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Not Craven Fear nor Sickly Love
but the Clean Fear of God and the True Love
that has Courage
PERENNIAL WEEDS OF WISDOM MASQUERADING AS FLOWERS
In his challenging work, "Crowded to Christ," L.E. Maxwell has many matters of interest, pithy and sound.
However, on the topic of the fear of God, there is room for development in this theme.
He cites repeated statistics indicative that for many, the fear of God has been a categorical and a major implement working towards their salvation. They FLED from the wrath to come, or FELT the impact of judgment.
His presentation, from the early fifties, when his hard cover book is advertised at $3, tells an interesting background for our present era ... BY CONTRAST! and this is something germane to the whole concept of the fear of the Lord, so we will pursue it first.
Disease, he reports, was felt by many to be near to being subdued, social security was presenting an appealing deliverance from the FEAR of old age, "positive political steps" were apparently being made towards a "world society" where war would not summon so many to its slavish and lavish slaughters; democracy was showing clean heels to the dictator; improved cultivation beckoned towards plenty and so on. It is a period piece of the social register.
In my own youth, earlier in the thirties, especially before the Second World War, there was apparent an additional fillip. Here the "March of Time" would appear on the newsreels in the theatrettes, showing often that a) man was progressing b) his ways were upward c) his technologies were startlingly apt and soon to be pleasingly embracive d) power and plenty alike were thrusting their parental beaks into the human nest e) time laid out a carpet of hope, of great and wonderful things, and f) it could hardly do otherwise.
One does not recall in this milieu the thought that the REASON that time was so bound to provide such bounties to those humans who lived in its domain, was organic evolution. That however would appear in such wonder books of philosophic sloth as H.G. Wells history of the world. Here magic was the rule and the realities of actual observation seemed slow off the mark. It is so now.
However there is much that has changed. No longer is there any thought of PLENTY. That myth went with the wars, the diseases, the slaughters, the political-social-religious strivings of many for dominance on the world scene, the inanities of humanism and the insanities of domination which appeals to many of those philosophies (Hosea 9:7) which have decided to take legs and walk, prodding millions before their pointed staffs (cf. Highway to Hell).
Radioactivity has made its wry comment on the mastery of man, threatening to ruin vast areas of human protoplasm, genetic structure and agricultural provision in one searing flame. Pestilences and plagues have come on scene (as per Matthew 24:6). The hopes of all-embracive, total therapy from antibiotics are receding to the point that one hears that now prostrate operations, other than for cancer, are falling out of mode. If that is not the reason, it is hard to know what is ... even one's own GP has given some agreement to the slightly comic observation that it is safer NOT to be in hospitals, and that their position, not as with the whipping post at Tasmania's notorious former convict settlement, Port Arthur, next to the Hospital, is rather next to the morgue.
People have genuine FEAR of entering hospitals because of the pampered super-bugs which manage to live despite their intrinsic weakness, in the artificially antiseptic environment, and so can act more readily inside than outside such an environment. Golden staph thrusts its golden locks brashly into the light..
Disease ravages the ruins of endless seeming wars, and grief aches with anguish almost unspeakable as the ruins of Hussein, in human terms, are brought to light, the multiplied thousands of tortured victims, and millions of select funds abstracted after his 79 reported palaces, into special accounts buried in the vaults of commerce. North Korea rattles its radioactivity, Russia appears to have had dealings at the atomic level with Iran, maniacal calls for the destruction of the USA and various other road blocs which from time to time interfere with the militant Muslim steam-roller, are made, and hatred broods like a serpent, poised to strike (not the steam-roller, for that is its free ride!).
How changed the vision! There is no temptation now for this lax and fearless society, relaxed in the arms of self-will, self-reliance, self-alignment, self-fulfilment, though teachers do not lack who still try to speak in such seductive terms to the students whose eyes are shut to reality, seeking in evolution some redress (for no known reason except that folly might hide in her tresses and not be seen, even while it lives), in man some hope and in this world some continuity. Still they refuse to repent just as Revelation 9:20 indicated would be the case, in the midst of the Age's terminal rigors of ruin and pestilence, plague and discontent. Indeed witchcraft in its vapid torpors of spirit, and misuse of mind, its idle pretensions and its ludicrous evasions, continues, actually without power, ground or reason except in its vulnerability to real power, that of the deceiver of man, that abuser of his life, the ruin of his ways, that devil, the opponent of truth and the liar of all time. But what does Revelation, then, say ? It is this.
"But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues,
did not repent of the works of their hands,
that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood,
which can neither see nor hear nor walk.
|"And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts."|
It is dramatically so! In the very thrall and appalling smoke and torment, of which only a minor shaft is exposed above, there is a massive lag of repentance so crass, so persistent, so obsessive it might appear, that its absence is as prized as diamonds and its evacuation from on site operations in the soul of man, as desired as privilege in the totalitarian societies which still abound, often under the excuse of religion. Here the word of man rules man as if he were ant; and the word of God is voided like some false check, while the frauds perpetrated though false, are received as if desiderata and delight. So does spiritual madness make man vain, either with false gods, philosophic idols, social obsessions, political punditry specialising in the puny, as if earth were all, orchestrating a music of devastating beat, meaningless vapidity and sightless vision
The results are as you see.
FEAR AND FEAR - THE RANGE IS GREAT
Paul's Conversion has a Message
That way does not work because it cannot work. Every now and again throughout the centuries, man likes to think he has it made, by grace made, by grace in an environment of wonder, by grace endowed with mind and endued with volitional strength, he then tries without grace, like a robber, to use it all without reference except to his will, work and desire, for his own purposes.
Routinely he fails amid colossal confusion, like the Pharaohs, like Nineveh, like Babylon, not to mention its more recent effort, falling predictably as shown in Assyria (Iraq), in terms of the prophecy in advance (Micah 5:5-6), one following in time the humiliation of the Messiah (Micah 5:1-3), whose input into this world was shown so summarily in Micah 5:1-3. Who then was it predicted to be born in Bethlehem ? It was even He whose "goings are ... from eternity". And whose land following this was to be subject of such extreme dealings in discipline ? It was that of Iraq.
Yet it goes on, now as in the past: the word, the work, the prediction, the fulfilment, the warning, the woe. The world does not learn. It does not have the heart for it.
Meanwhile, the wandering grows. The American dream is polluted by it, freedom a virtual goddess; the British way is spoilt by it, at first, dominion an intrinsic feature, one withering as the nation drifted from Christianity to urbanity. Russia is ruined by it, its godless facade ending in financial farce.
Maxwell (op. cit.) cited in his day, fresh to the atomic bomb, the words of Dr Robert M. Hutchins of Chicago University soon after this explosion, feeling "that it may frighten us into that Christian character and those righteous actions and those positive political steps necessary to the creation of a world society - not a thousand or five hundred years hence, but now." But did it so act on this world ?
Fear ? It has its place, argues Maxwell. Is it not active when one is careful not to be the dead butt of the laws of nature ? It is just that God is ignored. Other entities are feared.
This returns to the question of the place of fear in conversion, and two major aspects need here to be considered.
First, what is this fear of God which some may feel is a major force in their movement back to God ?
Secondly, how does it relate to Christian character.
That is, there is the question of its role in FINDING God, and of its role in FOLLOWING Him.
As to the first, it is at once necessary to realise that the matter must not be conceived simplistically. PAUL for example, had a variety of impacts on the Damascus road when he was transformed from an 'insolent' man, as one rendering of his autobiographical comment has it, imperious or arrogant, into a saint of God.
One such impact was a reasoned question. WHY are you persecuting Me ?
That was a question. It was put to the young man's heart by the living Jesus Chist. Paul was hauling people off to whipping and prison, because of their religious convictions (and how often he had to endure the same thing as an apostle, later on!) What was the motive, the point, the value structure which made it seem good to persecute Christ in terms of those in whom, by His Spirit, He was living (Colossians 1:27).
Why, why was he doing this ?
It was a good question. It was reasonable, searching and demanded an answer. Was it culture ? was it traditional religion ? Was it psychological obsession that drove him, in a way not unlike that of many evolutionists in authority, who seek to preclude creationist lecturers by the banner manner, a political activism in despite of scholarship not unseldom! Was it this ? Was it some combination ? It needed thought. The young persecutor was arrested in spirit.
What then had happened to him ? What was the character of this impact on the Damascus road ?
Presented in those terms, if there was fear in the matter, it was fear of DOING WRONG.
Saul was appalled.
In other words, the fear of God is objective in this, that it relates to reality: it is not a mere emotion. It is rather the consideration that one is off key, off course and off righteousness, offside, and in the fishy sense, just off.
Further, it reveals God as expressive in a fully personal sense. It is not just religion with which one deals, or people. It is THE PERSONAL BEING, who has a mind, sight and a will of His own. In collision course with Him is an awesome option, but it is not one to savour. If that is fear, it is so indirectly. Chiefly at this precise point, it is horror and exposure to the light of truth. If one is fighting God, what is the point ? What has He done to deserve this ? What has one done to raise oneself to such an elevation as to presume to do it ? It is mere rebellion without reason, wrong without right attached, wilfulness and blindness.
That is horrible; and naturally the commission of this is a matter for some kind of terror, if you like, as if one found oneself about to commit a murder in one's sleep.
It is horrified awe at one's own error, as if
stroking a snake! at its extent, but chiefly this, at perceiving against whom in
His perfection and purity, it is woefully directed...
"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!" came the speech of the Lord.
What did he find ?
To the journeying Saul (soon to be re-named Paul), the personal Lord was not merely aware, but actively engaged in speech; and not only this, He was speaking as a person to Paul, another person; and there was no abstraction whatever: there was nowhere to hide in philosophic contusions of the mind.
It is was here and now, and God Himself speaking. Nor was it simply a vision. It was the One whom Paul knew had come to earth, performing such miracles of power and such wonders of kindness that thousands were surging, in the city headquarters of His ministry, into His kingdom. It was also horrifying, in this, that Paul had played an active, if subdued part in the murder of Stephen, whose face had shone as he sought forgiveness for HIS persecutors, stating that he saw Christ at the right hand of the Father, as he died.
It was this visitant, Jesus the Christ, not from space, but from the heavenly headquarters of Spirit, from which space had been a mere creation: it was He who was confronting Paul.
What answer could he make ? Only to repent. He did.
Christ pursued the point with Paul. It is hard for you to kick against the goad ? Thus Paul was shown, under Christ's regal and divine eye, as like a sheep or goat, kicking the hoof against the instrument of guidance. Naturally it was hard. Is a sheep a shepherd; or is a shepherd of men, the Shepherd of God ? Naturally not. It was necessary to stop such follies with the human hooves against the divine goad, and Paul did. The Lord then told him what to do, in order to formalise the conversion and Paul did this. He wanted peace with God, enrolment with Christ, entry into the kingdom, and the emblematic washing of his sins did not seem an inappropriate signal (as a Jew he had merely been circumcised).
Put otherwise, we see here the full panoply noted by Christ in John 16:8ff., the Holy Spirit bringing home to the heart that Jesus, the only Saviour this world has ever known or WILL KNOW (by that same word which is in all things being fulfilled, in much right now before our very eyes - Ephesians 1:10). He was bringing the impact of three things: JUDGMENT, RIGHTEOUSNESS and SIN.
|Sin ? because the world did not believe in Him, and so
act like it.
|Righteousness ? because He, the full river of such
wonder, had gone to His
place, leaving this world in its dried-up sin.
|Judgment ? because this world has its little ways and its little prince, and its little fascination with that royalty of shame, and it is necessary to live under a different management. Paul then did so, and Christ became the resource, the recourse and the spiritual source of his life (Philippians 1:20-21).|
Fear then was clean, as it is recognised to be in Psalm 19. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. It is the fear of brilliant fire, warming, comforting, purifying, but dangerous if you ignore its power and its wonder; while wonderful if you keep your way with it, and use its provisions thankfully. That is clean fear; there is nothing craven about it.
That is how I John can tell us in perfect harmony that "perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment" (4:18). What is the context ? It is this: boldness in the day of judgment, and the way of judgment.
How is such boldness to be gained ?
It is from the fact that God is love, that in His love He has saved us who believed in Him (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:1-8), that He is faithful and that His salvation is sure. Fearing judgment is imperfection in love, because in God's love there is an assured faithfulness that has already paid for the full complement of sin, since the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world (4:14); and furthermore He has sent Him to be the propitiation for our sins (4:10). If then HE IS the propitiation, what is this fear which acts as if HE WERE NOT! Further, says John (5:11-12), you who believe should realise that the life which you have been given is eternal. What then is there to fear ?
Peter in telling us (I Peter 2) to fear God and honour the King, is not contradicting John. This is not in the context of being afraid of being damned, but of DOING what is right in the atmosphere of noble honour to God, rigorous realisation of His awesome splendour and righteous ways so that one does not dare to deviate, not because of a slap, but because it is lèse-majesté. It would be an index to horrible corruption, shameless ingratitude, ruinous folly. It might grieve the Lord, and would displease Him whose wonder and whose fear are in this together: for He is SO wonderful that one would rather put a new Mercedes into a lamp-post than wilfully intrude one's foot into the errors which HE defines.
Again, why ? It is because His word is truth, and the Christian does not want to damage truth, or more accurately, be damaged by it in a folly of mischief, ignoring its preciousness. Do you 'fear' to cut your throat ? Is this craven ? or merely one of the realities of being alive!
The world however is diverse, divergent, contrary.
Thus the world WILL NOT allow an atomic bomb or anything else to make it fear God, but it might allow people to try to so dominate them that they are kept from the wars which might bring on atomic radiation, death, exposure, environmental and massive, even irreparable disaster. Why ? Because it WILL NOT repent and WILL NOT have God to rule over it, but will try for success by any and all means, even including rigors of dictatorial horror (as so often in the past) in the interests of glory and dominion, human, racial, national or whatever may be the current obsession.
TO BE FEARFULLY
IS A DIVINE THRESHOLD FOR THE FEARLESS
The DIMENSION and CLEANNESS of fear involves a cleansed life, a devoted discipleship, a glorying in grace, a seeking of the Lord's face, a journey, a pilgrimage in the purity which His presence enables (like a mother, cleaning up when there is a fall and teaching at the same time to talk better!); and the world loves itself too much, and millions of individuals in it love their own lives too much to give them up to the Lord (cf. Matthew 16:25ff.). Perversely however, in the resultant, they give them up to other lords, such as vanity, pride, inordinate moral self-congratulation or immoral self-congratulation because of licence for libido, alleys for lust of mind, spirit or body. These lords are as precious as burning grass in Canberra as the flames from the trees strike thousands of homes. They are ruinous.
What does Isaiah say in the sobriety of sorrow and pity ? It is this.
"Lord, You will establish peace for us,
For You have also done all our works in us.
Lord our God, masters besides You
Have had dominion over us;
But by You only we make mention of Your name.
"They are dead, they will not live;
They are deceased, they will not rise.
Therefore You have punished and destroyed them,
And made all their memory to perish."
SO is the case. But they who wait on the Lord, they find an awesome splendour and a delicious fear, a fearfulness in majesty, and glory in wonder, a love in purity all in one, in the Lord. How it contrasts with the craven fear of judgment, the lost fear of doom! Hear again Isaiah, this time from 33:14-22.
"The sinners in Zion are afraid;
Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites:
'Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?
Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?'
"He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes,
Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed,
And shuts his eyes from seeing evil:
He will dwell on high;
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks;
Bread will be given him,
water will be sure.
"Your eyes will see the King in His beauty;
They will see the land that is very far off.
Your heart will meditate on terror:
'Where is the scribe?
Where is he who weighs?
Where is he who counts the towers?'
"You will not see a fierce people,
A people of obscure speech, beyond perception,
Of a stammering tongue that you cannot understand.
"Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts;
Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet home,
A tabernacle that will not be taken down;
Not one of its stakes will ever be removed,
Nor will any of its cords be broken.
But there the majestic Lord will be for us
A place of broad rivers and streams,
In which no galley with oars will sail,
Nor majestic ships pass by
(For the Lord is our Judge,
The Lord is our Lawgiver,
The Lord is our King;
He will save us) ..."
There in symbolic majesty is the glorious peace of sovereign rule by that sovereign who alone is love, whose mercy is from everlasting, who changes never, whose prodigious grace is the deliverance from the sin of flesh, the madness of man's mind and whose therapeutic governance is the health of the life of man. Out of the slipstream of whirling works, able to produce in peace, man may thus be involved in a life of bounty, not of mutiny, of blessedness in which the Creator and Redeemer are ONE, and the result is a destiny at once fearfully wonderul and utterly fearless, since perfect love casts out fear, and when judgment is concerned, there is none, simply none.
Accordingly, hear Paul's conviction in II Timothy 1:12 and 4:6-8.
"For this reason I also suffer these things;
nevertheless I am not ashamed,
for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded
that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day,
and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing."
Another rendering has it more freely: "Now the time has come for me to die. My life is like a drink offering being poured out on the altar. I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful. So a crown will be given to me for pleasing the Lord. He judges fairly, and on the day of judgment he will give a crown to me and to everyone else who wants him to appear with power."
In what WAY, then, does I John tell us of freedom from fear ? It is in this select but
monumentally important respect: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because s He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in
We love Him who first loved us, John goes on to declare. The grace, in other words, is
generated in God; it is overflowing in the plan of salvation, in the coming of Christ, in the
sacrificial death and vicarious atonement He offers, in the redemption He confers, one which
is eternal (Hebrews 9:12), so that God "has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9-10).
That precisely is just ONE of the things promised, received by faith, one which thus has
and fearlessness in this, that BECAUSE HE is trustworthy and has done all, therefore as His
word declares, so it is. Secured, we are secure; saved, we do not die; His sheep, we do not
lose Him, nor ever perish.
On the way, to respond to a calling, a discipline, a cleansing, a rebuke, a reprimand may be
an awesome thing in its way, as David would have found out (I Samuel 7) after his crucial and
colossal sin; but this does not have fear in the area of judgment (cf. Psalm 51, John 21:15-19); indeed, it is the fearful cleansing which then occurs which is a scouring suitable for salvation;
and despite its awesome effects, these are consoling rather, since they are the attestation of standards of purity fit for His people. Like a nurse (cf. (I Thessalonians 1:7), He cares, and His
care is effectual!
When you are nursed by God, health is the result! When you fear God, there is nothing to fear;
and surely it is in this that the grand fearlessness of so many of the saints is to be found: not in
an ignorance of danger, or sport with peril, but in the security of the love of God does it come.
There is stark and challenging calling, opportunity in this world, to bring the light of Christ into
its darkness, whatever it costs. It can speed like that medium. Again, the peace the Gospel
proclaims can flow like waters from the melting alpine snow.
Likewise it can lead to decisive action. Embossed with light, the arrows of the Lord are sent
with their glorious message of liberty, to dispel fear by dispelling its ground, and to impel love by
revealing its source.