By the Well of Sychar!
George Everard, 1884
"Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" John 4:29
So said the woman that left her water-pot at the well of Sychar — but was it true? Had Christ told her all things that she ever had done? Had He told her one half or one quarter of the sin she had committed? Nay, He had spoken but one sentence with respect to her past life — but a secret voice within told her the rest. To her soul it was as if every act of bygone days had come up before her, and beneath the all-searching eye of the Son of Man she stood self-condemned, self-convicted, and owning herself as she was — the chief of sinners.
We have often read the story, and perhaps have pictured to ourselves Christ sitting on the well and talking with the woman.
But let us recall it in its main features. How was it that Jesus was there at the moment when the woman came?
Was it by chance that they met? Was it simply an opportunity for doing good that the Master seized? I do not so read the story. The Good Shepherd was weary — for He had come many a mile to fetch home a lost and wandering one.
"There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold;
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold,
Away on the mountains wild and bare,
Away from the tender Shepherd's care."
Everlasting love brought Him to Sychar! Everlasting love led Him to speak to her, to ask water at her hands, that He might give her the living water that alone could satisfy her thirsty soul! "He had to pass through Samaria." John 4:4
Jesus was "wearied with His journey; but was not the woman far more weary through her wanderings in the far country of sin? Long, long years she had spent in that evil land, and in the service of a citizen of that country. Now was she sore famished in heart, a stranger to all true peace, thirsty even unto death for that which as yet she knows not.
She hesitates in giving water to the stranger; for why does He ask it of a Samaritan? Is not He a Jew — and she a woman despised by His nation? How then is He willing to receive water from her hands?
But Christ does not hesitate to offer her that precious gift which He alone can bestow. He speaks to her in words that have brought hope and salvation to thirsty, longing ones in every age. "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, 'Give me a drink' — you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water."
Then came fresh questionings, "nothing to draw with," "the well deep," the greatness of the patriarch, and can this stranger be greater than he? All this puzzles the woman, and she opens to Him her difficulties. Then still more gloriously does He set before her the unspeakable benefit He was able to confer.
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him, will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life!" John 4:13-14
Marvelous promise! Grace beyond all measure and limit! The Old Testament invitations renewed and brought close home to the heart! Life, salvation, the blessed gift of the Holy Spirit within the soul to reveal the love of God, peace, hope, and everlasting glory — free to the sinner who will receive them at the hand of Christ! Is not this and more, bestowed upon us in this full and gracious promise?
The woman hears, yet scarcely can she conceive the meaning of the wonderful promise. Still some glimmer of the truth dawns upon her. Something can this stranger give, that she does not possess. Some spring of joy can He open to her, of which as yet she knows nothing. But whatever it is, she will ask it of Him. So the woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." John 4:15
Nor is her petition left unanswered. Yes, He will give her this water, and give it to her abundantly — yet not as she imagines. First must He reveal to her her own sinful self — before He can reveal to her the riches of His goodness and His grace.
But how tenderly does the good Physician deal with her! He will touch the sore, but with no rough, unfeeling hand. Only a word, a single word, shall touch her conscience; but to her how much is in that word! "Go, call your husband, and come back!"
What the sight of Elijah was to Ahab — such was that word "husband" to this woman. It brought her sin to remembrance, but she would gladly conceal it if she could. She would hear no more of this. She would close the door to all mention of so painful a topic.
But it may not be. That hour she shall learn that there is nothing hidden from Him with whom she has to do. His eyes are as a flame of fire. The past and the present are all naked and open to His sight. He knows her altogether, and all her ways and works are before Him. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account!" Hebrews 4:13
Does she reply, "I have no husband?" It is but to draw forth a charge of guilt she can no longer hide. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say that you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." John 4:17-18
You have seen sometimes a vivid flash of lightning, whereby in a moment the whole landscape far and near has shone out as clear as day; though before, all has been covered by a pall of midnight darkness. This word of Christ has a like effect upon this woman. In an instant she is taken back to scenes and places well-near forgotten. Memory and conscience illumine the whole of her past history. Companions in evil, terrible breaches of God's holy law, vile and shameless conduct beyond expression — the thought of these fill her with confusion. Her five husbands as she may have reckoned them, and the story linked with each, the broken vow, the bitter jealousy and envy, the strife, the railing, the fits of anger and passion, sins of darkness of which it is a shame even to speak — whatever evil from first to last there may have been in those years of ungodliness and impenitence — all is remembered through the word the Savior has spoken to her.
If she could, she would still have desired to put away the thoughts which Christ has aroused. She attempts to turn the conversation. She inquires about the right place for worship — whether Gerizim or Jerusalem. But she only learns still more of God's requirements. He is a Spirit, and such as worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Not Gerizim, not Jerusalem — but the altar of the heart is the true place of acceptable worship. All else is indifferent compared to this. Only he "who engages his heart to approach unto God" will be pleasing and acceptable to the Father.
But soon she learns another lesson. He is not only a prophet, as she first believes — but the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. From His own lips she learns this blessed truth, and she rejoices in the hope this assurance gives her.
Then it is that she goes forth as a messenger of good news to others. She leaves her water-pot, for she has found other water than that of the well — even the living water which Christ had promised — a spring of holy joy and everlasting life within her. And as Andrew bore witness of Christ to his own brother Simon, as Philip bore witness to his friend Nathanael — so did this woman tell to the men of her city, the treasure she had found. It was a word spoken from personal experience, and from the faith which had now arisen in her heart. She spoke of Christ as one who can tell men the secrets of their hearts, and who therefore could be none other than the long-promised Messiah.
"Come, see a man who told me everything that I ever did — is not this the Christ?" Mighty was this word of personal testimony. It did that which some of Christ's mighty miracles altogether failed to effect. Through the secret working of God's grace, the men of the place came to Christ and believed in Him. Some believed because of the word of the woman — many more because of His own word. And still onwards, through the whole history of Christ's Church, through the story of this woman, have many come to Jesus and found life eternal in Him.
What PRACTICAL LESSONS may be suggested by this narrative?
First, it is a blessed thing to know from Christ the sins of bygone years.He can wound — but He can heal. He can show to us our own sinful selves — but He can also show to us Himself as a great and merciful Savior. Therefore go to Him, and hide nothing from His all-searching glance.
Do not shrink from His probing the depth of the evil that is in you. Rather desire to know the very worst. Ask Him to try you and prove the ground of your heart. Go back in thought to the days that are past. Think of friends you have known, enemies you may have made, homes you may have visited, and places where you have lived. Recall the rooms in which you have slept, the office or shop, or warehouse or factory, or farm, where your work lay. Consider the books you have read, the letters you have written, the conversations you have held, the plans and purposes you have formed — and then quietly weigh them all in the balances of the sanctuary, and give them a just and righteous verdict on yourself and your ways. Let conscience speak out, and don't muzzle her. Don't excuse yourself by the plea of "circumstances" or "what others have done." Remember Christ knows all — and He is judge. The most secret imagination, that which was never breathed into any human ear, is before His eye — and for it you must answer before His bar.
Why then should you conceal or hide anything? Is it not far better to tell it to Christ as a Savior — than to hear it from Him as a Judge? Is it not far wiser to bring it to Him now in humble confession, that it may be forgiven through His blood — than to wait until the Great Day reveal it, when there will be no remedy?
But the second lesson I would suggest from this story, is that
2. You should look up to Christ as a loving and merciful Redeemer.Be not content with gaining a humbling view of your sins, without also finding a sure and complete forgiveness. The sin of this woman was no sooner revealed to her, than the very same hour it was remitted through Him in whom she believed. This dark catalogue of sins committed through long years — was blotted out and remembered no more against her. She left her water-pot behind, but she left her sins too!
When she went forth to witness for Christ, it was in the joyous liberty of free forgiveness, and in the comfort of that rich grace which He had poured into her soul.
It is worth while noticing the special title which the men of Sychar gave to Christ. "This is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (verse 42). A glorious name, for the first time used by these Samaritans, as far as we know, but taken up by John in his First Epistle, "The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world" (chapter 4:14).
This was doubtless the faith of the woman as well as of those to whom she witnessed of Christ. Ah, believe it, anxious, troubled soul. Whatever your sin, whatever your past neglect — Christ is a Savior for the world, and therefore for you, if you will receive Him and trust in Him. Present pardon, present salvation, the present grace and help of the Holy Spirit — all are yours when you take Christ as your Savior and rely upon Him.
We might have imagined that some preliminary season of penitence and prayer would have been appointed for one so deeply stained with guilt as this woman, before that guilt and sin could be remitted. But how was it in her case? She no sooner learned to see her sin, than she saw Christ as her Savior! And in her glad and overflowing joy, she became a true missionary, and brought many of her neighbors to believe in Him.
This suggests a third lesson.
3. When you know Christ as your Savior, do not keep the good news to yourself.Let the living water overflow. Let the message spread from heart to heart. Let there be something of a holy enthusiasm about you. There may be times when it is well to leave the water-pot behind, to lay aside your ordinary work to do some special work for the Master. And be not ashamed to utter a word of personal experience. With nothing but shame and self-condemnation as to yourself and what you have been — you may yet glory in Christ and what He has done for you. Thus telling of His free salvation, you may be able to draw many a sinner to His footstool.
NOTHING TO PAY!
Nothing to pay! ah, nothing to pay!
Never a word of excuse to say!
Year after rear you have filled the score,
Owing your Lord still more and more.
Hear the voice of Jesus say,
"Truly you have nothing to pay!
Ruined, lost are you, and yet
I forgave you all that debt!"
Nothing to pay! The debt so great;
What will you do with the awful weight?
How shall the way of escape be made?
Nothing to pay! Yet it must be paid!
Hear the voice of Jesus say,
"Truly you have nothing to pay!
All has been put to my account,
I have paid the full amount!"
Nothing to pay! Yes, nothing to pay!
Jesus has cleared all the debt away,
Blotted it out with His bleeding hand,
Free and forgiven and loved you stand!
Hear the voice of Jesus say,
"Truly you have nothing to pay!
Paid is the debt, and the debtor free,
Now I ask you, Lovest thou me?"