William S. Plumer, 1865


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—of this kind of fear, we cannot have too much. There is also a beneficial fear, based in self-distrust, and opposed to pride and carelessness. That is a good quality. Blessed is the man who thus always fears.

But there is also a fear which torments. It disheartens, multiplies difficulties, magnifies obstacles, and refuses available resources. Such fear brings a snare. It begets doubts and despondency. It cries—There is a lion in the way. It weeps when it should rejoice. It sings dirges when paeans of praise are called for. It is in many ways an enemy to our peace and usefulness. It is a grief to our fellows. It is an offence to God.

Sometimes such fear possesses the church. She trembles for her own safety. Let us consider the matter in order.

I. THE OCCASIONS OF THIS FEAR are such as these—

1. When the church looks to herself for resources and encouragement. She is "a little flock." "Jacob is small." The people of God are "a remnant." The house of God cannot boast of great numbers. Much as Zion has lengthened her cords beyond her former possessions, she is still but a garden hedged in. Few love her feasts, or delight in her solemnities. Her outward state is humble. Most of her friends are poor. In gathering his family, the Lord refuses none who sincerely apply for admission; yet generally he pours contempt on princes, stains the pride of all glory, takes the beggar from the ash-heap and exalts him to sonship with God. Zion's friends are an afflicted people. "She is black as the tents of Kedar. The sun has looked upon her." Waters of a full cup are wrung out to her children. Her garments are stained in the blood of her martyrs. She is very feeble. In one text God addresses the church as "you worm Jacob." Her attainments are low. Faith is weak. Love is languid. Joy spreads but few feasts. Self-denial has taught but few of her hard lessons. Humility furnishes but a scant robe. Zeal, where is it? She is also sadly divided. Her unity is marred. "Her children have been angry with her." They have been unnatural. Ephraim has envied Judah, and Judah has vexed Ephraim.

2. Another occasion of fear is the apparent inadequacy of the means of the church's defense. Ascension gifts have indeed descended on her pastors and teachers. Still they are not angels but men, men of like passions with others, not vessels used in heaven—but vessels of clay. The cherub in glorious knowledge and the seraph in holy fires—appear not in any of our pulpits. When God vouchsafes his presence, divine ordinances are clothed with a blessed efficacy—but if the Spirit offended by our sins, he withdraws. The 'letter the Gospel' kills—no less than 'the law'. In the hands of the new-creating Spirit it is the power of God; otherwise it is foolishness, a stumbling-block, sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal; and he, who proclaims it, does but beat the air. The weapons of our warfare have no mightiness—but through God.

3. Another occasion of fear to the church is found in the number, haughtiness, cunning, fierceness and cruelty of her foes. Their name is legion. The church dwells like the turtle-dove surrounded by birds of prey. Her enemies present whole empires, and those the most populous, in solid masses of wickedness. Their insolence is diabolical. They shoot out the lip in mocking. They point the finger of scorn. They deride pious grief. They mocked the dying agonies of her Lord. They ridicule her noblest designs, saying, "If a fox goes on it, he shall even break down their stone wall." They exhaust their powers of reproach and ignominy on the saints. They rely on worldly influence. In fury they are like raging waves of the sea, foaming out their thundering menaces. The blood of the faithful they have poured out like water to the dogs of persecution, who have licked it up with greediness. Many a time has persecution

"Sat and planned
Deliberately and with most careful pains,
How to extreme suffering of agony,
The flesh, and blood, and souls of holy men,
Her victims, might be wrought; and when she saw
New tortures, of her laboring fancy born,
She leaped for joy, and made great haste to try
Their force, well pleased to hear a deeper groan."

We may live to see such days. Sober writers on prophecy seem to expect a destructive fury of wicked passions before the blaze of Millenial glory. But whether raging or quiet—the enemies of the church are always cunning. With the venom they have also the deceptiveness of the serpent—that old serpent, who deceives the nations. They lay dark plots. They fill the way to Zion with pits and snares. This is especially true of the teachers of false doctrine. "Insidiousness seems to be a common character of heresy." [Milner.] "Damnable heresies" are always brought in "secretly." If it were possible, false teachers would deceive the very elect!

4. Another occasion for sinful fear in the church is the seeming tardiness of her divine Head in avenging her wrongs and vindicating her cause. Zion forgets that the plans of her King reach from an eternity past to an eternity to come. Forgetting this, the church cries, "O Lord, how long?" "Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook. It is like a spring that has gone dry." "I look for judgment—but there is none; for salvation—but it is far from me." For ages the church has cried, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" How often is the heart made sick by the deferring of hope. Jonathan Edwards ventured to conjecture that he had seen the dawn of the latter-day glory. Yet he lived to see folly, heresy, fanaticism and persecution mar the glory of that great revival.


The language of God to Zion is clear and unmistakable, "Fear not; be not dismayed." God gives reasons, good reasons for such encouragement, "But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1-3.

These words are full of comfort. They point us to God's omnipresence. "I am with you." With his church, God goes through the Red sea, through the wilderness, through Jordan; through the wars of Canaan. He goes with Jeremiah into the mire of the dungeon of Malchiah, with Daniel into the lions' den, with the young Hebrews into the burning fiery furnace, with Stephen through the shower of stones, and with John to the island of Patmos. Nor does he confine his presence to great men, or great occasions. To the whole church in all her states and trials he says, "I will never, no never leave you; I will never, no never, no never forsake you."

In this presence of God there is a blessed concord among the persons of the adorable Trinity. The eternal Father says, "I am with you." The eternal Son says, "Lo, I am with you always—even unto the end of the world." The eternal Spirit by the Son assures us that he will abide with us forever. This presence supposes and implies readiness to hear prayers, to extend aid, to protect, support and deliver. It gives us at hand vast storehouses of infinite perfections from which to draw supplies. Let the church stand on this rock and sing, "God is our refuge and strength—a very present help in trouble!"

Look, too, at the power of God promised to help, uphold and strengthen us. Pious men of all ages have stayed themselves on that almightiness, severed from which the universe would rush headlong into the bottomless abyss of annihilation—but supported by which all worlds travel, "wheeling unshaken through immensity." The Lord thus chides and cheers us at once, "I, even I, am the one who comforts you. So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear? Yet you have forgotten the Lord, your Creator, the one who put the stars in the sky and established the earth. Will you remain in constant dread of human oppression? Will you continue to fear the anger of your enemies from morning till night? Soon all you captives will be released! Imprisonment, starvation, and death will not be your fate! For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea, causing its waves to roar. My name is the Lord Almighty." Isaiah 51:12-15

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." Isaiah 40:21-29

Who dare affirm that anything is too hard for God? He, who humbly relies on the presence and power of God

"is the man whom storms can never make
Meanly complain; nor can a flattering gale
Make him talk proudly—he has no desire
To read his secret fate—yet unconcerned
And calm can meet his unborn destiny
In all its charming or its frightful shapes."

The Bible abounds in exceeding great and precious promises, inwoven into the covenant, which God has made with his chosen, and which has been the joy of the saints in all ages. That covenant is everlasting. Time, change, tumult, can never set it aside. Abraham, David, and all the prophets hold their places in heaven by this tenure.

This covenant is also sure. There is no flaw in it. It is well ordered. It is the plan of God himself, the work of eternal wisdom.

This covenant is confirmed by renewals, by fulfillments, by ordinances, by signs and seals, and by the solemnities of an oath. "God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain of heaven into God's inner sanctuary." Hebrews 6:18-19.

"No one sets aside even a human covenant that has been ratified, or makes additions to it." How firm then must be the covenant of God! This covenant is not encumbered with any causal or meritorious conditions. We are to look and live, to take and eat, to receive Christ and his grace, and be saved forever. No money, no merit is required of us.

This covenant is ample in its provisions. It secures the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. It secures bread and water, food and clothing, justification and sanctification, faith, repentance, hope, love, joy, meekness, patience, gentleness, peace, experience, victory and an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. It makes death a blessing. It pronounces the believer heir of all things. It converts ills into mercies.

This covenant is sealed in the blood of the Son of God. "This is the new testament in my blood," says he.

The execution of this covenant is conducted under "the ministry of the Spirit." He gives us the anointing which abides, the unction which teaches all things.

This covenant is never to be forgotten. God never forgets it, nor will he let his people forget it.

This covenant is in the hands of a Mediator, Jesus, who is "the Messenger of the covenant," "God's elect, in whom his soul delights," the God-man, the Surety of all his people. The exceeding fitness of our Savior to administer this covenant is often declared in Scripture.

First, "He thought it not robbery to be equal with God." His eternal power and Godhead are never questioned in heaven. As a mediator, he is able to lay his hand upon God.

Secondly, finding those to be redeemed in human nature, he took part of the same. He became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. He assumed our whole nature, its sinfulness excepted. He was tempted in all points like as we are. He carried our sorrows. He shook hands with grief and made affliction his bosom companion. With tastes exquisitely refined and with sensibilities the keenest—he lived and died poor, subsisting chiefly on the charities of a few humble women—he hungered, he thirsted, he toiled, he wept, he prayed, he died. And even in his mysterious agony, he showed his power and grace by saving a thief; and his filial piety and natural affection—by making the most fitting provision for his aged mother. Even after his resurrection he gave many infallible proofs that he was still truly a man.

Thirdly, Christ was pre-eminently prepared for his work by being gloriously anointed by the Holy Spirit. "He received the Spirit without measure." All fullness of grace, and truth, and wisdom dwelt in him.

Fourthly, in consequence of what he was and did and suffered—he is highly exalted. His name is above every name. The universe is held together by him. He summons the stars to fight his battles, and they obey him. His angels at his command confound his foes and save his people. "By him kings reign, and princes decree justice. By him princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth." Over good and bad angels and men—he sways his scepter. It was he, who struck the oracles dumb. Even his birth sent confusion into the heathen temples. The most famous seat of such worship was at Delphos. When the oracle there was asked why he so seldom gave responses now, the answer was, "There is a Hebrew boy, who is king of the gods, who has commanded me to leave this house, and be gone to hell, and therefore you are to expect no more answers." O yes, the Hebrew boy is the Father of eternity—the Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God! Devils were subject unto him. Pharaoh, Cyrus, Sennacherib, Herod, Nero—every tyrant and every persecutor did but "accomplish his whole work on Mount Zion."

If convulsions shake heaven and earth, if thrones and empires crumble to dust, if rivers of blood are poured out, if famine and pestilence devastate the land, if "on the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea; if men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken;" still we sing, "O Zion, your God reigns!" "Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!"

On the other hand, to his people he is the Prince of peace. To them he is as "the light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain." You worm Jacob, he helps you, he upholds you, he strengthens you. He makes "the feeble among his saints to be as David, and the house of David to be as God, as the angel of the Lord." "When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst—he opens rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys. He makes the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water." His compassions are infinite, his power almighty, his wisdom unerring.

Before his incarnation he was afflicted in all their affliction, and since his ascension he has once come down within the hearing of men to assure us that he and his people are one, saying to the enraged blasphemer, "Why do you persecute ME?" His church is engraved on the palms of his hands. In the midst of cares and business, the husband may forget the wife of his youth. But the bridegroom of the church has "betrothed her unto him forever, yes he has betrothed her unto him in righteousness, and in judgment and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. He has even betrothed her unto him in faithfulness." And all this provision of mercy, of a covenant with a Surety—was made in mere love and pity—and not by any of our merits. So we may fearlessly reason, If "God spared not his own Son—but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?" Such reasoning is conclusive—unanswerable. It shuts us up to hope. It forbids all harassing fears. It brands dismay with guilt and infamy.

If these things are so, then every pious man ought to be far more concerned to derive benefit from afflictions, than to get rid of them. We are always guilty when we do not gather the peaceable fruit of righteousness from our chastisements. From adversity, the church should derive the following benefits—

1. She should learn the meaning of many portions of Scripture. The Psalms and many of the sacred writings are best studied in the day of darkness, trial, and bereavement. Whatever leads us correctly to understand God's word is useful to us.

2. Trials lead to prayer. How seldom has strong crying with tears ascended to God, except from the hearts of believers borne down with an awful weight of sorrow. At prayer in the whale's belly, Jonah is safer and nearer deliverance than asleep on the ship.

3. In sanctified affliction we acquire increased confidence in God. We find that we are as safe and can be. We should be as quiet when hauled before judges, when loaded with chains and reproaches, when stripped of earthly stays and props—as when abounding in plenty, and having outward peace and prosperity.

4. "The path of duty is the path of safety." Daniel in the lion's den, Paul in carrying his cause to Rome, and Luther in burning the pope's edict—were perfectly safe because they were following the leadings of Providence. God will defend all who work righteousness and trust in Him. A man is not hurt, until his soul is hurt; and his soul is not hurt, until his conscience is defiled; and his conscience is not defiled, until it is polluted with sin. Nothing can harm us, as long as we are followers of that which is good.

5. The triumph of the wicked is short, and all carnal boasting is vain. The greatest of all victories is that which one obtains over his own evil heart. "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles—lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turns away his wrath from him." At all times beware of carnal exultation.

6. God will take care of his interests on earth. He will promote the purity and protect the innocence of his church. "All is not lost—which is brought into danger." "In the mount it shall be seen." "Man's extremity—is God's opportunity." "When things get to the worst—they begin to grow better." "When the bricks are doubled—then comes Moses."

7. Whoever risks anything for the truth, and cause, and people of God, shall ultimately suffer damage in nothing. "He that loses his life shall find it." He who piously leads a life of self-denial—has a continual feast.

8. Let us judge nothing before the time. We are of yesterday and know nothing. Though the Lord causes grief, he will have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies—for he does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

9. If we see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perverting of judgment and justice in the earth, we should not marvel at the matter. "If you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and justice being miscarried throughout the land, don't be surprised!" Ecclesiastes 5:8 . Nor let us be greedy of the things that perish. "He who makes a fortune unjustly is like a partridge that hatches eggs it didn't lay. In the middle of his days his riches will abandon him, so in the end he will be a fool." Jeremiah 17:11

10. All the trials the church undergoes are tests, and show God's people what is in their hearts. So we read of Hezekiah. "When the ambassadors of Babylon’s rulers were sent to him to inquire about the miraculous sign that happened in the land, God left him to test him and discover what was in his heart." 2 Chronicles 32:31

11. God so arranges and blesses the trials of his people, as commonly to make them the means of strengthening their love to the church. He, who does not love Zion, does not love her King. He, who does not prefer Jerusalem above his chief joy, is not prepared for glory. Whatever leads us to "walk about Zion, go round about her, tell the towers thereof, mark well her bulwarks, and consider her palaces," is good for us, and refreshes us.

12. Some trials in each age of the church are necessary to keep alive the principles of personal and religious liberty. The world is always cruel and tyrannizing. Every generation of Christians has to fight the battle of freedom of thought, and freedom of worship. The world is always encroaching.

13. Let us often inquire—Why, O Lord, do you contend with us? There is always a cause—a need be—for our afflictions. Blessed is he who knows his calling, his business, his opportunity, and the end God has in view in dealing with him.

14. By the review and remembrance of past trials, let the church gather strength for future conflicts. Often do saints sing—

"When we review our dismal fears,
'Tis hard to think they've vanished so;
With God we left our flowing tears,
He makes our joys like rivers flow."

"Zion enjoys her monarch's love,
Secure against a threatening hour;
Nor can her firm foundation move,
Built on his truth, and armed with power."