PRACTICAL PIETY by Hannah More, 1811
Christianity, as we have attempted to show, calls for the same standards of
goodness in different stations and in every person. No one can be allowed to
rest in moral laxity and plead his exemption for aiming higher. Those who
keep its standards in their eye, though they may not reach the highest
attainments, will not be satisfied with such as are unworthy. The obvious
inferiority will produce compunction; compunction will stimulate them to
press on. Those who lose sight of their standard, however, will be satisfied
with the height they have already reached. They are not likely to be the
object of God's favor who take their determined stand on the very lowest
step in the scale of perfection, who do not even aspire above it, whose aim
seems to do not be so much to please God as to escape punishment. Many
people will doubtless be accepted, though their progress has been small.
Their difficulties may have been great, their natural capacity weak; their
temptations were strong, and their instruction may have been defective.
Revelation has furnished injunctions as well as motives to holiness; not
only motives, but examples. "Be therefore perfect" (according to your
measure and degree) "as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." And what
says the Old Testament? It accords with the New: "Be holy, for I the Lord
your God am holy." This was the injunction of God himself, not given
exclusively to Moses, the leader and legislator, or to a few distinguished
officers, but to an immense body of people, even to the whole assembled host
of Israel; to men of all ranks, professions, capacities, and characters, to
the ministers of religion and the uninstructed, to enlightened rulers, and
to feeble women. "God," says an excellent writer, "had already given to his
people particular laws suited to their different needs and various
conditions, but the command to be holy was a general (or universal) law."
"Who is like unto You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like unto You,
glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" This is perhaps
the most sublime praise addressed to God which the Scriptures have recorded.
The word "holy" is more frequently affixed to the name of God than to any
other. It has been remarked that the great blasphemy of the Assyrian
monarch, Sennacherib, is not focused on his hostility against the Almighty
God, but his crime is aggravated because he had committed it against the
Holy One of Israel.
When God condescended to give a pledge for the performance of His promise,
He swears by His holiness, as if it was the distinguishing quality which was
more especially binding. It seems connected and interwoven with all the
divine perfections. Which of His excellences can we contemplate as separated
from this? Is not His justice stamped with sanctity? It is free from any
tincture of vindictiveness, and is therefore a holy justice. His mercy has
none of the partiality or favoritism, or capricious fondness of human
kindness, but is a holy mercy. His holiness is not more the source of His
mercies than of His punishments. If His holiness in His severities to us
needed a justification, there cannot be a more substantial illustration of
it than the passage already quoted. For God is called "glorious in holiness"
immediately after He had vindicated the honor of His name by the miraculous
destruction of the army of Pharaoh.
Does it not follow "That a righteous Lord loves righteousness," and that He
will require in His creatures a desire to imitate as well as to adore that
attribute by which He Himself wills to be distinguished? We cannot indeed,
like God, be essentially holy. God is the essence of holiness, and we can
have no holiness nor any other good thing unless we derive it from Him. It
is His by nature, but our privilege.
If God loves holiness because it is His image, He must consequently hate sin
because it defaces His image. If He glorifies His own mercy and goodness in
rewarding virtue, He no less vindicates the honor of His holiness in the
punishment of vice. A perfect God can no more approve of sin in His
creatures than He can commit it Himself. He may forgive sin on His own
conditions, but there are no conditions on which He can be reconciled to it.
The infinite goodness of God may delight in the beneficial purposes to which
His infinite wisdom has made the sins of His creatures to serve, but sin
itself will always be abhorrent to His nature. His wisdom may turn it to a
merciful end, but His indignation at the offence cannot be diminished. He
loves humankind, for He cannot but love His own work. He hates sin; for that
was man's own invention, and no part of the work which God had made. Even in
the imperfect administration of human laws, impunity of crimes would be
construed into approval of theirs.
The law of holiness then, is a law binding in all people without
distinction, not limited to the period nor to the people to whom it was
given. It reached through the whole Old Testament period, and extends with
wider demands and higher sanctions, to every Christian of every
denomination, of every age and every country.
A more sublime motive cannot be found as to why we should be holy than
because "the Lord our God is holy." Men of the world have no objection to
the terms virtue, morality, integrity, rectitude, but they associate
something hypocritical with the term "holiness," and neither use it in a
good sense when applied to others, nor would wish to have it applied to
themselves, but apply it with a little suspicion, and not a little derision,
to Puritans and "enthusiasts." This epithet however is surely rescued from
every injurious association if we consider it as the chosen attribute of the
Most High. We do not presume to apply the terms virtue, honesty and morality
to God, but we ascribe holiness to Him because He first ascribed it to
Himself, as the consummation of all His perfections.
Shall so imperfect a being as man then, ridicule the application of this
term to others, or be ashamed of it himself? There is a reason indeed which
should make him ashamed of the appropriation: that of not deserving it. This
comprehensive appellation includes all the Christian graces, all the virtues
in their just proportion, order, and harmony. And as in God, glory and
holiness are united, so the Apostle combines "sanctification and honor" as
the glory of man.
Traces of the holiness of God may be found in His works, to those who view
them with the eye of faith. They are more plainly visible in His
providences; but it is in His Word that we must chiefly look for the
manifestations of His holiness. He is everywhere described as perfectly holy
in Himself, as a Model to be imitated by His creatures.
The doctrine of redemption is inseparably connected with the doctrine of
sanctification. As one writer has observed, "If the blood of Christ
reconciles us to the justice of God, the Spirit of Christ is to reconcile us
to the holiness of God." When we are told therefore that Christ is made unto
us "righteousness," we are in the same place taught that He is made unto us
"sanctification"; that is, He is both Justifier and Sanctifier. In vain
shall we deceive ourselves by resting on His sacrifice, while we neglect to
imitate His example.
The glorious spirits which surround the throne of God are not represented as
singing Hallelujahs to His omnipotence, nor even to His mercy, but they
perpetually cry "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts." It is significant,
too, that the angels who adore Him for His holiness are the ministers of His
This infinitely blessed Being then, to whom angels and archangels, and all
the hosts of heaven are continually ascribing holiness, has commanded us to
be holy. To be holy because God is holy, is both an argument and a command:
an argument founded on the perfections of God, and a command to imitate Him.
This command is given to creatures, fallen indeed, but to whom God
graciously promises strength for the imitation. If in God holiness implies
an aggregate of perfection, in humanity, even in our low degree, it is an
incorporation of the Christian graces.
The holiness of God indeed is not limited; ours is bounded, finite,
imperfect. Yet let us dare to extend our little sphere. Let our desires be
large, though our capacities are small. Let our aims be lofty, though our
attainments are low. Let us be careful to see that no day pass without some
increase in our holiness, some added height in our aspiration, some wider
expansion in the compass of our virtues. Let us strive every day for some
superiority to the preceding day, something that shall distinctly mark the
passing scene with progress; something that shall inspire a humble hope that
we are less unfit for heaven today than we were yesterday.
The celebrated artist who has recorded that he passed no day without drawing
a line, drew it not for repetition, but for progress; not to produce a given
number of strokes, but to forward his work, to complete his design. The
Christian, like the painter, does not draw his lines at random. We have a
Model to imitate as well as an outline to fill. Every touch conforms us more
and more to the great Original. He who has transfused most of the life of
God into his soul has copied it most successfully.
"To seek happiness," says one of the Fathers, "is to desire God, and to find
Him in that happiness." Our very happiness therefore is not our independent
possession. It flows from that eternal Mind which is the Source and Sum of
happiness. In vain we look for felicity in all around us. It can only be
found in that original fountain, where we and all we are and have, are
derived. Where then is the imaginary wise man of the school of Zeno? What is
the perfection of virtue supposed by Aristotle? They have no existence but
in the romance of philosophy.
Happiness must be imperfect in an imperfect state. Our Christian faith is
introductory happiness, and points to its perfection; but as the best people
possess it but imperfectly, they cannot be perfectly happy. Nothing can
confer completeness which is itself incomplete. "With You, O Lord, is the
fountain of life, and in Your light only we shall see light."
Whatever shall still remain lacking in our attainments, and much will still
remain, let this last, greatest, highest consideration stimulate our faint
exertions—that God has negatively promised the beatific vision, the
enjoyment of His presence to this attainment—by specifically proclaiming
that without holiness no man shall see His face. To know God is the
foundation of that eternal life which will hereafter be perfected by seeing
Him. As there is no stronger reason why we must not look for perfect
happiness in this life than because there is no perfect holiness, so the
nearer we advance toward holiness, the greater progress we shall make
towards perfect happiness. We must cultivate those tendencies and tempers
here which must be carried to perfection in a happier place.
But since holiness is the essential ingredient of happiness, so must it be
its precursor. As sin has destroyed our happiness, so sin must be destroyed
before our happiness can be restored. Our nature must be renovated before
our felicity can be established. This is according to the nature of things
as well as agreeable to the law and will of God. Let us then carefully look
to the subduing in our inmost hearts all those dispositions that are unlike
God, all those actions, thoughts and tendencies that are contrary to God.
Independently therefore of all the other motives to holiness which our faith
suggests; independently of the fear of punishment, independently even of the
hope of glory, let us be holy from this ennobling, elevating motive, because
the Lord our God is holy. And when our virtue flags, let it be renewed by
this imperative motive, backed by this irresistible argument. The motive for
imitation, and the Being to be imitated seem almost to identify us with
infinity. It is a connection which endears, an assimilation which dignifies,
a resemblance which elevates. The apostle has added to the prophet an
assurance which makes the crown and consummation of the promise, that though
we know not yet what we shall be, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see
Him as He is."
In what a beautiful variety of glowing expressions, and admiring strains, do
the Scripture worthies delight to represent God! They speak not only in
relation to what He is to them, but to the supreme excellence of His own
transcendent perfections. Those who dwell with unwearied repetition on the
adorable theme ransack language; they exhaust all the expressions of praise
and wonder and admiration, all the images of astonishment and delight to
laud and magnify His glorious name. They praise him, they bless Him, they
worship Him, they glorify Him, they give thanks to Him for His great glory,
saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of
the majesty of Your glory."
They glorify Him in relation to themselves. "I will magnify You, O Lord my
strength. My help comes of God. The Lord Himself is the portion of my
inheritance." At another time soaring with a noble unselfishness and quite
losing sight of self and all created glories, they adore Him for His
excellencies. "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge
of God!" Then bursting to a rapture of adoration, and burning with a more
intense flame, they assemble His attributes: "To the King eternal, immortal,
invisible, be honor and glory forever and ever." One is lost in admiration
of His wisdom. His ascription is "to the only wise God." Another in
triumphant strains overflows with transport at the consideration of the
attribute of His holiness: "Lord, who is like unto You, there is none holy
as the Lord. Sing praises unto the Lord, oh you saints of His, and give
thanks unto Him for a remembrance of His holiness."
The prophets and apostles were not deterred from pouring out the
overflowings of their fervent spirits, they were not restrained from
celebrating the perfections of their Creator through the fear of being
called "enthusiasts." The saints of old were not prevented from breathing
out their rapturous Hosannas to the King of saints, through the cowardly
dread of being branded as fanatics. The conceptions of their minds expanded
with the view of the glorious constellation of the Divine attributes; and
the affections of their hearts warmed with the thought that those attributes
were all concentrated in mercy. They display a sublime oblivion of
themselves, forgetting everything but God. Their own needs dwindle to a
point. Their own concerns and the universe itself shrink into nothing. They
seem absorbed in the dazzling brilliance of Deity, lost in the radiant beams
of His infinite glory.