Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trying the Spirits

Discernment Ministries receives many requests from believers seeking to understand truth from error in these perilous times. Exercising discernment is something that each believer is required to do according to Scripture. But exercising discernment can be quite troublesome in our era of mixed and confusing messages.

The other day we ran across an 1844 vintage sermon by J.C. Philpot entitled "Trying the Spirits." This sermon was delivered well over 150 years ago. It has none of the modern influences of psychobabble or psychoheresy. It has none of the encumbrances of modern lingo, postmodern theology, or New Age buzz words. As such it is a refreshingly pure message about how to discern truth from error.

Philpot's sermons are written in a slightly older form of English which a few readers may find daunting. But blessings come to those who persevere through the older text and discover precious nuggets. We have excerpted a few portions of this sermon today, and will post a few more tomorrow, but the reader is exhorted to read this sermon through in its entirety, perhaps as part of your morning devotional. Or, if you are churchless or attending a church where the Word of God isn't being preached, consider reading an old sermon like this one so that you may be enriched and fed.

J. C. Philpot
Preached at Zoar Chapel, Great Alie Street, London, on Thursday evening, August 1, 1844
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God."—I John iv.1.

…The Apostle John living at a late period of the Apostolic age, and writing his Epistle, but a short time before his decease, seeing how many of these seducing spirits then were abroad, warned the believers to whom he was writing against a superstitious reverence to all who stood up in the name of the Lord: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because," he adds, "many false spirits are gone out into the world."

The injuction, then, is not to believe every spirit, but to "try the spirts whether they are of God." You will observe, the Apostle does not enjoin his beloved brethren to try men's words, but to try their spirits. It is not words, so much as the spirit in which words are spoken, that really act upon the mind. Words come and go, according to the vulgar saying, "they come in at one ear, and go out at the other;" they leave no abiding impression; but the spirit, either for good or evil, that is, the working of God the Spirit on the heart, or the working of Satan, the evil spirit, in the carnal mind, leaves an abiding impression for good or evil. John, therefore, does not bid us watch men's words; for a man may say anything, and the baser and blacker a hypocrite he is, the more boldly and confidently can he speak. Nor does he bid us weigh men's actions, though actions are often great indications of men's minds; but he carries us beyond both words and actions, and, by bidding us watch men's spirits, takes us into the secret chambers from which words flow, and to the hidden springs by which actions are influenced.

"Try the spirits." Weigh and examine the spirit of a man, whether it be of God. Now, in doing this, a man taught of God will first try his own spirit; and when he has tried his own spirit, he will be in a proper situation, and not before, to try the spirits of others. …

Pastor Philpot then lists eight points which "show how a child of God is called upon not to believe even his own spirit, but to try it, whether it is of God." It is only after the believer examines his own self that he can then "go forth with these scales that have been suspended in his own heart, and try the spirits of others." Today's excerpt below, then, pertains to self-examination:

…6. Again. Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is in the soul, He is there as the Spirit of a sound mind; as the Spirit speaks to Timothy (2 Tim. i. 7.) "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." And it is a mercy, a great mercy, to have a sound mind. A sound mind is one not attracted by every passing novelty, that does not receive every wild doctrine, is not caught by every rushing blast of enthusiasm, is not turned aside by the deceptive powers of Satan as an angel of light. The Spirit of the Lord being in the soul as a spirit of a sound mind, receives only sound truth, such truth only as is commended to the conscience, and such as only the spiritual understanding sees, spiritual faith embraces, spiritual hope anchors in, and spiritual love enjoys. What a mercy it is for people where the minister has the "spirit of a sound mind;" who is not caught by every doctrine that comes floating forth on the wings of novelty, not attracted by every false light that Satan may raise up, not deluded by delusive experiences, nor the blaze and glare of fleshly holiness; but in the "spirit of a sound mind," discovers the real from the counterfeit, and brings forth that which he has tasted, felt, and handled of the word of life. This spirit of a sound mind will keep him steady and upright amid all the delusions of the day, and preserve him single and sincere amidst all the tossings to and fro of the winds of error.

7. Again. Wherever the Spirit dwells in a man's heart, He will be there a Spirit of love, for "the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost." This will produce love to Jesus, as the only hope of salvation; love to the people of God, because the heart is united to them in the bonds of sympathy and affection; love to the truth, because it is brought with power into the conscience, and a sweetness found in it more than of honey and the honeycomb.

8. Again. Wherever the Spirit of truth dwells in a man, He is there a spirit of uprightness and integrity. Such a one will never call evil good, or good evil; will never put light for darkness, or darkness for light; will never mistake bitter for sweet, or sweet for bitter. But there will be in him a spirit of honesty, integrity, and godly simplicity, whereby, whether in himself or others, that which is right is known to be right, and that which is wrong is known to be wrong. So that no artificial coverings, no false glossings, no hypocritical designs, no enthusiastic pretensions, can long hide from him what truth is and what error is, whether working in his own mind, or manifested in that of others. By this spirit of integrity, when he errs or falls, it is acknowledged; when he backslides, he deeply bewails it; and when he is entangled in Satan's snares, he mourns and sighs on account of it. …

…Now this does not imply any great boasting or confidence on the part of him that tries; nay, rather, he cannot try the spirits himself until he is clothed with humility. It is only so far as he is possessed of a broken heart and contrite spirit that he is able to try them aright; for he has to try them not in the flesh, not as thinking himself a man of wondrous judgment, not with carnal ideas of his own discernment, to say, "I will try this man or that." But covered with humility, having godly fear powerfully at work, feeling the spirit of contrition in the soul, he goes forth tenderly, warily, and watchfully; and in that secret court of conscience where God has tried him, and in that heart where God the Spirit dwells, does he try the spirits whether they are of God. There is much harsh judgment, and hasty, rash cutting off in many persons that springs from bad temper, envy, jealousy, pride, suspicion, want of love, a morose and sullen disposition, vanity and self-conceit. A man may cut and slash on the right hand and the left, and call this "trying the spirits," when he is only giving vent to his own pride and self-importance, and is but an instrument in the hands of Satan to harass and distress God's people. This is not the "trying of the spirits" that John speaks of.…

Tomorrow's excerpt from this same sermon will "look at some marks of that spirit which is not of God" in others.