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SERMON VIII.a

MATTHEW vii. 16.
Ye shall know them by their fruits.

In our blessed Saviour's Sermon on the Mount, many erroneous opinions which the Jews had imbibed from their corrupt teachers are censured and corrected. The genuine precepts of the Mosaic Law are contrasted with the perverse interpretations of the Jewish Scribes, and with the unauthorized traditions which they had engrafted upon

the Law itself. The hypocrisy also of these arrogant instructors is laid open, and means are pointed out of detecting their delusive sophistries. All this was necessary for the vindication of that Law which in itself was holy, just, and good, and to rescue it from the hands of these evil-minded expositors. It was necessary also for others as well as for the Jews, that a rule of conduct so perfect and so unerring, possessing the full force of a Divine and infallible authority, should be shewn to be capable of universal application, and intended to form an essential part of that dispensation which our Lord came into the world to promulgate and to establish. Not only, therefore, does he guard his hearers specifically against certain particular errors and misinterpretations which had then crept in among them; but he

a This and the following Sermons are now for the first time printed.

applies, both for their use and for the benefit of all who might thereafter become his disciples, such illustrations and such tests of sound doctrine, as would best secure them against delusion of every kind. Among these, the admonition contained in the

passage

from which the words of the text are taken, appears to be one of the most simple, and the most decisive. “ 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. Do men

gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ? “ Even so every good tree bringeth forth

good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth “ forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring « forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree

bring forth good fruit. Every tree that

bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, “ and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their “ fruits ye shall know them.”

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It is scarcely necessary to observe, that by “ false prophets” are here intended, not persons falsely pretending to the gift of prophecy, but false teachers of religious doctrine, and misinterpreters of the Sacred Word; such as the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees, against whom our Lord's animadversions were primarily directed. The sequel of the discourse, however, clearly shews that the admonition was designed for more general application; to Christian as well as to Jewish teachers; to all who should acknowledge Christ for their Lord and Master; to all, of whatever description, who should either pretend to new revelations of the Divine will, or to interpret those which had already been made known.

I proceed, then, to consider, in what sense, and under what limitations, this general maxim is to be received,—“By their fruits

ye shall know them;"—or, in other words, how we are to apply it as a test of religious doctrine.

That every one who exercises the office of a religious teacher is under an especial obligation to become an ensample to others “in “ faith, in conversation, in charity, in purity,” can hardly be called in question; nor, indeed, that “every one” (whether teacher or disciple)

“ who nameth the name of Christ” should

depart from iniquity.” Yet that such is not invariably the case, is evident. Neither can it be denied, on the other hand, that the most erroneous religious persuasions may be accompanied with such blameless outward demeanour, as to excite strong prepossessions in favour of the opinions delivered. It may also happen, that the most ill-designing men, intent upon propagating religious delusions, or even disseminating irreligion and infidelity, exhibit the exterior of such correct and virtuous conduct as will tend greatly to recommend their tenets to acceptance.

Implicit reliance, therefore, can hardly be placed upon testimony of this kind. Nor does it appear to be that to which our Lord intended exclusively to refer ; since of the false teachers against whom he warns his followers, he says expressly, they “ come to "you in sheep's clothing;”—their exterior conduct betokens qualities the most harmless and inoffensive ;but inwardly they are ravening wolves;—under the garb of sanctity or innocence they conceal principles or intentions the most destructive. The fruits, therefore, which are to bring their doctrines to the test, cannot be merely that deportment which may serve the very purpose of deception; but must be something discoverable in the spirit and tendency of the doctrine delivered by them, as well as in its practical effect upon themselves or others.

This is farther evident from our Lord's admonishing his disciples, even while he severely reproves the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, not to despise their authority, nor to disregard the Law of which they were the appointed teachers :-“ The Scribes and “ Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; all, therefore, “ whatsoever they bid you observe, that ob

serve and do : but do not ye after their “ works; for they say, and do not.” Their defect of practice was no proof of the unsoundness of their doctrine; nor did their plausible appearance of sanctity justify their perverse expositions of the Law. By that Law itself were both their faith and practice to be judged; and whether the one or the other might be safely followed, would depend upon its conformity with the known will of God.

Applying, then, this rule to other teachers as well as to the Jewish, we see that it relates rather to the tendency of the doctrine itself to produce good fruits, than to the actual exemplification of its effects in the persons by whom it is taught. Where Revelation is

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