God and Obligation, or the Pattern of Sanctity
1 Peter 1:13-16
Why gird up the loins of your mind, be sober…

A "holy thing" is a thing that has been withdrawn from common uses and reserved for specific religious ends. A "holy man" is one upon whom there has been laid an authoritative interdict irrevocably separating him from the pursuits of common life, and binding him to the Divine service. But how can God be called holy in this earliest meaning of the term? He is eternally pure and perfect and separate from sinners, and does not need to draw a line between Himself and the world by a special consecration act. Well, God is separate from all those gods of the heathen kingdoms who may be thrust into competitive relations with Him. Even when the gods of the heathen are made to represent virtues and heroisms, when they incorporate the fairest ideals of the human imagination and conscience, in disposition and conduct and benign economy they fall immeasurably short of the perfection of the Most High, and He is still separate and alone. By acts that are from everlasting to everlasting in their range, He makes for Himself a consecrated sphere of life that must be ever and only His own (Micah 7:18). Is the time-honoured logic of this injunction sound? Is God's pattern a spring of motion and obligation to us? The logic has stood the strain of many centuries: will it do for our critical decade?

I. The argument at the outset sounds like an argument basing itself upon THE AUTHORITY WHICH TAKES ITS RISE IN SUPREME AND BOUNDLESS POWER. The Divine Speaker seems to assume unlimited proprietorship over us because He imparts life and determines all the outward conditions under which life maintains itself. Now a Jew would have submitted himself at once. We, however, are disposed to go a little further into the subject than that, and ask, "Does mere power, however gigantic its scale, create obligation"? It is our privilege to live after the French Revolution, and we are not disposed to submit to superior power for the simple reason that it is superior power. For God to bind upon us the law of His personal life because He is stronger than we is surely not unlike Fate trying to vanquish Prometheus bound to the rock in the Caucasus. Well, whilst usurped power can bring no sanction with it, if the power be original, creative, unlimited in time and space, it does bring essential obligation in its train. God does not want our conformity to His pattern because His power out powers other types of power, but because it is spontaneous, eternal, and a part of Himself. He whose breath brings the secret of life, whose word makes every wavelet of sunshine or starlight that visits the eye, every atom of air that sweetens and vitalises the blood, whose hand prepares the foundation upon which all life rests, and strikes the blow which brings our truest enfranchisements, has the right to bind men by His pattern. The rights of all fatherhoods, the prerogatives of all crowns and thrones and sovereignties, the sanctions of all law and ethic speak in this imperative "Be ye holy, for I am holy."

II. The authority that here addresses us is not that of supreme power only, but also of ABSOLVE LOVELINESS AND PERFECTION. In bidding us be like Himself God is bidding us be like that we most esteem, for has He not captivated the entire range of our reverence and admiration? The crown of supremacy belongs to God, not by an arbitrary coronation act, but by His own inherent fitness to wear it. We must set ourselves to copy that which we irresistibly worship. The musician whose soul has been visited by dream-like melodies from other worlds, is bound to so group his notes as to realise, for those to whom he sings, the mystic enchantments that have smitten his own soul with wonder. The painter to whose inner sense the subtle charm and secret of glowing sky, or flowered landscape, or fretting sea, has made itself known, is bound to suggest, as far as the play of colours will do it, the magnificent vision that has possessed his own imagination. All admirations have as their very core and essence the force of a vast moral constraint; and if God be the best of which we can think, or reason, or dream, if He has conquered all our moral admirations, if He is the loftiest pattern a quick and healthy and highly stimulated conscience can conceive, we are bound to copy Him. The highest form of worship is imitation. The trisagion of the cherubim, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts," confesses the law under which earth and heaven alike are placed to be like God. I need not remind you how in His pattern prayer Christ makes us subscribe to the principle whose gracious operation and benefit we need for ourselves — "Our Father, which art in heaven." Where there is fatherhood there is sonship and its duties, the first of which is to copy the qualities of the highest fatherhood. As we confess the Divine perfection the voice of unfailing response comes back in reply to our homage, "Be ye holy, for I am holy."

III. These words are an argument from THE AFFINITIES AND SIMILITUDES OF THE DIVINE AND HUMAN NATURES. God's nature is the archetype of ours. What does it mean when it is said we are "made in God's image" and quickened to life with God's breath, but that God has put within us the rudiments of His own holiness? The power to grow like God is implanted in man at the very beginning. There is a long-buried seed of spiritual excellence in him, old as his dim origins, which the processes of grace are destined to awaken and perfectly fructify. And to give us further assurance on the subject we are not only reminded of that image whose faint outlines and affinities we still bear, but we are told that this high and holy One has made Himself in our image. The correspondences are guaranteed from two standpoints. He has lived out His perfect life in an environment that is one with our own. In the person of His spotless and eternal Son, God has bowed Himself to the most abject conditions of our life, giving us a vision of that we are charged to copy, notwithstanding the strain of fierce and varied temptations. The grace that surrounds us on every side enters our natures and tends to produce there a reflection of the Holy One who has been our Friend and Saviour. In one of his books Mr. Ruskin says: "Some years ago a young Scotch student came to put himself under me, having taken many prizes justly with respect to the qualities looked for by the judges in various schools of art. He worked under me very earnestly and patiently for a time, and I was able to praise his doings in what I thought very high terms. Nevertheless there always remained a look of mortification on his face after he had been praised, however unqualifiedly. At last he could hold no longer, but one day when I had been more than usually complimentary, turned to me with an anxious yet not unconfident expression, and asked, 'Do you think, sir, that I shall ever draw as well as Turner?' I paused for a second or two, being much taken aback, and then answered, 'It is more likely you should be made emperor of all the Russias. There is a new emperor every fifteen or twenty years on an average, and by strange hap and fortunate cabal any body might be made emperor. But there is only one Turner in five hundred years, and God decides without any admission of auxiliary cabal what piece of clay his soul is to be put into.'" Come with your largest aspirations to the feet of Jesus Christ, and you may count upon a very different answer from that. "I am the 'Firstborn amongst many brethren,' and you shall be like Me, and shall realise the very qualities of Him whose manifestation I am. Trust Me, and go forward at My word, for you may be merciful and holy and perfect as the One in whose image you are made. The seed of the forgotten possibility is still in you, and I come to quicken that seed again, and in that quickening to bestow all spiritual grace and perfection. Yours is the very clay into which God determines to put His eternal ideal."

IV. The argument is an argument from THE LIVING CONTACT AND MYSTIC IMMANENCY OF THE MOST HIGH HIMSELF. The very self-same energy that makes God holy dwells in us and blends itself with our life. The very motive which determines God's eternal and unspotted life of blessedness comes to infix itself in us. The power of God's personal holiness, with all its magnificent achievements, lends itself to us for our perfecting.

1. God comes very near to every man who wants to copy His personal perfection, and the reason He seems far off from some is that they have never been inspired with the desire to emulate His character. He is a model who lends Himself to the most intimate handling of reverential natures, and to the closest study of all who love Him and desire to conform themselves to His spiritual similitude.

2. God is not only accessible, but He has the art of imparting Himself to those who seek Him in sincerity and love. If we may use the term without irreverence, He is the most magnetic being in the universe, inspiring those about Him with His own thought and love and sacred spiritual ardour. He is ever ready to make known His deepest secret to us.

3. He comes also to dwell within us, and inform our nature with His hourly inspirations. And if God be in us, the imitation of God is not an extravagant or fantastic hope. And so our obligation is not measured by what we are in ourselves, but by those new ranges and outbursts of energy the Holy Spirit brings into our natures. His forces must be added to our own; the marvellous possibilities arising out of His inhabitation of human souls, the capacity attainable through His infinite and unfaltering succours, must be discerned and brought into the estimate if we would know the sum of oar obligation, the breadth of the law under which we are placed, the lofty standard we are summoned to reach. To be like God is a costly thing, involving stern self-abnegation, and the strenuous application of all that is within you to one end. Well, is God's holiness a cheap and easy and self-indulgent thing? Did it not cost Him the most cherished treasure of His universe to exercise that holiness and compassionate an offending race? It is only by the renunciation of self that you can begin, however faintly, to be like God.

(T. G. Selby.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

WEB: Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be sober and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ—

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