Beware of False Prophets*

By

Thomas Houghton

 

[* This tract was supplied by The Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony.]

 

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheepís clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves:" (Matt: 7: 15).

 

[Scripture Reading 1 Kings Chapter 13.]

 

In the beginning of our Lordís earthly ministry He warns His disciples to beware of false prophets, and in the closing part of His ministry, to His disciples on the mount of Olives, He intimates that false prophets would arise and deceive many.*He proceeds to teach them that shortly before the time of His coming false Christs and false prophets would show great signs and wonders, so that if it were possible, they would deceive the very elect (Matt. 7: 15 ; Matt. 24: 4, 5, 11, 24). The Apostle Paul also warned the elders of the Church at Ephesus that grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock. Men would arise,**  "speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20: 28-30) The Apostle Peter also teaches us that there were false propherts in Old Testament times, even as there would be false teachers who privily would bring in damnable heresies and would bring upon themselves swift destruction, and by whom the way of truth would be evil spoken of (2 peter 2: 1, 2). The Apostle John, too, says, "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4: 1). Paul, in his epistle to Timothy, says, "The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4: 1). He goes on to say, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine ... and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4).

 

[* Such is the case today throughout the churches of God. We have the A-Millennialist who doggedly refuses to believe in a Millennial Kingdom; and others, by their allegorical interpretations, destroy the plain sense and meaning of Godís words.

** That is: "from among your own selves" (Acts 20: 30) Ė it is the regenerate will arise to deceive (See Note 1; Jude 5; I Cor. 10: 6; cf., 2 Pet. 3; 17.]

 

These predictions have become true in the long history of the Christian Church. Need we wonder at this, when we remember that our Lord teaches us that [Satan] the great enemy of Christ would sow tares among the wheat? We thankfully record that the Lord in His great mercy raised up the Reformers and the Puritans, whose faithful testimony proved so great a blessing. Yet the devil is not dead, and Peter tells that "the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour," and he adds, "Whom resist steadfast in the faith" (1 Pet. 5: 8, 9). Error, more or less, has shown itself all through the history of the Christian church, and it would seem that we are coming to the latter times when large numbers will no longer endure sound doctrines, but will turn away their ears from the truth and turn unto fables. It is really appalling how failure to walk in the old paths has developed in the last fifty or sixty years in all denominations. Modernistic, sacerdotal and worldly principles abound everywhere, and even, on the part of many who claim to be Evangelicals, increasing weakness and compromise abounds. We need, therefore, in a special degree to take heed to our Lord's words, "Beware of false prophets."

 

1. WE NEED TO BEWARE OF THEM WHEN THEY COME TO US IN "SHEEPíS CLOTHING."

 

It is evident that many regard the ministry merely as one of many professions. In the Church of England many think a man enters the Church when he is ordained into the ministry. In reality no one enters the Church until he is born again of the Holy Ghost. False prophets or teachers are they who come in sheepís clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By sheepís clothing men mean that they come, and by their outward walk and conversation they seem to be clothed with humility and other graces of the [Holy] Spirit. Their speech and manner of life seem to indicate that they are numbered among Christís sheep. They seem to hear his voice and follow His footsteps, and by their general outward walk those who notice them imagine they are true believers in Christ and followers of the Lamb, but in reality they are not Christís sheep at all, but ravening wolves, hypocrites. "Outwardly they appear righteous unto men, but within they are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. 23: 28). Many such, it may be, wear what is called clerical attire and outwardly seem real ministers of the Gospel, but their teaching is not governed by the [Holy] Spirit and Word of God. They are not born again of the Holy Ghost. They have not passed from death unto life. They are not new creatures in Christ Jesus. "They are of the world, and the world heareth them" (1 John 4: 5). Such men [and women] are false prophets. Of them Christ says, "Beware of them.

 

2. FALSE PROPHETS CAN BE KNOWN BY THEIR FRUITS.

 

Although false prophets may come in sheepís clothing, yet the Lord says, "Ye shall know them by their fruits." We do not get grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles. Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit. If a tree is really good it will bring forth good fruit. A false prophet, therefore, even if he is clothed with sheepís clothing, cannot bring forth good fruit, and "that your fruit shall abide" (John 15: 16 R.V.). They are divinely chosen, and divinely ordained, to go and bring forth abiding fruit. Such fruit is necessarily good. Those who bring it forth are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3: 16; Rom. 8; 9). They bring forth the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit, which is all good fruit (Gal. 5: 22, 23) If the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit is not manifest in the life of one who professes to be a true prophet of God, then you may know he is a false prophet, and one of whom you are to beware. A true prophet will seek to ''walk in the Spirit" and thus be proof against "the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5: 16, 25). Those who are in Christ "walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit"* (Rom. 8:1, 4). They, bring forth good fruit. They are not of the world. Christ says of them, "if ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but 'because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you," (John 15:19).

 

[* The reader should note the context of these verses.The same apostle, on another occasion, says:"For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom as an occasion to the flesh ... Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh ... IF ye are led by the Spirit (and many regenerate believers are not) ... I forewarn you " etc. (Gal. 5; 13-19.R.V.) It is the regenerate who can lose their millennial inheritance: "They which practise such thing shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 21) It is the regenerate who can fall, apostatize, and who must "Beware"! The inspired apostle Paul is warning the regenerate here!]

 

Of course, even a good prophet brings forth good fruit is not sinless. He deceives himself if he says; he has no sin. "In many things we offend all" (James 3:2), Yet the man who is born again, and is indwelt by the Spirit of God is a man, the general bent and habit of whose life is such that he lives soberly, righteously and godly in this present world.

 

He walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. A true prophet, a really heaven-sent spiritual teacher, brings forth good fruit. It is well known that many teachers and ministers in the professing Church are worldly, often very worldly in their lives. They go to worldly amusements, they fail to be separate from the world. Of such we should beware.

 

3. WE SHOULD BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS HOWEVER EXALTED THEY MAY BE.

 

Some teachers in the professing Church may occupy very exalted positions. They may be archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, or they occupy the posts of Moderators or other such posts. Yet they may really, be false prophets. They may be modernistic or sacerdotal in doctrine. They may encourage the Mass or the Confessional. Their dress and practices may indicate sympathy with Romish error.* There is a temptation, however, to invite such people to occupy Evangelical pulpits. Not long ago we heard a moderate Evangelical clergyman saying he had invited a bishop to preach for him on the ground that he was the bishop of the diocese in which the clergyman laboured. He did not invite him because of his sacerdotal views, but because he was the bishop of the diocese. Our Lord teaches us, we believe, to beware of a false prophet, however exalted he may be. Yet many Evangelicals invite such men to preach for them, partly because of their exalted position.

 

[* All Ireland Primate Cardinal Sean Brady said: ďSome of you may have lingering concerns that nothing has changed in the Church.I promise you, it has changed radically.There is now no hiding place for abusers in the Church.Our policy is to do whatever is necessary to protect the vulnerable and ensure justice for all.The lives of survivors of sexual abuse, the faith of members of the Church, and the credibility of Church leadership, have all been wounded grievously by the evil deeds of priests and religious who exploited their position to wreak havoc on the lives of helpless children.Ē (Daily Mirror, 05:04:2010.)]

 

4. WE SHOULD BEWARE Of FALSE PROPHETS HOWEVER LEARNED OR ELOQUENT THEY MAY BE.

 

Many otherwise good men do sometimes invite an exalted or attractive man to preach, because he wants to get a crowded congregation and thus obtain a good collection. What a miserable reason! Where is the jealousy for Gospel truth? Where is concern for the souls of the congregation. We have the promise, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in gory by Christ Jesus." Should we not trust in God to supply our Church needs without the aid of false prophets.

 

It is very saddening to notice how unsound are many of the speakers invited to speak at professed Evangelical meetings. We remember a Mayor being invited to such a meeting. When he came and for a short time took the chair, he was on his way to a ball, and he dressed in the way thought suitable for a ball. We remember an Evangelical missionary meeting being organised, and a high Church arch deacon was invited to say a few words. In view of his presence, the missionary deputation was asked was he a protestant, because, if so, he needed to avoid saying anything that would offend the high Church archdeacon who would be present. Then we know of a custom which prevailed of generally inviting the mayor of a town to preside at an important prayer meeting that would be held, apart from the spiritual views of the mayor. How frequently it is the case that at great anniversary meetings of professed Evangelical societies, men not in sympathy with the principles of those societies are invited to preside. Yet Christ says, "Beware of false prophets."

 

While writing these words we recall a text on an almanac for the present date. It says, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping His commandments" (Deut. 8:11). "Beware of false prophets" is one of His commandments. May we beware of not keeping it.

 

5. WE ARE TO BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS HOWEVER FRIENDLY THEY MAY BE.

 

The Apostle Paul says, ''I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16.17, 18). Men who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine of the Word of God are so far false teachers, and are to be avoided. They may use good words and fair speeches, but they deceive and lead astray the hearts of the simple. We are not to give way to bitterness, wrath, anger or malice, but we are to be firm [in maintaining the truth (particularly responsibility truths)] and courteously to avoid false teachers. (See Ephes. 4:31; [Matt. 5: 20].)

 

We are to be definitely alive to the warnings of our Lord and of His Apostles in regard to false teachers. Such teachers are likely to be specially manifest towards the end of the age. They may be permitted to show great signs and wonders, so that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect. Yet we are to beware of them. They may say Christ is in the desert or in the secret chambers, but our Lord says, "Believe it not." When Christ really comes, His coming will be manifest as the lightning. There will be no need for anyone to tell us He is come, "For as the lightning., cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:24-28).

 

The warnings of our Lord and His Apostles are intended to be noticed by all the Lord's people in these evil times in which we now live. May we have grace humbly and yet firmly to beware of false prophets. Beware of them in your pulpits, in your schools and in your colleges. "The night is far spent, the DAY is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." "The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer" (Rom. 13:12; 1 Peter 4:7).

 

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FOOTNOTE

 

Never in the history of the Church has it been more important than during the present time for Christians to understand the true nature and course of apostasy, along with the Christianís only recourse to avoid being engulfed, to some degree, in the apostasy."

 

The apostates in Jude 4 are FALSE PROPHETS who are erroneously thought of as unsaved individuals. The context in Jude (v. 5) and the corresponding section in (2 Peter 2: 1-3; cf. vv. 19-21) both demonstrate conclusively that the unsaved are not in view at all.

 

The context of Jude 4 has to do with individuals who were saved out of the land of Egypt, but afterwards destroyed: overthrown in the desert; they were disinherited; they fell on the right side of the blood - they were [eternally] saved - but short of obtaining an inheritance in the LAND. Not only had these individuals appropriated the blood of the paschal lambs but they had also been delivered from Egypt: they are therefore typical of regenerate believers. In the antitype this points to individuals who have both appropriated the blood of Christ who have been delivered from the things of the world (ref. "... having escaped the corruption that is in the world ... escaped the pollutions of the world ..." (2 Peter 1: 4; 2: 20). Then, continuing in the antitype of Jude 5, this verse also has to do with the destruction of many of these same individuals. The reason for their destruction, following their appropriation of the blood of Christ and following their deliverance from the things of the world, is revealed in the context in Jude (vv. 3, 4) and in the Old Testament type (Num. 13: 21-14: 9, 27-37). It was because of UNFAITHFULNESS; they allowed themselves to be deceived by the false prophets; and this ultimately resulted in their final APOSTASY.

 

The Apostle warns regenerate believers (1 Cor. ch.10.): "These things were OUR examples" - he includes himself - "to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted" R.V. (v. 6)

 

False prophets were responsible for leading tens of thousands of Israel into apostasy; their overthrow in the desert; and the oath of EXCLUSION FROM THE "REST" of God:-

 

"I have pardoned according to thy word: but in very deed, as I live, and as ALL THE EARTH SHALL BE FILLED WITH THE GLORY OF THE LORD; because all those men which have seen my glory, and my signs, which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have tempted me these ten times, and HAVE NOT HEARKENED TO MY VOICE; surely THEY SHALL NOT SEE THE LAND which I sware unto their fathers, NEITHER SHALL ANY OF THEM THAT DESPISED ME SEE IT" (Num. 14: 20-23)

 

See also Psalm 106:-

 

"Therefore was the wrath of the Lord kindled AGAINST HIS PEOPLE, And he abhorred his inheritance. And he gave THEM into the hand of the nations. ... Many times did he deliver them; but they were rebellious in their counsel," [See Num. 13: 31-33] and were brought low in their iniquity. Nevertheless he regarded their distress, When he heard their cry: and he remembered for them his covenant, And repented according to the multitude of his mercies. He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives" R.V. ( v. 40, 41, 43-45.)

 

According to Ex. 31: 13-17, the Sabbath was given to Israel to keep the thought ever before them that the present six- and seven-day (six and seven thousand-year) pattern of restoration and rest is based on the original pattern of restoration and rest in Genesis, chapters one and two ; and, just as God rested on the seventh day following six days of work in the Genesis account, He is going to rest for one day following the present six days of restoration work. The Sabbath was a "sign" established between God and the children of Israel forever. It was a sign which drew from the day of rest in Gen. 2: 2, 3 and pointed forward to the day of rest yet future - The Millennium. Every time the Israelites kept the Sabbath they were acknowledging the God-ordained pattern of one day of rest (2 Pet. 3: 8, 9) following six days of work. They were acknowledging that the six and seven days of Genesis, chapters one and two form a pattern of Godís present restoration work and future rest. Their failure to keep the Sabbath, on the other hand, was looked upon as a rejection of this truth. Such failure always ultimately resulted in Godís judgement, with dire consequences befalling both individuals and the nation as a whole (cf. Num. 15: 32-36; 2 Chron. 36: 18-21).

 

The present-day counterpart to the Israelites failing to keep the Sabbath, and thereby rejecting what God has to say concerning A DAY OF REST following six days of work * are regenerate Christians who reject what Scripture has to say concerning the coming Sabbath of rest. These individuals are led astray by false prophets in Christendom today called "A-Millennialists," a word designating their belief that there will be no Millennium or Sabbath rest following the present six days of work. And it should come as no surprise that anti-millennial teaching has become far more prevalent in Christendom than millennial teaching. Why? Simply because of the corrupting process of the leaven over a period of nineteen hundred years. God judged the Israelites in the Old Testament for their failure to recognise the sign of the Sabbath, and God is presently judging Christians today for exhibiting this same attitude. WE MUST BEWARE OF THESE FALSE PROPHETS.

 

A Sabbath rest is coming. Heb. 4; 9 states, "there remaineth therefore a Sabbath keeping,í Ďsabbath restí] for the people of God." The word translated "rest" is sabbatismos in the Greek text. This is a form of the word for "Sabbath," referring to a "Sabbath keeping," which is a seventh-day rest. The allusion is by no means to a present rest into which Christians enter, for such has nothing to do with the seventh day. The sabbatimos can only be millennial in its scope of fulfilment. This is in keeping with the context (vv. 5-11.) *

 

[* Edited from writings by A. L. CHITWOOD.]