The Beginning of Wisdom
May 23rd, 1982 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-82 7:30 p.m.
The message tonight, broadcast on the radio stations that bear it from the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and from the pastor, is entitled: The Beginning of Wisdom – addressed to the young people, addressed to all our families here tonight, and to the great multitudes of you who are sharing the hour on radio. The message will conclude with an earnest appeal for the commitment of our lives in faith and in trust to our blessed Savior.
We are going to read out loud and together in the first chapter of the Book of Proverbs, the first nine verses. Proverbs, the first book after Psalms – Psalms, Proverbs, and turn to the first chapter. If your neighbor doesn’t have a Bible, share yours with him, or there is one in the pew rack.
Proverbs, chapter 1, and we are going to read out loud and together the first nine verses. Now all of us together and out loud:
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
And that text, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" [Proverbs 1:7] is often repeated in the Bible, in the Psalms, here in the Book of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding" [Proverbs 9:10]. The fear, the reverential awe and love of God, is the beginning of wisdom.
Education can take two turns. It has two facets, two sides, two ends, two destinies. It can be turned to the glory of God and the blessing of man, or it can be turned to a vicious and awesome judgment from heaven.
For three hundred years after Martin Luther, the German people, the German universities, the German language, German literature flourished to the amazement and blessing of the whole world. But for the hundred years that followed Nietzsche and his nihilistic fellow philosophers, those same universities, and the same language, and the same scientific advancement, and the same literature became a curse to all mankind.
Education has in it infinite possibilities. You can make out of a child, by instruction, a goose-stepping Nazi, or a black-shirted Fascist, or a hammer-and-sickle communist; or you can lead the youngster to a devout Christian faith in the Lord Jesus. It is like a block of marble, it can be carved by the hand of the artist in most any way.
There is not a more beautiful or effective statue in the earth than Thorvaldsen’s The Pleading Christ, with His arms extended saying: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden" [Matthew 11:28]. But that same marble can be carved into that vicious image, erected and raised after World War I on the eastern border of Germany, facing Poland, and with an expression of abysmal bitterness, the words underneath: "Our day of vengeance will come." It can be either one.
The beginning of wisdom, the beginning of the love of God in the heart, is the foundation for all of the beautiful afterlife that can follow. And what is it?
"The fear of the Lord, the reverential love of God, is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 1:7; 9:10].
What is that? Let’s first describe what it is not. It is not the learning of facts. It is not knowledge in itself. It is possible to know the age of the rocks and not know the Rock of Ages [1 Corinthians 10:4]. It is possible to know the outline and the astronomical dimensions of the planets in their orbit but not to know the Bright and the Morning Star [Revelation 22:16]. It is possible to know the botanical structure of the grasses and flowers of the field and not to know the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley [Song of Solomon 2:1]. It is possible to know the anatomical dimensions and structure of the human frame and not to know the Great Physician.
In my lifetime there has come a development that has amazed me and has almost decimated the cultural, spiritual, moral life of the world. It is called realism. Realism in literature, in art, in every segment and stratum of our culture, is giving itself, they say, to the facts of life. So, because life in some of its facts is dirty, and filthy, and iniquitous, full of terror, and blood, and murder, and rape, we see this in modern literature, in modern poetry, in modern drama, on TV, on the Broadway place, on the stage, in the motion picture house.
But tell me: is not a star as real as a sewer? Is not a godly woman as real as a prostitute? Is not sacrifice as real as greed? Is not goodness as real as badness? Is not Christ as real as Satan? The facts of life in themselves do not constitute the beginning of wisdom. They can be detrimental to a decadent mind, and the destruction of the social fabric of the nation.
Or again, what is the wisdom that is the beginning of the foundational blessing of life? It is not mechanical and scientific advancement. Would to God that the vast increase of knowledge that has characterized our generation and this present world would be used to deliver mankind. Instead, it is being studied and advanced for the destruction of the human race itself.
I was interested in reading General Motors announcement that when they built the great plant at Arlington, it was to be for a dual purpose. That is, that assembly line could make automobiles, but it was also at the same time devised to make tanks and guns and military equipment.
I could not but remember the day when Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the United States government came to its aid with hundreds of millions of dollars. And I could not help but compare it with the tragedy that overcame Braniff and the hardships and sorrows that has accompanied the destruction, the bankruptcy, of that great corporation.
What is the difference between Chrysler that the government rescued with hundreds of millions of dollars and Braniff? Simply this: that the assembly lines of Chrysler are to be used for the military equipment necessary for the defense of America. Consequently, in Iacocca’s chairman of the board message to his stockholders last year, Chrysler made a profit of $140,000,000. On their automobiles? No! On their military equipment!
That’s one of the tragedies of the advancement of science. Jet propulsion pushes our airplanes across the skies. It also is the energy back of the bombers that are now facing each other in the Falkland Islands; the same advancement in knowledge, the same marvelous achievements that we find in nuclear energy. And more and more will you find the cities of the world lighted up by nuclear fission.
That is the same advancement and knowledge that creates the hydrogen bomb, the nuclear bomb, before which entire nations now cringe. It can be turned either way. And the wisdom that makes for a blessing to mankind is not in the scientific knowledge or skill itself; it lies in another dimension. And if we are to be saved, we are to be saved in that other dimension.
Nor is the wisdom that blesses mankind found in our materialistic progress. Some of you, I know, have read Shelley, the unusually gifted English poet who in 1818 wrote this sonnet called "Ozymandias." Do you remember it? Shelley writes:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
that fed; and on the pedestal these words appear:-
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing else remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
["Ozymandias," Percy Bysshe Shelley]
One time, how mighty; one time, what an empire; one time, what a kingdom; and now, a trunkless piece of statuary buried in the sand.
What is then the wisdom that blesses our hearts, and uplifts mankind, and creates in our world a nation, a culture, a society, a community that is filled with the love and blessing of God? It is, first of all, the humble recognition that God is, and that all that we see is a gift of His gracious and omnipotent hands. It starts in the reverence of God, the acceptance of the presence of God in all of our lives and in all that we see.
Only in atheism does a river rise above its source, does water flow upward. Only in atheism is there an effect without a cause. Only in atheism, evolutionary atheism, is there life out of a stone. Only in atheism is there a creation without a Creator, something out of nothing. Only in atheism is there a Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from kittens playing on the keyboard. Only in atheism is there an Aristotelian treatise on Greek drama made by throwing up alphabets into the air.
As a violin needs a player, as a temple needs a plan, as a painter needs a canvas, is the need of God to man. There is no meaning, and no purpose, in all of the creation that we see around us, and in us – and in us, ourselves, apart from the wisdom of God, the acceptance of our Lord. But in Him we find meaning, and purpose, and destiny, and blessing in everything.
To many, the stars are just astronomical subjects of learning, and discovery, and factual statistical reports. They are just there to be studied and observed. But to a Psalmist:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork.
Day unto day uttered speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech or language, where their voice is not heard. Their voice is gone out, their line is gone out to the ends of the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Standing in wonder, and amazement, and adoration before the great God who flung that universe into space.
To some, a tree is just a subject of botanical drawing and description, but to a Joyce Kilmer:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree;
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks to God all day,
And lifts its leafy arms to pray;
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
[from "Trees"; Joyce Kilmer]
Or as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, seeing in a crannied wall, a cracked wall, a tiny insignificant flower, and he writes:
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;
I hold you here in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should understand what God and man is.
["Flower in the Crannied Wall," Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
In the humblest little flower – the omnipotent creative work of Almighty God. And the eyes that love the Lord can see Him everywhere:
A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The rich, ripe tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high;
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the golden-rod
Some people say, "That’s Autumn."
But some of us say, "That’s God."
A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight, hard pathway plod,
Some people say, "Why, that’s Consecration."
But some of us say, "That’s God."
["Each in His Own Tongue"; William Herbert Carruth]
One of the most dramatic stories that I ever read in history concerns the conquest of Judea by the Roman General Pompey in 63 BC. Pompey was an imperious general with disdain for common people. And when, with his Roman legions, he marched triumphantly into Jerusalem and added Judea as a Roman province to the empire, he went up to the temple of the Jews and unceremoniously and ostentatiously entered in.
And when he entered into the Holy Place, he saw the veil, separating between the Holy Place and Holy of Holies, beyond which veil no man ever entered save the high priest with blood of atonement once in the year [Hebrews 9:7]. And when imperious Pompey stood in the Holy Place, in the sanctuary of God, he moved toward that veil. When he did so, the Jewish priests fell down on their faces importuning and imploring, begging and beseeching that Pompey not enter in beyond the veil. But the imperious emperor reached forth his hand and pulled the veil aside and walked inside – the only man that ever entered that Holy Place without blood of atonement and that the high priest once a year. In a little while, Pompey came back out from beyond the veil and made the exclamation: "Why, it is empty! There is nothing inside. It is empty!"
When I read that in the history book, I thought of the sixth chapter of Isaiah. That is the place where the great prophet says:
I saw also the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphim …
And one cried to the other, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory.
It’s a difference in the heart, in the soul, between a Pompey that sees nothing but the darkness and the emptiness, and an Isaiah who sees the light and the glory of God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 1:7, 9:10]. It begins in our souls, in humble acceptance of Jesus, the great Master Teacher – to sit at His feet, to love our Lord, to give life and destiny and hope unto Him. Learning in His school [Matthew 11:28-29], sitting at His feet, out of poverty, learning riches.
Born in a stable [Luke 2:11-16]; grew up in a poor carpenter’s shop [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3]. In His ministry, having never a place to lay His head [Matthew 8:20]. In His crucifixion, He had five pieces of garment, and that is all, and a quaternion of soldiers, each one took one piece, and the fifth one they gambled over at the foot of the cross [John 19:23-24]. Poor, but how rich – and in His riches, making us rich.
Lord! Lord! To sit at Thy feet. Not only riches out of poverty, but learning life out of death: "for the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" [Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45], a whole life dedicated for the blessing of humanity and mankind. The life of Jesus, who possessed nothing and yet owned everything; whose hands were empty but filled with the infinite riches of heaven; His life, a blessing; His death, our salvation [Romans 5:10].
And out of sorrow, strength; we sing sometimes in beautiful anthem of "the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" [Isaiah 53:3], but out of the troubles, and disappointments, and heartaches of His life have come the streams of blessing that sanctify and hallow our homes, our hearts, our children, our nation, our state, our lives. Out of sorrow, strength.
I walked one day across a church in an associational meeting to a woman, and I said to her, "I think you are one of the greatest women I have ever known in my life." Why did I say that? Because of this: she had three children, and in the car, driving to school, somehow they were not paying attention, and they didn’t see, and they didn’t hear, the fast-track Pan American train from Chicago to New Orleans on the L&N, speeding down that railway. And when the car came to the crossing, that fast, furiously moving faster train hit that automobile, and all three of her children were killed in an instant.
And what that wonderful Christian woman did – she gave her life for the children in the association of Warren County. She was the head of the missionary work of those children. And from church to church to church, she was organizing GA’s, Act Teens, Mission Friends – pouring her life into those children. And that’s why I say, I went across the church and, speaking to her, said, "To me, you are one of the greatest women I ever knew." Out of sorrow, strength and service and blessing. That’s God.
There are no providences in life but that out of them, God fits some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. Whatever the hurt, or the tears, or the disappointments, or the heartache, God intends for you some wonderful thing.
Now may I close with a verse? One of the most unusual, to me, of all of the things in the life of the apostles is when they were hailed up before the Sanhedrin, and when they were beat, and threatened, and interdicted from speaking in the name of Jesus – now, you look at this verse, "But when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were agrammatoi kai idiotai men, they marveled; and took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" [Acts 4:13].
Well, what does that mean: agrammatoi kai idiotai? What is that? That is what they said about those apostles. "A" in Greek is a privative; it is a negative, it is a denial. Theos would be "God." "Atheist" would be one who doesn’t believe in God. He is an a-theist. Gnosis, a gnostic would be somebody who knew. An agnostic, put an "a" in front of it – he doesn’t know. Grammatoi would be somebody learned – a school professor, a learned man of the Sanhedrin. Agrammatoi would be somebody who’d never been to school, he wasn’t taught. Agrammatoi kai idiotai, your word "idiot" comes from that. It doesn’t mean that in Greek. Idios means, in Greek, "a man of the ordinary ranks of life." He is not a man of the schools. He is not a man of the rabbinical schools.
"And when they saw Peter and John, and perceived that they were agrammatoi kai idiotai men, they marveled; and took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" [Acts 4:13] – just saying that the humblest man, who maybe can’t read and write, if he knows the Lord, he’s the best educated man in this earth. The true knowledge that blesses and sanctifies is the knowledge of our wonderful Lord.
And that’s the knowledge that we pray God will give us, alongside the scientific facts that we learn, the literature that we read, the world in which we live, humbly, Lord, make us disciples, sitting at Thy dear feet, learning of Thee [Matthew 11:29], opening our hearts heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward, and living the life of blessedness that we learn in our precious Savior. May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, humbly we pray that the wisdom of God shall dwell in our hearts richly. Not just the factual knowledge of all the branches of scientific advancement and learning, but also the true knowledge of God that can save our souls, make our lives strong in Thee, give us a song in our hearts and praises on our lips, and someday open for us a door in heaven.
And in this moment that our people stand in the presence of God in prayer, a family you to answer God’s call with your life, a couple you, "Pastor we have decided for God and here we stand." Or a one somebody you, "Tonight I am accepting Christ as my Savior. I am opening my heart to Him." As the Spirit shall press the appeal, answer with your life. Make the decision now in your heart and in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony, down one of those stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, tonight we are giving our lives to Christ." Or, "We are putting our home with you in this dear church. We are answering God’s call to our souls." Do it. And may this be the finest night and the most precious hour you’ve ever known, welcome. And our Lord, thank Thee for the precious harvest You give us this evening, in Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, welcome.
THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Proverbs 1:7, 9:10
I. Education can be for the glory of God or decimation of mankind
1. It is not knowledge
2. It is not skills
3. It is not success
4. It is not materialistic
III. True wisdom
1. Begins with reverence for God
2. It is coming before God daily that we see the true nature of the world around us
3. Found in the humble acceptance of Christ Jesus