Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 5:21 - 5:21

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 5:21 - 5:21

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1Th_5:21. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

THERE are many who, either from an indifference about truth, or from a conceit that they are already sufficiently acquainted with it, neglect the public ministration of the Gospel, and even hold it in contempt. This is extremely culpable; because the ordinances of religion are God’s appointed means for carrying on his work in the souls of men. Hence we are bidden “not to despise prophesying;” and “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” At the same time, we are not necessarily to give our assent to every thing we hear; for error may be proposed to us as well as truth: and therefore the Apostle gives us this advice: “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.”

In considering the two parts of this advice, we shall take each in its order:

I.       Prove all things—

Remarkable is that address of Elihu to his friends: “Hear my words, O ye wise men; and give ear unto me, ye that have knowledge: for the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat. Let us choose to us judgment: let us know among ourselves what is good [Note: Job_34:2-4.].” There is much error abroad in the world; and that not only harboured, but propagated also. It will be well, therefore, for us to prove, by some authorized standard,

1.       Our own sentiments—

[Every man has some sentiments about religion, though in many cases they are very crude and indistinct. On any other subject, those who have never investigated the science will hold their sentiments with some measure of diffidence and distrust: but, in reference to religion, the most ignorant are often the most confident. The fall of man, the corruption of human nature, the necessity of an atonement, the influences of the Spirit, are not only questioned by many, but are rejected by them as utter “foolishness [Note: 1Co_1:23.];” and man’s sufficiency to save himself is maintained, as though it admitted not of any doubt whatever. But, whatever be our sentiments on these heads, and on others connected with them, we should bring them to the unerring standard of God’s word. Our inquiry in relation to every thing should be, “What saith the Scripture?” By this must every sentiment be tried: and according to its agreement with this test must every opinion stand or fall.]

2.       The sentiments of others—

[We are particularly cautioned not to “believe every spirit; but to try the spirits, whether they be of God [Note: 1Jn_4:1.].” The one standard, to which every thing must be referred, is the word of God: as it is said, “To the law and to the testimony: if men speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them [Note: Isa_8:20.].” To this our blessed Lord appealed, in confirmation of his word; “Search the Scriptures: for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me [Note: Joh_5:39.].” And St. Paul commends the Ber æ ans, because, when they heard him, they searched the Scriptures daily, to see whether his doctrines agreed with that unerring rule. If, then, our blessed Lord and his Apostles desired to be tried by that standard, I have no hesitation in saying, “Prove all things,” whether delivered by the many, or the great, or the learned, or the pious, or the authorized and commissioned: if even an angel from heaven were to come to teach you, I would still give the same advice, and say, As God has given you a perfect standard, it becomes you to refer every thing to it, and to try every thing by it. The Church of Ephesus scrupled not to adopt this plan, in its fullest extent; “Thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not; and hast found them liars [Note: Rev_2:2.].” And whether this, or the contrary, be the result of your examination, I say with boldness, “Try even an Apostle by the standard of God’s blessed word.”]

Having thus distinguished truth from falsehood, we must,

II.      “Hold fast that which is good”—

There are many that would wrest it from us: and we must hold it fast against all assaults,

1.       Of proud reason—

[Reason will presume to sit in judgment upon the truth of God. But this is not its province. Its proper office is, to judge whether the Scriptures are a revelation from God: but, when that is ascertained, faith is then to apprehend whatever God has spoken: and the highest dictate of reason is, to submit ourselves to God with the simplicity and teachableness of a little child. When, therefore, reason presumes to oppose the declarations of God and to say, “This is an hard saying: who can hear it?” regard not its proud dictates, but “receive with meekness the written word [Note: Jam_1:21.];” remembering, that “what is foolishness with man may be indeed the wisdom of God,” and “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes it.”]

2.       Of corrupt passion—

[This also fights against the truth of God. And no wonder: for the word of God condemns every unhallowed desire, and requires us to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.” How should it be supposed that our corrupt nature should approve of a book, which enjoins us to “cut off a right hand, and to pluck out a right eye,” lest by sparing either the one or the other we plunge both body and soul into the fire of hell? It cannot be but that our self-indulgent appetites should rise against such severe dictates, and condemn them all as unreasonable and absurd. But you must not listen to such objectors, who “hate the light, and will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.” Our one question must be, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” and his will once known, must be the sole director of our ways.]

3.       Of a menacing world—

[The world which lieth in wickedness ever did, and ever will, set itself against the self-denying doctrines of the Gospel. But we are not to make a sacrifice of divine truth, to please man: for “if we vet pleased men, we could not be the servants of Christ [Note: Gal_1:10.].” Nor are we to indulge any anxiety upon this head: for the very desire to retain “the friendship of the world” is a certain mark of enmity against God [Note: Jam_4:4. the Greek.]. Whatever men may say, or whatever they may do, we must be faithful to our God, and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.” Having “bought the truth, you must never sell it.” “Hold fast that thou hast; and let no man take thy crown [Note: Rev_3:11.].”]

But, before I conclude this subject, let me shew you, in few words,

1.       How to distinguish what is “good”—

[You will naturally say, in reply to what has been spoken, ‘How shall I know what is good? for those who oppose the Gospel will appeal to the word of God as confidently as those who receive it: and how am I to determine between them?’ I answer, the despisers of the Gospel manifestly wrest the word of God, and, by ingenious criticisms, pervert it, for the purpose of maintaining their own erroneous sentiments; whilst the humble believer receives it with all humility of mind: so that from their very mode of interpreting the Scriptures, you can tell, almost to a certainty, who is right. But, as a general rule, take the entire systems of both, and compare them, and see what is the proper tendency of each: and then remember, that the doctrine which humbles the sinner, exalts the Saviour, and promotes holiness, is and must be “good:” whilst every thing which has an opposite tendency carries its own evidence along with it, as erroneous and had. This rule, in conjunction with the other, will leave you in no danger of erring, if you cry to God for the teaching of his Spirit, and rely with confidence on his heavenly guidance.]

2.       How to make a just improvement of it—

[Rest not in a speculative view of truth, however good it may appear. The use of divine truth is, to enlarge the mind, and renovate the soul. Your views of the Gospel ought to raise your affections to God, and to fill you with adoring thoughts of your Lord and Saviour; and at the same time to transform you into his image. Your soul should “be delivered into it, as into a mould;” so that every one of its divine lineaments may be formed upon you. To hold it fast for any other end than this, will be to little purpose. But let it be thus improved, and it will be found good indeed: for it will free you from every thing that is corrupt and sinful, and bring you in safety to the realms of bliss.”]