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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
John 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-16

Chapter 9

THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA.

“When therefore the Lord knew how that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples), He left Judæa, and departed again into Galilee. And He must needs pass through Samaria. So He cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph: and Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give Me to drink. For His disciples were gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore saith unto Him, How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto Him, Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast Thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life. The woman saith unto Him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw. Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”- John 4:1-16.

Jesus left Jerusalem because His miracles were attracting the wrong kind of people, and creating a misconception of the nature of His kingdom. He went into the rural districts, where He had simpler, less sophisticated persons to deal with. Here He gained many disciples, who accepted baptism in His name. But here again His very success endangered His attainment of His great end. The Pharisees, hearing of the numbers who flocked to His baptism, fomented a quarrel between His disciples and those of John; and would, moreover, have probably called Him to account for presuming to baptize at all. But why should He have feared a collision with the Pharisees? Why should He not have proclaimed Himself the Messiah? The reason is obvious. The people had not had sufficient opportunity to ascertain the character of His work; and only by going about among them could He impress upon susceptible spirits a true sense of the nature of the blessings He was willing to bestow. To the woman of Samaria He did not hesitate to proclaim Himself, because she was a simple-minded woman, who was in need of sympathy and spiritual strength. But from controversial Pharisees, who were prepared to settle His claims by one or two trifling theological tests, He withdrew. The time would come when, after conferring on many humble souls the blessings of the kingdom, He must publicly proclaim Himself King; but as yet that time had not arrived, and therefore He left Judæa for Galilee.

A line drawn from Jerusalem to Nazareth would pass through the entire breadth of Samaria, and quite close to the town of Sychar. Between Judæa, where Jesus was, and Galilee, where He wished to be, the province of Samaria intervened. It stretched right across from the sea to the Jordan, so that the Jews, who were too scrupulous to pass through Samaritan territory, were compelled to cross the Jordan twice, and make a considerable détour if they wished to go to Galilee. Our Lord had no such scruples; besides, the springs near Salim, where John was baptizing, were not far from Sychar, and He might wish to see John on His way north. He took, therefore, the great north road, and one day at noon(11) found Himself at Jacob’s well, where the road divides, and where, at any rate, it was natural that a tired traveller should rest during the mid-day hours. Jacob’s well is still extant, and is one of the few undisputed localities associated with our Lord’s life. Travellers of all shades of theological opinion and of no theological opinion are agreed that the deep well, now much choked with débris, lying twenty minutes east of Nablûs, is the veritable well on the stone rim of which our Lord sat. Ten minutes’ walk north of this well lies a village now called El-Askar, which represents in name and partly in locality the Sychar of the text. Partly in locality I say, for “Palestine was ten times as populous in the days of our Lord as it is at present;” and there is therefore good ground for the supposition that although now but a little village or hamlet, Sychar was then considerably larger, and extended nearer to the well. Coming, then, to this well, and being tired with the forenoon’s walk, our Lord sat down, while the disciples went forward to the town to buy bread.

And thus arose that conversation with the woman of Sychar, which has brought hope and comfort to many a thirsting and weary soul besides. That which struck the woman herself and the disciples is not that which is likely to impress us most distinctly. We all feel the unsurpassed delicacy and grace of the whole scene. No poet ever imagined a situation in which the free movements of human nature, the picturesqueness of outward circumstance, and the profoundest spiritual interests were so happily, easily, and effectively combined. Yet the chief thing which struck the woman herself and the disciples was the ease with which Jesus broke down the wall of partition which the hatred of centuries had erected between Jew and Samaritan.

To estimate aright the magnanimity and originality of our Lord’s action in making Himself and His salvation accessible to this woman, the marked separation that had hitherto existed must be borne in mind. The Samaritans were of heathen origin. In the Second Book of Kings, chap, xvii., we read that Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, pursuing the usual policy of his empire, carried the Israelites to Babylonia, and sent colonists from Babylonia to occupy their cities and land. These colonists found the country overrun by wild beasts, which had multiplied during the years of depopulation; and accepting this as proof that the God of the land was not pleased, they begged their monarch to send them an Israelitish priest, who would teach them the manner of the God of the land. Their application was granted, and an adulterated Judaism was grafted on their native religion. They accepted the five Books of Moses, and looked for a Messiah-as indeed they still do. The origin of their hatred of the Jews is told in Ezra. When the Jews returned from exile and began to rebuild the temple, the Samaritans begged to be allowed to share in the work. “Let us build with you,” they said, “for we seek your God as ye do; and we sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarbaddon.” But their request was bluntly refused; they were treated as heathens, who had no part in the religion of Israel. Hence the implacable religious enmity which for centuries manifested itself in all sorts of petty annoyances, and, when occasion offered, more serious injuries.

This Samaritan woman, then, was taken quite aback when the quiet figure on the well, which by dress and accent she had recognised as that of a Jew, uttered the simple request, “Give me to drink.” As any Samaritan would have done, she twitted the Jew with showing a frankness and friendliness which she supposed were wholly due to His own keen thirst and helplessness to quench it. But, to her still greater surprise, He does not wince before her thrust, nor awkwardly apologise, or seek to explain, but gravely and earnestly, and with dignity, utters the perplexing but thought-provoking words: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” He perceived the interest of the situation, saw with compassion her entire ignorance of the presence in which she stood, and of the possibilities within her reach. So do the most important issues often hinge on slight, trivial, every-day incidents. The turning-points in our career have often nothing to show that they are turning-points. We unconsciously determine our future, and bind ourselves with chains we can never break, by the way in which we deal with apparent trifles. We do not know the forces that lie hidden all around us; and for want of knowledge we miss a thousand opportunities. The sick man drags out a miserable existence, incapacitated and useless, while within his reach, but unrecognised, is a remedy which would give him health. It is often by a very little that the scientific or philosophical student fails to make the discovery he seeks; one more fact known, one idea fitted into its proper place, and the thing is done. The gold-digger throws aside his pick in despair at the very point where another stroke would have turned up the ore. So with some among ourselves; they pass through life alongside of that which would make all eternity different to them, and yet for lack of knowledge, for lack of consideration, the thin veil continues to hide from them their true blessedness. Like the crew that were perishing from thirst, though surrounded by the fresh waters of the River Amazon that penetrated far into the salt ocean, so we, surrounded on all hands by God and upheld by Him, and living in Him, yet do not know it, and refrain from dipping our buckets and drawing out of His life-giving fulness. How often, looking on those who, like this Samaritan woman, have gone wrong and know no recovery, who go through their daily duties sad and heavy at heart and weary of sin-how often do these words rise to our lips, “If only thou knewest.” How often does one long to be able to shed a sudden and universal light into the minds of men that would reveal to them the goodness, the power, the all-conquering love of God. Yes, and even in those who can speak intelligently of things Divine and eternal, how much blindness remains. For the knowledge of words is one thing, the knowledge of things, of realities, is another. And many who can speak of God’s love have never yet seen what that means for themselves. Certainly it is true of us all, that if we are not deriving from Christ what we recognise as living water, it is because there is a defect in our knowledge, because we do not know the gift of God.

In two particulars this woman’s knowledge was defective: she did not know the gift of God, nor who it was that spoke to her.

She did not know the gift of God. She was not expecting anything from that quarter. Her expectations were limited by her earthly condition and her physical wants. With affections worn out, with character gone, with no purifying joy, she came out listlessly day by day, filled her pitcher, and went her weary way. She had no thought of God’s gift, no belief that the Eternal was with her, and desired to communicate to her a spring of deep and ever-flowing joy. Doubtless she would have acknowledged God as the Giver of all good; but she had no idea of the completeness of His giving, of the freeness of His love, of His perception and understanding of our actual wants, of the joy with which He provides for them all. Through all ages and for all men there remains this gift of God, sought and found by those who know it; different from and superior to the best human gifts, inheritances, and acquisitions; not to be drawn out of the deepest, most cherished well of human sinking; steadily arrogating to itself an infinite superiority to all that men have regarded and busily sunk their pitchers in; a gift which each man must ask for himself, and having for himself knows to be the gift of God to him, the recognition by God of his personal wants, and the assurance to him of God’s everlasting regard. This gift of God, that carries to each soul the sense of His love, is His deliverance from evil. It is His answer to the misery and vanity of the world which He has resolved to redeem to worth and blessedness. It is all that is given in Christ, the hope, the holy impulses, the new views of life-but above all it is the means of conveyance that brings God to us, His love to our hearts.

What, then, can teach a man to know this gift? What can make a man for a while forget the lesser gifts that perish in the using? What can reasonably induce him to turn from the accredited sources round which men in all ages have crowded, what can induce him to forego fame, wealth, bodily comfort, domestic happiness, and seek first of all God’s righteousness? May we not all well pray with Paul, “that we may have not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God, that we may know the things that are freely given us of God;” that we may see the small value of wealth or power or any of those things which can be won by mere worldly prudence or greed; and may learn fixedly to believe that the things of true value are the internal, spiritual possessions, which the unsuccessful may have as well as the successful, and which are not so much won by us as given by God?

Jesus further describes this gift as “living water,” a description suggested by the circumstances, and only figurative. Yet it is a figure of the same kind as pervades all human language. Water is an essential of animal and vegetable life. With a constantly recurring appetite we seek it. To have no thirst is a symptom of disease or death. But the soul also, not having life in itself, needs to be sustained from without; and when in a healthy state it seeks by a natural appetite that which will sustain it. And as most of our mental acts are spoken of in terms of the body, as we speak of seeing truth and grasping it, as if the mind had hands and eyes, so David naturally exclaims, “My soul thirsts for the living God.” In the living soul there is a craving for that which maintains and revives its life, which is analogous to the thirst of the body for water. The dead alone feel no thirst for God. The soul that is alive sees for a moment the glory and liberty and joy of the life to which God calls us; it feels the attraction of a life of love, purity, and righteousness, but it seems continually to sink from this and to tend to become dull and feeble, and to have no joy in goodness. Just as the healthy body delights in work, but wearies and cannot go on exerting itself for many hours together, but must repair its strength, so the soul soon wearies and sinks back from what is difficult, and needs to be revived by its appropriate refreshment.

And this woman, if for a moment she felt as if Christ were playing with her or making her enigmatical offers that could never bring her any substantial good, was immediately made aware that He who made these offers had fully in view the harshest facts of her domestic life. Mystified, she is also attracted and expectant. She cannot mistake the sincerity of Jesus; and, scarcely knowing what she asks, and with her mind still running on relief from her daily drudgery, she says, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.” In prompt response to her faith Jesus says, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.” The water which He means to give cannot be given before thirst for it is awakened. And in order to awaken her thirst He turns her back upon the shameful wretchedness of her life, that she may forget the water of Jacob’s well in thirst for relief from shame and misery. In requiring her thus to face the facts of her guilty life, in encouraging her to bring clear before Him all her sinful entanglement, He responds to her request, and gives her the first draught of living water. For there is no abiding spiritual satisfaction which does not begin with a fair and frank consideration of our past, and which does not proceed upon the actual facts of our own life. If this woman is to enter into a hopeful and cleansed life, she must enter through confession of her need of cleansing. No one can slink out of his past life, forgetting or huddling up what is shameful. It is only through truth and straightforwardness we can enter into that life which is all truth and integrity. Before we drink the living water we must truly thirst for it.

If the inquiry be more closely pressed, and if it be asked what this Samaritan woman would find to be living water to her, what it was which, after Christ had gone, would daily renew in her the purpose to live a better life and to bear her burden cheerfully and hopefully, it will be seen that it must have been simply the remembrance of Christ; the knowledge that in Christ God had sought her, had claimed her in the midst of her evil life for some better and holier thing, had, in a word, loved her through all her sin, and sent deliverance to her. It is still, and always, this knowledge which comes with fresh exhilarating power to every disconsolate, despairing, fainting soul. The knowledge that there is One, the Holiest of all, who loves us, and who will be satisfied with nothing short of the purest blessedness for us; the knowledge that our God follows us, forgives us, elevates and purifies us by His love, this is living water to our souls; this revives us to the love of goodness, and braces us for all effort. It is not a little cistern that soon runs dry. To the end of a Christian’s life this fact of God’s love in Christ comes as fresh and as reviving to the soul as at first; to us this day it has the same power of supplying motive to our life as it had when Christ spoke to the woman.

He further defines the gift as “a well of water in the soul itself springing up to everlasting life.” This peculiarity of the water He would give was remarked upon here for the sake of contrasting it with the well outside the city to which the woman in all weathers had to repair; often wishing, no doubt, as she went out in the heat or in the rain, that she had a well at her door. The source of spiritual life is within; it cannot be inaccessible; it does not depend on anything from which we may be separated. And this is man’s victory and end when within himself he has the source of life and joy, so that he is independent of circumstances, of position, of things present and things to come. It was a commonplace even of heathen philosophy, that no man is happy until he is superior to fortune; that his happiness must have an inward source, must depend on his own spiritual state, and not on outward circumstances. Similarly Solomon thought it a saying worthy of preservation that “the good man is satisfied from himself;” that is, he shall not look to success in life, or to comfortable circumstances, or even to domestic happiness or the society of old friends, as a sure and unfailing source of joy; but shall be at bottom independent of everything save what he carries always and everywhere in himself. Nothing is more pitiable than the restlessness one sees in some people; how they can find nothing in themselves, but are ever going from place to place, from entertainment to entertainment, from friend to friend, seeking something to give them rest, and finding nothing, because they seek it without and not within. It is Christ dwelling in the heart by faith that is alone the fountain of living water. It is His inward presence, apprehended by faith, by imagination, by knowledge, that revives the soul continually. It is thus that God makes us partakers of the life that is only in Him, linking us to Himself by our will, by all that is deepest in us, and so producing true and lasting spiritual life.

The woman was blinded by her ignorance on a second point; she did not know who it was that said to her, “Give Me to drink.” Until we know Christ we cannot know God: it is to Christ we owe all our best thoughts about God. This woman, when she had met the absolute goodness and kindness of Christ, had for ever different thoughts of God. So as we look at Christ our thought of God expands, and we learn to expect substantial good from Him. Yet often, like this woman, we are in Christ’s presence without knowing it, and listen, like her, to His appeals without understanding the majesty of His person and the greatness of our opportunity. He does offer largely; He speaks as if He were perfect master of the human heart, knew its every experience, and could satisfy it. He speaks of the gift He has to bestow in terms which convict Him of silly and heartless extravagance if that gift be not perfect; He has, in plain words, misled and deceived a large part of mankind, and especially those who were well inclined and thirsting for righteousness, if He cannot perfectly satisfy the soul. He challenges men in the most grievous and undone conditions to come to Him; He calls them off from every other source and stay, and bids them trust to Him for everything. If a man expects to find in Him all that the human heart can contain of joy, and all that the human nature is susceptible of, he does not expect more than the explicit offers of Christ Himself warrant. Manifestly such offers are at least worth considering. May it not be true that if we were to awake to the knowledge of Christ, we might now find His pretensions to be well founded? He professes to bestow what is worth our immediate acceptance, His friendship, His Spirit. What if it should be now that He seeks to come to our heart with these words, “If thou knewest who it is that speaketh.” Yes, if but for one hour we saw God’s gift, and Him through whom He offers it, we should become the suppliants. Christ would no longer need to knock at our door; we should wait and knock at His.

For in truth it is always the same request He urges to all. In His words to the woman, “Give Me to drink,” there was more than the mere request that He would lift her pitcher to His lips. Driven from Judæa, wearied as much with the blindness of men as with His journey, He sat on the well. Everything He saw had that day some spiritual meaning for Him. The bread His disciples brought reminded Him of His true support, the consciousness that He was doing His Father’s will; the fields whitening for harvest suggested to Him the nations unconsciously ripening for the great Christian ingathering. And when He said to the woman, “Give Me to drink,” He thought of the intenser satisfaction she could give Him by confiding in Him and accepting His help. In her person there stands before Him a new, untried race. Oh that she may prove more accessible than the Jews, and may allay His thirst for the salvation of men! His parched tongue seems forgotten in the interest of His talk with her. And to which of us has He not in this sense said, “Give Me to drink”? Is it cruelty to refuse a cup of cold water to a thirsting child, and none to refuse to quench the thirst of Him who hung upon the cross for us? Ought we to feel no shame that the Lord is still in want of what we can give? This woman knew it was a real thirst which could induce a Jew to ask drink from her. Has He not sufficiently shown the reality of His thirst for our friendship and trust? Could it be a feigned desire that led Him to do all He has done? Are we never to have the joy of appropriating His love as spent upon us; are we never with humble ecstasy to exclaim:-

“Weary satst Thou seeking me, Diedst redeeming on the tree. Can in vain such labour be”?


Verses 17-26

Chapter 10

JESUS DECLARES HIMSELF.

“The woman answered and said unto Him, I have no husband. Jesus saith unto her, Thou saidst well, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: this hast thou said truly. The woman saith unto Him, Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father. Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know: for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. The woman saith unto Him, I know that Messiah cometh (which is called Christ): when He is come, He will declare unto us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He.”- John 4:17-26.

In this conversation at Jacob’s well the woman for some time, quite naturally, misses the point of what Jesus says. It does not occur to her that by “water” He means anything else than what she could carry in her pitcher. Even when He speaks of causing a well to spring up “within herself,” she still thinks merely of the domestic convenience of some such arrangement, and begs Him to give what would save Her the endless trouble of coming to draw water out of Jacob’s well. This simplicity has its good side, as also has her obvious confidence in His words. Jesus sees in this child-like simplicity and directness a much more hopeful soil for His message than He had found even in a thoughtful man of education like Nicodemus. He seeks, therefore, to prepare the soil further by quickening within her a sense of spiritual want. This may best be effected by backing her into her actual life. Therefore He says, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.” And in this simple way He leads the woman at once to recognise His prophetic insight into her condition, and to bring His offers into connection with her character and her life. And there was that in her manner of owning Him as a prophet, a frankness and a simplicity in uttering her mind and listening to His explanations, that prompted Him explicitly to say, “I that speak unto thee am the Messiah.”

To this unfortunate and ill-living alien woman, then, Jesus declared Himself as He had not declared Himself to the well-to-do, respectable Jewish rabbis. The reason of this difference in our Lord’s treatment of individuals arises from the different dispositions they manifest. Acknowledgment of His power to work miracles may seem at first sight as good a certificate for Christian discipleship as acknowledgment of His prophetic power. But it is not so; because such an acknowledgment of His prophetic insight as this woman made is an acknowledgment of His power over the human heart and life. He who is thus felt to penetrate to the hidden acts, and to lay His hand upon the deepest secrets of the heart, is recognised as in a personal connection with the individual; and this is the foundation on which Christ can build, this is the beginning of that vital connection with Him which gives newness of life. Those who are merely solving a problem when they are considering the claims of Christ, are not likely to have any personal revelation made to them. But to every one, who, like this woman, shows some desire to receive His gifts, and who is not above owning that life is a very poor affair without some such thing as He offers; to every one who is conscious of sin, and who looks to Him as able to deliver from all its foul entanglement, He does make Himself known. To such persons He will disclose Himself when He sees that they are ripe for the disclosure. To such the moment of moments will come, when to them He will say: “I that speak unto thee am He.”

This distinction between the chemist who analyses the living water, and the thirsting soul that uses it, runs very deep, and may be commended to the consideration of any who are apt to be carried away by the current of unbelief that characterizes much of our literature. I think it may be said that in writers distinguished by a lack of Christian belief there will commonly be found an absence of what is popularly and fitly called “an awakened conscience.” It will be found that they do not know what it is to look at Christ from the point of view of this woman, from the point of view of a shattered and wretched life, and a conscience that day by day is saying, It is I myself who have broken my life, and doing so I have become a transgressor, and need pardon, guidance, strength. Acute thought, an admirable faculty of explaining and enforcing what is thought, we find in abundance; but we certainly do not find a spirit humbled by a sense of sin and a conscience alive to the deepest obligations. So far as can be gathered from the writings of the most conspicuous unbelievers, they do not possess the first requisite for discerning a Saviour-namely, a sense of need. They lack the prime preparation for speaking on such a subject; they have never dealt fairly with their own sin. We do not consult a deaf man if we wish to ascertain whether the noise we have heard is thunder or the rumbling of a cart; neither can we expect that those will be the best teachers regarding God in whom the faculty by which we chiefly discern God-viz., the conscience-has been less exercised than any other. It is through the conscience God makes Himself most distinctly felt; it is in connection with the moral law we come most clearly in contact with Him; and convictions of God’s Being and connection with us root themselves in the soul that a sense of sin has ploughed.

I am far from saying that in deciding upon the claims of Christ the understanding is to have no voice. The understanding must have a voice here as elsewhere. But it is a strong presumption in Christ’s favour that He offers precisely what sinners need; and it is decisive in His favour when we find that He actually gives what sinners need. If it is practically found that He is the force that lifts thousands and thousands of human beings out of sin; if He has, in point of fact, brought light to those in deep darkness, comfort and courage to the desolate and heavily burdened, consecration and purity to the outcast and the corrupt, then, plainly, He is what He claims to be, and we owe Him our faith.

If God is to reveal Himself at all, the revelation must be made not solely or chiefly to the understanding, but to that part of us which determines character, and is capable of appreciating character. The revelation must be moral not intellectual. As our Lord’s ministry proceeded He recognised that it was always the simple who most readily accepted and trusted Him; and He recognised that this was a thing to be thankful for: “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” And every one who thinks of it sees that it must be so-that a man’s destiny must be decided not by his understanding, but by his character and leanings; not by his ability or disability to believe this or that, or to prove that his belief is well grounded, but by his aspirations, by the real bent of his heart. We should feel that there was something very far wrong if our faith depended upon proofs that not every one could master, and if thus the clever man had an advantage over the humble and contrite. “The evidence must be such that spiritual character shall be an element in the acceptance of it.” And such we find it to be. The reality and the significance of the revelation of God in Christ are more readily apprehended by the spiritually than by the intellectually gifted. Persons who are either by nature humble and docile, or whom life has taught to be so, persons who feel their need of God, and deeply long for an eternal state of peace and purity, these are the persons to whom God finds it possible to make Himself known. And if it be thought that this circumstance, that simple and docile spirits are convinced while hard-headed men are unconvinced, throws some suspicion on the reality of the revelation, if it be thought that the God and the eternity they believe in are but fancies of their own, it may fairly be replied, that there is no more reason for such a thought than for supposing that the rapture of a trained musician is fanciful and self-created, and not excited by any corresponding reality, because it is not shared by those whose taste for music is unawakened.

Convinced that Jesus was a prophet, the woman proposes to Him the standing subject of debate between Jews and Samaritans. Her statement of it is abrupt, and offers some appearance of being intended to turn the conversation away from herself; but this does not harmonise with her simple and direct character, and it is quite possible that in the midst of her confused and disappointed life she had sometimes wondered whether all her misery did not arise from her being a Samaritan. She knew what the Jews said of the Samaritan worship. She knew that they mocked at the Temple which stood on the hill over against Jacob’s well; and when she found how very little her worship had helped her, she may have begun to suspect that there was truth in the Jewish allegations. Evidently the aspect of the Messiah, which had chiefly struck her, was His power to lead men into all truth, to teach them all things. Persons in her station, and quite as much overborne by sin as she, often retain their hold upon religious teaching; and in the midst of much that is superstitious they have a spark of true hope and longing for redemption. Jesus shows by the gravity and importance of His answer that He considered the woman sincere in the statement of her difficulty, and anxious to know where God might really be found. Perplexed and bewildered by her earthly experience, as so many of us are, she suddenly awakes to the consciousness that here, before her, and conversing with her, is a prophet; and at once she utters to Him what had been burning in her heart, “Where, where is God to be found?”

And so in reply to the inquiry of one sincere woman Jesus makes that great announcement which has ever since stood as the manifesto of spiritual worship. Not in any particular and isolated place, He tells the woman, is God to be found, not in the temple at Jerusalem, nor in the rival structure on Gerizim, but in spirit. “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” As our Lord intimates, this was a new kind of worship, essentially different from that to which Jews and Samaritans, and indeed all men, had hitherto been accustomed.

The magnitude of the contents of such sayings can as little be comprehended as their significance can be exhausted. We have first of all the central affirmation: “God is a Spirit.” To fill out this definition with intelligible ideas is difficult. It implies that He is a Personal Being, that He is self-conscious, possessed of intelligence and will; but although Personal His Personality transcends our conception. So far as regards the immediate application of the definition by our Lord at this time, it suffices to note its primary meaning that God has not a body, and consequently is subject to none of the limitations and conditions to which the possession of a body subjects human persons. He needs no local dwelling-place, no temple, no material offerings. In local worship there was an advantage while the world was young, and men could best be taught by symbols. A house in their midst, of which they might say, “God is there,” was undoubtedly an aid to faith. But it had its disadvantages. For the more a worshipper fixed his mind on the one local habitation, the less could he carry with him the consciousness of God’s presence in all places.

Very slowly do we learn that God is a Spirit. We think nothing is more surely believed among us. Alas! make almost any application of this radical truth, and we find how little it is believed. Take, for example, the appearances and voices by which intimations were made to godly men in Old Testament times. Why are many people reluctant to allow that these manifestations were inward and to conscience, that they came as convictions wrought by an unseen power, rather than as outward appearances or audible voices? Is it not because the truth that God is a Spirit is not adequately apprehended? Or why again do we so crave for signs, for clearer demonstrations of God’s being and of His presence? Ought we not to be satisfied if He responds to spiritual aspirations, and if we find that our craving for holiness is met and gratified?

The inference drawn by our Lord from the truth that God is a Spirit is one which needs still to be pressed. God seeks to be worshipped not by outward forms or elaborate ritual but in spirit. Ordinary teachers would have put in a saving clause to preserve some forms of worship; Christ puts in none. Let men worship God in spirit, and let forms take their chance. To worship God in spirit is to yield the unseen but motive powers within us to the unseen but Almighty influences which we recognise as Divine. It is to prostrate our spirit before the Divine Spirit. It is in our deepest being, in will and intention, to offer ourselves up to Him in whom goodness is personified. When a man is doing that, what does it matter what he says to God, or with what forms of worship he comes before Him? That alone is acceptable worship which consists in the devout approach of the human spirit to the Divine; and that is accomplished often as effectually in our business intercourse with men when tempted to injustice, or in our homes when tempted to anger or to laxity, as when we are in the house of God. Worship in the spirit needs no words, no appointed place, but only a human soul that bows inwardly before the goodness of God, and submits itself cordially to His sovereign and loving will.

This certainly is a strong argument for simplicity of worship. Why, it may indeed be said, why have any outward worship at all? Why have churches and why have Divine service? Well, it would have been better for the Church if there had been far less outward worship than there commonly has been. For by its elaborate services the Church has far too much identified religion with that worship which can only be rendered in church. No one can be surprised that in utter disgust at the disproportion between outward and spiritual worship, between the gorgeous and fussy services that profess so much, and the slender and rare devotion of the soul to God, discerning men should have turned their back on the whole business, and declined to be partakers in so huge and profane a farce. Milton in his later years attended no Church and belonged to no communion. This certainly is to run to the opposite extreme. No doubt that worship may be real and acceptable which is offered in the silence and solitude of a man’s spirit; but we naturally utter what we feel, and by the utterance strengthen the feelings that are good, and rid ourselves of the bitterness and strain of those that are painful and full of sorrow. Besides, the Church is, before all else, a society. Our religion is meant to bring us together; and though it does so more effectually by inspiring us with kindliness and helpfulness in life than by a formal meeting together for no purposes of active charity, yet the one fellowship aids the other, as many of us well know.

While, then, we accept Christ’s statement in its fullest significance, and maintain that our “reasonable service” is the offering of ourselves as living sacrifices, that spiritual worship is offered not in church only or mainly, but in doing God’s will with a hearty good-will, we all the rather see how needful it is to utter ourselves to God as we do in our social worship; for as the wife would need some patience who was cared for indeed by her husband in the supply of her common wants, but had never a word of affection spoken to her, so our relations to God are not satisfactory unless we utter to Him our devotion as well as show it in our life. He was one of the wisest of English writers who said, “I always thought fit to keep up some mechanical forms of good breeding (in my family), without which freedom ever destroys friendship.” Precisely so, he who omits the outward and verbal expression of regard to God, will soon lose that regard itself.

But if the words of Christ were not intended to put an end to outward worship altogether, they do, as I have said, form a strong argument for simplicity of worship. No forms whatever are needed that our spirit may come into communion with God. Let us begin with this. As true and perfect worship may be rendered by the dying man, who cannot lift an eyelid or open his lips, as by the most ornate service that combines perfect liturgical forms with the richest music man has ever written. Rich music, striking combinations of colour and of architectural forms, are nothing to God so far as worship goes, except in so far as they bring the human spirit into fellowship with Him. Persons are differently constituted, and what is natural to one will be formal and artificial to another. Some worshippers will always feel that they get closer to God in private, in their own silent room, and with nothing but their own circumstances and wants to stimulate them; they feel that a service carefully arranged and abounding in musical effects does indeed move them, but does not make it easier for them to address themselves to God. Others, again, feel differently; they feel that they can best worship God in spirit when the forms of worship are expressive and significant. But in two points all will agree: first, that in external worship, while we strive to keep it simple we should also strive to make it good-the best possible of its kind. If we are to sing God’s praise at all, then let the singing be the best possible, the best music a congregation can join in, and executed with the utmost skill that care can develop. Music which cannot be sung save by persons of exceptional musical talent is unsuitable for congregational worship; but music which requires no consideration, and admits of no excellence, is hardly suitable for the worship of God. I do not know what idea of God’s worship is held by persons who never put themselves to the least trouble to improve it so far as they are concerned.

The other point in which all will agree, is that where the spirit is not engaged there is no worship at all. This goes without saying. And yet, subtract from our worship all that is merely formal, and how much do you leave? Worse still, there are those who do not even strive after the fit and decorous form, who do not bow their heads in prayer, who are not ashamed to be seen looking about them during the most solemn acts of worship, who show that they are indevout, thoughtless, profane.

The true worshippers shall worship the Father not only “in spirit,” but also “in truth.” The word “truth” here probably covers two ideas-the ideas of reality and of accuracy. It is opposed to symbolic worship and to ignorant worship. It does not mean that worship was now to be sincere, for that it had already been both among Samaritans and Jews. But among the Jews the worship of God had been symbolical, and among the Samaritans it had been ignorant.

The Jewish worship had been symbolical, every person and thing, every colour, gesture, movement, having a meaning for the initiated. The time for this, says our Lord, is past. We are to worship really. They need no longer take an animal to the temple to symbolise that they gave themselves to God; they were to spend their whole care on the real thing, on giving themselves to God; they were not to set candles about their altars to show that light was come into the world, they were themselves to shine as lights lit by Christ; they were not to swing censers to symbolise the sweet-smelling prayers of the saints, they were to offer prayers from humble hearts. In effect Christ said, You are grown up now, and can understand the realities; put away then these childish things. And those who continue to worship with various robes, and prescribed gesticulations and movements, and pictures, and altars, and everything to impress the senses, write themselves down children among grown-up people.

Truth is opposed also to error or misconception about the object of worship. Christ, by His presence, enables men to worship the Father in truth. He gives them the true idea of God. He makes God real, giving an actuality to our thought of God which we could not otherwise arrive at; and He shows us God as He truly is, connected with ourselves by love; holy, merciful, just.


Verses 31-54

Chapter 11

THE SECOND SIGN IN GALILEE.

“In the mean while the disciples prayed Him, saying, Rabbi, eat. But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not. The disciples therefore said one to another, Hath any man brought Him aught to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to accomplish His work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest. He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. For herein is the saying true, One soweth and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye have not laboured: others have laboured, and ye are entered into their labour. And from that city many of the Samaritans believed on Him because of the word of the woman, who testified, He told me all things that ever I did. So when the Samaritans came unto Him, they besought Him to abide with them: and He abode there two days. And many more believed because of His word; and they said to the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world. And after the two days He went forth from thence into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. So when He came into Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast. He came therefore again unto Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judæa into Galilee, he went unto Him, and besought Him that He would come down, and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe. The nobleman saith unto Him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. The man believed the word that Jesus spake unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, saying, that his son lived. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to amend. They said therefore unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judæa into Galilee”- John 4:31-54.

The disciples, when they went forward to buy provisions in Sychar, left Jesus sitting on the well wearied and faint. On their return they find Him, to their surprise, elate and full of renewed energy. Such transformations one has often had the pleasure of seeing. Success is a better stimulant than wine. Our Lord had found one who believed Him and valued His message; and this brought fresh life to His frame. The disciples go on eating, and are too busy with their meal to lift their eyes; but as they eat they talk over the prospects of the harvest in the rich fields through which they have just walked. Meanwhile our Lord sees the men of Sychar coming out of the town in obedience to the woman’s request, and calls His disciples’ attention to a harvest more worthy of their attention than the one they were discussing: “Were you not saying that we must wait four months till harvest comes again (12) and cheapens the bread for which you have paid so dear in Sychar? But lift up your eyes and mark the eager crowd of Samaritans, and say if you may not expect to reap much this very day. Are not the fields white already to harvest? Here in Samaria, which you only wished quickly to pass through, where you were looking for no additions to the Kingdom, and where you might suppose sowing and long waiting were needed, you see the ripened grain. Others have laboured, the Baptist and this woman and I, and ye have entered into their labours.”

All labourers in the Kingdom of God need a similar reminder. We can never certainly say in what state of preparedness the human heart is; we do not know what providences of God have ploughed it, nor what thoughts are sown in it, nor what strivings are being even now made by the springing life that seeks the light. We generally give men credit, not perhaps for less thought than they have, for that is scarcely possible, but for less capacity of thought. The disciples were good men, but they went into Sychar judging the Samaritans good enough to trade with, but never dreaming of telling them the Messiah was outside their town. They must have been ashamed to find how much more capable an apostle the woman was than they. I think they would not wonder another time that their Lord should condescend to talk with a woman. The simple, unthinking, untroubled directness of a woman will often have a matter finished while a man is meditating some ponderous and ingenious contrivance for bringing it to pass. Let us not fall into the mistake of the disciples, and judge men good enough to buy and sell with, but quite alien to the matters of the Kingdom.

“There is a day in spring When under all the earth the secret germs Begin to stir and glow before they bud. The wealth and festal pomps of midsummer Lie in the heart of that inglorious hour Which no man names with blessing, though its work Is bless’d by all the world. Such days there are In the slow story of the growth of souls.”

Such days may be passing in those around us, though all unknown to us. We can never tell how many months there are till harvest. We never know who or what has been labouring before we appear on the scene.

The woman’s testimony was enough to excite curiosity. The men on her word came out to judge for themselves. What they saw and heard completed their conviction; “And they said to the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.” This growth of faith is one of the subjects John delights to exhibit. He is fond of showing how a weak and ill-founded faith may grow into a faith that is well rooted and strong.

This Samaritan episode is significant as an integral part of the Gospel, not only because it shows how readily unsophisticated minds perceive the inalienable majesty of Christ, but also because it forms so striking a foil to the reception our Lord had met with in Jerusalem, and was shortly to meet with in Galilee. In Jerusalem He did many miracles; but the people were too political and too prejudiced to own Him as a spiritual Lord. In Galilee He was known, and might have expected to be understood; but there the people longed only for physical blessings and the excitement of miracles. Here in Samaria, on the contrary, He did no miracles, and had no forerunner to herald His approach. He was found a weary wayfarer, sitting by the roadside, begging for refreshment. Yet, through this appearance of weakness, and dependence, and lowliness, there shone His native kindness, and truth, and kingliness, to such a degree, that the Samaritans, although naturally suspicious of Him as a Jew, believed in Him, delighted in Him, and proclaimed Him “Saviour of the world.”

After two days of happy intercourse with the Samaritans Jesus continues His journey to Galilee. The proverbial expression which our Lord used regarding His relation to Galilee-that a prophet has no honour in his own country-is one we have frequent opportunity of verifying. The man that has grown up among us, whom we have seen struggling up through the ignorance, and weakness, and folly of boyhood, whom we have had to help and to protect, can scarcely receive the same respect as one who presents himself a mature man, with already developed faculties, no longer a learner, but prepared to teach. Montaigne complained that in his own country he had to purchase publishers, whereas elsewhere publishers were anxious to purchase him. “The farther off I am read from my own home,” he says, “the better I am esteemed.” The men of Anathoth sought Jeremiah’s life when he began to prophesy among them.

It is not the truth of the proverb that presents any difficulty, but its application to the present case. For the fact that a prophet has no honour in his own country would seem to be a reason for His declining to go to Galilee, whereas it is here introduced as His reason for going there. The explanation is found in the beginning of the chapter, where we are told that it was in search of retirement He was now leaving the popularity and publicity of Judæa, and repairing to His own country.

But, as frequently on other occasions, He now found that He could not be hid. His countrymen, who had thought so little of Him previously, had heard of His Judean fame, and echoed the recognition and applause of the south. They had not discovered the greatness of this Galilean, although He had lived among them for thirty years; but no sooner do they hear that He has created a sensation in Jerusalem than they begin to be proud of Him. Every one has seen the same thing a hundred times. A lad who has been despised as almost half-witted in his native place goes up to London and makes a name for himself as poet, artist, or inventor, and when he returns to his village everybody claims him as cousin. Such a change of sentiment was not likely to escape the observation of Jesus nor to deceive Him. It is with an accent of disappointment, not unmingled with reproach, that He utters His first recorded words in Galilee: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.”

This sets us in the point of view from which we can clearly see the significance of the one incident which John selects from all that happened during our Lord’s stay in Galilee at this time. John wishes to illustrate the difference between the Galilean and the Samaritan faith, and the possibility of the one growing into the other; and he does so by introducing the brief narrative of the courtier from Capernaum. Accounts, more or less accurate, of the miracles of Jesus in Jerusalem had found their way even into the household of Herod Antipas. For no sooner was He known to have arrived in Galilee than one of the royal household sought Him out to obtain a boon which no royal favour could grant. The supposition is not without plausibility that this nobleman was Chuza, Herod’s chamberlain, and that this miracle, which had so powerful an effect on the family in which it was wrought, was the origin of that devotion to our Lord which was afterwards shown by Chuza’s wife.

The nobleman, whoever he was, came to Jesus with an urgent request. He had come twenty miles to appeal to Jesus, and he had been unable to trust his petition to a messenger. But instead of meeting this distracted father with words of sympathy and encouragement, Jesus merely utters a general and chilling observation. Why is this? Why does He seem to lament that this father should so urgently plead for his son? Why does He seem only to submit to the inevitable, if He grants the request at all? Might it not even seem as if He wrought the miracle of healing rather for His own sake than for the boy’s or for the father’s sake, since He says, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe”-that is, will not believe in Me?

But these words did not express any reluctance on the part of Jesus to heal the nobleman’s son. Possibly they were intended, in the first instance, to rebuke the desire of the father that Jesus should go with him to Capernaum and pronounce over the boy words of healing. The father thought the presence of Christ was necessary. He had not attained to the faith of the centurion, who believed that an expression of will was enough. Jesus, therefore, demands a stronger faith; and in His presence that stronger faith which can trust His word is developed.

The words, however, were especially a warning that His physical gifts were not the greatest He had to bestow, and that a faith which required to be buttressed by the sight of miracles was not the best kind of faith. Our Lord was always in danger of being looked upon as a mere thaumaturge, who could dispense cures merely as a physician could within his own limits order a certain treatment. He was in danger of being considered a dispenser of blessings to persons who had no faith in Him as the Saviour of the world. It is therefore with the accent of one who submits to the inevitable that He says, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.”

But especially did our Lord wish to point out that the faith He approves and delights in is a faith which does not require miracles as its foundation. This higher faith He had found among the Samaritans. Many of them believed, as John is careful to note, because of His conversation. There was that in Himself and in His talk which was its own best evidence. Some men who introduce themselves to us, to win our countenance to some enterprise, carry integrity in their whole bearing; and we should feel it to be an impertinence to ask them for credentials. If they offer to prove their identity and trustworthiness we waive such proof aside, and assure them that they need no certificate. This had been our Lord’s experience in Samaria. There no news of His miracles had come from Jerusalem. He came among the Samaritans from nobody knew where. He came without introduction and without certificate, yet they had discernment to see that they had never met His like before. Every word He spoke seemed to identify Him as the Saviour of the world. They forgot to ask for miracles. They felt in themselves His supernatural power, lifting them into God’s presence, and filling them with light.

The Galilean faith was of another kind. It was based on His miracles; a kind of faith He deplored, although He did not quite repudiate it. To be accepted not on His own account, not because of the truth He spoke, not because His greatness was perceived and His friendship valued, but because of the wonders He performed-this could not be a pleasant experience. We do not greatly value the visits of a person who cannot get on without our advice or assistance; we value the friendship of him who seeks our company for the pleasure he finds in it. And although we must all be ceaselessly and infinitely dependent on the good offices of Christ, our faith should be something more than a counting upon His ability and willingness to discharge these good offices. A faith which is merely selfish, which recognises that Christ can save from disaster in this life or in the life to come, and which cleaves to Him solely on that account, is scarcely the faith that Christ approves. There is a faith which responds to the glory of Christ’s personality, which rests on what He is, which builds itself on the truth He utters, and recognises that all spiritual life centres in Him; it is this faith He approves. They who find in Him the link they have sought with the spiritual world, the pledge they have needed to certify them of an eternal righteousness, they to whom the supernatural is revealed more patently in Himself than in His miracles, are those whom the Lord delights in.

But the lower kind of faith may be a step to the higher. The agony of the father can make nothing of general principles, but can only reiterate the one petition, “Come down ere my child die.” And Jesus, with His perfect knowledge of human nature, sees that it is vain trying to teach a man in this absorbed condition of mind, and that probably the very best way to clarify his faith and lead him to higher and worthier thoughts is to grant his request-a hint not to be overlooked or despised by those who seek to do good, and who are, possibly, sometimes a little prone to obtrude their teaching at most inopportune seasons-at seasons when it is impossible for the mind to admit anything but the one absorbing topic. Circumstances are, in general, much better educators of men than any verbal teaching; and that verbal teaching can only do harm which interposes between the moving events that are occurring and the person who is passing through them. The success of our Lord’s method was proved by the result; which was, that the slender faith of this nobleman became a genuine faith in Christ as the Lord, a faith which his whole household shared.

From the very greatness of Christ, and our consequent inability to bring Him into comparison with other men, we are apt to miss some of the significant features of His conduct. In the circumstances before us, for example, most teachers at an early stage in their career would have been in some excitement, and would probably have shown no reluctance to accede to the nobleman’s request, and go down to his house, and so make a favourable impression on Herod’s court. It was an opportunity of getting a footing in high places which a man of the world could not have overlooked. But Jesus was well aware that if the foundations of His kingdom were to be solidly laid, there must be excluded all influence of a worldly kind, all the overpowering constraint which fashion and great names exercise over the mind. His work, He saw, would be most enduringly, if most slowly, done in a more private manner. His own personal influence on individuals must first of all be the chief agency. He speaks, therefore, to this nobleman without any regard to his rank and influence; indeed, rather curtly dismisses him with the words, “Go, thy son lives.” The total absence of display is remarkable. He did not go to Capernaum, to stand by the sickbed, and be acknowledged as the healer. He made no bargain with the nobleman that if his son recovered he would let the cause be known. He simply did the thing, and said nothing at all about it.

Though it was only one in the afternoon when the nobleman was dismissed he did not go back to Capernaum that night-why, we do not know. A thousand things may have detained him. He may have had business for Herod in Cana or on the road as well as for himself; the beast he rode may have gone lame where he could not procure another; at any rate, it is quite uncalled for to ascribe his delay to the confidence he had in Christ’s word, an instance of the truth, “He that believeth shall not make haste.” The more certainly he believed Christ’s word the more anxious would he be to see his son. His servants knew how anxious he would be to hear, for they went to meet him; and were no doubt astonished to find that the sudden recovery of the boy was due to Him whom their master had visited. The cure had travelled much faster than he who had received the assurance of it.

The process by which they verified the miracle and connected the cure with the word of Jesus was simple, but perfectly satisfactory. They compared notes regarding the time, and found that the utterance of Jesus was simultaneous with the recovery of the boy. The servants who saw the boy recover did not ascribe his recovery to any miraculous agency; they would no doubt suppose that it was one of those unaccountable cases which occasionally occur, and which most of us have witnessed. Nature has secrets which the most skilful of her interpreters cannot disclose; and even so marvellous a thing as an instantaneous cure of a hopeless case may be due to some hidden law of nature. But no sooner did their master assure them that the hour in which the boy began to amend was the very hour in which Jesus said he would get better, than they all saw to what agency the cure was due.

Here lies the special significance of this miracle; it brings into prominence this distinctive peculiarity of a miracle, that it consists of a marvel which is coincident with an express announcement of it, and is therefore referable to a personal agent.(13) It is the two things taken together that prove that there is a superhuman agency. The marvel alone, a sudden return of sight to the blind, or of vigour to the paralysed, does not prove that there is anything supernatural in the case; but if this marvel follows upon the word of one who commands it, and does so in all cases in which such a command is given, it becomes obvious that this is not the working of a hidden law of nature, nor a mere coincidence, but the intervention of a supernatural agency. That which convinced the nobleman’s household that a miracle had been wrought was not the recovery of the boy, but his recovery in connection with the word of Jesus. What they felt they had to account for was not merely the marvellous recovery, but his recovery at that particular time. Even though it could be shown, then,-as it can never be,-that every cure reported in the Gospels might possibly be the result of some natural law, even though it could be shown that men born blind might receive their sight without a miracle, and that persons who had consulted the best physician suddenly recovered strength-this, we are to remember, is by no means the whole of what we have to account for. We have to account not only for sudden, and certainly most extraordinary cures, but also for these cures following uniformly, and in every case the word of One who said the cure would follow. It is this coincidence which puts it beyond a doubt that the cures can be referred only to the will of Christ.

Another striking feature of this miracle is that the Agent was at a distance from the subject of it. This is, of course, quite beyond our comprehension. We cannot understand how the will of Jesus, without employing any known physical means of communication between Himself and the boy, without even appearing before him so as to seem to inspire him by look or word, should instantaneously effect his cure. The only possible link of such a kind between the boy and Jesus was that he may have been aware that his father had gone to seek help for him, from a renowned physician, and may have had his hopes greatly excited. This supposition is, however, gratuitous. The boy may quite as likely have been delirious, or too young to know anything; and even though this slender link did exist, no sensible person will build much on that. And certainly it is encouraging to find that even while on earth our Lord did not require to be in contact with the person healed. “His word was as effective as His presence.” And if it is credible that while on earth He could heal at the distance of twenty miles, it is difficult to disbelieve that He can from heaven exercise the same omnipotent will.

Note.-It is not apparent why John appends the remark, “This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judæa into Galilee.” He may, perhaps, have only intended to call attention more distinctly to the place where the miracle was wrought. This idea is supported by the fact that John shows, on parallel lines, the manifestation of Christ in Judæa and in Galilee. It is just possible that he may have wished to warn readers of the Synoptical Gospels, that Jesus had not yet begun the Galilean ministry with which these Gospels open.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 4:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/john-4.html.

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