Fear and Anger (2)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.—1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.—1 John 4:18

How did the apostle Paul, the apostle born out of due time, have the confidence to face the apostle Peter to rebuke him for separating himself from the Gentiles in Antioch? How did Paul in his epistles reprove, rebuke, and admonish with such weight and force? How could he oppose the purveyors of false doctrines that had already received a welcome and supportive reception in the churches of Galatia, Colossae, and Corinth? How could he write against them so sharply and forcefully? How could he speak of rivals in the Corinthian church as “false apostles, deceitful workers,” who had transformed “themselves into the apostles of Christ” and “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13, 15)?

How did the reformers stand against all the institutional, historical, and numerical weight of the Romish church? How were they able to ignore the papal bulls that excommunicated them from the kingdom of God? How were they able to stand so resolutely and calmly in the face of the torture of persecution? How could they stand so fearlessly for the truth of scripture alone over against the authority of popes and councils? How could they stand steadfastly for the truth of salvation by grace alone without works, despite the condemnation of those doctrines by the hierarchy of the pope?

How could De Cock, Van Velzen, Scholte, and Brummelkamp maintain their positions of criticism of and defiance of the edicts of their own church, the state church of the Netherlands? How could they carry on in their work on behalf of the truth and God’s people in spite of the accusations against them of troubling the church with their actions and writings?


Fear made them take stock of themselves, with the most surprising result: they had nothing and were nothing of themselves. They had no power. They had no knowledge. They had no courage of themselves. They had nothing of themselves to match the forces arrayed against them.

Such was the revelation of his weakness that Jeremiah had to hear from the Lord: “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?” (Jer. 12:5). Such was the confession of the great apostle Paul about himself: “Our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor. 7:5).

That fear is represented in answer 127 of the Heidelberg Catechism in explanation of the sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer. The answer has two parts. The first part is a confession the Catechism places in the mouths of the children of God about themselves: “Since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment…” The second part is about the assault of our enemies: “the devil, the world, and our own flesh” (Confessions and Church Order, 139). The teaching of this answer is that our weakness is not merely that we have our own flesh as an enemy, in addition to the world and the devil, but the teaching is also that, measured against the flesh that is our enemy, we ourselves are so weak that we cannot stand a moment.

This teaching of the Catechism reflects scripture’s teaching in Galatians 5:17. The nature of the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh is so great that “ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The same is the instructive and applicable outcry of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

Which is more powerful to instil fear in our hearts and to cause us to tremble in our members: the devil, the world, and our flesh, or our own weakness before these great enemies?

Yet to the child of God the blessedness of this fear and trembling is that God graciously uses them to lead the child of God to the Rock that is higher than he. The great blessing of grace is to be emptied thoroughly of all vain pretensions in order to be filled with the only power to stand before all these enemies.

So it must be in the midst of controversy and conflict in church and state. In all the storm of emotional, fiery exchanges, this must become very clear: there is no real safety or peace in the institutions of men. Only when nations begin to crumble in their foundations do we realize how foolish we were to put any trust in them at all. Only when controversies and strivings rock church institutions do we realize that our trust was foolishly misplaced in those institutions rather than in the word of God alone. How much more clear our folly becomes when threats of trials and punishments are employed in hopes of maintaining order and submission.

How could it become clearer?


Why is it not clear to everyone? Why do so many still cling to institutional strength and character, unwilling to see the shifting sands that somehow have replaced the sturdy foundation? Why are so many willing to cling to domineering, abusive structures of power and to suffer for it?

Rounded Rectangle: In all the storm of emotional, fiery exchanges, this must become very clear: there is no real safety or peace in the institutions of men.One reason is history. Historically the institutions of church and state had been strong and greatly beneficial to their members by providing order, justice, peace, and stability. For many years and generations the members enjoyed these benefits. That past may so overshadow the present that some deny outright their present circumstances. That past may be so strong that some cling to the hope that present troubles will soon vanish and the benefits of the past will reappear after the storm is gone.

Another reason is that the institution has presented itself in all its dominance to its members. The state or the church has held sway for a long time. In that length of time it has held itself out as the only possibility and allowed no rivalry or competition. Therefore, there can be no other institutions, ecclesiastical or political, that can even be compared. There can be no higher standard attainable. Patriotism or loyalty can have only one object: the current institution in the current state of affairs. Criticism is disloyalty. Questioning is treachery.

These reasons, properly understood, must only increase the fearfulness. What a great evil to cling to what is corrupt and passing away! What deception to exchange the kingdom of God that is heavenly, perfect, glorious, and everlasting for anything of the earth, earthy!

Beset and burdened with all these fears, the child of God must flee them all, exchanging them for the one proper and holy, saving fear: the fear of the Lord.

In the fear of the Lord is all safety and all peace from all other fears. In the great and glorious light of his fear, all other fears become inconsequential. What is man? What are these institutions? What of their threats and accusations? What of their charges, hearings, judgments, and bulls? What of their torture and abuse? What of their deceits and manipulations?

“Perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.”

What is that perfect love?

It is of no earthly origin. No earthly institution, even the church, can contain it. The best any earthly church can do is point its members to it.

Perfect love is the love of God determined in the fore[1]knowledge of God from all eternity (Rom. 8:29). It is the love of God carried out in the propitiatory sacrifice of his only begotten Son and demonstrated and accomplished in the gift of his Son’s life. It is the love of the Father that gave up his only begotten Son to that accursed death, when those for whom the Son died were only the enemies of God, hateful and hating one another (Rom. 5:10; Titus 3:3). It is the love of the Father that effectually calls and draws each beloved elect out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s eternal kingdom (1 Pet. 2:9). It is the love of the Father that ensures that the beloved are brought into that kingdom, no matter how great the testing and trials of their faith, so that they are able to rejoice in them all (James 1:2).

How does perfect love cast out fear?

The last part of 1 John 4:18 gives the explanation: “because fear hath torment.”

That torment is the torment of the outer darkness of hell. It is the torment of everlasting punishment of body and soul, the punishment that is due the sin of the individual being tormented. It is the punishment of nations, societies, and cultures that have labored in the very fire to cast off their obligations to serve and worship the true God of heaven and earth.

Fear is fear because it has this torment. Fear is the appropriation of the necessity of this torment. Torment explains why fear is such a powerful matter. Torment explains why a fearful people are easily cowed and manipulated. Torment explains why fear is so debilitating.

Fear must also be explained by all self-reliance. Self-reliance must bring about this fear that has torment. Such is the fear that was exemplified not only by Adam as the sinner before God but also by Adam’s attempting to cover himself with fig leaves. “Verily, if we should appear before God, relying on ourselves or on any other creature, though ever so little, we should, alas! be consumed.” The Confession continues the same thought regarding sanctification: “It is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary, without it they would never do anything In all the storm of emotional, fiery exchanges, this must become very clear: there is no real safety or peace in the institutions of men out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation” (Belgic Confession 23–24, in Confessions and Church Order, 52–53).

First John 4:18 also explains why there is only one power to conquer fear: the perfect love of God in Christ Jesus, which easily and handily conquers fear because this love is complete redemption from torment. The perfect love of God in Christ Jesus is complete redemption, leaving nothing undone. The sacrifice of the cross means that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Christ’s sacrifice also means that nothing can be against the redeemed, but all things must be for them and that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (vv. 31–32, 38–39).

The perfect love of God in Christ is deliverance from all inordinate, illegitimate fear. It is deliverance from the fear of man and what man can do. It is freedom from fear of perishing due to the believer’s own weakness or the strength of his enemies. It is freedom from the slavish fear of men and respect of persons. But at the same time it is deliverance to another, proper, godly and holy fear, the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is the conscious, believing appropriation of the cross of Jesus Christ and the everlasting love of God that it demonstrates. For all the infinite greatness of that love, making the child of God weak in himself by its consideration, he treasures and adores it. His great desire is to know that love in all its fullness, as is the prayer of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:17–19.

The preaching and believing of the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ are growth in the fear of the Lord. For the sake of that gospel, the child of God must take a proper account of himself and his circumstances in this world. Let him take hold of the law and appropriate it to himself to show him his sin and his entire inability to perform the law because of his depravity. Let him understand that he simply cannot do the things that he would. Let him take hold of the power and abilities of his enemies—the devil, the world, and his own flesh—and make a proper reckoning of their deep hatred. Against those powers and abilities, let him reckon with his own weakness and helplessness. All these together must drive him far from himself to seek all his hope from the God who has graciously given him the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ.

By that cross the child of God must find the strength of his salvation near to him. God’s gracious gift, just like the gospel of the cross, is sent to him for him to know its power and peace by the gift of true faith. In and with the cross, let him find all its power of grace within him. In his heart it must be the power not only to stand before every enemy but also to suffer from all their malicious devices for the sake of the kingdom to which he belongs. Surrounded and filled with that love of God in the cross of Christ, what can his enemies do to him? By the grace of God, they become the very means to bring him nearer to his God!

That fear of the Lord is freedom from the slavish fear of man and of every institution of man. The fear of the Lord is blessed freedom from the fear of our own weakness and from the fear of every enemy. The fear of the Lord is freedom of heart to direct oneself to serve the Lord in all the joy and gladness of his redemption. The fear of the Lord is freedom to sanctify oneself to the Lord, to offer himself a living sacrifice of thanksgiving. —MVW

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11