2. Besides, this glorious Majesty is himself present to behold his worshippers in their worshipping him. "When two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there." That is, gathered together to worship him, "I am there," says he. And so, again, he is said to walk "in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Rev 1:13). That is, in the churches, and that with a countenance like the sun, with a head and hair as white as snow, and with eyes like a flame of fire. This puts dread and fear into his service; and therefore his servants should serve him with fear.
3. Above all things, God is jealous of his worship and service. In all the ten words, he telleth us not anything of his being a jealous God, but in the second, which respecteth his worship (Exo 20). Look to yourselves therefore, both as to the matter and manner of your worship; "for I the Lord thy God," says he, "am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." This therefore doth also put dread and fear into the worship and service of God.
4. The judgments that sometimes God hath executed upon men for their want of godly fear, while they have been in his worship and service, put fear and dread upon his holy appointments. (1.) Nadab and Abihu were burned to death with fire from heaven, because they attempted to offer false fire upon God's altar, and the reason rendered why they were so served, was, because God will be sanctified in them that come nigh him (Lev 10:1-3). To sanctify his name is to let him be thy dread and thy fear, and to do nothing in his worship but what is well-pleasing to him. But because these men had not grace to do this, therefore they died before the Lord. (2.) Eli's sons, for want of this fear, when they ministered in the holy worship of God, were both slain in one day by the sword of the uncircumcised Philistines (see 1 Sam 2). (3.) Uzzah was smitten, and died before the Lord, for but an unadvised touching of the ark, when the men forsook it (1 Chron 13:9,10). (4.) Ananias and Sapphira his wife, for telling a lie in the church, when they were before God, were both stricken dead upon the place before them all, because they wanted the fear and dread of God's majesty, name, and service, when they came before him (Acts 5).
This therefore should teach us to conclude, that, next to God's nature and name, his service, his instituted worship, is the most dreadful thing under heaven. His name is upon his ordinances, his eye is upon the worshippers, and his wrath and judgment upon those that worship not in his fear. For this cause some of those at Corinth were by God himself cut off, and to others he has given the back, and will again be with them no more (1 Cor 11:27-32).
This also rebuketh three sorts of people.
[Three sorts of people rebuked.]
1. Such as regard not to worship God at all; be sure they have no reverence of his service, nor fear of his majesty before their eyes. Sinner, thou dost not come before the Lord to worship him; thou dost not bow before the high God; thou neither worshippest him in thy closet nor in the congregation of saints. The fury of the Lord and his indignation must in short time be poured out upon thee, and upon the families that call not upon his name (Psa 79:6; Jer 10:25).
2. This rebukes such as count it enough to present their body in the place where God is worshipped, not minding with what heart, or with what spirit they come thither. Some come into the worship of God to sleep there; some come thither to meet with their chapmen, and to get into the wicked fellowship of their vain companions. Some come thither to feed their lustful and adulterous eyes with the flattering beauty of their fellow-sinners. O what a sad account will these worshippers give, when they shall count for all this, and be damned for it, because they come not to worship the Lord with that fear of his name that became them to come in, when they presented themselves before him!
3. This also rebukes those that care not, so they worship, how they worship; how, where, or after what manner they worship God. Those, I mean, whose fear towards God "is taught by the precept of men." They are hypocrites; their worship also is vain, and a stink in the nostrils of God. "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid" (Isa 29:13,14; Matt 15:7-9; Mark 7:6,7). Thus I conclude this first thing, namely, that God is called our dread and fear.
OF THIS WORD FEAR AS IT IS TAKEN FOR THE WORD OF GOD.
I shall now come to the second thing, to wit, to the rule and director of our fear.
SECOND. But again, this word FEAR is sometimes to be taken for THE WORD, the written Word of God; for that also is, and ought to be, the rule and director of our fear. So David calls it in the nineteenth Psalm: "the fear of the Lord," saith he, "is clean, enduring for ever." 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." All these words have respect to the same thing, to wit, to the Word of God, jointly designing the glory of it. Among which phrases, as 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" (Psa 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" (Deut 6:4-7).
That also in the eleventh of 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 judge and smite the earth with the rod of his mouth. 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, 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 called the rule and director of our fear. For we know not 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 (Deut 6:1-3,24, 10:12, 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 Chron 34:26,27). Such also are the approved of God, let them be condemned by whomsoever: "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" (Isa 66:5).
Further, such shall be looked to, by God himself cared for, and watched over, that no distress, temptation, or affliction may overcome them and destroy them—"To this man will I look," saith God, "even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word." It is the same in substance with that in the same prophet in chapter 57: "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." 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 they were secured; but "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 (Exo 9:20-25).
If at any time the sins of a nation or church are discovered and bewailed, it is by them 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 they that would assist him in that matter, but they 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). They are such also that tremble at the Word that are best able to give counsel in the matters of God, for their judgment best suiteth with his mind and will: "Now therefore," said he, "let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the (strange) wives,—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.
First. 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 came to deliver their errand, 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, thus was he bid to say unto them, "Thus saith the Lord God"; "Thus saith the Lord God" (Eze 2:4, 3:11). This is the honour and majesty, then, that God hath put upon his written Word, and thus he hath done even of purpose, 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" (Hab 3:16). The word of a king is as the roaring of a lion; where the word of a king is, there is power. What is it, then, when God, the great God, shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem, whose voice shakes not only the 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," &c. (Psa 29).
Second. 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 a state eternal. This word, this law, these judgments, are they that we shall be disposed of by—"The word that I have spoken," says Christ, "it shall judge you (and so consequently dispose of you) 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 they at which we should tremble, and they by which we should have our fear of God guided and directed, for by them we are taught how to please him in everything?
Third. It is to be called a fearful Word, because of the truth and faithfulness of it. The Scriptures cannot be broken. Here they are called the Scriptures of truth, the true sayings of God, and also the fear of the Lord, for that every jot and tittle thereof is for ever settled in heaven, and stand more steadfast than doth the world—"Heaven and earth," saith Christ, "shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt 24:35). Those, therefore, that are favoured by the Word of God, those are favoured indeed, and that with the favour 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 is unalterable (Dan 10:21; Rev 19:9; Matt 24:35; Psa 119:89; John 10:35). 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 appeareth among us, and this let me say, that want of reverence of the Word is the ground of all 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" (Prov 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" (Psa 17:4). Therefore Solomon saith, "My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings; let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart; for they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh" (Prov 4:20-22). Now, if indeed thou wouldest reverence the Word of the Lord, and make it thy rule and director 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 damning of the souls of sinners. But to conclude this,
1. Know that those that have no 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 lust of their flesh, the 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?" (Jer 8:9). That there are such a people is evident, not only by their irregular lives, but by the manifest testimony of the Word. "As for the word of the Lord," said they to Jeremiah, "that thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee, but we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth" (Jer 44:16). 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" (Eccl 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 whatsoever 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 shouldest 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." The word which thou despisest still abideth to denounce its woe and judgment upon thee; and unless God will save such with the breath of his word—and it is hard trusting to that—they must never see his face with comfort (1 Sam 15:22,23; Num 26:9,10).
2. 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 them 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. "Whosoever," 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 the 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 promises it is concluded that their judgment now of a long time slumbereth not, and when it comes, it will devour them without remedy (2 Chron 36:15). If God, I say, hath put that reverence upon his Word as to call it the fear of the Lord, what will become of them 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.
OF SEVERAL SORTS OF FEAR OF GOD IN THE HEART OF THE CHILDREN OF MEN.
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 that is.
There is, I say, several sorts or kinds of fear in the hearts of the sons of men, I mean besides that fear of God that is intended in the text, and that accompanieth eternal life. I shall here make mention of three of them. FIRST. There is a fear of God that flows even from the light of nature. SECOND. There is a fear of God that flows from some of his dispensations to men, which yet is neither universal nor saving. THIRD. There is a fear of God in the heart of some men that 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, And,
FIRST. To the first, to wit, that there is a fear of God that flows even 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" (Gen 20:11). I thought verily that in this place men had stifled and choked that light of nature that is in them, at least so far forth 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, namely—
SECOND. To show that there is a fear of God that 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 these several particulars that follow—
First. There is a fear of God that causeth a continual grudging, discontent, and heart-risings against God 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 God 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 let fly 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 fear, but with that fear that made them let fly against God. This fear showed itself in them, even at the beginning of their voyage, 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 dishonour of God, and the anew making of them guilty of sin before him (Exo 14:11-13; Num 14:1-9). 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 towards 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" (Exo 23:27). "This day," says God, "will I begin to put the dread of thee, and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee" (Deut 2:25, 11:25).
Now this fear is also, as you here see, called anguish, and in another place, an 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," &c. (Exo 23:28). Now this fear, whether it be wrought by misapprehending 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.
Second. 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 these, and that fear that I spoke of just now—I speak now of such who through a sense of sin and of God's justice fly from him of 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 has said unto him, "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." 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" (Gen 3:10). Mind it, he had a fear of God, but it was not godly. It was not that that made him afterwards submit himself unto him; for that would have kept him from not departing from him, or else have brought him to him again, with 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 to do; 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 on Mount Sinai; as is evident, for it made them that they could neither abide his 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" (Heb 12:20). Wherefore 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 forbid and rebuke it as he did. "Fear not," said he, "for God is come to prove you"; they thought otherwise. "God," saith he, "is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces." Therefore that fear that 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 (Exo 20:18-20). 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 (vv 19-21).
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 of 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 too 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 him, "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 ease. 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." 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, says he, that is true, yet turn not aside, yet fear not with that fear that would make you so do (1 Sam 12:20). 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 fly 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 sets before the people another, to wit, the true fear of God; "fear the Lord," says he, "serve him—with all your heart" (v 24). And he giveth them this encouragement so to do, "for the Lord will not forsake his people." This ungodly fear is that which you read of in Isaiah 2, and 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.
Third. 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 they which dare not cast off the hearing, reading, and discourse 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, as I said, 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 one. 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 in a lazy manner at to-elbow 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 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 strawed." 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 endeavours to be doing of that which was pleasing in his sight (Luke 19:20; Matt 25:24, 25). 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 cannot 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 as they shun the devil, 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 vizard 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. But,
Fourth. 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, to wit, as the slothful servant, to receive a talent and hide it in the earth in a napkin, but they were an industrious people, they followed after the law of righteousness, 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. 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," 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 (Rev 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 fear, 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.
Fifth. 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 that you read of in the book of Kings 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," saith the text, "and served their own gods." And again, "So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images" (2 Kings 17). It was this fear also that put the Pharisees upon inventing so many traditions, as the washing of cups, and beds, and tables, and basins, with abundance of such other like gear, none knows the many dangers that an ungodly fear of God will drive a man into (Mark 7). 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 Pater-nosters, 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 offences, and raised again for our justification, 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 afflicted themselves, offend God, and grieve his people. Therefore, gentle reader, although my text doth bid that indeed thou shouldest fear God, yet it includeth not, nor accepteth of any fear; no, not of any [or every] fear of God. For there is, as you see, a fear of God that is ungodly, and that is to be shunned as their sin. 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.
THIRD. The third thing that I am to speak to is, that there is a fear of God in the heart 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 of this to you, I shall observe this method. First. I shall show you what this fear is. Second. I shall show you by whom or what this fear is wrought in the heart. Third. I shall show you what this fear doth in the soul. And, Fourth, I shall show you when this fear is to have an end.
First. 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, he 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 hath broken his holy law. This is the fear that made the three thousand cry out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" and that made the jailer cry out, and that with great trembling of soul, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 2, 16). The method of God is to kill and make alive, to smite and then heal; 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; 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 persecutest thou 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 that Ananias came to him to comfort him, and to preach unto him the forgiveness of sin (Acts 9). The fear therefore that now I call godly, it is that fear which is properly called the fear of eternal damnation for 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."—"He that believeth not is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him" (Mark 16:16; 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.
Second. 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 insinuateth, saying, "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear" (Rom 8:15). 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 their 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" (Rom 3:20). And he, in this his working, is properly called a spirit of bondage.
1. Because by the law he shows us that indeed we are in bondage to the law, the devil, and 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.
2. 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 jailer 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 in HIS time held under it, as is that saying of the lamentation, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth" (Lam 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.
Third. I now come to show you what this fear doth in the soul. Now, although this godly fear is not to last always with us, as I shall further show you anon, 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.
1. This fear makes a man judge himself for sin, and to fall down before God with a broken mind 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 (Psa 51:1-4).
2. As this fear makes a man judge himself, and cast himself down at God's foot, 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," saying, "Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke," &c. (Jer 31:18,19).
3. This fear makes a man lie at God's foot, 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 now this yoke upon him; "he putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope" (Lam 3:28,29).
4. This fear puts a man upon crying to God for mercy, and that in most humble manner; now he sensibly cries, now he dejectedly cries, now he feels and cries, now he smarts and criest out, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13).
5. This fear makes a man that he cannot accept of that for support and succour 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 (Psa 51).
6. Therefore this fear goes not away until the Spirit of God doth change his ministration as to this particular, in leaving off to work now by the law, as afore, 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. 1. The soul feareth damnation, and that rightly, because it is in its sins. 2. The soul feareth damnation rightly, because it hath not faith in Christ, but is at present under the law. 3. The soul feareth damnation rightly now, because by sin, the law, and for want of faith, the wrath of God abideth on it. 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. Now we do not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, that is to say, to fear damnation, but we have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Father, Father. 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 a higher degree, and into a more sweet and gospel current and manner of working, but I mean 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,
[Reasons why the Spirit of God cannot work this ungodly fear.]
1. Because that the soul by closing through the promise, by the Spirit, with Jesus Christ, is removed off of 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; there is "therefore now no condemnation to it" (Acts 26:18; Rom 6:14, 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 his 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 Cor 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 as 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" (Eph 2:19-22).
Object. But this is contrary to my experience. Why, Christian, what is thy experience? Why, I was at first, as you have said, possessed with a fear of damnation, and so under the power of the spirit of bondage. 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.
Answ. 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, by 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 a spirit of bondage, worketh in the soul at first.
Quest. Can you give me further reason yet to convict me of the truth of what you say?
1. 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, hath given of his order of working with them. But he must do the first, if he saith to us—and that after we have received his own testimony, that we are under grace—that yet we are under sin, the law, and wrath.
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.
2. This is evident also, because the covenant in which now the soul is interested abideth, 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; and this, said he, "is all my salvation" (2 Sam 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 them 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 neighbour, 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 I will remember no more" (Heb 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.
3. The Spirit of God, after it has 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 fears; 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 upon mine own legs, in mine own sins, or performances; but in his glorious righteousness before him, and before his Father; but he will not cast away a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones; nor will he, that the Spirit of God should come as a spirit of bondage to put him into a grounded fear of damnation, that standeth complete before God in the righteousness of Christ; for that is an apparent contradiction.
Quest. But may it not come again as a spirit of bondage, to put me into my first fears for my good?
Answ. 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, also that we are without Christ, without the promise, without grace, and without God in the world; and yet this he must do if it 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.
[This ungodly fear wrought by the spirit of the devil.]
Quest. But by what spirit is it then that I am brought again into fears, even into the fears of damnation, and so into bondage?
Answ. By the spirit of the devil, who always labours to frustrate the faith, and hope, and comfort of the godly.
Quest. How doth that appear?
Answ. 1. By the groundlessness of such fears. 2. By the unseasonableness of them. 3. By the effects of them.
1. 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. He is called, justified, and has, for the truth of this his condition, received the evidence 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.
2. By the unseasonableness of them. This spirit always comes too late. It comes after the spirit of adoption is come. Satan is always for being 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"; and his lies are not known to saints more than in this, that he labours always to contradict the work and order of the Spirit of truth (John 8).
3. 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 the 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, to wit, 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 other, to wit, 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 part 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 them, 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 questions following.
[This fear driveth a man from God.]
Quest. 1. Do not these fears make thee question whether there was ever a work of grace wrought in thy soul? Answ. Yes, verily, that they do. Quest. 2. Do not these fears make thee question whether ever thy first fears were wrought by the Holy Spirit of God? Answ. Yes, verily, that they do. Quest. 3. Do not these fears make thee question whether ever thou hast had, indeed, any true comfort from the Word and Spirit of God? Answ. Yes, verily, that they do. Quest. 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? Answ. Yes, verily, that I do. Quest. 5. Do not these fears weaken thy heart in prayer? Answ. Yes, that they do. Quest. 6. Do not these fears keep thee back from laying hold of the promise of salvation by Jesus Christ? Answ. 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. Quest. 7. Do not these fears tend to the hardening of thy heart, and to the making of thee desperate? Answ. Yes, verily, that they do. Quest. 8. Do not these fears hinder thee from profiting in hearing or reading of the Word? Answ. Yes, verily, for still whatever I hear or read, I think nothing that is good belongs to me. Quest. 9. Do not these fears tend to the stirring up of blasphemies in thy heart against God? Answ. Yes, to the almost distracting of me. Quest. 10. Do not these fears make thee sometimes think, that it is in vain for thee to wait upon the Lord any longer? Answ. 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, prithee, 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 apparently from the spirit of the devil, for they are a lie in themselves, and their effects are sinful and devilish.
Object. But I had also such wickedness as those in my heart at my first awakening, and therefore, by your argument, neither should that be but from the devil.
Answ. 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 wast 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 anything whatsoever 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.
Object. 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.
Answ. 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 Tim 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, it is 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 fly 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" (Psa 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.
Sin, after that 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, saith she. "Doubtless thou art our Father" (Isa 63:16,17). Doubtless thou art, though this be our case, and though Israel should not acknowledge us for such.
That sin dissolveth not the relation of Father and son is further evident—"When the fulness 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, or] Father, Father." Now mark, "wherefore thou art no more a servant"; that is, no more under the law of death and damnation, "but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal 4:4-7).
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 offence, 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 everybody see the folly of such arguings? Why, of the same nature is that doctrine that saith, that after we have received the spirit of adoption, that 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—and "what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" 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," said 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." Yea, observe yet further, that God's chastising of his children for their sin, is a 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" (Heb 12). 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 them 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 colour 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, which rock is Jesus Christ, and that is a grievous sin indeed, yet, saith he, "Is not God thy Father that hath bought thee?" and then puts them upon considering the days of old (Deut 32:6). They 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?" (Jer 3:4). Remember also that eminent text made mention of in 1 Samuel 12:20, "Fear not; ye have done all this wickedness"; and labour 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 they 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 we 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, nor suffer sin to do it—that is, betwixt the Father and him—that will therefore say, I will live altogether after my own lusts, I will labour to be a continual grief to my Father?
[Considerations to prevent such temptations.]
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.
First. Though God cannot, will not, dissolve the relation which the spirit of adoption hath made betwixt the Father and the Son, for any sins 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 tell how to let snares be round about them, and sudden fear trouble them. He can tell how to send darkness that they may not see, and to let abundance of waters cover them (Job 22:10,11).
Second. 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 23:8,9, 34:29).
Third. 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," says Job, "and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth." By this also he once made David groan and pray against it as an insupportable affliction (Job 13:26; Psa 25:7).
Fourth. God can lay thee in the dungeon in chains, and roll a stone upon thee, he can make thy feet fast in the stocks, and make thee a gazing-stock to men and angels (Lam 3:7,53,55; Job 13:27; Nahum 3:6).
Fifth. 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 (Psa 51; Deut 28:24).
Sixth. God can tell how to fight against thee "with the sword of his mouth," and to make thee a butt for his arrows; and this is a dispensation most dreadful (Rev 2:16; Job 6:4; Psa 38:2-5).
Seventh. God can tell how so to bow thee down with guilt and distress that thou shalt in no wise be able to lift up thy head (Psa 40:12).
Eighth. 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 (Psa 51:8; Lam 3:4, 1:13; Psa 102:3; Job 30:30).
Ninth. God can tell how to lay thee aside, and make no use of thee as to any work for him in thy generation. He can throw thee aside "as a broken vessel" (Psa 31:12; Eze 44:10-13).
Tenth. God can tell how to kill thee, and to take thee away from the earth for thy sins (1 Cor 11:29-32).
Eleventh. God can tell how to plague thee in thy death, with great plagues, and of long continuance (Psa 78:45; Deut 28).
Twelfth. 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 nor night; yea, he can drive thee even to a madness with his chastisements for thy folly, and yet all shall be done by him to thee, as a father chastiseth his son (Deut 28:65-67).
Thirteenth. Further, God can tell how to tumble thee from off thy deathbed 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 them that behold thee. "Let us therefore fear," says 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" (Heb 4:1).
Now all this, and much more, can God do to his as a Father by his rod and fatherly rebukes; ah, who know 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.
Object. But I have sinned, and am under this high and mighty hand of God.
Answ. 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 again as a spirit of bondage, to put thee into such fears, lest unawares to thyself thou dost defy the devil, dishonour thy Father, overthrow good doctrine, and bring thyself into a double temptation.
Object. 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?
Answ. Nay, but why dost thou tempt the Lord thy God? Why dost thou sin and provoke the eyes of his glory? Why "doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" (Lam 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 Job's and David's complaints; yea, read what happened to his Son, his well-beloved, 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 shouldest 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; and to help thee here, let me give you a few instances of the carriages of some of the saints under some of the most heavy afflictions that they have met with for sin.
[Carriages of some of the saints under heavy afflictions for sin.]
First. Job was in great affliction and that, as he confessed, for sin, insomuch that he said God had set him for his mark to shoot at, and that he ran upon him like a giant, that he took him by the neck and shook him to pieces, and counted him for his enemy; that he hid his face from him, and that he could not tell where to find him; 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 the battle, "when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold." And again, when he was pressed upon by the tempter to think that God would kill him, he answers with greatest confidence, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 7:20, 13:15, 14:12, 16, 19:11, 23:8-10).
Second. 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" (Psa 51:8,9,12,14).
Third. 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 was casting off his soul, and had hid his face from him. 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" (Psa 88).
Fourth. 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" (Lam 1:5, 2:1,2,5, 3:7,8,16, 5:22, 3:24,31,58).
These things show, that God's people even after they have received the spirit of adoption, have 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 giving way to their first 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 that 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 bondage but once, and that once is before he comes 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.
[How the devil worketh these fears.]
1. Quest. But since it is as you say, how 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?
Answ. 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 of 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 of wrong constructions on the rod, and chastising hand of God. Or, 11. By charging upon us, that our ill behaviours 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 other like these, Satan, I say, Satan bringeth the child of God, not only to the borders, but even into the bowels of the fears of damnation, after it hath received a blessed testimony of eternal life, and that by the Holy Spirit of adoption.
[The people of God should fear his rod.]
Quest. But would you not have the people of God stand in fear of his rod, and be afraid of his judgments?
Answ. Yes, and the more they are rightly afraid of them, the less and the seldomer will they come under them; for it is want of fear 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.
Quest. How is that?
Answ. 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, 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. This believed, maintains, or at least helps to maintain, in the heart, a son-like bowing under the rod. 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 (Micah 7:9; Lam 1:18; Psa 77:10-12; Lam 3:31-34).
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 showed; 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" (Lam 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.
[Five considerations to move to child-like fear.]
Quest. But have you yet any other considerations to move us to fear God with child-like fear?
Answ. I will in this place give you five. 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 law and commandments to read, that they may learn to fear him as a Father (Job 37:24; Eccl 3:14; Deut 17:18,19). 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; Fear him" (Luke 12:4,5). 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." "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord" (Jer 5:22, 23:24). 4. Consider that he is holy, and cannot look with liking upon the sins of his own people. Therefore, says Peter, be "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 persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." 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 wast worse in thy life than those that he left when he laid hold on thee. O 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, to wit, to put me in fear of damnation, and shall come, in the next place, to treat
OF THE GRACE OF FEAR MORE IMMEDIATELY INTENDED IN THE TEXT.
I shall now speak to this fear, which I call a lasting godly fear; first, by way of explication; by which I shall show, FIRST. How by the Scripture it is described. SECOND. I shall show you what this fear flows from. And then, THIRD. I shall also show you what doth flow from it.
[How this Fear is described by the Scripture.]
FIRST. For the first of these, to wit, how by the Scripture this fear is described; and that, First. More generally. Second. More particularly.
First. More generally.
1. It is called a grace, that is, a sweet and blessed work of the Spirit of grace, as he is given to the elect by God. Hence the apostle says, "let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear" (Heb 12:28). For as that fear that brings bondage is wrought in the soul by the Spirit as a spirit of bondage, so this fear, which is a fear that we have while we are in the liberty of sons, is wrought by him as he manifesteth to us our liberty; "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," that is, where he is as a spirit of adoption, setting the soul free from that bondage under which it was held by the same Spirit while he wrought as a spirit of bondage. Hence as he is called a spirit working bondage to fear, so he, as the Spirit of the Son and of adoption, is called "the Spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Isa 11:2). Because it is that Spirit of grace that is the author, animater, and maintainer of our filial fear, or of that fear that is son-like, and that subjecteth the elect unto God, his word, and ways; unto him, his word, and ways, as a Father.
2. This fear is called also the fear of God, not as that which is ungodly is, nor yet as that may be which is wrought by the Spirit as a spirit of bondage, but by way of eminency; to wit, as a dispensation of the grace of the gospel, and as a fruit of eternal love. "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jer 32:38-41).
3. This fear of God is called God's treasure, for it is one of his choice jewels, it is one of the rarities of heaven, "The fear of the Lord is his treasure" (Isa 33:6). And it may well go under such a title; for as treasure, so the fear of the Lord is not found in every corner. It is said all men have not faith, because that also is more precious than gold; the same is said about this fear—"There is no fear of God before their eyes"; that is, the greatest part of men are utterly destitute of this godly jewel, this treasure, the fear of the Lord. Poor vagrants, when they come straggling to a lord's house, may perhaps obtain some scraps and fragments, they may also obtain old shoes, and some sorry cast-off rags, but they get not any of his jewels, they may not touch his choicest treasure; that is kept for the children, and those that shall be his heirs. We may say the same also of this blessed grace of fear, which is called here God's treasure. It is only bestowed upon the elect, the heirs and children of the promise; all others are destitute of it, and so continue to death and judgment.
4. This grace of fear is that which maketh men excel and go beyond all men, in the account of God; it is that which beautifies a man, and prefers him above all other; "Hast thou," says God to Satan, "considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" (Job 1:8, 2:3). Mind it, "There is none like him, none alike him in the earth." I suppose he means either [that Job was the only most perfect and upright man] in those parts, or else he was the man that abounded in the fear of the Lord; none like him to fear the Lord, he only excelled others with respect to his reverencing of God, bowing before him, and sincerely complying with his will; and therefore is counted the excellent man. It is not the knowledge of the will of God, but our sincere complying therewith, that proveth we fear the Lord; and it is our so doing that putteth upon us the note of excelling; hereby appears our perfection, herein is manifest our uprightness. A perfect and an upright man is one that feareth God, and that because he escheweth evil. Therefore this grace of fear is that without which no part or piece of service which we do to God, can be accepted of him. It is, as I may call it, the salt of the covenant, which seasoneth the heart, and therefore must not be lacking there; it is also that which salteth, or seasoneth all our doings, and therefore must not be lacking in any of them (Lev 2:13).