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In this chapter is recorded the history of our Saviour's washing his disciples' feet, an action full of humility and condescension, and propounded to his followers imitation. The circumstance of the time is here noted, when this act was done; namely, at the feast of the passover, when the time of our Saviour's departure was at hand; and having constantly and immutably loved his own, he expresses the permanency of his love towards them to the end, by this action of his, in washing their feet.
Here note, How Christ chose the time of the Jewish passover to suffer in, that he might prove himself to be the substance of that type; that he was the true paschal Lamb, who by the sacrifice of his death did atone divine displeasure, and taketh away the sins of the world.
Observe, 2. The means which the wisdom of God permitted, to bring the Lord of life to his ignominous death: and that was the treason and perfidiousness of one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot.
Where observe, 1. The person betraying, Judas; Judas a professor and a preacher: Judas an apostle, being one of the twelve, whom Christ had chosen out of all the world to be his dearest friends. Can we wonder to find freinds unfreindly or unfaithful towards us, when our Saviour had a traitor in his own house?
Observe, 2. The heinousness of Judas's sin in betraying Christ; he betrayed Christ Jesus a man, Christ Jesus his Master, Christ Jesus his Maker! the first was murder, the second treason. Lord! it is no strange and uncommon thing, for the vilest of sins, and most horrid impieties, to be acted by persons making the most eminent profession of thy holy religion.
Observe, 3. What hand the devil had in the sufferings of our Saviour: he put it in Judas's heart to betray Christ, that is, he did suggest and inject such thoughts into his mind, which Judas instantly closed with. The devil, being a spirit, has a quick access to our spirits, and can instill his suggestions into them. As Christ did breathe upon his disciples, and they received the Holy Ghost, and were filled with the Spirit; so Satan breathes filthy suggestions into the spirits of men, and fills them with all manner of wickedness, even with the spirit of hell itself. The devil put it into the heart of Judas to betray him.
Observe here, The admirable humility and great self-denial of our Lord and Master: he arises from supper, whilst his disciples sat still, and he that came in the form of a servant, performs all the offices of the meanest servant to his disciples; he lays aside his upper garments, he girds himself with a towel, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash and wipe their feet, which lay out behind them, as they leaned at the table, all which was a most servile employment.
Learn hence, That the wonderful humility of Jesus Christ inclined him to do he meanest office of service unto his people, even to become a servant to them in the day of his humiliation; and though now glorified in heaven, he retains the same compassionate heart towards them, as when here on earth; hereby instructing us, that it is our duty, in whatever station Providence shall place us in the world, to stoop to the lowest offices of love and service towards our fellow brethren.
Lord! thou hast left the most amzing instance of self-denial for our encouragement and example.
Question. But how far doth this example bind us?
Answer. It does not oblige to the individual act, but to follow the reason of the example; that is, after Christ's example, we ought to be ready to perform the lowest and meanest offices of love and service to one another.
Observe here, 1. How Simon Peter refuses to admit of such a condescending act from Christ his Lord and Master, as the washing of his feet. Lord! Thou shalt never wash my feet: it is a sinful humility to refuse the offered favours of Christ, because we are unworthy to receive them. Though we are not worthy of Christ, and of his love; yet Christ is worthy of us and of our faith.
Observe, 2. Our Saviour's reply to Peter's refusal. 1. He tells him, That there was more in it than the bare act of washing did at first sight import, and that he should know hereafter what he did not understand now. What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.
Learn hence, 1. That the servants of God themselves are oft-times much to seek, and cannot apprehend and understand at present the actings and dealings of God with them; they understand not either the intent or the event of God's dispensations.
2. That although God's dealings with his children and people are for a while in the dark, and are not presently made known; yet there will come a time for the clearing and evidencing of them, when they shall understand that all his dispensations were in mercy to them.
The second part of our Saviour's reply to St. Peter follows, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me: as if Christ had said, "Peter, this external act of mine in washing thy feet, doth signify something farther, and imports my washing of thy soul from the guilt and defilement of sin, without which thou canst neither have interest in me, nor communion with me."
Learn hence, 1. That so universal is the pollution of sin, that every soul stands in need of washing.
2. That Christ washeth all that have a part and interest in him, both from the guilt and pollution of all their sins.
Observe, 3. That St. Peter now understanding better what was meant by this outward washing: namely, that it did signify and represent the cleansing of the soul from the defilement of sin, he is so far from refusing that Christ should wash his feet, that he offers hands and head, and all to be washed by him; Lord, not my feet only, &c.
Learn hence, That so thoroughly sensible are the saints of the filthiness and pollution of sin, that they desire nothing more than an inward, thorough, and prevailing purification of their whole man, by the blood and Spirit of the Lord Jesus.
Observe, 4. Our Saviour's reply to St. Peter's last request, He that is washed, needeth not, save to wash his feet; plainly alluding to the custom of those countries, where going abroad barefoot, or with thin sandals, covering only a small part of their feet, they had frequent occasion to wash their feet, but need not to wash their whole bodies?
In like manner, the saints and servants of God who are already washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ from the guilt of their sins, and have a real work of renovation and sanctifiation begun in them by the Spirit of Christ, they ought to be daily purging and purifying their affections and actions, and labouring daily after further measures and degrees of sanctification.
Learn hence, 1. That the holiest, the wisest, and the best of saints, whilst here in a world of sin and temptation, do stand in need of a daily washing by repentance, and according to their renewed and repeated acts of sin.
2. That all justified persons are in God's account clean persons; Ye are clean, but not all; that is, you are justified and pardoned, sanctified and cleansed, all of you, excepting Judas, whose heart was known to Christ, though his hypocrisy was hid from the disciples.
In these words our Saviour declares to his disciples his intention and design in washing of their feet: namely, to teach them, by his example, the duty of humility: that as he had performed that act of abasement towards them, so should they be ready to perform all offices of love and humble condescension one towards another: Behold, I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done unto you.
Learn thence, That humility and mutual condescension amongst the members and ministers of Jesus Christ, is a most necessary grace and duty, which the Son of God not only taught by his doctrine, but recommended and enforced by his example.
Observe farther, The argument which Christ makes use of to press the imitation of his example upon them: and that is drawn from the titles given to him by his disciples: Ye call me Master, and Lord, and so I am. Now servants ought to imitate their masters, and subjects to obey their Lord and king. Christ is a Master to teach and direct; a Lord to govern and protect. As he is a Master, we are to learn in his school: as he is Lord, we are to serve in his house: he must be submitted to as a Prince, as well as relied upon as a Saviour. It is in vain to expect salvation from him, if we do not yield subjection to him. Another argument which our Lord makes use of to press his disciples to imitate his example, is drawn from his dignity and superiority over them: The servant is not greater than his Lord.
As if Christ had said, "Though you, my disciples, are to have a very high and honourable station in the gospel church, yet let not this swell you with pride, but be you mutually condescending to each other, remembering you are yet but servants to myself, and ought to be so to one another; and the servant is not greater than his Lord.
Learn hence, 1. That whatever dignity Christ confers upon his servants and officers, yet he is over them all, superior to them, and above them.
2. That the consideration of Christ's dignity, and his minsters meanness, ought to keep their minds humble and lowly, and far from affecting superiority over their brethren; The servant is not greater than his Lord; nor he that is sent, greater than he that sent me.
Our Lord here intimates unto us these two things:
1. The necessity of knowledge, in order unto practice.
2. The necessity of practice, in order unto happiness.
A man may know the will of God indeed, and not do it; but he can never do the will of God (acceptably) and not know it. The knowledge of God's will and our duty, is necessary to the practice of it. The knowledge of our duty, and the practice of it, may be and too often are separated; but the practice of religion, and doing what we know to be our duty is the only way to true happiness.
Learn thence, 1. That Christ doth not approve of a blind obedience in his people, but requires that their practice and obedience be founded upon understanding and knowledge.
2. That the first care of those that will be Christ's disciples and followers must be this, with all seriousness to apply themselves to the knowlege of their Master's will.
3. That next to the knowlege of our duty, our first and chief care must be, to practice everything that we understand and know to be our duty.
4. That a right knowledge and practice of our duty, will certainly make us happy: If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
If the chusing spoken of here be understood of eternal election, a chusing to everlasting life, then it affords a strong argument to prove Christ to be God; thus; he that is the author of eternal election is God; but Christ is such; I know whom I have chosen. Consider Christ as God, so we are chosen by him: consider him as Mediator, and so we are chosen in him. If the chusing here be meant of chusing to the work of the apostleship, then our Saviour tells his disciples, that it need not seem strange to them, that he chose one to be an apostle, whom he knew would prove a traitor; for hereby that scripture prophecy, would be fulfilled: He that eateth bread with me, hath lifted up his heel against me Psalms 41:9; which, though it was literally spoken of Achitophel's treachery against David, yet was it prophetically spoken of Judas's treachery against Christ; and the expression of lifting up the heel, is metaphorical, taken from a fed beast, that kicks against his master.
Learn hence, That Christ did, as his followers do, daily suffer, not only from open enemies, but from bosom and familiar friends. Lord! how many are there in the world, who by profession lift up their hand unto thee, who yet by treason and rebellion lift up their heel against thee!
Here another argument occurs, to prove the divinity of our blessed Saviour, from his foreknowledge of Judas's treason! the person who, the time when, and the place where, were all known to Christ; I tell you before it come to pass. The argument lies thus: "He that foresaw the future actions of men, and infallibly foreknew the future events and issues of things, is certainly God, but Christ did this, therefore he is really God." And he tells us here. That for this very reason he foretold now the treason of Judas: Now I tell you before, that when it come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. What he doth he mean? What he could foretell so many things to come, which did not depend upon necessary, but contingent causes only? This he was not a mere man surely, for he knows not what will be done on the morrow; but must be real God, becuase he knew all things, not by revelation, as the prophets knw things to come, but by immediate inspection, and simple intuition: so that we may say with Peter, Lord, thou knowest all things; and because thou knowest all things, thou art God.
Lest his apostles should think that, for the treachery of one of them, they should all become odious and abominable to the world, our Saviour encourages and gives them an assurance, that there should be those that should receive them, and that would take it as kindly as if they received himself; He that receiveth you, receiveth me.
Learn hence, That it is a sweet encouragement to the ministers of Christ unto a faithful discharge of their duty, that Christ and the Father account that respect paid to the minsters of the gospel, is paid to themselves: and on the contrary, that all the contempt cast upon them, reflects upon themselves: He that receiveth you receiveth me: and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.
Oh what an astonishing word was this, One shall betray me! one of my disciples shall betray me! yea, One of you, my disciples and apostles, shall do it! well might they look one upon another with sorrow and amazement, to hear that their master should die, that he should die by treason, and that the traitor should be on of themselves; yet do they not censure one another, but suspect themselves, saying, Master, is it I? not Master, is it Judas?
Learn hence, 1. That it is possible for secret wickedness to lurk, yea, for the greatest villainy to lodge in the hearts of professors, in whose conversations appeareth nothing that may give a just suspicion to others.
Learn, 2. That it is both the duty and property of the disciples of Christ to have so much candour and brotherly love, as not rashly to censure, and judge one another, but to hope the best of others, and to fear the worst of themselves.
Observe here, 1. The character given of St. John the beloved disciple: he leaned on Christ's bosom; that is, he had most intimate converse with Christ, one whom Christ treated with greater freedom and familiarity than the rest, and one that knew more of his heart than most of his disciples. We commonly call a very near friend a bosom friend.
Learn, That although Christ had an endeared love for all his disciples and followers, yet there were degrees in Christ's own love, and he had a familiarity with some disciples beyond others, whilst he was here upon earth, even as now in heaven, though his heart be towards all his children here on earth, yet he is pleased to let out more kind manifestations of himself, and more sensible evidences of his love towards some than towards others. John was the disciple that lay in Jesus's bosom.
Observe, 2. The way which our Saviour took to discover Judas to the rest of his disciples, not by naming him, but by giving him a sop; partly because he would not give Judas any provocation by mentioning his name, and partly because the sign of eating the sop was most agreeable to the prophetical prediction, My own familiar friend, who did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me Psalms 41:9.
Observe, 3. The time when Judas received the sop, and the consequence that followed upon his receiving of it; it was at that time when he had, with an unbelieving heart, and an unthankful spirit, been eating the passover, which was a type of Christ. Now Satan enters into him; that is, takes fuller possession of him, and he gives himself up more freely and fully to the devil's conduct and suggestion. Satan gets possession of wicked men gradually and by degrees; not all at once; the only way to be safe is to resist the beginnings of sin; for, when Satan once gets footing, it is hard to prevent a more full possession.
Observe, 4. The place where Judas now was, namely, at Bethany, some miles form Jerusalem, and it was now night; yet so intent he was upon the devil's work, that away he trudges to Jerusalem, and at that time of night repairs to the high priests, and sells his Saviour into their hands. O what a warmth and zeal was here in the devil's cause! Men given over by God, and possessed by Satan, are so restless and unwearied in sin, that neither by day nor by night can they cease from the contrivance and execution of it.
Observe here, 1. Our blessed Lord calls his death his glory: Now is the Son of man glorified; that is, now is the time at hand when I am to die, and shall by my death finish the work of man's redemption, and thereby eminently glorify God. God the Father was eminently glorified in the obedience and sufferings of his dear and only Son. It is true that the sufferings of Christ were ignominious in themselves, yet were they the way to his own glory, and his Father's also; for by them he redeemed a lost world, trampled upon Satan, triumphed over sin; and the Father was exceedingly glorified by the Son's giving obedience to his will, and so cheerfully suffering: Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
Observe here, An endearing compellation, a sweet title given by Christ to his disciples, Little Children; intimating that tender affection which he bears unto them, though now upon the point of departing from them.
Learn thence, That whatever Christ's dealings are, or may be with his people, in respect to his removing or withdrawing from them, yet he still retains the relation of a Father to them, and will in his absence from them, exercise such a care over them, as parents have of their young and tender children; so much doth the title of little children imply and import.
Observe farther, The plain intimation which our Saviour gives to his disciples of his death's being very nigh, (for it was the very next day) he tells them he is going to heaven; and whither he went, they could not come: that is, not presently; they should follow him their forerunner, afterwards; but at present he had a great deal of work for them to do, though his own work was done; and till they had finished their work, whither he went they could not come.
Learn hence, That though it be rest which the saints may lawfully desire, an everlasting rest with Christ in glory, yet must they not refuse to labour, whilst their Lord will have it so. Till their work be done, whither Christ is gone they cannot come: Ye shall seek me; but whither I go, at present, ye cannot come.
Our Saviour having mentioned his departure from his disciples in the former verse; I go away, and, whither I go ye cannot come: in this and the following verses, he gives them a strict charge, that in his absence they should love one another.
This he calls a new commandment: not that it was new in regard of institution, but of restitution: not new in regard of the substance of it, for it was a branch of the law of nature, and a known precept of the Jewish religion; but he calls it a new commandment:
1. Because purged from the old corrupt glosses of the Pharisees, who had limited this duty of love, and confined it to their own countrymen; whereas Christ enlarges the object, and obliges his disciples to love all mankind, even their very enemies.
2. Because this duty of love was so greatly advanced and heightened by our Saviour, as to the measures and degrees of it, even to the laying down of our lives one for another.
3. It is called a new commandment, because urged from a new motive, and enforced by a new example. As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Never was this duty so effectually taught, so mightily encouraged, so much urged and insisted upon, by any teacher, as our Saviour; and never was there such an example given of it as his own.
4. It is a new commandment, because with the rest it was never to wax old; but to be always fresh in the memory and practice of Christ's disciples to the end of the world.
To recommend the foregoing duty, of loving one another, with the greater advantage, our Saviour tells us here, that it will be the best evidence of our relation to him as sincere disciples: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples. The disciples of John were known by the austerity of their lives, the disciples of the Pharisees by their habit and separation from other men. Christ will have his disciples known by their profound affection to each other, which in the primitive times was so conspicuous, that the very heathens did cry out and say, See how the Christians love one another!
Here observe, 1. Our Saviour doth not say, By this men shall conjecture and guess that you belong to me, as being my disciples, but they shall certainly know it.
2. He doth not say: By this shall ye know yourselves to be my disciples, and one another to be so; but by this shall all others know it as well as yourselves.
3. He doth not say, By this shall all men know that you look like my disciples, but that you are indeed what you pretend to be, namely by your assembling often together in my house of prayer, by your frequent fastings, by your reading the scriptures daily, by your hearing all these put together, will be not sufficient evidence of your discipleship, if you keep up a secret grudge in you hearts one against another; but by this shall all men know that ye are my discples, if ye love one another.
Learn hence, That one of the best proofs and evidences we can have of our relation to Christ, as his sincere disciples, is an hearty love and good will one towards another.
Here we find Peter reflecting upon what our Saviour had said just before, Whither I go, ye cannot come John 13:33: he is inquisitive to know of Christ whither he went. Our Lord tells him, that for the present he could not follow him, but should hereafter; he was not yet strong enough to suffer for him, as he should and did afterwards. St. Peter, grieved at this, rashly resolves to follow him, though he should die for his sake. Christ advises him not to be over-confident of his own strength and standing, for he should deny him thrice, within the time of cock-crowing.
Observe here, 1. How that fond conceit, which our Lord's disciples had of his temporal kingdom here in the world, did abide and continue with them to the very last; for when Christ speaks of leaving them by ascending into heaven, Peter understands him of a removal that was earthly, fom one place to another, whereas Christ intended it of a removal from earth to heaven.
The opinion, that the Messias was to be a temporal prince, and that his kingdom should be of this world, was so deeply rooted in the minds of the Jews, that they stumbled at it fatally: and Christ's own disciples had so drank in the notion, that they wonder to hear Christ say, that he is going from them, and that whither he goes they cannot come.
Observe, 2. That Christ's disciples shall certainly follow their Master afterwards, and be forever with the Lord; but they must wait their Lord's time, and finish their Lord's work: they must patiently wait for their change, and not peevishly to heaven, they shall follow him afterwards.
Observe, 3. The greatness of St. Peter's self-confidence: I will lay down my life for thy sake.
Good man! he resolved honestly, but too, too much in his own strength. Little, O little did he think what a feather he should be in the wind of temptation, if once God left him to the power and prevalency of his own fears! The holiest of men knows not his own strength, till temptation brings him to the trial.
Observe lastly, how detestable St. Peter's presumption and self-confidence was to Christ, and how fatal and pernicious to himself; Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? As if Christ had said, "Peter thou sayest more than thou canst do; thine own strength will fail thee, and thy self-confidence deceive thee; I know thy heart better than thou dost thyself; and I foresee, that before the cock crows thou shalt deny me thrice."
Thence learn, That none are so near falling, as those that are most confident of their own standing.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 13". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30