There is a fear which perfect love casts out because it has torment. That is the slavish fear which trembles before God as a criminal trembles before the judge—the fear which mistrusts, suspects, and has no confidence in God—the fear which, therefore, keeps us away from God, causes us to dread the thought of drawing near to Him, and makes us say, like the fool to whom the psalmist refers, “No God.” Many of you know what this kind of fear is, for you once suffered from it, though I trust you are now delivered from it by faith in Christ Jesus, and by the love which the Spirit of God has wrought in your hearts.
There is also another sort of fear which springs out of this slavish fear, and which is to be equally shunned, namely, a fear which leads to the apprehension that something evil is about to happen. There are many persons, who have so little faith in God that they fear that the trials, which will sooner or later overtake them, will also overthrow them. They are afraid of a certain form of suffering that threatens them, they fear that they will not have patience enough to bear up under it, they feel sure that their spirit will sink in their sickness.
Above all, they are dreadfully afraid to die. They have not yet believed that God will be with them when they pass through the valley of deathshade, and because they cannot trust Him, they are all their lifetime subject to bondage. They cannot say that all things work together for good to them, but they often say, as poor old Jacob mistakenly said, “All these things are against me.” And so they go on, fearing this, and fearing that, and fearing the other, and their life is spent, to a great extent, in sorrow and sighing. May the Lord graciously deliver any of you who are in that condition! God save you, my brethren and sisters in Christ, from all fear of a slavish sort!
That is a kind of fear from which the true believer is free. He knows that whatever happens, God will overrule it for the good of His chosen. “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” Resignation to the Divine Will has made him feel that whatever the Lord wills is right, he does not seek to have his own will, but he is glad to make God’s will his will, and so he is perfectly satisfied with all that comes.
Above all, no Christian ought to have any fear which would bring dishonor upon the truthfulness, the goodness, the immutability, or the power of God. To doubt God’s faithfulness—to suppose that He can ever forget His children, that His mercy can be withdrawn from them, or that He will be favorable to them no more—this is wrong.
To doubt the perseverance of the saints, when God’s Word has so plainly declared that He will keep their feet, and will perfect the work which He has begun in them—indeed, to doubt anything that has the inspired Scriptures to support it, and to tremble in any way when your trembling arises out of a suspicion that God may change, or cease to be faithful to His promises, and faithful to His Son, all that kind of fearing is to be cast far from us.
There is the loving fear which every true, right-hearted child has towards its father — a fear of grieving so tender a parent—a proper feeling of dread which makes it watch its every footstep, lest, in the slightest degree, it should deviate from the path of absolute obedience. May God graciously grant to us much of this kind of fear! The fear of sinning against God — is a fear which we ought always to cherish.
Causes to Fear
There is cause for fear, dear brethren and sisters who love the Lord, because corruption still remains in us. In the best man or woman here, there is still the old flesh that lusts against the Spirit, that flesh which is in constant enmity to the Spirit. There is also cause for fear, my brethren, if you look around at the world in which we live. This vile world has not changed its character, it is no more a friend to grace than it was in the days of the early Christians. It was a difficult thing to be a Christian in the days of Diocletian and the other persecuting Roman emperors, but I sometimes think that it is an even more difficult thing to be a Christian now. To be a soldier under Hannibal, and to fight bravely when crossing the Alps, must have been a difficult task, but it was far more trying for the soldiers when they reached sunny Italy, and their holiday amusements destroyed the discipline of the army. The very pleasantness of the situation may put you off your guard, and you will not live so near to God as you would have done if your surroundings had seemed to be more opposed to your growth in grace. There is cause for fear then, when all around us there is an enemy behind every bush, a temptation lurking in every joy, and a devil hiding himself under every table.
The Narrow Way
It is hard to keep to the narrow way when the broad road runs so near to it that sometimes they seem to be one. The time was when the broad road was so distinct from the narrow one that we could easily discern who was travelling to heaven, and who was going to hell, but now, the devil has engineered the broad road so very close up to the side of the narrow way that there are many people who manage to walk on both of them, they never seem so pleased as when they can first take a little turn on the narrow road, and then, afterwards, take another turn on the broad one. Let us never imitate Mr. Facing-both-ways, but let us walk only in the narrow way that leads unto life, whatever it may cost us to do so.
Besides that, dear friends—in addition to having a store of dry tinder within our heart, and showers of sparks falling near us—besides having a great heap of gunpowder within our nature, and being constantly exposed to the fires that burn all around us, we must remember that there is such a thing as self-deception in the world. This is a great and a common danger. I have had a wide experience in watching over the souls of others, and many persons have come under my notice, who have thought themselves Christians, and I have often wondered how they could think so. I have seen that in their lives which has led me to feel sure—as sure as one man can feel concerning another—that the Grace of God could not be in them, yet they have not had any doubt or suspicion concerning their Christianity. Have you never heard of church members, who have come regularly to the communion table, and been very prominent in the work of the church, and apparently leading the way in all good things, yet after all, they were rotten to the core? Well then, if some have acted like that, may not you do the same?
Sometimes, to examine the foundation on which we are building for eternity, to look into the profession which we have made, to see whether it will stand the wear and tear of daily life, and to judge whether it will be likely to endure the test of our dying day, and the still sterner test of the day of judgment — is a wise occupation for every one of us.
Have this fear concerning your holy things. For instance, when you come up to God’s house to worship, be afraid, as you are coming along, lest you should be only a lip-server, and so get no blessing. And happy is the man who has this holy fear in his own house—the man who says, “I am afraid lest I should not act as a Christian father ought to act towards his children, or as a Christian husband should act towards his wife.” Other members of the household may say, “I fear lest I should not be such a wife, or such a child, or such a servant, or such a master as I ought to be.” These are the people who usually are what they should be — those who are afraid that they are not. Those who are the most anxious lest they should fail are generally those who do not fail.
And I would like you also to be anxious in your business, for fear lest you should in any way take advantage of anybody — lest, in the measure, or in the weight, or in the price, or in the invoice, these should be any mistake which would unjustly benefit you. The man who is afraid of anything like that will be an honest tradesman, you may rest assured of that. As for the servant or the workman who is afraid that he will not give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage, and the employer who is afraid that he will not give his servant or workman as much as he ought to give him—I can only say that I wish we had many more of that sort of men than we already have, though I know a good many of that sort. If we are afraid of wronging one another, and not loving our neighbor as ourselves, that is a healthy kind of fear, and the more we have of it, the more happy we shall be.
Then begin to be afraid for the church of which you are a member. This is a fear which is always resting heavily upon me—the fear lest we should lose our earnestness in prayer — lest we should not care as much as we ought for the souls of men — lest the members of our church should grow worldly — lest we should become cold and indifferent towards our dear Lord and Master. Never lose this wholesome kind of fear concerning this church, and your fellow members, or concerning any other church with which you are connected.
Then, have a solemn fear about your own children, lest, possibly, you should not have trained them up as you should have done, or should not have prayed for them as you ought to have done, or lest your own example should not have been such as they could safely follow. Be afraid for your children, as Job was for his. When they met together to feast, he “offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” The man who is thus afraid that things may be wrong is the man who is most likely to keep everything right.
Watch everything carefully, for in this way, by fearing always, you will be both safe and happy in the Hands of God.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “The Right Kind of Fear” (Proverbs 28:14) by CH Spurgeon dated 2 September 1876. You are encouraged to read the full text of this sermon from https://www.spurgeongems.org/sermon/chs2971.pdf