Monday, January 6, 2014

The Sweet Fear of the Lord Born of Love

The fear of God is rare nowadays. Teaching on it is scarce. And the living of it out is even more scarce. And, even where it is taught and where some try to live it out, perhaps it's often misunderstood.

The fear of God, whatever many might say of it, really does include the fear of God, and not just some sort of reverance or respect. There's a knee-knocking component to a true fear of the Lord. And given that it is the beginning of wisdom, and given that apart from it we cannot suppose ourselves to be participating in the faith once for all delivered to the saints, it behooves us to cultivate the fear of the Lord in our lives.

In order to cultivate the fear of God, one could do much worse than Buynan's Treatise on the Fear of God, from which I recently posted some instruction about where the fear of the Lord comes from. Today I want to focus on an important aspect of the fear of the Lord, with the help of Bunyan again, which I think some who focus on the fear of the Lord miss, but which is utterly essential for the fear to be healthy and biblical. And it is how the goodness, kindness, and love of God produce and shape that fear. Consider two points Bunyan makes in his treatise.

First, Bunyan says that this fear is a "son-like fear of God" that " flows from the distinguishing love of God to his elect" (56). That is, it is a filial fear born as each person is born into the world—that is to say, by the will of another. We didn't choose to be born into the world, nor do we choose to be born again unto a fear of the Lord. It is born of everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). Flowing from God's distinguishing, selective love for his own, the fear of God is placed within his children as a provision of the new covenant (Jer. 32:38-40). And so the covenant context of this fear, then, is divine love. It flows from God's fatherly particular love for his children. That love, therefore, must flavor the fear of the Lord as we seek to cultivate it. It is a sweet and pleasant fear.

Second, though there are many inducements for generating the fear of the Lord, there is one most potent. Buynan says it well, and I heartily agree with him, both because of the Bible's witness and because of experience. Referencing Ps. 130:3-4, he says:
This godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul. . . . Indeed nothing can lay a stronger obligation upon the heart to fear God, than sense of, or hope in mercy (Jer. 33:8-9). This begetteth true tenderness of heart, true godly softness of spirit; this truly endeareth the affections to God; and in this true tenderness, softness, and endearedness of affection to God, lieth the very essence of this fear of the Lord . . . (58).
Amen, Bunyan. This fear is my portion. It is a sweet and lovely and pleasant fear. And to it I want to submit sweetly all my days.

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