Articles

God's Holiness

This article was first published in the Standard Bearer. For the original source link click here.

"Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness" (Ps. 30:4). 

Today, popular "singers," as they are euphemistically called, and far too charitably, are an untalented, screaming mob not worth three minutes of time to audition any one of them. They never sing anything holy; only mockeries, blasphemies, and filthiness. God's Word, here, commands men, not the reprobate, but sanctified persons, saints, to sing in praise of God's holiness. Only saints are fit to sing the Psalms of holiness. Those who do not sing the Psalms, but other songs, necessarily those of much lesser quality, cannot know to any depth what this text means. We are to sing and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness. Holiness is not the theme of the modern hit-parade of song. This is not because worldly people are ignorant of this virtue entirely, but because they despise it and are terrified at the contemplation of it. Of their worship (still to Baal and Ashtaroth) and song, the Lord says, "I hate, I despise . . . I will not smell . . . . I will not accept . . . neither will I regard . . . Take away from Me the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear!" (Amos 5:21-23). But the true church is a congregation of "appointed singers unto the Lord who should praise the beauty of holiness" (II Chron. 20:21), and "it is a good sign that we are in some measure partakers of His holiness, if we can heartily rejoice and give thanks at the remembrance of it" (M. Henry). 

What is meant by holiness? The Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary defines it as, "completeness of moral and spiritual purity, perfection and integrity; absolute moral purity; perfect sanctity: said of God. 'Holiness in the Creator is the total perfection of an infinitely righteous intelligence. Holiness in the creature is not mere moral perfection, but perfection of the created nature of moral agents inspiritual union and fellowship with the infinite Creator.'—Hodge, Outlines of Theology. Transcendentally august and venerable majesty; moral and spiritual glory: said of God; 'glorious in holiness' (Ex. 15:11). 'Holiness in God cannot be defined in the same terms in which holiness in man or angel is defined, namely, as conformity to the moral law.' Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, I, 362, 1889." 

In the Reformed Dogmatics of L. Berkhof holiness is said to come from a root meaning to separate. It points to separation from sin. "In its original sense" it "denotes that He is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and is exalted above them in infinite majesty. So understood the holiness of God is one of His transcendental attributes, and is sometimes spoken of as His central and supreme attribute . . . if we may speak of one attribute of God as being more central and fundamental than another, then the Scriptural emphasis on the holiness of God would seem to justify the selection."

With the Reformed Dogmatics of H. Hoeksema, p. 100, "we conclude that the holiness of God is that wonder of the divine nature according to which God is absolute, infinite, eternal and ultimate ethical perfection, Himself being the standard, motive and purpose of all the activity of His personal nature, so that He is eternally consecrated to Himself alone as the only Good." 

The wicked world diverts its mind from its miseries with raving gutter-songs, so expressing their hatred for a holy God. Their god is an idol. They have a god who is love and nothing but love. Like a woman who makes her own dress pattern, their god is patterned after their own designs. Take the gods of Greek mythology. They are the very opposite of the perfect purity of the true God. None were known for the virtue of holiness. Purity was something deemed unworthy of the consideration of a deity. But these idols of men succeed not in obliterating from their minds what conscience tells them, that the God of gods is pure and holy. So they say in their hearts, There is no God!—so claiming to be absolute atheists, owning no god at all. The holy God Who hates sin is not the god of abortion murderers (and murderesses), of homosexual and lesbian deviates, nor of feminists. These all hate the God of Scripture, the church, Christians, and God's holy commandments, the only standard of holiness for doctrine and life. The God Who "is angry with the wicked every day" (Ps. 7:11), and Who "hates all workers of iniquity" (Ps. 5:5) they refuse to believe and gnash their teeth at Him. Their incessant, careless, profane, and censurable use of "hell" and "damn" reveals their utter contempt for the doctrine of the everlasting punishment of impenitent sinners in the Lake of Fire. God's detestation for the vile inhabitants of Sodom was such that He destroyed not only those male sons of Belial, but also the females and infants there (the latter at that life-stage certainly incapable of Sodom's brand of wickedness), their cattle, homes, and all their possessions with fire from heaven. So that the place where their civic and social center once stood as "the garden of the Lord" is today a desert salt-flat and poisonous lake which kills all life flowing into it. 

Man has fallen so far from God that he cannot imagine the meaning of the prayer, Hallowed be Thy name. For he continually dishonors the name of God. View man over against God's holiness and you see a person created in the divine image degenerated into the image of the devil. The devil himself is not more fallen from likeness to God than we are. That we are not fallen into the same pit with apostate spirits is because our faithful Savior intervened and we fell on Him crucified for our sins. Man lost the glory of his nature, namely, resemblance to God's holiness, and so lost the only means of glorifying God as Creator and of sanctifying Him in his heart as Redeemer. 

Holiness is a glorious perfection of God's nature. Hence, Scripture often styles Him the Holy One, the Holy One of Jacob, the Holy One of Israel, and more often entitles Him Holy than Almighty. God is more set forth by this part of His dignity than by any other. It is more affixed to His name than any other. "You never find . . . 'His mighty name,' or 'His wise name,' but His great name, and most of all, His holy name. This is His greatest title of honor" (Charnock). Sin is committed not against "Almighty God," but against "the Holy One of Israel." Holiness "is the glory of the Godhead and the glory of every attribute in the Godhead. His power is the strength of His attributes and holiness is the beauty of them. His justice is a holy justice; His wisdom a holy wisdom; His arm of power a holy arm (Ps. 98:1); His promise a holy promise (Ps. 105:42) . . . His name is holy (Ps. 103:1)" (Charnock). 

Then what, in effect, is an affront to this doctrine of God's holiness is the human invention of "common grace." This philosophy is an insult to the very nature of God, especially in the property of His holiness, since that virtue is the glory of every perfection of His being. God in His holy nature has an infinite and transcendent separation from the creature, but especially from the fallen creature, while at the same time He enjoys an exclusive separation (dedication) unto Himself. His own absolute (incommunicable) holiness is the innate property of His being and the rule of all His actions, but "common grace" makes God by nature common. It makes Him something other than God. It blunts and blurs the sharp, clear, beautiful facets of His holiness we see in His transcendental separateness, inaccessibility (I Tim. 6:16), and inapproachability. Also one of the root meanings of the Hebrew word for holiness means "to shine" from which we get the adjective "new." God's glory (holiness) always has a new shine, a blazing splendor. So there cannot possibly be anything common about God's grace (or any of His virtues). Still, "common grace" would, in effect, put God not in separation from but in connection with the wicked world, so that those who are in God then have a nice bridge over into the kingdom of this world and all it affords, its mad pleasures and ungodly, unbiblical science. "Common grace" is the very opposite of and obliterative of sanctification and holiness of life—of both God's and the life of the saints. "Common grace" also stands in opposition to God's holy law, which is a transcript of His nature, and therefore of His immutable detestation of sin. 

Holiness is revealed in all its beauty and glory in the Cross of Christ. God's wrath against sin is demonstrated there far more than in the seven bowls of wrath poured out in judgment on the wicked world, or in the judgments on the fallen angels reserved in chains of darkness, or in the present and future torments of the damned. Could infinite holiness appear elsewhere lovelier than in the vicarious sufferings of the Cross? On the Cross God turned His back on His Son (thus casting our sins behind His back into the land of God's forgetfulness!), which caused Him to cry out of the impenetrable, dark depths of divine desertion, "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Ps. 22:1). But on utterance of that infinite grief He answered His own question, "But Thou art holy" (v. 3). God's holiness was the cause of Christ's hellish agonies. The Cross reveals in inexorable justice that all who commit sin are worthy of death. So the Cross is gloriously illumined with the eternally new shine of perfect purity. 

"Sing praises to God! Sing praises! Sing praises unto our King! Sing praises!" (Ps. 47:6). Why? Because "God reigneth over the heathen," sitting "upon the throne of His holiness" (Ps. 47:8), and because this will outfit us, armed against sin and temptation. The heathen with their vile songs and loose morals are in praise of idol-gods like to themselves, full of lusts and adulteries. Even Plato would have the wicked songs of his day eradicated from the state because they incited wickedness and riot in the people. Singing holy songs, those of Scripture, we show that we entirely hate sin, with not a speck of love for it. So may we consecrate ourselves to the Holy One as the only good.

Harbach, Robert

Rev. Robert C. Harbach (1914-1996) was born in Riverdale, MD on July 27, 1914. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1955 and was ordained in October of that year.  He served congregations in Lynden, Washington (1955-1963), Kalamazoo, Michigan (1963-1974), and as Home Missionary (1974-1979).  He retired from the active ministry in 1979.  He passed to glory on December 14, 1996.

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