Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
God eternally appoints the Son to be the Christ, the great Servant of Jehovah, the great Prophet who reveals the Father through the preaching of the Word. John speaks of Him in Revelation 6:2 as a white horse and its rider who go forth conquering and to conquer. He is given a crown, for He already has attained the victory and is exalted at the right hand of the Father. He has a bow in His right hand whereby He penetrates into the hearts of all who hear the gospel.
In this new dispensation the Word of God is preached throughout the world. The good Shepherd knows His sheep. He calls them by name and they come to Him and become one flock with one Shepherd. And that Word that is preached throughout the world for all to hear never returns void. It is a two-edged sword that cuts and divides asunder. For those who do not believe, it is a savor of death unto death, and for the believer it is a savor of life unto life. That determines all of history. In the day of judgment the question will be: “What thinkest thou of the Christ?”
Satan opposes God and His Christ, and seeks to wipe out God’s name and God’s cause from the face of the earth. His name Satan designates him as the enemy of God, and his name Devil tells us that he is the liar, the deceiver even from the dawn of history. As a fallen angel who with his followers rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven, he had the audacity to oppose God by tempting our first parents to eat of the forbidden tree, whereby death came upon them and upon the whole human race. The promised Christ, by His death on the cross, crushed Satan’s head and condemned him unto everlasting damnation. Therefore, knowing he has but a little while, he works tenaciously during this present dispensation to attempt to destroy God’s church.
We should bear in mind that the devil and his host have great power to deceive, but they are not almighty. God alone is almighty in power, and the devil is always subject to and dependent upon the will of God. Not, as it has sometimes been presented, that the devil cowers before God and reluctantly crawls out to perform his evil deeds. Nor, on the other hand, is the battle of the ages a struggle between God and the devil, in which God ultimately wins out by defeating the powers of darkness. God is sovereign Lord over all, also over the devil. This becomes evident especially in the history of Job. God calls Satan’s attention to Job as a man who is upright and eschews evil. God also gives him power to deprive Job of all his property and his children. Later God gives him power to afflict Job with painful, ugly sores, so that even his wife turns against him, but the devil may not take his life from him. The Lord proves thereby that He is sovereign Lord and ultimately turns all Job’s affliction into a blessing. The Deceiver is the instrument in God’s hand even when he works through false prophets, seeking to destroy God’s cause and church. God uses his evil attempts for the welfare and purification of His church.
The apostle Peter warns us that, even as there were false prophets in the old dispensation, so there will also “be false teachers among you, who privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them” (II Pet. 2:1).
These false teachers arise out of the church. As we look back on the history of the last two millenniums we can only be amazed that the church always stood firm in the truth for only a little while. Soon heresies appeared, and the militant church was forced into a reformation. This has continued even unto our present day.
The devil comes as an angel of light. That is what makes heretics so deceptive. Paul speaks of corrupting the Scriptures, which is done so surreptitiously that the error comes creeping in almost unawares. With cunning deceit, false teachers deny the God and the Christ of the Scriptures, making themselves guilty of damnable heresies and leading astray the sheep of God’s fold.
Error always creeps in by a questioning of the infallible Word of God. The devil comes with the age-old question: “Yea, hath God said?” Soon the very inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible are under attack, as is evident already from the denial that Genesis 1 actually speaks of six days of twenty-four hours.
Soon God’s sovereignty is challenged. False teachers first ignore and then deny outright the doctrine of predestination, attacking first the truth of reprobation, then of sovereignly free election. Soon the truth of God’s particular love and grace for His people in Christ is denied. The truth of the promise of the gospel is changed into a well-meant offer of salvation to all mankind. The truth of God’s justice is ignored.
From these fundamental errors follows quite readily a denial of the total depravity of all the descendants of Adam and Eve. Readily these false teachers teach that God bestows grace on the reprobate wicked, whereby they are graciously given good gifts from God and their hearts are improved, so that they can do much that is good in the sight of God, whereby great progress and development results in the world. A bridge is built between the church and the world, and the antithesis is denied. God’s justice and His wrath upon the house of the wicked are ignored, and thus also blatantly denied.
The next step readily follows. Since God loves all men, there must be a general atonement. They readily conclude that Christ died for all mankind. Reference is made to the first cross-word, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is not regarded as the highpriestly prayer of the Servant of Jehovah, nor as a prayer for pardon (although the word for “forgive” is always used in that sense in Scripture), but rather as a plea for postponement of God’s justice. Thus they change the meaning of the passage to a general, well-meant offer of salvation that is proclaimed to all men with the desire to save all.
Thereby the doctrine of particular grace is also denied. A person is saved only on the condition that he himself is willing to accept the proffered salvation. It has been said that salvation is like a huge arch, upon the one side we read: “Whosoever will may come,” and on the opposite side is written: “Saved by grace.” Although they speak of salvation by grace alone, they actually stress in an increasing measure a salvation by works, as if we can merit our place in heaven.
From this must necessarily follow that the perseverance of the saints depends upon us, so that there is the possibility that even the elect might fall away.
Gradually the Arminian error of free will takes over in the apostatizing church. The emphasis in the preaching is no longer on God, but on man. Modernism replaces the truth of Scripture. It is as if God is in heaven for our sakes, ready and willing to come to our aid in time of need — while the truth is that we exist only for God’s sake. God is not our servant, but we are called to be stewards in God’s house.
It cannot escape us that heresy in the church, and all the evils that follow, come from those who reject the gospel. This is also God’s righteous judgment on those who reject and deny the Christ. In Romans 1:18 Paul speaks of the wrath of God revealed from heaven upon all those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. God gives them over to their sin to commit all the evil desires of the sinful heart. The apostle Peter adds to this that those who bring in damnable heresies “bring upon themselves swift destruction.” (Do not fail to read II Peter, chapter 1.)
Jesus warns us that “many shall be deceived.”
The consequences of error become evident in the life of the congregation. The church of Ephesus, as mentioned in Revelation 2, lost her first love, her love for sound doctrine. Gradually she weakens and becomes more apostate until she can be compared only to the complacent church of Laodicea, of which the Lord says: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15, 16).
Worldlimindedness results, movies and dances are considered good entertainment, women are allowed to hold office in the church, divorce and remarriage are condoned, and labor unions are defended. Authority and obedience in the home and in many other spheres of life grow lax or are virtually absent.
Especially in our day, because of a total lack of interest in the truth of Scripture and because of a clamor for world conformity, denominational walls are crumbling. An appeal is made to the words of Jesus concerning His disciples: “That they all may be one.” Just as the world round about us strives for unity, so also the apostatizing church seeks an outward bond of unity. Completely ignored, if not denied, is the fact that the real unity of the true church is a spiritual unity in Christ Jesus. The church is Christ’s body, the elect of all ages, the temple of God which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, that is, upon the Word of God (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 54).
God’s church is one, a universal, holy church consisting of the true believers and their spiritual seed. This church is gathered, defended, and preserved by the Son of God out of every race, nation, tribe, and people. Christ knows His sheep, He calls them by name through the ministry of the Word and His Spirit, and they come to Him. In Him they are one flock with one Shepherd.
Virtually all churches in our day strive for a universal church that exalts man and brotherly love, while God and His Christ are cast out. The true church will be more and more hated and despised, even persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
The Lord calls us to come out from among them. Even as He has called for reformations in the past, so He requires of the faithful to separate from among them that depart from the truth. This is a painful, bitter experience. Families are torn apart, friendships are broken, those who formerly worshiped together are now in animosity. Wounds are inflicted that never fully heal. Yet our calling remains: Be thou faithful unto death! Hold that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown! The Lord is coming!