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OBJECT AND REASONS OF FEAR.
This exhortation is not only found here in the text, but is in several other places of the Scripture pressed, and that with much vehemency, upon the children of men, as in Eccles. xii. 13; 1 Pet. ii. 17. I shall not trouble you with a long preamble, or forespeech to the matter, nor shall I here meddle with the context, but shall immediately fall upon the words themselves, and briefly treat of the fear of God.
The text, you see, presents us with matter of the greatest moment, to wit, with God, and with the fear of him.
First, it presents us with God, the true and living God, Maker of the worlds, and Upholder of all things by the word of his power; that incomprehensible Majesty, in comparison of whom all nations are less than the drop of a bucket, and than the small dust of the balance. This is he that fills heaven and earth, and is every where present with the children of men, beholding the evil and the good; for he hath set his eyes upon all their ways.
So that considering that, by the text, we have presented to our souls the Lord God and Maker of us all, who also will be either our Saviour or Judge, we are in reason and duty bound to give the more earnest heed to the things that shall be spoken, and be the more careful to receive them, and put them in practice; for, as I said, as they present us with the mighty God, so they exhort us to the highest duty towards him: to wit, to fear him. I call it the highest duty, because it is, as I may call it, not only a duty in itself, but, as it were, the salt that seasons every duty. For there is no duty performed by us, that can by any means be accepted of God, if it be not seasoned with godly fear. Wherefore the apostle says, " Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear," Heb. xii. 23. Of this fear I would discourse at this time; but because this word fear is variously taken in the Scripture, and because it may be profitable to us to see it in its variety, I shall choose this method for the managing of my discourse, even to show you the nature of the word in its several, especially of the chief, acceptations.
I. Then by this word fear, we are to understand God himself, who is the object of our fear.
II. By this word fear, we are to understand the word of God, the rule and director of our fear.
I. Now, to speak of this word fear, as it is thus taken, it respects God himself, who is the object of our fear.
By this word fear, as I said, we are to understand God himself, who is the object of our fear; for the Divine Majesty goeth often under this very name himself. This name Jacob called him by, when he and Laban chode together on Mount Gilead, after Jacob had made his escape to his father's house: "Except," said he, "the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty." So again, a little after, when Jacob and Laban agreed to make a covenant of peace with each other; though Laban, after the jumbling way of the heathen by his oath, puts the true God and the false together, yet "Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac," Gen. xxxi. 42, 53. By the Fear, that is, by the God of his father Isaac.
And, indeed, God may well be called the Fear of his people, not only because they have by his grace made him the object of their fear, but because of the dread and terrible majesty that is in him. He is " a great and terrible God," and " with God is terrible majesty," Neh. i. 5; iv. 14; ix. 32; Job xxxvii. 22.
Who knows the power of his anger? "The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him," Nah. i. 5, 6.
His people know him, and have his dread upon them, by virtue whereof there is begot and maintained in them that godly awe and reverence of his majesty, which is agreeable to their profession of him. "Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread," Isa. viii. 13. Set his majesty before the eyes of your souls, and let his excellency make you afraid with godly fear.
There are these things that make God to be the fear of his people.
1. His presence is dreadful, and that not only his presence in common, but his special, yea, his most comfortable and joyous presence. When God comes to bring a soul news of mercy and salvation, even that visit, that presence of God is fearful. When Jacob went from Beer-sheba towards Haran, he met with God in the way, by a dream, in the which he saw a ladder set up on the earth, whose top reached to heaven; now, in this dream, from the top of this ladder, he saw the Lord, and heard him speak unto him, not threateningly, not as having his fury come up into his face; but in the most sweet and gracious manner, saluting him with promise of goodness after promise of goodness, to the number of eight or nine; as will appear if you read the place, Gen. xxviii. 10—17. Yet, I say, when he awoke, all the grace that discovered itself in this heavenly vision to him, could not keep him from dread and fear of God's majesty. "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
At another time, to wit, when Jacob had that memorable visit from God, in which he gave him power as a prince to prevail with him; yea, and gave him a name, that by his remembering it he might call God's favour the better to his mind; yet even then and there, such dread of the majesty of God was upon him, that he went away wondering that