Be Ye Holy For I Am Holy
A. E. Long, Nutley
“Be ye holy; for I am holy”
The Bible observes a proper balance between doctrine and practice; it is neither all doctrine nor all practice. There is a mingling of the two; objective truth has its place, and so has subjective truth. We are wise when we respect both in due measure. There is a tendency in some to go to extremes, over-emphasising doctrine to the neglect of practice or magnifying subjective truth at the expense of objective truth. Just as “the legs of the lame are not equal” so a lack of balance between the doctrinal and the practical will conduce to spiritual lameness. It does matter what we believe, since doctrine must be right for conduct to be right. If doctrine be wrong, conduct cannot be right. For that reason, we would not normally expect a high degree of behaviour from an atheist, whose standards do not respect God, or from an agnostic, whose code of behaviour can have no basis in God who, he says, cannot be known.
It is a cardinal Bible doctrine that God is holy. God is revealed as Great, All-wise, Almighty, Blessed, Gracious, Merciful, Good, Faithful, Righteous and, as embracing all these attributes, Holy. He is holiness par excellence - “glorious in holiness”.
We tend to associate God’s holiness with man’s sinfulness, as though the former had no proper manifestation apart from the latter. Indeed, there are passages of Scripture which tend to colour our views in this respect. Isaiah’s vision of “the Lord . . . high and lifted up” was essentially a revelation of the holiness of God, as proclaimed by the seraphim “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”. The vision came in the year of King Uzziah’s death. Uzziah had affronted the holiness of God in that he impiously trespassed into the temple to burn incense and, despite the remonstrances of the priests, persisted in doing so. He had crossed the threshold of God’s house to perform, for him, a sacrilegious act, for which he was stricken with leprosy until the day of his death. In the vision, God would remind Isaiah, and all others, of the requirements of His holiness; indeed, Isaiah saw that “the foundations of the thresholds”, which Uzziah had so wantonly crossed, “were moved” at the cry of the seraphim, Isa. 6. 4. R.V.
The effect of this revelation of God’s holiness upon Isaiah was to cause him to realise his own sinfulness and that of the nation to which he belonged and to which God would send him: “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 unclean lips were symptomatic of a graver malady, v. 7. Uzziah had been virtually deposed for transgressing against the holiness of God; Isaiah saw “the King eternal” in His unimpeachable holiness. God is intrinsically holy, even when not seen against the sombre background of man’s sinfulness. He is “thrice holy”, as the triple ascription of holiness by the seraphim proclaimed. They were without fault in the holy presence of God, yet proclaimed what was absolutely, not merely relatively, true of Him. Likewise, the Lord Jesus, with whom was no taint of sin whatsoever, addressed God as “Holy Father”, a form of address we would do well to imitate and with far greater cause, since we approach Him from a much lower level of worth. Man’s holiness at best is relative. When we sin, our holiness suffers damage and needs repair by confession and abandonment of the sin. God is absolutely holy. It is unthinkable that He, unlike ourselves, could ever lapse one iota from His standard of absolute holiness. The Holy Trinity alone can conform to this absolute standard. Accordingly, Hannah exulted “There is none holy as the Lord”. Likewise, the victors over the apocalyptic beast proclaim “thou only art holy”, Rev. 15. 4. Heber’s great hymn expresses this truth: “Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee, Perfect in power, in love, and purity”.
We commonly speak of “the Holy Trinity”. Although this is not a Bible phrase, it expresses a Bible truth, a truth not directly revealed in the Old Testament, although hinted at. Its full revelation was to await the coming of the New Testament. There is a hint in the threefold ascription of “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” in Isaiah’s vision, and this is confirmed by the divine question “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”. The “us” indicates plurality in the Godhead. Psalm 99 is divided into three parts, verses 1 to 3, verses 4 and 5 and verses 6 to 9. The first two parts end with “Holy is he” and the last with “the Lord our God is holy”, (see the Revised Version). This threefold reference to holiness again foreshadows New Testament teaching concerning the Holy Trinity. Compatibly, each member of the Holy Trinity is called “the Holy One”. In the Old Testament, God is often referred to as “the Holy One of Israel”. At Pentecost, quoting words from Psalm 16 and applying them to the Lord Jesus in His resurrection, Peter affirmed that what had never been true of David was in fact true of the Lord: “neither will thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption”, words spoken prophetically by David of Christ. Later, although surely not forgetful of his own denial of the Lord, Peter nonetheless affirmed that the Jews “denied the Holy One”. The Holy Spirit is customarily referred to as such. He is pre-eminently holy. In his first Epistle, John wrote “ye have an unction (anointing) from the Holy One . . . the anointing which ye have received abideth in you”, 2. 20, 27, words which can only refer to the Holy Spirit.
In Bible terminology, a name bespeaks character. God is holy, therefore his very Name is Holy. In one of his prescient passages Isaiah wrote “thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place”, 57. 15. Such a profound statement seems out of place with what follows: “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit”, yet there is no inconsistency in bringing together these apparent contrarieties. In the pattern prayer given by request of His disciples, our Lord’s opening words strike the same note, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”. The prayer, concerned as it is with God’s kingdom glory and the disciples’ needs, first takes notice of God’s holy name. Psalm 111 affirms that “holy and reverend is his name”, while Ezekiel reminds us that God is “jealous for my holy name”. Whatever offends against His holy name calls into question His character. One of God’s gravest complaints against Israel was that they “profaned” His holy name by their profane behaviour. The conduct of God’s people reflects for good or evil upon God Himself; His name is either magnified or vilified through His people’s conduct.
God’s holy Presence renders holy the Place, Thing or Person with which it is associated. The desert place of the burning bush became “holy ground” to Moses. It was proper that he enquired into the phenomenon of a bush that burned with fire and was not consumed and a fire that needed no fuel to sustain it, else God would not have spoken to him. It was when God saw that Moses “turned aside to see” that He spoke to Moses. The enquiry was proper, subject to reverence: “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground”. God’s holy presence made the very place holy. By the same token, the place “by Jericho”, where the captain of the Lord’s host confronted Joshua, became holy ground. God’s holy presence sanctified the place. The vessels of the tabernacle were holy by reason of God’s sanctifying presence, whilst the inner shrine of the tabernacle itself, called “the holy of holies”, was so called from its Holy Occupant. Access to it was denied to the common people or even to the ordinary priests, for only the high priest could enter and then only on the day of atonement. The fact of a strictly limited access underlined the awful holiness of God. God’s throne is holy: “God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness”, Ps. 47. 8. We rightly prize access to “the throne of grace”, where we may communicate our needs to our “great high priest”. We do well to remember, at the same time, that it is the same throne as “God’s holy throne”, and come with circumspection.
In a passage written to the carnal Corinthians, and which can only be described as amazing, Paul wrote “Know ye not that ye are the temple (inner sanctuary) of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? ... for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”, 1 Cor. 3. 16, 17. Corporately, in their persons, the Christian community at Corinth was constituted a “holy temple in the Lord”. There is no greater New Testament truth than this, that the holy presence of God makes of Christian believers a most holy place. From this fact stemmed Paul’s warning, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy”. To desecrate that holy place by improper behaviour is to strike a blow at God Himself.
To be continued.