Majesty and Relation

My favorite book is Holiness by John Webster. I’ve reread it every year since I first cracked open its pages early in seminary. I was so helped by the book that I’ve bought and given away several copies, including a copy I once gave to John Piper, because the only other book that had impacted me the same was one he wrote.

What Holiness did for me was lock arms between how I thought of God’s holiness and God’s mission — because God’s holiness is essentially relational. 

And that has amazing implications for how we envision our pursuit of God and our love for others. Below is the section in Webster that helped make the connections for me, along with Edwards, Piper, and a few others.

Holiness is a mode of God’s activity; talk of God’s holiness identifies the manner of his relation to us. For if the word ‘holy’ is a shorthand term for a pattern of activity, if it indicates—as von Rad put it—’a relationship more than a quality’, then the holy God is precisely God manifest to humankind in his gracious turning.

‘God’s holiness’, wrote Bavinck, ‘is revealed in his entire revelation to his people, in election, in the covenant, in his special revelation, in his dwelling among them.’

What, then, we may ask, is the force of faith’s language of God’s holiness? What particular aspect of the unified identity of the triune God’s being, works and ways is indicated by this language? We may answer thus: Talk of God’s holiness denotes the majesty and singular purity which the triune God is in himself and with which he acts towards and in the lives of his creatures, opposing that which is itself opposed to his purpose as creator, reconciler and perfecter, and bringing that purpose to its completion in the fellowship of the saints.

Holiness, because it is the holiness of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ now present in the Spirit’s power, is pure majesty in relation. God’s holy majesty, even in its unapproachableness, is not characterized by a sanctity which is abstract difference or otherness, a counter-reality to the profane; it is majesty known in turning, enacted and manifest in the works of God. Majesty and relation are not opposed moments in God’s holiness; they are simply different articulations of the selfsame reality

For if God’s relation to us were merely subordinate to his primary majesty, then God’s essence would remain utterly beyond us, forever hidden; and if God’s relation to us were not majestic, then that relation would no longer be one in which we encountered God. (Holiness, 41–42).