Chapter 4: God is a Jealous God (cont.)

Thus we understand that the mercy of the Lord is indeed only upon them that love Him and that fear His name. His mercy is not common. It is not gen­eral. It is strictly particular, limited to them that fear Him and do His commandments. Not as if our fear of the Lord was first and the cause of His mercy. The opposite is true. It is only because the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting unto everlasting, and because that everlasting mercy revealed itself in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, be­cause that mercy drew us out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life, out of darkness into His mar­velous light, that we fear Him and love Him and keep His commandments. But this does not alter the fact that His mercy is only upon them that fear His name, that love Him and do His commandments. Not in the way of the flesh, not in the way of the world, can we taste this marvelous mercy of Jehovah. Not in the way of trampling underfoot the glory of His name and the truth of His revelation in Christ Jesus can we taste its blessed assurance. For it is only for them that keep His covenant and that do His command­ments. For them, to be sure, that are still beset with sin and often stumble, but that nevertheless have an inner and strong and heartfelt desire to be delivered from all iniquity and to be pleasing to the Lord, the light of this everlasting mercy shines.

Lord’s Day 36

Chapter 1: God is Holy

Q. 99 What is required in the third command­ment?

A. That we, not only by cursing or perjury, but also by rash swearing, must not profane or abuse the name of God; nor by silence or connivance be partakers of these horrible skis in others; and, briefly, that we use the holy name of God no other­wise than with fear and reverence; so that he may be rightly confessed and worshipped by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.

Q. 100 Is then the profaning of God’s name, by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavor, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?

A. It undoubtedly is, for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of his name; and therefore he has commanded this sin to be punished with death.

The third commandment reads: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

The first commandment has reference to God’s being, and is based on the principle that God is one. He is one in all His virtues and attributes, and there is no God beside Him. The second commandment is founded on the truth that God is invisible, infinite in all His glorious virtues, and that therefore we can never of ourselves make an image or form a concep­tion of the most high, but must know Him from His own revelation and worship according to that revela­tion. The third commandment speaks of the name of God, and is based upon the truth that He is holy, and therefore His name is holy, and demands that we shall always use His name with reverence and holy fear, to adore and glorify Him in His name.

That God is holy implies, in the first place, that He is infinitely and incomparably good, that therefore He is necessarily Self-centered, seeks Himself as the only good, is consecrated to Himself, and as such is dis­tinct and separated from all sin and sinners, but even from the creature as such. He is good in the sense that He is the implication of all infinite perfections.

It is in this sense that the Lord Jesus uses the term in answer to the rich young ruler. We are all acquaint­ed, of course, with the incident in Jesus’ sojourn of the rich young ruler approaching the Lord in quest of an answer to his anxious query: “Good master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The question was not an uncommon one. It was thor­oughly discussed in the theological schools of those days. No doubt the young man had received an ans­wer to his question more than once. And since with him it was more than a scholastic question, was not an abstract problem at all but a matter of life and death, he had endeavored to realize the answers he had received from the schools of his day. But when he did so, he found that they did not bring the desired result. He did not obtain the assurance that he was worthy of, and still less that he possessed, eternal life. His conscience still accused him. His heart was still restless with anxiety in the face of implacable and unavoidable death, and in the presence of God as judge. And thus it happened that he still walked about with his life question, that he sought new answers, and that he came to the Rabbi of Nazareth one day, jealous, perhaps, of the children whom he had seen Jesus bless; and falling down before Him, presented to Him his problem, “Good master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” And before the Lord even enters into the matter of the question that was presented to him, He replies with another question: “Why callest thou Me good? No one is good but one, that is God.”

It is evident that the Lord here uses the term good in the absolute sense of the word. The words of the Savior must be taken literally, and in their full sig­nificance. Their meaning must not be camouflaged; their force must not be weakened. Their absoluteness must not be made relative. No one is good but one, that is, God. This does not mean, nor did Jesus mean to assert so commonplace and self-evident a thing as that no sinful man or fallen spirit is good. It means just what it says: no one, no creature, no man, no angel, nor even Christ as the young man conceived of Him, as the Rabbi of Nazareth, is good. God alone, most emphatically alone, is good. “Why callest thou me good? No one is good but one, that is God.” It is evident that Jesus employs the word good here in a sense quite different from that which it was meant to convey in the question of the young ruler. He used the term rather easily, just as we often do it in our day. He had been rather lavish with the use of the word: “Good master, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” But the Lord takes the word seri­ously. Good to Him means moral, ethical perfection. He uses the word absolutely. Reflections of goodness, graciously bestowed upon him by God, there may be in the creature. But ultimately and absolutely God alone is good. The young man must understand this. He purposed to do some good thing, that he might have eternal life. The impossibility of meriting anything with God, of obtaining eternal life in the way of doing some good thing, he did not see at all. And the reason was that he had an erroneous conception of what is really good. And therefore Jesus rebukes him at once for his easy use of the word good, and insists that he must speak of God, and emphatically of God as God, when he employs the term goodness.

God is good. That is, He is the implication of all infinite perfections. We may grant, of course, that the term good with application to God may be employ­ed with a different connotation. To be sure, God is good in the sense that He is benevolent, charitable, loving, filled with lovingkindness and tender mercies. He is rich in good things in Himself and for the crea­ture. Pleasures forevermore there are at His right hand. He is the overflowing fountain of all good. Joy and peace are found in Him alone. All blessings flow from Him. It is unspeakably good to dwell in His house, to enjoy His fellowship. To know Him is life eternal. But all this He is only as the one that is good in the sense in which the Savior used the term in His reply to the rich young ruler. He is the implication of all ethical goodness, of all perfections. It is high­ly important that this be emphasized, and clearly ap­prehended before we speak of the benevolence, the mercy, the loving kindness and grace of God, lest we refer to an idol rather than to the living God when we say, “God is good,” For we are all inclined to set up our own standard of goodness, and to say to one another, “Good brethren, what good things shall we do in addition to all the good we have already ac­complished, in order that we may become worthy of eternal life?” We are therefore sorely in need of hear­ing the severe, the exclusive and uncompromising word of Jesus: “There is none good, but one, that is God.” Unless we clearly grasp this truth first of all, we are bound to have a subverted notion of God’s benevolence, of our own goodness, and even of such things as joy and peace and blessing.

God is good. This means that He is the perfect one, the implication of all virtues. This we know of Him through His own revelation. For the apostle testified of that “which was from the beginning,” which they heard and looked upon with the eyes, and handled with their hands of the Word of life. For the life was manifested, and they saw it, and became witnesses of it. And they declared it unto us as the instruments of God’s self-revelation, in order that we might also have the fellowship they have, and their fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and that our joy may be full. But if we are to partake of this fellowship and rejoice with this joy, we must hear the message they bring unto us. For “this is the message which we heard of him, and de­clare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” I John 1:1-5. God is light. There is no darkness in Him. And light in the Bible is the direct opposite, the very antithesis, of darkness. The darkness is of the devil, the ruler of the darkness of this world. It is the lie in all its implications, deceit, malice, hatred, iniquity, corruption, unfaithfulness, unholiness, unrighteousness, and the like. But these are not in God. He is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. He is life, and in Him there is no death. He is love, and there is in Him no hatred, no malice, no envy. He is the truth, and the lie is never in Him. Righteousness and holiness is He, and unrighteousness is not found in Him at all. Justice, truth, faithfulness are His habitation. They are the foundation of His throne. God is good; He is the implication of all per­fections.

Everywhere this truth is emphasized in holy writ. God is goodness. He is light. Perfection is His very being. Goodness is the divine essence. Of the crea­ture it may be said that he possesses goodness as a reflection of the perfections of God. But of the crea­ture it can never be said that it is perfection or good­ness. Even as,—to use a figure,—it might be said of the sun that it is a light, seeing that it has light in itself, in comparison with other heavenly bodies, but that the moon merely bears or possesses light as it reflects the light of the sun, so it must be said of God that He is goodness in His very essence, while the creature can never have any perfection in Himself. God’s very being is virtue. He is a light. He is love. He is righteousness and truth. He is justice and faithfulness, wisdom and knowledge. This implies too that He is good in all His thinking and willing; that all His works, within the divine Essence and with­out, are done in truth and righteousness. This im­plies too that sin is the very antithesis of God. He hates sin, and abhors unrighteousness. He is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. For God “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. And again: “Far be it from God that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.” Job 34:10. He is “not a God that hath pleasure in wicked­ness, neither shall evil dwell with him.” Psalm 5:4. “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.” Ps. 25:8. And “the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth.” Ps. 33:4. “He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Ps. 33:5. In Him is the fountain of life, and in His light only do we see light.” Ps. 36:9. “His right hand is full of righteousness.” Ps. 48:10. “His goodness endureth continually.” Ps. 52:1. “His work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endureth forever.” Ps. 111:3. “He is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.” Ps. 145:17. “And He is purer of eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity.” Hab. 1:13.

This goodness of God is the basis of His holiness. For as the only good He must be and is consecrated to Himself. He seeks Himself in Himself and in all creatures. For in His goodness, and therefore also in His holiness, God is the incomparable one. The holiness of God does not merely indicate that He is separate from sinners and from sin. It signifies no less that in His infinite goodness and the glory of His perfections He is distinct from all creatures. He is different, fundamentally, absolutely different from us, not only as sinners but also as creatures regardless of sin. No one is good but one, that is God. We must not say that He is the highest good. For this term however good its intention may be, does not express the truth of God’s goodness. It puts Him in a class.

It denotes His goodness as the greatest of all, as to be found only at the top of an ascending scale, the end of all our conceptions. But nevertheless, it com­pares Him; it makes Him part of a series. And God’s goodness is absolute, and therefore also His holiness. It is incomparable, it stands alone, not only in dis­tinction from perfection found elsewhere, but in the sense that He is the only good. And as God is the sole good, it follows that He is consecrated to Him­self. He loves Himself. He seeks Himself and His own glory. He seeks and loves Himself in Himself, but also in all creation. That is God’s holiness. With us it is our highest calling to love and seek and be con­secrated to the Lord our God. To love and seek self is sin. With God, however, it is exactly the reverse. He seeks Himself, and will give His glory to none other. And the reason for both lies in the fact that God is good, and that He is the sole good, that there is no goodness apart from God. He is the Holy One of Israel. Glory be to His holy name!

This holiness of God is emphasized throughout Scripture. God, according to Scripture, is the holy one par excellence. It is especially in His holiness that the incomparable character of God’s being ap­pears, and that. He is distinct from all creatures. Hence, we read in Isaiah 40:25: “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the holy one.” In this oratorical question it is emphasized that God is the incomparable one. He stands alone. He can­not be classified. He is by and of Himself. Never can the comparison of Him be so made that He stands on the basis of equality with the creature. This incom­parability of God, according to this text, is especially revealed in His holiness. It is in and through His holiness that He is the incomparable one, that He is absolutely distinct from all creatures. We must note too that the term holiness here is used absolutely, as a name of God. He is the holy one. This concep­tion of the holiness of God as His divine ethical vir­tue par excellence is strongly emphasized in Isaiah 6:1-5: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts.” Let us notice that the seraphims here give expression to what is evidently their main and combined impression of the revelation of God as they stand in His presence. He emphatically reveals Himself here as the holy one. The seraphims express this impression emphatically by their threefold repetition, “Holy, holy, holy,” and they reflect it in this attitude, as they cover their feet and their faces with their wings. This also implies that God is glorious in His holiness. The divine holi­ness and glory are inseparably connected. His holi­ness is His glory. And so they add to their praise: “The whole earth is full of his glory.” From this we conclude that God’s holiness is His infinite, divine, ethical perfection, concentrated in and consecrated to Himself. It is that divine virtue according to which He eternally wills and seeks and is consecrated to Him­self as the only good. This is further corroborated by the attitude of the prophet who receives this vision of the majesty and glory of the holy one. In the presence and in the sight of the holiness of the Sov­ereign of heaven and earth, he is wholly perplexed and amazed, realizing that he is but a sinful man.

Significant, from this viewpoint, is also Isaiah 10:17: “And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his holy one for a flame; and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day.” God is both the light and the holy one of Israel. Light, as we have mentioned before, is a figure denoting the impli­cation of all ethical perfection in God. It is here used as a synonym with holiness. The holy one of Israel is Israel’s light. As the holy one He is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. And the destruc­tion which, according to this prophecy, God as the holy one shall cause by fire and flame is to be wrought among the Assyrians, who, according to the context, had denied that the God of Israel is truly sovereign, and had boasted in their own strength and work, al­though they were but the ax in the hand of Israel’s God. The holy one, therefore, and that too in the capacity of being holy, maintains Himself in His glory and sovereignty in divine perfection over against the enemy of His name. What is emphasized here once more is not only that God’s holiness is ethical perfec­tion, but that exactly in His divine perfection He stands alone, and is incomparable. For while in all the creature its goodness consists in its being con­secrated to God and His glory, God’s holiness is His absolute self-consecration. He seeks Himself as the only good, and all creatures for His own name’s sake. For this reason it is, according to Isaiah 29:19, the meek that shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor of men shall rejoice in the holy one of Israel.