We began in our last article to discuss the important scriptural theme of the FEAR OF GOD. We showed how prevalent this theme is in the scriptures. We called attention to the fact that almost all true sense of the fear of God is gone from the modern Christianity we see around us. We emphasized that this is in no small measure due to the many current heretical notions of who and what God is. The God of modem day Christendom is not a God to be feared.
In discussions of what it means to fear God it has often been stated, and that rightly so, that scripture knows of two kinds of fear of God. There is the fear of terror and dread and the fear of holy reverence and awe. The one kind of fear of God causes man to flee from the presence of God with terror. It will make men in the last day cry unto the mountains to fall on them and to the hills to cover them from the wrath of God. The fear of awe and reverence draws men to God in the love of God. The fear of reverence and awe causes a man to desire ever more to be near unto God. That God fearing man earnestly longs to know ever more of His glorious majesty, perfect holiness, and blessedness. That fear causes him to desire earnestly to be pleasing unto God. It moves men to come to God in deep humility, acknowledging in great sorrow all their sins before Him and pleading for His mercy. It causes him by grace to strive against all sin and flee from it. The fear of reverence and awe causes men to bow in humble adoration and worship of God. The fear of terror is the fear that characterizes the ungodly man, the impenitent sinner who is filled with hatred against God. That man is altogether devoid of the fear of reverence and awe before God. The latter fear is characteristic only of the child of God; it is the fruit of grace in his life; it is the result of the fact that the love of God has been shed abroad in his heart.
In our present article we shall concentrate on the fear of God that is best described as the terror or dread of God. It is the terror and dread of the natural man as he is made consciously aware that God is the holy and righteous Judge of heaven and earth. It is the horror of the man who comes to understand that God is a terrible judge, that He is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of man’s heart and that He will righteously judge all of the thoughts and desires, the idle words and wicked deeds of man. It is the awful horror of the man who knows how terrible the consequences of his sin before the holy majesty of God are. He knows that the righteous and holy God will in perfect justice finally place him in the place of everlasting damnation, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, the place where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched, the place of outer darkness, complete separation from God. That terror is the cause of terrible anguish in men. Job speaks of this in Job 15:20-24: “The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor. A dreadful sound is in his ears; in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him. He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness, and he is waited for of the sword. He wandereth abroad for bread, saying, Where is it? he knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand. Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid; they shall prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle.”
God Himself will have men to know that terror and dread. He reveals His wrath from heaven against all the unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. He reveals His terrible judgments continually in the earth. He does not leave man without a testimony of that terror in their hearts and souls. He writes the work of the law in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another. Try as men will they cannot blot out the consciousness of that terror. By all sorts of means men try to blot it out. They make themselves busy with the things of this world. They occupy themselves in the revellings of sin and wickedness. But again and again that terror comes back to them.
God is indeed a terrifying God to the sinner. It was Adam and Eve who first came to know that, immediately after they had fallen into sin. Once they had known the blessedness of fellowship and covenant communion with God. They had greatly rejoiced at the voice of God in the garden as God came to walk and talk with them. In what is perhaps the most pathetic passage of all of the scriptures we are told what fear took hold on them after they had sinned. When they heard God now walking in the garden they hid themselves because they were afraid. They became terrified of the righteous and holy God because they knew how awful their sin was in His presence.
Ever since the fall men have been terrified by the presence of God. And surely for the ungodly sinner God is a terrifying God. How many witnesses of that do we have in scripture! Think of the terrible judgment of the flood whereby the Lord destroyed the entire world. Consider the awful judgment of fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Consider how the Lord in severe judgment first sent ten terrible plagues on Egypt and then drowned Pharaoh and all his hosts in the Red Sea. Think of the revelation of God to Israel on Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the law. There were thunderings and lightnings and the mountain shook and there was a thick cloud upon the mountain and the Lord spoke in a voice of a loud trumpet. The children of Israel became so terrified that they begged Moses that the Lord no longer speak with them directly but that He speak only to Moses. Think of the awful judgments of the Lord upon Israel in the wilderness. Think of the terrible judgment of the Lord upon Uzzah who touched the holy ark of the Lord. Think of the judgments of Nadab and Abihu. How often the prophets spoke of the terror of the Lord. “Therefore He hath poured upon him the fury of His anger, and the strength of battle; and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.” Isaiah 42:25 “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me; for I will tread them in my anger and trample them in my fury.” Isaiah 63:3 The Psalmist speaks of the anger of the Lord in Psalm 90:11: “Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear so is thy wrath.”
The New Testament speaks the same language. The writer of Hebrews writes, “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins but a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law-died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much greater punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again the Lord shall judge the people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:26-31
How awful it is that we hear today so many false prophets and heretics who are denying that God is a terrible God. The notion that God is a God of just and holy wrath against the sinner is heard very little in our day. Many would even seek to deny this by making a caricature of such a God. Just recently I heard a minister deny this by saying that God does not constantly go ranting and raving about heaven because of the sin of mankind. The vast majority of modem day preaching speaks about a God who loves all men and a God who is graciously disposed to all men. What an awful deception such preachers are propagating. How this kind of preaching causes men to think that God is pleased with them in spite of their continued impenitent wickedness. All the while the Lord is angry with the wicked every day and His curse is continually in the house of the wicked. Yet modern day preachers would lead men to believe that all is well, there is no need for fleeing from sin, there is no need for repentance because the Lord loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The scriptural teaching of hell is made the object of mockery and jest. More and more churches are teaching the heresy that scripture does not speak of an eternal hell, that such is completely out of harmony with a loving God. A Presbyterian minister in our area said recently, “One thing I know for certain, that God will surely not place any of His creatures in hell.”
The terror of the Lord must be declared in every place, by the preaching of the Word and by the testimony of the saints. It must be declared to all men, both to God’s people and to the ungodly. The ungodly must know the terror of the Lord that in the day of judgment they may be left without excuse. They must not be told the lie that God loves all men and is gracious to all men. They must be told that the holy and righteous God cannot and does not love the sinner, for that would be a denial of His very being as the Holy God. They must be told that the anger of the Lord is upon the wicked.
Scripture speaks in many places also of the terror of the Lord to God’s people. It has often been said that God’s people do not fear God with a fear of terror and dread. This is surely the teaching of the scriptures. The blessed gospel to the saints of God, to those who believe His word and repent from their sins and turn unto Him with all their heart is fear not. The love of God that is shed abroad in the hearts of the saints drives out fear. Yet this must not be misunderstood in the sense that the teaching of the terror of the Lord is not to be declared among the saints. Already in the garden of Eden there was a threat added to the command of obedience for Adam and Eve. They may not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that they would eat thereof they would surely die. Moses in his masterful discourse in the book of Deuteronomy told Israel over and over again to fear God and keep. His commandments and serve Him and they would be blessed in the land of promise. But to this he added over and over that if they would at all forget the Lord their God His anger would be kindled against them and He would destroy them as He had destroyed the heathen nations before them. The Psalmist speaks of the terror of the Lord in Psalm 90:11 saying: “Who knoweth the power of thine anger? seven according to thy fear so is thy wrath.” Because of this in the following verse he prays, “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” In connection with speaking of the cutting off of Israel the apostle Paul warns, “Be not highminded, but fear; For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.” Romans 11:20-21. Paul speaks of the terror of the Lord in connection with the urgency of the preaching of the gospel. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,” II Corinthians 5:11. The passage from Hebrews 10 quoted above is a very severe warning against those who would apostatize from the faith. Though the love of God has expelled terror from our hearts it is only the faithful and obedient child of God who is free from that terror. The terror of the Lord is used to keep us from disobedience and apostasy.