Truth: 4. Its Nature and History

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If, in considering the effect of the truth upon men, the measure and relative importance of what is communicated are to be regarded as having any weight with them, the Christian revelation should have met with a very different reception from that which the word of God, in former times, has invariably experienced. If, in time past, the light was so meager that (while it was man's own fault and part of his guilt, that the darkness comprehended it not) still, he can plead it was so disproportionate in both fullness and extent—that there was, in fact, so much darkness in which to hide and so little light to shut out—yet no occasion can be found for seeking to exonerate himself in that way now. Light there has been from the beginning, sufficient to render man without excuse. Light there is now, so glorious and full, that he who receives it not, far from having excuses wherewith to parry judgment, on the contrary is “judged already.” And as showing where such an one is, “This is the judgment,” declares John, “that light has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” From one, too, whose special mission it was to unfold in its fullness the present truth, we learn that “if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” The reason that any darkness now remains is here disclosed. By man's own consent, the influence of the prince of darkness still exercises full sway over him; but as far as God is concerned, obscurity there is none, but fullest manifestation, and for all men. For “God our Savior will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” A distinctive feature of the gospel this latter is, its universal scope, and a point that should be in its favor with men. In fact, we might say, every serious consideration is in its favor in the present age; for in its most interesting garb, and attractive colors, does truth now array itself.
Whether one considers the nature of the message itself, the illustrious character of the messenger, or the terrible fate before their open eyes of those who refuse to hear, surely, one would say, Men will treat it otherwise this time. A message of salvation the gospel is, and their need of it should be as manifest to men as their welcome of it should be cordial. Not without importance either, is it to consider by whom the word of this salvation was sent: “God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” by the One who, amongst other glories, has this one of so much moment to us, that “by Himself He purged our sins.” And “if therefore, the word spoken by angels was steadfast,” and the results of disregarding it so fearful, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord?”
How has it fared, then, with this, the last, the fullest, the most gracious utterance of God to men? Wisdom hath cried without, hath lifted up her voice in the streets, in the chief places of concourse. And hath she called again, and men refused? Stretched out her hand, and no man regarded? Have her counsels been set at naught by unresponsive fools who hate knowledge? Alas! indeed it is so. Good-ground hearers there have been, but how few! The wayside, the stony ground, the thorns, how large a space they occupy! Here and there a heart is touched, a soul is won; but the majority, how hardened in sin! How shallow! How full of the world and its interests! Kept out, starved out, or crowded out, men seem to be determined the truth shall be. Surveying the field as a whole, only one verdict can be pronounced as to the fate of the good seed sown, and that a most unfavorable one. History has repeated itself once more. Repeated itself this time in such a manner as to present a duplicate of every former age, for the various attitudes men have taken up before are reproduced now in every possible phase. If, in the first instance which we considered, God's heart of love was wounded, through seeing His truth doubted by those whose benefit alone He desired, He has had fresh experience of that treatment. The indifference of the antediluvians has not been confined to their age, any more than their preoccupation with the world which so attracted them, a charmer's voice by no means silenced yet. As in the case of those who came after them, the enemy can still find or make dupes of those who disown that which does not approve itself to their proud wisdom. And his adulterations, all of them instinct with the spirit, if not the letter, of idolatry, have still as many devotees. The disobedience, too, that accompanies self-righteousness and religious pride is prevalent among those who, “having a form of godliness, deny the power thereof.”
In a new dispensation therefore, where the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ characterizes all, the word of God still finds no better response. Against all its appeals, however gracious, man seems to be amply fortified. Nor in any way less intense appears his inveterate antagonism to the truth than formerly. And this comes out in more ways than one. Thus the apostasy of Israel, their faithlessness to the oracles of God committed unto them, has likewise (to take one more instance of history repeating itself) been reproduced in Christendom. So much so that the charge of “holding the truth in unrighteousness” preferred against the former in Romans 1 levels itself quite as fittingly at the conduct of the professing Christian church. Error, dark and deadly, far from being banished by all that has been brought to light by the gospel, has over and over again reared its head in the very bosom of the church. Not only so, but far and wide throughout Christian teaching and practice its insidious influence has spread, until not only the entire system of theology is affected, but practical life and godliness as well.
There is no need to search minutely the history of the church to ascertain this. It is all too apparent today. Scripture itself indeed has prepared us for a departure on the part of the professing mass from the truth, the Christian revelation, on a scale and in a fashion never heard of before. Even in the time of the apostles there were not wanting signs of defection from the faith. Many antichrists then present made it evident that it was, even then, “the last time.” There was warning given also of what would happen in “latter times” when “some shall fall away from the faith.” Further, that “in the last days perilous times shall come,” when wholesale lapse into ungodliness and infidelity would characterize the Christian profession. The testimony is consistent and clear that man's unvarying antagonism to the truth had, under Christianity, by no means been disarmed; but rather in increased and embittered form has risen up, and is sweeping on to extreme apostasy. A most solemn consideration this, without a doubt! It is in the face of the full Christian revelation that this attitude is predicted as the one which shall be adopted. And thus, in magnitude and enormity, this, which according to Scripture distinguishes Christendom in its final stages, exceeds all others.
How then do we stand with regard to this today? At what stage are we arrived? Our own times in what way are they affected? Can any reflecting mind doubt that there are even now in progress influences and forces inevitably leading on to such apostasy. Take for one thing the theological unrest abroad, a marked characteristic of recent times. Uneasiness, hesitation, uncertainty, doubt, are the rule everywhere. What mean these appeals that have been heard from every side, from perplexed students and misled theologians alike, for re-adjustment of beliefs, for a restatement of Christian doctrine in terms suited to the modern standpoint? From whence does all this proceed? Certainly not from faith in the written word of God. Nay, faith in that, any real faith as to its divine inspiration and authority has, for such, already been insidiously undermined and destroyed. This precisely it is which characterizes the prevailing position. What we are observing now is, properly speaking, neither open attack on the Scripture, nor wily perversion of it, but surrender of it, as in any real sense the divinely appointed standard of truth. Surrender of the truth-that is the implication, the tendency, the inevitable outcome of what has for some years now been the course of things in the theological world.
Just for the moment, no doubt, the center of interest has shifted slightly. The cataclysm of the present great war has given pause to many things, and men have actualities and not theories for the most part to face. In the way they face them, alas! there are not wanting traces of the baneful influence already exerted. The discarded anchorage and loosened moorings leave men to strangely drift about. There are many elements in the situation today not easy to place or explain. Features there are, however, which put it beyond I a doubt that it is by surrender of truth possessed, truth as it has been given to us in inspired Scripture, that the enemy is effecting his customary end of sowing error and deceiving men. Now of these features none surely is so portentous as that new and important departure in the theological world which recent times have witnessed, the rise of Biblical Literary Science, otherwise known as “Higher” or “Historical Criticism.” It may sound extreme to some to place in such a category at all a “science” which many are disposed to regard as both harmless and legitimate. The truth is, that when regard is had to what is being done through its agency in discrediting the word of God and disseminating infidelity, far from being innocuous, “Higher Criticism” is seen to be not only one of, but really the chief of, the many conspirators and forerunners of the “apostasy.” Consider in this light this new phase of the conflict between truth and error. Three points in particular claim attention—the recentness of its appearance; its almost phenomenal success; and the inevitable ultimate end.
Comparatively speaking, only recently has the incessant warfare against truth taken this form. In the record of the professing church from the beginning, many heresies stand chronicled, for great has been the departure from the truth all along; but that in which modern theology differs from all is just this, its attitude towards the word of God. There are different ways of turning from the truth. There is such a thing as the unbridled working of an imagination, to which Scripture has become neither a guide nor a check. Of this type there are many examples of the working of error in the world. Wresting the Scriptures so as to dislocate the perfect organization of the truth, is a process in building up false teaching, which is not new either. But the form opposition takes today is different entirely. No policy of mere obstruction, but a deliberate attack on the inspiration and accuracy of what has, in the main, been the recognized standard of authority for Christians, is what is now attempted—While saying “deliberate,” there is no intention of imputing motives in those engaged, other than those they profess when they proclaim their object to be “The application to the Bible of the principles of the science of literary and historical investigation.” The deliberation is on the part of the one into whose hands they are playing when they rise no higher than this in their conception of God's word. Such a hostile attitude towards the Scriptures, together with such professed zeal for the elucidation of the truth, marks a complete change of tactics on the part of the great antagonist.
That this movement—this attempt at discrediting the foundation upon which Christianity is built—is really the most serious feature of our times, we conclude without hesitation. Its comparatively modern appearance is one remarkable point; the number and position of its adherents is no less unique. In every branch of Western Christendom, not even excluding Roman Catholicism, with its Modernist movement, leaders and teachers have been carried away with this new Biblical Literary Science. By a large number of representative men throughout Protestantism, at least, this “science” is believed in, its conclusions, whether being accepted wholesale, or, as “expert” deliverances, held to be at least worthy of consideration! The cases are few and far between indeed where, along with non-acceptance of critical finding, there is anything like whole-hearted repudiation of their method, a protest concerning its legitimacy. The seriousness of all this to their hearers or readers, who can question? When men to whom they look for light and leading have themselves so little respect for that from which alone it can be supplied, what can be expected? The plain fact of the matter is, that the foundations of the Christian belief, except where grace really preserves, are being undermined and destroyed by (what can be described in no other way than) the rank infidelity of those in high places, in the religion of our time. How baneful in its effects on the rank and file such influence is, especially with the more intelligent or educated class, we can imagine; for even in this day of universal change and decay in religious beliefs, when everything seems to be put into the melting pot, nowhere, it would seem, could more plastic material be found than the convictions of Christian professors. The contrast between truth and error is seen even in this-the hold they each retain upon men's minds. How much more tenacious the latter seems to be! Compare the various religious systems throughout the world (those of them in a sufficiently organized state to possess written oracles) and observe the attitude their votaries maintain towards them. No doubt, the dissolving, disintegrating action of the modern spirit reaches even there, and, permeating the more educated minds, reduces all to a cold and lifeless skepticism, the worship of “the ancient idol, the grand Perhaps"; but how much slower is confidence shaken, or cherished traditions surrendered. Alas! it is not so with professing Christians. Only too readily, at the first breath of a charge of superstition or bigotry do they surrender their trust. Only too clearly is it to be seen that, if error is being taught, the people love to have it so. Stated in Scripture language, which is true today as never before, men “will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts heap to themselves teachers,” having ears that turn away from the truth, and are open to every fable that can excite them. Those who have the responsibility of forming and directing popular thought are foremost in this attack. Public opinion itself, so susceptible of being moved in that direction, is easily brought into line. The popularity of the movement, therefore, is not surprising.
For its own purposes, the advance has been well-timed. It finds in the unrestful spirit of the day an occasion which more conservative times would not furnish; in the intellectualism so prevalent a powerful ally; and in the immense educational equipment a splendid recruiting agency, as well as a ready-made means of diffusion. In fact, nothing about that movement, generally called “Higher Criticism,” the rise and progress of which has formed such a marked characteristic of modern times, is more remarkable than its opportuneness. In this other way also it would seem to have arrived just in time. It is a precursor of the “apostasy,” a term used in Scripture to designate that final and extreme defection from the faith on the part of nominal Christianity, which, contrary as it is to the thoughts of so many, is what we must expect to see develop. Scripture uniformly testifies of such an approaching time of apostasy issuing froth, and succeeding, the Christian dispensation. Amongst other passages, 2 Thessalonians 2 gives definite announcement of a vast scheme of error that shall develop and flourish in the interval between the rapture and what is there called the “day of the Lord,” a day that shall be ushered in by His appearing in power and judgment. Before that day can arrive, said the apostle, disillusioning them as to the false theory of its being already present, which some had propounded to them, before it come the scene here will be filled with other actors, and Satan for a time have full sway. As preparing the way for this state of affairs, “there shall come a falling away first,” literally “the apostasy.” That is to say, the truths of Christianity will be given up root and branch, for nothing less would suit such a definite term “the apostasy.” And, in fact, that this enormity of error might have the fullest acceptance, it would seem to be desirable from Satan's point of view that every shred of truth now held in Christendom, though but traditionally, or embodied in a creed, shall be abandoned, if it be possible to induce men to do so. And not only of Christian truth, but of everything in which God may be known or owned, either in natural religion, or in Judaism, would he seek to deprive men. That is to say, just as in the immense and imposing system he desires to set up in connection with to keep that which was committed. Antichrist, every element necessary to the deception of men universally must be included, so he must first of all clear the ground of everything that could possibly undo or expose that deception. Now for this it is clear that the authority of the Bible over men must go, their respect for it must be destroyed. That is the most formidable barrier, and what is this that men are at already, but seeking to surmount it? With the ostensible objects and methods in detail of Higher Critics we have nothing here to do, simply remarking that in undermining faith, that is, traditional belief, in the Bible as the word of God, they are solving a difficulty long felt with regard to the ready, almost incredible, acquiescence of men in the scheme of Satan for their own deception.
“The apostasy” has been spoken of. And undoubtedly it is from Christianity that we are to understand the departure there spoken of to be. But has not every separate age had its own apostasy? Not merely that the truth has failed to find acceptance with many on each occasion; that there has been, on each page, a broad dark margin where the light never reached; but that from that which was illuminated the light has been deliberately banished. The solemn responsibility for these extreme steps, upon whom does it lie? The corporate principle which we have already noticed in Israel's case, comes in here to explain. Each dispensation has had its special delineation of truth, suited in character and measure for the time. This outline of divinely given knowledge must be regarded as a trust, for the administration of which the favored class on whom it was bestowed may be called to account as a class, and, in the government of a just and Holy God, reap as a community what it has sown in a corporate capacity. We lose the true perception of this by reason of the intense individualism of our conceptions today. A principle there is, presiding in human affairs, where things are taken in the aggregate, and justly so, beyond dispute. How solemn, then, to consider that even on this principle failure has been consistent throughout man's history. The first brief day of innocence witnessed one such failure
Rom. 1 provided the account of later instances of ignoble surrender. Israel's breach of trust we have considered. And now, alas, we do not require analogy to suggest a parallel as to the church, “the pillar and ground of the truth"; for the public renunciation of real and vital Christianity is predicted, and is being rapidly prepared for by what is now going on.
Thus is the truth being treated by men, and even thus are they, in Laodicean times, preparing the way for coming days of still greater darkness and delusion, when that one shall be supreme whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and wonders of a lie, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. As the Christian revelation has surpassed in fullness and depth all others, and the attitude of men to it been the one of most uncompromising antagonism, so the alternative error they have resigned themselves to is the darkest ever known. “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth; but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Involved in it also are the Jews to be, as we have seen; those who each possessed a definite written revelation coming in thus peculiarly for the retribution their haughty refusal of it has merited. The lie is compounded of the elements suitable to each, for they themselves supplied the ingredients for the cup of their delusion. A terrible culmination is this to the history of error in the world. Truth, too, shall have its day, when its extension throughout the earth shall be such as to make good the simile “as the waters cover the sea.” How grave and vital the issues of both also, which run where we cannot follow them now, but shall hereafter, into eternity itself!
Truth and error, then, are two forces at work in the world, exercising their sway over the minds and hearts of men, their thoughts and words being constantly actuated and prompted by either of them. They have each a history behind them, and a future before them. In the case of truth, those who have in simplicity received it from God have had light from, and communion with, Him. Their path is as “the path of the just that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Tampering with, or turning from it, men have but laid themselves open to the deception of the enemy, whose error has easily supplanted the truth for which they have no heart; and, compassing themselves about with sparks of their own kindling, this they have of God's hand, that they lie down in sorrow and deepest gloom. In a day of such unparalleled activity of mind as the present, it becomes men to consider by which of these forces, truth or error, they are being controlled. How various the attitudes men have, at various times, been enticed into taking up towards His truth! Is Pilate's unknown? Eve's children, have they not followed their mother on many occasions? In the giddy godlessness of the world, how many seek a refuge where that voice may be drowned! So, on the strange history goes. If man disowns, disobeys, is it so strange that now he seeks to discredit. a divine revelation? The Scriptures are now the, sole repository of the truth, being the word of God which liveth and abideth forever, inspired of Him, being absolutely infallible in every detail, and worthy, therefore, of every confidence. They are to be heard and received, and through faith in God they are the means, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of new birth and reconciliation. To saints they are the voice of God Himself, revealing His counsel and purposes concerning Christ, concerning themselves, and all else, and at the same time the expression of His mind and will for them in their pathway here. May the truth be prized by them, and receive from them the response it has got so seldom from men, hearty and humble obedience. Oh, that men too would be warned that the point of departure in all cases has been, and for each still is, the attitude we assume towards it!
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