The Connection Between Present Holiness and Future Happiness
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies
“Strive for ... holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Heb 12:14 ESV
"There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?" (Ps 4:6) As the human soul was originally designed for the enjoyment of no less a portion than the ever-blessed God, it was made with a strong inner tendency towards happiness. It does not only have an eager fondness for existence, but for some good to make its existence happy. It is true, that in the present fallen state of human nature, this strong desire is miserably perverted and misplaced; man seeks his supreme happiness in sinful, or at best in created enjoyments; forgetful of the divine source of all that is good.
But yet, man persistently goes on seeking happiness: still this inborn drive is predominant, and though he greatly errs in how to achieve it, yet he still aims at it. And, therefore, he ransacks this lower world in search of happiness!
He climbs in search of it the slippery path of honor and success! Or he hunts for it in the treasures of gold and silver; or plunges for it in the foul streams of sensual pleasures. But since all the base satisfaction resulting from these things can’t satisfy the unbounded cravings of the mind, and since the satisfaction is temporary and perishing, or as we may be separated from it any moment by the unstoppable hand of death, the mind breaks through the limits of the present enjoyments, and even of the lower creation, and dwells on an unknown future in search of some new good.
Hope looks into the uncertain time between the present now and death, and forms for itself pleasing images of approaching blessings, which, at the last moment, often vanish into smoke. It looks for, or lazily expects, that somehow when death comes, it will lead to some form of complete happiness, though it knows not how.
Therefore, though men, until their hearts and minds are made new by the power of the Holy Spirit, have no desire for the joys of heaven, but run after the poor pleasures of time and sense, yet since they can’t avoid the unwelcome consciousness that death will before long tear them from these base and momentary enjoyments, they are forced to hold on to the hope of happiness in the time to come: and they promise themselves happiness in another world when they can no longer enjoy any in this fleeting world.
And as common sense and revelation of the Bible both assure them that this happiness cannot consist in sensual indulgences, they generally expect it will be of a more refined and spiritual nature, and flow more immediately from the great God.
Now he must indeed be miserable, who abandons all hope of this blessedness. Yet without holiness, the Christian religion gives him no other prospect but that of eternal, intolerable misery, in the places of darkness and despair! And if he runs to atheism as a refuge, it can give him no comfort but the shocking prospect of annihilation, the complete ending of his existence.
Now, if all people were pressed into heaven by an unavoidable faith, if happiness was freely promised to them all without distinction of characters, then they might indulge in a blind unexamined hope, and never worry themselves with anxious questions about it. And he might justly be deemed a disturber of the peace of mankind, who would attempt to shock their hope, and frighten them with needless questions.
But if the light of nature hints at, and the voice of Scripture proclaims aloud, that this eternal happiness is reserved only for people of particular characters; and that multitudes, multitudes who entertained pleasing hopes of it, are confounded with an eternal disappointment, and will suffer an endless eternity in the most terrible miseries, we ought each of us to be alarmed, and examine the grounds of our hope, that, if they appear sufficient, we may allow ourselves a rational satisfaction in them; and if they are found delusive, we may abandon them, and seek for a hope which will bear the test now while it is still available.
We all know that there are times when it is a mark of friendship and love to say unpleasant things to a person for their good. And so, to point out the evidences and foundation of a rational and Scriptural hope, and to expose the various mistakes to which we are subject in so important a case, must appear to be a true friendship of the best interests of mankind.
And if, when we look around us, we find people full of the hopes of heaven, who can give no Scriptural evidences of them to themselves or others; if we find many indulging this pleasing delusion, whose practices are mentioned by God himself as the certain marks of perishing sinners; and if people hold so tightly to these hopes, that they will cling to them to their everlasting ruin, unless the most convicting methods are taken to undeceive them; then it is high time for those to whom the care of souls (which is a weightier charge than that of kingdoms,) to whom the care of souls is entrusted, to use the greatest plainness in these efforts.
This is the main goal of this sermon, and to this our text naturally leads us. It contains these two main teachings:
1- First: That without holiness here, it is impossible for anyone to enjoy heavenly happiness in the future world.
"Strive for ... holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Heb 12:14) ‘To see the Lord’ means to enjoy him. And the metaphor points to the happiness of the future state in general; and more particularly implies that the knowledge of God will be a special ingredient of it. We have recently dwelt on a parallel expression in the Gospel of Matthew: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matt 5:8)
2- The Second teaching is that this thought should induce us to use the most earnest efforts to obtain this heavenly happiness. It should induce us to pursue holiness, because without it no one can see the Lord.
And so, we are naturally led:
I. First, to look into the nature of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
II. Secondly, to show what endeavors should be used to obtain it. And,
III. In the third place, to urge you to use them by the fact of the absolute necessity of holiness.
I. And so to begin, we are to look into the nature of holiness.
We will start with a brief definition of it, and then mention some of those dispositions and practices which naturally flow from it.
The most concise description of holiness may be this: "Holiness is a conformity in heart and practice to the revealed will of God."
As God is the standard of all perfection, his holiness in particular, is the standard of ours. We are holy when his image is stamped on our hearts and reflected in our lives. The apostle defines it as putting "on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph 4:24) "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son." (Rom 8:29) Therefore holiness may also be defined, "A conformity to God in his moral perfections." But as we cannot have a distinct knowledge of these perfections but as they are manifested by the revealed will of God, the first definition seems better: "A conformity to his revealed will."
Now his revealed will is made up of both the law and the gospel. The Law informs us of the duty which we as creatures owe to God as a being of supreme excellence, as our Creator and Benefactor, and to men as our fellow-creatures; and the Gospel informs us of the duty which as sinners we owe to God as reconcilable through a Mediator. Our obedience to the Law implies the whole of morality, and to the Gospel the teachings of graces: such as faith in a Mediator, and repentance.
But, since it may be difficult to understand holiness from only a concise definition of it, we will look into the dispositions and practices in which it consists, or which naturally result from it; and they are such as follow:
1. First, a delight in God for his holiness.
Self-love may prompt us to love God for his goodness to us; and so, many unregenerate men may have a selfish love for God on this account. But to love God because he is infinitely holy, because he holds an infinite hatred of all sin, and will not look over in his creatures the neglect of the least instance of holiness, but commands them to be as holy as he is holy, this is a disposition natural to a renewed soul only, and is a sign of being conformed to his image.
Every nature is most agreeable to itself, and a holy nature is most agreeable to a holy nature.
And here there is something of great importance which I would like to deeply impress on your hearts:
It is that holiness in fallen man is supernatural; that we are not born with it, we can have no real conception of it, until we have experienced true conversion. And this is illustrated in our verse this morning; we have no natural love for God, for of his infinite purity and hatred of all sin; indeed, we would love him more if only he would indulge us more in our sins; and I am afraid the love of some people is founded on a great mistake; they love him because they imagine he does not hate sin, nor them for sinning, as much as he really does; because they do not think that he is so unwaveringly just in his dealings with the sinner.
It is no wonder they love such a soft, easy, passive being, as this god of their imagination! But if only they saw the brightness of that holiness of God which dazzles the angels; if they only knew the terrors of his justice, and his implacable indignation against sin, their natural hatred for the true God would readily show itself, and their hearts would rise against God in horrible blasphemies. Such love as this, is so far from being acceptable, that it is the greatest insult to God Almighty; as, if a deceitful thief loved you on the mistaken idea that you were just like him –it would rather inflame your indignation than get your respect.
But to a regenerate mind how strong, how attractive are the charms of holiness! Such a mind gladly joins the song of glorified saints, "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy!" (Rev 15:4) The perfections of God lose their shine, or sink into objects of terror or contempt, if this glorious attribute, holiness, is removed. Without holiness: power becomes tyranny, omniscience becomes mere curiosity, justice becomes revenge and cruelty, and even the attribute of goodness loses its charms, and degenerates into a blind loose lavishness, or foolish undiscerning sentimentality!
But when these perfections are clothed in the beauties of holiness, how Godlike, how majestic, how lovely and attractive do they appear! And with what delight does a mind transformed and renewed agree with them.
It may appear as a good thing even to a unholy sinner that the efforts of almighty power should be regulated by the most flawless wisdom; that justice should not without distinction punish the guilty and the innocent: but only a holy regenerate soul can rejoice that divine goodness will not communicate happiness at the expense of holiness; and that, rather than it should be given in a blind loose way, the whole human race should perish and be eternally miserable!
A selfish sinner has nothing in view but his own happiness; and if this is obtained, he has no concern about the honour and purity of God. But, for a born-again Christian, the thought of happiness without holiness, simply make no sense at all. The one always goes with the other. They are inseparable.
2. In the second place, holiness consists in a hearty delight in the Law of God, because of its purity.
The law is the transcript of the moral perfections of God; and if we love the original, we will love the copy. Accordingly, it is natural to a renewed mind to love the divine law, because it is perfectly holy, because it makes no allowance for the least sin, and requires us to perform all our prescribed duties towards God. (Ps 119:140, and 19:7-10, Rom 7:12, compared with v22) But is this our natural disposition? Is this the disposition of most people? Do they not, on the contrary, secretly find fault with the law, because it is so strict? And their common objection against that holiness of life which it enjoins is, that they cannot put up with being so strict and precise.
And so it is that they are always for softening the strictness of the law, for bringing it down to some imaginary standard of their own, to their present ability, to sins of practice without regard to the sinful dispositions of the heart; or to the prevailing dispositions of the heart without regard to the first workings of lusts, those seeds of iniquity. And if they love the law at all, as they profess to do, it is upon the supposition that it is not as strict as it really is, but grants them greater indulgences. (Rom 7:7)
Therefore it is clear that, if we are made holy at all, it must be by a supernatural change; and when that has taken place, what a strange and happy change does the sinner perceive! With what pleasure does he resign himself a willing subject to that law to which he was once so averse! And when he fails, (as alas! he does in many things,) how is he humbled! He does not lay the fault upon the law as requiring what is impossible, but lays the whole fault upon himself as a corrupt sinner!
3. Thirdly, holiness consists in a hearty delight in the gospel method of salvation, because it tends to illustrate the moral perfections of the God, and to reveal the beauties of holiness.
The gospel informs us of two grand pre-requisites to the salvation of the fallen, namely:
1. the satisfaction of divine justice by the obedience and suffering of Christ, that God might be reconciled to them in a way consistent with his perfections; and,
2. the sanctification of sinners by the work of the Holy Spirit, that they might be capable of enjoying God, and that he might maintain intimate communion with them without any stain to his holiness.
These two grand articles contain the substance of the gospel; and our agreement and compliance with them is the substance of that evangelical obedience which it requires of us, and which is essential to holiness in a fallen creature.
Now, it is evident, that without either of these, the moral perfections of God, particularly his holiness, could not be illustrated, or even safeguarded in the salvation of a sinner. Had God received an apostate race into favor, who had conspired in the most unnatural rebellion against him, without any payment for their sins, his holiness would have been eclipsed; it would not have appeared that he had so invincible a hatred of sin, so zealous a regard for the upholding of his own holy law; or to his truth and justice, which had threatened deserving punishment to offenders.
But by the atoning satisfaction of Christ, his holiness is illustrated in the most visible way: now it appears, that God would upon no terms save a sinner, but that of adequate satisfaction, and that no other was sufficient but the suffering of his co-equal Son, otherwise he would not have appointed him to take on the character of a Mediator; and now it appears that his hatred of sin is such that he would not let it pass unpunished even in his own Son, when it was only imputed to him!
In the same way, if sinners, while unholy, were admitted into communion with God in heaven, it would obscure the glory of his holiness, and it would not then appear that such was the purity of his nature that he could have no fellowship with sin. But now it is evident, that even the blood of Jesus cannot purchase heaven to be enjoyed by a sinner while unholy, but that every one that arrives at heaven must first be sanctified. An unholy sinner can no more be saved, while in that condition, by the gospel, than by the law; but here lies the difference, that the gospel makes provision for his sanctification, which is gradually carried on here, and perfected at death, before his admission into the heavenly glory. Now it is the mark of true holiness, to consent in both these articles.
A sanctified soul places all its dependence on the righteousness of Christ for acceptance. It would be distasteful to it to have the least to do in its own justification. It is not only willing, but delights to renounce all its own righteousness, and to glory in Christ alone. (Phil 3:3) Free grace to such souls is a charming theme, and salvation is more acceptable, because it is given in this way. It would make heaven itself disagreeable, and ruin all its joys, were they brought there in a way that degrades or does not illustrate the glory of God's holiness; but rather how agreeable is the thought, that he who glories must glory in the Lord, and that the pride of all flesh will be abased!
So, a holy person rejoices that the way of holiness is the appointed way to heaven. He is not forced to be holy merely by the fearful thought that he must be so or perish, and so unwillingly submits to the necessity which he cannot avoid; when in the meantime, were it put to his choice, he would choose to reserve some sins, and neglect some painful duties. So far from this, that he delights in the way of the gospel, because it requires universal holiness, and heaven would be less agreeable, were he to carry even the least sin there.
He does not see it as a hardship that he must deny himself in his sinful pleasures, and accustom himself to so much strictness in religion! He blesses the Lord for commanding him to it, and where he fails, he charges himself with it, and is self-abased because of it. This is solid rational religion, fit to be depended upon, in opposition to an open disregard for the Law on the one hand; and in opposition to a formal, or mere moral religion on the other.
And is it not evident that we are born destitute of this by nature? Men naturally are averse to this gospel method of salvation; they will not submit to the righteousness of God, but fix their dependence, in part at least, on their own merit. Their proud hearts cannot bear the thought that all their works must count for nothing in their justification. They are also averse to the way of holiness; and so, they will either abandon the expectation of heaven, and since they cannot obtain it in their sinful ways, desperately conclude to go on in sin, come what will; or, with shallow and weak arguments, they will endeavor to widen the way to heaven, and persuade themselves they will attain it, notwithstanding their continuing in some known iniquity, and though their hearts have never been thoroughly sanctified.
Sadly! how evident is this all around us! How many either give up their hopes of heaven, rather than part with sin; or vainly hold them, while their dispositions and practices prove them groundless! And must not such degenerate creatures be renewed before they can be holy, or see the Lord?
4. In the fourth place, holiness consists in a customary delight in all the duties of holiness towards God and man, and an earnest desire for communion with God in them. This is the natural result of all that has been already said.
If we love God for his holiness, we will delight in that service in which our conformity to him consists; if we love his law, we will delight in that obedience which it enjoins; and if we take delight in the evangelical method of salvation, we will delight in that holiness, without which we cannot enjoy it. The service of God is the pleasure of a holy soul. While others delight in the riches, the honors, or the pleasures of this world, the holy soul desires one thing of the Lord, that it may behold his beauty while inquiring in his temple. (Ps 27:4) Such a person delights in the quiet contemplation of heaven, in meditation and prayer. (Ps 139:17, 73:5, 6, 28) He also takes pleasure in justice, benevolence, and charity towards men, (Ps 112:5, 9) and in the strictest temperance and soberness in respect to himself. (1 Cor 9:27)
Moreover, the mere formality of performing religious duties does not satisfy the true saint, unless he enjoys a divine friendship in it, receives communications of grace from heaven, and finds his graces enlivened. (Ps 42:1, 2) This consideration also shows us that holiness in us must be supernatural; for do we naturally delight in this way in the service of God? or do you all now delight in it in this way? is it not rather a weariness to you, and do you not find more pleasures in other things? Surely you must be transformed, or you can have no desire for the enjoyments of heavenly happiness.
5. In the fifth place, to make us saints indeed, there must be universal holiness in practice.
This naturally follows from the last, for as the body obeys the leading of the will, so when the heart is prevailingly disposed to the service of God, the man will regularly practice it. This is generally mentioned in Scripture as the grand characteristic of real religion, without which all our pretensions are vain. (1 John 3:2-10, 5:3; John 15:15)
True Christians are far from being perfect in practice, yet they are prevailingly holy in living; they do not live habitually in any one known sin, or willfully neglect any one known duty. (Ps 119:6) Without this practical holiness no man will see the Lord; and if so, how great a change must be brought about on most before they can see him, for how few have such a life of universal holiness! Many profess the name of Christ, but how few of them depart from iniquity? But to what purpose do they call him Master and Lord, while they do not do the things which he commands them?
Thus, we have, plainly described, the nature and properties of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Those who possess it may lift up their heads with joy, assured that God has begun a good work in them, and that he will carry it on. And on the other hand, those who do not have it may be assured, that unless they are made new creatures, they cannot see the Lord.
We come to our second major heading,
II. To show you the steps we should take to obtain this holiness. And they are such as these:
1. First, endeavor to know whether you are holy or not, by examining yourselves closely.
It is hard indeed for some to know for sure that they are holy, as they are perplexed with the appearances of things, and the fears of deception; but on the other hand, it is easy for many to know for sure that they are not holy, since they evidently have no likeness to it at all! To be clear on this point is essential to our success in seeking after holiness.
That an unregenerate sinner should use the means of grace with other aims than one who has reason to believe himself saved, is evident. The anxieties, sorrows, desires, and endeavors of the one should be very different from those of the other. The one should look upon himself as a guilty, condemned sinner; the other should allow himself the pleasures of knowing he is justified before God. The one should seek after the first gift; the other after the increase of holiness. The one should be concerned about and dwell on his lost condition; the other rest in a humble confidence in God as reconciled to him. The one should consider the threatenings of God as his doom; the other embrace the promises as his inheritance.
And so, it follows, that while we are mistaken about our state, we cannot seek after holiness in a proper manner. We act like a doctor that prescribes medicines at random, without knowing the disease!
It is a certain conclusion that the most generous charity, guided by scripture, cannot avoid, that multitudes are destitute of holiness; and would it not be wise for us to check carefully whether we belong to that number?
Let us be impartial, and look into this according to evidence. If we find those marks of holiness in heart and life which have been mentioned, may an excessive caution not frighten us from drawing the happy conclusion. And, if we do not find them, let us be honest enough with ourselves, as to honestly come to the conclusion that we are unholy sinners, and must be renewed before we can see the Lord.
The conclusion, no doubt, will make you painfully anxious: but if you were my dearest friend, I could not have a kinder wish for you than that you might be continuously distressed with it, until you are born again. This conclusion will not be always avoidable; the light of eternity will certainly one day force it upon you; and it is far better to give way to it now, when it may be to your advantage, than to be forced to admit it then, when it will be too late and add to your torment!
2. The second step is this: Awake, arise, and apply yourselves in earnest to all the means of grace.
Your life, your eternal life is concerned, and therefore it calls for all the effort and earnestness you are capable of. Accustom yourselves to meditation on the things of eternity. Read the Word of God and other good books, with diligence, attention and applying what you learn to yourself. Attend on the public preaching of the gospel, not as a distracted onlooker, but as one that sees his eternal all concerned. Avoid the places of sin, the rendezvous of sinners; and associate with those that have experienced the change you want, and can give you proper directions. Bow before the God of heaven, confess your sin, implore his mercy, cry to him night and day, and give him no rest, until your voice is heard, and you take the kingdom of heaven by violence!
But, after all, acknowledge that it is God who must work in you both to will and to do; and that when you have done all these things, you are still only unprofitable servants. These directions are not prescribed as though they themselves could create holiness in you; no, they can no more do it than a pen can write without a hand! It is the Holy Spirit's work alone to sanctify a degenerate sinner, but he is accustomed to do it while we are waiting upon him in the use of these means, though our best endeavors give us no title to his grace. But he may justly leave us after all in that state of condemnation and corruption, into which we have voluntarily brought ourselves.
We go on,
III. lastly, to urge you to the use of these means, from the consideration mentioned in the text, the absolute necessity of holiness to the enjoyment of heavenly happiness.
Here we may see that holiness is absolutely necessary, and that the realization of how necessary it is, may lead us to seek it earnestly. The necessity of holiness appears from the unchangeable appointment of God, and the nature of things.
1. The unchangeable appointment of God excludes all the unholy from the kingdom of heaven; It states that “nothing unclean will ever enter” (Rev 21:27) heaven and that God is “not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with him (you).” (Ps 5:4)
It is astonishing that many who profess to believe in the divine authority of the Scriptures, will yet have vain hopes of heaven in opposition to the plainest declarations of the Scriptures. But though there were no positive order excluding the unholy from heaven, yet,
2. in the second place, the very nature of things excludes sinners from heaven;
that is, it is impossible, in the nature of things, that while they are unholy, they could be happy in the employments and entertainments of the heavenly world. If heaven consisted in the abundance of those things which sinners delight in here in this present world; if its enjoyments were earthly riches, pleasures, and honors; if its employments were the amusements of the present life, then they might be happy there, as far as their sordid natures are capable of happiness.
But these trifles have no place in heaven. The joy of that heavenly state consists in the contemplation of the perfections of God, and their displays in the works of creation, providence, and redemption; and so, it is described by seeing God in the beatitudes, and as a state of knowledge by Paul to the Corinthians, (1 Cor 13:10-12). The psalmist confesses: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Ps 17:15) “And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Ps 73:25, 26)
This is what heaven consists in, and those who cannot find supreme happiness in this, cannot find delight in heaven. But it is evident these heavenly things could bring no satisfaction to an unholy person. He would be totally out of place at this heavenly banquet; a holy God would be an object of horror, rather than delight to him, and servng him would be pure weariness, as it is now.
And so, it is clear, that if we do not place our supreme delight in these things here, that we cannot be happy in the eternal future; for there will be no change of dispositions in a future state, but only the expansion and perfecting of those predominant dispositions in us here, whether good or evil. Either heaven must be changed; or the sinner must be changed, before he can be happy there. And so, it also becomes clear, that God's excluding such people from heaven is no more an act of cruelty, than our not admitting a sick man to a feast, who has no desire for food; or not bringing a blind man into the light of the sun, or to view a beautiful sunset.
Choosing to pursue holiness is not an easy thing. It is absolutely contrary to fallen human nature. But consider carefully what follows:
We have seen that holiness is clearly, absolutely necessary; and what a great inducement should this consideration be to pursue it; if we do not see the Lord, we shall never see happiness. We are cut off at death from all earthly enjoyments, and can no longer have any hope of satisfying our unbounded desires with them; and we have no God to take their place.
We are banished from all the joys of heaven, and how vast, how inconceivably vast is the loss! We are doomed to the regions of darkness forever, to bear the vengeance of eternal fire, to feel the lashes of a guilty conscience, and to spend an eternity in a horrid intimacy with infernal demons!
And will we not then rather follow holiness, than suffer so dreadful a doom? By the terrors of the Lord, then, be persuaded to break off your sins by righteousness, and follow holiness; without which no man shall see the Lord!