by T. Austin-Sparks
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:14-15.
"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. The woman saith unto him... from whence then hast thou that living water?" John 4:10-11.
Verse 14: "...Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life".Verse 10: "...If thou knewest the gift of God... thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water".
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" Rom. 6:23.
We are going to pass now to the second stage in the meaning of Divine life. We have seen the first stage in connection with Nicodemus. There in John 3 Divine life is set forth as the way into the Divine kingdom. Chapter 4 advances upon that position, and brings us to the next great reality about Divine life, and the link between chapter 3 and chapter 4 may be said to be chapter 3 verse 14: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life."
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, gives us the spiritual interpretation of the serpent lifted up. He infers and implies in what he says that the curse which was pronounced upon the serpent at the beginning, and which became a dominating thing in the whole fallen creation - "the whole world lieth in the evil one" - was assumed, was taken by the Lord Jesus when, as Paul says, He was made a curse for us. He entered into the old creation, and took upon Him the curse of that old creation, died under the curse, and in His resurrection He becomes the first of the new creation, in which the curse is destroyed, where there is no more curse.
If you look into the Scriptures to discover the meaning, the effect of the curse, you will see that it always works out to vanity, to impotence, inability to get through to an end which is complete and perfect. Paul says in Romans 8 that the creation itself was subjected to vanity by reason of Him who subjected it, by which he means that there was a time when God said concerning the creation: It shall not reach the goal for which I brought it into being; I put it under the reign of vanity; that is, all its struggles and efforts will be in vain. Paul declares that to be the meaning of the groaning which he hears in the whole creation. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together..." It is seeking to reach an end, and it cannot. It is all the time reaching out for something which it cannot grasp, and that end for which it knows it was brought into being is beyond it, and eluding it all the time. That is the mark of the curse.
It is seen in the case of Jericho, the city that was laid under a curse by Joshua. We find years afterward in the days of Elisha that the people of Jericho came to him and said: The position of the city is good, but the waters are bad, and the trees cast their fruit before their time. There was no reaching of ripeness and maturity. Everything fell to the ground before it had reached that point of perfection. That was the mark of a curse; failure to reach its intended end, the end for which it was created.
Before we go further or say any more about Christ being made a curse, and of His taking the curse and destroying it, in order to make possible perfection, fulness, finality, completeness, let us see how this is transferred to Chapter 4 of John's Gospel; for what you have as the outstanding ground, shall we say, the very foreground, of this picture upon which the Lord Himself constructs this beautiful truth of Divine life, is a condition of deep, conscious longing, need, desire, craving, along with a good deal of a continuous activity and energy, in the endeavour to satisfy it, without such satisfaction ever being reached. "He, that drinketh of this water shall thirst again..."; and the woman knew it right well. So that the governing thing here is a consciousness of need, a craving for satisfaction, and, despite all the effort, never attaining to it.
The Deliverer is Come
You must remember that the Lord Jesus always knows what He is doing. What we mean is this, that He sees the whole thing and is all the time active in relation to the fundamental and ultimate principles of things. If the Lord Jesus is saying something, you may take it for granted that He is getting right down to rock bottom. These are not just casual observations of His; He is right back of everything touching ultimate things. Whenever He speaks He is going right back there behind everything, touching the things which govern eternal destiny.
When this woman came to draw water there were Divine factors at work, and the first was that of Divine sovereignty. It was an unusual time for anyone to come and draw water. That has been explained on the ground of what the woman was, that, being the character she was, she would come at an unusual time, so that she should not meet other people. I am not sure that such an explanation is satisfactory. There is no doubt at all that when she began to see the light she went back to the town, and had no hesitation in letting everybody know and hear. She was clearly not keeping apart from people then. It may be true, but there seems to be a deeper meaning in this, for things are not just accidents. When the Lord Jesus came upon a case it was usually there for a sovereign purpose. All those cases of sickness and blindness are so timed, their setting and occasion is so exact, as to indicate a relation to some bigger issue than just the opening of the eyes of the blind, the healing of the sick, or the raising of the dead. It is all staged from heaven and timed in relation to bigger issues. I think we are right in saying that this woman came at that unusual time as a consequence of Divine sovereignty. We may see that as we go on.
Well, she came, and she came to draw water, but it was not as though the Lord merely took hold of that natural factor to turn it to account. He did that, but He was seeking far bigger things than that. He knew quite well that here in this woman there was that which is always the mark of the curse. That which presently becomes so apparent, with all His use of the familiar and every-day facts of thirst and water, is this, that the Lord Jesus has His finger upon the truth in that woman's life. He has got right back of things, and has touched her in the very depths of her being; and that is the marvel to her. In the end, the thing at which she wonders is that here is a Man who has read her right through, and who knows the deepest reality of her being. "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" He had got right down to the depths of her being, and read her through. He knew that this woman was representative of the creation which lies under the curse, and the deepest mark in any such life is this longing, craving, groaning, reaching out for something, but never reaching it, never finding the answer, never getting satisfaction: "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity". That is the mark of the curse. It cannot reach its goal. It is right in the presence of the main features of the curse that the Lord Jesus brings this message of Divine life. Having that setting, you are able to understand the meaning of Divine life, and of what the Lord Jesus went on to say to this woman.
The Natural Cannot Meet the Spiritual
Now let us get the detail of the picture. There is the foreground, there is the main factor upon which He is working. But then you notice that, both in the case of the woman and of Christ Himself, the natural need is the occasion of what is said, and becomes the illustration, the analogy of spiritual need. The woman came to draw water, speaking of a need in her life. The Lord Jesus, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well, and His disciples went into the town to buy bread. Now the Lord Jesus was in a state of need also, and, what came out afterward with the woman and with the disciples came as the analogy of this natural need. But, of course, the real need is far deeper than the natural. It is that which lies behind. So it proved to be, and is shown to be so by the results in both cases. The results in both the case of the woman and of Christ are tremendously illuminating with regard to spiritual need and the way in which it is met. What we want to recognise is that once more the fact is made perfectly clear that the natural can never meet the spiritual. The woman may draw as much water as she likes, and come as often as she likes, but her real need will never be met.
If we are still out of Christ, in the realm where the curse operates, we may procure everything that could come to us in the natural, and the real need never be met. That, again, is something which hardly needs to be said, but it has to be recognised, that no amount of natural feelings can touch the beginnings of spiritual need. Let no one think that if he had this or that, if he were here or there, if his circumstances were different from what they are, or if he were only given certain things, his deepest need would be met. No, that is not so. Whatever we might have in the natural, and however much that might be, the natural never can, even at its fullest, begin to touch spiritual need. Spiritual need stands apart. That is what is made perfectly clear here. Both in the case of the woman, and in the case of the Lord Jesus, that is so. The bread which the disciples went away to buy would never satisfy the Lord Jesus. We shall see the meaning of that presently.
The Meeting of Ultimate Need an Inward Matter
That leads us to this point, that the silencing of every cry for satisfaction is an inward matter, not an outward. Not in things, circumstances, or possessions, advantages or anything else, but the answer to every cry of the human spirit is by way of having the very spring or well of satisfaction placed right at the very centre of our being. That is the final word on satisfaction in this chapter. That is the Lord's thought, the Lord's mind. That is what the Lord shows to be essential, and therefore blessedly possible, that you can have, right down deep in the very centre of your own being, the well itself springing up unto perfect satisfaction. If you have not that, you will have no real satisfaction, though you have everything else. The longing, the craving, the hunger will still go on, and the marks of the curse will still be present - "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity".
It is in this way that believers, the children of God, are entirely weaned from the world and lost to its appeal. They have satisfaction within. It is not a thing that can be explained to anyone else, and no one else can understand it, but there is the fact that they have found their satisfaction in an inward way, and they are completely delivered from outward things.
That is what the Lord Jesus says to this woman, and that is what this woman evidently comes to understand and enjoy, because when you have a well within, you discard the water pot of external things. "She left her water pot and went into the city..." Her water pot was the symbol of her dissatisfaction, the symbol of an unsatisfied longing. She left it. At one time that water pot represented her life. It represented all the satisfaction that she had, and it was poor satisfaction. Nevertheless, it was her life. Now she just leaves it because she knows something of the meaning of the well within.
That is a very simple illustration of the truth that all those things which were to us the life - poor life as we now see it to have been - simply drop away from us, and become of very little account now. We just leave them, when the well is within. If you take the water pot away from the person who has not the well within, you take all he has: but when once one has the well within, the water pots of earthly satisfaction no longer have any interest, any meaning; they have no value, they are simply discarded. There is no struggle to give them up, no battle, they are just left.
Now we see that there is a step beyond that, for the woman represents one side of this truth and the Lord Jesus represents the other. The woman represents the receiving of Divine life as an inward thing. I take it that the Holy Spirit is the well of water, and the water that Christ gives is the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Life.
The life is in Christ, and He comes to reside within, by the Spirit, and thus you have the well of life within. The woman represents that; the receiving of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, which is receiving the Lord Jesus Himself, and with Him, eternal life to be inwardly resident and abounding.
Setting Aside the Natural for the Spiritual
But, having received the life, there is still a further fact to be noted. It is not a contradiction, but the outworking of the truth we have considered. The abiding value of that satisfaction is known and enjoyed as there is a continual setting aside of the natural for the spiritual. The Lord Jesus illustrates that in His own case that is before us. He was weary; what He needed naturally was rest. He was hungry; what, He needed naturally was food. Had He acted entirely upon the natural basis, He would have said: Here comes a woman; poor soul, she looks very tired, she looks very needy, and I know what she needs; but I am too tired, I must have a rest before I can say anything; and then I am very hungry, I must have something to eat before I can take up this work. If He had acted upon the natural basis in this case, what would have happened? There is no telling, perhaps, all that would have happened, but if you look to see what did happen because He did not act on that basis, then you see the principle in operation. He set aside the natural for the spiritual deliberately. In effect He said, I am tired, and need rest; nevertheless, I do not live in that realm. I am hungry, and need food; nevertheless, that is not my world. My life is not in those things, My life is in God. He said to His disciples, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of" - "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me". So He put aside the natural for the spiritual, gave the spiritual first place; and with what result? When the disciples came back they found Him as much refreshed as though He had had a wonderful rest, and no longer at all hungry, as though He had had a wonderful meal, and could brush aside those things. They are so impressed with this that they say, "Has any man brought him aught to eat?" What has happened? He does not need our bread. We left Him tired out, and here He is in full vigour. The Lord Jesus was one who had the well within. But in order to prove the continuous efficacy and value of that Divine life that was in Him, He had to live on the basis of it, and not come down on to the basis of the natural.
Now you may not be able to see the follow through of that principle, but it does apply, and it is of tremendous importance to the life of the child of God.
We have dealt now with the need, and God's way of meeting it. I trust that we are in the position to say that we know in our own experience the meaning of that, of the well within having answered all our longings, and become the secret of our satisfaction.
As we go on there is such a thing as co-operating continually with the life of the Lord in us, and co-operation with the life of the Lord in us is after this manner of refusing to come down and make the natural the basis upon which we live. Are we weary? Is that the criterion? Because we are weary and tired, are we to say that nothing can be done; we must have a rest, and no one must expect to see us until we are refreshed? It depends entirely upon whether there is some spiritual need present. The Lord does not forbid rest of body to His children, but there are times when the natural call comes into collision with a spiritual demand, something is there of eternal value in relation to God. Now what are we going to do? Are we going to suspend this Divine interest in favour of our natural renewal or advantage, until we feel better able to tackle it? Or are we going to say: I am weary, I am tired, I am finished, but there is Divine life, there is the Lord of life in me, and I can, and I will, draw upon Him in my weariness. What is the testimony at the end of every such co-operating with the Lord? It is the Lord's own testimony: "I have meat to eat that ye know not of". There is wonderful renewal apart from natural rest.
There may be physical sickness, downright illness, and then there arises a spiritual need in the will of God - not something we imagine, not something we regard as a need, but something that is shown to us by the Lord as being in His will - and yet in ourselves there is an impossible state. What are we going to do? Are we going to say, Well, it is impossible! I cannot do it! and let the matter end there? Or are we going to face this Divine demand, and say, "There is the Lord's life"? We shall find that to be the way of a wonderful new enjoyment of what we have. It is not just the question of possession, but of the enjoyment, the discovery of the values of what we have. We have all things, but how little we know of what we have, how little we know of the values of what we have. We know what it is to be satisfied with Christ, and yet there is an ever growing wonder for us about that satisfaction, and that comes along the line of co-operating with Divine life.
Thus Christ here represents a step in advance of receiving the well. Co-operation with the life, so that all the time there is a testimony in us, and an enjoying of the Lord, is what is typified. The testimony is not only that we have the Lord, but of how wonderful the Lord is, again, and again, and again. In tiredness, in weakness, in weariness, in human inability, we discover what a wonderful Lord we have. But that is only made manifest to us by deliberate acts of repudiating the natural when the Lord's interests call for such a repudiation. We have to qualify at cost. We know quite well that the Lord does say sometimes: Now, you must have a rest! and requires it, not simply because the Lord comes down to our human level and suspends all His Divine life, and accepts our human frailty, but because there are spiritual values bound up with our resting. For that reason the Lord calls us aside for the spiritual value of rest and quietness at times. But, granted that, we must recognise that the Lord will never have us allow a natural condition to be the ground of decision in any matter of His interests.
So to the child of God the truest satisfaction, and the abiding joy of that satisfaction, is in being occupied with spiritual things. That is what it amounts to. Our real joy is in being occupied with the things of the Lord.
This is a word which will be needed specially by young people, because the fight for them may be even more acute and keen than for others. They are so often brought up against the alternatives of some natural enjoyment and something for the Lord, some spiritual business, and, as is usually the case, the enemy seeks at such times to cast his mist over the spiritual things, and says, in effect: You will have to give up your pleasures for spiritual things. Thus the things of the Lord are represented as really robbing us of some enjoyment, some pleasure. For young people that very often represents a battle. For such, and for all of us, let us say that it is a false interpretation. If we are really the children of God we shall find so much more joy and satisfaction in the things of the Lord than in anything else, and we shall find in the end, when we have set aside the natural for the spiritual, the earthly for the heavenly, that we have a joy that all that we have set aside could never have given us.
The Lord Jesus shows us that in His own case in the chapter before us. He was weary. Well, He needed rest. He was hungry. Well, He needed food. He put both rest and food aside, and the demand for it, and threw Himself into spiritual interests, and came out a wonderfully re-invigorated man, refreshed and full of joy.
I have no doubt that the Lord entered into this occasion conscious of His own deeper need, that He needed something deeper than food and rest. I think that what really was there was just a heart longing for something that was a response to the heavenly. There was so much around Him through which He was passing, which was dead, unresponsive, and He just longed for some response to spiritual things. He was hungry for that, and that was the governing thing, and He found the satisfaction of His longing in setting aside all natural interests and giving the spiritual the first place, and came out Himself wonderfully refreshed, and very joyful we may be sure.
Were we to say much more we should but bury these things, and we do not want to do that. We want to keep them clear and unharmed by too much wrapping round. We will, therefore, stop there and just gather it all up into this: Full satisfaction is found in receiving into ourselves by faith Divine life; and then, full satisfaction is maintained in its glow and its glory in living on that Divine life we have received, and living on it continually. The secret of all is, however we may put it, union with Christ; for that is the meaning of, "He that believeth on me". Faith brings about a living link. It is union with Christ, and of course, abiding in Christ, that is signified.
The Lord write these things in our hearts, and make them the governing things of our lives.