I want us to read the word of God together, if you would turn with me in your Bible to Proverbs chapter 4. You'll remember that last week I began a sermon which ended up as a series of two weeks, because we didn't get it finished, and really last week we looked at the subject of wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and indeed generally in the whole of the word of God. We were looking specifically last week at where we get wisdom, where wisdom comes from, and what it is in the definition that we have in the word of God. We're going to look this week, we'll recap a little on what we looked at last week, but we're going to look specifically this week at where wisdom leads to - last week, where wisdom comes from; this week, where wisdom leads to.
We'll begin at verse 1 of the chapter, chapter 4: "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life. Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil".
We know that God will bless the reading of His word. Verse 18 of chapter 4: 'The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day'. You will remember that at the beginning of this chapter, as we said last week, it is a father speaking to his son, a father bringing his son under his wing into the private place - maybe into his study or to his knee - and giving him the advice that his own father gave him, and telling him that: 'Look, this is the wisdom that my father gave me, and if you obey that wisdom it will stand by you, and you'll have good success in your life if you take this advice'. That is largely what the book of Proverbs is - a lot of people take verses out of the book of Proverbs as promises, and that's not strictly the case because the book of Proverbs, primarily, is a book of godly advice, godly wisdom of a father to his son. The reason why we know that is, there are some apparent contradictions in the book of Proverbs, some advice is given for one situation and different advice is given later on in the book for the same situation - but really, what it is saying is that there are different elements to each situation that may determine different responses by the child of God, and a lot of it is left up to the discernment and the wisdom of the child of God to know how to behave in which circumstance. It is a book of godly advice, and we do well to note it, we do well to read it, and you should try if you can - I'm trying to do it at the minute - to read one chapter of it a day, 31 chapters, one for each day of the month. There is great wisdom within each verse, let alone each chapter.
Perhaps the primary theme of the whole book is wisdom, and what true wisdom is. The verse that we're looking at today tells us not only what wisdom is, but where wisdom leads to. Last week we looked at wisdom and how Solomon actually personifies it. If you look at verse 6 and following, he speaks of wisdom in the feminine - 'she' - he personifies it as a woman. It's as if Solomon is speaking to his son and saying: 'Now this is the type of woman that you want to get hold of, and this is not the type of woman that you want to be associated with' - and we see that later on the book he also personifies wickedness as an evil and adulterous woman in chapters 5 and 6 especially. So he's saying: 'Son, now listen, follow this woman, this wise woman, look for this godly woman, and she will stand by you. If you reverence her, if you love her, if you hold her and cherish her, you will be successful. But if you follow this wicked woman, wickedness personified, it will destroy your life and ultimately it will destroy your soul in hell'.
Now, we looked last week at the definition of wisdom that we have in this chapter, verse 7: 'Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom'. He's saying: 'The wisest thing to do, and how you will have wisdom, is to get wisdom, and get understanding with that wisdom'. If you turn to chapter 9 and verse 10, you have another definition that we found last week - what exactly is wisdom if we were to define it specifically? Chapter 9 verse 10: 'The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding'. Now you know that in chapters 10 through to 29 you have wisdom in the practical and in the secular realm where we relate to one another, and we saw there how if you love discipline, if you love instruction, if you like to be instructed and even punished when necessary, you are a wise person. If you're restrained in speech, if you're cool in spirit, if you're not lazy, you're a wise person.
But here we have a definition of wisdom specifically relating to God, and that's what the first nine chapters of this book of wisdom are all about. Wisdom related to God is the fear of God, wisdom related to God is understanding the things of God, and wisdom specifically is the knowledge of the Holy, the knowledge of God. Now we established last week that the only place that you get wisdom is from God. We saw that God created this world by His wisdom, and He is the only giver of wisdom, and if we are to have wisdom we are to get that wisdom through Him. The whole framework of this book from beginning to end is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. What is the fear of the Lord? I'll give you the definition that I give you last week by this man Gerald H. Wilson - I don't know who he is, but he gives a good definition of what the fear of the Lord is: 'The fear of the Lord is no abject terror, nor is it simply reverential awe, but a deep-seated humility, grounded in an abiding awareness of one's absolute dependence for existence on the undeserved mercy of the Lord'.
Now that's a mouthful, but what's he really saying? It's this: the wisdom of God is the fear of the Lord, which says 'I am humble, I am nothing in Your sight O God, I have nothing to offer you, I have nothing in my life that can take me through life's problems and help me to cope, and if I'm to have anything for a day or for eternity in salvation I need to get it from You'. A humility that is an abiding constant awareness of our absolute dependence and existence on the undeserved mercy of the Lord. If it was not for the mercy of the Lord we would not be here, if it wasn't for the mercy of the Lord even those who are unsaved would not be breathing the blessed air that God gives, God would wipe the whole fallen race of humanity out - we are totally dependent upon His grace and His mercy. Gerald Wilson goes on to say: 'Only through such humility and such dependence is the human heart prepared to perceive and receive the wisdom that God gives'.
What is this wisdom and where do we get it? We get it from God. What is it? It is the fear of the Lord. How do we know the fear of the Lord? Well, you need to get humble, you need to get totally dependent upon God and cast yourself on His mercy, and only a spirit that is poor like that will be able to perceive - understand - God's wisdom and receive God's wisdom when He gives it. We saw that that's what James 1 tells us, that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways. God wants to give us wisdom, and He will give it to those who ask of Him in faith. What is the fear of the Lord? It is this humility, total dependence upon God that is defined in the New Testament by the Greek word 'pistis' (sp?) which means 'faith'. The wisdom of God, the fear of the Lord, is faith. James said any man that asks wisdom of God without faith, let him not think that he will receive anything from God - but if a man ask in faith, he will receive of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.
Wisdom and where we get it - but we ask, today, the question: what is the result of a life of wisdom in the fear of the Lord? What happens when you live like this? Does it pay off? Solomon says: 'Son, if you live like this it'll stand by you, take wisdom to you and she'll bless you, she'll help you, she'll make you succeed' - is that the truth? Is that really the case, and where does this wisdom lead to? Let us be under no illusion, in this world in which we live this wisdom is classed as absolute foolishness. If you turn with me for a moment to 1 Corinthians and chapter 1, in verse 18 Paul says: 'For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God'. Verse 21: 'For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe'. Verse 23: 'But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness'. Verse 25: 'Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men'.
Now let's lay down as the foundation right away that you are going to be seen as absolute fools for obeying and having God's wisdom in your life, for the world outside does not understand, does not perceive or receive the wisdom of God - for it is spiritually discerned. They cannot know it without the Spirit of God, and in fact they cannot have that humble contrite spirit unless the Holy Spirit works with them and makes them realise that it's not through their own righteousness, it's not through their good works, it's not through going to church, it's not through a moral code, but it's nothing but the blood of Jesus that can cleanse us from our sin. It's foolishness for them to say: 'Have faith in the blood of a cross, a Man dying, an execution? Sure it's a curse for any man to die on the cross' - this just doesn't make sense to them.
Now, what is the reason? I've told you a little bit, but Paul goes on in chapter 2 and verse 14: 'The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned'. He doesn't have the Spirit of God, so he can't receive God's wisdom. Chapter 3 and verse 19, again he tells us the reason why: 'For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness'. What this world thinks is wise is nonsense and foolishness to God, and what God thinks is wise is nonsense and foolishness to the world. So immediately you take the wisdom of God, you are opposed face-to-face, nose to nose, tooth to tooth and nail to nail to this world and everything that this word stands for.
Like Athanasius, who said: 'If the world is against Athanasius, Athanasius is against the world'. We're opposed to this world and this world's system, our way of the cross, the idea that through crucifixion we are redeemed, makes us fools for Christ's sake. Really in the world, the spirit that there is concerning our wisdom is the spirit that you find in 2 Peter 3 verse 4 concerning the second coming of the Lord, where they say: 'It's not like this at all, men have been saying this for years, where is the promise of His coming? You say He's coming, but we can see that that's foolishness. You've said that for years but He hasn't come, and He's not going to come!'. We feel like Isaiah: 'Who has believed our report?', and maybe there are even times - and this is who specifically I'm wanting to address now - there may be times even in our hearts as believers that we begin to doubt, we begin to ask the question when we're squeezed hard in life's difficulties and circumstances: 'Does this really pay? Is this way really worth the pain, really worth the effort and the stress?'. We feel like David - it seems that wicked people are succeeding in life, those who are breaking all the rules are going to the top and those who are obeying and trying their best to walk in God's path and righteousness are being penalised for it.
In fact the godly prophet Jeremiah said exactly that in chapter 12 and verse 1 of his prophecy: 'Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments'. 'I've got a bone to pick with You, Lord. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? And wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Lord, have Your judgements broken down, has Your way of wisdom and dealing with men, has it met a brick wall? Have You changed how You operate now, and Your principles, and Your system of working and dealing with human beings?'.
Well let us look at our text, and I want to read it another version that really outlines the full gamut and meaning and wealth of the text. I'll read it in a couple of translations - listen to this: 'The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day'. Literally it means 'standing firm of the day', the sun standing firm of the day, the noontime when the sun's at the highest peak, that is like the walk in the path of the righteous - it gleams, it starts when the sun rises, and then the sun and the rays begin to flow out into the whole day, until the sun gets at its peak and then after noontime it starts going down - but the righteous life is like that sun that continues to go on and on and on, not till night-time, but until the perfect day!
Goodspeed translates it like this: 'The path of the righteous is like the light of the dawn, that shines ever more brightly until the day is full'. Rotherham translates it: 'The path of the righteous is like the light of the dawn, going on and brightening unto a more radiant day'. What an illustration Solomon uses to his son to show him that it does pay, that when you're born again and when you have true wisdom, and coming to faith with the Lord Jesus Christ - it's like the dawning of the day, it's like the sun coming up. As you go along that path of godliness, the narrow road, you find that the light starts to radiate right throughout all your days, and all your experiences, and all your habits - your words, your thoughts, and your deeds - but Solomon says it doesn't stop there, and it's not like our 24-hour day, when the sun reaches its peak it starts to come down again, but that light, that life that is eternal goes on and on and on until the perfect day of eternity when it radiates throughout the whole universe. 'It shineth more and more unto the perfect day'.
Now let me say to you: if you take the wisdom of God and you trust not your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path; you trust in Him and cast your cares upon Him; you humble yourself and recognise that you're totally and utterly dependent upon His mercy alone, you will perceive His wisdom and receive His gift of wisdom, and your life will go on and on like this until the perfect day as a path of ever increasing light.
First of all, there's three things I want to share with you that will happen if you take this wisdom: life's path for you will be a shining light. Christ said of Himself: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life'. If He is the way and we follow His way, He has also said: 'I am the light of the world, he that believeth in me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life'. So if He is the way and we walk along His way, our life will be a shining light, we will receive the true wisdom of God, we will even receive it from the word of God that David said is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our pathway. In the New Testament the apostle says that we ourselves, as believers, are light in the Lord. Because we've been given light through regeneration and being born again, because we walk in the light and obey the light, we become light - we become little flames of the light and life of the Lord Jesus Christ to a world around us. The Bible says that they will see our shining light, and they will glorify our Father in heaven because of our good works in this dark and perverse, adulterous generation.
Can I address anybody in this gathering now who does not have that light? Maybe you're still in darkness, you're still walking in dark ways and dark deeds, you're still having dark thoughts in the recesses and dungeons of your mind and heart that no one knows about, perhaps you're committing things in dark places that no one knows about! You've never been converted, you've never had the light shined into your heart. The negro spiritual used to go: 'I saw the light, I saw the light, no more in darkness, no more in life' - and it's true! Has the light dawned on your spirit? Have you come into a knowledge of your awful sinfulness before God, and of your need for salvation through the blood of the Lord Jesus alone? If you haven't you're walking in darkness! You will enter, one day in eternity, outer darkness forever in hell! But the way of the believer is: if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship the one with the other - that means us with God, the fellowship that was broken when we sinned. We have fellowship with one another when we walk in the light, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin! Will you come into the light? Believer, even, will you start walking in the light and let the radiant holiness of God's presence start to uncover your sinfulness, and the black darkness, and even the very little particles of dust that are in your life that are preventing fellowship of God - oh, would you let the blood of Christ cleanse them all?
If you take God's wisdom and have faith in Him alone, life's path for you will be a shining light. The second thing is this: life's path will be a progress of a growing light. Life will be a progress of a growing light - you see in verse 18 Solomon insinuates that there's a progression here. It comes up, the sun, at dawn; and then it gets higher and higher and higher, and you watch it moving until it's at its highest peak in the daytime - but there's a progression there. Solomon is saying that when you walk in the way of wisdom, and when you take God's word, and God's ways, and God's salvation, and you walk by faith in them - you will progress as a child of God. The converse of that is: God does not glorify in the stunted growth of His children, but God is glorified when we walk in the light and grow into a more brighter light, until the perfect day.
In case you think that I'm reading New Testament truth into Old Testament verses I want you to turn with me to Philippians chapter 3. If you like, this is Paul's motto that we know all too well, and he says that the desire of his heart in verse 10 is: 'That I may know him', what did Solomon said in chapter 9 of Proverbs, verse 10? That wisdom is the knowledge of the Holy. Paul is looking for wisdom here: 'That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead'. That's a tricky verse, Paul the apostle asking that he would attain unto the resurrection of the dead - what hope have we if Paul was praying like this? What makes him pray like this? Well, look at the next verse: 'Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus'.
Now I'll explain the difficulties in this in just a moment, but what I want you to see is this: Paul's prayer for his life was that it would be a progression. Forget what's behind and press forward unto that light that shines as a perfect day. Six hundred years ago an unknown saint of God wrote a book called 'The Cloud of Unknowing', his premise in the book was that most Christians live what he called a 'common Christian life', they are 'common Christians', he says. While there are other people, they're a little step upwards, and they live a life of 'special Christianity'. Then there's another realm, they're a bit above the special ones, and they live a life of 'singular Christianity'. Then there are a people that are very few, and they live the life of 'perfect Christianity'. Now I would happen to differ with this brother, because I think what he calls 'perfect Christianity' is the normal Christianity, and ought to be the common Christianity for us all because God has given us the power and the ability to live it. But when he talks about perfect Christianity he says this: 'The first three of these stages - common, special, and singular - may be begun and ended in this life. You can enter into perfection, the fourth stage, but you cannot enter into it fully, because the fourth may by grace be begun here but it shall last without end in the bliss of heaven'. Have you got it? You can begin the path of biblical perfection now, but it will never be consummated and finished or finalised until we are in eternity.
Now when I talk about perfection, am I saying that I'm perfect, or you're perfect, or that we can begin to be perfect? Our sense of perfection is not the biblical sense of perfection that we have in the word of God. Look back at Philippians 3 just for a moment till I explain this, and I think that this is the answer to the question that Paul poses: 'I want to know him, that I might attain' - verse 11 - 'the resurrection of the dead'. Now look at verse 12: 'Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect'. Now look at verse 15: 'Let us therefore, as many as be' - what? - 'perfect, be thus minded'. Is he contradicting himself? He can't be, because the word of God doesn't contradict itself - but what he is saying here, I believe, is that you can enter into such a life of fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ that will be begun down here and one day will end in glory! It's a progression, upward and onward! It's not common, where we just get saved and get stuck; it's not even just singular, where we live and do all the right things, and live some kind of substandard holy life; it's not even special, but it begins and enters into a being changed and conformed to the image of God's Son, until one day - it doesn't stop in time - but it enters into eternity and shines more and more until the brightest day.
The Psalmist said in the Psalm that we studied a few weeks ago, Psalm 84 verse 7: 'They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God'. Listen to what Charles Bridges said about this wonderful verse, a great evangelical in the Church of England over a hundred years ago: 'It is a beautiful sight to see the Christian thus rising out of the darkness; not, indeed, with uniform brightness but deepening from the first faint beginning of his course, rising higher and higher, widening his circle, advancing onward with increasing brightness unto the perfect day. Knowledge, faith, love, holiness irradiate every step'.
Now what does this verse do for us? I'll tell you what it does: it rebukes a stationary profession in Christ. If you're going nowhere at this moment, be rebuked, because God has done everything in His power to make you progress brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. It's meant to be a rising, it's meant to be an advancing - and it's certainly, even if you're not stationary, it cannot be a declining! You're not meant to go backward! Therefore it rebukes not only the stationary Christian, but the backsliding Christian. I'm not saying that we don't have a blip here and there, for even David and Peter had a cloud temporarily that came across the sun of righteousness for them. There were those who were in the day of small things, and were told not to despise the day of small things - and I think perhaps we're in them in this present day in which we live - but it says this to us: don't be satisfied with whatever you have! Are you satisfied with the blessing in the Iron Hall? I'm not! Are you satisfied with the reality of God in your life? I'm not! I want to go on and on, onward and upward, higher and brighter until the perfect day radiates in my heart! Shining and progressing light, continually aiming at perfection and completeness in the Lord Jesus, pressing on till we shall shine forth as the sun, Jesus said, in the kingdom of His Father.
Thirdly and finally, added to that - not only will life's path be a perfect light, and life's progress will be a growing light, but life's destiny will be a perfect light. What did Paul say in 2 Corinthians 3:18? 'We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord'. Peter talks about this in 2 Peter 1:19: 'We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts'. Peter is talking, of course, about the Lord's second advent, His return to this earth. That's external, but he says 'the day star arising in your heart', that's internal. It was to Peter that these mockers and doubters said: 'Where is the promise of His coming?', and Peter says: 'There's a day coming when all the darkness of doubts and depressions will be cast away by the radiant light of Jesus Christ coming into the world'. But listen, that day star won't just arise on the scene of human history, but it will arise in your heart to dispel the darkness of doubts and despondency!
Isn't it wonderful? We have the perfect Scriptures, but you know they're limited - I hope you know they're limited - but one day the perfect Scriptures will be replaced by the perfect and complete revelation of Jesus Christ Himself, and the world of eternity, one perfect day of ever-increasing light and joy, will begin and we will arrive at the end - the perfect day - and this is what we ought to be pressing onward toward! To the place where there shall be no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light and they shall reign for ever and ever.
The world laughs at our foolishness, doesn't it? Our wisdom is foolishness to them. Sometimes in the depths of our heart, we cannot see the end, we cannot see where we are being brought to, we cannot see how this wise road will pay. Let me finish with this story. There was a woodcutter and he had a lovely white horse, and the people often admired it, and many people came and propositioned him to buy it - and they offered all the money they could. He was a very poor man, he could have done with the money, but he wouldn't give the horse up. He said: 'How can I sell a person? This horse is a person to me, I cannot part with him'. One day the old man got up and the horse wasn't in the stable. The people came round to his door and lambasted him: 'You're a fool, if you had sold the horse when you had him you'd be well off now - and this is a curse from God upon you, because you didn't sell it!'. The old wise man said to them: 'Don't speak too quickly, just say only that the horse is not there. That's all we know. We don't know why it's happened, we don't know what's going to happen, just say that the horse is not there'. Fifteen days later the horse returned, and it brought with it a dozen wild horses. The people came to his door and they said: 'Old man, we're so sorry, we were wrong, you were right - it was a blessing, it was a blessing!'. The old man said: 'Don't say it was a blessing, just say that the horses have returned. We don't know whether it's a blessing or not, just say what we know, that the horses have returned'. Well, that old man's only son tried to break those horses in and tame in. One day as he was training them he fell and broke both of his legs. The people came to his door again and said: 'We're sorry Sir, because you were right, this was a curse and wasn't a blessing - look what has happened to your son'. He said: 'Don't say it's a curse or don't say it's a blessing, just say what you know'. Weeks later the country was engaged in warfare, and that man's young son, only son, was bypassed because of his disability. They came to him again and said: 'We were wrong, it wasn't a curse, it was a blessing'. And again he said: 'Just say what you know'.
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain. We don't know why things happen in our lives, and they may even cause us to doubt, but listen child of God: whatever happens, if you keep God's way of wisdom your life will go on and on as a shining light, and one day you will reach life's destiny - a perfect light! John said it: 'Every man that has this hope within him, purifieth himself even as He is pure'. I invite you all today to walk the way of wisdom, because the way of wisdom leads home.
Lord, we thank Thee that Jesus is coming again. We thank Thee that if He does not come in our lifetime that we will be called home to His side, and we will enter into that perfect day - the consummation of which we hope has been begun down here on earth, as we forget that which is behind and press on to that which is to come: the high prize of the calling of Christ Jesus. Lord, help us to run the race with all our might, to finish the course well. Oh what a day that will be, when we enter the perfect day. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Wisdom And Where It Leads - Part 2" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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