Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What is the Fear of the Lord? by Thomas Watson

by Patte Smith on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 10:37am

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.
Psalm 103:11

The fear of God is the sum of all true true religion. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ). Fear is the leading grace, the first seed which God sows in the heart. When a Christian can say little of faith, and perhaps nothing of assurance, yet he dares not deny that he fears God (Neh. 1:11). God is so great—that the Christian is afraid of displeasing Him; and so good—that he is afraid of losing Him.It is an indispensable duty incumbent on Christians, to be fearers of God. “Fear God!” (Eccles. 5:7). “That you may fear the glorious and awesome name of the Lord your God!” (Deut. 28:58). This fear of God, is the very foundation of a saint. One can no more act as a Christian without the fear of God—than he can act as a man without reason. This holy fear is the fixed temper and complexion of the soul; this fear is not servile—but filial. There is a difference between fearing God, and being afraid of God. The godly fear God as a child does his father; the wicked are afraid of God as the prisoner is of the judge! This divine fear will appear admirable if you consider how it is mixed and interwoven with several of the graces.
1. The fear of God is mixed with LOVE (Psalm 145:19, 20)

The chaste spouse fears to displease her husband, because she loves him. There is a necessity that fear and love should be in conjunction. Love is as the sails to make swift the soul’s motion; and fear is as the ballast to keep it steady in true religion. Love will be apt to grow wanton, unless it is counter-balanced with fear.

2. The fear of God is mixed with FAITH. “By faith Noah, moved with holy fear, prepared an ark” (Hebrews 11:7).

When the soul looks either to God’s holiness, or its own sinfulness—it fears. But it is a fear mixed with faith in Christ’s merits; the soul trembles—yet trusts. Like a ship which lies at anchor, though it shakes with the wind, yet it is fixed at anchor. God in great wisdom couples these two graces of faith and fear. Fear preserves seriousness, faith preserves cheerfulness. Fear is as lead to the net—to keep a Christian from floating in presumption; and faith is as cork to the net—to keep him from sinking in despair.

3. The fear of God is mixed with PRUDENCE.

He who fears God has the serpent’s eye in the dove’s head. He foresees and avoids those rocks upon which others run. “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3). Though divine fear does not make a person cowardly—it makes him cautious.

4. The fear of God is mixed with HOPE. “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love” (Psalm 33:18).

One would think that fear would destroy hope—but it nourishes it. Fear is to hope, as the oil to the lamp—it keeps it burning. The more we fear God’s justice—the more we may hope in His mercy. Indeed, such as have no fear of God do sometimes hope—but it is not “good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 5:26). Sinners pretend to have the “helmet of hope” (1 Thess. 5:8)—but lack the “breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6:14).

5. The fear of God is mixed with INDUSTRY. “Noah, moved with holy fear, prepared an ark” (Hebrews 11:7).

There is a carnal fear, which represents God as a severe Judge. This takes the soul off from duty, “I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:25). But there is also a fear of diligence. A Christian fears—and prays; fears—and repents. Fear quickens industry. The spouse, fearing lest the bridegroom should come before she is dressed, hastens and puts on her jewels, that she may be ready to meet him. Fear causes a watchful eye—and a working hand. Fear banishes sloth out of its diocese. “The greatest labor in true religion,” says holy fear, “is far less than the least pain the damned feel in hell.”"Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and thought upon His name. "They will be Mine," says the Lord Almighty, "in the day when I make up My jewels! I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not."
Malachi 3:16-18

Let us bewail the lack of the fear of God in our world. Why is it that so few fear God?

1. Men do not fear God—because they have not the knowledge of God. "They hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 1:29). Every sin is founded in ignorance of God. If only men knew God in His immense glory, they would be swallowed up with divine amazement. When the prophet Isaiah had a glimpse of God's glory, he was struck with holy consternation: "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!" (Isaiah 6:6). Ignorance of God, banishes the fear of God.

2. Men do not fear God—because they presume on His mercy. God is merciful, and they do not doubt of the virtue of this sovereign balm. But who is God's mercy for? "His mercy extends to those who fear Him" (Luke 1:50). Such as do not fear God's justice—shall not taste His mercy.
Let this be "for a lamentation", that the fear of God is so vanished from our world. Why is it almost nowhere to be found? Some fear shame, others fear danger—but where is he who fears God?

Excerpted from Thomas Watson's The Great Gain of Godliness

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