Innovation and Conservatism in Matters of Religion
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

This advice is always pertinent; yet there are periods in which it is specially relevant. While humanity on the whole is ever advancing, the stream at one time seems to stand still, and at another rushes on with noisy activity. When Paul wrote all was full of mental activity, religious conflict, political tumult, and the first century repeats itself in the nineteenth. Our age has three characteristics which bear on the interests of religion.

1. Intellect is all alive, more so perhaps than at any other period. This is the result —

(1) Of those general laws by which the social progress of our race is governed.

(2) Of our refined civilization, which by ever becoming more complicated is continually taxing the human mind.

(3) Of the stimulus of advancing education, which begets emulation, and raises continually higher the standard of necessary acquirement. Hence —

2. The age is one of mental freedom. The mind is goaded by internal cravings and external excitements. It goes forth to explore all regions, and will not be stopped by authority or opposition. The right of private judgment is conceded, and is exercised without scruple. Hence —

3. A clamorous war of opinion. The number of sects grows portentously. New opinions are started on almost every subject. All extremes of views on religion are zealously and ably advocated. If we be men and not children we cannot be unconcerned about these controversies, but don't be alarmed, "Prove all things," etc. These words involve the doctrines of —

(1)  Individual responsibility for religious faith and practice.

(2)  Individual duty and right of private judgment.


1. Candid inquiry. The disposition to know what others think is, when moderately possessed, an admirable trait of character. Some ensconce themselves within the limits of their hereditary creed, and listen with anger to opposing opinions deaf to all argument. These intellectual pigmies have in all ages proved a stumbling block to educated men, and assumed a position unwarranted by Christianity as the text shows. The gospel as an innovation, courts the investigation that it has never scrupled to exercise, and aims at inspiring in its disciples the love of truth as truth.

2. Patient examination. Be not like the Athenians, who spent their whole time in hearkening to some new thing; but spend much of it in sifting the new things you hear. Neither novelty nor authority can supply the place of argument.

3. Wise and decisive selection. The text supposes that when all things are proved, some will be accepted, which are to be held fast. Some are ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth, attempting an easy neutrality which speedily turns into treason against Christ. This discrimination between the good and the bad supposes the possession of a touchstone. Primarily man's reason is the touchstone. There are propositions which no man can accept. We can no more believe in the incredible than see the invisible. The Word of God is, of course, the final appeal, but not by superseding reason — only by assisting it. Reason has first to decide on the credentials of Revelation, and then to be consulted as to its contents. Reason, then, following the Word of God is to be the criterion by which we are to "prove all things."

II. THE CONSERVATIVE ELEMENT: "Hold fast," etc. Which assumes —

1. That truth is attainable. Some deny this. Let Christian men beware of this perilous frame of mind which leads inevitably to selfish misanthropy or unprincipled sensualism. A free thinker is frequently a man who does not think at all, but considers all things as not worth thinking about. Believe what all wise and good men have believed and proved, that there is such a thing as fixed truth, and having found it —

2. Hold it fast, without fickleness or fear. Having made up your mind, after due deliberation, adhere to your decision, and make use of it for further acquisition; not refuse to hear anything more about it, but be not unsettled without fresh and weighty argument. Don't keep going over the old ground. This is the only means of attaining and retaining personal peace, and manliness of Spirit.

(T. G. Horton.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

WEB: Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good.

Holding Fast the Good
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