Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ at Sychar’s Well (Concluded)

John 4:20-30

In the last chapter we continued our exposition of John 4 down to the end of verse 19. It is of surpassing interest to follow the course of the Savior’s dealings with the poor Samaritan adulteress—the Divine patience, the infinite grace and tenderness, the faithful application of the truth to her heart and conscience. We have been struck, too, with the expose of human depravity which this instance furnishes: not simply with the dissolute life of the woman, but with her prejudice, her stupidity, her occupation with material things, her procrastination—all so many exhibitions of what is in us by nature: "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man" (Prov. 27:19.) In the attitude of this sinner toward Christ we see an accurate portrayal of our own past history. Let us now resume at the point where we left off in our last.

We append an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:—

1. The place of worship, verses 20, 21.

2. Worshippers sought by the Father, verses 22, 23.

3. The character of acceptable worship, verse 24.

4. The woman’s desire for Christ, verse 25.

5. Christ fully reveals Himself, verse 26.

6. The disciples’ surprise and silence, verse 27.

7. The gratitude and zeal of a saved soul, verses 28-30.

"Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (John 4:20). This woman was not regenerated, though she was on the very eve of being so. She was at that point where it is always very difficult (if not impossible) for us to determine on which side of the line a person stands. Regeneration is an instantaneous act and experience, but preceding it there is a process, sometimes brief, usually more or less protracted. During this process or transitional stage there is a continual conflict between the light and the darkness, and nothing is very clearly defined. There is that which is the fruit of the Spirit’s operations, and there is that which springs from the activities of the flesh. We may detect both of these at this point in John 4.

In the previous verse the woman had said, "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." This evidenced the fact that light was beginning to illumine her understanding: there was the dawning of spiritual intelligence. But immediately following this we discover the workings of the flesh—"Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Here was the enmity of the carnal mind showing itself again. It was a return to the old prejudice, which was voiced at the commencement of conversation—see verse 9. The subject of where to worship was one of the leading points of contention between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Lord had introduced a very disquieting theme. He had spoken directly to her conscience; He had been convicting of Sin. And when a sinner’s conscience is disturbed, instinctively he seeks to throw it off. He endeavors to turn aside the sharp point of the accusing shaft, by occupying his mind with other things.

There is little doubt that this woman raised the subject of worship at this stage for the purpose of diverting a theme of conversation which was far from agreeable or creditable to her. "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet," she had said, and so, glad of an opportunity to shift the discourse from a subject so painful, she introduces the great point of controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans, that she might hear His opinion respecting it. And, too, this woman was really interested in the friendly advances of this mysterious Stranger who had spoken to her so graciously and yet so searchingly: and doubtless she was anxious to know how He would decide the age-long dispute. It is no uncommon thing for persons living in sin, not merely to pretend, but really to have an interest in, and a zeal for, what they term ‘religion.’ Speculation about points in theology is frequently found in unnatural union with habitual neglect of moral duty. Ofttimes a sinner seeks protection from shafts of conviction which follow the plain violation of the law of God, by discussions respecting orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Ah! "who can understand the errors" of that deceitful and desperately wicked thing, the human heart!

In this question of the woman we may discover an underlying principle of general application. Her conscience had been exercised over sin, in the presence of God, and the effect upon her, as upon most quickened souls, was to be concerned with the matter of "worship"—where to worship is the question which now engages the attention. Really, it is only self again in one of its ten thousand forms. First the sinner is conscious of his prejudice; then he is occupied with his sins; then he turns to his own repentance and faith; and then where to worship—anything but Christ Himself! So it was with this woman here. The Lord had pointed out what it was that kept her from asking for the "gift of God," namely, ignorance. True, she was clear on some points. She was versed in the contention between the Jews and the Samaritans; she had been instructed in the difference between Jerusalem and Gerizim; she knew all about "father Jacob." But there were two things she did not know: "The gift of God" and "who it was that was speaking to her." As yet she knew not Christ as the all-sufficient Savior for lost sinners. Her mind was engaged with the problem of where to worship.

Was it not thus with most of us? Following our first awakening, were we not considerably exercised over the conflicting claims of the churches and denominations? Where ought I to worship? Which denomination shall I join? In which church shall I seek membership? Which is the most scriptural of the different sects? These are questions which the majority of us faced, and probably many sought the solution of these problems long before they had found rest in the finished work of Christ. After all it was only another ‘refuge’ in which we sought shelter from the accusing voice which was convicting us of our lost condition.

"Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship"—some worship here; some worship there; where ought we to worship? Important as this question is, it is not one to be discussed by a convicted sinner. The all-important thing for him is to find himself in the presence of the revealed Savior. Let this be deeply pondered, clearly understood, and carefully borne in mind. "A convicted sinner can never become a devoted saint, until he finds his happy place at the feet of a revealed Savior" (C. H. M.). Irreparable damage has been done to souls by occupying them with churches and denominations, instead of with a Savior-God. If the sinner joins a church before he has received Christ he is in greater danger than he was previously. The church can neither save nor help to save. Many regard the church as a stepping stone to Christ, and frequently they find it but a stumbling-stone away from Christ. No stepping stones to Christ are needed. He has come all the way from heaven to earth, and is so near to us that no stepping stones are required. Mark how strikingly this is illustrated in one of the Old Testament types:

"An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon" (Ex. 20:24-26). It is to be noted that these instructions concerning "the altar" follow immediately on the giving of the Law, for it foreshadowed that which was to succeed the Legal dispensation, namely, the Cross of Christ, on which the great Sacrifice was offered. Note also it was expressly prohibited that the altar of stone should not be built from hewn stones. The stones must have no human tools lifted up upon them; no human labor should enter into their preparation. Neither were there to be any steps up to God’s altar. Any attempt to climb up to God will only expose our shame. Indeed, steps up are not necessary for us, for the Lord Jesus took all the steps down to where we lay in our guilt and helplessness.

What stepping-stone did this woman of Samaria require? None at all, for Christ was there by her side, though she knew Him not. He was patiently dislodging her from every refuge in which she sought to take shelter. He was seeking to bring her to the realization that she was a great sinner, and He a great Savior, come down here in marvelous grace to save her, not only from the guilt and penalty of sin, but also from its dominion and power. What could "this mountain," or that "Jerusalem" do for her? Was it not obvious that a prior question, of paramount importance, claimed her serious attention, namely, What she was to do with her sins?—how she was to be saved? What relief could places of worship afford her burdened heart and guilty conscience? Could she find salvation in Gerizim? Could she procure peace in Jerusalem’s temple? Could she worship the Father in spirit and in truth in either the one or the other? Was it not plain that she needed salvation before she could worship anywhere?

"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father" (John 4:21). The Lord turned her attention to a subject of infinitely greater importance than the place of worship, even the nature of acceptable worship; assuring her that the time was at hand when controversies respecting the place of worship would be obsolete. "The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." The meaning of this evidently is that "The time is just at hand when the public worship of God the Father should not be confined to any one place, and when the controversy as to whether Jerusalem or Gerizim had the better claim to that honor would be superceded."

"Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Here we see ‘truth’ mingling with ‘grace.’ Christ not only dealt in faithfulness. He was, and is, "the faithful and true witness." The Lord, in a very brief word, settled the disputed point—the Samaritans were wrong, the Jews right; the former were ignorant, the latter well instructed. Christ then added a reason to what He had just said—"for salvation is of the Jews." We take it that "salvation" here is equivalent to "the Savior," that is, the Messiah. In this way was the word used by Simeon—"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation" (Luke 2:29, 30). So, too, the word was used by John the Baptist, "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6). The force then of Christ’s declaration was this: The Savior, the Messiah, is to arise from among the Jews, and therefore the true worship of Jehovah is to be found among them.

It may be inquired, Why should the Lord Jesus refer to Himself under the impersonal word "salvation"? A moment’s reflection will show the propriety of it. Christ was continuing to press upon this woman the fact that she was a sinner, and therefore it was useless to occupy her mind with questions about places of worship. What she needed was salvation, and this salvation could only be had through the knowledge of God revealed as Father, in the face of Jesus Christ. Such is the ground, and the only ground, of true spiritual worship. In order to worship the Father we must know Him; and to know Him is salvation, and salvation is eternal life.

What a lesson is there here for every Christian worker respecting the manner to deal with anxious souls. When we are speaking to such, let us not occupy them with questions about sects and parties, churches and denominations, creeds and confessions. It is positively cruel to do so. What they need is salvation—to know God, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us shut them up to this one thing, and refuse to discuss anything else with them until they have received the Savior. Questions about church—membership, the ordinances, etc., have their place and interest; but manifestly they are not for convicted sinners. Too many are so foolishly anxious to swell the ranks of their party, that they are in grave danger of thinking more about getting people to join them than they are about leading anxious souls simply and fully to Christ. Let us study diligently the example of the perfect Teacher in His dealings with the woman of Sychar.

"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" (John 4:23). Here is the point which the Lord now presses upon this anxious soul. A new order of things was about to be established, and under it God would be manifested not as Jehovah (the covenant-keeping God) but as "the Father," and then the great question would not be where to worship, but how. Then the worshipper at Jerusalem will not be accounted the true worshipper because he worships there, nor the worshipper at Gerizim the false worshipper because he worships there; the one who worships in spirit and in truth, no matter where he may worship, he and he alone is the genuine worshipper.

To "worship in spirit," is to worship spiritually; to "worship in truth," is to worship truly. They are not two different kinds of worship, but two aspects of the same worship. To worship spiritually is the opposite of mere external rites which pertained to the flesh; instead, it is to give to God the homage of an enlightened mind and an affectionate heart. To worship Him truly is to worship Him according to the Truth, in a manner suited to the revelation He has made of Himself; and, no doubt, it also carries with it the force of worshipping truly, not in pretense, but sincerely. Such, and such alone, are the acceptable worshippers.

"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). This is a most important verse and treats of a most important but sadly misunderstood subject, namely, that of worship. Much of that which is termed "worship’ today is fleshly rather than spiritual, and is external and spectacular, rather than internal and reverential. What are all the ornate decorations in our church-houses for? the stained glass windows, the costly hangings and fittings, the expensive organs! But people at once reply, ‘But God’s house must be beautiful, and He surely loves to have it so.’ But why will not such objectors be honest, and say, ‘We love to have it so, and therefore, God should too’? Here, as everywhere else, God’s thoughts are entirely different from man’s. Look at the tabernacle which was made according to the pattern which Jehovah Himself showed to Moses in the mount! ‘Yes,’ people reply, ‘but look at Solomon’s temple!’ Ah, Solomon’s, truly. But look at it, and what do we see? Not one stone left upon another! Ah, dear reader, have you ever stopped to think what the future holds for this world and all its imposing structures? The world, and all that is therein, will be burned up! Not only the saloons and the picture shows, but also its magnificent cathedrals and stately churches, erected at enormous expense, while half of the human race was hastening to the Lake of Fire without any knowledge of Christ! Does this burning up of them look as though God esteemed them very highly? And if His people pondered this, would they be so ready to put so much of their money into them? After all, is it not the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye—denominational pride—which lies behind it all?

"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Note how emphatic this is—MUST. There is no alternative, no choice in the matter. This must is final. There are three "musts" in this Gospel, equally important and unequivocal. In John 3:7 we read, "Ye must be born again." In John 3:14, "The Son of man must be lifted up." In John 4:24, "God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth." It is indeed striking to observe that the first of these has reference to the work of God the Spirit, for He is the One who effects the new birth. The second "must" has reference to God the Son, for He was the One who had to die in order for atonement to be made. The third "must" respects God the Father, for He is the object of worship, the One who "seeketh" worshippers. And this order cannot be changed. It is only they who have been regenerated by God the Spirit, and justified by the Atonement of God the Son, who can worship God the Father. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 15:8).

What is worship? We answer: First, it is the action of the new nature seeking, as the sparks fly upward, to return to the Divine and heavenly source from which it came. Worship is one of the three great marks which evidences the presence of the new nature—"We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3)—in the Greek there is no article before "spirit" or flesh;" the spirit refers to the new nature, which is born of the Spirit.

In the second place, worship is the activity of a redeemed people. Israel did not worship Jehovah in Egypt; there they could only "sigh," and "cry," and "groan" (see Exodus 2:23, 24). It was not until Israel had passed through the Red Sea that we are told "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord" (Ex. 15:1); and note, this was the Song of Redemption—the words "redeemed" and "redemption" are not found in Scripture until this chapter is reached: see verse 13.

In the third place, worship proceeds from the heart. "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me" (Matthew 15:8, 9). Worship is a redeemed heart occupied with God, expressing itself in adoration and thanksgiving. Read through the Redemption Song, expression of Israel’s worship, in Exodus 15, and notice the frequent repetition of "Thou," "Thee," and "He." Worship, then, is the occupation of the heart with a known God; and everything which attracts the flesh and its senses, detracts from real worship.

"God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." There is no choice in the matter. This emphatic "must" bars out everything which is of the flesh. Worship is not by the eyes or the ears, but "in spirit," that is, from the new nature. The more spiritual is our worship the less formal and the less attractive to the flesh will it be. O how far astray we have gone! Modern "worship" (?) is chiefly designed to render it pleasing to the flesh: a ‘bright and attractive service’, with beautiful surroundings, sensuous music, and entertaining talks. What a mockery and a blasphemy! O that we all would heed that pointed word in Psalm 89:7; "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him"—how different things would then be.

Is a choir needed to ‘lead’ worship? What choir was needed to aid the Savior and His apostles as they sung that hymn in the upper room, ere going forth into the Garden? (Matthew 26:30). What choir was needed to assist the apostles, as with bleeding backs they sang praises to God in the Philippian dungeon? Singing to be acceptable to God must come from the heart. And to whom do the choirs sing—to God, or to the people? The attractiveness of singing has been substituted for "the foolishness of preaching." The place which music now holds in many of our public services is a solemn "sign of the times" to those who have eyes to see. But is music wrong? Has not God Himself bestowed the gift? Surely, but what we are now complaining about is church-singing that is professional and spectacular, that which is of the flesh, and rendered to please the ear of man. The only music which ever passes beyond the roof of the church in which it is rendered is that which issues from born again people, who "sing with grace in their hearts unto the Lord."

"God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." We must worship "in spirit," and not merely with the physical senses. We cannot worship by admiring grand architecture, by listening to the peals of a costly organ or the anthems of a highly trained choir. We cannot worship by gazing at pictures, smelling of incense, counting of beads. We cannot worship with our eyes or ears, noses or hands, for they are all "flesh," and not "spirit." Moreover, spiritual worship must be distinguished sharply from soulical worship, though there are few today who discriminate between them. Much, very much, of our modern so-called worship is soulical, that is, emotional. Music which makes one "feel good," touching anecdotes which draw tears, the magic oratory of a speaker which thrills his hearers, the clever showmanship of professional evangelists and singers who aim to ‘produce an atmosphere’ for worship (?) and which are designed to move the varied emotions of those in attendance, are so many examples of what is soulical and not spiritual at all. True worship, spiritual worship, is decorous, quiet, reverential, occupying the worshipper with God Himself; and the effect is to leave him not with a nervous headache (the inevitable reaction from the high tension produced by soulical activities) but with a peaceful heart and a rejoicing spirit.

"The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things" (John 4:25). Here is the Savior’s reward for His gracious patience in dealing with this woman. Slowly but surely the Word had done its work. At last this poor soul has been driven from every false refuge, and now she is ready for a revealed Savior. She is through with her prevarication and procrastinations. She had asked "How?", and Christ had graciously answered her. She had inquired "Whence?", and had received a kindly reply. She had said, "Where?", and this difficulty had been disposed of too. And now her questions ceased. She speaks with greater confidence and assurance—‘I know that Messias cometh." This was tantamount to saying, "I want Christ."

"Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he" (John 4:26). For the seventh and last time (in this interview) the Lord addressed this soul whose salvation He sought and won. The moment the Samaritan woman expressed her desire for Christ, He answers, "You have Him; He is now speaking to you." Nothing more was needed. The Savior of sinners stood revealed. That was enough. All was settled now. "It was not a mount nor a temple; Samaria nor Jerusalem. She had found Jesus—a Savior—God. A detected sinner and a revealed Savior have met face to face, and all is settled, once and forever. She discovered the wonderful fact that the One who had asked her for a drink, knew all about her—could tell her all that ever she did, and yet He talked to her of salvation. What more did she want? Nothing" (C. H. M.).

"And 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?" (John 4:27). Once again we may discern the providential dealings of God, regulating and directing the slightest movements of His creatures. These disciples of Christ left the Savior seated on the well, while they went into the city to buy meat (verse 8). Had they remained they would only have been in the way. The Lord desired to have this woman alone with Himself. His purpose in this had now been accomplished. Grace had achieved a glorious victory. Another brand had been plucked from the burning. The poor Samaritan adulteress had now been brought out of sin’s darkness into God’s marvelous light. The woman had plainly expressed her desire for the Christ to appear, and the Lord had revealed Himself to her. "And upon this came His disciples." Though they had not been permitted to hear what had been said between Christ and this woman, they returned in time to witness the happy finale. They needed to be taught a lesson. They must learn that the saving grace of God was not limited to Israel, that it was reaching out to sinners of the Gentiles, too. They "marvelled" as they beheld their Master talking to this despised Samaritan, but they held their peace. A Divine constraint arrested them. None of them dared to ask Him a question at that moment.

"The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city" (John 4:28). Here is the blessed climax. The patient work of the condescending Savior was now rewarded. The darkness was dissipated: "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6) now shone into the heart of this believing sinner. Four times had this woman referred directly to herself, and it is striking to note the contents and order of her respective statements. First, she acknowledged her thirst—"Give me this water that (in order that) I thirst not" (verse 15). Second, she confessed her sin—"I have no husband" (verse 17). Third, she evidenced a dawning intelligence—"I perceive" (v. 19). Fourth, she avowed her faith—"I know that Messias cometh" (v. 25). Finally, she leaves her waterpot and goes forth to testify of Christ.

"The woman then left her waterpot and went her way into the city." Notice carefully the word "then," which is parallel with the "upon this" of the previous verse. Both look back to what is recorded in verse 26—"Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am." It will be noted that the final word of this verse is in italics, which signifies there is no corresponding word in the Greek. Omitting the word "he" the verse as it reads in the A.V. is unintelligible. We are satisfied that the correct reading would give "Jesus saith unto her, I am that speaketh unto thee." It was the enunciation of the sacred "I am" title of Jehovah (see Exodus 3:14); it was the solemn affirmation that God was addressing her soul. It is a parallel utterance to John 8:58. The pronunciation of this ineffable Name was attended with awe-inspiring effects (cf. John 18:6). This explains, here, the silence of the disciples who marvelled when they found their Master talking with the woman, but asked Him no question. It accounts for that Divine constraint resting upon them. Moreover, it gives added force and significance to what we read of in verse 28—"The woman then left her waterpot." The weary Traveller by the well stood revealed as God manifest in flesh.

"The woman then left her waterpot." Ah, was not that a lovely sequel! She "left her waterpot" because she had now found a well of "living water." She had come to the well for literal water; that was what she had desired, and on what her mind was set. But now that she had obtained salvation, she thought no more of her "waterpot." It is ever thus. Once there is a clear perception of Christ to the soul, once He is known and received as a personal Savior, there will be a turning away from that on which before the carnal mind was centered. Her mind was now stayed upon Christ, and she had no thought of well, water, or waterpot. The Messias’ glory was now her end and aim. Henceforth, "for me to live is Christ" was her object and goal. She knew the Messiah now, not from hearsay, but from the personal revelation of Himself, and immediately she began to proclaim Him to others.

"And went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (John 4:28, 29). How beautiful! Transformed from a convicted sinner into a devoted saint. The work had been thorough—nothing could be put to it, nor anything taken from it: because God had done it (Ecclesiastes 3:14). There was no placing this woman on probation. There was no telling her she must hold out faithful to the end if she would be saved—wretched perversion of men! No; she was saved; saved for all eternity. Saved by grace through faith, apart from any works of her own. And now that she is saved, she wants to tell others of the Savior she had found. The love of Christ constrained her. She now had His nature within her, and therefore has she a heart of compassion of the lost.

"Christian reader, be this our work, henceforth. May our grand object be to invite sinners to come to Jesus. This woman began at once. No sooner had she found Christ for herself, than she forthwith entered upon the blessed work of leading others to His feet. Let us go and do likewise. Let us by word and deed—‘by all means,’ as the apostle says—seek to gather as many as possible around the Person of the Son of God. Some of us have to judge ourselves for lukewarmness in this blessed work. We see souls rushing along the broad and well-trodden highway that leadeth to eternal perdition, and yet, how little are we moved by the sight! How slow are we to sound in their ears, that true, that proper Gospel note, ‘Come!’ O, for more zeal, more energy, more fervor! May the Lord grant us such a deep sense of the value of immortal souls, the preciousness of Christ, and the awful solemnity of eternity, as shall constrain us to more urgent and faithful dealing with the souls of men" (C. H. M.).

"And saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? . . . Come" was the word of invitation that this newly-born soul extended to those men. It was a word she had learned from Christ’s own lips (verse 16). It is the great word of the Gospel. It is the word which has resulted in peace to countless hearts. The last recorded words of this woman show her now as an active servant for Christ. It is remarkable to find that this final word of the woman was her seventh—the perfect number. Seven times, no more and no less, had Christ spoken to her—telling of the perfectness of His work in dealing with her. Six times she spoke to Him (the number of man in the flesh) before she was fully saved; and then to this is added the last recorded word when she went forth to tell others of the One who had saved her; making seven in all—this last one, the seventh, evidencing the perfect work which Christ had wrought in her!

Our next lesson will be devoted to John 4:31-42. Let the interested reader study the following questions:—

1. What is the central theme of verses 31-42?

2. What does verse 31 reveal to us about the disciples?

3. What did Christ mean when He said that doing the will of God provided Him with "meat to eat"? verses 32, 34.

4. What "work" of the Father did Christ "finish"? verse 34.

5. In applying what is said in verse 38 to ourselves what should be the true effect upon us?

6. What does "the Savior of the world" signify? verse 42.