John Bunyan – A Treatise of the Fear of God

“BLESSED IS EVERY ONE THAT FEARETH THE LORD.” — PSALM 128:1

“FEAR GOD.” — REVELATION 14:7

This exhortation is not only found here in the text, but is in several other places of the Scripture pressed, and that with much vehemency, upon the children of men, as in Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1 Peter 1:17, &c. I shall not trouble you with a long preamble, or forespeech to the matter, nor shall I here so much as meddle with the context, but shall immediately fall upon the words themselves, and briefly treat of the fear of God. The text, you see, presenteth us with matter of greatest moment, to wit, with God, and with the fear of him.

First they present us with God, the true and living God, maker of the worlds, and upholder of all things by the word of his power: that incomprehensible majesty, in comparison of whom all nations are less than the drop of a bucket, and than the small dust of the balance. This is he that fills heaven and earth, and is everywhere present with the children of men, beholding the evil and the good; for he hath set his eyes upon all their ways.

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R. C. Sproul – What Does it Mean to Fear God?

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We need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. These distinctions can be helpful, but they can also be a little dangerous. When Luther struggled with that, he made this distinction, which has since become somewhat famous: He distinguished between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear.

The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a malicious master who would come with the whip and torment the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.

Luther distinguished between that and what he called filial fear, drawing from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.

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J. C. Ryle – Fear of Man’s Opinion

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“The fear of man” will indeed “prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25). It is terrible to observe the power which it has over most minds, and especially over the minds of the young. Few seem to have any opinions of their own, or to think for themselves. Like dead fish, they go with the stream and tide: what others think is right, they think is right; and what others call wrong, they call wrong too. There are not many original thinkers in the world. Most men are like sheep, they follow a leader. If it was the fashion of the day to be Roman Catholics, they would be Roman Catholics, if it was to be Islamic, they would be Islamic. They dread the idea of going against the current of the times. In a word, the opinion of the day becomes their religion, their creed, their Bible, and their God.

The thought, “What will my friends say or think of me?” nips many a good inclination in the bud. The fear of being looked at, laughed at, ridiculed, prevents many a good habit from being taken up. There are Bibles that would be read this very day, if the owners dared. They know they ought to read them, but they are afraid: “What will people say?” There are knees that would be bent in prayer this very night, but the fear of man forbids it: “What would my wife, my brother, my friend, my companion say, if they saw me praying?” Oh, what wretched slavery this is, and yet how common! “I was afraid of the people and so I gave into them,” Saul said to Samuel, “and so he violated the Lord’s command” (1 Samuel 15:24). “I am afraid of the Jews,” said Zedekiah, the graceless king of Judah: and so he disobeyed the advice which Jeremiah gave him (Jeremiah 38:19). Herod was afraid of what his guests would think of him: so he did that which made him “greatly distressed,” he beheaded John the Baptist. Pilate feared offending the Jews: so he did that which he knew in his conscience was unjust–he delivered up Jesus to be crucified. If this is not slavery, what is?

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Mike Ratliff – The Fruit of the Fear of God

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13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NASB)

The total lack of the fear of God is what marks the ungodly. (Romans 3:18) On the other hand, genuine believers in scripture are described as those who do fear Him. Tragically, when moral issues between professing Christians and the unchurched are compared there is very little difference. There is the same level of divorce, adultery, pornography, dishonesty; et cetera in both groups. This should not be so.

What is wrong? The sin level has risen in the visible Church because there is the same level of fear of God in it that the lost have. In other words, there is no fear of God before their eyes. They actually fear men more than God. This sad state of affairs in the Church actually parallels the apostasy of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 5 is the conclusion of God’s evaluation of His people, which began in Isaiah 2:1. In Chapter 5 God compares His people to a vineyard, which He cultivated, but which did not bear fruit.

1 Let me sing now for my well- beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well- beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
2 He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones. (Isaiah 5:1-2 NASB)

Isaiah is singing this song to the Lord whom he loves. Who owns the vineyard? God does! He placed it on a very fertile hill. That would be the planting of Israel in the Promised Land. However, on a spiritual level, He gave them His Law and sent them prophets. This signified in Him digging it and clearing it of stones. This is the planting of God’s truth within them. This truth shed light into the darkness removing the stones of confusion and the ways of men and of legalism and self-righteousness. God did everything possible to point the Israelites in the right direction via the Law and the prophets. There should have been good fruit, but instead there was only bad fruit from this vineyard.

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Wilhelmus A’Brakel – The Fear of God

Wilhelmus a Brakel The Word Fear Defined

Fear is either expressive of reverence or terror. Fear as terror is generally expressed by the Hebrew words magor, and pacadh, and by the Greek word phobos. Fear as being reverence is denominated in Hebrew as yirah, and in Greek as eulabeia. However, these words are occasionally also used without this distinction.

Fear issues forth from love—either for ourselves or for God. Self-love engenders fear when something occurs which could deprive us of something good or whereby some evil could befall us. We fear deprivation, or the evil itself, and whatever or whoever would deprive us of that which is good, or whereby evil could be inflicted upon us.

God has created self-love in man and wills that we make use of it. The law requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves (Mat 22:39). It is therefore not sinful to fear deprivation and evil. This fear was inherent in Adam’s nature prior to the fall, even though there was no occasion for this fear to arise in him. The Lord Jesus also had such fear (cf. Mat 26:37; Heb 5:7). One may indeed be fearful of death and other discomforts, and thus also of wild animals and evil men.

This fear becomes evil, however, if it begets the use of evil means—either to preserve or acquire that which is good, or to avoid evil. This is true if we fear man more than God and, in neglecting both the fear of God and obedience toward His commandments, we seek to get man on our side in sinful ways. We then give no heed as to whether we displease God; as long as we can please men in order that they will do us no evil, but good. “Do not fear not those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat 10:28).

Since we must have love for ourselves, and fear issues forth therefrom, we must have more fear for evil which relates to the soul than to the body. Since, the soul’s well or woe is dependent upon God, we must be fearful out of love for our own salvation, and must fear God’s judgments. “My flesh trembles for fear of You; and I am afraid of Your judgments” (Psalm 119:120). An unconverted person must also, by fear for the eternal wrath of God, be persuaded to believe (2 Cor. 5:11). A converted person must, for fear of spiritual harm, stir himself up to be earnest. “Let us therefore 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).

The Definition and Nature of Filial (godly) Fear

Filial fear is a holy inclination of the heart, generated by God in the hearts of His children, whereby they, out of reverence for God, take careful pains not to displease God, and earnestly endeavor to please Him in all things. It is a motion of the heart. The noble soul is gifted with emotions, and dependent upon what the objects are, is moved to either joy or sorrow, love or hatred, fear or fearlessness. As far as the fear of God is concerned, man is insensitive, hard, and without emotion. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). In regeneration, however, the heart of stone is removed and a heart of flesh is received, which is soft and pliable, and is very readily moved upon beholding God, dependent upon the measure in which God reveals Himself to the soul. If God is perceived as being majestic, a motion immediately arises within their soul—a motion which is befitting to the creature, in respect to God.

It is a holy motion. Since an unconverted person is in essence nothing but sin, also all that proceeds from him is distorted. The ability to fear is directed toward an erroneous object and is exercised in a disorderly fashion. Believers, however, having been sanctified in principle, are also sanctified as far as their inner motions are concerned. Their fear has a proper object and consequently functions in a holy manner, that is, in faith and love. They are devout and fear God (Act 10:2).

God generates this holy motion. By nature man is totally unfit for any good work. He finds no delight in God and has no desire to fear the Lord. He may be terrified of God, but he cannot fear Him rightly. However, God enables His own people to fear Him. “I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me” (Jer. 32:40).

The Holy Spirit is therefore called “the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).

This filial fear is found in the hearts of God’s children. The heart is the seat of all motions—evil as well as good. God has enclosed this precious gift in the hearts of His children, and all the motions relative to fear proceed from the heart. Their fear neither consists in talk, refraining from evil and doing good, nor in the appearance of fear—but rather in truth. The heart, intellect, will, and affections are involved here, and the heart brings forth various deeds which manifest the fear of God. Only God’s children truly fear the Lord, and therefore those who have this virtue are called God-fearing people. “…the same man was just and devout” (Luke 2:25); “…devout men” (Acts 2:5); “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial” (Act 8:2).

Filial fear is engendered by reverence for God. God is the object of this fear. “O fear the Lord, you His saints” (Psalm 34:9). God is eminent, glorious, and majestic within Himself—even if there were no creatures. “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty” (1 Chr. 29:11). Hereby God is awe-inspiring in and of Himself. With the advent of intelligent creatures who observe the brilliance of His glory, it cannot but be that they have reverence for Him, who is both infinite and majestic.

A natural man does not know God. Therefore he may be fearful of His judgments, for calamities, and sometimes may acknowledge God to be solemn (although he generally does not progress this far), but he cannot have reverence for Him. That is the privilege and blessedness of believers. A sinful person cannot tolerate God’s majesty. He would flee in terror from God, for He is to him a consuming fire. However, in Christ—God is a reconciled Father to His children, and therefore they simultaneously love and revere Him. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11).

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R. C. Sproul – Strange Fire

There is an incident in the biblical record that causes abiding consternation for many of God’s people. It is the story of how two of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, were slain suddenly by God.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev. 10:1–3)

Aaron, of course, was the older brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. God had consecrated Aaron and his sons to the holy vocation of the priesthood. It was in the context of their priestly service that two of Aaron’s four sons, Nadab and Abihu, each got a censer—a kind of vessel that was used in antiquity to contain the incense that was burned as an offering before God—put fire in them, put incense on them, and offered what the book of Leviticus calls “unauthorized fire.”

What is “unauthorized fire,” or, as it is rendered in other translations, “profane fire” or “strange fire”? We use the word profane to refer to that which is less than holy, but the word profane comes from the Latin profanus, which literally means “outside the temple.” So, in a literal sense, Moses, as the author of Leviticus, is saying that the fire that Nadab and Abihu introduced to the altar had not been purified or consecrated. For that, God took their lives.

On the surface, it seems that this was cruel and unusual punishment. These young priests clearly violated some prescription that God had set forth for the offering of incense in the holy place, but it may have been no more than a prank or a mischievous innovation. Was it really necessary for God to rebuke their action so decisively?

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