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Right Fear

Quotes from Chapter 3

The right fear of God is a blessing of the new covenant.

They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them integrity of heart and action so that they will fear me always, for their good and for the good of their descendants after them.
I will make a permanent covenant with them: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from me.

Jeremiah 32:38–40

Unlike that devilish fear we have seen that would drive us away from God, this is a fear that keeps us from drawing back or turning away from him. It is a Spirit-worked fear that serves a good purpose in driving sinners to Christ.

An Unexpected Fear

I will purify them from all the iniquity they have committed against me, and I will forgive all the iniquities they have committed against me, rebelling against me. This city will bear on my behalf a name of joy, praise, and glory before all the nations of the earth, who will hear of all the prosperity I will give them. They will tremble with awe because of all the good and all the peace I will bring about for them.

Jeremiah 33:8, 9

This is not a fear of punishment—of what God might do if his people turn away from him. They fear and tremble precisely because of all the good he does for them.

The children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

Hosea 3:5

It is a fear “to the Lord and to his goodness.” It is a fear that “leans toward the Lord” because of his very goodness.2 It is the sort fo marvelling fear we come across in the face of Jesus’s giving of life.

Then he came up and touched the open coffin, and the pallbearers stopped. And he said, “Young man, I tell you, get up!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people.”

Luke 7:14–16

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one fo the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. The Lord was standing there beside him, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the eat, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.”

Genesis 28:10–17

In the face of pure goodness and absolute grace, Jacob fears. As the Puritan William Gouge explains, true godly fear actually “arises from faith in the mercy and goodness of God: for when the heart of man hath once felt a sweet taste of God’s goodness, and found that in his favour only all happiness consisteth, it is stricken with such an inward awe and reverence.3

Awe, respect, and reverence—those words actually fall quite short of capturing the intense and happy fullness of what Scripture means when it speaks of the fear of God. The fear of God commended in Scripture “does not arise from a perception of God as hazardous, but glorious. In other words, it flows from an appreciation of God.”4

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.
There is no speech; there are no words;
their voice is not heard.
Their message has gone out to the whole earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming from his home;
it rejoices like an athlete running a course.
It rises from one end of the heavens
and circles to the other end;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

The instruction of the Lord is perfect,
renewing one’s life;
the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy,
making the inexperienced wise.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
making the heart glad;
the command of the Lord is radiant,
making the eyes light up.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are reliable
and altogether righteous.
They are more desirable than gold—
than an abundance of pure gold;
and sweeter than honey
dripping from a honeycomb.
In addition, your servant is warned by them,
and in keeping them there is an abundant rewards.

Who perceives his unintentional sins?
Cleanse me from my hidden faults.
Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins;
do not let them rule me.
Then I will be blameless
and cleansed from blatant rebellion.
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

The word of God so perfectly manifests the glory of “the Fear” that it is itself fearful.

Looking at the biblical evidence, John Bunyan concluded that those who have no faith will have no true fear of God, those who have a devil’s faith will have a devil’s fear, and those who have a saint’s faith will have a saint’s fear. And this godly fear, he explained, flows primarily

from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul… from some sense or hope of mercy from God by Jesus Christ… Indeed nothing can lay a stronger obligation upon the heart to fear God, than sense of, or hope in mercy (Jer. 33:8, 9). This begetteth true tenderness of heart, true godly softness of spirit; this truly endeareth the affections to God; and in this true tenderness, softness, and endearedness of affection to God, lieth the very essence of this fear of the Lord.

John Bunyan5

Fear and Love

This is the “sort of fear which has in it the very essence of love, and without which there would be no joy even in the presence of God.6

He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hear their cry for help and saves them.
The Lord guards all those who love him,
but he destroys all the wicked.

Psalm 145:19, 20

This is the command—the statutes and ordinances—the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, so that you may follow them in the land you are about to enter and possess. Do this so that you may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life by keeping all his statutes and commands I am giving you, your son, and your grandson, and so that you may have a long life. Listen, Israel, and be careful to follow them, so that you may prosper and multiply greatly, because the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you a land flowing with milk and honey.
Listen, Israel: The lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6:1–5

The nature of a love is defined by its object.

The living God is infinitely perfect and quintessentially, overwhelmingly beautiful in every way: his righteousness, his graciousness, his majesty, his mercy, his all. And so we do not love him aright if our love is not a trembling, overwhelmed, and fearful love. In a sense, the trembling “fear of God” is a way of speaking about the intensity of the saints’ love for and enjoyment of all that God is.

It is not because we are afraid of him, but because we delight in him, that we fear before him… “Thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged,” says the prophet Isaiah [Isa. 60:5], and so it comes to pass with us. The more we fear the Lord, the more we love him, until this becomes to us the true fear of God, to love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.


Right fear does not stand in tension with love for God. Right fear falls on its face before the Lord, but falls leaning “toward the Lord.8 True fear of God is true love for God defined: it is the right response to God’s full-orbed revelation of himself in all his grace and glory.

Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
a Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a Spirit of counsel and strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
His delight will be in the fear of the Lord…

Isaiah 11:1–3

Godly fear casts out being afraid. Believers who have a godly fear tremble before God. Overwhelmed by his goodness and majesty and holiness and grace and righteousness—by all that God is—the faithful tremble. To encounter the living, holy, and all-gracious God truly means that we cannot contain ourselves. Seen clearly, the dazzling beauty and splendor of God must make our hearts to quake.

My fear of Thee, O Lord! exults
Like life within my veins,—
A fear which rightly claims to be
One of love’s sacred pains.

Thy goodness to Thy saints of old
An awful thing appeared;
For were Thy majesty less good
Much less would it be feared.

There is no joy the soul can meet
Upon life’s various road
Like the sweet fear that sits and shrinks
Under the eye of God.

A special joy is in all love
For objects we revere;
Thus joy in God will always be
Proportioned to our fear.

Oh Thou are greatly to be feared,
Thou art so prompt to bless!
The dread to miss such love as Thine
Makes fear but love’s excess.

The fulness of Thy mercy seems
To fill both land and sea
If we can break through bounds so vast,
How exiled shall we be!

For grace is fearful, which each hour
Our path in life has crossed;
If it were rarer, it might be
Less easy to be lost.

But fear is love, and love is fear,
And in and out they move;
But fear is an intenser joy
Than mere unfrightened love.

When most I fear Thee, Lord! then most
Familiar I appear;
And I am in my soul most free,
When I am most in fear.

I should not love Thee as I do,
If love might make more free;
Its very sweetness would be lost
In greater liberty.

I feel Thee most a Father when
I fancy Thee most near;
And thou comest not so night in love
As Thou comest, Lord! in fear.

They love Thee little, if at all,
Who do not fear Thee much;
If love is Thine attraction, Lord!
Fear is Thy very touch.

Love could not love Thee half so much
If it found Thee not so near;
It is thy nearness, which makes love
The perfectness of fear.

We fear because Thou art so good,
And because we can sin;
And when we make most show of love,
We are trembling most within.

And Father! when to us in heaven
Thou shalt Thy Face unveil,
Then more than ever will our souls
Before Thy goodness quail.

Our blessedness will be to bear
The sight of Thee so near,
And thus eternal love will be
But the ecstasy of fear.

F.W. Faber9

Is Fear the Best Word?

Is fear the most helpful word for this right response to God? This right fear of God is a most positive thing, but it is hard for us to see that, given how wholly negative the word fear seems.

If we are to be faithful to Scripture’s presentation of the fear of God, we should ideally use words that encompass that spectrum of positive and negative experience. The common feature of those fears is trembling. It shows us that the fear of God is no mild-mannered, reserved, or limp thing. It is a startlingly physical, overpowering reaction. And so respect and reverence are simply too weak and grey to stand in as synonyms for the fear of God. Awe seems a much better fit, though even it doesn’t quite capture the physical intensity, the happy thrill, or the exquisite delight that leans towards, instead of away from, the Lord. These other words can actually be actively misleading, making us think of this right fear as a response to only certain qualities of God and not others.

Fear and Joy

The fear of God defines true joy in God. In the same way that Christ’s delight is in the fear of the Lord, so the fear of the Lord is a pleasure to believers, for it is about enjoying his fearfully lovely glory.

The living God is not moderately happy but fearfully happy, and when we have this fear, we enter into the joy of our master.

Happy is the one who is always reverent,
but one who hardens his heart falls into trouble.

Proverbs 28:14

You tremble at his word,
hear the word of the Lord:
“Your brothers who hate and exclude you
for my name’s sake have said,
‘Let the Lord be glorified
so that we can see your joy!
But they will be put to shame.”

Isaiah 66.5

Please, Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant and to that of your serves who delight to revere your name.

Nehemiah 1:11

Serve the Lord with reverential awe
and rejoice with trembling.

Psalm 2:11

So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news.

Matthew 28:8

Believers, said Charles Spurgeon, adore and worship the living God “with a joyful, tender fear, which both lays us low, and lifts us very high, for never do we seem to be nearer to heaven’s golden throne than when our spirit gives itself up to worship him whom it does not see, but in whose realized presence it trembles with sacred delight.”10

Because this fear finds a heartfelt delight in God himself, it begins to find a genuine pleasure in walking in his ways.

Happy is the person who fears the Lord,
taking great delight in his commands.

Psalm 112:1

God finds a delight in those who have this trembling, exquisite pleasure in him.

He is not impressed by the strength of a horse;
he does not value the power of a warrior.
The Lord values those who fear him,
those who put their hope in his faithful love.

Psalm 147:10, 11

Sinful fear is that “fear which scares men away from God, or which drives them to fly away from him. The fear of them also which are only afraid of God’s anger.” In contrast, the fear that Scripture commands is that where “the principal cause of our fear is not any evil which we are in danger of, but the excellent perfection of God.”11

Your own evil will discipline you;
your own apostasies will reprimand you.
Recognize how evil and bitter it is
for you to abandon the Lord your God
and to have no fear of me.
This is the declaration of the Lord God of Armies.

Jeremiah 2:19

For the Lord is great and is highly praised;
he is feared above all gods.

Psalm 96:4

This trembling “fear of God” is a way of speaking about the sheer intensity of the saints’ happiness in God. As our love for God is a trembling and wonder-filled love, so our joy in God is, at its purest, a trembling and wonder-filled—yes, fearful—joy. For the object of our joy is so overwhelmingly and fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy him with an intensity that is fitting for him.

Normally our joy in God is cold and tarnished, but as we work out our salvation “with fear and trembling”, we become ever more fearfully happy, like our God.

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Philippians 2:12

When all this has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Those who fear God glorify him.

Lord, who will not fear
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you
because your righteous acts
have been revealed.

Revelation 15:4

The soul will most kindly rejoice in God, when it is filled with an awful admiration of his goodness; for this fear doth not contract the heart as grief doth, but enlargeth the heart in God’s praises.

William Bates12

Above all, fear the Lord and worship him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things he has done for you.

1 Samuel 12:24

Who should not fear you,
King of the nations?
It is what you deserve.
For among all the wise people of the nations
and among all their kingdoms,
there is no one like you.

Jeremiah 10:7

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?… For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.

Deuteronomy 10:12, 17

But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

Psalm 130:4

Believes are enjoying these beautiful perfections of God.

Nothing of God looks terrible in Christ to a believer. The sun is risen, shadows are vanished, God walks upon the battlements of love, justice hath left its sting in a Saviour’s side, the law is disarmed, weapons out of his hand, his bosom open, his bowels yearn, his heart pants, sweetness and love is in all his carriage. And this is life eternal, to know God believingly in all the glories of his mercy and justice in Jesus Christ.

Stephen Charnock13

This is indeed why we search the Scriptures, that we may know God better in all his ways and all his perfections—and might rejoice in him so intensely that we tremble.

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
listening closely to wisdom
and directing your heart to understanding;
furthermore, if you call out to insight
and lift your voice to understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it like hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and discover the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:1–5

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.

Galatians 5:22, 23

It is, as I may call it, not only a duty in itself, but, as it were, the salt that seasoneth every duty. For there is no duty performed by us that can by any means be accepted of God, if it be not seasoned with godly fear.

John Bunyan14

The fruit of the Spirit is precisely that character which grows out of a God-fearing heart. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the beautiful, lived embodiment of the fear of God.

Like fear, faith is part of the new heart’s very constitution.

I will make a permanent covenant with them: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from me.

Jeremiah 32:40

The new heart that the Spirit gives in regenerating believers is a heart that rejoices with trembling before God, and so a heart that trusts him and does not turn from him.

Right fear is at the heart of holiness. Those who fear the word of the Lord listen to the word of the Lord. Saving faith cannot be separated from the right fear of God, for we will trust in God only to the extent that we have this fear that leans toward him.

Fear defines our love for God; fear defines our joy in God; fear prompts us to trust in God.

The knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture… invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him.

John Calvin15

Only a God-fearing heart will ever be a God-trusting heart.

The Lord values those who fear him,
those who put their hope in his faithful love.

Psalm 147:11

The fear which pleases God is an ecstasy of love and joy that senses how overwhelmingly kind and magnificent, good and true God is, and that therefore leans on him in staggered praise and faith.

  1. John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (London: Tyndale, 1957), 229.
  2. C.H. Spurgeon, “A Fear to be Desired,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, 63 vols. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855–1917), 48:495.
  3. William Gouge, Domesticall Duties (London: John Beale, 1626), 5.
  4. J. Stephen Yuille, Looking unto Jesus: The Christ-Centered Piety of Seventeenth-Century Baptists (Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2014), xviii.
  5. John Bunyan, “A Treatise on the Fear of God,” in The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offer, 3 vols. (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 1:460–61.
  6. Spurgeon, “A Fear to Be Desired,” 494.
  7. Spurgen, “A Fear to Be Desired,” 498.
  8. Spurgeon, “A Fear to Be Desired,” 495.
  9. F.W. Faber, “The Fear of God,” in Faber’s Hymns (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1894), 101.
  10. Spurgeon, “A Fear to Be Desired,” 496.
  11. William Ames, “Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof,” in The Workes of the Reverend and Faithful Ministery of Christ William Ames (London: John Rothwell, 1643), 51.
  12. Bates, “On the Fear of God,” 188.
  13. Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, 10 vols. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1865), 4:163.
  14. Bunyan, “A Treatise on the Fear of God,” 438.
  15. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 1.10.2.


  1. What is a blessing of the new covenant mentioned at the beginning of chapter 3?
  2. Contrast the right fear of God and devilish fear.
  3. Why do the people fear and tremble in Jeremiah 33:8, 9?
  4. What is Jacob’s response in the face of pure goodness and absolute grace?
  5. The fear of God commended in Scripture arises from what?
  6. Looking at the biblical evidence, what did John Bunyan conclude?
  7. What defines the nature of a love?
  8. What is true fear of God (page 53)?
  9. Who is Isaiah 11 talking about?
  10. What does Godly fear to do “being afraid”?
  11. What is the Christian’s response to all that God is? Is this how you respond to God when you encounter him in Bible reading/study, prayer, etc.?
  12. What is the problem with using words like respect, reverence, and awe as synonyms for the fear of God?
  13. Why is the fear of the Lord a pleasure to believers?
  14. What results from fear finding a heartfelt delight in God himself?
  15. Why do we search the Scriptures?
  16. What is the relation between the fear of God and the fruit of the Spirit (page 65)?
  17. What does the statement Right fear is at the heart of holiness mean (page 65)?
  18. How has this chapter impacted your understanding of Godly fear and “being afraid”?
  19. How do the truths taught in this chapter impact your walk with the Lord personally?

This article is adapted from: Rejoice & Tremble by Michael Reeves


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