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Rev. IV. 8. " They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.*'
IT is not our purpose to try to unravel any of the mysteries by which our text is surrounded in the Book of Revelation. We shall not even seek to know who those wonderful beings were intended to represent who are described as uttering this tribute of adoration — the four beasts, as they are called in our version. Let us only remark in passing that there is much likeness between what St. John saw in his vision and what the prophet Ezekiel had seen long before ; and that the words of our text suggest very strongly those heard by the prophet Isaiah in the vision described in his sixth chapter. What our text brings most plainly before us is, that those who are in God's immediate presence are for ever overwhelmed with the sense of His holiness and eternal majesty. This, then, is our subject, God's holiness y and how it is felt. Let
GOiys HOLI ESS. 223 us try first to gain some sense of how it is felt in heaven, and then we will compare with that the poor way in which it is felt on earth, and afterwards draw some practical conclusions. How hard it is for us to get any idea of what
heaven is. It is not an easy thing to really /eel thait it is at all. While we go about our daily duties, while we are occupied with all the little changeable things that make up much of the round of everyday life, work and rest, care and pleasure, sickness and health — while we wake, and while we sleep, heaven is going on ; somGwAere, some/iow ; glorious beings that have never known sin live in the unsearchable light of God, and praise Him in glad songs. We have heard tidings of that happy country, we hope to come to it, we trust that some we have loved here on earth are there, but we seem to know so little, and the things of this world have such power over us, that we only now and then are really mastered by the feeling that heaven isy and that indeed it is the only blessed place where any can rest and be at /tome. There is one link of connexion that gives us more real hold on that world than anything else. We know that there is One there clothed in our human nature who was once among us on earth, who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh ; we know He has a right there as God, and that He represents us now, and is preparing a place for us. And, brethren, there is one other thing that brings heaven down into us, that we may afterwards be brought up into heaven, "the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." Well, brethren, in some such way as this we feel after heaven, but when our spirits fall back faint to earth we have not entered that blessed place. And because we have not entered heaven we cannot conceive how /u?ly it is.
224 GOnS HOLI ESS. We can imagine much splendour, an excess of light, white-robed angels, " glad songs that never
cease," those who have departed this life in the faith and fear of God ; but we can only feel the Holiness of God's more immediate presence by what we feel of holiness now, here on earth. To feel the holiness of heaven we must be holy, as those who are in heaven are holy. How can we then get an idea at all approaching to the sense of our text, the feeling of those who " rest not day and night, saying. Holy, holy, holy. Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come V* We cannot feel what they feel, as they feel it, but we can dwell on words like those in our text till they lift us up a little nearer to that world, and we become somewhat more able to guess what it must be. For instance, such words make us sure that the chief thing in heaven is the sense of God's presence, and of what God is. It is not merely a place where pleasure is perfect, where everybody is happy, and where nothing ever comes to mar that happiness ; it is all that, but that is quite a secondary matter ; the great first thing of all is God, He fills all minds. There is not a thought or feeling that does not centre in Him. Joy is the joy of the Lord, the gladness of His salvation ; memory is full of His merciful forgiveness and guidance. The happy bands of those once on earth, now for ever united in heaven, think less of each other than of Him. All employment is His service. Everything is full of God. But what is the uppermost thought about God among the hosts above } If we may judge from the visions of holy men written in the Bible, must we not say that those nearest God — the cherubim and seraphim — seem for ever overwhelmed wit the sense of His holiness.
GOiyS HOLI ESS. 225 There is something very striking in this. We are apt to think that a strong sense of anything depends very much upon its being contrasted with the opposite. Do we not imagine sometimes that our sense of happiness would not continue to be very great when there was never any care or pain to set it off, as it were, and that we should lose our sense of holiness if we never knew sin ? This is no doubt a mistake. The beings in heaven who have a full sense of holiness are those that have never fallen, and the centre of their praise and adoration is the Holy God who cannot be tempted with sin, In this world we think and feel very much by contrasts, perhaps because it is such a mixed world ; but in heaven, without any pain they enjoy endless pleasure, without. the approach of sin they glory in the perfect holiness of God. If we may take poor human words as sufficient to carry God's message in more respects than one, may we not learn something from the way in which the word Holy is repeated in our text } If the repetition means what we should mean by it, it seems to show that those who utter this praise to God are, as we have said, overwhelmed by the sense of His holiness. On earth, when we repeat a word in this way, it is because when uttered once it does not seem to have relieved our mind of its meaning, and it seems as if by saying it again we could express more. There is no real difference, except in this sense, between the words "for ever" and " for ever and ever," and yet most minds gain a little more feeling of endless duration from the repeated word. Do not the words of our text, then, bring to our minds the very strongest feeling of
.'prod's holiness when they represent the glorious beings in His close presence as so overwhelmed Q
226 GOjyS HOLI ESS. with His holiness that "they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." Having thus tried (but how feebly) to give sonie sense of how they feel God's holiness in heaven, let us compare with it the way in which God's holiness is felt on earth. It is a dreadful contrast By far the greatest number of mankind have not the least idea of what holiness is, and the beings they worship are as full of sin as themselves, or even more so. But where the Bible has brought its revelation of God in His holiness, how false, how weak men's sense of holiness is through their own sin. Even in this congregation it is not uncharitable to say, because, alas ! it is too certainly true, that some feel repelled rather than attracted by God's holiness. Brethren, have we not all felt at some time in our lives as if we would rather hear of God's being anything than holy. As if there were something very awful in His holiness which made us strangers to Him. Have not some of us gone 'about with an intolerable sense of God's being unchangeably holy, and of ourselves being sinners against him ? . It is all too true. Unhappy those who remain in sin and can think calmly of God's holiness. Happy those who feel God's holiness painfully till it leaves them no rest in sin. God is un-
changeably holy, but, blessed be His Holy ame, we are not unchangeably sinful. He cannot change in holiness towards us, but, in His love. He has made it possible for us all to change towards Him. And O brethren, if we will but turn from sin, that we may through God's grace be made holy. He will accept us in Christ our Saviour, and fill our forgiven spirits with such joy that He is Holy as will be indeed the earnest that we ourselves shall become
GOD'S HOLI ESS. 227 holy also. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and \.o cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Those who have given themselves to God are no longer repelled by His holiness — they delight in it. They grow in grace until nothing is so precious to them as the certainty that some day they will be holy. They cling to the sense they have of God's holiness as the ground of this trust. When they are overtaken and fall into sin, they rise from their grief to the thought that God has remained holy — that no sin can touch Him ; they give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness, for He has said, " Be ye holy ;" has made the holiness of all who trust Him to be as certain as His own. " Beloved, now are we the Sons of God. It doth not yet appear what we shall be ; but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Hivty for we shall see Him as He is." These thoughts and feelings are natural to those who have known forgiveness ; they are the voice of the renewing Spirit carrying on His work to perfection ; but how deaf we are to His gracious teachings. It is very horrible to think how selfish, and cold, and forgetful
it is possible to become after having felt on God's side. So that those who have once rejoiced in the thought that God is holy sometimes live as though it were not so. Who would think, from the conduct of some who profess and call themselves Christians, that they were kindred to God in His holiness — partakers of the Divine ature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world, their bodies the temples of the Holy Ghost } ay, brethren, in how few of our lives could these things be read ! And then, as a natural consequence, even when we meet to worship God,what sense have we of His holiness } What a
2i8 GOL^S HOLI ESS. marvellous contrast there is between the reverence of the perfect beings who worship God above and the reverence of us sinners in coming before God here below ! The glorious archangels veil their faces with their wings, and some of us, even when kneeling, look about us. There they rest not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy." Here, when for a short time we meet to worship, even when we take the same words upon our lips, how little reverence is felt One of the thoughts given us of heaven is that they sing the praises of God ; but who dare imagine them, thinking only of the time they sang, and not praising God with their hearts ; and yet, do we never do this ? Do not let us say within ourselves that we must not be put in comparison with the choirs above. We ought to put ourselves in comparison with whatever will show us where we are wrong that we may amend. " God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and
in truth." Repeating prayers or responses without meaning, the words is not worship. Singing or chanting canticles, with nothing rising from the heart, is not worship. Kneeling, and standing, and bowing, without the adoration of the spirit, is not worship. These things are mockery ; they are biasphemy. To come before God thus as a habit makes us not better, but worse. It makes religion a dead body, not a living spirit. And our Holy Father, whose will is our sanctification, suffers such to mingle among those who worship Him. It is dreadful. Yet let not one true worshipper whose heart is really set to seek God be discouraged because at times the thoughts will wander, only let it be a grief that they should wander ; let there be a constant endeavour to lose nothing from the heart, and the poor, imperfect prayers and praises will
GOnS HOLI ESS. 229 come up with acceptance to the Father through the much incense of the Saviour's sacrifice. And oh, brethren, how glad we shall be to exchange the sadly faulty worship of this lower world for that blessed home where " they rest not day and night crying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was and is, and is to come." O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil, and make us t/te sons of God, and heirs of eternal life ; Grant us, we beseech Thee, that having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as He is pure ; that when He shall appear again with power and great glory we may be made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom; where with TItee, O Father and Thee, O Holy Ghost, He liveth and reigneth ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Rusthall, ovember 13th, 1864.
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