WASHING OF FEET
THE RITUAL FOR SIN AFTER CONVERSION
“If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.”
“He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet” (John 13: 10). Baptism is the first and total bathing to which the Saviour refers: it answers to the total uncleanness of man by nature. It exhibits in a figure the great and general forgiveness of past sin which is granted by the Father to all that believe in Jesus. As though the Saviour said:- The past is blotted out and forgiven freely. But you have offended since that day; and fresh sin has stained your conscience. You need then a second and supplementary washing, that you may be wholly clean. Such is the washing of your feet. The first washing was total; for sin entirely possessed you by nature. This second washing is partial, as your sins now are occasional. You sinned willingly before, with head and hand. You sin involuntarily now, as the bather coming up from the bath unwillingly gathers on his feet the dust and dirt that defile them. “That which I do I allow not; for what I would that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” “The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7: 15, 17, 19).
Thus, while the total defilement of man as a sinner is set forth in the total immersion of the believer once for all; the partial and unwilling uncleanness of the saint is set forth in the second and succeeding washing. It is intended to teach that daily sin demands a daily cleansing, even after our old sins are purged and put away. The intercession of Jesus to this end, and His ceaseless washing are continually needed.*
- ROBERT GOVETT.
* It is sometimes said, with careless boldness, that it was a
customary thing for the master to wash the guests’ feet, in eastern
countries. Not one instance of it can be
found in Scripture. The following are all the passages in
which the thing is spoken of. Abraham
* * *
Our Lord, having finished washing their feet, resumes his garments, sits down again, and now addresses the disciples:- “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Teacher, and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, YE ALSO OUGHT TO WASH ONE ANOTHER'S FEET. For I have given YOU AN EXAMPLE THAT YE ALSO SHOULD DO AS I HAVE DONE TO YOU. ... If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.”
How we can do them, without doing them, it is very difficult to say. He has just asked His disciples to do for one another now, that which He did for His disciples then. For two centuries Satan failed to succeed in leading away the disciples from this ordinance. Nineteen hundred years have rolled round since the night of the supper. The cycle of time to be completed by the Second Advent will soon enable those who now “wash one another’s feet” for Jesus’ sake, to link up the circle of the past intervening years with those Christians of the first centuries, and to stand with them on the same ground to share in the “part with” Christ.
It is beautiful to see also in this instance the Old Testament
returning its borrowed light to the Scriptures of the New. In his delineation of the ceremonies in
connection with the consecration of the Priests, the Holy Ghost wrote by the
hand of Moses those commands which the God of Israel gave to
- CHAS. S. UTTING.
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So important is the after-cleansing of the believer that our Lord has enshrined the truth for ever in the loveliest of rites. “He that is bathed,” He says (John 13: 10), “needeth not save to wash his feet, but [if he do both] is clean every whit.” A bather, totally immersed, is completely cleansed; but, coming up from river or seashore, his feet get soiled afresh: so, after our total plunge, our complete immersion, in the pardon of God, our perfect cleansing in the blood of Christ, we contract inevitable defilement in our contact with earth, and need the washing of the walk. No apostle was omitted as perfect in walk. “Our works may be compared to the soul’s feet: the Church will never be so clean that it will have no need of foot-washing” (Spurgeon). Coming up from the great pardon at conversion, and coming up ritually out of the baptismal flood, we come up fully bathed, spotlessly clean; for “ye were washed” (1 Cor. 6: 2): but now, over even apostles’ feet, our High Priest has to stoop in tender ablution and absolution of post-baptismal sin. “Justification must be followed by sanctification” (Lange). So [believers’] baptism is the first portrayal by ritual; “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22: 16): our Lord now institutes a supplementary rite [for regenerate believers only] to portray the covering of post-conversion sin; “I have washed your feet.”
While extra-Biblical tradition is no basis whatever for our faith or conduct, evidence that the acceptance of our Lord’s words as indicating a rite is not an individual idiosyncrasy may justly be offered, on behalf of an interpretation which, through ignorance of church history, may seem new-fangled and peculiar. The Greek church has preserved it, together with immersion in baptism, from the apostolic age. Of the four so-called ‘doctors of the Church’ two - Ambrose and Augustine - taught and practised it, and in the sub-apostolic age: “the ceremony (says Bingham’s Christian Antiquities) was used by some churches, but rejected by others.” As late as the fifth century Augustine says:- “Brethren perform this action one for another. Among some saints the custom exists not, but they do it in heart; but much better and more exact is it, beyond controversy, that it be done by the hand.” Bernard, called ‘the last of the Fathers’ is equally explicit:- “That we may not doubt concerning the remission of daily sins, we have its sacrament - the Washing of Feet.” The Council of Toledo (A.D. 694) fixed an annual date when the feet of the newly baptized were washed. Luther was not averse to it. Nor are the Moravians the only modern group to observe the rite. One of the giant intellects of modern days, foremost in the ranks of science – Faraday - was (with many an obscure disciple through many ages and in many lands) a humble follower of this ritual of ablution. “Many humble Christian societies have adopted this view, and still we find that some devout people are earnest for it” (C. Stanford, D.D.).
Peter’s impetuous blunders are used by the [Holy] Spirit to set all in a radiant light. He says, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” He does not see the cross in the basin, nor the blood in the water. “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Our Lord’s answer startlingly reveals our need of the pardon of all sin, whether before conversion or after. “If I wash thee not” - if pardon does not touch you at all - “thou hast no part WITH Me”*: without the great ablution, there is no life eternal; and without the partial ablution, there is no REWARD at the judgment Seat: justification and sanctification are both essential for a full participation with Christ. Christ does not say that, once washed, no kind of washing can be needed again; nor does He say that, once soiled, no fresh washing is possible. Peter, still misunderstanding, now passes to the opposite extreme:- “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”* “Peter was thoughtlessly demanding the repetition of his baptism” (Godet). Jesus again corrects the error. “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.” “The foot needeth to be washed; but the totality of the cleanness is not lost” (B. W. Newton). The first cleansing is total and final, involving our whole nature, and, up to that moment, a perfect bath, unrepeated and unrepeatable; justification is for ever; it is one [correct and scriptural regenerate believers’] baptism (Eph. 4: 5): but for sanctification, continual and progressive, a partial cleansing is required for partial sin.
* Thus a believer’s cleansing depends wholly on his own consent to Christ’s action. This negatives B. W. Newton:- “When they [all believers] enter their Father’s presence, each foot will have been perfectly washed.” Numerous scriptures (such as Matt. 18: 35, Luke 12: 47, 2 Cor. 5: 10, Col. 3: 24-25, 1 John 2: 28, Rev. 3: 3, 16, etc.) make sure the shame of some disciples after the resurrection, when a sharper chastisement will bring a belated repentance, and a cleansing that will be final. Of one sin our Lord says:- “It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is to come” (Matt. 12: 32): from which it may justly be inferred that certain other sins (obviously of believers only) will require and receive a future forgiveness in the Age that succeeds to this.
[* That is, “with Me” at all times and in all places. Messiah’s Judgment Seat will determine those, (from amongst His redeemed people), whose personal righteousnesses will have allowed them to be ‘with’ Him in the “age” which is yet to come! Matt. 5: 10, 19, 20; 7: 21-23; Luke 22: 28-30; Rev. 19: 7, 8; 20: 4, etc.]
- D. M. PANTON.
“Go ye therefore, and make disciples, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I COMMANDED YOU: and lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consummation of the age:” Matt. 28: 19, 20, R.V., marginal reading.