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Be ye holy, for I am holy.—1 Pet. i. 16.

IN speaking to this attribute, I shall,

I. Inquire what we are to understand by the holiness of God.

II. Endeavour to shew, that this perfection belongs to God.

I. What we are to understand by the holiness of God. There is some difficulty in fixing the proper notion of it; for though there be no property more frequently attributed to God, in Scripture, than this of holiness, yet there is none of all God’s attributes, which divines have spoken more sparingly of, than this.

The general notion of holiness is, that it is a separation from a common and ordinary, to a peculiar and excellent use. And this notion of holiness is applicable either to things or persons. To things: thus the vessels of the tabernacle, and the vestments of the priests, were said to be holy, because they were separated from common use, and appropriated to the peculiar and excellent use of the service of God. Holiness of persons is twofold; either relative and external, which signifies the peculiar relation of a person to God; such were called ἱερεῖς, priests, or holy men: or else habitual and inherent; such is the holiness of good men, and it is a separation from moral imperfection, that is, from sin 520and impurity: and this is called ὁσιότης and the primary notion of it is negative, and signifies the absence and remotion of sin. And this appears in those explications which the Scripture gives of it. Thus it is explained by opposition to sin and impurity; (2 Cor. vii. 1.) “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness;” where holiness is opposed to all filthiness. Sometimes, by the negation of sin and defilement: so we find holy, and without blame, put together; (Eph. i. 4.) “Holy, and without blemish;” (Eph. v. 27.) “Holy, harmless, and undefiled;” (Heb. vii. 26.) It is true, indeed, this negative notion doth imply something that is positive; it doth not only signify the absence of sin, but a contrariety to it: we can not conceive the absence of sin without the presence of grace; as, take away crookedness from a thing, and it immediately becomes straight. Whenever we are made holy, every lust and corruption in us is supplanted by the contrary grace.

Now this habitual holiness of persons, which consists in a separation from sin, is a conformity to the holiness of God; and by this we may come to understand what holiness in God is: and it signifies the peculiar eminency of the Divine nature, where by it is separated and removed at an infinite distance from moral imperfection, and that which we call sin; that is, there is no such thing as malice, or envy, or hatred, or revenge, or impatience, or cruelty, or tyranny, or injustice, or falsehood, or unfaithfulness, in God; or if there be any other thing that signifies sin, and vice, and moral imperfection, holiness signifies that the Divine nature is at an in finite distance from all these, and possessed of the contrary perfections.


Therefore, all those texts that remove moral imperfection from God, and declare the repugnancy of it to the Divine nature, do set forth the holiness of God: (Jam. i. 13.) “God cannot be tempted with evil.” (Job viii.3.) “Doth God pervert judgment, or doth the Almighty pervert justice?” (Job xxxiv. 10, 12.) “Far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should commit iniquity. Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.” (Rom. ix. 14.) “Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” (Zech. iii. 5.) “The just Lord is in the midst thereof, he will not do iniquity.” And so falsehood, and unfaithfulness, and inconstancy. (Deut. xxxii. 4.) “A God of truth, and without iniquity.” (1 Sam. xv. 29.) “The Strength of Israel will not lie.” (Tit. i. 2.) “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, hath promised.” (Heb. vi. 18.) “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie.” Therefore, you shall find, that holiness is joined with all the moral perfections of the Divine nature, or put for them: (Hos. xi. 9.) “I am the Holy One in the midst of thee;” that is, the merciful One. (Psal. cxlv. 17.) “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” (Rom. vii. 12.) “The commandment is holy, and just, and good.” (Rev. iii. 7.) “These things saith he that is holy, he that is true.” (Rev. vi. 10.) “How long, O Lord, holy and true?” (Psal. cv. 42.) “He remembered his holy promise;” holy, that is, in respect of the faith fulness of it. (Isa. Iv. 3.) “The sure mercies of David,” τὰ ὄσια, “the holy mercies of David,” which will not fail.

So that the holiness of God, is not a particular, 522but an universal perfection, and runs through all the moral perfections of the Divine nature; it is the beauty of the Divine nature, and the perfection of all his other perfections: take away this, and you bring an universal stain and blemish upon the Divine nature; without holiness, power would be oppression; and wisdom, subtilty; and sovereignty, tyranny; and goodness, malice and envy; and justice, cruelty; and mercy, foolish pity; and truth, falsehood. And, therefore, the Scripture speaks of this, as God’s highest excellency and perfection. God is said to be “glorious in holiness:” (Exod. xv. 11.) Holiness is called God’s throne: (Psal. xlvii. 8.) “He sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.” This is that which makes heaven: (Isa. lxiii. 15.) it is called, “the habitation of his holiness, and of his glory;” as if this were the very nature of God, and the sum of his perfections. The knowledge of God, is called, “the knowledge of the Holy One.” (Prov. ix. 10.) To be made “partakers of a Divine nature,” and to be made “partakers of God’s holiness,” are equivalent expressions; (2 Pet. i. 4. Heb. xii. 10.) And, because there is no perfection of God greater, therefore he is represented as swearing by this; (Psal. lx. 6.) “God hath spoken in his holiness.” (Psal. lxxxix. 35.) “Once have I sworn by my holiness.” The angels and glorified spirits they sum up the perfections of God in this; (Isa. vi. 3.) “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Rev. iv. 8.) “And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” There is no attribute of God so often repeated as this; in some copies it is nine times.


II. I shall endeavour to prove, that this perfection belongs to God,

First, From the light of nature. The philosophers, in all their discourses of God, agree in this, that whatever sounds like vice and imperfection, is to be separated from the Divine nature; which is to acknowledge his holiness. Plato, speaking of our likeness to God, saith, Ὁμοίωσις δὲ δίκαιον καὶ ὅσιον μετὰ φρονήσεως γενέσθαι. (Dan. iv. 9.) King Nebuchadnezzar calls God by this title, “I know that the spirit of the holy Gods is in thee.” In a word, whatever hath been produced to prove any of God’s moral perfections, proves his holiness.

Secondly, From Scripture. There is no title more frequently given to God, in Scripture, and so often ingeminated, as this of his holiness. He is called holiness itself; (Isa. lxiii. 15.) where heaven is called “the habitation of his holiness;” that is, of God. His name is said to be holy; (Luke i. 49.) “And holy is his name.” He is called “the Holy One;” (Isa. xl. 25.) “The Holy One of Israel;” (Isa. xli. 20.) “The Holy One of Jacob;” (Isa. xxix. 23.) He is said to be “holy in all his works and promises;” (Psal. cv. 42.) “In all his ways and works;” (Psal. cxlv. 17.) This title is given to each of the three persons in the blessed Trinity; to God the Father, in innumerable places: to God the Son, (Dan. ix. 24.) “to anoint the most Holy.” The devil cannot deny him this title; (Luke iv. 34.) “I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” And the Spirit of God hath this title constantly given it, “the Holy Ghost,” or “the Holy Spirit,” or “the Spirit of holiness.” The Scripture attributes this perfection in a peculiar manner to God; (1 Sam. ii. 2.) “There is none holy 524as the Lord.” (Rev. xv. 4.) “For thou only art holy.” Holiness is a communicable perfection; but no creature can partake of it in such a manner and degree as the Divine nature possesseth it. God is eternally holy, the fountain of holiness; the creatures are derivatively and by participation holy. God is eminently and transcendently so; the creatures, in a finite degree. God is immutably so, it is impossible it should be otherwise; but no creature is out of an absolute possibility of sin. In this sense it is said, (Job iv. 18.) that “He putteth no trust in his servants, and his angels he chargeth with folly.” And, (chap. xv. 15.) “He putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.” From all which I shall draw these inferences:

1. If holiness be a perfection of the Divine nature, and a property of God; if, in the notion of God, there be included an everlasting separation and distance from moral imperfection, and eternal repugnance to sin and iniquity; from hence we may infer, that there is an intrinsical good and evil in things; and the reasons and respects of moral good and evil do not depend upon any mutable, and in constant, and arbitrary principle, but are fixed and immutable, eternal and indispensable. Therefore, they do not seem to me to speak so safely, who make the Divine will, precisely and abstractedly considered, the rule of moral good and evil; as if there were nothing good or evil in its own nature, antecedently to the will of God, but that all things are therefore good or evil because God wills them to be so: for if this were so, goodness, and righteousness, and truth, and faithfulness, would not be essential, and necessary, and immutable properties 525of the Divine nature, but accidental, and arbitrary, and uncertain, and mutable; which is to suppose that God, if he pleased, might be otherwise than good, and just, and true. For if these depend merely upon the will of God, and be not necessary or essential properties of the Divine nature, then the contrary of these, malice, and envy, and unrighteousness, and falsehood, do not imply any essential repugnancy to the Divine nature; which is plainly contrary to what the Scripture tells us, that “God cannot be tempted with evil;” that “it is impossible he should lie;” that he cannot be unrighteous.

If any man say that God hath now declared himself to be just, and good, and faithful, and now he cannot be otherwise, because “he is a God of truth, and he changeth not;” this is to grant the thing: for this supposeth the veracity and immutability of God to be essential and necessary perfections of the Divine nature; and why not justice and goodness as well? I say, it supposeth veracity and immutability to be essential perfections, and not to depend upon the will of God; that is, that God cannot will to be otherwise than true and unchangeable: for if he could, what assurance can we possibly have, but that when he declares himself to be good and just, he is, or may be otherwise?

But I need not insist upon this, which seems to be so very clear, and to carry its own evidence along with it. I will only use this argument to prove it, and so leave it. No being can will its own nature, and essential perfections; that is, choose whether it will be thus, or otherwise; for that were to suppose it to be before it is, and before it hath a being to deliberate about its own nature. Therefore, if this be the nature of God (which I think nobody will 526deny), to be good, and just, and true, and necessarily to be what he is; then goodness, and justice, and truth, do not depend upon the will of God, but there are such things, such notions, antecedently to any act of the Divine will. And this does no ways prejudice the liberty of God; for this is the highest perfection, to be necessarily good, and just, and true; and a liberty or possibility to be otherwise, is impotency and imperfection. For liberty no where speaks perfection, but where the things and actions about which it is conversant are indifferent; in all other things it is the highest perfection not to be free and indifferent; but immutable, and fixed, and necessarily bound up by the eternal laws of goodness, and justice, and truth, so that it shall not be possible to swerve from them; and this is the perfection of the Divine nature, which we call his holiness.

2. If holiness be the chief excellency and perfection of the Divine nature, this shews us what account we are to make of sin, and wickedness, and vice. We may judge of every privation by the habit, for they bear an exact proportion one to another. Light and darkness are opposed, as habit and privation; if light be pleasant and comfortable, then darkness is dismal and horrid. And so holiness and sin are opposed: if holiness be the highest perfection of any nature, then sin is the grand imperfection, and the lowest debasement of any being; because it is the most opposite to that, and at the farthest distance from that, which is the first excellency and perfection.

This should rectify our judgment and esteem of things and persons. We admire and esteem riches, and power, and greatness; and we scorn and contemn 527poverty, and weakness, and meanness; yea, grace and holiness, if it be in the company of these. We are apt to reverence and value the great, and the rich, and the mighty of this world, though they be wicked, and to despise the poor man’s wisdom and holiness; but we make a false judgment of things and persons. There is nothing that can be a foundation of respect, that ought to command our reverence and esteem, but real worth, and excellency, and perfection; and according to the degrees of this, we ought to bestow our respect, and raise our esteem. What St. James saith of respect of persons, I may apply in this case: (James ii. 4.) “Are ye not then partial yourselves, and become judges of evil thoughts?” We are extremely partial; we make a false judgment, and reason ill concerning things, when we admire gilded vices, and weakness exalted to high places; I mean, ungodly rich men, and ungodly great men; for wicked men are properly ungodly, unlike to God; and when we contemn poor, and mean, and afflicted holiness and piety. Were but our eyes open, and our judgment clear and unprejudiced, we should see a beauty and resplendency in goodness; even when it is under the greatest disadvantage, when it is clothed with rags, and sits upon a dunghill, it would shine through all these mists, and we should see a native light and beauty in it. through the darkness of a poor and low condition: and we should see wickedness to be a most vile and abject thing, when it appears in all its gallantry and bravery; we should look upon the poor righteous man, as “more excellent than his neighbour;” and the profane gallant, as the offscouring of the earth. We should value a man that does justice, and loves 528mercy, and speaks the truth to his neighbour; we should esteem any one more upon the account of any one of these simple qualities, than we would another man destitute of these, upon the account of a hundred titles of honour, and ten thousand acres of land. A wicked and unholy man, he is a vile person, who deserves to be contemned; and a holy man, he is the right honourable; (Psal. xv. 4.) “In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord.” The vile person is opposed to him that fears the Lord. He that is bold to affront God, and sin against him, is the base and ignoble person. God himself, who is possessed of all excellency and perfection, and therefore knows best how to judge of these, he tells us how we should value ourselves and others; (Jer. ix. 23, 24.) “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” To know these Divine qualities and perfections, signifies here, to understand them so as to imitate them. I do not speak this, to bring down the value of any that are advanced in this world, or to lessen the respect which is due to them; I would have nothing undervalued but wickedness and vice; and I would have those who have store of worldly advantages to recommend them, to add religion to their riches, and holiness to their honour, that they may be current for their intrinsic value, rather than for the image and picture of worth which the world hath stamped upon them.


3. If holiness be the chief excellency and perfection of the Divine nature, then what an absurd and unreasonable thing* is it to scorn and despise holiness, to mock and deride men under this very title! The world is much blinded, that they do not see the great evil of sin, and the beauty and excellency of holiness: but that men should be so infatuated, as to change the nature of things, and to mistake things of so vast difference, as sin, and holiness; to call good evil, and evil good; that sin which is the vilest thing in the world, should be esteemed and cherished, accounted a piece of gallantry, and reckoned amongst the excellences and accomplishments of human nature; and holiness, which is so great a perfection, should be a name of hatred and disgrace, to be contemned and persecuted; that that which is the glory of heaven, and the most radiant perfection of the Divine nature, should be matter of scorn and contempt; as the apostle speaks in another case, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish!” Do ye think the holy and just God will put up these affronts and indignities? Ye do not only despise men, but ye despise God also: you cannot contemn that which God accounts his glory, without reviling the Divine nature, and offering despite to God himself: the malice reacheth heaven, and is levelled against God, whenever ye slight holiness.

4. If God be a holy God, and hath such a repugnancy in his nature to sin, then this is matter of terror to wicked men. The holy God cannot but hate sin, and be an enemy to wickedness; and the hatred of God is terrible. We dread the hatred of a great man; because where hatred is backed with power, the effects of it are terrible; but the hatred 530of the almighty and eternal God is much more dreadful; because the effects of it are greater, and more lasting, than of the hatred of a weak mortal man. We know the utmost they can do; they can but kill the body; after that, they have no more that they can do: they cannot hurt our souls; they cannot follow us beyond the grave, and pursue us into another world: but the effects of God’s hatred and displeasure are mighty and lasting, they extend themselves to all eternity; for who knoweth the power of his anger? Who can tell the utmost of what Omnipotent Justice can do to sinners? “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;” because he that lives for ever, can punish for ever. We are miserable, if God do not love us. Those words, “My soul shall have no pleasure in him,” signify great misery, and express a dreadful curse; but it is a more positive expression of misery, for God to hate us; that signifies ruin and destruction to the utmost; (Psal. v. 4.) “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with thee.” This is a μείωσις, and expresseth less than is in tended. God is far from being of an indifferent negative temper towards sin and wickedness; therefore the Psalmist adds, “Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity;” and then, in the next verse, to shew what is the effect of God’s hatred, “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.” Therefore, sinner, fear and tremble at the thoughts of God’s holiness.

5. Imitate the holiness of God: this is the inference here in the text, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Holiness, in one word, contains all the imitable perfections of God; and when it is. said, “Be 531ye holy, it is as much as if he had said, Be ye good, and patient, and merciful, and true, and faithful; for I am so. Therefore religion is called “the knowledge of the Holy One,” (Prov. ix. 10. and chap. xxx. 3.) And our imitation of God, is expressed by our “putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” (Eph. iv. 24.) Seeing then this is the chief excellency and perfection of God, and the sum of all the perfections which we are to imitate, and wherein we are to endeavour to be like God, let us conform ourselves to the holy God; endeavour to be habitually holy, which is our conformity to the nature of God; and actually holy, which is our conformity to the will of God. I will not enlarge upon this, because I have pressed the imitation of these particular perfections, goodness, patience, justice, truth, and faithfulness, upon other texts. I shall only mention two arguments to excite and quicken our desires and endeavour after holiness.

1. Holiness is an imitation of the highest excellency and perfection. Holiness, I told you, signifies a separation from sin and vice, and all moral imperfection, and consequently, doth comprehend and take in all the moral perfections of the Divine nature, the goodness, and mercy, and patience, and justice, and veracity, and faithfulness of God; now these are the very beauty and glory of the Divine nature. The first thing that we attribute to God, next to his being, is his goodness, and those other attributes, which have a necessary connexion with it; for his greatness and majesty is nothing else but the glory which results from his united perfections, especially from his goodness, and those perfections which are akin to it. Separate from 532God those perfections which holiness includes in it, and what would be left but an omnipotent evil, an eternal being, infinitely knowing, and infinitely able to do mischief? Which is as plain and notorious a contradiction, and as impossible a thing, as can be imagined: so that if we have any sparks of ambition in us, we cannot but aspire after holiness, which is so great an excellency and perfection of God himself. There is a vulgar prejudice against holiness, as if it were a poor, mean thing, and below a great and generous spirit; whereas holiness is the only true greatness of mind, the most genuine nobility, and the highest gallantry of spirit: and how ever it be despised by men, it is of a heavenly extraction, and Divine original. Holiness is the first part of the character of “the wisdom that is from above;” (Jam. iii. 17.) “The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, with out partiality, and without hypocrisy.”

2. Holiness is an essential and principal ingredient of happiness. Holiness is a state of peace and tranquillity, and the very frame and temper of happiness; and without it, the Divine nature, as it would be imperfect, so it would be miserable. If the Divine nature were capable of envy, or malice, or hatred, or revenge, or impatience, or cruelty, or in justice, or unfaithfulness, it would be liable to vexation and discontent, than which nothing can be a greater disturbance of happiness: so that holiness is necessary to our felicity and contentment; not only to the happiness of the next life, but to our present peace and contentment. If reasonable creatures could be happy, as brute beasts are in their degree, by enjoying their depraved appetites, and 533following the dictates of sense and fancy, God would not have bound us up to a law and rule, but have left us, as he hath done unreasonable creatures, to satisfy our lusts and appetites, without check and control: but angels and men, which are reasonable creatures, have the notions of good and evil, of right and wrong, of comeliness and filthiness, so woven and twisted in their very natures, that they can never be wholly defaced, without the ruin of their beings; and therefore it is impossible that such creatures should be happy otherwise, than by complying with these notions, and obeying the natural dictates and suggestions of their minds; which if they neglect, and go against, they will naturally feel remorse and torment in their own spirits; their minds will be uneasy and unquiet, and they will be inwardly grieved and displeased with themselves for what they have done. So the apostle tells us, (Rom. i.) that even the most degenerate heathens had consciences, which did accuse or excuse them, according as they obeyed, or did contrary to the dictates of natural light. God, therefore, who knows our frame, hath so adapted his law to us, which is the rule of holiness, that if we live up to it, we shall avoid the unspeakable torment of a guilty conscience; whereas, if we do contrary to it, we shall always be at discord with ourselves, and in a perpetual disquiet of mind: for nothing can do contrary to the law of its being, that is, to its own nature, without displeasure and reluctancy; the consequence of which, in moral actions, is guilt; which is nothing else but the trouble and disquiet which ariseth in one’s mind, from consciousness of having done something that contradicts the perfective principle of his being; that is, something which did not 534became him, and which, being what he is, that is a reasonable creature, he ought not to do.

So that in all reasonable creatures there is a certain kind of temper and disposition that is necessary and essential to happiness, and that is holiness; which, as it is the perfection, so it is the great felicity of the Divine nature: and, on the contrary, this is one chief part of the misery of those wicked and accursed spirits the devils, and of unholy men, that they are of a temper contrary to God, they are envious, and malicious, and wicked; that is, of such a temper as is naturally a torment and disquiet to itself: and here the foundation of hell is laid in the evil disposition of our spirits; and till that be cured, which can only be done by holiness, it is as impossible for a wicked man to be happy and contented in himself, as it is for a sick man to be at ease; and the external presence of God, and a local heaven, would signify no more to make a wicked man happy and contented, than heaps of gold, and concerts of music, and a well-spread table, and a rich bed r would contribute to a man’s ease in the paroxysms of a fever, or in a violent fit of the stone. If a sensual, or covetous, or ambitious man were in heaven, he would be like the rich man in hell, he would be tormented with a continual thirst, and burnt up in the flames of his own ardent desires, and would not meet with the least drop of suitable pleasure and delight to quench and allay the heat: the reason is, because such a man hath that within him which torments him, and he cannot be at ease till that be removed. Sin is the violent, and unnatural, and uneasy state of our soul; every wicked man’s spirit is out of order, and till the man be put into a right frame by holiness, he will be perpetually disquieted, 535and can have no rest within himself. The prophet fitly describes the condition of such a person: (Isa. lvii. 20, 21.) “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast forth mire and dirt: there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” So long as a man is unholy, so long as filthiness and corruption abound in his heart, they will be restlessly working, like wine which is in a perpetual motion and agitation, till it have purged itself of its dregs and foulness. Nothing is more turbulent and unquiet than the spirit of a wicked man; it is like the sea, when it roars and rages through the strength of contrary winds; it is the scene of furious lusts, and wild passions, which as they are contrary to holiness, so they maintain perpetual contests and feuds among themselves.

All sin separates us from God, who is the foundation of our happiness. Our limited nature, and the narrowness of our beings, will not permit us to be happy in ourselves: it is peculiar to God to be his own happiness; but man, because he is finite, and therefore cannot be self-sufficient, is carried forth by an innate desire of happiness, to seek his felicity in God. So that there is in the nature of man a spring of restless motion, which, with great impatience, forceth him out of himself, and tosses him to and fro, till he comes to rest, in something that is self-sufficient. Our souls, when they are separated from God, like the unclean spirit in the gospel, when it was “cast out, wander up and down in dry and desert places, seeking rest, but finding none.” Were the whole world calm about a man, and did it not make the least attempt upon him, were he free from the fears of Divine vengeance, yet he could not be satisfied with himself; there is 536something within him that would not let him be at rest, but would tear him from his own foundation and consistency; so that when we are once broken off from God, the sense of inward want doth stimulate and force us to seek our contentment elsewhere. So that nothing but holiness, which re-unites us to God, and restores our souls to their primitive and original state, can make us happy, and give peace and rest to our souls: and this is the constant voice and language of Scripture, and the tenour of the Bible; “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace,” (Job xxii. 21.) “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart,” (Psal. xcvii. 11.) “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever,” (Isa. xxxii. 17.)

Seeing then holiness is so high a perfection, and so great a happiness, let these arguments prevail with us to aspire after this temper, that “as He who hath called us is holy, so we may be holy in all! manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy.”

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