The Standard of Truth and Morals
Isaiah 8:20
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

This text is not merely a Divine declaration. It rests upon the great fact that man can never be satisfied until he gets a standard of truth and duty outside of and apart from himself. No man anywhere can reach an intelligent satisfaction by becoming wholly a law unto himself. The moral sense in every man is vitiated, and its attestations are uncertain. The testimony of conscience is variable; it is not now always prompt, decided, and faithful in its judgments. It may appear at first sight as if there were many men who are living entirely according to their own will, following wholly the "devices and desires of their own hearts." But, if we look a little deeper, we shall find that they are all striving after conformity to some standard, bad or good, that is outside them. It is often custom, etiquette, society, the moral level of the age in which they happen to live. There are common fallacies which tone the lives of some, and multitudes are content to make a standard of the teachings of an authoritative priesthood. Even the hermit, dwelling apart, separated from the associations of his fellow-men, cannot be satisfied with his own standard; he even finds an ideal outside himself, in the life, endurance, and suffering of some more saintly fellow-creature. God has graciously considered this common human necessity. He has not left his creatures to search for such a standard in their blindness. In every age, in forms and terms such as at the time they could understand, God has given models of truth and duty. He has never left men to mere abstract speculations; in some kind of ordinarily understood human teaching, by word, or act, or example, God has always set forth a standard; and so in every age he can make his appeal and say, "To the Law and to the testimony." In the first ages of the world the standard was given in personal characters, such as Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Abraham. To this was by-and-by added the revelation of the Divine will in written and spoken words, for which advancing civilization and culture prepared men. At the very beginning, as the written revelation could not get into the hands and use of all men, it was presented for a time in the pictures of an elaborate ceremonial. Later on it was expressed in the free speech of prophets and teachers, and then the pictured ceremonials might fade away. At the very last the Divine standard of truth and morals for humanity was exhibited, in its completeness and perfection, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truth, duty, virtue, were here among men. Christ was the perfect realization of God's idea of a moral being. The standard man is not on earth now, but his record remains. That record is in all our hands; it is as if we lived our daily life in the presence of the Divine ideal. We have in our Bible God's great rule of truth and duty. Consciously of unconsciously we do test every action by our standard; all the questions arising in connection with our moral life are brought to the test of the "Law and the testimony."

I. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE UPON US BY THE TRUTHS WHICH IT CONTAINS AND REVEALS. These truths test all received opinions. Each man really is according to his opinions and beliefs; the whole temper and conduct are toned by the truths received. If they are according to the "Law and testimony," their fruit will be righteousness and mercy. The Bible does not, indeed, contain any formulated system of theology or of morals, but it does contain such an harmonious setting forth of all necessary truth as, in fact, constitutes a complete system both of doctrine and of duty. The Bible has its own sphere; within this it is infallible. It is the sphere of character; it is no standard of appeal for geographers, or arithmeticians, or astronomers, or ethnologists, or literati, or philosophers. For all such the Bible is a book of the age in which it was written, and it embodies the thought which was the common property of the men of the time. Man does not want a written revelation of science, for he has not lost the key which enables him to unlock its mysteries for himself. Man does need a written revelation of standard morals, because he flung away his key in Eden, and, with ages of painful searching, he has failed to find it again.

II. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE BY THE PRINCIPLES WHICH IT EMBODIES. The structure of the Bible compels us to search out its principles. They do not lie on the surface, like seeds on beaten paths, ready for every passing bird to pick up. They are given to us embodied in history, illustrated in incidents of individual lives, and in phases of personal experience. Nothing seems to be said in the New Testament about ecclesiastical politics, or orders of Church government; but there are to be found great principles, which can be wisely adapted in their practical expression to the varying conditions of men in different ages. There are no announcements concerning social manners; there is nothing taught in a direct way concerning monarchy or slavery, for instance; but the Bible gives principles which, gradually gaining sway over the minds of men, constitutionally attemper monarchy, and will after a while banish slavery from the earth. A principle is more searching than a maxim. Men may think they could have done better with a Bible like the books of Confucius, full of maxims, shaping into order the whole minutiae of life. Such a Bible could only make automata, not living men. God gives a Bible full of quick effective principles; these, getting into the soul, are the seeds whence come flowerings and fruitings of righteousness. A maxim will guide us in one case, a principle will put us right in ten thousand. Circumstances may always limit the application of an express commandment; a principle fits and shapes itself to every new occasion, as the rising tide into every bay and nook and creek of the winding stream.

III. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE BY THE EXAMPLE WHICH IT PRESENTS. Its men, except the Lord Christ, are fallible, struggling men. Their wrongdoing is never covered over. You never get the impression of a character painted rose-color. The moral quality of a man's action is never confused. Evil is always evil. Wrongdoing in a good man is only worse wrongdoing in view of his goodness; and it is never palliated. There is found in the Bible virtue to incite us and evil to warn us; a great "cloud of witnesses" putting to shame our meaner lives. But the great standard example is the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He "tries every man that cometh into the world." The final test of moral conduct for us all is the Lord Jesus Christ. Full acceptance with God can come only from being perfectly like Christ. And if the suggestion makes us feel that we are far down below him, only just climbing the first ridge of the mountain-side, this is our encouraging assurance, "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord." - R.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

WEB: Turn to the law and to the testimony! If they don't speak according to this word, surely there is no morning for them.

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