This past weekend I meditated on the glory and holiness of God in Isaiah 6, which led Isaiah to respond “Woe is me!” more than anything else (Isaiah 6:5). He saw a vision of God that left him broken in the filth and grime of his own sin. His eyes saw perfection and then his mind was made aware of his imperfection. His mind pondered the glory of God and then he saw more clearly the devastation of his rebellious condition. Isaiah stood in absolute awe of God and then fell in absolute sorrow over his sin. Here is the vision Isaiah saw:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1-4).
And here is Isaiah’s response to this:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
I imagine Isaiah on his knees in the dust with tears running down his face as he is broken and humbled by his dreadful sinfulness after his “eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts”. Isaiah’s eyes and life are forever changed due to the magnificent glory and holiness of the LORD. I love the words of Stephen Charnock’s words concerning God’s splendor, holiness and glory as he writes that his glory is “too dazzling to be beheld by us” (from A Puritan Theology, 77). Isaiah’s sinfulness is brought to the forefront of his mind after gazing upon this King, his God. I see a few characteristics of God in this vision that clearly convey his greatness, holiness, and glory. His eternality is contrasted with the finiteness of man with the mention of the death of King Uzziah (Is. 6:1). His authority and kingly reign are also on display in this miraculous vision as Isaiah sees God sitting on his throne (v. 1). He is an eternal God who rules on high and is exalted above everyone. I am humbled by the fact that in his very nature, God is both sovereign and Lord. God is also revered by the seraphim and the supremacy of his holiness surpasses all (v. 2-3). And his splendor is incomparable as “the train of his robe filled the temple” (v. 1). A bride whose dress has a long train running down the middle aisle behind her is full of splendor. The train of God’s robe fills the entire temple! What a splendorous God! No one compares to the LORD of hosts. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6).
After this vision of the holiness and glory of God, Isaiah cries, “Woe is me! For I am lost…” We are quick to look to our neighbor, friend, sibling, parent, coworker, or pastor to compare ourselves. I find myself too often saying things like, “Well, my prayer was much more theologically sound than his” and “When I teach, I love these kids by disciplining them while so-and-so just allows all of that misbehavior to go on”. I am looking in the wrong direction when I make these judgments (often sinful judgments at that). I am looking horizontally to find pleasure in exalting myself over others when I need to be looking vertically and find pleasure in exalting God over my dreadful sinfulness! Instead of thinking about how good I am in comparison to other brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to be thinking about how sinful and unworthy I am in the face of the majesty of the God—the Holy One of Israel. When a man sets his thoughts on the dirt pile that is his “good deeds” or charitable acts, condescending thoughts about those whose dirt piles are smaller than his will flood his mind. However, this haughty attitude is immediately shattered into a thousand pieces when that man looks up to see that his dirt pile is at the foot of the Mt. Everest of God’s glory and holiness. He gazes upon its beauty and majesty and glory and realizes just how small and meaningless his dirt pile of deeds really is. God is far greater than Mt. Everest and we are far filthier than a dirt pile in our sinfulness.
The beauty of the gospel is that this perfectly holy and glorious God came down to sinful man and made a remnant of us white as snow through our faith in the Holy Lamb who was slain—our propitiation (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), Jesus Christ.
Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy–this pride is innate in all of us–unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured. – John Calvin (Institutes I.I.2)
Aside: All of God’s attributes are predicated upon his holiness and his glory is the expression of his holiness. Reflect upon these words from Puritan Edward Leigh (1602-1671):
[God’s holiness is] the beauty of all God’s attributes, without which his wisdom would be but subtility, his justice cruelty, his Sovereignty tyranny, his mercy foolish pity (quoted in Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology, 75-76 from Leigh, Treatise of Divinity, 2:104).
Finally, Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) on the holiness of God followed by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones’ comments should leave you with enough to chew on:
As [the holiness of God] is the splendour of all the Divine attributes, so it is the flower of all a Christian’s graces, the crown of all religion (quoted in Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 77 from Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 529).
…the incarnation makes it possible for the elect to not only behold the holiness of God in the face of Jesus Christ, but also to become holy like God through Jesus Christ. Indeed, becoming holy like Christ is the prime way of honoring God…Thus, unlike the attribute of eternity, for example, the holiness of God is a communicable attribute. But one must always keep in mind that all communicable attributes are first declared perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ, and then believers, through union with the Savior, are made partakers of these attributes of God. The application, then, of holiness has a christological focus (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 77).