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

In the previous chapter we contemplated the Divine Pilgrim, wearied from His journey, seated by the well of Jacob. Let us turn for a little to the other visitant, at that consecrated spot, who divides with Him the interest of the narrative: "A Samaritan woman came to draw water."

The first question which naturally suggests itself is, What brought her there? And the question is all the more pertinent to those who are familiar with the locality. The well of Jacob, as has been previously noted, is at a considerable distance from the modern Nablous. Indeed, if the ancient Sychar be identical with the present Shechem, it cannot be less than a mile and a half. At all events, much nearer her home were two copious fountains, Ain Defileh and Ain Balata, which must have been as old as the days of the Canaanites, besides innumerable springs within and around the city; and whatever else may have been the changes which eighteen centuries have produced, we may feel assured that the number of the wells and streams of ancient times can have undergone no diminution. There must have been, therefore, some special reason to induce this female of Sychar, in the heat of noontide, to take an otherwise superfluous and unnecessary journey to a well that is specially designated as "deep" and the drawing from which must have been accompanied with considerable manual labor. The very hour, too, was unusual and peculiar. Of old, and to this day, evening was the time at which the wells and cisterns of Palestine were surrounded with living throngs. It is only the chance wayfarer or passing caravan that are found pausing at noon for refreshment. Moreover, as has been observed by Dr. Robinson, "that is was not the public well of the city is probable from the circumstance, noted in verse 11, that there was here no public accommodation for drawing water."

The answer which we think is, on the whole, most satisfactory, is the one suggested by the same learned writer and followed by others, that it was more than likely a peculiar value set on the water—a superstitious virtue supposed to attach to the old patriarch's well—which induced this woman to protract her journey and brave the midday heat. In various parts of Europe, superstition has reared its convent, monastery or shrine around reputed sacred fountains which have borne for ages the name of their founder or patron saint, and been credited with an inherent charm for the cure of diseases alike physical and spiritual. What must have been the sanctity which, in the Jewish age, gathered round these holy relics of Israel's Pilgrim fathers at Beersheba and Sychar! no mythical saints of a mythical calendar, but the veritable spots where the tent and altar of the Friend of God and of His children's children were pitched, where the smoke of their offering ascended, and the rites of patriarchal hospitality were dispensed.

An objection, however, to this surmise may reasonably occur. We can quite imagine such a motive (we could not denounce it as superstitious, we would, to a certain extent, rather commend it as hallowed) actuating a true child of Abraham and Jacob—a partaker of their faith; but we can scarcely imagine a profligate and degenerate descendant of these holy patriarchs making any such nice discriminating distinction between the distant ancestral well and one of the gushing fountains that sang its way in the valley close by her own home.

This objection would be tenable, were it not for a strange peculiarity, in this composite fallen nature of ours, by which cringing superstition is not infrequently found allied with licentiousness. It has been well observed, "There is a kind of 'religious' feeling (often possessed by people of a susceptible and emotional temperament) which, where moral principle is lacking, gives birth at once to a sensuous superstition and a sensuous life." In the most abandoned heart there is always something to utter a protest against its sin; and along with this, some false refuge or expedient to shake off the uneasy feeling of guilt and of abused and violated responsibility. As, at times, amid the wrecks of the old ruin tangled and matted with rank weed and nettle—crumbling in decay, may be discovered the piece of now marred, but once delicate sculpture, indicating and memorializing its vanished glory—so even in the soul which is a moral wreck, there is found, now and then, in the midst of its fallen capitals and moldering walls, some strange indices, so to speak, of the tracery of a diviner than human finger "on the plaster of the wall" of that once kingly palace.

In the case of some, this manifests itself in a groping after higher life and truer verities. With others, as with the Samaritan woman, it is no more than a dim recognition of that moral responsibility of which we have just spoken, coupled with an undefined mysterious dread of divine retribution; but taking the counterfeit form of seeking to atone for inner heart impurity by the performance of some outer act of religiousness. In one word, counterbalancing the life of guilt, and quieting the stings and rebukes of conscience by the penance and the pilgrimage—giving the fruit of the body, or the toil of the body, for the sin of the soul.

We see it in the case of the Mohammedan, reveling in all that is morally debasing, yet saving the pittances of a lifetime and braving weeks and months of perilous endurance to accomplish his pilgrimage to Mecca. We see it in the case of the Roman Catholic: for in what but this consists one of the fatal charms of Romanism and of the semi-Romanism of the day, whose essence is contained in what is called 'sacramental efficacy;' and where the mere external act of worship, is made a counterbalance for the worldly or abandoned life. Such is frail, inconsistent, fallen human nature; and this too, we may add, not alone in the case of the gentle Hindu, or the sensual Mussulman, or the superstitious Romanist, or the mediaeval Ritualist; but under every phase of religion, not excepting the nominal Protestant and Puritan, where that religion is a mere form, not a regenerating power.

The woman of Samaria is thus the type and representative of a by no means limited class, among whom depravity of character is found associated either with silly superstition or with hollow sanctimoniousness; a degraded citizen of Sychar, yet going at times with meditative step, and in the pride of sect and of religious ancestry, to the "Holy Well," and thereby, in spite of a life of unblushing sin, thinking she was doing the God of Jacob service! Oh, the human heart, like that well of Jacob, is "deep"—deep in its corruptions, deep in its self-deceptions. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?"

But to pass to one other more practical reflection—the Guiding hand which brought the woman of Samaria at that particular time to draw water. We shall afterwards come to read in her brief biography a wondrous chapter in the volume of Grace: but we have here to mark a preliminary page in the book of Providence.

Nothing, in the earthly sense of the word, was more purely accidental, than the going of this citizen of Sychar that day to the well at sultry noontide. She left her home with no thought but to bring in her pitcher a draught from the well-known fountain. Never dreamt she for a moment of an undesigned meeting that was to shape, and mold, and recast her whole future. Had she come there a day sooner, or at the usual evening time for the drawing of water, amid the hum of voices and the bleating of flocks, she would have missed that "still hour" of divine musing and heavenly communion: she would have returned the heathen and reprobate she had gone. But there is a directing, controlling, superintending Power guiding all human plans and purposes, "rough hew them as we will."

Who can doubt that, all unknown and unforeseen by her, it was one of those ordinary everyday providences of God, included in the supervision "of all His creatures and all their actions," which we are compelled implicitly to believe, if we would unriddle and understand the mystery of the world. Make that journey to the well a mere happy accident—a curious and singular coincidence in which there was no divine foreknowledge and decree, and as a matter of course we write "chance" on the momentous results to which the meeting led—the founding and extension of that Church which sprang from the woman of Samaria as its nursing mother. If we stop short of the only true solution of that journey, as being one of the eternal purposes of the Most High—prearranged and predetermined by Him—we virtually dissever God from history. Accident! Chance! No; the name of that woman was written in the Book of life. The same "needs be" of the divine 'determinate counsel' which brought the Redeemer there, brought also her, who, before that noontide sun sank behind Gerizim, was to He made a trophy of His grace.

Indeed we cannot speak of such apparently trivial occurrences as "accidents" without virtually dethroning Deity, wresting the sovereignty of His own world from the hands of the Supreme. The peradventures and contingencies of men are the interpreters of His will, the executioners of His purposes, heralds sent forth to fulfill His high behests. If we deny particular providences, we must deny more special ones. If we deny God's hand in the minute events of daily life, we must, to be consistent, eliminate His overruling power in the rise and fall of empires. Minute occurrences, apparently the most trifling, have not infrequently involved the destinies of nations, and the blessing or curse of generations unborn.

Every schoolboy knows the authenticated fact in our own early Scottish history, how the fate of this kingdom hung, so to speak, on a spider's web; how the success of that tiny insect nerved the arm of her chieftain kin—as like himself, six times baffled, it reached on a seventh effort the rafters above his head—roused him from his couch of despondency and led to the victory which secured his country's independence. By refusing to recognize God's direct overruling providence in an incident so trifling, we must, as a matter of course, sever from His cognizance and supervision every subsequent historic event in our nation's annals to which that apparently trivial accident gave birth.

The reader of "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" may remember a similar story with a lesson: the passage wherein the skeptic writer, in the pomp of stately history, tells of the little bird of the desert which rose from the mouth of the cave, where Mahomet, the false prophet, had taken refuge from his pursuers, and by which occurrence he evaded certain death. He records, with a covert skeptic's sneer, (what the Christian may read as a great truth) that "the flight of that bird changed the destinies of the world." Yes! this is true, 'but not as the infidel would represent it—as if that winged tenant of the wilderness had usurped the place of the Great Supreme. We accept his saying, but it is with the interpretation that the almighty Ruler, the God of providence, had set that tiny warder by the cave's mouth, prepared its perch by the rugged entrance, and gave the summons to fly.

Deny God's providence as extending to so minute and trifling an occurrence, and you wrest from Him the cognizance and foreknowledge of the vast influence which that impostor was yet to exercise on the world's history. In other words, you admit the 'heathen deity of chance' into your Parthenon; you fling the reins on the coursers' necks and surrender all idea of Divine control—resolving all history into a fortuitous concurrence of chances, just as the infidel world-maker would resolve all this fair creation, with its harmonious movements and nicely adjusted machinery, into the old fortuitous concurrence of atoms. No, no; man proposes, but God disposes. He who wheels the planets in their courses, marks the sparrow's fall. He who swept Babylon with the broom of destruction, or overthrew Pharaoh in the Red Sea, or raised up the princely Cyrus to be the deliverer of His people, conducted that female's steps that day, at the noontide hour, to Sychar's well. He who brought (in similar circumstances) Rebekah, Rachel, and Zipporah to other eastern fountains to be wedded to the princely fathers of the Hebrew people, brought their descendant to nobler and more glorious spiritual espousals—to pledge her troth to the Divine Redeemer, who was soon to ratify these espousals by the outpouring of His precious blood, and proclaim to a whole outcast world, "Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is His name."

We see every day the same truth illustrated in our own individual histories. Events, often apparently trivial and unimportant—what the world calls accidents, form really and truly the mighty levers of life, altering and revolutionizing our whole future. The relationships of earth, the spheres of our labor, the connections of business, the bounds of our habitation, are all in one sense accidental. The merest trifles have touched the springs of action; a twig or stone has altered the direction of life's footpath; the jutting rock in the stream has altered its course in the valley; the casual meeting of a friend on the street may have led to the most important crisis in our history: the youth on the verge of sin and ruin by stumbling accidentally into some house of God, has been led to hear the word, which to him now is like the memory of that well of Sychar to the saved penitent of Samaria—associated with living streams and everlasting life.

Let us rejoice in the simple but sublime assurance that all that happens is ordered for us—that the vessel in which we sail is not like the abandoned ship of the great painter—a deserted log in the wild waters, without helm or mast or compass, driven here and there by the capricious breath of the tempest—but that rather, like the gigantic wheels in Ezekiel's vision, the wheel within wheel is propelled by Omnipotence. Better still, as in the same vision the prophet of Chebar saw "above the firmament the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it;" so it is for us to know, and to rejoice in the knowledge, that every event is in the hands of the Savior who died for us, and who has given us this mightiest proof and pledge of dying love, that all things (even the most mysterious) are working together for our good.

Oh, even over our bitterest trials let us write the gleaming words, "He had to go." Blessed for us if that "had to" result—as it did in the case of the Lord of pilgrims and the repentant sinner, in bringing us to the well's mouth, to hold close converse on the all-momentous question of our salvation, and in the thirst of the world's sultry noon to get our parched souls filled with the water of salvation. Meanwhile be this our prayer, "Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths;" "Lead me in Your truth and teach me;" "Lead me in the way everlasting!" Whether it be amid the groves and singing streams and sunshine of Gerizim, or amid the "blackness and darkness and tempest" of Ebal, I will hear the guiding voice saying, "Follow Me. This is the way, walk in it."

"Lead, kindly Light; amid the encircling gloom
Lead me on:
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead me on.
Keep my feet, I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

"I was not ever thus, nor prayed that You
Should lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead me on.
I loved the glare of day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

"So long Your power has blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
Over valley and hill, through stream and torrent, until
The night is gone;
And, with the morn, those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile."

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