( Originally Published 1879 )
GOD is the author of truth, the devil the father of lies. If the telling of a truth shall endanger thy life, the author of truth will protect thee from the danger, or reward thee for thy damage. If the telling of a lie may secure thy life, the father of lies will beguile thee of thy gains, or traduce the security. Better by losing of a life to save it, than by saving of a life to lose it. However, better thou perish than the truth.
Herodotus tells us, in the first book of his history, that from the age of five years to that of twenty, the ancient Persians instructed their children only in three things, viz.: to manage a horse, to shoot dexterously with the bow and to speak the truth. Which shows of how much importance they thought it to fix this virtuous habit on the minds of youth betimes.
The smallest dew drop on the meadow at night has a star sleeping in its bosom, and the most insignificant passage of Scripture has in it a shining truth. Truth bears the impress of her own divinity, and, though reason may not be able to take cognizance of the fact, she may be filling the chambers of the soul with a light and glory that is not born of earth.
The study of truth is perpetually joined with the love of virtue, for there's no virtue which derives not its original from truth, as, on the contrary, there is no vice which has not its beginning from a lie. Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all society.
The adorer of truth is above all present things. Firm in the midst of temptation, and frank in the midst of treachery, he will be attacked by those who have prejudices, simply because he is without them, decried as a bad bargain by all who want to purchase, because he alone is not to be bought, and abused by all parties because he is the advocate of none; like the Dolphin, which is always painted more crooked than a ram's horn, although every naturalist knows that it is the straightest fish that swims.
Truth is a standard according to which all things are to be judged. When we appeal to it, it should be with sincerity of purpose and honesty of feeling. Divesting ourselves of all partiality, passion, paradox, and prejudice--of every kind of sophistry, subterfuge, chicanery, concealment and disguise, and laying the soul open to what is honest, right, and true, our only desire should be to judge of things as they really are, and candidly and truly to acknowledge and receive them as such. For this is truth—the perception and representation of things as they are.
Truth, divine in its nature and pure before heaven, is the foundation of all human excellence, the keystone of all sincere affection, and the seal of true discipleship with the Good Shepherd. It is impossible to love one in whose truthfulness we cannot confide; or td slight one, whose words, and purposes, and actions, are "with-out dissimulation." Truth, or silence, should be our alternative; and we should not disturb the " soul's sweet complacency," by addicting ourselves to the too frequent deceptions of "good breeding," or the " necessary subterfuges of society." Good breeding needs not to be sustained or appreciated through falsehood or affectation, and a social system which involves the practice of subterfuge is wrong in its basis and corroding in its tendency. Into God's holy place—our hoped-for future home, and after the ineffable beauty of which every earthly household, and circle, and human heart should be modeled — nothing can enter which " loveth or maketh a lie."
No bad man ever wished that his breast was made of glass, or that others could read his thoughts. But the misery is, that the duplicities, the temptations, and the infirmities that surround us have rendered the truth, and nothing but the truth, as hazardous and contraband a commodity as a man can possibly deal in. Woe to falsehood! it affords no relief to the breast like truth; it gives us no comfort, pains him who forges it, and like an arrow directed by a god, flies back and wounds the archer. If a man be sincerely wedded to truth, he must make up his mind to find her a portionless virgin, and he must take her for herself alone. The contract, too, must be to love, cherish, and obey her, not only until death, but beyond it; for this is an union that must survive not only death, but time, the conqueror of death. There is nothing which all mankind venerate and admire so much as simple truth, exempt from artifice, duplicity, and design. It exhibits at once a strength of character and integrity of purpose in which all are willing to confide.
Painters and sculptors have given us many ideal representations of moral and intellectual qualities and conceptions, and have presented us with the tangible forms of beauty and grace, heroism and courage, and many others. But which one of them will or can give us a correct and faithful delineation and embodiment of truth?—that we may place it upon our altars and in our halls, in public and in private places, that it may be honored and worshiped in every home and in every heart !
We see in an instant the immense importance of acquiring and inculcating habits of the strictest truth. Whatever so essentially tends to the concord and felicity of society, it must be of momentous consequence to cherish and promulgate. No idea can be formed of the important effect such habits would produce. The most perfect confidence would not be the least of its benefits, and the most perfect inward tranquillity. For no species of deception can be practiced without causing vexation and trouble to the practicer, and many a cheek has blushed, and many a heart palpitated at the apprehended or realized detection of mistakes and exaggeration in common conversation. Exaggeration is but another name for falsehood; to exaggerate is to pass the bounds of truth; and how can those bounds lie passed, without entering upon the precincts of false-hood. There can be but a true or a false representation. There can be no medium; what is not true must be false.
Of the public estimation in which truth is held, we have numerous examples. Every one can enter into the animating, the delightful emotion with which Petrarch must have received the gratifying tribute of public applause, when, on his appearing as witness in a cause, and approaching the tribunal to take the accustomed oaths, he was informed that such was the confidence of the court in his veracity he would not be required to take any oath, his word was sufficient.
Was not the praise bestowed on Petrarch a tacit avowal that veracity such as his was very rarely known ? Nothing can be more easy than to speak truth; the unwise, the poor, the ignoble, the youthful, can all equally practice it. Nothing can be more difficult than to speak falsely; the wise, the rich, the great, the aged, have all failed in their attempts. It would be an easy road to distinction to be pre-eminent in an adherence to truth. We could enumerate many besides Petrarch who have acquired respect by it among their fellow-citizens, and celebrity in the page of history. Can there be offered a more obtainable, a more gratifying, a more noble object of emulation to the youthful heart?