But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities…
This brief prayer is a combination of many types. Natural analogies are piled upon each other. The confession consists of six several but consecutive and closely connected parts. There is much meaning in each separate ingredient of this confession considered by itself, and more in the relations and union of the whole.
I. THE TAINT OF SIN, that from the springs of humanity has poisoned all its streams. "We are all as an unclean thing." When who has been convinced by the Spirit takes words and turns to God, he begins at the heart, as the spring whence the many unclean streams of thoughts and words and deeds flow out in the daily life. This simplicity is a mark of truth.
II. THE WORTHLESSNESS AND POSITIVE LOATHSOMENESS OF ALL THE EFFORTS WHICH A SINFUL MAN CAN MAKE TO SET HIMSELF AT FIRST RIGHT WITH GOD. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Most naturally this ingredient of the confession comes next in order. He looked first to his sins, and told what he thought of them; he next looks to his righteousness.
III. THE FRAILTY, UNCERTAINTY, AND SHORTNESS OF HUMAN LIFE. "We all do fade as a leaf."
IV. THE POWER AND SUCCESS OF INTERNAL CORRUPTION IN HURRYING THE MAN INTO ACTUAL SIN. "Our" iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." It is a mark Of true repentance when the penitent lays all the blame upon himself
V. THE INABILITY AND UNWILLINGNESS OF THESE HELPLESS SINNERS, AS THEY ARE DRIFTING DOWN THE STREAM OF SIN TOWARDS THE GULF OF PERDITION, TO LIFT THEMSELVES UP AND TAKE HOLD ON GOD. "There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee."
VI. GOD'S METHOD OF DEALING WITH SUCH UP CASE. "Thou hast hid Thy face from us." The Holy One hides His face from His creatures while they live in sin. "And hast consumed us because of our iniquities." I prefer to take this clause in its most literal sense, as it is given in the margin — "Thou hast melted us by the hand of our iniquities." God melts the hardest sinners, and He employs their own sins to make the flinty hearts flow down. If this melting take effect in the day of grace, it is repentance unto life. But if the sinful are not so melted in the day of grace, they will be melted when that day is done. Their own sins on their own heads will be at least a material part of the doom of the lost in the great Day. After having looked to the text, we shall look at that which touches it, before and behind. The gem is the chief object of attraction, but its setting may be both beautiful and precious. The word that touches it on the one side (end of ver. 5) is, "We shall be saved;" the word that touches it on the other side (beginning of ver. 8) is, "But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father. It is not by chance that this great deep confession lies between these two words — is held up and held out in these two tender, loving hands. "We are saved by hope," not by terror.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.