Washing The Saints’ Feet
We have been called on for an expression of our views on the subject of washing the saints’ feet, but we confess our inability to do justice to the subject, especially when we find a discrepance in the views of those whom we have a right to esteem much better than ourself. Our brethren in the southern and south-western States, so far as we are informed, generally practice literally the service of washing each other’s feet, but do not make it a test of fellowship; while those at the north who do not practice it, do not disallow or disfellowship those who from conscientious motives do so practice.
We have thought much on the subject, and while we disclaim any desire to dictate to others, have no objection to give such views as we entertain on the subject. It is very clearly evident that our Lord on one occasion did literally wash the feet of his disciples, and on that occasion told them they ought to wash one another’s feet. This example and admonition would with us forever settle the matter beyond all cavil or contradiction if nothing more had been on that occasion said by our Lord. But the matter did not rest there, for he said to Peter, in the presence of the other disciples, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” — John 13:7.
We have many evidences in the Scriptures that as an act of humility and hospitality, the washing of feet was a common practice in that eastern country, from the days of Abraham, and very common among the Jews with whom Peter had been brought up; so that it is unnatural to think that our Lord designed to say that Peter or the other disciples did not understand the literal service, which was so common. But there was something signified by our Lord’s condescending to wash the disciples’ feet, more than what was intended by the same service when performed as had been customary as an act of hospitality, for the comfort of the weary pilgrim. Whatever it was which Peter did not then comprehend, must be worthy of our devout research, as Christians even in this day.
Some light in regard to it may be gained from what Jesus farther said to Peter: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me;” and again, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit, and ye are clean, but not all” Making an exception of him who was to betray him, and signifying that Judas had not been cleansed by him, as had been the other disciples What Peter was to know subsequently was what was signified by being washed and made perfectly clean by his divine Lord and Master.
In connection with this view, remember that in the commission given to Peter and the other apostles, they were commanded to teach baptized believers “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”.
That is, all that Christ had commanded the apostles, the apostles were commanded to teach those converts to observe, who should believe and be by them baptized. If only the common hospitality of washing feet literally was intended or commanded, it would seem from all that we can find in the written word, that the holy apostles of the Lamb failed to obey their commission, for not one word is recorded by any one of those whose feet were literally washed, by way of enjoining it on the disciples to observe it as an institution. The only mention subsequently made of washing the saints’ feet being by Paul, who was not present when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, and by him not mentioned as a church ordinance, but classified with bringing up children, entertaining strangers, etc.
Now from all the foregoing considerations, it does appear to us that what was signified by Christ’s washing the disciples’ feet, which Peter did not then, but did afterwards understand, was what they (the apostle Peter included) were to teach, and what they did teach baptized believers to observe. This washing signified a cleansing, and as performed by Christ on all who have any part in him, is a perfect cleansing from all pollution, guilt and shame, making them clean every whit; for his blood cleanseth from all guilt, and all the saints are washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
But if the cleansing from sin and uncleanness by the blood of Jesus was signified by his washing their feet, how shall we understand that the saints ought to wash each other?
Certainly not in a sacrificial or propitiatory sense, for there remaineth no more sacrifices for sin, and Christ alone is our Advocate with the Father, and he is the propitiation for our sins; but still there is a solemn charge given to the saints to watch over each other, and not to suffer sin to rest on each other. The feet of the saints are those members of our earthly bodies which come in connection with the earth when we travel; and in regard to our spiritual travel, we are commanded, “Keep thy feet when thou goest into the house of the Lord.” And the disciples were commanded to shake off the dust of their feet as a witness against those who received them not.
From all of which it does appear to us that the washing of the saints’ feet, as afterwards understood by Peter, and as plainly taught to all the saints by the apostles in the New Testament, is done by a faithful application of the discipline of the gospel, by watching over and praying for each other, by exhorting, admonishing, and if needs be, rebuking one another. As the washing of one another’s feet shows humility, condescension and readiness to perform any justifiable act, however menial, for the comfort or benefit of each other, whether it be in literally washing their feet, ministering to their necessities, forbearing to eat meat if by eating we make a brother to offend, and by a careful and sacred regard for the reputation of the saints, a readiness to defend them from the unjust aspersions of professed friends or avowed enemies; in all these things we ought to wash each other’s feet. As to the literal performance of washing the saints’ feet, so long as the spirit of the precept and example is obeyed, we feel no disposition to dictate, but prefer that each saint and every church should search and be fully persuaded in their own mind. We see no reason why one should fall out with another on the subject.
Such was the amazing condescension of our Lord and Master, that he to wash and cleanse his people, came down from heaven, and although he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, for our sake became poor, took on him the form of a servant, and was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that he might wash and cleanse us, and that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Let that mind then which was in him be in us, and will we not be inclined to do or suffer all that in us lies for the general good of the brethren?
Admonish, exhort and rebuke, with all longsuffering and doctrine; cherish a kind, constant, tender and sacred regard for the purity of ourselves and brethren, in all things; and that the feet of those who bring good tidings may appear beautiful upon the mountains of Zion, and that the feet of all the saints may be clean from the pollution of disobedience in straying into forbidden paths of sin and folly, and well shod with the preparation of the gospel of Christ.
Thus shall we manifest towards each other something of what was signified by our Lord’s washing his disciples’ feet.
If we as disciples come in contact with the earth, shall we not need that our feet should often be cleansed from the dust and filth of the world, by the faithful and brotherly watchcare and admonitions of the saints?
These views are humbly submitted for the consideration of the saints. Let them be carefully tested by the Scriptures, for we have no desire that they should be adopted any further than they are sustained by the word and Spirit of the Lord.
Elder Gilber Beebe
Middletown, N. Y., October 15, 1858.