I find almost invariably when people come to me in a state of spiritual depression, that they are depressed because they do not know the faith as they should. They say: “I am such a miserable sinner, you do not know what I have been or what I have done.” Why do they say that to me? They do so because they have never understood what Jesus meant when He said: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The very thing they are saying in self-condemnation is the very thing that gives them the right to come to Him and be certain that He will receive them. Where there is a failure to learn and believe these things, faith is weak. So strong faith means to know them.
I am constantly having to say these things. I am constantly having to write them. I had to write a long letter on this very point to a man I had never seen. The poor man was miserable and held in bondage. Why? Because he did not see that Christ is the friend of publicans and sinners and that He came to die for such people. He was not clear about the Person, he was not clear about the work of this blessed Person. His faith was weak and the doubts where there because of that. There are many who go through life miserable and unhappy because thy do not truly understand these things. If only they did understand them they would find that their self-condemnation in itself is an earnest of their repentance and the way to their ultimate release.
In other words, the great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Biblical doctrine, Christian doctrine. Not having the feelings worked up in meetings, but knowing the principles of the faith, knowing and understanding the doctrines. That is the biblical way, that is Christ’s own way as it is also the way of the apostles.
The antidote to depression is to have a knowledge of him, and you find that in His Word. You must take the trouble to learn it. It is difficult work, but you have to study it and give yourselves to it. The tragedy of the hour, it seems to me, is that people are far too dependent for their happiness upon [experiences]. This has been the trouble for many years in the Christian Church, and that is why so many are miserable.
Their knowledge of the Truth is defective. That, you remember, is what our Lord said to certain people who had suddenly believed on Him. He said: “If you continue in My word then are you My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Free from doubts or fears, free from depression, free from things that get you down. It is the truth that frees–the truth about Him, in His Person , in His word, in His offices, Christ as he is.
Their snarls penetrated my ears with every evading stride. Every breath I took was weighted by the awareness that they were close behind me. I had entered at the narrow gate, but somehow they had managed to follow me onto the path. I could hear their taunts. Every one of their footsteps was like the sound of a war drum. There are days when they are out of sight. During those times, I feel the warm breeze of the Celestial City beckoning me homeward, but even then I know they are lying in wait. Their pursuit often leaves me anxious and exhausted.
I didn’t think they would be able to follow me onto the narrow path, but somehow they made their way onto the road. When I entered the narrow way, under the shadow of the cross, my sins were forgiven. He had delivered me from the slavery of sin that held me captive. Since He had open the way and called me in, I thought at that point I would be out of the reach of my enemies, yet they pursue me daily.
Every time I fall, the enemy shouts from behind, “You do not belong on this path! You belong to us, and we will catch and destroy you! I have learned the names of some, but others I am still trying to figure out. There are two who give chase called Shame and Regret. They often disguise themselves as messengers of the king. They tell me that, since my heart is prone to wander, the King prefers that I stay out of sight. That is Shame’s greatest strategy. He convinces us that we need to hide. He does this to keep us from finding the assistance that is available in the congregation of the saints, and he works closely with regret to keep us from approaching the Throne of Grace.
Many other enemies desire to sink their teeth into me as well, like sickness and sorrow, sin and sadness, and the final enemy death who boasts of his many conquests. In those moments when I am running scared, I have learned that there is a song being sung. It is a song of the past as well as a song of the future, and I must tune my heart into its melody.
The first time I heard it was at a time when I thought all was lost. The enemy had convinced me that I was a trespasser on the narrow road, and their presence was the proof. They told me that Lord had allowed them access to remove me from His sacred passage. I heard them chanting as they chased, “Our desire will have its fill. Our sword is in our hand. We will destroy (Exodus 15:9).”
Their tune, however, was soon drowned out by the song of the saints. The great cloud of witnesses sang, “The Lord is a man of war. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy (Exodus 15:3,6).” This refrain gave me immediate comfort. Then another line stood out and gave me the perspective I needed. It recounted, “Pharoah’s chariots and his host He cast into the sea.” It continued, “The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone (Exodus 14:4-5).”
The song I was hearing was the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18). At that point, it all fell into place. God had set the people free from their slavery in Egypt, and He had made a way of salvation by parting the Red Sea. He then allowed their enemies to pursue them into the way of escape for the very purpose of destroying them.
You and I have entered into the narrow path. At the entrance of that gate, we found salvation where there is no accusation or separation, but there is a path we must walk between the door of salvation and the gates of the Celestial City. Do not be dismayed by the fact that there are enemies still pursuing you on this path. Regret and shame, fear and anxiety, the troubles of a fallen world, and even death itself, will never make it to the other side, but you will.
One day shame and regret will be no more. Even now they have lost their power. To believe that a life of self-punishment and shame is needed for us to be right with God is to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. That is a lie of the enemy. There is complete freedom in Jesus. The reason they are unable to hurt us now is because He has disarmed them and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). Our sin is what gave them their power, but He has canceled our debt (Colossians 2:14). Even death has lost its sting in His resurrection.
Though these enemies may get the best of us from time to time, they will all fail because our Lord is triumphant. Their pursuit of us into the King’s domain will be their destruction. As I mentioned earlier, this is a song of the past as well as a song of the future. This song will be sung again when the Lord returns to set all things right (Revelation 15:3). Listen to the song and keep marching heavenward. The Lord will lead us with His steadfast love, the people whom He has redeemed. He will guide us by His strength into His holy abode (Exodus 15: 13).
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:21
Fear is an excellent provision of God to guard us from many dangers when fixed on a proper object and proper degree. When God is the object of our fear, we are able to maintain a holy awe of his majesty, and it awakens a constant desire in us to please him. But when fear ruffles the spirit, throws the soul into unrest, and turns us from a steady course of duty, it becomes a sinful and forbidden passion.
For some, fear is a constant tyrant over them. This ought to stir them up as far as possible to shake off this bondage that robs them of comfort. May the Spirit help the following methods to be happily successful.
1. Keep your faith awake and living.
Remember you are under the special eye and protection of your God and Savior! Brighten your faith and hope daily by a frequent examination of your hearts, and walking before God. Commit your souls into the hands of Jesus and his Spirit for pardoning and renewing grace. A living faith gives divine courage. Faith is a noble shield to ward off fear, and our helmet is the hope of our salvation.
2. Take heed of defiling your souls with sensuality.
Guilt will create fear and fill the soul with perplexing tumult of thoughts.
3. Consider the covenant of grace as a blessed treasury.
Here is an armor of defense found for every assault and danger! Get a large acquaintance with the promises of the gospel, that in every special time of need you may have a suitable word of refuge and support. In special seasons of trial keep your mind fixed upon some single promise that is most suited to the present danger or suffering, and to the present taste and relish of your soul. Fixing and living on a particular word of grace for the whole day will let it abide on your heart and whisper to your soul the divine sweetness in the dark and solitary watches of the night. In a fresh assault, fly to the word you have chosen for your refuge and meditation.
4. Pursue the spirit of prayer, and moral strength and courage will descend upon you!
Address the throne of God with earnestness and faith, and cry to the God of your salvation without ceasing. He gives renewed strength for the battle, courage in the midst of tears, and he can preserve and secure us in the most extreme peril. He may repel the most imminent danger, and rebukes the spirit of fear to gain moral courage. While at the mercy seat, keep an eye on Christ Jesus your mediator, advocate, and the captain of your salvation. He is engaged to see you brought safely home to heaven. Many a feeble Christian, in coming to the mercy seat with overwhelming fears, has risen from his knees with a heavenly calmness and composure! The army of fears has vanished, and he has gone out to face the most formidable of his adversaries with divine resolution and courage.
5. Wean yourself more from the flesh and the delights belonging to the mortal life.
Learn to put off a little of that sinful tenderness for self which we brought into the world with us. One of the first lessons in the school of Christ is self-denial (Matthew 16:24). We must subdue this self-love and softness if we would be good soldiers of Jesus Christ and gain a spirit of sacred courage and resolution. We must be dead to the things of the flesh and sense if we would gain a victory over the complaints and groanings of nature.
6. Endeavor to keep yourselves always employed in some proper work, that your fears may be diverted.
If our thoughts and hands are idle and empty, we lie open to the invasion of our fears from every side. The imagination at leisure can sit and brood over its own terrors. Lack of occupation exposes the mind to frightful images that fancy can furnish.
7. Keep your eye on the hand of God in all the affairs of men.
View his powerful and overruling providence in all things, including your most troubling fears. Learn to see God in all things, and behold him as your God, and the distressing fears within you will have little influence to awaken the passions of your soul. Do thunder and lightning frightening you? In whose hands is the thunder? Who directs its flashes and every sweeping blast of wind or fire to its appointed place? Do political upheavals awaken your fears? Rejoice and stand firm amidst the tumult and the shaking of the nations (Psalm 46).
Perhaps personal dangers threaten your good name, estate, flesh, or your life. The presence of God is a universal spring of comfort and courage, and a wide-spreading shield against every mischief. Does slander, poverty, or sickness frighten you? Remember that diseases are your servants of our Lord Jesus, and he can bid pains and anguish of body go or come as he pleases. None will tarry with you beyond his appointed moment. He is a wise physician and he will deal tenderly with you. Are you afraid of persecuting enemies? These are but instruments to execute his divine purposes and are chained under the sovereign dominion of Christ. They cannot move or act beyond his permission! We are all immortal till our work is done!
8. Recollect your own experiences of the goodness of God in carrying you through former seasons of danger and sorrow.
Remember how high the tempest of your fears has sometimes risen, and how God has sunk them at once into silence. Remember how extreme your danger has been, but the eye of God has found a path of safety for you! He has led you as one blind by the way you didn’t know, and has made darkness light before you, and the crooked straight!
9. Consider the divine command to put aside fear.
Remember that exercising faith and showing courage are duties as well as blessings! “Fear not” is often repeated because God knows very well how prone our feeble natures are to become frightened at every appearance of danger (Matthew 10:28). The Lord of hosts alone is the proper object of our supreme fear. He will overrule and abolish all other fears. The fear of the Lord is an effectual cure for sinful fear. Christ chided his disciples when they were afraid in the storm. 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 (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember that you are the sons and daughters of God. It is below your dignity to yield to this slavery. Your Father himself reproves, and your Redeemer forbids it.
10. Consider the many advantages that arise from a courageous spirit in the midst of dangers.
It establishes your feet on a solid rock in the midst of the storms; it motivates you to practice every duty; it prevents many of the mischiefs you fear; it will preserve the soul and serenity and calmness under painful events of providence; it will make sorrows lighter, and the heaviest afflictions become more tolerable.
If we give in to fear, it throws the whole frame of our nature into tumult and confusion. Fear is a dreadful bondage of the soul, and holds the man in chains. It feels the smart of those very evils that frighten us at a distance that may never come near to us. When afraid, the very sufferings which are prevented by the mercy of God we must endure in our thoughts we must feel the pain of them by indulgence and excessive fear. But always remember, Jesus can support me in the heaviest distressed. He can bear me on the wings of faith and hope, high above the turmoils of life.
There is both an ungodly fear of God and a godly fear of God. This lesson asks the question, “What is the fear of God?” To answer it, we look at five characteristics of God-fearing people where we contrast that with an ungodly fear of God. We end, by laying out some definitions of the fear of God and explore the impact on our lives.
This lesson is from a series call Courage: Fighting Fear with Fear where we are going through a book of the same title by authors Wayne Mack and Joshua Mack. You can also download the mp3 of this lesson at the following link: What is the Fear of God?
Dear Christian, your fears are lying to you. Nothing they warn you about can ultimately hurt you. Fear shows its face daily and holds you back from doing things that may not be safe according to the world’s wisdom, but are life-giving in every respect. It tells you that you must save your life, or you will lose it, but the opposite is true. It is time to push fear aside and begin marching more boldly toward the Celestial City.
For those not in Christ, their fears are deceiving them because they are not fierce enough, and they are focused on earthly desires. Their sin and coming judgment are far worse than they can ever imagine. For the Christian, our anxieties are lying to us because our greatest problems, sin and judgment, have been taken care of on the cross, and every other anxiety is, therefore, unwarranted.
Samuel Davies once preached a sermon called “This Very Year You are Going to Die.” He worked from Jeremiah 28:16, a statement that was spoken to Hananiah, which says, “Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die.” Davies went on to teach that this could be a statement that this true of every one of us, for tomorrow is promised to no one. We must redeem the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).
It is time to start living. There is nothing that can come into your life that can separate you from the love of Christ. Don’t worry about your reputation, don’t worry about how dark it could get, and don’t even worry about the fallout of your past sins. Walk through them all with your Lord, and walk through them with boldness, because they cannot touch your life in Jesus.
Your time is coming. If not this year, soon. However far away, it is nothing compared to eternity. What are you doing with this time? As mentioned earlier, most of our time and attention are focused on saving our lives instead of losing them, but losing it for his sake is where it will be found (Matthew 16:25). This self-focus is what produces most of our anxiety. We know that God will take care of our needs, but our fears tell us that we need to be concerned about our wants. It is time to let them go and put our focus where it needs to be. You might spend your whole life trying to lay up treasures on earth, but in the end, moth and rust will destroy, or they will be handed to someone else when you are gone. Store your treasures in heaven where there is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept for you (1 Peter 1:4).
We have one primary goal in this life, and all other goals are subservient to it. We desire to finish our course and ministry and testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). It does not matter what has happened in the past; it is time to forget what is behind and press forward to what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). All things are working together for the good of those who love Him. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “Without God, man is anxious either trying to anticipate chance or escape fatalism.” With him, however, we are always secure within his providential care, even when it does not seem safe. Lloyd-Jones continues, “We are never in any position or situation outside of God’s knowledge or care. He knows much better than we do ourselves.”
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added (Matt. 6:33). Our fears point to the kingdom of this world, but in pursuing Christ with all our heart, there can be no failure or reason to fear. It is time to pour our lives into pursuing his glory.
Someday soon you will have a tombstone with your name on it, and all the fears that tried to hold you back from living for Jesus will be exposed as the lies they really are. Samuel Davies himself died the same year he preached that sermon at the age of 38. He spent his time living for the Lord, and he is with Jesus where all of his anxieties and troubles are now long gone, as yours will be. Set your focus and live for Jesus, and in that, you will find life. Even if everything in this life falls apart, one day you will stand in the presence of Jesus where every fear must bow.
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:24
All throughout scripture, we are promised that God will meet our needs. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?2 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:26-27).
Like God feeding the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, God still provides for us today. He gives us what we need when we need it. Why then does this not always give us peace? Why, when the troubles come, do we still fret?
Edward T Welch sums it up best when he says, “Beneath our questions about God’s generosity and his care for our needs is something darker, what we really care about is our wants.?” God promises to take care of our needs, not our wants, and this is what often drives our anxieties. Much of the fight of faith must be fought on this front.
Welch goes on to say that “our version of the kingdom looks peculiarly like suburbia.” We have painted our own worldly pictures of what it means to be taken care of by God. Then, like Abraham having a child with Hagar, we try to force the promises to happen in our own way. Doing this only compounds our anxieties, because, not only are we worried about our wants, but we are now living as if God’s promise to provide depends on us. This type of anxiety is often seen in many of the prosperity churches.
God will give us what we need when we need it, but that does not mean you will never get sick, lose a job, a child, or even die yourself. What it means is that he will give us what we need to face these times should they come, and only when they come. Just like the Israelites never had tomorrow’s manna today, we may not have what we need to face these future difficult times now. In fact, we may not even be able to imagine how we could handle it, but we will, if the time comes. The Lord never fails.
We all have desires that war against our soul, and these are often the cause of our greatest anxieties. We need to align our wants with his word and our desires with his decrees. If we think that a trouble-free life now is what it is all about, our gospel and our God are too small. As Welch says, “Life in the kingdom is not easy, at least not when we want to share the throne.”
You, O Lord, are my refuge and strength. No matter what fears assail me, they cannot stand before you. Whether my anxieties are based on reality or the result of my doubting heart, you are the calmer of my soul. There is no darkness your light cannot penetrate.
You are my peace. Every fear finds its defeat in you because none of them can overshadow your glory. There is no anxiety which can maintain its strength in the presence of your might. There is no cunning that can stand in the light of your wisdom and knowledge.
One day your Majesty will be acknowledged by all. Not only will every knee bow and every tongue confess that you are Lord, but, for all who come to you in faith, every sickness must heal, every broken heart must mend, every need must be met, and every loneliness must find its true companion. All of this is possible because no stain of sin can resist the cleansing power of your cross.
Nothing can touch you, O Lord, and my life is hidden in you. You are my helper, the upholder of my life. I give you thanks and praise in the midst of a dark and troubled land. May my worship be like a lighthouse calling to ships on a dangerous sea to find their rest in your harbor.
Calm my soul, O Lord. Let me look in triumph upon every fear. Let your peace, which passes understanding, rule in my heart. Hide me in the shadow of your wing. My soul clings to you, and your right hand upholds me.
O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. Psalm 59:9
Here is a sermon I preached recently which looks at the typology of Joseph’s brothers who came to buy grain from him in Genesis 42. Like the brothers, even when it seems God is against us, we must remember that He will supply our need.
There is a fear that will make you fearless. Many of God’s great saints have gone through times which shook them with such terrible fear that they felt paralyzed, but it is in those times that they learned that Christ is everything. Facing dark nights, when we feel that God has forsaken us, has a way of breaking all that encumbers the heart and turns its focus to the only one who can help. These are the times of spiritual depression when we look and see our sinful hearts in all their depravity. It is here where the fear of God takes on a whole new meaning. When we go through a time like this, there is nothing that we will not surrender to God, because we finally see how hopeless we are without Him. It is in these times that we offer our boldest prayers. We are willing to cry, “Lord, take everything from me if I am not in your will, my reputation, my job, even my family if necessary. There is only one thing that will redeem me from this pit, and that is to know I am right with you.” Spurgeon said, “If a man is in this position you can lay the wealth of India at his feet and he’ll say take it away, what use is that to me.”
When a person goes through a time like this and comes out on the other side, that person has been changed, and many times the Lord left everything intact, the reputation, the job, and the family, but at the same time, He has taken it from him. The fears that once tormented are gone because this person has seen the greatest truth: without Christ we have nothing and with Him we have everything. They also learn that they belong to Him, and even when it seems He is against us, He is for us. This newly found freedom emboldens the man do and say things that he once could not because of his fears. It gives him the ability to take a stand for Christ no matter what the cost. We see this in John Bunyan spending years in prison without denying Christ, or Luther standing before the powers of Rome declaring, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” They had been through times where their sins tormented them, and during those times, they saw the worthlessness of everything in measure to Christ. As a result, they now look at the fears of this world as nothing in comparison.
There is a great picture of this in the movie “The Four Feathers”. The main character is in a group of military friends who are told they will be going to battle. The main character is afraid, so he resigns. From this, four of his closest friends each gives him a feather signifying that he is a coward. Seeing the result of his decision he heads off to Saudi Arabia to find this group and redeem his cowardly act. The things he faces make going to war pale in comparison. In the midst of his ordeal, a man says to him “why did you not go to war?” His reply is “I was afraid”. The man who asked the question began to laugh out loud and says “you, scared? I found you half dead in the middle of the desert by yourself.” To which he responds, “it’s a different kind of fear.”
It’s a different kind of fear to fear the Lord. Not the kind of fear that will cause you to run away, but a fear that will cause you to run to Him and stand strong. In finding this fear, the chains of fear begin to break. Praise God for causing our hearts to fear and for delivering us from it.
When I cling to earthly things
Within my heart, fear pulls the strings
Lord, all these things, take if you must
For in your Love, I’ll place my trust.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27