DOCTRINE.-That man is indeed God’s servant who is devoted to his fear.
There may be weaknesses and failings, but for the main he is swayed by the fear of God.
1. What it is to fear God.
2. Why this is a sure note of God’s servant; because it removes all the lets of obedience.
1st. What is the fear of God. There is a servile and a filial fear; a fear of wrath which the worst may have: “The devils believe and tremble” (James ii.19). And a fear of offending which the best must have: “Happy is the man that feareth alway” (Prov. xxviii.14); a reverend disposition of heart towards God as our sovereign lord and master, yea, as our Father in Jesus Christ.
For the first of these: –
1. A fear of wrath. Every fear of which is not sinful; it is a duty rather than a sin; all God’s children are bound to have tender sense of God’s wrath or displeasure against sin, to make them awful and serious in the spiritual life, as, “Let us serve God with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. xii.28). Mark, upon that account and consideration, as “he is a consuming fire” that should have an influence upon our godly fear; and, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matt. x.28). The words do not only contain a description of the person who ought to be feared, but the ground and reason why he is to be feared, and therefore it is not simply the fear of which that is sinful, but it is the servility and slavishness of it. Now, what is the servility and slavishness of the fear of wrath? parlty when our own smart and terror is feared more than the displeasing of God; and they have a mind to sin but are afraid of Hell, and it is fear accompanied with hatred. Servile fear, though it keep us from some sins, as a wolf that may be scared from the pray, yet keeps its devouring nature. It is accompanied with hatred for God; all that fear God they hate him; and indeed they could wish there were no God, none to call them to account; they could wish he were not so just and holy as he is; and so here lies the evil of it, not so much as fear of wrath (for that is a grace rightly conversant about its object), but as it tends to this hatred of God; and partly, too, servility lies in this, as it makes us shy of God, and run away from him, rather than draw near to him, as Adam ran into the bushes to hide himself. Holy fear is an awe of God upon the soul, but that keeps us in a holy communion with him; “I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me;” but that fear which makes us fly from God is slavish, and partly as it hath torment and perplexity in it, and so hindereth us in God’s service: “Fear hath torment” in it. The fear of wrath, that is a duty, but slavish fear is such a fear of wrath makes us hate God, and shun his presence, and afraid more of wronging ourselves than wronging of God, and such a fear that hath a torment and perplexity in it, that cannot serve God so cheerfully.
2. There is a filial fear, a fear of reverence. This fear of God was in Christ as mediator (Isa. xi. 1, 2). Among other graces there reckoned up which do belong to Jehovah “the Branch,” to Christ Jesus, this is one, “The fear of the Lord.” Christ, as man, had a reverend affection to his Father whom he served, and this fear it continueth to all eternity in the blessed spirits that are in Heaven. The saints and angels have this kind of far, a dread of the holy God, and a reverent and awful respect to his majesty. It is an essential respect which passeth between the creature and the Creator, and can never be abolished. Now, this fear of reverence consisteth in a high esteem of God, of his majesty, glory, power, and in the sense and continual thoughts of his presence. And then a loathness to sin against God, or to offend in his sight, to do anything that is unseemly when God is a looker-on. What! Can a man sin freely that lives in the sight of the holy God, when he hath a deep sense of his excellency imprinted in his heart? This is that fear which is the note of God’s servants. 2ndly, This must needs be the note of God’s servants because it is the great principle that both hindereth us from sin, and quickeneth us to duty. The fear of God is one of the radical and essential graces which belongeth to a Christian. It is a mighty restraint from sin. The beasts were made to serve men, and how are they held in subjection and obedience to man? “The dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth” (Gen. ix. 2). So we are made for the service of God. Now, how are we kept in subjection to God? When the fear of God is upon our heart, that will not suffer us freely to do anything that is displeasing to God. “God is come to prove you, that his fear may be before your faces that you sin not.” (Exod. xx.20). It is a great remedy against all temptation of gain, and worldly profit, and temporal convenience. Looks, as that man that had a fear of the king upon his heart: “Why didst thou not smite him to the ground?” saith Joab; and the man answered, “Though I should receive a thousand shekels, yet would I not put forth my hand against the king’s son.” (II Sam. xviii. 11, 12). Just such a fear hath a child of God of his heavenly king; no, though I should have never so much offered me to tempt me from my duty; no, I dare not, the Lord hath charged me to the contrary. Or, as when the Rechabites were tempted to drink wine, pots were brought before them to inflame their appetite; no, we dare not. These passages express the workings of heart’s in one that fears God, though temptation be present, and never so much convenience thereby, yet how can they do this wickedness and sin against God.
USE.- It informeth us who are God’s servants. Those that have most of this fear of God planted in their hearts: “He was a faithful man, and feared God above many.” (Neh. vii. 2). And then that they express it in their conversation; God will not take it planted in our hearts, if we do not obey him in those things that are contrary to our interests and natural affections. When God tried Abraham that was to offer his Isaac: “Now I know that thou fearest God, since thou hast not withheld thine only son,” 7c. (Gen. xxii.12). Why was Abraham unknown to God before that time? As Peter told Christ, “Lord, thou knowest all things;” cannot God see the inward springs and motions of our souls, and what affections are there? Could not God tell what was in Abraham? But now I acknowledge. For God will not acknowledge it in this sense until we express it. They are the true servants of God that have his fear planted in their hearts, and express it upon all occasions. (pp. 378-380)