When we study nature, we can see the never-ending cycle of cause and effect. The moisture and warmth of the soil causes the seed to sprout. The hunger of the predator moves him to hunt other animals. The blowing of the wind produces movement in the trees. The ground dries out because the rays of the sun beat upon it. The rain falls to earth because of the forces of gravity. On and on we could go seeing that for everything that happens, there is a moving cause.
The same thing is true when we study human nature. We do the things we do because something moves us to do them. We eat because we're hungry. We sleep because we're tired. We seek the company of others because we desire social contact. We see this principle of cause and effect in action in the realm of spiritual things, as well.
Before us is a passage of Scripture which simply states the entire obligation of men to their Creator. First, they are to "fear God"; which is to stand in awe and reverence of Him: to give glory and honor to Him; and to love, worship, and adore Him. Then it follows that they "keep His commandments". I believe the second cause follows the first as the effect which is produced. When men truly fear God, they keep His commandments and only as they fear Him will they keep those commandments. The Scripture plainly says; "by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:6)
We may preach the Law with all its strictness and rigor, yet men will not depart from sin. Rather the wicked hearth of men are stirred to even greater sin by such preaching (Rom. 7:8). Oh surely, this preaching may cause men to depart from outward acts of disobedience, but our Lord said, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Mat. 5:8). As Pastor Lane so ably said in last month's paper, "The keeping of God's law extends beyond the act to the intent, the thought, and even the motive of the heart... Outward disobedience to the law of God is nothing compared with the inward contrariness of the heart to the law's intent and meaning." "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14). No my friend, a 'fear' of the law will not keep a man from sin, but a fear of the Holy Lawgiver will.
Some believe that if we continually remind men of death that they will become more obedient to the things of God. But no, a fear of coming death will not restrain the hearts of men. Men need not fear death, "but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mat. 10:28).
Others think that the pit of hell ought to be continually mentioned, supposing that the awesome spectacle of eternal torment will subdue man's iniquity. But a fear of the lake of fire will subdue none who tremble not a the mention of His name, who kindles the fires of that place (Isa. 30:33).
The certainty of coming judgement (Heb. 9:27) is also thought to be a great restrainer. But the sureness of judgement, the fact that all men must appear there (Rom. 14:10), and the pictures of the horror of that awful moment are but trifles when we consider the terrible majesty of the Judge who sits on the throne. No my brother, my sister; approaching judgement will not bring men into conformity with God's law, only a reverent and adoring fear of that Eternal Judge of the quick and the dead can perform the operation.
Many feel, as well, that the sounding forth of the second coming of Christ will somehow or other, shock men into submission to His precepts. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are some who become excited with prophecy and for a season endure in an apparent obedience, but in time they begin to say, "where is the promise of His coming" (2 Pet. 3:4), and like dogs are returned to their own vomit (2 Pet. 2:22). Unless a man is struck with adoring wonder and reverential love for the Savior who came the first time, the clamor over His return is but a satisfying of human cravings for the mysterious. Except men see a blessedness and a preciousness in the One who "poured out His soul unto death" (Isa. 53:12) for our sin, they shall merely be enamored with the events surrounding His return and go on in vain speculations about these things while their hearts are far from Him.
Dear readers, when there is no fear of God before men's eyes (Ps. 36:1), there is no restraint from sin and no constraint unto holiness. We have a generation of so called 'Christians' who "draw near the Lord with their mouths and with their lips do honor Him, but have removed their hearts far from Him" (Isa. 29:13). What is wrong, you ask? Look at the last part of the verse just quoted: "their fear toward the Lord is taught by the precept (teaching) of men". In this age of instant foods, instant credit, etc., men have invented an instant religion which has as its foundation and power in their free-will. The decision of men is believed to be the moving cause of their service toward God. Many go about the countryside teaching us 'how to' pray, 'how to' witness, 'how to' live a victorious life, etc., etc. Yet in their wake we have a group of men and women who have a name to live but are dead (see Rev. 3:1). Brethren, brethren! we do not need another 'how to' course. We do not need an easy 1, 2, 3 step decision. We do not need to call men to bow in penitent form at an altar! Oh, we need the Lord of Glory to move in our midst in sovereign mercy, awakening the dead souls of men to seek His face and to tremble at the mention of His blessed name.
We desperately need the stirring of His Spirit to move our souls to fear Him. Then shall "we follow on to know the Lord" (Hos. 6:3). If the whole duty of man is to be realized, it will only be realized as the Lord, in free and sovereign grace, applies the blood-bought redemption of His Son to the souls of undeserving sinners. And as that redemption is applied, it shall move men with holy fear and bring them into conformity to the image of His Son. Have you thus been moved in the depths of your soul to love and honor Him, or is your religion as "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1)? If the latter is true of you, I point you to the Cross. The One who hung there in agonies and blood is your only hope. He no longer dwells in the midst of such humiliation but is lifted up higher than the heavens and is seated on the throne of God. He is our only access to the Father. Oh my friend flee to Him while yet the day of salvation is with us. Call upon Him while He is near. Go to Him as a guilty sinner in need of saving mercy. May you go with this resolve:
I'll go to Jesus tho' my sin,
Hath like a mountain rose;
I know His courts, I'll enter in,
Whatever my oppose.
Perhaps He will admit my plea,
Perhaps will hear my pray'r;
But if I perish, I will pray,
And perish only there.
Prostrate I'll lie before His throne,
And there my guilt confess;
I'll tell Him I'm a wretch undone,
Without His sov'reign grace.
I can but perish if I go,
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I know,
I must forever die.
I'll to the gracious King approach,
Whose scepter pardon gives;
Perhaps He may command my touch,
And then the suppliant lives.
But if I die with mercy sought,
When I the King have tried;
This were to die (delightful thought!),
As sinner never died.
Edmund Jones, 1787
God hath written a law and a gospel; the law to humble us, and the gospel to comfort us; the law to cast us down, and the gospel to raise us up; the law to convince us of our misery, and the gospel to convince us of His mercy; the law to discover our sin, and the gospel to discover the grace of Christ.
John Mason (1646-1694)