By John Angell James, 1859


All the affections of the soul have their opposites—as love and hatred; joy and grief; hope and fear. These, though seemingly antagonistic, can be shown to work harmoniously, and sometimes, as in the case before us, to accomplish the same object. There are many passages, as this treatise proves, in which the believer is called upon to hope, to hope perfectly, to have the full assurance of hope—and yet as many in which he is as earnestly called upon to fear. To say nothing of the texts of the Old Testament, which was a system of bondage and fear, there are many to the same effect in the New Testament, under which we have "not received the spirit of bondage again to fear—but the spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind." "Work out your salvation," said the apostle, "with fear and trembling." "Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." "Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." Very many others might be selected—but these will suffice to show that fear, as well as hope, is a Christian grace, and a grace to be exercised not only by the unconverted—but the converted man; not only by the man without hope—but by the man who has hope.

Now as these two are antagonistic in their nature, how can they be exercised by the same individual, in reference to the same object? Does not perfect hope, as well as perfect love—cast out fear? Certainly. But then it must be perfect love in one case, and perfect hope in the other. "God has wisely ordained that these two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall like the two opposite scales of a balance, when one rises the other sinks. Light and darkness unavoidably succeed each other. If light increases—so much does darkness cease, and no more. And if light diminishes—so much does darkness prevail. So it is in the heart of a child of God; if divine love decays, and falls asleep—the light and joy of hope go out, and dark fear arises. And if, on the contrary, divine love prevails and comes into lively exercise—this brings in the brightness of hope, and drives away black fear before it." (Jonathan Edwards)

Another of our old divines represents the matter thus—"Fear and hope in the soul of a Christian are like the cork and lead to a net; the cork keeps it from sinking, and the lead keeps it from too much floating. So it is here, fear keeps hope from degenerating into presumption—and hope keeps fear from sinking into despair. If you detach fear from hope—the soul will be lazy; and if you detach hope from fear—the soul will sink into despondency. Therefore there must be fear with true hope." (Bates, vol. 3, page 185)

Let us, however, examine this a little further. Can any hope, however strong and assured, altogether exclude fear? Certainly not. And the greater the object, the greater will be the liability to fear. To be totally without fear is the condition of 'possession and fruition'. A man in the pursuit of an earthly object, however confident he may be of ultimately possessing it, must admit, theoretically, at least, the possibility, if not the probability, of his losing it. The thought must, and does, occasionally cross his mind, that after all he may be disappointed, and the consequences of disappointment must be at the same time present to his thoughts. This fear may be, and is, far less than his hopes; it may not materially lessen the assurance of his mind that he shall succeed—but it is there, and it is useful to him—for it keeps him in action—it sustains as well as prompts exertion.

So is it in the divine life. As long as heaven is an 'object of hope', and not the 'subject of possession'—there must be some degree of fear mingled with it. And this proves that even the full assurance of hope does not mean, as we have shown, a man's being as certain of reaching heaven at last, as if he were already in it. The Christian hope, like the Christian love, when it is perfect, does exclude fear. But what fear? That fear which has torment—the servile spirit of bondage, which, like a specter, is ever haunting and terrifying the imagination, filling the soul with such trembling forebodings of wrath to come, as prevents all joy and peace in believing. This is the fear which both love and hope shut out, and keep out from the soul; a fear that is ever trembling under an apprehension of an angry God and a coming hell; a fear that upon every fresh discovery of sin, and every fresh sense of guilt, is thrown into despondency and wrapped in darkness; a fear that, under every new sight of our spiritual enemies, difficulties and dangers, and every new consciousness of our own weakness, sinks into a paroxysm of despairing helplessness; a fear that turns the soul more frequently to the threatenings of God's Word than to his promises; that is more frequently at Sinai than at Calvary, and is more apt to dwell upon the torments of hell than the felicities of heaven.

Such a fear is the spirit of bondage, which is decidedly opposed to the spirit of adoption, and shows that the soul is not yet brought into the liberty with which Christ makes his people free. This fear which has torment—hope casts out. But a fear that produces reverence and caution, that makes its subject watchful against sin, and, in a modified and chastened sense, afraid of coming short of the heavenly felicity—hope does not cast out. In fact, the more hope there is, the more of this godly fear, there will be.

How closely and how beautifully are these two affections united by the Psalmist—"The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him—in those who hope in his mercy." Holy fear and confident hope therefore may not only exist together—but must exist together. This striking passage, in which these two affections are so balanced, we should all have as a frontlet before our eyes, and engraved, as upon the palms of our hands. Satan, so skillful in the art of temptation, and so successful in the business of destruction—has machinations adapted to all constitutions and cases And while he tempts the fearful to despair—endeavors to seduce the confident to presumption, careless security, unwatchfulness, and sin. He never so glories in his triumphs, as when he can make their very expectation of heaven, by its inflating them with some degree of spiritual pride, the occasion of their fall. Holy fear will be to our joy, what the cooling influence of water is to the heated iron—that which prevents it from firing the whole, by the rapidity of its motion and the intensity of its friction.

We see, then, what is the Christian's true temper of mind. There should be a prevailing, sustaining, assured hope of eternal life—such as is attended with no serious, perplexing, much less tormenting doubt of its final possession—and such as shall enable the believer to go on his way rejoicing. Yet this, attended with so much fear of falling short, as while it does not materially interfere with his strong consolation—shall keep him watchful, diligent, and prayerful. Thus hope and fear, like the two angels that led Lot from Sodom to Zoar, shall conduct the Christian from the city of destruction—to the celestial city!