A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, May 14, 1876, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *5/20/2012
Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now; but you shall know hereafter.” [Joh 13:7]
1. These words of our Lord were spoken in answer to Peter’s exclamation of surprise, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” It was a very natural expression of astonishment, and one which deserved no censure but at the same time it was not a very wise remark, for, albeit that it was a marvellously condescending action for the Lord Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet, he had already performed a greater condescension by coming upon the earth at all in the form of a man. For the Son of the Highest to dwell among mortals in a human body, capable of being girded about with a towel, and able to take a basin and pour water into it, is a far greater marvel than that he should, being a man, leave the supper table and act as a menial servant by washing his disciples’ feet. If Peter had understood also what his Master had prophesied and explained to him, namely, the Lord’s approaching sufferings and death, he would have seen that for his Master to take a towel and basin was little compared with his having our iniquities laid upon himself, and being made a sacrifice for sin. It greatly surprises you to see the Lord of glory wear a towel, does it not amaze you even more to see him clad in the purple robe of mockery? Are you not still more astonished to see his vesture stripped from him, and to hear him cry upon the cross, “I may count all my bones: they look and stare upon me.” It is wonderful that he should take the basin in the upper room, but surely it was more extraordinary that he should take the cup in the garden and drink in its full bitterness until he sweat as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. To wash the disciples’ feet with water was certainly a surprising action, but to pour out his heart’s blood to wash us all was greater by far; for this involved his death, his making his grave with the wicked, and his being numbered with the transgressors. The expression of Peter is thus seen to be very natural, but not very profound. Dear brethren, do you not think it very likely that our pretty pious speeches, which strike us as very proper, and seem to our friends to be very commendable, will one of these days appear to be mere baby prattling, and do even now appear so to the Lord Jesus? Those choice sayings, and holy sentences, which we have read with admiration and greatly valued, — even those are not like the words of Jesus for solid intrinsic weight and worth, but may in other lights appear far less beautiful than they do now. I myself have proved in different humours and frames of mind that the very things which struck me as being so very deep and gracious have at other times appeared to be one sided, shallow, or questionable. We know in part, and prophesy in part: our highest attainments here are those of little children, and even for the serious student, the deeply experienced Christian, the venerable man of years and the graciously anointed instructor of the churches, there is no room for boasting.
2. Notice next, that our Saviour answered Peter’s speech in the words of the text, which are as admirable for their tone as for their matter. Which should we admire the most in this reply, its meekness or its majesty? How gentle he is to Peter’s ignorant simplicity! “What I am doing you do not understand now; but you shall know hereafter.” And yet how royally he confronts Peter’s bold objection, and how distinctly his majestic personality puts down the too conspicuous individuality of Peter! “What I am doing you do not understand now.” How perfect is the blending of the majesty and the meekness! Who shall tell which of the colours is best laid on? This is always the way of our Lord Jesus. You shall find through life, beloved, that whenever Jesus Christ comes to rebuke you, he will do so powerfully but gently; he will speak as a friend, and as a king; you will feel both his love and his authority, and acknowledge the power both of his goodness and his greatness. His smile shall not make you presume, nor shall his royal glance cause you to tremble. You will find his left hand supporting you while in his right hand you see his imperial sceptre. Blessed Saviour, are you more meek or more majestic? We cannot tell, but certainly to our hearts you are both kind and kingly, sweet and sovereign, gracious and glorious.
3. I. Let us now come to the words themselves. We have looked at the occasion of them, and at the manner of them, and we will now weigh their matter. The words themselves have suggested to me many thoughts, and among them this, first, that IN OUR LORD’S DOINGS THERE IS MUCH WHICH WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND.
4. Our text is not merely true about the washing of the feet, but it is true concerning all that our Lord does — “What I am doing you do not understand now.” We may know the external part of what he does, or think we do, but there is more in his actions than any of us can conceive. The external is not all; there are wrapped up within the mercies which we perceive other and even greater mercies as yet unknown to us. You traverse the soil of Canaan and you drink from its rivers, and are refreshed by its grain and wine and oil, but the goodly land has hidden riches, its stones are iron, and out of its hills you may dig copper ore. The brooks of which you drink derive their coolest waters from springs which have tapped “the deep which lies under.” If you know in some measure what Jesus does, yet the mystery is not altogether laid bare to your eye; there are folds of his manifold grace which as yet are unopened. The work of Jesus is beyond you — it is lower than your fall, higher than your desire; it surpasses you, and is altogether too high for you, you cannot attain to its measurement. Who can by searching find it out to perfection?
5. Our lack of knowledge of the divine doings is a wide subject, and I shall not attempt to explore its most extreme boundaries, but shall restrain myself by the text. Brethren, there are many things that God does which we cannot understand now, and probably never shall. For example, why he permitted evil at first and still tolerates it. To this enquiry the divine answer would be “What I am doing you do not understand.” Leave that alone. It is our highest wisdom to be ignorant where God has not enlightened us. It is great folly to pretend to know when we do not, and there is not a man living, nor ever will live, who has even an approximation to an understanding of the dread mystery of the existence of moral evil. No mind can reach the bottom of this abyss, and he is foolhardy who ventures on the plunge. Leave this dread secret alone, you cannot endure the white heat which burns around it. Many a man has lost the eyes of his reason while trying to peer into this fiery furnace. What have you to do with what God conceals from you? It is God’s business, not yours: the thing was done before you were born, and he who permitted it can answer for himself if he cares to do so. So, also, with regard to predestination: that God ordains all things, and has before his eye the chart of everything that has been, is, or shall be, is most true; but who knows the depths of foreknowledge and destiny? To sit down and dissect the eternal purposes, to question their justice, and impugn their wisdom, is both folly and audacity. Here the darkness thickens, and out of it comes out the oracle — “What I am doing you do not understand.” The things which are revealed belong to us and to our children; and concerning the unrevealed, if it is for the glory of God to conceal a thing, let it be concealed. Jesus has torn the veil of the holy place, and into the secret of divine love you may now freely enter, but other veils which he does not tear you may not touch. Some truths are closed up from our understanding, even as the ark of the covenant was shut against prying eyes; let us not violate their sanctity lest we meet the doom of the men of Bethshemesh, but let us zealously guard them as priceless treasures, so that we may obtain the blessing which rested upon the house of Obededom. [1Sa 6:19, 2Sa 6:11] The same remark applies to the great designs of God in providence. He is pleased in prophecy often to tell us what he has meant by his providence, and perhaps it will be one of the enjoyments of the future state to see the hand of God in the whole current of history; but while incidents are occurring we must not expect to understand their drift and bearing. The wonderful tapestry of human history, all woven in the loom of God’s infinite wisdom, will astonish both men and angels when it is complete; but while it is still unfinished it will not be possible for us to imagine the completed pattern. From between those wheels of providence, which are full of eyes, I hear a voice which says, “What I am doing you do not understand now.”
6. But we will confine ourselves to the loving acts of the Lord Jesus Christ, since what the Lord was doing with Peter was not very mysterious, nor a deed of transcendent power, nor of stern justice. He was humbly girding himself with a towel and pouring water into a basin to wash his followers’ feet. It was a very simple matter, and evidently a very gracious, kind, and condescending act; but yet, even concerning that, Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now.”
7. My brethren, we do not even fully understand the acts of our Lord Jesus Christ in his loving, condescension. Ah, think for a minute; how can we? Does our Lord’s love not always surpass our knowledge, since he himself is the greatest of all mysteries? Let me read these words to you: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he rises from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” Do you understand the higher and the lower points of this transaction? You must comprehend them both before you can see what he has done. “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hand.” Can you see the glory of this? Jesus our Lord was conscious that his Father had made him Head over all things to his church, and that he had laid the government upon his shoulders, and given him the key of David, that he might open and no man shut, and shut and no man open. He knew assuredly that at his belt swung the keys of heaven and death and hell, and that having fulfilled the commission of the Eternal God he was about to return to his throne. Have you grasped the idea? Do you perceive the glory of which Jesus was conscious? If you have done so, then descend by one long sweep: — he, this Lord of all, having all things in his hand, takes off his garments, foregoes the common dress of an ordinary man, and places himself in the undress of a servant, and wears a towel, so that he may do service to his own disciples. Can you follow him from such a height to such a depth? A superior in the East never washes an inferior’s feet: Christ acts as if he were inferior to his friends, inferior to those poor fishermen, inferior to those foolish scholars who learned so slowly, with whom he had been so long a time and yet they did not know him, who soon forgot what they knew, and needed line upon line and precept upon precept. Having loved them to the end, he stoops to the extreme of stooping, and bows at their feet to cleanse their defilements. Who, I say, can compute the depth of this descent? You cannot know what Christ has done for you, because you cannot conceive how high he is by nature, neither can you guess how low he stooped in his humiliation and death. With an eagle’s wing you could not soar so high as to behold him as God over all blessed for ever, sitting at the right hand of the Father, the adored of cherubim and seraphim: nor could you dive, even if you dared to take a plunge into the abyss, until you reached the depth of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”: and yet you must somehow know the interval, I was about to say the infinity, between these two points of height and depth before you could know what Jesus has done for you.
8. Moreover, think for awhile. Was anything that Jesus did understood while he was doing it? He is born a babe in Bethlehem, but who knew what he did in the manger? A few shepherds and sages and two or three favoured saints discerned the saviour in the babe, but to the majority of mankind he was unknown. God came down to earth, and angels sang his advent, but oh earth your Lord might have said to you, “What I am doing you do not understand now.” He lived here the life of a carpenter’s son: that life was the most august event in all human history, but men did not know what it was or what it meant. “The world did not know him.” He came forward to preach the gospel; did they know who it was who spoke as never man spoke? Did they comprehend what he spoke? Ah, no. He was hidden from their eyes. At last he laid aside the life he had so strangely taken; who knew the reason for his death upon the cross? Did even his disciples know though he had told them? When earth shook, and graves were opened by his last cry, did even his own followers understand what a sacrifice had been offered? No, and until the Spirit was poured upon them from on high they did not comprehend that it behoved Christ to suffer. He could say to each of his own disciples, of all that he had done, “What I am doing you do not understand now.”
9. This is also true of every separate gift which our Lord’s love has given to his people. You have been justified in Jesus Christ, but do you fully know the wondrous righteousness with which justification by faith has endowed you? You are accepted in the Beloved, but did any one of you ever realise what it is to have full acceptance with the Father? I know you have experienced the fact and rejoiced in it, but have you known, indeed, can you know the full sweetness of its meaning? You are one with Christ, and members of his body: do you comprehend that? You are joint heirs with Christ, do you know the full significance of that? He is betrothed to you in an everlasting marriage, do you know what that means? Ah no; these wonders of his love, we hear of them and we believe them, but “What I am doing,” he says, “you do not understand now.”
10. Our Lord is doing great things by way of preparing us for a higher state of existence. We shall soon be rid of this vile body, and be released from this narrow world: we are going to a sphere more suited for our heaven-born life, where we shall be the comrades of angels and commune with the spirits of the just made perfect, and serve the Lord day and night in his temple, but what the glory shall be we do not know, for the ear has not heard it, nor the eye seen it, nor the heart conceived it. As for the preparations which are going on within us to make us ready for this sublime condition, we know that they are being carried on, but we cannot as yet see their course, their separate tendencies, and their ultimate issues. The instrument does not comprehend the tuner: the tuner makes harsh sounds from those disordered strings, but all those jarring notes are necessary for the harmonious condition which he is trying to produce. If the discords were not discovered now, the music of the future would be marred. My brethren, concerning all that Christ has done it is true, “What I am doing you do not understand now.” Oh, if his work were little we could measure it, if his love were scanty we could know it, if his wisdom were finite we could judge it; but, where everything is past finding out, who can pretend to know? Remember, that in our salvation Christ himself is the sum and substance, in it every attribute of his divinity is brought into exercise to the full, he makes it his glory, considering our salvation to be his coronet and crown jewels; and therefore it is not at all marvellous that we should not know what he does.
11. II. Our second thought is a sweet one. OUR LACK OF UNDERSTANDING DOES NOT PREVENT THE EFFICACY OF OUR LORD’S WORK.
12. “What I am doing you do not understand now,” and it does not mean: the Lord will do it poorly. Peter does not know what Christ is doing when he washes his feet, but the Master washes them just as clean whether Peter understands it or not. Jesus did not say, “There, Peter, you do not understand what I am doing by washing your feet, and so I shall not wash them until you do.” No, no; he moves on with the basin and towel, and washes them clean, though Peter does not know why. Is this not a great mercy, brethren, that the blessings which Christ bestows upon us are not dependent for their efficacy upon our capacity to understand them? Just look out a little in the world and see how true this is. A mother has her little child on her lap, and she is washing his face: the child does not like the water, and he cries. Ah, babe, if you could understand it you would smile. The child cries and struggles in the mother’s arms, but he is washed all the same; the mother does not wait for the child to know what she is doing, but completes her work of love. So the Lord is often exercising divine arts upon us, and we do not appreciate them, neither are we pleased; perhaps we even strive against his work of love, but for all that he perseveres, and does not turn away his hand because of our crying. Does the tree understand pruning, the land comprehend ploughing? yet pruning and ploughing produce their good results. The physician stands at the bedside of the patient and gives him medicine, medicine which is unpalatable, and which in its operation causes the patient to feel worse than he was before; the sufferer cannot understand this, and therefore he draws unhappy conclusions; but the power of the medicine does not depend upon the patient’s understanding its qualities, and therefore it will do him good, though it puzzles him by its strange manner of working. If a fool eats his dinner, it will satisfy his hunger as much as if he were a philosopher, and understood the processes of digestion. This is a great mercy, for most men can never become philosophers. It is not necessary for a man to be learned in the nature of heat in order to be warmed by the fire, or comforted by a great coat. A man may be ignorant of the laws of light, and yet be able to see; he may know nothing of acoustics, and yet be quick of hearing. A passenger who does not know a valve from a wheel, enters a carriage at the station, and he will be drawn to his journey’s end by the engine as well as if he were learned in mechanics.
13. It is the same in the spiritual as in the natural world. The efficacy of spiritual forces does not depend upon our capacity to understand them. I have mentioned this very simple fact because it really is necessary for us to remember it. We are so knowing, or think we are: we think it so essential that we should form a judgment of what the Lord is doing. Ah, dear brethren, there are more essential things than this. It is better to trust, to submit, to obey, to love, than to know. Leave the Lord alone; he is doing rightly enough, be sure of that. Is he to be questioned and cross-examined by us? Are we to judge his judgment? Dare we demand answers to our impertinent enquiries and say, why this, and why that, and why the other? Would he be God if he would submit to such an examination? If we call ourselves his disciples, how can we justify a spirit which would arraign our Lord? Be still and know that he is God. What more would you know? Remember that the things which you understand are for your good, but they can only bring you a small amount of benefit, because they must be in themselves small, or you would not be able to measure them. When a great, deep good is coming to you, you will not be able to comprehend it, for your comprehension is narrow: yet it will be none the less but all the more a blessing because you do not understand it. Joseph is gone, and here is his bloody coat! “Without a doubt he is torn in pieces! All these things are against me. Ah, how my heart is broken with the loss of my darling child; I cannot understand it; it cannot be right.” So talks poor Jacob, but it was right all the same for that. Joseph was on the sure road to Pharaoh’s throne, and to providing for his brothers in the land of Egypt. So it is with you, my brother, under your present trial and affliction; you cannot understand it now, but that does not make a pennyworth of difference; it is working out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Be content to let faith rule, and knowledge wait, and what you do not understand now you shall know hereafter.
14. III. A third thought is that OUR NOT BEING ABLE TO UNDERSTAND, WHAT THE LORD DOES SHOULD NEVER SHAKE OUR CONFIDENCE IN HIM.
15. I hope, dear brethren, our faith in Christ does not rest upon our capacity to understand what he does: if so, I fear it is not faith at all, but a mere exercise of self-conceited carnal reason. Some things which the Lord has done bear upon their very forefront the image of his infinite love, but I hope you know enough of him now to be able to believe that where there are no traces of love apparent to you, his love is as surely there. I rejoice in that part of my text which runs like this: “What I am doing.” This washing of the feet was not being done by Bartholomew, or Nathanael: it was the personal act of the Lord himself. Now, when the Master and Lord is the doer, who needs to raise a question or to suggest enquiry? It must be right if he does it: to question his conduct would be an insult to his majestic love. Do you know Christ? Then you know the character of his deeds! Do you know your Lord? Then you are sure that he will never act unkindly, unbecomingly, or unwisely. He can never send a needless sorrow, or wantonly cause a tear to flow. Can he? Here, then, is the question, not — why is it done? but, who is doing it? and if the Lord is doing it, we can have no doubt about the excellence of his intention. We believe that he is right when we cannot see that he is so. If we do not trust him far beyond what we know, it will show that our confidence in him is very limited. When a person only obeys another because he chooses to obey, and sees it is a proper thing to do, he does not have the spirit of implicit obedience at all; and when a person only confides in another as far as he can see that he is safe, he is a stranger to implicit confidence. Confidence has its sphere beyond the boundaries of knowledge: where judgment ceases, faith begins. “What I do you do not understand now.” Ah, you best beloved of our souls, in that you truly said, but we can reply to you, that we know and are sure that what you do is supremely good.
16. IV. Fourthly, OUR LACK OF UNDERSTANDING CONCERNING WHAT OUR LORD DOES GENERALLY SHOWS ITSELF MOST IN REFERENCE TO HIS PERSONAL DEALINGS WITH OURSELVES. “What I am doing you do not understand now” refers to his washing Peter’s feet.
17. Brethren, if there is anything which we are not likely to understand thoroughly well it is that which has to do with ourselves. We are too close to home to see clearly. In this case the onlooker sees more than the player. We generally form a better opinion of the character, position, and needs of another than we do concerning ourselves. It is said of Moses’ face that everyone saw it shine but one man, and that was Moses, for he could not see his own countenance. So, also, if a man’s face is black it is black to everyone except himself; he does not see his own spots. We cannot form accurate estimates of ourselves, and so we must not expect when Christ is personally dealing with us that we should be able to understand what he does to us. Besides, if the Lord is dealing with us in an afflicting way, we are generally in an unfavourable state of mind for forming any judgment at all, being, as a rule, too disturbed in mind by the affliction itself. When a hospital patient is under the knife he is a poor judge of the necessity of the operation or the skill of the surgeon. In later days, when the wound has healed, he will judge better than he can do when the knife is just cutting through nerve, and sinew, and bone. Judge nothing before the time. You are not in a right condition to judge, and therefore do not attempt it. When you are smarting under the rod, your opinions, and estimates, and forecasts are about as much to be depended upon as the whistling of the wind or the dashing of the waves. Cease from judging, calculating, and foreboding, and believe that he who ordains our lot orders all things in kindness and wisdom.
18. I do not wonder that Peter was puzzled and could not understand his Lord’s procedure, for it is always a hard thing for an active and energetic mind to see the wisdom of being compelled to do nothing. Here is a man who can drag a net to the shore full of big fishes, and instead of using his strength he is made to sit still and do nothing! Peter, the hardy, vigorous worker, must sit down like a gentleman, or a cripple, and do nothing. He cannot understand it. He has been very useful, and he thinks he could be useful now; he could at any rate wait at the table, or carry the basin, or wash his fellows’ feet, if it must be done. But he is bound to sit still and do nothing, and he does not understand it. Brethren, the hardest work a man ever has to do who wants to serve the Lord Jesus is to stand aside in forced inactivity and take no share in what is going on. It is hard to be put on the shelf among the cracked crockery, and to be of no more use than a broken vessel, while still you feel you could be useful if you only had the strength to leave your bedroom. The proud idea that you have been wonderfully useful tempts you to repine at being laid among the lumber, and you feel it to be a very mysterious business altogether.
19. Then, what is worse, Peter not only cannot do anything, he is a receiver from others, and must be waited on by them, and chiefly by his Master, whom he at other times loved to serve. To have his feet washed must have appeared to a hardy fisherman like Peter a strange luxury. He would say, “Can I not do it myself? I am not used to being waited on.” To sit there, and, while doing nothing, to be also engrossing the care of another, must have been an unusual position for him. It is very unpleasant for an active man to be unable to work and to be dependent upon others for every little detail and necessity of life. To borrow other people’s strength, and tax other people’s care, is not desirable. To stand in need of anxious prayers, and to arouse pitying thoughts, seems strange to those who have been accustomed to do rather than to suffer. “Why,” you seem to say, “I have prayed for them, I have worked for them; are they now to pray and work for me? I have fed the sheep; are the sheep going to feed me? I have washed the saints’ feet; are they going to wash mine? Am I to be dependent upon others and not be able to lend a hand or lift a finger?” Ah, well, we must not ask questions, but we are very apt to do so. We do not understand, and we become inquisitive, but the Saviour says, “What I am doing you do not understand now.”
20. All the while there is very prominent in our mind a sense of insignificance and unworthiness, which makes our receiving of favours all the more perplexing. “What,” Peter says, “I, I unworthy Peter, shall I be washed by the Lord Jesus Christ?” So it seems to us unworthy sinners, “Why should God’s people be thinking about me, and careful about me? Why has the Lord himself condescended to make my bed in my sickness? Why has his blessed Spirit condescended to be my comforter, applying precious promises to me? Why is this done for me?” We do not comprehend it; we are lost in wonder, and it is no marvel that we are.
21. Yet, dear brethren, if our eyes are opened, the Lord’s afflicting dealings are not so wonderfully mysterious after all, for we need purging and cleansing even as Peter needed foot washing. We greatly need the sacred purgation of Jesus’ love for the removal of daily defilement. Sometimes trials in business, sad bereavements, acts of ingratitude, pains of sickness, or depressions of spirit, are just the basin and the water and the towel in which our Lord is washing our feet. We are clean through the blood of Jesus, but we still need the daily cleansing. It is a wonder that some of us are ever out of the furnace, for our dross is so abundant. I shall not be surprised if I find myself often under the flail, for the straw and the chaff are plentiful in me. Some metals are so apt to rust that it is no wonder that they are often burnished. Some soils need a great deal of ploughing; they are very apt to cake and grow hard, and therefore must be broken up; so it is with us, there is a purpose for what the Lord is doing.
22. In Peter’s case it was necessary for fellowship, for our Lord said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” You cannot have fellowship with Christ unless he does this or that for you, indeed, especially unless he tries you; for how shall you know the suffering Saviour unless you suffer yourself? Communion with the afflicted Redeemer is promoted by our personal afflictions. There was a necessity yet again for Peter and the rest to learn the lesson of washing their brethren’s feet by seeing the Lord wash theirs. No man can properly wash another’s feet until his own feet have been washed by his Saviour. It is in the kingdom of Christ a law that there must be experience before there can be expertise. You must be comforted or you cannot comfort; you must find mercy yourself or you can not lead others in the search; you must be washed or you cannot wash. So there were good reasons for our Lord’s act, but they were not seen by Peter, nor do the motives for our Lord’s actions towards us always appear upon the surface, When Jesus himself is dealing with us, especially if it is in a way of trial, we do not understand it, and he needs to say, “What I am doing you do not understand now.”
23. V. Our last thought for the present is this, WE SHALL ONE DAY BE INFORMED UPON THIS POINT AND UPON MANY OTHERS. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you shall know hereafter.”
24. That “hereafter” may be very soon. Peter knew within a few minutes what Jesus meant, for he said to him, “Do you understand what I have done to you? If I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Thus the light was not long in breaking. Why are you in such a hurry when you are in trouble to begin spelling out a naughty reason for God’s dealings, when, if you will only wait, you shall know the right reason in a short time? A child is in a bad temper because there has been a rule made by the father and not explained, and so he sits down and sulks, and thinks of some unkind, ungenerous motive on the father’s part. In a minute or two after he understands it all, and has to eat his own words, and confess, “How bad of me to impute such unkindness to my dear loving father, who is always seeking my good.” If you will get reasoning in haste about your Lord’s actions, you will have to take all your reasonings back, and you will have to afflict your soul for being so hasty; therefore wait for awhile, for “you shall know hereafter,” and that “hereafter” may be very near.
25. Peter understood his Master’s washing his feet better after his sad fall and threefold denial. I should not wonder that when the Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly, the penitent disciple said to himself, “Now I begin to see why my Lord washed my feet.” When he perceived how sadly he needed washing, he would prize the sign which his Lord had given to him. He saw his own frailties and imperfections as he had not seen them before, for he had said, “Though all men should be offended, yet I will never be offended”; but after his sad denial he knew himself to be as apt to err as the rest of the brotherhood. At a certain point of your experience you will possibly discover the explanation of your present adversity.
26. After the Lord had met Peter at the sea and had said to him, “Feed my sheep,” and “Feed my lambs,” another method of explanation was open to him. When Peter began to be a pastor and to deal with the souls of others, he would clearly see why his Master washed his feet, for he would find that he had to do much of the same kind of service. Often our work for Jesus unfolds the work of Jesus, and we know our Lord by being called to follow in his steps.
27. Up there in heaven, best of all, Peter understands why the Master washed his feet, and surely sometimes Peter must inwardly smile to think of what he once thought and said. Peter sings amid the heavenly throng, “To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood,” and then he thinks to himself, “In my folly in the days of my flesh I said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ I loved him when I said it, but what monstrous folly lay in my speech.” Ah, he understands it now, and we shall understand as he does soon. All things will be clear when we once pass into the region of light. I anticipate the blessed confidences of heaven. How blessed will be those familiar revelations of mysteries obscure for so long! What sweet communications there will be between God and his people in the world to come. I look forward to the time when we shall see the knots untied and the riddles all explained: then we shall see the good of apparent evil, and the life which lay in the bosom of death. Could we hear the stories of pilgrims who have reached home they would go like this — “I was travelling a pleasant road, blessing God for so delightful a pilgrimage, but suddenly a huge rock fell across my path, and I had with regret to turn back and traverse a more rugged road. I never understood why until I came home to heaven, and now he tells me, ‘Child, there was a precipice only a little way ahead, and you would have been dashed to pieces, and therefore I blocked your way.’ ” Another who has reached the desired haven will tell us, “The vessel in which I sailed was wrecked; she struck a rock, and on a broken fragment of her timbers I swam to shore. I could never comprehend the reason for this calamity until now, but now I learn that the barque was being steered by crafty hands to a shore in which I should have been made a slave and kept in lifelong captivity, and there was no way of deliverance except by dashing the bark to pieces, and landing her passengers where they would be free.”
28. Brethren, you will, probably, bless God in heaven more for your sorrows than your joys. When you once ascend the celestial hills you will see that the best blessings came to you in the roughest garments; your pearls were found in oyster shells, and your jewels were brought out of Egypt. Sickness, trial, adversity, bereavement, and pain have been more truly angels of God to you than your wealth, your health, your strength, your comfort, infinitely more so than your laughter and your ease. Oh brothers and sisters, we shall know hereafter. Well, since we shall know hereafter, we may leave the knowing until then, and give all our attention to the obeying and the trusting.
I am finished when I have added a warning to those outside of Christ.
There are some in this congregation who do not know my Lord. I have
been much exercised in my mind about you while I have been confined
to my bedroom and unable to address you, and my prayer has been that
the Holy Spirit would bless to your conversion the messages of my
brethren who have kindly occupied this pulpit. If you still remain
unconverted, I would like to say to you that you do not understand
what God has been doing with you, and you do not understand what he
is doing with you now; but you will know hereafter. You have Sabbath
days, but you do not know their value: you will value them
differently later on when you lie dying, and especially when you are
called before the judgment seat of God. You have your Bible, and you
neglect it; you do not know that God has sent a love letter to you in
that form; you will know it when you stand before his awful judgment
bar. Some of you have been pleaded with very often, and earnestly
entreated to lay hold on eternal life; and the Lord has backed up our
entreaties by sending sickness to you and personal trouble. Well, you
have not known much about it, and you have not wished to know, but
you will have to know hereafter. If you die without Christ you will
wake up in eternity and cry, “Ah me, that ever the Lord should call
me and I refuse, that he should stretch out his hand and I should
disregard.” In hell it will be an awful discovery, “I was the subject
of gospel invitations, I was the object of earnest entreaties, but I
continued in my sin, and here I am eternally lost.” What I earnestly
desire should happen would be that you should this morning find out
what the Lord has done for you, and should understand it, and should
open your eyes and say, “Here I am, a man who has lived long in sin,
and I have been spared on purpose so that God might save me before I
die.” Or perhaps it will take this form: “Here I am, a young man, and
I came in here this morning with no precise motive, little knowing
what God was about to do with me, but I know it now; he has brought
me here so that I may, this morning, believe in Jesus, and give my
heart to him.” Oh hearers of the gospel, if you once come to know
what God has really done with you and for you, you will hardly
forgive yourselves for your conduct towards him; you will say, “Did
he really love me so, and redeem me with such a price, and have I
been so unkind and thoughtless towards him?” You will upbraid
yourselves and chasten yourselves, and grieve to think you should
have treated so good a friend so poorly. Oh may the divine Spirit
this morning open your eyes to know what the Lord Jesus does for you,
and his grace shall be magnified in you. Amen and amen.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Joh 13:1-17]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Jesus Christ, In Heaven — ‘Touched With The Feeling Of Our Infirmities’ ” 327]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Peaceful Trust — ‘Trust Ye In The Lord Forever’ ” 689]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Privileges, Communion with Jesus — At Home Everywhere With Jesus” 778]
Mr. Spurgeon requests his friends to unite with him in thanking the
ever merciful Father for permitting him again to leave the bed of
sickness and preach the word to the great congregation. He also
entreats his kind readers to pray for him whenever the sermons are
useful to themselves, for the preacher growingly needs to be upheld
by grace in answer to the supplications of the Lord’s people. Pray
that affliction may be sanctified, physical strength given to preach
the gospel, and, above all, the unction of the Holy Spirit to make
the word effective in the hearts of saints and sinners.
Jesus Christ, In Heaven
327 — “Touched With The Feeling Of Our Infirmities”
1 Where high the heavenly temple stands,
The house of God not made with hands,
A great High Priest our nature wears,
The Patron of mankind appears.
2 He, who for men their Surety stood,
And pour’d on earth his precious blood,
Pursues in heaven his mighty plan,
The Saviour and the friend of man.
3 Though now ascended up on high,
He bends on earth a brother’s eye;
Partaker of the human name,
He knows the frailty of our frame.
4 Our fellow sufferer yet retains
A fellow feeling of our pains,
And still remembers in the skies,
His tears, and agonies, and cries.
5 In every pang that rends the heart,
The Man of Sorrows had a part;
He sympathizes in our grief,
And to the sufferer sends relief.
6 With boldness therefore at the throne,
Let us make all our sorrows known,
And ask the aid of heavenly power
To help us in the evil hour.
Michael Bruce, 1770, a.
The Christian, Peaceful Trust
689 — “Trust Ye In The Lord Forever” <7s.>
1 When we cannot see our way,
Let us trust and still obey;
He who bids us forward go,
Cannot fail the way to show.
2 Though enwrapt in gloomy night,
We perceive no ray of light;
Since the Lord himself is here,
‘Tis not meet that we should fear.
3 Night with him is never night,
Where he is, there all is light;
When he calls us, why delay?
They are happy who obey.
4 Be it ours then, while we’re here,
Him to follow without fear;
Where he calls us, there to go;
What he bids us, that to do.
Thomas Kelly, 1815, a.
The Christian, Privileges, Communion with Jesus
778 — At Home Everywhere With Jesus
1 Oh thou, by long experience tried,
Near whom no grief can long abide;
My Love! how full of sweet content
I pass my years of banishment!
2 All scenes alike engaging prove
To souls impress’d with sacred love!
Where’er they dwell, they dwell in thee!
In heaven, in earth, or on the sea.
3 To me remains no place nor time;
My country is in every clime;
I can be calm and free from care
On any shore, since God is there.
4 While place we seek or place we shun,
The soul finds happiness in none;
But with a God to guide our way,
‘Tis equal joy to go or stay.
5 Could I be cast where thou art not,
That were indeed a dreadful lot;
But regions none remote I call,
Secure of finding God in all.
Jeanne Marie Guyon, 1722;
tr. by William Cowper, 1801.