“PROVING AND HOLDING”
A Sermon by Ernest Roe on January 2nd, 1924. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”.Â—1 Thes., 5. 21.
Our text is addressed by the Holy Ghost to a peculiar people. It is not intended for any who are dead in profession or in sin: it is the exclusive property of the family of divine grace. This epistle in its entirety is addressed to the “Church which is in God the Father”, a very beautiful and important description of the Elect. The importance of this precept cannot be over-estimated; I fear it will be greatly under-estimated by most of us. None of us (I wish to speak as in the sight of God) are quite free from partiality in the word of God; portions which discriminate, humble, and bare us, we do not appreciate at their proper value; smooth things we can swallow, but things that are profitable and edifying not one in twenty cares to hear, much less appreciate.
“PROVE ALL THINGS”. The Holy Spirit will make these words a reality to His people sooner or later. They have an ear to hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches; the rest cannot hear. To prove is to test, to examine, to ascertain the genuineness or the falsity of any given thing. In commercial life many things are proved, but in things pertaining to vital godliness there is scarcely one in a hundred that does any testing or proving whatsoever. You may take the whole of ChristendomÂ—the people professing religionÂ—and I venture to say not one in a hundred thinks
any testing of religion is necessary; and, my dear friends, if we do any, it is our mercy, for the assuming of religious things today is dreadful. The taking of the most solemn things for granted is awful, and I believe that while open sin has ruined its thousands, mere external religion has ruined its millions. It is all one to Satan which way we go to perdition, whether by flagrant ungodliness or by the respectable way of religious profession: if he has any choice in the matter, I should say he prefers we go by that religion of which he is the authorÂ—the religion of the flesh, and in conformity with the world’s taste.
Two things we must consider here: first, no natural man can prove spiritual things; and by natural man, be it understood, the Spirit means not merely a person living in open sin, but persons like us who occupy places in a Church, and yet are not born again. You, my brethren, who preach, you who are in membership here or elsewhere, do not assume you are right because of these things; suffer the word of exhortation, for you and I may be deceived. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2, 14).
The natural man has no spiritual sense; he has no ability to perceive a gospel minister when one is before him; he has no power to understand a gospel sermon when he hears one, and no capacity to see a godly soul when one is in front of his very eyes: hence such are outside our text tonight. Yet from such people you will get the most judging: they are like the blind man who can tell the difference in colours, and like the deaf man who can describe all the beautiful strains and harmonies of the grandest musicÂ—wonderfully clever! The Holy Ghost is straight for it: “He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no (natural) man” (I Cor. 2, v. 14-15).
The second thing to consider is: God gives to his people a spiritual faculty by which they can test or prove all spiritual things. Let me pause a moment here: its importance is overwhelming. Do you want to know if the life of God is in your soul? Here is one solid evidence: can you discern spiritual things in their spiritual power? If you cannot, friend, I must tell you plainly, you give no evidence of being born again. Let me quote the word of God again, for that settles the strife: “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things”. A spiritual man is one born of the spiritÂ—must be so; there is no other way to become a spiritual manÂ—and if a spiritual man, then surely the rest must follow: he has a spiritual faculty to “Judge all things”. For God’s word is not true in one part and false in another. If we have the first partÂ—the Spiritual birthÂ—we shall also have the second partÂ—the judging of all things.
With many professing godliness they cannot discern a big A from a bull’s foot in things relating to the gospel; you know
I am but saying only what is too true. Oh that it were not true of many, so many that name the name of Christ! Now what is the secret? (Let us not tone down the truth). The secret is just this, they are not born of the Spirit, for God’s word must stand: Â“He that is spiritual judgeth all things”. The people of whom we are speaking, if they hear light stuff from the pulpitÂ—why, it is glorious to them, they relish it; if they meet with vain and light companyÂ—oh! they are so happy, they are then in their element. Why is it? Lacking the spiritual gift and grace of God, they can value nothing better than their nature, and so like joins with like. On the contrary, the spiritual man will not hear light trash, he will have nothing but that which is Spiritual and when he hears it he knows it. Do you know it, friend? Do you, or do you not? If you do not, whatever else you may have, you have not yet received the birth from above; if you have had that blessingÂ—why, directly you hear the gospel of Jesus in the power of the Spirit, immediately you hear the experience of the flock of slaughter described, your soul would join with it, your spiritual palate would taste it with pleasure and profit. The Lord help us to think of these two thingsÂ—that a natural man cannot prove spiritual things, but the Lord’s family have the gift to discern spiritual things. Let it be understood that all of God’s people have not this gift alike as to measure, but they all have it alike as to principle. The Saviour said, “If it were possible, they shall deceive the very Elect”. (Matthew 24, 24). And why cannot they be deceived? why, because among other things, “The sheep follow HIM: for they know HIS voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him”. (John 10, 4-5).
Let us consider as helped, some of the things God’s people will prove. And to begin at home, they will prove the minister. It does not matter who preaches today or what is preached, the general talk is, “They are all good men, and it is the gospel they preach every time”. If one spiritually tried soul, blessed with the grace of discernment, hears certain men and states his feelings relative to the man and his communication, he is greeted with something like this: “Bear in mind that there are diversities of gifts; they are all God’s servants and you must not say a word against them”. Who has not heard that “old wives’ fable” (I Tim. 4, 7) hurled at him when he has frankly spoken the truth of those who speak the veriest rubbish possible and try to palm it off as the Gospel of Christ? Some can hear no one at all; others can hear every one and every one is alike good. If any such are here I would say plainly to you, at present you have no spiritual grace to discern the false from the true.
God’s family do prove the minister: they prove his call by grace: they want to know that the man in the pulpit has really been delivered from the power of sin and brought into gospel light, love and liberty. It would be a splendid thing in my judgment, if no man were allowed to preach at all until he had related his call
by grace to the people before whom he is likely to minister, and let the people of God judge whether it bears the impress of heaven or not, also his call to the ministry will be proved. As ever, so today we are plagued with men who give little evidence of the right to preach. Those present tonight who hold the important office of preaching, think me not personal; I should say this if you were not here, and your presence must not close my mouth. I say again there are many who, I fear, have no right to enter a pulpit; they give no clear account of their call by grace, nor how God exercised their hearts and minds with the importance of the work: they cannot say how God thrust them out to speak in His name, and they are total strangers to the majestic power of God’s work bending them into gospel subjection and frank obedience to His truth. Hence they are men pleasers and time servers, who spit their venom against the real family of God and his true servants also. The spiritual people will search out such and turn away from them and rightly so: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many” (look at it) “many false prophets are gone out into the world”. We are guilty, friends, we do not carry out this precept as we should; we rather take it for granted that because a man gets into the pulpit and gives us the letter of the truth, he must be sent of God. Do not think so; prove him in the light of God’s Word; prove his ministry.
Test where he gets his sermons from. Sermons savour of their sourceÂ—if from men, of men they will smell to those who have a spiritual nose; if from God, there is a secret, sacred power attending the message, not always to comfort us, but often to crush us, to pull us to pieces; it will as it were, turn us upside down and shake a lot of fleshly religion out of us, and leave us in our feeling lifeless. This is to be “HEWN” by the Word. The value of such a ministry, only God rightly estimates. “What is the chaff to the wheat?” Such a ministry will ultimately set the soul down well established in the Word and ways of God. But a ministry that never touches a man’s conscience, a ministry that can allow hypocrites to settle down comfortably, that never takes forth the precious from the vile in either doctrine, experience, or practiceÂ—what is it? it is a dead one, unowned of God even as it is unsent of Him.
Which ministry is your heart most taken with? A dead ministry will deaden the feelings of the spiritual: it freezes any little warmth such may have; it never enters his path, never opens the truth of God to his soul with power, but sends him home complaining, for he has seen the discrepancies, heard the inconsistenciesÂ—part law, part grace, soundness in the letter to a point (and that not very great either)Â—in short, it is just what the Apostle calls “vain jangling”; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm”, (I Tim. 1, 6-7). But a ministry sent of God is proved by the living
elect to meet their souls in some way: if today it cuts them down, it will tomorrow lift them up; if today it condemns them, yet another it shall ring jubilee in their soul; and God’s living elect will never run away from the truth, no, never; for even while it cuts them deeply it makes them cleave to it with full purpose of heart, knowing that if they turn from the truth, what hope is left? none whatever.
Having had the ministry and the minister in the scales, let us now turn to those whom the Apostle describes as “your own selves” (2 Cor. 8, 5): “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves”. This is a very important testing. Have we ever proved our calling and election? As the professed elect and called of God, have we ever proved our profession of such solemn matters? What has been the result of our examination of these things? Or have we given no diligence in these things? (2 Peter 1, 10). At this time of year business people examine their books and take stock to see where they stand, and is there not plenty of room for us to take stock and see just where we stand in matters pertaining to eternity? Or are we wiser for time than for eternity? Are we satisfied with doubts and uncertainties? Are we? It is an awful experience to be in doubt and uncertainty about our eternal welfare (and we know what it means), but what is far worse than that is to be resting in doubt and uncertaintyÂ—truly that is horrible.
I would be very sorry to hurt one babe in the things of God, and it is preferable to have honest fears than to be proud, heady, presumptuous; but all the same, the child of God is not invulnerable to all the snares of Satan, and such may suppose their doubt is a sign of their call by grace. All called by grace will have some measure of doubt, but doubts and fears alone do not prove we are among the Lord’s people, neither can they yield peace, as every true born child of God knows so well. “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure”, Dear exercised soul, the Lord give you this diligence. I must say the person who shrinks this solemn work of proving his soul’s state is a hypocrite: he is like one who knows he has done wrong and is afraid of being detected; the Saviour has described the person: “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (such are all they who cannot endure a searching testimony). “But he that doeth truth cometh to the light that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God”. (Such are they who love plain dealings in the gospel ministry).
If you are enabled to seek in the light of His Word proofs of your calling, you will find it helpful to ask as in the sight of God; “Now when did I feel a convicted wretch before God? and when did God open to me the evils of my heart? and when did he first speak hope to my soul?” And when the Lord revives your soul as you review the past you will rejoice and say, “In spite of my
unbelief, my fears, my falls, there are a few things which God has wrought in my heart that are indelible, and if He has begun the work He will not leave it unperfected”. What an awful religion that must not be inspected, that one is afraid to examine by the balances of the sanctuary! What do you suppose God thinks of such a religion? He will reject that religion as reprobate silver. “Prove” your calling and election sure; not to God, for He knoweth them that are His; not to yourselves, for that is the work of the Spirit; but to others. How? If we are helped to “Give all diligence to add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity”; our profession of being among the elect and called by Him will be manifested to others. (2 Peter 1, 5-7).
Just one more thing. “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Test this great point. Is Jesus Christ in us? As many as are not trusting in the right thing, let me say once more that the hope of eternal glory is not membership of a Church: this must be repeated, for so many today talk of the number of years they have been a member of some Church. What is that to do with proving Christ is in us? Some of the greatest deceivers have lived under the cloak of outward religion. If we lived the years of Methuselah and all those years were years of Church membership and even of so-called Church usefulness, would that prove we are subjects of eternal bliss? No, most decidedly No. Church membership is good in its right place, but thousands use Church membership as a sort of lever by which they vainly but fondly dream it will lift them up to heaven, but it will not. (Capernaum was exalted to heaven, but brought down to hell NO: nothing less than Christ formed in us can be a solid hope for eternal glory; and as to entering heaven, it does not matter whether I am in a Church State on earth or not (though a Church state on earth is of God): “The one thing needful, dearest Lord, is to be one with Thee”. The thief on the cross had Christ formed in his heart, and went to gloryÂ—not a member of the Church militant, but a member of the Church triumphant.
If Christ is in us, there will at times be a savour of His presence, and it will be felt too, for the Spirit manifests Christ to the sinner whose heart is thus wrought upon; and when conscious of a spark of love to the Lord Jesus that person has the proof of Christ being in him. We cannot love Him without His first loving us; and when the soul goes out after the Lord Jesus Christ, and longs for one more smile of His face just to square matters comfortably againÂ—why is it? Because Christ is in the heart opening it, otherwise the heart is like the InnÂ—no room for Christ. Say, poor sinner, have you ever had one drop of His love shed abroad in your heart, one gracious communication from Him?
Then surely this must be a proof that you are not left destitute of Christ in you.
“HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD”. First, prove what is good by the testimony of the scriptures and the witness of the Spirit, and then hold fast thereto. If you have proved a minister to be called and sent of God, and his ministry owned of God in your conscience, then do not kick him, but cleave to him; and when you have proved your calling and election sure, and that Christ is in you, hold to those things, not withstanding the temptations to the contrary. “Hold fast the form of sound words”. The old fashioned truths do not need new words to set them forth. We may be narrow (be it so), but new words in the end generally mean new doctrine: that is the cunning of some men; they have not the honesty to say exactly what they mean, so they use a new word which has a new meaning.
The doctrine of imputed righteousness some may appear to put forth in a new way, but in reality they mean the righteousness of the creature. This glorious truth is as old as Abraham, Â“He believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness”, and even before Abraham was, this great truth lay hidden in the covenant of grace as being the only way by which a sinner could be just with God.
The doctrine of the Trinity in Unity, three eternal Persons subsisting in the Divine Essence, made known in the Scriptures and to the hearts of the living elect as truly and properly the Father, truly and properly the Son, and truly and properly the Holy Spirit, has been held in loving reverence by the Church of the living God ever since He had a Church, and is to them “Without controversy”. I would not say a word against learning, but we are justified in protesting against that learning which tinkers with the truth of God; such tinkerers will find that the God of Truth will not be played with. It is just enough to make one indignant when people who never had one conviction by the Spirit tinker with God’s words about sin and the sinfulness of the human heart, but such are to be pitied.
“Hold fast our profession”, which does not mean merely a profession connected with joining some church, though “Hold Fast” to your profession in that sense, after you have proved you had a gospel right to make one; let nothing drive you out of the Church which you joined in the fear of God. But if you did not do it in that way, friend, it is not worth holding. A dead profession is not even fit for the dunghill. But if the Lord by His truth has satisfied your spirit that the step was of Him, then cleave to that Church through evil and good report; let not a few cranks be the means of turning you from it.
I feel there is a deeper meaning. “Hold Fast” to the substance of our professionÂ—Jesus Christ, we have professed the
“Apostle and High Priest in our profession, Christ Jesus”; We have professed His true and proper Sonship, His Deity, His blessed IncarnationÂ—taking flesh (sin excepted) into union with His DivinityÂ—His substitutionary sacrifice, a vicarious death. These things, with others like them, are the substance of our profession; though old fashioned, blessedly glorious, and no tinker on earth can spoil their beauty and charm for some of us. “Hold Fast” these things. We, unless greatly erring, have proved these, and declare them solid, true, safe for life, and, as others have proved, safe for death. A Church state can kill itself by laxity in this precept.
“Hold Fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief”, (Revelation 3, 3), and the Lord fulfilled His word in the Church at Sardis. Is He not fulfilling the same word today? Oh! may He stir us up to “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown”, (Revelation 3, 11), not the crown of lifeÂ—that is in the hands of Christ to give to those who love HimÂ—but rather a crown of honour which He will delight to give to all those who, by His grace, have held fast.
You may know of some who play with truth as a child with toys, and they appear to get through life easy, spoken well of by all sorts, but if grace does not alter them before, such will have a hard time when they face Him who is jealous of His glory. Their dying bed may appear quietÂ—verily it is so, for it is the sleep of death in a two-fold way; it must be so, for there cannot be playing with the gospel and going to heaven too. The person who has been helped to hold fast to the end will not be saved by his holding, but he will have the testimony of a good conscience (and that makes a good bed fellow), and receive at the last, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,Â—enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”, (Matthew 25, 21). A word in the Hebrews is very important; it speaks of the Lord having a house, “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end”. The holding here is not the cause, but it certainly is the evidence of being of the household of faith. Many begin well, but something hinders and they end in the flesh. It is not the beginning (unless it is of God); it is the enduring until the endÂ—such shall be saved. To hold on against the devil, world, flesh, unbelief, dead professors, dead ministers; to hold fast the truth because of a living experience of its power against all these things, and often, too, when one feels that he cannot hold on for another moment, proves the person to be in the right way. Midst reproaches, misrepresentations, coldness where warmth should be shown, to be with the few, may make the flesh dislike the way, but faith approves. Many a poor soul with more to suffer than we, has been helped to hold fast unto the end and has died in peace with God, through precious blood, giving all the honour to grace, and now is where we hope one day safely to arrive, “Walking with Him in white: for they are worthy”, (see Revelation 3, 4).
If we are to be with God’s “few” we shall be cast out by the many. The Head hold us fast and we shall “Hold fast the Head” (Col. 2, 19). Let the Lord’s own words be my ending this evening, “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come”, (Revelation 2, 25),Â—till I come.
The publishers wish to quote the remarks of the Preacher of this Sermon, with which remarks they entirely concur,Â—
“The Author, after 42 years since this was spoken, sees no reason to modify the statements, but fears the general state of religion is worse by far”.