Faith and Fear

From “Fear,” Sermons Occasional and Parochial (ca. 1865)

In the Christians of the Bible we see habitual fear; and this fear, far from depressing them, is rather a stimulus to their faith; and by giving strength to their faith it confirms a happy experience of the effects of the gospel upon them. With fear operating in them, they felt that they could not doubt. Fear planted them beyond weak hesitation, and gave them solid realities to think of; they felt within the atmosphere of fear the sobering and chastising influence of matter-of-fact truth. Their faith was not the child of volatile joy, or of mere lively impressions, but was chastised at its beginning by the severer feelings, and gained solid firmness with its chastisement.

The faith of the early Christians was largely indebted to their fear for its rootedness and firmness. Fear planted it in their souls, and established it as a natural product of the soil, whereas under mere joy and hope it would have flourished prosperously for a season as an exotic, but its strength would have been a delusive one. A habitual faith which will last must be a faith which is founded on fear; founded upon the natural impression which the facts of the invisible world make upon us. A comforting faith which has the power of sustaining us under adversity is only attained in this connection; and this was specially the faith of the Christians of the Bible. Fear then did not in their case produce dejection or sadness; but fear gave them a firm standing ground, upon which arose the consolations of faith and hope.

How comfortable do all those passages sound which talk of the fear of the holy servants of God, of their living in this fear, and of their spirits being subdued into resignation to his will. It is when awe and the dread of God s power and greatness have properly told upon the human mind that the believing heart emerges out of this vain and uncertain life; that faith shows its steadfastness. We might suppose beforehand that fear would be attended by horror; but the fact is, that to be able to fear is one of the fundamental privileges and, at the bottom, comforts of the Christian life. While you fear you believe; that at any rate is one effect. Fear is thus sustaining. While you fear God you believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. This is ever the accompaniment of fear in Scripture, and the great compensation; it settles, it tranquillizes, it gives peace, and it breeds ultimately security and calm, and a reasonable assurance. All those quiet settled views of the divine government which fix and strengthen its hold upon the mind, and make it the great anchorage it is, from which to be unmoored is to lose everything, arise from fear, from seeing the awfulness of facts as they are, and of this whole world as it is around us.

Let none then attempt to put away fear from their minds as a principle of their lives, because they have found it sometimes depressing, sometimes a check upon a high flow of spirits. To the old it gives the security of a true basis of religion; to the young it gives this and more, it gives the feeling for all that is grand and deep in religion. It gives all the vivacity, the sense of wonder, the sense of awe, which is connected with religion, and which is attached to this world in its connection with religion.

Without fear to produce a true impression, religion is lowered into a small thing; its magnitude depends upon our own minds, and how they are capable of being impressed, and in what aspect they are capable of viewing religion ; and this is fundamentally a matter of fear. With fear goes all the mystery and depth of religion; it is lost, and in its place appears mere dry routine, the outward dress and show of religion; fashion, and opinion, what is temporary, evanescent, and talked about. All that is really beautiful and solemn about religion, its present and its future, is nourished amidst thoughts and impressions of fear. Without these impressions religion becomes utterly arid and prosaic, feeble and unable to affect the mind; with them it becomes powerful, and able to engender the strongest feelings, and to strike home and impress the heart. Not only the whole inner sense of religion goes with fear, but with this inner sense goes all that is vivid and that has power on the intellect there is left a dry sense of religion, as something that must be done and got over.

James B. Mozley (1813-1875) was an English Anglican priest and scholar, a leader of the Oxford Movement. He wrote several books about sacramental theology and was Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.


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