The fear of man brings a snare: but whoever puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.
Every passion of the soul may be of use to us, but is capable also, by being perverted, of causing much vexation and misery to ourselves and injury to our fellow-creatures. Year, while it proceeds from right principles, and is proportioned to the weight and moment of the evils about which it is conversant, must serve the most beneficial purposes, as it warns us where our greatest danger lies, and strongly prompts us to avoid it. But the case is quite otherwise when it forms imaginary dangers and alarms with false terrors. Then our fears turn us aside from our duty, and in avoiding trifling evils we run ourselves into greater.
I. WHAT IS THE FEAR OF MAN? A reverence of human authority and customs, and a dread of the censure and reproaches of our fellow-creatures.
1. There is a reverence due to human authority in all points that do not exceed the just bounds of it, and the paying this regard is absolutely necessary to hold the frame of civil societies together. The ends of society cannot be secured but by mutual condescension and respect, and the compliance and submission of the minor part, in things lawful.
2. A man ought to be afraid of censure and reproach being fixed upon him, and anxious to deliver and clear himself from it. Men must be of a temper quite stupid if they have no fear at all of public reproach and infamy, and must lose a very powerful restraint from mean, ungenerous, and disgraceful practices.
3. We are guilty of the utmost rashness and folly if we expose ourselves to the resentments of our fellow-men unnecessarily. And a dread of those punishments which the civil magistrate inflicts is not only lawful, but necessary. Thus far, then, the fear of man may be defended and justified.
II. IN WHAT SENSE. IT BRINGETH A SNARE. It throws temptations in men's way which are likely to prevail so far as to destroy all improvements in true wisdom and virtue.
1. Suppose a man, under the influence of this slavish principle, engages in search after truth, what proficiency is it possible for him to make? In order to making improvements in Divine knowledge it is absolutely necessary that the mind be free, calm, and unruffled, under no restraint or terror. There must be no corrupt passion to darken the understanding, nor private interest to mislead and pervert it.
2. It is as great an absurdity to expect that one who is dispirited by worldly fears should be a confessor and martyr for true religion as that a coward should be brave and valiant. Slavish fear of man leads men even to revile and banter the truth.
3. This fear will have the same malignant influence upon our morals as upon our faith. When it rises to such a height as to overrule the dictates of natural conscience, and entirely to destroy the strength and constancy of our minds, we are an easy prey to every temptation, and lie open to the most desperate and abandoned wickedness. If it be our ultimate view to secure the countenance and favour of persons in authority and avoid their displeasure, this likewise will subject us to many snares and inconveniences.
III. OFFER SOME REMEDIES AGAINST THIS FEAR OF MAN.
1. Maintain and improve in our minds a strong sense of the necessary difference between good and evil.
2. Add a becoming sense of the dignity of our nature.
3. Trust in God, as advised in the latter part of the text.
4. Cultivate a supreme reverence for God. These two — fear of man and fear of God — are absolutely inconsistent, and cannot subsist together.
Parallel VersesKJV: The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.