The Spirit of Christ through the holy writer of the Proverbs instructs us in wisdom and understanding, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord, according to the Spirit in Prov. 1:7 and Ps. 111:10. The wisdom of the Proverbs is at the same time simple, and profound. The proverbs give instruction in godliness and this over against wickedness and foolishness. And as there is nothing new under the sun, these proverbs are surely timely for us to consider.
Thus in this article we have chosen to write concerning a most fundamental calling of God’s people as it is set forth by the Spirit of Christ in Proverbs 3:7. There is a growing tendency in the church to depart from godly reverence and fear in our day. Spiritualness is on the wane, it is even as Christ has said of the last time, “the love of many shall wax cold.” And because of this growing inclination of the world, we too can easily be swallowed up in the ungodliness of our age. Let then the Word of God be a warning to us. May we have grace to hear! For only then shall we continue faithfully to manifest the church of Jesus Christ.
The Proverb that forms the basis of this article is Proverbs 3:7. We quote it: “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.” The fear of the Lord is indeed the reverence of God’s holy name, and the desire and activity of serving Him in all things. The Scripture teaches us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). It is the instruction of wisdom (Prov. 15:33). And to do God’s commandments is understanding (Ps. 110:10). The true fear of God is, according to this word, a deep spiritual, ethical knowledge and understanding of Jehovah, our covenant God.
In the second place, negatively, the fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil—all evil, with no exception! This is especially significant over against the present emphasis on synthesis in this present life, also as seen in the church world. Often the church says today that we must enter the evil works of man in order to understand and to change them. However, the fear of the Lord is not even to take on the appearance of evil or sin. Or, as we read in another Proverb, that pride, arrogancy, the evil way, and the froward mouth does Jehovah hate, see Prov. 8:3. True godly fear is to depart from evil (Prov. 16:6, Job 1:1).
Positively once again, the fear of the Lord is a strong confidence; for God’s children have a place of refuge in the mercy, in the eternal love and care of Jehovah (Prov. 14:26-27). The fear of the Lord is thus trust and hope and is a fountain of life to us (Prov. 14:27, Job 4:6). Also, the fear of the Lord is the opposite of being afraid; it brings peace to the soul of the child of God. And in its strength God’s children walk as instructed by the Lord and as they receive grace to hear.
The world of wicked men also walk in fear; but the fear of the wicked world is the fear of men. It, too, is the beginning of wisdom—a wisdom in their own eyes, a leaning on their own understanding. It is a fear of which we are to have no part! And they, too, are very busy instructing in their wisdom and in leading men to their understanding. They teach, that all things are to be done for the common good of man. But this fear is the opposite of that in our text, it is not the hating of evil, but is the seeking of it.
This fear is built upon the arrogancy, pride, and the froward mouth. It is a delight in one’s own strength and work, a standing upon one’s own abilities and understanding. Their confidence is in princes and chariots; their ability to sustain self is on the foreground—both physically and materially, as well as spiritually. It comes down to a trust in no one outside of self. This is not the way of the subject of the kingdom of Christ. We may not live in such selfish doubt and lack of trust in the ways of our God, or the means He uses to gather His church. For this selfish, self-serving fear is not a fountain of life but a veritable fountain of death. The wicked in their way cast up spiritual mire and dirt. Their tongues are tongues of fire, gnashing upon one another. And for them there is no rest. May this not be said of us.
It is obvious then that fearing is either the activity of faith, or the activity of unbelief. Note that there is no inbetween. Faith may never in its true sense be used to describe the wicked’s trusting or fear. Faith is the gift of God bestowed upon the elect of God alone. And it has its source in the regenerated heart of the child of God. On the other hand, unbelief is the word Scripture uses to describe the fear and confidence of the wicked world. And unbelief has its source in the old man of sin. Thus the unbelieving world always says there is no God, and seeks wisdom in their own eyes, leaning on their own understanding. God’s elect, the upright in heart, living consciously in faith by grace, trust in Jehovah alone, and walk in the fear of the Lord.
The object of the true, godly fear of the children of God is Jehovah, the living covenant God. Jehovah is the eternally changeless God, the I am that I am. Our trust and hope is not in the unstable ways, goals, and philosophies of man, but in the eternally perfect will of Jehovah. Our God is He Who is revealed to us in the inspired and infallible Scriptures. He is made known to us in Jesus Christ, the God of our salvation.
Thus, to fear Jehovah, His children must know Him! Faith is rightfully spoken of by our confessions when they call faith the certain knowledge and hearty confidence of the child of God. These two are intimately connected. To know God is to trust in Him alone, and to give to Him all glory, to fear and reverence His most precious Name. Our hope then is in His grace alone to save and in His Sovereign good pleasure to save us in His Son, Jesus Christ. This means then for us that we can rely upon His Word for the knowledge that leads us in the pathways of true wisdom and comfort. By grace God’s people do so seek His Word. They lay fast hold on His word proclaimed. They turn again and again to the confessions given to the church by the leading of the Spirit of Christ for their learning. They steadfastly cling to the means of grace God provides them. And they grow and long to grow in the understanding of Jehovah. This spiritual aspect of life is their overriding concern and seeking. Thus they are prepared for the preaching from Sabbath to Sabbath. They love to gather together to study the Scriptures in fellowship of the saints; they come to catechism with a longing to grow in the truth—rather than looking to see how much work they can get out of, etc.
And so knowing Jehovah and seeking Him, they trust in Him with all their hearts and in all their lives. They see it is their calling to fear Jehovah, but also that it is their gracious privilege to do so. And they have peace, for their trust is in the unfailing God of their salvation. The opposite of being wise in one’s own understanding or in one’s own eyes leaves one in trouble of soul with only anxiety and despair, weariness and finally death.
Thus Jesus instructs us to fear the Lord and depart from evil. This may lead us to question why this instruction is necessary. For since it is true that faith is a gift of God to His elect and also that the elect trust in the Lord and fear Him by grace through faith, and further that grace is not a thing from which we can fall, we could then ask, why does the Lord admonish us to fear Jehovah and depart from evil? Can God’s children do otherwise? The answer of course is quite simple: we still have in this life our old nature that still clings to us. We have but a small beginning of new obedience. And may we not forget this in our preaching and instruction. Further, then, we also understand that theadmonition of God’s Word is the means of grace whereby Christ powerfully leads His children from sin and strengthens them to stand consciously in faith fearing Jehovah’s precious Name.
We have in this life so much that yet clings to the wisdom of our own eyes—a leaning on our own understanding, which prevents the godly fear of Jehovah. We must remember that by nature our understanding and our wisdom (the wisdom of our own eyes) is darkened, corrupt, and untrustworthy. It hates God and will not put its confidence in Him. It is only as our understanding is come under grace that we shall fear God. This we receive in regeneration as Christ’s Spirit grafts us into Christ and gives us faith to believe. This faith Christ powerfully activates by His Word as it is proclaimed. But even so, again I say that new obedience is just a beginning. Thus the Lord over and over again admonishes His church and calls them out of darkness into the gracious fellowship of the living God. Against this calling to spiritualness do not rebel!
Our experience as Gods children is certainly one of need for this Word. All too often we assume a position of being wise in our own eyes. Much of our life is on this level. So often there is much of the earthy, and little of the truly spiritual in our lives. This can and is indeed a cause of much anxiety, and even the cause of being afraid in this day. But even this is because we trust only that which we have immediately in our hand. We are not trusting Jehovah, nor do we fear His Name, the God of our salvation.
Christ admonishes us for our sanctification and for very life itself. It is His means to make us aware of our sin, weakness, and frailty. He calls us to repent and makes us aware of our calling before God. But at the same time the assurance comes to us in the way of our trust and godly fear. For the command of Christ is always accompanied by the promise. They are knit together. Take note of this in the context of our text, in verses 1 & 2; 3 & 4; 5 & 6; 7 & 8; or in Proverbs 14:26-27. The Lord directs the paths of His children, and He is changeless from eternity. Our God blots out our sin and iniquity in the blood of His own Son. And by grace He applies this Word to our hearts, He renews our understanding. And our God quickens our faith, leading us in the fear of His wondrous Name. He gives to His own life eternal!