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THE TRUE CHARACTER OF THE FEAR OF GOD.
I Now come, in the next place, to treat of the grace of fear more immediately intended in the text, which I call a lasting godly fear. And first, by way of explication, by which I shall show,
I. How by the Scripture it is described.
II. I shall show you what this fear flows from.
I. For the first of these,—How by the Scripture this fear is described; and that,
1. More generally.
2. More particularly.
1. More generally. It is called a grace, that is, a sweet and blessed work of the Spirit of grace, as he is given to the elect. Hence the apostle says, "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear," Heb. xii. 28; for as that fear that brings bondage is wrought in the soul by the Spirit, as a Spirit of bondage; so this fear, which is a fear that we have while we are in the liberty of sons, is wrought by him as he manifesteth to us our liberty. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," 2 Cor. iii. 17 ; that is, where he is a Spirit of adoption, setting the soul free from that bondage under which it was held by the same Spirit, while he wrought as a Spirit of bondage. Hence, as he is called a Spirit working bondage to fear, so he, as the Spirit of the Son, and of adoption, is called "The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord," Isa. xi. 2. Because it is that Spirit of grace that is the author, animator, and maintainer of our filial fear, or of that fear that is son-like, and that subjected the elect unto God, his word, and ways; unto him, his word, and ways, as a Father.
This fear is called also "the fear of God," not as that which is ungodly is, nor yet as that may be, which is wrought by the Spirit as a Spirit of bondage; but by way of eminency, namely, as a dispensation of the grace of the gospel, and as a fruit of eternal love. "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me," Jer. xxxii. 40.
This fear of God is called " God's treasure," for it' is one of his choice jewels, it is one of the rarities of heaven; "The fear of the Lord is his treasure," Isa. xxxiii. 6. And it may well go under such a title, for as treasure, so the fear of the Lord, is not found in every corner. It is said, "All men have not faith," 2 Thess. iii. 2; because that also is more precious than gold, the same is said about this fear. "There is no fear of God before their eyes," Rom. iii. 18; that is, the greatest part of men are utterly destitute of this goodly jewel, this treasure, the fear of the Lord. Poor vagrants, when they come straggling to a lord's house, may perhaps obtain some scraps and fragments, they may also obtain old shoes, and some sorry cast-off rags, but they get not any of his jewels; they may not touch his choicest treasure; that is kept for the children, and those that shall be his heirs. We may say the same also of this blessed grace of fear, which is here called God's treasure.
It is only bestowed upon the elect, the heirs and children of the promise; all others are destitute of it, and so continue to death and judgment.
This grace of fear is that which makes men excel, and go beyond all men in the account of God; it is that which beautifies a man, and prefers him above all other. "Hast thou," said God to Satan, "considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil ?" Job i. 8.
Mind it, there is none like him, none like him in the earth. I suppose it is meant either in those parts, or else he was the man that abounded in the fear of the Lord; none like him to fear the Lord: he excelled others with respect to his reverencing of God, bowing before him, and sincerely complying with his will, and therefore is counted the excellent man. It is not the knowledge of the will of God, but our sincerely complying therewith, that proveth we fear the Lord; and it is our so doing that putteth upon us the note of excelling; hereby appears our perfection, herein is manifest our uprightness. A perfect and an upright man is one that feareth God, and that because he escheweth evil.
Therefore this grace of fear is that without which no part or piece of service which we do to God, can be accepted of him. It is, as I may call it, " the salt of the covenant," Lev. ii. 13, which seasoneth the heart, and therefore must not be lacking there; it is also that which salteth or seasoneth all our doings, and therefore must not be lacking in any of them.
I take this grace of fear, to be that which softeneth the heart, and that makes it stand in awe both of the mercies and judgments of God. This is that which retaineth in the heart that due dread and reverence of the heavenly Majesty that is meet should both be in, and kept in the heart of poor sinners. Wherefore when David described this fear, in the exercise of it, he calls it an awe of God. "Stand in awe, and sin not," Psa. iv. 4; and again, "My heart standeth in awe of thy word," Psa. cxix. 161; and again, " Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him," Psa. xxxiii. 8.
This is that,,therefore, that is, as I said before, so excellent a thing in the eyes of God, namely, a grace of the Spirit, the fear of God, his treasure, the salt of the covenant, that which makes men excel all others: for it is that which makes the sinner to stand in awe of God, which posture is the most comely thing in us, throughout all ages. But,
2. More particularly. This grace is called, the "beginning of knowledge," Prov. i. 7, because by the first gracious discovery of God to the soul, this grace is begot; and again, because the first time that the soul doth apprehend God in Christ to be good unto it, this grace is animated, by which the soul is put into a holy awe of God, which causeth it with reverence and due attention to hearken to him, and tremble before him. It is also by virtue of this fear that the soul doth inquire yet more after the blessed knowledge of God. This is the more evident, because, where this fear of God is wanting, or where the discovery of God is not attended with it, the heart still abides rebellious, obstinate, and unwilling to know more, that it might comply therewith; nay, for want of it, such sinners say unto God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways," Job xxi. 14.
This fear is called, "the beginning of wisdom," Psa. cxi. 10, because then, and not till then, a man begins to be truly spiritually wise: what wisdom is there where the fear of God is not? Therefore, the fools are described thus: " For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord," Prov. i. 29. The word of God is the fountain of knowledge, into which a man will not with godly reverence look, until he is endued with the fear of the Lord; therefore it is rightly called " the beginning of wisdom: but fools despise wisdom and instruction," Prov. i. 1. It is, therefore, this fear of the Lord that makes a man wise for his soul, for life, and for another world. It is this that teacheth him, how he should escape those spiritual and eternal ruins that the fool is overtaken with, and swallowed up of for ever. A man void of this fear of God, whereever he is wise, or in whatever he excels, yet about the matters of his soul there is none more foolish than himself; for through the want of the fear of the Lord, he leaves the best things at sixes and sevens, and only pursueth with all his heart those that will leave him in the snare when he dies.
This fear of the Lord is to hate evil; to hate sin and vanity. Sin and vanity are the sweet morsels of the fool, and such which the carnal appetite of the flesh runs after; and it is only the virtue that is in the fear of the Lord, that makes the sinner have an antipathy against it. "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil," Prov. xvi. 6. That is, men shun, separate themselves from, and eschew it in its appearances. Wherefore it is plain, that those that love evil, are not possessed with the fear of God.
There is a generation that will pursue evil, that will take it in, nourish it, lay it up in their hearts,