NINTH "VERILY, VERILY."
THE HUMILIATION OF THE NEW MAN.
We come now to the ninth saying of our Lord, marked by the reiterated Amen, in which by act and word He sets before us the Lowliness, and still more the Humiliation, of the New Man. Four times here does He repeat "Amen, Amen." Only on one other subject, namely the Support or Meat of the New Man, do we find this very remarkable reiteration. In either case the reason is the same. On both these points there is much to learn, and very slowly do we understand and receive this testimony. Especially to the old world was the very idea of lowliness contemptible. Even now that the cross has altered men's estimate of so many things, and the Spirit of Christ has shown, that, if we would "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called," it must be first of all, "in all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:1-2), even now humiliation is with many harder far than death, and some, who could for others freely lay down their lives, find it difficult to take a lower place. For indeed even after the mystery of the cross is opened to us, and we have learnt, in word at least, that "the corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die, if it is to bring forth much fruit," pride may still remain, the very strength of hell, to bring us, if it remains, spite of every gift, into the condemnation of the devil (1 Tim. 3:6). Not in vain therefore does our Lord so often here repeat, "Amen, Amen," and gird Himself to wash His disciples' feet, that we through Him may learn to stoop with Him.
For pride is the crowning sin of the old man. Fallen from God, self makes itself a God, and at all cost, whether of wrong to God or man, openly or in secret seeks its own exaltation. Slowly do we learn, even when through grace we have left much for Christ, and have, like the disciples, followed Him in the flesh for years, not without some shame and loss embraced for His dear sake, how even in following Him this desire to be the greatest still cleaves to us, and may come out, as in the scene before us, at that very feast of love, which tells of His humiliation. It was this pride and self-seeking, even at His table, which first called forth the act and words, to which this ninth "Amen, Amen" directs attention. At this very feast "there was a strife among them, which should be accounted greatest" (Luke 22:19, 24). And then it was that the Son of the Father, who had come from God and went to God, and of whom the greatest of the prophets had said, "I am not worthy to loose His shoe's latchet" (John 1:27), Himself stoops lower than this, even to wash the feet of those, who, as He well knew, within a very few hours would forsake, deny, and betray Him, saying to them, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought to wash one another's feet; for, I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, Verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord, neither is he that is sent greater than He that sent him" (John 13:14-17). Oh blessed contrast between God and man. For with men, the servant washes his lord. With God, the Lord bows down to wash the servant (Ezek. 16:9).
Now it may seem remarkable that St. John, who records all this as occurring at the last feast of the Passover, says nothing of the institution of the Lord's supper, but instead gives us this washing of the disciples' feet, and the varied words and acts which grew out of it. But the two are one, and in what is here recorded we have the essence of the Lord's supper. For what is that supper but sacrifice and communion, showing Christ's fellowship with us, in taking our flesh and blood and burdens on Him; that we should have fellowship with Him, by taking His flesh and blood, and thereby doing His works of lowly love towards others with Him. And what is this washing of the feet but sacrifice and communion. First the Perfect One strips Himself, and stoops to take away our defilements; and this is His communion with us, which is humiliation and emptying to Him; and then He calls us, as partakers of His life, to communion with Him, to serve others in the same spirit of divine self-sacrifice. He takes and takes away our infirmities, stooping to wash our feet, that as His members and in His life we may do the like for others. The one thing is "to be as the Master:" to represent Him and His works on earth, even as in His humiliation He represented and did the works of the Father who had sent Him.
1. Let us look at this humiliation.
(i) First, He stoops to the place of a servant, by Himself washing His disciples' feet. Every step in the process is significant. "He lays aside His garment:" then "He girds Himself," to serve: then "after that He pours out the water" for His disciples' cleansing (John 13:4, 5). The outward act is humbling enough; yet the outward act is but the sign of the far deeper and more wonderful humiliation, which the Son of God has accepted for us in coming in the flesh, and in stooping to all those sacramental forms, which are extensions of His incarnation, by which, as in this supper, He may reach and remove the defilement which we contract in our necessary contact with the world. This costs Him a coming down, which, if we could but see it as it is, would appear to us, as it did at first to Peter, too much even for the Son of God. For to do this He must lay aside His garments, that is, must strip Himself and put off His glory, and empty Himself, and then gird Himself with a napkin, that is, must take our flesh, which like the girded napkin is the badge of service. (Note: So Augustine, Tract. in Johan. lv. 7.) Only thus does He pour out the water by which He takes away our defilements, and makes us, like Himself, "clean every whit." Only by laying aside His glory, and putting on our likeness, could He do this for us. And He accepts this humiliation, to make us partakers of Himself, and like Him cleansers of others. For He does this that we may do as He has done. But the water is not poured out, either by Christ, or by His members, until they strip themselves, that by their humiliation others may be made whole. Not till we suffer for them and humble ourselves for others can we really cleanse any.
What is this water and this cleansing? The cleansing is the washing of the feet, those lower members, which are soiled by contact with the world, even though the body has been cleansed by the one washing of regeneration. The water is the Spirit, as He said, "He that believeth in me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38). Even after the washing of regeneration cleansed souls contract defilement, though "he that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet" (John 13:10); and this second washing is effected by the humiliation of Christ's members, who, unasked and unthanked, still stoop to wash their brethren. Is it no stooping to be occupied with the defilement others contract? Let those answer who have thus tried to wash others. Such know what this service costs, and how few will thank him who points out their defilements, or be willing to receive the "washing of water through the word" (Eph. 5:26). Nevertheless Christ and His members thus humble themselves, and so minister the Spirit, as the grape its juice and the olive its oil, by the very pressure which the sin and need of others put upon them, which brings out the grace which is in the saints, even as the evil of the world brings out of the old man that pride and wrath, which until the trial comes is all unseen. And by this spirit of Christ are others cleansed, though they seek not the cleansing, and even reject it for awhile, as unworthy of Him who at such a cost thus brings it to them.
(ii) For the humiliation of the New Man comes even to this, not only to take a servant's place, but to have His service rejected, because He stoops so low, by some for whom He thus humbles Himself. Thus when He comes here to Peter, that disciple answers, "Thou shalt never wash my feet" (John 13:8). Through a self-willed humility, the loving act is for a time shrunk from. So much harder is it to receive than to give all. Men therefore will "suffer if a man smite them on the face, if he take of them, if he bring them into bondage" (2 Cor. 11:20). All this men will submit to, for it does not shame their pride. But real loving service, which becomes nothing to serve its loved ones, men will reject, because they feel that it involves a humiliation, which they are not prepared to follow. Carnal and selfish ministers therefore are on all hands praised and welcomed. The man who humbles himself for others is rejected, even by those for whom he humbles himself; for his humiliation is a tacit rebuke of all self-seeking and self-exaltation. Men do not want such service, because they feel that it demands a like humiliation.
And in the same spirit some yet shrink from those outward and sacramental acts, which our Lord uses to reach the carnal and defiled, with the honest but mistaken notion that such forms are unworthy of the Lord, and a degradation to Him, if not also to those to whom He offers them. True souls yet err thus. Some things they think too low for Christ—too carnal for a spiritual Lord, and for disciples who are called by Him to be spiritual. So do even some of Christ's truest disciples stumble at the humiliation of the Eternal Word, when He yet comes in sacramental forms, which are perhaps His greatest humiliation. But the Lord's grace is not turned aside by His servants' mistake. He yet stoops to the rejected form, saying, "What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter" (John 13:7). Let but His spirit so fill us that we do His works,—for it is only like that understands like,—and then we too shall see how such stoopings to carnal men are not carnal, but most godlike, and therefore spiritual.
But can we thus cleanse others? I know some stumble here, and say, "Christ of course could cleanse His disciples, but we who are sinners can never do the like." Yet the words of Christ are very plain: "Ye ought to wash one another's feet; for I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:14, 15). If Christ lives in men, He yet must do His works by them. If they are His members, they cannot but fulfil His will. And as a matter of experience we know that the love of brethren does act upon us; that they do really cleanse us by their self-denying service. They serve us in the strength of Him who dwells in them, who by them communicates His own virtues and His very life, so that they can, not only quicken and judge (John 5:21, 22; see on the Third "Verily, Verily"), but also cleanse others. Thank God, there yet are some whose life is a "ministration of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:8), who therefore as angels thus serve us, though we thank them not.
Thus does the New Man humble himself; and then again comes the "Amen, Amen," which so uncompromisingly calls us to the same humiliation: "Verily, Verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord, neither is he that is sent greater than He that sent him" (John 13:16). Can we misunderstand such words? But do not too many still think it a shame to do as He did, and to endure what He endured? Do we not rather all seek by fleshly place and power to do the work which our Lord only did by humiliation? If we try to help others, is it not too often by some earthly superiority, either of gift or station in the world, rather than by the self-abasement and gentleness of Christ? Who thinks that self-humiliation is the way to cleanse others? Yet this is the royal road, witnessed to by every act and word of Him whom we profess to follow, "who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made Himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself yet more, and was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:6-8); and who, lest we should not see what all this meant, even at the supper which spoke of His shed blood, bowed Himself down to wash His disciples' feet, saying, "If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. Verily, Verily, The servant is not greater than his lord. If ye know these things, happy are ye, if ye do them."
2. What then is the ground or motive of this humiliation? Love, first; then knowledge of the truth. Love is the first motive. So we read,—"Having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1), and therefore stooped to serve them. But the knowledge of the truth, that He is Son of God, no less moves Him to this self-abasement. Therefore it is added,—"Knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God and went to God, He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garment, and took a towel, and girded Himself" (John 13:3, 4). No motives can compare with these to make us willing to come down. Love is strong as death (Cant. 8:6). What is it but a mother's love which makes her stoop to wash her babe, and to delight in every menial toil, if only by it she can serve her helpless loved ones? And what is it but the knowledge of their high birth, and that they can claim and prove it when they will, that makes the noble of this world ready to stoop to men and things in a way which others of lower rank so often stumble at? They can come down because they are high. They are so assured of their true place, that they need not everywhere and always be asserting it. This is the secret of self-abasement. Christ can stoop because He loves, and because He knows He is the Son of God.
And the motive power to stoop like Him to the defilements of the weak, in us, as in the Lord, lies in the possession of the life of God, with all its knowledge that all things are ours, for we have sprung from God and go to God, so that he that receiveth us receiveth Him. These words declare that even in our humiliation we are the dwelling place of God: "Verily, Verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me" (John 13:20). It is this assurance which will enable us to follow His steps, according to the words, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). The power to do so flows from the fact that He is one with us, while yet also He is our Lord. It is because He is our Lord, that we must be humble as He is humble. It is because He is in us, and "he that receiveth us receiveth Him," that we can do His works and wash each other's feet.
But will not the assurance that we are heirs of God lead us to high thoughts of ourselves? Will not this belief of union with the Lord minister to pride rather than to meekness and humility? Are not the dreadful things which have been done by some, who have claimed to be vicars and ambassadors of Christ, proofs of the peril and evil which results from men believing that they are sent from God? That there has been an awful perversion of this truth is, alas, too plain. But the pride of some "who say they are apostles" (Rev. 2:2), and then act unlike men sent of God, or who even "say that they are Christ" (Matt. 24:5), and then do before our eyes the works, not of Christ, but rather of devils and antichrists, while it forces us to try all such pretensions, cannot annul the truth, that it is in the full knowledge of their divine sonship and mission that men are most lowly. It is not the belief that Christ is in them which causes pride, but rather the thought that they are to take His place, and act for Him as though He were not present. Who so humble as the Lord? And who so emptied of self as those who feel that the word they speak is not their own, and that for the works they have to perform, they have no goodness, power, or light, save that which comes from Him, who stooped to show in flesh and blood the grace of God. Not in vain therefore, when our Lord here says, "Verily, Verily, the servant is not above his lord," does He add at once, "Verily, Verily, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me." For so long as he thinks himself separate from his master, the disciple may be tempted to set himself above his Lord. When he feels that it is Christ who lives in him, Christ must be all in all. It is the sense and assurance of His indwelling that can make us willing to be nothing here, that He and not we may be seen in all our ways.
3. And what is the return which the Son of God receives here for this humiliation? He is betrayed by one, and then denied by another, of His disciples. We read here, "When Jesus had said this He was troubled in spirit and testified and said, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me" (John 13:21). And then to His foremost disciple He says, "Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice" (John 13:38). These all are drops in the cup of the humiliation of the obedient Son, which He unmurmuringly drinks of and empties to the end.
(i) First He is betrayed, and by a disciple. To be betrayed is pain enough,—to be given up into the hands of those who hate, and are thirsting to destroy us. But to be betrayed by a disciple, to have one's confidence abused,—this more than doubles the humiliation. Therefore He says here, "Verily, Verily, one of you," whom I have called to be partakers with me in my temptations and my kingdom,—one of you, to whom I have opened the mysteries of the kingdom of God,—one of you, whose feet I have washed, and with whom, in the confidence of love, I sit here, to make you, if you will indeed receive me, partakers of my very life,—"Verily, Verily, I say, that one of you shall betray me." "For it is not an enemy, that hath done me this dishonour; then I could have borne it: neither was it mine adversary that did magnify himself against me; for then I would have hid myself: but it was even thou my companion, and my familiar friend" (Psalm 55:12-15). The very disciple whom He singles out for honour, by giving him the portion of a distinguished guest, (Note: It is yet a custom in the East for the host to hand or send some portion of a dish to the guest whom he desires to honour. Compare Gen. 43:34, Ruth 2:14, and 2 Sam. 11:8.) is the one who repays the kindness with betrayal. Yet the elect must come even to this,—to be forsaken in His distress,—to be betrayed, and then to be denied, by those whom He has trusted.
(ii) For He is not betrayed only, but denied, and by one who had been most forward to confess Him,—one who had just said, "Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake." Even this disciple denies Him. "Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice." It is even so. Thou, Peter, who hast confessed me to be Son of God, and who now sayest, "I will lay down my life for thy sake,"—thou, my chosen disciple, wilt not only deny me, but wilt forsake me. "For behold the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (John 16:32).
Words surely are not needed to show the humiliation of such a denial. We more slowly understand that the same lot may be ours, as His joint-heirs, if we "apprehend that for which we have been apprehended" (Phil. 3:12). Paul at least had reached this. Just before his death, he says, "This thou knowest, that all they of Asia have forsaken me" (2 Tim. 1:15):—"At my first answer no man stood with me" (2 Tim. 4:16). Where then were the Ephesian elders, who once "fell on his neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more" (Acts 20:37, 38)? Paul the aged now writes, "All they of Asia have forsaken me." Surely they did not wish to turn from Christ; but they had forsaken him to whom to live was Christ (Phil. 1:21), because his self-sacrifice was too high for them, and he too, even as his Master, was "now ready to be offered" (2 Tim. 4:6). Brethren therefore who had really loved him leave him to his fate. They are as yet unprepared to share his cross. He must pass alone through His humiliation.
And yet the disciple who thus denied his Lord meant what he said, even that he would lay down his life for Christ. But he knew only what he would: he knew not what he could. And our Lord, by His exact repetition of Peter's words, "Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?" seems to look onward to the end, when Peter's words should be fulfilled, and he should indeed lay down his life for Christ's sake. Therefore while He says, "Verily, Verily, The cock shall not crow till thou has denied me thrice," He immediately adds, "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God: believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:1, 2). The answers of Peter and Thomas, which are here recorded, in reply to our Lord's words as to His going away, show the two mistakes of disciples as to the one appointed way. Confident Peter thinks that, because he has walked with the Lord in one stage of the way, he can at once follow in all. When therefore our Lord says, "Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now," he replies at once, "Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake." He does not see that there are many courts or mansions in the Father's house, and that a disciple may be fit for one, and yet unfit at once to pass to what is higher. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, who in answer to the words, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know," answers, "Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?" (John 14:4, 5) does not understand that the beginning of the way leads surely to the end, even though as yet we may be unfit to tread its higher stages. To him therefore the word is, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6). As much as to say, I am the Way, and I am the Whither also, for I am God as well as man. Knowing me therefore you know the Way and Whither also, though as yet you know not that you know it. (Note: So Augustine, Tractat. in Johan. lxix. 1-3.)
So journeys the New Man. Those for whom He has stooped and toiled, and who, till He comes to His last trial, spite of many failings still follow Him, stumble at the cross by which He passes into a higher sphere, where in their present state they cannot follow. His humiliation is the signal for their all deserting Him. Let a man of God, who has gathered souls, by walking with them where they are, only pass on in the appointed path to that suffering in the flesh, which is the necessary result of daily self-sacrifice, and he will find how those who love him are offended, for awhile at least: some will betray, and some deny, and all will shrink from him. For in all suffering there is ever something of abasement. All martyrdoms are said to have looked mean when they were suffered. And the pride of the natural heart, which is always ready to claim connexion with what is high, and to shrink from or disown relationship with what is low or humble, cannot bear to seem even to be linked with that which is rejected and despised, lest it should share the shame of such rejection. So the New Man is forsaken. He must be tried as silver is tried; more deeply wounded by being thus forsaken by his own, than by all the scourging and reviling of the outer world, who never knew him. But he accepts the trial, by his shame to shame men's paltry pride, and by his humiliation to show them what is true nobility. For there is glory in this shame. The cry, "De profundis," is a "Psalm of Degrees," (Note: Psalm 130:1. See Title. The "Psalms of Degrees," Heb. עלנה, are all of this character. I cannot but connect עלנה with עלה, that is the Burnt Offering.) that is a Psalm of Ascension or Going up. God is bringing up His children when He brings them down. Their humiliation is the one way to exaltation.
Therefore our Lord adds here, even of this humiliation, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him" (John 13:31, 32). Pride and disobedience dishonour God by putting self in the place of God. Lowliness, which gives Him His true place, brings Him back to man, and with Him brings back the lost glory. He "dwells with him that is of a humble heart" (Isa. 57:15); and where He dwells, there must be glory. And indeed it is glory to share His lot, while He is rejected,—to be partakers of His reproach,—to be "as the Master," while He is dishonoured here. In all this trial and humiliation Christ was simply sharing God's experience, which is the one appointed way to share in God's glory. He was treating others, as God treats men, with perfect grace; and was treated by others, as men treat God, that is with thorough ingratitude. Well might He say, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him."
Every one that is perfect shall be as his Master (Luke 6:40). Christ's members therefore, when they can bear it, must expect, like Him, not rejection only from the world, but betrayal and denial also at the hands even of those for whom they humble themselves. And hard as other portions of Christ's lot may be,—difficult as His service is, as set before us in the seventh of these reiterated Amens, or His sacrifice, as set before us in the eighth,—this humbling of oneself is perhaps the most difficult for us of all, for old Adam hates nothing so much as humiliation. Self can find its own in service, and even in suffering. Self can find very little to boast of in that which is before us here, the humiliation of being betrayed and denied by loved brethren. Little remains to be done or suffered on earth by the elect, when this is, not a matter of faith only, but of experience. Then of such a servant it is true, as of our Lord, when He said these words,—"Yet a little while I am with you" (John 13:33).
And if such a path is too high for some, let them, whilst humbled that they "cannot follow now," take comfort from the Master's words, "Thou shalt follow me hereafter." With us, as with Peter, there may be much which we have yet to learn of our own hearts, before we are prepared to come where our Lord has gone before, or able to follow where He has promised that we shall come in due season. In some way or other we must be delivered from our innate confidence in self. Better to learn ourselves, even by the humiliating experience of denying and forsaking Christ, than remain in self-delusion, unhumbled and unbroken, and therefore strangers to all the grace which the Lord can give to those who trust Him. For indeed, painful as it is, it is in this discovery of self that we are brought from self to Christ, to find, that, whatever may be our wretchedness, His grace is yet sufficient for us. His will is in due time to conform us to Himself; to make us partakers of His own experience; even to come, from being deniers of Him who loves us, to be, like Him, ourselves denied by those we love, when in His life and footsteps we are called to bear our witness to some truth (John 18:37), which the Church and world as yet are unprepared for. Blessed be His name: He has promised, "Thou shalt follow me hereafter." And He is faithful that has promised. And just in proportion as we trust Him we shall find that we can walk where He has walked. To sense the way may seem too high. Only let us follow on, and we too shall be made partakers of His experience. Then we too shall know what it is to wash weak brethren's feet, and to be rejected by them, and then forsaken for a season. Such things must come if we ever reach in very deed to "the power of Christ's resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings."
Meanwhile, "whereunto we have attained, let us walk by that same rule," that is according to the light already given us. And if in anything some are otherwise minded,—if they think that the humiliation which Christ passed through is too great for us,—let them be faithful to their measure, and then even this perhaps, when they can bear it, shall be revealed unto them (Phil. 3:15, 16).
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