The Sermon on the Mount.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing,
but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits.
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good
tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil
fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt
tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good
fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits
ye shall know them.
We have here a caution against false prophets, to take heed that we
be not deceived and imposed upon by them. Prophets are properly such as
foretel things to come; there are some mentioned in the Old Testament,
who pretended to that without warrant, and the event disproved their pretensions,
as Zedekiah, 1 Kings xxii. 11, and another Zedekiah, Jer. xxix. 21. But
prophets did also teach the people their duty, so that false prophets here
are false teachers. Christ being a Prophet and a Teacher come from God,
and designing to send abroad teachers under him, gives warning to all to
take heed of counterfeits, who, instead of healing souls with wholesome
doctrine, as they pretend, would poison them.
They are false teachers and false prophets, 1. Who produce false commissions,
who pretend to have immediate warrant and direction from God to set up
for prophets, and to be divinely inspired, when they are not so. Though
their doctrine may be true, we are to beware of them as false prophets.
False apostles are those who say they are apostles, and are not (Rev. ii.
2); such are false prophets. "Take heed of those who pretend to revelation,
and admit them not without sufficient proof, lest that one absurdity being
admitted, a thousand follow." 2. Who preach false doctrine in those things
that are essential to religion; who teach that which is contrary to the
truth as it is in Jesus, to the truth which is accordingly to godliness.
The former seems to be the proper notion of pseudo-propheta, a false or
pretending prophet, but commonly the latter falls in with it; for who would
hang out false colours, but with design, under pretence of them, the more
successfully to attack the truth. "Well, beware of them, suspect them,
try them, and when you have discovered their falsehood, avoid them, have
nothing to do with them. Stand upon your guard against this temptation,
which commonly attends the days of reformation, and the breakings out of
divine light in more than ordinary strength and splendour." When God's
work is revived, Satan and his agents are most busy. Here is,
I. A good reason for this caution, Beware of them, for they are wolves
in sheep's clothing, v. 15.
1. We have need to be very cautious, because their pretences are very
fair and plausible, and such as will deceive us, if we be not upon our
guard. They come in sheep's clothing, in the habit of prophets, which was
plain and coarse, and unwrought; they wear a rough garment to deceive,
Zech. xiii. 4. Elijah's mantle the Septuagint calls he melote--a sheep-skin
mantle. We must take heed of being imposed upon by men's dress and garb,
as by that of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, Luke xx. 46.
Or it may be taken figuratively; they pretend to be sheep, and outwardly
appear so innocent, harmless, meek, useful, and all that is good, as to
be excelled by none; they feign themselves to be just men, and for the
sake of their clothing are admitted among the sheep, which gives them an
opportunity of doing them a mischief ere they are aware. They and their
errors are gilded with the specious pretences of sanctity and devotion.
Satan turns himself into an angel of light, 2 Cor. xi. 13, 14. The enemy
has horns like a lamb (Rev. xiii. 11); faces of men, Rev. ix. 7, 8. Seducers
in language and carriage are soft as wool, Rom. xvi. 18; Isa. xxx. 10.
2. Because under these pretensions their designs are very malicious
and mischievous; inwardly they are ravening wolves. Every hypocrite is
a goat in sheep's clothing; not only not a sheep, but the worst enemy the
sheep has, that comes not but to tear and devour, to scatter the sheep
(John x. 12), to drive them from God, and from one another, into crooked
paths. Those that would cheat us of any truth, and possess us with error,
whatever they pretend, design mischief to our souls. Paul calls them grievous
wolves, Acts xx. 29. They raven for themselves, serve their own belly (Rom.
xvi. 18), make a prey of you, make a gain of you. Now since it is so easy
a thing, and withal so dangerous, to be cheated, Beware of false prophets.
II. Here is a good rule to go by in this caution; we must prove all
things (1 Thess. v. 21), try the spirits (1 John iv. 1), and here we have
a touchstone; ye shall know them by their fruits, v. 16-20. Observe,
1. The illustration of this comparison, of the fruit's being the discovery
of the tree. You cannot always distinguish them by their bark and leaves,
nor by the spreading of their boughs, but by their fruits ye shall know
them. The fruit is according to the tree. Men may, in their professions,
put a force upon their nature, and contradict their inward principles,
but the stream and bent of their practices will agree with them. Christ
insists upon this, the agreeableness between the fruit and the tree, which
is such as that, (1.) If you know what the tree is, you may know what fruit
to expect. Never look to gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles;
it is not in their nature to produce such fruits. An apple may be stuck,
or a bunch of grapes may hang, upon a thorn; so may a good truth, a good
word or action, be found in a bad man, but you may be sure it never grew
there. Note, [1.] Corrupt, vicious, unsanctified hearts are like thorns
and thistles, which came in with sin, are worthless, vexing, and for the
fire at last. [2.] Good works are good fruit, like grapes and figs, pleasing
to God and profitable to men. [3.] This good fruit is never to be expected
from bad men, and more than a clean thing out of an unclean: they want
an influencing acceptable principle. Out of an evil treasure will be brought
forth evil things. (2.) On the other hand, if you know what the fruit is,
you may, by that, perceive what the tree is. A good tree cannot bring forth
evil fruit; and a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nay, it cannot
but bring forth evil fruit. But then that must be reckoned the fruit of
the tree which it brings forth naturally and which is its genuine product--which
it brings forth plentifully and constantly and which is its usual product.
Men are known, not by particular acts, but by the course and tenour of
their conversation, and by the more frequent acts, especially those that
appear to be free, and most their own, and least under the influence of
external motives and inducements.
2. The application of this to the false prophets.
(1.) By way of terror and threatening (v. 19); Every tree that brings
not forth good fruit is hewn down. This very saying John the Baptist had
used, ch. iii. 10. Christ could have spoken the same sense in other words;
could have altered it, or given it a new turn; but he thought it no disparagement
to him to say the same that John had said before him; let not ministers
be ambitious of coining new expressions, nor people's ears itch for novelties;
to write and speak the same things must not be grievous, for it is safe.
Here is, [1.] The description of barren trees; they are trees that do not
bring forth good fruit; though there be fruit, if it be not good fruit
(though that be done, which for the matter of it is good, if it be not
done well, in a right manner, and for a right end), the tree is accounted
barren. [2.] The doom of barren trees; they are, that is, certainly they
shall be, hewn down, and cast into the fire; God will deal with them as
men use to deal with dry trees that cumber the ground: he will mark them
by some signal tokens of his displeasure, he will bark them by stripping
them of their parts and gifts, and will cut them down by death, and cast
them into the fire of hell, a fire blown with the bellows of God's wrath,
and fed with the wood of barren trees. Compare this with Ezek. xxxi. 12,
13; Dan. iv. 14; John xv. 6.
(2.) By way of trial; By their fruits ye shall know them.
[1.] By the fruits of their persons, their words and actions, and the
course of their conversation. If you would know whether they be right or
not, observe how they live; their works will testify for them or against
them. The scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses's chair, and taught the law,
but they were proud, and covetous, and false, and oppressive, and therefore
Christ warned him disciples to beware of them and of their leaven, Mark
xii. 38. If men pretend to be prophets and are immoral, that disproves
their pretensions; those are no true friends to the cross of Christ, whatever
they profess, whose God is their belly, and whose mind earthly things,
Phil. iii. 18, 19. Those are not taught nor sent of the holy God, whose
lives evidence that they are led by the unclean spirit. God puts the treasure
into earthen vessels, but not into such corrupt vessels: they may declare
God's statutes, but what have they to do to declare them?
[2.] By the fruits of their doctrine; their fruits as prophets: not
that this is the only way, but it is one way, of trying doctrines, whether
they be of God or not. What do they tend to do? What affections and practices
will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God,
it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and
love, with other Christian graces; but if, on the contrary, the doctrines
these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly,
and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations,
unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace; if
it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves
and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude,
that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Gal. v. 8. This
wisdom is from above, James iii. 15. Faith and a good conscience are held
together, 1 Tim. i. 19; iii. 9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation
must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions
come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their
fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and
to the testimony; do they speak according to that rule?
The Sermon on the Mount.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into
the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is
in heaven. ...
We have here the conclusion of this long and excellent sermon, the scope
of which is to show the indispensable necessity of obedience to the commands
of Christ; this is designed to clench the nail, that it might fix in a
sure place: he speaks this to his disciples, that sat at his feet whenever
he preached, and followed him wherever he went. Had he sought his own praise
among men, he would have said, that was enough; but the religion he came
to establish is in power, not in word only (1 Cor. iv. 20), and therefore
something more is necessary.
I. He shows, by a plain remonstrance, that an outward profession of
religion, however remarkable, will not bring us to heaven, unless there
be a correspondent conversation, v. 21-23. All judgment is committed to
our Lord Jesus; the keys are put into his hand; he has power to prescribe
new terms of life and death, and to judge men according to them: now this
is a solemn declaration pursuant to that power. Observe here,
1. Christ's law laid down, v. 21. Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord,
shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, into the kingdom of grace and glory.
It is an answer to that question, Ps. xv. 1. Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?--the
church militant; and who shall dwell in thy holy hill?--the church triumphant.
Christ here shows,
(1.) That it will not suffice to say, Lord, Lord; in word and tongue
to own Christ for our Master, and to make addresses to him, and professions
of him accordingly: in prayer to God, in discourse with men, we must call
Christ, Lord, Lord; we say well, for so he is (John xiii. 13); but can
we imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven, that such a piece
of formality as this should be so recompensed, or that he who knows and
requires the heart should be so put off with shows for substance? Compliments
among men are pieces of civility that are returned with compliments, but
they are never paid as real services; and can they then be of an account
with Christ? There may be a seeming importunity in prayer, Lord, Lord:
but if inward impressions be not answerable to outward expressions, we
are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. This is not to take us
off from saying, Lord, Lord; from praying, and being earnest in prayer,
from professing Christ's name, and being bold in professing it, but from
resting in these, in the form of godliness, without the power.
(2.) That it is necessary to our happiness that we do the will of Christ,
which is indeed the will of his Father in heaven. The will of God, as Christ's
Father, is his will in the gospel, for there he is made known, as the Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ: and in him our Father. Now this is his will,
that we believe in Christ, that we repent of sin, that we live a holy life,
that we love one another. This is his will, even our sanctification. If
we comply not with the will of God, we mock Christ in calling him Lord,
as those did who put on him a gorgeous robe, and said, Hail, King of the
Jews. Saying and doing are two things, often parted in conversation of
men: he that said, I go, sir, stirred never a step (ch. xxi. 30); but these
two things God has joined in his command, and let no man that puts them
asunder think to enter into the kingdom of heaven...