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The Holiness of God (continued)

We concluded our preceding article by quoting a few Scriptural passages in support of the truth that God is holy. Attention was called to Isaiah 6:1-3, 5-7, 10:17, 29:19, 30:11, 41:1-6, 47:4, 54:5, 57:15, and John 17:11.

From these passages we may conclude that the Lord Himself is holy. Holiness surely implies separation from evil and consecration to goodness and perfection. This is applicable in an infinite sense to the living God. He is the Holy One and, therefore, the incomparable one. This we literally read in Isaiah 40:25: “To whom then will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy one.” As the Holy One He is the Incomparable One, who cannot be compared with or likened to anyone. He alone is the Holy one. Holiness, therefore, is an attribute peculiarly divine. That God’s holiness is synonymous with His own incomparable perfection is plain from Isaiah 6:3, 5 which we quoted above. The prophet, because he is a sinful man, cannot endure this radiation of the glory of the Lord, the radiation of His holiness. The Lord is the Holy One of Israel, the Holy One; God and holiness are therefore inseparable; He alone is holy.

The holiness of the Lord is, then, that perfection of Jehovah whereby He is eternally separated from the common and sinful world and wholly consecrated unto Himself. He is the God of infinite perfection and as such is eternally consecrated unto Himself. The holiness of God, therefore, implies, first of all, that He, and He alone, is the God of infinite and spotless purity, and, secondly, that He is the motive and purpose of all His activity so that He is eternally consecrated unto Himself as the highest Good. The Lord ‘finds’ the motive and purpose of all His actions in Himself. He does all things for His Name’s sake. He is the God of eternal and infinite perfection, is never prompted by anything less than the glory of His Name and the manifestation of His own incomparable greatness and perfection. He is consecrated solely and eternally unto Himself, the highest and absolute good.

This virtue, which belongs to the Lord’s communicable attributes and is, as the name suggests, communicable, the Lord also bestows upon His people. That God renders us holy implies that He, through the power of His grace, separates us from all that which is common and sinful and consecrates us unto Himself. This is perfectly applicable to the Christ, although, of course. He knew no sip. That Christ was separated from all evil does not, of course, imply that He ever was evil. We become saints (holy ones) through the power of divine grace. The Scriptures speak of the people of God as “called saints,” who become such through the irresistible calling of God. And this, we noticed in the foregoing, always occurs through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:12). Through that blood we have been redeemed from the guilt of sin and have received the right unto eternal life; and also through the power of that blood, the power of the risen Christ who was dead and is alive forevermore, we are also actually called, delivered out of the spiritual power of sin and darkness into the blessedness of the communion and fellowship of the alone blessed God, now in principle and afterwards in eternal and heavenly perfection.

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD

Its Idea.

The word, “righteousness, righteous,” means literally: to be right, straight, as a straight line, to be in harmony with a certain standard or norm. The word “righteousness or righteous” appears very often in Holy Writ. Although it has been said that we cannot speak of righteousness in God because there is no law or norm to which He is subject, nevertheless the Scriptures repeatedly declare that He is righteous. The word also occurs frequently with respect to man, as especially in the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Time and again, throughout the Word of God, the righteous are contrasted with the unrighteous or wicked. Abraham, e.g., in his prayer for the preservation of Sodom (Genesis 18) bases his petition exactly upon this distinction between the godly and the ungodly. This appears from verses 23-25, and we quote: “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: Wilt Thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” It is clear from this passage that the “Common Grace” theorists are completely in error who would have us believe that the father of believers is concerned with the city of Sodom and the wicked inhabitants of that city. He is concerned with the righteous within that city and his plea before the Judge of all the earth is certainly rooted in his concern for the righteous, that the Judge of all the earth will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. And, as far as the book of Psalms is concerned, the righteous may well be considered the theme of that particular book.

In this article we are interested in the concept, “righteousness,” as an attribute of God. Often in Holy Writ, as in the epistle to the Romans, this word refers to the righteousness of the people of God and must be understood in the sense of justification, “recht-vaardigmaking,*’ the state of righteousness, of being just before God. However, we are at present discussing the attributes of God. And “righteousness”, very closely related to the concept, “holiness”, is one of the communicable attributes of the Lord.

God Himself is Righteous-Scriptural.

That the Lord Himself is righteous is repeatedly taught in the Word of God. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He” Deut. 32:4; “O Lord God of Israel, Thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before Thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before Thee because of this.”—Ezra 9:15; “And foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed Thy words; for Thou art righteous.”—Nehemiah 9:8; “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments.”—Psalm 119:137; “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.”—Psalm 145:17; “Tell ye, and bring them near: yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside Me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside Me.”—Isaiah 45:21; “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee: yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?”—Jeremiah 12:1: “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against His commandments: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.”—Lamentations 1:18; “Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the Lord our God is righteous in all His works which He doeth: for we obeyed not His voice.”—Daniel 9:14; “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent me.”—John 17:25; “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”—2 Timothy 4:8; “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.”—1 John 2:29; “And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because Thou hast judged thus.”—Rev. 16:5. All these passages clearly speak of a righteousness of God Himself. Let us look a little more closely at a few of these passages.

Deuteronomy 82:4: “He is the rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgments: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.” Moses declares here that God is the rock, the only, firm, abiding, unchangeable reality, and therefore the ultimate Criterion and Standard of all that is. He is the rock, the only rock, the only one who can speak of Himself as a rock, the only unchangeable reality. It is for this reason that His work is perfect and that all His ways are judgment—because the Lord is the absolute goodness, norm, standard, criterion, He always judges the children of men, determines whether they walk according to Him or not. His ways are ways of judgment; His ways alone are ways of judgment; He alone may judge and He alone can judge; and when He judges he always judges men in the light of Himself, because He alone is the rock, the unchangeable reality. This God is furthermore, so the text continues, the God of truth and without iniquity; He is without iniquity, i.e., is not a lie or vanity, but the truth, reality. And as that truth, reality He knows Himself. Hence, the Lord does not usurp authority, does not appropriate unto Himself undue authority when all His ways are judgments, does not imagine Himself to be what He is not. He is without iniquity, without the lie or vanity. He is the truth and knows Himself as such. Hence, He is good and upright, straight and upright, always in harmony with the standard of all goodness, Himself. That God is righteous evidently means, therefore, that He is eternally in conformity to Himself—He is the unchangeable and ultimate criterion of all goodness and perfection.

Nehemiah 9:8: “And foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgathites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed Thy works; for Thou art righteous.” In the context of these words the inspired speaker speaks of the promise of God to give to Abraham and his seed the land of Canaan; hence, in the context of these words the holy writer speaks of the promise of the covenant. This appears, not only from the text which we have quoted, but also from the preceding verse: “Thou art the Lord the God, Who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham (father of many nations—H.V.) Please notice, in these seventh and eighth verses, the unconditional character of the promise of the Lord. We quote, and the contents in the various parentheses are of the undersigned: “Thou art the Lord the God, Who didst choose Abram (Abram did not choose the Lord but the Lord chose him, and this is the root of that which follows), and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham (God led him forth, and God gave him the name of Abraham—it is all of God, therefore, we see); And foundest his heart faithful before Thee (this, surely, does not mean that the Lord “happened” to find Abraham’s heart faithful, and that the faithfulness of Abraham’s heart was the basis for the Lord’s dealings with the father of believers—this is pure Arminianism; faithfulness was not the condition on which the dealings of the Lord with him depended, but the Lord’s sovereign way in which He led the ancient patriarch and revealed unto him His covenant), and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites. . . . , to give it, I say, to his seed (notice that the Lord would give him and his seed this land, and that this word “giving” appears twice in this text), and hast performed Thy words (God, therefore, has performed His words). The unconditional character of this Scriptural passage is surely beyond all doubt. And that the Lord has performed His words, His promise to Abraham, is because: “For Thou art righteous.”—the Lord carried out His promise because He is unchangeably in harmony with Himself; He wills what He promises; He wills as He is; He is the Rock and unchangeable; hence, He always fulfills His word or promise. That the Lord fulfills His promise is, therefore, because He is righteous, and His righteousness is His unchangeable harmony with and maintaining of Himself.

Psalm 145:17: “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.” This text is obviously explained by the psalmist in the verses 18-20 that follow: “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. He will also fulfill the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them. The Lord preserved all them that love Him: but all the wicked will He destroy.” And for this reason the man of God can conclude this psalm with the words: “My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless His holy Name for ever and ever.”

The exponents of “Common Grace” delight in calling attention to this psalm. This theory would have us believe that the Lord is also graciously inclined to the wicked in this life. At the conclusion of this world’s history this present dispensation of the general mercy and kindness of the Lord will come to an end. In hell the Lord will reveal Himself forever as a consuming fire. Then this present day of grace will have been concluded. In this world, this present dispensation, however, the Lord continues to be favorably inclined to all the children of men. And He, according to these theorists, reveals this general kindness not only in all the earthy things which He bestows upon them, but also in the preaching of the gospel, which manifestly on the Lord’s part is a sincere effort to save others besides those whom He has sovereignly chosen from before the foundation of the world. Do we not read in verse 9: “The Lord is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works.”?

How different and contrary to this conception is the presentation of the psalmist in the concluding verses of this psalm! Indeed, this already applies to the first part of this psalm. Read carefully the verses 1-8 and let us honestly ask ourselves the question whether this applies to all men or only to the children of God. And in the verses 18-20 we are told that the Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth, that He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him, will also hear their cry and save them, and that the Lord preserveth all them that love Him, but will destroy all the wicked. And this, mind you, will not occur merely in the hereafter. This always happens. Fact is, according to verse 17, the Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. All God’s ways and works are all His dealings with the children of men. And let us understand correctly: He is righteous in all His ways and works. Always He is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, that call upon Him in truth. Always He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him; always He will hear their cry; always He will save them. And always the Lord is preserving all them that love Him, but also always He will destroy the wicked. And this is due to the fact that the Lord is righteous in all His ways and works. Because the Lord is righteous, unchangeably in harmony with Himself, therefore His attitude toward the godly and the ungodly is always the same. God is unchangeable in Himself and therefore in all His dealings with the children of men.

Jeremiah 12:1: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee: yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” The prophet is faced in this text with a dilemma. His problem concerns the prosperity of the wicked. We have the same problem here as that which confronts the psalmist in Psalm 73. The question concerning the prosperity of the wicked and the affliction of the people of God is therefore not a problem of recent date. Also the people of God of the Old Dispensation were confronted by this vexing situation. And, yet, there is a vast difference between the attitude of the prophet toward this perplexing problem and that which is generally revealed in the present day. In the Old Testament, in the experiences of the psalmist of Psalm 73 and of the prophet, Jeremiah, the matter of the prosperity of the ungodly and the affliction of the righteous constituted for them a very perplexing and distressing enigma. They could not understand it.

And it grieved them. The holy writer of the seventy-third psalm continues in his restless and sorely troubled state until he enters the sanctuary of God. Rest and peace elude him until he is able to view their present prosperity in the light of their end, until he realizes that the Lord has placed them on slippery places and that, therefore, all things work together unto their eternal ruin and desolation. The question of the “welfare” of the ungodly and the “misfortune” of the people of God is to the prophet and the psalmist a miserably perplexing problem because they cannot harmonize it with the righteousness and perfection of the living God. And they love that God and cannot tolerate the thought that anything might be in conflict with His holiness and righteousness. How different is the attitude of many today toward the same dilemma! It is to them no longer a dilemma! They do not hesitate to ascribe the sinner’s “welfare” to the general kindness and compassion of the Lord. The Lord, they say, is graciously inclined to all. Neither are they troubled by the Scriptural testimony that the Lord is angry with the wicked every day, that the Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works, that the curse of Jehovah is in the house of the wicked and that the living God curses him continually in all that he is and possesses (Deut. 28); very superficially he accepts both. He believes that the Lord loves and hates the same person at the same time, and does not hesitate to accuse anyone who sincerely recoils from such a conception that he is guilty of the attempt to understand with his finite and faulty mind the things which God has so “clearly” revealed in His Word and which we must embrace by a childlike faith. This, however, is not the presentation of Psalm 73 or of the prophet, Jeremiah.

And now the prophet, in Jeremiah 12:1, would plead with the Lord in connection with this phenomenon. He would talk with the Lord, we read, of His judgments. He inquires of Jehovah why all they are happy who deal very treacherously. But, before he begins to plead with Jehovah, one thing stands fast. That one thing is expressed in the text: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord.” This is the rock on which he stands when he pleads. The appearance of things, which he does not understand, does not tempt him to doubt and impugn the right of Jehovah. God is righteous. To doubt or attack the righteousness of the Lord would be the height of folly. God isrighteous—nothing can change or alter that. And the reason why no amount of reasoning can alter this truth, why we must proceed from this truth and allow it to govern all our reasoning and deliberations, is simply because the Lord is righteous. 

Righteousness constitutes His very being. It does not merely clothe Him as a garment; it expresses what He is. A deviation by the Lord from the path of righteousness would involve Him in a denial of Himself. And that is impossible, for God is God, the rock, the I AM, the unchangeable. This truth receives all the emphasis in Jeremiah 12:1, in the few passages we have briefly discussed, and throughout the Word of God. What this righteousness of the Lord implies we shall see, the Lord willing, in our following article.

(to be continued)