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feel least. That fear of theirs, which keep them from the gross acts of sins that others boldly rush into, shall likewise keep them from the sorest torments that others shall for ever suffer. · Answ. 4. This Slavish Fear is isagogical: that is, it is preparatory to and inductive of a Filial and Holy Fear of God.
We usually fear God, first, as a Revenging Judge; before we come to fear him with a reverential, filial fear, as a Reconciled Father. As the poet of old fabulously fansied, that the giants heaped mountain upon mountain, that they might scale heaven: this is true in Christianity: the way to climb heaven, is, by laying one mountain upon another, even Mount Sion upon Mount Sinai. Those, commonly, prove the most stable and stayed Christians, that have been most harassed by legal terrors, before they enjoyed the sense of comfort: for the structure of grace in the heart is quite contrary to other buildings: it stands firmest, when it is laid upon a shaking and trembling foundation : it is a seed, that never thrives so well, as where the heart is most broken up, and wherein the wrath of God hath made long and deep furrows.
To conclude this, methinks what hath already been spoken should fill the heart of every carnal wretch with fear: methinks this should make him cry out, with those sinners in Sion, Isa. xxxiii. 14. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire ? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? Can the Drunk. ard hear these things, and yet put his intemperate cups to his mouth with a steady hand? Can the Swearer hear these things, and yet his tongue move steady in his mouth, and not tremble when he raps out oaths ? Certainly, how secure and confident soever men may now be ; yet there is a time coming, when the wrath of God shall melt down their hearts like wax, in the midst of their bowels. Death is a thundering preacher; and it will make you fear the dreadful representations of that fiery indignation, that shortly it will display before your eyes in all its terrors. Oh! when your eyes shall swim in the night and in the dark, and it cannot be long first, when you shall meet with those dreadful shapes and visions of a flaming hell and a more flaming God, it will be too late then to fear; and, alas! it will be too late then to hope : God will then laugh at your calamity; and mock at you, when this unseasonable fear cometh. Be persuaded, therefore, to entertain a fear of God, at last ; though but a slayish fear: this is the preparation, that the Holy Ghost works in the heart, in order to a filial and a holy fear of God.
Use ii. Another Use, that we may make of this point, is this: IF GOD BE A CONSUMING FIRE, HOW HIGHLY DOTH IT CONÇERN US TO LOOK OUT FOR A SCREEN, THAT MAY FENCE US FROM THOSE EVERLASTING BURNINGS !
We are stubble and fuel, fully prepared : our sins have made us so; and, for us to stand it out against God, is no other than for dried stubble to challenge the devouring fire.
Now God, that he might not break forth upon us and destroy us, hath himself prepared a screen to hide and shelter us from this flaming wrath; and that is Christ, the Mediator. We have a lively type of this in Aaron : Numb. xvi. 48. when the rebellious Israelites mutinied against Moses, God did suddenly break forth upon them, and slew almost fifteen thousand of them dead upon the place : as fire runs on a train of powder, so did this wrath of God pass swiftly from one to another, till Aaron interposed and stopped it: there stood that mighty priest, as a bul. wark betwixt the living and the dead, and intercepted the rest from this destroying wrath; and, though it overwhelmed so many thousands, yet it could not bear down his powerful intercession: he alone was the fence and safeguard of a perishing people. Christ, upon the cross, maintains the same station; interposing betwixt the living and the dead: the wrath of God consumes all before it, that is not under the protection of that screen: there, it stops; and, though it seized fiercely upon him too, yet it never burnt through him to reach those that fled for security to that refuge set before them. In a general conflagration, even chaff and stubble may be secure, under the covert of an adamantine wall: though all the wicked of the world shall burn together, and all believers be in themselves as combustible matter as they; yet Christ interposeth as a wall of adamant betwixt stubble and stubble, and, when the wrath of God hath consumed the one, he stands and keeps off the impressions of it from the other, Indeed, there is a wall, that stands betwixt God and every wicked man; but it is a wall of partition, as the Apostle calls it, Eph. ji. 14. it is a wall, that separates them from the love and favour of God, and hides his face from them : a partition of dry and rotten boards may keep off the light and kindly influences of the sun; but it is no fence against the rage of fire, but rather increases and augments it: so, wicked men are separated from the love and favour of God by their sins ; Isa lix. 2. Your iniquities have separated between you and your God; yea, and they keep off his cherishing influences, but they .contribute to his fiery wrath. Now Christ is a wall of defence, that separates his from the wrath and indignation of God. A wall of crystal is a safe defence against the force of fire, yet is it no obstruction to the warm beams and cherishing light of the sun : such a crystal wall is Christ, that keeps off God's fiery indignation from us, but yet conveys to us the cherishing and reviving influences of his
Let me now persuade and prevail with you to betake your. selyes to this shelter. The same storm of fire and brimstone, that destroyed Sodom, hovers over all the wicked of the world; and we are as Lot, still lingering behind : let me therefore hasten you, as the angel did him, to your Zoar; to get under the protection of Christ, whither the fiery indignation of God cannot pursue you. In the former instance, when the Israelites saw so many of their fellows slain by an unperceived stroke, what running and crowding was there, think you, to get behind the priest! we are all in the same danger, but we have a more prevalent High Priest : there are thousands dying and perishing under the wrath of God; and shall not we then, with fear and trembling, press close behind our High Priest, that by him we may be hid from this consuming fire ?
Use iii. The next Use shall be, TO EXHORT YOU TO A HOLY FEAR AND REVERENCE OF THIS GREAT AND TERRIBLE GOD.
I lately gave you several considerations, enough to daunt the boldest sinners, and to bring them at least to a slavish fear: be persuaded now to advance it a degree higher, and to overawe your hearts with a holy, filial fear of God. It is the same exhortation, that Solomon gives us, Prov. xxiji. 17. Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long. This is a true Christian's frame; when, in all the affairs and actions of our lives, in what company soever we are, or whatever we are doing, the fear of God is still upon us ; when, in all our converse in the world, this fear of God doth still fill and possess our hearts.
I shall only give you a few particulars, and leave them to your serious consideration.
1. This Holy Fear of God will keep you from a Vain and Frothy Spirit.
The heart of man is the great receptacle of thoughts. The most part of them are light and feathery : they fly up and down as thick, and to as little purpose, as moats in a sun-beam. It is strange to observe, what a giddy thing the mind of man is: as an empty vessel rolls to and fro, and is tossed up and down by every wave, never sailing steadily; so is the vain mind of man driven by every foolish and impertinent thought, till the fear of God, that is, the ballast of the soul, poise it and make its course steady and even. Certainly, if any thing be of force to compose the heart into a sober, serious frame, it is the consideration of God's great and dreadful majesty; the fear of which will fill us with noble and substantial thoughts, how we may escape his wrath, and how we may secure to ourselves eternal happiness. These are important thoughts; and they ought to be our great and only care : that so we may approve ourselves to God; and be, at the Last Day, found of him in well-doing. Before the heart is ballasted with this fear of God, it runs after every va. grant thought, that comes cross us or fleets before us; as chil. dren run after every feather, that the wind drives : but the fear of God fixes this fleetiness, and brings the heart to a holy con, sistency and solidity in its thoughts. It is this fear that uniteth the heart : and therefore David prays, Ps. lxxxvi. 11. Unite my heart unto thee, that I may fear thy name.
2. The Fear of God is an excellent Preservative against all Şin,
Slavish fear may keep wicked men from committing gross and flagitious crimes : but this holy fear overawes the heart from secret and hidden sins; yea, from the sins of the heart, that none can see, but only God and a man's own conscience: and therefore it is said, Ps. xix. 9. The fear of the Lord is clean ; that is, it keeps the soul clean from the defilement of sin. There are defilements of two sorts : defilements of the flesh, when men wallow in gross and sensual sins; and defilements also of the spirit, and such are they that reside in the heart, and break not forth into outward act. From both these the fear of God cleanseth us: so, in 2 Cor. vii. 1. Let us cleanse ourselves, says the Apostle, from all filthiness both of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. And, indeed, wherever the fear of God is implanted, it will overawe us, as well from offending God in our thoughts as in our actions; and make us, that we shall be as afraid of sinning against him by unbelief and im, penitency, as by murder and blasphemy.
3. This holy Fear of God is a most sovereign Preservative against Hypocrisy.
What is hypocrisy, but a mocking of God to his face? It is a design to put a solemn cheat upon God. Certainly, where the fear of God overawes the heart, we shall not dare to abuse his holy and reverend name, as hypocrites do, in their making mention of him. When we speak of him with our lips, but never think of him with our hearts, this is to abuse the holy and reverend name of God;. and it is a sure argument that they stand in no dread of God, whose hearts meditate vanity with eyes and hands lifted up to heaven. Will any dare, in the presence of a prince, while they pretend reverence to him, to use antic gestures? Would not this justly be interpreted a contempt of him ? why all the religious gestures of hypocrites are but antic; and, while they move their lips in prayer without the corresponding motion of the heart, they do but make mouths at God; and how can they fear him, that are thus audacious to scoff at him? Yea, the Scripture sets it down as a remarkable matter, when hypocrites begin to fear God: Isa. xxxiii. 13, 14. Hear ye.....and acknowledge my might, says God: why? The sinners in Zion are afraid : fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. It is much easier to terrify and daunt profligate sinners, than gross hypocrites; because hypocrites, by often dallying with God, wear off all sense and dread of God, and arrive at length to a plain contempt and scorn of him. If therefore you would, in every duty, approve your hearts in sincerity unto God, nourish in you this holy fear of his majesty. This fear is that, which makes a. Christian single-hearted. And, as the Apostle commands servants, Col. iii. 22. to obey their masters not as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: so, where this holy fear of God possesseth the soul, it will cause all our obedience to be performed in the singleness and integrity of our hearts ; not so much to be seen of men, as to be accepted of God. It is a remarkable place, in Josh. xxiv. 14. Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity: the fear of God is of a mighty influence to sincerity, in all our services and performances that we render unto God: it is that, which will make the heart sincere in them: fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity.
4. This Holy Fear will put us upon all Endeavours to please God, and to gain favour with him.
This is the most natural effect of fear, to engage us to procure