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ON THE FEAR OF GOD.
PROVERBS, 1. 7.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."
From these words, we may assume, that the wise author of the Proverbs looked upon “the Fear of the Lord” as the foundation of all wisdom; and justly so, because it leads to the grand end of all human endeavours, namely, the ultimate happiness of man. It disposes us to take a just view of our own fallen and utterly dependent state; it leads us to contemplate the Deity in all his stupendous attributes; to love his mercy, to adore his goodness, and to fear his power. We find in Scripture that we are frequently commanded to fear the Lord, and that the blessings of his Providence are promised to them that obey this injunction. We are also commanded to love Him, and the same blessings are promised to them that thus pour out their hearts unto Him. Is there any contradiction in these commands? By no means. If we reflect for a moment, we shall readily discover that love in the breast of an inferior being, towards one infinitely superior, is inseparable from fear. Our love is quickened by this fear. The apprehension of offending an object so worthy of our highest regard, will always keep alive within us a consciousness of the value of His love, and thus tend to accelerate and heighten our love for Him. It is the fear of losing it, which increases our anxiety to retain it. So that love and fear are inseparably blended in our devotion to God.
We are to remember, that our feelings towards Him are not to be measured by our feelings towards man.
Towards the latter, they are of a mixed and kindred nature; towards God they ought to be single and undeviating. All the tender sympathies of our frail nature are mixed up in our love towards man. In our love towards God, there can be no such sympathetic amalgamation; that love must consist of one intense, absorbing, unbroken feeling, united to and kept alive alone by that holy fear which prevents us from withholding it, lest we should lose the favour of Him, whose “mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.”
The conditions of the covenant of grace are not only that we should love God, but also that we should“ obey Him as we ought to do”; and we
shall find that it is our fear, not so much of incurring his chastenings, as of forfeiting his love, that keeps the righteous man from turning out of the path of his duty, to follow after empty and forbidden vanities. Love, then, is the stimulating principle which brings us into the heavenly presence, and fear is the actuating principle which keeps us there. The one opens our hearts to the impressions of holiness; the other arms them against the assaults of temptation, and thus they both unite in awakening our devotion, without which “it is impossible to please God.”
Fear, it must be acknowledged, is the securest prop by which religion is sustained ;—without it, the whole fabric must inevitably crumble into ruins. It is the safeguard of the Christian in the hour of his temptation. It is, if I may extend the Scripture metaphor, the boss upon the shield of faith, without which he would be utterly unable to repel the fiery darts of the wicked one. It is the cautious monitor against a rash and precipitate progress. It is, in sum, the foundation of Christian obedience. There is, however, a grand distinction to be made betwixt that fear of the Lord, “which is the beginning of knowledge,” proceeding from a love of his goodness, a reverence for his perfections, and a consequent anxiety not to incur his displeasure; and such a slavish dread of him, as is the birth of gloomy or superstitious fancies, or of a mind, which a long riot in the disorderly pas
sions has impaired and rendered hopeless and despairing. A broad line is to be drawn between fear and terror; because the one is not incompatible with love, nay, is absolutely derived from it; whilst the other can only be the issue of hatred. This will appear more at large as we proceed.
I propose now to consider, first, how the fear of the Lord particularly operates ; then to exhibit it under its two opposing aspects: the one arising from a love of him as a God of Mercy; the other from a dread of him as a God of Justice.
The fear of the Lord, under our first view of it, is applicable to all the duties of religion, because it is the only medium, properly applied, through which the fluctuating heart of man is held in a general state of subjection to the divine authority. It promotes an anxiety to do his will in all things, inspires a desire to please, and a reluctance to offend him. It confirms our caution, directs our prudence, arrests our thoughtlessness, alarms our confidence, and animates our virtue. It warns us “to keep the heart with all diligence," to “have a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men;" to adore the Lord in the “ beauties of his holiness," rather than to tremble only at the terrors of his Omnipotence. It inspires those pure and spiritual feelings towards the Deity, which arise from a consciousness of the benefits derived to man, from the abounding grace of a Being single and unequalled, who delights in
mercy, not in sacrifice,” but against whom to rebel is death, whom to obey, is life eternal. It awakens our love towards “the God of all comfort," who so “ manifested his love towards us, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him;” displaying, by this one act of his benignant providence, the abundant measure of his love, the extent of his grace, and the mag
, nitude of his mercy. From a just consideration of what is due to God from his creatures; from a grateful perception of his indulgence towards us ; of our own utter undeserving, and his, nevertheless, amazing condescension and loving kindness, it naturally excites in us a determination to evince our sense of his manifold favours, by a temperate, holy, and religious life, and all this solely from a principle of devout gratitude towards Him who made man, designing him for a happy destiny, and which his own obstinate disobedience alone could frustrate.
“ The fear of the Lord,” scripturally displayed, is the practical consummation of Solomon's wellknown precept, to “fear God and keep his commandments;” which the royal preacher emphatically declares to embrace the whole circle of moral and religious obligation, “ for this,” says he, “is the whole duty of man.” Such is, briefly, “the fear of the Lord,” as represented in the text, to which the following passage, from Job, furnishes a very significant commentary. “The fear of the