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It is usual for the scripture to describe religion by some one of its peculiar and leading features; and not unfrequently " the fear of the Lord" is the principle which is made use of for this purpose. Thus we read that '' the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ;" and in another place that it is "wisdom" itself. Again we find that "the fear of the Lord tendeth to life;" and elsewhere, that it is "the fountain of life." By these and other similar expressions, we are led to see that the "fear of the Lord" implies the possession of that religion which leads to everlasting life and happiness. This fear does not mean that terror of the Almighty, which an unconverted sinner may sometimes feel under the apprehensions of divine wrath. This may exist where there is none of that fear of God which is connected with life and salvation. That fear of the Lord, which in the scripture is spoken of as an evidence and an essential principle of religion, is a grace implanted by God in the hearts of his people, in accordance with his consolatory promise, " I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me." To be more particular, it may be stated that this fear of God may be considered as including dread of his justice, veneration of his majesty, reverence of his authority, and love of his goodness.
1. The fear of God implies the dread of his justice.
God is infinitely just. "Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne." Hence all sin stands in direct opposition to his nature and attributes. His justice therefore requires him to punish sin. But are we not all sinners? Have we not all sinned and come short of the glory of God 1 Are we not all transgressors of that law of God, which is holy, just, and good? Have we not, therefore, merited his indignation and wrath? Have we not reason, then, to dread the divine justice? Who is there amongst us that does not need to deprecate its severity? Who is there that ought not to use the language of David ?" Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." If we had never transgressed, we should not have needed, in this sense, to fear God. But as fallen and sinful creatures, this feeling is absolutely necessary to our recovery and deliverance; and its exercise will lead us to mourn over our past transgressions, to implore mercy at the hands of our offended God, and to seek reconciliation with him, through the Son of his love. The God of holiness and justice cannot regard sin with impunity. His aversion to all iniquity has occasioned him to fill the vials of his wrath for its punishment. The dread of divine justice, therefore, will lead us to flee for refuge to Jesus, and to lay hold on the hope set before us in the gospel; lest the sword of vengeance should overtake us, and, with unpardoned guilt on our heads, we should perish for ever.
2. The fear of the Lord implies a veneration of his majesty.
The scriptures represent God as infinite in his majesty, greatness, and glory. He is " the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity." In describing the greatness of any created being, we may form some ideas by comparison; but in speaking of the Deity there is no room for comparison. "For who in the heavens can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? There are indeed, in the scripture, some representations of the majesty and greatness of God, whereby we may obtain such a degree of knowledge of those attributes, as our limited capacities can receive. "O Lord, my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain. Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire. Who laid the foundations of the earth that it should not be removed for ever:" "who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity. It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grashoppers."
These and other similar passages in the word of God, afford us some representations of Him whose "greatness is unsearchable." It was a view of the majesty of God, connected with his power, which led Job to exclaim, "Behold I am vile. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." In fact, when we contemplate many other attributes of the Deity, we view them as connected with his majesty. He is omnipresent and eternal: He fills all space : He is from everlasting to everlasting. He knows all things. He can do all things. He is infinitely just and perfectly holy. He is the author of all good. The fear of the Lord implanted in our hearts will influence us to venerate and adore these attributes of his majesty. "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy." Thy smile is happiness. Thy frown is death.
3. The fear of God includes reverence of his authority.
If you possess this principle, it will be accompanied with a desire to please God and to do his will. "A son," says God, "honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?" This grace will lead those who are endued with it, to endeavour to know the will of God, and so have respect to all his commandments. It is not asserted that such characters will be perfect; that they will never err; that they will not fall short of what they ought to be: for "in many things we offend all; and there is no man that liveth and sinneth not." But the scripture frequently connects the fear of the Lord with departing from evil, and with keeping his commandments. Hence when Abraham obeyed the most difficult command that could be enjoined on man, the Almighty declared it to be an evidence of his possessing this principle: "Now I know that thou fearest God." The same principle will create an earnest desire to do the will of God; to the observance of which is annexed the saving knowledge of the doctrine of salvation by Christ himself: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
4. Once more, the fear of the Lord is connected with the love of his goodness.
God is infinitely good, as well as infinitely great and holy and just. Oh how gloriously is his goodness displayed in the gift of his only begotten Son! In this unspeakable evidence of his love, we see his readiness to pardon sinners, and to become their reconciled Father and Friend. The fear of the Lord is therefore intimately connected with love for his mercy and goodness. It is promised in the prophecies of Hosea, that the people of God "shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days," under the gospel dispensation. This implies that they shall have such a view of the divine mercy, grace, and goodness, in their deliverance and salvation by Jesus Christ, as shall fill them with holy awe and reverential love. Such are the characters described in the text. Let us consider,
II. What are the privileges conferred upon them.