Truth: 2. Its Nature and History

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Of the Gentiles it first speaks, showing that that which was “knowable” of God from the testimony of created things, contained a voice for any listening ear, wherever or whenever found. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” Creation, open to the observation of all, is full of manifestation of God. Above and around man there are strewn in abundance evidences of a divine hand at work, and the most darkened, one would say, would have real trouble to escape the conviction of a wisdom and power therein displayed nothing less than divine. Yet, widespread, continuous, and eloquent as is its testimony, men have not so read God's plain speech in it. And, remark, it is no mistaken reading of the evidence merely that we must lay to man's account, but the wholesale rejection of it. There was little room left, one would think, for mistake had not the hearts of men been really desirous of some alternative signification. Yet just there it lies. Anyone or anything but Him they would willingly invest with the glory of such handiwork. They say unto God— “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” Yet, even in face of this want of desire after God, these silent witnesses remain, to be accusers, if nothing more; and the sum of their accusation here is that ungodly men are “without excuse.” This witness of creation to the great Originator and Sustainer of all, infinite in His might and wisdom, is fact beyond challenge or dispute. Designed so to testify to man, legitimately therefore is it to be reckoned as one more instance of truth bestowed, of truth resisted.
But not only is it so with regard to that which is knowable of God, with creation's testimony. Positive knowledge of Him was at one time possessed by men, however far from such knowledge universally he is now. “When they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:2121Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21)). “When they knew God!” We come back here to Noah and to man's new start in the new scene after the flood. Truth, as we have said, truth about God they had. It was on the threshold of Noah's new world that this was true of men—that, as a class, they knew God. It was an assurance man was abundantly furnished with, from this onwards—this objective knowledge of God. To conceive of Him objectively after such manifestation in mercy and judgment as in the flood had been witnessed could have occasioned no difficulty. Rather should He thereafter have been peculiarly present to the mind of man as existing and almighty. But how long did such knowledge remain? How long did it continue to be operative? Practical recognition of God, we learn, was early abandoned, and the knowledge and remembrance of Him gradually faded. Falling into folly through their reasonings, we read, men approved it an undesirable thing to retain God in their knowledge. Thereupon God gives them up to a reprobate mind. The One they have eliminated suffers Himself to be so excluded, as far as they are concerned. What that meant we shall soon see, when the space which has thus been vacated, has been re-peopled; but, for the present, let this oft-forgotten fact be noted-that, in the ancient inventory of man's possessions, the knowledge of the one true God was an item; and the occasion of, and reason for, his parting with this heirloom of the family, are also here revealed. “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge” is a solemn statement of their attitude towards the truth.
Nemesis is not far behind in the shape of error ready always to lay hold; for here it was that idolatry with all its horrors probably originated. Under profession of wisdom, men made rapid progress in their path of folly, until ultimately, become fools, they “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man,” and, on the down grade ever, “to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things,” solemn instance of man's foolish, yet proverbial, proneness to exchange the truth of God for falsehood. By this surrender of the truth the way was at once opened for a new and stupendous movement to begin.
Idolatry, it can safely be said, is one of the most widespread and powerful influences the devil has ever used with men. In every corner of the earth is it found, and in every age since the flood has it been prevalent. It retains its full power, in different phases, over multitudes of men even now upon the earth, and has a future before it, according to prophetic scripture, of which men little dream. From the silence of early scripture regarding it, from the account of its origin in this chapter of Romans, and from various considerations in regard to its character, there is reason to believe that idolatry did not exist previous to the flood. Error took a more suitable form during a period when men were wedded in spirit to the world they were organizing, and developing—with thoughts of divine interest in, or interference with, their affairs far from their minds. But that stroke of judgment put an end forever to the idea that the only being of power man had to consider was himself; and the memory of that supernatural intervention would continue to haunt mind after all real reverence for, or fear of, the true God had been surrendered.
That innate consciousness of a higher power, and sense of responsibility, which man never loses, combined with this recollection of judgment once executed so terribly, left, when God was dethroned there, a void in his soul, a niche unoccupied; and, seizing the opportunity, the devil supplied the want by that most successful of all his terrible projects for man's ruin-idolatry. Error developed into a system of such a nature, that, behind the mere empty image-worship which constitutes its external aspect, there are, in the background, spiritual powers of evil who, in some occult, mysterious way, associate themselves therewith. This may sound strange to many today, but nothing less is affirmed by scripture of this remarkable phase of the depths of Satan. Anything like an analysis of the various forms of error is not here attempted. Truth, not its opposite, is after all our subject. But regarding this matter of idolatry, it cannot be sufficiently emphasized that, as far as man is concerned, it is simply an inevitable stage in a self-chosen course. Sufficient is it to recall that the delusion, varied in form and measure, of which men today are the victims, traces its history and owes its origin ultimately to surrender of truth originally possessed.
Chosen by men, error has virtually been. For just as retiring from the presence of light means withdrawal into darkness, so the giving up of the knowledge of the true God, with which men are charged in Romans 1, meant idolatry. A solemn thought it is that an attitude towards the truth is an attitude towards error as well. Any stand that is taken mutually affects each. Man can never be clear of both, so as to have nothing to do with either, nor is there a permanent halting-place between the two.
(Continued from page 144)
(To be continued)