Holiness, in the first instance, applies to God; God is ontologically holy. This holiness cannot be grasped apart from revelation for divine holiness has no parallel in the created order (so it can never be defined). We see holiness as it is revealed in the divine economy, primarily in the incarnate Logos but also in the sending of the Spirit and in the church. Divine holiness is not a divine attribute distinct from, say, divine love. Rather it is the core of divine being made manifest in love, mercy, grace, and judgment. (Forsyth was uncomfortable with the language of divine attributes — what we think of as divine attributes are really God himself considered from a certain angle.) "Christianity is concerned with God's holiness before all else; which issues to man as love, acts upon sin as grace, and exercises grace through judgement." So speaking as some do of the need to do justice to both God's holiness and his love, as if these were distinct things that had to be brought together, would betray a major misunderstanding of both holiness and love. Thus Forsyth speaks of God's "holy love". Holy love is:
the tenderness of the Holy, which does not sooth but save. It is love which does not simply comfort, and it is holiness which does not simply doom. It is holy love, which judges, saves, forgives, cleanses the conscience, destroys the guilt, reorganizes the [human] race, and makes a new world from the ruins of the old.Where is such love to be found? In Christ, and climactically in the cross.
But before we go there Goroncy shows how rooting holiness in the Creator provides an ontological underpinning to the moral order in creation. God seeks an echo of his holiness in the world: the "purpose of a world created by a holy God must be holiness, the reflection and communion of His own holiness." But creaturely holiness is an echo of and correlate to God's and should not be thought of as the same thing scaled down: "For the creature to be holy is to be for God; for God Himself to be holy is to be God."
The moral order grounded in divine holiness is "objective and universal" and "inheres in the very nature of reality." Sin is the resistance to holiness, the refusal to be for God, and as such it belittles God, perverts creation, devalues salvation, and impoverishes human dignity. Sin cannot be defined but is an insane mystery, the true cosmic horror of which is made manifest in Christ's cross. Sin is God's utter antithesis and it can never be reconciled nor simply ignored ("Any compromise is a victory for sin"). In the end there is a simple choice: "Die sin must or God!"
Goroncy emphasizes just how seriously Forsyth took sin and judgement. He had no time for the fluffy liberal God who was touchy-feely love. Rather, "Love is not holy love without judgement." So we need to make space for talk of God'swrath — the act of holy love against sin.
And self-healing is impossible so we need atonement if creation is to reach its telos, its complete sanctification. Indeed the end of creation, its complete holiness, revealed in the Second Adam, is what helps us to understand the original creation; creation theology does not precede christology, soteriology, and eschatology but is shaped by them. According to Forsyth God only created this world because He knew that He possessed the power and will to redeem it. In creating He committed himself to incarnation and cross. Sin may be original but grace is more so.