(J. C. Ryle, “Pharisees and Sadducees“)
“Watch out for false prophets! They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves!” Matthew 7:15
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light!”2 Corinthians 11:13-14
False doctrine does not meet us face to face, and proclaim that it is false. It does not blow a trumpet before it, and endeavor openly to turn us away from the truth as it is in Jesus. It does not come before us in broad day, and summon us to surrender. It approaches us secretly, quietly, insidiously, plausibly, and in such a way as to disarm our suspicion, and throw us off our guard. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and Satan in the garb of an angel of light—who have always proved the most dangerous foes of the church of Christ.
Let us be on our guard against the “insidiousness” of false doctrine. Like the fruit of which Eve and Adam ate—at first sight it looks pleasant and good, and a thing to be desired. “Poison” is not written upon it, and so people are not afraid. Like counterfeit coin, it is not stamped “bad.” It passes for the real thing, because of the very likeness it bears to the truth.
Let us be on our guard against the “very small beginnings” of false doctrine. Every heresy began at one time, with some little departure from the truth. There is only “a little seed of error” needed to create “a great tree of heresy!” It is the little stones, which make up the mighty building. It was the little pieces of lumber, which made the great ark that carried Noah and his family over a deluged world. It is the little leaven, which infiltrated the whole lump. It is the little flaw in one link of the chain cable, which wrecks the gallant ship, and drowns the crew. It is the omission or addition of one little item in the doctor’s prescription, which spoils the whole medicine, and turns it into poison!
Let us never allow a little false doctrine to ruin us, by thinking it is “but a little one,” and can do us no harm.
There are three things which we never ought to trifle with:
a little poison,
a little sin, and
a little false doctrine.
Let us read the Bible regularly, daily, and with fervent prayer. Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing—which is not in the Bible. Let our rule of faith, our touchstone of all teaching—be the written Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20
Tag Archives: Discernment
From Ignorance Enjoined by Arthur W. Pink, 1947
The way of the wicked is as darkness—but the way of the righteous is as light—open and above-board. Truth courts investigation and challenges the closest scrutiny. Spiritists may prefer the darkened room, and the poor dupes of the Pope admire the secret confessional; but “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech” (Proverbs 1:20-21).
Nevertheless, there is an ignorance which is desirable and which serves as a protection to those who maintain it. There is an ignorance of which no Christian needs be ashamed, yes, one which the Holy Spirit has enjoined, and therefore is praiseworthy. “I want you to be wise about what is good—and simple about what is evil” (Romans 16:19).
In the context, the apostle had warned the saints to be on their guard against false teachers, and to “avoid” those who propagated that which is “contrary to the doctrine which you have learned”: men who deceive the hearts of the simple (or unwary) “by good words and fair speeches,” but who “serve not our Lord” (Romans 16:17-18). It was not that Paul deemed them unestablished in the Faith, or unstable therein; rather, did he affirm “for your obedience [faith and practical response to the will of God, as it was made known to them by His messengers] is come abroad unto all men,” which commendation he supplemented with, “I am glad therefore on your behalf.” Yet being solicitous of their welfare with a godly jealousy, he added, “I want you to be wise about what is good—and simple about what is evil” (Romans 16:19).
Your reception of the Gospel and responsiveness unto the truth is well known, and evil men are likely to take advantage of this: see to it then that your docility is coupled with prudence, and be watchful of those who would corrupt you. “I want you to be wise about what is good.” Let that be your all-absorbing quest: be intelligent —both in knowledge and practice—in the Word and ways of God, so that you are fitted to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
“And simple about what is evil.” “Simple” is here opposed to “wise,” and so must signify unknowing and unpracticed in the ways of sin. In the light of the preceding verses, the primary reference is to the evil doctrine of false teachers—be content to remain uninformed, unacquainted with anything that would pollute your faith. But in view of what immediately follows, “and the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20), it obviously has a wider meaning: remain ignorant of everything which would defile your pure minds. Handley Moule renders it “uncontaminated” [by defiling knowledge] as to what is evil.” To appeal to your curiosity, to occupy your minds with what is foul, to get your hearts absorbed with evil rather than good—is one of the principal stratagems of the great Enemy.
This divine warning is much needed today. Let us point out a threefold application of “I want you to be…simple concerning evil.”
First, of doctrinal evil. There is a great deal of false teaching, often in a novel and attractive dress, now being disseminated both orally and by the printed page. Some of its leading promulgators have acquired a considerable reputation for their learning, originality, oratory, and pleasing personality. They draw big crowds, and some of God’s people—though they have been warned against their errors—determine to give these men a hearing; and often, the consequences are most injurious—in no case are they harmless.
It is to that spirit of inquisitiveness, that the devil applies his temptation, as it is against the exercise thereof we are expressly commanded “from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5). Not to do so is to parley with what is deadly for the soul. If you have begun to yield—then the divine Word is “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27); if you do not, disastrous will be the outcome. If unfallen Eve could be beguiled by lies—how much easier for you to be deceived if you deliberately expose yourself unto error! We should not even read error.
There are those who would be ashamed to be seen attending meetings where known error was taught, who nevertheless do not hesitate to peruse a book written by an errorist. Priding themselves that they are too well grounded in the Faith to be shaken—yet curious and desirous of ascertaining just what this man or this sect teaches, not a few purchase their pernicious literature; and to make it easier for them to do so, Satan often sends the purveyors of such to their door.
We have personally met more than one who was reared in orthodoxy, who bought or borrowed a “Christadelphian,” “Russellite,” or “Seventh-day Adventist” book, and later became an ardent supporter of their lies! The devil ensnares many in this way.
‘Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters )
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth!” Revelation 3:15-16
Here is a solemn charge: “You are neither cold nor hot!” We profess the latter — to have the fire of love burning in our bosoms; and holy zeal boiling in our hearts. We profess to possess and be influenced by the most pure and powerful principles — to be like Jesus, whose food was to do His Father’s will, and who could say, “Zeal for your house has consumed Me!”
But we are not quite the former — or altogether cold. It cannot be said there is no concern, no attention, no interest manifested. We are not altogether careless and hardened. We are charged with the intermediate state, “You are lukewarm.” You are at ease, instead of . . .
laboring in the Lord’s vineyard,
fighting the Lord’s battles, and
carrying out the Lord’s commands.
You are resting on the bed of sloth — instead of fighting the good fight of faith.
You are formal — instead of being full of life, vigor, and the power of godliness.
You are presuming — instead of attending to the admonition which says, “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” And the command, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Fire is lacking. Holy determination, and diligence in the Lord’s cause, are lacking. “You are lukewarm!”
Here is a satisfactory proof of the truth of the change, “I know your works!” Jesus knows not only our profession — but our works. He observes not only our hearts — but our conduct. He expects not only a sound creed and a scriptural profession — but fruit, “much fruit,” fruit that will, “remain,” “fruit that will abound.” He knows all our works — their nature, number, and tendency. He knows them intimately and perfectly. Works are a proof of our real condition — and we should take them as such, for Jesus does.
“Faith without works is dead, being alone.” Professing faith without works answerable thereunto, is hypocrisy! “Show me your faith without your works — and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Here is a serious wish. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” The Lord hates indecision. The Savior declares that those who are not decidedly for Him, are against Him. He condemns half-heartedness in His cause. He desires that all who profess Him — should honor Him. He prefers coldness to lukewarmness in religion. Here we are taught that a little religion is a very bad thing; we had better have none — than be satisfied with a little. Christ would rather have no servants — than cool, selfish, worldly ones; He loves to see His people throw their whole hearts into His cause — burning with love to His name, and boiling with zeal for His glory.
Here is a conditional sentence. “So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth!” That is, without repentance, as the following verses show. Jesus as the Intercessor takes up our names into His mouth, and even for the fruitless fig-tree pleads for a time, saying, “Let it alone this year also.” But if it remains fruitless, He says, “Now cut it down!” So with the lukewarm — He may bear long with them; but He will reject them at last. He will reject them and their services — as loathsome and disgusting. He has cast away many lukewarm churches — until their places could not be found! And He has cast away many lukewarm professors — and they have been gathered up, cast into the fire and burned! And as sure as His name is jealous, as certain as he hates lukewarmness — He will cast away every cool professor with loathing and disgust!
Many who are now considered respectable professors, whose external conduct is decent, and whose attendance on the means of grace is tolerable regular — will be rejected and disowned by Him at last. Why? They are not hot! There is no fire, no zeal, no self-denial, no determined efforts for the promotion of the Lord’s glory, or for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause!
Professor, examine, are you lukewarm? If so, “look to it — for evil is before you;” and no common evil, the Lord Jesus will disown you, refuse you, reject you as vile, loathsome, and abominable in His sight! Surely, many professors have cause to tremble. Surely, some of our churches must be in a dangerous case. “Let us search and try our ways — and turn again to the Lord.”
See the need of repentance — for professors to repent, lukewarm professors especially. Jesus says, “Be zealous therefore, and repent.” “I rebuke you in the way of chastening — be zealous therefore, in the way of repentance.”
See the importance of a revival of religion in our churches, and in all our hearts! Oh, to keep at a distance from the danger against which we are warned!