The Fear of Man - Perhaps the toughest Sin to Overcome

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings beloved of the Lord,

Pride and the fear of man have plagued throughout my 48-year sojourn. I now have some hope that the Lord has, pretty much humbled me by my many failures as a husband, father, and in life generally. Although there has been progress, some fear of man remains--and I hate it with all my heart.

Bridges' exposition of Proverbs 29:25 is longer than his usual. But if you struggle with this obstinate sin as I do, I recommend you take the time. As inspiration, please read the second to last paragraph below (in blue), which I powerfully affected me.

How can we hope to stand in the times that may be coming upon us unless victorious over this besetting sin?


25. The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe. (Marg. set on high.)

A snare brings a man into straits. He is not master of himself. Here Satan spreads the snare, and the fear of man drives into it. And a fearful snare it is, and ever hath been to thousands. Many, once entangled, have never escaped. It besets every step of the pathway to heaven, every sphere of obligation. The King turns aside from the strict integrity.[6] The judge wilfully pronounces an unrighteous sentence.[7] The minister faints under the cross;[8] and to avoid it, compromises the simplicity of the Gospel.[9] There is a timidity in acting out an unpopular doctrine. The people cannot bear the full light. The Sun of righteousness is therefore exhibited under a mist; but dimly visible; shorn of his glowing beams. But the strictness of the precepts is unpalatable. It must therefore be softened down, modified, or explained away.[1] Or the same inconstancy of profession must be quietly dealt with, lest the good opinion of some influential man be forfeited. This time-serving shows a man-pleaser, not a true “servant of God,”[2] and brings a blast alike to his work and to his soul.[3]

The same deadly influence operates in families. Sometimes even parents shrink from the open protection of their child.[4] They dare not avow a supreme regard to his primary interests, or profess in opposition to many around them, the Patriarch’s godly determination—“As for me and my house”—however evil it may seem to others—“we will serve the Lord.”[5]

Every class of society exhibits this corrupt principle. Perhaps the highest are bound in the most abject and hopeless chains. They will set at naught all religion without fear; but, slaves as they are to the omnipotency of fashion, they would “tremble very exceedingly,”[6] at the suspicion of godliness attached to them. Many would be bold to front danger, who would shrink from shame. They would fearlessly face the cannon’s mouth, and yet be panic-struck at the ridicule of a puny worm. Or even if some public excitement should have roused an impulse of boldness for religion, in the more quiet atmosphere there is a heart’s timidity of silence. They shrink from the bold consistency of a living witness. They are afraid of the stamp of singularity. They are satisfied with a meagre external decorum, with no spiritual character or privilege. All is heartless delusion. What—again, makes so many—specially among the young—ashamed to be found upon their knees—to be known readers of their Bibles—to cast in their lot decidedly among the saints of God? They know the Christian to be on the right side; and oft is there a whisper of conscience—‘Would that my soul were in his place.’[7] But they have only half a mind to religion. The fear of man bringeth a snare. ‘And therefore they ask—not what I ought to do, but what will my friends think of me.’ They cannot brave the finger of scorn. And if they seem for a while to be in earnest, ‘their slavish fears’ (as Bunyan well describes the case) ‘overmaster them. They betake themselves to second thoughts—namely—that it is good to be wise, and not to run, for they know not what, the hazard of losing all, or at least bringing themselves into unavoidable and unnecessary troubles.’[8] They would rather writhe under their conviction, till they have worn themselves away, than welcome what Moses “esteemed greater riches than the treasures of Egypt—the reproach of Christ.”[9]

But how painful to see the children of God entangled in the snare! The father of the faithful twice denied his wife.[10] His son, following his weak example,[1] “fashions the golden calf.”[2] “The man after God’s own heart” sinks himself into the lowest degradadation.[3] Hezekiah—distinguished for his trust—gives way to his fear.[4] The ardent disciple, even after the most solemn pledges to his Saviour, and after an act of great boldness in his defence, yields up his courage to a servant girl, and solemnly abjures his Lord.[5] Oh! do we not hear the warning voice against “entrance into temptation—against the weakness of the flesh?”[6] Let us run into our hiding-place, and cry—“Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.”[7]

How different is this servile principle from the godly fear of sin, which the wise man had lately marked as the substance of happiness![8] That is an holy principle; this an inlet to sin.[9] That is our keeping grace;[10] this wounds our conscience, and seduces us from our allegiance.[11] ‘ “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil;”[12] by the fear of man they run themselves into evil.’[13] That one is the pathway to heaven.[14] The other involving the denial of the Saviour—plunges its wretched slave into the lake of fire.[15]

But even apart from this tremendous end—observe its weighty hindrance to Christian integrity. Indeed—as Mr. Scott most truly observes—‘it is’—often at least—‘the last victory the Christian gains. He will master, by that grace which is given of God, his own lusts and passions, and all manner of inward and outward temptations. He will be dead to the pleasures of the world, long before he has mastered this fear of man. “This kind of spirit goeth not out” but by a very spiritual and devout course of life.’[16] The hindrance meets us at every turn, like a chain upon our wheels; so that, like the Egyptian chariots, they “drive heavily.” Oh! for a free deliverance from this principle of bondage;[17] not however to be expected, till we have been made to feel its power.

Thank God—there is a way of deliverance. Faith unbinds the soul from fear. If fear makes the giant tremble before the worm, trust in the Lord makes the worm stronger than the giant. The fire, or the den of lions, daunts and hurts not him that “believeth in his God.”[18] ‘He that fears to flinch, shall never flinch from fear.’[19] Faith gives power to prayer. The strength from prayer makes us cheerful in obedience, and resolute in trial. Here is safety, strength, courage, peace. Nothing but faith gives the victory; but the victory of faith is complete.[20] He only, who putteth his trust in the Lord, is prepared, when God and man are at contraries—to “obey God rather than man.”[21]—A secret union with God is implanted in the soul by this faith—an union as mighty as it is secret—a sacred spring of life, the energy of God himself,[1] triumphant therefore in the mightiest conflict with the flesh. The man dependent on the world for happiness is in bondage. The servant of God is in liberty. It matters not to him whether the world smile or frown. He is safe—beyond its reach—set on high.[2] Faith brings him to his strong tower.[3] There he is “kept by the power of God unto salvation.”[4] Fear brings us to the snare. Faith brings liberty, safety, exultation. Oh! thou God of power and grace, may my soul praise thee for this mighty deliverance—this joyous freedom! May I never be ashamed of my Master! May I be bound to his people, and glory in his cross![5]

6 1 Sam. 15:24, Matt. 14:9.
7 John 19:8, 13, 14.
8 1 Kings 19:3, Jon. 1:1–3.
9 Gal. 2:12; 6:12.
1 Isa. 30:9,10, Jer. 5:31.
2 Gal. 1:10.
3 Zech. 11:17.
4 John 9:22.
5 Jos. 24:15.
6 Gen. 27:33. The same word in the original.
7 John 7:13; 12:42, 43, Acts 26:11, 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:16.
8 Conversation between Hopeful and Christian.
9 Heb. 11:26.
10 Gen. 12:11–13; 20:2, 11.
1 Gen. 26:7.
2 Ex. 32:22–24.
3 1 Sam. 21:10–13. Comp. 1 Sam. 27:1.
4 2 Kings 18:13–16. Comp. 2 Chron. 16:1–7.
5 Matt. 26:35, 51, 69–74.
6 Matt. 26:41.
7 Ps. 119:117.
8 Prov. 28:14.
9 Gen. 39:9, with Isa. 57:11.
10 1 Cor. 10:12, Heb. 4:1.
11 References notes 3–9 ut supra.
12 Prov. 16:6.
13 Flavel’s Treatise on Fear, Chap. 2.
14 Prov. 19:23.
15 Mark 8:38, Rev. 21:8.
16 Life, pp. 116, 117.
17 Ex. 14:25.
18 Dan. 3:28; 6:23.
19 Hildersham.
20 1 John 5:4, 5. Comp. Heb. 11:27.
21 Acts 4:13, 19.
1 Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:3.
2 Ps. 69:29; 91:14, Isa. 33:16.
3 Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:3, 4.
4 Prov. 18:10.
5 1 Pet. 1:5.

Bridges, C. (1865). An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs (pp. 495–498). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers
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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Thanks for posting that Ed. This is something I also have struggled with and do struggle with - let us pray for more courage.

Just this morning I read Jeremiah 1 in which the LORD tells his servant "Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord" (vs. 8). He tells him again, "be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them" (vs. 17). And then a third time, "And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee" (vs. 19). In each instance conflict is assured but so is God's presence: help if his servant trusts in him or discipline if he does not. Either way, God's presence is the motivator and ought to overwhelm any fear of man.

Matthew Henry comments soberly on verse 17 with these words: “It is better to have all the men in the world our enemies than God our enemy”
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Puritan Board Graduate
That is so beautiful a quote Ed. Thank you. I don't know what lies ahead for us, but I want to have courage to love not my life unto death.

I just watched the movie " A Hidden Life", based on the true story of a Catholic farmer who could not bring himself to swear the oath of allegiance to Hitler. Those trying to get him to change kept saying that he is just one person, he can't change the situation or the war, and he will leave his wife and children if he is executed, so just swear the oath, it is only words. I asked God to give me that courage. I think it is possible many of us may be those simple ordinary people having to lose everything for the sake of the Lord in years to come.

Thanks again.
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