What good comes from false teachers’ misuse of God’s Word and His name? Here’s a couple good things…
2. Christ here proceeds in like manner. When he finished his sermon he warns his disciples and the people and admonishes them ever to remain faithful to what he had told them, and to be very careful not to be misled by false teachers, and says:
“Beware of false prophets.”
“Beware of false prophets.”
3. First from this we are to understand that we are under obligation to reflect upon this fact and that it will always be that after the true preachers depart false teachers will come; yea, they will even enter along with and mingle with them. Otherwise, why were it necessary for Christ so faithfully to admonish us when he says: “Beware,” take care! if he had known that all his teachings would continue pure? Therefore he gives us this warning, that we may be certain of false prophets appearing after the true and pure doctrine is preached. For it has come to pass in all periods of the world’s history that after faithful and true ministers, prophets and rulers of God’s people labored, others followed who corrupted the pure doctrine, faith and worship; as the Book of Judges 2:10ff also describes. When those were gathered to their fathers whom God had given the people as teachers and judges, who knew the will of God, what was and what was not acceptable to him, immediately the people of Israel began to turn away from God and his Word. One worshiped this idol, another that, and they were divided into factions so that they fell from the true teachings and strayed from the ways of their fathers.
4. So it was also in the times of the Apostles. Then the doctrine was yet pure; but when they died who held to their true teachings, false apostles and factious leaders came. who perverted everything and desired radical changes in all things, as the Epistles of St. Paul sufficiently show. Now, inasmuch as this is so, and we cannot expect anything else, Christ our Lord warns us here in the spirit of a true shepherd and bishop, that we beware while we have the Gospel preached in its purity and simplicity, that we hold firmly to it and depart not from it, even at the risk of losing our life and possessions. For it cannot be otherwise than that God’s Word will not continue always pure and unadulterated in all generations.
5. Thus it will come to pass also among us. God be praised, we and others have the Gospel in greater purity and abundance than at any time since the days of the Apostles. But when we and those who now assist to promote it are gathered to our fathers, you will have false teachers enough, as many have already commenced and they already bestir themselves. And blessed are they who are diligently on their guard according to this Gospel and believe not every wind of doctrine, but remain steadfast in what they have learned. This Christ first teaches here with the words: “Beware,” be warned, as if to say: you will most certainly have to contend with false teachers.
6. Here you may ask: why does God permit false prophets to come among his pious people and be the successors of his true ministers? Is he not powerful and strong enough to prevent it, so that the Gospel may continue pure and in its power? Of course he is. But he permits it in order to prove and preserve his own people, and to punish the unthankful. It is as St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:19 says: “For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you.” This means, that those whose faith is approved may become manifest, so that their spirit and word appear, and testify that they are true.
7. When God gives us his Word, his gifts and Spirit, it is not his will that we should be lazy, sleepy and idle. For if you have the true Word and its true meaning, the world will attack you on one side, and the devil will attempt to tear you from it on the other, not only by means of worldly tyrants who persecute the Word with the sword; but also by means of our own reason and the wisest people in the world. Thus God desires to develop you by his Word, and to give the Holy Spirit whom he has bestowed upon you something to do, so that you may learn that God’s wisdom is wiser than the world’s wisdom, that God’s strength is stronger than the strength and power of the world, which you will not learn unless you pass through this conflict with false teachers.
8. Wherever he permits the devil to create factions, he would thus stir you up, and say: Defend yourself, lay hold of the Word, and learn to experience God’s wisdom and power against the wisdom of the world and the lies of satan. Thus the strength and wisdom of God’s Word will appear, that you may learn that it is not to be conquered with power and wisdom; but it conquers, and puts to shame all power, cunning and wisdom opposed to it. This is one reason why God permits factions and sects among us, who enter in as it were edgewise, as though they were beneficial and served to the end that the Word, the truth and Spirit prove themselves to be better and plainer; however aside from this factions and sects serve no good purpose.
9. The second reason is, that he may punish the unthankful, who will not accept the Word, that they may be converted and saved. As Christ also said to the Jews, John 5:43: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” Paul also says in 2 Thessalonians 2:10: “Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Thus God severely punishes these sins with blindness and error, which are also the greatest and worst sins, although we regard them to be so insignificant.
10. We consider it a small matter, that the Gospel of God’s grace is again restored to us. How many are there, who never even once thanked God for it? We forget it, cast it to the winds, become lazy and careless, no one welcomes it, no one relishes it, no one lifts up thankful hands to God for it. Yes, we are so richly overflooded with the Gospel that we have now become tired of it, and are almost turned against it, as Paul prophesied in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.” Thus we see time and again throughout the whole Scriptures, how highly it offends God and that he considers it the greatest sin, when his Word is despised which is so dear and precious that it cost him the blood of his dear Son, while we so lightly cast it to the winds. For this reason he also visits us with the worst of all calamities, which is not to be compared with the other calamities in the world, so that the people become so hardened, blindfolded and misled by the false prophets, that heaven itself is closed against them and hell opens to receive them, and life eternal is lost forever. Even though you fall under the sword of the Turk or of tyrants, if you only die in the true knowledge of God’s Word and in true faith, what is that but a blessed death, devoutly to be desired? But to deliver the soul forever to the devil, is eternal wrath, an everlasting calamity and hell itself.
11. God has now begun to visit us with manifold temporal and bodily calamities. But a far worse calamity will await us, when the holy Gospel is banished from Germany, or other false teachers appear, when one teaches this, another that. Then heaven will be closed, and the false preachers will not permit it to be opened. Hence there is great need that we pray earnestly. But, alas, how very cold our hearts are, and the reason of this is that our walls are not yet on fire, and we do not feel the loss.