What is Truth?

John 18:38.

1882 54 Little did Pilate realise the momentousness of the question he so lightly put to our Lord. As little did he know the import of the previous words of Christ, "every one that is of the truth heareth My voice." Solemn, too, is it to think that the truth may be known to a certain extent intellectually, and professed vaguely to a still greater extent, yet be unknown in the heart and to the conscience. To profess the truth is not necessarily to be of the truth; in order to this we must be begotten of God by the word of truth (James i. 18): it is an effectual and abiding work of the Spirit. Ordinances have their place, but have nothing to do with the communication of life. As "he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God;" so with true Christianity, and with baptism. Outward rites have nothing whatever to do with the communication or with the sustenance of life; to think so is to mistake their object and use. Life is exclusively by the word of God, in the power of the Spirit; "thy word hath quickened me." The process is not an external and mechanical one, it is a moral one dealing with the heart and conscience. It is the voice of Christ within, a still small voice, it may be, speaking within and to the conscience, but with a power and effect peculiar to itself; "even so the Son quickeneth whom He will." It is Christ who quickens the soul, by the word instrumentally, and by the Spirit mediately.

But in order to this the conscience must be aroused, the heart attracted. To ask the question "What is truth?" and forthwith to turn away, is to evince the fatal unconcern and indifference of spiritual death. If the lie of Satan by which he deceived Eve has brought about all the misery which it has, surely this should teach us not only how terrible a thing it is to disobey God, but it should impress us also with the deepest conviction of the value of Divine truth when brought near to us in grace; for "the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Saved by divine grace, good works should be the fruit. But is the precious truth of God our object? Then, "buy the truth and sell it not." It may cost us something to purchase and to hold it, but it is worth more than its weight in gold: "the law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver." This is the truth as it is in Jess, for He is the truth personally and absolutely, its dispenser to the individual heart in the measure proportionate to the faith of the believer, and to his fidelity to what he has already received; for "to him that hath shall more be given." Unless mixed with faith in the heart it is powerless. Do we desire to be set free as to our conscience before God, and as to deliverance from self, the world, and the enemies' power? It is by the truth, for, as our Lord says (John viii. 32), "the truth shall make you free;" yet it is His doing, if effective, for "if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."

By no power or resources of our own can we emancipate ourselves from sin and Satan. Nor can the Church do this. The Church indeed should be "the pillar and ground of the truth," the place where the truth can be found; but the ordinary idea and phrase of "the Church teaches" is one alike foreign and opposed to Scripture. In the figurative language of Scripture the Church is the woman, and the woman must not teach nor usurp authority. Christ teaches by His servants, He gives them the understanding and the power (the written word, however, being ever the test), and this constitutes their authority; but when the "Church" teaches or rules, she usurps the authority of her living Lord and Head, and this never can be the case without injury to those who accept her authority. That many good, holy, and devoted men have held the common notion is most true; that many truly gifted members of the body of Christ have also held it, is true; nevertheless it is from the Lord, and that directly and immediately, that their gift and their spiritual power have come. The Church receives, holds fast, and professes the truth; teachers whether public or private (such as parents) are put in that position by the Lord; at the same time it is most important never to confound such channels of communication with a standard of authority. The written word alone is that.

The Son of God has ever been the quickener of souls, and that by the Word and Spirit. Never have souls been convicted without the expressed word of God. To say that Christ being personally the Word, if He quickens there is thus the application of the word to the soul, is a fallacious argument. He never does so quicken (see Romans x. 13-15). Even when in the world He says, "the words that I speak unto you they are spirit, and they are life." God's word has ever been the Divine seed, in virtue of which souls have been born again. In the parable of the sower our Lord explains, "the seed is the word of God" (Luke viii. 11, 15); "that on the good ground are they which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." The honest and good heart is as it were the good ground in which the seed of the word of God is sown, germinating in the power of the Spirit, and bringing forth the fruit of good works. But it will be said, "how reconcile this with the Sacramental theory of a germ imparted at baptism?" The fact is, we all have so much to unlearn before we can learn. If conventional notions, ecclesiastical traditions, and the prejudices thus engendered, are more precious to us than Divine truth, great indeed is our loss. The two are irreconcilable. The former, however, is the teaching of Scripture; the latter is what the Church teaches, but teaches erroneously.

Reverting to Pilate's question, let us, as deeply interested in the reply, ask with him "What is Truth? Truth is the expression of what a person or thing is. Even in ordinary matters it is difficult, if not impossible, adequately to define or describe anything, and hence the subtleties and perplexities of metaphysics. If this is true when we attempt to express the relations of things to ourselves, how much more so when the relations of things to God are in question. It is evident that He only could express or manifest them. But as the Infinite and the Absolute, how could He do so suitably to the limited apprehension and capacity of the creature, the finite? To a certain extent God might he known to the creature by His attributes. That God is holy, good, wise, and mighty beyond all comparison or conception was, and is, clear to angels. That He was good, wise, and powerful beyond all conception, our first parents in a state of innocency must have perceived and experienced. That He was the Supreme Being, was perfectly seen and understood by all created intelligences; and if the pride of Satan so blinded him in this respect as to tempt him to put the matter to the test, he was quickly undeceived, and that to his everlasting ruin. Pride and ambition were vastly more the spring of action in the revolt of Satan, than they were the cause of Adam's disobedience. Moreover, Satan was the first and arch-rebel, but our first parents fell, tempted by him; or at least, such was the case with Eve. To know of God, however, by His attributes or qualities, is not to know God Himself, — God as to His very nature. Nor was it possible that God, as to His nature, could be revealed to the creature otherwise than in the person of a Mediator, — One who, "found in fashion as a man" ("made in the likeness of flesh of sin"), was yet truly, and in the most absolute sense, the eternal God. Combining in Himself Deity and manhood, and as the God-man possessing fully the holiness of God, so that it could be equally said of Him as of the Father or of the Spirit, and that whether in Incarnation or in Resurrection, "Holy! Holy! Holy Lord God Almighty;" He, this wondrous Mediator, revealed God to men, He was the truth, and the Light of the world, whether the world would receive Him or not, and He revealed God to men (to their conscious yet limited knowledge), by making those who believed in Him and received Him partakers of the Divine nature, so that there was that in them, above and beyond mere human nature, which had its fulness in Him, the community of a nature in itself altogether beyond the bounds of creature existence, though as to attribute finite in us, and always dependent on Him. Truth is thus both absolute and relative, inasmuch as the absolute implies the relative. It is God's expression of Himself, and of the relation of everything to Himself. Christ is the eternal Word: in Incarnation He became the expression to men as to angels (1 Tim. iii. 16) of what God is. In what He was, in what He said, and in what He did, He was in every respect the manifestation of God; and everything has its character in relation to Him, and as He sees it to be. He is the truth, as to its totality and objective reality, and the truth as to any particular subject is what it is in relation to Him. The written word, given by Divine revelation and by means of Divine inspiration, is the recorded expression of His mind, but in a manner and form adapted to the human understanding; not, however, without the agency of the Holy Spirit to make it spiritually understood. For the attempt to deal with God's word without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit makes a man a rationalist, whilst the pretence to be taught or led by the Spirit apart from the written word makes a man a visionary or mere enthusiast. Hence the Spirit also is called "the truth" (1 John 5:6), being the living power of the written word.

Whilst, then, it is true that the Scriptures are the written word of God, it is also true that the written word would be inoperative in us without the living agency of the Holy Spirit. But the written word is the standard of truth — the rule, and the only rule, of faith. The human mind may revel in fantastic conceits and vagaries, false analogies, or bold attacks, — in mysticism, sacerdotalism, or rationalism; but the truth received into the heart dissipates these errors as the sun dissipates the humid vapours of night. The natural man, however, understandeth not the things of God. If there is any moral elevation to be found in the world, if the tide of evil is in any measure stemmed, if society is able in any degree to hold together, and human life has any security or enjoyment, what is it owing to? It is owing to the measure in which truth is respected, and practical truth and righteousness practised. Imagine whit the world would become, if truth and honesty disappeared, and falsehood and deceit reigned everywhere; morality gone, wickedness triumphant, family and social bonds dissolved. And the world owes it to God's grace, and to God's providence that it is not so. Were the government of God for a brief season to cease, it would quickly be apparent what Satan would make of the world. It would indeed be a hell upon earth. Let us then extend this principle to the whole universe. Imagine that evil was supreme, truth banished, righteousness annihilated. What a fearful state of things! And who is the judge, what is the standard, what power maintains truth, righteousness, and order? God is the judge, truth is the standard, and it is the power of God, and that alone, which ensures the maintenance of everything that is good and excellent, and which will ensure the judgment of all evil in due time, and its disappearance from the scene of ordered government. But not till the game is played out, not till the conflict between the powers of good and evil ceases, in its full, final, and everlasting issues. The history of corruption and violence on the face of this earth, commencing with the lie by which Satan deceived Eve, and sin followed by the crime of fratricide (truly did our Lord characterise Satan as a liar and as a murderer), will, when iniquity is full, God's purposes accomplished, and the game played out, come to an end: the result to the moral agent, whether of blessing, or of judgment, being henceforth in the strictest sense everlasting. Once before, the wickedness of mankind was so great and so universal, that God cleared the earth by the deluge. Some may be "willingly ignorant of this," or may wilfully deny it; but to the Christian it is the most solemn confirmation of those statements of Scripture which assures us of the overwhelming judgment which is coming upon all, who are not found in the true ark, that is Christ. Meanwhile the gospel, God's grand ordinance for the salvation of men, is being proclaimed, and happy are those who fear and accept God's proffered terms of mercy. "Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."

As the acorn contains in itself the germ of what will in due time develop into the oak tree, so the few but pregnant words of Genesis iii. 15 contain the announcement of God's future purposes of grace overcoming the power of evil. God had said unto Adam, "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." No doubt the instant Adam disobeyed he became mortal, i.e. liable to death, through physical necessity, and at the same moment he fell into a state of spiritual death, i.e. the severance of the soul from God, alienation from Him, and enmity to Him in consequence of a nature now insubject to Him. In no sense does death to a human being mean annihilation; — even though the body returns to the dust, out of which Adam was originally and immediately created, it will be raised again. 'he breath which God breathed into Adam's nostrils endowed him with a rational and imperishable soul. Nevertheless life and incorruption, as well as the second death and eternal judgment, were brought to light by the gospel, and the expressions in the Old Testament, "Thou shalt surely die," and "the soul that sinneth it shall die," seem to speak solely of the death of the body, and with reference to God's government in this world.

As to the temptation, Adam was not deceived, but choosing to follow Eve, gave up God. Nor, as we see from Eve's reply to the serpent, was she deceived as regards ignorance of the divine prohibition, but as to the true character of the tempter, and by the falsity of the serpent's words. The lie by which he deceived Eve was a lie of the worst sort, — that kind of lie which has enough of truth in it, the more effectually to deceive. They did not die physically, on the literal day of twenty-four hours, in which they disobeyed; yet in every other sense they did die, even though they became "as gods, knowing good and evil," where before they had been simply innocent. This function of conscience they acquired in and by the fall. But what a fearful thing it is to know good and evil as a fallen being! In this respect then Adam and Eve became "as gods, knowing good and evil." It is no question now of our being restored to what Adam was as innocent, it is now a question of being "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him," i.e. that created the old man, the first Adam. We are therefore called to holiness, not to innocence.

In His sentence on the serpent God said, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall braise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." A double reference seems to run throughout this verse, a literal and a mystical one. The enmity between the serpent and the human race it is well known surpasses that existing between any of the lower creation and mankind, and the sentence is thus perfectly literal. In the mystical sense, the seed of the woman is Christ, and the clause, "between thy seed and her seed" would thus include all that are Christ's on the one hand, and the children of the devil on the other, whether wicked spirits or wicked men. The enmity would not be on the part of the children of God towards their fellow creatures, but it would be on the part of the wicked towards the righteous, as quickly illustrated by Cain's murder of Abel. "It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." The pronoun It, if taken by itself, might no doubt be so pointed in the Hebrew as to be feminine, but the verb being masculine shows that the pronoun is so too, and not, as the Roman Catholics try to make out, feminine in allusion to the Virgin Mary. It is masculine in allusion to Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross accomplished this prediction finally as regards the latter clause, and potentially as regards the former.

The process as regards Satan is more protracted, his actual defeat and degradation being by successive steps and blows, till, his time being up and his work done, he will be cast into hell, — the most miserable being there, — the arch-enemy of God, the opposer of Christ, and the author of evil, of all the evil which has ever existed, even though he found willing accomplices. Never, however, has success more attended his boastful efforts than now, and in fact from the time he succeeded in inducing the Jewish priests to insist on the death of Christ. Whilst that sacrifice is the salvation of believers, it is the judgment of the world, "now is the judgment of this world," i.e. morally — actual and final judgment is of course outside this world, as it is eternal in its result. But terrible is his success now, as of old, in the perversion of God's words, in the mixture of falsehood with truth. Corrupted religion is the most deceptive and destructive of his arts. The ecclesiastical power when corrupt has ever been his only too successful instrument. Following in the wake of God's dealings with men, he insinuates himself, corrupts, and ruins. Aaron, God's high priest, at the very time when he is setting up idolatry, proclaims "a feast to Jehovah." The ecclesiastical authorities in Jerusalem, when our Lord was upon earth, were his most subtle and bitter foes, and drove Pilate against his better judgment to desire the death of Christ.

And does it fare better with the Truth at the present day? In no wise. Destroyed if possible, or at least corrupted, he thus effects his deadly purpose, nor will his powers of deception cease till he has set up a man as antichrist, and quickly meets his doom for his daring and impious opposition to Christ. And for this the "religious" world is rapidly ripening, or at least the apostate part of it. Christ was and is "the way, the truth, and the life;" but people will not thus submit to the righteousness of God by faith. They like, as ever, their own way, and in this Satan is always ready to help us. "For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. ii. 7-11). God is light, and God is love. These terms express what God is in His nature, — intolerant of evil, yet love. The cross of Christ has vindicated God in both these respects. If we were to be saved, and righteously saved, the judgment of sin must be borne; and He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. At the same time God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoso believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. But we never read that God is truth. God is true, but Christ is the Truth, the expression and manifestation of the true God. Much may be true in human knowledge: this knowledge however is but partial, and not that of God Himself. Christ is the truth, objectively, absolutely, and in its totality, nor can the creature reach God or apprehend Him, but by Christ, the one Mediator. Truth and Light therefore are not equivalent terms. Light is God's nature, Truth is the expression or manifestation of that nature in its entirety, i.e. whatever may be its attributes; the Psalmist could speak of God as "the living God," and as "the God of my life." I see this in Christ; that, says John, which we have seen and heard of the Word of Life, for the Life was manifested, and Christ is the Life. In brief He is the expression or manifestation of God, and therefore is "the Truth."

Most of the Ante-Nicene Fathers held that Christ, though eternal as the word-mind (endiathetos) in God, only became a person (apophorikos) when God was about to create the world, a notion utterly refuted by John i. 2. "He was in the beginning with God," i.e. distinct personality, and that from eternity. We often hear the earlier period of the Church spoken of as its purer period. No mistake could be more gross; never was heresy and puerile nonsense more rife, or so rife.

John i. 1-5 tells what the Word was essentially (en), He was Life, and He was Light; John i. 14 tells us what He became (egeneto). Nevertheless though ever Light in Himself, He was not the light of men till He came amongst men, i.e. in incarnation; "that was the true light, which coming into the world lighteth every man" (John i. 9, and compare John xii. 46). Not that every man sees this Light, more than in nature every man sees the sun. In either case men may be blind — in fact spiritually, and as towards God, men are dead in trespasses and sins, and as spiritually dead, they have no spiritual perception. The notion that all men have divine light is a denial of man's true state and condition, and evinces a perversion of Scripture on the one side, as complete as on the other that which would make the sacramental elements vehicles of life; we might call the former the idealistic error, the latter the materialistic error. Life is by the Word in the power of the Spirit, the process being a moral one, i.e. one acting on the conscience and the heart.

It may be said, if Christ was the light of men only in incarnation, what light had men before the incarnation, and what light have they now? In both cases the world as such "lieth in the wicked one," in general total darkness covers men's minds. It is the condition into which men have got themselves. But in each case a testimony from God has existed in the world. In due time that testimony will overspread the world, at present and hitherto it has been more or less localised. The gospel is indeed addressed to all, its natural scope is universal; but in the first place the church, like Israel in its responsibility, has failed to work deliverance in the earth, and in the next, even where the gospel it preached and known, men will not always bow to it. Even in Christendom, how many have really been converted by the gospel? God knows.

In a certain sense the church, or at least true Christians, in this respect take the place of Christ, for "Ye were once darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." As to the divine nature, true Christians, as partakers of it, necessarily possess its properties, viz., light and love, "Among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." But how sad and how solemn is it to see now, as when Jesus was in the world, that "the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not." It is in contact with spiritual death. In nature light banishes darkness, not so necessarily in moral things, and in the spiritual world; men love darkness rather than light. Their heart is darkened, their mind reprobate (Rom. i. 21-28). Even Christ, who is the Truth and the Light, has been in the world, and when in it was rejected. Equally is the divine record of this, and the light of testimony in His members, rejected. The acme of intellectual conceit is now to boast in knowing nothing — Agnosticism. If that does not please, you have Positivism; science is everything — everything is to be a matter of mathematical demonstration — what cannot thus be proved is to be rejected. Alas for Divine revelation! Man's reason sits in judgment on God's word, declares it no revelation at all, and denies the possibility of revelation altogether. "This then is the positive philosophy; the extension to all investigations of those methods which have been found successful in the physical sciences, the transformation of all knowledge into a homogeneous body of doctrine capable of supplying a Faith, and consequently a polity" (Lewes's History of Philosophy).

Well may the Christian say with Scripture, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." There are many who call themselves truth-seekers, and who profess to be lovers of the truth, yet scarcely seem in earnest in their appreciation of it, or in the pursuit of it. Some there are who are "ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." Even in the ease of those to whose hearts the Spirit has disclosed hidden treasures under the letter of the inspired Word, how limited is their knowledge! Such would be the first to say, "We know in part, and we prophesy in part." As compared with Truth in its entirety, with Christ as its personal embodiment, how partial and how limited is the knowledge to which we have attained! And how happy would it have been for the church if Christians had acted according to the apostolic injunction, "Nevertheless whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing," — "if in anything ye be differently minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." Like-mindedness would thus have been produced, not in consequence of the so-called teaching of the church (which indeed needs to be taught itself), nor by the infallible dictum of the Pope, but because "they shall all be taught of God," because in each one born of God there is the spiritual faculty (the anointing), in virtue of which they "know all things." A divinely qualified teacher — a teacher of the truth — knows very well that he can but hold up the truth as an object: the light, the eye, the understanding are no less the gift of God to the one taught of God. In spiritual things so it ever has been, so it ever will be. The carnal mind ignorant of this may deny and oppose it, but "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant."