O For a Thousand Tongues 


Article of the Month



Our Lord's Conversation With the Woman of Samaria

John Brown


JOHN iv. 4-42.


I AM found of them who sought me not,” is the language of the Messiah in the prophetic word, many ages before he made his appearance among mankind; and the oracle has been frequently verified. His saving blessings are not only always unmerited by those on whom they are conferred, but they are often unsought; and of all who form a part of his peculiar people, it may be as truly said as of his apostles, “It was not they who chose him, it was he who chose them.1 When they were going on in their folly and sin — when they were alike ignorant of, and careless about, him and his salvation, HE, to use the apostle’s peculiarly appropriate word, “apprehended”2 them, aroused their attention, poured light into their darkened minds, opened their understandings to understand the truth, and their hearts to receive the love of that truth, so as to be saved by it. We have a beautiful illustration of these remarks in that part of our Lord’s history, on the consideration of which we are about to enter.

We were lately engaged in illustrating the remarkable conversation which took place between our Lord and Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The course of our expositions calls us now to turn your attention to a not less interesting conversation between the same illustrious person and a Samaritan woman. There is a striking contrast between the characters and the circumstances of the two individuals with whom our Lord conversed: the one a Jew — a man of rank, a senator, a man of learning, a doctor of the law, and apparently a man of unblemished reputation; the other a Samaritan — a woman of the lower ranks, for she came to draw water — a woman of very limited information, and apparently of loose habits, or, to say the least, of doubtful character. But the Samaritan woman does not seem to be farther from the kingdom of God than the Jewish senator; and the Saviour’s “meekness of wisdom” is equally displayed in his treatment of both.

The general interest which the preaching of Jesus had excited in Judea, and especially the circumstance of his baptising great multitudes, through the instrumentality of his disciples, attracted the notice of the Jewish rulers, who are called “the Pharisees” here and in some other places in the gospels, probably because the majority, and the most influential part, of the Sanhedrim, belonged to that sect; and seems to have suggested to them the necessity of taking some steps to prevent the progress of one whose views plainly were very different from theirs, and whose growing influence over the minds of the people might be dangerous to their authority.3

Our Lord being aware of this, knowing that his hour was not yet come, and that much was yet to be done, before he closed his work on earth by his expiatory death, instead of waiting till he should be driven out of Judea, left that district of his own accord, and retired into Galilee, which, being remote from Jerusalem, and under the government of Herod the Tetrarch, was less immediately under the eye, and less directly subject to the power, of the Sanhedrim. In going from Judea into Galilee, our Lord’s most direct route lay through Samaria — not the city of that name, which was then known by another name, Sebaste, but the province of which that city was once the capital, and which still retained the name — a district of Palestine, bounded on the south by Judea, and on the north by Galilee, on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the east by the river Jordan. It was possible to go from Judea into Galilee, by crossing the Jordan, and passing through Perea; but this was a very circuitous route, though some of the stricter Jews seem to have been in the habit of taking it, to avoid intercourse with the Samaritans. The direct road lay through Samaria.4

This region, at time original settlement of the Jews in Canaan, had been allotted to Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh.5 From the time of the revolt of the ten tribes, its inhabitants had generally ceased to worship at the temple of Jerusalem, and followed first the corrupted form of religion established by Jeroboam, the son of Nebat;6 and then the Gentile idolatries introduced by his successors. After the great body of the ten tribes had been carried captive, and these regions left almost uninhabited, time king of Assyria planted in them a colony of various nations from the eastern part of his empire, who, mingling with the few original inhabitants, formed to themselves a strange medley of a religion, by mixing together the principles and rites of Judaism and those of oriental idolatries. — “fearing Jehovah,” as the inspired historian remarks, “and serving their graven images.”7 At the time of the return from the Babylonian captivity, the Samaritans, after having their alliance refused by the Jews, became their bitterest enemies, and the most active opposers of the rebuilding of their temple and capital.8 At a subsequent period, Manasseh, the son of Jaddua, the high priest, contrary to the law, married the daughter of Sanballat, the chief of the Samaritans, and when the Jews insisted on his repudiating his wife, or renouncing the sacred office, he fled to his father-in-law, who gave him an honourable reception; and, by the permission of Alexander the Great, built a temple to Jehovah, in which Manasseh and his posterity officiated as high priests, in rivalry to the divinely-instituted ritual at Jerusalem.9

The Samaritans received as divine the five books of Moses, and probably, also, some at least of the prophetic oracles; but they did not acknowledge the authority of the historical books, as written by the Jews, whom they regarded as their worst enemies. The natural consequence of all these circumstances was, that time Jews and the Samaritans regarded each other with a much more rancorous dislike than either of them did the idolatrous nations by which they were surrounded.10

In passing through this region, our Lord and his disciples arrived in the neighbourhood of one of its towns one day about noon, which in that country is intensely hot, and weary with his journey he sat down, “thus11 — that is, like a fatigued person as he was, near a celebrated well, which took its name from the Patriarch Jacob — while his disciples went into the town to buy provisions. The proper name of the town seems to have been Shechem, or Sychem, but it was commonly called Sychar by the Jews — which appears to have been a species of reproachful nickname — the word signifying ‘idolatrous,’ or ‘drunken.’ The town is still in existence, and is now called Nablûts, a corruption of Neapolis.12

This town was remarkable for being in the neighbourhood of that piece of ground which Jacob seems first to have purchased from the descendants of Hamor, and afterwards, when some Amorites had taken possession of it, to have recovered as his right by a successful appeal to arms — and which he left as a legacy to his favourite son Joseph.13 We have no reason to doubt that the well which bore his name, was indeed dug by his orders, and that out of it he and his family drank while residing in this neighbourhood.

While our Lord was sitting alone, and worn out with fatigue, by Jacob’s well, under the burning heat of an almost vertical sun, “a woman of Samaria,” — that is, not a native of the city of Samaria, but an inhabitant of the Samaritan region, and a professor of the Samaritan religion, — came out from the neighbouring town to draw water. Jacob’s well, which still exists, is about a mile from Naplouse, but it is not unlikely that the ancient town extended further in the direction of the well than the modern one.

On this woman, bearing her pitcher, approaching the well, our Lord requested of her a draught of water: — He said to her, “Give me to drink.”14 The request, though it seems to us a very natural one, appears to have struck her with surprise. She knew the extreme dislike which Jews cherished towards Samaritans; she knew that, though they would buy and sell with Samaritans, it was accounted a sin by them to have any friendly intercourse with that people. “The Jews,” says the evangelist, — for the words are plainly an explanatory note introduced by him, — “The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”15

The general tone of feeling on this subject may be judged of by the following extracts from the Jewish Rabbins: — “It is prohibited to eat the bread, and to drink the wine, of a Samaritan. If any one receive a Samaritan into his house, and minister to him, he will cause his children to be carried into captivity. He who eats the bread of a Samaritan, is as if he ate swine’s flesh.”16

Aware of this extreme antipathy, the Samaritan woman expresses her amazement that a person, whom, from his dress and dialect, she perceived to be a Jew, should deign to ask, or even receive, a favour from a Samaritan. “How is it, that thou being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?”17 It is impossible for us to say precisely what was the temper in which these words were spoken. It depends very much on the tone and manner in which they were uttered, whether they were the expression of simple surprise, or malignant exultation.

Whatever were the woman’s feelings towards the Saviour, his feelings towards her were those of compassion and kindness. His thoughts were “thoughts of good, and not of evil.” “If thou knewest,” said he meekly; “if thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”18

By “the gift of God,”19 that which God gives freely, we apprehend we are to understand the blessings of the christian salvation — the knowledge of the true character of God — the pardon of sin — genuine holiness — conformity of mind and will to God — real happiness, suited to our various capacities of enjoyment, and enduring throughout the eternity of our being: in one word, that “eternal life,” through Christ Jesus, which is “the gift of God.”20 If, then, the Samaritan woman had known the nature and excellence of this gift of God, and if she had known that he who had requested her to give him a draught of water was indeed the Messiah — the promised Saviour — the author of this salvation — the person by whom God was to bestow this gift on mankind — instead of hesitating about complying with his request, she would immediately, in her turn, have become a petitioner; and, in answer to her petition, she would have found no hesitating delay, but would have received from him, what well deserves the name of “living water,” as calculated to quench, and satisfy completely, the thirst for happiness.

This is plainly our Lord’s meaning; but it was not apprehended by the Samaritan woman. “Little did she think”— to borrow the words of an old divine —“little did she think of the glories of him who stood right against her. He who sat on the well had a throne placed above the head of the cherubim; in his arms, who then rested himself, was the sanctuary of peace, where wearied souls were to lay their heads, and dispose their cares, and then turn them to joys, and to gild their thorns with glory; and that holy tongue, which was parched with heat, streamed forth rivulets of holy doctrine, which were to water all the world — to turn our deserts into paradise.”21

The woman replied, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with,22 and the well is deep; from whence, then, hast thou this living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle.”23 The phrase “living water” literally signifies water issuing fresh from the fountain, as contrasted with water stagnant, and as it were dead, in a reservoir. Understanding the word in this sense, the woman’s meaning may be thus brought out — ‘Spring water must be got either here, or somewhere else in the neighbourhood. You cannot get it here, for the well is deep,24 and you have no means of drawing water; and it is not probable that you are in this respect greater than Jacob, whom we, as well as you Jews, claim for our ancestor, — that you are better acquainted with the vicinity than he was, so as to know of a better fountain of spring water than that which he bequeathed to us, and out of which he and his family were accustomed to drink.’ Or, as the practice of figurative speech is common among the Orientals, perhaps the force of her reply may be — You make great promises, but I see no evidence that you can perform them. If you can give me what will in any respect answer to your words, you must be a greater personage than Jacob — which I much doubt.’

Our Lord proceeds to make a statement, fitted and intended to render it still more plain that he was speaking figuratively. “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.”25 The “water” spoken of by our Lord has been explained by some of his doctrine; and by others of the influences of the Holy Spirit. We think it far more natural to understand it as coincident in meaning with “the gift of God,” as equally with that phrase referring to the christian salvation in all its extent. This salvation is of such a nature, as not only to give immediate relief to him who receives it, but to satisfy him permanently. Howsoever his capacities of enjoyment may be enlarged, there is in this salvation what will fill these capacities to an overflow for ever. This is the idea so beautifully expressed by this living water being, in the person who had drank it, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

It may be said figuratively of all earthly sources of enjoyment, as well as literally of Jacob’s well, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” It is the living waters of “the salvation that is in Christ with eternal glory,” which alone can quench for ever the thirst for happiness. To borrow again the language of the eloquent theologian formerly quoted — “Here we labour, but receive no benefit; we sow many times, and reap not; or reap, and do not gather in; or gather in, and do not possess; or possess, and do not enjoy; or if we enjoy, we are still unsatisfied: it is with anguish of spirit, and circumstances of vexation. A great heap of riches makes neither our clothes more warm, our meat more nutritive, nor our beverage more pleasant. It feeds the eye, but never fills it. Like drink to a hydropick person, it increases the thirst and promotes the torment. But the grace of God fills the furrows of the heart; and, as the capacity increases, it grows itself in equal degrees, and never suffers any emptiness or dissatisfaction, but carries content and fulness all the way; and the degrees of augmentation are not steps and near approaches to satisfaction, but increasings of the capacity. The soul is satisfied all the way, and receives more, not because it wanted any, but that it can now hold more, being become more receptive of felicity; and in every minute of sanctification, there is so excellent a condition of joy, that the very calamities, afflictions, and persecutions of the world, are turned into felicities, by the activity of the prevailing ingredient: like a drop of water falling into a tun of wine, it is ascribed into a new family, losing its own nature by a conversion into the more noble. For, now that all passionate desires are dead, and there is nothing remenent that is vexatious, the peace, the serenity, the quiet sleeps, the evenness of spirit, and contempt of things below, remove the soul from all neighbourhood of displeasure, and place it at the foot of the throne, whither, when it is ascended, it is possessed of felicities eternal. These were the waters which were given us to drink, when, with the rod of God, the rock, Christ Jesus, was smitten. The Spirit of God moves for ever upon these waters; and, when the angel of the covenant had stirred the pool, whosoever descends hither shall find health and peace, joys spiritual, and the satisfaction of eternity.”26

We can scarcely believe that the woman still thought our Lord was speaking literally. She must have seen that he was using figurative language, and that the living water he spoke of, was something else than water fresh from the spring. But she seems to have considered him as a person who was amusing himself, by attempting to awaken in her expectations he could not gratify, and therefore she replies to him in a sarcastic jest: — “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”27

It was the purpose of our Lord “to manifest himself to this woman in another way than he does to the world.” It was his determination to make her acquainted with his true character, and to put her in possession of the blessings of his salvation. Instead of replying to her jesting request, he bids her “go and call her husband.”28 This led her to state that she ‘had no husband;’29 and this statement drew from our Lord a declaration, which must have overwhelmed the woman with astonishment and shame, as it showed that this mysterious stranger was intimately acquainted with all the circumstances of her history, which had not been a very honourable one. “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”30 Whether these five husbands, whom this woman had had in succession, had all died, or whether one or more of these marriages had been dissolved by divorce, it is needless to inquire, for it is impossible to know. It seems plain, from the circumstance of her living in concubinage with a man to whom she was not married, which is the most obvious meaning of the words, “He whom thou now hast is not thy husband,” that she was a person of loose morals, and disreputable character.

Self-knowledge is necessary to prepare for the right apprehension of divine things. The knowledge which our Lord discovered of this woman’s character and history, persuaded her that he must have supernatural means of information, and accordingly she said to him: — “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet31 and, not improbably, glad of an opportunity of shifting the discourse from a subject so painful and discreditable to her, she introduces the great point of controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans, that she might hear his opinion respecting it. It is no uncommon thing for persons living in sin, not merely to pretend, but really to have, an interest in, and a zeal for, what they call their religion. Speculation about theological doctrine is often found in unnatural union with habitual neglect of moral duty; and among the endless tortuositics of the depraved human heart, this is one, to seek in polemical discussions respecting orthodoxy and heterodoxy, protection from the shafts of conviction, for plain violations of the law of God. “Who can understand the errors” of that “deceitful and desperately wicked” thing, the human heart?

Anxious as it were to get rid of so uncomfortable a theme, she proposes to Jesus, as a prophet, the great question between the Jews and the Samaritans, respecting the proper place of performing public worship to Jehovah. We have no reason to think that this woman had any conscientious anxiety as to the resolution of this question. The subject seems introduced by her merely for the purpose of turning aside a conversation which was likely to lead into details in no way agreeable or creditable to her: — “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”32

To “worship” plainly means here ‘to perform the solemn rites of public worship.’ In the laws of Moses, which the Jews and Samaritans equally acknowledged as divine, it was distinctly stated that after Israel had entered into Canaan, there should be a particular place appropriated for this purpose, where alone public worship could be lawfully celebrated.33 So far both parties were agreed; but the Jews insisted that Jerusalem was the proper place for this purpose, while the Samaritans obstinately stood up for Gerizim.

“Our fathers,” says the Samaritan woman, “worshipped in this mountain.” It is not easy to say exactly who those fathers are, to whom she refers. It is possible she refers to those remote ancestors, Abraham and Jacob, who erected altars at Shechem, on or near Mount Gerizim; or to the Israelites, who, immediately after their coming into Canaan, had the Divine blessing pronounced on them from that mountain, and for 300 years were accustomed to worship in that neighbourhood, at Shiloh; or to their more immediate ancestors, who had built a temple on Mount Gerizim, where services, similar to those of the Jewish temple at Jerusalem, were performed. That temple had indeed been destroyed by John Hyrcanus, about 160 years before this, but it is not improbable that it had been rebuilt, though with less magnificence; at any rate, public Divine worship appears to have been still performed there.

The Jews, on the other hand, held that “Jerusalem was the place where men ought to worship,” and they had good ground for so holding. David, by whose direction the ark of the covenant, the symbol of the Divine presence, was brought to Jerusalem, was a prophet, and acted tinder Divine direction. The particular site of the temple was fixed by a miraculous sign.34 The temple was thus built in strict accordance with Divine revelation. Jehovah solemnly declared to Solomon: — “I have hallowed this house which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever:” “I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name may be there.”35 The Psalmist says, “He chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he bath established for ever.”36 “The Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.”37

Such were the opinions of the Samaritans and Jews, respecting the proper place of worship, and such were the grounds on which their respective opinions were founded. It was obviously the design of the Samaritan woman to engage our Lord in the discussion of this controversy; but he in a good degree waived it, turning her attention to a subject of infinitely greater importance than the place of worship, even the nature of acceptable worship; and assuring her that the time was at hand, when all controversies in reference to the place of public worship would become obsolete, and would lose their interest: — “Woman,” said he, “believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.”38 The meaning of these words plainly is, ‘The time is just at hand when the solemn public worship of God “the Father,” the common Father of his human family, shall not be confined to any one place, and when of course the controversy whether Gerizim or Jerusalem has the better claim to that honour, shall be superseded.’ Some have supposed that a particular period is referred to as the ultimate limit of that order of things, in which the solemn public worship of Jehovah was restricted to a particular place. In this case the reference is probably to the fall of Jerusalem; but I do not know that more is meant than merely, ‘Yet a very little while, and this state of things shall be no more.’

“Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”39 In saying that the Samaritans worshipped they knew not what, we apprehend our Lord refers not so much to the object of worship, as to the manner of worship — ‘In worshipping God, ye are not guided by his will as to the place of his worship; you have no divine authority for worshipping at Gerizim. On the other hand, we Jews know, on good grounds, that in worshipping at Jerusalem, we are acting in compliance with the Divine will.’ These words are just equivalent to, ‘In the question between you and the Jews, you are wrong, and they are right; you are ignorant, and they are well-informed.’

He adds as a reason, “for salvation is of the Jews.” “Salvation” here seems equivalent to ‘the Saviour’ — that is, the Messiah. In this way the word is used in Luke: — “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God;”40 and in the Acts of the Apostles — “So hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.”41 ‘The Messiah is to arise from among the Jews, and therefore the true mode of worshipping Jehovah is to be found among them.’

But that question, as to the proper place of worshipping Jehovah — though, without doubt, the Jews were right, and the Samaritans wrong — was, as a practical question, very soon to cease to be of much interest. For, continues our Lord, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”42 ‘Under that order of things which is just about to be established, and in which the Divine Being is to be remarkably manifested as the “Father” of men, the great question will not be, where he is to be worshipped, but how. The worshipper at Jerusalem will not be accounted a true worshipper because he worships there, nor the worshipper at Gerizim a false worshipper because he worships there; the worshipper in spirit and in truth, wherever he worships, whether in Jerusalem or Gerizim, or anywhere else — whether in Canaan, or in any other country — he, he alone, is the genuine worshipper.’

To “worship in spirit,” is to worship spiritually; to “worship in truth,” is to worship truly. They are not two different kinds of worship; they are two different aspects of the same worship: to worship spiritually, is in opposition to the performance of mere external rites, to give to God the homage of an enlightened mind, and an affectionate heart; to know, admire, esteem, love, trust, and submit to him; and to worship him truly, is either to worship him according to the truth — that is, in a manner suited to the revelation he has made of his character; or really, not merely in appearance, but in substance — not in pretence only, but in sincerity. Such — such alone — are the acceptable worshippers. The Father seeketh these for his worshippers.43 These are the worshippers whom he acknowledges. The worshipper at Jerusalem, without this, will not be accepted. The worshipper at Gerizim, with this, will not be rejected. The economy, whose great characters were externality and typism, is about to close; the economy, whose great characters are spirituality and reality, is about to take place.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”44 The Father seeketh those who worship in spirit and truth as his worshippers. They are the objects of his choice and preference; and the reason is plain — he himself is spiritual — “God is a Spirit.” These words are equivalent to — ‘God is a living, intelligent, active being.’ And, from his nature as God, he must possess all those attributes in the greatest possible, or rather, in an infinite, measure. He is the author and fountain of life; he knows everything, and is infinitely wise; he is the great original power in the universe, “who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will;” “who doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;” whose arm none can stay, and to whom none dares say, “what doest though?”45 Worship, to be acceptable to him, must be suited to his nature. It must be spiritual; it must be the worship of man as an intelligent being — the worship of the mind and of the heart; it must be worship, not false, like that of the idolater; not merely external and apparent, like that of the formal ceremonialist; not insincere, like that of the hypocrite. “How has the lofty truth, the world-historical import of this saying of Christ, been lost sight of by those who have taken it as an isolated expression, part from its connection with Christian theism, and with the whole divine process for the development of the christian life; by those abstract, naked, one-sidedly-intellectual deists and pantheists, who have dreamed that they could incorporate it into their discordant system by their spiritual fetishism, which substitutes the deification of an idea for the spiritual, truthful, adoration of God as a Spirit. The aristocracy of education, the one-sided intellectualism of the ancient world, was uprooted by Christ when he uttered this great truth to an uneducated woman, who belonged to an ignorant and uncultivated people”46

The sublime truths, to which nothing comparable is to be found in the writings of the most accomplished of the heathen sages, were, no doubt, but imperfectly understood by the Samaritan woman. She was probably mortified at his determining the question so decidedly against her country; and though she does not contradict him, she refers the settlement of the controversy to the Messiah, who, on his coming, would “restore all things” — set all things to rights. “I know,” said she, “that the Messiah cometh,” or is coming; (the words, “who is called Christ,” form an explanatory note of the evangelist, showing that the Gospel was originally published among those who did not understand Hebrew); “when he is come, he will tell us all things.”47

It seems probable that the expectation of the speedy appearance of the Messiah was general at this period among the Samaritans, as well as the Jews. The former do not seem to have mingled the political element with their expectations; and anticipated in him a teacher as well as a deliverer. That expectation, probably, was founded on the oracle: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.”48

Our Lord, with infinite condescension and kindness, revealed his true character to this poor woman, and assured her that He was the Messiah, whose coming she was expecting, and that this was the instruction which was to be expected from him: — “I that speak unto thee am he.”49 Our Lord was very cautious of owning, in so many words, his Messiahship among the Jews, for two reasons — they were ready, either to stir up insurrection, and take him by force, and make him their leader, or to accuse him to the Roman government as a seditious person. There was no such hazard here. The Samaritan woman believed our Lord’s declaration, and, we can have no doubt, asked and obtained the living water; but, impatient to impart intelligence so important and so delightful to her fellow-citizens, “she left her pitcher, and ran back into the city.”

Just about this time his disciples returned with the provisions they had obtained; and though they were amazed that their Master should have entered into familiar conversation with a Samaritan woman, being under the influence of their national prejudice, which held it unworthy of a wise man to talk with a woman,50 and unfit for a Jew to be familiar with a Samaritan, yet such was their reverence for him, that they did not presume to make any remark on his conduct.51

On arriving at the city, the woman invited her fellow-citizens to come along with her, and see a person who had discovered a perfect acquaintance with her history, and who, she had reason to think, was really the long-promised Messiah: — “Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?”52 Struck with her statements, many of them accompanied her in her return to the well. 53

Meanwhile our Lord’s disciples, seeing their Master apparently absorbed in thought, urged him to partake of the provisions they had brought.54 He replied to their friendly requests: — “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.”55 Our Lord’s meaning plainly is, ‘Something of which you are ignorant has occurred, which has delighted and invigorated me, so as that I have no appetite for natural food.’

His disciples, though even already they must have been in some measure accustomed to his enigmatical form of speech, understood him literally, and supposed that, in their absence, some person might have furnished him with food.’56 To remove their misapprehension, our Lord subjoins: — “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work;” that is, the work he has entrusted, me with. ‘in performing the great work committed to me, I find more pleasure than even in my necessary food; success in that, is, in my apprehension, the richest feast.’

At this moment, the multitude of Samaritans appear to have been seen leaving the city, and coming towards them. On perceiving them, our Lord thus addressed the disciples: — “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift tip your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, one soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.”57

‘It is a common. saying among you, When the seed is cast into the ground, in four months we shall have harvest; but lift up your eyes, and say, if, though we have but commenced sowing, it be not harvest already; are not this people really a people prepared for the Lord?’58 It is likely our Lord refers here not only to what had just occurred, but also to the great success which had attended his labours, and those of his disciples, in Judea.

“And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together,”59 q. d., ‘This is a work in which it is indeed a privilege to be engaged.’ “The reaper,” that is, the person who succeeds in converting men to the faith of Christ, “he receiveth wages,” he obtains a glorious reward; and “the fruit he gathers shall be to life eternal.” This either refers to his reward being an eternal one, or rather, denotes that those who are converted by his means, the fruits of his ministry, shall be saved everlastingly; so that the sower, he who used means for their salvation, and did not see their complete success, and he that reapeth — that is, who has been the means of their conversion — may, in their everlasting salvation, find a common enjoyment.

The proverb, “one soweth, and another reapeth,” was fulfilled in the case of our Lord’s disciples — other men had laboured, and they had entered into their labours: “I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.”60 It was owing to John’s preliminary labours that their preaching had been so successful. This was, very likely, said by our Lord, to repress the vanity of his disciples, who might be flattered by the great multitudes that in Judea had been induced to submit to baptism. Some interpreters have supposed that these words are prophetic, and refer to what took place when his disciples entered into his labours, as well as those of John the Baptist, and the ancient prophets, thus including the abundant harvest of vast multitudes, both of Jews and Samaritans.

Many of the Samaritans were induced, by the report of their towns-woman, to believe in Christ Jesus as the Messiah; which almost necessarily leads us to the conclusion, that, in so short a narrative, many circumstances which took place must have been omitted. These converts, on coming to our Lord, earnestly requested him to remain with them some time.61 With this request our Lord graciously complied, and continued with them two days.

These two days were no doubt busily employed by him, in instructing them in the word of the kingdom. Whether he performed any miracles here we cannot certainly say; there being no mention of them is not certain evidence that they were not wrought. At any rate, by means of his discourses, a great number of additional disciples were gained to his cause.

The “creed,” or profession of faith of the Samaritans, deserves notice: — “We know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.62 They seem to have been freer from prejudice as to the design of the Messiah’s mission than the Jews. This may have arisen from the principal prediction of the Messiah, recognised by them, distinctly stating, “That to him should the gathering of the peoples be.”63

The passage we have been considering is replete with practical instruction.

Let us be grateful that we live under the spiritual dispensation; let us improve our privileges; let us recollect that they bring with them a heavy responsibility, and that a carnal, nominal, hypocritical professor of Christianity will be punished much more severely than a carnal, nominal, hypocritical Jew or Samaritan.

Let ministers and others engaged in cultivating the spiritual harvest beware of becoming “weary in well-doing;” “in due season they shall reap if they faint not.” Let them imbibe the spirit, and imitate the conduct, of their Lord and Master.

And let all seek to know, not only from the testimony of others, but from their own experience, that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the divinely commissioned and qualified Saviour of the world. It is only as the Saviour of the world that any of us can ever have access to him as our own Saviour. But if we do not through faith receive him as our own Saviour, it will avail only to our deeper condemnation that he was made known to us — it may be acknowledged by us, as the Saviour of the world.


  1. John xv. 16. oux humeis me exelexasths all’ ego exelexaman humas.
  2. katilabe Phil. iii. 12.
  3. John iv. 1, 2.
  4. John iv. 3, 4.
  5. Josh. xvi., xvii.
  6. 1 Kings xii. 25-33.
  7. 2 Kings xvii. 24-41.
  8. Ezra iv. Neh. iv., vi.
  9. 1 Mac. iii. 10.; Jos. Antiq xii. 5, 5
  10. Vide Relandi Dissert. Miscell. Diss. iii. and vii.
  11. outws. Rev. iii. 16; orig. “Sic uti qualiscunque loci opportunitas ferebat; sine pompa, solus, ut qui non præ se ferret expectationem Samaritidis, sed meræ lassitudinis causa quietem vellet capere.” — BENGEL.
  12. Relandi Palestina, p 1009. Robinson’s Researches, iii. 96.
  13. Gen. xxxiii. 19; xlviii. 22. Jos. xxiv. 82.
  14. John iv. 7.
  15. John iv. 8.
  16. See Lightfoot, Schöttgen, and Lampé. The general dislike to strangers, which was a proverbial characteristic of the Jews, is strikingly portrayed in the words of the Roman poet —
       “Non monstrare vias, eadem nisi sacra colenti,
        Quæsitum ad fontem, solos deducere verpos.” — JUVENAL.
    This general dislike was sharpened in the case of the Samaritans, by the peculiar relations of the two nations.
  17. John iv. 9.
  18. John iv. 10.
  19. Tan dorean tou theou.
  20. Rom. vi. 23.
  21. Jeremy Taylor.
  22. “Thou hast no bucket.” — antlama.— CAMPBELL.
  23. John iv. 11, 12. thremmata. Hesychius explains it thus: bosxamaza, probata, tekna.
    Kypke renders it domesticos. It is one of the hapax legomena.
  24. Travellers tell us the well is 105 feet deep, containing at different seasons more or less water. Maundrell, in March, found 15 feet of water in it; Robinson, in June, found it dry.
  25. John iv. 13, 14.
  26. Jeremy Taylor.
  27. John iv. 15.
  28. John iv. 16.
  29. John iv. 17.
  30. John iv. 18. What strange dreams learned men pass off for interpretations of Scripture, was perhaps never more strikingly manifested than in the following remarks of the erudite, acute, pious, and generally judicious Hengstenberg (Diss. on the Authenticity of the Pentateuch, Dis. I.): — “By the divine guidance, the higher relations of this woman’s people are portrayed in her inferior relations, and on this very account she is chosen by Christ as the national representative. She had had five husbands, and he whom she now had was not her husband. He had not thought her worthy to be united to him in wedlock. And thus also her people. They had, in earlier times, entered into a five-fold spiritual marriage with their idols; this marriage was dissolved; the people sought for a marriage with Jehovah, but this was refused, because they did not belong to Israel. The King of Assyria (2 Kings xvii. 24) brought colonists from exactly five nations — from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim — and each of these nations had their peculiar deity, or, according to the language of the ancient East, their husband.” “This similarity,” says the learned German, with great gravity, “of the relations of the people and of the woman, is, indeed, too remarkable altogether to be disregarded without levity.” Notwithstanding, we do feel it impossible to repress a smile. It would be difficult to find, even in Origen or Cocceius, anything more fanciful than this.
  31. John iv. 19.
  32. John iv. 20.
  33. Deut. xii. 5-14.
  34. 1 Chron. xxi. 26, &c.
  35. 1 Kings ix. 3. 2 Chron vi. 6.
  36. Psalm lxxviii. 68, 69.
  37. Psalm cxxxii. 13, 14.
  38. John iv. 21.
  39. John iv. 22.
  40. Luke ii. 29,30; iii. 6.
  41. Acts xiii. 47.
  42. John iv. 23.
  43. Even under the former economy, such alone were acceptable worshippers, in the true sense of the word. Psal. l. 7-23. Isa. i. 11-20. Micah vi. 6-8. Amos v. 21-24.
  44. John iv. 24.
  45. Morus’ Dissertation “De Deo, Siritu, ad popularem intelligentiam accommodate describendo” may be consulted with advantage. — Dissertt. Theolog. Et Philolog., Vol. I., Diss. X., p. 328
  46. Neander.
  47. John iv. 25.
  48. Deut. xviii. 15.
  49. John iv. 26.
  50. “He who instructs his daughter in the law is like one that plays the fool.” — Talmud, Tr. Sota, f. 20.
  51. John iv. 27.
  52. John iv. 28, 29.
  53. John iv. 30.
  54. John iv. 31.
  55. John iv. 32.
  56. John iv. 33.
  57. John iv. 35-38.
  58. John iv. 35
  59. John iv. 36.
  60. John iv. 37, 38.
  61. John iv. 39-41.
  62. John iv. 42.
  63. Gen. xlix. 10.


John Brown of Edinburgh was a Scotch Burgher minister, eldest son of Rev. John Brown of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire, and grandson of John Brown of Haddington. He was born on July 12, 1784 and died at Edingburgh October 13, 1848. He studied at Edinburgh and the divinity hall of the Burgher Church at Selkirk; was licensed 1805 and ordained minister of the Burgher Church of Biggar, Lanarkshire, 1806. After serving several more pastorates he became professor of exegetical theology to the United Associate Synod after 1834. He was strongly in favor of the separation of church and state, and in 1845 was tried (and acquitted) before the synod on a charge of holding unsound views concerning the atonement.

He was a fine orator and a voluminous writer; the most prominent of his works are: Exposition of the Discourses and Sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ (3 Vols. 1850); The Resurrection of Life, an exposition of I Cor. xv. (1852); Expository Discourses on Galatians (1853); and the Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (1857).


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