I am a simple layman in one of our sister Reformed Baptist Churches, where I have been a member for close to twenty years. Even after all of these years, I still remember my first real dose of Reformed Baptist preaching. It was at the very first Southeastern Reformed Baptist Family Conference in Boiling Springs, NC. I came away from that conference as did Jacob from his night in Luz, saying “surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28). Jacob then commented, “I did not know it” (or recognize/expect it). As with Jacob’s surroundings, there was nothing visible to me in that little auditorium that indicated that this was a special place. When I looked around the auditorium, it was filled with ordinary people that were waiting to hear some preacher whom I did not know bring a message. Been there; done that. Nothing new.
But then we were asked to stand and sing. The song we sang is more precious now than it was that day when I first sung those words of Isaac Watts…
How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.
We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.
Now there was a song with some doctrinal backbone – something I was not used to. There was a song to bring as a sacrifice to the living God – a song that was not “blemished, lame or blind.” But what was even more astounding to me was how God drew near through the preaching of His Word. I had never heard preaching like that! Nor had I ever heard men preach it that way! God was set forth just as Isaiah envisioned Him, “high and lifted up.” And like Isaiah, I came away thinking, “Woe is me, for I am undone!…For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
This is why I became a Reformed Baptist twenty years ago – because of the seriousness with which worship was approached. I am reminded of Isaiah 66, Thus says the LORD… “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
Charles Bridges in his excellent exposition of Psalm 119 (the actual title of the book) wraps up his comments on verse 120 with the following:
Believers in Christ! rejoice in your deliverance from that “fear which has torment.” Yet cherish that holy reverential fear of the character and judgments of God, which will form your most effectual safeguard “from presumptuous sins.” The very supposition, that, if God had not engaged Himself to you by an unchangeable covenant, His fearful judgments would have been your eternal portion, is of itself sufficient to mingle the wholesome ingredient of fear with the most established assurance. What! can you look down into the burning bottomless gulf beneath your feet, without the recollection—If I were not immovably fastened to the “Rock of Ages” by the strong chain of everlasting love, this must have been my abode through the countless ages of eternity. If I had not been thus upheld by the grace, as well as by the providence, of God, I might have dropped out of His hand, as one and another not more rebellious than I have fallen, into this intolerable perdition! O God! my flesh trembles for fear of You; and I am afraid of Your judgments.
Thus the dread of the judgments of God is not necessarily of a slavish and tormenting character. “His saints” are called to “fear Him;” and their fear, so far from “gendering unto bondage,” is consistent with the strongest assurance; no, even is its fruit and effect. It is at once the principle of present obedience, and of final perseverance. It is the confession of weakness, unworthiness, and sinfulness, laying us low before our God. It is our most valuable discipline. It is the “bit and bridle” that curbs the frowardness of the flesh, and enables us to “serve God acceptably,” in the remembrance, that, though in love He is a reconciled Father, yet in holiness He is “a consuming fire.”
Now, if we are under the influence of this reverential awe and seriousness of spirit, we shall learn to attach a supreme authority and consideration to the least of His commands. We shall dread the thought of wilfully offending Him. The fear of grieving Him will be far more operative now, than was the fear of hell in our unconverted state. Those who presume upon their gospel liberty, will not, probably, understand this language. But the humble believer well knows how intimately “the fear of the Lord” is connected with “the comfort of the Holy Spirit,” and with his own steady progress in holiness, and preparation for heaven.
1 Corinthians 14:25 reminds us that only when truth comes in such a way as to reveal the heart of man, that a man will fall on his face, worship God and declare as Jacob, “Surely the LORD is in this place!” May 2010 prove to be, by the abundant grace of Almighty God, a year in which those who come among us will not be able to leave from the presence of our congregations without being able to attest to that same fact.