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Isaiah 64:6

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

But we are all as an unclean thing - We are all polluted and defiled. The word used here (טמא ṭâmē' ), means properly that which is polluted and defiled in a Levitical sense; that is, which was regarded as polluted and abominable by the law of Moses Leviticus 5:2; Deuteronomy 14:19, and may refer to animals, people, or things; also in a moral sense Job 14:4. The sense is, that they regarded themselves as wholly polluted and depraved.

And all our righteousnesses - The plural form is used to denote the deeds which they had performed - meaning that pollution extended to every individual thing of the numerous acts which they had done. The sense is, that all their prayers, sacrifices, alms, praises, were mingled with pollution, and were worthy only of deep detestation and abhorrence.

As filthy rags - ‹Like a garment of stated times‘ (עדים ‛iddiym ) - from the obsolete root עדד ‛âdad “to number, to reckon, to determine,” e. g., time. No language could convey deeper abhorrenee of their deeds of righteousness than this reference - as it is undoubtedly - to the vestis menstruis polluta. ‹Non est ambigendum,‘ says Vitringa, ‹quin vestis עדים ‛iddiym notet linteum aut pannum immundum ex immunditie legali, eundemque foedum aspectu; cu-jusmodi fuerit imprimis vestis, pannus, aut linteum feminae menstruo profluvio laborantis; verisimile est, id potissimum hae phrasi designari. Sic accepit earr Alexandrinus, vertens, ὡς ῥάκος ἀποκαθη μένης hōs rakos apokathē menēs - ut pannus sedentis; proprie: ut pannus mulieris languidae et desidentis ex menstruo παθήματι pathēmati ‹ (Leviticus 15:33; compare Leviticus 20:18; Lamentations 1:17).

And we all do fade as a leaf - We are all withered away like the leaf of autumn. Our beauty is gone; our strength is fled (compare the notes at Isaiah 40:6-7; Isaiah 50:1-11:30). What a beautiful description this is of the state of man! Strength, vigor, comeliness, and beauty thus fade away, and, like the ‹sere and yellow leaf‘ of autumn, fall to the earth. The earth is thus strewed with that which was once comely like the leaves of spring, now falling and decaying like the faded verdure of the forest.

And our iniquities like the wind - As a tempest sweeps away the leaves of the forest, so have we been swept away by our sins.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The people of God, in affliction, confess and bewail their sins, owning themselves unworthy of his mercy. Sin is that abominable thing which the Lord hates. Our deeds, whatever they may seem to be, if we think to merit by them at God's hand, are as rags, and will not cover us; filthy rags, and will but defile us. Even our few good works in which there is real excellence, as fruits of the Spirit, are so defective and defiled as done by us, that they need to be washed in the fountain open for sin and uncleanness. It bodes ill when prayer is kept back. To pray, is by faith to take hold of the promises the Lord has made of his good-will to us, and to plead them; to take hold of him, earnestly begging him not to leave us; or soliciting his return. They brought their troubles upon themselves by their own folly. Sinners are blasted, and then carried away, by the wind of their own iniquity; it withers and then ruins them. When they made themselves as an unclean thing, no wonder that God loathed them. Foolish and careless as we are, poor and despised, yet still Thou art our Father. It is the wrath of a Father we are under, who will be reconciled; and the relief our case requires is expected only from him. They refer themselves to God. They do not say, "Lord, rebuke us not," for that may be necessary; but, "Not in thy displeasure." They state their lamentable condition. See what ruin sin brings upon a people; and an outward profession of holiness will be no defence against it. God's people presume not to tell him what he shall say, but their prayer is, Speak for the comfort and relief of thy people. How few call upon the Lord with their whole hearts, or stir themselves to lay hold upon him! God may delay for a time to answer our prayers, but he will, in the end, answer those who call on his name and hope in his mercy.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

As filthy rags - עדים iddim . Rab. Mosheh ben Maimon interpretatur עדים iddim, vestes quibus mulier se abstergit post congressum cum marito suo. Alii pannus menstruatus. Alii panni mulieris parientis. - And we ben made as unclene alle we: and as the cloth of the woman rooten blode flowing, all our rigtwisnesses. - Old MS. Bible. If preachers knew properly the meaning of this word, would they make such a liberal use of it in their public ministry? And why should any use a word, the meaning of which he does not understand? How many in the congregation blush for the incautious man and his "filthy rags!"

Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 311

This is what the transgressors of God's law have done ever since the day of Adam and Eve's disobedience. They have sewed together fig leaves to cover the nakedness caused by transgression. They have worn the garments of their own devising, by works of their own they have tried to cover their sins, and make themselves acceptable with God. COL 311.1

But this they can never do. Nothing can man devise to supply the place of his lost robe of innocence. No fig-leaf garment, no worldly citizen dress, can be worn by those who sit down with Christ and angels at the marriage supper of the Lamb. COL 311.2

Only the covering which Christ Himself has provided can make us meet to appear in God's presence. This covering, the robe of His own righteousness, Christ will put upon every repenting, believing soul. “I counsel thee,” He says, “to buy of Me ... white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.” Revelation 3:18. COL 311.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 178

Your actions testify that you are strangers to Christ. “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” 2T 178.1

Here are enumerated the fruits which are marked evidences that one who has been walking in the vigor of life has met with a change—a change so marked as to be represented by death. From living, active life, to death! What a striking figure! None need be deceived here. If this transformation has not been experienced by you, rest not. Seek the Lord with all your hearts. Make this the all-important business of your lives. 2T 178.2

You have an account to render for the good you might have done during your life, had you been in the position in which God required you to be, and which He has made ample provision that you might occupy. But you have failed to glorify God upon the earth, and to save souls around you, because you did not avail yourselves of that grace and strength, wisdom and knowledge, which Christ has provided for you. You knew His will, but did it not. There will have to be a most manifest reformation in you both, or you will never hear from Jesus: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” 2T 179.1

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Ellen G. White
Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 54

The prophet Hosea had pointed out what constitutes the very essence of Pharisaism, in the words, “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself.” Hosea 10:1. In their professed service to God, the Jews were really working for self. Their righteousness was the fruit of their own efforts to keep the law according to their own ideas and for their own selfish benefit. Hence it could be no better than they were. In their endeavor to make themselves holy, they were trying to bring a clean thing out of an unclean. The law of God is as holy as He is holy, as perfect as He is perfect. It presents to men the righteousness of God. It is impossible for man, of himself, to keep this law; for the nature of man is depraved, deformed, and wholly unlike the character of God. The works of the selfish heart are “as an unclean thing;” and “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6. MB 54.1

While the law is holy, the Jews could not attain righteousness by their own efforts to keep the law. The disciples of Christ must obtain righteousness of a different character from that of the Pharisees, if they would enter the kingdom of heaven. God offered them, in His Son, the perfect righteousness of the law. If they would open their hearts fully to receive Christ, then the very life of God, His love, would dwell in them, transforming them into His own likeness; and thus through God's free gift they would possess the righteousness which the law requires. But the Pharisees rejected Christ; “being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness” (Romans 10:3), they would not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God. MB 54.2

Jesus proceeded to show His hearers what it means to keep the commandments of God—that it is a reproduction in themselves of the character of Christ. For in Him, God was daily made manifest before them. MB 55.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 553

Chicago, Illinois, Massasoit House,

July 6, 1870.

*****

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Ellen G. White
Steps to Christ, 29

One ray of the glory of God, one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character. It makes apparent the unhallowed desires, the infidelity of the heart, the impurity of the lips. The sinner's acts of disloyalty in making void the law of God, are exposed to his sight, and his spirit is stricken and afflicted under the searching influence of the Spirit of God. He loathes himself as he views the pure, spotless character of Christ. SC 29.1

When the prophet Daniel beheld the glory surrounding the heavenly messenger that was sent unto him, he was overwhelmed with a sense of his own weakness and imperfection. Describing the effect of the wonderful scene, he says, “There remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.” Daniel 10:8. The soul thus touched will hate its selfishness, abhor its self-love, and will seek, through Christ's righteousness, for the purity of heart that is in harmony with the law of God and the character of Christ. SC 29.2

Paul says that as “touching the righteousness which is in the law”—as far as outward acts were concerned—he was “blameless” (Philippians 3:6); but when the spiritual character of the law was discerned, he saw himself a sinner. Judged by the letter of the law as men apply it to the outward life, he had abstained from sin; but when he looked into the depths of its holy precepts, and saw himself as God saw him, he bowed in humiliation and confessed his guilt. He says, “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Romans 7:9. When he saw the spiritual nature of the law, sin appeared in its true hideousness, and his self-esteem was gone. SC 29.3

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