FIRST EVASION AND REPLY

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."
He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."
"I have no husband," she replied.
Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say 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."
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." John 4:15-25

These opening words, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water," have received varied and almost conflicting interpretations. We dismiss at once, as unsatisfactory, that which would represent them as the expression of a childlike faith, a further development in the woman's dawning convictions, which were soon to culminate in perfect unwavering belief. Two other interpretations appear alone to be tenable. Her answer may have been simply dictated by stupid, ignorant wonder; it may have been the utterance of a carnal, sensuous heart, dull and dead to all spiritual apprehension蓉nable, as we have already seen, to rise above earthly things, or to extract any higher meaning from the sublime and gracious declaration of the stranger than a poor material reference to the well at her feet, and the economy of time and toil in being relieved of the necessity to "keep coming here to draw water."

An alternative interpretation is perhaps more in harmony alike with the woman's character and with the tenor of the narrative, that is, that her response was neither the dictate of wonder nor of faith, but rather an attempt, by evasion and banter, to trifle with divine realities葉hat it was uttered in a sarcastic, frivolous spirit, in a tone of playful irony. As if she had said, purposely to evade the spiritual application, 'Yes, truly, this mythical living water of yours would be a good thing indeed! it would really be worth knowing and having. Lord, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither keep coming here to draw water.'

She had, it is true, in an earlier part of the conversation, given promise of better things. She had seemed, at all events, impressed with the unwonted courtesy of this Jerusalem Pilgrim, and to have reciprocated it. But the impression, on a heart in which pride and sin were dominant, was only momentary葉he wave only touched the living rock to retreat back again amid the eddying waters. The old nature and the defiant tone return and resume the mastery. She petulantly spurns a style of discourse at variance with the whole current of her carnal thoughts and carnal life. She has no belief in, no patience for, such serious talk as this. Her answer is in the taunting, skeptical, scornful spirit of the scoffers in Ezekiel's time, "Ah, Lord God, they say of me, Does he not speak parables?"

Although of comparatively little importance which interpretation we select, we are inclined to think that the latter is most in consonance with the immediately subsequent dealing which our Lord deems it necessary to employ. When He thus saw that she was trifling, or affecting to trifle, with the profoundest needs of her soul, He resorts to the use of strong means in order to rouse her from her apathy, and guilt, and awful peril. 'The wind, and the earthquake, and the fire' must follow 'the still small voice.'

He therefore breaks off the conversation abruptly, and pursues a new theme. There is nothing more said now in connection with the beautiful similitude of the well and the living water. If she cannot be approached by imagery and figure, He will come home to her hardened conscience by the use of facts from which there can be no escape. She may misunderstand and misinterpret symbolic teaching, but there can be no misunderstanding about the stern and sad realities of her own life. He drags to view her besetting sin. Suddenly terminating the figurative conversation, he sends home this arrow of conviction, "Go, call your husband, and come here!"

In a light, bravado spirit葉he reflection of her character and history耀he replies, with no sense of shame or sorrow, "I have no husband." Or, it may be, ignorant of the omniscient Being she confronted, who then read the blotted pages of her heart, she tried to evade the truth by the utterance of a lie. But she was soon convinced that He in whose presence she stood, was one 'from whom no secrets are hidden'葉he discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart. In one brief sentence He unfolds a terrible life-story with its crowning act of present guilt. ''Jesus said unto her, You have well said, I have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; in that said you truly."

We might have supposed that after this, evasion was impossible; that, as the timid bird cowers under the glance of the falcon or the eagle, so would this convicted sinner have trembled under the revelations of that infinitely pure One, who, from the deep well of her polluted life, had drawn up the evidences of impurity and debasement; and that casting herself convicted and condemned at the feet of her Divine Censor, she would have exclaimed, "Have you found me, O my enemy?"

The barbed arrow indeed could not fail to reach its mark; but even now, as it pierces her seared conscience, she makes a bold and adroit attempt to turn the subject葉o evade the scrutiny. This she tries to effect by a twofold deception. The first only of these two efforts, and the manner in which our Lord meets it, we shall be able to examine in this chapter.

By a dexterous shift and diversion she starts a controversial topic. It is only those who have stood by the actual spot, with all the old, unchanged surroundings of the Well of Jacob, who can fully realize and picture the scene, as, pointing upwards to the heights of the sacred mountain close by, she exclaimed, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." She had already, in the context, adverted to religious differences葉he old feud existing between Jew and Samaritan. She had passed from that, to historical and ancestral questions regarding Father Jacob. Now she invites discussion on the controversy between the rival temples of Gerizim and Zion, and their comparative claims to superior sanctity.

What does this teach; but how possible it is to talk fluently on controversial themes, to start speculative questions用oints of religious debate葉o fight sectarian battles, defend to the death every letter of party shibboleth, exclaiming, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we," and yet to live godless lives. Here was one; not only outraging the laws of heaven and earth, but also utterly indifferent to her own abandoned career; and yet, apparently with a martyr's heroism, she enters the lists as a sectary; she could speak readily on semi-religious questions; she could talk, with all the fiery zeal of a partizan, of "our fathers," and gloried in being a separatist from the tribe of Judah.

Picture, alas! of multitudes still, who are living in deepest ignorance of their own guilt and danger, their corruption in heart and life; who are yet great champions in some denominational battlefield; who, with stern self-isolation, entrench themselves in sectarian pride and formalism傭low loud the trumpet of religious partisanship; valiant athletes in some debatable question of creed and sect, plying their weapons with untiring ingenuity so long as the personal and practical issues can be evaded and eliminated; very tolerant of their own frailties, but very intolerant of the frailties and short-comings of others様oyalty to party, usurping the place the gospel assigns to charity, in covering a multitude of sins. Such, then, was the woman of Samaria's first attempt at evasion.

Let us listen now to the Savior's memorable reply; the order of which, for the better elucidation of the meaning, we may somewhat transpose. He first gives a bold and decided answer to her question, and then grounds upon it some grand truths, whose comfort and consolation were intended for all ages of the future. To her query as to the rival claims of Mount Gerizim and Zion, He affirms, without hesitation, the orthodoxy of the Jewish and the heterodoxy of the Samaritan worship: "You worship you know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews." He thus unflinchingly condemns the defectiveness of the Samaritan creed葉heir rejection of the entire succession of inspired prophets, as well as their partial toleration of the half heathen ceremonies which had been incorporated in the worship of the God of Israel on Gerizim. By assimilating their religious ceremonial to the rites of Phoenicia and Greece, they had practically set up an altar with the inscription, "To the Unknown God."

Moreover, Zion being the appointed city of solemnities where the tribes were to go up, they were guilty of breaking, unsanctioned, the old historic unity of worship. On the other hand, Jesus adds, as Himself of the tribe of Judah, "We know what we worship." The Jews were the divinely accredited custodians of the truth; "Unto them were committed the oracles of God." Apostate, in one sense, as the worshipers on Zion had become from the living faith of their forefathers, they at all events retained intact and unmutilated their monotheism, as well as the ancient Mosaic and Levitical institutions. Along with the Pentateuch, they reverenced the authority of the prophetic voices which age after age had been preparing the way for the new Gospel era. They were uncorrupted by Baal worship. The temple courts were undesecrated by the arts of the magician and necromancer. More than that, "Salvation" (literally, in the original, "the Salvation," or, as some would render it, "the Savior," the promised Messiah, "is of the Jews." Of them, as concerning the flesh, Christ was to come. From the tribe of Judah, not from Ephraim, He was to spring.

The fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness was, in the first instance, "for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem." The Lord had chosen Jerusalem as the place to put His name there. Ezekiel's living waters, emblematic of Gospel grace and blessing, were to go forth from the Temple of Zion to refresh and fertilize earth's waste places葉he moral wildernesses of humanity. No, farther, not without note and significance is the tense of the word here employed. It is not "the Salvation" shall be, but "is," of the Jews, probably indicating to the listener that that Savior or "Salvation" had already appeared, and thus forming a preparation for the more distinct and unqualified assurance which follows, when He declares Himself, without reserve, to be the promised Messiah.

But having thus unhesitatingly vindicated the claims of Jerusalem and Zion, He at the same time announces two truths of world-wide interest, regarding alike the object of worship and the manner of worship. We may invert also the order in which these stand in the narrative. As to the OBJECT of worship, He gives to this ignorant woman a revelation of the Supreme Being under two distinct aspects

(1.) "God is a SPIRIT," or "God is spirit." He may, in her case, have had a double reason for thus adverting to the immaterial nature of Jehovah. Material forms, as we have previously mentioned, had been sanctioned in the compound mongrel-worship on Gerizim, in accommodation to the tastes and propensities of the heathen colonists庸orms that were of necessity localized, and which were supposed to exercise no influence save in the vicinity of their shrine or temple. Moreover, the pure faith had been farther corrupted by combining with this material, a spurious spirit-worship. The votaries of Baal had a spirit presiding over the scenes and elements of nature謡oods and mountains, fire, air, and water. Jesus reveals the glorious truth, of which this latter was the debasing counterfeit.

God is a spirit. Not a local God, restricted to that neighboring hill; but the Great Universal溶ot presiding over any favorite haunt or segment of the globe, but according to the beautiful description of one of those Psalms which the Samaritan had rejected, "If I ascend up into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in hell, behold You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me." In opposition to spirit-worship葉he false teaching of their magicians and enchanters揺ere was the glorious unseen reality. These spirits, supposed by some of them to haunt the woods and groves and streamlets of Gerizim, or, in demon form to take possession of the human soul謡ere the phantoms of their own brain, the forms of a credulous superstition. But here with the Jews, was the only true (the Omnipresent) Spirit, who needed no temples made with hands.

And, yet once more, the Samaritan worship, either of the material symbol or of the local spirit, had become a heartless form. Religion had degenerated into the most worthless and debasing ritualism預 round of externals, in which true worship, the worship of the heart and the obedience of the life, had no place. Not so was it in the worship of this spiritual Jehovah. "Those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Thus, then, the Savior's declaration was a needed counteractive to false views on the great elementary truth of all religious creeds葉he nature of the Supreme Object of worship.

This woman may have been conversant, probably from infancy, with some of these strange, extravagant beliefs in a spirit-world. She had been surrounded by lying prophets, and credited their lying wonders. Christ directs her to the true spirit-worship. "You worship you know not what."雄ou have conjured up a spirit-land and a dream-land which have no existence. But I now reveal to you the great truth you have overlaid by your demonology, and desecrated by your practice: "God is a spirit, AND those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

(2.) He makes a second and still more glorious耀till more novel and startling revelation of the nature and name of the Supreme Being. God as a FATHER. "The Father." It was a new name預 new apocalypse of the Almighty Ruler of her nation. She had just spoken in sectarian pride of "our fathers," and of Father Jacob. In emphatic contrast with this, Jesus can tell of the true Father葉he eternal Father葉he Father of His universal Church and people. It was a name, not indeed unknown in the books of the Jewish prophets, but it was a name which specially belonged to the new and dawning Gospel dispensation. "The hour, (that is, the Gospel hour), comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father."

The woman of Sychar had done foul dishonor to other most sacred ties of earth. Could no muffled harp-string in her soul wake up in trembling melody, as to an old familiar strain, by the mention of this new name? Debased as she now was, might she not, amid the memories of childhood-innocence, recall the hour when she loved to lisp that word? Amid the wreck of all other human relationships, might she not think of, and cling kindly to, the oldest and tenderest of all?

God was such to her宥od was her Father葉hat universal Spirit was the universal Parent of all who worshiped Him in spirit and in truth. The thought would bring Him near as He never was before. It would invest Him with a new attractiveness. It would unteach in a moment many of the falsities of the Baal creed; and specially, its tendency to cause the Jehovah of Israel to be regarded with repulsiveness and terror預 Being of wrath to be appeased, but not of love or beauty in whom affection and trust might repose.

Of this Almighty Parent, Jesus adds, "the Father seeks such to worship Him." May not these words have further endeared to her His new name? The term "seeks" is not in the sense of 'wishes' or 'desires,' but of going after, to search and find. It is the Shepherd "seeking his flock that are scattered in the cloudy and dark day." "Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep and find them out." Was she not one of that scattered flock, the worst truant of all the fold? The Shepherd was seeking her熔r rather, that Old Testament figure and simile is superseded by the more touching Gospel symbol, "The Father" seeks his prodigal child遥es, and the Father waits not in his palace halls for the wanderer's return, but he goes forth on his mission of parental love. New and glorious step in the ladder by which she was brought up out of the horrible pit and the miry clay!

'Father, my Father;' 'He seeks me.' That earthly name, as we have just said, may have been to her, a fading remembrance. One of the rocky sepulchers at the base of Gerizim may now have been all that could recall it; and she may have felt thankful that he who claimed the relationship had not lived to see it disgraced in her own immoral life. But the old and hallowed earthly tie may be revived in a new and more enduring form. The God of Gerizim, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob幽e is my Father. I may cry unto Him, "You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation."

If unable yet to grasp the blessed truth, she came before long to do so. Perhaps long after this interview was over, she may have lived to read in future years, in a letter from one, who, like herself, was a monument of Redeeming grace and divine parental love, "I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:18)

But it is not only a revelation of the Supreme object of worship the Redeemer makes to the woman of Sychar. He has an equally glorious and important revelation as to the PLACE AND MANNER OF WORSHIP. "Jesus said unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem worship the Father," (or rather, "not in this mountain only, nor in Jerusalem, you shall worship the Father.") All local worship is to terminate; all old things are to pass away, and all things are to be made new. Hitherto, under a preparatory dispensation, God had chosen out a people for Himself. Jerusalem had been His earthly audience-chamber, the repository of the true faith; the mystic cloud, the symbol of Deity, had rested in the holy of holies within Zion's temple. But the Gospel hour has now dawned, the substance has come, and the shadows are fleeing away. Soon the symbolic veil of that Temple shall be rent, intimating not only the abolition and abrogation of all ceremonial worship, but the extinction of all exclusive religious localities, privileged "holy places"葉he inauguration of an era of worldwide blessing葉he brotherhood of the nations under the one universal Spirit預 church gathered out of every country, under one Father.

The Great Shepherd will go forth, not as of old, on the mountains of Judah or Israel, but out amid earth's pathless wastes, from distant east to distant west, wherever the lost and the wandering are to be found. And no one spot in all the vast circuit will be more sacred than another. Gerizim葉hat boasted "mountain of blessing" is now to give its name to the whole earth. "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto you and bless you." The round globe, with the blue vault of heaven for its canopy, will henceforth form the stupendous temple of the great Unseen and Invisible. The true and accepted Israel葉he "Father-worshipers," will be found in every corner of the habitable world擁n those glorious climates of the sun where idolatry has long reigned with undisputed sway謡here the mosque and the pagoda have for ages frowned defiance on the Christian sanctuary擁n the distant isles of the ocean預mid the prairies and pastures of the far west, the arid sands of the tropics熔r amid the icebergs of eternal winter遥es, and not more under the gorgeous church or fretted aisle, than in the crude garret of the city, the humble hovel of the country, the secluded cavern of the mountain, the pathless forest of the settler, the solitary craft or deck of the fisherman and seaman, the lonely chamber of the poor, the sick, the bedridden, the dying
"Wherever they seek You, You are found,
And every place is hallowed ground."

The woman of Samaria pointed, with the pride of sect and tribe, to the locality as if that were everything. But, in His brief answer, Jesus proclaims the great truth, that the locality is nothing. The material offering was unimportant, but the acceptable and grateful incense to this Great Spirit and Father was the fragrance of a broken heart and a holy life. All outward symbols, Gerizim and Zion, and their conflicting claims, are to be merged in the sanctities of a nobler temple, an inner shrine"You are the temple of the Holy Spirit." "The temple of the Lord is holy, which temple you are."

Among other solemn and urgent lessons these magnificent utterances bring home to us, surely one is, the duty, not only of moderating the wild excess of religious exclusiveness, but the folly of putting external forms on the same level or platform with eternal principles of faith and obedience. When will men take down this complicated scaffolding which obscures and obstructs the grand proportions of the Temple of Truth? When will the sun arise to quench these fires of our own kindling? When will the material give way to the spiritual; the human and the incidental to the divine and the everlasting? When will individuals and Churches, as the children of one redeemed family, come, in childlike faith and childlike love, to worship 'the Father?'

What a different world would this be, did these two eternal words容ternal 'articles'預ssert their glorious sway, and be allowed to perform their limitless errand! "God is a SPIRIT"葉his is the first and fundamental teaching of the missionary in overturning all idolatries and gross material forms and sensuous worship妖emanding 'spirit and truth,' purity and earnestness, the homage of the heart and the consecration of the life. "God is a FATHER"葉his is the Gospel's precious and consolatory message to the prodigal, the disinherited, the lost.

Do we know the preciousness妖o we ponder alike the solemnity and the consolation, of this twofold name? God is a SPIRIT! How soul-stirring, how awe-inspiring would be the habitual recollection of this simplest but truly greatest of elementary truths; that that august Being, that Great unseen, unknown, untraceable, intangible擁s everywhere present, beneath, around, about me葉he witness of all my actions, with the eye of unerring scrutiny searching the secret labyrinths of my heart! "Where shall I go from your spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence?"

God is my FATHER! The feeling of awe encompassing the Supreme Spirit melts into affection. The cloud and the darkness resolve themselves into a halo of softened tenderness. That all-seeing One is the prototype of the dearest of human relations葉he earthly parent is the shadowy image of the heavenly. "The Father"傭ut it is the Father in Christ the Son; "My Father," and therefore "your Father." Not the Father of universal humanity, that modern travesty of the true Fatherhood of God傭ut the Father of that redeemed humanity which has its representative elder Brother now before the throne, and who gives, in one glorious sentence, the condition and qualification of sonship: "As many as received Him, to them gave He power (the right) to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name." "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says unto you, Give me to drink, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water."

Could the revelation of the God of Christianity, the God of the Gospel go no farther than this? Yes; yet another name and title of the Almighty, flowing from this paternal relation, was reserved for one of these apostles (who had now gone into the city to buy food,) subsequently to unfold to believers and the Church. This woman of Samaria, now groping in the darkness, may, too, have one day read in his epistles, its letters of living light. With it, the evolution of the Divine character terminates. Heaven knows no more幼an give no more. The archangel can climb no higher. It is the loftiest expression of the august Fatherhood; and Jesus leaves it to the lips, we may reverently say, next best qualified to His own to pronounce it: "God is LOVE."

This bright pinnacle of faith葉his third and last step in the golden ladder, may we also be enabled to reach. Rising in the sublime gradation, may it be ours to grasp the threefold name葉hat trinity of divine attributes, with all their elevating motives and everlasting consolations. The triple theme of meditation in the Church on earth, it will form the triple theme of adoring contemplation and immortal praise in the Church of the glorified
God is a SPIRIT,
God is a FATHER,
God is LOVE!




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