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On the importance and novelty of the truths
taught by Jesus Christ.
John, Chap. 18, Ver. 38. .
Pilate saith unto him, What is Truth? And when he bad said this, he went out again."
This was not the first time that this question was proposed, but it was the first time that it was proposed to one who could give it any satisfactory answer. Truth had engaged the attention of mankind in every age and in every nation; and it was the professed object of the inquiries of the heathen priests and the ancient philosophers. But, although they were thus unanimous in considering truth to be a great and proper object of human pursuit, their methods of inquiry were so opposite, their conclusions were so contradictory, their
researches were so fruitless, that, before the time of Jesus, mankind may be said, rather, to have evinced a desire of knowing the truth, than to have made any progress in this knowledge. Man, indeed, fallen and degraded as he was, had lost that excellence of understanding which originated in his resemblance to his Maker. A weakness had pervaded the men
which prevented them from soaring to those sublime heights where truth dwells, pure and unsullied by the errours of human imperfection.
This weakness was most conspicuous in matters of morality and religion.
In other sciences, some progress had been made, some truths had been discovered, but the Author of our existence, our relations as moral agents and religious beings, our present state, and our future prospects, in a great measure, still lay hid in darkness. revelation from God was necessary, that light might arise on this benighted part of the truth: A messenger from the fountain of wisdom must be sent to guide into truth those who had so long wandered in the paths of errour: and God, pitying the ignorance of his children, at length commissioned his Son Jesus to be the publisher of the truth to men.
Thus he says himself, in the verse immediately preceding the text; “ to this end was I born, and for this “ cause came I into the world, that I should “ bear witness unto the truth."
It was upon hearing this declaration from Jesus, of the design of his mission, that Pilate proposed this celebrated question, " What is " truth?” Had he, fully, developed his thoughts upon this subject, perhaps he would have expressed the ideas which prevailed in his mind, in the following language. “Truth,” would he have said, “ is a word in the mouths “ of every body: the thing itself still wanders “ at large, and unacknowledged. All men
pretend to be acquainted with it; but none “ have been able to give a proper account of “it. You, too, pretend to bear witness to the “ truth: first determine what it is. If
you « know no more of the matter than the learn“ed men of my own country (Pilate was a “ Roman governour) your pretensions are “ vain; for all their knowledge consists in the “ most vague and uncertain reasoning; in the “ most subtle and endless disputes. And what “ truths can you, a mean and illiterate Jew, “ have discovered, of which the philosophers - of Greece and Rome, or even your own
“ prophets and wise men are yet ignorant!" Perhaps, then, we shall have given the chief part of the answer to Pilate's question, if we state the most important of those religious truths which Jesus Christ has made known to the world, and with which men were, formerly, unacquainted.
I. Those truths which relate to the being, attributes, and worship of God, are the first class of truths, of which the knowledge has been confirmed, enlarged, and improved by Jesus Christ. Not, indeed, that any nation were until that time entirely ignorant of the existence of a power who created and governed all things. This, nature, throughout all her works, proclaims in loud and unequivocal language: and it required but a very small effort of reason to see God in the living verdure of the fields, to hear him in the thunder, and to discern his workings in the succession of days, and the revolution of seasons.
But, while they acknowledged his being, they were strangers' to his perfections; his unity, liis omnipresence, his power, his justice, his goodness, his holiness, and his wisdom. Those many Gods whom their own imaginations had created, were weak, local, and dependent be
ings; delighting in cruelty, addicted to the indulgence of every appetite and passion, stained with pollution and with crimes. It could not, then, be expected that the worship of heathens should be of a very exalted nature. For, it was not inconsistent to believe,
. that beings, of whom they had formed such low and unworthy notions, would delight in the grossest idolatry, would be pleased with the meanest superstion, and the most obscene rioting in their worshippers; and would accept of the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul. Were it, now, the proper time
, and place to illustrate and prove these assertions by an induction of particular facts, the deplorable situation of the heathens, with respect to the knowledge of the nature of God, and the worship which is due to him, would abundantly appear. But, let us pass on to the idea which the religion of Jesus gives us of the Supreme Being: and we will immediately see how much we are indebted to him for a knowledge of this truth. Jesus, indeed, pretends not to prove the existence of God. This, properly speaking, every religion must take for granted: for, as St. Paul says, it is impossible to come unto God, without believe