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HOLINESS BEFORE THE LORD
Everything valuable has its counterfeit. Mock marriages, spurious medicines, base coins, have always deceived many, and yielded a harvest of sorrow in place of looked-for joy.
Holiness is an attribute of God. It is an essential attribute. It is the want of holiness which makes Satan the devil.
Holiness is the great want of man. Without it he cannot go to a Heaven which sin never defiles, and whose every inhabitant is holy. No degree of talent, no amount of learning, no abundance of riches can compensate for the want of holiness.
It is not then wonderful that Satan, transformed into an angel of light, should bend all his energies to produce a close imitation of holiness. He succeeds so admirably that he would deceive, if possible, the very elect.
The Scriptures give us plain warning. If we take any counterfeit, however spurious, for genuine holiness, ours is the fault, and the resulting loss. At the very opening of the Gospel we are put upon our guard. Zacharias, filled with the Spirit, blessed God for the coming of Christ to perform the mercy promised to our fathers;
“The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”—Luke 1:73-75.
The phrase “before God” is a superlative expression, and denotes that whatever it is applied to is really and truly what it appears to be. God sees through all disguises. He is never deceived. So when the sacred writers wish to express that which is true and real they use the phrase, “before God.” Thus it is said,
“The earth also was corrupt before God.”—Gen. 6:11.
That is, it was thoroughly and generally corrupt. Of Zacharias and Elizabeth it is said,
“They were both righteous before God.”—Luke 1:6.
They were really and consistently righteous. So the phrase “holiness and righteousness before the Lord” implies that there is a holiness that will not bear the inspection of God’s all-searching eye. The same idea is conveyed by Paul,
“Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”—Eph. 4:24.
Why this qualifying word “true?” The inspired writers do not use such terms at random. “True holiness” implies that there is a false. This is evident. The Scriptures then put us on our guard. We must, therefore, examine carefully the holiness teachings which seek our approval. Are they in harmony with the teachings of the Bible? They may be in some respects and yet be radically wrong. The doctrines we receive are the invisible chains that bind us to a life of faith and obedience. But a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. So, much that passes for holiness will be found defective in the day when its strength is tested.
This defective holiness is rapidly on the increase. It is becoming popular. It excites little opposition, provokes little persecution.
1. Bible holiness implies a settled hatred of sin. A holy person puts away all sin. He gives it no countenance, either in himself or others. And he calls that sin which God calls sin. No one says, “I will go and commit some sin against God.” But he does something which God says he must not do, or he neglects to do something which God says he must do. Talk about consecrating some favorite idol to the Lord! God says put it away. You may consecrate as much as you please, but God will have nothing to do with it. The goodly Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold he will not accept even if consecrated.
God says, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or putting on of apparel.”—I Pet. 3:3. Many holiness teachers not only do not enforce this command, but they set the example of its open violation. We have seen gentlemen holiness teachers with ornaments of gold plainly in view; and lady teachers waving ostrich plumes upon their bonnets. Yet they make a very strong profession of being saved from sin. But the trouble is they do not call it sin to break a plain command of the Bible which it is popular to break. Their rule of conduct is, not the word of God, but the usages of what is called good society. According to their method of teaching, the Bible must be construed, no matter what violence is done to its language, so as not to offend the popular sentiment. This quality that aims to please, and never to give offense, that suppresses in religious gatherings all plain testimony against worldly conformity in dress or needless worldly associations, by joining secret societies, may appear amiable and attractive; but it is not Bible holiness. To call it so is misleading. Its proper name is politeness, and not holiness. Well-bred people of the world act in the same way when it does not conflict with their interests. Understand us. We do not say that this easy complacency is all wrong. In a worldly sense it may do good. It smoothes much of the asperity of daily life. It is as oil to lessen the friction which results from the intercourse of persons of opposite views and conflicting interests. But it is not Bible holiness. It is wanting in the fundamental element—that love for God which leads one to obey all his commands. It fatally mistakes a love of popularity for the love of God. This is not the holiness of George Fox and John Wesley and Charles G. Finney. These men of God bore clear, ringing testimonies against popular sins. Theirs was not that complacent, man-pleasing spirit that fears to offend the world. They gave no quarters to popular sin.
2. Bible holiness implies that the heart is filled with love—genuine love to God and man. It reproves, but it does it in the spirit of meekness. It bears an out-and-out testimony against popular sins, but it does it in kindness and not in anger; for conscience sake and not to gratify a spirit of resentment.
The great skill of the deceiver is shown in pushing earnest souls into the one extreme or the other. Some of the zealous advocates of holiness not only reprove sin but they undertake to anathematize all who dare to disagree with them. To oppose their course they call fighting against God. Let one do it ever so mildly and he is assailed by the most opprobrious epithets they can use. This furious zeal they call holiness. And the strangest part of it is they get some honest souls to accept their leadership and indorse all they do and say. These fierce propagandists, with tongues and pens like a sharp two-edged sword, manifest a spirit that we would look for rather among the devotees of Islam than among the followers of Christ.
A holy person does not indulge in fierce vituperation and denunciation. He is uncompromising—but at the same time gentle and kind.
Let us then see to it that we walk blameless in holiness “before the Lord.” Deception can be of no avail. At the best it is short-lived. We shall soon enter upon a world of stern realities. We shall, whatever estimate we put upon ourselves, be weighed in the undeviating balances of God’s sanctuary. Let us see to it that we be not found wanting.
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