Chapter 4 - A Brand from the Burning


(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?

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."

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.