A thirsty woman came to the well at Sychar to draw water not only for herself but also for her household. There she found the spiritual water which became for her a spring, welling up to life eternal.

Had this woman found the water of Jacob’s well only she would have continued to go back from day to day. But on that memorable occasion she met Jesus Christ, who revealed himself to her as the Messiah, the one for whom all Jewry longed. That it was to this stranger and despised person that Christ witnessed makes the story all the more thrilling.

Countless sermons have been preached about this well-side encounter, and in them are to be found multiplied lessons for our own eternal good.

There is one lesson we need to learn in each generation—that there is a difference between the temporal and the eternal which transcends all else. The things which are seen are temporal and temporary. It is the things which are not seen which are eternal.

Never has the Church needed to recognize this difference more than today. So many things are spoken of as “Christian” which are not Christian but humanitarian. As a matter of fact, much of theological controversy hinges on this basic problem, while the effective witness of the Church stands or falls at precisely this point.

Exploding populations, emerging nations, and accelerated communications have made good men more conscious than ever of the plight and needs of men around the world. Attempts to alleviate suffering, raise standards of living, and offer something of the “good life” to all men everywhere strike a responsive chord in many hearts.

All of this is as it should be, but the task, message, and emphasis of the Church goes infinitely further than this, and we are in grave danger of losing sight of this priority.

To the Church is committed the message of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. This in no way minimizes the obligation to carry the cup of cold water as we proclaim the Gospel; but if humanitarianism is the dominating work and message of the Church, she is not fulfilling her obligation to a lost and dying world.

As one studies the emphasis of many church programs (an emphasis reflected in the pronouncements of major denominations in their annual meetings), one is forced to the conclusion that for many the primary concern of the Church has to do with people as they live in this present world.

Who then is to preach the Gospel of redemption—of salvation from sin? Where then can men go to learn the way of eternal life? Who will preach to men of sin, and of self-control, and of future judgment? In other words, if the Church is to center her emphasis on the temporal needs of mankind, who will enter the spiritual vacuum thereby created?

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We recently heard a consecrated layman tell of evening prayers with his wife. He was praying for the sick and the needy when suddenly he felt God speaking to him: “I have given you the means to help the needy; why pray about something you can and should be doing already!”

There is no use in hiding our unwillingness to become involved in the relief of human need and suffering with pious platitudes about the next world. At the same time, if our concerns have solely to do with the material and secular welfare of mankind we are not being Christian either in attitude or in activity.

We frequently hear persons spoken of as “great Christians.” As a rule this phrase is used as a tribute to their humanitarian concern and efforts. Concern for peace, philanthropic activities, the relief of human suffering, crusades for social justice—all have their place in the activities of Christians. But none of these things, singly or in the composite, constitute Christianity as such. To be a Christian one must have entered into a new relationship with God through faith in his Son. This relationship involves a spiritual change, a rebirth into the family of God whereby one has eternal life.

In many places and ways there is grave danger of the Church’s forgetting her twofold responsibility and settling for water after the drinking of which men will thirst again.

The writer yields to no man in his concern for the alleviating of human suffering. For twenty-five years he shared in the work of a large mission hospital in China. During those years several hundred thousand patients went through the clinic and hospital. A great many of them had their diseases cured. Where are these people today—after a quarter of a century? We are constrained to believe that most of them are now dead.

The question then arises. Where are they now? During the time these people were under medical care there was a carefully worked-out and executed plan of evangelistic effort. By word of mouth, the printed page, and example, there was a prayerful and careful determination to lead these people to Christ. We know that many of them accepted Him as Saviour and Lord either while hospital patients or later.

Suppose all efforts had been centered on physically rehabilitating these patients without at the same time preaching to them Christ as their Saviour and their hope of eternity? Had this been the case, one would look back today on twenty-five years of futility, as far as eternal verities are concerned.

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Even true Christians can be led to spend their time and energies—yes, for a whole lifetime—only to find that they have lived in vain in the light of the final testing.

The Apostle Paul speaks of men who have established their lives on Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation but who have built with perishable materials of wood, hay, and stubble, all of which are destroyed when tested by the fire of God’s judgment even though the individual is himself saved.

Emphasis on the temporal is a grave temptation, for it is this which we see and experience. Furthermore, if our Christianity is valid we must show forth love and compassion in terms which really help men in their social and physical misery.

But as far as the Christian and the Church are concerned, love and compassion are fruits of the Spirit and are never complete unless they look down the corridors of time into that eternity for which all men are destined.

Hungry men—thirsty men—needy men constantly enter the doors of the church only to hear economic, political, and social platitudes and panaceas. They are not fed with the bread of life, nor have they been able to drink from the fountain of living water. They have sought and received only that which lasts for the moment.

Our Lord says: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Shall those who need God’s greatest gift be offered nothing more than that which perishes with time?

It’s being done.

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