Who are called to spread the Good News? Do sinners have a role in it? What is the most effective way to do it? What are the effects of the successful propagation of the gospel?
I think the answers can be found in John 4:39-42: “39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
1. By the woman’s testimony concerning Christ; though a single testimony, and one of no good repute, and the testimony no more than this, “He told me everything I ever 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 others afraid of coming to him, lest he should tell them also of their faults; but they will risk it rather than not be acquainted with one who they had reason to believe 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 in him for the saying of the woman. So far they believed in him that they took him for a prophet, and were eager to know the mind of God from him; this is favourably interpreted as believing in him. Now observe,
[1.] Who they were that believed: Many of the Samaritans, who were not of the house of Israel, were ready to 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; for, by doing good to them, good may be conveyed to more. 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 (Acts 8:26-40).
Thirdly, See how good it is to speak experientially 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 everything I ever did”. Those are most likely to do good that can tell what God has done for their souls, Ps. 66:16.
(2.) To urge him to stay with them (v. 40): 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. So far were they from being offended in Christ that they begged he would stay 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 eager 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 were taught by their custom 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 stay 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. Now we are told that Christ granted their request.
First, He stayed there. Though it was a city of the Samaritans nearly adjoining to their temple, yet, when he was invited, he stayed there; though he was upon a journey, and had further to go, yet, when he had an opportunity of doing good, he stayed there. He stayed 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 conversation with them (v. 41, 42); what he said and did there is not told, whether he healed their sick or not; 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 moved, 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 persuaded by the report of the woman now saw cause to say, “Now we believe, not because of what you said”, v. 42. Here are three ways 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; 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: 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): “Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard”. The Samaritans, who believed for the woman’s saying, now gained further light; 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 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 experience. 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 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.
Let us praise God with the song “Lord By Your Cross and Resurrection”: