The Way of Holiness By Jonathan Edwards, 1722
“A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there.” Isaiah 35:8-9
Observation 1. Observe in our text the subject spoken, that is, the way to salvation: “A highway will be there.” This highway is the common and only way to heaven, for the way to heaven is but one. There is none who ever get to heaven except they walk in this way: some men don’t get to heaven one way and others another, but it is one highway that is always traveled by those that obtain heaven.
It is the same narrow way that Christ tells us of. Some don’t go to heaven in a broad way, and others in a narrow; some in an easy and others in a difficult way; some in a way of self-denial and mortification, and others in a way of enjoyment of their lusts and sinful pleasures; some up hill and others down: but the way to heaven is the same, and it is the highway here spoken of. There is only one highway, or common road, and no by-paths that some few go to heaven in, as exceptions from the rest.
If we seek ever so diligently, we shall never find out an easier way to heaven than that which Christ has revealed to us. We cannot find a broader way, but if we go to heaven, the way is so narrow that we must rub hard to get along and press forward. The kingdom of heaven must suffer violence; it must be taken by force, or else it never will be taken at all. If we don’t go by the footsteps of the flock, we shall never find the place where Christ feeds, and where he makes his flock to rest at noon.
It appears that the way here spoken of is the way of salvation, by the last verse of the chapter. When speaking of this way, it is said, “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion,” etc. “Zion” is the common appellation by which, in the Old Testament, the church both militant and triumphant is signified.
Observation 2. In the words observe the holy nature of this way described: first, by the name by which it is called, “the way of holiness”; “and it shall be called the way of holiness.” Secondly, the holiness of those that travel in it, and its purity from those that are unclean, or unholy; “the unclean shall not pass over it.” No wicked person shall ever travel in this way of holiness. To the same purpose is the next verse, “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there.” That is, none of the wicked men of this world, which are like lions or ravenous beasts more than like men: in their eager raging and lustful appetites and evil affections, or by their insatiable covetousness, are like hungry wolves, are violently set upon the world and will have it, whether by right or by wrong. Or make themselves like ravenous beasts by their proud, invidious, malicious dispositions, which is directly contrary to a Christian spirit and temper. They are more like wild beasts than Christians, that are wrongful and injurious, are all for themselves and the satisfying their own appetites, and care nothing for the welfare of others, their fellow-men that are of the same blood, make a god of their bellies–and therein resemble tigers and wolves.
“Now,” says the Prophet, “none Such shall go upon this highway to Zion; such unclean and ravenous beasts shall be found there. No, but the redeemed shall walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion.” This way is a way of holiness and not to be defiled by wicked persons. That in Revelation 21:27 will serve well for an explanation of these words; “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
DOCTRINE: Those only who are holy–are in the way to heaven.
Many are not sensible enough of the necessity of holiness in order to salvation. Everyone hopes for heaven, but if everyone that hoped for heaven actually went there, heaven would be full of murderers, adulterers, swearers, drunkards, thieves, robbers, and licentious debauchers. It would have been full of all manner of wickedness and wicked men, such as the earth abounds with at this day. There would have been those there that are no better than wild beasts, howling wolves, and poisonous serpents; yes, devils incarnate, as Judas was.
What a wretched place would heaven be–if it were so! That pure, undefiled, light and glorious place, the heavenly temple, would be as the temple of Jerusalem was in Christ’s time, a den of thieves; and the royal palace of the Most High, the holy metropolis of the creation, would be turned into hell. There would be no happiness there for those that are holy. What a horrible, dreadful confusion would there be–if the glorious presence of God the Father; the glorified Lamb of God; and the Heavenly Dove, Spirit of all grace and holiness; the spotless, glorified saints; and the holy angels–were all mixed up together with wicked men, beasts and devils!
Therefore, it behooves us all to be sensible of the necessity of holiness in order to salvation; of the necessity of real, hearty and sincere, inward and spiritual holiness, such as will stand by us forever and will not leave us at death, that sinners may not be so foolish as to entertain hopes of heaven, except they intend forthwith to set about repentance and reformation of heart and life. Therefore, this is what we are now upon: to show the necessity of holiness, and this we shall do in these three things.
I. Show what holiness is.
II. That those that have it not are not in the way to heaven.
III. The reasons why it must needs be so.
I. What is holiness? I shall answer to this question in three things which fully comprehend the nature of holiness, which are not in themselves distinct as so many parts of holiness, but the same thing in three different lights, to give us the fuller understanding of it.
First. Holiness is a conformity of the heart and the life unto God. Whatever outward appearance men may make by their external actions, as if they were holy, yet if it proceeds not from a most inward, hearty and sincere holiness within, it is nothing. Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart [2 Kings 14:1-20]; all that he did was not acceptable to God, who searches the hearts and tries the thoughts of the children of men, and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
And whatever holiness they may pretend to have in their hearts, whatever hypocritical pangs of affection they may have had, it is all to no purpose except it manifest itself in the holiness of their lives and conversations: James 1:26-27, “If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this–to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” And in the second chapter, eighteenth verse: “Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” And in the nineteenth and twentieth verses, “You Believe that there is one God; you do well–the devils also believe and tremble. But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” So that there must be a conformity of both heart and life to God, in order to true holiness.
Holiness is the image of God, his likeness, in him who is holy. By being conformed unto God is not meant a conformity to him in his eternity, or infinity, or infinite power. These are God’s inimitable and incommunicable attributes; but a conformity to his will, whereby he wills things that are just, right, and truly excellent and lovely; whereby he wills real perfection, and goodness; and perfectly abhors everything that is really evil, unjust, and unreasonable. And it is not only a willing as God wills, but also a doing as he does–in acting holily and justly and wisely and mercifully, like him. It must become natural thus to be, and thus to act; it must be the constant inclination and new nature of the soul, and then the man is holy, and not before.
Second. Holiness is a conformity to Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus is perfectly conformed unto God, for he is God. He is his express image. Now Christ is nearer to us in some respects than God the Father, for he is our Mediator and is more immediately conversant with us; John 1:18, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.” Jesus Christ, he has been with us in the flesh and as one of us he appeared in the form of a servant, and we have seen his holiness brightly shining forth in all his actions. We have seen his holy life; we have a copy drawn, and an example set for us.
Now holiness is a conformity unto this copy: he who copies after Jesus Christ, after that copy which he has set us and which is delivered to us by the evangelists, is holy. He who diligently observes the life of Christ in the New Testament need not be at a loss to know what holiness is. Christ commands us to follow his example. Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls.”
Have you ever read the four Gospels, and did you not observe in the life of Christ wonderful instances of humility, love to God, love to holiness; wonderful instances of zeal for God’s glory; steadfastness in resisting temptations, entire trust and reliance on God, strict adherence to all his commands; astonishing instances of condescension, humility, meekness, lowliness, love to men, love to his enemies, charity and patience? Why, this is holiness. When we imitate Christ in these things, then are we holy, and not until then.
Third. Holiness is a conformity to God’s laws and commands. When all God’s laws without exception are written in our hearts, then are we holy. If you can go along with David in Psalm 119, where he speaks of his love and delight in God’s law, in your own experience; when a man feels in some good measure what David declares concerning himself towards the law of God–then may God’s law be said to be written in his heart. By God’s law I mean all his precepts and commands, especially as they are delivered to us in the gospel, which is the fulfillment of the law of God. If you feel Christ’s Sermon upon the Mount engraved on the fleshly tables of your hearts, you are truly sanctified.
The new covenant is written in the hearts of those that are sanctified, of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks, 31:31,33, “Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
The commands and precepts which God has given us are all pure, perfect, and holy. They are the holiness of God in writing, and, when the soul is conformed to them, they have holiness of God upon their hearts; II Corinthians 3:3, “Forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” When the soul is molded and fashioned according to the image of God, the example of Christ, and the rules of the gospel–then it is holy, and not else.
II. Those that have not this holiness–are not in the way to heaven. Those that are not thus conformed to God, to Christ, and God’s commands–are not in the way to heaven and happiness; they are not traveling that road; the road they are in will never bring them there. Whatever hopes and expectations they may have, they will never reach heaven except they alter their course, turn about, and steer towards another point; for the way is a way of holiness, and the unclean shall not pass over it. Christ said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into heaven, but yet he left it absolutely possible with God that it might be; but he said positively and without exception that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. None but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, whatever profession they may make, whatever church they may be in: for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
Whatever external acts of religion they may perform, however they may be constant attendants on the public or family worship, and live outwardly moral lives; yes, what is more, if they speak with the tongues of men and angels, though they could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though they have faith that they can remove mountains; though they bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and though they give their very bodies to be burnt: yet if they have not charity or holiness–which is the same thing, for by charity is intended love to God as well as man; though they have and do all those things, yet they are nothing; they are as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal (see I Corinthians 13). It is good that we should be thoroughly convinced of the most absolute and indispensable necessity of a real, spiritual, active and vital—yes, immortal–holiness.
III. We shall now, in the third place, give the reasons why none that are not holy can be in the way to heaven; and why those who never are so can never obtain the happiness thereof.
First. It is contrary to God’s justice–to make a wicked man eternally happy. God is a God of infinite justice, and his justice (to speak after the manner of men) “obliges” him to punish sin eternally; sin must be punished, the sins of all men must be punished. If the sinner retains his sin, and it is not washed off by the blood of Christ, and he purified and sanctified and made holy–it must be punished upon himself. If he is sanctified, his sin has been already punished in the passion of Christ; but if not, it still remains to be punished in his eternal ruin and misery; for God has said that he is a holy and jealous God, and will by no means clear the guilty. It is reckoned among the rest of God’s attributes which he proclaims in Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18.
Second. It is impossible by reason of God’s holiness, that anything should be united to God and brought to the enjoyment of him–which is not holy. Now, is it possible that a God of infinite holiness, who is perfect and hates sin with perfect hatred, who is infinitely lovely and excellent–could embrace in his arms a filthy, abominable creature, a hideous, detestable monster, more hateful than a toad and more poisonous than a viper? So hateful, base, and abominable–is every unsanctified man, even the best hypocrite and most painted sepulchers of them all.
How impossible is it that this should be, that such loathsome beings, the picture of the devil, should be united to God: should be a member of Christ, a child of God, be made happy in the enjoyment of his love and the smiles of his countenance, should be in God and God in them? It is therefore as impossible for an unholy thing to be admitted unto the happiness of heaven, as it is for God to be turned into nothing. For it is as impossible that God should love sin as it is for him to cease to be, and it is as impossible for him to love a wicked man that has not his sin purified, and it is as impossible for him to enjoy the happiness of heaven except God loves him, for the happiness of heaven consists in the enjoyment of God’s love.
Third. It would defile heaven and interrupt the happiness of the saints and angels. It would defile that holy place, the Holy of Holies, and would fright and terrify the sanctified spirits, and obstruct them in their delightful ecstasies of devotion, and would quite confound the heavenly society. How would one unsanctified person interrupt their happiness, and fill those regions all over with the loathsome stench of his sin and filthiness!
Fourth. The nature of sin necessarily implies misery. That soul that remains sinful must of a necessity of nature remain miserable, for it is impossible there should be any happiness where such a hateful thing as sin reigns and bears rule. Sin is the most cruel tyrant that ever ruled, seeks nothing but the misery of his subjects; as in the very keeping of God’s commands there is great reward, so in the very breaking of them there is great punishment.
Sin is a woeful confusion and dreadful disorder in the soul, whereby everything is put out of place, reason trampled under foot and passion advanced in its place, conscience dethroned and abominable lusts reigning. As long as it is so, there will unavoidably be a dreadful confusion and perturbation in the mind; the soul will be full of worry, perplexities, uneasiness, storms and frights, and thus it must necessarily be to all eternity, except the Spirit of God puts all to rights. So that if it were possible that God should desire to make a wicked man happy while he is wicked, the nature of the thing would not allow of it, but it would be simply and absolutely impossible.
Thus I have given some reasons of the doctrine–why it must needs be that those that are not holy cannot be in the way to heaven. Many more reasons might be offered, which the time will not allow to take notice of at this time; but these alone would have been enough to certify us that none but those who are holy ever attain to a crown of glory, if God had not expressly said that without holiness no man should see the Lord.
We shall apply this doctrine in three uses:
first, of inference;
second, of trial or self-examination;
third, of exhortation.
I. INFERENCE. If it be so that none but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, how many poor creatures are there that think they are in the way to heaven who are not? There are many that think that they are undoubtedly in the way to heaven, and without question shall enter there at last, who have not the least grain of true holiness, that manifest none in their lives and conversations, of whom we may be certain that either they have no holiness at all, or that which they have is a dormant, inactive sort—which is in effect to be certain that there is none. There are a great many others that are not so distinctly and plainly perceived, that have nothing but what is external, the shell without the kernel. Vast multitude are of these two kinds.
What a pitiable, miserable condition are they in–to step out of this world into an uncertain eternity, with an expectation of finding themselves exceedingly happy and blessed in the highest heaven–and all at once find themselves undeceived, and sinking in the bottomless pit!
II. TRIAL. If none are in the way to heaven but those that are holy, let us try and examine ourselves by this doctrine to see whereabouts we are, and see whether or not we are in the way to heaven. To know which way we are going, whether towards heaven or hell; for if we think ourselves in the road to heaven, but are traveling to the place of torment all the while, and continue deceived, without doubt fire and brimstone will undeceive us! If we find ourselves in the broad way to destruction, how dare we stir a step further. If we would know whether we are holy or not, let us try ourselves by then five following things:
First. Meditate on the holiness of God, and see if you cannot see a conformity, a likeness in your mind. There is no likeness or comparison in degree—we speak not of that—but yet there is a likeness in nature between God and the soul of the believer he holy soul, when it thinks and meditates upon God’s nature, finds a pleasure and delight, because there is an agreeableness in his new nature to the divine perfections. If those that think themselves in the way to heaven, that are unholy in the meantime in their hearts, would compare themselves and their nature to the holy nature of God–such a glorious light as the holiness of God would quickly discover their rottenness and unsoundness.
Second. See if you can see any resemblance in your life to the life of Christ. It is not supposed that ever any copy comes near to this original, nor ever will; but yet they may perceive whether the same spirit, the same temper and disposition, in a lesser degree–is in them, that was manifested by he life and conversation of Jesus Christ.
Third. Is there an agreeableness between your souls and the Word of God? The Bible is the epistle of Christ that he has written to us; now, if the same epistle is also written in our hearts that is written in the Scriptures, it may be found out by comparing. Have you love to all God’s commands and a respect to them in your actions? Is it your delight to obey and hearken to the will of God? Do you obey them of choice? Is it what you would choose to do if God had not threatened to punish the breach of them?
Fourth. Do you find by a comparison a likeness and agreeableness between your hearts and lives, and the hearts and lives of those holy men that we are assured were such by the Word of God? Do you walk with God as Enoch did, or distinguish yourselves by your piety in the midst of wicked examples–as Noah did? And when you read the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets, wherein holiness is drawn to the life, you may viewing so exact a picture discover whether you have not the root of the matter in you, though it be much obscurer in you than in them. When we read the Psalms of David, we may clearly see what David’s holiness was, by that spirit that is breathed there. When we read the Epistles of the apostles, we may know what is a truly evangelical spirit–and whether such a spirit reigns in our souls.
Fifth. Do you in a measure imitate the saints and angels in heaven? They spend their existence to the glory of God; they love him above all things, are delighted with the beauties of Jesus Christ, entirely love one another–and hate sin. And those that are holy on earth have also a resemblance and imitation of them–they are of an heavenly temper, of heavenly lives and conversions.
III. EXHORTATION. Exhort all to holiness. You have heard what holiness is and of the necessity of it, the absolute necessity in order to escaping hell; what we must have or die forever, must be forever forsaken. Now, nothing is so necessary to us as holiness; other things may be necessary to discover this life, and things that are necessary men will strive for with all their might, if there is a probability of obtaining them. How much more is that to be sought after, without which we shall fare infinitely worse than die ten thousand deaths!
This is motive enough without any other; for what can be a greater motive than necessity? But besides that, if it were not necessary, the amiable and excellent nature of it. is enough to make it worthy the most earnest seeking after.
Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing. Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood, as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour, and unpleasant thing. But there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. It is the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties. It a divine beauty, makes the soul heavenly and far purer than anything here on earth—this world is like mire and filth and defilement compared to that soul which is sanctified. It is of a sweet, lovely, delightful, serene, calm, and still nature. It is almost too high a beauty for any creature to be adorned with; it makes the soul a little, amiable, and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah. How may angels stand with pleased, delighted, and charmed eyes, and look and look with smiles of pleasure upon that soul that is holy!
Christian holiness is above all heathen virtues, of a more bright and pure nature, more serene, calm, peaceful, and delightsome. What a sweet calmness, what a calm ecstasy–does it bring to the soul! Of what a meek and humble nature is true holiness; how peaceful and quiet. How does it change the soul, and make it more pure, more bright, and more excellent than other beings!