Great Texts of the Bible
No More Thirst
Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.—John 4:13-14.
1. Those who have read with care the addresses of Christ must be struck, not only with their illustrative character, but, which is very important in the use of illustrations, with their perfect adaptation to the case in point. The force of His imagery is heightened by the fact that the emblems and figures used were taken from objects which the audience had in view at the time He addressed them, and from external things with which their minds were thoroughly familiar, and in which they had a special interest. When the multitudes sought Him at Capernaum for “the meat which perisheth,” He began to speak of “the meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” In the case before us, He gradually leads the mind of the woman of Samaria from the material water which she was drawing from the well of Jacob, to the “living water” that He could give, and which would be in her “a well of living water springing up unto eternal life.”
2. There are two kinds of wells, one a simple reservoir, another containing the waters of a spring. It is the latter kind that is spoken about here, as is clear not only from the meaning of the word in the Greek, but also from the description of it as “springing up.” That suggests at once the activity of a fountain. A fountain is the emblem of motion, not of rest. Its motion is derived from itself, not imparted to it from without. Its “silvery column” rises ever heavenward, though gravitation is too strong for it, and drags it back again. So Christ promised to this ignorant, sinful Samaritan woman that if she chose He would plant in her soul a gift which would thus well up, by its own inherent energy, and fill her spirit with music, and refreshment, and satisfaction.
The Thirst of the Soul
“Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” It is not difficult to discern traces of this thirst in the faces of those whom we meet in the common way. If we take our stand at the corner of the street and scan the faces of the passing crowd, it is only now and again that we gaze upon a countenance which is significant of peace. How rarely the face suggests the joy and the serenity of a healthy satisfaction. We are confronted by an abounding unrest. The majority of people seem to be afflicted with the pain of unsatisfied want. The very faces are suggestive of a disquieting thirst. We have a varied vocabulary in which we describe this prevailing condition:—“restless,” “discontented,” “dissatisfied,” “not right with himself.”
Water is an essential of animal and vegetable life. With a constantly recurring appetite we seek it. To have no thirst is a symptom of disease or death. But the soul also, not having life in itself, needs to be sustained from without; and when in a healthy state it seeks by a natural appetite that which will sustain it. And as most of our mental acts are spoken of in terms of the body, as we speak of seeing truth and grasping it, as if the mind had hands and eyes, so David naturally exclaims, “My soul thirsts for the living God.” In the living soul there is a craving for that which maintains and revives its life, which is analogous to the thirst of the body for water. The dead alone feel no thirst for God. The soul that is alive sees for a moment the glory and liberty and joy of the life to which God calls us; it feels the attraction of a life of love, purity, and righteousness, but it seems continually to sink from this and to tend to become dull and feeble, and to have no joy in goodness. Just as the healthy body delights in work, but wearies and cannot go on exerting itself for many hours together, but must repair its strength, so the soul soon wearies and sinks back from what is difficult, and needs to be revived by its appropriate refreshment.1 [Note: M. Dods.]
I think there is something implanted in man’s heart, fallen creature as he is, which defies him to be content with anything but God alone. It is a trace of original majesty, which leaves a mark of what he was before the fall. He is always panting for something fresh; and that is no sooner attained than it palls upon his taste. And this strong necessity of loving something makes a man form idols for himself, which he invests with fancied perfections, and when all these fade away in his grasp, and he finds their unsubstantiality, he must become either a misanthrope or a Christian. When a man has learned to know the infinite love of God in Christ to him, then he discovers something which will not elude his hold, and an affection which will not grow cold; for the comparison of God’s long-suffering and repeated pardon, with his own heartless ingratitude, convinces him that it is an unchangeable love.1 [Note: Life and Letters of F. W. Robertson, 57.]
O God, where do they tend—these struggling aims?
What would I have? What is this “sleep” which seems
To bound all? Can there be a waking point
Of crowning life? The soul would never rule;
It would be first in all things, it would have
Its utmost pleasure filled, but, that complete,
Commanding, for commanding, sickens it.
The last point I can trace is—rest beneath
Some better essence than itself, in weakness;
This is “myself,” not what I think should be:
And what is that I hunger for but God?2 [Note: Browning, Pauline.]
The Wells of the World
All things that are of earth are unsatisfactory. Our spirit craves for something more than time and sense can yield it. Nothing which comes of earth, even if it should yield a transient satisfaction, can long maintain its excellence. Pointing to the water in Jacob’s well, our Lord said, “Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again”; and therein He took up His parable against all earthly things, whether they be fame, or riches, or fleshly pleasure, or aught else beneath the sun. He that drinks at these shallow wells shall not quench his thirst, or if for a time he imagines that he has so done, he will be undeceived, and in a little season the old craving will return. “That which is born of the flesh” is flesh even at its best, and “all flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth.” The religion of the flesh shares in the common fate, if it has a man’s own self for its author, his own energy as its impulse, and his own opinions for its creed. It may for a little while flourish like the flower of the field, but “the wind passeth over it and it is gone.” Waters from his own cistern may stay a man’s desires for a space, but ere long he must thirst again.
Too often we try to allay a spiritual thirst by a carnal draught. When Newman in his early life was burdened with the sense of his own shortcomings in the presence of his Lord, and his letters home lacked their usual buoyancy, his mother wrote to him:—“Your father and I fear very much from the tone of your letters that you are depressed. We fear you debar yourself a proper quantity of wine.” That is a type of suggestion which is often made to people who are troubled with spiritual unrest. They are recommended to material ministries by which their feverish unrest is only intensified and inflamed. But they “thirst again.” Others make an attempt to realize satisfaction and peace by immersing themselves in stimulants like novel-reading and theatre-going, and in the manifold pleasures of society. They intensify the social stimulant. Yet they “thirst again.” Others plunge more deeply into business. The songster is languishing! How then? Re-gild his cage. The soul is languishing! How then? Re-gild her cage. Seek for more gold, more gold, and surround the soul with material treasure. And yet the soul refuses to be appeased, and “thirsts again.” Or, again, we give opiates to our disquieted and feverish souls. How many people find an opiate in making a promise to amend. They find contentment in their intentions. But the satisfaction is only transient. They speedily awake out of their unnatural rest, and they are thirsty still. Others give themselves the opiate of self-disparagement. Many a man thinks he is becoming better because he severely condemns himself. They esteem it a sign of virtue to denounce themselves as fools. They discover a sort of spiritual comfort from their own self-severity. All these are pitiable evasions. At the best they are only transient ministries, which, when their immediate influence passes away, leave us in deepened disquietude and intensified unrest.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Thirsting for the Springs, 140.]
No man is so poor, so low, so narrow in capacity, so limited in heart and head, but he needs a whole God to make him restful. Nothing else will. To seek for satisfaction elsewhere is like sailors who in their desperation, when the water-tanks are empty, slake their thirst with the treacherous blue that washes cruelly along the battered sides of their ship. A moment’s alleviation is followed by the recurrence, in tenfold intensity, of the pangs of thirst, and by madness, and death. Do not drink the salt water that flashes and rolls by your side when you can have recourse to the fountain of life that is with God.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
There is a Persian legend of the well of Chidher, the fountain of eternal youth, which men are ever seeking and never find.
Thee have thousands sought in vain
Over land and barren main,
Chidher’s well,—of which men say,
That thou makest young again;
Fountain of eternal youth,
Washing free from every stain.
To thy waves the aged moons
Aye betake them, when they wane;
And the suns their golden light,
While they bathe in thee, retain.
From that fountain drops are flung,
Mingling with the vernal rain,
And the old earth clothes itself
In its young attire again.
Thitherward the freckled trout
Up the water-courses strain,
And the timid wild gazelles
Seek it through the desert plain.
Great Iskander, mighty lord,
Sought that fountain, but in vain;
Through the land of darkness went
In its quest with fruitless pain,
When by wealth of conquered worlds
Did his thirst unslaked remain.
Many more with parched lip
Must lie down and dizzy brain,
And of that, a fountain sealed
Unto them, in death complain.
If its springs to thee are known,
Weary wanderer, tell me plain.
From beneath the throne of God
It must well, a lucid vein;
To its sources lead me, Lord,
That I do not thirst again,
And my lips not any more
Shall the earth’s dark waters stain.1 [Note: R. C. Trench, Chidher’s Well.]
The Eternal Spring
1. What, then, is this “living water”—this thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying gift promised by Christ? The answer may be put in various ways, which really all come to one. It is Himself, the unspeakable Gift, His own greatest gift; or it is the Spirit “which they that believe on him should receive,” and whereby He comes and dwells in men’s hearts; or it is the resulting life, kindred with the life bestowed, a consequence of the indwelling Christ and the present Spirit. And so the promise is that they who believe on Him and rest upon His love shall receive into their spirits a new life-principle which shall rise in their hearts like a fountain, “springing up unto everlasting life.”
2. As regards this wonderful water, there are four points to be specially noted.
(1) It is a gift of God.—“The water that I shall give him,” says Christ. There is no suggestion as to digging deep with much learning into the bowels of mysterious truth to find the water for ourselves; this priceless draught is freely handed out to us by our Redeemer, without our bringing either bucket or line. There is no hint in the text that we are to purchase the life-giving water; it is presented to us without money and without price. There is no allusion to a certain measure of fitness to qualify us for the draught, it is purely a gift to be received by us here and now. Our Lord told the woman that had she known the gift of God she would have asked and He would have given. Sinner as she was, she had only to ask and have. There is no other way of obtaining eternal life but as the free gift of sovereign grace.
The divine gift of eternal life is not in us by nature. It cannot be produced in us by culture, or infused into us by ceremonies, or propagated in us by natural descent; it must come as a boon of infinite charity from heaven, unpurchased, undeserved. Wisdom cannot impart it, power cannot fashion it, money cannot buy it, merit cannot procure it, grace alone can give it. If men desire wages they may earn them beneath the mastership of sin, for “the wages of sin is death.” On the side of God all is of grace, for “the gift of God is eternal life.” Whoever, then, is to be saved must be saved by the boundless charity of God—in other words, by the free gift of the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
(2) It is a fountain within.—“It shall be in him,” it is something that we may carry about with us in our hearts, inseparable from our being, free from all possibility of being filched away by violence, rent from us by sorrows, or even parted from us by death. What a man has outside of him he only seems to have. Our real possessions are those which have passed into the substance of our souls. All else we shall leave behind. The only good is inward good; and this water of life slakes our thirst because it flows into the deepest place of our being, and abides there for ever.
I stood a little while ago in the fine old ruin of Middleham Castle. I passed beyond the outer shell, and beyond the inner defences into the keep, and there in the innermost sanctum of the venerable pile was the old well. The castle was independent of outside supplies. If it were besieged it had resources of water at its own heart. The changing seasons made no difference to the gracious supply. That is the purpose of our Master in placing the “well” within us. He wants to make us independent of external circumstances. Whatever be the season that reigns without, He wants fulness and vitality to reign within. So the Master’s gift is the gift of a well, “springing up,” leaping up, “unto eternal life.” We are renewed “by his Spirit in the inner man.”2 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
(3) It is a springing fountain.—“The water that I shall give him shall become in him a springing fountain”; it shall not lie there stagnant, but shall leap like a living thing, up into the sunshine, and flash there, turned into diamonds when the bright rays smile upon it. Here is the promise of activity. There seems small blessing, in this overworked world, in a promise of more active exertion; but what an immense part of our nature lies dormant and torpid if we are not Christians! How much of the work that is done is dreary, wearisome, collar-work, against the grain. Do not the wheels of life often go slowly? Are we not often weary of the inexpressible monotony and fatigue? And do we not go to our work sometimes, though with a fierce feeling of “need-to-do-it,” yet also with inward repugnance? And are there not great parts of our nature that have never wakened into activity at all, and are ill at ease, because there is no field of action provided for them? The mind is like millstones; if we do not put the wheat into them to grind, they will grind each other’s faces. So some of us are fretting ourselves to pieces, or are sick of a vague disease, and are morbid and miserable because the highest and noblest parts of our nature have never been brought into exercise. Surely this promise of Christ’s should come as a true gospel to such, offering, as it does, if we will trust ourselves to Him, a springing fountain of activity in our hearts that shall fill our whole being with joyous energy, and make it a delight to live and to work. It will bring to us new powers, new motives; it will set all the wheels of life going at double speed. We shall be quickened by the presence of that mighty power, even as a dim taper is brightened and flames up when plunged into a jar of oxygen. And life will be delight-some in its hardest toil, when it is toil for the sake of, and by the indwelling strength of, that great Lord and Master of our work.
The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit rises superior to all disadvantages, like a spring which cannot be kept under, do what we may. Our engineers and builders know how hard it is to bind up the earth-floods from overflowing, and the spiritual floods are yet more unconquerable. It is wonderful how springs will bubble up in places where we least expect them. The great desert of Sahara will no doubt be made a very easy county to traverse, and, perhaps, may even become a fertile plain, from the fact that there is water everywhere at no very great depth below the surface, and where it is reached an oasis is formed. The government of Algeria has sent engineers into parts of the Sahara bordering on the French possession, and these men have bored the rock by Artesian wells, and greatly astonished the natives; for in the wilderness have waters leaped out and streams in the desert. At the magic touch of the living water, palm trees have sprung up and an undergrowth of vegetation, so that the solitary places have been made to sing together. When the Lord gives our souls to drink from the fountains of the great deep of His own eternal love, and to have a vital principle of grace within us, our wilderness rejoices and blossoms as the rose, and the Sahara around us cannot wither our verdure; our soul is as an oasis, though all around is barrenness.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
In the mid garden doth a fountain stand;
From font to font its waters fall alway,
Freshening the leaves by their continual play:—
Such often have I seen in southern land,
While every leaf, as though by light winds fanned,
Has quivered underneath the dazzling spray,
Keeping its greenness all the sultry day,
While others pine aloof, a parchèd band.
And in the mystic garden of the soul
A fountain, nourished from the upper springs,
Sends ever its clear waters up on high,
Which while a dewy freshness round it flings,
All plants which there acknowledge its control
Show fair and green, else drooping, pale, and dry.2 [Note: Trench, Poems, 144.]
(4) It is an eternal fountain.—The water of a fountain rises by its own impulse, but however its silver column may climb it always falls back into its marble basin. But this fountain rises higher, and at each successive jet higher, tending towards, and finally touching, its goal, which is at the same time its source. The water seeks its own level, and the fountain climbs until it reaches Him from whom it comes, and the eternal life in which He lives. The Christian character is identical in both worlds, and however the forms and details of pursuit may vary, the essential principle remains one. So that the life of a Christian man on earth and his life in heaven are but one stream, as it were, which may, indeed, like some of those American rivers, run for a time through a deep, dark cañon, or in an underground passage, but comes out at the farther end into broader, brighter plains and summer lands; where it flows with a quieter current and with the sunshine reflected on its untroubled surface, into the calm ocean. He has one gift and one life for earth and heaven—Christ and His Spirit, and the life that is consequent upon both.
“It shall be in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.” The grace continues with us, and overflows into a blessed immortality. The Spirit that redeems will also perfect. Whatever may be our estate when it finds us, our ultimate attainments will be the likeness of the Lord. The living water rises from Heaven, and rises towards Heaven. We shall at length be presented blameless before the Throne of God.
“Never thirst.” That does not mean that in the Christian life desire is ended. “The ill of all ills is the death of desire.” In the redeemed life desire is intense and wakeful. There is desiring, but no despairing. There is longing, but no languishing. There is fervour, but no fever. There is aspiration and contentment. There is striving and rest. We still thirst for the fulness of grace not yet received, but there is no pain in the thirst. In the Christian life the very thirst for greater fulness is itself a delight. If I may quote Calvin, “Believers know desire, but they do not know drought.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
My spirit longeth for Thee,
Within my troubled breast,
Altho’ I be unworthy
Of so divine a Guest.
Of so divine a Guest,
Unworthy tho’ I be,
Yet has my heart no rest,
Unless it come from Thee.
Unless it come from Thee,
In vain I look around;
In all that I can see,
No rest is to be found.
No rest is to be found,
But in Thy blessed love;
O! let my wish be crown’d,
And send it from above!2 [Note: J. Byrom.]
No More Thirst
Banks (L. A.), Christ and His Friends, 154.
Bardsley (J. W.), Illustrative Texts and Texts Illustrated, 65.
Hodges (G.), The Human Nature of the Saints, 230.
Hopkins (E. H.), The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, 55.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Gospel in Action, 261.
Jay (W.), Short Discourses, ii. 447.
Jowett (J. H.), Thirsting for the Springs, 18, 137.
Liddon (H. P.), Passiontide Sermons, 244.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John i.–viii., 214.
Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Hours, 75.
Parker (J.), Studies in Texts, v. 154.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xv. (1869) No. 864; xx. (1874) No. 1202.
Tyndall (C. H.), Object Lessons for Children, 26.
Wells (J.), Bible Echoes, 169.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxix. 232 (Evans).