Arthur Pink, July, 1949
"Buy the truth, and sell it not!" (Proverbs 23:23).
Such an injunction may appear to have a "legalistic" sound to some finical ears, but if Scripture be compared with Scripture, that erroneous impression should be removed. The use of the word "buy" in such passages as Isaiah 55:1, and Revelation 3:18, shows that no thought of human merits is signified. It is by no worthiness of ours that salvation is obtained. A little thoughtful meditation indicates that this figure is a very suggestive and instructive one.
The fact that we are here exhorted to "buy the truth" implies and imports the following things:
First, that by nature we do not possess it, for we do not "buy" what is already ours.
Second, that it is needful and valuable, for only fools will purchase things they consider of no use or worth.
Third, that we desire it.
Fourth, that we must go to the lawful Owner of it.
Fifth, that we are willing to part with something to obtain it.
Sixth, that we actually make it our own, for that is what the "buying" of a thing does.
Seventh, that we now make use of it.
When our Lord said unto Pilate, "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice," the Roman governor responded with, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38). Probably those words were uttered contemptuously, for Christ gave him no answer — what value does a politician place upon truth! A short time before, the Savior had said to the Father, in the hearing of His disciples, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17) — not simply "contains the truth," but is so. It is expressly denominated "the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15), and that because its Author is omniscient. It is inerrant throughout: without the slightest inaccuracy — "Your word is true from the beginning" (Psalm 119:160). That is what renders it of inestimable value.
Living as we are in a world of liars (Psalm 58:3), truth is an exceedingly rare commodity. Sin has darkened man's understanding and unhinged his mind, so that ignorance and error, prejudice, and superstition abound on every side. How thankful then should we be that we have in hand, and in our own mother tongue, a revelation from Him who cannot lie.
The importance of truth appears from the absolute authority of Him who is its Author, from the miracles He has wrought to confirm it, from its own beneficial tendency and the blessed fruits which it produces. It is by the truth, that we are made "wise unto salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15). It is by the truth, that we are made free from the servitude of sin (John 8:32, and compare Psalm 119:45). It is by the truth, that we are "sanctified" (John 17:17). Apart from God's Word, I can know nothing whatever of His everlasting love and sovereign grace, nothing of His will for me, nothing of the destiny awaiting me.
Christ — in His wondrous person, peerless perfections, glorious offices, and so great salvation — is the sum and substance of truth. Yet, indescribably precious as it is, the solemn fact remains that by nature, none of us has any love for the truth — but rather, a strong antipathy to it. We prefer to be flattered and encouraged to believe the best about ourselves; and therefore, the Lord Jesus had to say of those to whom He ministered, "And because I tell you the truth — you did not believe me" (John 8:45).
The truth is as free as it is precious — yet, paradoxical as it may sound, it has to be bought. A price has to be paid before it is actually made ours. Though God's Word is a gift to us — it has to be purchased by us; and there is nothing more incongruous and inconsistent in that statement, than there is in affirming that he enjoys the greatest liberty, who lives in completest subjection to God.
To "buy" the truth is a deliberate and voluntary act: "I have chosen the way of truth," said the Psalmist (119:30), and there must be given us a desire and love for the same, before we are willing to do so. Yet the absence of such a desire is no valid excuse for those who are unwilling to purchase it. "Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he has no heart to it?" (Proverbs 17:16). The answer is — to constitute him a responsible creature. That "price in the hand" is the rationality, the capability, the time and opportunity to acquire wisdom; and the absence of a heart for it in no way extenuates his indifference and neglect.
Alas, what millions of such "fools" there are, with no "heart" to buy that which is more valuable than gold, "yes, than much fine gold" (Psalm 19:10)! As one has said, "They would rather lose it — than labour for it; rather go sleeping to Hell — than toiling to Heaven." That which is "more precious than rubies" (Proverbs 3:15) is to the majority of our fellows — of less worth than a pebble. "Herod eyed it with curiosity (Luk 23:8), Pilate with indifference (Joh 18:38), the Jews with scorn (Act 13:46). Enough that it should have a place in our creed, but none in our hearts. The world is preferred to Heaven, time to eternity, and the immortal soul perishes in folly" — Charles Bridges (1794-1869).
It is only when we desire them — that we heed that injunction: "Buy those things that we have need of" (John 13:29). Few indeed are willing to pay the price, for truth is a costly thing to come by honestly, entailing considerable expense and pains. But the more we pay for it, the more we shall prize it. Rare things are always the most expensive, but he who really values and loves the truth, deems no price too high.
"Buy the truth" (Proverbs 23:23). Something has to be parted with, in order to secure it — pride, prejudice, and presumption — so that we be willing to receive it as a little child. "Buy the truth" means make it your own, and that can only be done by personal effort and diligent application. "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God!" (Proverbs 2:1-5).
That is part of the price which has to be paid: an open ear, an applied heart, earnest prayer to God, diligent searching of the Scriptures. Like Mary, we must fix the words of God in our mind and ponder them in our heart (Luke 2:19). Truth has only become ours, when it is actually reduced to experience and practice — and therefore, another part of the price for buying it is our conforming to it in heart and life; and that, in turn, requires daily self-examination and supplication.
Many are content with substitutes for "the truth." They fondly imagine they are "sound in the faith," when in reality the great enemy of souls has deceived them with a spurious counterfeit. And when they are lovingly and faithfully warned, they are unwilling to put their beliefs to the proof, and weigh them "in the balances of the Sanctuary." Though they are told that "many false prophets" (1 John 4:1) have gone and are still going forth, they are reluctant to think that they have been beguiled by them. Truth cannot be secured by us until we are prepared to suspect our orthodoxy and bring every article of our creed to the test of Holy Writ.
Very few are ever recovered from the abyss of error, because they are not willing to search diligently and impartially for the truth and embrace it wherever it is to be found, or whatever be the cost. They prefer the sanction of the names of "great men," rather than a "thus says the Lord."
Pray daily for a right understanding of His Word. "The truth," like its Author, is one — we never read in Scripture of "truths". Yet, as He has many perfections or attributes, so His Word has many parts or branches. It is not a portion of truth, but "the truth" itself we are bidden to buy. Alas, that so many content themselves with fragments thereof. Nothing short of the whole truth is what each of us should earnestly covet and seek — every particle of it, for, as one has well said, "The very filings of the gold are invaluable." "Set your heart upon all that I shall show you" (Ezekiel 40:4).
Nevertheless, the most eager and earnest purchaser will
find, as Joshua did near the close of his life, "there remains yet very much
land to be possessed" (Jos 13:1). But though that is the case, we must
strive to acquire and assimilate more and more of it. Never rest content
with your knowledge thereof, for at best, it is but meager. Remember, you
buy a thing in order to make use of it. As one quaintly
know it in the head — memorize it;
stow it in the heart — lovingly meditate upon it;
show it in the life — be regulated by it;
sow it in the world — yet cast not your pearls before swine (Mat 7:6).
Arthur Pink, August, 1949
"Buy the truth — and sell it not" (Proverbs 23:23).
There are three things to be attended to in those words.
First, a needful act to be performed — "buy";
second, an invaluable object to be acquired — "the truth";
third, a solemn prohibition to be observed — "sell it not."
The first two have already been before us; the third is now to engage our attention. As many distinct things are implied and imported in the "buying" of a spiritual object, so a number of different things are included in the figure of "selling." As the "buy" is a figurative term to express desire, to seek, and make your own; so "sell it not" signifies despise it not, value it not lightly, grow not tired of it, and do not part with it — no matter how you may be induced by temptation to do so.
At first sight, such an prohibition may strike us as strange and unnecessary: if the truth was valued and sought by us, surely we shall not now disesteem and discard it. Alas, the human heart is very unstable, and its affections fickle. First-love is easily lost. When the novelty of a thing wears off, enthusiasm usually wanes. Moreover, Satan hates the truth and fiercely assails those who buy it. The Jews "were willing for a season" to rejoice in John the Baptist's light (John 5:35). Even Herod revered our Lord's forerunner, and listened to him — "and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly" (Mar 6:20) — yet soon after, consented to the beheading of him. When the truth became incarnate (John 14:6), what crowds first attended His preaching, yet later they cried, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him" (John 19:15)! Nor was it any better with those who became His regular attendants and adherents, for we are told, "Many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66).
Scripture contains many pertinent examples and solemn warnings for us to heed. Paul had to lament: "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world" (2 Timothy 4:10); and to the Galatians, who had turned against him, the apostle wrote, "For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" (Gal 4:15-16). What a sad picture is presented in Isaiah 59:14: "And judgment [discretion] is turned away backward, and justice stands afar off: for truth is fallen in the street." How accurately that portrays present-day conditions: Truth sold — rejected, cast away as worthless, trodden underfoot!
If we compare other passages of God's Word where "selling" is in view, it will the better enable us to understand the meaning and scope of the word "sell" in our text. Thus, "He [Esau] sold his birthright unto Jacob" (Gen 25:33), valuing it so lightly that he bartered it "for one morsel of food" (Heb 12:16). Alas, how many preachers do likewise, sacrificing the truth, for personal considerations: "In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up." (2 Peter 2:3). Elijah made this charge against Ahab: "You have sold yourself to work evil in the sight of the Lord" (1 Kings 21:20). Lusting after Naboth's vineyard, he listened to the evil counsel of his wife Jezebel and lost his soul in securing a piece of ground. In the days of Ahaz, the children of Judah: "And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil" (2 Kings 17:17) — that is to say, they gave themselves up willingly to Satan to be his slaves. Judas, the betrayer, sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver. From the case of Esau, we see how that some esteem divine things so lightly, that they prefer the gratification of their carnal appetites. From the case of Ahab, we learn that others allow the spirit of covetousness to make them blind to their own interests and ready to listen to the advice of the wicked, and so call down upon themselves the judgment of God. From the case of the children of Judah, we behold how that following the ways of the heathen, issues in a fatal sale, which brings completely under the power of the devil. From the case of Judas, we are warned that even those who have enjoyed the highest spiritual privileges, and received the truth from the lips of Christ Himself — are in danger of betraying their trust.
In addition to these examples, it should be pointed out that many have been guilty of selling the truth through a desire to maintain peace at any price. They rightly dislike controversy, but they wrongly preserve silence when it is their duty to "earnestly contend [yet not bitterly] for the faith" (Jude 3). The wisdom which is from above is "first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17). Peace, like gold, may be bought too dearly. That unity which is bought by the sacrifice of any part of the truth is worthless.
None boasts so loudly of her unity, such as it is, as Rome, yet it is a product of selling the truth — taking the Bible away from the people, prohibiting the right of private judgment. While no real Christian will sell the truth in the absolute sense, yet he is prone to sacrifice "the present truth" (2 Peter 1:12). There is some particular aspect of truth which the enemy more especially assails in each generation; and it is those controverted portions of it, those articles of the faith which are being opposed, that we most need to be on our guard against selling or renouncing.
Again, any professing Christian who continues knowingly to listen to false doctrine is guilty of selling the truth and of disobeying its Author, for He expressly bids him, "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27). He who is indifferent to what he hears from the pulpit, places no value on the truth! Then "take heed what you hear" (Mar 4:24).
Thus, "sell it not" includes that we "henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:13); but rather that we "ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein," and then "we shall find rest for our souls" (Jer 6:16).
It remains to point out, that the negative implies the positive: thus, when it is said of Christ, "a bruised reed shall he not break" (Isa 42:3), it also intimates the tender care with which He supports and nourishes it. The sword of the Spirit is two-edged: where any evil is forbidden, the opposite good is to be understood as being enjoined. As on the other hand, where a duty is commanded — everything contrary to it is virtually forbidden. Hence, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Exo 20:7; Deu 5:11) also imports, You shall hold it in the utmost honor and reverence. And "You shall not kill" (Exo 20:13; Due 5:17) comprehends, You shall do all in your power to preserve life. Consequently, "Buy the truth, and sell it not" (Proverbs 23:23) signifies "stand fast, and hold the traditions [oral ministry] which you have been taught, whether by word [of mouth], or our [first] epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). "Continue in the faith grounded and settled" (Col 1:23). No matter what be the temptation to compromise, to be cowardly, or to act from selfish ends, "that which you have already hold fast until I come" (Rev 2:25).
In conclusion, let us offer a few comments upon our text as a whole: "Buy the truth, and sell it not." Go to some pains in making sure that what you obtain is "the truth," and that involves our praying with David, "Teach me your statutes" (Psalm 119:12), and an emulating of the noble Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to ascertain whether what they heard accorded with that holy Standard (Acts 17:11). One reason why God permits so much error and confusion in the religious world, is to test souls, and make it evident who are the ones who honestly desire, highly value, and diligently seek the truth. "Truth is that with which the heart must be girded and governed, for without it, there can be no good works" — Matthew Henry (1662-1714).
It is those who acquire truth cheaply — second-hand, from others — who part with it readily; as the old adage says: "Easy come — easy go." In reality, we possess no more truth than that which actually possesses us, which has become part of our experience and practice, our "shield and buckler" (Psalm 91:4). Those who suffered martyrdom rather than deny the faith, refused to sell the truth! "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) supplies a parallel with our text.