The cloud of witnesses


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1,2)

The word ‘saint’, and the kindred word ‘holy’, have undergone a shift of meaning over the years.  Originally they both meant separated or set apart for the worship and service of God.  So from early times the Jews had their holy places and holy days which were kept separate from common use and were dedicated instead to him.

It was in the same sense that the people of Israel were called holy.  “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine” (NRSV, Leviticus 20:26, our emphasis) (see also Daniel 7:27).  And in the same way St Paul addressed the Christians in Corinth by saying, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Archaia…” (NRSV, 2 Corinthians 1:1), and he addressed the Christians in Rome with the words, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…” (NRSV, Romans 1:7).

You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy…”   It is at this point that a deeper meaning of the word begins to emerge, for God is holy in that he is totally separated from moral evil and totally opposed to it.   As the prophet Habakkuk exclaimed, “O Lord my God, my Holy One…Your eyes are too pure to behold evil…” (NRSV, 1:12,13).

And the very fact of being set apart for God requires that one should be in harmony with him, with the One Being who is absolutely good; and such a harmony with such a God requires moral perfection on the part of human beings also.  In other words, people’s relationship with God is inseparable from their personal character which that relationship demands of them.  So a Christian is one who by faith and love has entered into fellowship with God, and by obedience to his will is becoming conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

We have to become what we are so that, whereas all of us through our Baptism are already children of God, the saint in the modern sense is one who has become a true child of God, bearing a true likeness to the Son of God who is himself his Father’s image.  In a word, God has already made us his own.  What he now has to do is to make us worthy of himself, and that he can only do if we ourselves actively and sincerely desire it as the Blessed Saints have done.  For they hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and therefore they are filled with all the fullness of God (Matthew 5:6).

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