Fear as a Motive in Religion
Hebrews 11:7
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house…

Here is an instance of a man, in his relations to God, acting under the impulse of fear, and good came of it. Of course this is not one and the same thing as saying that in the moral sphere fear is the highest motive. A thing may be good, without being the best. Men start from different levels, and they live upon different levels. Some "there are who never know what it is to turn unto God from the low plane of immorality. Others, again, take their first step heavenward from the very mouth of the pit. And this varied inception of the Christian life is proof enough that fear cannot be held up as the general or even the best motive. There may be those who never felt it, who have never needed to feel it. There may be those who run in the paths of obedience and righteousness, urged only by a higher and nobler impulse. Neither is it necessary to hold here, when looking upon an example of its beneficent operation, that fear must remain a permanent moral motive even in such a case. An apostle speaks of a "love" which "casteth out fear." So the one who commences in fear may rise unto this love. The one ascending from the earth in a balloon, gradually but surely rises above the smoke and mist which lie in low clouds over the earth's surface. Soon he moves, he sails in the clear abyss of the heavens. So with the human life, as it rises unto truth and virtue and God. It may rise above the murky atmosphere of its first motives and earlier days. But let us turn to the direct consideration of the subject in the text.

I. Let me say, first of all, THAT THERE IS FOUNDATION LAID IN THE HUMAN CONSTITUTION FOR THE OPERATION OF THE MOTIVE WHICH WE ARE CONSIDERING. Fear is a universal attribute of human nature. It is as natural for a man to fear as to hope, or trust, or love. And this susceptibility, like all other natural capacities of human life, must have been conferred upon man for beneficent ends. She holds as good a title to her place as does hope; both are patents issued by the hand of the Creator; and not only are they of equally high origin, they are also co-ordinate in dignity, mutually dependent and helpful. If it were not for hope, man would hold back from attainable good. If fear were wanting, he would rush headlong upon invincible danger. Hope cries unto man: "Dare it, dare it!" But some risks are foolhardy, and fear points these out. Man is saved by hope, being swept forward; he is saved by fear, being held back. And now, from the survey of this great law upon the lower levels, I ask: Why scout at fear in the moral realm? Why attempt to scourge her from the temple of religion? Has God bestowed upon your soul a useless or misleading sense, a susceptibility to be devoted unto inactivity and death? Why, He has not done such a thing in the body; and surely the Creator has shown as much wisdom in the adaptation of your spirit to its surroundings as in the adaptation of your body to the material world. Why not, then, grant unto these intimations in these two different spheres equally solemn audience? When in this world Fear cries out: "There is the danger of poverty ahead; there is the possibility of suffering ahead; there is the loss of reputation ahead" — you are not unmindful of her warnings. But again this same Fear, through the voice of Concience, cries out: "Wrath is coming; judgment lies ahead, and the great eternity." In this case also, why not listen to her signal notes? Unmanly to fear! You say so, with the great cyclones of the awful forces of the universe, boiling, sweeping around you! Unmanly to fear! Then God made you an unmanly man. Irrational to be influenced by fear! Then are you showing yourself a fool every day.

II. THE RELATION OF DEITY TO MAN LEGITIMATISES THE MOTIVE OF FEAR. TWO revelations of God have been given — one in the moral constitution of man, and one in the Bible. These two revelations agree in this, that they present God in the act and attitude of one warning men of possible danger. First, the Bible does this. "Flee to this voice; give it your fullest confidence.'" But shall men love the God who loves, trust the God who promises, and not fear the same God when He warns?

III. THE PUBLIC TEACHING AND LIFE OF JESUS OF NAZARETH BEARS IN THE MOST EMPHATIC MANNER UPON THIS SUBJECT. We notice two things. First, Jesus was no fanatic. On the contrary, never was character so well balanced as His. From such a character would you expect an exaggerated statement of an uncertain dogma, of an unessential partialism? Then, again, consider His great sympathy with men, His measureless benevolence. Yet concerning future punishment and suffering He spake some of the most awful words which this world has ever heard. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'" And the revelation of Nature does the same. It shows physical law relentlessly pursuing the transgressor. If lifts up the picture of human suffering before the eye. It stirs the conscience of the individual and the race with the apprehension of possible evil and suffering beyond the present world. And now, what will you do? Mind, I do not ask you to ignore any other attribute of Deity which has been revealed to man. There is love shining forth in most beautiful characters. Answer this, as you ought, by hope and trust and gratitude. There are words of sweetest invitation written upon the pages of the Bible. Sweetly let your heart respond.

IV. IN A SUBJECT SO INDEFINITE AS THIS, DEMONSTRATION IS, OF COURSE, IMPOSSIBLE. It seems to me, however, that the suggestions which have been made are so many grave intimations to every thoughtful mind. But comes there up in reply from any human life the voice: "I cannot fear, I see the flashing danger-signal — I mark its lurid light. I hear those awful words as they drop from the lips of Jesus. I see it all, I hear it all; and yet no apprehension of danger is awakened within me"? In reply let me say, perhaps you do not need to fear. The Divine Father has many ways of drawing men unto Himself. Possibly in your case love is doing its work. If this be so, all is well. But the spectacle of a human life unto which the mandatory word of God has come in vain, which is consciously moving forward in disobedience, consciously out of harmony with itself and moral law — for any such life as this to lift up the words, "I cannot fear" — this is a very different matter, and this, it seems to me, is passing strange. What shall I say to you? Exhort you to fear? Stand up here and cry: "Be afraid, be afraid"? This were absurd. Emotions cannot" be manufactured to order in the laboratory of the will. This let me say: Perhaps your fear is artificially, unnaturally repressed. Perhaps it is, by the hand of a moral thoughtlessness, or a moral bravado, battened down in the hatchways of your being. The ship had crashed into an iceberg, and immediate death seemed inevitable to every one on board. A gentleman from out that scene said to me: "Very few were calm in that hour; there were very few who did not fear then." But, possibly, had these same terror-stricken ones spoken on the subject an hour before the collision, many of them would have said: "As a moral being I am incapable of fear." Nevertheless fear was in them. So it may be with you. Again, let me say that inability to fear may be due to moral hurt. The hand may become so callous that a living coal of fire can beheld within the palm, and no pain felt. Through paralysis the arm may die, so that the heaviest blow gives no sensation. So the Bible declares that the moral nature may be so seared as to be past feeling. Perhaps this is the case with some who say they cannot fear. Perhaps a false and unworthy life has smitten you with moral paralysis. In either case, whether it is due to unnatural repression or moral paralysis, this inability to fear is not something to be satisfied with, much less to boast of. The paralytic does not run about with his dangling arm, crying out: "Pinch it; I do not feel! Hit it; your blow hurts me not! Ha, ha, I cannot feel!" Neither should the moral paralytic so boast. Rather let him betake himself to the electric battery of moral law, and see if he cannot quicken the insensate nerves, irrigate with new life the callous tissues of his moral being. Closely connected with this subject is an insinuating delusion which is exercising the most pernicious influence upon thousands. Human voices cry out: "The spirit of the age is against this whole matter of fear, indeed forbids it." I cannot appreciate the force of this retort, or see what the spirit of the day has to do with the great matter of a man's relation to his Creator and Judge. The age of Louis XIV. had its spirit; so had the age of Charles II. and of Frederick the Great. What were these spirits? Thin, vaporous films, blown from the mouths of men, curling for a brief moment around the everlasting mountain of Bible truth. And the spirit of our day, if it is contradictory of the living Word, shall prove as evanescent. The spirit of the age is the atmosphere through which walks the creature of a day. It extends upward from earth — say, as high as a man's heart; say, as high as his head; while all above this, all around this, are the awful depths of the moral ether, unchanged since the days of Noah — ay, unchangeable, as is the God whose breath they are. The spirit of the age to be called in to modify the eternal conditions of the moral universe! The six-foot atmosphere of this our little world to beat over, to pour itself through, to reprortion the shoreless, soundless ocean of the eternal nature of things! The very thought is enough to awaken laughter throughout the universe of God! The spirit of the age, forsooth! A few hours' cholera, a few days' fever, a falling brick, a runaway horse, a passing locomotive may sweep away a human life out of it, and for ever. Let us not make fools of ourselves. We are not too big to be warned of God, and we shall not belittle ourselves by giving thoughtful heed to His warning.

(S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

WEB: By faith, Noah, being warned about things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared a ship for the saving of his house, through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Fear and Faith
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