1 John 4:1-3
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God…
There is in the human mind a strong propensity: to believe in supernatural communications; and where fancy is ardent, and the power of reflection little cultivated, this propensity renders men either so credulous as to believe in the arrogant pretensions of others, or so vain as to set up their own. Here then we must inquire into the state of our own convictions. Have we the least reason to suppose that God will act upon our minds or those of others either in revealing new truths, or in explaining old, or in making us acquainted with future events, by any influence out of the ordinary course of His providence? We know but one way of accrediting a messenger from God; and that is by the power of working miracles. But amongst the pretenders to a Divine commission, not one has been found since the first age of Christianity who has established his claim upon this ground. "It is finished." All the truths are promulgated which it concerns us to know; and all the miracles have been performed which were necessary to convince us that they are truths from God. To look after this for new revelations, new prophets, new miracles, is to despise the gospel of Christ, and to turn His grace into wantonness. But though we ought upon this ground to lend a deaf ear to anyone who in these times assumes a preternatural knowledge of the designs of God, this of itself will not guard us against the indulgence of a fanatical spirit. There are many who, though they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, and in consequence reject such claims as we have just been exposing, yet entertain a notion not much less absurd, that the true sense of Scripture is revealed to them by the Spirit of God; whilst all those who do not admit their interpretation are actuated by the spirit of delusion. This is, in effect, to arrogate the gift of inspiration. By what evidence then is this claim supported? They tell you that they possess a certain consciousness of being born again; of having been guided to the truth by the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost. The same consciousness has been alleged, and with the same reason, for the most absurd and the most dangerous notions, political and religious, that ever were broached by the wildest or the weakest heads. But is not another man's consciousness as good as yours? And may not he who holds doctrines directly the reverse of yours persuade himself that he too has the guidance of a Divine spirit? Who then is to judge between you? It should never be forgotten on this subject that the Almighty, in acting upon our minds, acts by stated laws adapted to the nature and circumstances of moral agents. He submits the revelation of His will to the test of our inquiries, and in all essential points it is so plain, that he who runs may read. The natural province of religious feeling lies not in points of faith, but in the exercises of devotion. Here, however, we must still try the spirit in which these feelings are indulged. For here too there is ample scope for delusion. We would not encourage the cold and heartless religion which never rises with delight to the contemplation and worship of that Being who has given us affections, that they may centre in Himself. But to produce this salutary effect our piety must be under the control of rational and sober views; though animated, not extravagant; though earnest, not familiar. Above all, we must not confound those temporary feelings, which are the offspring of accidental circumstances, with that devout habit of the mind which, though less ardent, is more salutary because it acts by a steady and permanent influence. As to what regards our own practice, let us be equally careful to avoid loud pretensions on the one hand, and never to shrink from the open but modest avowal of what we deem important truth on the other. Let us examine our opinions by the standard of the gospel, and try their practical efficacy by their habitual influence upon our temper and conduct. Let us never rest in emotions, however strong, however pious, till they are cherished into good habits. But let us also beware, lest in avoiding the extreme of fanaticism, we run into that of apathy and indifference.
(J. Lindsay, 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.
WEB: Beloved, don't believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.