The Importance of Holiness: The Holiness of God with R.C. Sproul

Our Father and our God, when we approach
this subject of your holy character, we know that we are embarking on an
impossible task, that even at this moment we are standing upon holy ground, ground
that were it not for your abiding mercy and grace would open up beneath our feet
and swallow us into the pit. And so tonight we ask, nay we beg you for a
double measure of your grace and mercy upon us as we seek to understand these
things that are so important to our understanding of you; and we invoke the
presence of the Spirit of Truth, who is at the same time the Holy Spirit, that He may
assist us in this endeavor. For we ask these things in the name of Christ, amen. I was a senior in seminary at Pittsburgh
Theological Seminary, and it was a fall afternoon, and I
remember vividly that I was studying by myself in the library. And
I had a stack of books in front of me, and as you know, a library in a theological
seminary is a place that is quiet as a morgue. No one is ever allowed to talk or
chatter. It’s a hushed silence. When suddenly my attention was distracted by
this murmuring that started running spontaneously through the stacks and
through the open tables in the library, and people began to disrupt the whole
atmosphere of the place, and people were leaving their seats and their desks and
rushing out into the corridors of the seminary; and I didn’t know what was going
on until some lady — somebody said something out loud that was unmistakable,
and they said this: “Someone has shot the President.” You can imagine an
announcement like that and what it would do to people’s normal, daily routines. I
rushed outside, and like every other American I glued myself to the radio, and
I listened to the moment-to-moment bulletins as President Kennedy was
fighting for his life momentarily, and then of course the announcement came
through that he died. And for the next day, indeed the next weeks, the next
month, the people of the United States of America were preoccupied with this tragic
moment in our history of the sudden death of a popular President. And then later a
book came out that was entitled “Johnny, We Hardly Knew You,” and it called
attention to the fact that his presidential term was indeed brief; but
anytime, ladies and gentlemen, that the chief executive, the leader, the king, the
prime minister of a nation, passes away, it is a time of solemn, serious trauma for
the nation. Well that was true in Israel as well as in the United States, for in
the eighth century a king came to the throne in Jerusalem and began to reign at
sixteen years of age, and he reigned in Jerusalem for over fifty years — imagine
it, over half of a century. And he wasn’t the most famous king in Jewish history or
the most important king of Jewish history, but he would certainly rank in the top
five. His name was Uzziah, and what Uzziah accomplished in his reign was to bring the
last significant spiritual reform to the people of the land, and when he died —
and he died, incidentally in disgrace because he was sort of a Shakespearean
tragic hero who violated his own principles of ethics and spirituality in
the last year of his life. But when he died, it sort of signaled a turning point,
a watershed in Jewish history where from that day on the spiritual life and
vibrancy of the Jewish nation went into a serious decline from which it never
recovered. I think it’s significant in the providence of God that four years after
Uzziah died the city of Rome was founded and a cultural change took place that
would shape the whole future destiny of history. But in the midst of that struggle
of that nation, a man was called of God to the sacred vocation of being a prophet,
and some would call him the greatest prophet in Old Testament history, a man
who was not only a religious person, but he also was a statesman in his own right,
as he spoke to several kings in the course of his ministry. He was the prophet who
said that someday in the future a virgin would conceive and bring forth a child,
and His name would be called Immanuel. It was the prophet who said that in the
future the servant of the Lord would come and bear the sins of His people. His name,
of course, was Isaiah, and the record of his call to the role of the prophet is
found in the sixth chapter of the book that bears his name, and I’d like to read
the first part of that record for you now. It says in chapter six of Isaiah, verse
one, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and
exalted, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. And above Him were the
seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two
they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one
another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His
glory.’ And at the sound of their voices the doorposts and the threshold shook, and
the Temple was filled with smoke.” Now I want you to notice in this brief passage
that I’ve read here that Isaiah locates this experience that he has in the year
that King Uzziah dies, and we don’t know for sure whether what Isaiah beheld was an
ecstatic vision that took place in the Temple in Jerusalem or if in fact what
Isaiah saw was a glimpse into the inner sanctum of heaven itself. I prefer the
latter interpretation. I’m persuaded, for technical reasons I won’t get into here,
is that what happened was that God opened the curtain. He removed the veil from
heaven itself, and as John, centuries later on the isle of Patmos, would get a
glimpse of the interior of heaven, Isaiah the prophet saw the Lord enthroned in
heaven itself. Now if you see in your Bible, you’ll see that it says here, “In
the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, seated on a throne, high and
exalted, and the train of His robe filled the Temple.” If you look at your Bible,
you see the word “lord,” and I’m sure it’s spelled L-o-r-d. Is that true in your
Bibles there? If you go down a couple of verses to where the song of the seraphim,
where it says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” Do you see that? Do you
see that same word “lord” is spelled L-O- R-D? How many of you notice that in your
text? Okay, it’s a very common thing we find in English translations of the Bible,
and it’s not a result of a typographical error, but rather the translators are
trying to signal to us that something is going on here that is a bit unusual —
that even though the same English word “lord” is here in the text, the fact that
there’s — that they are printed differently indicates that there are two
distinctly different Hebrew words behind the text. Anytime you see L-O-R-D you can
be fairly confident that the Hebrew term that is being translated is the name
Yahweh, the name that God revealed to Moses in the Midianite wilderness when He
said, “I Am who I Am.” That’s the sacred name of God, the holy name of God —
Yahweh. Earlier when we see this word “lord” — L-o-r-d — it translates now a
different word, which is the Hebrew term Adon-adonai, and that is probably the most
exalted title that the Old Testament uses for God. He’s given many titles in the Old
Testament. This is the supreme title that is given to Him. We think, for example, in
Psalm eight where we read, “Oh LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all of
the earth.” There it’s what? “Oh Yahweh, our Adonai how majestic is your name in
all of the earth.” And again in Psalm 110 we read this, “The LORD said to my Lord,
‘Sit down at my right hand'” — a fantastic statement to be found in the Old
Testament where David now describes Yahweh talking to someone else and ascribing to
that third person the title Adonai, the title that had always been reserved for
God himself. It’s no accident, ladies and gentlemen, that the most quoted and
alluded to Old Testament verse in the New Testament is Psalm 110, where Paul tells
us that Jesus is given the name that is above every name — the title Lord,
Adonai, the name that originally belongs to God and to God alone. Now the meaning
of the term “Adonai” simply is this: the sovereign one. So do you see what’s
happened? The king is dead. There is this time of uncertainty and mourning in the
land and the Jewish people, and Isaiah comes, in the name of his people, and he
looks and beholds into the interior parts of heaven itself, and he sees not Uzziah,
not Hezekiah, not David. He sees Adonai, the supreme sovereign, enthroned in
heaven. I’m convinced, personally, that what he is seeing here is a preincarnate
glimpse of the enthronement of Christ himself in His full majesty. He said, “I
saw the LORD seated on the throne high, exalted. The train of His robe filled the
Temple.” Oh, I love that phrase, “The train of His robe filled the Temple.” You
know in ancient days, the clothing of monarchs was a measure of their status. An
international protocol would respond to the various levels of the magnificence of
their clothes. If a king wore ermine, that was incredible. If he wore sable, that was
even better. Mink was sort of second or third grade level, and those that came
with canvas robes, they had to sit in the back of the summit meetings of the kings.
I remember seeing one of the first international television broadcasts that
was taken place in America was a viewing of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and
the commentators went on and on about the pomp and the circumstance that only the
British can bring to such a celebration, and the magnificence of her gown. As she
came to approach the throne in Westminster, she was — and before she
went to Buckingham palace — they had several pages who had to lift the train of
her gown as she made her entrance into the Abbey because that gown traveled for
several feet behind her as she processed. But do you hear what Isaiah is saying
here, is that when he saw this vision of the heavenly King, he saw a King whose
splendorous garments billowed out over the sides of the throne and so went on to
furrow back along the sides of the Temple, around the back entranceway and spilled
out and completely filled the entire building. And what he is seeing here is a
visual experience of majesty that is focused in the magnificence of the
garments. And then he said over the throne and above the Yahweh and Adonai, the Lord,
were the seraphim, each with six wings. This is the only reference in Scripture to
these creatures who were called seraphim. Some have tried to identify them exactly
with the cherubim, but I think since the Bible distinguishes, we need to
distinguish them. We know very little about them except that they are part of
the heavenly host, those beings that were especially created by God to serve Him day
and night in His immediate presence. And if we read the description that Isaiah
gives of them, it seems as though they appear in almost bizarre fashion, for we
are told that they had six wings. Now let me just stop here for a second and make a
comment. When God creates creatures, He does it with a certain creative economy.
He doesn’t waste material. He has an amazing, extraordinary ability to create
whatever He makes in such a way that it is adaptable and suitable for its
environment. God makes fish with gills and with fins because their natural habitat is
in the water. He makes birds with wings and feathers because their environment is
in the air. And so when He creates angelic beings, whose specific task and function
in creation is to minister to Him in His immediate presence, He constructs them in
such a way as to make them fit for their environment. And hence we are told they
are given two extra sets of wings. With two they covered their face. Think of it-
that these angelic beings ministered daily in the immediate unveiled presence
of Almighty God, whose glory is so refulgent, so piercing that even the
angels have to shield themselves from looking directly at His face. Remember the
story in the book of Exodus when Moses, representing the people of God, was
summoned by Yahweh to Sinai to receive the law of God; and you remember, Moses went
up there into the clouds and was sort of swallowed up on that mountain. And the
people waited for days after days, and they were apprehensive and stricken with
anxiety as they wondered what had happened to their leader. Had he been swallowed up
by the wrath of God on that mountain like Korah and his people had in the rebellion?
Would he retur alive? What would the message of God be if he did come back? And
so they waited in fear and trembling for Moses’ return. And while Moses was on the
mountain, he spoke with God. Do you remember the conversation? If I can
improvise a little bit, it went something like this: Moses said to God, “I have seen
some magnificent things in my lifetime. You’ve shown me the burning bush. I’ve
seen the plagues by which you devastated the Egyptians. I saw you part the sea and
bring a whole nation of people through on dry land. I’ve seen you provide
supernatural, miraculous provisions from heaven for us hungry people, but now let
me have the big one. God, please let me see your face.” God said, “Moses, you
know better than that. You know it’s my word that no man shall see me and live.
You can’t see my face, Moses. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll carve out a little niche in
the rock over here, and I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock, and then I will
cover you, and I will pass by, and I will let you see my backward parts” — the
Hebrew reads the hindquarters of Yahweh — “but my face shall not be seen.” And so
God put His servant in the cleft of the rock, and He allowed His glory to pass by,
and ladies and gentlemen, for a split second, Moses got a backward glance of the
refracted glory of God, and what happened? When he came down from the mountain, and
the people saw this figure approaching in the distance, they became all excited for
the return of their leader, and they rushed forward to greet Moses. And
suddenly they shrunk back in horror and fell on their faces, and they began to
plead with Moses saying, “Moses, Moses cover your face!” They couldn’t bear to
look at him. Why? Because Moses’ face was shining with such radiance and such
intensity that it was blinding the people, and what the people were seeing, ladies
and gentlemen — think of it — was merely a reflection on a human being’s face from
a backward, instantaneous glance of the glory of God. The angels themselves must
cover their eyes in His presence, and with two wings, we are told, they cover their
feet. Now the Bible doesn’t explain to us why it was necessary for the seraphim to
cover their feet. I can only guess, and I will venture a guess at this point, and
that is that the feet, for angels as well as for men, is the symbol in the Bible of
creatureliness. We are told that we are of the earth, earthy, that our feet are of
clay. When Moses met God in the Midianite desert and wilderness, what was the first
thing God said to him? “Moses, Moses take off thy shoes from off thy feet for the
ground whereon thou standest is holy ground.” He asked him to bare his feet,
the sign of his creatureliness, the sign of his submission before the holy one. And
so even in heaven the angels cover the sign of their creatureliness. But as
fascinated as I may be, ladies and gentlemen, with the anatomy of the
seraphim, these are really minor considerations with the text here. What is
really important about this text, as far as I’m concerned, is not the structure of
the angels. It’s the message of the angels. Listen to what the Bible tells us.
“That with the two they were flying, and they were calling to one another saying,
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.'” I
was standing over there before we began this series, and those who are watching it
by video tape missed some of the things that we did by way of lead-in, and one of
the things that this group of people enjoyed was the singing of the classical
church hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And I was listening to you as you sang that. I
cannot hear that hymn without chills running up and down my spine. It is
magnificent, isn’t it? And I think about the angels and everyone casting down their
golden crowns beside the glassy sea, that everything that we have that is worth
anything is something we would gladly lay at the feet of the holy one. And how this
church so triumphantly — or this hymn so triumphantly — celebrates the majesty of
God. But as I was listening to you sing it, I thought, “As beautiful as it sounds,
imagine how it would sound sung by a choir of angels.” And that’s what Isaiah saw:
the heavenly host above the throne of God, singing to each other in antiphonal
response a single word, repeated over and over and over again. “Holy, holy, holy is
the Lord Almighty. Heaven and earth is full of His glory.” Now friends, there’s
something here in this text that as English-speaking people we could read a
thousand times and miss every time. There’s something very Jewish about this
text. In the English language, when we want to call attention to something that’s
particularly important, to give it emphasis, there are different ways that we
can do that in print. We can underline words or italicize them, put them in bold
face type, put little quotation marks or brackets around them or fill the page with
exclamation points — how I hate exclamation points when it’s not an
exclamation. Even my editors do that. I find it in the final draft. I’ll see —
I’ll read these things, and they’ll put exclamation points in sentences that
aren’t exclamations, and please don’t think so poorly of me to think that I
don’t know any better about the use of exclamation points. They do that, and it
drives me crazy. But that’s what we do with emphasis. Well the Jews did the same
thing. They did all of that — underline, boldface, italicize — but they had
another technique to call attention to something’s particular importance, and it
was the simple technique of verbal repetition. I think, for example, of the
apostle Paul when he’s writing to the Galatians and warning them of the dangers
of departing from the gospel that they had received from Paul. And he said, “I say
unto you that if anybody preaches unto you any other gospel than that which you have
received, even if it’s an angel from heaven, let him be anathema, anathema —
let him be damned.” That’s a strong statement that comes from the pen of the
apostle Paul, but he doesn’t stop there. He immediately goes on to say, “Again I
say to you if anyone preaches unto you any other gospel than that which you have
received, let him be anathema.” Jesus was fond of using this device of repetition to
make His points. Now remember, Jesus was a rabbi. That meant that He was a
theologian. He had a school, and He had students called disciples, or learners,
who enrolled in His school. And He was a peripatetic rabbi. That meant that He
walked around, and as He walked the disciples literally followed Him. When
they — when Jesus said, “Follow me,” He meant literally, “Walk around behind me.”
And the way they would do it would be this way: the teacher would give His
recitation. He would lecture as He walked down the road to Emmaus, or wherever, and
the disciples would follow along behind Him and commit to memory the things that
the rabbi taught them. Now ladies and gentlemen, every teaching that ever came
from the lips of Jesus Christ was important, but even our Lord took time to
call attention to things that He regarded as being super important, and whenever He
would come to a point like that that He wanted to make sure His disciples never
missed, He would preface His teaching by saying two words. He would say, “Truly,
truly I say unto you…” or the older translation, “Verily, verily.” Actually
what He said was, “Amen, amen I say unto you.” You recognize that word. It comes
directly into English, and we say, “All the people said” — what? “Amen.” But we
say, “Amen.” after the teacher teaches or after the preacher preaches. It means, “It
is true. We believe it,” and so on. Jesus didn’t wait for His disciples to confirm
the truthfulness of what He was saying. He started His sermon by saying, “Amen,
amen.” That’s like the captain of a ship getting on the intercom and saying, “Now
hear this: This is the captain speaking.” When Jesus repeated that word, saying it
twice, He was underscoring its importance. Ladies and gentlemen, there is only one
attribute of God that is ever raised to the third degree of repetition in
Scripture. There is only one characteristic of Almighty God that is
communicated in the superlative degree from the mouths of angels. Where the Bible
doesn’t simply say that God is holy, or even that He’s holy, holy, but that He is
holy, holy, holy. The Bible doesn’t say that God is mercy, mercy, mercy or love,
love, love or justice, justice, justice or wrath, wrath, wrath, but that He is holy,
holy, holy. This is a dimension of God that consumes His very essence, and when
it is manifest to Isaiah, we read that at the sound of the voices of the seraphim
the doorposts, the thresholds of the Temple itself shook and began to tremble.
Do you hear that? Inanimate, lifeless, unintelligible parts of creation in the
presence of the manifestation of the holiness of God had the good sense to be
moved. How can we, made in His image, be indifferent or apathetic to His majesty?
God alone is holy, and what I want to do in this series is try to describe what
that means and what the reaction of Isaiah and other people historically is when the
holy appear. Let’s pray. Father, we rejoice that something and someone in this
unholy universe is not only somewhat but altogether holy, holy, holy.
Impart to our hearts the joy of the seraphim for that truth. Amen.

There is no possible escape from the holiness of God. You are going to have to deal with it at some point —R.C. Sproul

주님의 거룩하심에 대해서 다시 한 번 묵상할 수 있는 귀한 기회가 되었습니다. 하나님은 거룩하시도다. 아멘.

Mis sincerasfelicitaciones para R.C. Sproul por su brillante exposición; y por la Excelente traducción al español.

Ciudad de México a 21 de marzo de 2016

Praise God! What a blessing R.C. Sproul has been throughout his life to those who have blessed to hear his teaching's. 🙂

I'm hoping that the dream of the angels wings covering their face – was not a literal direct vision. Why would immaterial beings have a face – or wings to cover it?

Thank you RC! I really am grateful to God for you. Thanks to your ministry, I have kept going on and on in the faith. You have taught me many things.

If one ever wants to encapsulate our Lord God in one word, it is HOLY! It not only describes His law, but also and more important His "character"! The seriousness of this is so thorough that as Dr. Sproul communicates from Isaiah 6 verse 3, emphasizes it three times – "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty" – revealing also God's triune nature and each person as Holy! Great lesson on our Lord's greatest attribute! My prayers that all who hear this lesson who are redeemed in Christ come away with a newfound and refreshed appreciation of our God and to those who don't be driven to their knees in fearful repentance to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior for their sin debt owed to our Holy and Majestic God!

Rest in Heaven Dr Sproul you were such a great teacher. I don’t know you personally but you taught me a lot. Your work will live on. Great men leave a legacy behind!!

My very limited human comprenhension of this topic will always be so small before the greatness of the fully meaning of Gods holynees

¡Qué magnífica traducción! ¡Felicitaciones! Toda la riqueza de una enseñanza dada con la excelencia del Dr. R.C. Sproul, expresada fielmente en español.

So were the angels prevented from seeing Jesus or the Father? And too, was Moses seeing the back side of the glory of the Father or the Son? And last, who was Isaiah seeing in the temple, the Father or the Son? Hhm?

The description of the Lord's holiness is even more remarkable knowing Jesus came to us to be our redeemer. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 14.

Thank you RC . I learned a whole lot from how God used you. And LORD. All thanks be to you first and foremost. Thank you for salvation. Words cannot express the value of that gift you've given through Jesus, your son, Our savior

i got nothing but love for Dr.r.c sprouls, to me he is just like Apostle Paul, always have that energy and courage in preaching and teaching.

i got nothing but love for Dr.r.c sprouls, to me he is just like Apostle Paul, always have that energy and courage in preaching and teaching.


What an understanding R.C. had in his relationship with God (exclamation point). I'm so thankful for the technology that allows me to continue to learn from this unusually gifted spokesman as God's ambassador.. Even though I've never met Dr. Sproul, I miss him (go figure, huh?). I can't wait to meet him in Heaven.

I’m a skeptic 🤨. I’m trying to discover Jesus but have not yet. ( I am sincerely trying) R.C. is one of the many pastors that I study and I will say that his passion and unwavering dedication to portrait the message of Christ is unmatched . I loved the man and if there is a God out there RC is near him at this very moment . ✌🏼

In fact, when this blessed man exit of life, I felt a big deficiency in the life. He was my preffered lecturer. Greetings from Amman.


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