SECOND EVASION AND REPLY
The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is
coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." John 4:25-26
In the previous chapter we considered the first means
employed by the unknown and unrecognized Heart-searcher to rouse the dulled,
torpid conscience of the woman of Samaria. We considered the evasive answer
which she gave to the unexpected revelation of her flagrant life, by
attempting to divert the conversation to a controversial topic about
the competing claims of Mounts Gerizim and Zion. This in its turn drew forth
our Lord's sublime reply, in which He announced the abrogation of all
ceremonial worship, the abolition of all distinctive "holy places," the
establishment of a universal Church, and proclaimed Israel's God under a new
gospel name, setting forth His paternal relation to His believing
people—"The Church throughout all the world does acknowledge you, THE FATHER
of an infinite majesty!"
We might have expected, after the gracious and impressive
words which had thus proceeded out of His mouth, (beginning with the
condescending offer of the living water, passing to the prophetic cognizance
of her heart and life history, and ending with the revelation of the divine
Fatherhood,) that she would at once have bowed in lowly humility before Him,
confessing her sin—recognizing one who, with divine intuition, "understood her
errors," saying, "Cleanse me from secret faults;" at the same time adding, in
a very different spirit from that in which it was first uttered, "Lord, give
me this water, that I thirst not."
But not so. The stricken deer tries once more to
wrench the rankling arrow from the wound. The lost wanderer of the
fold, thus caught amid the entangling thorns, makes yet one other effort
to escape from the arms of the pursuing shepherd. Or, dropping all figure,
this bold transgressor, unable to discuss these spiritual themes which her
Lord had just been unfolding, tries to stifle her convictions by the new plea
of procrastination. "I know that Messiah who is called Christ is coming. When
he comes, he will explain everything to us."—'He will tell us all these things
of which you have now been speaking—He will decide all controversies; He will
settle all rival claims; He will unfold to us these deep and glorious
mysteries about the nature and the name of God, and regarding the Church of
the future.' She wished apparently with this, to break off and silence the
conversation, and in the spirit of a later conscience-stricken sinner, to say,
"Go your way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for
PROCRASTINATION, in its Proteus shapes, is the most
effectual and the most fatal device which Satan has in every age employed for
luring unwary and unthinking thousands to destruction. Postponing the great
question of salvation to this indefinite convenient season, the cry of the
convicted soul is, "Give me this water!"—but not yet.
"Give me this water!" is the cry of youth—but not
yet. Disturb not my bright sunny morning; wait until I reach the threshold of
''Give me this water!" is the cry of ripening manhood—but
not yet. Disturb me not in the burden and heat of the day; wait until I have
leisure and breathing-time; wait until the eventide sets in, and the shadows
are lengthening, and the drawers of water stand with their pitchers around
"Give me this water!" is the cry of old age—but not
yet. Though far advanced in the pilgrimage journey, my strength is yet firm. I
have a long evening before the sunset hour. I may linger yet a while amid
these olive-glades, before the flagon be let down for the draught.
"Give me this water!" is the cry of the dying. But
postponement cannot be pled now; procrastination merges into despair. "Give me
this water!" but it is too late. It must now be an unresponded-to call. These
tottering steps cannot now bear me to the well's brink; these feeble hands are
unable to grasp the pitcher and quench this deathless thirst.
Oh, Procrastination! how many has your siren voice
lulled, and beguiled, and ruined! How true, if it be quaint, is the
well-known saying of an old divine—the sad verity it describes redeems it from
triteness or commonplace—that "Hell is paved with good intentions;" or, as
this is expressed in another form, in one of the sententious lines of the poet
of "Night Thoughts"—
"Men resolve, and re-resolve, then die the same."
But to return to the narrative. Although such was the
woman's dexterous new expedient to divert and terminate the conversation, she
could hardly fail to have had other conflicting thoughts also in that most
momentous hour of her existence. In her very attempts at evasion, she could
not shake off altogether the conviction, that she was standing in the presence
of a superior Being; one who had unmasked her inner life, laid bare her
ignominious past. She owns him as "a prophet." He had spoken in authoritative
accents; His sayings were as strange as they were impressive. If she was
perplexed and staggered at the similitude He had employed about "living
water," and "everlasting life," still more unconventional were His earnest,
commanding, arresting, comforting words—"Believe Me" "The hour now is"
"The Father (whose lost child you are) seeks," and seeks you. He had,
moreover, pointedly adverted (verse 22) to "the salvation," or "the Savior."
She remembered the great tradition of her nation. A nobler
life and hope and reality, indeed, this tradition was to the neighboring Jews,
whose sacred writings were full of predictions of a mighty coming Deliverer.
But their own venerated Pentateuch had inspired the same expectations. The
Jews looked for the Messiah as a great temporal King; but the one prophecy of
Moses was in true harmony with her present reference to the Messiah-hope as a
Teacher—"When He has come, He will tell us (or teach us) all things."
"The Lord your God," was the remarkable Pentateuch prediction, "will raise up
unto you a Prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren, like unto me—unto
Him you shall hearken."
When she listened, therefore, with arrested ear and smitten
soul to the divine utterances of this mysterious Jewish Rabbi, may not the
thought possibly have flashed vaguely across her mind, mingling with her
defiant unbelief, and with her real or pretended evasions, "Can this be Him?"
It must be remembered that not the dwellers in Palestine only, but the nations
of the world were, at this epoch, in dreamy expectation of some divine advent
or incarnation. Across on those Trans-Jordanic hills on which she could gaze
from where she stood through the opening of the valley, a strange prophetic
voice had, fifteen hundred years before, taken up the parable with which her
own Pentateuch may have made her familiar—"I see Him, but not in the present
time. I perceive Him, but far in the distant future. A Star will rise from
Jacob; a Scepter will emerge from Israel. It will crush the foreheads of
Moab's people, cracking the skulls of the people of Sheth."
The caravans of travelers, passing daily Jacob's Well on
the high road to Galilee, must have deepened these anticipations by their
tidings of the marvelous preacher of the Jewish desert—"the voice crying in
the wilderness." That voice, indeed, had in thrilling words announced the very
truths to which she had now been the strange auditor—"Prepare the way of the
Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every
mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made
straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the
salvation of God."
And what was to her more arresting far than these general
prophetic hopes, He who now addressed her had roused her slumbering
conscience—the arrow was sticking fast there. If he had not "told her all
things," He had, at all events, vindicated His claims to her attention and
reverence by an irresistible argument—He had told her about herself.
She could not stifle these aroused convictions. To use Chrysostom's quaint but
emphatic words, she must have been "made dizzy with Christ's discourse." It
was the crisis-moment in her spiritual history; verily but a step between
either life or death. Guilty caviler that she was, who knew not the time of
her visitation—meeting overtures of grace with evasion after evasion—it might
have been said of her as of the tribe of Ephraim to which she belonged, She is
"joined to her idols, let her alone!"
Is the divine Savior, whose forbearance she has thus been
trifling and tampering with, to abandon her to her procrastination and
unbelief and cherished sins? or, by one bold and gracious answer, will He
lift the curtain from the glories of His divine Person, as it had not yet been
lifted either in Galilee or Judea? Such a premature disclosure of His Messiah
claims may be fraught with peril and disadvantage, seeing that His hour had
not yet come. But the destinies of one human soul are suspended on that
revelation; He will save others, not save Himself. If the inward sigh of her
burdened heart corresponded with that of the Greek Gentiles at a later period,
"Sir, we would see Jesus!" the glad and astounding response is now given from
the living oracle—"Jesus said unto her, I who speak unto you am He."
What an unexpected rejoinder to her recent question, "Are
you greater than our father Jacob?" 'Yes!' is His reply, 'I am greater. I am
the Shiloh of whom he spoke. I am the true ladder he beheld in mystic vision
on yonder heights of Bethel, by which the guilty can climb to the heaven they
have forfeited and the God they have offended!' The triumph is complete. The
darkness is past, and the true light shines—"I am He!" It is enough. The
Baptist's bold words, uttered on the neighboring banks of the Jordan, have now
their first echo and fulfillment at the base of Gerizim, "Whose fan is in his
hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat
into his garner."
Whatever had been her prejudices, her sectarian bitterness,
her sarcasm, her evasions, she re-traverses at a glance the glowing words of
the conversation. She understands all now. The kindness, the grace, the truth,
the penetrating revelations of Omniscience, the strange urgency and
earnestness, the living water, salvation, everlasting life. HE, the great
Giver of all, is standing by her side, and offering these priceless blessings
to her! yes, to her with her legion-sins—the demon-throng that had reigned
unchallenged for long years in her degraded heart. She asks, she needs no
outer sign. He had told her 'all things that ever she did.' She requires no
attesting angels to gather around the well—no horses and chariots of fire on
Gerizim, as of old on the mountain at Dothan, to authenticate His mission.
The pilgrim garb the Traveler wears, and the signs of
weariness and languor, cannot in her eyes belie His claims to be the true
Messiah. The "follow me," which had acted with omnipotent spell on the
fishermen at Bethsaida, had fallen with like irresistible energy on her own
soul. She heard, she listened, she repented, she believed, she rejoiced! She
has already let down her pitcher for the draught, and feels as if for the
first time that her deep spiritual thirst was quenched forever.
The sequel is unrecorded. Whether she fell prostrate
adoring at His feet, exclaiming, with Thomas, "My Lord and my God," we cannot
tell. Her feelings at that moment are left to our imagination. Very possibly
there was nothing more for the evangelist to note. She may have been dumb with
silence, unable to utter a word—dumb, it may be, with tears.
Already, too, the disciples are appearing from the city
amid the olive-glades with their purchased food. But as we see this now saved
one hastening with buoyant step on her mission of wonder and gratitude and joy
to her native town, we can imagine the heart-song which the lips failed to
embody in utterance—"I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and
I will glorify Your name for evermore, for great is Your mercy towards me, and
You have delivered my soul from the lowest hell!"
"Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of
the angels of God over one sinner that repents."
Let us come once more, at this climax of the story, and
admire and adore the riches of redeeming grace and love. Behold Christ
standing at the door of a closed heart, still waiting and knocking in wondrous
patience and forbearance, though His head be wet with dew, and His locks with
the drops of the night, until the response was heard, "Come in, O blessed of
the Lord; why do you stand outside?" It was truly predicted of Him, "The
bruised reed He will not break; the smoking flax he will not quench, until he
bring forth judgment unto victory."
Seated as He now was at that well-side amid the mountains
of Ephraim, His own words, uttered aforetime by the mouth of His prophet, had
a new and significant interpretation: "Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How
can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is
torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not punish you as much
as my burning anger tells me to. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I
am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will
not come to destroy." The lesson may well be engraven as with an iron pen and
lead on these rocks forever, that none need despair—that the first may be
last, and the last first; that for Samaritan sinners, as for
Jerusalem sinners, there is mercy. The vilest prodigal may come and read
the superscription on the well of Jacob: "This is a faithful saying, and
worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save
sinners, of whom I am chief." That day salvation had come to her house.
As the first fruits of Israel's ingathering, the longing aspiration of the
great Psalmist prophet was fulfilled, "Oh that the Salvation (or the Savior)
of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord brings back the captivity of
His people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad."
"I who speak unto you," said Jesus to the woman. Christ is
speaking to us in many ways. He speaks in the mercies He bestows, and in the
blessings He withholds; in life's storms and life's sunshine; in the
earthquake and the fire, as well as in the still small voice. "I who speak
unto you." That is His utterance, if we would but hear it, in the midst of our
worldly losses—our desolate homes—our sickbeds—our deathbeds.
Blessed be God, too, as in the case of the woman of
Samaria, He has one louder utterance still: "I who speak in
righteousness—mighty to save!" Never is there the season, or the exigency, in
which He is unable or unwilling to reveal Himself. During his ministry on
earth, He seemed as if He would make every hour take up its parable as to His
readiness at all times thus to "speak peace to His people and to His saints."
Early in the morning, before the sun had risen on the hills of Bashan,
He spoke to His disciples on the lake-shores of Galilee. At midday—with
the glaring sun in the meridian—He met this sinful woman at the well of Jacob.
At eventide, on the way to Emmaus, when His disciples were indulging in
sorrowful musings about their absent Lord, the mysterious stranger who joined
their company said to them, "I who speak unto you am He." At night,
when all was hushed in Jerusalem, He spoke comfortable words to Nicodemus. Or
on the sea of Gennesaret, when, amid darkness and tempest, the
disciples, like this woman of Samaria, failed to recognize their divine
Master—when they could see nothing but an evil spirit (as they surmised, a
demon of the deep) walking on the crested waves, the voice was heard, "It is
I; do not be afraid!"
And if we take all these as symbolic of the varied hours
in life's little day, Jesus speaks in each of them. Youth! in
life's early morning, the dawn of existence, He speaks to you. Manhood
and womanhood! at the well-side, in the hot noon of life, He speaks to you.
Old-age! in life's evening, in mellowed sundown, He speaks to you.
Dying! out in the midst of the cold dark sea, death coming in spirit-form,
and extracting at first the cry of fear—He speaks to you in the gentle accents
of His own love.
Has He spoken to us? Like that woman at the well at
Sychar, that poor wandering bird of Samaria, long having no resting-place for
the sole of our feet, have we found it at last in the true Ark? Have we
listened to the gracious revelation, I am He? Have we listened to these
balm-words which fell of old on the ears of other similar outcasts—"Come unto
me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest?"
It is said of Goethe, the great German, that in one of
those dark unsatisfied hours in which his mighty intellect and soul groped
after the true rest, he thus recorded his undefined longings for that which he
had failed to attain—
Fairest among Heaven's daughters,
You who stillest pain and woe,
Pour Your refreshing waters
On the thirsty here below;
Where tends this restless striving!
Faint and tired I long for rest.
Come and dwell within my breast!"
These words were found on a scrap of paper lying on his
writing-table. A devoted friend of kindred intellectual pursuits, but who had
tasted of a better fountain and therefore knew what alone could quench these
unsated aspirations, wrote on the other side, "Peace I leave with you, my
peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be
"If you knew the GIFT OF GOD and who it is that asks you
for a drink, you would have asked Him and HE would have given you living
water." And if we would add yet one word, it is that Christ, in the glories of
His person and offices and work, as revealed here and elsewhere in the
Gospels, with His free message of salvation, is the very Savior we need, and
who alone can satisfy the soul's thirst. Christianity is to have no new phases
or developments. Its glorious distinctive truths are not to be molded and
metamorphosed to suit the restless spirit of the times, to adapt themselves to
new conditions of thought, and to square with modern theories and
speculations. Jesus, from being the adorable God-man, "Immanuel, God with us,"
is not to be dishonored by merely having a place assigned Him as one of many
deities in the world's Pantheon—regarded simply as the human Founder of one of
earth's religions or philosophies—and the doctrines of His school to take
complexion and color, shape and modification, at the caprice of human
opinion—the age molding the gospel instead of the gospel molding the age.
Poetry is at fault when this is one of her oracular utterances, "Ring in the
Christ that is to be."
The Christ that 'is to be' is the Christ that is. "I
who speak unto you am He." "They shall perish," may be true of all other
philosophic creeds and systems, "but You remain the same." "Jesus Christ the
same yesterday, and today, and forever."
May we know Him as the unchanging Savior, the Giver
of the living water, the Speaker of peace, the Bestower of rest to the soul.
Renouncing and loathing our sins, and having had answered in Him the cry of
thirsting humanity, "Give me to drink!"—may we be able to say, with holy
earnestness and believing joy,
"Is there a thing beneath the sun
That strives with You my heart to share;
Ah, take it thence, and reign alone,
The Lord of every motive there.
Then shall my heart from earth be free,
When it has found repose in Thee!"