Saturday Sermon: The power behind songs about God's greatness
One of my favorite hymns of the church is "Holy, Holy, Holy."
This hymn seems to be equally appreciated both by people who prefer traditional hymns and by those who favor contemporary choruses. Sometimes, I am so overwhelmed when I hear it, I just stop and listen to you all sing it as you lift up your voices in praise to our Holy God.
Why would this hymn capture the hearts of so many and cause feelings within my own heart? It is because the writer, Reginald Heber, addresses the perfection of God, His Holiness, causing us to stop and reflect on God alone.
Consider these two stanzas, "Holy, holy, holy/Lord God Almighty/ Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee/Holy, holy, holy/Merciful and mighty/God in three persons/Blessed Trinity/Holy, holy, holy/Though the darkness hide thee/Though the eye of sinful man/ Thy glory may not see/Only Thou art holy/There is none beside Thee/Perfect in power/In love and purity."
No creature in heaven or on Earth can share in God's holiness. He alone is holy. To have to actually admit this truth in a day and age when we are bombarded with claims of our own autonomy causes me to stop, and I am moved beyond measure.
God is infinitely glorious in all His attributes, but only His holiness is magnified with the threefold ascription. We never read in triplicate that He is "wise, wise, wise" or that he is "powerful, powerful, powerful," but twice we hear from the throne room, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty," Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8
The reason for this is clear. The holiness of God is not so much one in a number of attributes, but it is the sum of them all.
Another reason that this song inspires so many is that it requires us to make an assessment of ourselves as we sing it. John Calvin wrote about this type of assessment when he said, "Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God's holiness."
With this in mind, what makes this hymn so important to God's church is not only that it sets forth God's holiness but that it shows us an appropriate response to God's holiness.
We declare His holiness over and over again until it really makes a difference in our life. Why? Just as Isaiah, we come to realize our own unworthiness and that of those around us. We see that He is a covenant keeper.
For His children, this is a position that we come to accept as true only in recognizing God holiness over and over again. Knowing the only One who can keep His covenant is what will ultimately give us hope. Only in the recognition of His holiness is this possible.
Mike Singenstreu is pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church.