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Whiter than Snow

By Simon Padbury

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, No. 40, October-December 2005.

THE slaying of beasts by Old Testament priests could not atone for human sin – that is impossible (Heb.10:4). But these sacrifices prefigured the Messiah, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29; Tit.2:14; Heb.9:26). The atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ was the real thing. And this is not a merely 'potential' salvation to be given as a reward for human 'good works,' but it is an actual and complete salvation for the elect, given as a free gift of unmerited grace. Therefore they can say with confidence and full assurance, "In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col.1:14); and, "The blood of Jesus Christ.....cleanseth us [note the present tense] from all sin" (1John 1:7).

On seeing the many sins which they still commit and the many good things which they omit, Christians may fall into despair and lose sight of what Christ's death and resurrection actually achieved for them and also of what has actually been given to them. They may often be overwhelmed by the thought, "Seeing that I still do abc.....xyz, I am therefore no Christian." Such temptations rob them of the joy of salvation (Psa.51:12), and they fail to "enjoy God forever" as the Catechism teaches – which should of course include the present. Sinning Christians thereby impoverish themselves like the prodigal and need to come to their senses (Luke 15:17)! They know that they should love the law of God and make it their meditation all the day, for the law is holy, just and good (Psa.119:97; Rom.7:12). And they should be always mindful that they are blessed with all spiritual blessings and they possess all things that pertain to life and godliness, being "in Christ" (Eph.1:3; 2Pet.1:3). They know further that God wills their sanctification (1Thess.4:3).


It is not as though the Christian's salvation is not complete (Col.2:6-15, noting the context of v.10). It was all "finished" in the Lord's crucifixion and 'clinched' as it were by His resurrection (John 19:30; Rom.4:25; Heb.12:2). But although their salvation is complete in Christ, the Christian life is one of improvement! As the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches, "They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (WCF ch.13, sec.1). The Bible does not teach "perfectionism," whether instant on conversion or later in the convert's earthly life – and neither does the Confession: "This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (WCF ch.13, sec.2 & 3).

In this sanctification the Christian grows in knowledge of the Scriptures and obedience thereto, in bearing the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal.5:22), and in usefulness in serving God in this world. Meanwhile they also learn to "put off concerning the former conversation [i.e., conduct] the old man" (Eph.4:22; see also Rom.8:13; Col.3:1-17). Although true Christians are fully and irrevocably saved in Christ, they still retain the depravity of human nature fallen in Adam so long as they live in this world. The law of sin and death still dwells in their members (Rom. ch.7) – and although they have been made free from its dominion (Rom.8:2), sometimes they forgets this (2Pet.1:9), and fall into the temptation of re-submitting to it (Matt.6:9- 13; Rom.6:1-7), thereby failing to mortify it (1Cor.9:27; Rom.6:14).

So, if we are Christians indeed, let us not forget that we have been purged from our former sins, and that we are not the sinners that we were prior to our conversion, and so we need not and ought not continue any longer in our old career of depravity. Our transgressions have indeed been removed from us – removed as far as the east is from the west (Psa.103:12)! Christ Himself has purged us with hyssop as it were, and made us whiter than snow (Psa.51:7). We have partaken of the blood of the New Testament, which our Lord has shed for us for the remission of our sin (Matt.26:28).


The animals ordained to be sacrificed under the Old Testament ceremonial law were to be the very best. They had to have no physical defects (Lev.22:22; Mal.1:8). And the physical perfection of these beasts taught of the pure righteousness of the Messiah (1Pet.1:19). "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb.9:22). And the blood of Christ does provide remission of sins. "Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin" (Heb.10:18). Why? No more offering for sin is required because those saved by Jesus Christ are saved indeed.

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow," prays the Psalmist (Psa.51:7). Hyssop is a plant with long flexible stems, along which are clustered small leaves and flowers in their season. If the stems are cut off close to the ground they can be bunched together and used as a long brush. Such a brush of hyssop is able to retain beads of water trapped between its leaves – or beads of blood. When held aloft and shaken in a whip-like motion a spray of such liquid can be sprinkled over quite a range, for the purpose of cleansing. This is a picture of the cleansing provided by the blood of Christ, wherewith He "shall sprinkle many nations" (Isa.52:15). And this is a cleansing of the heart from sin (Lev.16:30; Psa.51:10; John 15:3; Heb.10:22). "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb.9:14).

The sin-purged ones are also symbolically described as arrayed in white robes – "And to her [the woman clothed with the sun, i.e., the church of God] was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Rev.19:8; see also Rev.4:4; 6:11; 7:9). The Lord Jesus Christ's own righteousness is likewise symbolised by white robes – white as the light, white and glistering, whiter than any fuller on earth could white them (Matt.17:2; Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29). Indeed He is the "Sun of righteousness" (Mal.4:2), and the "Ancient of Days" Himself, "whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool" (Dan.7:9; cf. Rev.1:14). And it is His superlative white righteousness that the saints are given to wear: "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2Cor.5:21). "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1Cor.1:30).

Remember also the great truth of the apostle Paul's argument in Romans chapter 3: "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe..." (Rom.3:22,23). Consider, (i) that the very righteousness of God Himself is accounted "unto all" believers in their justification by free grace through faith, enabling them to stand before Him no longer as sinners but as saved; and also consider (ii) that there is an application of this righteousness by God the Holy Spirit "upon all" the souls of the elect now, in this life, in the present. Though described symbolically as a cleansing that makes white, and as receiving a white robe as a gift from God, the actual righteousness of God bestowed on the Christian is very real. Therefore, believe in it! Walk worthy of such a robe of righteousness as God gives His people.


Christian, you are admonished and commanded by the Spirit of God to keep your garment white. "Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment" (Ecc.9:8); "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy" (Rev.3:4); "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this ... to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Jam.1:27).

The Christian must not be satisfied with a sham personal religion like that of the Pharisees, of whom Christ said that they were whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness (Matt.23:27). Such is not acceptable or glorifying to God. True Christians have the same mighty power at work in them which raised Christ from the dead (Eph.1:19,20). They should work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, for God Himself works in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil.2:12,13).