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

The meeting and conference here unfolded to us with the woman of Samaria, is a graphic representation of what has occurred thousand thousand times since; when the soul is brought into real, though invisible communion with the Savior. Other moments of our individual histories may be solemn and momentous, and vast worldly issues dependent upon them; but none to compare with this. It is death coming in contact with life—the mortal with the immortal—the finite with the infinite—time with eternity—dust with Deity—the sinner with the great God. What an impressive, mysterious contrast, between those two who now met for the first time by the well of the patriarch! Frowning, lightning-scathed, storm-wreathed Ebal was confronting close by, the smiling groves and sunshine of Gerizim: but what a feeble type and image of these living beings standing face to face: impurity confronting spotless purity: a lost and ruined soul confronting its holy, yet forgiving Redeemer. It is the gospel in expressive parable.

This prodigal daughter is a striking counterpart of the prodigal son in our Lord's touching discourse. Like him, she had wandered from her father's house. In all riotous living she had reveled. She had probably at that moment around her head and neck and arms, what we have seen often and again adorning the females at the wells of Palestine, strings of coins, or, it may be, jewels, (in her case the mementos and rewards of sin.) But this glittering outer tinsel screened moral beggary and misery within. She had been feeding on the garbage of the wilderness; and her inarticulate cry was the echo of his wild plaint, "I perish with hunger!" May we not imagine her in her hours of deep remorse, (for who, the most degraded and reprobate, have not these?) brought up as she must have been in the knowledge of the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob—may we not imagine her saying at times within herself, "I will arise and go to my Father"? We do not say that any such definite religious longing or aspiration now brought her to the Well: far from it. As we shall afterwards find, though it may have been partly dissembled, she affected rather the contrary—lightness of heart and levity of speech, to the unknown stranger. But that she had her seasons of deep soul misery and self-reproach cannot be doubted; and coming as she now did, with a superstitious feeling at least to the fountain of the patriarch, she would be so far tutored and prepared, by her approach to that holy ground, for the unexpected converse which awaited her there.

At all events, if this prodigal had at the moment no thoughts of her Father; her Father—her Savior—her Brother—her Friend, had gracious thoughts of her. He "saw her afar off and had compassion upon her." He stripped the meretricious jewels off her head, and put the ring of His own adopting love on her ringless finger, and the sandals of a peace she had never known before, on her feet. Yes, and so great was His joy at finding the long-lost one, that when the disciples came afterwards from the city to their weary, hunger-stricken Master with the purchased bread, and with the request, "Master, eat;" we believe, for very joy, He could not look at the provided earthly refreshment. "I have food to eat," says He, which the world knows not of"—"This my sister, my prodigal child, was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found!"

In adverting, in the present chapter, to some preliminary features of this conference, we would remark How the Lord Jesus, in His dealings with His people, adapts Himself to their peculiar character and circumstances and necessities.

This is specially illustrated in the narrative of the woman of Samaria, from its juxtaposition in John's Gospel with another recorded interview of a similar kind—that with Nicodemus. In the one case, Christ had to bear with a proud Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, one at whose door probably could be laid no glaring sin—a man scrupulous in external decencies, "as touching the righteousness which is of the Law, blameless." Moreover, in the character of this inquirer there was a constitutional timidity which is manifest even in the subsequent avowal of his discipleship. Though he brings costly offerings of his affection and love for the embalming of his Lord's body, he does not share the bolder moral courage of his Arimathean brother, in demanding from Pilate the sacred treasure. Jesus accordingly deals tenderly and sensitively with him, as one who is the prey of that "fear of man which brings a snare." He meets his case and its difficulties. He will not wound either his pride or his fears by challenging him to converse in broad day; but He will open for him His silent oratory on Olivet. He will permit him and encourage him to steal there, night by night, to unburden the doubts and misgivings of his anxious, thoughtful, truth-seeking, candid soul. He who suits the soldier to his place, and the place to the soldier, who "tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," will not break this bruised reed nor quench this smoking, flax, until He bring forth judgment unto victory. "The same came to Jesus by night."

In dealing with the woman of Samaria, again, with her bold spirit and blunted feelings, there were no such tender scruples to consult; there was rather a propriety in holding converse with this impure child of darkness in the blaze of day. She needed the piercing blast of the north wind, bringing with it sharp convictions of sin; barbed arrow after arrow was sent through the folds of guilt covering her heart, until that heart lay broken and bleeding at the feet of her Divine Restorer—while the other, requiring rather the south wind of tender consolation and comfort, was led step by step, from the necessity of "the new birth," up to the sublime unfoldings of the love of God in the free gift of His Son and the bestowal of everlasting life. The two form a living commentary on the prophet's description of the Almighty's dealings, "In measure, when it shoots forth, you will debate with it; He stays His rough wind in the day of His east wind."

We may gather another affecting and impressive thought from these two conjoined, yet contrasted cases. They together recall the truth, already referred to in a preceding chapter, but here brought before us under a fresh illustration—the unresting love which, while on earth, Christ had for sinners: that any personal sacrifices He would make, any personal deprivation He would endure, to save a soul from death, and to hide a multitude of sins.

In the case of Nicodemus, night by night Jesus willingly surrendered or cut short His needed rest, that He might calm the perturbations of one agitated spirit. He would not give sleep to His eyes, nor slumber to His eyelids, until in that man's heart He found a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. And in the interview with the Samaritan woman, as we have seen, the hour of greatest recorded bodily weariness is with equal willingness alienated from rest, that He may bring the wanderer to His fold. We have watched the Great Shepherd of the sheep just terminating a long and fatiguing bodily journey through the hot valleys of Ephraim. But a soul is to be saved. He suspends needed repose from toil; and, as it were, with staff in hand, resumes the journey over rock and hedge and tangled precipice, in order that when His absent disciples return from their errand to the neighboring, city, He may call together these His friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost." Here is the true covenant Angel who wrestled with Jacob at the brook Jabbok. "He wrestled," we read, "all night with him until the breaking of the day." But when day broke, did the wrestlings of that mysterious visitant terminate with the experience of that solitary man in the gorges of Jordan? No; daybreak is only a new summons for fresh efforts and deeds of love. Some new case requires His presence; some other pilgrim by some other brook, at that early morn, demands His aid and support. "Let Me go," He says, "for the day breaks." Immediately He takes His departure. Leaving the patriarch with a new and significant name, the badge at once of blessing and victory, He speeds His way—on, still on—saying, to this soul and that in His untiring flight, "O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in Me is your help!"

Another and different thought suggests itself in connection with the interview at Jacob's well. It is, that this conference of Christ, the most minutely detailed conference of the Bible, was with a Woman.

This strikes us comparatively little in our land of gospel privilege; because, females have been exalted by Christianity, and Christianity's founder, to the place they were designed by their Creator to occupy. There is nothing to us strange or unusual in a woman taking part in a conference about divine things. On the contrary, it is females who now throng our religious meetings, and are the best and most effective auxiliaries in every department of practical Christian effort. But it must be remembered it was far different among the Hebrews. The same social degradation which characterized the female sex amid pagan nations, and which is the curse of Orientalism at this moment, was so far at least, and especially in the age to which we refer, grafted on Judaism. "The Rabbis forbade her instruction, deemed her incapable of it; first made her despicable, and then despised her." Even the disciples, those whom we might have thought had already been taught the creed of a nobler Christian chivalry, "marveled that He talked with the woman," (ver. 27.) It was a violation of their conventional ideas talking to her at all; above all, talking to her about religious themes, the soul, "the gift of God," "everlasting life."

But has not Christ, by this very conversation and interview, inaugurated a new era and warrant for the spiritual activities of woman: not only conversing with her about her own soul, but sending her forth a herald of salvation to her fellow-townsmen, and making the Church of Samaria imperishably identified with her name and labors? To all of us, therefore, that hour of converse has its sacred—with many, the most sacred memories of life. Jesus consecrating this female's mission was, in one sense, consecrating the mission of every mother as she bends over her infant's cradle, or as she gathers her children around her knee and tells them of the great salvation.

Yes, if there was one thing more than another that made Christianity stand out in bold and beautiful contrast with the debasing and sensual creed of heathenism, it was when the adorable Redeemer removed the swathing bands and fetters from the body and soul of woman, and sent her forth from her couch of degradation, earth's ministering angel, "walking and leaping and praising God." Where would have been the noblest and the best names in the Church's annals, had female influence, had a mother's tongue, been gagged, and a mother's prayers been stifled? Where would have been our Augustines and our Origens, our Zwingles and Luthers, our Watts and Bunyans, if Christ had not stood by His vacant sepulcher in the morning of His resurrection, and asking the question before an enslaving world, "Woman, why are you weeping?" dried her tears, elevated her nature, refined her sympathies, vindicated her rights, redressed her wrongs, burst her bonds and set her free!

That hour and that conversation at Sychar were the first-fruits of a glorious harvest—a prophecy and pledge of unnumbered blessings, which many a pious son has to thank God for; yes, over which many a prodigal has to rejoice through the burning tears of a dying but penitent hour. John Newton, in that dark night at the helm of his vessel, would not have remembered the hymn which his mother taught him, and which revolutionized his life, but for the new charter which Christ put into the hands of the woman of Samaria, and such as she.

And with the same reference, let us read in the touching story also a prophecy of the future; not as to what Christianity has done for us and for Christendom, but what the power of Christianity will yet do for those down-trodden lands where that new and glorious charter was first written, and where woman is still the soulless drudge, the grinding slave of unnatural oppression. In no part of Palestine more so than near and around this very spot where Christ spoke these wondrous words at Jacob's well, is woman overtasked and degraded—toil her cruel birthright; her dwelling is not on the sunlit slopes of Gerizim, but amid the frowning curses of Ebal. The cross has waned and the crescent is triumphant. Since the light of the Christianity of early apostolic days has there been extinguished—the sacred name of its Founder become a reproach and a scorn—well may the wailing words of the noblest in the early band of Jewish females be echoed by her oppressed successors, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him!" But the day of emancipation is at hand. What Christianity has done for us, it will yet do for those sitting under the shadow of death.

It is remarkable that in many of the inspired prefigurations of Israel's glowing future in the millennial era, the equality of woman is a specified feature and characteristic, "My sons shall come from far, my daughters shall be nursed at my side." "Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." Who can forget that it was a woman, a Jewish woman, who was last at the cross and first at the grave? Who can forget that it was the women of the early Church whose devotion and moral heroism evoked Paul's warmest benedictions and salutations—Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and others in the honored sisterhood of the faith. So, may we not expect, as one of the bright features in the ingathering of regenerated Israel that woman, Christianized, and, by being Christianized, dignified, elevated, and refined, will prove, like this female of Sychar, a herald of glad tidings—the gentle dove of peace sent forth with the olive-branch from the true ark of God. In that lofty Hebrew Alleluia, which is to blend with the Gentile Hosanna in welcoming in the King of the Jews to His throne on Mount Zion—the metropolis of a millennial earth—loud amid timbrel and harp will be the voices of the Miriams and the Deborahs, who, in higher strains than on the Red Sea, or amid the hills of Kedesh, will "sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb," and help to carry the glad strain from home to home, from valley to valley, from city to city, until the whole land will send up the shout, loud as the sound of many waters, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Rejoice, O daughter of Zion; behold, your King comes to you!" "Loose yourself from the bands of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion." You may now be like the bird with broken wing—a caged captive, unable to sing the Lord's song in a strange land. But the day is at hand when the Gospel's soaring pinion of life and liberty will be yours again; when "you shall be as a dove whose wings are covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold."

While we are permitted thus joyfully to remember, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, "male nor female;" the great practical question for each of us as individuals, is not what the religion of Christ has done for the world in the past, or may yet do in the world of the future, but what has that religion done for me? Do we know anything of the converting and regenerating power which plucked that degraded Samaritan as a jewel from the crown of the prince of darkness, to irradiate the brow of Jesus? What grace can do, in changing and transforming the worst and most hopeless; quickening those who are dead; and animating the groveling spirit with new motives, new principles, new tastes, new feelings, new aspirations! That very patriarch at whose well she stood, was himself once wily, cunning selfish, worldly-minded; his name too truly was Jacob, "supplanter." But he became a converted man; as much so, and as truly so, as his degenerate descendant standing at the brink of his fountain. From being the supplanter, his name was changed into "Israel," "the soldier of God."

And what, in both cases, was the turning point in their spiritual histories? It was the sight of Christ; the revelation of His person and character and work. It was on a memorable night, (twenty years before the wrestling with the Angel at Jabbok,) on the stony pillow of Bethel, that Jacob received his earliest revelation of redeeming love. The supplanter dreamed a dream. He saw a ladder planted between himself and heaven; or, as some think, his dreams took their shape and coloring from the physical features of his nightly solitude—that these strange, white, grey stones in the desolate moorland, formed themselves into a colossal staircase, leading up to heaven; at the base of which the outcast wanderer slept, angels beckoning him upwards, and the God of Abraham smiling upon him a welcome. It was a type of Him who was to be revealed as the way to the Father; "the way and the truth and the life," conducting the most foreign and outcast into the holiest of all. He rose refreshed and comforted: "This," He exclaimed, "is the gate of heaven! "And that first and earliest revelation was completed and confirmed at the memorable night of soul-struggle, of which we have just spoken, where he wrestled, and prevailed, and saw the angel Jehovah face to face. What was revealed to him at first in type, was revealed to the Samaritan woman in visible reality and by living word. It was the manifestation of Christ in the glory of His person and fullness of His grace, which demolished in her case, too, the strongholds of Satan, and redeemed them for the service and glory of her accepted Savior!

And the same mighty power, the power of the cross, can vanquish and subdue us—can transform us who were once rebels, traitors, supplanters, into "soldiers of God." How many, touched by that omnipotent grace and by the attractions of that cross, are ready to utter the same glad and grateful testimony—

"See me! see me! once a rebel,
Vanquished at His cross I lie!
Cross—to tame earth's proudest able,
Who was e'er so proud as I?
He convinced me, He subdued me,
He chastised me, He renewed me;
The nails that nailed, the spear that slew Him,
Transfixed my heart and bound it to Him;
See me! see me! once a rebel,
Vanquished at His cross I lie!"

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