[Editor’s Note: This is the text of an address delivered. at the annual meeting of the Reformed Free Publishing Association on Sept. 24, 1970 at the Southwest Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. This address will appear in two installments.].
Since, for the last sixteen, seventeen years, I have filled all the pages of the rubric, In His Fear, in theStandard Bearer, I will not take it ill of you if you I came here tonight with the thought in your minds that .I chose this subject of tonight’s speech. You would be wrong, however, if you took that position. The Board asked me to speak on this subject, and I can reveal to you that this very subject almost caused me to decline the honor and privilege of being your speaker tonight. When I read their letter and noticed that they were requesting me to speak on the subject, “The Standard Bearer and in His Fear,” I was rather sure in my mind that you were not interested in a sort of book review of all that which appeared in this rubric for the last twenty some years. That would neither be interesting nor edifying at a meeting such as this, even though the rubric does have its own history. What is more, the actions of rational-moral beings can be characterized as being in His fear or as being without that fear. And the Standard Bearer is not an action but a magazine, printed words upon pages of paper. How can it be in His fear? I asked myself.
However, before declining the position of being your speaker tonight I gave the matter more thought, and soon became aware of the fact that the actions that bring forth the Standard Bearer and that are connected with it can surely be characterized as being in His fear or as not being in it. And so I decided to speak to you tonight on this subject and to call your attention to the fact that the Standard Bearer is published in His fear; it is written in His fear; and it is read in His fear.
I. Published in His Fear
To understand and to appreciate the fact that theStandard Bearer is published in His fear we ought first of all to have clearly before our minds what it means to be in His fear. And to set forth the general principles of this fear of the Lord (There will not be time for a detailed treatment) let me state first of all that to fear the Lord is to know Him in His sovereign majesty. This is evident from the very expression, for it presents Him to us as Lord and teaches us that we are servants who must bow before Him, serve Him and worship Him. But it is also evident from the variations of this expression which appear, in the Old Testament, mole often than the phrase we use so consistently. Thus when we come across the expression for the first time in Genesis 20:11, Abraham says, in the original, “Surely the fear of Jehovah is not in this place.” A variation that also appears frequently is, “The fear of the Almighty.” Thus, this Lord Whom we fear is the almighty, sovereign, unchangeable, self-sufficient Lord of heaven and earth. All that majesty is declared in these names. But especially is this fact clearly made evident in what Solomon writes in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
There are three elements in this verse which we ought to note carefully. In this Hebrew parallelism Solomon equates the fear of the Lord with the knowledge of Him. They are one and the same. Then, too, this Lord he presents as the Holy One; and therein we have expressed most strongly the infinite majesty of God. For His holiness is not simply that He is completely cut off from all sin. That is our holiness through Christ. But God’s holiness is first of all His transcendent glory over all other beings whereby He is able to say alone and in truth, “I am God.” Thus, to sum up the matter as far as we have treated it, to fear the Lord is to be able to say in sincerity, “O, God, how great Thou art!” In the measure that we can say that, we are in His fear. For the third element in this verse to which we would call your attention is the fact that this knowledge is the knowledge of faith. To know the Holy One is to believe that He is the Holy One. And thus we say that to fear the Lord is to know Him in His majesty, that is, to believe that He is the majestic God which Scripture declares Him to be.
However we hasten to add that the fear of the Lord is to known Him in love. This also we learn from the pen of Solomon. For he writes in Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” And that simply means that the fear of the Lord is to love God. Compare this once withPsalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have they that do His commandments.” And what is doing God’s commandments but walking in love to Him? For the inner principle of the law is love to God. And this is an important distinction to make and to maintain. At times the ungodly are physically confronted with the evidence of that majesty of God; and they not only tremble (Which Satan also does according to James) but will call for the hills and mountains to cover them from before His sight. They do this hating the God Whose majesty they see and in this way know as a consuming fire! But the child of God loves God in that majesty, rejoices that He is so majestic, thinks that He is wonderful and wants no change at all in Him. This child of God also dreads nothing more, and considers nothing more awful, than to lose that covenant fellowship with this God.
Yes, the fear of the Lord is also to be afraid of sinning against Him. Anyone who knows God, truly knows Him, as the almighty, sovereign Holy One will be filled with the fear of being afraid to sin against such a God. That is also the testimony of Holy Writ. It certainly is true that the word fear in the expression is usually and correctly translated as reverence and awe; but it is also true that in some instances the word does mean to be afraid.Ezekiel 30:13 and Deuteronomy 2:25 are examples of this. And sometimes the phrase uses a word for fear that is often correctly translated as terror. Thus I Samuel 11:7. Besides, does not Paul tell us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling? And when you couple trembling with fear, it means fear in the sense of being afraid. When one knows God as the consuming fire of which Hebrews 12:29 speaks (and that in connection with reverence and godly fear) you will be afraid to sin against such a God.
And does not ail the sin from Adam’s downward exactly reveal a lack of that fear? Indeed, all sin stems forth from hatred against the living God. But it is also performed because man has lost his fear of God. When Satan’s lie deceived Adam into thinking that God was a different God than what He is, and that He need not be feared, Adam became bold to disobey Him. Pharaoh mouths this lack of fear when in Exodus 5:2he says to Moses, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?” And when we sin, is it not exactly because we are not living according to that knowledge of the Holy One that the new man possesses by virtue of the new birth? We dare to sin against this majestic God when we push aside that knowledge and faith which we have by virtue of the new life.
There is, however, one more general principle of that fear of God that must not remain unmentioned. It is to know God in His majesty. But it is also to know Him in His love, mercy and grace in Christ. It is to know Him in the forgiveness of our sins. It is to know Him in all the blessings of salvation. For this truth also we are indebted to Solomon, who writes in Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and His children shall have a place of refuge.” This is exactly so because the fear of the Lord means that we know Himfully, and then know Him as the Sovereign One, but also as the Saviour in Christ. And therefore to fear the Lord is also to be able sincerely to say, “O, God, how good Thou art!” And once again, in the measure that we can say that, we have the fear of the Lord.
(to be continued)