Monday, March 22, 2010

The Heir of Heaven (Walking in Darkness) and the Heir of Hell (Walking in Light)

by J. C. Philpot

Part Two - The Fear of God

The text opens in a very striking and solemn way. It begins with a question, an appeal, as it were, to the consciences of those to whom it is addressed, “WHO IS AMONG YOU THAT FEARETH THE LORD?” Now the very form in which this striking question is put to the HEIR OF HEAVEN, when compared with the mode of address employed in the next verse to the heirs of hell, seems to show that the first of these characters is very rare, the second very frequent. Thus, the question, “ Who is there among you” is worded as if the blessed Spirit were selecting one person out of a crowd, as if He were pointing out a solitary character amidst a numerous company. Whilst the word “you”—“Who is there among you?” —seems to show that this company is a troop of professors, the same who are afterwards addressed, “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire.”

We have, then, a character pointed out by the finger of God Himself, separated by His distinguishing hand and sealed with His own divine mark as belonging to Himself. This living soul, this gracious character, this heir of heaven, whom God has here singled out, is stamped by the blessed Spirit with three marks. The first is, that “he fears the Lord;” the second , that “he obeys the voice of God’s servant;” the third , that “he walks in darkness, and has no light.” We will, with God’s blessing, then consider these three remarks separately.

1. He Fears God

The first mark, then, of that heir of heaven whose character we are endeavouring to trace is, that “HE FEARS GOD.” “Who is among you that feareth the Lord?” But here the question at once arises: What sort of fear is this which the Holy Ghost has thus stamped with His divine approbation? “Is it of heaven or of men?” To err here is to stumble at the very outset, and to throw the whole into confusion. We must therefore, at the very threshold of our inquiry, lay it down as a positive principle, that the fear here spoken of is not a fruit of the flesh, but the work of the Spirit; not a product of nature, but the offspring of the Holy Ghost. And this distinction needs to be drawn, and to be insisted on, with greater carefulness, because there is a natural fear of God as well as a spiritual one. The very devils believe and tremble. The children of Israel whose carcases fell in the wilderness, feared God when they heard “the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud” (Exo. 19:16), “so that all the people that were in the camp trembled.” Saul feared God when that awful sentence fell upon his ear: “Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me,” and “he fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel” (1 Sam. 28:20). Felix feared God when “he trembled, as Paul reasoned of righteousnesss, temperance, and judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). “Terrors are upon the hypocrite,” said Zophar (Job 20:23,25) “when God casteth forth the fury of His wrath upon him, and the glittering sword cometh out of his gall.” And “terrors,” saith Bildad (Job 18:11), “shall make the wicked afraid on every side, and shall drive him to His feet.”

The fear of the Lord, then, spoken of in the text is no natural dread of God, no fleshly alarm of a guilty conscience, no late remorse of an enlightened judgment, trembling at the wrath to come. Nor, again, is it any such fear of God as is impressed upon the mind by what is called “a religious education.” Against this the Lord especially directs a sentence of condemnation: “Their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men.” (Isa. 29:13).

The fear of God, then, which He has in the text and elsewhere stamped with His divine approbation, is that which He Himself implants with His own hand in the soul. As it is written, “I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me” (Jer. 32:40). This is the fear which is called “the beginning of wisdom” (Pro. 9:10); and is said to be “the fountain of life,” “the strong confidence” (Pro. 14:26-27), and “the treasure” (Isa. 33:6) of a child of God, and that which “endures forever” in his heart (Psa. 19:9). But how is this divine fear, this godly awe, this holy trembling, produced in the soul? It is not sufficient to say: “It is implanted by the hand of God,” and so leave it. The question arises: How does the blessed Spirit work it in the soul? To this I answer, that in producing it God works by certain means. A spiritual man is not a steam-engine, or a piece of machinery, driven round and round by cogs and wheels in a certain mechanical course, without feeling and without consciousness. The grace of God indeed works invincibly and irresistibly upon the soul, and produces certain effects in it; but not in the same way as a weaver’s loom makes a piece of cloth, or as a spinning jenny makes cotton thread.

God works, then, by means . But by means I do not understand what are usually called “means of grace,” such as preaching, praying, reading the Word, etc., which many persons speak of, as though, if made use of by carnal men, they would bring grace into their hearts almost as necessarily as a water-pipe carries water into a cistern. No. For though prayer and hearing the Word, etc., contain in them blessings for the spiritual, thousands have used what are “the means of grace,” who have lived and died without grace; for “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” By “means,” then, and “God’s working by means,” I understand not means on our part, but means on God’s part. I intend by “the Word,” those gracious and powerful operations of the blessed Spirit on the soul, which produce a certain effect and create a certain experience within.

Thus the means which God employs to raise up a holy fear of His great name in the soul, is to cast into it a ray of divine light out of the fulness of the Godhead. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” says Paul (2 Cor. 4:6), “hath shined in our hearts.” “In Thy light,” says David (Psa. 36:9), “we see light;” and again: “The entrance of Thy words giveth light” (Psa. 119:130). Until, then, this supernatural light out of the fulness of God enters into the soul, a man has no knowledge of Jehovah. He may say his prayers, read his Bible, attend preaching, observe ordinances, “bestow all his goods to feed the poor, and give his body to be burned;” but he is as ignorant of God as the cattle that graze in the fields. He may call himself a Christian, and be thought such by others, may talk much about Jesus Christ, hold a sound creed, maintain a consistent profession, pray at a prayer meeting with fluency and apparent feeling, may stand up in a pulpit and contend earnestly for the doctrines of grace, may excel hundreds of God’s children in zeal, knowledge and conversation; and yet, if this ray of supernatural light has never shone into his soul he is only twofold more the child of hell than those who make no profession—“The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.”

Look for part two of this message next week.

Bro. Pat


No comments: