Holiness—The Call and Character of the People of God.
In the absence of Mr. Douglas Brealey, through illness, the following
paper, which he prepared, was read by Mr. Percy O. Ruoff, at the
Conference of Brethren at Swanwick, September 1957.
THE expression that forms the general subject of our conference is found twice in Holy Scripture and is written in large capitals; this in itself, apart from anything else, emphasizes its importance. Large capitals are also used for the incommunicable name of God in Exodus 3: 14, and for the Name of the Son of God in Revelation 19: 16. A few other instances may be found in the Bible. In every case, truth of the greatest import is indicated.
"Holiness to the Lord" was engraved upon a plate of gold and bound upon the forehead of the high priest (Exodus 28: 36-38)—that is history; and Zechariah says that in the millennial day, "Holiness unto the Lord shall be upon the bells of the horses"—that is prophecy! The former speaks of the divine ideal of priesthood, while the latter, under a symbolism of bells and pots, tells of a day yet to come when this "holiness unto the Lord" will be a universally prevailing condition of the people of God; there will be holiness in the street—"upon the bells of the horses"; holiness in the Lord's house—"the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar"; and holiness at home —"yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 14: 20 and 21). And, I may add, with deep conviction, that holiness at home is the sine quanon of holiness elsewhere.
After much prayer and thought and consultation, I am assured, the conveners of this conference have divided the subject under the four headings which appear on the syllabus. This is not an easy subject, but I shall do my best to interpret what I deem to be in their minds. But by way of introduction, I would like to make a note or two concerning two of the terms used; it is important that we should be clear as to this.
Firstly, "Holiness" (hagiasmos), a word constantly found in the A.V. but uniformly translated "sanctification" in the R.V. It has the root idea of separation to God, consecration to God; that which is devoted to God, and refers to a state or condition of being set apart for God. It comes from a word hagios, meaning "separate from common conditions and use", or "hallowed". It is used of things, as for instance of the sanctuary, and of persons, such as the saints. So in Bible usage, the word gives the idea of that which is set apart from a common use to a sacred use, that is, to God.
It is right, I think, to say that the word is used in a primary and secondary sense. Primarily it refers to the sovereign act of God whereby he sets apart a person or thing for Himself. In the case of a believer, the Lord sovereignly sanctifies him in the sense of setting him apart for Himself. In a secondary use, it refers to the character and the kind of life which is expected of one who is so sovereignly sanctified.
Secondly, The call. We are to consider the believer's vocation, by which I gather the conveners refer to his initial call from God to Himself, rather than, as we say, his vocation in life. The authorities to which I have had access, including our own expositors of blessed memory, the late Messrs. C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, uniformly agree that the word in the epistles always denotes the effectual call of God, that is, it includes both the call itself and the obedient response to it upon the part of the one called.
An extract from Moule in his epistle to the Romans, in characteristic and beautiful language, is as follows: "Compare the places where the word is used, or where its kindred words are used in the epistles, and you will find a certain holy specialty of meaning. 'Invited' is no adequate paraphrase. The 'called' man is the man who has been invited and has come; who has obeyed the eternal welcome; to whom the voice of the Lord has been effectual. . . . In the Gospels, the words 'chosen' and 'called' are in antithesis; the called are many, the chosen few, the external hearers are many, the hearers inwardly are few. In the epistles, a developed use shows the change indicated here, and it is consistently maintained" (pp.19 and 20).
Having, I trust, cleared the ground as to the Scriptural meaning of the terms used, we may now proceed to the several divisions of our subject.
(1) HOLINESS, THEIR VOCATION.
We shall now look at some Scriptures which speak of the divine call to holiness; the context shows whether the word is used in its primary or secondary sense. (i) Primary. 2 Thess. 2: 13. "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning, chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; whereunto He called you by our Gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse teaches that the eternal salvation of the Thessalonians had been secured among other things, by the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit in setting them apart for God. 1 Peter 1: 2: The believers to whom the apostle Peter wrote, he describes as "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." Here again, the sovereign act of God through the Spirit in sanctification is in question.
2 Tim. 1: 9: "(God) Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling." Brown and Fausset in commenting on this verse say—"The call comes wholly from God and claims us wholly for God, 'holy' implies the separation of the believers from the rest of the world unto God."
Romans 1: 6 and 7: "Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ . . . called to be saints" (A.V.) or "called to be Jesus Christ's . . . called to be saints" (R.V.).
"The saints are those who belong to Him, His personal property, for His ends. Thus, it is used habitually in the Scriptures for all Christians supposed to be true to their name. Not an inner circle, but all bear the title. It is not a glorified aristocracy, but the believing commonalty; not the stars of the eternal sky, but the flowers sown by the Lord in the common field; even in such a tract of that field as 'Cæsar's household' was (Phil. 4: 22).''
"Habitually, therefore, the Apostle gives the term 'saints' to whole communities" (Moule, Romans, pp. 21, 22); and to quote from Mr. Hogg and Mr. Vine from their exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, p. 11: "The saints are such by divine calling. They are not called to live a holy life in order to be saints, but because they are so, as a result of the sanctifying power of the Spirit of God. Holiness is a condition of separatedness to God by divine call. To be saints is to partake of the character of God and so to represent Him worthily. The character of those who belong to Him is the outcome of their relation to Him. The word 'saint' in reference to an individual believer is not found in the New Testament. In Phil. 4: 21, where the singular is used, the saints collectively are in view." While the word here speaks of a state into which all believers are called by the effectual call of God, saintliness cannot be divorced from it. We are called to be saints in order that we may be saintly. And so this brings us to the secondary use of the term.
(ii) Secondly. 1 Peter 1: 15 and 16: "But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, 'Be ye holy for I am holy'." It seems to me very clear that the word here is used in its secondary sense. Archbishop Leighton says, ''The very outward vocation of those who profess Christ, presseth holiness upon them, but the inward vocation far more. You were running to destruction in the way of sin, and there was a voice which, together with the Gospel preached to your ear, spake unto your heart, and called you back from the path of death to the way of holiness, which is the only way of life. He hath not 'called you to uncleanness but unto holiness' (1 Thess. 4: 7), therefore 'be ye holy'. It is sacrilege for you to dispose yourselves after the impure manner of the world, and to apply yourselves to any profane use, whom God hath consecrated to Himself" (Leighton, Peter, pp. 157 and 158).
Commenting on the verse in Thessalonians, Messrs. Hogg and Vine say: "The effect of the Gospel in purity of life, presented a marked contrast to the uncleanness that characterized contemporary pagan religions. The thought is, apparently, that the Christian is to live his life in a holy atmosphere" (Thess., p. 120).
To sum up as far as we have got—the effectual call of God is a sanctifying call; He sovereignly sets apart the believer for Himself alone, placing him among the company of the redeemed whom He calls "saints", His holy ones. These, on their part are expected to respond practically to the purpose of the divine call, the saint to be saintly, the sovereignly sanctified to practical holiness and purity of life.
Dr. W. H. Fitchett in his fine book, Wesley and his Century, speaks of God's great servant in these terms: "He learned at last the deep, eternal secret of religion; religion as a present and personal deliverance; a deliverance verified in the consciousness and bringing the redeemed soul into terms of sonship with God; religion with its secret of power over sin; its great gift of a morality set on flame by love. And with that supreme discovery, his life was transfigured."
(2) HOLINESS, THEIR DISTINCTIVE MARK.
This should indeed be true of every one who "in relation to a righteous God has been justified, and in relation to a holy God has been sanctified." The requirement of this distinctive mark may be considered in a number of ways, but four will suffice; the people of God are spoken of as “holy brethren" (Heb. 3: 1), "an holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2: 5), "an holy nation" (1 Peter 2: 9), "an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2: 21; 1 Cor. 3: 16, 17; 6: 19, 20).
(i) Holy brethren (Heb. 3: 1). "Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." This phrase speaks of relationship, the relationship of the people of God to one another on account of their relationship to Christ: "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2: 11). In this verse occur the two words which occupied the thoughts of our introduction. (a) "holy brethren." "The epithet hagioi is social not personal, marking the ideal character, not necessarily realized individually." (b) "the heavenly calling". "The Christian's calling is heavenly not simply in the sense that it is addressed to man from God in Heaven . . . but as being a calling to a life fulfilled in Heaven, in the spiritual realm. The voice from Heaven to Moses was an earthly calling, a calling to the fulfilment of an earthly life" (Westcott). (c) "partakers of a heavenly calling"; ''metokos” describes participation in some common blessing or privilege or the like. "The bond of union lies in that which is shared and not in the persons themselves" (Westcott).
So, the people of God are described as "holy brethren"; holy because they are set apart for Him; brethren because of their common relationship to Christ, and His, by the incarnation, to them; and as such are sharers of a heavenly calling; they have been effectually called to a life which is essentially heavenly, not earthly, holy, not worldly.
(ii) An holy priesthood (1 Peter 2: 5). The people of God are also described as "an holy priesthood". That was God's original ideal and purpose for Israel, but when their failure made it necessary to give the priesthood to the family of Aaron only, to represent the nation before Him, that for Israel was a step down. But God will not be thwarted in His purpose; if Israel fails, He will find another people, all of whom He will consecrate as priests. This He has done, and the redeemed of the Lord "out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation" have been made "unto our God, kings and priests" (Rev. 5: 9 and 10). "Kings and priests"; that is why Peter, a few verses further down, describes us as "a royal priesthood" (v. 9). But now we are to consider the distinguishing mark as "an holy priesthood". "An holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices." If the former expression "holy brethren" speaks of relationship, this clearly speaks of worship.
Archbishop Leighton says: "The priesthood of the law was holy, and its holiness was signified by many outward things suitable to their manner, by anointings and washings and vestments; but in this spiritual priesthood of the Gospel, holiness itself is instead of all those, as being the substance of all. The children of God are all anointed and purified and clothed with holiness."
(a) Anointed. Not with oil, as with the Levitical priesthood, but with the Holy Spirit who was symbolized by the oil; with the Holy Spirit Who separates us and marks us out for the worship of God.
John 4: 24. "God is a Spirit," said the Lord Jesus, "and they that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth." It was almost with awe that Moses spoke of the anointing of the priests with oil, e.g. Leviticus 10: 7. "Ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you." It is truly an awesome thing to be anointed with the Holy Spirit and to be set apart for the worship of God! And yet how few exercise the priestly function of true worship!
(b) Washed. When the priests of the former dispensation were consecrated, they were first of all washed with water. Exodus 29: 4. "And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water"; and thereafter, as they went about their priestly service, they had continually to wash at the laver. Exodus 30: 17-21. "And the Lord spake . . . saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, to wash withal . . . for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat. When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister . . . so shall they wash their hands and their feet that they die not, and it shall be a statute for ever to them . . ."
And in John 13, the Lord Jesus, the substance before whom the shadows fled, yet once more symbolized our continuous cleansing when He washed the disciples' feet. He said (John 13: 10): "He that is bathed, needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" (R.V.). And the water symbolized the Word.
Eph.5: 25-27. ". . . Christ . . . gave Himself up for it (the Church) that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing (laver) of water with the Word." With the Word He cleanses His people morally and will, eventually, perfectly, that He may present them to Himself "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Thus, as we go about our priestly service, it should not only be clear and obvious that God has set us apart for it, but in the continual application of the Word of God to our lives, equally obviously in measure at least, that we are undefiled. The woman of Shunem discovered holiness in the very walk of the prophet Elisha. 2 Kings 4: 9: "Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually."
(c) Clothed. Thirdly, the priests were clothed with garments suitable and fitting to their high calling. Exodus 28: 40, 41: "And for Aaron's sons, thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto Me in the priest's office."
It seems to me at least possible that when Moses, the man of God, uttered his memorable prayer recorded as Psalm 90, that he had this in view—Psalm 90: 16, 17. "Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us . . ." “A man is known by his clothes" they say, and there is something in it. And we, when clothed with the garment of salvation and the robe of righteousness, should certainly show forth the glory and beauty of God. And we certainly shall if we are continually beholding His glory, His glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor.3: 18; 4: 6).
2 Cor. 3: 18. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." In the place of "beholding" the R.V. has "reflecting". Which is the right translation? Perhaps both words together can only adequately give the meaning; for it is surely only as we are facing toward our glorious Lord that we can ever hope to reflect His glory.
(iii) "An holy nation" (1 Peter 2: 9). This speaks of citizenship. Peter is clearly quoting from Exodus 19: 6. "And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation." The divine charge to Israel is worth pondering.
Lev. 20: 24-26. "I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put a difference between clean . . . and unclean . . . ye shall not make yourselves abominable . . . and ye shall be holy unto Me, for I the Lord am holy and have severed you from other people, that ye should be Mine." Israel miserably failed and the charge has been transferred to us, but have we kept it? Can we in any practical sense call ourselves a holy nation? And yet, brethren, our citizenship is in Heaven, and nought that defileth shall ever enter there. (Rev. 21: 27.)
(iv) A holy temple. Eph. 2: 21. "An holy temple in the Lord." 1 Cor. 3: 16, 17. "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."
1 Cor. 6: 19, 20. "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price, therefore, glorify God in your body and in your Spirit which are God's." This speaks of ownership; we are not our own, we have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, we belong to God, a temple of God. He must therefore be glorified in us.
Holiness, then, should be the distinctive mark of the people of God; and this for the four reasons which the Scriptures quoted reveal. Because of our relationship to Christ and through Him to one another; because we are called to worship; because of our heavenly citizenship, and because of His ownership of us. Still, two other important matters are to occupy our thoughts, but these must be mentioned in few words.
(3) HOLINESS, THEIR GROUND OF SEPARATION.
Because the people of God are holy, in the sense of being set apart for God, it naturally follows that they should practice separation. (i) Separation to God. Heb. 13: 12 and 13. "Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." (ii) Separation from the world. 2 Cor. 6: 14, 7: 1. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness and what communion hath light with darkness? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you . . . Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.''
(4) HOLINESS, THEIR AIM AND GOAL.
Holiness should be the aim and goal of all the people of God on every count; but is it generally? (i) The many Scriptures quoted are in themselves an argument for this. Because God has called us to Himself and separated us to Himself, the very least we can do is to clearly see the goal set before us and to set out with all speed and determination to reach it. (ii) The example of godly men should be our spur, e.g., the apostle Paul. 2 Cor. 5: 9 (R.V.). "Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto Him." (iii) And the plain command of the Lord should be our irresistible incentive. Heb. 12: 14.
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
So God, in infinite grace has called us to Himself, to a state and condition of holiness; to a life and character of holiness in the widest application of the term. But "Who is sufficient for these things?''
"Oh how may I whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before the ineffable appear,
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?
There is a way for man to rise
To that sublime abode,
An offering and a sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit's energies,
An Advocate with God.
"These, these prepare us for the sight
Of majesty above;
The sons of ignorance and night
Can dwell in the Eternal Light
Through the Eternal Love."
And if we feel our own failure and weakness and uncleanness, let us remember that all provision has been made by God for our holiness now and hereafter. What is it? To quote the hymn again:
"An offering and a sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit's energies,
An Advocate with God."
"Having therefore these promises (and provisions) dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7: 1). Amen.
From: “Holiness unto the Lord” 1927