Thomas Brooks: An Always Timely Reminder About False Teachers
The 17th-century non-conformist pastor Thomas Brooks is perhaps best known by his classic book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The intent of the book was to edify believers with a Biblically-informed understanding about Satan and his temptations, and provide practical “remedies” the Christ-filled believer may employ in sanctified defense from them.
In his “Epistle Dedicatory” remarks Brooks gives us an air of his love for the Word, his diligence in studying it, and his duty as a minister to edify the sheep with it.
“Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a Watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver; which I have endeavored to do in the following discourse, according to that measure of grace which I have received from the Lord.” Thomas Brooks
While the complete “Precious Remedies” is a must-read from this Puritan pastor and author, incorporated within it is an impressively helpful, concise guideline for the believer during any age.
Entitled Seven Marks Of False Teachers, Brooks outlines the evident characteristics that, since the initial warnings of Christ about “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” have remained consistent throughout church history.
“Satan labors might and main, by false teachers, which are his emissaries, to deceive, delude, and forever undo the precious souls of men (Jer. 23:13) ‘I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.’ Micah 3:5: ‘The prophets make my people to err.’ They seduce them, and carry them out of the right way into by-paths and blind thickets of error, blasphemy, and wickedness, where they are lost forever.
‘Beware of false prophets, for they come to you in sheep’s clothing—but inwardly they are ravening wolves’ (Matt. 7:15). These lick and suck the blood of souls (Phil. 3:2), ‘Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers.’ These kiss and kill; these cry, Peace, peace, until souls fall into everlasting flames! (Prov. 7). (Acts. 20:28-30; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Eph. 4:14; 2 Tim. 3:4-6; Titus 1:11, 22; 2 Peter 2:18,19.)
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.” Thomas Brooks
1. False teachers are menpleasers.
They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart. Such are not true teachers; Gal. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:1-4.
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. Flattery undid Ahab and Herod, Nero and Alexander. False teachers are hell’s greatest enrichers. Not bitter—but flattering words do all the mischief, said Valerian, the Roman emperor. Such smooth teachers are sweet soul-poisoners. “This is my warning to my people,” says the Lord Almighty. ‘Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you, filling you with futile hopes. They are making up everything they say. They do not speak for the Lord! They keep saying to these rebels who despise my word, ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’ And to those who stubbornly follow their own evil desires, they say, ‘No harm will come your way!'” (Jer. 23:16, 17)
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 (Num. 16:3). You take too much state, too much power, too much honor, too much holiness upon you; for what are you more than others, that you take so much upon you? And so Ahab’s false prophets fell foul on good Micaiah, paying of him with blows for lack of better reasons (1 Kings 22:10-26). Yes, Paul, that great apostle of the Gentiles, had his ministry undermined and his reputation blasted by false teachers: ‘For his letters,’ say they, ‘are weighty and powerful—but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible’ (2 Cor. 10:10). 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 (Matt. 27:63). Oh! the dirt, the filth, the scorn that is thrown upon those of whom the world is not worthy! I suppose false teachers mind not that saying of Augustine: ‘He who willingly takes from my good name, unwillingly adds to my reward.’ The proverb is, ‘A man’s eye and his good name can bear no jests.’
3. False teachers are venters (utterers) of the devices and visions of their own heads and hearts.
Jer. 14:14: “Then the Lord said unto me—These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.” “This is my warning to my people,” says the Lord Almighty. “Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you, filling you with futile hopes. They are making up everything they say. They do not speak for the Lord!” Jeremiah 23:16. 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. Matt. 24:4, 5; 11:14; Titus 1:10; Rom. 16:18
4. False teachers easily pass over the great and weighty things of both 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: ‘Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith sincere; from which some having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling, desiring to be teachers of the law, and understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.’ Matt. 23:23: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for you pay tithe of mint, and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.’ False teachers are nice in the lesser things of the law, and as negligent in the greater. 1 Tim. 6:3-5: ‘If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing—but doting about questions and strife of words, whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw yourself.’ 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 (Matt. 24:32). Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices Thomas Brooks 144 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! The high priest’s spirit (Matt. 23:24) lives and thrives in these days.
5. False teachers cover and color 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. 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 sugaredpoison goes down sweetly; they wrap up their pernicious, soul-killing pills in gold! (Gal. 6:12; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rom. 16:17, 18; Matt. 16:6,11,12; 7:15.) 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.
6. False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions than to better them in their conversations.
Matt. 23:15: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves!’ 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. For shame! says Epictetus to his Stoics; either live as Stoics, or leave off the name of Stoics. The application is easy.
7. False teachers make merchandise of their followers:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” 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 worshipers of the golden calf. “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.” (Jer. 6:13).
Brooks ends his outline with this brief, final charge:
“Now, by these characters you may know them, and so shun them, and deliver your souls out of their dangerous snares.” Thomas Brooks
A reprint of the complete “Precious Remedies” is available from Banner of Truth Trust, as well as Amazon. A free, downloadable version is offered by Monergism.com, which also includes “Seven Marks” in a pdf file entitled “Apostasy,” via Chapel Library.
Above-cited quotations have been referenced from freely distributed material available via Monergism.com.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]