IN the following the author's aim is to point out some of the cardinal principles which
should guide and govern the seeker after truth, as well as point out some of those
obstacles which hinder the success of that greatest of all pursuits. He will use freely
the ever-quotable thoughts and sayings of one of the most logical reasoners of a past
generation, Canon Whateley of Dublin. To avoid useless repetition he will not always
employ the exact words, or phraseology, of this great thinker, nor will he always employ
quotation marks to designate what particular portions of this article belong to him. If
there be any glory, be it little or much, it all belongs to God. Names are nothing. To the
God of all truth be all the praise.
To seek pleasant beliefs, or comfortable convictions, is not
the attitude or object of a seeker after truth. To seek for a ratification of past
beliefs, and evidence to buttress a former tradition is not a search after truth. Such
quests may indicate a diseased rather than a healthy attitude of the mind. To seek for
novelty, as well as seeking to avoid novelty is no more, nor less, to be condemned than
the search for that which is traditional, or for that which is not. "The question
`What is true?' should stand on the threshold of every religious enquiry."
"If the question `What is true?' be asked only in the
second place, it is likely to receive a very different answer from what it would, if it
had been asked in the first place."
Had this been the prime question in the case of
each new believer in Christ during the past centuries, much of the trash and refuse which
takes the place, though it does not possess the properties, of truth would have been
dispensed with. Had it been perpetually asked, the creeds would not so forcibly suggest
those old attics which so many households possess, in which the worn-out clothing of other
years is stored away.
And now the unthinking reader may be shocked when
we say that we are not morally qualified to study Christianity in any, or all, of its
parts, unless we are willing to discard it, in all or part, should we find it inconsistent
with truth. We do not "believe" in anything that we force ourselves to assent
to. Belief flows naturally from adequate evidence, and where the latter is wanting the
former can never exist.
No one has the truth who merely happens into its
possession through the accident of birth. He really has it who fights for it, and
possesses it who gains it through conquest.
The Christian faith made its appearance as the
common disturber of the peace of the world, because it put an end to the tranquil
influence of custom, authority, credulity, sentiment and imagination; forced upon men the
disagreeable task of examining evidence, searching records, and proving all things; and
arrayed in opposite opinion, children against their parents, subjects against their
princes, and the people against the priests. If Christianity does not disturb us,
it can only be from one of two causes, viz., either we are master-Christians, or else what
we have is but the name and not the reality of that Christianity which turned the world
upside down, and in doing so turned it right side up.
It has been said that "the poor, ignorant,
uninstructed peasant who says `I believe my religion because I have been told so by those
who are wiser than myself; my parents told me so, and the clergyman of the parish told me
so,' comes nearest to the answer of the Gospel," the answer which Peter
directs us to be ready to give to "every one that asketh a reason for the hope that
is in us." And yet it is manifest that this answer could have been given, when the
Gospel was first preached, by no Christian; but might be, and was, given by every one of
his Pagan neighbors.
This is to represent the Apostles of Christ as
saying to those of whom they would make converts, "Let every succeeding generation
receive quietly the religion handed down by its fathers, but let this generation
act otherwise. Take up novelty for this once to oblige us, and ever after adhere to
Those early Christians, as well as those who are
converted from heathenism today, had to win the truth. Great convictions are not
born apart from intense travail of mind and soul. It is in the burning furnace of raging
conflict that the purest gold of Christian truth is found.
He who professes adherence to the national
religion of England, on the ground that it is "the religion of his fathers,"
forgets that, on this principle, the worship of Thor and Woden would claim precedence. If
our Presbyterianism, Lutheranism or Methodism rests on the basis of truth we are on par
with the Ju-Ju worshipper of darkest Africa, the Maori of New Zealand, or the
Terra-del-Fuegian so far as reasons for our beliefs are concerned.
The deadliest of all heresies is that of
Indifference. Indeed, men miss truth more often from their indifference about it than from
intellectual incapacity. Indifference is a fault of the heart, a stagnation of emotional
interest. Not that there is such a thing as absolute indifference. Laodicea
was indifferent—but only to truth. "Because thou sayest I am rich, and
increased with goods" points to a state of material wealth to which its owners were
the opposite of indifferent. Apostasy concerning truth is the heresy of today.
This is not to say that any man does not wish to
have truth on his side. All men wish that. But wishing to have truth on our side is far
different to being willing to be on the side of truth. The one class think more of
themselves than they do of truth; the other think more of truth than they do of
"Men first make up their minds—and the
smaller the mind the sooner made up—and then seek for reasons, and if they chance to
stumble upon a good reason, of course they do not reject it. But though they are right,
they are right only by chance." The truth-seeker will not be so anxious to make up
his mind, as he will be to open it. He will be jealous of the very reasons he favors, and
suspicious of himself for favoring them.
A creedal belief may be nothing more than the
embalming fluid of a decayed mentality. If we would not be indifferent to truth we must
not be indifferent to its enemies.
"According to the proverb, which Lord Bacon
has somewhere alluded to, `Nettle roots sting not,' the first entrance of some false
principle is generally in reference to something in itself either harmless or unimportant.
To be blind to the unsoundness of a principle till it produce actually all the
ill effects that it can consistently lead to, is not to perceive which way the wind is
blowing unless it blows a perfect gale....When the wooden horse has been introduced, it is
found to contain armed men concealed within it." The wooden horse has done fearful
damage within the walls of Christian faith. The numerous assumptions which from time to
time have been unwittingly accepted by the thinkers of the church, have all come in under
the protection of the Trojan horse, and fathered a brood of errors too numerous to number.
Creation-out-of-nothing, endless ages, immortal soul, and other errors which we are still
unaware of, are all fruits of indifference to the proper safeguarding of the premises of
"Men speak often of overexactness—of
attending to minute and subtle distinctions; while these minute distinctions are exactly
those which call for careful attention in all who would escape or detect error. It is for
want of attention to minute points, that houses are robbed and set on fire. Burglars do
not, in general, come and batter down the front door; but climb in at some window whose
fastenings have been neglected; and an incendiary does not kindle a tar-barrel in the
middle of the room, but a match in a heap of shavings."
"What is truth?" asked Pilate, and
perhaps, as some read it, the tone in which be uttered the words was one of contempt.
"What is truth compared with gold?" asks one. "What is truth compared with
power?" enquires another. To such the key-words, the master- thoughts of the
Christian faith, suggest nothing more than burnt- out embers from the fire of bygone
"What is truth?" The twentieth
century's answer to it, in press and politics, in literature and religion, reveals it as
being ripe for God's sure judgment on the heresy of human indifference.