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THE SAVING POWER OF TRUTH.
THE new President of Columbia College, in his inaugural address a few days ago, speaking of the beneficence of such a seat of learning in the midst of the metropolitan whirl of business activities in the city of New York, said: "The work of the college would be valueless to-morrow if even the wealth of New York could bribe her instructors to teach as true what they know to be false. Truthfulness is the one essential fundamental quality of a teacher. Without it he may not be a teacher. Yet it is not the only quality. The teacher, like the scholar, must himself be teachable. An everheightening sky for human thought, an ever-widening horizon for human knowledge, an absolute truthfulness in the expression of the light within, - these are the distinguishing marks of a great university."
If President Low had been describing the objects of a religious society, he could hardly have chosen more fitting words. Add to his description the inculcation of the sacredness of duty, which may yet be implied in his large and noble generalization, and we could not ask for better terms in which to express the chief uses of a church in the midst of the prevalent passions and ambitions that are such dominant, every-day factors in the affairs.
of mankind. At least, the words suggest that learning and religion are natural coworkers for the highest welfare of humanity. Learning, thus nobly defined, and religion, rationally interpreted, come into the same road and lead finally toward the same end, -the supreme devotion of man to truth, truth in its largest, highest, and ever deepening and increasing sense. If absolute truthfulness in the expression, through word and conduct, of the light within, be the object of learning, it is no less the object of religion. Truth itself, since it is but the reality of things to which man stands in constant, vital relationship, should have that saving efficacy and power which religion has always promised as its gift to man. Hence my subject this morning, "The Saving Power of Truth."
But a curious anomaly of human history presents itself to us at the outset. The moral and religious leaders of all nations have always asserted that truth is all-powerful, that it is the essence of Allmighty Being, that it will make men free, and guide them safely; and the mental and moral sense of mankind in general has given assent to these propositions. Yet everywhere, from the times immemorial when Adam of the ancient legend attempted concealment in the Garden of Eden, and from the later times when Peter denied and Judas betrayed their Master, men have tried to live by a falsehood. The attempt has always in the end proved to be vain; yet the lesson of its uselessness has been a hard one to learn, and has not yet been
mastered. Even in the old legend of Genesis, the penetrative eye of Jehovah detected the hidingplace of the disobedient pair and brought them to the light. Peter's falsehood only confounded him with tears of shame; and the lie of Judas was too great for mortal man to bear, and, like the fraud of many a man since, confessed itself in the coward's act of suicide. Still, everywhere, the old attempt goes on as if some time or other it could succeed. Still people are afraid or ashamed of the naked simplicity of truth if it threatens to lead them to espouse an unpopular cause; and they try to cover themselves with some petty contrivance of deceit for eluding their own consciences. Still, there are people who betray truth with a kiss, and sell her for gold. Still there are the cowardly whose minds see the truth, but whose hearts are too timid to follow when danger to position or popularity appears. Thus the effort continues to live by a lie. The effort is of manifold grades and kinds, from the minor deceits of trade and social life, which try to protect themselves under the guise of special moral codes for business and society, to the deeds of men who rob a bank of its securities, and then profess amazement that the world does not recognize their operations as in accordance with. approved methods of Wall Street finance. It appears again in the sharp manoeuvring of partisan politicians to outwit each other in parliamentary law and legislation and in election campaigns. It rises in religious robes in the Assembly of Presby
terians to plead that the creed and the catechism remain unrevised, because the very words have become reverend and sacred with age, and can now be repeated with new meanings and mental reservations by those who cannot accept them in their original significance. In the Episcopal General Convention, for similar reasons, it deprecates, against many conscience appeals, a revision of the Prayer Book, which has guided the worship of so many generations. It lobbies in the National Unitarian Conference, of which a large body of the membership now says, in respect to the theological phrases of its constitution: "They don't mean anything to us: they are a dead letter. But to a few among us they mean something, and to the world. outside they seem to mean a good deal. So don't touch them, but, in the interests of harmony and quiet and peace, let them stand there, though on the frontals of our temple; we don't or need not see them as we go under." And if, among men who have risen to such conspicuous positions in the world as religious and political leaders, there occur these evidences of carelessness, timidity, and betrayal in the presence of truth's commands, is it any wonder that young people, young men especially, should deem it easier and safer to evade the law of moral truth as it affects personal character, and, when tempted into crooked paths for sudden riches or into courses of pleasurable and vicious self-indulgence, should think it may be possible. somehow successfully to escape the retribution?
But perhaps I shall be asked, How, among the many statements and standards of truth that are offered, are we to know what to accept as the genuine truth which saves? Let us, then, divest ourselves at once of the ecclesiastical and theological definitions of truth which the various sects have set forth. Let us not suppose the saving truth to be all contained in the limits of any creed or between the covers of any book. Let us not presume it to be identical with any particular scheme of belief which any church of mankind, however venerable or learned, has taught. These, at best, are but partial and temporary expressions, finite apprehensions and interpretations, of that which in its nature is universal and absolute. The truth we want, the truth which is to be sought through "an everheightening sky and an ever-widening horizon," is the absolute and total Reality of things in the universe, whether pertaining to the earth or the heavens, or to matter or thought or spirit, or to any other possibilities of life and existence. Truth, in this absolute sense, is synonymous with Infinite and Eternal Being. To use the words of an old writer, it is "the breath of the power of God; . . . and, being but one, she can do all things, . . . and in all ages, entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God and prophets."
To illustrate the beneficent power of truth in this large universal sense, we may begin on the lowest plane of truth; that is, with that kind of material and practical knowledge which is gained