IT would be good for the English-speaking world if we were to dispense for a while with the use of the word holiness, because it has been smirched like the word church with sectarian meaning. It may seem too much like a pun to claim that it is the most complete word in the language. But it is a sober fact. Holy and whole, holiness, and wholeness are synonymous; and health is but another way of writing holth or wholth, holiness or wholeness. We have confused piety or virtue or a combination of both with holiness. Piety and virtue and a lot of other qualities are component parts of holiness, but in themselves they are no more holiness than the sun's ray is the sun.
Holiness is the normal condition of a whole man as God designed him. The wholeness of God is His holiness or vice versa, as you choose. We can say with perfect reverence that God's state is one of eternal health. It is at moments when the doors of heaven are widest open that God appears as the Holy or Whole One. Of course it must be so. Full views shew us the whole. It was when Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple, that the completest song that can be sung moved the foundations of the threshold and came soaring down the ages--Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts. Of course such a God is immanent, of course the whole earth is full of His glory or excellence, for of Him are all things and in Him all things consist. Again, it was when John the Seer was led to a door opened in heaven and bidden to come up hither, that he saw a throne set in heaven and one sitting upon the throne--it was then that the one complete song was heard also by him. There was no improvement on what Isaiah heard; that could not be. The thrice holy is the superlative or eternal degree of holy--Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, which was and which is and which is to come.
Another implication of the English word holiness is that it cannot be in the nature of things aught but social manward as well as Godward. Personal holiness is bound up with group-holiness. No one can claim it for himself without claiming it for all those organically related to him at the same time. There must be leaders in holiness, but there are also the beneficiaries of those whom they lead. If I refrain from expanding this important point it is because it is implied in all I say.
Holiness, then, is wholeness as applied to God and those made in His image. It is in God's wholeness that our wholeness consists. He is all in all. What a rebuke this is to small or sectarian views of God and His purposes! His completeness is available to us, is our inspiration, is our heritage. God is so careful to preserve for us our vastness that He never invites us to clip off corners of Himself to tuck away in our little selves.
It is for righteousness that we are expected to hunger and thirst, and it is with righteousness that we shall be filled. At the dawn of wonders, in the dim ages of the past, He said, Be ye whole (holy) for the Lord your God is whole (holy). And when the Light that lighteth every man coming into the world came unto His own, He said, after an exposition of blessedness and exalted interior conduct in specific instances, Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. The Sermon on the Mount would be sadly incomplete if this keystone to the whole arch were missing.
In it is the same call to holiness as from the beginning. It suggests that all which preceded and all which comes after in the Sermon is illustrative rather than exhaustive. Were we to have anything short of this given us as our goal, it would be an indication that God thought us to be something less than His children. We have no surer proof that we are made in the image of God than this injunction to be holy because our God is holy. The thought is teeming with glorious implications.
In the first place it is the constant assurance to the individual that he is worth while. If he were not a potential part of wholeness, neither God nor man would be the richer for his success or poorer for his failure. But the fact that individual wholeness is a contribution to the wholeness or perfection of God's plan stings the soul into activity. This is something that the Bible refuses to let us get away from. There is no taint of compromise in its unvarying ideal. The vine and the branches, the body and the members, the temple and the living stones, and all other kindred teaching drive the thought home. Language has been exhausted in the endeavour to defend man from resting in the incomplete and to connect him with the entirety of life.
Then there is the thought of intimacy, personal and individual, which the wholeness of holiness involves. It is the cause and the soul of mysticism, finding expression in the simple piety of faith, and in the exalted experiences of richly endowed spiritual natures. The part nestles close to the whole, in order to partake of its health. The real wealth of life with God thus becomes a living fact to us. His holiness is at our disposal waiting for our appropriation. The sacraments refuse to be anything short of the imparting of God Himself and our rising to meet Him.
Still, again, it is a warning against the self-mutilation bound up with partial and prejudiced views of truth as a substitute for the Truth itself. If we feed on an ill-proportioned diet we run the risk of disease of more serious character than if we are simply on short rations. Worse still, it maims our power of self -giving and limits its scope. It confines us to a field of operation of our own choosing instead of launching us out into the glorious freedom of the children of God. To rest in the last illuminating thought that has inspired us, or, to do what is very frequent, to accept as the whole truth the single ray that brought us to ourselves and to God, to forget that what is our chief asset is not what ripples along on the surface of our conscious life but that which permeates and sustains our subconscious life, is to endanger wholeness.
Finally, it is a death blow to the Puritanism that confuses a group of virtues with holiness, and wastes much valuable vitality in manufacturing artificial sins. A Puritan conscience impedes holiness as much as it aids it. The Puritan element has an invaluable place in the entire scheme of the religion of life, but it is a mischievous thing when it claims for itself rights and prerogatives which are beyond its powers to wield.
It has been maintained that "constantly striving for the unobtainable frequently results in neglect of important matters close at hand--such things as bread and cheese and children are neglected." This cannot be if we bear in mind the wholeness of holiness, Godward and manward.
It is the entire self that must strive after and claim holiness or health. For the moment let us deliberately lose sight of the difference in current meaning between the two synonyms. Heart, soul, mind, body, are the component parts of that unity called self or personality.
That which has to do with all has to do with each. Each shares in the others' losses or gains. It is not easy to find the dividing line between them, not even between the body and the soul. The normal condition of each and, of course, of all is that of wholeness or health. Nor is there doubt that the condition of any one of them affects all the others.
It is significant that when our Lord enunciated the first and great Commandment, He repeated before each of the words, heart, soul and mind, the world "all." The entireness or totality of self must pour itself out Godward. In the self-giving of all the heart and of all the soul and of all the mind to God is the certainty of ultimate holiness. As for the body, it will follow where the inner faculties determine. It becomes the adequate agent of spirit.
The New Testament is full of explicit messages to all four component elements of personality. The affections are to be set on high, not on things on the earth; it is in the heart that goodness is conceived. The soul (or life) finds itself by losing itself for Christ's sake; it is the chiefest of man's gifts to personality for which there can be no equivalent. The mind is charged in inspiring terms to think whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, the mind has to think on these things. Even the body is reminded that it is nothing less than God's temple and that men can glorify God in their bodies.
It is a conviction of our day that the whole of man has not hitherto been brought into sufficiently close volitional contact with God and therefore the body becomes diseased. The mind thinks disease and so breeds disease--an indisputable fact in probably more cases than we can enumerate. This much has been established-- the effect upon the body of inner health or disease is potent for good or for ill. There are also conditions of the body that eat into the moral and spiritual tissue. He who waves away the healing power of Christ as belonging only to early New Testament times is not preaching the whole Gospel. He was and is the Saviour of the body. God is the same yesterday, to-day and for ever. He who in Jesus Christ healed by stimulating spiritual faculties to appropriate health is not dependent upon what doctors can do, nor helpless when doctors fail. The prayers in the Prayer Book touching sickness and disease are wretchedly inadequate, mournful and halting. It is high time they were mended if they are to be used as vehicles for mending. Our Lord's words to the imprisoned Baptist are also for those of us who are in the prison of medical materialism--Go your way and tell John the things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them. According to thy faith be it unto thee. As I write I see the whole pathetic body of the sick and diseased rising up and claiming their right to that sacrament of anointing which is denied them by Churches that should know better. Is it that we are afraid that it will not be effective for healing? If so it is an acknowledgment of weak faith. Anointing is the representative remedial act and sanctifies whatever physical treatment may be necessary. It ought to have behind it the sanction and blessing of the entire Church, and not be left to individuals to adopt on their own initiative. Often the only treatment, or at any rate the main treatment, needed for certain ailments is a spiritual challenge. According to thy faith be it unto thee. God is not the last resort in sickness: He is the first. He is not only the physician for great ills but also for small.
I would not dare speak about holiness in terms which surpass my personal experience unless in the same breath I could speak from joyous experience of the forgivingness and the forgiveness of God. His mercies are new every morning, and His compassion fails not. His forgivingness, or His permanent will to forgive, a disposition which has not to be opportuned into full activity before it operates, is no afterthought of His character. If He is the self-giver, the servant of mankind, He must be the forgiver. He gives not only full measure, pressed down, running over, all of which is implied in forgiveness, but also He gives in anticipation before we have any claim upon Him, except the claim of failure upon the Source of all victory. For-giveness is both fore-giveness and full-giveness. Our health is gone by our own act, the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint, and the Holy One comes and gives us of His health. The cost to Him is for ever held on high in the Cross of Calvary. Forgiveness is the most costly of all gifts because the most precious.
Sin is disease or absence of health or wholeness. The phrase sometimes used for the restoration of the sick is that they were made whole. There are many aspects of sin, and the teaching of the Christian Church has made us familiar with them all. But for our immediate purpose it will be sufficient to view sin as the forfeiting of wholeness by choosing away or apart from the Holy One and those who in Him are holy. God's forgiveness is the lifting us back again into the relationships of health--with Himself and with his fellows. It is not surprising that the Church was given authority to forgive sins. It is the primary duty of the society that stands for health, the Holy Church, to give out of the abundance of its health to any member who falls ill morally or spiritually. It is as natural and right for the Church to dispense forgiveness as it is to share any other treasures it may possess. Here again lack of faith makes us hesitate to speak with assurance both in the name of the holy God and in the name of holy men. No Church is functioning right that is not dispensing absolution freely and constantly.
Forgiveness is, like other inner gifts, dependent for its efficacy upon the disposition to receive it. It must be used or its value is nullified. It expects much of the recipient. Tradition and usage have summed up all that is necessary in the word penitence, which is a disposition shaping itself into conduct, based upon the abandonment of sin. God's forgivingness can never be exhausted, but by a light use of forgiveness power to appropriate it becomes depleted. Forgiven sin is forsaken sin, and the converse is equally true if, included in the forsaking, is as complete an undoing of the wrong as the sinner's power of choice can compass.
Modern psychology in many ways is justifying the age-long position of the Church. Take, for instance, the theory that until a certain "suppressed emotion," however remote, is definitely dealt with, depression, nervous debility, or whatever the morbid condition may be, cannot be relieved. In other words, when human nature has been violently dealt with at the springs of being, disease in the subconscious life is the penalty. Nothing short of subconscious treatment will suffice to get rid of both it and its operation. Wounds of the soul do not necessarily disappear by being forgotten. Their poison continues to work until they are subjected to forgiveness, which is a remedial process, both tender and severe, as well as a remedial act.
We are but beginning to understand the wholeness of life from the cradle to the grave. The career of a man is not a succession of more or less jerky acts: it is a continuous flow, so that all the past is always in the present. The past cannot be obliterated, but where it constitutes a break it can be repaired, and where it constitutes a shame it can be transformed, by penitence and forgiveness.
It is not an uncommon thing to find men shy of associating themselves with the Church on the ground that they are in a scrape and that, inasmuch as they did not trouble institutions or ministers of religion when the times were fair, it would be rather a mean business to come to the Lord in their distress. There is in such an attitude a recognition that true religion is something more than a last resort. So far it has good in it. But it is obviously a wrong course if the Church be indwelt by the Spirit of Him who said, Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden. They that are whole need not the physician, but they that are sick. It is by no means an unworthy motive to move Godward because of trouble. It is exactly what God has declared He desires and expects men to do.
It is, perhaps, a truism to say that incompleteness is best prevented, or, if we are suffering from it, best cured by cultivating a passion for wholeness. Walk in the spirit and you cannot fulfil the lusts of the flesh. The Student in Arms sums up the principle in a striking passage: "Let us be frank about this. . . . The only men who are pure are those who are absorbed in some pursuit, or possessed by a great love; whether it be the love of clean, wholesome life, which is religion, or the love of a noble man, which is hero-worship, or the love of a true woman. These are the four powers which are stronger than the 'flesh'--the zest of a quest, religion, hero-worship, and the love of a good woman. If a man is not possessed by one of these he will be immoral."
It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God: therefore, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Glory be to Thee, O Lord most high. Amen.