And He said to man, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.'"
I. BECAUSE IT IS FOUNDED IN A JUST RECOGNITION OF THE DIVINE SUPREMACY, AUTHORITY, AND POWER. The most foolish thing a man can do is to deny, either by word or by conduct, the authority of God. He who truly acknowledges the Divine supremacy will humble himself, and take his rightful place, free from presumption and self-asserting independence, which is the basis of all disobedience.
II. BECAUSE IT AFFORDS HIM THE TRUEST BASIS FOR FAITH AND HOPE. He who fears, and therefore reverences God, will learn how to commit himself into the Divine hands for all needful blessing. As far from presumption as from fear, he will be able calmly to trust in God and do good. He can have no real hope towards God who in irreverence and self-conceit cherishes not "the fear of the Lord" in his heart.
III. BECAUSE WITHOUT THE FEAR OF THE LORD THERE CAN BE NO TRUE LOVE FOR THE DIVINE NAME. That cannot be loved which is not respected and honoured. The true respect towards God is holy fear - the sacred reverence for the majesty, sanctity, and authority of the Divine Name.
IV. BECAUSE IT IS THE MOST EFFECTUAL BARRIER AGAINST EVIL-DOING.
V. BECAUSE OF THE SPECIAL PROMISES OF BLESSING MADE TO THEM THAT FEAR HIS NAME. From all this springs the duty of cherishing due regard for all things sacred, that the heart may be suitably and profitably impressed by them. "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." - R.G.
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.
I. IT IS USUAL TO EXPRESS THE WHOLE OF RELIGION BY SOME EMINENT PRINCIPLE OR PART OF IT. The great principles of religion are knowledge, faith, remembrance, love, and fear. The sum of all religion is often expressed by some eminent part of it. As "departing from evil," "seeking God."
II. THE FITNESS OF THESE TWO PHRASES TO DESCRIBE RELIGION. For the first, "the fear of the Lord," the fitness of this phrase will appear if we consider how great an influence the fear of God hath upon men to make them religious. There are two bridles or restraints which God hath put upon human nature — shame and fear. Fear is the stronger. For the second phrase, "departing from evil," the fitness of it to express the whole duty of man will appear if we consider the necessary connection that is between the negative and the positive part of our duty. He that is careful to avoid all sin, will sincerely endeavour to perform his duty. The proposition in the text is that religion is the best knowledge and wisdom. Make this good.
1. By a direct proof of it.(1) Religion is the best knowledge. It is the knowledge of those things which are in themselves most excellent; and also of those things which are most useful and necessary for us to know.(2) To be religious is the truest Wisdom. Because it is to be wise for ourselves, and it is to be wise as to our main interests.
2. By endeavouring to show the ignorance and folly of irreligion. All that are irreligious are so upon one of these two accounts. Either because they do not believe the foundations and principles of religion, as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and future rewards, or else because though they do in some sort believe these things, yet they live contrary to this their belief. The first sort are guilty of that which we call speculative, the other of practical atheism. Speculative atheism is unreasonable upon five accounts.(1) Because it gives no tolerable account of the existence of the world.(2) Nor does it give any reasonable account of the universal consent of mankind in this apprehension, that there is a God.(3) It requires more evidence for things than they are capable of.(4) The atheist pretends to know that which no man can know.(5) Atheism contradicts itself. Speculative atheism is a most imprudent and uncomfortable opinion, because it is against the present interest and happiness of mankind, and because it is infinitely hazardous and unsafe in the issue. The practical atheist is likewise guilty of prodigious folly.
3. The third way of confirmation shall be, by endeavouring to vindicate religion from those common imputations which seem to charge it with ignorance or imprudence. Chiefly these, — credulity, singularity, making a foolish bargain. Then wouldest thou be truly Wise, be wise for thyself, wise for thy soul, wise for eternity. Resolve upon a religious course of life.
(J. Tillotson, D. D.)
I. IN ITS INWARD PRINCIPLE. "The fear of the Lord." Not the fear that is excited by the apprehension of evil. Not slavish but filial fear. The reverence of a dutiful child. It is ever accompanied by love, joy, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
II. IN ITS VISIBLE FRUITS. "Departure from evil." By evil is here meant sin — every desire, and word, and action which we have reason to believe is displeasing to Almighty God. The Scriptures uniformly represent the renouncing of sin as a necessary and certain effect of the fear of God. Are we to understand that those who possess this principle, uniformly and constantly depart from all evil; so that they are entirely free from sin, and never at any time fall by the force of temptation? The state of perfect purity and absolute conformity to the will of God is never fully attained on this side the grave. Still there is a great and wide difference between the characters of those who fear God and of those who fear Him not.
III. IN ITS EXCELLENT CHARACTER. To fear the Lord is wisdom; to depart from evil is "understanding." True wisdom is only to be found in such principles and such conduct as will lead to true happiness. The question there is, Wherein consists true happiness? Ask the religious man where he has found it.
(J. S. Pratt.)
2. In order to vindicate the wisdom of a religious conduct it may not be improper to obviate a prejudice too commonly propagated and too easily received, namely, — That the felicities of the next world are not to be obtained according to the strict terms of Christianity, without renouncing the enjoyments of the present. The merciful Author of religion has not dealt thus hardly with mankind. Religion prohibits only those specious but destructive evils which the passions of mankind have dressed up in the disguise of pleasure; those irregular pursuits in which no wise man would ever place his happiness or could ever find it. God, who has filled the earth with His goodness and surrounded us with objects which He made agreeable to our nature, cannot be supposed to require us to reject His bounty, and to look on them all as on the fruit of that tree in paradise, which was pleasant to the eye but forbidden to be tasted. Be the pleasures of vice what they may, there is still a superior pleasure in subduing the passions of it; for it is the pleasure of reason and wisdom; the pleasure of an intellectual, not a mere animal being; a pleasure that will always stand the test of reflection, and never fails to impart true and permanent satisfaction.
3. The wisdom of a religious conduct may appear from its being the sure foundation of that peace of mind which is the chief constituent of happiness. The conditions of human life will not permit us to expect a total exemption from evils. Religion will indeed bring us internal peace of mind, but cannot secure us from external contingencies. Religion will not reverse the distinctions of station which Providence has appointed. It will not secure us from the passions of others. Religion is not less friendly in its influence on social than on private life, and is equally conducive to the happiness of the public and of individuals. All the virtues that can render a people secure and flourishing, all the duties that the best political laws require as necessary or conducive to the public tranquillity, are enjoined by our religion. Were the practice of religion generally to prevail, men would escape more than half the evils that afflict mankind.
4. The wisdom of a religious life may hence appear, because such a conduct is infinitely preferable, infinitely more prudent and secure, when we take futurity into consideration. Upon the whole, the good man enjoys superior happiness in this world, and in the next stands alone, without any rival, in his hopes and pretensions.
1. That is wisdom which the wisest men agree in, and pronounce to be so. The wisest men of all ages have agreed to recommend a life of religion and virtue. The best and wisest of the philosophers always were engaged on the side of religion, diligently inculcating the fear and worship of the Deity, according to that imperfect light and knowledge of Him which they could attain to by the force of reason; and pressing upon men the practice of all moral duties.
2. That is wisdom which all our observation and experience of the world does evidently confirm to be so. As experience has been always reckoned the best mistress and best guide to truth, whatsoever comes thus proved and recommended to us for wisdom, ought in all reason to be allowed to be so. And this, upon a fair and equal computation, we shall find to be on the side of religion. The Book of Ecclesiastes is no other than a demonstration of the wisdom of a religious life from observation and experience of the world. A very little experience of the world will convince us of the uncertainty of all things here below. But the happiness of the other life shall exceed our utmost expectations.
3. That is wisdom which in all occurrences whatever, and in every state of life, makes a man satisfied with himself, and of which no man ever yet found reason to repent. This is the peculiar privilege of a virtuous and religious course of life. Who ever saw reason to repent or be uneasy because he had discharged his duty, because he had made it his great care and endeavour to live in the fear of God, and a diligent observance of His commands?
4. That is wisdom which, in the final issue and event of things, will most certainly appear to be so. That must needs be the wisest course a man can take which not only tends to bring him peace and satisfaction for the present, but secures to him a portion of happiness hereafter, and that the most complete and lasting happiness, even forever and ever. When we consider the fear of God and the practice of our duty in this light, and compare it with its contrary ungodliness and vice, — when we reflect on the blessed reward of the one, and the sad ways of the other; we must be lost to all sense of good and evil if we are not fully convinced of the truth of the text.
(C. Peters, M. A.)
(J. C. Cadman.)1. Wisdom is not learning. We constantly observe how much a man may know, and yet what a fool he may be.
2. Wisdom is not cleverness, though it is often mistaken for it, especially by the young, who are apt to give to a certain kind of intellectual ability a great deal more of admiration than it deserves. What we want for our practical guidance is the wisdom of the judge. If we look on practical Wisdom as that which guides us to the line of conduct best calculated to secure our happiness, it must undoubtedly be wise to secure the favour of Him who is infinite in power, and whose rewards are eternal. When we turn to the New Testament we find a basis for Christian ethics very different from that of the most enlightened selfishness. The spring of our actions must be love to Christ, and likeness to Christ the model of perfection at which we must aim. And what was the character of Christ? "Christ pleased not Himself." He came to benefit; mindful only of the great object for which He had come, and to seek and to save them which were lost. Christ pleased not Himself, so let every one of you please his neighbour for his good to edification. Here is the paradox of Christianity. Wisdom teaches us to provide for our happiness in the most enlightened way; but here we have what seems quite a different rule; seek not your own happiness at all; live and work for the happiness of others. The key to the paradox is found in our Lord's words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." If you want to know what are the fruits of that which is a higher and warmer thing than mere virtue, real love for others, such as that of which our Redeemer's earthly life is the highest pattern, we need only imagine His example followed by a single individual. It is eminently true of love, "Give, and it shall be given unto you."
1. How all-important is it for the young to grasp this Divine principle, and to act upon it at once. One of the difficulties of youth is the fear of your companions. You are called by God's own voice to set your face steadily against this. The boy who is wanting in moral courage becomes in manhood a moral coward. Again, if you do not fear God night and day, you will be led into ways of impurity which may taint your whole life, and make you miserable for years. The fear of God will be needed to break us off from bad habits.
2. Those who are older ought to be giving heed more and more to this great saying of God, which is not too high for any of us, and which every one of us can act upon if he will. Let each of us devote ourselves to the daily practice of this heavenly wisdom, rooted in the fear of the Lord. We shall never repent that self-devotion, that life-long devotion, that life-long education, that holy discipline of love.
(G. E. Jelf, M. A.)
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE "FEAR OF THE LORD"? The fear peculiar to wicked men is not wisdom, but folly and madness — it is sin. Some men so fear God as that they will endeavour to abstain from gross and scandalous sins; but not out of any true love they have for God, or any hatred they bear to sin, but merely out of self-interest, that they may escape that vengeance which they know will one day be executed upon the ungodly. This fear is not in all men a sin; it is in some a virtue, and if it be not the wisdom here in the text, yet it is at least a good step toward the obtaining of it. Nay, this fear of God's wrath is so far from being unlawful, that it is absolutely necessary. The true fear is such as proceeds from love, it is indeed nothing else but love, not of ourselves, as the former fear, but of God, as the only object that can deserve our affections. This grace may be styled indifferently either fear or love. This is the fear which supported Job under his mighty afflictions.
II. WHAT IT IS TO "DEPART FROM EVIL" Or sin; the only thing in the world which we can properly call evil. For everything is good that God hath made. To depart from this evil of sin in the name and fear of the Lord, is the greatest wisdom that man is capable of. But then we must be sure to do it in the fear of the Lord.(1) This departing from evil in the fear of the Lord is our greatest wisdom, because it will deliver us from the greatest evil, both here and hereafter — from sin and hell. This fear secures us from all other fears whatsoever.(2) This wisdom procures for us the greatest good.(3) This, of itself, is sufficient to make us eternally happy.
(Samuel Scattergood, M. A.)
Homiletic Magazine."The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom," because it, and it alone, secures the truest happiness for man, both here and hereafter. It does this —
I. By the REMOVAL OF THE MANY MORAL HINDRANCES TO MAN'S HAPPINESS. The burden of sin. A guilty conscience. Moral defilement (Romans 5:1-5).
III. By its real TENDENCY TO SECURE EVEN TEMPORAL GOOD under ordinary circumstances. It inculcates sober, honest, industrious habits, and everything that helps men to advancement in life.
IV. By the CONSOLATION IT AFFORDS UNDER ALL THE UNAVOIDABLE TRIALS AND SORROWS OF THE PRESENT LIFE.
2. Consolation afforded by the gracious presence and action of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 17).
3. Consolation realised in the assurance of a Divine purpose for good in all these troubles (Romans 8:28).
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