The Great Gain of Godliness ( 1 )
by Thomas Watson, 1681
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” Ecclesiastes 12:12. Books are the “children of the brain”. In this writing age, when they are brought forth ad nauseam, I intended that my pen should have been silent—but the variety and weightiness of this subject, as also the desire of some friends, did prevail with me to publish it. The main design of this excellent Scripture, is to encourage solid piety, and confute the atheists of the world, who imagine there is no gain in godliness. It was the speech of King Saul to his servants, “Will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards?” (1 Samuel 22:7). Will the world or men’s lusts give them such noble recompenses of reward—as God bestows upon his followers! Surely, it is holiness which carries away the garland!
As for this treatise, it comes abroad in a plain dress: truth like a diamond—shines brightest in its native luster! Paul did not come to the Corinthians with excellency of speech, or the pride of oratory—his study was not to court—but convert. It is an unhappiness that, in these luxuriant times, religion should for the most part run either into notion or ceremony; the spirits of true religion are evaporated. When knowledge is turned into soul food, and digested into practice—then it is saving. That God would accompany these few imperfect lines with the operation and benediction of his Holy Spirit, and make them edifying—is the prayer of him who is
Yours in all Christian service,
Thomas Watson, London, November 22, 1681
“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
The “scripture of truth” is the ground of faith. This portion of Scripture which now presents itself to our view, has its sacred elegancies, and is all glorious within. It was composed by Malachi, whose name means “messenger”. He came as an ambassador from the God of heaven. This prophet was so famous that Origen and others injudiciously supposed him to be an angel. He lived after the building of the second temple, and was contemporary with Haggai and Zechariah.
This blessed prophet lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and told the Jewish nation of their sins. He was the last trumpet that sounded in the Old Testament. In the words of the text are these parts:
Part I. The character of the Godly
1. In general, they were fearers of God: “those who feared the Lord.”
2. In particular—
a. They spoke often one to another.
b. They thought upon God’s Name.
Part II. The Great Gain of their Godliness
1. The Lord regarded it—”the Lord listened and heard.”
2. The Lord recorded it—”a book of remembrance was written.
3. The Lord rewarded it. This reward consisted in three things:
a. God’s owning them: “They will be mine.”
b. God’s honoring them: “In the day when I make up my jewels.”
c. God’s sparing them: “I will spare them.”
Before I come to the several parts distinctly, note the connective word standing at the beginning of the text which may not be omitted, namely, the word THEN. “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other . . .” Then, that is, after Israel’s return from the Babylonian captivity; then, when the major part of the people grew corrupt, and came out of the furnace worse than they went in! In this bad juncture of time, then those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another.
Hence observe—that the profaneness of the times should not slacken our zeal—but heighten it. The looser others are—the stricter we should be. In those degenerate times when men were arrived at the peak and height of impudence, and dared to speak treason against heaven—then those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another. When others were plaintiffs—these were defendants; when others spoke against God—these spoke for God.
In Noah’s days all flesh had corrupted itself (the old world was drowned in sin—before it was drowned in water). Now at this time, Noah was perfect in his generation, and Noah walked with God (Gen. 6:9). He was the phoenix of his age. Athanasius stood up in the defense of the truth when the world had turned Arian. The more outrageous others are in sin—the more courageous we should be for truth! When the atheists said, “It is vain to serve God,” then those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another.
Why should we be holiest in evil times?
1. Because of the divine injunction. God charges us to be singular (Matt. 5:47), to be circumspect (Eph. 5:15), to be separate from idolaters (2 Cor. 6:17), to shine as lights in the dark world (Phil. 2:15). He forbids us to join together with sinners, or do as they do. The way to hell is a well-trodden road, and the Lord calls to us to turn out of the road: “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exod. 23:2). This is sufficient reason to keep ourselves pure in a time of common infection. As God’s Word is our rule—so his will is our warrant.
2. To be holiest in evil times, is an indication of the truth of grace. To profess religion when the times favor it, is no great matter. Almost all will court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth—this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down the stream—living fish swim against it. To swim against the common stream of evil, shows grace to be alive. The prophet Elijah continuing zealous for the Lord Almighty, when they had dug down God’s altars—showed his heart and lips had been touched with a coal from the altar.
Use 1. See hence how unworthy they are of the name of Christians, who use sinful compliance, and cut the garment of their religion according to the mode and fashion of the times. They do not consult what is best—but what is safest. Complying spirits can truckle to the desires of others; they can bow either to the East or to the West; they prefer a whole skin before a pure conscience. They can, with the planet Mercury, vary their motion; they can, as the mariner, shift their sail with every wind and, as the mongrel Israelites, speak the language of both Canaan and Ashdod. These are like the Samaritans of whom Josephus says, when the Jews flourished they pretended to he akin to them—but when the Jews were persecuted, they disclaimed kindred with them. The old serpent has taught men crooked windings, and to be for that religion which does not have truth on its side—but worldly power.
Use 2. Let us keep up the vigor of our zeal, in degenerate times. We should by a holy contrariness—burn hotter in a frozen age. We live in the dregs of time; sin is grown common and impudent. It is excellent to walk contrary to the world, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world!” (Romans 12:2). Let us be as lilies and roses among the briars. Sin is never the better, because it is in fashion! Nor will this plea hold at the last day—that we did as the most did. God will say, Seeing you sinned with the multitude—you shall go to hell with the multitude! Oh, let us keep pure among the dregs; let us be like fish that retain their freshness in salt waters; and as that lamp which shone in the smoking furnace (Gen. 15:17).
1. Consider—To be holy in times of general defection, is that with which God is greatly pleased. The Lord was much delighted with the holy conferences and dialogues of these saints in the text. When others were inveighing against God, that there should be a remnant of holy souls speaking of glory and the life to come—their words were music in God’s ears!
2. Consider—To keep up a spirit in holiness in an adulterous generation is a Christian’s honor. This was the glory of the church of Pergamum, that she held fast Christ’s name—even where Satan’s seat was (Rev. 2:13). The impiety of the times, is a foil to set off grace all the more, and give it a greater luster. Then a Christian is most lovely, when he is (as Ambrose says) like the cypress, which keeps its verdure and freshness in the winter season. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright” (Psalm 37:37). An upright man is always worth beholding—but then he is most to be admired when like a bright star, he shines in the dark, and having lost all, he holds fast his integrity.
3. Consider—To be godly in a profligate age does much to animate weak beginners; it strengthens feeble knees (Isaiah 35:3) and shores up those temples of the Holy Spirit which are ready to fall. One man’s zeal is a burning torch for others to catch fire at. How did the constancy of the martyrs inflame the love of many to the truth! Though only Christ’s blood saves—yet the blood of martyrs may strengthen. Paul’s prison chain made converts in Nero’s court, two of whom were afterwards martyrs, as history relates. Mr. Bradford’s holy advice and example, so confirmed Bishop Ferrar, that he would not touch the Roman pollution.
4. Consider—How sad will it be for professors to fall off from their former profession, and espouse a novel religion. Julian bathed himself in the blood of beasts offered in sacrifice to the heathen gods, and so as much as lay in him washed off his former baptism. In the time of Julius Caesar this astonishing thing happened: after a plentiful vintage, wild grapes appeared upon their vines, which was looked upon as an ominous sign. When men seemed to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, and afterwards bring forth the wild grapes of impiety—it is a sad omen and prognostic of their ruin! “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment (2 Pet. 2:21). Let all this make us maintain the power of holiness in the worst times. Though others wonder we do not sin after the rate that they do—yet remember, it is better to go to heaven with a few than to hell in the crowd. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.
Question: How may we keep up the briskness and fervor of grace, in times of apostasy?
Answer 1. Let us beware of having our hearts too much linked to the world. The world damps zeal—as earth chokes the fire. We are bid to love our enemies; but the world is such an enemy as we must not love, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” (1 John 2:15). The world bewitches with her blandishments, and kills with her silver darts! He who is a Demas—will be a Judas! A lover of the world will, for a piece of money, betray a holy cause, and make shipwreck of a good conscience.
Answer 2. Let us be volunteers in piety; that is, choose God’s service; “I have chosen the way of truth” (Psalm 119:30). It is one thing to be good, with a holy end in view. Hypocrites are good only out of worldly design. They embrace the gospel for secular advantage, and these will in time, fall away. It is fabled that the Chelidonian stone keeps its virtue no longer than it is enclosed in gold; take it out of the gold, and it loses its virtue. False hearts are good no longer than they are enclosed in golden prosperity; take them out of the gold and they lose all their seeming goodness. But if we would retain our sanctity in backsliding times we must serve God purely out of choice. He who is godly out of choice, loves holiness for its beauty, and adheres to the gospel, when all the jewels of preferment are pulled off.
Answer 3. Let us be inlaid with sincerity. If a piece of timber begins to bend, it is because it is not sound. Why do any bend and comply against their conscience—but because their hearts are not sound. “Their hearts were insincere toward Him, and they were unfaithful to His covenant.” (Psalm 78:37). Sincerity causes stability. When the apostle exhorts to stand fast in the evil day, among the rest of the Christian armor, he bids them put on the belt of truth, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” (Eph. 6:14). The belt of truth is nothing else but sincerity.
Answer 4. Let us get love to Christ. Love is a holy fuel. It fires the affections, steels the courage, and carries a Christian above the love of life, and the fear of death. Many waters cannot quench love (Song of Solomon 8:7). Love made Christ suffer for us. If anyone asks what Christ died of, it may be answered, “He died of love!” If we love Christ—we will own him in the worst times, and be like that virgin of whom Basil speaks who, not accepting deliverance upon sinful terms, cried out, “Let life and money go! Welcome Christ!”
Answer 5. If we would keep up the sprightly vigor of grace in evil times, let us harden our hearts against the taunts and reproaches of the wicked. David was the song of the drunkards (Psalm 69:12). A Christian is never the worse for reproach. The stars are not the less glorious, though they have ugly names given them, the Bear, the Dragon, etc. Reproaches are but splinters of the cross. How will he endure the stake—who cannot bear a scoff? Reproaches for Christ, are ensigns of honor, and badges of adoption (1 Peter 4:14). Let Christians bind these reproaches, as a crown about their head. Better have men reproach you for being godly—than have God damn you for being wicked! Be not laughed out of your religion. If a lame man laughs at you for walking upright—will you therefore limp?
Answer 6. If we would keep up the vigor of devotion during evil times, let us beg God for confirming grace. Habitual grace may flag; Peter had habitual grace—yet was foiled; he lost a single battle, though not the victory. We need exciting, assisting, sustaining grace; not only grace in us—but grace with us (1 Cor. 15:10). Sustaining grace (which is a fresh gale of the Spirit) will carry us undauntedly through the world’s blustering storms. Thus shall we be able to keep up our heroic zeal in corrupt times, and be as Mount Zion—which cannot be moved.
Part I. The character of the Godly
Having done with the frontispiece of the text, I begin, in the first place, with the character in general of the godly: they are fearers of God, “Those who feared the Lord”. What fear is meant here? Considered negatively:
1. It is not meant of a natural fear, which is a tremor or palpitation of heart, occasioned by the approach of some imminent danger. “They are afraid of dangers on the road” (Eccles. 12:5).
2. It is not meant of a sinful fear, which is twofold:
A superstitious fear. A black cat crossing the path, is by some more dreaded than a harlot lying in the bed.
A carnal fear. This is the fever of the soul which sets it a shaking. He who is timorous, will be treacherous; he will decoy his friend, and deny his God. Three times in one chapter Christ cautions us against the fear of men, (Matthew 10:26-31). Aristotle says that the reason why the chameleon turns into so many colors, is through excessive fear. Fear makes men change their religion as the chameleon does her colors!
A carnal fear is EXCRUCIATING, “fear has torment in it.” (1 John 4:18).The Greek word for torment is sometimes put for hell (Matt. 25:46). Fear has hell in it.
A carnal fear is PERNICIOUS. It indisposes for duty. The disciples, under the power of fear, were fitter to flee than to pray, (Matthew 26:56), and it puts men upon sinful means to save themselves: “The fear of man brings a snare!” (Proverbs 29:25). What made Peter deny Christ, and Origen sprinkle incense before the idol—but fear?
Considered positively, the fear meant in the text is a divine fear, which is the reverencing and adoring of God’s holiness, and the setting of ourselves always under his sacred inspection. The infinite distance between God and us causes this fear.
When God’s glory began to shine out upon the Mount, Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake!” (Heb. 12:21). Such as approach God’s presence with light feathery hearts, and worship him in a crude, careless manner—have none of this fear.
“Those who feared the Lord”. In the words are two parts.
1. The Act—fear.
2. The Object—the Lord.
“Those who feared the Lord”. 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.
Doctrine: 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.” There is no greater spur in the heavenly race—than the fear of God.
The REASONS enforcing this holy fear of God, include the following:
1. God’s eye is always upon us. He who is under the eye of his earthly prince, will he careful of doing anything which would offend him. “Does He not see my ways and number all my steps?” (Job 31:4). God sees in the dark: “Even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:12). The night is no curtain, the clouds are no canopy—to hinder or intercept God’s sight. God sees the heart. An earthly judge can judge of the fact—but God judges of the heart. “I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart!” (Jeremiah 17:10). He is like Ezekiel’s wheels, “full of eyes.” God is all eye! Should not this make us walk with fear and circumspection? We cannot sin—but our judge looks on!
2. God interprets our not fearing of Him—as a slighting of Him. As not to praise God is to wrong him—so not to fear God is to slight him. Of all things, a person can least endure to he slighted: “Why has the wicked despised God?” (Psalm 10:13). For a worm to slight its Maker causes the fury to rise up in God’s face! “My fury will flare up!” (Ezekiel 38:18).
3. God has power to destroy us. “Fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell!” (Matthew 10:28). God can look us into our grave—and with a breath blow us into hell—and shall we not fear him! Is it easy to wrestle with flames? “Who knows the power of his anger!” (Psalm 90:11). What engines or buckets can quench the infernal fire of hell? We are apt to fear men who may try to hurt us—but what is their power compared to God’s power? They threaten a prison, God threatens hell. They threaten our life, God threatens our soul—and shall we not tremble before him! Oh, how dreadful, when the great fountains of God’s wrath shall be broken up, and all his bitter vials poured out! “Can your heart endure, or can your hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with you!” (Ezekiel 22:14)
Objection: But are not we bidden to serve God without fear? (Luke 1:74)
Answer. We must not fear God with such a fear, as the wicked do. They fear him as a Turkish slave does his master; they fear him in such a way as to hate him—and wish there were no God! We must not serve God with this hellish fear—but we must serve him with a sincere filial fear, sweetened with love.
Use 1. Refutation. This refutes the Papists who hold that a Christian cannot have assurance, because he is to serve God with fear. Assurance and fear are different—but not contrary. A child may have assurance of his father’s love—yet a fear of offending him. Who was more fearful of sin than Paul? (1 Cor. 9:27) Yet who had more assurance? “Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Faith procures assurance (Eph. 1:13) fear preserves assurance.
Use 2. Instruction. It is a Christian duty to fear God. What strangers, then, are they to true religion—who are void of this holy fear! The godly fear—and sin not. The wicked sin—and fear not. They are like the Leviathan, who is “made without fear” (Job 41:33). Lack of the fear of God is the innate cause of all wickedness: “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood” (Romans 3:14-15). Why was this? “There is no fear of God before their eyes!” (verse 18).
Abraham surmised that the men of Gerar would stick at no sin. Why so? “I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place” (Gen. 20:11). The judge in the Gospel is called an unjust judge (Luke 18:6); and no wonder, for he “had no fear of God” (verse 2). There must be an excess of sin, where there the fear of God is lacking to restrain it. The water must overflow, where there are no banks to keep it out. We live in a godless age; would men dare to sin at the rate they do—if the fear of God were ruling in their hearts? Would they dare to swear, be immoral, use false weights, bear false witness, hate purity, deride God, forge plots, persecute Christ’s body—if they had the fear of God before their eyes? These men proclaim to the world that they are atheists; they do not believe in the immortality of the soul. They are worse than brutish—a beast fears the fire—but these fear not hell-fire! They are worse than devils, for the devils “believe and tremble” (James 2:19).
Use 3. Lamentation. 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?
And not only among the generality of people—but even among professing Christians, how few fear God in truth! Profession is often made a cloak to cover sin. Absalom palliated his treason with a religious vow (2 Samuel 15:7). The Pharisees made long prayer a cloak for oppression (Matt. 23:14). This is sordid—to carry on wicked designs—under a mask of piety. The snow covers many a dunghill. A snowy white profession covers many a foul heart! The sins of professors are more odious. Thistles are bad in a field—but worse in a garden. The sins of the wicked anger God—but the sins of professing Christians grieve him.
Use 4. Reproof.
1. This reproves jovial sinners, who are so far from fearing God, that they spend their time in mirth and wantonness! “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all!” (Luke 17:27). There is a place in Africa called Timbuktu, where the inhabitants spend all the day in playing and dancing. What sensual, jovial lives do the gallants of our age live! They spend their life in a frolic, as if God had made them to be like the leviathan who plays in the sea. “They sing with tambourine and harp. They make merry to the sound of the flute.” (Job 21:12). They ride to hell upon the back of pleasure, and go merrily to damnation!
Does not God call us to trembling? Our sins presage evil. May not we fear that “the glory is departing”? May not we fear the death of true religion before the birth of reformation? May not we fear that some momentous calamity should bring up the fear of former judgments? As the prophet Ezekiel says, “Should we then make mirth?” (Ezekiel 21:10). But jovial spirits have banished the fear of God.
“How terrible it will be for you who sprawl on ivory beds surrounded with luxury, eating the meat of tender lambs and choice calves. You sing idle songs to the sound of the harp!” (Amos 6:4,5). Sinners whose hearts are hardened with soft pleasures, let them have their lusts—but farewell Christ and his gospel. “They feast without fear” (Jude 12.). But they forget death will bring in the reckoning, and they must pay the reckoning in hell-fire! The Turkish sultan, when he intends the death of any of his minions, invites them to sumptuous feast, and then causes them to he taken away from the table and strangled. Just so, Satan gluts men with sinful pastimes and delights, and then strangles them! Foolish pleasure-lovers are like the fish that swim pleasantly through the silver streams of Jordan, until at last they fall into the Dead Sea. “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction!” (1 Tim. 6:9).
2. This reproves secure sinners who have no fear of God. Like Laish of old, they are “a secure people” (Judges 18:27). Those who are least safe—are most confident! Carnal security throws men into a deep sleep. Birds which roost in steeples, being used to the continual ringing of bells, the noise does not at all disturb them. So sinners who have been long used to the sound of Aaron’s bells, though now and then they have a peal rung out against their sins yet, being used to it, they are not startled at all. A carnally secure sinner is known thus:
a. He lives as had as the worst, yet hopes to be saved as well as the best. “I am safe, even though I am walking in my own stubborn way.” (Deut. 29:19). This is as if a man should drink poison—yet believe that he shall have his health. A secure sinner now lies in Delilah’s lap—yet hopes to some day lie in Abraham’s bosom!
b. A secure sinner thinks all is well, because all is in peace. He hears others speak of a “spirit of bondage”, and the terrors they have felt for sin—yet he thanks God that he never knew what trouble of spirit meant; he thinks his conscience is good, because it is quiet. When the devil keeps the palace—all is in peace” (Luke 11:12). Ungrounded peace presages an earthquake in the conscience.
c. A secure sinner is careless about his soul. The soul is the princely part, which is crowned with reason. A secure sinner provides for his body—but neglects his soul. He is like one who waters his flowers—but never minds his jewels. Behold here a secure person, who is in a spiritual lethargy; he has no sense of the life to come; he is destitute of the fear of God.
3. This reproves scoffers, who are the vilest of sinners. “There shall come in the last days, scoffers” (2 Pet. 3:3). These Ishmaels jeer at holy living—and ridicule all true religion. They throw squibs of reproach at the saints. In the massacre at Paris, the Papists scoffed at the Protestants when they murdered them, “Where is your God now? What has become of all your prayers now?” These are devils in the likeness of men! They are far from the fear of God! The scorner’s chair stands at the mouth of hell!
Use 5. Exhortation. It exhorts us to get the fear of God planted in our hearts. “Happy is he who fears always” (Proverbs 28:14). The fear of God would influence all our actions. It would make us godly in both tables of God’s laws. It would make us holy towards God—and righteous towards men. We would be true in our promises—and just in our dealings (Matt. 7:12).
That I may press you to this holy fear—let me show you the DIGNITY and EXCELLENCY of fearing God:
1. The fear of God is the true BADGE and uniform of a saint. The saints of old were God-fearing men (Gen. 22:12; Acts 10:22); Obadiah feared the Lord greatly (I Kings 8:13). All the moral virtues in their highest elevation, do not make a saint. But here is the Christian’s true character—he is one who fears God. Augustine said of himself, that he did knock at heaven-gate with a trembling hand. Christ calls his elect, “his sheep” (John 10:27). Sheep are of a trembling nature. The saints are tremulous—they dare not take liberties as others do.
2. The fear of God is the beginning of true WISDOM. (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom is “more precious than rubies” (Prov. 3:15). No jewel we wear so adorns us as wisdom. Now, the fear of Lord is our wisdom: “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom” (Job 28:28).
Wherein is the fear of God the true wisdom?
A. The fear of God is wisdom, in that it makes its careful about our spiritual accounts. Wisdom lies in nothing more than in keeping accounts exactly. The fear of God teaches a person to examine the state of his soul critically. “O my soul, how is it with you?” Do you gain or lose? Is our faith in its infancy, being but newly laid to the breast of the promise? Or is it grown to some stature? How is it? Does grace or sin prevail? Thus the fear of God makes us wisely balance our accounts, and see how matters stand between God and our souls. “I meditate in my heart, and my spirit made diligent search” (Psalm 77:6).
B. The fear of God is wisdom as it makes its understand divine secrets. “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him” (Psalm 21:14). He must he wise, who is acquainted with the secrets of heaven. A fearer of God is acquainted with the secret of election (1 Thess. 1:4), of God’s love (Rev. 1:5), of the holy annointing (1 John 2:20). He knows God’s mind: “We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2;16).
C. The fear of God is wisdom, in that it makes us consider. “I considered my ways” (Psalm 119:59). A great part of wisdom lies in consideration. He who fears God considers how vain the world is—and therefore dares not love it. He who fears God considers how short time is—and therefore dares not lose it. He who fears God considers how precious salvation is—and therefore dares not neglect it.
D. The fear of God is wisdom, in that it makes its walk wisely. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time” (Col. 4:5).
a. The fear of God makes us walk amiably: “Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the children of Heth” (Gen. 2.3:7). Piety does not exclude courtesy.
b. The fear of God makes us walk inoffensively: it prevents not only scandals but indecencies. The veneration of God, causes circumcision of heart, and circumspection of life.
E. The fear of God is wisdom, as it preserves us from hell. It is wisdom to keep out of danger; fear makes us flee from the wrath to come.
3. The fear of God is the best certificate to show for heaven. Do you have knowledge? So has Satan. Do you have profession? So has Satan, he “transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). But do you have filial fear? In this you will excel him. The fear of God is, though not our plea for heaven—yet our evidence for heaven.
4. There is that in God, which may command fear:
1. “He is clothed in awesome majesty!” (Job 37:22).
a. There is majesty in God’s Name, Jehovah. It comes from a Hebrew root which speaks of God’s absolute, eternal, and independent being.
b. There is majesty in God’s looks. Job had but a glimpse of God, and he was even swallowed up with divine amazement: “My ears had heard of you—but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes!” (Job 42:5-6).
c. There is majesty in God’s words. He speaks with majesty, as when he gave the law in thundering, insomuch that the people said, “Let not God speak with us lest we die!” (Exodus 20:19).
d. There is majesty in God’s attributes: his holiness, power, justice, which are the irradiations of the divine essence.
e. There is majesty in God’s works: “They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds” (Psalm 145:5). Every creature sets forth God’s majesty; we may see the majesty of God blazing in the sun, twinkling in the stars. God’s majesty is discernable in those two wonders of nature, behemoth and leviathan (Job 40:18; 41:19).
In short, the majesty of God is seen in humbling the children of pride. He turned King Nebuchadnezzar out to pasture, and made him fellow-commoner with the beasts. Does not all this call for fear?
2. “He is clothed in awesome majesty!” “He is feared by the kings of the earth” (Psalm 76:12). There is a time coming when God will be dreadful to his enemies; when conscience is awake, when death strikes, when the last trumpet sounds. And shall we not fear this God? “Do you not fear Me? Do you not tremble before Me?” (Jer. 5:22). Fearing God’s justice—is the way not to feel it.
And let it not seem strange to you, if I tell you, that in respect of God’s infinite majesty, there will be some of this blessed fear in heaven. Not a fear which has torment in it, for perfect love will cast out fear—but a holy, sweet, reverential fear. Though God has so much beauty in him as shall cause love, and joy, in heaven—yet this beauty is mixed with so much majesty, as shall cause a veneration in glorified saints.
5. The fear of God tends to life (Proverbs 19:23).
1. This is true in a temporal sense, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked are cut short” (Proverbs 10:27); in the original it is, “adds days”. Long life is promised as a blessing, “With long life will I satisfy him” (Psalm 91:16). The best way to come to “a good old age”, is the fear of God. Sin curtails the life: many a man’s excess wastes his vital organs, enervates his strength, and cuts him short of those years which by the course of nature might be arrived at, “Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time?” (Eccles. 7:17). You who desire to live long—live in the fear of God! “The Lord commanded us to follow all these statutes and to fear the Lord our God for our prosperity always and for our preservation.” (Deut. 6:24).
2. This is true in a spiritual sense. “The fear of the Lord tends to life”—namely, to “life eternal”. Life is sweet, and eternal makes it sweeter. “Eternal life is true life” (Augustine). The life of bliss has no term of years wherein it expires: “Forever …with the Lord!” The lamp of glory shines—but is never spent; so that divine fear tends to life; a life with God and angels forever.
6. The fear of God gives full satisfaction. “He who has it, shall abide satisfied” (Prov. 19:23). Such as are destitute of God’s fear, never meet with satisfaction. “In the midst of his plenty, distress will overtake him; the full force of misery will come upon him” (Job 20:22). This is a riddle, to be full—yet not have enough. The meaning is there is still something lacking: he who fears not God, though his barns are full—yet his mind is not at rest. The sweet waters of pleasure do rather inflame the thirst—than satisfy it. “I have run through all the delights and grandeurs of the world, and could never find full contentment”, said the emperor Severus. But he who has the fear of the Lord “shall abide satisfied”.
1. He shall be satisfied. His soul shall be filled with grace, his conscience with peace. A holy man said, when God had replenished him with inward joy, “It is enough Lord, your servant is a full vessel, and can hold no more!”
2. He shall abide satisfied. This satisfaction shall not cease; it shall be a cordial in death, and a crown after death!
7. The fear of God makes a little to be sweet. “Better is little with the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 15:16). Why is a little better? Because that little a believer has, he holds in his Head, Christ. That little is sweetened with the love of God. He has with that little a contented mind; and contentment turns Daniel’s vegetables into choice meat (Dan. 1:12). Again, that little is a pledge of more; that little oil in the cruse—is but a pledge of that golden joy and bliss which the soul shall have in heaven. Thus a little with the fear of God, is better than all unsanctified riches. Lazarus’ crumbs were better than the rich man’s banquet!
8. The fear of God is a Christian’s safety. He is invulnerable; nothing can hurt him. Plunder him of his money, he carries a treasure about him of which he cannot be robbed (Isaiah 33:6). Cast him into prison—his conscience is free; kill his body—it shall rise again. He who has on this breastplate of God’s fear may be shot at—but can never be shot through.
9. The fear of God makes all things go well with us. “How happy are those who fear the Lord—all who follow his ways! You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How happy you will be! How rich your life!” (Psalm 128:1-2). Is it not well with that man who has all things working together for his good—and has nothing lacking which may do him good (Psalm 84:11)? If God sees health and riches good for him—he shall have them. Every providence shall center in his happiness. Oh, what an inducement is here to solid piety! Come whatever will, “it shall be well with those who fear God” (Eccles. 8:12). When they die, they shall go to God; and while they live, everything in the world shall do them good.
10. The fear of God is a great cleanser. “The fear of the Lord is clean” (Psalm 19:9). It is so:
1. In its own nature—it is a pure, crystal, orient grace.
2. In the effect of it—it cleanses the heart and life. As a spring works out the mud—so the fear of the Lord purges out the love of sin. The heart is the temple of God, and the fear of the Lord sweeps and cleanses this temple, that it may not be defiled.
11. The fear of God makes us accepted with God. “In every nation he who fears him … is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35). What was Paul so ambitious of? “We labor that we may be accepted by him” (2 Cor. 5:9). Divine fear ingratiates us into divine favor. Such as are fearless of God, neither their persons nor offerings find acceptance: “I despise your feast days, and I will not dwell in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings . . . I will not accept them” (Amos 5:21-22). Who will take a gift from one who has the plague!
12. The fear of God paves the way for spiritual joy. Some may think the fear of God breeds sadness; no, it is the inlet to joy! The fear of God is the morning star, which ushers in the sunlight of comfort: “Walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). The fear of God has solid joy in it, though not frivolity. God mixes joy with holy fear, that fear may not seem slavish.
13. The fear of God drives out all base fear. Carnal fear is an enemy to true religion. The fear of God frightens fear away; it causes courage: “Able men, such as fear God” (Exod. 18:21); some translations render it, “men of courage”. When a dictator governed in Rome, all other offices ceased. Where the fear of God rules in the heart—it expels fleshly fear. When the empress Eudoxia threatened to banish Chrysostom, the preacher said, “Tell her, I fear nothing but sin!” The fear of God swallows up all other fear, as Moses’ rod swallowed up the magicians’ rods.
14. To be void of God’s fear, is folly. “I said to the fools—do not deal foolishly” (Psalm 75:4).
1. Are not they fools who gratify their enemy? Those who lack the fear of God, do so. Satan baits his hook with pleasure and profit, and they swallow bait and hook and all! This pleases Satan; men’s sins feast the devil. Who but a fool would please his enemy?
2. Is it not folly to prefer slavery before liberty? If a slave in the galley should have his freedom offered him—but says that he would rather tug at the oar and be a slave, than have his liberty—would he not be judged to be a fool? Such is the case of him who does not fear God. The gospel offers to free him from the miserable captivity of sin—but he chooses rather to be a slave to his lusts. He is like a servant under the law: “I love my master—I will not go out free” (Exod. 21:5). The foolish sinner had rather have his ear bored to the devil’s service, than be translated “into the glorious liberty of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:21).
3. Is not he a fool who, having but one jewel, will venture the loss of it? The soul is the jewel, and the sinner is fearless of it, he will throw it away upon the world; as if one should throw pearls and diamonds into the river. He who pampers his body and neglects his soul, is like him who feasts his slave and starves his wife!
4. Is not he a fool who refuses a rich offer? If one should offer to adopt another and make him an heir of his vast estate, and he should refuse it, would not his discretion be called in question? God offers Christ to a sinner, and promises to entail all the riches of heaven upon him—but, lacking the fear of God, he refuses this great offer: “Israel would have none of me” (Psalm 81:11). Is not this a prodigy of madness? Yay not the devil peg every sinner for a fool at the last day!
15. The fear of God is a sovereign antidote against apostasy. The devil was the first apostate. How rife is this sin! More shipwrecks are on land—than at sea; men make shipwreck of a good conscience. Apostates are said to put Christ to “open shame” (Heb. 6:6). The fear of God is a preservative against apostasy: “I will put my fear in their hearts—that they shall not depart from me” (Jer. 32:40). I will so love them—that I will not depart from them; and they shall so fear me—that they shall not depart from me.
16. There are excellent promises made to those who fear God. “Unto you who fear my name, shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Mat. 4:2). Here is a promise of Christ; he is a Sun for light and life-giving influence; and a Sun of righteousness, as he diffuses the golden beams of justification. And he has healing in his wings; the sun heals the air, dries up the cold moistures, exhales the vapors which would be pestilential. Just so, Christ has “healing in his wings”; he heals the hardness and impurity of the soul. And the horizon in which this sun arises, is in hearts fearing God: “To you who fear my name, shall the Sun of righteousness arise.”
And there is another great promise: “He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great” (Psalm 115:13). God blesses such in their name, estate, souls. And this blessing can never be reversed! As Isaac said, “l have blessed him—and he shall be blessed” (Gen. 27:37). Such as fear God are privileged people: none can take away from them—either their birthright or their blessing.
17. Fear is the admirable instrument in promoting salvation. “Work out your salvation with fear” (Phil. 2:12). The fear of God, is that flaming sword which turns every way—to keep sin from entering (Prov. 16:6). The fear of God stands sentinel in the soul, and is ever upon its watchtower. Fear causes circumspection: he who walks in fear, treads warily. Fear gives birth to prayer, and prayer engages the help of heaven.
18. The Lord is much pleased with those who fear him. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him” (Psalm 147:1). In the Septuagint it is, “The Lord bears good will towards those who fear him.” Some render it, “The Lord delights in those who fear him.” Never did a suitor take such pleasure in a person he loved—as God does in those who fear him; they are his “Hephzibah”, which means, my delight is in her (Isaiah 61:4). He says of them as of Zion: “This is my rest forever—here I will dwell” (Psalm 132:14). A sinner is “a vessel in which is no pleasure” (Hos. 8:8). But fearers of God are his favorites.
19. Such as fear God are the only people that shall be saved. “Salvation is near those who fear him” (Psalm 85:9). Salvation is said to be “far from the wicked” (Psalm 119:155). They and salvation are so far apart—that they are likely never to meet. But God’s salvation is near to those who fear him. What do we aspire after, but salvation? It is the end of all our prayers, tears, sufferings. Salvation is the crown of our desires, the flower of our joy. And who shall be enriched with salvation—only the fearers of God! “His salvation is near those who fear him.”
Let these 19 powerful arguments persuade us to fear God.
Use 6. Trial. Let us put ourselves upon a strict scrutiny and trial, whether we have the fear of God planted in our hearts.
Question: How may we know whether we have the fear of God planted in our hearts?
Answer 1. The fear of God—will make a man fear SIN. “How can I do this great wickedness—and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Indeed, sin is the only evil thing; it is the evil of evils. Sin is the poison which the old serpent spat into our virgin nature! In sin there is both pollution and enmity. Sin is compared to a “thick cloud” (Isaiah 44:22), which not only hides the light of God’s face—but brings down showers of His wrath. Sin is worse than all evils. There is more evil in a drop of sin—than in a sea of affliction!
1. Sin is the cause of all affliction. Sin conjures up all the winds and storms in the world. The cause is worse than the effect. Out of this viperous womb come, “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”
2. In affliction conscience may he quiet; the hail may beat upon the tiles, when there is music in the room. But sin terrifies the conscience. Nero, in the midst of feasts and Roman sports was full of horror of mind; the numbers of men he had killed troubled him. Cataline was frightened at every noise. Cain in killing Abel, stabbed half the world at one blow, yet he could not kill the worm in his own conscience!
Sin is the quintessence of evil—it puts a sting into death (1 Cor. 15:56). Sin is worse than hell:
a. Hell is a burden only to the sinner—but sin is a burden to God (Amos 2:13).
b. There is justice in hell—but sin is the most unjust thing. It would rob God of his glory, Christ of his purchase, the soul of its happiness. “It is more hitter to sin against Christ, than to suffer the torments of hell”, says Chrysostom. Is not sin then, to be feared? He who fears God is afraid of touching this forbidden fruit!
1. He who fears God—is afraid to do anything which he suspects may be sinful (Romans 14:23). He will not swallow oaths like pills, lest they should afterwards work in his conscience. He dares not mix anything in God’s worship, which God has not appointed; he fears it is like offering strange fire. Where conscience is scrupulous, it is safer to forbear; for, “what is not of faith is sin”.
2. He who fears God—fears the appearance of sin. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22). Some things have a bad look, and carry a show of evil in them. To go to the idol temple, though one does not join with them in worship, is an appearance of evil. He whose heart is ballasted with God’s fear—flies from that which looks like sin. It was a good speech of Bernard to, “By avoiding the act of sin we preserve our peace; by avoiding the appearance of it we preserve our fame.” The fear of God makes us shun the occasion of sin: the Nazarite under the law was not only to forbear wine—but he must not eat grapes, which might occasion intemperance. Joseph fled from his mistress’ temptation; he would not be seen in her company.
The appearance of evil, though it does not defile one’s own conscience, may offend another’s conscience. And hear what the apostle says: When you “wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ!” (1 Cor. 8:12). Such as do not avoid the appearances and inlets to sin-make the truth of their grace to be suspected. How far are they from the fear of God who, forgetting their prayer, “Lead us not into temptation”, run themselves into the devil’s mouth! They go to plays and theaters, which are the lures and inducements of filthiness! Others associate familiarly with the wicked, and are too often in their company: which is like going among those who have the plague! “I wrote to you not to company with fornicators,” (1 Cor. 5:9). Business is one thing, keeping company is another. Polycarp would have no society with Marcion, the heretic. Twisting into a cord of friendship with sinners is an appearance of evil; it hardens them in sin, and wounds the credit of true religion.
Question: But did not Christ often converse with sinners?
Answer 1. Christ did sometimes go among the wicked; not that he approved of their sins—but as a physician goes among the diseased to heal them, so Christ intended to work a cure upon them (Mark 2:17). It was their conversion which he aimed at.
Answer 2. Though Jesus Christ did sometimes converse with sinners—yet he could receive no infection by them; his divine nature was a sufficient antidote against the contagion of sin. As the sun cannot be defiled with the thick vapors which are exhaled from the earth, and fly into the sky—so the black vapors of sin could not defile the Sun of righteousness. Christ was of such spotless purity, that he had no receptibility of evil. But the case is otherwise with us; we have a stock of corruption within. Therefore it is dangerous to mix with the wicked, lest we be defiled.
Such as revere the divine majesty of God, dare not go near the borders of sin. Those who went near the fiery furnace, though they did not go into it, were burned (Dan. 3:22).
3. He who fears God—dares not sin secretly. A hypocrite may forbear gross sin because of the shame—but not clandestine, secret sin. He is like one who shuts up his shop windows—but follows his trade within doors. But a man fearing God dares not sin, though he could walk invisibly, and no eye see him. “You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind; but shall fear your God” (Lev. 19:14). If one should curse a deaf man, he cannot hear him. If one should lay a stumbling block in a blind man’s way, he cannot see him. Yes—but the fear of God will make one avoid those sins—which can neither he heard or seen by men. God’s seeing in secret, is a sufficient counter-poison against sin.
4. He who fears God—dares not commit sin, though it might bring him a profitable advantage. Gain is the golden bait with which Satan fishes for souls. This was the last temptation the devil used to Christ: “All this will I give you” (Matt. 4:9). How many bow down to the golden image! Joshua who could stop the course of the sun—could not stop Achan in his pursuit after the wedge of gold! But he who fears God dares not sin to get preferment. David dared not touch the Lord’s anointed, though he knew he was to reign next (1 Sam. 26:33). A godly man is assured that a full purse is but a poor recompense for a wounded conscience.
5. He who fears God—dares not gratify his own revengeful humor. Homer says that revenge is sweet as dropping honey; but grace makes a man rather bury an injury, than revenge it. He knows who has said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). He who has the fear of God before his eyes, is so far from revenge, that he requites good for evil. Miriam murmured against Moses, and Moses prayed for her, that God would heal her of her leprosy (Num. 12:13). The prophet Elisha, instead of smiting his enemies, “set bread and water before them” (2 Kings 6:22).
6. He who fears God—dares not do that which is of evil report, though possibly the thing in itself may be no sin. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment?” (1 Cor. 6:1). Yes, some might say, what sin is it to have a just cause brought before unbelievers, that it may be decided? Oh but, might the apostle reply, though the thing in itself is lawful—yet because it sounds evil, and exposes your religion to the scorn and insult of unbelievers, you who fear God, should not dare to do it. It were better to decide it by a prudent arbitration. Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12).
7. He who fears God—is not only afraid of evil actions, but fears to offend God in his thoughts. “Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought.” (Deut. 15:9). To think of sin with delight, is to act it over in the imagination. This is culpable. A man may think himself into hell! What were the apostate angels damned for—was it for any more than proud thoughts?
This is the first note of TRIAL: He who reverences God—flees from sin. It is a saying of Anselm, “If sin were on one side and hell on the other, I would rather leap into hell than willingly sin against God!”
Answer 2. He who fears God—walks by Scripture rule, rather than by the example of others. Example is, for the most part, corrupt. Examples of great men are influential. Pharaoh had taught Joseph to swear—but Joseph had not taught Pharaoh to pray. The examples of others cannot justify a thing which is intrinsically evil. A God-fearer directs the rudder of his life according to the compass of the Word. He looks to the sacred canon as the mariner to the compass, or Israel to the pillar of fire, to direct him. “To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8:20).
Answer 3. He who fears God—keeps his commandments. “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccles. 12:13) Luther said he had rather obey God, than work miracles. A gracious soul crosses his own will to fulfill God’s. If the Lord bids him to crucify his favorite sin, or forgive his enemies—then he instantly obeys. A heathen exercising much cruelty to a Christian, asked him in scorn what great miracle his master Christ ever did? The Christian replied, “This miracle, that though you treat me thus cruelly—I can forgive you.” A holy heart knows, that there is nothing lost by obedience. David swore to the Lord that he would not rest until he found a place for God (Psalm 132:4-5). And God swore back to David, that one of his offspring he would set one upon his throne (Psalm 132:11).
Answer 4. He who fears God—is alike godly in all companies. He diffuses the sweet savor of godliness wherever he goes. Hypocrites can change themselves into all shapes, and be as their company is; serious in one company and vain in another. He who reverences a Deity, is alike godly in all places. A steady pulse shows health: a steady walk shows grace. If a godly man is providentially placed among the wicked, he will not coalesce with them—but in his deportment displays a majesty of holiness.
Answer 5. He who fears God—is godly in the position where God has set him. Take an instance in Joseph: “I fear God” (Gen. 42:18). And see a pattern of relative sanctity: he showed towards his master fidelity, towards his mistress purity, towards his father duty, towards his brethren generosity. A godly man makes his family, a training ground of piety (Psalm 102:1).
Answer 6. He who fears God, dares not neglect family or closet prayer. “I give myself unto prayer” (Psalm 109:4). Prayer whispers in God’s ears! Prayer is private conference with God. Why was Nymphas’ house called a church (Col. 4:15). Because it was consecrated by prayer. A gracious soul puts forth fervent sighs in prayer (Rom. 8:26). And surely that prayer soonest pierces heaven—which pierces one’s own heart.
If prayer be made the touchstone—then the number of those who fear God is but small. Are there not many prayerless families in this city and nation? “You cast off fear, you restrain prayer” (Job 15:4). When men restrain prayer, they cast off the fear of God. It is the brand set upon reprobates, that “they do not call on the Lord” (Psalm 14:4).
Answer 7. He who fears God will not oppress his neighbor. “You shall not oppress one another; but you shall fear your God” (Lev. 25:17). How can he be holy—who is not just? A saint—yet an extortioner, is a contradiction. The fear of God would cure oppression. “Will you even sell your brethren? Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God?” (Neh. 5:8-9). As if Nehemiah had said, If you had the fear of God, you would not be so wicked, you would not rise upon the ruins of others and—to wrong them, damn yourselves.
Answer 8. He who fears God—is given to works of mercy. The fear of God is always joined with love to our brethren. Grace may have a trembling hand—but it does not have a withered hand; it stretches itself out to relieve the needy, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ” (James 1:27). To visit them is not only to go to see them in affliction. Our Savior expounds what visiting is in Matthew 25:36, “You visited me”; how was that? “I was an hungry, and you gave me food” (verse 35). Good works are not the cause of our justification, but they are the evidence of our justification. How far are they from the fear of God, who are hard-hearted to Christ’s poor! You may as well extract oil out of a flint—as the golden oil of charity out of their flinty hearts! The rich man denied Lazarus a crumb of bread—and he was denied a drop of water (Luke 16:21).
Answer 9. He who fears God—would rather displease man, than God. “The midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them—but saved the men children alive” (Exod. 1:17). What, not obey the king’s command! How could this stand with their allegiance? Very well, because it was an unlawful command. The king had ordered them to put to death the Hebrew males—which they dared not do, for fear of incurring God’s displeasure. King Nebuchadnezzar erected a golden image to be worshiped—but the three Hebrew children (or rather champions) said, “Be it known unto you, O king, that we will not serve your gods—nor worship the golden image which you have set up!” (Dan. 3:18). They would rather burn—than bow! He who fears God, knows it is best to please God. He is the best Friend—but the worst Enemy!
Answer 10. The fear of God will make a man fear these six things:
1. Satan’s snares
2. His own heart
1. The fear of God will make a man afraid of SATAN’S SNARES. He has the eye of faith to see these snares, and the wing of fear to fly from them! Fear gives wings to the feet. “We are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). The word means “subtle stratagems”. Satan is called the “old Serpent” (Rev. 12:9). Though he has lost his holiness, he has not lost his deceitfulness. His snares are so cunningly laid, that without the guidance of God’s fear, we cannot escape them.
a. One subtle artifice of Satan—is to bait his hook with religion. He can change his flag, and hang out Christ’s colors; here he transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). The devil tempts men to evil, “that good may come” of it (Rom. 3:8). He whistles them into the snare of preferment, that hereby they may be in a capacity of doing God more service. The white devil is worst! Who would suspect Satan when he comes as a minister, and quoting Scripture?
b. Another snare of Satan—is to tempt to sin under a plea of necessity. Lot offered to expose his daughters to the lusts of the Sodomites, that he might preserve his angel-guests who were come into his house (Gen. 19:8). Did not Satan instigate him to this? Necessity will not excuse impiety.
c. Another snare of Satan—is to color over sin with the pretense of virtue. Alcibiades hung a finely embroidered curtain over a foul picture full of dragons and satyrs. Satan puts good names on sin, as physicians call that film in the eye which hinders the sight a “pearl” in the eye. Satan colored over Jehu’s ambition with the name of zeal (2 Kings 10:16). He makes men believe that revenge is valor, or that covetousness is frugality; as if one should write “medicine” upon a bottle of poison!
d. Another snare of Satan—is to carry on his mischievous designs under a pretense of friendship. He puts off his lion’s skin, and comes in sheep’s clothing. Thus Satan came to Christ: “Command that these stones be made bread” (Matt 4:3). As if he had said, “I see you are hungry; I therefore out of pity, counsel you to get something to eat—turn these stones to bread, that your hunger may be satisfied.” But Christ spied the serpent in the temptation, and repulsed him. Thus Satan came to Eve in the guise of a friend. He said of the tree in the midst of the garden, “You shall not surely die . . . you shall be as gods” (Gen. 3:4-5). As if to say, “I persuade you only to that which will put you into a better condition than now you are; eat of the tree of knowledge and it will make you omniscient!” What a kind devil was here! But Eve found a worm in the apple!
e. A fifth snare—if Satan cannot take a Christian off from duty, he will put him on too far in duty. Humiliation is a duty—but Satan suggests that the soul is not humbled enough: and indeed he never thinks it humbled enough, until it despairs. Satan comes thus to a man: “Your sins have been great—so your sorrow should be proportionate. But is it so? Can you say you have been as great a mourner—as you have been a sinner? What is a drop of your sorrow—compared to a sea of your sin? This is laid only as a snare. The subtle enemy would have a Christian weep himself blind, and in a desperate plight, throw away the anchor of hope. And if Satan has such fallacies, and as a decoy draws so many millions into his snares, is there not cause of jealous fear lest we should be trapped? The fear of God—will make us fear hell’s stratagems. Satan’s snares are worse than his darts!
2. The fear of God will make a man afraid of his own HEART. Luther used to say, that he feared his own heart more than the pope or cardinals! “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9).
It is “deceitful”. The word signifies, it is a “Jacob” or “supplanter”. As Jacob supplanted his brother, and took away the blessing, so our hearts would supplant and beguile us.
“Above all things”: there is deceit in weights, deceit in friends; but the heart has an art of deceiving beyond all. In the best hearts there is some fallaciousness. David was upright in all things, “except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). A godly man, knowing there is a measure of this deceit in his heart, fears himself! The flesh is a bosom-traitor. No man can fathom what evil is in his heart. “Is your servant a dog!” (2 Kings 8:13). Hazael could not believe his heart could give birth to such monsters. If one had come to Noah and said, “You will be drunk shortly”; he would have said, “Is your servant a dog?” No man knows the depth of evil which in his heart, or what scandal he may fall into—if God should leave him. Christ warns his own apostles to “take heed of surfeiting and drunkenness” (Luke 21:34). A godly man therefore fears his heart with a fear of caution and jealousy.
The heart is not only stubborn—but subtle. Let us a little trace this impostor, and see if there is not cause to fear it. The heart shows its deceitfulness regarding sinful things—and sacred things.
The heart shows its deceitfulness regarding SINFUL things, this deceit is in the hiding of sin, as Rahab hid the spies in the flax (Josh. 2:6). So the heart hides sin. And how does it hide sin? Just as Adam hid himself under fig leaves—so the heart hides sin under the fig leaves of rationalization and excuses. “It was done against my will; or done in a passion; or it was done along with others.” Aaron blamed his sin in the making of the golden calf, upon the people: “The people are set on mischief” (Exod. 32:22). And Adam tacitly blamed his sin upon God himself: “The woman You gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12), as if to say, “If You had not given me this tempting woman—I would not have eaten!”
The heart’s deceit is seen in flattering us. It will make us believe we are not so bad as we are. The physician deceives the patient when he tells him that his disease is not so dangerous, when he is falling into the hands of death! The heart will tell a man that he is free from theft, when yet he robs others of their good name. The heart will tell a man that he is free from drunkenness when, though he will not be drunk with wine, he will be drunk with passion. Thus the heart is a flattering mirror to make one look better than he is! Is there not cause to suspect this impostor!
Secondly, the heart shows its deceitfulness regarding SACRED things. It will be ready to put us off with counterfeit grace. Many have been deceived in taking false money; and many, it is to be feared, have been deceived in taking false grace.
The heart is ready to deceive with a false repentance. A sinner is troubled a little for sin, or rather the consequences of it, and perhaps sheds a few tears, and now his heart soothes him—and tells him that he is a true penitent. But every legal terror is not true repentance: “They were pricked in their hearts” (Acts 2:37); yet after this, “Peter said unto them repent” (verse 38). If every slight trouble for sin were true repentance—then Judas and Cain may be enrolled in the number of penitents. Evangelical repentance works a change of heart (1 Cor. 6:11). It produces sanctity. But the false penitent, though he has trouble of spirit—yet has no transformation or change of heart and life. He has a weeping eye—but an adulterous heart. Ahab fasts and puts on sackcloth—but after this, he puts the prophet Micah in prison (1 Kings 22:27).
The heart is apt to deceive with a false faith; it would put the dead child in the place of the living child. Those in the second chapter of John are said to believe; but Christ did not believe their faith (John 2:24). True faith, as it casts itself into Christ’s arms to embrace him, so it casts itself at Christ’s feet to serve him. But spurious faith, though it is forward to receive Christ’s benefits—yet it plucks the crown from his head—and will not submit to his authority! (Isaiah 9:6). It would have him a Priest to save him—but not as a King upon his throne to rule him (Zech. 6:13).
Thus the heart is full of fallacies; he who fears God, fears his heart lest it should rob him of the blessing.
3. The fear of God—will make a man fear DEATH. We should fear death, first, because it is such a serious thing, it is the inlet to eternity and puts us into an unalterable state!
Secondly, because of its proximity. It is nearer to us than we are aware; it may be within a few hours march of us! God may this night say, “Give an account of your stewardship!” And what if death should come before we are ready?
Thirdly, because after death there is nothing to be done for our souls. There is no repenting in the grave: “In the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning” (Eccles. 9:10). So death is to be feared with a holy and pious fear.
Question: How far may a child of God fear death?
Answer 1. So far as the fear of death is a curb bit, to keep him from sin. A believer may lawfully make use of all means to deter him from sin. There is no stronger antidote against sin—than the fear of death. “Am I sinning today—and tomorrow may be dying—and going to judgment!”
Answer 2. A child of God may so far fear death, as it makes him die to the world. The fear of death should sound a retreat and call us off from worldly vanities. What is the world? We must leave it shortly, and all we will then have, is our burying place (Gen. 49:30).
Answer 3. A child of God may so far fear death, as this fear fits him more for death. Jacob feared his brother Esau’s coming against him, and he prepared to meet him, addressing himself to prayer (Gen. 32:7, 24). So when we fear death’s coming, and we prepare to meet it—we set oh soul in order. This is a godly fear of death.
But this fear of death in the godly must he mixed with hope. The nature of death to a believer, is quite changed. Death is in itself a curse—but God has turned this curse into a blessing. To a child of God, death is not a destruction, but a deliverance. When the mantle of his flesh drops off, he ascends in a fiery chariot to heaven!
4. The fear of God—will make a man fear JUDGMENT. Anselm spent most of his thoughts upon the Day of Judgment; and Jerome thought he always heard that voice sounding in his ears, “Arise you dead—and come to judgment!” That there shall be such a day is evident:
a. From God’s veracity: he who is the Oracle of truth has asserted it: “For he comes—for he comes to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:13). There is duplication here, firstly, to show the certainty: “he comes, he comes”. It is an indubitable maxim. Secondly, to show the speediness, “he comes, he comes”, the time draws near—it is almost daybreak, and the judge is ready to take the bench! (James 5:9). God’s decree cannot be reversed!
b. There shall he such a day for the vindication of God’s justice. Things seem to be done in the world, very unequally: the godly suffer, the wicked prosper. Atheists are ready to think God has thrown aside the government of the world—and does not mind how things are transacted here below. Therefore there must he a judicial process, that God may undeceive the world and set all things right.
c. That there shall be such a day is evident by the principles engrafted in a natural conscience. When Paul reasoned of judgment to come, “Felix trembled” (Acts 24:25). The prisoner at the bar—made the judge tremble! That a wicked man dying is so surprised with terrors—from where does this arise, but from a secret apprehension of ensuing judgment!
It will be a great judgment. Never was the like seen! We must all appear before the judgement seat! (2 Cor. 5:10). There is no fleeing, no absconding, no bribing, no appearing by a proxy—but all must make their personal appearance. Those who were above trial here, and the law could not reach them, must appear before the tribunal of heaven!
Who shall be the Judge? Jesus Christ (John 5:22.; Acts 17:31). “He has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world—by that man whom he has ordained.” Christ the Judge, is called man because he shall judge the world in a visible shape. He must be both God and man: he must be God, that he may see men’s hearts—and he must be man, that he himself may be seen.
What a solemn day will this be, when Christ shall sit upon the bench of judicature! He will judge “righteously” (Psalm 9:8). Though he himself was wronged, he will do no wrong. And he will judge thoroughly: “Whose fan is in his hand and he will thoroughly purge his floor” (Matt. 3:12). He will see what is wheat—and what is chaff; who have his image upon them—and who the mark of the beast. Surely, the fear of God will cause a holy trembling at the thoughts of this day!
Question: In what sense should those who fear God—fear the Day of Judgment?
Answer: Not with a fear of dread or despondency, for the Day of Judgment will be a Jubilee—a blessed comfortable day to them! The thrush sings at the approach of rain—and so may believers at the approach of Judgment. Christ who is their Judge is also their Redeemer and Advocate. But,
a. The godly should so fear judgment as every day to renew their sorrow for sin. They have sins which creep upon them daily—and they must with Peter weep bitterly. They must steep their souls in the salty tears of repentance. It would be sad to be found at the last day, in any sin unrepented of.
b. The godly should so fear the Day of Judgment as to make them afraid of sins of omission. Not dressing a wound brings death. Not discharging duty may bring damnation. You may read the solemn process at the last day: “I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me” (Matt. 25:42). The charge here brought in, is for sins of omission. Christ does not say, “You took away my food from me”—but “You gave me nothing to eat”; He does not say, “You put me in prison”—but “You did not visit me.” The sins of omission condemned them. Not praying in the family, not attending the means of grace, not giving alms, will be the fatal indictment.
c. The godly should so far fear the Day of Judgment as to make them afraid of pretending in religion. For at that day, false hearts will be unmasked. Why did Paul walk with such integrity? “You are witnesses and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you” (1 Thess. 2:10). What was the cause of this? Surely a fear of the approaching Judgment Day: “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ!” (2 Cor. 5:10). The word in the original means we must be made manifest, our hearts must be laid open before men and angels. Such is the witchcraft of hypocrisy, that it is hard in this life, to know who is a false professor, and who is sincere. But shortly there will be a full revealing. It is good for God’s people so to fear judgment, as to make them strive against deceit and hypocrisy; for then the hypocrite will be found out.
5. The fear of God—makes a man fear HELL. Hell is called the “place of torment” (Luke 16:28). Not only notoriously wicked sinners—but such as fear God, ought to fear hell: “I say unto you my friends, Fear him who has power to cast into hell!” (Luke 12:4).
Question: How far should God’s people fear hell?
Answer: Not so far, as to let go their hope. A mariner fears a storm—but not so as to throw away his anchor. Such as fear God—should fear hell in four ways.
a. Those who fear God ought to fear hell—as that which they have deserved. Their sins have merited hell. Woe to the holiest man alive—if God should weigh him in the balance of his justice!
b. Those who fear God ought to fear hell—insofar as this is a means to make them shake off spiritual sloth. This sleeping disease is apt to seize upon God’s own people; “the wise virgins slumbered” (Matt. 25:5). Now, so far as the fear of hell is an alarm or a warning-bell to awaken the godly out of security, and make them run faster to heaven, so far it is a godly and blessed fear.
c. The fear of hell is good in the godly—insofar as it makes them afraid of being in the number of those who shall go to hell. There are certain people who are in danger of hell:
First, those who have their heaven in this life: “You who are given to pleasure” (Is. 47:8). Epicures swim in sensual delights; they would rather displease God—than deny the flesh. These shall take up their quarters in hell. “The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. But see, there is joy and revelry, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!” The Lord Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: “Until your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,” says the Lord, the Lord Almighty!” (Isaiah 22:12-14) That is, this sin shall not be done away by any sacrifice.
Second, they are in danger to be cast into hell who live in the sin of adultery (Prov. 22:12). Those who burn in lust—shall burn in hell! “Lord knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, especially those who follow the polluting desires of the flesh.” (2 Pet. 2:9-10). See the corruption of man’s nature! Instead of drinking water out of his own cistern, he loves stolen waters (Prov. 9:17). The same Latin word signifies a stable and a whore-house—both are for beasts!
Third, they are likely to go to hell who, by giving bad example, cause others to sin. Bad example, like the plague, is contagious. Great men are mirrors—by which the common people dress themselves. Such as give bad example, have not only their own sins, but the sins of others to answer for. That doubtless was the reason why the rich man entreated Abraham that one might go from the dead to preach to his brethren (Luke 16:27), and not that he had love to their souls, but because, while he was alive, he had occasioned his brethren’s sins by his wicked example, and knew that their coming to hell would increase his torment!
Fourth, they are likely to go to hell who live and die in the contempt of God’s Word. Ministers have preached until their lungs are exhausted—but men stop their ears and harden their hearts! “They made their hearts as an adamant stone” (Zech. 7:12). Hardness of heart lies in the insensibility of the conscience (Eph. 4:19), and the inflexibility of the will (Jer. 44:16-17). Obdurate sinners shake out the arrow of conviction and scorn all godly reproof. When the prophet cried to the altar of stone, it broke apart (1 Kings 13:2). But sinners hearts do not break! These are likely to have the wrath of God flame about their ears! “This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength!” (2 Thess. 1 :7-8).
Fifth, they shall go to hell who fall away (Mat. 13:6). Because they had no root—they withered. Flowers in a waterpot will keep green and fresh a while—but having no root, they wither. Demas made a fair show a while—but ended as the silkworm which, after all her fine spinning, at last becomes a common fly. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God!” (Heb. 10:26-27).
Thus we see who are likely to be thrown into hell. Now it is good for the godly so to fear hell—as to fear to be in the number of those who shall go to hell.
d. The fear of hell is good in the godly—insofar as it is a fear mixed with rejoicing. “Rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). A believer’s fear of hell must he like the fear of the two Marys going from the sepulcher: “They departed from the sepulcher with fear and great joy” (Matt. 28:8). With fear, because they had seen an angel; and with joy, because Christ was risen! So must the godly look on hell, with fear and joy. With fear, because of the fire; and with joy, because Christ has freed them from hell. A man who stands upon a high rock, fears when he looks down into the sea—yet rejoices that he is not there drowning in the waves. So a child of God, when he looks down into hell by contemplation, may fear because of the dreadfulness of the torment; yet this fear should be mingled with joy, to think he shall never come there! Jesus has delivered him “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).
6. The fear of God will make a man fear HEAVEN. You may say, “that is strange—we should rather hope for heaven.” No, a regenerate person is to fear heaven—lest he fall short of it. “Therefore, while the promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear so that none of you should miss it!” (Heb. 4:1). It is a metaphor taken from athletes who, growing weary and lagging behind, come short of the prize. Who had more hope of heaven than Paul? Yet he was not without his fears: “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). And well may he who shall go to heaven, fear less he miss it, if you consider:
a. It is possible for many who make a splendid profession, to lose heaven. What do you think of the foolish virgins? They are called virgins because they were not tainted with any gross sin; yet these virgin-professors were shut out of heaven! (Matt. 25:10). Balaam, a prophet; and Judas, an apostle—were both shut out of heaven! We have seen some ships which had glorious names given them, the Good-speed, the Hope, the Safeguard—which were lost at sea.
b. It is possible to come near to heaven—yet fall short of it: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34); yet he was not near enough! Men may commend the ministry of the Word, have their affections moved at an ordinance, and in outward show out-do the children of God (Num. 23:1-2); yet, not having the oil of sincerity in their vessels, they will fall short of eternal happiness. And how dismal is that—to lose God, to lose their souls, to lose their hopes! The millions of tears shed in hell—are not sufficient to bewail the loss of heaven! Well may such as have heaven in them, fear their coming short of it.
So much, then, for this sixth use, trial.
Question. How shall we arrive at this blessed fear?
1. Let us set God ever in our eye—study his immensity! He is God Almighty (Gen. 17:1). He gives laws to the angels, binds the consciences of men, cuts off princes “He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 76:12). The thoughts of God’s incomprehensible greatness, should strike a holy awe in our hearts! Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle when God’s glory passed by. The reason men do not fear God—is because they entertain slight thoughts of him! “You thought that I was altogether like you!” (Psalm 50:21).
2. Let us pray for this fear of God, which is the root of all holiness, and the mother of all wisdom. “Give me an undivided heart—that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). The Lord has promised to put his fear in our heart (Jer. 32:40). Let us pray over this promise. While some pray for riches, and others for children—let us pray for a heart to fear God!
To conclude this, you who have this fear planted in your souls—bless God for it! “You who fear the Lord—bless the Lord” (Psalm 135:20). God has done more for you than if he had made you kings and queens—and caused you to ride upon the high places of the earth! He has enriched you with that jewel which he bestows only upon the elect.
Oh, stand upon Mount Gerizim, blessing. The fear of God is an immortal seed springing up into glory! “You who fear the Lord—praise him!” (Psalm 22:23). Begin the work of heaven now. Be spiritual choristers! Sound forth holy doxologies and triumphs! Say, as David, “My mouth is full of praise and honor to You all day long!” (Psalm 71:8).
God has but little praise in the world. Who should thus pay that which is due to him—if not those who fear him?