Truth: 3. Its Nature and History

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 10
As sure as he has a mind, so surely is it being dominated by one of these forces, and its reins are in the hand of one of these guides. Solemn also is it to consider the progress we make under either of them; former points of attainment recede rapidly behind us, as we are carried on with irresistible force. There is no standing still in the sense of thus far but no farther, when once we have surrendered to the current. Progress then is as inevitable as it is alarming. Thus, in the first case we considered, Satan successfully tempted man to doubt God's truth; the antediluvians he taught to disregard it; man since he has led to disown it.
From the mass of idolaters into which the race had degenerated, God in grace called one individual, Abraham, and opened communication with him Like springing water, the truth refuses to be entirely enclosed in the incrusted earth-but will break out somewhere, and form a channel for itself. In the incident referred to, we have such an effusion, and if Genesis 3 is correctly described as a fountainhead of history, no less might this important event, the call of Abraham, be so designated. It marks a new development in the ways of God with man. An important step it is—involving many issues, and a point from which diffuse many of those widely divergent lines, to which attention must be paid if the word of truth is to be rightly divided.
Leaving all others aside, we pursue the record of man's attitude towards the truth, as continued in the history of those who, according to the flesh, are the seed of Abraham. If, as we have said, it is the Jews distinctively who are referred to in Romans 1 as those who “hold the truth in un righteousness” there must be good reason to examine with care their particular case in Romans 3:2020Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) we are told of such that they have “the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” Unlike the Gentiles, the heathen world around them, they moved in a sphere where light from God was still shining. The scriptures they possessed. One, and the chief, of the advantages they had was, that unto them had been committed “the oracles of God.” These scriptures were composed of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets; but, as it was of the law that they made their boast, so it is with this distinctively that we must, in their past history, associate them. A people “under the law” has been, from Sinai, the character of their relationship with God. Now this form, this delineation of knowledge and of the truth is of such a special character that consideration must be given to what led up to, and gave occasion for, such a revelation.
The origin of this most interesting and remarkable people we find in what has been already spoken of-the call of Abraham. Wrapped up in that event were issues of unimagined import. God had a purpose in view even then, which today remains unachieved, regarding the nation of which the son of Terah was the progenitor. The point for us at present, however, concerns one branch of that purpose in particular. Briefly it is, that God designed that this people should be the custodian, and at the same time, the witness, of His truth in a world of darkness and idolatry. To this end was the law given. Were we recounting circumstantially how Israel came to occupy the status of a people under the law, or considering the larger question of legal righteousness versus grace raised in that issue, it would be necessary to show that when Israel, ignorant of themselves, and therefore full of self-confidence, declared at Sinai, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” they quite gratuitously relinquished the principle on which their former relations with God were founded. The unconditional promises to the fathers lay at the foundation of their history as a separate community. And these, with the interventions of grace necessary for their accomplishment, were the terms on which everything heretofore had been based. But enrolling themselves now under a covenant of obedience as the condition of blessing they occupied a new platform entirely. A fresh revelation, the law, suited to that new position, is given. Thus, then, did they come to be possessed of the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. This was the truth of which they, in turn, were the recipients, and their attitude to which would determine so much.
Here, again, failure was not long in coming. Early indeed was their lapse from its solemn directions manifested. At the very time Moses was receiving from God that which He had to communicate to them, they were making and worshipping the golden calf as the god that had brought them out of Egypt. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” —so read their first commandment. The worship of this calf of gold was their answer to that—a remarkably shameful betrayal of their trust, surely! a deliberate and flagrant offense against what they had but newly pledged themselves to obey! “The form of knowledge and of the truth in the law” met with no better response than truth had at any time encountered. Their whole after-history witnesses constant disobedience and departure from God. So plainly is this seen throughout their course, so persistent and stubborn in transgression are they from their worship of the golden calf in the wilderness right on to their rejection of their Messiah, that detailed instances do not require to be given. The less need there is for this, since Stephen, in his address before the council (Acts 3), makes good his accusation, that “ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye,” by just such a group of details in their history of backsliding as sets it in the strongest light. One of these illustrative details, the worship of the golden calf, already alluded to, forms by itself a telling point in Stephen's indictment. “They made a calf in those days and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”
This has been called Israel's original sin. The term is not altogether inapt. It is one of those critical actions, suiting such a purpose as Stephen's, that stand out prominently in history as the point of a new departure, a projecting rock that gave direction to the tide. No wonder it has been termed “Israel's original sin.” It has all the characteristic features implied in such a description. First of all, it is the first action of the people recorded after the solemn ratification of the covenant in Exodus 24, the first movement they made on the new platform in their new status, as a people “under the law.” Then, that blow, aimed at the very throne of God itself, so to speak, was right in the face of the very first item of that law they had pledged themselves to obey— “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Again, original sin is besetting sin-the first deviation of the pendulum, ensuring the future oscillations. Israel's characteristic sin—what has it been throughout their history but a continual lapse into that very idolatry against which their calling and election were the standing witness? In many respects the similitude to Adam's transgression may be traced. In this, in particular, that in that first, that primary departure, their whole aftercourse of iniquity lay wrapped up.
To justify God's own estimate of their character on that occasion they did not fail, for “a stiff-necked people,” they have been right on. Again and again was restoration given them until one would think they had forfeited all claim on the One towards whose truth they showed themselves so “stiffnecked in heart and ears.” Since the day they came forth out of Egypt, God had sent unto them prophets “daily rising up early and sending them,” reverberating without ceasing the truth they were so prone to “let slip” or “drift away from,” but all in vain; for they would not hearken or obey. Of none but Israel could He say so truly, “All day long I have stretched out my hand unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.”
That is to say, in this last case, where there was everything, humanly speaking, to induce men to maintain the only proper attitude towards God's truth—everything, on the other hand, in the nature even of self-interest to warn them against disobedience of the One concerning whom it was their true glory to be the witnesses—His word has been continually and deliberately disobeyed. Not that this hindered them, in their fleshly pride and self-righteousness, from assuming a superior position to all others, because of the truth they possessed after a material fashion; for this their way was their folly, and a mark of their delusion by Satan is, that they “rested in the law and made their boast of God.” Their possession of the truth and knowledge of the one true God, from the beginning of their history, cannot be denied, and a prize and privilege it was to be the custodians of both.
But responsibility, great and heavy, attaches likewise to the place of witness-bearing. Privilege and responsibility go together. True of individuals, translation to the corporate sphere is only raising the figure to a higher power, the gravity of that responsibility simply being increased by reason of the more extended nature of its incidence. By the people of Israel this should have been remembered, and to us, forming part of that which was made “the pillar and ground of the truth,” it should, by the way, be a serious thought. The whole question of corporate standing and liability is a very deep and far-reaching one. That question never had fuller illustration than in the case of Israel. As a people they were blessed; as a people they were responsible. Jehovah's chosen people, in a world where every other national worship was of idols, they constituted His sole witness there. Provided with His law and truth also, they were His appointed trustees for the use and preservation of that holy deposit. Their failure, then, in both matters, was nothing short of disaster. Nor has that failure been occasional by any means, but continual—consistent, fatally consistent, with all the uniformity of a law of nature, have Israel shown themselves in their unfaithfulness to the great trust committed unto them. As Romans 2:23, 2423Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? 24For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. (Romans 2:23‑24) declares, “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law, dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written".
Not merely towards that body of doctrine comprised in the “form of knowledge and of the truth in the law” itself has their antagonism been shown; but the dawn of the “better things” of the new covenant found them prepared for still stronger resistance. True to their character, their opposition rose in intensity, in proportion to the fullness of the truth presented. Its high-water mark was surely reached when He of whom their scriptures testified presented Himself, and met rejection, and lastly death at their hands. In this, no doubt, they did but prove themselves of that “generation of vipers” of which Christ Himself spake (Matthew 23:3333Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 23:33)). To show venomous hatred of those sent to proclaim the truth seemed always to characterize those in that line of descent. Their fathers had done so. So would they, for “Behold I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, etc.” Heredity, transmission of character, accumulating forces, reversion to type, are terms in frequent use in biological science, undoubtedly having some place in the affairs of men. Do they find no illustration, as to the matter in hand, from the Savior's words to the Pharisees: “Ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up, then, the measure of your fathers.... That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel.... Verily, I say unto you all these things shall come upon this generation.”
Jerusalem, that killed the prophets, has heard the voice of One, the Prophet like unto Moses, who came, with grace on His lips, and love in His heart, proclaiming truth beyond anything they had yet conceived, and showing credentials such as no prophet had ever possessed. “The law and the prophets were until John, since that time the kingdom of God is preached.” But these children in the market-place would respond to nothing, the new message of grace as little as the old of law. The truth He proclaimed they resolutely refused to hear; the power accompanying it they ascribed to Beelzebub; the Lord Himself they hurried to the cross, to silence, if possible, the voice that rebuked their persistent unbelief. The Truth Himself, Christ did not fail to witness of it, nor to testify how far they were from it; but such was their ruinous pride and folly that, rather than be shown their darkness, they will extinguish the Light itself. Awful effect of the blinding power of Satan over the minds of those who reject the truth! As in instances we have already considered also, the blindness men have preferred, God has given them over to. “God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see” (Romans 11:7, 87What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded 8(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. (Romans 11:7‑8)). This blindness continues. Even over that part of revelation which can be called “their own scriptures,” and with the letter of which they are not unfamiliar, the shadow is cast. “Until this day remaineth the same vail, untaken away, in the reading of the old testament.”
Likewise of the truth now going out to the world, and during the whole course of this dispensation, it is true that “blindness in part hath happened unto Israel, Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Light shall yet arise for them, but first there intervenes a still deeper darkness. The future crisis finds them, the faithful remnant excepted, universally surrendered to the delusions of Antichrist. Fittingly does Jerusalem's cup of retribution contain this ingredient in return for the haughty refusal of Him who became “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” Him they refused and the grace and truth He brought. The Antichrist they will receive, and the darkness and error he spreads and, propagates. Such is their record, and such their future nationally, and as the immediate prospect, according to the word—the fact of their eventual restoration notwithstanding. The attitude of Israel towards the truth committed to them is the most extreme we have yet considered, amounting to willful and stubborn disobedience; consequently they are overwhelmed in error beyond all others.
[J. T.]
(Continued from page 16o)