May 30, 2024

Dwelling in Eternal Light

Sinclair Ferguson
Dwelling in Eternal Light

Although the seraphim have never sinned, they cover their faces as they worship in the presence of God. Today on the Things Unseen podcast, listen as Sinclair Ferguson considers what this scene reveals about the uncreated holiness of our majestic Creator.


Yesterday, we were talking about the holiness of God and about what is perhaps the most common understanding of what holiness is: namely, separation from sin. Actually, I hope you’ll keep on listening today and tomorrow because there’s a lot more to be said about this.

Ever since I was a young teenage Christian, there’s a hymn about God’s holiness that’s meant a great deal to me. It’s not in every hymn book, even in the churches that still use them. You might ask, What’s that hymn? It’s by the nineteenth-century English congregationalist minister Thomas Binney. And here are two of its verses:

Eternal light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on Thee.

The spirits that surround Thy throne
May bear the burning bliss;
But that is surely theirs alone,
Since they have never, never known
A fallen world like this.

Now, I love these words, but I also think they don’t tell the whole story. Maybe it would be too strong to say they’re actually wrong, but if you read Isaiah 6 with any care, you’ll remember that the heavenly seraphs—who indeed have never known a fallen world like this and who are perfectly holy creatures—the seraphim themselves don’t seem to feel that they can bear the burning bliss. While they need two of their wings to keep flying or perhaps to remain hovering in midair, and with two other wings they cover their feet, with the other two wings they cover their faces.

Try to imagine the picture—I mean, the picture of these seraphim. Look at them. What does their posture say? What would it say about you if you covered your face with both hands? What do your children or grandchildren think they’re doing when they do that? They’re hiding, aren’t they? What do you do when there’s a sudden flash of light? You cover your eyes, don’t you? You know that you can’t bear the burning bliss. In fact, you don’t “shrink not, but with calm delight bear the burning bliss”; no, your instinct is, “I can’t bear this.”

What’s my point here? It’s simply this: These seraphim have never sinned. They’re perfectly holy creatures. There’s no shadow of sin in them. But apparently, created holiness feels itself somehow almost threatened by, unworthy of, not able to bear the intense brightness of uncreated holiness, original holiness—because God is other than we are. His holiness is infinite holiness, dense holiness, and in His presence, even the holiness of seraphim seems fragile.

Now, we need to think even more about this, and we’ll do that tomorrow. But just in case you can’t join us then, let me close out today by telling you how Thomas Binney’s lovely hymn ends:

Oh, how shall I, whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before th’ Ineffable appear
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?

There is a way for man to rise
To that sublime Abode;
An Offering and a Sacrifice
A Holy Spirit’s energies,
An Advocate with God:

These, these prepare us for the sight
Of holiness above;
The sons of ignorance and night
May dwell in the eternal Light
Through the eternal Love.