Truth

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Sanctify them through thy truth: THY WORD IS TRUTH― JOHN 17:1717Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17).
6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)17Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17) Truth" I hold to be definite, unchangeable, and perfectly revealed in the Scriptures." These are, as regards man, the only fountain and depository of truth. As to its essence and living embodiment, it is found alone in Him who said, " AM THE TRUTH "―happily for us, " the way and the life also." If others hold not this, it is their loss: they have not the anchor that can be trusted in the storm. Truth, I deny not, may be matter of long and hesitating and anxious inquiry. Because truth, which is but the expression of the mind of God, though perfectly revealed, is not at once, and of necessity, perfectly understood―not even by those who are called " wisdom's children," and are' born of God." " We know in part, and we prophecy in part." But truth itself in the Scriptures, is perfect, absolute, and unchangeable. There is much in the apprehension of this. It removes doubt from the pathway, and is the hinge of all true inquiry. It lays open the well, and how its living waters may be drawn. It points to the oracle, and the temper in which it must be consulted.
As to the study of truth or its investigation, it must be with intent to obey, and not to speculate: " If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine " (John 7:1717If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)). The disciple's place, and not the Master's, belongs to every student of the truth. Moreover, if success is to crown the study, truth must be sought for its own r, sake, or rather for its Author's. If the secret bent and purpose is to feed the imagination, or to gratify the lust of knowing, then know this, that thou shalt be " ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge (or full-knowledge ') of the truth " (2 Tim. 3:77Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:7)). On the other hand, " If thou criest after knowledge " (conscious of thy lack of it), " and liftest up thy voice for understanding"; " if thou seekest her as silver " (with an estimation of its value), " and searchest for her as for hid treasures "
" Buy the truth, and sell it not " (Prov. 23:2323Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. (Proverbs 23:23)): no price is too great for its purchase-no gain sufficient to repay its loss.
This is no direction for the world's marketing: but it tells us plainly why so few obtain what so many profess to seek. " Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he bath no heart for it?" (17:16). Albeit the fool of Scripture is the world's wise man. To him, then, who would advance in, the knowledge of the truth, Paul's direction to Timothy must not stand in the letter only: " Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all." And he adds, " Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee."
In the communication of truth, when it is drawn directly from the divine word; or, it may be, learned from others, and verified by that word (for all are not alike successful diggers, in the mine, though all should alike possess a value for the ore), it is definite and determinate. When teaching ceases to be definite it ceases to be powerful; for it ceases to be truth that is taught.
All truth is definite or ceases to be truth. Teaching that swerves from this may not cease to be exciting or attractive, but it ceases to edify. " He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord " (Jer. 23:2828The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:28)). But he who deals out as truth that which is unascertained and indeterminate, first imposes on himself the chaff for the wheat, and then practices the same deception upon others. To present truth in the plainest and severest garb, and to unfold it in terms level to the commonest minds, is the plain duty of every teacher who is in earnest in what he does. But to seek to popularize truth by diluting it-to drape it so that its proportions are hidden―to adorn it by the efforts of imagination, in order to make it palatable, and so win for it a place in minds that have no love for it, nor intention to practice it, is to " sow the wind, and to reap the whirlwind " (Hos. 8:77For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. (Hosea 8:7)). Spiritual truth can only be apprehended by the understanding becoming spiritual; and the attempt to bring it within the grasp of the unspiritual mind is at best but to leaven and corrupt the truth, instead of using it as a lever by which to bring up the soul to God. Confidence in the truth, or faith, is content to let God work, and to open His own doors for its reception. But there is a bustling activity that is ever thrusting itself forward a running where there are no tidings prepared; which, though it may put on the guise of zeal for the truth, is in the issue no better than sowing in unploughed land. There is divine wisdom in the exhortation of the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, " Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns " (Jer. 4:33For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. (Jeremiah 4:3)).
I speak not here against pressing the message of the gospel upon unwilling hearers; though in this, both time and wisdom, and an open door, should be sought at the hands of the Lord; and there should be care that love be never absent as the chief handmaid in the work.
But truth can never be popular in this world. Altogether apart from the testimony of Scripture, even philosophers are puzzled " to know how it is that men should love lies, where they make neither for pleasure, as with poets; nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake." And we know who has said, "Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not " (John 8:4545And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. (John 8:45)). Truth shows men's follies and by-ends too clearly, and sheds too broad a light on the masquerading of the world, ever to be welcomed by it. It is only " he that doeth the truth [that] comes to the light " (John 3:2121But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:21)). Men like to live in sort of twilight; or to walk by the light of a fire that themselves have kindled, and sparks that they have compassed themselves about with (see Isa. 1:1111To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. (Isaiah 1:11)). And this they are allowed to do, as long as truth is mingled with men's thoughts and speculations, instead of shining with its own clear light. All human over-valuing, and self-conceit, and false fancies, are detected by the truth; and things that sparkle and look bright by the world's candle-light, lose their luster when brought into the light of the sanctuary (see Psa. 73:1717Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. (Psalm 73:17)). This men cannot afford, for it strips the world of its glory, and shows it as a base counterfeit. Supposing the light of truth to be let in upon men and their pursuits, and their estimation of themselves (to go no further), does any one doubt that it would make them feel themselves to be poor, shrunken things, where the heart had not Christ to fill up the place of that which the truth takes away? But it is the very province of the truth to exhibit things as they are. It is the light which makes all things manifest (see Eph. 5:1313But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:13)). There is no object, therefore, unless I would be untrue to my own ends, as they themselves will be ere long manifested in the light, in so disguising truth as to make it pass through the world unrecognized in its claims, and without accomplishing a single purpose for which it is given.
But this is done when it judges neither the conscience nor the ways of those by whom it his professedly embraced. The pleasure that may be professed by such a reception of the truth, or the profit, is as nothing; and I ought to blush, if I have only gained for it a welcome on the condition that it shall be deposed from its authority. It is like making truth a harlot to minister to the lusts of the mind. God is the communicator of truth, and He has given it that the heart may be brought into subjection to His authority, as well as into acquaintance with Himself. His works and ways. If I deal with truth at all, for my own profit or that of others, I am abound to do it in subjection to God. Hence the apostle's declaration, " We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor. 4:22But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)).
Man, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is only the interpreter of the heavenly oracles. Hence arises a limit in the service of truth. I must cease to interpret when I cease to understand. It may be the consequence of my negligence that I do not understand. Be it so. The acknowledgment of this may prove a spur to my diligence (especially if I bear in mind the word, " to him, that hath shall be given "); but it is certainly no warrant to cover ignorance by the pretense of knowledge. How many expositions of Scripture are to be met with, whose contradictions amongst themselves show that it is not truth that is presented, but the uncertain and ever-varying notions of men. What, then, in writing, or in oral teaching, profits? The definiteness of truth; truth, doubtless applied by the Holy Spirit to the conscience and the heart;―still, the definiteness of truth. That there may be an effect where this is absent, I do not deny. But what is it? The effect of making people think, if they think at all, that Scripture is as vague and pointless as any exposition of its declarations. Still, I affirm that truth is definite, or it is not truth. Boundless in its extent it is, and infinitely varied in its application, but always definite. Where this definiteness is not grasped, uncertainty and unpreparedness for action are the necessary result, " for if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? " (1 Cor. 14:88For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8)). An easy-going orthodox profession may be satisfied with vagueness and generality, nay, with vapidness and insipidity; but if the truth is to detach souls from the world, to bring into peace and liberty, and to direct to the just hope of a Christian, it must be definite. Let those who are teachers of the truth beware, for the streams will not rise higher than the level of the spring; and there is always a (more or less marked) correspondence between the character and condition of the teacher and the taught. People that are caught by the imaginative, the sentimental, the shallow and wordy, as well as those who are captivated by the comprehensive and earnest, will infallibly bear its stamp. Moreover, it is not everything true which profits. Where popular effect may become a snare, the example of Philip, in Acts 8, may well furnish instruction to the heart. But above all should be studied the way in which He, who spake as never man spake, detaches, by the truth He presents, the multitudes that were gathered around Him, from all false expectations which they might have associated with His words and mission, through carnality or a worldly mind. The sermon on the mount (Matt. 5, etc.), and John 6, stand out as prominent examples of this. It is a sore trial to our poor hearts to be obliged, by the presentation of the distinctiveness of truth, to count upon following the experience of the Master, as is recorded in John 6:6666From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. (John 6:66): " From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him." But this was only a legitimate, though sorrowful, effect of the Lord's faithfulness to His mission, as uttered before Pilate, " To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto THE TRUTH. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice " (John 18:3737Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. (John 18:37)).
For the truth's sake all imitation of others, in their modes of communicating it, should be eschewed. It has the effect of making' the message appear unreal in the hands of him who is delivering it. Simplicity of purpose and aim will stamp its own impress on the mode of communicating, and the vessel under this power be seen as God has fitted it, and not distorted by the attempt to emulate that which it may be most unlike, both in original character, and in training for the work.
" Take heed how ye hear " brings before us the responsibility before God the individual is placed under on hearing the truth. But know this, that truth will never be truth to the soul, until it is translated into action. Truth appeals to the conscience and to the affections with all the authority of the God of truth. At first it deals with me about ruin and redemption. It claims to be formative of my motives, to be the guide of my actions, the director of my thoughts, the animator of my hopes, the overseer of my whole inner, as well as outer, life.
Supposing truth to have been rightly taught and rightly received, what will be its legitimate effect? This is answered in the most direct way in the summary the apostle gives of the effect of the gospel on the Thessalonians. He speaks of them as remembering their " work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ." And this answers to his expression in Corinthians, " Now abideth faith, hope, charity [love], these three." There is that in the revelation of the truths of heavenly grace which thus acts, by the power of God on the soul, when it is yielded up to its power. The " work of faith " is seen in its turning the heart " to God from idols," in all the intensity of the contrast between utter emptiness and vanity, and eternal living fullness. The " labor of love " expresses itself in the outgoing of life's energies in the service of Him who, in the all commanding and constraining power of infinite and unstinted love, makes Himself known to the soul, and by love thus enchains and leads it captive " The patience of hope " takes the definite form of waiting for the accomplishment of the promise of Him who said, " I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." Hope shows its power in the soul by sustaining the patience while " waiting for God's Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead [with all the pregnancy of this mighty truth in power and love and grace] even JESUS, who delivered us from the wrath to come."
Now these are presented, not as the ripened fruits of long experience in the truth, but as the very first results of the reception of gospel grace: the upspringing of heavenly fruit from a virgin soil when first brought under culture by the hand of God; the well-tuned harmony of the soul touched in its chords by the skill of infinite love. The Lord Jesus Christ was the Spring and Object of their faith and love and hope. " The work of faith " was there; and "the labor of love " was there; and the "patience of hope " was there. Nothing of the divine testimony was inert. Indeed, apart from this living energy, Christianity has no existence in this world. The truths by which it was first evoked remain, and the divine power remains which gave these truths this living expression. Many things which marked the bright course of the early church have passed away, but these are emphatically said to remain, " faith, hope, charity, these three," without which Christianity is not.
Should not, then, a right presentation and a right reception of the truth of the gospel be still productive of the same effects? Should we not view it as a defective gospel, either as preached or professed, if these effects be absent? God's grace must not be limited: but I am speaking of the responsibility which the truth brings to the soul. The effect of the gospel is not here limited, as it is so often now, to the individual having obtained peace by it, or even the knowledge of the possession of eternal life. If the heart rests in faith on the divine truths on which Christianity is based, must it not claim for them an energetic and transforming power? Where God is working, I own it becomes the soul to tread softly. But in what are called " revivals," I think I see this ―on the part of God, souls awakened in an extraordinary degree, and many doubtless brought to Christ;―on the part of man, nature largely acted on, often a defective gospel presented, and the mind concentrated too much on its own assured and joyous feelings. The result of this is, to a large extent, even where the work is real, the rearing of hot-house plants, which wither and show the yellow leaf when the extraneous heat and forcing influences are withdrawn. Conversion is not everything. Fervor will not stand in the place of truth engrafted in the soul. Activity is not the only sign of spiritual life and power, " I am so happy! " may be welcomed as the soul's expression of having found in Christ what it could find in nothing else. But there is another word of Christ to be heard besides " thy sins are forgiven thee: " it is, " If any man serve me, let him follow me." It is a great thing that the practical aim of Christians be not lowered. True revival I take to be the leading back of souls to see from whence they have fallen, and to repent and do the first works. The sure token of a revival in the church (I do not mean the fact of frequent conversions) will be found in Christians being led solemnly to lay it to heart, whether the church is in a position to meet the Lord, and whether it is a true and faithful witness for Him in His absence. There are dangers of all times, and there are the special dangers of our own; but the fullness of the truth as communicated to us by God is sufficient to enable the simple and dependent saint to meet them all, and so to find the special blessing promised, by the lips of Him whose name we bear, " to him that overcometh."