"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?" John 4:11-12

This is the reply given by the woman of Sychar to the address of the Savior. It is an answer which begins, at all events, deferentially. Her previous reply was that of a churlish, uncourteous Samaritan, startled and offended at the familiarity of a hated Jew: "How is it that you, a Jew?" But now the kindness alike in the tone and substance of His language has apparently disarmed the virulence at least of her dislike and antipathy, taken the rough edge off her sectarian prejudice, and she addresses Him with the respectful title of "Sir," or "Lord." The promise, however, in the opening of her reply is not sustained. She gradually lapses into the old feeling and expression of disdain. He had designed to elevate her thoughts to everlasting verities—from the well at their feet to the water of life. But she has no spiritual discernment to raise her above the material; the human supersedes the divine; what was spoken figuratively is taken literally. His golden gate of salvation becomes, in her hands, iron and brass. So true is it that "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

With no higher thought, then, than a supposed reference to Jacob's Well, she starts difficulties in her rejoinder. There is, first, the lack of any mechanical provision (rope or pitcher) to fetch up the water, this, as we previously noted, not being the public well of the city—"Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." And, secondly, if it were some other well or fountain he referred to which contained this living water, she repudiated the tacit claim of superiority on the part of a modern Jew over the illustrious Father who gave the well, and "drank thereof himself, his children, and his cattle." There is evidently an implied antithesis in her expression, "gave us the well," to that of Christ's words in the previous verse, "the gift of God."

Could this novel gift He speaks of with such emphasis (living water), dare be compared with the patriarchal gift which had consecrated the whole valley, and around which clustered the most sacred memories of her tribe and nation? Indeed, though beginning with the courteous salutation of "Sir," she would seem, with the passionate fire of her race, to wax indignant at the slur expressed or implied on her great progenitor. After all, had this stranger only muffled his reproaches and deep-rooted antipathies under a feigned and counterfeited blandness, while there lurked underneath an unworthy reflection on Father Jacob? And yet, too, with an inquisitive nature, we note her eager curiosity to discover who this traveler was.

Question follows question. "From where have You?"—"Are You greater?" Who can this be, to dream of any other, any better fountain? The most prudent and sagacious of all the shepherd patriarchs had deemed this the best in the neighborhood. It had proved sufficient for the supplies of a vast encampment, to the cattle that browsed on the pastures around. Who is this apparently weary, exhausted wayfarer, who speaks so mysteriously of some superior well of "living water?"

The second part of her reply might appropriately furnish a motto or illustration for one of the boldest and most meaningless heresies of these our times. If not of apostolical succession, she was a bold and brave upholder and defender of patriarchal succession. "Our Father Jacob," says she, in words of suppressed indignation. That name was with her a charm. That well contained holy water, because historically identified with the ancestor of her race. She speaks as if, moreover, her Samaritan tribe had a monopoly of the grace and virtue descending from the veins of old Israel. Her words are not, "Father Jacob," but, "Our Father Jacob."

We have already treated in full, in a previous chapter, the history of that Samaritan nation which, in the person of this female, claimed the rare and exclusive prerogative and blessing of being Israel's children. As we then saw, they had neither part nor lot in this assumed inheritance. They were aliens—a mixed multitude from surrounding heathen countries, strangers in birth and blood, and more alien still in creed and practice. The Patriarch would have repudiated and disowned the illegitimate offspring. His mantle had fallen on no such degenerate seed. The claim was spurious, absurd, presumptuous. She spoke of Jacob as her Father, when alike, she herself personally and her tribe collectively, had failed to inherit the only true patriarchal succession, the legacy of his virtues and spirit. She had not heard words, uttered by bold brave lips, not far from the place where she was at that moment standing, "Do not begin to say within yourselves, We have Abraham as our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."

And what is the pretension advanced by the Sacramentarian body among the Romanists, and by a segment in a Church which otherwise we delight to honor as a great witness of God's truth, but which, were it represented by that section, would utterly forfeit and belie the name Protestant: what is the figment of 'apostolic succession,' but just the question of this Sacramentarian at Sychar—the clinging to some supposed mythical virtue descending from the Fathers and apostles of the Christian era—saying, as they address other Churches beyond their pale, "Are you greater than our Father Jacob who gave us the well?" "Our father Jacob "is their self-constituted claim—"us," to whom the well was given.

Of all heresies this is alike the most preposterous and the most arrogant. What are the grounds on which those speak with such boldness and exclusiveness—unchurching and unchristianising all others, whatever be their unmistakable symptoms of a deeper and truer life? What is this boasted charm of apostolic descent? or, in other words, who is this Samaritan tribe, with its succession of golden links descending through the centuries after the age of Constantine—links which impart an assumed validity to their own ordination alone, while invalidating and negativing that of all others? The ecclesiastics of the middle ages have about the same claim to the name and spirit and grace of the apostolic fathers, as the profligate and heathenized Samaritans had an exclusive claim to the name and spirit and Well of Jacob. It passes comprehension to an unbiased mind, to a plain reader of his Bible, to a plain reader of the facts of history—to a plain student of the simple stern logic of common sense, how any monopoly of virtue can be claimed through a succession, not of piety and purity and a noble heritage of Christian and primitive graces, but through a succession of apostate bishops and debased popes, many of whose private lives were so stained with every vice and crime, that to speak of them as inheriting, in any true sense, the patrimony of the apostles, were enough to stir the bones of these holy founders of the faith, like those of Elisha, to rise and mutiny at such an abuse and perversion of sacred language and sacred thought.

No! our Father Jacob gave 'the well' with no such prescriptive rights. No Samaritan body is entitled to extrude and ostracize Churches who, in simple faith and earnest zeal, are doing Christ's work, or claim any such monopoly of that name or that free grace which belongs to Christendom—which belongs to the wide world.

There is a clause in these verses which, separated from its original connection, may be made to suggest one or two profitable reflections with which we shall occupy the remainder of this chapter. "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." These words may be affirmed with regard to the insufficiency of Reason, apart from Revelation, in fathoming the deep things of God. Deep, unsearchable, inscrutable are the divine counsels. The name of Jehovah, as the covenant angel said to Manoah of old, is "secret" or "wonderful." All the vastest problems which concern the human spirit and its relationship to God, and more especially the relationship of the sinful, conscience-stricken soul to a Being of infinite holiness and justice and truth, are insolvable by reason. Reason stands baffled at the well's mouth, exclaiming, "Oh, the depth!"

The world, for four thousand years, deifying Reason, strove to work out the solution. Greece, in the culture of her refinement and the wisdom of her philosophy, with all the possible data, which, apart from revelation, the human intellect could supply, addressed herself to this problem of the ages. But "the world by wisdom"—the mind of man in its highest condition of development and activity—"knew not God." All its shrewdest guesses were splendid but shadowy dreams, or rather gigantic failures. Human nature was a profound enigma. The high priests of her temple, professing themselves on these transcendental questions to be wise, became fools. There were on every side strange and puzzling aberrations, which Reason could neither explain nor reconcile—the harmony in the material world without—the disharmony in the moral world within—the glorious casing holding a broken, dislocated, tuneless instrument—the palace walls festooned and tapestried with all that is fair and lovely, enclosing a once royal, but now unsceptred and uncrowned inmate, with sackcloth on his loins, and the shadows of sin and sorrow on his brow. And more perplexing than all, how is that sackcloth to be taken off and the royal insignia refurbished and renewed? How are these tuneless strings to have the old harmonies restored? In one divine word, "How can man be just with God?"

Oh, proud baffled reason, "you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." The solution of the mystery of ages and generations is beyond you; as far beyond you as these distant planets are beyond the range of the naked eye, unassisted by the telescopic lens. But where Reason fails—where the well is too deep, Revelation, like rope and pitcher, fulcrum and lever, comes to our aid. Yes, blessed be God; in this precious Bible, deep though the well be, we have the "something to draw with." Revelation speaks where reason is silent—unfolding to us the Divine method (undreamt of by human wisdom or human philosophy) for restoring the fallen—bringing the present discords of the inner world into harmony with the order and melody of the outer, and solving in the cross of Christ that mystery of mysteries, "How is God to deal with the guilty?"

The few brief words of the preceding sentence, uttered in the ears of this outcast wanderer of Samaria, had given a glorious response to a question on which all heathen and all reason's oracles had been dumb, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink, you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water." Through that life and immortality which have been brought to light by the gospel, the little child, as well as the profound philosopher, can stand by that well's mouth and exclaim, "Oh, the depth!" But it is now with the apostle's addition, "Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"

"Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." These words may be uttered with regard to the mystery of God's providential dealings. "The well is deep." Many a sorrowing broken-hearted one is brought to the well's mouth, and, stooping over the darkness, is heard to exclaim, "Your judgments are a great deep!" Here, in this imperfect world, there is nothing to draw with, nothing to gauge the "needs be" of the divine dispensations. The more we try, with our puny wisdom, to fathom the depths of Jehovah's dealings, the more unfathomable they are. The best, fondest, most treasured names are written on gravestones. Why is this? The vicious, the selfish, the false-hearted, the unthankful, the useless, are allowed often to live on, pampered with prosperity—the fabled horn of plenty pouring its contents into their lap; while the good, the kind, the true, the loving and beloved are either prematurely cut down, or go bowed with pain, or with penury, or with blighted affections to the grave—This well is deep!

The aged, the decrepit, the suffering, are often left to drag on an apparently useless existence. The old, gnarled, decayed trunks are spared, while the axe is laid at the root of the green sapling, the pride and beauty of the forest. Why is this?—This well is deep! The careless, indifferent herald of the truth—the unfaithful watchman of souls, is left to slumber at his post and trifle with his Master's work, while the bold standard-bearer in the battle of evil—the toiling, wakeful sentinel at home, the hero-heart in the mission-field abroad—have their weapons shattered in their hands, and the Church of God is left to exclaim, through her tears, over the irreparable blank, "My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!"—This well is deep!

But why stand straining your eyes down the dark cavity? "You have nothing to draw with." Here in this imperfect state, all is mystery. All the earthly explanation of these deep, these 'great deep' judgments, is this, "Verily You are a God that hides Yourself." If you had rope and bucket, so as to descend the shaft and reach its unsounded depths, there would be no harsh verdict, no questioning the rectitude of the divine dispensations. Standing as you now are at the well's mouth, amid the glitter and glare of the world, you cannot understand or comprehend these mysteries of life and death, these baffling enigmas in providence. But the hour will arrive when you shall have the needed apparatus, when the profound secret of the divine works and ways will be revealed and unfolded. "In your light, O God, we shall see light." To use the language of Deborah's ancient song of triumph, there is at present 'the noise of archers' at the brink of the well. But the day is coming when we too shall be able to take up her joyous strain: "Those who are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord!"

There is a tradition regarding one of the other sacred wells of Palestine—the Well of the Wise Men between Jerusalem and Bethlehem—that when the Eastern Magi had at one time lost the guidance of the mystic star, while stooping over this fountain they saw it once more reflected in its waters; forthwith it guided them to the place where the young child was—"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy." True, at all events, is this beautiful tradition regarding God's providential dispensations. At times we lose the guiding star; it is swept from our firmament; we travel on in darkness, in our unpiloted way—led in our sorrowful musing to exclaim, "Where is now my God?"

But when on our bended knees we stoop over the well—yes, often in our very darkest night of mystery and sadness—lo! the heavenly light reappears—we see the lost star of Providence mirrored in the fountain of salvation. The work and the love of Christ explain what is otherwise often inexplicable. God our Maker—God our Redeemer—gives "songs in the night."

"Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." These words may be affirmed with reference to the veiling of the future. Standing by the mouth of that well, looking down its unexplored cavity, "The well is deep." The future—that dark, ungauged, unfathomed future, how many a thought it costs! Yet it is a vain musing, a fruitless conjecture. "You have nothing to draw with." Even tomorrow has no pitcher that can be let down for a draught: you know not what a day may bring forth! The past we do know about, and there are special times when it comes before us with fresh vividness. Memory follows group on group, coming through the glades of the olive-forest to draw water; some with elastic step, and ringing laugh, and joyous song; some with mourning attire, and tearful eye, and broken pitcher; yes, some, unknown to themselves, to draw their last draught, to fill their last flagon: we lose them among the twilight shades; they are never again to return.

But from the standpoint of the present, who can forecast the doings at the well's mouth? who has rope or pitcher or plumb-line to fathom the depth? Some may now be gazing, as the writer did from the literal Well of Jacob, on golden vistas, bars of glorious amber clouds stretched across the luminous horizon, lighting up with parting radiance Gerizim, the mountain of blessing; but before another week or month or year measures out its course, every such vista may be curtained with mist and thick darkness, Gerizim obscured from view, and Ebal alone, with its dark, gloomy grey, meeting their eye.

But it is well for us we cannot anticipate the future. Thank God for the gracious provision, "You know not what shall be on the morrow." Were the morrow unveiled, this world would be hung with curtains of sackcloth; there would be fewer happy hearts among us. Inevitable trials, of which, by a wise and kind arrangement of Providence we are kept in ignorance, would then project their long deep shadows athwart life's bright sunshine, and make existence itself one protracted period of anticipated sorrow. It is a merciful thing, when, ever and anon at solemn anniversaries, we attempt to cast a glance down the future, to hear Him who has that future in His hand saying, "You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep."

Yes, but this is our comfort. Though too deep for us, it is not too deep for Him. He has the rope and pitcher in His hand; and whether, in drawing up the vessel from the unseen depths, it reaches safely the well's mouth, or is broken in the transit, all is appointed and ordained. "The Lord reigns." "Trust Me," He seems to say; "that Well is Mine. Trust me; that white, unwritten scroll of the future is Mine. It will be filled up by Me, whether in gleaming letters of gold, or with the dark lettering of sorrow." "Although you say you can not see Him, yet judgment is before Him, therefore trust in Him."

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