By William S. Plumer
Late in life the Apostle of the circumcision said to his Christian friends: “there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Pet. 2:1). His beloved brother, the Apostle of the Gentiles, gave a like warning: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31). With such warnings from God’s Word, we should not be surprised to find that in every age the Church of God has been tried by the deceits and errors of men, who concerning the faith were reprobate. We should expect such things, and watch, and stand firm, and not be shaken. There have always been “false brethren,” and “false teachers,” as there were formerly “false apostles,” “false prophets,” and even “false Christs.”
False teachers are those who teach false doctrine. Grievous wolves are they who make havoc of the flock of Christ. Such often gain advantage over weak but godly men, by teaching with zeal and clearness some important truths. These are intended to put a coat of sugar over the poisonous pills they administer. Modern Perfectionists prate much about holiness, and thus persuade men that their system cannot be bad, while yet they are sapping the very foundations of good morals. Antinomians often speak with power of the richness and freeness and sovereignty of Divine grace; and yet all the while, they are turning the grace of God into a license for sin, and making Christ the minister of sin. Men who exalt human nature, commonly urge that they are trying to give correct notions of the dignity of man, and to awaken a deep sense of responsibility. By thus mixing error with truth, men hope that their false doctrines will pass unsuspected. Let no man be deceived. The nature of falsehood is not changed by mingling it with truth. Counterfeit money often has good bills mingled with it.
Others are led away by false teachers, because, for a while, they maintain good morals and seem to manifest great devoutness of mind. Of Pelagius, Augustine testifies that he “always maintained a character of fair and decent morals,” and that, until late in life, when he began to teach his fatal errors, “his reputation for serious piety had been great in the churches,” through which he had extensively traveled.
The amount of zeal displayed by false teachers is sometimes prodigious. They compass sea and land to make one proselyte. They often put to shame the lukewarmness of some who hold the truth. Their devoutness sometimes seems astonishing. In them Satan seems transformed into an angel of light. I have never seen more seeming warmth in religious worship than among some who deny the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit. They are both sanctimonious and fanatical. They have fire, but it is wild fire. Let us follow no teacher merely because he is moral, zealous and apparently devout.
It is God’s plan that “there must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). The Scriptures make it no less clear that our duty requires us to “test the spirits, to see whether they are of God” (1 John 5:1). Let us then learn the marks of false teachers. What does history say of them? In all ages they are much alike.
I. False teachers exercise much craftiness and deceitfulness in spreading their false doctrines. Peter said they should “secretly bring in damnable heresies.” And Paul warns the Ephesians that they “no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit” (Eph. 4:14). In his Church History, Milner says that “insidiousness seems to be a common character of heresy. A free, and open, and consistent support of what is believed to be true, is as common a mark of genuine orthodoxy.” Arius himself, in the presence of Constantine, not only subscribed the decrees of the Nicene Council, but actually swore that he believed them; and his party justified him in so doing, and the next day took him in triumph through the city. But this was the last day of his life. He was suddenly and awfully called to his last account. The same deceptiveness is almost invariably manifested by false teachers the world over. They hold back their offensive sentiments or teach them only to the initiated, until they get a footing, and then they pour them into the ears of all.
II. False teachers commonly promise much more than they perform. Thus an inspired Apostle says of them: “For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:18-19). In Christ’s day, the Pharisees doubtless did the same; but when they had made a proselyte, they taught him to be twofold more the child of hell than themselves. Most of our modern errorists propose and promise by their speculations to remove prejudices against the Gospel, to make plain its mysteries, and to set men free from needless restraints and afflicting scruples. They often proclaim that the prevalence of their opinions would bring halcyon days to the world. But so far as mankind embrace their views, they are no better. The promised liberty turns out to be licentiousness. The clearing up of difficulties consists in denying the doctrines of the Gospel, and so they or their disciples are soon found sympathizing with infidels or profane men.
III. False teachers are commonly boastful. They exalt themselves in extravagant terms, and decry opposers in severe language. So it was in the days of Paul. The false teachers actually claimed to be “apostles.” They “gloried” or vainly and extravagantly exalted themselves. They decried Paul, asserting that his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. They admitted that he wrote well, but claimed that they excelled in oratory and philosophy. There was not a spark of genuine modesty about them. So in modern times, if base flattery will answer a purpose, it will be resorted to; yet when another course seems admissible, their mouths are filled with vain conceits. They boast of their numbers, talents, wealth and sufferings as a body. They boast of converts never made, of charities never bestowed, of good never done, of works never accomplished. In this respect, they have a close resemblance to those pests of society—dealers in quack medicines.
IV. The very same people at times display fierceness and bitterness. This is quite consistent with traits already noticed. This uniform result is the fruit of unsanctified affections. In the days of Micah, the false prophets bore the same mark. “This is what the Lord says to you false prophets—You are leading my people astray! You promise peace for those who give you food, but you declare war on anyone who refuses to pay you.” (Micah 3:5). Here is the whole story: They lead souls astray. That is their trade. Then they are fierce and bite with their teeth. Then they set up a loud and idle pretense of great love of peace. But they brook no opposition; and they admit of no neutrality. They propose war against those who don’t support them.
This was the course of the Arians. They agitated, and intimidated many, and for a while had things very much their own way. Yet one great man stood firm and unterrified. Against him they were as fierce as fiends. Milner says, they “endeavored to extort evidence against him by drawn swords, whips, clubs, and all engines of cruelty. . . . They deposed him from his bishoprick. . . . The basest crimes were charged upon Athanasius, rebellion, oppression, rape, and murder.” Their hatred of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity was the cause of this deceit and violence.
In the days of our Savior, false teachers bore the same marks. Nothing was more settled in the theology of the Jews than this, that none but God could work a miracle, and that Jehovah would not lend His omnipotent power to establish a lie. Yet when our Lord did great wonders, His enemies said He had a devil and was mad, and that He wrought miracles by the power of Beelzebub. They never rested until they got His blood.
Lying, slander, abuse, any means that will answer their purpose, false teachers often resort to, or connive at in others, if they seem to promise victory. It has always been so. Paul tells us of some that would not endure sound doctrine. They had no patience with it or its friends.
V. False teachers love to make dupes of unstable, ill-informed females and young people. Paul well says: “they worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires,” (2 Tim. 3:6). “Children in understanding” are fine subjects for these cunning heretical teachers. The following are among the rules of the Jesuits: “In order to induce rich widows to be liberal to the Society, they must be provided with confessors, who may urge their remaining unmarried, by assuring them that they will thereby secure their own salvation, and, effectually escape the pains of purgatory. That the widow may dispose of her property to the Society, she must be told of those who have devoted themselves to the service of God, and be led to expect canonization from the court of Rome. The preceptors must not chastise or keep in subjection young men of good genius, agreeable people and noble families, like their other pupils. They must be won by presents and other privileges peculiar to their age; but on other occasions, especially in exhortations, they must be terrified with threats of eternal punishment, unless they obey the heavenly invitation of joining the Society.” Here we have the scheme in full view. Others may not be so systematic or so successful; but something of the sort is generally practiced by adepts in propagating false doctrine.
VI. Notwithstanding their boastings, many false teachers are commonly cowards. Severely tested, they have no moral courage. They shrink from enduring persecution, and grow pale at thoughts of martyrdom. The exceptions to this statement are rare. Indeed, false teachers often flee when no man pursues. Very few of them hold that their doctrines are worth dying for. In this they are right. So we often find them, like infidels, changing according to the society they are in. If Arius must swear to a creed which he does not believe, or lose his standing with the emperor and the public, he will take the false oath. Heretical teachers are famous for crying out bigotry or persecution—if you will not own them as brethren. Sin and error never have true courage.
VII. False teachers are sometimes very successful for a season. This is not always so; but it is often so. They wish to “draw disciples after them,” and they have their wish. “Many follow their pernicious ways.” This is not surprising. Our Lord said: “False Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, the elect” (Mark 13:22). In Deut. 13:1-5, Moses admits that lying prophets might do some miraculous things. There are not only true miracles, but, also, “counterfeit power and signs and miracles” (2 Thess. 2:9). These and other arts have their effect. The Arians once had the emperor and three-fourths of the clergy on their side. Pelagius, at one time, seemed to have corrupted vast numbers. Many more seemed ready to apologize for his course. Corrupt doctrine is agreeable to the depraved heart of man. There never was a doctrine so abominable, that it did not suit the evil inclinations of many miserable men.
VIII. Sooner or later the folly of false teachers shall be manifest. For a while Jannes and Jambres seemed to succeed as well as Moses and Aaron; but on the plague of the lice, they could do nothing, and said to Pharaoh: “This is the finger of God!” For a considerable time the priests of Baal had things as they liked, but at last the test was too severe, and away went their courage and their friends. It will at last be seen who loves, and who hates, the truth. Moses gives it as a test of false doctrine, that its tendency is to withdraw men from the fear and service of God. Peter gives another like it. It leads men to “deny the Lord who bought them.” “The triumph of the wicked is short,” always confined to this world, sometimes to a few centuries, often to a few years. Therefore all our modern errorists deny their founders and prototypes. We have, in this day, Pelagians, Sabellians, Socinians, Arians, and Apollinarians—but all of them are averse to their names—and pray that their doctrines may be received, not as the old loathsome heresies, which they really are, but as sophisticated and important improvements in theology.
The character of a polished propagator of false doctrine may be thus sketched. He is cunning, artful and smooth. He is believable and ready to flatter, but he has no real benevolence. At times, he has a show of modesty, but no real humility. He is never sincere, open, and true. He talks very much according to the company he is in. In his heart, he hates scriptural holiness and some of the truths that lead to it; yet at times, he may have an air of sanctimoniousness. When he dares, he can scoff, and scowl, and show malice like any other wicked man. His artifices better suit the naive, than the judicious, and so he chiefly addresses the unlearned and the unstable. At times, he probably blusters a good deal, but he has none of the true courage of the Apostles. He is not ready to suffer the loss of all things for the truth. It is easy for providence to lead such men away to secular pursuits. Our country has seen four men, preachers of false doctrine in one city, led away to other pursuits more congenial to their carnal tastes. Law, medicine, trade, politics, literary pursuits are more congenial to such than preaching and praying. Often false teachers have an unhonored old age. After death, none rise up to call them blessed. They never saved a soul from the error of its ways. Sometimes the death of such is attended with many painful circumstances. They never bear any testimony for God. Their dying chamber is never on the verge of heaven. Sometimes they hug their delusions to the last, and never awake to a just view of their own case until the stamp of eternity and the seal of immutability are placed upon their character, until they stand before the judgement of God, and begin the doleful and endless wail of lamentation over a life misspent and opportunities of salvation lost forever.
Here arises a great practical question: How shall we treat false teachers when they arise? The answer to this question needs not to be long.
1. As soon as we discern their false teaching, it is our duty to refuse to hear them or to read their books. Never was more wholesome or beneficial advice given than that of Solomon: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge” (Prov. 19:27). In answer to a question from a corrupt writer, John Newton excused himself for not having read his book, by saying: “If a neighbor sends me a joint of meat, and I find one slice corrupted, I am not bound to eat it at all.” Human nature is in most cases too weak to bear a long and voluntary subjection to evil influences without very ill effects. Were men wholly without sin, it would grieve them to be compelled to listen to lies and to slanders on God’s truth and government. The less pain such false teachings give us, the more dangerous they are. All pleas for giving our ears to false teachers are in the teeth of the good petition: “Lead us not into temptation.”
2. If a false teacher is already in an orthodox Church, it is right to disown him, and cast him out, not with maledictions, but with sorrow and prayer and firmness. So teaches Paul: “I would that they which trouble you were even cut off.” Again: “A heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject” (Gal. 5:12; Titus 3:10). The Church is always greatly polluted, when she refuses to disown a blatant teacher of false doctrine.
3. False teachers must also be firmly and meekly resisted in all their attempts to lead men astray. When even Peter was betrayed into deception concerning false doctrines, Paul withstood him to the face, and rebuked him sharply. Jude “exhorted” his brethren “earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (verse 3). He who is willing to risk nothing for Christ, does not love Christ. He who, being duly called to defend the truth, declines to do so, does not love the truth. That is a good saying, and none the worse for being old: “Do you love controversy? suspect your love. Do you abhor controversy? suspect your Christianity.”
4. While the Scriptures call on us to feed the hungry and to be kind to the poor, they forbid us to hold such fellowship with false teachers, as implies sympathy with them or connivance at their wicked teachings. Thus the loving and blessed John says: “If someone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite him into your house or encourage him in any way. Anyone who encourages him becomes a partner in his evil work.” (2 John 10-11). This is conclusive. The meaning is, not that we should not relieve their bodily needs—feed them or shelter them when in distress—but that we should not show them those hospitalities, which the churches usually extend to Christ’s ministers. The same John fled the baths when he found a noted heretic in them, saying, “Let us flee lest the bath fall, while an enemy of truth is within!”
5. In dealing with corrupt teachers, it is peculiarly important not to be intimidated by them. “The fear of man brings a snare.” “Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else. He will keep you safe.” (Prov. 29:25; Isa. 8:13-14). Truth is like the spear of Ithuriel. No falsehood can endure its touch. The sword of the Spirit is two-edged and very sharp.
At the Synod of Nicea, A. D., 325, before the business began, there appeared in the assembly certain heathen philosophers, “some with a design to satisfy their curiosity concerning Christianity, others wishing to involve the Christians in a cloud of verbal subtleties, and to enjoy the mutual contradictions of the followers of Christ. One of them distinguished himself above the rest by the power and arrogancy of his pretensions, and derided the clergy as ignorant and illiterate. On this occasion, an old Christian who had suffered with magnanimous constancy during the late persecutions, though unacquainted with logical forms, undertook to contend with the philosopher. Those who were more anxious to gratify curiosity than to investigate truth, endeavored to raise a laugh at the old man’s expense; while serious spirits were distressed to see a contest apparently so unequal. Respect for the man, however, induced them to permit him to engage. And he immediately addressed the philosopher in these terms: ‘Hear, philosopher, in the name of Jesus Christ. There is one God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, who made all things by the power of His Word, and confirmed them by the holiness of His Spirit. This Word, whom we call the Son of God, compassionating the sons of men involved in error and wickedness, chose to be born of a woman, to converse with men, and to die for them; and He will come again, the Judge of all things which men have done in the body; that these things are so, we believe in simplicity; do not then labor in vain, seeking to confute things which ought to be received by faith, and investigating the manner in which these things may or may not be; but if you believe, answer me, now that I ask you.’ Struck with this plain, authoritative address, the philosopher said: ‘I do believe;’ with pleasure owned himself vanquished, confessed that he embraced the same sentiments with the old man, and advised the other philosophers to do the same, averring that he was changed by a divine influence, and was moved by an energy which he could not explain.” Such is the power of truth when the Holy Spirit makes it efficacious. The longer a godly man lives, the firmer is his confidence in the simple truths of Scripture to renew the heart, save the soul, check error, and bring glory to God.
These thoughts and the Word of God fairly conduct us to the following CONCLUSIONS:
1. There is such a thing as truth. Truth is light. It makes manifest. It is one. It is harmonious. No truth contradicts any other truth. In truth are no jars, no discords, no contradictions. Like its Author, truth is simple, eternal, immutable. It came from God, who cannot lie, cannot deceive, cannot be mistaken, cannot be outsmarted. Sin and holiness never were the same, and to all eternity shall be different. Right and wrong cannot agree, because one is conformity to truth and justice, while the other is at war with both. One is from above; the other is from beneath. Truth is the opposite of fiction, fable, falsehood.
2. All truth is equally true; but all truth is not equally clear or equally important. The axioms of geometry are as true as the first principles of the Gospel; yet one may be happy, holy, sound, without knowing any mathematical truth whatever. But eternal life depends on our knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). In the arts and sciences, a truth may be of great value to one man, while to one of another calling or profession it is of slight value. But all Scriptural truth is of great price to every man. On it may depend his highest eternal well-being. We cannot give too much for truth. “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). The wise men of the East took a long journey to see Him who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; and they acted wisely. They went on no fool’s errand. Men often give too high a price for perishable things. But he who has, loves, and obeys the truth, is blessed forever.
3. No deficiency is so appalling, as to be left destitute of God’s mercy and truth. All else is bearable. This is intolerable misery. Hezekiah’s desire was for peace and truth in his day. When Messiah rides prosperously, it is because of truth and meekness and righteousness. When God would pronounce a blessing on philanthropists and benefactors, He says: “Mercy and truth shall be to those who devise good” (Prov. 14:22). Nor is any people in a sadder state than when truth is fallen in the streets, for then justice stands afar off, and equity cannot enter.
4. On the other hand, a lie is the opposite of truth. It misleads, deceives, and beguiles, just so far as it is embraced. It is the progeny of the wicked one. When men delight in lies, they curse inwardly. “He who speaks lies shall perish” (Prov. 19:9). If any doubt God’s abhorrence of lies uttered to men, let them read the dreadful history of Gehazi. If any doubt God’s abhorrence of lies uttered to Him, let them read the story of Ananias and Sapphira. At all times and in all cases, lying lips are an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 12:22).
5. Lies, in the shape of religious error, are greatly displeasing to God. They lead men astray. They make the hearts of godly men sad. They afflict whom God would comfort, and comfort whom God calls to mourning. When you find a man speaking lies in hypocrisy, you may know that his conscience is seared with a hot iron. Just as surely as a man loves God’s word—he hates and abhors lying. To God, nothing is more offensive than false doctrine. It is a slander on the Almighty. To the soul it is a deadly poison. It eats up the soul as a cancer eats up the flesh. “No lie is of the truth.” No lie is a part of the truth. No false doctrine is a part of Christianity.
6. There is such a thing as truth in opposition to error. Both Solomon and Paul speak of “good doctrine,” which is the same as “sound doctrine,” so often mentioned by Paul. If a doctrine is true and sound, it is good—whether it pleases or enrages men. In Scripture, good doctrine is once called “the doctrine of the Lord,” once “the doctrine of God our Savior,” once “the doctrine of the Apostles,” once “the doctrine which is according to godliness,” twice “the doctrine of Jesus,” thrice “the doctrine of Christ.” In Scripture, good doctrine is synonymous with such terms and phrases as “truth,” “the truth in Christ,” “the truth as it is in Jesus,” “the truth of God,” and “the Word of truth.” It is elsewhere called “the form of sound words,” and “sound speech that cannot be condemned.” It is just the opposite of what the Bible calls “strange doctrines,” “the doctrines and commandments of men,” “the doctrines of devils,” “damnable heresies,” “the traditions of men,” “lies,” “falsehood,” “vain deceit,” “deceptive philosophy.” So that it is clear that there is such a thing as sound doctrine and such a thing as strange doctrine. There is doctrine according to godliness, and there is doctrine contrary to godliness.
7. We are bound to distinguish true and false doctrine. The Scripture requires us to test all things, and to hold fast to that which is good; and to test teachers by their doctrine (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). This can be done. We can know the truth. The doctrine of the Pharisees and the doctrine of the Sadducees never did agree with the doctrines of Christ. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans subverted the doctrines of the Apostles. Light and darkness are not more opposite than truth and error. Nutritious food and deadly poison may look alike, but they can be, and they must be, distinguished.
8. Good doctrine is not the product of earth. Man is not its author. Human wit and genius may do many things, but all saving truth is heaven born. Christ said, “My doctrine is not Mine but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). If all men approved anything, that would avail nothing, unless God sanctioned it. So that good doctrine is always according to Scripture, and so it is the word of God. Christ and His Apostles appealed to the Scriptures, and reasoned out of them.
9. We cannot in the least depart from sound doctrine without affecting our views of God, His nature, government, or worship. It is necessary to believe that man is a lost sinner, in order to believe that the provisions of the Gospel are not nugatory. If men hold false doctrine, it is because they have not received the love of the truth, and so are swayed by pride, or prejudice, or lack of right affections.
10. Our salvation depends upon our belief of the truth of God. “By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the word of truth.” “Sanctify them through Your truth; Your word is truth.” “If you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins.” These are but mere samples of what God has spoken on this subject. Error may lead to superstition, or to sanctimoniousness, but it never leads to holiness. False doctrine dishonors God at every step. It defiles the conscience, corrupts the heart, bewitches the mind and destroys the soul. Truth leads to godliness, error to ungodliness. It is our duty to proclaim that all false doctrines, which subvert foundation truths, bring perdition. When a man is finally given up to believe a lie, it is certain that he will be damned (2 Thess. 2:11-12). Paul says: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
11. We must not only hold the truth—but hold it to the rejection of opposing error. After a fashion, the Pharisees held much truth, but they so mixed it up with error that they “made the word of God of no effect.” One man in this age has sent forth the opinion that we may well believe all creeds, the more the better. For this strange notion, there is neither reason nor Scripture.
12. We must be valiant for the truth. We must hold it at all costs and hazards. Myriads have wisely laid down their lives for the testimony of Jesus. All the truth of Christianity now upon earth has been preserved to us by the intrepidity of confessors and the blood of martyrs. Men, whose office, station, and profession require them to stand up for the truth—yet fail to do so—are among the greatest enemies of God and man (Jer. 9:3).
13. We need not be disturbed because some oppose Scriptural truth, and rail at those who insist upon sound doctrine. The intent of God, in teaching us the truth, is that we might know, love, and embrace it, and be saved by it. Scorn, hard names, and reviling speeches cannot make truth to be a lie or a fiction. At last. God’s Spirit will bring all the redeemed “in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Then where will the scorners be?
14. Some say that they receive all the facts of Scripture, but in their philosophy differ with the people of God. In the end, such are often found to deny the facts. If men set aside original sin, or native depravity, or regeneration by the power of God, or a vicarious atonement, or justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ—they deny great facts taught in God’s word. Such do not speak sincerely, when they say they merely differ from others in their philosophy.
15. Others say—good practice is all we regard; we care nothing for doctrines. But have such forgotten that “as a man thinks in his heart so is he” (Prov. 23:7)? The world furnishes no case of a man being better than his principles. Who would trust a man who believed it was right to lie, and steal, and murder?
16. We must not shrink from a just exposure of false doctrine and a faithful vindication of the truth. The pious and amiable John Newton made it a rule never to attack error, nor warn his people against it. He said: “The best method of defeating heresy is by establishing the truth. One proposes to fill a bushel with tares; now if I can fill it first with wheat, I shall defeat his attempts.” Surely the truth ought to be abundantly set forth. But this is not sufficient. The human mind is not like a bushel. It may learn much truth and yet go after folly. The effect of Mr. Newton’s practice was unhappy. He was hardly dead until many of his people went far astray. Paul says: “Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2). The more subtle, bitter, and numerous the foes of the truth are—the more fearfulness and decided should its friends be. The life of truth is more important than the life of any man or of any theories.
17. Let us not forget that there is a SPIRIT befitting the truth. We must receive the engrafted word with meekness. We must speak the truth in love, not in malice. “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
Someone has said: “We might almost as well not speak the truth at all—as not speak it in love.” However this may be, it is clear that we distort and in a sense caricature the truth, when we bring our malignant passions to set forth God’s precious truth.
18. There is also a LIFE befitting the truth. We are fitly called upon to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things,” and so to live that “the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed” (1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:10). No station, or office, or repute for sanctity can exempt a man from the law of holiness. If we have not righteousness of life, we cannot have scriptural evidences of acceptance in the Beloved. “Be holy, for I am holy, says the Lord.” It is dreadful when the truth is held in unrighteousness of life.
19. Let us cultivate an honest sense of the sin of loving falsehood, and of the danger of being given over to believe a lie, or to follow blind guides. Masillon says: “Sending wicked ministers is the most terrible of the Lord’s punishments. When He is not thoroughly provoked, He contents Himself with arming kings against kings and people against people; He reverses the order of the seasons; He strikes the country with barrenness; He spreads desolation, famine, and death on the earth. But when He says, in His wrath, ‘What chastisement have I yet in reserve, and what is the last mark of My anger that I can show unto them,’ then He says: ‘those who lead them shall cause them to err.'” This view of the eloquent Frenchman is supported by Micah, when he says: “Suppose a prophet full of lies were to say to you—’I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and drink!’ That’s just the kind of prophet you would like!” (Micah 2:11).
20. Let no man forget that there is a rejection of truth, which makes ruin certain. “He who believes not shall be damned.” A little error is bad; but error in fundamental truth hinders salvation. South says: “I know it is doubted, whether a bare error in judgment can damn a person; but since truths absolutely necessary for salvation are so clearly revealed in Scripture, that we cannot err in them, unless we are notoriously lacking to ourselves; herein the fault of the judgment is resolved into a precedent default of the will; and so the case is put out of doubt.” If men are ever delivered from the bondage of corruption, the truth must set them free (John 8:32). And if men are turning from the holy commandment and the precious truth of God to fables and falsehoods, it must be because they love a lie. “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion—so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.