“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” by Louis A. Dole

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“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-16

Readings

Jeremiah 23:16-32 · Matthew 7:15-29 · Psalm 119:1-16

Sermon

Prophecy is the prediction or forecasting of things to come. The world is full of prophets. Not all can be true; some are manifestly false. We are warned especially against those who come to us in sheep’s clothing while inwardly they are ravening wolves. Sheep’s clothing is the outward appearance of good; ravening wolves are the inward actualities of destruction, rapine, and death.

The Word throughout is prophecy, a prophecy not merely of outward events. The prophets spoke by inspiration of God, or in other words the Lord spoke to them and through them to His people. And what was thus spoken had reference to things both past and present as well as to things which were yet to come.

The Word of God consists of warnings, correction, and instruction. It warns, reproves, and directs. It is prophecy because it is truth, truth for all time, past, present, and future, for it is the unchangeable, eternal Word of God. That which is truth today cannot be something else tomorrow. Circumstances may change, we may change, our own experiences and concepts may change or differ, but truth itself remains “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” It is the Word which in the beginning was with God and was God, and which will stand forever. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.”

By the grass and flowers the passing things of time are meant, the things of sense that have their day and cease to be. A true prophet is one who teaches the enduring truths of the Word; a false prophet is one who teaches from himself, that is from self-derived intelligence, from the testimony of the senses, what he considers to be “only common sense”; for common sense is based on external appearance, than which there is scarcely anything less to be trusted and more likely to mislead.

The truth is that righteousness alone exalts an individual, defends him, and secures his safety under all circumstances. And the same is true of a nation. There are those who prophesy that a nation can become great by the development of its natural resources, by increase in numbers, wealth, and power. And there seem to be many today who prophesy that the nation with the heaviest armaments is sure to triumph. Yet it stands written, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Which is the true prophecy and which the false?

Righteousness consists in doing right from plain principles of right apart from considerations of self-interest – doing what is right in the sight of God. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness”; then whatever is fair and just and right will be given.

The false prophets who prophesy worldly comfort and security and personal advantage are prophets of the kingdom of darkness. False prophets are false principles which seem outwardly to teach charity but inwardly are as destructive as the wolf is of the sheep. A false prophet is the testimony of the senses, and particularly the dictate of self-interest. There are many such prophets in the world today.

The question arises, “How are we to recognize the false prophets?” Our Lord gives the answer, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” But we must also guard against judging the fruits by mere external appearance. There is artificial fruit which is beautiful to the eye but worthless or even poisonous within. It cannot be eaten. The Word gives another test: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, there is no light in them.” It is sometimes difficult to detect the individual teachers of falsity or the hypocritical teachers of truth by their outward acts; yet the natural and therefore the general result of falsity is evil, and the general result of truth is goodness. Life is the final test. False principles cannot produce the inward fruit of humility, peace, and goodwill to the neighbor, nor the outward fruit of harmony and cooperation.

The text applies to nations as well as to individuals. It may seem that a nation will prosper if it gains advantage over other nations. Yet it is not in schemes of man’s devising, nor in the promise of good to be secured through the safeguarding of barriers and special privileges and “rights” that real prosperity is to be secured, but in concern for the common good of all peoples. The principle “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” applied would give us hope. If it is not applied, all our wishful thinking and prophesying will be in vain. The two great commandments are prophets which, if obeyed, would safeguard our country and our homes, and not ours alone but other countries and other homes. It would bring peace, contentment, and security everywhere, with justice, mercy, and mutual understanding, friendliness, and the sharing of one another’s burdens.

“Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The sheep’s clothing is the outward appearance of good without the internal, which the sheep represent.

Today the tendency is to emphasize the external without regard to the internal or the spirit within. There is a desire for bodily health, which is of course legitimate in its place. But bodily health is not an end in itself. The Lord performed His miracles of healing not for the sake of the bodies of those He healed but to teach us that in general sickness is the result of the violation of corresponding spiritual laws. Those who lead us to think that bodily health is to be sought for its own sake or that it is essential to a useful life are false prophets. Yet today there are many who seek faith healers, and Christians and even some churches are putting more and more emphasis on the body. A healthy body is not synonymous with a healthy soul. Many criminals are in excellent physical condition, and many who were grievously handicapped physically are leading outstandingly useful lives.

Again such books as “The Power of Positive Thinking” emphasize immediate external worldly comfort and success. They teach us how to get what we want without concern as to whether the internal is changed or not. The principle involved them is not “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

Again the idea that there is a divine spark in each one of us, that we are a part of God and therefore can from ourselves order our lives aright is a false prophet. And the idea that children are born good and that all that is necessary is to let them do as they please is false prophet. The senses are false prophets, promising happiness but misleading us and in the end bringing misery. The principle “Get what you want and you will he happy” is a false prophet which deceives many. If we look back upon our lives, we can see that if from the beginning we had been allowed to have what we wanted, we should never have lived to grow up.

It is good to know that false principles, if followed, will not bring happiness but lead us farther and farther away from our true goal. Those whose only solid wish is for physical comfort have no basis for the development of the soul. There are many physically poor people doing God’s work and finding tokens of the Lord’s presence in their lives.

We all fall short and are prone to follow worldly maxims which we really know to be false and which, if analyzed, prove to be shallow and selfish. “They say still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.”

The Lord says, “All that came before me were thieves and robbers.” He came as the way, the truth, and the life, that we might no longer follow false prophets. He is our Liberator and Savior, and if we look to Him, He will gift us with the power to understand and keep His precepts.

Amen

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