THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH!
T. PIERCE BROWN
Several years ago I was called into the courtroom as a witness against a young man who had broken into the church building. Before I began my testimony, the bailiff asked me, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I replied, “I will attempt to tell the truth, insofar as I know it, if and when I am asked.” The prohibition of Jesus to “Swear not at all” (Matthew5:34) probably does not apply to judicial oaths, although I have always been of the opinion that if one can not trust an affirmation, he cannot trust an oath. I was not trying to be a smart aleck, but was simply trying to let the court know that I was aware that I did not know the whole truth, and if I did, neither the attorney nor the judge would have allowed me to tell it.
I hesitate to write an article like this, for there may be many persons waiting for an excuse to tell a partial truth and pervert the rest of it. Yet, I think it proper to try to clarify what many well-meaning persons have left unclear. For example, there may be many preachers who, in an effort to impress upon us the necessity of honesty, have said, “If you tell only a part of the truth, it is the same as a lie.”
That is not so. No preacher ever told all the truth in any sermon! If one is preaching on faith, he may say that salvation is by faith. That is the truth, but not the whole truth. He may say, “Salvation is by grace.” That is also the truth, but not the whole truth. We have a tendency to want to express things in a much too simplistic fashion. We are accustomed to the Aristotelian concept that says, “Every effect has a cause” or E=f(C), or every effect is a function of a cause. It is inadequate, for it is never true, philosophically, pragmatically, theologically or otherwise. Every effect has a multiplicity of causes. Expressed in terms of salvation, it might be expressed S=f(L, B, G, F, R, C, B, etc.), which means “Salvation is a function of the love of God, the blood of Christ, the gospel, faith, repentance, confession, baptism and other things.” My point is that if one says, “We are saved by baptism” he is telling the truth, but not the whole truth. That is proper as long as he does not represent that as being the whole truth about the subject.
We have another problem in either understanding or communicating truth. We are not precise enough in our use of language. If there are 100 men and 150 women in an audience, most of us probably would see nothing wrong with the statement, “The men here are less than the women.” The truth is, although the number of the men may be fewer than the number of women, the men may not be less (smaller) than the women, but bigger. Often we do not differentiate between these two statements: “We are saved only by faith” and “We are saved by faith only.” The first statement means that only if we have faith, can we be saved. That is, without faith, we cannot be saved. That is a true statement. The second statement means, “We need only one element to be saved, and that is faith.” Stated in the kind of formula previously used, it would be S=f(F). That is, salvation is a function of faith, period. As suggested before, that formula is inadequate in any area, scientific, philosophic or theological. So the statement, “We are saved by faith only” is not true.
Let us try to apply those principles to the subject of this article. First, one cannot tell the whole truth, for he does not know it. Second, one can and should tell the truth, for he can know it. In fact, he must know it as it relates to salvation, for Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John8:32). Third, there is a difference in telling part of the truth (which is what one must always do, for he does not know the whole truth) and telling a partial truth, which means the statement is part truth and part lie. God condones, and even practiced the first, but never the second.
In 1 Samuel 16: 2, Samuel was disturbed about the thought that Saul might kill him if he anointed David as king. God told him, “Take a heifer with you, and say, `I have to come to sacrifice to the Lord’.” That was only part of the truth. God authorized it. If he had said, “I have come only to make a sacrifice” that would have been a lie. God never authorized the telling of a lie. Jesus kept back a part of the truth from the Jews more than once, for it was either none of their business, or they were not ready to receive it.
There is another aspect of this subject that needs our attention. Truth can be perverted or misused. There are preachers and editors among us who send out reports like this: “For all I know, he may be running around with another man’s wife.” “I hear it reported, and I have found no evidence to the contrary, that he is a homosexual.” “It is reported by one whom I consider a reputable witness that certain projects among us are supported by Crossroads.” “It is reported among the heathen and Gashmu saith it that this project is soliciting funds from or having fellowship with apostate churches.” Of course I do not know the motive of those who make such statements, but as far as I know they are liars and hypocrites, and they are reported to be jealous of any good work they did not start. That last sentence is just as true as the previous ones, and if I had named a specific person, I would be as guilty of sin as those who practice such contemptible actions.
Suppose an editor is daring enough to print this article, and another editor, for whatever reason, reports, “For all I know, theBostonand Crossroads movement (or the Christian Church, or another group) is using that article to further their ungodly cause.” One cannot properly accuse the second editor for lying, for he has simply professed his ignorance, which should be evident by now. Suppose he then proceeds, based on his ignorance, to say, “Since I would not be surprised if someone uses this paper and article to some ungodly end, if we have fellowship with the author or editor, we are having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. So you should take my paper instead of his.” What will all decent, honorable and thoughtful persons do with such a charge? Surely, honest, sincere people can see some principles that we should understand and practice. Let me repeat and summarize some of them.
First, we cannot tell the whole truth about anything, for we do not know it. Second, we are not even required to tell the truths we do know about every subject. There may be times when it is no business of the person who may ask. Or it may be that his previous life has shown that he would pervert that truth and use it for some ungodly purpose if he knew it. Third, when we do tell anything, God requires that we tell the truth. Fourth, God requires that when we tell the truth, we do not pervert it, misuse it, or imply a lie. We have shown you in the previous paragraphs how that is not only possible, but actually is happening. If I should say, “To the best of my knowledge, John Doe has not drunk over three bottles of beer today” that may be true. It also may be true that I have an evil heart and will be lost if I do not repent of such ungodly ways, for I actually know nothing bad about John Doe and am simply trying to ruin him by innuendo. It might be well for good, honest, devoted, brethren who are sound in the faith to do a little more checking on Gashmu, Sanballat, Tobiah or others who oppose the activities God authorized and commanded.