“A Razor’s Edge” – Professor John Murray

“At the point of divergence the difference between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, is not a chasm but a razor’s edge” (John Murray – from Chapter VI of his book, Principles of Conduct, 1957).

Here is more from Murray:

John Murray

One of the most pertinent incidents in the Scripture is the instruction received by Samuel from the Lord himself on the occasion of the anointing of David as king. “Fill thy horn with oil, and go; I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons” (1 Samuel 16:1). Samuel feared the consequences if Saul heard of this. “How can I go? if Saul hear it he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:2). Without question here is divine authorization for concealment by means of a statement other than that which would have disclosed the main purpose of Samuel’s visit to Jesse. We may call this evasion, if we will. But, in any case, there is suppression of the most important facts relevant to Samuel’s mission. We do not know if direct speech to Saul himself was intended or necessary, but, if so, there was the divine sanction for the concealment. The question is: Was untruth involved? There are three considerations that must be borne in mind.

(1) Samuel carried into effect what the Lord asked him to say and do. “And Samuel did that which the Lord spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice” (1 Samuel 16:4, 5). Hence Samuel was authorized to say nothing more than what he actually did say and perform. He did not speak what was contrary to fact. There was no untruth in what the Lord authorized. If it is objected that this is a fine-spun distinction akin to sophistry and quibbling, we must take note that these are precisely the facts which the Scripture itself is meticulously, almost repetitiously, careful to set before us. It is an indisputable fact that what Samuel was told to say was strictly in accord with the facts which followed and there is surely purpose in the explicitness of the narrative to this effect. We are compelled to take account of the agreement between statement and fact. It is looseness to ignore this consideration.

(2) This incident makes clear that it is proper under certain circumstances to conceal or withhold part of the truth. Saul had no right to know the whole purpose of Samuel’s mission to Jesse nor was Samuel under obligation to disclose it. Concealment was not lying.

(3) This instance gives us no warrant whatsoever for maintaining that in concealing the truth we may affirm untruth. It is the eloquent lesson of this incident, borne out by the plain facts referred to above, that what was affirmed was itself strictly true. This passage is perhaps unique in the Scripture because there is the explicit authorization of the Lord as to the method of concealment. It is just for that reason that the precise conditions are to be observed; there is no untruth involved. It is necessary to guard jealously the distinction between partial truth and untruth. If we are not hospitable to this distinction it may well be that we are not sensitive to the ethic of Scripture and the demands of truth. After all, this is not a fine distinction; it is a rather broad distinction. But if we wish to call it a fine distinction, we must remember that the biblical ethic is built upon fine distinctions. At the point of divergence the difference between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, is not a chasm but a razor’s edge. And if we do not appreciate this fact then certainly we are not sensitive to the biblical ethic.