A FEAR OF TRUE RELIGION
A Sermon by the late Professor R. A. Finlayson
“And they were afraid.” Luke 8.25.
In Luke chapter eight and from verse 22 to 40, we see our Lord at the heart of two great storms; first the storm at sea, and next the storm in a man’s personality, in a man’s nature, in the Gadarene. He was Master of the situation in each case, but the strange thing was that the reaction to His wonderful power was fear. Particularly is it strange that the reaction to this wonderful case of healing and restoration was that the Gadarenes were afraid. And the fear spread until they begged Jesus to leave their district. If they had been afraid when the man was a raving idiot it were understandable, but with reason restored, sitting in peace and sanity it seems difficult to understand. May I suggest to you that this is a very common attitude to vibrant, living religion. Men are afraid of it; they want to leave it alone, and put as great a distance between it and themselves as they can.
1. Afraid of a power that changes lives.
Now, let us try to understand what that fear is; what it arises from. First of all, I think, they were afraid of a power that changes lives. Men do not like radical changes, they are disturbed. As the Psalmist quaintly puts it, “Because they have no changes, they fear not God”. They are living on the dead levels and changes are disturbing. But now, manifestly, they were in the presence of a great power. A power that was new to them; a power that operated in a human life as never before. Several attempts had been made to deal with this demented man. Mark says that his friends tried to tame him, but they failed. Then they tried to chain him, but the chains were broken, and then Christ set about to change him. The first two are human methods; the method of education is to tame human beings, often by culture, to tame our nature; the method of detention is to chain, to put human nature in fetters. But this is the Divine method, to change, and Christ did change him and that was obvious to everybody, and it was terribly disconcerting; they were afraid! There was patently a change of mind in this man, he was now in his right mind; this meant that the derangement was gone, the frenzy subsided, reason was restored and enthroned, the look of terror was gone, the mad man’s hunted look gave place to peace. Patently, a change of mind.
There was also obviously a change of character; his appearance had dramatically changed. Once he was naked, bound with fetters, dishevelled and distracted, now he is clothed, at peace and rest. Is that, you say, worth mentioning? Oh, yes. I remember when out in Africa at a native meeting, I saw two young men entering the service, and I was struck by their clothing and their immaculate appearance. The old red blanket was gone, the trinkets on neck and hands and ankles were gone, and there were two beautifully clothed young men. I asked the missionary, “Who are these two young men?” He said, “Oh, they were converted three weeks ago”. And what a transformation in three weeks! You see, the normality of Christian character is part of the restoration of Christ. I do put it to you that clothing is a key to character, and a lot of the erratic clothing of today is a sign of a sense of deficiency, something to make up for, but when men find peace and restoration, they do not need this. They are clothed.
And there is also a change in his environment, and we are all keen on environment now. Once he was living among the tombs, he belonged to the dead rather than to the living. Gone to the grave before his time. Buried half alive. Entombed with the breath still in his body. That was his whole habitat, his whole environment; that was his outlook. Now, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus. What a change of environment! And at the feet of Jesus, you know, many and very diverse characters find a sitting place, a haven, and a resting place.
We can think of a few who sat there, can we not? Mary of Bethany sat at the feet of Jesus and drank His word. The woman known as the city sinner sat there with her heart overflowing with gratitude to her Saviour. Jairus, the ruler of the Jews sat there an earnest suppliant seeking the Master’s help in his domestic crisis. And then they are joined by the Gadarene maniac, a trophy of grace. What wonderful, diverse characters! They are all at home at the feet of Jesus. There they all find a resting place, a place of refuge. And so the Gadarene gave every evidence that he was restored, in his right mind, in his right character, and in his right place. That was the naturalness of the supernatural! And their reaction was, they were afraid. If they had been afraid when there was a raving maniac about, it could be understood. To be afraid now? ah yes, they felt there was a power at work which they could not control, which they could not understand, which they could not penetrate into, but it changed human lives so completely and radically, and in the presence of that, men and women are still afraid. That is why they give the cold shoulder to vital religion, it goes too far.
2. Afraid of a power that casts out devils.
I would like to suggest a second reason for their fear. They were afraid of a power that changes lives by casting out devils that are within. There was interference with a man’s inner life. Others dealt with his symptoms, his mad outbursts, his wild frenzy, his unruly behaviour. They did their utmost to curb them, but the real source of it all was within; they were only dealing with the symptoms. Christ came to deal with the disease. It was a case of what the New Testament describes as demonic possession. We know very little of the activity of the spirit world and we must be reserved, very reserved in explaining it. Very little is known of the malignant evil spirits that prowl around making human characters their prey and making contacts where they can; their mission being to thwart and to oppose the holy will of God.
This man then, was devil-possessed: that was the root of his troubles. Evil spirits from without came in and took over, took over completely; first to dethrone his reason. Reason it is that makes us like God and so, in hatred to God, they attacked his reason first. The warfare on the floor of his nature was too much for him. He felt as if there was a legion, a regiment of the Roman army, doing battle within him, and he was no match for it. Not only did they destroy his reason, they destroyed his liberty. Freedom of choice is a divine gift to us; they attacked that. They took over and put his liberty in fetters. His self-command, his self-control was lost. They stripped him of his manhood. Man was made in the image of God and he became the special target for malignant forces from without. Hating God, they hated the man that bore His image. So you can see the cause for this conflict within, a legion of impostors, evil appetites, evil desires and animosities ravaged his inner being, they completely took control. “We control the man”, they said. So the poor man felt that there was a battle being raged on the floor of his own manhood. His nature was torn, lacerated, hurt, between conflicting forces of evil, and he feared when he sensed that another power was coming in. “Torment me not”, he cried to Christ, “I have enough to contend with, Torment me not”. But coming in it was, it must be, if it was to meet the desperate condition that had its roots deep in his nature. So, vital religion works from within, in mind, and heart, and spirit.
One good man cried, “Dear Lord, that evil, lascivious face that leers in my own soul, wilt Thou not smash it with Thy Cross, and let me flee it all?” These inner devils of greed, and lust, and passion, and hatred had arisen, and only Jesus Christ and His Father, God, can deal with it within, and when his fellow men saw this and recognised this, they were afraid. To have Christ enthroned within and His Spirit dominating every thought and silent action, that is far too radical; it is like being born again, like a resurrection from the dead, like being taken home alive from the tomb. You know, the woman of Samaria felt the same way, when she sensed that Christ was interfering in her inner life, that He was opening a well of pure water in the swamp of her nature, she drew back from it, she put every obstacle in its way. She dreaded this inner interfering with her womanhood, with her being. Friend, that is where vital religion meets with human opposition; fear that it was too deep. If it stayed on the surface, if it was only superficial, if it was only appearance, it could be put up with. But no, it claims the heart, the mind, the spirit, all in the name of Christ. And men are afraid of it.
3. Afraid of a power that destroys valued possessions.
The third reason I would like to give is that they were afraid of the power that, in casting out devils, destroys valued possessions. Those pigs! What happened to them could not be so easily tolerated. The Jews were forbidden to stock pigs. The Samaritans were half- Jew, and it is interesting to know that they chose the half that suited them best on every occasion. If there was anything that would have given them greater standing, they claimed the Jewish side. And the Samaritans took up the pig business; they had what we would call today a ‘corner import’. They made profit from this illicit gain, and now all was swallowed up by the sea. Not a trace of it left behind, so they prayed Him to depart out of their coast. What about a demented man being healed? That was nothing. The pig industry was not safe as long as Jesus was in the district.
Let us remind ourselves then that Christ, when he enters a life, destroys what ought not to be there, what is forbidden. You know, instinctively, even if you do live in this permissive age, you know that some things are wrong, they are tainted. To tear them away, may be as painful as plucking out an eye, or cutting off a hand. It is the amputation of the deceased member in order that the body may live. You remember that was what Zacchaeus, the rich tax-gatherer did when Christ entered his house. It is a solemn moment when Christ enters any home, but it is more solemn when He enters a rich man’s home, for many things are patently wrong. Zacchaeus felt it and immediately he began the dismantling. He took it down at once and he says, I will no longer possess that, I must let it go and make amends. The forbidden is recognised; it is repudiated and it is cast out when Christ enters in.
Let us remind ourselves again that Christ, when He enters a life, destroys anything that may hinder your progress. It may be lawful, but it is not expedient. It is one of those things that can easily beset you, that trips you, that defeats your efforts in a spiritual way.
Now, there are things that we recognise as lawful. There is the liquor trade, but what peril, oh, what peril it brings. The famous Mr. Lachlan Mackenzie, in his native parish, is said to have been approached on one occasion by a man in his congregation and asked, “I am thinking of taking a public house, Mr. Lachlan, what advice would you give me?” And Mr. Lachlan said, “Well, if you are going to be a successful publican, you will need three things; the tail of a dog, the face of a lion, and the snout of a pig”. “What?”, he says. “Yes, you need the tail of a dog to wag and to invite as many as you can in to your premises. You need the face of a lion to stand up to everything that is thrust on you there, and you need the snout of a pig to swallow up anything that is put in front of you without asking any questions”. The man waved his hands to heaven, and he said, “Minister, I will have nothing to do with it”. Lawful, but oh, perilous. Not expedient, and when you become a Christian you will recognise that Christ will give no quarter to what will endanger and imperil your soul.
But I have to go further and say that Christ demands that you are going to surrender whatever he sees fit to demand of you. It may be left with others but not with you. Ah, that is difficult. His love is individual, personal, and it lays its tender touch on you and says, “Not you, others can have it, but not you”. That is what happened with the rich young ruler. His nature was sensitive, tender, moral, beautiful, and Christ asked him to sell up all that he had. He put His hand on his capital. Why? Because that was the anchor that kept him rooted in things that destroy the soul. He had to part with that, others might not, but he had to. You see, he offered him something else, but to the rich young ruler, Christ’s demands were too demanding. Sell out. The demand was too sweeping. An offer of treasure in heaven, ah, that was too different. And the price of discipleship, “Take up your cross and follow me”. It was too costly and the young man could not take it; the answer went too deep, and he went away sorrowful. The sob of that lost soul rings in the Gospel story to this day. He was rich, and he could not wrest himself from his fetters, he was anchored in his worldly possessions. Friend, when Christ enters in, where is that possession which cannot be surrendered at His bidding? Anything that is tainted must be parted with. Anything that is perilous, recognisably perilous to your witness must be shunned. But anything on which He puts his finger and says, “That is not for you”, you must accept it willingly; it is Love that speaks. He knows, He understands, and we must accept His lovingkindness.
Now, what shall we say, then? Vital religion causes man to change, to change so radically that men become afraid of it. As we see the Gadarene, once a maniac, now wend his way to his old home, a new man, the first missionary of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Had they reason to be afraid? Yes, on their terms, yes, they were afraid. He was recognisably the same, but oh, so different. And I venture to say again, Christ does not destroy your individual personality, but He lifts it from the mire, from chaos, futility, and confusion. As Christ’s man, you have to leave behind anything that would mar your witness, that would fetter your service, that would confuse your message to men. And of that you need not to be afraid. He will compensate you ten thousandfold in this life, and much more in the life to come. There is freedom, a freedom indeed!