John 1-4

John 1‑4  •  39 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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John 1:1-18
I read these verses as a kind of preface, serving to introduce this Gospel in its due character as the Gospel of the Son of God—the Son of the Father; and the Baptist’s testimony is here summarily appended to this preface as serving the same end.
And here I remark, that the place which our blessed Lord immediately takes, on His appearing upon earth, is that which I have already observed belongs to Him as the Son of God, and to the Church with Him; that is, the place of a stranger. He is here shown to us at once in this character. He is as light in the midst of darkness; the Maker of the world, and yet not known of the world; coming to His own, and yet not received of His own; become flesh, and yet only tabernacling for a while among us. All this shows Him to be the Stranger here; it is thus that this Gospel introduces Him. And accordingly, at the beginning it assumes that His question with the world, and with His earthly people Israel, were both determined (vss. 11-12). The Spirit of God in our evangelist at once shuts up the world under the condemnation of being “without God,” and concludes Israel in unbelief; and, upon this, brings out an elect family, not registered in the earth, or born of flesh, but born of God, for whom “grace and truth,” the fullness of the Father in the Son, were now provided.
The Book of Genesis opens with creation; but the Gospel by John opens with Him who was before creation and above creation. It is to Him that we are immediately taken. Creation is passed by, and we get to “the Word,” who was with God, and who was God.
This is the opening of our Gospel, defining it to be the Gospel of the Son of God, the Creator of all things, the Declarer of the Father, the Fountain and the Channel of grace and truth to sinners. And, according to this, the glory which John tells us he had beheld is that “of the Only-Begotten of the Father,” that is, a personal glory; while the glory which the other evangelists record as having been beheld, was the glory on the holy mount; that is, an official glory merely. And this again characteristically marks the end and bearing of this Gospel.
Very blessed, as well as very elevating and divine, are the thoughts suggested by these introductory verses. They tell us, beside what I have observed above, that the Light, the living Light, shined in darkness before the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; yes, before His harbinger, the Baptist, was sent forth by God. Just as in the old creation. Light was the first element under the forming power of God. It went before the sun. The sun was the creature of the fourth day, but light was the prime creature of the first. The first three days, therefore, walked in the light of light merely, without the presence of that which afterwards ruled the day. And so has it been, as these verses tell us, in the history of the living Light. Christ was the earliest thought from God that rose upon the moral darkness and chaos of apostate man. In the promise, “It shall bruise thy head,” the living Light sprang forth! Days or dispensations succeeded. The first three days again, as it were, took their course. The ages of the patriarchs and of Moses spent themselves. But the light of life had gone abroad, though as yet the Word had not become flesh. The light shined before the sun was set in the heavens. And this is a happy thought. The Christ of God was the earliest revelation that arose upon the ruins and darkness of Adam; and though for a season that divine depository of all Light that great source of all vivifying beams, remained unmanifested, yet effulgences worth of Him, and which belonged to Him, came forth to cheer and guide preceding ages, the first, the second, and the third day.
But heat, as well as light, is ours, I might say. For this same wondrous scripture tells us that “the bosom of the Father” has been disclosed to us. “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” There is nothing like that. The deep, unspeakable, unfathomable love that dwells in that bosom is the love that has visited us, in the warmth of which we have been addressed. And how surpassing all knowledge is such a thought as that! Well may we ask to be strengthened with might by the Spirit to comprehend it (Eph. 3:16-19). It is the heaven of the heart to be still and silent, and in simple faith to let such a revelation tell out its tale upon us.
John 1:19-28
These verses are also somewhat introductory; the action can scarcely be said to have commenced; for they give us, by way of recital, the Baptist’s testimony to the Jews, before the Lord Jesus had been manifested to him as the Son of God. For so little had the Spirit of God in John to do with Jewish testimony, that all this is given here, as I have just observed, by way of recital, telling us what had been the Baptist’s confession to the messengers of the Jews.
John 1:29-42
Here, however, the action fully opens. And this is with the Baptist’s direct testimony to Jesus, after the manifestation of Him as Son of God. But having borne witness to Him, the Baptist appears as one who had consciously fulfilled his course. In the 35th verse he is as one who had retired from his ministry, and was simply enjoying that in which it had all resulted—the manifestation of the Lamb of God. He is heard uttering the hidden satisfaction of his soul when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” For he does not appear to have addressed these words to his disciples; but they, hearing him thus, in holy, happy contemplation of Jesus, follow Jesus. And, beloved, it is this which gets the same honor now. Our power in drawing others after the Lord mainly rests in our joy and communion with Him ourselves. John had done with himself, and was lost in thoughts of the Lamb of God; and his disciples seem to catch his mind, for they leave him, and follow Jesus.
This was real ministry, ministry in power over the affections of those who heard. As the apostle speaks in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6.
But where, I ask, do John’s disciples follow Jesus? We are not told. In all grace the Lord encouraged them to follow, and they came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day; but where it was we know not. They follow Him along some untold path, and were with Himself: but that is all we learn. For the Son of God was but a stranger on the earth; and they, if with Him, must be strangers too, without place or name here. And so is it here signified. This little gathering was to the Son of God, and to the Lamb of God; but it was not here—in principle, the earth did not own the place, for this was the first handful of wheat for the heavenly granary, the first-fruits of the heavenly family unto God and the Lamb.
The Baptist speaks of Jesus being really before him, though coming after him; and he repeats this as with some jealousy (vss. 15, 27, 30). And Paul, referring to John’s ministry, alludes to this feature of it (Acts 19:4). But this is very blessed; for in this the Holy Spirit, who spoke by John, honors Jesus as the great Subject of all the divine counsels, the great Ordinance of God, to whom all other ordinances pointed. And therefore, though He came after them, He was before them; and John, as if speaking the mind of all ordinances and ministries, says, “He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me.” For it was the Son alone that had been set up from everlasting (Prov. 8:23), the great first Object of all the divine counsels; and every prophet and ordinance was but His servant, for a testimony to Him.
And again I observe, that John and the Lord had no knowledge of each other until Jesus came forth in ministry. John had been brought up in Judea; our Lord in Galilee. But on the Lord’s approaching John to be baptized, John at once acknowledged Him—acknowledged Him without any introduction. There seems to have been in his soul some consciousness that this was He (Matt. 3:14). He had, indeed, acknowledged Him even before He was born (Luke 1:44). The world knew Him not, but John knows Him, and thus condemns the world. But he does not know Him so as to bear witness to Him as the Son of God, until the Spirit descends and abides on Him—for that, as John was admonished, was to be His divine attestation.
And further—I must observe that this Gospel, in full consistency with its general character, gives us, in these verses, what I may term the personal call of Andrew and Peter—while Matthew, not noticing this, gives us their official call. But this is in beautiful order with the mind of the Spirit in the two evangelists; with such thankfulness and delight should we mark the perfection of the divine testimonies (Matt. 4:18-20).
John 1:43-51
In these verses we have the action of a subsequent period, called “The day following.” This action is the ministry of Jesus Himself, and the fruit of that ministry in the persons of Philip and Nathanael.
This is a new thing. This was not a gathering to Him as “the Lamb of God,” in a secret, unnamed place, as the former had been, but a gathering to Him as the One “of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write.” (This is characteristic; that is all I mean. Of course, all who are gathered to Jesus, at whatever time, know Him as the Lamb of God.) And, therefore, this is a sample, not as the former was, of the Church or heavenly family, but of the Israel of God that is to be saved in the latter day, and which will be known to Him in grace, in the midst of the nation, as Nathanael here is known to Him while under the fig-tree—the standing symbol of the Jewish nation (Matt. 21:19). And they will make the same confession to Him as Nathanael makes. They will own Him and receive Him as the Son of God and the King of Israel. And when this comes to pass, all will be ready for the display of the glory, the distant glimpse of which the Lord here accordingly catches, and a sight of which, in due season, He promises to Nathanael, the representative, as we have seen, of His Israel.
All this is very significant, and will be found to be confirmed by the opening of the following chapter.
John 2:1-12
We have just had the Church and Israel severally manifested in the two gatherings to Christ in the previous chapter. Accordingly, we here get “the third day,” or the marriage, the wine for which Jesus Himself provided.
Now these circumstances give notice of the mystic import of the scene. For “the third day” (which is the same as the resurrection-day), the marriage, and the wine of the Lord’s own providing, are things which, in the thoughts of those who are familiar with Scripture, stand allied with the kingdom. And thus, I doubt not, this marriage sets forth the coming kingdom of the Lord, where He is to appear as both King and Bridegroom.
To this marriage in Cana the Lord had been bidden as a Guest; but at the close of it He becomes the Host, providing and dispensing the wine. So, by-and-by, when we have tasted of the inferior joy which our skill or diligence may have provided, He Himself will prepare the joy of the kingdom, and drink anew with us there of the fruit of the vine. And by this easy, gracious action, He transforms the mere marriage feast of Cana into a mystery, and makes it the occasion of manifesting His glory, setting forth in it that kingdom which Nathanael had owned in His person. He becomes Himself the Host or Bridegroom. The governor sends to the bridegroom who had bidden them; as though he were the one; but it was Jesus who provided the joy of the place, and who is still keeping “the good wine” for His people until the last—till all other joy is over. Jesus was the true Bridegroom. This was the feast where He turned the water into wine; as He will in the kingdom again pass by all our resources of joy, and give what eye hath not seen, nor the heart of man conceived.
And from this let me take occasion to say, that we should deeply cherish the assurance that joy is our portion, the ordained or necessary element in which our eternity is to move; for our hearts are wont “to entertain joy with suspicion.” But we must deny that tendency, and urge and keep the heart in another direction. “Joy is that which is primary; toil, danger, and sorrow are only subservient,” as another has said. And this is a truth full of comfort. When the counsels of old were taken, and the order of creation planned, that was a scene and season of divine joy. The Lord delighted in Wisdom then, and Wisdom (or Christ) delighted in the sons of men, and in the habitable parts of the earth (Prov. 8). And this joy of God Himself was communicated. The angels felt and owned it (Job 38:7). And, of course, creation in that day of its birth smiled also.
And the ruin of this system, through the apostasy of man, has not hindered joy, but only changed its character. Redemption becomes another source of gladness, enhanced and enlarged, and of deeper tone. The new creation will be the occasion of a far richer joy than the old had been. What meat has the eater yielded! What savory meat, which the soul of Jesus Himself loveth! What sweetness out of the strong one even unto God! What springs have been opened in the barren sands of this ruined world for the refreshing even of heavenly regions!
All Scripture gives us this witness, and we need not further rehearse it. But upon the verses now before us I cannot refuse adding (so sweet are these notices of the saints’ interest in these things), that it is the servants, and they only, who are thrown into connection with the Lord. They are in His secrets, while even the governor knows nothing about them. And the mother also (kindred with Him in the flesh) is thrown at a distance from Him (vs. 4). It was the servants who were brought the nearest to Him in the whole scene. And so with us, beloved. Jesus, the Lord of glory, the Heir of all things, was a Servant here. He came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister”; and those who are humblest in service are still cast the nearest to Him. And in the day when He will provide the true wine of the kingdom, His servants that have served Him shall, as here, be dispensers of the joy under Him, and be distinguished as in the secret of His glory. “If any man serve Me, him will My Father honor.”
John 2:13-22
After all this we see our Lord at Jerusalem, with authority cleansing the temple, and thus asserting the royal prerogatives of the Son of David. (See Matt. 21:12).
To this authority He is challenged for His title, and He simply pleads His death and resurrection. (In the Gospel by Matthew, when the Lord is challenged for His title to the same authority, He refers to the ministry of John the Baptist, and not, as here, to His death and resurrection (Matt. 21:23-27). But this only preserves the characteristic difference of the two Gospels; for John’s ministry was the verifier of His authority to the Jews; death and resurrection verify it to every creature.) “Destroy this temple,” says He, “and in three days I will raise it up.” And so it is. This is His title. His rights and honors as Creator of the world and Lord of Israel were, as we saw, denied Him. (See John 1:10-11). His title to them was disallowed. And we know that He has acquired all power in heaven and on earth by another title— death and resurrection—which has displaced the usurper, and regained for man the forfeited inheritance. This gives Him sure, unquestionable right to everything. The apostles constantly interpret the Lord’s death and resurrection as establishing and sealing His titles to His many crowns and glories. The preaching of Peter in Acts 2 is a testimony to this. He tells the people of Israel that with wicked hands they had put Him to death, but that God had raised Him, and made Him both Lord and Christ. The teaching of Paul in Philippians 2, among other scriptures, tells us the same. And in this place, in answer to the challenge of the Jews, the blessed Jesus Himself pleads His death and resurrection as His title to His highest functions, and the exercise of royal and priestly authority. Because He humbled Himself, God has given Him a name which is above every name. The Son of David, according to Paul’s Gospel, was raised from the dead (2 Tim. 2:8). The crown of Jesus rested on His cross in the sight of all the world, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Luke 23:38). All the testimony thus publishes, as Jesus Himself pleads here, that His sufferings lead to His glories (1 Peter 1-2), that death and resurrection constitute His title.
John 2:23-3:21
Thus the joy of the kingdom was exhibited, the power of the kingdom exercised, and the Lord’s title to the kingdom set forth and pleaded. Now, in due course, the title of others to enter into the same kingdom with Him becomes the question, and this question accordingly is here discussed. And deeply affecting to us all is this holy and solemn matter.
Man is a creature whom the Lord the Creator cannot trust. Adam’s breach of allegiance in the garden made him such. Man did all he could to sell God’s glory into the hand of another. The dispensation of the law has proved him to be still unworthy of the confidence of God, and this character is here stamped on him by the Lord Himself. “Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men.”
He knew what was in man, and He could find nothing that He could trust. What a sentence! No, more than this. Man, as he is, can never be so improved as to be trusted again by God. Man’s affections may be stirred, man’s intelligence informed, man’s conscience convicted; but still God cannot trust men. Thus we read, that “many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them.” Man in this was putting forth his best; he was moved by the things which Jesus did; but still the Lord could not trust him. Hence, “Ye must be born again.”
The necessity of being born again (or, from above), or, as it is commonly expressed, of regeneration, is well understood and most surely allowed among the saints. But is there not a more simple and distinct character in the new birth than is generally apprehended? I judge there is. For the doctrine commonly raises in the mind a sense of something strange and indefinite. But this need not be.
Nicodemus had come as a pupil to Jesus. “We know that Thou art a Teacher come from God,” he says; upon which the Lord tells him, at once, that he must be born again. But He does not end His words with him until He directs him to the brazen serpent, teaching him that it is there he must go in order, as it were, to gather up the seed of this needed new life.
In what character, then, must he take his place there, and look at the Son of Man lifted up on the cross? Simply as a sinner, a conscious sinner, carrying, like the bitten Israelite, the sentence of death in himself. Such a one Nicodemus had still to know himself to be, for as such a one he had not now come to Jesus; and therefore he must begin his journey afresh, he “must be born again,” he must reach Jesus by a new path, and in a new character. He judged himself to be a pupil, and Jesus a Teacher come from God; but himself as a dead sinner, or as a man bitten by the old serpent, and the Son of God as a quickening Spirit, a justifying Redeemer, he did not yet understand; and so the ground of his heart had never yet received the seed of life.
The character of this life, this eternal life, this divine nature in us, is thus as simply defined as its necessity: The secret of it lies in learning Jesus the Son of God as a Saviour, in coming to Him as a convicted sinner, looking at Him in that virtue which the brazen serpent carried for the bitten Israelite. And, as suggested by other parts of this Gospel, it is very sweet to trace the onward path of Nicodemus from this stage of it. He had, as we have seen, hitherto mistaken his road; but, though that may give him a longer journey, it proves, from the direction which Jesus here gives him, in the end a right and safe one. For, in the next stage of it, we see him standing for Jesus in the presence of the council, and meeting something of the reproach of the rejected Galilean (John 7). And, at the close, he stands where the Lord at this outset directed him, at the place of this brazen serpent. He looks at the Son of Man uplifted on the cross. He goes to Jesus, not as a pupil to a teacher; but he goes to Him, and owns Him, and honors Him, no longer by night, nor in the presence of the council merely, but in the broad daylight, and in the presence of the world, as the smitten, bruised, and wounded Lamb of God (John 19).
Thus we discern the character, as simply as we learn the need, of this new life. We find out the seed that produces it. The divine power, the Holy Spirit, Who presides over all this in His own energy, works after a manner beyond our thoughts. Whether the wind or the Spirit, we know not the path thereof. But the nature of the seed He uses, and of the soil into which He casts it, are thus made known to us. The one is the word of salvation, the other the soul of a convicted sinner.
And this life which flows through the family of God is spirit—because Jesus, the Second Man, the Head of it, is “a quickening Spirit”—and “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” as our Lord here teaches. This is our new life. It is eternal, infallible life, standing, whether in the Head or members of the body where it moves, in victory over all the power of death. And our divine Teacher further says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” There is no entrance there for any but new-born ones, and such new-born ones as we have seen, sinners justified or quickened by the word of salvation. There are no righteous ones, no wise or rich ones, in that kingdom, none who stand in such like confidence in the flesh. This truth is thus established. Blessedly so, for our joy and stability of heart. For while this is very decisive, it is very comforting. It is very comforting to see that the word which says, Except ye be born again ye cannot see the kingdom, thereby clearly lets us know that if we are born again we shall see it—no fraud or force of men or devils shall prevail to keep us outside of it. If we will take (drawn doubtless by the drawing of the Father, in the secret power of the Holy Spirit) the place of convicted sinners, and receive the word of salvation from the Son of God—if we but look as bitten Israelites to the uplifted serpent—then the kingdom is already entered, life is now enjoyed, and glory shall be hereafter. The song that we then sing is but echoed through the eternity of heaven. The sight that we then get of Jesus and His salvation is but enlarged in the sphere of coming glory. We have eternal life, and the principles of heaven, in us.
But to return for another moment to Nicodemus. I may say that, when the Lord had thus disclosed the seed of this new life to him, He seeks to sow it in him, to sow it (where it ever must be sowed, if unto fruit) in the conscience: for Nicodemus had come to the Lord by night, as though his deeds could not bear the light; and the Lord aiming, as it would seem, to reach his conscience, just on their parting, says, “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
Thus our Lord teaches the need of the new birth through the word of salvation. Without it man cannot be trusted of God; and without it the kingdom of God could not, as our Lord here further teaches us, be either seen or entered. What association, for instance, had the elder brother with that which was the characteristic joy of the father’s house? None! He never had so much as a kid to make merry with his friends: none but a returned prodigal could draw forth the ring, the best robe, and the fatted calf. And so the kingdom is such a kingdom as none but redeemed sinners can apprehend its joys, or have any place in it. All there are “new creatures,” persons of an order not found in the first creation. Adam was made upright; but all in the kingdom are blood-bought sinners. Everything in it is reconciled by blood—as it is written—“and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether things in earth, or things in heaven.”
John 3:22-36
After the Lord had thus discussed with Nicodemus the question of man’s entrance into the kingdom, He is seen for a little moment pursuing His ministry, as Minister of the circumcision in Judea (vs. 22). But we see this only for a moment; for to detain such things before us would not have been within the general scope of this Gospel, which takes the Lord, as we have seen, out of Jewish connection. And in the next passage we may notice the same (vss. 23-24); for the Baptist is seen in connection with Israel; but it is, in like manner, only for a passing moment; and in order, too, as it would seem, to give him occasion, under the Holy Spirit, to bear a testimony to Jesus, not at all in His Jewish glory, but in higher honors and sweeter joys than Christ could have ever known as Son of David. (See vss. 27-36).
I would, however, linger here a little; for this appears to me to be an occasion of great moral value. John is called into the same trial as Moses in Numbers 11 and as Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.
Joshua, who was Moses’ minister, envied for his master’s sake when Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp. But Moses rebuked him, and that too, not with a word only, but also by an act—for he goes at once into the camp, evidently for the purpose of enjoying and profiting by the gift and ministrations of those two, on whom the Spirit had just fallen.
This was a noble way in this dear man of God. No grudging or jealousy soiled the fair form of his heart, or disturbed the even flow of his soul; but, endowed vessel as he was, rich and large in the gifts of the Spirit himself, he would still receive through any other vessel, though of smaller quantity, and receive with thankfulness and readiness of heart.
Paul, in his day, was summoned to a like trial. In the midst of the saints at Corinth rivalries had risen. One was saying, “I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos.” And how does Paul meet this? Does he triumph in this day of the tempter, as Moses had triumphed? Yes, only with a different weapon. With strong hand and fervent heart he breaks every vessel to pieces, that He who fills all vessels, and He only, might have all the praise. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos?” says he—“Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” This was victory in a like evil hour, but only in a different form, or with another weapon.
But how are we to contemplate John? On this occasion he meets the same way of the tempter. His disciples are envious of Jesus, for his sake. But, like Moses and Paul, he stands in the evil day, though in a somewhat different attitude. He cannot, with Paul, break to pieces his companion-vessel. He cannot say, “Who then is John, and who is Jesus?”—as Paul says, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos?” He could not deal with the name of Jesus as Paul deals with the name of Apollos. But he breaks one of these rival vessels, that is, himself, to pieces, under the eyes of his fond disciples, and glorifies Jesus, Whom they were envying for his sake, with glories beyond all their thought, and such as no other vessel could hold.
How perfect was all this! How beautiful a witness is all this method of John, in handling such an occasion, to the guiding and keeping of the Spirit of wisdom! Jesus, it is true, was, in one sense, a Vessel of God’s house, like prophets and apostles. He was a Minister of the circumcision. Like John, He preached the coming of the kingdom He piped, and John lamented. God spoke by Him, as by any prophet. And thus He was, most surely, a Vessel in God’s house, as others. But He was of a peculiar order. The material and the molding of that Vessel were peculiar. And if occasion bring Him into question with any other vessel, as in this place of our Gospel, the peculiar honor which attaches to Him must be made known. John delights to be the instrument for this. He delights, as under the Holy Spirit, and as in full concord with the mind of God, to bring out the budding rod of the true Aaron, blooming with its fruit and flowers, and to expose every rival rod in its native dead and withered state, that the murmurings of Israel, the fond and partial thoughts of even his own disciples, may be silenced forever (Num. 17). He acknowledges that all his joy was fulfilled in that which was thus provoking the displeasure of his disciples. He was but the Bridegroom’s friend. He had waited for such a day as this. His course was now therefore run, and he was willing to retire, and be forgotten. Like his fellow-servants the prophets, he had held up a light to guide his generation to Christ, to lead the Bride to the Bridegroom; and now, he had only to retire. He stands here, as at the end of the line of prophets; and, in his own name and theirs, leaves all in the hand of the Son. And when he takes up this theme (the glories of Him who was greater than he), how gladly does he go on with it. The Spirit leads him from one ray of this glory to another; and blessed it is when Jesus is the theme that thus awakens all our intelligence and desire. Blessed, when we can, each of us, be thus willingly nothing, that He alone may fill all things.
Be it so with Thy saints, Lord, through Thy heavenly grace, more and more!
John 4
Thus John is gone, and with him everything but the ministry of the Son. All now lies in His hand alone; and, accordingly, He goes forth simply as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He appears before us here (ch. 4:1) as One that was rejected of Israel, and is now leaving Judea, the place of righteousness, simply as the Saviour of sinners. And, going forth in this character, He must needs go through an unclean place, and find His journeying among us to cost Him bitter pain and weariness; the sample of which we get here.
It was quite in consistent righteousness that the Jews refused all commerce with the Samaritans. It was according to their calling to say, “It is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation”; for this was a testimony against evil; and such testimony was the very trust which Jehovah had committed to Israel. They were to be God’s witnesses against the world; they were the clean separated from the unclean, for a testimony to the righteousness of God against a corrupted earth. But Jesus was now standing aloof from Israel. He had left Judea, the place of righteousness, and was standing in defiled Samaria as Son of God, the Saviour of sinners. He had already gone to Judea looking for righteousness, the proper fruit of that country, but had not found it. He is not now to look for it in Samaria. Here He must be in another way altogether, in the way of grace only; and in the consciousness that He was so, that He was here only in grace, as the Saviour of sinners, He addresses Himself to a woman who had come to draw water at the well of Sychar.
There had been from the beginning a secret with God, beyond and behind all the revealed requisitions and order of righteousness which had been established in Judea. There were “grace” and “the gift by grace.” The Jew might have committed to him a testimony to righteousness against the world, but the Son was the Gift of God to the world, entrusted with life for it. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” and in the blessed consciousness that He carried with Him this secret of grace for sinners, He says to the woman, “Give Me to drink.” She wonders, as well she might, that He did not keep His distance as a Jew. But she did not yet know that the secret of God was with Him. This, however, was soon to be disclosed. The glory that excells was about to fill this unclean place. The Lord God is now taking His stand, not on the burning mount in righteousness but at the head of the river of life, as its Lord, ready to dispense its waters.
What blessing is thus in preparation for this poor outcast! None other than an outcast could know it. But such must also know that the source of this blessing is not in themselves. And this the Samaritan learns. She is made to know herself, to look well around on all things that ever she did, and to see that it left her only a wilderness and land of darkness. Her conscience is dismayed. “He whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” But wilderness and land of darkness as it was, the Son of God was there with her. This was blessing, such blessing as an outcast in a wilderness could know. It was to outcast Jacob, who had only the stones of the place for his pillow, that heaven was opened, and God in fullest grace and glory was revealed. So here, with this daughter of Jacob. The Lord was again opening the rock in the desert. The ark of God was now again planted with the camp in the midst of the wilderness. The unclean Samaritan is spoken to, by the Lord, of the well of life; and this was joy and the power of love to her. It separates her from her pitcher, and fills her spirit and her lips with a testimony to His name.
Beloved, this is divine! A poor Samaritan, whom righteousness had bidden to stand by in an unclean place, is made the pattern of the workmanship of Jesus, and taken into the secrets and intimacies of the Son of God! It is her very place and character of sinner which throws her in His way. It is only the sinner that lies in the Saviour’s path. And, brethren, whatever of sorrow or of trial the entrance of sin may have caused us, or may have still to cause us, yet without it we could not have had our God, as we now have Him, opening His own treasure-house of love, and from thence giving us forth the Son.
The disciples, on their return, wonder, like the woman, that Jesus had not kept His Jewish distance. But still they are conscious of the presence of a glory that was above them; for “no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest Thou with her?” They did not as yet know the secret which the Son of God carried; and He then shows them, as white already for harvest, fields which their faith had never surveyed. They knew of no fields but such as, of old, had been parted among the Tribes. In their esteem God’s husbandry must be confined to that sacred enclosure; and Samaria, they judged, was now outside that, and but an unclean place. But there was, as we have already seen, a secret with God. It was the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners, who had now gone forth with seed, and His toil had prepared a harvest for the reapers, in the defiled plains of Samaria.
(I would observe, that, in our Lord’s considering the question of “worship,” to which the woman drew Him off, He still speaks in His character as Son. The woman addresses Him as a Jew, but He does not answer her as a Jew. He rather shows that all Jewish worship was now ending; and in the consciousness that the Son had now come, He teaches her that the hour has come when all accepted worship must be in the spirit of adoption, that it was the Father Who was now claiming worship. His whole reply expresses the consciousness of this, that He was addressing the woman, not as the Son of David Who had come to purify the temple, and bring back the revolted Samaritans from “this mountain,” but as the Son who has come to give sinners access by one Spirit unto the Father.)
He shows His disciples a company just coming out of Sychar, who were soon to say, “This is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” And thus were they ready for the sickle. The harvest in Judea was plenteous (Matt. 9:37); but in Samaria it was ripe for the reapers. The Lord had borne the toil of the sower; had talked, weary and faint, with the woman; but He would now share with His disciples the joy of the harvest; and, in pledge of this, He abides for two days with this little gathering out of Sychar, believed on and owned as the Saviour of the world.
The nearness to Himself to which the Lord invites the soul, the intimacy with which He seeks to invest the heart of a believing sinner, it is most blessed to know. He does not deal with us in the style of a patron or benefactor. The world is full of that principle. “They that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors” (Luke 22:25). Man will be ready enough to confer benefits in the character of a patron, occupying all the while the distant place of both conscious and confessed superiority. But this is not Jesus. He can say, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” He brings His dependent one very near to Him. He lets him know and feel that He is dealing with him as a kinsman rather than as a patron. But that makes all the difference. I am bold to say that heaven depends on this difference. The expected heaven of the soul, and which in spirit it tastes now, depends on the Lord Jesus not acting with us on the principle of a patron. Heaven would then be only a well-ordered world of human principles and benevolences. And what a thing that would be! Is it the condescendings of a great one that we see in Christ? “I am among you as he that serveth,” says He. Every case, I may say, tells me so. His was never the style of a mere benefactor; never the distance and elevation of a patron. He bore our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows.
Just look at Him at this well, with this Samaritan. She had, at that moment, the most exalted thoughts of Him. “I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things.” This was her high and just sense of the Messiah, not knowing that He to whom she was then speaking face to face could say immediately in answer to her, “I that speak unto thee am He.”
But where was He, the exalted Christ, all this time? Talking with her, as they had met together, by the side of a well, where (in order to give her ease in His presence) He had said to her, “Give Me to drink.”
Was this patronage after the manner of men? Was this the distance and condescension of a superior? Was this heaven or the world, man or God? Condescension or the world will confer what favor you please, but will have the elevation of a superior and the reserve of a dependent kept and honored. But heaven or love acts not thus. Blessed, blessed be God! Jesus, God manifest in the flesh, was Kinsman to those whom He befriended. And as a kinsman He acted, not as a patron. He seeks to bring us near, to invest our hearts with ease and confidence. He visits us. Nay, He comes to us upon our invitation—as He went and dwelt two days with the Samaritans who came out and sought His company on the report of the woman. He requires a favor at our hand, that we may take a favor from His without reserve. He will drink out of our pitcher, to encourage us to drink of His fountains; and eat of our calf at the tent door while revealing eternal secrets to us (Gen. 18; John 4).
Surely our hearts may rejoice over this. The heart of the Lord rejoices in this His own way of love. For these two days at Sychar were to Him a little of the joy of harvest. They were some of the most refreshing which the wearied Son of God ever tasted on this earth of ours. For He found here some of the brightest faith He ever met with; and it was only the faith of sinners that could ever have refreshed Him here. Nothing in man could ever have done this— nothing but that faith which takes man out of himself.
But this joy was only for two days. He is quickly called down to a lower region; for after these two days He goes on to Galilee, thus getting into Jewish connection again; but He goes with this sad foreboding, “A prophet hath no honor in his own country.” And with increased trial of heart must He feel this now, from the liberty which He had just been knowing among the sinners in Samaria. And His foreboding was found to be true. He finds faith in Galilee, it is true, but faith of an inferior order. The Galileans receive Him, but it is because they had “seen all things that He did at Jerusalem.” The nobleman and his house believed, but not until they had carefully verified Him by their own witnesses. The gathering at Sychar had believed Himself, the Galileans now believe Him for His works’ sake (see John 14:11); the Samaritans knew Him as in Himself, the Jews were now, as it were, asking a sign again. The one accordingly, came into communion with the Son of God, the other receive health from the Physician of Israel. Defiled Samaria is, in blessing, before righteous Judah.
Here the first section of our Gospel closes. It has led us in the paths of the Son of God, the Son of the Father, through this evil world of ours. At the opening of it we saw His glory, and found that, the moment it shone out upon the world, it proved the darkness of the world. It met no answer from man. The world that was made by Him knew Him not. But He carried with Him a secret, the secret of the grace of God to sinners, deeper than all the thoughts of men. A Stranger He was on the earth; but the revealing of His secret to sinners had virtue to make them strangers with Him.