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“Take heed and beware”


And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” . . . Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

—Matthew 16:6, 12

If this was a timely warning for the twelve disciples, who were taught by the one perfect teacher, it is even more so for us, in an age in which the proliferation of false teachers in what passes for the church would undoubtedly have astounded the apostles. It is a necessary warning because none of us, no matter how learned and sanctified, are immune to error.


Our Lord Jesus Christ was not speaking to men who were worldly, ungodly, and unsanctified, but to His own disciples, companions, and friends. He addressed men who, with the exception of the apostate Judas Iscariot, were right-hearted in the sight of God. He spoke to the twelve apostles, the first founders of the church of Christ, and the first ministers of the word of salvation. And yet even to them he addresses the solemn caution of our text: ‘Take heed and beware’.

There is something very remarkable in this fact. We might have thought that these apostles needed little warning of this kind. Had they not given up all for Christ’s sake? They had.—Had they not endured hardship for Christ’s sake? They had.—Had they not believed Jesus, followed Jesus, loved Jesus, when almost all the world was unbelieving? All these things are true; and yet to them the caution was addressed: ‘Take heed and beware’. . . .

There is useful counsel here for all who profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. It tells us loudly that the most eminent servants of Christ are not beyond the need of warnings, and ought to be always on their guard. It shows us plainly that the holiest of believers ought to walk humbly with his God, and to watch and pray, lest he fall into temptation, and be overtaken in a fault. None is so holy, but that he may fall,—not finally, not hopelessly, but to his own discomfort, to the scandal of the church, and to the triumph of the world: none is so strong but that he may for a time be overcome. Chosen as believers are by God the Father, justified as they are by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, sanctified as they are by the Holy Ghost,—believers are still only men: they are yet in the body, and yet in the world. They are ever near temptation: they are ever liable to err, both in doctrine and in practice. Their hearts, though renewed, are very feeble; their understanding, though enlightened, is still very dim. They ought to live like those who dwell in an enemy’s land, and every day to put on the armour of God. The devil is very busy: he never slumbers or sleeps. Let us remember the falls of Noah, and Abraham, and Lot, and Moses, and David, and Peter; and remembering them, be humble, and take heed lest we fall.

I may be allowed to say that none need warnings so much as the ministers of Christ’s gospel. Our office and our ordination are no security against errors and mistakes. It is, alas, too true, that the greatest heresies have crept into the church of Christ by means of ordained men. . . . Our very familiarity with the gospel often begets in us a hardened state of mind. We are apt to read the Scriptures, and preach the word, and conduct public worship, and carry on the service of God, in a dry, hard, formal, callous spirit. Our very familiarity with sacred things, except we watch our hearts, is likely to lead us astray. ‘Nowhere’, says an old writer, ‘is a man’s soul in more danger than in a priest’s office.’ The history of the church of Christ contains many melancholy proofs that the most distinguished ministers may for a time fall away. Who has not heard of Archbishop Cranmer recanting and going back from those opinions he had defended so stoutly, though, by God’s mercy, raised again to witness a glorious confession at last? . . . Who does not know that many others might be named, who, at one time or another, have been overtaken by faults, have fallen into errors, and been led astray? . . .

These things ought to make us humble and cautious. They tell us to distrust our own hearts, and to pray to be kept from falling. In these days, when we are specially called upon to cleave firmly to the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, let us take heed that our zeal for Protestantism does not puff us up, and make us proud. Let us never say in our self-conceit, ‘I shall never fall into popery or Neologianism: those views will never suit me.’ Let us remember that many have begun well and run well for a season, and yet afterwards turned aside out of the right way. Let us take heed that we are spiritual men as well as Protestants, and real friends of Christ as well as enemies of Antichrist. Let us pray that we may be kept from error, and never forget that the twelve apostles themselves were the men to whom the great Head of the church addressed these words: ‘Take heed and beware.’

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 364–366.

Posted 2017·07·03 by David Kjos
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