Giving Thanks for God's Holiness (Psa. 97:12), Part 1

Jonathan Edward's The Religious Affections, John Piper's lecture on Preaching as Worship (TrinJ 16) and my study of holiness in the OT converged in a sermon this morning on Psalm 97.

I've been listening to The Religious Affections in spare moments for nearly a year. At times it is brilliant. At others monotonously stuporific. His thesis is that true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections. His biblical-theological support for his thesis is unassailable. (Pdf copy of Religious Affections here.)

Edwards defines the affections as "the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclinations and the will." He clarifies this by noting that the inclinations and the will are actually the same thing, just viewed from two different perspectives. It is called "inclination" when viewed from the angle of desire; it is called "will" when viewed from the angle of decision and action.

Edwards asserts, rightly I believe, that "there never was any thing considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man, by the things of religion, until the mind was deeply affected by those things." Therefore, one of the chief aims of preaching is to stir up the affections so that the will is vigorously and sensibly active in responding to God's truth.

In Piper's language, preaching should "bring into sharp focus God as the all-satisfying Treasure of our lives." Our aim should be "that God would become so gloriously all-satisfying in our lives that nothing can lure us away from him."

What holy affections should God's holiness stir in me? How does God's holiness contribute to His being the "all-satisfying Treasure" of my life? In the Psalms alone I found the following:

Inspired responses to God's holiness
  • give thanks for it (Psa 30:4; 97:12)
  • worship Him for it (Psa. 29:2; 96:9; 99:5, 9)
  • praise Him because of it (Psa. 99:3)
  • exalt Him for it (Psa. 99:5, 9)
Inspired responses to God’s holy name
  • it is the object of our trust (Psa 33:21)
  • bless it (Psa. 103:1; 145:21)
  • glory or boast in it (Psa. 105:3)
  • give thanks to it (Psa. 106:47)
Most of these responses made immediate sense to me. However, giving thanks at the remembrance of God's holiness did not. Why is thankfulness or gratitude the response to God's holiness? I can't honestly say that my previous understanding of God's holiness has ever moved me to be thankful. What is it about God's holiness that should move me to thankfulness?

The answer to that question depends upon my understanding of what God's holiness is. Based on my study so far, here's my best understanding.

Holiness, when used in reference to God, normally denotes God's separateness from all things due to the unique excellence of His being and character. In this sense, God's holiness is not one moral attribute among His many. His holiness is not equal to His moral excellence. His holiness is a consequence of His moral excellence. He is separate from all things because He is superior in both His being and His character.

I conclude that separateness is the essential component of holiness, whether in reference to things, human persons, or God, for the following reasons:

1. With reference to things and human persons, all examples from Scripture involve the person or thing being separated from ordinary use, service, or purpose unto God for His possession, use, service, or purpose. For a fairly comprehensive list of the referents of holy and holiness, click here.
  • Things: 7th day (Gen. 2:3); ground (Exod. 3:5), assemblies (Exod. 13:2), war (Jer. 6:4), a fast (Joel 2:5).
  • Persons: 1st born (Exod. 13:2), Israelites (Exod. 19:10), Jesse and sons (1 Sam. 16:5), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5).
2. Since God teaches us about His holiness by first acquainting us with holiness applied to things and persons, His holiness must be essentially analogous to the holiness of things and persons. Since separateness is the essential component of holiness with person and things, I assume it is the essential component with God.

3. My assumption that separateness is the essential component of divine holiness appears to be substantiated by texts that connect God's holiness with his incomparableness (Exod. 15:11; Isa. 40:25) and his transcendence (Psa. 97:9, 12; Isa. 57:15).

If God's holiness is His separateness from all things , what is it that makes Him separate? As I read the OT data, it is the unique excellence of God's being and character that separates him from all things.

The unique excellence of His being involves His attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternality, immutability, self-existence, self-sufficiency, infinity, and sovereignty. The unique excellence of His character involves His love, righteousness, justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, wrathfulness, truthfulness, and jealousy.

In my next post, I'll develop the support for concluding that it is the unique excellence of God's being and character that separates him from all other things.


Randy said…
Interesting post, Phil. I've wondered if we really give due regard to the affections, even thinking we can too easily dismiss them. I think of this in terms of those 'things' that deeply move us, the real 'core values', rightly understood that way b/c they consistently are seen in the actions of our lives.
And the larger question for me has been, "How do we develop, and help others develop, godly affections -- inner inclinations for things of God that are more than mere habit or form or even sheer effort. And yet each of those things (to suggest part of the answer to my own question) -- habit, form, effort -- are part of the process of developing affections that are rightly 'tuned'; at least that would seem to be the way we develop affections in our children. And also, we do it largely by example, which would bring out the relational aspect in all of this. That is, it seems that a fundamental way to develop affection for God and His ways is to spend time with him. Of course that is only made initially possible through prevenient grace and then regeneration -- God Himself is the one who gives right affections.
May not properly interact with the Edwards/Piper angle, but has been much on my mind.

Elizabeth said…
Your post made me think of how one of the reasons God wants us to be holy/seperate is so that we can be a witness for Him to unbelievers. It is a mystery to me how being Christlike and consistent always awakens curiousity, but it is true. Being holy while working with unbelievers allows God to speak to them in ways we will never be able to.

Thanks for your post,

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