“On the Holiness of God” is taken from the July 1810 issue of the Baptist Magazine, page 383. Though the language is somewhat antique, this wonderful statement of orthodox theology from an early Baptist magazine is a great encouragement.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord. –Isaiah, vi, 3.
Having completed our series of contemplations on the natural Perfections of God, we now proceed to the consideration of his moral Perfections.
Let us contemplate the nature of the Divine Holiness. The term Holiness is ambiguous, its sense cannot therefore be determined by its own force, but by the connection in which it is found. It is often applied under the Mosaic dispensation, to the institutions of that ritual, to the tabernacle, to the temple, to various vessels, etc. and intends their being separated or set apart for the Divine service. But when applied to God, it signifies his moral rectitude, or a disposition to act according to the harmony and fitness of things.
To facilitate our meditation in this subject, let us reflect on the relation that subsists between one being and another in the moral world. There is a relation between a man of opulence and an indigent dependant; between a father and a son; between a governor and a subject. When the opulent man visits the abodes of wretchedness, and by his beneficence gladdens the heart of the poor, there is a harmony, a fitness in the act. When the father is attentive to the welfare of his son; anxiously superintends his education; corrects the first risings of vice, and leads him into virtuous habits; there is a harmony, a fitness in his conduct. When the magistrate guards the liberties and possessions of his subjects; defends the innocent from oppression; and punishes the violators of public order; there is a certain harmony and fitness in his administration. Every thing being contrary to these modes of proceeding is destructive of moral order and beauty. But the relation of human beings does not end here: there is a certain propriety of conduct to be observed by the persons who receive these favors, which equally enters into our views of fitness. Thus when the indigent man is grateful to his benefactor; when the son submits to the instructions and decisions of his father; when the subject is obedient to the sovereign: there is beautiful proportion in their conduct.
To pursue this idea a little farther: we are convinced that there is some relation between God and man. He is our Creator, we are his creatures. That relation requires laws suited to his dignity and to our natures. If we submit to our Creator’s injunctions, love him supremely, and use every effort to obey his will; we then conform to the law of that relation which subsists between us and him, and in proportion to this conformity, there is a propriety in our conduct, which we term order, harmony, fitness, rectitude; and which the Scriptures dignify by the term holiness. These reflections will lead us to form some idea of the Holiness of God.
God is related to all intelligent beings. He is the Author of their existence. But had he never furnished them with the means of support; had he never given them sentiments relative to his own existence and perfections; had he required no obedience from them; had he abandoned them, or given them laws not suited to their natures; or had he declared his will in a manner, which by all their efforts, they could not understand; there would have been a moral unfitness in his conduct; which to impute to the divine Being would be highly indecent. But God is holy. There is a glorious harmony in his conduct suitable to the relation which he bears to his creatures.
God is holy. Therefore, when he created intelligent beings, he did not abandon them, but gave them such ideas of himself as were suited to the advancement of their happiness. He communicated to them such views of the connexion between virtue and happiness, and vice and misery, as left them no occasion to complain of his neglect. He gave them such views of his own character, and their duty to him, as should lead them ever to consider themselves accountable at his tribunal. In this respect there is a glorious harmony and fitness in the divine conduct to his creatures.
God is holy. Therefore, when he made a revelation of his will to a miserable world, he considered the allurements of vice, the temptations of the destroyer, the despair that succeeds a conviction of guilt, the fears of the humble, and the gloomy mistrust of the desponding: to these he opposed the persuasion of compassion, the encouragements of supernatural assistance, and thousands of tender promises, calculated to inspire the most ardent hope, and the most vigorous progression. There is in this respect also a glorious harmony and fitness in the divine conduct.
God is holy. Therefore, to allay those fears which might arise from a comparison of God with his creatures, he condescends to bind himself by an oath to the strictest observance of his engagements. Being willing to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, he confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. There is in these condescending engagements a beauty and fitness in the conduct of the divine Being towards his creatures.
Now the purity or rectitude of God, which inclines him to the love of order, and induces him to abhor everything that is sinful or contrary to order, is not an accident of his nature, but inseparable from it. It is not an acquired excellence, but that which is essential to his nature, and that which invariably influences all his operations. Nor ought we to think of the holiness of God as a mere act of his will, for that would suppose a possibility of his being unholy, and would imply that holiness was not essential to him as God! It would follow, that all the approbation he manifests to the obedient and all the punishment he inflicts on the wicked, do not arise so much from the nature of things, as from an arbitrary act of his will. God is therefore holy by the necessity of his nature. By the same necessity that the heaven of heavens cannot contain him–that he is from everlasting to everlasting–that his understanding is infinite–by that necessity he is glorious in holiness. But when we assert that God possesses these properties by necessity, we are not to imagine that they are imposed on him by something superior to himself; but that it is his nature to be eternal, wise, and holy; and his will perfectly and invariably inclines him to enjoy those excellencies.
God is glorious in Holiness. Every other Divine perfection receives the highest lustre from this. It is the basis of that undisturbed tranquility which he incessantly derives from himself. It mingles with every plan framed by his Wisdom; gives direction to his Omnipotence, draws his affections towards those who possess this likeness to himself; and arms his hand with lightning against the guilty. It is this which adorns his character with those beauties which render him the most lovely Being in the universe. It is this which surrounds him with so much majesty and grandeur, that when thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, approach his seat, they cry, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.
The Holiness of God may be deduced from his natural Perfections. The man who should deny that There is a God, would deserve to be esteemed a madman or a fool; and whoever should attribute properties to the divine Being inconsistent with the sublimity of his nature, would merit equal degradation. If we acknowledge the existence of God, we must be conscious that the excellency of his nature places him infinitely beyond our comprehension. Of this, however, we may be satisfied, every property of his nature must be eminently perfect. His duration must be eternal, his understanding infinite; his happiness uninterrupted; his supremacy independent; and upon these considerations we found our notions of the Holiness of God.
God possesses a most perfect understanding of his relation to his creatures, of their relation to him, and to each other. He perfectly discerns the fitness of one action to another, and the relation of all actions to their proper end. Therefore he can never violate the laws of propriety through inadvertence or ignorance, but is ever able to maintain a uniform Holiness of conduct.
God is infinite in Power; therefore he can operate according to the dictates of his understanding, without being compelled to swerve from his determinations. If he intend to display his Holiness, he is perfectly able to do all things according to the counsel of his own will.
The felicity of God is perfect: it is so complete that it cannot be augmented; so exalted, that he cannot hope for a greater degree. The consequence of this perfection of felicity is, that he can feel no inducement to alter his arrangements, or to act contrary to those measures which Holiness induces him to prefer.
God is the greatest of all Beings. All the myriads of angels and men are as nothing before him; and if ever he indulge them with nearness to himself, they are proportionally convinced of his grandeur, and overwhelmed with his immensity. He is so exalted that he cannot be restrained or counteracted in his proceeding by any other, and is so superior to all others that he can never be influenced or tempted to relinquish those designs which tend to promote the moral harmony of the universe.
The Holiness of God may be also deduced from his conduct toward mankind, Not now to insist on the display of it in the moral law, and in his distinguishing approbation of holy men; passing over its manifestation in the flood that deluged the old world, the fire which destroyed the cities of the plain, the plagues of Egypt, and the signal judgments inflicted on the enemies of his Church; all which are very eminent exhibitions of the Holiness of God; we may remark that even in those instances which infidelity has selected, on which to ground objections against the character of God as revealed in the Scriptures, the divine Holiness appears in the highest lustre.
Infidels usually allege that the Scriptures represent God as tempting men to actions which the laws of nature condemn–as contributing to that impiety which we believe is infinitely offensive to him,–as inspiring a creature to blasphemy–and hurrying others to punishment, by impelling them to believe the greatest absurdities. Let us examine these allegations. True, it is said, God did tempt Abraham; but the sacred writer by no means intended that God acted the part of a wicked spirit; for God tempteth no man to the commission of sin. All that is meant by the phrase is the discipline or trial to which the divine Being put the graces of the patriarch, that they might be found to praise, and honour, and glory. True, God commanded Abraham to offer up his son Isaac; which is asserted to be a command to commit murder. But may not the Creator, as the sovereign arbiter of life and death, dispose of his creatures as he pleases? Though, by the sequel, it appears that the command was merely a trial of the patriarch’s obedience and faith, and was probably intended to convey some symbolical information of the great Sacrifice that was to be made for the redemption of mankind. True, it is written, The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart; but we are not to understand herefrom that the Lord actively influenced a man to be insensible and impenitent; but, as an act of justice for repeated crimes, he withheld the influence of his grace, and suffered him, by a succession of impieties to become more perverse and abandoned. True it is, that David appears to vindicate the curses of Shimei, by saying, The Lord hath bidden him. But we cannot imagine that God suggested these curses to Shimei, for in that case he would have inclined him to what his law had forbidden. It should be remembered that David was at that time suffering the corrections due to his sins; he therefore considered the rebellion of Absalom, the defection of Ahitophel, and the curses of Shimei, as so many instruments in the hands of God; and while they were gratifying their own ambition and cruelty, God overruled their conduct for the promotion of his own purposes. In this sense Joseph spake to his brethren, Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life. In this sense Job exclaimed, when he had been plundered by the Sabeans and Chaldeans, The Lord hath taken away. Thus the Holiness of God appears in his overruling the very follies and crimes of men to the promotion of his purposes of good.
The Holiness of God may be adduced from his interpositions in regard to human salvation. He [chose] his people, not merely to heaven, but to holiness. Their Redeemer was undefiled; his pattern was perfect, and his righteousness spotless. When he took upon him our sins, he was treated as a sinner; he suffered accordingly, though he was the beloved Son of God. The Saviour’s sufferings exhibit the Holiness of God in the strongest light. He sends his Spirit to regenerate those who shall be saved; inspires them with the most ardent desires for holiness, and makes our hatred of every sin one great evidence of our love to himself. The requisition of repentance, the chastisements he inflicts on those he loves, whenever they sin against him, and all the directions of his Gospel, tend chiefly to promote holiness; and the peculiar manifestations of himself to those who are most conformed to his holy precepts, connects holiness and happiness by indissoluble ties. The whole plan and conduct of human redemption plainly declares the Lord is holy.
If God is holy; it is reasonable to infer that he will vindicate and honor that perfection, by the punishment of sin; it is the thing his soul abhorreth.
If God is holy; every saint has the greatest encouragement to expect his approbation. A holy man begins to resemble God; and he ever delights in his own likeness.
The Holiness of God enforces the deepest humility. There is always a pride in man which leads him to value his own performances. But what are all human excellencies compared with those of God? In proportion as we realize the Holiness of God, we shall be ready to say with Abraham, I am but dust and ashes; with Jacob, Less than the least of all thy mercies; with Job, Behold I am vile. We shall feel our need of a Mediator when we approach the divine Majesty; we shall discern the beauty and fitness of the appointment of Christ, that by him we might have access unto the Father.
The Holiness of God should arm us against temptation. Thou God seest me, should be enough to impress upon every power of the soul the solemn charge of the poet,
“Nor let my weaker passions dare [//] Consent to sin, for God is there.”
The Holiness of God leads forward our hope to the most consummate bliss. Holiness, without defect, shall constitute the enjoyment of heaven. There shall be no sin to excite the Divine displeasure, or to grieve our hearts; there shall be no irregularity in our affections, but our duty and our enjoyment will be inseparable.