In his comments on John 4 our faithful brother, John Calvin, makes a penetrating observation on the nature of religious pride.
His comments are of a particular help in answering the question, How now shall the church live when boundaries of public life, once more pluralistically welcoming toward God's moral law, are now rapidly contracting against it with overt hostility? What shall the Christian do - retreat or fight, shout or whisper, love or hate?
There is something to learn from Calvin among the Samaritans.
In verse 9 the woman at the well is incredulous that our Lord would strike-up a conversation with her, a Samaritan. She is more than a bit wary that Jesus has so casually breached the great religio-social wall between her people and his own: "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jn. 4:9).
It is at this very point that Calvin exposes the ethos lying tall and thick behind her surprise. He writes:
This is a reproach, by which she retorts upon him the contempt which was generally entertained by his nation. The Samaritans are known to have been the scum of a people gathered from among foreigners. Having corrupted the worship of God, and introduced many spurious and wicked ceremonies, they were justly regarded by the Jews with detestation. Yet it cannot be doubted that the Jews, for the most part, held out their zeal for the law as a cloak for their carnal hatred; for many were actuated more by ambition and envy, and by displeasure at seeing the country which had been allotted to them occupied by the Samaritans, than by grief and uneasiness because the worship of God had been corrupted. There was just ground for the separation, provided that their feelings had been pure and well regulated. For this reason Christ, when he first sends the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, forbids them to turn aside to the Samaritans, (Matthew 10:5).
Calvin suggests that most of the disgust from Jews toward Samaritans was a carnal hatred hidden beneath a cloak of zeal for God's law (see John 8:48). The Jews used the law's condemnation of corrupt worship to hide their sinful passions. They did not want their country occupied by Samaritans. They lusted for a more homogeneous nation where they would not have to make contact with certain kinds of sinners. It is not hard to see how such blind pride would stifle any desire to see God bless the nations with good news of a Redeemer. Imagine what would become of you if Jesus refused contact with certain kinds of sinners?
The lesson for us in our time is to check our own passions especially wherever and whenever we communicate our displeasure with what we find in the world. Before you speak, before you write, before you post, ask: Is it godly grief which fills my heart or is that merely the old sin of envy?
Envy surges when the heart regrets seeing enemies get what we ourselves have always wanted - an earthly country of our own where all the values, ambitions and goals of the nation vindicate our "rightness." Envy surges because others are now where we hoped our idols would keep us, on the "right side of history" receiving a temporal earthly justification from other mortals.
As our nation's laws further contract against welcoming the law of God, let us begin each day doing what the Jews should have always done, doing what all who lived by faith did - let us "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." (Hebrews 11:16). Only by setting your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:13) will you overcome envy and hatred toward those who do, and approve, what God forbids (Rm. 1:32).
There is, of course, something else in Calvin's analysis. He says the Samaritans "were justly regarded by the Jews with detestation" and "there was just ground for the separation."
This is a straight-no-chaser commending of those whose delight is in the law of the Lord. Calvin is not commending carnal hatred, he has already upbraided that. He is commending a holy hatred out of love for God. He echoes Jesus' own commendation to the church at Ephesus: "Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Rev. 2:6).
The lesson for us in our time is to remember we are what we love (and what we hate). What we love and hate is reinforced by the ceremonies and catechisms we choose to partake in and choose to avoid. To love God's law then necessarily requires that you make strategic separations from the counsel of the wicked, from the way of sinners, from the seat of scoffers (Ps. 1:1-2). These separations may reach all the way into your work life, your home life, your school choices, even your property rights (Heb. 10:34). Our forsaking the world will go public. The state, established by God as it is, must be honored and respected by all believers (Rm. 13:1-6; 1 Pet. 2:17). However, throughout the history of the world the fervor of the state has ebbed and flowed in its demand to be worshiped. At times it has, like the Samaritans, advanced its own spurious and wicked ceremonies and, we could add, its own corrupt catechisms. When the Christian can no longer voluntarily "opt out" of these ceremonies and catechisms, they will know a season of separation has come. Love of God and his little ones compels us (Matt. 18:6).
Finally, we must never absolutize our public separations. Christ will do that work himself on the day of his appearing (Mt. 25:33). Now are the days of going to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). These are days to breach walls built by our envy and by the sin of those yet dead in their trespasses and sins. Let us courageously separate to Christ and courageously follow Christ surprising the sin parched world with news that Jesus still comes offering living water.