When God sends forth His servants to preach the Gospel the Devil soon after prompts his emissaries to proclaim “another gospel”: when God speaks the Devil gives a mocking echo. Satan has found that he can work far more effectively by counterfeiting the Truth than by openly denying it, hence in every age “false prophets” have abounded, and therefore we should be neither surprised nor stumbled by their number or success in our own day. We fully agree with Andrew Fuller when he said, “As this word ‘beware of false prophets’ was designed for Christians of every age, the term rendered ‘prophets’ must here, as it often is elsewhere, be used of ordinary teachers.” “Beware of false prophets” signifies in this dispensation, Be on your guard against false teachers, heretical preachers. There are no longer any “prophets” in the strict and technical sense of the term, though there are a few of God’s servants who in their gifts and special work approximate closely thereto. Those against whom we are here warned are men who have a false commission, never having been called of God to the service they engage in; they preach error, which is subversive of “the doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3); and the fruit they bear is a base imitation of the fruit of the Spirit. The chief identifying mark of the false prophets has ever been their saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is none (Jeremiah 23:17; Micah 3:5; 1 Thess. 5:3). They heal the wounds of sinners slightly (Jeremiah 8:11) and daub “with untempered morter” (Ezekiel 8:14; 22:28). They prophesy “smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10), inventing easy ways to heaven, pandering to corrupt nature. There is nothing in their preaching which searches the conscience and renders the empty professor uneasy, nothing which humbles and causes their hearers to mourn before God; but rather that which puffs up, makes them pleased with themselves and to rest content in a false assurance.
The general characteristic of “false prophets” is that they make vital godliness to be a less strict and easier thing than it actually is, more agreeable to fallen human nature, and thus they encourage the unregenerate to be satisfied with something which comes short of true grace. So the Pharisees did, notwithstanding all their strictness (Matthew 23:25). So the papists do, notwithstanding all their boasted austerities. So Arminians do, notwithstanding all their seeming zeal for good works. So the Antinomians do, notwithstanding their pretended superior light and joy, zeal and confidence. This is the common mark of all false teachers: rejecting the Divine way, they manufacture one to suit themselves, and however they may differ among themselves, they all agree to make the practice of piety and the Christian walk an easier thing than the Scriptures do, to offer salvation on cheaper terms, to make the gate wider and the way to heaven broader than did Christ and His apostles. It is this which explains the secret of their popularity: “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them” (1 John 4:5).
But of such Christ warns his people to “beware,” for they feed souls with poison and not with the pure milk of the Word. “Which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” In those words Christ emphasized the danger of these false prophets: the character they assumed is well calculated to deceive the unwary.
They are agents of the evil one, yet claim to be the servants of the Holy One. Their place is on the outside, in the forests and mountains, yet. they intrude themselves within the fold. This intimates their great craftiness and seeming piety. People think they are teaching them the way to heaven, when in fact they are conducting them to hell. Often they are difficult to discover, for they “creep into houses and lead captive silly women” (Timothy 3:6), yea, even in apostolic times some of them successfully “crept in unawares” (Jude 4) into the assemblies of the saints. It was of such Paul wrote when he said, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Though their clothing be “sheep”, yet they have the fierceness and cruelty of wolves.
A. W. Pink (1886-1952)