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each case, 'Is this true?' It is not enough to believe what you maintain; you must maintain what you believe, and maintain it because you believe it; and that, on the most careful and impartial view of the evidence on both sides. For any one may bring himself to believe almost anything that he is inclined to believe, and thinks it becoming or expedient to maintain. Some persons, accordingly, who describe themselves—in one sense, correctly—as 'following the dictates of conscience,' are doing so only in the same sense in which a person who is driving in a carriage may be said to follow his horses, which go in whatever direction he guides them. It is in a determination to 'obey the Truth,' and to follow wherever she may lead, that the genuine love of truth consists; and this can be realized in practice only by postponing all other questions to that which ought ever to come foremost—' What is the truth?' If this question be asked only in the second place, it is likely to receive a very different answer from what it would if it had been asked in the first place. The minds of most men are preoccupied by some feeling or other which influences their judgment (either on the side of truth or of error, as it may happen) and enlists their learning and ability on the side, whatever it may be, which they are predisposed to adopt
I shall merely enumerate a few of the most common of these feelings that present obstacles to the pursuit or propagation of truth:—Aversion to doubt—desire of a supposed happy medium —the love of system—the dread of the character of inconsistency —the love of novelty—the dread of innovation—undue deference to human authority—the love of approbation, and the dread of censure—regard to seeming expediency.
The greatest of all these obstacles to the habit of following truth is the last mentioned—the tendency to look, in the first instance, to the expedient. It is this principle that influences men to the reservation, or to the (so-called) development, but real depravation, of truth; and that leads to pious frauds in one or other of the two classes into which they naturally fall, of positive and negative—the one, the introduction and propagation of what is false; the other, the mere toleration of it. He who propagates a delusion, and he who connives at it when already existing, both alike tamper with truth. We must neither lead nor leave men to mistake falsehood for truth. Not to undoeeive is to deceive. The giving, or not correcting, false reasons for right conclusions—false grounds for right belief—false principles for right practice; the holding forth or fostering false consolations, false encouragements, and false sanctions, or conniving at their being held forth or believed, are all pious frauds. This springs from, and it will foster and increase, a want of veneration for truth; it is an affront put on 'the Spirit of Truth:' it is a hiring of the idolatrous Syrians to fight the battles of the Lord God of Israel. And it is on this ground that we should adhere to the most scrupulous fairness of statement and argument. He who believes that sophistry will always in the end prove injurious to the cause supported by it, is probably right in that belief; but if it be for that reason that he abstains from it,— if he avoid fallacy, wholly or partly, through fear of detection,— it is plain he is no sincere votary of truth.
It may be added that many who would never bring themselves to say anything positively false, yet need to be warned against the falsehood of suppression or extenuation;—against the unfairness of giving what is called a one-sided representation. Among writers (whether of argumentative works or of fictions), even such as are far from wholly unscrupulous, there are many who seem to think it allowable and right to set forth all the good that is on one side, and all the evil on the other. They compare together, and decide on, the gardens of A and of B, after having culled from the one a nosegay of the choicest flowers, and from the other all the weeds they could spy. And those who object to this, are often regarded as trimmers, or lukewarm, or inconsistent. But to such as deal evenhanded justice to both sides, and lay down Scylla and Charybdis in the same chart,—to them, and, generally speaking, to them only, it is given to find that the fair course, which they have pursued because it is the fair course, is also, in the long run, the most expedient.
On the same principle, we are bound never to countenance any erroneous opinion, however seemingly benefical in its results— never to connive at any salutary delusion (as it may appear), but to open the eyes (when opportunity offers, and in proportion as it offers) of those we are instructing, to any mistake they may labour under, though it may be one which leads them ultimately to a true result, and to one of which they might otherwise fail. The temptation to depart from this principle is sometimes excessively strong, because it will often be the case that men will be in some danger, in parting with a longadmitted error, of abandoning, at the same time, some truth they have been accustomed to connect with it . Accordingly, censures have been passed on the endeavours to enlighten the adherents of some erroneous Churches, on the ground that many of them thence become atheists, and many, the wildest of fanatics. That this should have been in some instances the case is highly probable: it is a natural result of the pernicious effects on the mind of any system of blind, uninquiring acquiescence; such a system is an Evil Spirit, which we must expect will cruelly rend and mangle the patient as it comes out of him, and will leave him half dead at its departure. There will often be, and oftener appear to be, danger in removing a mistake; the danger that those who have been long used to act rightly on erroneous principles may fail of the desired conclusions when undeceived. In such cases it requires a thorough love of truth, and a firm reliance on Divine support, to adhere steadily to the straight course. If we give way to a dread of danger from the inculcation of any truth, physical, moral, or religious, we manifest a want of faith in God's power, or in his will to maintain his own cause. There may be danger attendant on every truth, since there is none that may not be perverted by some, or that may not give offence to others; but, in the case of anything which plainly appears to be truth, every danger must be braved. We must maintain the truth as we have received it, and trust to Him who is 'the Truth' to prosper and defend it.
One of the strongest and most prevalent temptations is 'the fear of impairing one's influence.' A man is often induced to keep back some unwelcome truth, or to abstain from protesting against some prevailing error or fault, lest he should thereby raise a prejudice against himself that would lessen the influence he might hereafter exert beneficially in some other case. And thus he will perhaps be led on to make one concession after another, till he goes down to the grave with his Talent laid up in a napkin; having omitted, through dread of losing his influence, to use it where it was most needed; like a miser who passes his life practically in abject poverty, for fear of becoming poor.
That we shall indeed best further any good cause by fearless perseverance in an open and straight course, I am firmly persuaded; but it is not only when we perceive the mischiefs of falsehood and disguise, and the beneficial tendency of fairness and candour, that we are to be followers of truth; the trial of our faith is when we cannot perceive this: and the part of a lover of Truth is to follow her at all seeming hazards, after the example of Him who 'came into the world that he should bear witness to the Truth.' This straightforward course may not, indeed, obtain 'the praise of men.' Courage, liberality, activity, and other good qualities, are often highly prized by those who do not possess them in any great degree; but the zealous, thoroughgoing love of truth is not very much admired or liked, or indeed understood, except by those who possess it. But Truth, as Bacon says,'only doth judge itself,' and, ' howsoever these things are in men's depraved judgments and affections, it teacheth that the inquiry of Truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it—the knowledge of Truth, which is the presence of it—and the belief of Truth, which is the enjoying of it—is the sovereign good of human nature.'
'There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found fake and perfidious.'
This holds good when falsehood is practised solely for a man's private advantage; but, in a zealous and able partisan, falsehood in the cause of the party will often be pardoned, and even justified. We have lived to see the system called 'phenakism,' 'double-doctrine,' or 'economy'—that is, saying something quite different from what is inwardly believed, not only practised, but openly avowed and vindicated, and those who practise it held up as models of pre-eminent holiness, not only by those of their own party, but by others also.
'When men who have repeatedly brought forward, publicly, heavy charges against a certain Church, afterwards openly declare that those charges were what they knew, at the time, to be quite undeserved, they are manifestly proclaiming their own insincerity. Perhaps they did believe—and perhaps they believe still—that those charges are just; and if so, their present disavowal is a falsehood. But if, as they now profess, the charges are what they believed to be calumnious falsehoods, uttered because the same things Tuid been said by some, eminent divines, and because they were 'necessary for our position' then, they confess themselves 'false and perfidious;' and yet they are not'covered with shame.'
It is remarkable, that although it is proverbial that 'a liar is likely to be disbelieved even when he speaks the truth,' yet with some persons the opposite result will sometimes take place. One who has made confession of a long course of imposture will sometimes obtain thenceforward credit for veracity.
A remarkable instance of this was an impostor who about forty years ago excited much public attention. She called herself Caraboo (her real name being Mary Baker), and persuaded many persons in the neighbourhood of Bristol, and elsewhere, that she was an Oriental Princess. Some of her writing, in her pretended language, was sent to me at Oxford for inspection, and I at once pronounced it to be an imposture. But even after this, many continued deluded by her. When at length she was fully detected, some strange accounts of her early history and of the origin of her imposture were circulated, and were by many believed on her authority. 'This is all very curious; but how do you know that there is any truth in it r* Why, she says so herself.' 'But she is a notorious liar.' 'Oh, but she has confessed all her falsehoods, and is now giving the true account.'
These persons seem to have considered Mendacity as a disease similar to Measles or Smallpox, from which a man is exempted by having once had it!
The operation of this strange principle has been largely experienced by those mentioned just above as having not only acted on, but avowed and defended the system of 'Reserve,' 'Economy,' 'Phenakism,' or 'Double-doctrine.' Many, even of those who have not joined their party, give them credit for sincerity; on the ground, apparently, of their having frankly proclaimed their insincerity.1
1 See Caution s for Me Times. No. xiii. See also Dr. West's Discourse on 1 Reserve.' (Fellowes.) See also the Essay on 'Simulation.'