John 4
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,
Chapter 4

It was, more than any thing else, the glory of the land of Israel, that it was Emmanuel’s land (Isa. 8:8), not only the place of his birth, but the scene of his preaching and miracles. This land in our Saviour’s time was divided into three parts: Judea in the south, Galilee in the north, and Samaria lying between them. Now, in this chapter, we have Christ in each of these three parts of that land. I. Departing out of Judea (v. 1-3). II. Passing through Samaria, which, though a visit in transitu, here takes up most room. 1. His coming into Samaria (v. 4-6). 2. His discourse with the Samaritan woman at a well (v. 7–26). 3. The notice which the woman gave of him to the city (v. 27–30). 4. Christ’s talk with his disciples in the meantime (v. 31–38). 5. The good effect of this among the Samaritans (v. 39–42). III. We find him residing for some time in Galilee (v. 43–46), and his curing a nobleman’s son there, that was at death’s door (v. 46–54).

Verses 1-3

We read of Christ’s coming into Judea (ch. 3:22), after he had kept the feast at Jerusalem; and now he left Judea four months before harvest, as is said here (v. 35); so that it is computed that he staid in Judea about six months, to build upon the foundation John had laid there. We have no particular account of his sermons and miracles there, only in general, v. 1.

I. That he made disciples; he prevailed with many to embrace his doctrine, and to follow him as a teacher come from God. His ministry was successful, notwithstanding the opposition it met with (Ps. 110:2, 3); matheµtas poiei—it signifies the same with matheµteuoµ—to disciples. Compare Gen. 12:5. The souls which they had gotten, which they had made (so the word is), which they had made proselytes. Note, It is Christ’s prerogative to make disciples, first to bring them to his foot, and then to form and fashion them to his will. Fit, non nascitur, Christianus—The Christian is made such, not born such. Tertullian.

II. That he baptized those whom he made disciples, admitted them by washing them with water; not himself, but by the ministry of his disciples, v. 2. 1. Because he would put a difference between his baptism and that of John, who baptized all himself; for he baptized as a servant, Christ as a master. 2. He would apply himself more to preaching work, which was the more excellent, 1 Co. 1:17. 3. He would put honour upon his disciples, by empowering and employing them to do it; and so train them up to further services. 4. If he had baptized some himself, they would have been apt to value themselves upon that, and despise others, which he would prevent, as Paul, 1 Co. 1:13, 14. 5. He would reserve himself for the honour of baptizing with the Holy Ghost, Acts 1:5. 6. He would teach us that the efficacy of the sacraments depends not on any virtue in the hand that administers them, as also that what is done by his ministers, according to his direction, he owns as done by himself.

III. That he made and baptized more disciples than John; not only more than John did at this time, but more than he had done at any time. Christ’s converse was more winning than John’s. His miracles were convincing, and the cures he wrought gratis very inviting.

IV. That the Pharisees were informed of this; they heard what multitudes he baptized, for they had, from his first appearing, a jealous eye upon him, and wanted not spies to give them notice concerning him. Observe, 1. When the Pharisees thought they had got rid of John (for he was by this time imprisoned), and were pleasing themselves with that, Jesus appears, who was a greater vexation to them than ever John had been. The witnesses will rise again. 2. That which grieved them was that Christ made so many disciples. The success of the gospel exasperates its enemies, and it is a good sign that it is getting ground when the powers of darkness are enraged against it.

V. That our Lord Jesus knew very well what informations were given in against him to the Pharisees. It is probable the informers were willing to have their names concealed, and the Pharisees loth to have their designs known; but none can dig so keep as to hide their counsels from the Lord (Isa. 29:15), and Christ is here called the Lord. He knew what was told the Pharisees, and how much, it is likely, it exceeded the truth; for it is not likely that Jesus had yet baptized more than John; but so the thing was represented, to make him appear the more formidable; see 2 Ki. 6:12.

VI. That hereupon our Lord Jesus left Judea and departed again to go to Galilee.

1. He left Judea, because he was likely to be persecuted there even to the death; such was the rage of the Pharisees against him, and such their impious policy to devour the man-child in his infancy. To escape their designs, Christ quitted the country, and went where what he did would be less provoking than just under their eye. For, (1.) His hour was not yet come (ch. 7:30), the time fixed in the counsels of God, and the Old-Testament prophecies, for Messiah’s being cut off. He had not finished his testimony, and therefore would not surrender or expose himself. (2.) The disciples he had gathered in Judea were not able to bear hardships, and therefore he would not expose them. (3.) Hereby he gave an example to his own rule: When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. We are not called to suffer, while we may avoid it without sin; and therefore, though we may not, for our own preservation, change our religion, yet we may change our place. Christ secured himself, not by a miracle, but in a way common to men, for the direction and encouragement of his suffering people.

2. He departed into Galilee, because he had work to do there, and many friends and fewer enemies. He went to Galilee now, (1.) Because John’s ministry had now made way for him there; for Galilee, which was under Herod’s jurisdiction, was the last scene of John’s baptism. (2.) Because John’s imprisonment had now made room for him there. That light being now put under a bushel, the minds of people would not be divided between him and Christ. Thus both the liberties and restraints of good ministers are for the furtherance of the gospel, Phil. 1:12. But to what purpose does he go into Galilee for safety? Herod, the persecutor of John, will never be the protector of Jesus. Chemnitius here notes, Pii in hâc vitâ quos fugiant habent; ad quos vero fugiant ut in tuto sint non habent, nisi ad te, Deus, qui solus regugium nostrum es—The pious have those, in this life, to whom they can fly; but they have none to fly to, who can afford them refuge, except thee, O God.

And he must needs go through Samaria.
Verses 4-26

We have here an account of the good Christ did in Samaria, when he passed through that country in his way to Galilee. The Samaritans, both in blood and religion, were mongrel Jews, the posterity of those colonies which the king of Assyria planted there after the captivity of the ten tribes, with whom the poor of the land that were left behind, and many other Jews afterwards, incorporated themselves. They worshipped the God of Israel only, to whom they erected a temple on mount Gerizim, in competition with that at Jerusalem. There was great enmity between them and the Jews; the Samaritans would not admit Christ, when they saw he was going to Jerusalem (Lu. 9:53); the Jews thought they could not give him a worse name than to say, He is a Samaritan. When the Jews were in prosperity, the Samaritans claimed kindred to them (Ezra 4:2), but, when the Jews were in distress, they were Medes and Persians; see Joseph. Antiq. 11.340-341; 12.257. Now observe,

I. Christ’s coming into Samaria. He charged his disciples not to enter into any city of the Samaritans (Mt. 10:5), that is, not to preach the gospel, or work miracles; nor did he here preach publicly, or work any miracle, his eye being to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. What kindness he here did them was accidental; it was only a crumb of the children’s bread that casually fell from the master’s table.

1. His road from Judea to Galilee lay through the country of Samaria (v. 4): He must needs go through Samaria. There was no other way, unless he would have fetched a compass on the other side Jordan, a great way about. The wicked and profane are at present so intermixed with God’s Israel that, unless we will go out of the world, we cannot avoid going through the company of such, 1 Co. 5:10. We have therefore need of the armour or righteousness on the right hand and on the left, that we may neither give provocation to them nor contract pollution by them. We should not go into places of temptation but when we needs must; and then we should not reside in them, but hasten through them. Some think that Christ must needs go through Samaria because of the good work he had to do there; a poor woman to be converted, a lost sheep to be sought and saved. This was work his heart was upon, the therefore he must needs go this way. It was happy for Samaria that it lay in Christ’s way, which gave him an opportunity of calling on them. When I passed by thee, I said unto thee, Live, Eze. 16:6.

2. His baiting place happened to be at a city of Samaria. Now observe,

(1.) The place described. It was called Sychar; probably the same with Sichem, or Shechem, a place which we read much of in the Old Testament. Thus are the names of places commonly corrupted by tract of time. Shechem yielded the first proselyte that ever came into the church of Israel (Gen. 34:24), and now it is the first place where the gospel is preached out of the commonwealth of Israel; so Dr. Lightfoot observes; as also that the valley of Achor, which was given for a door of hope, hope to the poor Gentiles, ran along by this city, Hos. 2:15. Abimelech was made king here; it was Jeroboam’s royal seat; but the evangelist, when he would give us the antiquities of the place, takes notice of Jacob’s interest there, which was more its honour than its crowned heads. [1.] Here lay Jacob’s ground, the parcel of ground which Jacob gave to his son Joseph, whose bones were buried in it, Gen. 48:22; Jos. 24:32. Probably this is mentioned to intimate that Christ, when he reposed himself hard by here, took occasion from the ground which Jacob gave Joseph to meditate on the good report which the elders by faith obtained. Jerome chose to live in the land of Canaan, that the sight of the places might affect him the more with scripture stories. [2.] Here was Jacob’s well which he digged, or at least used, for himself and his family. We find no mention of this well in the Old Testament; but the tradition was that it was Jacob’s well.

(2.) The posture of our Lord Jesus at this place: Being wearied with his journey, he sat thus on the well. We have here our Lord Jesus,

[1.] Labouring under the common fatigue of travellers. He was wearied with his journey. Though it was yet but the sixth hour, and he had performed but half his day’s journey, yet he was weary; or, because it was the sixth hour, the time of the heat of the day, therefore he was weary. Here we see, First, That he was a true man, and subject to the common infirmities of the human nature. Toil came in with sin (Gen. 3:19), and therefore Christ, having made himself a curse for us, submitted to it. Secondly, That he was a poor man, else he might have travelled on horseback or in a chariot. To this instance of meanness and mortification he humbled himself for us, that he went all his journeys on foot. When servants were on horses, princes walked as servants on the earth, Eccl. 10:7. When we are carried easily, let us think on the weariness of our Master. Thirdly, It should seem that he was but a tender man, and not of a robust constitution; it should seem, his disciples were not tired, for they went into the town without any difficulty, when their Master sat down, and could not go a step further. Bodies of the finest mould are most sensible of fatigue, and can worst bear it.

[2.] We have him here betaking himself to the common relief of travellers; Being wearied, he sat thus on the well. First, He sat on the well, an uneasy place, cold and hard; he had no couch, no easy chair to repose himself in, but took to that which was next hand, to teach us not to be nice and curious in the conveniences of this life, but content with mean things. Secondly, He sat thus, in an uneasy posture; sat carelessly—incuriose et neglectim; or he sat so as people that are wearied with travelling are accustomed to sit.

II. His discourse with a Samaritan woman, which is here recorded at large, while Christ’s dispute with the doctors, and his discourse with Moses and Elias on the mount, are buried in silence. This discourse is reducible to four heads:—

1. They discourse concerning the water, v. 7–15.

(1.) Notice is taken of the circumstances that gave occasion to this discourse.

[1.] There comes a woman of Samaria to draw water. This intimates her poverty, she had no servant to be a drawer of water; and her industry, she would do it herself. See here, First, How God owns and approves of honest humble diligence in our places. Christ was made known to the shepherds when they were keeping their flock. Secondly, How the divine Providence brings about glorious purposes by events which seem to us fortuitous and accidental. This woman’s meeting with Christ at the well may remind us of the stories of Rebekah, Rachel, and Jethro’s daughter, who all met with husbands, good husbands, no worse than Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, when they came to the wells for water. Thirdly, How the preventing grace of God sometimes brings people unexpectedly under the means of conversion and salvation. He is found of them that sought him not.

[2.] His disciples were gone away into the city to buy meat. Hence learn a lesson, First, Of justice and honesty. The meat Christ ate, he bought and paid for, as Paul, 2 Th. 3:8. Secondly, Of daily dependence upon Providence: Take no thought for the morrow. Christ did not go into the city to eat, but sent his disciples to fetch his meat thither; not because he scrupled eating in a Samaritan city, but, 1. Because he had a good work to do at that well, which might be done while they were catering. It is wisdom to fill up our vacant minutes with that which is good, that the fragments of time may not be lost. Peter, while his dinner was getting ready, fell into a trance, Acts 10:10. 2. Because it was more private and retired, more cheap and homely, to have his dinner brought him hither, than to go into the town for it. Perhaps his purse was low, and he would teach us good husbandry, to spend according to what we have and not go beyond it. At least, he would teach us not to affect great things. Christ could eat his dinner as well upon a draw well as in the best inn in the town. Let us comport with our circumstances. Now this gave Christ an opportunity of discoursing with this woman about spiritual concerns, and he improved it; he often preached to multitudes that crowded after him for instruction, yet here he condescends to teach a single person, a woman, a poor woman, a stranger, a Samaritan, to teach his ministers to do likewise, as those that know what a glorious achievement it is to help to save, though but one soul, from death.

(2.) Let us observe the particulars of this discourse.

[1.] Jesus begins with a modest request for a draught of water: Give me to drink. He that for our sakes became poor here becomes a beggar, that those who are in want, and cannot dig, may not be ashamed to beg. Christ asked for it, not only because he needed it, and needed her help to come at it, but because he would draw on further discourse with her, and teach us to be willing to be beholden to the meanest when there is occasion. Christ is still begging in his poor members, and a cup of cold water, like this here, given to them in his name, shall not lose its reward.

[2.] The woman, though she does not deny his request, yet quarrels with him because he did not carry on the humour of his own nation (v. 9): How is it? Observe, First, What a mortal feud there was between the Jews and the Samaritans: The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. The Samaritans were the adversaries of Judah (Ezra 4:1), were upon all occasions mischievous to them. The Jews were extremely malicious against the Samaritans, "looked upon them as having no part in the resurrection, excommunicated and cursed them by the sacred name of God, by the glorious writing of the tables, and by the curse of the upper and lower house of judgment, with this law, That no Israelite eat of any thing that is a Samaritan’s, for it is as if he should eat swine’s flesh." So Dr. Lightfoot, out of Rabbi Tanchum. Note, Quarrels about religion are usually the most implacable of all quarrels. Men were made to have dealing one with another; but if men, because one worships at one temple and another at another, will deny the offices of humanity, and charity, and common civility, will be morose and unnatural, scornful and censorious, and this under colour of zeal for religion, they plainly show that however their religion may be true they are not truly religious; but, pretending to stickle for religion, subvert the design of it. Secondly, How ready the woman was to upbraid Christ with the haughtiness and ill nature of the Jewish nation: How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me? By his dress or dialect, or both, she knew him to be a Jew, and thinks it strange that he runs not to the same excess of riot against the Samaritans with other Jews. Note, Moderate men of all sides are, like Joshua and his fellows (Zec. 3:8), men wondered at. Two things this woman wonders at, 1. That he should ask this kindness; for it was the pride of the Jews that they would endure any hardship rather than be beholden to a Samaritan. It was part of Christ’s humiliation that he was born of the Jewish nation, which was now not only in an ill state, subject to the Romans, but in an ill name among the nations. With what disdain did Pilate ask, Am I a Jew? Thus he made himself not only of no reputation, but of ill reputation; but herein he has set us an example of swimming against the stream of common corruptions. We must, like our master, put on goodness and kindness, though it should be ever so much the genius of our country, or the humour of our party, to be morose and ill-natured. This woman expected that Christ should be as other Jews were; but it is unjust to charge upon every individual person even the common faults of the community: no rule but has some exceptions. 2. She wonders that he should expect to receive this kindness from her that was a Samaritan: "You Jews could deny it to one of our nation, and why should we grant it to one of yours?" Thus quarrels are propagated endlessly by revenge and retaliation.

[3.] Christ takes this occasion to instruct her in divine things: If thou knewest the gift of God, thou wouldst have asked, v. 10. Observe,

First, He waives her objection of the feud between the Jews and Samaritans, and takes no notice of it. Some differences are best healed by being slighted, and by avoiding all occasions of entering into dispute about them. Christ will convert this woman, not by showing her that the Samaritan worship was schismatical (though really it was so), but by showing her her own ignorance and immoralities, and her need of a Saviour.

Secondly, He fills her with an apprehension that she had now an opportunity (a fairer opportunity than she was aware of) of gaining that which would be of unspeakable advantage to her. She had not the helps that the Jews had to discern the signs of the times, and therefore Christ tells her expressly that she had now a season of grace; this was the day of her visitation.

a. He hints to her what she should know, but was ignorant of: If thou knewest the gift of God, that is, as the next words explain it, who it is that saith, Give me to drink. If thou knewest who I am. She saw him to be a Jew, a poor weary traveller; but he would have her know something more concerning him that did yet appear. Note, (a.) Jesus Christ is the gift of God, the richest token of God’s love to us, and the richest treasure of all good for us; a gift, not a debt which we could demand from God; not a loan, which he will demand from us again, but a gift, a free gift, ch. 3:16. (b.) It is an unspeakable privilege to have this gift of God proposed and offered to us; to have an opportunity of embracing it: "He who is the gift of God is now set before thee, and addresses himself to thee; it is he that saith, Give me to drink; this gift comes a begging to thee." (c.) Though Christ is set before us, and sues to us in and by his gospel, yet there are multitudes that know him not. They know not who it is that speaks to them in the gospel, that saith, Give me to drink; they perceive not that it is the Lord that calls them.

b. He hopes concerning her, what she would have done if she had known him; to be sure she would not have given him such a rude and uncivil answer; nay, she would have been so far from affronting him that she would have made her addresses to him: Thou wouldest have asked. Note, (a.) Those that would have any benefit by Christ must ask for it, must be earnest in prayer to God for it. (b.) Those that have a right knowledge of Christ will seek to him, and if we do not seek unto him it is a sign that we do not know him, Ps. 9:10. (c.) Christ knows what they that want the means of knowledge would have done if they had had them, Mt. 11:21.

c. He assures her what he would have done for her if she had applied to him: "He would have given thee (and not have upbraided thee as thou doest me) living water." By this living water is meant the Spirit, who is not like the water in the bottom of the well, for some of which he asked, but like living or running water, which was much more valuable. Note, (a.) The Spirit of grace is as living water; see ch. 7:38. Under this similitude the blessings of the Messiah had been promised in the Old Testament, Isa. 12:3; 35:7; 44:3; 55:1; Zec. 14:8. The graces of the Spirit, and his comforts, satisfy the thirsting soul, that knows its own nature and necessity. (b.) Jesus Christ can and will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him; for he received that he might give.

[4.] The woman objects against and cavils at the gracious intimation which Christ gave her (v. 11, 12): Thou hast nothing to draw with; and besides, Art thou greater than our father Jacob? What he spoke figuratively, she took literally; Nicodemus did so too. See what confused notions they have of spiritual things who are wholly taken up with the things that are sensible. Some respect she pays to this person, in calling him Sir, or Lord; but little respect to what he said, which she does but banter.

First, She does not think him capable of furnishing her with any water, no, not this in the well that is just at hand: Thou has nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. This she said, not knowing the power of Christ, for he who causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth needs nothing to draw. But there are those who will trust Christ no further than they can see him, and will not believe his promise, unless the means of the performance of it be visible; as if he were tied to our methods, and could not draw water without our buckets. She asks scornfully, "Whence hast thou this living water? I see not whence thou canst have it." Note, The springs of that living water which Christ has for those that come to him are secret and undiscovered. The fountain of life is hid with Christ. Christ has enough for us, though we see not whence he has it.

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?
Verses 27-42

We have here the remainder of the story of what happened when Christ was in Samaria, after the long conference he had with the woman.

I. The interruption given to this discourse by the disciples’ coming. It is probable that much more was said than is recorded; but just when the discourse was brought to a head, when Christ had made himself known to her as the true Messiah, then came the disciples. The daughters of Jerusalem shall not stir up nor awake my love till he please. 1. They wondered at Christ’s converse with this woman, marvelled that he talked thus earnestly (as perhaps they observed at a distance) with a woman, a strange woman alone (he used to be more reserved), especially with a Samaritan woman, that was not of the lost sheep of the house of Israel; they thought their Master should be as shy of the Samaritans as the other Jews were, at least that he should not preach the gospel to them. They wondered he should condescend to talk with such a poor contemptible woman, forgetting what despicable men they themselves were when Christ first called them into fellowship with himself. 2. Yet they acquiesced in it; they knew it was for some good reason, and some good end, of which he was not bound to give them an account, and therefore none of them asked, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? Thus, when particular difficulties occur in the word and providence of God, it is good to satisfy ourselves with this in general, that all is well which Jesus Christ saith and doeth. Perhaps there was something amiss in their marveling that Christ talked with the woman: it was something like the Pharisees being offended at his eating with publicans and sinners. But, whatever they thought, they said nothing. If thou hast thought evil at any time, lay thy hand upon thy mouth, to keep that evil thought from turning into an evil word, Prov. 30:32; Ps. 39:1-3.

The notice which the woman gave to her neighbours of the extraordinary person she had happily met with, v. 28, 29. Observe here,

1. How she forgot her errand to the well, v. 28. Therefore, because the disciples were come, and broke up the discourse, and perhaps she observed they were not pleased with it, she went her way. She withdrew, in civility to Christ, that he might have leisure to eat his dinner. She delighted in his discourse, but would not be rude; every thing is beautiful in its season. She supposed that Jesus, when he had dined, would go forward in his journey, and therefore hastened to tell her neighbours, that they might come quickly. Yet a little while is the light with you. See how she improved time; when one good work was done, she applied herself to another. When opportunities of getting good cease, or are interrupted, we should seek opportunities of doing good; when we have done hearing the word, then is a time to be speaking of it. Notice is taken of her leaving her water-pot or pail. (1.) She left it in kindness to Christ, that he might have water to drink; he turned water into wine for others, but not for himself. Compare this with Rebecca’s civility to Abraham’s servant (Gen. 24:18), and see that promise, Mt. 10:42. (2.) She left it that she might make the more haste into the city, to carry thither these good tidings. Those whose business it is to publish the name of Christ must not encumber or entangle themselves with any thing that will retard or hinder them therein. When the disciples are to be made fishers of men they must forsake all. (3.) She left her water-pot, as one careless of it, being wholly taken up with better things. Note, Those who are brought to the knowledge of Christ will show it by a holy contempt of this world and the things of it. And those who are newly acquainted with the things of God must be excused, if at first they be so taken up with the new world into which they are brought that the things of this world seem to be for a time wholly neglected. Mr. Hildersham, in one of his sermons on this verse, from this instance largely justifies those who leave their worldly business on week-days to go to hear sermons.

2. How she minded her errand to the town, for her heart was upon it. She went into the city, and said to the men, probably the aldermen, the men in authority, whom, it may be, she found met together upon some public business; or to the men, that is, to every man she met in the streets; she proclaimed it in the chief places of concourse: Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ? Observe,

(1.) How solicitous she was to have her friends and neighbours acquainted with Christ. When she had found that treasure, she called together her friends and neighbours (as Lu. 15:9), not only to rejoice with her, but to share with her, knowing there was enough to enrich herself and all that would partake with her. Note, They that have been themselves with Jesus, and have found comfort in him, should do all they can to bring others to him. Has he done us the honour to make himself known to us? Let us do him the honour to make him known to others; nor can we do ourselves a greater honour. This woman becomes an apostle. Quae scortum fuerat egressa, regreditur magistra evangelica—She who went forth a specimen of impurity returns a teacher of evangelical truth, saith Aretius. Christ had told her to call her husband, which she thought was warrant enough to call every body. She went into the city, the city where she dwelt, among her kinsfolks and acquaintance. Though every man is my neighbour that I have opportunity of doing good to, yet I have most opportunity, and therefore lie under the greatest obligations, to do good to those that live near me. Where the tree falls, there let it be made useful.

(2.) How fair and ingenuous she was in the notice she gave them concerning this stranger she had met with. [1.] She tells them plainly what induced her to admire him: He has told me all things that ever I did. No more is recorded than what he told her of her husbands; but it is not improbable that he had told her of more of her faults. Or, his telling her that which she knew he could not by any ordinary means come to the knowledge of convinced her that he could have told her all that she ever did. If he has a divine knowledge, it must be omniscience. He told her that which none knew but God and her own conscience. Two things affected her:—First, the extent of his knowledge. We ourselves cannot tell all things that ever we did (many things pass unheeded, and more pass away and are forgotten); but Jesus Christ knows all the thoughts, words, and actions, of all the children of men; see Heb. 4:13. He hath said, I know thy works. Secondly, The power of his word. This made a great impression upon her, that he told her her secret sins with such an unaccountable power and energy that, being told of one, she is convinced of all, and judged of all. She does not say, "Come, see a man that has told me strange things concerning religious worship, and the laws of it, that has decided the controversy between this mountain and Jerusalem, a man that calls himself the Messias;" but, "Come see a man that has told me of my sins." She fastens upon that part of Christ’s discourse which one would think she would have been most shy of repeating; but experimental proofs of the power of Christ’s word and Spirit are of all others the most cogent and convincing; and that knowledge of Christ into which we are led by the conviction of sin and humiliation is most likely to be sound and saving. [2.] She invites them to come and see him of whom she had conceived so high an opinion. Not barely, "Come and look upon him" (she does not invite them to him as a show), but, "Come and converse with him; come and hear his wisdom, as I have done, and you will be of my mind." She would not undertake to manage the arguments which had convinced her, in such a manner as to convince others; all that see the evidence of truth themselves are not able to make others see it; but, "Come, and talk with him, and you will find such a power in his word as far exceeds all other evidence." Note, Those who can do little else towards the conviction and conversion of others may and should bring them to those means of grace which they themselves have found effectual. Jesus was now at the town’s end. "Now come see him." When opportunities of getting the knowledge of God are brought to our doors we are inexcusable if we neglect them; shall we not go over the threshold to see him whose day prophets and kings desired to see? [3.] She resolves to appeal to themselves, and their own sentiments upon the trial. Is not this the Christ? She does not peremptorily say, "He is the Messiah," how clear soever she was in her own mind, and yet she very prudently mentions the Messiah, of whom otherwise they would not have thought, and then refers it to themselves; she will not impose her faith upon them, but only propose it to them. By such fair but forcible appeals as these men’s judgments and consciences are sometimes taken hold of ere they are aware.

(3.) What success she had in this invitation: They went out of the city, and came to him, v. 30. Though it might seem very improbable that a woman of so small a figure, and so ill a character, should have the honour of the first discovery of the Messiah among the Samaritans, yet it pleased God to incline their hearts to take notice of her report, and not to slight it as an idle tale. Time was when lepers were the first that brought tidings to Samaria of a great deliverance, 2 Ki. 7:3, etc. They came unto him; did not send for him into the city to them, but in token of their respect to him, and the earnestness of their desire to see him, they went out to him. Those that would know Christ must meet him where he records his name.

III. Christ’s discourse with his disciples while the woman was absent, v. 31–38. See how industrious our Lord Jesus was to redeem time, to husband every minute of it, and to fill up the vacancies of it. When the disciples were gone into the town, his discourse with the woman was edifying, and suited to her case; when she was gone into the town, his discourse with them was no less edifying, and suited to their case; it were well if we could thus gather up the fragments of time, that none of it may be lost. Two things are observable in this discourse:—

1. How Christ expresses the delight which he himself had in his work. His work was to seek and save that which was lost, to go about doing good. Now with this work we here find him wholly taken up. For,

(1.) He neglected his meat and drink for his work. When he sat down upon the well, he was weary, and needed refreshment; but this opportunity of saving souls made him forget his weariness and hunger. And he minded his food so little that, [1.] His disciples were forced to invite him to it: They prayed him, they pressed him, saying, Master, eat. It was an instance of their love to him that they invited him, lest he should be faint and sick for want of some support; but it was a greater instance of his love to souls that he needed invitation. Let us learn hence a holy indifference even to the needful supports of life, in comparison with spiritual things. [2.] He minded it so little that they suspected he had had meat brought him in their absence (v. 33): Has any man brought him aught to eat? He had so little appetite for his dinner that they were ready to think he had dined already. Those that make religion their business will, when any of its affairs are to be attended, prefer them before their food; as Abraham’s servant, that would not eat till he had told his errand (Gen. 24:33), and Samuel, that would not sit down till David was anointed, 1 Sa. 16:11.

(2.) He made his work his meat and drink. The work he had to do among the Samaritans, the prospect he now had of doing good to many, this was meat and drink to him; it was the greatest pleasure and satisfaction imaginable. Never did a hungry man, or an epicure, expect a plentiful feast with so much desire, nor feed upon its dainties with so much delight, as our Lord Jesus expected and improved an opportunity of doing good to souls. Concerning this he saith, [1.] That it was such meat as the disciples knew not of. They did not imagine that he had any design or prospect of planting his gospel among the Samaritans; this was a piece of usefulness they never thought of. Note, Christ by his gospel and Spirit does more good to the souls of men than his own disciples know of or expect. This may be said of good Christians too, who live by faith, that they have meat to eat which others know not of, joy with which a stranger does not intermeddle. Now this word made them ask, Has any man brought him aught to eat? so apt were even his own disciples to understand him after a corporal and carnal manner when he used similitudes. [2.] That the reason why his work was his meat and drink was because it was his Father’s work, his Father’s will: My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, v. 34. Note, First, The salvation of sinners is the will of God, and the instruction of them in order thereunto is his work. See 1 Tim. 2:4. There is a chosen remnant whose salvation is in a particular manner his will. Secondly, Christ was sent into the world on this errand, to bring people to God, to know him and to be happy in him. Thirdly, He made this work his business and delight. When his body needed food, his mind was so taken up with this that he forgot both hunger and thirst, both meat and drink. Nothing could be more grateful to him than doing good; when he was invited to meat he went, that he might do good, for that was his meat always. Fourthly, He was not only ready upon all occasions to go to his work, but he was earnest and in care to go through it, and to finish his work in all the parts of it. He resolved never to quit it, nor lay it down, till he could say, It is finished. Many have zeal to carry them out at first, but not zeal to carry them on to the last; but our Lord Jesus was intent upon finishing his work. Our Master has herein left us an example, that we may learn to do the will of God as he did; 1. With diligence and close application, as those that make a business of it. 2. With delight and pleasure in it, as in our element. 3. With constancy and perseverance; not only minding to do, but aiming to finish, our work.

2. See here how Christ, having expressed his delight in his work, excites his disciples to diligence in their work; they were workers with him, and therefore should be workers like him, and make their work their meat, as he did. The work they had to do was to preach the gospel, and to set up the kingdom of the Messiah. Now this work he here compares to harvest work, the gathering in of the fruits of the earth; and this similitude he prosecutes throughout the discourse, v. 35–38. Note, gospel time is harvest time, and gospel work harvest work. The harvest is before appointed and expected; so was the gospel. Harvest time is busy time; all hands must be then at work: every one must work for himself, that he may reap of the graces and comforts of the gospel: ministers must work for God, to gather in souls to him. Harvest time is opportunity, a short and limited time, which will not last always; and harvest work is work that must be done then or not at all; so the time of the enjoyment of the gospel is a particular season, which must be improved for its proper purposes; for, once past, it cannot be recalled. The disciples were to gather in a harvest of souls for Christ. Now he here suggests three things to them to quicken them to diligence:—

(1.) That it was necessary work, and the occasion for it very urgent and pressing (v. 35): You say, It is four months to harvest; but I say, The fields are already white. Here is,

[1.] A saying of Christ’s disciples concerning the corn-harvest; there are yet four months, and then comes harvest, which may be taken either generally—"You say, for the encouragement of the sower at seed-time, that it will be but four months to the harvest." With us it is but about four months between the barley-sowing and the barley-harvest, probably it was so with them as to other grain; or, "Particularly, now at this time you reckon it will be four months to next harvest, according to the ordinary course of providence." The Jews’ harvest began at the Passover, about Easter, much earlier in the year than ours, by which it appears that this journey of Christ from Judea to Galilee was in the winter, about the end of November, for he travelled all weathers to do good. God has not only promised us a harvest every year, but has appointed the weeks of harvest; so that we know when to expect it, and take our measures accordingly.

[2.] A saying of Christ’s concerning the gospel harvest; his heart was as much upon the fruits of his gospel as the hearts of others were upon the fruits of the earth; and to this he would lead the thoughts of his disciples: Look, the fields are already white unto the harvest. First, Here in this place, where they now were, there was harvest work for him to do. They would have him to eat, v. 31. "Eat!" saith he, "I have other work to do, that is more needful; look what crowds of Samaritans are coming out of the town over the fields that are ready to receive the gospel;" probably there were many now in view. People’s forwardness to hear the word is a great excitement to ministers’ diligence and liveliness in preaching it. Secondly, In other places, all the country over, there was harvest work enough for them all to do. "Consider the regions, think of the state of the country, and you will find there are multitudes as ready to receive the gospel as a field of corn that is fully ripe is ready to be reaped." The fields were now made white to the harvest, 1. By the decree of God revealed in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Now was the time when the gathering of the people should be to Christ (Gen. 49:10), when great accessions should be made to the church and the bounds of it should be enlarged, and therefore it was time for them to be busy. It is a great encouragement to us to engage in any work for God, if we understand by the signs of the times that this is the proper season for that work, for then it will prosper. 2. By the disposition of men. John Baptist had made ready a people prepared for the Lord, Lu. 1:17. Since he began to preach the kingdom of God every man pressed into it, Lu. 16:16. This, therefore, was a time for the preachers of the gospel to apply themselves to their work with the utmost vigour, to thrust in their sickle, when the harvest was ripe, Rev. 14:15. It was necessary to work now, pity that such a season should be let slip. If the corn that is ripe be not reaped, it will shed and be lost, and the fowls will pick it up. If souls that are under convictions, and have some good inclinations, be not helped now, their hopeful beginnings will come to nothing, and they will be a prey to pretenders. It was also easy to work now; when the people’s hearts are prepared the work will be done suddenly, 2 Chr. 29:36. It cannot but quicken ministers to take pains in preaching the word when they observe that people take pleasure in hearing it.

(2.) That it was profitable and advantageous work, which they themselves would be gainers by (v. 36): "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and so shall you." Christ has undertaken to pay those well whom he employs in his work; for he will never do as Jehoiakim did, who used his neighbour’s service without wages (Jer. 22:13), or those who by fraud kept back the hire of those particularly who reaped their corn-fields, Jam. 5:4. Christ’s reapers, though they cry to him day and night, shall never have cause to cry against him, nor to say they served a hard Master. He that reapeth, not only shall but does receive wages. There is a present reward in the service of Christ, and his work is its own wages. [1.] Christ’s reapers have fruit: He gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that is, he shall both save himself and those that hear him, 1 Tim. 4:16. If the faithful reaper save his own soul, that is fruit abounding to his account, it is fruit gathered to life eternal; and if, over and above this, he be instrumental to save the souls of others too, there is fruit gathered. Souls gathered to Christ are fruit, good fruit, the fruit that Christ seeks for (Rom. 1:13); it is gathered for Christ (Cant. 8:11, 12); it is gathered to life eternal. This is the comfort of faithful ministers, that their work has a tendency to the eternal salvation of precious souls. [2.] They have joy: That he that sows and they that reap may rejoice together. The minister who is the happy instrument of beginning a good work is he that sows, as John Baptist; he that is employed to carry it on and perfect it is he that reaps: and both shall rejoice together. Note, First, Though God is to have all the glory of the success of the gospel, yet faithful ministers may themselves take the comfort of it. The reapers share in the joy of harvest, though the profits belong to the master, 1 Th. 2:19. Secondly, Those ministers who are variously gifted and employed should be so far from envying one another that they should rather mutually rejoice in each other’s success and usefulness. Though all Christ’s ministers are not alike serviceable, nor alike successful, yet, if they have obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, they shall all enter together into the joy of their Lord at last.

(3.) That it was easy work, and work that was half done to their hands by those that were gone before them: One soweth, and another reapeth, v. 37, 38. This sometimes denotes a grievous judgment upon him that sows, Mic. 6:15; Deu. 28:30, Thou shalt sow, and another shall reap; as Deu. 6:11, Houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not. So here. Moses, and the prophets, and John Baptist, had paved the way to the gospel, had sown the good seed which the New-Testament ministers did in effect but gather the fruit of. I send you to reap that whereon you bestowed, in comparison, no labour. Isa. 40:3-5. [1.] This intimates two things concerning the Old-Testament ministry:—First, That it was very much short of the New-Testament ministry. Moses and the prophets sowed, but they could not be said to reap, so little did they see of the fruit of their labours. Their writings have done much more good since they left us than ever their preaching did. Secondly, That it was very serviceable to the New-Testament ministry, and made way for it. The writings of the prophets, which were read in the synagogues every sabbath day, raised people’s expectations of the Messiah, and so prepared them to bid him welcome. Had it not been for the seed sown by the prophets, this Samaritan woman could not have said, We know that Messias cometh. The writings of the Old Testament are in some respects more useful to us than they could be to those to whom they were first written, because better understood by the accomplishment of them. See 1 Pt. 1:12; Heb. 4:2; Rom. 16:25, 26. [2.] This also intimates two things concerning the ministry of the apostles of Christ. First, That it was a fruitful ministry: they were reapers that gathered in a great harvest of souls to Jesus Christ, and did more in seven years towards the setting up of the kingdom of God among men than the prophets of the Old Testament had done in twice so many ages. Secondly, That it was much facilitated, especially among the Jews, to whom they were first sent, by the writings of the prophets. The prophets sowed in tears, crying out, We have laboured in vain; the apostles reaped in joy, saying, Thanks be to God, who always causeth us to triumph. Note, From the labours of ministers that are dead and gone much good fruit may be reaped by the people that survive them and the ministers that succeed them. John Baptist, and those that assisted him, had laboured, and the disciples of Christ entered into their labours, built upon their foundation, and reaped the fruit of what they sowed. See what reason we have to bless God for those that are gone before us, for their preaching and their writing, for what they did and suffered in their day, for we are entered into their labours; their studies and services have made our work the easier. And when the ancient and modern labourers, those that came into the vineyard at the third hour and those that came in at the eleventh, meet in the day of account, they will be so far from envying one another the honour of their respective services that both they that sowed and they that reaped shall rejoice together; and the great Lord of thee harvest shall have the glory of all.

IV. The good effect which this visit Christ made to the Samaritans (en passant) had upon them, and the fruit which was now presently gathered among them, v. 39–42. See what impressions were made on them,

1. By the woman’s testimony concerning Christ; though a single testimony, and of one of no good report, and the testimony no more than this, He told me all that ever I did, yet it had a good influence upon many. One would have thought that his telling the woman of her secret sins would have made them afraid of coming to him, lest he should tell them also of their faults; but they will venture that rather than not be acquainted with one who they had reason to think was a prophet. And two things they were brought to:—

(1.) To credit Christ’s word (v. 39): Many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman. So far they believed on him that they took him for a prophet, and were desirous to know the mind of God from him; this is favourably interpreted as believing on him. Now observe, [1.] Who they were that believed: Many of the Samaritans, who were not of the house of Israel. Their faith was not only an aggravation of the unbelief of the Jews, from whom better might have been expected, but an earnest of the faith of the Gentiles, who would welcome that which the Jews rejected. [2.] Upon what inducement they believed: For the saying of the woman. See here, First, How God is sometimes pleased to use very weak and unlikely instruments for the beginning and carrying on of a good work. A little maid directed a great prince to Elisha, 2 Ki. 5:2. Secondly, How great a matter a little fire kindles. Our Saviour, by instructing one poor woman, spread instruction to a whole town. Let not ministers be either careless in their preaching, or discouraged in it, because their hearers are few and mean; for, by doing good to them, good may be conveyed to more, and those that are more considerable. If they teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, a great number may learn at second hand. Philip preached the gospel to a single gentleman in his chariot upon the road, and he not only received it himself, but carried it into his country, and propagated it there. Thirdly, See how good it is to speak experimentally of Christ and the things of God. This woman could say little of Christ, but what she did say she spoke feelingly: He told me all that ever I did. Those are most likely to do good that can tell what God has done for their souls, Ps. 66:16.

(2.) They were brought to court his stay among them (v. 40): When they were come to him they besought him that he would tarry with them. Upon the woman’s report, they believed him to be a prophet, and came to him; and, when they saw him, the meanness of his appearance and the manifest poverty of his outward condition did not lessen their esteem of him and expectations from him, but still they respected him as a prophet. Note, There is hope of those who are got over the vulgar prejudices that men have against true worth in a low estate. Blessed are they that are not offended in Christ at the first sight. So far were they from being offended in him that they begged he would tarry with them; [1.] That they might testify their respect to him, and treat him with the honour and kindness due to his character. God’s prophets and ministers are welcome guests to all those who sincerely embrace the gospel; as to Lydia, Acts 16:15. [2.] That they might receive instruction from him. Those that are taught of God are truly desirous to learn more, and to be better acquainted with Christ. Many would have flocked to one that would tell them their fortune, but these flocked to one that would tell them their faults, tell them of their sin and duty. The historian seems to lay an emphasis upon their being Samaritans; as Lu. 10:33; 17:16. The Samaritans had not that reputation for religion which the Jews had; yet the Jews, who saw Christ’s miracles, drove him from them: while the Samaritans, who saw not his miracles, nor shared in his favours, invited him to them. The proof of the gospel’s success is not always according to the probability, nor what is experienced according to what is expected either way. The Samaritans were taught by the custom of their country to be shy of conversation with the Jews. There were Samaritans that refused to let Christ go through their town (Lu. 9:53), but these begged him to tarry with them. Note, It adds much to the praise of our love to Christ and his word if it conquers the prejudices of education and custom, and sets light by the censures of men. Now we are told that Christ granted their request.

First, He abode there. Though it was a city of the Samaritans nearly adjoining to their temple, yet, when he was invited, he tarried there; though he was upon a journey, and had further to go, yet, when he had an opportunity of doing good, he abode there. That is no real hindrance which will further our account. Yet he abode there but two days, because he had other places to visit and other work to do, and those two days were as many as came to the share of this city, out of the few days of our Saviour’s sojourning upon earth.

Secondly, We are told what impressions were made upon them by Christ’s own word, and his personal converse with them (v. 41, 42); what he said and did there is not related, whether he healed their sick or no; but it is intimated, in the effect, that he said and did that which convinced them that he was the Christ; and the labours of a minister are best told by the good fruit of them. Their hearing of him had a good effect, but now their eyes saw him; and the effect was, 1. That their number grew (v. 41): Many more believed: many that would not be persuaded to go out of the town to him were yet wrought upon, when he came among them, to believe in him. Note, It is comfortable to see the number of believers; and sometimes the zeal and forwardness of some may be a means to provoke many, and to stir them up to a holy emulation, Rom. 11:14. 2. That their faith grew. Those who had been wrought upon by the report of the woman now saw cause to say, Now we believe, not because of thy saying, v. 42. Here are three things in which their faith grew:—(1.) In the matter of it, or that which they did believe. Upon the testimony of the woman, they believed him to be a prophet, or some extraordinary messenger from heaven; but now that they have conversed with him they believe that he is the Christ, the Anointed One, the very same that was promised to the fathers and expected by them, and that, being the Christ, he is the Saviour of the world; for the work to which he was anointed was to save his people from their sins. They believed him to be the Saviour not only of the Jews, but of the world, which they hoped would take them in, though Samaritans, for it was promised that he should be Salvation to the ends of the earth, Isa. 49:6. (2.) In the certainty of it; their faith now grew up to a full assurance: We know that this is indeed the Christ; aleµthoµs—truly; not a pretended Christ, but a real one; not a typical Saviour, as many under the Old Testament, but truly one. Such an assurance as this of divine truths is what we should labour after; not only, We think it probable, and are willing to suppose that Jesus may be the Christ, but, We know that he is indeed the Christ. (3.) In the ground of it, which was a kind of spiritual sensation and experience: Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves. They had before believed for her saying, and it was well, it was a good step; but now they find further and much firmer footing for their faith: "Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, and have heard such excellent and divine truths, accompanied with such commanding power and evidence, that we are abundantly satisfied and assured that this is the Christ." This is like what the queen of Sheba said of Solomon (1 Ki. 10:6, 7): The one half was not told me. The Samaritans, who believed for the woman’s saying, now gained further light; for to him that hath shall be given; he that is faithful in a little shall be trusted with more. In this instance we may see how faith comes by hearing. [1.] Faith comes to the birth by hearing the report of men. These Samaritans, for the sake of the woman’s saying, believed so far as to come and see, to come and make trial. Thus the instructions of parents and preachers, and the testimony of the church and our experienced neighbours, recommend the doctrine of Christ to our acquaintance, and incline us to entertain it as highly probable. But, [2.] Faith comes to its growth, strength, and maturity, by hearing the testimony of Christ himself; and this goes further, and recommends his doctrine to our acceptance, and obliges us to believe it as undoubtedly certain. We were induced to look into the scriptures by the saying of those who told us that in them they had found eternal life; but when we ourselves have found it in them too, have experienced the enlightening, convincing, regenerating, sanctifying, comforting, power of the word, now we believe, not for their saying, but because we have searched them ourselves: and our faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, 1 Co. 2:5; 1 Jn. 5:9, 10.

Now after two days he departed thence, and went into Galilee.
Verses 43-54

In these verses we have,

I. Christ’s coming into Galilee, v. 43. Though he was as welcome among the Samaritans as he could be any where, and had better success, yet after two days he left them, not so much because they were Samaritans, and he would not confirm those in their prejudices against him who said, He is a Samaritan (ch. 8:48), but because he must preach to other cities, Lu. 4:43. He went into Galilee, for there he spent much of his time. Now see here,

1. Whither Christ went; into Galilee, into the country of Galilee, but not to Nazareth, which was strictly his own country. He went among the villages, but declined going to Nazareth, the head city, for a reason here given, which Jesus himself testified, who knew the temper of his countrymen, the hearts of all men, and the experiences of all prophets, and it is this, That a prophet has no honour in his own country. Note, (1.) Prophets ought to have honour, because God has put honour upon them and we do or may receive benefit by them. (2.) The honour due to the Lord’s prophets has very often been denied them, and contempt put upon them. (3.) This due honour is more frequently denied them in their own country; see Lu. 4:24; Mt. 13:57. Not that it is universally true (no rule but has some exceptions), but it holds for the most part. Joseph, when he began to be a prophet, was most hated by his brethren; David was disdained by his brother (1 Sa. 17:28); Jeremiah was maligned by the men of Anathoth (Jer. 11:21), Paul by his countrymen the Jews; and Christ’s near kinsmen spoke most slightly of him, ch. 7:5. Men’s pride and envy make them scorn to be instructed by those who once were their school-fellows and play-fellows. Desire of novelty, and of that which is far-fetched and dear-bought, and seems to drop out of the sky to them, makes them despise those persons and things which they have been long used to and know the rise of. (4.) It is a great discouragement to a minister to go among a people who have no value for him or his labours. Christ would not go to Nazareth, because he knew how little respect he should have there. (5.) It is just with God to deny his gospel to those that despise the ministers of it. They that mock the messengers forfeit the benefit of the message. Mt. 21:35, 41.

2. What entertainment he met with among the Galileans in the country (v. 45): They received him, bade him welcome, and cheerfully attended on his doctrine. Christ and his gospel are not sent in vain; if they have not honour with some, they shall have with others. Now the reason given why these Galileans were so ready to receive Christ is because they had seen the miracles he did at Jerusalem, v. 45. Observe, (1.) They went up to Jerusalem at the feast, the feast of the passover. The Galileans lay very remote from Jerusalem, and their way thither lay through the country of the Samaritans, which was troublesome for a Jew to pass through, worse than Baca’s valley of old; yet, in obedience to God’s command, they went up to the feast, and there they became acquainted with Christ. Note, They that are diligent and constant in attending on public ordinances some time or other meet with more spiritual benefit than they expect. (2.) At Jerusalem they saw Christ’s miracles, which recommended him and his doctrine very much to their faith and affections. The miracles were wrought for the benefit of those at Jerusalem; yet the Galileans who were accidentally there got more advantage by them than they did for whom they were chiefly designed. Thus the word preached to a mixed multitude may perhaps edify occasional hearers more than the constant auditory.

3. What city he went to. When he would go to a city, he chose to go to Cana of Galilee, where he had made the water wine (v. 46); thither he went, to see if there were any good fruits of that miracle remaining; and, if there were, to confirm their faith, and water what he had planted. The evangelist mentions this miracle here to teach us to keep in remembrance what we have seen of the works of Christ.

II. His curing the nobleman’s son that was sick of a fever. This story is not recorded by any other of the evangelists; it comes in Mt. 4:23.

Observe, 1. Who the petitioner was, and who the patient: the petitioner was a nobleman; the patient was his son: There was a certain nobleman. Regulus (so the Latin), a little king; so called, either for the largeness of his estate, or the extent of his power, or the royalties that belonged to his manor. Some understand it as denoting his preferment—he was a courtier in some office about the king; others as denoting his party—he was an Herodian, a royalist, a prerogative-man, one that espoused the interests of the Herods, father and son; perhaps it was Chuza, Herod’s steward (Lu. 8:3), or Manaen, Herod’s foster-brother, Acts 13:1. There were saints in Caesar’s household. The father a nobleman, and yet the son sick; for dignities and titles of honour will be no security to persons and families from the assaults of sickness and death. It was fifteen miles from Capernaum where this nobleman lived to Cana, where Christ now was; yet this affliction in his family sent him so far to Christ.

2. How the petitioner made his application to the physician. Having heard that Jesus was come out of Judea to Galilee, and finding that he did not come towards Capernaum, but turned off towards the other side of the country, he went to him himself, and besought him to come and heal his son, v. 47. See here, (1.) His tender affection to his son, that when he was sick he would spare no pains to get help for him. (2.) His great respect to our Lord Jesus, that he would come himself to wait upon him, when he might have sent a servant; and that he besought him, when, as a man in authority, some would think he might have ordered his attendance. The greatest men, when they come to God, must become beggars, and sue sub forma pauperis—as paupers. As to the errand he came upon, we may observe a mixture in his faith. [1.] There was sincerity in it; he did believe that Christ could heal his son, though his disease was dangerous. It is probable he had physicians to him, who had given him over; but he believed that Christ could cure him when the case seemed deplorable. [2.] Yet there was infirmity in his faith; he believed that Christ could heal his son, but, as it should seem, he thought he could not heal him at a distance, and therefore he besought him that he would come down and heal him, expecting, as Naaman did, that he would come and strike his hand over the patient, as if he could not cure him but by a physical contact. Thus we are apt to limit the Holy One of Israel, and to stint him to our forms. The centurion, a Gentile, a soldier, was so strong in faith as to say, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, Mt. 8:8. This nobleman, a Jew, must have Christ to come down, though it was a good day’s journey, and despairs of a cure unless he come down, as if he must teach Christ how to work. We are encouraged to pray, but we are not allowed to prescribe: Lord, heal me; but, whether with a word or a touch, thy will be done.

3. The gentle rebuke he met with in this address (v. 48): Jesus said to him, "I see how it is; except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe, as the Samaritans did, though they saw no signs and wonders, and therefore I must work miracles among you." Though he was a nobleman, and now in grief about his son, and had shown great respect to Christ in coming so far to him, yet Christ gives him a reproof. Men’s dignity in the world shall not exempt them from the rebukes of the word or providence; for Christ reproves not after the hearing of his ears, but with equity, Isa. 11:3, 4. Observe, Christ first shows him his sin and weakness, to prepare him for mercy, and then grants his request. Those whom Christ intends to honour with his favours he first humbles with his frowns. The Comforter shall first convince. Herod longed to see some miracle (Lu. 23:8), and this courtier was of the same mind, and the generality of the people too. Now that which is blamed is, (1.) That, whereas they had heard by credible and incontestable report of the miracles he had wrought in other places, they would not believe except they saw them with their own eyes, Lu. 4:23. They must be honoured, and they must be humoured, or they will not be convinced. Their country must be graced, and their curiosity gratified, with signs and wonders, or else, though the doctrine of Christ be sufficiently proved by miracles wrought elsewhere, they will not believe. Like Thomas, they will yield to no method of conviction but what they shall prescribe. (2.) That, whereas they had seen divers miracles, the evidence of which they could not gainsay, but which sufficiently proved Christ to be a teacher come from God, and should now have applied themselves to him for instruction in his doctrine, which by its native excellency would have gently led them on, in believing, to a spiritual perfection, instead of this they would go no further in believing than they were driven by signs and wonders. The spiritual power of the word did not affect them, did not attract them, but only the sensible power of miracles, which were for those who believe not, while prophesying was for those that believe, 1 Co. 14:22. Those that admire miracles only, and despise prophesying, rank themselves with unbelievers.

4. His continued importunity in his address (v. 49): Sir, come down ere my child die. Kyrie—Lord; so it should be rendered. In this reply of his we have, (1.) Something that was commendable: he took the reproof patiently; he spoke to Christ respectfully. Though he was one of those that wore soft clothing, yet he could bear reproof. It is none of the privileges of peerage to be above the reproofs of the word of Christ; but it is a sign of a good temper and disposition in men, especially in great men, when they can be told of their faults and not be angry. And, as he did not take the reproof for an affront, so he did not take it for a denial, but still prosecuted his request, and continued to wrestle till he prevailed. Nay, he might argue thus: "If Christ heal my soul, surely he will heal my son; if he cure my unbelief, he will cure his fever." This is the method Christ takes, first to work upon us, and then to work for us; and there is hope if we find him entering upon this method. (2.) Something that was blameworthy, that was his infirmity; for, [1.] He seems to take no notice of the reproof Christ gave him, says nothing to it, by way either of confession or of excuse, for he is so wholly taken up with concern about his child that he can mind nothing else. Note, The sorrow of the world is a great prejudice to our profiting by the word of Christ. Inordinate care and grief are thorns that choke the good seed; see Ex. 6:9. [2.] He still discovered the weakness of his faith in the power of Christ. First, He must have Christ to come down, thinking that else he could do the child no kindness. It is hard to persuade ourselves that distance of time and place are no obstructions to the knowledge and power of our Lord Jesus; yet so it is: he sees afar off, for his word, the word of his power, runs very swiftly. Secondly, He believes that Christ could heal a sick child, but not that he could raise a dead child, and therefore, "O come down, ere my child die," as if then it would be too late; whereas Christ has the same power over death that he has over bodily diseases. He forgot that Elijah and Elisha had raised dead children; and is Christ’s power inferior to theirs? Observe what haste he is in: Come down, ere my child die; as if there were danger of Christ’s slipping his time. He that believeth does not make haste, but refers himself to Christ. "Lord, what and when and how thou pleasest."

5. The answer of peace which Christ gave to his request at last (v. 50): Go thy way, thy son liveth. Christ here gives us an instance, (1.) Of his power, that he not only could heal, but could heal with so much ease, without the trouble of a visit. Here is nothing said, nothing done, nothing ordered to be done, and yet the cure wrought: Thy son liveth. The healing beams of the Sun of righteousness dispense benign influences from one end of heaven to another, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. Though Christ is now in heaven, and his church on earth, he can send from above. This nobleman would have Christ come down and heal his son; Christ will heal his son, and not come down. And thus the cure is the sooner wrought, the nobleman’s mistake rectified, and his faith confirmed; so that the thing was better done in Christ’s way. When he denies what we ask, he gives what is much more to our advantage; we ask for ease, he gives patience. Observe, His power was exerted by his word. In saying, Thy son lives, he showed that he has life in himself, and power to quicken whom he will. Christ’s saying, Thy soul lives, makes it alive. (2.) Of his pity; he observed the nobleman to be in pain about his son, and his natural affection discovered itself in that word, Ere my child, my dear child, die; and therefore Christ dropped the reproof, and gave him assurance of the recovery of his child; for he knows how a father pities his children.

6. The nobleman’s belief of the word of Christ: He believed, and went away. Though Christ did not gratify him so far as to go down with him, he is satisfied with the method Christ took, and reckons he has gained his point. How quickly, how easily, is that which is lacking in our faith perfected by the word and power of Christ. Now he sees no sign or wonder, and yet believes the wonder done. (1.) Christ said, Thy son liveth, and the man believed him; not only believed the omniscience of Christ, that he knew the child had recovered, but the omnipotence of Christ, that the cure was effected by his word. He left him dying; yet, when Christ said, He lives, like the father of the faithful, against hope he believed in hope, and staggered not through unbelief. (2.) Christ said, Go thy way; and, as an evidence of the sincerity of his faith, he went his way, and gave neither Christ nor himself any further disturbance. He did not press Christ to come down, did not say, "If he do recover, yet a visit will be acceptable;" no, he seems no further solicitous, but, like Hannah, he goes his way, and his countenance is no more sad. As one entirely satisfied, he made no great haste home; did not hurry home that night, but returned leisurely, as one that was perfectly easy in his own mind.

7. The further confirmation of his faith, by comparing notes with his servants at his return. (1.) His servants met him with the agreeable news of the child’s recovery, v. 51. Probably they met him not far from his own house, and, knowing what their master’s cares were, they were willing as soon as they could to make him easy. David’s servants were loth to tell him when the child was dead. Christ said, Thy son liveth; and now the servants say the same. Good news will meet those that hope in God’s word. (2.) He enquired what hour the child began to recover (v. 52); not as if he doubted the influence of Christ’s word upon the child’s recovery, but he was desirous to have his faith confirmed, that he might be able to satisfy any to whom he should mention the miracle; for it was a material circumstance. Note, [1.] It is good to furnish ourselves with all the corroborating proofs and evidences that may be, to strengthen our faith in the word of Christ, that it may grow up to a full assurance. Show me a token for good. [2.] The diligent comparison of the works of Christ with his word will be of great use to us for the confirming of our faith. This was the course the nobleman took: He enquired of the servants the hour when he began to amend; and they told him, Yesterday at the seventh hour (at one o’clock in the afternoon, or, as some think this evangelist reckons, at seven o’clock at night) the fever left him; not only he began to amend, but he was perfectly well on a sudden; so the father knew that it was at the same hour when Jesus said to him, Thy son liveth. As the word of God, well-studied, will help us to understand his providences, so the providence of God, well observed, will help us to understand his word; for God is every day fulfilling the scripture. Two things would help to confirm his faith:—First, That the child’s recovery was sudden and not gradual. They name the precise time to an hour: Yesterday, not about, but at the seventh hour, the fever left him; not it abated, or began to decrease, but it left him in an instant. The word of Christ did not work like physic, which must have time to operate, and produce the effect, and perhaps cures by expectation only; no, with Christ it was dictum factum— he spoke and it was done; not, He spoke and it was set a doing. Secondly, That it was just at the same time that Christ spoke to him: at that very hour. The synchronisms and coincidents of events add very much to the beauty and harmony of Providence. Observe the time, and the thing itself will be more illustrious, for every thing is beautiful in its time; at the very time when it is promised, as Israel’s deliverance (Ex. 12:41); at the very time when it is prayed for, as Peter’s deliverance, Acts 12:12. In men’s works, distance of place is the delay of time and the retarding of business; but it is not so in the works of Christ. The pardon, and peace, and comfort, and spiritual healing, which he speaks in heaven, are, if he pleases, at the same time effected and wrought in the souls of believers; and, when these two come to be compared in the great day, Christ will be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe.

8. The happy effect and issue of this. The bringing of the cure to the family brought salvation to it. (1.) The nobleman himself believed. He had before believed the word of Christ, with reference to this particular occasion; but now he believed in Christ as the Messiah promised, and became one of his disciples. Thus the particular experience of the power and efficacy of one word of Christ may be a happy means to introduce and settle the whole authority of Christ’s dominion in the soul. Christ has many ways of gaining the heart, and by the grant of a temporal mercy may make way for better things. (2.) His whole house believed likewise. [1.] Because of the interest they all had in the miracle, which preserved the blossom and hopes of the family; this affected them all, and endeared Christ to them, and recommended him to their best thoughts. [2.] Because of the influence the master of the family had upon them all. A master of a family cannot give faith to those under his charge, nor force them to believe, but he may be instrumental to remove external prejudices, which obstruct the operation of the evidence, and then the work is more than half done. Abraham was famous for this (Gen. 18:19), and Joshua, ch. 24:15. This was a nobleman, and probably he had a great household; but, when he comes into Christ’s school, he brings them all along with him. What a blessed change was here in this house, occasioned by the sickness of the child! This should reconcile us to afflictions; we know not what good may follow from them. Probably, the conversion of this nobleman and his family at Capernaum might induce Christ to come afterwards, and settle at Capernaum, as his head-quarters in Galilee. When great men receive the gospel, they may be instrumental to bring it to the places where they live.

9. Here is the evangelist’s remark upon this cure (v. 54); This is the second miracle, referring to ch. 2:11, where the turning of water into wine is said to be the first; that was soon after his first return out of Judea, this soon after his second. In Judea he had wrought many miracles, ch. 3:2; 4:45. They had the first offer; but, being driven thence, he wrought miracles in Galilee. Somewhere or other Christ will find a welcome. People may, if they please, shut the sun out of their own houses, but they cannot shut it out of the world. This is noted to be the second miracle, 1. To remind us of the first, wrought in the same place some months before. Fresh mercies should revive the remembrance of former mercies, as former mercies should encourage our hopes of further mercies. Christ keeps account of his favours, whether we do or no. 2. To let us know that this cure was before those many cures which the other evangelists mention to be wrought in Galilee, Mt. 4:23; Mk. 1:34; Lu. 4:40. Probably, the patient being a person of quality, the cure was the more talked of and sent him crowds of patients; when this nobleman applied himself to Christ, multitudes followed. What abundance of good may great men do, if they be good men!

Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry [1706]

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