For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last.” [Matthew 20:1–16.]
The laborers for the Master were his official servants, upon whom he laid the weightiest responsibilities to do his work. And he agreed to give them their wages. From time to time he added others to the laborers, saying, “Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.” Some were found waiting for work at the eleventh hour, only one hour before the close of the working-day. When the reckoning-time between the master and workers came, the last hired were the first paid. When the first came, they supposed that they would receive more than those who had worked for so short a period; but they received every man a penny. Yet those who received all that had been promised them were displeased.
This parable was forever to quench the eager, grasping, mercenary spirit which is so offensive to God. Those who possessed this spirit were revealing their own unworthiness of having their wages increased, or to have the highest place. The complaint was: “These last have wrought but one hour; and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” The answer came: “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? . . . Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
The spirit with which each one labors is what determines his usefulness and faithfulness in the work. In all who indulge the spirit of criticizing and murmuring, these attributes are confirmed, and thus the root of dissension and bitterness grows up imperceptibly. When circumstances occur that demand the most attentive, whole-souled interest, to do the right kind of work, to co-operate with God, such are found on the wrong side. Satan’s temptations find a place in their mind and heart; and they work to counteract, rather than to co-operate with, God.
The Lord understands all the defects in human character. He desires to save man. It was for this purpose that he came to this world. In him all sufficiency dwells. In him dwells all “the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” [Colossians 2:9.] The defective characters that remain thus, when One is among them who came to our world for the express purpose of taking away the sin of the world, make manifest that they do not appreciate the attributes of Christ sufficiently to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and they will not be exalted as worthy. “Blessed are the meek,” were the words that fell from his divine lips; “for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” [Matthew 5:5–9.]
These are the characters that are fitting for heaven. Christ is every possible strength to all who will appropriate his words by faith. He is indeed the Bread of life. No man, woman, youth, or child can say, I have cravings that he can not satisfy. All cravings that he does not fill are supplied with a superior sufficiency, which is for the perfection of Christian character.
The Lord’s Supper
We all need to understand that the craving for supremacy is placing men where they will never gain the supremacy in the future life, even if they gain it in this. The ordinance of feet-washing was a revealer of character, and always will be. The Holy Spirit is present on such occasions to convict of sin, and the heart is touched and made contrite. The penitential confession clears the moral atmosphere of the soul, and awakens holy principles. The subduing grace of Christ comes into the heart, and the love of Christ draws hearts together in a blessed unity. Sins are seen in the light in which God views them. They are confessed; they are forgiven.
The administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is for the purpose of making a forcible illustration of the infinite sacrifice made for a sinful world, and for us individually, as a part of that great whole of fallen humanity, before whose eyes Christ has evidently been set forth crucified among them.
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 11:23–27.]
This is a special service; and in its observance there is to be a peaceful, grateful heart. Inasmuch as this service, in the bread and wine, represents the body the Lord gave for the sin of the world, the ministration of the sacrament is commemorative of Christ’s humiliation, betrayal, and sufferings, as an offered sacrifice. In symbol, Christ is set forth crucified among us. The representative of Christ is present. No one can partake of the emblems of the Lord’s sacrifice in behalf of the world, with his spiritual sensibilities in full and free exercise, without recalling the whole painful history connected with the scene of Christ’s communion with his disciples. Before the mind passes the whole scene of his great agony in the garden of Gethsemane. All the abuse and suffering that man could heap upon his fellow man were endured by our Lord and Master.
The Lord Jesus is present on every occasion. He reads every purpose of the heart, and his righteous principles are vindicated in the heart-searching, the heart-humbling, the penitence; and the atonement itself provided by Infinite Love is acceptable to God, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner. The humiliating ordinance is made an occasion of appeal to the spiritual imagination, and there is a vital connection with Jesus Christ. If a man is to be convinced, the truth as it is in Jesus must be presented to his mind, and must appeal to his heart. Christ refuses every other method,—everything like compulsion, or restriction, or force. His only weapons are truth and love. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth,” he says, “will draw all men unto me.” [John 12:32.] Fallen humanity is drawn, not forced, into any position.
To all who receive Him, Christ is an inexhaustible treasure-house of supply for all spiritual necessities. Then let us take in all the blessedness of the provision made, that when we shall engage in the ordinance of feet-washing, we may take in all its significance. The Holy Watcher is present from heaven to make this season one of soul-searching, one of conviction of sin, and of the blessed assurance of sins forgiven. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace, wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” They have the blessed assurance, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” [Romans 5:1, 2; Matthew 28:20.]
And now, with humble, subdued, and grateful hearts, they come to the sacramental service. We need to have an understanding that we are living under the dispensation of the Spirit. Our senses must be cultivated through the improvement of our God-given opportunities to lay hold, with intellect and soul, upon the mystery of godliness by obtaining a more thorough knowledge of the work of redemption. This is not to be merely the work that ministers must do. Every soul who names the name of Christ must participate in it. The members of the church who listen to the word that is preached among them are to put to a practical use that word as a God-sent message to them individually. They are to comprehend, which it is the privilege of all to do, far more intelligently and deeply than they have done, the expiatory sufferings of Christ.
Act of Service
Christ was performing an act of service for his disciples. He took a towel, and girded himself. He had many things to say to them, but how would they bear it? He saw that commotions of a forbidding order were taking hold upon them. Contention had come in among them. For one of their number to wash the feet of the rest was, they thought, an act to be looked down upon,—an act that servants were supposed to do always,—and there was no one that made a move, yet, the while, all were trying to appear unconscious. O, how wretchedly miserable they felt! They seemed to think only of themselves. What terrible selfishness, and choosing to have their own way!
The Saviour let the matter linger a little while, to see if their hearts would change. And then he, the one they loved, rose, and laid aside his garments, and, taking a towel, girded himself, pouring water into the basin. It was then that the disciples were astonished and ashamed. Christ could not have put upon them a greater rebuke. In his heart he pitied his disciples. He knew that after his death, all this scene would scourge them, and be sufficient punishment. His soul was already pressed under a severe load, that none of them could enter into. But his love did not change at all. He knew that the hour was just before him when he should depart out of this world, and go unto the Father; yet, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. His love was enduring; it was divine. Their childish jealousies and passions were hurting their own souls.
Christ gave no word of rebuke to Judas,—the poor, sinful man who had allowed himself to become the channel of darkness. O that he would be ashamed, convicted, and be willing to cast out Satan! But Judas turned the wrong way. The greater the goodness, the humility, and the love of Christ expressed toward him, the more powerful were the enemy’s presentations that this was not the Son of God, but a pretender. Judas knew better; but he braced his soul against light. He had given up all hope of temporal preferment, and now sought to obliterate from his mind everything that he had heard. He had often been deeply impressed under the Holy Spirit’s working; but he fought away from Jesus, and became a traitor, a betrayer.
The disciples knew nothing of the purposes of Judas. Jesus alone could read his secret. Yet the Master did not expose him. When Jesus’ precious hands were bathing those soiled feet, and wiping them with the towel, the heart of Judas thrilled through and through with an impulse there and then to confess. He was the first one whose feet were washed. The way Christ treated his disciples, and especially poor, deluded Judas, was a sample of his treatment of them all through his association with them. Judas was not, in appearance or deportment, the low, villainous man that might be supposed. He was considered by his associate disciples to be a man of great capabilities. He had considerable breadth of knowledge, and his qualifications would have been valuable if they had been sanctified to the service of God. But while the disciples were ashamed, mortified, and conscience-stricken, their hearts subdued and broken, they felt their hearts go out to Jesus with that deep, earnest faith that works by love and purifies the soul. Judas was rejecting Jesus.
Not All Clean
When Peter’s turn came, he utterly refused to allow Christ to touch his feet. He would gladly have taken the place of the Master, and become even a slave for his sake. He exclaimed, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” [John 13:8.] But Christ told him, as he had told John when he refused to baptize Jesus, “Suffer it to be so now.” [Matthew 3:15.] That which he did not understand then, he would better comprehend at another time. He assured Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” [John 13:8.] Except in the case of one, this washing signified the cleansing from sin. He said, “Ye are clean, but not all.” [John 13:10.] Judas would not be cleansed by repentance, remorse, and confession. His last chance was being offered him. In his heart, Jesus felt the keenness of hunger for that soul. His soul had a burden similar to that he bore when he wept over the doomed city on the crest of Olivet. In his agony of tears his heart said, “How shall I give thee up?” “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” [Hosea 11:8; Luke 19:42.] Judas’ last chance was gone.
Softened and Subdued
When Christ told Peter that unless he submitted to this service, he could have no part with him, Peter surrendered his pride and self-will. This can never, never be. He was all broken up at the thought, and exclaimed, “Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” [John 13:9.] Jesus had a lesson, deep, full, and significant: “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.” [John 13:10.] The true version reads, “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.” That lesson comprehended more than bodily cleansing. The feet of Judas were washed, but his heart was defiled with sin. In the very act of girding himself with a towel to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus would subdue and cleanse them from their alienation, and dissension, and jealousy, and pride. Not one of them was in an acceptable state before God, with such a spirit of unhappy dissension. The renewed heart, cleansed from every defilement, was of far more consequence than the outward application of water to their dusty feet. Jesus could not give them the lessons he so much desired to impart unless they would come into a proper state of humility and affection. Dissension always creates hatred, but Christ washed it away in the act of washing his disciples’ feet. A change of feeling did come; the union of heart and love for one another did exist. They became meek, teachable, and loving, and would have conceded to any one the highest place. They were prepared to partake of the last supper with fragrant feelings of love, deep and full, for their Master and for one another.
Shall we learn the lesson of the marvelous wisdom and love of God? Shall we, at the ordinance of feet-washing, be softened and subdued, as were the first disciples? Peter shrank from bringing his soiled feet in touch with the hands of his Lord and Master; yet how often we bring our sinful, polluted souls in contact with the heart of Christ, who hates nothing but sin. O, how we grieve the pure, holy Spirit of Christ with our defiling sins! We are not prepared for the appreciation of the holy communion with Christ and with one another unless we are cleansed by his efficacy.
We need closely to investigate our life and character, and have true contrition of soul, having fellowship with Christ and fellowship with our brethren. Then we shall show that we can appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts. The barriers of pride, of self-sufficiency, are first to be broken down; then the love of Jesus will abound in our hearts. Then we can partake of the communion with a consciousness of sins forgiven; for whosoever sits down at the communion service should sit down humble and clean in heart, and purified from all defilement. Then the sunshine of Christ’s righteousness will fill the chambers of our minds and the soul temple. We shall “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” [John 1:29.]
Recovery of Man
This humble service is to recover man from the difficulties of sin. We are to bear in mind that in washing one another’s feet, we are in Christ’s place. And while we do this service, Christ is our witness; angels are watching, and the atmosphere of heaven is surrounding us. When we do just what Christ has charged us to do, we are bringing ourselves in close relation to our Lord, who is present on that occasion. There is One in our midst who has said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” [Matthew 28:20.] He is present to impress hearts. The life of him who is the Light from above and the Way below, will guide into all truth every soul who will come to him. His whole life was an unfolding of his love,—a revelation of the character of God. His Father is our Father.
We can better take part in this instituted ordinance when we call to mind his words: “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also 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 he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 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 13:12–20.]
Review and Herald, June 28, 1898; July 5, 1898.