Proverbs 23:23
Great Texts of the Bible
The Buying and Selling of the Truth

Buy the truth, and sell it not;

Yea, wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.—Proverbs 23:231. “Buy the truth, and sell it not.” Wedged in between warnings against the evil effects that attend gluttony and drunkenness come these startling words, a ray of sheer idealism, which lights up the whole page. Here are no calculations of profit as it is understood in the market-place and the counting-house; here is no commendation of virtue on the ground that experience shows it to pay better in the long run than its opposite, nor the spirit which declares honesty to be the best policy,—a maxim which might have been penned by any convicted pickpocket,—but truth is praised for its own sake as a supreme possession, to be acquired and not to be parted with on any consideration; it is like that pearl of great price which a merchant found, and in exchange for which he gave all that he had.

2. Shakespeare has told us that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” It would have been much more true to say that all the world is a market, and all the men and women buyers and sellers. Every day is a market-day, and every evening brings its balance-sheet to us: things bought and things sold, with the net gain, or, it may be, loss. Foolish people are always selling the better things for the worse; while the wise buy the more precious and enduring things, at the cost of that which they can more easily part with. The foolish sell the substance for the shadow, and the wise sell the shadow for the substance; that is the main difference between the two.


A Thing of Value

“The Truth.”

“Buy the truth, and sell it not; yea, wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” The second clause gives the sphere in which truth moves, or the three properties which appertain to it. These are: wisdom, practical knowledge; instruction, moral culture and discipline; and understanding, the faculty of discernment.

1. First, then, the treasure set before us here as worth obtaining is the truth. The truth has a perpetual charm for every soul that is true. Over all souls she wields a mystic power; all must bow to her authority, whether they love her or not. She has a Divine right to command, to direct, to judge, to condemn and to acquit. She is the only possessor of such a right. There is, indeed, no authority that can make itself felt by man save that which comes to him in the guise of truth. The truth is not merely intellectual but moral and practical as well. To seek truth wherever she may be found, to follow truth wherever she leads, to do truth whatever the consequences, may be said to sum up the whole duty of man. Therefore, “whatsoever things are true” may well be the primary subjects of our thought and meditation and practice.

Let no promise of reward, however great, tempt you from that generous and uncalculating loyalty to truth which holds that any sacrifice made on its altar is worth making, that nothing which is purchased at the cost of truth is worth the prize. If you are called to the office of a teacher or preacher of truth—and what vocation can be higher?—see that it is the truth as you yourself have learned to see it, and not somebody else’s truth, that you give your fellows. The secret of success in the communication of truth, as in all true success in life, is to be yourself, as the secret of failure is concealment and repression of one’s own selfhood—the seeming to be what one is not. The life of imitation, as Plato said, is the life of evil. The good life, the true life, is always original. Such fidelity to truth you will find to be its own reward, as unfaithfulness is its own penalty. To sell the truth is to arrest the movement of your intellectual life, to kill the faculty of further insight. To cherish the truth you know is to keep the eyes of your mind open to the larger vision of truth which the future has in store for you, to remain a seeker, and therefore a finder, of truth in all the days to come. Be loyal to your convictions, at whatever cost; beware of disloyalty to truth.1 [Note: J. Seth, Graduation Address to Students.]

2. There are three kinds of truth. That is to say, truth is to be sought in three different spheres of life.

(1) First there is civil truth, which exists and prevails in all the civil business of society—the truth which man speaks to man: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour.” This is the truth that is so highly thought of, and so valued, both in public and in private life, as it is so indispensable to the due discharge of the duties of life; and so great is considered the insult of affixing upon man the imputation of speaking contrary to truth that life is often risked to repel the charge; and not only that, but is frequently sacrificed to wipe away the stain. This does not seem to be the truth spoken of in the text, although, perhaps, it is part of it. It extends from it, as the branch from the tree; it flows from it, as the streamlet from the fountain; but it is not altogether it.

Truth is the very bond of society, without which it must cease to exist, and dissolve into anarchy and chaos. A household cannot be governed by lying; nor can a nation. Sir Thomas Browne once was asked, “Do the devils lie?” “No,” was his answer; “for then even hell could not subsist.” No considerations can justify the sacrifice of truth, which ought to be sovereign in all the relations of life. Of all mean vices, perhaps lying is the meanest. It is in some cases the offspring of perversity and vice, and in many others of sheer moral cowardice. There was no virtue that Dr. Arnold of Rugby laboured more sedulously to instil into young men than the virtue of truthfulness, as being the manliest of virtues, as indeed the very basis of all true manliness. He designated truthfulness as “moral transparency,” and he valued it more highly than any other quality. When lying was detected, he treated it as a great moral offence; but when a pupil made an assertion, he accepted it with confidence. “If you say so, that is quite enough; of course I believe your word.” By thus trusting and believing them, he educated the young in truthfulness; the boys at length coming to say to one another: “It’s a shame to tell Arnold a lie—he always believes one.”2 [Note: S. Smiles, Character, 206.]

(2) There is a second kind of truth—philosophical truth, or an inquiry into the causes of nature, which is drawn and gathered from observation of the works of God, and which those who rank high in the learned world aim at possessing to such an extent that in quest of it they spare neither trouble, time, toil, nor expense. They sail to foreign climes, traverse distant lands—

Scorn delights, and live laborious days;

but if the discoveries which they make be found, on experiment, to be contrary to truth, then they are constrained to suffer a sort of degradation in their character, as men of literature and science, and to come down from the elevated station which they had occupied before. This does not, either, seem to be the truth spoken of in the text.

What is there within the circle of human possessions which has had its value so extolled by the most gifted of men as Truth? There is an admitted nobility in the love of it, a high distinction in the search for it. To admit this is to acknowledge the importance of science and philosophy; and from the exceeding worth of truth philosophy receives its high distinction. However laboriously and cautiously reached, philosophic doctrines are of no value except in so far as they are capable of being verified. There are no dogmas, whether scientific, philosophic, or theologic, which have a right to live on any other condition than the acknowledgment of their truth. Popular error holds its place only on account of the absence of scientific criticism, which is the expression of intellectual activity. The strength, beauty, and value of truth are most clearly recognized when all society is stirred to interest in the whole range of inquiry, and in the critical testing of dogmas of all sorts. The love of truth is the true philosophic spirit; search after it is the philosopher’s task.1 [Note: Henry Calderwood.]

(3) There is a third kind of truth,—moral or spiritual truth,—the truth which regards God as a Sovereign, and man as an immortal, accountable being; “the truth as it is in Jesus,” which truth is gathered in all its fulness, purity, and excellence, only from the Scriptures, the Word of God.

The truth here meant is that which St. Augustine calleth legem omnium artium, et artem omnipotentis Artificis, “a law to direct all arts, an art taught by Wisdom itself, by the Maker of all things.” It teacheth us to love God with all our hearts, to believe in Him, and to lead upright lives. It killeth in us the root of sin, it extinguisheth all lusts, it maketh us tread under foot pleasure and honour and wealth; it rendereth us deaf to the noise of this busy world, and blind to that glaring pomp which dazzleth the eyes of others. Hâc præeunte seculi fluctus calcamus: “It goeth before us in our way, and through all the surges of this present world” it bringeth us to the vision and fruition of Him who is Truth itself.1 [Note: A. Farindon, Sermons, ii. 379.]

Phillips Brooks refused to give the intellect in man the supremacy when taken by itself. In speaking of the Person of Christ, he asks the questions: How does Christ compare in intellectual power with other men? How did He estimate the intellect? Was His intellect sufficient to account for the unique position He holds in the world’s history as the mightiest force that has controlled the development of humanity? He finds the answer by turning to the Fourth Gospel, which gives us most that we know about the mind of Jesus. It is the intellectual Gospel, because there is one constantly recurring word—“truth,” which is distinctly a word of the intellect. But in the Fourth Gospel, in every instance, it is employed in a sense different from that of the schools. In its scholastic use it is detached from life and made synonymous with knowledge. But knowledge is no word of Jesus. With information for the head alone, detached from its relations to the whole nature, Jesus has no concern. Truth was something which set the whole man free. It was a moral thing, for he who does not receive it is not merely a doubter, but a liar. Truth was something which a man could be, not merely something which a man could study and measure by walking around it on the outside. The objective and the subjective lose themselves in each other. Truth can be known only from the inside; it is something moral, something living, something spiritual. It is not mere objective unity; it must have in it the elements of character. “To this end was I born,” says Jesus, “and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”2 [Note: A. V. G. Allen, Phillips Brooks: Memories of His Life, 321.]


The Way to Obtain It

“Buy the Truth.”

The truth cannot be purchased with money. The highest things are not marketable; they are like the wine and milk of which Isaiah wrote—“without money and without price.” The power of money, though enormously great, is limited, and does not yet control the whole field human and Divine. You cannot buy brains and genius, however much money you have; or the poet’s vision, the artist’s touch, the ear for music, the gift of song. You cannot buy a good name, a stainless reputation, an easy conscience, or a pair of honest eyes. You cannot buy a big manly heart, or the faith of a little child. You cannot buy happiness; above all things, it runs away from the possessor of millions. You cannot buy a good man’s trust or a good woman’s love; still less can you buy self-respect, or the right to pray, or a place in Christ’s living Church and the inheritance of His saints.

All the best things are given away. Do we realize what a ghost and travesty of possession lurks in the act of purchase? You can buy a book of poems: the soft bindings are yours, the gilt edges are yours, the hand-made paper is yours, but not the poetry. No man was ever rich enough to buy a poem. If it is his, he must have it as the unpurchasable gift of God to his soul. And as surely as you cannot buy a poem, so you cannot buy a home, or a happy hour, or a good conscience, or a rich hope. Trite old story, yes, but we must go on telling it till the vital truth it implies has fashioned the practices of the world. And it can, for the positive side of this teaching is the doctrine of grace—God’s mercy for the undeserving, His treasure for the poor, His fulness for the empty. The wealth of our lives is the love that brings the vision beautiful and welds men heart to heart, the sympathy that gives insight, the faith and hope that enrich the spirit, the morning joy of Jesus in the souls of them that crown Him and the lives of them that serve Him.1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, 56.]

1. In one aspect the truth is always seeking to reach us. All truth is of the nature of revelation. But just as there must be eyes formed to behold the objects in the world around us, so there must be an inner eye that looks out for and seeks to read the revelation. The revelation is not wholly in the objects, but also in what they indicate. Science describes the objects, but the mind seeks the truth that they reveal. Sometimes the truth comes to us, dawns upon us, shines on us, without any conscious effort of our own or immediate seeking on our part:

Think ye ’mid all this mighty sum

Of things for ever speaking,

That nothing of itself will come,

But we must still be seeking?

This is intuition; but it does not come miraculously; there has been a long preparation for it in the race and often also in the individual.

A modern philosophical writer (Eucken), with much knowledge of past endeavours after the truth, tells us that we must seek it in a new way. We must seek it, primarily, not without but within ourselves, not as a matter of the intellect merely, or of any one or more faculties alone, but of the life, as something belonging to a higher and wider Life which is seeking to realize itself in us. No doubt what is thus said is true. But it implies a distinction or contrast between the actual and the ideal, and that there is a faculty in man capable of perceiving the ideal. In what other way could we possibly know what the higher and wider Life moves us to? The ideal, however, is not a mere intellectual perception; there is also a sense or feeling of what is true and good, and an attraction that draws us upward towards itself. That there is a higher Life seeking to live in us, Christianity also teaches.1 [Note: W. L. Walker, The True Christ, 18.]

One of the most interesting parts of the Pilgrim’s Progress is that in which Christian and Faithful come to Vanity Fair, crowded with merry people, all engaged in buying trifles. “That which did not a little amuse the merchants was that these pilgrims set very light by their wares, they cared not so much as to look upon them: and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears and cry, ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.’ One chanced mockingly, beholding the carriage of the men, to say unto them, ‘What will ye buy?’ But they, looking gravely upon him, said, ‘We buy the truth.’ ”2 [Note: J. Jeffrey, The Way of Life, 254.]

2. What is meant, then, by saying that the truth has to be bought—“Buy the truth, and sell it not; yea, wisdom, and instruction, and understanding”? The highest things have to be bought, not with money—indeed, they are above price; but you cannot have them without cost, expenditure, sacrifice. To buy is to give up something that you value in exchange for something that you desire more, covet more, and perhaps need more. It is right, then, to say that all good and Divine things must be bought. Our great Master likened the Kingdom of Heaven to a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. And the Apostle Paul, quite in the spirit of that parable, declared that he had suffered the loss of all things to win Christ—that is, he had sold all the other things to buy Christ, and got Him cheap at that sacrifice.

(1) We have all to buy what this writer calls wisdom, for it can be gained only in the school of experience, and the fees in that school are high. Wisdom is never inherited, never bequeathed or transmitted from father to son. Everyone has to buy it for himself in a dear market. This writer, in the preceding verse, counts the father happy who begetteth a wise child; but that is impossible. His child may grow up into a wise man, but he is never born wise. A man may be born clever, talented, a genius, a poet; he may be born rich, heir to an estate, a title, or a throne; but he is never born wise. He has to buy wisdom at a big price. Some of our young people may be a great deal smarter than their fathers, much more up-to-date, as they say, and, by virtue of their superior education, far more knowing in book matters. But they cannot, in the nature of things, be quite as wise as their fathers, unless, indeed, the fathers are mentally deficient; and even then, there is at least a probability that the sons will take after them; because wisdom can be acquired only in the rough and painful school of experience. The buying of wisdom writes wrinkles and furrows on our faces, and heavy lines of care on our poor hearts. We buy wisdom with many a rebuff, humbling, and disappointment, with costly blunders and heartache, sad hours, and sometimes a bit of heart-break. We are buying wisdom all our lives, and often it comes to us only as the end approaches. That is the pathos of life. We often wish that we could have the wisdom sooner, before the twilight creeps on. It would make our lives so much happier and more useful; but it comes only in time to use the greater part of it in the higher service, where, no doubt, it will be needed. Well might this writer say: “Buy wisdom.” We have all to buy it.

On November 15, Principal Tulloch gave his opening lecture at St. Mary’s College. My record of the day says “really very splendid.” These brilliant addresses were discourses on some ecclesiastical or theological topic, which had become matter of current interest. And a few days after they had been read in St. Mary’s College, you might often find them in some Review or Magazine. But they were always stimulating: as the prelections of a humdrum professor never could be. And a special pathos was sometimes in them, if Tulloch was at the time in one of those dark moods of which Mrs. Oliphant’s biography most truly tells. Well I remember the audible hush, once, when the Principal looked up from his lecture (he always sat to lecture) and said, as last words, “Gentlemen, you will not fully understand these things till you have been taught them by experience or till your lot has been plowed by the furrows of sorrow.” Somehow, what Tulloch said always got home wonderfully. Adaptation was perfect.1 [Note: A. K. H. Boyd, Twenty-Five Years of St. Andrews, i. 126.]

(2) It is equally certain that we have to buy character, reputation, and an honoured and trusted name. There is no market in the world where these can be picked up cheap. You can buy a tawdry reputation, a short-lived popularity or notoriety, at a very costless price, just as you can buy sham jewels for a few coppers from any pedlar in the streets. But to win a name which will keep its white, stainless honour through the wear and tear of years; to win the enduring respect of good men (and there is no other respect worth a straw); to win the daily and the final “Well done” of the Great Judge—that is never a costless business. It means the persistent climbing of the rugged hill of duty; it means the daily fight with temptation; the daily treading down of self-indulgent ease; the daily sacrifice in the service of friends and fellow-men; and the constant plodding on in the straight path, swerving not to right or left through evil repute and good. If we cannot face that music and endure that discipline, we shall never win the prize. The good and honoured name does not drop into our lap as a gift of fortune. It must be dearly bought.

Turn your energies towards your moral cultivation. In doing so you will accumulate imperishable riches. All that your worldly care can bring will be the doubtful possession of riches of doubtful value. In the possession of the moral wealth of a noble and disciplined character, you possess that which can neither wither nor be stolen. What we have we must leave at the threshold of the grave. What we are goes with us into the other world. Riches will drop from our dying hand into the grasp of others. Character passes with us into the presence of God. Character is everything. This, rather than worldly riches, is the true end of life. The perfecting of this is the true purpose of God in life.1 [Note: Bishop W. Boyd Carpenter.]

(3) We must also buy the higher and richer experiences of the Christian life. Some people talk smoothly, and even glibly, about the life of holiness, the “higher life,” as if it could be reached easily by a simple act of trust. It is not to be attained in that way. It means sacrifice. The higher life always means giving up things we like and love for the sake of God and our fellow-men. The religion which costs us nothing in time, thought, labour, or money, is not worth picking up in the streets. Most people pay as much for their religion as it is worth, especially if they pay very little, because in that case it is worth so little. The Bible cannot be God’s book to us, full of rich teaching and comfort, unless we take the trouble to read it often and prayerfully. We cannot understand the helpfulness and mighty power of prayer unless we steal time from our manifold engagements, to commune with God in prayer. We cannot enjoy the communion of saints unless we sacrifice our petty prides, snobberies, and mighty regard for class-distinctions. We cannot realize the sweets of Divine forgiveness unless we renounce our grudges, unreasonable dislikes, and our own unwillingness to forgive; and we cannot have Christ as our Companion and Comforter unless every day we try to do not our own will but His. Every advance towards the higher life involves sacrifice. It costs nothing to descend; it is always costly to ascend.

“Never fear to let go,” he says in his philosophical notes; “It is the only means of getting better things,—self-sacrifice. Let go; let go; we are sure to get back again. How science teaches the lesson of morals, which is ever, Give up, give up; deny yourself,—not this everlasting getting; deny yourself, and give, and infinitely more shall be yours; but give—not bargaining; give from love, because you must. And if the question will intrude, ‘What shall I have, if I give up this?’ relegate that question to faith, and answer, ‘I shall have God. In my giving, in my love, God, who is Love, gives Himself to me.’ ”2 [Note: Life and Letters of James Hinton, 206.]

3. The price we have to pay often amounts to the heart’s blood. It is not only truth in the sense of knowledge that we want, but, above all, truth, in action, in our relationships to each other, in our relation to God; and for such truth we pay no less a price than life itself—not by laying it down in one act of renunciation, but by making it one continuous act of dedication. We must practise what is by no means easy—an entire and resolute candour with ourselves, a strict scrutiny of our own motives; we must exercise an untiring watchfulness over the springs of conduct; we must, in one word, buy the truth by being true in thought and word and deed. Right opinions are very good and are worth having, but right opinions by themselves have never yet saved a soul. We do not buy saving truth by paying a stipulated amount across a celestial counter once, and then carrying it away with us; we have to keep on paying, day by day, hour by hour, and the price is nothing less than life—gentle, upright, courageous, equitable, dutiful, generous, forgiving. That alone is the true life, and we have not only to know the truth, but to live it.

There is no story of modern times that shows such a perfect blending of courage, serenity, and self-consecration to truth as the life of Bishop Colenso, the pioneer of the scientific study of the Old Testament in the English-speaking world. He had everything to gain by keeping his unorthodox conclusions to himself, and everything to lose by making them public; he had, after all, only to keep quiet on this one topic, full as his life was of other interests; but I do not think it ever occurred to him to shield himself or to save his career in the Church by cowardly silence. You remember his own account of the circumstances which first turned his mind to Old Testament criticism: “While translating the story of the Flood, I have had a simple-minded but intelligent native look up and ask, ‘ls all that true? Do you really believe that all this happened so—that all the beasts and birds and creeping things upon the earth, large and small, from hot countries and cold, came thus by pairs and entered into the ark with Noah? And did Noah gather food for them all, for the beasts and birds of prey, as well as for the rest?’ My heart answered in the words of the prophet, ‘Shall a man speak lies in the name of the Lord?’ I dared not do so.” Reckless and malicious attacks, virtual deposition from his office, a general boycott followed, but could not deter him from following along the path he believed, and rightly believed, to be the true one. “I trust,” he wrote, “that I duly reverence both the Church and the Bible. But the truth is above both”; and the one thing that pained him was to see how little love of truth there was among those from whom he had hoped most. Well, he bore the obloquy, the isolation, the loss inflicted upon him by bigotry, and to-day the views for which he suffered are those of educated people everywhere; but it was he and such as he who paid the price of truth, and the least we can do is to cherish the possessions they bought at such a cost.1 [Note: J. Warschauer, The Way of Understanding, 97.]


The Folly of Bartering It

“Sell it not.”

What does selling the truth mean? It means giving up that which we know to be right for some pleasure or advantage in this world. Every temptation is a persuasion to sell the truth. The devil says, If you will give up this or that good habit or good resolution, I will give you this or that pleasure. Moses, when he was come to years, chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”

When Ahab came to Naboth to procure from him his vineyard, “Give me,” saith he, “thy vineyard, and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or I will give thee the worth of it in money” (1 Kings 21:2). See here three mighty tempters—the king, money, and commodity; whereof which is the strongest, it is hard to determine: the weakest of them prevaileth with most men. Notwithstanding, Naboth holdeth out against them all: “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.”2 [Note: A. Farindon, Sermons, ii. 431.]

1. It is hard to buy the truth, and easy to sell it. It is always easy to sell the best and highest things. In the ordinary market the rule is the other way: it is easy to buy, and hard to sell. Everybody welcomes the buyer and meets him with respectful salutes; but the seller is often sent off with a churlish “No.” In the moral and spiritual market, however, it is hard to buy and easy to sell. There are always numerous buyers bidding against each other in their eagerness to buy what we are prepared to sell. It is easy to sell one’s spiritual birthright for a morsel of meat. There are scores of Jacobs lying in wait ready to help us to that transaction. It is easy to sell our principles and convictions for some paltry bribe, some pecuniary or social advantage. It is easy to sell our veracity or our honesty, to make people think more highly of us, or to secure additional gain. It is easy for young men to sell all their chances in this world and the world to come for the excitements of the drink-shop, the betting-ring, and the lewdnesses of the streets. It is easy for young fools to sell the Bible, the faith, and all the truths for which the martyrs died, just to gain the cheap reputation of being modern, up-to-date, independent free-thinkers, and that other fools may pat them on the back and tell them how clever they are. And it is easy to sell the last rewarding sentence of the Great Judge and King for the paltry toy, the painted gewgaws of the prince of this world.

2. When we sell the truth we always make a bad bargain, just as in buying the truth we always make a good bargain. In all other bargains, the gain of one party is loss to the other, but in this bargain there is only gain and no loss at all; the buyer gains, and yet no seller loses. So the sale of the truth is of all bargains the worst and the most foolish. For in other sales, although somebody may lose, yet somebody gains. But when the truth is sold, there is nothing but mere loss; no man is, no man can be, the better for the sale of the truth:

Vendentem tantum deserit et minuit:

“Only the seller grows the worse; there is no buyer grows the better.”

Man parted with the truth of God in the garden of Eden, when he believed the lies of the devil, and disobeyed the strict injunction of his Maker. Then was the truth lost, then was it “sold,” and with it man lost the dignity of his nature—the brightness of his future hopes and prospects, and the peace and happiness of his mind. The command had been of the simplest nature—“Thou shalt not eat of it, neither shalt thou touch it, lest thou die.” But the disobeying of that simple command entailed consequences the most terrible; he did eat, and the great poet of England sketches the result, even to inanimate nature, in a picture, perhaps, not at all overdrawn:—

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat,

Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe

That all was lost.…

Sky loured, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops

Wept at completing of the mortal sin


And what did man get in return for his sale of the truth? He got a dark and clouded intellect, an alienated and corrupted heart, and a soul dead in trespasses and sin. He got all the misery, wretchedness, and woe that have been since blighting earth, and earth’s fairest scenes, and which still appear in the dark prospective opening of eternity; and he got the beauteous work of creation, that had hitherto lain smiling under the sunshine of Heaven’s blessing, blasted by the withering curse of the Great Eternal.1 [Note: J. Gregg, The Life of Faith, 76.]

3. The man who cannot see the priceless value of truth is always capable of selling it. That is the logic of history. That is the tragedy of materialism. Judas sold his honour, his place in the brotherhood, the great trust of his life, and the very love of God. Men little think what impiety, treachery, and shame lurk beneath the materialistic appraisement of life. This is peculiarly a peril of the city. Those who till the soil and wait in field and garden for God’s sunshine and His rain have all about them a sacrament of the priceless things. But those who dwell in the city, amid so much that is artificial, so much that is not easily suggestive of the unseen sources and spiritual values of life, may perhaps think themselves in special danger of judging earthly judgments. But, after all, whether a man drive a ploughshare or drive a bargain, there is but one way of escape from the peril of the earthly view and the earthly valuation—a peril never far from the hearts of the children of men. And that is in the evangel of the grace of God.

Art has fought in vain with the coarse and stubborn materialism of the world. Æstheticism, with its eclectic discipleship and its demand for a measure of intellectual refinement, has never been able to make the plea for the priceless a real factor in the life of a workaday world. Only Christ can do that. In His cross He has revealed life to us as the priceless gift of God to every humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart.

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling.

If once a man has come empty-handed to the mercy of God in Christ; if day by day he stretches out these same empty hands to the Giver of life; if his heart has tasted of the fulness awaiting him beyond the voices of the market and the pledges of the world—then beauty and truth and love and all the spiritual reality of life are his, and the basal plea for the priceless is for ever wakened and answered in his soul.1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, 59.]

The state of perfect love, expressing itself in perfect rightness of thought and deed, may be unattainable on earth, but nothing lower than the search for this ideal can satisfy the yearnings of a soul such as was Florence Nightingale’s. She had the Hunger for Righteousness. “The crown of righteousness!” she wrote to Miss Nicholson (May 1846). “That word always strikes me more than anything in the Bible. Strange that not happiness, not rest, not forgiveness, not glory, should have been the thought of that glorious man’s mind, when at the eve of the last and greatest of his labours; all desires so swallowed up in the one great craving after righteousness that, at the end of all his struggles, it was mightier within him than ever, mightier even than the desire of peace. How can people tell one to dwell within a good conscience, when the chief of all the apostles so panted after righteousness that he considered it the last best gift, unattainable on earth, to be bestowed in Heaven?”2 [Note: Sir Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, i. 51.]


Farindon (A.), Sermons, ii. 373.

Greenhough (J. G.), in Great Texts of the Old Testament, 19.

Gregg (J.), Sermons and Lectures, 67.

James (F. H.), in Voysey’s Sermons, xv. (1892), No. 42.

Jeffrey (J.), The Way of Life, 252.

Moody (A.), Buy the Truth, 11.

Neale (J. M.), Sermons for Children, 15.

Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 81.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), New Ser., xii. (1876), No. 967.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons to Children, v. 160.

Walker (W. L.), The True Christ, 9.

Warschauer (J.), The Way of Understanding, 88.

Christian World Pulpit, lxxiv. 133 (E. J. Miller); lxxxiv. 145 (W. B. Carpenter).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

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