Holy Fortitude Or Remedies Against Fear - Part III


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 third and closing part of the sermon by Isaac Watts titled ‘Holy Fortitude Or Remedies Against Fear.’

In previous weeks this holy disposition of spirit, this fortitude both of the active and passive kind was described and we were given various encouragements, motives, to earnestly seek after this disposition.

We were last given five remedies against unreasonable fears:

I. If you are Christians indeed, see to it that you have the power of religion established in your hearts,

II. Be as familiar as possible with the promises of the gospel,

III. Preserve an active spirit of prayer,

IV. Get a greater degree of detachment from the flesh, and from all the delights and satisfactions that belong to this mortal life,

V. Keep yourselves always busy in some proper work, that your fears may be diverted when they cannot immediately be overcome.

Let us go on now to consider some further remedies against this slavish passion of fear.

VI. In the sixth place, keep your eye fixed on the hand of God in all the affairs of men. View his powerful and overruling providence in all things, even in those things that awaken your most troublesome fears. Think with yourselves, that you put creatures in the place of God, if you fear them more than God, as though they were the sovereign lords and disposers of all your comforts. Learn to see God in all things, and behold him in all things as your God, and then creatures will have but little influence to awaken any of the passions of the soul, or to raise distressing fears within you.

Are your spirits so weak, that thunder and lightning, and the storms of the air, frighten you? Think who it is that commands the hurricanes to arise, and quashes the storms at his pleasure. In whose hand is the thunder? Who kindles the lightning? Who directs the flashes, and guides every sweeping blast of wind or fire to its appointed place? Remember the disciples in the midst of the storm, and the language of Jesus walking upon the water, It is I. Do not be afraid; Matt. 14. 27.

Or if the public commotions of the world awaken your fears, read the name and presence of God, even your God, in the 46th Psalm, and rejoice and stand firm amidst the tumult and shaking of the nations. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea; verses 2, 3. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts; verse 6. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress; verse 11.

Or perhaps more particular and personal dangers and afflictions threaten your good name, your estate, your flesh, your life. Well, the name of God in his presence is a universal source of comfort and courage, a wide-spreading shield against every trouble.

Are you terrified at the thoughts of personal reproach and slander? Know that the tongues of men are within the reach of the hand of God, and he can restrain them; but if he takes off that restraint, and leaves them to their own perverseness and rage, learn to say as good David, when Shimei cursed him; The hand of the Lord is in it, God has allowed him to curse me: And in this way calmly compose yourselves to a yielding to the providential will of your heavenly Father.

Is poverty and neediness the thing you dread? But is God not your heavenly Father? And can you not trust him to provide for his children? Will he give the young ravens their food, when they cry, and will he not feed his sons and his daughters? It is true you may be reduced to bread and water, and brought down to the very lowest circumstances, and you must submit to his will: God will feed your nature, though he will not feed your pride.

Are you frightened by the thoughts of sickness and pain? Remember diseases are the servants of our Lord Christ; he can command pains and anguish of body go or come as he pleases; nor can they seize you without his commission, nor stay with you beyond his appointed moment. Commit your flesh to him as well as your spirit: He is a wise physician, and he will deal tenderly with you: He has worn flesh and blood, and has a sympathizing heart, nor will he grieve his own members beyond what his wisdom and love sees needful.

Are you afraid of persecuting enemies, that hunt you from place to place, and would pursue you even to death? Remember that they are but the slaves of Satan, and they and their master are all in chains, under the sovereign dominion of Christ your Lord. The wicked of the earth, in this sense, are called the hand of God; Psalm 17. 14. They are but as instruments to execute his divine purposes, and they cannot move nor act beyond his permission. He let Sennacherib, that Assyrian wild beast come and gaze at Jerusalem, then in one night the angel of death destroyed all his army, and the Lord put a song of triumph into the mouth of his people.

In a time of persecution in a past century, some pious ministers were meeting together, expressing their mutual fears, and consulting how to provide for their own safety: When one stood up, in the spirit of faith, and said, We are all immortal until our work is done; and went on to declare his strong sense of the restraining power of God over the malice of men, and his assurance that God would preserve them in life, so long as he had any service to employ them in. This was in truth a sublime thought: A Roman orator or a Greek poet would have been admired and celebrated for it by all the critics: This was the language of faith, and it had a sublime and glorious effect; it dispersed their fears at once, and they went away rejoicing.

VII. A seventh encouragement to seek after the heavenly disposition fortified against fear is to remember your own experiences of the goodness of God in carrying you through past seasons of danger and sorrow. I will remember, says David, the deeds, of the Lord, and his wonders of old; Psalm 77. 11. I will remember the special deliverances I have obtained in times of most imminent peril. Think within yourselves how high the storm of your fears has sometimes risen, and God has sunk them at once into silence. Think how extreme your danger has been, when you have been perplexed in a wilderness of thorns, and have seen no way of escape, but the eye of God has found a path of safety for you, a path which the eagle's eye had not seen: He has led you as one that was blind, by the way that you knew not; he has made darkness light before you, and the rough places into level ground, according to his promise; Isaiah 42. 16.

And remember also, that sometimes when the very evil which you feared has fallen upon you, it has not been half so heavy and painful as your fears have represented it, and you have been enabled to bear that which you thought was intolerable. Remember the years long ago, and rejoice in that God who has often disappointed your fears of destruction, and has outdone all your hopes in a way of deliverance. I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol; like a lion he breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end; But in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Perhaps your own experience may teach you to sing this song of Hezekiah, as it is recorded, Isaiah 38. 10-17, or to join with holy David, and repeat his hymns of praise. And so, beside your own experiences, you may review the happy experiences of the saints of old, or of Christians in later times, and encourage your faith in opposition to all your fears.

VIII. In the eight place, charge your conscience solemnly with the authority of the divine command to suppress your fears. Remember that the exercises of faith, courage, and holy firmness of soul, are duties as well as blessings. Read how often the great God forbids his people to indulge their fears; Look up the expression ‘fear not’ just in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 41. 10, 13, 14. 43. 1, 5. 44. 2, 8. Fear not is a command perpetually repeated, because God well knew how prone our feeble natures are to be frightened at every appearance of danger: And even when he calls his people Jacob a worm, and confesses the extreme weakness of their nature under that emblem, yet he insists on the same precept still, Fear not, you worm Jacob; Isaiah 41. 14.

Our blessed Lord joins frequently in the same prohibition of a slavish fear; Matt. 10. 28. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. And Peter, who once lacked courage, and denied his Lord, in his elder and better days grew bolder for the name of Christ, and he forbids us to be afraid or troubled at the terror of men; 1 Pet. 3. 13. He repeats the charge of the prophet Isaiah, to honor as holy the Lord of hosts in your heart; Isaiah 8. 13. the Lord of hosts alone is the proper object of our supreme fear. This will overrule and abolish all other fears, as the little noises of earth are lost in the thunders of heaven. The fear of God in a sublime degree will be an effectual cure of our sinful fear of creatures.

It is true the principle of fear is a natural affection; it is rooted in flesh and blood; it grows high and domineers, especially in some constitutions, and when the physical body is weakened, it still gains the greater advantage over us: But if it is indulged and encouraged, it soon becomes sinful, for it seems to stand opposite to the grace of faith, and too often prevails over it. Therefore Christ rebukes his disciples, when they were frightened in the storm while he was in the ship. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Mark 4. 40. And even when Peter was walking upon the water, and Christ was near him, he said, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Matt. 14. 31.

For a Christian to give himself up to the wild tyranny of his fears, is contrary to the very spirit and design of the gospel of Christ; Rom. 8. 15. You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons; the spirit of power and love; 2 Tim. 1. 7. Remember then you are the sons and daughters of God: It is below the dignity of your character to yield to this slavery, and your Father himself reproves, and your Redeemer forbids it.

IX. In the ninth place, think of the many advantages that arise from a holy fortitude of spirit in the midst of dangers. This divine disposition of mind will establish your feet on a rock in the midst of storms; it will animate you to practise every duty, and to prevent many of the troubles you fear. This will preserve the soul in a sacred serenity and calmness under all the gloomy and painful events of providence. Without this firmness of spirit you can never practise what Christ commands his disciples, and that is, to gain their lives by endurance in the hour of their distress; Luke 21. 19. But we may keep up the government of ourselves by a holy fortitude and calm submission to the will of God. This will make sorrows lighter, and the heaviest afflictions become more tolerable.

Whereas, if we give free reign to fear, it throws the whole frame of nature into a tumultuous hurry and confusion, it takes away the use of prudence to manage the proper means for our escape, it cuts the sinews of our most active powers, and enfeebles our whole nature, so that we become an easy prey to every adversary. The more we are frightened, the less able are we to defend ourselves.

Fear is a dreadful bondage of the soul, and it holds the man in chains. It is this that brings the soul down to taste the bitterness, and to feel the pain of those very evils which frighten us at a distance, and which perhaps never come near us. Those very sufferings which are prevented by the mercy of God, we endure them in our thoughts, and feel the pain of them by an indulgence of an excessive fear. We suffer an affliction once, if we are overwhelmed with the terror of it: And if at last it does really overtake us, we double the suffering, and make the pain the longer. Oftentimes, in cases of bodily illnesses, the fear itself brings the disease, and aggravates all the symptoms. If we could read the records of the grave, we should find that many a person has been oppressed, and sank down to death, by the excessive fear of dying.

The last remedy of fear which we will consider is this: suppose the worst that can come, and be calmly prepared for it. This will be a mighty relief against the tyranny of our fears.

You are afraid of losing your honour among men, afraid to bear the insults of their tongues and bitter reproaches: But think with yourselves, when slander and falsehood have done their worst, it is but the wind of the breath of man, and this cannot hurt your best interest, while you stand approved of God. Infamy amongst men is but a minor evil, if compared with praise, honour, and glory among the saints before the throne, and the applause of Jesus and his angels at the last great day.

You are frightened with the hideous appearance of poverty, because scorn comes with it as well as neediness. But our blessed Lord had not where to lay his head; he was fed by the generosity of kind friends and pious women, who ministered to him of their substance. The great and the wise, the rich, and the learned of that day, made him their mockery: The very finger of scorn pointed at him in the streets: And why should the disciple think it necessary that he should be above his Lord? You may be poor in this world, and at the same time rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom; James 2. 5.

You are afraid of sickness and pains of the flesh, and your life becomes a burden to you, because of your constant dread of some infectious disease. You shift your dwellings, you hide yourself at home, and yet you enjoy no peace. Suppose the disease should seize you, has not sickness often brought your soul nearer to God? And if your outward man has decayed, your inward man and your best interest have richly profited by it.

You are terrified at the threatenings of bloody men. It must be granted, that flesh has a strong influence over the soul, where dangers of torment and death appear. But suppose violent men kill the body, then you will be dismissed at once from all their fury, and from your own fears. Their terror cannot reach beyond the grave; that is a safe and peaceful hiding-place.

But perhaps you are frightened at the thoughts of dying, even in the common way of nature: It may be, the king of terrors dresses himself in formidable airs, and shakes your very frame: But would you live here on earth forever? A Christian who has hopes and interests and possessions beyond the regions of time and sense, should not be afraid to enter into them. Remember that, death itself, even in its most formidable appearance, is ordained of God to open the door of heaven for you, and let your souls into the joy of eternal life: The grace of your Redeemer, and the epistle of the apostle Paul, join to teach you this song “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting" 1 Cor. 15. 55.

In this way by keeping your soul in a ready preparation for the worst events that your fear can imagine, you overcome this tyrant of the soul, and triumph over this slavish passion. In this way you transform your very terrors into joys, and gather honey out of the lion, as Samson did. The more fatal your dangers are, the nearer is your final deliverance. Say to yourself, Is my feeble flesh tottering into the grave? Then my soul is so much nearer to the gates of glory. This is the holy skill of turning evil into good. Such a faith kept lively and active can make roses spring out of the midst of thorns, and change the briars of the wilderness into the fruit-trees of paradise. And what a state of divine and sacred peace does that Christian enjoy, who can look steadfastly upon the face of danger, in its most frightful forms, and say through grace, I am prepared! Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for my God is with me, and he will be with me for ever.

And now let us speak to our own selves. Speak to yourself and ask yourself in words such as these:

What progress have you made, O my soul, in acquiring this sacred fortitude? The previous sermon has taught you the necessity of it, and the various occasions for the exercise of it in the course of the Christian life. In today’s sermon you have heard the motives that should awaken all your powers, to obtain and practise it, and you have been informed what are some of the most godly remedies against your foolish and sinful fears.

I thinks I feel the desire for this holy hardiness of soul, to walk through the midst of temptations unmoved, un-terrified, and un-deterred. My virtue and my religion have too often suffered by the overcoming power of a slavish fear: my conscience has lost its innocence and peace by too many sinful compliances. What shall I do to harden my spirit all over, that temptation and slavish fear may not find a place to enter?

For this end I review the glorious motives set before me. For this end I look to the noble army of martyrs, to the blessed society of the apostles, to the cloud of witnesses which have travelled the same path before me, who have borne an undaunted testimony to the same religion which I profess. I would scold and shame myself out of my sinful cowardice, while I consider their illustrious examples of zeal. But above all, I fix my eye upon Jesus, the divine Author of this religion, the Founder and Perfecter of my faith; Heb. 12. 2. I would learn of the Captain of my salvation, who was made perfect through sufferings; Heb. 2. 10. I would learn of my divine Teacher, to endure hardships like a good soldier of Christ, while I fight under his banner, against those very enemies that he has subdued.

Consider, my soul, what you are: What is your character and profession: If you are a Christian indeed, you have taken up arms against sin and Satan, and a world that is in rebellion against God: And shall the frown of a man make you drop your weapons, and discourage you from the glorious service? You have many rich encouragements to expect divine assistance: Many joyful assurances of victory are given to them that endure in the day of conflict, and a glorious crown stands ready for those that overcome. Would that the crown of glory sparkle in my eye, and grow brighter and larger by a nearer view, and a perpetual contemplation of it! Make me forgetful of ease and health, O my God, and of all my mortal interests, while I press forward with sacred courage to lay hold on this crown! Blessed Saviour, make me triumph over every difficulty, until death, the last of all my enemies, is subdued, and I have obtained the glorious prize.

I would shake myself out of my fears, and awaken my zeal by such motives as these. And O that I could treasure up in my memory the various remedies of which I have heard this day, to heal this infirmity of my nature, and to overcome these foolish and sinful terrors of spirit! I will review my faith, and the grounds of my hope, that I may know that I am a Christian indeed, that I am one of the sheep of Christ, and under his divine care; and I would watch against every temptation, lest I contract a new guilt and defilement, and thereby darken my evidences and awaken my fears. I would survey with pleasure the gracious words of promise, which are scattered up and down in the book of God. Would that the blessed Spirit print many of them upon my heart, that they may be always present with me, and that I may find them within my reach, and ready at hand as a special help in every difficult hour! I would run to them as my sure refuge in every season of danger and conflict, and be encouraged to confront a sinful world.

Give me, O my God, give me the spirit of prayer, and let me keep ever near to the throne of grace, that my soul may not come there as a stranger, but that in every surprise I may address you as a God near at hand, and that in the name of my great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, I may find grace ready to help me in the time of need.

Wean me, O Lord, from all the delights and hopes of flesh and sense! Mortify me to all the honours and the joys of a perishing life, and a vain world. Arm my soul all over with a religious hardiness, that I may venture into the battle field , and may barely feel the wounds which I receive in your cause. Give me the happy skill of diverting my fears, when I cannot at once subdue them and lead me into proper employments of my heart and hand for this purpose.

I would live as under the eye of God. I would take notice of his hand in all the affairs of life, and all the dangers that beset me. I would learn of Moses to endure the fight of afflictions, as seeing him who is invisible. Let me hear your voice, O Jesus, my Saviour, let me hear your voice walking upon the waters; when I am tossed about upon the waves of distress and difficulty, speak to my soul, and say, It is I, do not be afraid.

Surely I have had some experience of the Divine Presence with me in the midst of dangers: God has sometimes disappointed all my fears, and interposed his shield of power and love for my defence: Why should I not trust a faithful God, and that infinite goodness which I have already tasted of? I charge my conscience with the authority of your word. O Lord, when you forbid all my sinful fears, I would renounce them too, I would struggle to break these painful shackles, and fight against this inward slavery of the soul, these domestic tyrants. Would that the spirit of power were always with me, to dispel the spirit of bondage!

I would be bravely prepared for the worst of sufferings to which my circumstances in this life may expose me. I would be ready to meet contempt and scandal, poverty, sickness, and death itself. Jesus can support me in the heaviest distresses, though all the sorrows I fear should come upon me. He can bear me on the wings of faith and hope, high above all the turmoil and worries of life: He can carry me through the shadow of the dark valley, and scatter all the terrors of it.

Give me, O Lord, these wings of faith and hope, and bear me upon them through all the remains of my short journey in the wilderness: Make me active and zealous in your cause while I live, and convey me safely above the reach of fear, through the valley of death, to the inheritance prepared for me in the land of light.

Then my fears shall cease for ever, for enemies and dangers are not known in that land. There all our conflicts shall be changed into everlasting triumphs, while songs of honour and salvation ascend in a full choir to the grace that has made us overcomers.