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Matthew vii. 21.


OUR Church has thought fit to appoint, as the Gospel for this day, the caution which was given by our Lord Jesus Christ, at the close of His sermon on the Mount, respecting those who appeared before the world as the teachers of the true religion. Such was the station occupied by the scribes and Pharisees at the time when this discourse was delivered. They were the prophets or expounders of the law of God,


who professed to teach the good and the right way; but their expositions tended to set aside, rather than to enforce, the word of God. Our Saviour told them, that they made the word of God of none effect through their tradition,50 which they taught in the stead of it. And their characters corresponded with their instruction. For while they made void the law of God by their doctrines, they devoured widows' houses; they made a prey of the defenceless and unprotected. Yet they were very scrupulous in paying tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and rue, although they passed over the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith, and the love of God.51 Against persons of this character our Saviour, in the course of His public ministry, denounced the most grievous woes. Our church by appointing this portion of holy Scripture to be read, intimates to us, that similar characters might be expected to intrude themselves into the sacred office of the ministry, in all future ages; and therefore obliges such persons, if they be found ministering at her altar, to pronouce their own condemnation with their own mouth. Such a portion of Scripture calls for special self-examination on the part of those who sustain the ministerial office; that they may not, while they teach others, themselves fail of obtaining the

50 Mark vii. 13. 51 Matthew xxiii. 14, 23. Luke xi. 42.

blessedness which is promised to the children of God. But in the text the subject is made of universal application; and hence it appears, that we shall, every one of us, ministers and people, be judged, not merely by our professions, but by our deeds. Let us then, take a general view of this subject.

Our Saviour begins with a caution, Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Those who teach false doctrine, or that which is not the doctrine taught in the holy Scriptures, are here described as assuming the outward appearance of the prophets of God, perhaps both in their garb and their demeanour, in order to gain attention, because they would not otherwise be able so easily to induce others to listen to them. But the object which such persons have in view is their own worldly advantage in one point or another. They are desirous of obtaining worldly honour, or wealth; either to have it conceived that they themselves are some great ones, to whom all should give heed, after the example of Simon Magus; or to promote their own temporal interests. Some selfish ends are the objects to which their attention is directed in their dissemination of false doctrine; as wolves devour for the gratification of

52 Acts viii. 9.

their appetite. Our Saviour says of these false prophets, Ye shall know them by their fruits. Mark their conduct. Notice their principles of action. And when you see that selfishness is the prevailing spring of every action, beware of them; pay no regard to their false doctrine. Love to God and man is that which characterises the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ; and which is inculcated in the holy Scriptures. But when the heart of man is unrenewed by Divine grace, worldly principles are the only motives to his conduct. He can rise no higher than human nature prompts, as a stream can rise no higher than its fountain head.

This our Saviour illustrates by asking, Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Thorns or briers, and thistles are the natural products of the earth, entailed on it by the curse of God for the sin of man. When Adam had sinned, the Lord God said unto him, Cursed is the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. These afford no food to man. They do indeed in their season bear a blossom or flower which may be pleasing to the eye; but there is no possibility of obtaining from them grapes or figs, or what is good for food. These are sought from plants

53 Genesis iii. 17, 18.


or trees of a very different kind. In like manner, human nature, fallen as it is, may offer to the outward appearance much that is amiable, especially when it has been restrained and moulded by education; but it is as vain to look for the fruit of the Spirit from the unregenerate heart of man, as for grapes and figs from briers and thistles. For, as our Saviour declared, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and as the Apostle observed, They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; and the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; so then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. To be carnally minded, or the minding of the flesh, is death.65 Hence our blessed Saviour declared, Ye must be born again. Except a man be born again, be born of water and of the Spirit, be cleansed from his natural pollution, by the washing of regeneration, and have a new principle of spiritual life communicated to him by the renewing of the Holy Ghost,56 he cannot see, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The reason of this follows, That only which is born of the Spirit, is spirit and they only that are after the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit; or have that spiritual mind which is life and peace. They only through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the

54 John iii. 5—7. 55 Romans viii. 5-8, 13, 14. 56 Titus iii. 5.

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