The Beginning of Wisdom
By John Bunyan
Writings on Fear of God
Reprinted from: The Puritans, Edited by Randell J. Pederson, Christian Focus Publications
Notes on John Bunyan by Randell J. Pederson:
JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688) is probably the most famous of the English Puritans. He is well known for his The Pilgrims Progress (1678), which has gone through more than 1,300 editions and has appeared in more than 200 languages. It is regarded as the seventeenth century’s most popular work of prose fiction, and the most influential work of any Puritan on either continent. Bunyan was largely self-taught and did not know Greek or Hebrew, but his skill in preaching to the common man was so well known that such an esteemed theologian as John Owen said of him: “If I could possess the tinker’s abilities to grip men’s hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning.”
Bunyan was imprisoned several times for his itinerant preaching, and though this brought much hardship to his family, it was in prison where some of his most notable works came to fruition. The following readings are from Bunyan’s A Treatise of the Fear of God (1679).
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
The fear of God is called “the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) because by the first gracious discovery of God to the soul, this grace is begot; and again, because the first time that the soul apprehends God in Christ to be good unto it, this grace is animated, by which the soul is put into a holy awe of God, which causes it with reverence and due attention to hearken to Him, and tremble before Him. It is also by virtue of this fear that the soul inquires yet more after the blessed knowledge of God.
This is the more evident, because, where this fear of God is wanting, or where the discovery of God is not attended with it, the heart still abides rebellious, obstinate, and unwilling to know more, that it might comply therewith; nay, for want of it, such sinners say unto God, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways (Job 21:14). This fear is called, “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10) because then, and not till then, a man begins to be truly spiritually wise: what wisdom is there where the fear of God is not?
Therefore, the fools are described thus: “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 1:29). The Word of God is the fountain of knowledge, into which a man will not with godly reverence look until he is endued with the fear of the Lord; therefore it is rightly called “the beginning of wisdom: but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). It is, therefore, this fear of the Lord that makes a man wise for his soul, for life, and for another world.