“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”—1 THESS. 5: 21.
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’s 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 the right, and discharge the 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 Christ.
Now the Apostle Paul urges all these three points upon our notice when he uses those remarkable words, ” Prove all things.” I ask particular attention to that expression. In every point of view it is most weighty and instructive.
Here, we must 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 prophesying.” 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.”
This is private judgment. This is the right we are to exercise if we love our souls. We 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. We are not to argue, ” Such and such things must be true, because these men say so.” We are not to do so. We are to prove all things by the Word of God.
Now I know such doctrine sounds startling in some men’s ears. But I write it down advisedly, and believe it cannot be disproved. I should be sorry to encourage any 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 of 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.”
J.C. Ryle Prove All Things 1816-1900