“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

Most people who have a modicum of discrimination can detect a heretic. If a man came into a pulpit and seemed to be doubtful about the being of God, and denied the deity of Christ and the miracles, you would say that he was a heretic. There is not much difficulty about that, or anything very subtle about it.

And yet, you notice, our Lord’s picture suggests that there is a difficulty, and that there is something subtle about this. You notice the very terms in which He puts it, this picture of the sheep’s clothing. He suggests that the real difficulty about this kind of false prophet is that at first you never imagine he is such.

The whole thing is extremely subtle, so much so that God’s people can be misled by it. You notice how Peter puts it in the second chapter of his second Epistle. These  people, he says, “creep in unawares.” They look like the right people, they have sheep’s clothing on, and no one suspects anything false. Now the Bible, in the Old Testament and in the New, always brings out that characteristic of the false prophet. It is his subtlety that really constitutes the danger. Any true exposition of this teaching, therefore, must give due weight to that particular element. For this reason, then, we cannot accept it a being merely a warning about heretics and their teaching.

But the same thing applies to the other side. It is obviously not something outrageous in conduct. There again everybody could recognize it, and it would not be subtle, or constitute a difficulty. The picture we need to have in our minds, therefore, should rather be this. The false prophet is a man who comes to us, and who at first has the appearance of being everything that could be desired. He is nice and pleasing and pleasant; he appears to be thoroughly Christian, and seems to say the right things. His teaching in general is quite all right and he use many terms that should be used and employed by a true Christian teacher.

He talks about God, he talks about Jesus Christ, he talks about the cross, he emphasizes the love of God, he seems to be saying everything that a Christian should say. He is obviously in sheep’s clothing, and his way of living seems to correspond. So you do not suspect that there is anything wrong at all; there is nothing that at once attracts your attention or arouses your suspicions, nothing glaringly wrong. What then can be wrong, or may be wrong, with such a person? My suggestion is that finally this person may be wrong both in his teaching and in his type of life for, as we shall see, these two things are always indissolubly linked together.

Our Lord puts it by saying, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” The teaching and the life can never be separated, and where there is wrong teaching in any shape of form it always leads to a wrong type of life in some respect. How then can we describe these people? What is wrong with their teaching? The most convenient way of answering this is to say that there is no “strait gate” in it, there is no “narrow way” in it. As far as it goes it is all right, but it does not include this. It is a teaching, the falseness of which is to be detected by what it does not say rather than what it does say. And it is just at this point that we realize the subtlety of the situation.

As we have already seen, any Christian can detect the man who says outrageously wrong things; but is it unfair or uncharitable to say to say that the vast majority of Christians today do not seem to be able to detect the man who seems to say the right things but leaves out vital things? We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right things. That is the only way to understand rightly this picture of the false prophets. The false prophet is a man who has no “strait gate” or “narrow way” in his gospel.

He has nothing which is offensive to the natural man; he pleases all. He is in “sheep’s clothing,” so attractive, so pleasant, so nice to look at. He has such a nice and comfortable and comforting message. He pleases everybody and everybody speaks well of him. He is never persecuted for his preaching, he is never criticized severely. He is praised by Liberals and Modernists, he is praised by Evangelicals, he is praised by everybody. He is all things to all men in that sense; there is no “strait gate” about him, there is no “narrow way” in his message, there is none of “the offense of the cross.”[1]

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones


[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959-60], 499, 500, 501. 

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