Nisbet on Motivations for Holiness

Since you're reading this online post, you're no doubt aware that in the broader Reformed theological world there has been discussion of the issue of holiness in the recent past. The links are too numerous so I'll leave it to you to search for them yourself.

In particular, one issue in this discussion is what motivates a Christian to pursue holiness? Oftentimes people cite the Heidelberg Catechism's threefold "guilt, grace, gratitude" structure as the proof that gratitude is the only motivation for holiness. One cannot forget that the Heidelberg Catechism was not written to be an exhaustive systematic theology but instead as Frederick III's prefatory letter states, to educate children, be a guide for preachers in Lord's Day preaching, and to unify a newly Reformed region of the old Holy Roman Empire.

A while back as I was preparing sermons in my "Studies in First Peter" I found the Scottish Presbyterian (not "some obscure Puritan") Alexander Nisbet's (1623–1669) commentary (1658) on 1 Peter 1:13–25 to be helpful and relevant to the current debate. With verse 13, Peter turns from indicative to imperative, from praise to God to exhortation to Christians. And in his comments on these verses, Nisbet lists twelve—not merely one—motivations to holiness. At a minimum this shows us that the Reformed tradition is much broader than some want to make it out to be. I'll just list the motivations below (some are simple, some more complex), but if you'd like to follow along and read the entire section, pull up a chair and grab your Banner of Truth reprint off the shelf. The relevant pages are 34–55:

  1. The consideration of our spiritual privileges by Jesus Christ. (v. 13)
  2. The sweet privilege of adoption. (v. 14)
  3. Since the Lord has called us from an estate of sin and wrath to a state of holiness and happiness we should walk answerably to our calling. (vv. 15–16)
  4. There should be a conformity between the Lord and all his children. (vv. 15–16)
  5. God our Father is also an exact and impartial Judge of us and our actions. (v. 17)
  6. We are strangers and sojourners in the midst of many hazards and temptations. (v. 17)
  7. The great privilege of our redemption—its price and its effect. (vv. 18–19)
  8. Since Christ was appointed Mediator from eternity and was manifested for our good we are bound to live to his honor. (v. 20)
  9. Since the Father has glorified our Guarantor in our nature to bring us confidently into his presence as reconciled to us, we should live to his honor. (v. 21)
  10. The Spirit's power enabling to believe the gospel has so purged out heart corruption that we have attained a sincere love for the Lord's people, therefore we ought to grow in this love. (v. 22)
  11. The excellency of or new life and nature in regeneration. (v. 23)
  12. The higher excellency of our spiritual state above even the glory of man naturally considered. (vv. 24–25)
Danny Hyde