What Is Truth?
by Morton Smith
In the present age of general laxity and departure from the orthodox Christian faith, one of the great needs is the return to doctrinal integrity. In particular, men who stand behind the sacred pulpit, should be men who teach the truth and nothing but the truth of God’s Word. One of the most pressing needs of the world of darkness, which is so full of falsehood, is the clear declaration of the truth of God’s Word.
Satan’s temptation of Eve was in the area of doctrinal integrity. He dared to accuse God of lack of integrity. With the fall of man, the continuing temptation of the world, the flesh, and the Devil is to be less than truthful in our daily living. As Jesus said, He is the truth and the life, and thus the Gospel involves a declaration of the truth in a world full of lies. All Christians in their witnessing for Christ must declare the full truth of the Gospel.
All true knowledge to be found in the universe has been placed there by God the Creator. God is truth. Ultimately all truth resides in Him. He is thus the source of all truth that we find in the world He has made. Thus, when He spoke the words of the covenant of works to Adam, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, He was asserting truth to Adam. Satan openly declares that this was false in his temptation of Eve. Jesus, while addressing unbelieving Jews, said of Satan that he is the father of lies: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44, asv throughout). Their unbelief was based upon the fact that their hearts were sinful and unregenerate. Elsewhere Jesus spoke of Himself as “the way, the truth and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He was affirming that since Satan introduced falsehood, or the lack of integrity into the world, which Adam embraced in his fall, one of the basic needs of the world is the reintroduction of the truth into it. This He asserted was what He was doing in the world, and that the only way of salvation is to come to Him, who is truth itself. Jesus bore witness of this to Pilate: “Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.’” (John 18:37). Pilate cynically answered, “What is truth?” thus showing his unregenerate nature.
In the same Gospel Jesus committed the ministry, which He had received from the Father, to His disciples. “Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:17–19). Jesus is here praying that God set apart His disciples “in truth” that they might proclaim the truth of His Gospel in this world of falsehood and darkness.
The great commission of Jesus to the church in Matthew 28 defines the mission of the church in a twofold thrust. First, she must evangelize the lost and thus gather the elect into the church. Second, she is to teach those who are in the church all things that are revealed in the Scriptures. Anything else that the church may do must be subsidiary to this commission. Both evangelism and the teaching of the members call for the church to maintain doctrinal integrity. Any failure in doing this is disobedience to Christ’s command to the church.
All of this being the case, it is obvious that God has placed upon ministers of the Word the absolute necessity of being faithful and true to the Word in their preaching and teaching. It is this high and heavy duty that rests upon every man who would preach the Word to become true interpreters of the Word. Since the Word was given in the Hebrew and Greek languages, men must be able to handle these languages sufficiently to be able to understand properly the text they desire to proclaim to their congregations. In other words, the requirement of integrity in the ministry of the Word demands commitment on the part of the preacher to study the Word in its original form.
A part of the true interpretation of the Bible involves the understanding of how particular texts fit into the whole system of truth set forth in Scripture. Thus, the minister of the Word must be aware of the total system of theology that is set forth in the Bible. The study of church history reveals that the medieval church largely lost the truth of the Gospel, as it substituted the traditions of men for the teaching of the Word of God.
The Reformation brought a renewed commitment to the principle of sola Scriptura. The result was the rediscovery of the Gospel by the church, as it sought to be reformed by the Word of God. One of the benefits of the Reformation was the distillation of the dogmas of the church into the various Reformed creeds or confessions. There were some thirty such confessions produced, and one of the remarkable points is to see the basic unity of these confessions.
In order to preserve the integrity of the preaching in these churches, ministers were and still are required to subscribe to the confession of the churches they serve. The form of subscription historically required in American Presbyterian churches, and still required in such denominations as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is: “Do you receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” In other words, the ordinand is affirming that the Westminster Confession and Catechism state what he believes the Bible teaches. It is incumbent on those who make such a vow of subscription to be faithful in their preaching and teaching to proclaim the whole counsel of God as set forth in the Scriptures and understood by the Standards of the church. Failure to do so is a breaking of the doctrinal integrity that the Lord expects of His servants.
Often in our efforts of evangelism, the tendency is for us to press for an emotional response, without first properly conveying the great doctrines of the Christian faith to the individual. We need to recognize that a proper response of the heart or conscience can only be made after the truth of the Gospel has been imparted to the sinner. It is only as the truth of the Gospel is apprehended that a genuine biblical response can take place. We see thus the need for doctrinal integrity on the part of all Christians, who are to be witnesses of the Gospel to the world around us.