Good Cheer for Many that Fear
“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” — Isaiah xxxv. 4.
THIS is an exhortation which is addressed, not to one person, but to several. In the third verse, you can see that the message runs, “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.” What, Lord! is not one man sufficient for this task? Will not one of thy servants, when he repeats thy precious promises, be able to drive away the fears of thy people? Will not half a word be enough to put to rout their foolish, groundless suspicions and surmises? Nay; they have need of many comforters. It is not enough, O Lord, that one should come and speak in thy name! Nay; “for precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” We are a people of a stubborn will, and of a wayward heart, O God, too often do we wander from thy ways! It is well, therefore, that God has spoken thus, not simply to one of his servants, but to all those who love his appearing, and rejoice in the certainty of his promises: “Say ye, all of you,” — for I may rightly supply the pronoun here, — “say ye to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.”
Let me observe that, in the original, the word for “fearful” is “hasty.” Now, a hasty man is never a wise man; and equally true is it that a “fearful” man is never prudent. Fearful men are always hasty; they jump at conclusions. They say, with Jacob, “All these things are against me,” because they cannot see to the end of the Lord’s dispensations. They forget that he is very pitiful, and full of compassion. Circumstance or expediency is their guiding star. They seek to follow the track of the meteors, which fly hither and thither across the midnight sky; they forget the pole-star of God’s truth and faithfulness. They go to sea without chart or compass, and they are driven backwards and forwards by contrary winds; and even when there is no wind they know not how to steer their ship. As you know, even in this world’s affairs, a hasty man is constantly getting himself into trouble. He speculates in certain stocks and shares because some sharper has told him that he can gain by doing so; and soon he hears quite a different story, some great disaster is about to come; he hastily believes the lie, and is again deceived.
So is it with fearful souls; they are always doing this or that on the hasty impulse of an ill-drawn conclusion. Thus they are constantly misjudging their God, misusing his Word, misdirecting their own steps, bringing a world of trouble upon themselves, and dishonour upon the name of their God. Fearful souls are hasty souls. They judge the Lord by feeble sense, by the bitterness of the bud, and not by the sweetness of the flower. They judge by the clouds of the morning, forgetting that the clouds may soon be scattered, and that the sun may shine out brightly again. To them, then, that are of a hasty heart; to those who condemn themselves unjustly, who think that all things are against them, and so become exceedingly fearful, say, “Be strong, fear not.”
I am going, first of all, to mention some of the spiritual fears which have vexed the people of God at all times, — fears from without, which are associated with a belief of the truth. Secondly, I will mention some fears from the feelings within. Then, thirdly, I shall try to excite you to get beyond these fearful things, and to come up to the place of strength, the place of confidence and of full assurance.
I. First, then, I am to mention SOME OF THE GREAT TRUTHS CONCERNING WHICH THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE OFTEN FEARFUL.
How many there are, babes in grace, who are troubled about election! “Are we among the Lord’s chosen ones?” is a question that they often ask. They would be glad enough if an angel could fly down from heaven, and make a solemn affirmation that he had read their names written in the golden page of the Lamb’s book of life; but, since they cannot have this assurance, they question, and question, and question yet again. “Suppose I have not been chosen unto eternal life? What if my name was never engraven upon the hands or upon the heart of Christ? When the muster-roll of the redeemed is read at the last great day, if my name should not be found on it, how can I bear that piercing thought? The dread surmise fills me with dismay.”
Now, to you who are trusting in Jesus, yet who have fears about your election, let me say, in God’s name, “Be strong, fear not.” That very doctrine of election, which now appears to you to be like a lion in your way, shall prove, by-and-by, to be indeed a lion upon which you shall ride in glorious triumph. It is no enemy; come and look it in the face, and you shall find it to be your richest, dearest friend. If thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ, thou art as certainly elected as ever Peter and Paul were. If, as an empty sinner, Christ is all thy fulness; — if, as a naked soul, Christ’s righteousness is thy glorious dress; — then be thou assured of this, thou wouldst never have had the stream if thou hadst not had an interest in the fountain, thou couldst never have had the fruit if thou hadst not had a part in the root, Inasmuch as thou hast the blessing of God’s elect, and the faith which is the common mark of them all, do not any longer question your election; but be bold to enter into this solemn mystery, venture now to the heart of Christ, trace the streams of divine love up to the eternal fountain from which they spring, and say, with John Kent, —
“A monument of grace,
A sinner saved by blood:
The streams of love I trace
Up to the Fountain, God;
And in his sacred bosom see
Eternal thoughts of love to me.”
Again, there are many of God’s people who are disquieted concerning their redemption. They want to know whether they were specially redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. According to some theories, nobody need ever be perplexed about this matter. The Arminian says, “Christ died for all men.” Some go so far as to say, “He died for all alike.” According to them, he died as much for Judas as he did for Peter, and as much for those who were damned in hell before he laid down his life as for those who were saved in heaven before he came into the world. Now, I do not hesitate to say that such a redemption as that— a redemption that does not redeem, — is not worth the expense of paper and ink to write about it; it is not worth while to open one’s mouth to speak of it. A redemption which pays a price, but does not ensure that which is purchased, — a redemption which calls Christ a Substitute for the sinner, but yet which allows the person for whom he was substituted to suffer in his own person, — is altogether unworthy of our apprehensions of Almighty God, it offers no homage to his wisdom, and does despite to his covenant faithfulness. We could not, and we would not, receive such a travesty of divine truth as that would be; there is no ground for any comfort whatever in it.
We believe that, by his atoning sacrifice, Christ bought some good things for all men, and all good things for some men; and that, when he died, he had a definite purpose in dying, and that his purpose will certainly be effected. Those who are saved owe their security to what his redemption has accomplished, and we fully believe that the accomplishment will be just as great as was the intent and purpose. Not, my brethren, that Christ’s blood was less than infinite in its value, — less than infinite it could never be. The question is net concerning the value of it, but the purpose of it. If God had willed it, there was enough efficacy in the blood of Christ to have redeemed ten thousand worlds. We have, however, not to speak of the efficacy that might have been in it, but of the efficacy that is in it according to the good pleasure which God hath purposed in himself. This doctrine of a special and particular intention in the atonement of Christ has often troubled believers in Jesus; but it never ought to do so. Dost thou believe in him? Is he all thy salvation, and all thy desire? Has his precious blood been applied by the Spirit to thy heart and conscience? Has he purged thee with hyssop? Then, thou art clean, and that hyssop cannot have been applied to thee in a wrong way. Being pardoned, thou hast the fruit of redemption, so redemption is certainly thine, too. Jesus came into the world to redeem thee unto himself. Thou art his, and in the efficacy of his blood and the power of his atonement thou hast a clear and proper right to share. Therefore, I say unto you who, on this account, are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not.”
There are many, also, who are troubled about their effectual calling. “Oh!” says one, “if I had heard the Master say to me, as he said to Zacchaeus, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house,’ then I should know that I was called by him. Or if he had said to me, ‘Mary,’ and I had said, ‘Rabboni,’ I should know that he had called me. But, oh, sir! I have come to Christ, yet I sometimes fear that he has never called me. He knows that he is my All-in-all; other refuge have I none; but I am half-afraid that I have got into this refuge without any right, that I crept up to the foot of the cross without being called, and that I have taken to myself a confidence which has no sure ground.” O child of God, dismiss all those fears! Thou couldst not have come to Christ unless he had first come to thee. If thou hast but come behind him in the press, and only touched the hem of his garment, thou art cured, and thou shalt never again suffer from that disease. That poor woman was not called by Christ’s voice; yet I will venture to say that there was a secret call, within her heart, that moved her to touch the hem of his garment. You may never know exactly how you were first convinced of sin, nor how you were quickened by the Holy Spirit; but if you have really come to Christ, that is enough, for you would never have come to him unless he had drawn you. He has put the bands of his love secretly about your heart, and you have turned to him as the needle turns to the magnet. The proof that you have been called by Christ is that you have come to him.
I have frequently noticed that those persons, who think that they have had some special and particular call, have been no better, in regard to their evidences, and sometimes they have been much worse, than those who have come to Christ in the more ordinary way. I would not say this to the disparagement of any man’s conversion, for God works as he wills; but I recollect, and my eye is just now fixed upon the very place where there once sat a man, who presented to me a Bible, (I have it at home now,) in which are written these words, “’Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house.’ Dear sir, — When you pronounced these words, last Sabbath morning, I heard a call from God to my soul, and I am sure that I came down, and that Christ did abide at my house.” That man joined us in church-fellowship; I shall not mention his name, but some of you may recollect how sadly he dishonoured the name of Christ. He went out from us because he was not of us; for, if he had been of us, doubtless he would have continued with us. It is very easy for us to imagine that we have received some special call of this sort, and then to build our confidence upon it; but if we have not something better than this to rest upon, woe worth the day to us! I would far rather, my dear friends, come to Christ, and never know that I had been called except from the fact that I had come, than have some vision or audible words, yet, after all, cease to stand as a simple soul, covered with the righteousness of Christ; for well do I know that there is a temptation to look back to the day and to the hour when we had some special manifestation, rather than still to look only to the cross and to the blood; and to calculate that we are converted because we felt this or that extraordinary emotion, instead of still coming, as we always must come, crying to our dear Lord and Saviour, —
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.”
Another fear, arising from the great and precious doctrine of final perseverance, has troubled many a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. “How shall I hold on, and persevere unto the end?” is a question that often causes great anxiety even to a genuine child of God. The best of things, when corrupted, become the most corrupt. The sweetest of comforts, when not believed in, become the bitterest of discomforts. I think that the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints is one of those that are most plainly taught in the Scriptures. If I found any difficulty, at any time, in defending against its assailants the doctrine of particular redemption, I should certainly never find any difficulty in defending the doctrine of final perseverance. Those who oppose it have an irresistible array of passages of Scripture to contend with; they have, indeed, when they attack this truth, to leap into a lion’s den. It is strange that so many of the Lord’s people should have been troubled concerning this precious doctrine, which is so clearly revealed in the Word of God. “How shall I endure unto the end? How shall I stand fast in the hour of trial? If my temptations are multiplied, if my pains are increased, if my bereavements should follow one upon another, if I should be called to a position of great responsibility, or if I should be cast down into the depths of adversity, how shall I endure it? How shall I be kept steadfast, year after year, and be brought safely home at last? Amid so many rocks and quicksands, storms and hurricanes, how shall my poor water-logged vessel ever enter the port?” O believer, if thou art really called by grace, thou shalt certainly persevere! He who set thy feet a-running in his ways will never let thee stop till thou hast come to thy journey’s end. Christ’s promise to all his people is, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Your perseverance does not rest with you, else you were indeed a wretch undone; but it rests with your Lord and Saviour, and he will preserve you even unto the end. “As your days, so shall your strength be.” With the temptation, he will make a way of escape that you shall be able to bear it. So again I say to you who are troubled about your ultimate salvation, “Be strong, fear not.” He who has begun the good work in you will carry it on, and finish it in righteousness; he will not leave you, for his promise to every one who believes in him is, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
II. I have thus dealt with some fears from without; now I am going, for a few minutes only, to speak upon SOME OF THE FEARS WHICH COME FROM WITHIN.
Multitudes of believers are of a fearful heart because they have not the joys and comforts with which some Christians are favoured. God hath some of his people who live very near to himself, and who, therefore, partake of the richest things upon his banqueting table. These privileged saints tell out their joys; but certain desponding Christians, who have backslidden from God, and who, therefore, have not of late tasted of these dainties, cry out, “We cannot be the Lord’s people, for we have no such joys as these.” As well might the plant in the corner say that it was not planted at all, because it did not stand in the front row of the bed. As well might some small tree in the forest say that it did not live, because it did not tower aloft, like some mighty cedar of Lebanon. Because I am not the fairest rose, but only a humble violet, hidden among the green leaves, am I to conclude that I am not a flower at all? Oh, no, no! We are not saved by our comforts; they are given to Us after we are saved, but we are saved without them. Many a soul has gone to hell singing, while others have gone to heaven sighing. It is not right that God’s people should hang their harps upon the willows; but better far is it for us to hang our harps upon the willows than, like Haman, to be hanged upon the gallows that, in his pride and malice, he had erected for his enemy, Mordecai. Because we have not all the comforts which some Christians have, let us not be fretful and repine; that is the way to prevent ourselves from ever having them. I would say of the comforts of religion as Christ said of the comforts of this world, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Seek Christ first; have simple faith in him; and then the ecstasies, the raptures, the enjoyments, the upliftings, which some of his people have, shall be added unto you if the Lord sees that it is well for you to have them. But if you seek those things first, you shall neither have them nor any other sort of comfort whatsoever.
Full many there are, also, who are greatly cast down because of the conflict within. As soon as there are wars and fightings between the two men, — the old man and the new man, — they conclude at once that it is all over with them. Foolish conclusion, indeed! since, if there were no wars, it would be a proof that there was no life. If there were no conflicts, it would be an evidence that there was but one power within, and that power the evil one. Draw not, from your internal commotions, from the temptation which assails you, and the force with which it acts against your inward principles, — draw not the inference that, therefore, you are a castaway of God. This is rather a reason why you should cry, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” and by faith should shout, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Very many have come across my path, too, who are of a fearful heart because they have such little faith, and they fear that their little faith will not be sufficient. Ah, believer! your true riches do not depend upon the amount of your spending money. The Lord sometimes keeps his children rather short of pocket money; but, still, the whole of his riches belongs to them all the while. The unsearchable riches of Christ are the measure of our true wealth; not that portion which we can manage to lay hold of by the hand of faith. If I have, in my hand, but one farthing of faith’s wealth, that is a proof that all the riches of Christ belong to me. If I have but faith as a grain of mustard seed, — so small that it looks as though the first bird of the air, that came my way, might carry it away, — yet, inasmuch as there is life hidden within that tiny mustard seed, a life which only, needs the grace of God to expand and develop it, — I am saved, though my faith be but small.
A few, too, have I known, who are troubled with doubts and fears because they do not understand as much as they would like to do. They cannot read books of divinity; or, if they do read them, they get lost amid the maze of difficult theological terms. They cannot reconcile certain truths the one with the other. But this is no ground for fear, for the gospel is so simple that it is adapted even for those who are all but idiots. I have read some extraordinary instances— facts that no one can dispute, — of persons scarcely a degree above sheer idiocy, who have, nevertheless, believed in Christ, — ay, and whose sayings have had about them certain flashes of a superlative simplicity and supernatural wisdom; and whose words, when they were sifted, and carefully examined, were found to read rather like the mind of the Spirit than like the utterances of a poor creature whose mind was almost gone. Think not, dear friend, that thy ignorance can push thee out of the family of God. Little children cannot read Greek and Latin, but they can say, “Abba, Father,” and that is all they need to say. If thou canst not read books of deep theological lore, yet, if Jesus Christ be thine, if thou art trusting in him, even the imperfect knowledge that thou hast of him proves that thou art his, and he will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
I have met with some, too, who were of a fearful heart, afraid that they would be lost, because they felt that they had, at some period of their lives, neglected Christian duty. This is an old temptation, that Satan often casts in the way of godly people. You remember how John Bunyan represents Apollyon as charging poor Christian with being unfaithful: “Thou didst faint at first setting out, when thou wast almost choked in the Gulf of Despond; thou didst attempt wrong ways to be rid of thy burden, whereas thou shouldest have stayed till thy Prince had taken it off; thou didst sinfully sleep, and lose thy choice thing; thou wast, also, almost persuaded to go back, at the sight of the lions; and when thou talkest of thy journey, and of what thou hast heard and seen, thou art inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that thou sayest or doest.” Now, if any of you should be troubled by similar accusations of the adversary, recollect that, since Christ did not love you for your good works, — they were not the cause of his beginning to love you — so he does not love you for your good works even now, — they are not the cause of his continuing to love you. He loves you because he will love you. What he approves in you now is that which he has himself given to you; that is always the same, it ever abideth as it was. The life of God is ever within you; Jesus has not turned away his heart from you, nor has the flame of his love decreased in the smallest degree. Wherefore, faint heart, “fear not, be strong.”
III. I might go on to deal with other fears of God’s people; but, instead of doing so, I want TO EXCITE YOU TO GET BEYOND THESE FEARS; in the words of my text, to exhort you to “fear not,” but to “be strong.”
Some few Sabbaths ago, I told you that I had met with a Christian brother who had never had a doubt. Lately, in Glasgow, I met with another. Mr. Alexander Macleod, the oldest Baptist minister, I believe, in Scotland, told me that he was converted to God, upon the Calton Hill, under Howland Hill’s ministry. He is now, I suppose, eighty-two or eighty-three years of age, and is still a strong man. He has known the Lord for more than sixty years; but he says that not once in his life did he ever have a doubt concerning his election, his calling, his interest in Christ, or his final perseverance. He said that he once heard a Unitarian minister preach against the Divinity of Christ, and his mind was greatly disturbed; but he never went the length of having any doubt, either about Christ, or about his own interest in him. I knew the man to be everywhere revered for his piety, and for the holiness and consistency of his life; I could not, therefore, doubt the truth of what he told me. But I was surprised, — not at him, but at myself, that I, who have the same God as he has, and perhaps have had more mercies than he has received, that I, in the full vigour of early manhood, should doubt, while he, in his old age, should be able truthfully to declare that his soul had never wavered in his simple confidence in Jesus. When I expressed my surprise at him, he expressed a great deal more surprise at me. He said that he came to Christ, as a poor sinner, and trusted him to be his All-in-all, and he did not mean to alter his belief until he saw good reason for doing so. I hope that you and I, dear friends, will come to Jesus yet again, as poor sinners, and take him to be our All-in-all, and never change from that simple faith till we see good reason for doing so; which, I take it, will never be so long as the heart of Christ is full of affection, the arm of Jesus is unpalsied through affliction, or the eye of Christ is undimmed with age.
I am sure that Satan is very much gratified when he sees that any of us are of a fearful heart; no doubt, he chuckles over it, and makes as much as ever he can of his sorry triumph over poor weak mortals. Do not yield to him, beloved. Draw your swords, and strike boldly at him; believe that you will overcome him, and you will do so. March forward, and believe that the land of promise is yours; for it is yours, and you shall surely go up and possess it. Is it necessary that the children of God should be a doubting people? Is it needful that they should be continually cast down? By no means, for it is a great and grievous sin for us to distrust our God. Let us trust in him at all times, and even say, with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
The path of faith is the smoothest path, after all. The road of life will always be rough, but he who walks by faith will find half its roughness removed. The greater part of our sorrows come not from heaven, nor hell, nor earth, but from ourselves. We are our own plague- makers, and our own tormentors. A man with strong faith is like one who wears a leathern glove, who can lay hold of thorns and thistles, and not be hurt; but the man with weak faith is like one, not only with a naked hand, but with the skin off it; everything he touches irritates the tender flesh, and even the small grains of dust may fret within the wound, and breed ulcers and foul sores. “Be strong.” God is with you, so how dare you be dismayed because of your own weakness? “Fear not.” The Lord is your confidence; it is presumption for you to mistrust him. “Be strong.” The might of God is engaged, by promise and by oath, to bring you safely through. “Fear not.” There is no cause for fear; the enemies whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see again no more for ever. “Fear not.” Fear weakens you; moreover, it dishonours God, and gives cause to the enemy to blaspheme his holy name.
I do not know whether this is a portion of meat to any troubled heart here present; possibly, it may be. If so, poor soul, feed on it. You have gone to a new situation, have you not, and there are some ungodly young men who revile and ridicule you? Well, then, “fear not, be strong.” Your business does not answer so well as it did, and you hardly know what will become of you. “Fear not, be strong.” Commit your cause unto the Lord, lay your case at his feet. Possibly you have sickness in the house, and you are half inclined to repine, and to think that there is some anger mingled with the strokes of the rod. “Fear not, be strong.” Either the blow you dread will never be inflicted, or it will be a blessed blow. This is but a slight sorrow; — do you think me hard and unfeeling in so describing it? But it may be that this sorrow will be very slight compared with that from which you are spared; if this blow did not fall, it might involve a ten times’ heavier one. Perhaps you have been sorely tempted by Satan lately, and he says that he shall have you at the last. “Be strong, fear not.” Smite him all the harder for telling that lie; strike at him with all your power, for, in the might of God, you are mightier far than he is, and you can prevail over him. And you, young man, have recently undertaken service for your Saviour, but you feel that you have not the strength needed for it, and you are inclined to give it up. “Fear not, be strong.” He who calls you to his service will support you in it. You and I have to stand like Gideon’s soldiers, with the lamp inside the pitcher; that pitcher needs to be broken before the light of the lamp can be seen. The strength of man is like that earthen pitcher, and the light of God cannot shine forth until that pitcher is dashed in pieces.
There is one person I must not forget, perhaps more. There are those who know that they are drawing nigh unto the grave; the shadows lengthen out, and their life becometh like the spider’s web, and they are afraid— afraid to die. They know the living Saviour, but they fear the dying hour. They think death’s stream is dark, and cold, and deep; how shall they pass through it to reach the Celestial City? “Fear not, be strong.” Death is the last enemy, and he is to be destroyed. Remember that, and be of good cheer. He shall not destroy you. Do not call him Death the destroyer, but Death the destroyed. Be certain of victory in your last moments; nay, look forward even now, with hopeful joy, to that most blessed of all moments when, laying your head upon the death-pillow, you shall find that Christ’s bosom is where that pillow lies, and you shall breathe your life out sweetly there, finding no iron gates, no shadow of dark wings, no horror of darkness, no dying strife; but bliss beginning, bliss increasing, bliss o’erflowing, and running on for ever and ever, bliss that shall be yours beyond the hazard of loss.
God grant unto each one of us that we may be strong, and fear not, for Christ’s sake! Amen.