Who would not fear you, O King of nations? for to you does it appertain: for as much as among all the wise men of the nations…
1. Fear sometimes signifies terror; a disposition that makes the soul consider itself only as sinful, and God chiefly as a being who hateth and avengeth sin. There are various degrees of this fear, and it deserves either praise, or blame, according to the different degree to which it is carried. A man whose heart is so void of the knowledge of the perfections of God, that he cannot rise above the little idols which worldlings adore; whose notions are so gross that he cannot adhere to the purity of religion for purity's sake; whose taste is so vitiated that he hath no relish for the delightful union of a faithful soul with its God; such a man deserves to be praised, when he endeavoureth to restrain his sensuality by the idea of an avenging God. The fear of God, taken in this first sense, is a laudable disposition. But it ceaseth to be laudable, it becomes detestable, when it goeth so far as to deprive a sinner of a sight of all the gracious remedies which God hath reserved for sinners. It should be left to the devils to believe and tremble (James 2:19). Fear is no less odious, when it giveth us tragical descriptions of the rights of God, and of His designs on His creatures: when it maketh a tyrant of Him. Away with that fear of God which is so injurious to His majesty, and so unworthy of that throne which is founded on equity!
2. To fear God is a phrase still more equivocal, and it is put for that disposition of mind which inclines us to render to Him all the worship that He requires, to submit to all the laws that He imposeth, to conceive all the emotions of admiration, devotedness, and love, which the eminence of His perfections demands. This is the usual meaning of the phrase. By this Jonah described himself, even while he was acting contrary to it, "I am an Hebrew, and I fear the Lord the God of heaven" (Jonah 1:9). In this sense the phrase is to be understood when we are told that "the fear of the Lord prolongeth days, is a fountain of life, and preserveth from the snares of death" (Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:27). And it is to be taken in the same sense where "the fear of the Lord" is said to be "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). The fear of the Lord in all these passages includes all the duties of religion. It seems needless to remark what idea we ought to form of this fear, for, it is plain, the mere a soul is penetrated with it, the nearer it approacheth to perfection.
3. But, beside these two notions of fear, there is a third, which is more nearly allied to our text, a notion that is neither so general as the last, nor so particular as the first. Fear, in this third sense, is a disposition which considers Him who is the object of it as alone possessing all that can contribute to our happiness or misery. Distinguish here a particular from a general happiness. It often happens that, all things being considered, a particular happiness, considered in the whole of our felicity is a general misery: and, on the contrary, it often happens that, all things being considered, a particular misery, in the whole of our felicity is a general happiness. It was a particular misfortune in the life of a man to be forced to bear the amputation of a mortified arm: but weighing the whole felicity of the life of the man, this particular misfortune became a good, because had he not consented to the amputation of the mortified limb, the mortification would have been fatal to his life, and would have deprived him of all felicity here. It was a particular calamity, that a believer should be called to suffer martyrdom: but in the whole felicity of that believer, martyrdom was a happiness, yea, an inestimable happiness; by suffering the pain of a few moments he hath escaped those eternal torments which would have attended his apostasy. To consider a being as capable of rendering us happy or miserable, in the general sense that we have given of the words happiness and misery, is to fear that being, in the third sense which we have given to the term fear. This is the sense of the word fear, in the text, and in many other passages of the Holy Scriptures. Thus Isaiah useth it, "Say ye not a confederacy," etc. (Isaiah 8:12, 13). So again, "Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid," etc. (Isaiah 51:12). And again in these words of our Saviour, "Fear not them which kill the body," etc. (Matthew 10:28). To kill the body is to cause a particular evil; and to fear them which kill the body is to regard the death of the body as a general evil, determining the whole of our felicity. To fear Him which is able to destroy the soul, is to consider the loss of the soul as the general evil, and Him who is able to destroy the soul as alone able to determine the whole of our felicity or misery. In this sense we understand the text, and this sense seems most agreeable to the scope of the place.
I. GOD IS A BEING WHOSE WILL IS SELF-EFFICIENT. We call that will self-efficient which infallibly produceth its effect. By this efficiency of will we distinguish God from every other being, either real, or possible. No one but God hath a self-efficient will. There is no one but God of whom the argument from the will to the act is demonstrative. Of none but God can we reason in this manner: He willeth, therefore He doth. Every intelligent being hath some degree of efficiency in his will: my will hath an efficiency on my arm; I will to move my arm, my arm instantly moves. But there is as great a difference between the efficiency of the will of a creature, and the efficiency of the will of the Creator, as there is between a finite and an infinite being. The will of a created intelligence, properly speaking, is not self-efficient, for it hath only a borrowed efficiency. When He, from whom it is derived, restrains it, this created intelligence will have only a vain, weak, inefficient will. I have today a will efficient to move my arm: but if that Being from whom I derive this will, should contract or relax the fibres of this arm, my will to move it would become vain, weak, and inefficient. Further, the efficiency of a creature's will is finite. My will is efficient in regard to the portion of matter to which I am united: but how contracted is my empire! how limited is my sovereignty! It extends no farther than the mass of my body extends; and the mass of my body is only a few inches broad, and a few cubits high.
II. GOD IS THE ONLY BEING WHO HATH A SUPREME DOMINION OVER THE OPERATIONS OF A SPIRITUAL AND IMMORTAL SOUL. From this principle we conclude that God alone hath the happiness and misery of man in His power. God alone merits the supreme homage of fear. God alone not only in opposition to all the imaginary gods of paganism, but also in opposition to every being that really exists, is worthy of this part of the adoration of a spiritual and immortal creature. "Who would not fear Thee, O King of nations?" God alone can act immediately on a spiritual creature. He needs neither the fragrance of flowers, nor the savour of foods, nor any of the mediums of matter, to communicate agreeable sensations to the soul. He needs neither the action of fire, the rigour of racks, nor the galling of chains, to produce sensations of pain. He acts immediately on the soul. It is He, human soul! It is He who, by leaving thee to revolve in the dark void of thine unenlightened mind, can deliver thee up to all the torments that usually follow ignorance, uncertainty, and doubt. But the same God can expand thine intelligence just when He pleaseth, and enable it to lay down principles, to infer consequences, to establish conclusions. It is He who can impart new ideas to thee, teach thee to combine those which thou hast already acquired, enable thee to multiply numbers, show thee how to conceive the infinitely various arrangements of matter, acquaint thee with the essence of thy thought, its different modifications and its endless operations. It is He who can grant thee new revelations, develop those which He hath already given thee, but which have hitherto lain in obscurity; He can inform thee of His purposes, His counsels and decrees, and lay before thee, if I may venture to say so, the whole history of time and eternity. For nothing either hath subsisted in time, or will subsist in eternity, but what was preconceived in the counsels of His infinite intelligence.
III. If the idea of a Being, whose will is self-efficient and who can act immediately on a spiritual soul, were not sufficient to incline you to render the homage of fear to God, I would represent Him as MAKING ALL CREATURES FULFIL HIS WILL. If tyrants, executioners, prisons, dungeons, racks, tortures, pincers, caldrons of boiling oil, gibbets, stakes, were necessary; if all nature, and all the elements were wanted to inspire that soul with fear, which is so far elevated above the elements, and all the powers of nature: I would prove to you that tyrants and executioners, prisons and dungeons, racks and tortures, and pincers, caldrons of boiling oil, gibbets and stakes, all nature and all the elements fulfil the designs of the King of nations; and that, when they seem the least under His direction, they are invariably accomplishing His will. These are not imaginary ideas of mine; but they are taken from the same Scriptures that establish the first ideas, which we have been explaining. What do our prophets and apostles say of tyrants, executioners, and persecutors? In what colours do they paint them? Behold, how God contemns the proudest potentates; see how He mortifies and abases them (Isaiah 10:5, 7; Isaiah 14:5, 11-15; Isaiah 37:29). Oh, how capable were our sacred authors of considering the grandees of the earth in their true point of light! Oh, how well they knew how to teach us what a king or a tyrant is in the presence of Him by whose command kings decree justice (Proverbs 8:15), and by whose permission, and even direction, tyrants decree injustice!
Parallel VersesKJV: Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.