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former part of this chapter, contrasts their amazement with the holy assurance of the Christian. It is not the fear of the devils, who believe and tremble. It is not the fear of the criminal, who awaits in anxious suspense his dreaded doom. It is not the fear of the bondslave, who trembles at the lash of his owner, and shrinks from his hated presence. We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but we have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. It is a childlike, not a slavish, suspicious, or distrustful fear. It is a reverence of the same kind as that which an obedient child feels towards a beloved and honoured father, and which prompts him to obedience with cheerfulness and alacrity : whereas a servile fear produces in the heart an aversion from God, and invests his service with the character of drudgery. It is of a slavish fear that St. John is speaking, when he affirms that “there is no fear in love ; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment.” On the contrary, where this fear is predominant it casts out love. · In our conversation upon the things of heaven, it is meet that we cultivate this reverence and godly fear. There is, indeed, a superstitious fear, or more properly a distaste for the whole subject of religion, which constrains vot a few to observe a rigid silence on this topic in their ordinary
intercourse with society. They profess to regard religion as too solemn to form the subject of common conversation. How different were the feelings and the practice of the early Christians ! How different, too, the sentiments of those early saints of whom we read, 3 “ they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” If the soul be filled with the Spirit, the living spring will evince its presence by the outbreak of its streams; out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.
Nevertheless, in speculating upon divine topics, and propounding opinions upon heavenly things, there should be impressed upon our spirits the awful thought that there is One at hand who has an intuitive perception of the truth, where our minds are in perplexity; One to whom the profundities of human wisdom are but folly. A consideration such as this would stamp upon our observations the impress of humility and fear. When, especially, we involve the name of the Most High in our mutual discussions, there should be felt an inward reverence upon the mention of that name. It was the precept of the pious Beveridge, that we never take his sacred name into our lips without lifting up our hearts to him : and it was the well-known practice of one 5 eminent in the christian annals, to pause at the mention of his God. It was a good and pious saying of an ancient writer, that it is dangerous to speak even the truth concerning God. So rigidly has this godly fear been ever cultivated by the Jews, that in the formation of their numeral expressions they scrupulously avoid the combination of those letters which constitute the sacred name, and are on that account deemed improper for ordinary use. The sin of the blasphemer, recorded in Lev. xxiv. 11, they generally? interpret as the express mention of the name “ Jehovah." This veneration for the sacred name degenerates, indeed, with them into a base superstition: it is related 8 that they would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. Let Christians observe, in spirit and in truth, the reverence and godly fear implied in this circumspection. A few years only have
3 Mal. iii. 16.
* Sermon 98.
5 Boyle. 6 Periculosum est de Deo etiam vera dicere. Quoted by South, vol. iii. p. 221.
? Poli-Synopsis, in loco.
elapsed since a frequent topic of discussion among our religious circles was the nature of the blessed Jesus. The expressions which were then hazarded on either side were oftentimes pronounced in a strain so light and flippant as could not fail to horrify a reverential spirit. And it is a subject to be deeply deplored, that in so many of the hymns which are current in our nurseries, the infant is taught to lisp the Saviour's name in connexion with such epithets as utterly preclude all reverence for him whom it is revealed to us as the will of God“ that all men should honour, even as they honour the Father.” 9
A similar fear should also possess our souls in our perusal of the divine word. Let the truth be kept present before the mind that it is the word of God which we are submitting to our consideration, and it will effectually deter us from all rashness of conjecture in our interpretation of its statements ; nor shall we be tempted, for the support of a favourite system, to explain away its express declarations.
Once more; the fear of the Lord is a motive which will constrain the Christian to a ready obedience to his will. The title of Job is, “ a just man,and one that feared God.” But, as was before intimated, this fear must be distinguished from the
John v. 23.
dread which alone prompts the bondslave to his obedience. It is the obedience of the will which the Lord asks at our hands; not the obedience which is frequently rendered in a spirit of weari. ness and disgust. Some there are who feel constrained to yield homage to the Lord through a dread of the punishment which awaits the transgressor; heartily, however, do they wish that there was no God. They regard him as an austere taskmaster; they scrupulously inquire into the extent of the homage required at their hands; but his commandments they eye with jealousy and grief: his yoke is a burden to their spirit. How different the service of his saints! To them his judgments are “ sweeter than honey and the honeycomb ;" the experience of their souls is that “ in keeping of them,” in the very act of keeping them, “ there is great reward.”
We have now considered some of the particulars involved in the exhortation of our text. We have seen that our God is revealed as a consuming fire, and is proportionably to be feared by all who have not become the subjects of a saving conversion, whether they be the thoughtless and profane, or the unstable who habitually sin and repent day after day. We have seen that the fear of the Lord should actuate the true Christian in working out his salvation, lest he grieve the Holy Spirit and