Psalm 56: 3, 4 reads: “3. What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee. 4. In God I will praise His word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” The Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon said, verse 3 was the “coach” way to heaven while verse 4 was the “first class” way. Indeed, better to have faith prevent fear than to answer fear. A better theologian than I, which is to say a more Lutheran one, said, when I shared this Spurgeon wisdom, “Isn’t it glorious that we have a Lord who says both?”
Yes, it is, especially when others don’t have the Lord at all. These can be divided into the obvious and the not so obvious, and long before Ablaze! was to have lit my fireI have been haunted by both. Consider the following examples from real life.
The obvious man without the Lord is the one strapped to the Louisiana electric chair circa 1940 waiting for government to use its power of the sword. He shakes uncontrollably. All of a sudden he starts to cry out in hysterical, sobbing tones, “Save me Joe Louis! Save me Joe Louis!” Living back in the day when Joe Louis was king of the boxing world, he was the greatest man alive, and this poor, lost soul cried out to him for salvation. But after all, great man that Joe Louis was, he was still just a man and could save no one from death, not even if he had died for them.
Those without the Lord in, with, under, and on them in Baptism, Absolution, or the Holy Communion have no one to trust when fear comes These are people obviously without the Lord. Their trust is in self, in science, in “not being sure.” The last group thinks keeping an open mind is somehow salvivic. All of these are obviously without the Lord; there are others who aren’t so obvious. They’re called “Bible believers.”
These are represented by the famous 13th century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas the sytematician of medevial Roman Catholic theology. As the Devil came to give him his due, as the wages of sin were about to be paid to Thomas, he frantically ctook the Bible in his arms and declared, “I believe what is in this book.”
“I believe the Bible,” is not a Christian confession of faith. Mormons, Muslims, and Unitarians can say, “I believe the Bible.” A Christian confession of faith states what you believe the Bible teaches. You know, I believe the Bible teaches “that Jesus Christ true God begotten of the Father before all worlds and true Man born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord.”
I believe the Yellow Pages. I believe the math book. I believe the atlas. I do not believe anything in any one of these saves me. I do believe that something in the Bible saves me. If I don’t know what that is, if I can’t say what it is, I don’t have a Christian confession of faith. I have the same “faith” that I do in phonebooks, textbooks, and map books. Such a “faith” saves no one.
If the Bible doesn’t create in you the Faith expressed in the Apostles Creed “believing the Bible” is not the answer when you’re afraid, and neither can it stave off fear before it gets to you. But don’t think I’m saying that everyone is afraid even on their deathbed. The Rich Man apparently died peacefully; the thief on the cross who died without Jesus isn’t reported to have died differently than the one who died with Him. We don’t read of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, or Adolph Hitler being frantic on their deathbeds. Some of these probably departed in a “first class” manner not afraid at all; others probably went “coach” having something to answer their fears.
Those who can approach death outside of Christ without fear are to be pitied above all. There’s always a chance the man who finds Joe Louis to be no answer to the fear of death can be reached. There’s always a chance the man who cannot find comfort in a generic belief in the Bible can be reached. But the man who thinks he has passage from this life to the next, be it coach or first class, is blissfully unafraid. As the man freezing to death thinks he’s sailing towards warmth, so the man sailing towards eternity without Christ thinks he’s heading “for a better place” right until he docks. Lord have mercy.