The Place Of Fear Among The Motives Of Religion -- By: Henry M. Whitney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:250 (Apr 1906)
Article: The Place Of Fear Among The Motives Of Religion
Author: Henry M. Whitney

The Place Of Fear Among The Motives Of Religion

Henry M. Whitney

There is much objection to the use, or even the thought, of fear in connection with religion. The current talk is thus: “I like a religion that tells me of the love of God”; “I do not believe in frightening people into goodness”; “I do not believe in a religion of fear.” These utterances come sometimes from people of so much real rightness of spirit, and of so much maturity of Christian character, that they are worthy of great respect and presumably contain much truth.

On the other hand, the Bible certainly appeals, and sometimes appeals strongly, to fear. We do not refer to that Old Testament “fear” which is said to be “the beginning” of both knowledge and wisdom:1 that “fear” we understand to be a thing much larger and more complex. Nor do we refer to that New Testament “fear”2 which was largely or wholly awe. We refer to a varied use, ranging from prudence to “terror.” There is no doubt of the fact: the Bible makes frequent and vivid appeal to fear, a use so frequent and so vivid that even the old style of preaching could quote much of the Bible in its efforts to produce alarm.

What, then, is the right thing to do? What is the golden mean? What is the deeper spirit of the Bible? What is the usage, and what the dictate of the spirit, of Christ? Philosophically, psychologically, practically, what is the place of fear among the motives of religion?

For a safe and well-balanced answer to this question we should naturally look first at the analogies of all human life. There is a recognized place for fear in the relations of man to himself, to his fellow-men, and to nature; we should presume that, at bottom and in the larger view, the Bible would be found to use fear in the same way as a motive in the relations of man to his own conscience, to his whole spiritual being, and to the government of God; and that the two uses of fear could be made to seem to us equally right.

For religion looks at a man in various ways: as a being who is invited to have friendship with God; and as a being who is under obligation to obey the commands of God. However much we may explain away as metaphorical the vividness of the Bible in taking these views of man, there always remains the fact that religion regards him also as a being who must be true to his own best self, if he is to make out a life worth living or get “an abundant entrance “into the life beyond.

To the first two of these views of man correspond, between man and man, the relations of ...

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