Brethren, ye are anxious to know whether ye have holiness or not. Now, if our text said that, without perfection of holiness, no man could have any communion with Christ, it would shut every one of us out, for no one, who knows his own heart, ever pretends to be perfectly conformed to God’s Will. It does not say, “Perfection of holiness,” mark; but “holiness.” This holiness is a thing of growth. It may be in the soul as the grain of mustard-seed, and yet not developed; it may be in the heart as a wish and a desire, rather than anything that has been fully realized, — a groaning, a panting, a longing, a striving. As the Spirit of God waters it, it will grow till the mustard-seed shall become a tree.
Holiness, in a regenerate heart, is but an infant; it is not matured, — perfect it is in all its parts, but not perfect in its development. Hence, when we find many imperfections and many failings in ourselves, we are not to conclude that, therefore, we have no interest in the grace of God. This would be altogether contrary to the meaning of the text.
Four kinds of People
Well, now, let us note four sorts of people who try to get on without holiness. First, there is the Pharisee. The Pharisee goes to work with outward ceremonies. He pays tithes of all that he possesses. He gives alms to the poor, he wears his phylacteries, and makes broad the borders of his garment; — in fact, anything and everything that is commanded ceremonially he most punctiliously attends to; but, all the while, he is devouring widows' houses, he is living in the practice of secret sin, and so thinks that by ceremonies he shall be able to propitiate God, and be accepted. Sinner, pharisaic sinner, hear the death-knell of thy hopes tolled out by this verse: “Without holiness,” — and that is a thing thou knowest nothing of, — “no man shall see the Lord.”
Then there is the moralist. He has never done anything wrong in his life. He is not very observant of ceremonies, it is time; perhaps he even despises them; but he treats his neighbour with integrity, he believes that, so far as he knows, if his ledger be examined, it bears no evidence of a single dishonest deed. As touching the law, he is blameless: no one ever doubted the purity of his manner; from his youth up, his carriage has been amiable, his temperament what every one could desire, and the whole tenor of his life is such that we may hold him up as an example of moral propriety. All, but this is not holiness before God. Holiness excludes immorality, but morality does not amount to holiness; for morality may be but the cleaning of the outside of the cup and the platter, while the heart may be full of wickedness. Holiness deals with the thoughts and intents, the purposes, the aims, the objects, the motives of men. Morality does but skim the surface, holiness goes into the very caverns of the great deep; holiness requires that, the heart shall be set on God, and that it shall beat with love to Him. The moral man may be complete in his morality without that. Moralist! — I know I speak to many such, — remember that your best morality will not save you; you must have more than this, for without holiness, — and that not of yourself, it must be given you of the Spirit of God, — without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.
Another individual, who thinks to get on without holiness, and who does win a fair reputation in certain circles, is the experimentalist. You must be aware that there are some professed followers of Christ whose whole religious life is inward; to tell you the truth, there is no life at all; but their own profession is that it is all inward. I have had the misery to be acquainted with one or two such. They are voluble talkers, discoursing with much satisfaction of themselves, but bitter critics of all who differ from them in the slightest degree; having an ordained standard as to the proper length to which Christian experience should go, cutting off everybody’s head who was taller than they were, and stretching every man out by the neck who happened to be a little too short. Stirring up strife against all, — this is the practice of their religion. This is the summit to which they climb, and from which they look down with undisguised contempt upon all those worms beneath who are striving to serve God, and to do good in their day and generation. Now I pray you to remember that, against such men as these, there are many passages of Scripture most distinctly levelled. The moment you know a man who can tell you what a child of God should be, and then appears himself exactly what he should not be, just quit his company.
There is another class of persons, happily fewer than they once were, but there are some among us still, — opinionists, who think they can do without holiness. They have learned a sound creed, or perhaps an unsound one, for there are as many Arminians as Calvinists in this line, — they think they have got hold of the truth, they understand theology very accurately. They are wiser than their teachers. There is no question about their being masters in divinity. If degrees went according to merit, they would have been dubbed “D.D.” years ago, for they know everything, and are not a little proud that they do. And yet these men live a life that is a stench even in the nostrils of men who make no profession of religion. We have some of this kind in all congregations. I wish you would not come here. If we could do you good, we might be glad to see you; but you do so much hurt to the rest, and bring so much discredit upon the cause at large, that your room would be better than your company.
What the Lord wants
Heart-work, carried out afterwards into life-work, — this is what the Lord wants. You may perish as well with true doctrines as with false, if you pervert the true doctrine into licentiousness. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Further, brethren, that man is destitute of true holiness who can look hack upon his own past sin without sorrow. Oh, to think of our past lives! I can look back upon God’s mercy with delight, but I hope I shall never be able to look back upon my sins with complacency. Whenever a man looks to any of his past faults and shortcomings, it ought to be through his tears. There are those who revel in the memory of their iniquities. They recollect some deed of lewdness, or some act of infamy; and, as they think it over, they dare not repeat it, for their profession would be spoiled; but they love the thought, and cultivate it with a vicious zest. Thou art no friend to true holiness, but an utter stranger to it unless the past causes thee profound sorrow, and sends thee to thy knees to weep and hope that God, for Christ’s sake, has blotted it out.
And I am quite sure that you know nothing of true holiness if you can look forward to any future indulgence of sensual appetites with a certain degree of delightful anticipation. Since the day that some of us knew Christ, we have always woke up in the morning with a fear lest we should that day disown our Master. And there is one fear which sometimes haunts me, and I must confess it; and were it not for faith in God, it would be too much for me. I cannot read the life of David without some painful emotions. All the time he was a young man, his life was pure before God, and in the light of the living it shone with a glorious lustre; but when grey hairs began to be scattered on his head, the man after God’s heart sinned. I have sometimes felt inclined to pray that my life may come to a speedy end, lest haply, in some evil hour, some temptation should come upon me, and I should fall. And do you not feel the same?
And the very possibility of such a thing, — does it not drive you to God’s mercy-seat, and do you not cry, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe”? There is no doxology in Scripture which enjoy more than that one at the end of the Epistle of Jude: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to him be glory.” I say you are a stranger to holiness of heart if you can look forward to a future fall without great alarm.
True holiness is a thing that will keep by night and by day, at home and abroad, on the land and on the sea! That man is not right with God who would not do the same in the dark that he would do in the light; who does not feel, “If every eye should look upon me, I would not be different from what I am when no eye gazes upon me; that which keeps me right is not the judgment and opinions of men, but the eye of the Omnipresent, and the heart of the Lord who loves me.” Is your obedience uniform? Surely the fish, were it asked if it did not wish to fly, would reply, “I am not unhappy because I am not allowed to fly; it is not my element.” So the Christian can say, “I am not unhappy because I do not spend my nights in worldly society, because I do not join in their revelry and wantonness; it is not my element, and I could not enjoy it.” You are a stranger to holiness if your heart does not feel that it revolts at the thought of sin.
Let me further remark, that those who can look with delight or any degree of pleasure upon the sins of others are not holy. We know of some, who will not themselves perpetrate an unseemly jest, yet, if another does so, and there is a laugh excited upon some not over-decent remark, they laugh, and thus give sanction to the impropriety. If thou canst even wink at another man’s lust, depend upon it that thou wilt soon shut thine eye on thine own, for we are always more severe with other men than we are with ourselves. There must be an absence of the vital principle of godliness when we can become partakers of other men’s sins by applauding or joining with them in the approval of them. Let us examine ourselves scrupulously, then, whether we be among those who have no evidences of that holiness without which no man can see God.
If our heart be really right in God’s statutes, then, despite all the imperfections we bemoan, we have holiness, wherein we may rejoice, and we pray to our gracious God, —
“Finish, then, thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be.”
“Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord;” that is to say, no man can have communion with God in this life, and no man can have enjoyment with God in the life to come, without holiness. “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” Dost thou expect to take the Lord of love and mercy with thee to the haunts of sin? Nay, if thou wilt go on in acts of unrighteousness and unholiness, Christ parts company with thee. And as to heaven, dost thou think to go there with thine unholiness? Shall there be sin in that higher and better paradise? No, no; God has sworn by His holiness — and He will not, He cannot lie, — that those who are not holy, whom His Spirit has not renewed, who have not been, by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, made to love that which is good, and hate that which is evil, shall never stand in the congregation of the righteous.
Sinner, it is a settled matter with God that no man shall see Him without holiness.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “Holiness Demanded” (Hebrews 12:14) by CH Spurgeon dated 2 February 1862. You are encouraged to read the full text of this sermon from The Spurgeon Library | Holiness Demanded