Seven Marks of a False Teacher
I spent some time this week, revisiting Thomas Brooks’s invaluable book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Over the years it has become a favorite of mine—one that I’ve recommended more than any other except perhaps Richard Sibbes’s “The Bruised Reed.”
Toward the end of the book, Brooks touches on the topic of false teachers and the part they play in causing believers to doubt.
That Satan labours might and main, by false teachers, which are his messengers and ambassadors, to deceive, delude, and forever undo the precious souls of men… These kiss and kill; these cry, Peace, peace, till souls fall into everlasting flames.Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
He goes on to say that “the best way to deliver poor souls from being deluded and destroyed by these messengers of Satan is, to discover them in their colours, that so, being known, poor souls may shun them, and fly from them as from hell itself.”
What follows is Brooks's list of seven characteristics of false a teacher, presented with only the slightest edits.
Seven Marks of a False Teacher
“False teachers are men-pleasers. They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart (Isa. 30:10, Jer. 5:30, 31) …They handle holy things rather with wit and dalliance than with fear and reverence. False teachers are soul-undoers. They are like evil surgeons that skin over the wound, but never heal it. Flattery undid Ahab and Herod, Nero, and Alexander. False teachers are hell’s greatest enrichers… Such smooth teachers are sweet soul-poisoners (Jer. 23:16, 17).”
Attack God’s People
“False teachers are notable in casting dirt, scorn, and reproach upon the persons, names, and credits of Christ’s most faithful ambassadors.”
Moses was attacked via committee (Num. 16:1-3) and Micaiah received “blows for want of better reasons” (1 Kings 22:10–26). Even Paul “had his ministry undermined and his reputation blasted by false teachers.” Dismissed as a physically “weak and contemptible” man, (2 Cor. 10:10), “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 laboured as for life to build their own credit upon the ruins of His reputation… Oh! the dirt, the filth, the scorn that is thrown upon those of whom the world is not worthy.”
Speak Golden Delusions
“False teachers are venters of the devices and visions of their own heads and hearts (Jer. 14:14, Jer. 23:16). Are there not multitudes in this nation whose visions are but golden delusions, lying vanities, brain-sick phantasies? 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 do not prevent it.”
Negligent of the Weightier Matters of the Law
“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 moment and concernment to the souls of men (1 Tim. 1:5–7, Mat. 23:2, 3, 1 Tim. 6:3–5). If such teachers are not hypocrites in grain, I know nothing (Rom. 2:22). The earth groans to bear them, and hell is fitted for them (Mat. 24:32).”
“False teachers cover and colour their dangerous principles and soul-impostures with very fair speeches and plausible pretences, 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, viz. illumination, revelation, deification, fiery triplicity, &c. 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. Weigh the scriptures in the margin.
“In the days of Hadrian the emperor, there was one Ben-Cosbi gathered a multitude of Jews together, and called himself Ben-cocuba, the son of a star, applying that promise to himself, Num. 24:17; but he proved Bar-chosaba, the son of a lie. And so will all false teachers, for all their flourishes prove at the last the sons of lies.”
Opinionated Rather Than Principled
“False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions, than to better them in their conversations. Mat. 24:17). 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.”
Make Merchandise of Their Followers
“False teachers make merchandise of their followers (2 Peter 2:1–3). 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 (Rev. 18:11–13). 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 worshippers of the golden calf (Jer. 6:13).”
“Now, by these characters you may know them, and so shun them, and deliver your souls out of their dangerous snares; which that you may, my prayers shall meet yours at the throne of grace.”