Truth is a strange commodity. People often talk about “the truth” without appreciating the incongruity of the term they employ. For example, my wife’s parents held to a certain system of Biblical interpretation known as “dispensationalism”, and were frequently heard to be saying about others, “The trouble is, they don’t know the truth.” To them, the words the truth represented a body of knowledge acceptable to their way of thinking. Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, each believe they hold “the truth” about Religion. Moslems are fanatical about the truth from the Koran. Some Christians are equally fanatical about theirs from the Bible.
Jesus said to Pilate, “To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate merely said, “What is truth?” (John 18:37) He expressed his opinion, based on his experience of life, and had found what many find, that truth is a strange commodity. Jesus made no further answer to this, but remembered how His own people had been unable to listen to Him when He spoke about the truth. He told people that knowing the truth would make them free. The Pharisees objected strongly, and then we hear the Master speak the following words. “Why do you not understand my speech? (I’ll tell you.) Because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the Devil, and the desires of your father you wish to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks of his own things, because he is a liar and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, you believe me not.” (John 8:43-45)
I have emboldened the words in the quotation because the Greek uses the definite article, thereby emphasing the word. Jesus didn’t say that He came to bear witness to truth, but to the truth. He used the expression to encapsulate a whole body of understanding, in the same way that my in-laws used the expression to encapsulate their brand of knowledge. But although the expression is equally used by Jesus and by men, there is a great difference between them when it comes to interpretation. The reason for saying this is found in John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” His usage of the expression the truth takes on a wholly different meaning to the way in which human beings use it. Because He is the truth, the truth is able to make men free. It is not because they have theological degrees, or can recite the Gospels from memory, or have great power of rhetoric from the pulpit, but simply because they have acquired an intimate relationship with the One who is the truth.
Jesus said, “Because I tell you the truth you believe me not.” He didn’t say, “You believe it not.” He wasn’t referring to a body of knowledge, but of something living, vibrant, life-imparting. He was referring to Himself. He rounded on the Pharisees on another occasion by saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, . . . but you will not come to me that you might have life. (John 5:39) Even as Jesus was the very embodiment of truth, so He has made it possible for His followers to embody the truth as well. Jesus wanted His people to walk the truth, act the truth, do the truth, live the truth, so that others may become aware, not of their intrinsic goodness, but of their Master’s indwelling presence by observing their life-style.
George MacDonald, that great 19th century writer, often spoke about the truth in his works. From the following quotations, it is abundantly clear that he had fully imbibed the Master’s message about the truth. “Truth in the inward parts is a power, not an opinion. Truth is a very different thing from fact. Peace is for those who DO the truth, not those who opine it.” “Only he who tries to do the truth can see the grandeur of another who does the same.”
One of the most pernicious of errors found in this world is truth spoken by the man who doesn’t possess the truth.Jesus said of the religious leaders of His day, “You draw near to me with your mouth, and honour me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.” (Matt.15:8) We have in this quotation another factor of supreme importance. It is theheart that acknowledges and understands the truth, rather than the mind. The mind of man is bent upon many intellectual exercises, and comes up with many apparent jewels of wisdom, but having done so, can easily by-pass the very thing it is looking for, namely the One who is the truth. Blaise Pascal once said, “We arrive at the truth, not by the reason only, but also by the heart.” Oscar Wilde came near to the same understanding when he said, “The English are always degrading truth into facts. When a truth becomes a fact, it loses all its intellectual value.” The Psalmist declared it unequivocally when he spoke of the one “who walks uprightly and speaks truth in his heart.” (Ps.15:2) The Lord desires that “The Church of the Living God” should be “the pillar and ground of truth.” (1 Tim.3:15) There should be the very essence of trueness within all Christians. You may find this trueness with another brother of somewhat different persuasion, and yet know that the truth is alive in his heart. Likewise he will recognise that trueness in you, and therein is the recognition of the Master indwelling both.
All this is the power of the truth. The power is the presence of the Lord within the heart of one who has acknowledged Jesus as the truth, and found Him as living treasure. But now we must pass on to the next aspect of the truth, namely the practice of the truth.
The practice of the truth depends upon whom we are dealing with. The practical outworking of the truth must be found in every aspect of a true believer’s life, but he will meet with people on a casual basis, as for example when shopping or visiting places on holiday or eating out in cafes and restaurants. Even though hardly anything is said, the aroma of a true life should be evident, and could be perceived by some. It is not recommended to wear one’s identity too obviously, lest it create the impression of a political activist, or religious nut case. The life within should show without words being spoken. The true believer will soon be aware of the need to speak by observing the reactions of those with whom he comes into contact.
The next class of people are those who belong to the Lord, and with whom we can and should have some degree of fellowship. In all such cases, Paul tells us that we should “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) The interchange of ideas, the impartation of wisdom and knowledge, the correction of a brother’s fault, these are all part and parcel of walking in the truth towards the brethren. George MacDonald wrote, “Nothing can be known except what is true. A negative may be fact, but cannot be known, except by the knowledge of its opposite. I believe also that nothing can be really believed, except it be true. People think they believe many things which they do not and cannot in the real sense believe.” George Breque wrote in similar vein, by saying, “Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.” This is helpful in understanding what should comprise the substance of our teaching amongst the elect. Cardinal Newman once wrote, “No truth can really exist external to Christianity.” Clearly he saw that Jesus was the truth, and thereforethe truth must exist within the true church of Jesus Christ. All that Jesus taught should therefore be classed as the emanation of the truth.
The third class of people is perhaps the most difficult to handle. They are the religious people, who believe they are part of God’s church, but do not possess the truth as the living Saviour within. Jesus spoke about these when He said, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and expelled demons in your name, done many mighty works in your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you.'” (Matt.7:22) It is most regrettable that the Master used the word “many” to describe this group, like the “many” who walk the wide road that leads to destruction. Jesus also spoke truths in parabolic form, so that the multitudes would not understand. But He explained them to His disciples. This may seem rather unfair to the natural mind, but is highly significant to the mind that possesses the living truth of Christ Himself. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and throughout the church age, there has been a time for the impartation of truth to a few, whilst the many are passed by. But this does not mean that God has purposefully rejected them before they’ve had a chance to hear, to understand, and believe. Their opportunity comes later.
How should one approach these people? Perhaps one should first ask whether Jesus’ words have been recognised within the membership of the church to which one belongs. Is it an unspoken rule that whoever enters the doors of the church is considered a believer, and has a right to be there? Does the spirit of discernment exist within the body of true believers? Indeed, do they consider the necessity of making a distinction between the true and the false? Suppose such a climate does exist. What then? A confrontation occurs, in which the truth exposes the false, even if no words are spoken. But if the living truth is spoken, then a hiatus develops, until the false ones depart. I can remember in the days of my youth in North London that I was a member of an Anglican Church. It was well attended, had a well-trained choir, and an expert organist. But the Vicar was a new man, and he was a true believer. He soon recognised that several of his younger members, belonging to the youth group, were also true believers. He asked us to pray for him, because he was in great trouble. The choir, the organist, and many members of the congregation were incensed against him for what he preached. They gave him an ultimatum that unless he stopped preaching the gospel, they would resign. He refused. The following Sunday he preached with such fervour that some of us wanted to shout for joy. The next Sunday the church was nearly empty. After that the congregation grew from small beginnings to a reasonable size, consisting only of those who truly knew the Lord.
We are now immersed in the trouble zone. Truth spoken to those who cannot abide by it, turn hostile. An old Jugoslavproverb says, “Tell the truth and run!” Another proverb declares that “Truth has a scratched face.” A Hebrew proverb says that “Truth is heavy; few therefore can bear it.” Coming back to Geroge MacDonald, he said, “All we have to think of is to do right, not the consequences of doing right.” This is a great test on true discipleship, and shows the Lord whether we are ready to defend truth at all costs, and under all circumstances. Winston Churchill said, “Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may distort it; but it is there.” Under hostile conditions, truth is most dificult to handle, and shows whether we have the guts to stand by the living truth within us. William Blake, in a public address, said, “When I tell any truth it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do.” There is a little anonymous poem which reads –
What a shaking thing
The truth can be
Especially when found
on the family tree.
Jesus knew all about the problems that arise within families. Blood ties create havoc when there is a division between believers and non-believers, or between true believers and false brethren. The Master asked that we should learn to “hate mother, father, brother, sister,” etc. and this was to be understood in terms of true loyalty to Christ Himself. Anything by way of compromise with that which emanated from the world or from faleshood would cause disappointment to our Lord, and eventual loss to ourselves. “Those who honour me, will I honour,” said the Master.
Compromise is equivalent to duplicity. One cannot serve two masters. An old Yiddish proverb says, “A half truth is a whole lie.” Lies should be confronted at all costs. The trouble is that we don’t like to make ripples on the surface of our pleasant ponds. Former Prime Minister of Britain, James Callahan once said, “A lie can be half way round the world before truth has got its boots on.” This is shameful, and reflects the common tendency in all of us to wait, hope, maintain silence, and these days even to be “politically correct” rather than calling a spade a spade regardless of the consequences, as MacDonald said.
A German proverb says, “The grave of one who dies for truth is holy ground.” One is reminded that long before the days of Jesus Christ on earth, the Greek philosopher Socrates was an outspoken proponent of truth. Eventually he caused such problems for the heirarchy of his day that he was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. His knowledge of truth was limited by his nationality, and the lack of God’s revelation to his nation, but nevertheless he adhered to truth so earnestly that it cost him his life. Some Christians today would say that he has no place in God’s economy, but they are way off the mark. Another man who held by what he believed to be true in the face of persistent royal opposition was Sir Thomas More, chancellor in the reign of Henry VIII, who refused to swear to the new Act of Succession in 1534 because it repudiated papal authority in England. In spite of a brilliant self-defence, he was convicted on false evidence and beheaded. Shall protestants say that he has no place before God because he was a confirmed Catholic? Once again, they would be way off beam. He stood by what he firmly believed to be true, and would not budge, even though he knew what the outcome would probably be. Such valiant conduct shows up many other lesser mortals who might withdraw from the fight for far less possibility of loss.
We have yet a fourth group to consider before closing. These are the most pernicious of all, simply because they are unseen, cunning, devilish, and dangerous. They are the “principalities and powers of darkness, world rulers and spiritual forces in the heavenlies”, to paraphrase Paul’s words in Ephesians 6. They are under the leadership of the one whom the Lord called “the father of lies.” This is why Paul warns us to “have our loins girt about with truth”. (Eph.6:14) Strange words! Why should our belly be defended from their campaign of falsehood? Why not a helmet of truth to guard our minds, or a breastplate of truth to guard our hearts? A possible answer comes from understanding the meaning of the Greek word translated “bowels” in the A.V. It is ‘splanchna’, and refers to the deepest seat of our emotions. In the Old Testament the word is used in a strict anatomical sense until the Psalms, and then the figurative meaning begins to emerge. Take for example Psalm 25:6 “Remember O Lord Thy bowels and kindnesses.”J.N.Darby rightly translates as “Remember, Jehovah, thy tender mercies and lovingkindnesses.” In the New Testament, Paul frequently used the word in this sense. One might refer, for example, to Phil.1:8. “God is my record, how greatly I long after you in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” Having observed this usage, we are now in a position to understand why our loins need to be guarded against the lies of the Devil. He tries to demolish us at three levels. He first of all trades falsehoods into our minds, and with increasing maturity, believers soon become aware of what he is doing and reject it. Then he tries by focusing on our hearts. This time he uses more persuasive language that bypasses the mind. This is more difficult to ward off, simply because our hearts are (or should be) tender, and we are prone to listen to cunning entreaties. But failing these, he then strikes at our splanchna, the very deepest seat of our emotions, and can easily upset us if we are not fully conversant with his technique. This is why our Lord used such strong and unacceptable-sounding words when speaking about family relationships. “Hate you father, mother, brother, sister etc.” He knew that Satan would direct his darts at this level simply because we have our deepest feelings for those of our own kith and kin. To overcome such powers of darkness one needs three items. First of all the protective armour of “girding our loins with truth.” Second, the shield of faith (belief)” to guard our hearts, and third, the sword of the spirit to attack. This last item is none other than the word of God, and our testimony. Defend and attack! Be valiant and strong!
Finally, I would like to quote a longer passage from MacDonald. It comes from page 148 of his novel, “What’s mine’s mine.” In this passage, the two brothers Ian and Alister Macruardh are talking together.
“Tell me this, Alister; can a thing be believed that is not true?”
“I say, no. Can you eat that which is not bread?”
“I have seen a poor fellow gnawing a stick for hunger!” answered Alister.
“Yes, gnawing! but gnawing is not eating. Did the poor fellow eat the stick? That is just it! Many a man will gnaw at a lie all his life, and perish for want. I mean lie, of course, the real lie – a thing which is in its nature false. He may gnaw at it, he may even swallow it, but I deny that he can believe it. There is not that in it which can be believed; at most it can but be supposed to be true. Belief is another thing. Truth is alone the correlate of belief, just as air is for the lungs, just as form and colour are for the sight. A lie can no more be believed than carbonic acid [carbon dioxide gas] can be breathed. It goes into the lungs, true, and a lie goes into the mind, but both kill; the one is not breathed, the other is not believed. The thing that is not true cannot find its way to the home of faith; if it could, it would be at once rejected with a loathing beyond utterance; to a pure soul, which alone can believe, nothing is so loathsome as a pretence of truth. A lie is pretended truth. If there were no truth there could be no lie.”