The Priest with Dirty Clothes

Michael P. V. Barrett, Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2000), 141–42 (formatting added):

A vivid, divinely given illustration of this [i.e., God’s positively imputing Christ’s righteousness to us] occurs in Zechariah 3.

  • The passage begins with a judicial scene in which Joshua, the high priest, is standing before the Angel of the Lord and is being accused by Satan.
  • As the high priest he is serving as man’s representative, an accurate picture of how every man on his own stands before God.
  • He stands silently, dressed in detestably filthy garments with no self-defense before the Judge. This scene graphically pictures how man appears before God in all the filthy rags of his own righteousness.
  • Seemingly out of the blue God rebukes Satan and rescues Joshua as a brand plucked from the burning. Joshua is accepted before the Lord and allowed to stand in His presence.

The text highlights two essential elements of that acceptance.

  1. The Lord graciously pardoned sin. This is pictured by the removal of the filthy garments and explained directly: “I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee” (3:4). The guilt and, therefore, the liability for punishment and penalty was removed.
  2. The Lord provided righteousness. Not only were the filthy garments removed, but they were replaced with costly and glorious clothes which represent that robe of righteousness, the garment of salvation, that renders the wearer presentable before the Lord.

In justification, God both pardons sin and imputes the righteousness of Christ.


  1. R. C. Sproul, The Priest with Dirty Clothes  (Nashville: Tommy Nelson, 1997; 2nd ed. illustrated by Justin Gerard, Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2011).
  2. Michael Barrett Collection in Logos
  3. Michael Barrett preaching on Zechariah 3
  4. Iain M. Duguid, “No Condemnation: Zechariah 3,” in Heralds of the King: Christ-Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (ed. Dennis E. Johnson; Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 131–45.


  1. Dustin Battles says

    Chris Anderson’s hymn drew inspiration from Barrett’s work. Here’s the text:

    His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
    Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
    Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
    In Christ I live, for in my place He died.


    I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost:
    Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God.
    Bought by such love, my life is not my own.
    My praise-my all-shall be for Christ alone.

    His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
    God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
    Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
    Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.

    His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased.
    Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased.
    Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “‘Tis done!”
    Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.

    His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
    Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
    He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
    I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!

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