His presence is dreadful, and that not only his presence in common, but his special, yes, his most comfortable and joyous presence. When God comes to bring a soul news of mercy and salvation, even that visit, that presence of God, is fearful.
When Jacob went from Beersheba towards Haran, he met with God in the way by a dream, in the which he apprehended a ladder set upon the earth, whose top reached to heaven; now in this dream, from the top of this ladder, he saw the Lord, and heard him speak unto him, not threateningly; not as having his fury come up into his face; but in the most sweet and gracious manner, saluting him with promise of goodness after promise of goodness, to the number of eight or nine; as will appear if you read the place. Yet I say, when he awoke, all the grace that discovered itself in this heavenly vision to him could not keep him from dread and fear of God’s majesty. “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not; and he was afraid and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen 28:10-17).
At another time, when Jacob had that memorable visit from God, in which he gave him power as a prince to prevail with him; yea, and gave him a name, that by his remembering it he might call God’s favour the better to his mind; yet even then and there such dread of the majesty of God was upon him, that he went away wondering that his life was preserved (Gen 32:30).
Man crumbles to dust at the presence of God; yes, though he shows himself to us in his robes of salvation. We have read how dreadful and how terrible even the presence of angels have been unto men, and that when they have brought them good tidings from heaven (Judg 13:22; Matt 28:4; Mark 16:5,6). Now, if angels, which are but creatures, are, through the glory that God has put upon them, so fearful and terrible in their appearance to men, how much more dreadful and terrible must God himself be to us, who are but dust and ashes!
When Daniel had the vision of his salvation sent him from heaven, for so it was, “O Daniel,” said the messenger, “a man greatly beloved” ; yet behold the dread and terror of the person speaking fell with that weight upon this good man’s soul, that he could not stand, nor bear up under it. He stood trembling, and cries out, “O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me” (Dan 10:16-17).
The presence of God is a dreadful and a fearful thing; yes, his most gracious and merciful appearances; how much more then when he shows himself to us as one that dislikes our ways, as one that is offended with us for our sins?
John Bunyan – Fear of God