WHAT IS TRUTH?

[EXTRACT OF A LETTER FROM A FRIEND AT THE EAST.]

“THERE are things in which I am more interested than in any pecuniary consideration, and they may be implied from the following interrogatories, viz: What is truth? and, what is duty? A general answer may be given to the first in which all professed christians will agree, viz: The bible or word of God; but of the doctrines and duties which that word teaches and enjoins there is a great variety of interpretations or opinions. This difference of understanding exists not only between the saint and sinner, the elect and reprobate, but also among the saints themselves, or good men. These, to a great extent result from early impressions and prejudices, and from varied temperaments, &c. But to be definite, permit me to ask of you, what is truth in relation to the perpetuity of the Sabbath? taking into consideration the course pursued by those friends of Christ who after attending to his burial returned to their homes, “and kept holy the seventh day according to the commandment;” and also the direction given by the Savior to his disciples in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem, when he said, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.” To what extent is the moral law, so called, binding? I saw in the SIGNS some time since, an article on this subject [the Sabbath,] by S. Trott, and recently another on the subject of the moral law. But I should think they did not perfectly harmonize. I wish for light.

“Again: What is Truth in relation to the decrees of God? Did He ordain all events that have taken place, and are to take place? And as many or most things occur or eventuate through a course of means, did he also ordain the means? Do means or conditions appointed by God, and by him associated with the result in man, leave events necessarily unfixed or uncertain with God? If Tyre and Sidon would have repented had they seen the mighty works which were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida, is it not possible that some who are now in the darkness of heathenism, might exercise the same kind of repentance, if the law of God, by which is the knowledge of sin, and the truths of the New Testament, through which God commandeth all men everywhere to repent, were declared unto them? And after determining what is truth in regard to these things, let me ask, what is duty in reference to the same?

“I ask not these questions to elicit a discussion, for I have neither disposition or competency to do so; I am no sage, but as a sincere inquirer after TRUTH.”

IT is at all times a pleasure to communicate what light we have to those who sincerely inquire after truth; but it is not unfrequently the case that those who inquire “What is Truth?” like Pilate, when he made this important inquiry of our Lord, turn away without waiting for an answer.

Our young friend is right in his conclusion that the testimony of the scriptures is truth; but the bare testimony of the bible does not fully embrace all that the question implies. Christ is emphatically The Truth, and he is that truth of which the scriptures are a faithful record. The inquiry then, “What is Truth?” amounts to the same, when thus proposed to our fellow-creatures, as that expressed in the words, what think ye of Christ? We cannot give a full, appropriate answer to the one question, that will not with equal propriety apply to both. In reply, therefore, we say to our friend, it is our firm conviction and settled faith, that Christ is essentially the Truth of God, “the way, the truth, and the life.” “The faithful and true witness; the eternal Logos or Word, which was with God and was God; the Word which was made flesh and dwelt among us; in whom was light, and that Light was the life of men.” As the Word of God, he is the Truth of God, and that Word by which regeneration is effected, by the communication made to them by the Spirit of that light which was in him, and which was the life of men.

The second inquiry is, “What is Duty?” We answer, to “fear God and keep his commandments is the whole duty of man.” In confirmation of this decision read Eccl. xii. 13. In point of duty, then, it will be discovered that all mankind are delinquents when measured by the commandments of God, which are exceeding broad; for in our depraved state it is written, “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” And again, “all have sinned;” and “by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Consequently there can be no just grounds to hope for acceptance with God upon the performance of duties.

“No works, no duties of our own,
Can for the smallest sins atone;
The robes which nature may provide,
Cannot our deep pollution hide.”

It is true, as our friend remarks, there is much difference even among professors of religion in regard to duty, as well as in relation to the doctrine of the scriptures; but every soul that is born of God, is led by the unerring Spirit of Truth to see himself a poor, lost, guilty, perishing, and helpless sinner, cut off from all prospect of salvation by any power or exertion which he can possibly make. His former system of duty religion can avail him nothing while under such circumstances. Duty faith, duty repentance, duty prayers, and duty works, all serve only to press him down to the gates of death. In short, he may labor and toil for a law righteousness until the commandment slays him at the feet of Sovereign Mercy, where his legal hopes all yield up the ghost, and there he is made acquainted with Christ as the resurrection and the life, the way, and the truth. Christ’s blood is applied for the remission of his sins, and his perfect righteousness is applied for the justification of his soul, and he finds with joy and ecstacy of soul that transforming grace which

“Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.”

At this important crisis of his experience, he loses his burden and guilt, for all his sins and all his duties, and his own righteousness roll with Bunyan’s pilgrim’s burden into the sepulchre, to return to him no more. Now old things with him are passed away, and all things have become new. He is now delivered from the law, and there is, therefore, now no condemnation to him, for he is now experimentally in Christ Jesus, and walks no more after the flesh, but after the Spirit; for the law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus his Lord, has made him free from the law of sin, and whom the Son maketh free is free indeed. The difference between the former and present condition is, formerly he was under a law that convicted him of sin and guilt, which required everything of him, but furnished him with nothing; but now he is brought under the gospel, which requires nothing as a condition, but furnishes everything that his poor soul could want to make him perfectly happy and perfectly secure. His whole soul is now made to rejoice in Christ whose love is richly shed abroad in him. Nothing can to him now appear so lovely as his blessed Savior; nothing so desirable as to be found glorifying him in the soul and body which are his. He cannot now be deterred from following Jesus. He is not inclined now to study how to pervert his examples, or to evade his commands; he desires not to shun the reproaches of the cross, for he esteems them better than all the treasures of Egypt.

“Through floods and flames, if Jesus leads,
He’ll follow where he goes.
‘Hinder me not’ will be his cry.
Though earth and hell oppose.”

“My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus, “and I know them, and they follow me.” “A stranger they will not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers.” In allegiance with Jesus as his King, it is his highest privilege to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded, and to walk in all his ordinances blameless, as did Zacharias and Elizabeth.

But to come to these particular points upon which light is sought by our inquiring friend. “What is truth in relation to the perpetuity of the Sabbath,” &c? In all candor we reply, the Sabbath in the letter or legal observance of it, as it was obligatory upon Israel under the legal dispensation, is abrogated, and with all other hand-writing of ordinances was nailed with the great law fulfiller to the cross; blotted out and done away, so that the apostle Paul commands the church of God, “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meats, or in drinks, or in respect of a holy day; or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days; which are a shadow of good things to come, but the body is of Christ.” “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” - Col. ii. 14, 16, 17, & 21. But in relation to the spirit, or body, or substance, of which the legal Sabbath was a shadow, it is perpetual. It consists not, however, in the seventh day, or a first day cessation from the ordinary pursuits of life, but in a complete cessation from all the servile works of the law, and entrance into rest. The law dispensation was the six days in which men were commanded to labor and do all their work; but the gospel dispensation is the Sabbath of the Lord our God, and in it the saints are to cease from all their own works as God ceased from all the works which he had made, when he rested on the seventh day and hallowed it, and as Christ also, when he had fulfilled the law, finished transgression and made an end of sin, rested from his own works as God did from the works of creation when he had finished them. As under the abrogated law men were not permitted to gather sticks, kindle fire, or perform any kind of labor, or think their own thoughts, or speak their own words, so under the gospel, those who believe and have entered into rest, according to Hebrews iv. 3, are not suffered to gather sticks and kindle fires; or, as your eastern people would say, make use of means to get up a revival of religion, or by a system of duty religion, to warm themselves into happy frames, or religious exercises. No manner of work shall be done, no burdens shall be borne upon the Sabbath day. Works are excluded, the saints are to live by faith upon the Son of God; rest on him, rest upon his promises, his grace, his blood and righteousness. This glorious rest remaineth, or is perpetuated for the people of God; but God has sworn that those workmongers who hold on to the observance of blotted out hand-writings, and ordinances, nailed to the cross, they shall not enter into rest. They are like the troubled sea, they cannot rest, they cannot cease from their own works. It is impossible to rest in Jesus, unless we believe in him; and faith is the gift of God. Arminians cannot rest; for the very faith which they profess to have, according to their own description of it, allows them no time to rest; they must work with might and main to get it, and then they must work to keep it; and while they have it in possession, it is as inanimate as one of your Yankee spinning jennies; it can affect nothing for you except you exercise it! But O how different with that faith of which Christ is the author and finisher! It works by love; instead of its being exercised by us, it exercises us, lays hold of the promises for us, overcomes the world for us, enters within the veil for us, and subdues kingdoms, works righteousness, obtains promises, stops the mouths of lions, quenches the violence of fire, delivers from the edge of the sword, out of weakness makes us strong, waxing valiant in fight, and turns to flight the armies of the aliens. What shall we say more? Time would fail to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Sampson, and of Jephthae, of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. Such is the vitality and power of the faith of God’s elect; having this faith in us we have confidence in God; we trust in him and are as Mount Zion which cannot be moved, but abideth forever. Without this faith none can know the blessed privilege of a gospel Sabbath, this Sabbath of the Lord our God; this day which the Lord has made, this Lord’s day, this glorious and perpetual Sabbath of rest unto all that have the faith which was once delivered to the saints. But we are requested to notice the Sabbath in connection with the circumstances of the saints observing the seventh day Sabbath, after the burial of the crucified body of our Lord, and of Christ’s direction to the saints to pray that their flight should not be on the Sabbath day, &c. In regard to the first circumstance, we would remark that the disciples were not delivered from the obligation to keep the law of Moses, until the resurrection of Christ; for although he had fulfilled every precept, and borne its penalty in his death, put away sin, and made an end of transgression, &c., yet he must rise again from the dead for their justification. As they were buried with him by baptism (immersion) into death, and after the similitude of baptism raised with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. Christ suffered for his people as their Head, and in that relation to them, they, in regard to the demands of law and justice, suffered and were dead and buried with or in him, so that when he was raised up by the glory of the Father, they were raised with him to newness of life. No longer to serve under the letter of the law, but to worship God in - the newness of the spirit. It must be borne in mind that Christ came to redeem them that were under the law, and to this end came himself under the law, and remained under the law until the resurrection from the dead. This accounts satisfactorily, we would think, for the disciples’ keeping the Sabbath day, which elapsed while Christ was in the tomb, according to the commandment of Moses, which was still binding upon them, at that time.

The instruction to the disciples to pray that their flight from the fearful calamities of Jerusalem might not take place upon the Sabbath day, is urged by the advocates of a perpetual obligation to keep a seventh day Sabbath, as evidence that our Lord taught the perpetuity of that obligation after he had nailed the hand-writing of ordinances to his cross. But on examination other sufficient cause will be found to warrant that admonition. It was named incidentally with some other things, which might be serious hindrances to their precipitate flight, in which any hindrance might involve them in the most dreadful calamities. This admonition no more implies that their flight on the Sabbath day would be a violation of the law, than the other circumstances named in verses 19 and 20 of Matt. xxiv.; but because, like the other difficulties named, this, should it so occur, might prove a serious hindrance to their flight. Indeed, the reason is assigned by our Lord in the very next verse: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world” up to that date, and hence the necessity that they should be prepared instantly, at the signal which he would give them to take their flight. If any were circumstanced so as to prevent immediate flight, though this would violate no precept of the law, yet at that moment it would involve them in woe. Or if the flight should be in the winter, which of course could not be overruled by them, it would make it difficult for them to speed their flight; or if on the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, which the Jews were at that time very tenacious for the sanctity of, should they attempt a flight, they would subject themselves to an arrest by legal administrators of the Jewish law, according to the usage of the Jews at that time. Up to the very day in which Jerusalem was overthrown, the Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat, and enjoined a strict observance of the seventh day Sabbath, and would arrest any offender, just as the authorities of Connecticut formerly did those whom they caught traveling on the first day, which they said had, by some means or other, taken the place of the seventh; and thus it would prove a serious hindrance to their flight.

Is it not astonishing that the aversion of the hearts of men who profess to be the followers of Christ, should be so great to the plain declarations of the scriptures, as to lead them to pervert such passages as these, so as to make them seem to conflict with the testimony of the inspired apostles of Jesus Christ, who by the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost declared that the ordinances of Sabbath days were blotted out and nailed to the cross, as shadows of which Christ was the body or substance. As to the day being changed from the seventh to the first, there is not the least shadow or trace of authority for such a change in the bible. If, as some have contended, the obligation was moral and not ceremonial, and therefore perpetual, the same argument, if it could be established, would also forbid the change, for moral statutes are as immutable as they are perpetual, and therefore they cannot change.

As to what appeared to our correspondent as a discrepancy in brother Trott’s communication on the Sabbath and then on the law, perhaps the further development of his views in this and the last number of the SIGNS, may obviate the difficulty; but if not, he will please hereafter state particularly wherein he apprehended a want of harmony.

“Again: What is truth in relation to the decrees of God?” We reply, in our opinion all that God has said upon this subject, as well as all that he has said upon all other subjects, is truth; and he has declared the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure; (Isa. xlvi. 10) and that he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” - Eph. i. 11. These scriptures are sufficient to establish the point, that God governs and controls all things, and that his government of all events and things is in strict accordance with his fixed, immutable and eternal purpose, counsel or decree, from the flight of a sparrow, the falling of a hair from our head, up to the most important events which involve the destiny of kingdoms and worlds.

“Did he ordain all events that have taken place, and are to take place?” Yes, as certain as it is that he is God. If an event has ever transpired over which he had no government, then other such events may also yet take place independently of his government; and if one such event can or has taken place, millions may follow, and by such an admission we should be hurled into absolute atheism; for if he is God, he is just such a God as he has declared himself to be, and has all power in heaven and on earth, governs and controls all beings, all destinies and all events, and causes the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of wrath he restrains. He forms the light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil; for he has said, “I the Lord do all these things.” And all the things which he does, he works according to the counsel or decree of his own will, as we have already proved.

“And as many or most things occur or eventuate through a course of means, did he also ordain the means?” Things which are brought about in the providence of God, or by virtue of his universal government, bear an intimate relation to and are connected with each other, like the revolving wheels in a complicated machine; and to the imperfect vision of poor finite mortals, these revolutions may seem to conflict, yet in the wisdom of God they work together in harmony. Those which to us seem most trivial, are with God as important as any other of the events connected in the system of government; and he who is the Maker and Builder of all things, who has declared the end or issue of all things, has secured, by immutable decree, a revenue of glory in the result of all things, which he will not give to another, nor his praise unto graven images. What we call means are things, and belong to and are embraced in the all things which he governs and controls. Hence what we may call means are the result of the decrees of God, as well as those things that are effected by them. For instance, the death of Christ was an event which, for magnitude, challenges a comparison with all other events. It took place according to the decree of God, as all are compelled to admit, and yet that very death was a means connected with other events to be effected by it. “That by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal life.” - Heb. ix. 15. The treachery of Joseph’s brethren was a means to induce them to murder him; their avarice, and the providential appearance of the Ishmaelites, were the means which induced them to change their purpose and sell him; this sale was the means of his going down to Egypt; the wickedness of Potiphar’s wife was the means of Joseph’s imprisonment; his imprisonment was the means of procuring an opportunity of interpreting the dreams of the butler and baker; and this was in turn the means of his appearing before Pharaoh, which was the means of his promotion, which was the means of laying tip corn, and this was the means ultimately of bringing about the interpretation of Joseph’s dreams, which had been the means of first moving the enmity of his brethren against him, and all this was the means of preserving Jacob’s family alive through the famine; and that preservation was connected as a means of a Savior’s visit to the world, for out of Judah came forth a Deliverer, to turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Can our correspondent, or can any other being, tell which of these events were unimportant, or which, if any of them, might have been dispensed with without breaking the chain of causes and results of means of ends to be accomplished? If the results were ordained, of course the means were also equally ordained as the result of other means or causes which produced them.

“Do means or conditions appointed by God, and by him associated with the result in man, leave events necessarily unfixed or uncertain with God?” Certainly not. But why associate means and conditions in the statement of the question? there is no great affinity between them. Every event that has ever occurred, from the creation of the world to the present day, has been an ordained means of bringing about other events, which, in their turn, are also means bearing upon others; but conditions are very different things. When God sent Moses and Aaron with conditions of peace to Pharaoh, saying, “Let my people Israel go” and threatening with judgments if those terms were not promptly complied with, he told Moses that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let Israel go until he should execute his judgments on Egypt. So the statement of conditions in his case did not hide from his eye the end or result.

And when God gave a conditional covenant to the nation of Israel, embracing temporal blessings and curses on condition of obedience or disobedience, if we admit that God is Omniscient, we must admit that he knew precisely how these conditions would be treated by, and what effect they would have upon those unto whom they were given; consequently it was impossible they should render the result indefinite or uncertain with him. But let it be distinctly understood, that although the covenant which is now abrogated, which was typical, and which provided only for temporal blessings and curses, was conditional, that the covenant of salvation is ordered in all things and sure; not yea and nay, but yea and amen, to the glory of God by us. There is not a condition stated or intimated in all the scriptures, either directly or indirectly, expressed or implied, wherein God has offered, proffered, or proposed to save a sinner from the condemnation of the law, or from the just penalty thereof, upon any condition, of any kind whatever; for all that are saved, or ever were or ever shall be delivered from the wrath and condemnation, are “saved, and called with a holy calling; not according to their works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to them in Christ Jesus before the world began.” They are blessed with all spiritual blessings according as God has chosen them in Christ Jesus, before the foundation of the world; and he has predestinated them unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, unto himself according to the good pleasure of his will, wherein he has made us accepted in the Beloved.

“If Tyre and Sidon would have repented, had they seen the mighty works which were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida, is it not possible that some who are now in the darkness of heathenism, might exercise the same kind of repentance, if the law of God, by which is the knowledge of sin, and the truths of the New Testament, through which God commands all men everywhere to repent, were declared unto them?”

If things were otherwise than what they are, we confess our utter inability to say what they would be; but of this we are fully satisfied, if one link of the chain of cause and effects, which God in infinite wisdom has linked together, could possibly be broken, we should be in a deplorable condition; results unlooked for and unprovided for might then surprise God himself, and world on world might clash, until all would sink to utter ruin. The supreme theme of our devoutest joy is that the Lord reigns; but if we, or any combination of power in heaven, earth, or hell, could, by sending a bible or a missionary, or any thing else, into heathen lands, (if indeed there be any other land to which that designation more appropriately belongs than it does to this land of bibles and of boasted light,) could bring about the accomplishment of any event that was not provided for in the eternal, unchangeable, and invincible decrees of God, by the accomplishment of such a work, we would disprove all the record God has given of himself. Why did not the same cause which would have produced repentance in Tyre and Sidon, produce that effect on the cities where it existed? And why was it not employed in those cities which for the absence of it were destroyed? Or is it proper for us to inquire why God has made one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor? Can our correspondent tell?

It is truly by the law that a knowledge of sin is sent home to the conviction of quickened souls; but if a knowledge of the mere letter or reading of the precepts of the Old Testament could effect that conviction, why was Saul of Tarsus without such conviction until he undertook his journey or mission to the city of Damascus? And why are not American sinners. who abound in bibles, convinced of sin? That very bible of which we speak declares the reason; because. that it should be the peculiar work, not of the bible simply, but of that spirit which Jesus should send, to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; and when the Spirit executes this work, he employs the law, and brings the commandment home to the sinner’s heart in its spirituality, and sin revives, and the sinner is slain.

If it were the purpose or pleasure of God that those regions of the earth which are called heathen, should have that kind of repentance which Tyre and Sidon would have had, if God had been pleased to give it to them, or any other kind of repentance, they would assuredly have it; for he doeth his pleasure in heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; he taketh up an island as a very little thing, and nations before him are as the drop of the bucket. None can stay his hand; he speaketh the word and it stands fast; he commandeth and it is done.

“And after determining ‘What is Truth’ in regard to these things, let me ask, What is duty in reference to the same?” In consideration of all the grand, magnificent and sublime things contemplated in the foregoing questions and replies, it is certainly becoming that we should “be still and know that he is God.” “What the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law,” and we conclude, therefore, that it is the duty of those who are under the law, and the delightful and inexpressible privilege of those who are delivered from the curse and bondage of the law, and brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, to believe all that God has said to them respectively, and to obey all that he commands; and, as we have said before, this comprehends the whole duty of man.

New Vernon, N. Y.,
Sept. 1, 1844.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 485-498