Proverbs 1:7

This is the motto of the book. It is often found (Proverbs 9:10; Sirach 1:16, 25, 26; Psalm 111:10). The Arabs have adopted it at the head of their proverbial collections.

I. THE OLD TESTAMENT DESIGNATION OF RELIGION. It is the fear of Jehovah. That is reverence for him who is One, who is eternal, incomparable with any of the gods of the heathen, the Deliverer of Israel in the past and ever, the All-holy, just and merciful One. Such reverence includes practical obedience, trust, gratitude, and love. With this expression we may compare walking before Jehovah and the service of Jehovah, as designations of the practical aspect of religion, as the former indicates the emotional and intellectual.

II. SUCH RELIGION IS THE TRUE GERM OF SOUND KNOWLEDGE. Men have divorced by a logical abstraction science, and often sense, from religion. But ideally, psychologically, historically, they are in perfect unity. Religion is "the oldest and holiest tradition of our race" (Herder). From it as the beginning the arts and sciences sprang. It is ever so. True science has a religious basis.

1. In both the Infinite is implied and is sought through the finite.

2. Both run up into mystery - science into the unknowable ground or substance behind all phenomena, religion before the inscrutable and unutterable God.

3. The true mood is alike in both, that of profound humility, sincerity, self-abnegation, impassioned love of the truth, the mood of Bacon, of Newton, etc.

III. THE REJECTION OF RELIGION FOLLY. The Hebrew word for "fool" is strong; it is crass, stupid, insensible. "A stock, a stone, a worse than senseless thing." Folly is always the reversal of some true attitude of the mind and temper. It is the taking a false measure of self in some relation. It is the conceit of a position purely imaginary - amusing in a child, pathetic in a lunatic, pitiful in a rational man. True wisdom lies in the sense that we have little, in the feeling of constant need of light and direction; extreme folly, in the notion that the man "knows all about it." Most pitiable are learned fools. Without religion, i.e. the constant habit of reference to the universal, all knowledge remains partial and shrunk, is tainted with egotism, would reverse the laws of intelligence, and make the universal give way to the particular, instead of lifting the particular to the life of the universal. Beware of the contemptuous tone in books, newspapers, and speakers. Reserve scorn for manifest evil. The way to be looked down upon is to form the habit of looking down on others. To despise any humblest commonplace of sense and wisdom is to brand one's self in the sight of Heaven, and of the wise, a fool. - J.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
The fear of the Lord is an abiding and reverent sense of the presence of God and of accountableness to Him: For this to exist God must be that real, personal Being which we have every reason to believe God has revealed Himself to be: such in character, as to love, holiness, and justice, as He has declared Himself in His Word. Why is this fear the beginning of knowledge?

1. Because knowledge being the apprehension of facts, and application of them to life, it cannot properly begin, or be based on a right foundation, without first apprehending and applying a fact which includes and which modifies all other facts whatever.

2. Because knowledge is the food of the soul. And what is the soul? What ought its stores and its accumulated powers to be, and to be useful for? The knowledge which is to feed and train the soul must begin, continue, and end, in the apprehension of Him.

3. Because knowledge, as the mere accumulation of facts, is in-operative upon life. If you would be worth anything to society, worth anything to your own families, worth anything to yourselves, the fear of God must come first in your thoughts and lives. The fear of God is the first thing; the consciousness of Him about you, the laying down His revealed facts respecting Himself and you as your greatest facts; the setting up of His will as the inner law of your being.

(Dean Alford.)

Monday Club Sermons.
1. It quickens the intellect, and sustains its activity.

2. It restrains from those follies and corruptions which weaken the powers, and divert from high themes.

3. This fear starts thought from the right centre and in right directions.

4. This fear is the root of that right living and wise conduct, that forethought, purity, temperance, uprightness, and obedience to God, which we may call vital knowledge; knowledge in the heart and life, as well as in the head.

(Monday Club Sermons.)

The "fear of the Lord" implies a right state of heart towards God, as opposed to the alienation of an unconverted man. Though the word is "fear," it does not exclude a filial confidence and a conscious peace. What God is inspires awe; what God has done for His people commands affection. See here the centrifugal and centripetal forces of the moral world. "Knowledge" and "wisdom" are in effect synonymous — the best knowledge wisely used for the highest ends. The "fear of the Lord" is the foundation, "knowledge" is the imposed superstructure. He who does not reverentially trust in God knows nothing yet as he ought to know. His knowledge is partial and distorted. The knowledge of God — His character and plans, His hatred of sin, His law of holiness, His way of mercy — is more excellent than all that an unbelieving philosopher has attained. It is a knowledge more deeply laid, more difficult of attainment, more fruitful, and more comprehensive, than all that philosophers know. Men speak of the stupendous effects which knowledge, in the department of mechanical philosophy, has produced on the face of the world, and in the economy of human life; but the permanence of these acquisitions depends on the authority of moral laws in the consciences of men. The moral encircles and controls the economic in the affairs of men. The knowledge of God is the root of knowledge.

(William Arnot, D. D.)

Reverence is the alphabet of religion. As you cannot acquire knowledge without the knowledge of the alphabet, so you cannot acquire anything of the religious life without the spirit of reverence. Self-conceit is precisely the negative of reverence. It is the absence of the spirit that looks up to anything above us. It is the spirit that leads one to say, "I am the greatest and the best." There are many conditions in our life which tend to produce the spirit of self-conceit and tend to counteract the spirit of reverence. The absence of any traditions in America tend against the spirit of reverence. Across the ocean, in the Old World, we stand in cathedrals a thousand years or more old, in the presence of customs hoary-headed with antiquity; we walk by the city walls which have seen many a battle between liberty and despotism; and these old cathedrals, these old cities, these old customs, awaken in us some spirit of reverence. But we have no such cathedrals. The absence of any class distinctions in America tends against the spirit of reverence. We are all on the same level. There is no class to which we can look up with reverence. The reaction against Puritanism has tended against reverence. It is no longer customary in our homes to teach reverence of children to their parent, or in schools to teach reverence of pupils to teachers. In the olden time every boy bowed reverently to the minister; now the minister gets along very well if the boy does not cry out, "Go up, thou baldhead!" The spirit of criticism, the scientific spirit, has tended against reverence. Many things which of olden time men superstitiously feared they fear no longer. We have analysed until all great things have been picked to pieces in our laboratory. We will not allow any mysteries. You cannot revere what you are criticising. The two processes never can go on simultaneously in the same mind. The sectarian spirit has been against the spirit of reverence. The Congregationalist has sneered at the ritual of the Episcopalian, and the Episcopalian has shrugged his shoulders over the non-ritual of the Congregationalist. The spirit of antagonism between the different denominations has despoiled those symbols which were before the common objects of a mutual reverence. Finally, our democratic theology has tended against the old spirit of reverence. Just because we no longer reverence a king in the nation we do not reverence the King in the heavens. Now, if it be true that reverence is a fountain of life, and reverence is a beginning of wisdom, how in this age, under these circumstances, are we to develop reverence in ourselves, in our churches, and in our children? In the first place, then, the old notion of holy places is gone. We cannot recover it. In truth there is very little foundation for it. For it we are to substitute this larger, grander, more awe-inspiring conception — that every place is holy place, every ground is holy ground, and God is in all Nature. God is as truly here as He ever was in Palestine, as truly in the White Mountains or the Rocky Mountains as He ever was in the Sinaitic Mountains; He is everywhere, always speaking, in all phenomena. This must come into our hearts to take the place of the older and narrower conception of holy places. We cannot re-establish a united ritual, nor all agree to climb to God's throne by the steps "worn by the knees of many centuries." But we must learn the broader, the larger, more catholic, aye, and profounder reverence which sees God in every form of worship; for wherever the human heart is seeking God, there God is. We are to recognise Christ in all truth. The old reverence for the Bible as a book without any error whatever, and as a conclusive and final guide on questions of science, literature, history, philosophy, and religion, is passing away. Our reverence is not for the tables of stone that are broken and lost, nor for the words that were inscribed upon them — we do not know exactly what form of words were inscribed upon them — but for the great fundamental principles of the moral life which those Ten Commandments embody. There is many a man who has reverence for the book and none for the truth that is in the book. Woe to us if, throwing away the old mechanical reverence for the outer thing, we fail to get the deeper reverence for the inward truth! What reverence has God shown for truth! Think of it one moment. He has launched into human history this volume of literature. The ablest scholars are not agreed on such questions as who wrote these various books, at what dates, for what purpose, and with what immediate intent. The great majority of the books are anonymous; the great majority of them are without definite and positive date. What does this mean? It means this: God has launched truth without a sponsor into the world, and left the truth to bear witness to itself. Truth answers to the human mind as cog to cog; and the reverence for the shell is to be lost only that reverence for the kernel may take the place. We find it difficult, many of us, to have any reverence for the events that are taking place in America, and the leaders who are participating in them. We cannot cure that irreverence towards leaders and politicians by pretending respect for a man whom we do not respect, who has won his way to office by dishonourable and disreputable methods. We must go further, we must look deeper, we must see that, as God is in all worship and in all truth, so God is in all history. We are to see God in every man, and in all of life. There are times when there seems nothing more awe-inspiring than a simple, single human soul. Said Phillips Brooks once to me, "There is no man so poor, so ignorant, so outcast, that I do not stand in awe before him." As the old reverence for the priest and the robe and the pulpit fade away, reverence for man as the battle-ground between good and evil must come in to take its place, or reverence will disappear. "The fear of God is the fountain of life." I think it is Goethe who has drawn the distinction between fear and reverence. Fear, he says, repels; reverence attracts. It is not the fear of God that repels, it is the reverence for God which attracts, which is the fountain of life. And when this reverence has found its place in our hearts, it is to be the fountain of all our life; of our reason, and we are not to be afraid of being too rational; of our commercial industries, and we are not to be afraid of being too industrious; of our humour, and we are not to be afraid of a good hearty laugh; reverence in all our life. You cannot have reverence on Sunday and irreverence in the week; reverence in the church and irreverence in the daily life. And, leaving in the past that reverence which was fragmentary, broken, and largely idolatrous, we are to press forward to a grander, broader, nobler, diviner reverence in the future.

(L. Abbott, . D. D.)

1. The fear of God will urge us to a profitable study of the Holy Scriptures.

2. The fear of God will especially influence us in our devotions.

3. The fear of God will bring us to the business of the day in the right frame of mind to carry it on.

4. The fear of God will enable us to bear the trials and disappointments of life.

5. In the last trial of all, in the hour of death, we shall assuredly reap the fruit of having lived in the fear of the Lord, for then we shall have nothing else to fear.

(J. Edmunds.)

I. PIETY IS REVERENCE FOR GOD. Filial reverence is meant by "fear." Reverence implies two things, a recognition of Divine greatness, and a recognition of Divine goodness. An impression of goodness lies at the foundation of reverence, and hence, too, gratitude, love, adoration enter into this reverence.

II. PIETY IS INITIATORY TO KNOWLEDGE. It is the beginning of it. But what knowledge? Not mere intellectual knowledge. Many an impious man knows the circle of the sciences. The devil is intelligent. It is spiritual knowledge — spiritual knowledge of self, the universe, Christ, and God. True reverence for God is essential to this knowledge. Religious reverence is the root of the tree of all spiritual science. He knows nothing rightly who does not know God experimentally.


Filial love stands near and leans on godliness. It is next to reverence for God. That first and highest commandment is like the earth's allegiance to the sun by general law; and filial obedience is like day and night, summer and winter, budding spring and ripening harvest, on the earth's surface. There could be none of these sweet changes and beneficent operations of nature on our globe if it were broken away from the sun. So when a people burst the first and greatest bond — when a people cast off the fear of God, the family relations, with all their beauty and benefit, disappear.

(W. Arnot, D. D.)


1. The proper exercise of true wisdom consists in directing and conducting us to the chiefest happiness which human nature is capable of.

2. That religion is the only method by which we are directed and conducted towards the attainment of this chief happiness.

3. That a due knowledge of God, and of our duty towards Him, is the basis and groundwork of true religion.


1. To be habitually conversant in the exercises of piety is an instance of the truest and most considerate wisdom, because it is the most effectual means to promote our happiness and well-being in this life. There are four things for the attainment of which we are chiefly solicitous. A clear reputation. A comfortable fortune. A healthful body. A quiet mind.

2. The constant exercise of religious duties is an instance of the truest and most considerate wisdom, because it is the most effectual means to promote our eternal happiness in the world to come.

(N. Brady.)

I. RELIGIOUSNESS, OR A REVERENT FEAR OF GOD, IS THE BEST WISDOM. Because it brings a man to acquaintance with God. It teaches us how to converse with God rightly by true worship and obedience, and how to come to live with God for ever.

II. THINGS OF GREATEST WORTH SHOULD BE OF GREATEST ACCOUNT WITH US. The affections should ever follow the judgment well informed.

III. IRRELIGIOUS PERSONS ARE IN GOD'S ACCOUNT THE FOOLS OF THE WORLD. They want God's fear, as natural fools want wisdom.

IV. NONE DESPISE HEAVENLY WISDOM BUT SUCH AS KNOW NOT THE VALUE OF IT. The excellency of it is so great, that it would allure men to look after it, had they spiritual eyes to see it. Knowledge hath no enemy but an ignorant man.

V. THEY THAT SLIGHT THE MEANS OF KNOWLEDGE SLIGHT KNOWLEDGE ITSELF. We account so in outward things. We ask sick men refusing physic if they make no account of their lives. Neglect of the means of grace is a real slighting of wisdom.

(Francis Taylor.)

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