« AnteriorContinuar »
singling them out to the conflict; and, when they give up themselves for lost, lying gasping for hope, scarcely at length are administered some few reviving comforts. It is with these, as it was with the children of Israel upon Sinai: first, they were astonished with a confused noise of thunder, the air full of lightning, the mountains all on a flame, and the earth trembling under them, before they heard that comfortable voice, in Exod. xx. 2. 7" am the Lord thy God: so is it with convinced sinners: God dischargeth his threatenings against them, that speak more dreadfully to them than a voice of thunder: he speaks to them out of the midst of flames, and every word scorcheth up their hearts; and, when they stand trembling and despairing, once at length they hear those reviving words, / am the Lord thy God. What hearts are there now, that such a dreadful mercy as this would not overawe? Those discoveries of God's love, that break in upon the soul in the midst of a doleful and gloomy night of despair and despondency, work naturally a sweet kind of terror and a shivering joy;
And that is the First Consideration. The dreadful method, that God takes to procure mercy for us, even by the death of his Son, and to apply mercy to us, even by the terrors of a convinced conscience, is a sufficient ground to affect our hearts with fear, though we stand fully possessed of his favour.
 Though God be our God; yet to consider, that it is possible to lose his favour and the sense of it, is enough to affect the heart with a holy fear, even of a Reconciled God.
It is true, God's original and fountain-love can never be dried up: Whom he loves, he loves unto the end: John xiii. 1. And my loving-kindness will L never utterly take away from him: Ps. Ixxxix. 33. But, yet, the streams of this fountain-love may be very much obstructed from flowing freely down upon us: though we shall never again be children of wrath, yet we may be children under wrath. Every presumptuous sin, which we commit, raiseth God's displeasure against us: he is angry with us, upon every more notorious and known sin, which we commit: and since, then, we are in danger every day of falling into gross and foul sins, and are kept only by his almighty and free grace from the worst, what cause have we to fear, lest we forfeit his favour and turn his displeasure against us! Yea, again, though we should be preserved from sin and continue in his love, yet we cannot assure ourselves that we shall continue in the sense and Comfortable apprehension of it: comfort is most arbitrary, and at God's free dispose; neither hath he engaged himself to bestow it upon any by any absolute promise: though now his lamp shines clearly upon thy tabernacle, and thou rejoicest in his smiles; yet how quickly may he wrap thee up in a dark night of desertion, and turn all thy songs into mourning! Thou, therefore, that art now assured that God is thy God, fear lest ere long thou mayest not think him to be so : certain thou art he is so now; yet, before it be long, possibly, through thy miscarriage, thou mayest not think him to be so: and it is all one, as to comfort or discomfort, whether God be thy God or not, if thou dost not apprehend him to be so, and therefore fear him.
 Every frown and stroke toucheth to the quick, that cometh from a Reconciled God and a Loving Father; and, therefore, the rather fear, because he is thy God.
Every little blow from a father strikes deeper and causeth more smart, than greater blows from other persons: others strike the body; but, when a loving father strikes, he wounds the heart. So is it here: the nearness of the relation betwixt God and us, puts an anguish and sting into every correction. As the Psalmist speaks in his own case, Ps. lv. 12, 13. It was not an enemy, that reproached me....neither was it he, that hated me....then could I have borne it...But it was thou, a friend, mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. These are sad accents. And so is it here: the blows of a sin-revenging God may indeed break the back; but the blows of a gracious and reconciled Father break the heart. Fear, therefore, lest, through some miscarriage of thine (and such miscarriages thou art every day guilty of) thou shouldest provoke thy God to lay some heavy stroke upon thee; which will be the more smart, from the aggravation that provoked love puts upon it.
And thus you see now, in these Three particulars, what ground there is from the consideration of God as our God, to enforce a holy fear of his divine majesty upon our hearts. He is our God; therefore fear him, because the way that he became ours is most dreadful: he is our God, as yet; fear lest we may not apprehend him so long: he is our God; therefore fear him, because every stroke and frown from a God in covenant comes with an aggravated smart and sting.
ii. Now this Holy Fear, as it is no enemy to Full Assurance, as I have shewed you, so neither, is It Any Way Prejudicial To
A MOST ARDENT LOVE OF GOD.
Filial love and filial fear are twins: but not such as Jacob and Esau, that strive to supplant one another. The pure flame of divine and heavenly love is like other flames: the higher it mounts, the more it vibrates and trembles.
Indeed St. John tells us, 1 John iv. 18. that perfect lovecasteth cut fear. It should seem then, that all fear of God is swallowed up in those hearts, that are once brought into a holy love. But the Apostle doth very well explain himself, in the reason that he gives of this assertion, in the next words: perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment in it.
Hence, therefore, we may distinguish of a Twofold Fear of God.
The one is tormenting; causing unquiet rollings and estuations in the heart, in a sad suspense of what our future and eternal state may prove: and this is slavish. Now this fear perfect love casts out and expels: for where divine loye is perfected in the soul, there are no more such suspenses, hesitations, and doubtings, what will become of it to eternity. Now by perfect love may be meant, either that state of perfection, to which we shall attain in glory, where our whole work to all eternity shall be to love and please God; or, else, that perfection, that consists in its sincerity in this life. If we take it for that perfection of love, that shall for ever burn in our hearts when we ourselves shall be made perfect; so, it is certain that it will cast out all tormenting fears: for, certainly, if, in heaven, hope itself shall be abolished, much more shall fear be abolished; for, there, every saint shall have much more than a full assurance, even a full fruition of glory, and they shall know themselves to be for ever confirmed in that blessed state which shall prevent all doubts and fears. If we understand it of that perfection of love, that we may attain to in this life, so also the strong and vigorous actings of love to God cast out all tormenting fears: it is not possible, that that soul, which actually loves God with a vigorous and most ardent affection, should, at the same time, be racked with distracting fears of hell and damnation; for it is the sense of God's love unto the soul, that draws from it reciprocal love again unto God: We love him, says the Apostle, because he first loved us: that is, as strong as our apprehensions are of God's love to us, so strong will our love be in its returns to God again: water riseth naturally as high as its spring; wherefore, the assurance of God's love, being the spring from whence our love flows, such as is our love, such will be our assurance also: if then our love be strong in its actings, it must needs cast out fear; because it flows from that assurance, with which tormenting fear is utterly inconsistent.
But there is another kind of fear, that is not tormenting: and that is an awful frame of heart, struck with reverential apprehensions of God's infinite majesty, and our own vileness and unworthiness: and this, perfect love doth not cast out; but it perfects this awful, sedate, calm fear of God. The angels and the glorified saints in heaven, whose love is so perfect, that it can neither admit of an increase nor abatement, yet stand in awe and fear of the terrible majesty of the Great God: the same infinite excellencies of the Divine Nature, that attract their love, do also excite their fear. See how the Prophet makes this an argument to fear God: Jer. x. 7. Who would not fear thee, 0 King of Saints? for, said he, in all the earth there is none like unto thee: one would rather think that God's unparalleled excellencies and perfections should be a motive to love: "Who would not love thee, O King of Saints, since there is none in all the earth like thee?" yea, but filial fear and filial love are of so near a kind and cognation, that they may well be Enforced by one and the same argument: Who would not fear thee ?....for, in all the earth, there is none like unto thee. This is the excellency of divine love: it is an attractive of love, and it is an excitement unto fear.
Well, then, though we have no chilling fear of a hot and scorching hell; yet let us have an awful, reverential fear of the glorious God, whose excellencies are such as cannot be matched, nor scarcely imitable by any in heaven or in earth.
iii. The Fear of God is Not Contrary To That Free Spirit Of
ADOPTION, WHICH WE RECEIVE IN OUR FIRST CONVERSION,
It may, perhaps, seem to some, that the Apostle opposeth them in Rom. viii. 15. Ye have not received the Spirit of Bondage again to fear; but.,..the Spirit of Adoption, whereby you cry Abba, Father.
To this I answer: That, by the Spirit of Bondage here, the Apostle means the legal work of the Holy Ghost in conviction, that is preparatory to conversion: which work, usually, is accompanied with dreadful terrors, apprehending God not as 8 reconciled Father, but as an incensed and severe Judge. Now, says the Apostle, ye have not received this Spirit df Bondage again thus to fear: this is not that fear, that the consideration of God, as your God and Reconciled Father, excited in you: this is not that fear, that the Apostle exhorts Christians unto; but an awful, reverential fear of God, whereby we should stand in awe of his dread majesty, so as to be preserved from whatever may be an offence to his purity. And if, in any night of desertion, it should happen that the hearts of true believers should be overwhelmed with dismal fears, apprehending God as enraged and incensed against them, standing in doubt of the goodness of their spiritual condition; if this seize upon them after they have had the Spirit of Adoption, let them know that this fear is not from a work of the Holy Ghost in them: they have not received the Spirit of Bondage again so to fear: it is not a work of the Holy Ghost to excite in them doubts and fears of their spiritual condition, after they have once had assurance of the goodness thereof; but it ariseth either from some ignorance, or from some sin that they have committed, that interposeth betwixt them and the clear sight of the discoveries of God's love.
Now for the better understanding of this place, because I judge it pertinent to my present purpose, I shall open it to you somewhat largely in these following particulars.
1. The preparatory work of Conversion is usually carried,on in the soul by Legal Fears and Terrors.
I call that a Legal Fear, that is wrought in the soul by the dread-threatenings and denunciations of the Law. The Law, if we take it in its native rigour, without the merciful qualification of Gospel-grace, thundered out nothing but execrations, wrath, and vengeance against every transgressor of it; representing God armed also with his almighty power to destroy them. This is that glass, that shewed them their old sins in most ugly shapes: now they see them stare ghastly upon their consciences, that before allured them: the scene is quite changed, and there are nothing but dreadful apparitions of death and hell fleeting now before them ; and God brandishing his flaming sword over them, ready to rive their hearts asunder. They, who lately were secure and fearless, now stand quaking under the fearful expectations of that fiery wrath and indignation, that they neither have hope to escape, nor yet have strength or patience to endure. This is that Legal Fear, which the curse and threatenings of the Law, when set home in their full acrimony, work in the hearts of convinced sinners. »