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St Paul says,
the way which leads downward, and do they not need to fear? ought they not to be afraid ? And if the Bible contains
passages which teach us not to fear, does it not contáin other passages which teach that we ought to fear? Does not Jesus tell us “not to fear those who can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do, but to fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell ? "
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The Apostle Peter says, “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” And everywhere in the New Testament and Old we are taught that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” How are these facts and statements to be reconciled with the assertion that it is the duty of Christians not to fear?
First, we may say that a distinction can be taken between fear as a subordinate motive and fear as a ruling motive of human action. As a motive subordinated to other motives, fear is always useful. As the sole or principal motive of action, it is always evil. Fear acting alone paralyzes, and makes one incapable of exertion. Fear as the ruling motive of conduct is degrading, because it is essentially selfish. But fear, when controlled by reason, when subordinate to hope, when joined with courage, becomes caution, watchfulness, modesty. It causes us to suspect and distrust ourselves till we have reason to trust in ourselves ; makes us look around, look forward, measure the difficulty to be overcome, see the full amount of risk to be encountered, and so, at last, when danger arrives, it appears as presence of mind and self-possession equal to the occasion. This is our first explanation of the difficulty suggested. The Christian fears, but is never governed by his fears, He fears, but also hopes. He has not a spirit of fear but a spirit of hope and power.
But, again, how much we need to fear and ought to fear
depends upon the progress of our inward life and Christian experience. He who feareth is not made perfect in love. But until he is made perfect in love he must necessarily fear. The work of Christ is to deliver us from all excessive fear, and to leave in its place calmness and sober watchfulness and a profound peace.
But this work is not done suddenly; is a progressive work. Step by step, through manifold experiences, we enter this region of Christian peace, calmness and joy. Through manifold temptation and trial it behooves us to enter God's kingdom. And how this is let us now consider.
First, consider fear of sin and of its consequences.
The main purpose of Christianity is to save us from sin, and thereby to save us from its consequences, which are moral and spiritual death. And it saves us, not by inspiring fear, but by inspiring faith and courage. It assures us that “sin shall not have dominion” over us, because we are “not under the law, but under grace,” and because the strength of sin is the law. What does this mean?
The law of God shows us what our duty is, but gives us no power to do it. The purer and higher the standard, the less ability we feel to reach it. Therefore the Christian law of love which says, “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself," is the most discouraging law of all. It tells us to do that which we are quite sure we cannot do. The Christian law of accountability, which teaches that we are expected to improve every talent that we possess, and that if we merely stay where we are without improvement we are wicked and slothful servants, is another most discouraging announcement. The Christian law of truth and purity, which tells us that we are to give an account of every idle word, and that a sinful wish has in it the guilt of a sinful action, is again discouraging. And, finally, the law which demands per
fection, which says, “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect;" which says if we offend in one point we are guilty of all; which requires, not partial, but entire service ---prayer without ceasing, thanks for everything, all of life saturated with holiness, this is eminently discouraging. Yet all this the gospel does demand. All this Christ requires. He who has any self-knowledge knows himself to be unequal to this demand. The law, therefore, by requiring so much, takes away his courage, and he does not attempt anything. Thus it is that the law ordained for life becomes death; meant to make us better, it makes us worse ; and the higher and better it is, the more discouragement it produces, and the more, therefore, it palsies and destroys our moral life.
Read Paul's epistles, and you will find this is precisely
“ Courage gone, all gone,
Is not this borne out by the experience of us all ? Translate Paul's thought into modern language. Instead of the law say moral teaching, and ask whether by itself and alone it is not wholly discouraging. When we have our duties pointed out, the first effect is to rouse the conscience and make us take good resolutions. We resolve to do bet ter, We resolve to begin a new life, to correct such and such faults, to take such and such steps forward. Perhaps we really do better - at least for a time. If our purpose is merely a partial improvement, a correction of some particular faults, we may succeed in effecting it, under the influence of moral instruction. But if we aim at anything deep, radical, thorough, we inevitably fall. For a command, a law, does not give life or power. And the more often that we fail, the more we are discouraged, until, at last, it seems idle and hopeless to take any new resolutions. And when we reach this point, moral instruction has produced moral death.
The most melancholy instance perhaps of the evil influence of this paganized theology is in the case of the poet Cowper. Gifted by nature with exquisite tenderness of soul, with susceptibility to all that is true and beautiful in the outer and the inner world, made to be a loving child of God, his life was darkened, his high faculties palsied, and his reason at last overthrown by the influence of a paganized Christianity. The sun and the light and the moon and the stars were darkened ; the silver cord was loosed, and the golden bowl broken. Standing by Cowper's grave, thinking of Cowper's experience, another poet, as deeply religious as he, but blessed with a more generous faith, has sung the saddest song over this blighted spirit:
“O, poets! from a maniac's tongue
Was heard the deathly singing.
A hopeless hand was clinging.
O, men! a man in brotherhood,
Your kindred paths beguiling,
And died while you were smiling."
Not so evil as this, but still very evil, is that Judaizing Christianity which substitutes law for love, and gives us a judge instead of a father. Instead of one dark gloom, we have in this case a continued anxiety ; instead of one great fear, continued self-distrust. We are not yet sons, but only hired servants. We work laboriously, and have no deep inward peace; no profound satisfaction, but instead of assured faith, we doubt our right to any of the Christian promises. We cannot say “We know in whom we have believed," not “We know we have passed from death to life,” but “We hope that we may be improving a little ;” not "Nothing can separate us from the love of God," but we hope to be accepted by him hereafter; not a present, certain salvation, but a future, probable salvation.
What we need is the spirit of adoption, whereby we may cry, “ Abba, Father ! ”
Then there will be no more fear, neither fear of man nor fear of God, nor fear of sin, nor fear of death, nor fear of what follows death. When we are God's children, living in our Father's House, reconciled to him, at peace with him, with his love shed abroad in our hearts, then all fear is taken away. Then our work is easy, our way is onward; every day adds something to our real life, every year witnesses some real improvement, for the life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God. We live, yet not we, but Christ who lives in us. And when we are in him, and he in us, then we are always near to God; his peace always with us, his grace sufficient for us everywhere. He is the vine, we the branches, and the life of the vine causes the branches to grow year by year more luxuriantly. And, when the winter of trial and