Bible #4 - Prove All Things

"Prove all things: hold fast that which is
good."--1 Thessalonians 5:21


First published by Drummond's Tract Depot, Stirling,

You live in days when the text before your eyes is one of the first
importance. The truths it contains are especially truths for the times. Give
me your attention for a few minutes, and I will try to show you what I mean.

There were three great doctrines or principles which won the battle of
the Protestant Reformation. These were first, the sufficiency and supremacy
of Holy Scripture:—secondly, the right of private judgment and thirdly,
justification by faith only, without the deeds of the law.

These three principles were the keys of the whole controversy between the
Reformers and the Church of Rome. Keep firm hold of them when you argue with
a Roman Catholic, and your position is unassailable: no weapon that the
Church of Rome can forge against you shall prosper. Give up any one of them,
and your cause is lost. Like Samson, with his hair shorn, your strength is
gone. Like the Spartans, betrayed at Thermopylae, you are outflanked and
surrounded. You cannot maintain your ground. Resistance is useless. Sooner
or later you will have to lay down your arms, and surrender at discretion.

Remember this. The Roman Catholic controversy is upon you once more. You
must put on the old armour if you would not have your faith overthrown. The
sufficiency of Holy Scripture,—the right of private judgment,—justification
by faith only,—these are the three great principles to which you must always
cling. Grasp them firmly, and never let them go.

Reader, one of the three great principles to which I have referred
appears to me to stand forth in the verse of Scripture which heads this
tract,—I mean the right of private judgment. I wish to say something to you
about that principle.

The Holy Ghost, by the mouth of St Paul, says to us, "Prove all things.
Hold fast that which is good." In these words you have two great truths:

I.—The right, duty, and necessity of private judgment. "Prove all

II.—The duty and necessity of keeping firm hold upon truth. "Hold fast
that which is good."

I propose to dwell a little on both these heads.

I.—Let me speak first, of the

right, duty, and necessity of
private judgment.

When I say the

right of private judgment, I mean that every
individual Christian has a right to judge for himself by the Word of God,
whether that which is put before him as religious truth, is God's truth, or
is not.

When I say the

duty of private judgment, I mean that God requires
every Christian man to use the right of which I have just spoken;—to compare
man 5 words and man's writings with God's revelation, and to make sure that
he is not deluded and taken in by false teaching.

And when I say the

necessity of private judgment, I mean
this,—that it is absolutely needful for every Christian who loves his soul
and would not be deceived, to exercise that right, and discharge that duty
to which I have referred; seeing that experience shows that the neglect of
private judgment has always been the cause of immense evils in the Church of

Now the Apostle Paul urges all these three points upon your notice when
he uses those remarkable words, "Prove all things." I ask your particular
attention to that expression. In every point of view it is most weighty and

Here, you will remember, the Apostle Paul is writing to the
Thessalonians,—to a Church which he himself had founded. Here is an inspired
Apostle writing to young inexperienced Christians,—writing to the whole
professing Church in a certain city, containing laity as well as
clergy,—writing too with especial reference to matters of doctrine and
preaching, as we know by the verse preceding the text: "Despise not
prophesyings." And yet mark what he says: "Prove all things."

He does not say, "Whatsoever apostles,—whatsoever evangelists, pastors
and teachers,—whatsoever your bishops,—whatsoever your ministers tell you is
truth: that you are to believe." No: he says, "Prove all things." He does
not say, "Whatsoever the universal Church pronounces true, that you are to
hold." No: he says, "Prove all things."

The principle laid down is this, "Prove all things by the Word of
God.—All ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons,
all writings, all opinions, all practices,— prove all by the Word of God.
Measure all by the measure of the Bible.—Compare all with the standard of
the Bible. Weigh all in the balances of the Bible.—Examine all by the light
of the Bible.—Test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide
the fire of the Bible, receive, hold, believe and obey. That which cannot
abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away."

Reader, this is private judgment. This is the right you are to exercise
if you love your soul. You are not to believe things in religion merely
because they are said by Popes or Cardinals,—by Bishops or Priests,—by
Presbyters or Deacons,—by Churches, Councils, or Synods,—by Fathers,
Puritans, or Reformers. You are not to argue, "Such and such things must be
true, because these men say so." You are not to do so. You are to prove all
things by the Word of God

I know such doctrine sounds shocking in some men's ears. But I write it
down advisedly, and believe it cannot be disproved. I want to encourage no
man in ignorant presumption or ignorant contempt. I praise not the man who
seldom reads his Bible, and yet sets himself up to pick holes in his
minister's sermons. I praise not the man who knows nothing but a few texts
in the New Testament, and yet undertakes to settle questions in divinity
which have puzzled God's wisest children. But still I hold with Bishop
Bilson (A.D. 1575), that "all hearers have both liberty to discern and a
charge to beware seducers; and woe to them that do it not." And I say with
Bishop Davenant (A. D. 1627), "We are not to believe all who undertake to
teach in the Church, but must take care and weigh with serious examination,
whether their doctrine be sound or not." *(see footnote at end of page.)

Reader, men may dislike the doctrine of private judgment, but there is no
doubt that it is continually taught in the Word of God.

This is the principle laid down in the eighth chapter of Isaiah, 19th
verse. These words were written, remember, at a time when God was more
immediately King over His Church, and had more direct communication with it
than He has now. They were written at a time when there were men upon earth
who had direct revelations from God. Yet what does Isaiah say? "When they
shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto
wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God?
for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak
not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." If
this be not private judgment what is?

This again is the principle laid down by our Lord Jesus Christ in the
Sermon on the Mount. Remember what He says:— "Beware of false prophets which
come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye
shall know them by their fruit." (Matt. vii. 15.) How is it possible that
men shall know these false prophets, except they exercise their private
judgment as to what their fruits are?

This is the practice you find commended in the Bereans, in the Acts of
the Apostles. They did not take the Apostle Paul's word for granted, when he
came to preach to them. You are told, that they searched the Scriptures
daily, whether those things were so," and

"therefore," it is said,
"many of them believed." (Acts xvii. 11, 12.) What was this again but
private judgment?

This is the spirit of the advice given in 1 Cor. x. 15, "I speak as unto
wise men; judge ye what I say;" and in Coloss. ii. 18,— "Beware lest any man
spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit:" and in 1 John iv.
1,—"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are
of God:" and in 2 John 10,—"If there come any unto you, and bring not this
doctrine, receive him not into your house."

If these passages do not recommend the use of private judgment, I do not
know what words mean. To my mind they seem to say to every individual
Christian, "Prove all things."

Reader, whatever men may say against private judgment, you may depend it
cannot be neglected without immense danger to your soul. You may not like
it, but you never know what you may come to if you refuse to use it No man
can say into what depths of false doctrine you may be drawn if you will not
do what God requires of you, and "Prove all things."

Suppose that, in fear of private judgment, you resolve to believe
whatever the Church believes. Where is your security against error? The
Church is not infallible. There was a time when almost the whole of
Christendom embraced the Arian heresy, and did not acknowledge the Lord
Jesus Christ to be equal with the Father in all things. There was a time,
before the reformation, when the darkness over the face of Europe was a
darkness that might be felt. The General Councils of the Church are not
infallible. When the whole Church is gathered together in a General Council,
what says our Twenty-first Article? "They may err, and sometimes have erred,
even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as
necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may
be declared that they he taken out of Holy Scripture." The particular
branches of the Church are not infallible. Any one of them may err. Many of
them have fallen foully, or have been swept away. Where is the Church of
Ephesus at this day? Where the Church of Sardis at the present time? Where
the Church of Hippo in Africa? Where the Church of Carthage? They are all
gone! Not a vestige of any of them is left! Will you then be content to err
merely because the Church errs? Will your company be any excuse for your
error? Will your erring in company with the Church remove your
responsibility for your own soul? Oh, reader, it were surely a thousand
times better for a man to stand alone and be saved, than to err in company
with the Church, and be lost! It were better to prove all things, and go to
heaven, than to say, "I dare not think for myself," and go to hell.

But suppose that, to cut matters short, you resolve to believe whatever
your minister believes. Once more I ask, Where is your safety?—Where is your
security? Ministers are not infallible, any more than Churches. All of them
have not the Spirit of God. The very best of them are only men. Call us
Bishops, Priests, Deacons, or whatever names you please, we are all earthen
vessels. I speak not merely of Popes, who have promulgated awful
superstitions and led abominable lives. I would rather point to the very
best of Protestants and say, "Beware of looking upon them as
infallible,—beware of thinking of any man (whoever that man may be) that he
cannot err." Luther held consubstantiation;—that was a mighty error.

Zuinglius, the Swiss Reformer, went on to battle, and died in the
fight;—that was a mighty error. Calvin, the Geneva Reformer, advised the
burning of Servetus;—that was a mighty error. Cranmer and Ridley urged the
putting of Hooper into prison because of some trifling dispute about
vestments;—that was a mighty error. Whitgift persecuted the Puritans;—that
was a mighty error. Wesley and Toplady in the last century quarrelled
fiercely about Calvinism;—that was a mighty error. All these things are
warnings, if you will only take them. All say, "Cease ye from man." All show
us that if a man's religion hangs on ministers, whoever they may be, and not
on the Word of God, it hangs on a broken reed. Never make ministers Popes.
Follow us so far as we follow Christ, but not a hair's breadth further.
Believe whatever we can show you out of the Bible, but do not believe a
single word more.

Neglect the duty of private judgment, and you may find, to your cost, the
truth of what Whitby says: The best of overseers do sometimes make
oversights. You may live to experience the truth of what the Lord said to
the Pharisees: When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.
Reader, be very sure no man is safe against error, unless he acts on St.
Paul's injunction,—unless he "proves all things" by the Word of God.

Reader, I have said that it is impossible to overrate the

that may arise from neglecting to exercise your private judgment. I will go
further, and say that it is impossible to overrate the

which private judgment has conferred both on the world and on the Church.

I ask you to remember that the greatest discoveries in science and in
philosophy, beyond all controversy, have arisen from the use of private
judgment. To this we owe the discovery of Galileo, that the earth went round
the sun, and not the sun round the earth. To this we owe Columbus's
discovery of the new continent of America. To this we owe Harvey's discovery
of the circulation of the blood. To this we owe Jenner's discovery of
vaccination. To this we owe the printing press, the steam engine, the
power-loom, the electric telegraph, railways, and gas. For all these
discoveries we are indebted to men who dared to think for themselves. They
were not content with the beaten path of those who had gone before. They
were not satisfied with taking for granted that what their fathers believed
must be true. They made experiments for themselves. They brought old
established theories to the proof; and found that they were worthless. They
proclaimed new systems, and invited men to examine them, and test their
truth. They bore storms of obloquy and ridicule unmoved. They heard the
clamour of prejudiced lovers of old traditions without flinching. And they
prospered and succeeded in what they did. We see it now. And we who live in
the nineteenth century are reaping the fruit of their use of private

And, reader, as it has been in science, so also it has been in the
history of the Christian religion. The martyrs who stood alone in their day,
and shed that blood which has been the seed of Christ's Gospel throughout
the world,—the Reformers, who, one after another, rose up in their might to
enter the lists with the Church of Rome,—all did what they did, suffered
what they suffered, proclaimed what they proclaimed, simply because they
exercised their private judgment about what was Christ's truth. Private
judgment made the Waldenses, the Albigenses, and the Lollards, count not
their lives dear to them, rather than believe the doctrines of the Church of
Rome. Private judgment made Wyckliffe search the Bible in our land, denounce
the Romish Friars, and all their impostures,—translate the Scriptures into
the vulgar tongue, and become "the morning star" of the Reformation. Private
judgment made Luther examine Tetzel's abominable system of indulgences by
the light of the Word. Private judgment led him on, step by step, from one
thing to another, guided by the same light, till at length the gulf between
him and Rome was a gulf that could not be passed, and the Pope's power in
Germany was completely broken. Private judgment made our own English
Reformers examine for themselves, and inquire for themselves, as to the true
nature of that corrupt system under which they had been born and brought up.
Private judgment made them cast off the abominations of Popery, and
circulate the Bible among the laity. Private judgment made them draw from
the Bible our Articles, compile our Prayer-book, and constitute the Church
of England as it is. They broke the fetters of tradition, and dared to think
for themselves. They refused to take for granted Rome's pretensions and
assertions. They examined them all by the Bible, and because

they would not abide the examination, they broke with Rome altogether.
All the blessing of Protestantism in England, all that we are enjoying at
this very day, we owe to the right exercise of private judgment. Surely if
we do not honour private judgment, we are thankless and ungrateful indeed!

Reader, I warn you not to be moved by the common argument, that the right
of private judgment is liable to be abused,—that private judgment has done
great harm, and should be avoided as a dangerous thing. Never was there a
more miserable argument! Never was there one which when thrashed proves so
full of chaff!

Private judgment has been abused! I would like the objector to tell
me what good gift of God has not been abused! What high principle can be
named that has not been employed for the very worst of purposes? Strength
may become tyranny when it is employed by the stronger to coerce the weaker,
yet strength is a blessing when properly employed. Liberty may become
licentiousness when every man does that which is right in his own eyes,
without regarding the rights and feelings of others; yet liberty, rightly
used, is a mighty blessing. Because many things may be used improperly, are
we, therefore, to give them up altogether? Because opium is used improperly
by some, is it not to be used as a medicine on any occasion at all? Because
money may be used improperly, is all money to be cast into the sea? You
cannot have good in this world without evil. You cannot have private
judgment without some abusing it, and turning it to bad account.

But private judgment, people say,

has done more than

What harm has private judgment done, I would like to know, in matters of
religion, compared to the harm that has been done by the neglect of it?
Grant, for a moment, that among Protestants who allow private judgment,
there are divisions. Grant that in the Church of Rome, where private
judgment is forbidden, there are no divisions. I might easily show that
Romish unity is far more seeming than real. Bishop Hall, in his book called
The Peace of Rome, numbers up no less than three hundred differences of
opinion maintained in the Romish Church. I might easily show that the
divisions of Protestants are exceedingly exaggerated, and that most of them
are upon points of minor importance. I might show that, with all the
varieties of Protestantism, as men call them, there is still a vast amount
of fundamental unity and substantial agreement among Protestants. No man can
read the "Harmony of Protestant Confessions" without seeing that


But grant for a moment that private judgment has led to divisions, and
brought about varieties. I say that these divisions and varieties are but a
drop of water when compared with the torrent of abominations that have
arisen from the Church of Rome's practice of disallowing private judgment
altogether. Place the evils in two scales,—the evils that have arisen from
private judgment, and those that have arisen from no man being allowed to
think for himself. Weigh the evils one against another, and I have no doubt
as to which will be the greatest. Give me Protestant divisions, certainly,
rather than Popish unity, with the fruit that it brings forth. Give me
Protestant variations, whatever a man like Bossuet may say about them,
rather than Romish ignorance,—Romish superstition,—Romish darkness,—and
Romish idolatry. Give me the Protestant diversities of England and Scotland,
with all their disadvantages, rather than the dead level, both intellectual
and spiritual, of the Italian peninsula. Let the two systems be tried by
their fruits,—the system that says, "Prove all things," and the system that
says, "Dare to have no opinion of your own,"—let them be tried by their
fruits in the hearts, in the intellects, in the lives, in all the ways of
men, and I have no doubt as to the result.

Reader, I warn you above all things not to be moved by the specious
argument, that it is

humility to disallow private judgment, that it
is humility to have no opinion of your own, that it is the part of a true
Christian not to think for himself!

I tell you that such humility is a false humility, a humility that does
not deserve that blessed name. Call it rather laziness. Call it rather
idleness. Call it rather sloth. It makes a man strip himself of all his
responsibility, and throw the whole burden of his soul into the hands of the
minister and the Church. It gives a man a mere vicarious religion, a
religion by which he places his conscience and all his spiritual concerns
under the care of others. He need not trouble himself! He need no longer
think for himself! He has embarked in a safe ship, and placed his soul under
a safe pilot, and will get to heaven! Oh, beware of supposing that this
deserves the name of humility. It is refusing to exercise the gift that God
has given you. It is refusing to employ the sword of the Spirit which God
has forged for the use of your hand. Blessed be God, our forefathers did not
act upon such principles! Had they done so, we should never have had the
Reformation. Had they done so, we might have been bowing down to the image
of the virgin Mary at this moment, or praying to the spirits of departed
saints, or having a service performed in Latin. From such humility may the
good Lord ever deliver you!

Reader, as long as you live resolve that you will read for yourself;
think for yourself, judge of the Bible for yourself; in the great matters of
your soul. Have an opinion of your own. Never be ashamed of saying, "I think
that this is right, because I find it in the Bible," and "I think that this
is wrong, because I do not find it in the Bible." "Prove all things," and
prove them by the Word of God.

As long as you live, beware of the blindfold system, which many commend
in the present day,—the system of following a leader, and having no opinion
of their own—the system which practically says, "Only keep your Church, only
receive the sacraments, only believe what the ordained ministers who are set
over you tell you, and then all shall be well" I warn you that this will not
do. I warn you that if you are content with this kind of religion, you are
periling your immortal soul. Let the Bible, and not any Church upon earth,
or any minister upon earth, be your rule of faith. "Prove all things" by the
Word of God.

And, above all, as long as you live, look forward to the great day of
judgment. Think of the solemn account which every one of us shall have to
give in that day before the judgment seat of Christ. We shall not be judged
by Churches. We shall not be judged by whole congregations. We shall be
judged individually, each by himself. What shall it profit you or me in that
day to say, "Lord, Lord, I believed everything the Church told me. I
received and believed everything ordained ministers set before me. I thought
that whatever the Church and the ministers said must be right"? What shall
it profit us to say this, if we have held some deadly error? Surely, the
voice of Him that sits upon the throne will reply, "You had the Scriptures.
You had a book plain and easy to him that will read it and search it in a
childlike spirit. Why did you not use the Word of God when it was given to
you? You had a reasonable soul given you to understand that Bible. Why did
you not 'Prove all things,' and thus keep clear of error?" Oh, reader, if
you refuse to exercise your private judgment, think of that awful day, and

II And now let me speak of the

duty and necessity of keeping firm hold
upon truth.

The words of the Apostle on this subject are pithy and forcible. "Hold
fast," he says, "that which is good." It is as if he said to us, "When you
have found the truth for yourself; and when you are satisfied that it is
Christ's truth,—that truth which the Scriptures set forth,—then get a firm
hold upon it, grasp it, keep it in your heart, never let it go."

He speaks as one who knew what the hearts of all Christians are. He knew
that our grasp of the Gospel, at our best, is very cold,—that our love soon
waxes feeble,—that our faith soon wavers,—that our zeal soon flags,—that
familiarity with Christ's truth often brings with it a species of
contempt,—that, like Israel, we are apt to be discouraged by the length of
our journey,—and, like Peter, ready to sleep one moment and fight the
next,—but, like Peter, not ready to watch and pray. All this St. Paul
remembered, and, like a faithful watchman, he cries, by the Holy Ghost,
"Hold fast that which is good."

He speaks as if he foresaw by the Spirit that the good tidings of the
Gospel would soon be corrupted,


and plucked away from
the Church at Thessalonica. He speaks as one who foresaw that Satan and all
his agents would labour hard to cast down Christ's truth. He writes as
though he would forewarn men of this danger, and he cries, "Hold fast that
which is good."

Reader, the advice is always needed as long as the world stands. There is
a tendency to decay in the very best of human institutions. The best visible
Church of Christ is not free from this liability to degenerate. It is made
up of fallible men. There is always in it a tendency to decay. We see the
leaven of evil creeping into many a Church, even in the Apostle's time.
There were evils in the Corinthian Church, evils in the Ephesian Church,
evils in the Galatian Church. All these things are meant to be our warnings
and beacons in these latter times. All show the great necessity laid upon
the Church to remember the Apostle's words: "Hold fast that which is good."

Many a Church of Christ since then has fallen away for the want of
remembering this principle. Their ministers and members forgot that Satan is
always labouring to bring in false doctrine. They forgot that he can
transform himself into an angel of light,—that he can make darkness appear
light, and light darkness; truth appear falsehood, and falsehood truth. If
he cannot destroy Christianity, he ever tries to spoil it. If he cannot
prevent the form of godliness, he endeavours to rob Churches of the power.
No Church is ever safe that forgets these things, and does not bear in mind
the Apostle's injunction: "Hold fast that which is good."

Reader, if ever there was a time in the world when Churches were put upon
their trial, whether they would hold fast the truth or not, that time is the
present time, and those Churches are the Protestant Churches of our own
land. Popery, that old enemy of our nation, is coming in upon us in this day
like a flood. We are assaulted by open enemies without, and betrayed
continually by false friends within. The numbers of Roman Catholic churches,
and chapels, and schools, and conventual and monastic establishments, are
continually increasing around us. Month after month brings tidings of some
new defection from the ranks of the Church of England to the ranks of the
Church of Rome. Already the clergy of the Church of Rome are using great
swelling words about things to come, and boasting that, sooner or later,
England shall once more be brought back to the orbit from whence she fell,
and take her place in the Catholic system. Already the Pope is parcelling
our country into bishoprics, and speaks like one who fancies that by-and-by
he shall divide the spoil. Already he seems to foresee a time when England
shall be as the patrimony of St. Peter's, when London shall be as Rome, when
St Paul's shall be as St. Peter's, and Lambeth Palace shall be as the
Vatican itself. Surely, now or never, we ought all of us to awake, and "Hold
fast that which is good."

We supposed, some of us, in our blindness, that the power of the Church
of Rome was ended. We dreamed, some of us, in our folly, that the
Reformation had ended the Popish controversy, and that if Romanism did
survive, Romanism was altogether changed. If we did think so, we have lived
to learn that we made a most grievous mistake. Rome never changes. It is her
boast that she is always the same. The snake is not killed. He was scotched
at the time of the Reformation, but was not destroyed. The Romish Antichrist
is not dead. He was cast down for a little season, like the fabled giant
buried under Etna, but his deadly wound is healed, the grave is opening once
more, and Antichrist is coming forth. The unclean spirit of Popery is not
laid in his own place. Rather he seems to say, "My house in England is now
swept and garnished for me; let me return to the place from whence I came

And, reader, the question is now, whether we are going to abide quietly,
sit still, and fold our hands, and do nothing to resist the assault. Are we
really men of understanding of the times? Do we know the day of our
visitation? Surely, this is a crisis in the history of our Churches and of
our land. It is a time which will soon prove whether we know the value of
our privileges, or whether, like Amalek, "the first of the nations," our
"latter end shall be that we perish for ever." It is a time which will soon
prove whether we intend to allow our candlestick to be quietly removed, or
repent, and do our first works, lest any man should take our crown. If we
love the open Bible,— if we love the preaching of the Gospel,—if we love the
freedom of reading that Bible, no man letting or hindering us, and the
opportunity of hearing that Gospel, no man forbidding us —if we love civil
liberty—if we love religious liberty—if these are precious to our souls, we
must all make up our minds to hold fast, lest by and by we lose all.

Reader, if we mean to hold fast, every parish, every congregation, every
Christian man, and every Christian woman, must do their part in contending
for the truth. Each should work, and each should pray, and each should
labour as if the preservation of the pure Gospel depended upon himself or
herself, and upon no one else at all. The bishops must not leave the matter
to the priests, nor the priests leave the matter to the bishops. The clergy
must not leave the matter to the laity, nor the laity to the clergy. The
Parliament must not leave the matter to the country, nor the country to the
Parliament. The rich must not leave the matter to the poor, nor the poor to
the rich. We must all Work. Every living soul has a sphere of influence. Let
him see to it that he fills it. Every living soul can throw some weight into
the scale of the Gospel. Let him see to it that he casts it in. Let every
one know his own individual responsibility in this matter; and all, by God's
help, will be well.

If we would hold fast that which is good, we must never tolerate or
countenance any doctrine which is not the pure doctrine of Christ's Gospel.
There is a hatred which is downright charity—that is the hatred of erroneous
doctrine. There is an intolerance which is downright praiseworthy—that is
the intolerance of false teaching in the pulpit. Who would ever think of
tolerating a little poison given to him day by day? If men come among you
who do not preach "all the counsel of God," who do not preach of Christ, and
sin, and holiness, of ruin, and redemption, and regeneration; and do not
preach of these things in a Scriptural way, you ought to cease to hear them.
You ought to act upon the injunction given by the Holy Ghost in the Old
Testament: "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction which causes to err from
the words of knowledge." (Prov. xix. 27.) You ought to carry out the spirit
shown by the Apostle Paul, in Gal. i. 8: "Though we, or an angel from heaven
preach any other doctrine unto you than that which we have preached, let him
be accursed." If we can bear to hear Christ's truth mangled or
adulterated,—and can see no harm in listening to that which is another
Gospel,—and can sit at ease while sham Christianity is poured into our
ears,—and can go home comfortably afterwards, and not burn with holy
indignation,—if this be the case, there is little chance of our ever doing
much to resist Rome. If we are content to hear Jesus Christ not put in His
rightful place, we are not men and women who are likely to do Christ much
service, or fight a good fight on His side. He that is not zealous against
error, is not likely to he zealous for truth.

If we would hold fast the truth, we must be ready to unite with all who
hold the truth, and love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We must he
ready to lay aside all minor questions as things of subordinate importance.
Establishment or no

liturgy or no liturgy,—surplice or no surplice,—bishops or presbyters,—all
these points of difference however important they may be in their place and
in their proportion,—all ought to be regarded as subordinate questions. I
ask no man to give up his private opinions about them. I wish no man to do
violence to his conscience. All I say is, that these questions are wood,
hay, and stubble, when the very foundations of the faith are in danger. The
Philistines are upon us. Can we make common cause against them, or can we
not? This is the one point for our consideration. Surely it is not right to
say that we expect to spend eternity with men in heaven, and yet cannot work
for a few years with them in this world. It is nonsense to talk of alliance
and union, if in a day like this there is to be no co-operation, The
presence of a common foe ought to sink minor differences. We must hold
together. Depend upon it, all Protestants must hold together, if they mean
to "hold fast that which is good."

Some men may say, "This is very troublesome." Some may say, "Why not sit
still and be quiet?" Some may say, "Oh, that horrid controversy! What need
is there for all this trouble? Why should we care so much about these points
of difference?" I ask, what good thing was ever got or ever kept without
trouble? Gold does not lie in English cornfields, but at the bottom of
Californian rivers. Pearls do not grow in English hedges, but deep down in
Indian seas. Difficulties are never overcome without struggles. Mountains
are seldom climbed without fatigue. Oceans are not crossed without tossings
on the waves. Peace is seldom obtained without war. And Christ's truth is
seldom made a nation's property, and kept a nation's property, without
pains, without struggles, and without trouble.

Let the man who talks of

"trouble" tell me where we should be at
this day if our forefathers had not taken some trouble? Where would be the
Gospel of England if martyrs had not given their bodies to be burned? Who
shall estimate our debt to Cranmer, Latimer, Hooper, Ridley and Taylor, and
their brethren? They held fast that which is good. They would not give up
one jot. They counted not their lives dear for the Gospel's sake. They
laboured, and they travailed, and we have entered into their labours. Shame
upon us if we will not take a little trouble to keep with us what they so
nobly won! Trouble or no trouble,—pains or no pains,—controversy, or no
controversy,—one thing is very sure: that nothing but Christ's Gospel will
ever do good to our own souls. Nothing else will maintain our Churches.
Nothing else will ever bring down God's blessing upon our land. If,
therefore, we love our own souls, or if we love our country's prosperity, or
if we love to keep our Churches standing, we must remember the Apostles
words, and "hold fast" firmly the Gospel, and refuse to let it go.

And now, reader, I have set before you two things.

One is the
right, the duty, and necessity of private judgment.

The other is the
duty and necessity of keeping firm hold upon truth.—It only remains for me
to apply these things to your own individual conscience by a few concluding

For one thing, if it be your duty to "prove all things," let me beseech
and exhort you to arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written Word
of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible. Prove
all religious truth when it is brought before you by the Bible. A little
knowledge of the Bible will not suffice. Depend upon it, a man must know his
Bible well if he is to prove religious teachings by it; and he must read it
regularly if he would know it well. There is no royal road to a knowledge of
the Bible. There must be reading daily, regular reading of the Book, or the
Book will not be known. As one said quaintly, but most truly, "Justification
may be by faith, but a knowledge of the Bible comes only by works." The
devil can quote Scripture. He could go to our Lord and quote Scripture when
he wished to tempt Him. A man must be able to say, from his knowledge of
Scripture, when he hears Scripture falsely quoted, "Thus it is written
again," lest he be deceived. Neglect your Bible, and nothing that I know of
can prevent your becoming a Roman Catholic, an Arminian, a Socinian, a Jew,
or a Turk, if a plausible advocate of any of these false systems shall
happen to meet you.

For another thing, if it be right to "prove all things," take care to try
every Roman Catholic doctrine, by whomsoever put forward, by the written
Word of God. Believe nothing, however speciously advanced—believe nothing,
with whatever weight of authority brought forward,—believe nothing, though
supported by all the Fathers,—believe nothing, except it can be proved to
you out of Scripture. That alone is infallible. That alone is light. That
alone is God's measure of truth and falsehood. "Let God be true, and every
man a liar." The New Zealanders' answer to the Romish priests who went among
them is an answer never to be forgotten. They heard these priests urge upon
them the worship of the Virgin Mary. They heard them recommend them to pray
to saints. They heard them advocate the use of images. They heard them speak
of the authority of the Church of Rome, the supremacy of the Pope, the
antiquity of the Romish communion. They knew the Bible, and they heard all
this calmly, and gave one simple but memorable answer:

"It cannot be
true, because it is

not in the Book." All the learning in the
world could never have supplied a better answer than that. Latimer, or Knox,
or Owen, could never have made a more crushing reply. Let this be our rule
when we are attacked by Romanists; let us hold fast the sword of the Spirit,
and say in reply to all their arguments,

"It cannot be

because it is not in the Book."

Last of all, if it be right to "hold fast that which is good," let us
make sure that we have each laid hold personally upon Christ's truth for
ourselves. Reader, it will not save you and me to know all controversies,
and to be able to detect everything which is false. Head knowledge will
never bring you and me to heaven. It will not save us to be able to argue
and reason with Roman Catholics, or to detect the errors of Popes' Bulls, or
Pastoral Letters. Let us see that we each lay hold upon Jesus Christ for
ourselves, by our own personal faith. Let us see to it that we each flee for
refuge, and lay hold upon the hope set before us in His glorious Gospel. Let
us do this, and all shall be well with us, whatever else may go ill. Let us
do this, and then all things are ours. The Church may fall. The State may go
to ruin. The foundations of all establishments may be shaken. The enemies of
truth may for a season prevail. But as for us, all shall be well. We shall
have in this world peace, and, in the world which is to come life
everlasting, for we shall have Christ, and having Him, we have all. This is
real good, lasting good,—good in sickness, good in health, good in life,
good in death, good in time, and good in eternity. All other things are but
uncertain. They all wear out. They fade. They droop. They wither. They
decay. The longer we have them the more worthless we find them, and the more
satisfied we become that everything here below is "vanity and vexation of
spirit." But as for hope in Christ, that is

always good. The longer
we use it the better it seems. The more we wear it in our hearts the
brighter it will look. It is good when we first have it. It is better far
when we grow older. It is better still in the day of trial, and the hour of
death. And best of all, depend upon it, will it prove in the day of

Reader, if you have not yet laid hold on this hope in Christ, seek it at
once. Call on the Lord Jesus to give it to you. Give Him no rest till you
know and feel that you

are His.

If you have laid hold on this hope, hold it fast. Prize it highly, for it
will stand by you when everything else fails.


* "The people of God are called to try the truth, to judge between good
and ill, between light and darkness. God hath made them the promise of His
Spirit, and hath left unto them His Word. They of Berea, when they heard the
preaching of Paul, searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were
so as he taught them, and many of them believed. So do you: give heed to
instruction and yet receive not all things without proof and trial that they
are not contrary to the wholesome doctrine of the Word of God."

Jewell, author of the Apology of the Church of England.

This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted 

© 1998 by Tony
Capoccia. All rights reserved.