“Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” This is the familiar command of a father to his son found in Proverbs 23:23. This verse sets forth a very important principle, or standard, by which the child of God ought to live his life in this world.
This instruction is especially important to the young people of the church as the context of the passage proves. A father is instructing his son as to how he ought to live in a world of “sinners” (vs. 17), “winebibbers” (vs. 20), and “strange women” (vs. 33). The father is speaking to his son who, as he grows older, is beginning to leave the shelter of the home and Christian school. More and more he will be confronted with the temptations, pleasures, and ideas of the world. He is at the time in his life when he has to make many decisions which will have implications for the rest of his life. Where will he seek a spouse? What profession will he pursue? Who will his friends be? What church will he join himself to? The decisions he makes will set the pattern for the rest of his life. For them he will have to answer to God on judgment day.
Let us then examine this instruction as it applies to you, the young people of the church, as you begin to take your place in the church and in relation to the sinful world around you. We will consider four things about this command. First, what is meant by “the truth”? Second, how does one “buy” the truth? Third, how does one “sell” the truth? Finally, we will see the sad consequences for those who disobey this command and how God’s blessing rests upon those who obey this command.
First, let us observe that we read, “Buy the truth.” That is the command. We do not read, “Buy a truth,” or “Buy some truth.” No, the truth we are commanded to buy. There is only one truth. What is this truth? In John 17:17 Jesus prays for His elect to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” God’s Word, as it is recorded for us in the Bible, is the truth. In that Word, God reveals to us who He is. We confess, along with Article 7 of the Belgic Confession (the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, to be the only rule of faith), that “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.”
When we speak of truth, we mean most importantly doctrinal truth, and specifically, the doctrines of the Bible as they have been developed in the line of the Reformation. We believe those doctrines are best summarized in our three Reformed creeds, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. We confess those doctrines not only as they positively set forth the truth, but also as they stand in opposition to false doctrine, the lie. We also understand that all of the various parts of the truth are united into one whole. To deny one part of the truth will ultimately lead to a denial of the whole truth.
The Reformed faith is a grand system of doctrines which fit together into one unified whole. Take, for example, the five points of Calvinism—total depravity, unconditional election, limited (particular) atonement, irresistible (efficacious) grace, and the perseverance of the saints. All of these doctrines complement each other. All of them fit logically together. One who denies just one of these doctrines takes the first step down the slope which ultimately leads to a denial of them all.
In our own history as Protestant Reformed Churches we have also been led by the Spirit to confess the doctrine of God’s particular grace in opposition to the false doctrine of common grace. We confess the truth of God’s unconditional everlasting covenant with His people as opposed to any kind of conditional covenant. And related to our doctrine of the covenant, we confess that the marriage bond is broken only by death, and that the Bible clearly forbids remarriage while one’s spouse still lives. All of these are doctrines which we believe to be “the truth” as found in God’s Word.
When we speak of the truth, it is important to remember that we are talking about more than a mere head-knowledge of Reformed doctrine. We are referring to that by which our heart is guided, or the truth as it comes to expression in our daily walk. It will be evident by our walk of life that we are guided by the truth, that we know and love that truth. We will confess the truth and speak of it to others. Our actions will demonstrate obedience to God’s Word. We will confess, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Others will be able to see this in us.
Knowing what “the truth” is, how does one “buy” the truth? Immediately we understand that there is a sense in which we do not “buy” the truth. II Thessalonians 2:13 instructs us that we are saved “through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” That we believe and love the truth is part of our salvation and is a gift of God (vs. 10-13). God, in His sovereign good pleasure, withholds from others a “love of the truth” and belief in the truth. God is not pleased to save them. Even though the truth is plainly set forth in the Bible, and faithfully expounded to many in the preaching, and many understand that truth intellectually, because God does not give to them a love for and belief in the truth, they are not saved. God allows them to continue to take pleasure in unrighteousness.
That God works in us to love and believe His truth is not because we are more worthy objects of God’s love than those who take pleasure in unrighteousness. Of ourselves, we are dead in sins. We cannot merit anything with God (Canons III/IV, Art. 15). Furthermore, every gift that God gives has been paid for by the blood of Christ and is given freely to His people. We read in Isaiah 55:1, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Therefore, we cannot buy the truth in the sense that we merit anything with God, contribute to our salvation, or make ourselves more worthy objects of His love.
However, there is a sense in which we are commanded to “buy” the truth. In the first place, we buy the truth when we live by faith. Question 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is true faith?” The answer explains how we “buy the truth” when we are living by faith. The answer states,
True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits (emphasis added).
By faith we “buy” the truth when we live in the certain knowledge that all that God has revealed in His Word is truth. By faith we “buy” the truth when we live in the assured confidence that the promises found in that Word belong to us. We “buy” the truth when we know with a knowledge of love the truth of God’s Word, when we believe that truth, and when we confess and live that truth in the midst of a sinful world.
Secondly, we “buy” the truth when we give up certain things for it. The central thing which we must forsake when we “buy” the truth is our sins. We cannot possess the truth and lies at the same time. For example, we cannot buy the truth and walk in the sin of taking God’s name in vain. We cannot say, “Yes, I know and love the truth of God’s holiness” while continuing to walk unrepentantly in the sin of listening to music where God’s name is blasphemed. If we refuse to forsake the sin of taking God’s name in vain, then we cannot say before God that we are buying the truth of His holiness.
Thirdly, we “buy” the truth when we are willing to give up or deny ourselves certain earthly things for the sake of the truth. Because we confess the truth of the fourth commandment, we are willing to deny ourselves certain professions which we know would prevent us from diligently frequenting the church of God on the Lord’s Day. Because we love the truth of the fifth commandment we are unwilling to take jobs which would make it necessary for us to join a godless labor union.
Our love for the truth and our desire to live a life separate from sin and sinners may mean that we must end friendships with those who walk unrepentantly in sin. Perhaps these friends are relatives, or close family members, who refuse to turn from their walk in sin. Said Jesus, we must for His sake and that of the gospel be willing to leave our house, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, and land (Mark 10:29).
As Moses, we may have to deny ourselves a place of prominence and importance according to the standards of this world. Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24). By faith Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). Buying the truth will certainly mean that according to the standards of the world we will be of little importance.
Because we are busy buying the truth we will have little time for the pleasures of this world. Faithfully attending worship services, Bible studies, church functions, living in fellowship with one’s family and fellow saints, and laboring faithfully so that one might support the causes of the kingdom leaves little time or money for “living it up” in the world. Yet, as those who possess the truth, we know that we have Christ, and having Christ, we have all things.
Next time, Lord willing, we will continue to examine how we are to “buy” the truth and we will see how we are forbidden to “sell” the truth. Also, we will point out God’s blessing upon our buying the truth and the painful consequences of selling it.