Psalm 111:10 — “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Graduation day, 1963! Some of you young people look forward to that event (or maybe it is already an accomplished fact). No doubt the day is one of great importance for you and for your families. It is the culmination of years of labor (I was going to say, “diligent labor,” but possibly we were not always so very “diligent in our work). Anyway, the day has finally come. For some there arises a sigh of relief that their days of schooling are ended. Others graduate from one school only to enter another of higher learning. But for all of you, young people, whether you graduate this month or not, the event itself is of significance. The days of graduation later are fondly recalled. And if you look closely, you will very likely observe that the eyes of your parents are slightly damp at this event — for they recall how that such a short time ago they too were in the ranks of those who marched forward to the music of the majestic organ to receive their diplomas.
Now let me ask you, does graduation mean that you have learned everything? One finds sometimes that attitude in the graduate. Now he has his diploma. Now he is completely capable of expressing his judgment on every question — and woe be to anyone who differs from him. He takes the position that he cannot learn anymore; now he can only teach. But we do know better. Graduation means that we have had a measure of necessary preparation. In many ways, the real labor or work now lies before us. Schooling serves as one of the tools which must be used in our calling in this life. Nor does learning cease. Fact is, learning must never cease. One who “knows it all” simply reveals his own ignorance.
So, you have a beginning, but it is only a beginning. For children of the covenant, that beginning can only be according to the words of the Psalmist. He declared that the beginning of wisdom was the fear of the Lord. If you understand that fact by the grace of God, then your training was not in vain (if one can use such language).
Wisdom and knowledge are not exactly similar. Knowledge is the accumulation of fact, but wisdom is the proper and discerning application of that knowledge. One may have knowledge — but not yet necessarily wisdom. So too, it would be possible to distinguish spiritual wisdom from mere knowledge. One might have learned all about the Word of God, yet not have spiritual wisdom. Spiritual wisdom is not earthly, but is heavenly. It does not arise out of natural man, but it has its source in God. Wisdom is that Divine Power, first of all, whereby God can and does direct all things in the best possible way to the glory and honor of His Name. Within the child of God, wisdom is first the spiritual ability to discern that God’s way is right and good. The Christian understands that what God does is to His greatest glory and for the good of the church. He sees that “Jesus Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:24). And the child of God understands that in Christ all things are worked together for his good. But also, wisdom is that spiritual ability within the members of the church of Christ whereby they discern what is the proper and godly way for them to walk. When that wisdom is lacking, then one walks in the foolish ways of the world — ways which go headlong to destruction. But the regenerated see, know, and follow in the way of the Lord.
This wisdom has a beginning. In God, certainly, this wisdom is infinite. But in us, in the church, that wisdom is not eternal but rather it begins. Its beginning strictly speaking is first in regeneration. Then God through His Spirit implants the life of Christ into our hearts. The principle of wisdom is surely contained in that seed of new life. But in our consciousness, that wisdom has its beginning when, through the preached Word of God, that wisdom is called forth into revelation together with the calling and conversion of the child of God. In another way, we can speak of the “beginning of wisdom,” and that is when that wisdom first becomes revealed in our lives or actions. When the fear of God first becomes evident in one’s life, then it is seen that such an one has the beginning of true wisdom. True fear of the Lord is the first evidence of spiritual wisdom.
And what is this fear of the Lord? Surely it is not being afraid of God. Little children may fear the dark, or the “bears” which they imagine lurk there. But the fear of the Lord does not fall in this category of “fears.” One who possesses the fear of the Lord is not afraid at all: he is not afraid of God Who is his God; nor is he afraid of the world, the devil, and all his hosts.
In the fear of the Lord, we first of all acknowledge our own nothingness. From our youth up we understand that in us, that is, in our old nature, there is no good thing at all. If we truly have this fear, then we can confess that there is nothing in us whereby God would choose us or bless us. The fear of the Lord will never allow us to say that we chose Him and that therefore He chooses us. We are dust. We have rebelled. We deserve the eternal wrath and condemnation of our God.
But true spiritual fear acknowledges that God is the Sovereign God. Out of Him proceeds every benefit. All of salvation: regeneration, calling, faith, justification, glorification are all of Him. And in true fear the Christian confesses that all honor, glory, and praise must redound to the name of God for all this work. This fear casts one down on his knees in adoration and worship of the living God. According to it, we do not act haughty or proud, but rather humble and thankful. This fear is the beginning of all wisdom.
How is this fear the beginning of all wisdom? This is the first truth within the conscious spiritual life of the Christian. In man’s depravity, it is rightly said that there is no fear of God before his eyes. But as soon as God calls us from darkness to His own marvelous light, then there is immediately this spiritual fear. We confess God to be what He truly is. And in that fear, we begin to understand the revelation of all the truths concerning our God. Secondly, this fear is called the truth. This fear acknowledges that God is Sovereign. That truth is basic; it is the foundation upon which all revealed truth rests. Take this fact away, and the whole structure of the Word falls.
Now you, young people, have completed a period of training. Of course, your training did not, in itself, give you this fear. This fear is given us by Christ through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Yet the schooling which you received was supposed to be of such a nature that it constantly emphasized this truth that the beginning of all wisdom is the fear of the Lord. You were taught that the purpose of the child of God on this earth is not simply to make a “good living.” His education is not merely to prepare him for his niche in society. Rather, education for the Christian is to prepare him for his place and position in the church of Jesus Christ — a position in which he reveals in all that he does, that he fears the Lord.
At graduation one speaks often of “commencement” exercises. The word is very appropriate. “Commencement” does not mean “the end” as one might suppose — since it comes at the end of graduation. “Commencement” means a beginning. Such is your commencement too. You have not “arrrived,” but you have just begun. Now you face other milestones in your youthful lives. In your situation, the words of the Psalmist serve as an appropriate commencement text. You are beginning, and in that beginning there must be evident in your lives a true spiritual wisdom. And that beginning wisdom can only be the fear of the Lord.
Are you going on for further schooling? Or, do you intend now to find some work — possibly a work in which you will be engaged for the remainder of your life? It will not be long now and you will be seeking a life’s partner: a husband or a wife. Daily you face temptations, the threats, the mockery of the world about us. None of these things could you do to the honor and glory of God of yourself. Only the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. By grace walk in that fear: then true wisdom will be manifest in all that you do.
“How, then, is it that this divine mercy was bestowed on impious and ungrateful man? Surely, the answer is that mercy was shown by the One who, day by day, maketh His sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust: For, although some who reflect on these truths repent and are converted from their wickedness others, according to the words of the Apostle, despised the riches of his goodness and long suffering, in the hardness of their hearts and impenitence, and treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God Who will render to every man according to his works.”
— St. Augustine