1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.
The words of St. John as to fear and love would probably startle us if they were less familiar. What they say is, in effect, that "fear" and "love" are, as such, in antagonism; that in proportion as "love" gains strength, it tends to oust "fear"; that to be, in a religious sense, under the influence of "fear," is to be in an imperfect condition with regard to "love." And yet Scripture assigns to fear a considerable place in the apparatus, so to speak, of religious motives and forces (Luke 12:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11; Philippians 2:12, 13; 1 Peter 1:17). In such passages the underlying purport is obvious: "Do this, avoid that, or it will be the worse for you: obey, on peril of the consequences of disobedience." How, then, will the text stand when confronted with a line of address at once so authoritative, so luminous, and so stern? The answer is, that our Lord and St. Peter and St. Paul are urging men to fear the penal consequence of sin, considered in their whole length and breadth, and concentrated into that one supremely terrible, consequence — perpetual exclusion from the presence of God; whereas St. John is looking at "fear" of penal suffering considered in itself — the dread of hell, pure and simple. This is the fear which, he says, "hath torment," or rather "punishment"; it carries punishment in its bosom. It regards God not as the all holy and all-good Father, who has every right to filial obedience, but as an irresistible Power, not to be trifled with or escaped from, who can and will inflict tremendous penalties on those who venture to defy His authority. 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 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. 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." As St. says, this is not the fear that "is clean" — it arises not out of love of God, but out of the terror of suffering; yet it may make the whole difference to a person's moral future whether, at a particular critical time, he has it, or has it not. If he has it, he resists the temptation, he does not commit the sin; and that is to gain much. The perilous hour is got through safely; the conscience escapes a defilement and a burden; the ground so far, is clear for the further operations of grace. And these will, by degrees, absorb the fear of punishment, simply as such — into what? Into such a love for God as excludes all fear whatsoever? No, rather into a fear which is so absolutely compatible with love that it may even be said to grow out of love, to be contained in love's very heart. For what is the love here intended, but a closer and closer adhesion to the will of God as the supreme good, an ever growing desire to please Him and to be right with Him, because He is what He is to us? But as long as we live, failure is possible; there must be the possibility of ultimate failure, even on the part of the gray-haired saint, as Bunyan in his "dream" saw that "there was a way to hell from the gates of heaven as well as from the city of destruction"; as, before now, men have fallen from God at their very "lust hour." And that possibility involves a fear which dwells not on the mere pain of future punishment, but on that which is the essential and misery of hell — the forfeiture of the life giving love of God. This fear may be called filial, and not servile; for in proportion as a child loves heartily a good parent, the more solicitous will he be not to grieve, displease, disappoint that parent by an exhibition of thankless perversity.
(W. Bright, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.