V. THE FEAR OF GOD is to acknowledge his infinite wrath against sin, his power to punish it, and to regard an offence against God, accompanied with aversion to him, the greatest evil, and for this reason to hate and detest sin; and to be willing to suffer all other things sooner than offend God in the smallest matter. Or it is an unwillingness to offend God, resulting from submission to God and a knowledge of his wisdom, power, justice, and the right which he has over all creatures. “Thou shalt fear thy God; I am the Lord.” “Who would not fear thee, King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain; forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nation and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.” (Lev. 19:14. Jer. 10:7.)

Obj. The highest good cannot be feared, because fear includes the shunning of evil. God is the highest good. Therefore, he cannot be feared. Ans. The highest good cannot be feared in as far as it is such; but in this respect, as it is also something else. So God is feared, not as he is the highest good, for in this respect he is loved; but as he is just, and able to punish; or he is feared in respect to the evil and punishment of destruction which he is able to inflict.

The love and fear of God differ from each other in the following respects:

1. Love follows the good, even God, and desires to be united to him. Fear turns away from the evil, even the displeasure and wrath of God, and dreads a separation from him. Or we may express it thus: Love is unwilling to be deprived of the highest good; whilst fear dreads to offend the highest good.
2. Love arises from a knowledge of the goodness of God; fear from a knowledge of the power and justice of God, and from the right which he has over all creatures.

The fear of God which man had before the fall was different from that which is now in the regenerate in this life. The fear of God as it was in man in his state of original holiness, or as it now is, and will be in the blessed angels and man in eternal life, is a strong aversion to sin and to the punishment of sin, which, however, is without grief or pain; because they neither have sin in them nor experience the punishment of it; and have the assurance that they never will sin, or be punished of God. “He will swallow up death in victory; the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” (Is. 25:8.) The fear of God which is in the regenerate in this life is an acknowledgment of sin and the wrath of God, and a sincere sorrow arising from a view of the sins we have committed, from the offence we have offered God by our sins, and from the miseries we and others endure in consequence of sin, accompanied with a fear of future sins and punishment, and an ardent desire to escape these evils, by reason of the knowledge of the mercy of God made known to us in Christ. It is said in reference to this fear: “Dost not thou fear God?” “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Luke 23:40. Matt. 10:28.) This fear is usually called filial fear, because it is such as children cherish towards their parents, who are sorry on account of a father’s anger and displeasure, and fear lest they should again offend him and be punished; and are, nevertheless, continually assured of the love, and good will of the father towards them. Hence they love him, and are more deeply grieved on account of the love which they cherish towards him, whom they have offended. Thus it is said of Peter that “he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:75.)

Servile fear, such as the slave has for his master, which consists in fleeing punishment without faith and without a desire and purpose of changing the life, being accompanied with despair, flight and separation from God such a servile fear differs greatly from that which is filial. 1. Filial fear arises from confidence and love to God; that which is servile arises from a knowledge and conviction of sin, and from a sense of the judgment and displeasure of God. 2. Filial fear does not turn away from God, but hates sin above everything else, and fears to offend God: servile fear is a flight and hatred, not of sin, but of punishment and of the divine judgment, and so of God himself. 3. Filial fear is connected with the certainty of salvation and of eternal life: servile fear is a fear and expectation of eternal condemnation and rejection of God, and is great in proportion to the doubt and despair which it entertains of the grace and mercy of God. This is the fear of devils and wicked men, and is the commencement of eternal death, which the ungodly experience already in this life. “I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid.” “The devils believe and tremble.” (Gen. 3:10. James 2:19.)

We must here observe that the love and fear of God are frequently taken in the Scriptures for the whole worship of God, or for universal obedience to all the commandments of God. “By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God, and keep his commandments.” “Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (1 John 5:2. 1 Tim. 1:5. Prov. 1:7.) The reason of this arises from the fact, that the love and fear of God constitute the cause of our entire obedience, inasmuch as they spring from faith and hope; for those who truly love and fear God will not willingly offend him in anything, but will endeavor to do whatever will be pleasing to him. There is opposed to the fear of God on the side of want, profanity, carnal security and contempt of God. And on the side of excess servile fear and despair, of which we have already spoken.