Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Fear of God
Fear Of God
I. Old Testament. -There is no mention in the Scriptures of the sentiment of fear in the relations between man and God before the fall of Adam. After the transgression, Adam says, "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid" (Genesis 3:10). Fear of God (יַרְאִת יְחוָֹה ) stands thus in close connection with conscience, and with the fact of actual or possible sin. We are probably justified in inferring from the narrative in Genesis that the sentiment of fear, in relation to God, is one of the consequences of Adam's sin. Since the Fall, fear is a natural and proper feeling on the part of dependent man with regard to the infinite God whom he has offended. Dependence alone, without the consciousness of sin, or of sinful tendencies and possibilities, would not engender fear. In sinful beings, however,. fear is useful and necessary as a preventive and safeguard against transgression. As such it is enjoined in the O.T. especially. (Compare Exodus 1:1; Exodus 1:17; Deuteronomy 6:2; Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 14:2.) So in O.T. we find practical piety generally described as the fear of God: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7); Job 28:8, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding;" "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever" (Psalms 19:9). Fear, thus coming to be almost, if not quite, synonymous with piety, did not (under the old covenant) exclude filial and even cheerful trust in God, and delight in his law and in his worship; the Psalms abound in illustrations of this. Under this covenant, too, the law of love prevailed (Deuteronomy 6:5, "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might"). The promise of a new covenant, also, added the grace of hope to the experience of O.T. believers (Jeremiah 31:31-34). But a fear which is conjoined with love and hope is not a slavish fear, but rather filial fear, veneration (compare Deuteronomy 32:6; Hosea 11:1; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8). Nevertheless, the sense of the filial relation to God through Christ, such as appears in the N.T., was wanting in the old covenant, and fear was, perhaps, under that covenant, the prevailing element in the consciousness of believers, so far as their relation to God was concerned.
II. In the sphere of the N.T., the fear of God, in the sense of slavish or untrusting dread, is completely dispelled. True, in the economy of salvation through Christ fear finds a useful place as a preventive of negligence and carelessness in religion, and as an inducement to penitence (2 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Philippians 2:12 Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 12:28-29), and is enforced in this sense by Christ himself (Matthew 10:28). But as Christian experience deepens, and the soul is consecrated to God, the sense of fear vanishes, and love takes its place (Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18). On the other hand, where, there is nothing more than the form of Christian life, without its inward power, the old Jewish and even pagan fear springs up. So the Romish Church does not admit a-free and direct approach to God, but demands the intercession of saints, etc., and makes of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in which Christians are lovingly to surround his table, a tremendous and fearful mystery. In Protestant theology, on the contrary, the fear to approach God is considered as a consequence of the Fall, and free access to him is held to be an essential element of true Christian life. Edwards, in his Treatise on Religious Affections, remarks as follows on the relations of fear and sin: "For so hath God contrived and constituted things, in his dispensations towards his own people, that when their love decays, and the exercises of it fail or become weak, fear should arise; for then they need it to restrain them from sin, and to excite them to care for the good of their souls, and so to stir them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion; but God hath so ordered that, when love rises and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish and be driven away; for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise to restrain them from sin, and stir them up to their duty.
There are no other principles which human nature is under the influence of that will ever make men conscientious but one of these two fear or love; and therefore, if one of these should not prevail as the other decays, God's people, when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed; and therefore God has wisely ordained that these two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises, the other sinks. Love is the spirit of adoption, or the childlike principle; if that slumbers, men fall under fear, which is the spirit of bondage, or the servile principle; and so on the contrary. And if it be so that love, or the spirit of adoption, be carried to a great height, it quite drives away all fear, and gives full assurance; agreeable to that of the apostle, 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." These two opposite principles of lust and holy love bring hope and fear into the hearts of God's children in proportion as they prevail, that is, when left to their own natural influence, without something adventitious or accidental intervening, as the distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance, prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, etc. Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God no other way than by the prevailing of love; nor is it ever maintained by his Spirit but when love is asleep" (Edwards, Works, N. Y. edit., iii, 56). See, on the different dispensations of grace, Fletcher, Works, iii, 175 sq.; Stowell, On Nehemiah, lect. i; Herzog, Real-Encyclopadie, v, 280.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Fear of God'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/f/fear-of-god.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.