“God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct. 1984, 2
First Presidency Message
“God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear”
An edited version of an address given 5 November 1983 to Latter-day Saint college students at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion.
As I have traveled throughout the world, and through the years of my life, I have met many people who have had problems and anxious concerns. In response to these challenges and concerns, I have often recalled some words that were written long ago by Paul the Apostle. At the time he was probably a prisoner in Rome, “ready to be offered,” as he said. (2 Tim. 4:6.) He had been a great missionary, unflagging in his testimony, zealous in his desire to bear testimony of the risen Lord. He knew his days were now numbered, and with great feeling he wrote to a junior companion, Timothy, whom he described as “my dearly beloved son”:
“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee. …
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:6–7.)
Who among us can say that he or she has not felt fear? I know of no one who has been entirely spared. Some, of course, experience fear to a greater degree than do others. Some are able to rise above it quickly, but others are trapped and pulled down by it and even driven to defeat. We suffer from the fear of ridicule, the fear of failure, the fear of loneliness, the fear of ignorance. Some fear the present, some the future. Some carry the burden of sin and would give almost anything to unshackle themselves from those burdens but fear to change their lives. Let us recognize that fear comes not of God, but rather that this gnawing, destructive element comes from the adversary of truth and righteousness. Fear is the antithesis of faith. It is corrosive in its effects, even deadly.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
These principles are the great antidotes to the fears that rob us of our strength and sometimes knock us down to defeat. They give us power.
What power? The power of the gospel, the power of truth, the power of faith, the power of the priesthood.
Last year much of the Christian world commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther, whom we honor as one of the great and courageous forerunners of the Restoration. I love the words of his magnificent hymn:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A tower of strength ne’er failing.
A helper mighty is our God,
O’er ills of life prevailing.
He overcometh all.
He saveth from the fall.
His might and pow’r are great.
He all things did create
And he shall reign forevermore.
(“A Mighty Fortress,” Hymns, no. 3.)
There is a mighty strength that comes of the knowledge that you and I are sons and daughters of God. Within us is something of divinity. One who has this knowledge and permits it to influence his life will not stoop to do a mean or cheap or tawdry thing.
Let us encourage the divinity within us to come to the surface. For example, we need not fear ridicule because of our faith. We all occasionally have felt a little of such ridicule. But there is a power within us that can rise above ridicule, that can, in fact, even turn it to good.
I remember hearing an experience of a high school girl who lived far from the headquarters of the Church and who successfully changed many of her friends. She and her friends, none of whom were members of the Church, talked of having a party. She spoke out affirmatively saying, “We can have a lot of fun, and we don’t need to drink.”
The wonderful thing is that her friends respected her. Furthermore, her strength built strength in others who developed the courage to be responsible and decent and moral because of her example. God has given us the power of the gospel to lift us above our fears.
God has given us the power of truth.
President Joseph F. Smith once declared: “We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination [or, I may say, no searcher of truth] in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 1.)
We have nothing to fear when we walk by the light of eternal truth. But we had better be discerning. Sophistry has a way of masking itself as truth. Half truths are used to mislead under the representation that they are whole truths. Innuendo is often used by enemies of this work as representing truth. Theories and hypotheses are often set forth as if they were confirmed truth. Statements taken out of context of time or circumstance or the written word are often given as truth, when as a matter of fact such procedure may be the very essence of falsehood.
John Jaques, the English convert to the Church, said it beautifully in these words which we now sing:
Then say, what is truth?
’Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Though the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst.
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.
(“Oh Say, What Is Truth?” Hymns, No. 143.)
We need not fear as long as we have in our lives the power that comes from righteously living by the truth which is from God our Eternal Father.
Nor need we fear as long as we have the power of faith. The Church has a host of critics and an army of enemies. They mock that which is sacred. They demean and belittle that which has come from God. They pander to the desires of others who evidently enjoy seeing that which is sacred made to look funny. I cannot think of anything less in harmony with the spirit of the Christ than this kind of activity.
We are pained by the desecration of that which to us is holy. But we need not fear. This cause is greater than any man. It will outlast all its enemies. We need only go forward by the power of faith without fear. Said the Lord in an early season of this work:
“Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. …
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 6:34, 36–37.)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13.)
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love. …”
Love of what? Love for the Lord, love for his work, his cause, and his kingdom; love for people, love for one another.
I have seen time and again that love of God can bridge the chasm of fear. Love for the Church can also lift one above doubt. I have told university students of my collegiate experience more than fifty years ago. In many ways that was a dismal period. It was a time of cynicism and much despair. It was the bottom of the Great Depression. The unemployment rate was above 30 percent when I was graduated in 1932. The United States and the entire world were in desperate straits. It was a time of soup lines and suicides.
Young people of college age are inclined to be a little critical and cynical anyway, but that attitude was compounded in the 1930s by the cynicism of the times. It was easy to wonder about many things, to question things in life, in the world, in the Church, in aspects of the gospel. But it was also a season of gladness and a season of love. Behind such thoughts, there was for me an underlying foundation of love that came from great parents and a good family, a wonderful bishop, devoted and faithful teachers, and the scriptures to read and ponder.
Although in our youth we had trouble understanding many things, there was in our hearts something of a love for God and his great work that carried us above any doubts and fears. We loved the Lord and we loved good and honorable friends. From such love we drew great strength.
How great and magnificent is the power of love to overcome fear and doubt, worry and discouragement.
“God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
What did Paul mean by the words, a sound mind? I think he meant the basic logic of the gospel. To me the gospel is not a great mass of theological jargon. It is a simple and beautiful and logical thing, with one quiet truth following another in orderly sequence. I do not fret over the mysteries. I do not worry whether the heavenly gates swing or slide. I am only concerned that they open. I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time.
I am more concerned with the fact that God has revealed in this dispensation a great and marvelous and beautiful plan that motivates men and women to love their Creator and their Redeemer, to appreciate and serve one another, to walk in faith on the road that leads to immortality and eternal life.
I am grateful for the marvelous declaration that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36.) I am grateful for the mandate given us to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” and to acquire knowledge “by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118.)
I remember when I was a college student there were great discussions on the question of organic evolution. I took classes in geology and biology and heard the whole story of Darwinism as it was then taught. I wondered about it. I thought much about it. But I did not let it throw me, for I read what the scriptures said about our origins and our relationship to God. Since then I have become acquainted with what to me is a far more important and wonderful kind of evolution. It is the evolution of men and women as the sons and daughters of God, and of our marvelous potential for growth as children of our Creator. For me, this great principle is set forth in the following verses of revelation:
“And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:23–24.)
I wish we would ponder these words. They are wonderful in their promise concerning the great potential that lies within each of us, born of a promise that has been planted within us as an expression of God’s love for his sons and daughters.
What have any of us to fear regarding our challenges and difficulties in life? “Only fear itself,” as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said in a different context.
Let us refer again to the tremendously important truths taught by Paul: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7.)
Then gave Paul his great mandate to Timothy: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” (2 Tim. 1:8.)
May this counsel be as a personal charge to each of us. Let us walk with confidence—never with arrogance—and with quiet dignity in our conviction concerning Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Let us find strength in the strength that comes from him. Let us find peace in the peace that was of the very essence of his being. Let us be willing to sacrifice in the spirit of him who gave himself a sacrifice for all men. Let us walk in virtue after his mandate, “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (Isa. 52:11.) Let us repent of any wrongdoing, in fulfillment of his commandment that we do so, and then let us seek forgiveness under the mercy he has promised. Let us demonstrate our love for him through service to one another.
Ideas for Home Teachers
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. Fear doesn’t come from God, but from the adversary. Fear is the antithesis of faith. God gives us power, love, and a sound mind as antidotes to fear.
2. The power of the gospel gives us the strength that comes from knowing we are sons and daughters of God.
3. We can overcome fear and doubt, worry and discouragement through the sustaining power of love—love of the Lord, parents, family, friends, and Church leaders.
4. The power of a sound mind leads us to see that the gospel is simple, beautiful, and logical.
5. As we overcome fear, let us walk with confidence—never with arrogance—and with quiet dignity in our conviction concerning the Savior.
1. Relate your personal feelings and experiences about overcoming the spirit of fear. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?