Universal Holiness

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar.

Zechariah 14:20

Verse 20 of Zechariah 14 tells us that “on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. “

Our subject this morning is Universal Holiness.

The predictions of the prophet in this chapter appear to refer to the times of the Gospel, when the word of Christ first preached at Jerusalem, would be propagated far and wide; and when the Messiah’s kingdom would be generally established. But whatever is the special meaning of the words, it will nevertheless be acknowledged, that at all times, and in all places, “Holiness befits the house of the Lord;” (Psalm 93.5) and that it is his royal will and pleasure, that all who name the name of Christ should depart from all iniquity, and be holy in all manner of conversation and godliness.

This holiness, which we call universal holiness, because it extends to the whole man, and to his whole conduct, is described in the text in a remarkable manner. The prophet foretells that holiness to the Lord will be written on the bells or bridles, that is, upon the ornaments of the horses.

Now this inscription, Holy to the Lord, was originally engraved on a plate of gold, and fixed on the front of the mitre, or turban, of the high-priest; and it was ordered that it should be on his forehead, when he went into the most holy place, that he might bear the iniquity of Israel, and that they might be accepted before Jehovah, Exod. 28. 38. In wearing this, he was a type of Christ, our great high priest, “the holy one of God,” who bore our iniquities in his own body on the cross, and who now appears in the presence of God for us, and for our acceptance: it might also denote the personal holiness of true believers, who should be openly devoted to God, as if this inscription appeared on their foreheads.

But it is here said, that this inscription will be found on the ornaments of the horses. The meaning is likely not literal but may more properly be consider to be, that religion will not be confined to sacred persons, times, and places, as this inscription originally was to the high-priest; but that all real Christians, being “a holy priesthood,” “a nation of priests,” will be religious at all times and in all things; that true holiness will extend itself to all the ordinary concerns of life: in a word, that Christians will be universally holy. The proposition, therefore, which we derive from the text, and will endeavour to unfold, is this,

Universal Holiness is fitting to the profession of the Gospel.

To be holy, means, in Scripture, to be set apart, from a common or secular use, to God and his service. Holiness is the renovation of our nature by the Spirit of God; it is the restoration of the image of God in our souls; whereby we are enabled to die to sin, and to live to righteousness; and this, by virtue of our union with Christ, and by means of his Gospel.

It should be understood, that the holiness required by the Gospel is something far superior to what is called morality, or a practice of the duties of life. This is good in its place, and useful to society: and all the duties of morality are included in holiness. But holiness supposes the renewal of the heart in its powers and dispositions.

The understanding, which by nature is in utter darkness as to divine things, is enlightened by the Spirit of God, and enabled to receive “the truth as it is in Jesus.”

The will, which is naturally averse from good, and strongly inclined to sin, is so renewed by grace, that it chooses the good and rejects the evil; hates what is hateful to God, and loves what is agreeable to him.

The affections of the soul, which were before wild and carnal, are now brought into order and subjection, fixing with delight upon those spiritual and heavenly objects, which they once neglected and despised.

The leading powers of the soul being sanctified in this way, the members of the body, which were presented “to sin as instruments for unrighteousness” are now presented “to God as instruments for righteousness.” The eyes, the tongue, the ears, the hands, the feet, are not only restrained from sin, as the apostle Paul said of himself, that he “disciplined his body and kept it under control;” but they become ready to obey God, to whom they gladly yield themselves to the practice of righteousness: the tongue lays itself out in the praises of God, and the celebration of holiness; the hands and feet in assisting our neighbor, and the other parts of the body, according to their several abilities, in the practice of religion.

And so it becomes apparent that there is a universal change made in a real Christian; which is far superior to the mere practice of morality. True holiness is always related to Christ and the Gospel; it is by virtue of union with him, the exercise of faith in him, and diligent imitation of him, that the Christian becomes holy: and the whole of this is brought about by the gracious and supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit. And so the apostle Paul expresses his generous wishes for his Thessalonian friends, 1 Thess. 5. 23. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here we see that God himself is the author of holiness; it has to come from him; because there is nothing in our fallen nature to produce it: and it comes from him, as he is the God of peace; and has reconciled to us through the blood of his Son: and he is said to “sanctify us wholly”—our whole nature receives of his sanctifying grace: and he applies it in the various powers of our nature.

By the spirit, we may understand the mind, that leading faculty of man, whereby he is distinguished above other creatures; by the soul, may be intended the inferior faculties, the passions, and affections; and by the body, the outward man, with its various senses, is intended. Each of these powers is already sanctified in its measure, and will be completely so at last; so that the whole will be found blameless at the second coming of Christ.

The main instrument used by the Spirit of grace in bringing this holy change about, is the word of the Gospel; according to our Lord’s petition for his disciples; “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth;” and according to his declaration in another case, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When the doctrines, promises and precepts of the Gospel are understood, and applied to the heart, they cannot fail to regulate the whole of the conduct. And so the great change, observable in some of the first converts from Pagan idolatry and vice to Christianity, is ascribed to faith; He “cleansed their hearts by faith.” Acts 15. 9, And, so far is the faith of the Gospel from being detrimental to the cause of holiness, that it is essentially necessary to its existence: indeed the sum of our holy religion is, “faith working through love.”

The holiness of the Gospel, of which we are speaking, has for its grand objects God and our neighbor. To love God supremely is the first concern of the believer. His glorious perfections entitle him to the highest place in the heart. Heathen moralists, and some who assume the Christian name, profess to practise virtue for its own sake; but the believer goes further, he makes it his ambition to please God, to delight himself in the Almighty, to be accepted of him, and to promote his glory in all the actions of his life.

And so it is that the law of God, which to others seems severe, becomes pleasant to him, and he delights in it after the inward man. That yoke, which others consider heavy, he deems light, and thinks none of his commandments grievous. And so, the worship of God, instead of being burdensome to him, is his pleasure. Prayer and praise, reading and hearing the word of the Lord, are his delightful occupations. He accounts a day in God’s courts better than a thousand elsewhere; and would prefer the humble office of a doorkeeper there, to the most splendid or profitable occupations of the sinner.

That “Holiness to the Lord” should be written on the door of the church, or of the place of private prayer, few will deny. We will therefore not dwell on the necessity of a holy attitude in religious engagements. Rather let us look into how religion is to influence the common concerns of life; how holiness, instead of being confined to sacred things, is to be mingled with our ordinary affairs, or according to our text, be “written on the bells of the horses.”

The appropriateness of dwelling on this will be sufficiently obvious to every considerate and consistent Christian, who has observed the state of things among the hearers of the Gospel at large. We see little practical religion among many nominal Christians and unstable professors. Even the most exemplary have reason to mourn over their deficiencies. And so it is that God is but little glorified, compared with what might be expected.

The domestic peace of professing families is too often broken. Fellow-Christians are too frequently grieved and stumbled. There is a sad lack of mutual affection in many religious societies, manifested by their contentions and proneness to separate for trivial reasons. On these accounts the people of the world are confirmed in their prejudices against the doctrines of grace: they pretend that religion is a useless thing, or a mere cloak to cover bad intentions; and they even ascribe to the doctrines of the Gospel a tendency to bad living.

But from where do these evils arise? Nominal Christians are really ignorant of the nature of true religion; and too frequently, instead of using its doctrines and precepts for their sanctification, twist its teachings to support their vices; in this way making the holy religion of Jesus an apology for immorality, and Christ himself “the minister of sin.”

Unstable professors have probably taken but a very partial and ineffectual view of the Gospel; Arminian prejudices cut off their strength, or Antinomian notions weaken their sense of obligation; or, enthusiastically, they make their feelings the rule of action, instead of the word of God.

Some more serious and enlightened Christians founder through a failure to exercise their faith on what they do know; for the Gospel does not operate like a charm on those who profess it: it has no further influence than as it is understood, remembered, trusted in, and applied to our feelings, attitudes, conversation, and actions; and this particular and universal application of the principles of the Gospel, is what is most likely alluded to in the text.

Let us then consider,

1. What should be the Christian’s attitude and views with regard to himself, and

2. What should be his disposition and conduct towards his fellow-men.

1. First, as to what the Christian’s attitude and views should be with regard to himself,

Let the Christian remember that he is “the temple of the Holy Spirit;” and that the temple of the Lord must be holy. Being redeemed by the blood of Christ, he is no longer his own; his time, his talents, are not at his own disposal; they are dedicated things; they are “holiness to the Lord.” Compelled by the mercies of God, he is to present his body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to the Lord, which is truly his reasonable service: whether he lives, he lives to the Lord; or whether he dies, he dies to the Lord; his aim and constant endeavor should be, that Christ may be glorified both by his life and death.

In accord with this great goal, he is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and imitate “the mind that was in him.” Love is the leading grace, and will be followed by all the pleasant collection of Christian virtues. Greatly important is humility, which will guard him against a thousand snares and dangers. Self control in food, and in all other gratifications of the senses, is constantly necessary; for if these appetites are too much indulged, the interests of the soul cannot but suffer. Patience under difficult circumstances, contentment with little, submission to the discipline of a heavenly Father, are indispensably necessary, and are very prominent branches of Gospel-holiness. Crucifixion to this vain and sinful world is equally the believer’s duty.

He who lives in the exercise of that faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, will not cling to the dust of this fallen world as his portion: he who believes the scriptural representation of eternal and heavenly things, and enjoys a good hope through grace of a part in them, will have his affections raised from the low objects of sense, and fixed, in some measure, on things above, where Christ is. He will therefore harbor a holy indifference to the world; its wealth, honors, splendor, decorations, and amusements, will appear to him like children’s toys; and his clear views of the eternal state, from which he is separated only by the thin partition of life, will convince him that neither the joys nor sorrows of the present state should much engage his heart; and so will he conduct himself as “a stranger and a pilgrim;” thankful indeed for every comfortable accommodation, but still, pressing on towards his heavenly home.

2. In the second place, as to what should be the Christian’s disposition and conduct towards his fellow-men,

Holiness to the Lord is to be exemplified in the relative duties of social life. In general, the Christian has two things to pay attention to—to do no harm, and to do much good.

It is necessary that he should be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” Phil. 2.15 Many eyes are fixed on the professor of the Gospel; many wish and watch for his stumblings, and long for an occasion of glorying over him as a hypocrite. Great then is the need of watchfulness, and of peculiar exactness in his whole walk, that the enemy may be disappointed, and be forced to say of the Christian as of Daniel, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” Dan. 6. 5

And even in the matter of religion, he must carefully avoid that “what he regards as good be spoken of as evil:” Rom. 14. 16. his zeal should not have a tendency to offend, but to reconcile; not to provoke, but to invite. The holy love of the Gospel “is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Cor. 13. 4-7. Are we better informed than our neighbor? are we endued with knowledge? Then “by our good conduct let us show our works in the meekness of wisdom;” James 3. 13. for the wisdom which is from above is pure and peaceable, gentle, ready to listen, full of mercy and good fruits.

The holiness of the Gospel includes a peace-making attitude. “Strive for peace with everyone” is connected with that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord:” Heb. 12. 14. We must rather endure injuries than resent them; rather recede from our rights, than contentiously to maintain them; we are even to forgive our greatest enemies; if they are hungry, to feed them; if they are thirsty, to give them something to drink, and so heap coals of fire on their head, and melt them down by kindness.

Active benevolence is also a necessary fruit of holiness.“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the grand comprehensive rule, the sum of social duty, both in the Old and New Testaments; but most strongly enforced by the example of Christ himself, who has made it the main test of true religion: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13. 35.

But there are certain situations in life, in which persons, being mutually related to each other, are expected more particularly to manifest the holiness of the Gospel.

The first of these is the state of marriage. The Creator himself appointed this union before the fall; but we being now all fallen creatures, much grace is needed to preserve such an attitude and conduct as becomes Christian husbands and wives. So many trials, troubles, and crosses, necessarily occur in the married state, that much mutual forbearance and forgiveness, much self-denial, prudence, and kindness, are required. The Scriptures therefore dwell much on the duties of the husband and the wife, and require their performance from evangelical motives, such as “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies—just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Eph. 5. 25.

In like manner it is commanded, ver. 22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior: Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Christians, who are thus married in grace as well as in nature, will be helpers of each other’s faith and joy in this world, and everlasting friends in a more exalted way of life in the kingdom of God. Grace in the heart will double every temporal mercy, soften every temporal misery, and lead them on, with united hands, towards the kingdom of heaven.

The duties of parents and children should be performed in the spirit of holiness. Parents who fear the Lord themselves, will consider it their first and great concern to “bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Eph. 6. 4. In early life, they must be restrained from the indulgence of self-will, and taught to submit to authority for this is the very foundation of good education. They should be kept as much as possible from such companions and books and anything else that pollutes the imagination, and inflames the passions.

The Christian parent will be diligent and careful in his endeavors to inculcate upon the youthful mind the great things of the Gospel; not only leading his children to a place of worship where the truth is plainly and earnestly preached; but endeavoring to enforce what is heard in public by private instruction and application. The gentlest means of checking the corruptions of nature are to be preferred, for fathers are “not to provoke their children, lest they become discouraged;” Col. 3. 21. but severer methods must sometimes be used; yet always with moderation, and without sinful anger. The example of a pious parent is the most effective lesson, and when this is united with fervent prayer and diligent instruction, it may be hoped that the Lord will crown it with success.

Children are commanded “to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right.” The law of nature requires it, and especially the law of God; which also adds a particular promise of prosperity to the obedient. Parents are to be honored by submission to all their lawful commands; by attention to their exhortations; by a respectful and cooperative conduct; and a steady concern for their interests and comfort, especially under the infirmities of age. In many cases, it will be necessary to comply with inconveniences, to submit to restraints, to conceal their mistakes, and, if needful, to support them in distress and poverty. And this is to be done “in the Lord,” for the Lord’s sake, and as part of that “holiness to the Lord” which forms the Christian character.

Masters and servants, or employers and employees, are to perform their several duties under the influence of the same holy principle. Workers need the humility which the Gospel inspires, to submit to the duties of their respective places, which are undoubtedly often mortifying to the pride of corrupt nature. But as God has appointed a variety of stations in which some must serve, and others rule, it suits a Christian worker to cheerfully do his duty in accordance to the divine will. Accordingly, the apostle exhorts bondservants to “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” Eph. vi. 5, &c.

Here the worker’s duty is very fully expressed; and it is notable how often the apostle repeats the necessity of doing all as to the Lord with a regard to his will and glory: and this is especially necessary for pious and professing Christians who know the Lord. —Let “holiness to the Lord” be inscribed on them, and it exalts their humble lot; for in the eye of God, it is not the station that ennobles, but discharging the duties of it well; therefore the apostle Paul adds, “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

Rulers too are required, by the same authority, to “do the same to those beneath them, and stop their threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” ver. 9. Those who govern, while they justly require and expect that their business should be done diligently and faithfully, must not be proud, imperious or cruel; they should remember that the Lord only has made them superior; the case might have been reversed; and they should consider what treatment they would want, were the positions exchanged.

The Christian tradesman is to remember his holy profession in the conduct of his affairs; to be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. His religion is not to be confined to the church or the place of private prayer. Let holiness to the Lord be his motto in the shop, in the market, in the field. Strict honesty in all his dealings is essentially necessary; for to defraud, deceive, or overreach a neighbor; to take the advantage of his ignorance; to seek immoderate profits; to rashly contract debts without a plan to pay them back; along with a thousand other abominations occurring among the men of the world; are doubly shocking, and abominable in the professor of the Gospel. The religious tradesman is an honorable character, but the dishonest professor is of all people the most shameful and harmful.

Let the wealthy Christian write the motto of our text upon his bags of gold, “Holiness to the Lord;” let him think it as much his privilege as his duty, to consecrate the use of his riches to him, who alone gave him power to get wealth; whose protection is needful for its preservation; without whose blessing it cannot be enjoyed; who gave it to him for the purpose of enabling him to do good; and who will require an account of the manner in which his talents have been employed.

Let the subject remember his Christian character; to “fear God,” and to “honor the king,” are duties joined together by the apostle. To pray for kings and rulers, and to seek the peace of our country, are so evidently commanded in Scripture, that none but an infidel can dispute the obligation. Civil government is of God, and an unspeakable blessing to any country; the consistent Christian therefore will obey the laws, and be subject to the higher powers, not only for fear of wrath (or of punishment) but also for conscience’ sake; he will render to God the things that are God’s, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s—to all their dues; tribute, custom, fear, and honor; and thus prove himself “a Christian patriot.”

And so we have briefly looked into “the beauty of holiness,” and attempted to show that universal holiness suits the profession of the Gospel. This will probably be denied by few; but a cold assent to the necessity and propriety of holiness, is by no means enough.

Are we holy?

It is the solemn pronouncement of heaven, that “without holiness no man will see the Lord.” Let us therefore not be deceived; what a man sows he will surely reap. An unsanctified soul can never enter into heaven, the residence of a holy God, holy angels, and holy saints. Let such immediately run to the Savior for pardon, and implore the aid of his Spirit to make them holy.

And let believers lament the remains of unholy tendencies: let them hunger and thirst after more holiness; let them live a life of faith in Christ; and be looking to Jesus day by day—so beholding his glory, as to experience an increasing conformity to his holy image, until they come at last to those pure regions, where “Holiness to the Lord” is indeed universal, complete, and everlasting.