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• WHAT IS TRUTH?'
THE SUBSTANCE OF A SERYON PREACHED BY THE LATE REV. WILLIAM JAY, IN THE WESLEYAN CHAPEL, NEW KING STREET, BATH, ON OCCASION OF THE
WESLEYAN MISSIONARY ANNIVERSARY, MAY 12TH, 1845. *
* Pilate saith anto Him, What is truth?'-JOHN XVIII, 38. PilatE asked the question in the text, and received no answer ; but there are two ways of accounting for this, and the one leads to the other. First of all, it is obvious that Pilate did not wait for an answer to his question ; for we read, “When he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews. Now, if he did not ask his question in a profane manner, he at least showed a disregard to its importance; and therefore, secondly, the Saviour saw that he was in a state of mind that would render an answer worse than useless ; that, having an aversion to truth, every information would be treated with
a man asks the way to Zion with his face thitherward, direction will be thankfully received ; but when a man abuses or neglects the degree of light he has already, the addition of more would only enhance his guilt and misery. Remember the words of the Apostle James : 'Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.' So it was in the case before us; and there are many enquirers who will succeed no better than Pontius Pilate.
There is the superficiul enquirer. Do you ask, “What is truth?' We answer, It is that which you are too frivolous and thoughtless either to discover or comprehend.
There is the inattentive enquirer. Do you ask, “What is truth?' It is that which you are too indolent, too indifferent, to attain the knowledge of. You seldom or never read or hear the Word of God, and when you do it is in a careless manner. But the promise of success is to the diligent : ‘If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures ; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.'
There is the prejudiced enquirer. Do you ask, “What is truth ?' It is that which you never sincerely desire, or fully and impartially examine. You are disposed to teach rather than to learn, to decide for others rather than investigate for yourself. You take your Bible in hand to raise objections; not to sit at the feet of the Great Teacher, and become 'wise unto salvation.'
There is the proud enquirer. Do you ask, "What is truth?' It is that which is too reasonable and too humbling for you to submit to; for it casts down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.' 'It is no easy thing,' says Dr. South, 'to put our heads under
* Communicated by the Rev. R. Dagdale.
Christ's feet.' It is no easy thing, as the Saviour Himself says, to receive the kingdom of God as a little child.'
There is the sensual enquirer. Do you ask, • What is truth?' It is that which is too pure and holy for your lust; for the carnal mind is enmity against God.' You make the Bible your enemy by your wickedness; and then you hate it because it does not prophesy good concerning you, but evil.
But is there no different enquirer who can be brought forward on this occasion ? O yes; there is one who sincerely and earnestly asks, 'What is truth ?' We will therefore take the question from the sincere enquirer rather than from Pilate, and arrange our remarks in three divisions. The first will regard the truth itself; the second, the importance of finding it; and the third, the use we are to make of it.
I. The Truth itself.
1. Much has been said about it, but we are not going to consider it metaphysically. I wish my brethren in the Ministry were persuaded with myself that when metaphysics get into the pulpit, profit goes out. In popular discourses it is better to describe than to define, and better to exemplify than to describe. The sacred writers do not hold things forth in the nakedness of abstraction. For instance, when they speak of faith they tell us what it does rather than what it is : that it sets the soul in motion towards Christ; that it is a looking to Him, a coming to Him, a trusting in Him; that it works by love ; that it purifies the heart ; and that it overcomes the world.
We would only observe here that moral truth, truth between man and man, consists in the agreement between our thoughts and words. Religious truth is that which shows us things as they are in relation to God and our own responsibility to Him; which shows us what God is, what man is, what sin is, and what salvation is. Truth shows us things also as they ought to be, God being the Judge ; and assures us of many things as they are discerned by Omniscience. It is possible for truth to be made known; and it has been made known so far as is necessary; and if this be admitted, it is easy to see where alone it is to be found in purity and perfection. This Book which I hold in my hand is true and faithful. This Word is truth : the truth of God, the truth as it is in Jesus, and the truth by which the Saviour prayed that His people might be sanctified.
Probably some of you have wished that our Lord had answered the question of Pilate ; for in Himare hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' and never man spake like' Him. What light would He have thrown on the subject if He had said, This is truth, and again, That is truth! But the fact is, He has answered the question, and you
have the answer in your own hands, and in your own language. All that He spake by His Spirit through the prophets; all that He Himself taught in the days of His flesh, and all that He directed His Apostles to communicate to the world and to the Church-all this is an answer to the question, 'What is truth?' And what*ver some may say, it is a sufficient answer. If you come to this Book and
ask, How it was that sin was permitted to enter into this world ; how it is that moral evil has existed in an empire of almighty benevolence ; how God's foreknowledge and man's free agency can be harmonized; how it is that God does certain things and not others ; you will read no answer here. OD the contrary, you will find your questions covered with the darkness of death and the silence of the grave. But if you come and ask, 'What must I do to be saved ?' How shall I procure a title to heaven and a meetness for it? How shall I'obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need'?—the information given is so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err.
2. Viewing the Gospel, then, as an answer to the enquiry, 'What is truth?' let us refer to its facts. Now, the birth of Jesus Christ, the miracles He wrought, His death, His resurrection and His ascension—these are either facts or they are nothing. The Gospels report them as having taken place. Is the report true ? Let us refer to one of them : the resurrection of Christ. Everything else depends on this. 'If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.' But if He be risen from the dead, it follows that He is the promised Messiah ; that He is the Son of God; that His death was the offering of a sacrifice; that He has gone to heaven as the Forerunner of His people; and that He will come again to be our Judge.
If the resurrection of Christ be incapable of proof, there is no past event which can be proved by any testimony whatever. Observe, first, that this fact was immediately proclaimed in the very place where it occurred. Impostors would begin their work at a distance ; for they well know that distance of place and of time adds to the difficulty of detection, and creates embarrassment and perplexity. Secondly, the fact was declared in the presence of those whose honour and interest were involved in it. Thirdly, it was reported by honest men, who proved their sincerity by the endurance of persecution, and even of death, rather than deny or conceal it.
If it be said, May not the reporters have been deceived? They were eyewitnesses and ear-witnesses, and, we had almost said, manual witnesses ; for we read that they 'handled the Word of Life.' "He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. You have not, therefore, 'followed cunningly devised fables' when you believed in this inspired Book, the testimony in favour of which is superior to that of every other historical document,
3. But it is alleged that controversies and discrepancies have arisen with regard to the doctrines taught in these Scriptures. Then let us examine this point, that we may give a satisfactory answer to the enquiry, “What is truth ?' for it is absurd to say that satisfaction cannot be obtained. The Apostle does, indeed, speak of some who are ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth'; but the reason he assigns for this is not to their credit. On the other hand, he speaks of those who are no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.'
Dr. Price was an amiable man and a profound philosopher. A little before his death, a friend of mine saw him and said, 'Well, doctor, and how are you going on now?' He answered, “Still an humble enquirer after
truth.' 'O,' said my friend, it is high time that you and I should have found it, for the graves are ready for us'; and he added, “Blessed be God, I found it fifty years ago, and have been living on it ever since !' And I, brethren, have laboured in the Ministry in Bath for more than fifty years ; and I am sure you would be both surprised and ashamed if you were to hear me say this evening, It is my opinion that Christ is God as well as man. It is my opinion that He made a proper atonement for our sins, and was raised again for our justification. It is my opinion that in Him alone we have righteousness and strength. My opinion! What would become of my peace and joy if I were still floating among opinions ? No, my brethren, I can speak with the certainty of the Apostle John when he wrote: 'We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.'
Now as to the question, 'What is truth ?' Some are too sectarian in their decision. One says of Arminianism, This is the truth ; another says of Calvinism, That is the truth; and another comes forward to say that truth lies between the two extremes : that neither Arminianism nor Calvinism has it wholly; but that both have it in part, and both savingly. How is a sincere enquirer to decide in such a matter? I do not intend on this occasion to dogmatize or endeavour to establish any particular doctrine, but to throw out a few hints to enable you to find the truth for yourselves, recommending you :
First of all, To be much in prayer to the Father of lights that He would teach and guide you. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.'
Secondly, Acknowledge no human authority in Divine things. Call no man master upon the earth, for one is your Master, even Christ. Think for yourselves : follow the noble example of the Bereans, who 6 searched the Scriptures daily, to ascertain whether the things taught by Paul were true.
Thirdly, Remember that Christians who hold the Head,' do not differ from each other so much as some imagine.
They come very near to each other in experience and devotion. They differ from each other while sitting, but get them to kneel and pray together, and you will soon find that they are one. Besides, the things about which they differ are of little consequence compared with those about which they are agreed.
Fourthly, As to what you hear and read : regard that as the truth which accords most naturally and obviously with the Scriptures. Do not depend on long-worded paraphrases or wait for learned and acute criticisms. Saviour was heard of the common people gladly, for they knew what He meant. The poor had the Gospel preached to them, and they understood
Fifthly, Do not be guided by any single phrase in what you read, but by the entire texture of Revelation. Especially consider its strain and tendency. Does what you are led to believe tend to lessen, or to enhance the evil of
sin ? Does it tend to diminish the value of the Saviour, or to exalt Him more and more? Does it lead you to attach the highest importance to His death and blood-shedding, as that which provides for the salvation of sinners ? The Gospel is not a mere republication of the law of nature attended by a clearer revelation of a future state, and accompanied by more powerful sanctions, while it still leaves us to ourselves. No; like its Divine Author, it comes to seek and to save that which is lost. It regards us as fallen creatures, and offers a remedy corresponding to the disease and equal to its cure. It regards us as guilty, and inspires us with the hope of pardoning mercy. It regards us as depraved, and furnishes us with sanctifying grace; and since the Fall has left us without strength, it assures us of Divine assistance if we seek it in time of need. Now, what correspondence is there between these things and the schemes of the legalist and the Socinian?
Lastly, That is likely to be truth which agrees the most with the experience of those who give the best evidence of being' born again' and 'led by the Spirit of God.' What is it they value so highly and relish so much? What is it they mean when they say, “That which we have seen and heard declare we
may have fellowship with us : and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.' Especially, What is it they commend? what recommend in their dying hours ? Mrs. Savage said, 'I find that people of the world never speak well of it at parting. To be sure they do not! They have seen too much of its falsehood, its baseness and its rascality to commend it then. What said Mr. Hervey to the physician who attended him on his death-bed ? 'Doctor, beware of the world, beware of the world, BEWARE OF THE WORLD!' Did you ever hear of a Christian who in his dying hour recommended his friends not to be religious ? or to depend upon their own merits for acceptance with God? or to guard against thinking too highly of Jesus Christ or loving Him too much ?
II. The Importance of finding the Truth.
1. This importance depends upon the value of the truth itself. Everything that is important must be true, though everything that is true is not important. But as to the Gospel, it is not only 'a faithful saying,' but also
worthy of all acceptation. It is the one thing needful. It is wisdom, and * wisdom is the principal thing : therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding.'
Some plead for the innocency of error; but if error be harmless, truth in the same proportion is of no value. As we think, we feel, as we feel, we desire, as we desire, we act, and by our actions our character is formed, and our state is determined.
Let it never be forgotten that all the suffering in the universe has arisen from the loss or absence of truth. Why did not the fallen angels keep their first estate? They sinned, but how? Christ has told us : The devil abode not in the truth. He was the first heretic. While Adam believed in God, and abode in the truth, he was safe ; but as soon as he believed the