By Jonathan Edwards, 1722
"A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there." Isaiah 35:8-9
What is holiness?I shall answer to this question in three things which fully comprehend the nature of holiness, which are not in themselves distinct as so many parts of holiness, but the same thing in three different lights, to give us the fuller understanding of it.
First. Holiness is a conformity of the heart and the life unto God. Whatever outward appearance men may make by their external actions, as if they were holy, yet if it proceeds not from a most inward, hearty and sincere holiness within, it is nothing. Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart [2 Kings 14:1-20]; all that he did was not acceptable to God, who searches the hearts and tries the thoughts of the children of men, and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
And whatever holiness they may pretend to have in their hearts, whatever hypocritical pangs of affection they may have had, it is all to no purpose except it manifest itself in the holiness of their lives and conversations: James 1:26-27, "If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this--to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." And in the second chapter, eighteenth verse: "Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." And in the nineteenth and twentieth verses, "You Believe that there is one God; you do well--the devils also believe and tremble. But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" So that there must be a conformity of both heart and life to God, in order to true holiness.
Holiness is the image of God, his likeness, in him who is holy. By being conformed unto God is not meant a conformity to him in his eternity, or infinity, or infinite power. These are God's inimitable and incommunicable attributes; but a conformity to his will, whereby he wills things that are just, right, and truly excellent and lovely; whereby he wills real perfection, and goodness; and perfectly abhors everything that is really evil, unjust, and unreasonable. And it is not only a willing as God wills, but also a doing as he does--in acting holily and justly and wisely and mercifully, like him. It must become natural thus to be, and thus to act; it must be the constant inclination and new nature of the soul, and then the man is holy, and not before.
Second. Holiness is a conformity to Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus is perfectly conformed unto God, for he is God. He is his express image. Now Christ is nearer to us in some respects than God the Father, for he is our Mediator and is more immediately conversant with us; John 1:18, "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." Jesus Christ, he has been with us in the flesh and as one of us he appeared in the form of a servant, and we have seen his holiness brightly shining forth in all his actions. We have seen his holy life; we have a copy drawn, and an example set for us.Now holiness is a conformity unto this copy: he who copies after Jesus Christ, after that copy which he has set us and which is delivered to us by the evangelists, is holy. He who diligently observes the life of Christ in the New Testament need not be at a loss to know what holiness is. Christ commands us to follow his example. Matthew 11:29, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls."
Have you ever read the four Gospels, and did you not observe in the life of Christ wonderful instances of humility, love to God, love to holiness; wonderful instances of zeal for God's glory; steadfastness in resisting temptations, entire trust and reliance on God, strict adherence to all his commands; astonishing instances of condescension, humility, meekness, lowliness, love to men, love to his enemies, charity and patience? Why, this is holiness. When we imitate Christ in these things, then are we holy, and not until then.
Third. Holiness is a conformity to God's laws and commands. When all God's laws without exception are written in our hearts, then are we holy. If you can go along with David in Psalm 119, where he speaks of his love and delight in God's law, in your own experience; when a man feels in some good measure what David declares concerning himself towards the law of God--then may God's law be said to be written in his heart. By God's law I mean all his precepts and commands, especially as they are delivered to us in the gospel, which is the fulfillment of the law of God. If you feel Christ's Sermon upon the Mount engraved on the fleshly tables of your hearts, you are truly sanctified.
The new covenant is written in the hearts of those that are sanctified, of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks, 31:31,33, "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."The commands and precepts which God has given us are all pure, perfect, and holy. They are the holiness of God in writing, and, when the soul is conformed to them, they have holiness of God upon their hearts; II Corinthians 3:3, "Forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart." When the soul is molded and fashioned according to the image of God, the example of Christ, and the rules of the gospel--then it is holy, and not else.
II. Those that have not this holiness--are not in the way to heaven. Those that are not thus conformed to God, to Christ, and God's commands--are not in the way to heaven and happiness; they are not traveling that road; the road they are in will never bring them there. Whatever hopes and expectations they may have, they will never reach heaven except they alter their course, turn about, and steer towards another point; for the way is a way of holiness, and the unclean shall not pass over it. Christ said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into heaven, but yet he left it absolutely possible with God that it might be; but he said positively and without exception that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. None but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, whatever profession they may make, whatever church they may be in: for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
Whatever external acts of religion they may perform, however they may be constant attendants on the public or family worship, and live outwardly moral lives; yes, what is more, if they speak with the tongues of men and angels, though they could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though they have faith that they can remove mountains; though they bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and though they give their very bodies to be burnt: yet if they have not charity or holiness--which is the same thing, for by charity is intended love to God as well as man; though they have and do all those things, yet they are nothing; they are as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal (see I Corinthians 13). It is good that we should be thoroughly convinced of the most absolute and indispensable necessity of a real, spiritual, active and vital—yes, immortal--holiness.
III. We shall now, in the third place, give the reasons why none that are not holy can be in the way to heaven; and why those who never are so can never obtain the happiness thereof.
First. It is contrary to God's justice--to make a wicked man eternally happy.
Second. It is impossible by reason of God's holiness, that anything should be united to God and brought to the enjoyment of him--which is not holy. Now, is it possible that a God of infinite holiness, who is perfect and hates sin with perfect hatred, who is infinitely lovely and excellent--could embrace in his arms a filthy, abominable creature, a hideous, detestable monster, more hateful than a toad and more poisonous than a viper? So hateful, base, and abominable--is every unsanctified man, even the best hypocrite and most painted sepulchers of them all.
How impossible is it that this should be, that such loathsome beings, the picture of the devil, should be united to God: should be a member of Christ, a child of God, be made happy in the enjoyment of his love and the smiles of his countenance, should be in God and God in them? It is therefore as impossible for an unholy thing to be admitted unto the happiness of heaven, as it is for God to be turned into nothing. For it is as impossible that God should love sin as it is for him to cease to be, and it is as impossible for him to love a wicked man that has not his sin purified, and it is as impossible for him to enjoy the happiness of heaven except God loves him, for the happiness of heaven consists in the enjoyment of God's love.
Third. It would defile heaven and interrupt the happiness of the saints and angels. It would defile that holy place, the Holy of Holies, and would fright and terrify the sanctified spirits, and obstruct them in their delightful ecstasies of devotion, and would quite confound the heavenly society. How would one unsanctified person interrupt their happiness, and fill those regions all over with the loathsome stench of his sin and filthiness!
Fourth. The nature of sin necessarily implies misery. That soul that remains sinful must of a necessity of nature remain miserable, for it is impossible there should be any happiness where such a hateful thing as sin reigns and bears rule. Sin is the most cruel tyrant that ever ruled, seeks nothing but the misery of his subjects; as in the very keeping of God's commands there is great reward, so in the very breaking of them there is great punishment.
Sin is a woeful confusion and dreadful disorder in the soul, whereby everything is put out of place, reason trampled under foot and passion advanced in its place, conscience dethroned and abominable lusts reigning. As long as it is so, there will unavoidably be a dreadful confusion and perturbation in the mind; the soul will be full of worry, perplexities, uneasiness, storms and frights, and thus it must necessarily be to all eternity, except the Spirit of God puts all to rights. So that if it were possible that God should desire to make a wicked man happy while he is wicked, the nature of the thing would not allow of it, but it would be simply and absolutely impossible.
Thus I have given some reasons of the doctrine--why it must needs be that those that are not holy cannot be in the way to heaven. Many more reasons might be offered, which the time will not allow to take notice of at this time; but these alone would have been enough to certify us that none but those who are holy ever attain to a crown of glory, if God had not expressly said that without holiness no man should see the Lord.