken. She does what our Lord said she ought to have done at first. She "asks" Him to give her the water.
[Give me this water....that....thirst not....draw.] The motives of the woman in making this request are variously explained.
Some think, as Musculus, Calvin, Bucer, Brentius, Gualter, Lightfoot, Poole, and Dyke, that the request was made in a sarcastic and sneering spirit, as though she would say "Truly this water would be a fine thing, if we could get it! Give it me, if you have it to give."
Some think, as Augustine, Cyril, Bullinger, Rollock, Hildersam, Jansenius, and Nifanius, that the request was only the lazy, indolent wish of one who was weary of this world’s labour, and yet could see nothing but the things of this world in our Lord’s sayings, like the request of the Jews, "Evermore give us this bread." (John 6:34.) It is as though she would say, "Anything to save me the trouble of coming to draw water would be a boon. If you can do that for me, do it." As Bengel says, "She wished to have this living fountain at her own house."
Some think, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius, that the request was really the prayer of an anxious soul, aroused to some faint spiritual desires by the mention of eternal life. "Hast thou eternal life to bestow? Give it to me."
I venture to think that none of these three views is quite correct. The true motive of the request was probably a vague feeling of desire that the woman herself could hardly have defined. It is useless to analyze and scrutinize too closely the first languid and imperfect desires that arise in souls when the Spirit begins His work of conversion. It is folly to say that the first movings of a heart towards God must be free from all imperfect motives and all mixture of infirmity. The woman’s motives in saying "Give me this water," were probably mixed and indefinite. Material water was not out of her thoughts, and yet she had probably some desires after everlasting life. Enough for us to know, that she asked and received, she sought and found. Our great aim must be to persuade sinners to apply to Jesus, and to say to Him, "Give me to drink." If we forbid them to ask anything until they can prove that they ask in a perfect spirit, we should do no good at all. It would be as foolish to scrutinize the grammatical construction of an infant’s cries, as to analyze the precise motives of a soul’s first breathings after God. If it breathes at all and says, "Give," we ought to be thankful.
v16.—[Jesus saith....go....call....husband...hither.] This verse begins an entirely new stage in the history of the woman’s conversion. From this point we hear no more of "living water." Figurative language is dropped entirely. Our Lord’s words become direct, personal, and plain. The woman had asked at last for "living water." At once our Lord proceeds to give it to her.
Our Lord’s reasons for bidding the woman to call her husband, have been variously interpreted. Some think that he only meant her to understand that He had spoken long enough to her, a solitary woman; and that before He proceeded further, she must call her husband to be a witness of the conversation, and to partake of the benefits He was going to confer. This seems the view of Chrysostom and Theophylact.—Others think, with far more probability, in my judgment, that our Lord’s main object in naming the woman’s husband, was to produce in her mind conviction of sin, and to show her His own divine knowledge of all things. He knew that she had no husband, and He purposely named him in order to touch her conscience. He always knew the thoughts of those to whom He spoke; and He knew in the present case, what the effect of His words would be. It would bring to light the woman’s besetting sin.—It is as though He said. "Thou dost ask me for living water. Thou dost at last express a desire for that great spiritual gift which I am able to bestow. Well, then, I begin by bidding thee know thyself and thy sinfulness. I will show thee that I know thy spiritual disease, and can lay my finger on the most dangerous ailment of thy soul. Go, call thy husband, and come hither."
Let it be noted that the first draught of living water which our Lord gave to the Samaritan woman was conviction of sin. That fact is a lesson for all who desire to benefit ignorant and careless sinners. The first thing to be taught to such persons, when once we have got their attention, is their own sinfulness, and their consequent need of a Saviour. No one values the physician until he feels his disease.
Augustine thinks that when our Lord said, "Call thy husband," He meant, "Cause thine understanding to be forthcoming. Thy understanding is not with thee. I am speaking after the spirit, and thou hearest after the flesh!" I can see no wisdom in this fanciful idea.
v17.—[The woman answered...no husband.] These words were an honest and truthful confession, so far as they went. Whether the woman wished it to be supposed that she was a widow, it would perhaps be hardly fair to inquire. Theophylact and Euthymius suggest that she did wish to deceive our Lord. The way in which our Lord receives her declaration, makes it probable that she did not profess to be a widow, and very likely her dress showed that she was not. In this point of view the honesty of her confession is noteworthy. There is always more hope of one who honestly and bluntly confesses sin, than of a smooth-tongued hypocrite.
[Jesus said...thou hast well said...husband.] Our Lord’s commendation of the woman’s honest confession deserves notice. It teaches us that we should make the best of an ignorant sinner’s words. An unskilful physician of souls would probably have rebuked the woman sharply for her wickedness, if her words led him to suspect it. Our Lord on the contrary says, "Thou hast well said."
v18.—[Thou hast had five husbands.] Many foolish and unseemly things have been written about this sentence, which it is not worth while to bring forward. Of course it is utterly improbable that the woman had lost five husbands by death, and had been five times a widow. The more likely explanation is that she had been divorced and put away by several husbands in succession. Divorces were notoriously common among the Jews, and in all probability among the Samaritans, for very trivial causes. In the case, however, of the woman before us, the second clause of the verse before us makes it likely that she had been justly divorced for adultery.
Augustine regards these five husbands as significant of "the five senses of the body," which are as five husbands by which the soul of the natural man is ruled! I cannot think that our Lord meant anything of the kind.—Euthymius mentions another allegorical view, making the woman to typify human nature, and the five husbands five different dispensations, and him with whom she now lived the Mosaic Law! This seems to me simply absurd. Origen says much the same. It is well to know what patristic interpretation is!
[He whom...hast...not thy husband.] These words show plainly that the Samaritan woman was living in adultery up to the very day when our Lord spoke to her.
Our Lord’s perfect knowledge of the woman’s past and present life is very noteworthy. It ought to remind us how perfectly He is acquainted with every transaction of our own lives. From Him no secrets are hid.
[In that saidst thou truly.] There is a kindness very worthy of notice in these words. Wicked and abandoned as this Samaritan woman was, our Lord deals gently and kindly with her, and twice in one breath commends her confession: "Thou hast well said.—In that thou saidst truly." Kindness of manner like this will always be found a most important point in dealing with the ungodly. Scolding and sharp-rebuke, however well-deserved, have a tendency to harden and shut up hearts, and to make people bolt their doors. Kindness, on the contrary, wins, softens, conciliates, and disarms prejudice. An unskilful soul-physician would probably have ended his sentence by saying, "Thou art a wicked woman; and if thou dost not repent, thou wilt be lost." All this would have been true no doubt. But how different our Lord’s grave and gentle remark, "Thou saidst truly"!
v19.—[The woman saith...I perceive...prophet.] I think we see in this verse a great change in the Samaritan woman’s mind. She evidently confesses the entire truth of what our Lord had just said, and turns to Him as an anxious inquirer about her soul. It is as though she said, "I perceive at last that thou art indeed no common person. Thou hast told me what thou couldst not have known, if thou wert not a prophet sent from God. Thou hast exposed sins which I cannot deny, and aroused spiritual concern which I would now fain have relieved. Now give me instruction."
Let it be noted that the thing which first struck the Samaritan woman, and made her call Jesus "a prophet," was the same that struck Nathanael, viz., our Lord’s perfect knowledge.—To call our Lord "a prophet" at first sight may seem not much. But it must be remembered that even after His resurrection, the two disciples going to Emmaus, only described Jesus as a "prophet mighty in deed and word." (Luke 24:19.) A clear knowledge of the divine nature of Messiah seems to have been one of the points on which almost the whole Jewish nation was ignorant. Even the learned Scribes could not explain how Messiah was to be David’s Lord and also David’s Son. (Mark 12:37.)
v20.—[Our fathers worshipped, &c.] To see the full drift of this verse, we must carefully remember the state of the Samaritan woman’s mind at this moment. I think that she spoke under spiritual anxiety. She was alarmed by having her sins suddenly exposed. She found herself for the first time in the presence of a prophet. She felt for the first time the necessity of religion. But at once the old question between the Jews and Samaritans arose before her mind. How was she to know what was truth? What was she to believe? Her own people said that the Samaritan mode of worshipping God was correct. The Jews said that Jerusalem was the only place where men ought to worship. Between these two conflicting opinions what was she to do?
The natural ignorance of almost all unconverted people, when first aroused to thought about religion, appears strikingly in the woman’s words. Man’s first idea is to attach great importance to the outward mode of worshipping God. The first refuge of an awakened conscience is strict adherence to some outward form, and zeal for the external part of religion.
The woman’s readiness to quote "the fathers" and their customs, is an instructive instance of man’s readiness to make custom and tradition his only rule of faith. "Our fathers did so," is one of the natural man’s favourite arguments. Calvin’s comments on the expression "fathers" in this verse are very useful. He remarks, among other things, "None should be reckoned Fathers but those who are manifestly the sons of God."
When the woman spoke of "this mountain," she doubtless meant the hill on which the rival temple of Samaria was built, to the bitter annoyance of the Jerusalem Jews. It is said that this temple was first built in the days of Nehemiah by Sanballat, and that his son-in-law, the son of Joiada, whom Nehemiah "chased from him," was its first high-priest. (Nehemiah 13:29.) Some have gone so far as to maintain that the hill Gerizim at Samaria was the hill on which Abraham offered up Isaac, and that the words of the woman refer to this. The more common opinion is that Mount Moriah at Jerusalem was the place.
When the woman says, "Ye say," she doubtless includes the whole Jewish nation, of whom she regards our Lord as a representative.
Musculus, Baxter, Scott, and Barnes, think that the woman, in this verse, desired to turn away the conversation from her own sins to a subject of public controversy, and in this way to change the subject. I am not however satisfied that this view is correct. I prefer the view of Brentius, which I have already set forth, that she was truly impressed by our Lord’s exposure of her wickedness, and made a serious inquiry about the things needful to salvation. She was aroused to seriousness, and asked what was true religion. Her own nation said one thing. The Jews said another. What was truth? In short, her words were only another form of the jailer’s question, "What shall I do to be saved?"
v21.—[Jesus saith, Woman, believe me.] The calmness, gravity, and solemnity of these opening words are very noteworthy. "I tell you a great truth, which I ask you to credit and believe."
Jansenius thinks that our Lord uses the expression "believe me," because the truth he was about to impart was so new and strange, that the woman would be apt to think it incredible.
Stier remarks that this is the only time our Lord ever uses this expression "believe me" in the Gospels.
[The hour cometh.] The hour, or time here spoken of, means the time of the Gospel, the hour of the Christian dispensation.
[Ye shall neither...this mountain...Jerusalem...worship, &c.] Our Lord here declares that under the Gospel there was to be no more distinction of places like Jerusalem. The old dispensation under which men were bound to go up to Jerusalem three times a year, to attend the feasts and worship in the temple, was about to pass away. All questions about the superior sanctity of Samaria or Jerusalem would soon be at an end. A church was about to be founded, whose members would find access to the Father everywhere, and would need no temple-service, and no priests or sacrifices or altars in order to approach God. It was therefore mere waste of time to be disputing about the comparative claims of either Samaria or Jerusalem. Under the Gospel all places would soon be alike.
It seems far from improbable that our Lord referred in this verse to the prophecy of Malachi, "In every place incense shall be offered to my name." (Malachi 1:11.)
The utter passing away of the whole Jewish system seems clearly pointed at in this verse. To bring into the Christian Church holy places, sanctuaries, altars, priests, sacrifices, gorgeous vestments, and the like, is to dig up that which has been long buried, and to turn to candles for light under the noon-day sun. The favourite theory of the Irvingites that we ought as far as possible in our public worship, to copy the Jewish temple services and ceremonial, seems incapable of reconciliation with this verse.
Calvin says, "By calling God the Father in this verse, Christ seems indirectly to contrast Him with the ’fathers’ whom the woman had mentioned, and to convey this instruction, that God will be a common Father to all, so that He will be generally worshipped without distinction of place or nation."
v22.—[Ye worship....know not what.] In this verse our Lord unhesitatingly condemns the religious system of the Samaritans, as compared with that of the Jews. The Samaritans could show no Scriptural authority, no revelation of God, commanding and sanctioning their worship. Whatever it was, it was purely an invention of man, which God had never formally authorized or accredited. They had no warrant for believing that it was accepted. They had no right to feel sure that their prayers, praises, and offerings were received. In short, all was uncertainty. They were practically worshipping an "unknown God."
Mede remarks that the Samaritan woman overlooked the object of worship in her question about the place. "You inquire concerning the place of worshipping. But a far more important question is at issue between us, viz., the Being to be worshipped, respecting whom you are ignorant."
[We know what we worship.] In contrast to the Samaritan religious system, our Lord declares that the Jews at any rate could show divine warrant and Scriptural authority for all they did in their religion. They could render a reason of their hope. They knew whom they approached in their religious services.
[Salvation is of the Jews.] Our Lord here declares that God’s promises of a Saviour and Redeemer specially belong to the Jerusalem Jews. They were the descendants of the tribe of Judah, and to them belonged the house and lineage of David. On this point at any rate the Samaritans had no right whatever to claim equality with the Jews. Granting that the Samaritans had any right to be called Israelites, they were of the tribe of Ephraim, from which it was nowhere said that Messiah should spring. And in truth the Samaritans were of such mixed origin, that they had no right to be called Israelites at all.
I believe with Olshausen, that "salvation," in this verse, was really intended to mean "the Saviour" Himself. The use of the article in the Greek is striking. It is literally "the salvation." Does not the saying to Zacchæus point the same way? "This day is salvation come to this house." (Luke 19:9.)
The expression "we" in this verse is very interesting. It is a wonderful instance of our Lord’s condescension, and one that stands almost alone. He was pleased to speak of Himself, just in the light that He appeared to the woman, as one of the Jewish nation. "I and all other Jews know what we worship."
The folly of supposing that ignorance is to be praised and commended in religion, as the mother of devotion, is strongly condemned in this verse. Christ would have Christians "know what they worship."
The testimony borne to the general truth of the religious system of the Jews in this place is very striking. Corrupt and wicked as Scribes and Pharisees were, Jesus declares that the Jewish religion was true and Scriptural. It is a mournful proof that a church may retain a sound creed, and yet be on the high road to destruction.
Hildersam has a long note which is well worth reading on the words "salvation is of the Jews." Considering the times in which he lived, it shows singularly clear views of God’s continual purposes concerning the Jewish nation. He sees in the words the great truth that all God’s revelations to man in every age have been made through the Jews.
v23.—[The hour cometh and now is.] These words mean that the times of the Gospel approach, and indeed have already begun. "They have begun by the preaching of the kingdom of God. They will be fully brought in by my death and ascension, and the establishment of the New Testament church."
[True worshippers...worship...spirit and...truth.] Our Lord here declares who alone would be considered true worshippers in the coming dispensation of the Gospel. They would not be merely those who worshipped in this place or in that place. They would not be exclusively Jews, or exclusively Gentiles, or exclusively Samaritans. The external part of the worship would be of no value compared to the internal state of the worshippers. They only would be counted true worshippers who worshipped in spirit and in truth.
The words "in spirit and in truth" are variously interpreted, and much has been written about them. I believe the simplest explanation to be this. The word "spirit" must not be taken to mean the Holy Spirit, but the intellectual or mental part of man in contradistinction to the material or carnal part of man. This distinction is clearly marked in 1 Corinthians 7:34, "Holy in body and in spirit."—"Worship in spirit" is heart-worship in contradistinction to all formal, material, carnal worship, consisting only of ceremonies, offerings, sacrifices, and the like. When a Jew offered a formal meat-offering, with his heart far away, it was worship after the flesh. When David offered in prayer a broken and a contrite heart, it was worship in spirit.—"Worship in truth," means worship "through the one true way of access to God, without the medium of the sacrifices or priesthood, which were ordained till Christ died on the cross. When the veil was rent, and the way into the holiest made manifest by Christ’s death, then, and not till then, men "worshipped in truth." Before Christ, they worshipped through types, and shadows, and figures, and emblems. After Christ they worshipped in truth.—Spirit is opposed to "flesh;" truth to "shadow." "Spirit," in short, is heart-service, contrasted with lip worship and formal devotion. "Truth" is the full light of the Christian dispensation contrasted with the twilight of the law of Moses.
The view I have endeavoured to give is substantially that of Chrysostom and Euthymius.
Caryl, quoted by Ford, says, "In spirit regards the inward power, in truth the outward form. The first strikes at hypocrisy, the second at idolatry."
[The Father seeketh such...worship him.] This is a remarkable sentence. I believe it to mean that "the hour is come, in which the Father has ordained from eternity that He will gather out of the world a company of true and spiritual worshippers. He is even now seeking out and gathering in such worshippers."—The expression "seeketh" is peculiar. There is something like it in the sentence, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost." (Luke 19:10.) It seems to show the exceeding compassion of the Father, and His infinite willingness to save souls. He does not merely-wait for men to come to Him. He "seeks" for them.—It also shows the wide opening of God the Father’s mercy under the Gospel. He no longer confines His grace to the Jews. He now seeks and desires to gather in everywhere true worshippers out of every nation.
The clause appears to me specially intended to encourage the Samaritan woman. Let her not trouble herself with difficulties about the comparative claims of the Samaritan and Jewish systems. Was she willing to be a spiritual worshipper? That was the one question which deserved her attention.
Trapp observes, "How should this fire up our hearts to spiritual worship! That God seeks for such worshippers!"
v24.—[God is a Spirit.] Our Lord here declares to the Samaritan woman the true nature of God. Let her cease to think that God was such an one as man, and that He could not be found, or approached, or addressed, like a mere earthly monarch, except at one particular place. Let her learn to have higher, nobler, and more exalted views of the Being with whom sinners have to do. Let her know this day that God was a Spirit.
The declaration before us is one of the most lofty and definite sayings about God’s nature which is to be found in the whole Bible. That such a declaration should have been made to such a person as the Samaritan woman is a wonderful instance of Christ’s condescension! To define precisely the full meaning of the expression is past man’s understanding. The leading idea most probably is, that "God is an immaterial being, that He dwelleth not in temples made with hands, and that He is not, like ourselves, therefore, absent from one place when He is present at another." These things are all true, but how little we can realize them!
Cornelius á Lapide gives an excellent summary of the opinions of heathen philosophers on the nature of God, in his commentary on this verse.
[They....worship....must....worship....spirit....truth.] Our Lord draws this broad conclusion from the statement of God’s nature which He has just made. If "God is a Spirit" it behooves those who would worship Him acceptably, to worship in spirit and in truth. It is unreasonable to suppose that He can like any worship which does not come from the heart, or can be so well pleased with worship which is offered through types and ceremonies, as with worship offered through the true way which He has provided, and is now revealing.
The importance of the great principle laid down in this and the preceding verse, can never be overrated. Any religious teaching which tends to depreciate heart-worship, and to turn Christianity into a mere formal service, or which tends to bring back Jewish shadows, ceremonies, and services, and to introduce them into Christian worship, is on the face of these remarkable verses most unscriptural and deserving of reprobation.
Of course we must not admit the idea, that in this and the preceding verse, Jesus meant to pour contempt on the ceremonial law, which God Himself had given. But He plainly teaches that it was an imperfect dispensation, given because of man’s ignorance and infirmity, as we give pictures to children in teaching them. It was, in fact, a schoolmaster to Christ. (Galatians 3:24.) To want men to return to it is as absurd as to bid grown up people begin learning the alphabet by pictures in an infant school.—On the other hand, as Beza remarks, we must not run into the extreme of despising all ordinances, sacraments, and outward ceremonies in religion. These things have their use and value, however much they may be abused.
v25.—[The woman saith I know...Messias...Christ, &c.] This verse is an interesting one. It shows the woman at last brought to the very state of mind in which she would be prepared to welcome a revelation of Christ. She had been told of "living water," and had expressed a desire for it. She had been told her own sin, and had been unable to deny it. She had been told the uselessness of resting on any formal membership of the Samaritan Church, and the necessity of spiritual and heart-worship of God. And now what can she say? It is all true, she feels,—she cannot gainsay it. But what can she do? To whom is she to go? Whose teaching can she follow? All she can do is to say that "she knows Messias is one day coming, and that He will make all things clear and plain." It is evident that she wishes for Him. She is uncomfortable and sees no relief for her newly raised perplexities, unless Messias should appear.
The mention of Messias in this verse, makes it clear that the Samaritans were not altogether ignorant of the Old Testament, and that there was an expectation of a Redeemer of some kind among them, as well as among the Jews. The existence of a general expectation of this sort throughout the East, at the time when our Lord appeared on earth, is a fact to which even heathen writers have testified.
When the woman says, "He will tell us all things," we must probably not inquire too closely into what she meant. It is very likely that she had only a vague feeling that Messias would remove all doubts and show all things needful to salvation.
Chrysostom remarks on this verse, "The woman was made dizzy by Christ’s discourse, and fainted at the sublimity of what He said, and in her trouble saith, I know that Messias cometh."
Wordsworth observes, that the Samaritan woman had a clearer knowledge of Messiah’s office than the Jews generally showed. She looked for Him as a Teacher. They looked for Him as a conquering King.
Beza and A. Clark think, that the words, "which is called Christ," in this verse, are John’s parenthetical explanation of the word Messias. It is certainly rather unlikely that the woman would have used them in addressing a Jew. Yet most commentators think that they were her words.
v26.—[Jesus saith...I...speak...am He.] These words are the fullest declaration which our Lord ever made of His own Messiahship, which the Gospel writers have recorded. That such a full declaration should be made to such a person as the Samaritan woman is one of the most wonderful instances of our Lord’s grace and condescension related in the New Testament! At last the woman obtained an answer to one of her first questions, "Art thou greater than our father Jacob?" When the answer came it completely converted her soul.
Rollock remarks on this verse, how ready and willing Christ is to reveal Himself to a sinner’s soul. The very moment that this woman expressed any desire for Messiah, He at once revealed Himself to her—"I am He."
Quesnel observes, "It is a great mistake to suppose that the knowledge of the mysteries of religion ought not to be imparted to women by the reading of Scripture, considering this instance of the great confidence Christ reposed in this woman by His manifestation of Himself. The abuse of the Scriptures and the sin of heresies, did not proceed from the simplicity of women, but from the conceited learning of men."
In leaving the whole passage, there are several striking points which ought never to be forgotten. (a.) Our Lord’s mercy is remarkable. That such an one as He should deal so graciously with such a sinner is a striking fact. (b.) Our Lord’s wisdom is remarkable. How wise was every step of His way in dealing with this sinful soul! (c.) Our Lord’s patience is remarkable. How He bore with the woman’s ignorance, and what trouble He took to lead her to knowledge! (d.) Our Lord’s power is remarkable. What a complete victory He won at last! How almighty must that grace be which could soften and convert such a carnal and wicked heart!
We must never despise any soul, after reading this passage. None can be worse than this woman. But Christ did not despise her.
We must never despair of any soul, after reading this passage. If this woman was converted, any one may be converted.
Finally, we must never contemn the use of all wise and reasonable means in dealing with souls. There is a "wisdom which is profitable to direct" in approaching ignorant and ungodly people, which must be diligently sought. (Ecclesiastes 10:10; Proverbs 2:1-7; Luke 11:9; James 1:5.)
THESE verses continue the well-known story of the Samaritan woman’s conversion. Short as the passage may appear, it contains points of deep interest and importance. The mere worldling, who cares nothing about experimental religion, may see nothing particular in these verses. To all who desire to know something of the experience of a converted person, they will be found full of food for thought.
We see, firstly, in this passage, how marvelous in the eyes of man are Christ’s dealings with souls. We are told that the disciples "marveled that he talked with the woman." That their Master should take the trouble to talk to a woman at all, and to a Samaritan woman, and to a strange woman at a well, when He was wearied with His journey,—all this was wonderful to the eleven disciples. It was a sort of thing which they did not expect. It was contrary to their idea of what a religious teacher should do. It startled them and filled them with surprise.
The feeling displayed by the disciples on this occasion, does not stand alone in the Bible. When our Lord allowed publicans and sinners to draw near to Him and be in His company, the Pharisees marveled. They exclaimed, "This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." (Luke 15:2.)—When Saul came back from Damascus, a converted man and a new creature, the Christians at Jerusalem were astonished. "They believed not that he was a disciple." (Acts 9:26.)—When Peter was delivered from Herod’s prison by an angel, and brought to the door of the house where disciples were praying for his deliverance, they were so taken by surprise that they could not believe it was Peter. "When they saw him they were astonished." (Acts 12:16.)
But why should we stop short in Bible instances? The true Christian has only to look around him in this world in order to see abundant illustrations of the truth before us. How much astonishment every fresh conversion occasions! What surprise is expressed at the change in the heart, life, tastes, and habits of the converted person! What wonder is felt at the power, the mercy, the patience, the compassion of Christ! It is now as it was eighteen hundred years ago. The dealings of Christ are still a marvel both to the Church and to the world.
If there was more real faith on the earth, there would be less surprise felt at the conversion of souls. If Christians believed more, they would expect more, and if they understood Christ better, they would be less startled and astonished when He calls and saves the chief of sinners. We should consider nothing impossible, and regard no sinner as beyond the reach of the grace of God. The astonishment expressed at conversions is a proof of the weak faith and ignorance of these latter days. The thing that ought to fill us with surprise is the obstinate unbelief of the ungodly, and their determined perseverance in the way to ruin. This was the mind of Christ. It is written that He thanked the Father for conversions. But He marveled at unbelief. (Matthew 11:25; Mark 6:6.)
We see, secondly, in this passage, how absorbing is the influence of grace, when it first comes into a believer’s heart. We are told that after our Lord had told the woman He was the Messiah, "She left her water-pot and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did." She had left her home for the express purpose of drawing water. She had carried a large vessel to the well, intending to bring it back filled. But she found at the well a new heart, and new objects of interest. She became a new creature. Old things passed away. All things became new. At once everything else was forgotten for the time. She could think of nothing but the truths she had heard, and the Savior she had found. In the fullness of her heart she "left her water-pot," and hastened away to tell others.
We see here the expulsive power of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Grace once introduced into the heart drives out old tastes and interests. A converted person no longer cares for what he once cared for. A new tenant is in the house. A new pilot is at the helm. The whole world looks different. All things have become new. It was so with Matthew the publican. The moment that grace came into his heart he left the receipt of custom. (Matthew 9:9.)—It was so with Peter, James, and John, and Andrew. As soon as they were converted they forsook their nets and fishing-boats. (Mark 1:16-20.)—It was so with Saul the Pharisee. As soon as he became a Christian he gave up all his brilliant prospects as a Jew, in order to preach the faith he had once despised. (Acts 9:20.)—The conduct of the Samaritan woman was precisely of the same kind. For the time present the salvation she had found completely filled her mind. That she never returned for her water-pot would be more than we have a right to say. But under the first impressions of new spiritual life, she went away and "left her water-pot" behind.
Conduct like that here described is doubtless uncommon in the present day. Rarely do we see a person so entirely taken up with spiritual matters, that attention to this world’s affairs is made a secondary matter, or postponed. And why is it so? Simply because true conversions to God are uncommon. Few really feel their sins, and flee to Christ by faith. Few really pass from death to life, and become new creatures. Yet these few are the real Christians of the world. These are the people whose religion, like the Samaritan woman’s, tells on others. Happy are they who know something by experience of this woman’s feelings, and can say with Paul, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ"! Happy are they who have given up everything for Christ’s sake, or at any rate have altered the relative importance of all things in their minds! "If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light." (Philippians 3:8; Matthew 6:22.)
We see, lastly, in this passage, how zealous a truly converted person is to do good to others. We are told that the Samaritan woman "went into the city, and said to the men, Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" In the day of her conversion she became a missionary! She felt so deeply the amazing benefit she had received from Christ, that she could not hold her peace about Him. Just as Andrew told his brother Peter about Jesus, and Philip told Nathanael that he had found Messiah, and Saul, when converted, straightway preached Christ, so, in the same way, the Samaritan woman said, "Come and see Christ." She used no abstruse arguments. She attempted no deep reasoning about our Lord’s claim to be the Messiah. She only said, "Come and see." Out of the abundance of her heart her mouth spoke.
That which the Samaritan woman here did, all true Christians ought to do likewise. The Church needs it. The state of the world demands it. Common sense points out that it is right. Every one who has received the grace of God, and tasted that Christ is gracious, ought to find words to testify of Christ to others. Where is our faith, if we believe that souls around us are perishing, and that Christ alone can save them, and yet hold our peace? Where is our charity if we can see others going down to hell, and yet say nothing to them about Christ and salvation?—We may well doubt our own love to Christ, if our hearts are never moved to speak of Him. We may well doubt the safety of our own souls, if we feel no concern about the souls of others.
What are we ourselves? This is the question, after all, which demands our notice. Do we feel the supreme importance of spiritual things, and the comparative nothingness of the things of the world? Do we ever talk to others about God, and Christ, and eternity, and the soul, and heaven, and hell? If not, what is the value of our faith? Where is the reality of our Christianity? Let us take heed lest we awake too late, and find that we are lost forever, a wonder to angels and devils, and, above all, a wonder to ourselves, because of our own obstinate blindness and folly.
v27.—[Upon this.] The true idea contained in this expression seems to be, "At this point, at this critical juncture in the conversation between our Lord and the woman."—What the woman would have said next after our Lord’s marvelous discovery of Himself, we are left to conjecture. But just as our Lord said, "I am the Messiah," the disciples returned from buying food, and their appearance stopped the conversation. The woman’s heart was probably too full, and her mind too much excited to say more in the presence of witnesses, and especially of strangers. Therefore no more was said, and she withdrew. The soul, in the beginning of a work of grace, shrinks from discovering its workings before strangers.
[Marveled...talked with the woman.] I am inclined to think that these words would have been more correctly rendered, "Talked with a woman." There is no article in the original Greek. The wonder of the disciples was excited, not so much by our Lord talking to this woman, as by His talking to a woman at all. It is clear from Rabbinical writings, that there was a common opinion among the Jews that both in understanding and religion women were an inferior order of beings to men. This ignorant prejudice had most likely leavened the minds of the disciples, and is probably referred to in this place. Of the woman’s moral character it is not clear that the disciples could know anything at all.
Rupertus thinks that our Lord, by conversing openly with a Samaritan woman, wished to show His disciples by an example, that the wall between Jews and other people was to be broken down by the Gospel, just as He taught Peter the same lesson after His ascension, by the vision of the sheet full of clean and unclean beasts. (Acts 10:11-15.) He thinks that the wonder of the disciples arose from the same Jewish prejudice against intercourse with uncircumcised Gentiles which appeared so strongly in after times.
Lightfoot, Schottgen, and Tholuck quote proverbial sayings from Rabbinical writers, showing the Jewish feeling about women. The following are instances—"He who instructs his daughter in the law plays the fool." "Do not multiply discourses with a woman." "Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife."—Whitby also says, from Buxtorf, that the Rabbins say that "talking with a woman is one of the six things which make a disciple impure."
[No man said, What seekest...why talkest, &c.] We are left to conjecture whether both these questions apply to our Lord, or whether the first applied to the woman, "What seekest thou of Him?" and the second to our Lord, "Why talkest thou with her?" The point is of no particular importance. To me, however, it appears that both questions apply to Christ.—"No man said, ’What art thou seeking from her? Why art thou talking with her?’ "
Grotius suggests that the disciples supposed our Lord might have been seeking meat or drink from the Samaritan woman, and meant, "Why seekest thou any meat or drink from her?"
I venture to doubt whether both questions had not better have been translated alike, "What art thou seeking from her? What art thou talking about with her?" The Greek word is the same which our translators have rendered "what" in the first question, and "why" in the second.
The expression, "No man said," seems to imply that no man ventured to ask any question what was our Lord’s reason for talking with the woman. It is not very clear why the sentence is introduced. The object probably is, as Cyril and Chrysostom remark, to show us the deep reverence and respect with which the disciples regarded our Lord and all His actions, even at this early period of His ministry.—It also shows us that they sometimes thought things about Him to which they dared not give expression, and saw deeds of His which they could not understand, but were content silently to wonder at them. There is a lesson for us in their conduct. When we cannot understand the reason of our Lord’s dealings with souls, let us hold our peace, and try to believe that there are reasons which we shall know one day. A good servant in a great house must do his own duty, and ask no questions. A young student of medicine must take many things on trust.
v28.—[The woman...left...water-pot.] The Greek word here rendered "water-pot" is the same that is used in the account of the miracle at Cana in Galilee. (John 2:6.) It does not mean a small drinking-vessel, but a large jar, such as a woman in Eastern countries would carry on her head. We can therefore well understand that if the woman wished to return in haste to the city she would leave her water-pot. So large a vessel could not be carried quickly, whether empty or full.
The mind of the woman in leaving her water-pot seems to me clear and unmistakable. She was entirely absorbed in the things which she had heard from our Lord’s mouth. She was anxious to tell them without delay to her friends and neighbors. She therefore postponed her business of drawing water, for which she had left her house, as a matter of secondary importance, and hurried off to tell others what she had been told. The sentence is deeply instructive.
Lightfoot thinks, beside this, that the woman left her water-pot out of kindness to our Lord, "that Jesus and His disciples might have wherewithal to drink."
[Went her way....city.] The Greek word rendered "went her way," means simply, "departed" or ’’went." The city must of course mean "Sychar."
[Saith to the men.] We must not suppose that the woman spoke to the men only, and not to her own sex. But it is probable that the "men" of the place would be the first persons she would see, and that the women would not be in the streets, but at home. Moreover it is not unlikely that the expression is meant to show us the woman’s zeal and anxiety to spread the good tidings. She did not hesitate to speak to men, though she well knew that anything a woman might say about religion was not likely to command attention.
Cyril, on this verse, remarks the power of Christ’s grace. He began by bidding the woman to go and "call her husband." The end of the conversation which ensued was her going and calling all the men of the city to come and see Christ.
v29.—[Come, see a man.] The missionary spirit of the woman, in this verse, deserves special notice. Having found Christ herself, she invites others to come and be acquainted with Him. Origen calls her "the apostle of the Samaritans."
Let it be noted that her words are simple in the extreme. She enters into no argument. She only asks the men to "come and see." This, after all, is often the best way of dealing with souls. A bold invitation to come and make trial of the Gospel often produces more effect than the most elaborate arguments in support of its doctrines. Most men do not want their reason convinced so much as their will bent, and their conscience aroused. A simple-minded, hearty, unlearned young disciple will often touch hearts that would hear an abstruse argument without being moved.—This fact is most encouraging to all believers who try to do good. All cannot argue. But all believers may say, "Come and see Christ. If you would only look at Him and see Him, you would soon believe."
Barradius remarks what a practical illustration the woman affords of one of the concluding sentences of Revelation, "Let him that heareth say, Come." (Revelation 22:17.) The Samaritan woman having heard, said "Come," and the result was that many souls came and took the water of life freely.
Cyril remarks the difference between the woman’s conduct and that of the servant who buried his talent in the ground. She received the talent of the good tidings of the Gospel, and at once put it out at interest.
Chrysostom remarks the wisdom of the woman. "She did not say, Come, believe, but Come, see, a gentler expression than the other, and one which more attracted them."
[Told me all things...ever I did.] These words must be taken with some qualifications. Of course they cannot mean that our Lord had literally told the woman "all things that ever she did in her life." This would have been physically impossible in the space of a single afternoon.—The probable meaning is, "He has told me all the principal sins that I have committed. He has shown a perfect knowledge of the chief events of my life. He has shown such thorough acquaintance with my history, that I doubt not He could have told me anything I ever did."
Some allowance must probably be made for the warm and excited feelings of the woman when she spoke these words. She used hyperbolical and extravagant language, under the influence of these feelings, which she would probably not have used in a calm state of mind, and which we must therefore not judge too strictly. Moreover, as Poole remarks, it admits of doubt whether our Lord may not have spoken of other things in the conversation, which John has not been inspired to record.
Let it be noted, that the Samaritan woman, in saying that our Lord had "told her all things she had ever done," very probably referred to the common opinion about Messiah’s omniscience. The Rabbinical writers, according to Lightfoot, specially applied to Messiah the words of Isaiah, "He shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by the sight of his eyes." (Isaiah 11:3.) Her words, therefore, were a well-known argument that our Lord must be the Christ, and her object in using them would be thoroughly understood.
[Is not this the Christ?] The Greek words so rendered would be translated with equal correctness, "Is this the Christ? Can this be the Christ?" A similar form of interrogative sentence is found in thirteen other places in the New Testament. In twelve of them the interrogative is used without "not," viz., Matthew 7:16; Matthew 26:22, Matthew 26:25; Mark 4:21; Mark 14:19; Luke 4:34; John 7:31; John 8:22; John 18:35; Acts 10:47; 2 Corinthians 1:17; James 3:11.—In only one place is the interrogative used with "not," Matthew 12:23. I am inclined, on the whole, to think that "not" would have been better omitted in the sentence before us. Euthymius takes this view.
The value of questions, if we want to do good to souls, is well illustrated in this verse. A question often sets working a mind which would be utterly unmoved by an affirmation. It drives the mind to exertion, and by a gentle compulsion arouses it to think. Men are far less able to go to sleep under religious teaching, when they are invited to answer a question. The number of questions in the New Testament is a striking and instructive fact. Had the woman said, "This is the Christ!" she might have excited prejudice and dislike. By asking, "Is this the Christ?" she got the men to inquire and judge for themselves.
v30.—[Then they went out of the city.] This sentence is full of encouragement to all who try to do good to souls. The words of one single woman were the means of arousing a whole city to go forth and inquire about Christ. We must never despise the smallest and meanest efforts. We never know to what the least beginnings may grow. The grain of mustard seed at Sychar was the word of a feeble woman, "Come and see."
Specially we ought to observe the encouragement the verse affords to the efforts of women. A woman may be the means, under God, of founding a Church. The first person baptized by Paul in Europe was not a man but a woman, Lydia, the seller of purple.—Let women never suppose that men only can do good. Women also, in their way, can evangelize as really and truly as men. Every believing woman who has a tongue can speak to others about Christ.—The Samaritan woman was far less learned than Nicodemus. But she was far bolder, and so did far more good.
[And came unto him.] Perhaps the sentence would be more literally rendered, "were coming," or "began to come to Him." It was while they were coming that the conversation which immediately follows, between Christ and His disciples, took place, and perhaps it was the sight of the crowd coming which made our Lord say some of the things that He did.
Calvin remarks on this part of the woman’s history, that some may think her blamable, in that "while she is still ignorant and imperfectly taught, she goes beyond the limits of her faith." I reply that she would have acted inconsiderately if she had assumed the office of a teacher; but when she desires nothing more than to excite her fellow-citizens to hear Christ speaking, we will not say that she forgot herself, or proceeded further than she had a right to do. She merely does the office of a trumpet or a bell, to invite others to come to Christ."
The concluding verse shows us most forcibly that ministers and teachers of religion ought never to be above taking pains and trouble with a single soul. A conversation with one person was the means of leading a whole city to come and hear Christ, and resulted in the salvation of many souls.
Cornelius á Lapide, at this point of his commentary, gravely informs us that the name of the Samaritan woman was Photina,—that after her conversion she preached the Gospel at Carthage, and that she suffered martyrdom there on the 20th of March, on which day the Romish Martyrology makes special mention of her name! He also tells us that her head is kept as a relic at Rome, in the Basilica of St. Paul, and that it was actually shown to him there!—It is well to know what ridiculous and lying legends the Church of Rome palms upon Roman Catholics as truths, while she withholds from them the Bible!
WE have, for one thing, in these verses, an instructive pattern of zeal for the good of others. We read, that our Lord Jesus Christ declares, "My meat is to do the will of him which sent me, and to finish his work." To do good was not merely duty and pleasure to Him. He counted it as His food, meat and drink. Job, one of the holiest Old Testament saints, could say, that he esteemed God’s word "more than his necessary food." (Job 23:12.) The Great Head of the New Testament Church went even further. He could say the same of God’s work.
Do we do any work for God? Do we try, however feebly, to set forward His cause on earth,—to check that which is evil, to promote that which is good? If we do, let us never be ashamed of doing it with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Whatever our hand finds to do for the souls of others, let us do it with our might. (Ecclesiastes 9:10.) The world may mock and sneer, and call us enthusiasts. The world can admire zeal in any service but that of God, and can praise enthusiasm on any subject but that of religion. Let us work on unmoved. Whatever men may say and think, we are walking in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us, beside this, take comfort in the thought that Jesus Christ never changes. He that sat by the well of Samaria, and found it "meat and drink" to do good to an ignorant soul, is always in one mind. High in heaven at God’s right hand, He still delights to save sinners, and still approves zeal and labor in the cause of God. The work of the missionary and the evangelist may be despised and ridiculed in many quarters. But while man is mocking, Christ is well pleased! Thanks be to God, Jesus is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.
We have, for another thing, in these verses, strong encouragement held out to those who labor to do good to souls. We read, that our Lord described the world as a "field white for the harvest;" and then said to His disciples, "He that reapeth, receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal."
Work for the souls of men, is undoubtedly attended by great discouragements. The heart of natural man is very hard and unbelieving. The blindness of most men to their own lost condition and peril of ruin, is something past description. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." (Romans 8:7.) No one can have any just idea of the desperate hardness of men and women, until he has tried to do good. No one can have any conception of the small number of those who repent and believe, until he has personally endeavored to "save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22.) To suppose that everybody will become a true Christian, who is told about Christ, and entreated to believe, is mere childish ignorance. "Few there be that find the narrow way"! The laborer for Christ will find the vast majority of those among whom he labors, unbelieving and impenitent, in spite of all that he can do. "The many" will not turn to Christ. These are discouraging facts. But they are facts, and facts that ought to be known.
The true antidote against despondency in God’s work, is an abiding recollection of such promises as that before us. There are "wages" laid up for faithful reapers. They shall receive a reward at the last day, far exceeding anything they have done for Christ,—a reward proportioned not to their success, but to the quantity of their work. They are gathering "fruit," which shall endure when this world has passed away,—fruit, in some souls saved, if many will not believe, and fruit in evidences of their own faithfulness, to be brought out before assembled worlds. Do our hands ever hang down, and our knees wax faint? Do we feel disposed to say, "my labor is in vain and my words without profit"? Let us lean back at such seasons on this glorious promise. There are "wages" yet to be paid. There is "fruit" yet to be exhibited. "We are a sweet savor of Christ, both in them that are saved and in them that perish." (2 Corinthians 2:15.) Let us work on. "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." (Psalms 126:6.) One single soul saved, shall outlive and outweigh all the kingdoms of the world.
We have, lastly, in these verses, a most teaching instance of the variety of ways by which men are led to believe Christ. We read that "many of the Samaritans believed on Christ for the saying of the woman." But this is not all. We read again, "Many more believed because of Christ’s own word." In short, some were converted through the means of the woman’s testimony, and some were converted by hearing Christ Himself.
The words of Paul should never be forgotten, "There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." (1 Corinthians 12:6.) The way in which the Spirit leads all God’s people is always one and the same. But the paths by which they are severally brought into that road are often widely different. There are some in whom the work of conversion is sudden and instantaneous. There are others in whom it goes on slowly, quietly, and by imperceptible degrees. Some have their hearts gently opened, like Lydia. Others are aroused by violent alarm, like the jailor at Philippi. All are finally brought to repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness of conversation. But all do not begin with the same experience. The weapon which carries conviction to one believer’s soul, is not the one which first pierces another. The arrows of the Holy Ghost are all drawn from the same quiver. But He uses sometimes one and sometimes another, according to His own sovereign will.
Are we converted ourselves? This is the one point to which our attention ought to be directed. Our experience may not tally with that of other believers. But that is not the question. Do we feel sin, hate it, and flee from it? Do we love Christ, and rest solely on Him for salvation? Are we bringing forth fruits of the Spirit in righteousness and true holiness? If these things are so we may thank God, and take courage.
v31.—[In the mean while.] This expression means "during the time when the Samaritans were coming out of the city to the well," between the time when the woman went her way, and the time when her fellow-countrymen, aroused by her testimony, appeared at the well. It is highly probable that they were already in sight.
[Prayed.] The Greek word so rendered is remarkable. It is frequently used to convey the idea of "asking, or making inquiry." It is a curious fact that it is not used in describing any person’s address to God in prayer, except in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ. (John 14:16; John 16:26; John 17:9, John 17:15, John 17:20.) There is one remarkable instance where it seems to be used in describing a believer’s prayer. (1 John 5:16.) But this instance stands so entirely alone that it is probable the meaning is not "pray," but "make curious inquiry."
[Master, eat.] The difference between our Lord and His disciples appears here in a striking manner. Their weak minds were preoccupied with the idea of food and bodily sustenance. His heart was filled with the great object of His ministry, "doing good to souls." It is a striking illustration of a difference that may frequently be seen between a believer of great grace and a believer of little grace. The latter, with the best possible intentions, will often attach an importance to bodily and temporal things, with which the strong believer will feel no sympathy.
v32.—[I have meat, &c.] The meaning of our Lord’s words in this verse must evidently be figurative. He had soul-nourishment and soul-sustenance of which His disciples were ignorant. He found such refreshment in doing good to ignorant souls that for the time present He did not feel bodily hunger.
There is no necessity for supposing that our Lord referred to any miraculous supply of His bodily wants in this place. His words appear to me only to indicate that He found such delight and comfort in doing good to souls, that it was as good as meat and drink to Him. Many of His holiest servants in every age, I believe, could testify much the same. The joy and happiness of spiritual success has for the time lifted them above all bodily wants, and supplied the place of material meat and drink. I see no reason why this may not have been the case with our Lord. He had a body in all respects constituted like our own.
The idea of some writers that these words show that our Lord’s "thirst" was only simulated and pretended, seems to me utterly unworthy of notice.
The application of the words which every believer ought to endeavour to make to himself, is familiar to every well-instructed Christian. He has supplies of spiritual nourishment and support, which are hidden and unknown to the world. These supplies he ought to use at all times, and specially in times of sorrow and trial.
v33.—[Therefore said...one to another, &c.] These words seem to have been spoken privately, or whispered one to another, by the disciples. Their inability to put any but a carnal sense on their Master’s words, has been already remarked. In slowness to see a spiritual sense in His language they do not appear at all unlike Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. "What wonder is it," says Augustine, "if the woman could not understand our Lord, speaking about living water, when the disciples could not understand Him speaking about meat?"
The original Greek of the expression "hath any man brought him ought to eat," is remarkable. There is a negative left out in our translation. It seems to show that the question of the woman, at verse 29, would have been better rendered, "Is this the Christ? Can this be the Christ?"
v34.—[Jesus saith, &c.] The leading idea of this verse is, "that doing God’s will, and finishing God’s work, was so soul-refreshing and pleasant to our Lord that He found it equivalent to meat and drink."
The Greek expression rendered "to do," and "to finish," would have been more literally rendered, "that I should do," and, "that I should finish." But there can be little doubt, as Winer remarks, that the language is intended to have an infinitive sense. Precisely the same construction is employed in another remarkable place, John 17:4. It seems matter of regret that our translators did not render that verse as they have rendered the verse before us. It should have been, "this is life eternal to know thee, &c."
The "will of God," which it was Christ’s meat to "do," must mean God’s will, that salvation by faith in a Saviour should be proclaimed, and a door of mercy set wide open to the chief of sinners. "It is my meat," says our Lord, "to do that will, and to proclaim to every one with whom I speak that whosoever believeth on the Son shall not perish." The view that it simply means, "my meat is to obey God’s commandments and do what He has told me to do," appears to me to fall short of the full meaning of the expression. The leading idea seems to me to be specially God’s will about proclaiming salvation by Christ. Compare John 6:39-40.
The "work of God," which it was Christ’s meat to "finish," must mean that work of complete fulfilment of a Saviour’s office which Christ came on earth to perform, and that obedience to God’s law which He came to render. "It is my meat," says our Lord, "to be daily doing that great work which I came into the world to do for man’s soul, to be daily preaching peace, and daily fulfilling all righteousness." Compare John 17:4.
The utter unlikeness between Christ and all ministers of the Gospel who perform their duties in a mere prefunctory way, and care more for the world, and its pleasures or gains, than for saving souls, is strikingly brought out in this and the preceding verse. How many professing teachers of religion know nothing whatever of the spirit and habits of mind which our Lord here displays! It can never be said of hunting, shooting, ball-going, card-playing, farming clergymen, that it is their meat and drink to do God’s will and finish His work! With what face will they meet Christ in the day of judgment?
Cyril says, on this verse, "We learn from hence how great is the love of God towards men. He calls the conversion of lost people His meat."
v35.—[Say not ye, &c.] This saying is interpreted in two different ways.
Some think, as Origen, Rupertus, Brentius, Beza, Jansenius, Cyril, Lightfoot, Lampe, Suicer, and many others, that our Lord really meant that there were four literal months to harvest, at the time when He spoke; and that as the harvest began about May, He spoke in February. The sense would then be, "Ye say at this time of the year that it will be harvest in four months. But I tell you there is a spiritual harvest already before you, if you will only lift up your eyes and see it."
Others think, as De Dieu, Maldonatus, Calovius, Whitby, Schottgen, Pearce, Tittman, Stier, Alford, Barnes, and Tholuck, that our Lord only meant that it was a proverbial saying among the Jews,—"four months between seed time and harvest," and that He did not mean the words to be literally taken. The sense would then be, "Ye have a common saying that it is four months from seed time to harvest. But I tell you that in spiritual works the harvest ripens far more quickly. Behold those Samaritans coming out already to hear the word, the very day that seed has been sown among them. The fields are already white for harvest."
Either of the above views make good sense and good divinity. Yet on the whole I prefer the second view, viz.: that our Lord quoted a proverb. To suppose that He really meant that there were literally four months to pass away before harvest, appears to me to involve serious chronological difficulties. It necessitates the assumption that at least three quarters of a year had passed away since the passover, when our Lord purified the temple. (John 2:15, John 2:23.) No doubt this possibly may have been the case. But it does not appear to me probable.—In addition we must remember that our Lord, on another occasion, referred to a proverbial saying about the weather, beginning much as He does here, "Ye say." Matthew 16:3. Moreover, in this very passage He quotes a proverb about "one sowing and another reaping," within two verses. The expression therefore, "say not ye," seems to me to point to a proverbial saying much more than to a fact. The antithesis to it is the "I say," which immediately follows.
Calvin says, "By this expression, do not ye say? Christ intended indirectly to point out how much more attentive the minds of men are to earthly than to heavenly things, for they burn with so intense a desire of harvest that they carefully reckon up months and days, while it is astonishing how drowsy and indolent they are in gathering the heavenly wheat."
Cornelius á Lapide conjectures that the disciples had been talking to one another about the prospects of harvest, as they came to the well, and that our Lord knowing the conversation, referred to it by the words, "do not ye say?"
[Lift up....eyes....look....fields....white....harvest.] There can be little doubt that this saying must be interpreted figuratively. The sense is, "There is a harvest of souls before you ready to be gathered in." The same figure is used elsewhere. (Matthew 9:37. Luke 10:2.)
Some think, as Chrysostom, that when our Lord said, "Behold....lift up your eyes...look," He spoke with especial reference to the crowd of Samaritans whom He saw coming from the city to the well. If this be so, it is hard to suppose that He first began conversation with the woman at six o’clock in the evening.
Others think, that our Lord spoke these words with reference to the whole world, and specially the Jewish nation, at the time of His ministry. They were so ready and prepared for the preaching of the Gospel, that they were like a field white for harvest. The expression, "lift up your eyes," is used elsewhere in Scripture, when mental attention is being called to something remarkable. See Isaiah 49:18; Isaiah 60:4; Genesis 13:14-15.
I am disposed to think that both views are correct. Our Lord wished His disciples to notice that both at Samaria and elsewhere the minds of men were everywhere ready to receive the message of the Gospel in an unusual degree. Let them mark how willing the multitude was everywhere to listen to the truth. Let them know that everywhere, as in the apparently hopeless field of Samaria, they would find a harvest of souls ready to be reaped, if only they would be reapers.
Chrysostom, on this verse, remarks, "Christ leads His disciples, as His custom is, from low things to high. Fields and harvests here express the great number of souls which are ready to receive the word. The eyes are both spiritual and bodily ones, for they saw a great multitude of Samaritans now approaching. This expectant crowd He calls, very suitably, white fields. For as the corn, when it grows white, is ready for harvest, so were those ready for salvation. But why does He not say all this in direct language? Because by making use of the objects around them He gave great vividness and power to His words, and also caused
His discourse to be more pleasant and sink deeper into their memories."
v36.—[He that reapeth, &c.] This verse seems to me to show that our Lord is speaking generally of the field of this world, and of the whole work which His apostles would have to do in it, not only in Samaria, but to the ends of the earth. The verse is a general promise for the encouragement of all labourers of Christ. The full meaning of it can hardly be brought out without a paraphrase. "The reaper of the spiritual harvest has a far more honourable and satisfactory office than the reaper of the natural harvest. He receives wages and gathers fruit not for this life only, but for the life to come. The wages that he receives are eternal wages, a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:4.) The fruit that he gathers is eternal fruit, souls plucked from destruction and saved for evermore." See Daniel 12:3; John 15:16, and 1 Corinthians 9:17.
Burkitt, and several other writers, call attention to the fact that the harvestman’s wages are much more than the wages of any other labourer, and hence draw the conclusion that no Christian will receive so glorious a reward as the man who labours to win souls to Christ.
[That both he...soweth...reapeth...rejoice together.] These words appear to me to refer to the common joy that there will be in heaven among all who have laboured for Christ, when the whole harvest of saved souls is finally gathered in. The Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist, who sowed, will all rejoice together with the apostles, who reaped.—The results of the spiritual harvest are not like those of the natural harvest, temporal, but eternal, so that a day will come when all who have laboured for it in any way, either by sowing or reaping, will sit down and rejoice together to all eternity. Here in this world the sower sometimes does not live to see the fruit of his labour, and the reaper who gathers in the harvest rejoices alone. But work done in the spiritual harvest is eternal work, and consequently both sowers and reapers are sure at last to "rejoice together," and to see the fruit of their toil.
Let it be noted, that in heaven there will at last be no jealousy and envy among Christ’s labourers. Some will have been sowers and some will have been reapers. But all will have done that part of the work allotted to them, and all will finally "rejoice together." Envious feelings will be absorbed in common joy.
Let it be noted, that in doing work for Christ, and labouring for souls, there are sowers as well as reapers. The work of the reaper makes far more show than the work of the sower. Yet it is perfectly clear that if there was no sowing there would be no reaping. It is of great importance to remember this. The Church is often disposed to give an excessive honour to Christ’s reapers, and to overlook the labours of Christ’s sowers.
v37.—[Herein....that saying true, &c. &c.] Our Lord here quotes a proverbial saying, which appears to me to confirm the view I have already maintained, that the expression of the 35th verse, "Say not ye there are yet four months," &c., refers to a proverb.
The phrase "herein" means literally, "in this," and seems to me to refer to the verse which immediately follows. "That common saying, one soweth and another reapeth, is made good in this way,—is fulfilled by this circumstance,—is verified in the following manner, viz., I sent you to reap," &c.
The meaning of the proverb is plain. "It is a common saying among men that it often falls to one to sow the field and to another to reap it. The sower and the reaper are not always the same person."
The frequent use of proverbial sayings in the New Testament deserves notice. It shows the value of proverbs, and the importance of teaching them to children and young people. A pointed proverb is often remembered when a long moral lesson is forgotten.
v38.—[I sent you to reap, &c.] Our Lord here states the manner in which the proverbial saying of the preceding verse is true. He tells the apostles that they were sent to reap a spiritual harvest on which they had bestowed no labour. Other men had laboured, viz., the prophets of the Old Testament and John the Baptist. They had broken up the ground. They had sown the seed. The result of their labour was that the minds of men in the apostles’ times were prepared to expect the Messiah, and the apostles had only to go forth and proclaim the glad tidings that Messiah was come.
Pearce maintains the strange notion that our Lord, in this verse, only means, "I sent you away into the city to buy meat. While you were absent I sowed spiritual seed in the heart of a Samaritan woman. She is now gone to call others. These and many more will be the harvest which you will reap, without having bestowed any labour on it." This interpretation seems to me quite untenable.
The past tense in this verse, "I have sent," is used, as a grammarian would say, proleptically. It means, "I do send you." Such a use of the past tense is common in Scripture, and especially when God speaks of a thing about to be done. With God there is no uncertainty. When He undertakes a thing, it may be regarded as done and finished, because in His counsels it is certain to be finished. Our Lord’s meaning is, "I send you throughout Samaria, Galilee, and Judæa, to reap the fruit of the labours of the prophets and John the Baptist. They have sowed, and you have now only to reap."
Some think, as Stier and Alford, that when our Lord said, "other men have laboured," He referred rather to Himself than to the prophets. I am unable to see this. It appears to me a forced and unnatural interpretation. I hold decidedly with Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact, Calvin, Zwingle, Melancthon, Brentius, Lampe, and Poole, that it applies principally to the law and prophets.—"If the prophets were not the sowers," saith Augustine, "whence had that saying come to the woman, I know that Messias cometh?"—Origen says, "Did not Moses and Elias, the sowers, rejoice with the reapers, Peter, James, and John, when they saw the glory of the Son of God at the transfiguration?"
Theophylact sees in this verse a strong argument against the heretical view of the Marcionites, Manichees, and others, that the New Testament is contrary to the Old. Here the prophets and apostles are spoken of together as labourers under one common Master, in one common field.
The idea propounded by Bucer, that our Lord alludes here to the heathen philosophers as well as the prophets, seems to me unwarrantable and unsafe.
[Considering what follows, could it be that in the immediate situation, our Lord was referring to the Samaritan woman as "the sower", and that He and the disciples would become "reapers" during the following two-day period? She had "sown" when she returned to the city, but, as the Samaritans themselves testify, they were not "reaped" until the days that followed: "Many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard [him] ourselves." See 1 Corinthians 3:6-9.]
v39.—[Many....Samaritans....believed.] About the exact nature of the belief mentioned here and in the 41st verse, we have no materials for forming an opinion. Whether it was only an intellectual belief that Christ was the Messiah, or whether it was that true faith of the heart which justifies a sinner before God, we are left to conjecture. The more probable opinion appears to be that it was true faith, though very weak and unintelligent, like that of the apostles themselves. It is a strong confirmation of this view, that when Philip, after the day of Pentecost, went down to Samaria and preached Christ, his preaching was received with joy, and many were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:5-12.) The Gospel was received without prejudice, and embraced at once as an acknowledged truth.
[For....saying....woman... testified, &c.] These words show the importance of merely human testimony to Christ’s Gospel. The word of one weak woman was made the instrumental means of belief to many souls. There was nothing remarkable in the woman’s word. It contained no elaborate reasoning, and no striking eloquence. It was only a hearty, earnest testimony of a believing heart. Yet God was pleased to use it to the conversion of souls. We must never despise the use of means. If the woman had not spoken, the Samaritans would not have been converted.—Above all, we must never despise means because of their apparent weakness, feebleness, and inaptness to do good. God can make the weakest instruments powerful to pull down the strongholds of sin and Satan, just as He made David’s sling and stone prevail over Goliath.
Theophylact points out that the Samaritan woman’s past wicked life was well known to her fellow-citizens, and that their attention must have been aroused by her publicly proclaiming that she had found One who knew her former life, although a stranger. They rightly concluded that He must be no common person.
Melancthon remarks that the belief which resulted from the testimony of a woman in this case, is a clear proof that it is not absolutely necessary to have regular ministerial orders, in order to do good to souls, and that episcopal orders are not absolutely needful in order to give effect to the word when spoken.
v40.—[So when...Samaritans...come...besought...tarry, &c.] The desire of the Samaritans for instruction is shown in this verse, and the willingness of Christ to assist inquirers is strikingly exhibited. He waits to be entreated. If we have Him not abiding with us, it is because we do not ask Him. The two disciples journeying to Emmaus would have missed a great privilege if they had not said, "Abide with us." (Luke 24:29.)
Ferus on this verse remarks the wide difference between the Samaritans and the Gergesenes. The Gergesenes prayed our Lord to "depart" from them, the Samaritans to "tarry " with them. (Matthew 8:34.)
[He abode...two days.] We can only suppose that these two days were spent in teaching and preaching the Gospel. One would like to know all that was thought and said in those two days. But it is an instance of the occasional "silences" of Scripture, which every attentive Bible-reader must have noticed. The first thirty years of our Lord’s life at Nazareth,—the way in which Paul spent his time in Arabia,—and his employment during his two years’ imprisonment in Cæsarea, are similar silences. (Galatians 1:17; Acts 24:27.)
It is an interesting fact which has been observed by some writers, that at this very day, Nablous and its neighbourhood, occupying the site of Samaria and Sychar, are in a more flourishing and prosperous condition than almost any place in Palestine. While Capernaum, and Chorazin, and Bethsaida, which rejected Christ, have almost entirely passed away, Samaria, which believed and received Him, flourishes still.
v41.—[Many more believed....own word.] This verse shows the sovereignty of God in saving souls. One is called in one way and another in another. Some Samaritans believed when they heard the woman testify. Others did not believe till they heard Christ Himself.—We must be careful that we do not bind down the Holy Ghost to one mode of operation. The experience of saved souls often differs widely. If people are brought to repentance and faith in Christ, we must not be stumbled because they are not all brought in the same way.
Olshausen remarks on this verse, "Here is a rare instance in which the ministry of the Lord produced an awakening on a large scale. Ordinarily we find that a few individuals only were aroused by Him, and that these, like grains of seed, scattered here and there, became the germs of a new and higher order of things among the people at large."
v42.—[Now we believe....not....thy saying.] The Greek words so rendered would be translated more literally, "Not any longer because of thy saying do we believe."
Calvin thinks that the Greek word here rendered "saying," means literally, "talk or talkativeness," and that "the Samaritans appear to boast that they have now a stronger foundation than a woman’s tongue." In the only other three places where it is used, it is translated "speech." (Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70; John 8:43.)
[This indeed....Christ....Saviour....world.] The Greek words so rendered would be translated more literally, "This is the Saviour of the world, the Christ."
The singular fulness of the confession made by these Samaritans deserves special notice. A more full declaration of our Lord’s office as "Saviour of the world" is nowhere to be found in the Gospels. Whether the Samaritans clearly understood what they meant when they spoke of our Lord as "the Saviour," may be reasonably doubted. But that they saw with peculiar clearness a truth which the Jews were specially backward in seeing, that He had come to be a Redeemer for all mankind, and not for the "Jews" only, seems evident from the expression "the world." That such a testimony should have been borne to Christ, by a mixed race, of semi-heathen origin, like the Samaritans, and not by the Jews, is a remarkable instance of the grace of God.
The inference drawn by Calvin from this verse, that "within two days the sense of the Gospel was more plainly taught by Christ at Samaria than he had hitherto taught it at Jerusalem," seems both unwarrantable and needless. Ought we not rather to fix our eyes on the difference between the Jews and Samaritans? Christ’s teaching was the same, but the hearts of His hearers were widely different. The Jews were hardened. The Samaritans believed.
Chemnitius, on this verse, thinks that an emphasis is meant to he laid on the Greek word rendered "indeed." Literally it is "truly." He thinks it was used of our Lord in contradistinction to the false Christs and Messiahs who had appeared before Him, as well as to the typical Messiahs and Saviours, such as the Judges.
In leaving the passage we may well wonder that so many "Samaritans" should at once have believed on our Lord, when so few "Jews" ever believed. Our wonder may well be increased, when we consider that our Lord worked no miracle on this occasion, and that the word was the only instrument used to open the Samaritans’ hearts.—We see, for one thing, the entire sovereignty of the grace of God. The last are often first and the first last. The most ignorant and unenlightened believe and are saved, while the most learned and enlightened continue unbelieving and are lost.—We see, for another thing, that it is not miracles and privileges, but grace, which converts souls. The Jews saw scores of mighty miracles worked by our Lord, and heard Him preach for weeks and months, and yet with a few rare exceptions remained impenitent and hardened. The Samaritans saw no miracles worked at all, and only had our Lord among them for two days, and yet many of them believed. If ever there was clear proof that the grace of the Holy Spirit is the chief thing needed in order to procure the conversion of souls, we have it in the verses we are now leaving.
The allegorical and typical meanings which some writers assign to the Samaritan woman and her history, as related in this chapter, are hardly worth recounting. Some regard the woman as a type of the Jewish synagogue, slavishly bound to the five books of the law, and drawn finally by Christ to drink the living water of the Gospel.—Some regard the woman as a type of the Gentile nations, for five thousand years committing fornication with heathen idols, and at length purged by Christ, and casting away their empty water-pots in obedience to Christianity.—Some go even further, and regard the woman as a prophetical type of things yet to come. They consider her as a type of the Greek Church, which is yet to be brought into the true faith of Christ! These views appear to me at best only fanciful speculations, and more likely to do harm than good, by drawing men away from the plain practical lessons which the passage contains.
FOUR great lessons stand out boldly on the face of this passage. Let us fix them in our memories, and use them continually as we journey through life.
We learn, firstly, that the rich have afflictions as well as the poor. We read of a nobleman in deep anxiety because his son was sick. We need not doubt that every means of restoration was used that money could procure. But money is not almighty. The sickness increased, and the nobleman’s son lay at the point of death.
The lesson is one which needs to be constantly impressed on the minds of men. There is no more common, or more mischievous error, than to suppose that the rich have no cares. The rich are as liable to sickness as the poor; and have a hundred anxieties beside, of which the poor know nothing at all. Silks and satins often cover very heavy hearts. The dwellers in palaces often sleep more uneasily than the dwellers in cottages. Gold and silver can lift no man beyond the reach of trouble. They may shut out debt and rags, but they cannot shut out care, disease, and death. The higher the tree, the more it is shaken by storms. The broader its branches, the greater is the mark which it exposes to the tempest. David was a happier man when he kept his father’s sheep at Bethlehem, than when he dwelt as a king at Jerusalem, and governed the twelve tribes of Israel.
Let the servant of Christ beware of desiring riches. They are certain cares, and uncertain comforts. Let him pray for the rich, and not envy them. How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God! Above all, let him learn to be content with such things as he has. He only is truly rich, who has treasure in heaven.
We learn, secondly, in this passage, that sickness and death come to the young as well as to the old. We read of a son sick unto death, and a father in trouble about him. We see the natural order of things inverted. The elder is obliged to minister to the younger, and not the younger to the elder. The child draws nigh to the grave before the parent, and not the parent before the child.
The lesson is one which we are all slow to learn. We are apt to shut our eyes to plain facts, and to speak and act, as if young people, as a matter of course, never died when young. And yet the grave-stones in every churchyard would tell us, that few people out of a hundred ever live to be fifty years old, while many never grow up to man’s estate at all. The first grave that ever was dug on this earth, was that of a young man. The first person who ever died, was not a father but a son. Aaron lost two sons at a stroke. David, the man after God’s own heart, lived long enough to see three children buried. Job was deprived of all his children in one day. These things were carefully recorded for our learning.
He that is wise, will never reckon confidently on life. We never know what a day may bring forth. The strongest and fairest are often cut down and hurried away in a few hours, while the old and feeble linger on for many years. The only true wisdom is to be always prepared to meet God, to put nothing off which concerns eternity, and to live like men ready to depart at any moment. So living, it matters little whether we die young or old. Joined to the Lord Jesus, we are safe in any event.
We learn, thirdly, from this passage, what benefits affliction can confer on the soul. We read, that anxiety about a son led the nobleman to Christ, in order to obtain help in time of need. Once brought into Christ’s company, he learned a lesson of priceless value. In the end, "he believed, and his whole house." All this, be it remembered, hinged upon the son’s sickness. If the nobleman’s son had never been ill, his father might have lived and died in his sins.
Affliction is one of God’s medicines. By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world, which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater. Prosperity and worldly comfort, are what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us, if they lead us to Christ. Thousands at the last day, will testify with David, and the nobleman before us, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." (Psalms 119:71.)
Let us beware of murmuring in the time of trouble. Let us settle it firmly in our minds, that there is a meaning, a needs-be, and a message from God, in every sorrow that falls upon us. There are no lessons so useful as those learned in the school of affliction. There is no commentary that opens up the Bible so much as sickness and sorrow. "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit." (Hebrews 12:11.) The resurrection morning will prove, that many of the losses of God’s people were in reality eternal gains.
We learn, lastly, from this passage, that Christ’s word is as good as Christ’s presence. We read, that Jesus did not come down to Capernaum to see the sick young man, but only spoke the word, "Thy son liveth." Almighty power went with that little sentence. That very hour the patient began to amend. Christ only spoke, and the cure was done. Christ only commanded, and the deadly disease stood fast.
The fact before us is singularly full of comfort. It gives enormous value to every promise of mercy, grace, and peace, which ever fell from Christ’s lips. He that by faith has laid hold on some word of Christ, has got his feet upon a rock. What Christ has said, He is able to do; and what He has undertaken, He will never fail to make good. The sinner who has really reposed his soul on the word of the Lord Jesus, is safe to all eternity. He could not be safer, if he saw the book of life, and his own name written in it. If Christ has said, "Him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out," and our hearts can testify, "I have come," we need not doubt that we are saved. In the things of this world, we say that seeing is believing. But in the things of the Gospel, believing is as good as seeing. Christ’s word is as good as man’s deed. He of whom Jesus says in the Gospel, "He liveth," is alive for evermore, and shall never die.
And now let us remember that afflictions, like that of the nobleman, are very common. They will probably come to our door one day. Have we known anything of bearing affliction? Would we know where to turn for help and comfort when our time comes? Let us fill our minds and memories betimes with Christ’s words. They are not the words of man only, but of God. The words that he speaks are spirit and life. (John 6:63.)
v43.—[After two days.] The Greek words here would be more literally rendered, "After the two days," i. e., after the two days mentioned in the preceding verse.
[Departed thence.] Quesnel remarks, "It is an instance of self-denial which is very uncommon, to leave those who respect and applaud us, that we may go to preach among others from whom we have reason to expect a quite different treatment."
v44.—[For Jesus himself testified....his own country.] This verse has much perplexed commentators. What is meant by the expression, "His own country"? If it means Galilee, as most suppose, how are we to reconcile it with the words which follow, "the Galileans received him"?—And again, what is the connection between the verse before us and the one which precedes it? Why should our Lord go into Galilee, when it was a place where He had no honour? And finally, how are we to reconcile the statement that our Lord had no "honour" in Galilee with the undeniable fact that nearly all His disciples and adherents were Galileans? All these points have given rise to much speculation and conjecture.
(a.) Some, as Origen and Maldonatus, get over the difficulty in the following manner. They say that the words, "His own country," must mean Judæa, and Bethlehem, where Christ was born. The sense will then be, "after two days Jesus departed from Samaria, and went into Galilee, and not into Judæa, because in Judæa He received no honour, and was not believed." This solution seems to me unnatural and unsatisfactory. Our Lord’s going to Galilee was a premeditated journey, and not a sudden plan decided on during His stay at Samaria. Beside this, there is no proof whatever that our Lord was not received and believed in Judæa. On the contrary, He "made and baptized" so many disciples in Judæa, that it attracted the notice of the Pharisees, and made it necessary for Him to "depart into Galilee."
(b.) Augustine holds that "His own country" means Galilee, and seems to attach the following sense to the verse, "And yet Jesus testified that a prophet hath no honour in his own country, for when he came into Galilee no one believed on Him, except the nobleman and his house." This appears to me a far-fetched and unnatural interpretation. Tittman and Bloomfield take much the same view, and render it, "Although Jesus had testified," &c.
(c.) Chrysostom and Euthymius think that "His own country" means Capernaum. This interpretation also seems to me improbable. We find Capernaum elsewhere called our Lord’s "own city," but nowhere else "His own country." (See Matthew 9:1.)
(d.) Theophylact suggests that the verse before us is inserted in order to explain "why our Lord did not always abide and continue in Galilee, but only came there at intervals. The reason was that He received no honour there." This also seems to me an unsatisfactory interpretation.
(e.) Alford says, "The only true and simple view is, that this verse refers to the next following, and indeed to the whole narrative which it introduces. It stands as a preliminary explanation of ’Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe,’ and indicates the contrast between the Samaritans, who believed on Him for His own word, and His own countrymen, who only received Him because they had seen the miracles which He did at Jerusalem." This view of the text seems to me as far-fetched and unsatisfactory as any of those I have mentioned. Moreover I doubt much whether the Greek word rendered "for," is ever used in the sense Alford puts on it, in the New Testament.
(f.) The following explanation appears to me by far the most probable one. The words, "His own country," mean neither Galilee nor Judæa, but "Nazareth." The sense is, "Jesus departed from Samaria into Galilee, but not to His own country Nazareth, because He testified, both now and on other occasions, that a prophet has no honour in his own country."—In confirmation of the view I have maintained, it deserves notice, that in the six places where the Greek word here rendered "country" is found in the Gospels, beside the one before us, it always means the town of Nazareth, and not the district in which Nazareth is situated. (Matthew 13:54, Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:1, Mark 6:4; Luke 4:23-24.) The view I have supported is that of Cyril, Calvin, Calovius, Lampe, Poole, De Dieu, Pearce, Doddridge, Dyke, and Olshausen.
Our Lord’s use of a proverb in this verse is again worthy of notice. It is another proof of the value of proverbial sayings.
The lesson of the proverb is a very instructive one. It is one of the most melancholy proofs of man’s fallen and corrupt state, that he never values what he is familiar with, and that familiarity breeds contempt. Ministers of the Gospel discover this by painful experience, when they have resided many years in the same parish, and ministered long in the same congregation. Those who have the most abundant supply of Gospel privileges are often the people who value them least. "The nearer the church the further from God," is often found to be literally true. Those who live furthest off, and are obliged to deny themselves most in order to hear the Gospel, are often the very persons who take most pains to hear it.
One grain of comfort, however, may be extracted from this painful verse. A minister must not despair, and accuse himself of unfaithfulness, because the Gospel he preaches is not honoured in his own congregation, and many remain hardened and unbelieving, after he has preached to them many years. Let him remember that he is sharing his Master’s lot. He is drinking the very cup of which Christ drank. Christ had no honour in Nazareth, and faithful ministers have often less honour among their own people than they have elsewhere.
Pelican thinks that our Lord "testified" the truth contained in this verse in reply to some one who asked Him why He did not go to Nazareth. I prefer the opinion that it simply means our Lord "always did testify, and made a practice of testifying."
v45.—[Galilæans received him.] The word "received" probably means no more than that they "received Him with respect and reverence," as One who was no common person. There is no warrant for supposing that they all received Him with true faith, and experimentally believed on Him as the Saviour of their souls.
[Having seen....things....Jerusalem....feast.] This expression confirms the view already maintained (John 2:23,) that our Lord did many other miracles at Jerusalem at the first passover, when He was there, beside casting the buyers and sellers out of the temple. It is probable that the miracles recorded in the four Gospels are only a selection out of the number that Christ worked.
Here, as elsewhere, we see the special use of miracles. They served to arrest men’s attention, and gave the impression that He who wrought them deserved a hearing. The Galileans were ready to receive Christ respectfully, because they had seen His miracles.
[They also went....feast.] This sentence is a useful proof of the universality of the Jewish custom of attending the great feasts at Jerusalem, and especially the feast of the Passover. Even those who lived furthest off from Jerusalem, in Galilee, made a point of going to the Passover. It serves to show the publicity of our Lord’s ministry, both in life and death. When He was crucified at the Passover, the event happened in the presence of myriads of witnesses from every part of the world. The overruling providence of God ordered things so that the facts of Christ’s life and death could never be denied. "This thing was not done in a corner." (Acts 26:26.)
v46.—[Jesus came again....Cana.] The circumstance of our Lord going twice to Cana may be accounted for by remembering the fact that one of His disciples, "Nathanael," belonged to Cana, and that His mother, Mary, in all probability had relatives there. (See note on John 2:1.)
[A certain nobleman.] The Greek word rendered "nobleman" is only found here in this sense, as a substantive, in the New Testament. The marginal reading, "courtier or ruler," hardly makes it more clear. Some have conjectured that the nobleman must have been some one attached to Herod’s court, and is therefore called "a royal person," which is the literal meaning of the word. Some, as Luther, Chemnitius, Lightfoot, and Pearce, have also conjectured that "Chuza, Herod’s steward," whose wife Joanna became one of our Lord’s disciples, and "ministered unto Him," (Luke 8:3,) must have been this nobleman. This is no doubt possible, and would be an interesting fact if it could be proved. But there is no authority for it, except conjecture. Lightfoot adds a conjecture, that if not Chuza it might have been Manaen. (Acts 13:1.)
The rarity of a nobleman and a person connected with a royal court seeking Christ under any circumstances, is observed by Glassius and others. It shows us that Christ will have trophies of the power of His grace out of every rank, class, and condition.
In the first chapter of John’s Gospel we see fishermen converted; in the third, a self-righteous Pharisee; in the beginning of the fourth, a fallen Samaritan woman; and in the end, a nobleman out of a king’s court.
Pearce thinks that the nobleman was one of the class called Herodians. (Matthew 22:16.)
[Son was sick at Capernaum.] We should always notice the number and greatness of miracles which our Lord worked at Capernaum, and the dignity of the persons at whose instance they were worked. Here He healed the Centurion’s servant. (Matthew 8:5.) Here, in all probability, He restored to life the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. (Mark 5:22.) And here, in the present instance, He healed the nobleman’s son. Three distinct and leading classes had, each of them, a mighty miracle wrought among them. The Centurion was a Gentile soldier. The ruler of the synagogue was a Jew of high ecclesiastical position. The nobleman was connected with the highest civil authorities. The consequence no doubt was that the name and power of Christ became known to every leading family in Capernaum. No wonder that our Lord says, "Thou Capernaum that art exalted unto heaven." (Matthew 11:23.) No place was so privileged as this city.
The idea entertained by some that this "nobleman" was the same as the Centurion in Matthew 8:5, and that the miracle here recorded is only the same miracle differently reported, seems to me entirely destitute of foundation. The details of the two miracles are entirely different. The miracle before us is nowhere else reported in the Gospels.
v47.—[Heard that Jesus was come, &c.] This verse shows how widely spread was the fame of the miracle wrought at Cana upon the occasion of our Lord’s former visit, and how great was the report of our Lord’s miracles at Jerusalem, brought back by the Galileans who went to the feast. In no other way can we account for the nobleman going to our Lord and beseeching Him to come and heal his son. Our Lord must have got the reputation of being One who was both able and willing to work such cures.
Musculus remarks on this verse, how much more love descends than ascends. In all the Gospels we never read of any sons or daughters coming to Christ on behalf of their parents.
Dyke observes, "Some crosses drive men to Christ, especially in our children. This was the cross that subdued Egypt: and to great men, such as this ruler, who have much to leave their children, this cross is the greatest."
v48.—[Then said Jesus, Except ye see, &c.] Our Lord in this verse appears to refer to the common desire expressed by the Jews to see miracles and signs, as a proof of His Messiahship. "Cannot you believe unless you actually see with your own eyes a miracle worked? Is your faith so small, that except you see something you cannot believe?"—No doubt our Lord knew the heart of the man before Him. He wished to test his faith, and to draw out from him more earnest desires after the mercy that he wanted. The resemblance between our Lord’s first answer to the nobleman and His first answer to the woman of Canaan, who came to Him about her daughter, deserve comparison. (Matthew 15:24.)
Chrysostom remarks, "Christ’s meaning is, Ye have not yet the right faith, but still feel towards me as only a prophet. He rebuketh the state of mind with which the nobleman had come to Him, because that before a miracle he believed not strongly. Thus too He drew him on the more to belief.—That the nobleman came and entreated was nothing wonderful, for parents in their great affection are wont to resort to, and talk with physicians. But that he came without any strong purpose appears from this, that he only came to Christ when Christ came into Galilee, whereas, if he had firmly believed, he would not have hesitated, when his child was at the point of death, to go into Judæa."
Glassius thinks that our Lord, in these words, intends to contrast the faith of the Samaritans with the unbelief of the Galileans. The Samaritans believed without having seen any signs or wonders at all.
Chemnitius thinks that our Lord, in this verse, spoke with special reference to the state of mind in which He found the inhabitants of Cana upon His second visit. He thinks that He found them aroused to a state of expectation and curiosity, by His miracle of changing water into wine, but still destitute of any real saving faith.
Poole compares the nobleman to Naaman, who had faith enough to come to Elisha’s door to be healed of his leprosy, but was stumbled because Elisha did not put his hand on the diseased place, but only sent him a message. (2 Kings 5:11.)
v49.—[The nobleman saith, etc.] This verse shows the earnestness of the nobleman’s desire for relief, quickened and sharpened by the apparent rebuff contained in our Lord’s reply to his first application. Yet it was a saying exhibiting much ignorance. It is clear that he did not discover what our Lord hinted at, that possibly he might be helped without His coming down to see his sick son. He neither denies the truth of our Lord’s words, nor enters into argument. He only knew that he felt in grievous distress, and begged our Lord to "come down ere his child died." That our Lord could heal him he did not doubt. But that He could heal him at a distance, without even seeing him, was something that he could not yet understand.
Chrysostom says, "Observe how these very words show the weakness of the man. When he ought, after Christ had rebuked his state of mind, to have imagined something great concerning Him, even if he did not before, listen how he drags along the ground! He speaks as though Christ could not raise his son after death, and as though He knew not in what state the child was."
Brentius remarks that the nobleman did not bring to Christ faith, but merely a spark of faith.
v50.—[Jesus saith unto him, &c.] Three things are very deserving of notice in this verse. (a.) We should observe our Lord’s marvelous kindness and compassion. He takes no notice of the nobleman’s weak faith and slowness of understanding. He freely grants his request, and gives his son life and health without delay. (b.) We should observe our Lord’s almighty power. He simply speaks the words, "Thy son liveth," and at once a sick person, at several miles’ distance, is cured and made well. He spake and it was done. (c.) We should observe, not least, the unhesitating confidence which the nobleman reposed in our Lord’s power. He asked no more questions after he heard the words, "Thy son liveth." At once he believed that all would be well, and went his way.
Cyril observes on this verse, that our Lord here healed two persons at one time by the same words, "He brought the nobleman’s mind to faith, and delivered the body of the young man from disease."
Chrysostom remarks, "What can be the reason why in the case of the Centurion Christ undertook voluntarily to come and heal, while here, though invited, he came not? Because in the case of the Centurion faith had been perfected, and therefore He undertook to go, that we might learn the right-mindedness of the man; but here the nobleman was imperfect. When therefore he continually urged Him, saying, Come down, and knew not clearly that even when absent He could heal, He showeth that even this was possible unto Him, in order that this man might gain, from His not going, that knowledge which the Centurion had of himself."
Bishop Hall observes, "The ruler’s request was, Come and heal. Christ’s answer was, ’Go thy way: thy son liveth.’ Our merciful Saviour meets those in the end whom He crosses in the way. How sweetly doth He correct our prayers; and while He doth not give us what we asked, gives us better than we asked."
v51.—[As he was going down.] The relative positions of Cana and Capernaum are not precisely known at the present day. The exact site of Capernaum is matter of dispute among travelers and geographers. All we can glean from the expression before us is, that Cana was probably in the hill country, and Capernaum on the lake of Galilee. Hence a person leaving Cana for Capernaum would "go down."
[Thy son liveth.] The meaning of this expression must evidently be, "Thy son is so much better, that he is comparatively alive from the dead. He was as one dead. He is now alive."
v52.—[Then inquired he the hour.] This man’s mind seems at once to have laid hold on the nature of the miracle, and to have acknowledged the power of Christ’s word.
[He began to amend.] The Greek expression so rendered is a very peculiar one, and only found in this place. It is literally, "Had himself better, in more elegant order."—Let it be noted, that here, as elsewhere, we find an expression which is only used once in the New Testament. This shows that it is no valid argument against the inspiration of any text or passage, that it contains Greek expressions nowhere else used.
[Yesterday at the seventh hour.] This expression has been differently interpreted—according to the view which commentators take of John’s mode of reckoning time. Those who think that he numbered hours in the same way that we do, maintain that it means, "at seven o’clock in the evening." Those, on the contrary, who maintain that John observed the Jewish mode of computation, say that it means "at one o’clock in the afternoon."
I have already given it as my decided opinion, that John observes the Jewish mode of reckoning time; and I therefore hold with those who think, that "the seventh hour" means one o’clock. The arguments of those who say that, if it had been one o’clock, the nobleman would never have taken till the next day to reach home, appear to my mind quite inconclusive. For one thing, we know nothing accurately of the distance from Cana to Capernaum.—For another thing, we forget the slow rate at which people travel in Eastern countries, on bad roads, in a hilly country.—For another thing, it is entirely an assumption to suppose that the nobleman had nothing else to do at Cana, when he came to Jesus about his son. For anything we know, he had, as a nobleman, business of various kinds, which made it impossible for him to reach home in the afternoon after Jesus had said, "Thy son liveth."—Last, but not least, it seems hardly probable that the nobleman would have asked our Lord to come down to Capernaum at so late an hour as seven o’clock in the evening; or would have set off on his own return at that hour, and met his servants in the night.
[The fever left him.] Trench remarks, that the words seem to indicate, that there was not merely an abatement of the fever, but that it suddenly forsook him. Compare Luke 4:39.
v53.—[Himself believed.] Beda remarks, on the matter of the nobleman’s believing, that "there are three degrees of faith,—the beginning, the increase, and the perfection. There was a beginning in this man, when he first came to Christ; an increase, when our Lord told him that his son lived; and a perfection, when he found him to have recovered at that very time."
[His whole house.] This expression probably means, "his whole family,"—including children and servants. We have no right whatever to exclude children from the sense of the words. Remembering this, we shall better understand what is meant, when it is written, Paul baptized "the household of Stephanas:" or when it is related, that the house of Lydia was baptized. (1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 16:15.)
There seems no reason for doubting that the nobleman, from this time forth, became a thorough, true-hearted, believer in Christ. If, as some suppose, he is the same as Chuza, Herod’s steward, we may perhaps date the conversion of Joanna his wife, to the period of the verse now before us.
Bishop Hall remarks on this verse, "Great men cannot want clients. Their example sways some: their authority more. They cannot go to either of the other worlds alone. In vain do they pretend power over others, who labour not to draw their families to God."
v54.—[The second miracle that Jesus did.] The plain meaning of these words is, that our Lord had worked no other miracle in Galilee before this one, excepting that of turning the water into wine at Cana. It appears likely that many of our Lord’s earliest miracles were wrought in Judæa and Jerusalem; although we have no record of them, except in the second chapter of John’s Gospel. (John 2:23.) This fact is note-worthy, because it throws light on the wickedness of the Jews at Jerusalem, where at last Christ was condemned and crucified.
Chrysostom remarks, "The word ’second’ is not added without cause, but to exalt yet more the praises of the Samaritans, by showing that even when a second miracle had been wrought, they who beheld it had not yet reached so high as those who had not seen one."
Origen says, "Mystically the two journeys of Christ into Galilee signify His two advents. At the first He makes us His guests at supper, and gives us wine to drink. At the second He raises up the nobleman’s son at the point of death,—i. e., the Jewish people, who after the fulness of the Gentiles attain salvation. The sick son is the Jewish people fallen from the true religion.—This is patristic interpretation! Allegorical expositions like this destroy the whole value of God’s word. At this rate the Bible may be made to mean anything.
Chemnitius thinks, that with this chapter ends the first year of our Lord’s public ministry, and gives a useful summary of the principal events comprehended within it. These are the Lord’s baptism,—the calling of the first disciples,—the miracle at Cana,—the miracle of casting out of the temple the buyers and sellers,—the conversation with Nicodemus,—the tarrying in Judæa and baptizing,—the testimony of John the Baptist,—the journey through Samaria,—the arrival in Galilee,—and the healing of the nobleman’s son. Epiphanius, he observes, calls it the "acceptable year" of our Lord’s ministry, because it was the most quiet and peaceful.
Bengel, in closing this chapter, observes, that John seems to arrange our Lord’s miracles in threes. He relates three in Galilee,—the first at the marriage in Cana, the second on the nobleman’s son, the third in feeding five thousand men (John 6:1-71.);—three in Judæa,—the first at Bethesda at pentecost (ch. 5.), the second after the feast of tabernacles, on the blind man (ch. 9.), the third on Lazarus before the passover (ch. 11.).—So also after the ascension, he describes three appearances of our Lord to His disciples. (John 21:14.)
Dyke observes how God keeps account of all the gracious means He affords men for their good. "The second miracle is specified to aggravate the infidelity of the Jews; that though Christ had now done another and a second miracle, yet only the ruler and his household believed. Two miracles wrought, and one household converted! God takes account not only how many men are won by a sermon, (Acts 2:41,) but of how many sermons are lost by men."
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 4". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany