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This is no ordinary or passing feeling. It is quite different from the sudden fear or momentary alarms which sometimes drive men to their knees to repeat prayers, or to the Bible to read a chapter of the Word, as a charm for quieting the conscience. It is an abiding frame of spirit. It may be described as being,
1. A spirit so impressed with eternal realities as to be solemn in dealing with them.
On account of the manifold temptations to judge and to act according to sight and not according to faith, carelessly to trifle with texts of Scripture, and coolly to explain away the word of God, unless a man's spirit is solemn he cannot have, an unclouded and steady view of the salvation of Jehovah. Until the being and presence and judgments of God so impress the soul, that all delay and all trifling with the offer of salvation are shaken off as mad and impious, the Gospel will not be seen as real and precious, or sought for with heartfelt and earnest importunity.
You will find this illustrated in Psalm iv. 4,5. Here the Psalmist desires, in order that the wicked might be taught to serve and trust in God, that they should be awed by a sense of God's presence and majesty ("stand in awe”)—an awe which should suddenly arrest them in their sinful course (" stand in awe, and sin not”) an awe which should make them feel themselves alone with God, having to deal with Him as solitary and independent beingsan awe which should drive them to interested and thoughtful reflection as to the way of escape from the wrath of the Holy One (“commune with your own heart on your bed, and be still ”). Thus looking upon God's word as true, and His salvation real, they would see the way of escape opening up before them—viz. “offer the sacrifices of righteousness"--penitent, believing, and obedient hearts—"and put your trust in the Lord,” in the Saviour, Jehovah our Righteousness.
In the case of those who believe in Jesus, although the alarms of the time when God's neglected truth burst in upon the souls of each of them, have been removed by Christ's peacespeaking blood, yet a vivid impression of its overwhelming and thrilling discoveries ought to and will remain. How solemn the thought that the only alternative is, either a hearty and complete welcome of the Gospel, or the blackness of darkness and the horrors of despair ! A heart, once scared and distracted by such terrors, when comfort from God enters, should thereupon and thereafter be solemn. And so the call in my text for “fear and trembling" seems to contain the doctrine, that a settled solemnity ought to accompany the joy and peace of believing in Jesus.
This frame of spirit may be said to be,
It is a command which every soul should take home. “ Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling."* To his dear children, as well as to others, it is said respecting God, “Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.”+ “ To this man,” saith Jehovah, I will look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word." I
This frame of spirit does not interfere with freedom in God's service and complete rejoicing in Christ Jesus. Full assurance of faith and hope is not only consistent with it, but is a direct argument for it. “ Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for
* Ps. ii, ll,
+ Isa. viii. 13.
Isa. Ixvi. 2.
our God is a consuming fire."* God has said to the believer, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee;" and he is of good cheer, while he replies, “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared." It is a false peace, which has the hardihood to keep God's good pleasure out of sight. It is a carnal and unconverted joy, which does not tremble at God's word. Yet this "fear and trembling" is the fear of reverence, not the fear of dismay or despair.
The peace of the heart stayed upon the Saviour is perfect, just because it takes into view and into account, “ the last enemy, death,” the expanse of eternity and the terrors of God's judgment-seat. Joy in God the Saviour thus manifests its substantial and solemn reality. “Fear and trembling," grasping the hand of the Almighty Promiser, fears no evil. Leading Christ's servants in the path of righteousness for His name's sake, it should go in company with Scriptural assurance, not muttering suspicions of the approach of some unexpected terror, but pointing to every possible terror as for ever escaped from, and inspiring reverence and godly fear towards Him, who has such power to smite and such power to save.
* Heb. xii. 28, 29.
+ Ps. cxxx. 4.
This frame of spirit is,
3. Dread and abhorrence of temptation to sin. Sin ought to be, and is, abhorred by true believers. He who believes God's sayings, and studies man's spirit in the light of Scripture, looks upon sin of thought, word, and deed, as fallen man's fondled but treacherous favourite, which at last bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. It is that miserable and vil. lanous principle which thwarts every department of God's government; it professes to befriend the soul at the very time when engaged in deadly warfare against it; it blinds the
eye, and stops the ear, and steels the heart against God's salvation, and even in God's accepted servants there lurks indwelling sin, continually dragging them into captivity. Temptation has still some ground in common, upon which to found some deceitful and persuasive argument in recommendation of sin. And though the believer does not wilfully or deliberately disobey God, and generally resists and repulses the tempter, he is nevertheless sometimes beguiled, and often in danger, from which he does not escape altogether unharmed.