JOHN 4:24. — God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
THE words are part of the dialogue between our Saviour and the Samaritan woman. Christ, intending to return from Judea to Galilee, passed through the country of Samaria, a place inhabited not by Jews, but a mixed company o£ several nations, and some remainders of the posterity of Israel, who escaped the captivity, and were returned from Assyria; and being weary with his journey, arrived about the sixth hour or noon (according to the Jews’ reckoning the time of the day), at a well that Jacob had digged, which was of great account among the inhabitants for the antiquity of it, as well as the usefulness of it, in supplying their necessities: he being thirsty, and having none to furnish him wherewith to draw water, at last comes a woman from the city, whom he desires to give him some water to drink. The woman, perceiving him by his language or habit to be a Jew, wonders at the question, since the hatred the Jews bore the Samaritans was so great, that they would not vouchsafe to have any commerce with them, not only in religious, but civil affairs, and common offices belonging to mankind.
Hence our Saviour takes occasion to publish to her the doctrine of the gospel; and excuseth her rude answer by her ignorance of him; and tells her, that if she had asked him a greater matter, even that which concerned her eternal salvation, he would readily have granted it, notwithstanding the rooted hatred between the Jews and Samaritans; and bestowed a water of a greater virtue, the “water of life.” The woman is no less astonished at his reply than she was at his first demand. It was strange to hear a man speak of giving living water to one of whom he had begged the water of that spring, and had no vessel to draw any to quench his own thirst. She therefore demands whence he could have this water that he speaks of, since she conceived him not greater than Jacob, who had digged that well and drank of it. Our Saviour, desirous to make a progress in that work he had begun, extols the water he spake of, above this of the well, from its particular virtue fully to refresh those that drank of it, and be as a cooling and comforting fountain within them, of more efficacy than that without.
The woman, conceiving a good opinion of our Saviour, desires to partake of this water, to save her pains in coming daily to the well, not apprehending the spirituality of Christ’s discourse to her: Christ finding her to take some pleasure in his discourse, partly to bring her to a sense of her sin, before he did communicate the excellenty of his grace, bids her return back to the city and bring her husband with her to him. She freely acknowledges that she had no husband; whether having some check of conscience at present for the unclean life she led, or loth to lose so much time in the gaining this water so much desired by her: our Saviour takes an occasion from this to lay open her sin before her, and to make her sensible of her own wicked life and the prophetic excellency of himself; and tells her she had had five husbands, to whom she had been false, and by whom she was divorced, and the person she now dwelt with was not her lawful husband, and in living with him she violated the rights of marriage, and increased guilt upon her conscience.
The woman being affected with this discourse, and knowing him to be a stranger that could not be certified of those things but in an extraordinary way, begins to have a high esteem of him as a prophet. And upon this opinion she esteems him able to decide a question, which had been canvassed between them and the Jews, about the place of worship. Their fathers worshiping in that mountain, and the Jews affirming Jerusalem to be a pace of worship, she pleads the antiquity of the worship in this place, Abraham having built an altar there (Gen. 12:7), and Jacob, apon his return from Syria. And, surely, had the pace been capable of an exception, such persons as they, and so well acquainted with the will of God, would not have pitched upon that place to celebrate their worship. Antiquity hath, too, too often bewitched the minds of men, and drawn them from the revealed will of God. Men are more willing to imitate the outward actions of their famous ancestors, than conform themselves to the revealed will of their Creator. The Samaritans would imitate the patriarchs in the place of worship, but not in the faith of the worshippers. Christ answers her, that this question would quickly be resolved by a new state of the church, which was near at hand; and neither Jerusalem, which had now the precedency, nor that mountain, should be of any more value in that concern, than any other place in the world: but yet, to make her sensible of her am and that of her countrymen, tells her, that their worship in that mountain was not according to the will of God, he having long after the altars built in this place, fixed Jerusalem as the place of sacrifices; besides, they had not the knowledge of that God which ought to be worshipped by them, but the Jews had the “true object of worship,” and the “true manner of worship, according to the declaration God had made of himself to them.” But all that service shall vanish, the veil of the temple shall be rent in twain, and that carnal worship give place to one more spiritual; shadows shall fly before substance, and truth advance itself above figures; and the worship of God shall be with the strength of the Spirit: such a worship, and such worshippers doth the Father seek; for “God is a Spirit: and those that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” The design of our Saviour is to declare, that God is not taken with external worship invented by men, no, nor commanded by himself; and that upon this reason, because he is a spiritual essence, infinitely above gross and corporeal matter, and is not taken with that pomp which is a pleasure to our earthly imaginations.