« AnteriorContinuar »
“Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now,
and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it."-JEREMIAH v. 1.
W E have already noticed the first quality
which, according to Jeremiah, is characteristic of every genuine man,—the quality, namely, of executing judgment or doing right. Our business in the present sermon is with the second characteristic attribute of every such man, which is, that he seeks for truth.
We have seen in a previous sermon that truth means either fact, or the harmony between thought and fact, that is to say, knowledge. We have seen that it must be carefully distin
guished from opinion, and from everything capable of change. Truth is something which is the same for all, whatever be their opinions or absence of opinions. We saw that a creed, even supposing it to be absolutely correct, differs from truth as the part differs from the whole; as the beginning differs from the end; as the starting-point differs from the goal; as the finite differs from the infinite. At the best it is but the A B C of truth. The more extensive is any one's acquaintance with truth, the more clearly does he perceive that what he knows is as nothing, in comparison with what he does not know.
When the Delphic oracle declared that Socrates was the wisest man in Greece, the philosopher said he was at first very much puzzled, for he had a painful consciousness that he was not really wise. He saw afterwards, however, that the wisdom with which the oracle credited him consisted in this: that while, in common with other men, he knew nothing, he recognised his ignorance, while they prided themselves on their knowledge.
But even those of us who have got so far as to feel that we know very little, are sadly contented with our ignorance, are sadly too lukewarm in our pursuit of truth. The very mystery of our own existence can scarcely arouse us into thought. “We come into this world,” says Faraday, “we live and depart from it, without ever thinking how it all takes place; and were it not for the exertion of a few inquiring minds, who have ascertained the beautiful laws and conditions by which we live, we should hardly be aware that there was anything wonderful in it at all.” Thank God for those few inquiring minds,minds that will take more trouble “to win the secret of a weed's plain heart” than most of us would take to solve the riddle of the universe. Should they not shame us into thought ?
The power of seeking for truth is, if we only knew it, one of the grandest of human prerogatives. An intuitive acquaintance with everything we ever required to know would have been comparatively worthless. Nothing is worth much to finite beings that has not been acquired by effort. The search for truth is almost, if not quite, as beneficial as its actual acquisition. “If,” says Malebranche, “I held truth captive in my hand, I should open my hand and let it fly, that I might again pursue and catch it.” “Did the Almighty,” says Lessing, “hold in His right hand truth, and in His left hand the search after truth, and deign to tender me the one I might prefer, I
should in all humility, but without hesitation, request the search after truth.” These passages perhaps underestimate the value of truth attained. There is an immense advantage and a great joy in the acquisition of fresh knowledge; but still the advantage and the joy I apprehend are due chiefly to the fact, that we are thereby better equipped for continuing our search.
Seeking after truth involves, first of all, the critical investigation of the opinions and beliefs of our ancestors, with the view of ascertaining how far these were correct; and, secondly, it involves the effort to acquire new knowledge for ourselves.
For these tasks we need at once humility and self-respect. Opinions which have been widely and warmly held are not to be hastily rejected. It is sometimes counted an axiom in the present day, that everything old must be bad; whereas, on the contrary, there is really a presumption in favour of the old, which the new can never boast. Nothing can be more disgusting than to see some conceited youth pooh-poohing, without having expended the slightest study upon the subject, opinions and beliefs at which his ancestors arrived, it may be, after months and years of mental conflict, and for which they were
willing to sacrifice their lives. These opinions may be wrong, but they are not to be so lightly set aside; they deserve the most serious and reverential investigation. On the other hand, nothing can be more exasperating than to be told that we are not at liberty to inquire into a subject ourselves, because, forsooth, our ancestors believed that they knew all about it. It is a very common, but a very false argument from analogy, to maintain that our ancestors must have known more than we can know, because they were born before us. But the reason why a father is wiser than his child (if he be wiser) is not, of course, that he was born first, but that he has lived longer, and therefore had more experience. Bacon long ago pointed out, that if he who has had most experience be rightly regarded as the father of him who has had least, then we are the fathers and grandfathers of our ancestors, for they had their experience but not ours—we have had the advantage of both. All honour to them for the truths they discovered! All shame to us if we do not discover more !1
1 “Truth,” says Milton, “is compared in Scripture to a streaming fountain : if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition."