The Psalmist has provided an appropriate matching word for “holiness.” John Morley used to say that holiness was a word which defied definition. If splendor is used for a magnificence that beggars description, then the two are not unequally yoked in this four-word phrase.
Splendor is a poet’s word which Wordsworth employed to convey the wonder of the sunrise on the Thames as seen from Westminster Bridge. But splendor is also a word which Christian hymn writers have applied both to the person of God and His handiwork. Robert Grant described Him as “pavilioned in splendor,” and our own Will Brand wrote of “the splendor of the clear unfolding” of the name of Jesus. With good cause splendor may be joined in divine matrimony to holiness—and this for three reasons.
First of all, the phrase restores to the experience of holiness that breath-catching sense of wonder, that gasp of the heart’s astonishment, as if this possibility was almost too good to be true.
Further, the union of splendor with holiness demonstrates afresh the appeal of the experience. True goodness both looks good and is good. We must not forget that our vocation is so to practice virtue that men are won to it.
Finally, this phrase about “the splendor of holiness” reawakens in our hearts a sense of the desirability of the experience. I must have given many hours to a consideration of this subject—to my own confused thinking on the matter, to listening to speakers on Salvation Army platforms, not to mention my own earlier and mixed-up dissertations on the same level. But it was a long time before I realized that any seeker was not so much to be argued into the experience as convinced by its inherent attractiveness.
Some Sunday mornings I was urged to remember that the experience was biblically based, with chapter and verse quoted in support. This could not but be agreed. On other occasions I was reminded that there was a divine command, binding on all God’s children. Again, this could not be denied. Yet rarely did these approaches raise the pulse beat of desire because, “the beauty of holiness” was veiled from sight.
Now beauty in any form at once captures our attention. In the language of the New Testament, what is holiness but to be conformed to the image of the Son? This is surely desirable. More than that, it is gloriously possible. Thanks be to God!
Frederick Coutts, The Splendor of Holiness