Truth Absolute and Relative

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 11
There are truths absolute, so that it is impossible to lay too much stress on them in overstatement or exaggeration. Such are the facts about our Lord's person and work, His perfect Manhood, His essential Godhead, His infinite Atonement, and consequently the salvation which grace gives. These, it is needless to say, admit of no qualification whatever, although the veiling of Godhead in flesh be equally true. Obviously these stupendous verities can never occupy a secondary place. Take again another series of facts, as different as possible from the Incarnation, but alas! equally true, and liable to no extenuation—human sin and misery and responsibility. Nor may we exclude from this category truths like that of election, to reconcile which with man's responsibility ingenuity has tormented itself in vain; but which, we may rest assured, will one day be made clear to all, as they create no difficulty now to the spiritual. But all such truths are absolute, a quality to be predicated of every fundamental principle of revelation. It has nothing to do with the blessedness of the truths, but with their being illimitable. As we know, truth concerning Christ is as comforting and sublime as the facts of our fallen condition are saddening and humiliating. The one is indeed the remedy of the other. This, however, is not the point that is now pressed, but rather the absoluteness characteristic of some truths, as compared with others which are but relative.
Now there are other statements in the Bible that are only true, when not unduly pressed, and which may become positively dangerous, if divorced from a just perspective. And such, it would seem, is the case with what is said in scripture about the mother of our Lord. At first sight the language of Christ in correcting the woman who pronounced His mother blessed, might seem to be at variance with the language of Mary's own inspired song. Did she not say that from henceforth all generations would call her blessed? Yet here we see the Lord reproving undue, or at least exclusive, occupation with her, whom the angel Gabriel had greeted as highly favored [and blessed among women].1 To superficial minds it might seem rather harsh to damp such generous homage. But the interpretation is perfectly simple. Mary was in the flesh most highly favored, singled out by a supreme distinction. It is even possible that, in a laudable desire to steer clear of Roman error, Protestants may have somewhat overlooked the signal honor of the Virgin, though this were doubtless to err, if to err at all, on the right side.
But our Lord evidently intended His hearers to understand that no mere emotional admiration of Himself or His words could take the place of faith and godliness and holy life. Rather blessed, said He, were those that heard the word of God and kept it. This is spiritual blessing, which is far beyond fleshly. Nor is it fanciful to suppose that the Savior was guarding against undue exaltation of the creature, to which the human heart is so prone, and which may perhaps have sometimes claimed to justify itself by those very words of the angel, recorded earlier in this Gospel. In short it is right to account Mary favored; it is grievously wrong to pay her honors due only to God; it is a mistake to forget that even spiritual blessedness exceeds any honor in the flesh.
It would probably not be difficult to furnish other examples of merely relative force in Biblical statements, which, taken with the proper safeguards, convey important and undeniable truth. The Lord Jesus told His disciples on one occasion that, if a man did not hate his father and mother, he could not be His disciple. None of course but a very literal mind (such are generally the most inaccurate) would be stumbled by this. To be “without natural affection” (2 Tim. 3:33Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, (2 Timothy 3:3)) is one of the signs that characterize the difficult times of the last days. We know that “hate” is simply used in a forcible, as some say oriental, way to press home the fact that Christ must and will have supreme place in the renewed heart. And so with several other statements, on which it is unnecessary now to dwell. There are many dangers to beware of in interpreting scripture, but perhaps a bald literalness of mind is not the least. R. B.