Master Sermon List
What is the Fear of the Lord?
by Thomas Watson
Having done with the frontispiece of the text, I begin, in the first place, with the character in general of the godly: they are fearers of God, "Those who feared the Lord". What fear is meant here? Considered negatively:
1. It is not meant of a natural fear, which is a tremor or palpitation of heart, occasioned by the approach of some imminent danger. "They are afraid of dangers on the road" (Eccles. 12:5).
2. It is not meant of a sinful fear, which is twofold:
A superstitious fear. A black cat crossing the path, is by some more dreaded than a harlot lying in the bed.
A carnal fear. This is the fever of the soul which sets it a shaking. He who is timorous, will be treacherous; he will decoy his friend, and deny his God. Three times in one chapter Christ cautions us against the fear of men, (Matthew 10:26-31). Aristotle says that the reason why the chameleon turns into so many colors, is through excessive fear.
Fear makes men change their religion as the chameleon does her colors!
A carnal fear is EXCRUCIATING, "fear has torment in it." (1 John 4:18).The Greek word for torment is sometimes put for hell (Matt. 25:46). Fear has hell in it.
A carnal fear is PERNICIOUS. It indisposes for duty. The disciples, under the power of fear, were fitter to flee than to pray, (Matthew 26:56), and it puts men upon sinful means to save themselves: "The fear of man brings a snare!" (Proverbs 29:25). What made Peter deny Christ, and Origen sprinkle incense before the idol-but fear?
Considered positively, the fear meant in the text is a divine fear, which is the reverencing and adoring of God's holiness, and the setting of ourselves always under his sacred inspection. The infinite distance between God and us causes this fear.
When God's glory began to shine out upon the Mount, Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake!" (Heb. 12:21). Such as approach God's presence with light feathery hearts, and worship him in a crude, careless manner-have none of this fear.
"Those who feared the Lord". In the words are two parts.
1. The Act-fear.
2. The Object-the Lord.
"Those who feared the Lord". The fear of God is the sum of all true true religion. "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ). Fear is the leading grace, the first seed which God sows in the heart. When a Christian can say little of faith, and perhaps nothing of assurance, yet he dares not deny that he fears God (Neh. 1:11). God is so great-that the Christian is afraid of displeasing him; and so good-that he is afraid of losing him.
Doctrine: It is an indispensable duty incumbent on Christians, to be fearers of God. "Fear God!" (Eccles. 5:7). "That you may fear the glorious and awesome name of the Lord your God!" (Deut. 28:58). This fear of God, is the very foundation of a saint. One can no more act as a Christian without the fear of God-than he can act as a man without reason. This holy fear is the fixed temper and complexion of the soul; this fear is not servile-but filial. There is a difference between fearing God, and being afraid of God. The godly fear God as a child does his father; the wicked are afraid of God as the prisoner is of the judge! This divine fear will appear admirable if you consider how it is mixed and interwoven with several of the graces.
1. The fear of God is mixed with LOVE (Psalm 145:19, 20)
The chaste spouse fears to displease her husband, because she loves him. There is a necessity that fear and love should be in conjunction. Love is as the sails to make swift the soul's motion; and fear is as the ballast to keep it steady in true religion. Love will be apt to grow wanton, unless it is counter-balanced with fear.
2. The fear of God is mixed with FAITH. "By faith Noah, moved with holy fear, prepared an ark" (Hebrews 11:7). When the soul looks either to God's holiness, or its own sinfulness-it fears. But it is a fear mixed with faith in Christ's merits; the soul trembles-yet trusts. Like a ship which lies at anchor, though it shakes with the wind, yet it is fixed at anchor. God in great wisdom couples these two graces of faith and fear. Fear preserves seriousness, faith preserves cheerfulness. Fear is as lead to the net-to keep a Christian from floating in presumption; and faith is as cork to the net-to keep him from sinking in despair.
3. The fear of God is mixed with PRUDENCE. He who fears God has the serpent's eye in the dove's head. He foresees and avoids those rocks upon which others run. "A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it." (Proverbs 22:3). Though divine fear does not make a person cowardly-it makes him cautious.
4. The fear of God is mixed with HOPE. "The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love" (Psalm 33:18). One would think that fear would destroy hope-but it nourishes it. Fear is to hope, as the oil to the lamp-it keeps it burning. The more we fear God's justice-the more we may hope in his mercy. Indeed, such as have no fear of God do sometimes hope-but it is not "good hope through grace" (2 Thess. 5:26). Sinners pretend to have the "helmet of hope" (1 Thess. 5:8)-but lack the "breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14).
5. The fear of God is mixed with INDUSTRY. "Noah, moved with holy fear, prepared an ark" (Hebrews 11:7). There is a carnal fear, which represents God as a severe Judge. This takes the soul off from duty, "I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground" (Matthew 25:25).
But there is also a fear of diligence. A Christian fears-and prays; fears-and repents. Fear quickens industry. The spouse, fearing lest the bridegroom should come before she is dressed, hastens and puts on her jewels, that she may be ready to meet him. Fear causes a watchful eye-and a working hand. Fear banishes sloth out of its diocese. "The greatest labor in true religion," says holy fear, "is far less than the least pain the damned feel in hell."