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Holiness is a conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God
But, to enter more fully into the subject, it implies, 1. That we love the whole will of God
[There is not any thing that more truly characterizes a Christian than this: it draws a line of distinction between him and all other persons upon earth. The self-righteous Pharisee, and the most refined hypocrite, have secret objections against the law of God; they think its precepts too strict, and its sanctions too severe. They would be glad if it left them somewhat greater latitude. They would be content that it should forbid gross outward sins, and insist on the performance of outward duties: but that it should call for continual self-denial, that it should require brokenness of heart and contrition for the most secret offences, and demand the utmost exertion of all our faculties in the service of our God, this appears too much; they would wish for an easier way to heaven.
But a person that possesses the smallest measure of true holiness, is the very reverse of this. He lothes himself for not complying more perfectly with the demands of the law; but he never condemns the law as too strict; he would not have it require one jot or tittle less than it does. He even admires and loves it for its purity; he says with David, “ The commandment of the Lord is pure, therefore thy servant loveth it.” He acknowledges it to be not only “ holy, and just, but good” also, and calculated to make every one happy that obeys it. And though he cannot obey it perfectly, he can truly say, “I delight in the law of God after my inward man :" yea, the language of his heart is, “O that my ways were made so direct, that I might keep thy statutes."] 2. That we live in no allowed deviation from it
[We mean not to say, that a Christian experiences no deviations from the law of God; (for, alas! he is conscious of many) but he does not allow them. Others will obey the will of God as far as will consist with their interests and reputation ; or with the exception of some bosom sin; but there will always be found, in insincere persons, some secret lust for which they plead, and in reference to which they say, “ Pardon thy servant in this thing.”
But true holiness admits of no reserves, no limitations, no exceptions : and he who possesses it will stop short of nothing that God has commanded. He may do what is wrong, either through ignorance or temptation ; but he will not persist in it: he will endeavour to mortify the whole body of sin. He will no more allow himself in secret sins, whether of omission or of commission, than he will commit the greatest enormities. Like David he says, “I esteem thy commandments concerning all things to be right; therefore I hate every false way;" that is, I love the ways of duty, so that I would walk in them even if there were no reward; and I hate the ways of sin, so that I would shun them, though I were sure never to incur punishment.]
3. That we actually grow in a conformity to it
(Sanctification is a progressive work. A child of God arrives not at full stature but by degrees : he is constantly growing in grace: the vernal bloom gradually advances to the autumnal fruit. There may indeed be seasons wherein he may appear to decline, or may really suffer a declension: but if he have the grace of God in his heart, he will revive, and return to God with more fervour and steadfastness. Nor will he ever think he has already attained, or is already perfect; but“ forgetting the things that are behind, he will reach forward unto that which is before.”
This is in no respect the case with others. They are satisfied with their present state: they are not conscious of their defects; and therefore they feel no longings for higher attainments. They are like a painted sun upon the canvass, while the true Christian “ grows up into Christ in all things as his living head," and, like the sun in the firmament,“ shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."]
Having in this description of holiness, marked the lowest degree of it that exists in a true Christian, we proceed to, II. Shew the grounds, on which it is necessary in
order to salvationIf we were not able to assign any reason for God's determination, it would be quite sufficient for us to know, that he has issued his decree. It is not for us to dispute, but to submit, saying,
“ Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right ?”
But there is one obvious ground on which the necessity of holiness is indisputable, namely, that in the very nature of things it is impossible without it to enjoy the Divine presence
[If heaven were a place suited to a carnal mind, and afforded the gratifications which unregenerate men affect, then indeed unholy men might find such happiness there, as in their state they are capable of receiving. But heaven is a holy place; the habitation of a holy God: it is filled with myriads of holy men and angels, who are exercising themselves incessantly in the holy employments of praise and adoration. What then would there be in that place suited to the taste of an unholy man? Could those whose spirits were defiled with sin, and who had never been purged from its guilt by the atoning blood of Christ, find pleasure in the presence of God, who, being omniscient, could not but discern their state, and, being holy, could not but regard them with abhorrence? Would not a consciousness of his power terrify them, and a recollection that he had once cast innumerable angels out of heaven, appal them? Could they delight in the society of the glorified saints whom they so little resemble, or find communion with them in exercises, which were here their burthen and aversion? We are fully assured, that " as the tree falleth, so it lieth ;" that “ he who is unjust, will be unjust still, and he who is filthy, will be filthy still.” If it has not been the one desire of our hearts to honour and enjoy God; if secret intercourse with him in our chambers, and social fellowship with him in the public assembly, have been a mere task, and not the delight of our souls, how can we suppose that we should instantly find a delight in these things in heaven? How could we endure to spend an eternity there in employments, for which we had no taste? We are told, that there is a “ meetness for the inheritance of the saintsa :” and that we must have that meetness before we could enjoy the Divine presence, even if we were admitted into it. Christ must be precious to us now, if we would find him so in the eternal world: and we must account it our supreme felicity to enjoy him now, if we would hereafter join the chorus of saints and angels, in ascribing “ Salvation to God and to the Lamb for ever.” In short, holiness, real holiness of heart, is as necessary to the enjoyment of the Divine presence, as a taste for music, or literature, is for the company and employments of musical or literary men. As we soon grow weary of things which we do not affect, and prefer any other employment that is more suited to our inclination and capacity, so most assuredly must it be even in heaven, if our natures be not changed: we shall remain for ever destitute of those qualities which constitute our meetness for the heavenly inheritance, and consequently be for ever incapable of participating the joys of heaven.
This may at least be sufficient to illustrate the declaration in the text; perhaps we may add also, to vindicate it. Not that any declaration of God is to be judged of by the reasons
a Col, i. 12.
which fallible men may assign in vindication of it: his word is the same, whether we believe it or not; nor shall one jot or tittle of it ever fail.] This subject cannot but suggest to our minds the
following REFLECTIONS: 1. How few are there that will eventually be saved !
[Take the foregoing explanation of holiness, and compare it with the state of all around us; how awful the contrast! --- But God is true; and his word respecting the unholy shall surely stand - --Let us “ seek then, yea, strive to enter in at the strait gate, and to walk in the narrow path" --- Let us “ follow" holiness with all our might --Whatever we may think, it is in that way alone that we can behold the face of God in peace.]
2. How needful is it that we should seek holiness in a right way!
[The generality are extremely ignorant respecting the manner in which holiness is to be obtained: they have an idea that they must acquire it by some exertions of their own: whereas they should seek it from Christ, through the operation of his Spirit in their hearts. They should first seek to be united to him by faith, as scions to the stock of a tree, or as a wife to her husbandb: then, by virtue derived from him, they will be made fruitful in good works, and be “ changed into his image in righteousness, and true holiness."]
These are the very means prescribed by our Lord, John xv. 4,5. and by St. Paul, Rom. vii, 4.
MMCCCXXXVIII. THE DANGER OF DESPISING OR DISHONOURING THE GOSPEL. Heb. xii. 15–17. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the
grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled ; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected : for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
UNSEARCHABLE are the riches of the Gospel, and freely imparted to all who seek them by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet they quite mistake the
nature of the Gospel, who imagine it to be inconsistent with solemn warnings. It offers every thing freely; but it does not dispense with the exertion of human efforts: it promises every thing fully; but not in such a way as to supersede the need of care and watchfulness on our part. In fact, it abounds with warnings and exhortations, to which we must take the utmost heed; and by attending to which we are to secure the blessings which it holds out to us. Nothing can be conceived more consolatory than all the foregoing declarations, that sufferings of whatever kind, and especially those inflicted on us for righteousness' sake, are permitted by our heavenly Father for our good, and shall be overruled by him for the advancement of our best interests. At the same time we are warned, that “without holiness, radical and universal holiness, no man shall see the Lord :" and we are cautioned to “ look diligently," lest, by coming short of the requirements of the Gospel, we fail to attain a possession of its blessings.
The caution here given us is two-fold: I. Not to come short of the Gospel in embracing it
By “the grace of God” I understand “the Gospel of the grace of God,” or that “grace of God which bringeth salvation." And by “ failing of the grace of God," I understand, a falling short of it: the first part of our text being exactly parallel with that expression in the fourth chapter of this epistle, “ Let us fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of ita.” Now we may come short of the Gospel, 1. By not submitting to its humiliating doctrines~
[The Gospel views all men as in a lost and perishing condition. Its provisions are made for all mankind without exception. It knows nothing of persons so good as not to need salvation, or of persons so bad as to be beyond the reach of the salvation which it provides. It requires all to view themselves as “ wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; and counsels them to come to the Lord Jesus Christ for eyesalve that they may see; for gold that they may be enriched;
a Heb. iv. 1. voTEPIKÉVAL. .