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the right way. And this our Saviour here particularly cautions us againft. Pride and covetousness, luft and intemperance, ambition, malice, and the like, abound in all corners of the world. The ferving and indulging of thefe is the principle by which the generality of men direct and form their own lives, whatever the word of God commands to the contrary. And when the greatest part liveat fuch a rate as this, their example will have a mighty force upon others, to move them to live after the fame manner. † Be not deceived, fays St. Paul, evil communications corrupt good manners. And St. Peter gives this warning to the Chriftians, to whom he wrote, Beware left ye alfo, being led away by the error of the wicked, fall from your own ftedfafthefs. Imitation is natural unto men, fo that we are enclin'd to do like others, and are infenfibly led into it: And while in fome vices, fashion has almoft made them reputable, or at leaft gives countenance and encouragement to them; in others, men are apt to think they cannot be fafe, without doing the fame things, and using the fame arts, which they fee others do and ufe. Cuftom either renders truth and virtue fingular and ridiculous, or makes them feem dangerous and unfafe. So that men chufe rather to follow a multitude to do evil, than straiten their own meafures by the flighted and unfashionable maxims of religion; and they find it very hard to bring themfelves to make a better choice; fo fatal a temptation is ill example. And upon all these accounts above fpecified, well might our bleffed Saviour affirm, that wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to deftruction, and many there be that go in thereat; while at the fame time, ftrait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
t1 Cor. xv. 33.
2 Pet. iii. 14.
Of Falfe Teachers.
MATTH. vii. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in fheeps clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,
Te shall know them by their fruits: Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even fo 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 caft into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye fhall know them,
UR bleffed Lord, drawing to the clofe of his fermon, concludes it in this and the following paragraph, in fuch a manner as fhould moft effectually enforce the obfervation of the whole. And firft, as a guard or fence to that most neceflary practical
scheme of religion, now advanced by him, he warns his Difciples against falfe teachers; who for ends and interest of their own, would directly or indirectly debauch the morals, as well as corrupt the doctrine of the Church. His caution given us hereupon feems to be to this effect.
"THE duties and virtues I have here taught you, "are of the last importance to the pleafing of God, "and to the faving of your own fouls; and be"cause they are fo, the enemy of your falvation "will labour by all poffible means to divert you "from attending to them. For this purpose he "will raise up false teachers among you, who with "plaufible fhews of zeal and fincerity fhall be for 66 tracing you out new ways to heaven. Beware, "of them therefore, and affure your felves, that "whatever commiffion they pretend from me, if "they teach any thing contrary to what I have "taught, or lay the ftrefs of religion any where, "but where I have laid it, they are doing the "devil's work, not mine; and whatever ap6c pearances they may make of fanctity, or zeal, "or wisdom, they are building the interefts of "their own vanity or avarice upon your credulity, weakness and corruption: Examine the fruits "of their doctrine, and ye will foon difcover them. "If it tend not to charity, peace, and purity, to "an inward as well as outward holiness, in all the "branches of it; according to my Gofpel ye may "as well expect to gather grapes of thorns, or "figs of thiftles, as expect falvation by fuch a docIf what they teach you were good, " 'twould lead you to a good life; but if it amufe CC you with other things which ferve not to this "purpose, or lead you contrary thereto; this wif"dom is not from above, but is earthly, fenfual, "devilifh. The nature of a tree is known by its
"fruit. And as every tree that brings not forth "good fruit, how fair foever it appears in leaves CC or bloffoms, is good for nothing but the fire: So "fhall that prophet, notwithstanding his feeming "zeal and fair pretences, have his lot amongst the "wicked in eternal fire; who does not both by "his life and doctrine, labour to recommend reli"gion in that fincere and genuine practice of it, " as it is here laid down by me.
IN explaining this paragraph farther, I will fhew.
I. WHAT kind of falfe prophets they are, of whom our Saviour here particularly fore
II. THE marks or tokens whereby they may be known. I fhall begin with the firft.
I. WHAT kind of false prophets they are, of whom our Saviour here particularly forewarns his Difciples. "Tis plain by his description of them, as coming in fheep's clothing, that they are no profefs'd and open enemies to Christianity; but fuch as under the disguise of owning it, yea, and the pretence of teaching it too, would corrupt the fimplicity of it. From the firft ages of the Gofpel, there have been many erroneous and heretical doctrines fcatter'd abroad, and fome of them in the most effential and fundamental points; as concerning the divinity or the humanity of Chrift, the union of the two natures, and the like; about which fome ignorant and fome philofophical men vented moft abfurd and falfe opinions. So did the Simonians, the Cerenthians, the Ebionites, the Nicolaitans, and other hereticks,even while the Apoftles liv'd; as appears by the frequent admonitions and warnings left upon record, in their Epiftles, against fuch doctrines. Thus early the enemy fow'd his tares; and the virgin
Church under the tuition of thofe infpired guardians, the Apostles themselves, could no more be fecured from herefies within, than perfecutions from without: And if the canker fpread farther, and eat deeper in the following ages, it is not at all to be wonder'd. To fuch falfe prophets as thefe, this caution of our Saviour may be extended. But confidering that his whole difcourfe foregoing was upon precepts purely practical, the morals of a virtuous chriftian life, as neceffary to falvation; if we will fuppofe any connexion of this paragraph with all that went before, we must conclude he more particularly points at fuch falfe teachers as fhould corrupt mens morals, or (whether directly or indirectly) draw their minds from the fimplicity and practice of thofe duties he had taught them. And amongst these may be reckoned,
(1.) THOSE who indulging the corrupt nature of man, interpret away the ftrictness of our Saviour's precepts. Who by any mif-conduct in their preaching, loofen the bonds of chriftian morality, and countenance a greater latitude in manners than the inftructions of their Lord will justify. 'Tis not to be fuppofed that any of them will openly and plainly fet themselves against religion, or commend or patronize any vice, but there are abundance of ways of doing the fame thing in effect. As when they palliate any finful and immoral habits under the ftile of frailty and infirmities, which are not really fo. When by a lax interpretation, they enervate the force of fuch prohibitions or commands in Scripture, as are really in the genuine fenfe and defign of them, very ftrict and extenfive; when they induftriously avoid preaching against fuch particular fins, as they know fome perfons of their audience. whom they have an intereft to please, or fear to difoblige, are guilty of; or upon the like principle avoid infifting upon a fevere and difagreeable duty: Whereas