"We are approaching, in our meditations, a very solemn section of our Lord's history. Jesus has completed His sojourn on earth, and the eve of the great and awful day of atonement has arrived. He assembles His followers around Him once more, in the social chamber of a friend's house in Jerusalem. Once more they are permitted to look into their Master's faithful heart, and to feel how much God has given them in Him. Never was the recollection of the affecting circumstances which took place that evening erased from their memory. The tranquil majesty displayed by their Lord and Master - the astonishing degree of ardent affection which manifested itself in every look, and every word - the heavenly peace which shone forth in His whole deportment - His cheerful and filial resignation to the will and counsel of God; and with all His dignity, such amiable condescension, while in every expression of His lips, and in all His actions and conduct, there was something divinely profound, consoling, and mysterious. The whole scene was overpowering and heart-cheering in a manner they had never before experienced. They felt themselves translated, as it were, into an outer court of heaven, and would have felt infinitely greater blessedness than even in the glory of Mount Tabor, had it not been for the anticipation of their Master's approaching departure, which threw a melancholy gloom over their joy....
"In this sublime and twofold consciousness, we see Him unexpectedly rising up from supper; and for what purpose? To appear in His dignity? To display the splendour of His divine glory? To constrain His disciples to bow the knee in the dust before Him? One might imagine so; but no, He has something very different in view. Look, what means that? He lays aside His upper garments, takes a towel and girds Himself with it; pours water into a basin, bends down to the feet of the disciples, and begins to wash them in their turn, and then to wipe them with the towel. What a spectacle! It is enough to make one start, and to hold one's breath with astonishment! Are we not ready to exclaim aloud, 'Lord, Lord, what art thou doing?' Think of the Holy One, who came down from heaven, thus engaged with sinners; the majestic Being, whom angels adore, abasing Himself to the occupation of a menial servant! No, we should never be able to make such an action agree with His high dignity, were we not acquainted with His wonderful and peculiar sentiment. He no longer knows His followers 'after the flesh'; He sees in them those whom His Father has given Him - those whom God so loved, that He gave His only-begotten Son for them - the objects of an eternal and paternal counsel of mercy - beings, who, notwithstanding the sin which still cleaves to them, carry in their bosoms the work of the Holy Spirit, and in it the seed of God; and still more than all this does He behold in them. They are to Him the spiritual bride, clothed with the sun; for they stand before Him arrayed in the royal robe of His righteousness.
"O great and significant symbol! O powerful exposition of the words 'I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister!' O important testimony to that which is of value in His kingdom, and to that which is not! O impressive condemnation of all selfishness and self-exaltation in the children of men! O deeply affecting commendation of humility and self-denial, as the characteristics of His children, and amiable and ennobling instance of that love, which ought to animate us! And how much more than all this is there not comprised in this act of our Lord's? It testifies of the sweetest, most glorious, and most exalted things in store for us, as will now be exposed to our view.
"The disciples continue motionless and lost in mute astonishment. And how are they now ashamed of ever having striven among themselves as to who should be the greatest! They could almost bury themselves in the earth for confusion and regret. How humbled do they feel, and what tenderness and love pervade their hearts! With feelings of blissful astonishment, they suffer their Lord to act as He pleases with them.
"The work of unheard-of condescension proceeds in silence, until the turn comes to Simon Peter. Here, as might be expected, resistance is offered and a stand is made. When the Master approaches him, his face flushes with a fiery excitement. He hastily draws back his feet, and, as on a former occasion, he exclaimed, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!' so now he cries in the violence of his feelings, 'Lord, dost thou wash my feet?' He can not comprehend how any thing so unseemly should take place. The glory of the Lord and the worthlessness of the creature contrast too strongly. How deeply does Peter abase himself in this expression of his feelings, and how highly does he elevate his Lord and Master! 'Thou, the Holy One,' is the language of his heart - 'I, a worm of the dust! It can not be.'
"But however commendable may have been such a feeling in Simon's soul, it was nevertheless, in other respects, culpable and improper. He ought to have remembered his Master's own words: 'I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.' It is His peculiar office to cleanse the polluted and to purify the unclean. What would have become of us had He not condescended to the depth of that depravity in which He found us? Simon thought it would be more befitting for him to wash his Master's feet. Yes, do not cease to wash them with penitential tears; but in other respects let Him wash and cleanse thee, otherwise how wilt thou escape eternal perdition? But Simon does not understand his Lord, and has no idea of his error. Jesus, therefore, replies to him in the well-known words, 'What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.'
"But will not this remark of our Lord's induce Simon to resign himself wholly to Him? On the contrary, Simon thinks he ought to preserve his Master's dignity, and therefore exclaims, in a very decided tone, 'Thou shalt never wash my feet!' Simon, however, forgot that obedience is better than sacrifice. O, my friends, if you wish to honour Jesus, do so by submitting to His Word! He says, 'I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.' 'No,' you reply, 'I can not imagine that His divine Majesty will trouble Himself about the prayers of such a worm as I!' O unreasonable zeal for the divine dignity! It is the will of God that we should glorify Him in this very particular, that we believe Him to be the hearer of prayer.
"'Thou shalt never wash my feet!' said the mistaken disciple. But listen to the Saviour's reply, 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.' What an important declaration is this! You perceive how the more profound and mystic meaning of our Lord's act shines forth in these words - namely, as having reference to the blood of atonement, to forgiveness, justification, and purification from sin. You know how much lies concealed in this passage, and how every syllable has its profound signification. 'If I wash thee not.' Yes, Thou, Lord Jesus, must do it; for who ever purified himself from sin? 'If I do not wash thee.' Yes, Thou must wash us; for teaching, instructing, and setting us an example, is not sufficient. 'If I wash thee not.' Certainly, what does it avail me, if Peter or Paul is cleansed, and I remain defiled? I must be forgiven, and it remains eternally true, that he who is not washed in the blood of Christ has no part with Him, nor the blessings of His kingdom....
"Let the words, then, ever sound in our ears: 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.' May they expel all false security from our souls; give us no rest day or night until they cast us down at His footstool, and if He has not yet cleansed us, call forth from our bosoms the words of Peter: 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!'"