Sunday Considerations: Be Holy

When God then directs us in the Bible, “Be holy, for I am holy”; when we are exhorted to “follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”; when we are expressly told “God has not called us unto uncleanness–but unto holiness”–we are to know that by these words, God calls us unto godliness, or God-likeness, to be like God in all those moral qualities wherein we can walk in His ways, and copy His acts, and manifest His spirit. In the language of the Psalmist, it is setting the Lord always before us, just as the artist always sets his model before him; and, day by day, with slow and careful process, works up his painting, or his statue, to the form and spirit of the great original.

The man, then, who sets before himself the aim to be God-like, places above him the grandest aim that a created mind can reach after. He can never, indeed, fully attain unto it; yet, like the apostle Paul, “forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those that are before,” he presses toward the mark of his high calling. The higher the aim–the higher the aspiration. The purer the object of the heart’s ambition–the purer becomes the heart that seeks it. Hence the importance of holy aims, of exercising one’s self unto godliness.

Godliness, then, as spoken of in the text, is only another name for holiness in action, that is, Practical Piety. And, indeed, in one place in the Acts of the Apostles, the word is translated holiness.

Godliness, then, or holiness–is that for which each human being should seek after, and strive for. In its purity–it outranks all human aims, for it alone is perfectly holy. In its elevating power over thought and heart–it surpasses all calls of earthly ambition. In the greatness of the blessings which result from seeking after it–it outstrips all that the world can offer to its most unwearied votaries. In the duration of the blessedness which it imparts–it goes as far beyond what earth can offer, as eternity itself outstretches the limits of time.

But you may say this holiness, or godliness, is not attainable. It is not, to the full extent of the original which you are told to copy, because there are two elements in God’s holiness which can never exist in man so long as he tabernacles in the flesh–the complete absence of sin, and the full perfection of every virtue. Not so with man; he is ever a victim of sin, and never presents a complete assemblage of virtues. Some one or more virtues are always lacking, even in the most perfect human characters. Some one or more virtues are always out of proportion, or imperfectly developed, so that the circle is not complete in all its parts, nor harmonious in all its operations. And so man can never be like God.

Yet there is a sense, and a most important one, in which we can be like God. Were it not so, the exhortation of the text would be a mockery. That sense is, that taking the elements of God’s moral character as we find them set forth in the Bible–His truth, His love, His purity, His mercy, His goodness, His long-suffering, etc.–we are to strive to make them the guiding principles of our lives.

The very contemplation of these attributes of God, makes sin appear exceeding sinful; because it throws the pure light of God’s holiness into the sin-filled chambers of the heart, and reveals their horrors and their shame! While the attempt to imitate these excellencies, strengthens every moral sense, gives tone and vigor to each putting forth of spiritual power, and makes the once weak and puny soul that sunk down before each trial, rise up and fight manfully in a strength not its own, and thus win victories where hitherto it had found only defeats. This gives a man a godly character, and eventually crowns him with godliness. This is what all can strive after, and secure.1

  1. Excerpt from the sermon “The Law of Spiritual Growth” by William Bacon Stevens (1815—1887)

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