THE CONFERENCE, (continued)

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give Me a drink?" John 4:7

Each one of us must come, at some time or other, to have a personal dealing with Christ. It may be at one of those crisis-hours of existence, of which few are ignorant, when the even flow of life's current is arrested; when, to use the suggestive simile of this narrative, the pitcher is drained and emptied, and we are summoned away from our Shechem-homes and broken cisterns to seek supplies of some better 'living water.' It may be at a dying hour. It must be on the Great Day of Judgment. Blessed for us if that solemn and all-momentous conference and interview has already taken place—if we have already listened to His words of wondrous mercy—let down our vessel for the draught in the deep well of His love, and drank of that perennial stream which quenches and satisfies the soul's thirst forever!

The sinner who now confronted her unknown Savior at Jacob's well, as we shall afterwards find, was not—could not, with all her simulated lightness of soul, be happy. She had no part, and knew she had none, in the blessings of the true Gerizim. If she ever recalled, in her journeys to and from the fountain, Joshua's old rehearsal of promise and threatening, more than one curse must have thundered its anathema over her head; and although the many thousands of Israel were not there to respond, her own guilty conscience must have uttered its assenting 'Amen.' But as at that same memorable scene of patriarchal days, the Ark of the Testimony was placed between the adjacent hills, so now did the true Ark stand between her and the Ebal of curses, directing and conducting her up to the Mountain of blessing, and saying, "Woman, your sins are forgiven you." Shechem, her ordinary dwelling-place, was one of the old cities of Refuge. She may possibly have seen with her own eyes the manslayer hastening with fleet foot along the plain of Mokhna, up the narrow Valley she had just traversed, to be safe within the appointed walls from the avenger of blood. That Old Testament institution and type had, in the Adorable Person standing by her side, a nobler meaning, and fulfillment. Though all unconscious at the moment of her peril and danger, He was to her the great antitypical Refuge from the avenging sword of that law which she had so flagrantly outraged in heart and life.

"Jesus said to her," briefly, abruptly, "Will you give me a drink?" That request is preferred in the first instance for Himself—uttered as an introduction to the subsequent converse. But it is evident He wishes to put it in another and far more urgent form into her lips as well as into ours. It is the call of unfulfilled humanity, in its unquenched longings after something more than perishable fountains can yield; a cry to which the world gives its ten thousand and mocking answers, all, however, telling of a thirst which, with anything short of the true answer, cannot be met or assuaged. It is the cry of the spiritually wounded or dying soldier on earth's battlefield in the rage of his moral fever—Water! water! water! "Give me a drink."

Thus does the Savior start the question. It is the keynote of the subsequent divine music. It regulates the strain throughout. It touches the chords of that tuneless soul, and waked up its latent slumbering harmonies. The long-sealed and hardened lips come to sing, (and the strange Music impels hundreds of her fellow-townsmen to sing, too). "Will you give me a drink:" "As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."

We may, in the present chapter, regard the interview unfolded to us in the narrative, as exhibiting several features which characterize those spiritual conferences to which we have just referred as still taking place at this hour between the Savior and the sinner.

Christ often comes and speaks UNEXPECTEDLY. When that woman of Sychar left her home, never did she dream of such an interview. No thought had she but of going to replenish her empty pitcher. If she had been a modern Romanist, she might, on reaching the "holy well," have perhaps counted her beads and muttered her 'our Father', but only to return light-hearted as she went. All unlooked for was the advent of that Divine Stranger. Still more unexpected the mysterious conversation which resulted in the change of heart and change of life.

Is it not so still? How often Jesus comes to the soul unexpectedly. Sickness has with appalling suddenness struck that strong man down. It was but yesterday when he was at his desk, or pacing the exchange, or studying his ledger, in the ardent pursuit of gain and engrossing earthliness—strong in pulse and brawny in arm, no premonition of an arrest on all worldly schemings. By sudden accident, or fever, or disease, he is chained to a couch of pain and languishing; it may be a bed of death. For the first time the dreadful realities of eternity are projected on his sick pillow. He has been summoned in the twinkling of an eye from the Shechem of his earthly pursuits, secluded from the hum of busy life, 'the loud stunning tide of human care, and crime,' the excitement of secular interests, the scramble of money-making, and he is lying by the Bethesda pool of affliction, with the hot, fevered sun as of midday beating on his brow. He is for the first time conscious—unexpectedly conscious—of a Personal Presence there. "JESUS sat thus on the well, and it was about the sixth hour." A few days before, he had not so much as a thought about Christ or his soul, with its everlasting interests. If you had spoken of these, he would have resented the allusion as a mistimed and impertinent interference. But it is, in his case, as in that of the mounted persecutor of old on his way to Damascus, of whom we read, "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun; and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"

Take another case. It is that of a household who have until now enjoyed a happy immunity from outer trial, who have been strangers to those shadows of death which have darkened the homes of others. Theirs until now has been a Shechem Valley, musical with streams and song of birds, carpeted with flowers and fragrant with perfumes. But clouds have suddenly gathered; the streams have been arrested in their courses; the birds have ceased to sing; the blossoms have drooped and withered "Man goes to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets." At times, too, (not infrequently,) these are households where the Divine Redeemer has until now been a stranger, His name not hallowed, His love not felt, His presence not realized. But now He comes unexpectedly, as He did that night on Gennesaret, saying amid the wailings of the tempest, "It is I!" or, in the beautiful imagery of the Apocalypse, when the long-rejected voice is suddenly heard—its tones no longer disregarded—"Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Some loved one has been borne away to the narrow house appointed for all living, leaving in swept and desolate homes and hearts the irreparable blank: but in that hour of inconsolable earthly sorrow, the Divine Wayfarer of Sychar, now the exalted Sympathizer on the throne, draws near, and says, in tones of ineffable love, 'Sorrowing one! I will come in the place of your loved and lost. Your golden goblet is emptied; your earthly pitcher is lying in fragments about the well's mouth. But trust Me. I have broken these perishable cisterns, to lead you to imperishable ones. I will be to you more and better than all you have forfeited. I am the True Well of living water springing up into everlasting life.'

Or, to take yet another illustration. That worshiper came to the House of God, if not to scoff, at all events careless and uninterested in the stale message of the preacher—a reluctant victim and martyr to the conventionalisms of the age. No tongue had he to sing; no heart to pray, no desire to listen. Let the tedious moments be dragged out, the tiresome penance completed, and the congenial world, as soon as may be, return again. Ah, but a certain one, surer and more unerring than the Syrian archer on the heights of Ramoth-Gilead, drew a bow at a venture. The arrow sped forth with its message of death and life. Again the Damascus midday scene is repeated. Suddenly "the shining light which unhorsed the persecutor brings yet another Saul to the earth; and as suddenly and unexpectedly as in that solemn moment a voice speaks: "And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the goads." This worshiper left his home, like the woman of Samaria, with nothing in his thoughts but the earthly pitcher and the perishable streams. He leaves the sanctuary—he leaves the wayside-well, with this new song in his lips—

"My heart is fixed, eternal God,
Fixed on Thee;
And my eternal choice is made:
Christ for me!"

Christ often comes and speaks to the sinner when he is alone. The woman of Samaria was alone when Jesus met her. Had it not been so—had she been in company with others from the city—had she come at evening hour, when the wells of Palestine are alive with herds and flocks and drawers of water—it would have rendered close and prolonged conversation impossible. But with no other eye or ear to disturb or distract, her deep-rooted prejudices would be calmly combated, her sin detected and denounced by the unerring Censor at her side, and the light of heaven admitted to her darkened soul.

It is when alone—in the solitude of the sick chamber, or in those solitudes of life already spoken of, created by bereavement and death, that Christ comes nearest to the soul, and speaks at once most solemnly and most comfortably home to it. The great questions of salvation and eternity cannot be weighed and pondered in a crowd. The ruts of busy life jostle them in confusion. The whirl of business, the frivolities of society, the oblivion-power of the world, come with their tidal wave and sweep the impressions away. Another convicted sinner of the Gospels—we trust, too, another stricken penitent—is the picture and type of many a sinner still. "Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus straightened up, and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, . . . Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more." (John 8:9, 10.)

Even in regard to His own people, the Savior loves to speak to them alone; when, separated from the absorbing power of outer things, (it may be even Christian activities for the time suspended,) they obey the call He Himself of old addressed to His disciples, "Come apart into a desert place and rest a while." The ordinary occasion for such seasons of lonely silent conference is unquestionably the closet. The 'still hour' is the hour of prayer. Not even will the public services of the Sanctuary make up for this. These latter are the times for the jubilant multitudes crowding around the golden goblets of water brought up on the great day of the feast, amid hosannahs of joy, from the pool of Siloam.

But this is the meditative silence and seclusion by the well of the Patriarch, when the soul is alone with its divine Redeemer. It is the brook Jabbok we spoke of in previous chapters, where Jacob was "left ALONE," and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. Had he not been alone, there would—there could—have been no such wrestling, no new name, no spiritual victory; and as a Jabbok, so still, in the words of an old divine, "the battle of the soul is lost or won in the closet."

But it is not Christ's conversation with true believers to which we are now adverting, but rather to His first solemn conference with the sinner. It is often in times of loneliness and solitude that He speaks to him most loudly, most solemnly, most tenderly. How many may be able to tell of such seasons? Reader, do you not vividly call to remembrance that hour, when the very Gerizim of your worldly blessings, with its usual sunshine, was mantled in thick darkness; when, with sad heart and sorrowing step, you left the busy world behind you, and went forth, in the loneliness of your bereft spirit, (you knew not where,) in search of peace and comfort, which the once-smiling valley of life could not now give, for it had been changed into the Valley of the Shadow of Death? do you remember, when bowed to the dust in the presence of the King of Terrors, who had stamped mockery on your dearest earthly treasure, how amid the stillness and solitude of that darkened house and hushed chamber there was a new voice that for the first time broke the dreadful mysterious silence? You felt yourself alone with Jesus; and your experience was that of Job, who, not when his cattle were feeding around him in abundant pastures, his family unbroken, and his own health unscathed, but when all had passed away like a wild dream of the night, and he was left with nothing he could call his own but the bed of ashes and the broken potsherd—then, yes, then—in that hour of wondrous loneliness, these fevered leprous lips sang aloud, "I know that my Redeemer lives."

We repeat, the ear will not, cannot, give earnest heed amid the world's distractions and petty cares, and poor, flippant, superficial pleasures. Hagar of old would never have sought for the well had she not found herself in the midst of the desert. The soul would often never seek for Christ or find Him but for the solitary places of affliction. "Behold, "says the Lord, in a beautiful passage in Hosea, where He speaks of Israel in the midst of utter alienation and spiritual debasement, "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and will speak comfortably unto her," (lit. will speak to her heart,) "and I will give her her vineyards from there." In the very place where vineyards are least looked for, (the depths of the arid wilderness,) there, says God, speaking metaphorically, there, in the midst of the wilderness of trial, in these unbroken solitudes of the soul, where all green grass is burned up, no sheltering rock to screen from the flaming sun—where earthly shelters have perished, and earthly voices are hushed for the forever of time—that is the hour for my "speaking to the heart."

As it was when alone with the dead, the Prophet of Cherith raised up the widow's son, "so that the soul of the child came unto him again and he revived," so, often it is with Jesus in the case of the "dead in trespasses and sins." In the loneliest, dreariest spots of the Valley of tears, with barren mountains all around, amid the desolate sense of human isolation and friendlessness, the spirit catches up the sound of heavenly music—"It is the voice of my Beloved! Behold, He comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills!"

Or, returning to the picture of John's narrative, how many, holding life's empty pitcher in their hand, bereft, companionless, having nothing in their unsolaced hour to draw with, for the well of their affliction is deep, have been admitted then and there into the heavenly household, and had, in their spiritual experience, the Psalmist's beautiful words to the lonely fulfilled: "God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound with chains."

We observe yet once more, Christ often speaks in the midst of the ordinary duties of life. The woman of Samaria, while she was alone, was engaged, too, in the most commonplace occupation—drawing water at a Palestine well; and while doing so, Jesus meets her, and speaks to her of spiritual verities through the earthly element. He who called one apostle while at his ordinary occupation at the custom-house of Capernaum, and four others from their nets at Bethsaida—summons here another disciple when she had gone on the everyday errand of replenishing her pitcher for household purposes. He thus beautifully, though indirectly puts His seal on the sanctity of life's daily drudgery. He speaks to a Samaritan female, not only when employed in this her most ordinary duty, but He makes pitcher, and rope, and well—these common material things she was dealing with—the vehicles, so to speak, for imparting deathless spiritual truths to her soul.

There is a lesson to God's own people in this too. We have just adverted to the desirableness of occasional seasons of loneliness and seclusion, to afford opportunity for contemplation and prayer. But we must qualify this with the counterpart and complementary truth; the "not slothful in business" must dovetail with "fervent in spirit." Men are ever apt to rush to extremes. The monkish theory and practice is religious retirement and loneliness caricatured—loneliness in its exaggerated and abnormal form, in which life, real, true life and vigor, mental and spiritual, is rendered impracticable. In the case of the man of the world again, in the sensuous and irreligious sense of the term—the man so absorbed and engrossed with the pursuit of perishable gain on the one hand, or with sinful excitement and pleasure on the other, as to leave no room or thought for higher interests—here also the only true life of the soul, is overpowered, paralyzed, strangled. In spiritual things, as in most other, the middle road is the safe one; where the active and the contemplative are intermingled and blended; where worldly work is nobly, honestly engaged in, but not permitted to exercise an overmastering, absorbent power; where there are solemn hours and moments in which the valleys of busy life are left behind; when the pitcher is set down by the curb-stone of the well, and, with folded arms, and eyes intent on the Great Teacher, the mind forgets the household care, the noontide drudgery, and the material is merged in the spiritual.

Never allow the thought to disturb you, "Can this be lawful? can this be Christian?—this constant wearing contact with dull, earthly pursuits—these poor little, lowly, petty anxieties, that are fretting away precious moments." If your complaint or confession is that yours is an idle, do-nothing life, we have nothing to say to that. There is more work for Satan in such case. But never fear healthy, invigorating, worldly occupation. God has sanctified it, because He has Himself ordained the sweat of the brow. And while He can meet His people at all times and under all circumstances, He loves to meet them in the pursuit of ordinary duties—yes, the lowliest and the humblest—with the pitcher on the head, or the draw-rope at the well, or the broom or shuttle in hand—Zebedee's children with their nets; David and Amos with their herds and flocks; Elisha with his plough share.

"We need not bid, for cloistered cell,
Our neighbor and our work farewell,
Nor strive to wind ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky.

"The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask,
Room to deny ourselves: a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God."

We close, as we began, with the great question for us: Have we had our conference with the Savior of Sychar? It matters not whether He may have come to us suddenly and unexpectedly—when we were alone or in the crowd. But have we met by some of life's wayside wells; and whether prosperity or adversity were our portion—whether our pitchers have been full or empty—have we listened to His divine voice and closed with His great salvation? It was His first meeting with that Samaritan female; and never are the appeals and words of Christ so impressive as when He first speaks to the soul. If that woman had listened in vain—had she heard all His pleadings unmoved, and returned hardened and reprobate as she came—little would have been the likelihood of any subsequent impression under the same circumstances.

It was springtime around her in plain and valley; all nature was robed in its earliest green; the trees were putting forth their bud; the song of birds was welcoming the reviving earth. It was springtime in her soul. The storms of life's dreary winter had passed over her. She seemed, a moment before, a tree twice dead, plucked up by the roots. But the Sun of Righteousness was shining; as He shone, the sap, defiant in her case of nature's analogies, rushed up through the dried and wasted tissues, and the withered stem became clothed in summer glory! What if that day's convictions had been resisted, and the cumberer had despised the offered dews and heavenly radiance?

My brother, see that you do not refuse not Him who speaks. See that you resist not first convictions. If it is springtime too with your soul, let not the young bud be nipped, let not the young shoot be blighted, when it is putting forth its tender leaves. But listen to the divine Pleader as He thus calls you in the words of the Son—
"Lo! the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone,
The flowers appear on the earth,
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."

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