Stacks Image 385


CHAPTER XIII.


BUYING AND SELLING TRUTH.


"Buy the truth, and sell it not." — Prov. xxiii. 23

"What is truth?" The only person able to answer this question declined the task, and that, too, when he had only a moment before asserted, " To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." The reason why Jesus refused to answer Pilate was that he was incapable of receiving Christ's definition. As well might a mathematician define the Binomial Theorem or Differential Calculus to a wild Indian of the Rocky Mountains. The communication of ethical and spiritual truth requires not only a competent teacher but also a receptive pupil. Jesus observed his own precept, "cast not your pearls before swine." Truth has been variously defined. Says one, " It is the relation of things as God sees them." Another says, " It is the knowledge of things as they are." Men are said to have spiritual truth when the verities of Divine Revelation are by faith apprehended as solid realities in accordance with which they are bound to act by the high sanctions of eternal weal or woe. There are several significant implications in our text. First, that we are adapted to the truth, and capable of receiving the truth, and to know it with certainty. Secondly, that it is of supreme importance. It is the hinge Of destiny. In the third place, much emphasis is put upon truth in the Bible which contains no hint of any substitute. There is not in the Holy Scriptures any vestige of the modern popular notion that sincerity can take the place of truth in the scheme of salvation. In the fourth place, that a real knowledge of saving truth does not come to us without strenuous effort and painful sacrifice. This is not true of material things which obtrude themselves upon our five senses, such as colors, music, odors, and magnitudes. There are other truths of intuition which lie open to our inward perception, such as the axioms of mathematics and of ethics. These come to us spontaneously without effort when we first awaken to thought. They are self-evident. But this kind of truth is not that which God commands men to buy, and forbids them to sell. Though man is by nature religious, he does not come into the world with a full equipment of Christian truth. Natural religion, or the religion of Conscience, may not require much effort, nor does it go very far towards the attainment of the great purpose of life to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, though it is a ground of accountability to God in the great and last day. Religious truth must be bought in order to become the real possession of the soul. What is the price? Not silver and gold, though Jesus, finding a rich young man who was making these his god, demanded their surrender as the price of saving truth. He could not receive essential Christian truth while idolizing his riches which destroyed his capacity for this heavenly treasure. God, in his Word, has set the price of saving truth.

1. Diligent search. Scientific truth comes only through patient research. Truth has been compared to a beautiful marble statue, broken into fragments and scattered through the universe. He who would attain all scientific truth must collect these scattered members, digging deep in the earth, and with the telescope scan all the heavens, and thus painfully reconstruct the entire image. He must travel half round the globe to catch a lost particle of truth blazing on the edge of the sun in an eclipse, and he must make perilous adventures into the polar regions and risk his life among the icebergs in the interest of scientific knowledge. This is the steep and rough path up which the successive generations must climb for the attainment of the glorious vision of Nature's truth. So it is with religious truth with this difference. God's truth is a revealed whole and not a broken statue. We are not required to hunt through all lands to gather widely-separated parts of truth. It is all in the Book of books. Why then need we toil all our lives? It is not to find the truth but to find a place for it in ourselves. We must stretch our powers to the highest tension to make room for the truth. What says Divine Wisdom? "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee, so that thou apply thine heart to understanding; yea, 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." What a steep stairway of eager verbs is here - incline the ear, apply the heart, cry after, lift up the voice, seek, and search, then shalt thou find. Up this difficult steep must you ascend if you would enter into the presence of Divine Wisdom and be thrilled with the vision of her beauty and be enriched with her merchandise. Do not be ashamed to cry so loudly that the whole world may be convinced of your earnestness and of your steadfast purpose to find and to possess that treasure which gold cannot buy. In heroic devotion and sacrifice you must not only rival but excel the tireless votary of science, because the object of your pursuit is infinitely more excellent, outshining in splendor and outweighing in value the whole material universe. "The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." The superiority of divine wisdom to human should awaken superior zeal in its acquisition. Much praise is due to Professor Morse for inventing the electric telegraph, and to the persistence of Cyrus Field in laying it beneath the Atlantic so that thought may be flashed in a moment from the old world to the new, but more praise should be bestowed on him who has learned the glorious art of holding converse with the skies while dwelling on earth.

2. A concentration of all your energies. All your springs of action are to be quickened and directed to this one end. All other ends must be subordinated to this chief end. All else must be held cheap in comparison with the apprehension of truth and the perfect conformity of our characters to its requirements. We cannot have two supreme aims lying so far apart as earth and heaven. Our bodily eyes are so constructed that our vision cannot be clearly fixed on one object which is near and on another distant one at the same time. Standing within a lettered window you cannot fix your attention on the letters so as to read them and at the same time have a distinct view of objects far beyond which are in the same line of vision. The lenses of the eye cannot be simultaneously adjusted to the near and the distant object. Our souls have the same limitations; we cannot be consecrated to Mammon and to God so that both will be supreme objects of desire. We must choose between them. Wise men had made the discovery that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to gain the riches of this world and treasures in heaven, too, before Jesus said, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."

Entire consecration to God in order to grasp the highest spiritual knowledge is not an arbitrary requirement. It is in perfect accord with our mental, moral, and spiritual constitution. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and
selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." This great price no man can pay unless he has that faith which realizes the transcendent value of spiritual verities. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith." Faith gives substance and solidity to eternal realities, and brings them near, and makes them more influential in shaping the character than the things which address our bodily senses, than the changing fashions and fleeting opinions of men.

3. The price which must be paid for truth is abstinence from all such sensual pleasures as are repugnant to its possession. Pleasure is a siren whose music enchants and allures to destruction. It bewilders, befools, and misleads. Religious truth does not dwell in the same sphere with pleasure. The one always dwells on high; the other is in the nether sphere, earthly and sensual, having not the Spirit. Pleasure draws a film over the eye of the soul, hiding spiritual realities; truth clarifies the vision and transports us into an atmosphere of Italian clearness, alike free from mists which blur and the mirage which falsifies objects. Lord Bacon in enumerating the
Idola, or sources of false appearances, specifies among them the influence exercised over the understanding by the will, the passions, and appetites. No man can grasp and retain spiritual truth while under their mastery. They must be reduced to perfect obedience to reason, conscience, and the word of God.

4. Prejudice must be cast away as a part of the cost of truth. The mind must take off its green spectacles and lay them aside forever. Most of us are victims of prejudices which rob us of precious truth. Few people are candid enough to confess that they hate the truth. They prefer to dress it up in their own misconceptions and erroneous opinions, and then to show their hostility to this scarecrow of their own imaginations. They shut the blinds and thickly curtain the windows, preferring to mistake shadows for substance, falsehood for truth. By a strange perversity they prefer to hug a lie to their bosoms, though it deforms and blights their souls, rather than the truth, which would transform them into angelic beauty and loveliness.

5. Pride must abdicate her throne as the price of truth. Pride prompts to the concealment of ignorance, the road to grossest errors. Ignorance confessed and asking for light is climbing the mountain where Truth has her abode. God regardeth the proud afar off. Neither he nor his attendant, Truth, can get near to Pride; but they both make their abode, their permanent residence, with the humble spirit. Here science and Christianity come into beautiful concord. The philosopher who would extract from Nature the secret locked up in her arcana must take a humble position at her feet and, like a little child, ask questions. Hence the wise saying of Bacon, "The kingdom of science like the kingdom of heaven must be entered with humility." The Greek philosophers, who were too proud to come to nature like little children, never advanced the natural sciences a single inch. They constructed their theories without a careful observation of facts, and haughtily commanded nature to verify them. She stubbornly refused to obey, and the world went on its dark way till Bacon bade proud Philosophy get down on her knees and, confessing ignorance, ask simple questions. Then Nature unsealed her lips and poured out the secrets hid from the proud and self-sufficient. Then were born astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology, and scores of other ologies, making up the triumphal procession of the modern natural sciences. If any one would enter the low gate of the temple of divine knowledge let him creep in on his hands and knees. Let him study Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, enthrone him as the infallible teacher to instruct the ignorant and them that are out of the way. So-called Christian lands contain numerous persons with cultivated intellects who are spiritual agnostics — the Greek for ignoramuses — simply because they will not recognize Jesus Christ as the unerring source of truth, yea, the truth himself, and receive him as their wisdom. If they recognize the existence of the personal God, they have no confidence in his promise, "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given to him." But, queries an objector, am I to give up my reason that I may believe in Revelation? As well might you put out your eyes in order to see the rings of Saturn through the telescope. Faith in Chest, on the ground of his unique and sinless character and supernatural works, crowned with his own resurrection from the dead, is the highest reason. Pride of opinion keeps many from a diligent study of the Christian evidences lest they should be constrained to believe and to deny self, take up the cross daily, and follow the despised Man of Nazareth. Many of the contemporaries of Galileo refused to look through his telescope lest they should be obliged to confess their error that the earth moves around the sun. Some people are so proud that they will not look at religious truth through God's telescope, the Bible, because they are too proud to give up the error of their ways, and the mistaken devices of their thoughts and of their theories made to justify their sinful conduct. Thus you must pay for God's saving truth, diligent search, a concentration of all your energies, amounting to the entire consecration of self to the truth, abstaining from all forbidden sensual indulgences which incapacitate for the vision of spiritual realities, throwing away prejudice and abandoning pride. All this they must freely give to possess that truth which is incarnated in Christ and made the conditional heritage of all men. We now go a step further and say that,—

6. We must give
ourselves for this heavenly treasure — our hearts and our wills. Pascal says that the things of this world we must know in order to love, but God the Father and Jesus Christ his only begotten Son we must love in order to know. But how can a man love such an abstraction as truth? Properly speaking, we can love only a person, neither a quality nor an abstract entity. Behold the wondrous condescension of God! He puts truth into concrete form, he identifies it with his Son, who has become a man with faculties responsive to ours, and has come, by his self-sacrifice for us, into the sphere of our affections; for it is natural for love to respond to love, for gratitude to go out toward a benefactor. God can save us only by awakening our love. His love alone is insufficient. There would be no bad children in the world if a mother's love could turn them away from a career of sin. Her love can succeed only when it awakens obedient and repentant love in the perverse child. God's love must fail to reconstruct and restore the sinner, if its display in the amazing gift of his Son does not enkindle gratitude in his heart as soon as this wonderful love for him is made known.

You cannot receive Christ, the truth, without a disposition to conform your character to the demands of that truth. This requires unquestioning, unhesitating obedience. "Every one who is of the truth heareth my voice." The buyer of truth puts his will into the attitude of harmony with the will of this infallible Teacher. He accepts "all the counsel of God," however painful.

He follows the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. To have pleasures which he does not sanction, and sources of joy which do not spring from him, is to raise up in himself a barrier against the truth. This is the great difficulty which prevents saving faith from having its proper effect in worldly minds. Christ builds a fence across the path of sinful gratification, and kindles a fire in the house of their idols. He bridles appetites and exterminates the whole brood of malevolent passions. He commands us to cut off right hands and to pluck out right eyes. The votaries of truth will ever be eager to know the truth. Hence they will, by day and by night, study the words of Jesus, the source and standard of truth, and the words of his apostles, through whom he more fully unfolds the germs of truth which he so freely scattered on the earth in his brief ministry. The lovers of truth will search the whole Bible, which is made up of the historic and the prophetic record of Jesus Christ. We say
search, because, while all saving truth lies on the surface, there are profundities unfathomable. It has been well said that the Bible is "a stream where alike the lamb may wade and the elephant may swim." The truths which instrumentally regenerate and sanctify, which inspire life and beautify the character, can be apprehended by uncultivated intellects. Well did Isaiah prophesy, "The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." Yet there are nuggets of pure gold awaiting the patient faith and toil of the miner who will sink a shaft down to their hiding-place. We often revert to the motto of good old Bengel, who prescribes a code of rules for himself worthy of adoption by every student of the Holy Scriptures:—

"Te totum applica ad Texture;
Rein totam applica ad Te."


Translated:

"Apply thyself wholly to the Text;
Apply the subject wholly to thyself."

Thus may you all buy the truth. Take Jesus as the truth, and then study his words with a constant application to thy own heart and life. Moreover, there is a special, appointed helper in this work. If you would, experimentally and assuredly, beyond a doubt know the cardinal and vital truths of the Gospel, put yourself under the leadership of the appointed Guide, who sustains an intimate relation to the truth and to the inquiring soul. He is called "the Spirit of truth." It is his office to lead the believer into that realization of spiritual truth called, after the day of Pentecost, πίγνωσις (epignosis) — full knowledge. Christ will never be a real divine Personality whom you will instinctively call Lord until this Guide unveils him to your astonished vision. To secure this Guide, his person and offices must be recognized by something more than an intellectual assent to the tenet of the creed, " I believe in the Holy Ghost." He must be definitely sought, received, enthroned, and followed. " For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." All such the Spirit guides — not by the revelation of new truth not found in the Bible, but by giving a sense of reality to truths already revealed and lodged in the intellect. Many wear the Christian name, and fear God as servants, and in a legal spirit keep his commands, who in .their inmost hearts have never heard the Spirit's cry, "Abba, Father," and realized the joy of his indwelling. As a consequence, their perceptions of spiritual truth are indistinct and hazy — not clear and sharply defined. They are like the men spoken of by Jeremiah (xxiii. 30), "Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbor." If they find the truth they do not come honestly by it, but get it at second hand from some one who has been to the source of spiritual truth by coming into experimental contact with God. They are not in personal communication with him. They lose the freshness and power of words coming directly from his mouth. Though the formal creed which they confess is genuine, for it is God's word, their religion is counterfeit. It is essentially human, because it has been received from man — from acquiescence in hearsayings from parents, preachers, and teachers — and not from personal experience. If from fathers, it is a hereditary religion; if from the Church, it is a traditional religion; if received because of its venerable age, it is a kind of antiquarian religion; if on the authority of great names, it is a man-taught religion. In testimony there is no positiveness, little originality, much sameness, and great weakness. In their inquiry after religious truth they reverse the following orthodox rules: First the closet, then the study; first the Bible, then the commentary; first the Scriptures, then theology. God wants individuality in Christian experience, because he is pleased with variety in the spiritual life as he is in the natural world. Those who have a marked personal experience of God's saving power are not wise in thinking that their experience is, in its minute incidents, a model for all others. This is misleading to seekers. God is pleased with as great a variety in his new creation as he was in his first creation. When Jesus calls his own sheep by name he sees in each one some spiritual trait which makes him different from all other believers. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." Let the Holy Spirit individualize men in their regeneration and entire sanctification. Then there will be no feeble imitations. Then we shall not be weakened by an uncertain religion. For a borrowed experience, and what Jeremiah styles a stolen testimony, are haunted by doubt and timidity. Boldness belongs only to him who has wrestled with the angel of mercy and has prevailed. Converted pagans, and all who are brought into the kingdom at the beginning of great religious movements, where there was no one to copy from, have always been marked with great strength because of their striking individuality of experience.

We are forbidden to sell the truth. There are various ways of making this sale. In general, let me say that you sell any truth when you pursue a course of conduct which destroys its influence over your life. Moral and religious truths are not final- that is, they are not to be obtained for themselves alone. They are a means to an end. That end is righteousness and benevolence, the two constituents of holiness. Truth is a ladder to sanctified character. Now, the important principle which I wish to impress on all minds is that Christian truth can be retained only as it attains this end. It cannot be firmly held as a mere speculative theory. A scientific truth which has no such practical aim may be firmly held in the mind for a half century, as I have retained certain facts in astronomy. But no such religious truths can be held in the heart while the will refuses to apply them to the man in the production of newness and purity of life. Take monotheism — the existence of a personal God, holy, just, benevolent, wise, and true. This basal truth cannot be held as a mere theory sundered from service and worship. If it does not sway the life and transfigure the character, conquer sin, and inspire love and purity, the mind must lose its grip upon it as a verity and become practically atheistic. Thus every Christian truth, repentance, the new birth, the day of Judgment, heaven, and hell, all become airy abstractions and visionary unrealities. Out of this chaos systems of theoretical atheism sooner or later arise. Disobedience to the truth is the seed of all forms of infidelity.

Truth can be bought and it can be sold. We buy it when we hold all else cheap in comparison with it, and are willing to part with everything inconsistent with its possession. We sell it when we more highly prize the pleasures which it forbids.

Again, simple neglect of truth is selling it. The seller is not usually aware of the bad bargain he has made. He thinks he can at will call up that vivid realization of truth which once came to him on some mount of vision in his youthful days, when for the sake of some selfish end he refused to walk in that clean path to which the finger of truth then pointed; but he cannot command the return of that vision. It is to him no longer a truth. He has sold it, and a fool's bargain has he made. This irretrievable bargain has been made by multitudes who to their sorrow have found it impossible to take back the treasure so thoughtlessly sold.

Once they heard the trumpet of Sinai waxing louder and louder in its call to obey the law of Christ. They disliked the sound of this summons to their conscience and their higher nature. They turned away and gave their ears to the soft tones of pleasure, so agreeable to their lower propensities. Now their ears have become deaf to the sound of that trumpet, and they begin to doubt its reality. It seems to them like an unpleasant dream.

Once they saw Heaven's gate wide open and the angel of mercy beckoning them up the narrow way, but the way looked steep and lonesome, and they chose the broad, descending road, a boulevard filled with gay promenaders, with whom they have sauntered along, till the vision of the good angel has faded away forever. Eternal life is now a myth, and the momentous words of Jesus about the narrow way to life and the broad road to destruction are treated as the day-dream of a visionary fanatic.

I appeal to those of my unregenerate readers who are not Christians, who have passed beyond youth into mature manhood and womanhood. Was there not a time when every declaration in the Bible relating to duty and destiny, repentance, trust in Christ, holiness of heart and life, the day of Judgment, and the sentences there pronounced, were to you realities, awakening in you a very sober interest? Did you not then see the law of God as a sword suspended by a single hair above your guilty soul? Did you not also see the Savior of sinners as a rock cleft to take you in and hide you from the tempest which shall sweep away the ungodly? Do you not remember the times when contemplating these realities you were on the point of turning from the way of sin to the path of life? Do you not remember that just then you listened to the voice of sinful pleasure, and yielding to the fascinations of this world, you said to the Redeemer of your soul, "Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee "? Do you now regard the truths which had so much influence over you then as no longer realities, but rather as mere myths unworthy the serious contemplation of a rational being?

Let me tell you just what you have done. You have sold out God's saving truth, the only instrument of your salvation. You thought you could buy it back whenever in the future you should be so disposed. Disposed? Ah! there is where the difficulty lies, in your changed disposition toward the truth. It is no longer to you truth but fiction. It is not in accordance with the laws of mental philosophy that you shall ever have the same vivid impression of the truth which you once had. You cannot by your volitions awaken feeling. The feelings are not the objects of the will. You cannot will any emotion to arise in you. The most that you can do is to gaze upon those objects and listen to those sounds out of which the sense of the beautiful or of the sublime arise. For the latter you look at the starry heavens, the rainbow, the sea-beach after a storm, or Niagara's awe-inspiring cataract. When you wish religious feeling you must contemplate religious truth. But if it has lost its reality to you, your contemplation will fail to awaken the proper emotion which is the effect of truth. This is the philosophy of the process of becoming spiritually hard and callous under the preaching of Christian truth. Those who believe and obey become more and more susceptible to the emotion which it effects. But those who disobey its requirements become more and more indurated, because the truth has in their estimation become falsehood. But God may in his long-suffering compassion give you another vision of truth, but less impressive than before, and, therefore, less influential and less likely to convert the soul from the error of its ways.

Says Pundita Ramabai: "The purpose of the Lord in sending me to the United States was to teach me some very precious lessons'. While in that country I met certain Western admirers of Swami-ism, which passes for Hinduism in Western countries. It seems that they did not find any satisfaction in the Bible and were seeking after something better. I had neither time nor inclination to reason with these people. But one thing was clear to me — that even with the open Bible in our hand, if one does not live a supernatural life and prove the religion of Jesus Christ to be the religion of heavenly life by experimenting upon it, the Scripture may become a dead letter. What is needed in all countries where the Gospel is preached is, that its preachers and followers should live a supernatural life. I have to learn much before I know what obeying God and having the fullness of the Spirit means. I was in the habit of interpreting the Bible as it suited me best, while trying honestly to keep the commandments of God. This, of course, did not help me to lead a supernatural life. The Lord showed me clearly that the world will love and honor what is its own — that so long as I have any part in a compromise with the world I shall not be used of God as a witness for his truth."

The truth cannot be safely trifled with; it loses its suasive power. The fine gold becomes dim by neglect. The longer the neglect the greater is its depreciation in value. An old man once said to his little grandson sitting on his knee, "My child, seek God now." The boy, knowing that his grandfather was not a praying man, replied, " Grandpa, why do you not seek God now?" — "I would, my child, but my heart is hard," answered the old man, who had found out to his sorrow how difficult it is to buy back the truth that he had sold. He could not recover that affecting view of divine realities which, as the birthright of his youth, he had bartered for a " mess of pottage," to allay for a moment his hunger for sensual pleasures.

My readers, you are to-day, every one of you, buying that truth which will admit you when you come to the gate of Heaven, and pass current through the eternal ages; or you are selling it and making yourself an everlasting pauper with the remorseful reflection, "It is my own fault and folly that I am not a spiritual millionaire." Which are you to-day, buyers or sellers? This question is almost as appropriate for the contemplation of professed Christians as it is for unbelievers. For Christians are as strongly tempted to sell those unpalatable and generally unaccepted truths which underlie the highest spirituality as sinners are to sell truths leading to repentance and the new birth. Advanced experience rests on the most precious truth. Entire sanctification in this life is attained only by the firm grip of faith upon this priceless truth, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin." Do not let this glorious truth be obscured and hidden from your vision by the fashionable misrepresentation of the next verse (1 John i. 8, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves"), wherein is rebuked the Gnostic philosophers, who ascribed all sin to matter and asserted that the soul is sinless and above the need of an atonement. The erroneous explanation of this verse has kept many in bondage to sin all their days.