Master Sermon List
Evil Effects of Unbelief
by John Flavel
"Why are ye so fearful, and how is it that ye have no faith?" Mark 4:40
The less faith, still the more fear. Fear is generated by unbelief, and unbelief strengthened by fear. As in nature there is an observable circular generation, vapors beget showers, and showers new vapors, so it is in things moral, and therefore all the skill in the world can never cure us of the disease of fear till God first cures us of our unbelief.
Christ therefore took the right method to rid his disciples of their fear by rebuking their unbelief. The remains of this sin in God's own people are the cause and fountain of their fears; and more particularly to show how fear is generated by unbelief let a few particulars be needfully adverted to.
1. Unbelief weakens and stumbles the assenting act of faith, and thereby cuts off from the soul, in a great measure, its principal relief against dangers and troubles. It is the use and office of faith to realize to the soul the invisible things of the world to come, and thereby encourage it against the fears and dangers of the present world. Thus "Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing him that is invisible."
If this assenting act of faith be weakened or staggered in the soul; if once invisibles seem uncertainties, and visibles the only realities, no wonder we are so scared and frightened when these visible and sensible comforts are exposed and endangered, as they often are and will be in this mutable world. That man must needs be afraid to stand his ground that is not thoroughly persuaded the ground he stands on is firm and good; it is not to be wondered that men should tremble, who seem to feel the ground shake and reel under them.
2. Unbelief shuts up the refuges of the soul in the divine promises, and, by leaving it without those refuges, must needs leave it in the hands of fears and terrors. That which fortifies and emboldens a Christian in evil times is his dependence on God for protection. "I fly unto thee to hide me." The cutting off this retreat, which nothing but unbelief can do, deprives the soul of all those succors and supports which the promises afford, and, consequently, fills the heart with anxiety and fear.
3. Unbelief makes man negligent and careless in providing for troubles before they come, and so brings them by the way of surprise upon them; and the more surprising any evil is, the more frightful it is always found to be. We can not think that Noah was so affrighted at the flood, when it began to swell above all the hills and mountains, as all the rest of the world were; nor was there any reason that he should, having foreseen it by faith, and made provision for it. "By faith Noah, being warned of God, prepared an ark."
Augustine relates a very pertinent and memorable story of Paulinus, bishop of Nola, who was a very rich man both in goods and grace. He had much of the world in his hands, but little of it in his heart; and it was well there was not, for the Goths, a barbarous people, breaking into that city like so many devils, fell upon their prey. Those that trusted to the treasures which they had were deceived and ruined by them, for the rich were put to tortures to confess where they had hid their moneys.
This good bishop fell into their hands, and lost all he had, but was scarce moved at the loss, as appears by his prayer, which my author relates thus: "Lord, let me not be troubled for my gold and silver; thou knowest it is not my treasure that I have laid up in heaven according to thy command. I was warned of this judgment before it came, and provided for it; and where all my interest lies, Lord, thou knowest."
Thus Mr. Bradford, when the keeper's wife came running into his chamber suddenly with words able to have put the most of men in the world into a trembling posture, "Oh Mr. Bradford! I bring you heavy tidings; tomorrow you must be burned, and your chain is now buying." He put off his hat, and said, "Lord, I thank thee. I have looked for this a great while; it is not terrible to me. God, make me worthy of such a mercy." See the benefit of a prospect of and preparation for sufferings!
4. Unbelief leaves our dearest interests and concerns in our own hands; it commits nothing to God, and, consequently, must needs fill the heart with distracting fears when imminent dangers threaten us.
Reader, if this be thy case, thou wilt be surrounded with terrors whenever thou shalt be surrounded with dangers and troubles. Believers in this, as well as in many other things, have the advantage, that they have committed all that is precious and valuable to them into the hand of God by faith; to him they have committed the keeping of their souls and all their eternal concerns; and these being put into safe hands, they are not distracted with fears about other matters of less value, but can trust them where they have entrusted the greater, and enjoy the quietness and peace of a resigned soul to God.
But as for thee, thy life, thy liberty, yea, which is infinitely more than all these things, thy soul, will lie upon thy hands in the day of trouble, and thou wilt not know what to do with them, nor which way to dispose of them. Oh! these be the dreadful straits and frights that unbelief leaves men in; it is a fountain of fears and distractions. And, indeed, it can not but distract and confound carnal men, in whom it reigns and is in its full strength, when sad experience shows us what fears and tremblings the remains of this sin beget in the best men who are not fully freed from it.
If the unpurged remains of unbelief in them can thus darken and cloud their evidences, thus greaten and multiply their dangers; if it can draw such sad and frightful conclusions in their hearts, notwithstanding all the contrary experience of their lives, what panic fears and unrelieved terrors must it put those men under where it is in its full strength and dominion?