A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, October 12, 1879, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *12/13/2012
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. After that he pours water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. [Joh 13:3-5]
1. It seems to me that the true text of this enacted sermon of the foot-washing is to be found in the first verse of the chapter: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Our Lord washed the feet of his disciples to show that to the last moment of his fellowship with them he was full of the deepest and truest love for them, and was willing to perform the most menial action for their good. Nor was this all, for we may regard that one condescending act as the pledge and type of his daily kindness towards all his own who are in the world. Those deeds of love, which the foot-washing illustrates, are continuous among us, and are the sure signs of his enduring love for us. Our Lord’s affection for his people is not a transient passion. He loved them even before the earth was, he still continues to love them, and he always will love them when these heavens and this earth shall have passed away. As a sign of the continuance of his love, he has left on record this washing of his disciples’ feet, not because he did it only once, but because it is the type of what he is always doing. Even in his glory he is caring for his saints with that same condescending love which led him to wash their feet, and he is acting towards them spiritually in the very same way.
2. The love of Christ will assuredly endure all the strain that can ever be put upon it, for at the time when he acted as a menial servant to his disciples his love was enduring, and enduring very gloriously, three great trials, any one of which might have broken it had it not been altogether omnipotent. For, first, he was about to go away from them. Much of human love needs the presence of its object for its maintenance; it is, alas, seldom true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Jesus was about to depart out of this world to the Father, and, with the exception of one brief interval, he was no more to walk in the midst of his chosen, or sit to eat with them. Out of sight, however, they would not be out of mind. Though he was just about to take the last terrible journey of death, yet he did not forget them, but graciously made them see that he would still remember them. If you will remember the manner of his going, his thoughtfulness for his friends becomes all the more remarkable. He was about to leave them by a cruel and ignominious death, and according to the common conduct of men it would not have been unusual if he had sought pity and comfort from his friends; instead of which, he forgot himself and all the pain, and grief, and death which lay before him, and spent all his time and strength upon the comfort and establishment of his followers. When he knew that the hour was come when he must depart out of the world with unutterable pangs, he still loved his own with an all-absorbing love. There was much in the prospect of his grievous departure which might have diverted his thoughts from them for a time; but they lay so close to the centre of his soul that even under such circumstances he washed their feet.
Next, it is to be remembered, that our Lord was well aware that one
of them had already entertained the idea of betraying him. There sat
one at the table who had held a secret interview with the Pharisees
and chief priests, and had taken money as a bribe for his Master’s
blood. You cannot so dissociate a leading disciple from the rest as
not to feel that the whole band was disgraced by it, and the Lord
might very well have said, “I will discard my disciples, for they
have betrayed me”; especially when you remember that those who did
not sell him or betray him nevertheless all forsook him and
fled, — forsook him when they ought to have rallied around him, and
have spoken up for him at the judgment seat. None of them appeared in
answer to the question, “Who shall declare his generation?” Like
timid hares, they fled at the first bark of the dogs. It would not
have been incredible, had his been a human love, if he had said,
“They are unworthy of me: their confidence dies out when they see my
sorrow: they betray me, they forsake me, therefore I will let them
go, and care for them no more.” No, but knowing what they were, our
Lord took a towel and girded himself and washed their feet, indeed,
washed the traitor’s feet, and gently handled that heel which had
been lifted up against him; washing from it the dust gathered in its
secret walk upon the traitor’s errand.
The sight might kings themselves convert,
God only could so far submit:
Satan is in the traitor’s heart,
The Lord Most High is at his feat.
This act of tender, considerate affection, performed under such circumstances, to men who acted towards him in such ungenerous style, proves to us that his love will bear the strain of our bad behaviour, our lack of fidelity, and our thousand grievous failures. Having loved his own, who are in the world, he loves them to the end.
4. There was a third strain, and a powerful one, too. Our Saviour knew that the Father had committed all things into his hands, he knew that there was only a brief interval before he should die, and then he would ascend to the Father’s right hand, and sit there eternally as God over all, blessed for evermore, yet he did not disdain to do a slave’s work for his beloved ones. Often circumstances alter affections. A man grows rich and great, and forgets his friends. This we would not suspect of Jesus if his had not been a greater change than we mortals can possibly experience; but his was a surpassing accession of glory: from being plunged in ignominy and shame he was exalted to receive the homage of angels, and the adoration of the whole universe. One would think that in the prospect of such honours, though he loved his own, he would not so love them as to become their servant, and all in disarray stoop down before them, even to their feet, and do the service of a slave. No wonder that Peter raised an objection suggested by reverential awe. Who could without protest receive such humble service from such hands? Yet our Lord did this with heaven’s superlative glory descending on him! He disrobed himself, though angels longed to cast the imperial purple around his shoulders. With all things in his hand, he still took a towel and wiped the disciples’ feet.
5. Beloved, if our Lord’s love bore these three strains, we may, like the apostle, be persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
6. I invite you now, therefore, to see your Saviour’s enduring and continuing love as illustrated for us in this symbolic washing of his disciples’ feet, and in similar acts of which it is an emblem. I shall ask you to view it, first, as the type of his continuous love; and secondly, as the example of that love as it should be reflected by his people. May the Holy Spirit be our interpreter, and open to us this choice cabinet of love-tokens.
7. I. First: we will look upon this washing of the disciples’ feet as THE TYPE OF OUR LORD’S CONTINUOUS LOVE FOR US. We will view it in four lights.
8. First, Christ Jesus still acts as the host of his people. Has it never struck you how much the life of Christ with his people lay in intense familiarity with them? How in common things he displayed his brotherhood with them? He began his ministry at a feast at Cana of Galilee, performing his first miracle at a wedding. Again and again we find him eating with his disciples. The last thing he did was to sit at supper with them, and he still says to his church, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man opens to me I will enter in and sup with him and he with me.” His own metaphor for the opening of the new age of grace is a supper: “Blessed is he who shall eat bread at the marriage supper of the Lamb.” We do not always view our fellowship with Christ in this homely light, and I fear we forget that the acquaintance of Christ with his people was one of great intimacy and familiar communion, for they ate and drank with him and he with them. At this time also Jesus is the host of his church, providing the gospel supper and entertaining us very royally. Instead of meat he gives us his flesh to eat, rarest of dainties, and he cries, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. He satisfies our mouth with good things, so that our youth is renewed like the eagle’s. And, notice that the Lord is a host who goes through with his divine hospitalities, and leaves nothing undone. In the East the master of the house would wash his guests’ feet if they were people whom he sought to honour. You remember how Abraham asked the angels to turn in to his tent, and also said to them, “Please let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet.” Even so our Master entertains us at his table, not as paupers, but as guests, indeed, and not as guests of an ordinary kind, but as friends of the highest class, dear to his soul, whose feet he will wash. He can truly say of us, “Since you were precious in my sight you have been honourable, and I have loved you.” He treats us as distinguished people who shall not sit among lowly men, but shall have their portion among princes. This foot-washing once done was a fair representation of that honourable entertainment which the King extends to all believing souls when he invites them to come to his banqueting table and drink the wine which he has prepared. I like to think of the Lord as my host, and of myself as no mere waif and stray, but as a welcome guest, to whom he is daily fulfilling all a host’s part, granting me all I need, yes, all that I wish for. He himself gives us honours and comforts more than could be expected even from our closest friend. See he even washes our feet! What better sign do we need of his enduring love? Since he continues to entertain his whole church, and treats us all as distinguished visitors, it is clear that he still loves us.
My second rendering of the passage is that he cares for our minor
matters with a personal interest. Jesus washed their feet — this
showed a very tender and intimate consideration of their little
needs. That he should ease their weary hearts I can understand, that
he should enlighten their clouded brains I can understand; but that
he should wash their feet is incredible. A little soil on their
ankles, will he attend to that? Indeed, that he will, and personally
too. He himself will take the basin and the towel and wash their
feet. Had they been diseased with leprosy it would seem natural that
he should touch them and say, “Be clean”; or had they been blind or
lame it would have been probable that he would touch their eyes or
heal their limbs; but a mere defilement of their feet is so small a
matter, would he attend to that? He might have left them to wash each
other’s feet, might he not? Surely he only had to suggest it and they
would have cheerfully waited on each other. Peter, at any rate, would
have been first to obey, and to his Lord’s command he would have
replied, “Wash them? That I will, with delight.” But no; the Lord
laid aside his own garments and took a towel, and he performed the
kindly deed for them. Brothers and sisters, take your little things
to Christ, those trials of which your heart says, “They are too
small: though they prick me like thorns in the flesh, and give me
pain, yet they are really too trifling for me to mention in prayer.”
Not so; the Lord loves us to trust him thoroughly. This is a sign of
his love, of his continued affection, that he will even look after
the little things, he will even condescend to your small affairs, and
you may ask him — oh, it is bold asking, but you may do it — you may ask
him to wash your feet, for he will do even that. Do not, I urge you,
cause your own love to be put under suspicion through a deficiency in
your childlike confidence in your condescending Lord. I confess I
have often required more faith to pray about some tiny matter of my
own than about a thousand things which concern my Master’s kingdom,
and yet when faith is broad and large, love knows that all matters
which grieve the minds of his servants touch the heart of the Master,
and that all which works our good works also his delight. We must
believe in him so much that we can trust each day’s cares with him,
believing that he still washes his disciples’ feet, by attending to
their minor needs and griefs.
He overrules all mortal things,
And manages our mean [lowly] affairs;
On humble souls the King of kings
Bestows his counsels and his cares.
10. We will now take a third reading of it. This washing of the disciples’ feet means that he provides refreshment for his people. I do not suppose that many present here know what an intense pleasure it is in extremely hot countries to have the feet washed upon coming in after a weary walk. The servant pours out fresh cool water from a pitcher upon the feet when they are aching with a long journey and hot with burning heat and dust, and the result is delightfully refreshing. Our Lord washed his disciples’ feet, not only because cleansing was desirable, but also for their pleasure and solace. He takes great pleasure in giving joy to his followers. He desires that his joy should be in us so that our joy may be full. He does not want us to be like paupers, who have to be content with the bare necessities, but to be gentlemen commoners [a] upon his bounty who shall be served very royally, like princes of the blood whom even the king himself does not disdain to wait upon.
11. When does the Lord give us these refreshments? He often does this after a journey, — I mean after a severe trial. When, as pilgrims to heaven, we have been wearied by the greatness of the way, the Master comes, and reveals himself to us, and refreshes us. Sometimes, also, this good cheer comes before the trial, for these disciples were now about to enter upon a very rough road: they were doomed to travel through the rest of their lives without the personal presence of their Master, and he seems to say, “Before you set out I will wash your feet. A little refreshment of this kind will strengthen you at the beginning, and when you are farther on your way the very memory of it will come to you like a cool stream of water fresh from the pitcher.” So the Master was pleased to refresh them after a journey and before a journey, and the refreshment was intended, as I have already said, for their souls’ delight. It was a feast at which they sat, and he wished them to enjoy everything that could make them happy at his table. Brethren, I have told you that this foot-washing is a type of our Lord’s continuous love for us, a type which is followed by action like itself; and so it is in this respect, for he is often refreshing us. Have you not tasted from his cordials? We speak far less of our spiritual delights than we might do; but if we would open our mouths we could tell of rapturous times, when, though extremely weary and cast down, we have been graciously revived. Sweet promises have been applied to us by our Lord’s own hands, like cold water poured upon hot and weary feet, and by this means we have been bathed in rest. A sense of his love has come over us like a dream, and yet we were never more awake in our lives. We have been entranced and yet most sober and calm. Our Lord’s love is a dear delight, and, when we experience it, the bells of heaven seem to be ringing close to our ears, and choirs of angels to have come down from glory to make music in our homes. At such times we often wonder why we were so gladdened, but when next day an extraordinary trouble sets in we discover the reason, and perceive that we have been well nourished so that we may go a forty day journey in the strength of this food.
12. Yes, we have had those refreshments in this house when the word has been preached, or when some joyful hymn has borne us on its wings to heaven; or, best of all, at the communion table. Nor just here alone, for in our own quiet rooms, and in the night watches, the Lord has refreshed our hearts, for he gives songs in the night. These sweet renewals and upliftings are the signs that having loved his own he loves them to the end. This is the foot-washing over again, for Christ is still busy at his works of love. Though he does not lay aside his garment today, nor comes among us like a servant, yet even from the highest throne in glory he has ways of performing the same purposes of kindness. Still he gives us inward delight, and this joy becomes our strength, making us swift as a young roe, to run upon his gracious errands. The weariness which makes the feet heavier is removed by joyful fellowship, and so we are washed and refreshed. We who are his ministers need much of this, so that we may be as hinds let loose, giving goodly words.
13. Our fourth view of the text is more full and accurate, namely, that Christ continues to guard the purity of his church; for though it was not all his meaning, yet by washing their feet he certainly intended their cleansing; for after he had done it he said, “You are clean: he who is washed is entirely clean.” Our Lord watches over the purification of all those who are his own, and this is a great joy for us who love his church, and are concerned for her honour. To see professors defile themselves is heart-breaking work for loving pastors, and our only comfort is that Jesus is quite as jealous of the holiness of his people as we can ever be. Beloved, I live while I see your pure and holy conduct; but when I see impurity, worldliness, and evil among you, it cuts me to the heart, and were it not that I know my Lord is watching over the purity of his people I would gladly lay down and die. From the occasion which our Lord selected for the foot-washing it is clear that he would have us seek the special purifying power of his presence during religious ordinances. I really cannot tell at what point of the evening’s proceedings our Lord washed his disciples’ feet, and if you read the chapter you will be somewhat puzzled. It is “before the passover,” yet it is said, “supper being ended,” which I suppose would be better rendered, “supper being in progress”; for after the washing our Lord took a sop, dipped it, and gave it to Judas, and therefore the supper was not over. Or if one supper may have come to an end another was just beginning. Was this feast the passover? Was it the Lord’s Supper? Was it the first of the agapè, or love-feasts, in which the early church delighted? Which was it? I do not know, and I am not much concerned to know. The Lord Jesus Christ made the passover melt into the Lord’s Supper; so that you cannot tell where one before ends and the other begins. No violent jerk occurred in leaving the lines of the Jewish age for the Christian; for our Lord’s disciples went up to the temple to pray after the veil was torn in two, and the legal ceremonies had lost their meaning. There was a gradual sliding of the one economy into the other, and on the memorable night of the washing of the feet I suspect that our Master ate and drank with his disciples at a common meal, just as the early Christians did when they met together at their love-feasts: then probably followed the actual passover celebration, a night its time; and this gradually dissolved into the Lord’s Supper, of which the cup was “the cup after supper.” Anyway, it does not matter much; but it is clear that we need our feet washed before we come to his table, — “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of this bread.” We also need our feet washed while we are at his table, for there is sin in our holiest things, and even when we come most near to our Lord we still need that he washes us, according to that text, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Even when we walk in the light, and have clearest fellowship with God, the Lord Jesus continues to cleanse us from all sin. And I am sure we need washing after supper. When we come away from worship we need to get alone, and cry, “Cleanse me from secret faults. Let my lack of devotion or my coldness in it be forgiven. Let my lack of zeal, my scantiness of faith, and the wandering of my heart be all washed away by you, my Lord and Master, for I need it very much.”
14. Our Lord is so anxious for the purification of his people that he is frequently giving them a sweet sense that their transgressions in holy things are put away, and so he seems to say to them, “I have accepted your sacrifice, I have received your prayers and tears, and presented them to my Father. I have washed you, and you are clean: go in peace.” This is one of the acts of his continuous love, this daily washing of our feet.
15. We must all have this frequent washing by our Lord; it is absolutely necessary. There is a “must” in the case: just as we must be born again, so we must be made holy. It would be to our Lord’s dishonour to be followed by disciples who do not walk in integrity and uprightness. Just as he is himself perfectly holy so he desires to have around him a holy people purged from all defilement. He is so anxious that he should have such a people, that sooner than they shall not be washed he will act the part of a servant and wash their feet himself. “Be clean you who bear the vessels of the Lord.” You who follow in his footsteps, walk with clean feet. Do not come up with the miry clay still sticking to you, but wash, wash daily, and follow your pure Master with pure and cleansed hearts, with careful and obedient feet, so that all may see that you are the disciples of the Undefiled. His ministers especially need this or the people will never cry, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings.” Brethren, pray for us so that we may experience this to the highest degree.
16. We must all receive these constant washings which are the testimonial of Christ’s continued love. Did he not say to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me?” If Jesus does not make you holy you are not his. Brother, if you live in sin, and love it, you cannot love God. Unless he truly purges your life and makes you to walk in a clean path, you are not his, for he purges his own: those who riot in iniquity prove that they are of their father, the devil, for they do his works. Whom Jesus loves he purifies. He loved his church and gave himself for it so that he might sanctify and cleanse it. If, then, you are unholy, ungracious, dishonest, unrighteous, how can you say that you belong to his church? He washes the feet of all who are his disciples, and if your feet are filthy you do not belong to the faithful band.
17. This washing must be spiritual: no external form will suffice. Christ washed the feet of Judas with water, but inasmuch as Judas had never been bathed in the laver of regeneration, and had never been purged in the fount of forgiving love, that washing which Christ gave to his feet did him no spiritual good; and you, my friend, may use whatever external washings you wish, and perform whatever religious ceremonies you please, but unless your spirit has been renewed by the Holy Spirit, and your heart purged in the sight of God, you still have no part nor lot with Christ’s disciples.
The mercy is that this purification, which is so necessary, and which
must be of a spiritual kind, is very readily given. I admire the
beauty of the figure in its simple ease. The Scripture does not say
that our Master was nailed to the cross and poured out a stream from
his heart, in order to wash his disciples’ feet. No, although the act
by which he cleansed them was very condescending, yet it was not
painful or laborious. He lays aside his garments, girds on the towel,
and takes the pitcher, and immediately proceeds to wash the
disciples’ feet with it. It was easily done, and whatever there was
upon the feet was soon removed: it required no suffering, no dire
grief on Jesus’ part. For our first washing from the guilt and
condemnation of sin it needed that Jesus should lay down his life,
and fill the cleansing fount with atoning blood; but for the
subsequent removal of sin the Lord uses an easy process of love. He
by his Spirit speedily cleanses us from iniquity, even as our feet
are soon washed. How, readily, therefore, we ought to go to Christ
about the purging of our consciences from dead works. I have heard it
said that the sinner finds great difficulty in going to Christ at
first: that is sadly true, but I have also noticed that sometimes
there is a difficulty in continuing to go to him every day of our
lives. To go as a sinner and get washed from sin needs faith, but
it also requires a steady confidence to resort to Jesus under a
thousand conscious failures and backsliding year after year. I sit
down in my room, and I feel I am a forgiven man: I am quite sure
about that, and therefore I shall never be cast into hell: but today
I spoke unadvisedly with my lips, or I grew angry in temper, or I am
conscious that I was proud, or else I have been frivolous and
worldly, or I have been selfish; and at the memory of those sins I
lose my peace and feel I cannot pray. Communion with God seems gone
while these faults stare me in the face. The arch-enemy whispers, “You
cannot get back into your former happy state.” At such times let us
say to him, “Oh you enemy, I can and will return into fellowship, for
my dear Lord and Master has only to take the basin and wash my feet,
and this he can do very quickly.” Oh my brother, when a sense of sin
revives upon the conscience, do not be persuaded by unbelief that you
cannot be restored again, but go straight to your Master and say,
“Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” and he will cleanse you,
and once again you shall be pleased and rejoice in him. Remember the
words of our hymn concerning the fountain of divine grace: —
This fountain from guilt not only makes pure,
And gives, soon as felt, infallible cure;
But if guilt removed return, and remain,
Its power may be proved again and again.
19. Notice, however, that this washing must be given us by our Lord himself. He must first wash our feet before we can wash each other’s feet. I think I see the Well-Beloved now as he pours the pure water on their ankles! Notice how he takes their feet into his kind and tender hands, and washes them clean, and then wipes them with the towel! He continues to do this to us even now in a spiritual sense. It is his own dear love that takes away sin from the conscience, so that it does not linger there to foul and mar it. Often I think he seems to kiss those feet and say, “Dear child, you are clean now. Watch your footsteps, and keep your garments so that they are not defiled again: yet even if they are I will wash them again, for I still live to cleanse you and put away your transgressions. I intend before long to make you as perfect as myself, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” Nor may I leave this point until I ask you to notice the condescension of this personal washing, for Abraham himself did not wash the angels’ feet, but said, “Let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet”; and Joseph did not personally wash his brother’s feet, but the steward of his house brought them in and gave them water, and they washed their feet; but Jesus does it all himself. Oh my soul, bow down before him and adore his unparalleled love.
20. So I have shown you that this foot-washing is a symbol of our Redeemer’s continuous acts of love. Jesus is always our host, and therefore he washes our feet; he always cares for our little matters, and in this sense washes even our feet; he is always providing refreshments for his people in their pilgrimage to heaven, and so he washes their feet; he is always guarding the purity of his church and people, and so in the fullest sense he washes their feet.
21. II. Secondly, we come to practical matters concerning ourselves. AS THE MODEL OF HIS OWN LOVE IN HIS PEOPLE our Lord washed their feet.
22. The love of the saints is their Lord’s love in them, which has filled their vessels to the brim and is now running over. Christ’s love is the sun and our love is the moonlight, which we are able to reflect because the sun has looked upon us. Love is first freely imparted and then plenteously diffused. Jesus says, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water”; and then again, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” What we receive we impart, and the grace which works in us at the first before long works by us.
23. Let us look at this foot-washing in reference to ourselves, and our duty and office in the midst of our brethren. We learn, first, that there will always be a need of this service in the church, and always need of service in the particular direction of promoting purity. The apostles were twelve strong men, surely they did not require a servant! Yes, they did. They must have a servant, they could not do without a servant; and therefore their Lord supplied the vacant position. And now that the Lord is gone his church still needs servants, and servants to wash feet, or else all will go amiss. On earth the church will never be so clean that it will have no need of foot-washing; the church will never be able to dispense with purifying service until the Lord shall come. You, my brother Christian, may never expect to join a church where there will be nothing for you to do; do not even desire such a position of idleness. We shall never get among a community so pure that we shall see no faults in our brethren, and never shall we ourselves be so good that they will see no faults in us; therefore, let us render and receive a happy, mutual service in the church by which the sanctification of one and all will be promoted. In those words, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash each other’s feet,” our Lord speaks as though he would have us consider acting as servants for the benefit of each other. Let us cheerfully accept the position.
24. We see next that we are not to advocate the abrogation of such service, or pretend that we have reached a point at which we can dispense with it. The Stoic would say, “Washing feet! What is the good of it? What is the need of washing a man’s feet? If he needs it, let him wash them himself. The first law of nature is self-love: let every man see to himself. What have I to do with my brother’s feet? Let him wash his own. What has he to do with my feet? Let him mind his own business.” That is antichristianity: but Christianity says, “I am willing that others should help me to be holy, and I am also willing to help others to the same purpose. I am so imperfect that I am willing that anyone should point out my faults, and rebuke me for them, and I am so anxious that my brother should be holy that I will lovingly help him to conquer sin.” Sometimes it is more humbling to have your own feet washed than to wash other people’s, and hence sometimes our naughty pride says, “You shall never wash my feet.” Yet it must be so, and pride must sit still like a child, and be both washed and wiped. Again, I perceive that to many it is easy to stoop to the poor, but hard to yield to their equals in estate or in ability. I know those who will do a thousand things for a poor man, but they would not do the same service for those of their own rank. You say, “As for that poor soul, I do not mind conceding many points to him, but this other man will crow over me if I yield to his weakness, and he will expect me to do it again, and so I may be thought to be a person of no spirit, who can easily be imposed upon, and made a general hack.” That also is the speech of antichristianity. True Christianity impels us to render and to accept that service which is mutual among true saints. He who kindly reminds me of my faults helps me to be better; let me not be angry with him, but value him for his faithfulness. On the other hand, I must never hint at a failing in a brother unless I believe that he will be all the better for it, and even then I must do it gently, for I am not to scald my brethren’s feet, but to use cool, sparkling, living water in the washing of them. Refining by fire is God’s work: refreshing with water is ours. We are to rebuke in love, not in wrath; we are to wipe as well as wet, to comfort as well as correct.
25. In the world they criticise: this is the business of the public press, and it is very much the business of private circles. Hear how gossips say, “Do you see that spot? What a terrible walk that man must have had this morning: look at his feet! He has been very much in the mire you can see, for there are the traces upon him.” That is the world’s way. Christ’s way is very different. He says nothing, but takes the basin and begins to wash away the stain. Do not judge and condemn, but seek the restoration and the improvement of the erring. Say to your faulty brother, “I am very anxious if I may, to take away your spots. I would not wish to point them out if I did not feel that I should help you to get rid of them by it.” I fear that many professors follow the world’s way, and indulge in what we call gossip, which is usually slander and misrepresentation, or, in other words, lying. The best of men may have to endure this, but it is a great pity it should be so. Why will people find pleasure in throwing dirty water over their neighbours? Do you make yourself any better by blackening others? Do you expect to rise by pulling others down? Scorn such attempts. An ambition which suggests such evil means is only worthy of a fiend. Oh you who truly love your Lord cease from cruel witticisms, and spend your strength in humble and loving washings of your brethren’s feet, and so shall we all become happier, because we become more like our Lord.
26. This foot-washing among disciples should be done very cheerfully. No one asked the Master to bring the basin: no one would have thought of such a thing: it was his own heart of love that made him do it, out of spontaneous affection for those whom he had chosen. Let us be also ready to perform any office for our brethren, however lowly. If there is a position in the church where the worker will have to toil hard and get no thanks for it, take it, and be pleased with it. If you can perform a service which few will ever seek to do themselves, or appreciate when performed by others, still occupy it with holy delight. Covet humble work, and when you get it be content to continue in it. There is no great rush after the lowest places, you will rob no one by seeking them. For the highest place we must have the approval of the whole church, but for the very lowest there is no great ambition, therefore select such a place, and while you will escape envy you will also gain a quiet conscience. If we were Christ’s more thoroughly we should cheerfully and voluntarily push ourselves into the places of self-sacrifice, counting it our chief honour to serve God and the church in ways which are obscure and despised, because in so doing we shall be saved from the pharisaic spirit which desires the praise of man.
27. When we do anything for Christ’s people, not only should we do it cheerfully but thoroughly. How well our Lord took up the servant’s place. He disrobed himself until he stood prepared for his task in much the same undress as an attendant at the Turkish baths, who takes off all his upper garments. Our Lord was ready to do his work; he put off all that would hinder him, for he meant real washing, and not a mere form. When you are going to serve your brethren, do it heartily; give your Lord zealous and earnest service; strip to your shirtsleeves, if needs be, to serve Christ and his people. Do not attempt to play the fine gentleman; is it not far nobler to be a real Christian?
28. Observe how each point of our Lord’s procedure is marked by the evangelist. “He rises from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he pours water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.” He might have left them to wipe themselves, but, no, he must finish his work of love — “He wiped them with the towel with which he was girded.” Whenever you serve a brother for Christ’s sake do it thoroughly. Begin it heartily, go on with it steadfastly, and do not quit until the deed is done. If anything is to be done slovenly let it be something which is done for yourself; but Jesus and his people must have the best which our ability can render. Give the saints of God the pick and choice of your productions: if you wash their feet wash them well. The foot of the lowliest servant of Christ is more honourable than the head of the greatest emperor who ever wore a diadem. It will be seen in eternity to be a greater honour to have performed the most menial service for a true child of God than to have been honoured and decorated with stars and garters [b] in the service of the mightiest monarch. Lay yourselves out for thorough service of your Lord for his people, and try to be always doing this.
29. I feel quite sure of my ground in having said that this foot-washing was meant to be a type of what our Lord is always doing, because he puts it like this: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash each other’s feet.” Evidently the inference would be “If I did this only once, you ought to wash each other’s feet once”; but since the moral is, “You ought always to wash each other’s feet,” the doctrine is that in effect our Lord is always washing the feet of his people. Let us carry out the lesson, and be always in a servant’s attitude among our fellow disciples. Let us be always on bended knee with the basin and the towel near at hand; let us be willing to relieve those who are in need, to restore those who stumble, to reclaim those who wander, and to edify and perfect all the body of Christ as far as our ability will permit. May it be ours to promote the holiness of our entire fellow Christians at all times. You say it is the pastor’s business to look after the church. I know it is, but the true pastor’s wisdom is to get the members of the church to look after each other. “Bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” In my own case the pastorate of one person over five thousand members is ridiculous, unless it is exercised by impressing all the members with the necessity, the duty, the privilege of mutual oversight, each one seeking to do good towards the other according as he has opportunity. Let this mind be in you which is also in Christ Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet. Love each other, I implore you, and in honour prefer each other. Do not look only at your own troubles, but help in the troubles of others. Let brotherly love continue, and ever so live that when your Master looks down upon you he may be pleased and rejoice in you, as I trust he does today.
May this, our beloved church, be for many a year a pattern of unity
and peace within, and of strength and activity without, so that a
witness may be borne for pure and undefiled religion, and a model set
up in which shall be seen the handiwork of the Spirit, who creates
love in the hearts of the saints. Little children, love each other.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Joh 13:1-17]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “God the Father, Attributes of God — Divine Glory” 186]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Jesus Christ, Life on Earth — His Divine Example” 262]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Jesus Christ, Life on Earth — Imitation Of Jesus” 263]
[a] Gentleman commoner: One of the highest class of commoners at the University of Oxford. See Explorer "http://dictionary.die.net/gentleman%20commoner"
[b] Garter: The badge of the highest order of English knighthood. OED.
God the Father, Attributes of God
186 — Divine Glory
1 Eternal Power! whose high abode
Becomes the grandeur of a God:
Infinite lengths beyond the bounds
Where stars revolve their little rounds.
2 The lowest step around thy seat
Rises too high for Gabriel’s feet;
In vain the fall archangel tries
To reach thine height with wond’ring eyes.
3 Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker too;
From sin and dust to thee we cry,
The Great, the Holy, and the High!
4 Earth from afar has heard thy fame,
And worms have learnt to lisp thy name;
But oh, the glories of thy mind
Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.
5 God is in heaven, and men below;
Be short our tunes, our words be few;
A sacred reverence checks our songs,
And praise sits silent on our tongues.
Isaac Watts, 1706.
Jesus Christ, Life on Earth
262 — His Divine Example
1 My dear Redeemer and my Lord,
I read my duty in thy Word;
But in thy life the law appears
Drawn out in living characters.
2 Such was thy truth, and such thy zeal,
Such deference to thy Father’s will,
Such love, and meekness so divine,
I would transcribe and make them mine.
3 Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witness’d the fervour of thy prayer;
The desert thy temptation knew,
Thy conflict and thy victory too.
4 Be thou my pattern; make me bear
More of thy gracious image here;
Then God the Judge shall own my name
Amongst the followers of the Lamb.
Isaac Watts, 1709.
Jesus Christ, Life on Earth
263 — Imitation Of Jesus
1 Lord, as to thy dear Cross we flee,
And plead to be forgiven,
So let thy life our pattern be,
And form our souls for heaven.
2 Help us, through good report and ill,
Our daily cross to bear;
Like thee, to do our Father’s will,
Our brethren’s griefs to share.
3 Let grace our selfishness expel,
Our earthliness refine;
And kindness in our bosoms dwell,
As free and true as thine.
4 If joy shall at thy bidding fly,
And grief’s dark day come on,
We, in our turn, would meekly cry,
“Father, thy will be done.”
5 Kept peaceful in the midst of strife,
Forgiving and forgiven,
Oh may we lead the pilgrim’s life,
And follow thee to heaven!
John Hampden Gurney, 1851.