Cleanliness may not be on par with godliness, but it sure comes close. In April of 1847, nearly 1 in 6 women who gave birth in Vienna, Austria died from a disease known as puerperal fever, or childbed fever. Just nine months earlier, the medical staff at Vienna’s First Obstetrical Clinic hired a physician named Ignaz to assist the Professor Johann Klein in his duties as an obstetrician.

As Ignaz sought to find the source of the clinic’s high mortality rate, a good friend who worked in the autopsy room at the clinic died from childbed fever. This led Ignaz to arrive at the conclusion that he and the interns who worked with him in the autopsy room must have been transferring “cadaverous particles” (not known as germs at the time) from their hands to the patients they examined.

As a result of Ignaz’s conclusion, he decided to implement a policy which required everyone who worked in the clinic’s autopsy room to wash their hands in a strong disinfectant. In June of 1847 — a full month after he enacted his new policy — the death rate of childbearing women at the clinic dropped to 1 in 45.

The physician who made this groundbreaking discovery is now considered a pioneer of antiseptic policy. You may know him as Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis.

What can Christians learn from this medical pioneer? For one thing, Semmelweis’ discovery reminds us of the importance of regularly washing our spiritual hands. Christ may have cleansed us and set us free from the power and penalty of sin, but our hands and feet still get dirty each day. Whether in word, thought, or deed, we all come short of God’s expectations for us. Confession of our faults is the means of our cleansing.

You are free indeed in Christ, and so I hope that you will keep your hands clean today.

Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness. — John Wesley

Devotional by Pastor Jim Scudder, Jr.