Guest Writer Clovis G Chappell
“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, for the water that I will give him will be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Look, will you, at this picture (John 4:4-26). There sits a Man in the strength and buoyancy of young manhood. He is only thirty or thereabouts. About Him is the atmosphere of vigor and vitality that belong to the springtime of life. But today He is a bit tired. There is a droop in His shoulders. His feet and sandals are dusty. His garment is travel stained. He has been journeying all morning on foot. And now at the noon hour He is resting.
The place of His resting is an old well curb. The well is one that was digged by hands that have been dust long centuries. This Traveler is very thirsty. But He has no means of drawing the water, so He sits on the well curb and waits. His friends who are journeying with Him have gone into the city to buy food. Soon they will return, and then they will eat and drink together.
As He looks along the road that leads into the city, He sees somebody coming. That somebody is not one of His disciples. It is a woman. As she draws closer, He sees that she is clad in the cheap and soiled finery of her class. At once He knows her for what she is. He reads the dark story of her sinful life. He understands the whole fetid and filthy past through which she has journeyed as through the stenchful mud of a swamp.
As she approaches the well, she glares at the Stranger seated on the curb with bold and unsympathetic gaze. She knows His nationality at once. And all her racial resentment is alive and active.
A bit to her surprise the Stranger greets her with a request for a favor. “Give Me a drink” (4:7), He says. Christ was thirsty. He wanted a draught [drink] from Jacob’s well. But far more He wanted a draught from this woman’s heart. She was a slattern, an outcast. She was lower, in the estimation of the average Jew, than a street dog. Yet this weary Christ desired the gift of her burnt-out and impoverished affections. So He says, “Give Me to drink.”
There is no scorn in the tone, and yet the woman is not in the least softened by it. She rather glories in the fact that she has Him at a disadvantage. “Oh, yes,” she doubtless says to herself, “you Jews with your high-handed pride, you Jews with your bitter contempt for us Samaritans—you never have any use for us except when you need us.” “How is it,” she says, “that you being a Jew ask drink of me who am a woman of Samaria? You don’t mean that you would take a drink at the hand of an unclean thing like me, do you?” (cf 4:9).
But this charming Stranger does not answer her as she had expected. He makes no apology for His request. Nor does He show the least bit of resentment or contempt. He does not answer scorn with scorn, but rather answers with a surprising tenderness: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me to drink,’ you would have asked of Him and He would have given you living water” (4:10).
Mark what the Master says. It is one of those abidingly tragic “ifs”—“If you knew.” “The trouble with you,” He says, “is that you do not know the marvelous opportunity with which you now stand face to face. Your trouble is that you are unaware of how near you are to the fountain of eternal life. You do not realize how near your soiled fingers are to clasping wealth that is wealth forever.”
“If you knew”—if you only knew how He could still the fitful fever of your heart. If you only knew the message of courage and hope and salvation that He could speak through your lips, you would not be so listless and so careless and so indifferent as the preacher is trying to preach. If you knew the burdens that are ahead of you—if you knew the dark and lonely places where you will sorely need a friend, you would not lightly ignore the friendship and abiding companionship that is offered you in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
“If you knew.” Do you not hear the cadences of tenderness in the voice of our Lord? Do you not get a glimpse of some bit of the infinite compassion that looks out from those eternal eyes? “If you only knew the gift of God,” if you only knew who I am, instead of My having to beg you, instead of My having to “stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20)—you would be knocking. You would be asking of Me.
Now, isn’t that a rather amazing thing for Christ to say about this fallen woman? There she stands in her shame. Once, no doubt, she was beautiful. There is a charm about her still in spite of the fact that she is a woman of many a shattered romance. Five times she has been married, but the marriage relationship has had little sacredness for her. Her orange blossoms have been dipped in pitch and today she is living in open sin.
Who would ever have expected any marked change in this woman? Who would ever have dreamed that underneath this cheap and tarnished dress there beat a hungry heart? Who would ever have thought that this outcast heathen had moments when she looked wistfully toward the heights and longed for a better life?
I suppose nobody would ever have thought of it but the kindly Stranger who now sat on the well curb talking to her. He knew that in spite of her wasted years, in spite of her tarnished past, in spite of the fact that the foul breath of passion had blown her about the streets as a filthy rag—there still was that within her that hungered and thirsted for goodness and for God.
And, my friend, you may assume that that thirst belongs to every man. There is not one that is not stirred by it. It belongs to the best of mankind. It belongs to the elect company of white-souled men and women who have climbed far up the hills toward God. It belongs to the great saints like David who cries, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:2), who sobs out in his intensity of longing, “As the hart pants after the water brook, so pants my soul after You, O God” (42:1).
And, thank God, it does not belong to the saints alone. It belongs also to the sinners. It does not belong simply to those who have climbed toward the heights, but also to those who have dipped toward the lowest depths. About the only difference between the saint and the sinner in this respect is that the saint knows what he is thirsting for. He knows who it is that can satisfy the deepest longings of his soul, and the sinner does not know. But both of them are thirsting for the living God.
Jesus Christ knew men and women. He knew the human heart, and knowing man at his deepest, He knew what we sometimes forget. He knew that in every man, however low, however degraded he may be—that in every woman, however soiled and stained she may be—there is an insatiable longing for God. People do not always realize that for which they are thirsting. Augustine was right when he said that “God has made us for Himself, and we never find rest till we rest in Him.” Every human soul that is in the far country is in want, is hungry for the bread of life, and is thirsty for the water of life.
Do you remember what the Greeks said to Andrew that day at Jerusalem? “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). “We would have a vision of the face of God’s Son.” And this is a universal longing. It is a thirst that has burned in the heart of man from the beginning of human history. It is older than the pyramids. It is a cry that is the very mother of religion.
As we sit by our Lord and see this unclean woman coming with her earthenware pot on her shoulder, we would fain warn Him. We would whisper in His ear, “Look, Master, yonder comes a degraded woman, yonder comes that creature that in all the centuries has been the most loathed and the most despised and who has been regarded as the most hopeless. Yonder comes an outcast.”
But Jesus said, “You see and know only in part. Your knowledge is surface knowledge. You do not know her in the deepest depths of her soiled soul. Yonder comes one, who in spite of her sin, longs to be good and pure and holy. Yonder comes an immortal soul with immortal hungers and thirsts. Yonder comes a possible child of Mine that longs ignorantly but passionately for the undergirding of the everlasting arms [Deuteronomy 33:27].”
And believe me, my friends, when I tell you that this longing is universal. You have feared to speak to that acquaintance of yours who seems so flippant, who seems so utterly indifferent to everything that partakes of the nature of religion. But that is not the deepest fact about him. Whoever he is and wherever he is, there are times when he is restless and heartsick and homesick. There are times when he is literally parched with thirst for those “rivers that make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). Dare to speak to him as if he wanted Jesus Christ. For he does want Him, though he may not know it and may be little conscious of it.
“If you knew the gift of God . . . you would have asked of Him.” That was true, though I doubt if the woman herself would have believed it. “If you knew the gift of God,” if you knew what God could do for you, how much He could mean to your wasted and burnt-out affections—you would ask Him. You would seek for Him. You would change this well curb into an altar of prayer. You would change this noon-tide glare into an inner temple, into a holy of holies where the soul and God would meet and understand each other.
This reply of the Stranger awakens the interest of the woman while at the same time it mystifies and bewilders her. He is evidently sincere, and yet what can He mean? And in puzzled wonderment she asks Him, “From where then have you living water? You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well and drank of it himself, and his sons and his cattle? Jacob was a great prince, a man of power with God and man. Do you know a secret that he did not know? Can you do what he could not do?” (John 4:11, 12).
And this winsome Stranger does not hesitate to say that He can. Will you listen to the claim that He makes to this woman? No other teacher, however great and however egotistical, ever made such a claim before or since. “Yes,” He replies, “I am greater than your father Jacob. I am greater because I can give a gift that is infinitely beyond his.” “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, for the water that I will give him will be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14).
Did you notice here the twofold declaration of the Master? He said, in the first place, that this old well would not satisfy permanently. And what is true of that well is true of all wells that have ever been digged by human hands. What is wrong with them? For one thing, they never satisfy. They never slake our thirst. To drink from them is like drinking seawater—we become only the more parched and thirsty as we drink.
Do you remember “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner“? He is on a ship in the ocean and he is parched and dying with thirst. What is the matter? Has the sea gone dry? No—
Water, water everywhere
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1834)
There is water, but it is not water that will satisfy.
And so men have digged their wells. They have been real wells. They had held real water of a kind, but it has been water that was utterly powerless to slake the thirst of the soul. Here is a man who has digged a well of wealth. Treasure is bubbling up about him like the waters of a fountain. He is rich beyond his hopes, but is he satisfied? Listen! “Soul, you have much good laid up for many days, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). But his soul has no appetite for that kind of bread. His soul has no thirst for that brackish and bitter water. It is hungry and thirsty for the living God, and nothing else can satisfy.
Here is another who has made the same tragic blunder (“The Cry of the Alien“).
I’m an alien—I’m an alien to the faith my mother taught me;
I’m an alien to the God that heard my mother when she cried;
I’m a stranger to the comfort that my ‘Now I lay me’ brought me,
To the Everlasting Arms that held my father when he died.
I have spent a life-time seeking things I spurned when I had found them;
I have fought and been rewarded in full many a winning cause;
But I’d yield them all—fame, fortune and the pleasures that surround them;
For a little of the faith that made my mother what she was.
I was born where God was closer to His children, and addressed them
With the tenderest of messages through bird and tree and bloom ;
I was bred where people stretched upon the velvet sod to rest them.
Where the twilight’s benediction robbed the coming night of gloom.
But I’ve built a wall between me and the simple life behind me ;
I have coined my heart and paid it for the fickle world’s applause ;
Yet I think His hand would fumble through the voiceless dark and find me
If I only had the faith that made my mother what she was.
When the great world came and called me I deserted all to follow,
Never knowing, in my dazedness, I had slipped my hand from His—
Never noting, in my blindness, that the bauble fame was hollow,
That the gold of wealth was tinsel, as I since have learned it is—
I have spent a life-time seeking things I’ve spurned when I have found them;
I have fought and been rewarded in full many a petty cause,
But I’d take them all—fame, fortune and the pleasures that surround them,
And exchange them for the faith that made my mother what she was. ~Strickland W Gillilan
Here is one who has dug a well of fame, but he cannot count up twelve happy days. And though he has drunk draughts [drinks] that might have quenched the thirst of millions, he is dying of thirst because there is no more to drink (“There’s Not A Joy The World Can Give“):
Oh, could I feel as once I felt,
And be what I have been,
And weep as I could once have wept
O’er many a vanished scene.
As springs in deserts found seem sweet,
All brackish though they be;
So midst the withered waste of life
Those tears would flow to me. ~George Gordon Lord Byron
“O, what is Fame to a woman?” says another. “Like the ‘apples of the Dead Sea,’ fair to the sight, ashes to the touch! From the depths of her unsatisfied heart, cometh ever a voice that will not be hushed,—Take it all back, only give me love!” ~Sarah Payton Parton
Here is another and he has digged wells of wealth and fame and power and pleasure. He seems afloat upon a very sea in which all the streams of human power and glory and wisdom mingle. He tastes them all only to dash the cup from his lips in loathing and disgust as he cries, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14).
And so Jesus says to this woman, “This well can never permanently satisfy you. No well of this world can. But if you are only willing, I can give you a well that will satisfy. I can impart that which will meet every single need and every single longing of your soul.”
What a claim is this! How marvelous, how amazing! And yet this tired young Man, sitting here by the well, makes this high claim, and through the centuries He has made it good.
“I can give you,” says He, “a well that will satisfy you now. I can touch the hot fever of your life into restfulness now. I can satisfy the intensest hunger of your starved soul even now. And not only can I do this for the present, but I can satisfy for all eternity. I can give you a ‘fountain that will never run dry‘ [C Austin Miles (1911)]. I can bless your life with a springtime where the trees will never shed their leaves and the petals of the rose will never shatter on the grass.”
“If you will allow Me, I will give you that which will enrich and satisfy your life today and tomorrow and through all the eternal tomorrow.”
In all world feasts there comes a time when we have to say, “There is no wine” (cf John 2:3). There comes a time when the zest is gone, when the wreaths are withered. There comes a time when joy lies coffined and we have left to us only the dust and ashes of burnt-out hopes. But Christ satisfies now and ever more. And this He does in spite of all circumstances and in the presence of all difficulties. For His is not an external fountain to which we have to journey again and again and from which we may be cut off by the forces of the enemy. His is a fountain within. It is that which makes us independent of our foes and even, when need be, of our friends.
Dr Jowett tells how he visited an old, ruined castle in England and found far in the inner precincts of that castle a gurgling and living spring. What a treasure it was to the man who lived in that castle! His enemies might besiege him and shut him in, but they could never cut off his water supply. No foes however great were able to overcome him by starvation for water because he had a fountain within. There was within the castle a well of water springing up, and he was independent of all outside sources.
Now, when Jesus had told this woman of the wonderful gift that He had the power of imparting it is not at all strange that she answered, “Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come all the way here to draw” (John 4:15). And that is just what Jesus desires above all else to do for her. But there is one something in the way. Before Christ can impart His saving and satisfying gift the woman must be brought face to face with her need. She must be made to face her own sin eye to eye and to hate it and confess it. She must be willing to turn from it to Him who is able to cleanse from all sin by the washing of His blood.
And how tactfully does Christ bring her face to face with her past! Nothing could be more tenderly delicate than His touch here. “Go call your husband” (4:16), He says.
“I have no husband” (4:17) is the ready response. And then He compliments her.
If you are to be successful as a soulwinner, if you are to be successful as a worker anywhere—it is fine to have an eye for that which is praiseworthy. There is something commendable about everybody if we only seek for it and find it.
A disreputable dog came to our house the other day. My wife looked at him and said, “What a horrible-looking dog!” But our small boy looked at him with a different eye and found something good about him and remarked that he could wag his tail well.
There was not much in this woman to compliment. But Jesus picked out one thing that was commendable. He complimented her on the fact that she had told Him the truth. He said, “You have been honest in this. You have no husband. You have had five husbands, but the man that you now have is not your husband. In that you said truly” (4:17, 18).
And now the woman stands looking her soiled and stained past eye to eye. She does not like it. She would like to get away from it. She wants to start a theological discussion. She is ready to launch out into an argument over the proper place to worship God. But Christ holds her face to face with her sin till she loathes it, and utters that deepest cry of her inner nature, the longing for the coming of the Messiah. And then it is that Christ made the first disclosure of Himself that He ever made in this world. He seems to lift the veil from the face of the infinite as He says, “I who speak to you am He” (4:26).
And this woman has found the Living Water. She forgot her old thirst. She forgot the errand that brought her to the well. She left the empty waterpot by the curbstone and bounded away like a happy child into the city. She is under the compelling power of a marvelous discovery. She has a story infinitely too good to keep. And in spite of the fact that her past had been a shameful and sordid past—she would not let it close her lips. She gave her testimony, and as a result we read these words, “Many believed because of the saying of the woman” (4:39).
Heart, this woman never had your chance and mine. She was placed in a bad setting. She wasted the best years of her life. She never found Jesus till the sweetest and freshest years of her life had been squandered in sin. She only met him in the last lingering days of autumn or maybe in the wintertime of life. Though she met Him so late, when she stood in His presence a little later in glory, she had her hands full of sheaves.
You have had a great chance. Is there anybody that believes because of what you have said? Has any life been transfigured and transformed by the story that you have told? Will you not give a little more earnestness and a little more thought and a little more prayer and a little more effort to the doing of this work that Jesus Christ did not think was beneath Himself as the King of heaven and the Savior of the world?
And if you have never found the fountain that satisfies, if you know nothing of the spring that flows within—will you not claim that blessed treasure now? Will you not do so, first of all, because of your own needs? Then will you not do so not only because of your own needs but because of the needs of those about you? You are thirsty men and women, and this is a thirsty world. You need God and God needs you. Will you give Him a chance at you?
Remember that this well of water is not to be yours on the basis of merit. It is not to be bought. It is not to be earned. It is not found in the pathway of the scholar or of the rich or of the great or of the gifted. It is God’s gift. If you want wages, serve the devil, for “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
In Oriental cities, where water is often scarce, water carriers go through the streets selling water at so much per drink. And their cry is this: “The gift of God, who will buy? Who will buy?” And sometimes a man will buy the whole supply, and then allow the water carrier to give it away. And as he goes back down the street, he no longer says, “The gift of God, who will buy?” but “The gift of God, who will take? The gift of God, who will take?” That is my message to you: “The gift of God, who will take?” It is yours for the taking. May God help you to take it now.
“Ho, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat; yea, come … without money and without price”
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes on Me … out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37).
“Come …. Come … Let him that is thirsty come. Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Rivers of living water
*Adapted from Clovis G Chappell [1882-1972], Sermons on Biblical Characters (New York: George H Doran, 1922; Richard R Smith, 1930), sermon 6. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.