Rule for Trying the Spirits that
Are In the World
Preached on Sunday Evening, May
31ST 1840, in
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” 1 John 4:1‑4.
It has always been the case, ever since God sent prophets, that the devil has endeavored to imitate him and send prophets too; and the Lord told Moses to give the people this advice, that if a prophet rose up, or a dreamer of dreams, and prophesied things that came true, yet they were not to believe him except he brought forth in his prophecy the real truth of God. It seems good in the sight of God that, for wise purposes, there should be false prophets and false teachers, for the trial of his people’s faith, for putting them upon the important work of measuring and weighing up the spirits of men, and “trying the spirits whether they be of God.” In one place the Lord tells us that heresies must abound, “that they which are approved may be made manifest.” This, seems, in come measure, rather trying to flesh and blood; but it is God’s method, and it becomes the saints of the Most High to be concerned to look to the Lord for wisdom to direct them in a matter of such moment and importance.
Some one, perhaps, is ready to say, “0h! I can ‘try the spirits’ of men in a moment; I can measure them to a nicety.” Well; what rule do yon go by? “My own experience.” Indeed; and have you tried that by the standard of God’s Spirit and God’s truth? If you have not, perhaps your experience is delusive; for God tells us, he will send some “strong delusions, that they may believe a lie.” So that you should be concerned to bring your experience to the standard of God’s unerring Book; and if it is not according to that depend upon it you will deceive your soul, if you make a stand upon it or attempt to try the spirits of men by it.
“But” say you, “do you suppose that all Christian experience is according to the Word of God? Do not you believe that the Holy Ghost sometimes works in the heart of a child of God without the Word?” Yes, I do; but never contrary to it. He always brings about things exactly according to the Word of God, and never contrary to it.
Perhaps there may be some one in this assembly who may say,
“0h! But I believe he never works except through the Word and by the hearing of
the Word.” What a pretty sweep you make then! You send all infants to hell at
once, for they are all born in sin and shapen in iniquity; and unless they are
renewed in the spirit of their minds and blessed with an interest in the Lord
Jesus Christ, they cannot go to heaven any more than adults. They never could go
on the ground of their innocence; they are not innocent, they are guilty.
Therefore you sink all infants to hell. Now so far as I am from believing that,
I believe rather that infants, dying in their infancy, are amongst the number
of God’s elect, and that God works a divine change in them without the hearing
of the Word. And we might just glance at one sentence which gives us a little
encouragement on this ground. When Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, and
Elizabeth her cousin, pregnant with John the Baptist (and God tells us he was
sanctified “from the womb”), Mary went to see her cousin; and as soon as she
stepped into the house,
I shall pass on, then, to notice the rule which is laid down in our text, by which we are to “try the spirits” of men. “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” And this “spirit of antichrist,” John tells us, was already in the world in his day. In our day there is a great stir about the progress of Popery, and some men seem trembling alive lest Popery should reign; but I believe thousands of those who are making the greatest stir about it are feeding the soul of Popery from week to week, with all the doctrines they preach, however much they may fight against the soul, and against the body; for that “without the soul would he dead.” The life and soul and blood and pulse and energy of Popery and antichrist is couched in what the Lord has in view here: “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God,” but of antichrist.
“But,” say you, “ever body almost ‘confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.’” Now that is the matter we have to look to a little. May God direct us!
Everybody almost in this nation talks about a “Christ that is come in the flesh;” but the Lord of the house assures us that there shall arise false christs, and shall deceive many, (Matt. 5:24). And Paul said in his day there were many who “preached another Jesus;” which is not God’s Christ, and, therefore, it is antichrist. Our business, then, shall be, as God shall assist (and may God in very deed assist us), to point out God’s Christ, that has “come in the flesh.”
I. Now what is the Christ of God? In what capacity did he stand, as having “come in the flesh,” —as the elect Head of an elect body?
“0h! Come,” say you; “you begin high at once; you are beginning with election, and we do not believe that.” Why, then you have the very spirit of antichrist. If you deny that, if God the Spirit has not convinced you of that, no matter what you profess to be, the life and soul of your religion feeds Popery; yours is the spirit of antichrist.
II. That he has come to accomplish a manifested work for the elect.
III. That he came to work out a complete righteousness for them.
IV. That he is their witness, life, and light.
I. If we come to examine the Word of God upon this subject, we find the Lord says he “chose a people in Christ before the foundation of the world,” and that Christ, as the Head of this people, was “set up from everlasting,” and “his delights were with the sons of men” when the heavens were prepared and the foundations of the earth appointed. And when his blessed Majesty “came in the flesh,” in what capacity did he come? God tells us, in Isaiah 40: “His reward is with him, and his work before him.” What is “his reward?” Why, his church, his elect, the people chosen in him. And he brought them “with him.” Before he came in the flesh all the elect were in union to him by the divine appointment of the Father; and when he came, he represented them, in his life and sufferings and death and resurrection. Hence it is said, they “are crucified with Christ,” that they “suffer with him,” that they “are risen with him,” and (if that is not enough) that they “sit together in heavenly places with him.” God’s Christ never took a step in the flesh without the whole elect in his heart. This is the Christ that is “come in the flesh,” for the accomplishment of salvation.
Now the greatest part of the professing world—it does not
matter what they call themselves, Independents, Baptists, Church people,
Methodists, Moravians, or Quakers, —fifty out of every fifty‑one, deny this. And
therefore theirs is antichrist; it is not God’s Christ. How ever pleasing it
may be to flesh and blood, if they deny this foundation and fundamental truth,
if they deny Christ and one mystical body in union with him, and his coming into
the world to represent them and to accomplish a work for their eternal
salvation, they deny God’s Christ, and they set up a Christ of their own, which
is antichrist. We therefore solemnly charge it upon the people of God, if you
hear men denying this fundamental truth whatever they may say about piety and
holiness and charity and benevolence, and mortifications and alms deeds and
prayers and tears and watchings, and all that they can heap up besides, in your
heart weigh them up, and say, It is antichrist. For God’s Christ and his people
are one; one, never to be separated, and never to be made two. (1 Cor. 12:12;
II. But then we observe that another branch of this rule is,
that the Christ of God, who is “come in the flesh,” is not only come to
represent his people who are in union to him, but he is come
to accomplish a complete salvation for
them. Not come to make it possible for them to save themselves; not come to
open a way whereby, through their exertions, they may secure their own
salvation. A Christ of that nature is one of the devil’s inventing. It is
antichrist. It is not the Christ of God. No, no. The Christ of God is come “to
put away sin,” “to finish transgression and to make an end of sin, and to bring
in everlasting, righteousness,” to “redeem from all iniquity,” and to “redeem
onto God.” So we find, when the Holy Ghost is speaking upon the subject, he
says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and gave
himself for it.” Do you not see, beloved, how it is? Has God made you to feel
it? If this little word it gets into
your conscience, it is a blessed thing, if God the Spirit puts it there. He gave
himself for it. Not “gave himself” indefinitely “for all sin of all men,” —the
doctrine of the day, to accomplish a great salvation, and make it possible for
those who please to save themselves; that is antichrist; I do not care who
preaches it, nor who believes it: it is not the Christ of God. No, no. God’s
Christ has finished transgression, and made a complete atonement for sin; such
an atonement that, as the Holy Ghost solemnly declares, “the redeemed of the
lord shall come to
If we believe that God’s Christ “is come in the flesh,” then, we believe that he has come as the Head and Representive of his people, and that he has completed their salvation and entirely finished the work. Yea, bless his holy mine, we are brought to believe and feel in our souls that he has accomplished such a work that it can neither be mended nor marred. The manifestation of it may go through a variety of changes, and we through a variety of changes under it; but the work is as firm as the throne of God, and it shall stand forever. “His work is perfect; a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he.” The Christ of God that has “come in the flesh” is one that has accomplished this blessed, this God‑glorifying work. Any other Christ is not the Christ of God, but it is antichrist, another Jesus, one of those “false Christs” that the Lord said should arise, and should deceive many; and so, God knows, there are many who are deceived.
III. But, then, we observe further, the Lord Christ that is “come in the flesh” is that blessed Christ that has wrought out a complete righteousness for the justification of his people; not only atoned for their sins, but wrought out a righteousness, to present them just and perfect and righteous in his blessed and pure obedience.
I know some people say, “0h yes; we have a righteousness
through Christ; he has accomplished
such a work that if we are faithful and add our faithfulness to his work, we
shall obtain righteousness and holiness too; but not without.” Why, then, the
Christ that has done that is not God’s Christ; it is antichrist. The Christ of
God that has “come in the flesh,” is emphatically called “The Lord our
righteousness;” and God tells us plainly that it is not
through, but “in the Lord,” that “all
the seed of
I know, antichrist mocks at the idea of looking for imputed righteousness, or depending upon imputed righteousness. Imputed righteousness, some say, is imputed nonsense. Now, so charitable am I, that I believe that a man who lives and dies declaring the imputed righteousness of Christ to be nonsense, dies to be damned, as sure as God is in heaven. I do not care who he is, nor what he is; the spirit by which he is guided is antichrist. It is not “the Spirit of God;” for God’s Christ is Christ “our righteousness” —“the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Of God’s Christ it is said, that “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,” and that we are “justified freely through the redemption that is in him.” And when the Lord the Spirit brings this solemn mystery into the conscience of a poor, burdened, dejected, drooping sinner, 0h what glory teems into his heart! To be led in faith and feeling to see that he stands before God in the spotless, pure, perfect obedience of Christ; his righteousness justifying him so fully and completely that God himself, by the apostle, challenges all creation to “lay any thing to his charge,” this is Christ! Hence, says the apostle, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus;” not to them that talk about, nor to them that bring forth a false Christ, but to them that are really in God’s Christ. Why, that poor soul is so wrapped up in God’s Christ that in the sight of God it is Christ that is seen, and the man is seen in Christ; and therefore he is just and righteous and complete. This is the Christ that is “come in the flesh,” —Christ “our righteousness;” and we in his righteousness are brought to stand “complete in him.”
“But then,” say some of you, “we must have holiness. Talk what you will about being righteous in Christ, we must have personal holiness. Except we have personal holiness, and are made pure and sanctified, what will the righteousness of Christ do for us? It will not save us.” Well, where will you look for personal holiness? In your Christ, which is a Christ that has done something for you, and leaves you to complete the work, by your penitence and mortification and alms‑deeds and wonders that you are to manufacture? Is that what you mean by personal holiness? If it is, I hope you will keep it to yourselves. I hope God will not suffer me to be plagued with it; I have plague enough without it. But if, by personal holiness, you mean being made a partaker of the divine nature, by the quickening enlightening power and divine communication of God the Holy Ghost, having Christ formed in the soul the hope of glory, being saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, all centering in and proceeding from Christ, then you have a holiness that will stand the test of God’s Word: “For Christ is made of God unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” And when his blessed Majesty is being spoken of under the Old Testament dispensation, this is his language. “I am like a green fir-tree; from me is they fruit found.” What is the holiness of a child of God, then—his real personal holiness? It is couched in this one blessed thing, in all the manifested bearings of it—Christ in you.
Here perhaps I stagger some who are noted for their high views of election, predestination, and eternal union. “0h!”say they, “I have nothing to do with a Christ in me; I want a Christ without me.” Why, then, you have not God’s Christ; you are just on a level with the other, and your Christ is antichrist. The Lord’s blessed Christ that has “come in the flesh,” is by the blessed Spirit of God as truly communicated to the hearts of his people, and especially conceived in their hearts “the hope of glory,” as ever he was corporally conceived in the womb of Mary. If you have not a Christ that is formed in your hearts by the invincible energy of God the Holy Ghost, you are not fit to “try the spirits” of men; you have no sort of rule by which you are capable of trying them.
IV. But some poor soul is led to say, “Well; but what gives a proof that Christ is formed in my soul, the hope of glory?” Why, Christ is life. “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” And Christ is light. “I am the light of the world,” that lighteth every (spiritual) man that cometh into the (spiritual) world. Life and light go together; and when God the Spirit communicates this blessed Christ to the conscience, he communicates life, and the sinner begins to feel; and he communicates light, and the sinner begins to see. And what does he feel and see? His own emptiness, darkness, blindness, weakness; his own lost condition; and he is brought in real experience before God to be sick of himself, sick of his prayers and his tears and his repentance and his faith, if he professed to have any; he sickens at his vice, and sickens at his piety. A stranger is come into the temple; and he has overturned “the tables of money changers” in the heart, to make room for himself. This is God’s Christ, that is “come in the flesh.” All these principles, whether of open profaneness or professed piety, go to ruin. There must be room to realize God’s Christ as a perfect salvation; and that will never be till we are brought to self‑loathing and self‑detesting before a heart‑searching God. There will be a hard struggle for it too; especially if we have got a little piety. If you are openly profane, when God the Spirit is pleased to reveal the communicable nature of Christ to you, it will not be such a hard struggle to part with open profaneness; but to part with piety and religious duties and church‑going and chapel‑going and sacrament‑going and reading the “Whole Duty of Man,” and all those pious things—Oh bless me, it is just like driving a man mad. He imagines he had been a little remiss in some of these things; but then he will not be so again; he will be more diligent and more cautious. But no; God’s Christ cuts the man up, root and branch, and leaves him no more help in himself than the damned in hell; and he feels himself as truly cut down as a wretch can be, before a heart‑searching God.
Now have you come to this? If not, you do not know God’s Christ, which is “come in the; flesh.” You may talk a great deal about it, but you have not got into the mystery of it. And all your knowledge, till it begins here, is like the fine oil of antichrist; it is only deceiving you, and wrapping you up in a false odor. You have only got a Christ of your own; and it is antichrist. God’s Christ roots up, and brings the poor sinner not in judgment merely, but in feeling, to say before God, “There is no help in me;” to feel that he can neither will nor do, and to justify that declaration: “It is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” He is brought in his very feelings before a heart‑searching God to justify God in condemning him; and he gives God leave (as far as a creature can do) to enter into judgment with him; for he says, “Lord, I deserve it, and there is no help in me.”
Well, now, have you been brought there? “No,” say you, “and I hope I never shall be.” I believe you will be damned, if you never are. I do indeed. I solemnly believe that all your religion is nothing but the religion of antichrist, if God has not brought you there; you have never known the Christ of God, the blessed Christ that the Lord has provided for the salvation of his people.
“But, then,” say you, “if this be the case, what do you make of such a text as ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?’ Where do you find any purity in such a statement as this?” The very life and soul of it. It is the pure life and communicable nature of Christ which God the Spirit forms in thy soul that is acting in thy soul, and letting thee feel and see what a dark and black wretch thou art in thyself. You never felt it, and never believed it, till God granted you divine life and light; and just in proportion as Christ is spread abroad in the rays of his life and glory in your hearts, do you discover your own wretchedness and darkness and blindness and weakness and deformity; nor can anything short of a perfect Saviour, brought home to your conscience by the glorious power of God the Holy Ghost, ever satisfy you; but when he is realized, felt, and enjoyed by vital faith, you feel that in him you are blessed indeed.
“Well really,” say you; “if I could believe that, I think I should have a little hope; for I am there; but I have been thinking that I have nothing to do with Christ and Christ has nothing to do with me, because I should always be very humble and patient and meek and holy.” Why, if in self and of self, you were very humble and patient and meek and holy, you would not need a Christ, you know. “It, has pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.” If we could bring it fords of ourselves lie might keep his fulness to himself, for we should never trouble him about it. No; and we never do till he brings it to us, and makes us heartily glad to disgorge all our fancied religion. And Oh, what a poor creature the soul looks when God the Spirit brings him low; and there he lies, without any righteousness of his own, as dark and as wretched a creature as he well can be!
“Why,” say you, “you surely would not call that any part of holiness?” It is just the very beginning and soul of it. It is God the Spirit that is making a stir in thy foul nature, beginning to purge it, and to make thee sicken under it, and under a feeling sense of it say, “Lord! I abhor myself.”
“Ah!” say some of you, “That is preaching corruption.” “I never preach corruption,” says one; “I preach Christ.” Oh! But if you do not preach a Christ that is fitted to a sinner in all his vileness and corruption and pollution, your Christ is not worth my spectacles. It is not God’s Christ; it is antichrist. The Christ that is “come in the flesh,” is a Christ just suited to such a poor lost and wretched sinner, in all his wretchedness and loathsomeness. Hence, when we come to examine the Book of God, an are led feelingly and spiritually to trace it, what does it say? “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” Now what do you do with all your “might” and all your power? And again, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” “Oh!” say you; “that is what I believe; it is ‘not of works,’ and therefore I believe in a Christ without me.” And you are capable of doing that, are you? “Yes,” say you. Why, then, you are capable of a great work, and you may make the best of it; for it is not God’s Christ nor faith in God’s Christ. You may rest assured it is presumption, and you will find it so when you come to be tried up in the grand court of God. But when the poor sinner comes to be cut up and brought down, and in his feelings is worse than a dog, then God the Spirit leads him to see what he has to hope in; and that is—God’s Christ. Therefore do not be alarmed, sinner, at finding all your little stock go. I dare say, you are afraid of being insolvent, and so you have tried to set up a fresh stock, and charged your hands from handling, and your eyes from seeing, and your ears from hearing, and have been determined to bring something to God at last; and yet it is always going, and going, and going. “All!” say you; “now that is just it.” And God grant it may go, and you may never be able to pick it up again; for it is a spurning of God’s Christ. But when God the Spirit is pleased to form this Christ in the heart, “the hope of glory” and the glory of hope, then you will cling to him, twine round him, hang upon him, and with a solemn consecrated conscience say, “None but Jesus, none but Jesus, for such a sinner as I.”
Now, then, when this is the case, this blessed Christ that is
“come in the flesh” lives in you and you in him. You breathe in his life; you
walk in his light; you stretch forth your hands in his strength; you find a
divine shining in your conscience. “In his light you see light.” It comes with
such divine penetration that it appears to ransack the whole soul, and all
things appear in very deed to be different from what they were before. Then you
know something of what it is to be brought out of the kingdom of darkness into
Remember, then, poor child of God, that this blessed Christ that is “come in the flesh,” is come to be thy deliverance; he is come to be thy sanctification; he is come to be thy life and thy light; he is come to be thy strength and thy succour and thy support; he is come to be thy hiding‑place from every storm and from every tempest; he is come to stand betwixt holy Justice and thee, and to present thee to God complete in himself; to strip thee of all idols, and to bring thee bare, naked, empty, vile, polluted, foolish, ignorant, and condemned, to the foot of the cross. Is God’s Christ thus manifested in you? Have you had a little of this sweetness in your conscience? Oh what solemn moments, they have been! For you have been led then to say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name; who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving‑kindness and render mercies! “In this blessed Christ is all law can require, justice demand, God give, or a sinner need. He gives thee a title to heaven and a meetness for it, and will convey thee safely to it, and crown thee when thou art there. It is Christ “all and in all.” You want no other. If ever God the Spirit reveals this, you will say, “It is enough.”
This is the Christ that is “come in the flesh;” and you are to “ try the spirits” of men by this rule. If they preach anything, easy or hard, save the Lamb and his blood, lay any other foundation, proclaim any other deliverer, set forth anything, however pious or good it may appear in itself, to present the sinner before God but this Christ, and the Spirit of the Lord manifesting this Christ in the conscience, it is antichrist. Reject it, abhor it; it is the soul of Popery. Creature merit, creature works, and creature worthiness in matters of salvation, —this is the life and soul and spirit of Popery. The life and soul and spirit of Christianity is—God in Christ, and Christ in us, and we in him; God and Christ and conscience brought together through the blood and obedience of Immanuel, by the invincible power of God the Spirit. This is what promotes the declarative honor of Christ, and supports the poor soul that is led by the Spirit into the life of God.
Now I shall conclude with a hint or two upon what has been said. I charge you in the name of the living God, mind what you hear—mind who you hear. If a man comes and preaches a Christ without you, that is never formed in you and that you have never been brought from necessity to submit to, whose life and power you have never felt; and if the preacher endeavors to direct your attention from a feeling religion, and bolster you up with what he calls a Christ without you, and never unctuously preaches a Christ in you, the hope of glory, having been formed in your hearts as such, constraining you to cling to, hang upon, and live in him; whatever kind of tale he may tell you, reject him as you would reject the devil. It is not God’s Christ; it is antichrist, and he would wrap you up in delusions, and cry, “ Peace, peace,” when God had not spoken peace. You may have your ears pleased, and your judgment fed; but your conscience is starved, and your soul is deceived. There is a solemn vitality in Christ in the heart. Without it, all our religion will dry up; but if we are brought to feel the necessity of hanging entirely, upon Christ, to cling to him, with nothing but Christ to rest upon before God, and there find rest to our souls, then storms and tempests and hurricanes pray come, but our anchorage; is sure, and the cable shall never break; for it is a three‑fold cord—the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Remember how God tells us. that there shall be false Christs and false teachers, “bringing in damnable heresies” you must expect they will come to try you, and it becomes you to try them. Try them by their confession of “the coming of Christ in the flesh.” Ask your conscience now what hope you had till God the Spirit gave you hope in Christ—what life and light you had till the Holy Ghost communicated life and light front Christ your living Head—what hope and love you have that does not come from Christ as revealed and shed abroad by God the Holy Ghost; and if men want to take you to something that is not this, abhor it with your whole soul as the spirit of Popery and antichrist.
As I said before, I consider there is very little else in our
day but the spirit of Popery. I look among the Baptists (though I am a Baptist),
they are going after it in shoals. There was a circular letter published last
year, signed by the ministers of thirty‑five Baptist churches in the midland
Holy Ghost! Repeat that word—“It is finished,” in our hearts. Then we shall know something of God’s Christ that is “come in the flesh,” and that he has come into our hearts, as a proof of it, and led us to know something of his preciousness. May the Lord the Spirit blessedly apply his own Word, for Christ’s sake.