We rightly enjoin reverence for God but that does not sum up the content of the fear we should feel before him. His grandeur, his sovereignty, his unlimited capacities, his unerring judgments, his invincible purposes, amaze us. Just as we harness electricity, or use fire, for our comfort and convenience, yet approach them with caution, so too we approach the Lord mingling confidence with caution knowing that we come to the Infinite and Incomprehensible. We dare not presume nor offend. His “hugeness” is humbling, his loftiness lowers us, his determinations direct our destinies. We are midgets before his might, and it is not simply a question of dimensions, it is a recognition of quality. The Lord inherently possesses “extreme” excellence, a magnificence that terrifies us and fascinates us concurrently. There are no words adequate to describe him, but the submissive reader of Holy Scripture knows instinctively that God is to be feared in his “exaltedness, terribleness, and majesty”. There can be no way in which we approach him in an air of cockiness, casualness or chumminess. “That God is felt to be not simply the loving Father, not even simply as the Judge of sin, but by his nature a power before whom the creature cannot stand, by whom man must be annihilated, confirms the eternal reality of ‘that sense of God, characteristic of a Luther or a Pascal, which struggles on the edge of an abyss of despair’. A Christianity which had ceased to be aware of this ultimate fact of the opposition between God and his creatures, would have lost that note of absolute urgency without which the Gospel entrusted to it can never be other than unthinking and superficial” (Walther Eichrodt). Our generation, and several before it, has lost this necessary estimation of God. We trivialize everything to do with him and magnify ourselves, presenting ourselves to him with a sense of importance and entitlement and this attitude of the Church emboldens the unbelieving and blasphemous.
There is no doubt that the believer is to fear God in the usual and ordinary sense of the word, just as we fear any danger or threat of destruction. “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5). We are afraid of any harm to the body, or any injury that may be fatal. We are as ever watchful as we can be for our self preservation. To lose life is our greatest fear. But there is a greater fear to be aware of and that is to be cast into hell by he who has charge of our souls. It is with real fear that we are to regard God. But the fear of God constitutes our greatest consolation. In fearing him we need fear no other, however menacing, and in knowing him we enjoy the delectable love of the Almighty – the greatest Power that is, in whose embrace we are utterly safe. The dread is delightful because the One who is terrible in his being has declared himself for us in the doom of his Son upon the cross; we, who place ourselves in the care of the One who inspires total awe and deigns to receive us, wretched as we are, in the Beloved. Now this is grace! And it eliminates hopelessness. The One we fear announces himself as our friend. Accordingly, love and fear co-exist and we know the infinite value of mercy.
This fear removes the need for the manufactured fear of human invention or of Satanic suggestion. We fear One whom we may honour and trust, and worship the One who is worthy, for even base or misplaced fear is a kind of worship and the evil one is totally unworthy of any tribute. We fear the One who may cast into hell, but has sovereignly claimed us for heaven. We tremble at his majesty and are touched at his mercy, the perfect blend for authentic piety. We do not take him lightly or regard his benefits as cheap. To sentimentalize our faith is to create a fake. The incense of our adoration nowadays is sickly cinnamon. How effete Evangelicalism has become. Even too polite to counter error or name the false prophet. We’ve lost our nerve, our realism, and robustness in defending the cause of the Gospel, whilst permitting millions to be deceived.
The deceivers are preaching peace where there is no peace. They perpetrate a message of self esteem, denying the need for atonement and repentance, and propagating a false security in the fiction of Universalism. They ally themselves with a spirituality alien to Holy Scripture, and many openly deny its teaching (heed the warnings of Warren Smith a former “new ageist”). They do not warn their hearers that there is a possibility that they might perish and that their only hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ. How often the word “perish” is overlooked in John 3:16.
We do not require artificially produced horror when we have the human heart and plight to consider. Is the language of Anselm the language of our day? “My soul, my soul of lead, soul of a wretched homunculus (a small ill-formed person), throw off your torpor, lay bare your sin, stir up your mind. Take to heart the enormity of your sin, and roar with anguish. Miserable man, weigh the horror of your evil, roar out your horrified terror and your terrified anguish”. No wonder the one time Archbishop of Canterbury concentrated so heavily and relied so entirely on the fact of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, our only antidote to the fear engendered by our sin and the purity and punishments of God. Our neglect of the atonement, our spiritual complacency, is due to the absence of a healthy fear that drives us to complete dependence upon the undeserved, freely offered, compassion of God. Wisdom in the need and way of salvation begins with fear that curbs pride and procrastination. The essence of genuine godliness is granted by grace: That it may please thee to give us an heart to love and dread thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments. The Litany (1662).