The Seven Sayings at the Well
It is true of every sinner saved by grace that “we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has before prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2: 10). My desire is to show you this workmanship as set forth in the well–known incident of ‘the woman at the well’ in John 4. There we see the great Workman, perfect God and perfect man. As man He was “wearied” and “sat just as he was at the fountain” (v6); as God He knew of a lost sheep in Samaria that needed to be found. That was why “he must needs pass through Samaria” (v4, my emphasis). The natural mind will see only a geographical reason for the necessity, but the spiritual mind perceives an infinitely deeper cause: the salvation of a precious soul. How blessed then it will be to contemplate the wisdom in the way this divine Workman speaks as He fashions and draws a vessel of mercy to Himself!
Seven times the Lord opens His lips in addressing the woman of Samaria. From the first utterance to the last, the wondrous skill of the divine Workman is seen. When He begins to speak, the object of His attention questions why He does so. When He has left off speaking, the woman goes away into the city saying “Come, see a man who told me all things I had ever done: is not he the Christ?” (v29, my emphasis). Such is the effect of a conversation with the Son of God! No miracle, no wonder is performed before her eyes—He simply speaks to her, beginning in her soul His work for heaven, for eternity and for God.
Let us look then at these seven utterances in their order. The seven words from the cross of Calvary are often dwelt upon, but these seven words by the well of Jacob are worthy of our deepest attention too.
The First Utterance (v7) — “Give me to drink”
This is the commencement of the divine work. The Lord begins by calling the sinner’s attention to Himself: “Give me to drink” (v7, my emphasis). The woman would know from his dress that He was a Jew, and no doubt she expected Him to conform to all her prejudices. His unexpected request gained her immediate interest and attention: “How dost thou, being a Jew, ask to drink of me who am a Samaritan woman?” (v9). The centuries–old enmity between their two peoples meant she had expected nothing but hostility from this Jewish stranger. His request would have astonished her.
Is this not like the first lesson we have to learn about God? As sinners, our attitude towards God is antagonistic for “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God” (Rom. 8: 7) and we are “alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works” (Col. 1: 21). Our hostility mistakenly presupposes a like hostility in return, but while God hates sin, He does not hate the sinner. It is not at all His will that any should perish (see 2 Peter 3: 9), and He has proved this by the fact that He has “not spared his own Son” (Rom. 8: 32)—indeed while we were yet sinners “Christ has died for us” (Rom. 5: 8).
The woman is thus brought into contact with her Saviour (though she does not yet know it). On the one hand, His request for a drink (a request with which, as a Samaritan, she is loath to comply), brings home to her the enmity in her own heart. On the other hand, the same request arouses in her a curiosity in One who acts and speaks like none other she has ever met. In His second utterance she further learns that He not only asks but gives:
The Second Utterance (v10) — “the gift of God”
“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that says to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (John 4: 10). The woman knew nothing of the gift of God. Who, even in favoured Israel, had realised the truth that God gives? That to which the Samaritan woman clung expressed a quite contrary view of God, for human religion ever regards Him as a receiver. A God who demands she could comprehend, but a God who gives was a startling and new revelation (as it is to many today).
The Lord’s answer thus struck her, and, it would seem, softened any bitter feeling there might have been in being accosted by a Jew. But if He was offering living water (by which she only understood running and not stagnant) then how could He supply it? “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou the living water?” (v11). Who was He? Who could He be? Was He greater than her father Jacob who had given her people the well? What a tale He could have unfolded had He told her that He had seen Jacob, had wrestled with him and had blessed him! Certainly He was greater than her father Jacob. Jacob dug a well in the ground—this Jewish stranger could supply a fountain for the heart. If this poor woman desired to know more of this wonderful gift, then the Lord would tell her in His third utterance:
The Third Utterance (vs 13, 14) — “a fountain of water”
“Every one who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinks of the water which I shall give him shall never thirst for ever, but the water which I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into eternal life” (vs 13, 14). How solemnly true is that first statement! Whatever the world gives, it is not long before we “thirst again”. The woman had found this in her sad history—multiple partners but no lasting happiness. Nothing but living water can ever quench our thirst, and satisfy our hearts.
The living water is interpreted for us in John 7: 39 as being the Spirit which those that believed on Christ would receive when He was glorified. The Lord here is therefore anticipating a then future time, which is why we find a certain reserve as to the way in which the gift is spoken about. Now that He is in heaven, He gives the Holy Spirit to the believer to be a fountain springing up within him into eternal life, and also (as we shall see shortly) the power of worship. Thus it is not only deliverance from hankering after pleasure, vanity and sin, but a living spring of exhaustless and divine joy—rejoicing in God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.
It is now the business of the divine Workman to create the sense of need. Like many of us, the woman thought she knew the extent of her need, and expressed a desire that her Companion might meet it: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst nor come here to draw” (v15). However, this fell far short of what the Lord had in mind. It is now that He takes a special arrow from His quiver, that she may be “pricked in heart” (Acts 2: 37) and realise her greatest need of all. This is done in the fourth utterance:
The Fourth Utterance (v16) — “Go, call thy husband”
This was the word that convicted the woman and compelled her to condemn herself. He said “Go” but she couldn’t go: “The woman answered and said, I have not a husband” (v17). It was a command calculated to make her face the issue of her state before God. That she felt her ruin before her neighbours is evidenced by the fact that she came to the well at the time she did, but their thoughts were as nothing compared to what God thought. Through the infinite skill of the divine Workman, she began to see the true enormity of her guilt for the first time. Conscience may have spoken before, but now it was conscience informed by the Word and energised by the Spirit.
Oh, what a moment in the history of a lost sinner, when the Word not only reaches the heart, but finds good ground there—ground in which it can grow and bear fruit! Before this the sinner is “dead in … offences and sins” (Eph. 2: 1). The Word comes, but the sinner does not heed it, for he is “like the deaf adder which stoppeth her ear” (Ps. 58: 4). He is lifeless before God. But when the life–giving Word comes, when the living water reaches him, then he begins to live. Thus grace does not only say “Go, call thy husband” but also “come here” (John 4: 16). He would draw her to Himself. But the Samaritan has first to learn more about herself:
The Fifth Utterance (vs 17, 18) — “Thou hast well said”
The Lord now reveals to the woman that He knew her heart, her life and her thoughts: “Jesus says to her, Thou hast well said, I have not a husband; for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom now thou hast is not thy husband: this thou hast spoken truly” (vs 17, 18). The turning point has been reached with this utterance. Not only has the Saviour revealed her to herself, but He has also begun to reveal Himself to her. She perceived at once the divine power of His words: “Sir, I see that thou art a prophet” (v19). Initially a despised Jew in her eyes, He has now become a prophet.
Her state is put before her in a few brief words. He does not linger upon it, nor rebuke her for it, yet there it lies before her in the light. Now it is out it seems like a confession He had made for one who had not the courage to make it for herself. So is she glad to be with Him upon these terms with nothing kept back (as indeed nothing could be kept back)? Not yet, for shrinking from the light that has been placed upon her, the woman now gives a sudden turn to the conversation. She will speak of anything but herself. There is a mountain overshadowing them, the theme of many an argument between Jew and Samaritan. She therefore turns to it, to see what the man of God will say about it: “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship” (v20). Though convicted of sin, she does not yet know the Lord as her Saviour. Hence like many such she sees merit in turning to religious questions—anything short of Christ. She knew many things—the difference between Jew and Samaritan, between Mount Zion and Mount Gerizim—but she did not know Him, nor the gift which He offered. In grace, the Lord takes up her question and not only answers it, but through it reveals to her what was far above her thoughts. The divine Workman disposes of her question Where? as He had of her Whence? and her How? He points her away from the lifeless formality of religious observances to a spiritual reality. She had come to Jacob’s well seeking water; He would reveal to her One seeking true worshippers. This He proceeds to do in His sixth utterance:
The Sixth Utterance (vs 21–24) — “the true worshippers”
“Woman, believe me, [the] hour is coming when ye shall neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what; we worship what we know, for salvation is of the Jews. But [the] hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for also the Father seeks such as his worshippers. God [is] a spirit, and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth” (John 4: 21–24). The Lord thus shows her that the real question is not Where to worship but Who and How. The question of Where to worship is of little importance, and effectively shuts out the absolutely essential matters of Who and How. If we are to be among those who the Father seeks as His worshippers, our worship must be spiritual, and not sensual. The Greek word for “must” here is the same word as used in John 3: 7 (“It is needful that ye should be born anew”, my emphasis) and in John 3: 14 (“thus must the Son of man be lifted up”, my emphasis). There is no choice left to us in the matter. It is not for us to say, I like to worship in this way, or that way. It must be truly spiritual worship. Anything that attracts or distracts any of our senses is destructive of the only worship which God seeks and accepts.
We cannot claim worship by listening to music or by looking at pictures or by smelling incense or touching beads. Neither the ear, nor the eye, nor the nose, nor the fingers, can worship God, because they are all flesh and not spirit, and true worshippers, if they are to be so, must worship God truly in spirit. This revelation of truth showed the woman that He who spoke with her knew not only herself, but also that He knew God, and what God required. All this is too much and too high for the poor Samaritan. She can take no more: “I know that Messias is coming, who is called Christ; when he comes he will tell us all things” (John 4: 25). This prepares the way for the great and solemn climax of the final and seventh utterance at the well:
The Seventh Utterance (v26) — “I who speak to thee am [he]”
We have reached “the end of the Lord” (James 5: 11) with the Samaritan. This word brings her to Christ, and leaves her with Him—the One who is the centre of heaven’s glories and the centre of heaven’s praises! Oh, what wondrous workmanship! Oh, let us admire this infinite wisdom of our blessed Lord! Truly, He does all things well!
Let us also learn the ignorance of those who are the subjects of His grace. We see how one may know the difference between Jew and Samaritan and places of worship; and all the time be profoundly ignorant of oneself, of God, of Christ, and of true worship. One may know how to sing, but not know how to worship. One may be an expert as to different religions and systems and creeds, but like this woman, one may be ignorant of “the gift of God” (v10), “the grace of God” (Acts 11: 23), the “salvation of God” (Acts 28: 28) and “The Christ of God” (Luke 9: 20). Oh, let nothing hinder us on the way to Christ! Let no question of having “dealings” (John 4: 9, AV) with this one or that one hinder our direct dealings with Him! Let no questions as to How or Whence or Where dim our eyes and hinder us from enjoying “the gift of God” (v10)! Let no questions of Who we are to worship with or Where we are to worship, hinder us from the true spiritual worship of the Father!
The Lord’s final utterance, simple as the words are, is stunning in its effect and sweeps away the last vestiges of her resistance: “I who speak to thee am [he]” (v 26). The conclusion has been reached: the Lord has brought her to Himself!