The justice of God is a tremendously awful subject of contemplation, even to those who are safely shielded from its terrors. The believer, in the act of witnessing its righteous stroke upon the wicked of the earth, cannot forbear to cry out—My flesh trembles for fear of You. Thus did the holy men of old tremble, even with a frame approaching horror, in the presence of the Divine judgments. David trembled at the stroke of Uzzah, as if it came very near to himself. "Destruction from God"—says holy Job, "was a terror to me: and by reason of His highness I could not endure." Such also was the Prophet's strong sensation, "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at Your voice: rottenness entered into my bones." And thus, when God comes to tread down and put away His enemies for the display of the holiness of His character, and to excite the love of His people—those that stand by, secure under the covert of their hiding-place—cannot but "take up their parable and say—Alas! who shall live, when God does this!" The children of God reverence their Father's anger. They cannot see it without an awful fear; and this trembling at His judgments upon the ungodly covers them from the heavy stroke. Those that refuse to tremble shall be made to feel, while those that are afraid of His judgments shall be secure. "Only with Your eyes shall you behold, and see the reward of the wicked." "I trembled in myself," said the prophet, "that I might rest in the day of trouble." Even the manifestations of His coming "for the salvation of His people" are attended with all the marks of the most fearful terror—as if His voice would shake the earth to its very foundation, "You caused judgment to be heard from heaven—the earth feared and was still: when God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth."
To mark this trembling as the character of the child of God, we need only contrast it with the ungodly scoffing, "Where is the God of judgment? Where is the promise of His coming? The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil." Thus do men dare to "run upon the thick bosses of His bucklers;" instead of trembling for fear of Him! This "stoutness against the Lord," excites the astonishment of the hosts of heaven; so discordant is it to their notes of humble praise, "Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name; for Your judgments are made manifest!" Such is the special acceptance of this trembling spirit, that some shadow of it obtained a respite even for wicked Ahab, and a pardon for the penitent Ninevites; while its genuine "tenderness of heart" screened Josiah from the doom of his people, and will ever be regarded with the tokens of the favor of this terrible God. "To this man," says he, "will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at My word."
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.
"My flesh trembles for fear of you." He did not exult over the punishment of others, but he trembled on his own account Such was his awe in the presence of the Judge of all the earth, whose judgment he had just now been considering, that he did exceedingly fear and quake. Familiarity with God breeds a holy awe of him. Even the grosser part of David's being, his flesh, felt a solemn dread at the thought of offending One so good and great, who would so effectually sever the wicked from among the just. Alas, poor flesh, this is the highest thing to which you can attain! Yet this is far better than your pride when you do exalt yourself against your Maker.
"And I am afraid of your judgments." God's words of judgment are solemn, and his deeds of judgment are terrible; they may well make us afraid. At the thought of the Judge of all—his piercing eye, his books of record, his day of assize, his awful sentence, and the execution of his justice—we may well cry for cleansed thoughts, and hearts, and ways, lest his judgments should light on us. When we see the great Refiner separating the precious from the vile, we may well feel a godly fear, lest we should be put away by him, and left to be trodden under his feet. Even his judgments, as we find them written in the word, fill us with trembling; and this becomes to us an evidence of grace. But what will the judgments themselves be when carried into effect? Oh the trembling and the fear which will be the eternal portion of those who run upon the bosses of Jehovah's buckler and defy his wrath!
Love in the previous verse is quite consistent with fear in this verse: the fear which has torment is cast out, but not the filial fear which leads to reverence and obedience.
Exposition of Verses 121 to 128
I HAVE done judgment and justice: leave me not to my oppressors.
Be surety for your servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.
Mine eyes fail for your salvation, and for the word of your righteousness.
Deal with your servant according unto your mercy, and teach me your statutes.
I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies.
It is time for you, LORD, to work: for they have made void your law.
Therefore I love your commandments above gold; yes, above fine gold.
Therefore I esteem all your precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.
In this octave the Psalmist first entreats the Lord to interfere on his behalf: he asks for judgment from the great King, even as he himself had dealt out justice to his people. He then declares his sincere and unqualified content with all the Lord's commands and precepts, and begs him to defend his own law. He writes from the stand-point of his official experience. In our public as well as our private position, the Word is precious.