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HOW TO KEEP THE HEART FROM
FEARS IN TIME OF DANGERS
"The fourth special season of expressing our utmost diligence in keeping our hearts, is the time of danger and public distraction; in such times the best hearts are but too apt to be surprised by slavish fear; it is not easy to secure the heart against distractions in times of common destruction. If Syria be confederate with Ephraim, how do the hearts of the house of David shake, even as the trees of the wood which are shaken with the wind? Isa. vii. 2. When there are ominous signs in the heavens; on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; then the hearts of men fail for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, Luke xxi. 25, 26, even a Paul himself 113may sometimes complain of fightings within, when there are fears without, 2 Cor. vii. 5.
But, my brethren, these things ought not so to be; saints should be of a more raised spirit: so was David, when his heart was kept in a good frame. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? Psal. xxvii. 1. Let none but the servants of sin be the slaves of fear, let them that have delighted in evil, fear evil; impius tantum metuit, quantum nocuit. O let not that which God hath threatened as a judgment upon the wicked, ever seize upon the breasts of the righteous. I will send (saith God) faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies, and the sound of a shaking leaf shall chase them, Lev. xxvi. 36. O what poor spirited men are these, to fly at a shaking leaf! which makes a pleasant not a terrible noise; and is in itself a kind of natural music: but to a guilty conscience the whistling leaves are drums and trumpets. But God hath not 114given us the spirit of fear, but of love, and of a sound mind, 2 Tim. i. 7. A sound mind, as it stands there in opposition to the spirit of fear, is an unwounded conscience, not infirmed by guilt: and this should make a man as bold as a lion. I know it cannot be said of a saint, what God said of Leviathan, that he was made without fear: there is a natural fear in every man, and it is as impossible to be wholly put off, as the body itself is: It is perturbation of the mind, rising from the apprehension of approaching danger; and as long as dangers can approach us, we shall find some perturbations within us. It is not my purpose to commend to you a stoical apathy, nor yet to take you off from such a degree of cautional preventive fear as may fit you for trouble, and be serviceable to your souls; there is a provident fear, that opens our eyes to foresee danger, and quickens to a prudent and lawful use of means to prevent it: such was Jacob's fear, Gen. xxxii. 7, 9, 10, &c. But it is the fear of diffidence I persuade you to keep your heart from, that 115tyrannical passion which invades the heart in times of danger, distracts, weakens and unfits the heart for duty; drives men upon unlawful means, and brings a snare with it. Well then, the fourth case will be this:
Case 4. How a Christian may keep his heart from distracting and tormenting fears in times of great and threatening dangers.
Now there are fourteen excellent rules, or helps, for the keeping of the heart from sinful fear when imminent dangers threaten us; and the first is this;
Rule 1. Look upon all the creatures as in the hand of God, who manages them in all their motions; limiting, restraining, and determining them all at his pleasure.
Get this great truth well settled by faith in your hearts: it will marvellously guard them against slavish fears. The first chapter of Ezekiel contains an admirable scheme or draught of providence; there you may see the living creatures who move the wheels, viz. the great affairs and turnings of things here below, coming unto Christ, who sits upon the throne, to receive new orders and 116instructions from him, v. 24, 25, 26. And in Rev. vi. you read of white, black, and red horses, which are nothing else but the instruments which God employs in executing his judgments in the world, as wars, pestilence and death; but when these horses are prancing, and trampling up and down the world, here is that may quiet our hearts, that God hath the reins in his hand. Wicked men are sometimes like mad horses, they would stamp the people of God under their feet, but that the bridle of providence is in their lips, Job i. 11, 12. A lion at liberty is terrible to meet; but who is afraid of a lion in the keeper's hand?
Rule 2. Remember that this God, in whose hand all the creatures are, is your father, and is much more tender over you, than you are or can be over yourselves: He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye, Zech. ii. 8. Let me ask the most timorous woman, whether there be not a vast difference between the sight of a drawn sword in the 117hand of a bloody ruffian, and the same sword in the hand of her own tender husband? As great a difference there is in looking upon creatures by an eye of sense, and looking on them as in the hand of your God by an eye of faith; That is a sweet scripture to this purpose, Isa. liv. 5, Thy Maker is thy husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; he is Lord of all the hosts of creatures in the world: who would be afraid to pass through an army, though all the soldiers should turn their swords and guns towards him, if the general of that army were his friend or father? I have met with an excellent story of a religious young man, who being at sea with many other passengers in a great storm, and they being half dead with fear, he only was observed to be very cheerful, as if he had been but little concerned in that danger: one of them demanding the reason of his cheerfulness, O, said he, it is because the pilot of the ship is my father. Consider Christ, first as the King and supreme Lord over the providential kingdom, and then as your Head, Husband and Friend, and thou 118wilt quickly say, Return unto thy rest, O my soul. This truth will make you cease trembling, and cause you to sing in the midst of dangers, Psal. xlvii. 7. The Lord is King of all the earth, sing ye praise with understanding, or, as the Hebrew word is, every one that hath understanding, viz. of this heart-reviving and establishing doctrine of the dominion of our father over all the creatures.
Rule 3. Urge upon your hearts the express prohibitions of Christ in this case; and let your hearts stand in awe of the violations of them.
He hath charged you not to fear, Luke xxi. 9. When ye shall hear of wars and commotions, see that ye be not terrified, and Phil. i. 28, In nothing be terrified by your adversaries: Yea, in Mat. x. 26, 28, 31. and within the compass of six verses, our Saviour commands us thrice, not to fear man. Doth every big word of proud dust and ashes make thee afraid? Doth the voice of a man make thee tremble, and shall not the voice 119of God? If thou art of such a fearful and timorous spirit, how is it that thou feareth not to disobey the direct commands of Jesus Christ? Methinks the command of Christ should have as much power to calm, as the voice of a poor worm to terrify thy heart. I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as the grass, and forgettest the Lord thy Maker? Isa. li. 12, 13. We cannot fear creatures sinfully, till we have forgotten God; did we remember what he is, and what he hath said, we should not be of such feeble spirits. Bring thy heart then to this dilemma in times of danger; if I let into my heart the slavish fear of man, I must let out the reverential awe and fear of God; and dare I cast off the fear of the Almighty, for the frowns of a man? Shall I lift up proud dust above the great God? Shall I run upon a certain sin, to shun a probable danger? Oh keep thy heart by this consideration.
120Rule 4. Remember how much needless trouble your vain fears have brought upon you formerly, and how you have disquieted yourselves to no purpose.
And hast feared continually because of the oppressor, as if he were ready to devour; and where is the fury of the oppressor? Isa. li. 13. He seemed ready to devour, but yet you are not devoured: I have not brought upon you the thing that ye feared; you have wasted your spirits, disordered your souls, and weakened your hands, and all this to no purpose: you might all this while enjoyed your peace, and possessed your souls in patience. And here I cannot but observe a very deep policy of Satan managing a design against the soul by these vain fears: I call them vain, in regard of the frustration of them by providence; but certainly they are not in vain, as the end Satan aims at in raising them; for herein he acts as soldiers use to do in the siege of a garrison, who on purpose to wear out the besieged by 121constant watchings, and thereby unfit them to make resistance, when they storm it in earnest, do every night give them false alarms, which though they come to nothing, yet do notably serve this further design of the enemy. O when will you beware of Satan's devices!
Rule 5. Consider solemnly, that though the things you fear should really fall out, yet there is more evil in your own fear, than in the things feared.
And that not only as the least evil of sin, is worse than the greatest evil of suffering; but as this sinful fear has really more torment and trouble in it, than is in that condition you are so much afraid of. Fear is both a multiplying and a tormenting passion; it represents troubles much greater than they are, and so tortures and wrecks the soul much worse more than when the suffering itself comes. So it was with Israel at the Red Sea; they cried out, and were sore afraid till they put foot into the water, and then a passage was opened through those waters, which they thought would have 122drowned them. Thus it is with us; we, looking through the glass of carnal fear upon the waters of troubles, the swellings of Jordan, cry out, O they are unfordable! we must needs perish in them: but when we come into the midst of those floods indeed, we find the promise made good; God will make a way to escape, 1 Cor. x. 13. Thus it was with blessed Bilney, when he would make a trial, by putting his finger to the candle, and not able to endure that, he cried out, what, cannot I bear the burning of a finger? How then shall I be able to bear the burning of my whole body to-morrow? and yet when that morrow came, he could go cheerfully into the flames, with that scripture in his mouth, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine; when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt,Isa. xliii. 1, 2, 3.
Rule 6. Consult the many precious promises which are written for your support and comfort in all dangers.
123These are your refuges to which you may fly and be safe: When the arrows of danger fly by night, and destruction wasteth at noon-day. There are particular promises suited to particular cases and exigencies; and there are general promises, reaching all cases and conditions: such are these, Rom. viii. 28, All things work together for good, &c. and Eccl. viii. 12, Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet it shall be well with them that fear the Lord, &c. Could you but believe the promises, your hearts should be established, 2 Chron. xx. 29. Could you but plead them with God, as Jacob did, Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, &c. Gen. xxxii. 12, they would relieve you in every distress.
Objection. But that promise was made personally, and by name to him, so are not these to me.
Answer. If Jacob's God be your God, you have as good an interest in them as he had. The church, a thousand years after 124that transaction between God and Jacob, applied that which God spake to him, as if it had been spoken to themselves, He found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us, Hos. xii. 4.
Rule 7. Quiet your trembling hearts by recording and consulting your past experiences of the care and faithfulness of God in former distresses.
These experiences are food for your faith in a wilderness condition, Psal. lxxiv. 14. By this David kept his heart in time of danger, 1 Sam. xvii. 37, and Paul his, 2 Cor. i. 10. It was sweetly answered by Silentiarius, when one told him that his enemies waylayed him to take away his life, Si Deus mei curam non habet, quid vio? If God take no care of me, how have I escaped hitherto? You may plead with God old experiences to procure new ones; for it is in pleading with God for new deliverances, as it is in pleading for new pardons. Now mark how Moses pleads on that account with God, Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people, as thou hast 125forgiven them from Egypt until now, Numb. xiv. 19. He doth not say as men do, Lord, this is the first fault, thou hast not been troubled before to sign this pardon: but, Lord, because thou hast pardoned them so often, I beseech thee pardon them once again. So in new straits, Lord, thou hast often heard, helped and saved, in former fears; therefore now help again, for with thee there is plenteous redemption, and thine arm is not shortened.
Rule 8. Be well satisfied that you are in the way of your duty, and that will beget holy courage in times of danger.
Who will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good? 1 Pet. iii. 13. Or if any dare attempt it, you may boldly commit yourselves to God in well doing, 1 Pet. iv. 19. It was this consideration that raised Luther's spirit above all fear: in the cause of God (said he) I ever am, and ever shall be stout; herein I assume this title, Cedo nulli22I yield to none. A good cause will bear up a man's spirit bravely. Hear the saying of a Heathen, to the shame of cowardly 126Christians: "When the emperor Vespasian had commanded Fluidius Priscus not to come to the senate, or if he did, to speak nothing but what he would have him; the senator returned this noble answer, That as he was a senator, it was fit he should be at the senate; and if being there he were required to give his advice, he would speak freely that which his conscience commanded him; the emperor threatening that then he should die; he answered, Did I ever tell you that I was immortal? Do what you will, and I will do what I ought; it is in your power to put me to death unjustly, and in me to die consistently."
Righteousness is a breast-plate: the cause of God will pay all your expenses; let them tremble whom danger finds out of the way of duty.
Rule 9. Get your consciences sprinkled with the blood of Christ from all guilt, and that will set your hearts above all fear.
It is guilt upon the conscience that softens and cowardizes our spirits; The righteous 127are bold as a lion, Prov. xxviii. 1. It was guilt in Cain's conscience that made him cry, Every one that meets me will slay me, Gen. iv. 14. A guilty conscience is more terrified with conceited dangers, than a pure conscience is with real ones. A guilty sinner carries a witness against himself in his own bosom. It was guilty Herod cried out, John Baptist is risen from the dead. Such a conscience is the devil's anvil, on which he fabricates all those swords and spears, with which the guilty sinner pierces and wounds himself; guilt is to danger, what fire is to gunpowder; a man need not fear to walk among many barrels of powder if he have no fire about him.
Rule 10. Exercise holy trust, in times of great distress.
Make it your business to trust God with your lives and comforts, and then your hearts will be at rest about them. So did David, Psal. lvi. 3, At what time I am afraid, I will trust in thee; q. d. Lord, if at any time 128a storm rise, I will make bold to shelter from it under the covert of thy wings. Go to God by acts of faith and trust, and never doubt but he will secure you. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee, Isa. xxvi. 3. God takes it well when thou comest to him thus; Father, my life, my liberty, or estate, are hunted after, and I cannot secure them; O let me leave them in thy hand: The poor leaveth himself with thee; and doth his God fail him? No, thou art the helper of the fatherless, Psal. x. 14, that is, thou art the helper of the destitute one, that hath none to go to but God. And that is a sweet scripture, He shall not be afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord, Psal. cxii. 7; he doth not say, his ear shall be privileged from the report of evil tidings, he may hear as sad tidings as other men, but his heart shall be privileged from the terror of those tidings, his heart is fixed.
129Rule 11. Consult the honour of religion more, and your personal safety less.
Is it for the honor of religion, (think you) that Christians should be as timorous as hares, to start at every sound? Will not this tempt the world to think, that whatever you talk, yet your principles are no better than other men's? O what mischief may the discoveries of your fears before them do! It was a noble saying of Nehemiah, chap. vi. 11, Should such a man as I fly? And who, being as I am would fly? Were it not better you should die, than that the world should be prejudiced against Christ by your example? For, alas! how apt is the world (who judge more by what they see in your practices, than by what they understand of your principles) to conclude from your timorousness, that how much soever you commend faith, and talk of assurance, yet you dare trust to these things no more than they, when it comes to the trial. O let not your fears lay such a stumbling-block before the blind world.
Rule 12. He that will secure his heart 130from fear, must first secure the eternal interest of his soul in the hands of Jesus Christ.
When this is done, then you may say, Now world do thy worst. You will not be very solicitous about a vile body, when you are once assured it shall be well to all eternity with your precious souls. Fear not them (saith Christ) that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. The assured Christian may smile with contempt upon all his enemies, and say, Is this the worst that you can do? What say you, Christians? Are you assured that your souls are safe: that within a few moments of your dissolution they shall be received by Christ into an everlasting habitation? Well, if you be sure of that, never trouble yourselves about the instruments and means of your dissolution.
Objection. O, but a violent death is terrible to nature!
Answer. But what matter is it, when thy soul is in heaven, whether it were let out at thy mouth, or at thy throat? whether thy 131familiar friends or barbarous enemies stand about thy dead body, and close thine eyes? Alas! it is not worth the making so much ado about; Nihil corpus sentit in nervo cum anima fit in caelo, thy soul shall not be sensible in heaven how thy body is used on earth; no, it shall be swallowed up in life.
Rule 13. Learn to quench all slavish creature-fears in the reverential fear of God.
This is a cure by diversion: It is a rare piece of Christian wisdom to turn those passions of the soul which most predominate, to spiritual channels; to turn natural anger into spiritual zeal, natural mirth into holy cheerfulness, and natural fear into an holy dread and awe of God. This method of cure Christ prescribes in that forementioned place, Mat. x. like to which is that in Isa. viii. 12, 13, Fear not their fear; but how shall we help it? Why, sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear and dread. Natural fear may be allayed for the present by natural reason, or the removal of the occasion, but then it is 132but like a candle blown out with a puff of breath, which is easily blown in again; but if the fear of God extinguish it, then it is like a candle quenched in water, which cannot easily be rekindled.
Rule 14. Lastly, Pour out those fears to God in prayer, which the devil and your own unbelief pour in upon you in times of danger.
Prayer is the best outlet to fear; where is the Christian that cannot set his probatum est to this direction? I will give you the greatest example in the world to encourage you in the use of it, even the example of Jesus Christ. When the hour of his danger and death drew nigh, he gets into the garden, separates from the disciples, and there wrestles mightily with God in prayer, even unto an agony, Mark xiv. 32: in reference to which the Apostle saith, Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong cries and tears, to him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared, Heb. v. 7. He was heard 133as to strength and support to carry him through it, though not as to deliverance, or exemption from it.
Now, O that these things might abide with you, and be reduced to practice in these evil days, that many trembling souls may be established by them.
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