In a little book -- Holiness, as understood by the Writers of the Bible; A Bible Study by Joseph Agar Beet
-- the thought that by Holiness is meant our relation to God, and the claim He has upon us, has been very carefully worked out. Holy ground was such because 'it stood in special relation
to Himself.' The first-born 'were to stand in a special relation to God as His property
.' So with the entire nation; when God declares that they shall be holy, He means 'that they shall render to Him the devotion He requires.' 'All holy objects stand in a special relation to God as His property.' The priests are said to sanctify themselves; they did this 'by formally placing themselves at God's disposal, or by separating themselves from whatever was inconsistent with the service of God.' 'When God declares He is holy, the word must represent the same idea in the hundreds of passages in which it is predicated of men and things.' 'Holiness is God's claim to the ownership
of men and things; and the objects claimed were called holy. Now, God's claim
was a new and wondrous revelation of His nature. To Aaron God was now the Great Being who had claimed from him a lifelong and exclusive service. This claim
was a new era, not only in his everyday life, but in his conception of God. Consequently the word holy
, which expressed Aaron's relation to God
, was suitably used to express God's relation to Aaron
. In other words, to Aaron and Israel God was holy in the sense that He claimed the exclusive ownership of the entire nation. When men yielded to God the devotion He claimed, they were said to sanctify God.' 'Jehovah and Israel stood in special relation to each other; therefore Jehovah was the Holy One of Israel
, and Israel was Holy to Jehovah
. This mutual relation rested upon God's claim that Israel should specially be His; and this claim implied that in a special manner He would belong to Israel. This claim was a manifestation of the nature of God.' 'The peculiar relation arises from God's own claim, in consequence of which they stand in a new and solemn relation to Him. This may be called objective holiness. This is the most common sense of the word. In this sense God sanctified these objects for Himself. But since some of these objects were intelligent beings, and the others were in control of such, the word sanctify denotes these ones' formal surrender of themselves and their possessions to God. This may be called subjective holiness. From the word holy predicated of God, we learn that God's claim was not merely occasional, but an outflow of His Essence. As the one Being who claims unlimited and absolute ownership and supreme devotion, God is the Holy One.'
In the New Testament the Spirit of God claims the epithet holy 'as being in a very special manner the source and influence of which God is the one and only aim.' Here 'our conception of the holiness of God increases with our increasing perception of the greatness of His claim upon us, and that this claim springs from the very essence of God. In the incarnate Son of God we see the full development and realization of the Biblical idea of holiness. We find Him standing in a special relation to God, and living a life of which the one and only aim is to advance the purposes of God.' We see in Him 'holiness in its highest degree, i.e. the highest conceivable devotion to God and to the advancement of His kingdom.' 'In virtue of His intelligent, hearty, continued appropriation of the Father's purpose, and in virtue of its realization in all the details of the Saviour's life, He was called the Holy One of God.'
'The word saint is very appropriate as a designation of the followers of Christ; for it declares what God requires them to be. By calling His people saints, God declares His will that we live a life of which He is the one and only aim. This is the objective holiness of the Church of Christ. In some passages holiness is set before the people of God as a standard for their attainment. In these passages holy denotes a realization in man of God's purpose that he live a life of which God is the one and only aim. This is the subjective holiness of God's people.
'Holiness is God's claim that His creatures use all their powers and opportunities to work out His purposes. Holiness, thus understood, is an attribute of God. For His claim springs from His nature, even from that love which is the very essence of God. His love to us moves Him to claim our devotion; for only by absolute devotion to Him can we attain our highest happiness.'
'Though without purity we cannot be subjectively holy, yet holiness is much more than purity. Purity is a mere negative excellence; holiness implies the most intense mental and bodily activity of which we are capable. For it is the employment of all our powers and opportunities to advance God's purposes.'
The question 'How we become holy,' is answered thus: 'Our devotion to God is a result of inward spiritual contact with Him who once lived a human life on earth, and now lives a glorified human life on the throne, simply and only to work out the Father's purposes. We live for God because Christ does so, and because Christ lives in us, and we in Him: the Spirit of Christ is the Agent of the spiritual contact with Christ which imparts to us His life, and reproduces in us His life. He is the bearer of the power as well as of the holiness of Christ.'
'That God claims from His people unreserved devotion to Himself, and that what He claims He works in all who believe it, by His own power operating through the inward presence of the Holy Spirit, placing us in spiritual contact with Christ, is the great doctrine of sanctification by faith.'
The same view, that holiness is a relation, had previously been worked out very elaborately by Diestel. In what has been said on redemption and proprietorship as related to holiness (see 'Sixth Day'), we have seen what truth there is in the thought. But holiness is something more. What is holy is not only God-devoted, but God-accepted, God-appropriated, God-possessed. God not only possesses the heart, but absolutely occupies and fills it with His life. It is this makes it holy.
However much truth there be in the above exposition, it hardly meets our desire for an insight into what is one of the highest attributes of the very Being of God. When the seraphs worship Him as the Holy One, and in their Thrice Holy reflect something of the deepest mystery of Godhead, it surely means more than merely the expression of God's claim as Sovereign Proprietor of all.
The mistake appears to originate in taking first the meaning of the word holy from earthly objects, and then from that deducing that holiness in God cannot mean more than it does when applied to men. The Scriptures point to the opposite way. When Old and New Testaments say, 'Be ye holy, for I am holy, I make holy,' they point to God's Holiness as the first, both the reason and the source of ours. We ought first to discover what holiness in God is. When we read at creation of God's sanctifying the Sabbath day, we have to do, not with a thought or word of Moses as to what God had done, but with a Divine revelation of a Power in God greater and more wonderful than creation, the Power which is later on revealed as the deepest mystery of the Divine Being.
This Holiness in God, as it appears to me, cannot be a mere relation. To indicate a relation, tells me nothing positively about the personal character or worth of the related parties. To say that when God sanctifies men He claims them as His own, does not say what the nature is of the work He does for them and in them, or what the Power by which He does it. And yet that word ought to reveal to me what it is that God bestows. To say that that claim has its root in His very nature, and in His love, and that holiness is therefore an attribute, makes it an attribute, not like love or wisdom, immanent in the Divine Being, ere creatures were, but simply an effect of Love, moving God to claim His creatures as His special possession. We should then have no attribute expressive of God's moral perfection. Nor would the word holy of the Son and the Spirit any longer indicate that deep and mysterious communication of the very nature and life of God in which sanctification has its glory. In the Divine holiness we have the highest and inconceivably glorious revelation of the very essence of the Divine Being; in the holiness of the saints the deepest revelation of the change by which their inmost nature is renewed into the likeness of God.