If Thou Knewest!

John 4:10.---Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.'

'If thou knewest.' But the woman of Samaria did not know. She failed as yet to realize her opportunity. She was on the edge of the supreme moment in her life, and apparently she could find nothing better to do than talk and tease, until it seemed as though she would actually allow the chance to pass, oblivious of its size and offer. For, as not unfrequently is the case in human experience, the turning-point came unawares. Nothing warned this woman of the significance which attached to the conversation or of the momentous possibilities with which she was trifling in her interview with Jesus. She had no presentiment, inward or outward, of the crisis. The sunlight flickering on the sand, the stones and the water of the well, the common sights and sounds of the place, were as they had been on countless other days, and she herself had probably trudged out with her pitcher in that listless mood which renders people too dull to expect any fresh experience or any vital change.

The keen sense of capacity and aspiration may readily fade out of the religious life. Any thought of a God who is actually moving and speaking, or breaking into the circle of experience, is practically as foreign to some people as it was this woman. And sometimes for much the same reason. The trouble is that they stand upon a level where religion is viewed mainly in the past or in the future, rather than as a force and factor in the realities of today. 'Our father Jacob,' she exclaimed; and then, 'when Messiah cometh.' As if religion could be resolved into historical traditions or apocalyptic hopes! Any notion of God's living presence or of His personal interest in herself has apparently ebbed out of her mind. She no longer expected anything immediate or great at the hand of God.

I do not wonder, at what men suffer; I wonder often at what they lose. They often suffer through what they lose, and, in religion especially, they often lose through their insensibility to God's power and grace of taking the initiative. Many people, like this woman, find it extremely hard to believe in God's generosity and spontaneity. Paradoxical as it may seem, that belief has seldom been easy for human nature. It takes God to convince men of His spontaneous love. Primitive paganism, for example, was haunted by incurable suspicions of the gods. It is pathetic to notice the deliberate emphasis with which ancient legends will explain how comforts like fire and so forth had to be stolen or extorted from reluctant deities. Nothing, we may say, was further from the average pagan mind than the conception of a god who freely benefited men, or of one whose favor had not to be won by force or fraud. Survivals of this pagan spirit cling to human nature still. They reappear unconsciously in people who tacitly assume, in practice if not theory, that the initiative in religion rests with men rather than with God.

To how many, it must be confessed, a God who may be found is really more credible than One who finds. How often a God who may be worshipped seems more intelligible than One who actually seeks worshippers to worship Him. Even upon a well-trained Christian belief, is it not occasionally a strain to preserve the simple confidence in a God who acts upon us and for us freely, in One who is not only a welcoming Father but a Redeemer who comes to seek and to save the lost, in One who has access to us in ways beyond our consciousness? If we know life we can hardly deny this. It springs in many cases from our private experience of injury or neglect at the hands of our fellow-creatures. People, like this Samaritan woman, may start life with generous hopes and trustful affections which are rudely beaten down as advantage is taken by others of their good-nature; the result is that they learn to be suspicious of their neighbors, until frankness and graciousness ebb out of their relationships. They dole out gifts, perpetually on their guard against being taken in or imposed upon. They even distrust any lavish profession of good-will. In the simplest offer no less than in the most ordinary request they suspect ulterior designs. And the further mischief and misery is that this spirit reacts upon our conception of God, till a certain reluctance is associated with Him, as though He, too, bargained somehow with men, instead of seeking their good ungrudgingly.

Jesus meets this temper by revealing His own personality. 'If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that is speaking to thee.' The free gift of God is simply God giving and giving of Himself in Jesus. God spared not His Son, and the Son spared not Himself, to make the gift real to men. Only, as none of the higher gifts can be received without some sensitiveness or capacity in the receiver---for an influence is not received like a flower or a coin---the preliminary task of God is to stir in men, as in this puzzled, heedless woman, those feelings of uneasiness and wistfulness which are the earliest symptoms of a Divine change. It is the spirit of Jesus which thus renders us uncomfortable and disturbs our lower satisfaction. Jesus and this woman met that afternoon. 'Then cometh he . . . to the well.' 'There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water.' But His thirst for her awoke before her thirst for Him, and that proved the saving of her. He was a stranger to her, but she soon discovered that her life was neither strange nor indifferent to Him. To be understood and trusted by a single human being may often prove the beginning of moral redemption for blunted and lowered lives. And who can set limits to the regenerating power of a belief that God has still interest and confidence in us?

Men are justified by God's faith in them as well as by their faith in Him. They awaken at times to find themselves believing in Him, clinging desperately to hope and goodness, in spite of their unpromising past and their unpromising present, because He generously believes in them. Jesus is their living proof of this underserved and unchanging love in God. He assures that man's life with God is larger than the struggle of the soul to reach and persuade God of its great need. 'My soul followeth hard after thee.' In the order of experience we are often conscious of our own efforts, of our prayers and aspirations, first of all. But we soon learn what underlies these mental and moral struggles; we add, 'Thy right hand upholdeth me.' It is God's personal touch which sustains us even in our most spontaneous and instinctive moments. And how much more in our apathy, when it stirs the conscience!

What though we have felt the heartlessness of other people, the moral emptiness that follows self-indulgence, or the drudgery and vicissitudes of life. What though we are prejudiced and ignorant and shallow. What of all that, when under our vain and vacant moods, beneath the rubbish of trivial interests and vulgar circumstances, Christ is here to stir, in our bewildered and stained characters, a fountain of fresh hope towards God. He gets behind our evasions and levity. He works on us with the tact and patience of love for the very purpose of moral regeneration.

To realize this is the pivot on which everything may turn. 'If thou knewest!' This woman came to know it. 'Our father Jacob,' said she, and she was a truer daughter of Jacob than she understood. As her ancestor once awoke in a strange place to find God had been beside him, though he knew it not, so, centuries later, did this woman of Sychar realize the presence of Christ with a start of wonder. And so, centuries later still, do we. On us, as on her, life's revelations often surge along some ordinary, simple channel, unexpectedly.

Strangely and suddenly, through a conversation, or a reverie in some glen or lane, through a phrase of music, a text of scripture, a sentence in some book, God visits us as He visited the woman of Samaria with a noiseless, arresting experience, a reaction against our lower self, a sudden flash revealing new possibilities, a disturbance of our weariness of mind and prejudices; in a moment life seems to fall apart, leaving us face to face with a Presence that will not be put by; the inertia of things is broken up; the meaning of Jesus starts up through the letters of our commonplace religion; through some casual and ordinary event, as it were, the presence of the living God becomes real and near and dear to us, and we go back to life from these pregnant, precious moments, with something---something intimate and holy that makes the world a new place to us ever afterwards.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha