Sanctification must remain sanctification. It may not arbitrarily be robbed of its significance, nor be exchanged for something else. It must always signify the making holy of what is unholy or less holy.
Care must be taken not to confound sanctification with justification; a common mistake, frequently made by thoughtless Scripture readers. Hence the importance of a thorough understanding of this difference. Being left unnoticed, it may lead to confused preaching, which causes one-sidedness; and active and thoughtful men, invariably systematize their one-sidedness.
What, then, is the difference? According to our ancient theologians it is fourfold:
1. Justification works for man; sanctification in man.
2. Justification removes the guilt; sanctification the stain.
3. Justification imputes to us an extraneous righteousness: sanctification works a righteousness inherent as our own.
4. Justification is at once completed; sanctification increases gradually; hence remains imperfect.
In the main the answer is correct, but insufficient to meet present error. It is shallow, external, and incomplete; makes too much of righteous-making and holy-making, while it does not consider righteousness and holiness, a correct idea of which is absolutely necessary for the clear understanding of justification and sanctification.
Let us examine these fundamental ideas, first, in God Himself. It becomes evident at once that the words, "Our God is righteous," impress us otherwise than, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!"
The latter impresses us with the feeling that the, name of Jehovah is infinitely exalted above the low level of this impure and sinful life; we discover a distance between Him and ourselves which, as it widens in more transcendent holiness, casts us back into ourselves as impure creatures, while it causes His Being to be resplendent in the light unapproachable. If the angels exalting His holiness cover their faces with their wings, how much more ought we sinful men consider it with covered face and in godly fear! "The Lord is of purer eyes than to behold evil," impresses us with the deep sense of God's unspeakable sensitiveness, which is so keen that even the faintest suggestion of sin or impurity arouses in Him such antipathy that He can not bear the sight of it.
But guilt is out of the question. In the presence of the divine holiness we do not feel guilty, but are overwhelmed by the consciousness of our utter uncleanness and wickedness. Even among men we do not always feel quite satisfied with ourselves. Our brother's warmer zeal and love often make us feel ashamed. Yet the feeling does not amount to loathing of self. But in the presence of the holiness of God we feel at once with Isaiah our spiritual impurity, and are inclined to cry for a live coal from the altar to sanctify our lips; and the word "loathing of self " is not too strong to express our feeling as we prostrate ourselves before the holiness of the Lord Jehovah.
This establishes the antithesis at once. The divine holiness in its most exalted aspect affects us, not with fear of punishment, or with anguish, because we owe a debt that we can not pay; but with dissatisfaction with ourselves, with abhorrence of our uncleanness, and contempt for our righteousnesses which are as filthy rags. It makes us feel, not our guilt, but our sin; not our condemnation, but our hopeless wickedness; it does not crush us under the penalty of the law, but it causes us to be consumed by our impurity; it does not overwhelm us by righteousness, but it uncovers our unholiness and inward corruption.
But the divine righteousness affects us altogether differently. It does not impress me with the transcendence of His exalted Covenant name as the divine holiness; but in God's hand it oppresses me, pursues me, leaves me no rest, seizes me, and breaks me to pieces under its weight. His holiness makes the soul thirst after holiness, and with sorrow we see His majesty depart. But His righteousness antagonizes the soul, which does not desire it, but struggles to escape from it.
Sometimes it seems different, but only seemingly so. Godly men in the Old and New Covenants frequently invoke the divine righteousness. "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?'' (Gen. xviii.25) This divine upholding of the right is the strength, the prospect, and the consolation of His oppressed people. This is why in the closing article of their Confession our fathers cry for the day of judgment, when as the righteous judge He shall destroy all His enemies and ours. Yet the difference is only seeming. In this case the divine right is directed against others, not ourselves; but the effect is the same. It is His people's prayer and hope that the divine right pursue those enemies and deal with them according to their deserts.
Hence God's righteousness impresses us, first, with the fact of His authority over us; that not we, but He must determine what is right, and how we ought to be; that all our opposition is vain, for His power will enforce the right; hence that we must suffer the effects of that righteousness.
But it is not merely the power of the right that impresses us, neither the consciousness that we are taken and judged, but much more, that we are taken and judged righteously. And not this arbitrarily; on the contrary, we feel inwardly that the divine might is right, and therefore may and must overpower us.
Hence the divine righteousness includes the creature's acknowledgment: "The prerogative to determine the right is not mine, but His." And not only this, but our souls are deeply conscious that God's decisions are not only right and good, but absolutely righteous and superlatively good.
The divine righteousness brings us face to face with a direct working of the divine sovereignty. All earthly sovereignty is but a feeble reflection of the divine; but sufficiently clear to show us its fundamental features. A sovereign is deemed sufficiently wise to see how things ought to be; and qualified to determine that so they shall be; and powerful to resist him who dares be otherwise. This applies also to the King of kings; or rather, it applies, not to Him also, but to Him alone. He alone is the Wisdom with absolute certainty to choose, and according to this choice to see how everything must be to be its best. He alone is the holy Qualified One, according to this to determine how everything must be. And He is the alone-Mighty to condemn and destroy what dares be otherwise.
And this reveals the deepest features of the contrast. The holiness of God relates to His Being; the righteousness of God to His Sovereignty. Or, His righteousness touches His relation and position to the creature; His holiness points to His own inward Being.