As a recent convert and young missionary in 1840s Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of Shakespeare!), John Jaques pondered a scene from the life of Christ:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered him, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?”
Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
Pilate therefore said unto him, “Art thou a king then?” Jesus answered, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Pilate saith unto him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, “I find in him no fault at all.”
John 18:33-38 KJV
In particular, Jaques was struck by Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”
Certainly it doesn’t seem that Pilate was searching for an answer when he asked it; to the contrary, it seems more likely that he asked such a question with weary cynicism. Perhaps he had come to believe that absolute truth does exist somewhere out there, but that it is impossible for anyone to come to know it.
In a CES devotional, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf says of these questions and concerns,
We simply don’t know all things—we can’t see everything. What may seem contradictory now may be perfectly understandable as we search for and receive more trustworthy information. Because we see through a glass darkly, we have to trust the Lord, who sees all things clearly.
Yes, our world is full of confusion. But eventually all of our questions will be answered. All of our doubts will be replaced by certainty. And that is because there is one source of truth that is complete, correct, and incorruptible. That source is our infinitely wise and all-knowing Heavenly Father. He knows truth as it was, as it is, and as it yet will be. “He comprehendeth all things, … and he is above all things, … and all things are by him, and of him.”
Our loving Heavenly Father offers His truth to us, His mortal children.
Now, what is this truth?
It is His gospel. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” […]
But how can we know that this “truth” is different from any other? How can we trust this “truth”?
The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve us from the responsibility to know for ourselves. This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation—and it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth.
Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth. […]
We seek for truth wherever we may find it. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Mormonism is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or … being … prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.”
Yes, we do have the fulness of the everlasting gospel, but that does not mean that we know everything. In fact, one principle of the restored gospel is our belief that God “will yet reveal many great and important things.”
The great miracle of the Restoration was not just that it corrected false ideas and corrupt doctrines—though it certainly did that—but that it flung open the curtains of heaven and initiated a steady downpour of new light and knowledge that has continued to this day.
So we continually seek truth from all good books and other wholesome sources. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” In this manner we can resist the deceit of the evil one. In this manner we learn the truth “precept upon precept; line upon line.” And we will learn that intelligence cleaves unto intelligence, and wisdom receives wisdom, and truth embraces truth. […]
Just think about it. You actually have a powerful companion and trustworthy guide in this ongoing search for truth. Who is it? It is the Holy Ghost. Our Heavenly Father knew how difficult it would be for us to sift through all the competing noise and discover truth during our mortality. He knew we would see only a portion of the truth, and He knew that Satan would try to deceive us. So He gave us the heavenly gift of the Holy Ghost to illuminate our minds, teach us, and testify to us of the truth.
It was with understanding of these truths that John Jaques, our missionary friend in Stratford-upon-Avon, composed the poem entitled, “Truth”.
Oh say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.
Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.
The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.
Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.
The text of this poem became a highly-prized testimony for many Latter-day Saints. It was included in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price, and although it was not canonized, it was later set to music by one of Jaques’ Scottish converts, Ellen Knowles Melling. Our current hymnbook includes this hymn in two arrangements.
For variety, here’s another one I like for its delightful oldtimey feel.
If you’d like to read more about John Jaques, here’s an article about him in the July 1910 issue of The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine. He sounded like a fascinating personality. Enjoy.
Jenna Dilts is a mother of three pre-school-aged children. Last year she led a discussion of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles on the AO forum. You can find her blogging at To Work Wonders, where she is currently working through AO year 1 for herself.