"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot
be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with
reverence and godly fear." Hebrews 12:28
No exhortation in this Epistle is more needed by our
perverse generation than this one. How this imperative requirement "with
reverence and godly fear" rebukes the cheap, flippant "worship" (?) of the
day. O what unholy lightness and ungodly familiarity now marks the religion
of Christendom: many address the great Deity as though they were His equals,
and conduct themselves with far less decorum than they would show in the
presence of an earthly monarch. The omission of bowing the head in silent
prayer when we take our place in the congregation, the vulgar glancing
around, the unfitting whispering and chattering, the readiness to smile or
laugh at any remarks of the preacher's which may sound odd—are all so many
instances of this glaring and growing evil. "God is greatly to be feared in
the assembly of the saints—and to be had in reverence of all them that are
about Him" (Psalm 89:7).
The Greek word for "reverence" in extraordinary
instances, is called a "blushing," a "being ashamed," a "confusion of face"
(Ezra 9:6; Dan. 9:7); yet, the essence of it, ought always to accompany us
in the worship of God.
"Godly fear" is a holy awe on the soul when engaged in
sacred duties, and this from a consideration of the great danger there is of
our sinful mistakes in the worship of God, and of His severity against such
heinous offences. God will not be mocked. A serious soul is hereby moved
unto watchfulness and diligence not to provoke so great, so holy, so jealous
a God—by a neglect of that reverence and godly fear which He requires in His
service, and which is due unto Him on account of His glorious perfections.
If the seraphim veil their faces before Him (Isaiah 6:2), how much
more would we do so!
"For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). This
is the reason given why we must serve God with reverence and fear. The words
are taken from Deuteronomy 4:24 where they are used to deter Israel from
idolatry, for that is a sin God will not tolerate. The same description of
God is here applied by the Apostle unto those lacking grace to worship Him
with the humility and awe which He demands. If we are graceless in our
persons, and devoid of reverence in our worship—God will deal with us
accordingly. As a fire consumes combustible matter cast into it, so God will
destroy sinners. The title "our God" denotes a covenant relationship—yet
though Christians are firmly assured of their interest in the Everlasting
Covenant, God requires them to have holy apprehensions of His majesty and
terror; see 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11.
The twin graces of love and fear—fear and
love—should be jointly active in the believer, and it is in preserving a
balance between them that his spiritual health largely consists. So it is
here. Observe the remarkable conjunction: "our God," in covenant
relationship, our Father; and yet "a consuming fire," to be trembled at! The
first is to prevent despair from considering God's ineffable purity and
inflexible justice; the latter is to check a presumptuous irreverence unto
which a one-sided occupation with His grace and love might embolden us.
Thus, the principal exhortation "let us have grace
whereby we may serve God acceptably" is urged by two widely different
motives: because we have "received a kingdom" and because God is "a
consuming fire." Carnal reason would ask, If we have received a kingdom
which cannot be moved—why should we fear? But if God is such "a consuming
fire"—how can we ever expect such a kingdom, since we are but as stubble?
But the Spirit-taught have no difficulty in perceiving why the Apostle
joined together these two things.
The Christian's interest in His favor is no warrant for
casting off a solemn fear of God. Though He has laid down His enmity against
him, He has not cast off His majesty and sovereignty over him. "Even those
who stand highest in the love and favor of God, and have the fullest
assurance thereof and of their interest in Him as their God, ought,
notwithstanding, to fear Him as a sin-avenging God and a consuming fire"
(Ezekiel Hopkins, 1680). Though God has taken His redeemed into intimate
nearness to Himself—yet He requires that they always retain a due
apprehension of the majesty of His Person, the holiness of His nature, the
severity of His justice, and the ardent jealousy of His worship. If we truly
dread falling under the guilt of this awful sin of irreverence, our minds
will be influenced unto godly fear. The grace of fear is in no way
inconsistent with, or an impediment to, a spirit of adoption, holy
boldness—or godly rejoicing. See Psalm 2:11, Matthew 28:8, Philippians 2:12.
"Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably,"
(Hebrews 12:28), for without it there will be neither "reverence" nor "godly
fear." Without Divine aid and unction—we cannot serve God at all, for He
accounts not that worship—which is offered by graceless people. Without
grace in actual operation, we cannot serve God acceptably, for it is in the
exercise of faith and fear, love and awe, that the very life and soul of
spiritual worship consists. O how earnestly de we need to seek an increase
of Divine "grace" (2 Corinthians 9:8; 12:9), and keep it operative in all
duties of the worship of God: that in view of His fearsome wrath—we
may have a dread of displeasing Him; in view of His majesty—our
hearts may be humbled; and in view of His love—we may seek to honor,
please and adore Him. "The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as
holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread" (Isaiah
8:13 and cf. Matthew 10:28)