In the matter of evil and of our dealing with it there are two things to be considered: the sin itself on the one hand of course, but on the other hand the state of the person who has committed it. It is so commonly the case that the evil itself becomes practically the whole matter, or at least it seems supposed that if the one is dealt with and set right, the other may well be left to take care of itself. Than this scarcely anything can be a greater hindrance (to speak of nothing else) to the real putting away of the evil which we seek to remedy. .
So faithful is God that He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation make a way of escape that we may be able to bear it. A sin then, when we fall into it, is a sign of the state of soul, very likely unsuspected, but none the less a real sign of a condition, — the fruit in fact of our not being with God. In dealing with this, if the sin itself be practically the only thing before one — an act and not a state — we shall become incapable of effective dealing with it; except that effective dealing be considered the putting away of evil and the evil doer together.
But the Lord hates putting away. It is the last and the sad resource when all else fails, and when the person who has sinned has simply to be left to God as confessedly beyond our reach altogether. Now there are, of course, sins of such a character as makes it manifest from the first that nothing else can be done. I am not now speaking of these. In other and ordinary cases we shall only do mischief by identifying in this way the offence and the offender, by forgetting that there is a soul to be restored as well as a sin to be put away.
In this case, grace and truth have both to act; but grace foremost. Grace alone restores, alone gives dominion over sin. The water and the towel have to be in the hands of one who can stoop low enough to use them aright. Meekness and lowliness alone can meet the case in hand. But more: if our action here is to be an imitation of Christ's own, we must first of all realize what Christ's is; and I fear a mistake here in many minds. A thing, true in itself, is often put into a false place, that "if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins," and therefore it has been conceived as if our part must first be the judgment of the evil before we could count upon Him to be with us for blessing.
But away from Him self-judgment in its true meaning becomes impossible, and we find practically that this is no remedy for us. We are as unable to meet conditions imposed on us here as any where else. How indeed can we set ourselves right for Him to wash us? what would be the meaning of His washing, if our feet could not be put into His hands defiled, not clean?
A first welcome to Christ then, is to be maintained in order to cleansing by Him, a restoration to His presence in order to cleansing. And for that the open arms of love ever waiting, the Lord Himself only rebuking our absence from Him whatever our condition.
Now if this be Christ's way, our own must follow it. The first thing is not to get a matter right, but to get a soul right so that he may be able to see and to judge with God. For this he must be with Him. Force upon him your judgment of his sin before this, you are not at his feet, you cannot wash. Your well-meaning work may drive him but further away from you and from God. He is away, and must be brought near. Then wash, and He will not resist you.