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—JOHN 4:19-29.—FEBRUARY 9—
Golden Text:—"If any man thirst let him
come unto me and drink."—John 7:37 .
JOHN the Baptist had testified of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30.) It is in harmony with this that we read that Jesus (at the hands of his disciples) baptized more than did John and his co-laborers. (John 4:1.) The growing popularity of Jesus aroused to bitter opposition the Scribes and Pharisees, and they sought to kill him. Hence, we read that "He would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him." (John 7:1.) They had greater animosity toward Jesus than toward John, for in him they recognized a superiority over themselves, and because the ignorant, common people heard him gladly and said, "Never man spake like this man." Thereafter we hear little of Jesus being in Jerusalem except on festival occasions, when great multitudes gathered in accordance with the requirements of the Law.
En route to Galilee, the home country of the majority of his apostles, the journey took them through the country of the Samaritans, concerning whom we remember that our Lord charged the disciples, saying, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matt. 10:5,6.) The Samaritans are thus classed with Gentiles—aliens, strangers, foreigners from the commonwealth of Israel. We recall their history—that at the time when the king of Babylon took the Israelites captive into Babylonia, he planted some Gentiles in the land of Israel—immigrants. Cut off from their former idolatries, these people became interested in their new home country, its theology, traditions, religious sentiments, etc. Furthermore, some of the careless, ignorant and vicious amongst the Jews, disregarding their divine Law on the subject, intermarried with the Samaritans. Thus an element of Jewish blood was intermingled amongst them. They called themselves the children of Jacob, and trusted that this meant some special blessing for them.
A sharp religious controversy was thus established between them and Jacob's natural progeny, the Jews. The latter, following the Law given by Moses, recognized Jerusalem and the Temple as the centre of all acceptable worship to God. The Samaritans, being thus excluded, claimed that they had something better—that right in their own country they had the very mountain in which Jacob worshiped God, and towards this mountain they went or looked in their worship of God, esteeming it as a great natural temple and superior to anything else on earth. These facts account to us for some of the Lord's expressions connected with this lesson, and also show us why his message excluded the Samaritans, as well as all Gentiles, from the call which he was giving, the Kingdom invitation, which was exclusively for the Jews. It was not until the Jews had as a people neglected their opportunity that the special privileges of the Kingdom were taken from them and subsequently tendered to such as would have an ear to hear in every nation, people, kindred and tongue of the earth—including the Samaritans.
The road leading to Galilee branched off at Jacob's well, and the disciples went to the nearby Samaritan village, Sychar, to purchase food, while Jesus rested at the well, which was 75 feet deep and whose mouth was so walled up as to form a circular seat at its top. A Samaritan woman, laboring in the fields nearby, came to draw water, and was intensely surprised when Jesus asked her the favor of a drink. So tightly were the lines of social etiquette drawn that under ordinary circumstances no self-respecting Jew would ask a Samaritan for any favor, and especially for a drink of water. A gift of water or of food, extended or received at that time, signified fellowship, a covenant of good will. The woman asked an explanation of the Lord's peculiar conduct, but he gave none. We perceive in the entire Gospel narrative the humility of our Lord, that he was quite ready and willing to mingle with any class, that he shunned no opportunity for doing good to any class, publicans or sinners—and that he reproved and rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for their aloofness. One of his parables was especially directed towards the self-righteous sentiment which feared even to touch garments with the outwardly more degraded. Our Lord, without approving of the outward degradation, showed that God looketh upon the heart, and that some of those highly approved amongst men were more abominable in his sight than some despised of men.
Our Lord displayed great tactfulness. Instead of replying to the woman's query, he attracted her attention to a deeper truth. This lesson of tactfulness many of the Lord's people need to learn. We know some who mistakenly believe that they must use no tact—that to do so would be dishonest. Hence, they are frequently blunt to the extent of injuring the feelings [R4130 : page 42] of others, and hindering their own usefulness. Such should note in this lesson, and in many others, our Lord's tactfulness. He did not feel that it was necessary for him to answer the woman's question. On the contrary, he said, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (John 4:10.) Similarly, let us in all the affairs of life try to turn the attention of those with whom we have contact towards the heavenly, the spiritual things—not that we should obtrude religious matters on every occasion, nor that we suppose our Lord would have done so. Quite probably he saw something in the way of honesty of character in the woman he addressed, else he would not have conversed with her. So we should be on the lookout for every opportunity to speak a word in season, to be helpful to others, to honor the Lord.
The woman understood the expression "living water" to mean fresh water, as distinguished from stagnant water. The woman perceived that our Lord was not provided with the necessary lowering bucket and camel's hair cord, and said, If you had ever so much [R4131 : page 42] desire to give me to drink, it would be useless for me to ask you, since you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep, and there is nowhere else that you can hope to procure better water than this. Where would you get it? "Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children and his cattle?" (John 4:12.) Again our Lord tactfully ignored the question in the woman's interest—not to deceive her or take advantage of her, but for her benefit. He was instructing her, and leading her mind up from the natural water to the spiritual, and from the natural foundation to the spiritual. He said, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst," for that water "shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (v. 14.)
That our Lord talked to no ordinary woman is evidenced by the quickness with which she grasped his presentation, and her earnestness to get the living water he had described. She said, "Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw." (v. 15.) Again we note our Lord's tactfulness. He turned the subject. It was necessary that the woman should appreciate the fact that she was a sinner and under the death sentence and needed water of eternal life, which God alone could give, and which he has provided only in Jesus, the Fountain. Our Lord turned her thoughts inward very quickly by saying, "Go, call thy husband." (v. 16.) The answer was, "I have no husband" (v. 17), and with that reply came a flood of thought, which our Lord riveted upon her by declaring, You have well said that you have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband. The woman was now thoroughly aroused. She perceived that she was in the presence of one who knew her very deepest heart secrets. Yet she feared him not. She fled not from him. His kindliness, his gentleness, his willingness to talk to a Samaritan woman, indicated that she had "found a friend, oh, such a friend." Her answer was, "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet."
Shrewdly then the woman led the conversation away from matters too personal to herself, and too solemn and too tender for discussion, and our Lord did not follow up the subject, but left it. Many of his followers need to learn this lesson of first awakening in the hearts of their hearers a consciousness of sin, and then leaving it to work for them, at greater leisure, sorrow and repentance and reformation. It is not for us to break the hearts of those around us, but to find those who are broken-hearted. The command is, "Bind up the broken-hearted." (Isa. 61:1.) In many instances, as in this one, the broken heart needs to be touched in connection with the binding-up process, in the application of the healing balm of grace and truth, but the touches should be gentle. If more breaking of the heart is necessary, it is not for us to do.
Not only would the woman escape a discussion of her personal character and affairs, but she would embrace this opportunity of settling in her own mind, with the aid of this one whom she had proven to be a great prophet, a question which had long troubled her—were the Jews or were the Samaritans right as respected religion and worship? Before her was a proven prophet, and one in whose words she could have great confidence; hence her inquiry, Who are right—our fathers, who claim that this mountain is the place of worship, or you Jews, who say that Jerusalem is the only place? Our Lord was not bent upon making of her a Jewish proselyte: the time for that was past; the harvest time had come. He would tell her something that would be to her advantage, and through her to the advantage of others in the near future, when the middle wall of partition would be broken down which still separated the Jews, in God's favor, from all others. His answer, therefore, applied to the Gospel dispensation in general, and this was already beginning so far as some of the Jews were concerned, and would later reach Samaritans and all Gentiles. He said, "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father."—v. 21.
That hour began after the Jewish house had been left desolate, after the new dispensation had been inaugurated, and it still continues. Believers do not have to go to a certain place, a certain mountain, a certain city, a certain house, but may approach the living God, through the great Redeemer, at any place and find him. That coming hour had already begun, since our Lord himself was the first of the Spirit-begotten ones; and his disciples, accepted of the Father through him, were taught to pray, to seek, to knock, to find. Those who worship under this Spirit dispensation will not be accepted along the lines of former worship and places—not in families, or nationally. Their acceptance will be as [R4131 : page 43] individuals, and because they come unto the Father through his appointed way, the Redeemer, and come "in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him." (v. 23.) During past times he did indeed prescribe forms of worship and times and places, but now all that come unto the Father "in spirit and in truth" through Christ are accepted.
While it is most absolutely true that forms and ceremonies are not commanded, but the true worship of the heart, nevertheless we feel that some still maintain too much of a relationship to forms and ceremonies, and thus lose much of the spiritual blessing of prayer and communion. But, on the other hand, we seem to see a danger into which some of the Lord's dear people fall, through ignoring all regularity in prayer, and sometimes through too little formality in approaching the throne of heavenly grace, without a sufficiency of humility and reverence for him who has granted us so great a favor as to receive us into his presence and to hearken to our petitions. While thankful that we can call upon the Lord in every place and at any time, let us approach his courts with reverence, with an awe of heart befitting to us in our humble, lowly condition, and to him in his great exaltation. Thus we enter into the real spirit of prayer, which should recognize our complete dependence and the greatness of the Almighty.
Very pointedly, though we are sure in no rude manner, our Lord declared the truth to the woman when he said, "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." (v. 22.) The Samaritans, not being of the stock of Israel, were in no sense of the word heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant. Not discerning this cardinal truth in its true light, they were confused as to every feature of the divine plan. The Jews, on the contrary, understood that they were the natural seed of Abraham, and that from them must come the great Messiah, and that eventually, through him and some of their nation associated with him, all the families of the earth should receive a blessing. Our Lord said, "Salvation is of the Jews." He did not say, For the Jews, nor, To the Jews, exclusively. It was of them in the sense that the Master was of that nation according to the flesh. It was of them in the sense that the promises were exclusively to that nation, so that Messiah could not have been born of any other nation and yet inherit those promises. It was of that nation also, in that from them our Lord selected the earliest members of his Church, his Body, through whom the invitation to membership in that Body has during this age been extended to every nation, people, kindred and tongue.
We would not say that the Samaritans were typical of a certain class of people here—typical would be too strong a word. We would see, however, that as there were true Israelites there in the type, and a class of people somewhat resembling them, who were not of them, so here in Spiritual Israel we find some like the Samaritans, who are strangers from the Covenant and promises, because not of the same family—not begotten again of the holy Spirit. Some of these are estimable people, honorable, and with a form of godliness, but denying its power. Then amongst the true Israel, all begotten of the holy Spirit, all therefore related to the Lord and the promises, there are two classes: the Little Flock of Israelites indeed, whose love and zeal the Lord approves, and a Great Company whose love and zeal are not sufficient to gain them the distinguished title, "More than Conquerors"—joint-heirs.
In our conversation on religious subjects with those corresponding to the Samaritans, it may not be using the wisdom of serpents for us to say, "Ye worship ye know not what," even though this be strictly true. Nevertheless, to those of this class who give evidence of desire to know the Truth, it would be proper for us to kindly attempt to show them this matter—to show them how different are the hopes and aspirations and promises which apply to the consecrated saints of Spiritual Israel from anything they have ever known or thought. In all of our dealings with the Israelites and others, let us remember the Master's words, "Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves."—Matt. 10:16.
The mind of the Samaritan woman swept forward in thought. She recalled the expectation of her own people and of the Jews that God would provide a great Messiah, an Anointed One, who would be all-wise and all-powerful to the relief of all perplexity and to lift out of all difficulty. She wondered whether the Messiah could be more wonderfully wise than the prophet, the teacher, to whom she talked. She did not like to ask the question direct, but suggested it sidewise, saying, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." (v. 25.) Seeing her readiness of mind, our Lord expressed to [R4132 : page 43] her—more plainly, perhaps, than to any other person during his ministry—the great fact that he was the Messiah: "I that speak unto thee am he." (v. 26.)
The disciples, returning at this time, marveled that he talked with the woman, but had too great respect for him to question him; and many since, all through the Gospel Age, reading the account, have marveled at the Master's humility thus displayed. It has brought a good lesson to many of the Lord's followers—that they are not to despise opportunities for service, for preaching of the Truth, even though they have an audience of but one. And indeed the opportunity of speaking to one earnest listener should be esteemed far greater than that of addressing a thousand inattentive ones. Doubtless our Lord saw in this woman something that indicated her worthiness of the time and energy thus bestowed upon her.
But from another standpoint, what worthiness could she have? what worthiness do any of us possess by nature? Fallen and imperfect, the only thing remaining that could in any way be pleasing to the Lord would seem to be our honesty of heart. Honesty this woman evidently had, and hence we believe [R4132 : page 44] she was favored, and many of the Lord's dear people have received this message since. Here, too, we have another illustration of the importance of using every opportunity that may come to us. Time and energy spent in the assistance of some worthy one may, as in this case, flow out in widening influence to many. Eternity alone will show the value of some of the little things, the feeble efforts put forth in the name of the Lord; and this reminds us that our Lord is judging us by our faithfulness in little things and small opportunities rather than by our great achievements. His own words are, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in that which is least is unjust also in much." (Luke 16:10.) Remembering this, let us be careful in the little things, little opportunities, the hours and the moments, that we may show ourselves zealous for the Lord and his cause, and have his eventual approval, as well as his present blessing.
The character of this woman is further displayed in the fact that, leaving her water-bucket, she hastened to the city to tell her friends and neighbors that she had found a great teacher, possibly the Messiah, and to ask them to come and share the privilege of hearing him. The selfish spirit, which would have bidden her to keep the information to herself, or the slothful, careless spirit, which would have led her to say, I would be pleased if my friends might know, but will not bestir myself to inform them—either of these would have marked the woman as unworthy of the Lord's favor; and had such been her disposition, we doubt if the Lord would have entered into conversation with her. And so it is with those who have been reached with Present Truth; they are, as a rule, not only the honest and sincere, but the generous, who love to give the good things to their neighbors, and who, having heard now of the second presence of the Son of man, and the Kingdom about to be established, and having come to a clearer knowledge than ever before of the truth of the Divine Plan—these rejoice to lay down their lives in its service—the promulgating of "good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people." (Luke 2:10.) This is the true missionary spirit, and home missions come first.
Our Golden Text is quite in line with the lesson intimated—that before anyone can come to the Lord he must thirst, he must have an appreciation of that which the Lord has to give—the water, the refreshment, of eternal life. This means that he must learn that he is a sinner, and under sentence of death, and that there is no hope for a future life except through Christ. The coming to the Lord is the approach of faith. Our thirst is our desire. We drink, or appropriate to ourselves the divine message. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth" (John 17:17)—and water is the symbol of truth. The promise of a blessing to those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" is in full accordance with this. And the promise is, "They shall be filled." This, too, is in harmony with our Lord's statement in our lesson, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst."—v. 14.
In the present time our thirst is in one sense of the word insatiable—we are never satisfied—in the sense that the Lord's blessings are so great and so good that we can never in the present day and in present conditions have enough of them. We shall be satisfied thoroughly when we awake in his likeness (Psa. 17:15)—when the "change" of the First Resurrection shall have completed our transformation as New Creatures into our Lord's likeness—"from glory to glory." (2 Cor. 3:18.) Nevertheless, there is a measure of satisfaction to our drinking, even in the present time—just as with a thirsty one at a fountain, he drinks with relish, with appreciation, with satisfaction, only to take more and more. So with those who are the Lord's. He pours into their cup blessings rich and satisfying, and fills the cup repeatedly, even while they are in their present tabernacle. Let us appreciate more and more the Truth, the water of life, and let us see to it that we get it pure from the fountain, and that we recognize no other fountain than the Lord Jesus, however much we may appreciate the channels through which the supply may have come to us.