Tag Archives: wisdom

Ignorance and the Fear of the Lord

Then Christian addressed thus himself to his fellow:

Christian: Well, come, my good Hopeful, I perceive that you and I must walk by ourselves again.

So I saw in my dream that they went on apace before, and Ignorance he came hobbling after. Then said Christian to his companion, It pities me much for this poor man, it will certainly go ill with him at last.

Hopeful: Alas! there are abundance in our town in his condition, whole families, yea, whole streets, and that of pilgrims too; and if there be so many in our parts, how many, think you, must there be in the place where he was born?

Christian: Indeed the Word says, “He has blinded their eyes, lest they should see”, &c. But now we are by ourselves, what do you think of such men? Have they at no time, think you, convictions of sin, and so consequently fears that their state is dangerous?

Hopeful: Nay, do you answer that question yourself, for you are the elder man.

Christian: Then I say, sometimes (as I think) they may; but they, being naturally ignorant, understand not that such convictions tend to their good; and therefore they do desperately seek to stifle them, and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts.

Hopeful: I do believe, as you say, that fear tends much to men’s good, and to make them right, at their beginning to go on pilgrimage.

Christian: Without all doubt it does, if it be right; for so says the Word, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Hopeful: How will you describe right fear?

Christian: True or right fear is discovered by three things:

  1. By its rise; it is caused by saving convictions for sin.
  2. It drives the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation.
  3. It begets and continues in the soul a great reverence of God, his Word, and ways, keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left, to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.

Hopeful: Well said; I believe you have said the truth. Are we now almost got past the Enchanted Ground?

Christian: Why, are you weary of this discourse?

Hopeful: No, verily, but that I would know where we are.

Christian: We have not now above two miles further to go thereon. But let us return to our matter. Now the ignorant know not that such convictions as tend to put them in fear are for their good, and therefore they seek to stifle them.

Hopeful: How do they seek to stifle them?

Christian:

  1. They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God); and, thinking so, they resist them as things that directly tend to their overthrow.
  2. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith, when, alas, for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all! and therefore they harden their hearts against them.
  3. They presume they ought not to fear; and, therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident.
  4. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.

Hopeful: I know something of this myself; for, before I knew myself, it was so with me.

Christian and Hopeful

Once again Christian and Hopeful continue the journey, leaving Ignorance to walk behind. They have challenged Ignorance concerning his views of himself, God, how God saves sinners, and how sinners are able to respond to the gospel. As Christian and Hopeful continue their conversation, they lament Ignorance’s spiritual blindness and identify the root of his error. Ignorance fails to grasp the seriousness of his condition because he does not truly fear the Lord.

Though Ignorance desires to go to heaven (the Celestial City) and has embarked on a pilgrimage, he remains blinded by sin and doesn’t sense that his soul is in danger. Christian compares Ignorance to unbelieving Israel who had fallen under God’s judgment.

Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
(John 12:39–40)

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
(Isaiah 6:10)

Ignorance trusts his heart and believes that he is the source of the good he sees in himself. His wrong assessment causes him to undervalue grace and overvalue his piety. His religious devotion feeds pride in himself rather than praise to God. His pride causes him to fear men (how others see him and what others say about him) rather than God. He is taken aback when Christian and Hopeful cast doubt on his testimony. He takes God for granted and assumes that God is pleased to have him along on the journey.

It is pride that makes us susceptible to worldly fear and immune to godly fear. Worldly fear intimidates and weakens us. It arises from threatening or overwhelming circumstances. It causes us to tremble before men and forget God. It instills anxiety and dread. But godly fear helps and strengthens us. Christian explains how to discern true godly fear:

  1. It arises from conviction of sin, compels us to flee from sin, and helps us see our great need of a Savior.
  2. It removes all confidence in ourselves and drives us to Christ as our only hope.
  3. It instills reverence of God in the soul. Reverence is a spiritual posture of worship that keeps us mindful of God’s presence with us. It is an awareness of God that humbly acknowledges and submits to Him as Creator and Lord of all.

“True or right fear” fears God and not men.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).

It leads to blessing—

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
(Psalm 128:1)

And to confidence and life—

In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.
(Proverbs 14:26–27).

True fear is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
(Proverbs 1:7)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
(Proverbs 9:10)

And to man He said,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:28)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.
(Psalm 111:10)

Even kings and judges are called to be wise and fear the Lord.

Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
(Psalm 2:10–11)

But Ignorance does not understand the difference between worldly fear and godly fear. He equates all fear as weakness and a stain on his devotion. He is a false believer who dabbles in religion but shuns conviction. He seeks to stifle fear, even godly fear that could eternally benefit his soul. Christian explains how the ignorant stifle their fears:

  1. They believe all fear is bad and wrongly attribute it to the work of the devil. They see virtue in suppressing fear because they equate it with resisting the devil.
  2. They equate faith with confidence and assurance and see fear as undermining their faith.
  3. They believe that they should “fear not” and so confidently put down their fears.
  4. They want others to see them as spiritually strong and pious. They believe fear makes them weak and less sure of themselves, so they stifle fear in an effort to feel holy inwardly and appear holy outwardly.

We live in a day when many have lost the fear of the Lord. People don’t live from the vantage point that there is a Sovereign God who has created all things and who will one day judge the world. They champion confidence and self-esteem as strength. They disparage humility and fear as weakness. Though they may be religious and acknowledge God’s existence, they try to set their own pace and make their own rules. They imagine their own ideas of truth and justice and hold God in contempt for not making the world the way they believe it should be.

We must not make the same mistake as Ignorance. Godly fear is not weakness. It is wisdom and strength. It anchors us in God and His provision for us in Christ. It leads us to true justice and righteousness found in Christ and His Kingdom. Godly fear is indeed a true treasure.

The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times,
And the strength of salvation;
The fear of the Lord is His treasure.
(Isaiah 33:5–6)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

How to Live in This Present Age

Church Steeple and Clock

In Titus 2:11–12 Paul summarizes how we are to live together in this present age.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.

Because “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” we must live and walk in ways that commend and adorn that gospel. Our identity must be in Christ and we must live for Him. Paul tells us that in this present age we should live soberly, righteously and godly.

He says we are to live soberly (sophronas) — This is the word that Paul has used throughout this chapter to describe the conduct of older men (verse 2), younger women (verse 5), and younger men (verse 6); and the teaching (sophronizo) of older women (verse 4). We must act wisely according to the light God has given us in His Word illumined by the work of His Spirit.

We are to walk justly— Walk in a right way with integrity in our relationships and dealings with one another.

We are to walk in a godly way— Walk with our minds fixed and our passions focused on the things of God, desiring to see God magnified and His glory displayed in our lives.

Paul instructed Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1). Sound doctrine is a faithful companion and a fitting counterpoint to “things which are proper.” Things that are foolish—things that are trivial—things that are superficial—these things will be uncomfortable where there is sound doctrine. But those things that are wise and just and godly—these are to accompany sound doctrine.

There must be a connection between the doctrine we profess and the conduct we display. Both must glorify and exalt God.

Doctrine must be lived out in devotion. We must believe what is right and then do what is right. The truth we know with our minds and cherish in our hearts must be lived out in our hands and feet. The truth we hold must be made evident as we love God and love one another.

Read more from this sermon on Titus 2:1–15 entitled “How to Live in This Present Age”

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Two Voices Cry Out to Be Heard

Two Ways

There are two voices vying for our attention, beckoning us to very different paths. We need to listen well. Eternity is at stake. Scripture warns us in both the Old and New Testaments: only one path leads to life; the other down to destruction.

The book of Psalms opens with the contrast between the way of the righteous and the way of the ungodly.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

In the New Testament, Jesus calls His followers to choose the way of life.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13–14).

We hear the two voices at the beginning of the book of Proverbs: the enticement of sinners (from the world) and the call of wisdom (from God and His Word).

My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait to shed blood;
Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
And whole, like those who go down to the Pit;
We shall find all kinds of precious possessions,
We shall fill our houses with spoil;
Cast in your lot among us,
Let us all have one purse”—
My son, do not walk in the way with them,
Keep your foot from their path;
For their feet run to evil,
And they make haste to shed blood.
(Proverbs 1:10–16)

Wisdom calls aloud outside;
She raises her voice in the open squares.
She cries out in the chief concourses,
At the openings of the gates in the city
She speaks her words:
“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning,
And fools hate knowledge.”
(Proverbs 1:20–22)

If we are to learn the fear of the Lord and find the way of life we must tune out the world and listen to the voice of wisdom. Only wisdom will speak the truth. Only wisdom will point us to God’s Word where we will find peace and rest in Christ.

Two Voices Cry Out to Be Heard

Two voices cry out to be heard;
Take heed, my soul, and listen well.
For only one voice leads to life,
The other down to death and hell.

The voice of sinners fills the streets,
There on the innocent they prey.
Take heed, my soul, do not consent,
Lest you with them be cast away.

The voice of wisdom cries aloud
Above the din of sin’s deceit.
“How long, you simple, will you choose
The evil way, the scoffer’s seat?”

It’s wisdom’s voice I long to hear
To guide my steps which way to go.
Her words of warning, I would heed;
Her wealth of knowledge, I would know.

Lord, help me find the righteous way;
Guide me in ev’ry thought and choice.
For You alone have words of life,
Atune my heart to love Your voice.

Let me hear clearly wisdom’s call;
Tune out the noise of sin’s allure.
Listen intently to God’s Word
And there in Christ find rest secure.

Words ©2018 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune FEDERAL STREET for classical guitar.

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A Song Book That Begins With Words of Wisdom

The Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms is an important collection of songs in Scripture for the worship of God. These songs are commanded to be sung by God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament they comprise the songbook of the Temple. God appointed the Levites to sing and teach the people to sing psalms to God in worship. As the people gathered in Jerusalem and brought their sacrifices, these were the songs being sung and heard in the congregation.

In the New Testament Paul sets the psalms at the forefront of church music, exhorting us in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The psalms speak of Christ, point us to Christ, and find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ (Luke 24:44).

When you think of the book of Psalms, and remember the purpose and use of the psalms, its beginning may at first surprise you. It might not be what you would expect.

The psalms are about our communion with God in worship.

How then would you expect such a collection of songs to begin?

What opening words do you envision?

  • A lofty song of praise?
  • A hymn exalting the attributes of God?
  • A call to God’s people to come to the Temple and enter into His presence?
  • A call to God, asking Him to hear His people as they lift their voices?

All of these are songs you will find in abundance in the Psalter, but not at the beginning.

Let’s go to the Word of God and read how the Psalms begin:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:1–6)

God opens His hymnal with a psalm of wisdom—a psalm for teaching that portrays a striking contrast between two groups of people: the ungodly and the righteous—those who are committed to walking according to the ways of God, and those who have forsaken that way.

For the righteous, the psalm offers a promise;
For the ungodly it declares a warning.

Continue reading this sermon from  Psalm 1 entitled “Two Paths and Two Ends.”

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Above Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash