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and, beneath its terrible swellings and upheavings, he cries out with sinking Peter—“Lord, save me.”
One use of fear is to deter the sinner from committing sin. It acts the part of police. It restrains the license of thought. Thought has its liberty and its license. There are limits of religious thought, and men sin in thought. Scattered throughout the sacred volume such expressions as these occur: the “thought of foolishness,” “vain thoughts,” “ doubtful thoughts,” and “ thoughts of iniquity.” Folly is often iniquity in the bud; and vain thoughts frequently develop into thoughts of evil. The sinner sometimes cherishes hard thoughts of God. Beginning in scepticism, he may end in infidelity. But let fear be awakened, and his views of Divine things will be checked and modified. Being produced by a perception of spiritual realities, deepened and intensified by the Holy Ghost, fear invades the province of reason, speculative tendencies are limited, and the thoughts, the reasonings, and the language will be partly, if not thoroughly, revolutionized. The image impressed upon the sinner's consciousness will thus reflect upon the understanding a purer and divine light, revealing to him his danger more clearly, and guiding his feet into the path of peace. Fear exacts a deterrent influence on the imagination. Probably, more sin is committed in the region of fancy than in the domain of pure thought. The imaginative faculty possesses a strong creative and constructive power, and yields the most delicious enjoyment. It calls up objects, binds them into the most fantastic and bewitching forms, invests them with real or fictitious ornaments, and enslaves the mind in a captivity from which it is difficult to escape. Now, the sinner often becomes a slave to this evil. He becomes a mental debauchee. By this ideal prostitution, the intellectual and moral stamina is wasted, and the soul becomes shrivelled and effeminate. But let fear be powerfully awakened, and those polluting scenes change. The “ form of creeping things,” the “ abominable beasts,” the “ idols ”
portrayed upon the walls round about, fade ; and the heart is transfixed with horror as the sentence flames upon the wall, “ how can ye escape the damnation of hell ? Under the influence of fear the creations of imagination take another form, and assume a different hue. The terror of the Lord lights up the chamber of imagery with a lurid glare. The snares, the fire, the brimstone, the horrible tempest, enter into strange and startling combinations, and the sinner realizes a foretaste of that worm that never dies, and of that fire which is never quenched. Fear restrains the passions by changing their quality. Fear hath torment in it. It is this property, which, diffusing itself throughout the passions, imparts to them a different quality and tone. Let the sinner's heart be set on the acquisition of wealth, and thereby his avaricious disposition be excited—the feeling thus produced affords him pleasure; but when fear takes possession of the soul, the sweetness will speedily evaporate. The tormenting element in fear will turn the honey into gall, transmute the gold into dross, and awaken the confession, “all is vanity and vexation of spirit.' The passions are also restrained when by sheer force fear limits and overcomes them. It rears a banner against the surgings of lustful gratification, and declares, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” When this emotion is intensely excited, it becomes all-absorbing. For the time being, it almost crushes every other sensibility. As fear is lashed into fury by the terror of the Lord, the soul faints by reason of the oppression, and exclaims, “ All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” The tearful eye, the blanched cheek, the quivering lip, the prostrate form, will be succeeded by the deep and bitter cry,“ Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?" If fear thus exerts a restraining influence over the reason, the imagination and the passions, it is needless to observe that the outer life will be correspondingly affected.
The second use of fear is to constrain the soul to seek the Saviour. It is sometimes affirmed that, in religion, fear is an unworthy motive by which to be actuated. To seek the salvation of the soul from the mere promptings of fear, cannot, it is thought, be acceptable to God. With regard to this point, we may remark that fear does not constitute the primary or the exclusive motive. It is always blended and strengthened with other and higher elements. In conversion, the mind passes from a lower to a higher state. Here exists a succession (rapid, it may be), in its moral and intellectual modes. Fear may be but the lowest condition, yet is it necessary to the production of those more elevated and spiritualized states which result in personal salvation. We do not positively affirm that no man ever has, or even can be saved unless his fear be appealed to and excited; but with the most of men self-preservation is the starting-point. The majority of conversions commence here. The sinner comes to Jesus because hecannot do without him. The experience of the Philippian jailor is reproduced in almost every genuine penitent. It is admitted that whilst the masses are to be reached in this manner, the more educated and refined classes of society must be urged to seek the Saviour on the promptings of a higher motivity. It might be sufficient to observe that human nature, as such, is about the same in all the grades and distinction of civil and barbaric life. In its essence, its origin, its root, bumanity is one; and the same means which are efficacious to the saving of the one part, are the most likely to be effectual in the salvation of the other part. But let us select Paul's conversion. It will be allowed that Paul was favoured with a liberal education, and may be regarded as a representative of the learned class. If the antecedents and surroundings of this case be attended to, it will appear that the mental state experienced by the cultured Saul of Tarsus, was almost, if not altogether, identical with that felt by the barbarous jailor of Philippi ; both men were under the influence of fear. Saul's previous character was that of a “blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurions.” Of himself be says,
“beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God, and wasted it.” These, and similar expressions indicate that prior to his arrest, Saul was in a fever of excitement. Misdirected zeal awakened all the energies of his nature. His hatred of Christianity was wrought up to the highest point of intensity, and he journeyed to Damascus s breathing out threatening and slaughter againt the disciples.” For a time his fanaticism resolved itself into a monomania, as he says, “ being exceedingly mad against them.” In this state of blind and ungovernable fury, “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven; " and a more than human voice addressed him: “ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ?" But even these supernatural phenomena would fail to produce the desired effect. They might awaken temporary alarm, but would lead to no real and lasting change. Jesus therefore sought to break his heart, to awaken him to such an apprehension of his danger as would produce that repentance which needeth not to be repented of. And this he does by declaring, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Here then was an appeal to his fear. It was statement of a principle that he who fights against God will be the loser in the end. As if Jesus had said, it is a hard struggle, Saul, in which thou art engaged, an unequal contest, a conflict which will only entail upon thyself lasting ruin and disgrace. The iron now entered his soul. This conviction of personal loss —this, it is hard for thee, was as “Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.” There Saul lay, the light shining, the voice speaking, his inward agitation reaching to every nerve, affecting every muscle; and he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ? »
Inadequate views of the plan of salvation constitute one limit of fear. It is one thing to possess a view of danger, and another thing to know whither to flee for shelter. The former may be to the latter as the antecedent is to the consequent, but they by no means stand co-related as cause to effect. Fear includes an apprehension of danger; so far then it is a mental act; but it does not follow that the amount of illumination essential to the creation of fear, is sufficient to lead the mind to a saving knowledge of the truth. The mind may be so far enlightened as to realize its position, but higher manifestations of the person and work of Christ are needed, and still further revelations of the sinner's duty are requisite,
to conversion. In dealing with a mass of ungodly persons it is legitimate and necessary to deal somewhat freely in denunciation. If, however, our presentations of the truth be one-sided or fragmentary, we shall labour almost in vain, and spend our strength for nought. Evangelists, so called, chiefly preach about hell and damnation. Under such discourses the congregations become excited, if not electrified ; and numbers sincerely profess to undergo a spiritual change. How then does it happen that after the subsidence the residuum of good is frequently so small? One reason is, that the fear which has been thus awakened is often of a morbid kind. There may be plenty of weeping and wailing, but these may be but the expression of maudling sentiment, or coarse passion. The emotion thus excited may be boisterous, but not deep; animal, but not spiritual. The vulgar and reckless manner in which the dread realities of futurity are occasionally meted out never touch the keener sensibilities; the surface may be ruffled, whilst the hidden depths of the heart remain unmoved. By dwelling on moral accountability, the shortness of human life, the solemnities of eternity, we may terrify the sinner; but to terrify is not to save. not saved by fear, but by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let such momentous truths be followed by clear expositions of the atonement, repentance, justification by faith, and the work of the Spirit ; let these evangelical dogmas be enforced by all the arguments and powers at our command, and the results would be more encouraging. If we cannot allay fear, better never awaken it. If we cannot point the sinner to the Saviour, better let him alone. If we will excite his apprehension, we are bound to lead him to the Cross, for there only can he find peace, and by that alone can he be saved. Unless Jesus be fully preached, the fear which is thus excited is apt to degenerate into sensationalism, or to congeal into spiritual indifference. How, then, is an intellectual limit, a limit of thought, a limit which is sustained by ignorance and prejudice, and which can only be removed by clearer and more comprehensive views of the plan of salvation ?
Another limit of fear is the dominance of other passions; like a state that is agitated by civil war, so the human heart is disturbed by conflicting elements, each contending against the other, and all striving for dominion. Hence we speak of the master-passion--that in the gratification of which the whole energy of the soul is elicited and absorbed. The truth must be so exhibited and enforced that fear may not merely be awakened, but that other tyrannical and usurping passions may be dethroned. Fear must not only be excited, but kindled to such a point of intensity as to render it, for the time being, the master passion of the soul. How frequently men's fears have been awakened; but by the force of other antagonistic feelings they have been limited, and neutralized, and finally subdued. Elijah foretold the terrible judgments which should overtake the house of Abab; “ And it came to pass, when Ahab heard these words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly." Here then is the presence of fear, and here are the signs of genuine penitence. But mark the sequel. See the hatred of the king against Micaiah, in allowing him to be smitten in his presence, and in casting him into prison ; his avarice, in failing to make restoration to the house of Naboth for robbery and murder; his cunning, in advising Jehoshophat to appear in battle arrayed in the royal robes, whilst himself would appear in disguise. It is evident that the fear which the prophet's message excited in Ahab was limited and overborne by stronger passions, and that he died as he had lived. Turn to Felix. Paul selected that class of truths which was the most likely to affect the iniquitous judge: “he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” Under the powerful arguments and stirring appeals of the prisoner, Felix trembled, but Felix was not converted. How, then, are we to account for his impenitence? There are two classes of fact which may assist us in ascertaining the cause of his unbelief. Felix had been for many years a judge unto the Jews, and must have possessed some acquaintance with their scriptures, their polity, and their customs. When Paul stated the ground of his offence, namely, his belief in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, Felix suspended the case,“ having more perfect knowledge of that way.” In his defence the apostle reasoned with his judge, and the efficacy of his reasoning is apparent from the fact that Felix trembled. Also, after Paul's commitment, the Governor sent for him frequently, and “communed with him." These points indicate that Felix was not destitute of religiousinstruction and privilege. On the other hand, observe his cruelty in detaining Paul a prisoner two years without a justifiable cause; his artful policy, in leaving the apostle bound, in order to show the Jews a favour; his greed of gain, in that “he hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul ;” and lastly, his licentiousness, in living in adultery with Drusilla. It is clear, therefore, that the fear which Felix experienced was limited by depravity, rather than by ignorance. His rejection of the Gospel arose from sheer badness of heart. He loved darkness rather than light. In the presence and by the operation of such turbulent passions, well might his trembling speedily subside, and his fear pass away like the morning-cloud, and as the early dew."