In that day the Branch of the Lord will be splendid and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be excellent and lovely to those of Israel who have survived. It will come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy (set apart for God)—everyone who is recorded for [eternal] life in Jerusalem. When the Lord has washed away the [moral] filth of the daughters of Zion and has cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then the Lord will create over the entire site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies, a cloud by day, smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory and brilliance will be a canopy [a defense, a covering of His divine love and protection]. And there will be a pavilion for shade from the heat by day, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and the rain. – Isaiah 4:2-6
When God is pleased to begin a work of grace upon a sinner’s soul, he sets up a throne of judgment in the conscience. This is “laying judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet,” (Isa. 28:17.) This is the light of God enlightening the mind, and the voice of God whereby he speaks to the soul through the power of his word, which thus becomes “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Now, no sooner does the light of life visit the soul, and the word of truth brings conviction to the heart, than there comes with it the spirit of judgment; for the Holy Spirit is now at work in the heart and conscience and, as the Spirit of judgment, he sits in judgment upon everything that comes before him, so as to pass a sentence of condemnation, as God’s viceregent, upon every sin that is thus detected and brought to light.
Now this spirit of judgment is very unmerciful in its detection of all evil, very implacable in its judgment upon it, for, being armed with the sentence of a fiery law, as I shall presently show, it spares no sin, brings all its hidden filth and guilt to light, and passes sentence of condemnation upon it. But this spirit of judgment does not cleanse the conscience from the guilt of the sins and transgressions which it brings to light, discovers, and judges. I shall presently show how that is done. But it purges the filth by passing a sentence of condemnation upon it. Take the figure of a cleanly person changing his abode and coming to dwell in a dirty, filthy house. The former inhabitant was so used to its filthy condition that he did not even see it, much less hate it or make any attempt to get rid of it. But the newcomer sees in a moment the filth of the house, and the spirit of cleanliness in him, if I may use such an expression, at once condemns it and cannot rest until it is got rid of.
Similarly, the spirit of judgment, set up in the heart of one quickened into divine life, sees and detects the horrid filth that has been accumulated by innumerable sins and crimes, and passes at once a sentence of condemnation upon them all. It is in grace as in my figure, or as in the case of the leprous house. The priest went in to see the house. He was bidden to come and look, and by that searching look “he finds bright green or reddish streaks on the walls of the house and the contamination appears to go deeper than the wall’s surface,” was detected and judged before the house could be scraped and cleansed. So the spirit of judgment detects and condemns filth, and in this sense purges it before it is washed away.
But this spirit of judgment is attended with and followed by “the spirit of burning.” This spirit of burning is the anger of God manifested in a holy law, for in that, as a revelation of his holiness, “God is a consuming fire;” and it is therefore said that “from his right hand went a fiery law for them.” As, then, the spirit of judgment sitting upon the seat of conscience, arraigns before it all our secret sins, and passes sentence of condemnation upon them, the fiery law, as a spirit of burning, follows upon it, so as to burn up all our strength, wisdom, and righteousness. Thus, what the spirit of judgment condemns, the spirit of burning sets on fire, and in that sense consumes the filth, for it is not able to stand before its devouring flame.
But “the spirit of judgment” is not confined to the work of the law upon the conscience, nor to the way in which God acts in bringing his people in guilty before him in his first dealings upon the soul. There is “the spirit of judgment” in the gospel in a spiritual conscience as there is the spirit of judgment in the law in a legal conscience. And as there is “the spirit of burning” that follows up the spirit of judgment in a fiery law, so there is the spirit of burning in a holy indignation kindled by the fire of the gospel. Be not surprised at this, for wherever the Spirit of truth in a living conscience, as a spirit of judgment, meets with and detects sin, he condemns it and flames forth against it. We have seen how it does so under the law; now see how it does so under the gospel. When the apostle speaks of the effect of godly sorrow, he says– “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (2 Cor. 7:11.) This earnestness, eagerness, indignation, alarm, longing, and concern, were all produced by the flaming forth of the spirit of judgment under the gospel as attending godly sorrow for sin.
Now, if you watch the movements of the blessed Spirit upon your heart, which I hope you do– for if he is not operating upon your mind with some degree of divine power, you are gathering filth; all kind of dirt is lying undetected in your carnal mind– but if you are watching the movements of the Spirit of God upon your soul as the spirit of judgment, you will see that he brings to light and passes sentence of disapprobation and condemnation on everything which is manifested to you as sinful. Your pride, your hypocrisy, your self-righteousness, your vanity, your conceit, your self-esteem, your love of the world and the spirit of it, with every evil which is detected and brought to light the spirit of judgment sits upon it and passes in your conscience a sentence of condemnation upon it. And if the sins which you thus see and feel are brought to light, and are condemned by the Spirit of truth in you as a Spirit of judgment, it will be followed up by the spirit of burning, so that you will feel a holy indignation against yourself on account of your sins. This is that indignation, that zeal, that revenge, of which I have just spoken; and mingled with them, will be that “jealousy” of which we read that “the coals thereof are coals of fire which has a most vehement flame.” (Song 8:6.) This flame of holy jealousy kindled as a fire from off God’s altar, as a spirit of burning, will at times rise so high that you will feel as if you would gladly have all your sins and corruptions wholly reduced to ashes, and the power and strength of sin so burnt up and destroyed, as if by a holy flame, as never to revive again. – J.C. Philpot