I John 4:1
Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): All are ready to declare, that they do not speak except from God. So the Papists at this day boast with magisterial gravity, that all their inventions are the oracles of the Spirit. Nor does Mahomet assert that he has drawn his dotages except from heaven. The Egyptians also, in former times, pretended that all their mad absurdities, by which they infatuated themselves and others, had been revealed from above. But to all this I reply, that we have the Word of the Lord, which ought especially to be consulted. When, therefore, false spirits pretend the name of God, we must inquire from the Scriptures whether these things are so.
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Test everything by the Word; prove the spirits whether they be of God…A lying doctrine will soon beget a lying practise.
GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): If we once get above our Bibles, and cease making the written word of God our sole rule both as to faith and practise, we shall soon lie open to all manner of delusion, and be in great danger of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience.
GEORGE OFFOR (1787-1864): Great is the danger of seeking to be wise above what is written.
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Another form [of that danger] which the modern attitude sometimes takes is the suggestion that those of us who are Conservative Evangelicals are “Biblio-idolators,” that is, we put the Scriptures in the place of the Lord. Their own authority, these critics tell us, is not the Scriptures, but the Lord Himself. Now this sounds very impressive and very imposing at first, as if they were but stating that for which we ourselves are contending. It sounds as if it were a highly spiritual position until, again, you begin to examine it carefully. The obvious questions to put to those who make such statements are these: “How do you know the Lord? What do you know about the Lord, apart from the Scriptures? Where do you find Him? How do you know that what you seem to have experienced concerning Him is not a figment of your own imagination, or not the product of some abnormal psychological state, or not the work perchance of some occult power or evil spirit?” It sounds all very impressive and imposing when they say “I go directly to the Lord Himself.” But we must face the vital question concerning the basis of our knowledge of the Lord, our certainty with respect even to His authority, and how we are to come into practical possession of it.
THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): To pretend to the Spirit and neglect the Scriptures, makes way for error and fond conceits.
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: There was much trouble in this respect during the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. Certain sections of the Puritan movement were attacked by the devil along this line. Such people as the Fifth Monarchy men, and the people who came to be known as Quakers, are all illustrations of this. Their teaching, in general, was that nothing matters but what they call the Inner Light, the Spirit within you. Under the influence of the wiles of the devil, they tended to be carried off to such extremes that they lived solely on their feelings, on their impulses, on what they called their “leadings,” on impressions on their spirits. They say, “I suddenly felt; I was suddenly led; an impression was made upon my mind.” Such people tend to live entirely and only in the realm of the subjective aspect of the Christian faith. They are not much interested in the written Word, the Scriptures. Their emphasis falls upon the Spirit, and they assert that He is ever in them to direct and guide them. They live entirely in the subjective realm, paying great attention to moods and feelings and states and impressions. This is a vital, essential aspect of the Christian life; but the devil tends to drive some of us so far along that line that they tend to ignore the written Word.
JOHN CALVIN: It is no less unreasonable to boast of the Spirit without the Word, than it would be absurd to bring forward the Word itself without the Spirit.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): Christ did not say of His thoughts, but of His words, that they are spirit and life, John 6:63.
GEORGE WHITEFIELD: Our Blessed Lord, though He had the Spirit of God without measure, yet was always governed by, and fought the devil with, “It is written.”
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Some of the Quakers of three hundred years ago did not hesitate to say that they neither needed the Word, nor cared what it said. The Author of the Word was in them Himself. What need had they to go to a Word which had been written centuries before, when the Author Himself was speaking to them as He had spoken to the writers of the New Testament? Thereby, of course, they denied the uniqueness of the Apostles, the uniqueness of the prophets, the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures itself, and caused great confusion to themselves and to others. There is a tendency for certain churches and individuals to fall into the same error at the present time. The result is that they tend to lose any sense of discrimination. They act solely on impulses, feelings, leadings, and impressions―they do not realize that the Word tells them to “prove” the spirits, to “test” the spirits, to examine them. First Thessalonians 5:19, “Quench not the Spirit,” is followed by, “Despise not the prophesyings. Prove all things.” “All things” means all the impressions that come to the spirit, whether to yourself or to another. Test them. Do not accept them simply because someone gets up and says, “I am filled with the Spirit; you are bound to believe what I am saying.” Do not take what he says at its face value; test him, prove him, try him. There are antichrists, there are false spirits. These people turn a deaf ear to such warnings; the devil has pressed them so far that they are sure their guidance is infallible, and that if it is a strong impression it cannot be wrong.
ARCHIBALD ALEXANDER (1772-1851): Many ardent professors seem too readily to take it for granted that all religious feelings must be good. They therefore take no care to discriminate between the genuine and the spurious…Their only concern is about the ardour of their feelings; not considering that if they are spurious, the more intense they are, the further will they lead them astray. In our day there is nothing more necessary to distinguish carefully between true and false experiences in religion; to “try the spirits whether they are of God.” And in making this discrimination, there is no other test but the infallible Word of God; let every thought, motive, impulse, and emotion be brought to this touchstone. To the law and the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isaiah 8:20.
JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): You have the Scriptures in your hands, and by this standard you are warranted, yea, commanded, to “try the spirits,” because many false prophets and pretended teachers are abroad in the world.
ANDREW FULLER (1754-1815): This is the criterion by which we are directed to try the spirits. For a doctrine to be of God, it must be expressive of the mind of God as revealed in His Word. If we lose sight of this, we shall soon be lost in the mazes of uncertainty―that which begets high thoughts of ourselves, low thoughts of God, light thoughts of sin, and mean thoughts of Christ, is not of God.
JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703-1758): Always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel by the unerring rule of God’s most holy Word.