The Distinguishing Marks of False Teachers
by Thomas Brooks
2Peter 2:1-3 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2) And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
Satan labors with all his strength by false teachers, which are his messengers and ambassadors, to deceive, delude and forever destroy the precious souls of men. The prophet Jeremiah declared, "And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err." (Jeremiah 23;13). And through the prophet Micah, the Lord himself complained "Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err," (Micah 3.5a). They seduce them and carry them out of the right way into by-paths and blind thickets of error, blasphemy and wickedness, where they are lost forever. Jesus Himself warned, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matthew 7:15) These scoundrels lick and suck blood of souls, "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers," (Phil. 3:2) These evil men kiss and kill; they cry, "Peace, Peace" until souls fall into everlasting flames (see Proverbs 7) Now the best way to deliver poor souls from being deluded and destroyed by these messengers of Satan is to display them in their true colors, so that being known poor souls may shun them, and flee from them as hell itself. Now you may know a false teacher by the following distinguishing marks.
1. The first distinguishing mark is that they are men-pleasers. They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart. Isaiah thus described the longing of God's rebellious people. "Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:" (lsaiah 30:10). And again the Lord complained through Jeremiah in these words; "A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so and what will ye do in the end thereof?" (Jer 5.30,31) These men handle the holy things rather with wit and entertainment than with godly fear and reverence. False teachers are soul-destroyers. They are like evil surgeons, that skin over the wound, but never heal it. Flattery destroyed Ahab and Herod, Nero and Alexander. False teachers are hell's great enrichers. It is not bitter, but flattering words which do all the mischief, said Valerian, the Roman emperor. Such smooth teachers are sweet soul-poisoners (Jeremiah 23:16,17)
2. The second distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they are notable for casting dirt, scorn and reproach upon the person, names, and credits of Christ's most faithful ambassadors. Thus Korah, Dathan, and Abiram charged Moses and Aaron that they took too much upon themselves, seeing all the congregation was holy (Numbers 16:3). "You take", they said, "too much state, too much power, too much honor, too much holiness on you; for what are you more than others, that you take so much upon you?" And likewise Ahab's false priests fell, upon good Micaiah, paying him with fits and fists instead of a reasonable reply (see I Kings 22 10-26). Yes, even Paul, that great apostle of the Gentiles, had his ministry undermined and his reputation blasted by false teachers: "For his letters," they say, "are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." (2 Corinthians 10:10). They rather despise him than admire him; they look upon him as a dunce rather than a doctor. And indeed the same harsh treatment had our Lord Jesus from the scribes and Pharisees, who labored as if their life depended on it, to construct their own esteem upon the ruins of His reputation. And never did the devil have a more prosperous business in this way than he does in these days ( Matthew 27:63). Oh, the dirt, the filth, the scorn that is thrown upon those of whom the world is not worthy! I suppose false teachers fail to consider that saying of Augustine "He that willingly takes my good name unwillingly adds to my reward"
3. The third distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they spew out the devices and visions of their own heads and hearts. The Lord said to me. "Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name I sent them not, neither have commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14). "Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:16). Are there not multitudes in this nation whose visions are but golden delusions, lying vanities, brainsick fantasies? These are presently Satan's great benefactors, but one day divine justice will hang them up in hell as the greatest malefactors, unless the physician of souls graciously delivers them.
4. The fourth distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they easily pass over the great and weighty things both out of the law and the gospel, and dwell mostly upon these things that are of the least importance and concern to the souls of men. Thus Paul warned Timothy: "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling. Desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." (I Timothy 1:5-7). And our Lord rebuked the Pharisees: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees. hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye have done, and not to leave the other undone." (Matthew 23:23). False teachers are meticulous in the lesser things of the law, and quite negligent in the greatest! Once more the Apostle Paul spoke strong words to Timothy when he said: "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself" (I Timothy 6:3-5). If such false teachers are not genuine hypocrites, I know nothing (Romans 2:21.22). The earth groans to bear such wicked men, and hell is fitted for them.
5. The fifth distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they cleverly disguise their dangerous principles and soul-deceiving notions with very attractive speeches and golden expressions. Many in these days are bewitched and deceived by the magnificent words, lofty strains- and stately terms of deceivers, such as illumination, revelation, and deification. As harlots paint their faces and adorn and perfume their beds, the better to allure and deceive simple souls, so false teachers will put a great deal of paint and garnish upon their most dangerous principles and blasphemies, in order that they may better deceive and delude poor ignorant souls. They know that sugared poison goes down sweetly: they wrap up their pernicious, soul-killing pills in gold. In the days of Hadrian the emperor, there was a man Ben-Cosbi who gathered a multitude of Jews together, and called himself Bencocuba, the son of a star, applying the promise of Numbers 24:17 to himself, but he proved to be Bar~chosaba, the son of a lie. And so will all false teachers, for all their lofty expressions will prove at last to be the sons of lies.
6. The sixth distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they strive more earnestly to win men over to their opinions, than to improve their behavior. The Lord Jesus again spoke with soberness when He said "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves" (Matthew 23:15). They busy themselves, most about men's heads. Their work is not to better men's hearts and mend their lives; and in this they are much like their father the devil, who will spare no pains to gain converts.
7. The seventh distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they exploit their followers through covetousness. The Apostle Peter, nearing his own death (see 2 Peter 1:12-15), warned his followers: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall he evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." (2 Peter 2:1-3). They eye your goods more than your good; and care more for serving themselves, than the saving of your souls. So long as they have your possessions, they care not that Satan possess your souls (Revelation 18:11-13). In order that they may better pick your pocket, they will hold forth such principles as are very indulgent to the flesh. False teachers are the great worshippers of the golden calf, as the Lord declares: "For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness, and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely" (Jer.6: 13). Crates threw his money into the sea, resolving to drown it, lest it should drown him. But false teachers care not who they drown, so long as they may have their money.
Now by these seven distinguishing marks you may know false teachers, shun them and so deliver your souls out of their dangerous snares. And that you may, my prayers shall meet yours at the throne of grace.