Jesus answered, "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

In the preceding chapter and context we found the thoughts of the woman of Samaria were of the earth—earthy. Nothing but the well at her feet presented itself to her dim unspiritualised vision, as the mysterious Stranger spoke to her of "the gift of God" and "the living water." Unrepelled by her insensibility to divine realities, the Heavenly Teacher pursues His theme; not, however, by answering her challenge—in vindicating the dignity of His own person compared with that of 'Father Jacob.' He had a higher end in view. He wished to raise, not only her, but all who in after ages would read this story of the wayside fountain, above the things of earth to "the river of God which is full of water."

Again, therefore, He recurs to His text, and continues the emblem by the announcement of a startling and significant contrast. He begins His reply with the assertion regarding the well of the Patriarch at which they stood, "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again;" an assertion which may appropriately be invested with a wider meaning, enshrining as it does the great truth, that all creature and created-good is inadequate of itself to satisfy the yearnings of the human soul. In every breast there is a craving after happiness. "Who will show us any good?" is the sigh, the soliloquy, of weary humanity. There are many streams of created enjoyment. Some of these lawful, innocent, exhilarating, which have the blessing and favor of God resting upon them. Others are poor, vile, degraded, unworthy.

But even the best and purest, viewed by themselves and apart from Infinite excellence, can afford no permanent bliss or satisfaction. They do not, cannot quench the immortal thirst. Pitcher after pitcher may be brought to the well's mouth; the golden goblet of riches, the jeweled flagon with the luscious draught of earthly glory, the brimming transparent pitcher drawn up by the silken cord of human affection. But He who knows the human heart pronounces, that "thirst again" is the property and characteristic of them all.

The finite can never be a satisfying portion for that which was born for the infinite. Satisfying portion! Philosophy, with its eagle soarings, says, "It is not in me." The pride of rank—crowns and coronets, and lordly titles—says, "It is not in me." The laurel of conquest, as it withers on the warrior's brow, says, "It is not in me." Gold, with its glittering heaps, laughs its votaries to scorn, and says, "It is not in me!" The most renowned of earthly conquerors seated himself by that well. He brought the monarchs of the world to be his drawers of water; each with his massive goblet going down for the draught, and laying the tribute at the victor's feet. But the tears of the proud recipient have passed into a proverb; and if we could ask him to translate these dumb tears into words, his reply would be, "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again."

But if such be the unsatisfactory nature of earthly happiness, the brokenness of earthly cisterns—what nobler compensations, what more enduring pleasures are there to take their place? You cannot attempt to dislodge one object of earthly affection or pursuit without having some other and better to substitute in its room. It was a dictum of the old philosophy that nature abhors a vacuum, and this is as true regarding the moral as the material world. The dove of old with weary wing, would have retained its unstable perch on the restless billow had it not known of an ark of safety. You cannot tempt the shivering child of poverty to desert his garret or crude covering, until you can promise him some kindlier and more substantial shelter. You cannot induce the prodigal to leave off the husks of his miserable desert exile, before you can tell him of a father's house and welcome. You cannot ask him to part with his despicable rags and tinsel ornaments until you can assure him of robe, and ring, and sandals. The husks and the tatters, wretched as they are, are better than nothing.

In one of the islands in our northern coasts, a daring adventurer scrambled down one of the steep cliffs which rose perpendicular from the ocean, in search of the eggs of some seafowl; the precarious ledge of rock on which he stood suddenly gave way, and with one giant bound plunged him into the boiling surge beneath. In a moment, the instinctive love of life made him spring from the yielding footing and lay hold on a branch of ivy which clung with uncertain tenacity to the precipice that rose sheer above him. Who would have had the madness or cruelty to shout to that wrestler for dear life, to let go the treacherous ivy branch? Worthless as it was, it was his only chance of safety; and those on the summit of the cliff, the spectators of his imminent peril, were wise, not by word or sign to disturb his grasp of what they anxiously felt might prove a brittle thread in these moments of suspense. But when a fleet foot had returned with the rope, and let it down by the side of the exhausted man, then, with no hesitating accents did they call upon him to let go the fragile support and lay hold of what brought him up safe to their feet.

In the same way do we find the inspired writers dealing with the human soul. They never are content with negative admonitions. They never exhort to 'abhor that which is evil,' without telling of some objective 'good' to which the heart can cleave in stead. "Charge those who are rich in the world that they do not be high-minded nor trust in uncertain riches, BUT in the living God." "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world… The world passes away, and the lust thereof; BUT he that does the will of God abides forever."

This is the procedure of the divine Redeemer with the woman of Samaria; conveying, through her and through the outer material symbol and similitude, a deeper moral lesson for 'all mankind.' He tells her, pointing to the well at her feet, that returning there day by day she would require continually to refill and replenish her emptied pitcher; but that He had nobler living streams in store which would quench her soul's thirst forever.

He says the same to us. As in her case, so also in ours, in a higher figurative meaning, He does not condemn many of these worldly streams of innocent pleasure, or forbid their being resorted to. The needs of the body, the claims of our physical and social natures are integrated with our moral and spiritual natures; for man is a complex being, with intimate relationships binding him to both worlds; and the imperious calls of the one, can as little as those of the other, be with impunity neglected or ignored. Jesus recognizes both. He who knows our frame would lay no cruel arrest on many objects of lawful earthly pursuit—many wells of earthly happiness. All He says of them is, If you restrict your journeyings to these, you will not be satisfied—you will assuredly thirst again.

But I have a well of living waters to tell you of, more far lasting than all earthly sources of supply. You will not require the glow-worm and the starlight when you have the meridian sun; the shifting sand when you have the solid rock; the tiny stream when you have the infinite ocean. "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."

There are many salient points presented to us here. Space will only permit touching on one leading and beautiful thought suggested by the two central words of the latter verse; where all other outer objects of perishable pleasure are brought into contrast with that which is inward, "IN Him." "It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." The believer has an inner well in his soul—something within the renewed being which makes him independent of all external earthly good and earthly happiness. Let outer things smile or frown, it matters not. That 'source of lasting joy' is no 'summer-dried fountain.' But being fed from the everlasting hills, it is always full, always flowing, overflowing.

What though the world grow false and treacherous? What though worldly means are abridged, worldly pleasures fade, or bereavements narrow the beloved family circle? The inner sources of truest peace cannot be invaded! Of the believer, outwardly impoverished, it can be said, as of the Church of Smyrna of old, "I know your poverty, but you are rich." In these hidden sources of satisfaction and happiness imperceptible to the eye of the world, we are furnished with a key and solution to Paul's paradox, "Having nothing, yet possessing all things." How often was the reality of this inward satisfying and sustaining good illustrated in the case of this great man? Look at the closing scenes of his life when a prisoner in bonds in the world's capital. See some of the pitchers which he brings up from this inner fountain, when all other shallow rills were rapidly drying in their channels. "Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. At the moment I have all I need—more than I need!"

Or see him in the same place, at a yet later period, when the earthly streams of comfort had well-near perished; lonely, deserted by man, he could yet, with the unimpaired energy of 'the life hidden with Christ,' write the glowing words, "All men forsook me. . . . Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me." Or again, when in the hour of sinking nature, his enemies were insulting his gray hairs, loading him with reproaches and indignities, and doing what they could to shake his constancy in his great Lord—when every other well and stream had deserted him—when his aged and tremulous arm could no longer fetch up the flagon from the failing earthly pool—when the pitcher was about to be "broken at the fountain," and the wheel "broken at the cistern"—the fountain of his soul's peace was clear and sparkling as ever. He seems to say, 'Attempt not to cloud my hopes or eclipse my faith. Dream not that I am to act the coward's part, and purchase immunity from suffering and death by base retractation. You may shut me off from all earthly streams of joy—you may bind heavier irons on these tottering limbs—you may threaten me with the horrors of the amphitheater—you may sprinkle my insulted ashes on the waters of your Tiber river, or scatter them on the wide sea, or by the winds of heaven; but "nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day."'

If you asked him the secret and spring of all this superhuman faith and magnanimity and hope, he would reply in the brief words, "Christ in me the hope of glory." Jesus, in the glories of His person, and in the fullness and completeness of His work, was that inner fountain of gladness and peace, the "spring shut up, the fountain sealed"—and "when He gives quietness, who then can make trouble?" The apostle tells the Philippians what alone would prove the secret of their heart tranquility, as it was of his own, "The peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Is that peace ours? After, it may be, long vainly seeking peace—a resting-place for the soul elsewhere, have we returned to the true Ark—the refuge from the storm and the covert from the tempest? Has the true Noah put forth his hand and taken us in? and are we now, with folded wings, enjoying that, without which all outer calm is vain, illusory, worthless—reconciliation through the blood of the cross? "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ."

Reconciliation! Have you known the meaning of that word, even with regard to earthly friends; when, after years of bitter estrangement, the prodigal is locked in the arms of his father; or brother is reposed in the early love of brother; or sister is cuddled in the embrace of a long alienated sister?—what is this, compared to reconciliation with the Being of all beings, the Friend of all friends? For if God be for us, who can be against us? if God gives peace, who can give trouble? if God smiles upon us, who can really frown? If God be our reconciled covenant God and Father, then we have the sweet persuasion that all things are working together for our good; and even the very rills of creature bliss that were before in themselves unsatisfying, become invested with new elements of happiness and joy.

"I can truly say," to take the testimony of one, illustrious as a Christian, but illustrious too, among our country's scientific explorers, and who, escaping many treacherous reefs in the literal ocean, had reached the truer spiritual haven. "I can truly say, that I have found the ways of religion are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. I was never half so happy before I came to this knowledge, and never enjoyed so much of life. Pleasures or enjoyments which are sinful, have no temptations for me. But I have yet many rational enjoyments and pleasures—domestic pleasures, social pleasures, the pleasures afforded by communion with great and good men, and above all, the pleasure derived from a sense of the favor of God in the heart, which indeed passes all understanding. I used to fancy I must give up all enjoyments if I became religious. But now I find that things I used to call pleasures now disgust me, while a multitude of new enjoyments have burst upon me."

"How pleasant," says another beautiful and well-known exemplification of the Christian life, "How pleasant it is to have God for a friend, to know that He is about my path and with me. How pleasant it is to consider that nothing can hurt me, nothing can injure me, for God is my portion forever and ever. He feeds and will feed me; He supports and will support me. In Him I become independent of the world. I desire not riches, pleasures, or the favor of men. Having God I possess all things." "My days," says Doddridge, "begin, pass, and end in pleasure, and seem short because they are so delightful."

"I never knew happiness," said Wilberforce on his death-bed, "until I found Christ as a Savior." Oh, what a lever true religion is thus found to be in elevating the soul to the enjoyment of satisfying bliss! And how is it so? We answer again, because nothing finite can satisfy that which was made for the infinite. You might give to the eagle, of which we have spoken, a golden cage, and feed him by princes' hands; but this would never be to him an equivalent for his native, free-born, sun-ward soarings.

Water never rises above its own level; and so, the best of earthly joys and rills of pleasure can rise no higher than earth. They begin and terminate here. But the living water with which Christ fills the soul, springing from heaven conducts to heaven again. Flowing from the Infinite—flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, from the city of the crystal sea, it elevates to the Infinite! It finds its level in the river of the water of life which flows in the midst of the celestial Paradise. And just as on earth, so long as our mighty lake-reservoirs are full of water and the channel unimpeded, the marble fountain in street or garden, sends up, on the gravitation principle, its crystal jets in unfailing constancy—so (with reverence we say it) never shall these fountains of peace and joy and reconciliation and hope cease in the heart of the believer until the mighty reservoirs of Deity are exhausted; in other words, until God Himself ceases to be God. Everlasting life is their source, and everlasting life is their magnificent duration!

We have witnessed the memorable and interesting spot at the roots of Mount Hermon, familiarly known as 'the sources of the Jordan.' There, the river of Palestine is seen bubbling out of a dark cave, and thence hastens on through its long tortuous course to lose its waters in the Sea of Death (the Dead Sea). That is the picture and illustration of every stream of earthly happiness. They terminate with the grave. But this inner fountain in the hidden man of the believer's heart flows onwards to the Sea of Life; and the hour which terminates the worldling's happiness only truly begins his!

On the other hand; how awful the state of the soul continuing in guilty neglect of this 'living water.' Every well resorted to but the true well; partaking of all waters but the living waters; a stranger to the only satisfying good, feeding on husks, and starving for lack of the bread of life. You have heard of the rage of bodily hunger—what those may be impelled to in the agony of famine—in the straits of siege or shipwreck. You have heard how the very mother has been untrue to her deepest, tenderest instincts; or how the famishing crew on the wild untenanted shore have had to cast lots for nature's direst extremity.

But who can tell the famine of the soul? Alas! we cannot tell it, for we cannot now feel it. There are expedients to which we can, and do betake ourselves to stop that infinite rage of spiritual hunger. We throw sops to the immortal appetite. There are husks with which we can keep it down, messes of pottage to decoy from the true heavenly birthright. But when the husks are ended, what then? When life is ended, what then? When cast on the inhospitable shores of a bleak and ruined eternity, what then? It will be an unresponded-to cry, ringing its undying echoes, "I perish with hunger!"

You have heard of the rage of bodily thirst. Here is a picture of it from a graphic pen: "Many years ago, when the Egyptian troops first conquered Nubia, a regiment was destroyed by thirst in crossing this desert. The men, being upon a limited supply of water, suffered from extreme thirst, and deceived by the appearance of a mirage that exactly resembled a beautiful lake, they insisted on being taken to its banks by the Arab guide. It was in vain that the guide assured them that the lake was unreal, and he refused to lose the precious time by wandering from his course. Words led to blows, and he was killed by the soldiers whose lives depended on his guidance. The whole regiment turned from the track and rushed towards the welcome waters. Thirsty and faint over the burning sands they hurried, heavier and heavier their footsteps became, hotter and hotter their breath, as deeper they pushed into the desert, farther and farther from the lost track where the pilot lay in his blood; and still the mocking spirits of the desert, the phantom of the mirage led them on, and the lake glistening in the sunshine tempted them to bathe in its cool waters, close to their eyes, but never at their lips. At length the delusion vanished, the fatal lake had turned to burning sand. Raging thirst and horrible despair! the pathless desert and the murdered guide! lost! lost! all lost! Not a man ever left the desert, but they were subsequently discovered parched and withered corpses by the Arabs sent on the search."

Such is life—a mocking mirage, the phantom of the wilderness! Thousands, lured by the brilliant spectre, hurry on in the chase after happiness, in hot pursuit after the vain and unreal. But all is illusive, ending in mockery and disappointment, 'as a dream when one awakens,' leaving the thirst of the deathless soul unquenched; and, unless a nobler Fountain be resorted to, this remains the irreparable doom, the unchanging destiny—"Him that is thirsty, let him be thirsty still."

But, thanks be to God, there is no such malediction now ringing in our ears. We may listen rather to one of the blissful cadences of the Bible—a sweet strain, a sublime harmony, wafted from the heights of heaven, "They shall HUNGER no more, neither THIRST any more." It is further added, in the same beautiful passage, "The Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to LIVING fountains of waters." Yes, He it is, this slain Lamb of the Heavenly Paradise, who has solved the problem of human happiness. He is the true "Fullness," the only satisfying Good, groped after by the Platonic philosophy. "In Him all fullness dwells."

It is over the portico of the Gospel Temple, not over any heathen shrine, the superscription is written, "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the abundance of Your house, and You shall make them to drink of the rivers of pleasures!" What is to be our choice? The phantom or the reality?—the substance or the shadow?—the earthly waters, with their inseparable characteristic, "thirst again"—or the 'rivers of pleasures' springing up into everlasting life? At any moment the curtain of the seen and temporal may be rent in twain, and the world and all its hopes scattered like the leaves of autumn. As we are seated in thought at Jacob's Well, listening, from holy lips, to the contrast of the earthly with the perennial stream, may it be ours to breathe the fervent prayer:

"Hear me! to You my soul in suppliance turns
Like the lorn pilgrim on the sands accursed.
For life's sweet waters, God, my spirit yearns;
Give me to drink; I perish here with thirst!"

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS