THE GOD OF TRUTH
Psalm 31:5 “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.”
This is a psalm of David, and this king as much as anyone in the Old Testament needed to cry to God for redemption. Who had been more favoured than him, and yet who defied God so carnally and cruelly as this king? He was the greatly inspired writer of many psalms including the famous 23rd psalm. In other words he was indwelt by the Spirit of inspiration, and yet in this very favoured man the spirit of lust triumphed frequently. He had taken a man’s wife and lied to that man whom he later had killed. He truly needed to pray, “Redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.” His hope was that the God of truth would answer his prayer. Declension had come into his life and David had gone with the flow. He’d done what he saw every other leader doing, wenching and lying, and becoming a polygamist. What pain, guilt and death had it brought into his life. In his sinful madness there had been many times when he’d thought that the right thing to do was to give into his feelings. Why fight them? Go with the flow! Then in this psalm he prays to the God of truth.
Do you remember that just before pronouncing the death sentence on the Lord Jesus Pilate questioned him. “‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’ Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him’” (John 18:37&38). The Lord Jesus was on trial and was honour bound to answer truthfully every question. So when Pilate asked him whether he were a king then the Lord Jesus was under constraint to answer honestly, and all of us who believe that he is Jehovah Jesus the incarnate God would expect no less. As the Saviour says, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” and we do! Don’t we listen to the King who is Lord over creation – the one whom the winds and waves obey? Don’t we listen to the one who was King over the devil – he exorcised evil spirits from many people, even children and from older people? Don’t we listen to the one who was King over disease healing everyone who was sick? Don’t we listen to the one who was King over death itself? “Then you are a King,” we say to our Lord Jesus and we acknowledge him and serve himas our King. Everybody whom grace has illuminated by the truth listens to Jesus, and their great conclusion is that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. “My Lord and my God!” they cry.
1. WE CAN KNOW TRUTH.
Have you noticed this, that Pilate doesn’t ask, “What is the truth?” Asking such a question would indicate some desire to know the truth – at least as Jesus understood it – and maybe to act on it. Instead, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Like the Prince of Wales over thirty years ago asked a question of those interrogating him about his love for Princess Diana and he joked saying, “What is love?” Pilate was no believer in God. So he had a cynicism about whether it were possible to define great virtues. Who can tell what truth is? Does truth exist? ‘Truth’ for men like Pilate is whatever a person thinks to be true. That is the ethic of popular culture. The band Manic Street Preachers issued an album in 1998 called, “This is My Truth Tell me Yours.” In the movie City Slickers three or four businessmen from New York fly out west on vacation to work on a cattle ranch for a week or two. They come under the influence of the formidable leading cowboy, Curly. He gains their admiration and one night sitting around the fire under starlit heavens, having eaten their steaks, they ask him what life is all about. “One thing,” he says. That’s it. In other words in finding and doing one thing, anything that you choose, doing whatever that might be, that is what life is all about.
The Christian doesn’t believe that. He says that the Lord Jesus said that he had come that we might have abundant life. “I am the life” he said. He that has the Son of God has life, and he alone. Jesus made it crystal clear to Pilate, “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Jesus Christ believed that absolute truth was an entity that could be known and he preached this to all who would hear him.
So here are two world and life views, two conflicting perspectives on our world and on our lives. One is Pilate’s. It says that truth cannot be known. And the other is the Lord Jesus Christ who says that we can know it, that our Lord came to reveal to us the truth, and that in fact he is the truth. Whose side are you on? There is this battle going on for men’s minds and Christians are not being helped by the fact that there are many – even within the professing church who don’t believe in absolute truth. Evangelical theologican David Wells has authored a book entitled, No Place For Truth subtitled, Whatever Happened To Evangelical Theology? The world and even the professing church have little place for ‘truth’ today.
“We believe in science,” people say, but can science answer the deepest questions for which men are seeking the truth? Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in brain research, comments on the limitations of science, that science can’t explain the existence of each of us as a unique person. It can’t answer such fundamental questions as, “Who am I? Why am I here? How did I come to be at a certain place and time? What happens after death? What is the purpose of life?” The most advanced science is impotent in answering all those questions. It has to tell us it doesn’t know the truth.
The purpose of much Welsh education today is not to make scholarly people, but to give young people ‘openness.’ Every university professor can be certain that almost every student entering college believes, or says he believes that truth is relative. “On the portal of the university,” writes Allan Bloom in his book The Closing of the American Mind, “is written in many ways, and in many tongues, ‘There is no truth – at least here.’” What can you say about that statement? It sounds authoritative, and yet it is denying what it is affirming isn’t it? The phrase itself is absolute; “There is no truth – at least here.” But we are told that you can’t make any absolute statements. But most students are believing that truth has gone for ever. It is a terrible loss. It means that students don’t go out on an adventure or a pilgrimage. “I am going to seek for the truth, and I’m going to read the Bible and maybe go to a Christian Union meeting. Maybe I will find the truth there.” No. They do not believe it is possible for anyone to say, “This is the truth.” They do not bother. “It’s religion,” they say dismissively. Some of them think that that there is no truth was proved by Albert Einstein in the theory of relativity, when in fact it has nothing to do with denying the existence of truth.
I’m not talking about truths, but truth. Truths are plentiful but a number of true statements do not form the truth any more than a number of edible substances make a dish of food, or a number of flowers make a bouquet, or a number of notes make a tune, or a number of colours on a canvas make a picture. You might spot a man and a woman and some children who happen to be sitting together on one pew in church. That closeness does not mean they are a family. Where is the coherence? Where is the direction and the common goal and the commitment and the binding relationships? You find that in God! We claim that God is the true God and he created all the truths of our life and in Jesus Christ all truths cohere.
Fifty years ago I would read the cartoon strips of a Jewish cartoonist called Jules Feiffer which were published in newspapers all over the world. His cartoons commented on the drolleries of human society, and one strip was of an engaged couple, the man trying to teach his fiancée that there was no such thing as truth. This is the dialogue in the strip. The man is called Arthur.
Arthur: There is no truth.
Girl: That’s true.
Arthur: No. That’s not true. If there is no truth nothing is true. Listen to what I am saying.
Girl: I am listening. Everything is a lie.
Arthur: No. Nothing’s a lie. If there is no truth how are we supposed to know what is a lie and what isn’t? Lies are beside the point!
Girl: I get it. We don’t know anything.
Arthur: No. How do you know that we don’t know anything when not knowing is the opposite of knowing?
Girl: No matter what I say it’s wrong.
Arthur: No! How can you be wrong? If you’d been listening to what I’ve been telling you you’d see that there is neither right nor wrong!
Girl: Why are you so angry with me, Arthur?
Arthur: I’m not angry. After all I have said to you don’t you realise that there’s no anger.
Girl: But you haven’t stopped yelling at me since we got engaged.
Arthur: Is that all the thanks I get when all I’m trying to do is make you bright enough for me to marry you?
That is the dilemma facing a civilization that insists that millions all live their lives with all their different views of truth in a world where there is no possibility of anyone knowing the truth and believing the truth. What shadow-lands men and women live in! But when Christians are really the church of the living God and the body of Christ then they boldly say to the world, “There is truth. God is the God of Truth. Christ is the truth. His word is truth. Come from your shadow-lands to the light of God’s truth. Truth has its origin in God the Creator, its incarnation in Jesus Christ, and its present manifestation in the written Word of God, the Bible.”
2. TRUTH FINDS ITS ORIGIN IN GOD.
i] He is truth in his very being. God is not a phantom; he is not a spook. God has a true presence. The Son of God has taken to himself human nature; bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and we know where he truly is today. He is in the midst of the throne of God in heaven. He has hands and feet and a body, and a face and eyes. He smiles at us as he listens to us while we pray to him, and while we speak about him in his presence to other people whom we long would come to the truth. When he stands invisibly with me as I preach he is never severe with me, listening to see if I make any mistakes. He overcomes my mistakes and uses my words to bring the truth to you.
He is true in a physical sense, in that he is not a phantom, nor a zombie, nor the king of the fairies, nor one god among many frolicking and fornicating on Mount Olympus. He is unique as God the Son, real and true in his being. He is true in a moral sense; he is holy and righteous and majestic and magnificent. He has a presence so that your eyes are drawn to him. You can’t look anywhere else because of the striking nature of his personality. He is the archetypal man. He is without any falsehood. He is not an actor. He is not the Great Pretender. He doesn’t pose. The true God is without deceit. There is nothing true but what is in God or flows from God and holds together in God. So he is truth in his very being.
ii] He is truth in all his promises. God is truth in standing by every single promise he makes. He is not like politicians and leaders of rebellions who promise the earth to those who follow them, but are unable to make good their promises. Not a single word of his promises has fallen to the ground. His promise is his bond; it is his covenant, and his pledge. There are two things to be observed in the promises of the only true God that can comfort us.
[A] The God of truth is the all-powerful God. He is able to fulfil every promise he’s made. Nothing can stop him from doing what he has said he’ll do. God has promised to subdue the lusts of our mind and our flesh. Sometime that seems so impossible. “How can I conquer this addiction that is destroying me, or this habit that I can’t seem to break?” You cannot. But God can. “Oh,” you cry, “but my corruption is so mighty, that I’m sure that I’ll never be able to control it.” Others have thought like that, but they have changed as they addressed the loving power of God. He lifts us up from sinking sands. They have been persuaded that what the true God has promised he will be able to achieve in worms like us! Abraham believed that the true God, who could make a world, could also make dry breasts give suck, and barren wombs conceive, and the weakest sperm beget! Nothing is too hard for the true God. He that could bring water out of a rock is able to bring to fulfilment all his promises.
[B] The God of truth is the promise-keeping God. Paul reminds Titus that he is the God who cannot lie. Whosoever believes in the Son of God has everlasting life at its fullest and most delightful. Eternal life! There is the sweetness of promises: and sweeter still is that the God who made that promise cannot lie. That is the certainty of the promise. Mercy had made the promise; the truth of God will fulfil that promise. God is not a man that he should repent! (I Sam 15:29). The apostles all said that they would ‘never, never, never forsake Jesus,’ and then all of them forsook him and fled. The words of Christian men cannot always be believed, but each of God’s promises is inviolable. God’s truth is one of the richest jewels of his crown, and it is part of every promise. David said, “Although my house be not so with God, yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure” (2 Sam 23:5). “Although my house be not so,” that is, though David failed often and very greatly, and he did not give to God the exact purity that the Lord requires, yet with King David, this limping, staggering Old Testament king, God made an everlasting covenant, that he would pardon David, and adopt David, and glorify David. God’s covenant with every Christian is ordered in all things and sure. The elements shall melt with fervent heat, but this covenant abides firm and inviolable, being sealed with the truth of God. If as often as we break our vows with God, he should break one promise with us, it would be very sad; but his truth is grafted into every promise. It is like the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be altered.
Sometime you feel you are a Christian, and then sometimes you don’t feel like it. Sometimes you feel you are dead within, that you are living in a refrigerator, that you are neither hot nor cold but luke-warm. Don’t believe your senses! Believe in the promises of the only true God. Our senses may fail us, but the promises of the God of truth cannot. God doesn’t play tricks on us. God does not tantalize us. He says things plainly and they will last longer than the sun. God, who cannot lie, has promised. God can as soon part with his Deity as with his truthfulness. God is said to be abundant in truth. If God has made a promise of mercy to his people, he will be so far from coming short of that promise that in fact he will do better than his word. He often does far more than he has said, above all that we would ask or think, but never less than we think. He is abundant in truth.
[C] The true God may sometimes delay a promise. But God will never renege on his promises. Yes, he may delay a promise. Think of his promises as seeds lying for a good while under ground, but at last they spring up into a crop. He promised to deliver Israel from the iron furnace of Egypt, but this promise was more than four hundred years in being accomplished. He promised to deliver his people from the Babylonian captivity but that took 70 years. Simeon was a given a personal promise by God that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, but it was a long time being fulfilled. It was just before he died that he saw the baby Jesus, and his fellow believer Anna was 84 seeing the baby Messiah. So God may delay his promises, he will not deny his promises. God has written and presented to us many I.O.Us and eventually the money will be paid for each of them.
[D] The true God may change his promise, but he will not break it. Sometimes God changes a temporal promise into a spiritual promise. He will change the promise of the gift of a little country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean into giving the whole cosmos as his gift to his people. He will change the offer of the gift of a long life to the gift of eternal life. He will change the gift of riches to the gift of all the riches of wisdom and knowledge in Christ Jesus. The Lord will always give that which is good. God may let a Christian be cut short in temporal supplies. John Bunyan was twelve years in prison, but God made up for it in his supply of extraordinary spiritual gifts which daily he sustained in Bunyan. If he does not increase our bank accounts, our lands and our businesses then he does give increase of faith, and a peace that passes all understanding and holy affection for his people.
I’m saying that the God of truth may change his promises, but he doesn’t break any of them; he gives that which is better. Imagine a man owing me 50,000 pounds and he has promised to write me a cheque for that amount, however he finally pays me by a bundle of one thousand fifty pound notes. He’s not breaking his promise to give me all he owes like that. So too God says, “I will not suffer my faithfulness to fail.”
3. CONSIDER THE BENEFITS THAT ARE OURS BECAUSE THE LORD IS THE GOD OF TRUTH.
i] The truth of God is a great pillar and ground for our faith. Imagine for a bleak moment what it would be like if God were unreliable and a deceiver! Imagine we had been let down by him again and again and we didn’t know what to believe. How could we ever trust in him? We’d chase after other gods. We’d be putting our faith in the lottery and in horoscopes and going to séances and trying to listen to the dead. Our faith would be fickle fancy. But God is the God of truth; he is truth itself, and not a word which he has spoken can fall to the ground. Because everything God has said is true we can trust him with all our hearts and lean not to our own understanding of things. The truth of God is an immovable rock, and we may jump on it and it never gives way or cracks. I remember there was a little quarry near the railway station at our grammar school and each school day we walked past it to get the train home from school. One day the pond in the quarry was frozen and there were icicles two metres long hanging from the sides of the stone walls, and a boy walked out on the ice to snap one of these icicles and to my horror the ice broke and he sank into the pond. What a relief it was for me to see that it was only a foot deep. He clambered out with his icicle. I am saying that you can put all your weight on the truth of God, all your life, from conversion to glory, all the pressures of living in this groaning world. All of God’s promises will support you. God has seen all the challenges of this present evil world, all its threatenings and persecutions, but every life built on his word cannot be destroyed. That is the truth of the parable of the Sermon on the Mount.
God can as well cease to be God, as cease to be truth. Hasn’t God said in Lamentations chapter 3 that he will do good to the soul that seeks him, and in Matthew 11 the Lord promises he will give rest to the weary and heavy laden who come to him? Didn’t his word come to the jailer who wanted to kill himself, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Then believe into him, and rest on him; stand on him; he will not alter a single syllable that has gone out of his lips. He would have more to lose than we would if one of his promises failed. He would lose his reputation for being the God of truth. We would only lose our health or possessions or maybe our lives. Some travel firms will tell you that they are united to much bigger firms who will be there to protect you should this firm go under. Some insurance companies will tell you of all that will back them up if they can’t help you by themselves. But can we who know the God of truth have better security than what God promises and provides?
The whole earth hangs upon the word of God’s power, and shan’t our faith hang upon the word of God’s truth? What better foundation is there to rest our faith upon than on God’s faithfulness? There is nothing else we can believe right into but the truth of God. To trust in ourselves is to stand upon thin ice; but the truth of God is a reinforced foundation for faith to stay upon. “God cannot deny himself. If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). Not to believe God’s veracity, is to affront God. What does the apostle John say? “He that believes not, has made God a liar” (I John 5:10). Have you felt the pain of telling a person something that is absolutely true, something you saw or experienced and you share it with another person in total earnestness and sincerity, but then that person refuses to believe you! What an affront to you! He is calling you a liar. Then he that denies God’s truth is making his promises no better than a forgery, and can there be a greater affront offered to God than that?
ii] The truth of our God should constrain us to be men and women of truth.
(A) We must be true in our words. What makes men like God? It is when they speak truth. What men will go to heaven? Men who speak the truth in their hearts and lips. Put away lying. Speak every one truth to his neighbour – even to your own hurt. You know something is true, then why don’t you speak up for it? A liar is most opposite to the God of truth. Augustine said that there were two sorts of lies. An officious lie, when a man tells a lie for his profit; as when a salesman says that this car cost him so much, when it did not cost him half that amount. He that lies in his business will lie in hell. Then there is a lie that is a joke to make others merry, and that will send that liar to laughing in hell. He who tells a lie makes himself like the devil. “The devil is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). He deceived our first parents by lying. Some are so wicked that they can only speak untruths, but they’ll swear that the evidence they give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Lying takes away all respect and all society and all trust in men. How can you listen to a politician who is claiming 10,000 pounds for expenses when much of it is a list of falsehoods? Lying shuts men out of heaven. Outside are dogs, and whoever loves and makes a lie (Rev. 22:15.). What horrid lies preachers will tell at funerals about deceased men who never had the remotest concern about God and their souls, and their language, and the company they kept and the relationships they got involved in? It is a great sin to tell a lie, so it is a worse sin to preach a lie. It is the spreading of a plague; it undermines the authority of every pulpit. The preacher not only damns himself, but helps to damn others.
(B) We must be true in our lives. You remember Peter, having been told by God not to call anything unclean that God called clean, and knowing that it was not defiling to eat venison and crab and pig, yet in one congregation, at Fellowship Lunch, refused to sit with the Gentile believers at their table and eat bacon sandwiches or pork chops with them. He never preached about it, but his very life and behaviour split the church into two, into the half sanctified Gentile fellowship and the fully committed Jewish Fellowship. Peter needed a public rebuke from the apostle Paul for his conduct. The heart and tongue should go together, just as the shadow on the sun-dial goes exactly with the path of the sun. To speak sweetly to someone’s face, “Hello dear brother, see you at Fellowship Lunch” but then refuse to sit next to him and share in his food is no better than living a lie. The people he has offended will say the proverb, “His words were smoother than oil, but war was in his heart” (Psa 55:21). Some have the evil gift of flattery and hatred.
4. KNOWING THE TRUTH.
We can know the truth and the truth will then set us free. Without the truth we are going to be slaves to our hunches and feelings, slaves to trends and fashions, slaves to be the people over us, slaves to the spirit of this decade and then the next decade, and never free. The truth alone will set you free. The Lord Jesus said, “I am the truth,” and he was no liar. He is saying, “I am reality.” He also said in his high priestly prayer, speaking intimately to his Father, “Your word is truth.” In other words when Moses and all the prophets wrote the Old Testament Scriptures and said to the people, “Thus saith the Lord” then they were not fraudsters. They were not trapped by their own delusions. Herrman Goering loved his Vermeer painting, Christ with the Adulteress. He bought it for the equivalent of 4 million pounds and as the Third Reich disintegrated he hid it along with almost 7,000 other pieces of looted Nazi works of art in an Austrian salt mine. At the Nuremberg war trial where he was sentenced to death he was told that his Vermeer was a fake painted by the Dutch forger van Meegeren. Goering was devastated. It was as if for the first time in his life he had discovered evil. That pompous would-be connoisseur was humbled by his own vanity and greed.
Here are almost 20 men – the Old Testament prophets – who give us one consistent view of God over a thousand years, “Thus saith the Lord” they all say, and what do you think? They were all bogus counterfeits, purveyors of monstrous lies and duds, that God never met with them, and that when they brought a message and said, “Thus saith the Lord,” they were liars? In fact their words are not mocking the millions of believers who trust their words, following Jesus who believed them and said, “It is written . . . I have not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it . . . the Scripture cannot be broken . . . heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away . . . you make mistakes because you do not know the Scriptures . . . your word is truth.”
If they were liars then they were prisoners of their imaginations, criminals, fakers, forgers, cruel hoaxers undermining the trust in God that every believer has and we would then loathe them as fantasists. We would loathe Isaiah and David and the psalmists and all the rest as fantasists and feel that only suckers could believe them. But we have believed them on the authority of the Lord Jesus, and as we read them we find they have a ring of truth and reality about them. We say with Christ that we have the truth. It’s God’s power and honour that is at stake here. Can’t he stop men writing error in his name? Didn’t he say to the apostle John on the prison isle of Patmos a couple of times, “Don’t write that!” and he prevented him from writing what was wrong. He did not do that with the prophets and the apostles writings. He endorsed what they said and so we have the truth. Paul tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed.
Our invitation to you is to come to the truth. Come away from your shadow-lands where no one knows what is right or wrong, no one knows the difference between truth and error, where there is no hope and no assurance of forgiveness of sin or of the glories of heaven. Come to the truth. That is the one great reason for becoming a Christian. That is the great blessing of knowing God that you then know the truth. “I am the truth,” said Jesus. Bow before God and tell him you want to know more than truths. You want to know truth itself and you are asking him to reveal it to you because he is the only true God. Keep talking to him about it until that truth is yours. Then walk in the truth all your days until you see incarnate truth welcoming you in his presence for evermore.
19th October 2014 GEOFF THOMAS