In 1 John 4: 1, we are exhorted to "try the spirits," i. e., put them to the test, so that we may determine whether they are of God or not. To-day we are living in the age of sham and imitation. Brass is being highly polished and sold for gold; glass is scientifically cut and sold for diamonds; and soft wood is being grained and highly polished and sold for oak, walnut, and mahogany. Where this is true in the material world it is also true in the spiritual. There are so many religions and strange spirits going forth in the land to-day, viz., mediums, clairvoyants, palm-readers, and hypnotics, that, if possible, they would deceive the very elect.
Let us notice two reasons why we are to try the spirits. First, it is because we are more easily affected in our spiritual natures than elsewhere. It is easier to mislead an honest soul here than at any other point. There seems to be something in the spiritual make-up of man that craves to see visions, hear voices from the unknown world, and feel various touches, impressions and manifestations. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to get people to believe God and get saved by faith in Jesus. Nearly every seeker we meet is praying and waiting to hear, see or feel something, before be believes God and ventures on His promise. Satan is aware of this fact, hence he sends one of his evil spirits to falsely impress and mislead the soul at this point.
A second reason we are to try the spirits is, because Satan can switch even a good, well-meaning preacher and teacher of religion sometimes when he is not watchful, thus causing him to mislead hundreds of others. Therefore, it is not safe to believe what the preacher or evangelist says, no matter how accomplished he may be, if it does not harmonize with the teaching of the Bible.
How to try the spirits, is the next thought worthy of our attention. When a new religious idea or thought is presented to us, we should first compare it with the clear, plain teaching of the Word. We should not build on any one isolated passage of scripture, but run the reference and weigh it by several passages. Do not ever accept any revelation, new doctrine, or advance thought which its advocate has to wrest the scripture to prove. This is the first thing that revealed the error of the "tongues movement" to the writer. Its advocate had to twist, bend and disjoin too many plain passages of scripture to prove his argument.
Secondly, we are to try them by carefully comparing their teaching with the apostolic example. There are hundreds of erroneous notions and ideas afloat in the land, trying to force themselves upon the Church, such as "foot-washing" (as an ordinance), "no collection," "the wearing of a robe," "water instead of grape juice for the Lord's Supper," "use no prayer but the Lord's Prayer," "the Seventh-day Sabbath," etc., etc. All of these questions can be settled by simply comparing them with the apostolic example. We are told by a certain class of religious folks that "foot-washing" is to be perpetuated in the Church, because Jesus said, in John 13, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet." But they seem to overlook the seventh verse, which reads as follows: "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." The disciples surely knew He was washing their feet, hence we can see plainly He was teaching them some other lesson, more important than foot-washing.
We all remember that Jesus, before ascending to His Father, said to the disciples, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28: 19).
Now the first thing we will have to admit is, that the disciples were divinely led continually (John 14: 26). Second, that they were to set the example for all Christians in all ages (Matt. 28: 19). If you will take your Bible and carefully examine the lives of the apostles you will not find a single instance where they had a public "foot-washing" service in a religious meeting after Pentecost. The only time it is mentioned in the whole of the New Testament, after the day of Pentecost, is in 1 Tim. 5: 10. Notice the circumstances under which it is mentioned- "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for GOOD WORKS; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed EVERY GOOD WORK." Now, any thoughtful reader can readily see that foot-washing is classified with "good works" and is not an ordinance to be perpetuated in the church, as baptism and the Lord's supper. It is perfectly right to wash a brother's or sister's feet, if necessity requires it, just as we would perform any other act of charity; but this is not to be kept up as an ordinance; if so, the apostles would surely have set the example. It would be well for those who are perplexed on these various subjects to read the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. That chapter plainly shows that Christians are not under the yoke of the Mosaic law. All "Saturday Sabbath" and "Wearing of Robes," and ceremonial performances, went with the Mosaic dispensation. Bless God!
Thirdly, we are to try them by sanctified judgment and common sense. It would be well to put all new doctrines, advance lights, and new revelations to the following tests: First, Does it increase my love for God and my fellow man Second, Does it lead me to a deeper experience, or does it have a tendency to make one shallow, light and worldly This was another testimony against the "tongue movement ;" its adherents would profess three works of grace, but after they received them, "the three works," as they were called, did not do for them what John Wesley said conviction would do for a man without any grace at all. These folks were as proud as peacocks, they still decorated their bodies with silks, satins, gold, feathers, flowers, etc, yet they claimed to have all that God had provided for man upon earth. But Wesley said (referring to renouncing all of these things) "All these things, God writes on truly awakened hearts."
The third test that it would be well to put these new religions and advance lights to is, Do they build up and strengthen the people of God, or scatter and blight them from sea to sea, and shore to shore If so, it is not from God but from the bottomless pit.
The fourth test it would be well to put them to is, Do they increase or destroy one's Christian influence It is to be admitted that every one will not accept the teaching of a God-blessed and a God-sent man, but on the other hand, whenever we come in possession of a religion that does not win any one to God, but blights and kills our influence among both saint." and sinners, everywhere we go, we may put it down that we have gotten hold of the wrong article.
May God help us to put the spirits to the test.