The Holiness of Christ (R.C. Sproul)
The Holiness of God - The Holiness of Christ
- Let’s open tonight with Hymn #327, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”
- Join me in a word of prayer
- Now turn to Hymn #6, and let’s sing one more, “The God of Abraham Praise.”
- Open your Bibles to Exodus 15. It’s been a couple of weeks since we met, and I want to spend a few minutes reminding us of where we left off.
The people of Israel had just come from Egypt, and in miraculous triumph. The gods of Egypt had been judged and found powerless. The people of Egypt saw what God did through Moses and Aaron, and in the end they were terrified, encouraging the people to leave the land. Pharaoh finally let the people go, but then regretted it, and chased them down—a fatal decision.
So Pharaoh and his mighty army pursued Israel, watched the people escape through a divided Red Sea, walking through with a wall of water on one side, and a wall of water on the other side. And when Egypt pursued, God annihilated Pharaoh and his entire army when the walls of water came down on top of them all. Incredible account. And this song of Moses summarizes the sentiment of the nation after that dramatic rescue, swept up in the euphoria of divine deliverance. READ Ex. 15:1-18.
- Now turn ahead a couple of chapters to Exodus 19. The people of Israel had come out of Egypt, over a million strong—600,000 men, plus women and children—but they had been under slavery for 400 years in Egypt. They aren’t much of a nation at this point, just a group of family clans organized under the heads of their tribes, under the elders of the people.
God is about to give them their constitution, what we call the Law of Moses. Let’s try to imagine ourselves there, at the scene, among the people, as the God who destroyed the mighty Egyptians, draws near to His chosen people.
READ Ex. 19:1–20:20.
Question: Just one question, as we get started: Why did they stand far off, while Moses drew near? The people and Moses saw and experienced the exact same phenomena, were confronted with the same presence of divine holiness. What made the difference between the people and Moses?
What we see here are the two effects of holiness, demonstrated in the different responses. The people were repelled by holiness, and Moses was compelled; the people kept their distance, while Moses drew near.
- In Dr. Sproul’s previous lecture in which Dr. Sproul tried to provide a definition of the concept of holiness. People typically think of holiness as absolute moral purity, which is certainly an aspect of holiness. But Dr. Sproul prompted us to think even more fundamentally about the idea of holiness.
- Remember that Dr. Sproul pointed us to Rudolf Otto’s book, The Idea of the Holy. He quoted the concept of the mysterium tremendum—the whole Latin phrase Otto unpacks in the book is, mysterium tremendum fascinans, which literally means, the “fearful and fascinating mystery.”
a. Mysterium – “Conceptually ‘mysterium’ denotes merely that which is hidden and esoteric, that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar.”
It’s the idea of that which is “wholly other,” and the effect of encountering that which is “wholly other” results in experiences described by the next two words, tremendum and fascinans.
b. Tremendum – The word refers to “[the] perfectly familiar and ‘natural’ emotion of fear. … [it denotes] a quite specific kind of emotional response, wholly distinct from that of being afraid, though it so far resembles it that the analogy of fear may be used to throw light upon its nature.”
So, it’s like fear, but not exactly. It’s more like a sense of, as Otto put it, “‘religious dread’ (or ‘awe’) would perhaps be a better designation.” Fear? Religious dread? Awe? Of what?
1) Wrath of God: awfulness, terror, dread, awe, absolute unapproachability
2) Greatness of God: overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its power
3) Smallness of Self: creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence
4) ‘Emotional’ Response: there is a sense of energy, urgency, will, vitality
Listen, that’s the response of the people, right? That’s Ex. 20:18-19.
They were repelled, and turned away. But Moses was compelled, and by the grace of God, he drew near. That’s the sense of Otto’s next word in that Latin phrase, mysterium tremendum fascinans.
c. Fascinans – The Latin word hints at what we understand in English, the sense of fascination we feel about approaching that which makes us afraid. That which is holy. In spite of our emotional sense of fear, dread, and terror, we are compelled toward that which is holy. Otto says,
“[The holy] may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same time it is no less something that allures with a potent [i.e., powerful, magnetic] charm, and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to it, nay even to make it somehow his own.”
“It is not only in the religious feeling of longing that the moment of fascination is a living factor. It is already alive and present in the moment of ‘solemnity’, both in the gathered concentration and humble abasement of private devotion, when the mind is exalted to the holy, and in the common worship of the congregation, where this is practiced with earnestness and deep sincerity, as, it is to be feared, is with us a thing rather desired than realized. It is this, and nothing else, that in the solemn moment can fill the soul and keep it so inexpressibly tranquil.”
Otto employs the Latin phrase, mysterium tremendum fascinans, to describe God as the ‘mystery’ before whom man trembles in terror, and to whom man is drawn in fascination. But we can never draw near, we can never find access, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ.
8. That’s what we’ll see in tonight’s lecture, the final in Dr. Sproul’s series, The Holiness of God, the essential doctrine of “The Holiness of Christ.”
- The holiness of God both repels and attracts. For believers, though we feel the tremendum, because God saved us through Christ from His wrath, we can give way to the fascinans (cf. Ps. 8:1-4). We can now be compelled, propelled safely toward God, without hesitation, without reservation, without fear.
- Here are a few questions:
a. Do you sense these repelling and compelling sensations of holiness for yourself?
b. How does a lack of balance—emphasizing tremendum on the one side, or emphasizing the fascinans on the other—how is a lack of balance about holiness misleading? If one is emphasized to the diminishment or to the exclusion of the other, what is the result?
c. If we’re out of balance in many of our churches today, in which direction?
d. Are we promoting that sense of mysterium tremendum fascinans, in our private worship, in our corporate worship services, or are we hindering and distracting from it?
e. How do we avoid getting out of balance, in either direction? How can we a proper sense of the holy in our private and public worship?
- What new things did you learn about the holiness of God? What practical impact do those truths make on your life?
- What do you plan to do differently as a result of studying this lesson? What changes do you need to make (i.e., in your life, in your schedule) to succeed in those plans?
- Let’s close tonight in a word of prayer, and then we’ll depart with Hymn #179, “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”