"If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." John 13.
It is a fact with which many are familiar, that the account of our Lord's washing His disciples feet, and the four following chapters, are found in the gospel by John, and in no other portion of the Holy Scriptures. The time was exceedingly and peculiarly solemn. The blessed Lord had ere this openly taken His farewell of Jewish things. The beautiful temple was soon to be a heap of ruins not one stone left upon another; and a new order of things of a spiritual and heavenly character was to be brought in. Hence the washing of the disciples' feet, the disclosure to His own of the Father's house, the promise of the descent and abiding of the Holy Ghost, the other Comforter, and His marvellous operations, as also the blessed hope of our Lord's coming to receive us unto Himself, now have their place. It can easily be perceived how fundamentally important such instruction is to us, and how entirely foreign to Jewish ideas. We do not find here the declaration of the mystery of the Church, the body of Christ, because, according to the counsels of God, it was reserved for a subsequent revelation; yet these chapters clearly announce lines of deeply precious instruction suitable to us during the whole period of our Lord's rejection, until He come again.
These chapters, therefore, contain lessons of richest worth, which could not have been brought out while the Lord was presenting Himself as the Messiah to the nation of Israel; but, having been rejected, He could only leave them in desolation, darkness, and unbelief, until they shall say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." (Matt. 23:38, 39.) The time, therefore, was now come for setting forth great and precious doctrines for us.
In the first twenty-five verses of this chapter, there are three points of instruction to which we would direct attention — the believer's security, communion with the Lord, and confidence of faith. This is the order in which these subjects are here presented, and assuredly it is divine. For until the believer is established as to his everlasting security in Christ, how can he enjoy communion with the Lord? And if not walking with the Lord, can he expect to have confidence in the Lord when adversity comes?
1. As to the question of the believer's security, several remarkable points are clustered together in the beginning of the chapter. In the first verse we read, "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Love, divine love, is certainly the source of all our blessings. Our everlasting security, therefore, flows from divine love. It is His love to us which is first; for "we love Him, because He first loved us." It is His love, not ours, which is the spring — "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." This love then has been manifested in all its fulness, perfectness, and suitability — "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." (1 John 4:9, 10, 19.) Most souls when anxious and awakened to a sense of their obligations to God as His creatures, think that all their blessings are based on their love to God. They therefore, try, and try again, most sincerely, to love God; when, after a constant sense of failure and sin, they learn the precious truth that God's love in the gift of His Son is the source of peace and salvation, and not their love to God. They say, "I am trying to love God," but until they know how marvellously God's love has come out to us, while we were yet sinners, they never get peace. All believers in the Lord Jesus, therefore, can say, "We have known and believed the love which God hath to us." This love, too, is unchanging, for "whom He loved when He was in the world He loved them unto the end;" that is, He loved them through all their failings, mistakes, and ignorance.
"His love 's unchangeably the same,
And as enduring as His name."
It is divine love, the love of God to us in Christ in all its fulness, perfectness, and unchangeableness, which is then the spring of our eternal salvation, and therefore imparts to us the first sense of our everlasting security. And let us ever remember that it is not God's providential kindness to us in our circumstances, gracious as He may
be in these things; but it is His love to us in the gift of His only-begotten Son, that tells us of His infinite grace. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16.) There can, therefore, be no peace, no sense of security, where the spring of our eternal blessings is not known as flowing to us in the gift of Christ; and until that is the case, souls, if truly awakened and earnest, will be looking to their own love to God, their feelings, their doings, the performance of their promised resolutions, and the like, which only increase their misery, and can never impart rest and peace. Happy those who so perceive the love of God in the Person and work of Christ, and its suitability to us, as to enable them to realise in their own souls the preciousness of the truth, "Perfect love casteth out fear"
Then we have brought before us that which sets forth the death of Christ the supper (v. 2); for nothing less than the death and blood-shedding of the Son of God could meet our need, or satisfy the claims of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. Nothing less than the unsparing condemnation of our sins could satisfy divine justice, and nothing less than our having everlasting life and salvation could satisfy divine love. The death of Christ, then, was absolutely necessary, and is the alone ground of peace and everlasting security. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; birth if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (John 12:24.) Precious love, that could thus manifest itself in cleansing and saving us, and bringing eternal glory to God! By the death of Christ, the question of our sins is for ever settled, according to the strictest claims of justice and truth, as well as love. We are told that He "bare our sins in His own body on the tree," that He "suffered for sins," "died for our sins," shed His blood "for many for the remission of sins;" that "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, . . . and with His stripes we are healed." We have thus in the death of Christ an immoveable ground of peace, and that which purges the conscience, because of remission of sins, on the ground of sins having been judged by God unsparingly in the Person of His beloved Son, who was "made sin" and "made a curse" for us on the tree. If the love of God is the source of all our blessings, the death of Christ is the foundation of our everlasting peace and security; for "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Here we see the demands of holiness vindicated, the claims of righteousness met, justice satisfied, love manifested, sins judged, the sinner that believes saved, and God glorified. God, who condemned sin, now justifies the sinner on the principle of faith. "Jesus knowing that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father," and the Supper, tell us of His death. It is the death of Christ, then, that has justly answered for us every charge of sin, and which sets our conscience at rest before God; for if the question be asked, Who is he that condemneth? The answer is, It is Christ that died, and it is God which justifieth. Thus we sing:
"The Lord of life in death hath lain,
To clear me from all charge of sin,
And, Lord, from guilt of crimson stain,
Thy precious blood hath made me clean."
But more than this. The Lord was in spirit at this moment on the other side of death. The language is very remarkable — "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God." Here we have the Lord presented to us in spirit on resurrection and ascension ground, "knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands." We needed a Saviour who could bring us to God — bring many sons to glory; a Saviour, therefore, who should not only save us from our sins, but be the Conqueror of Satan, and rise victoriously over death and the brave. This Christ did when He rose from among the dead; for, through death, He annulled him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and thus set free those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage. In the resurrection of Christ, we see not only God's testimony to the finished work of Jesus on the cross, but we also see Satan, who had the power of death, completely triumphed over, and a new and living way made for us into the presence of God. And further, He being now in the place of power at the right hand of God, we have life, righteousness, and acceptance in Him. Thus, if a doubt arises as to our having eternal life, it is met by the Scripture that "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." If it be a question of righteousness, we are told, God hath made Christ to be unto us "righteousness." If an enquiry is raised as to our acceptance, we are told that we are "accepted in the Beloved;" that is, before God in all the acceptability of Christ Himself. If nearness to God be considered, we are thus as near to God as Christ is; and this always, for "in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ." Thus believers, who were dead in sins, have been made alive, raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ, in whom the Father hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings. So that not a question remains unanswered as to our everlasting security and blessing.
In the death of the Lord Jesus, our sins have been judged, and thus purged; by the resurrection of Christ, Satan, death, and the grave have been triumphed over and in Christ ascended we have eternal life, righteousness, acceptance, nearness to God, and all spiritual blessings; and His almighty power and perfect changeless love being to usward, we are kept for the inheritance in glory, and the inheritance is reserved for us. It need scarcely be added that the Holy Ghost is given to make all this known unto us, and to unite us to Christ. Thus, not a fear nor a doubt can possess a soul that is stayed on the accomplished work of Christ, and God's testimony concerning it; and in this way we realize the truth of that scripture, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee." How wondrous are the depths and heights of divine grace! Well might the apostle call it a "great salvation." Happy indeed are those, who so grasp God's own declaration as to what has been accomplished for us by the death, and in the resurrection and ascension of Christ, as to "rejoice in the Lord always." Do we know, beloved fellow-believers, what it is thus to rest and triumph, as accepted and blessed in Christ Jesus in heavenly places?
2. The precious instruction of communion with the Lord comes out immediately after the remarkable words already quoted — "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God" (v. 3), which show that He was in spirit on the other side of death when He addressed Himself to the mystic service of washing His disciples' feet. We expect therefore to gather instruction from it, as setting forth one of the glorious offices in which He is now actively engaged on our behalf while in the glory. That there is more in this gracious ministry than the mere act of lowliness — marvellous as it was in this respect — is perfectly clear; for Jesus said to Peter, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter:" which remark would have been unnecessary if the act was only intended to set forth the Lord's deep humility. But the Holy Ghost having come down, since this scene was enacted, to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us, this and many other of His gracious words and ways are now made known to us.
It is well to notice that the Lord is alone engaged in this service. No one is allowed to help in it, as on some other occasions; nor was it needed. "He took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded." Now, What does this mean? Peter's ignorance and rash expressions are overruled to bring to us the Lord's own thoughts of this service. When Peter hastily exclaimed, "Thou shalt never wash my feet," it elicited from the Lord how indispensable this service was for communion, or having part with Him. "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." (v. 8.) And when Peter again, with equal rashness and ignorance, said, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head" (v. 9), it became the occasion for the blessed Lord to give a fuller elucidation of this service by saying, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" (v. 10); by which we understand that he who has been in a bath, washed all over, only needs afterward to have his feet washed, so as to cleanse away the defilement his feet had gathered up in walking in a defiled and defiling place. He had been washed once, and was thus "clean every whit;" but now it is a question of removing the uncleanness which the feet had since contracted.
Peter's thoughts exactly meet many dear souls in the present day. They think, when conscious of having sinned since they believed in Christ and had peace with God, that they must come to the Saviour as sinners, as they did at first, and be again washed in His blood. But when a believer sins, it becomes a question between him and the Lord not of salvation, but of communion. Saved people, servants having part with their Master, is what we have here. Let us not fail to notice that the necessity for this service is that we, who are servants of the Lord, may have communion with our loving Master — have part with Him. "If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet." Having part with Him is surely not salvation, but communion.
A child of God hates sin, and desires, in obedience to the Lord's word, not to sin; yet through failure he does sin. This not only makes him sad, but communion with the Lord is interrupted. Of this he is sorrowfully conscious, and longs to have part again with his blessed Master. This bows him in self-judgment and confession, and earnest desire for restoration to happy communion. The question is, Does he want to be washed again in the blood? or, as some put it, Does he need a fresh application of the blood? We reply, Certainly not. Where does Scripture speak of a fresh application of the blood? It is not washing with blood here, but with water. The truth is, that every believer is by the one offering of Christ perfected" for ever; he is a child of God, and is always before God, as we have seen, in all the nearness and acceptance of Christ Himself. But by the cleansing with water we understand the application of the word, as Scripture says, "The washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:26.) The priests of the nation of Israel, after having been at the altar of burnt-offering, had to wash their hands and feet with water at the laver when they went into the tabernacle of the congregation. So we, having been once washed from our sins in the blood, need afterward that the defilement contracted in our walk should be cleansed, and the heart comforted, as this blessed service of the washing of the feet with water and wiping them with the towel seems to imply. This ministry of our Lord to us now by His Spirit, may be either directly from Himself, or through instrumentality; but in either case the word is so brought to bear upon our troubled souls as to restore us to communion with Himself. For our blessing we are assured that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." How comforting, too, is that word, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." (1 Cor. 11:31.) To walk with the Lord, to have part with Him in His thoughts, affections, ways, and service, is surely a wondrous favour; and our carrying about with us an evil nature, which has been judged on the cross, need not hinder this. But if we give way to fleshly lusts, they war against the soul, grieve the Spirit, and we cannot enjoy part with Christ till we are restored. The priests of old had to wash both their hands and feet. We have not to handle sacrifices, etc., like Aaron and his sons, but have to walk for the glory of God. Hence we need only to have our feet washed. This feet-washing is surely a most gracious provision for us during this present time; and does it not sweetly assure us of our Lord's warm desire that we should be keeping company with Him? And is not this desire of the Lord further brought out by the expression that we should carry out this same restoring ministry to others? "If I then, your Lord and Master have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (vv. 14-17.) So that as He by the action of the word seeks to relieve and restore His failing and distressed servants, so should we in meekness seek to minister to our fellow-servants the word of God, with the hope of thus restoring and comforting them. Happy indeed are those who thus walk in the Master's steps!
3. Confidence in the Lord flows out of communion. Those who have trusted Him most, and walked with Him most, know Him best; and those who are so practically near Him, and taken up with His word, as to drink in His thoughts, observe His ways, and enter into the secrets of His heart, are able to confide in Him in the time of adversity. Blessed are those who "hearken" to Him; for such shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.
The sudden and unexpected announcement of the Lord, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me," must have filled them with surprise and distress. It was a most solemn moment. With indescribable sadness "the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spake." (vv. 21, 22.) They seemed thunderstruck, and knew not what to do. Why did they not cry out to the Lord about it at once? There was one only who appeared to be up to the emergency. None but he could confide in the Lord about it, and at last Peter made a sign that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake; and the disciple who had been leaning on Jesus' breast unhesitatingly, in all the confidence of love, "saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?"
Here we close these remarks, only suggesting whether we are not sweetly taught by this brief narrative that if we would be ready for an emergency, and have confidence in the Lord in times of adversity, we must be dwelling in the Lord's love, and walking and serving according to His own mind, having part with Him. We know who said, "Abide in me," "Learn of me," "Follow me," and "If any man serve me, him will my Father honour." May the Lord Himself so truly engage our hearts that:
"With His beauty occupied,
We elsewhere none may see."