Sunday, August 10, 2008

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.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Piper: Preaching as Worship

I found this address by John Piper this morning. It resonates with me and challenges me.

"Let me point to three biblical reasons for believing that preaching is meant to be and to kindle God-exalting worship.

First, I believe it because the Word of God says that everything is to be done in a worshipful, God-centered way: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31); "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col 3:17). If everything is to be radically oriented on magnifying the glory of God and exalting the name of Jesus, how much more preaching. Whatever preaching deals with-and it is to deal with everything-it must be done with a view to begetting and sustaining worship-the valuing and cherishing and displaying of the glory of God.

Second, I believe that preaching is meant to exalt the centrality of God because the Word says that God himself exalts his own centrality in all that he does. And preaching is one of the great things that God does. God's Word in Isa 48:11 is like a great banner flying over all his acts from creation to consummation: "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another." He chose us and predestined us for his glory (Eph 1:6), he created us [believers] for his glory (Isa 43:7), he saved us for his glory (Eph 1:14); he sanctifies us for his glory (2 Thess 1:12). All God does he does to magnify his glory in the earth. Preaching is one of the great things that God does. It is God's work. And therefore the mission of preaching is the mission of God: "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:10). Our aim is worship-the valuing and cherishing and displaying of the greatness and the glory of God.

Finally, I believe that preaching is meant to exalt the centrality of God because the NT teaches that the appointed end of preaching is faith, and faith is the primary covenant requirement of God, precisely because it humbles us and amplifies the trustworthiness and all-sufficiency of God. Repeatedly Paul lines up preaching with faith as its goal: "How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom 10:14, 17). "Since in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through its wisdom, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe" (1 Cor 1:21). "My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor 2:4-5; cf. also Rom 16:25f; 1 Cor 15:11, 14.) The aim of preaching is to beget and sustain faith. Why? Because faith magnifies the power and trustworthiness of God. This is why Paul loves the model of Abraham: Abraham "grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to what he had promised" (Rom 4:20). The heart of saving faith is a spiritual apprehension of the glorious trustworthiness of God in Christ and an earnest embracing of all that God is for us in Christ to satisfy the hunger of the soul.

That is the way Jesus described faith in John 6:35: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." Believing in Jesus means coming to him for the quenching of our souls' thirst. Faith in Christ is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. When we experience that, we magnify the preciousness and worth of God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him-which means we worship.

The aim of preaching, whatever the topic, whatever the text, is this kind of faith-to quicken in the soul a satisfaction with all that God is for us in Jesus, because this satisfaction magnifies God's all-sufficient glory; and that is worship. Therefore the mission of all preaching is soul-satisfying, God-exalting worship."