"The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso puteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe."
We have two ancient proverbs here; each of them is true as a separate proverb, and they are equally true when linked together. The independent proposition, that the fear of man bringeth a snare, is a truth which experience has taught to many. The other proposition, that he that trusteth in the Lord shall be safe, has been found most blessedly true by all those who have tested it. Then put the two propositions together -- that the fear of man bringeth a snare but trust in the Lord is the safe and certain way to avoid that snare -- and this also is true.
I. We shall first of all consider for a little while the first of the two ancient proverbs: "The fear of man bringeth a snare." That is one of the great evils that we have to avoid.
What a common evil the fear of man is -- the fear of losing human approbation, the fear of incurring human wrath. There are thousands of men who have no fear of God who have great fear of man. They break the laws of God without any fear of the consequences that must ensue, yet they are afraid to break the laws of man because they dread the punishment that might possibly follow. They are not afraid of hell, yet they are afraid of an earthly prison. They dread not the arm of the Almighty, yet they are afraid of an arm of flesh.
The fear of man has been thought by some persons to be a very good and salutary thing. Instead of bringing a snare, they think that it is the means of preventing much sin among mankind. Now I do not doubt that some are hindered by the fear of man from committing great crimes and open acts of wrong, but the utmost that the fear of man can do is to confer a very doubtful benefit. Try it in your own house among your own children. If your children are kept from wrong-doing only by the fear of you -- if they only do that which they are bidden to do because they are afraid to do otherwise -- you will have a very poor form of obedience; and you will have at the same time an abundant crop of deceit springing up; for when your child has done wrong his fear of punishment will drive him to a falsehood, and perhaps lead him from one falsehood to another, and falsehoods may become so common with him that at last it shall be as natural to him to tell a lie as to speak the truth; and I think every parent must know that all the faults a child can commit, if put into the scale together, are not equal in criminality and in injury to his spiritual constitution to a lie. The power to tell a lie is one of the most hideous powers to which man can attain, and some children are kept in such a state of terror that they naturally learn to do it. It is supposed too that servants cannot be managed without being kept in a state of fear. Yet you all know what an eye-server is. If there is no right principle in servants, they are worth nothing. Those who will only work because the eye of the master or mistress is upon them are of very little value. You only teach them habits of deceit if they live in constant fear of you. This experiment has been tried on a large scale. Laws have been made with the severe penalties for their violation, yet men seemed as if they transgressed all the more. In prison, the sternest forms of discipline have been tried, yet the prisoner has come out determined to sin again; certainly there has been no beneficial change produced in him by fear.
I will not deny that the fear of man has its uses, but I must assert again that it is always a very doubtful good which fear brings to the human mind and heart. Love, my brethren, is the grand cure for the evil of human hearts, especially the love that cometh from above; that pure and heavenly flame which is kindled only by the Holy Ghost burns up sin. But "fear hath torment;" it doth little else save plague and vex the soul.
Having said this much about any possible good that may come of fear, I now remark that according to the text, "the fear of man bringeth a snare." It has led many men into very great sins.
Look at Pilate. I mention him first because there was a peculiar atrocity about his sin. The pure and holy Jesus is brought before him, and after examining him, he declares "I find no fault in this man." He sends him to Herod, and the result is that he says to Christ's accusers, "I have found no fault in this man touching these things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him." Pilate's wife warns him that she has suffered much in a dream because of Christ, and she says, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man." Pilate's own interviews with Christ impressed his mind, and therefore he wanted to set the Savior free if he could; but though he was a Roman governor, and placed in a high position of power, he was a poor slave to the people. He was vacillating; he knew what was the right course, and he wanted to take it, but he feared the consequences. The Jews might appeal to Caesar, and say that he had spared the life of one who pretended to be a king, and then he might lose his post. So this poor, timid, contemptible creature takes water, and washes his hands, and says that he is innocent of the blood of this just person, and the next minute gives up the innocent victim to be nailed on a cross. It was the fear of man that caused Pilate's name to become infamous in the history of the world and of the Church of God, and it will be infamous to all eternity. The fear of man led him to slay the Savior; take care that it does not lead you to do something of the same kind.
Long before Pilate's day, there had been a king of Israel who lost his crown through the fear of man. God had chosen Saul to be head over his people, but when he was commanded by God to smite the Amalekites and to destroy all that they had, he spared Agag and the best of the sheep and oxen and all that was good, because he "feared the people and obeyed their voice." He was head and shoulders taller than his subjects, a man who at other times acted as a despot and had his own way; yet at this particular time he feared the people, and so did that which God had commanded him not to do, and therefore his kingdom was rent from him and given to one who was better than he.
"Yes," you say, "those two were bad men who fell into sin through fear of man." Yes, but I am sorry to say that I must also mention good men who did the same. Look at Aaron, the priest of the Lord, and companion of his brother Moses; Aaron who had spoken with God, and was his representative to the people. Yet when Moses was gone up into the mount, and the people came to Aaron and said, "Up, make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him;" Aaron bade them break off their golden earrings and bring them to him; and he, the priest of God, desecrated his sacred hands by making for the people a molten calf before which they might bow in worship. Ah, Aaron! hadst thou had the courage of thy brother, thou wouldst not have fallen into that shameful sin.
Turning to the New Testament again, to give an example from it, remember bold Peter and the words which he spoke so enthusiastically to his Lord, "I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." Yet see him a little later, warming himself in the high priest's palace, and first one of the maid-servants, and then others that stood by said to him, "Surely thou art one of them;" and "he began to curse and to swear," to prove that he was no disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ah, Peter, where is thy courage now? Truly, "the fear of man bringeth a snare," even to the best of men. God save us from it, and make us so brave that we shall never fear any man so as to do a wrong action!
Again, the fear of man brings a snare in this respect, it keeps many persons from conversion. Perhaps there are some such persons now present; let me see if I can pick them out. You scarcely dare to go to the place where the gospel is preached in a way in which God blesses it, because if you were to go there and it were known, it would be a subject of jest in your family, and would provoke remarks that you would not like. There are many who dare not go to the house where God pours out the blessing; they are such cowards that they dare not come to listen to those who preach Christ's gospel with power; and others who do come and hear it are afraid to receive the truth to which they have listened again and again. The thought in such a person's mind is, "What would father and mother say if I were converted? Oh, what a time I should have of it! What would my fellow-workmen say? I should have to run the gauntlet of the whole lot if they once knew that I had become a Christian." Another says, "I don't know how I should endure the persecution I should receive; my life would become intolerable if I were to become a child of God." So they never come to Jesus because the fear of man, which bringeth a snare, keeps them still as the hopeless slaves of sin. But, young man, do you mean to be damned just to please somebody else? Do you mean to fling away your immortal soul in order to escape the laughter of fools? Remember that they may laugh you into hell, but they cannot laugh you out again. Let not the fear of man be the ruin of your soul. If for the sake of pleasing men you choose to forfeit some small trifle, it does not much matter; but when it comes to the forfeiting of Christ, the forfeiting of your soul, and the forfeiting of heaven, I appeal to your own conscience to say if it is worth while to be eternally ruined for the sake of pleasing men whoever they may be. Is it not better that even father, and mother, and brother, and sister, and every friend you have in the world should be against you, and that God should be yours, than that you should have all these as your friends and yet remain at enmity against the Most High?
I have no doubt that this same fear of man keeps a large number of persons who are converted from making a public avowal of their faith, and so it bringeth a snare to them. Nicodemus "at the first came to Jesus by night," and Joseph of Arimathaea was "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews." I hope you will not try to shelter behind those two good men, for remember that as soon as Christ was put to death, when his cause was at the very worst, they came out boldly and proved their love of him; and we do not read that they ever crept back like snails into their shells. Having owned Christ as their Lord and Master, I have no doubt that they continued to follow him whatever the consequences may have been. So far as you are concerned, just now is the time to own Christ; now especially, because scepticism and superstition, the two monstrous evils which threaten to devour true religion, are so rampant; and it needs some moral courage to declare yourself upon the side of the simple gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the hour for a Christian to play the man for Christ his Lord and Master; yet there are many who are keeping in the background because "the fear of man bringeth a snare" upon them. Where are you, dear friend? I cannot come round to all those pews; otherwise I should stop here and there before some of you whom I know, and before others whom I suspect -- and whom I joyfully suspect -- of loving my Master. I think you do by the way you look when his name is extolled in your hearing; yet you have not said so in the way he wishes. I charge you by the love which you bear to him, keep not back. Think that you see him now before your eyes, and that you hear him say to you as he hangs upon the cross, "I bore all this for thee, and yet art thou ashamed of me? If thou lovest me, own me in the midst of this wicked and perverse generation. Take up your cross and follow me, whatever suffering or reproach it may involve."
The fear of man has brought a snare to some of the greatest believers who have ever lived; and any child of God, whenever he fears the face of man, loses some of the dignity which appertains to that relationship. What a grand man Abraham was! Whenever I read his life I look up to him with astonishment and wish I had such faith as would make me resemble him in that respect. He marches across the page of history with such quiet stately dignity that kings and princes are dwarfed beside his great figure. How nobly did he say to the king of Sodom, "I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, lest thou shouldest say I have made Abram rich;" but oh, how small did he look when he said to Abimelech concerning his wife, "She is my sister." She was his sister in a sense; there was some truth in what he said, but she was more than his sister so he was uttering a falsehood, for which he was rightly rebuked by the heathen prince.
You have in David another instance of how the fear of man can bring the mighty down. How brave he is as he goes out to slay Goliath, and how grandly he behaves when twice he spares the life of his sleeping enemy! Yet see him there at Gath when the servants of Achish frightened him so that he "feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard." The fear of man had brought down Israel's future monarch to drivel like a madman.
Equally sad is the case of Elijah, that grandest of men, as I may truly call him. You see him in his grandeur as he cries "Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape;" and as he brings them down to the brook Kishon and slays them there, and then as he goes to the top of Carmel and prays till the rain descends upon the parched land. Yet after the excitement is over he is afraid of a woman, Jezebel, and the great Elias shrinks down into a frightened man who runs away and cries, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers." So you see that "the fear of man bringeth a snare" even to the best of men; it drags them down from their high places and hurls them into the dust. Therefore may God preserve us from it!
The fear of man keeps some believers in very dubious positions. I have known some believers remain where they knew they were not doing right, and where every day they were dragging a heavy chain behind them because they had not the moral courage to come straight out for God. If any of you young people who love the Lord want to go the easiest way to heaven -- you know that all ways there are rough, but if you want to go the easiest way, take that which looks the hardest; namely, be an out-and-out thorough-going Christian. "But that will cost me much," says one. It will at first, but it will be the more easy for you afterwards; whereas if you begin by giving way to the world a little -- trimming a little -- you will have to give way and trim more and more. A Christian should be like a steamer that goes straight away to the port it is intended to reach; but many professors are like sailing vessels; the motive power that controls them is outside of them, so they have to tack a good deal; and though they may ultimately get to their destination, there is a good deal of queer sailing to the right and to the left and their voyage takes a very long while. I hope you, dear friends, will go straight to your mark. "Trust in God and do the right;" and this will after all be the very smoothest path that you can follow.
Further, the fear of man hampers the usefulness of a great many. There are brethren who ought to be preaching, but who are not because they are afraid of men; and some who ought to go and visit the poor, but they say that they cannot; the reason is that they are afraid of men. Why, I have known some who were afraid even to give away a tract; they were as much alarmed as though they had to put their hand into a tiger's mouth. I have known some who were afraid to speak to their own children about their souls. Is it not strange that they can speak to other people's children about their souls better than they can to their own? It should not be so; in fact, there is nobody living that any one of us, if he is a Christian, has any right to be afraid of. We shall never do good to people if we are afraid of them. What would have become of the Church of God if the apostles had been such timid, gentle Christians as some whom I know? They would not have gone out to preach in the streets, and as there were no chapels and churches then, they would not have preached at all. As soon as Caesar promulgated an edict that they were not to meet on the first day of the week, they would have said, "Perhaps we had better not meet." When they heard that the crowds shouted in the amphitheatre, "Christians to the lions!" they would have said, "We must not expose ourselves to such a risk, and we must think of our wives and families;" and so they would have been cowards, and soon there would have been no Christianity left in the world. Just imagine what would have happened if the Reformers had acted thus. Suppose Martin Luther had said, "I shall do as that old monk advised me when I consulted him. He said, Martin, go back to thy cell and live thou there near to thy God, and leave the Church and the world alone.'" If Luther had followed that advice, where would the blessed Reformation have been, and what preaching of the gospel would there have been at this present moment?
I must not continue much longer upon this part of my subject, but I must say that to a minister of Christ the fear of man is one of the worst of snares. Jonah tried to escape from going to Nineveh because he was afraid of man. The Galatians could not bear the full light of the gospel, and therefore certain teachers among them tried to shut off some of its beams; and if a minister of Christ once begins to be afraid of his hearers, his tendency will be to withhold some doctrine through fear of a wealthy subscriber, or to keep back some rebuke for fear that it should bear too hardly upon an influential person in his congregation. There is one sin which I believe I have never committed; I think that I have never been afraid of any of you, and I hope by the grace of God that I never shall be. If I dare not speak the truth upon all points and dare not rebuke sin, what is the good of me to you? Yet I have heard sermons which seemed to me to have been made to the order of the congregation. But honest hearers want honest preaching; and if they find that the preachers message comes home to them, they thank God that it is so. They say "Is it not right that it should be so? If we err, should not the Word of God which is quick and powerful, search us, and try us, and find out our errors?" And the preacher, if he really preaches the truth as it is in Jesus, must often deal out rebuke as well as encouragement. May God deliver all his ministers from the fear of man everywhere, and the whole Church of Christ too! At one time the fear of man took this form -- the geologists had discovered that Moses was mistaken, and that God did not know how he had made the world! Many seemed to think that something dreadful had happened, and they wondered how those objectors were to be answered. Soon after that, somebody discovered that God was mistaken about having made Adam and Eve, for they gradually developed from oysters or some smaller creatures still! Then again there was a great outcry, "Who is to answer these eminent philosophers?" O, Church of God, is every drivelling fool to have any answer at all? Stand fast by the inspired Word, and be not ensnared by the fear of man. We have seen scores of systems of philosophy come and go, and we shall probably see as many more before we die. Our business is just to stand fast to the truth of revelation, and let philosophies die as the frogs of Egypt died in the days of Moses; for die they will, and when fresh hordes come they also will die, but the eternal truth of the ever-blessed God will never die -- it will live on in its own glorious immortality.
II. Now in the second place I want to show you that the great cure for this evil is trust in God: "The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe."
I should have thought that Solomon would have said, "The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso feareth the Lord shall be safe." That would have read very well, and it would have been quite true; but it would not have expressed the special truth that Solomon then had in his mind. It is not fear but faith that is the cure for cowardice. Trust in the Lord and you can then cry, "Whom shall I fear?" for you will feel that you have the strength of the Almighty at your back. Trusting in God, we feel that we are one with God, and so we are made strong. That strength breeds courage and enables us boldly to ask, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" That courage leads us to count the cost of doing right, and after counting it, we feel that in God's strength we can endure that, and a thousand times as much if necessary; and therefore we say "Come what may we will serve the Lord;" and with the Holy Spirit resting upon us we march boldly on to victory in his might. So that trust in God, by giving us God's strength, and consequently courage and decision, lifts us up above the fear of man.
But the point of the text may be found in another direction, namely, that trusting in God we become safe not merely from fear, but from the consequences of defying fear. "Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." By trusting in the Lord and doing that which is right, he may be a great sufferer but he shall be safe. He will not be so great a sufferer as he would be if he followed the opposite course. Suppose that his enemies carry their opposition to extremes, they can only kill the body and after that they have no more that they can do. But suppose he were to forfeit his faith, then his body and soul would be cast into hell, which would be an infinitely greater and eternal loss. Never imagine that you can be a loser by trusting in God. Whatever risk there is in doing so, the risk of not trusting in him is far greater; and every sensible man will prefer the smaller risk. Besides, how often it happens that if a man trusts in God and acts according to his conscience, he is not a loser at all. Many have been gainers thereby, though that ought not to be an inducement. Many have said, "If we do what we feel is right, we shall lose everything;" and yet when they have dared to run that risk they have lost nothing at all, for God has helped them in the emergency. But if they should lose by doing the right thing, let this assurance comfort them, "Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." It is much better to be safe than to be wealthy, and infinitely better to be safe for time and for eternity than to have all the comforts of life about you, but to put your soul in jeopardy.
A Christian man need never be afraid of anybody. If you are doing right you have no cause to fear the greatest man who is serving the devil. Look at Bernard Palissy, the Huguenot potter who produced such wonderful works of art. One day the king of France said to him, "Bernard I am afraid I shall be compelled to give you up to the inquisitors to be burned if you will not change your religion." Bernard's reply was, "I pity your majesty." Only think of that, the potter pitied the king! So his majesty asked, "Why do you pity me, Bernard?" "Because," he answered, "you have said what your majesty and fifty thousand princes cannot make me say, I fear I shall be compelled!'" Why, sirs, Palissy was the king and the king was not worthy to be the potter. A truly royal dignity dwelt in that potters soul. Are any of you young men going to allow anybody to make you say, "I fear I shall be compelled to cease worshipping with the Dissenters;" "I fear I shall be compelled to abstain from attending that little country Baptist chapel;" or, "I am afraid it might not be considered proper for me to make an open profession of religion in the town where I live?" If you talk like that I can only say, "May the Lord have mercy on your little miserable soul, and give you enough manhood and common honesty to confess what Christ has done for you!" If you really have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and have had your sins forgiven, and have been made an heir of heaven, and are on your way to a glorious immortality, surely you cannot act the part of a sneak like that! What are you who are to dwell among the angels, you for whom there is a mansion in the skies, and a robe of righteousness and a crown of glory, are you going to play the coward like that? Why, if you act thus, you ought to be drummed out of the regiment of the Church militant, so how can you expect to be in the Church triumphant with such a miserable spirit as that? May the Lord help you to put your trust in him, that you may be saved from all fear of man!
Now to close. The last sentence of the text is true as an independent proposition. "Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." I have not time to speak about this sentence, but I give it to you to put under your tongue as a sweet morsel as you go your way to your homes. It is not, "He that trusteth in himself;" not, "He that trusteth in a priest;" not, "He that performs good works, and trusts in them," but, "whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." The man who is trusting in the blood and righteousness of Jesus may not always be happy, but he is safe; he may not always be singing, but he is safe; he may not always have the joy of full assurance, but he is safe. He may sometimes be distressed, but he is always safe; he may sometimes question his interest in Christ, but he is always safe.
I was astonished the other day to meet with an expression used by Cardinal Bellarmine, who was one of the greatest Jesuit controversialists. He closes a long argument about being saved by works with the following very remarkable sentences, which I will quote as accurately as I can: -- "Nevertheless, although the way of acceptance with God is by our own works there is a danger that men may so trust in their own works as to grow proud, which would quite spoil their works; and therefore, upon the whole, it is safest for them to rely upon the blood and merits of Jesus Christ alone." Well done, Cardinal Bellarmine! "Upon the whole," I mean to do that as long as I live; and oh that everyone who has ever been deluded by the doctrines of the Church of Rome would listen to the Cardinal's confession that, upon the whole, it is safest to rest upon what Christ has done! Upon the whole, it is better to trust in the Savior than to trust in ourselves! Upon the whole, it is better to be washed in his blood than to think that we can make ourselves clean! The cardinal did not say all the truth, but I thank him for what he did say, though the truth is better put by Solomon in my text, "Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." He shall be safe if he is sick, if he is rich, if he is poor. He shall be safe when he dies, safe when he rises again, safe at the day of judgment, and safe throughout eternity. Oh then, come all of you and trust in the Lord, for "whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe" for ever! Amen.