In John 17:11, Jesus addressed His Father as Holy Father. The word holy presses upon our minds the awesome reality that our God and Father is One before whom we ought to fear, tremble, and stand in awe. A brief survey of Scripture reveals that when men caught some kind of glimpse or vision of the glory and holiness of God, they were left nearly dead. Some appeared to be left paralyzed, while others were left blind. Our God is “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). The greatest creatures in the universe hide their faces before Him (see Isaiah 6:2). There’s none like Him. He is infinitely above and beyond His creation and the corruption within His creation. He stands alone in His own category, with none who can compare to Him. He is “eternal, infinite, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” as the Shorter Catechism teaches us. He is “glorious in holiness” (Exodus 15:11). As creatures embedded in an unholy culture, is it an exaggeration to say, concerning God, that we have no idea Who we’re dealing with?
At the same time, the word Father presses upon our minds the glorious reality that this holy God, because of the gospel, can be approached by His people with boldness and confidence. The thought of approaching His holiness ought to stir up in us feelings of fear, reverence, and awe, and even the reality that we shouldn’t even be allowed near Him, because of our sin and creatureliness. Yet, when the word Father follows the word Holy in John 17:11, everything in our regenerated hearts pulls and plunges us forward to His throne of grace where we’re sure to find the tenderest of mercies, because of Jesus.
In thinking about approaching and worshiping God as our Holy Father, Thomas Manton has left us with a glorious thought that we should bear in mind every time we approach our Father in prayer:
We should go away the more holy from worship. You have been with a holy God, what of his holiness do you carry away in your hearts? They that have looked on the sun, go away with a glaring in their eyes, and they seem to see the sun in all that they look upon. You should carry away the enlightenings of worship along with you. When Moses came from God, his face shone; he had been conversing with the God of glory, and he went away with some rays of glory in his face. We should not be as the beasts in Noah‘s Ark, to go in unclean, and come out unclean.
God’s people are most full of indignation against sin, when they come from God: Exodus 32:19, when Moses had talked with God in the mount, at his return, seeing them sacrifice to the calf, he brake the tables. The more communion we have with God, the more shall we hate what is contrary to God. When Isaiah saw God in his glory, he began to loath himself: Isaiah 6:5. “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts.”
And those who have effectually conversed with God in meditation and prayer, they come away from him with a perfect hatred of sin; for a sight of God worketh an abomination of what is contrary to him. In a shop of perfumes, you carry away the scent in your clothes. You wonder that a man should come away cold from the fire; and it is as great a wonder to come away from the holy God with vile affections.
We should expect to be impressed with a sense of our Father’s holiness every time we approach Him in prayer, and we should examine ourselves often as to whether or not we leave His throne affected and impressed. We should go to Him with the expectation of encountering something of His holiness, and we ought to leave His throne reflecting that holiness. Shall the sun, that blazing globe of fire in the sky, have more of an effect on us than the One who spoke that sun into existence? If we can stare at the sun for a few seconds and experience a temporary blindness by it’s brightness, how can we spend time with our Holy Father in prayer and walk away unchanged, unaffected, and unimpressed? How can we, like Manton says, walk away full of vile affections? How can we say that we’ve spent time with our Father and not walk away with an increased hatred for sin and unrighteousness? How can we not come away with a heightened sense of His greatness and holiness, and a more acute awareness of His presence in this world?
Let me be very clear: I’m not saying that we should expect to experience what we read about in Exodus 34, Isaiah 6, Matthew 17, Acts 9, or Revelation 1 every time we pray, and then drown ourselves in guilt for not experiencing such things. In fact, most Christians will never catch those sorts of glimpses of God’s holiness while we’re on this side of heaven. Those were unique experiences within the unfolding drama of redemptive history. However, I am saying that we should approach our Holy Father in prayer and walk back into the world with an impression of His holiness upon our lives so that we then reflect that holiness to the world around us. I’m saying that the more we spend time with Him, the more we’ll become like Him.
May we truly approach His holiness and then reflect that holiness to a hopeless world that desperately needs the hope He offers through the gospel of His Son.