Mr. Chairman, Protestant Reformed Conventioneers, Parents and Friends gathered with us tonight: It is with rather mixed feelings that I am on the platform tonight: feelings with regret, on the one hand, because I am acutely aware, as you must be, that I am a substitute for one who had well nigh become an institution on this first convention evening. Both personally, and as far as the Federation and the Convention are concerned, I regret that I must be here in the place of my father. On the other hand, I am glad, nevertheless, that I may address you tonight in connection with the theme of the convention “Be Ye Holy”; and I will try to be of service to you with respect to the particular aspect of the theme that was assigned to me, that is, “Be Ye Holy—Personally”.
By personally, I understand, not that we must be holy personally in distinction from impersonally: that would hardly make sense. But by the limitation personally, the convention committee undoubtedly meant to distinguish our personal, private life, both in its inner aspect and its outward aspect, as distinct from our life with our friends and our life in and over against the world. I will try to treat that aspect of our calling to holiness without transgressing on the territory of the other speakers. To do that, I have to call attention in the first place, to the idea and meaning of holiness and, in that connection, especially to the truth that God is the Holy One. In the second place, I have to call your attention to the fact that we are called to holiness and that that calling to holiness is always and only in Christ Jesus, in order, in the third place, to call attention especially to the personal aspect of the holiness to which we are called. So I will address you a little while on the subject,
“Called to be Holy—Personally”
I. The Source and Standard of that Holiness
II. The Calling to that Holiness
III. The Personal Aspect of that Holiness
God, beloved, is the Holy One. That truth, that God is, in the absolute sense of the word, the Holy One, is the truth that underlies the theme of this convention. You cannot understand and you cannot receive the admonition, “Be Ye Holy”, except on the basis of and in connection with the truth that the Lord our God is the Holy One. We must never lose that aspect of the truth from sight, therefore. That is strongly emphasized, first of all, in the theme text of your convention: “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’”. That is emphasized, too, not only in the text from Leviticus, which is quoted here in I Peter 1; but that really constitutes one of the main aspects of the whole book of Leviticus, “Be ye holy, for I am holy”. That is emphasized also elsewhere in Scripture very, very often. I could quote passages from Scripture to prove that for a long time tonight. Let me mention just a couple. Think for example, of the passage in Isaiah 40:25, “To whom then will ye liken me or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” Or think of that beautiful and impressive vision of the prophet Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his prophesy, the vision of the Seraphim covering their faces with their wings and crying continually, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” Or think of the fact that the Lord Jesus in His High Priestly prayer in John 17 when He prays that His own may be preserved in the midst of the world addresses God as “holy Father.” Or to mention one more, think of the fact that the apostle John in his first Epistle, chapter 2:20 tells us that we have an unction from the Holy One. God is the Holy One in the absolute sense of the word, and that, therefore, must be our starting point! That’s the keynote of the theme of our convention.
What does that mean? It implies, in the first place, that holiness is a peculiarly divine attribute. God is Holy, is The Holy One, in the absolute sense of the word. All holiness, wherever it may be, is in Him and of Him and through Him and therefore unto Him. In the second place, especially in that attribute or virtue of His holiness, God is the incomparable God. That is why you read in Scripture, “To whom then will ye liken me or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” It is exactly in His divine capacity of being the Holy One that God is altogether incomparable, altogether distinct, altogether unique. There is none like unto Him. And as such, as the Holy One, God is the all-glorious God. That is why Scripture also frequently connects God’s holiness and His glory.
What is implied in that unique holiness of God? First of all, God’s holiness means that He, the living God, is the sole good, not merely the chief good, not merely the supreme good, but in the most absolute sense of the word, the Only Good. God is in Himself and of Himself and by Himself as the Triune God from all eternity, the good God, the implication of all perfections. He is righteousness, He is truth, He is goodness, He is mercy, He is justice, He is wisdom, He is knowledge; and as the God of all infinite perfections, He is the only good—the Self-sufficient good. In the second place, God’s holiness means that, as such, as the God Who is in and of Himself unchangeably the good God, He seeks Himself, aims at Himself, desires Himself, is infinitely consecrated to Himself. God, beloved, is absolutely Self-centered. He is the only one that may be self-centered, in fact. In the third place, as the Holy One, Who is perfectly consecrated to Himself and Who always of the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit, seeks and desires and aims at Himself, God is the absolute sovereign also. As such, He seeks Himself in all creation and in all the works of His hands. As the sole Lord, He has the divine right to do so. As the Holy One who is Lord over all, He has the prerogative to declare who and what the creature shall be. He has the right to impose His will upon the creature. He has the divine right to insist that the creature shall be as He wills it to be. God is the One, therefore, Who sets the standard of holiness for the creature. Not only that, God always maintains and insists upon His own holiness in relation to the creature. No matter what that creature may be, whether that creature is holy or whether he is unholy, whether that creature stands in harmony with the holiness of God or whether that creature stands opposed to that Holy One of Israel, God insists upon and He maintains His own holiness. He always insists upon the living truth that He is the Holy One, always continues to aim at and to seek and to desire and to be consecrated to Himself as the only good in relation to the creature. And in all of His dealings with the creature, He always deals with the creature according to the standard of His own absolute holiness. That, in brief, is the meaning of the truth that God is the Holy One.
There is also, of course, the negative aspect of that holiness of God, of which we almost think automatically when we think of holiness—an aspect which indeed Scripture emphasizes also very strongly, although Scripture teaches us that that is not the only aspect of God’s holiness. That negative aspect is that God is not common and unclean, not in any wise. God is certainly not like the creature. He is not to be compared to the creature. Certainly God is not in anywise like unto the sinful creature. On the contrary, God is absolutely separate from sin. He is the light in Whom there is no darkness at all. He is the God Who stands opposed, with all the infinite perfection of His holy being to all that stands opposed to Him. That can never be otherwise! That is why, if I may insert that for a moment—and we as Protestant Reformed young people may never, never forget that—that is why, theologically speaking, such a thing as common grace is absolutely impossible: because God is The Holy One. If God showed favor to the wicked, beloved, to the reprobate wicked, He would by that very fact deny Himself as the Holy One. Because He is The Holy One, He stands perfectly and eternally opposed to all those and all that which opposes Him.
Now what I said constitutes the truth behind the truth of your convention theme, “Be Ye Holy.” It is that, and therefore, is determinative for the meaning and the understanding of the entire theme, because that truth that God is the Holy One means, in the first place, that God is the source of all holiness. God is holy in Himself and of Himself as the Self-sufficient “I Am” and there is never any holiness to be found, any holiness to be found anywhere, but it is of Him. The calling to holiness, therefore, as far as its authorship is concerned, as far as its content is concerned, as far as its power is concerned, as far as its fruit is concerned is all of God. In every respect it proceeds from Him, and that too, precisely as the Holy One—the fountain and source of all holiness. That means too, beloved—and that will become clearer in the latter part of my address tonight—that our holiness is always a derived holiness. Our holiness is always dependent upon the holiness of God. And that means that as far as the Christian’s calling to holiness is concerned, it is a matter of grace, pure grace. As I said, I will enlarge on that in a little while.
There is a further implication however in that truth that God is the standard of all holiness. God alone has the prerogative to determine who and what the creature must be. And therefore, holiness for the creature (and, I have in mind especially man and still more especially, the Christian), holiness for the Christian, beloved, does not mean to be self-centered. The creature may never be self-centered. He must always be God-centered, consecrated to the living God with heart and mind and soul and strength, with all his being, with all his power, with all his talents, with all his abilities, in all his striving, in all his thinking, in all his desiring and in all his acting. Therefore, there is also the negative aspect to that holiness as far as the creature is concerned. That negative aspect is that the creature, man, the Christian, is called to be separate from and opposed to all that stands opposed to God and is called, therefore, negatively and positively, to be of the party of the living God in the midst of the world. That is our calling. That is the nature of our calling.
Our calling is, therefore, a calling from holiness, a calling to holiness and a calling for holiness; a calling by God, a calling to God, a calling for God; a calling by the Holy one, a calling to the Holy One and a calling for the Holy One.
That calling presupposes our natural un-holiness, beloved. Let’s understand that! Let’s understand it fully, otherwise we can never understand and hear and heed the calling to be holy. We are by nature un-holy. We were holy once. We were holy in Adam, holy on the level of the earthly, so that in Adam we stood once consecrated in our minds to know God; consecrated in our wills, so that our wills were attuned to God’s will; consecrated in our hearts, so that our hearts were motivated by the love of God. That was Adam’s original status and it was ours in him.
But we fell.
Adam fell. And all men, the elect included, fell in him. And through his fall, we fell utterly from that holiness. The result is that by nature, we are all unholy—unholy in our mind, so that we are spiritually ignorant (and by the way, the apostle speaks of that ignorance in the context of your theme text: not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance, he says in verse 14: “your ignorance”—not natural, mental, intellectual ignorance, is meant, but spiritual ignorance—is ignorance of the love of God, ignorance so that we do not really know sin and do not really know righteousness to love it). That is our natural condition. We are ignorant, unholy in our minds. The same is true of our will by nature. Our will is not attuned to the will of God but to the will of the devil. The same is true of our heart, the very center of our being. Spiritually, that heart ever since the fall is not motivated by the love of God, but by enmity against God. That carries through to our whole life and walk. We walk in lust by nature—all kinds of lust, all kinds of sin and unrighteousness and hatred and envy and malice and pride and covetousness and adultery and fornication and uncleanness and slander and back biting and robbery. That is the nature of man. He is a slave of sin. He is a hopeless slave of sin. He is a hopeless slave of sin because he is a willing slave, a slave in his very being, in his heart, his mind and will, so that his position is that he cannot and will not and he cannot will and, in fact, he may not do anything else but be unholy by nature. That is the natural man; and that is our state and condition, beloved. That is more to the point. That is your and my status, apart from grace. Absolutely hopelessly, inextricable unholy!
In that whole world of unholy mankind, there is one Holy One: that is Christ. Christ is the Holy One of God. You know, it is very striking in the New Testament that the devils were the first to acknowledge that and to see it very clearly. They said to Jesus once, “We know thee, who thou are, the Holy One of God”. They perceived that immediately. He is the Holy One; He is the revelation of the Father, the Son Of God in the flesh. As far as holiness is concerned, beloved, that is the meaning of incarnation. God, the Holy One, united Himself with our flesh in one divine Person and in that Christ Jesus, the Holy One of God in the likeness of sinful flesh, is the perfect revelation and the perfect realization of God’s holiness in every respect. It is in Him because as the Holy one of God in our flesh, He always revealed Himself as being perfectly consecrated to the Father. The revelation and realization of that holiness is in Him because, as the Holy One of God, He was able to make the perfect sacrifice. The revelation and realization of that holiness is in Him because He could and did represent the cause of God’s holiness in the midst of a world of sin. That revelation is in Him because as the perfectly holy Lamb of God, He was not only able to make the perfect sacrifice, but He actually laid Himself down in perfect obedience of consecration on the altar of God’s holiness and by that act He bore the wrath, the whole burden of the wrath of God which was exactly the fierce and consuming expression of the wrath of the Holy One. Not only that, in all His sacrifice He remained perfectly consecrated to God. He said to God, “Thou mayest slay me in Thy holy wrath. Even then I love Thee. I lay myself on this altar exactly because I love Thee and seek Thee and am consecrated to Thee. Thou mayest forsake me. I will still call Thee my God,” and He did. Still more, beloved, He is the revelation and realization of the holiness of God because as the mighty Son of God in the flesh, He was able to sacrifice Himself as the Holy One in the place of many and as the representative and organic head of many elect. Therefore, He arose. He arose, also, as the head of the innumerable company of the elect. He arose in newness of life, resurrection life, heavenly life, the new and holy life, for all His own.
The implications of that are plain as far as your and my holiness is concerned, beloved. It means, in the first place, that in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Child, Jesus, is our right to be holy, first of all. That is a privilege. Don’t forget when it says here, “Be Ye Holy—Personally”, that’s a privilege, a divine privilege. That is a privilege to which you and I had lost every claim through our fall into sin, a privilege that we could never regain of ourselves. Christ gained it for us. He gained it in such a way that it could never be lost again. In the second place, in our Lord Jesus Christ is all the power and, therefore, all the possibility of holiness. In the third place, in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, crucified and raised in newness of life, is all our ability to be holy. It is only in that light that you could possibly understand the calling to holiness. There is no other way! That calling is in every respect in Christ Jesus, never outside of Him or apart from Him. First of all, it is in Christ Jesus, not out of Him, that we are called from all eternity unto holiness. The Word of God is, “I have called you by name. You are mine from eternity to eternity be sovereign election in Christ Jesus.” God called us His holy ones. That is Scripture! He has chosen us from before the foundation of the world in order that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, according to Ephesians 1. In the second place, called we are with a divine calling—centrally and objectively in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. There, at the cross and in the resurrection, God not only called Christ, but in Christ called all His elect people out of the un-holiness of sin and death and into His marvelous light. We are holy objectively in Christ and the holiness of Christ is imputed to us. Not only that, called we are, actually, through the Spirit of the exalted Lord and by the Word of the Gospel, called in the very depth of our being, called as far as our consciousness is concerned. That is His calling, “Be ye holy, as the Holy One that called you.” He has called you and me, beloved. The voice of the Almighty God Himself has reached us. That voice has called us away from the sin and service of the devil and called us unto God’s own life and service.
The contents of that call are very plain. In the first place, that calling always witnesses of sin, your sin, my sin, our total depravity; and it witnesses of God’s estimation, God’s evaluation, of our walk in the lusts of sin, in the light of His own holiness and condemns us. If you hear that calling, the very first effect will be that you respond by saying, “I am a sinner. O God, be merciful to me. I am altogether unholy.” Have you heard that call of God? In the second place, that call of Almighty God proclaims redemption and deliverance from the corruption and filth of our un-holiness through the blood and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. That also is an integral part of that calling unto holiness, beloved. He calls us through the bold. He calls us, too, so that we pass through the bold by faith. He calls us so that we emerge from that blood bath of the death of Christ purified and cleansed. In the third place, always constituting an integral part of that calling, is the truth that that voice of Almighty God by His Spirit and through the Gospel makes plain to us our sacred duty, our calling in the sense of our obligation, to be and to walk as the people of the Holy One in the midst of the world. Mark you well, that calling to holiness is not simply the calling of the outward preaching. What effect could that ever have on those who are by nature totally unholy? None! It takes more than the power of the preacher, beloved, no matter what a silver-tongued orator he may be, to make you and me holy. The power of that calling is not the weakness of a mere offer. You and I are so unholy, that even if we are offered the opportunity and the possibility to be holy, we would despise it. That calling is efficacious, irresistible. It is the calling of the voice of God, through the preaching of the Word, resounding in our hearts. Not begging, not pleading, not merely inviting, not merely urging, not simple exhorting, but calling in such a way that it draws us, draws us out of the depth of the filth of our un-holiness into the marvelous light of God! The result is that we spiritually understand, that we repent, that we depart from the way of sin, that we actually enter into the light God calls us, beloved, He calls us, first of all, in the very depth of our heart, by His Spirit, through the wonder of regeneration. The Apostle Peter spoke of that in this chapter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That is God’s calling; and if thus He calls you and in the depth of your heart says, “Awake, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead and Christ shall light upon thee,” there is nothing else for you and me to do but to awake! That is surely the result! Not only that, He it is, Who through the almighty power of His own voice, by His Spirit, through the Word of the Gospel, quickens that beginning of the new and holy life into consciousness. He calls us once. He calls again and again and again and as long as we are in this world, through the Word of the Gospel, out of darkness, into His marvelous light. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, beloved, that the power of that efficacious calling is experienced only once. There is never a time when I, or any preacher, could proclaim, “Be Ye Holy,” and expect to have positive fruit upon that exhortation if God Himself did not continue to say through that preaching, “Be Ye Holy.”
The result is that we are holy. We are holy, perfectly holy, in principle. The theme does not require of you and me to become something that we are not, but to be what we are and to be actively what we are. We have, through the power of the efficacious calling been set aside for the service of God, by God Himself. “I have called thee by thy name,” He has said. “Thou art mine.” Our minds are consecrated to know Him and our wills have been attuned to His will and our hearts are motivated by the love of God in Christ. We are holy, too, in that we have been separated, separated from all that is evil, all that is filthy, all that is unrighteous, all that is impure and all that is contrary to the Holy One of Israel.
But there is a danger, beloved. There is danger, first of all, from within, because we still have our old, sinful nature. We have only a small seed of that new holiness, but it is surrounded by that old sinful nature. We are not completely delivered, not by any means, yet. That means a struggle, a daily and constant struggle because that small beginning is consecrated to the living God, always and only. It cannot sin! That old sinful nature is attuned to the devil. It cannot seek God. There is danger, too, from without, from the whole world round about us. That whole world, no matter where you turn, is in harmony with the former lusts from which we have been principally delivered, but which are the former lusts of the old sinful nature.
Because of that two-fold danger, from within and from without, the danger confronting the holy but imperfect Christian in the midst of the world is that he fashions himself according to those former lusts yet. That is why the call of God, through the gospel, must and does sound continually to the stranger, the elect, sanctified, holy stranger in the midst of this world that has everything against him, except for the Word of God—I say, that’s why the call sounds continually, “Be Ye Holy.” When we are in heaven after a while, we won’t have to hear that exhortation any more. We will always be perfectly, completely, freely, holy. We won’t have to fight to be holy. But now we do so. I say, beloved, that is an integral part of the Gospel; you cannot hear the gospel at all except you also hear that part. You cannot hear the gospel of sin and salvation except you understand that to it belongs the call, “Be ye holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” He saved us exactly that we should be a holy people. You cannot hear the Gospel at all unless you hear the Word, “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed through the renewal of your mind.”
I would say beloved, for our day, there could not very well have been a happier theme chosen for the convention. This is a very, very serious matter, especially in the day in which you and I live. We live in a day when there is very little distinctiveness, a day when Christ and Belial seem to go arm in arm, a day in which, when you look at the Church and at the world, you would rather readily ask the question, “Where is the difference?” That begins closest home, too—in our personal, private, inner life. Even there, as far as that personal, private, inner life is concerned, you must not first think of your outward deeds, even the outward deeds of your private life, but of yourself and myself. I beseech you by the mercies of God, present your bodies; that is yourselves and your bodily existence, as a living sacrifice, a burnt offering, an offering of consecration to the holy God that called you.
As far as that inner aspect of our private life is concerned, beloved, that begins at the center, with the heart. The calling is, “My son, Give me thy heart.” If you hear that calling, you will respond with Calvin, “My heart, Lord, I offer thee, readily and sincerely.” It concerns the mind and its secret thoughts. “Be ye holy.” It concerns the will and the desires that arise from within, “Be ye holy, be not conformed but transformed.” From within, it concerns the whole of your private, personal life, beloved. That has a broad range yet, even in distinction from your life with others, with your friends and in the world. It stands to reason, unless you and I are holy in the privacy and the intimacy of our personal life, it will be impossible to be holy with our friends and before the eyes of the world.
Therefore, let me close by asking you and myself some pointed questions.
Do you pray? That song of the sextet was right, you know. “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord.” How else can we be holy? How else, beloved, can we possibly be holy except we stand in intimate communion with the source of all holiness. Do you pray? I mean, not merely do you pray with your family and at the table. I mean, not merely, do you pray as a matter of mere habit before you lay your head on the pillow at night. But do you commune privately, personally with the God of your salvation, the holy God that called you, often? We need that.
Another is this. Do you make diligent and frequent use of the Word of God? How else can we be holy except in that way, beloved. It is through that Word that the calling to holiness sounds unto us. It is in that Word that we have the road-map of the path of sanctification. Do you use that Word? I mean, again, not merely at the table with your family, but in your private, personal life when there is no one to see you but your God and no one to urge you but the urging of the Spirit in your heart? Do you use it? Diligently? Consult it often? Do you seek it, seek it with all your heart, in the Church where that Word is proclaimed in all its purity—and I mean in the Protestant Reformed Church and no other? Do you read it in your young people’s societies and you, parents and friends, in your societies? Or do you perhaps profane it by the very fact that you don’t even open it before you attend society? Do you seek it in the catechism class, young people, without your parents urging anymore, earnestly and diligently and prayerfully preparing and studying and being instructed and praying that the Lord may give you grace to receive that instruction in your heart and life?
I don’t dare take any more time. I have more questions, but those are the fundamental ones. They will control you in your reading, in your studying, in your working, in your relaxation. They will control you as far as your life’s goal is concerned. And controlling you in your personal and private life, they will control you in those aspects of which Rev. Hanko and Rev. Engelsma are going to speak to you, too. Therefore, in conclusion, beloved—because no one else can do it—may God by His Holy Spirit lay this calling more and more seriously upon your heart and mine.