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.
John has been speaking of boldness, and that naturally suggests its opposite — fear. He has been saying that perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment, because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the judge. In my text he explains and enlarges that statement. For there is another way in which love produces boldness, and that is by its casting out fear. These two are mutually exclusive.
I. THE EMPIRE OF FEAR. Fear is a shrinking apprehension of evil as befalling us, from the person or thing which we dread. God is righteous; God righteously administers His universe. God enters into relations of approval or disapproval with His responsible creature. Therefore there lies, dormant for the most part, but present in every heart, and active in the measure in which that heart is informed as to itself, the slumbering cold dread that between it and God things are not as they ought to be. I believe, for my part, that such a dumb, dim consciousness of discord attaches to all men, though it is often smothered, often ignored, and often denied. But there it is; the snake hybernates, but it is coiled in the heart all the same, and warmth will awake it. Arising from that discomforting consciousness of discord there come, likewise, other forms and objects of dread. For if I am out of harmony with Him, what will be my fate in the midst of a universe administered by Him, and in which all are His servants? Whilst all things serve the soul that serves Him, all are embattled against the man that is against, or not for, God and His will. Then there rises up another object of dread, which, in like manner, derives all its power to terrify and to hurt from the fact of our discordance with God, and that is, the "shadow feared of man," that stands shrouded by the path, and waits for each of us. God; God's universe; God's messenger, Death — these are facts with which we stand in relation, and if our relations with Him are out of gear, then He and all of these are legitimate objects of dread to us. But now there is something else that casts out fear than perfect love, and that is — perfect levity. For it is the explanation of the fact that so many of us know nothing about what I am talking about, and fancy that I am exaggerating or putting forward false views.
II. That brings me to the second point — viz., THE MISSION OF FEAR. John uses a rare word in my text when he says, "fear hath torment." "Torment" does not convey the whole idea of the word. It means suffering, but suffering for a purpose; suffering which is correction; suffering which is disciplinary; suffering which is intended to lead to something beyond itself. Fear, the apprehension of personal evil, has the same function in the moral world as pain has in the physical, It is a symptom of disease, and is intended to bid us look for the remedy and the Physician. What is an alarm bell for, but to rouse the sleepers and to hurry them to the refuge! And so this wholesome, manly dread of the certain issue of discord with God is meant to do for us what the angels did for Lot — lay a mercifully violent hand on the shoulder of the sleeper, and shake him into aroused wakefulness, and hasten him out of Sodom. The intention of fear is to lead to that which shall annihilate it, and take away its cause. There is nothing more ridiculous, nothing more likely to betray a man, than the indulgence in an idle fear which does nothing to prevent its own fulfilment. Horses in a burning stable are so paralysed by dread that they cannot stir, and get burnt to death. I fear; then what do I do? Nothing! And that is true about hosts of us. What ought I to do? Let the dread direct me to its source — my own sinfulness. Let the discovery of my own sinfulness direct me to its remedy — the righteousness and the Cross of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, can deal with the disturbing element in my relation to God. So my fear should proclaim to me the merciful "name that is above every name," and drive me as well as draw me to Christ, the Conqueror of sin and the Antagonist of all dread. I think we shall scarcely understand the religion of love unless we recognise that dread is a legitimate part of an unforgiven man's attitude towards God. My fear should be to me like the misshapen guide that may lead me to the fortress where I shall be safe. Oh! do not tamper with the wholesome sense of dread. Do not let it lie, generally sleeping, and now and then awaking in your hearts and bringing about nothing.
III. Lastly, THE EXPULSION OF FEAR. My text points out the natural antagonism and mutual exclusiveness of these two emotions. If I go to Jesus Christ as a sinful man, and get His love bestowed upon me, then, as the next verse to my text says, my love springs in response to His to me, and in the measure in which that love rises in my heart will it frustrate its antagonistic dread. As I said, you cannot love and fear the same person, unless the love is of a very rudimentary and imperfect character. But just as when you pour pure water into a bladder, the poisonous gases that it may have contained will be driven out before it, so when love comes in dread goes out. But remember that it is "perfect love" which "casts out fear." Inconsistent as the two emotions are in themselves, in practice, they may be united by reason of the imperfection of the nobler. And in the Christian life they are united with terrible frequency. There are many professing Christian people who live all their days with a burden of shivering dread upon their shoulders and an icy cold fear in their hearts, just because they have not got close enough to Jesus Christ, and kept their hearts with sufficient steadfastness under the quickening influences of His love, to have shaken off their dread as a sick man's distempered fancies. A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. See that you resort only to the sane, sound way of getting rid of the wholesome, rational dread of which I have been speaking.
(A. Maclaren, 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.