32542 of the feet
“He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.”
This washing of the disciples’ feet was one of the last of our Lord’s acts on earth, as the servant of His disciples, the servant of sinners. How fully did that towel, and that basin, show that He had “taken upon him the form of a servant” (Phi 2:7), and that He had come not to be ministered unto, but to minister! This last act of lowly love is the filling up of His matchless condescension; it is so simple, so kindly, so expressive; and all the more so, because not referring to positive want, such as hunger, or thirst, or pain, but merely to bodily comfort.
Oh, if He is so interested in our commonest comforts, such as the washing of our feet, what must He be in our spiritual joys and blessings! How desirous that we should have peace of soul, and how willing to impart it!
This scene of condescending love is no mere show. It is a reality. And it is a reality for us to copy. Love to the saints; love showing itself in simple acts of quiet, lowly service; service pertaining to common comforts—this is the lesson for us, which the divine example gives. If He did this, what should we do? “If I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
But, in the midst of this scene and its lesson, there suddenly rises up a spiritual truth, called forth by Peter’s remonstrance. The whole transaction is transferred into a type, or symbol, by the Lord Himself. The earthly all at once rises into the heavenly as He utters these words, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me.” It is as if He had lighted up a new star in the blue, or rather withdrawn the cloud that hid a star already kindled, but hindered, in its shining, by an earthly veil.
Accepting, then, this spiritual truth as a vital part of the transaction let us study its full meaning, as thus unveiled to us. The words of this tenth verse might be thus translated, or at least paraphrased: “He that has bathed (or, come out of the bath) needs only, after that, to wash his feet; the rest of his person is clean.” Here, then, we have first the bathing and, secondly, the washing.
The reference here may be to “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness” (Zec 13:1), in which we are “washed from our sins in his own blood” by “Him who loved us” (Rev 1:5). The bath is the blood, and the bathing is our believing. From the moment we bathe, that is, believe, we are personally and legally clean in God’s sight; our bodies are “washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22). We may accept the reference here as being either to the temple or to the bath. He who bathes, say in the morning, is clean for the whole day. Our believing is our taking our morning bath.
That cleanses our persons; and during all the rest of our earthly day we walk about, as men forgiven and clean; who know that there is no condemnation for them, and that God has removed their sins from them, as far as east is from the west. Connecting the washing here referred to with the temple service, the meaning would be this: we go to the altar and get the blood, the symbol of death, sprinkled upon us, implying that we have died the death, and paid the penalty in Him Who died for us. From the altar we go to the laver and get the blood washed off from our persons, proclaiming that we are risen from the dead, and therefore in all respects most thoroughly clean—“clean every whit,” all over clean, in our persons before God.
This is the bathing; and thus it is that we are cleansed, realizing David’s prayer, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than the snow” (Psa 51:7). When I believe in Christ as the fountain, as the altar and the laver, that is, when I receive God’s testimony concerning His precious blood, I am washed. I become clean.
Christ said to His disciples, “Now are ye clean through the word that I have spoken unto you.” When I believe in Christ as the righteousness, that is, when I receive God’s testimony concerning His divine righteousness, I am straightway righteous. When I receive Him as the life, I have life. When I receive Him as Redeemer, I am redeemed. When I receive Him as the sinner’s surety, I am pardoned; there is no condemnation for me. When I receive Him as the dead and risen Christ, I die and rise again.
Such are the results of this divine bathing. They are present and immediate results. They spring straight from that oneness with Him in all things into which my believing brings me. As a believing man, I enter upon His fullness; I become partaker of His riches; and so identified with Himself, that His cleanness is accounted my cleanness, His excellence my excellence, His perfection my perfection. As He was the Lamb without blemish, and without spot, so I am “clean every whit;” and to me, as part of the cleansed Bride, the Lamb’s wife, it is said, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee” (Song 4:7).
This is something different from the bathing, and yet there is a likeness between the two things. Both refer to forgiveness; or, rather, we should say that the first refers to personal acceptance, the latter to the daily forgiveness of the accepted one. The washing is not that of the person, but of the person’s feet—those parts which come constantly into contact with the soil and dust of the earth.
Considered personally, and as a whole, he is far above the earth and beyond its pollutions; for he is with Christ in heavenly places; but, considered in parts, his feet may be said to be still upon the earth. In one sense he is “clean every whit,” seated with Christ in heaven; in another, he is still a sinner, walking the earth, and getting his feet constantly soiled with its dust, or “thick clay.”
Our Lord here speaks of the washing in reference to this latter condition; and contrasts the continual washing with the one bathing; the daily pardons, upon confession, with the one acceptance, in believing; an acceptance with which nothing can interfere. With the sense of acceptance, we may say that many things can and do interfere; but with the acceptance itself, nothing can, either within or without, either in heaven or on earth.
The person who is bathed is exposed after coming from the bath to constant soiling of his feet; but that is all. His person remains clean. The priest who has washed at the laver is constantly getting his feet soiled with the dust of the temple pavement or with the clotted blood which adheres to it. But this does not affect his person. That remains clean. So is it with the believing man. Personally accepted, and delivered from condemnation, he is every moment contracting some new stain, some defilement which needs washing.
But this defilement does not affect his personal forgiveness, and ought not to lead him into doubt as to his acceptance. He himself is clean, through his reception of the word spoken to him by his Lord and Master; and he goes about the removal of his ever-recurring sins, as one who knows this. He betakes himself to Christ for the hourly removal of his sins, as one who has tasted that the Lord is gracious; he comes for the washing of his feet to Him Who has already bathed his person.
It is this distinction between the bathing and the washing that meets the difficulty felt by some, as to a believer constantly seeking pardon. He that has bathed need not say to wash his feet; but still he does need to have these washed. He that has been accepted in the beloved, has not daily to go and plead for acceptance, nor to do or say anything which implies that the condemnation, from which he has been delivered, has returned; but he has to mourn over, to confess, to seek forgiveness for daily sins.
The two states are quite distinct, yet quite consistent with each other. The complete acceptance of the believing man does not prevent his sinning, nor do away with the constant need of new pardons for his sins; and the recurrence of sin does not cancel his acceptance, nor is the obtaining of new pardons at variance with his standing as a forgiven man.