Philoxenus, Ascetic Discourses (1894) pp.184-213. Discourse 7 -- The Second Discourse on the Fear of God
[P. 191] THE SEVENTH DISCOURSE: WHICH SHEWETH THAT ALL THE RIGHTEOUS MEN OF OLD FULFILLED THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD IN THE FEAR OF GOD.
The way of the rule and conduct of the Christian life hath been trodden and made smooth by the example of the righteous men of old for whomsoever wisheth to travel rightly therein, and the marks of the footsteps of those who have before gone thereupon are before us, that we ourselves may go forward therein with ease. And like the sign-posts and mile-stones which are set by the side of a natural road that they may define the place wherein the passers-by are to travel, so also do the examples and types of the men of old, and the divine commandment and law encompass the way in which we are to travel, and they limit the passage of our footsteps within them, so that no man may venture to stray to the right hand or to the left. For like as we are obliged not to stray on either side of the plain path of truth, that we may not wander in deceit, and be tripped up in our faith, so also let us not go forth, either to one side or the other, from the lawful way of the divine course of life which hath been delivered unto us, but as in the way of faith, [p. 192] let us travel rightly along this fair path. And let us know the beginning, and the end, and the middle, and let us look closely at the many steps, so that we, |185 one step after another, in fitting order, may mount this ladder which leadeth up to heaven. Now the Dweller in heaven shewed this ladder aforetime, as in a mystery, to the elect of the Fathers, the blessed Jacob;1 and also that those who went up and those who came down upon it were angels. And that that ladder belongeth not to heavenly angels alone, the word of the Book indicateth to us, because the angels of God were going up and coming down thereupon; for every man who draweth nigh to enquire thereat, and who beginneth to mount it, laboureth after the order of angels, and is numbered among the elect of spiritual beings, and he hath inscribed his name as a heavenly soldier. And as the children of men who receive human positions, and who labour in some one of the grades of the world, change the name of "rustics", by which they were formerly called, to "servants" (or soldiers), so also the man who of his own freewill enrolleth himself in the company which Christ hath formed, and who serveth in the army of spiritual beings, the word of the Book nameth him "angel", and not "man", and rightly so, because he hath begun the service of angels, and he is bound to receive their name. And he is called "angel" instead of "man" because of his service and manner of life, and not because of his nature. And moreover upon the ladder, Jacob the upright saw angels ascending and descending; those who were ascending were men, [p. 193] because it belongeth unto men to ascend from earth to heaven, and those who were descending were angels, because their country is heaven, and they descend from their country, the heights above, to the |186 earth. Now therefore angels and the children of men were mingled upon that ladder that the Holy Book might teach us that a fair life is common both to spiritual and corporeal beings, and that the keeping of the commandments is obligatory to both of them. And the children of men keep the commandments when they are exalted from the depth to the height by the steps of the commandments, and the angels minister unto the wishes of [the Divine] Majesty when they are sent below from above. For those who are to inherit life, that is to say, those who are of the body in their nature and are inferior beings, the service of the commandments maketh celestial and spiritual beings; and the command of the Creator urgeth those who are celestial and spiritual by creation to go down to the country of terrestrial beings, and to abide continually with corporeal beings, so that from races which are different from each other, one Church may be gathered together in the bond of love, which will sing the services of God's will, and which will be wholly and entirely moved by one living and spiritual motion, even as the natural body is moved entirely by the life of the soul.
Now therefore it appeareth to us from the word of the Book, that this ladder which goeth up to heaven is made of many steps, and that it must be ascended by these steps one after another, in proper order, even as those who have ascended this ladder before us have delivered unto us. [p. 194] For we ourselves have shewn that the first step is faith, and the second simplicity, which is the pure motion of nature, and which although faith be produced therefrom, also protecteth faith. For as craftiness is the destroyer of faith, even so are simplicity and innocence the things which establish |187 faith, from the simplicity of which the fear of God also is produced; because fear is closely united to simplicity naturally. Now the simple are afraid, but the crafty despise us; the simple quake at the sound of correction, but the crafty prepare a place to which they may flee. And as fear followeth in the train of natural simplicity, and it inciteth it concerning all doctrine, and it stirreth it up to receive learning and instruction, even so is the fear of God closely united to the simplicity of the soul, and it inciteth it to keep the commandments and to fulfil the laws, and not to despise and to hold in contempt the things which have been delivered unto us by the word of God. And fear leadeth man until [he hath acquired] discretion, and until the righteousness of the Judge is revealed to him, and it teacheth him that he is bound to keep the commandments; trembling and terror of Him that ordained the law, hold fast for the disciple so that he may keep vigilantly the laws which have been given to him. And when the righteousness which is in Him hath been revealed, and this virtue which hath been placed naturally within his soul hath risen upon it, it demandeth from him [p. 195] that like a man who is in debt, he should pay his debt, which consisteth in the keeping of the commandments. For as do the creditors of [this] world towards those who are in debt----now they press and compel them to pay what they owe----even so doth the justice which is in our soul compel us to pay to God the debt of His commandments, for the fear which followeth in the train of simplicity bringeth us to this state, and by this fear all the men of old pleased [God].
It is necessary that whosoever occupieth the position of a servant should fear, for fear should follow |188 after service in every form; but there is in the love which is not perfect, fear, for the Holy Book saith, "In perfect love there is no fear".2 So then after the man who, beginneth. with love and is not yet perfect, fear followeth. One man feareth lest he be struck, and this is the fear of slaves; another man feareth lest he suffer loss, and this is the fear of hirelings; another man feareth lest he cause distress, and this is the fear of friends; and another man feareth lest his name be not handed down to posterity, and this is the fear [of lack] of children. Now although the name of fear is one, yet many different kinds [of fear] are found therein. There is the fear of God which the holy Prophets had, [and there is the fear] which the nation of the Jews had from time to time, but the forms of that fear were different; the Prophets, like friends, feared [p. 196] to cause distress to God, Whom they loved, but, the Jews, like slaves, were afraid of the rod of His chastisement. And that He might increase in them this fear, immediately, by the mouth of offence, the rod of His chastisement was revealed, and after the offence the Chastiser gave them no respite, because their servitude was not worthy of His longsuffering. Above their head the rod of justice hung continually, and immediately they committed sin they were chastened, and at the time of their offence they were beaten, and at the entrance of the path of their sins they forthwith received rebuke; for longsuffering teacheth the foolish servant contempt, and in order that that stupid nation, which in the manner of an evil-doing servant, sat in the house of God, might not [learn] contempt, the |189 Chastiser took away longsuffering, especially when they went forth from Egypt. And we must also understand the object of that swift punishment in another way, and that there was not longsuffering as regardeth the correction of their sins; for God the Teacher took the people, like a child, from Egypt their nurse, that He might deliver unto them the doctrine of His knowledge, and might teach them the instruction of His wisdom. But the people, in their ignorance, when instruction had been delivered unto them, forgot it, and they never kept in remembrance the meditation of the. commandments of God, and they were frequently punished with seventy, so that, if it were only through fear of chastisement, they might lay hold upon the remembrance of [p. 197] instruction. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath day was stoned by all the congregation;3 and the earth opened and swallowed up others who were called by Moses, and who scorned him and came not 4; and fire went forth suddenly, and burnt up the bodies of others who thought lightly of his priestly office, and who sought honour for themselves 5; and others, who in the guise of paying honour, brought strange fire out of season, were burnt up by a tongue of fire which went forth from the tabernacle, and they perished 6; and others, because they asked for flesh and rejected the bread of angels, were tortured by the indigestion which came upon them 7; and others who went astray as concerning the calf, were pierced through by the swords of the Levites;8 and others, who were the cause of |190 the revolt at the waters of trial were set apart for destruction 9; and others who murmured against the Lord perished by fiendish snakes 10; and likewise they all, because they strove against going into the land of promise, came to an end and were destroyed in the wilderness. To these offences, then, these punishments were united, and together with each act of wickedness a punishment straightway sprang up by its side, so that evil deeds might be suppressed by stripes, and sins by vengeance, and so that the people might be like a child who feareth the teacher who giveth him instruction, and that it might tremble before the Judge who would beat them like a wrongdoing slave.
And for this reason Moses also, the schoolmaster of the people, in all places commanded the people to fear God, saying, Do such and such things, keep the commandments, fulfil the laws, love thy companion, [p. 198] visit the poor who are with thee, thou shalt not treat thy brother with violence, thou shalt covet nothing which belongeth to thy neighbour, honour thy father and thy mother, thou shalt not swear falsely in the name of the Lord. thou shalt not go through the boundary of thy neighbour, thou shalt neither spoil nor oppress, thou shalt not act with violence towards him that is more feeble than thou; and at the end of each of the commandments he reminded them, saying, "Fear thy God". And Moses the teacher bade them take heed that the fear of God might be in them, because he knew that the commandments could [only] be kept by fear, and that the fear of God [only] could drive the people from iniquity. |191 That the people should love God was the greatest of the commandments, and therefore Moses urged them to fear Him. The commandment, "[Thou shalt] love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind",11 belonged to those who were righteous among them; but those who were like slaves, and who like slaves were committing offences at all times, he commanded to fear God, for fear repulseth vices, and love perfecteth virtues. Fear cutteth off the path of iniquitous men, and love urgeth on the way of the virtues. "Fear God", and "Love the Lord thy God"; these two commands were ordained in the law which was given to the people, so that whosoever became exalted above the command of fear might find before him the command of love, which is perfected therefrom. For this reason Paul also, when he was shewing the difference between us and them, said concerning the discipleship of Christ, "For ye have not received the spirit [p. 199] of servitude again unto fear" 12----that is to say, ye have not been called to be slaves, that fear might be born to you out of servitude----"but ye have been invited to adoption", which is perfected in love in all good things.
Well therefore doth fear accompany simplicity, and this is rightly required for the beginning of discipleship; for as long as fear abideth with the learner continually it remindeth him not to forget his instruction. And as Moses gave commandments concerning fear to those who had newly set out in the way of the discipleship |192 of God, so also now it is meet that fear should accompany every disciple who setteth out in the way of righteousness. Whosoever feareth despiseth not, and is not negligent, and is not contemptuous, for fear stirreth him up to keep the commandments; and if it happen that he cometh to contempt, the remembrance of fear suddenly maketh him stupid. For immediately a man remembereth God, if it be that the remembrance of Him hath been accurately depicted in his soul, he is greatly moved and troubled, and he is filled with fear and trembling, and stupefaction rusheth upon him suddenly because of his former contempt; even as saith the holy Prophet who knew how to fear God, and who had felt what things the fear of God worketh in the soul, "I remembered God, and I was troubled".13 And behold the remembrance of God should not be one of trouble; O holy Prophet, and why wast thou troubled at the remembrance of Him? And why did the beloved remembrance of Him clothe thee with trembling? [p. 200] "Because I have sinned against Him, and I remembered mine offences,14 and I became mindful of the Judge, and I was filled with fear; I considered my sins and His vengeance, and the remembrance of Him troubled me. Whosoever fixeth his heart, trusteth in God, and he maketh his heart firm and feareth not" 15. The heart which is fixed in virtues the remembrance of God maketh to be glad, and whosoever hath obtained healing of spirit in his inner man, the remembrance of God maketh to rejoice. Wheresoever the conscience is pricked by sin, there doth fear, the remembrance of |193 the Judge, dwell; for the offender who remembereth the Judge is troubled, and the evildoer is filled with trembling at the remembrance of punishment. It was for this reason that the Prophet said, "At the remembrance of God I am troubled. I meditate and my spirit is overwhelmed. Giddiness hath seized my eyes; I am silent and I speak not. I have considered the days of old, and I have remembered the years which are past. I have meditated in the night season, and I have communed with my heart, and examined my spirit, and said, Hath the Lord forgotten me for ever? Will He be favourable unto me no more?" 16 With such thoughts as these did the prophet of God keep watch, and he prayed upon the cushions of his bed as in the church of the saints, being mindful of the things which he was bound to pay back to God. And he considered the days and the generations which had gone by, and he considered how each of the righteous men [of old] had in his time pleased God, and how and with what manner of life he had been victorious before Him. And these things which the Prophet called to remembrance were [intended] to make all those who were to come after him to remember, and to teach every man to fear God in this same manner, and [p. 201] [to teach] that a man himself should reckon with himself, and should consider also other men who were before him, and how they led their lives in all watchfulness.
Now the Prophet, moreover, said that he had done two things: "I have considered the days of old, and I have called to mind the years which are past in which the men of old pleased God", and through the |194 remembrance of these two things "I am filled with fear at the way in which the righteous men pleased God, and at the way in which I have provoked [Him] to wrath. I have given my seasons to reckoning, and my hours to counting, I have meditated upon the days which have passed, and upon the years which I have lived in the world. I have considered with what I have provoked Him, and what sins I have committed, the things in which I have sinned in act, and the things [in which I have sinned] in thought, and the things [in which I have sinned] with [my] hearing and with [my] tongue. And when I meditated upon these things I said, Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight can no man living be justified".17 To such resemblance doth the word of the Prophet call us, and he delivered unto us this type of instruction. We must reckon the hours and the seasons, and in what we have provoked [Him], and the things upon which we have meditated; for if those who practise the trafficking of [this] world reckon up their income and expenses each day, and what they gain and what they lose, how much more is the spiritual merchant who goeth forth in quest of heavenly riches bound to do this? And the reckoning of these things benefiteth a man in two ways; firstly, he collecteth his mind to reckon, and secondly, he is zealous in collecting his money. It is therefore a terrible thing for a man to provoke God, especially when he considereth carefully His Majesty, and His immeasurable love and what good things He hath poured out in abundance upon our race, [p. 202]and what His grace hath given unto us, which |195 by our own works we were not worthy to receive. And when a man considereth within himself, who he is, and how the things which are with him have come, and Who is the giver of them, it is right that he should remember God, and be troubled, even as the Prophet taught him. For it is fitting that we should fear God for two reasons, either because we have sinned, or that we may not sin; for whosoever remembereth the offences which have already been committed [by him], and considereth his former sins, must fear the vengeance due to his evil deeds, and whosoever thinketh that he is pure, and that he hath no offences [committed] in days gone by which he may reckon, and at the memory of which he may be troubled, let him be afraid lest he grieve God in the things which are to come. And thus also did the righteous men [of old] guard their lives from sin, and they healed the wounds which had come [to them], and against those which had not yet come they were watchful; for the first blow which a man receiveth teacheth him to avoid being struck again, and the pain of a first sickness urgeth him to be watchful against the suffering of a second.
What man can contemplate God with vigilant thought, and look upon His majesty, and consider His hidden nature, and can with the eye of his understanding look upon that pure and holy Nature, Which hath need of nothing; Whose country and dwellingplace are exalted; in Whom all riches, and good things and treasures are gathered together; Who is wholly and entirely light, and life, and pleasure; Who is forgiving, and merciful, and good; Who is gracious, and compassionate, and full of love; [p. 203] Who is beautiful, and lovely, and to be desired; Who beggeth, and entreateth, and urgeth every |196 man to live; Who is afflicted for the sake of our life, and seeketh to find us, and is more pleased at our happiness than we ourselves; Who continually entreateth us to take from His riches and to carry off wealth from His storehouse, that we may be rich through His treasures, and not poverty-stricken; Who rejoiceth not in His life as in ours; Who because our poverty was not able to ascend to His riches, brought His riches down to our poverty; Who because He saw that we desired not to become rich, made Himself a beggar that He might make us rich; Whose name is beloved, and Whose appellation is much desired, and Whose remembrance is sweet; Who maketh the soul which perceiveth Him to taste of the sweetness of the spirit; Who liveth in splendour in the rich wealth of His Being, Whom no man hath seen, neither is he able to see Him; Whose nature is unspeakable, and Whose riches cannot be explained; Whose gifts also are like unto Himself, and, like Him, are beyond the limit of knowledge; Who is as good as we are bad, and Whose grace is more abundant than our wickedness; Whose nature only is the measure of His grace, and by it only can His love be measured; Whose grace is extended, Whose justice is contracted; Whose love is large, Whose vengeance is small; Who is ready to forgive, and slow to rebuke; Whose punishments are few, and Whose gifts are many; Who, although He correcteth us, beareth remission of sins for us, and Who, because He loveth to.gain us, for that reason chastiseth us; Him in Whom there is no loss, except only that we have become lost, and Whom affliction striketh not except [p. 204] for our sake; Who put on our passions that He might cast away our passions from us, and Who clothed |197 Himself in our sickness that He might bring our diseases to nought; Who was afflicted to make us rejoice, and Who suffered grief that He might fill us with rejoicing; Who made Himself to be in need of everything that we might lack nothing; Who, knowing that we should become provokers to wrath, created our nature like that of beloved children who had need of Him; Who, knowing that we should enroll ourselves as servants of devils, inscribed us heirs of both His worlds; Who, considering aforetime our likeness, and that the image of the will of Satan was sculptured upon it, carved and depicted us in His desirable likeness; Who, perceiving that we kept not the things of ancient time, made ready aforetime for us others which were greater; He the rich Giver Whose only loss was that we would take nothing from Him; Who while He was giving gifts unto us, grace was receiving us ourselves, and while we were taking from His treasure, we were laid up in His treasury as if we were treasure; Who loveth mankind, and is at all times the Good Being, and the Doer of good; Who being pure and untroubled worketh in us by His doctrine that He may make us pure like unto Himself; Who, being rich and Who being incapable of being brought to poverty, planneth devices whereby He may flatter us to take of His riches, and become rich; Who, having gotten wealth, feigneth Himself to be poor, and when we have gotten wealth, He feigneth that He hath become rich through us; Who, without us, desireth to possess nothing, and if He acquireth anything without us, He is as one Who rejoiceth not therein; [p. 205] Who considereth our joy His, and our affliction His, and Who accounteth all our losses His own; Who hath given unto us all good things, and is not satisfied, and |198 Who hath poured out upon us all riches, and was not satisfied until He, in His love, gave Himself for us?
Who then would not be afraid to grieve this rich and good Being, Who is lavish in giving, sweet and gracious, providing and sustaining, indulgent and forgiving, merciful and full of love, rich, and making rich, good, and doing good, longsuffering and peaceful, loving our race, and accounting our nature beloved, our Physician and Teacher, our Father by His grace, and our foster-parent in His graciousness? And who would not tremble to provoke Him to wrath? And what man, who should consider all these good things which have been given to us, and who should look at the majesty of their Giver, would not be troubled in his mind whenever he remembered Him? And what soul having received all these gifts would not be shamefaced before the Giver thereof? For it is a fearful thing that man should not be afraid of God, and that mortal beings should not be put to shame by all this love, and that those who receive all this wealth of good things should not feel shame; for these things, and others like unto them, the Prophet [David] remembered, and was therefore troubled. And every one, who posses-seth the watchfulness of that holy soul, will at the remembrance of this God also be troubled like the Prophet, and in his going in, and coming out, and in all his actions, will be greatly moved at the remembrance of Him.
[p. 206] Whosoever feareth sleepeth not, and if he sleepeth, he seeth in his dream the cause of his fear; he eateth not, and he drinketh not, and if the force of natural craving compel him, fear is mingled with his meat and drink. Everything which attacketh the man who is filled with the fear of God abideth outside |199 him, for fear keepeth fast hold upon the place of his understanding, and upon all the places of ingoing and outgoing of the city of his soul. Like the watchmen who stand by the gates of the city, even so doth fear keep fast hold upon the places of ingoing and outgoing of the soul, and it permitteth no act or thought to enter in or to go forth which it examineth not; for it neither permitteth any internal thought whatsoever to go forth, nor any external act that is not seemly to go in. And moreover this Prophet maketh known in other places the fear of God; "My flesh contracteth through fear of Thee, and I am afraid of Thy judgments".18 And again he saith, I am like a wine skin in ice, but I have not forgotten Thy commandments".19 And again he saith, "Sorrow is in my heart all the day long. How long, O Lord, wilt thou turn Thy face from me? How long wilt Thou forget me, for ever? How long wilt Thou set trouble in my soul?"20 And again he saith, "Heal me, O Lord, for my bones tremble, and my soul is greatly moved. I am weary with my groaning; [p. 207] every night make I my bed to swim; and I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye hath become sick because of Thine anger";21 now it is evident that all these things arose from [his] fear of God. And again he saith, "I roared by reason of the groaning of my heart";22 and again he saith, "Lead me, O Lord, in Thy fear and righteousness";23 and again he saith, "There is no soundness in my flesh before the fear of Thee, and there is no health in my bones in the presence of my sins. For my iniquities |200 have gone over my head; and [they are] as a heavy burden heavy upon me. My wounds stink and are corrupt, and in the presence of my iniquities I tremble greatly. All the day long I walk in sadness. For my ankles are filled with trembling. I am much moved, and I am brought to great misery".24 And again he saith, "My heart is turned back, and my strength hath forsaken me; and the light of my eyes is no longer with me".25 And again he saith, "I kept silent, and I was sorrowful, and I was afflicted even from good; and my sickness was stirred. My heart became hot within me; and in my body the fire kindled".26 And again he saith, "I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth; because Thou didst it. I have come to an end because of [Thy] rebuke of my sins".27 And again, in another place, he ascribeth blessedness to the man who feareth God, and he maketh known what good things the fear of God worketh in him that feareth [Him], saying, "Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord",28 and here the fearer of God is accounted blessed. And although our Lord ordained blessings for other things, the prophet David accounted blessed the fearer of the Lord. [p. 208) "Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the way of the wicked",29 and it is well known that he walketh not in the way of the wicked because he feareth God. And again he saith, "Blessed is the man whom Thou shalt correct, O Lord, and whom Thou shalt teach Thy law",30 and it is manifest that the fear of God teacheth |201 the laws, and that the man who feareth confesseth his correction. And again he said, "Blessed are those who are without blemish in the way, and who walk in the law of the Lord",31 and here again the fear of the Lord preserveth [a man] from blemishes, and urgeth him to walk in the way of the law. And again he saith, "Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, and whose sins are covered",32 and it is well known that here also the fear of God bringeth to repentance, through which the forgiveness of sins is given, and through the suffering and tears which are produced by the fear of God the form of a man's sins is covered before his eyes. And again he saith, "Blessed is every one "that feareth the Lord, and who walketh in His ways" 33, and here again the prophet David sheweth that a man walketh in the way of the commandments through the fear of God. And in another place he saith concerning him that feareth the Lord, "He taketh heed to the commandments which are given by the Lord".34 And again this Prophet counselleth every man to draw nigh unto God in fear, and he entreated all creation to fear the Lord Who made it, saying, "Let all the earth fear the Lord, [p. 209] and let all the inhabitants of the world tremble before Him" 35. For the word of the prophecy casteth fear and trembling upon all the inhabitants of the world, and it teacheth all created beings to come to God by this way.
Whosoever feeleth his state of bondage is bound to fear the power which hath subdued him, and hence |202 it is right for every created being who hath in him discernment to perceive his Creator, to draw nigh to Him in fear and trembling; for that we should fear God is seemly for our nature, but that we should love Him is given unto us by His grace. For man is not worthy to love God, but God Himself came down that He might be loved by man. Now creation is bound to fear God naturally, but if it be exalted to the grade of love it is not its nature which is able to lift it up there, but Grace goeth down in search of it, and bringeth it up and stablisheth it in the height of divine love, that it may, by Grace, love God, Whom justly it is obliged to fear. And behold, moreover, to the kings and princes of [this] world not every man hath power either to shew love, or to reveal to them the most ardent and faithful emotions of affection; but all ranks and orders who are under their subjection must shew fear and service before them, and not the confidence of affection and love. For according to the custom of exalted rank which is found with the governors of [this] world, to be loved by inferiors (or the poor) is considered by them a disgrace, and therefore, they demand fear from every man, in their capacity of lords, [p. 210] and not love like parents. Now God, having in His Grace ordained Himself our Father, gave unto us also power to love Him, and it is not right that we should of our own freewill exalt ourselves insolently, but we should remain the whole time of our life in the subjection of His fear, and when He Himself wisheth His Grace will exalt us to the grade of His love. To our mind the capacity of loving God belongeth not, but the capacity with which we were created is to fear God, and therefore the Holy Books |203 everywhere demand from the children of men fear rather than love, inasmuch as circumspection accompanieth fear and confidence love. And, moreover, love is the cause of fear, for until a man plougheth, and toileth, and soweth the seed in fear, he cannot arrive at the reaping of love. For as the crops of the husbandmen of [this] world are in the hands of God, while the ploughing and the sowing belong to our own will, even so are the labours and the service of fear placed in our will, but that we should arrive at the capacity for love, and gather in the produce thereof belongeth to the will of God. For until the manifestation of Christ----Who brought love to the world----fear ministered in the world to all the children of men, and until Christ was revealed to man in his own place, it was right that all his life should be passed in the perpetual service of fear; and although our Creator hath, in His Grace, called us "sons" to make us proud and to magnify us, yet is it more seemly for us to abide in the fear of servants. [p. 211] And that we were called "sons" belongeth not to ourselves, but to the Grace of Him that called us, and it belongeth not to us to ask for wages boldly, but to us it belongeth to serve in fear; but that one should give the wages of love belongeth to God. And no man will offend if he calleth love the wages of fear, for as a man receiveth [his] wages after his toil, even so after the service of fear doth Jesus make us taste the sweetness of His love, from which joy ariseth for us, and we stand in the confidence of sons, and our hidden man findeth freedom of speech with God, and our understanding stablisheth joy of spirit at all seasons, and our mind delighteth inwardly in the sight of heavenly light, and contempt for everything which is visible is |204 born in the soul, and our dwelling is as if it were already in the kingdom which is prepared for the saints.
Now these and such like things hath the soul that hath tasted divine love, for the man who standeth in perfect love is in God, and what happiness compareth with this, or what pleasure or delight is equal to that of a man being in God? for the position which is in perfect love is purity from all wickedness, and the perfection of all virtues. And also Jesus was not persuaded to give this wealth of love except to the man whom He know to be worthy of it, for from love is born confidence, and to confidence contempt is closely united, and there is no virtue which hath not near it a breach through which it can be ravished. But in fear there is no [p. 212] contempt, only watchfulness and circumspection, and a perpetual guard which preserveth the good things from the ravisher; for the fear which is of God urgeth a man to gather together the things which are profitable, and when they have been gathered together fear also increaseth and multiplieth to him that gathereth them, for it turneth and addeth to his fear, and he taketh good heed to his virtues that they be not spoiled. He crieth out because he is afraid, and he is watchful oi his possessions because he feareth lest they be ravished, and in every respect it is necessary and advantageous to life in [this] world that a man should fear God. The country of fear is the country of the life which is mortal, and the country of love is the other world of the life which is immortal. Let us consider then our country, and let us increase in us fear, and let us look at the dwelling in which we live, and let us increase in us trembling at God, and at the remembrance of the report of Him; and let us rouse ourselves as from |205 the depth of deep slumber, and let us wake up wholly to keep all His commandments. For the nature of the fear of God is that it urgeth us [to do] one thing, and one thing only, for it stirreth us up to do all the commandments, and for this reason the Spirit of God desired to teach us the fear of God by the hand of all the Prophets. And the Prophet David himself said, "All those who pass over the earth shall fear the Lord, and all those who go down into the dust shall kneel [before Him]".36 And again he saith, "Lead me, O Lord, in Thy fear and righteousness",37 and because he knew what the profit of the fear of God was, he asked it as a gift from God. [p. 213] For all the conversation of the soul which the fear of God leadeth standeth in righteousness. And again, when he entreated God not to remember the sins of his youth 38 against him, he was moved to make this request by His fear of God; and again he said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".39
Now the end of the path of good works is spiritual love, therefore from love divine wisdom is produced, and the blessed David well taught us that the beginning of this way of wisdom is the fear of God. For as to every matter in [this] world there is a beginning and an end. and as the paths which are trodden down naturally by the passage of footsteps have also a beginning and an end, even so hath the path of virtue a beginning and an end; its beginning is the fear of God, and its end is the wisdom which is born of love. And it is right that every man who wisheth to begin the Christian life should begin |206 it with the fear of God, even according to the teaching of the blessed David; and again another Prophet said, "The fear of the Lord shall open [my] ears for me"; and concerning Jonah it is also written, "He feared before the Lord and fled to Joppa".40 For although his fear was born of simplicity, yet like a man who feared God he fled in order that he might not draw nigh to the work which he thought was too hard for his strength. And again when he was asked by the sailors whence he came, and what [p. 214] God he served, he said, "I fear the Lord, the God of heaven".41 And also when those who were with him in the ship saw the marvellous things which took place through God in the sea----for the sea rose up, like a being having intelligence, to demand from them the fugitive servant, and when he had been given unto it, it sank to rest and its billows were quieted----and saw through the things which took place the fear of God, it is written concerning them that "the men feared the Lord, and they offered up sacrifices unto the Lord, and vowed vows."42
And again God demanded from the Jews the fear of Himself by the hand of Jeremiah, and reproached them by the testimony of the dumb things in nature, which, though silent, trembled at the fear of Him, while the Jews despised His commandments. "Fear ye not Me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at My presence? For I have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, [by] an everlasting law, and it shall not pass over it".43 And here again the Creator demanded fear and trembling from created things, and because they forsook His |207 fear they were reproached through the dumb things of nature, which feared and trembled at the Majesty of the Creator, while His commandments were despised by the children of men. And God in all places shewed the majesty of His nature by the hand of the Prophet, that He might cast the fear thereof into those who listened. For to those who would have despised His meekness----if it had been shewn unto them----He revealed the majesty of His nature that they might tremble thereat; and to others He shewed His gentleness and meekness, [p. 215] which at the report of His humiliation would increase [their] love [for Him]. Now the fool is wont to despise whosoever is humble before him, but the wise man loveth him more because of his humility. For the fool hath no eye to see love in humility, and for this reason greatness is made manifest to him, and indignation is written down for him, and seventy and terror are inscribed before him, that by reason of these he may fear the more Him Who maketh such things manifest. And the Will of God hath, according to the following testimony, revealed why He maketh use of these words to the children of men. "The sea is obedient unto Me, and restraineth the fury of its waves within the despicable bound of sand. And its waves lift themselves up, and pass not over the contemptible fence which hedgeth them in; but ye of your own freewill despise this terrible God".44 And again in another place He maketh known that He employeth every kind of benefit and help towards them, and that He took and brought nigh unto them every cause for fear and love, but that they would neither fear nor love Him. "If I be Lord, where are those |208 who fear Me? And if I be Father, why do ye not honour Me?" 45 therefore they should either have feared [Him] as Lord, or have honoured [Him] as Father. And for this reason also God in a certain place1 repeateth before him the benefits which He had wrought for the people---- the terrible Exodus from Egypt, the abundant gifts in the wilderness, the entrance into the land of promise, [p. 216] the subjugation of foreign nations, the benefits which were poured out abundantly upon their lives every day----so that He might rouse them up to love the Giver. And in another place 46 He repeated the great things which He had done, and the works which He had established by the nod of His Will, and how all created things hang upon the power of His word, and the natural things keep their bounds, and the creation is yoked beneath the dispensation of His Will; before Whom the mountains are placed in scales, and the hills in a balance, Who hath meted out heaven with His span, and hath comprehended the dust of the earth in His palm, and before Whom the nations and peoples of the world are accounted as nothing. These things He spake by the hand of the Prophet, that through them He might make His majesty known, and that by the report of His majesty he might work fear in those who listened unto him. For when God spake unto those who were in the condition of servants, He rehearsed before them the great and terrible things of His nature, but when [He spake] to those who were accounted by Him worthy of the grade of love, He set forth the doctrine of humility, and of love, and of meekness, and He humbled Himself and spake to them |209 because they did not despise Him in His lowly estate, but rather loved Him the more because of it. For where God cannot confide in the children of men because of their immature understanding and childish knowledge, He speaketh terrible and fearful things, and He granteth not unto them boldness to draw nigh unto the confidence of His love, lest, when they have perceived His knowledge and forgiveness, and above all things that love and grace are to be found with Him, for this very reason they despise [p. 217] His graciousness, and they cast themselves after the manner of the flesh to the working of all vices. And this is manifest alone to those who have obtained the inheritance of the name of sons, together with that of grace also, through the labour of their works, for in proportion as they feel love, they love the more; and in proportion as they perceive the goodness of the nature of God, they become better men; and in proportion as His condescension and graciousness become revealed unto them, they are themselves urged to become like unto their Father in things which are like unto these.
And for this reason all the revelations of God in olden time belonged to fear, but this latter [revelation] is of friendship and love; for in times of old He revealed Himself to teach us that He was our God, but in this last time He hath appeared and shewn us that He is our Father. In times of old He drew nigh to the children of men who were in the condition of slaves, but to-day He calleth them to the inheritance of "sons". And when He revealed Himself to gather together slaves unto Himself, He bore stripes and fetters, blows and chastisements, punishments and penalties, fear and trembling, indignation and cruelty, |210 swift vengeance, the rod which was always stretched out over the head of sinners, the open judgment hall, and the judge who was ready; but in times of old was reared up the wood that the blasphemer might be crucified upon it, of old the stones were collected for stoning, of old the fire was kindled for the burning, of old the stripes were made ready for crimes, of old the instruments were prepared to take tooth for tooth, of old were the eyes bored out, of old the branding irons were ready to avenge, of old [p. 218] blows were struck, of old sentences 47 of judgment upon crimes were passed. To those who were slaves belonged such stripes. And that the wicked slave might not raise his head, and lift up himself insolently against the Giver of the law, He broke his legs that he might not kick, He cut off his hands that he might not strike a blow, He drew out his teeth that he might not bite, He put out his eyes that he might not see and desire the things which belonged not to him, He inflicted injury upon him that he might not injure others, and by the fear of punishments He drove back the vices of that nation because it would not be persuaded to be restrained from its abominable practices through fear of Him. For where there is the fear of God, man hath no need of the fear of these and such like things, because the fear of the unseen Judge sufficeth to draw him from all his vices. Lay fast hold then, O disciple, upon this fear in thy soul, and fear nought else, for the fear which is of God feareth not the world, and the fear which is of the world feareth not God. Let us then be afraid |211 at all times lest we provoke God to wrath, because the portion of fear is placed in thee that thou mayest fear God therewith. In [this] world there is nothing which belongeth to fear for the soul that perceiveth the fear of God, and the trembling of afflictions is accounted nothing to the man who hath in him the trembling of the fear of the righteousness of God. Our Lord abrogated one fear, and established another; He lifted from us the fear of the death which belongeth to time, and He laid upon us [p. 219] the fear of the death which is for eternity. "Fear ye not the death [which is of time]", but fear the death [which is for eternity]. "Let not those who kill the body terrify you, but fear ye Him Who can destroy the soul and the body".48 Those who kill [the body] are not to be feared, for Another quickeneth, but He is to be feared Who is able to put to death so that there is none who can quicken, and when He hath killed, there is none who can bring to life. For that which is transitory the fear thereof also is transitory, but the fear of Him Who neither passeth away nor changeth cometh not to an end. "He looketh upon the earth, and it trembleth, He rebuketh the mountains, and they smoke".49 And again [the Book] saith, "At Thy rebuke they flee, and at the voice of Thy thunders they are afraid".50
And behold, according to the word of the Prophet, the fear of the Creator also resteth upon the natures which are speechless, because each of them is bound naturally to be afraid of Him; and if dumb things fear Him, how much more should intelligent beings fear |212 Him? The fire which belongeth to time is greatly feared by the children of men, yet how remote from the mind is the remembrance of the fire which [burneth] for eternity! The sight of the tortures which can be seen is terrible and appalling, yet how very far removed from the vision of the soul are the punishments which are to come! The death which is here is full of terror, and yet the image of everlasting death is not set before our eyes. Immediately the remembrance of the things which are written entereth in, it annulleth from the heart the remembrance of the things which are here; and so long as our minds .are not moved by the constant fear of God, every fear which cometh upon us terrifieth us. [p. 220] For so long as the king is absent the judge is held in fear, but when the king appeareth in his power the fear of judges is annulled, and not is this so only, but the judge himself, together with all the grades [of men] beneath him, is subject unto the fear of the royal power, and those who are feared themselves become people who fear. For all fears gathered together are smitten by one fear, and all princes and governors, from whom fear descendeth upon the grades [of men] beneath them, are obedient and subject unto one fear which is the mistress of all others. Of One only let us be afraid, and through the fear of Him the power of all [other] fears shall be dissolved, and let the trembling which is produced by all [other] powers be brought to nought, and let every governor bow his head before one Royal Governor Who ruleth over all. Thus likewise when the fear of God is remote from the soul, it is afraid of everything, of powers, of judges, of governors, of men of rank, of captains of hosts, of rich men, of those in authority, of despised and common folk, |213 and of men of low and contemptible condition; and together with these it feareth also affliction, and injuries, and punishments, and torments, and pains, and sicknesses, and loss, and poverty, and remoteness from kinsfolk, and removal from family, and deprivation of friends, and departure from [its] native country. All these and other similar things are [objects of] fear to the man who feareth not God, but if the fear of God enter in and dwell [p. 221] within the country of the soul, and lay hold upon ail the members of its thoughts, it is henceforth impossible for the soul to receive [any] other fear; and when any fear which goeth to dwell therein seeth that the fear of God abideth in the soul, it will leave [it] and depart, because its house is not capable of receiving another inhabitant. For as a vessel which is full of one substance cannot receive any other which may be put therein, unless it be emptied of that which first filled it, even so the soul which is filled with the fear of God cannot receive the fear of the world, or the fear of anything which is in the world, for it is wholly occupied by that one true fear of God. Let us all then strive to possess this fear, and let us despise [all] else, and let us be empty of everything, that we may be sufficient for the one work only of the fear of God; and in the remembrance of His terrible and venerable Name let us keep our lives with all diligence, and let us make glory to ascend to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.
Here endeth the Seventh Discourse: which is on the fear of God which was in the righteous men of old.
[Footnotes renumbered and moved to the end. Page numbers in brackets refer to the Syriac text in vol. 1 of the printed edition.]
1. 1 Genesis xxviii. 12.
2. 1 1 St. John iv. 18.
3. 1 Numbers xv. 32-36.
4. 2 Numbers xvi. 12, 32.
5. 3 Numbers xvi. 3, 35.
6. 4 Leviticus x. 1, 2.
7. 5 Numbers xi. 33.
8. 6 Exodus xxxii. 19-28.
9. 1 Numbers xx. 12, 13.
10. 2 Numbers xxi. 5, 6.
11. 1 Deuteronomy vi. 5; St. Matthew xxii. 37; St. Mark xii. 30; St. Luke x. 27.
12. 2 Romans viii. 15.
13. 1 Psalm lxxvii. 3.
14. 2 Compare Psalm xli. 4.
15. 3 Psalm cxii. 7, 8.
16. 1 Psalm lxxvii. 3-7.
17. 1 Psalm cxliii. 2.
18. 1 Psalm cxix. 120.
19. 2 Psalm cxix. 83.
20. 3 Psalm xiii. 1, 2.
21. 4 Psalm vi. 3, 6, 7.
22. 5 Psalm xxxviii. 8.
23. 6 Psalm v. 8.
24. 1 Psalm xxxviii. 3-9.
25. 2 Psalm xxxviii. 10.
26. 3 Psalm xxxix. 2. 3.
27. 4 Psalm xxxix. 9.
28. 5 Psalm cxii. 1; Psalm cxxviii. 1.
29. 6 Psalm 1. 1.
30. 7 Psalm xciv. 12.
31. 1 Psalm cxix. 1.
32. 2 Psalm xxxii. 1.
33. 3 Psalm cxxviii. 1.
34. 4 Compare Psalm cxii. 1.
35. 5 Psalm xxxiii. 8.
36. 1 Psalm xxii. 29.
37. 2 Psalm v. 8; Psalm xxv. 5.
38. 3 Psalm xxv. 7.
39. 4 Psalm cxi. 10.
40. 1 Jonah i. 3.
41. 2 Jonah i. 9.
42. 3 Jonah i. 16.
43. 4 Jeremiah v. 22.
44. 1 Malachi i. 6.
45. 1 Compare Psalms lxxviii, cv., cvi.
46. 2 Isaiah xl. 12, 15.
47. 1 There seems to be no example of the use of this word given in Payne Smith's Thesaurus (see. col. 3573).
48. 1 St. Matthew x. 28.
49. 2 Psalm civ. 32.
50. 3 Psalm civ. 7.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.
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