Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
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.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Words by Reginald Heber, 1826
Music by John Dykes, 1861
. . . At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. . . Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. . . Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
Revelation 4:1 – 11
. . . I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. . .
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin removed.
Isaiah 6:1 – 7
I remember visiting my grandparents house when I was young. We would go there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, sometimes Easter as well as other times. One of the things that was always a given was a big meal. For the holidays there was always a big meal, but even if we were there only for the weekend, we would always have a big Sunday dinner.
Now my grandmother had a china cabinet (though I don’t remember it having china) that the dishes were kept in. We would pull out the dishes and set the table. For big family get togethers we would set a second table. Sometimes we stretched the dishes to the limit, using everything available in the cabinet.
But these were not the only dishes my grandmother had. Hanging on the wall in the dining room she had a collection of tea cups. These, however, were special. She had collected the. and they were never used. After my grandmother passed away these cups were distributed to family. I have one, and I as well do not use it, it sits on a shelf as a reminder of my grandmother each time I see it. It is set apart.
“Set apart” This is the meaning of he word Holy, and so is the theme of Reginald Heber’s hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Heber begins his hymn with the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” These words may be familiar to many. In Revelation 4:8 the angels around the throne declares, “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” They are echoing the words of the angels around the throne in Isaiah 6:3 where they declare, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Think about, the angels themselves, who are in the very presence of God cannot help but declare that God is set apart. He is above and beyond all of creation. He is Holy. But they do not simply declare Him holy, but do it three-fold. The three-fold formula is a declaration that God is not simply holy, but perfectly holy. And so over and over again, in his hymn, Heber proclaims that God is perfectly holy.
How humbling and frightening this can be. I mean if the seraphim and cherubim who are in God’s very presence bow before Him declaring his holiness and the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4:10 fall down and cast their crowns before Him, what can I do. As Heber puts it, “Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see.”
So when I find myself coming before the Lord, I am with Isaiah who says, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5) What am I to do?
There is hope. For Isaiah the angel touched his lips with a coal from from the altar of God and he is told, “this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin removed.” But what of us?
Our hope is in Jesus Christ. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) Because of this, if we “declare with our mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) As a result, we need not fear standing before God, but we may “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace “ (Hebrews 4:16)
Yes, we who have believed in Christ. We who have been baptized “ in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” ( Matthew 28:19) into Christ death and resurrection (Romans 6:3) need not fear being in the presence of a perfectly holy God. Instead we may join with that great chorus of voices testifying, “Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!”
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