Great Texts of the Bible
Love Casting Out Fear
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.—1 John 4:18.
1. St. John’s name does not call up before us the fiery zeal that stirs some to noble deeds, or the unfaltering faith that nerves others to meet danger, or the calm endurance that lifts others above pain and trial; though zeal, and resolution, and endurance are each and all so commonly the offspring and the evidence of love in the hearts of men. What St. John, for the most part, represents to our minds is love in its softer aspect. We often forget that he was Boanerges. We picture him to ourselves as the tenderest of men, and the most unselfish; at once the most ready to sympathize with and comfort others in distress and the most quickly responsive to affection shown by others for him. And so it is, not only with St. John, but with other characters also; we are apt to forget that other side, the necessary complement, of love—namely, courage, and resolution, and all that is akin to these. Often, when we see men soft and gentle, like St. John, we fail to remember that there must be a stronger side to their characters; just as, on the other hand, when we see men who are evidently cast in a sterner mould, we frequently forget that there may be—often, indeed, that there must be—warm springs of feeling within their hearts which we cannot see, to account for that strict or even rigid performance of duty which we can see.
2. But the love which he commends in this Epistle is not an emotion based upon mere feeling and impulse, or a passion having its roots and energy in the lower nature of man; it is a love entirely in subordination to principle, and sanctified by its hearty consecration to God. According to the Apostle, therefore, Christian love is elevated into the very highest type of spiritual chivalry. It is emphatically an affection based upon a reasoning perception of worth in the object of its choice, and hence it is a moral power, and not an unintelligent emotion of instinct or habit. In the fulness of its strength it has power to call forth forms of spiritual beauty more thrilling than any manifestation of mere animal passion. In Christian life it is a profound reality, being the true secret of man’s happiness and well-being.
Such is the love which the Apostle puts in opposition to fear. It is the “perfect love”—the love which is fostered with the truest sincerity, and from a purely unselfish motive—that has power to cast out fear. There is no fear in that great passion of the human soul which is called “the love of God”; for, on the contrary, it is instrumental in producing in the heart that beats and burns with it a blessing which surpasses all human anticipation. It is the prize and glory of the spiritual life, the master grace that enriches the fellowship of a soul with heaven. The modes of its action and the forms of its life are such as give it free and glorious course, and show, in proportion to its sincerity and intensity, how pre-eminently it is the conqueror of all fear.
In heaven, love will absorb fear; but in this world, fear and love must go together. No one can love God aright without fearing Him; though many fear Him, and yet do not love Him. Self-confident men, who do not know their own hearts, or the reasons they have for being dissatisfied with themselves, do not fear God, and they think this bold freedom is to love Him. Deliberate sinners fear but cannot love Him. But devotion to Him consists in love and fear, as we may understand from our ordinary attachment to each other. No one really loves another, who does not feel a certain reverence towards him. When friends transgress this sobriety of affection, they may indeed continue associates for a time, but they have broken the bond of union. It is a mutual respect that makes friendship lasting. So again, in the feelings of inferiors towards superiors. Fear must go before love. Till he who has authority shows he has it and can use it, his forbearance will not be valued duly; his kindness will look like weakness. We learn to contemn what we do not fear; and we cannot love what we contemn. So in religion also. We cannot understand Christ’s mercies till we understand His power, His glory, His unspeakable holiness, and our demerits; that is, until we first fear Him. Not that fear comes first, and then love; for the most part they will proceed together. Fear is allayed by the love of Him, and our love is sobered by our fear of Him.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, i. 303.]
3. The Apostle had just spoken of a day of judgment. To his mind there was something very real in that judgment, very decisive too. But the reality—the force of such reality—lay in this, that he did not project it into some distant future, else it would have lost much of its terribleness by such distance. He saw—and we, too, may see if we will—the judgment already set, and the books opened. There are days of our inner experience which are to us days of judgment, when we seem to stand at the bar of conscience, and meet face to face with God, who sits enthroned there. The secrets of our hearts are revealed to ourselves, and the searching eye of a Divine truth is set upon us. What strength or what boldness can we reach compared with that which comes from love? This appears to be the innermost thought of our writer. Love on the throne and in the heart gives fearlessness in every day of judgment. The soul finds shelter, not simply in its own affection, but in the Divine affection. It becomes a solace to us when most unfriended. Here is the perfection of Love, that it meets God with fearlessness. With all the dreadful things we may be able to trace in ourselves, and even at a time when most of all we feel we must be true to God, to be able to stand in the Eternal Light: this is the perfection of Love.
The most perfect example of love is our Lord Jesus Christ. And the most complete example of a being whose ruling disposition and principle is fear and hate, is the devil. Here are the two models—and we are all growing more like to one or the other of them. We are all, as the years go on, growing more loving, more trustful, more kindly in disposition, more liberal in almsgiving; or we are growing more fearful and suspicious, more grudging and mechanical in our performance of duty, money-loving and miserly, ruling ourselves in our daily life, not by love, but by fear.2 [Note: Literary Churchman, xxiv. 235.]
Mr. Robert E. Speer stopped from a British India steamer at Muscat to visit the Rev. Peter Zwemer, who was working there alone. Mr. Zwemer took his visitor up to his house, where, he said, his family were staying. There, sitting on benches about the room, were eighteen little black boys. They had been rescued from a slave-ship that had been coming up the eastern coast of Arabia with those little fellows, to be sold on the date plantations along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The British consul had seized them from the traders, and Mr. Zwemer had undertaken to keep them until they were eighteen years old, when they would be given their manumission papers.
“When I got them,” said Mr. Zwemer, “the whole eighteen huddled together in the middle of the floor, like jack-rabbits, and every time I came close, they huddled a little nearer. They mistrusted every one. On each little cheek-bone was the brand of the slave’s iron, and for months and months they had known nothing but hatred and beatings, and had been shut down in the hold of the slaveship, in order that they might make no noise and betray their presence.”
When Mr. Speer saw them they looked happy and confident, and they sang for him, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” looking as if the realization that all their blessings had come from that Divine Source had already sunk deep into their hearts.
The Inevitableness of Fear
1. There are different meanings attached to this word fear, which we must take account of. Let us remember that in its highest sense it is reverence, and the love that does not reverence is a coarse earthly thing. Worship is one of the essential attributes of a true love. Heavenly love is always a reverence for the object loved. It lays its ample treasure at the feet of the beloved. But fear also suggests alarm, disquiet, suspicion. Perfect love does not know, cannot reckon upon, these. How does this description apply to the spiritual affection about which St. John writes? Let the heart love God, and it cannot dread Him. Let the heart love, and it will cling where it loves. You cannot cling without sympathy.
Our love to God is full of clinging confidence in Him and sympathy with all His purposes. But love has to take some things upon trust. It cannot always read the meaning when it trusts the purpose of the beloved. Still less does it suspect. You cannot call that a perfect love in any of the human relationships which looks suspiciously, which is full of forebodings. Love trusts—trusts always.
Augustine speaks of fear as the needle, sharp and painful, but bringing in the thread; the needle passes, and the pain is gone, and then comes the thread which forms the union and joins the soul to God. So fear may begin the blessing to the soul; love perfects it, and then—fear all gone—it rises to filial confidence.1 [Note: J. B. Figgis, The Anointing, 76.]
2. In a world where everything has to struggle for existence fear is inevitable. One of the strangest things in the organization of this world is the prevalence of a universal destructiveness. We are taught, and we believe, that God is a God of benevolence. We are taught, and we believe, that the world was ordained for the production of happiness. Yet, when the Apostle says that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” every one who is conversant with history agrees with him. Every one who looks out into life and takes cognizance of the things that are going on—the silent sufferings, the secret mischiefs, the wastes, and the wails that spread throughout the whole human family—must feel that some defence is needed to make life tolerable or even possible. Now fear is the best defence of all the passions that are committed to men. If the world were all peaceful, fear would be a torment; but on the supposition that the world is full of antagonisms and destroying influences, and that life is to be maintained and developed in spite of the difficulties and dangers which surround everything and everybody, fear is a preservation.
Wherever there is evil to be seen, there is fear or the seed of fear; and evil is around us, and in us, on all sides, in this world of ours. Who can look around at the state of the world at any moment and not feel anxious at what we and our children may have to go through? Who has not things which he values as the apple of his eye, things to which he has always been accustomed—things which he believes to be bound up with all that is good and precious in life, things whose removal would make days for ever dark and unbearable—and yet does not see that they hang but on a thread; perhaps that what is to bring their ruin and overthrow has already begun to work? Who does not feel that change is the law and order of the world, and never more so than in our own days; and who does not feel that a change might easily come—in his circumstances, in his friends, in the neighbours among whom he dwells—which would make things very wretched to him? Every one who thinks and looks forward to what may be in the world, and in the country where he lives, must sometimes feel fear and anxiety coming over him, taking possession of him, and distressing him. What may I not live to see? What may I not live to see overthrown or set up? What calamities such as I hear of on all sides may I not have to taste of? Who can tell? To-day for one, to-morrow for the other, is the rule of fortune. And when these thoughts come into the mind, of the judgments and trials of God’s providence meeting us, we understand what is meant by the saying that “fear hath torment.”1 [Note: R. W. Church, Village Sermons, iii. 258.]
3. Fear arises necessarily from our ignorance. A person altogether unacquainted with the operations of a machine, a steam-engine or the like, would fear to meddle with it, because it might do him injury in some way which he would have no reason to expect; an engineer by profession would have no such fear as this. What is the difference between the two? Clearly this, that one understands the action of the machine with which he has to do, and the other does not; the machine must be spoken of as dangerous or not dangerous, according to the training of the person concerned. So an honest man is in no fear of a judge, provided only that he knows the judge to be himself an honest man and a competent judge; if by any misfortune an innocent man were placed upon his trial, and he was well assured of the integrity and intelligence of his judge, he could not dread the result; but suppose that the judge, either from ignorance, or ill-temper, or party-spirit, or any other cause, were well known as a capricious man, one whose judgments could never be anticipated, because he would not be guided by the high rules of honour and the laws of evidence—who would not fear to stand before such a judge? The good and the bad must tremble alike; there could be no confidence, no one would be able to guess whether a man would be punished for an alleged crime or not. Let a ruler be as stern as he pleases in enforcing laws, yet if those laws be just, and the penalties of them known, no one need fear for his safety; but if the ruler be a tyrant, and if instead of acting according to law he act according to his own fancy, and treat his subjects in an arbitrary manner, then indeed he may well be feared (as all tyrants are) with that fear which has torment, which breeds hatred, and which can never be united with love.
The little pilgrim of the dawn has now the freedom of what Professor Sully calls “the realm of fancy.” In his active brain he has a magic wand which makes him master of creation. He fills the blank spaces between the zenith and the nadir with his imaginings; makes the woods fearful with wolves, discovers the haunts of fairies and tree-folk in holes under the tree roots, and associates the church, the barn, the lane, the brook, the gate, with the people and places of his story-books.
This realm is not only the land of fancy, but that of fetish. To one little fellow, born in Siberia, the great god Pan was a reality. At night he would say, “Bye-bye, Poo-ah!”—“Goodnight, Out-of-doors!” Another went in mortal dread of a feather from the eider-down or a fluff of the wool in which a banana had been packed, and he would flee with a yell when it moved towards him on a breath of air. Boy Beloved had an unpseakable horror of an indiarubber hot-water bottle, but if he had to pass near it, he would propitiate it with “Nice water-bottle!” and, watching it carefully, sidle out of danger.1 [Note: W. Canton, Children’s Sayings, 20.]
4. Fear is stirred by our wrong-doing. When we sin we cower before offended justice and regard God as a foe more terrible than Odin with his trenchant sword. Our thoughts of God grow darker as we grow in sin; and the awful aspect He seems to present to conscience darkens us like a shadow or deadens us like a pall. Human life is often like one of those great tragedies where, in the earliest scenes, a suspicion is infused of the darkness that is to deepen round the close. Unless the principles of Divine light and the powers of Divine love have wrought their influence upon the sinful heart, men carry about with them, everywhere and always, the consciousness of those dark secrets which linger from the earliest age of responsibility in the inmost recesses of the heart. Such a fear, always changing, always undermining, the joys and hopes of life, plants upon conscience its own growth, until sometimes it becomes an inquisitor with a whip of scorpions. To such men the very name of the God who governs the world is fear.
Of the state of his mind and heart in regard to religion at Harrow Cardinal Manning has left the following record:—“It was not a good time with me. I do not think I ever ceased to pray all through my time at Harrow. I said my prayers, such as I had learned, I suppose, from my mother. I had always a fear of judgment and of the pool burning with fire. The verse in Apocalypse Revelation 21:8 was fixed in my whole mind from the time I was eight or nine years old, confixit carnem meam timore, and kept me as boy and youth and man in the midst of all evil, and in all occasions remote and proximate; and in great temptations; and in a perilous and unchecked liberty. God held me by my will against my will. If I had fallen I might have run the whole career of evil. In the midst of everything I had a veneration for religion. The thought of it was sweet to me, and I lived in the hope and temptation of being religious one day before I died. I never went to church unwillingly; and I always liked hearing sermons, which was my state when I went to Oxford.1 [Note: E. S. Purcell, The Life of Cardinal Manning, i. 27.]
In darkest days and nights of storm,
Men knew Thee but to fear Thy form;
And in the reddest lightning saw
Thine arm avenge insulted law.
In brighter days, we read Thy love
In flowers beneath, in stars above;
And in the track of every storm
Behold Thy beauty’s rainbow form.
And in the reddest lightning’s path
We see no vestiges of wrath,
But always wisdom,—perfect love,
From flowers beneath to stars above.
See, from on high sweet influence rains
On palace, cottage, mountains, plains;
No hour of wrath shall mortals fear,
For their Almighty Love is here.2 [Note: Theodore Parker.]
5. Fear has an educative function. Fear of punishment, either as imminent or as distant, is not a false or bad principle of action in its own place, and for its own time. It is appropriate for the earlier stage of spiritual training. It is commonly called “servile”; but until a soul can realize its sonship, the servant’s position is the one it must occupy, and has at any rate the assurance of “bread enough” for present needs. A Psalmist could draw an illustration from the wistful looking up of slaves under chastisement, and the fear which “has punishment,” although in this sense “servile” is disciplinary; it marks a stage in the moral progress through which the supreme Educator, divinely equitable and patient, conducts His children by slow steps, in consideration of hearts not fully softened, and consciences not thoroughly enlightened, which, as yet, are unfit for a high religious standard.
The beginnings of morality and virtue are in fear; for, although men may finally be organized so highly that they shall work for the love of working, as men do that are in health of both body and mind, yet, in the beginnings, among low and rude people, men do not work because they like it. They bask lazily in the sun, and gorge themselves with food when they have it, and suffer the pangs of famine when they have it not. They learn to build houses, that they may not be exposed to the severity of the weather. They learn to cultivate the fields, that they may have food in winter. They are brought to habits of foresight and industry and regularity by the stimulus of fear. They are stimulated by the fear of suffering in themselves, and then by the fear of suffering in their households, when they begin to love them. It is fear that develops the human race in its earlier stages. It is fear that in the beginning promotes civilization. Fear is the strongest impulse towards improvement on the lower range in the scale of human life. Love is the highest element; but this is at the other extreme.
The filial relation is seen in its perfect shape only where a discipline is maintained and obeyed. Fear is the parent of love in the work of education. Such fear does not cast out love; it cherishes it and makes it a reasonable and a worthy love, based like all love worthy of the name upon reverence and honour. But this love in turn casts out that other fear of which St. John speaks—a fear which is born not of faith but of distrust; the fruit of ignorance, not of knowledge. “I know,” says the Apostle Paul to Timothy, “whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” This is the calm and humble conviction of one in whom fear had been cast out by a perfect love. In Jesus Christ he had seen death abolished; for he had seen a sinful world reconciled to the Father; he had seen in Him life and immortality brought to light through the Gospel; and it had banished fear for ever.
It is said that the son of that profligate French prince Louis who is branded with the name of the “godless Regent” was, in his boyhood, deeply impressed by what his tutor told him about the punishments reserved for obstinate sinners. He grew up into manhood, serious, conscientious, pure in life, devout towards God, compassionate towards men. The fear of hell, as such, had done its work at the right time; it fairly burned out the germs of sinful passion; it prepared him, we cannot doubt, for a better spiritual condition at last attained. It may be so with many a youth who is not yet accessible to higher motives, but who believes that wicked ways lead to hell, and who therefore, in his own phrase, “keeps himself straight.” Is not this “fear” worth something? Bishop Andrewes, alluding to it, observes that it is “as the base-court to the temple”; and adds that a man must do his duty “for fear of punishment, if he cannot get himself to do it for love of righteousness.”1 [Note: William Bright, Morality in Doctrine, 215.]
The genial Principal of Glasgow University, in the course of a public speech a year or two ago, told this story. An old couple in his country parish had taken with them to church their stirring little grandson, who behaved all through the service with preternatural gravity. So much was the preacher struck with the good conduct of so young a listener that, meeting the grandfather at the close of the service, he congratulated him upon the remarkably quiet composure of the boy. “Ay,” said the old man with a twinkle in his eye, “Duncan’s weel threetened afore he gangs in.”2 [Note: Sir Archibald Geikie, Scottish Reminiscences, 88.]
Wouldst thou abolish quite strongholds of self and sin?
Fear can but make the breach for Love to enter in.3 [Note: R. C. Trench, Poems, 124.]
The Antagonism of Fear and Love
1. Love and fear are antagonistic passions, and the tendency of the one is to overshadow and extinguish the other. The love of God is declared in this text to be the victorious antagonist of that fear of sin which has torment in it. In general we can see without difficulty how the two, love and fear, do exclude one another. Pear is entirely based on a consideration of some possible personal evil consequence coming down upon us from that clear sky above us. Love is based upon the forgetfulness of self altogether. The very essence of love is, that it looks away from itself. It is thus free from that torturing and anxious thought, What will become of me? which makes the torment of fear as the sister of selfishness. It is because love is the going out of my heart, out of itself altogether, that it frees me at one sweep from all the torturing anxieties and trembling anticipations of personal consequences. Fill the heart with love, and there is an end to the dominion of fear.
There is no exorcist of fear like love. Longing for the good of another will carry one through fire and water.1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 20.]
Our love wakes in the morning, unafraid
To meet the little worries of the day;
And if a haggard dawn, dull-eyed and grey,
Peers in upon us through the window shade,
Full soon love’s finger, rosy tipped, is laid
Upon its brow, and gloom departs straightway.
All outer darkness melts before that ray
Of inner light, whereof all love is made;
Each petty trouble and each pigmy care.
And those gaunt-visaged duties which so fill
Life’s path by day, do borrow of love’s grace.2 [Note: E. W, Wilcox, Poems of Love and Life, 7.]
2. “Fear hath torment,” says the Apostle. Some artists have taken pleasure in painting monstrous forms—beings that never existed save in their own deranged imagination—things hideous to behold. Similar to this is the genius of fear; it opens its sombre canvas, spreads it out before the mind, covers it with phantoms of evils to come, filling the soul with anguish and misery. Thus it was with Job. When he could believe in the Divine goodness, hope dawned upon him, and he spoke cheerful words: “I know that my redeemer liveth.” “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” “When he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” But when he could not see God or realize His goodness, when his light was turned into darkness, fear returned, producing “torment,” by which it is always accompanied. Sometimes he is like a forsaken child, wandering hopelessly and alone at midnight in a desolate place, far from the habitations of men. He sighs for the light, but it comes not; feels after God, but He evades his touch. “O that I knew where I might find him!… I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him.” Again and again does the image of his great affliction pass before his mind, like the spectre in the vision of Eliphaz, creating a depth of misery which he endeavours in vain to express.
We have met with some who ought to have been bathing in the depths of the Divine love and sufficiency, suffering such torments as are described in Dante’s Purgatorio or Inferno. To what is this torment due? To an untrusting fear of God. They do not find any comfort in their thought of God; always speculating as to what God will think of this or that, they know not the blessed joy of an uncareful, God-delivered soul. One would say to such, do not think that God saves you only upon condition that you carry about with you in your very breast the torment of hell. As you believe the Divine love, cast this torment from you and come at once into the more perfect enjoyment of that Divine grace, which does not extend its favour to you because you are so good, but that it may make you better.1 [Note: G. J. Proctor.]
3. Love, unlike fear, inspires confidence. Love enlightens, purifies, and elevates the soul. We are influenced by the objects of our love. We cannot love a noble human character without in some degree becoming like that character; and if we love Christ, and God in Christ, we shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory. Love is fruitful in good works; it inspires the mind to keep the commandments of Christ, and imparts power to surmount the greatest difficulties, while fear takes away our strength, enervates the soul, and deprives us of our moral and spiritual energy. The marvellous labours and self-denial of the apostles are accounted for by the love that constrained them. It is, moreover, essential to acceptable service, for there is no virtue in that which is done from mere fear. A man doing his duty simply because he is afraid to leave it undone, resembles the crouching slave who works because the lash of the taskmaster hovers over his head, and is ready to descend the moment he desists; but he who obeys from love is like an affectionate child who hastens to do his father’s will because obedience is to him a real delight.
On a lonely moorside, far from any other habitation, dwells a weakly woman, the wife of a powerfully built crofter. They live alone in their humble cot, the weakly wife entirely in the power of her strong husband. If he so willed he could do her grievous harm, but does she ever think of that? No, for perfect love casts out all fear. She rejoices in his strength because she has perfect confidence in his love, she cannot fear because she knows and believes fully the love that he has for her. All this you say is perfectly natural. Certainly, and is it not just as natural that we should, when we are joined in covenant relationship with God, trust Him as fully and realize that any feeling of fear is simply impossible, because we know and believe the love which He hath toward us?1 [Note: C. O. Eldridge, in The Preacher’s Magazine, 1894, p. 318.]
4. The love which casts out fear is not a vague emotion towards an unknown God; nor is it the result of a man’s willing that he will put away from himself his hatred and his indifference, and will set himself in a new position towards God and His mercy: but it rises in the heart as a consequence of knowing and believing the love which God hath to us. Hence, again, it is the conqueror of fear. That flowed from conscience trembling before the half-seen face of the Divine Judge. This comes when the eyes are opened to behold the full Divine mercy in the face of Jesus Christ and there to see that God hath no anger, but is infinite Love. It is not by any power in our love to appease the stingings of sin that we get rid of the fear. We lose it because our love comes from apprehending that great Gospel and blessed hope, that God’s love is ours, ours in His Son, ours that our love may be perfectly fixed upon it, ours without disturbance from any of His awful attributes, ours without fear of loss or harm from any events. Believing this, the heart fills with a mighty tide of calm responding love which sweeps away on the crest of its rejoicing wave, the vileness, the sorrows, the fears, which once littered and choked the channels. They are flooded out, and the heart is delivered.
A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. There are hundreds of professing Christians who know very little indeed of that joyous love of God which swallows up and makes impossible all dread, who, because they have not a loving present consciousness of a loving Father’s loving will, tremble when they front in imagination, and still more when they meet in reality, the evils that must come, and who cannot face the thought of death with anything but shrinking apprehension. There is far too much of the old leaven of selfish dread left in the experience of many Christians. “I feared thee, because thou wert an austere man, and so, because I was afraid, I went and hid my talent, and did nothing for thee” is a transcript of the experience of far too many of us. The one way to get deliverance is to go to Jesus Christ and keep close by Him.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, 303.]
5. The love which casts out fear heightens reverence. There is a fear which is the foundation of all religion, and which is the abiding duty of Christian men. And it is worth noticing how love, which casts out dread, and makes us cease to be afraid of God, perfects reverence and makes us venerate with holy awe far deeper than ever subsisted by the side of terror, and yet makes us stand much nearer to God than when we were slaves, and crouched before the image of Him which conscience set up. A man who is trembling about personal consequences has no eye to appreciate the thing of which he is afraid. There is no reverence where there is desperate fear. He that is trembling lest the lightning should strike him has no heart to feel the grandeur and to be moved by the solemn awfulness of the storm above his head. And a man to whom the whole thought, or the predominant thought, when God rises before him, is, How awful will be the incidence of His perfections on my head! does not and durst not think about them and reverence Him. Perfect love takes out of the heart all that bitter sense of possible evil coming on one and leaves one at liberty, with thankful, humble heart, and clear eye, to look into the centre of the brightness and see there the light of His infinite mercy. Love destroys slavish fear, and perfects that fear which is reverence.
He seemed to bear about with him a certain hidden, isolating, constraining, and ennobling fear, which quenched the dazzling light of many things that attract most men; a fear which would have to be clean got rid of before time-serving or unreality could have a chance with him. Whatever that fear was it told upon his work in many ways; it helped him, probably, in great things to be unworldly; it sustained with an imperious and ever-present sanction his sense and care for perfect justice, in act and word, in his own life and in his verdicts on the past: and it may well have borne part in making his style what it was: for probably few men have ever written so well and stayed so simply anxious to write truly.1 [Note: Life and Letters of Dean Church, xxii.]
The Expulsion of Fear
1. One way of trying to banish fear is levity or indifference. There is nothing more striking than the power we have of forcing ourselves to forget because we know that it is dangerous to remember—that strange power which a man has of refusing to think of a subject because he knows that to think of it would be torture and terror. It is a strange faculty that we all have of forgetting unwelcome thoughts and shutting our eyes to the things that we do not want to see, like Nelson when he put the telescope to his blind eye at Copenhagen because he would not obey the signal of recall. But surely it is an ignoble thing that men should ignore or shuffle out of sight with inconsiderateness the real facts of their condition, like boys whistling in a churchyard to keep their spirits up, and saying “Who’s afraid?” just because they are so very much afraid.
One of our poets gives a grim picture of a traveller on a lonely road, who has caught a glimpse of a frightful shape close behind him,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head.
The dreadful thing is there on his very heels, its breath hot on his cheek; he feels it though he does not see, but he dare not face round to it, he puts a strong compulsion on himself, and with rigidly fixed face, strides on his way, a sickening horror busy with his heart. An awful image that, but a true one with regard to what many men do with their thoughts of God! They know that that thought is there, close behind them. They feel sometimes as if its hand were just coming out to be laid on their shoulders, and to top them. And they will not turn their heads to see the Face that should be the love, the blessedness, the life of their spirits, but is—because they love it not—the terror and freezing dread of their souls.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
2. It is “perfect” love that casts out fear. The more devotedly the heart clings to God the more complete will be its victory over fear. The more we love God the more we grow like God. He that loveth not knoweth not God. He that is born of God loveth. He that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. “If there were not something sunny in the eye,” says Goethe, “it could not see the sun”; so if there be no love within our hearts, we can never know God, for He is love, and we can know Him only as we love Him. If our love is not a reflection of His love, if it is so weak and feeble that, when the cloud passes over it and darkens the sunlight, it cannot keep our heart from failing because of fear; then let us look up to Him who is our life, and seek that gift of love which He alone can bestow, and the dominion of fear will end.
The most effectual and permanent remedy for any passion is to give power enough to its opposite to control it. We see empirical cases of this. For instance, mirthfulness stands over against combativeness. A man who has humour and sees things in a mirthful light escapes destructiveness and combativeness more easily than anybody else. A child is angry and hateful, and strikes back; but the nurse sets a little monkey jumping, and he laughs; and that minute the child’s temper is all gone. The two elements cannot reign together. The nurse, empirically, has fallen upon the right philosophy. In the whole range of life, over against the causes of fear are the opposites; and by keeping them alive and in full play a man can control fear more easily than by direct and specific acts of the will.
We find that medicine acts in the same way. If a person is under the influence of overwhelming grief the physician orders a change of place, or association, or occupation. A new class of influences is brought into play, and they cure or medicate the trouble. So all the things that tend to courage, to hope, to trust, to mirthfulness, to gaiety, whatever elements are radiant in the human mind, are the natural born doctors of the things in the human mind that are dusky, low-browed, and care-pierced.2 [Note: Henry Ward Beecher.]
3. The way to perfect love and freedom from fear is the old way of obedience. Before we can love God truly we must first have learned to obey His will even in the smallest duties of our life. We so often begin the other way. We look right away from the little duties, from the common everyday work, which we ought to love, from the friendships which we ought to be making here, and think we can know at once what is meant by loving God. And how often, as the years go on, we fail; and know that the reason for our failure was that we had not yet learned the meaning of Christ’s words, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”—those words which should teach us that we cannot know what perfect love is until we know something of love in its simplest form, as love for our work and love for those around us. Only that love which has its roots in perfect obedience and simple trust is strong enough to cast out fear.
I remember the instance of a pale woman who taught a village school in summer. One rude boy tried her very soul, and there was a strife of some weeks before she gained the ascendancy; and some months passed by before her spirit conquered his, and he became, not an abject servant, but the servant of love; so that, although he was stronger than a dozen of her physically, though he had the power rudely to discompose her spirit, and stamp out the order of the school, not her shadow moved more obediently to her movements than he did to her wishes; for he loved her. That which in the beginning she compelled him to do, and which he did very poorly, he afterwards did with eagerness and a great deal better. For the inspiration of love, when men are prepared for it, is a nobler inspiration than that of fear. It is more comprehensive, more fruitful, more beneficent. And while it has its efficiency in this life, it has the promise, the signet, the earnest of the life which is to come.1 [Note: Henry Ward Beecher.]
4. Perfect love rests on the bosom of Christ, and looks forward to the day of judgment without apprehension. That is the particular thought which this text enshrines. Love God, and fear not, the Apostle seems to say, for now we know to what inconceivable lengths God’s love for us has gone. The crown and perfect work of our love of God is shown in this, that it enables us to look forward even to the dreadful day of judgment with courage and boldness. The terrors and sufferings which may come upon us here in our mortal life, are light and trifling compared with the horror which must fall upon all things in that closing day of doom. But even of that, the soul which loves and cleaves to God can face the thought, can wait for it with calmness and quiet. For why? Because as He is, so are we in this world. Because we are here on the side of God. Because they who love God are, as God is, on the side of good, of truth, of holiness, which God must and will one day make victorious.
Think of St. John himself, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the disciple whose one hope and longing in the world was to see the Kingdom of his Master, and to rejoice with Him in glory, whom he had loved in the bitter day of defeat and shame. He was the disciple who felt his whole heart beat with the heart of his Master; who knew that what Jesus Christ loved, he loved too; that what Jesus Christ worked for, he himself was ready to die for; that what Jesus Christ counted sin and abomination, that he himself loathed as an accursed thing. He felt that after having known Jesus Christ and His love, all that this world could offer him was not worth a thought; he lived in the mind of Jesus Christ about eternity and the things of time, and felt that all the greatness, and glory, and beauty of this world was only that which his Master had despised and trampled on. With what thoughts of things to come would such a man live? What would he fear of sorrow, or perplexity, or loss, or pain, or death? What would the worst evils which can visit man be to him who lived in the love of Jesus Christ, on whose bosom he had leaned at supper—who was now at God’s right hand? What to St. John, personally, would be all the woes and plagues which—when in the isle of Patmos he saw the vision of the future—he beheld gathering upon the world of the ungodly? He might tremble, he might pity, he might weep for others; but in the earthquake, and pestilence, and storm, and death, what fear for himself? To him the day of judgment was the day of Christ, it was the coming back and appearance of his beloved and departed Lord, the beginning of that kingdom of glory for which he daily waited and daily prayed. Awful as it was, he could have boldness when it came. He was ever abiding in Christ and His love, that, as he says elsewhere, when his Master should appear, he might have confidence, “and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”1 [Note: R. W. Church, Village Sermons, iii. 262.]
O thou that walkest with nigh hopeless feet
Past the one harbour, built for thee and thine,
Doth no stray odour from its table greet,
No truant beam from fire or candle shine?
At his wide door the host doth stand and call;
At every lattice gracious forms invite;
Thou seest but a dull-grey, solid wall
In forest sullen with the things of night!
Thou cravest rest, and Rest for thee doth crave,
The white sheet folded down, white robe apart.—
Shame, Faithless! No, I do not mean the grave!
I mean Love’s very house and hearth and heart.
Love Casting Out Fear
Ainger (A.), Sermons in the Temple Church, 101.
Banks (L. A.), John and his Friends, 143.
Bright (W.), Morality in Doctrine, 209.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, iii. 258.
Cox (S.), Expositions, i. 364.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, ii. 247.
Figgis (J. B.), The Anointing, 67.
Gibbon (J. M.), The Gospel of Fatherhood, 43.
Goodwin (H.), Parish Sermons, iv. (1856) 48.
Gregory (B.), Perfect in Christ Jesus, 104.
Hart (H. G.), Sermons Preached in Sedbergh School Chapel, 20.
Kingsley (C.), Village, Town and Country Sermons, 341.
Lushington (F. de W.), Sermons to Young Boys, 9.
Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, i. 194.
Maclaren (A.), Triumphant Certainties, 296.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 161.
Temple (F.), Sermons Preached in Rugby School Chapel, ii. 47; iii. 212.
Trench (R. C.), Westminster and Other Sermons, 32.
Christian World Pulpit, ii. 355 (Bainton); iii. 212 (Beecher); xiv. 195 (Proctor); xxi. 84 (Beecher).
Church of England Magazine, xxiii. 112 (Ayre); xliv. 67 (Morris).
Literary Churchman, xxiv. (1878) 235.
Preacher’s Magazine, v. (1894) 317 (Eldridge).