Project Canterbury


Truth and our Times




On Sunday Evening in Commencement Week, June 21, 1863,
















NEW YORK, June 30th, 1863

REV AND DEAR SIR:--The class of 1863, earnestly desiring that the thoughts embodied in the Baccalaureate sermon, preached by you, may be placed in some permanent form and preserved as a guide for their future lives, respectfully request a copy of the sermon for publication Trusting that you may accede to the wishes of the class, we are

Most respectfully and truly yours,




GENTLEMEN:--The sermon which you are pleased to request for publication was written with an earnest desire to aid you in the outset of life, by the counsels of Scripture, which are the wisdom of the Most High If you desire to read what you have heard, and to preserve it for future reference, I do not feel at liberty to withhold it, and it would gratify me to believe that in future years some of your class may look back to it as having suggested some views of duty, practically useful, which might otherwise have been overlooked.

Accept my thanks for your courtesy and kindness in the expressions of your letter, and believe me, with renewed good wishes for your class,

Gentlemen, yours faithfully,


To MESSRS VAN KLEECK, HOLMES, &c, &c, Committee


While reading the proofs of the following Sermon, the Author is so impressed with the wonderful changes which have been wrought in the course of a single month, by the good Providence of God, that he must request the reader to bear in mind that the Sermon was preached at the moment when the darkest crisis of the war was regarded as reached by the invasion of Pennsylvania

WEST POINT, July 20, 1863.

Buy the Truth, and sell it not.

Prov. xxiii. 23.

THE completion by a considerable number of young men of their undergraduate course in this venerable college, is a matter of importance to the Republic and to the Church of GOD. I congratulate you, my young brethren, on the honourable distinctions you have won, and I rejoice that you are here, in the house of the Lord, to render your homage and thanksgivings to Him who has given you power to get knowledge, and with it, I trust, understanding and wisdom.

The occasion is festive and congratulatory, yet circumstances render it serious and earnest. It is your lot to begin life amid scenes to which, God grant, you may not become habituated. You are here in academic array, but your ranks are thinned by the absence of brothers who have suddenly dropped the toga for arms. Possibly this very hour is deciding the destinies of the nation. It is the crisis of conflict between lawless violence and the spirit of Law. Insubordination has well nigh triumphed over Magistracy. Passion threatens to gain the mastery over reason. Deep is your personal stake in the impending issue:

"Audiet pugnas, vitio parentum
Rara, juventus"

Whatever may be the immediate results, you cannot but feel that you have before you, a heavy share in them. You have no more to do with holidays. You are summoned to the task of Life. Nor, since things are so, should you regret that you are thus early called to look with solemnity and deep concern towards the future. It is [5/6] a fact that gives dignity to your outset as men. "It is good," says Holy Scripture, "it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth."

The text is selected with reference to the times. What is it that the young man needs to give a proper direction to all his generous impulses and correct resolves? "The Truth," says our Blessed Saviour--"the Truth shall make you free." Truth only emancipates, enfranchises, ennobles; Truth only can deliver from the clogs and chains with which our sinful nature encumbers us in every effort, and through all the contest of life. But what is Truth? A thousand years before Pilate asked the question, and was startled by the very word, you find it mentioned in the text as something recognized and familiar to the children of God. Ages before, it had made all the difference between Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and such as worshipped the obscene idols of the Canaanite. It was the distinction of those who kept the ten commandments, as compared with others who actually divinified and adored the crimes and passions, the lust and the hatred of mankind. Truth means God as He is; and things as they are, and as He has revealed them. "Thy word is truth," exclaims the Incarnate Word, looking up to the Father; and ever since He thus spake, that word has made its way among mankind, proving everywhere its power to regenerate and sanctify, and as a secondary thing to civilize and elevate the most depraved races of the world. The Christian does not admit that Truth is any longer a matter for research and inquiry. The darkness is past, the light shines, and if men do not see it, it is because they are blind through iniquity and self-conceit. Do we admit that the Copernican System is still a questionable theory? Still less do we allow that the apparent difficulties involved in the doctrines of Christ bear any appreciable proportion to the overwhelming evidence of their verity. The Gospel proves itself by its absolute and imperial claim to every thing which enlightens man; to every thing which satisfactorily unfolds his future; to every thing which meets his moral wants, and provides a remedy for his sins. The sun shines, and no star can show itself in its presence. Just so the Gospel shines, and bats and owls are not the only things that fly before it: it deposes not only darkness, but all rival lustres. Philosophies and moralities of the heathen not only grow pale before [6/7] it: they altogether disappear. He then who cannot recognize the Truth, in the light of the Gospel, would ignore the sun in the meridian, and worship the fire and smoke and the sparks of his own kindling in its stead.

Nor is general truth alone thus established. We do not admit that there is any such thing as general Christianity; by Christianity we mean something definite--the religion of the Canonical Scriptures and of the historic Creeds. Why is it that men are permitted to treat as scientific truth some theory which was born but yesterday and may perish on the morrow, while yet they think it strange that theologians should speak with certainty of the grand facts of the Gospel; truths which have stood the fiery test of centuries of persecution, and which, nevertheless, have in all those ages compelled the convictions and united the assent of the best and wisest of men! The sublimest characters and the noblest benefactors of the human race have been its product; and if, for a time, primitive Creeds were overlaid with subsequent traditions and superstitions, and if even good men once confounded the Truth with the deformities that had been suffered to grow upon it, remember, the power of. Truth has been the more perfectly illustrated by the fact that the tares did not choke the wheat, but rather the reverse. There is no excuse for any fresh mistake since the primitive faith threw off the fetters of superstition, and enabled men to distinguish between the glow of health and the fever of disease. The history of Europe since the epoch of the reformation completes the evidence; for if Truth makes free, how can it be said that Truth resides where the reformation was successfully resisted? In what sense of the word are Christians free in Spain? In what sense can they be pronounced other than free in England?

I say, then, why should men be ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth? It is true we are commanded to "prove all things," but then we are not to begin with the idea that Truth is yet undiscovered. You know the difference between a problem, and, a theorem. In the one, we seek truth as something undecided, till we arrive at the proof; in the other, we state truth as known, and then proceed to make it evident. Now, if you enter upon life to seek truth problematically, you will exhaust your days before the merest elements of demonstration are settled [7/8] in your mind. But accept it theoretically, as it is delivered to you from the beginning, and you will soon be satisfied that it is truth, because it will coincide with every thing that is known to be true in nature, in history, and in the social state of man. Thus, if you ignore the true theory of the universe, and resolve to go back to the study of astronomy for yourself, rejecting all past observation, experience and testimony, depend upon it you will not live long enough to arrive at the principles of Kepler and of Newton. But by taking on testimony first, "the faith once delivered to the Saints," and treating it as a theorem, you may soon convince yourself and others that nothing can withstand the evidence by which it is demonstrated.

Now, what says the text? "Buy the truth!" This is the first precept, or proposition. You may ask, how can I buy that with which I am already endowed, seeing that, by God's goodness, I am a Christian? The answer is in part anticipated. You are endowed with truth as a theorem, but have you worked it out, and made it yours by practical demonstration? We are not to enter upon the study of truth as doubters, but as believers! The child hears, with wonder, that the earth is round, and that it courses round the sun: yet, when he begins the study of astronomy he does not dismiss what he has been taught. On the contrary, he anticipates every result at which he arrives; and when he has grown familiar with the heavenly bodies, and has gained in some degree the divine faculty of " telling them all by their names," he is only settled and certified of that which he believed before. Yet, in a sense which is apparent, he has bought scientific truth, and made it his own; and just so you are called to buy the Truth of God. You buy it by searching the Scriptures; by putting the key of the Faith into the lock of Revelation, and thereby opening and exploring all the chambers of truth. You buy it by practical obedience; yes, in some degree, provided you repent, by the sad experience of sin. You buy it, by living the life of faith, and finding that in keeping God's commandments there is great reward. You buy it, by resisting temptation; and, if need be, by cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye, rather than offend, by these, to the compromise of truth, and the sacrifice of right. You buy it, finally, by selling all you have and giving it to the poor, if such be the plain call of duty: by leaving father and mother, as well as nets [8/9] and fishing-boats; by rising up like Matthew, and leaving the gold and silver at the receipt of custom; by turning, on the instant, like Saul of Tarsus from enterprises of worldly ambition; by dropping as he did, all his earthly gain, his ascendent fortunes, his popularity with his countrymen, his friends, and kindred, and investing his entire self, with, all that was gain to him, in the pearl of price, in the one grand acquisition of imperishable truth!

If these things be so the Truth is made ours, just as one gains the fee of an encumbered estate. He is born to it, and he comes into its possession; but, day by day, as he improves it, and clears off the mortgages, it is becoming his own, freshly, and as an ennobling reality. To cling to the one spot, and toil on amid many difficulties and trials is no easy thing, however, for the volatile and speculative mind of man. He is fond of novelty; he loves excitement; he knows very well that if there is credit and character in the dutiful course I have sketched, there is more of immediate gratification in breaking away from restraint. Over and over again is he approached by inducements to throw off the yoke, to turn from the furrow of duty, and launch upon the sea of experiment. His fair inheritance becomes familiar, and his labour wearisome and distasteful: what if he should pact with it, and seek his fortune in adventure? The text says--"sell it not."

How men are tempted to sell truth--is it not written in the record of ten thousand wretched lives? Alas! experience suggests the inquiry--is there any conceivable way of exchange, in which we are not tried, and encountered, and beset from our youth! To retain one's integrity; to hold fast that of which the intelligence is satisfied and which the conscience confirms; to live a confessor, and, if need be, to die a martyr--alas! all experience proves that this is the greatest achievement of man. How many even among the intellectually great have been morally mean! What contemptible figures, after all, are made by many of the world's heroes; and even in the estimate of the common consciousness of men, how unspeakably great, as compared with all others, are the few who stand out in history as incorrupt--the men over whom nothing ever prevailed, for a single moment, to dishonour truth!

For though men scorn the name of liars, and though they know that one's whole life becomes a lie, when for any consideration he has [9/10] been led to surrender known truth, or even to compromise it, yet it is certain that few men imagine they can afford to keep it pure and undefiled. And, as they are not called to ask pay for it in the current money of the merchant, nor to weigh it in scales with its price; as truth is sold decently, and without title-deeds or indentures fairly written out, they part with it the less reluctantly, often without shame, It would be awful to suggest who it is that comes disguised and tempts the sale, like the man, in the Arabian tale, who offered new lamps for old. But truth has a persevering enemy. There is no estate of life in which men are not persuaded daily to the betrayal of truth for so vile a reward as thirty pieces of silver. Everywhere men must confront one who offers the price of blood and of the soul. In republics, as in monarchies, not less for popular favour than for a sovereign's smile, is truth sold And you, my young brethren, if indeed there has been no tampering with your tender consciences in this respect already, you shall no sooner leave the scenes of your pupilage, and enter upon the next stage of your opening life, without the sharp or the seductive encounter of errour in many a novel form. If you could see yourselves as God sees you at this minute, you would know that there is an angel bending over one shoulder, but a devil at the other; and life's problem is, shall the angel be driven away and Satan himself "stand at your right hand?" In the text you have your safeguard, if only you seek God's grace to carry it out: "Buy the truth and sell it not." Imitate the monopolist, purchasing in every market; but, unlike him, hold what you buy as a treasure to be sold in none. As they report favourite stocks, let them report Truth's holders firm. Have something not to be commanded by any price; something which no man's gold can outweigh; something which no man's favour can win; something which not the frown of any man, nor of a mob of men, nor of the whole world of men can force you to give up.

What is the great want of our times? Is it not such men--men of integrity? Yet you will find no man who will confess himself a rogue! All praise integrity, and if few practically exemplify it, the reason is that they have never learned the relations of integrity to Truth. They do not understand that the belief of lies crops out necessarily, in action. Truth is the aliment of right-doing, and it [10/11] is impossible that men should feed on falsehood and yet live the life of principle. Though we want honest men, therefore, I have not said to you be honest, be men of worth, be noble-minded, for that is like bidding a man be healthful, who should rather be provided with wholesome food. What says the text?

The Scriptures bid us "buy the truth, and sell it not," because in that one maxim is the whole secret of character. Men are honest in proportion as they know the truth and practice it Honest mistakes there may be; but he whose character is all mistake is not honest. God never made a man, with eyesight, who could not escape ordinary pitfalls by daylight; nor a man with a conscience who could not escape self-ruin by the light of the Gospel. The grand truth of the Gospel therefore, its doctrine and its moral precepts--these rendered severely practical, and presupposed in every action of life, these are the only integrity.

I have said Men of Integrity are the grand want of the times. I had almost said of our country; but that would have been to fix a stigma upon our country which, I am persuaded, does not belong to it exclusively. At one time I came near making this mistake, but I enlarged my horizon; I lifted up mine eyes, and lo! the world is full of ignoble example. I thought it was our new country which had bred remorseless speculators; that a raw state of society was to be credited with fraudulent bankruptcies. But no, I read in foreign journals that old estates are under the hammer, and that men with titles and coronets, if not shop-keepers in morals and convicts in criminal courts, have forgotten the maxim that rank obliges men to be honourable. I feared the infamy of politicians was bred of their truckling to the populace; but I looked abroad and saw that others are as venal who look chiefly to premiers and sovereigns. I imagined that a young republic might rear a class incompetent to appreciate historic principles, and unable to perceive the glory of their relations to a noble past; but I supposed that statesmen of the old world must always respect illustrious precedent, and the traditions of State under which their country has grown dignified. Alas! I found that if our institutions have produced a fry of paltry politicians, creatures of no character and unrestrained by scruples, they are not without contemporaries in old established governments, who can applaud them for their want of rectitude [11/12] and proclaim them statesmen and heroes in proportion as they have been less restrained by considerations of fidelity to their country, or by instincts of common honesty, as between man and man. If America has exhibited the sorry spectacle of a Legislature into which came and sat, daily, not a solitary Senator, such as Cicero denounced, but many who plotted a darker treason against laws of their own making, and against a Constitution which they had sworn on the Holy Gospels to obey as supreme--alas! English Senates have not been without well-bred men who have dignified such criminals as capable of founding great nations and worthy to be enrolled with those who have been bold to humble tyrants, and prodigal of their blood to ransom humanity from chains. Yes, England, and with grief of heart I confess it, in her Councils of State, has men greedy to sacrifice for an imagined policy the principles that have glorified her among nations, and made her, to all reflecting minds, "dear for her reputation through the world." Where now are her Burkes and her Wilberforces? Certainly they are not to be found among those who are chief in the confidence of the Crown, or in the homage of the Commons. There is a sense of right and justice there that will yet predominate; there is a sturdy love of truth that will not suffer it always to be concealed from the popular insight; but if ever the text was illustrated by a reversal of its principle, just where we might have expected a splendid instance of public virtue and consistency, it is in the deplorable attitude to which an incapable Ministry have, momentarily, reduced a State, whose moral grandeur has been ordinarily maintained with a steady increment of glory from the days of Alfred until now.

Behold all things venal; but more especially Men! There were times when nations did not pause to ask how it would affect trade, or how it might influence the rise and fall of political favourites, when for great principles they proffered generous alliances, or went to war. Now, where in the high places of the earth are we to look for those who ingenuously maintain righteousness, who disinterestedly plead for Truth? "The age of chivalry is gone." Yes! and the better age of principle. This then is the age of commerce, and in such an age, more than in any other, we need to start in life with one unmerchantable investment: "Buy the truth, and sell it not."

[13] Commerce with all its advantages is the parent of much evil. While it enlarges and civilizes, it yet contracts and corrupts. Commercial nations become rich and luxurious and worshippers of material good; and while commerce promotes the arts, and tends to humanize and socialize the family of man, it does not fail to teach him new vices, changing not eradicating his base propensities. It seats Mammon in the temple of God, and would even exalt the idol to His throne. Where it is absolute, every man has his price; and in America it has been the more mischievous because unchecked by other interests. Where large classes of men are devoted to Letters, to Arts, to the Sciences, or even to the enjoyment of hereditary wealth, the bale of the merchant is balanced; the Bourse and the Bank are regulated. But with us commerce is omnipotent. From the quays of New York to "the Levee" at New Orleans, from the granaries of Chicago to the cotton-presses of Charleston, the ruling passion has been to sell and to get gain. The North and the South are one, if in nothing else, at least in this. The political gamesters who betrayed the South, and made it deaf to the counsels and entreaties of its real statesmen, did so by acting on the cupidity of unreasoning thousands whose one idea was their cotton. The authors of the rebellion were men of damaged reputation and desperate fortunes; men who had caught the infection of the Market in its worst form, and who were willing to risk all in enterprises of gigantic crime, relying on the corruption and venality of their countrymen. They judged others by themselves; they doubted the existence of virtue, and they knew nothing of the tremendous power which resides in even a little residue of moral strength, to awaken and regenerate a people. Hence, their whole scheme was a cool reckoning with the lower instincts of humanity; a calculation that neither the spirit of the Republic nor the morality of Europe could withstand the pressure which, by the monopoly of a great staple, they proposed to bring upon the markets of the world. If this rebellion shall succeed, then, it comes to this--that Commerce has so debauched the race, and enfeebled its manliness, that the peace of nations, the internal harmony of free States and consequently the whole fabric of civilization is to be at the mercy of any moral monster who is able to bar the highways of modern trade, as the old robbers barred the Rhine! But is Europe [13/14] ready for such a state of things? Are there no maxims of right dearer to Christian nations than mere despatch in the accumulation of wealth? The Dutch were traders; they lived upon the seas, and their country could hardly be called a land, yet they were noble enough to think less of traffic than of truth. Before the Union of Utrecht and down to the Peace of Westphalia they could maintain a war of principle against the power of Spain and the policy of Europe It was an exhaustive war. Their enemies made it one of extermination, of inquisition and massacre. Their noblest families saw their sons perish on the scaffold, such as Egmont and Van Hoorn. Thousands were driven into exile, and literally by hundreds of thousands the infernal Alva butchered a helpless people. For nearly a century did fire and sword devour them; yet was there in them a spirit of religion and of nationality which outlasted all. The imperial splendor and dominion of Spain were wasted in the struggle, but the Dutch survived. Are we a feebler race than they? With our exhaustless resources, our vast domains, our teeming population, our immigrant reinforcements, and our wonderful antecedents, I ask, have we no principle of patience, of perseverance, of self-sacrifice? Are we indeed a mere populace, a rabble of men incapable of real greatness and destitute of the elements out of which nations are made? Are we base beyond all experience and ready to abandon on the first encounter of difficulty all that was gained for us by the hardy virtues of our forefathers? Our evil counsellors take it for granted we are; but I do not believe it. I see grounds for confidence in my countrymen; but doubtless this dark hour is to be a decisive one. You must load yourselves with the responsibility it brings you; but take for your encouragement one consideration derived from the character of the great founder of the Republic. To his moral grandeur the whole world pays homage, and it pleased God to set such a model before every American, and to ennoble every one of us with its majesty. Now, I ask, if such be the decoration of the porch, what must be the design of the temple? Does the consummate architecture of the Most High set a colossal figure before a petty fabric? Does the Divine Authorship give a glorious preface to a paltry book? In the endowment of our people with the prestige of such a character, I discern the earnest of a grand future. Such a biography must develop [14/15] into a noble history. He who wrote for us so sublime an Introduction, intimates thereby that the Book shall more and more illustrate His great designs for us, as its successive seals shall open; yes, though at every seal there be thunderings and voices! So I argue with myself, even in full view of all that disgraces us and tends so fatally to debase us. I cannot imagine that between the limits of a single lifetime the whole career of a people can be run, nor that within such limits a nation may illustrate the extremes of honour and of infamy--such honour as belongs to Washington and his contemporaries, such infamy as will cling to us and to our posterity if we know not how to keep what our fathers have bequeathed to us. The very thought is horrible. Is our degeneracy so consummate that we have already forfeited a reasonable trust in Got, for the future of our nationality? I answer, in spite of all the difficulties with which we struggle, and in spite of the ignoble sentiments in which thousands of our people are nurtured by demagogues and infidels, there is salt among us yet. The nation lacks nothing but the supremacy of the virtue and intelligence which still live in it to be the most powerful, and in some respects the most glorious, of nations.

But Scripture speaks of "coming to the help of the Lord." God himself; with reverence be it said, cannot do for a people what they will not do for themselves. He sets his great designs before them, but He works it out for them, only when they recognize His call to work it out with Him. Now, then, in the very agony of our struggles to this end, you, young men, are called into life and bidden to do your part. What is it you propose to accomplish? What shall be your work, your contribution to the common weal! The balance trembles, and just in time perhaps, to be sensibly felt, in the crisis of decision, you take your place as men with men. There is something for you to do, and that immediately. It is a thought of great solemnity. It may well cause "great searchings of heart." The first impulse is to ask, at such a moment why do we sit here? It seems wrong: it seems as if we ought to be with our brethren in arms; to leave so much to others, is it not ignoble? Does it not breed self-contempt, and cheapen one's manhood? But nay! If to be here be plainly our duty, as I suppose it is, then we should be of no real service there. In the simple fidelity of every man to [15/16] his own duty consists the whole secret of social and national prosperity. At this time, as at all times, let every man be in his place. Let us be doing with our might what God has given each of us to do. The position of the scholar is not necessarily unheroic. It creates epics. Armies never move till men of thought have sounded the trumpet. The pen goes everywhere as the first banner; it is always in the van of conflict. Thought is king; mind is mastery; great words and great principles carry every thing before them. Just now it is easier to find soldiers than to find scholars in America, and where, when the Lord gives victory to the right, where shall we find the men of thought, the patient students of Law, the genuine Statesmen, the great Divines who are to mould the coming age, and to teach it the lessons of which this awful rebellion should furnish the text-book for centuries to come. Young brethren, we must look to you! You are to be the men of the new times; you will live, I hope, to do good in the twentieth century; you will tell of these trying days to the men of a far future, and if they are to avoid our mistakes, and to enjoy a higher civilization and a purer Christianity, it will be yours, in part, to insure all this to them, and through them to send it onward to successive generations. See then what you were born to do! You come before us charged with these sublime commissions; and when I say so I feel inspired with a tender interest in every one of you, and I explore your faces as I speak, as if to scan futurity. For I am sure that if such and so many of you as are now taking your place among the educated men of America will do it on the principles I have endeavoured to expound, you are neither too insignificant, nor too few, to make yourselves felt in the whole future of your country. One Saul of Tarsus evangelized Europe; Athanasius reclaimed the Church; Peter the Hermit moved all Europe to the Crusades; John Wiclif, a scholar of Oxford and a country-parson, worked into men's brains the principles which, at this moment, are the living and quickening spirit of all reforms. John Huss and Jerome of Prague were their immediate product; and Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel are not their last result. So goes the student before the world. The energetic Christian scholar is the first human cause of all genuine progress; I say the Christian scholar, for he only operates in the line of God's own plan, and carries out as a servant the scheme of the Master. Progress! What [16/17] is it but the working out of that sketch of history which was given in the court of Belshazzar by the inspired Daniel, two thousand years ago? Kings and Caesars have merely filled it up. I defy the unbeliever to show me any instance of real progress that has been made by the energy of man, which has not furthered the interests of the Gospel and developed the outline of prophecy. Now, the Christian scholar has the wisdom to throw himself into this line and projection of events; he carries on what God has pledged Himself to complete. He belongs to a kingdom which is pulverizing all other kingdoms, which will outlast them all and fill the whole earth

The first rule of wisdom, then, is simply this--be Christians! Buy the Truth and sell it not. It is not a commodity of exchange. Let there be no commerce in that property! It is not what belongs to you, but rather, 'tis part of you, yourself, your Life, your Soul. And with such high resolves go forth, ingenuous youth; be resolute, but be humble! Have confidence in Truth, and in its glorious Author. Consecrate your lives to noble ends, to your country and to all mankind. Feel the solemnity of this epoch, and be thankful that you live when there is something to be done, and when, if you are fit for it, the achievement will fall to you Choose, not without fervent prayer, your lot in life, and then be faithful. Do your duty. So shall your life be a grand success, even though it should fail of human rewards. In the day when falsehood shall be forever refuted; when unbelief shall wake up to scorn and to everlasting contempt; when the sons of Got:, shall put on their crowns, and Truth only shall be glorified before the universe, you too shall be glorified. You shall shine as the firmament, and as the stars forever and ever.

Project Canterbury