THE DEFENCE OF THE TRUTH

 

By D. M. PANTON, B.A.

 

To identify oneself with the truth is to plant oneself in the heart of a storm out of which there is no escape for life.And why this is so our Lordís experience illuminatingly shows. "For Christ also pleased not himself: but, as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me" (Rom. 15: 3). Every word that Christ uttered was a word of God; He embodied every truth of Jehovah; so that, if His actions were obnoxious, it was God, who commanded them, who was responsible, and therefore culpable: yet the Lordís critics scrupulously avoided all reproach of Jehovah, entirely absolving Him, while they poured their venom on Christ. Our experience will be identical. For example, he who obeys the Sermon on the Mount falls under the sharpest censure, and not least from fellow-Christians: yet He who gave the Sermon, and who, if, obedience to it is evil, is infinitely the more culpable, is in the same breath lauded as incomparable. The reproaches that are His due fall on me. And this storm can only deepen. For the days rapidly approach when the Organizations of the Godless will abandon oblique attack, and murder the people of the Book because they would murder its Author.* There has never been a martyr, and there never will be one, of whom it cannot be said that it was the truth which cost him his life.

 

[* "No Book," says Bezbozuik, the Moscow organ of the Godless, "no matter how impure, has done as much damage as the Bible."]

 

THE TRUTH

 

We ponder what is the Truth which has thus been deposited in our hands. Every utterance that corresponds with fact is a truth; but the truth is a series of statements made by God Himself which disclose the realities of life and death, our destiny here and hereafter, beyond the power of man to discover and all centring in the drama between Bethlehem and Calvary, with its dawn in Genesis and its meridian in the Apocalypse. The Bible is a lifebelt thrown by God to a drowning world. The value of this disclosure is utterly beyond price. Infinity shades away from every sentence a man utters, leaving infinite uncertainty; but when God speaks, the sentence is concrete truth, a verbal statement of exact fact, a thought so finally true that all action, all life, can safely be built upon it. Therefore Jude says: "Contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). That is, the Faith has been once given, once for all, once for ever; not discovered, or invented, or evolved, but delivered; a written revelation, bodily deposited, that has survived all error, all corruption, all apostasy; so as to admit of elucidation and explanation, but never of addition, or doubt. New discoveries in the Faith are always possible; just as telescopes, grown more powerful in the hands of astronomers themselves grown more skilful, will disclose new worlds hitherto invisible; but those worlds were always there. An astronomer can discover a new star, even a star of the first magnitude, but he cannot create one: so the constellation of truth, overarching us, is the identical constellation, unaltered and undimmed, on which the Apostles gazed.* Therefore the Apostle says:- "Hold fast the FORM of sound words" - the Scriptures exactly as they have been penned (2 Tim. 2: 13).

 

[* Thus, as pre-dating all, what is delivered to us is not Roman tradition, or Anglican, or Baptist, or Brethren, or Salvation Army, or Presbyterian, or Congregational, or Quaker, but apostolic (2 Thess. 2: 25); nor the tradition of new groups now silently rising, to emphasize some aspect of the truth or embody some new error: for what is true in these traditions we already have in the Scriptures, and what is erroneous we do not want. The wise disciple holds himself free to spread the whole counsel of God - "the Faith," Bible-wide, world-inclusive, Church-whole.]

 

SHOCK

 

Now apart from love and loyalty, which make us spring into the breach in defence of the truth, there are two vital reasons which make our being in the thick of the storm not only loyalty but profound wisdom; and the first is that shock at error, or its absence, is a sure diagnosis of the soul. The man who has lost Ďshockí at a sin is already halfway to committing it; and that the amazing unbelief of the Churches, with - which fifty years ago all England would have rung, now raises, even in evangelical circles, little more than a languid interest, is itself a death-symptom. Germs of disruption and decay lodge in all believers and in all churches exactly as deadly microbes lodge in the healthiest of us all; and as only strong, full-pulsing heartís-blood holds death at bay, so cessation of shock is death begun. For example, a constant danger to us who study prophecy is a comfortable, easy-going, placid acquiescence in the fearful apostasies and wickednessís drawing daily nearer because we know that, as infallibly foretold, they are inevitable; whereas our whole soul ought to be one burning protest and revolt. So with the whole range of truth: if we are not in the trenches where the shells fall, we must either be in hospital, or else interned behind the enemyís lines - captured.

 

COHERENT TRUTH

 

The second fact of an importance incalculable is that as all truth is a coherent whole, a concrete, deposited unity, its mutilation is most dangerous both for ourselves, and for others to whom we are responsible to pass it on. Error can be a very deadly thing. Leave out one word from a statement, and it can become a gross error; put only one figure wrong in a sum, and the total is a falsehood; change one ingredient in a compound, and, instead of a healing draught it can become a deadly poison, or a violent explosive. "Carlyle was right," as Dr. H. Townsend has just said, "in saying that the Church of the fourth century was split on a diphthong: we are right in answering that Athanasius stood for that which there would be no Church to split." One of the tragedies of the Church of God to-day is the multitude of believers who have gone back on truths they once knew and loved. It has far graver consequences than they dream. Our Lord has expressed the peril. "Take heed therefore HOW YE HEAR: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given: and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away that which he thinketh he hath" (Luke 8: 18). So, on the other hand we "build up ourselves on our most holy faith," we "keep ourselves in the love of God" - help ourselves where God can love us, and where our love for God can always be deepening - "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 20).

 

TRUTH UNSOLD

 

So then we reach the grand climax, uttered in the words of Solomon:- "Buy the truth, AND SELL IT NOT" (Prov. 23: 23). We have all found the purchase of the truth a costly thing: it can be not less costly to retain it. The Truth can alienate friends, ruin reputation, forfeit employment, jeopardize life, all of which can often be retained by parting with the truth. But its value is too great. Quite literally, it outweighs all the gold in all the banks of all the world. Peking missionaries were astounded when an old man once rose and said:- "I am glad I am a leper! For if I had not been a leper, I never would have come to this Mission to Lepers Hospital; if I had not come to this hospital, I never would have learned to know Jesus. And I had rather be a leper with Christ than to be free from leprosy without Him." What a marvellous photograph the Spirit gives with the camera turned upward to the morning skies! "They that be wise" - all wisdom is in the Book - "shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness" - not in conversion only, but into all its holy paths - "as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12: 3). So, no matter what the storm, we will obey, even where we do not fully understand. Our blind obedience can be the very life of other souls. An engine driver of a luggage train received the amazing order:- "Switch your train into the river." Blindly he obeyed, leaping from the train as it crashed over the embankment. Three minutes later the mail train thundered by. His simple act of blind obedience had saved hundreds of lives. Souls not yet born again are depending on our obedience to the whole Book.

 

CONTROVERSY

 

But our conduct of its defence is only less important than the truth itself. When Abraham Lincoln was standing for the American presidency, he was asked what he thought of his prospects. "I do not fear Breckinridge," he replied, "for the North is against him; nor Douglas, for he is opposed by the South: there is one man whose name I see in the papers whom I do fear, and if I am defeated it will be by him: his name is Abraham Lincoln." Some points are crucial. (1) Balance in presenting the truth is deeply influential in winning its acceptance. "Let us prophesy" - for it was a rule even for an inspired prophet - "according to THE PROPORTION of the faith" (Rom. 11: 6). Revelation is a proportioned and articulated whole: it is vitally interlocked and thus marvellously inter-evidenced: present it, therefore, says the Spirit, in the proportions in which you find it. (2,) There is such a thing as a right reserve of truth:- to the Church - "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16: 12), and He did not say them; and to the world - "Cast not your pearls" - your nuggets of deeper, advanced truth - "before the swine" (Matt. 7: 6), unbelievers [and apostates] to whom they are utterly incomprehensible. We are not bound to utter all the truth we know on a given point at a given moment: we shall only harm the souls that cannot bear it if we do. (3) We can give reasons, we cannot give reason; we can give facts, we cannot give faith; we can give convictions, we cannot give conviction: and perhaps the most difficult of all lessons a Christian teacher has to learn is that his hearer has a right to be wrong. The judgment Seat will be simply a record written by ourselves with the finger of life, a record we are all busily writing now; and we all have perfect freedom as to what we write. (4) The moment we are angry, we have ceased to contend for the truth, and have begun to contend for ourselves; but so far as what we utter is the truth, and so long as we keep sweet, all that is of grace and of God in our opponent is on our side. The [Holy] Spirit enforces the Truth. To be faithful is not necessary to be brutal. For the truth is no mere luxury of the intellect: it redeems the life it enters; and it demands to control every feeling, shape every plan, dictate every action, use every faculty: in fighting for the truth, therefore, we are fighting, with God, for the very life of man.

 

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God hides Himself so wondrously,

As though there were no God:

He is least seen when all the powers

Of ill are most abroad.

 

Thrice blest is he to whom is given

The instinct that can tell

That God is on the field when He

Is most invisible.

 

For right is right, since God is God

And right the day must win:

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin.

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