Nine ways to protect yourself from false teaching
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
1 Feb, 2024

Souls are saved, settled and sanctified through the truth. When there is so much false teaching around, it brings spiritual damage and it is dishonouring to God. Those who are susceptible to false ideas need to be established in the truth. False teachings can be very enticing, but we need to resist them. Stability in the truth and opposition to false teaching are clear and recurring priorities in the writings of the Apostles. Indeed, the purpose of Scripture is to give us certainty in the truth (see, e.g., John 20:31). The theologian George Gillespie had a great concern to protect souls from error. In the following updated excerpt from one of his treatises, Gillespie gives nine positive ways in which we can protect ourselves against false teaching. He calls them “preservatives against wavering, and helps to steadfastness in the faith.”

Grow in knowledge and discernment

Do not be simple, as “children in understanding”. There is such a thing as the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. That is how the apostle describes those who spread diverse and strange doctrines (Eph. 4:14). In Romans 16:18 he warns us that “by good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple.” You therefore have need of the wisdom of the serpent so that you will not be deceived, as well as the simplicity of the dove, so that you yourself would not be a deceiver (Phil 1:9-10). Do not rashly commit yourself to any new opinion, much less get involved in spreading it. With the well-advised is wisdom. Pythagoras wanted scholars only to hear, and not to speak, for five years. Be swift to hear but not to speak or commit yourself. Prove all things, and when you have proved, then be sure to hold fast that which is good (1 Thess. 5:2; Matt. 7:15-17). There was never a heresy yet broached, but under some attractive, plausible pretence, “beguiling unstable souls,” as Peter puts it (2 Pet. 2:14). “The simple believeth every word” (Prov. 14:15). Do not be like the two hundred who went in the simplicity of their hearts after Absolom in his rebellion (2 Sam. 15:11).

Grow in grace and holiness, and the love of the truth

The stability of the mind in the truth, and the stability of the heart in grace, go hand in hand together (Heb. 13:9). David’s rule is good, “What man is he that feareth the Lord? Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose” (Psa. 24:12; see also Jn. 7:17; Deut. 11:13, 16). Similar to how Elisha healed the unwholesome waters of Jericho by throwing salt into the fountain (2 Kings 2:21), so must the bitter streams of pernicious errors be healed by the salt of mortification, and true sanctifying grace in the fountain.

Cling to your teachers who are faithful and sound

The sheep that follow the shepherd are best kept from the wolf. I find that the exhortation to stability in the faith is joined with the fruitful labours of faithful teachers (Phil. 3:16-17; Heb. 13:7-9). Likewise, in Ephesians 4, the apostle moves from the work of the ministry (v. 11-13) to draw the consequence “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (v. 14). The Galatians were easily seduced, as soon as they were made to take against Paul.

Watch against the first beginnings of declining

Be vigilant against the first seeds of error. It was while they slept that the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and when he had done, went his way (Matt. 13:25). Therefore, “watch ye” and “stand fast in the faith” go hand in hand together (1 Cor. 16:13).

Avoid and withdraw from those who start and spread heresies and dangerous errors

This is clear from Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 John 10-11; Philippians 3:2. Those who want to be godly should not usually be in ungodly company, and those who want to be orthodox should not usually be in heretical company. Chrysostom in various places warns his hearers how much they endangered their souls by going into the Jewish synagogues, and there was a great zeal in the early church to keep Christians who were orthodox away from the assemblies and company of heretics.

Get church discipline established and duly exercised

Church discipline is ordained to purge the church from false doctrine (Rev 2:14-20).

Do not depend on your own reason

“Lean not to thy own understanding, and be not wise in thine own eyes” (Prov. 3:5-7). Let reason be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). What made the Anti-Trinitarians and Socinians fall away from believing in the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, and the union of the two natures of God and man in the person of Christ, was because their reason could not comprehend these articles of the faith. Their own reason is the basis of their opinions they profess. When I say reason must be captive, I mean that the eyes of my understanding must be opened by the Holy Spirit so that I may know that this doctrine is presented in Scripture to be believed, and therefore I do believe that it is true, even if my reason cannot comprehend how it is.

Count the cost of discipleship

Count the cost to yourself, and be well resolved beforehand what it will cost you to be a disciple of Christ, and to be consistent in professing the truth (Lk. 14:26-34). “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This is safer than to confirm ourselves in the hopes of a golden age of prosperity in which we shall feel no affliction.

Search the Scriptures

This advice is given in John 5:39 (see also Acts 17:11). Do not take new light on trust from anyone, be they never so eminent for gifts or for grace, but go to the law and the testimony.

Conclusion

The upshot of all this is that we ought to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, and be steadfast and even unmoveable in the truth, and not give place to the adversaries, no, not for an hour (Gal. 2:4-5). I do not mean perverse obstinacy in the least error, nor a vain, presumptuous, overweening conceit of our knowledge, to make us despise any light which others may give us from Scripture. Obstinacy is an evil on the one hand, and holding too tenaciously to our own opinions. But fickleness, inconstancy, or wavering is an evil on the other hand. “Be not soon shaken in mind, etc” (2 Thess. 2:2). Fickleness is an epidemic among the sectarians of this time. Their word is “yea and nay,” not unlike what Sallust accused Cicero of, “He says one thing sitting, and another thing standing!”

Yet it may be sometimes observed that those who are the greatest sceptics in reference to the common and received tenets, are the most obstinate and tenacious in tenets invented by themselves. Socinus set at nought the church fathers, church councils, and the whole current of ancient and modern interpreters of Scripture, yet vainglory made him stiffly and tenaciously maintain any opinion or invention of his own, as if he had been infallible.

People are drawn from truth sooner than they are drawn from error. Yet some are unstable in the truth, and unstable in error too. They are of a new faith, and a new religion, every year, if not every month. Remember Reuben’s reproach, “Unstable as water, thou shall not excel” (Gen. 49:4). Indeed, there are even some who do not commit themselves to believing any thing, but are known by believing nothing. These pass now under the name of “seekers,” but we might as well call them atheists.

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