Seven Characteristics of False Teachers
In recently re-reading Thomas Brooks’ classic, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (1652; 8th ed. 1676) I was struck by a section towards the end. In it Brooks connected spiritual warfare (yes, Reformed people believe this is a reality!) with sound doctrine by compiling a list of “Seven Characteristics of False Teachers.” If you're keeping score at home in your Banner of Truth edition of Brooks' Works, it's found in Volume 1, pages 149–152.
Brooks made this connection at the beginning of this little appendix when he said, “Satan labors might and main, by false teachers, which are his emissaries, to deceive, delude, and forever undo the precious souls of men.” And because Satan fights against us using this method, it is our duty as armor-bearing Christians to engage this method: “Now the best way to deliver poor souls from being deluded and destroyed by these messengers of Satan is, to discover them in their colors, that so, being known, poor souls may shun them, and fly from them as from hell itself.” What follows are Brooks’ seven points in bold with a few sentences from his own words illustrating the point. For the entire appendix, see the link above. As you read, ask yourself how timely his words are. For an example of how they are, you may have heard of Joel Osteen's wife, Victoria Osteen, say, “When you worship (and obey) God, we're not doing it for God, we're doing it for our self, because that's what makes God happy!" Not surprisingly, Lakewood Church blocked the use of this clip on Youtube.
1. False teachers are men-pleasers
They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart…False teachers handle holy things rather with wit and trifling, rather than with fear and reverence. False teachers are soul-murderers. They are like evil surgeons, that skin over the wound—but never heal it…False teachers are hell’s greatest enrichers.
2. False teachers are notable in casting dirt, scorn, and reproach upon the persons, names, and credits of Christ’s most faithful ambassadors
Thus Korah, Dathan, and Abiram charged Moses and Aaron that they took too much upon them, seeing all the congregation was holy…And so Ahab’s false prophets fell foul on good Micaiah, paying of him with blows for lack of better reasons. Yes, Paul, that great apostle of the Gentiles, had his ministry undermined and his reputation blasted by false teachers…They rather condemn him than admire him; they look upon him as a dunce rather than a doctor. And the same hard measure had our Lord Jesus from the scribes and Pharisees, who labored as for life to build their own credit upon the ruins of his reputation. And never did the devil drive a more full trade this way than he does in these days.
3. False teachers are venters of the devices and visions of their own heads and hearts
Are there not multitudes in this nation whose visions are but golden delusions, lying vanities, brain-sick fantasies? These are Satan's great benefactors, and such as divine justice will hang up in hell as the greatest malefactors, if the physician of souls does not prevent it.
4. False teachers easily pass over the great and weighty things both of law and gospel, and stand most upon those things that are of the least importance and concern to the souls of men
False teachers are nice in the lesser things of the law, and as negligent in the greater…The earth groans to bear them, and hell is fitted for them…Luther complained of such in his time as would strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. This age is full of such teachers, such monsters!
5. False teachers cover and color their dangerous principles and soul-deceptions with very fair speeches and plausible pretenses, with high notions and golden expressions
Many in these days are bewitched and deceived by the magnificent words, lofty strains, and stately terms of deceivers. As strumpets paint their faces, and deck 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, that they may the better deceive and delude poor ignorant souls. They know sugared-poison goes down sweetly; they wrap up their pernicious, soul-killing pills in gold!
6. False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions, than to better them in their lives
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 very much like their father the devil, who will spare no pains to gain proselytes.
7. False teachers make merchandise of their followers
They eye your goods more than your good; and mind more the serving of themselves, than the saving of your souls. So they may have your substance, they care not though Satan has your souls. That they may the better pick your purse, they will hold forth such principles as are very indulgent to the flesh. False teachers are the great worshipers of the golden calf.