1 Peter 2:17
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
1. There is, first of all, a fear of God which to me appears to be a reproduction, measure, or colour of the national life, different as the nations differ. I believe it to be impossible to bring a Frenchman and a German, or a Scotchman and an Irishman, or any two men that reach back into a radical difference of race, to regard God in the same way.
2. But, in our own nation, where so many nativities centre, the idea of God and the consequent fear of God differ very greatly. The first and lowest form is a fear of God as a gaoler and executioner, who stands and waits until that sure detective, Death, shall hunt the criminal down and bring him into court. The pagan, on this plane of belief, is wiser than the Christian. He says boldly that the doer of this is the evil spirit, and so he tries to be on good terms with him. But wherever such a fear has a real place in the soul of man or woman, African, Indian, or Saxon, in that soul the love of God, or even a true fear of God, is utterly out of the question. It destroys every fair blossom of the soul; it leaves nothing to ripen, nothing beautiful even to live.
3. Then, to the eye of the resolute Christian thinker — who dares not, as Coleridge has said, "love even Christianity better than the truth, lest he shall come to love his own sect better than Christianity, and at last himself better than all" — there is another form of the fear of God, not the best by far, but far better than this utterly slavish fear. I mean that in which God becomes the embodiment of pure bargain, exacting from us to the uttermost penny whatever is due. Here God appears with tie guards and sanctities of the law about Him, self-imposed and self-respected. The man need not contract the debt if it does not please him, but if he does contract it he must pay, or another must pay for him. Then the Son of the Great Creditor gives His own body to the knife, and bears the intolerable agony instead of the debtor. Now there is a touch of sublimity in this conception. Yet when we come to question the system it will not stand. The moment you open the idea with the master key of the Fatherhood of God you begin to see that it cannot be true.
4. But a far higher fear of God is to fear Him as we fear the surgeon who must cut out some dreadful gangrene in order to save the life, Such a fear as this really touches the outskirts of love — it is love and fear blended. When I went to Fort Donelson to nurse our wounded men, it was my good fortune to be the personal attendant of a gentleman whose skill as a surgeon was only equalled by the wonderfully deep, loving tenderness of his heart, as it thrilled in every tone of his voice and every touch of his hand. And it all comes up before me now how he would come to the men, fearfully mangled as they were, and how the nerve would shrink and creep, and how, with a wise, hard, steady skill he would cut to save life, forcing back tears of pity only that he might keep his eye clear for the delicate duty, speaking low words of cheer in tones heavy with tenderness; then, when all was over, and the poor fellows, fainting with pain, knew that all was done that could be done, and done only with a severity whose touch was love, how they would look after the man as he went away, sending unspoken benedictions to attend him. Now a fear like this is almost the loftiest fear of God that has come to the human soul.
5. Then, finally, there is a fear of God which is more of love than fear — a fear that has no torment. There is an inspiration by which our duties rise up before us, vested in a nobleness like that which touches the landscape for a great painter. The true artist works ever with a touch of fear. He stands at his task, his heart trembling with the great pulses of his conception. He is fearful exactly as he sees the perfection of the thing he is trying to embody. Now, believe me, God hides some ideal in every human soul. At some time in our life we feel a trembling, fearful longing to do some good thing.
(R. Collyer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.