Worship the LORD in the Beauty of Holiness.
In Psalm 99 we read: “The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he!” (Ps 99:2-3). The refrain continues in v5: “Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!” The threefold declaration of God’s holiness is completed at the climax of the psalm, and brings this song of worship to it’s conclusion: “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!” In this exalted song of praise, the threefold declaration of the seraphim in heaven (Is 6:1-3) is appropriated into the worship of God’s people, for the psalm follows the structure of Isaiah’s heavenly vision of angelic worship. This psalm, and the prophetic vision of Isaiah, provide an important insight into the heart of worship, and as we consider this heart, we find that it is the very holiness of God.
Why do we worship God? The fullest and simplest answer to that question is simply this: because he is holy. We worship God because he is holy, because he is exalted over all the nations, transcending above the heavens, and all of creation. Reigning supreme over all, he is enthroned as the divine potentate of heaven and earth, he is holy, and the earth quakes before him. “He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; and the clouds are the dust of his feet… The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken in pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:4-7). We exalt the LORD our God in our praises and worship precisely because he is exalted in his holiness (Ps 99:5).
Let me again remind you of what God’s holiness really is. God’s holiness is the sum expression of his consummate perfection and total glory, wherein he is revealed as being separate from all else that exists, being transcendent and infinitely exalted over all. The knowledge of God’s holiness should move us to worship him because it is a never-ending fountain of excellence, beauty and perfection. His holiness is a boundless source of wonder that will inspire our hearts to praise and worship him for all eternity.
As we see and perceive more and more of the manifold excellencies of who God is, and of what he has done, our worship will be a spontaneous response. He is God alone, incomparable, alive, and the source of all life. Everything that we see in this world, life itself, is his gift. He is truth, and he defines that which is true. Reality as we know it is a total reflection of his will, and he is trustworthy to those who take refuge in him, and destroying the vain imaginations and plans of those who have set themselves against him.
He is an infinite ocean of being and perfection, the living reality from which all the shadows and reflections of glory and beauty in this life flow. Every beautiful sunrise, and the taste of fresh morning air, is an experience of his glory (Ps 19:1). Every impulse of joy that we have when we see a baby smile, or taste fresh strawberries with sweetened cream, or hear the soaring harmonies of Handel’s Messiah – all these things and more flow from the God of heaven, and so we praise him from whom all blessings flow.
When we begin to understand that he is pure and without blemish, without a shadow of darkness or corruption, we rejoice in his perfection and respond with worship. When we come to know that he is spirit, existing at all times and in all places, invisible and without body, parts, or contradiction, we see something of his glory, and with thankfulness we praise him for the never-ending reality of his presence with us and care of us (Ps 139).
When we being to understand that he is all together wise, knowing flawlessly what is best in every possible situation, we marvel at the harmonious plans and purposes that he has for his creation, and wonder at the unfathomable perfection of his designs. Our heart is likewise moved to deeper and deeper expressions of adoration as we come to experience more and more that all things in our lives truly do work together for good, for us who have been loved by him from before the foundation of the world, having been called in Christ according to his purpose.
When we increasingly see that he is both free and absolute, at liberty to do whatever he will, and totally determining whatsoever comes to pass, we fall down in awe before him, worshipping the thrice holy God, our almighty and sovereign Creator.
When we consider in all these unfathomable perfections that he is unchangeable and complete in his perfection, and that none of them shall fall away or prove unfounded, we worship. When we begin to perceive that he is altogether trustworthy and reliable, we rejoice in the knowledge that the glorious reality of his holiness is the sure ground of our eternal wellbeing and salvation. We worship him, for we know that he will not abandon us, he will not betray us at the last, but will bring us into the eternal enjoyment of knowing him.
As we consider that he is altogether upright, righteous, pure, and morally flawless, working all things together to unfold and display his excellence, glory, majesty, and beauty, we worship. When we consider that all darkness and evil will be destroyed by him with whom we have to do, knowing that even the corruptions of our own hearts will be ultimately cleansed, we thank and praise him for lifting the burden of our sin from upon us, and from preserving us from the righteous wrath that would have been justly poured out upon us for all eternity. In Jesus’ name, we worship our God in the beauty of holiness.
When we come to know him as most loving, gracious, merciful, and long-suffering, how can we but thank him and extol his name to all the world? He has blessed us beyond all we could think or imagine, and we are only just beginning to come into the blessing of that heritage. Even in this fallen world, we know from experience that he is abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. As we enter increasingly into the heavenly bliss of these truths, how can we do anything but worship?
As we come to see that in all things he is most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and by no means clearing the guilty, we come also in reverence to worship. We come in fear and trembling, yet not destroyed, but in Christ preserved and redeemed. Knowing that the judge of all the earth will do right, and that all the prideful haughtiness of man will be laid low, and that Christ will be all and in all, to the glory of God the Father.
These words are but a poor, beggarly glimpse into the reality of God’s holiness, and yet perhaps we begin to perceive, to understand, and to know what worship is really all about. As we increasingly see him in all his glory and splendour, beginning to perceive a fuller vision of his infinite magnificence, our praise is inevitable. Worship is the divinely designed and natural response of the human heart to the being and holiness of God.
Now we, of course, fallen creatures that we are, are – in and of ourselves – are completely by nature bent away from this natural purpose of worship. Though made in his image, our rebellion is manifested in our commitment to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). What this means is that, because of our own sin, we have a natural spiritual blindness to God’s glory. In Christ, however, our eyes are opened, and we are once more called to enter in to God’s presence and gaze upon his beauty and glory once more (Ps 27:4; 2 Cor 3:18).
The Holiness of God encompasses the whole being of God, and all of his works. It is our starting point, it encompasses the whole of our growth into knowing him, and it is the ultimate goal that is ever set before our eyes. Theology itself is nothing less than a never-ending exposition of the Holiness of God. It is the first petition in our prayers (Mt 6:9), it is the pattern for our lives, and it is the glorious vision in which we behold the Lord in the beauty of his holiness. His holiness is the never-ending fountain of his excellence, and it ever inspires us to eternal praise and worship. “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!” (Ps 96:7-9).
Where does this all leave us? Perhaps we might simply ask ourselves this question: Where is my heart in worship? Is my heart moved in worship? Am I moved with a vision of his splendour and beauty? Am I so enthralled by him that I cannot help but ascribe to him the glory due his name? Or am I apathetic and tired in worship? I think that the truth is, sin so easily entangles us (Heb 12:1). We do need continual heart transformation if we are to raise up the song of Psalm 96 in spirit and in truth. We must then make it our solemn aim and goal in life to gaze upon the Lord (2 Cor 3:18), asking that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give (us) the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph 1:16). It is as the Lord will graciously answer these prayers, and enlighten our eyes (Ps 19:8; Eph 1:18) that our hearts will be transformed and warmed. So then, brothers and sisters, pursue holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
Soli Deo Gloria!