This people's condition agreeth well with ours, though the Lord's dealing be very different. The confessory part of this prayer belongeth to us now; and strange it is, that there is such odds of the Lord's dispensations, when there is no difference in our conditions; always we know not how soon the complaint may be ours also. This prayer was prayed long before the judgment and captivity came on, so that it had a prophecy in the bosom of it. Nay, it was the most kindly and affectionate way of warning the people could get, for Isaiah to pour forth such a prayer, as if he beheld with his eyes the calamity, as already come. And indeed it becometh us so to look on the word, as if it gave a present being to things as certain and sensible as if they were really. What strange stupidity must be in us, when present things, inflicted judgments, committed sins, do not so much affect us, as the foresight of them did. Love Isaiah! Always,(303) as this was registrate for the people's use, to cause them to still look on judgments threatened, as performed and present, and anticipate the day of affliction by repentance; and also to be a pattern to them, how to deal with God, and plead with him from such grounds of mercy and covenant-interest: so it may be to us a warning, especially when sin is come to the maturity, and our secure backsliding condition is with child of sad judgments, when the harvest seemeth ripe to put the sickle into it.
There is in these two verses, a confession of their own sinfulness, from which grounds they justify God's proceeding with them, they take the cause upon themselves, and justify him in his judging, whether temporal or spiritual plagues were inflicted. In this verse,(304) they take a general survey of their sinful estate, concluding themselves unclean, and all their performances and commanded duties, which they counted once their righteousness: and from this ground, they clear God's dealing with them, and put their mouths in the dust; and so from the Lord's judgment they are forced to enter into a search of the cause of so much sin; and from discovered sin, they pronounce God righteous in his judgment. Perceiving a great difference in the Lord's manner of dealing with them, and their fathers, they do not refound(305) it upon God, who is righteous in all his ways, but retort it upon themselves, and find a vast discrepance between themselves and their fathers, verse 5. And so it was no wonder that God's dispensation changed upon them. God was wont to meet others, to show himself gracious, even to prevent strokes, but now he was wroth with them. Nay, but there is good cause for it. They rejoice and wrought righteousness, but we have sinned. And this may be said in the general, -- never one needeth to quarrel God for severe dealing. If he deal worse with one than with another, let every man look into his own bosom, and see reason sufficient; yea, more provocation in themselves than others. Always in this verse, they come to a more distinct view of their loathsome condition. Anybody may wrap up their repentance in a general notion of sin, but they declare themselves to be more touched with it, and condescend on particulars, yet such particulars as comprehend many others. And in this confession, you may look on the Spirit's work, having some characters of the Spirit in it.
I. They take a general view of their uncleanness and loathsome estate by sin; not only do they see sin, but sin in the sinfulness of it and uncleanness of it.
II. They not only conclude so of the natural estate they were born in, and the loathsomeness of their many foul scandals among them; but they go a further length, to pass as severe a sentence on their duties and ordinances as God hath done, Isa. i. and lxvi. The Spirit convinceth according to scripture's light, and not according to the dark spark of nature's light; and so that which nature would have busked(306) itself with as its ornament, that which they had covered themselves with as their garment, the duties they had spread, as robes of righteousness, over their sins to hide them; all this now goeth under the name of filthiness and sin. They see themselves wrapt up in as vile rags as they covered and hid: commanded duties and manifest breaches come in one category. And not only is it some of them which their own conscience could challenge in the time, but all of them and all kinds of them, moral and ceremonial, duties that were most sincere, had most affection in them, all of them are filthy rags now, which but of late were their righteousness.
III. There is an universality, not only of the actions, but of persons; not only all the peoples or multitudes' performances are abomination; but all of them, Isaiah, and one and other, the holiest of them, come in in this category and rank -- "we are all unclean," &c. Though the people, it may be, could not join holy Isaiah with themselves, yet humble Isaiah will join himself with the people, and come in, in one prayer. And no doubt, he was as sensible of sin now, as when he began to prophesy; and growing in holiness, he must grow also in sense of sinfulness. Seeing at the first sight of God's holiness and glory, he cried "unclean," &c. Isa. vi.5, certainly he doth so now, from such a principle of access to God's holiness, which maketh him abhor himself in dust and ashes.
IV. They are not content with such a general, but condescend to two special things, two spiritual sins, viz. omission, or shifting of spiritual duties, which contained the substance of worship. "None calleth on thee," few or none, none to count upon, calleth on thee; that is, careth for immediate access and approaching unto God in prayer and meditation, &c. Albeit external and temple-duties be frequent, yet who prayeth in secret? or if any pray, that cannot come in count, the Lord knoweth them not, because they want the Spirit's stamp on them. This must be some other thing than the general conviction of sin which the world hath, who think they pray all their days; here people, who though they make many prayers, Isa. i., yet they see them no prayers, and no calling on God's name now.
V. To make the challenge the more, and the confession more spiritual and complete, there is discovered to them this ground of their slackness and negligence in all spiritual duties, "None stirreth up himself to take hold on thee." Here is the want of the exercise of faith: faith is the soul's hand and grip, John i.12; Heb. vi.18; 1 Tim. vi.12; Isa. xxvii.5. Nobody awaketh themselves out of their deadness and security, to lay hold on thee. Lord, thou art going away, and taking good-night of the land, and nobody is like to hold thee by the garment; no Jacobs here, who will not let thee go, till thou bless them; none to prevail with thy Majesty, -- every one is like to give Christ a free passport and testimonial to go abroad, and are almost Gadarenes, to pray him to depart out of their coasts. There is a strange looseness and indifferency in men's spirits concerning the one thing necessary. Men lie by and dream over their days, and never put the soul's estate out of question; none will give so much pains, as to clear their interest in thee, to lay hold on thee, so as they may make peace with thee. Now, can there be a more ample and lively description of our estate, both of the land and of particular persons of it? Since this must not be limited to the nation of the Jews, though the prophet spake of the generality of them, yet, no doubt, all mankind is included in the first six verses; and any secure people may be included in the seventh verse, for Paul applieth even such like speeches (Rom. xi.13.) that were spoken, as you would think, of David's enemies only. Yet the Spirit of God knowing the mind of the Spirit, maketh a more general use of their condition, to hold out the natural estate of all men out of Christ Jesus.
But there are in these two verses other two things beside the acknowledgment of sin:
I. The acknowledgment of God's righteousness in punishing them, for now they need not quarrel God, they find the cause of their fading in their own bosom. They now join sin and punishment together, whereas in the time of their prosperity they separated punishment from sin; and in the time of their security in adversity they separated sin from punishment: at one time making bare confession of sin, without fear of God's justice, at another time fretting and murmuring at his judgments, without the sense of their sin. But now they join both these, and the sight and sense of God's displeasure maketh sin more bitter, and to abound more, and to appear in the loathsome and provoking nature of it, so that their acknowledgment hath an edge upon it. And again, the sight and sense of sin maketh the judgment appear most righteous, and stoppeth their mouth from murmuring. In the time of their impenitency under the rod, their language was very indifferent, Ezek. xviii.2. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge;" they have sinned and we suffer; they have done the wrong and we pay for it. But it is not so now, ver.5. The fathers have done righteousness in respect of us, and thou wast good unto them; but we are all unclean, and have sinned, and so we are punished.
II. They find some cause and ground in God of their general defection; not that he is the cause of their sin, but in a righteous way he punished sin with sin. God hid his face, denied special grace and influence; and so they lie still in their security, and their sin became a spiritual plague. Or this may be so read, -- None calleth on thy name, when thou didst hide thy face from us, and when thou didst consume us because of our iniquities; and so it serveth to aggravate their deep security, that, though the Lord was departing from them, yet none would keep him and hold him. Though he did strike, yet they prayed not; affliction did not awake them out of security, and so the last words, "Thou hast consumed us," &c., are differently exponed and read. Some make it thus, as it is in the translation, "Thou hast hid thy face," and left us in a spiritual deadness, that so there might be no impediment to bring on deserved judgment. If we had called on thee, and laid hold on thee, it might have been prevented, we might have prevailed with God, but now our defence is removed, and thou hast given us up to a spirit of slumber, and so we have no shield to hold off the stroke, -- thou hast now good leave to consume us for our sins. Another sense may be -- Thou hast suffered us to consume in our iniquity, thou hast given us up to the hand of our sins. And this is also a consequent of his hiding his face. Because thou didst hide thy face, thou lettest us perish in our sins; there needeth no more for our consumption, but only help us not out of them, for we can soon destroy ourselves.
First, Sin is in its own nature loathsome, and maketh one unclean before God. Sin's nature is filthiness, vileness, so doth Isaiah speak of himself, chap. vi.5, when he saw God's holiness; so doth Job abhor himself, which is the affection which turneth a man's face off a loathsome object, when he saw God, Job xl.4, and xlii.6. Look how loathsome our natural condition is holden out by God himself, Ezek. xvi. You cannot imagine any deformity in the creature, any filthiness, but it is there. The filthiness and vileness of sin shall appear, if we consider first that sin is a transgression of the holy and spiritual command, and so a vile thing, the commandment is holy and good, Rom. vii. And sin violateth and goeth flat contrary to the command, 1 John iii.4. When so just and so equitable a law is given, God might have exacted other rigorous duties from us, but when it is so framed that the conscience must cry out, All is equity, all is righteous and more than righteous, thou mightest command more, and reward none. It is justice to command, but it is mercy to promise life to obedience, which I owe, -- what then must the offence be, against such a just command, and so holy? If holiness be the beauty of the creation, sin must be the deformity of it, the only spot in its face.
Secondly, Look upon sin in the sight of God's holiness and infinite majesty, and O how heinous will it appear! and therefore no man hath seen sin in the vileness of it, but in the light of God's countenance, as Isa. vi.5, Job. xl. and xlii. God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, he cannot look on it, Hab. i.13. All other things beside sin, God looketh on them as bearing some mark of his own image, all was very good, and God saw it, Gen. i. and ii. Even the basest creatures God looketh on them, and seeth himself in them, but sin is only God's eyesore, that his holiness cannot away with it, it is most contrary unto him, and as to his sovereignty, it is a high contempt and rebellion done to God's Majesty. It putteth God off the throne, will take no law from him, will not acknowledge his law, but, as it were, spitteth in his face, and establisheth another god. There is no punishment so evil, that God will not own as his work, and declare himself to be the author of it, but only sin, his soul abhorreth it, his holy will is against it, he will have no fellowship with it, it is so contrary to him: contradicteth his will, debaseth his authority, despiseth his sovereignty, upendeth his truth. There is a kind of infiniteness in it, nothing can express it but itself no name worse than itself to set it out, the apostle can get no other epithet to it, Rom. vii.13, than "sinful" sin, so that it cometh in most direct opposition unto God. All that is in God, is God himself, and there is no name can express him sufficiently. If you say God, you say more than can be expressed by many thousand other words. So it is here -- sin is purely sin, God is purely good and holy, without mixture, holiness itself, sin is simply evil, without mixture, unholiness itself. Whatever is in it, is sin, is uncleanness. Sin is an infinite wrong, and an infinite and boundless filthiness, because of the infinite person wronged. It is an offence of infinite Majesty and the person wronged aggravateth the offence, if it be simply contrary to infinite holiness, it must be, in that respect, infinite unholiness and uncleanness.
Thirdly, Look upon the sad effects and consequences of sin, -- how miserable, how ruinous it hath made man, and all the creation, and how vile must it be!
I. Look on man's native beauty and excellency, how beautiful a creature! But sin hath cast him down from the top of his excellency, sin made Adam of a friend an enemy, of a courtier with God an open rebel. Was not man's soul of more price than all the world, so that nothing can exchange it? Yet hath sin debased it, and prostituted it to all vile filthy pleasures, hath made the immortal spirit to dwell on the dunghill, feed on ashes, catch vanities, lying vanities, pour out itself to them, serve all the creatures -- whereas it should have made them servants, yea, a slave to his own greatest enemy, to the ground he treadeth upon. O what a degenerate plant! It was a noble vine once in paradise, but sin hath made it a wild one, to bring forth sour grapes. What is there in all the world could defile a man? Matt. xv.20. Nothing that goeth out or cometh in, but sin that proceedeth out of the heart. Man was all light, his judgment sinned into his affections, and through all the man, but sin hath made all darkness, closed up the poor captive understanding, hath built up a thick wall of gross corrupted affections about it, so that light can neither get in nor out. The soul was like a clear running fountain, which yielded fresh clear streams of holy inclinations, desires, affections, actions and emptied itself in the sea of immense Majesty from which these streams first flowed, but now it is a standing putrified puddle, that casteth a vile stink round about, and hath no issue towards God. Man was a glorious creature, fit to be lord over the work of God's own hands, and therefore had God's image in a special manner, holiness and righteousness, God's nature. A piece of divinity was stamped on man, which outshined all created perfections. The sun might blush when it looked on him, for what was material glory to the glory of holiness and beauty of God's image! But sin hath robbed poor man of this glorious image, hath defaced man, marred all his glory, put on an hellish likeness on him. Holiness only putteth the difference between angels in heaven and devils in hell, and sin only hath made the difference between Adam in paradise, and sinners on the cursed ground, Rom. iii.23.
II. Sin hath so redounded through man unto all the creation, that it hath defiled it, and made it corruptible and subject to vanity, (Rom. viii.20, &c.,) so that this is a spot in all the creature's face, -- that man hath sinned, and used all as weapons of unrighteousness, so that now the creature groaneth to be delivered.
III. It hath brought on all the misery that is come on man, or that is to come, it hath brought on death and damnation as its wages, and the curse of the eternal God, Gal. iii.13, Rom. vi.23. How odious then an evil must it be, that hath so much evil in it yea, all evil in the bosom of it! Hell is not evil in respect of sin, for sin deserveth hell, it hath ruined man, and made all the beautiful order of the creation to change.
IV. It separateth man from God, which is worst of all, and this is included in the text, "We are all as an unclean thing," or man is as a leprous man set apart, because of pollution, that may not come to the temple, or worship God, so hath iniquity separated between God and us, Isa. lix.2. And O how sad a divorcement is this! it maketh men without God in the world, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, in whose favour is life, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore. Now poor man is made miserable, deprived of his felicity, which only consisted in enjoyment of God. Sin as a thick partition wall, is come in between, enmity also is come in, and divideth old friends, Eph. ii.14-17, and now no heavenly or comfortable influence can break through the night of darkness is begun which must prove everlasting. Except the partition-wall be removed, all must wither and decay as without the sun.
V. Look on the price paid for sin, on the cleansing that washeth it away, and you may see unspeakable deformity and vileness in it. The redemption of the soul is precious silver and gold and precious stones will not do it, -- that would be utterly contemned. "What!" saith God, "presumptuous sinner, wilt thou give me a farthing in payment of a sum which all the world, sold at the dearest, would not discharge?" Psal. xlix.7, 8, 1 Pet. i.18. It is no corruptible thing, but the blood of the Son of God. O what must the debt be, when the price is so infinite! the Son of God must die, nay, it is not sacrifice or offering -- "Lo, I come to do thy will," it is Christ himself that is the ransom, Psal. xl.6, 7. And it is not much soap or nitre, it is not much repentance and tears that will wash away this filthiness, no, it is of a deeper dye, it is crimson ingrained filthiness, Jer. ii.22 and Isa. i.16. Blood of bulls and goats cannot do it, but only the blood of the immaculate Lamb offered up by himself, (Heb. x.4, 5,) the blood of Him, "who by the eternal Spirit offered up himself without spot unto God," Heb. ix.14. What must sin be, that must have such a fountain opened for it? It must be strange uncleanness when the blood of Christ only can cleanse it, Zech. xiii.1.
"We all," &c. Mark, first, Sin hath gone over us all, and made all mankind unclean, Rom. iii.10, 22. Every one of Adam's posterity is born unclean, "For who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" Job. xiv.4. Consider: How sin defaced innocent Adam, how one sin made him so vile, and spoiled him of the divine nature, and so the root was made unclean, and the branches must follow the root, and so are we all born and conceived in sin, Psalm li.5. We carry in us original corruption, flowing from the first actual sin of Adam, and this maketh poor children, before they do good or evil, to be abominably vile in God's sight, even as the child is set out, Ezek. xvi. Every one cometh of evil parents, all come of Adam the rebel, what a loathsome sight would a child be to us so described, "Cast out in the open field, to the loathing of its person in the day it is born," and what must it all be before God, who is of purer eyes than to behold sin? Secondly, Unto all this we have added innumerable actual transgressions as so many filthy streams flowing out at the members, from the inward puddle of original corruption; and so how much more vile are we all nor infants can be, or Adam was in the day he was cast out of paradise! And thus, Rom. iii. from verse 10, are the branches set down in word, thought, and deed; so that all the inclinations and motions and actions of the man are only evil continually. Every man shall find his count past counting; one day's faults would weary you, but what will your whole life do? Known sins are innumerable, what must unknown be? Every man's heart is like the troubled sea, that casteth up mire and dirt daily, and cannot be at rest. The heart is daily flowing and ebbing in this corruption, it cometh out daily to the borders of all the members; and there are some high spring-tides, when sin aboundeth more. When in one member of the tongue a world of evil is, what can be in all the members? And what in the soul, that is more capable than all the world? Well, then, every man hath sinned in Adam, and hath sinned also in his own person, and sealed Adam's first rebellion by so many thousand actions like it. Every man hath approven the sin that first ruined man, and made himself much more loathsome nor Adam was; therefore all mankind may say, "We all are as an unclean thing." Now from all this, we would gladly discover unto you what your condition is by sin; if the Lord would shine, how vile would you be! Always we must declare this unto you in the Lord's name, you are all unclean, not only born in sin and iniquity, not only have you a body of death within you, that hath all the members; but all these members have one time or other acted and brought forth fruit unto death. How vile, then, must you be in God's sight! It is a strange love that you have to yourselves, that you cannot apprehend how God can hate you! But if he find sin in you, wonder rather how he can look upon you; we would then have you to know this, that there can be no fellowship between God and you in your natural estate. As men cannot inhabit a vile person's house, no more can God enter into your souls. There is an absolute necessity of washing, before you can be his house and temple. Hath that one sin of Adam made that glorious person so deformed, that he could not look on himself, but cover himself? And hath it been of so defiling a nature, that it hath redounded in all the posterity; and, as unclean things under the law defiled all they touched, so hath that sin subjected all the creatures to corruption? O then imagine what an unspeakable defilement must be on us all, who are not only guilty of Adam's sin, but of many thousands beside! If one sin have so much loathsomeness in it, what must so many out of number, united in one person, even as in us all? No unclean thing can enter into heaven above: know this for a truth, you cannot see God's face in the case you are born into. You know nothing of sin, who wonder that any should go to hell. No, if you knew anything of sin, you would wonder that ever God should look on such cast out in the open field in their blood.
Next, You must know the insufficiency of all things imaginable, to wash away sin's filthiness, except the blood of Christ. Since you are unclean, do you not ask, how shall we be washed? Indeed many have an easy answer, and pass it lightly. The multitude know no way to cleanse in, but the tears of repentance and mourning; and so, many think themselves clean, when they run and pour out a tear as Esau did for the blessing. But what saith the Lord? "Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked." Can such an ingrained uncleanness, can such an infinite spot in the immortal soul, be so lightly dashed out? Many think baptism cleanseth them, but was not this people circumcised, as ye are baptized? And Peter tells us, it is not the washing of water, &c.1 Pet. iii.21. Sacrifice and offering will not do it. This people thought, sure they had satisfied God, when they brought a lamb, &c., but all this is abomination. Would not many of you think yourselves cleansed from sin, if you offered all your substance, and the fruit of your body for the sin of your soul? Nay, but you must see an absolute necessity of the opened fountain of Christ's blood, that cleanseth from all sin.
Then we would have you abhor yourselves in dust and ashes, and see nothing in all the creation so vile as you; look on sin in the sight of God's face, and how unholy will it appear! There are many sins, little ones, that in our practice pass for venal and uncontrolled; but look on the filthy loathsome nature of all sin, and hate the least offence, for it hath a kind of infiniteness in it, and blotteth the soul, defileth the person. How great a necessity is there of continual application to the fountain, of dwelling beside it, that you may wash daily! David's so often repeated and inculcated prayer, "Wash me, cleanse me," &c. Psalm li., declareth that he hath apprehended much uncleanness in sin, that it needeth so many applications of the precious blood. And you who have come to Jesus, and are clean, O how much owe you to free grace, that passed by you in your blood, and said, "Live, it is a time of love!" How strange is it, that glorious Majesty cometh to own deformity, and cometh to clothe it with his own garments! Praise the virtue of that blood, that is more precious than the blood of bulls and goats, that can so throughly purge, as you shall have no more conscience of sin.
Unclean sinners, wash you, make you clean, -- there is a fountain opened; though sin were as scarlet, it can perfectly change the colour of it. If you wash not while the fountain is open, it will quickly be sealed on you, and then it shall be said, when the angel sweareth by him that liveth forever and ever, that time shall be no more, then shall it be said, "let him that is unclean be unclean still." Now, cleansing is offered in the gospel, -- if you will love your loathsomeness so well, as not to dip yourselves in this fountain, then let the unclean be so still. Your repentance will never change your colour, though you should melt in sorrow: and therefore you who have found a way to be saved otherwise nor(307) by Jesus Christ, you shall be deceived. Your tears and mourning that you might have had, though Christ had never come into the world, is all you use to speak of, and build your hope on; and if you speak of Christ, it is in such terms as to buy him by such repentance; so that the truth is, you use but Christ's name as a shadow, you make no use of him; he needed not to have come into the world, for many of you could have done as well without him. But as many of you as cannot find cleansing, who see filth increase by washing, come to Christ Jesus, and say, "If you wilt, thou canst make me clean," Matt viii.2. Nothing beside Jesus can do it -- believe his sufficiency. Nothing beside him will do -- believe his willingness; for, for this cause he is an open fountain, that all may come and draw.