The Holiness of God

A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson The Holiness of God

The next attribute is God’s holiness. Exod xv ii. ‘Glorious in holiness.’ Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of his crown; it is the name by which God is known. Psa cxi 9. ‘Holy and reverend is his name.’ He is ‘the holy One.’ Job vi 10. Seraphims cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.’ Isa vi 3. His power makes him mighty, his holiness makes him glorious. God’s holiness consists in his perfect love of righteousness, and abhorrence of evil, and cannot look on iniquity.’ Hab I 13.

I. God is holy intrinsically. He is holy in his nature; his very being is made up of holiness, as light is of the essence of the sun. He is holy in his Word. The Word bears a stamp of his holiness upon it, as the wax bears an impression of the seal. ‘Thy Word is very pure.’ Psa cxix 140. It is compared to silver refined seven times. Psa xii 6. Every line in the Word breathes sanctity, it encourages nothing but holiness. God is holy in his operations. All he does is holy; he cannot act but like himself; he can no more do an unrighteous action than the sun can darken. ‘The Lord is holy in all his works,’ Psa cxlv 17.

II. God is holy primarily. He is the original and pattern of holiness. Holiness began with him who is the Ancient of Days.

III. God is holy efficiently. He is the cause of all that is holiness in others. ‘Every good and perfect gift comes from above.’ James i 17. He made the angels holy. He infused all holiness into Christ’s human nature. All the holiness we have is but a crystal stream from this fountain. We borrow all our holiness from God. As the lights of the sanctuary were lighted from the middle lamp, so all the holiness of others is a lamp lighted from heaven. ‘I am the Lord which sanctify you.’ Lev xx 8. God is not only a pattern of holiness, but he is a principle of holiness: his spring feeds all our cisterns, he drops his holy oil of grace upon us.

IV. God is holy transcendently. ‘There is none holy as the Lord.’ I Sam ii 2. No angel in heaven can take the just dimensions of God’s holiness. The highest seraphim is too low of stature to measure these pyramids; holiness in God is far above holiness in saints or angels.

[1] It is above holiness in saints. It is a pure holiness. The saints’ holiness is like gold in the ore, imperfect; their humility is stained with pride; he that has most faith needs pray, ‘Lord, help my unbelief:’ but the holiness of God is pure, like wine from the grape; it has not the least dash or tincture of impurity mixed with it. It is a more unchangeable holiness. Though the saints cannot lose the habit of holiness (for the seed of God remains), yet they may lose some degrees of their holiness. ‘Thou hast left thy first love.’ Rev ii 4. Grace cannot die, yet the flame of it may go out. Holiness in the saints is subject to ebbing, but holiness in God is unchangeable; he never lost a drop of his holiness; as he cannot have more holiness, because he is perfectly holy; so he cannot have less holiness, because he is unchangeably holy.

[2] The holiness of God is above the holiness of angels. Holiness in the angels is only a quality, which may be lost, as we see in the fallen angels; but holiness in God is his essence, he is all over holy, and he can as well lose his Godhead as his holiness.

But is he not privy to all the sins of men? flow can he behold their impurities, and not be defiled?

God sees all the sins of men, but is no more defiled with them than the sun is defiled with the vapours that rise from the earth. God sees sin, not as a patron to approve it, but as a judge to punish it.

Use one: Is God so infinitely holy? Then see how unlike to God sin is. Sin is an unclean thing, it is hyperbolically evil. Rom i 23. It is called an abomination. Deut vii 25. God has no mixture of evil in him; sin has no mixture of good, it is the spirit and quintessence of evil; it turns good into evil; it has deflowered the virgin soul, made it red with guilt, and black with filth; it is called the accursed thing. Josh vii 11. No wonder, therefore, that God hates sin, being so unlike to him, nay. so contrary to him: it strikes at his holiness; it does all it can to spite God; if sin could help it, God should be God no longer.

Use two: Is God the Holy One, and is holiness his glory? How impious are they that are haters of holiness! As the vulture hates perfumes, so they hate the sweet perfume of holiness in the saints; their hearts rise against holiness; as a man’s stomach at a dish he has an antipathy against. There is not a greater sign of a person devoted to hell, than to hate one for the thing wherein he is most like God. Others are despisers of holiness. They despise the glory of the Godhead. ‘Glorious in holiness.’ The despising holiness is seen in deriding it; and is it not sad that men should deride that which should save them? Sure that patient will die who derides the physic. Deriding the grace of the Spirit comes near to despising the Spirit of grace. Scoffing Ishmael was cast out of Abraham’s house. Gen xxi 9. Such as scoff at holiness shall be cast out of heaven.

Use three: Is God so infinitely holy? Then let us endeavour to imitate God in holiness. ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.’ 1 Pet i i6. There is a twofold holiness; a holiness of equality, and a holiness of similitude. A holiness of equality no man or angel can reach to. Who can be equally holy with God? Who can parallel him in sanctity? But there is a holiness of similitude, and that we must aspire after, to have some analogy and resemblance of God’s holiness in us, to be as like him in holiness as we can. Though a taper dots not give so much light as the sun, yet it resembles it. We must imitate God in holiness.

If we must be like God in holiness, wherein does our holiness consist?

In two things. In our suitableness to God’s nature, and in our subjection to his will.

Our holiness consists in our suitableness to the nature of God. Hence the saints are said to partake of the divine nature, which is not partaking of his essence, but his image. 2 Pet i 4. Herein is the saints’ holiness, when they are the lively pictures of God. They bear the image of God’s meekness, mercifulness, heavenliness; they are of the same judgment with God, of he same disposition; they love what he loves, and hate what he hates.

Our holiness consists also in our subjection to the will of God. As God’s nature is the pattern of holiness, so his will is the rule of holiness. It is our holiness when we do his will, Acts xiii 22; when we bear his will, Micah vii 9; when what he inflicts wisely we suffer willingly. Our great care should be, to be like God in holiness. Our holiness should be qualified as God’s; as his is a real holiness, ours should be. ‘Righteousness and true holiness.’ Eph iv 24. It should not be the paint of holiness, but the life; it should not be like the Egyptian temples. beautified without merely. but like Solomon’s temple, gold within, Psa xlv 13. ‘The king’s daughter is all glorious within.’ That I may press you to resemble God in holiness consider,

How illustrious every holy person is. He is a fair glass in which some of the beams of God’s holiness shine forth. We read that Aaron put on his garments for glory and beauty. Exod xxviii 2. when we wear the embroidered garment of holiness, it is for glory and beauty. A good Christian is ruddy, being sprinkled with Christ’s blood; and white, being adorned with holiness. As the diamond to a ring, so is holiness to the soul; that, as Chrysostom says, they that oppose it cannot but admire it.

(2.) It is the great design God carries on in the world, to make a people like himself in holiness. What are all the showers of ordinances for, but to rain down righteousness upon us, and make us holy? What are the promises for, but to encourage holiness? What is the sending of the Spirit into the world for, but to anoint us with the holy unction? I John ii 20. What are all afflictions for, but to make us partakers of God’s holiness? Heb xii 10. What are mercies for, but loadstones to draw us to holiness? What is the end of Christ’s dying, but that his blood might wash away our unholiness? ‘Who gave himself for us, to purify unto himself a peculiar people.’ Titus ii 14. So that if we are not holy, we cross God’s great design in the world.

(3.) Our holiness draws God’s heart to us. Holiness is God’s image; and God cannot choose but love his image where he sees it. A king loves to see his effigies upon a piece of coin. ‘Thou lovest righteousness. Psa xlv 7. And where does righteousness grow, but in a holy heart? Isa lxii 4. ‘Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, for the Lord delighteth in thee.’ It was her holiness that drew God’s love to her. ‘They shall call them the holy people.’ Verse 12. God values not any by their high birth, but their holiness.

(4.) Holiness is the only thing that distinguishes us from the reprobate part of the world. God’s people have his seal upon them. ‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his. And let all that name the name of Christ depart from iniquity. ‘2 Tim ii 19. The people of God are sealed with a double seal. Election, ‘The Lord knows who are his:’ and Sanctification, ‘Let every one depart from iniquity.’ As a nobleman is distinguished from another by his silver star; as a virtuous woman is distinguished from a harlot by her chastity; so holiness distinguishes between the two seeds. All that are of God have Christ for their captain, and holiness is the white colour they wear. Heb ii 10.

(5.) Holiness is our honour. Holiness and honour are put together. I Thess iv 4. Dignity goes along with sanctification. ‘He hath washed us from our sins in his blood, and hath made us kings unto God.’ Rev i s. When we are washed and made holy, then we are kings and priests to God. The saints are called vessels of honour; they are called jewels, for the sparkling of their holiness, because filled with wine of the Spirit. This makes them earthly angels.

(6.) Holiness gives us boldness with God. ‘Thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles, and shalt lift up thy face unto God.’ Job xxii 23, 26. Lifting up the face is an emblem of boldness. Nothing can make us so ashamed to go to God as sin. A wicked man in prayer may lift up his hands, but he cannot lift up his face. When Adam had lost his holiness, he lost his confidence; he hid himself. But the holy person goes to God a child to its father; his conscience does not upbraid him with allowing any sin, therefore he can go boldly to the throne of grace, and have mercy to help in time of need. Heb iv i6.

(7.) Holiness gives peace. Sin raises a storm in the conscience; ubi peccatum ibi procella [where there is sin, there is tumult]. ‘There is no peace to the wicked.’ Isa lvii 21. Righteousness and peace are put together. Holiness is the root which bears this sweet fruit of peace; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

(8.) Holiness leads to heaven. It is the King of heaven’s highway. ‘An highway shall be there, and it shall he called the way of holiness.’ Isa xxxv 8. At Rome there were temples of virtue and honour, all were to go through the temple of virtue to the temple of honour; so we must go through the temple of holiness to the temple of heaven. Glory begins in virtue. ‘Who hath called us to glory and virtue.’ 2 Pet I 3. Happiness is nothing else but the quintessence of holiness; holiness is glory militant, and happiness holiness triumphant.

What shalt we do to resemble God in holiness?

Have recourse to Christ’s blood by faith. This is the lavacrum animae [the washing of the soul]. Legal purifications were types and emblems of it. 1 John i 7. The Word is a glass to show us our spots, and Christ’s blood is a fountain to wash them away.

(2.) Pray for a holy heart. ‘Create in me a clean heart of God.’ Psa li 10. Lay thy heart before the Lord, and say, Lord my heart is full of leprosy; it defiles all it touches; Lord, I am not fit to live with such a heart for I cannot honour thee; nor die with such heart; for I cannot see thee. Oh create in me a clean heart; send thy Spirit into me, to refine and purify me, that I may be a temple fit for thee the holy God to inhabit.

(3.) Walk with them that are holy. ‘He that walketh with the wise shall be wise.’ Prov xiii 20. Be among the spices and you will smell of them. Association begets assimilation. Nothing has a greater power and energy to effect holiness than the communion of the saints.

From A Body of Divinity. Published by Banner of Truth Trust.

Required Reading


I am a sucker for Banner of Truth Trust’s Puritan Paperbacks. I find the situation surrounding the early Puritan writers and our own to quite similar. We have much to learn from their wisdom. This work by William Perkins on Preaching is dynamite text for any preacher who really wants to understand how the Scriptures interact with your preaching. Highly Recommended.

Quote of the Week

From John Owen’s Apostasy From the Gospel, pg. 7-8

…But only by the doctrines of the gospel can the mind be illuminated and freed from darkness and ignorance (2 Pet. 1:19-21)…

…It is a great mercy, a great privilege to be enlightened with the doctrine of the gospel and to have its truth impressed on our minds by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.
This great mercy and privilege may be lost by the sin of neglect, which will serve only to increase the sinfulness and condemnation of those who were once made partakers of this privilege.
Where this is a total neglect of this great privilege, with no attempt to grow in the knowledge of the gospel, the condition of such persons is very dangerous and could lead to final apostasy, from which they will find it impossible to repent.

Giving Thanksgiving to God

As spiritual descendents of the Puritans the Thanksgiving holiday should mean just a little bit more to Presbyterians and members of the Reformed faith. The Pilgrims who sailed to this country aboard the Mayflower were originally members of the English Separatist Church (a Reformed sect that had removed itself from the state Anglican Church of England). They had earlier fled their homes in the south of England-ironically from the town of Boston-and sailed to Holland to escape religious persecution by the English government. After experiencing similar persecution in Holland they made a daring and fateful decision that they should set sail to the west into uncharted waters. Waters only years before that English, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese explorers had navigated. What an amazing faith it must have took to get on a leaky, ill-suited ship and to cross the Atlantic in a time before GPS. What is so amazing about this story is that the Puritans had no interest or wish to go to Plymouth Rock. They had intended to sail to the British colony at Jamestown which itself had only been founded 13 years earlier. But the Almighty God had different plans for that bunch of English Separatists that had fled England and Holland and were now escaping to the New World. And so that we may not think this journey was an easy one we must remember that by the beginning of the following fall, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. 50% of the original Puritans perished yet what did they do first when they landed on Cape Cod? They broke bread with each other and gave thanks to the Lord our God for the glory that he had given them. What faith is that! A faith that gives thanks to God even though none of their prayers had been answered! They were hundreds-of-miles off course, tired, wet, and hungry yet their first response is to give thanks to the Almighty. This we should always remember as we sit down at our Thanksgiving table do not forget to thank God for the prayers he did not answer and for that we should be eternally grateful.