Our apostle having in the last verse of the foregoing chapter mentioned the abiding of the spirit of God in the souls of believers, lest the Christians to whom he wrote should be deceived by such as might pretend to be acted by the Spirit, when indeed they were not; he comes in this chapter to caution and counsel all Christians to take heed of being seduced by such as should pretend to be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, saying, Believe not every spirit; that is, every teacher who pretends to be inspired, and every doctrine that lays claim to the authority of divine revelation: But try the spirits: that is, examine their doctrines by the rule of the word of God, and try from whom they come, whether from the Spirit of God, or Satan: for many false prophets, or impostors and deceivers, are gone abroad in the world.
Learn hence, 1. That men from the beginning of Christianity have, and still do, falsely pretend to divine inspiration.
2. That Christians ought not to believe every one that thus pretends to be divinely inspired: for every one that has but enough of confidence, and little enough of conscience, may pretend to come from God.
Learn, 3. That neither are we to reject all that pretend to come from God; for when the apostle bids us not to believe every spirit, he supposes that we are to believe some; and when he bids us try the spirits whether they be of God, he supposes some to be of God, and that such as are so, ought to be believed by us.
Learn, 4. That there is some way to discern mere pretenders to inspiration from those who are truly and divinely inspired; it were in vain to make the trial, if there were no way to discern the truth.
Learn, 5. That it is the duty of all Christians to examine the doctrines propounded to them by the word of God; they having a judgment of discretion, though not a judgment of decision; a power to judge for themselves, not to impose upon others: nor does this allowed liberty of every one judging for himself take away the necessity and use of our spiritual guides and teachers, or exempt us from a due submission and obedience thereunto, but in concurrence with them, we are to try the spirits, whether they be of God.