The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
[1.]First, If ever you would perfect holiness, if ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness than any yet you have attained to, then labor to be more and more sensible of your spiritual needs and deficiencies of grace and holiness. Ah Christians! you must be often in casting up your accounts, and in looking over the defects of your holiness. He who has most holiness—yet lacks much more than what he has attained to. Witness the prevalence of his corruptions, witness his easy falling before temptation, witness his aptness to faint in the day of affliction, witness his staggering in the day of opposition, witness his shifts in the day of persecution, and witness his actual unpreparedness and unfitness for the day of his death. The more any Christian sees himself defective in holiness, the more he will labor after holiness.
Psalm 119:59-60, "I thought on my ways—and turned my feet unto your testimonies: I made haste, and delayed not to keep your commandments." The Hebrew word which is here used for thinking, signifies to think on a man's ways accurately, advisedly, seriously, studiously, minutely. This holy man of God thought exactly and minutely on all his purposes and practices, on all his doings and sayings, on all his words and works, and finding too many of them to be short of the rule, yes, to be against the rule—he turns his feet to God's testimonies; having found out his errors, upon a diligent search, a strict scrutiny, he turns over a new leaf, and frames his course more exactly by rule.
O Christians! you must look as well to your spiritual needs as to your spiritual enjoyments. You must look as well to your layings out as to your layings up. You must look as well forward to what you should be—as backward to what you are. Certainly that Christian will never be eminent in holiness, who never has an eye to behold his little holiness. He who is more affected with that little holiness he has, than he is afflicted about those great measures of holiness that he lacks, will ever be a puny dwarf in holiness. The more sensible we are of our own weakness and emptiness, the more pleasure God will take to fill us with his own fullness, and to perfect in us the work of holiness. But,
[2.]Secondly, If ever you would perfect holiness, if ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness, then set the Lord always before your eyes, set yourselves always as in his presence. Psalm 41:12; 1 Sam. 2:1, 3. David was a man who was very high and eminent in holiness; but how came he to so great a height? why he tells you how, in that Psalm 16:8, "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." [Athenodorus, a heathen, could say that all men ought to be careful in the actions of their lives, because God was everywhere, and beheld all that was done. 1 Kings 20:39; Psalm 39:1; Jer. 20:10; Job10:12.] David did not by fits and starts set the Lord before him; "but he always set the Lord before him in his course." He had his eye upon the Lord, and so much the Hebrew word imports: I have equally set the Lord before me; that is the force of the original word, that is, I have set the Lord before me, at one time as well as another, without any irregular affections or passions, etc. In every place, in every condition, in every company, in every employment, and in every enjoyment, I have set the Lord equally before me; and this raised him, and this will raise any Christian, by degrees, to a very great height of holiness.
Psalm 119:168, "I obey Your precepts and decrees, for all my ways are before You." The Hebrew word that is here rendered kept, signifies to keep carefully, diligently, studiously, exactly. It signifies to keep as men keep prisoners, and to keep as a watchman keeps the city or the garrison, yes, to keep as a man would keep his very life. But now mark what was the reason that David kept the precepts and the testimonies of the Lord so carefully, so sincerely, so diligently, so studiously, and so exactly. Why, the reason you have in the latter part of the verse, "for all my ways are before you." O sirs! it is as necessary for him who would be eminent in holiness—to set the Lord always before him, as it is necessary for him to breathe.
In that 31st chapter of Job, you have a very large narrative of that height and perfection of holiness which Job had attained to, and the great reason that he gives you for this is in the 4th verse, "does not he see my ways and count all my steps?" The eye of God had so strong an influence upon his heart and life, that it wrought him up to a very high pitch of holiness. The scholar writes most exactly while his teacher's eye is upon him; and the child walks most exactly while his father's eye is upon him; and the servant works most exactly while his master's eye is upon him; and so certainly all the sons and servants of the most high God do hear most exactly, and pray most exactly, and walk most exactly—when they set themselves most as in the presence of the great God, who is all sight, who is all eye!
Ah friends! as ever you would be high in holiness, possess your hearts with a serious apprehension of God's presence, set yourselves daily as in his sight, as under his eye; and remember, though a man may easily baffle his conscience, and put out his light; and deceive the world—yet he shall never be able to baffle or deceive the eye of God's omniscience. You shall as soon get out of the reach of his hand, as you shall get from under the view of his eye. God has his windows in all our bosoms, and exactly and narrowly observes all that is done within us, and all that is done by us! If the serious consideration of his all-seeing eye will not influence us to labor after the highest degrees of holiness, I know not what will.
It was Seneca's advice to his friend Jucilius that whatever he was doing he should imagine that Cato did behold him. But my advice to you shall be this, upon every occasion, in every condition, and in every action, "set the Lord always before you." If the sharp and severe eye of a holy man, or of a holy friend, or of a holy relation will so overawe you, and so exceedingly influence you to the best of actions; then certainly the sharp, piercing, and all-seeing eye of God will do much more; and therefore let the Lord be always in your sight. But,
[3.]Thirdly, If ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness, then fix and settle yourselves under a holy ministry; resign and give up yourselves to his ministry, who makes it his great business and work to preach holiness, to promote holiness, to countenance holiness, to encourage holiness, to exalt holiness, and to remove all obstructions that may anyway hinder the progress of holiness. Some ministers spend their time rather to please than to profit, and to tickle their hearers' ears than to touch their hearts, Isaiah 30:11. From these turn aside! Some ministers make it their work rather to destroy churches than to build them up in faith and holiness. From these turn aside! Gal. 1:23. Some ministers make it their business to delude and deceive the simple, by venting and setting forth the devices of their own heads, and the deceits and visions of their own hearts, Phil. 4:14; Jer. 14:14. How many are there in these days whose glorious visions are but golden delusions, and whose seraphic phrases are but brain-sick phantasies, and whose new notions are but new nothings. From these turn aside!
Some ministers, after they had been seemingly washed, return with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow to her wallowing in the mire, Gal. 2:18; 2 Pet. 2:20-22. They say that if tame foxes break loose and turn wild, they do more mischief than any. Julian was once a professor—but turning back to heathenism, he drew more from the faith by his fraud than his predecessors did by force. From these turn aside!
Some ministers cry up the commandments of men above the commandments of God; and set up the ordinances of men above the ordinances of God; and prefer human institutions before divine institutions. From these turn aside! Mat. 15:1-7; Mark 7:1-14.
Some ministers have a vein of scorning and reproaching, of disdaining the reputations of those faithful ministers of Christ who upon all accounts excel them, and whom upon a dying bed, and before a judgment-seat, they will wish that they had imitated and not envied, 2 Cor. 10:10. These labor to darken and obscure others—that their own sun may shine the brighter. These labor to lessen others' reputation, hoping thereby to greaten their own. These admire themselves and despise others. These look upon themselves as the greatest doctors, and upon all others as the worst of dunces. From these turn aside!
Some ministers spend their time and their strength in studying and preaching of dry and sapless controversies, which are so far from bettering of men's hearts, and from reforming of men's lives—that they leave men as much, and many times more, under the power of sin and dominion of Satan than they were before. From these turn aside!
Some ministers stand most upon easy things, and little things, upon things of least worth and weight, and in these they will be very incessant and precise—and yet readily pass over the great and the weighty things both of the law and of the gospel, 1 Tim. 1:5-7; Mat. 23:23, and 6:3-5. They stand more upon circumstantials than upon substantials; upon a saint's day than upon a Sabbath-day; upon an Easter offering than upon offering up of themselves to the Lord; upon a pipe, a vesture, a gesture—than upon saving of immortal souls. From these turn aside!
Some ministers speak two words for Christ and ten for themselves. They are very zealous to fleece their flocks—but have no heart or desire to feed their flocks, 2 Pet. 2:1-4; Rev. 18:11-13. They mind men's goods more than their good. They are more for the serving of themselves than the saving of souls. Just so that they may be clad attractively, and dine deliciously, and live lazily—they care not though millions of souls go to hell yearly! To pick your purses they will flatter your consciences! So it may go well with them in this world, they care not what becomes of you in the eternal world. From these turn aside! Ezek. 34.
Some ministers take more pains to make proselytes than to make men holy, Mat. 23:15; they make it their great business to win over men to their opinions, when they should be a-winning of men over to Jesus Christ; they make it more their work to convert men to their way, than they make it their work to better men's hearts, or mend their lives, or save their souls. They will compass sea and land to make men one with themselves—and yet think all that time and pains lost that is spent in endeavoring to make men one with Christ. These are ripe for hell, and resemble the prince of darkness to the life, for as he—just so, they, will spare no pains to gain proselytes. From these turn aside!
Give up yourselves to their labors, who make it the top of their glory to preach holiness, to advance holiness, to magnify holiness, and to practice holiness; and this will be an excellent means to raise you up to higher degrees of holiness. But,
[4.]Fourthly, Be most in with those who are most eminent and excellent in holiness. Let the delight and joy of your hearts run most out to those who are still adding to their stock of holiness. Thus it was with that princely prophet, in Psalm 16:3, "As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones in whom is all my delight." The disciples, by discoursing with Christ, had a holy flame raised up in them: Luke 24:32, "And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us by the way, and opened to us the Scriptures?" And when Paul met Silas and Timothy, he burned in spirit, Acts 18:5. These two men were eminent in holiness, and by their company and communion, the zeal and courage of the apostle Paul was very much heated and raised.
Look! as one flaming faggot may kindle a thousand—just so, one precious saint, in whom grace is strong, and holiness is high, may, by a divine and secret operation, convey heat and life, power and vigor, into all who touch him, or come near unto him; even as the loadstone by a secret operation conveys power and vigor into iron. The prayers, the conferences, the counsels, and all the examples of a man eminent in holiness—will mightily help on the work of holiness in their hearts, where the streams of holiness runs but low.
Look! as rich and costly banquets do refresh, and raise, and strengthen the spirits of those who are weak and faint—just so, men who are rich in grace and holiness will raise and strengthen the spirits of those who are weak in grace, and who, for lack of greater measures of holiness, are apt to faint. Look! as young plants will not thrive under dropping trees—just so, such as are weak in holiness will never thrive so long as they only associate themselves with those who are weak. Look! as many times one rich man makes many poor men rich—just so, many times one man rich in holiness makes many rich in holiness. Therefore, as ever you would abound in holiness, look not so much at gifts as at grace; look not so much at saints' outsides as at their insides; look not so much at their external garb as at their internal worth; and always make them your choicest and your chief companions, who most excel in grace and holiness. Their tongues, their lips, their lives, will still be a-dropping divine marrow and fatness, and therefore be sure to keep most company with them. But,
[5.]Fifthly, If ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness, then be much in the exercise and actings of that holiness you have. All the honor and glory that God has from us in this world is from the exercise of holiness. Look! as the frequent actings of sin is the strengthening of sin—just so, the frequent actings of holiness is the strengthening of holiness. Look! as the non-exercise of holiness brings upon the soul a decay of holiness—just so, the exercise of holiness breeds in the soul an increase of holiness. Holiness is always made more and more perfect by exercising it.
Look! as wells are the sweeter for drawing, and fountains the better for overflowing—just so, holiness is sweetest and best when it is drawn into action. Look! as the running water is the best and sweetest water—just so, the active Christian is the best and sweetest Christian. That musical instrument which is most frequently used, always makes the sweetest melody; and so does that Christian that is most frequent in the exercise of grace and holiness. We get nothing by dead and useless habits; talents hidden in a napkin gather rust; the noblest faculties wither, when not improved in exercise; and therefore the apostle exhorts Timothy to stir up the gift of God which was in him, in 2 Tim. 1:6. The words are an allusion to the fire in the temple, which was always to be kept burning. Paul would have Timothy to be always a-blowing his spark into a flame. [The Greek word signifies to rekindle, or revive. When the world, the flesh, and the devil go about to put out that divine fire that should be always flaming in our hearts, we must do all we can to foster it and keep it burning.]
Look! as fire is preserved and maintained by blowing and stirring of it up—just so, holiness is preserved and maintained in the soul by being stirred and blown up in the soul. The habits of grace and holiness are like dull coal-fires, which, if they are not now and then blown and stirred up, will certainly die and go out.
O Sirs! it is not the having, but the husbanding of holiness, which brings glory to God. For a man to have holiness of heart, and not to put it in practice, is the same as for a man to have a talent, and to wrap it up in a napkin. If the grace and holiness in the saints are not brought forth into exercise, into action, it is just as if they had no such grace and holiness at all. Holiness without of action is like a candle under a bushel, which yields no warmth to a man, nor any light to others. Though gold be gold in the mine, and though it be the most precious and desirable metal in the world—yet so long as it is only in the mine what profit or advantage have we by it? but now, when it is dug out of the mine, and becomes a treasure in men's hands, and is fitted for use and service—then it brings profit and advantage to men, and then the luster and glory of it appears. Just so, though grace and holiness are truly in the heart, in the mine—yet what profit or advantage is there in grace and holiness, until they are brought forth into action, into exercise? Until then, all the luster and glory of grace and holiness lies hidden and obscure. The more holiness is brought into action, the more holiness will be augmented and increased; and therefore, above all, look to the frequent exercises and actings of that holiness you have; and this will be a ready way to turn your drop of holiness into a sea; and your spark of holiness into a flame; and your penny of holiness into a vast treasure. But,
[6.]Sixthly, If ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness; if ever you would perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, then be much in secret prayer, be much in closet duties. Mat. 6:5, 9. Christ takes a great deal of pleasure to hear and to see his people pour out their souls before him in secret. Cant. 2:14, "O my dove! who are in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely."
Look! as secret meals are very fattening—just so, secret duties are very soul-enriching. Secret prayers are the pillars of smoke, whereby the soul ascends to God out of the wilderness of this world. Secret prayers are the wings of the soul, whereby it flies to God in a more still and silent way for the increase and augmentation of holiness. The tender dew which falls in the silent night, will abundantly more cause sweet herbs to flourish and grow, than great showers of rain which fall in the stormy day. Just so, secret prayer will abundantly more cause the sweet herbs of grace and holiness to grow and flourish, than all those more open and visible duties of religion, which too too often are mingled and mixed with the sun and wind of pride and hypocrisy.
O sirs! Secret prayer is Jacob's ladder, where you have God in his fullness and holiness descending down into the soul. Secret prayer is that ladder whereby the soul ascends to the highest pitch of communion with God. Witness Ambrose, who was accustomed to say, "I am never less alone than when I am all alone, for then I can enjoy the presence of my God most freely, fully, and sweetly, without interruption." And witness that heaven-born lady [Lady Brooke, the great friend of Sibbes, and of the Puritans generally.—G.] who spent most of her time in secret duties, in closet communion with God; and when people of great importance came to visit her, she would so entertain them as she would be sure not to omit her set times for secret prayer. She would rather rudely take her leave of them, as some called it, than omit her closet communion with God. She had found such rare advantages by closet duties, that she would not upon any terms neglect them, or in the least turn her back upon them.
It was a most sweet and divine saying of Bernard; "O saint! Your husband, Christ, is bashful, and will not be intimate in company. Retire, therefore, by meditation into your closet, or the fields, and there you shall have Christ's embraces." O sirs! it is an experienced truth, that there is no such way to be rich in grace, and to be high in holiness—as by driving and maintaining a secret trade with God, Cant. 1:11-12. When did Peter have that glorious vision and manifestation of grace—but when he was alone, and on the housetop a-praying? Acts 10:11-12. And when was that soul-ravishing, that soul-cheering, and that soul-strengthening message despatched by the angel to Daniel, namely, that he was greatly beloved of God—but when he was alone a-praying? Dan. 9:20-23. And doubtless, many thousand saints have had their hearts melted, their corruptions weakened, their fears scattered, their doubts resolved, their holiness raised, and their assurance sealed, while they have been in closet duties.
Look! as men many times gives their best, their choicest, and their richest gifts in secret—just so, does God many times give the choicest discoveries of his love, and the sweetest dainties and delicacies of glory, and the richest measures of grace and holiness to his people in secret. [Compare these scriptures together, Mat. 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16, and 6:12; Mat. 26:26, 36, 39, 42, 44; Luke 22:32, 44, 45; John 17:17.]
Look! as there were none so holy as Christ—just so, there were none so much in secret prayer as Christ.
Look! as many men in this famous city, by driving a secret trade, a private trade, gain very great estates, beyond what many do who drive more public trades—just so, many Christians who drive a secret trade, a private trade with God in their closets; they grow abundantly more rich in grace, in holiness, in communion with God, and in all gracious experiences, than many other Christians who make a great deal of bustle in the world, and who are much in the public trade of Christianity, namely, hearing the word, meetings, family duties, etc.—but very rarely shall you find them in their closets. As ever you would be eminent and excellent in holiness, keep up your private trade with God, maintain your closet communion with the Holy One of Israel. But,
[7.]Seventhly, If ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness, then fall with all your might, upon subduing and crucifying your most raging corruptions, and your most daring lusts. "Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry." Colossians 3:5. Oh do not defer! Oh do not delay the work of spiritual mortification! Oh do not think that you can both fight and overcome, fight and triumph in one day! Oh do not think that your golden and your silver idols will lay down their weapons, and yield the field, and lie at your feet, and let you trample them to death without striking a blow! Isaiah 2:20. Oh remember that besetting-sins will do all they can to keep their ground, and therefore you must arise with all your strength against them, and crush them to powder, and burn them to ashes! Oh deal with them as they dealt with the Levite's concubine—force them to death, and cut them to pieces! Judges 19. Oh leave not the palm, or the skull of this cursed Jezebel undevoured, undestroyed! 2 Kings 9.
Oh deal with your most enraged lusts as the Philistines dealt with Samson—pluck out their eyes, and force them to grind in the mill of mortification, until their strength is utterly consumed and wasted. While Saul lived and kept the throne, and was in his strength, little David was kept exceeding weak and low; but when Saul was dethroned and slain, little David quickly grew stronger and stronger, 2 Sam. 3:1. Just so, all the while a darling sin lives and keeps the throne in the heart, grace and holiness will be kept exceeding weak and low; but when your darling sin is dethroned and slain by the power and the sword of the Spirit, grace and holiness will quickly grow stronger and stronger, and rise higher and higher, Romans 8:10, 13.
When men would have a rough field fitted for the plough, and fitted to bring forth fruit, will they not first fall with all their strength, and with all their might, upon grubbing up by the roots the strongest trees, and the sturdiest oaks, knowing that when these are grubbed up, weaker trees will easily fall? Just so, as ever you would have your hearts and lives full of the fruits of righteousness and holiness—fall with all your strength, and with all your might, upon grubbing up by the very roots your beloved sins, your strongest lusts—and then the rest of your corruptions will easily fall. When Goliath was slain, the Philistines fled, and were easily brought under control. When a general in an army is cut off, the common soldiers are quickly routed. Down but with your darling sins! and then the conquest of other sins will be easy.
When a man has eaten poison, nothing will make him thrive, until he has vomited up the poison which he has eaten. It is not the most wholesome food, the choicest dainties, nor the richest cordials—which will increase the health and strength in such a person; until his poison is vomited out. Beloved sins—they are the poison of the soul, and until these are vomited up, and cast out by sound repentance, and the exercise of faith in the blood of Christ, the soul will never thrive in grace and holiness! All the wholesome food of the gospel, and all the dainties and cordials of heaven, will never beget divine health or strength in their souls—who will not part with their darling sins! And therefore, as ever you would be strong in the grace of the Lord, draw up all the strength that ever you are able to make, and with the greatest courage, fall on upon your bosoms-sins, and never cease until in the strength of Christ you have got a complete victory and conquest over them.
In the law it was the blood of the sacrifice, and the oil—which cleansed the leper; and these are tokens of the blood of Christ and the Spirit of grace. Ah friends! as ever you would be cleansed from your darling sins, which do so exceedingly hinder the increase of holiness—be often in looking upon a crucified Christ, and in the application of his blood to your own souls.
I have read of five men, who being asked what was the best means to mortify sin, gave these answers. Says the first, "The best means to mortify sin is to meditate of death." Says the second, "The best means is to meditate on the judgment-day." Says the third, "The best means is to meditate on the joys of heaven." Says the fourth, "The best means is to meditate on the torments of hell." But says the fifth, "The best means is to meditate on the death and sufferings of Christ." Doubtless the last man hit the nail on the head! The daily sight of a bleeding, groaning, dying Savior—is the only thing which will subdue and mortify darling sins!
"Education," says Lactantius, "may cover vices—but it never cuts off vices; it may hide a lust—but it can never quench a lust. Just as black patches may cover some deformities in nature—but they can never cure them." Ah sirs! if you do not kill your darling sins, they will kill your precious souls! When Sennacherib's army was destroyed by an angel, Isaiah 37, and he returned home with a hook in his nose and a bridle in his lips, he inquired of one, what he thought the reason might be, why God so favored the Jews; to which he replied, "That Abraham their father, was willing to sacrifice his beloved son to death at the command of God; and that ever since that time God favored that people." "Well", said Sennacherib, "if that is it, I have two beloved sons, and I will sacrifice them both to death, if that will procure their God to favor me." Which when his two sons heard, they (as the story goes,) slew their father, being more willing to kill than be killed, Isaiah 37:38. O friends! you must kill or be killed! If your beloved sins are not mortified, they will prove the death and ruin of your immortal souls! Therefore never leave looking up to a crucified Christ, until virtue flows from Him to the crucifying of those special besetting sins which do most obstruct and hinder the growth and increase of holiness. But,
[8.]Eighthly and lastly, If ever you would attain to higher degrees of holiness, then dwell much upon the holiness of God. Oh, be still a-musing, be still a-pondering upon the holiness of God. Certainly, if there are any means under heaven to raise you up to higher degrees of holiness, it is this; and therefore keep always a fixed eye upon the infinite and most glorious holiness of God. Now that this direction may the better work, premise with me these eight things concerning the holiness of God:
First, Premise this with me, that God is ESSENTIALLY holy, and in this sense, none is holy but himself. [Mat. 19:17, There is none good but God, that is, there is none essentially good but God, etc.] Now essential holiness is all one with God himself. God's essential holiness is God's conformity to himself. Holiness is not a quality in God—but his essence. Whatever is in God, is God. Holiness in angels and saints is but a quality—but in God it is his essence. The fallen angels keep their natures, though they have lost their holiness; for that holiness in them was a quality, and not their essence. Look! as created holiness is the conformity of the reasonable creature to the rule—just so, the uncreated holiness of God is God's conformity unto himself. God's holiness and his nature are not two things, they are but one. God's holiness is his nature, and God's nature is his holiness. It is God's royal prerogative to be essentially holy.
The most glorious creatures in heaven, and the choicest souls on earth, are only holy by participation: 1 Sam. 2:2, "There is none holy as the Lord." God's holiness is so essential and co-natural to him, that he can as soon cease to be, as cease to be holy. Holiness in God is a substance—but in angels and men it is only a quality. The essence of the creature may remain when the holiness of the creature is lost, as you may see in Adam, and the fallen angels; but God's essence and his holiness are always the same. His very nature is holy, and therefore it is that he is called Jehovah, and "I am," because what he is really, that he is essentially, Exod. 3:14.
Though men, for our information, do distinguish between the attributes of God and the nature of God—yet in him they are the same. Look! as the wisdom of God is the wise God, and the truth of God the true God, and the power of God the powerful God, and the justice of God the just God, and the mercy of God the merciful God, and the mightiness of God the mighty God, and the righteousness of God the righteous God, and the graciousness of God the gracious God—just so, the holiness of God is the holy God. God's nature and his name are one and the same. God is essentially holy, and that is the epitome of all his glory. But,
Secondly, As God is essentially holy—just so, God is UNMIXEDLY holy. The holiness of God is a pure holiness, it is an unmixed holiness: 1 John 1:5, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." There are no mixtures in God. God is a most clear, bright-shining light; yes, he is all light, and in him is no darkness at all. The moon, indeed, when it shines brightest, has her dark spots and specks—but God is a light that shines gloriously without the least spot or speck. [Plato calls God the horn of plenty, and the ocean of beauty, without the least spot of injustice, etc.]
Now, look, as that darkness which has not the least light attending it is the grossest, the thickest, Egyptian, darkness that can be—just so, that light that has not the least cloud of darkness attending it must be the most clear, splendid light that possible can be; and such a light is the Holy One of Israel. It is very observable, the apostle, to illustrate the perfect purity and sanctity of God, adds a negative to his affirmative, "In him is no darkness at all," that is, God is so pure, that not the least spot, the smallest speck, can cleave to him; he is so holy, that no iniquity can be found in him; there is no defect nor default in the nature of God. He is a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and righteous is he. As Moses spoke in that Deut. 32:4, God is a pure, a most pure being, without the least potentiality, defectability, or mutability, and therefore in the highest sense he is in God; no evil can dwell with him, or come near unto him. God stands at such a distance from iniquity, yes, he so abhors it, that he never did, nor ever will, bestow a good look upon it: Hab. 1:13, "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity."
There are four things that God cannot do:
1. He cannot lie;
2. He cannot die;
3. He cannot deny himself;
4. He cannot look with a favorable eye upon iniquity.
God does indeed look upon iniquity with a hateful eye, with an angry eye, with a revengeful eye, and with a vindictive eye—but he never did nor will look upon iniquity with an eye of delight, or with an eye of approbation. Witness his hurling the fallen angels out of heaven, and his banishing of sinning Adam out of paradise.
By all this you see that the holiness of God is a pure holiness, it is a holiness without mixture. But all the holiness that is in the best and choicest saints in the world is but a dreggy holiness, a mixed holiness, a weak and imperfect holiness; their unholiness is always more than their holiness. Ah, what a deal of pride is mixed with a little humility, and what a deal of unbelief is mixed with a little faith, and what a deal of peevishness is mixed with a little meekness, and what a deal of earthliness is mixed with a little heavenliness, and what a deal of carnalness is mixed with a little spiritualness, and what a deal of harshness is mixed with a little tenderness!
Oh, but the holiness of God is a pure holiness, it is a holiness without mixture, there is not the least drop nor the least dreg of unholiness in God. It is true the gods of the heathen were such as had been impure, beastly, filthy men, and therefore several writers have taken a great deal of pains to convince heathens of their impiety and folly in worshiping such for gods, upon whom they fastened many horrid, ridiculous, lascivious, and impious actions, and therefore they conclude against them, that they are no gods. It is most certain that the true God, that he who is the High and the Holy One, cannot be charged with any iniquity, no, nor with the least show or shadow of vanity.
In God there is wisdom without folly, truth without falsehood, light without darkness, and holiness without sinfulness. But,
Thirdly, As God is unmixedly holy—just so, God is UNIVERSALLY holy. He is holy in all his ways, and holy in all his works; his precepts are holy precepts, and his promises are holy promises, and his threatenings are holy threatenings, his love is a holy love, and his anger is a holy anger, and his hatred is a holy hatred, etc. His nature is holy, his attributes are holy, and all his actions are holy; he is holy in punishing, and holy in sparing, he is holy in justifying of some, and he is holy in condemning of others, he is holy in bringing some to heaven, and holy in throwing others to hell; God is holy in all his sayings, and God is holy in all his doings, God is holy in whatever he puts his hand to, and he is holy in whatever he sets his heart to; his frowns are holy, and his smiles are holy, his liftings up are holy, and his castings down are holy; when he gives, his givings are holy giving; and when he takes away, his takings are holy takings, etc. But,
Fourthly, As God is universally holy—just so, God is eminently holy. He is transcendently holy, he is superlatively holy, and therefore he is said to be glorious in holiness, "Lord, who is like You among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders?" Exodus 15:11. There is no fathoming, there is no measuring, there is no comprehending, there is no searching, of that infinite sea of holiness which is in God. As neither men nor angels can set banks or bounds to God's holiness—just so, neither men nor angels can sound to the bottom of God's holiness. All that holiness that is in angels and men is but a spark—compared to God's flame; it is but a drop—compared to his sea; it is but a flicker—compared to his sun; it is but a mite—compared to his millions, etc. O sirs! you shall as soon stop the sun in its course, and change the day into night, and raise the dead, and make a world, and count the stars of heaven, and empty the sea with a cockle-shell—as you shall be able either to conceive or express that transcendent holiness which is in God.
This glorious name or title, the "Holy One of Israel," is ascribed to God about thirty times in the Old Testament, and all to show that he is most excellent and transcendent in holiness; and the seraphim which stood before the throne cried out three times, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty," Isaiah 6:3, to show that God is most eminently and superlatively holy; for so thrice holy in some languages is most holy. For holiness, God is a incomparable; there are none to be compared with him, neither are there any among angels or among men, yes, or among the gods, who are like unto him. "Lord, who is like You among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders?" Exodus 15:11. God's holiness is infinite, it is so super-eminent and so super-excellent that it can neither be limited, nor lessened, nor increased.
If men should blaspheme or reproach the Lord, he would be never the worse, he would be never the less holier than he is; and if men should bless him and worship him, he would be never the better, never the holier. Unto perfection there can be no addition. A drop taken out of the sea can no ways diminish the sea, Neh. 9:5. He is exalted above all blessing and praise! All the angels in heaven and all the men on earth cannot add one ray, one beam of glory to the essence of God, to the holiness of God.
As God is goodness in the very abstract, and justice in the very abstract, and mercy in the very abstract, and righteousness in the very abstract, and loving-kindness in the very abstract—just so, he is holiness in the very abstract, so that no man can flatter him or add unto him; and hence it is that God glories in the attribute of his holiness more than in any other attribute, "For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy," Isaiah 57:15.
When God would lift up himself in all his glory, he does it by declaring that his name is holy; and so when God would swear by himself, he swears by his holiness: Amos 4:2, "The Lord God has sworn by his holiness." Look! as the great men of the world are accustomed to swear upon their honor when they would give us the greatest assurance of what they will do, because such oaths are looked upon as most sacred and inviolable—just so, the great God swears by him holiness, because his holiness is his greatest honor, and because he has no greater, nor no better, nor no choicer, nor no sweeter, nor no more precious things to swear by. "Let me," says God, "be never owned as a God, nor honored as a God, nor trusted as a God, nor feared as a God, nor valued as a God—if I do not inviolably keep my promises, and make good my threatenings, having sworn thereunto by my holiness."
Now you know the scripture says, "When God could swear by no greater, he swore by himself," Heb. 6:13—just so, I may say, when God could swear by no greater attribute, by no greater excellency, he swears by his holiness, that being the epitome and the glory of all.
Look! as all the wisdom of the creatures, compared with the wisdom of God—is but folly; and as all the goodness of the creatures, compared with the goodness of God—is but wickedness; and as all the fullness of the creature, compared with the fullness of God—is but emptiness; and as all the power of the creature, compared with the power of God—is but weakness; and as all the righteousness of the creature, compared with the righteousness of God—is but unrighteousness—just so, all the holiness of the creature, compared with the holiness of God—is but unholiness.
Man's highest purity is but impurity, when it is compared to the purity of God, yes, the very holiness of angels, compared with the holiness of God, is chargeable with folly, Job 4:18. That fullness of holiness that is in angels or saints is only the fullness of the vessel—but that fullness of holiness that is in God is the fullness of the fountain. That fullness of holiness that is in angels or saints is but the fullness of the branches—but that fullness of holiness that is in God is the fullness of the root. That fullness of holiness that is in angels or saints is but the fullness of sufficiency—but that fullness of holiness that is in God is the fullness of redundancy. But,
Fifthly, As God is infinitely holy, transcendently holy, superlatively holy—just so, God is originally, radically, and FUNDAMENTALLY holy. The divine nature is the root, original, and spring of all holiness and purity. All that holiness which is in angels and men flows from God, as the streams from the fountain, as the beams from the sun, as the branches from the root, and as the effect from the cause. There is no holiness to be had, but from the Holy One. He is the author and original of all the holiness that ever was, or that is this day in the world. All the seeds of holiness, and all the roots of holiness which are to be found in angels or men, are of the Lord's sowing and planting, Phil. 1:11. All that holiness that the angels had in heaven, and all that holiness that Adam had in paradise, and all that holiness that Christ had in his human nature, and all that holiness that ever any saints have had, was from God; and all that holiness that any saints now have is from God. The divine nature is the first root and original fountain of all sanctity and purity, James 1:17.
Ministers may pray that their people may be holy, and parents may pray that their children may be holy, and masters may pray that their servants may be holy, and husbands may pray that their wives may be holy, and wives may pray that their husbands may be holy; but none of these can give holiness, none of these can communicate holiness to their nearest and dearest relations. God alone is the giver and the author of all holiness. If holy people could convey holiness into others' souls, they would never allow them to go to hell for lack of holiness. To hand out holiness to others is a work too high for angels, and too hard for all mortals; it is only the Holy One who can cause holiness to flow into sinners' hearts; it is only he who can form, and frame, and infuse holiness into the souls of men.
A man shall sooner make a man, yes, make a world, and unmake himself, than he shall make another holy. It is only a holy God, who can enlighten the mind, and bow the will, and melt the heart, and raise the affections, and purge the conscience, and reform the life, and put the whole man into a holy gracious frame and temper. But,
Sixthly, As God is originally, radically, and fundamentally holy—just so, God is INDEPENDENTLY holy, Isaiah 44:24; Rev. 1:18. The holiness of God depends upon nothing below God. God is the Alpha, the fountain from whence all holiness springs, and he is the Omega, the sea to which all glory runs. As all our holiness is from God—just so, all our holiness must terminate in the honor and glory of God. It is God alone, who is independently holy. All that holiness that is in angels and men is a dependent holiness; it depends upon the holiness of God, as the streams depend upon the fountain, the beams upon the sun, the branches upon the root, and the members upon the head. God is One beginning, upon whom all things depend. God has his being only of himself, and it is he alone who gives being unto all other things. God is the first cause, and without all causes himself. The very beings which angels and men have, they have by derivation from God. And it is the first cause that gives unto all causes their proper operations: Isaiah 44:6, "I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God."
God never had a cause of his being, as all other creatures have. He is a glorious being, a holy being, without all causes, either efficient, or formal, or material, or final; and therefore he must needs be independently holy.
Look! as the power of God is an independent power, and the wisdom of God an independent wisdom, and the goodness of God an independent goodness, and the righteousness of God an independent righteousness—just so, the holiness of God is an independent holiness. And as it is the glory of his power—that his power is an independent power, and the glory of his goodness—that his goodness is an independent goodness—just so, it is the glory of his holiness—that his holiness is an independent holiness. And look, as all that power which angels and men have, depends upon the power of God; and as all that wisdom which angels and men have, depends upon the wisdom of God; and as all that goodness which angels and men have, depends upon the goodness of God—just so, all that holiness that angels and men have depends upon the holiness of God, etc. Philo could say that God is such a fountain that he breaks forth with the streams of his goodness upon all things—but receives nothing back again from any to better himself therewith. There are none in heaven, nor any on earth, who are absolutely independent—but God alone.
Seventhly, As God is independently holy—just so, God is CONSTANTLY holy, he is UNCHANGEABLY holy. He was holy yesterday, and he is holy today, and he will be holy forever. What is natural is constant and lasting. Now God's holiness is natural to him; it is as natural for God to be holy, as it is for us to breathe, yes, as it is for us to be unholy. God can as well and as soon cease to be, as he can cease to be holy. Holiness is his nature as well as his name; and therefore his holiness cannot decay, though ours may. Whatever we may lose of our holiness—yet it is certain that God can never lose one grain of that holiness that is in him.
Here our holiness ebbs and flows—but the holiness of God never ebbs—but is always a-flowing and overflowing, there is still a full tide of holiness in God. Though the saints cannot fall from that seed of holiness, which is sown in their hearts, 1 John 3:9—yet they may fall from some degrees of holiness that they have formerly attained to. Those who have been old men in holiness, may fall from being old men—to be but young men in holiness; and those who have been young men in holiness may fall from being young men to be but children in holiness; and those who have been children in holiness may fall from being children to be but babes in holiness, 1 John 2:12-14; 2 Pet. 2:1-3. But that holiness which is in God is never subject to any decayings, abatings, or languishing. That spring, that sea of holiness that is in God, is incapable of diminution or of augmentation.
Plato could say that God is one and the same, and always like himself. And it was a custom among the Turks to cry out every morning from a high tower, God always was, and always will be; and so salute their Mahomet. O sirs, God has been always holy, and God will be always holy. Whatever men may lose—yet God is resolved that he will never lose his honor nor his holiness. But,
Eighthly and lastly, As God is continually holy—just so, God is exemplarily holy. [Lev. 20:26. Remember this—you and I must answer for examples as well as precepts.] He is the rule, pattern, and example of holiness: 1 Pet. 1:15, "Be holy, as I am holy." God's holiness is the great example and pattern of all that holiness which is in the creatures. God's holiness is the copy that we must always have in our eye, and endeavor most exactly to write after. Carnal friends, and this blind world, and Antichrist, and such as love to lord it over the consciences of others, will be still a-presenting to you other examples and patterns—but it is your wisdom and your work to cast them all behind your backs, and to trample them under your feet, and to follow that form and pattern that the Lord has set before you; and that is, to be holy as he is holy. All our holiness is to be brought to the touchstone of the holiness of God, as the standard and measure of it; and therefore, oh what cause have we to be still a-perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord!
And thus I have done with the second thing, namely—means to increase holiness, and to raise you up to the highest pitches and degrees of holiness.