HEB. xii. 14.
Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
"HOLY, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty!" This is the language of saints and angels in their solemn worship. Yes: the God who made us; the God who rules us; the God who will judge us is most holy. "Who is like unto him glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" The due consideration of God's holiness will make us serious at all times, and especially when we consider our own unholiness. Well may each of us adopt the words of the prophet Isaiah, "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."— "Who can stand before this holy Lord God?"
When God created man, he made him holy. God created man in his own image, which image was holiness; for this is the peculiar character of God. But man soon lost the glory of his nature by sin. He became an unholy being; and God, "who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and who cannot look upon iniquity," banished him from paradise; for sin broke off the happy intimacy that before subsisted. As there can be no communion between light and darkness, so there can be no communion between a holy God and an unholy sinner. And this is the reason of what is affirmed in our text, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord." To "see the Lord," is a description of the happiness of heaven, where all his divine perfections will be displayed to the admiration and delight of all the redeemed; but we cannot see him without holiness. Now God, who made man holy at first, has graciously contrived to make him holy again. This is a chief part of his great salvation; for, by the blood of Christ, the guilt of sin is taken away from believers; and, by the Spirit of Christ, they are born again, and made new creatures; that is, they are made holy, and so made meet for heaven, which is seeing God. "The pure in heart shall see God."
Our Business at this time is,
I. To shew what holiness is.
II. To prove the necessity of holiness; and,
III. To point out the means of holiness.
I. Let us consider the nature of true holiness.—Briefly, holiness is the image of God restored in the soul; or, in other words, "Holiness is that purity of a man in his nature, inclinations, and actions, which is an imitation and expression of the divine image."
Observe here, holiness is purity; the contrary of that horrid defilement sin has produced in the soul of man. There are two things in sin, the guilt of it, and the defilement of it. By the guilt of it, we are liable to eternal punishment; by the defilement of it, we are made unfit to serve or enjoy God. Guilt makes us afraid. Defilement makes us ashamed. Thus Adam had both guilt and fear upon his first sin. Now, in the salvation of Jesus Christ, God has provided for taking both these away from us. The guilt of sin is wholly removed from those who believe by the blood of Christ, which made atonement for it. The filth of sin is removed, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in all those who are born again.
The purity we speak of is the purity of the heart, or nature. It is not enough that the outward actions are not impure; there can he no true holiness till the heart is purified. Now many people overlook this entirely. They think it enough if they are good livers, as they call it, or do good works. This was the fatal mistake of the Pharisees, so severely exposed by our blessed Lord. They were very particular about meats and drinks, and washing every thing, to prevent defilement; but he charges them with washing the outside only, and taking no care of the heart: they drew nigh to God with the mouth, but their heart was far from him. Their inward part was very wickedness; they were like white-washed tombs, beautiful without, but full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Our Lord therefore insisted upon the necessity of being born again; or being partaker of a new and divine nature. Believers are "born from above," "born of God;" and as every child partakes of the same nature with his father, so do the new born sons of God; they "put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; they are renewed in the spirit of their minds, and put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." Eph. iv. 22-24.
The heart being thus renewed, there must of course be new dispositions and inclinations. Every nature has its proper desires and inclinations. Those of the Christian are holy, in conformity to the will of God. The alteration that grace makes is strikingly represented by the prophet Isaiah, in the 11th. chapter:—"the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the cow, and the bear, shall lie down and feed together;" that is, wicked men, however fierce, shall be so altered by the efficacy of the gospel and grace of Christ, that they shall become meek, and gentle, and loving, even to the weakest Christians. Brethren, have you experienced any change of this sort? And what must we think of persecutors, who despise religion; who hate and hurt serious people? Surely these are still lions and wolves, and cannot be esteemed the sheep of Christ. O that such may know what it is to be born again!
Let us now consider briefly, what are the prevailing dispositions and inclinations of holy persons.
They are under the habitual influence of the fear of God— not the fear of a slave, but the fear of a child. God has put his fear into their hearts; so that, instead of living without him, and contrary to him, as once they did, they are in the fear of God all the day long. They know that his eye is upon them; they set him always before them, and their desire is, to please and glorify him in all they think, and speak, and do.
Again, they are humble. Humility is the root of all other graces, and the only soil in which they will grow. They know themselves; they know the plague of their own hearts: they are conscious of innumerable sins to which the world are strangers. The remembrance of sins committed in their carnal state, covers them with shame; and the sense of much remaining corruption keeps them low in their own eyes; so that they not only lie in the dust before God, but they are kept from despising their neighbour. If they differ from the worst of mankind, they remember that grace alone made them to differ. Thus, being converted, they receive the kingdom of heaven as little children, and learn to live constantly dependent on the wisdom, grace, and power, of their heavenly Father.
Once more, Holy persons are spiritual and heavenly-minded: for, " to be carnally minded, is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." Faith has led them to regard future and eternal things, far above the vanities of time; for that faith, by which they now live, is "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. "That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit." Their minds are disposed to prefer spiritual to carnal things. When engaged in spiritual duties they are in their element; and, at times, can look down with becoming indifference on all the trifles of time. Their "conversation is in heaven." By the cross of Christ "the world is crucified to them;" that is, they are no more delighted with the world, than a good man would be with the rotten carcase of a malefactor; and they likewise are "crucified to the world;” the world can act upon them with no greater efficacy than the objects of sense can upon a dead person.
But above all, Love is the grand prevailing disposition of holy persons. Without love, all attainments and professions are vain. God says, "My son, give me thine heart;" and the believer replies—
"Take my poor heart, and let it be,
" For ever closed to all but thee."
God appears infinitely lovely to all true believers. His love in Christ Jesus is strongly attractive. They love him because he first loved them. Having a good hope through grace that God for Christ's sake has pardoned their sins, accepted their persons, and that he will bring them to glory, they feel themselves constrained to depart from iniquity which they know he hates, and to practise holiness, which they know he loves. Hence his people, his word, his day, his cause, become their delight; and, to glorify him, is the new end of their being. This leads us further to observe, that the actions of such persons must needs be holy also. Their nature being renewed, and their dispositions sanctified.
They become holy in all manner of conversation and godliness. It would be infamous hypocrisy in a man to profess that his heart is holy if his life is immoral. Morality there may be without holiness: but there can be no holiness without morality. The law of God being written on the heart, and the love of God shed abroad in it, obedience will become easy and pleasant. Christ's yoke is easy, and his burden is light. But here is a large field which we can but just enter upon.
Good works, properly so called, must be done from a right principle; that is, the new nature, or grace of the Spirit, in a believer: they must be done according to a right rule, which is the word of God; and they must be done to a right end; and that is, to glorify God. O how few works are truly good, if tried by these rules!
Holiness comprehends, all the duties we owe to God; these must be regarded in the first place: whereas many people leave them entirely out of their account. What is more common than to hear ignorant persons comfort themselves against the fears of death, by their having been honest, and having paid every one his own. To such people we may put the question that a minister once put to such a person on a dying bed—"But have you paid God what you owed him?" Alas, we owe God our hearts, our love, our obedience; but how many have forgot God; lived without God; and rebelled against God, all their lives. But a holy man has a steady regard to the word, will, and glory of God, in all his ways.
Nor will our neighbour be forgotten. Religion does not consist entirely in praying and worshipping God; the holy man brings religion into all his concerns; according to that ancient promise, Zech. xiv. 20. "In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord;" that is, Holiness shall not be confined to priests and temples, it shall be brought into common life, and all the concerns of it be managed to the glory of God. It is a great truth, that “to be really holy is to be relatively holy." Holiness will make good husbands and wives; good parents and children; good masters and mistresses; good tradesmen; good servants and good subjects. It must do this. It actually does it, to the astonishment of all who observe it; and this is the best way that people can take to promote the gospel and make their neighbours like it. Thus must every believer become a practical preacher, "holding forth the word of life." Our "light must shine before men," and then, "they, seeing our good works, will glorify our Father which is in heaven," This is a short account of real holiness: let us now proceed.
II. To prove the necessity of holiness: our text declares, that "without it, no man shall see the Lord." The whole Scripture testifies to the same truth. And surely it must be evident, in a moment, to every considerate person, for it is a part of our salvation; and to talk of being saved without holiness, is as absurd as to speak of being saved without salvation. Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins, not to save us in them. To be saved from the guilt of sin, or to be pardoned, is but half our salvation; Jesus Christ equally designed by his death to "redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Christ therefore cannot, will not be divided; we must have the whole of his salvation, or none of it. Let none therefore dream of salvation while the love and practice of sin is voluntarily continued.
Besides, the command of God shews the necessity of holiness. What is the language of the law? "I am the Lord your God, ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy:" and it is the language of the holy gospel too. To shew the eternal force and propriety of this reason, it is transferred to the New Testament, where St. Peter saith, "As he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." The same "gospel that brings salvation, teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts; and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world."
Again, The electing love of God proves the necessity of holiness. Did God choose from all eternity those whom he will finally glorify? Yes; but for what purpose? "That they should be holy," Eph. i. 4. Did he predestinate them to eternal life? Yes, and for this end, " that they should be conformed to the image of his Son," Rom. viii. 29. And accordingly, such persons are exhorted by St. Paul, Col. iii. 12, to "put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness," &c. These things become them, and are required of them, on account of their interest in the electing love of God.
Above all, the nature of God, who is himself infinite holiness, and the nature of heaven, which consists in the sight, service, and enjoyment of God, make it absolutely necessary that we should be holy; for "without this," as our text affirms, "no man shall see the Lord." No man; be he who he may. Whether high or low; rich or poor; learned or ignorant; esteemed or disesteemed of men. No man; whatever his knowledge or religion may be, or however high his profession; whether he boast of his virtue, or his creed, of his works, or his prayers— all, all is in vain without holiness. Let no man then deceive himself with vain words, the God of heaven has decreed that the unholy man shall not enter into his kingdom.
Indeed, it is most certain that heaven itself would be a hell to the wicked. The natural man well knows and must confess he has no relish for any thing heavenly. His pleasures are sensual and worldly. His delight is in folly, and vanity, and sin. The wicked of the earth are his chosen companions. He hates and persecutes the godly; despises them because they are saints; perhaps disturbs their worship, and injures their persons. Prayer and praise, reading and hearing the word of God, are dull and melancholy things. The Sabbath itself is a burden. How then can an unholy soul go to heaven; it is impossible in the nature of things, and doubly impossible by the decree of God. Much more might be said to show the necessity of holiness; but surely enough has been said to satisfy every reasonable person. May we not hope that some are now saying, Yes, it is plain enough. God has said it, and I believe it. I believe it for myself, and I am now ready to enquire, How may I, who am an unholy creature by nature and by practice, become holy? We shall gladly answer so necessary an inquiry, for this is the last thing proposed, namely,
III. The means whereby we may become holy.
And here it is necessary to observe, that no person in a natural state can arrive at true holiness by his own power or exertions. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh;” nothing more, nothing better, nor ever will be. Till we are born again; till we believe in Christ; till we are united to him, we can never be holy in the least degree. The shadow and resemblance of holiness there may be, in morality and virtue; but all the true holiness that ever was in the world, or ever will be in it, is as much from Christ as all the light we have is from the sun. In vain therefore do poor ignorant souls labour for every vanity in fasting, praying, penances, &c. &c, while they forget Christ. Equally wrong is their notion who think they must not be indebted to Christ for pardon, but to their own good endeavours for holiness; the language of the true Christian is, "Surely in the Lord Jesus have I righteousness and strength."
Know therefore, my friends, that as the sin of our nature was derived to us from Adam, the first man, so all the holiness of our new nature must be derived to us from Jesus Christ, the second Adam; that "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we may also bear the image of the heavenly." Now, blessed be God, there is a fullness of grace in Christ, for his whole church; of which church are we, if enabled by faith to receive Christ, and out of his fullness receive grace for grace.
Faith is that grace which God has appointed as the means of our becoming holy. People have a very wrong notion of faith, who think it an enemy of holiness, or good works. If we look into the Scripture we shall find that the hearts of the vilest heathens were "purified by faith in Christ," Acts xv. 9; and "sanctified by faith," Acts xxvi. 18. The faith that brings the convinced sinner to Christ for salvation, receives from him, as it were, pardon with one hand, and holiness with the other; both being equally the design of Christ in his mediatorial work, and equally the desire of every new born soul.
Observe, likewise, that the comforts of the gospel, such as assurance of God's love, and pardon of our sins; peace of conscience; joy in the Holy Ghost; and the hope of glory, have a wonderful tendency to promote our holiness.
For the same purpose we must diligently read our Bibles; frequently hear the preached gospel, and especially abound in prayer. These are properly called Means of grace; and though they have no power in themselves to make us holy, yet are they appointed of God for our use; he has graciously promised to bless them; and, in the diligent use of them, every grace of the Spirit is exercised, and by exercise increased. Thus a sense of the evil of sin, and of the beauty of holiness, is kept up; and thus especially, are our souls led out of themselves, in direct acts of faith, to Jesus, and so enabled to receive daily supplies of grace for our growth in holiness, even “grace for grace."
And is this holiness? O, my friends, where is it to be found? O how little is it to be seen in our world! Yet this is indeed that image of God in which every true Christian is renewed, and without which a person is yet in his sins, and dying so must perish for ever.
And does not this alarm the careless sinner, who daily indulges the love and practice of sin? Say, dying fellow-creature, is not thy heart as far from this holiness as the east is from the west? You know it is. And what must be the consequence? Not believe the God of truth, that unholiness must shut you out of heaven? Has it not been clearly proved that such cannot be admitted there? Your own heart allows that it is impossible.
But surely you are not willing matters should remain thus. Does a desire arise in your heart, O that I were holy? Well blessed be God for such a desire. Know, my friends, that all are alike by nature. If any here are made holy, sovereign grace made them so. Do you begin to cry, What must I do? We answer, first look to Christ for the pardon of your sins; and then, for the purity of your heart. You must not first strive to make yourselves better, and then think you may come to him with better hope of salvation; but come now, come just as you are, and the friend of sinners will receive you.
The same direction may be useful to those who are seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness; who mourn over remaining corruption, and long for the image of God. Look to Jesus for it. Remember that by virtue of union to Christ you may by faith, derive daily grace from him, through the power of the Holy Spirit. "Without him you can do nothing;" but "his grace is sufficient" for all things. In the exercise of constant faith, and in the diligent use of all appointed means, expect the supplies of the Spirit; believing, assuredly, that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it on, till made meet for the heavenly inheritance.