THE HOLINESS OF GOD. *
Have you ever come to the very verge of death, and then been suddenly and unexpectedly delivered? If you have not, there are some lessons that you have yet to learn. Such times of rescue are full of instruction. The veil that hides the supernatural from us seems withdrawn. God fills the whole horizon of our thought. We cease to regard him as a dream of the fancy or as an appendage of our comfort. We see him as he is — the personal and living God, the centre and stay of all things, the only eternal reality. In such hours, too, the conscience speaks, and, in the hush of earthly passion and selfishness, we perceive those moral attributes which chiefly make God to be God.
It was such a rescue from imminent destruction that occasioned the utterance of the text. It is part of the song which the saved people of Israel sang on the shore of the Red Sea, after that fearful night in which Pharaoh and his host had perished. They looked back upon the waters through which they had passed in safety, but in which their enemies had been overwhelmed, and depths of God's nature seemed opened to their view that were deeper than the depths of the sea. There was an attribute of God which had never been mentioned in previous revelations, never before had been put into a single word and so expressed to men, but which stood out clear and bright forever from the day that Moses and the children of Israel sang unto the Lord: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods! who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness!"
That song, in which the holiness of God was the culminating theme, was not merely the natural expression of a new-born nation's gratitude and wor. ship — it was an inspired song also. Aud the witness of inspiration to God's holiness has never ceased. Beginning here in the Pentateuch it goes on, in an ever-broadening and deepening stream, until we reach the book of Revelation. Throughout the Bible, holiness is the attribute insisted on more than any other. Do you say that this is only because in man's state of sin, his first and most pressing need is to be convinced that God is holy? But in .heaven there is no sin, yet in heaven cherubim aud seraphim continually do cry : "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" Do you say that this prominence is given to holiness only because the revelation of it is adapted to our present stage of progress and capacity? But look beyond the present; see the eternal future portrayed in the Apocalypse; hear the host of
* Originally prepared as a sermon on tho text, Ex. 15: 11—"Glorious in holiness," and preached in the Chupel of the Uersity of Rochester, on the Day of Prayer for Colleges, January 31, 1878; subs"uut'ntly printed as an article in the Examiner, January &S, February 9, and February 2.', 1882.
the redeemed upon the shores of another sea, in which the last of God's foes has been overthrown; there they sing again: "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy!"
Since the greatest thought of the finite is the infinite, and our ruling conception of God must make or mar our earthly career and settle our eternal destiny, how important a thing it is that we should have worthy thoughts of the divine holiness! May the Spirit of holiness enlighten us while we inquire what holiness in God is, how it is distinguished from other attributes, and what place and rank it holds in his nature.
The theme which we are to consider is the greatest of themes, and one of the most difficult. The difficulty arises partly from the relation of the divine attributes to the divine essence. But here, at any rate, it is plain that the attributes are not themselves God, nor are they mere names for human conceptions of God. They have an objective existence. They are actual qualities, distinguishable from each other and from the essence to which they belong. As in matter, so in mind, qualities imply a substance in which they find their unity. God is a spiritual substance, and of this snbstnnce the attributes are inseparable characteristics and manifestations.
Holiness is one of these characteristic qualities of God. We call it an attribute, because we are compelled to attribute it to God as a fundamental power or principle of his being, in order to give rational account of certain constant facts in his self-revelations. The attributes are qualities without which God would not be God. Intellect is an attribute of man, because man would not be man without it. — And here arises auother difficulty. Every essential attribute of a moral being has both its active and its passive sides. Active truth presupposes passive truth; truthful speaking, thinking, knowing, are impossible without truth of being.
Otherwise, the attributes of God would be his acts; his very being would be synonymous with his volition. This cannot be; although such names as Thomasins and Julins Miiller might be cited as its advocates. If God were primarily will, and the essence of God were his act, it would be in the power of God to annihilate himself, and our primitive belief in God's necessary existence would be a delusion. Behind all the active aspects of God's attributes we must recognize the passive. Love is an active principle in God, but it could not be active unless there were a foundation for this activity in its very nature. And in any thorough analysis of the attributes, either of man or of God, the consideration of the passive side must come first,—the thought of the attribute as quality must come before the thought of the attribute as power.
Let us now apply what has been said to the attribute of holiness. What is holiness? I think we shall say at once that it is purity. When we speak of a pure soul, wo mean not simply that the acts of that soul show an undeviating rectitude, that its words are transparently true and just, that its very emotions and thoughts are free from all sensuous or selfish stain, but we mean that the spirit itself, in its inmost substance and essence, is devoid of all tendency or impulse toward the wrong.
Among men we know that there is only an approximation to such purity as this. Absolute purity is not even an episode with us. We are never wholly single in our motive. Even when we would do good, evil is present with u:<. and below the surface-stream, which sometimes seems so clear, there are turbid undercurrents which God sees even if we do not. Most often two streams, plain even to our own sight, flow on side by side, like the Arve after its junction with the Rhone; or the Ohio, made up of the Alleghany and the Monongahela, not yet fully united. The muddy current is the current of our natural life, but we are compelled to recognize in the clear stream a branch of the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God. That stream which joins itself to ours to purify and cleanse is clear as crystal. It proceeds from deep unfathomable fountains in the being of God, and it flows on and on without chauge or stint forever. What then must that purity be from which all purity in men or angels is derived, as the trickling rill from the inexhaustible reservoir!
And yet we must not allow ourselves to think of holiness in God as if it were a passive purity only. All God's thoughts and deeds in truth are pure, because they flow from deeper than Artesian sources in his clear and perfect nature. But then we are speaking of a moral nature, even when we use these physical analogies. The purity of God is also a purity that reveals itself in active will. Men ignore this consciously or unconsciously. They conceive of holiness in God as a still and moveless purity, like the unspotted whiteness of the new-fallen snow, or the stainless serenity of the blue sky after a summer rain. They forget that all God's moral attributes are penetrated and pervaded by will.
In God there is nothing inert. He is alive in every part. That mighty will which brought the uerse into being, and which unweariedly sustains it from hour to hour —that mighty will whose reflection and result we see in the fixed successions of nature, and in the majestic order of science — that will is the active element in God's holiness. Holiness is purity, but purity unsleeping — the most tremendous energy in the uerse eternally and unchangeably exerting itself —" that living Will that shall endure, when all that seems shall suffer shock."
Holiness, then, is not the passive material purity that is unconscious of itself and indifferent to change or injury. It is purity in conscious and determined movement. All the intensity of human volition, all the combined energy of all human wills, is as feebleness compared with that concentration of mental and spiritual power which is involved in the holiness of God. Holiness in him is imaged in the sea of glass, of which the book of Revelation speaks. It is of crystal purity, but there is more than that. In it the enemies of God are overwhelmed. It is a "sea of glass mingled with fire!"
I have said that God's holiness is purity exercising will — purity willing. What is the object of this willing? I answer, itself. Holiness in God is purity willing, affirming, asserting, maintaining, itself. In virtue of his holiness, God eternally asserts and maintains his own moral excellence. We have a faint analogue in human experience. There is such a thing as a man's duty to himself. You respect no man who does not respect himself. You revere genuine dignity of character. When the fierceness of slander or of temptation assaults the true man, there is no nobler sight on earth than to see him holding fast his integrity, and asserting his innocence before God and the world. So did Job of old, and within certain limits God justified Job's self-affirming righteousness against the cruel accusations of his false friends.
Self-preservation is the law of life. Shall it be the law of all the lower creation, teaching the birds and the beasts their arts of defense, and men and nations to be jealous of their rights and liberties, and shall it not be the law of virtue, that highest life of all? Shall purity not stand for itself and maintain its own existence? Ah, it is not till men have purity, that they feel their right to live. It is the pure soul that has in it the clear instinct of immortality. Get God's life into you, and it becomes duty to live, and to assert and maintain that life forevermore.
Aye, there are times in the experience of the Christian when this new and God-given purity seems lifted up above the strife with sin. For a moment we seem to catch a glimpse of our heavenly freedom. Then we see that holiness is not simply the antithesis to moral evil, so that its existence is dependent upon the existence of that which is its opposite. We see that purity in the soul is a positive thing, and not a negative. Without a glance at the sin that seems for a brief space put beneath our feet, our whole being rejoices that it reflects something of the light which no man hath seen or can see, and that it will reflect that light of the divine purity throughout eternity.
These are but faint analogies, but they are real analogies, of something infinitely higher than themselves. There is a self-preserving instinct, a self-maintaining life, a self-asserting purity in man. And is there no instinct of self-preservation in God? Shall the central life of all life not maintain itself? Shall the source of all purity not respect itself and assert itself? We say, "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." Let us rather say, "Because justice is done, tho heavens do not fall." If God could be unjust to himself, the uerse would perish. The purity of God, forever maintaining itself, divine perfection asserting itself as the highest good and the highest end, infinite moral excellence willing its own perpetuity and dominion— this is the holiness of God. Purity of substance, energy of will, self-affirmation — these make up the idea of it. In a word, holiness in God ifl the self-affirming purity of the divine nature.
Let us now, as the second division of our great theme, inquire what relation the holiness of God sustains to other attributes of his being. And first, to justice. The answer easily presents itself. Justice is simply transitive holiness, or holiness exercised toward creatures. The same holiness which exists in God in eternity past, manifests itself as justice, so soon as moral intelligences come into being. Before creation God was holiness, just as ho was love and truth. The one God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost— is sufficient to himself. As he has in himself an infinite object of knowledge, he is the eternal truth. As he has in himself an infinite object of affection, he is the eternal love. And as he has in himself an infinite object of will, he is the eternal holiness. The trinity in unity assures God's independence, his sovereignty, his blessedness. He does not need to create for his own sake. Because God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is the foundation for intelligence, communion, activity, in the infinite ranges of his own being. If he creates, therefore, it is not to augment his own blessedness, but to communicate it to others. If he makes the worlds, it is not of necessity, but of grace.
God is holy, whether creation exists or not. But the moment moral creatures come into being, this holiness of God has relations to them, and holiness in relation to creatures is justice. The self-affirming purity of God demands a like purity in those who have been made in his image. As God wills and maintains his own moral excellence, so all creatures must will and maintain the moral excellence of God. There can be only one centre in the solar system. The sun is its own centre and the centre for all the planets .also. So God's purity is the object of his own will, and it must be the object of all the wills of all his creatures also. See how all arbitrariness is excluded here. God is what he is — infinite purity. He cannot change. If creatures are to attain the end of their being, then, they must be like God in moral purity. Justice is nothing but the publication and enforcement of this natural necessity.
The law of God, therefore, is simply a transcript of God's being — the holiness of God in the form of moral requirement. Law can no more be different from what it is, than God can be different from what he is. And justice does not make law — it only reveals law. Justice is holiness declaring to creatures, in their own constitution, in conscience, in providence, and in the written word, the fundamental facts of being.
In this sense justice is legislative holiness. But justice is executive holiness also. God will not only demand purity in his creatures, but he will enforce this demand. That mighty will that asserts the divine purity as the thing of supreme worth, will flow on like an infinite river and bear upon its bosom the whole uerse of moral beings. Resist that current, and you are overwhelmed by it. Because God is God, you must perish. That mighty will is the substance and strength of law. When you make your thrust against the law, by transgression, you find that law is elastic; because the living will of God is in it, there is a counter-thrust that prostrates and destroys you.
And so retributive justice, binding moral evil and penal misery together in inevitable and dreadful union, is simply the reaction of God's holiness against its antagonist and would-be destroyer. Punishment is God's holy will maintaining and vindicating the divine purity. Justice itself is legislative and retributive holiness; and God can cease to demand purity and to punish sin, only when he ceases to be holy, that is, only when he ceases to be God.
Holiness, in the form of justice, is therefore necessarily the detecter and condemner and punisher of impurity and selfishness. The whole nature of God is affected with revulsion from moral evil, and not only with revulsion but with abhorrence and indignation. But let us remember that this anger of God against the wicked is not a human anger. In it is no passion or malice. It is the legitimate expression of God's purity, the calm judicial vindication of his righteousness, the exact apportionment of retribution to transgression. God's holiness as much binds him to punish sin, as sin binds the sinner to be punished.
Years ago the city of Rochester witnessed a strange scene. Senator Ira Harris, then Judge of the Supreme Court, was to pronounce sentence of death upon a brutal criminal, whose ignorance of the English language made necessary the intervention of an interpreter, even to communicate to him the meaning of the words that sealed his doom. Those who knew Jndge Harris have not forgotten the large mould of his mind and the correspondingly magnificent port of the man. The bearing of the Judge that day seemed the very embodiment of the majesty and impartiality of the law, but coupled with this there was a deep compassion for the miserable being before him. As he addressed the convicted man tears were seen trickling down his cheeks, his voice trembled and broke, he could not go on. The solemn hush of that court-room was like the silence of the grave that was just opening to receive the murderer. Justice paused — but justice must be done. With a struggle that shook his whole frame Judge Harris regained his self-control, and the words were spoken that consigned the criminal to a felon's death. Those words were awful, because it was felt that there could be no recall.
So God's compassion lingers ere it speaks the sinner's separation from him forever; but that lingering only makes more remediless the sinner's fate. The justice that has in it no semblance or trace of human caprice, the justice that only makes manifest to the uerse the natural relations between the purity of God and the creature's sin, the justice that renders its desert to moral evil even at the cost of its own grief, this is the justice that the sinner has to fear. The very absence from it of all earthly passion is its characteristic mark. And so we represent justice as holding an even scale, aud as weighing merit and demerit with bandaged eyes. She is no respecter of persons, and from her decisions there is no appeal.
There is one other attribute to which holiness has an important, but a very different relation. I mean the benevolence or love of God. Let us understand clearly what love is. It is the impulse to self-communication, the attribute in virtue of which God is moved to give, of his own life and blessedness. Love existed in God, before men existed, or before angels were made. "Thou lovedst me," says Jesus, "before the foundation of the world." From eternity God was love, because from eternity there was the communication of all his fullness to the Son. In Christ and through Christ, God gives of his own life and blessedness to us.
Do we not know from our experience of earthly love what this self-giving, self-imparting, self-communication is? Do we call that love, in which there is no giving, but only demanding, taking, receiving? Do we believe in a person's love, who fastens himself to us because of the praise we give him or the good of whatever sort he can get from us? No, there is no true love without self-sacrifice, self-devotion, the merging of my interests in your interests, the giving of myself to you that my life may fill and bless your life. And this is God's love — the giving of himself for us and to us in Jesus Christ. "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for ns." When the Son of God gives up all for us upon the cross of shame, when he gives himself to us by entering our hearts and uniting himself indissolubly with us, then and then only we see what is the nature and essence of love.
We see at once that love cannot be resolved into holiness. Self-impartation is very different from self-affirmation. The attribute which moves God to pour out is not identical with the attribute which impels him to maintain. Self-communicating grace is not the same with self-preserving purity. Nor on the other hand can we resolve holiness into love. The two ideas are as distinct as the idea of integrity on the one hand and of generosity on the other.
One may call holiness God's self-love, if he will, but this gives only a superficial and verbal unity. Self-love is not love at all, for there is in it no element of self-surrender. We cannot turn holiness into love, then, merely by giving it a name into which the word "love" enters as a component part. In truth, holiness is wrongly described as "self-love," even when this term is taken in its proper sense. Self-love is the desire for one's own interest and happiness. But God's holiness is something infinitely nobler than this. The utilitarian element is wholly wanting from it. God wills and maintains his own moral excellence not because of the good which will flow to him thereby, but simply because that moral excellence is in itself the thing of supreme worth. As no man is truly virtuous who loves virtue for what he can make by it, so God has no ulterior motive in being holy, and for this reason holiness can never be defined as God's self-love, or the desire for his own interest and happiness.
If holiness, then, is not even God's self-love, much less is it God's love to the uerse. It is not a form of benevolence toward bis creatures, a manifestation of desire for their good. It has an independent basis in the nature of God, and so exists before and apart from creation. Yet no error in modern thinking is more prevalent or more pernicious in its results than this one, of making holiness to be a mere exercise of love.
See how far-reaching the consequences of this error are! Holiness in God ceases to be valuable for what it is in itself — it becomes valuable only as a means to an end. Happiness is the only good and the only end. If the happiness of the uerse required it, God might cease to be holy; he would be bound to be unholy, if greater good might come thereby. Law is only an expedient for the attainment of happiness, and may be done away when it fails of securing its end. Punishment is only a means of reforming the offender, or of deterring others from following his example. Sin can be pardoned without atonement, and the incorrigible transgressor may be loosed so soon as punishment ceases to be of benefit. And so the foundations of every important doctrine of Christianity are swept away. Law, sin, atonement, retribution — all these defenses of the faith are untenable, when once the Redan, the citadel of God's holiness, is surrendered to the foe.
How completely opposed to right reason is this view that holiness is a form of benevolence, a means of securing happiness! If this were so, supreme regard for happiness would be the very essence of all virtue. But we know that to serve God for the mere sake of reward to ourselves, or of happiness to others, is not to serve him at all. Holiness is binding upon us entirely apart from its useful results. God is displeased with nnholiness, entirely apart from the effects of misery which follow in its train. His law, like the sun in the heavens, declares and reflects his glory. God must punish the violators of that law, whether the punished are benefited thereby or not. Sin is intrinsically ill-deserving, and must be punished on that account — not because punishment will work good to the uerse ; indeed, no punishment can be of benefit to the uerse that is not just and necessary in itself.
Justice moreover is something invariable; it comes equally to all. It cannot be the same as love, for love varies with the moral worth of the object and with the sovereign pleasure of the bestower. It is the very nature of love to choose out the object of its affection. Men choose the ends to which they will devote their charities and we call them benevolent, and God dispenses his bounty as he will. He gives to one and withholds from another. Poverty and riches, ignorance and intellect, follow no law of merit. But God does not dispen8e justice thus. That is something which every man may claim from him. Surely this justice that varies not, is not a mere name for love, that has its endless gradations and that declares its freedom in the infinite variety of gifts and conditions which it distributes among mankind.
But let us turn to Scripture wholly. Why does the Psalmist pray that God will chasten him not in anger? Because chastening in anger is different from chastening in love, and the fatherly chastening of the Lord is the opposite of being condemned with the world. God hates, abhors and destroys the wicked; hatred, abhorrence and destruction are not love nor forms of love. Many times in Scripture is chastening referred to love: "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth." But nowhere in the whole range of God's word is punishment referred to love; many times it is referred to holiness. In the book of Revelation, when the great whore is judged, the company of heaven cry: "True and righteous are thy judgments!" When the wicked are destroyed, the saints say with one voice: "Who shall not fear thee, for thou only art holy!"
Not from love to the uerse does God punish. "I do not this for your sakes," he says, "but for my holy name's sake." The fires that fell from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrha were not acts of mercy to soften hard hearts and bring sinners to repentance. They were manifestations of selfvindicating holiness, visiting indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon persistent wickedness, cutting short the day of grace, removing forever the chance of reformation, and ushering the enemies of God not into a world of new opportunities and privileges, but into a world of retribution compared with which, as Jesus himself intimates, the fire and brimstone of the earthly destruction were far more tolerable. God is love indeed, but God is light also; and because he is moral light, in whom is no darkness at all of impurity or sin, to all iniquity he is a consuming fire.
Holiness and love both exist in God. We have seen what holiness is, and how it differs from love. Let us ask last of all, which of these is to be regarded as the primary and fundamental attribute of the divine nature? We have but two sources of information here, our own moral constitution and the word of God. From our own nature we may learn something of the nature of him in whose image we are made. Let us recall that great discovery of Bishop Butler: "the supremacy of conscience in the moral constitution of man." To conscience every other impulse and affection, voluntarily or involuntarily, has to bow. Happiness and righteousness stand on two very different planes, and righteousness is evermore the higher. The money in my hands may be needed to help a family in distress; yet, if it is my only means of paying an honest debt, even to a man who needs it not, I am bound to pay my debt, though the family starve. Be just before you are generous, conscience whispers always.
Now that which is highest in us is highest also in God. As we may be kind, but must be righteous, so God, in whose image we are made, may be merciful, but must be holy. Mercy is optional with him. He was not under compulsion to provide a redemption for sinners. Salvation is a matter of grace, not of debt. He can apply the salvation he has wrought out, to whomsoever he will. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," is his word. Love is an attribute which, like omnipotence, God may exercise or not exercise, as he will. But with holiness it is not so. Holiness must be exercised everywhere. We thank God for his mercy—for this is the free act of his grace. But we never thank him for speaking the truth — for this he must do from the necessity of his own nature. Justice must be done always ; otherwise God would be unjust; shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? But who of all this world of sinners could complain if God should pardon others, but not pardon him? Can we doubt then whether love or holiness is the more fundamental in the divine nature?
But look once more to Scripture and the light is clearer still. See there the actual dealings of God. See how holiness conditions and limits the exercise of every other attribute. See how redeeming love, when it would save mankind, can do this only by itself submitting to the rod of justice and suffering in our stead,—violated holiness requiring expiation for sin, while love submissively meets and answers its requisitions. See how the eternal punishment of the wicked reveals the holiness of God, even when love can hope for no relief or benefit to the transgressor,— the demand of holiness for self-vindication overbearing the pleading of love for the sufferers.
Does the word of God teach that there is such a thing as everlasting death? Does God not only pity the sinner, but abhor and repel him? Does he press into the conscience with his condemning sentence, frown upon the wrong-doer with an angry eye, drive the wicked from him with a naming sword, prophesy eternal wrath in the world to come? Does love hide her head from the finally impenitent, and the mercy of the Lamb change to the wrath of the Lamb? Then there must be a principle of God's nature, not only independent of love, but superior to love. Even so it is. The mighty will that constitutes the stay and life of the uerse is directed toward one thing — the maintenance, revelation and diffusion of holiness. Not the holiness of the happy, but the happiness of the holy ; peace to the pure, but to the impure everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord — this is the plan on which the uerse is built.
What has been said throws, in my judgment, a new and valuable light upon the great question of future punishment. The common view that holiness is a form of love, or is under bonds to love, can justify the penalties of the world to come, only from considerations of utility,—to use the words of Mr. Beecher: "I believe that punishment exists both here and hereafter, but it will not continue after it ceases to do good. With a God who could give pain for pain's sake, this world would go out like a candle." So the Uersalist holds that "the punishment of the wicked, however severe and terrible it may be, is but a means to a beneficent end; not revengful, but remedial; not for its own sake, but for the good of those who suffer its infliction." * And some, who can see no good to be reaped from punishment by
* Art. "Uersalis!!!," in Johnson's Uersal Cyclopaedia.
the lost themselves, declare that punishment is for the good of the uerse. The security of free creatures is to be attained through a gratitude for deliverance, "kept alive by a constant example of some who are justly suffering the vengeance.of eternal fire." So says Dr. Joel Parker.*
Let us ask these writers also: What beneficial effect can these sufferings have upon the uerse, unless they are just in themselves? And if just in themselves, then the reason for their continuance lies not in any benefit to the uerse, or to the sufferers, that may accrue therefrom. '' If the Uersalists' position were true,"— I quote here from a late English Review, t — "we should expect to find some manifestations of love and pity and sympathy in the infliction of the dreadful punishments of the future. We look in vain for this, however. We read of God's anger, of his judgments, of his fury, of his taking vengeance, but we get no hint, in any passage which describes the sufferings of the next world, that they are designed to work the redemption and recovery of the soul. If the punishments of the wicked were chastisements, we should expect to see some bright outlook in the Bible-picture of the place of doom. A gleam of light, one might suppose, would make its way from the celestial city to this dark abode. The sufferers would catch some sweet refrain of heavenly music, which would be a promise and prophecy of a far-off but coming glory. But there is a finality about the Scripture-statements of the condition of the lost which is simply terrible."
The reason for punishment lies in the holiness of God. That holiness reveals itself in the moral constitution of the uerse. It makes itself felt in conscience, imperfectly here, fully hereafter. The wrong merits punishment. The right binds, not because it is the expedient, but because it is the very nature of God. "But the great ethical significance of this word right will not be known,"—I quote again from Dr. Patton,—"its imperative claims, its sovereign behests, its holy and imperious sway over the moral creation will not be understood, until we witness, during the lapse of the judgment-hours, the terrible retribution which measures the ill-desert of wrong." Is this a doctrine of "pain for pain's sake?" Ah, no! God has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. It is a doctrine of pain for holiness' sake; the necessary suffering of the transgressor who spurns God's love; the inevitable reaction against itself of a human nature that was made * for purity, but is now lost to purity; the involuntary vindication, on the part of the sinner, of the great truth that in the nature of God the two infinites love and holiness are not commensurate, but that holiness is evermore supreme.
Trinmphant holiness, submissive love,—are these then in conflict with each other? Is there duality, instead of harmony, in the nature of God? Ah, there would be, but for one fact — the fact of the cross. The first and worst tendency of sin is its tendency to bring discord into the being of God, by setting holiness at war with love, and love at war with holiness. And since both these attributes are exercised toward sinners of the human race, the otherwise inevitable antagonism between them is removed only by fhe atoning death of the God-man. Their opposing claims do not impair the divine blessedness, because the reconciliation exists in the eternal counsels of God:
* Lectures on Uersalism.
t Art. by F. L. Patton, in Brit, and For. Evanff. Rev., Jan. 1878, p. 137.
Christ is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." In him and in his cross, long before the Savior came, "mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other." Even Calvary, with its bleeding love on the part of the Son, and the darkness and horror of that forsaking on the part of the Father, could not have accomplished in those few hours the redemption of the world, if it had not been the drawing-back of the veil that had hid an eternal fact in the nature of God, in other words, if it had not been a revelation of God himself. In the cross, we see the majesty of holiness at one with the self-abnegation of infinite love. That God might still be just, while pardoning the transgressor, the Judge gave himself to death for as. He bore the wrath of violated holiness, that we might be saved from wrath through him.
And yet, let us not imagine that love fails to have proper recognition, when we make holiness supreme. It is only in the light of this holiness of God that we can properly estimate God's love to sinners. When we think of what holiness is it would indeed at first sight seem to exclude love. The most impossible of all things would seem to be, that this God, whose holiness is the fundamental and controlling attribute of his being, should love those who have broken the bonds of his authority and have polluted themselves with moral evil. Sin is an abomination to him. His purity loathes it; his judicial sentence condemns it; his anger burns against it. And yet, wonder of wonders ! — he loves the sinner and cannot see him perish. The complex nature of God is strangely capable at once of these two mighty emotions — hatred of the sin and love for the sinner; or, to put it more accurately, love for the sinner, as he is a creature with infinite capacities of joy or sorrow, of purity or wickedness, but simultaneous hatred for that same sinner, as he is an enemy to holiness and to God.
Except as we scale the heights of God's holiness, we shall never fathom the depths of God's love. Only as we see the inaccessible whiteness of that celestial purity that rises like Alpine summits far-withdrawn, can we begin to appreciate the love that stooped to inconceivable abasement, that it might lift us out of tha blackness and hell of our depravity and guilt. Against this solemn back-ground of holiness and judicial indignation, the yearning pity and the melting tenderness of the Godhead seem inexpressibly sweet and fair. The Old Testament must come before the New, the Law before the Gospel, John the Baptist before Christ, or all these last lose their dignity and significance. Aud what the preaching and the teaching of our day needs most of all is a profound conviction of that holiness of God which will by no means clear the guilty, and which charges guilt upon every impure act, disposition or state of human soul.
A great teacher, as he gave his last counsels to a class of young men in course of training for the active work of life, said to them these words: "Would that upon the naked palpitating heart of each one of you might be laid one red-hot coal of God Almighty's wrath!" And thus I would say, also, if I could only know that love would follow, aud would quench that coal with one precious drop of the red blood of Christ. Nay, will love ever follow and heal aud deliver, if the sense of wrath has not gone before? No mau in his sins, indeed, can ever enter into the blaze of God's holiness, and live. Yet some sight of it, such as the Spirit gives, is the indispensable condition •of a lofty Christian life,—yes, is an indispensable condition of salvation. From the sight of holiness we need to be led on to the sight of love, or the end will be only remorse and despair. Yet still it is true that there can be no more salutary discipline and preparation, either as respects the learning of doctrine or the doing of duty, than those which are derived from a heartsearching, awe-inspiring apprehension of the divine holiness; for it is the law, in which that holiness is revealed, that is the appointed school-master, to lead us to Christ.
I would fain close this sermon with an appeal to every hearer who is not yet a Christian, and to every Christian whose conceptions of God's purity have hitherto been faint and dull, that he will seek a new knowledge of this -attribute of God. May God himself, by his Holy Spirit, be our teacher, that we may see how great and just a God he is with whom we have to deal; how impossible it is without holiness for any man to see the Lord; how deep is the blackness of our sin against the whiteness of his purity; how needful it was that the Son of God should die to save us from it; how instant and immediate is the necessity of repentance and renewal; how certain is the doom of the unrepenting transgressor; and how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Why should I not address directly any hearer who is yet unsaved, and say to him: My friend, if you are ever saved, either God must change, or you must. He must either cease to be God by giving up his holiness, or you must cease your rebellion and become pure. Do you think that he will change? Ah! he changes not. Make sure then that you change your place and character and life; for you must change, or die!
For my part I give in my allegiance gladly to this holiness of God. I know that I must bend to the mighty Will that moves and controls all things, whether I will or no. I had rather be the molten iron that runs freely into the mould prepared by the great Designer, than be the cold iron that must be hammered into shape. I know that the whole uerse must bow to that holy will at last. I would not be among the spirits that bow in hell. But this is not my reason for giving in my allegiance to holiness. I bow to it because it is the highest, the fairest, the grandest thing of all. I bow to it because it is the only worthy object of homage and love and service in the uerse. To be like God, to be pure as God is pure, to be partaker of his holiness,—this, to a created being, is the summit of all honor and ambition. Will you not choose this end with me? Will you not recognize this supreme fact of the uerse, and give in your allegiance to the holiness of God?
On the day after the first gun was fired at Fort Sumter, the citizens of Chicago gathered in the vast auditorinm in which the National Convention had nominated Abraham Lincoln, to take the oath of allegiance to the government and to the Constitution. It was said that twenty thousand men stood under that single roof. They were of all classes and all parties, but it seemed to me that the spirit of God had made them one. A Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States stood forth and held aloft a Bible, and called upon every man in that vast multitude to hold up his right hand and swear. With a voice that reached the remotest corners of the great enclosure, he repeated the first words of the oath: "We do solemnly swear!" And like the sounding of the sea, or the breaking of thunder from the sky, all that multitudinous host repeated after him: "We do solemnly swear!" "To support the Constitution of the United States!" And still they followed: "To support the Constitution of the United States ! * And so the oath proceeded till the solemn close: "So help us, God!" For many a man, the taking of that oath meant the giving up of property and life; but it was taken with an intense and exultant enthusiasm, for the cause of the country was felt to be the cause of God. If there were traitors there that day, they made no sign. Rebellion hid itself in fear.
There shall be a greater gathering soon. The uerse shall assemble to recognize the right of holiness to reign. I hear the multitude that no man can number cry, as the voice of many waters and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying: "Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!" Will you be among those who give in their allegiance to God's holiness, on that great day? or will you be among those whose impenitence and rebellion is punished by exclusion from the presence of God and from the society of the holy? I pray you, avoid that fate, if you are still unreconciled to God, by making your peace with him without delay. Join yourself to Christ by submission and trust, and that God whose purity now seems only to repel and menace will seem "glorious in holiness," and this attribute of his will become the object of your deepest homage, the pledge of your defense from evil, and the model for a strenuous character and an unspotted life!