THE HOLINESS OF GOD
A Call to Gratitude
Professor R. A. Finlayson (1895-1989)
We owe both the word and the thought of holiness distinctly to revelation. It is only the Bible that speaks of the holiness of God, and the Bible speaks of God as the only Holy One. ‘There is none holy as the LORD’ is a declaration that excludes every created being from the possession of essential holiness. This, indeed, seems the root idea of holiness, that it belongs to a Being who is separate and different from all that is not Himself. God’s holiness, therefore, constitutes His distinction and separateness from all that is created. This, as we have said, is essentially a Biblical revelation of God. It does not enter into man’s own conception of God. The gods of the heathen, for example, were not credited with holiness. They may have been conceived of as possessing justice, wisdom, power, mercy, but not holiness. It is thus left to the Bible to reveal to us the holiness of God, and the conception is interwoven with all its history; it is the foundation strand of all its legislation, the inspiration of all its poetry, and the standard and touchstone of all its values. Moreover, the Bible calls us not merely to a recognition and acknowledgment of the holiness of God, but to gratitude upon the remembrance of it. ‘Give thanks upon remembrance of his holiness’ is an injunction more than once repeated in the Book. A mere man remembering perfect holiness with gratitude! A sinner seeking access to God and remembering His holiness with a thankful heart! How can it be done?
1. Our gratitude is invoked by the recognition that the holiness of God is the condition of our reverence and worship. If God were not holy, He could not become a true and rightful object of our worship. That is to say, we could not give Him the reverence and worship of our souls without doing violence to our own spiritual natures. That is why pagan worship is so degrading to the human spirit: holiness is not an attribute of the pagan gods. Were God all else, and not holy, we could not yield Him the worship of our spirits. Were He almighty merely, we might cringe before Him and tremble in His presence, but that is not worship.
Were He all-wise merely, we could come before Him with deference and admiration, to learn but not to worship. Were He all-merciful merely, we might approach Him with confidence and hope, but not in the spirit of true worship. It is only in perfect holiness that the spirit of man finds a fit object of reverence and adoration. It is not surprising, therefore, that everything connected with the ancient Temple and its worship Â— the altar, the priests, the sacrifice, the oil, the bread, the vessels Â— were designated holy. Similarly, all the manifestations that God, in Old Testament times, had made of Himself as the object of our worship were associated with His holiness, such as His holy Name, His holy Day, His holy Habitation, His holy Word. Nor does the holiness of God receive less emphasis in the New Testament, however much men may speak to the contrary. Christ is the holiness of God incarnate. The glory of Christ’s life was the outshining of His holiness; His death was the most adequate vindication of the divine holiness that the moral universe had ever seen. The sacrifice of Calvary indicated that it was only as holiness did its work that mercy could flow savingly to the sinner. And so in the Bible throughout, worship ever has in view the holiness of God. The Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea worshipped God, saying: ‘Who is like unto thee, 0 LORD; who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness?’ The Psalmist had the holiness of God in view when he cried, ‘Exalt ye the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; holy is he.’ The Song of Moses and the Lamb, sung by the sea of glass, has this note likewise: ‘Who shall not fear thee, 0 Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy.’ And the ‘living creatures’ of John’s Apocalypse rest not day nor night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ Thus we see that it is the holiness of God that calls forth the worship of His saints, alike in the Old Testament and the New, alike on earth and in heaven. And because God is holy, and holiness is the expression of His perfection and the very essence of His nature, so the human spirit, unfettered and emancipated, can bow before Him in worship and adoration. Since man must worship, shall we not rejoice we have a God worthy of our worship, and shall we not thank Him upon every remembrance of His holiness?
2. Our gratitude is further invoked in understanding that the holiness of God is the sheet-anchor of our faith. Though faith might perhaps stretch out to a God that was not revealed as holy, it could not long retain its hold. Faith might shelter for a while under the wings of mercy, but its foothold there were insecure if the foundations of mercy were not laid in holiness. The truth is that God would not be a fit object of trust if He bestowed mercy without respect to holiness. Such mercy would bestow no security for the soul of man, and faith could no longer live. This is as true in the wider field of the Divine operations as it is in the realm of a man’s soul. As we could not hope for personal peace and security from
operations that did not proceed from the holiness of God, so we can entertain no hope for the world if perfect holiness is not behind its varying fortunes. If God is not holy, there is no ground for faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness on earth. When we look abroad on the world as it has been in every age and see the conflict of good and evil, of light and darkness, of truth and falsehood, what hope can we cherish that it will end in the triumph of righteousness? In our own day we see the same fierce conflict Â— more grimly terrible, perhaps, than ever it has been. Wickedness seems in the ascendancy and truth is fallen in the streets. The forces of evil are giving battle and the final issue would be very uncertain, did we not believe that the God of the whole earth is holy. We believe that right will triumph, that truth will prevail, that righteousness will be established, and hate and tyranny overthrown. How much cause have we, then, to thank God upon every remembrance of His Holiness.
3. Our gratitude is called forth by the knowledge that the holiness of God is the ground of the most blessed hope of the Christian life. Scripture everywhere indicates that believers are called to holiness, and the hope of their calling lies in the holiness of God. If God were not holy they could never entertain a good hope that they would ever be holy. How much this must mean to the soul torn in awful conflict as evil strives with good and the old nature seeks dominion over the new. At such times the victory might seem to lie with evil, and we cry in an intensity of agony: ‘0 wretched man that I am! Who shall save rime from this body of death?’ Certainly the struggle seems unequal, and we feel we are no match for that trinity of evil Â— the world, the flesh, and the devil Â— arrayed against us. When we are trying to assess the probabilities of victory, let us recall this one factor that is decisive Â— the holiness of God. Because God is holy, His destiny for us is holy, His operations in us are holy, as truly as His requirements of us are holy. ‘Be ye holy, as I am holy’ is much more than a command from God to us. Like all the commands of God to His people, it conceals a promise. It is a promise that holiness is the destiny of God’s people, and that the Holy Spirit of God is conforming them daily to that destiny. It is more; it indicates that God Himself is the standard of our holiness and that to be like Him implies that we are to share His holiness. Thus God’s nature is both the standard of our holiness and the pledge of its attainment. What cause for gratitude the struggling people of God therefore have when they remember His holiness Â— the standard and the pledge of theirs.
Thus we learn that holiness, the word that the seraphs utter with veiled faces, the word in which all God’s perfections centre, is man’s incentive to draw nigh to God in the humility and brokenness of worship, man’s highest encouragement amidst the unequal struggles of this life, and man’s highest glory in the eternity to come. Let us take
hold of this hope and comfort in troublous days, and thank God upon every remembrance of His holiness.