THE MINISTER AND THE FEAR OF MAN
What conscientious minister is not painfully reminded of the truth of the inspired aphorismÂ—”The fear of man bringeth a snare?” Prov. 29.25. Perhaps no temptation is more specious in its character, or more subtle and diversified in its operation. Its connection with worldly conformity is sufficiently evident from the recollection of its paralyzing influence upon ministerial boldness. Mr. Scott, in his early ministry, appears to have suffered severely from this temptation. ‘This,’ (he observes) ‘is the last victory the Christian gainsÂ—Here I find my own deficiency, as much or more than in any other respect: and often I feel an inward timidity, when about to preach upon an unpopular doctrine, or expose a foible, which some one of my congregation, whom I otherwise love and esteem, is remarkable for: and in every instance I feel the greatest reluctancy to resign the good opinion, or act contrary to the judgment of those for whom I have esteem. It is true, I am peculiarly bound to strive against this, by reason of my ministerial office. I am to speak boldly, “not as a man-pleaser, but as the servant of God”Â— and therefore I endeavour to master all these fears, and to act implicitly as my conscience suggests, without respect of persons. Conformity to others in things unchristian, the fear of man, a servile spirit of time-serving, etc. are the faults of ministers, and effectually hinder even those that desire it from performing the most important parts of their ministry, both in public preaching, and by private application. But this kind of spirit goeth not out, but by a very spiritual and devout course of life. Indeed its expulsion is the gift of God, and is especially to be sought for from Him.’
There are few of us of such a self-observant stamp, but will have some sympathy with this graphical delineation. In our public ministrationsÂ—as with Mr. ScottÂ—conviction of duty is often almost sacrificed to it. Subjects uncongenial to the taste and habits of influential men in our congregation are passed by, or held back from their just and offensive prominence, or touched with the tenderest scrupulosity, or expanded with wide and undefined generalities; so that the sermons (like letters put into the post-office without a direction) are addressed to no one. No one owns them. No one feels my personal interest in their contents. Thus a minister under this deteriorating influence chiefly deals in general truths devoid of particular applicationÂ—more in what is pleasing than what is direct and useful. Many other subjects may be equally necessary, or indeed more important; but these are more conciliating. There is
thus a continual conflict between conscience and the worldÂ—’I ought to speak for conscience’ sake; but I dare not speak, for fear of the world.’ The offensive truth must be smoothed, disguised, and intermixed, until it is attenuated into an insipid, pointless, and inoperative statement. The spirit of cold refinement, which gives occasion to this compromising ministration, is one of the most baneful hindrances to our efficiency. Whether in or out of the Church, it is the real spirit of the world. It will tolerate and even approve a modified system of evangelical truth, while the entire and unflinching presentment of the gospel in its native simplicity and spirituality is unacceptable. Mr. Cecil remarksÂ—’There is too much of a low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind, among us. We are laying ourselves out, more than is expedient, to meet one man’s taste, and another man’s prejudices. The ministry is a grand and holy affair; and it should find in us a simple habit of spirit, and a holy but humble indifference to all consequences.’
Our general ministration is also ‘sore let and hindered’ by this principle. Indeed the subterfuges of cowardice and self-deception are endless, when “the wisdom of this world” has begun to prevail against the simplicity of faith. How seldom do the rich and poor share alike in the faithfulness of ministerial reproof! How hard is it, instead of “receiving honour one of another,” to seek the honour that cometh from God only! How ready are we to listen to cautions from influential quarters against excessive zeal! How much more afraid are we of others going too far, than of coming short ourselves of the full requisitions of the Scriptural standard!Â—sometimes preferring intercourse with our brethren of a lower standard, or even with the world, rather than with those whose ministry most distinctly bears the mark of the cross! In how many cases of conviction is the “light hid under a bushel,” or exhibited only to the friends of the gospel! How many shrink from “witnessing a good confession,” except under the shelter of some great name! How often are opportunities of usefulness neglected! and the “endurance of afflictions” in “making full proof of our ministry” (2 Tim. 4.5) avoided from the fear of the cross! ‘We cannot’ (we say) ‘do all at once. We hope to gain our point by little and little. We dare not, therefore, by taking a bold step upon the impulse of the moment, close the avenues of distant and important advantage.’ But does our conscience clear us of a desire to follow our Master, without “taking up the daily cross”? Are we not afraid of “being fools for Christ’s sake”? Do we not sometimes “become all things to all men,” when we ought to remember, that, “if we yet please men, we cannot be the servants of Christ” (Gal. 1.10). Christian prudence indeed is most valuable in its own place, connection, and measure; and the want of it brings with it great inconvenience. But except it be the
exercises of faith, combined with boldness and encircled with a warm atmosphere of Christian love, it will degenerate, and become the time-serving spirit of the world. “The fear of man” often assumes the name of prudence, while a worldly spirit of unbelief is the dominant, though disguised, principle.
But the fear of the professing church is also a serious part of this temptation. We are afraid to exhibit the doctrines of grace in their fulness and prominence, lest we should be thought unmindful of the enforcement of practical obligation. The freeness of the gospel invitations, and the unreserved display of evangelical privileges, are often fettered by the apprehension of giving indulgence to antinomian licentiousness. The fear of the imputation of legality restrains the detailed exposition of relative duties. What further proof need we of the baneful influence of this temptation, than the recollection of two apostles beguiled for a short moment to deny the faith of the gospel? (Gal. 2.11-14). “With me,” (said another apostle to his people, whose determined resistance to the weakness of his brethren was the honoured means of their restoration) “it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4.3). Indeed the want of singleness of aim obscures the work of grace in our own hearts; nor can we maintain our peace of mind, except we feel, that we have but One to pleaseÂ—that “One is our Master, even Christ” (Matt. 23.8). Nor is this supreme regard to our great Master less important, as insuring the success of our work. Where “the truth is imprisoned,”Â—if not “in unrighteousness”Â—yet in unbelief, there must be a want of power upon ministration.
The direct violation of Christian integrity has a necessary tendency to enfeeble exertion, by diverting our mind from that main object, which should be always directing our whole time and energies, and compared with which every other object is utterly unimportantÂ—the edification and salvation of our people. The voice of conscience and duty speaks with a weaker tone in a worldly atmosphere. The habits of self-indulgence are strengthened, and the exercises of self-denial proportionably diminished in frequency and effectiveness. Thus, as the heart is more in the world, it is less in our work; our duties are consequently performed with reluctance, and unproductive in their results. Though we would by no means advocate indiscretion, yet well-intentioned imprudence is far better than the frigid wisdom of this world; and it will invariably be found, that those that act openly with an honest freedom (though they may probably commit mistakes) will be generally borne out, and find their path ultimately smoothed; while the temporizing spirit, that aims to please both God and man, will meet with disappointment from both. Where God is not honoured. He will not honour. And in
defect of becoming Christian boldness, our people, under the influence of our example, will sink into the same benumbed spirit, while their confidence in us will be materially weakened by the manifest evidence of our inefficiency and unfruitfulness.
No less than four times in a single verse does God warn His prophet against this besetting temptation (Ezek. 2.6). At another time He threatens His timid messenger with utter confusion. Yet let the servant of God gird himself with his Christian panoply, and he will find ample provision made for his complete success. Let him study more deeply the high dignity of his glorious ministry (Jer.I.19). Let him seek to realize the presence of his heavenly Master “walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks,” to direct, invigorate and uphold “the angels of his churches” (Rev. 1.13-20). Let him associate himself with those ministers, who are delivered from this degrading bondage, and “professing a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6.12). Let him call out his Christian principles into more uniform and active operation. The fear of God will subjugate the fear of man; and, however strong the “confederacy,” if he “sanctify the Lord of Hosts, he will be a sanctuary to him” (Is. 8.12-14). Faith exercised in simplicity will bring to view an invisible and present GodÂ—a covering, in the endurance of the cross, even from “the wrath of the king” (Heb. II.27). ThusÂ—while “the fear of man bringeth a snare” it is writtenÂ—”whoso trusteth in the Lord shall be safe” (Prov. 29.25).
*Taken from The Christian Ministry. Originally printed in 1849 but reprinted by the Banner of Truth in 1959.