IN the beginning of this chapter the prophet speaks as in the person of Christ, and declares what great and sweet things the Lord will do for his people. Christ says that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, the Father having anointed him as his Prophet, Priest, and King to do certain things, accomplishing his divine will. Now, what things were these? This Christ goes on to unfold. To preach good tidings to the meek, to such persons as the Lord had made, by divine teaching concerning their ignorance and sin, of a teachable disposition, ready, with thankfulness, to receive the glad tidings of a full and free salvation.
In this way, with words full of the sweetest and freest grace for the ruined and the lost, Jesus goes on to describe his mission from God. Amongst other things, he says that the Father sent him to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion all sorts of blessings suitable to their states and conditions. And as they principally mourn over their want of any righteousness of their own in which to appear before God, and feel their natural guilt and wretchedness, to give them the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, or to clothe them, as before God, in his own obedience wrought out for their sakes.
In the last two verses the prophet personates the church, and speaks as in the name of those children of God in respect of whom Christ has fulfilled these gracious promises, and comforted their hearts. Thus, in the words of our text, the church is represented as expressing her triumphant gladness in what Christ has done for her: "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness."
There is no question of greater importance than that of Job: "But how should man be just with God?" Just he must be to stand before him with acceptance. How can this be accomplished? Our text answers the question. Happy is the man whom God in this matter has shown what is good, and who triumph in the Lord his righteousness. O! How sweet have these words been to our own souls:
"Without one thought that's good to plead,
O! What could save us from despair
But this, though we are vile indeed,
The Lord our Righteousness is there?"
But we proceed to our text. In speaking from these words, we shall notice five things:
I. In order to stand before God acceptably, a man must appear before him in a sufficient righteousness.
II. No man, naturally, has such a righteousness of his own.
III. These truths God's people are deeply convinced of by the Holy Spirit, and made, therefore, to seek after a righteousness adequate to their wants.
IV. Such a righteousness is provided for them by God.
V. And, in due season, the Lord will enable them to so powerfully lay hold of and embrace this righteousness in their hearts, that they shall be enabled to say, in the words of the prophet, "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness."
I. In order to stand before God, ire need a righteousness. This is plain, both from the express declarations of God's Word, and also from what the Scripture teaches us concerning the perfections of God. It is positively said in the Word that "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God." And in Ps. 1:5 it is written: "The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." These are plain, positive statements, and exclude in express terms every man who is destitute of righteousness from the presence and kingdom of God.
But if we consider the Scripture declarations concerning the perfections of God, this becomes yet more manifest. God is an infinite Being. He is light without darkness. All his perfections are infinite. So it is and must he with his righteousness. He is not only a just God, but Justice itself; not only doing what is righteousness, but Righteousness itself; essentially, necessarily, eternally righteous. It is no dishonor to God, but the ascription to him of infinite perfection, to say he cannot lie, he cannot be unjust.
Now, then, how can God, this infinitely holy, this necessarily just God, pronounce a man who appears before him without a righteousness a just man? What should we think of the justice of a judge who would pronounce a convicted criminal to be a righteous person, and worthy, not of condemnation, but of praise? Here, then, we see the absolute necessity of appearing before God, if we would be accepted by him, as righteous persons, not as sinners; as having on an adequate righteousness. 0 the folly of thinking without a righteousness to pass through the pearly gates into the holy city, or of hoping to stand in peace before the great white throne of God!
But here it may be asked, What, then, is righteousness? In man it is a perfect coming up to the standard of the requirements of God's holy and just and good law. Nothing short of this is a righteousness sufficient to clothe a man before the throne of God. There must be no failure, no imperfection, no short weight, no balances of deceit. No; the standard is the holy law; and that law will never pronounce the man a righteous man whose fancied righteousness is spotted with sin, and fails of completeness. Here we must make no mistakes. Remember, God is infinitely just; his law infinitely perfect. Can God be satisfied with partial instead of perfect obedience? With reverence we say it,—God himself would not be a just God if he could. What should we think of the tradesman who gave us short weight or measure? Could we count him a just tradesman, and his dealings just? Should we ourselves be just to call him so? No. Will God, then, take our partial service for full measure, and call it justice? Assuredly not. He were not the just God he is to do so. But let us pass on to our second part.
II. No man has naturally such a righteousness of his own as God's righteousness requires. Here, again, the Scripture is express. "There is none righteous, no, not one." God, looking down from heaven upon the children of men, could not find one amongst the posterity of Adam who was in himself a just man. Solomon says, "God made man upright." So he assuredly did; for he made him in his own image. "But they have sought out many inventions."
What a picture Paul gives us of all mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike, in the first three chapters of Romans. He therein charges all men with sin, and declares every man, without exception, to be in himself guilty before God. A moment's consideration concerning the nature of God's law makes this more abundantly evident. The law briefly requires three things, and these three in perfection:
1. A correct knowledge of God in respect to his Being, so far as this is revealed in the Word. Now, God has plainly revealed that in the Unity of the One Self-existing Essence there is a Trinity of Persons, Co-equal and Co-eternal,—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As it is written: "Hear, O Israel; the Lord thy God is One Lord." This truth must be received in the heart, and embraced and held fast there in a living, powerful, practical manner, or the man is an idolater; and the law is broken, and not fulfilled. But, naturally, "there is none that understandeth, that seeketh after God." So all are naturally destitute of a legal righteousness.
2. The law demands for this One only Lord God, in a Trinity of Persons, who is the sole Creator and Upholder of all worlds, the perfect love of his creature man, and his perfect service. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength." That is, with every power and faculty of soul and body, in a perfect degree. No failings, no falling short. Every faculty, every passion, all of every faculty and every passion, and all the powers of mind and body, all must be devoted to the love and service of God who gives all, and to whom a man owes his own self, and all he is, and all he has.
3. The law says he is to love his neighbor as himself; and this love is to be a part of his obedience to God. No mere unsanctified affection, such as may be in man naturally for certain objects in a very strong degree. No. The second commandment is like unto the first, is united to and depends upon it. Thus then, service to God is to be all in all.
It is sufficient merely to thus briefly notice these truths to prove our second observation,—that man has naturally no sufficient righteousness of his own to stand in before God. We pass on to our third part.
III. All God's people are taught these truths, and thus made to seek after a sufficient righteousness. We read in Scripture that all God's children are to be taught of the Lord; and we know that, to fulfill this promise, the Lord not only gives his word, which declares the solemn truths already briefly insisted upon, but sends forth his Holy Spirit also into their hearts, to make them learn these truths in an effectual manner. When the Holy Spirit thus comes, he convinces the people of God of sin. And he does this by creating in them a new nature, as well as teaching them the meaning and truth of God's Word. If he did not come as a New-creator, in vain, we say it with reverence, were his teachings. The old nature learns nothing properly, nothing to profit. The blessed Spirit must give the faculty as well as the instruction. This he does. He is not only the Spirit of truth, but the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. He leads these children of God to God's holy law, not to make them undertake to do, or seek a righteousness by it. No. This is a working of the flesh which may, and generally does, take place in opposition to the Spirit's real instruction. He teaches a man out of God's law, to make him despair of keeping it in himself, or standing before God in any legal righteousness of his own. The right teaching out of the law is to die to all legal hopes of appearing before God in any righteousness but that which God has provided for the law-lost sinner.
Such, then, is the Holy Spirit's teaching, and this in due season he will make his scholars to understand. They have in them naturally a legal nature, and a great deal of self-righteousness. This makes them frequently, like Israel of old, undertake to do; and this fights mightily in their hearts against the righteousness of Christ, and against their own true peace. But the Holy Spirit is an almighty Teacher, and he breaks down the stout heart of nature, and makes the man despair of any righteousness of his own, and sigh and cry for the righteousness God himself has provided. This teaching, in the substance of it, common to all God's people. It may be carried on in diverse ways and degrees in various individuals; but all are at length brought by it to the same spot,--the place of stopping of mouths, and to hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ, that blessed righteousness which God has provided for them, and of which we will now speak.
IV. The robe of righteousness mentioned in our text, we need hardly tell our hearers, is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, wrought out when upon earth for poor lost sinners. But let us go a little more fully into this subject.
We read that, in the councils of eternity, the Second Person in the glorious Trinity, the Son of the Father in truth and love, was set up as the Christ of God, the Mediator of sinners. It being necessary, according to the justice of God, that man, to stand before him acceptably, should appear before him in a perfect righteousness, and his people, in God's infinite foreknowledge, being in the wretched, miserable condition we have represented, destitute of righteousness, and, therefore, exposed naturally to wrath, the Lord Jesus undertook for them to present them faultless before the throne of God in such a righteousness as should answer all the requirements of justice, and make even the law of God perfectly honorable, yea, magnify it in the sinner's freedom from condemnation, and entrance into the heavenly places.
But how is this to be accomplished? In carrying out his sweet undertakings, the Lord Jesus Christ must be made man. The only Redeemer must be one in human nature; and not only this, in our nature. He must not only be man, but our near Kinsman. He must be bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. But behold the difficulty. How so near to us, and yet not partake of our guilt and sin? This is solved in the wisdom of God by the miraculous conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was never like we were federally in Adam. He was that new thing, as well as that holy thing, which should be born of Mary. On this account a virgin must conceive and bear a son. The power of the Highest must overshadow her; and that which is born of her being thus miraculously conceived was without Adam's guilt or Adam's corruption. Here we have, then, a Brother born for our adversity, and one without our sin.
"For he who will for sin atone,
Must have no failings of his own."
We have put this, to the best of our ability, in scriptural language; and must say, as to this sublime mystery of an Incarnate God, Immanuel, God with us,
"Bow down, sense and reason;
Faith only reign here."
"No nearer we venture than this
To gaze on a deep so profound;
But tread, while we taste of the bliss,
With reverence the hallowed ground."
But Christ, being made of a woman, must also be made under the law, if he will provide those under the law with such a righteousness as shall magnify the law and make it honourable. This he was; and in token of his voluntary subjection to the law, he was circumcised the eighth day. Here, then, we have One under the law proper to fulfill the law for us, because truly and really man, one in our nature; and able to fulfill it because God, and by his obedience to bring in for all his people an everlasting, law-fulfilling, and law-abiding righteousness. Accordingly, we read that in his holy spotless life he acted as his Father's Servant for his people. "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold." He in everything fulfilled the law his people had broken. "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." In him, the Father was always well pleased. He did always those things which were perfectly well pleasing to God. And all this he did for his people, to provide them a robe of righteousness.
On this robe there is no spot, for he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. In this robe there is no deficiency. It was woven from the top throughout with one continuous perfection of obedience. It is amply sufficient to cover millions of naked unrighteous sinners; for it is the righteousness of God, as wrought out by a Person in the Godhead. It is suitable and fitting for these persons to clothe them before God's throne; for it is the righteousness of a Man as well as a God; for "God was manifest in the flesh." It knows no change.
"This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years;
No age can change its glorious hue;
The robe of Christ is ever new."
Thus the Second Adam stood where the first fell. We are raised up under the apple tree. By one man's disobedience, as an old covenant head, all were made sinners, as seen in him naturally; by the Lord Jesus Christ's obedience, as a new covenant Head to those who were put in him, and counted to be in him eternally, many were made righteous. Christ, their Second Father, walks in the heavenly places in garments dyed in blood; and the believer may say that his righteousness is always in heaven.
This obedience, then, of Christ, as made of a woman, and made under the law for their sakes, is the robe of our text. Properly speaking, his active obedience for them is this righteousness. But, then, we must remember that righteousness is never counted where any sin is found; therefore it was necessary for Christ not only to live for his people, but to suffer and die for them also. Thus his spotless robe must be dyed in his own blood, as he himself appeared to Isaiah, and to John in Patmos. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his [saving] strength?" So writes Isaiah. And in Rev. 19. we read of Christ: "And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood."
Here, then, we have the wondrous all-sufficient provision of God for his people. Man needs a righteousness, perfect and complete, to stand before God. Man naturally has none. This all God's people see and feel; and, therefore, sigh for a remedy. The great provision of God is set before us by Isaiah: "The robe of righteousness." We now come to the last part of our subject.
V. God, in due season, not only reveals this righteousness to his people, but he strengthens their faith, so as to enable them to consciously wear it before his throne, and cry with Isaiah, "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness."
We have already seen that the Word of God sets forth plainly the state and condition of every man as in our first parent, Adam. Beheld in him, every man is exposed to the curse and wrath of God, as chargeable with sin, and destitute of a law-sufficing, justice-satisfying righteousness. Of this we have also seen that the Holy Spirit convinces all God's people. He shows them effectually their natural condition, and causes them by his teachings to look-about for a remedy. Such a remedy is provided in the righteousness of Christ. There is no other. His obedience imputed to the sinner as a righteousness is the only robe which can cover him, and hide him from the judgment and wrath of God. This blessed provision the Holy Spirit reveals to God's people in due time. He covers them experimentally with the robe of righteousness.
Let us now, then, consider how this is done. In the first place, there is the revelation of this righteousness in the gospel. On account of this very revelation of the Saviour's righteousness it is called "the Word of righteousness." And the grand distinction Paul makes between babes and others in Christ is that the former are unskillful in the Word of righteousness, and, consequently, easily overcome by the temptations of Satan; whilst the others are better able to fight the fight of faith, pleading the righteousness of Christ against all law charges and satanic accusations. They overcome Satan more successfully by the word of their testimony. Paul tells us, too, how he himself gloried in the gospel on this very account, because it was the Word of righteousness. He was not ashamed of it; he triumphed in it because therein was the righteousness of God; i.e., the sweet obedience of Christ for the sinner, revealed from faith to faith,—from one degree of faith to another.
But, then, there must not only be the revelation of this righteousness, this blessed obedience of the Son of God for sinners, in the Word; but it must be also revealed according to the Word in the heart. As Paul says: "To reveal his Son in me." This is the work of the Holy Ghost. He convinces of righteousness. He explains to the heart the nature of Christ's righteousness; how sufficient, how freely bestowed upon those who are taught by God to feel their need of it, how received into the heart only by faith, and how it must be kept distinct from all works of our own, from all that is even wrought in us by the Lord himself, even from faith itself; yea, from the very faith which receives it.
How infinitely glorious of itself, how precious, how divine! Now, this teaching makes the soul long after this blessed gift of righteousness with unspeakable desires. O how the man wants to be able to see and say, This robe is mine. "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness." Nothing will thoroughly satisfy this man but an assured persuasion of his possession of the righteousness of Christ. He knows without it, as seen only in Adam, as clothed merely in the worse than filthy rags of any righteousness of his own, or by nature, he must be lost. He is not without a hope in Christ; he is not really destitute of this very righteousness which he so longs after. Just as the man who truly prays for the Spirit has the Spirit already, and as the man who truly longs to know his election is elect, so the man who hungers and thirsts for Christ's righteousness really possesses it, really is righteous; but what he wants is the assurance of this, the enjoyment of the blessing, the sweet satisfaction of being able, with the Spirit's witness, to say, "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness." Now, for this he must wait God's time. He cannot force himself into an assured state; he cannot, must not, be forced into it. The place for the man is the waiting-place. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." And, says the Lord, "they that wait for me shall not be ashamed." God has blessings indeed for those who wait for him. One of the choicest actings of a true faith is to bring a man into a patient waiting for Christ.
says waiting faith. "Give me children, or I die," cries rash impatience.
Now, what encourages this man to wait is really hope in God. He is not now accursed; but what he wants is that which God alone can sovereignly bestow,—the sweet joy and peace in believing which flow from a triumphant wearing of the robe of righteousness. Sometimes, nay, not unfrequently, before this blessing is given, the man sinks into a very low place; perhaps ready to give up all in his feelings, and to conclude that the blessing in enjoyment never shall be his, and, therefore, to fear lest his state after all cannot be that of one already blessed. "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Usually a dark hour precedes the dawn of the fairest day,—a dark night of many fears before the bright day of the Sun of righteousness arising with healing in his wings. But the Word and Spirit alike encourage the man to wait; and ministers seek in their preaching to do the same, pointing out the evidences of life, testifying spiritually of the present blessedness of the man's condition, not seeking to force him forward, or to lead him to force his way into the Ark, but to bring him
"To humbly wait at Wisdom's door,
Till mercy lets him in."
In due time this shall be done.
Now, when this sweet day of triumphant deliverance comes, the Holy Spirit gives to the soul a more full, clear, and powerful discovery of the finished work of Christ. He shows, in accordance with the Word, more plainly and gloriously the righteousness of Christ. Accompanying this clearer discovery will be a stronger acting of faith; for faith acts in accordance with the degree of a divine revelation. Now, then, faith becoming strong, hope in this righteousness will be strengthened likewise; and the sinner, enabled to reflect upon his own blessed state and condition with a divine consciousness of its goodness, can say, "This righteousness is mine. 'He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.'" Now is given to the man in conscious possession and enjoyment the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Now he shines, for his light is come. It was his before; now his in delightful enjoyment. His righteousness has come forth like brightness, and his salvation as a lamp that bnrneth. Now is fulfilled upon him the sweet word of Isaiah: "Drop down, ye heavens, from above; and let the skies pour down righteousness." This is the righteousness of Christ, revealed and bestowed from heaven; revealed in the Word, and freely given by God. "Let the earth open;" that is, let the heart open to drink in the heavenly showers. When this is done, righteousness is enjoyed in the heart, which now becomes sweetly fruitful in peace, joy, obedience, and love. Then the soul cries, "This is our God; we have waited for him." Ours before; now ours in enjoyment. "We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
"'Tis he adorns my naked soul
In robes prepared of God,
Wrought by the labour of his Son,
And dyed in his own blood."
How blessedly is all this illustrated in the case of Joshua the high priest in Zech. 3. There, in the vision, stood Joshua before the angel. Thus the living man really stands in his conscience before God. But, in truth, it is God as in Christ he has to do with. Joshua stood, not before abstract Deity, but the Angel of the everlasting covenant. He stood there at first as in filthy garments. Such was his conscious feeling state as before God. Nor could he disrobe himself of these filthy garments. There Satan stood at his right hand, plying him with fierce accusations drawn from his feelings of his state, and from the holy law of God. "You are a sinner," he would say, "and destitute of a righteousness, and clothed only in filthy rags. You know that such is your state and condition as a sinner; you feel it; and as you feel, you are. Well, then, you are one whom God will punish and send into hell. He is angry with you, and will destroy you for ever." Happily for Joshua, he had One stronger than Satan on his side; One who had already plucked him as a brand from the burning; One who knew and could testify of God's choice of and love to him; One who could effectually rebuke Satan; One, too, who could, by a word of power, make Joshua's iniquity pass from him, and clothe him with change of raiment. This One was Jesus. Christ had loved him, died for him, risen again for him; Christ had wrought out for him a spotless, changeless, eternal robe of righteousness. We speak, in a scriptural way, of things which then actually were not as though they were. Christ now, in a time of love and power, comes to give him the enjoyment of the blessing; or, according to the words of our text, rejoice the heart of Joshua by enabling him to say, "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness."