DARK PROVIDENCE’S CLEARED IN DUE TIME.
This Sermon was preached at Dunfermline, on Monday, July 2nd, 1736, after the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there.
“What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
My friends, the invisible God acts like himself, even amidst all the visible and sensible tokens he gives of his presence; such as he hath been giving you at this occasion: for, amidst all his ways and workings that are seen and felt, yet still his way is invisible, unsearchable, and mysterious. How small a portion do we know of him! What is said of his presence and absence, or of his coming and going sometimes, may be said also of his doing: his coming near once to Jacob, was dark to him: therefore he said, “Surely the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not.” His going away from Samson was dark to him; therefore it is said “He wist not the Lord was departed from him.” And what is thus said of his coming and going, may be said of his doing, and perhaps of his doings among us at this occasion: “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
We have here, in this chapter, the remarkable history of our Lord Jesus, his washing his disciples’ feet while he was at supper with them. It was great condescension to sup with them; and yet greater to wash their feet. How far Christ will stoop down to the necessities of his people, is amazing! It is observed, (v. 3), that, “Jesus knowing that the Father had committed all things into his hand, and that he was come from God, and went to God: he rises from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and glided himself, and poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet,” (vv. 4, 5). All power and sovereignty was committed to him, yet the knowledge of his excellency did not hinder his condescension; in the view he had of his greatest glory, he evidenced the greatest humility. Neither the greatest sufferings he was just now to endure, nor the greatest honor he was advanced unto; could make him forget his poor people; his heart was set upon them, as much as either upon his sufferings or his glory: why? for them he suffered, and for them he was to be glorified. And as the thoughts of his glory formerly did not hinder his condescension; so the possession of his glory now, doth not hinder his stooping down to serve, yea, to wash, and save them. And the higher the Father hath exalted him, the more hath he fitted him for doing service to us in our low case and condition.
Now, we have here Peter’s amazement, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” (v. 6). What! might he say, Thou, the Lord and Ruler of the world, dost thou stoop to do this for me, a worthless worm, a sinful man? Here is a paradox I cannot understand! O! but Christ’s condescensions, wherein we find ourselves taken notice of by his grace, are justly matter of admiration. “Is this the manner of man? What are we, and what is our Father’s house?” It well becomes us, and the best of the sons and daughters of Adam to sit down at his feet and wash them with tears, and wipe them with the hairs of our head. But, O! what is this dost thou wash my feet, Lord! O King of kings, and Lord of lords? Christ’s abasing himself, and stooping so low to us, ought not to obscure his majesty, or make us think the less of him, as if he did what was too mean and unbecoming his grandeur; nay, if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, the lower that he stoops towards ns, the more will we honor him, and the higher thoughts will we have of him.
The text is an answer to Peter’s amazement, “What I do,” says Christ, “thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Where he tells him two things. 1. That the design of this work was at present hid from him. 2. That it should be afterwards revealed to him. So ignorant was Peter of this work, which was afterwards explained to him, as signifying another inward washing, and giving to us a copy of humility, and of humble service one towards another; so ignorant was he hereof, that his sinful modesty makes him refuse this act of kindness and condescension; as you see in the following verse. Though it be commendable to fear the Lord and his goodness, and to be amazed at his condescending grace and mercy; yet it is sinful to run to that extreme of fear and trembling, as to shun, decline, and refuse it: and though our Lord’s stooping down be a great abasement; yet it is the great error of the saints, to think he will not reckon it his glory and honor to serve them. It is a part of their ignorance and error, when he stoops down to them with his blessing, to think that he had forgot himself in his condescension, and that it is not possible he means such favor to them.
In the general, we may learn from the words in their emission with the text,
1. That when we refuse any favor at Christ’s hand, or shun any act of his condescending grace, as if unbecoming his greatness to grant it, or our meanness to receive it; we but discover our great ignorance and error.
2. Christ may be very near to his people, and doing great things to them in steps of gracious condescension; and yet they may be very ignorant of him, and of his acting: “What I do, thou knowest not.”
3. Every work of Christ towards his people, carries something more great and precious in the bosom of it, than we are capable, at the time, to understand; it is more laden with wisdom, power, goodness, grace, and faithfulness, than for the present we can apprehend: “What I do, thou knowest not now.”
4. Though we cannot dive into the depths of Christ’s counsel in his doing towards us; yet we ought to reverence and adore him therein, and to yield implicit obedience to his will, without quarrelling his way, or censuring his proceeding, while through darkness and ignorance we are such incompetent judges thereof; thus did Abraham; “By faith, when he was called to go out into a place which he should afterwards receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went,” (Heb. 11: 8).
5. Our Lord Jesus doth not explain his mind to his people at the first; what he intends by such a work, and such a promise, and such a providence, until afterwards, that subsequent works explain preceding works, and subsequent providences explain preceding ones.
6. Learn, that we are therefore to wait upon him, till he see fit to explain what may now be dark and hidden unto us; and we shall afterwards know and see, what was the tendency of events that seemed most cross and strange. We must let Christ take his own way both in ordinances and providences; and we will find, in the issue, that it is indeed the best way. “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
But passing all these, the point of doctrine I would speak to is this.
OBSERVATION: That the works of Christ towards his people, may be very dark and mysterious, hidden and unknown to them, till afterwards he make them manifest.
“What I do, thou knowest not now, Peter; but thou shalt know hereafter; “what need thou hast of being washed, when thou shalt be guilty of the heinous crime of denying me thrice; or, when thou shalt, in the discharge of thy office, be employed as an instrument to wash away the sinful defilements of others.
But this doctrine may be verified from many instances. Joseph’s dreams, as well as Jacob’s, being bereft of him, was dark and mysterious, till afterwards it was manifested in the course of providence. Abraham’s call, to go and offer up his son, as well as his being ordered to go, not knowing whither he went, was very dark and mysterious till afterwards. Esther’s marriage with Ahasuerus was a kindly providence, but the design of it was not manifested till afterwards, to break Haman’s cruel project. Christ manifested his glory to Peter, James, and John, upon the mount; but what he did they knew not the design of, till afterwards it appeared what eminent duties and trials he was preparing them for. Moses little knew what was the mystery of the manifestation he got of God, when he saw him in a flame of fire out of the bush, and the bush burned, and was not consumed; and when God spake to him saying, “I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “Moses hid his face, and was afraid to look upon God, till the Lord thereafter showed what was the design of this appearance, and what service he was calling him to. Little did Israel know, when brought through the Red Sea, and singing triumphantly at the shore over all their drowned enemies, that this glorious appearance of God was to usher in a forty years’ weary travel through the wilderness; and that what the Lord did then, by the hand of Moses, was but typical of the great salvation through Jesus Christ. Little did Paul, our apostle, while he was yet Saul the persecutor, know what the Lord did when he appeared to him in his road to Damascus, till afterwards that the Lord showed him what he was to do and suffer for the name of Jesus. His ways, even of grace and mercy, are dark and unknown; therefore says the psalmist; “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary; thy way is in the seas, thy paths in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known,” (Ps. 77:13, 19). “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgment are a great deep,” (Ps. 36:6). “The works of the Lord are great; sought out of all them that have pleasure therein,” (Ps. 111:2).
The Lord works and carries on his gracious work, according to his rule of divine policy that every one cannot penetrate there into. As great politicians carry on their designs in a way that ordinary onlookers cannot understand; so much more doth infinite wisdom work, as it were, by a holy and majestic stratagem, and carries on his work in the dark, and in a way much hidden and unknown to us; for “Clouds and darkness are round about him;” and hence says the apostle; “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:23). Whatever then God hath been doing or saying to you at this occasion, think not that you are wise enough now, or that you know all that he hath been doing or designing by this work. “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Having thus confirmed the doctrine, the method for the farther prosecution of the subject, may be the following:‑
I. To speak to some things the Lord doth towards his church and people that are dark and mysterious, hidden and unknown.
II. To show in what respects these things that he is doing for them, may be hid and unknown to them.
III. Show for what reason the Lord takes this way of doing, so hid, dark, and mysterious, that what he doth they know not.
IV. Observe some of the seasons when it is that he makes them know what now they are in the dark about according to his word here, “Thou, shalt know hereafter.”
V. Deduce some inferences for the application of the whole.
1. We are to speak of some of these things the Lord doth towards his people that are dark, mysterious, hidden, and unknown.
Here we might, to view it more distinctly, mention some common steps of his dealing with his people, that for a long time, may be dark and unknown to them; such as, what he doth with respect to their outward state in the world: what he doth by ordering such and such circumstances of prosperity or adversity in the world: what he doth with respect to their birth and education; his design in their being born of gracious, or of graceless parents; his design in ordering the bounds of their habitation, in such a spot of the world; his design in bringing them under such and such a ministry; to such a sermon, and such a sacrament, and such a table; why he casts such a book in their way: all may be hid and unknown to them till afterwards, that the Lord discovers what good and great designs he had thereby; what he doth by such a mercy, and such a judgment; such a word, and such a rod.
Again, we might condescend on what he doth with respect to their inward spiritual state; they may be greatly in the dark as to what he is doing, when, on the one hand, he is convincing and awakening them; when he is humbling and breaking them; when he is deserting and forsaking them to their sense; when he suffers them to be tempted of Satan, and conquered by their lusts; and leaves them under the power of their enemies; denying their requests; refusing to help them in prayer, and to hear them; and seeming to reject and cast them off; what he thus doth, they know not till afterwards that he return.
And then, on the other hand, his way and work may be hid and unknown, even when he returns, so as they know not what he is doing: when he washes their feet, or condescends to give them some tokens of his pardoning and purifying grace, they may expect fair weather and clean way, or a prosperous journey, all their life-time afterwards; while yet he may be preparing them for a new storm. They may little know what he doth, when he is manifesting himself anew to them; they may reckon it is a preparatory for more glorious displays immediately: but they may be mistaken, and may find themselves tumbling down the hill into a mire, or ever they are aware. They may little know what he doth, when, at a communion-solemnity, he comes to loose their bonds; and when he is comforting, strengthening, or sealing them, and speaking in to their hearts, they may be thinking now that their mountain stands strong, they shall never be moved, never be what they have been, nor doubt as they have done; yet quickly they may be at that with it, “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” They may little know, when he brings them to the banqueting-house, and makes them sit down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to their taste, what he is doing and designing; they may think, now this is for my present comfort, now my cup runs over, and I hope it will continue running; while yet he may be feeding them for the hunger to come, victualling them for a voyage, laying in provision for a siege, preparing them for a battle, or perhaps anointing them for a burial. “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
But here I shall mention some of the special works of God, that are covered with a could of majesty, that his people seldom know what he is doing with them. As,
1. When his word and his work, his promise and his providence seem to clash and contradict one another; this is a dark and hidden rod. What he doth, we know not then, when his dispensations seem, to human reason, to be driving on a design to defeat the promise; we cannot see through the cloud without an eagle-eye of faith, nor pry into the depths of his infinite wisdom. Thus Moses was sent to deliver Israel out of Egypt, and to tell them the good news, that now the Lord was to deliver them from their bondage; but behold their bondage is increased, their slavery is doubled, they are filled with anguish, (Ex. 5:21). Moses himself could not well see through this dark cloud; and therefore complains to God of it, (vv. 22-23). When things like this fall out to the church of God, or a child of God, that here is a promise, but where is the accomplishment, when the quite contrary appears? Then we are to think on his word, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
2. When his dealings and dispensations are so dark and unintelligible, that his people know not whether they speak mercy or wrath: thus it was with Job when he said, “Show me wherefore thou contendest with me?” (Job 10:2), intimating, how utterly ignorant he was, as to what the Lord was intending by that strange dispensation: in such a case he is saying, “What I do, thou knowest not now.”
3. When the Lord comes with salvation in a surprising way; or, while his people are quite out of frame and fitness for it; as when it is said; “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him; I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart,” (Isa. 57:17); and yet it follows, “I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts to him, and to his mourners.” O what is this I will he show himself a God of love to me, when I have been showing myself a devil of enmity against him! Or, while he surprises them with a mercy that they were never hoping nor waiting for; as Israel, when the Lord returned their captivity, were like them that dream. His stately march this way is so hid from their eyes, that what he doth they know not; it is above their capacity to understand his sovereign way.
4. When salvation comes, not only in a way of merciful surprise, but notwithstanding all appearance to the contrary; when enemies are strong and invincible, by them prevalent, and victorious over them; and when his people’s strength is quite gone, (Deut. 32:36). And when their hope is gone, and they are cut off for their parts, (Ezek. 37:11). When in such a point of extremity he steps in and saves; and saves, perhaps, by very unlikely means; as by the blowing of rams’ horns he throws down the walls of Jericho; by the stripling David, he kills the great Goliath, and defeats the army of the Philistines; in these ways there is much hidden majesty. “What I do, thou knowest not.”
5. When hopeful beginnings of relief and salvation meet with unexpected stops and hindrances; and when the building of the spiritual temple, after the foundation is laid, comes to be retarded, and the work seems to go back rather than forward, as in the building of the material temple in the days of Ezra. How little do we understand what that means, when the Lord says, by Jeremiah to Baruch; “Behold, that which I have built, will I break down?” (Jer. 45:4). When he suffers enemies to prevail, and break down his carved work, as with axes and hammers, who can see through such a dispensation, when it befalls a church in general, as to the work of reformation; or a child of God in particular as to the work of grace in the soul? “What he doth, we know not now.”
6. When the Lord’s way towards the godly and the ungodly seems unsuitable to their different state, as if he frowned on his friends and favored his enemies: how dark and hidden is his work herein? The prosperity of the wicked and adversity of the godly was for a time a great mystery to Asaph, (Ps. 78). Yea more, sometimes the godly are left to be a great stumbling block to others; as when the Lord left Aaron to make the golden calf in the wilderness that brought so much sin and wrath upon the people. I might instance David, Solomon, Peter, and others: how dark is this, and the like dispensations And when, on the other hand, he employs the wicked themselves to carry on his work, and makes their wicked designs contribute to advance his holy end and glorious design; as he did make the treason of Judas, the sentence of Pilate, the malice of the Jews, to contribute for the work of our redemption. Surely, “What he doth, we know not; “his glorious works are hidden and unknown. He can necessitate enemies, contrary to their will, to do that which is a manifest forwarding of his work, as when the Philistines were constrained to send home the ark of Israel, (1 Sam. 6).
7. In a word, how dark and hid is his work, when he cuts off instruments that seem to be most fitted for it; and that either before their work be begun, as David that prepared materials for building of the temple, but was not employed therein; or before their work be ended, as Moses, that brought Israel though the wilderness, but is taken away then, and not employed to end the work of bringing them in to the promised land, which he would gladly have done! How dark and unknown is his work, when he calls them to believe what seems contradictory to carnal sense and reason; as that Abraham should have a son, when his body and Sarah’s womb were both dead, who yet believed in God who quickens the dead, and calls things that are not, as though they were? Or when he calls them to do that which seems expressly against his own revealed will; as when Abraham was called to go and sacrifice his son; this was a command of trial, and by faith, Abraham went all the length therein that was designed! How dark is the providence and trial, when duty is seemingly set against duty, as when churchmen and prophets set upon Nehemiah, and press him to that as duty which was no duty; as you see the history, (Neh. 6:10, 14)? And when prophets are set against prophets, not only Baal’s prophets against the prophets of God, but prophets of the Lord against prophets of the Lord; as in the case of the old prophet, pretending angelical information, and deceiving the man of God, (1 Kings 13)? Finally, how dark and unintelligible is his work, when he lifts us with the one hand, and casts us down with the other; when he heals with the one and wounds with the other. Thus the child; that Christ took in hand to cure, grew worse; for, “The devil threw him down and tare him,” (Mark 9:19, 26) The ruler of the synagogue got Christ engaged to go along with him, and heal his daughter; but, behold what a wound is given, one coming from his house, saying, “Thy daughter is dead, trouble not the Master!” In these, and the like works he says, “What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”
II. The second thing proposed was, To show in what respects we may be ignorant, and in the dark about the Lord’s doing towards us. And,
1. What he doth, as to the very matter of his works may be hid and unknown, whether it be a common or a saving work; whether it be a merciful or a wrathful work, such as what Manoah and his wife met with, (Judges 13:22-23). He and she differed in their judgment about what they saw; “Manoah said, surely we shall die, because we have seen God.” But his wife (on the contrary) said, “if the Lord were pleased to kill us, would he have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hand? Or, would he have showed us all these things?”
2. What he doth may be hid and unknown to them, as to the manner and method of his doing. His way of bringing about his purpose is very strange and unperceivable; for he is the God that quickens the dead, and calls things that are not, as though they were, (Rom. 4:17). He brings things out of nothing, and one contrary out of another, (2 Cor. 4:6). Light out of darkness, life out of death, strength out of weakness; “Meat out of the eater, and sweet out of the strong.” How unknowable then to us is his work, who makes death the way to life, and wounding the way to healing, breaking down the way to building up, and losing the way to gain.
3. What he doth may be hid and unknown, as to the causes of his working. There may be reasons of state that we are ignorant of: the reason why he doth so and so now; and why he desists at another time; why Zion is filled with judgment: why he shines on the counsel of the wicked, that pray not to him; and why the just and upright man is laughed to scorn. Surely, “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: for who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?” (Rom. 11:34).
4. What he doth may be hid and unknown, as to the beauty of his work; “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? “Where is the beauty and glory of this work? Is it becoming for thee to do so? We may be ignorant of the glory of divine wisdom that shines in his dealings; the glory of his holiness, grace, love, and mercy, that shines therein, till afterwards he make his work appear. There is a beautiful connection between what he hath done, what he is doing, and what he will do afterwards, that may be greatly hid, and the beautiful season of his doing; he hath made everything beautiful in his time. O! there is a luster in the very time of his coming, when he makes our time of need his time of love, our extremity his opportunity; yet for a time this beauty may be hid.
5. What he doth may be hid and unknown, as to the excellency and greatness of his work; it may appear little, and low, and mean, as Peter thought, when he said, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” Yet in due time, it may appear to be a very great and excellent work. His greatness and grandeur is not hereby diminished, but more and more displayed. “When the Lord turned back the captivity of Zion, they were like them that dreamed,” did not see or consider the greatness of the work till afterwards they see and say, “The Lord hath done great things for us,” (Ps. 136:1, 3).
6. What he doth may be hid and unknown, for a time, as the necessity of the work, and the usefulness of it: part of Peter’s meaning here, when he said, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? “was, Lord, what is the need of thy washing my feet? And therefore he ignorantly says in the following verse, “Thou shalt never wash my feet;” whereupon, Christ opens up to him the absolute necessity of what he now did, and designed by this work: “If I wash thee not thou hast no part in me.” There is a great need for all that Christ doth to us, though we be in the dark about it; and we ought to see a need be in everything he doth: “If need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations for a season;” and if need be, he will give a more joyful and heartsome season: he knows best what you need, though you do not know.
7. What he doth may be hid as to the variety of his work, and the changes that befall us, through the various changes and turns of his hand in working; though his heart and mind, his love and covenant, be unchangeable. Sometimes he will let his people ask what they will, and he will give them to the half, yea, to the whole of his kingdom; and at other times they may cry and shout, and he shut out their prayers. Sometimes he will let them hold him, and not let him go; yea, and command him, as it were; “Concerning my sons and my daughters, command ye me:” thus he let Moses ask, and he said “Show me thy glory;” and God says, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee;” and yet behold, at other times, he will condescend to nothing, and seem inexorable; “Though Moses, Daniel, and Job, were to make intercession in the matter.” Who can understand this variety of his doing, and the secret reasons of the vicissitudes and changes that hereupon befall his people in their inward frame and outward lot?
8. What he doth may be hid and unknown, as to the end and design of his doing, as to the upshot and issue thereof; and what he is to bring out of that which now he doth. What he did in washing the disciples feet, was not known in the design of it till afterwards. Many things he hath done, the meaning whereof was not known till afterwards. What he did, when he became man, when he became a worm, and no man; what he did, when he lived our life; what he did, when he laid down his life, and hung upon the cross between two thieves, were not understood till afterwards; and then it appeared that it behooved him, (Heb. 2:17). And what he doth at this communion we know not now. The way that he takes may seem to be far about, and yet afterwards appear to be the only right way: and when he leads his people in a way they know not, and in paths which they have not known, may afterwards appear to be the best way for his glory, and for their good. And no wonder that we are in the dark, if we consider that the worker of these works is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working, (Isa. 28:29): infinitely beyond all worldly politicians, whose projects and purposes are often hid from us, and much more may the infinitely deep counsels of God.
III. The third thing proposed was, to offer some reasons, why the Lord takes such a hid, mysterious and unknown way of doing with his people; and what he doth, they know not now. And,
1. It is to discover himself in a way suitable to himself and his own glorious perfections; and to show that his thoughts are not our thoughts, as his ways are not our ways. If he should work according to our thoughts and imaginations, and in a way not transcending our apprehensions, how would it appear that he is Jehovah, a sovereign God that acts like himself, whose will is a law to us, and a rule to himself; and whose way is in the deep waters, so as his footsteps cannot be seen. Herein he shows his wisdom to be hidden wisdom, while his own people are apt to think that he is about to destroy his work in them and in his church, when he is upon his way to raise them up, and to bring down the enemy. Herein he shows his truth and faithfulness miraculously when he comes with salvation, after he had wrought so long underground, and out of sight, and all hope was gone; but when it shines out from behind the dark cloud, then it appears with a more than ordinary glance and luster. O then, they see his mercy is in the heavens, and his truth reaches to the clouds, and his faithfulness to all generations, (Ps. 119:90). So that no changes or vicissitudes here below can alter, no length of time can change his mind.
2. It is to discover his enemies that they may appear to be what they are: what he doth for his people, they do not know themselves; far less do hypocrites and false-hearted professors know what he is doing for them, and what good he is doing for them. If the Lord were appearing visibly for his children, whenever they are in a strait, many false friends would take part with them, and seem to love and favor them; but that their enmity may be discovered, and they may be made manifest, he comes to his people in unknown ways, and hides his work; and then enemies show themselves openly to be enemies to God’s people, while God doth not show himself openly to be their friend. He may hide himself and his work from his friends to discourage his enemies, and harden them in his righteous judgment; for, “Whom he will he hardens,” (Rom. 9:18), by leaving them to themselves.
3. It is to discover the dross and corruption of his own people, that lies at the bottom of their heart unseen; for, while he keeps his work hid from them, how does then their unbelief appear in many doubts and scruples that rise in their souls about his design? How doth their impatience appear, while he delays to clear up matters to them? Thus he shows them their sin, and humbles them under a sense of their ignorance. Such a discovery the Psalmist got when he went to the sanctuary, and reflected on the mistake he was under, about what the Lord was doing: “So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before thee.” He makes them thus to know what is in them.
4. It is to discover their graces also, and to try and exercise them; thus he tries their faith, when they are to believe, though they do not know how his word shall be accomplished, as he did the faith of Abraham, (Rom. 4). Thus he tries their patience, when they are to wait upon him, and they know not how long; “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). Thus he tries their hope, when all human appearances and probabilities fail, and they can see no ground of hope from without; for, “That which is seen is no hope.” Thus he tries their submission to him, and their obedience to him, while he calls to stoop to his will, even when he hide his design, and gives not account of any of his matters; that we may be still and know that he is God.
5. In a word, he takes this hid and unknown way, that we may learn to reverence and fear him, and to wait upon him, till he teach us what we know not, and expound to us what we do not understand: “He is a God of judgment, and blessed are all they that wait for him.” In this way he curbs the curiosity, and checks the pride of poor man, who, when he is done, must go to school again, and learn over what he learned before, and learn better. In this way he stirs up to prayer, that they may take every piece of his work back again to him, that so he may make them know the secrets of his counsels, and the depth of his government; and that they may put no sense on what he doth but his own, which they are very ready to do, without waiting till he give them his own mind; that we darken not counsel without knowledge. In this way he teaches us to be modest in our minds, and sober in our sentiments about what he doth, till once he hath done out his work, and told out all his mind; and that, in a sense of our ignorance, we may daily be learned to read and speak, to read his mind distinctly, and to speak of his actings knowingly; otherwise we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness. In this way he not only quickens his people to prayer, but gives great matter of praise in the issue, when what we know not now, he makes known afterward, and brings light out of darkness, yea, and makes darkness light before us. How doth it accent their praise, when the dark clouds give way to the bright sun? The issue of his dealing is the more glorious, when afterwards his gracious and glorious design shall be made known. But this leads me to the next thing proposed, namely,
IV. The fourth head, which was to point out some of the seasons when he makes them know afterwards, what now they are, or may be in the dark about: “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
1st, In general, this hath a reference to the partial discovery he gives of his mind in this world, and the perfect and full discovery he makes of himself in the world to come. Here he sometimes discovers what was dark and mysterious formerly in his work and dealing; but still it is only a partial display; “For now we know but in part, we prophecy in part: and now we see but through a glass darkly,” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12). But in the world to come, that which is perfect shall come, and that which is in part shall be done away; and then we shall see no more through a glass, but face to face. “Now I know in part (says the apostle), but then shall I know, even as also I am known. At that day ye shall know (says Christ) that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you,” (John 14:20). Here we know him but as he is not but then positively: for “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2). Ye shall know hereafter perfectly. But then,
2dly, In particular, it hath a reference to some special seasons, wherein, even in this world, he gives his people to know afterwards what he doth, which at present they do not know or understand; and I shall touch at some of these seasons.
1. Sometimes the season of making known what he doth, is very soon, very quickly after the work is done, and so it was here; for, after Christ had washed his disciples’ feet, he explains what he designed by it, and that first to Peter, by showing what washing he especially intended; so that without it, they could have no portion in the son of Jesse: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me.” And then afterwards to all the disciples he said, “Know you what I have done to you;” and so explains it further to them. And as sometimes he very quickly explains his work; so he doth his word that was dark and unknown. Christ had said, “A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while, and ye shall see me; because I go to the Father,” (John 16:17): they were puzzled and perplexed about it, (v. 18); and hereupon, before Christ was done with speaking to them, he explains it to them, (vv. 19-28), whereupon they say, “Lo now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God,” (vv. 29, 30). Yet this knowledge that now they got was but imperfect, as Christ’s following answer shows.
2. Sometimes the season of making known afterwards what he now doth, is very long after the work is done, or the word spoken, which they are in the dark about. Our Lord may do great things, and speak gracious words to his people, and yet they may be in great darkness as to the meaning and design thereof for a long time. God met with Jacob at Bethel, and gave him a glorious manifestation of himself, and a sweet promise of his presence and blessing, and it was to him the house of God and the gate of heaven, (Gen. 28:17). But Jacob knew not what a feast this was to be unto him twenty years afterwards, when God gave him a new meal upon this old experience, saying, “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me,” (Gen. 31:13). He knew not that it was to be a preface to twenty years servitude; and that the new remembrance and reflection upon it was to be a pledge of a new visit of the like nature; that the recognition of an old Bethel was to be a preface to a new Peniel. What do I know but it will take twenty or thirty years to explain what some have met with at this occasion in Dunfermline. “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” But whether it be in a short time or after a long time, that he opens up the mystery of what he does, he is sure to choose the fit time, the appointed time, the best time; best for reaching the great ends of his glory and our good: “The vision is for an appointed time, at the end it will speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” beyond the due time, (Hab. 2:3).
Again, there are some circumstances of time, wherein the Lord thinks fit to communicate the knowledge of what was dark and mysterious, hidden and unknown in his work and doing to his people. Sometimes after he hath hid himself in the dark from them in private, he meets with them in public, and tells them all his mind: when David went to the sanctuary, (Ps. 73), he got a resolution of his cloudy case; and found that even at the time his feet was almost gone, and his steps had well nigh slipt, that even then the Lord was holding him by his right hand. They have seen his power and glory in the sanctuary. Sometimes he hides himself in public, and gives them more of his mind in a secret corner: “When the disciples were alone he expounded all things to them,” (Mark 4:34). What they hear and yet do not know in public, he clears it up when he and they are alone. Hence the church affects retirement, “Come, my Beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages; let us go up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, &c.; there will I give thee my loves,” (Song 7:11-12): sweet and sensible communion is sometimes reserved for a corner. Again, sometimes what he doth, he makes them know after a black and long night of desertion, when he surprises them with a new visit, and makes them say, “The voice of my Beloved I behold, he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” Sometimes he explains his mind more clearly to them, after he hath tried their faith and patience for a while, and brought them into great tribulation. John, in the Revelation, never had so much of Christ’s mind, even when he leaned upon Christ’s bosom, as when he was persecuted and banished into the isle of Patmos. Thus it was with Ezekiel, when he was among the captives by the river of Chebar, then was the heavens opened, and he saw the visions of God. Sometimes it is after deep humiliation and fervent supplication; such as that of Daniel, (Ezek. 9:20-21). Then he is informed by the angel Gabriel, of some great things he was in the dark about before. Sometimes the Lord hath remarkably countenanced his people with great and glorious discoveries of his mind, when they have set days apart for prayer and confession, afflicting themselves before him. But, Oh! where are the Christians of former generations, some of whom would have shut themselves up in their closets for many days, and got their meat shut in to them at the window, and holes of the door! Again, sometimes he reserves the discovery of what he is doing, till the time that he gives a more full and plentiful out-pouring of the Spirit. “What I do (says Christ here to Peter), you know not now; but you shall know” partly, just now after I am done with washing your feet; I will explain it, but you shall know afterwards more clearly and distinctly in the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit shall be poured out; and hence see, (Acts 2) how Peter then preached and published the doing, dying, and rising of Jesus: what he did was then no more a mystery to him. And you see, (John 15:26), the Spirit, the Comforter, is promised for this very end, to teach us all things, and to bring all things to remembrance, whatsoever Christ hath said unto us. And when the Spirit is more plentifully afterwards communicate, then he brings Christ’s words and works to remembrance, in such a manner, as to tell us what he intended by such a word, and such a work; what he said and did at such and such a time.
Again, sometimes he doth it a little before their death; he sometimes has anointed them before their death with eye-salve, and let them see farther than ever they saw; as it was with old Jacob, when his natural eyes were dim, he saw Shiloh coming, to whom the gathering of the people should be; he saw a little further, then, I think, than he did either at Bethel, or Peniel, and something more concerning Christ was then explained to him than he knew before. Thus it was also with old Simeon before his death; he had got a believing sight of Christ before, but now he got an armful of Christ, and a more sensible sight than before; “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” I have known some get very clear manifestations of Christ before their death.
In a word, sometimes at death itself; though some of the Lord’s servants and saints have died in much darkness, yet others have got Christ’s doings explained at death, that have been hid from them all their days before. Death may make a breach among forty or fifty experiences, and bring them down to two or three perhaps. But death to some has multiplied their experiences, and made them go through the valley of the shadow of death, triumphing in God’s everlasting love. I read of Adolpus Clarebachius, who had been all his lifetime kept under much bondage; when he became a martyr, and went to the stake to be burned, he then said, “I have lived a most melancholy and dejected life till this day; but now I believe there is not a merrier heart in the world than mine.” What the lord did, by ordering his former dejection he knew not, till now that it appeared the Lord’s design by his grievous and heavy life, was to be a lane and avenue to that glorious and joyful death. Some have gone through the dark trance between time and eternity with more light and knowledge of the Lord’s mind and works, than ever they had. Jacob never had a brighter view of his old Bethel-visit than when he was upon his death-bed, and had all his children about him, and some of his children’s children: he now saw more clearly what God had done, and what he was further to bring out of the Bethel-promise, with reference to his numerous issue, and their future possession of the land of Canaan; and therefore he begins his dying words with what past between God and him at Bethel; “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz, in the land of Canaan, and blessed me; and said, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee; and I will make of thee a multitude of people, and will give this land to thy seed after thee, for an everlasting possession,” (Gen. 48:3-4). Then might he say, I had neither wife nor children; but now I see my children, and my children’s children; and I see what God is about to do with them: and so he prophesies of their future increase and various circumstances and appearances they were to make in after-ages. Thus his Bethel-blessing was extended, and explained more clearly to him in his dying moments. What you met with, believer, in such a place, and what you have met with in Dunfermline, what he hath been doing at former occasions or at this occasion, may be, you do not see through at present, perhaps the further explication of it is reserved for a death-bed feast unto you, when he shines upon his former words and works, and makes you sing of his salvation, and say, “O! I remember what he said to me in such a place, and what he did to me at another. What he designed by it was dark and unknown to me, but now I see more of his mind; I see he hath been as good as his word, and that he hath done all things well.” “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter,” perhaps sooner or later, even before you go into eternity.
V. The fifth and last thing proposed was, To deduce some inferences for the application of the whole. Is it so, That the works of God, the doings of Christ Jesus, towards his people may be so dark and mysterious, hid and unknown, till afterwards he make them known? Hence,
1. See that we have great cause to be humble and sober: whatever the Lord hath been doing among us at this occasion, let us not think that we know all that he hath done, since he is saying, “What I do, thou knowest not now.” Let that great question humble us under a sense of our own ignorant; “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? It is higher than heaven, what caust thou do? Deeper than hell, what cast thou know?” (Job 11:7). Think not you have learned your lesson perfectly; the greatest believers on earth are but scholars, as long as they are in the body. Divine light shines gradually more and more to the perfect day of glory; therefore, whatever they see, they need to see more clearly; whatever they are taught, they need to be taught over again more perfectly: what a small portion of God do we know!
2. Hence see, what reason believers have to long for heaven, since clouds and darkness will never be altogether dispelled till the beatifical vision of God and of the Lamb. That city hath no need of the sun, nor the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God doth enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. “I saw no temple there; for the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple of it,” (Rev. 21:22-23). It may be said of all the great works of God that at present he doth, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter,” when time shall discover it, even the Lord’s time, the fit time; and even when that time hath made the discovery of what he was doing formerly, it may be also said of that discovery, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter;” when eternity shall discover, and heaven make it manifest in another and more glorious manner; then all his dealings with his people will be conspicuous; and all his designs appear, that before were dark and mysterious.
3. Hence see, that the church and children of God, while in this world, must not think of being exempted from clouds and darkness, even when they have the Lord near to them; for “Clouds and darkness are round about him,” (Ps. 97:2). And he makes the clouds his chariots wherein he rides to his people. It is true; the clouds that surround him have sometimes a dark side, and sometimes a bright side; yet even at the brightest, it is but a cloud, wherein he appears, and they know not how far he is to ride upon it, how soon it will disappear, and what weather it prognosticates. The Lord designs to give his people, while here, a proof of his promised care, (Isa. 42:16). In leading the blind in a way they know not, in paths they have not known: making darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. And hence they are mostly kept in the dark; sometimes about providences befalling the church, while heavy clouds hang over it: sometimes in the day wherein they live, and the word of his patience; sometimes in the dark about their state, and their assured interest in Christ; sometimes in the dark, as to comfort, when destitute of that necessary consolation their heavy case may require: sometimes in darkness about the word of God, when a vail is drawn over it; sometimes about the work of God, and what he is doing, when they cannot see his steps, nor hear his voice, nor read his mercy and loving-kindness by reason of darkness.
4. Hence see, that the Lord’s time of doing is not always his time of showing what he doth. He takes his own time of working, and his own time of showing his work. He may wash his disciples’ feet, and not let them understand what he is doing, till a more proper time, wherein he will show the glory of his work, which was hid. Hence prays the church, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children,” (Ps. 90:16). And his time of showing himself and his work is ordinarily very surprising and unexpected, may be, it is when their night is at the darkest, and their darkness at the blackest, then, according to his promise, “To the upright there arises light in darkness,” (Ps. 112:4). He makes darkness light before them: “When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto me,” (Micah 7:8). Sometimes indeed he manifests his work to them, when they are longing and hoping: “For he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry with good things,” (Ps. 107:9). And yet sometimes he doth it, when they have lost hope, as it were, and are least looking for it: “For the needy shall not always be forgotten; the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever,” (Ps. 918); intimating that they may be forgotten for a long time, but they shall not always be forgotten; their hope and expectation may seem to perish for a long time, but they shall not be forgotten forever, when it is just at the perishing, he pities poor perishing hope. Sometimes to show his regard to holiness and strictness of walk, he makes his glory appear to them, when they are exercised in practical piety towards God and man. Hence, “To the upright there arises light in darkness,” (Ps. 112:4). And “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him,” (John 14:21-22). And it is in this way we are to expect his coming to manifest himself and his work. Yet sometimes, to show the sovereignty of his grace, he manifests himself and his gracious work, when their religion is at a low ebb; their praying frame is gone; yea, and their backsliding multiplied, and their rebellion increased; “Thou hast not called on me, O Jacob; thou hast been weary of me, O Israel,” (Isa. 43:22); yet upon the back of the challenge, that he may melt their hearts with his surprising grace, he says, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for my name’s sake, and will not remember thy sins,” (v. 25); “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: and I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him, and to his mourners,” (Isa. 57:17-18). Some think even this is the season the text hath a relation to, “What I am doing, by washing thy feet, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” When after thou hast denied me thrice, I will give thee a look, and thou shalt go out, and weep bitterly. When, upon the crowing of the cock, thou shalt run away to a corner, and reflect upon thy grievous sins, and my gracious look, then shalt thou, with a melting heart, see more into the mystery of this washing: “What I do, thou knoweat not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” Again,
5. Hence see ground of enquiry, what the Lord hath been doing, and what you know thereof, and if it be hid and unknown to you or not.
[1.] Enquire what hath the Lord been doing, or what he is doing towards you at this occasion; hath he been stooping down to wash your feet?
Question: When may Christ be said, in a spiritual sense, to stoop down and wash his disciples’ feet?
Answer: (1.) Then he may be said to wash their feet, when he shows them their foul feet. O Sirs, hath the Lord been showing to you, by his convincing grace, what foul feet, what filthy affections you have, what a filthy heart, and what a filthy walk and conversation you have had? Hath he made the iniquity of your heels to compass you about? as it is, (Ps. 49:5). Hath he been making you say, with shame and sorrow, “Iniquities prevail against me?” O wretched man that I am! How, have I grieved his Spirit, and defiled my feet, by running into the mire? O was there ever such foul feet as mine that carried any to a communion table.
(2.) Then he may be said to wash their feet, when he makes them dip their foul feet into the fountain of his blood, opened for sin and for uncleanness. Hath he been showing you the fountain of sin and wickedness that is in you, and the fountain of cleansing and purification that is in Jesus; and making you, by faith, to run in to this fountain of the Lamb’s blood, that cleanseth from all sin? If thus he hath sprinkled his blood upon your heart and conscience, and intimate peace and pardon in his blood, and made it precious to you, not only as pardoning, but also purifying blood, then he hath indeed been washing your feet.
(3.) Then he may be said to wash their feet, when he makes them, with the woman, (Luke 7:38), that stood behind him weeping, to wash his feet with tears, and to wipe them with the hair of your head. Have you been admitted to such nearness to him, that with humble boldness you have laid yourself down at his feet? The woman was ashamed to look Christ in the face, but came behind him weeping. Have you been filled with holy humble shame, and confusion of face before him because of your sinfulness, and in the view and apprehension of his being pacified towards you, (Ezek. 16:63).
(4.) Then he may be said to wash their feet, when they are made to wash their feet in the blood of his enemies; as is said of the righteous, “He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked, and rejoice when he sees the vengeance,” (Ps. 58:10); so we may say of believers, when Christ is washing their feet, they desire to see the heart-blood of their and his enemies, their unbelief, atheism, and all their lusts and idols; their joy would be to see the vengeance of God upon them; they are filled with holy revenge against them, (2 Cor. 7:11). The reason of this being an evidence of his washing, is, because when he washes them, he doth it according to that promise, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you,” (Ezek. 36:25). Now, hath he thus been washing your feet.
[2.] Inquire what you know, with reference to his work; if you know that he hath been washing you, this is more than simple washing; and in such a case he is saying to you in effect, “What I do, thou knowest, and thou shalt know more hereafter.” It is one thing to be washen, another to be assured of it; and if he hath given you the assured knowledge of his work, surely somewhat of Peter’s amazement will fill your heart, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” O Sirs, wonder, wonder men and angels, that the Lord of glory should have stooped down so far below himself to such a filthy worm as to wash me in his blood “What shall I render to the Lord? Is this the manner of man?” But this is not every one’s allowance. O, be thankful and humble; and whatever you know this way, remember you know but in part and there is much more in what he doth than yet you know. There are other believers here that perhaps know not all that Christ hath been doing with them, “He hides his face, and they are troubled.” They cannot say he hath been washing their feet, but rather wounding their hearts, and frowning upon them; standing at a distance, and keeping them at the back of the door; the Comforter that should relieve their souls being far away. Well, as the believer, that is clear, knows not how soon he may be under a cloud, so the believer that is under a cloud, knows not how soon the sky may be cleared; and both these cases may be paving the way for what is a-coming, when the Lord’s design breaks out; therefore, whatever be the case, let this world be still the consideration, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Therefore,
6. Hence let us see the duty of all, both saints and sinners, in this great meeting of people. It yields special instruction to all the saints and children of God, whatever their case be and whatever the Lord is doing, especially if his way be hid and unknown, dark and mysterious in any respect to them; and first to disciples.
(1.) It is your duty, O believer, to mark what the Lord is doing; to observe his stately steps and goings in the sanctuary though they be very hid and unknown; yea, the rather that they are dark and mysterious, they are the more worthy to be known. It is a mark of the graceless, they consider not the operations of his hand. “But whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.” This observing comprehends a believing that the Lord is carrying on his work, though clouds hide him from our sight, and a passing a suitable judgment on what he is doing, construing all for the best; this is to consider wisely of his doing, (Ps. 64:9). Believing that all is good, and for the good of his people, we should consider his work, till we observe his loving-kindness therein. Therefore,
(2.) It is your duty never to judge harshly of his doings, however hid and unknown they may be; yea, however heavy and afflictive. Will you measure God’s love by outward dispensations, or even by inward desertion? Though, indeed, it becomes you to weep when the bridegroom is away, as well as to rejoice when he is present, yet measure not his love by his providence, but by his promise. It is the foolish child that thinks the mother hath cast him off every time she is out of sight, or has given him out of her arms; therefore, say not, when he hides himself, “Oh! his heart is changed, his love is gone; all he did, was but a delusion; there is no hope, all is undone!” Whatever be his dealings, though you should not be able to give an account of them, yet what you cannot believe by knowing, you must know by believing; we must believe when we cannot know; wink at providences, and open your eyes to promises.
(3.) Do not quarrel and question what you do not know, but stoop down and stand in awe; “Be still, and know that he is God,” and will act like himself; set not limits to the holy One of Israel, by concluding that he will not come, because he comes not in the time and way that you imagine. Be afraid to think that you could manage otherwise, and do better than infinite wisdom sees fit to do. What abominable pride is that O entertain high thoughts of him, whose ways are so high above your reach, and what he doth, you know not; and if his works are so high above you, how high and unsearchable are his counsels; yet, O still remember, whatever clouds are or may be in your sky, he hath established a firm connection between black dispensations and fair promises.
(4.) If you would know more of what the Lord is doing, you must study to be practical Christians, and to walk in the fear of the Lord; for “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him,” (Ps. 25:14). The nearer you live to God the more may you expect to know of his mind, and to be led by an unseen hand in a dark day; for “The meek will he guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his ways:” study therefore to walk humbly with your God; and what he doth, though you know not now, you shall know hereafter.
(5.) Be not proud and lifted up if you know more than others, and if he be using you as friends, according; “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord doth; but I have called you friends: for all that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you,” (John 15:15). And, lest you be exalted above measure, think not strange though he should order a thorn in the flesh for you, and a cross to keep you down; remember how formerly the cross hath borne down your pride, restrained your predominant, and put you to your prayers, and sent you groaning to a God in Christ. Be not proud of what you know; for though you be in higher favor than some of your neighbors, you know not what weather is coming, nor what storms may blow upon you, or upon the Church of Christ; or whether this be your last communion.
(6.) If what he doth be dark and unknown to you now, O wait upon him who says, “Ye shall know hereafter.” O wait upon him believingly; when his work is dark and hid to you, it is the proper season for faith to bud and bring forth: “I will wait upon the Lord that hides his face from the house of Jacob,” (Isa. 8:7). Even when promised things look like improbable and impossible things; yet, having the firm word of God, that cannot lie nor change, there you are to rest as anchored upon that immoveable rock, and ride out all storms of carnal reasoning and corrupt suggestions. Wait upon him patiently: “The Lord is a God of judgment, blessed are all they that wait for him,” (Isa. 30:18); “I waited patiently upon the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock and established my goings; and he put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God,” (Ps. 40:1-2). Whatever be his dispensations, though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: whatever dark clouds appear, either in his work or his word. The poor woman of Canaan met with many discouraging things, even in her application to Christ: at first he answers her not a word; and when he speaks a word the first thing he said, seeming to exclude her out of his commission, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Alas now might she say, I need pray no more, I am a castaway! Nay, but she goes on saying, “Lord, help me:” then he calls her a dog; yet still she waits, and then gets a merciful and marvelous hearing: “O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Go on thus, believer: O incredulous believer, give him trust, and give him time, and he will clear all to you in the issue, though it should be through fire and water that he brings you to the wealthy land. You have his promise sealed with his precious blood, and his solemn oath, that when you go through the fire and through the water he will be with you, whether you discern him or not. You know not now what he doth or designs; you know not now what deep steps are before you in point of trouble; but with his promise in your hand, you may say as it is, “Thou which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shall bring me up from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side,” (Ps. 71:20). You know not what foul steps are before you in point of sin. Now I am washing thy feet, might Jesus say to Peter, but thou knowest not that this is but a dark specimen of another sort of washing you will very soon need: “For before the cock crow twice, you will deny me thrice,” notwithstanding your present resolution, that though all men forsake me, yet will not thou. You know not now, that you will fearfully defile your feet, even after I have washen them. O wonderful Jesus that he should wash the feet he knows will be so soon in the puddle again! But whatever should come about, though Satan, through his temptations should hurry you into the mire of six; yet beware of being hurried on the back of that into the depth of despair: for that is what the devil drives at, that he may make you affront both the law and the gospel of God at once; that having tempted you to dishonor his name, by breaking his commandments in the law, he may thereupon tempt you to discredit his grace, by despairing of any good from him by the promise of the gospel; therefore, O believer, see the need of waiting and watching every moment, and the need of the Lord’s washing and watering every moment, according to the promise; “I the Lord do keep it, I will water it every moment,” (Isa. 27:3). Think not that one washing or watering now will do your business; though, through the Lord shining upon you, you were in a heaven of joy and consolation this moment, you know not but, through his hiding and withdrawing, you may be in a hell of sin and sorrow the next moment; and though our glorious Lord were washing your feet this moment, I cannot promise, but, before the cock crow twice, your feet will be as dirty as ever they were: therefore, O wait and depend upon him, for washing and watering you every moment.
O beware of security; for you never got so much of his grace and fulness one moment, as shall allow you liberty to slacken your dependence upon him in the next. In this way of waiting upon him, though now you know not what he doth, yet you shall know hereafter; and he will give you occasion to see him bring his work, though it should be through terrible ways, to an amiable issue, and give occasion to say, “Come and see the works of the Lord; he is terrible in his doings towards the children of men: he turned the sea into dry land, and there did we rejoice in him,” (Ps. 66:5-6). He turned a sea of tribulation into a dry land of consolation; and “Come and hear all ye that fear God, and I will tell what he hath done for my soul,” (v. 10). What he doth now, by all the blinks and showers, the vicissitudes and changes, the storms and calms of your case, the dark and mysterious ways he takes you through, he will come, soon or late afterwards, and explain to you, saying, as it is, “Thou callest in trouble, and I delivered thee; I answered thee in the secret place of thunder; I proved thee at the waters of Meribah,” (Ps. 81:7). “I girded thee, though thou didst not know me. What I do, thou knowest not now,” (Isa. 45:5). It may take some days or years to explain what he now doth: however little or much you know, perhaps a day of approaching trial will make you know more; a day of death may make you know it better; but the day of glory best of all. You shall know, hereafter, believer, partly on earth, and perfectly in heaven; graciously in time, and gloriously through eternity.
I shall now conclude with a word to enemies, to sinners, that are yet utter strangers to our Saviour Jesus Christ. O ye that are despisers of the Lord of glory, though he hath been set forth evidently crucified before you at this occasion, What shall I say to you? May not I tell thee, O sinner, how this text may be applied to you? Christ is saying even to thee, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” He hath been doing something before your eyes at this occasion, and you know it not; yea, he hath been doing something to you that you do not know and consider; though he hath not been washing your feet, yet he hath been offering to wash you, and not your feet only, but your head and hands; for the believer that is washed already by regenerating grace, needeth not, save to wash his feet; but you need that your head and heart be washen, as well as your hands and feet. You need to be washen from the filthiness of your state, as well as from the filthiness of your ways; but whatever washing you need, he hath been offering it, and himself to be the doer of it, saying, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me.” And to this moment he is offering himself to you, saying. “Wilt thou be made clean?” Wilt thou let me wash thy heart, and hands, and feet? No, no, says unbelief; thou shalt never wash my feet, it is too much for Christ the Son of God to do; I will wash myself, and repent, and turn religious against some other time; for the present I am otherwise taken up. Will you resolve to put no employment in Christ’s hands? Is that the way you treat his kindly offer, when he opens the door of mercy to you, and calls you by this minister, and that minister, and the other minister, all telling you that you shall be welcome for all your sins, and saying, “Him that cometh, I will in no wise cast out?” Be who you will, young or old sinner, behold the humble Jesus makes the most condescending offer to you that ever men or angels heard. O filthy sinner, will you let me wash you; “For, if I wash you not, you have no part in me,” nor ever shall?
If you are so wedded to your filthy lusts, that you are not willing to be washen from them, I must tell you, that you know not what you are doing, and know not what Christ is doing; “but you shall know hereafter,” either in a way of wrath, to your great confusion; or in a way of mercy, to your deep remorse.
1. What he doth by this offer to wash you, you shall know hereafter to your confusion. Perhaps, when you are gasping for breath upon a death-bed, and, conscience awaking, shall begin to say, O many a sweet offer of Christ and mercy did I get, and slighted, and this amongst the rest, when he offered to wash my feet, and I refused and rejected his offer! You shall know hereafter, when you shall hear the awful doom pass against you, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels;” and when, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, you shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, apostles, and followers of the Lamb in the kingdom of heaven, and yourself shut out; and when thou shalt think and say, “O vile wretch that I was, I might have been yonder in glory; but I was taken up with the vain world, and my vile lusts, and was unwilling to be washen from them, and now I must be lodged in hell among devils and damned reprobates forever.” Oh! think upon this before it be too late
2. If mercy prevent you after this refusal: What he now doth you shall know hereafter to your bitter remorse. If ever the Lord have mercy on you, and manifest himself to you, oh! how will it go like a sword to your heart, and pierce you to the quick, when he shall say, “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt!” I am Jesus your Saviour, whom you slighted! I am he whose cries you contemned, and whose kind offers you disregarded: when I offered to wash your feet, you lifted up your heel against me; and now, “How shall I put thee among the children? “How shall I deliver thee, that hast so undervalued my kindness, and trampled on my blood, wherein I offered to wash you? What a knell will this be to your heart, if he have mercy upon you afterwards; and O that the bitter remorse were begun in your bosom, this moment, with a woe is me that I have slighted such an offer so long. O! is he saying to the vilest sinner in this company, Come and let me wash you! O then, were your heart saying, Lord, come and welcome! O come and wash my conscience from the guilt, and my heart from the filth of sin; it were good. Are you cordially willing, and presently willing, and universally willing to be washen in his blood from all your filthiness, and from all your idols? Why then? I hope he is doing something upon your heart and will, which, though now you cannot understand, he will explain mercifully in due time; for it is his own promise: “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”