CHAPTER 8 - THE FEAR OF GOD - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson

"THERE is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink." Such was the sad judgment upon life pronounced by one of the greatest of mankind. Philosopher and poet, philanthropist and statesman, and the kingliest king who ever wore a diadem, Solomon reasoned out the problem of life, and here was the conclusion he arrived at:
"There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink!"
But is there nothing better than this for a creature who is to live through death into an eternity beyond? Eternity! Here is the factor which changes the entire equation. And this affords the clue to the argument of the Book of Ecclesiastes - that wonderful treatise on the philosophy of life; so little read, so little understood. If the grave is to be the end of us, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." The wise man will turn from the works of his hands and the projects of his brain, for "under the sun all is vanity and vexation of spirit." But let the veil be raised which shuts in life within this narrow span; let man realise that he has a destiny and a hope beyond the world through which he is passing here, and that "God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil"; and, as "the conclusion of the whole matter," all that is worth living for in life will be summed up in one word: "Fear God and keep His commandments."
"Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in His commandments.
Let no-one turn away from this, as though it savoured of legality unworthy of our liberty in Christ. Many people seem to think that love has supplanted both obedience and the fear of the Lord. "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me," was the word of Christ. Not "the ten commandments" merely. It is not Sinai He is speaking of, but all that God has revealed to us. Indeed, the error I am dealing with is but a natural recoil from the perverse folly which insists on claiming for "the ten commandments" a place in the Christian dispensation which they never possessed, and which, in the very nature of things, they never could possess, in any dispensation. "Every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God" is for our life, and the "commandments" of the 112th Psalm and the 14th chapter of John include all the "words" that God has given us. "If a man love Me he will keep My words," the Lord repeated, and "he that loveth Me not keepeth not My sayings." Love turns the "words " - the "sayings " - of the Lord into commandments, and is eager to prove itself by keeping them.
But, it will be said, though love be consistent with commandments, surely it leaves no room for fear. And is not this the teaching of the Scripture which says: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment; he that feareth is not made perfect in love?" The error here involved is one of many which depend on putting too narrow a meaning upon words. This word fear covers the entire range of emotions, from the dread with which the lost will flee from an offended God, to the reverence with which a true wife regards a husband worthy of her affection.
The fear which springs from misgivings as to our relationships with God, or as to our fitness to approach Him, has no place in the heart which knows the love that has been revealed in Christ. But fear, rightly understood, is the essential characteristic of godliness in every age - holy fear which springs from a due appreciation alike of the mercies, and of the majesty, of God. It is not His greatness only that evokes it, but His grace. "There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared," was the utterance of a heart that revelled in the deepest, closest fellowship with God. So also when David recounts the greatness and perfectness of his salvation, he adds, "Many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in the Lord."
Indeed, the Psalms, abounding as they do with the highest and truest experience of hearts brought nigh to God, are full of the fear of the Lord. It is the homage faith delights to render; and in dark and apostate days it is thus that faith should declare itself. Profession was as loud in the time of Malachi as it is to-day: "They wearied the Lord with their words." And His sad demand to Israel might well be repeated now, "Where is Mine honour?" "Where is My fear?" "They fear not Me, saith the Lord of hosts." But in contrast with all this, "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." For "the Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him."
And then, before the prophet's voice became silent in Israel, there came forth the promise that was to cheer the true-hearted amid the ever-deepening gloom: "Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings." For centuries that word still lived in believing hearts, and when its near fulfillment was proclaimed to Mary it awoke the echo, "His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation." "From generation to generation"; yes, and on to an eternity to come, when saints redeemed from earth shall stand upon the sea of glass, and, with the harps of God, shall sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, "Who shall not fear Thee, 0 Lord, and glorify Thy name?"
"Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost" is the Divine record of the bright and happy days which followed the first persecution of the Church. "Perfecting holiness in the fear of God" is the Apostle Paul's description of the true effort and spirit of the Christian life. And when the Apostle Peter sums up in four brief precepts the whole of righteous and godly living, "Fear God" covers all that needs to be said to guide us as to the Godward aspect of our life. Nor can we forget the solemn exhortation: "We, receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire."
And is there not special need in the days we live in for "wholesome words" like these? Blatant profession, rather than godly living, is characteristic of the age. In other days, Christians were known as "God-fearing men," now, they are "believers," or "believers in Jesus," for thus the communism of the times delights to speak of "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." The lives of many give proof that the truth of the Lordship of Christ has almost died out from their hearts. The confession of His name ought to be the answer, rendered "with meekness and fear," to those who, taking notice of the life of the Christian, demand a reason for the hope that is in him.
The testimony of the lips ought to be the articulate expression of the testimony of the life. As Cyprian phrased it, the Christian should be all of a piece. But the fear of God is not the characteristic of the age. Hence the prevailing wildness of religious thought and religious practice. How many Christians there are who are coquetting with Ritualism, and the lies by which Priestcraft would decoy us back to mediaeval darkness! They leave God out of account, and seem to have no thought of the judgment-seat of Christ. Fear, we are told, belongs to a bygone dispensation, and is inconsistent with our position in Christ as sons. But what of the exhortation, "If ye call on the Father, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear"? In presence of the evils and dangers that beset them, the Philippians were enjoined to work out their deliverance "with fear and trembling."
(Phil. ii. 12. The use of the word "salvation" here is vetoed by the doctrines of grace. In Acts xxvii. 34, it was the deliverance of the crew from shipwreck that was promoted by their taking food; and in Phil. 1. 19, it was the deliverance of Paul as a prisoner that was promoted by the preaching of others. So here it was their deliverance from the perils that surrounded them that had to be "worked out." "Work out your own deliverance" must mean in contrast with some one else working it out for you. The Apostle could no longer shepherd them while he was in prison; and he thus appeals to them to act on the preceding exhortations of the Epistle. )
And if this spirit is right in regard to everyday life, it ought surely to mark our bearing and conduct in the things of God. Such was the spirit of the Apostle Paul, who knew and loved and served the Master as few besides have ever done. It was the spirit of the Master Himself. He was "the only-begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father," and yet when He prayed in Gethsemane "He fell on His face." And, more wonderful still, the Scripture tells us, "He was heard for His godly fear" ‘ - the very word of the exhortation to us, "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with godly fear and awe; for our God is a consuming fire."
"He fell on His face." The Christian who has never lain prostrate before God in prayer has but a poor sort of spiritual experience. The Christian who knows no other attitude must be a stranger to "the spirit of adoption." Some of us have learned to pray as Nehemiah prayed. While discharging the duties of his high office at the Persian Court, he lifted his heart to God without a gesture or even a look to indicate that he was praying. The Christian may pray as he passes along a busy street or sits at a dinner-table or in a railway carriage. The liberty of worship includes all this. And even in prayer of the most formal kind God will bear with bodily weakness. For He is ever ready to "pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God." But grace will teach us not to presume on this. When we see people lolling in their seats during public prayer, the question arises whether their attitude bespeaks the freedom of worshippers whose hearts are "stablished with grace," or an indifference begotten of failure to appreciate what is due to God.
The ceremonial which surrounds a king is very real; but how utterly trivial it is in comparison with the solemnities essential to access into the Divine presence. Yet in the infinite grace of God these dread solemnities, instead of being a fatal bar become an encouragement to our "drawing near." But what human nature makes an excuse for levity, grace will use to teach a deeper reverence.
The Lord Jesus "fell on His face and prayed, saying, 0, My Father." And it is "after this manner" that He bids us pray, "Our Father who art in heaven " - the same Father to whom He prayed. And yet there is a difference. Witness His words to His disciples: "I ascend," He said, not to our God and Father, but "unto My Father and your Father, My God and your God."
"Our Father." That sinful men should be allowed to address God thus in prayer is altogether amazing. The pagan devotee, as he lies in the dust before his idol, is not more spiritually blind and dead than is a professing Christian who has no sense of adoring wonder at the grace betokened by such access and such a thought. And yet there is a still higher thought and a still worthier access, and the Apostle rose to it when he penned the words, "I bow my knees unto THE FATHER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST."