Session 3 – Preaching the Holiness of God (R.C. Sproul)
Moving on to Tuesday morning and the third session of the conference. The subject of the session is the Holiness of God. The text is Isaiah 6:1-13.
The attributes of God as contained in the confessions of most major denominations are uniform. However, the most unique characteristic of reformed theology is the doctrine of God. That is because reformed theology does not forget on page 2 what it learned on page 1. Theology goes astray when it departs from one the attributes of God.
Of all the attributes of God, the one most neglected but most needful is the simplicity of God. That is, God differs from all creatures in that he being is simple, not compound or complex. We are complex creatures. God is simple, He is not made up of parts. God is completely all of His attributes. God’s attributes cannot be set against one another. Love does not prohibit wrath. Therefore, we can use every attribute of God to define His holiness. His holiness is eternal. His holiness is immutable. And therefore, we can say that holiness captures every attribute of God.
The vision of Isaiah came in the year king Uzziah died (by the way, the same year Rome was founded). King Uzziah was perhaps the greatest king since David, but is also the king who usurped the role of the priest. Uzziah profaned the holiness of God.
In verse 1, Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on the throne. The word Lord here is the word Adonai. This is juxtaposed with LORD in verse 3, which is Yahweh. Adonai is the title given to God in the Old Testament, the sovereign one. This title is also given to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. In Greek, it is rendered kurios. And how did Isaiah see the Lord? High, lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. The length of the robe determined the status of the king.
Above the Lord are the seraphim. They are constructed in a way that fits their habitat, just as are all creatures. The habitat of the seraphim is the immediate presence of God. Therefore, they must have three sets of wings, for they must cover their face and their feet, and they must fly. Compare the record of Moses requesting to see the glory of God. Even the sinless seraphim cannot look upon the holiness of God. Also consider the beatitudes – only the pure in heart will see God. Again, compare the events of Moses at the burning bush. Our feet symbolize our status as creatures.
But most striking is the message of the seraphim – holy, holy, holy. Thrice repeated because of the overwhelming magnitude of God’s holiness. Not just holy. Not just holy, holy. But holy, holy, holy. This is the only attribute of God described this in this superlative manner in the Bible.
The whole earth is full of the glory of God. Why is it that the world does not know who God is, seeing that His glory fills the whole earth? It begins with the fact that the church does not know who God is.
And notice the effects of the presence of the Lord. The thresholds shook, the temple was filled with smoke. But the greatest effect was upon Isaiah himself. He did not proclaim himself blessed for having seen the Lord. In contrast, Isaiah pronounces doom, judgment, curses upon himself, through the use of a single word – Woe. Not upon his enemies, but upon on himself – Woe is me. Isaiah understood who God is, and Isaiah understood who he is. This is why sanctification is such a gradual process.
What does Isaiah become aware of? His unholiness. Specifically, his unclean lips. We are taught that our first petition is the hallowing of the name of God. Isaiah realizes that his lips have profaned God, and that he dwells amongst a people of unclean lips. But God has grace upon Isaiah. God cleanses Isaiah in the way in which Isaiah recognizes his unholiness. And in this cleansed state, Isaiah then becomes ready to become a servant for the Lord. Isaiah becomes a messenger of God’s judgment. One that had received mercy was then given a message of judgment. But Isaiah is also told that there will be a remnant left in Israel, as a seed left in a burned stump.