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It is becoming quite a common sentiment at the present day, that it matters not what a man believes, if he is but sincere. As a man thinketh, so is he, is not unfrequently adduced as furnishing scriptural proof of the correctness of the sentiment. This half quoted text, like that employed by Satan when he tempted the Son of God to cast himselt down from the pinnacle of the temple, is made to speak a language foreign from its true meaning. When written out, it reads thus : « For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: ” and the connection makes it evident that the thing intended by the passage was to mark the difference between the lips and the heart of the flatterer, for the sake of detecting his hypocrisy, and showing that his heart, not his lips, give him his real character. See Prov. xxiii. 6–8. But the language which this passage is very commonly made to speak, is to this effect : “Whatever a man thinks to be right, is right; whatever he believes to be truth, becomes so to him ; be it what it may, his belief transforms it into truth; so that henceforth for him it will answer all the purposes of the most orthodox creed which he could have adopted.”
Thus, according to this popular maxim, truth, in relation to God and the things of eternity, has no existence, except in a man's own mind; and, since it is manifest, that there are “ many men of many minds,” the truth must be multiform and contradictory. But is this correct? Is it possible that the truth should have such an unsolid foundation ? Can it be either created or annihilated by a freak of the brain ? What then could be the use of an inspired volume ? (for I speak to them who acknowledge that such a volume exists ;) was it not given to settle the grand question, What is truth? But if a man's belief be the thing which gives truth its existence, a revelation from God is useless ; for without a revelation every man will believe something ; and according to the foregoing maxim, his belief of this something, (no matter how inconsistent and false it was before he believed it,) immediately transforms it into truth.
But do the scriptures speak of the truth as if it were originated by man's belief? Do they not manifestly represent it as having an existence which is entirely distinct from this ? How pointedly do they condemn those who believe not the truth, but who believe a lie in its room! Nor is there any intimation given that their belief, even their cordial belief of a lie, serves to transform it into truth, or to divest it of its baneful influence. 2 Thess. ii. 11, 12. When the divine leacher told his hearers, that if they should know the truth it would make them free, the truth was evidently supposed to have existence itidependently of their knowledge of it. Likewise, when he sent his
disciples to preach the gospel to every creature, the commission they received supposed the gospel to be true, whether it should be believed or disbelieved ; else the disbelief of it would not have been threatened with so great an evil as eternal damnation. Mark xvi. 15, 16.
How it can be accounted for, that the term truth should have been selected by the inspired writers, (or rather by the Spirit of inspiration,) to distinguish the religion which they exhibit, from every other system in the world, if at the same time they had considered it as a mere moral chaos, made for our plastic hands to mould and shape into such creeds as should please every man's own fancy? It is worthy to be noted that the sacred volume makes a very copious* use of this term, applying it to every department of religion. For itself, as an inspired book, it claims the honor of being called “the scripture of truth," and ** the word of truth.” Dan. x. 21.
Dan. X. 21. Eph. i. 13. Is not the Bible thus manifestly distinguished from the Koran of the Mahometans, and the Shasters of the Brahmins, and from every other book which sets up a claim to inspiration? The God of the Bible is called “the true God,” his beloved Son is called “ the true Witness,” and his Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth ; " and why, except to distinguish Jehovah from idols, his Son from false Christs, and the Holy Ghost from Satan, and every other lying spirit? The doctrines we are required to believe, are denominated the truth, to distinguish them from the doctrines of devils, and from delusive errors of every kind ; and the belief of these doctrines, when it is wrought in our hearts by the Spirit of God, is said to be truth and no lie, to distinguish it from a false faith which does not work by love. Also, that conduct which is required by the divine law, and which is the external expression of a heart conformed to it, is called " obeying the truth.” 1 Tim. ii. 4. 1 John ii. 27. 2 John 4. * The church of the living God," when considered as a community, composed of men redeemed from iniquity, is called “the pillar and ground of the truth." 1 Tim. iii. 15. See also Isa. xxvi. 2. What an importance does it give to religious truth when we hear Christ Jesus witnessing this good confession before Pontius Pilate! “ To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” John xviii. 37. Surely that must be a thing of no small consequence, the establishment of which was the end of our Redeemer's birth, and the sole cause why he came into the world.
But what is truth? It concerns every one to know what the sacred writers intend by a word which they make so significant. Is it of such doubtful meaning that nothing can be determined by the use of it? We all understand that truth is the reverse of falsehood ; that it implies reality, in contradistinction from that which is fictitious; the agreement of things with the representation made of them; or such a representation as agrees with their actual state. The scripture, in using this word to characterize the religion which it reveals, manifestly assumes the ground, that this religion is a solemn reality ; that its doctrines, which claim our belief, are not fables, but facts; and
* In John's two short epistles, both of which contain but twenty-seven verses, the word truth occurs ten times.
that those internal affections and external actions, which it requires, are such affections and actions as correspond with these facts, and are therefore themselves denominated the truth, “truth in the inward parts,” and “truth wrought,” or done, that is, reduced to practice. Ps. li. 6. 2 Chron. xxxi. 20.
By such a continual recurrence to this significant word, it would seem that truth is considered as that which gives to the religion of the scriptures all its excellency; so that, were it to be divested of this quality it would cease to be worthy of our regard. The circumstance, that the scriptures resolve into truth the whole which they teach on the subject of religion, is calculated to impress us with the sentiment, that religion is not made or unmade by men; that their belief or disbelief, though it may greatly affect their own well-being, does not affect the thing itself. Their belief does not make it true, nor does their unbelief render it false. What one doctrine of the scriptures is there, which depends on our belief for its truth? Surely the existence of God does not depend on his creatures believing that he exists; nor does the reality of his dominion over them depend at all on their believing in a divine government. Should the children of men believe themselves to be innocent creatures, uncontaminated with sin, it would not do away their depravity, nor replace them in their primeval state. It would still remain a fact, confirmed by every day's experience, that we are apostates. Nor will a disbelief of future punishment, to be inflicted on the impenitent and incorrigible, do any thing to annihilate that punishment. As well might one pretend that unbelief concerning a prison, erected by the state for the punishment of felons, would annihilate such a prison. It is true, that in view of the incredulous man it would be as though it were not; and his incredulity might be the very means of bringing him within its walls. But as soon as he is locked up there, he will be convinced that the prison had existence at the very time that he ridiculed it as a fiction. Whatever exists, is a reality, independently of its being believed.
But every one must perceive that religion depends not on the will of man, to give it its existence or character. Nor does it depend for either of these even on the sovereign pleasure of God. Whether a world of intelligent creatures should exist, or not, depended on his pleasure; but when such creatures are once in existence, it does not remain for him to determine whether or not to place them under law and the obligations of religion. These obligations are necessarily connected with their very existence. When we contemplate the intellectual system, made up of the infinite Creator and his rational creatures, with the relations necessarily subsisting between them, we perceive that our obligations to love him supremely, and our fellow creatures as ourselves, result from these relations. With such a universe there must be such a law, and such a system of religion, as are presented to us in the holy scriptures. The truth of this system did not originate with its explicit appointment, but its appointment is to be considered as the result of its accordance with the real state of the universe. It is therefore called “ a reasonable service.” Even where revelation has not shed its light, the obligation to the duties of piety are such as to take away all excuse for not glorifying God. Rom. xii. 1, and i. 20, 21.
Though divine truth exists independently of its being revealed, still the experiment has shown, that without an explicit revelation from God, this rebellious world, circumstanced as it is, would never come to the knowledge of the truth : “ The world by wisdom knew not God." 1 Cor. i. 21. The heavens and all the visible creation declare the glory of God; but it is that declaration of divine glory which is made in the inspired word, which is honored as the means of converting the soul. Ps. xix. 1-7. If no other exhibition of the character and will of God, except that which is made in the holy scriptures, does actually bring men to know, love, and enjoy him, they well deserve to be prized above gold or rubies. The short period we spend in this world is probationary time. How important, then, on our first entrance into the world, that we should be apprised of the fact, and also be informed what the Lord our God requires of us, to render our term of trial a preparation for a blessed eternity. In the scriptures, this disclosure is fully made. Here every thing needful on the subject of religion is taught, and that with great explicitness. The principles of natural religion are made so plain, that children can understand them. And here is revealed an atonement for sin, the very thing with which sinners need to be made acquainted. The book of nature would not have disclosed this mystery of grace; but when the scriptures have made the disclosure, it is not difficult to see that this doctrine, which is peculiar to the Christian system, is in perfect harmony with the principles of natural religion.
The inspiration of the scriptures, will be taken for granted; for the object of this work is not so much the conviction of sceptics as the edification of believers, and the spiritual good of such as have become already convinced that the scriptures are clothed with divine authority. Not that the writer feels an indifference about the immortal interests of that class of his fellow men who still remain in doubt concerning the claims of the Bible. Nor is he without hope of being made useful to them. Should he succeed in showing that the scriptures contain a system of religion which is harmonious in all its parts, this may do something towards convincing such as have hitherto been sceptical, that they can not be the product of designing men. Whatever doubt any of his readers may entertain in relation to this matter, the writer himself has no fear that he shall be guilty of misguiding them, so long as the scriptures shall be his guide ; for he can entertain no more doubt that whoever believes, loves, and reduces to practice the religion which is there inculcated, will meet the approbation of the divine Being, than he can doubt of the existence of such a being.
· Before I proceed to exhibit my views of divine truth, it may be useful to make several preliminary remarks concerning the HOLY SCRIPTURES.
1. They are to be viewed as an infallible standard, by which every doctrine, affection, and practice pertaining to religion, is to be tried. That the scriptures claim to be so considered, can be doubted by no one who has read them. The book which we call the Bible claims to be “the word of God." 1 Cor. xiv. 36. 2 Cor. iv, 2. An apostle