The Baptist Testimony – Volume 54 Number 4 April 2008

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The Word Has It
“Strengthen me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:28
Ken Floyd
MARBC State Representative

April’s Word: “Wash”

An old Hebrew proverb declares that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” In his classic book, “Great Expectations,” Charles Dickens describes the meticulous work of Mrs. Joe as she prepared for her family’s Christmas gathering. From the new linens that replaced the worn versions to the scrumptious feast to be served at dinner, her goal was a perfect dining experience for the holiday. In summarizing her compulsive behavior, Dickens shares that Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper who was obsessed by the motto “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Living in today’s “germophobic” society, it is hard to believe that there once was a time when germs and contamination were not taken seriously. Consider, for example, the commentary of Boyce Mouton regarding one man’s futile efforts to combat the poor medical practices of early nineteenth century clinics:

“In 1818, Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis was born into a world of dying women. The finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of “Childbed Fever.” One out of every six! Typically, every doctor’s daily routine began in the dissecting room where he performed autopsies. Regularly participation in this procedure helped to train and educate the practicing physicians. From the dissecting room, the doctor would make his way to the hospital to examine expectant mothers. However, the doctor would move into the examinations without ever pausing to wash his hands.”

“Dr. Semmelweis was the first man in history to associate these two routine aspects of doctors’ daily rounds with the resultant infection and death. His personal practice was transformed by this knowledge. His regular routine was to wash with a chlorine solution after each individual procedure. After eleven years and the delivery of 8,537 babies, he lost only 184 mothers — about one in fifty. This was a staggering contrast to the rest of his cohorts.”

“Dr. Semmelweis vigorously spent the rest of his life lecturing and debating with his colleagues. Once he argued, “Puerperal fever is caused by decomposed material conveyed to a wound. I have shown how it can be prevented. I have proved all that I have said. But while we talk, talk, talk, gentlemen – women are dying. I am not asking anything world shaking. I am asking you only to wash… [Please], wash your hands.” But virtually no one believed him. Doctors and midwives had been delivering babies for thousands of years without washing, and no outspoken Hungarian was going to change them now! Sadly, Semmelweis died insane at the age of 47, his washbasins discarded, his colleagues laughing in his face, and the death rattle of a thousand women ringing in his ears.”

Even greater than the anguish that Dr. Semmelweis suffered in recognition of the need for physical cleanliness is the distress that each person endures in recognizing the need for spiritual cleanness. The critical issue of being clean in order to be holy has long been recognized. Francis Bacon wrote in his work, “Advancement of Learning” (1605): “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” Similarly, almost two centuries later John Wesley observed in one of his sermons (1791) “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.”

The spiritual burden that every person faces regarding spiritual cleanliness is summarized in the anguished prayer of King David shared in Psalm 51:2 – Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Without being washed clean, every person will die spiritually from the contamination of sin. God makes it clear that cleansing is an absolute necessity for the forgiveness of sins, a right relationship with God, and the possibility of personal fellowship with Him. God shares often in His Word, “Be holy, for I am holy” (I.e., Leviticus 11:44-45; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:14-16). During His “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus declared, “Be you, therefore, perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The great news is that God’s Word declares the wonderful truth that Jesus loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5). This truth is expanded upon in Titus 3:4-6: But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

If you have not yet personally applied this important truth, borrowing the plea of Dr. Semmelweis, “Wash!” You can have the same assurance and confidence that David did when he prayed to God, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” Psalm 51:7.

You have His Word on it! (KEF)

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