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And that he was come from God, and was going away to God,
That is, that as he had received his commission from God, so he was going to him, to receive the reward of his fidelity in the execution of it. On this clause some have observed, that as going to God in the latter part signifies a local ascent, so in the former, coming from God must signify a local descent, and therefore implies the pre-existence of Christ. But both parts are very well connected together in the manner just explained, without having recourse to the supposition of Christ having been in a pre-existent state, which ought not to be admitted but upon the clearest evidence. The evangelist now proceeds to his narrative.
4. He riseth from supper, that is, from the supper-table, for the meal was not yet begun, and laid aside his garments, his upper garment, and took a towel and girded himself;
5. After that he poureth water into a bason; and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
To wash their feet just before they began their meals, was a practice which an attention to cleanliness necessarily suggested to men in eastern countries, where the feet, being in a great measure uncovered, were very liable to be soiled. This office was usually performed for the guests by a slave, or by the meanest servant in the household. When David offered to take Abigail to be his wife, she expresses how unworthy she thought herself of this high honour by saying, Let thine handmaid be a servant, to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord: 1 Sam. xxv. 41. This office Jesus thought proper to perform for the
disciples himself, before the celebration of the passover, for reasons which he afterwards explains.
The other disciples were no doubt surprised and shocked at seeing their master perform this mean office; but Peter, more forward to speak than the rest, ventures to remonstrate with him upon the impropriety of what he was doing.
6. Then cometh he to Simon Peter, and Peter saith unto him, Master, dost thou wash my feet?
7. Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.
That is, when I have done. Accordingly we find that when he had finished, he explains to Peter and the rest of them the meaning of this action. Peter, however, paid no regard to this promise of an explanation, but perseveres in his opposition, for it is added,
8. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
By washing, in this place, Christ seems to intend the moral effect of his doctrine, which if Peter had not experienced, he did not deserve to be called his disciple: for it does not seem likely that he would make submission to this ceremony a necessary condition of enjoying the privileges of the gospel.
9. Simon Peter saith unto him, Master, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.
If washing is intended to express the moral influence of thy doctrine, let my whole person be washed, and not a part only; to intimate that I am completely
purified. To this Jesus replies by saying that as he who was habitually clean, by bathing every day, ac cording to the custom of eastern countries, did not want to be washed in every part, but only in his feet, which necessarily contract soil and dust by daily use; so Peter and his companions had no occasion to be purified in their whole characters, being already virtuous, but only from occasional infirmities.
10. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit, "all over," and ye are clean, but not all.
He excepts Judas from the description of being generally clean, because his whole character was defiled with vice.
For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.
12. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garment, and was set down again, he said unto them; Know ye what I have done unto you?
He now enters into that explanation of the action which he had been performing, which he had promised to Peter, verse seven.
13. Ye call me Master and Lord, and ye say well: for so I am.
Christ, although a man as well as the apostles, yet claimed a great superiority over them, on account of his superior miraculous endowments and his being sent of God, while they were only sent by him.
14. If I then, your Lord and master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you
As I, who am so much superior to you, performed the mean office of washing your feet before supper, do you perform the like mean offices, whenever you have an opportunity of serving another. Jesus thought it necessary to give them this instruction at this time, because they were soon to be endowed with miraculous powers, which might fill them with a high conceit of their own consequence, and tempt them to think that they were exempted hereby from servile offices of kindness; for this they could have no plea, after such an example of condescension from their master.
16. Verily, verily I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord, neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
There seems to be here an allusion to the future situation of the apostles, who were to be sent by Christ into the world, in the same manner as he had been sent by the Father; which was a mark of their subjec tion, and therefore an argument against pride.
17. If ye know these things, that is, "know them to be true," happy are ye if ye do them.
These words seem to be a reply to a tacit objection made by his disciples to what he was saying. They are supposed to say, that the master is greater than the servant, and he who sends than the person sent, is a Vol. 2.]
common proverb, which we all admit to be just, and which there is no occasion to repeat. To this he answers, If ye know it, happy are ye if ye act agree ably to it.
1. Let us learn to admire and endeavour to imitate the calm fortitude of Jesus, who, on the night preceding his crucifixion, and a few hours only before his death, could so far forget his own sufferings, of which, however, he had a clear foresight, as to be attentive to the slightest wants of those around him, and to employ himself in devising means for their instruction. This was not the effect of natural courage or stoical apathy; for at times he felt painful apprehensions; nor was it the effort of a frantic enthusiasm, which has enabled some persons to despise pain; for all his actions bear the marks of sober reason and a sound judgment; but this admirable fortitude and composure were the joint effects of faith and piety; of a reliance on the divine promise, which assured him that his death should be followed by a glorious resurrection, and of a humble resignation to the divine will, which visited him with evil in order to accomplish its benevolent purposes respecting mankind. These stifled the feelings of nature at the prospect of a most painful event, and produced a ready and chearful acquiescence. If you wish to acquire the like fortitude, strive to excel in the same virtues, which will afford as effectual a security to you against the fear of death as they did to Jesus.
2. Let all men who call themselves the disciples of Jesus, learn to practise that truly Christian lesson which his action in washing his disciples' feet was intended to teach. However elevated their situation in the world may be, let them endeavour to do good to those below them in every way in their power, how