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Reading Classics Together: The Holiness of God (II)
October 21, 2010
This is now week 2 of this project in which we are reading together through R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Before we discuss this week’s chapter, I wanted to make you aware of an interesting interview with Sproul on this very subject. It comes from a 1990 issue of Tabletalk magazine and, if you are interested, you can read it here: Striking a Chord in the Heart of of the Believer.
This week’s chapter is titled “Holy, Holy, Holy” and in it Sproul turns to the pages of Isaiah (Isaiah 6 in particular) and the prophet’s experience with coming into the presence of God. He looks first to those seraphim in God’s presence who continually cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.
God is not just holy, but holy, holy, holy. Using a rhetorical device of the Hebrew language, the Bible expresses the extent of God’s holiness by emphasizing it through repetition.
Isaiah was a good man, it seems, a noble one. And yet before the presence of God he was completely undone.
If ever there was a man if integrity, it was Isaiah ben Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of a fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed- morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.
Called by God in dramatic fashion, Isaiah was set apart for his task despite being a sinful man, a man who had a filthy mouth. And yet God chose to cleanse him and to set him apart to this most difficult, thankless ministry. A seraph pressed a hot coal to Isaiah’s lips. “His was no cruel and unusual punishment. A second of burning flesh on the lips brought a healing that would extend to eternity. In a moment, the disintegrated prophet was whole again. His mouth was purged. He was clean.”
Sproul closes the chapter with a couple of reflections on the calling of a minister, whether that is as a prophet of old or as a pastor today.
Ministers are noteworthy of their calling. All preachers are vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy. In fact, the more faithful preachers are to the Word of God in their preaching, the more liable they are to the charge of hypocrisy. Why? Because the more faithful people are to the Word to God, the higher the message is that they will preach. The higher the message, the further they will be from obeying it themselves.
It’s dangerous to assume that because a person is drawn to holiness in his study that he is thereby a holy man. There is irony here. I am sure that the reason I have a deep hunger to learn of the holiness of God is precisely because I am not holy. I am a profane man- a man who spends more time out of the temple than in it. But I have had just enough of a taste of the majesty of God to want more. I know what it means to be a forgiven man and what it means to be sent on a mission. My soul cries for more. My soul needs more.
And I think this stands as a bit of a warning for us as we read this book in the coming weeks. As we see greater glimpses of God’s holiness, we will necessarily see greater glimpses of our own unholiness, our own unworthiness. The greater our sense of God’s holiness, the greater our sense of our own corruption. And yet we can hope and expect, like Sproul, that we will be driven to cry out for more of God’s holiness, to understand him even more for who he is.
For next Thursday please read chapter 3, “The Fearful Mystery.”
The purpose of this program is to read these classic books together. This means that it’s now your turn to offer your thoughts or your questions on this week’s reading. You can do so by leaving a comment here or by posting a link to your own site if you left a comment there. Of course there is no need to say anything. Just read and enjoy if that’s more your style.