Study

a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

4. Jesus With Samaritan Woman

When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, 2(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) 3He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. 4And he must needs go through Samaria. 5Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. 7There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. 8(For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) 9Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. 10Jesus answered and said unto her, 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. 11The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? 12Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? 13Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14 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. 15The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. 16Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. 17The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. 19The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. 20Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 21Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But 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. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. 25The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.

27And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? 28The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, 29Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? 30Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.

31In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. 32But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. 33Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? 34Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. 35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. 36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. 37 And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. 38 I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.

39And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. 40So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. 41And many more believed because of his own word; 42And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

43Now after two days he departed thence, and went into Galilee. 44For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. 45Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast. 46So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. 48Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. 51And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. 54This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

44. For Jesus himself testified. The apparent contradiction which strikes us here at first sight, has given rise to various interpretations. There is an excess of subtlety in the explanation given by Augustine, that Christ was without honor among his own countrymen, because he had done more good among the Samaritans in two days only than he had done, in a long time, among the Galileans; and because, without miracles, he gained more disciples in Samaria than a great number of miracles had gained him in Galilee. Nor am I satisfied with the view of Chrysostom, who understands Christ’s country to be Capernaum, because he dwelt there more frequently than in any other place. I rather agree with Cyril, who says that he left the city of Nazareth, and departed into a different part of Galilee; for the other three Evangelists mention Nazareth, when they relate this testimony of Christ. The meaning might indeed be that, while the time of full manifestation was not yet come, he chose to remain concealed in his native country, as in a more obscure retreat. Some, too, explain it to mean, that he remained two days in Samaria, because there was no reason why he should hasten to go to a place where contempt awaited him. Others think that he went straight to Nazareth, and immediately left it; but, as John relates nothing of this sort, I do not venture to yield to that conjecture. A more correct view of it is, that when he saw himself despised in his native city Nazareth, he rather withdrew to another place. And, therefore, it immediately follows (verse 46) that he came into the town of Cana. What is next added — that the Galileans received him — was a token of reverence, not of contempt.

A Prophet hath no honour in his own country. I have no doubt that this saying was common, and had passed into a proverb; 8888     “Commune, et qui etoit passee en proverbe.” and we know that proverbs are intended to be a graceful expression of what commonly and most frequently (ἐπὶ τὸ πολὶ) happens. In such cases, therefore, it is not necessary that we should rigidly demand uniform accuracy, as if what is stated in a proverb were always true. It is certain that prophets are usually more admired elsewhere than in their own country. Sometimes, too, it may happen, and in reality does happen, that a prophet is not less honored by his countrymen than by strangers; but the proverb states what is common and ordinary, that prophets receive honor more readily in any other place than among their own countrymen.

Now this proverb, and the meaning of it, may have a twofold origin; for it is a universal fault, that those whom we have heard crying in the cradle, and whom we have seen acting foolishly in their boyhood, are despised by us throughout their whole life, as if they had made no progress, since they were boys. To this is added another evil — envy, which prevails more among acquaintances. But I think it probable that the proverb arose from this circumstance, that Prophets were so ill-treated by their own nation; for good and holy men, when they perceived that there was in Judea so great ingratitude towards God, so great contempt of his word, so great obstinacy, might justly utter this complaint, that nowhere are the Prophets of God less honored than in their own country. If the former meaning be preferred, the name Prophet must be understood generally to denote any teacher, as Paul calls Epimenides a prophet of the Cretians, (Titus 1:12.)

5. Which is called Sichar Jerome, in his epitaph on Paula, thinks that this is an incorrect reading, and that it ought to have been written Sichem; and, indeed, the latter appears to have been the ancient and true name; but it is probable that, in the time of the Evangelist, the word Sichar was already in common use. As to the place, it is generally agreed that it was a city situated close to Mount Gerizzim, the inhabitants of which were treacherously slain by Simeon and Levi, (Genesis 34:25,) and which Abimelech, a native of the place, afterwards razed to its thundations, (Judges 9:45.) But the convenience of its situation was such that, a third time, a city was built there, which, in the age of Jerome, they called Neapolis By adding so many circumstances, the Apostle removes all doubt; for we are clearly informed by Moses where that field was which Jacob assigned to the children of Joseph, (Genesis 48:22.) It is universally acknowledged, also, that Mount Gerizzim was near to Shechem. We shall afterwards state that a temple was built there; and there can be no doubt that Jacob dwelt a long time in that place with his family.

And Jesus, fatigued by the journey. He did not pretend weariness, but was actually fatigued; for, in order that he might be better prepared for the exercise of sympathy and compassion towards us, he took upon him our weaknesses, as the Apostle shows that

we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, (Hebrews 4:15.)

With this agrees the circumstance of the time; for it is not wonderful that, being thirsty and fatigued, he rested at the well about noon; for as the day, from sunrise to sunset, had twelve hours, the sixth hour was Noon When the Evangelist says that he sat thus, he means that it was the attitude of a man who was fatigued

7. A woman came from Samaria. When he asks water from the woman, he does it not merely with the intention of obtaining an opportunity to teach her; for thirst prompted him to desire to drink. But this cannot hinder him from availing himself of the opportunity of instruction which he has obtained, for he prefers the salvation of the woman to his own wants. Thus, forgetting his own thirst, as if he were satisfied with obtaining leisure and opportunity for conversation, that he might instruct her in true godliness, he draws a comparison between the visible water and the spiritual, and waters with heavenly doctrine the mind of her who had refused him water to drink.

9. How dost thou, who art a Jew? This is a reproach, by which she retorts upon him the contempt which was generally entertained by his nation. The Samaritans are known to have been the scum of a people gathered from among foreigners. Having corrupted the worship of God, and introduced many spurious and wicked ceremonies, they were justly regarded by the Jews with detestation. Yet it cannot be doubted that the Jews, for the most part, held out their zeal for the law as a cloak for their carnal hatred; for many were actuated more by ambition and envy, and by displeasure at seeing the country which had been allotted to them occupied by the Samaritans, than by grief and uneasiness because the worship of God had been corrupted. There was just ground for the separation, provided that their feelings had been pure and well regulated. For this reason Christ, when he first sends the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, forbids them to turn aside to the Samaritans, (Matthew 10:5.)

But this woman does what is natural to almost all of us; for, being desirous to be held in esteem, we take very ill to be despised. This disease of human nature is so general, that every person wishes that his vices should please others. If any man disapproves of us, or of any thing that we do or say, 7373     “Et qui reprouve ce que nous disons ou faisons.” we are immediately offended without any good reason. Let any man examine himself, and he will find this seed of pride in his mind, until it has been eradicated by the Spirit of God. This woman, therefore, knowing that the superstitions of her nation were condemned by the Jews, now offers an insult to them in the person of Christ.

For the Jews hold no intercourse with the Samaritans. These words I consider to have been uttered by the woman. Others suppose that the Evangelist added them for the sake of explanation, and, indeed, it is of little consequence which meaning you prefer. But I think it more natural to believe that the woman jeers at Christ in this manner: “What? Is it lawful for you to ask drink from me, when you hold us to be so profane?” If any prefer the other interpretation, I do not dispute the point. Besides, it is possible that the Jews carried their abhorrence of the Samaritans beyond proper bounds; for as we have said that they applied to an improper purpose a false pretense of zeal, so it was natural for them to go to excess, as almost always happens with those who give way to wicked passions.

10. Jesus answered. Christ now, availing himself of the opportunity, begins to preach about the grace and power of his Spirit, and that to a woman who did not at all deserve that he should speak a word to her. This is certainly an astonishing instance of his goodness. For what was there in this wretched woman, that, from being a prostitute, she suddenly became a disciple of the Son of God? Though in all of us he has displayed a similar instance of his compassion. All the women, indeed, are not prostitutes, nor are all the men stained by some heinous crime; but what excellence can any of us plead as a reason why he deigned to bestow on us the heavenly doctrine, and the honor of being admitted into his family? Nor was it by accident that the conversation with such a person occurred; for the Lord showed us, as in a model, that those to whom he imparts the doctrine of salvation are not selected on the ground of merit. And it appears at first sight a wonderful arrangement, that he passed by so many great men in Judea, and yet held familiar discourse with this woman. But it was necessary that, in his person, it should be explained how true is that saying of the Prophet,

I was found by them that sought me not; I was made manifest to them that asked not after me. I said to those who sought me not, Behold, here I am,
(Isaiah 65:1.)

If thou knewest the gift of God. These two clauses, If thou knewest the gift of God, and, who it is that talketh with thee, I read separately, viewing the latter as an interpretation of the former. For it was a wonderful kindness of God to have Christ present, who brought with him eternal life. The meaning will be more plain if, instead of and, we put namely, or some other word of that kind, 7575     “Si en lieu de Et, nous mettons A scavoir, ou quelque autre mot semblable.” thus: If thou knewest the gift of God, namely, who it is that talketh with thee By these words we are taught that then only do we know what Christ is, when we understand what the Father hath given to us in him, and what benefits he brings to us. Now that knowledge begins with a conviction of our poverty; for, before any one desires a remedy, he must be previously affected with the view of his distresses. Thus the Lord invites not those who have drunk enough, but the thirsty, not those who are satiated, but the hungry, to eat and drink. And why would Christ be sent with the fullness of the Spirit, if we were not empty?

Again, as he has made great progress, who, feeling his deficiency, already acknowledges how much he needs the aid of another; so it would not be enough for him to groan under his distresses, if he had not also hope of aid ready and prepared. In this way we might do no more than waste ourselves with grief, or at least we might, like the Papists, run about in every direction, and oppress ourselves with useless and unprofitable weariness. But when Christ appears, we no longer wander in vain, seeking a remedy where none can be obtained, but we go straight to him. The only true and profitable knowledge of the grace of God is, when we know that it is exhibited to us in Christ, and that it is held out to us by his hand. In like manner does Christ remind us how efficacious is a knowledge of his blessings, since it excites us to seek them and kindles our hearts. If thou knewest, says he, thou wouldst have asked. The design of these words is not difficult to be perceived; for he intended to whet the desire of this woman, that she might not despise and reject the life which was offered to her.

He would have given thee. By these words Christ testifies that, if our prayers be addressed to him, they will not be fruitless; and, indeed, without this confidence, the earnestness of prayer would be entirely cooled. But when Christ meets those who come to him, and is ready to satisfy their desires, there is no more room for sluggishness or delay. And there is no man who would not feel that this is said to all of us, if he were not prevented by his unbelief.

Living water. Though the name Water is borrowed from the present occurrence, and applied to the Spirit, yet this metaphor is very frequent in Scripture, and rests on the best grounds. For we are like a dry and barren soil; there is no sap and no rigour in us, until the Lord water us by his Spirit. In another passage, the Spirit is likewise called clean water, (Hebrews 10:22,) but in a different sense; namely, because he washes and cleanses us from the pollutions with which we are entirely covered. But in this and similar passages, the subject treated of is the secret energy by which he restores life in us, and maintains and brings it to perfection. There are some who explain this as referring to the doctrine of the Gospel, to which I own that this appellation is fully applicable; but I think that Christ includes here the whole grace of our renewal; for we know that he was sent for the purpose of bringing to us a new life. In my opinion, therefore, he intended to contrast water with that destitution of all blessings under which mankind groan and labor. Again, living water is not so called from its effect, as life-giving, but the allusion is to different kinds of waters. It is called living, because it flows from a living fountain.

11. Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with. As the Samaritans were despised by the Jews, so the Samaritans, on the other hand, held the Jews in contempt. Accordingly, this woman at first not only disdains Christ but even mocks at him. She understands quite well that Christ is speaking figuratively, but she throws out a jibe by a different figure, intending to say, that he promises more than he can accomplish.

12. Art thou greater than our father Jacob? She proceeds to charge him with arrogance in exalting himself above the holy patriarch Jacob.Jacob,” she says, “was satisfied with this well for his own use and that of his whole family: and hast thou a more excellent water?” How faulty this comparison is, appears plainly enough from this consideration, that she compares the servant to the master, and a dead man to the living God; and yet how many in the present day fall into this very error? The more cautious ought we to be not to extol the persons of men so as to obscure the glory of God. We ought, indeed, to acknowledge with reverence the gifts of God, wherever they appear. It is, therefore, proper that we should honor men who are eminent in piety, or endued with other uncommon gifts; but it ought to be in such a manner that God may always remain eminent above all — that Christ, with his Gospel, may shine illustriously, for to him all the splendor of the world must yield.

It ought also to be observed that the Samaritans falsely boasted of being descended from the holy Fathers. In like manner do the Papists, though they are a bastard seed, arrogantly boast of the Fathers, and despise the true children of God. Although the Samaritans had been descended from Jacob according to the flesh, yet, as they were altogether degenerated and estranged from true godliness, this boasting would have been ridiculous. But now that they are Cutheans by descent, (2 Kings 17:24,) or at least collected out of the profane Gentiles, they still do not fail to make false pretensions to the name of the holy Patriarch. But this is of no avail to them; and such must be the case with all who wickedly exult in the light of men, so as to deprive themselves of the light of God, and who have nothing in common with the holy Fathers, whose name they have abused.

13. Every one that drinketh of this water. Though Christ perceives that he is doing little good, and even that his instruction is treated with mockery, he proceeds to explain more clearly what he had said. He distinguishes between the use of the two kinds of water; that the one serves the body, and only for a time, while the power of the other gives perpetual vigor to the soul. For, as the body is liable to decay, so the aids by which it is supported must be frail and transitory. That which quickens the soul cannot but be eternal. Again, the words of Christ are not at variance with the fact, that believers, to the very end of life, burn with desire of more abundant grace. For he does not say that, from the very first day, we drink so as to be fully satisfied, but only means that the Holy Spirit is a continually flowing fountain; and that, therefore, there is no danger that they who have been renewed by spiritual grace shall be dried up. And, therefore, although we thirst throughout our whole life, yet it is certain that we have not received the Holy Spirit for a single day, or for any short period, but as a perennial fountain, which will never fail us. Thus believers thirst, and keenly thirst, throughout their whole life; and yet they have abundance of quickening moisture; for however small may have been the measure of grace which they have received, it gives them perpetual vigor, so that they are never entirely dry. When, therefore, he says that they shall be satisfied, he contrasts not with Desire but only with Drought

Shall be a fountain of water springing up into eternal life. These words express still more clearly the preceding statement; for they denote a continual watering, which maintains in them a heavenly eternity during this mortal and perishing life. The grace of Christ, therefore, does not flow to us for a short time, but overflows into a blessed immortality; for it does not cease to flow until the incorruptible life which it commences be brought to perfection.,

15. Give me this water. This woman undoubtedly is sufficiently aware that Christ is speaking of spiritual water; but because she despises him, she sets at naught all his promises; for so long as the authority of him who speaks is not acknowledged by us, his doctrine is not permitted to enter. Indirectly, therefore, the woman taunted Christ, saying, “Thou boastest much, but I see nothing: show it in reality, if thou canst.”

16. Call thy husband. This appears to have no connection with the subject; and, indeed, one might suppose that Christ, annoyed and put to shame by the impudence of the woman, changes the discourse. But this is not the case; for when he perceived that jeers and scoffs were her only reply to what he had said, he applied an appropriate remedy to this disease, by striking the woman’s conscience with a conviction of her sin. And it is also a remarkable proof of his compassion that, when the woman was unwilling of her own accord to come to him, he draws her, as it were, against her will. But we ought chiefly to observe what I have mentioned, that they who are utterly careless and almost stupid must be deeply wounded by a conviction of sin; for such persons will regard the doctrine of Christ as a fable, until, being summoned to the judgment-seat of God, they are compelled to dread as a Judge him whom they formerly despised. All who do not scruple to rise against the doctrine of Christ with their scoffing jests must be treated in this manner, that they may be made to feel that they will not pass unpunished. Such too is the obstinacy of many, that they will never listen to Christ until they have been subdued by violence. Whenever then we perceive that the oil of Christ has no flavour, it ought to be mixed with wine, that its taste may begin to be felt. Nay more, this is necessary for all of us; for we are not seriously affected by Christ speaking, unless we have been aroused by repentance. So then, in order that any one may profit in the school of Christ, his hardness must be subdued by the demonstration of his misery, as the earth, in order that it may become fruitful, is prepared and softened by the ploughshare, 7676     “Tout ainsi que la terre, pour apporter fruict, sera menuisee et amollie par le soc de la charrue.” for this knowledge alone shakes off all our flatteries, so that we no longer dare to mock God. Whenever, therefore, a neglect of the word of God steals upon us, no remedy will be more appropriate than that each of us should arouse himself to the consideration of his sins, that he may be ashamed of himself, and, trembling before the judgment-seat of God, may be humbled to obey Him whom he had wantonly despised.

17. I have not a husband. We do not yet fully perceive the fruit of this advice, by which Christ intended to pierce the heart of this woman, to lead her to repentance. And, indeed, we are so intoxicated, or rather stupified, by our self-love, that we are not at all moved by the first wounds that are inflicted. But Christ applies an appropriate cure for this sluggishness, by pressing the ulcer more sharply, for he openly reproaches her with her wickedness; though I do not think that it is a single case of fornication that is here pointed out, for when he says that she has had five husbands, the reason of this probably was, that, being a froward and disobedient wife, she constrained her husbands to divorce her. I interpret the words thus: “Though God joined thee to lawful husbands, thou didst not cease to sin, until, rendered infamous by numerous divorces, thou prostitutedst thyself to fornication.”

19. Sir, I perceive that thou art a Prophet. The fruit of the reproof now becomes evident; for not only does the woman modestly acknowledge her fault, but, being ready and prepared to listen to the doctrine of Christ, which she had formerly disdained, she now desires and requests it of her own accord. Repentance, therefore, is the commencement of true docility, as I have already said, and opens the gate for entering into the school of Christ. Again, the woman teaches us by her example, that when we meet with any teacher, we ought to avail ourselves of this opportunity, that we may not be ungrateful to God, who never sends Prophets to us without, as it were, stretching out the hand to invite us to himself. But we must remember what Paul teaches, that they who have grace given to them to teach well 7777     “Qui ont la grace de bien enseigner.” are sent to us by God; for

how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:15.)

20. Our fathers. It is a mistaken opinion which some hold, that the woman, finding the reproof to be disagreeable and hateful, cunningly changes the subject. On the contrary, she passes from what is particular to what is general, and, having been informed of her sin, wishes to be generally instructed concerning the pure worship of God. She takes a proper and regular course, when she consults a Prophet, that she may not fall into a mistake in the worship of God. It is as if she inquired at God himself in what manner he chooses to be worshipped; for nothing is more wicked than to contrive various modes of worship without the authority of the word of God.

It is well known that there was a constant dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans about the true rule of worshipping God. Although the Cutheans and other foreigners, who had been brought into Samaria, when the ten tribes were led into captivity, were constrained by the plagues and punishments of God 7878     “Par les playes et punitions de Dieu.” to adopt the ceremonies of the Law, and to profess the worship of the God of Israel, (as we read, 2 Kings 17:27;) yet the religion which they had was imperfect and corrupted in many ways; which the Jews could not all endure. But the dispute was still more inflamed after that Manasseh, son of the high priest John, and brother of Jaddus, had built the temple on mount Gerizzim, when Darius, the last king of the Persians, held the government of Judea by the hand of Sanballat, whom he had placed there as his lieutenant. For Manasseh, having married a daughter of the governor, that he might not be inferior to his brother, made himself a priest there, and procured for himself by bribes as many apostles as he could, as Josephus relates, (Ant. 11:7:2, and 8:2.)

Our fathers worshipped in this mountain. The Samaritans at that time did, as we learn from the words of the woman, what is customary with those who have revolted from true godliness, to seek to shield themselves by the examples of the Fathers. It is certain that this was not the reason which induced them to offer sacrifices there, but after that they had framed a false and perverse worship, obstinacy followed, which was ingenious in contriving excuses. I acknowledge, indeed, that unsteady and thoughtless men are sometimes excited by foolish zeal, as if they had been bitten by a gad-fly, so that when they learn that any thing has been done by the Saints, they instantly seize on the example without any exercise of judgment.

A second fault is still more common, that they borrow the deeds of the Fathers as a cloak to their errors, — and this may be easily seen in Popery. But as this passage is a remarkable proof how absurdly they act who, disregarding the command of God, conform to the examples of the Fathers, we ought to observe in how many ways the world commonly sins in this respect. For it frequently happens that the majority, without discrimination, follow those persons as Fathers who are least of all entitled to be accounted Fathers. Thus in the present day we perceive that the Papists, while with open mouth they declaim about the Fathers, allow no place for Prophets and Apostles, but, when they have mentioned a few persons who deserve to be honored, collect a vast group of men like themselves, or at least come down to more corrupt ages in which, though there did not yet prevail so gross a barbarism as now exists, yet religion and the purity of doctrine had greatly declined. We ought, therefore, carefully to attend to the distinction, that none may be reckoned Fathers but those who were manifestly the sons of God; and who also, by the eminence of their piety, were entitled to this honorable rank. Frequently, too, we err in this respect, that by the actions of the Fathers we rashly lay down a common law; for the multitude do not imagine that they confer sufficient honor on the Fathers, if they do not exclude them from the ordinary rank of men. Thus, when we do not remember that they were fallible men, we indiscriminately mingle their vices with their virtues. Hence arises the worst confusion in the conduct of life; for while all the actions of men ought to be tried by the rule of the Law, we subject the balance to those things which ought to be weighed by it; and, in short, where so much importance is attached to the imitation of the Fathers, the world thinks that there can be no danger in sinning after their example.

A third fault is — a false, and ill-regulated, or thoughtless imitation; 7979     “Une fausse imitation, et mal reiglee, ou inconsideree.” that is, when we, though not endued with the same spirit, or authorized by the same command, plead as our example what any of the Fathers did; as for instance, if any private individual resolved to revenge the injuries done to brethren, because Moses did this, (Exodus 2:12;) or if any one were to put fornicators to death, because this was done by Phinehas, (Numbers 25:7.) That savage fury in slaying their own children originated, as many think, in the wish of the Jews to be like their father Abraham, as if the command, Offer up thy son Isaac, (Genesis 22:2,) were a general command, and not rather a remarkable trial of a single man. Such a false imitation (κακοζηλία) is generally produced by pride and excessive confidence, when men claim more for themselves than they have a right to do; and when each person does not measure himself by his own standard. Yet none of these are true imitators of the Fathers, most of them are apes. That a considerable portion of ancient monachism flowed from the same source will be acknowledged by those who shall carefully examine the writings of the ancients. And, therefore, unless we choose to err of our own accord, we ought always to see what spirit each person has received, what his calling requires, what is suitable to his condition, and what he is commanded to do.

Closely allied to this third fault is another, namely, the confounding of times, when men, devoting their whole attention to the examples of the Fathers, do not consider that the Lord has since enjoined a different rule of conduct, which they ought to follow. 8080     “A depuis ordonne et commande une autre conduite et maniere de faire, qu’ils ont a suyvre.” To this ignorance ought to be ascribed that huge mass of ceremonies by which the Church has been buried under Popery. Immediately after the commencement of the Christian Church, it began to err in this respect, because a foolish affectation of copying Jewish ceremonies had an undue influence. The Jews had their sacrifices; and that Christians might not be inferior to them in splendor, the ceremony of sacrificing Christ was invented: as if the condition of the Christian Church would be worse when there would be an end of all those shadows by which the brightness of Christ might be obscured. But afterwards this fury broke out more forcibly, and spread beyond all bounds.

That we may not fall into this error, we ought always to be attentive to the present rule. Formerly incense, candles, holy garments, an altar, vessels, and ceremonies of this nature, pleased God; and the reason was, that nothing is more precious or acceptable to Him than obedience. Now, since the coming of Christ, matters are entirely changed. We ought, therefore, to consider what he enjoins on us under the Gospel, that we may not follow at random what the Fathers observed under the Law; for what was at that time a holy observation of the worship of God would now be a shocking sacrilege.

The Samaritans were led astray by not considering, in the example of Jacob, how widely it differed from the condition of their own time. The Patriarchs were permitted to erect altars everywhere, because the place had not yet been fixed which the Lord afterwards selected; but from the time that God ordered the temple to be built on mount Zion, the freedom which they formerly enjoyed ceased. For this reason Moses said,

Hereafter you shall not do every one what appears right in his own eyes, but only what I command you,
(Deuteronomy 12:8, 14;)

for, from the time that the Lord gave the Law, he restricted the true worship of himself to the requirements of that Law, though formerly a greater degree of liberty was enjoyed. A similar pretense was offered by those who worshipped in Bethel; for there Jacob had offered a solemn sacrifice to God, but after that the Lord had fixed the place of sacrifice at Jerusalem, it was no longer Bethel, the house of God, but Bethaven, the house of wickedness.

We now see what was the state of the question. The Samaritans had the example of the Fathers for their rule: the Jews rested on the commandment of God. This woman, though hitherto she had followed the custom of her nation, was not altogether satisfied with it. By worship we are to understand here not any kind of worship, (for daily prayers might be offered in any place,) but that which was joined with sacrifices, and which constituted a public and solemn profession of religion.

21. Woman, believe me. In the first part of this reply, he briefly sets aside the ceremonial worship which had been appointed under the Law; for when he says that the hour is at hand when there shall be no peculiar and fixed place for worship, he means that what Moses delivered was only for a time, and that the time was now approaching when the partition-wall (Ephesians 2:14) should be thrown down. In this manner he extends the worship of God far beyond its former narrow limits, that the Samaritans might become partakers of it.

The hour cometh. He uses the present tense instead of the future; but the meaning is, that the repeal of the Law is already at hand, so far as relates to the Temple, and Priesthood, and other outward ceremonies. By calling God Father, he seems indirectly to contrast Him with the Fathers whom the woman had mentioned, and to convey this instruction, that God will be a common Father to all, so that he will be generally worshipped without distinction of places or nations.

He now explains more largely what he had briefly glanced at about the abolition of the Law; but he divides the substance of his discourse into two parts. In the former, he charges with superstition and error the form of worshipping God which had been used by the Samaritans, but testifies that the true and lawful form was observed by the Jews. And he assigns the cause of the difference, that from the word of God the Jews obtained certainty as to his worship, while the Samaritans received nothing certain from the mouth of God. In the second part, he declares that the ceremonies hitherto observed by the Jews would soon be at an end.

22. You worship what you know not, we worship what we know. This is a sentence worthy of being remembered, and teaches us that we ought not to attempt any thing in religion rashly or at random; because, unless there be knowledge, it is not God that we worship, but a phantom or idol. All good intentions, as they are called, are struck by this sentence, as by a thunderbolt; for we learn from it, that men can do nothing but err, when they are guided by their own opinion without the word or command of God. For Christ, defending the person and cause of his nation, shows that the Jews are widely different from the Samaritans. And why?

Because salvation is from the Jews. By these words he means that they have the superiority in this respect, that God had made with them a covenant of eternal salvation. Some restrict it to Christ, who was descended from the Jews; and, indeed, since

all the promises of God were confirmed and ratified in him,
(2 Corinthians 1:20,)

there is no salvation but in him. But as there can be no doubt that Christ gives the preference to the Jews on this ground, that they do not worship some unknown deity, but God alone, who revealed himself to them, and by whom they were adopted as his people; by the word salvation we ought to understand that saving manifestation which had been made to them concerning the heavenly doctrine.

But why does he say that it was from the Jews, when it was rather deposited with them, that they alone might enjoy it? He alludes, in my opinion, to what had been predicted by the Prophets, that the Law would go forth from Zion, (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2,) for they were separated for a time from the rest of the nations on the express condition, that the pure knowledge of God should flow out from them to the whole world. It amounts to this, that God is not properly worshipped but by the certainty of faith, which cannot be produced in any other way than by the word of God. Hence it follows that all who forsake the word fall into idolatry; for Christ plainly testifies that an idol, or an imagination of their own brain, is substituted for God, when men are ignorant of the true God; and he charges with ignorance all to whom God has not revealed himself, for as soon as we are deprived of the light of his word, darkness and blindness reign.

It ought to be observed that the Jews, when they had treacherously set aside the covenant of eternal life which God had made with their fathers, were deprived of the treasure which they had till that time enjoyed; for they had not yet been driven out of the Church of God. Now that they deny the Son, they have nothing in common with the Father;

for whosoever denieth the Son hath not the Father,
(1 John 2:23.)

The same judgment must be formed concerning all who have turned aside from the pure faith of the Gospel to their own inventions and the traditions of men. Although they who worship God according to their own judgment or human traditions flatter and applaud themselves in their obstinacy, this single word, thundering from heaven, lays prostrate all that they imagine to be divine and holy, You worship what you do not know It follows from this that, if we wish our religion to be approved by God, it must rest on knowledge obtained from His word.

23. But the hour cometh. Now follows the latter clause, about repealing the worship, or ceremonies, 8181     “C’est a dire, des ceremonies.” prescribed by the Law. When he says that the hour cometh, or will come, he shows that the order laid down by Moses will not be perpetual. When he says that the hour is now come, he puts an end to the ceremonies, and declares that the time of reformation, of which the Apostle speaks, (Hebrews 9:10,) has thus been fulfilled. Yet he approves of the Temple, the Priesthood, and all the ceremonies connected with them, so far as relates to the past time. Again, to show that God does not choose to be worshipped either in Jerusalem or in mount Gerizzim, he takes a higher principle, that the true worship of Him consists in the spirit; for hence it follows that in all places He may be properly worshipped.

But the first inquiry which presents itself here is, Why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual? To understand this, we must attend to the contrast between the spirit and outward emblems, as between the shadows and the truth. The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.

Hence arises another question, Did not the Fathers worship Him spiritually under the Law? I reply, as God is always like himself, he did not from the beginning of the world approve of any other worship than that which is spiritual, and which agrees with his own nature. This is abundantly attested by Moses himself, who declares in many passages that the Law has no other object than that the people may cleave to God with faith and a pure conscience. But it is still more plainly declared by the Prophets when they attack with severity the hypocrisy of the people, because they thought that they had satisfied God, when they had performed the sacrifices and made an outward display. It is unnecessary to quote here many proofs which are to be found everywhere, but the most remarkable passages are the following: — Psalm 50; Isaiah 1, 58, 66; Micah 5; Amos 7. But while the worship of God under the Law was spiritual, it was enveloped in so many outward ceremonies, that it resembled something carnal and earthly. For this reason Paul calls the ceremonies flesh and the beggarly elements of the world, (Galatians 4:9.) In like manner, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that the ancient sanctuary, with its appendages, was earthly, (Hebrews 9:1.) Thus we may justly say that the worship of the Law was spiritual in its substance, but, in respect of its form, it was somewhat earthly and carnal; for the whole of that economy, the reality of which is now fully manifested, consisted of shadows.

We now see what the Jews had in common with us, and in what respect they differed from us. In all ages God wished to be worshipped by faith, prayer, thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time did he delight in any other sacrifices. But under the Law there were various additions, so that the spirit and truth were concealed under forms and shadows, whereas, now that the vail of the temple has been rent, (Matthew 27:51,) nothing is hidden or obscure. There are indeed among ourselves, in the present day, some outward exercises of godliness, which our weakness renders necessary, but such is the moderation and sobriety of them, that they do not obscure the plain truth of Christ. In short, what was exhibited to the fathers under figures and shadows is now openly displayed.

Now in Popery this distinction is not only confounded, but altogether overturned; for there the shadows are not less thick than they formerly were under the Jewish religion. It cannot be denied that Christ here lays down an obvious distinction between us and the Jews. Whatever may be the subterfuges by which the Papists attempt to escape, it is evident that we differ from the gathers in nothing more than outward form, because while they worshipped God spiritually, they were bound to perform ceremonies, which were abolished by the coming of Christ. Thus all who oppress the Church with an excessive multitude of ceremonies, do what is in their power to deprive the Church of the presence of Christ. I do not stop to examine the vain excuses which they plead, that many persons in the present day have as much need of those aids as the Jews had in ancient times. It is always our duty to inquire by what order the Lord wished his Church to be governed, for He alone knows thoroughly what is expedient for us. Now it is certain that nothing is more at variance with the order appointed by God than the gross and singularly carnal pomp which prevails in Popery. The spirit was indeed concealed by the shadows of the Law, but the masks of Popery disfigure it altogether; and, therefore, we must not wink at such gross and shameful corruptions. Whatever arguments may be employed by ingenious men, or by those who have not sufficient courage to correct vices — that they are doubtful matters, and ought to be held as indifferent — certainly it cannot be endured that the rule laid down by Christ shall be violated.

The true worshippers. Christ appears indirectly to reprove the obstinacy of many, which was afterwards displayed; for we know how obstinate and contentious the Jews were, when the Gospel was revealed, in defending the ceremonies to which they had been accustomed. But this statement has a still more extensive meaning; for, knowing that the world would never be entirely free from superstitions, he thus separates the devout and upright worshippers from those who were false and hypocritical. Armed with this testimony, let us not hesitate to condemn the Papists in all their inventions, and boldly to despise their reproaches. For what reason have we to fear, when we learn that God is pleased with this plain and simple worship, which is disdained by the Papists, because it is not attended by a cumbrous mass of ceremonies? And of what use to them is the idle splendor of the flesh, by which Christ declares that the Spirit is quenched? What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for the truth of the worship of God consists in the spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage. And here again it must be observed, that truth is not compared with falsehood, but with the outward addition of the figures of the Law; 8282     “Des figures de la Loy.” so that — to use a common expression — it is the pure and simple substance of spiritual worship.

24. God is a Spirit. This is a confirmation drawn from the very nature of God. Since men are flesh, we ought not to wonder, if they take delight in those things which correspond to their own disposition. Hence it arises, that they contrive many things in the worship of God which are full of display, but have no solidity. But they ought first of all to consider that they have to do with God, who can no more agree with the flesh than fire with water. This single consideration, when the inquiry relates to the worship of God, ought to be sufficient for restraining the wantonness of our mind, that God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence. And if hypocrites are so blinded by their own pride, that they are not afraid to subject God to their opinion, or rather to their unlawful desires, let us know that this modesty does not hold the lowest place in the true worship of God, to regard with suspicion whatever is gratifying according to the flesh. Besides, as we cannot ascend to the height of God, let us remember that we ought to seek from His word the rule by which we are governed. This passage is frequently quoted by the Fathers against the Arians, to prove the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, but it is improper to strain it for such a purpose; for Christ simply declares here that his Father is of a spiritual nature, and, therefore, is not moved by frivolous matters, as men, through the lightness and unsteadiness of their character, are wont to be.

25. The Messiah is about to come. Although religion among the Samaritans was corrupted and mixed up with many errors, yet some principles taken from the Law were impressed on their minds, such as that which related to the Messiah. Now it is probable that, when the woman ascertained from Christ’s discourse that a very extraordinary change was about to take place in the Church of God, her mind instantly recurred to the recollection of Christ, under whom she hoped that all things would be fully restored. When she says that the Messiah is about to come, she seems to speak of the time as near at hand; and, indeed, it is sufficiently evident from many arguments, that the minds of men were everywhere aroused by the expectation of the Messiah, who would restore the affairs which were wretchedly decayed, or rather, which were utterly ruined.

This, at least, is beyond all controversy, that the woman prefers Christ to Moses and to all the Prophets in the office of teaching; for she comprehends three things in a few words. First, that the doctrine of the Law was not absolutely perfect, and that nothing more than first principles was delivered in it; for if there had not been some farther progress to be made, she would not have said that the Messiah will tell us all things. There is an implied contrast between him and the Prophets, that it is his peculiar office to conduct his disciples to the goal, while the Prophets had only given them the earliest instructions, and, as it were, led them into the course. Secondly, the woman declares that she expects such a Christ as will be the interpreter of his Father, and the teacher and instructor of all the godly. Lastly, she expresses her belief that we ought not to desire any thing better or more perfect than his doctrine, but that, on the contrary, this is the farthest object of wisdom, beyond which it is unlawful to proceed.

I wish that those who now boast of being the pillars of the Christian Church, would at least imitate this poor woman, so as to be satisfied with the simple doctrine of Christ, rather than claim I know not what power of superintendence for putting forth their inventions. For whence was the religion of the Pope and Mahomet collected but from the wicked additions, by which they imagined that they brought the doctrine of the Gospel to a state of perfection? As if it would have been incomplete without such fooleries. But whoever shall be well taught in the school of Christ will ask no other instructors, and indeed will not receive them.

26. It is I who talk with thee. When he acknowledges to the woman that; he is the Messiah, he unquestionably presents himself as her Teacher, in compliance with the expectation which she had formed; and, therefore, I think it probable, that he proceeded to give more full instruction, in order to satisfy her thirst. Such a proof of his grace he intended to give in the case of this poor woman, that he might testify to all that he never fails to discharge his office, when we desire to have him for our Teacher. There is, therefore, no danger that he will disappoint one of those whom he finds ready to become his disciples. But they who refuse to submit to him, as we see done by many haughty and irreligious men, or who hope to find elsewhere a wisdom more perfect — as the Mahometans and Papists do — deserve to be driven about by innumerable enchantments, and at length to be plunged in an abyss of errors. Again, by these words, “I who talk with thee am the Messiah, the Son of God,” he employs the name Messiah as a seal to ratify the doctrine of his Gospel; for we must remember that he was anointed by the Father, and that the Spirit of God rested on him, that he might bring to us the message of salvation, as Isaiah declares, (Isaiah 61:1.)


VIEWNAME is study