"He had to go through Samaria." John 4:4

In the previous chapter we considered some of the outward accessories in this beautiful and instructive narrative of the Apostle of Love, and grouped together a number of historical associations and personal recollections which may serve to vivify the spiritual lessons which will henceforth claim our attention. John's narration forms one of those episodes in the life of his divine Master, full of circumstantial details, which are peculiar to himself. It reminds us of another and similar chapter of his Gospel—his domestic portraiture, touched with so delicate a hand, of the family of Bethany, and which, as in the present case, he alone of the four evangelists has delineated—"apples of gold in pictures of silver."

There is much interesting material to invite attention without further premise, but one preliminary incidental remark on the threshold of the Evangelist's narrative must claim our consideration in the present chapter—"He had to go through Samaria."

Samaria lay in the direct route between Judea and Galilee. There was, indeed, an alternative road by the eastern side of the Jordan valley and Perea. But the former, for various reasons, was most frequently traversed then, as it is invariably now; and that, too, notwithstanding the indignities, to which we shall subsequently allude, which the Galileans had often to encounter in the transit, owing to the hostility of the lawless mixed tribe inhabiting the valleys around Ebal and Gerizim. Josephus specially mentions that the pilgrim Hebrews from northern Palestine, in going to their anniversary festivals in Jerusalem, preferred this shorter journey, although these were the very occasions when the spirit of malignant and inveterate enmity between the conflicting races was most violently expressed. If this, then, were the favorite, most usual, most frequented highway between Jerusalem and Nazareth, does it not seem, unless for some specific reason, to be redundant phraseology, (and more especially as addressed to readers who were thoroughly conversant with the itineraries of their own country) for the Evangelist so strongly to assert in his narrative the axiomatic fact as to the "had to" or necessity laid upon Christ to go to Galilee by the ordinary route? Moreover, from a subsequent statement (ver. 40) it could not have been purposes of expedition which in His case made this route imperative, as we find He was induced so far to alter what seemed His original intention, by tarrying at Shechem for "two days."

What then was this divine constraint imposed upon the adorable Redeemer which demanded so special an entry in the narrative of the inspired recorder? We answer, it was because of an occurrence registered in an older and more majestic volume—the Book of the Divine decrees. 'By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,' a wandering star was, in the course of this memorable journey, to be reclaimed from its devious orbit, and a glorious testimony given as to how God's sovereign grace can triumph over all obstacles, and be independent of all place and circumstance.

To no locality could the Great Sower have 'gone forth to sow,' with the prospect of more unpromising results, than to that morally and spiritually rocky and thorny wayside. "Thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins," (Prov. 24:31) It had acquired an evil reputation. The very name, Shechem, had, by common parlance, been merged into the disgraceful epithet "Sychar," which means "drunkard" or "folly." It was one of Jeroboam's cities—the wicked prince whose name has been cursed with the unenviable notoriety that "he made Israel to sin." Perhaps it may have been the dreadful depravity, and, humanly speaking, invulnerable unbelief of the Samaritan race which dictated the Savior's earliest commission to His yet untried disciples, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel," (Matt. 10:5, 6.)

What, however, deters the servant is not to deter the Master. "Who are you, O great mountain?" Before the true Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. The wisdom of God is not "Sychar:" it is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. In the midst of drunkards and debauchees the Christ of Nazareth is to prove and vindicate the omnipotence of that divine energy which can change the vulture into the dove, the lion into the lamb, and bring the outcast of Shechem, like the demoniac of Gadara, to sit submissive at His feet. In the glowing figure of the prophet, these mountains around are to break forth before him into singing, and all the trees of the field are to clap their hands: instead of the thorn, is to come up the fir tree; and instead of the briar, is to come up the myrtle tree. His own declaration by the lips of the same seer is to receive a remarkable fulfillment in the case of the Church of Samaria, and especially in her who was the first ingathered sheaf, "I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. To a nation that did not call on My name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'"

Need we wonder now, at the apparently superfluous entry in the Gospel narrative, "He HAD to go through Samaria?" What would the infant Church, yes, the Church in all ages, have missed, had our Bibles been stripped of this fourth chapter of John? A sweet, silver tone of the jubilee trumpet would have been lost to the trembling, the despairing, the perishing. Oh most memorable incident! Oh most honored fountain! Well may the 'Israel of God' stand round the stony margin—as did the Hebrew nobles and princes of old with their rugged staves, at Beer, on the borders of Moab, by the brooks of Arnon—and say, in the words of that oldest pilgrim song, "Spring up, O well: sing to it," for a nobler than Hebrew "prince" or "noble" has made you oracular—put a tongue into your depths—and made you speak of "living water springing up into everlasting life."

There is one special practical thought which this "had to" of the great wayside Traveler suggests: it is, the peerless value of a single soul in the sight of Christ.

It is the truth of His own exquisite parable exhibited in impressive reality: the heavenly Shepherd, when, out of the hundred sheep He had missed one erring wanderer, going amid these mountains of Samaria to seek 'that which was lost.' There were many in populous Jerusalem to whom we might have expected rather that He would have borne the water of life, crowds of far more willing and receptive hearers were in the district of Aenon, near to Salim, the scene of the Baptist's successful labors. In His own city of Capernaum were waiting responsive multitudes—many who had long sat in gross darkness, but who now saw and owned the great Light—friends of the Bridegroom, who were rejoicing greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice. But on His way there, the sigh of one lone captive is borne to His ear—the bleat of one truant of the flock, fleece-torn, and footsore, and weary, is heard under the shadow of Ebal, or rather under the shadow of those curses which of old rang from Ebal's frowning rocks—for the sake of that one, not an inspired penman, not a recording angel, but His own infinite love and mercy dictates the words, "He had to go!"

Nor is this a solitary example given us in Scripture of the priceless estimate put by the Divine Being on the worth of one soul. Take as another illustrative case, that of the Ethiopian eunuch traveling through the desert of Gaza; a case all the more suitable as having a topographical connection with the Church in Samaria, of which this woman was the honored founder. That prime minister or chief treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia, a Jewish proselyte—like the Hadjis one meets so often still in the East coming from the shrine of the false prophet at Mecca, or like the Greek and Russian pilgrims returning from their pilgrimages to Jerusalem—was proceeding homewards from the Hebrew 'city of solemnities' (Jerusalem), where he had been doing homage to the one living and true God. Despite, however, his renunciation of the polytheism of Ethiopia; despite his formal subscription to the creed of Judaism, and the earnestness and sincerity evinced by his undertaking that vast journey from Africa to Asia, it is evident that he was retracing his steps still a stranger to peace; the deep longing of his soul had been umnet and unsatisfied. It seemed as if in vain he had braved for weeks, hot suns by day, and drenching dews by night. But unlike the hardened, indifferent Samaritan woman of our narrative, he had been in the way of duty. Unlike her, he had been seeking the living water, although he had failed to find it, and was returning in his chariot scanning the scroll of the great prophet, which was opened at the most glorious and gladdening of Isaiah's gospel visions. He had gone as a worshiper to Pentecost; and although his eyes continued blinded to those elevating verities of a new dispensation, which alone could give him light and life, he was still cherishing and manifesting the child-like spirit of a devout inquirer. This Ethiopian was "stretching forth his hands to God"—"seeking the Lord, if perhaps he might find Him." "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."

At that time a new life had stirred Samaria's valley of dry bones. Living streams had reached it better than those which had made a little material Paradise of the adjoining glens of Ephraim and Manasseh: the thirsty spiritual land had become pools of water. Philip the Evangelist had been specially sent to this scene of revival. He was preaching with acceptance; hundreds were hanging on his lips: for we read, "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed Christ there; When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. . . So there was great joy in the city." This religious awakening, commencing in Samaria as the capital, extended among the surrounding villages and towns; Shechem doubtless participated in the shower that had come down in its season—the "shower of blessing." In the midst of his career of usefulness, an angel—a delegate from the upper sanctuary—is sent on a special mission to this greatly owned and successful minister of God. Strange to say, it is to arrest him in the field of his abundant labor, just when he is scattering the good seed with bounteous hand, and seeing it springing up under the rain and dews of heaven. It is a mandate, however, from which there can be no evasion, and he immediately obeys the summons. But what is this new sphere of more imperative duty? Why are these souls, hungering for the bread of life, left all at once without assistance? why these fields abandoned for the time by this faithful reaper, just when inviting the sickle, already "white unto the harvest?" It is, that one weary spirit may be comforted; that one stray sheaf may be gathered into the heavenly garner; and not until that solitary traveler in the Gaza desert is sent on his way rejoicing, does Philip return to his labors.

Yes, we again say, reverting to the narrative of John, beautiful testimony to the yearning personal love of the Savior. "He had to go;" and that 'necessity' was to polish one stone for the building of His temple, one gem for the embellishment of His crown—to give to one shipwrecked abandoned vessel, drifting fast to destruction amid wild tempests and wintry seas, rest and safety and repose in the haven of His own infinitely pure presence and compassion. It reminds one of what is so often seen, and is always so touching, a mother's tender affection for her pining invalid—the weary suffering inhabitant of the sick-chamber—the caged bird of the family, with drooping wing and wailing note and ruffled plumage. The hardier plants are left to battle with the storm; but her most tender care is lavished on the sickly flower prematurely drooping. The others are for the time forgotten, as she watches the blanching of these tender leaves, the early falling of these cherished blossoms. Or more touching still, when with bated breath she speaks of the blank in her household, and how, with all her gratitude for remaining blessings, her heart of hearts wanders to the silent churchyard after that which was lost!

"My brothers, if one of you (any one of you) should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over ONE sinner who repents."

God still "sets the solitary in families, and brings out those who are bound with chains." Is there not the richest and most tender encouragement here for the guiltiest? The "had to" which brought the Savior of the world to that wayside well of old, may bring Him still, in His ineffable compassion, to the chief of sinners—to manifest the same divine solicitude, the same personal love. Let none deem themselves beyond the pale of His divine power and sympathy and support, as if that great Central Sun had lost its sovereign control over the wandering star plunging amid the ever-deepening darkness; or as if He had altered or modified His own saying, which in this narrative passage has received so sublime an illustration—"I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Rather, as with your eye on the well of Sychar, and on the compassion and pity garnered in the divine heart, you exclaim, "Can it be that He will receive 'ME, even ME?'" go, turn the words of the simple but beautiful hymn into a prayer—

"Pass me not, O gracious Father,
Sinful though my heart may be;
You might leave me, but the rather
Let Your mercy light on me—
Even me.

"Pass me not, O tender Savior—
Let me live and cling to Thee—
I am longing for Your favor;
While You are calling, call for me—
Even me.

"Have I long in sin been sleeping—
Long been slighting, grieving Thee?
Has the world my heart been keeping?
Oh, forgive and rescue me!
Even me.

"Love of God so pure and changeless,
Blood of Christ so rich and free,
Grace of God so strong and boundless,
Magnify it all in me—
Even me.

"Pass me not—this lost one bringing,
Bind my heart, O Lord, to Thee;
While the streams of life are springing,
Gladden others—gladden me!
Even me."

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS