God's Holiness and Ours


I Pet. 1:15:—"But like as He which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living."

The first chapter of the First Epistle of Peter ranks with the most precious in the Bible. It opens with a singularly rich and beautiful description of what God has done for us, and of the glory of that salvation which He has provided. He has given His Son to die and rise again that by His resurrection from the dead He might beget us anew unto a lively hope. Though we may have to suffer now and enter not yet into this hope, He Himself preserves for us the hoped-for inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled; and keeps us by His power for it, until the day comes when we shall enter into it. This glorious salvation He had prepared for us, indeed, before we were born, even from the beginnings of the ages, announcing it from time to time through the prophets who well knew that it was for us and not themselves that they ministered, but revealing it in its full glory not even to the angels as it has now been made known to us. Thus Peter makes known to his readers that it was not they who chose God but God who chose them; that their salvation is not dependent on their own effort but rests on God's almighty power; that the inheritance for which they hope in the enJ is not such an one as they could obtain with human weakness, but such an one as only God could prepare—more splendid than prophets could tell, more glorious than angels could imagine, prepared by God just for us from the foundation of the world. By this far-off glimpse of it, Peter would quicken our hope and awaken our love and gratitude to God.

"Wherefore," he adds,—turning suddenly from this glorious prospect to stir us up to make this precious inheritance surely our own—"wherefore" see to it that you enter into this hope and lay such hold upon it that it cannot slip away. As we approach the text for the day, thus, we pass from the contemplation of the glorious inheritance of the saints to the most earnest exhortations to make our calling sure. Peter admonishes us by the greatness of the hope that is set before us, in other words, to a mode of life conformable to it. We must gird up the loins of our minds, be sober and set our hope perfectly on this grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of our Lord. It is ready for us; it is kept in store for us in heaven; when Christ comes it will come with Him. Would we be meet for its reception? How then shall we be made meet for it? We are told first negatively and then positively.

Christ is our King and to Him we owe our duty. Not with eye service only; not with grudging honour; but as the very children of obedience we must offer Him our willing service. And this service which He demands of us is summed up broadly in the negative rule that we must be separated wholly from our former evil desires which we followed in the days of our ignorance, before He recalled Himself to us and made known to us what a glorious inheritance He had for us. Children of the flesh, born in the flesh, we have lived according to the lusts of the flesh; for who is there that sins not? But now that the eyes of our hearts have been opened that we may see what it is that we have done, and that we may know the evil that we have wrought, we must turn away from evil. This is the negative rule of life. But mere negation brings us nowhere. To separate from sin is not enough; we must go on to positive holiness; "like as He which called you is holy, become ye also yourselves holy in all manner of living." Here is the positive rule of life.

Now let us look at this precept somewhat more closely. Doing so we will observe (1) what it is that we are exhorted to become—holy; (2) in what we are to become holy—in every manner of living; and (3) to what degree we are to become holy in all our life and all its activities,—as holy as God Himself is. In other words, we may observe here (1) that God draws back the veil and exhibits His own holiness to His children; (2) that He makes His holiness the incitement to them to become holy also; (3) that He holds His own holiness forth as the standard of the holiness which they must strive to attain; and (4) that He actually proposes to share this His highest attribute with us.

Observe, then, first, that God here proclaims His own holiness and so exhibits this His crown and glory to His children; "like as He which called you is holy"—"for I am holy." What, then, do we mean when we speak of the "holiness" of God? We need not trouble ourselves with the derivation of the Hebrew word, although, no doubt, its etymological sense of division, separation from, is conformable with its usage. The usage of the word, which is applied primarily to God, and only afterwards and secondarily to those that belong to Him,—especially if we will observe its contrasts—clearly indicates as its central idea that of separation; and specifically separation from the world conceived of as a sinful world. When we call God holy, then, the central idea in our minds concerns His absolute and complete separation from sin and uncleanness. Not that the idea has this negative form as it lies in our minds. There is no idea so positive as that of holiness; it is the very climax of positiveness. But it is hard to express this positiveness in a definite way, dimply because this idea is above the ideas expressed by its synonyms. It is more than sinlessness, though it, of course, includes the idea of sinlessness. It is more than righteousness, although again it includes the idea of righteousness. It is more than wholeness, complete soundness and integrity and Tightness, though, of course, again it includes these ideas. It is more than simpleness, high simplicity and guilelessness, though it includes this too. It is more than purity, though, of course, it includes this too. Holiness includes all these and more. It is God's whole, entire, absolute, inconceivable and, therefore, unexpressible completeness and perfection of separation from and opposition to and ineffable revulsion from all that is in any sense or degree, however small, evil. We fall back at last on this negative description of it just because language has no positive word which can reach up to the unscaleable heights of this one highest word, holiness. It is the crown of God as mercy is His treasure; as grace is His riches, this is His glory. Who is like unto God, glorious in holiness?

Such is the challenge of the Old Testament and safely might it be given. The holiness of God is a conception peculiar to the religion of the Bible. None of the gods of the nations was like unto our God in this, the crown and climax of His glory. But it is just this His ineffable perfection that He calls us to imitate. It is just the exhibition of this His glory that He trusts to quicken an unquenchable thirst in us to be like Him. For observe, secondly, that it is by this exhibition of His holiness that God incites us to holiness. "Like as He which called you is holy, become ye also yourselves holy." "Ye shall be holy for I am holy." God exhibits His glory to us for our imitation and expects the sight of the beauty of holiness in Him to beget in us an inextinguishable longing to be like Him. Holiness is a dread attribute. Reverence and awe attend its exhibition. Who can look upon the holy God and not tremble? To the sinful man, no words so quickly spring to the lips when he is brought in sight of holiness as "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" It is pre-eminently the holiness of God which constitutes the terror of the Lord, and as often as He appears to men we read the record that they feared a great fear. Does its contemplation not silence our tongues and abase our hearts rather than rouse our endeavours and quicken our efforts? It is but too true that sin and holiness are antagonistic and that holiness hates sin no less truly than sin hates holiness. Sinful man cannot be incited to holy activity by the sight of holiness; it begets no longing in his heart except a longing to hide himself away from it. When Adam sinned, he no longer wished to meet God in the garden.

The very fact of the proposal of God to show us His holiness as an incitement to holiness in us means something, then, of infinite importance to our souls. It means that we are no longer averse to all that is good; no longer God's enemies but His friends. Peter is addressing here not man as man but Christian men as Christian men. Those to whom he speaks have been bought with a price, have been begotten anew unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. As God's sons they are already like God, and he only exhorts them to become more like Him. It is only as God's sons that they could be attracted by the exhibition of His holiness; it is only as God's sons that they could find in it an incitement; it is only as such that they can hope to attain it. And it is just because we are God's sons that the exhortation is necessary to us. If we are to call on Him as Father we must vindicate our right to use that ennobling name by living as His children. Thus the very proposal of God to incite us to holiness by the exhibition of His holiness to us, is itself an encouragement to and a pledge of our attainment of it. He expects us to see and to feel the beauty of holiness and that means that He has already recreated our hearts.

Thus we observe, thirdly, that God not only exhibits His holiness here as an incitement to us, but also reveals to us by that act His gracious and loving purpose with us. We see God here not calling us up to seek communion with Him in our own strength; but rather stooping down that He may raise us to that communion. For let us observe that it is, after all, communion with Him to which He has summoned us. There can be no communion between the holy and the sinful. He is here beseeching us to hold communion with Him, and He is providing the way by which it may be consummated. The Holy God has by the resurrection of Christ from the dead begotten us again into a living hope and here He holds out to this already formed hope the incitement of the sight of His holiness as the goal to which we must strive to attain.

It is not unadvisedly that we say that His holiness is here exhibited as the goal to which we must seek to attain. For not only is it in the text the incitement, but also the standard of the holiness for which we are to strive. We are to become holy as God is holy. Of course the finite cannot attain the infinite. But as the asymptote of the hyperbola ever approaches it but never attains, so we are eternally to approach this high and perfect standard. Ever above us, the holiness of God yet is ever more and more closely approached by us; and as the unending aeons of eternity pass by we shall grow ever more and more towards that ever-beckoning standard. That is our high destiny and it is not unfitly described as partaking in the Divine Nature.

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