1 Thessalonians 5:21

This verse should be read in connection with the preceding passage. There we find a caution against quenching the Spirit and despising prophesyings by a narrow, cold, or prejudiced refusal to listen to the utterances of our fellow-Christians. Here we have a warning in the other direction, that we may guard against accepting every saying which professes to be the outcome of spiritual influences. We must try the spirits and accept each only as its claim is proven. But the universal character of the verse before us gives it a more general application to all teaching.

I. ST. PAUL RECOGNIZES THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT. This fundamental principle of Protestantism is Pauline. The apostle is not writing to doctors of divinity or authorized teachers; he is addressing the whole Church (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1). To the general congregation of Christians he says, "Prove all things." The advice was in accordance with his own practice. He speaks of himself and his colleagues - "by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2). Contrast the Koran with the New Testament. Mohammed dogmatizes; St. Paul reasons. We cannot shelter ourselves in error under the aegis of high authority. St. Paul abandoned with contempt the errors which he cultivated while he sat at the feet of Gamaliel. It is our duty as well as our right to have independent personal convictions.

II. THE REQUIREMENT OF INQUIRY IS UNIVERSAL. "All things." We must take nothing for granted. Some of the surest convictions of one age are absolutely repudiated by another age. This statement becomes softened in practice by the ease and unconsciousness with which many things may be proved to us. We have not to carry on elaborate, original inquiries to establish every point of our belief. There are beliefs which are best proved without any such inquiry. But all must be proved. The reason is twofold.

1. Many specious delusions threaten to deceive us. There have been false prophets flattering the people with smooth words since the days of Jeremiah's opponents. Truth and error are mixed. Forged coins closely resemble good sovereigns. Care must be taken to sift the chaff from the wheat.

2. Truth is most valuable to us when we have tested and proved it for ourselves. Then we understand it most clearly, believe it most heartily, and value it most highly. The few islands of truth for which a man has labored and fought through seas of difficulty are more precious to him than vast continents of truth which he inherits at second hand.

III. THE METHOD OF INQUIRY MUST BE EXPERIMENTAL. This is implied by the word "prove," which means test, and is used of the assaying of precious metals. High it priori argument is a dangerous guide. The more tedious and less pretentious methods of observation and experiment, are safer. To this method Christ referred when, speaking of the various teachers who should arise, he said, "By their fruits ye shall know them." This does not mean that we are to taste the fruits, i.e. to adopt every system in order to discover its merits. We can observe its working in others. Therefore the first requisite in regard to any new teaching is patience. Give it time to reveal itself by its fruits, and do not pass a hasty judgment upon it. If you do not wait for the harvest, you may eel out wheat with tares. Next, careful inquiry is to be made; ideas and their fruits are to be tested. But two cautions should he borne in mind.

1. The experience and testimony of other people is evidence. We may not accept what any say simply on the authority of their official position. We who do not believe in the Pope of Rome would be very foolish if we adopted a little private pope of our own creation. But the authority of knowledge, experience, and ability is weight in evidence.

2. We must not assume that nothing is true but what we can prove. To do this is to dethrone the pope only to set up our own infallibility.

IV. THE END OF INQUIRY IS TO DISCOVER AND TO HOLD TO WHAT IS GOOD. It is not reasonable, nor happy, nor healthy to live in a permanent condition of unsettled conviction. It is useless to inquire at all if our inquiry is not to lead us to some decisive issue. When we have arrived at a truth, we need not repeat the process of seeking for it over and over again. Having proved certain things to be good, we may rest satisfied with the result - always preserving an open mind for new light, for it is a great mistake to confound an open mind with an empty mind.

1. The result of inquiry should be to discover what is good. The good is more important than the beautiful, the pleasant, the convenient, the striking, and the novel.

2. When the good is discovered it should be held firmly. Then the seeker after light is to become the guardian and champion of truth. - W.F.A.

Prove all things: hold fast that which is good

1. Not every religion, nor even every section of Christianity. Some say, "Do not inquire; submit implicitly to the teachings of your Church." Truth does not do this; it courts examination because it can afford it.(1) There are difficulties in our faith, but they yield before a clear mind, patient study and prayer, and a correct life. There are many things above reason, but reason proves that it is reasonable to believe them.(2) Surely this is what religion ought to be. Has God given us our mental faculties for nothing? You are responsible for your beliefs, and while before God we shut our mouths; yet before men we are bound to ask does God say it? I must have faith, but it must be an intelligent and manly faith, else my religion will be unworthy a creature so highly endowed.

2. "Prove" refers to the process of testing coin whether genuine or counterfeit. "Lest by any means I should become a castaway," i.e., as a piece of money that could not bear the test, "Reprobate silver." So are you to prove whatever is presented to you, as carrying the mark of the King of kings, therefore asserting a Divine claim upon you, whether it be true or a forgery.

II. WHAT IS THE TOUCHSTONE BY WHICH WE ARE TO GAUGE THE REAL AND THE FALSE? What is that spiritual alchemy which shall always make the base to precipitate to the bottom, and the right and holy to come up to the surface, separate and clear?

1. The first criterion of religious truth is personal experience, "Come and see;" have you come?(1) God will give everything He has promised to simple, earnest, persevering prayer. Have you proved this?(2) When a man turns to God in penitence and faith he is forgiven. Have you done this?(3) God speaks of "a peace which passeth understanding." Have you put yourself in the way to get an experimental proof whether there is such a peace or not.(4) So with happiness, wisdom, doctrine. Is it not shere madness to refuse such gold and say "I will not test it." If it do not turn out what it professes to be, then is the time to reject it.

2. The grace of common sense and moral perception which God has given us. These, of course, are vitiated by wilful sin, and they will lead us wrong. But if a man will only be careful to have a good conscience, lay open his heart to the influences of the Spirit, and honour and obey them when they come, he will not make any great mistake.

3. God's Word is the measuring line of all moral truth. If we give up that ultimate appeal there is no resting place for the mind. This does not mean taking solitary verses which in the Bible as elsewhere may be made to prove anything you like. You must gather the general intention of the mind of God by study and prayer, dealing with the proportions of truth.

4. Above the Bible is Christ, the living Word. Everything is to be tested by Him.

(1)Doctrine — where does it place Him?

(2)Promise — does He seal it?

(3)Duty — does He command it?

(4)Pleasure — does He sanction it?

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

We see Paul's character here. He had been speaking with his wonted fervour; but he sees nothing inconsistent in this with the soundest, calmest reasoning.

I. THE FIRST DUTY HE URGES — "Prove all things." Be enthusiastic; but test, try, examine well. Courses of sin need no testing. The apostle speaks of what seems good, wise, honourable.

1. At times indolence tempts to indifference. This is the greatest danger of our age; but it is palsy too the mind, and death to the soul.

2. Some are afraid to think. But remember the greatest have stood firm; and the doubts of our age are old and dry albeit they may seem new and fresh.

III. THE SECOND DUTY THE APOSTLE URGES — "Hold fast that which is good."

1. Hold fast what we have proved for ourselves to be true and good. Immature convictions are generally abandoned, and wisely so.

2. But before we have had time and power to test, there is something good to grip. Even heathen know the great foundations of the fitting, the beautiful, and the true. We are not heathen born; therefore we must not cast off all that we have learned at our mother's knee for the sneers of half-read women and the cavils of daring men, but the rather "be valiant for the truth."

(Bp. E. H. Bickersteth.)


1. Ourselves. The work of examination should begin at home — our state before God, our graces, our practice.

2. Others — friends (Proverbs 25:19), candidates for Christian communion, ministers.

3. Doctrines — are they simply sanctioned by councils or by God? Do they minister to pride of intellect, or humbleness of heart.

4. Actions. Do we walk after the Spirit or after the flesh? Do we keep the ordinances of God or of men (Proverbs 14:12)?

II. BY WHAT RULES. Not by outward appearance: this was what Eve did, and what Samuel was in danger of doing. But —

1. By fruits. This applies to both persons and doctrines, and is a test ordained by Christ.

2. The examples of good and wise men in so far as they follow Christ the supreme example.

3. The Divine Word: Search the Scriptures.

4. Our own experience corroborated by the word of truth. "He that believeth hath the witness in himself."

(B. Beddome, M. A.)

The last clause of this verse is very commonly taken to mean, "Abstain from everything which looks like evil, from everything which a bystander would suspect to be evil." That St. Paul can never have meant his exhortation to bear the sense which we have forced upon it, a moment's thought will convince you. "Judge not," says our Lord, "according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." That passage cannot affect the construing of our text, for the word in St. John is ὁψις, not εἶδος. But it directly affects the question, whether we are to judge of evil by the mere look or semblance; for remember the occasion which called forth the precept of Christ. He had healed a sick man on the Sabbath day. This act had the appearance of evil. It appeared evil, not only to the accidental bystanders, but to the religious guides of the Jewish people. How carefully these parts of His conduct are recorded by the Evangelists! How evidently they think that, if they were blotted out of His life, He would not have perfectly revealed His Father, or been a complete pattern to His disciples! Do you suppose he would have taught his Thessalonian disciples that these conspicuous lines in the character of Christ were not to be copied, but to be treated as dangerous? But did not St. Paul follow most strictly the steps of his Master, did he not depart altogether from the maxim which has been ascribed to himself, when he appeared in the eyes of the Jews, converted and unconverted, perhaps of apostles, to be violating sacred customs, and trampling upon the covenant of his fathers? To which doctrine did he conform, when he ate openly with the Gentiles in the presence of Peter and Barnabas, who were striving to keep up what every Jew must have considered a graceful, if not necessary, recognition of the difference between the chosen people and all others? How did he avoid the mere look of evil, when he left the impression upon the minds of his countrymen that he was overthrowing the righteousness of the Law, by preaching the righteousness of Faith? The three clauses, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good; abstain from all appearance of evil," are not associated by accident. Every person who has paid the least attention to St Paul's style will perceive how clearly the relation between them is indicated by the antithetical words κατέχετε ἀπέχεσθε. "Hold on to the good, hold off from every form of evil." And it is clear that the thought which determines the force of both these clauses — the thought which is uppermost in the writer's mind — is that which is expressed by the word "prove," — δοκιμάζετε. Now that word and its cognate substantive, whether it refers to things or to persons, to the soundness of money, or to the qualifications for citizenship, always denotes a process of testing. So, then, according to the popular interpretation of the text, St. Paul would say, in the first clause; "Be not content with the mere semblance of anything you have to do with. Look into it; find out the good of it, hold to that." And he would say in a second and corresponding clause, "Be always afraid of semblances. The moment anything looks like evil, fly from it. Throw away your tests and proofs; simply hold off from that which seems evil to you or to the people about you." This is not an antithesis, but a contradiction.

I. He tells us first, to PROVE OR TEST all things. I do not know a more honourable watchword to inscribe upon our banners than this of prove all things, if only we know what it signifies, and how St. Paul used it. Assuredly he did not understand it, as some of us do, "Bring all things to the standard of your private judgment; see whether they accord with that; only hold fast that which does." If there is not that which is true absolutely — true for all men — search and inquiry are very fruitless; we had better lay them aside. If my judgment is to be the measure of all things that I see and converse with, if I am at liberty to use it as such a measure, if there is no higher measure to which I can bring it, that it may be deepened and expanded, it is certain to become narrower and feebler every day. Whereas, if I continually acknowledge the presence of a Light which is greater than any organ of mine can take in, but yet with which I am intented to hold communion, I shall desire that that Light may enter more and more into me, to purify my vision and enlarge its capacities. I shall desire to see all things in this Light. And it will so distinguish between what is fantastic and what is real, between the shows of things and their substance, that it will not be possible for me to accept one for the other, either in obedience to my own natural taste and inclination, or at the bidding of any earthly guides and authorities whatsoever.

II. Next, St. Paul tells us to prove ALL THINGS. He does not say, "Prove or test certain doctrines which are submitted to you;" though those are of course not excluded. He assumes that everything whatsoever with which we come into contact — the ordinary notions and maxims of society, the habits and traditions of the literary, or philosophical, or professional, or religious circle in which we are moving, the words we speak, the common everyday experiences of life — all need sifting and testing, that we may know what there is of good in them. Yes, believe that the good is in all things, in those that you have made little account of, in those that you have been taught by others to hate, in those which you have learnt to hate yourself. Do not shrink from confessing that there is and must be a goodness, a beauty at the bottom of them all, else they would not have continued to exist. Do not be afraid of inquiring for it lest you should fall in love with the evil and ugliness which are also in them.

III. St. Paul goes on, "HOLD FAST THE GOOD." When you have perceived it, detected it, anywhere, then cleave to it, hug it, swear that you will not let it go. Be sure that what you want is the substantial good; the beauty in which is no flaw. Having that, you are sure you have what God in His infinite love desires that you should have; you have what the Son of God took your nature and died upon the cross that you might have; you have what the Spirit of God is stirring you and all creatures to sigh and groan that you may have. Not that it is yours, in any sense which can enable you to say to a neighbour, "It is not thine." It is yours by faith; it is yours because it is God's, and He invites you to believe Him and trust Him, and so to inherit His own righteousness and truth and blessedness. It is yours because it is not in your own keeping, because you are lifted out of yourself that you may enjoy it.

IV. And so we come at last to the word with which I began, "ABSTAIN," or "KEEP YOURSELVES FROM EVERY FORM OR APPEARANCE THAT IS EVIL." You have seen the good; you have grasped it; now have nothing to do with whatever is not that, with whatever counterfeits it. There will be every variety of evil shapes, forms, appearances; but if you have learnt to look below, to try and test the heart of things, you will not be misled by this variety. You will detect the evil, the lie, under each new disguise, and you will be able to stand aloof from it; to shun the contact of it. Just so far as the truth has become precious and familiar to yon, this likeness, this double, this mockery, will be loathed and kept at a distance. But I conceive, brethren, that the peril of our being vanquished by some of its manifold forms will be infinitely increased, if we adopt that opinion which has gained such strength from the supposed authority of St. Paul. To believe that we must fly from that which people think evil, from everything which seems evil to ourselves at the first glance, is to become a prey of evil in its worst sense. All reformation, in every age, has been retarded by this doctrine, all corruptions have been sanctified by it. And yet it has not restrained a single rash reformer; it has not preserved a single truth from outrage. The conscience of men cannot he bound by a rule, which must be transgressed before a single brave act can be done, a single right principle asserted. These are instances — your own experience may supply a hundred similar — where this maxim proves utterly ineffectual to accomplish its own ends. For every vulgar worldly argument which puts on a religious dress, and affects an authority that does not belong to it, must prove feeble and worthless. The only consequence of resorting to it is, that you benumb the moral sense, that you degrade the hearts of those whom you bring under its influence. They will plead it for deserting a friend, for refusing to maintain an unpopular cause; they will forget it the moment it interferes with any passion or propensity of their own.

(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)


1. Prove, i.e., inquire into and decide upon after examination. Prove as gold and silver are tried, and as the strength of building materials are tested. Haste in reception or rejection are forbidden. The standards of proof are —(1) The Holy Scriptures. The Bereans were "more noble," etc. — there is something contemptible in a man refusing to look at statements put before him as though it were impossible for him to make a mistake; teachableness is noble.(2) Experience: "What fruit had ye," etc. "Unto you that believe He is precious."(3) Observation: "Ye shall know them by their fruits."(4) The spiritual and religious faculty sanctified by the Holy Ghost: "He that is spiritual judgeth all things." "Ye have an unction," etc.

2. Hold fast against indolence, prejudice, pride, perplexity, evil inclinations, influence of irreligious men, winds of doctrine, false teaching and the fallible teaching of Christ's best friends.


1. Prove all things — opinions, doctrines, requirements, customs, professions, characters, modes of working.(1) All ancient things. Things are not better for being old. Sin is old.(2) New things. A thing is not wise or adapted to the times because new. It may be a new folly.(3) Common things. Things are not right because generally acceptable.(4) Singular things.(5) Attractive things which have too often misled our fallen nature — specious doctrines which have pandered to our pride.(6) Repulsive things — Christ, e.g., may put in our path a cross, which it is better for me to bear than to wear a crown.

2. Hold fast the good. Not, of course, what is evil. If what is doubtful comes into your hand let it lie there, but do not close your fingers over it until you have proved it; then hold it fast, whether it be opinion and doctrine, custom and practise, communion and friendship, that which your mind, faith, love, hope embraces — anything that is good.

3. The giving heed to this requirement is of great importance. Here it is in the statute Book, and in vain do we call Christ Master unless we do what He bids us.(1) If we receive error we cumber our minds with what is profitless, deceive ourselves, impair bur spiritual life, and reject the truth.(2) If we admit an evil custom, or have fellowship with evil-doers, we expose ourselves to corruption; and by rejecting Christian ordinances and fellowships, we deprive ourselves of means of grace.

4. These are times when the text is likely to be overlooked. In days of church slumber, nothing is proved; in days of morbid wakefulness, nothing is held fast. And what is true of the Church is true of the individual.

5. In cherishing obedience to the text, we must —(1) In proving all things avoid —

(a)seeking for a kind of evidence God does not give.

(b)Encouraging a restless and captious spirit.

(c)Entertaining foolish questions which gender strifes.

(d)Misplacing the tests with which God has favoured us. The Bible is the supreme standard.(2) In holding fast the good, we must avoid prejudice, obstinacy, and pertinacity upon doubtful matters. Conclusion: Take this yoke of Christ on you. No one can bear it for you, neither Church nor individual, and for this you will be held responsible at the Judgment seat of Christ.

(S. Martin.)


1. What are those good things which we have to hold fast.

(1)The Gospel and the way of salvation by Christ.

(2)That truth, in particular, which relates to the person and work of Christ (Revelation 3:8).

(3)The good treasure lodged in our hearts or placed in our hands.

(4)Our spiritual comforts and whatever contributes to the peace and purity of our minds.

(5)A line of conduct consistent with the Word of God.

(6)An open profession of religion.

2. How are we to hold them fast. It supposes —

(1)That our judgment concerning them is fixed.

(2)That we retain them in our memory (1 Corinthians 15:2; 2 Peter 1:15).

(3)A high esteem and warm affection.

(4)Resistance to all opposition.


1. The honour of God requires that we should hold fast what He has revealed.

2. The things we are required to hold fast are good in themselves.

3. If we part with the good we shall retain the evil, and cannot easily recover what we have lost.

4. If we disobey, what account shall we give another day? Hence we learn —

(1)That nothing but true religion will stand its ground.

(2)That perseverance in the way of truth and holiness is necessary to eternal happiness (Hebrews 10:38).

(B. Beddome, M. A.)

There are many occasions when the soul feels that it has come to a crisis. It may be compared to the feeling of William Tell when he was taking aim at the apple. Everything depends on the action of the next moment. It is to decide for God or the devil, for heaven or hell. We all need a holdfast at such critical times. I will mention two.

I. THERE IS A GOD. Unless we can hold on to that, life becomes hard and vexatious, and we are like people floundering on ice, but when our heavenly Father is a fact to us, life loses its bitterness and death cannot sting. God cannot be proved to any one. Every man must prove Him for himself. You cannot prove colour to a blind man, to know it he must see. If you seek God with the proper faculties, you will find and know Him.

1. One of the links in this holdfast is that God is perfect. You cannot trust men fully because of their imperfections, but you can fully trust God because He is all-wise, all-powerful. He does not learn by experience; what He does cannot be improved.

2. Another link is that God is loving. The sweetest and most self-sacrificing love this side of heaven is not in the least degree comparable to it. It was not exhausted on Calvary. It is treasured up for you.

3. It is possible for every man to find God. You are nearer to Him than you fancy. Open the door of your faith and He will enter in.

II. THE TRUE MOTIVE OF RIGHT ACTION IS LOVE TO GOD AND MAN. When men act on this they cannot go wrong. Do true children need rules and regulations to tell them how to behave towards parents and brothers? If this law ruled all other laws would he needless. Hold then fast to this in —

1. Business perplexities.

2. Conflicting duties.

3. Fierce temptations.

4. Death.

(W. Birch.)

Steadfastness is a prime virtue. "Be sure you are right, and then hold on though the heavens fall." "Prove all things," and adhere to the "good," and surrender it only with life. Hold fast —

I. TO YOUR FAITH. It is a lie of the devil that "it matters not what a man believes." As he believes so is he. Throw away or tamper with your faith in the inspiration and Divine authority of the Scriptures, and you are sure to go astray and perish in your unbelief.

II. TO YOUR INTEGRITY. To let go one particle of it — to compromise in the least with wrong — endangers your soul, and is sure to forfeit your peace of mind and your Christian standing and influence.

III. TO YOUR PROFESSION. Cleave to the Church which Christ purchased with His blood. Honour and magnify its mission. Sustain and advance its interests by all the means and influence which God has given you.

IV. TO CHRISTIAN EFFORT in behalf of souls. "Be not weary in well-doing." Guard against "an evil heart of unbelief." Do not doubt "the promises" — they are all "yea and amen in Christ Jesus." The night of fear and struggle and waiting may be long and dark, but the morning will come to gladden you, if, like Jacob, you hold on.

V. TO PRAYER. Be sure you get hold of the everlasting arm, and then not let go. Persevere in the face of a thousand obstacles. Let not God go till He bless. Be not denied. Turn rebuke and seeming denial into fresh pleas, as did the Syro-Phoenicia woman. The answer, the blessing, is sure, when God gives the grace of perseverance. To "hold fast" is to overcome.

VI. "Hold fast" TO HEAVEN. Make it the pole star of life. Never lose sight of it, no, not for an hour. Live daily "as seeing the invisible."

(L. O. Thompson.)

I would apply the text to the religion of Jesus Christ and assert that it is good, and because good that you are to hold it fast. By this is not meant theology, which is very good as science and art, but is not life. Nor do we mean imposing rites, splendid churches which are very beautiful and helpful to the weak, but are not the religion of Jesus Christ. This is —

I. FAITH AS OPPOSED TO INFIDELITY — faith in God our Father, in the Lord Jesus who died for us, in the spiritual nature of man, in the spirit world.

1. This faith harmonizes with our natural instincts which lead us to feel that all that exists is not present to the bodily senses, that somewhere inside the temple of the universe is a holy of holies filled with a glory that the eye of flesh cannot behold, and our desire is to enter that inner temple, and behold what it is. A little bird in a London cellar knows instinctively that there is an outer world, although he has never been there, and he is brave enough in his gloomy place to make some attempts at singing and flying.

2. Infidelity says there is nothing to know — no God, etc. Matter is all. Well, a mole might say there is no sun, no bright worlds; yet these do exist, and if the mole would only come out of his hole he could catch some rays of glory. Let men cease then from burrowing in the earth. They will never find heaven there. Let them follow their deepest instincts and highest aspirations and they will reach the throne of God, and their first act will be to worship Him.

3. In this faith we can rest and find comfort, but the bed of infidelity is too short for my soul to stretch itself upon.

II. HOLINESS AS OPPOSED TO SIN — all possible virtues and graces, all things true, good, beautiful.

1. The religion of Christ demands holiness, "Be ye holy." "Be ye perfect." In this demand we see the wonderful possibilities of the soul. It is said that we have descended from very humble ancestors. Then there must be in our nature some marvellous energy, for the development has been truly wonderful. I can turn my face upward, build steamers that can cross the ocean against the storm, etc., more, I can pass within the veil and lay my hand on that of the Father, and say, "Thy will be done." The artist takes the rough block of marble and transforms it into a majestic statue, and everybody speaks of his genius. Yes, but something must be said for the marble that has the power of being transformed. Very wonderful is the work of the Divine Artist upon the soul, but something must be said for the soul that is capable of being changed into His image, and it is nothing less than this that our religion demands of it.

2. But it not only demands, it gives the sure promise of attaining holiness — the Church is to be without spot, etc. The process may be sketched. God loved us — sent His Son to die for our sins — gave His Holy Spirit to transform our nature — by and by He will take us to Himself. Is not this religion good? Ask not where it came from. Judge it on its own merits for once.


1. Selfishness, as seen in the priest and Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan, passes by suffering, and avoids the inconvenience of sympathy: as seen in Lot's choice, it takes the best, indifferent to the claims of others.

2. Christianity says, "Bear ye one another's burdens," etc. — the burdens of ignorance, disappointment, anxiety, fear. Now selfishness is hateful, and self-denial admirable by common consent. We have examples in the three hundred at Thermopylae and in the man who to save another's life imperils his own. But try and rise from these to the self-denial of Christ, "who loved us and gave Himself for us." Imitate that, and you are a Christian.


1. The natural language of despair is, "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die," and that cry arises from materialism. There is no Father to care for us; the world formed itself; man is only organized matter; there is no heaven; we are dissolved when we die as prophets, apostles, reformers, martyrs, great statesmen, teachers, poets, and our own dear ones have been. But philosophers, poets, teachers of all the religions, believed that the dead lived. It is all a dream, says the materialist. Take what pleasure you can, don't sorrow for anything, laugh at distress.

2. The gospel brings joy to the distressed and sorrowful in the present. We look through our tears at the closed grave, but see standing there One saying, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Is not our religion good? Then trust it, and don't be afraid that it is going to be overthrown. It may be captured like the ark, but it will give the Philistines more trouble than they bargain for.

(T. Jones, D. D.)

"Despise not prophesyings," i.e., preaching, the apostle has just said. Now comes the text. "Don't deify the preacher." Put what they say to the test (1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11). Congregations should listen with a desire to profit, and then carry all the preacher says to the test of holy Scripture.


1. There is such a thing as good. Philosophers have told us of a summum bonum, and common experience points in the same direction: "There be many that say, Who will show us any good?" We have not only intellects that want to be satisfied, but hearts and wills that want to be cheered and guided. We want to be peaceful while we live and when we come to die, and nothing is really good that does not help us to this end (Isaiah 55:1-3).

2. This is the end our inquiry should aim at. Mere assault on error or ridicule of folly is poor and heartless work. Sometimes it is necessary, but if this is all you attempt you may break every idol and not increase man's happiness by one atom. Paul did something more than this at Athens.

3. Here is a model for the free inquirer. Let your object be to do all the good you can. All your skill as an iconoclast will do nothing to meet the cry, "Who will show us," etc.

II. THE CHARACTER THE INQUIRY SHOULD ASSUME. Put everything to the proof. The inquiry should be —

1. Careful. This is required in chemistry and astronomy, and the man who does not carefully examine the truths of religion will make the grossest blunders.

2. Comprehensive. You ought to examine the inquirer as well as the object, the instruments he uses, and the faculties he employs. A man once gazed through a telescope at the sun, and immediately turned away in alarm, exclaiming, "There is a monster in the sun." It proved, however, only to be an insect in the telescope. So with many who glance now and then at religion. Their instruments of inquiry are not clear, and they ascribe to the shining orb what really belongs to the foul tube. What would you think of a man who had no ear for music criticizing Handel's "Messiah"? Or a man colour blind describing a garden in May? Or a prodigal judging the rules of his father's house? Do these illustrations apply? I am not saying that every free inquirer into religion is worse than other men, but that he is no better by nature. Ought he not, then, to take this into account? If I have unworthy passions I have a bias against a holy religion.

3. Free from pride, passion, sin, ambition. etc.


1. Of such a nature. Here is this Book of Truth, not hiding in darkness, but exposing itself. I tell you of —(1) A God, a great, intelligent Creator. Put it to the test. Is it not more reasonable than that there is no intelligent cause?(2) A law ordaining perfect love to God and man. Put it to the test. What would the world have been had it kept it? What is it because it has broken it?(3) A Saviour. Prove Him. Does He not commend Himself to reason and conscience?(4) Mysteries. Prove this too. Is it not reasonable that the finite can never grasp the infinite?

2. To such an end. It is "good" we want. This the Bible brings. Its revelations were not given for our amusement, but for our advantage. It gives peace with God through Christ in obedience to the law, peace in our own souls and towards men, and leads to the world of perfect peace. And now it says, "Hold it fast!" There is something rich and substantial about it. Hold it fast against the power and subtlety of the tempter.

(F. Tucker, B. A.)

I. OBJECTIONS THAT ARE TAKEN AGAINST THE EXERCISE OF THIS RIGHT. It is said that if this be granted then every individual will have his own religion.

1. Our answer to this is, such would be a consequence not of the exercise of private judgment, but of human depravity. If imperfect men had all the privileges of angels consequences would follow very different from those characterizing the history of angels, but no one would say that they were the necessary effects of the enjoyment of angelic privileges. If, then, instead of assailing the depravity of man for abusing the right of private judgment we assail that right and forbid its exercise, we are mistaking the source of the evil and not taking the proper method to prevent it.

2. Then we may ask how interdicting the right can prevent the evil consequences? Shall we issue a decree and enforce it by penalties? But that will only stop the expression, and will not interfere with the right of private judgment. The slave clad in iron fetters has still his private judgment, and with his mind, which is free, you cannot meddle.

3. But it may be affirmed that to suppress this expression is a good thing, and prevents evil. How so? This supposes an infallible instructor. How do we know that the public judgment of any body of men may not be as pernicious as the private judgment of an individual? Look at the past. Almost every heresy has at one time been protected and taught by public authority, and almost every orthodox sentiment has been put down by the same.


1. We find from Scripture that the right of private judgment in religious matters is the duty, not merely the privilege, of every individual to whom the Word of God should come.(1) This Epistle was addressed to the Church, not to any public functionary. Paul, Timothy, and Silas, inspired teachers of the mind of God, say, "Prove all things." If any say that the laity must defer to authority, the authority here says exercise your private judgment! Then what is the meaning of the general addresses to the Churches, as such, at the commencement of each Epistle, but that the minds of laymen as well as ministers should be exercised upon them?(2) When we come to Epistles addressed to individuals such as Timothy and Titus we find nothing investing them with the authority of interpreting against the private judgment of those they taught. Nay, they are commanded "in meekness to instruct those that oppose themselves," not to dictate to them on the ground of authority.(3) Then we have the doctrine that every one of us must give an account of himself to God, which implies the exercise of private judgment. How can we reconcile this with being compelled to follow the dictates of another? Shall we give an account of ourselves to God at the last whilst we are permitted to take no account of ourselves? Shall we carry mental slavery with us all the time we are in our state of probation, and in eternity only stand on our own foundation? Nay; if God tells us that every one of us must give an account then He means that we must prove all things against the day of that account.

2. The arguments derived from the powers and faculties that God has given us is no less conclusive. Why did God give us the power of judging at all? Is it possible that God would give men the exercise of public judgment for the things of time and forbid it in the affairs of eternity?


1. Searching the Scriptures. We criminate ourselves deeply if we contend for the right of private judgment and neglect to search those oracles about which alone the faculty can be engaged. What should we think of a judge who insisted on his right to pronounce judgment while ignorant of the matter on which the judgment was to be pronounced.

2. Stimulating others by teaching them the great things of God. If it be our duty to search the Scriptures it is the duty of all. It is incumbent on us, then, not only to practice, but to encourage this exercise.

3. Duly appreciating the falsehood that revelation trammels the mind. On the contrary the text breaks every mental bond.

(J. Burnet.)

This advice is always pertinent; yet there are periods in which it is specially relevant. While humanity on the whole is ever advancing, the stream at one time seems to stand still, and at another rushes on with noisy activity. When Paul wrote all was full of mental activity, religious conflict, political tumult, and the first century repeats itself in the nineteenth. Our age has three characteristics which bear on the interests of religion.

1. Intellect is all alive, more so perhaps than at any other period. This is the result —(1) Of those general laws by which the social progress of our race is governed.(2) Of our refined civilization, which by ever becoming more complicated is continually taxing the human mind.(3) Of the stimulus of advancing education, which begets emulation, and raises continually higher the standard of necessary acquirement. Hence —

2. The age is one of mental freedom. The mind is goaded by internal cravings and external excitements. It goes forth to explore all regions, and will not be stopped by authority or opposition. The right of private judgment is conceded, and is exercised without scruple. Hence —

3. A clamorous war of opinion. The number of sects grows portentously. New opinions are started on almost every subject. All extremes of views on religion are zealously and ably advocated. If we be men and not children we cannot be unconcerned about these controversies, but don't be alarmed, "Prove all things," etc. These words involve the doctrines of —

(1)Individual responsibility for religious faith and practice.

(2)Individual duty and right of private judgment.


1. Candid inquiry. The disposition to know what others think is, when moderately possessed, an admirable trait of character. Some ensconce themselves within the limits of their hereditary creed, and listen with anger to opposing opinions deaf to all argument. These intellectual pigmies have in all ages proved a stumbling block to educated men, and assumed a position unwarranted by Christianity as the text shows. The gospel as an innovation, courts the investigation that it has never scrupled to exercise, and aims at inspiring in its disciples the love of truth as truth.

2. Patient examination. Be not like the Athenians, who spent their whole time in hearkening to some new thing; but spend much of it in sifting the new things you hear. Neither novelty nor authority can supply the place of argument.

3. Wise and decisive selection. The text supposes that when all things are proved, some will be accepted, which are to be held fast. Some are ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth, attempting an easy neutrality which speedily turns into treason against Christ. This discrimination between the good and the bad supposes the possession of a touchstone. Primarily man's reason is the touchstone. There are propositions which no man can accept. We can no more believe in the incredible than see the invisible. The Word of God is, of course, the final appeal, but not by superseding reason — only by assisting it. Reason has first to decide on the credentials of Revelation, and then to be consulted as to its contents. Reason, then, following the Word of God is to be the criterion by which we are to "prove all things."

II. THE CONSERVATIVE ELEMENT: "Hold fast," etc. Which assumes —

1. That truth is attainable. Some deny this. Let Christian men beware of this perilous frame of mind which leads inevitably to selfish misanthropy or unprincipled sensualism. A free thinker is frequently a man who does not think at all, but considers all things as not worth thinking about. Believe what all wise and good men have believed and proved, that there is such a thing as fixed truth, and having found it —

2. Hold it fast, without fickleness or fear. Having made up your mind, after due deliberation, adhere to your decision, and make use of it for further acquisition; not refuse to hear anything more about it, but be not unsettled without fresh and weighty argument. Don't keep going over the old ground. This is the only means of attaining and retaining personal peace, and manliness of Spirit.

(T. G. Horton.)

I. A VAST REALM FOR INQUIRY: "Prove all things." This implies —

1. Freedom of thought. Go into all churches and systems, there is good everywhere: find it out. Confine not your mind to your own narrow creed or church.

2. A test of truth. This test is threefold —(1) Results: "By their fruits shall ye know them."(2) The Spirit of Christ. Whatever agrees not with His free, righteous and loving Spirit must be rejected.(3) Conscience: "Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?"

II. A SPECIFIC OBJECT TO ATTAIN: "Hold fast." It is the good you want. What is the good? The "truth as it is in Jesus," a living, beautiful, soul transporting reality. Get this and then hold it fast. There is a danger of losing it; it is worth holding; it is more precious than worlds, it is the pearl of great price — the heaven of souls.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Let me caution you against putting off making up your mind about this Book. Ever since 1772 there has been great discussion as to who was the author of Junius's Letters, those letters so full of sarcasm, and vituperation, and power. The whole English nation was stirred up with them. More than a hundred volumes have been written to discuss that question, who was Junius? who wrote Junius's Letters? Well, it is an interesting question to discuss; but still, after all, it makes but little practical difference to you and to me who Junius was, whether Sir Philip Francis, or Lord Chatham, or Home Tooke, or Horace Walpole, or Henry Grattan, or any one of the forty-four men who were seriously charged with the authorship. But it is an absorbing question, it is a practical question, it is an overwhelming question to you and to me, the authorship of this Holy Bible, whether the Lord God of heaven and earth, or a pack of dupes, scoundrels, and impostors. We cannot afford to adjourn that question a week, or a day, or an hour, any more than a sea captain can afford to say, "Well, this is a very dark night; I have really lost my bearings; there's a light out there, I don't know whether it's a lighthouse or a false light on the shore. I don't know what it is; but I'll just go to sleep, and in the morning I'll find out." In the morning the vessel might be on the rocks and the beach strewn with the white faces of the dead crew. The time for that sea captain to find out about the lighthouse is before he goes to sleep. Oh, my friends! I want you to understand that in our deliberations about this Bible we are not at calm anchorage, but we are rapidly coming towards the coast, coming with all the furnaces ablaze, coming at the rate of seventy heart throbs a minute, and I must know whether it is going to be harbour or shipwreck.

(T. De Witt Talmage.)

I have really no history but a mental history I have seen no one, known none of the celebrities of my own time intimately or at all, and have only an inaccurate memory of what I hear. All my energy was directed upon one end — to improve myself to form my own mind, to sound things thoroughly, to free myself from the bondage of unreason and the traditional prejudices which when I began first to think constituted the whole of my intellectual fabric.

(Mark Pattison, B. D.)

It is related that Bishop Kavanagh was one day walking when he met a prominent physician, who offered him a seat in his carriage. The physician was an infidel, and the conversation turned upon religion. "I am surprised," said the doctor, "that such an intelligent man as you should believe such an old fable as that." The bishop said, "Doctor, suppose years ago some one had recommended to you a prescription for pulmonary consumption, and you had procured the prescription and taken it according to order, and had been cured of that terrible disease, what would you say of the man who would not try your prescription?" "I should say he was a fool." "Twenty-five years ago," said Kavanagh, "I tried the power of God's grace. It made a different man of me. All these years I have preached salvation, and wherever accepted have never known it to fail."

Faith and reason are, as it were, two keys which God has given us with which to unlock all spiritual mysteries. It is as if I had a drawer in which were stored away my valuable papers. The cabinet maker gives me two keys to my drawer, telling me that both keys will generally unlock the drawer, but always, if one will not, the other will — that therefore I must keep them securely, and keep them always tied together. But I untie and separate them, and, for safe keeping, place one key carefully away in the drawer itself and lock it up with the other key. With this other key I lock and unlock the drawer at pleasure. But the time comes at length when the key I have will not unlock the drawer, and now I need the other; but I have locked it up and cannot get it. Just so faith and reason are two keys that God, our Maker, has given us with which to unlock all spiritual mysteries. Generally, either will unlock and explain all difficulties in Revelation and Christian experience; but always, if the one fails, the other will unlock the mystery. But here is a man that goes and locks his faith up in his reason; and presently he encounters a spiritual truth which his reason will not explain or unlock — it transcends human reason. You tell him, for example, that he must believe in the Trinity, in regeneration, in the resurrection of the body. "But," says he, "I cannot — they are unreasonable." And why can he not believe these spiritual truths? Simply because he has gone and locked his faith up in his reason, and will not accept any truth which he cannot comprehend and which his reason will not fully explain of itself without the aid of faith. The rationalist is he who locks his faith up in his reason. Now it may be, and is, just as bad to lock your reason up in your faith. There, for instance, is the poor deluded Romanist, who believes implicitly anything that his Church teaches, whether reasonable or unreasonable. You remonstrate with him for believing in transubstantiation, in the virtue of relics, in the absurd traditions of his Church. You tell him these things are unreasonable. "So they may be," he replies, "but I believe them nevertheless, for the Church teaches them, and I believe whatever the Church teaches." And why does he believe such absurdities? Simply because he has locked his reason up in his faith and given the Pope the key — and whatever the Pope or the Church or his bishop teaches he believes implicitly, whether it be reasonable or unreasonable. It is impossible for one to be a true Roman Catholic without locking his reason up in his faith. But God demands that we shall use both our faith and our reason, and keep them both joined together. Doing this we shall be preserved from rationalism on the one hand, and from credulity and superstition on the other. Now God does not demand that we shall believe in anything that contradicts our reason; but He does demand that we shall believe in truths that transcend human reason. If the Bible should teach that black is white, that right is wrong, that a thing can be and not be at the same time, I would not and could not believe it, because it would plainly contradict my reason. But when it teaches that there is a God, a Trinity, a soul in this body, a heaven prepared for it, I may not and do not fully comprehend these spiritual truths; but I do not decline to believe them on that ground; for while they do transcend my reason, they do not contradict it. The Roman Catholic believes many truths that contradict human reason; the rationalist will believe no truth which transcends human reason; the true intelligent Christian believes nothing that will contradict, but many things that transcend, human reason. The first locks his reason up in his faith; the second locks his faith up in his reason; the third uses both his faith and his reason and keeps them ever joined together.

(Prof. Tillett.)

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