This sermon is number 3 in a series of 13
Behold Your God - Part 3
"The Holiness Of God"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2000 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I hope that hymn blessed you, for it's a real blessing to my heart to read such great hymns like that. You know, there's a great dearth of good hymn writing in the day in which we live. There are some very good new chourses that are coming about - and hopefully, in days to come, we may sing some of those - some very sound ones theologically speaking, but there are some very unsound ones. The trend in hymn writing today is a focus off God and on self - but we need to get our focus back on God. That is the theme of these studies that we are doing these Lord's Day mornings, and if you have a gift of poetry in any shape or form - you're a poet and you don't know it - perhaps you could put your pen to writing poetry for God, for the saints of God to praise. It takes you to be a theologian to write hymns, you need to know your God, and men that wrote those hymns - old Presbyterians some of them, godly men - knew their God, you can tell from the expressions of their heart as they wrote praise to Him.
We're studying today in the book of Exodus again - our first study was in Exodus chapter 33, and today we're in Exodus chapter 15. And, as one brother was sharing with us this morning, Moses is a great man of God, he's a man who knew the presence of God in his life, perhaps - as was expressed already - in a way that no other saint in the Old Testament experienced. We're looking today at "The Holiness Of God", and we find in Exodus chapter 15 - a book of Moses, the second book - and verse 11, Moses is singing. And we find in verse one of that chapter, Moses sang "...and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea". And we were looking, [during] the Breaking of Bread, in Exodus chapter 20 at how God redeemed His own people by blood - He took them out of Egypt, He saved them out of the bondage and He saved them with a view of delivering them - and that's the picture: it's deliverance, that's what salvation means, to be delivered from something. And they are being delivered from Egypt, and you remember that they got to the Red Sea and they couldn't cross it, and the Egyptian soldiers were behind them, and they cried upon God. And Moses said: 'Stand and see today - look - the salvation of God', and the waters opened and they went through, and when they got to the other side of the Red Sea the waters closed again, and the horses and the riders and the armies of the Egyptians were drowned. And then Moses, at the other side of that great river, shouts and sings praises onto God and the whole people join together - and one of the expressions or stanzas within this great song of praise is found in verse 11: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?".
Who is like unto Thee, O God? Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness? That's a wonderful expression, not just 'holy' but 'glorious in holiness'. In the Westminster shorter catechism the question is asked that we are asking: what is the holiness of God? And the answer is given back: 'The holiness of God is His essential property' - in other words, it belongs to Him and only to Him. It is His essential property, that simply means it's not only something He has, it is something He is. It is His very nature, it is His essential property. The great divines go on: 'Whereby He is infinitely pure' - He is not just pure, He is infinitely pure. They go on: 'He loveth and delighteth in His own purity' - who of us can say that, that we delight in our own purity before God? But He delights in Himself, He loves His own purity and holiness! And they go on: 'And in all the resemblances of it, which any of His creatures have'. So He loves holiness within Himself, and if He sees it in other creature - in other words, if His holiness is seen in another one that He has made, He rejoices in it also. He has great delight and He loves holiness in anyone. They conclude: 'He is perfectly free from all impurity, and hateth it wherever He seeth it'.
What a picture of God! What a dreadful picture of God! Yet in its dreadfulness there is the glory, and that's what Moses is saying: 'He is glorious in holiness'! It's not just something to be feared it is something to bring praise to God for, it gives Him glory - and as the old puritan Thomas Watson said: 'Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of God's crown'. It is the name by which God is known. It is not just an attribute of God, but God's holiness is His very name. It's what He is called - if you like, it is His definition. Indeed the Psalmist said that, Psalm 111 verse 9: 'Holy and reverend is thy name' - and He's the only name that's reverend. He is called in Job, and right throughout the Old Testament, 'the Holy One'. Isaiah 6, that we looked at in weeks gone by, the seraphim - didn't they cry, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is filled with His glory'?
The Father is said, within scripture, to be holy for He was addressed by our Lord Jesus Christ as 'Holy Father' - the only Holy Father. The Son is said to be holy, you remember when the apostle was preaching, he spoke of 'Thy holy child Jesus'. The Spirit is the 'Holy Spirit'. Holy, holy, holy, thrice holy is our God - and that holiness is what makes Him glorious. If it's His power, His omnipotence, the fact that He is Almighty, that makes Him mighty - His holiness is what makes Him glorious, His holiness is what makes Him resplendent, the eye cannot look upon Him. And as those old divines said: 'His holiness consists in His perfect love of righteousness' - it is a 100% love of all that is holy. It doesn't fall short, it is absolutely perfect - indeed, within the word of God the metaphors and similes that are given to describe that great holiness is 'perfect purity', it is white, perfect whiteness, perfect light - the most pure light in which there is no darkness at all, it is absolute uncreated light. He delights in perfect righteousness.
That is the positive aspect, and the negative is: He has a holy abhorrence of all that is evil. The old prophet Habakkuk said: 'He is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on iniquity'. Sure even the things, if you look through the word of God, the things that are associated with God are made holy because of their association with such an holy One - they become holy! When Moses, in this same book, speaks of the burning bush, the ground becomes holy ground because God has spoken out of this bush. Within the same book, the articles that are formed for temple worship in the tabernacle are denoted as holy things because they are used to worship a holy God. The day that is set aside - one in seven - as the Sabbath, the day of rest within this book, it is described as His holy day. The place where He is to be worshiped is described as God's holy house, and later His holy temple. The outfit that the high priests were to adorn themselves with was holy - and indeed, the crown that they were to wear was entitled 'a holy crown' and across it was emblazoned these great words: 'Holiness to the Lord'. The Ark of the Covenant that represented God's holy presence with His people, was the holy Ark of God. The hill of Zion was God's holy hill. The city of Jerusalem was God's holy city. And heaven itself, where God dwelleth, is His holy habitation. And all those things aren't God, but they've only come near to God and been made holy by Him.
I want you to see this today: God is a holy God. He is inherently holy - that simply means that He's holy in nature. As I've said already, it's not something about Him - but He as a being, He is holy Himself. He's made up of holiness, just as the sun shining through the window here is made up of light, God is made up of holiness. His word, the expression of His thoughts, if we could say that, His hearts desire that is expressed audibly and linguistically within the Bible that we have before us, it is holy. It is right to call it the Holy Bible - in fact, it is said of it that, like silver, it is refined seven times, and seven is the number of perfection - it is perfectly holy! His movements are holy, His decisions, the choices God makes are absolutely holy. The Psalmist said it in Psalm 145:17: 'The Lord is holy in all of his works' - God cannot do anything that is unholy or that falls short from something that is absolutely and perfectly holy! Indeed, when He made this creation around us, before Adam fell in sin, it was very good, wasn't it? Because God can't make a thing that isn't very good.
He is originally holy, that means that all holiness begins with God. He began holiness, and any holiness that is in the universe follows His pattern - it's not a new holiness, it must reflect His holiness, because He is the originator of all holiness, the sum of all moral excellence found in the universe comes from God and God alone. All good gifts come down from the Father of lights, from glory - all holiness comes from Him - and it is such a holiness that, even in this universe of sin and wickedness and evil, it is unsullied from any of it. In Him is light, and God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He's the Author of holiness, that means He causes it in others. Not only did He begin it, but if it ever happens in your life or my life or anybody's life, it's because God has started it within your life! He made the angels holy - they are holy, they cry 'Holy' because they can come into the presence of God in their holiness - but their holiness is not their own, sure they could lose their holiness, that's why the fall came about wasn't it? Lucifer lost it and he was kicked out of heaven, and there was a whole band of angels lost it with him - they can lose it because it comes from God, it's not their own! And it's not equality of God, it's the essence of God - and it's no quality of any human being to be holy, it is because they are reflecting the holiness of God. Even the highest seraph in heaven, the greatest creature that God has ever created in the universe, the holiness that it has is from God!
He is transcendent in His holiness. We looked last week at how transcendent means to be above all things. There's nobody reaches Him in His holiness, that's for sure. 1 Samuel 2:2: 'There is none holy as the Lord, there is none beside thee, neither is there any rock like our God' - He's a wonderful God! Does that not thrill your heart today? Does it not? That we have a holy God who is transcendent in His holiness, absolutely holy, no angel can surpass Him in any form or shape! Old Thomas Watson said this: 'He is holier than any saint can be holy' - I have known some holy saints, and I have read some holy saints, but there is none holy as the Lord. Listen to what he says: 'God's holiness is pure holiness. The saints holiness is like gold in the ore, imperfect. Their humility is stained with pride. He that has most faith needs to pray: 'Lord, help my unbelief'' - isn't that right? - 'But the holiness of God is pure, like wine from the grape it has not the least dash or tincture of impurity mixed with it. And though the saints cannot lose the habit of holiness, for the seed of God remains in them, yet they may lose some degrees of their holiness. Grace cannot die, yet the flame of it may go out'. Did the Lord not say to that church: 'Thou hast left thy first love'? The flame of our holiness can go out. 'Holiness', he says, 'in the saints is subject to ebbing, but holiness in God is unchangeable. He has never lost a drop of His holiness. As He cannot have more holiness because He is perfectly holy, so He cannot have less holiness because He is unchangeably holy'!
My God, how wonderful Thou art - are you getting the grasp, are you seeing a glimpse of the holiness of our God? He doesn't conform to a standard. We don't look at Him and say: 'Well, He's got A, B and C, so He's holy' - He is the standard! He is holiness in His essence! That is why Moses says it is glorious holiness. In fact, it is beautiful holiness - we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness because holiness is God's beauty, holiness is what makes God beautiful. Stephen Charnock said: 'Power is God's hand', or His arm, 'Omniscience, all-knowing, is His eye. Mercy is His bowels. Eternity is His duration. But holiness is His beauty'. You see, this is how God is known - God is known, primarily, through His holiness. Whenever you read the word of God you don't hear His name expressed as 'His mighty name', do you? Never 'His mighty name', or 'His wise name', sometimes it is 'His great name', but more than not it is 'His holy name'. It is how God is known, it is His name, in fact He swears upon His name - and by swearing upon His name, Psalm 89 tells us He swears according to His holiness. Why does He do that? Because His holiness is the fullest expression of who He is!
I want you to see this, this is our God. He is absolute holiness and His holiness is what conveys to a world the greatness of Him. It is the name by which He wants to be known, it's the attribute by which He wants to be conveyed to everyone who comes near to Him. It's the fullest expression of what and who He is, it is the attribute of attributes - it makes Him beautiful! And if our God was to stamp a correspondence to us today - a letter with a stamp of wax - it would be His holiness that He would stamp it with. If I can say it - I do not wish to be irreverent - it's His trademark. Holiness.
I trust you can see that we have such a holy God, and that is why in the vision of Isaiah 6 - if you wish to turn to it - the seraphim worshiped Him, crying 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is filled with His glory' - and they worshipped Him with more wings than they flew for Him! Because God requires our worship in spirit and in truth, and when we catch a vision of God's holiness - if you look throughout the word of God at any person who ever saw God's holiness and glory (remember, they didn't see God) but anybody that came close to this glorious holiness, they fell prostrate, their knees went weak and they fell on their face before God! Some were described as dead men, some are described as being in a trance - we must move on, but this is wonderful.
Where do we behold the holiness of God? If we want to see it, where do we go? The first place I believe we go is His law. God's law - indeed, we're reading from it today, the first five books of the Bible and the ten commandments is God's law. Why do we go to His law to find His holiness? Do you know why? Because in His law He forbids sin in everything! He doesn't permit it now and again, or this instance, or this circumstance - He forbids sin absolutely, in thoughts, in words, in deed. He forbids sin in the holy place of the tent, the tabernacle. He forbids sin in any religious movement that He has within the word of God - the priesthood, He forbids sin. He forbids sin in the home between a husband and a wife, between a child and a parent. He forbids sin in the workplace. He forbids sin in everything!
And that's all - well, not all, but that's perhaps the primary reason - why God gave His law and He told them that ye may discern between what is unclean and clean, and between what is holy and unholy. If you want to know how holy God is, you'll look in His law. Paul said it in Romans 7: 'Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good'. The Psalmist said: 'The commandment of the Lord is pure. The commandment of the Lord is holy, just and good. The commandments of the Lord enlighten the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether' - and if you want to know the holiness of God, get to know the law of God. Draw near to Sinai's mount, draw to its foot and see the lightning, hear the thunder, see the smoke billowing in God's holiness, and realise that God's holiness is unapproachable - for we all fall short of it!
Where do we behold His holiness? Secondly we behold it in His cross - don't we? Magnificently we see it in Calvary, and at the same time, awfully and terribly, we see it in the Lord Jesus Christ. And it begs the question: how God must hate sin to do such a thing! How He must hate sin to demand blood, and demand the blood of His own Son at Calvary to make an atonement for it! Listen to this, Stephen Charnock said in relation to the holiness of God in the cross - and this thrilled my heart: 'Not all the vials of judgement that have, or shall be, poured out upon the wicked world, nor the naming furnace of a sinners conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious demons, nor the groans of the damned creatures give such a demonstration of God's hatred of sin as the wrath of God let loose upon His Son. Never did divine holiness appear more beautiful and lovely than at the time our Saviour's countenance was most marred in the midst of His dying groans. This [He] Himself acknowledges in Psalm 22 - when God had turned His smiling face from Him, and thrust His sharp knife into His heart which forced that terrible cry from Him: 'My God, My God, why?''.
Do you see His awesome holiness? That's why, and we hear it quoted so often, that's why the hymnwriter said:
'Oh, make me understand it,
Oh help me take it in,
What it meant to Thee,
The Holy One,
To bear away my sin'.
Would you see God's holiness? Well, you're going to have to get to Calvary, that's where you're going to have to get to. You're going to have to get to an old bloodstained gruesome cross. Are you saved today? Are you? For you'll be damned for all eternity unless you get to that cross. Unless you get to where a holy God punished His holy Son that you might be forgiven, you'll never be saved, you'll lift up your eyes in hell, not in heaven! Believer, would you see the holy glory of God? Do you want to see it? Well then, oh hear that all important cry: 'Eloi, Lama, Sabachthani', draw near and see the Saviour die on the cross.
You see God's holiness in His law and in His cross, thirdly you see His holiness in His hatred of sin. I want you to think about this, because one sin in the Garden of Eden banished our forefather - one sin! How many sins do you think will damn us? If one sin cast us out of paradise, one sin will take us to hell! The smallest indiscretion, one sin against a holy God, is a damning sin - beware! You often hear it said that God forgives sin. I know what that means, but you know God doesn't just forgive sin. Some people have this picture of God just saying: 'Right, we'll forget all about it and I'll wipe the slate clean' - God can't do that, God is a holy God, God must punish sin. And the only reason we are forgiven is because Christ bore our sin, Christ bore God's holy wrath - for one sin would keep us out of heaven. You remember that it was one sin excluded Moses from the promised land, you remember one sin smote Elisha's servant with leprosy, Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament it was one sin about lying to the Holy Ghost that cut them out of the land of the living! Because God has set the standard for the universe, and to preserve His creation - get this - He must destroy whatever would destroy it. To preserve His creation, He must destroy all that would destroy it - and He must destroy sin! And God's wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys His creation. Tozer said: 'He hates iniquity as a Mother hates the polio that takes the life of her child'.
Now let me ask you - we're going to spend a moment here with the unsaved - why do you live the way you do? Why are you living in sin? Why are you living, consciously, in rebellion against God? Do you know why? Because you don't know this holy God, because if you knew Him you wouldn't be living the way you are - it's as simple as that. Why do you live in sin if this is the holy One with whom you will have to do one day? Do you know why? Because your God is a one-sided God, we have made God like us! A wee child, when he offends you or does something wrong against you, you're not going to hold it against him forever, are you? My friend, if you sin one sin against God, God will hold it against you forever - forever! But you see, we want a God like ourselves, don't we? We want a God who will just wipe everything away, we want a God who will wink at sin and overlook sin and bless us anyway, regardless and in spite of our sin - but that's not our God! For our God says: 'Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself, but I will reprove thee'. And many have a god that they made like themselves, who can ignore sin and look over it - but this God must punish sin. He doesn't just forgive sin, doesn't just forgive it, He must punish sin! And if He doesn't punish it upon the Saviour, He'll punish it upon the sinner!
'The God', one man said, 'which the vast majority of professing Christians love is looked upon very much like an indulgent old man, who himself has no relish for folly but leniently winks at the indiscretions of youth'. But the Word says: 'Thou hatest all workers of iniquity. God is angry with the wicked every day'. What happens, what happens when a sinner - whether they're a believer or unbeliever - gets a glimpse of the glory of God? They say, like old Isaiah: 'Woe is me', they feel the awesome depravity of their own heart and their own sinfulness, they're overwhelmed by the presence of pure white light holiness. They say:
'Mine eyes have seen the King,
Jehovah throned on high.
Adoring myriads sing
Veiled seraph's holy cry:
'O, woe is me, undone am I,
Before the throne I prostrate lie''.
That's what we need! Oh God, give us it, that's what we need! That's what we need, to see God glorious in His holiness! We don't need new plans, we don't need new strategies, we don't need new ways of preaching, we don't need new anything! We need God, and we need God's holiness! We need a glimpse of it, and until we see God my friends, we are absolutely finished - because unless we see God we become comfortable in our unholiness, but a vision of God's holiness makes us uncomfortable. You can't know the holiness of God just by thinking about it. You think the greatest holy thought you can about God and multiply it by the greatest number that you can - that's still not God's holiness. As old Tozer said: 'Quite literally, a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth, that will heal our great sickness, to flow in'. God needs to cut a new channel in our minds, that He might reveal His holiness.
But as we close today, we ask another question: what should we learn from the holiness of God? We've learned where we can behold it: in His law, in His cross and in His hatred of sin. But what should we learn, what should we go away today different about because of His holiness? One: only on the grounds of the atonement can we approach God. My friend, listen! This is a holy God, holy, holy, holy - and if you want to get to heaven one day, if you want to have your sins forgiven, remember this: God has no evil in Him, and sin has no good in it, and sin that you are committing has deflowered the virgin soul and made it red with guilt, and black with filth. It is - the Bible says - the accursed thing, for sin strikes at the holiness of God, and He had to therefore strike it upon His own Son! Wonder of wonders, He was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And my friend, if you think a holy God is going to create a 'Plan-B' for you to get to glory...who do you think you are? This is the only way, God's way! God's holy way, the way of His holy Christ - and you must know that the only grounds of atonement that we can approach God by is the precious blood.
Secondly: we must realise that that holiness which demands holiness provides grace to meet that demand. That's marvellous, isn't it? What does the old hymnwriter say?
'So sinful, so weary,
Thine, Thine would I be.
Thou blessed Rock of Ages,
I'm hiding in Thee'.
That which holiness demanded, grace has provided in our Lord Jesus Christ. And this series is slowly becoming a commentary on what we've been studying in Ephesians, that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Aren't we? It's all Christ, isn't it? We ought to learn secondly, not only about the atonement, but to show great reverence toward God for He is holy. All we think about God must be holy, all we say about God, all that we do to God - if I can say that - in worship, and all that we do concerning the whole divinity and the divine Trinity must be absolutely holy! For God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him. In prayer, in praise, in the handling of God's holy Word, we need to put off the shoes from off our feet for we are on holy ground.
Thirdly: we should be holy. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the saints of God were told: 'Be ye holy, for I am holy'. It's amazing, isn't it? God doesn't call us to be almighty, does He? He doesn't call us to know all things, or to see all things - and the irony is: the things He doesn't call us to do are the things that we try to do. We try to be almighty, we try to get through everything ourselves, we try to see everything before we see it, predict things, we try to know everything, know-it-alls. But God hasn't told us to do those things, He's told us to be holy - which, ironically, is the very thing we don't do! God wants from us, most of all, that we live to Him in living like Him.
I've said it before, and I say it in closing: the only life that God is pleased with is His own life. And the only holiness that He will be pleased with is His own holiness, like a mirror reflecting from your life the holiness of the only wise God - so as we think about it, as we go away, what should we learn about this holiness? We should learn to submit to Him! To follow Him in His Word, to believe Him, to fellowship with the saints, to be anointed with the Spirit and to be often at the cross confessing our sins, and we will be holy. For God's desire has always been to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
'Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises and doing wonders?'. Lord, we bless Thee and we praise Thee that this God is for us - so who, or what, can stand against us? And we pray, in Jesus name, that that great holiness may be imputed to us, for we know that our sin was imputed to Christ. We say as McCheyne: Lord, make us as holy as saved sinners can be. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third tape in his 'Behold Your God' series, titled "The Holiness Of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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