X. THE REWARDS OF LABOUR, AND THE KINDS OF FAITH.
[Lincoln's Inn, 2d Sunday after Easter, April 6, 1856.]
St. John IV. 48.
Then said Jesus to him, Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.
Distance of time is not always unfavourable to accurate recollection. We often remember a friend's words better, years after they were spoken, than the next day; because we understand them better, because we see how one of them rose out of another. So, I imagine, it must have been with the woman of Sychar. If she had repeated the dialogue with Jesus to her neighbours, as soon as she returned to her city, she would probably have misrepresented it. Short as it was, she would have mistaken words, she would have changed the order of them. A time will have come when she would be sure of what He had said, and of what she had said, — when she could say confidently to those who were collecting His words, 'This is what He told me — this, and nothing else.'
At first she seems to have been too full of one part of the Stranger's speech to care about the rest. She did not say, 'I have received strange lessons from this Jewish prophet about God being a Spirit, and about the water of life;' she expressed far more simply the effect of this speech upon her: 'He told me all that ever I did.' Was this exaggerated language? At first we are inclined to say so; then, perhaps, to justify her by resorting to some awkward hypothesis of our Lord having said many things to her which the Evangelist has omitted. The experience and conscience of human beings justify her far better. One who repeats to us all the passages of our history ever so accurately, does not tell us all that ever we did. A single flash of light may make the whole past visible to us, and show us that it is our past. Thus was it with her. Her inmost self was revealed to the Stranger. And, what was wonderful, she did not wish to escape from His gaze. Awful as it was, she was attracted, not repelled by it. She had the comfort, — the greatest almost that we can experience, — of feeling that she had no longer anything to hide, — that there was One who knew thoroughly all that was wrong and all that was right in her. For Jesus had given her a sense of there being a right in her which she had never had before. She could not have explained how it transpired; she was an ignorant peasant; — but it was so. The Stranger's speech had raised her to a new level. She had never seen the evil in herself as she had seen it now; but she had never so much risen out of the evil. When do we rise out of our evil but when the truth is told us, and we like to hear it?
And therefore she said, 'Is not this the Christ?' 'Can it be any one else? And must He not be the Christ for you, my fellow-citizens, as He is for me? Must He not know all that you ever did, as He knows all that I ever did?' It was the right sermon. They acknowledged at once that it was such a Christ they wanted; not one who could tell them about all things in the world, but who could tell them all things that ever they did. He who had that power might or might not be such a Christ as scribes and doctors talked of; He might or might not have the marks by which they discerned the coming King and Deliverer. But He was the Christ for poor people who hewed wood and drew water, who were human beings, and who had committed sins. These were the proofs of His mission to them. He must give these; they asked no others.
The Apostle could have been no ear-witness of the conversation with the woman. But he describes with such vividness, the impression made upon the disciples who returned when she was departing, that it is difficult to suppose he was not one of them. 'And upon this came His disciples, and marvelled that He talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seek You? or, Why talkest You with her?' The sense of astonishment which they all felt, — the look which showed to each how the other was sharing it with him, and yet the awe which restrained them from questioning Him, — the confidence that He had some great purpose, though they knew not what it was; all this came back to the old man as clearly as if he were then by the well of Sychar, not amidst the merchandise of Ephesus. And so, by a single instance, he makes clearer to us than he could by a multitude of explanations, what must have been continually in the minds of the disciples, when they stood in that presence, and heard words spoken and saw acts done which they could not sound with their plummets, and which called forth faith in Him because they could not.
But though this was so, they had no dread of speaking to Him about common earthly necessities. They knew that He had sat down weary on the well; they knew that He hungered and thirsted. He had sent them to buy food, and they could say, 'Master, eat,' without any doubt that He would partake of it just as any of them did. Probably He took what they offered Him, even while He said, 'I have meat to eat which you know not of.' They had so little suspicion that He would ever work a miracle for His own support, — they were so inwardly certain that He would not, — that they said at once to each other, 'Has any man brought Him ought to eat?' No. He had waited for their coming. The ravens had carried no nourishment to Him; He had not commanded the stones to become bread. There must have been a special joy, an unwonted radiance in His face as He answered, 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.' He had that spring of life within Him, of which He had spoken to the woman, from which life might flow forth to her and to all. And yet He speaks of it as not an original fountain, even in Him. There was One from whom He was sent. The satisfaction of doing His will, of accomplishing his purpose, — this was His food; this was the sustaining principle within Him. St. John has taught us already, and will teach us more completely hereafter, that the relation of the Son to a Father, with all the trust, obedience, communion which it implies, is the subject of the new revelation. To be doing the will of Him that sent Him, to be in perfect sympathy with the will which is at the root of the universe, to be fulfilling the purposes of this will, — this Christ affirms to be meat to Him in a double sense; meat, as that which keeps up the strength of the man — meat, as that which gratifies and satisfies his desires.
One may feel there is great general force in such a sentiment as this; but what is its special application to the story we are reading? Had His interview with the woman supplied Him with what could be called meat in either of these senses? What was there to sustain Him, what was there to delight Him, in her way of receiving His words?
The answer is given in the following passage: 'Say you not, There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say to you, Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to the harvest. And he that reapeth receives wages, and gathers fruit to life eternal; that both he that sowes and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One sowes, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that on what you presented as an honor no labour: other men laboured, and you are entered into their labours.'
Many who have gathered crowds about them, who have produced a marked impression upon those crowds, have said, and said truly, that such success was meat and drink to them. If it did not feed their vanity, but sustained them because it showed them they were doing God's will and finishing His work, they may have understood something of Christ's meaning. But the secret food He partook of certainly came from no sudden success that followed His words. First, He met with a woman who had in general answered Him with levity; then a few people of her own rank came at her call. How little would such honours satisfy the ambition of some eloquent disciple of Christ, who has the power of influencing thousands! Could it satisfy Him who came to found a kingdom of which there was to be no end? Yes; for in these first sheaves He could see the certain pledges of a nation's, of a world's, ingathering. The corn-fields which the disciples saw about them would not be reaped for four months; yet the harvest would appear, because the seed had been sown. These men whom He saw coming showed Him that the other harvest was nearer still. The fields were white already for that harvest; the disciples themselves would be reapers in it. He had sent them, and they would receive the wages of reapers. What wages? He had already told them that His own wages were to do the will of God, and to finish His work. Did they want better? They would gather in fruit, — the fruit of all His work and travail, of all God's revelations of Himself from age to age, of all the toil of patriarchs, kings, prophets. These had laboured, — they were entering into their labours. They were come in at the end of a period when all things were hastening to their consummation. They would have the reward which all these men had longed for, — the reward of seeing God's full revelation of Himself, of opening the spring of eternal life of which all might drink together. The divisions of time had nothing to do with an eternal blessing. The sower and the reaper would rejoice together. Why might not Jacob, who had given the well, and the newest Samaritan convert who drank of it, share in those pleasures which are at the right hand of Him, who is, and was, and is to come?
I have only given you a hint or two which may assist you in tracing out the sense of these great words. The Apostles did not enter into them for many years, — not till they had begun to reap the harvest of which He spoke, not till they had learnt that some of the wages of the reapers were persecution and disappointment. So they understood by degrees how unsatisfactory all promises were but those which He had given them; how miserable a thing it was to hope for any reward but that which had been and is His reward. I suppose we must be trained to understand Christ's doctrine in the same school. Till we have been under His discipline we shall have the temper of hirelings, counting His work a hardship, expecting to be paid hereafter for consenting to do it. Or else we shall look for instant harvests, — for mighty effects to follow at once from the things that we speak, — for those fruits which least manifest the calm, patient, loving will of God, and therefore bring no true and inward satisfaction to the spirit of a man. We must learn to see in the seed that same eternal life which is in the perfect flower and fruit — to believe that God will bring the one out of the other; otherwise we shall have much excitement and much weariness, but no food which can support us, no joy which will connect us with the ages that are past and the ages to come. That will not be given to us till we see, in God's revelation of Himself to one sinner, the token of His love to the world.
The whole doctrine concerning the rewards for obedience, which has been the subject of so many wearisome folios by philosophers and divines, is contained, I think, in these eight verses, and may be drawn out of them for daily use by any who think that the Apostle has a higher wisdom than can be found in his commentators, or in their own speculations. The remainder of the chapter contains, in a form as simple and as available, the solution of another problem which has exercised the wits of schoolmen and the hearts of wayfarers. Who has not been tormented with questions and answers about the nature, conditions, kinds, of belief, — about the force of testimony which produces it, — about the organ which exercises it, — about the security or the insecurity of the person who has it or who wants it? On all these points St. John gives us no dissertations. But he tells us a short story about certain Samaritans, and then another rather longer story about a certain Galilæan, which I think may supply the place of many dissertations.
The first is contained in these verses: 'And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on Him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. So when the Samaritans were come to Him, they urgently requested Him that He would linger with them: and He abode there two days. And many more believed because of His own word, and said to the woman, Now we believe, not because of your saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.'
Suppose this was translated into school phraseology about implicit and explicit faith, — suppose each of these terms was laboriously explained, — all the different opinions of Fathers, Mediæval Doctors, Reforming Doctors, Modern Doctors respecting each compared, weighed, adjusted, — how much learning we should possess! how much the Apostle's doctrine would expand in our hands, — how much we should expand in our own estimation! But supposing we had actually to find out what belief is in our own case, to trace the history of its progress, how thankful we should be to any one who would translate back the learned language into the language of the Gospel, who would let us hear what these Samaritans — vulgar people of our own flesh and blood — said about their belief and its growth!
The first stage of it we have considered already. What the woman told them had a great effect upon their minds, because she spoke of what she knew, and not of what she did not know. If she had said, 'He explained the prophecies to me,' — who would have cared? What judge was she of the prophecies, and what judges would they be? If she had said, 'He created a miracle in my sight,' — there had been enchanters enough among them, who had imposed upon much wiser people than she was. Her fellow-citizens, if they were not very curious, would not have deserted their common business for such an announcement as that. But, 'He told me all that ever I did;' then she spoke from her experience. Whether she were wise or silly, a good woman or a bad, that was worth listening to; there were signs of truth about that.
They came and heard Him themselves. And then He told each of them what he had done, showed him to himself, made him feel that he was in the presence of a Light. The Light entered into the separate hearts, and showed them their dark passages. And yet it was a common Light; it gave them a sense of fellowship they had never had before; it gave them a sense of being men, which they had never had before. And, moreover, it was a Light which scattered confusions, ignorances, falsehoods, that had been dwelling undisturbed within them, or that had only been disturbed by what they felt must have been a ray of this same Light. And therefore, without asking the opinion of any wise man whatsoever, these bold peasants said out frankly and broadly, 'We have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.'
I cannot tell whether this faith of the Samaritans is what one class of modern divines would call saving faith. I should imagine not. For these poor men said they knew Jesus to be the Saviour of the world; and it seems to be put forward as the characteristic of saving faith, that men should believe a Saviour for themselves who is not a Saviour for the world. And, certainly, their belief had not that groundwork which another class of divines tells us is the only one upon which the claims of a Christ can rest. He had done no sign or wonder before them; He had only discoursed with them. On this topic, that other story to which I alluded may possibly throw some light.
It is introduced by the words, 'Now after two days He departed from there, and went into Galilee.' He was going into Galilee before. A strange reason is given for His spending so short a time among the people who had met Him so cordially. 'For Jesus Himself testified, that a prophet has no honour in his own country.' He did not count it good to stay where He had honour. The Galilæans were His kinsfolk and neighbours, bound to Him by human, and therefore by divine, ties. There was the token that He was to labour among them. More respect He might find elsewhere, — that was not what He came into the world to look for. His followers often judge differently about this matter. It may be that here, as elsewhere, we should act more safely if we thought that He had left us an example that we should walk in His footsteps.
'Then when He was come into Galilee, the Galilæans received Him, having seen all the things that He did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went to the feast.' They had, then, what we are wont to regard as the right foundation of faith; they had the outward evidence, while the Samaritans were only receiving Him on the testimony of their consciences. 'So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman,' — (a person, probably, belonging to the household of Herod Antipas,) — 'whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and urgently requested Him that He would come down, and heal his son. Then said Jesus to him, Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.' Apparently His judgment of these two kinds of belief was different from ours. That which we think weak and groundless, caused Him inward joy. It was meat upon which He could sustain Himself; it showed Him that the Samaritan fields were white already to the harvest. On the contrary, that stable belief, which rested upon signs and wonders, gave Him little pleasure; rather it called forth a reprimand. The nobleman did not answer the reprimand: 'He said to Him, Sir, come down before my child die.' This was not the response of a man's conscience to one who had discovered his evil. It was not the kind of trust of the Samaritan woman or the Samaritan man; but it was good honest trust, nevertheless. If the nobleman had been until the point in time a mere observer of signs, he was now something more. He was a parent seeking help for his boy. He was a man who, in the sight and under the pressure of death, turns to One who can give life. Jesus at once confesses the change which His own discipline has created in him. 'He said to him, Go your way; your son lives. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him, and he went his way.'
Two steps we have traced in the history of his mind. A third remains. 'As he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Your son lives. Then enquired he of them the time when he began to amend. And they said to him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour in the which Jesus said to him, Your son lives: and himself believed, and his whole house.'
Here we have, no doubt, the account of a sign, and of its effect upon the persons toward whom it was exhibited. St. John himself connects it with the sign in Cana of Galilee. He appears to wish that we should regard both as specimens of Galilæan signs in distinction from Jerusalem signs. We may, therefore, apply here the principles which we discovered with reference to the marriage-feast. There it seemed that the lesson which was taught belonged to all marriage-feasts, — to all the outward signs of life and joy, — to those mysterious powers by which, in any country or in any age, physical transformations are effected. In this one instance Jesus was revealed as giving the blessing which seals the marriage-vow, wherever it is made, — as everywhere the Inspirer of gladness, — as ruling all the energies of nature. The circumstances in the Capernaum story are much changed; it touches more nearly on the funeral than on the bridal. But in one, as much as in the other, Christ is revealed as the Word of Life. In one, as much as in the other, human relationships are beautified and holy by Christ; the relation of the husband there, of the father here. One, as much as the other, applies to England as well as to Galilee. And what was said there of the faith that followed the sign, is even more strikingly developed here. 'He manifested forth His glory, and His disciples' — those who had already confessed Him to be the Christ upon another ground — 'believed in Him.' It was a discovery to them of His inward power. It deepened a conviction that had been imparted to them already. The Capernaum nobleman had already believed in Christ, with the belief of one who wants help, and thinks he has found the person who is able and willing to present as an honor it. The sign unfolds that faith, and makes it more profound. The man becomes not more a seeker of marvels, but less. He desires no longer, casual, flitting exercises of power; he bows to power as inward, continual, moral. He is always in the presence of Him who spoke the word at the seventh hour. At every moment, he and his son and all his household are receiving fresh life from Him. To know Him, to be in fellowship with Him, to be doing His will — which is the will of Him who sent Him: this he finds to be eternal life.
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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