The Root and Soil of Holiness
“Every plant must have both soil and root. Without both of these there can be no life, no growth, no fruit.”
“Holiness must have these. The root is “peace with God”; the soil in which that root strikes itself, and out of which it draws the vital sap, is the free love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord. “Rooted in love” is the apostle’s description of a holy man. Holiness is not austerity or gloom; these are as alien to it as levity and flippancy. Nor is it the offspring of terror, or suspense, or uncertainty, but peace, conscious peace, and this peace must be rooted in grace; it must be the consequence of our having ascertained, upon sure evidence, the forgiving love of God. He who would lead us into holiness must “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). He must show us how we, “being delivered out of the hand of our enemies,” may serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (vv 74,75). He who would do this must also “give us the knowledge of salvation, by the remission of sins.” He must tell us how, through “the tender mercy of our God … the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”(Luke 1:78,79).
In carrying out the great work of making us holy, God speaks to us, as “the God of peace” (Rom 16:20), “the very God of peace” (I Thess 5:23) and as being Himself “our peace” (Eph 2:14). That which we receive from Him, as such, is not merely “peace with God” (Rom 5: 1), but “the peace of God” (Phil 4:7), the thing which the Lord calls “My peace,” “My joy” (John 14:27; 15: 1 1). It is in connection with the exhortation, “Be perfect,” that the apostle sets down the gracious assurance: “The God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Cor 13: 11). “These things I will that thou affirm constantly,” says the apostle, speaking of “the grace of God that bringeth salvation,” “the kindness and love of God our Savior,” the mercy of God,” “justification by His grace,” in order that (such is the force of the Greek) “they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).
In this “peace with God” there is, of course, contained salvation, forgiveness, deliverance from the wrath to come. But these, though precious, are not terminating points; not ends, but beginnings; not the top but the bottom of that ladder which rests its foot upon the new sepulchre wherein never man was laid, and its top against the gate of the holy city. He, therefore, who is contenting himself with these, has not yet learned the true purport of the gospel, nor the end which God, from eternity, had in view when preparing for us such a redemption as that which He has accomplished for the sons of men, through His only begotten Son, ‘who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity.”
Without these, holiness is impossible, so that we may say this at least, that it is through them that holiness is made practicable, for the legal condition of the sinner, as under wrath, stood as a barrier between him and the possibility of holiness. So long as he was under condemnation, the Law prohibited the approach of everything that would make him holy. The Law bars salvation, except on the fulfillment of its claims; so it bars holiness, until the great satisfaction to its claims has been recognized by the individual, that is, until he has believed the divine testimony to the atonement of the cross, and so been personally set free from condemnation. The Law pronounces against the idea of holiness in an unforgiven man. It protests against it as an incongruity, and as an injury to righteousness. If, then, a pardoned man’s remaining unholy seem strange, much more so a holy man’s remaining unpardoned. The sinner’s legal position must be set right before his moral position can be touched. Condition is one thing; character is another. The sinner’s standing before God, either in favor or disfavor, either under grace or under wrath, must first be dealt with ere his inner renewal can be carried on. The judicial must precede the moral.
Hence it is of pardon that the gospel first speaks to us, for the question of pardon must first be settled before we proceed to others. The adjustment of the relationship between us and God is an indispensable preliminary, both on God’s part and on ours. There must be friendship between us, ere He can bestow or we receive His indwelling Spirit; for on the one hand, the Spirit cannot make His dwelling in the unforgiven; and on the other, the unforgiven must be so occupied with the one question of forgiveness, that they are not at leisure to attend to anything till this has been finally settled in their favor. The man who knows that the wrath of God is still upon him, or, which is the same thing practically, is not sure whether it has been turned away or not, is really not in a condition to consider other questions, however important, if he has any true idea of the magnitude and terribleness of the anger of Him who is a consuming fire.
The divine order then is first pardon, then holiness; first peace with God, and then conformity to the image of that God with whom we have been brought to be at peace. For as likeness to God is produced by beholding His glory (2 Cor 3:18), and as we cannot look upon Him till we know that He has ceased to condemn us, and as we cannot trust Him till we know that He is gracious; so we cannot be transformed into His image till we have received pardon at His hands. Reconciliation is indispensable to resemblance; personal friendship must begin a holy life.
If such be the case, pardon cannot come too soon, even were the guilt of an unpardoned state not reason enough for any amount of urgency in obtaining it without delay. Nor can we too strongly insist upon the divine order above referred to: first peace, then holiness–peace as the foundation of holiness, even in the case of the chief of sinners.”
God’s Way of Holiness, Horatius Bonar, The Root and Soil of Holiness