Chapter 3 - At the Well

A GOSPEL ADDRESS
(JOHN iv.)

The Lord had not one stereotyped answer, beloved friends, for those He met. He met souls; He answered souls - not questions even, but souls. And you will find, if you take this chapter for instance, and compare it with the chapter preceding, how differently the Lord answers two cases which were indeed different themselves, but the difference between which would have caused, one might naturally think, precisely opposite answers to those the Lord gave. You find in the third chapter Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, a teacher, a man of respectability, and of religion, one who came to the Lord with a serious inquiry, as a teacher come from God. He owns the divine power which was working through Him; and, while he comes timidly - comes by night - yet by that very act shows himself aware how much he is risking by the coming, how much he is endangering his reputation with the people by coming to the Nazarene. And yet he comes, reverently to own that He is a teacher come from God, and to put himself, teacher as he was, in confessed ignorance, at His feet to be taught.

Now you would think the Lord would have opened at once all His heart to such a man. His first words, you would think, would be words of amplest assurance and unbounded encouragement. Nay; the very first words the Lord has to say are, "You must be born again." That is not the gospel, beloved friends. Do not ever mistake "you must be born again," for the gospel. It is a very great mistake to suppose the gospel to be any, "you must be." No such thing - you may be assured if it is a "you must be," that it is not the gospel. If a man must be born again, what is he going to do to be born? What does his whole past life count for? Just nothing. What is he going to do for the future? He has got to begin all over again; but how? He has got not merely to live, but to be born. What can a man do in the matter? He has nothing to do with his natural birth. What can he do as to spiritual birth? He can do nothing. It is just a shut door in a man’s face, and that is what the Lord intends. But why does He shut the door in Nicodemus’ face? I will tell you why. Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisees; one of the teachers of the people who were leading the people all wrong; he was a man who, with all his sincerity, all his honesty, all his desire to be taught - actually did not know, in spite of such Scripture as the Lord referred him to, what was needed to enter into the kingdom at all. He was one of a class which the Lord represents as being able to stand up before God and say honestly enough, in a sense, but self-deceived, "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican; I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." Well, was it not true? Why, yes, the Lord never says one word about its not being true - it was all true. Why should he not say it? He does not claim perfection, nor that what he had done was done without God’s help. He thanks God for it. "God, I thank Thee, I am not as other men." He was not only a moral man but a religious man. He was painstaking and self-denying, for he gave tithes of all he possessed, and fasted twice a week. Was not that a most respectable man, earnest, moral, religious. Yet what do you find? The door shut in his face more fully and more decidedly than in that of Nicodemus. "The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." And he went down to his house justified. He found the door opened; the other man found the door shut.

Do you understand and appreciate the difference, beloved friend? Now here in Nicodemus is just a man of this class, and what he wanted was just what the Lord gave him; for the Lord never made a mistake. Self-righteousness must come to a break down. "You have not begun to live," is what the Lord says to Nicodemus: "you must be born again." What is one to do? Oh! beloved friends, the very hardest thing for a man is to learn that he can do nothing. But just there is he cast right over upon God. Now mark, dear friends, I find that truth of the new birth pressed by our Lord, how many times, do you think? Once! On whom did He press it? On a Pharisee! For what? Just to bring him into a state in which he could receive the gospel. With all his respectability, and with all his morality, and with all his religion too, he must be born again!

But now, what if you turn to the next chapter? You find a person of an opposite character - entirely opposite - a woman alone, but alone for other reasons evidently than Nicodemus. He by night to save his respectability; the woman alone by day - in the midst of the hot day of the East - because people won’t have to do with her. The one is the respectable man, and he does not want to lose his respectability; the other is one with whom if people were found, they would lose their’s. She comes alone, but not to meet Him. She is not looking for Him. She does not know what she is really coming there for. She comes with her water-pot ; - and how often has she done that before. She comes with her eyes, so to speak, fixed upon her water-pot. You would say she is a dead, hard creature. What her life was, we know. How is it the Lord treats her in a precisely opposite way to that in which He treats Nicodemus? How is it that while He shuts the door in the face of the Pharisee, He opens it wide in the face of the sinner? For that very reason. Because she is a sinner—for, for sinners Christ died. To sinners God can show mercy. With sinners there is just this one thing: they have not got righteousness to be stripped from them; they have not got reputation to lose; they have not got barriers of this kind to receiving the gospel.

What the Lord says, explains it all. He says, "the Publicans and harlots go into the kingdom before you" (Pharisees). They go in as a class, why? Just because Christ has died for sinners. God’s love is seeking sinners. A world-wide invitation goes out in consequence of this. Does it shut out anybody? Nobody; but they may be self-excluded. If you had seen over the door-way here to night: "This place is for sinners," would you all have liked to have come in? It is all very well to say, we are all sinners." But, again, if you had seen over the door-way, "This room is where sinners assemble," would you have liked to come in? That is just the trouble with the gospel. The invitation includes all - Christ died for all. He does not want anybody to be lost. If He came for the righteous He could not have given the invitation to everybody. He can now - a world-wide invitation; and oh! beloved friends, man has got to come down to this before God can raise him up; for God’s principle is that "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." We have got to learn our nothingness; we have to take a truthful position before God. He cannot save a man with a lie upon his lips. He can’t lift up a man when he is lifting himself up. He will show grace, mercy, love - take up the chief of sinners to show it - but alas! men will shut out themselves by substituting their own terms for God’s.

Now Nicodemus wanted to come in on his own terms, but the woman, she, as a sinner, is already where God in Christ can meet her need. He says, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, ‘Give me to drink,’ thou would’st have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." Oh! beloved friends, that is the first sweet, blessed assurance to every soul that is on that ground tonight. "If you know the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, ‘give me to drink’ thou would’st ask of Him and He would give thee living water." It is quite sure; there is no possibility of denial - He would give you, if you would only take the place of a receiver, making Him a giver; instead of taking the place of a giver, and making Him but a receiver. She does not understand what the living water is. She has the well before her; and she asks, "Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself?" There is just a little wonder and reasoning in her heart. "Who is this man, with His strange conduct ?" - a little thought, - "How strange of a Jew to step over the requirements of the law, and come this way with His strange thoughts and new talk about ‘God’s gift,’ that God wants man to receive!"

May not that be a new thing for some of our hearts tonight, to learn that God is indeed more ready to give than you are to receive - to learn, beloved friends, that God has got love in His heart for you when there is no thought or care in your heart for Him? Yet it is true; for the lost sheep does not seek the shepherd, but the shepherd the sheep. He goeth after that which is lost until He finds; and then the joy of heaven is but His joy reflected, where all is in fullest sympathy with Him. And so there is a way in which we can give the Lord to drink. We can satisfy the love that seeks, by just letting it have its way with us, as it desires. Her heart is touched, her interest is roused; and more - God is before her soul; the light shines for her by which she is to see herself ; - because it is only in the presence of God we learn ourselves.

Then He goes further; and now mark, beloved friends - she asks Him for water; she says, "Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw." Still she does not know what she is talking about. "That I thirst not" shows that; and the Lord says quietly, in His own blessed, wonderful way, "Go call thy husband, and come hither." He knows all about the secrets of her heart, knows all about what has brought her there a solitary outcast, knew all about it when He spoke of that gift of God to her, and how freely He would give, if she would only take the place of receiving, and ask of Him. And He shows her that He does - but in such quiet words, just touching the tender spot, and no more, like the physician; as if saying, Is there not something there? - not naming it, but suggesting it to her, as if asking, Will you not confide in Me? When that, alas, meets with no response, He goes a little further, and shows that He knows about it all; but then in simple words, with no judgment, no upbraiding: He "upbraideth not." Conscience might upbraid, and rightly. His care is that, in the presence of God and of His love, she might have what would give her truest judgment of herself and at the same time lead her out of herself for healing and deliverance.

So unlike our treatment of a sin-sick soul is His! We judge people readily enough, and it is easy; but it brings no deliverance. They will neither take it nor thank us for it. Their judgment it must be, not ours; and they need other help than this to make it theirs. He first of all takes hold of her for God; so that, when the secret of her life comes out, it is the simplest and most natural thing to come to Him as to a friend about it. It is evident He is no enemy. He is not telling it to her as one who is against her. He is against the sin, to be sure, but not against her. Nor, if He is to be believed, is God either. Knowing her life, He has shown Himself for her already. He has invited her, on the part of God, to take a gift that He would surely give. Will she not understand better now those words about that water when she has found that He knows all, and has to own Him as a prophet? She has to own that. "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." She does not run away. She has asked something, she does not know quite what - some great, mysterious gift; and He has assured her she shall get it. She is attracted, held fast to listen to His love, with a dawning sense that He and it are more and other than at first they seemed.

He has just shown her a burden that has to be removed, sin that has to be met, if any blessing is to be for her from God and she turns to Him with a question by no means idle for her, nor an escape from the tale her conscience told - a question as to how to approach God. "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Doubtless questions about forms of worship are often an escape of souls from what becomes too grave. But this was not the condition of this soul before us now. She had had her life bared to her, had owned Him as a prophet, and worship was to her what to so many it still is - a homage meant to propitiate an offended God. Jacob’s way of winning his brother is still a much approved and fashionable way when the question and the person are of much importance. "I will appease him with the present that goeth before," he says "and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept me."

And with these as with Jacob, acceptance is still a "peradventure." If your religion is of that sort, how can you know when you have done enough? Suppose it should not be just what you estimate it to be in God’s sight. Oh, would you hang eternity upon a peradventure? Don’t take that way! beloved friends. The very uncertainty may show you that you have not got God’s way of peace. For "peace" He speaks of. The Lord answers her question in a way that shows He does not deem it a light one or out of the way. The time was coming when worship would not be a matter of going to Jerusalem, or any place at all. Worship, He tells her, has to be in spirit and in truth, in the knowledge of the person worshipped. You must know God. You cannot worship an unknown God really, because worship is a thing of the heart; it is not posture or ceremonial, but the heart poured out in adoration. You must see something in Him to worship. You cannot worship an unknown God. But still, beloved friends, many, alas, worship God in that way, and think He ought really to be pleased with it. After all, they don’t know what it is to worship. What is God’s name? Do you say "Father"? And if you do, is it mere orthodoxy, or as knowing Him in that relationship? "Worship the Father," He says.

Beloved friends, do you go and say "Father" in spirit and in truth? Do you not see that, for this, the question of acceptance must be settled first? Do you feel at home with God or are you still outside, like that father’s son who served his father so many years, and yet music and dancing in his father’s house were a strange thing? Beloved friends, are you also doing, doing? Then, I ask, "Have you got peace with God?" and you have to say, "Well, I do not know what that means." "What! have you been serving Him so long, and yet not known Him?" You must worship the Father. "Ye worship ye know not what," saith the Lord. "We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews."

Do you hear that, beloved friends? God is known, the Father is known, by salvation. Do you not see, that unless God is known as a Saviour-God, He is not known at all? How do you know Him? As a judge before whom you are going to appear, and then it will turn out whether you are accepted or rejected. That is not salvation. Salvation is His work, not your work. People do not save themselves, they are saved; God is the Saviour, not man. Our blessed God has provided salvation: "Christ is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him." And the sweetness of that is not merely that salvation is provided - full and real deliverance for man, as there assuredly is - but that salvation is to give you a Father, a real God for your hearts, and in Him a Father to give you ability to worship in spirit and in truth. Like the prodigal of the Lord’s familiar story, turned back to his father’s house by famine, for the bread the very hired servants got to the full, when you, in the very midst of your anxiety - at the best, if received, thinking to be a hired servant - find the Father’s heart close to yours, and the Father with His arms about your neck, kissing you, (you a sinner, far off yet and in your sins,) God meeting you where you are, because you could not meet Him where He is - you find God for you in the day of grace, God in Christ a Saviour. God, known and enjoyed, is what will make the "spring of living water" rise up in your souls. That is what will satisfy, and abundantly satisfy. You will carry the refreshment with you. Do you want to know where to find it? That meeting-place between God and the sinner - do you want to know where that is, beloved friends? The cross is that meeting-place between God and man. God and man there come together: man in his wretchedness and ruin; man far off from God; for why had Christ to go into the place of curse, if man was not there? Why, beloved friends, should the blessed Son of God take that awful place, forsaken of God Himself, if, after all, although sinners, we were of that respectable sort, if not quite good enough to go to heaven, yet not quite bad enough to go to hell? The cross - can you look at it and say, "Christ died for me?" "He died for all," you say. I answer: If He died for ‘all,’ if He took that place for all, what must their place be? Are you going to make distinctions amongst sinners, who needed such a death as that to bring them to God? Are you going to plead some little difference between yourself and others when, after all, Barabbas’ cross was the place for you and them? Sinners, with no title but their sins, no reason that God should meet them but that He delights in love and in mercy - if you are able to take that place that the Lord of glory took, you also may surely say, "He died for me."

Or are you going to take some credit still for something or other in you? Ah, it is not an enemy that is telling you of your sins, but divine love that has come down to you, by the sacrifice it had to make for you, telling you what you are. You are just the sinner who needed such a death as that, and for whom He died. And, beloved friends, that is God’s meeting-place for you. If you thus look at the cross tonight, you will see surely how God meets you with a ready-made salvation. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy to be received of all men, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." If you could add, with the apostle, "of whom I am chief," you would have chief title. Are you sinners? That is all God wants. Take simply, honestly, that place before God; but add nothing to it. Do not say, "respectable sinners," for Christ did not die for such. If you are not quite bad enough for the cross, then you are not such as Christ died for. If you are a sinner simply, take this mercy home tonight. God, in Christ, is appealing to your hearts to receive this love - God is appealing to your hearts as to whether He does not mean well by you when He offers this salvation.

And why should you distrust Him? He is keeping back judgment from the world to show you mercy. The Father is seeking. That is what Christ tells the woman: "The Father seeketh such to worship Him." It is not they who seek the Father, but God is seeking men. Beloved friends, will you receive it? Will you give Him credit for it? The Father seeketh such to worship Him. "I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." "I that speak to thee am he," is His ready answer. And she is met. That seals to her this grace. The cross was not yet; but there was already for her the long-expected one - Messiah, Christ; and He it was beside her by the well, ministering to her, in the full knowledge of her sin, the grace that alone could meet it. This is, for her, God’s meeting-place. Christ is in her soul; the living water henceforth will spring up for her satisfaction forever. Christ is what you want, dear friends. Are you offended when you open the Gospels and find Him in company with sinners? Do you sympathize with the Pharisees when they make this report of Him, that he receiveth sinners? Or will you allow Him to receive these few faraway ones, enshrined and canonized in Scripture, but not the low and ordinary sinners of the present day? Most welcome news, sweeter than water to those parched with desert thirst! A man that receives sinners, casting out none that come - invites all men to Himself, because all are sinners. "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Whatever your experience, whatever your feelings, or your life. What can a sinner have but bad feelings and bad experiences? What is a sinner but a person of bad life? He had spoken to her by that well, knowing all about her, and He was the Christ - was there, the living proof of what God was. All was there for her; for her who had asked for what she knew not, and got according to His knowledge and His grace.

And now she runs away to tell the men in the city, - the people who knew her well, - that she had found a man who had told her all things that ever she did. You see at once what has fastened itself upon her. If you know the blessed relief of having had all out before God you will understand it. Has he told it to you in that way, beloved friends? So that having no more reserve with Him, you need have no more now with any other? Can you say, with her, "He told me all things that ever I did. He and I have been together, all my sins out, and nothing but love to me a sinner." One thing more. If your heart is full, so is His. If He has given you, how wonderful to know that you have given Him! When the disciples come from the city to which they had gone to buy meat, what do they find? Find Him with his meat and drink already. The shepherd has found His sheep and He does not want the meat to eat. Joy will not let us eat, any more than sorrow, when it reaches a certain height. Such joy is His. Joy to meet one poor sinner by a well, and bring her to rest and to God. And still He is the same - yesterday, today and forever the same Jesus. Only you must be with Him, remember, upon His own terms. You are to be the sinner, He the Saviour. You with your sins and He with His grace. You the receiver, and He the giver. You must be with Him after that fashion, beloved friends, that you may drink in the infinite grace that is in Him, and find not merely salvation, but a God whom your whole soul can bow down before; one with whom you can be at home indeed; one whom you can trust when you can trust nobody whatever besides, and, least of all, yourself. Beloved friends, that is what God is—God in Christ. Do you want Him to-night? Is there thirst in your soul? Do you want a Christ like that?