How is one to know that a thing is true? By doing what you know to be true, and calling nothing true until you see it to be true; by shutting your mouth until the truth opens it. “But if I do not take the words attributed to him by the evangelists for the certain, absolute, very words of the Master, how am I to know that they represent his truth?” By seeing in them what corresponds to the plainest truth he speaks, and commends itself to the power that is working in you to make of you a true man; by their appeal to your power of judging what is true; by their rousing of your conscience. If they do not seem to you true, either they are not the words of the Master, or you are not true enough to understand them. Be certain of this, that if any words that are his do not show their truth to you, you have not received his message in them; they are not yet to you the word of God. They may be the nearest to the truth that words can come; they may have served to bring many into contact with the heart of God; but for you they remain as yet sealed. If yours be a true heart, it will revere them because of the probability that they are words with the meaning of the Master behind them. If you wait, your ignorance will not hurt you; if you presume to reason from them, you are a blind man disputing what you never saw. Humble mistake will not hurt us: the truth is there, and the Lord will see that we come to know it. The error of a true heart will not be allowed to ruin it. Certainly that heart would not have mistaken the truth except for the untruth yet remaining in it; but he who casts out devils will cast out that devil as well.
by Stephen Carney
MacDonald writes, “How is one to know that a thing is true? By doing what you know to be true, and calling nothing true until you see it to be true...Humble mistake will not hurt us; the truth is there, and the Lord will see that we come to know it.” These words parallel a favorite passage of MacDonald's from John 7:17, "If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” Actually putting into practice the words of Christ is the only true way of knowing a thing to be true. Jesus didn't speak his words for people to admire his wordsmithing or for us to be impressed with the genius of his mind; rather, he wrote these words as a revelation of his Father's will to us in order for us to attempt to do that will.
It is in the attempting of God's will that we discover how much of our will is overriding his. Lewis puts this way, “I said just now that the question of Faith in this sense arises after a man has tried his level best to practice the Christian virtues, and found that he fails, and seen that even if he could he would only be giving back to God what was already God's own. In other words, he discovers his bankruptcy.” This is the first truth that we have to learn, and can only be learned in our feeble attempts at acting upon the words of Jesus. We must learn that we are poor sinners after all, and all our efforts reveal this truth. Soon we begin to see how much help we truly need from him who is saving us from ourselves. Have you ever tried to do anything Jesus has said? And if you have, did you find that it didn't work out the way you hoped or maybe it even blew up in your face? We must learn not to act on our own will or efforts, but ask for Christ to come alongside of us and work in and through us to accomplish his purpose. We must stay out of the way of the work of the Holy Spirit even as he is at work in us. This is one of the early lessons we must learn and only by attempting the will of God will we ever really learn truth and especially the Truth.
Failure in the attempt is not a reason to retreat from doing the Father's will, but rather the method of learning in which the Father is teaching us his will and purpose in us. Sometimes the danger is in succeeding a little bit without Jesus' help. We begin to think that our next attempt will go better, and soon we can do whatever we need without the reliance upon the Spirit. This is a great mistake. I remind you that Jesus said, “The Son of Man can do nothing of His own self, but whatever He sees the Father doing this He does in like manner.” What made Jesus the perfect man was that he never acted on his own initiative, and what makes us such perfect sinners is that we almost always do. Thus our mistakes or failures teach us that we must abandon our way for his. This, of course, is never easy, as there are traps everywhere. It is easy to fall back into our old patterns and forget the hard lessons we have learned. Still, we must keep trying and working. Falling back into the old ways will not last long, as soon we will come to our emptiness again and be confronted with our failure. God will be there as well, showing us how pointless it is when we work without him. It will all bring us to a crisis moment when we say to Christ, “You must do this, because I can't.” In that moment we will begin to embark upon the sacred ground of doing his will.
I want to say something further: many ask, “Tell me how to know God's will and I will do it.” The problem is, we cannot know his will when we begin it. We are taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” That is not knowing his will, but willing his will. We eventually come to understand that God is accomplishing his purposes with or without us, his will is being done. But we begin by willing it to be done in our lives, in our hearts first. Once we wish for his will to be done in us, then he comes to our aid. He does not wish for us to figure it out ahead of time, but simply to will it and soon our wills will what he wills. Then we shall soon attempt the least little thing he has asked of us, a cup of cold water in his name or feeding the hungry and then we will begin to understand. We then come to know the teaching by experience and not simply by book knowledge. We will then be his disciples.