The familiar quotation -- "Cleanliness is next to godliness" - is an expression from the great preacher, John Wesley. He first used those words in a sermon entitled "On Dress." Though not a quote from the Bible, many have attributed it to the Scriptures over the years. I wonder if his godly mother ever voiced the idea to him while he was growing up under her care. Though it is not a quote from the Bible, it is a Bible principle. Wesley`s 200 year-old proverb still holds true: "Cleanliness is still next to godliness."
Wesley`s sermon makes mention of Sir Herbert`s advise for every one that fears God: "Let thy mind`s sweetness have its operation / Upon thy person, clothes and habitation." Jacob would be an Old Testament example of this truth. Having been sent away to find his bride, he turns toward home after many years, only to face grief when his daughter is raped and his sons take vengeance. In his grief, God appears to him and calls him back to Bethel, the place Jacob spent his first night away from home.
Bethel is the name Jacob gave to the place he saw the heavenly ladder in a dream and where he first heard the Lord speak. It was there that Jacob made his vow: "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go. And if he will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God" [Gen. 28:20,21].
Jacob had made God a promise, and God was calling him back to fulfill that promise. However, before arriving at Bethel, Jacob told his family to be "clean." How did they "cleanse" themselves? They put away their strange gods and changed their garments. They even voluntarily gave him their earrings [Gen. 35:1-4]. They did what Peter admonishes us to do: to let our outward adorning reflect the hidden man of the heart, "even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" [I Peter 3:4].
My favorite example of Biblical "cleanliness" is the account of Naaman the leper. He was told to dip seven times in the river Jordan to be cleansed of his leprosy. Leprosy, in the Bible, is a type of sin. In his pride, Naaman almost refused. Fortunately, for him, he was persuaded by his servant to dip those seven times. The Bible says that "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" [II Kings 5:14].
I like the account of Naaman for the spiritual truth it pictures. There is a river that flows from Calvary`s fountain: the blood of Jesus Christ. That river washes us from our sins [Rev. 1:5]. It may seem impractical; but, the remission of sin requires the shedding of blood [Heb. 9:22]. Now, it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could purify us, but the blood of Jesus Christ, who died once, for all [Heb. 10:10] "cleanses us from all sin" [I John 1:7].
Cleanliness is next to godliness. We cannot approach Him without our hearts being cleansed; we cannot represent him without our lives being cleansed. If anything is needed in our lives, second to godliness, it is cleanliness.
Cleanliness lets others know that we care: about our community, about our property, about our person. Cleanliness gives an object lesson to our children. It provides them a wholesome atmosphere and a proper example. Cleanliness evidences both discipline and diligence.
How do we keep our lives from ending on the "salvage" pile of humanity? Cleanliness: in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. Cleanliness maintains the things that we have, thus enabling us to gain more. It saves us money. It protects our health. Cleanliness enhances our appearance, creates opportunity, and raises property value. And there is nothing that can make you feel better after a long, hard day than a good bath or shower. Cleanliness works.