According to Charles Spurgeon (here and here), Psalm 56:3—“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”—holds a tension and, yet, a resolve that is uniquely characteristic of the Christian’s experience of fear.
1. Spurgeon gives voice to inner complexities.
Notice, first, then, that here is David in a complex condition. He says, “I am afraid,” yet with the same breath he says, “I will trust in You.” Is not this a contradiction? It looks like a paradox. Paradox it may be, but contradiction it is not!
2. He illustrates that intellectual qualms need not be viewed as displacing of faith.
You have seen a precious promise or a glorious Doctrine and you have believed it because you have found it in God’s Word. You have believed it so as to grasp it and feel it to be your own, yet, perhaps, almost at the same time certain rationalistic thoughts have come into your mind and you have been vexed with doubts as to whether the promise is true. You remember, perhaps, the insinuations of others, or something rises up out of your own carnal reason that renders it difficult for you to believe, while at the same time you are believing! You battle with yourself—one self seems to say, “Is it so?” and yet your inner self seems to say, “I could die for it, I know it is so!”
3. He teaches that there is courage in being honest about fears.
David says, “I am afraid.” Admire his honesty in making this confession. Some men would never have admitted that they were afraid. They would have blustered and said they cared for nothing! Generally there is no greater coward in this world than the man who never will acknowledge that he is afraid.
4. He reminds that even when faith can stand to grow in those times of life when death seems impending, faith one can still have. And greater truths also abound.
But if, as a rule, you and I can think of death without any kind of fear, if no tremor ever crosses our minds, well then, we must have marvelously strong faith, and I can only pray we may be retained in that strength of faith! For the most part there is such a thing as terror in prospect of death—the fear is often greater in prospect than in reality! In fact, it is always so in the case of the Christian.
And so the fear and the faith shall go on hand in hand together for a while, till at last perfect love shall come in and take the place of fear—and then faith and love shall go hand in hand to Heaven!
5. In noting the despondency of going anywhere but to God, and that being one’s end, he promotes gratitude for grace.
It is a sure sign of Grace when a man can trust in his God, for the natural man, when afraid, falls back on some human trust, or he thinks that he will be able to laugh at the occasion of fear. He gives himself up to jollity and forgetful-ness, or perhaps he braces himself up with a natural resolution—"To take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them." He goes anywhere but to his God.
6. He puts on display the illogical nature of natural human impulses.
You say, "I feel so dead and cold, I have not the spiritual vivacity and warmth and life that I used to possess. I used to come up to the Tabernacle and feel such joy and rejoicing in worshipping on God's Holy Day, but now I feel flat and dull." Oh, but do not be tempted to get away from Christ because of this! Who runs away from the fire because he is cold? Who, in summer, runs away from the cooling brook because he is hot? Should not my deadness be the reason why I should come to Jesus Christ?
7. He teaches that when lamenting over a life that has created, of oneself, nothing that pleases God, but only the opposite—to then rejoice, for grace is true.
When I can see marks of Grace in myself, to trust Christ is easy—but when I see no marks of anything good, but every mark of everything that is evil and then come and cast myself upon Him and believe that He can save me, even me, and rest myself upon Him—this is the faith which honors Christ and which will save us! May you have it and such time as you are afraid of sin, may you trust in Christ!
8. He is honest and serves as an example of how to respond in the starkest realizations unworthiness.
I dare to say these ancient words [of Psalm 56:3] tonight from the depths of my soul! I am afraid of my sins! I am afraid of my unworthiness! I never live a day but what I see reason to be afraid! If I had to stand all by myself, I would be afraid to stand before God! If I had never done anything in my life but preach this one sermon, there have been so many imperfections and faults in it that I am afraid to place any reliance upon it! But my Lord Jesus, You are my soul's only hope. I trust entirely in You!
9. Best of all, he takes Christ at his word.
A Christian has no right to be always saying—"Do I love the Lord or no? Am I His, or am I not?" He may be compelled to say it, sometimes, but it is far better for him to come just as he is and throw himself at the foot of the Cross and say, "Savior, You have promised to save those that believe! I believe, therefore You have saved me!" I know some think this is presumption, but surely it is worse than presumption not to believe God! And it is true humility to take God at His word and to believe Him.
In the day of being afraid, Spurgeon teaches that Christian confidence is not in one’s inner state, intellectual reachings, adequacy of confession, absence of future experiences of fear, coping abilities (i.e. humor or human resolve), history of actions and inactions, or self-perception. With all of these in view—and the cause for fear growing when considering each one—“when I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps. 56:3). A Christian’s confidence in fear is that God does exist as One who, of his own incomprehensible decision and grace, rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).