Fear of the Future by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Spiritual Depression—Its Causes and Cure” published in 1965.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 timothy 1:7 KJV)
IN these words we are directed to yet another cause of the condition which we have described in general as spiritual depression. There is almost no end to the ways in which this condition, this disease of the soul, may take us or may attack us. We have demonstrated how our adversary, the devil, is subtle, and can even transform himself into an angel of light, and that is very true. But it is equally true to say of him that he is relentless. I mean by that, that he does not cease or give up. He does not care what methods he employs so long as he can bring us down and discredit the work of God; and he is not concerned about consistency. He does not hesitate to vary his procedure, his approach, he does not hesitate to contradict what he had said to us previously; he has but one object and one concern and that is to bring into disrepute the Name and the work of God, and especially, of course, the great work of God in our redemption through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When God originally made and created this world, we are told that ‘God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good’. He was well pleased with it; it was perfect. And it was because of that that the devil in his jealousy and his malice was determined to mar and ruin that work and to concentrate his efforts especially upon the supreme work of God which was the creation of man. If only he could bring man down, then the very acme of creation would be marred. So he concentrated, as we remember, upon the woman and beguiled her and she in turn misled her husband; and so man fell. But the story of humanity does not end at that point. God purposed and planned a great way of redemption. This is beyond any question the outstanding glory of God. Redemption is a greater work even than creation, and especially when we consider the way in which God has achieved it, even through the sending of His only Begotten
Son into this world in all the marvel and the wonder and the miracle of the Incarnation, but above all in delivering Him up to the Death upon the Cross. This is the supreme thing—that sinful fallen man can be redeemed and restored, and ultimately the whole of creation also. Obviously, therefore, the supreme concern of the adversary, the devil, the opponent, is to endeavour somehow or other, to bring this work of God to discredit and to dishonour. To this end he makes a special object of attacking the heirs of salvation, Christian people, and there is nothing which so suits his purpose as to depress us and to bring us down, to give the impression that this boasted salvation is but a figment of the imagination, and that we who believe it have believed ‘cunningly devised fables’. And what better way of doing that than to bring us into such a condition that we give the impression of being depressed, burdened and miserable?
We have seen how the devil seeks to depress us by getting us to concentrate our gaze upon the past, so that by dwelling on the past we become cast down. But if that fails, we may anticipate that he will change his procedure entirely and begin to make us look to the future. This is exactly what he does, and that is what we have in this particular verse that we are looking at now. We are going to consider the case of those who are suffering from spiritual depression because they are afraid of the future—fear of the future.
Now this again is a very common condition and it really is most extraordinary to notice the way in which the enemy often produces the self-same fundamental condition in the same people by these apparently diametrically opposed methods. When you have put them right about the past, they immediately begin to talk about the future, with the result that they are always depressed in the present. You have satisfied them about forgiveness of sin, yes, even that particular sin which was so exceptional. You have shown them that, though they have wasted years, He will ‘restore the years that the locust hath eaten’. And then they say, ‘Ah, yes, but . . . ,’ and they begin to talk about fears concerning the future and what lies ahead.
There is a great deal of teaching with respect to this in the Scriptures, but I am sure I am right when I say that the supreme example of this particular condition is undoubtedly this man Timothy to whom the Apostle wrote this Epistle together with the previous one. It was, without doubt, his peculiar problem and it is certain that the Apostle wrote both these letters to him because of that. He was very dependent upon Paul because of his fears of difficulties and dangers to come, and the whole object of both the Epistles is to put Timothy right with respect to this problem of facing the future. Now we must not spend our time with Timothy as such, I merely quote him as an example of one who was spiritually depressed because of his fear of the future.
What are the causes of this condition? Why is it that people suffer from fear of the future? What are the reasons which they give for it? What are the particular aspects of the difficulty and what are the problems which it tends to produce and about which its victims are always speaking? Well, there can be no doubt at all that first and foremost among causes we must put temperament—the particular make-up. We are all born different. No two of us are exactly the same; we have our own particular characteristics, our virtues, our failures, our weaknesses and our blemishes. The human person is very delicately and finely balanced. Fundamentally we all have the same general characteristics, but the relative proportions vary tremendously from case to case, and so our temperaments vary and differ. It is very important that we should bear that in mind. ‘But, ah,’ says someone, ‘we are Christians now, and when a person becomes a Christian all such differences are demolished.’ Now that is the essential fallacy with respect to this whole matter. There is no profounder change in the universe than the change which is described as regeneration; but regeneration—the work of God in the soul by which He implants a principle of divine and spiritual life within us—does not change a man’s temperament. Your temperament still remains the same. The fact that you have become a Christian does not mean that you cease to have to live with yourself. You will have to live with yourself as long as you are alive, and yourself is your self and not somebody else’s self. Paul was essentially the same man after his salvation and conversion as he was before. He did not become somebody else. Peter is still Peter, John is still John, temperamentally and in essential characteristics. That is where the glory of the Christian life is seen. It is like the variety in nature and creation. Look at the flowers. No two are identical. It is in the variety within the fundamental unity that God displays the wonders of His ways. And it is exactly the same in the Christian Church. We are all different, our temperaments are different, we are all ourselves. That is one of the great glories of the Church. God distributes his gifts through the Holy Spirit in divers manners, though our essential personality remain exactly the same as it was before our conversion. I mean by personality our temperament, the peculiar way in which we do things. We do the same things but we do them differently. As Christians we must all do the same essential things, but the way in which we do them is different. Think of the difference in preachers preaching the same gospel and living the same Christian life; yet their manner of presentation is different, and is meant to be different. And God uses these differences in order to spread the gospel. He can use one man to make the message appeal to a certain type, while another person could not be used in that respect. Different presentations appeal to different people, and rightly so, and God makes use of all.
So first of all we put temperament; and there are some people who by temperament are nervous, apprehensive, frightened. Paul himself was, I believe, an instance of this. He was a nervous man, lacking in self-confidence in the natural sense. He went to Corinth ‘in weakness and fear and much trembling’. He was a naturally timorous man—‘without were fightings, within were fears’. That was the man by nature. It was especially true of Timothy also, and there are people who are born like that. There are other people who are self-confident and assured; they are afraid of nothing; they will tackle anything; they will stand up anywhere. They do not know the meaning of nerves. These two types of people are Christians and yet in that respect they are different, vitally and fundamentally different. There are some Christians who can only with the greatest difficulty, be persuaded to speak in public, and there are others who are the exact opposite. This question of temperament is, therefore, an important one in our consideration of the causes of this particular form of anxiety and depression.
Then there are other things which emerge as you consider the case of the people who fear the future. You will find that they are always concerned about the nature of the task confronting the Christian. They have a very high conception of the Christian cause (if we may judge by the things they say), they have an exalted idea of the Christian life. These people realize that it is not an easy thing to be a Christian, that it is not just a matter of being converted and then lying on a bed of roses for the rest of your life. No, they see it as a high calling, a fight of faith; they see the exalted character of the life; they see it means following Christ. They read their New Testament and—invariably they are intelligent people—they are aware of the greatness of the task and of the calling. But that in turn tends to depress them because they are equally aware of their own smallness. In other words they have a fear of failure. They are afraid of letting down the cause. They say: ‘I like the gospel. I believe my sins are forgiven. I want to be a Christian, but I am so afraid I will fail. All is well while I am in meetings or in the company of Christian people, but I have to live and I know myself and my weakness, I know the greatness of the task and I know the difficulties.’ They are afraid of failure; they do not want to let down God and the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church on earth. Who are they to live the Christian life? The greatness of the task and their acute awareness of their own deficiencies and needs oppresses them. Or it may be that they just suffer from a kind of general fear of the future, while they cannot put their finger on anything in particular. You ask them if they are afraid of any one special thing and they do not know, but they have this general fear, this apprehensiveness with regard to the future, of things that may happen, of things they may be called upon to suffer. I have often had to deal with such people, I remember a lady telling me: ‘Well, yes, I do believe, but I do not know that I can call myself a Christian.’ When I said: ‘Why can’t you?’ Her reply was something like this: ‘I have been reading about people in the past and people in the present who are being persecuted for Christ’s sake, and I have tried to imagine myself having to face that position’. She had a little boy of three at the time and she said: ‘You know, if it really became a question of denying my faith or giving up this boy I do not know what I would say; I do not think I would be strong enough; I doubt if I would have the courage to put Christ first at all costs or perhaps to suffer death if necessary’. And she therefore thought she had no right to call herself a Christian. Now she had never been, and indeed might never be, put to such a test, but she was conscious of the possibility and it was depressing her. Such spiritual depression is due to fear of the future—often imaginary fears.
We must not stay with these descriptions though we could multiply the cases. The remarkable thing is that it is possible for such things so to grip us as to paralyse us completely in the present; such people are very often in danger of being so absorbed and gripped by these fears that they really become ineffective in
the present. There is no doubt at all that that was the essence of the trouble with Timothy. Paul was in prison and Timothy began to wonder what was going to happen to him. What if Paul were to be put to death? How could he, Timothy, face alone the difficulties that were arising in the Church and the persecution that was beginning to show itself and in which he Timothy himself, might be involved? So Paul had to be quite firm with him: and he tells him that he must not be ashamed of him and his suffering—‘Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God’. Fear of the future was undoubtedly the essence of Timothy’s trouble.
The question for us is, how are we to deal with the condition; how is it to be treated? Once more I cannot think of any better way than to adopt the procedure we adopted with our previous problem. There are certain preliminary general considerations before we come to the precise teaching of Scripture. So I would lay down certain propositions. The first thing here again is to discover, and to know exactly where to draw the line between legitimate forethought and paralyzing forethought. Now it is right that we should think about the future, and it is a very foolish person who does not think about it at all. But what we are always warned against in Scripture is about being worried about the future. Take no thought for the morrow,’ means ‘Do not be guilty of anxious care about the morrow’. It does not mean that you do not take any thought at all, otherwise the farmer would not plough and harrow and sow. He is looking to the future, but he does not spend the whole of his time wondering and worrying about the end results of his work. No, he takes reasonable thought and then he leaves it. Here again the whole question is where to draw the line. Thinking is right up to a point, but if you go beyond that point it becomes worry and anxiety and it paralyses and cripples. In other words, although it is very right to think about the future, it is very wrong to be controlled by it. The difficulty with people who are a prey to these fears is that they are controlled by the future, they are dominated by thoughts of it, and there they are wringing their hands, doing nothing, depressed by fears about it. In fact, they are completely governed and mastered by the unknown future, and that is always wrong. To take thought is right, but to be controlled by the future is all wrong. Now that is a fundamental proposition and the world has discovered it. It has told us not to cross our bridges until we get to them. Put that into your Christian teaching, for the world is right there, and the Christian must accept that wisdom. Don’t cross your bridges until you come to them. Indeed, many Scriptural statements to the same effect have become proverbial—‘take no thought for the morrow’, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. Certainly the New Testament raises that concept and puts it in its spiritual form. But it is true on the lowest level—‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. That is sound common sense. As we saw before, it is a waste of time to be concerned about the past which you cannot affect; but it is equally wrong to be worried about the future which at the moment is obscure. ‘One step enough for me.’ Live in the present to the maximum and do not let your future mortgage your present any more than you should let the past mortgage your present.
Now let us go on to what the Apostle says. He raises the reasoning to a higher level and gives us specific teaching of a twofold character. First of all, it is a reprimand, and secondly it is a reminder. Now both these are absolutely vital and essential. The first thing he does is to reprimand Timothy. He turns on him and says: ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear’. Now that is a reprimand. Timothy at the moment was guilty of the spirit of fear, he was gripped by it; so Paul reprimands him—‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind’. The principle, the doctrine here, is that our essential trouble, if we suffer from this particular manifestation of spiritual depression, is our failure to realize what God has given us, and is giving us, in giving us the gift of the Holy Ghost. That was really the trouble with Timothy as it is the trouble with all such Christians. It is a failure to realize what God has done for us, and what God is still doing in us. In fact, we can employ words which our Lord once used in a slightly different connection. In answering James and John who wanted to call fire from heaven to consume certain of the Samaritans, He said: ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’. Now that is what Paul is saying to Timothy. There it was negative, here it is positive. The Apostle has to tell Timothy to stir up the gift of God.
Our fears are due to our failure to stir up—failure to think, failure to take ourselves in hand. You find yourself looking to the future and then you begin to imagine things and you say: ‘I wonder what is going to happen?’ And then, your imagination runs away with you. You are gripped by the thing; you do not stop to remind yourself of who you are and what you are, this thing overwhelms you and down you go. Now the first thing you have to do is to take a firm grip of yourself to pull yourself up, to stir up yourself, to take yourself in hand and to speak to yourself. As the Apostle puts it, we have to remind ourselves of certain things. And as I understand it, the big thing that Paul is saying in effect to Timothy is: ‘Timothy, you seem to be thinking about yourself and about life and all you have to do as if you were still an ordinary person. But, Timothy, you are not an ordinary person! You are a Christian, you are born again, the Spirit of God is in you. But you are facing all these things as if you are still what you once were, an ordinary person’. And is not that the trouble with us all in this connection? Though we are truly Christian, though we believe the truth, though we have been born again, though we are certainly children of God, we lapse into this condition in which we again begin to think as if none of these things had happened to us at all. Like the man of the world, the man who has never been regenerated, we allow the future to come to us and to dominate us, and we compare our own weakness and lack of strength with the greatness of the calling and the tremendous task before us. And down we go as if we were but our natural selves. Now the thing to do, says Paul to Timothy, is to remind yourself that we have been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and to realize that because of this our whole outlook upon life and the future must therefore be essentially different. We must think of suffering in a new way, we must face everything in a new way. And the way in which we face it all is by reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit is in us. There is the future, there is the high calling, there is the persecution, there is the opposition, there is the enemy. I see it all. I must admit also that I am weak, that I lack the necessary powers and propensities. But instead of stopping there I must go on to say:
‘Yes, I know it all, but—’ And the moment I use that word ‘but I am doing what the Apostle wants me to do. I say: ‘But—but the Spirit of God is in me; God has given me His Holy Spirit’. The moment I say that the whole outlook changes. In other words, we have to learn to say, that what matters in any of these positions is not what is true of us but what is true of Him. Timothy by nature was weak and the enemy was powerful, and the task was great. Yes, but he must not think of himself alone or of the situation in terms of himself—‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear. He hath given us the Spirit of power’. So do not think of your own weakness; think of the power of the Spirit of God. It is when we begin to do that that we balance our doctrine and see the whole position clearly.
I have already been at pains to emphasize that all our temperaments are different, and I want to emphasize it again. But at this point I would say that, although our temperaments are different, our temperaments should not make any difference at all face to face with the task. Now here is the miracle of redemption. We are given our temperaments by God. Again all our temperaments are different and that also is of God. Yes, but it must never be true of us as Christians that we are controlled by our temperaments. We must be controlled by the Holy Ghost. You must put them in that order. Here are powers and capacities and here is your particular temperament that uses them, but the vital point is that as a Christian you should be controlled by the Holy Spirit. What is so tragically wrong in a Christian is that he should allow himself to be controlled by his temperament. The natural man is always controlled by his temperament, he cannot help himself; but the difference that regeneration makes is that there is now a higher control even over temperament. The moment the Holy Spirit enters in, He controls everything including temperament, and so He enables you to function in your own particular way through your temperament. That is the miracle of redemption. Temperament remains, but temperament no longer controls. The Holy Spirit is in control.
Let us now work it out in detail. ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear’. What, then, is the spirit He has given us? Notice. ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power—.’ That is what He puts first and rightly so. We have a task, we know our own weakness. Yes, but here is a power even for weaklings, and it means power in the most comprehensive sense conceivable. Are you afraid that you will not be able to live the Christian life? The answer is: ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do’. The fear and the trembling remain. That is partly your temperament, but you are enabled to work by the power ‘that worketh in you both to will and to do’. So you do not become a person who is not afraid and one who is no longer subject to fear. You still have to work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, but there is power in spite of that. It is the power of God working in you ‘both to will and to do of His good pleasure’. But this has reference not only to the question of living the Christian life, and battling with temptation and sin, it means also power to endure, power to go on whatever the conditions, whatever the circumstances, power to hold on and to hold out. Let me go further, it means that the most timorous person can be given power in all things, even to die. You see it in the apostles, you see it in a man like Peter who was afraid of death, afraid to die. He even denied his Lord because of that fear. He said: I do not know Him, I have had nothing to do with Him. He denied with oaths and cursings his own blessed Lord, his greatest benefactor, in order to save his life. But look at him afterwards in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit of power had entered into him and now he is ready to die. He will face the authorities, he will face anybody. That is one of the most glorious things in the long annals of the history of the Church, and it is still happening. I never tire of telling Christians to read the stories of the martyrs and the Confessors and the Protestant Fathers, of the Puritans and the Covenanters. Read their stories and you will find not only strong, courageous men, you will find weak women and girls and even little children dying gloriously for Christ’s sake. They could not in and of themselves, but they were given the spirit of power. Now that is what Paul means here. He says to Timothy: ‘Do not talk like that. You are talking as a natural man. You are talking as if you yourself with your own power have to face it all. But God has given you the spirit of power. Go forward. He will be with you. You won’t know yourself; you will be amazed at yourself. And even though it may mean facing death, you will rejoice that you have been accounted worthy to suffer shame and even death for His glorious Name’s sake’. Power! It is given. And what you and I have to do, as we are tempted to be depressed by the things which are against us, is to say: ‘I have the Holy Spirit, and He is the Spirit of power’.
Then the next thing he mentions is ‘love’. Now I find this most interesting and fascinating, I wonder how many of you would have put love at this point in our list? Why, do you think, does he put it here? What does he mean by it? ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power—.’ Yes, I understand that I need power. But love—why love? It is surely not love that this timorous person needs? Why does he put this second, the spirit of love? Here is a superb bit of psychology, for what after all, is the main cause of this spirit of fear? The answer is ‘self’—self-love, self-concern, self-protection. Had you realized that the essence of this trouble is that these fearful people are really too absorbed in self—how can I do this, what if I fail? ‘I’—they are constantly turning in upon themselves, looking at themselves and concerned about themselves. And it is just here that the spirit of love comes in, for there is only one way to get rid of yourself. There is only one cure for self. You will never deal with self yourself. That was the fatal fallacy of those poor men who became monks and anchorites. They could get away from the world and from other people, but they could not get away from themselves. Your self is inside you and you cannot get rid of him, the more you mortify yourself the more your self will torment you.
There is only one way to get rid of self, and that is that you should become so absorbed in someone or something else that you have no time to think about yourself. Thank God, the Spirit of God makes that possible. He is not only ‘the spirit of power’, but He is also ‘the spirit of love’. What does it mean? It means love to God, love to the great God who made us, love to the great God who has made the way of redemption for us miserable creatures—for us who deserve nothing but hell. He has ‘loved us with an everlasting love’. Think of that, says Paul to Timothy, and as you become absorbed in the love of God you will forget all about yourself. ‘The spirit of love!’ It will deliver you from self-interest, self-concern, and from depression about self, because depression results from self and self-concern. It gets rid of self at all points. So talk to yourself about this eternal, amazing love of God—the God Who ever looked upon us in spite of sin and planned the way of redemption and spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all.
What then? Go on to think of the love of the Son in its breadth, its length, its depth, its height; go on to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Think of Him who came from the Courts of Heaven and laid aside the insignia of His eternal glory and was born as a babe, worked as a carpenter and endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself. Think of Him into whose holy face men spat and on whose brow they pressed a crown of thorns and into whose hands and feet the nails were hammered. There He is on the Cross. What is He doing there? There He died for us, that you and I might be forgiven and reconciled to God. Think of His love, and as you come to know something about it, you will forget yourself.
And then, love of the brethren. Think of other people, their needs, their concerns. Shall I go on? Timothy seems to have been saying to himself ‘I might be put to death’. Paul Says: ‘Think of other people, look at those people perishing in their sins. Forget yourself’. Cultivate love for the lost and love for the brethren in the same way, and love for the greatest and noblest cause in the world, this blessed, glorious gospel. Work it out for yourselves. This is what the Apostle means by the spirit of power and the spirit of love. If you are consumed by this spirit of love you will forget yourself. You will say that nothing matters save the Christ who gave Himself for you, that nothing is too much for you to give. You will, like Count Zinzendorf have but one passion and it will be ‘He and He alone’. ‘The spirit of love!’
And, lastly, ‘a sound mind’—‘not the spirit of fear but the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind’. What does this mean? It is the right antidote for the spirit of fear—self-control, discipline, a balanced mind. Though you and I may be timorous and nervous, the Spirit that God has given us is the Spirit of control, the Spirit of discipline, the Spirit of judgment. Our Lord had already said all this before Paul thought of it. Paul is but repeating and giving an exposition of our Lord’s own teaching. You remember what He said to His disciples when He sent them out to teach. He warned them that they might be hated and persecuted and that a day might come when they would have to give up their lives, or certainly be put on trial for their lives. But He went on to say: ‘When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak’. You will be on trial in court and they will be doing everything to catch you in your words, but do not worry, says our Lord, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. You need not be afraid, you will not lose your nerve; you will not be so excited and alarmed that you will not know what to speak; it will be given you in that self-same hour what to speak. The spirit of wisdom and of a sound mind!
I can put this point very briefly in one illustration. It is the story of a comparatively young girl in the days of the Covenanters in Scotland. She was going to attend a Communion Service held by the Covenanters on a Sunday afternoon, and, of course, such Communion Services were absolutely prohibited. The soldiers of the King of England were looking everywhere for people who were going to meet together to partake in this Communion Service, and as this girl turned a corner on her way she came face to face with a band of soldiers, and she knew that she was trapped. For a moment she wondered what she was going to say, but immediately on being questioned she found herself answering: ‘My Elder Brother has died and they are going to read His will this afternoon, and He has done something for me and has left something for me, and I want to hear them read the will’. And they allowed her to go on. ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind’—wisdom, discretion, understanding. He will make you as wise as serpents; you will be able to make absolutely true statements to your enemies but the enemy will not understand, and you can escape. Ah, yes, her Elder Brother had died. Christ had died for her and in the Communion Service the will was going to be read out again and she was going to be reminded of what He had left for her and done for her. You see, the most ignorant and the most nervous in the Kingdom of Christ is given a sound mind and the spirit of wisdom. Don’t worry, says Christ, it shall be given you in that self-same hour what ye ought to speak. He will tell you what to do, He will tell you what to say, He will, if necessary, restrain you. We are not living on ourselves. We must not think of ourselves as ordinary people. We are not natural men; we are born again. God has given His Holy Spirit, and He is the spirit ‘of power and of love and of a sound mind’. Therefore to those who are particularly prone to spiritual depression through timorous fear of the future, I say in the Name of God and in the words of the Apostle: ‘Stir up the gift’, talk to yourself, remind yourself of what is true of you. Instead of allowing the future and thoughts of it to grip you, talk to yourself remind yourself of who you are and what you are, and of what Spirit is within you; and, having reminded yourself of the character of the Spirit, you will be able to go steadily forward, fearing nothing, living in the present, ready for the future, with one desire only, to glorify Him who gave His all for you. (92-105)