On the Gospel of John 4

John 4  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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After the introductory chapters, the Gospel of John begins by showing us Jesus leaving Judea, and quitting the Jewish capital, the center of the throne of God on the earth, the ancient seat of Him who, now come down in grace, could not find where to lay His head in an adverse world. The jealousy of the Pharisees gave occasion to the departure of Jesus. But here already we can perceive that the Lord, having the consciousness of an origin and of a purpose which went beyond all the thoughts even of those who had received Him, does not act to gather together those who received His word, according to the thoughts of the disciples who surrounded Him with affection: Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples. The Word made flesh, Son of God, Savior of the world, Redeemer, Son of man, He could not baptize in order to attach them to Himself as Messiah, although He was the Messiah; for He knew too well His rejection, and, as Peter expresses it, the sufferings which were to be the portion of Christ, and the glories that should follow. As to what was outside His position, Jesus could but allow His disciples to baptize thus; for them it was the truth, even the whole truth, although they had learned to add " living " to His title of Son of God. But if He Himself had baptized, He would have been entirely below the consciousness which He had of the object of His coming, and of that which was going to happen: it was not the truth for Him; although He was truly the Messiah, He came not to take this place then, but to give His life a ransom for many. That which drove Him away from Jerusalem, hindered Him also from baptizing. The city where formerly He had been seated between the cherubim, and whose children He had often desired to gather together, drove Him from its neighborhood; He went away, the despised and rejected of men, without having where to lay His head, to carry the testimony of God's love elsewhere, and to display it in His Person. This supposed that He was rejected as Messiah; but more, God manifested in grace, and coming, according to the promises made to the Jewish people, He was the last test of the human heart, which was thus found to be enmity against God, and against God come in grace. It was a question, then, of God's sovereign grace when man would not have Him; it was necessary then that He should be found quite apart, that He should have nothing down here-He who, coming amongst men to bring them love, a love which answered to all their necessities, was at the same time light for their consciences, put Himself within the reach of all, used their very necessities to gain them in love, but called them to the enjoyment of heavenly things, which He, and He alone, was able to reveal to them.
We shall see that the fourth chapter answers perfectly to this position. But what a precious and deep truth to see the Son of God, God manifest in flesh, rejected; He who had come according to the promises, giving up everything down here, made nothing of, and abased, and showing in this very thing the fullness of the Godhead in love and light-always hidden in lowliness, so as to be near all, and taking nothing of that which was His own, so as to be Himself alone everywhere, as God must be, and always manifested, if any one had eyes to see-all the more manifested because He was hidden, that the love might come nigh unto all, this infinite love of God manifested in His humiliation, in order to reach those who lay low, in alienation and hatred-infinite love, love which was above everything, in its exercise towards those who hated it-Master of Himself, in order to be the Servant of all, from His Father down to the most wretched of sinners, and that even unto death! Shall we not love Him? We cannot fathom these things; but that which He has been manifestly, can take possession of our whole heart, and form, or rather create, its affections by the object presented to them. He has sanctified Himself for us, that we might be sanctified by the truth. Looked at in this way, this chapter has an immense bearing; but we will follow out the facts historically as they are presented to us.
In going from Judea into Galilee, the Lord, unless He made a circuitous journey, must pass through Samaria. Now Samaria, whilst seeking to appropriate the promises, was outside the circle of them: they belonged to the Jews. But the pretensions of the Samaritan to have part in them excessively irritated the Jews. Indeed, though mixed, the population of Samaria was, in great part, of heathen origin. " Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil," said the Jews to Jesus. The Samaritans were in fact outside the promises and people of God. The Lord recognized these promises and that people, but He introduced that which was above both, and set them aside (v. 21-24, and already v. 5, 6). If Jacob's well was there, the Son of man was there too, the Son of man, weary with His journey, thirsty, and without water, in the heat of the day, with no resting-place but the side of the well where He might sit, and dependent for a little water and to quench His thirst, upon any one who might come-upon a poor Samaritan woman, abandoned, and the offscouring of the world. This woman, tired of life, comes to draw water. Isolated in fact, isolated in her heart, she did not come at the time when women draw water. She had followed after pleasure in doing her own will; she had had five husbands, to whom, probably, she had been devoted, and the one she had was not her husband. She was weary of life; her will and her sin had left her heart void; she was isolated and abandoned by the world: her sin had isolated her; respectable people did not want her; nor was this astonishing. But there was One who was more isolated than she, who was alone in this world, whom no one understood, not even His disciples! What man, in the midst of this perverse world, understood the heart of Him who brought the thoughts of God into a world of sin, His love into a world of selfishness, His light into a world of darkness, heavenly things into the midst of a world which groveled in material interests? This was good in the midst of evil, perfect good there where there was none. There was a point of contact between these two, love on the one hand, and need on the other: but grace was necessary to produce the consciousness of the need.
The manner of Jesus had attracted the woman's attention: a Jew speaking kindly to a Samaritan woman, content to be beholden to her! The Lord begins from on high, by divine grace, joined to the perfect humiliation and lowliness which set the goodness of God within the reach of man, grace which shows itself, which is measured; in going down so far as to meet with sin, and the misery to which sin has reduced us. The Lord indicates the two things. " If thou knewest the gift of God." In Jesus, God does not demand anything. He produces every kind of good, but He makes no demand. There was here no right to anything, no promise; there was no morality, no link with God existed; but grace existed in God for those who were in this state. The woman's attention was arrested; she saw something extraordinary, without rising above the circumstances in which her spirit moved. But the Lord goes to the source of all, or rather He came from it in His spirit. Two things are seen here, as I have just said; God giving in grace, and the perfect humiliation of Him who was speaking. Next, what this gift of God was is revealed, that is, the present enjoyment, by the power of the Holy Ghost, of eternal life in heaven.
How many new things these few words contained! God was giving, in grace and in goodness; He was making no demands, He was not turning back to man's responsibility, which is the basis of eternal judgment, but was acting in the freedom and power of His holy grace. Then, He who had created the water was there, weary and dependent, in order to be able to drink of it from such a woman, who did not know what she was. He does not say, " If thou knewest me," but, " If thou knewest who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink," who He is who has come down so low, surmounting all the barriers which kept Him from thee, " thou wouldest have asked of him " Confidence would have been established: as to goodness and as to power, He could, and would, give that which brought into relationship with God. There was the answer: " He would have given thee living water "; words clear enough, it would seem; but the poor woman cannot get further than the circumstances of her daily labor. It is not now with her, astonishment in seeing Him who spoke with her, passing over religious barriers, but the impossibility, as He was, of having water; for she goes no further than her daily toil, though seeing plainly that she has to do with an extraordinary Person; the Lord was leading her on, she knew not yet where. Was He, then, who spoke to her greater than Jacob, the stock of Israel, who had given them the well? The Lord now expresses more clearly what was in question: " Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh 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."
But to arrest the attention of a soul, however useful this may be, is not to convert it: the moral communication between the soul and God is not yet established by the knowledge of oneself and of Him; the eyes are not yet opened. Thus the heart remains in its natural surroundings, absorbed, or at least governed, by the circle in which it lives. The poor woman, attracted by the Lord's manner, which had gained ascendency over her, asks Him to give her of this water, so that she need no longer come there to draw laboriously. All true intelligence was wanting to her: she was absorbed by her weariness and labor, and the circle of her thoughts went no further than her waterpot, that is to say, than herself, but herself possessed by her circumstances. This is human life, and people judge of revealed things by their relation to these circumstances; sometimes we find moral truth, as here; sometimes open unbelief. How can an entrance be found into the heart of man? This is easy for God, and for man this entrance is found when God is there, and reveals Himself, and man's conscience is touched. " Adam, where art thou? " He hid himself, because he was naked. All was out. The fig-leaves that could set him at ease in hiding him from himself were simply nothing when God was there. The first manifestation of this new faculty in man, conscience, this sad but useful companion that always goes with him now through his career, as a part of his being is, for God, the only door of entrance to the heart, and for man, of intelligence. Only here it is love, never weary, that acts. God and the sinner are found each in his true place; man, responsible entirely known of God, but feeling that all is known, and that He who knows him is there.
I dwell a little on this point, because it is the opposite of the entrance of paradise; it is not paradise regained, or even that which is much better, but the soul receiving subjectively truth and grace in the Person of Jesus, who gives it the capacity for this. In either case its state of sin is revealed to the soul; but in paradise it was to judge, and begin a world where God was not, but where Satan reigned; here sin also is manifested, but God is manifested in this same world in love; formerly, light and judgment; now, light and grace. All understanding as to the gift of God, of the Person of Christ, of eternal life, was wanting, and had no place in the woman's heart. " There is none that hath understanding." But whilst, formerly, God had driven out man, here love remains perseveringly near the sinner; when it is God, love is persevering and patient. Only all must be real: " Go, call thy husband, and come hither." " I have no husband," replies the woman. It is shame which, though speaking the truth, hides the evil; not an upright conscience before God. But patient love still carries on its work; it pursues it there, where entrance is found into the understanding-or rather into the soul of man, which is thoroughly wanting in understanding as to divine things-conscience. " Go, call thy husband." Then, upon her answer, the Lord tells the woman enough of her history to make her know that she has to do with Him before whom all is naked and laid bare.
The work was going on in this soul; her attention, we have said, had been arrested. The effect deserves to be well considered; the woman neither excuses herself, nor is astonished, nor asks, How dost thou know this? The word of God is for her the word of God. " Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." She does not only say, That which thou sayest is true; no, the authority and source of the word of Jesus were for her divine. All He says comes from God, who reveals Himself by this means among men. This is a deep change in the soul's condition. God has spoken to her, and she has recognized that it is He; but more, that His word, as a whole, as a source, is of Him. What she thought was, not only that Jesus, in this particular case, spoke the truth, although that was the means by which her conscience was reached, but God was speaking to her conscience, and that always produces the effect we see here: He who was speaking was a true and sure source of divine communications. It was faith in the word of God, the soul brought into communication with Him: all that He said had for her a divine authority. Divine intelligence was there with regard to the things in which God was drawing near to man.
Nevertheless the woman was still pre-occupied with that which filled her mind: Ought we to worship at Jerusalem, or on Mount Gerizim? It was the external aspect of what existed, and her mind had been exercised about these things: Where was God to be found?-but in a way which did not go beyond what was in man. God takes the opportunity of revealing the true, the new worship, the worship of the Father, of God, in spirit and in truth. This change characterizes the whole of the chapter, that is, the introduction of heavenly relationships in the place of the earthly Jewish system, a change which depended upon the revelation of the Father in the Son, a change but little known as yet, but which was necessarily connected with His Person, and of which consequently, He could say, " the hour now is " (v. 23).
Two things, based upon the revelation which was being made, characterized this worship; the nature of God, and the Father's grace. The worship of the true God must be a worship " in spirit and in truth." God's nature required this; God is a Spirit; and the worship would not be according to what God is, if it were not " in truth," for what is false is not according to what He is, and the revelation of that which He is has come in Christ, who is Himself the truth, for " grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The law given by Moses told what man ought not to do, and the Lord knew well how to find in this law that which man ought to feel; to love God and his neighbor. But the law does not reveal what God is, it reveals what man ought to be. Now here was God fully revealed in the world, who, rejected as Messiah, object of promise, leaves His special connection with the Jewish people, although it had been (outside that which was earthly and legal) established by Himself, and comes to reveal Himself in the Person of the Son, substituting God amongst men, in grace, for all the forms in the midst of which, hidden behind the veil, He forbade all men to come near Him-to reveal Himself I say, to all this ignorance, which worshipped she knew not what, and where there was no answer whatever to the needs of the heart. It was the Father seeking true worshippers in spirit and in truth, according to His own nature fully revealed; for " God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth." But grace precedes; the initiative is with God; He comes Himself to seek such worshippers. We have seen that it was the gift of God; but God is Light, and He reveals Himself. It is, we have also seen, God revealed in goodness, but the conscience reached by the light, and God giving that which springs up unto everlasting life.
Thus it is the grace of the Father which seeks, the light of God that acts on the conscience, grace which gives divine life, according to the presence in power of the Holy Ghost, and all the truth which unfolds itself in this: this is what produces true worship in spirit and in truth. All that belongs to Jerusalem and Samaria is necessarily left behind by the presence of God Himself, the Son revealing the Father, and communicating eternal life in connection with heavenly things; the Messiah being rejected, and the Father's heart being the source of all, which places us necessarily in connection with heaven, by Him who can reveal these things, Himself the Son of the Father.
We may remark here that our Gospel speaks of the revelation of the Father in the Son; of what God is, who is the object of worship; of that which reaches the conscience; of eternal life; but not of that which purifies the conscience. This last subject is not that which John treats of in his Gospel, but John speaks of the revelation of God the Father in the Son; of this revelation for judgment, as to its result, and according to grace, as to its object; it is the Son in the world, to reveal His God and Father, and as eternal life. At the end of the Gospel, the Holy Ghost is introduced in place of the Son, that we may know Him as Man in heaven at the right hand of God.
We find an example of the isolation of the Lord in the total want of intelligence in the disciples, when the Lord opens His heart, in the joy that the prospect of the conversion of sinners gave Him-of the fruit of His ministry. Except communion with His Father, which He always enjoyed, the Lord had no joy upon earth but in the exercise of His love in the good that He did that was worthy of God. Perfect whilst being truly Man in His communion on high, and exercising His love down here, He went about doing good. Such was His whole life, except the sufferings He endured at the hands of men, He, a Man of sorrows, and knowing well what languor was. Not that He was without human affection: He loved Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus; He loved him whose Gospel we are reading; but this does not appear till His hour had come. He defers all expression of it until then, explicitly as to His mother, and, as we see in the history, as to what concerns John and the family at Bethany. In His ministry He was wholly for His Father, and for the sinners of the world; His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him, and to finish His work (v. 34).
The result for the woman, who received a flood of fresh light in her soul, and who, even while being enlightened, had suddenly too much light to see distinctly, is, that she refers it to Christ. God had brought it about by a real work in her conscience. She thought that if only she had the Christ (for Him she believed in, and knew He was to come), He would tell her all clearly, and make her know all things. It is there that the woman was brought; and Christ was there before her. It is always thus. Many questions arise in an awakened and sincere soul, but when Christ is found, all comes out clearly, there is a full answer to all the soul's needs: all is found. But who was He who had acted upon the heart and conscience of this poor woman, and who had been good to her, when He knew all that she had done? When the word of God reaches the conscience, it is not the flesh that acts, it is the Savior-God, who has been there all along.
There is another interesting little circumstance to be remarked here. We have seen the isolated woman bowed down under the burden of life, whose ill-requited labor was represented by the pitcher: she was absorbed by it, her heart could not throw it off: now (and it is not for nothing that the Holy Ghost presents to us these little touches) the pitcher is entirely forgotten. The woman does not seek isolation any longer; she goes to announce to everyone what she has found; this Man was surely the Christ (v. 28, 29). No doubt she had to draw water again, but the burden that weighed upon her soul was taken off, the energy of a new life was there. What she said touched very nearly on her shame; but Jesus filled her heart, and she can talk of these things, in finding Christ there-Christ who preoccupied her by the light of His grace: " Come, see a man who hath told me all things that ever I did; is not he the Christ? " When she got home, she could think of the gift of God, and of Him who had said to her, " Give me to drink "; but all her further life is lost in the splendor of the revelation of God in Christ.
We may remark that the reapers gathered fruit unto life eternal, and also received their hire. The prophets had labored (the woman was expecting the Christ), also John the Baptist. The disciples were only reaping, but the fields were white unto harvest. In the very worst times, when judgment even is close at hand, God has His good part, and faith sees it, and is consoled by it.
Notice, too, that the Samaritans call Jesus " the Savior." They knew very well, at bottom, that their Gerizim was nothing, but under the influence Of grace, that opened their hearts to a wider conception of the Savior's work. No Jew would have said, " the Savior of the world."
As His field of work, Jesus does not take again the road to Jerusalem-He goes away into Galilee. His own country had rejected the Prophet, and lost the Savior. This expression, which embraces all the extent of the scene of His redeeming work as Savior, closes this account, where His departure from Judea to introduce it into the sphere of sovereign grace is given to us, while presenting the principles of eternal life, and of the worship to be rendered to the Father.
The following episode, in which the illness of the courtier's son is related to us, begins, I think, to unfold to us the great elements of the revelation of God in the Person of the Son, first of all in healing that which remained in Israel, but ready to perish. Further on He shows that man is dead spiritually; but there were in Israel quickened souls, as we see indeed in the beginning of Luke. But all was going to perish; the nation was going to be judged, was going to terminate its existence under the old covenant, no longer to subsist in relationship with God as a vessel of blessing. But He who is the Resurrection and the Life was there, to awaken and sustain life individually, to be its bread, there, where faith received Him. He showed this, too, at Jerusalem, but it began naturally in Galilee, in the midst of the poor of the flock, where He went when He was driven out of Judea. Faith receives the word of Christ, and He who is the Life and who brings it, re-animates it taking away weakness and communicates life. This application that we make of physical restoration is fully sanctioned by the use the Lord makes of it in the following chapter. The principle and faith are equally simple here; the father believed in the power of Jesus, but his faith was like that of Martha, Mary, and the Jews; he believed that Jesus could heal1—nothing more. He prays the Lord to come down before his son dies.
Jesus would have men believe on a word, and not only in seeing signs; however He does not raise the question of the power to quicken, but He has compassion on the poor father, making everything depend, nevertheless, on faith in His word, when He says to the father, " Thy son liveth." The father believes the word of Jesus, and goes away; on the way he meets his servants, and they announce to him that his son is healed, and that this was so at the very moment when Jesus said the word. " And he believed, both he and all his house." The power of death had been arrested by the power of life come from above, and the man that had profited by it believed in Him who had brought it, and who was it; for in Him was life. (Compare 1 John 1:1-31That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1‑3) and ch. 5: 11, 12.)
1. This doctrine is fully developed in chapter 5.