PRACTICAL PIETY by Hannah More, 1811
Christianity, as we have attempted to show, calls for the same standards of goodness in different stations and in every person. No one can be allowed to rest in moral laxity and plead his exemption for aiming higher. Those who keep its standards in their eye, though they may not reach the highest attainments, will not be satisfied with such as are unworthy. The obvious inferiority will produce compunction; compunction will stimulate them to press on. Those who lose sight of their standard, however, will be satisfied with the height they have already reached. They are not likely to be the object of God's favor who take their determined stand on the very lowest step in the scale of perfection, who do not even aspire above it, whose aim seems to do not be so much to please God as to escape punishment. Many people will doubtless be accepted, though their progress has been small. Their difficulties may have been great, their natural capacity weak; their temptations were strong, and their instruction may have been defective.
Revelation has furnished injunctions as well as motives to holiness; not only motives, but examples. "Be therefore perfect" (according to your measure and degree) "as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." And what says the Old Testament? It accords with the New: "Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." This was the injunction of God himself, not given exclusively to Moses, the leader and legislator, or to a few distinguished officers, but to an immense body of people, even to the whole assembled host of Israel; to men of all ranks, professions, capacities, and characters, to the ministers of religion and the uninstructed, to enlightened rulers, and to feeble women. "God," says an excellent writer, "had already given to his people particular laws suited to their different needs and various conditions, but the command to be holy was a general (or universal) law."
"Who is like unto You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like unto You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" This is perhaps the most sublime praise addressed to God which the Scriptures have recorded. The word "holy" is more frequently affixed to the name of God than to any other. It has been remarked that the great blasphemy of the Assyrian monarch, Sennacherib, is not focused on his hostility against the Almighty God, but his crime is aggravated because he had committed it against the Holy One of Israel.
When God condescended to give a pledge for the performance of His promise, He swears by His holiness, as if it was the distinguishing quality which was more especially binding. It seems connected and interwoven with all the divine perfections. Which of His excellences can we contemplate as separated from this? Is not His justice stamped with sanctity? It is free from any tincture of vindictiveness, and is therefore a holy justice. His mercy has none of the partiality or favoritism, or capricious fondness of human kindness, but is a holy mercy. His holiness is not more the source of His mercies than of His punishments. If His holiness in His severities to us needed a justification, there cannot be a more substantial illustration of it than the passage already quoted. For God is called "glorious in holiness" immediately after He had vindicated the honor of His name by the miraculous destruction of the army of Pharaoh.
Does it not follow "That a righteous Lord loves righteousness," and that He will require in His creatures a desire to imitate as well as to adore that attribute by which He Himself wills to be distinguished? We cannot indeed, like God, be essentially holy. God is the essence of holiness, and we can have no holiness nor any other good thing unless we derive it from Him. It is His by nature, but our privilege.
If God loves holiness because it is His image, He must consequently hate sin because it defaces His image. If He glorifies His own mercy and goodness in rewarding virtue, He no less vindicates the honor of His holiness in the punishment of vice. A perfect God can no more approve of sin in His creatures than He can commit it Himself. He may forgive sin on His own conditions, but there are no conditions on which He can be reconciled to it. The infinite goodness of God may delight in the beneficial purposes to which His infinite wisdom has made the sins of His creatures to serve, but sin itself will always be abhorrent to His nature. His wisdom may turn it to a merciful end, but His indignation at the offence cannot be diminished. He loves humankind, for He cannot but love His own work. He hates sin; for that was man's own invention, and no part of the work which God had made. Even in the imperfect administration of human laws, impunity of crimes would be construed into approval of theirs.
The law of holiness then, is a law binding in all people without distinction, not limited to the period nor to the people to whom it was given. It reached through the whole Old Testament period, and extends with wider demands and higher sanctions, to every Christian of every denomination, of every age and every country.
A more sublime motive cannot be found as to why we should be holy than because "the Lord our God is holy." Men of the world have no objection to the terms virtue, morality, integrity, rectitude, but they associate something hypocritical with the term "holiness," and neither use it in a good sense when applied to others, nor would wish to have it applied to themselves, but apply it with a little suspicion, and not a little derision, to Puritans and "enthusiasts." This epithet however is surely rescued from every injurious association if we consider it as the chosen attribute of the Most High. We do not presume to apply the terms virtue, honesty and morality to God, but we ascribe holiness to Him because He first ascribed it to Himself, as the consummation of all His perfections.
Shall so imperfect a being as man then, ridicule the application of this term to others, or be ashamed of it himself? There is a reason indeed which should make him ashamed of the appropriation: that of not deserving it. This comprehensive appellation includes all the Christian graces, all the virtues in their just proportion, order, and harmony. And as in God, glory and holiness are united, so the Apostle combines "sanctification and honor" as the glory of man.
Traces of the holiness of God may be found in His works, to those who view them with the eye of faith. They are more plainly visible in His providences; but it is in His Word that we must chiefly look for the manifestations of His holiness. He is everywhere described as perfectly holy in Himself, as a Model to be imitated by His creatures.
The doctrine of redemption is inseparably connected with the doctrine of sanctification. As one writer has observed, "If the blood of Christ reconciles us to the justice of God, the Spirit of Christ is to reconcile us to the holiness of God." When we are told therefore that Christ is made unto us "righteousness," we are in the same place taught that He is made unto us "sanctification"; that is, He is both Justifier and Sanctifier. In vain shall we deceive ourselves by resting on His sacrifice, while we neglect to imitate His example.
The glorious spirits which surround the throne of God are not represented as singing Hallelujahs to His omnipotence, nor even to His mercy, but they perpetually cry "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts." It is significant, too, that the angels who adore Him for His holiness are the ministers of His justice.
This infinitely blessed Being then, to whom angels and archangels, and all the hosts of heaven are continually ascribing holiness, has commanded us to be holy. To be holy because God is holy, is both an argument and a command: an argument founded on the perfections of God, and a command to imitate Him. This command is given to creatures, fallen indeed, but to whom God graciously promises strength for the imitation. If in God holiness implies an aggregate of perfection, in humanity, even in our low degree, it is an incorporation of the Christian graces.
The holiness of God indeed is not limited; ours is bounded, finite, imperfect. Yet let us dare to extend our little sphere. Let our desires be large, though our capacities are small. Let our aims be lofty, though our attainments are low. Let us be careful to see that no day pass without some increase in our holiness, some added height in our aspiration, some wider expansion in the compass of our virtues. Let us strive every day for some superiority to the preceding day, something that shall distinctly mark the passing scene with progress; something that shall inspire a humble hope that we are less unfit for heaven today than we were yesterday.
The celebrated artist who has recorded that he passed no day without drawing a line, drew it not for repetition, but for progress; not to produce a given number of strokes, but to forward his work, to complete his design. The Christian, like the painter, does not draw his lines at random. We have a Model to imitate as well as an outline to fill. Every touch conforms us more and more to the great Original. He who has transfused most of the life of God into his soul has copied it most successfully.
"To seek happiness," says one of the Fathers, "is to desire God, and to find Him in that happiness." Our very happiness therefore is not our independent possession. It flows from that eternal Mind which is the Source and Sum of happiness. In vain we look for felicity in all around us. It can only be found in that original fountain, where we and all we are and have, are derived. Where then is the imaginary wise man of the school of Zeno? What is the perfection of virtue supposed by Aristotle? They have no existence but in the romance of philosophy.
Happiness must be imperfect in an imperfect state. Our Christian faith is introductory happiness, and points to its perfection; but as the best people possess it but imperfectly, they cannot be perfectly happy. Nothing can confer completeness which is itself incomplete. "With You, O Lord, is the fountain of life, and in Your light only we shall see light."
Whatever shall still remain lacking in our attainments, and much will still remain, let this last, greatest, highest consideration stimulate our faint exertions—that God has negatively promised the beatific vision, the enjoyment of His presence to this attainment—by specifically proclaiming that without holiness no man shall see His face. To know God is the foundation of that eternal life which will hereafter be perfected by seeing Him. As there is no stronger reason why we must not look for perfect happiness in this life than because there is no perfect holiness, so the nearer we advance toward holiness, the greater progress we shall make towards perfect happiness. We must cultivate those tendencies and tempers here which must be carried to perfection in a happier place.
But since holiness is the essential ingredient of happiness, so must it be its precursor. As sin has destroyed our happiness, so sin must be destroyed before our happiness can be restored. Our nature must be renovated before our felicity can be established. This is according to the nature of things as well as agreeable to the law and will of God. Let us then carefully look to the subduing in our inmost hearts all those dispositions that are unlike God, all those actions, thoughts and tendencies that are contrary to God.
Independently therefore of all the other motives to holiness which our faith suggests; independently of the fear of punishment, independently even of the hope of glory, let us be holy from this ennobling, elevating motive, because the Lord our God is holy. And when our virtue flags, let it be renewed by this imperative motive, backed by this irresistible argument. The motive for imitation, and the Being to be imitated seem almost to identify us with infinity. It is a connection which endears, an assimilation which dignifies, a resemblance which elevates. The apostle has added to the prophet an assurance which makes the crown and consummation of the promise, that though we know not yet what we shall be, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
In what a beautiful variety of glowing expressions, and admiring strains, do the Scripture worthies delight to represent God! They speak not only in relation to what He is to them, but to the supreme excellence of His own transcendent perfections. Those who dwell with unwearied repetition on the adorable theme ransack language; they exhaust all the expressions of praise and wonder and admiration, all the images of astonishment and delight to laud and magnify His glorious name. They praise him, they bless Him, they worship Him, they glorify Him, they give thanks to Him for His great glory, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Your glory."
They glorify Him in relation to themselves. "I will magnify You, O Lord my strength. My help comes of God. The Lord Himself is the portion of my inheritance." At another time soaring with a noble unselfishness and quite losing sight of self and all created glories, they adore Him for His excellencies. "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" Then bursting to a rapture of adoration, and burning with a more intense flame, they assemble His attributes: "To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, be honor and glory forever and ever." One is lost in admiration of His wisdom. His ascription is "to the only wise God." Another in triumphant strains overflows with transport at the consideration of the attribute of His holiness: "Lord, who is like unto You, there is none holy as the Lord. Sing praises unto the Lord, oh you saints of His, and give thanks unto Him for a remembrance of His holiness."
The prophets and apostles were not deterred from pouring out the overflowings of their fervent spirits, they were not restrained from celebrating the perfections of their Creator through the fear of being called "enthusiasts." The saints of old were not prevented from breathing out their rapturous Hosannas to the King of saints, through the cowardly dread of being branded as fanatics. The conceptions of their minds expanded with the view of the glorious constellation of the Divine attributes; and the affections of their hearts warmed with the thought that those attributes were all concentrated in mercy. They display a sublime oblivion of themselves, forgetting everything but God. Their own needs dwindle to a point. Their own concerns and the universe itself shrink into nothing. They seem absorbed in the dazzling brilliance of Deity, lost in the radiant beams of His infinite glory.
Downloaded from Grace Gems - A Treasury of Ageless, Sovereign Grace, Devotional Writings
Bible Bulletin Board
Middletown, DE 19709 USA