The Judgment — Joshua and the Angel
Zechariah 3, along with Ellen White's application of it in the judgment setting (Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 472-475), has been used as the great punch line of the the perfectionists within Adventism. Now that we have gotten those old "holiness" glasses off, we can read it with more power than ever. The whole chapter in Testimonies, volume 5, pages 467 to 476, is a great classic of true Protestant theology.
The parable is first used to describe what happens when a sinner is converted. Though he stands before the Lord in "filthy garments," the Lord decrees that they be replaced by a change of raiment. This change of raiment is clearly defined by the writer as "the righteousness of Christ imputed" (Ibid., p. 469; see also SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1178).
Then, after a whole Christian lifetime of sanctification, the scene changes to describe God's people called to give final account at the time of judgment. And lo! what do we see? God's people are still represented as being in filthy garments, still confessing their sinfulness, still pleading for purity of heart! How can it be? Because the nearer they come to Christ, the more fully sinful they see themselves to be. When they first stood before the Lord in conversion, their only hope was God's mercy. At the start of the Christian life, Satan tries to discourage them on account of their sinfulness. At the end, he is still trying to discourage them because of their sinfulness. The only real difference is that at the time of judgment they are more conscious of it. They start with repentance. They end with great repentance. It all illustrates what Luther says: "I will need my Saviour at the end just as much as I did at the beginning."
Thus does this great chapter in Testimonies, volume 5, pages 467 to 476, establish the primacy of justification throughout the whole Christian life. The Christian life is "a continual, earnest, heartbreaking confession of sin and humbling of the heart before Him [God]." —Acts of the Apostles, p. 561. Some grow tired of this way home. They despise the mourner's bench, and want to travel a more dignified way. But the eye of the Lord is upon the poor in spirit and those who mourn, and His ear is open to their cry. Out of such weakness are they made strong. Christ stands up to plead their cause in judgment. He gives them a change of raiment, which Mrs. White has already defined as the imputed righteousness of Christ.
"But," says one, "they received that at conversion." Yes, and they need it and receive it in the judgment too! There is just one vital difference. In the judgment it is granted to them eternally—"nevermore to be defiled." By the decree of the Judge, they will be righteous in His sight forever.
"Is that all?" do we hear some wicked, unbelieving heart ask? (It could be our own.) "Only imputed righteousness?" The word "only" utterly exposes the root of the problem and the frightful blindness and sinful corruption of the human heart. Here is the promise of not only eternal pardon, but a vindication and standing in God's sight above angels through the everlasting righteousness of Christ—nevermore to be anything but righteous as Jesus Himself in the sight of God. This is "eternal redemption"—a redemption that has no beginning and no end. It means that in God's sight we were never anything else but righteous, and never will be anything else but righteous. And this great salvation in all its incomprehensible magnitude is declared to be everlastingly ours in the verdict of the Judge of all. What blind ingratitude even to think, "Is that all?" As if to say, "To be pronounced eternally righteous in God's sight is not enough. That is only in God's sight." But are we not satisfied with God's sight? What other sight matters? "If God be for us," what can still stand above us? What does it matter whether we have to toil on with the blessed handicap of the sinful nature, fighting against sinful propensities that have their roots in I know not where—God only knows how and what a man is. But if God Himself is satisfied to pronounce that we are forever righteous, then let Him do with us and deal with us as He will. Anything else is purely academic.
How can we dither on about what He will do in us, when we cannot even know the why's and wherefore's of what the new heart is, let alone the sealed heart of those who shall stand through the time of trouble? We stare at what we imagine is the real problem, when the only problem is that the Lord cannot yet say of us: "My people . . . (are] satisfied with My goodness." Jer. 31:14.
Human nature tends to regard infused righteousness as vastly more real than the high and mighty gospel righteousness which is imputed—as if the grace that is within us is greater than that which is above us, as if the water in the shell is more than the water in the ocean which surrounds it.
Imagine yourself living in a den of theives and robbers who would not hesitate to take your life for any ill-gotten gain. Then I come to you and say, "I want to give you ten million dollars' worth of wealth, readily negotiable in pearls, diamonds and gold coins. Would you like me to put it in your account at the bank, or would you like me to deliver it right here to you now?" What would you say?
God has provided us an infinite treasure. He knows that our first father lost his inheritance. This time He has a safer plan. He places the treasure where no thief can break in and steal it, for it is in heaven and in Christ. The time has not come to enter into this inheritance. But until that time comes, He gives us a down payment for the journey (Eph. l:14)—or as in the allegory of Pilgrim's Progress, some spending money along the way, all that we really need, all that we can use, all that is safe for us to have.
What we have safely in our account is Christ's imputed righteousness. It is an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, as infinite as the Eternal God. The visible reality of the gift to us right now, would blot us out of existence. Now this spending money along the way is imparted righteousness.
For His Sake
The sanctuary service teaches us that the "final atonement" of the most holy place is for Jesus' sake: "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Isa. 43:25. It is not to release us from the burden of sin. (That is already done through the daily gift of justification.) By faith, the sins of the believer are transferred to Christ, put to His charge if you please (Great Controversy, p. 421). We are already free in Jesus. This earthly "house" of ours has been justified and cleansed in His blood. Now what about His "house," His account, His bearing of the burden of Israel's sin on the breastplate of judgment?
So with greater certainty, with more intelligent faith and for a better motive, we can now say, "All things are ready: come unto the marriage." Matt. 22:4.