Holy Fortitude Or Remedies Against Fear - Part II


Adapted from a Sermon By

Isaac Watts

Stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV

This morning we come to the second part of the sermon by Isaac Watts titled ‘Holy Fortitude Or Remedies Against Fear.’

Having described this holy disposition of spirit, this fortitude both of the active and passive kind, and having set before you various occasions for its exercise in the Christian life, we now go on to the third thing which was proposed, and that is, to excite you by some engaging motives, to seek after this disposition, which is so necessary for a Christian. This will not be enforced from the light of nature, and from the mere laws of reason, which have been joined with ambitious and selfish principles in some of the pagan heroes, and have influenced many a man, in the days of heathenism, to some great exploits of fortitude and fame.

There is nothing in all the principles of natural religion, (by natural religion Watts is referring to a religion based on observation of the physical world and that is discoverable by human reason apart from God), there is nothing, he says, in all the principles of natural religion, that makes the mind brave and noble, that is not greatly and gloriously improved by true Christianity. I would call you,

First, To cast your eyes on the noble patterns of courage that you find in the New Testament. We are not invited to meditate on the examples of heathen warriors, but to consider the example of Christian heroes, our predecessors, who have stood fast in the faith, who have acted like men, in many and shining instances of active and passive courage.

Look at the blessed apostles, Peter and John, when they rejoiced to suffer shame for the sake of Christ their Lord, and boldly told the council of priests, that they must preach the name of Jesus, in opposition to all their threats; they must obey God rather than men.

Look at the apostle Paul the most eminent Christian hero: Behold him in the midst of the Roman soldiers, and a violent multitude of unbelieving Jews. Hear how he acknowledges his exalted Saviour before captains and centurions, before king Agrippa, before Felix and Festus, who were two successive governors of Judea! And with the same fortitude of soul he appeared before Caesar, at Rome. I am not ashamed, says he, of the gospel of Christ; Rom. 1. 16. for he whom I have trusted in, is almighty to support me.

Read that most generous and pathetic speech of his in Acts 21. 13. when the spirit of prophecy had foretold that Paul should be bound at Jerusalem, and delivered captive into the hands of the gentiles; his friends and strangers begged him not to go up to that city. Then Paul answered, What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. I know, he says, and the Holy Spirit is witness, that bonds and afflictions wait for me, but none of these things move me, neither do I count my life dear to myself, that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God; Acts 20. 24.

Now when a special occasion calls us to the exercise of this virtue, and to confess Christ before the world, for us to be hesitant, and baffled, and frightened before men, this is to forsake the example of the blessed apostles, and obey men rather than God. The prophets and the apostles, the ancient saints and the primitive martyrs have given us noble patterns of this virtue; and why should our spirits fail us, or our lips tremble, if we are called to the same glorious confession? Is not our religion divine? Is not the gospel still worthy of the same honour? Is not our God the same Almighty Creator? Is not our Redeemer the same Jesus? And does not a dying, a rising, and a reigning Saviour deserve the same homage of our tongues, and demand the same glory at our hands? Yes surely, he demands it of us, and he deserves it infinitely: And not only his apostles, but his own example teaches us to practise this fortitude, both of the active and the passive kind.

In the second place then, behold this perfect pattern of fortitude, Jesus the Son of God: When he came into the world in the midst of poverty, and was but the lowly son of a carpenter, he was called to oppose the whole nation of the Jews, and the priests and princes of Jerusalem; he was sent to reform the vicious customs of a wicked and degenerate age. How did he stand and face danger without fear! When he went into the temple, with what a sacred zeal did he chase the buyers and sellers out of his Father's house of prayer! You know what a noble testimony he bare to the truth, when he was called before the great men, the rulers of the church and state. You know again, what instances of passive courage our Lord Jesus manifested, when he was hatefully reproached, and suffered shameful indignities from a rude multitude: When he was persecuted, when he was buffeted, when he wrestled with many and mighty sorrows, when his friends left him alone in the hands of his cruel enemies.

It must be confessed, his spirit trembled within him, and he was sorely tried, when it pleased his Father to crush him, and put him to grief, and to make his soul an offering for guilt; Isaiah 53. 10. These were unknown and inexpressible burdens, that made him groan indeed, and offer strong cries and tears to heaven, that the cup of terror might pass from him. If ever his courage seemed to fail him, it was in that agony in the garden, when he endured more than any mere man could bear. A formidable and a dismal hour, when the Father hid his face from him, and the powers of darkness fell upon him with angelic might and fury! But these are sorrows of atonement, which the saints are never called to suffer. And yet, by secret divine supports, Jesus endured all these agonies, and upon the cross he triumphed, not only over the malice of men, but over principalities and powers of hell, and put them to open shame; Col. 2. 15. perhaps, before armies of the invisible world, and millions of applauding angels.

Read the sacred advice, in Hebrews 12. 1, 2, 3. Not only look, says the apostle, to the great cloud of witnesses that are gone before, but above all look to Jesus, the "founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself," that opposed a multitude, a legion, a world of sinners, lest you be weary and faint in your minds, nor let your spirits sink while you behold his divine fortitude: Let such an illustrious scene animate your souls, and inspire the fainting believer with new courage. Consider,

Thirdly, What you are; if you are Christians, you are soldiers of Christ, you have already entered in combat with all the powers of hell, and are you afraid of man that is a worm, and the son of man that is a worm? Job. 25. 6. You have ranged yourselves under the banner of the Redeemer, and the Redeemer's army must fight against all the armies of darkness and their allies. You have set up to oppose sin and Satan, two powerful enemies; and are you afraid to be brow-beaten by a fellow-worm, one who is weak and mortal like yourselves? Consider,

Fourthly, If you are Christians, what promises of the divine presence and help you have in the Bible; and when the mighty God has given such divine encouragement, he scolds his people into courage; Isaiah 51. 12, 13. I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets himself to destroy? And where is the wrath of the oppressor? A generous and divine encouragement to keep the soul from fainting!

The presence of God is an effectual support. The apostle Paul found it so; for when all men forsook him, the Lord stood by and strengthened him; 2 Tim. 4. 16, 17. Sadly! we are poor, feeble, trembling soldiers, our hands hang down, and our faces grow pale: But we dare to confront the terrors of this world, if we taste and feel such divine encouragements. We know that a weak Christian can do wonders with an almighty Saviour, and an all-sufficient promise. When the apostle Paul had this word given him, My grace is sufficient for you, he could boast even of his weaknesses, that the power of Christ might rest upon him; 2 Cor. 12. 9. This little feeble man, of an unimpressive personal presence, could do all things through Christ strengthening him; Phil. 4. 13. And every believer has the same Almighty Helper, the same gospel, and the same promises.

In the last place, consider the large and never-fading crown of glory that awaits the conqueror at the end of the Christian conflict. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life; Rev. 2. 10. Consider the honour and triumph, those riches of glory, and that everlasting inheritance, that will be your reward in the future world, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, &c. Rev. 3. 21. He who overcomes will inherit these things; chap. 21. 7. Put all these together in the balances, with a few crosses and disappointments, a little trouble and uneasiness; indeed, though you should add torture and death in the same scale, you may easily judge which will outweigh the other.

Gaze at your crown of life, and your immortal hopes, until you feel your souls divinely lifted up to face the combat: Learn from the apostle, and adopt that glorious language; Our momentary, and light affliction, are scarce to be mentioned or named with the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory that shall be revealed; 2 Cor. 4. 17. For to this end we toil and strive; 1 Tim. 4. 10. therefore we bear all present sorrows with holy courage, because we look not at the things that are seen, little things that are temporal; but look at the great unseen things that are eternal; 2 Cor. 4. 18.

The fourth and last general heading of this sermon will now provide us with some sacred remedies against this shameful fear. The passion of fear in general is wisely built into human nature by our great God; it is a disturbance both of our physical body, and of the mind, at the perception of some approaching evil, or with respect to the apparent danger of it. This is an excellent provision which the God of nature has made, to guard us from many dangers. It is innocent and useful when it is fixed on a proper object, and exercised in a proper degree. It becomes a part of our religion when God is the object of our fear, by which we maintain such a holy awe of his Majesty, as awakens a constant desire to please him, joined with a disposition of holy love.

But when we allow creatures to raise and influence our fears on every occasion, so as to ruffle and disquiet our spirits, to throw the soul from off its rest, and to turn us aside from the steady course of duty, then it becomes a sinful and forbidden passion, and we should make it our business to watch against it, and suppress it. There are some persons so naturally feeble, or their spirits are so weakened by physical disease, that fear is a constant tyrant over them: Their case is to be pitied indeed, but they ought to stir themselves up as far as possible to shake off this bondage, for fear that it prevents them from the practice of necessary duties, and rob them of all the comforts of religion. This slavish fear is a disease of the mind, as well as a weakness of nature: and besides our summoning together all the powers and precepts of reason, we should also apply the remedies of religion, in order to remove it: With the help of the Holy Spirit, the following methods may be of great help:

I. See to it that you are Christians indeed, that you have the power of religion established in your hearts, otherwise you will never be able to boldly maintain the form and the profession of it in an hour of danger. Fear will overcome everything but true faith: And if your religion is not inward and sincere, and built on solid foundations, it will tremble and totter, and be in great danger of being utterly lost. One hard name, one biting reproach, one witty scoff or ugly slander, will throw the hypocrite off balance, and he dares not stand up for his God and Saviour.

And remember also, that your faith must be always kept awake and lively. See to it that your hope is not only well established, but you must preserve your evidences for heaven ever clear, that you may look upon yourselves as the care and charge of Christ, and under the special eye and protection of God your Saviour. This was the divine foundation on which the great apostle raised his courage in the gospel to so high a degree. "I am neither afraid to suffer these things," he says, "that is, bonds and imprisonments; nor am I ashamed of this gospel, for I know whom I have believed, I know him as my Saviour, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against the day of his appearing;" 2 Tim. 1. 12.

If you would raise your spirits to a great height of holy fortitude, brighten your faith and hope daily, by a frequent examination of the state of your hearts, by watchful walking before God, by committing your souls afresh into the hands of Jesus and his Spirit, for pardoning and renewing grace, that you may believe on just and solid grounds that you are the children of God, and that Jesus is your salvation. A lively faith gives divine courage. Faith is a noble shield to ward off fear, and our helmet is the hope of salvation.

Guard against defiling your souls with sensuality; Guard against any false biases on your spirit, and wrong motives in your actions, lest you bring fresh guilt upon your consciences. Guilt will create fear, and fill the soul with a perplexing tumult of thoughts. But when the terrors of this world assault you on every side, reproaches and threatenings, the frowns of your friends, and the rage of your enemies, you may be all serene and peaceful within, while you maintain a sacred consciousness of soul, that you have been seeking the light of truth, and pursuing the path of duty. When I can say, God is my witness that I am sincerely labouring in his service; when I can look up to heaven, though my friends and family scorn me, and say, My record is on high; I may imitate the faith and courage of Job in his best hours, and leave all my interests in the hand of my God. Let our faith be active then, and our conscience clear, that we may read our title to all the promises, and apply them to our own case with courage and assurance. The God of hope will fill us with all joy and peace in believing; Rom. 15. 13.

The covenant of grace is a blessed treasury: There is defensive armour to be found against every assault and danger. If the promises of the covenant are ours, we can be assured of a happy final outcome of all our sufferings: All things will work together for our good; Rom. 8. 28. If God is for us, who can be against us? verse 31. If we see God engaged on our side, we may defy a legion of adversaries in the name of the Lord our God. You are my glory, says the Psalmist, and my shield, and the lifter up of my head; Psalm 3. 3. The little word, my, shows his own interest in his God, and then he can grow brave in the very centre of a thousand deaths and dangers. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me all around he says in verse 6.

II. A second help is to be as familiar as possible with the promises of the gospel, that in every special time of need you may have some suitable word of refuge and support. From the 60th to the 65th chapters of Isaiah, there is a variety of rich encouragements against unworthy fear: And there is another treasure of them from the 50th to the 55th. Many a Christian has been able to live upon them in the most dangerous and distressing seasons. They are divine sources of courage, and they overflow with consolation.

The assurances of holy David in the midst of his perils, have been a glorious support to the fearful soul. Several of his psalms are filled with the same heavenly encouragements. You can hardly find three of them together, without some triumphs of faith in them. In the writings of the evangelists, and in the epistles, you may read many precious promises liberally scattered, to calm your fears. In the second and third chapters of Revelation, they sparkle like stars in the firmament at midnight, and they ever shine brightest in the darkest sky. It is with unknown pleasure that the soul of a Christian contemplates and surveys those heavenly lights in his most gloomy and dismal hours, and they turn the shadows of death into morning.

Though it is an excellent thing to have the mind and memory well stored with the various promises of the covenant, yet in some special times of trial, it is a great advantage to keep the mind and thoughts fixed upon some single promise, that is most suited to the present danger or suffering, and to the present needs of the soul. In such a season, the running speedily from one promise to another, and briefly skimming over them, will not be so effective a relief, as fixing upon some peculiar and proper word of grace, and living upon it for a whole day together.

In this way every morning you may take some new comforter with you, and let it remain upon your heart all day, and it will whisper to your soul with divine sweetness in the dark and solitary watches of the night. When some special terror possesses your thoughts, and the heavy oppression returns often upon your spirits, or when any fresh assault comes on you from outside or from within, run to the word you have chosen for your refuge; repeat it often, and cling to it by meditation. The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe; Prov. 18. 10. And remember God has magnified his own word above all the rest of his name; Psalm 138. 2. Try this method, it has been a great help to many, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you too will be able to find it so.

III. A third help and remedy is: Preserve an active spirit of prayer, and the spirit of fortitude will descend on you. Address the throne of God with earnestness and faith, and cry to the Lord the God of your salvation without ceasing. It is he who gives strength to renew the battle when we are most tired and grow weary; Isaiah 40. 28, 29. He gives courage in the midst of terrors, for he can preserve and secure us in the most extreme perils. We despaired of life, saith the apostle, and had the sentence of death in ourselves, but we were delivered, for we trusted in him that raises the dead; 2 Cor. 1. 8, 9, 10. It is he that repels the most imminent danger, it is he that rebukes the spirit of fear, and gives us the spirit of power, and holy fortitude; 2 Tim. 1. 7. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord; Psalm 27. 14.

But be sure in all your prayers to God, have an eye to Christ Jesus the Mediator, your Advocate at the throne, and the Captain of your salvation, who is engaged to see you brought safe to heaven. The Father has intrusted you as sheep in his hand, and he will not allow you to perish. Look to him as your great High-priest and Intercessor in heaven; and since you have such a High-priest as Jesus the Son of God, who can sympathize with our weaknesses, let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help in time of need; Heb. 4. 14, 15, 16. Many a feeble Christian who has gone to God in prayer, trembling and terrified under some approaching danger, and almost overwhelmed with raging fears, has risen up from his knees with a heavenly calmness and composure: The army of his fears has vanished at once, and he has gone out to face the most formidable of his adversaries with divine resolution and courage. I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.—The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him; Psalm 34. 4—8. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased; Psalm 138. 3.

IV. A fourth help and remedy is to get a greater degree of detachment from the flesh, and from all the delights and satisfactions that belong to this mortal life: Then as you will not feel so great a pain in being stripped of them, so neither will your soul be filled with terror, when you are in danger of losing them. Learn to reject a little of that sinful pity for self, which we brought into the world with us. One of the first lessons in the school of Christ, is self-denial; Matt. 16. 24. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

It is a certain careful fondness for our flesh that makes us afraid of pain. It is a fondness for our name and reputation that makes us afraid of reproaches. It is a fondness for our possessions, and our easy circumstances in the world, that makes us afraid of poverty: And too great a fondness for life makes us afraid of dying. Whenever therefore the cause of Christ plainly calls us to risk our name and honour in the world, to part with our wealth or our ease, and to venture to expose life itself, we shrink from the command; base and sinful fear weight mightily upon us, because we love earth, and self and flesh better than we ought to do. We must overcome this self-love and unmanly softness, if we would approve ourselves as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and gain a spirit of sacred courage and resolution. We must be dead to the things of flesh and sense, and gain a victory over the complaints and groanings of nature. We must go as far as we can toward parting with right hands, and right eyes, in every sense of the words, if we would be Christians indeed.

V. Next, endeavour to keep yourselves always employed in some proper work, that your fears may be diverted when they cannot immediately be overcome. If our thoughts and hands are idle and empty, we lie open to the invasion and tumult of our fears, and we give them an opportunity to assault us on all sides.

The passion and principle of this slavish fear is mingled with our flesh and blood, and therefore we must occupy even our flesh and blood in some better business, that we may redirect the current of animal nature, and leave the imagination no leisure to sit brooding over its own terrors. Lack of occupation and engagement of the powers of nature, exposes the mind of man to the inroad of all the frightful images that the imagination can produce, and to all the terrifying suggestions of a watchful and malicious disposition. That wicked spirit has some strange and unknown methods of access to our souls: He will worry the sheep of Christ with terrors, when he is not allowed to devour or destroy them; and an un-busied mind is prepared to let in his worst temptations.

But with this encouragement to find out some employment for yourselves, take care that it be such as may approve itself to God and your own consciences. We must be ever found in the way of duty, as was hinted before, if we would support a holy courage. It is only the righteous that has just reason to be bold as a lion:

Be ready to meet Christ the Judge, and his glorious appearance at all times, and then you need not fear all that earth or hell can do against you.