Quite simply put, most of us want to think of holiness in some abstract form and keep it at a safe distance. We want holiness that comes in a weekend conference so that we can leave and go back to our unholy lives afterwards. We want a small sermon on holiness, and then more messages about better marriages, which, by now, should indicate that more messages on better marriages don’t lead to better marriages.
My wife and I like to bounce around in our reading material. At the present, we have seven books that I can remember offhand that we are reading from when we get together and pray. As you might have guessed, J.C. Ryle’s commentary on Matthew is one of them and Wilhelmus á Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service is another. But Heidi also picked up The Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning and read a few pages from it while we were sitting by the pool. Within just a few lines, we were running to the cross, clinging to Christ and His holiness. (Disclaimer: Please do not get the wrong impression that we think we are holy and the rest of you are not. We really do have to run to the cross in all this because of our lack of holiness.)
The painfulness of holiness is the reason why so few people read the Puritans. This struggle of holiness leads many to buy into the lies of Satan about the Puritans. Just mention the Puritans and the response is: “Salem witch trial!!!!,” a one-time anomaly…but enough for modern man to shut down his brain and not give the Puritans any more thought. This is modern man’s response to anything in our past. Mention the founders of the country, modern man screams “slavery!” Mention the historic church, “Crusades!” Mention the Bible, “Written by men!!!”
So let us not trouble the modern man with the Puritans. But as believers, we must give them some thought. They have a great deal to say to us about the Christian walk. The Puritans were truly rich in their thoughts about God and that should demand our attention. Realize that they did not have the world’s many distractions that we do in our day. When they gave their minds over to Christ, He used them in a glorious way.
I’m not saying anything new here. Most Christians have some awareness of these realities, but still, we don’t like to read the Puritans. I think one reason for this is that the Puritans had a solid view of God’s holiness, and we don’t like God’s holiness when it comes to confront us with our own sinfulness. God’s holiness always reveals our own sinfulness, hence, one of the reasons Heidi and I ran to the foot of the cross after just a few lines of Venning’s writings. His words were so convicting that we saw our own sinful hearts and knew the only place to go was to the cross.
That is holiness. If we want to be holy, we must realize that it will cost us and it will not be easy. The sting of holiness itself is what drives us from holiness, yet it is what we need the most. Holiness attacks the sinfulness of our hearts, where a war rages between our fallen flesh and God’s Holy Spirit, and while we may agree on the surface this is what we need, we really want nothing to do with it. It requires everything the gospel requires, dying to self, trusting in Christ all the more, repentance, living according to the Law, self examination, nay, even Spirit examination which is far more thorough (and painful). More repentance, more clinging to the cross, more clinging to Christ, more dying to the self, and so on and so on, until He calls us home.
Quite simply put, most of us want to think of holiness in some abstract form and keep it at a safe distance. We want holiness that comes in a weekend conference so that we can leave and go back to our unholy lives afterwards. We want a small sermon on holiness, and then more messages about better marriages, which, by now, should indicate that more messages on better marriages don’t lead to better marriages. If they did, then we wouldn’t need so many sermons on better marriages. Perhaps what we need is the pursuit of holiness in our lives. This might actually lead to better marriages since holiness requires the gospel, and messages on better marriages do not.
Yet, if we are truly His, this is the path that He has called us to. Heidi and I have been reminded of all of this over the past week. The trials we face are God’s methods of working holiness into us, because we see our own sinfulness in these trials (and it is ugly) showing us our need to bring us back to the cross. This is why we continue to read books by dead theologians. God uses these men’s words in our lives to remind us of our need for holiness.
Timothy Hammons is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.