Rev. Smit is pastor of the Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

When explaining how Psalm 119:161 teaches us to read and study Scripture, the Reformer Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) wrote:

I would advise you all, that come to the reading or hearing of this book, which is the Word of God, the most precious jewel…, that ye bring with you the fear of God, and that ye do it with all due reverence, and use your knowledge thereof, not to vain glory or frivolous disputation, but to the honour of God, increase of virtue, and edification both of yourselves and others.¹

For his allegiance to Scripture above all and for his Reformed convictions, Thomas Cranmer was persecuted and finally burned at the stake in 1556 during the reign of Queen (Bloody) Mary of England. Cranmer lived and died in the truth of Psalm 119:161, “Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.”

As many of us have begun another season of formal Bible study, we do well to prepare ourselves to read and study Scripture with the same holy awe.

An awe of God’s Word stands upon the foundation of the truth that the Word of God is His inspired Word. God breathed out His Word through sanctified men upon the printed page. God by His Spirit moved them to write down His Word exactly, word for word, until the whole of Scripture was finished when the book of Revelation was completed. The result of this wonder of divine inspiration over hundreds of years in the Old and New Testaments is that the Scriptures are entirely God’s Word. Because they are His Word, they are infallible, without mistakes and errors. Although the Scriptures were written down by God in human language through the hearts and hands of over forty human writers, the Scriptures remain God’s Word.

This means that Scripture is not the product of the cooperative efforts of God and man, nor the response of man to his encounter with God. God did not merely give the general thoughts of Scripture to the writers and let them determine what Scripture would say. God did not inspire the Scriptures through many series of revisions and drafts because of the human factor or influence in Scripture. Rather, we believe that God breathed out His Word upon the pages of Scripture in the original languages completely, infallibly, and word for word. From beginning to end, the Scriptures bear the mark of divine authorship, which even to a physically blind believer is clearly perceived.

The result is that the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ and all the counsel of God in Him is perfectly revealed from beginning to end flawlessly and with an astounding unity. The glory of the Father in the Lord Jesus Christ is perfectly and fully revealed. Yes, when reading and studying our faithful translations of Scripture, we stand before the living Word of God, which shines forth with the glory of our Father in our Lord Jesus Christ. That glory shines forth in all the works of the Father revealed in Scripture, especially in our redemption and reconciliation unto Him in His covenant of grace by the atoning death of Christ. That glory shines forth from the beginning to the end of the Bible.

When the psalmist stood by faith before the glorious Word of God, he stood in awe!

This awe is a holy reverence and godly fear for the Word of God. It implies a deep love for the Word of God and a delight in the riches therein. Yet, in that love for the Word, there is no desire to bring down the Word from the high pedestal of honour and respect that the Word of God always deserves. There is in this awe a willing submission and obedience to Scripture’s authority and rule. Our awe of the Word willingly receives “…all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith….”² In awe of God’s Word, we willingly regard and revere Scripture as “…this infallible rule…,”³ which governs our life entirely.

In comparison, then, to all writings and authorities in the earth, the Scriptures occupy a place of supremacy in those hearts filled with true awe. As the believer stands in awe of the Word of God, he does not

…consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of persons, or councils, decrees, or statutes, of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all….4

That recognition of Scripture’s supremacy reveals itself in an obedience to the absolute authority of Scripture in all areas of life. The vital importance of this point has been stressed aptly by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema. He wrote:

Every thought must be in submission to the Scriptures, the only infallible rule. All our doctrine and our life must conform to that rule. It is the absolute authority. We must not come with outside evidences and philosophy and science in order to see whether we can make Scripture conform. It is the other way around. This principle is important for all the truth and life of the church.5

In Psalm 119:161 this unconditional awe of the child of God is placed in contrast to the persecution of mighty princes. For the psalmist, these princes of great authority troubled him and persecuted him because of his godliness and his allegiance to God and His Word. Although the temptation was to break loose from the yoke of Scripture and to give his allegiance to these princes in disobedience to God’s Word, yet the psalmist did not yield to that temptation. Instead, his awe of the Word of God remained steadfast. He would obey God and His Word, rather than men. By the grace of God, the Word of God reigned supreme in his heart and life.

Today, the child of God faces similar threats of temptation with respect to God’s Word. The believer is pressured to yield to the authority of the great princes of learning and philosophy. Professors of science claim greater authority than the Word of God on the origin and continuation of the creation. Such judge that the Bible no longer can speak authoritatively on the age of the creation and the length of time in which God created all things, but that scientists and academic learning can speak authoritatively on such matters. As a result, the only awe one may have of the Bible is one of a good respect, but not of unconditional submission before the Word.

Today, the believer is tempted by church theologians to approach Scripture with a higher critical attitude. We are tempted to approach Scripture as a judge and master, and not to approach Scripture as an unconditional servant and a lifelong student. Higher critics hold that Scripture is a human book by human authors with mistakes. The result for them is that Scripture has little or, in many cases, no authority. Where is the awe in such an approach to Scripture? Where in that attitude is the honour due the Word of God?

For the believer to resist such attitudes toward Scripture results in ridicule and persecution to one degree or another. For maintaining the infallibility of Scripture, the absolute authority of Scripture, the teaching of creation of all things in six 24-hour days, and other historic Reformed truths, one is called simple and old-fashioned. Such awe of Scripture is painted as bondage.

However, such is the present-day cost of maintaining a holy awe for God’s Word. The psalmist David himself felt the personal cost of maintaining a holy awe for God’s Word. King Saul persecuted him without a cause. Even though he was persecuted by the king, yet he revered and obeyed God’s Word. For example, when David twice had the opportunity to kill King Saul, David refused to do that because God had anointed Saul. David would not disobey God’s Word and commandment that they might not kill the Lord’s anointed. Even though an enduring awe of God’s Word meant more persecution and affliction for David, yet he remained in awe of God’s Word by God’s grace alone.

The cost for the believer to revere God’s Word unconditionally is great. For example, it may cost us jobs, prestige, recognition, and friendships. It may bring refusals for more Reformed evangelism mailings, biting criticism, and being shunned by family and relatives.

The cost for many believers has been great. This holy awe of God’s Word cost Thomas Cranmer his life through the horrible suffering of being burned at the stake.

This awe of God’s Word will cost the faithful people of God even more in the last days, as Christ has prophesied.

Does that mean that a holy awe of God’s Word is misery and bondage?

Scripture teaches that such a holy awe of God’s Word is a life of joy and peace. In Psalm 119:162 we read, “I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.” In Psalm 119:165, we read, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Therefore, approaching Scripture with a childlike reverence and fear, with an ardent love for the riches of God’s Word, and with great care in handling the precious jewel of Scripture is the blessed life of spiritual joy and peace.

Therefore, may our Father by His grace for Christ’s sake alone grant that as we come to Bible study with our Bibles, our hearts may be filled with an awe of His glorious Word.

¹ Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Peabody, MA: Hendrikson), vol. 3, p. 427

² Belgic Confession, Art. 5.

³ Belgic Confession, Art. 7.

4. Belgic Confession, Art. 7.

5. Homer C. Hoeksema, “In the Beginning God…” (Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1966), p. 26.