1 John 4:1-3
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God…
In the Word of God we are warned against sitting in judgment on others. Especially are we enjoined not to cultivate a censorious and uncharitable spirit. But in the text Christians seem to be enjoined to exercise their powers of judgment and discrimination in another way. They are called upon to try the spirits whether they are of God. To try a spirit is not to try an individual; it is not to try even a community of men; rather is it to put to the test of enlightened reason some principle they follow as true, some institution they uphold as right.
I. THE SCIENTIFIC FALSE PROPHET; or antiChrist in the schools, especially in connection with the study and interpretation of nature. There are three points in the scientific world that appear to be prominent. These points are — first, that our highest business here is to study nature — that nature at least in relation to this present life is supreme; second, that natural or physical law is absolutely uniform or unbending, and has been so since the creation of the universe; third, that the human race is to be elevated, regenerated, or truly developed from the basis of nature, and in accordance merely with natural laws. Now, if it really were so, we can have no hesitation in saying that the position and claims of the Christian religion are quite incompatible with it. If the dream of such thinkers were destined to be realised, Christianity must slowly fade from the earth, with other superstitions. It is only too evident what the spirit and hope of such systems is. Take the first position — that nature or the visible material scene around us is the supreme influence and power in relation to our life upon the earth. That involves the denial of a Divine revelation. Take the second position — that for incalculable ages Nature has been undeviating in her course. That law maintains its slow, grand march through millions of years, without deviation, acceleration, or interruption. That may be thought a grand idea; but as it is advanced in certain systems, it is not a true one; for it is a shutting out of the miraculous altogether. Take the third position — that man is saved by obedience to natural law, and that the human race will be elevated and ennobled only as men study the laws of nature, and conform themselves to them. That is a doctrine put forth by some. It looks with a sinister and disparaging eye on Christianity and the Church. It does not hesitate sometimes to say that all religions have been a misfortune to the world. When the plague comes this spirit declares that prayer is useless, and that the only thing that can save us is to perfect our sanitary arrangements. This is a spirit of antichrist, for it is the denial of a moral government in the Scriptural sense of the word.
II. THE SECULAR FALSE PROPHET; or antichrist in the kingdoms of the world. In as far as the kingdoms of the world are necessary to maintain order, to suppress violence, and repel invasion, they are the ordinance of God, but in so far as they perpetuate injustice and wrong, of course they cannot be of God; they are babels and antichrists, standing in the way of His kingdom who has the absolute right to rule. Now it is the duty of everyone to whom the light of the gospel comes to become a subject of the kingdom of Christ. That light will show him what is wrong in existing systems. It will show him that some of them are fundamentally wrong, but it will not teach him to remedy that wrong by violence and revolution. The eternal moral principle that truth and justice cannot be permanently advanced by mere physical force, enters into the foundation of Christ's kingdom. And if anyone asks, How then are we to hold our own in the world? the only answer that can be given is, that it is our duty to do as Christ did. Because God lives all those who have faith in Him will live also.
III. THE LITERARY FALSE PROPHET; or antichrist in the world of letters. This is a time of great thinkers, great writers, great bookmakers. We do not speak of individuals. We have no right to judge them; but their works we may judge, and the spirit of their works we may try whether it is of God or no. Now we know that some of the greatest works in the world are books written in defence of Christianity; but it is also true that some writers of considerable power have taken up positive ground against Christianity and have sufficiently shown that they do not believe that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. They do not believe in Him as the eternal Son of God, and the only Saviour of men. Some of them have written books expressly to deny this. But this is not so much what the text suggests. There are other writers of great power and influence in both hemispheres of the world who occupy rather a negative and undefined position in relation to Christ and Christianity. They have written upon almost every subject of human thought — upon government and the Church, upon history and biography, upon morals and destiny. They have gone round the world to find heroes and representative men, and have said many true and striking things about them; but, strange to say, they have never clearly informed the world as to what they think of Christ. They are unaccountably reticent upon a subject that is the most important of all.
IV. THE RELIGIOUS FALSE PROPHET; or antichrist in the ecclesiastical world. The antichrist of an atheistical, political system; of a poor, blind, hero worship — the worship of mere intellectual ability and unfathomable cunning; and the antichrist of a barren Protestantism which has a name to live while it is dead — such forms as these are little better than the Papacy.
V. THE SOCIAL FALSE PROPHET; or antichrist in the work of everyday life. That is the most deadly form of antichrist which professes great respect for Christianity, but lives in continual opposition to its principles; and we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that a great amount of the Christian profession of this country seems little more than a mere profession. This is called a Christian country, but look at the woes that are festering in the midst of us; think of the rank worldliness and heartlessness that is baptized into the name of Christ. Is this not the reason why prayer seems unanswered, and troubles are thickening upon the land?
(F. Ferguson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.