Chapter 4 - A Brand from the Burning

A GOSPEL ADDRESS.
(ZECH. iii. 1—4.)

The words that I have read, beloved friends, apply properly to the receiving back again of the Jews in the last days, when the Lord puts away their iniquity. Joshua the high priest is the representative of Israel, and he represents them both in their iniquity, which God puts away, and in the blessed place into which he is brought afterward. But then God’s reception of any sinner, or of any company of sinners, is on precisely the same pattern as that of any other. God has one way of saving, and only one; and therefore we may rightly take, without the least straining, the account that we have of God’s justification of His ancient people, the Jews, yet to take place in the last days, to represent the justification of any sinner now.

The doctrine fundamental to the gospel is that there is no difference between man and man ; - not no difference as to the amount of sins that anybody may have committed, or the aggravation of them; for, truly, the day of judgment will bring out a difference, and put everybody exactly in his place according to his works, that is, those who are not saved by the gospel. It is true, then, that there are various degrees of sin, and God will judge with perfect equity as to all; but that is no question of salvation. As to that, everybody is precisely upon the same footing: "There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." It does not say, "all have sinned so many times;" but it says, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

What was showing forth all through the Old Testament times was, that, according to the principle of works no one could ever be admitted into His presence, - no one could see God and live. That is what The apostle refers to: "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." God dwelt in the midst of Israel in visible glory. He dwelt in the tabernacle, or in the temple; but, beloved friends, He dwelt there, as you know, in a place that was carefully shut up from men, - out of which men were carefully excluded. Nobody could see His face and live. That was the great truth signified by the veil of the temple. The way into the holiest, the apostle says, "the way into the holiest" - the figure of heaven - "was not yet made manifest." Nobody could go in and see God.

As long as ever the law lasted, that was maintained. If you take Moses on the mount, when the law was given the second time, in Exodus xxxiii., xxxiv., you find that he asks to see God’s glory. And God says, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live"; but He says, "there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand, while I pass by: and it shall come to pass when my glory is passed by, that I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not be seen."

How much, beloved friends, would you know of a man if you only saw his back parts? What they saw then was God with His back to them, and His face turned away.

That was in the first great day of Israel’s glory, so to speak. Now look at another. When the temple was just reared up, and God came to take possession of it, the glory fills the building. What does it do then? Drives all the priests out. And Solomon says, "The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness." (i Kings viii. 12.) If He dwells in the thick darkness, what can you know about Him? If you, dear friends, are thinking of living for God in order to get into His presence, that is God’s word for you. All the time the law lasted you saw His back and not His face. He dwelt in the thick darkness. Is there any one of you who depends upon anything of the sort for acceptance, that has ever seen God’s face? Is there any one of you that dare say he can stand before Him on this ground? No one can! Because if it depends upon any work of your hands, be it the smallest thing you can imagine, still God is God, and we may work so as to satisfy ourselves very well, but it is another question as to satisfying God. And if I have to satisfy God, beloved friends, I cannot take it for granted that what I do will satisfy Him. I must have His judgment about it, therefore. But this we cannot have till the day of judgment; so we must go on until the day of judgment, and see how it turns out. Alas, and in the mean time you must go on in that awful uncertainty, drifting on, not knowing whither you are going.

I say if there is the smallest thing you have to do to be accepted with God, it will not do for you to say you have done it right. Are you infallible? Has not God said about your heart, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" And, if you cannot know your own heart, how can you trust its judgment? How can you tell it is not deceiving you?

The fact is, nobody has peace with God on that ground, and yet there is such a thing as peace. If I go to the New Testament, I find that "being justified by faith, we have peace with God ": and again, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Beloved friends, He means what He says. Is anxiety rest? Is doubt rest? Is not knowing where you will be in eternity rest? Is it peace to say "I do not think anybody can know whether he is saved"? There may be indifference and carelessness in all that, but not rest or peace. But there is such a thing as peace, and knowing. "These things I have written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life." People say, But that is presumption. Is it presumption to know what the apostle wrote that we might know? Is it presumption to take God’s word and believe it? The fact is, if you have got eternity before you, how can you rest for a moment while the question where you are to be is unsettled? No, you cannot: it is impossible.

If we cannot meet God upon the throne and, in judgment, - if we cannot by all that we can do get into His presence, - what are we to do? Beloved, He has rent the veil and come out to us. He has come out Himself when we could not go in. And, Christ’s blessed work being accomplished, He has opened heaven itself to us. Opened the way of access, by the blood which has been shed for us; and His free and gracious invitation now from the heights of glory into which He has gone is still "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Now look at what we have here, in this third of Zechariah. It is a sinner in his sins in the presence of God. Now, beloved friends, is not that the very thing you would be afraid to be? What do you think it must be for a sinner in his sins to be in the presence of God? When a soul is awakened, is not the first effort, the natural effort, to turn over a new leaf, forsake one’s sins, and so get into the presence of God without them? You never can. Whenever you meet God for the first time, you will find yourself in your sins in His presence. Nobody ever met Him in any other way.

God picked out the best man on the earth, and that was Job. The Lord said, "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man." There was not one like him, and God says it but when Job finds himself in the presence of God what does he say? "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The prophet Isaiah found himself in the presence of God, and probably he might have been the best man in Israel in his day; and he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim; each had six wings; with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, "Holy, holy, holy. is the Lord of Hosts," etc. And what does Isaiah say? "Then said I, woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts."

You are not in bad company when you are in company with Job and Isaiah; but what they found when they got into the presence of God was that they were undone sinners. Beloved friends, God alone can remove your sins, and you must be with Him to have them removed; and if you get into the presence of God in the day of His grace you will find Him for you. If you get into His presence in the day of judgment you will find Him against you. In the day of judgment He will be a just judge; in the day of grace He is a just Saviour. To be in His presence as a sinner now is SALVATION.

Job found it so: it was the end of his difficulty. "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," lifted him right out of where he was, and gave him more than he had before. That confession of Isaiah, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips," brought the live coal in die seraph’s hand to cleanse his lips: "Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." And here, again, we get a sinner with his sins, with a stopped mouth in the presence of God, and it is only to find God for him and not against him.

God is for us: that is the wonderful reality which the gospel gives. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ." Why? "Because it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." How is this? "Because therein" - in the gospel, the good news to sinners - " is the righteousness of God revealed." God’s righteousness is revealed, not in shutting sinners out of His presence, but in GOOD NEWS, - what God Himself can call "good news," - divinely suited to comfort the heart. If you receive them to-night, you will go away with your hearts as glad as they can be.

God is light. He is love: but He is light. "That which doth make manifest is light." When is a man in the presence of God? When he is revealed to himself, so - that be knows his own condition; and, beloved friends, the one thing that he knows as his condition always, when he first gets into the presence of God, is that he is clothed in filthy garments. He is a sinner in his sins, and nothing else.
It is a very easy thing, of course, for people to say "we are all sinners." If that is being in the presence of God, why we are all in the presence of God, for everybody will own he is a sinner. And that Pharisee, when the woman of the city came into his house, I suppose he would have owned that, yet he says, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for SHE is a sinner." Beloved friends, do you know what it is to distinguish yourselves from other sinners, and put the difference to your own credit? No man in the presence of God can feel like that. When a man is in the presence of God he is a real sinner, - a brand for the burning, if even plucked out. That is what the angel of the Lord says of Joshua: "Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" A brand plucked out of the fire is a thing put into the fire, to be burned. You may change your mind and take it out of the fire, but that is where it was, and it was sentenced to be burned. There is none righteous, says the law itself, - the very law that people appeal to. They say, Did not God give us the law? Well, what says the law? "There is none righteous: no, not one." This is God’s judicial sentence. And what is that said for? It is said, beloved friends, "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God."

Did you ever take your place, with your mouth stopped, guilty before God? Do you not see that is being in His presence? If you are in the presence of God you are only there with your mouth stopped. Not a word about other sinners. Not a word about difference between sinners. Not a word about degrees of sins. And let me say, too, not a word about good resolutions, or anything to the credit side against your sins! A man comes to me and says, "Well, yes, I did so and so; but - Now, I say "You are going to make excuses." If you say "I have done so and so," - it is all right. If you add "but" it won’t do. You are going to balance your sins with your good resolutions, - going to ask God to look at what you are going to be, instead of what you are. That is not being in the presence of God. Every one who before God is there GUILTY.

God has given that verdict that every mouth may be stopped. Then, beloved friends, you are not under probation. The trial is over; the sentence has been pronounced; and all your talking is only trying in vain to get God to give you a new trial.

He has pronounced definitely and positively against the whole world. Beloved friends, have you accepted His sentence? That is your only hope. No plea, - no telling God you will do something. If you get into the presence of God, it will be to say "I abhor myself." You do not abhor a man who is going to turn round and be respectable. When you get a man with whom you can do nothing, - an abandoned creature, - you give him up. That is the sort of man you abhor. When I abhor myself, I give myself up. I say it is no good trying to make anything of myself. Sentence is passed upon me - and if God does not show mercy, all is over; no looking forward to a day of judgment to be told how it will turn out then. Judgment has come. Judgment has been pronounced. Everybody has not yet got the exact measure of what he will get: that is true; but judgment is pronounced, and all the world is pronounced guilty before God.

"Clothed with filthy garments." Did you ever notice there a remarkable contrast? When it is a question of men’s righteousness, you will find the prophets saying "all our righteousnesses"—(that is not our sins, - our righteousnesses are not our sins, - our righteousnesses are our efforts to do something, - our righteousnesses are our best performances) - "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Not garments; they are not garments at all, - rags, "filthy rags." But when it is a question of our sins, God says, "clothed in filthy garments." They are not filthy rags, they are filthy garments, - he is covered with them. His filthy garments are his iniquity. Our righteousness does not cover us, but our sins do. "From the crown of the head to the sole of the foot there is no soundness, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores." This is man’s condition before God. If, now, as God’s word speaks to you, you learn what you are, and take your place in that way as a lost sinner, - a sinner covered with sins, - you now know what repentance is. "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Not "I abhor my sins." A good many do that: it is "abhor myself." Have you ever said "I am undone"? That is what Isaiah said. He did not say "I am going to be undone, if I do not turn over a new leaf." Did you ever say "I AM undone"? Did you ever know what it was to be "lost"?

The Lord Jesus Christ came to save that which was "lost." He speaks of Himself as going after the "lost. There is not a soul among these lost ones that is not found, - that the arms of everlasting mercy do not finally inclose. "He goes after that which is lost, until he finds it. The "sinner that repenteth" is "the sheep that is lost."

There is not a word from the sinner in our chapter, not a word from Joshua here. He does not do or say a thing. There he is, a sinner in his sins, wholly dependent upon the mercy and love of God, - upon that and nothing else, - a sinner in his sins, in the presence of God.

What will God do with a sinner in his sins? What can God do with a man clothed in filthy garments? Beloved friends, what will He do with you, if you are there?

Mark, - oh, mark it well ! - you have to stand before God in that very fashion, if you have not yet done so. You may defer it; you may put it off; you may refuse to think about it now; you may refuse to take God’s sentence home; you may say "Oh, well, I shall have plenty of company, if I am lost. There will be a good many more lost with me." That will not help you when you stand before God. You will find yourself an individual soul, - alone, and not in company, - or, I might say, only in company with Him whose eye will read you through and through and expose you to yourself, naked and deformed, and in your own proper condition. There will be no talking about your company then. There will be no thought about your neighbour. You will be a solitary sinner before God, with only His eye upon you. If you stand before Him thus now, you will find there is mercy for you. If you stand before Him then, you will find it everlasting destruction. This is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation. Now! - now, dear friends. And how long is that "now"? Every pulse-beat every tick of the clock, is a "now." You don’t know how many of them are left you. Friends, there is salvation for you to take hold of as instantaneously as that, because God knows what your need is. There is a rope out for souls that are drowning, that they may clutch on the instant. That is what you want. It is all very well for men who don’t know what eternity is to talk about having time. If I had a salvation to offer you that required a week to work out, I could not insure you a week. Blessed be God, I have got a salvation now for you.

A sinner in his sins in the presence of God! What will God do? Can you trust Him for that? Do you think there is any good thing in God’s heart toward you? Do you connect Him with a doctor and a dying bed? - or with the thunder-storm?

Is there any good in God’s heart toward man? Do you believe it? Do you believe it, beloved friends? We are in a land in which the mass of people profess to believe it. God gave His Son, but they won’t believe in Him. If they believed in God they would not think of Him always as a Judge, and in connection with a storm or a pestilence.

Did God give His Son to punish man? Did Christ die to reveal God as a judge? Why was it, then? Is there any good in God’s heart toward man? Beloved friends, when you come to this, that there is none in your heart toward Him, then you will be ready to admit that there is some in His heart for you. These two things go together.

Now the sinner has not a word to say for himself. "And the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" May I not do as I like? says the Lord. And the sinner being silenced, the adversary is silenced too. If the sinner has nothing to say, the adversary, too, has nothing to say. If you want to stop the adversary’s mouth, dear friends, stop your own mouth, and let God answer for you.
Well, now, it is as simple as possible. "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel; and he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him." That is the way sin is taken away, - just one word from God, "Take away the filthy garments from him." Beloved friends, is there anybody that Would like to hear a voice like that to-night? God has written it there, that every soul that likes may hear it. Did God write that for that sinner’s sake? Has He written the blessed words with which He met sinners of old, for their sakes? No; but for ours. He is the selfsame God to-day. He never changes. He never has any exceptions. Never! He is the same God everywhere, in every case the same, thoroughly trustworthy, never changing. And if you are in His presence now, in your sins, He says, "Take away his filthy garments from him." Do you believe that? Well, He gives you His word. If you do not believe that, He will give you His oath. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He is faithful, faithful, faithful. Do you know what "faithful" is? True to a pledged word. Faithfulness is in fulfilling a pledge. Somebody has a claim upon me in some way. I am faithful to my word, faithful to what I have promised. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Do you claim that faithfulness of God? If you bring nothing but sins to Him, you can claim it.

There is a confessed sinner in the presence of God. God is faithful and just to forgive him his sins. Has not God pledged Himself? Would He be faithful if He did not keep His word? You ask, perhaps, How can He forgive us our sins after that fashion? Beloved friends, because Christ died for sinners.

People argue, indeed, Christ died for sinners, and therefore you must do all you can to be a Christian, and so to be saved. You take yourselves out of God’s loving hands of mercy, which are longing to take hold of you: that is all. You make Him act in righteousness against you instead of in righteousness for you. God does not save in that way. God does not justify people as Christians, church members, and all that. He "justifies the ungodly," - the people who do NOT work for it. "To him that worketh not," - "worketh not," do you understand? That is God’s word, not mine, "To him that WORKETH NOT, but believeth on Him that justifieth the UNGODLY, his faith is counted for righteousness."

Do you think God means what He says? Do you think God does what He says? God "justifies the ungodly." Do you believe that? "Oh, yes," people say, "we believe that." Well, what are you going to do? "Going to do the best we can." Is not that it? - the best we can! Have we to do the best we can to be ungodly? If God justifies the ungodly, must not you be the sort of person that God justifies? Must you do some good to be ungodly? Ah, if you look at yourselves aright, you will find you are ungodly enough already, - ungodly enough to be justified. If you believe that, what do you do? Nothing! - because you believe. If you want to do something, you do not believe He justifies the ungodly. If you do believe He justifies the ungodly, you do nothing. Christ died for sinners, nobody else. He did not die for good sinners, or for the better class of sinners. He found one man who was the very chief of sinners, and He could not leave him unsaved. He took up that man, the chief of sinners as he was. He could not let him go. Because, if He let the chief of sinners go unsaved, people might have said, there is a limit to the power of the blood of Christ. There was one man, at any rate, that the blood of Christ was not sufficient to save. So God took up the chief of sinners and made an apostle of him. He wanted him to speak in men’s ears and hearts: "There! that is the sort of sinners I am saving. Those are the sort of sins that the blood of Christ washes off." Come, now, and put in your claim as a sinner to the precious blood of Christ, and you will get remission of sins. God will say, as to you, Take away his filthy garments from him.

But: He does not simply turn to others to say that. He turns to the sinner himself. He wants the sinner to know it. He does not wait until he gets to glory to say it to him. He says, "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee." He says "iniquity" here in the plainest terms He can. He does not say "filthy rags." He speaks it right out. He wants the sinner to know it.

Is there anybody here who can say, Oh that I could hear such a word to-night! If you are in company with Joshua now, those words will apply to you as well as him. Christ’s death can cover you; God’s mercy is for you. Still He says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Are you such? Perhaps, with doubt and perplexity, and all that sort of thing. Well, will you come? No right or wrong way of coming, if to Him. But, will you come? "I will give you rest." "I WILL give you rest." No uncertainty about it; not "perhaps," not "probably," I will give you rest, but I WILL give you rest. No doubt or uncertainty about Christ; He is the "yea and amen." "I will give you rest." He has made Himself responsible about it. Will you put that responsibility upon Him to-night? You cannot help answering as to whether you will come or not. You have answered it already to Him. You may reverse your decision; but you have either said "I do," or "I do not, want it." It is as simple as can be, beloved friends. Nobody can come right, in one way; nobody can come wrong, in another. That is, you know, a sinner cannot come in a right state, with right thoughts and feelings. He comes a sinner; but he comes right if he comes to Christ; for whosoever comes to Him He will in no wise cast out. Christ says, "Come unto me;" but He does not say in any particular way. Oh, beloved friends, if your hearts answer to Him now, He says, "I will give you rest." Just take your place with Joshua; confess your sins - nothing else; and He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.

But He does not merely cleanse you from your sins. "I will clothe thee with change of raiment." What does He do? He puts a robe of righteousness upon you. How is that? He puts Christ on you. Christ has not only died for men, He has gone up into the presence of God for men, and the very highest seat in glory is occupied by that One who was upon the cross for sinners. God has taken the Man who filled the cross to fill the throne of glory; God has taken Him up there in His presence, beloved friends; and there He is, a Man, a man forever. He has not merely gone back God, as He came: He has gone back Man, and to be man forever. There is a Man in the presence of God; in the nearest place he can be; a Man who has got a place for man, who never needed to get a place for Himself. He has worked for a place for man, and He has got it; and Christ is made of God unto us "wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" Christ our righteousness - the change of raiment for the filthy garments of iniquity; and Christ is righteousness to everyone who believes on Him.

Beloved friends, the soul that believes in Christ is as Christ is before God. What Christ is, he is: as righteous, unchangeably righteous; "righteous as He is righteous." We are accepted in the Beloved, before God as He is, with all His perfection; with all that God sees in Him for us, and the value of His work is ours with God.

That is the "change of raiment." One moment a sinner in your sins before God, and another moment clothed with Christ before Him, as Christ is before His eyes. And mark, God does all that. He does not say to the sinner, take off your filthy garments and put on these. He says to those who stand by, "Take away the filthy garments from him." He does not say put on these new garments. He says, "I will clothe you with change of raiment." God does all.

Now what does He say to you? He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins, and to make over Christ to you as your acceptance before Him. Is not God’s righteousness on your side now? What do you say? "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Why? "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed." For God must not only be a good God, a loving God, but a righteous God, and His righteousness is revealed. Where? In the cross. And is that against sinners? No! God’s righteousness is revealed in the cross; and that is not against sinners, but for sinners. The cross is death; the cross is judgment. The cross, beloved friends, is not the fruit of good works, or anything of that sort: it is the fruit of sin, although the sinless One took it. And if you want a title to the cross, your sins are the title. Take your sins; put them down in the presence of God; and God is faithful and just to forgive you your sins. Aye, and to give you the whole value of the work of Christ as you prove yourself thus to be one of those for whom Christ died. He will put you in absolute perfection be fore God, the absolute and unchangeable perfection of Christ forever and ever.