Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
There are, unhappily, many who will talk of the everlasting covenant, and of the inscription of their own names on its pages, with as much assurance as though God had made them a special revelation; and it were at least to be expected, that with all this assumption of superior revelation there should keep pace a striving after superior holiness. It were, at least, to be hoped, that they who pronounce themselves sure of heaven, would put forth more than ordinary tokens of an increasing fitness for heaven; for it is indeed a strange anomaly if, knowing as we do, that there shall enter into the New Jerusalem nothing that defileth, and nothing that worketh abomination, men who have a title of admission, chartered and signed, may go on in recklessness and unrighteousness of living; and too commonly they who are fondest of solving all doubts by an appeal to God's covenant, are just those who could obtain no satisfactory verdict from their own life and conversation. Our business is not so much the depending on our election as the ascertaining our election; and it is, therefore, to use the mildest language, a beginning at the wrong end, when men assume that they are elected, and then go on to be confident. The safe and the direct course is to observe whether they are changed men, and renewed men, and God-fearing men, and then to infer, though with the very deepest humility, that they are elected men. We have no such text in the Bible as this — "Election, without which no man shall see the Lord"; but we have this — "Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." We go on to observe that there is a peculiarity in the expression, "no man shall see the Lord," which marks a reference to the present life yet more than to the future. "Every eye shall see Him," is St. John's declaration, when looking on to the Second Advent of Christ. We know that without a single exception the descendants of Adam shall stand face to face with the anointed Judge of human kind, so that the holy and the unholy shall alike behold Him, though the one rejoicingly, while the other shall shrink from His presence; and therefore we cannot uphold it as literally true, that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord," if it be on the future that we mainly fix our contemplations. But a most extensive, and at the same time a most interesting field of inquiry will open before you, if we consider the words as applicable to the present life, though, of course, without excluding a reference to the next life. The passage would seem decidedly to announce, that holiness, in some degree or other, is indispensable to the obtaining any knowledge whatever of Christ. We admit, indeed, that a thorough historical acquaintance may be obtained, whilst there is a bold persisting in a course of iniquity. But our text shows, that to whatever extent this scholastic knowledge of the scheme and nature of Christianity can be ascribed, there can be gained no sight of Christ Jesus Himself until some inroads be made on the sinfulness of our nature. And when a man is converted, and therefore "renewed in the spirit of his mind" — that is, the organ is obtained through which the Lord is beheld — the strength and clearness of his looking upon Christ will ever after be exactly proportioned to the advance of sanctification. If the Christian fall into gross sin, or if he conform himself to the passions and prejudices of the world, or if he encumber himself unnecessarily with cares and anxieties, the retardation in holiness will tell on the strength of the newly-acquired vision, and the view of Christ will become so obscure, that fresh witness will be given to the fact of holiness being indispensable to seeing the Lord. And, on the other hand, let the Christian be prosecuting an uncompromising warfare with corruption — let him be proceeding daily with a dominant step towards higher attainments in practical piety, and you will find that his sight of the Redeemer is continually improving. The mysteries of Christ's person, the loveliness of His character, the might of His attributes, these open increasingly and shine out more vividly; and thus there is gathered an accession of proof that holiness is indissolubly connected with seeing the Lord. We would never give up that grand fundamental principle that faith is the gift of God, and that, consequently, no man can see the Lord, according to the definition we have sought to establish, unless a telescope, so to speak, be put into his hands by the Holy Ghost, and directed towards that illustrious Being in whom the natural eye discerns nothing of comeliness or form. But at the same time we are to the full as anxious to withstand the unwarranted opinion, that there can be no preparation made by the man himself; that because faith must be strictly the gift of God, all we have to do is to wait for its reception. We are assured from the Bible that it is very possible to resist the Holy Ghost, and to grieve the Holy Ghost, and that, consequently, the case is of common occurrence in which this Divine agent comes unto men, bringing with him the telescope, or the organ of vision, and then opposed by their passions and lusts, departs without bestowing the precious donation. And hence we set it forth as an indisputable position that it lies in man's power, and is manifestly man's business to remove impediments to the operations of God's Spirit, and that though he cannot give himself the Spirit, he may throw off very much that may withstand the approaches of that Spirit. Let us go on to endeavour to show you how holiness would affect the clearness of all future contemplations of Christ. There remains nothing to be added to the work of the Saviour, in order that it may be available to the complete justification of the sinner. But, then, does imputed righteousness at all interfere with personal holiness? Not one jot. There is to be wrought in us a righteousness which is quite independent of that perfect righteousness which has been wrought out for us by Christ. The righteousness of Christ is that meritorious righteousness which deserves for us heaven; the righteousness which is wrought in our spirits is that qualifying righteousness which prepares us for heaven. And if it be thus certain that holiness, personal, inwrought holiness, is essential to that sight of the Lord which shall constitute the great bliss of heaven, we may justly argue that it is essential to those contemplations of the Saviour which are our foretastes of that bliss whilst we sojourn upon earth. And this, in other words, is the proposition laid down in our text, though the proof of that proposition may be thrown into easier and yet more popular shape. How can the man who is falling back into sin have his eye upon Christ, who condemned sin in the flesh? How can the individual who, after professedly renouncing the world, suffers himself to be entangled in its follies and allured by its flatteries, be looking fixedly towards Christ — Christ who said, "Marvel not if the world hate you; ye know that it hated Me before it hated you"? How can that disciple have a comforting assurance of the sacrifice of Christ in his own stead and in his own behalf, who by his lax and inconsistent conversation would falsify the account of Holy Writ, that "the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world"? Whenever you find that you have no clear evidence of an interest in Jesus — that there is a sensible interruption of the hope and assurance which have been wont to flow ill and gladden the soul-then let a recurrence to the sentiment of our text bring to your notice the reason, which in all likelihood best accounts for the change. Christ cannot be seen without holiness. Therefore search ye and determine whether the luminary be not riding as high and as bright as before in the firmament, and whether the sole cause why the murkiness is around you, and deep gloom seems wrought into the overhead canopy, be not in the passions which have been gratified, the concessions made, and the resolutions relaxed, so that from the witherings of a once flourishing holiness have gone up vapour and mist, which have darkened the sun, and intercepted the rich light which fell around your path. It is not that Christ withdraws His lustre; it is only that men, through carelessness, or lukewarmness, or conformity to the world, destroy the keenness of the spiritual vision. We reject, therefore, as presumptuous and insulting to God, all pretensions to privileges and rights which are independent on holiness, in thought, word, and deed; we refuse to take our test from what men style their experience; but we go alone, without hesitancy, to their practice.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: