How Faith Helps Against the Fear of Man: Explored in Fifteen Aspects
by Jeremiah Burroughs
First, let us discuss where the power of faith lies in helping us overcome the fear of man.
Much has been said about the power of faith in assisting us through sufferings. However, we now have several points to address regarding the power of faith in combating the fear of man.
Firstly, wherever faith exists, it places the believer in a secure and safe state, ensuring the safety of the soul. It assures the believer that the terms between God and the soul are good, thereby delivering the soul from being overwhelmed by fear. Nothing can provide security to the soul regarding the goodness of its relationship with God except faith. This is accomplished by placing the soul within the Covenant of Grace and conveying the blessings of that everlasting Covenant, which can never be broken, to the soul. Thus, the soul is endowed with the sure mercies of David, resulting in a state of security. Just as a person is not troubled with fears when they know they are provided for in life, a believing soul is provided for eternity. What could trouble such a soul now?
The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 4:19, urges us to commit our souls to God in times of danger while doing what is right. When the soul is entrusted to God in righteous conduct, there is no need for further fear. It is similar to a person travelling with a precious jewel of great worth. If they can entrust their jewel to a safe and secure hand, they have no reason to fear. Likewise, in some countries, there are banks where individuals, who are afraid of losing their money, entrust it to the bank for safekeeping. In this way, the soul that can commit itself to God through virtuous actions and be assured of it is not troubled by excessive fear.
Question: But should we not be concerned about our estates, lives, and liberties?
Answer: The Apostle says, be concerned about those things, but make sure you commit your souls to God, and you will be well enough.
It is similar to a time of widespread fire and burning. If a person has some ordinary items in the fire, they do not care about them. However, if they have jewels and treasures, they entrust them to a safe place. Similarly, a believer, having entrusted their soul to God through faith and being certain of the relationship between God and their soul, will not entertain fear.
We read about Noah in Genesis 6:14. When he built the Ark, he covered it with pitch. The word translated as "pitch" is the same word used for "propitiation" or "atonement." This signifies that the pitch for Noah's Ark is comparable to the atonement of Christ, apprehended by faith, for the soul. When a soul can apprehend, through faith, the sure mercies of David in the propitiation of Christ, it keeps the soul from fear amidst dangers, just as the pitch kept Noah's Ark safe from the waters. This is the first point.
Secondly, faith prevents fear because it has a special focus on the highest, ultimate being of all things. It is a rule that no inferior cause can function except through influence from the superior. Therefore, when faith can behold the highest supreme cause and see:
First, that all power in any creature comes from it, Second, that the action of that power is from it, Third, that the force of that power is from it, Fourth, that the success of that power is from that cause,
And when the soul looks up to this highest cause and sees clarity in it, it does not need to scrutinise the lower causes extensively. Just as a person has an instrument with many wheels, and even if the lower wheels move and it appears as if it might break and fall upon them, if they have their eye on the highest wheel that moves them all, upon which all depend, and they are sure that it holds, they do not pay much attention to the others. It is the same with a spiritual eye. A worldly eye only looks at things that are perceptible, at the creatures. But a believer looks at the highest supreme cause, and if that is right, they do not concern themselves with the lowest causes.
We have a significant statement in Isaiah 54:16: "Behold, I have created the smith who blows the coals in the fire and produces an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. Are you afraid of the sword and the wasters? I have created the smith who blows the coals, and I have created the waster to destroy. If they have any power to harm, it is from me. Why do you focus on the instrument and not the hand? If there is any power in any weapon of war, it depends on God, and He makes them to destroy." Therefore, faith looks to the highest cause, is concerned with that, and directs its affections towards it. It is not greatly affected by subordinate causes. It does not fear the wrath of men or the power of any creature because it looks so much at the highest cause that is above all.
The confidence that worldly hearts have in external aids keeps them from fearing God. Shouldn't the confidence of the saints in God keep them from fearing man?
Thirdly, faith helps against the fear of man because it helps the soul overcome a greater fear than any fear that a creature can cause.
A believing soul has experienced fears greater than the wrath of a king, namely, the wrath of an infinite God. A believer knows what the wrath of a deity means, the terror of conscience, the curse of the Law, and the flames of Hell. They have experienced something of the spirit of bondage that causes them to fear things other than the fear of man. And when faith comes, delivering the soul from these fears, the others must inevitably fade away. The power of faith quickly extinguishes them. Just as David, when he was delivered from the mouth of the lion and the paw of the bear, was not afraid of Goliath, a believing soul is not afraid of the wrath of man because it has been delivered by faith from the wrath of an infinite deity and the terrors of the Law and conscience.
In Isaiah 51:22, observe how God presents the deliverance of His people from the fear of His wrath as an argument to strengthen them against all other fears. "Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury." Why is this spoken? In the beginning of the next chapter (for chapters were not divided by the prophets but added later, and therefore they have an immediate connection), it says, "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion, put on your beautiful garments." This is what faith says to a believing soul: "Why are you afraid of the wrath and disapproval of men? Do not be fearful, for I have taken the cup of trembling out of your hand. There was a time when you held that cup of trembling and were afraid you would drink from it. But I have taken it away, so awaken, put on strength, and do not fear man, for you have been delivered from such fear."
It is a passage in the book of Job, Job 38:17. When God wanted to bring Job to fear, He said, "You seem to have some boldness, but have you seen the gates of death? Has the shadow of death been revealed to you?" That would be a different matter if you had experienced those fears and yet remained bold. But a believing soul can say, "Yes, Lord, the gates of death and the shadow of death have been partially revealed to me, and yet I am bold."
The prophet says in Jeremiah 17:17, "Do not be a terror to me; you are my hope in the day of disaster." Lord, let me be delivered from your terror, and no one in the world will terrify me. Those who have been raised delicately and know not what danger means, tremble when they hear of any disturbance and danger. But those who are accustomed to wars, who constantly hear the noise of cannons and witness alarming and desperate situations, are not easily frightened because they have been where terrors exist and have been delivered from them. Similarly, a believing soul has encountered terrors other than the terrors caused by humans, and faith, which delivers from them, will also deliver from these.
Fourthly, faith helps against the fear of men, as well as all dangers and evils, by instilling the true fear of God in the soul. When faith comes, it brings all grace with it, including the grace of the fear of God. The root cause of all disorderly fear in the world is the lack of true fear of God. By this, I do not mean fear of His wrath, but the reverence that we owe to God as creatures to the Creator, the fear of God that constitutes a significant part of His worship. If the soul is filled with that fear, other fears will vanish.
Just as in other afflictions, true spiritual joy overcomes carnal joy, and the best way to cure carnal joy is to have the heart filled with spiritual joy. Many find satisfaction in the flesh, but they will never mortify their carnal joy until their souls are filled with spiritual joy. Therefore, when they cry out against their carnal joy in times of sickness, it is not truly mortified because they return to it again. They only had the conviction of conscience that their carnal joy was wrong, but their hearts were not filled with its opposite.
The same applies to sorrow. There is no better way to mortify carnal sorrow than to sorrow for sin. Similarly, for desires, there is no better way to mortify sinful, worldly desires than to have desires sanctified for God. Just as in other afflictions, the most effective way to mortify carnal, sinful fear is to have the true fear of God planted in the heart.
As Moses, when the rod turned into a serpent, the magicians also turned their rods into serpents. However, the text in Exodus 7:12 states that Moses' serpent devoured the magicians' serpents. Similarly, the true fear of God has enough power to occupy the entire soul, leaving no space for the fear of man. Just as God is truly worshipped in His presence, when God is truly feared, He is the only one feared, and all other fears are subordinate to that. When God is truly feared, nothing else is feared, and indeed, nothing else needs to be feared. Just as where God is not feared, no creature can help us, where God is feared, no creature can harm us. In Hosea 10:3 it is said, "Because we feared not the Lord, what then should a king do to us?" On the contrary, because we fear the Lord, what then can a king or all the power in the world do against us?
Fifthly, faith reveals to the soul that it has more on its side than against it. You may recall the story of the Prophet who was afraid when he saw his enemies surrounding him, ready to seize him. The Prophet prayed to the Lord to open his eyes, and in 2 Kings 6:16-17, he saw that there were more with him than against him.
Until a person's eyes are opened by faith, they may see many enemies against them, causing fear. But when God opens the eyes of their soul to see that there are more with them than against them, all fears disappear. They see all the attributes of God, all the ways of God's providence, all the angels, and all creatures working for their good. They see that there are more on their side than against them.
If a child or a person is alone in danger, they are afraid. But when they are in the company of their friends, who have more with them than against them, they are not afraid. Through the eye of faith, we see that there are more with us than against us, and that frees us from fear.
Sixthly, faith prevents fear by bringing the spirit of Jesus Christ into the soul and making the soul a partaker of Christ's spirit. Christ is referred to as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in Revelation 5:5. He was full of courage and did not fear anything that opposed him on his path. Every Christian partakes in the lion-like spirit of Christ and has something of it within them, which imparts strength and courage.
In Isaiah 11:2, we read about the spirit of Christ with which He was anointed: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Wherever the spirit of Christ is present, there is a spirit of strength and might that does not easily yield to fear. It is a sign of a poor and low spirit to cower in fear at every little thing, but a magnanimous and elevated spirit will not easily fear. The spirit of Christ is a magnanimous and glorious spirit, sharing the same spirit with the Father. Those who belong to Christ also possess the same spirit of the Son and of the Father. Therefore, as Saint Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7, "We have not received the spirit of fear, but of power." The spirit of Christ is filled with power and strength, and when faith brings in the spirit of Christ, it undoubtedly helps against fear.
Seventhly, faith helps against fear by redirecting the heart away from the creature and all the comforts associated with it. Why does a person fear? It is because they believe that the creature will take away some comfort from them. But if the heart is detached from the creature and its comforts, and from the evils brought by the creature, not valuing them or considering them of great importance, there is not much reason to fear. Faith takes the heart off from the creature. In Revelation 12:11, it is mentioned that those who overcome Antichrist did not love their lives. By consequence, if they were detached from the love of life, they were also detached from the love of any creature.
Chrysostom made a notable statement regarding a worldly person. He said that there is no one more miserable and fearful than someone who is attached to earthly things. Such a person lives a life of constant worry and trembling. However, when faith comes, it detaches the heart from being fixated on the creature. As a result, that person no longer lives a life of anxiety and no longer trembles. Chrysostom's life reflected this sentiment. Speaking about Empress Eudoxia, he said, "What will she do? Will she banish me? The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. Will she cut me asunder? So was Isaiah. Will she drown me? John was cast into the sea. Will she stone me? So was Stephen. Will she behead me? So was Paul. Will she take away my substance? My heart is taken away from that already."
There is a story about Illaria encountering thieves who asked if he was not afraid. He replied, "No, I have nothing to lose." They threatened to kill him, to which he said, "I am prepared to die." When a heart realizes it has nothing to lose and is prepared to die, it does not fear. It does not value any evil in the creature or any good in it, and therefore it is not afraid. It is faith, that glorious and powerful grace, which takes the heart off from all creature evils and creature goods. You can recognize the work of faith in your soul when you feel a principle within you that detaches you from the creature, lifts you above creature comforts and creature evils. That is the glorious work of faith, and that is the seventh aspect.
Eighthly, faith involves God in the cause of a believer. Whatever cause a believer undertakes and exercises faith in, their faith involves God in it. This means that it not only receives the support, command, and faithfulness of God to assist it, but also the name of God and God Himself. It is similar to a situation in England where a person has a debt and does not know how to collect it. They may turn it over to the King, hoping that involving the King in the debt will provide a solution. Similarly, when a believer is in a difficult situation and doesn't know what to do, they look in every direction and see nothing but fear and terror. If they can turn the cause over to God and involve Him in it, they find peace.
Ninthly, faith has a remarkable effect in helping against fear by filling the heart with spiritual goodness. True courage and boldness in the heart stem from the abundance of spiritual goodness within the soul. Just as naturalists observe that lions possess courage and boldness because their hearts are filled with strong spirits, many things are weak when empty but become strong when filled with what is suitable to them. Similarly, when a soul is filled with spiritual goodness, it becomes very strong.
The reason behind the audacity and courage of wicked people in their sinful ways is the abundance of wickedness within their souls. The Apostle addressed this when he said in Acts 5:3, "Why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie unto the Holy Ghost?" If Satan had not filled their hearts, they would not have been so bold as to lie to the Holy Ghost. An example of this can also be found in Esther 7:5, where the king asks, "Who is he? And where is he that durst presume in his heart to do so?" In Hebrew, it is phrased as "Who hath filled his heart to do this?"—indicating a heart so full as to dare such an evil act.
Just as the filling of the heart with evil makes one bold and courageous in doing evil, the filling of the heart with spiritual goodness propels one to pursue what is good. Consider the case of Stephen, who, after being filled with the Holy Ghost, displayed great boldness. He could look upon the faces of his persecutors without fear, as mentioned in Acts 6:15. The council gazed upon him and saw his face as if it were the face of an angel, all because his heart was filled with the Holy Ghost. Similarly, the apostles were very fearful before the Holy Ghost descended upon them, but once they were filled with the Holy Ghost, they had no more fear.
Elisha also exhibited great courage when the three kings approached him. He said, "Had it not been for Jehoshaphat, I had not seen thy face." The reason behind his boldness was that he had the double portion of Elijah's spirit upon him. Just as there is a plenitude of evil that causes boldness, there is also a plenitude of good that fills the heart with boldness. And nothing fills the heart more than faith, which draws from the fullness of Christ. As it is written, "Of his fullness have all we received" (John 1:16).
In the tenth place, faith possesses great power to instill boldness and remove the fear of man. This is because faith acquaints believers with God's ways towards His people, and as a result, they do not fear. Believers gain understanding of God's providential dealings and come to know that it is His usual manner to allow enemies to rage against His people, to prevail over them, and to have power over them, yet they remain His people. Affliction does not signify that God has forsaken them. Therefore, Scripture often speaks of God leading His people through fire and water, assuring them that He will be with them there (Isaiah 43:2). It is God's way to choose His people and set His heart upon them in the fiery furnace. When He intends the greatest good for His people, He guides them through trials and places them in prosperous circumstances (Psalm 66:12). When one is acquainted with God's ways, fear is dispelled.
If a soldier is unfamiliar with the tactics of his General and witnesses him undertaking great and perilous tasks, he becomes afraid. However, someone who is acquainted with the General's strategies and knows that it is customary to face such dangers does not fear. Similarly, carnal hearts are quick to fear at the sight of any danger because they lack the understanding to comprehend God's intentions and ways towards His people. On the other hand, the people of God are aware that it is God's ordinary course to bring about good from evil.
As Luther said, "He kills in order to make alive, and casts down in order to raise up." He elaborates further, stating that understanding this is the art of arts and the knowledge of knowledges, but very few truly grasp and comprehend God's ways. It is a secret that God unveils only to those who fear Him. Faith does not render one ignorant like a child, but rather instructs the soul in the ways of God, empowering it to overcome fear.
In the eleventh place, faith aids in conquering fear by elevating the soul to a lofty and glorious state, ensuring both safety and a remarkable condition. Just as a person of high status in the world is not fearful like others, faith elevates God's people to a position of great eminence and splendour. As stated in Isaiah 43:4-5, "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not, for I am with thee."
If a King were to approach a poor subject and say, "Fear not, you are honourable in my eyes. I value your life more than the lives of thousands," would this not prevent the subject from being afraid? God says the same to every gracious soul, and faith embraces this assurance, keeping the soul free from fear. In Matthew 10:31, Jesus declares, "Fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows." God's providence extends even to sparrows, but His people are of greater worth. They are so precious to God that He even takes note of the number of hairs on their heads (Matthew 10:30) and is aware of their every step. He collects their tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8). Surely, He values every drop of their blood, much more their lives (Psalm 116:15), and their spiritual privileges. They are in a lofty and excellent condition above others.
Chrysostom beautifully describes the priest Azariah who resisted King Uzziah's attempt to offer sacrifice. He says, "Everyone who commits sin is a servant to sin, and therefore lowly, even if adorned with a thousand crowns. But he who maintains righteousness is more of a king than any king, for he is in a higher position than anyone in the world." A most remarkable expression comes from Tertullian, asking, "Why should I fear when the saints shall be raised to judge the world? Why should that man fear who ought to be feared by angels, for he shall judge them? Who ought to be feared by devils, for he shall have power over them? Who ought to be feared by the entire world, for he shall judge all the world? Does a judge fear the prisoner before him?" This is the condition of a saint of God, and faith makes use of this knowledge, understanding what God has revealed about the exalted state of His people, thereby banishing fear.
Twelfthly, faith aids in overcoming fear by greatly strengthening a good conscience. Wherever faith exists, a good conscience is also strengthened in proportion. They are inseparable. Hence, the Scripture speaks of those who have "made shipwreck of faith" as also putting away a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:19). One cannot stand without the other. We understand the immense power of a clear conscience in eradicating fear. To have no knowledge of wrongdoing concerning ourselves is like a wall of brass. The breastplate of righteousness guards against any incoming dart, and a good conscience upholds this breastplate. It declares, "They accuse, but I will excuse. They condemn, but I will justify. I will stand with you in death and before the Lord, pleading on your behalf."
If a person becomes a terror to themselves, it is no wonder they would fear everything else. However, if a person is not a terror to themselves, if they can behold God in righteousness, and if their conscience is sound and good, they can confidently face anything. As Job 11:14-15 states, "If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be steadfast, and shalt not fear."
Once again, faith provides significant assistance in overcoming fear by bringing in and utilising all the gracious promises to combat fear. I will mention just two promises, and you will see the immense power they possess in aiding the soul against fear. Deuteronomy 31:8 declares, "He it is that goeth before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed." Note how God emphasises these expressions. Before Moses is instructed to encourage Joshua to be strong in verse 7, God first assures him that He Himself goes before Joshua, secondly, He will be with Joshua, and thirdly, He will not fail him. Similarly, in Isaiah 41:10, we read, "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." God piles up expressions to provide support against fear. Faith makes these encouragements from the Word of God tangible to the soul; faith brings the divine power and efficacy of these promises to the soul.
Furthermore, faith aids in conquering fear by drawing upon all the experiences of God's dealings with His people in the past. Habakkuk, throughout chapter 3, makes use of the ways of God and recounts what God had done for His people before. Psalm 87:4 states, "I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there."
Lastly, faith assists in overcoming the fear of man by causing a Christian to evaluate people as God Himself judges them, to see them as God sees them, and to have the same thoughts about them as God does. This is a powerful aid against fear.
Now, we must examine how God has revealed Himself concerning humanity and how little reason there is to fear men, especially wicked individuals and enemies of God's people. The Psalmist boldly proclaims, "In God have I put my trust: I will not fear what man can do unto me" (Psalm 56:11). Similarly, in verse 4 of the same psalm, he declares, "In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me."