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I. Is this fear of God such an excellent thing? Is it attended with so many blessed privileges, then this should put us, every soul of us, upon a diligent examination of ourselves, namely, whether this grace be in us or not; for if it be, then thou art one of these blessed ones to whom belong these glorious privileges, for thou hast an interest in every one of them. But if it shall appear that this grace is not in thee, then thy state is fearfully miserable, as hath partly been manifest already, and will further be seen in what comes after.
Now, the better to help thee to consider, and not to miss in finding out what thou art, in thy self-examination, I will speak to this, 1. In general. 2. In particular. 1. In general. No man brings this grace into the world with him. Every one by nature is destitute of it, for naturally none fear God; “There is no fear of God,” none of this grace of fear, “before their eyes,” Romans 3:18; they do not so much as know what it is; for this fear flows, as was shown before, from a new heart, faith, repentance, and the like; of which new heart, faith, and repentance, if thou art void, thou art also void of this godly fear. Men must have a mighty change of heart and life, or else they are strangers to this fear of God. Alas, how ignorant are the most of this! Yea, and some are not afraid to say they are not changed, nor desire so to be.
Wherefore, sinner, consider, whoever thou art, that art destitute of this fear of God, thou art void of all other graces; for this fear, as I have shown, floweth from the whole stock of grace where it is. There is not one of the graces of the Spirit, but this fear is in it; yea, as I may say, this fear is the flower and beauty of every grace, neither is there anything, let it look as much like grace as it will, that will be counted so indeed, if the fruit thereof be not this fear of God. Wherefore, I say again, consider well of this matter, for as thou shall be found with reference to this grace, so shall thy judgment be. I have but briefly treated of this grace, yet have endeavored, with words as fit as I could, to display it in its colors before thy face; first, by showing you what this fear of God is, then what it flows from, as also what doth flow from it; to which, as was said before, I have added several privileges that are annexed to this fear, that by all, if it may be, thou mayest see it, if thou hast it, and thyself without it, if thou hast it not. Wherefore, I refer thee thither again for information in this thing. Or, if thou art loath to give the book a second reading, but wilt go on to the end now thou art got hither, then, 2. Secondly, and particularly, I conclude with these several propositions concerning those that fear not God. (1) That man that is proud, and of an high and lofty mind, fears not God. This is plain from the exhortation, “Be not high-minded, but fear,” Romans 11:20. Here you see that a high mind and the fear of God are set in direct opposition the one to the other, and there is in them, closely concluded by the apostle, that where indeed the one is there cannot be the other; where there is a high mind, there is not the fear of God, and where there is the fear of God, the mind is not high, but lowly. Can a man at the same time be a proud man and fear God too? Why then is it said, God beholdeth every one that is proud, and abases him; and again, that he beholds the proud afar off? Job 40:11; <19C806> Psalm 128:6.
He, therefore, that is proud of his person, of his riches, of his office, of his parts, and the like, feareth not God. It is also manifest further, for “God resisteth the proud,” James 4:6, which he would not do if he feared him; but in that he sets him at such a distance from him, in that he testifies that he will abase him and resist him, it is evident that he is not the man that hath this grace of fear; for that man, as I have showed you, is the man of God’s delight, the object of his pleasure. (2) The covetous man feareth not God. This also is plain from the word, because it setteth covetousness and the fear of God in direct opposition. Men that fear God are said to hate covetousness, Exodus 18:21. Besides, the covetous man is called an idolator, and is said to have no part in the kingdom of Christ and of God, Colossians 3:5.
Hearken to this, you that hunt the world to take it, you that care not how you get, so you get the world; also, you that make even religion your stalking-horse to the get the world. You fear not God. And what will you do, whose hearts go after your covetousness? you who are led by covetousness up and down, as it were by the nose; sometimes to swear, to lie, to cozen, and cheat and defraud, when you can get the advantage to do it. You are far, very far from the fear of God. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses,” for so the covetous are called, “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God,” James 4:4. (3) The riotous eaters of flesh have not the fear of God; for this is done without fear, Jude 1:12. Gluttony is a sin little taken notice of, and as little repented of by those that use it; but yet it is odious in the sight of God, and the practice of it a demonstration of the want of his fear in the heart; yea, so odious is it, that God forbids that his people should so much as company with such. “Be not,” saith he, “among wine-bibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh,” Proverbs 23:20. And he further tells us, that those that are such are spots and blemishes to those that keep them company, for indeed they fear not God, 2 Peter 2:13.
Alas! some men are as if they were born for nought else but to eat, and to drink, and pamper their carcasses with the dainties of this world, quite forgetting why God sent them hither; but such, as is said, fear not God, and so, consequently, are of the number of those upon whom the day of judgment will come unawares, Luke 21:34. (4) The liar is one that fears not God. This also is evident from a plain text; “Thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart; have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?” Isaiah 57:11.
What lie this was is not material; it was a lie, or a course of lying, that is here rebuked, and the person or persons in this practice, as is said, were such as feared not God; a course of lying and the fear of God cannot stand together.
This sin of lying is a common sin, and it walketh in the world in several guises. There is the profane scoffing liar; there is the cunning artificial liar; there is the hypocritical religious liar; with liars of other ranks and degrees; but none of them all have the fear of God, nor shall any of them, except they repent, escape the damnation of hell. “All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone,” Revelation 21:8.
But this should not be their sentence, judgment, and condemnation, if those that are liars were such as had in them this blessed fear of God. (5) Those fear not God who cry unto him for help in the time of their calamity, and when they are delivered return to their former rebellion.
Moses, in a spirit of prophecy, asserteth this, at the time of the mighty judgment of the hail. Pharaoh then desired him to pray to God that he would take away that judgment from him. Well, so I will, said Moses, “but as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not fear the Lord God,” Exodus 9:30. As if he should say, I know that so soon as this judgment is removed, you will go to your old rebellion again. And what greater demonstration can be given that such a man feareth not God, than to cry to God to be delivered from affliction to prosperity, and to spend that prosperity in rebellion against him? This is crying for mercies that they may be spent, or that we may have something to spend, upon our lusts, and in the service of Satan, James 4:3.
Of these God complains in Ezekiel; “Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them,” Ezekiel 16:17.
This was for want of the fear of God. Many of this kind there be now in the world, both of men, and women, and children. Art not thou that readest this book of this number? Hast thou not cried for health when sick, for wealth when poor, when lame for strength, when in prison for liberty, and then spent all that thou gottest by thy prayer in the service of Satan, and to gratify thy lusts? Look to it, sinner, these things are signs that with thy heart thou fearest not God. (6) Those fear not God that waylay his people, and seek to overthrow them, or to turn them besides the right path, as they are journeying from hence to their eternal rest. This is evident from the plain text, “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God,” Deuteronomy 25:17,18.
Many such Amalekites there be now in the world, that have set themselves against the feeble of the flock especially, still smiting them, some by power, some with the tongue, some in their lives and estates, some in their names and reputations, by scandal, slanders, and reproach; but the reason of this their ungodly practice is this, they fear not God; for did they fear him they would be afraid to so much as think, much more of attempting to afflict and destroy, and calumniate the children of God: but such there have been, such there are, and such there will be in the world, for all men fear not God. (7) Those fear not God who see his hand upon backsliders for their sins, and yet themselves will be backsliders also. “I saw,” saith God, “when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also,” Jeremiah 3:8.
Judah saw that her sister was put away, and delivered by God into the hand of Salmanezer, who carried her away beyond Babylon; and yet, though she saw it, she went and played the harlot also, a sign of great hardness of heart, and of the want of the fear of God indeed; for his fear, had it been in her heart, would have taught her to have trembled at the judgment that was executed upon her sister, and not to have gone and played the harlot also; and not to have done it while her sister’s judgment was in sight and memory. But what is it that a heart that is destitute of the fear of God will not do? No sin comes amiss to such; yea, they will sin, they will do that themselves, for the doing of which they believe some are in hell-fire, and all because they fear not God.
But pray observe, if those that take not warning, when they see the hand of God upon backsliders, are said to have none of the fear of God, have those it, think you, that lay stumbling-blocks in the way of God’s people, and use devices to cause them to backslide, yea, rejoice when they can do this mischief to any? And yet many of this sort there are in the world, that even rejoice when they see a professor fall into sin, and go back from his profession, as if they had found some excellent thing. (8) Those fear not God who can look upon a land wallowing in sin, and yet are not humbled at the sight thereof. “Have ye forgotten,” said God, by the prophet, to the Jews, “the wickedness of your fathers, and the wickedness of the kings of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem? They are not humbled even unto this day, neither have they feared, nor walked in my law,” Jeremiah 44:9,10.
Here was a land full of wickedness, and none to bewail it, for they wanted the fear of God, and love to walk in his law. But how say you, if those that are not humbled at their own and others’ wickedness are said not to fear, or have the fear of God, what shall we think or say of such that receive, that nourish, and rejoice in such wickedness? Do they fear God? Yea, what shall we say of such that are the inventors and promoters of wickedness, as of oaths, beastly talk, or the like? Do you think they fear God?
Once again; what shall we say of such that cannot be content to be wicked themselves, and to invent and rejoice in other men’s wickedness, but must hate, reproach, vilify, and abuse those that they cannot persuade to be wicked? Do they fear God? (9) Those that take more heed to their own dreams than to the word of God, fear not God. This also is plain from the word; “For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities, but fear thou God;” that is, take heed unto his word, Ecclesiastes 5:7.
What will those say to this that give more heed to a suggestion which ariseth from their foolish hearts, or that is cast in thither by the devil, than they do to the holy word of God? These are “filthy dreamers,” Jude 1:8.
Also, what shall we say to those that are more confident of the mercy of God to their souls, because he hath blessed them with outward things, than they are afraid of his wrath and condemnation, though the whole of the word of God doth fully verify the same? These are filthy dreamers indeed.
A dream is either real, or so by way of semblance; and so some men dream sleeping, and some waking. And as those that a man dreams sleeping are caused either by God, Satan, business, the flesh, or the like, so are those that a man dreams walking, to pass by those that we have in our sleep.
But those that are from Satan, business, and the flesh are such, (especially the first and last, namely, from Satan and the flesh), as tend to embolden men to hope for good in a way disagreeing with the word of God. These Jude calls, “filthy dreamers,” such whose principles were their dreams, and they led them to defile the flesh, that is, by fornication and uncleanness; to “despise dominion,” that the reins might be laid upon the neck of their lusts; to “speak evil of dignities,” of those that God had set over them, for their governing in all the law and testament of Christ: these dreamed that to live like brutes, to be greedy of gain, and to take away for it, as Cain and Balaam did by their wiles, the lives of the owners thereof, would go for good coin in the best of trials. These also Peter speaks of, 2 Peter 2 And he makes their dreams, that Jude so calls, their principles and errors in life and doctrine. You may read of them in that whole chapter, where they are called “cursed children;” and so, by consequence, such as fear not God. (10) Those fear not God who are sorcerers, adulterers, false swearers, and that oppress the hireling of his wages.
It is a custom with some men to keep back, by fraud, from the hireling that which by covenant they agreed to pay for their labor; pinching, I say, and paring from them their due which of right belongs to them, to the making of them cry in the ears of the Lord of sabaoth, James 5:4. These fear not God; they are reckoned among the worst of men, and in their day of account God himself will bear witness against them. “And I will come near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord,” Malachi 3:5. (11) Those fear not God who, instead of pitying, rail at God’s people in their afflictions, temptations, and persecutions, and rather rejoice and skip for joy, than sympathize with them in their sorrow. Thus did David’s enemies, thus did Israel’s enemies, and thus did the thief; he railed at Christ when he hanged upon the cross, and was for that, even by his fellow, accounted for one that feared not God, Luke 23:40.
This is a common thing among the children of men, even to rejoice at the hurt of those that fear God, and it ariseth even of an inward hatred to godliness. They hate you, says Christ, because they hated me, John 15:18. Therefore Christ takes what is done to his, in this, as done unto himself, and so to holiness of life.
But this falls hard upon such as despise, and rejoice to see God’s people in their griefs, and that take the advantage, as dogged Shimei did, to augment the griefs and afflictions of God’s people, 2 Samuel 16:5-8. (12) Those fear not God who are strangers to the effects of fear. “If I be a master, where is my fear?” Malachi 1:6. That is, show that I am so by your fear of me, in the effects of your fear of me. “You offer polluted bread upon mine altar,” Malachi 1:7. This is not a sign that you fear me; ye offer the blind for sacrifices, where is my fear? Ye offer the lame and the sick; these are not effects of the fear of God, Malachi 1:8.
Therefore James says, “I will show thee my faith by my works,” James 2:18, so here God calls for a testimony of thy fear by the effects of fear; if thou art a stranger to them, thou art a stranger to this grace of fear.
Therefore, to conclude this, it is not a feigned profession that will do; nothing is good here but what is salted with this fear of God; and those that fear him are men of truth, men of singleness of heart, perfect, upright, humble, holy men. Wherefore, reader, examine, and again I say, examine, and lay the word and thy heart together before thou concludest that thou fearest God.
What! fear god, and in a state of nature! Fear God without a change of heart and life! What! fear God, and be proud and covetous, a wine bibber, and a riotous eater of flesh! How! fear God, and a liar, and one that cries for mercies to spend them upon thy lusts! this would be strange.
True, thou mayest fear as devils do, but what will that profit? Thou mayest, by thy fear, be driven away from God, from his worship, people, and ways; but what will that avail? It may be thou mayest so fear at present as to be a little stopped in thy sinful course. Perhaps thou hast got a reproof from the word of God, and art at present a little hindered from thy former and full career after sin; but what of that? If by the fear that thou hast, thy heart is not united to God and to the love of his Son, word, and people, thy fear is nothing worth.
If thou only thus fearest God, it is but a false fear; it flows not from love to God. This fear brings not willing subjection, which indeed brings the effect of right fear; but being overmastered, like an hypocrite, thou subjectest thyself by feigned obedience, being forced, I say, by mere dread to do it, Psalm 66:3.
But what did they now love David? Did they now choose him to be their king? No, verily; many of them rather hated him; and when they could, made resistance against him. They did even as thou dost; they feared, but did not love; feared, but did not choose his government that ruled over them.
It is also said of Jehoshaphat, when God had subdued before him Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, that “the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries, when they heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel,” 2 Chronicles 20:29.
But, I say, was this fear, that is called now the fear of God, anything else but a dread of the greatness and power of the king? No, verily, nor did that dread bring them into a willing subjection to, and liking of his laws and government; it only made them, like slaves and underlings, stand in fear of his executing the vengeance of God upon them.
This fear, therefore, provoked but feigned and forced obedience; a right emblem of the obedience of such who, being still enemies in their minds to God, are forced, by virtue of present conviction, to yield a little, even of fear to God, to his word, and to his ordinances. Reader, whoever thou art, think of this, it is thy concern, therefore do it; and examine, and examine again, and look diligently to thy heart in thine examination, that it beguile thee not about this thy so great concern, as indeed the fear of God is.
One thing more let me warn thee of before I leave thee. Take heed of deferring to fear the Lord. Some men, when they have had conviction upon their heart that the fear of God is not in them, have, through the overpowering of their corruptions, yet deferred and put off the fear of God from them, as it is said of those in Jeremiah, “This people hath a revolting and rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone: neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord,” Jeremiah 5:23,24.
They saw that the judgments of God attended them, because they did not yet fear God; but that conviction would not prevail with them to say, Let us now fear the Lord. They were for deferring to fear him still; they were for putting off his fear from them longer. Sinner, hast thou deferred to fear the Lord? Is thy heart still so stubborn as not yet to say, “Let us fear the Lord?”
Oh, the Lord hath taken notice of this thy rebellion, and is preparing some dreadful judgment for thee. “Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” Jeremiah 5:29.
Look up; perhaps thou hast already been pulling this great while, to pull it down upon thee. Oh, pull no longer. Why shouldst thou be thine own executioner? Fall down upon thy knees, man, and up with thy heart and thy hands to the God that dwells in the heavens; cry, yea, cry aloud, “Lord, unite mine heart to fear thy name, and do not harden mine heart from thy fear.” Thus holy men have cried before thee, and by crying have prevented judgment.
The man that feareth not God carrieth it worse toward him than the beast, the brute beast doth carry it towards that man. “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes in the sea,” Genesis 9:2.
Mark, all my creatures shall fear you, and dread you, says God. None of them shall be so hardy as to cast off all reverence of you. But what a shame is this to man, that God should subject all his creatures to him, and he should refuse to stoop his heart to God! The beast, and bird, the fish, and all, have a fear and dread of man, yea God has put it in their hearts to fear a man, and yet man is void of fear and dread, I mean of godly fear, of Him, that thus lovingly hath put all things under him. Sinner! art thou not ashamed that a silly cow, a sheep, yea, swine, should better observe the law of creation than thou dost the law of thy God?
Consider, he that will not fear God, God will make him fear him whether he will or not. That is, he that doth not, will not now so fear him, as willingly to bow before him, and put his neck into his yoke, God will make him fear him when he comes to take vengeance on him. Then he will surround him with terror, and with fear on every side; fear within, and fear without; fear shall be in the way, even in the way that thou goest when thou art going out of this world; and that will be dreadful fear. God says, “I will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them,” Isaiah 66:4.
He that fears not God now, the Lord shall laugh at his fears then. Sinner, God will be even with all those that choose not to have his fear in their hearts; for as he calls, and they hear not now, so they shall cry, yea howl then, and he will laugh at their fears. “I will laugh,” saith he, “at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord,” Proverbs 1:26-29.
Thou thinkest to escape the pit; but what wilt thou do with the snare. The snare, say you, what is that? I answer, it is even the work of thine own hands. “The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands,” Psalm 9:16. “The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips,” Proverbs 12:13.
Sinner! what wilt thou do when thou comest into this snare; that is, into the guilt and terror that thy sins will bind thee with, when they, like a cord, are fastened about thy soul? This snare will bring thee back again to the pit, which is hell; and then, how wilt thou do to be rid of thy fear? The fear, pit, and the snare shall come upon thee, because thou fearest not God.
Sinner! art thou one of those that hast cast off fear? Poor man, what wilt thou do when these three things beset thee? Whither wilt thou flee for help, and where wilt thou leave thy glory? If thou fleest from the fear, there is the pit; if thou fleest from the pit, there is the snare.
Not but that every saint doth fear God; but, as the apostle saith in another case, “I beseech you that ye would abound more and more,” <520401> Thessalonians 4:1. The fear of the Lord, as I have showed you, is a grace of the new covenant, as other saving graces are, and so is capable of being stronger or weaker, as other graces are. Wherefore, I beseech you, fear him more and more.
It is said of Obadiah, that he “feared the Lord greatly.” Every saint fears the Lord, but every saint does not greatly fear him. Oh there are but few Obadiahs in the world; I mean among the saints on earth: see the whole relation of him, 1 Kings 18. As Paul said of Timothy, “I have no man like-minded,” Philippians 2:20; so it may be said of some concerning the fear of the Lord; they have scarcely an equal. So it was with Job; “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil,” Job 1:8.
There was even no one in Job’s day that feared God like him; no, there was not one like him in all the earth: but doubtless there were more in the world that feared God; but this fearing of him greatly, that is the thing that saints should do, and that was the thing that Job did do, and in that he did outstrip his fellows.
It is also said of Hannaniah, that “he was a faithful man, and feared God above many,” Nehemiah 7:2. He also had got, as to the exercise of, and growth in this grace, the start of many of his brethren. He “feared God above many.” Now then, seeing this grace admits of degrees, and is in some stronger, and in some weaker, let us be all awakened, as to other graces, so to this grace also; that like as you “abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also,” 2 Corinthians 8:7.
I will labor to enforce this exhortation upon you by several motives. 1. Let God’s distinguishing love to you be a motive to you to fear him greatly. He hath put his fear in thy heart, and hath not given that blessing to thy neighbor; perhaps not to thy husband, thy wife, thy child, or thy parent.
Oh, what an obligation should this consideration lay upon thy heart greatly to fear the Lord! Remember, also, that this fear of the Lord is his treasure, a choice jewel, given only to favorites, and to those that are greatly beloved.
Great gifts naturally tend to oblige, and will do so, I trust, with thee, when thou shalt ingenuously consider it. It is a sign of a very bad nature when the contrary shows itself. Could God have done more for thee than to have put his fear in thy heart? This is better than to have given thee a place even in heaven without it. Yea, had he given thee all faith, all knowledge, and the tongue of men and angels, and a place in heaven to boot, they had all been short of this gift, of the fear of God in thy heart. Therefore love it, nourish it, exercise it, use all means to cause it to increase and grow in thy heart, that it may appear it is set by at thy hand, poor sinner. 2. Another motive to stir thee up to grow in this grace of the fear of God, may be the privileges that it lays thee under. What, or where wilt thou find in the Bible so many privileges, so affectionately entailed to any grace, and of the privileges that belong unto it, as if (to speak with reverence) he knew not how to have done blessing of the man that hath it.
It seems to me, as if this grace of fear is the darling grace, the grace that God sets his heart upon at the highest rate. As it were, he embraces, and lays the man in his bosom, that hath and grows strong in this grace of the fear of God.
See again, the many privileges in which the man is interested that hath this grace in his heart; and see also that there are but few of them, wherever mentioned, but have entailed to them the pronunciation of a blessing, or else that man is spoken of by way of admiration. 3. Another motive may be this: the man that groweth in this grace of the fear of the Lord, will escape those evils that others will fall into. Where this grace is, it keepeth the soul from final apostasy. “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” Jeremiah 32:40.
There is a child that is healthy, and hath its limbs, and can go; but it is careless. Now, the evil of carelessness doth disadvantage it very much; carelessness is the cause of stumblings, of falls, and that it falls into the dirt, yea, that sometimes it is burned, or almost drowned. And thus it is even with God’s people that fear him, because they add not to their fear a care of growing more in the fear of God, therefore they reap damage: whereas, were they more in his fear, it would keep them better, deliver them more, and preserve them from these snares of death. 4. Another motive may be this: to grow in this grace of the fear of God, is the way to be kept always in a conscientious performance of Christian duties.
An increase in this grace, I say, keeps every grace in exercise, and the keeping of our graces in their due exercise, produceth a conscientious performance of duties. Thou hast a watch, perhaps, in thy pocket, but the hand will not as yet be kept in any good order, but does always give thee the lie as to the hour of the day: well, what is the way to remedy this but to look well to the spring and the wheels within; for if they indeed go right, so will the hand do also. This is thy case in spiritual things. Thou art a gracious man, and the fear of God is in thee; but yet, for all that, one cannot well tell by thy life what time a day it is. Thou givest no true and constant sign that thou art indeed a Christian. Why the reason is, thou dost not look well to this grace of the fear of God; thou dost not grow and increase in that, but sufferest thy heart to grow careless and hard, and so thy life remiss and worldly. Job’s growing great in the fear of God made him eschew evil. 5. Another motive is: this is the way to be wise indeed. “A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil,” Proverbs 14:16. It doth not say a wise man hath the grace of fear, but a wise man feareth, that is, putteth this grace into exercise. There is no greater sign of wisdom than to grow in this blessed grace. Is it not a sign of wisdom to depart from sins which are the snares of death and hell? Is it not a sign of wisdom for a man yet more and more to endeavor to interest himself in the love and protection of God? Is it not a high point of wisdom for a man to be always doing that which lays him under the conduct of angels? Surely this is wisdom? And if it be a blessing to have this fear, is it not wisdom to increase in it? Doubtless it is the highest point of wisdom, as I have shown before; therefore grow therein. 6. Another motive may be this: it is seemly for saints to fear, and increase in this fear of God.
He is thy Creator? Is it not seemly for creatures to fear and reverence their Creator? He is thy King. Is it not seemly for subjects to fear and reverence their King? He is thy Father. Is it not seemly for children to reverence and fear their Father? yea, and to do it more and more? 7. Another motive may be: it is honorable to grow in this grace of fear. “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel,” Hosea 13:1.
Truly to fear, and to abound in this fear, is a sign of a very princely spirit; and the reason is, when I greatly fear my God, I am above the fear of all others, nor can any thing in this world, be it never so terrible and dreadful, move me at all to fear them. “And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him,” Luke 12:4,5.
Indeed, this true fear of God sets a man above all the world; and therefore it is said again, “Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread,” Isaiah 8:12,13.
Your ranting boasters, that are ignorant of the nature of this fear of God, count it a poor sneaking, pitiful, cowardly spirit in men to fear and tremble before the Lord; but whoso looks back to gaols, and biggets, to the sword and burning stake, shall see that there has been seen the most mighty and invincible spirit that has been in the world.
Yea, see if God doth not count that the growth of his people in this grace of fear is that which makes them honorable, when he excludeth those from a dwelling place in his house that do not honor them that fear him. And he saith, moreover, “A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised,” Proverbs 31:30. If the world and godless men will not honor these, they shall be honored some way else. “Them,” saith he, “that honor me, I will honor,” 1 Samuel 2:30; and they shall be honored in heaven, in the churches, and among the angels. 8. Another motive to grow in this fear of God may be: this fear, and the increase of it, qualifies a man to be put in trust with heavenly and spiritual things, yea, and with earthly things too.
Behold what a gift, what a mercy, what a blessing this Levi is intrusted with; namely, with God’s everlasting covenant, and with the life and peace that are wrapped up in this covenant! But why is it given to him? The answer is, “For the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.” And the reason is good; for this fear of God teaches a man to put a due estimation upon every gift of God bestowed upon us; also, it teaches us to make use of the same with reverence of his name, and respect to his glory in most godly-wise, all which becomes him that is intrusted with any spiritual gift. The gift here was given to Levi to minister to his brethren doctrinally thereof, for he, saith God, shall teach Jacob my statutes and Israel my law, Deuteronomy 33:10.
See also Exodus 18:21, and Nehemiah 7:2, with many other places that might be named, and you will find, that men fearing God, and hating covetousness, that men that fear God above others, are intrusted by God, yea, and by his church too, with the trust and ministration of spiritual things before any other in the world.
For earthly things. This fear of God qualifies a man to be put in trust with them rather than with another. Therefore God made Joseph lord of all Egypt; Obadiah, steward of Ahab’s house; Daniel, Mordecai, and the three children, were set over the province of Babylon; and this by the wonderful working hand of God, because he had to dispose of earthly things now, not only in a common way, but for the good of his people in special. True, when there is no special matter, or thing to be done by God in a nation for his people, then who will, that is, whether they have grace or not, may have the disposal of those things; but if God has any thing in special to bestow upon his people of this world’s good, then he will intrust it in the hands of men fearing God. Joseph must now be made lord of Egypt, because Israel must be kept from starving; Obadiah must now be made steward of Ahab’s house, because the Lord’s prophets must be hid from, and fed, in despite of the rage and cruel mind of Jezebel. Daniel, with his companions, and Mordecai also, were exalted to earthly and temporal dignity, that they might in that state, they being men that abounded in the fear of God, be serviceable to their brethren in their straits and difficulties. 9. Another motive to grow in this grace of fear is: where the fear of God in the heart of any is not growing, there no grace thrives, nor duty done as it should be.
There no grace thrives; neither faith, hope love, nor any grace. This is evident from that general exhortation; “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1.
But this cannot be done but in the fear of God; yea, in the exercise of that grace, and so, consequently, in the growth of it; for there is no grace but grows, being exercised. If then you would be perfect in holiness, if you would have every grace that God has put into your souls grow and flourish unto perfection; lay them, as I may say, to soak in this grace of fear, and do all in the exercise of it; for a little done in the fear of the Lord, is better than the revenues of the wicked, Proverbs 16:8. And again; the Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous, the soul that liveth in the fear of the Lord, to famish; but he casteth away the abundance of the wicked. Bring abundance to God, and if it be not seasoned with godly fear, it shall not be acceptable to him, but loathsome and abominable in his sight; for it doth not flow from the spirit of the fear of the Lord.
Therefore, where there is not a growth in this fear, there is no duty done acceptably. This flows from that which goes before, for if grace rather decays than grows, where this grace of fear is not in the growth and increase thereof, then duties in their glory and acceptableness decay likewise. 10. Another motive to stir thee up to grow in the increase of this grace of fear, is: it is a grace, that if you abound therein, will give you great boldness both with God and men. Job was a man, a nonsuch in his day, for one that feared God; and who so bold with God as Job? Who so bold with God, and who so bold with men as he?
How bold was he with God, when he wished for nothing more than that he might come even to his seat; and concluded, that if he could come at him, he would approach even as a prince unto him, and as such would order his cause before him!
Also, before his friends, how bold was he! for ever as they laid to his charge that he was an hypocrite, he repels them with the testimony of a good conscience; which good conscience he got, and kept, and maintained, by increasing in the fear of God; yea, his conscience was kept so good by this grace of fear, (for it was by that he eschewed evil), that it was common with him to appeal to God when accused, and also to put himself, for his clearing, under most bitter curses and imprecations.
Yea, let me add, if a man can, with a good conscience, say, that he desires to fear the name of God, it will add boldness to his soul in his approaches into the presence of God. “O Lord,” said Nehemiah, “I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name,” Nehemiah 1:11.
He pleaded his desire of fearing the name of God as an argument with God to grant him his request; and the reason was, because God had promised before to bless them that fear him, both small and great. 11. Another motive to stir you up to fear the Lord, and to grow in this fear, is: by it thou mayest have thy labors blessed to the saving of the souls of others. It is said of Levi, (of whom mention was made before that he feared God, and was afraid before his name), that he saved others from their sins. “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: and he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity,” Malachi 2:6.
The fear of God that dwelt in his heart, showed its growth in the sanctifying of the Lord by his life and words; and the Lord also blessed this his growth herein, by blessing his labors to the saving of his neighbors.
Wouldst thou save thy husband, thy wife, thy children? then be greatly in the fear of God. This Peter teaches: “Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear,” 1 Peter 3:1,2.
So, then, if wives and children, yea, if husbands, wives, children, servants, etc., did but better observe this general rule of Peter, namely, of letting their whole conversation be coupled with fear, they might be made instruments in God’s hand of much more good than they are. But the misery is, the fear of God is wanting in actions, and that is the cause that so little good is done by those that profess. It is not a conversation that is coupled with a profession, for a great profession may be attended with a life that is not good, but scandalous; but it is a conversation coupled with the fear of God, that is, with the impressions of the fear of God upon it, which is convincing, and which ministereth the awakenings of God to the conscience, in order to saving the unbeliever. Oh, they are a sweet couple, namely, a Christian conversation coupled with fear.
The want of this fear of God is that which oftentimes has been a stumbling block to the blind. Alas, the world will not be convinced by your talk, by your notions, and by the great profession that you make, if they see not therewith mixed the lively impressions of the fear of God; but will, as I said, rather stumble and fall, even at your conversation, and at your profession itself. Wherefore, to prevent this mischief, that is, of stumbling of souls while you make your profession of God, by a conversation not becoming your profession, God bids you fear him; implying, that a good conversation, coupled with fear, delivers the blind world from those falls that otherwise they cannot be delivered from. “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord,” Leviticus 19:14. “But shalt far thy God.” That is the remedy that will prevent their stumbling at you, at what else soever they stumble. Wherefore Paul says to Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee,” 1 Timothy 4:16. 12. Another motive to fear, and to grow in this fear of God, is: this is the way to engage God to deliver thee from many outward dangers, whoever falls therein.
This is proved from the history of the Hebrew midwives. “The midwives,” says Moses, “feared God, and did not drown the men-children, as the king had commanded, but saved them alive.” And what follows? “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses,” Exodus 1:17,20,21; that is, he sheltered them, and caused them to be hid from the rage and fury of the king, and that perhaps in some of the houses of the Egyptians themselves; for why might not the midwives be there hid as well as was Moses, even in the king’s court?
And how many times are those that fear God said to be delivered, both by God and his holy angels, as I have already shown. 13. Another motive to fear, and to grow in this fear of God, is: this is the way to be delivered from errors and damnable opinions. There are some that perish in their righteousness; that is an error. There are some that perish in their wickedness; and that is an error also. Some, again, prolong their lives by their wickedness, and others are righteous over much; and also some are over wise: and all these are snares, and pits, and holes. But then, sayest thou, how shall I escape? Indeed, that is the question, and the Holy Ghost resolves it thus: “He that feareth God shall come forth of them all,” Ecclesiastes 7:18. 14. Another motive to fear, and to grow in this fear of God, is: such have leave, be they never so dark in their souls, to come boldly to Jesus Christ, and to trust in him for life. I told you before, that those that fear God have, in the general, a licence to trust in him; but now I tell you, and that in particular, that they, and they especially, may do it, and that though in the dark. You that sit in darkness, and have no light, if this grace of fear be alive in your hearts, you have this boldness: “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God,” Isaiah 50:10.
It is no small advantage, you know, when men have to deal in difficult matters, to have a patent or licence to deal: now, to trust in the Lord is a difficult thing, yet the best and most gainful of all. But then, some will say, since it is so difficult, how may we do without danger? Why the text gives a licence, a patent to those to trust in his name that have his fear in their hearts. “Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” 15. Another motive to fear, and to grow in the grace of fear, is: God will own and acknowledge such to be his, whoever he rejecteth. Yea, he will distinguish and separate them from all others in the day of his terrible judgments.
He will do with them as he did by those that sighed for the abominations that were done in the land, command the man that hath his inkhorn by his side to set a mark upon their foreheads, that they might not fall in that judgment with others.
So God says plainly of those that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name, that they should be written in his book: “A book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him,” Malachi 3:16,17.
Mark; he both acknowledges them for his, and also promises to spare them as a man would spare his own son. Yea, moreover, he will wrap them up as his chief jewels in the bundle of life. Thus much for the motives.
Having given you these motives to the duty of growing in this fear of God, before I leave this use, I will, in a few words, show you how you may grow in this fear of God. 1. First, then, if thou wouldst grow in this fear of God, learn aright to distinguish of fear in general. I mean, learn to distinguish between that fear that is godly, and that which in itself is indeed ungodly fear of God, and know them well the one from the other, lest the one, the fear that in itself indeed is ungodly, get the place, even the upper hand, of that which truly is godly fear. And remember the ungodly fear of God, is by God himself counted an enemy to him, and hurtful to his people, and is therefore most plentifully forbidden in the word. 2. If thou wouldst grow in this godly fear, learn rightly to distinguish it from that fear in particular that is godly but for a time; even from that fear that is wrought from the Spirit, as a Spirit of bondage. I say, learn to distinguish this from that, and also perfectly to know the bounds that God hath set to that fear that is wrought by the Spirit, as a Spirit of bondage; lest, instead of growing in the fear that is to abide with thy soul for ever, thou be overrun again with that first fear, which is to abide with thee but till the Spirit of adoption come. And that you may not only distinguish them one from the other, but also keep each in its due place and bounds, consider, in general, of what hath already been said upon this head, and, in particular, that the first fear is no more wrought by the Holy Spirit, but by the devil, to distress thee, and make thee to live, not like a son, but a slave. And for thy better help in this matter, know that God himself hath set bounds to this fear, and has concluded that after the Spirit of adoption is come, that other fear is wrought in thy heart by him no more.
Again; before I leave this, let me tell thee, that if thou dost not well bestir thee in this matter, this bondage fear, namely, that which is like it, though not wrought in thee by the Holy Ghost, will, by the management and subtilty of the devil, the author of it, haunt, disturb, and make thee live uncomfortably, and that while thou art an heir of God and his kingdom.
For though Christ will deliver thee indeed at last, thou having embraced him by faith, yet thy life will be full of trouble; and death, though Jesus hath abolished it, will be always a frightful object to thee, in all thy ways and thoughts, to break thy peace, and to make thee to draw thy loins heavily after him. 3. Wouldst thou grow in this godly fear? Then as thou shouldst learn to distinguish of fears, so thou shouldst make conscience of which to entertain and cherish. If God would have his fear, (and it is called his fear by way of eminency; “That his fear may be before you, that you sin not,” Exodus 20:20); I say, if God would have this his fear be with thee, then thou shouldst make conscience of this, and not so lightly give way to slavish fear as is common for Christians to do.
There is utterly a fault among Christians about this thing; that is, they make not that conscience of resisting slavish fear as they ought; they rather cherish and entertain it, and so weaken themselves and that fear which they ought to strengthen. And this is the reason that we so often lie struggling under the black and amazing thoughts that are engendered in our hearts by unbelief: for this fear nourisheth unbelief; that is, now it doth, namely, if we give way to it after the Spirit of adoption is come, and readily closeth with all the fiery darts of the wicked.
But Christians are ready to do with this fear as the horse does when the spur is set against his side, even lean to it until it entereth into his belly. We lean naturally to this fear, I mean, after God has done good to our souls: it is hard striving against it, because it has even our sense and feeling on its side.
But I say, if thou wouldst be a growing Christian, growing, I say, in the fear that is godly, in the fear that is always so; then make conscience of striving against the other, and against all these things that would bring thee back to it. Wherefore should I fear,” said David, “in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?” Psalm 49:5.
What! not fear in the day of evil? What! not when the iniquity of thy heels compasseth thee about? No, not then, says he; that is, not with that fear that would bring him again into bondage to the law; for he had received the Spirit of adoption before. Indeed, if ever a Christian has ground to give way to slavish fear, it is at these two times, namely, in the day of evil, and when the iniquity of his heels compasseth him about. But you see David would not then, no, not then, give way thereto; nor did he see reason why he should. “Wherefore should I?” said he. Wherefore, indeed! since now thou art become a son of God through Christ, and hast received the Spirit of his Son into thy heart, crying, Father, Father. 4. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of godly fear? then grow in the knowledge of the new covenant; for that is indeed the girdle of our reins, and the strength of our souls. Hear what Zacharias saith, “God hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began,” Luke 1:69,70.
But what was it that he spake? Why, “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life,” Luke 1:74,75.
Now, in this covenant is wrapped up all thy salvation; in it is contained all thy desire; and I am sure that then it containeth the complete salvation of thy soul; and, I say, since this covenant is confirmed by promise, by oath, and by the blood of the Son of God, and that on purpose that thou mightest serve thy God without slavish fear, then the knowledge and faith of this covenant are of absolute necessity to bring us into this liberty, and out of our slavish terrors, and so, consequently, to cause us to grow in that sonlike, godly fear, which became even the Son of God himself, and becomes all his disciples to live in the growth and exercise of. 5. Wouldst thou grow in this godly fear? then labor even always to keep thine evidences for heaven and of thy salvation alive upon thy heart; for he that loseth his evidences for heaven will hardly keep slavish fear out of his heart; but he that hath the wisdom and grace to keep them alive, and apparent to himself, will grow in this godly fear. See how David words it: “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name,” Psalm 61:2-5.
Mark a little. David doth, by these words, in the first place, suggest, that sometimes, to his thinking, he was as far off from his God as the ends of the earth are asunder, and that at such times he was subject to be overwhelmed, or afraid. Secondly, the way that he took at such times to help himself was, to cry to God to lead him again to Jesus Christ; “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” For, indeed, without faith in him, and the renewing of that faith, there can be no evidence for heaven made to appear unto the soul. This, therefore, he prays for first. Then he puts that faith into exercise, and that with respect to the time that was past, and also of the time that was to come. For the time past, says he, “Thou hast been a shelter to me, and a strong tower from the enemy;” and for the time to come he said, “I will abide in thy tabernacle;” that is, in thy Christ by faith, and in thy way of worship by love, for ever. And observe, he makes the believing remembrance of his first evidences for heaven the ground of this his cry and faith; “For thou,” says he, “O God, hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.” Thou has made me meet to be partaker of the mercy of thy chosen, and hast put me under the blessing of goodness wherewith thou hast blessed those that fear thee.
Thus you see how David, in his distresses, musters up his prayers, faith, and evidences for eternal life, that he might deliver himself from being overwhelmed, that is, with slavish fear, and that he might also abound in that sonlike fear of his fellow-brethren, which is not only comely with respect to our profession, but profitable to our souls. 6. Wouldst thou grow in this fear of God? then set before thine eyes the being and majesty of God; for that both begetteth, maintaineth, and increaseth this fear; and hence it is called the fear of God, that is, an holy and awful dread and reverence of his majesty: for the fear of God is to stand in awe of him, but how can that be done if we do not set him before us? And again; if we would fear him more, we must abide more in the sense and faith of his glorious majesty. Hence this fear and God’s name are so often put together: as, Fear God; Fear the Lord; Fear thy God; Do this in the fear of the Lord; and, Thou shalt fear thy God, I am the Lord.
For these words, “I am the Lord thy God,” and the like, are on purpose put in, not only to show us whom we should fear, but also to beget, maintain, and increase in us that fear that is due from us to that glorious and fearful name, the Lord our God. 7. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then keep always close to thy conscience the authority of the word; fear the commandment, as the commandment of a God both mighty and glorious, and as the commandment of a Father, both loving and pitiful. Let this commandment, I say, be always with thine eye, with thine ear, and with thine heart; for then thou wilt be taught, not only to fear, but to abound in the fear of the Lord.
Every grace is nourished by the word, and without it there is no thrift in the soul. 8. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then be much in the faith of the promise, of the promise that maketh over to thy soul an interest in God, by Christ, and of all good things. The promise naturally tendeth to increase in us the fear of the Lord, because this fear grows by goodness and mercy. “They shall fear the Lord and his goodness,” Hosea 3:5. Now, this goodness and mercy of God is wrapped up in, and made over to us by promise; for God gave it to Abraham by promise. Therefore, the faith and hope of the promise causeth this fear to grow in the soul. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1.
Perfect holiness in the fear of God; therefore that fear by the promise must needs grow mighty, for by, with, and in it, you see, holiness is perfected. 9. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then remember the judgments of God that have or shall certainly overtake those professors that have either been downright hypocrites, or else unwatchful Christians; for both these sorts partake of the judgments of God: the one, namely, the true Christian, for his unwatchfulness, for his correction; the other, namely, the hypocrite, for his hypocrisy, to his destruction. This is the way to make thee stand in awe, and to make thee tremble, and grow in the grace of fear before thy God.
Judgments! you may say; what judgments? Answer. Time would fail me here to tell thee of the judgments that sometimes overtake God’s people, and that always certainly overtake the hypocrite for his transgressions.
For those that attend God’s people, I would have thee look back to the place in this book where they are particularly touched upon.
And for those that attend the hypocrite, in general they are these:— Blindness of heart in this world; the death of their hope at the day of their death; and the damnation of their souls at the day of judgment.
The godly consideration of these things tend to make men grow in the fear of God. 10. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then study the excellences of the grace of fear, and what profit it yieldeth to those that have it; and labor to get thy heart into the love, both of the exercise of the grace itself, and also of the fruit it yieldeth; for a man hardly grows in the increase of any grace until his heart is united to it, and until it is made lovely in his eyes.
Now, the excellences of this grace of fear have also been discoursed of in this book before, where, by reading, thou shalt find the fruit it bears, and the promises that are annexed to it, which, because they are many, I refer thee also thither for thy instruction. 11. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then remember what a world of privileges do belong to those that fear the Lord, as also I have hinted; namely, that such shall not be hurt, shall want no good thing, shall be guarded by angels, and have a special licence, though in ever so dreadful plight, to trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon their God. 12. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then be much in prayer to God for abundance of the increase thereof. To fear God is that which is according to his will; and “if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us,” 1 John 5:14. Pray, therefore, that God would unite thy heart to fear his name; this is the way to grow in the grace of fear. 13. Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then devote thyself to it.
Devote myself to it, you will say; how is that? I answer, Why give thyself to it; addict thyself to it; solace thyself in the contemplation of God, and of a reverence of his name, and word, and worship; then wilt thou fear, and grow in this grace of fear.
And that I may yet be helpful to thee, I shall now give thee caution of those things that will, if way be given to them, hinder thy growth in this fear of God, the which, because they are very hurtful to the people of God, I would have thee be warned by them.
And they are these which follow: - (1) If thou wouldst grow in this grace of fear, take heed of an hard heart; for that will hinder thy growth in this grace. “Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” Isaiah 63:17, was a bitter complaint of the church heretofore; for it is not only the judgment that in itself is dreadful and sore to God’s people, but that which greatly hindereth the growth of this grace in the soul. A hard heart is but barren ground for any grace to grow in, especially for the grace of fear; there is but little of this fear where the heart indeed is hard, neither will there ever be much therein.
Now, if thou wouldst be kept from a hard heart, take heed of the beginnings of sin. Take heed, I say, of that, though it should be ever so small. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” 1 Corinthians 5:6. There is more in a little sin to harden than in a great deal of grace to soften. David’s look upon Bathsheba was, one would think, but a small matter; yet that beginning of sin contracted such hardness of heart in him, that it carried him almost beyond all fear of God. It carried him to commit lewdness with her, murder upon the body of Uriah, and to abundance of wicked dissimulation; which are things, I say, that have direct tendency to quench and destroy all fear of God in the soul.
Indeed, a hard heart is impenitent, and impenitence also makes the heart harder and harder. So that if impenitence be added to hardness of heart, or to the beginnings of sin, which makes it so, it will quickly be with that soul as is said of the house of Israel, “Thou refusedst to be ashamed,” Jeremiah 3:3.
If thou wouldst be rid of a hard heart, that great enemy to the growth of the grace of fear, be much with Christ upon the cross in thy meditations, for that is an excellent remedy against hardness of heart; a right sight of him, as he hanged there for thy sins, will dissolve thy heart into tears, and make it soft and tender. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn,” Zechariah 12:10.
Now, a soft, a tender, and broken heart is a fit place for the grace of fear to thrive in. (2) If thou wouldst have the grace of fear to grow in thy soul, take heed also of a prayerless heart, for that is not a place for this grace of fear to grow in. Hence, he that refraineth prayer is said to cast off fear. “Thou castest off fear,” said one of his friends to Job. But how did he do that?
Why, the next words show: “Thou restrainest prayer before God,” Job 15:4. Seest thou a professor that prayeth not? That man thrusteth the fear of God away from him. Seest thou a man that prays but little?
That man feareth God but little; for it is the praying soul, the man that is mighty in praying, that has an heart for the fear of God to grow in. Take heed, therefore, of a prayerless heart, if thou wouldst grow in this grace of the fear of God.
Prayer is as the pitcher that fetcheth water from the brook, therewith to water the herbs; break the pitcher, and it will fetch no water, and for want of water the garden withers. (3) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then take heed of a light and wanton heart; for neither is such a heart good ground for the fear of God to grow in. Wherefore it is said of Judah, that she “feared not, but went and played the harlot also,” Jeremiah 3:8. She was given to wantonness, and to be light, and vain, and so her fear of God decayed, Had Joseph been as wanton as his mistress, he had been as void of the fear of God as she; but he was of a sober, tender, godly, considerate spirit, therefore he grew in the fear of God. (4) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then take heed of a covetous heart; for neither is that good ground for this grace of fear to grow in. Therefore, this covetousness and the fear of God are as enemies, set the one in opposition to the other: “Such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness,” Exodus 18:21.
And the reason why covetousness is such an obstruction to the growth of this grace of fear, is because covetousness casteth those things out of the heart which alone can nourish this fear. It casteth out the word and love of God, without which no grace can grow in the soul. How then should the fear of God grow in a covetous heart? (5) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then take heed of an unbelieving heart; for an unbelieving heart is not good ground for this grace of fear to grow in. An unbelieving heart is called “an evil heart,” Hebrews 3:12, because from it flows all the wickedness that is committed in the world. Now, it is faith, or a believing heart, that nourisheth this fear of God, and not the other; and the reason is, for that faith brings God, heaven, and hell to the soul, and maketh it duly consider them all. This is, therefore, the means of fear, and that which will make it grow in the soul; but unbelief is a bane thereto. (6) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? Then take heed of a forgetful heart. Such a heart is not a heart where the grace of fear will flourish. “When I remember I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold on my flesh,” Job 21:6. Therefore take heed of forgetfulness; do not forget, but remember God, and his kindness, patience, and mercy to those that yet neither have grace nor special favor from him, and that will beget and nourish his fear in thy heart; but forgetfulness of this, or of any other of his judgments, is a great wound and weakening to this fear. When a man well remembers that God’s judgments are so great a deep and mystery, as indeed they are, that remembrance puts a man upon such considerations of God and of his judgments as to make him fear. Therefore, says Job, I am afraid of him: “Therefore am I troubled at his presence: when I consider, I am afraid of him,” Job 23:15: when I remember and consider of the wonderful depths of his judgments toward man. (7) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then take heed of a murmuring and repining heart; for that is not a heart for this grace of fear to grow in.
As, for instance, when men murmur and repine at God’s hand, at his dispensations, and at the judgments that overtake them, in their persons, estates, families, or relations, that their murmuring tendeth to destroy fear; for a murmuring spirit is such an one as seems to correct God, and to find fault with his dispensations; and where there is that, the heart is far from fear.
A murmuring spirit either comes from that wisdom that pretends to understand that there is a failure in the nature and execution of things, or from an envy and spite at the execution of them. Now, if murmurings arise from this pretended wisdom of the flesh, then, instead of fearing God, his actions are judged to be either rigid or ridiculous, which yet are done in judgment, truth, and righteousness. So then, a murmuring heart cannot be a good one for the fear of God to grow in; alas! the heart where that grows must be a soft one, as Job says, “God maketh my heart soft,” Job 23:16; and a heart that will stoop, and be silent at the most abstruse of all his judgments: “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it,” Psalm 39:9.
The heart in which this fear of God doth flourish, is such, that it bows, and is mute, if it can but copy the hand, wisdom, justice, or holiness of God in this or the other of his dispensations, and so stirs up the soul to fear before him. But if this murmuring ariseth from envy and spite, that looketh so like to the spirit of the devil, that nothing need be said to give conviction of the horrible wickedness of it. (8) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then take heed of a high and captious spirit; for that is not good ground for the fear of God to grow in; a meek and quiet spirit is the best, and there the fear of God will flourish most; therefore, Peter puts meekness and fear together, as being most suited in their nature and natural tendency one to another, 1 Peter 3:15.
Meekness of spirit is like that ground that hath depth of earth in it, in which things may take root and grow; but an high and captious spirit is like to the stony ground, where there is not depth of earth, and consequently where this grace of fear cannot grow. Therefore, take heed of this kind of spirit, if thou wouldst that the fear of God should grow in thy soul. (9) Wouldst thou grow in the grace of fear? then take heed of an envious heart; for that is not a good heart for the fear of God to grow in. “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long,” Proverbs 23:17.
To envy any is a sign of a bad spirit; and that man takes upon him, as I have already hinted, to be a controller and a judge, yea, and a malicious executioner too, and that of the fury that ariseth from his own lusts and revengeful spirit, upon, perhaps, the man that is more righteous than himself. But suppose he is a sinner that is the object of thine envy, why the text sets that envy in direct opposition to the fear of God: “Envy not sinners, but be thou in the fear of the Lord.” These two, therefore, namely, envy to sinners and fearing of God, are opposites. Thou canst not fear God and envy sinners too. And the reason is, because he that envieth a sinner hath forgotten himself that he is as bad, and how can he then fear God? He that envies sinners rejects his duty of blessing of those that curse, and praying for those that despitefully use us; and how can he that hath rejected this fear God? He that envieth sinners, therefore, cannot be of a good spirit, nor can the fear of God grow in his heart. (10) Wouldst thou grow in this grace of fear? then take heed of hardening thy heart at any time against convictions to particular duties, as to prayer, alms, self-denial, or the like. Take heed, also, of hardening thy heart when thou art under any judgments of God, as sickness, losses, crosses, or the like.
I bade you before to beware of a hard heart; but now I bid you beware of hardening your soft ones; for to harden the heart is to make it worse than it is, harder, more desperate, and bold against God than at the present it is.
Now, I say, if thou wouldst grow in this grace of fear, take heed of hardening thy heart, and especially of hardening it against convictions to good; for those convictions are sent of God, like seasonable showers of rain, to keep the tillage of thy heart in good order, that the grace of fear may grow therein; but this stifling of convictions makes the heart as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.
Therefore, happy is he that receiveth conviction, for so he doth keep in the fear of God, and that fear is thereby nourished in his soul; but cursed is he that doth otherwise. “Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief,” Proverbs 28:14.
III. I come now to a use of encouragement to those that are blessed with this grace of fear. The last text that was mentioned saith, “Happy is the man that feareth alway,” and so doth many more. Happy already, because blessed with this grace; and happy for time to come, because this grace shall abide and continue till the soul that hath it is brought unto the mansion-house of glory. “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” Jeremiah 32:40. Therefore, as he is saith, “Happy is he,” so it saith also, “It shall be well with them,” that is, in time to come: “It shall be well with them that fear God,” Ecclesiastes 8:12. Had God given thee all the world, yet cursed hadst thou been, if he had not given thee the fear of the Lord; for the fashion of this world is a fading thing, but he that feareth the Lord shall abide for ever and ever.
This, therefore, is the first thing that I would propound for thy encouragement, O thou man that fearest the Lord.
This grace will dwell in thy heart, for it is a new covenant grace, and will abide with thee for ever. it is sent to thee from God, not only to join thy heart unto him, but to keep thee from final apostasy: “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” Jeremiah 32:40. That thou mayst never forsake God is his design, therefore to keep thee from that wicked thing he hath put his fear in thy heart.
Many are the temptations, difficulties, snares, traps, trials, and troubles, that the people of God pass through in the world; but how shall they be kept, how shall they be delivered, and escape? Why, the answer is, the fear of God will keep them; “He that feareth God shall come forth of them all,” Ecclesiastes 7:18.
There are five things in this grace of fear that have a direct tendency in them to keep thee from final apostasy. 1. It is seated in the heart; and the heart is, as I may call it, the main fort in the mystical world, man. It is not placed in the head, as knowledge is; nor in the mouth, as utterance is; but in the heart, the seat of all. “I will put my fear in their heart.” If a king would keep a town secure to himself, let him be sure to man sufficiently the main fort thereof. If he have twenty thousand men well armed, if they lie scattered here and there, the town may be taken for all that; but if the main fort be well manned, then the town is more secure. What if a man had all the parts, yea, all the arts of men and angels, they would not keep the heart to God. But when the heart, this principal fort, is possessed with the fear of God, then he is safe, but not else. 2. As the heart in general, so the will in special, that chief and great faculty of the soul, is the principle that is actuated by this fear.
The will, which way that goes, all goes; if it be to heaven or hell. Now, the will, I say, is that main faculty that is governed by this fear that doth possess the soul, therefore, all is likely to go well with it.
This Samuel teacheth, where he saith, “If ye will fear the Lord,” Samuel 12:14. Fearing God is a voluntary act of the will, and that being so, the soul is kept from rebellion against the commandment, because by the will, where this fear of God is placed, and which it governeth, is led all the rest of the powers of the soul. In this will, then, is the fear of God placed, that this grace may the better be able to govern the soul, and so, by consequence, the whole man; for, as I said before, look what way the will goes, look what the will does, thither goes, and that does the whole man.
Man, when his will is alienated from God, is reckoned rebellious throughout, and that not without ground, for the will is the principal faculty of the soul as to obedience, and therefore things done without the will are as if they were not done at all. “The spirit is willing;” “If ye be willing;” “She hath done what she could,” and the like; by these and such like sayings, the goodness of the heart and action is judged, as to the subjective part thereof.
Now, this fear that we have been speaking of, is placed in the soul, and so, consequently, in the will, that the man may thereby the better be kept from final and damnable apostasy. 3. This fear, as I may say, even above every other grace, is God’s wellwisher; and hence it is called, as I also have shown you, his fear. As he also says, in the text mentioned before, “I will put my fear in their hearts.”
As if he should say, This fear is my special friend, it will subject and bow the soul, and the several faculties thereof, to my pleasure; it is my great favourite, and subdueth sinners to my pleasure. You shall rarely find faith, or repentance, or parts, go under such familiar characters as this blessed fear of the Lord doth. Of all the counsellors and mighties that David had, Hushi only was called the king’s friend: so of all the graces of the Spirit, this of the fear of God goes mostly, if not always, by the title of “my fear,” “God’s fear,” “his fear,” etc.
I told you before, if the king will keep a town, the main fort therein must be sufficiently manned; and now I will add, that if he have not to govern those men some trusty and special friend, such as Hushi was to David, he may find it lost when it should stand him in greatest stead. It a soul should be possessed with all things possible, yet if this fear of God be wanting, all other things will give place in time of rebellion, and the soul shall be found in, and under the conduct of hell, when it should stand up for God and his truth in the world. This fear of God is God’s special friend, and, therefore, it has given unto it the chief seat of the heart, the will, that the whole man may now be, and also be kept hereafter, in the subjection and obedience of the gospel. 4. This grace of fear is the softest and most tender of God’s honor of any other grace. It is that tender, sensible, and trembling grace that keeps the soul upon its continual watch. To keep a good watch is, you know, a wonderful safety to a place that is in continual danger because of the enemy.
A man cannot watch as he should, if he be destitute of fear; let him be confident, and he sleeps, he unadvisedly lets into the garrison those that should not come there. Israel’s fault, when they came to Canaan, was, that they made a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, namely, the Gibeonites, without asking counsel of God. But would they have done so, think you, if, at the same time, the fear of God had had its full play in the soul, in the army? No; they at that time forgot to fear. The grace of fear had not, at that time, its full stroke and sway among them. 5. This grace of fear is that which, as I may so say, first affects the hearts of saints with judgments, after we have sinned, and so is a beginning grace to bring again that to rights that by sin is put out of frame. Oh, it is a precious grace of God. I know what I say in this matter, and also where I had been long ago, through the power of my lusts, and the wiles of the devil, had it not been for the fear of God.
But, secondly, another encouragement for those that are blessed with this blessed grace of fear is this: this fear fails not to do this work for the soul, if there in truth, be it ever so small in measure. A little of this leaven leavens the whole lump. True, a little will not do, or help the soul to do those worthy exploits in the heart or life, as well as a bigger measure thereof; nor indeed can a little of any grace do that which a bigger measure will; but a little will preserve the soul from final apostasy, and deliver it into the arms of the Son of God at the final judgment. Wherefore, when he saith, “I will put my fear in their heart,” he says not, I will put so much of it there, such a quantity, or such a degree, but, “I will put my fear there.”
I speak not this in the least to tempt the godly man to be content with the least degree of the fear of God in his heart. True, men should be glad that God hath put even the least degree of this grace into their souls; but they should not be content therewith; they should earnestly covet more, pray for more, and use all lawful, that is, all the means of God’s appointing, that they may get more.
There are, as I have said, several degrees of this grace of fear, and our wisdom is, to grow in it, as in all other graces of the Spirit. The reasons why I have already shown you, and also the way to grow therein; but the least measure thereof will keep the soul from final apostasy. There are, as I have shown you, those that greatly fear the Lord, that fear exceedingly, and that fear him above many of their brethren; but the small in this grace are saved, as well as those that are great therein: “He will reward them that fear him, small and great,” Revelation 11:18.
This fear of the Lord is the pulse of the soul, and as some pulses beat stronger, some weaker, so is this grace of fear in the soul. Those that beat best are a sign of best life, but those that beat worst show that life is present: as long as the pulse beats we count not that the man is dead, though weak; and this fear, where it is, preserves to everlasting life. Pulses there are, also, that are intermitting, namely, such as have their times for a little; a little time to stop, and then beat again. True, these are dangerous pulses, but yet a sign of life. This fear of God, also, is sometimes like this intermitting pulse, with reference to the fear we speak of, when there is some obstruction by the workings of corruptions in the soul; I say some obstruction from and hindrance of the continual motion of this fear of God, yet none of these, though they are various, and some of them signs of weakness, are signs of death, but life. “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” Jeremiah 32:40.
But you may say, How shall I know that I fear God? Answer . If I should say that desires, true sincere desires to fear him, is fear itself, I should not say amiss; for although a desire to be or do so and so makes not a man to be, in temporal or natural things, what he desires to be; for a sick, or poor, or imprisoned man may desire to be well, to be rich, or to be at liberty, and yet be as they are, sick, poor, or in prison: yet, in spirituals, a man’s desire to be good, to believe, to love, to hope, and fear God, doth flow from the nature of grace itself.
I said before, that in temporals a man could not properly be said to be what he was not; yet a man, even in naturals or temporals, shows his love to that thing that he desires, whether it be health, riches, or liberty; and in spirituals, sincere desires, from love to this or that grace of God, flow from the root of the grace itself. “Thy servants, who desire to fear thy name,” Nehemiah 1:11. Nehemiah bore himself before God upon this, that he desired to fear his name.
And hence, again, it is said concerning true desires, “The desire of a man is his kindness,” Proverbs 19:22; for a man shows his heart, his love, his affections, and his delights, in his desires; and since the grace of the fear of God is a grace so pleasant in the sight of God, and of so sanctifying a nature in the soul where it is, a true sincere desire to be blessed with that grace must needs flow from some being of this grace in the soul already.
True desires are lower than higher acts of grace, but God will not overlook desires: “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city,” Hebrews 11:16.
Mark! they desire a country, and they shall have a city. At this low place, namely, sincere desires, God will meet the soul, and will tell him that he hath accepted of his desires, that his desires are his kindness, and flow from grace itself; “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him,” <19E519> Psalm 145:19. Therefore, desires are not rejected of God; but they would be if they did not flow from a principle of grace already in the soul; therefore, sincere desires to fear God, flow from grace already in the soul.
Therefore, since thou fearest God, and it is evident, by thy desires, that thou dost do so, thou art happy now in this thy fear, and shalt be happy for ever hereafter in the enjoyment of that which God, in another world, hath laid up for those that fear him. 3. Another encouragement for those that have this grace of fear is this: this grace can make that man that, in many other things, is not capable of serving God, serve him better than those that have all without it. Poor Christian man, thou hast scarcely been able to do any thing for God all thy days, but only to fear the Lord. Thou art no preacher, and so canst not do him service that way; thou art no rich man, and so canst not do him service without outward substance; thou art no wise man, and so canst not do any thing that way: but here is thy mercy, thou fearest God. Though thou canst not preach, thou canst fear God; though thou hast no bread to feed, nor fleece to clothe the poor, thou canst fear God. Oh, how blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, because this duty of fearing of God is an act of the mind, and may be done by the man that is destitute of all things but that holy and blessed mind!
Blessed, therefore, is that man, for God hath not laid the comfort of his people in the doing external duties, nor the salvation of their souls, but in believing, loving, and fearing God. Neither hath he laid these things in actions done in their health, nor in the due management of their most excellent parts, but in the receiving of Christ, and fear of God; the which, Christian, thou mayst do, and do acceptably, even though thou shouldst lie bed-ridden all thy days; thou mayst also be sick and believe, be sick and love, be sick and fear God, and so be a blessed man.
And here the poor Christian hath something to answer those that reproach him for his ignoble pedigree, and shortness of the glory of the wisdom of the world. True, may that may say, I was taken out of the dunghill, I was born in a base and low estate; but I fear God. I have no worldly greatness, nor excellency of natural parts; but I fear God.
When Obadiah met with Elijah, he gave him no worldly and fantastical compliment, nor did he glory in his promotion by Ahab, the king of Israel; but gravely, and after a gracious manner, said, “I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth,” 1 Kings 18:12. Also, when the mariners inquired of Jonah, saying, “What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?” this was the answer he gave them, “I am an Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land,” Jonah 1:8,9.
Indeed, this answer is the highest and most noble in the world, nor are there any, save a few, that in truth can thus express themselves, though other answers they have enough. Most can say, I have wisdom, or might, or riches, or friends, or health, or the like; these are common, and are greatly boasted in by most: but he is the man that feareth God, and he that can say, when they say to him, What art thou? “I thy servant fear the Lord;” he is the man of many, he is to be honored of men; though this, namely, that he feareth the Lord, is all that hath in this world. He hath the thing, the honor, the life, and glory which are lasting; his blessedness will abide when other men’s will be buried in the dust, in shame, and contempt.
Hypocrites! my last word is to you. The hypocrite is one that would appear to be that in men’s eyes that he is nothing of in God’s. Thou hypocrite! thou wouldst be esteemed to be one that loves and that fears God, but does not, I have this to say to thee; thy condition is damnable, because thou art an hypocrite, and seekest to deceive both God and man with guises, mask, shows, pretences, and thy formal, carnal, feigned subjection to the outside of statutes, laws, and commandments; but within thou art full of rottenness and all excess.
Hypocrite! be admonished that there is no obedience accepted of God where the heart is destitute of this grace of fear. Keeping the commandments is but one part of the duty of man, and Paul did that, even while he was an hypocrite. To “fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man,” Ecclesiastes 12:13. But to “fear God” the hypocrite cannot as an hypocrite do, and therefore, as such, cannot escape the damnation of hell.
Hypocrite! thou must fear God first, even before thou dost offer to meddle with the commandments, that is, as to the keeping of them. Indeed, thou shouldst read therein that thou mayst learn to fear the Lord; but yet, to “fear God” goes before the command to keep his commandments; and if thou dost not fear God first, thou transgresseth instead of keeping the commandments.
Hypocrite! this word, “Fear God,” is that which the hypocrite quite forgets, although it is that which sanctifies the whole duty of man; for this is that, and nothing without it, that can make a man sincere in his obedience. The hypocrite looks for applause abroad, and forgets that he is condemned at home; and both these he does because he wanteth the fear of God.
Hypocrite! be admonished that none of the privileges that are spoken of in the former part of the book belong to thee, because thou art an hypocrite; and if thou hope, thy hope shall be cut off; and if thou lean upon thy house, both thou and it shall fall into hell-fire. Triumph then; thy triumph is but for a while. Joy then; but “the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment,” Job 20:5.
Hypocrite! thou shouldst have chosen the fear of God, as thou hast chosen a profession without it; but thou hast cast off fear, because thou art an hypocrite; and because thou art such, thou shalt have the same measure that thou metest. God will cast thee off, because thou art an hypocrite. God hath prepared a fear for thee, because thou didst not choose the fear of God; and that fear shall come upon thee like desolation, and like an armed man, and shall swallow thee up, thou and all that thou art.
Hypocrite! read this text and tremble: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” Isaiah 33:14.
Hypocrite! thou art not under the fatherly protection of God, because thou art an hypocrite, and wantest his fear in thine heart. The eyes of the Lord are upon those that fear him, to deliver them; but the fearless man is left to the snare and wiles of the devil, to be caught therein and overcome, because he is destitute of the fear of God.
Hypocrite! God hath not intrusted thee with the least drachm of his saving grace, nor will he, because thou art an hypocrite. And as for what thou hast, thou hast stolen it, even every man of you from his neighbor; still pilfering out of their profession, even as Judas did out of the bag. Thou camest like a thief into thy profession, and like a thief thou shalt go out of the same.
Jesus Christ hath not counted thee faithful to commit to thee any of his jewels to keep, because thou fearest him not. He hath given his banner to those that fear him, that it may be displayed because of the truth.
Hypocrite! thou art not true to God, nor man, nor thine own soul, because thou art an hypocrite. How should the Lord put any trust in thee? Why should the saints look for any good from thee? Should God give thee his word, thou wilt sell it, should men commit their souls to thee, thou wilt destroy them, by making merchandise of them for thy own hypocritical designs. Yea, if the sun waxes hot, thou wilt throw all away, and not endure the heat, because thou art an hypocrite.