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I SHALL now come to the second thing, to wit, the rule, and directory of our fear.
Of this word FEAR, as it is taken for the word of God, the written word of God; for that also is, and ought to be, the rule and directory of our fear. So David calls it; “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever,” Psalm 19:9. The fear of the Lord, that is, the word of the Lord, the written word; for that which he calleth in this place the fear of the Lord, even in the same place he calleth the law, statutes, commandments, and judgments of God. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” Psalm 19:7-9.
All these words have respect to the same thing; to wit, the word of God, jointly designing the glory of it. Among which phrases, you see, this is one, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever.” This written word is, therefore, the object of a Christian’s fear. This is that also which David intended when he said, ‘Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” Psalm 34:11. I will teach you the fear, that is, I will teach you the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the Lord, even as Moses commanded the children of Israel; “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” Deuteronomy 6:7.
That scripture also in Isaiah intends the same; where the Father saith of the Son, that he shall be “of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord;” that he may “smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,” Isaiah 11:3,4. This rod in the text is none other but the fear, the word of the Lord; for he was to be of a quick understanding in it, that he might smite, that is, execute it, according to the will of his Father, upon and among the children of men.
Now, this, as I said, is called the fear of the Lord, because it is the rule and directory of our fear. For we know now how to fear the Lord in a saving way without its guidance and direction. As it is said of the priest that was sent back from the captivity to Samaria, to teach the people to fear the Lord; so it is said concerning the written word, it is given to us, and left among us, that we may read therein all the days of our life, and learn to fear the Lord. See Deuteronomy 6:1-24; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 17:19.
And here it is that trembling at the word of God, is even by God himself not only taken notice of, but counted as laudable and praiseworthy, as is evident in the case of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 34:26,27.
Such also are the approved of God, let them be condemned by whomsoever they may. “Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed,” Isaiah 66:5.
Further, such shall be looked to by God himself, cared for and watched over, that no distress, temptation, or affliction, may overcome and destroy them. “To this man will I look,” saith God, “even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word,” Isaiah 66:2.
It is the same in substance with that in the same prophet; “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones,” Isaiah 57:15.
Yea, the way to escape dangers foretold is to hearken to, understand, and fear the word of God. “He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: and he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field;” and they were destroyed of the hail, Exodus 9:20-25.
If at any time the sins of a nation or church are discovered and bewailed, it is by those that know and tremble at the word of God. When Ezra heard of the wickedness of his brethren, and had a desire to humble himself before God for the same, who were those that assisted him in that matter, but those that trembled at the word of God? “Then,” saith he, “were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away,” Ezra 9:4.
Those also that tremble at the word are best able to give counsel in the matters of God, for their judgment best suiteth with his mind and will. “Now therefore,” said Schechaniah, “let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the [strange] wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law,” Ezra 10:3.
Now, something of the dread and terror of the word lieth in these things. 1. As I have already hinted from the Author of them; they are the words of God. Therefore you have Moses and the prophets, when they come to deliver their message to the people, still saying, Hear the word of the Lord, Thus saith the Lord, and the like. So when Ezekiel was sent to the house of Israel, in their state of religion, he was bid to say unto them, “Thus saith the Lord God,” Ezekiel 2:4; Ezekiel 3:11.
This is the honor and majesty, then, that God hath put upon his written word; and thus he hath done, that we might make them the rule and directory of our fear, and that we might stand in awe of, and tremble at them. When Habakkuk heard the word of the Lord, his belly trembled, and rottenness entered into his bones. “I trembled in myself,” said he, “that I might rest in the day of trouble,” Habakkuk 3:16. The word of a king is as the roaring of a lion; where the word of a king is, there is power, Ecclesiastes 8:4; what is it, then, when God, the great God, shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem, whose voices shakes not only earth, but also heaven? How doth holy David set it forth; “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty!” Psalm 29:4. 2. It is a word that is fearful, and may well be called the fear of the Lord, because of the subject matter of it; to wit, the state of sinners in another world; for that is it unto which the whole Bible bendeth itself, either more immediately, or more mediately; all its doctrines, counsels, encouragements, threatenings, and judgments, have a look one way or other, upon us with respect to the next world, which will be our last state, because it will be to us an eternal state. This word, this law, these judgments, are they that we shall be disposed of by. “The word that I have spoken,” said Christ, “the same shall judge him in the last day,” John 12:48. Now, if we consider that our next state must be eternal, either eternal glory, or eternal fire, and that this eternal glory, or this eternal fire must be our portion according as the words of God, revealed in the Holy Scriptures, shall determine; who will not but conclude that, therefore, the words of God are those at which we should tremble, and those by which we should have our fear of God guided and directed, for by them we are taught how to please him in every thing. 3. It is to be called a fearful word, because of the truth and faithfulness of it. “The Scripture cannot be broken,” John 10:35. Hence it is called “the Scripture of truth,” Daniel 10:21; “the true sayings of God,” Revelation 19:9; and also the fear of the Lord, for that every jot and tittle therefore is for ever settled in heaven, and stands more stedfast than doth the world. “Heaven and earth,” said Christ, “shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away,” Matthew 24:35.
Those therefore that are favored by the word of God, are favored indeed, and that with the favor that no man can turn away; but those that by the word of the Scriptures are condemned, those can no man justify and set quit in the sight of God. Therefore what is bound by the text, is bound, and what is released by the text, is released; also the bond and release are unalterable. This therefore calleth upon God’s people to stand more in fear of the word of God, than of all the terrors of the world.
There wanteth even in the hearts of God’s people a greater reverence of the word of God, than to this day appears amongst us; and this let me say, that want of reverence of the word is the ground of all the disorders that are in the heart, life, conversation, and in Christian communion. Besides, the want of reverence of the word layeth men open to the fearful displeasure of God. “Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded,” Proverbs 13:13.
All transgression beginneth at wandering from the word of God; but, on the other side, David saith, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer,” Psalm 17:4.
Now, if indeed thou wouldst reverence the word of the Lord, and make it thy rule and directory in all things, believe that the word is the fear of the Lord; the word that standeth fast for ever: without and against which God will do nothing either in saving or condemning the souls of sinners.
But to conclude this, know, that those that have not due regard to the word of the Lord, and that make it not their dread and their fear, (but the rule of their life is the lusts of their flesh, and desire of their eyes, and the pride of life,) are sorely rebuked by this doctrine, and are counted the fools of the world; for “Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?” Jeremiah 8:9.
That there are such people is evident, not only by their irregular lives, but by the manifest testimony of the word. “As for the word,” said they to Jeremiah, “that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth out of our own mouth,” Jeremiah 44:16,17.
Was this only the temper of wicked men then? is not the same spirit of rebellion amongst us in our days? Doubtless there is, for there is no new thing: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun,” Ecclesiastes 1:9.
Therefore as it was then, so it is with many in this day. As for the word of the Lord, it is nothing at all to them; their lusts, and whatever proceedeth out of their own mouths, that they will do, that they will follow. Now, such will certainly perish in their own rebellion; for this is as the sin of witchcraft; it was the sin of Korah and his company, and that which brought upon them such heavy judgments; yea, and they are made a sign that thou shouldst not do as they, for they perished, because they rejected the word, the fear of the Lord, from among the congregation of the Lord, and they became a sign.
Are the words of God called by the name of the fear of the Lord? are they so dreadful in their receipt and sentence? then this rebukes those that esteem the words and things of men more than the words of God, as those do who are drawn from their respect of, and obedience to, the word of God, by the pleasures or threats of men.
Some there be who verily will acknowledge the authority of the word, yet will not stoop their souls thereto: such, whatever they think of themselves, are judged by Christ to be ashamed of the word; wherefore their state is damnable as the other. “Whatsoever,” saith he, “shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” Mark 8:38. 3. And if these things be so, what will become of those that mock at, and professedly contemn, the words of God, making them as a thing ridiculous, and not to be regarded? Shall they prosper that do such things? from the premises it is concluded that their judgment now of a long time slumbereth not, and when it comes it will devour them without remedy. See Chronicles 36:15, 16.
If God, I say, hath put that reverence upon his word, as to call it, the fear of the Lord, what will become of those that do what they can to overthrow its authority, by denying it to be his word, and by raising cavils against its authority? Such stumble indeed at the word, being appointed thereunto, but it shall judge them in the last day, 1 Peter 2:8; John 12:48. But thus much for this.
Having thus spoken of the object and rule of our fear; I should come now to speak of fear, as it is a grace of the Spirit of God in the hearts of his people; but before I do that, I shall show you that there are divers sorts of fear besides. For man being a reasonable creature, and having even by nature a certain knowledge of God, hath also naturally something of some kind of fear of God at times, which although it be not that which is intended in the text, yet ought to be spoken to, that that which is not right, may be distinguished from that which is.
I shall here make mention of three of them. 1. There is a fear of God which flows from the light of nature. 2. There is a fear of God which flows from some of his dispensations to men, which yet is neither universal, nor saving. 3. There is a fear of God in the hearts of some men which is good and godly, but doth not for ever abide so.
To speak a little to all these, before I come to speak of fear as it is a grace of God in the hearts of his children. 1. And as to the first, to wit, that there is a fear of God which flows from the light of nature.
A people may be said to do things in a fear of God, when they act one towards another in things reasonable and honest betwixt man and man, not doing that to others they would not have done to themselves. This is that fear of God which Abraham thought the Philistines had destroyed in themselves, when he said of his wife to Abimelech, “She is my sister.” For when Abimelech asked Abraham why he said of his wife, “She is my sister;” he replied, saying, “I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake,” Genesis 20:11.
I thought, Verily that in this place men had stifled and choked that light of nature which is in them, at least so far as not to suffer it to put them in fear, when their lusts were powerful in them to accomplish their ends on the object that was present before them. But this I will pass by, and come to the second thing, 2. Namely, to show that there is a fear of God which flows from some of his dispensations to men, which yet is neither universal, nor saving. This fear when opposed to that which is saving, may be called an ungodly fear of God: I shall describe it by several particulars that follow. (1.) There is a fear of God that causeth a continual grudging, discontent, and heart-risings against God, when under the hand of God; and that is, when the dread of God in his coming upon men to deal with them for their sins, is apprehended by them, and yet by this dispensation they have no change of heart to submit to him thereunder.
The sinners under this dispensation cannot shake God out of their mind, nor yet graciously tremble before him, but through the unsanctified frame that they now are in, they are afraid with ungodly fear, and so in their minds are against him.
This fear oftentimes took hold of the children of Israel, when they were in the wilderness in their journey to the promised land; still they feared that God in this place would destroy them, but not with that fear that made them willing to submit, for their sins, to the judgment which they feared, but with that fear which made them oppose God.
This fear showed itself in Aaron, even at the beginning of their journey, and was rebuked by Moses at the Red Sea; but it was not there, nor yet at any other place, so subdued, but that it would rise again in them at times to the dishonor of God, and make them anew guilty of sin before him. See Exodus 14:11,12; Numbers 14:1-10.
This fear is that which God said he would send before them in the day of Joshua, even a fear that should possess the inhabitants of the land; to wit, a fear that should arise for that faintness of heart that they should be swallowed up of, at their apprehending of Joshua in his approaches toward them to destroy them. “I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee,” Exodus 23:27. “This day,” said God, “will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heavens, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee,” Deuteronomy 2:25.
Now, this fear is also, as you here see, called anguish, and in another place, a hornet; for it and the soul that it falls upon, do greet each other as boys and bees do. The hornet puts men in fear, not so as to bring the heart into a sweet compliance with his terror, but so as to stir up the spirit into acts of opposition and resistance, yet withal they flee before it. “I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee,” Exodus 23:28.
Now, this fear, whether it be wrought by a misapprehension of the judgments of God, as in the Israelites, or otherwise, as in the Canaanites, yet ungodliness is the effect thereof; and therefore I call it an ungodly fear of God, for it stirreth up murmurings, discontents, and heart-risings against God, while he with his dispensations is dealing with them. (2.) There is a fear of God that driveth a man away from God. I speak not now of the atheist, nor of the pleasurable sinner, nor yet of that fear which I spake of just now; but I speak now of such who through a sense of sin and of God’s justice, flee from him by a slavish, ungodly fear. This ungodly fear was that which possessed Adam’s heart in the day that he did eat of the tree concerning which the Lord had said unto him, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” Genesis 2:17.
For then was he possessed with such a fear of God as made him seek to hide himself from his presence. “I heard,” said he, “thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself,” Genesis 3:10.
Mind that, he had a fear of God, but it was not godly; it was not that which made him afterwards submit himself unto him; for that would have kept him from departing from him, or else have brought him to him again, with a bowed, broken, and contrite spirit. But this fear, as the rest of his sin, managed his departing from his God, and pursued him to provoke him still so do to: by it he kept himself from God; by it his whole man was carried away from him. I call it ungodly fear, because it begat in him ungodly apprehensions of his Maker; because it confined Adam’s conscience to the sense of justice only, and consequently to despair.
The same fear also possessed the children of Israel, when they heard the law delivered to them from Mount Sinai; as is evident, for it made them that they could neither abide God’s presence, nor hear his word. It drove them back from the mountain. It made them, saith the apostle to the Hebrews, that “they could not endure that which was commanded,” Hebrews 12:20. Wheretofore this fear Moses rebukes, and forbids their giving way thereto. “Fear not,” said he; but had that fear been godly, he would have encouraged it, and not have forbidden and rebuked it as he did. “Fear not,” said he: “for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces,” Exodus 20:20.
Therefore, that fear which already had taken possession of them, was not the fear of God, but a fear that was of Satan, of their own misjudging hearts, and so a fear that was ungodly. Mark you, here is a fear and a fear; a fear forbidden, and a fear commended: a fear forbidden, because it engendered their hearts to bondage, and to ungodly thoughts of God and of his word; it made them that they could not desire to “hear God speak to them any more,” Exodus 20:19.
Many also at this day are possessed with this ungodly fear; and you may know them by this: — they cannot abide conviction for sin; and if at any time the word of the law, by the preaching of the word, comes near them, they will not abide that preacher, nor such kind of sermons any more. They are, as they deem, best at ease when furthest off from God and of the power of his word. The word preached brings God nearer to them than they desire he should come, because, whenever God comes near, their sins by him are manifest, and so is the judgment that to them is due. Now, these not having faith in the mercy of God through Christ, nor that grace that tendeth to bring them to him, they cannot but think of God amiss; and their so thinking of him makes them say unto God, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways,” Job 21:14.
Wherefore, their wrong thoughts of God beget in them this ungodly fear: and again, this ungodly fear doth maintain in them the continuance of these wrong and unworthy thoughts of God; and, therefore, through that devilish service wherewith they strengthen one another, the sinner, without a miracle of grace prevents him, is drowned in destruction and perdition.
It was this ungodly fear of God that carried Cain from the presence of God into the land of Nod, and that put him there upon any carnal worldly business, if, perhaps, he might by so doing stifle convictions of the majesty and justice of God against his sin, and so live the rest of his vain life in the more sinful security and fleshly case.
This ungodly fear is that also which Samuel perceived at the people’s apprehension of their sin, to begin to get hold of their hearts; wherefore he, as Moses before him, quickly forbids their entertaining of it. “Fear not,” said he: “ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord,” 1 Samuel 12:20.
For to turn them aside from following of him, was the natural tendency of this fear. But fear not, said he, that is, with that fear that tendeth to turn you aside. Now, I say, the matter that this fear worketh upon (as in Adam, and the Israelites, mentioned before) was their sin. You have sinned, said he, that is true, yet turn not aside; yet fear not with that fear that would make you so do. note by the way, sinner, that when the greatness of thy sins, being apprehended by thee, shall work in thee that fear of God as shall incline thy heart to flee from him, thou art possessed with a fear of god that is ungodly, yea, so ungodly, that not any of thy sins for heinousness may be compared therewith, (as might be made manifest in many particulars;) but Samuel having rebuked this fear, presently set before the people another, to wit, the true fear of God; “Fear the Lord,” said he, “and serve him in truth with all your heart,” 1 Samuel 12:24; and he giveth them this encouragement so to do, “for the Lord will not forsake his people,” 1 Samuel 12:22.
The ungodly fear is that which you read of in many other places; and God’s people should shun it as they would shun the devil, because its natural tendency is to forward the destruction of the soul in which it has taken possession. (3.) There is a fear of God, which, although it hath not in it that power as to make men flee from God’s presence, yet it is ungodly, because, even while they are in the outward way of God’s ordinances, their hearts are by it quite discouraged, from attempting to exercise themselves in the power of religion.
Of this sort are those that dare not cast off the hearing, reading, and discoursing of the word, as others: no, nor the assembly of God’s children for the exercise of other religious duties, for their conscience is convinced this is the way and worship of God. But yet their heart by this ungodly fear, is kept from a powerful, gracious falling in with God. This fear takes away their heart from all holy and godly prayer in private, and from all holy and godly zeal for his name in public; and there be many professors whose hearts are possessed with this ungodly fear of God; and they are intended by the slothful servant. He was a servant, a servant among the servants of God, and had gifts and abilities given him, therewith to serve Christ, as well as his fellows, yea, and was commanded too, as well as the rest, to occupy till his master came. But what does he? why, he takes his talent, the gift that he was to lay out for his master’s profit, and puts it in a napkin; digs a hole in the earth, and hides his Lord’s money, and lies at a lazy manner all his days, not out of, but in his Lord’s vineyard; for he came among the servants also at last. By which it is manifest, that he had not cast off his profession, but was slothful and negligent while he was in it. But what was it that made him thus slothful? what was it that took away his heart while he was in the way, and that discouraged him from falling in with the power and holy practice of religion according to the talent he received? Why, it was this, he gave way to an ungodly fear of God, and that took away his heart from the power of religious duties. “Lord,” said he, “behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee.” Why, man, doth the fear of God make a man idle and slothful? No, no; that is, if it be right and godly. This fear was, therefore, evil fear; it was that ungodly fear of God, of which I have here been speaking of. “For I feared thee,” or as Matthew hath it, “for I was afraid.” Afraid of what? of Christ, that he was an hard man, reaping where he sowed not, and gathering where he had not strewed? This his fear, being ungodly, made him apprehend of Christ contrary to the goodness of his nature, and so took away his heart from all endeavors to be doing of that which was pleasing in his sight, Luke 19:20-26; Matthew 25:24-30.
And thus do all those that retain the name and show of religion, but are neglecters as to the power and godly practice of it. These will live like dogs and swine in the house. They pray not, they watch not their hearts, they pull not their hands out of their bosoms to work, they do not strive against their lusts, nor will they ever resist unto blood, striving against sin; they will not take up their cross, or improve what they have to God’s glory.
Let all men, therefore, take heed of this ungodly fear, and shun it, for it will make them afraid where no fear is. It will tell them that there is a lion in the street; the unlikeliest place in the world for such a beast to be in: it will put a mask upon the face of God, most dreadful and fearful to behold, and then quite discourage the soul as to his service. So it served the slothful servant, and so it will serve thee, poor sinner, if thou entertainest it, and givest way thereto. (4.) This ungodly fear of God shows itself also in this: — it will not suffer the soul that is governed thereby to trust only to Christ for justification of life, but will bend the powers of the soul to trust partly to the works of the law. Many of the Jews were, in the time of Christ and his apostles, possessed with this ungodly fear of God; for they were not as the former, namely, as the slothful servant, to receive a talent, and hide it in the earth in a napkin, but they were an industrious people, “which followed after the law of righteousness,” Romans 9:31; they had a zeal of God, and of the religion of their fathers, but how then did they come to miscarry? Why, their fear of God was ungodly; it would not suffer them wholly to trust to the righteousness of faith, which is the imputed righteousness of Christ. They “followed after the law of righteousness,” but attained not to the law of righteousness. “Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law,” Romans 9:32.
But what was it that made them join their works of the law with Christ, but their unbelief, whose foundation was ignorance and fear: they were afraid to venture all in one bottom, they thought two strings to one bow would be best, and thus betwixt two stools they came to the ground. And hence, to fear and to doubt are put together, as being the cause one of another; yea, they are put ofttimes the one for the other: thus, ungodly fear for unbelief; “Be not afraid, only believe,” Mark 5:36; and, therefore, he that is overruled and carried away with this fear, is coupled with the unbeliever that is thrust out from the holy city among the dogs. But the fearful, and unbelievers, and murderers, are without, Revelation 21:8. The fearful and unbelieving, you see, are put together, for, indeed, fear, that is, this ungodly fear, is the ground of unbelief; or, if you will, unbelief is the ground of this fear: but I stand not upon nice distinctions. This ungodly fear hath a great hand in keeping of the soul from trusting only to Christ’s righteousness for justification of life. (5.) This ungodly fear of God is that which will put men upon adding to the revealed will of God, their own inventions, and their own performances of them, as a means to pacify the anger of God. For the truth is, where this ungodly fear reigneth, there is no end of law and duty. When those people that you read of in 2 Kings 18:26, were destroyed by the lions, because they had set up idolatry in the land of Israel, they sent for a priest from Babylon that might teach them the manner of the God of the land: but, behold, when they knew it, being taught it by the priest, yet their fear would not suffer them to be content with that worship only. “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods,” 2 Kings 18:33.
It was this fear also that put the Pharisees upon inventing so many traditions as the washing of cups, pots, brazen vessels and tables, with abundance of such other like things, Mark 7:4. None knows the many dangers that an ungodly fear of God will drive a man into. How has it racked and tortured the papists for hundreds of years together! For what else is the cause but this ungodly fear, at least in the most simple and harmless of them, of their penances, as creeping to the cross, going barefoot on pilgrimage, whipping themselves, wearing of sackcloth, saying so many paternosters, so many ave-marias, making so many confessions to the priest, giving so much money for pardons, and abundance of other the like, but this ungodly fear of God? For, could they be brought to believe this doctrine, that Christ “was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification,” Romans 4:25, and to apply it by faith with godly boldness to their own souls, this fear would vanish, and so consequently all those things with which they so needlessly and unprofitably afflict themselves, are very offensive to God, and grieve his people.
Therefore, gentle reader, although my text doth indeed bid that thou shouldst fear God; yet it includeth not, nor accepteth of any fear; no, not of any fear of God. For there is, as you see, a fear of God that is ungodly, and that is to be shunned as other sins. Wherefore, thy wisdom and thy care should be, to see and prove thy fear to be godly, which shall be the next thing that I shall take in hand. 3. The third thing that I am to speak to is, that there is a fear of God in the hearts of some men that is good and godly, but yet doth not for ever abide so. Or you may take it thus: — there is a fear of God, that is godly but for a time.
In my speaking to, and opening this to you, I shall observe this method: (1.) I shall show you what this fear is. (2.) I shall show you by whom, or by what, this fear is wrought in the heart. (3.) I shall show you what this fear doth in the soul. (1.) For the first, this fear is an effect of sound awakenings by the word of wrath, which begetteth in the soul a sense of its right to eternal damnation; for this fear is not in every sinner. He that is blinded by the devil, and that is not able to see that his state is damnable, hath not this fear in his heart; but he that is under the powerful workings of the word of wrath, as God’s elect are at first conversion, he hath this godly fear in his heart; that is, he fears that that damnation will come upon him, which by the justice of God is due unto him, because he has broken his holy law. This is the fear that made the three thousand cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37; and that made the jailor cry out, and that with great trembling of soul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30.
When the commandment came to Paul, sin revived, and he died; and that law which was ordained to life, he found to be unto death, Romans 7:9,10. That is, it passed a sentence of death upon him for his sins, and slew his conscience with that sentence. Therefore from that time that he heard that word, Why dost thou persecute me? which is all one, as if he had said, Why dost thou commit murder? he lay under the sentence of condemnation by the law, and under this fear of that sentence in his conscience. He lay, I say, under it, until Ananias came to him to comfort him, and to preach unto him the forgiveness of sins, Acts 9:17.
The fear, therefore, that now I call godly, is that fear which is properly called the fear of eternal damnation of sin; and this fear at first awakening, is good and godly, because it ariseth in the soul from a true sense of its very state. Its state by nature is damnable, because it is sinful, and because he is not one that as yet believeth in Christ for remission of sins. “He that believeth not shall be damned,” Mark 16:16. “He that believeth not is condemned already,” and “the wrath of God abideth on him,” John 3:18,36. The which, when the sinner at first begins to see, he justly fears it; I say, he fears it justly, and therefore godly, because by this fear he subscribes to the sentence that is gone out against him for sin. (2.) We now inquire, By whom, or by what, is this fear wrought in the heart?
To this I shall answer in brief. It is wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God, working there at first as a Spirit of bondage, on purpose to put us in fear. This Paul teacheth in Romans 8:15, saying, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.” He doth not say, Ye have not received the Spirit of bondage; for that they had received, and that to put them in fear, which was at first conversion, as by the instances made mention of before is manifest: all that he says is, that they had not received it again; that is, after the Spirit, as a Spirit of adoption is come; for then, as a spirit of bondage it cometh no more.
It is then the Spirit of God, even the Holy Ghost, that convinceth us of sin, and so of our damnable state, because of sin, John 16:8,9. For it cannot be that the Spirit of God should convince us of sin, but it must also show us our state to be damnable because of it; especially if it so convinceth us, before we believe, and that is the intent of our Lord in that place, “of sin,” (and so of their damnable state by sin,) “because they believe not on me.”
Therefore, the Spirit of God, when he worketh in the heart, as a Spirit of bondage, he doth it by working in us by the law; “for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3:20. And he, in this his working, is properly called a Spirit of bondage. a. Because, by the law he shows us, that indeed we are in bondage to the law, the devil, death, and damnation; for this is our proper state by nature, though we see it not until the Spirit of God shall come to reveal this our state of bondage unto our own senses by revealing to us our sins by the law. b. He is called, in this his working, the Spirit of bondage, because he here also holds us, to wit, in this sight and sense of our bondage-state, so long as is meet we should be so held, which to some of the saints is a longer, and to some a shorter time. Paul was held in it three days and three nights, but the jailor and the three thousand, so far as can be gathered, not above an hour; but some in these later times are so held for days and months, if not years.
But I say, let the time be longer or shorter, it is the Spirit of God that holdeth him under this yoke; and it is good that a man should be his time held under it; as is that saying of the Lamentations: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth,” Lamentations 3:27; that is, at his first awakening. So long as seems good to this Holy Spirit to work in this manner by the law.
Now, as I said, the sinner at first is by the Spirit of God held in this bondage; that is, hath such a discovery of his sin, and of his damnation for sin, made to him, and also is held so fast under the sense thereof, that it is not in the power of any man, nor yet of the very angels in heaven, to release him, or set him free, until the Holy Spirit changeth his ministration, and comes in the sweet and peaceable tidings of salvation by Christ in the gospel, to his poor, dejected, and afflicted conscience. (3.) I now come to show you what this fear does in the soul.
Now, although this godly fear is not to last always with us, yet it greatly differs from that which is wholly ungodly of itself, both because of the author, and also of the effects of it. Of the author I have told you before, I now shall tell you what it doth. a. This fear makes a man judge himself for sin, and to fall down before God with a broken heart under this judgment: the which is pleasing to God, because the sinner, by so doing, justifies God in his saying, and clears him in his judgment. b. As this fear makes a man judge himself, and cast himself down at God’s footstool, so it makes him condole and bewail his misery before him, which is also well pleasing in his sight. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth,” Jeremiah 31:18,19. c. This fear makes a man lie at God’s footstool, and puts his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. This also is well pleasing to God, because now is the sinner as nothing, and in his own eyes less than nothing, as to any good or desert. “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope,” Lamentations 3:28,29. d. This fear puts a man upon crying to God for mercy, and that in a most humble manner: now he sensibly cries, now he dejectedly cries, now he feels and cries, now he smarts and cries out, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” Luke 18:13. e. This fear makes a man that he cannot accept of that for support and succor, which others that are destitute thereof will take up and be contented with. This man must be washed by God himself, and cleansed from his sin by God himself. See Psalm 51. f. Therefore, this fear goes not away until the Spirit of God changes his ministration as to this particular, in leaving off to work now by the law, as before, and coming to the soul with the sweet word of promise of life and salvation by Jesus Christ.
Thus far this fear is godly; that is, until Christ, by the Spirit in the gospel, is revealed and made over unto us; and no longer. Thus far this fear is godly, and the reason why it is godly, is because the groundwork of it is good. I told you before what this fear is, namely, it is the fear of damnation. Now, the ground for this fear is good, as is manifest, by these particulars.
But now, although thus far this fear of God is good and godly, yet after Christ, by the Spirit in the word of the gospel, is revealed to us, and we made to accept of him as so revealed and offered to us, by a true and living faith, this fear, to wit, of damnation, is no longer good, but ungodly. Nor doth the Spirit of God ever work it in us again; “For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear,” that is to say, to fear damnation; “but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” Romans 8:15.
But I would not be mistaken, when I say, that this fear is no longer godly. I do not mean with reference to the essence and habit of it; for I believe it is the same in the seed, which shall afterwards grow up to an higher degree, and into a more sweet and gospel current, and manner of working; but I mean with reference to this act of fearing damnation: I say, it shall never by the Spirit be managed to that work, it shall never bring forth that fruit more.
And my reasons are, — [1.] Because that the soul, by closing through the promise, by the Spirit, with Jesus Christ, is removed off that foundation upon which it stood, when it justly feared damnation: it hath received now forgiveness of sin; it is now no more under the law, but in Jesus Christ by faith; therefore, there is now no condemnation to it, Romans 8:1. The groundwork therefore being now taken away, the Spirit worketh that fear no more. [2.] He cannot, after he hath come to the soul as a Spirit of adoption, come again as a Spirit of bondage, to put the soul into its first fear, to wit, a fear of eternal damnation, because he cannot say and unsay, do and undo. As a Spirit of adoption he told me that my sins were forgiven me, that I was included in the covenant of grace, that God was my Father through Christ, that I was under the promise of salvation, and that this calling and gift of God to me is permanent, and without repentance. And do you think, that after he hath told me this, and sealed up the truth of it to my precious soul, that he will come to me, and tell me that I am yet in my sins, under the curse of the law and the eternal wrath of God? No, no; the word of the gospel is not yea, yea; nay, nay: it is only yea, and amen; it is so, as God is true, 2 Corinthians 1:17,20. [3.] The state, therefore, of the sinner being changed, and that too by the Spirit’s changing his dispensation, leaving off to be now a Spirit of bondage to put us in fear, and coming to our heart as the Spirit of adoption, to make us cry, Father, Father, he cannot go back to his first work again; for if so, then he must gratify, yea, and also ratify, that profane and popish doctrine, forgiven to-day, unforgiven to-morrow; a child of God to-day, a child of hell to-morrow. But what saith the Scriptures? “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit,” Ephesians 2:19-22. Objection . But this is contrary to my experience.
Why, Christian, what is thy experience?
Well said, and how was it then?
Why, after some time of continuance in these fears, I had the Spirit of adoption sent to me to seal up to my soul the forgiveness of sins; and so he did: and was also helped by the same Spirit, as you have said, to call God, Father, Father.
Well said, and what after that?
Why, after that I fell into as great fears as ever I was in before. Answer. All this may be granted, and yet nevertheless, what I have said will abide a truth; for I have not said that after the Spirit of adoption is come, a Christian shall not again be in as great fears, for he may have worse than he had at first; but I say, that after the Spirit of adoption is come, the Spirit of bondage, as such, is sent of God no more to put us into those fears. For, mark, “For we have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear.” Let the word be true, whatever thy experience is. Dost thou not understand me?
After the Spirit of God has told me, and also helped me to believe it, that the Lord, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven mine iniquities; he tells me no more, that they are not forgiven. After the Spirit of God has helped me, through Christ, to call God my Father, he tells me no more that the devil is my father. After he hath told me, that I am not under the law, but under grace, he tells me no more that I am not under grace, but under the law, and bound over by it, for my sins, to the wrath and judgment of God: but this is the fear that the Spirit as the Spirit of bondage worketh in the soul at first. Question. Can you give me further reason yet to convince me of the truth of what you say? Answer . 1. — Yes, because, as the Spirit cannot give himself the lie, so he cannot overthrow his own order of working, nor yet contradict that testimony that his servants, by his inspiration, have given of his order of working with them.
And he must do the second, if, after he hath gone through the first work on us, as a Spirit of bondage, to the second as a Spirit of adoption; he should overthrow as a Spirit of bondage again, what before he had built as a Spirit of adoption.
And the third must therefore needs follow; that is, he overthroweth the testimony of his servants; for they have said, that now we receive the Spirit of bondage again to fear no more; that is, after that we, by the Holy Ghost, are enabled to call God, Father, Father. Answer . 2. — This is evident, also, because the covenant abideth in which the soul is now interested, and is everlasting; not upon the supposition of my obedience, but upon the unchangeable purpose of God, and the efficacy of the obedience of Christ, whose blood also hath confirmed it. It is “ordered in all things, and sure,” said David; “for this,” added he, “is all my salvation,” 2 Samuel 23:5.
The covenant, then, is everlasting in itself, being established upon so good a foundation, and therefore standeth in itself everlastingly bent for the good of those that are involved in it. Hear the tenor of the covenant, and God’s attesting of the truth thereof. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” Hebrews 8:10-12.
Now, if God will do thus unto those that he hath comprised in his everlasting covenant of grace, then he will remember their sins no more; that is, unto condemnation; for so it is, that he doth forget them: then cannot the Holy Ghost, who also is one with the Father and the Son, come to us again, even after we are possessed with these glorious fruits of this covenant, as a Spirit of bondage, to put us in fear of damnation. Answer . 3. — The Spirit of God, after it is come to me as a Spirit of adoption, can come to me no more as a Spirit of bondage, to put me in fear, that is, with my first fear; because, by that faith that he, even he himself, hath wrought in me, to believe and call God, Father, Father, I am united to Christ, and stand no more in my own sins or performances; but in his glorious righteousness before him, and before his Father; and he will not cast away a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. Nor will the Spirit of God come as a Spirit of bondage, to put me into a grounded fear of damnation, that standeth complete before God in the righteousness of Christ; for that is an apparent contradiction. Question . But may he not come again as a Spirit of bondage, to put me into my first fears for my good? Answer . The text saith the contrary; “For we have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear.” Nor is God put to it for want of wisdom, to say and unsay, do and undo, or else he cannot do good. When we are sons, and have received the adoption of children, he doth not use to send the Spirit after that to tell us we are slaves and heirs of damnation, that we are without Christ, without the promise, without grace, and without God in the world; and yet this he must do, if the Spirit comes to us after we have received him as a Spirit of adoption, and put us, as a Spirit of bondage, in fear as before. Question . But by what spirit is it, that I am brought again into fears, even into fears of damnation, and so into bondage? Answer . By the spirit of the devil, who always labors to frustrate the faith, and hope, and comfort of the godly. Question . How doth that appear? Answer . By the groundlessness of such fears - by the unseasonableness of them - and by the effects of them.
By the groundlessness of such fears. The ground is removed; for a grounded fear of damnation is this; I am yet in my sins, in a state of nature; under the law, without faith, and so under the wrath of God. This, I say, is the ground of the fear of damnation, the true ground to fear it; but now, the man that we are talking of, is one that hath the ground of this fear taken away, by the testimony and seal of the Spirit of adoption, and hath been thereby enabled to call God, Father, Father. Now, he that hath received this, has the ground of the fear of damnation taken from him; therefore his fear, I say, being without ground, is false, and so no work of the Spirit of God.
By the unseasonableness of them. This spirit always comes too late. It comes after the Spirit of adoption is come. Satan is always too soon, or too late. If he would have men believe they are children, he would have them believe it while they are slaves, slaves to him and their lusts. If he would have them believe they are slaves, it is when they are sons, and have received the Spirit of adoption, and the testimony, by that, of their sonship before. And this evil is rooted even in his nature; he is a liar, and the father of it, John 8:44; and his lies are not more known to saints than in this, that he labors always to contradict the work and order of the Spirit of truth.
It also appears by the effects of such fears. For there is a great deal of difference betwixt the natural effects of these fears, which are wrought indeed by the Spirit of bondage, and those which are wrought by this spirit of the devil afterwards.
The one, to wit, the fears that are wrought by the Spirit of bondage, causeth us to confess the truth, that we are Christless, graceless, faithless, and so at present, that is, while he is so working, in a sinful and damnable case; but the spirit of the devil, when he comes, which is after the Spirit of adoption is come, he causeth us to make a lie, that is to say, we are Christless, graceless, and faithless. Now, this I say is wholly, and in all the parts of it, a lie, and he is the father of it.
Besides the direct tendency of the fear that the Spirit of God, as a Spirit of bondage, worketh in the soul, is to cause us to come repenting home to God by Jesus Christ; but these latter fears tend directly to make a man, (he having first denied the work of God, as he will, if he falleth in with these fears,) to run quite away from God, and from his grace to him in Christ, as will evidently appear if thou givest but a plain and honest answer to these following questions. Question . 1 . — Do not these fears make thee question, whether there was ever a work of grace wrought in thy soul? Answer . Yes, verily, that they do. Question . 2 . — Do not these fears make thee question, whether ever thy first fears were wrought by the Holy Spirit of God? Answer . Yes, verily, that they do. Question . 3 . — Do not these fears make thee question, whether ever thou hast had indeed any true comfort from the word and Spirit of God? Answer . Yes, verily, that they do. Question . 4 . — Dost thou not find intermixed with these fears, plain assertions that thy first comforts were either from thy fancy, or from the devil, and a fruit of his delusions? Answer . Yes, verily, that they do. Question . 5 . — Do not these fears weaken thy heart in prayer? Answer . Yes, that they do. Question . 6 . — Do not these fears keep thee back from laying hold of the promise of salvation by Jesus Christ. Answer . Yes; for I think if I were deceived before, if I were comforted by a spirit of delusion before; why may it not be so again: so I am afraid to take hold of the promise. Question . 7 . — Do not these fears tend to the hardening of thy heart, and to the making of thee desperate? Answer . Yes, verily, that they do. Question . 8 . — Do not these fears hinder thee from profiting in hearing or reading of the word? Answer . Yes, verily, for still whatever I hear or read, I think nothing that is good belongs to me. Question . 9 . — Do not these fears tend to the stirring up of blasphemies in thy heart against God? Answer . Yes, to the almost distracting of me. Question . 10. — Do not these fears make thee sometimes think, that it is in vain for thee to wait upon the Lord any longer? Answer . Yes, verily; and I have many times almost come to this conclusion, that I will read, pray, hear, company with God’s people, or the like, no longer.
Well, poor Christian, I am glad that thou hast so plainly answered me; but, I pray thee, look back upon thy answer, how much of God, dost thou think, is in these things? how much of his Spirit, and the grace of his word? Just none at all; for it cannot be that these things can be the true and natural effects of the workings of the Spirit of God; no, not as a Spirit of bondage.
These are not his doings; dost thou not see the very paw of the devil in them? yea, in every one of thy ten confessions? Is there not palpably high wickedness in every one of the effects of this fear?
I conclude then, as I began, that the fear that the Spirit of God, as a Spirit of bondage, worketh, is good and godly, not only because of the Author, but also because of the ground and effects; but yet it can last no longer as such, as producing the aforesaid conclusion, than till the Spirit, as the Spirit of adoption comes; because that then the soul is manifestly taken out of the state and condition into which it had brought itself by nature and sin, and is put into Christ, and so by him into a state of life and blessedness by grace.
Therefore, if first fears come again into thy soul after that the Spirit of adoption hath been with thee, know they come not from the Spirit of God, but from the spirit of the devil, for they are a lie in themselves, and their effects are sinful and devilish. Objection . But I had also such wickedness as that in my heart at my first awaking, and therefore, by your argument, neither should that be but from the devil. Answer . So far forth as such wickedness was in thy heart, so far did the devil and thine own heart seek to drive thee to despair, and drown thee there; but thou hast forgot the question: the question is not whether then thou wert troubled with such iniquities, but whether thy fears of damnation at that time were not just and good, because grounded upon thy present condition, which was, for that thou wast out of Christ, in thy sins, and under the curse of the law; and whether now, since the Spirit of adoption is come unto thee, and hath thee, and hath done that for thee as hath been mentioned, I say, whether thou oughtest for any thing whatever to give way to the same fear, from the same ground of damnation; it is evident thou oughtest not, because the ground, the cause is removed. Objection . But since I was sealed to the day of redemption, I have grievously sinned against God; have not I therefore cause to fear, as before?
May not therefore the Spirit of bondage be sent again to put me in fear as at first? Sin was the first cause, and I have sinned now. Answer . No, by no means; “for we have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear.” That is, God hath not given it us, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” 2 Timothy 1:7.
If, therefore, our first fears come upon us again, after that we have received at God’s hands the spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind, they are to be refused, though we have grievously sinned against our God. This is manifest from 1 Samuel 12:20; “Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness.” That is, not with that fear which would have made them flee from God, as concluding that they were not now his people.
And the reason is, because sin cannot dissolve the covenant into which the sons of God, by his grace, are taken. “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail,” Psalm 89:30-33.
Now, if sin doth not dissolve the covenant, if sin doth not cast me out of this covenant, which is made personally with the Son of God, and into the hands of which, by the grace of God, I am put, then ought I not, though I have sinned, to fear with my first fears.
But again; Sin, after the Spirit of adoption is come, cannot dissolve the relation of father and son, of father and child. And this the church did rightly assert, and that when her heart was under great hardness, and when she had the guilt of erring from his ways; “Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not,” Isaiah 63:16.
That sin dissolveth not the relation of father and son is further evident; “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father,” Galatians 4:4-6.
Suppose a child doth grievously transgress against and offend his father, is the relation between them therefore dissolved? Again; suppose the father should scourge and chasten the son for such offense, is the relation between them therefore dissolved? Yea, suppose the child should now, through ignorance, cry, and say, This man is now no more my father; is he therefore now no more his father? doth not every one see the folly of arguings? Why, of the same nature is that doctrine, that after we have received the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of bondage is sent to us again to put us in fear of eternal damnation.
Know, then, that thy sin, after thou hast received the Spirit of adoption to cry unto God, Father, Father, is counted the transgression of a child, not of a slave, and that all that happeneth to thee for that transgression, is but the chastisement of a father. “What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Hebrews 12:7.
It is worth your observation, that the Holy Ghost checks those who, under their chastisements for sin, forget to call God their Father. “Ye have,” saith Paul, “forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him,” Hebrews 12:5.
Yea, observe yet further, that God’s chastising of his children for their sin, is a sign of grace and love, and not of his wrath, and thy damnation; therefore now there is no ground for the aforesaid fear: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” Hebrews 12:6.
Now, if God would not have those that have received the Spirit of the Son, however he chastises them, to forget the relation that, by the adoption of sons, they stand in to God, if he checks those that do forget it, when his rod is upon their backs for sin; then it is evident that those fears that thou hast under a color of the coming again of the Spirit, as a Spirit of bondage, to put thee in fear of eternal damnation, is nothing else but Satan disguised, the better to play his pranks upon thee.
I will yet give you two or three instances more, wherein it will be manifest, that whatever happeneth to thee, I mean as a chastisement for sin, after the Spirit of adoption is come, thou oughtest to hold fast by faith the relation of father and son.
The people spoken of by Moses, are said to have lightly esteemed the Rock of their salvation, Deuteronomy 32:5, which Rock is Jesus Christ, Corinthians 10:4; and that is a grievous sin indeed; yet, saith he, “Is not he thy Father that hath bought thee?” Deuteronomy 32:6; and then puts them upon considering the days of old.
Those in the prophet Jeremiah had played the harlot with many lovers, and done evil things as they could; and, as another Scripture hath it, gone a whoring from under their God, yet God calls to them, by the prophet, saying, “Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth?” Jeremiah 3:4.
Remember also that eminent text before mentioned, in 1 Samuel 12:20; “Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness;” and labor to maintain faith in thy soul, of thy being a child, it being true that thou hast received the Spirit of adoption before, and so that thou oughtest not to fall under thy first fears, because the ground is taken away of thy eternal damnation.
Now, let not any, from what hath been said take courage to live loose lives, under a supposition that once in Christ, and ever in Christ, and the covenant cannot be broken, nor the relation of father and child dissolved; for those that do so, it is evident, have not known what it is to receive the Spirit of adoption: it is the spirit of the devil in his own hue that suggesteth this unto them, and that prevaileth with them to do so. Shall we do evil, that good may come? shall we sin, that grace may abound? or shall be base in life, because God by grace hath secured us from wrath to come? God forbid: these conclusions betoken one void of the fear of God indeed, and of the Spirit of adoption too. For what son is he, that because the father cannot break the relation that is betwixt the father and him, nor suffer sin to do it, that will therefore say, I will live altogether after my own lusts, I will labor to be a continual grief to my father?
Yet, lest the devil, (for some are not ignorant of his devices,) should get an advantage against some of the sons, to draw them away from the filial fear of their Father, let me here, to prevent such temptations, present such with these following considerations.
Though God cannot, and will not, dissolve the relation which the Spirit of adoption hath made betwixt the Father and the sons, for any sin that such do commit: yet he can, and often doth, take away from them the comfort of their adoption, not suffering children, while sinning, to have the sweet and comfortable sense thereof on their hearts. He can allow them to be in the state of the unhappy man to whom it is said, “Snares are round about thee, and sudden fear troubleth thee. Or darkness, that thou canst not see; and abundance of waters cover thee,” Job 22:10,11.
God can tell how to hide his face from them, and so to afflict them with that dispensation, that it shall not be in the power of all the world to comfort them. “When he hideth his face, who then can behold him?” Job 34:29.
God can tell how to make thee again to possess the sins that he long since hath pardoned, and that in such wise that things shall be bitter to thy soul. “Thou writest bitter things against me,” saith Job; “and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth,” Job 13:26.
God can tell how to cause to cease the sweet operations and blessed influences of his grace in thy soul, and to make those gospel showers that formerly thou hast enjoyed, to become now to thee nothing but powder and dust. See Deuteronomy 28:24.
God can tell how to break thy bones, and to make thee, by reason of that, to live in continual anguish of spirit: yea, he can send a fire into thy bones that shall burn, and none shall quench it, Psalm 51:8; Lamentations 3:4; Lamentations 1:13; <19A203> Psalm 102:3; Job 30:30.
What shall I say? God can tell how to let Satan loose upon thee; when thou liest a dying, he can license him then to assault thee with great temptations; he can tell how to make thee possess the guilt of all thy unkindness towards him, and that when thou, as I said, art going out of the world; he can cause that thy life shall be in continual doubt before thee, and not suffer thee to take any comfort day or night; yea, he can drive thee even to madness with his chastisements for thy folly, and yet all shall be done by him to thee as a father chastiseth his son, Deuteronomy 28:65-67.
Further; God can tell how to tumble thee from off thy death-bed in a cloud; he can let thee die in the dark: when thou art dying, thou shalt not know whither thou art going, to wit, whether to heaven or to hell. Yea, he can tell how to let thee seem to come short of life, both in thine own eyes and also in the eyes of those that behold thee. “Let us therefore fear,” said the apostle, though not with slavish, yet with filial fear, “lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it,” Hebrews 4:1.
Now, all this, and much more, can God do to his, as a Father by his rod, and Father by rebukes. Ah! who knows, but those that are under them, what terrors, fears, distresses and amazements, God can bring his people into? He can put them into a furnace, a fire, and no tongue can tell what; so unsearchable and fearful are his fatherly chastisements, and yet never give them the Spirit of bondage again to fear. Therefore, if thou art a son, take heed of sin, lest all these things overtake thee, and come upon thee. Objection. But I have sinned, and am under this high and mighty hand of God. Answer. Then thou knowest what I say is true; but yet take heed of hearkening unto such temptations as would make thee believe thou art out of Christ, under the law, and in a state of damnation: and take heed also, that thou dost not conclude, that the author of these fears is the Spirit of God, come to thee against as a Spirit of bondage, to put thee into such fears, lest unawares to thyself, thou dost deify the devil, dishonor thy Father, overthrow good doctrine, and bring thyself into a double temptation. Objection. But if God deals thus with a man, how can he otherwise think but that he is a reprobate, a graceless, Christless, and faithless one? Answer. Nay, but why dost thou tempt the Lord thy God? why dost thou sin, and provoke the eyes of his glory? “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” Lamentations 3:39.
He doth not willingly afflict, nor grieve the children of men; but if thou sinnest, though God should save thy soul, as he will if thou art an adopted son of God, yet, he will make thee know that sin is sin; and his rod, that he will chastise thee with, if need be, shall be made of scorpions. Read the whole book of the Lamentations; read the complaints of Job and David: yea, read what happened to his Son, his wellbeloved, and that when he did but stand in the room of sinners, being in himself altogether innocent, and then consider, O thou sinning child of God, if it is any injustice in God, yea, if it be not necessary, that thou shouldst be chastised for thy sin.
But then, I say, when the hand of God is upon thee, how grievous soever it be, take heed, and beware that thou give not way to thy first fears, lest, as I said before, thou addest to thine affliction. To help thee here, let me give thee a few instances of the conduct of some of the saints under some of the most heavy afflictions that they have met with for sin.
Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?” Job 7:20; yet he counted not all this as a sign of a damnable state, but as a trial and chastisement; and said, when he was in the hottest of this battle, “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold,” Job 23:10. And, again, when he was pressed upon by the tempter to think that God would kill him, he answers with the greatest confidence, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” Job 13:15.
David complained that God had broken his bones, that he had set his face against his sins, and had taken from him the joy of his salvation; yet even at this time he saith, “O God, thou God of my salvation,” Psalm 51:14.
Heman complained that his soul was full of troubles, that God had laid him in the lowest pit, that he had put his acquaintance far from him, and that he was afflicted from his youth up, and ready to die with trouble. He saith, moreover, that the fierce wrath of God went over him, that his terrors had cut him off; yea, that by reason of them he was distracted, and yet, even before he maketh any of these complaints, he takes fast hold of God as his, saying, “O Lord God of my salvation,” Psalm 88.
The church, in the Lamentations, complains that the Lord had afflicted her for her transgressions, and that in the day of his fierce anger; also, that he had trodden under foot her mighty men, and that he had called the heathen against her: she says, that he had covered her with a cloud in his anger, that he was an enemy, and that he had hung a chain upon her; she adds, moreover, that he had shut out her prayer, broken her teeth with gravel stones, and covered her with ashes; and, in conclusion, that he had utterly rejected her. But what doth she do under all this trial? doth she give up her faith and hope, and return to that fear that begot the first bondage? No; “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him;” yea, she adds, “O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life,” Lamentations 3:24,58.
These things show, that God’s people, even after they have received the Spirit of adoption, fell foully into sin, and have been bitterly chastised for it; and also, that when the rod was most smart upon them, they made great conscience of not giving way to their fear fears wherewith they were made afraid by the Spirit, as it wrought as a Spirit of bondage, for, indeed, there is no such thing as the coming of the Spirit of bondage to put us in fear the second time, as such, that is, after he is come as the Spirit of adoption to the soul.
I conclude, then, that the fear that is wrought by the Spirit of bondage is good and godly, because the ground for it is sound; and I also conclude, that he comes to the soul as a Spirit of adoption; and if, therefore, the same fear doth again take hold of thy heart, that is, if after thou hast received the Spirit of adoption, thou fearest again the damnation of thy soul, that thou art out of Christ, and under the law, that fear is bad, and of the devil, and ought by no means to be admitted by thee. Question. But since it is as you say, now doth the devil, after the Spirit of adoption is come, work the child of God into those fears of being out of Christ, not forgiven, and so an heir of damnation again? Answer . 1. — By giving the lie, and by prevailing with us to give it too, to the work of grace wrought in our hearts, and to the testimony of the Holy Spirit of adoption. Or, 2. By abusing of our ignorance of the everlasting love of God to his in Christ, and the duration of the covenant of grace. Or, 3. By abusing some scripture that seems to look that way, but doth not.
Or, 4. By abusing our senses and reason. Or, 5. By strengthening of our unbelief. Or, 6. By overshadowing of our judgment with horrid darkness. Or, 7. By giving us counterfeit representations of God. Or, 8. By stirring up, and setting in a rage our inward corruptions. Or, 9. By pouring into our hearts abundance of horrid blasphemies. Or, 10. By putting wrong constructions on the rod, and chastising hand of God. Or, 11. By charging upon us, that our ill behavior under the rod, and chastising hand of God, is a sign that we indeed have no grace, but are downright graceless reprobates.
By these things, and others like these, Satan bringeth the child of God not only to the borders, but even into the bowels of the fears of damnation, after he hath received a blessed testimony of eternal life, and that by the holy Spirit of adoption. Question. But would you not have the people of God stand in fear of his rod, and be afraid of his judgments? Answer. Yes; and the more they are rightly afraid of them, the less they will come under them, for it is want of ear that brings us into sin, and it is sin that brings us into these afflictions. But I would not have them fear with the fear of slaves, for that will add no strength against sin; but I would have them fear with the reverential fear of sons, and that is the way to depart from evil. Question. How is that? Answer Why, having before received the Spirit of adoption, still to believe that he is our Father, and so to fear with the fear of children, and not as slaves fear a tyrant. I would, therefore, have them to look upon his rod, rebukes, chidings, and chastisements, and also upon the wrath wherewith he doth inflict, to be but the dispensations of their Father.
It also maintains in the soul a son-like confession of sin, and a justifying of God under all the rebukes that he grieveth us with. It also engageth us to come to him, to claim and lay hold of former mercies, to expect more, and to hope a good end shall be made of all God’s present dispensations towards us.
Now, God would have us thus fear his rod, because he is resolved to chastise us therewith, if so be we sin against him, as I have already shown; for although God’s bowels turn within him, even while he is threatening his people, yet if we sin, he will lay on the rod so hard, as to make us cry, “Woe unto us, that we have sinned!” Lamentations 5:16; and, therefore, as I said, we should be afraid of his judgments, yet only as afore is provided, as of the rod, wrath, and judgment of a Father. Question. But have we any other considerations to move us to fear God, with childlike fear?
I will, in this place, give you five. Answer . 1. — Consider, that God thinks meet to have it so; and he is wiser in heart than thou; he knows best how to secure his people from sin, and to that end hath given them a law and commandments to read, that they may learn to fear him as a Father. Answer . 2. — Consider, he is mighty in power; if he touch but with a fatherly touch, man nor angel cannot bear it; yea, Christ makes use of that argument, he hath power to cast into hell; “Yea, I say unto you, Fear him,” Luke 12:5. Answer . 3. — Consider, that he is everywhere; thou canst not be out of his sight or presence, nor out of the reach of his hand. “Fear ye not me? saith the Lord,” Jeremiah 5:22. “Can any hide himself in secret place that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord,” Jeremiah 23:24. Answer. 4. — Consider, that he is holy, and cannot look with liking upon the sins of his own people. Therefore, said Peter, “as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of person judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear,” 1 Peter 1:14-17. Answer . 5. — Consider, that he is good, and has been good to thee, good in that he hath singled thee out from others, and saved thee from their death and hell, though thou perhaps was worse in thy life than those that he left when he laid hold on thee. Oh, how this should engage thy heart to fear the Lord all the days of thy life! They “shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days,” Hosea 3:5 And now, for the present, I have done with that fear, I mean as to its first workings, namely, to put us in fear of damnation.