Most Christians want to share their faith with their non-Christians friends. Yet for a variety of reasons this is often easier said than done. We have a case study in how Jesus spoke to the woman he met at Jacob’s well. In the following updated extract, George Hutcheson picks out several striking aspects of how Jesus interacted with her to win her soul to Himself for salvation. As we observe His heart and His words we should be able to find guidance for how we can and should introduce Him to the people we meet too.
In John 4, John records what Christ did and the success He had on His way to Galilee, in bringing a soul to Himself. While He was sitting by the well, a woman of Samaria came to draw water. They had a conversation, in which He led her from one thing to another, till she came to know Him to be the Messiah.
Jesus comes close to sinners
Providence may be intending much mercy to those who are unworthy of it, and who have little thought of it. This woman, who was guilty of vile sins, came to fetch water, and no thought of anything else. Yet providence brought her to meet the Saviour of sinners, and at a time when He was actually feeling weary and thirsty. In this way He was an appropriate Lord to deal with such an unfeeling woman.
Christ is a Lord who will not be stopped by any impediment, but will overcome everything, to reconcile sinners to Himself. He doesn’t even keep a distance from Samaritans, not even a lewd woman among them. He counts it His glory to win someone so unlikely to Himself.
Jesus introduces Himself to those who do not know Him
When Christ spoke to her, He lets her see how much she mistook her own mercy (verse 10). If she had known Him, she would not only not have refused His request, but would have instead requested something from Him, and He would have given her better and living water (by which we are to understand the Spirit of God, and the graces of the Spirit acted by Him, John 7:38-39). Christ’s meekness passes over a lot of frowardness, which He finds in His own in the time of their conversion. By His goodness He overcomes their badness.
Ignorance of Christ, and what He has (and is ready) to give, is a major reason why sinners treat Him so badly. “If only you knew!” Christ says. He is known rightly and savingly when He and all He has are looked on as freely gifted to the world by the Father (as well as by Himself) and made theirs by offer to be embraced. This is why He is named “the gift of God.”
It greatly adds to Christ’s reputation that He is the one who makes the effort to come to sinners, and He pre-empts them by making offers of Himself. And when Christ is rightly known, as offered to the world for the salvation of lost sinners, it will beget a thirst for Him. It gets souls seeking for Him by prayer to supply their thirst, and they cannot stay away from Him. They see Him seeking sinners, to give something – salvation! – to them, more than to receive anything from them.
This woman, rather than refusing Him a drink of water, should have asked for water from Him! Christ has better things to give sinners, then anything He can ask from them, or anything they can offer Him. The well of life is in Christ’s hand, to dispense it as He wishes. Instead of her water, He has living water to give her.
Christ, who makes offer of grace before we seek it, will not refuse it to those who ask it. Nor do our past sins hinder us from being accepted by Him when we come to seek grace from Him. Even to this wicked woman He says, “If you had asked, He would have given you living water.”
Jesus persists against misunderstandings and disbelief
When the woman replies, she argues against Christ’s offer, alleging that this water either had to come out of the well – which was impossible, seeing the well was deep, and he had nothing to draw with – or this water had to come out of a better well, which would mean Christ was making Himself out to be better than Jacob (verse 11).
When we are unconverted we can’t help taking up spiritual things in a carnal way. People are not able to discern grace till they have it. This woman understood Christ as if he were speaking of elementary water.
We are also naturally enemies to our own good. Far from preparing ourselves for conversion, we are prone to dispute against our own happiness, and deceive ourselves, just like this woman reasoning against this living water because, in her judgement, it was impossible to be had or given.
We are also naturally so addicted to our own carnal sense, that we will believe nothing revealed by Christ further then we can see a reason or outward appearance for it. This woman decided it was impossible that Christ could have living water, seeing He could not draw it out of that well, nor could He show her a better well.
Jesus highlights the excellence of what He gives
But Christ does not carp at her contradicting and carnal spirit (verses 13-14). Instead He points out the excellency of his offer, so far above what she gloried in. The water she spoke so much of could not give any abiding satisfaction, even to the body, but His living water would have enduring and enlivening effects and satisfaction until it is completed in glory.
The water of life is something which Christ purchased, yet it comes to us, who cannot buy it, as His free gift. His offer includes a promise of giving it to everyone who will receive it in the due order, without respect of persons.
And the Spirit of Christ and His grace in believers is not a stream or a pond that may run dry, but a well, and a springing well, of inexhaustible fullness, virtue and refreshment. Nor is it the kind of well which may rot and make water taste bad. Instead it is a springing well, always fresh, always watering all around. The Spirit and grace of Christ flows out in all the behaviour of those who receive it, making them fruitful. They never stop doing good things (the more they do, there is still more coming to hand to do) and they are active and vigorous in what they do. Their graces flow out also on others, for their good and edification, according to the place and the calling God has given them.
Jesus exposes what is wrong in her life
When the woman next responds, she expresses a desire to have this water, but for her own ends (verse 15). The barriers of ignorance and wickedness even in the elect, hindering them from Christ, are not easily overcome. Whether she spoke by way of derision, or whether instead Christ’s spiritual preaching had shown her something desirable in these things (as may happen even in natural minds) yet she took them up but in a natural way, and accordingly her desire is only carnal.
So Christ, having prevailed so little by his offer and commendation of free grace, now exposes her misery to her. By this she is at length, and by degrees, brought to know Him. He tells her to call her husband, and when she denied she had a husband, He commends her frankness, and lets her see that He knew her the wickedness of her life (verses 16-18).
We know little and care little about grace as long as we do not know our misery. So where the offer of mercy does not persuade, Christ will expose their misery to His own people. When His first offers had no success, He pierces into this woman’s heart.
Still, Christ is very meek and tender, even in exposing people’s misery and need of salvation, as long as they are not incorrigible. He prefers they should judge and accuse themselves, so that He may deal tenderly with them. He so mildly tells her to fetch her husband, in order to draw a confession out of her own mouth.
Jesus is sensitive in convicting of sin
It is not every sin which the unconverted are guilty of which they are at first capable of being convicted about. Not every sin is odious to everyone in every condition. There are some sins which only grace, and much grace, and grace in exercise, will see to be sinful. Although this woman was guilty of many other sins, yet Christ picks out only this sin of gross immorality, as something which would be seen best by her.
Additionally, it is not every sight of sin that will convict the sinner, but Christ must drive it home on the conscience, and reveal it as marked by His all-searching eye, before it will have any effect. The woman knew her own situation, but without any sense of why it mattered – not until Christ pierced through to her heart, and let her see that He knew her.
Yet Christ will commend a small good under a lot of dross. He treats a true acknowledgement, even of a heinous crime, as something commendable. That is why He makes so much of her confession, “Thou hast well said! Thou saidest truly.”
Jesus often takes things slowly
Now the woman comes to think He may be a prophet. So when Christ exposes sin, and makes the sinner to be touched with it, this breeds more respect and higher estimation of Him.
Yet the work of illumination in the elect may have weak beginnings at the first, and what appear to be very high thoughts of Christ may come far short of His worth. For her to perceive Him a prophet was a huge step for her, yet it was far beneath what He was (and what she realised about Him later).
The Lord may see it fit to awaken and convert a great sinner very gently at first. In this way He shows His abundant tender mercy, so that they will not be deterred from coming to put their trust in Him, Especially, He does not want those who live at a great distance from ordinances and the society of God’s people to be overcharged with difficulties which they cannot get through alone.
Jesus reveals Himself to those who want to know Him
As they continue speaking, the woman is reminded that she has heard that the Messiah is coming. Christ then assures her that He is that same person!
Some knowledge of the mysteries of religion may be found among those who otherwise are very far lost.
Christ is not far off from any who have a high estimation of Him, and a desire for Him, however great the distance seems to be to themselves. To this woman, He says, “I am he!”
Christ not only came into the world, but was pleased to converse with the vilest of sinners to do them good. “I am he that speaketh unto thee, a lewd woman, and a scoffer.”
This shows us also His great compassion towards needy sinners. He will reveal Himself to them, when He lets others lie in darkness. He forbade His disciples to make Him known, and refused to answer many captious and tempting questions from the Jews about who He was, yet He did not conceal himself from this Samaritan, now convinced of her need of Him.
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