R.C. Sproul is an important American Reformed theologian, and John Piper calls this book a “classic.” One fan of Dr. Sproul told me that a great value of this book is that the holiness of God reminds us how unholy we are. Along those lines, I noted, “Fear, discomfort, other-ness: That and not simple adoration is how we feel when we are near the holy.”
Each chapter of the book ends with some discussion questions, and the author saves the best one for last (216): “How can you cultivate the sense of God’s presence and holiness in your life?”
In chapter 6 (“Holy Justice”), Sproul discusses three instances in the Old Testament where God’s justice seems startlingly harsh, namely that which falls on Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, then the death of Uzzah, followed by the capital crimes listed in the Old Testament, and finally the slaughter of women and children. The chapter concludes with this paragraph (130):
Since it is our tendency to take grace for granted, my guess is that God found it necessary from time to time to remind Israel that grace must never be assumed. On rare but dramatic occasions He showed the dreadful power of His justice. He killed Nadab and Abihu. He killed Uzzah. He commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. It is as if He were saying, “Be careful. While you enjoy the benefits of My grace, don’t forget My justice. Don’t forget the gravity of sin. Remember that I am holy.”
Along the way in chapter 6, I rather like his analogy to his own teaching experience with lenient grading (124-26) and his tongue-in-cheek reformulation of “Amazing Grace” for all too many of us (129; reference is to Luke 13:1-5): “Amazing Justice, cruel and sharp // That wounds a saint like me: // I’m so darn good it makes no sense — // The tower fell on me!”
A few theological notes:
- Contrary to some Reformed theologians, Sproul considers the Sabbath sacred (213). And contrary to some Protestant suggestions I hear from time to time, he affirms that there are gradations of sin (167-69).
- I also liked his observations that the alternative to God creating everything is that nothing created everything (9), and that coveting ought to be decried more often than it is in sermons (161). On the other hand, I didn’t find persuasive his argument that Lennie in Of Mice and Men is a Christ figure (67-72).
- Regarding free will, he writes (198): “[Some modern theologians] assert that God knows everything He can possibly know, but He does not and cannot know certain things, especially the future decisions of free agents. But a limited omniscience is simply not omniscience. And it is not perfect.” See also 178-80 (rejecting Pelagians and semi-Pelagians versus Augustinians).
Sproul makes a couple of interesting points:
- “It was said of [Saint] Paul that he was the most educated man in Palestine at the time of his conversion” (97, but no citation provided).
- “In biblical categories, there is a triad of virtues, all of which point beyond themselves to the holiness of God. The triad is composed of the good, the true, and the beautiful” (195, emphasis in original).
And I was happy to see that the epigraphs of the last two chapters are C.S. Lewis quotations. The book has no index and the notes are sparse (most of the chapters have none). But there is an appendix that includes a hymn for which he wrote the lyrics (referenced on page 34 of the text).