IX. THE WATER OF LIFE.
[Lincoln's Inn, Sunday after Easter, March 30, 1856.]
St. John IV. 10.
Jesus answered and said to her, If you knewest the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give me to drink, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water.
The dispute between John's disciples and the Jew, of which I spoke last Sunday, was about purification. Apparently, John's answer to them, when they came to tell him that Jesus was baptizing, and that all men were coming to Him, had little reference to this subject. Really his words threw the greatest light upon it. He did not say whether the baptism of Jesus had a more purifying effect upon those who received it than his baptism. But he spoke of another gift which Jesus, if He was indeed the Son of God, would confer upon those who believed in Him. 'He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that believes not the Son of God shall not see life.' It was a mighty thing for men to be purified, to have corruptions removed from them. But corruption is the consequence of death. Where corruption is, death must have entered. He who is the source and spring of life, He who can restore life, must have in Himself the very principle and power of purification. All instruments of purification must derive their virtue from Him. He must be the Purifier.
Accordingly it is to this quality of the divine Word, or Son, that St. John has from the first directed our thoughts. 'In Him was life, and the life was the light of men:' this is the starting-point of his Gospel. The sign in Cana of Galilee was the sign that Jesus was the communicator of life. His discourse with Nicodemus turned altogether upon the life from above which the Spirit of God would confer upon men, and which would enable them to see the kingdom of God. The primary announcement of the forerunner, therefore, respecting the Word made flesh, 'He shall baptize with the Holy Ghost,' whatever more it might mean, could mean nothing less than this: 'He shall not merely cleanse away defilements; He shall impart the life which those defilements obstruct and seek to extinguish.' John did not say for a moment that water should not be the sign of entrance into the kingdom that was at hand — that it should not be Christ's sign, as it had been his sign; — but he said that it should be the sign, not merely of repentance and remission of sins, but of a higher and eternal life.
Was this an unusual and arbitrary application of the symbol? Surely not. Water, when it is applied outwardly, suggests only the thought of purification. Water, when it is taken inwardly, immediately suggests the thought of life. And this, therefore, is the point of connection between the discourse of John with his disciples, which occupied us last Sunday, and the discourse of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, which is to occupy us to-day. The Evangelist points out the relation between the two subjects in his own mind and in the history, by the first words of the fourth chapter: 'When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (though Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples,) He left Judæa, and came again into Galilee.' What the disciples of the Baptist had angrily conjectured, the Pharisees would of course take for granted. They would assume that John and Jesus were rival teachers, and that one was supplanting the other. The thought of this might become the thought of Christ's own disciples: if it did, they would utterly misunderstand the work of their Master, and His relation to the preacher of repentance. Was not this a reason for leaving Judæa, and going into Galilee?
'And He must needs go through Samaria.' That was the most natural road. He might no doubt have avoided it; there was an inward and moral necessity why He should not. If He was setting up a kingdom in the whole land, portions of it which had been most separated from the rest must be claimed as belonging to it.
'Then comes He to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground which Jacob gave to his son Joseph.' This country was connected with the oldest traditions relating to the commonwealth of Israel, — to the period before the giving of the Law, when the life of the fathers of the nation was entirely domestic and pastoral. In these traditions was the link between one part of the people and the other. The local associations with the events recorded in the Book of Genesis were witnesses that the rocks had once been united, however rudely they had in later times been rent asunder. There, especially, was the simplest and most faithful token of patriarchal times — a well. It was believed to have been dug by Jacob. It brought the name of the head of all the tribes, and the likeness of his mode of existence to their own, before those who could read no letters, and had little in their own thoughts to tell them that they were members of a chosen race.
'Jesus therefore, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There comes a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus said to her, Give me to drink. (For His disciples were gone away into the city to buy meat.)' Such a request from a weary and thirsty traveller would not commonly have been refused by a woman of Palestine; and certainly we have no reason to think, from the Gospels, that a Samaritan was likely to be less friendly or courteous than one of the Southern people. It is not probable that the woman meant to refuse. But she thought she had a right, on behalf of her country, to trifle a little with the pride of a Jew, who, in a difficulty, would ask a favour of those whom he despised, though he would not hold any dialogue with them, or meet them upon fair terms. 'How is it,' said she, 'that you, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings' (do not traffic) 'with the Samaritans.'
That word, 'have no traffic or dealing,' seems to explain the first part of our Lord's answer. 'If you knewest the GIFT of God, and who it is who says to you, Give me to drink, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water.' She had come day after day to draw water at that well. Had she never known that that water was a gift of God? Had no thirst on a hot day, or no failure of the spring, taught her that? Was water a thing to traffic in? Did not she recollect that it was a man, and not merely a Jew, who was saying, 'Give me to drink'? Did she never think of the gift of water as something very free and universal? This lesson was contained in the opening of the sentence; and the look and the voice of the Stranger had, perhaps, already carried it home in some degree to the woman's conscience. But the speech suddenly took another turn. There might be an exchange of gifts here also. 'If you knewest who it is who says to you, Give me to drink, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water.'
The words conveyed no immediate sense to her mind as to the nature of the gift which was spoken of. But her answer shows that the presence of the Stranger had not been without its effect. She speaks with less levity than before, with something of doubt, if not of awe, — 'Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: where then have you that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his children, and his cattle?' I am far from supposing that this question indicates any suspicion in her mind that He was greater than their father, or that He could know the country and where to find its secret springs as Jacob did. But that very reference to Jacob showed that the feelings of the woman were becoming more serious than they had been. The petty disputes of Jews and Samaritans were giving place to those remembrances of the past which make all common spots sacred, and ennoble even the vulgarest minds. Her well, that well at which she had so often filled her pitcher, was the one out of which, eighteen hundred years before, the patriarch had drunk, and his children, and his cattle. It was a step in her education, a preparation for the words which follow.
'Jesus answered and said to her, Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.' I do not say that our version of this passage is in itself an incorrect one; nothing is harder than to find the most suitable equivalents for the words which are rendered here 'never' and 'everlasting:' but it would, I conceive, have been most desirable, by some means or other, to make the reader feel (which scarcely any reader of our translation does feel) that the two clauses answer to each other, — that εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, follows 'shall not thirst,' and that the adjective, αἰώνιος, is that which qualifies 'life.' I shall make no further use of this observation, — for there is enough in this passage to occupy us without any reference to it; but I could not pass it over because the word 'life,' which is the cardinal one of the passage, and I might say of the dialogue, must be considerably affected by that which accompanies it. I am far more anxious, however, that you should consider how our Lord describes the difference between the water of Jacob's well and that which He would give. 'The water which I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.' The woman had wondered where He would go to discover a fountain deeper and more abundant than that which Jacob had bequeathed. The answer is, 'He that drinks of this water shall thirst again.' 'He must come, as you do, to fetch water continually. The supply of to-day will be no supply for to-following day. But what if each man should have the spring in himself? What if it should be a spring ever renewed, kept alive by Him who first opened it?' 'A strange thought,' you will say, 'to set before an ignorant woman! What could she understand about springs or fountains within?' Very little at first, if we believe the Evangelist. Her reply is just what we might expect it to be. She relapses into the sort of banter with which she had begun the conversation. The gravity which she had exhibited for a moment has disappeared: 'Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw.' A sufficient proof, most would say, if they dared, that this kind of mystical discourse was very little adapted to the comprehension of such a person as she was. But, my brethren, if we say this, we must say more. We must say that the whole Gospel of St. John — the simplest, as I have said already, in language and construction, of all the Gospels, that which Luther was wont to designate the child's Gospel — is unsuitable to simple people, and must be reconstructed according to our notions of simplicity. For that Gospel begins from the principle that Christ, the living Word of God, is the life and light of men, the life and light of all men. If that is true, it must have been the work of the Son of Man, of the Word made flesh, to let all manner of people know that He was the source and spring of their life, — that apart from Him they had none. Now, life must be inward; it cannot come to a man from the world which is about him. That may be full of signs and tokens of the life he wants. Each well, each drop of rain, may testify of it. But it must spring up within him. Whatever is enduring, whatever he wants to satisfy the infinite thirst within him, must be there.
You say, an ignorant woman could not enter into such a mystery as this. But there were mysteries that she could enter into. 'Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here.' It was a curious and startling break in the conversation. What had it to do with Jacob's well, or with the living water which she could not find there? Very much indeed. 'The woman said, I have no husband. Jesus answered and said, 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 saidst you truly.' Here were facts concerning her past and her present history; here was a revelation of something that concerned her own very self. With this there was no trifling. It was not of Jacob's well, or of another well, that the Stranger was discoursing now. He was speaking of her, — He was telling her what she was. 'In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.' She confessed it in her way, — 'Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.' All was not quite right with her; — He knew it, and He made her know it. She had offended the Power above, — perhaps He could tell her, also, how she might appease Him. Her fathers might have taught her wrongly. She would like to know. She would rather like, moreover, to make the discourse more general, less personal. A wish for truth, and a fear of it, light and darkness, in her, as in all of us, fought for the mastery. She said, 'Our fathers worshipped in this mountain,' — this venerable Gerizim, — 'and you say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.' Whether or not she would have been ready at the bidding of a Jewish prophet to repair her errors, and earn the favour of God by giving up her Samaritan faith, and becoming a proselyte of the Temple, she had not perhaps asked herself; how much she would have gained by the exchange, our Lord's words in another Gospel, about those who became proselytes from heathenism, may partly tell us. But He who had sat by the well did not ask this proof of her desire for reformation. 'Woman,' He said, 'believe me, the hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.' All she had asked — all that most Samaritans or Jews would have disputed about — was where they ought to worship. The thought upon which Jesus fixes her mind, is the Being to be worshipped. That new name, which John said the Son was come to reveal, is now proclaimed in the ears of a separatist and a sinner. He speaks not of the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, but of the Father. Such a name the woman might or might not have heard, as one of the names of Him who dwelt on Gerizim. At all events, it would be but one of them — one that would be lost amidst the various titles by which He was invoked — carrying no special significance to the mind of the worshipper. Still, far down in that mind there was that which responded to the word Father, which would awake up at the sound when it came from lips that felt all the power and reality of it. She who had had five husbands, had had a father. To feel that the God of the distant hill had anything to do with that human relation, was the dawn of a new day to her. The sun was rising in her heart, if there were ever so many clouds concealing it.
I have said that our Lord was drawing the woman's thoughts from the place of worship to the object of worship. He goes on, in the next verse, to tell her that ignorance of this object was the special ignorance of the Samaritan: 'You worship you know not what.' And then He introduces words that have startled many, especially in this connection: 'We know what we worship; for salvation is of the Jews.' 'Could He,' it has been asked, 'claim this dignity for His own nation, at the very moment when He seemed to be breaking down all distinctions of nations? And did the Jew know what he worshipped? Did not Jesus Himself say, "You know neither me nor the Father?"' I apprehend, brethren, that the assertion of this, as the great calamity of the Samaritan — that he knew not what he worshipped — is abundantly borne out by history. It was in all times a country of superstitions, the early home of Baal-worshippers, the later home of enchanters and fanatics, and of sects putting forward pretensions to all kinds of spiritual powers, appealing to great necessities in the human mind, always leading it astray from its centre. The hard, cold Jew was not half so much open to these impressions. The sects in his land were dry and formal, bound together by certain notions about the law. Becoming more and more selfish, measuring everything by rules of profit and loss, he grew at last to be a mere worshipper of Mammon. How was it possible, then, for him to know Christ and the Father? But in his debasement, he still preserved the shadow of the blessing which had been conferred upon his race, and which his neighbour, though freer and more open-minded, had lost. He still clung to a distinct object of adoration. He was a protestant against the worship of spiritual phantasies. This poor shadow showed what the substance was which the Jew had inherited, and which was his distinction among all nations. Salvation was to go forth from his land. And salvation, so our Lord teaches us, consists in knowing what we worship; for that knowledge saves men from slavery to the world's idols, and to the idols of their own hearts, which is their great curse and misery.
But if this is salvation, it could not be salvation to worship in the temple of Jerusalem any more than in the temple of Gerizim. If this salvation was to go forth from the Jews, it could not be limited to them. Therefore He proceeds — 'The hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.' Here was a proclamation which, in a wonderful manner, combined the truth that had been partially revealed to the Samaritan, and the truth which still subsisted, though commonly hidden, distorted, even inverted, among the Jews. The confused sense of a spiritual worship, of men being spirits, was that which gave the magicians among the Samaritans all their power. They did acknowledge some invisible presence and influence acting upon them, and capable of producing wonderful effects, though they did not know what they worshipped. The Jew bowed down before a Being mightier than himself, who could lay down laws for him, who would execute those laws upon him. But he turned that Being into a selfish tyrant. A double transformation! The tyrant is revealed as a Father. The enchantments are supplanted by a Spirit proceeding from that Father, a Spirit of truth. Men are not to climb up to that Father by their offerings on Mount Moriah or Mount Gerizim, by their sacrifices or by their enchantments. The Father is seeking them. He gives them His true Spirit to make them true worshippers. They must not wish to draw Him down to them; He would draw them up to Him.
'For God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.' In those first words there was, as will be evident from what I have said, much that was in harmony with Samaritan feeling, — even with the feeling of an ordinary Samaritan like this woman. She had heard of spirits; she thought more about spirits than a Jew would have done. She did not speculate about them, but supposed that they might appear to her, or have some influence over her. But then came that other part of the sentence, which went to the very root of the tricks and superstitions with which she and her countrymen were familiar; 'they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.' The Spirit of truth — that must enter into you, that must govern you, that must reform your life. A message this meant for the universe, — going to the very root of all religion and all philosophy, and yet bearing straight upon the conscience of that woman of Sychar who had come to draw water at Jacob's well.
Perhaps there is nothing that strikes us more in this conversation, which is so very direct and consistent in its purpose, and yet which follows all the windings of the human heart, beginning from 'Give me to drink,' and ending with a revelation of the nature of God; perhaps, I say, there is nothing more remarkable in it all than the result of it. You expect to see the woman bowing before the mysterious Foreigner, expressing her astonishment at his high doctrine, lamenting that she had spoken to Him so uncourteously. Not at all. She says, 'I know that when Messias comes, He shall tell us all things.' 'Our people speak of One who is to be sent from God, of a Messias. I suppose, if these things are true about God being a Spirit, and about our having a Spirit of truth, He will tell us. We shall know as much of these things as we can know.' Evidently this part of the conversation has not yet taken hold of her. The part about herself has. 'The Messias will tell us all things; but this Jew has told me of myself; He has seen what I am.' And therefore, when Jesus answers, 'I that speak to you am He,' — so making a more direct profession of His name and dignity to this Samaritan than He had made in Jerusalem, — He surely meant to fix this impression on her mind: 'Yes, this is the test of Messiahship. Look for no other. Do not ask for some outward signs to tell you when He is coming, or what He can do. I that speak to you — I that lay bare your heart — am He. That is the proof of my kingship over human beings; that is the proof of my being sent from God. I know what is in you — the wrong of your outward life, the evil of your inward life. I know your deepest necessities. I know your want of a new spring of life within, of water of which you may drink, and not thirst again. You needest that. All Samaritans, all Jews, all men and women who shall live, all nations and generations to come, will need it. I can give it them. For I can give them that Spirit of truth which the Father desires them to have, that they may know Him and worship Him.'
Lord, evermore give us this Spirit, that we thirst not, nor seek to draw the water of life, which is only in You, from the wells of earth!
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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