« PreviousContinue »
died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."
The terms holy and holiness bear a variety of senses in Scripture, which it is not necessary at present to enumerate. There is one sense which is worthy of attention, because it frequently occurs. When applied to God, holy seems to signify august and venerable; and this is the meaning in more cases than we are apt to suppose, perhaps not much seldomer than it denotes purity, which is the idea commonly attached to it. I know not whether the passage quoted above may be considered as an example, but Jehovah appears to be pronounced thrice holy, because he was seated upon a lofty throne, was attended by the noblest creatures in the universe as his ministers, and his glory was displayed in every region of the earth. When the Psalmist pronounces his name to be "holy and reverend,"† the second epithet may be understood to be explanatory of the first; and when he says, that "his holy arm hath gotten him the victory," there is no direct reference to moral excellence, but to majestic force, to irresistible power. The command to "sanctify the Lord," is a command to treat him with all the reverence which is due to his transcendent greatness, and is thus explained by Isaiah: "Sanctify the Lord God of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread."§ He is a being separated or distinguished from all other beings by his infinite excellence, as sacred things are separated from such as were common; possessed of every perfection intellectual and moral, in the highest possible degree, and therefore entitled to the most profound veneration of angels and men. His name should never be mentioned but with awe; and our whole conduct should testify that we are deeply sensible of his presence, and that there is nothing which we are so anxious to obtain as his favour, nothing which we so much dread as his displeasure.
While the holiness of God does certainly suggest, in many instances, the idea of greatness or majesty, which is an object of fear rather than love, it is not less certain that it is expressive, in other instances, of the purity of his nature. This is obviously the meaning of the concrete term in the following passage: "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy." There would be no force in the exhortation, if the holiness ascribed to God were not of the same nature with that required from us, for the one is referred to as the reason and the pattern of the other. Hence, when we call God holy, we mean that there are in his nature certain moral qualities or principles, analogous to those on account of which men are pronounced to be virtuous or holy; that he is perfectly pure, free from the slightest taint of pollution; that his will is always conformable to the rectitude of his nature, so that sin is the invariable object of his hatred, and righteousness the invariable object of his approbation. His holiness has been defined to be "that virtue or perfection, by which he wills and approves whatever is conformable to his essence and perfections, and disapproves and rejects whatever is contrary; or that perfection which determines him to do nothing which is not worthy of himself, and to suffer nothing in his creatures which has not the same character, that is, to prevent it by his grace, or to punish it by his justice.' The holiness of God is commonly represented as a perfection as distinct from Isa. vi, 1-5. † Ps. cxi, 9. Ps. xcviii. 1. Isa. viii. 13. || 1 Pet. i. 15, 16.
the other properties of his nature as wisdom, power, and immutability are from each other. But this I apprehend is a mistake, and has led to the use of words without any precise idea annexed to them. Holiness is a complex term, which does not express a particular attribute, but the general character of God as resulting from his moral attributes. The holiness of a man is not a distinct quality from his virtuous dispositions, but signifies the state of his mind and heart as influenced by these. When we proceed to analyse his holiness, or to shew in what it consists, we say that he is a devout man, a man of integrity, a man of humanity, a man faithful to his engagements, and conscientious in all his relative duties; a man who abhors sin, and abstains from the very appearance of it. The holiness of God is not, and cannot be, something different from the moral excellencies of his nature which were formerly illustrated, but is the general term under which these particulars are comprehended. To call God holy, is to affirm, that he renders to his creatures their due, and governs them by laws adapted to their nature and relations; that he is full of benevolence, and takes pleasure in communicating happiness to the proper objects of his goodness; that he deals sincerely with them, and never amuses them with fallacious hopes, nor terrifies them with imaginary fears. As a just Being, he abhors fraud, robbery, oppression, every infraction of the rights of one man by another, and every attempt to deprive him of his due; as a good Being, he abhors selfishness, hard-heartedness, malignity, cruelty, and all the thoughts, and words, and deeds, which are contrary to charity; as a God of truth, he abhors falsehood, perjury, treachery, calumny, and in short, every species of deceit. As a holy Being, he loves every thing which is conformable to his law, and hates every thing which is contrary to it. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." * His nature is pure as that fluid when it issues from its source. Sin is as offensive to him as a disgusting taste is to our palate, or a loathsome object is to our eye. "He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and he cannot look upon iniquity."t
Reflection will convince us, that this view of the holiness of God is correct. It may be objected, that it is sometimes distinguished from the moral perfections of which it has been said to be the sum. In particular it is distinguished from justice in the following words: "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works." But those who have attended to the nature of Hebrew poetry, know that it consists of parallelisms, or corresponding lines, of which the second, in many cases, conveys the same idea with the first, but in terms somewhat varied. Hence the righteousness or justice of God in the first part of this sentence, is his holiness in the second; and the only difference is, that in the latter a more general term is employed. We cannot go over all the passages in which these terms occur; but it would not be difficult to shew, that the distinction between them is that between a part and the whole. Holiness, then, is the general name for the moral excellence of the Divine nature; and for this reason, I have deferred the consideration of it till I had illustrated its constituent parts, justice, goodness, and truth. Whatever may be resolved into these principles God loves and requires; whatever is contrary to them he hates and forbids. Holiness in men and angels is agreeable to him; between his nature and sin there is an eternal repugnance.
The holiness of God is manifested in his works and dispensations.
It was displayed in the formation of man. He was not only made a living soul, and endowed with intellectual powers, but there was impressed upon him the image of his Maker, consisting in the perfect rectitude of his mind, in the order and harmony of his faculties, in pure and heavenly affections. The ray is bright as the sun from which it emanates; and man, when he came from the hands of his Creator, was resplendent with the glory of his moral excellence.
* 1 John i. 5.
+ Hab. i. 13.
Ps. cxlv. 17.
There was not any weakness in his constitution, any irregularity of desire, any proneness to sin, as some blasphemers of the works of God have affirmed. His appetites were not at war with reason, and struggling to get free from the restraints which it imposed: there was a law in his mind, to which all his internal and external movements were conformable. "God made man upright."* The state in which he found himself at his creation, he might have retained. His moral ability was sufficient for all his purposes. He might be tempted, but there was no principle within him which could co-operate with temptation, and facilitate its success; and when he was actually exposed to a trial, his Maker did not abandon him, but upheld in their integrity those powers which fitted him for resistance, and by the due exercise of which he would have triumphed. To suppose that his power was not adequate to his circumstances, or that it was withdrawn or impaired, would be to make God the author of sin. The fall of man was not owing to the want of any thing which God ought to have done for him. He yielded to solicitation, not because his understanding was not sufficiently acute to detect the sophistry of his adversary, or because the sensitive part of his nature was too strong for the rational. His compliance in either of these cases would have been necessary, and therefore not culpable. He yielded because he attended to the temptation alone, and disregarded the considerations which would have counteracted its influence. Man was less than nothing in comparison of God; but he was a point which reflected a beam of the sun, a diamond resplendent with light. Hence he was the crown and glory of this lower world, as angels were of the superior regions. When God had finished his works, they were all perfect, all worthy of their author, and he pronounced them to be good. Sin was known only as a possible evil, which might enter and mar their beauty.
Let us take a view of the law which was given to man at his creation, and we shall be furnished with an additional manifestation of the holiness of God. Its design was to retain him in a state of purity and innocence, by the proposal of such considerations as were calculated to operate upon his rational nature. While it impressed him with a sense of duty, it stimulated him to obedience by the prospect of reward, and opposed to the temptations which might assail him the fear of punishment. In the placing of man under a law, thus strengthened by promises and threatenings, we see a proof both of God's care of him, and of his regard to holiness, the interests of which he took measures at this early period to promote; for the law, in the language of Theology, was concreated with man; that is, the knowledge of it was communicated to his mind, and a sense of its authority was impressed upon his heart, in the first moment of his existence. He was not suffered to live for a day or an hour without a moral rule; and the first exercise of his faculties was an act of obedience. The holiness of God appears not only in the general design of the law, but also in the nature of its precepts. It is not a code of arbitrary prescriptions, which require minute and cautious attention, but do not improve the heart; it is not a system accommodated to the wishes and inclinations of man, and compensating slight restraints by general indulgence; it is a strict, unvarying rule, enjoining the observance of every thing true, and just, and lovely, and of good report. Its tendency is to produce in us, according to our measure, the same moral excellence which is the glory of our Maker. It is a representation of the holiness of his nature; and when impressed upon the soul, stamps it with his image, He who loves and obeys this law, is an imitator of God.
The purity of the law appears from its forbidding sin in all its modifications, in its most refined as well as in its grossest forms; the taint of the mind, as well as the pollution of the body; the secret approbation of sin, as well as the external act; the transient look of desire, the almost unperceived irregular emoEccl. vii. 29.
tion. While it commands us to place a guard upon the avenues by which temptation might enter, it enjoins the strictest care of the heart; and calls upon us to destroy the seed before it has grown. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy." Such it has been shewn to be by our Saviour, who came not to promulgate a new law milder and more adapted to the infirmity of human nature, but to free the old and unalterable law from the loose interpretations of corrupt men, who were the professed teachers of religion. He has taught us that nothing less will satisfy its demands than perfect purity; and that in vain do we wash the outside of the cup, if within it be full of uncleanness. This is the law which God has given to mankind. It informs us what he is, and what we ought to be that we may please him. "The statutes of the Lord are right; the commandment of the Lord is pure; the fear of the Lord is clean; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Moreover by them is thy servant warned, and in keeping them there is a great reward."†
If we direct our attention to the dispensations of providence, we shall see farther proofs of the holiness of God, in the moral government which he exercises over mankind, and the means which he employs to maintain the authority of his law. It may be remarked, in the first place, that amidst the ruin of our moral nature by the fall, there remain some fragments of his image; or at least, that conscience continues to lift its voice in favour of the righteousness and goodness of his law, calls men to the performance of their duty, and punishes their sins by remorse and fear. The operations of this faculty, both when it excites him to the cultivation of holiness, and when it renders him uneasy for not obeying its admonitions, are an evidence that man was created a holy being, as the faculty of reason proves that his nature was originally intelligent. I may mention, in the second place, the means which have been employed to give more extensive and commanding authority to conscience. Such were the precepts of morality which were transmitted from age to age by tradition, or which thoughtful and contemplative men in the heathen world discovered, and which with all their imperfections, served in some degree to set bounds to the prevalence of vice. We add, that from time to time God raised up among his favourite people, holy men and prophets who republished his neglected and almost forgotten law, in a manner fitted to arrest the attention of the most inconsiderate, denounced his judgments upon the profane and wicked, and enforced obedience by strong and urgent motives. It is of some importance to take notice, in the next place, of the natural checks which he has placed upon sin, and the natural encouragements which he has held out to the practice of our duty; for in these we clearly perceive his regard to the interests of holiness. As he is the Author of nature, of the human constitution, and of the state of the world, in which chance has no place, but all events are ordered by his wisdom, we believe that the system of things is subservient to his designs. Now we find, that men cannot commit sin without experiencing internal uneasiness, exposing themselves to reproach and danger, injuring their health, and in some cases involving themselves in temporal ruin. Consequences of an opposite nature result from the performance of duty: they enjoy peace of mind, are loved and honoured, and receive the reward of industry and temperance in health and competence, and in a tranquil old age. In what light can we view this natural order of things, but as a declaration by the Author of nature, that virtue is pleasing, and vice is displeasing to him; that he is the friend of righteousness and the enemy of sin? We may collect his intentions from his works as well as from revelation, and ought confidently to conclude that holiness is the object of his approbation, when we find good connected with the practice, and evil with the neglect of it, in the course of his provi
Rom. vii. 12.
† Ps. xix. 8-11.
dence. In a word, the dispensations in which his justice has been revealed, are also manifestations of his holiness, of his infinite abhorrence of sin. Why has he acted, as if his own works were so offensive, that he could not bear to look upon them, and be delighted in destroying what it once gave him pleasure to create? Why did he overwhelm the former earth with the waters of the deluge? Why did he consume cities with a shower of fire and brimstone from the clouds? Why has he called for famine and pestilence to sweep away the human race by thousands? Why does he command the sword to come out of its scabbard, and bathe itself in the blood of the slain? What meaneth the heat of this great anger? The cause is sin; and the design is to remind us, that notwithstanding his usual patience, his detestation of it is undiminished, and will not permit him always to be silent; that the notions which men entertain of him as an easy and indulgent Being are false, and that he is a consuming fire to the workers of iniquity.
The holiness of God shines with peculiar lustre in redemption. It has dispelled the cloud which sin had spread over the character of God, and revealed him in all his glory, as the moral Governor of the world. Let me remind you, that one design of this dispensation, was to shew us what human nature originally was, and what it must become, that it may be acceptable to God, and be admitted into his communion. With this view he sent his own Son into the world, in the likeness of sinful flesh, but without the slightest stain of depravity. Upon this man the image of God, with which Adam was adorned, was fully and distinctly impressed, so that all the virtues were exhibited in their highest perfection, and he is the great example to which other men are destined to be conformed. That which was conceived in the womb of the virgin was "a holy thing." The holiness of God was displayed in the public approbation of our Saviour by a voice from heaven proclaiming that the Father was well pleased with him; for this testimony was borne to him because he was holy. But let us consider more particularly his death. The immediate design of it was to make atonement for sin; but the ultimate design was the sanctification of men, their restoration to that state of purity from which they had fallen. The means were of the most wonderful and unexpected kind, the substitution, obedience, and sufferings of a divine person, the crucifixion of the Lord of glory; and from them we judge of the importance of the end. We infer that holiness is infinitely acceptable to God, since he resorted to this extraordinary method of manifesting it to the universe, and re-establishing it in our world. "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”* By satisfying justice, he removed the obstacle to the gracious exercise of almighty power, for rectifying the disorder of our nature and restoring its primitive beauty. Let us trace the consequences of his death. A new scheme begins to be executed; a new intercourse is opened between heaven and earth; new means are employed; a new agent commences his operations upon the soul. The Holy Ghost, who moved upon the dark abyss and impregnated it with the seeds of life, performs the nobler work of the second creation. Old things pass away, and all things become new. What is the aim of those convictions of sin which he awakens in the conscience, of the spiritual light which he causes to shine into the mind, of his mysterious influence upon the thoughts, and volitions, and feelings; of the comforts with which he refreshes the soul; of his admonitions, and counsels, and reproofs; of his excitements to prayer, and vigilance, and activity; what is the aim of these varied operations, but to produce a gradual assimilation to our Maker; to refine us from moral pollution, that we may finally appear before him, without spot or blemish? He is the regenerating Spirit, and is conducting his plans with a view
Tit. ii. 14.