The Fear Of God
By John Gill (1697 – 1771)
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).
The fear of God has so great a concern in divine worship, that it is sometimes put for the whole of it, and a worshipper of God is frequently described in Scripture by one that fears Him. According to the wise man, the whole of religion lies in these two things, to “fear God, and keep His commandments.” And as worship itself is expressed by the fear of God, so the manner in which it is to be performed is directed to be in it and with it, for God is to be served “with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).
The Fear of God Is Manifested…
In an hatred of sin. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil...” (Prov. 8:13); “Abhor that which is evil...” (Rom. 12:9). A man that fears God, who has a reverential affection for Him, will hate evil as being contrary to Him. “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil...” (Psa. 97:10). Such a man will hate evil thoughts…evil words…evil actions…and all evil and false ways – in short, everything that is evil in its nature. As sin is in every shape exceeding sinful, a breach of the law of God, and contrary to His nature, that abominable thing His righteous soul hates, it is also hateful to a good man, to a man that fears the Lord.
It shows itself by departing from evil. “...By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil” (Prov. 16:6; 3:7), not only from open and public sins, but from private and secret ones. Yea, such an one will abstain from all appearance of evil, from everything that looks like it or leads unto it; will shun every avenue, every bypath, that has a tendency to ensnare into it, taking the wise man’s advice, “Enter not into the path of the wicked...” (Prov. 4:14-15).
The fear of God appears in men in not allowing themselves to do what others do, and what they themselves formerly did. So Nehemiah, speaking of some ill things done by former governors, says, “...So did not I, because of the fear of God” (Neh. 5:15). Not that such who fear God are without sin, but they cannot give themselves that liberty to sin that others do, and walk as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their minds, and in a sinful course of life. They have not so learned Christ, and the grace of God teaches them other things.
The fear of God manifests itself by a carefulness not to offend God nor man. Next to God, they are careful that they offend not against His children, either by word or deed, and even to put no stumbling block before any (Lev. 19:14).
The fear of God in men is seen by a constant attendance on the worship of God, and by a strict regard to His will and the observation of it. Such who fear the Lord cannot be easy in the neglect of the worship of God, but, as they desire to be filled with the knowledge of His will, so to be found in the practice of it; and like Zacharias and Elizabeth, to walk in all the ordinances and commands of the Lord blameless.
The fear of God is seen and known in men by their withholding nothing from God, though ever so dear unto them, whenever He requires of them. So Abraham, when he so readily offered up his son at the command of God, received this testimony from Him: “...Now I know,” saith the Lord, “that thou fearest God...” (Gen. 22:12).
The Springs and Causes of the Fear of God, or from Whence It Flows:
It is not from nature, nor is it in natural men. The want of it is a part of the description of corrupt nature, and of men in a natural state: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18).
It arises from the grace of God. It is a gift and grant of grace: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me...” (Deut. 5:29). None but God can give such a heart, and He has promised it in covenant. “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever.... I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me” (Jer. 32:39-40).
The Word and prayer are the means of attaining it. The fear of the Lord, as it is a duty, and expressive of worship, is to be learned. “Come, ye children, hearken unto me,” says David, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psa. 34:11). The law of God, and especially the whole of doctrine both legal and evangelical, is the means of learning it (Deut. 4:10; 17:19). But as a grace it is diligently sought after and earnestly importuned of God (Psa. 86:11; Prov. 2:3-5).
It is encouraged, promoted, and increased by fresh discoveries of the grace and goodness of God. They “shall fear the Lord and His goodness”; the goodness of God made known, bestowed, and applied greatly influences the fear of Him (Hos. 3:5) – especially an application of His pardoning grace and mercy. “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” (Psa. 130:4).
The Happiness of Those That Fear the Lord
With respect to things spiritual, much is promised to them that fear the Lord, and they are spoken of as most happy persons:
The Lord is said to take pleasure in them that fear Him, as having the utmost delight in them (Psa. 147:11).
They are accepted of Him and are acceptable to Him. “...Of a truth,” says Peter, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34-35). His person is accepted with Him in Christ the Beloved, and his sacrifices of prayer and praise are acceptable to Him through Jesus Christ.
The heart of God is towards them. He has sympathy and fellow feeling with them in all their distresses, trials, and exercises. In all their afflictions He is afflicted, and He comforts and supports them. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Psa. 103:13).
The eye of the Lord is upon them for good: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him...” (Psa. 33:18). Not only His eye of providence, which runs to and fro throughout the earth to show Himself strong on their behalf, to protect and defend them, and to avenge Himself on their enemies, but His eye of special love, grace, and mercy is upon them, and is never withdrawn from them, but is ever delighting in them and caring for them (Psa. 103:11, 17; Luke 1:50).
His hand is open and ready to communicate to them. He gives “meat unto them that fear Him” (Psa. 111:5), spiritual food, the blessings of His covenant, of which He is ever mindful. He gives the comforts of His Spirit in which they walk. He gives them grace, fresh and rich supplies of it, and at last gives them glory, and in the meanwhile withholds no good thing from them, to support their faith, encourage their hope, and engage their trust in Him and dependence on Him.
“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him...” (Psa. 25:14). The secrets of His heart’s love to them, and of His gracious designs towards them, are disclosed unto them, by which He uses them as His most intimate and bosom friends. And He will show them His covenant, the blessings and promises of it, and their interest in them. To [this] may be added that the Lord grants the requests and fulfils the desires of them that fear Him, hears their cries, and saves them (Psa. 145:19).
They are remembered by Him with the favor He bears to His own people, with His tender mercies and lovingkindness, which have been ever of old. He remembers them when in a low estate and brings them out of it. He remembers His promises to them, and fulfils them. “...A book of remembrance...” is said to be “written before Him for them that feared the Lord...” (Mal. 3:16).
It is promised to them that fear the name of the Lord that unto them “shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). Christ the Savior shall come and show Himself with a discovery and application of pardoning grace and mercy. Nay, one that fears the Lord, though he “walketh in darkness, and hath no light,” yet he is encouraged to “trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God” (Isa. 50:10).
“Salvation,” a fresh view of interest in it, a renewed application of it, as well as the full enjoyment of it, “is nigh them” that fear the Lord (Psa. 85:9).
Great and good things are laid up for such persons in the heart of God, in the covenant of grace, and in the hands of Christ, and in heaven – even a blessed hope, a crown of righteousness, and things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard of, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive of. “Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee...!” (Psa. 31:19).
– Adapted from A Body of Divinity. John Gill was an English Baptist pastor, Bible scholar and prolific author.