Faith and fear
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
25 Aug, 2022

David had many reasons to be afraid. More than once in his life, he was stalked and hunted and had to run for his life. Still today, many believers across the world live under constant harassment and persecution from those who hate them and their Lord. Where there is less fear of physical attack believers can still feel threatened by an atmosphere of hostility to Christian teachings and fearful of consequences for their jobs and social standing if they articulate biblical principles too freely. What can sustain God’s people in such fear-inducing situations? In the following updated extract, David Dickson traces David’s faith in his urgent prayer of Psalm 56. Faith expands our horizons so that, beyond the very palpable fears, we see the almightiness, goodness and faithfulness of our Saviour God. Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t feel afraid, but focusing on God by faith fortifies us so that we do not need to be sunk by our fears.

From the title of Psalm 56 and its opening verses we see that when David fled from one enemy, Saul, it was only to fall into the hands of another enemy. “The Philistines took him in Gath.” Then all men and all means failed him, and he saw no one but wolves and lions, ready to devour him. Bloodthirsty persecutors followed hard in pursuit of him without intermission, like dogs after their prey. “Mine enemies would daily swallow me up.” If there was one ringleader there was a multitude running with them. “Many are they that fight against me.”

Yet faith gets the victory over fear. In verses 3-4, David’s faith gets the victory by setting God’s Word against all difficulties, whether within or without him. As a consequence, David defies what man can do to him.

Faith does not eliminate fear

Although the godly are not so brave in their trials as not to feel their own infirmity, or not to be afraid, yet they are kept from fainting in their fear, by faith in God. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”

Also, although faith does not always exercise itself, yet when fear assaults the most, then faith in God manifests its force most evidently; for then especially by directing the person’s eye towards God, it settles a troubled mind, strengthens weak courage, and relieves the oppressed heart.

Faith fights with fear

Faith becomes valiant in fight. It may begin like a coward, and stagger in the first conflict, yet it grows brave, and pulls its adversaries underfoot. “In God I have put my trust, I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.”

Then, when faith prevails, fear ceases, and all the opposition of enemies is despised. “I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.”

Faith sees beyond the situation

The best hold that faith can have of God is to take Him by His Word, whatever His dispensation in providence seems to be. This will give satisfaction at length. To say, “In God I will praise his Word,” is as much as to say, “Even supposing He withholds comfort and deliverance from me, so that I cannot find what I want, yet let me have His Word, and I will give Him the glory of all His attributes.”

Faith anticipates the eventual deliverance

By verses 9-11, David is confident of routing all his enemies by prayer, and confident enough to defy all mortals by faith in God’s Word.

Laying out our cares and fears before God in prayer is a way to get a satisfactory deliverance by faith, even before the actual literal deliverance comes. “When I cry unto thee, then all mine enemies turn back.”

Faith fixes on God

If someone is reconciled to God, then when they pray to God in a good cause, they may be assured that God will own their quarrel, and give them the victory. David says, “This I know because God is for me.”

The special attribute of God which faith meets with, and which allows it to attain to rest and contentment in God, is His truth and fidelity in His promises. “In God I will praise his word.” Even if there is no sign of the promise being fulfilled, yet God’s Word is sure enough to fix upon.

Faith keeps growing

The grounds of faith are the more sweet and satisfactory, the more they are examined and looked at and compared with their effects. David is not content to say just the once, “In God I will praise his Word,” but with comfort and confidence he renews this commendation of God’s Word (verse 4, and twice in verse 10), as well as the benefit he has by it. “I will not be afraid what man can do unto me” (verse 4 and verse 10)

Our faith in God gets a reward from God

As it is necessary for our justification to believe in God, so is it necessary for our consolation to observe that we have believed. When we can do this, then we may promise to ourselves all the blessedness which belongs to the believer. For when we thus resolutely set our seal to God’s truth, believing, and asserting our believing, then He sets His seal to our faith, in comforting and relieving us.

Faith gives thanks

The psalm concludes with David, having now obtained deliverance by faith, obliging himself to thankfulness. He wishes to be preserved by God and enabled by God for the very purpose of giving God praise (verses 12-13).

As God puts the duty of glorifying Him on the supplicant, when He promises delivery to him, so may the supplicant put the obligation of glorifying God on himself, when he is praying for delivery out of his trouble. David says, “Thy vows are upon me, O God, I will render praises to thee.” An honest heart is no less desirous to perform the duty of praise to God after delivery, than he was ready to make his vow and promise before his delivery.

As deep dangers serve to uncover our weakness and our need of God’s help, so a well-seen danger makes clear the greatness of the deliverance. In turn, the greatness of the deliverance deciphers the wisdom, power and goodness of God to us, and of our obligation to Him. “I will render praises unto thee, for thou hast delivered my soul from death.”

Faith fortifies itself for the future

The right use of past dangers and deliverances is to prepare for new dangers and difficulties (for when one danger is past, this does not mean that all perils have past!). In so doing we renounce our own wisdom and strength as insufficient to preserve us from ruin either of soul or body, we give up ourselves to God’s guiding and preservation, and to depend on God, and we stedfastly hope to be directed and preserved by Him. All this is included in David’s words, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, wilt thou not preserve my feet from falling?”

What we intend in our desires to have deliverances and benefits from God should be that we may spend our life, and the gifts bestowed on us, sincerely in the service of God, for the edification of His people. “Wilt thou not preserve my feet from falling? that I may walk before God in the light of the living.”


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