Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity.
The holiness of God
There is in our Maker a purity of nature, and an essential sort of holiness which render Him incapable of enduring sin in any person, or under any circumstances. I believe this is the very foundation of all religious feeling whatever. The true fear of God is the fear of His holiness.
1. This is no contradiction to the character in which God is exhibited to us in the Gospel, as a God of love. But we must notice the limits under which the love of God must be taken in application to ourselves. Only in the Gospel is it revealed.
2. God has always shown a sort of instinctive abhorrence of sin, which no worth of the individual sinner could induce Him to overcome. This holiness of God is opposed to sin in every form and degree. There is nothing in man which can reconcile the nature of God to sin. Is sin regarded by us, as we must know and believe it is regarded by God? (H. Raikes, A. M.)
The holiness of God
I. His holiness is universally manifest.
1. It is manifest to man.
(1) In law. The principles of His moral law are holy, just, and good.
(2) In providence. Justice is but holiness in action, and through all ages God has expressed His abhorrence of sin in the judgments He has inflicted.
(3) In Christ. He sent His Son into the world. What for? “To put away sin.” To cleanse humanity by His self-sacrificing life.
(4) In conscience. The moral constitution of man, which recoils from the wrong and sympathises with the right, manifests God’s holiness. There is no room for man, then, to doubt God’s holiness.
2. It is manifest to angels. They live in its light. They are adorned with its beauties, they are inspired with its glories, and their anthem is, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
3. It is manifest to the lost. They are bound to exclaim, “Just and right are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
II. His holiness is eternally original. The holiness of all holy intelligences is derived from Him.
III. His holiness is gloriously effulgent. “He is glorious in holiness.” He is light, in Him there is no darkness at all.
IV. His holiness is absolutely standard. It is that to which the holiness of all other beings must come, and by which it must be tested. The law is, we are “ to be holy as He is holy.” But how can fallen man be raised to this standard of holiness? Here is the answer, and the only satisfactory answer: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” etc. (Homilist.)
Wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously?--
Things that suggest mistrust of God
St. Hierom’s opinion is that the name Habakkuk is derived from a word that signifies embracing, and may imply the embraces of a wrestler, who clasps his arms about the person he contends with. In this chapter we have the prophet contending with no less an antagonist than the great God, and upon no lower subject than His holiness, justice, and goodness. Is it not a very bold and daring thing for a creature thus to arraign the justice of His Creator? The father fore-mentioned explains that the prophet in his own person represents the frailty and impatience of man. We understand Habakkuk to be really saying, “True it is, O Lord, we are a very wicked and sinful people; but yet not so bad as the tyrannous Nebuchadnezzar, and his idolatrous Chaldeans. How then can it be consistent with Thy justice and hatred to sin, to permit the greater sinners to prosper in their oppression of the less, of those that are better than themselves?” “Why dost Thou favour them in their treacherous enterprises?” The words of the text contain an expostulation with God, concerning that seemingly strange dispensation of His providence in suffering the wicked to prosper and thrive, and that by the afflictions and oppressions of the righteous.
I. The ground and occasion of this expostulation of the text. Good men cannot oppress, or take indirect methods to thrive; they have a God above, and a conscience within, which overawe them, and will not suffer them to do it. Nor can they be supposed to use such means as may effectually secure them from the violences and oppressions of others; for the good man, charitably measuring others by himself, does not stand upon a constant guard, nor use preventive methods to keep off those injuries that he is not apprehensive of. But a bad man has none of those restraints of God, or conscience, or charity, to hinder him from falling upon the prey that lies exposed to him. It is not then to be wondered at that “those who deal treacherously prosper,” or “that the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he.”
II. Inquire into the objections that are made against God’s permission hereof. How comes it to pass that God does not interpose, that He does not hinder the evil and defend the good? This has been a stumbling-block in all ages. It was to holy Job; to Jeremiah; and to Asaph. It is a great argument of the atheists to banish the belief of a God and His providence out of the world. They say, If God would hinder them but cannot, then is He not omnipotent; if He can, but will not, then is He not just and good; so that either His power, or His justice and goodness, must be given up; or else those attributes must be salved by the imperfection of His knowledge. But the true notion of God is a Being infinite in all perfections, and therefore he that is defective in knowledge can no more be God than he that is not infinite in power, justice, or goodness. And so they would dispute God out of being.
III. Vindicate the Divine providence by showing the weakness of these objections. It may be very consistent with the justice and goodness of God to permit these things. The objection is built upon the contrary supposition.
1. It is not inconsistent with God’s justice and goodness to suffer good men to be afflicted in this world, because--
(1) Afflictions are not always punishments, but means whereby God does a great deal of good and benefit to them that are exercised with them. He weans them from the world, reduces them (leads them back) when they are going astray, tries and proves their faith, patience, submission, resignation, etc.
2. Supposing afflictions to be punishments, the best men will find failings and sins enough in themselves to make the punishment reasonable. They may well think God good and merciful in thus chastising them.
3. He has appointed a day wherein He will abundantly recompense all the troubles and sorrows and sufferings of pious men with joys unspeakable.
4. It is not inconsistent with God’s justice and goodness to suffer bad men to be prosperous here.
(1) Prosperity is not always a blessing. If the impunity of the wicked be their hardening and judgment, it is certainly not unjust with God to suffer it.
(2) There is hardly any man so bad but has something of good in him, by which he is useful and serviceable to the world. For God to reward the natural or moral goodness of otherwise bad men, with outward temporal blessings, is agreeable to His rule of rewarding every one according to his works.
(3) It cannot argue want of justice or goodness in God to try all means to reduce wholly wicked men and make them better.
(4) There is a day of retribution coming.
5. It is not inconsistent with God’s justice and goodness to suffer bad men to be the instruments whereby good men are afflicted. If a thing has to be done, and is right to do, it cannot matter whether the agent employed is good or bad, so long as he is efficient for the work. And can the good be employed in many of these judgments, or calamities, or wrongs? If God may work by such things, He must use the sort of people who can do them. Inferences--
1. This subject gives us an irrefragable assurance of a future judgment and state.
2. Learn not to “love the world, nor the things of the world.”
3. The facts dwelt on should excite and inflame our desires and longings after the other world, where the wicked shall be made miserable, and the good man happy.
4. Learn not to think hardly of God, nor to envy wicked men when He permits them to persecute His Church, and to triumph in the miseries and ruin of His best servants. (W. Talbot, D. D.)
“Wait, and you will see”
Linnell, the artist, had a commission to paint a picture, for which he was to receive £1000. Not wishing any one to inspect it until perfected, he veiled it when not working at it, and wrote over it in Latin, “Wait, and you will see.” The final issue of much of God’s work is now hidden from us, but assured that, even in times of affliction, God is acting wisely, we must wait until He is pleased to let us see the finished glory of His work. (Gates of Imagery.)