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happiness “rights”

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water [AD 30]. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink” ... ... “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” ... ... “Go, call your husband and come here.” ... ... “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”  John 4: 7, 10, 16-18


Five husbands in AD 30 (see above)? Yes, and even the present “husband” was, by her own admission, not her husband.


That was a woman from Sychar, a town in Samaria (now part of Israel).


But it could well have been a startlingly attractive Jersey girl whose first name was Emilie and who was the daughter of a former Dean of Jersey – Dean Le Breton.


Balliene’s Biographical Dictionary records many things about Mrs Lillie Langtry – including particulars of her “husbands”. But first, what did she look like? Here are a few hints –

·         Her mother was described by Charles Kingsley (who wrote “The Water Babies”) as the most bewitchingly beautiful creature he had ever seen; her father  was strikingly handsome;

·         Her first marriage proposal occurred when she was 14 (in 1867)

·         In London she was acclaimed as the world’s most beautiful woman;

·         Oscar Wilde, to show his admiration, slept one night on her doorstep;

·         In Manchester admirers unharnessed the horses of her coach and dragged it through the streets themselves;

·         Glasgow students escorted her with a torchlight procession.


She was fun to be with – a lover of happiness and fun. Now, about those “husbands” -

·         When she was 20 a wealthy young Belfast widower (Edward Langtry) came to a Le Breton family wedding in Jersey – on his 200 ft yacht. Six weeks later they were married.

·         On tour in New York as an actress a young millionaire (Gebhard) became her devoted admirer and gave her fantastic gifts including a 6,000 acre ranch and racing stables of her own.

·         When back in England another millionaire (Abingdon Baird) devoted his wealth to her and gave her a state-of-the-art yacht.

·         Then Lord Roslyn .

·         The Prince of Wales, a close companion in her 20s, was her public escort (when she was 46 in 1897) when a horse from her racing stables won a major race. (That year Mr Langtry died in a workhouse having been bankrupted by Lillie's lavish lifestyle.)

·         Sir Hugo de Bathe, a 28 year old guardsman married 46 year old Lillie in 1899 and they settled in a cottage at Beaumont – for a time.


Like the Samaritan woman in AD 30 (see above), Jersey’s Lillie wanted – desperately wanted – happiness. And did all she could to obtain it. Was happiness not one of her human rights?


Same as the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus said “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”


If only.

·         If only she knew the gift of God.

·         If only she knew who Jesus was who was asking her for a drink.

·         She would, if only she knew, have asked him for living water.


True, like Lillie Langtry, she had had multiple husbands – and no longer had a (true) husband. (Lillie died in Monte Carlo in 1929.) But the gift of God (through the forlorn criminal’s death of His Son on a Roman cross as her substitute) could deal with all that. And Jesus, if asked, would give her living water and she would never thirst again.


This remarkable incident in AD 30 continues with this dear woman, a Samaritan outcast, returning to town and inviting many others to make their own assessment of this man Jesus. They say to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, because we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”

 ‘Christians should have such abundant life that in poverty they are rich, in sickness they are in spiritual health, in contempt they are full of triumph and in death full of glory.'  (C H Spurgeon, preacher, 1834-1892)
 ‘The whole secret of abundant living can be summed up in this sentence: “Not your responsibility but your response to God’s ability.”' (Carl F H Henry, American theologian, 1913-2003)
Richard Syvret

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