J. N. Darby.
This chapter begins the communications of the Lord as regards His going away. In the previous chapters we have had the account of His ordinary ministry, and statements of the glory of His Person, the power of the divine life come into the world, and light too. All that had been gone through, and then in chapters 8 and 9, you get the rejection of His word and works. Chapter 10 is a statement of what the real purpose of His coming was - to get out His sheep. "He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out." In spite of all opposition, He could not be hindered from having His sheep. It is our heavenly portion in contrast with the fold. The "porter" - God in His prophets, opening the door. He did come in at the door, born at Bethlehem in the appointed way; and then He becomes the door to anybody else. He had come in in God's way according to prophecy; but any who come in by Him "go in and out and find pasture," perfect liberty, not shut up as in a prison, but the Shepherd's care instead of the prison-fold. There they were, saved by Him, and God's pastures to feed upon.
That closed what He was doing on earth, and what He was bringing them into - heavenly blessedness. Then the hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father. He was come there to be put to death, so that all through these chapters He is looked at as actually gone. Having shewn that the Jews would not receive this light of life, they remained in darkness, of course. He was putting before His sheep much better things. Now that He comes to the point that He was actually going away, He takes up the heavenly things to which He had gathered these poor sheep, and unfolds them in chapter 13.
In the gospel of John the blood of Christ is not the subject, though we cannot think too much of it, and that is the reason it is said in the epistle, "This is he that came by water and blood"; not merely by water that purifies and cleanses, but by the blood too that expiates. The cross was the absolute wickedness of man, hating Christ who was come in love, God having displayed Himself in all Christ's walk on earth; it revealed God, and they could not stand that. It is not only that man has been turned out of the garden of Eden on account of his sins, but man has turned God out of the world when He came in grace. In this chapter we find it is water spoken of, that is, the practical purifying of man's heart. There is no repetition of the blood, but there is of the water. To have the work done that clears our sins, the blood must be shed. Nothing ever shewed what sin was as much as Christ's death did; He was sweating as it were great drops of blood only at the thought of going through it.
356 The point here is, that He was going to His Father. The Father had put all things into His hands, and He came from God and went to God; and the question necessarily was with the disciples, How could He be with them or they with Him? It looked like giving them up, and so He presses on them His unalterable love; nothing stopped it, He went perfectly on till everything was done, and everything done that would bring us into the same place He was in. After His resurrection He sends Mary Magdalene to say what was never said before: "Go tell my brethren I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." 'Looking at God in His holy righteousness, you are before Him just as I am; looking at Him in the Father's love, you are before Him just as I am.' And in John 17: "Hast loved them as thou hast loved me." A wonderful word, beloved friends; but that is where we are brought, and that is what Christ does, and it is well to have it thoroughly before our souls in thankfulness for this love. "Peace I leave with you," a peace made at the cross. When the world gives, it gives away; that is, it has not got it any more. But Christ never gives in that way; if He gives us His glory He does not lose any of it Himself. He puts us into the same place with Himself. What the Lord was telling them about was, that He was going up on high to God. He "came from God" in all His absolute purity, and "He went to God" in the same holiness in which He came from Him.
They were sitting at the evening meal. It is not that supper was now ended, but it was going on. They were sitting together, and He gets up from supper; that is, from association with His disciples in this world - He among them, and they with Him. He had been among them as one that served; they had been with Him day by day, and seen the gracious condescension of His ways, and it is well to see it, and eat the bread of God which came down from heaven. But if He is going to God, and the Father has given everything into His hand, there is an end of His service, they thought. 'No,' He says; 'I am not going to give up this service,' so He gets up, and girds Himself, lays aside His garments; that is, sitting at ease in this world. 'I have done with that,' He says; 'but I have not done with service.'
357 I have spoken of the blood as the basis. If the Lord Jesus could not stay with them down here, they must be fit practically (down here on the earth, I mean) to be with Him in God's presence. "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." He could not have a part with them any more. The world had rejected Him, and in that sense He had rejected the world, except to gather souls out of it. 'I cannot have a part with you, and now the thing is for you to have a part with Me.' Here it is having a man in a fit state for communion with God in His own holiness. And that is the question for the Christian every day. If I have not light, the sin is not on my conscience. God may see failure, but (speaking of our walk) He is looking at our walk according to the light we have. He chastens us that we may be "partakers of his holiness." There is no measure of holiness for our hearts but God Himself: to be in the presence of God without a jar between us and Him: we come short of it, I know - that puts an end to all perfection here. It will be perfect in glory; "holy and without blame before him in love." There is no other kind of holiness, and Christ in glory is the expression of that. "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." In contemplating, looking at, dwelling on Christ, you get every day more like Him. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is." The Christian's eye has been opened on the blessedness of Christ; he knows he is to be perfectly like Him by-and-by, and he wants to be as much like Him now as he can. "Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth." That is the means God employs - the scriptures. "And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." He has set Himself apart - the model Man - that the Holy Ghost may take of the things of Christ, and make us like Him. That is where the Christian is who is in earnest; and now his heart wants the holiness. I press that. As regards acceptance, you are in as much acceptance as Christ is, because you are "accepted in the Beloved." We are in this new place before God (not our bodies yet, of course). Real, true holiness is based on the fact, that the question of guilt is settled. But here we soon find out from day to day if things are going on rightly. We come then, besides that, to go through the practical realisation of it day by day, to be as like Christ as we can.
358 He was going up into heaven; how would He do the service up there? 'If I do not do it,' He says, 'you will never be able to be up there with Me.' He takes the form of a servant, then Peter says to Him, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I wash thee not thou hast no part with me." We get the truth from it as we often do from Peter's haste (right feeling of respect for the Lord too). But this is the great point of the chapter. If He did not wash them clean enough as to water merely - not blood here - they could not have a part with Him; He must make them fit for the place He was going to be in. If the guilt is not put away, and we not purified, we are undone. Then Peter says, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head"; and the Lord says, "He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet" - the whole body in contrast with the feet. Here I get the difference between this actual, absolute cleansing that has never lost its value; but in walking through this world they would pick up dirt on their feet, and so I get the feet-washing. "Born of water" never has to be repeated, and it never loses its efficacy any more than the blood. When the guilt is cleared away, when I am born of God, I see all my sinfulness according to that; so when I see thus my place with Christ in heaven, and like Christ in heaven, I see that I am all the opposite; but I have a holy nature, and Christ is my life. The life of Christ is a holy thing. It is not mending the flesh (I cannot deny amiable flesh), but I get there to judge sin as God judges it. I do not say, 'That will not suit an honest man,' but, 'That will not suit God.' It is a new life, and it shews itself in cleansed habits and ways. The word is applied with divine and heavenly purity, and light which comes down from God - "the Word made flesh" - and yet perfectly suited to man. I am going to be with Him, and before Him, and things here do not suit me, and the more so because the blood has given me a title to be in God's presence. I am cleansed by the blood to be able to walk in the light as God is in the light. The character of this holiness is, that we can be with Christ when He is gone to God. A thousand things we know of in this world; well, I say, that does not suit Christ, and so I want my feet washed. It is not any uncertainty as to my relationship; for I have started with, "I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father." I know I am a child, I say, "Abba, Father." If I sin the Spirit becomes a rebuking Spirit in me, because Christ has been the Advocate. I do not call in question that I am a child, but I say I am a naughty child; I have picked up dirt on my feet; I have got that which does not suit me in going into God's house and God's presence; there is something in my walk which is inconsistent with the blessed relationship we are brought into. With a holy nature I am to count the rest dead, and therefore when it stirs in any way I feel it, because I am in that place that does not suit it. Even an evil thought grieves the Spirit.
359 The place that Christ takes is, that He has not given up being a servant. 'I shall have to be washing your feet; ye are washed, ye are clean, and I am not going to repeat your conversion. The word of the God has been livingly applied to your hearts and consciences; you are brought into the light as God is in the light, without any imputation of guilt: now walk according to it.' We are in the true knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself now, which gives us the certainty of salvation. But supposing I have boldness to enter into the holiest and find dirt on my feet (no imputation of guilt), well then communion is interrupted, and I need the Advocate. When we walk in heaven it will be on streets transparent as glass, righteousness and true holiness. We are "after God created in righteousness and true holiness," and there we are, washed (in that sense) before God, not in our wretched selves, but Christ. If Christ is in us, the body is dead because of sin. Supposing one of you say, I know through grace that I am in Christ, then mark this, if you are in Christ, Christ is in you; do you shew it? Now do not let people see anything else. There is where the responsibility of the Christian comes in. We are apt to pick up dirt on our feet, but we are to walk as Christ walked. It does not say we are to be as He was, because He had no sin in Him, and "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves." But "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not." Supposing we fail, "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." My righteousness is up there before God for me, and we are in Him. In virtue of this, if communion is interrupted (as it must be if I let only an idle thought in), it is not then a question of imputation, but a question of communion, and Christ lives as the Advocate to do this very work. By His Spirit and word the effects of this advocacy are carried on. The state that I am in is such that communion is totally interrupted, and the Spirit becomes a rebuker because Christ is my advocate. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father." He says "the Father," because it is a question of fellowship and communion. It is not "God," because my guilt is put away.
360 If I have grieved the Spirit, and have dirty feet, I do not suit fellowship with God. Does grace give me up? No; the Spirit of God takes the word, and applies it to my heart and conscience, and humbles me. I first see the horribleness of sin, as sinning not only against the holiness of God, but against the love that saved me. I have found my pleasure in the things that caused Christ's agony on the cross. I ought to feel the sin as He felt it. I have been doing a thing for which Christ had to be burned, so to say. (See Numbers 19.) There is no imputation, of course, but it makes sin much more terrible to my heart and conscience. I do not go to the Advocate to ask Him to do it, but He goes to the Father for me. He goes as an Advocate with the Father, and the Spirit brings the word home to my conscience, and I hate myself for the sin, and confess it. You first feel this hatred at having sinned against Him, and then comes the blessed thought that His love is above all my sins; but the measure of all this to our souls is boldness to be with Christ in the holiest. Whatever does not suit my being with Him (which is the key to this chapter) must go. There is progress, of course, the Spirit taking of the things of Christ, and shewing them to us; but the divine nature we have is perfectly pure, and cannot sin. The flesh is not dead, though it ought to be kept as dead; but we never find any allowance in Scripture for letting it act. We are obliged to have a thorn in the flesh sometimes, lest we should be puffed up. When He could not stay with us here, then He takes us to be there, perfectly by-and-by, and in spirit now. He has died that we might be there; He has given us a nature that is capable of enjoying God, "created after God in righteousness and true holiness." He has gone in as Man - set Himself apart. It is not only that the holiness is wrought practically in us, but all our affections are delighting in looking at Him. Of course there is progress in the development of that nature, in realising where Christ is, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." It brings us into that blessed communion with His love, and then whatever there is inconsistent in us, there He is to wash our feet.
361 And now, beloved friends, where are our hearts? Have we so seen Christ that all our desire is to be with Him, and like Him? "So shall we ever be with the Lord." Still now He manifests Himself to our hearts, so that we know it. It is Somebody that has loved us, and goes on as a Servant to do such work for us as to wash our feet. Is all our desire to say, "This one thing I do"? "My soul followeth hard after Thee - thy right hand upholdeth me": there is the strength to uphold me. We all fail, I know; but there is no necessity for failing. I desire with all my heart, beloved friends, that every one here may realise the value of that blood-shedding that leaves us without spot before God. Where the soul has tasted the love of Christ, knowing that He has loved it and given Himself for it, it loves Him because He first loved it. And we have this immensely blessed privilege to be like Him by-and-by.
The word of God brings down the perfections in Him to our hearts to suit us where we are. Think of our having the words that came out of the mouth of God, and the living One that practised them down here in this world where we are! He has loved us, and given Himself for us, and He does look that our hearts should own the value of His blood. He has brought us to be with Himself now, though of course actually hereafter in glory. I desire our hearts should rest in His perfect love. Being brought to God, He is looking for our walking with Him, and it is a poor thing to give Him the work of washing our feet. He does do it, so as to restore our souls, and I only beseech you that you will never distrust His power to do it. "My grace is sufficient for thee." Not only has He cleared us from our sins, but He has revealed to us the place of the new man in Christ. We may realise it in the Spirit - never perfect though down here. Only may He be precious in the blessed consciousness that if He has gone up there, He has not forgotten us; He washes our feet when we fail.
The Lord give us the sense of the abidingness of Christ's love. And only see the pains He took to persuade His disciples of the constancy of that love; and it is the same now. There we are called up to have a part with Him in the heavenly things. "Christ is all, and in all." He is "all" as an object, and "in all" as the power of life, and ever lives there to wash our feet. May the Lord make Him constantly and alone precious to us. It is a blessed thing that the Father has given Him, who is the object of His love, to be the object of ours too.