"Just then his disciples arrived. They were astonished to find him talking to a woman, but none of them asked him why he was doing it or what they had been discussing." John 4:27

Sacred story has on record many crisis-hours of thrilling interest. Such was the occasion when the old Judge of Israel sat by the wayside 'trembling for the ark of God'—when the liberties of his country, the safety of the sacred symbol of which he was custodian, and the fate of his own family, were all involved in the momentous issues of the struggle. Such, too, was the kindred occasion when David sat in an agony of suspense between the two gates when the battle was raging in the woods of Ephraim, and when, with parental feelings triumphing over the larger interests at stake, he inquired in eager and anxious haste, "Is the young man Absalom safe?"

Few among ourselves, doubtless, in our individual histories, have not known of similar seasons—when the telegraph flashed its unexpected message of the distant bereavement, or the appalling accident; or when in our own home we watched the herald symptoms of dissolution gathering round some loved pillow—'life balanced in a breath'—when hope and fear had for long days their alternate triumph, and when the unmistakable indication was given by skilled watchers, which quick-sighted affection too well understands, that recovery was hopeless.

Or, to take the converse of these; many doubtless can recall experiences of a different kind—life's gladder recollections—bright milestones and way-marks in the pilgrimage—momentous events enshrined in sunny memories—the birth of a child—the return of a long-absent son or brother from a far-off land—the first success in business—the triumph in some struggle of honorable ambition; or, it may be, the electric message which conveyed the cheering intelligence that the illness and danger of our friend was over, or that he had come unscathed out of the fiery tide of battle, or was rescued safe from some perishing crew. These, and such like, which each separate experience doubtless has to suggest, form the "illi dies" of the old Roman—days which he was used to mark with the white or black chalk, the symbols of joy or sorrow.

But what season can be compared in its momentousness to the great crisis-hour of a soul's conversion; an hour similar to that which we contemplated in the preceding context—the triumph of light over darkness—truth over error—life over death? What return so glad as the return of the long lost prodigal to the heavenly Father's home? What day so deservedly to be marked with the white chalk of gladness as the day which records the soul's deliverance from everlasting danger and ruin? What birth compared to that of an heir of immortality?

Is it to be wondered at, that such momentous epochs of our earthly histories as those of which we have spoken, should, at the instant of their occurrence thrill the spirit into silence? that the tongue in such seasons of agitating emotion should be unable to speak—that utterance should fail?

Is it a time of grief, overpowering sorrow? That word "overpowering" expresses our meaning—the lips at the moment refuse to tell out the secrets of the speechless, stricken, smitten heart. Sorrow is always deepest, profoundest, where the mourners can exchange only silent glances through irrepressible tears. Job's three friends, when they heard of his aggravated woes, sat along with him upon the ground with torn mantle and dust-covered heads for seven days and seven nights, "and none," we read, "spoke a word unto him, for they saw that his grief was very great."

Or, is it some joyful occasion? Joy has its strange, stunning moment, too. The receipt of sudden and gladdening information has been known, for the time being, to paralyze into silence the overstrung feelings, to hold fast for the instant the flood-gates of speech. Thought is absorbed in itself.

Such is the picture we have now before us. The person around whom gathers the main interest in this narrative, has owned that weary pilgrim seated on the edge of Jacob's well, to be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. She remains mute under the revelation which had been made to her—she maintains expressive silence, or a silence that may have had its outlet only in tears.

Jesus, her great deliverer, who had broken the bonds of a lifetime in sunder and ushered her into glorious liberty, beholds, in this signal triumph of His grace, the first-fruits of a vast spiritual harvest in Samaria—the earliest trophy among the outcasts of Israel. Absorbed in the musings to which such thoughts gave birth, He, too, preserves significant silence.

The disciples have come up at the moment from their errand to the neighboring town. The last, but most momentous words of the conversation had possibly fallen on their ears—"I who speak unto you am He." They could not fail to observe the effect of this disclosure. The woman's profound but suppressed emotion; the pitchers and water-pots lying at her side, now forgotten and unheeded. But though by their exchanged glances, (still imbued with the old prejudices,) they marveled that their Master talked with this forbidden Samaritan female, there was not a word uttered—all the three parties were thrilled and spell-bound—the woman, a moment before so fluent and talkative—the disciples, with their curiosity and amazement excited at the violation of national and sectarian etiquette. But whatever might be the workings of their inward thoughts, these are suppressed—"They were astonished to find him talking to a woman, but none of them asked him why he was doing it or what they had been discussing."

And the third and greatest of all, surrenders Himself more than all, to the significant stillness of that still hour. As if unaware of any human presence, His eye and His heart seem arrested by some theme of distant but magnificent contemplation. "The noise of archers in the places of drawing water" is for the moment hushed; every bow is unstrung, every rope and pitcher is at rest; the subordinate actors in the scene stand gazing on one another, while their Lord still remains seated on the curb-stone of the well, gazing on the fields of living green waving all around Him in that expanse of plain, and allowing these, as we shall afterwards see, to be the expounders and interpreters of His own heart's joy.

Very possibly the disciples, even already, were no strangers to similar moments of absorbed contemplation on the part of their divine Master; and though they understood not the nature of these mysterious communings, they felt that they dared not, or would not, intrude on their sacredness. The aged Apostle and Evangelist, when he wrote this last Gospel, seemed to have a vivid recollection of more than one such solemn spellbinding being put upon otherwise familiar and confidential communion. Amid the waste of memory, he then recalled these moments of repression and significant silence at the well of Sychar; and at the close of his history, he again records a similar inhibition put upon himself and his fellow apostles on the occasion of the final interview on the lake-shore of Gennesaret: "None of the disciples dare ask him, Who are you?"

Thus, we repeat, it would appear as if they were accustomed, at special occasions, to put a restraint on their needless curiosity. And yet, at the same time, they had learned to repose a perfect unwavering confidence in the wisdom and rectitude of their Master's doings; they knew full well that even in these silent cogitations there were wrapped up unrevealed purposes of love and mercy. "None of the disciples dare ask him, Who are you? knowing that it was the Lord." These purposes might be mysterious. The well, like the earthly symbol at their feet, might be deep; yet no man said, "What do you seek?"

Although already led so far to anticipate the subject in a previous chapter, let us yet again draw the one great lesson from the words which head the present—the duty of silence under the divine dispensations. Often, like the disciples at Sychar, have we reason to marvel at the Lord's doings. Their marvel on this occasion arose from a poor reason, a mere sectarian and rabbinical prejudice—that their Master, who was of the tribe of Judah, should break through Jewish conventionalism by holding converse with a female, and that female one of the excommunicated Samaritans. They would, before many weeks had passed, cease their astonishment. They would have their prejudices rebuked, and their Lord's wisdom and grace vindicated.

Often have we, though in our blindness, greater reason than they had to marvel at His ways. Providence is often spoken of as a dark enigma. God's name, as He declared it to Manoah, is "Secret." He gives no account to any of His matters. "I the Lord dwell in the thick darkness." 'He plants his footsteps in the sea.' These footsteps are untraceable on the varying billows. They are like the wake of the vessel furrowing a momentary depression in the ocean; the dark waves close over, and not a vestige of love or wisdom is discernible—"Your way is in the sea; Your path in the deep waters, and Your footsteps are not known."

Blind unbelief, arraigning the rectitude of the divine dispensations, is prone to ask, "What do You seek in this catastrophe?" That sudden ruin of my worldly business and prospects—the heart would sincerely prompt the inquiry, 'What do You seek in this?' The pillaging of dearer household treasure—'What do You seek here?' "All you who know His name say, How is the strong staff broken, and the beautiful rod!" 'The beautiful rod,' the budding branch, the infant blossom—'What do You seek here?' These cradles emptied; these dimpled smiles turned into pale marble! Why has death not taken the seared and withered drapery from the autumn branch, but stripped the green sapling? Why not taken the browning leaves of the decaying rose, rather than the incipient bud, before the summer sun had fallen on its tints, or extracted its fragrance?

Or, stranger still, "The strong staff broken!" What do You seek here? The beautiful rod is missed for its beauty, but the strong staff is missed still more for its strength. Where is the wisdom in taking away the crutch from the arm of the feeble—the prop from the tottering steps of old age? Why thus lay the axe at the root of manhood in its glory? "How is the strong staff broken?" Such (say as we please) is the wailing soliloquy of many a crushed and sorrowing heart under the mystery of the Divine dealings. But the duty, the delight, the prerogative, the triumph of faith, is to be silent. "They were astonished to find Him talking to a woman, but none of them asked Him why He was doing it or what they had been discussing."

To ask no reason, no "why or wherefore;" to lie in devout submission under the inscrutable chastisement, owning, though we may be unable to discern, the faithfulness of the great Chastener, who often thus hides Himself and keeps silence, just in order to elicit unquestioning faith and implicit trust. What did David say, under a complication of dark individual and family trial? "I was dumb with silence; I held my peace even from good."—"I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because You did it." What did Aaron say under a trial deeper, sadder, more overwhelming still? He said nothing—"And Aaron held his peace." What did a Greater than earthly priest or king, say in moments of mysterious suffering? "He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opens not His mouth."

How often is this duty of silence under the dealings of God, inculcated in sacred Scripture. "Rest in, the Lord, (margin, "be silent to the Lord,") and wait patiently for Him." "Truly my soul waits (or is silent) upon God." "Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord." Or, yet again, in the sublime and striking prophecy of Habbakuk; the prophet, though appalled by the divine judgments impending on the nation and which the divine lips had themselves uttered, resolves to be silent, and to say not, "What do you seek?" He resolves to wait for further disclosures of the divine will—"I will stand upon my watch, and set myself upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved."

And what is God's first message to him? It is simply to continue silent—to wait. "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie: though, it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." He compares and contrasts this silent, patient waiting, with the restless invocations of the heathen to their dumb idols—calling upon them not to be silent, but to speak—"Woe unto him that says to the wood, Awake; and to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach." But, he adds, "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." And then this silence is only broken by the prophet's sublime prayer, in the first part of which he dwells on the mystery of God's dispensations, only that he may wind up with his grand profession of faith and trust and holy joy!

Blessed it will be for us, amid all these 'frowning providences,' if, instead of presuming in a spirit of unbelief and distrust, to ask, "What do You seek?"—we are ready to hear the voice of the Unknown and Invisible saying, "Be still, and know that I am God!" The dutiful servant asks no reason of his Master—he does his appointed work in silent obedience. The loyal soldier asks no reason of his commanding officer for what he may think the hazardous and fatal movement in the day of battle; he obeys in prompt and willing silence. The faithful workman asks no reason for these crude gashes in the quarry; he is content to wait until builder or sculptor fashions the unshapely block into symmetry and beauty. We are apt, with Joseph, in our blind ignorance, to say, "Not so, my Father;" but, like aged Jacob on that same occasion, God refuses our erring dictation, our unwise counsel, saying, "I know it, My son; I know it."

It is the grandest triumph of faith thus to confide in the divine leadings in the dark—when the Almighty's wings are not bright and refulgent with love and mercy and goodness, but rather projecting a mysterious shadow—then, yes, then does faith vindicate its own strength and reality, when it can utter this song in the night, "How excellent is your loving-kindness, O God; therefore the children of men put their trust under the SHADOW of your wings."

If at any time we be called to stand by some broken cistern; nothing to draw with—the rope of fond affection snapped—God's judgments 'a great deep'—be it ours to seat ourselves speechless by the brink of the shattered fountain—not marveling, not asking questions, not saying in querulous skepticism, "What do You seek?" "knowing that it is the Lord."

When Jacob crossed the brook Jabbok, (to revert, in closing, to an incident in the life of the old Patriarch, more than once already referred to,) he met, under a clear midnight sky, an angel-form—this same Redeemer. "There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." There was to that solitary human wrestler a strange mysteriousness in the apparition of the magnificent visitant. He had struggled with him in the darkness; put his thigh out of joint; made him a cripple for life. But in this case, unlike the disciples at Sychar, Jacob dared not be silent. In irrepressible eagerness he asked him, and said, "Tell me, I ask you, your name?" And the other said, "Why is it that you do ask after my name?" The wrestling angel did not satisfy his curiosity by revealing his history. But he blessed him there, and sent him away, with the new name of "Israel."

Oh, how often is this true! God meeting His people in the brooding darkness of their night of trial—wrestling with them; and if they, in the deep mystery of their sorrow, are tempted to ask, "What do You seek?" He does not answer directly—He does not answer as they would like Him to answer, by desisting from the struggle. But He does better. They come out from the conflict maimed and crippled and heart-stricken it may be, but with a new name and blessing—as princes who have had power with God and prevailed.

"Come, O Traveler unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see,
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
Wrestling, I will not let You go,
Until I Your Name, Your Nature know.

"'Tis love! 'Tis love You died for me!
I hear Your whisper in my heart!
The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Pure universal Love You are!
To me, to all, Your affections move;
Your Nature and Your Name is love!

"The Sun of Righteousness on me
Has risen, healing in His wings;
Withered my native strength, from Thee
My soul its life and support brings
My help is all laid up above;
Your Nature and Your Name is Love!

"I know O, Savior, who You are;
Jesus, the feeble sinner's Friend!
Nor will You with the night depart,
But stay and love me to the end!
Your mercies never shall remove,
Your Nature and Your Name is Love!

"Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease overcome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding deer fly home!
Through all eternity to prove, Your
Nature and Your Name is Love!"
—Charles Wesley, 1742.

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