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make light of such a privilege, that guilt and shame that makes it seem almost a duty to stand aloof, and that distrust of God which gives to our approaches before him an appearance of presumption!
Ver. 12. Therefore all things, whatsoever, &c. It may seem as if there could be no connexion between this precept, and those which preceded it. On close inspection, however, we may find it otherwise. It may have a connexion with various other precepts which had gone before, and (so far as they related to the duty of man to man) contain a-sort of summary of the whole. Or it may well be considered as connected with what is said on prayer. All inordinate affection toward this world, (which is the impetus that moves men to over-reaching practices,) has its root in a distrust of God. Were we daily to ask for all we want of him, seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and relying upon his promise to add other things as he sees them to be best for us, we should have no inclination to covetousness or injustice. But if, instead of depending like sheep on the care of their shepherd, we set off like beasts of prey, to forage the world for ourselves, we shall often judge it to be wise and necessary to seize on that which equity forbids. Hence arises the hateful distinction among statesmen between what is right and what is politic, and hence all the rapacity which desolates the earth. It will be found in the end., that whatever was right was wise; but this lesson is seldom learned till it is too late. O what a world would it be, if this rule were acted upon! What families, churches, cities, and nations would our eyes behold! But this is not to be expected, till it shall be written in the hearts of men by the Spirit of God.
It ia remarkable, that this golden rule, as we call it, is God's witness in every human breast. Every one has so much regard for himself as quickly to feel wherein he is wronged, and to pass censure on the person who has wronged him. He has therefore only to apply the principle to his own conduct, and the right and the wrong must instantly appear. Hence, no one can plead ignorance. Even the heathens, who have not the written law, are a law unto themselves, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanvhile only accusing, or elst excusing one another.
THE BROAD AND NARROW WAY ) AND HOW TO JUDGE 09 TEACHERS WHO DURECT TO THE ONE, AND TO THE ©THER.
Matt vii. 13—20.
Vek. l3, 14. Enter ye, kc. Our Lord now proceeds to set before his hearers life and death, exhorting them to choose life* From the whole of what he had advanced, it must appear, that the way of the world was broad, and that his own was narrow, or difficult; but thcugh the one might be agreeable to the flesh, and the other disagreeable, his counsel is, Enter ye in at the strait gate. It is as if he had said, If you walk in the way which I have been warning you against, the entrance will be easy, and you will meet with but few obstructions in your progress. Every thing will accord with your corrupt propensities. The transition from sin to sin, and from occasional to habitual indulgences, will be quite easy. You will have full Scope for inclination, and free choice of the vices best suited to you* birth, rank, or turn of mind. Temptations, like wind and tide, will help you on! You will be in no want of company; for old and young, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, walk there ; but remember, it leadeth to destruction! If, on the other hand, you walk in the way which I have marked out, great difficulties may present themselves at your entrance, hard struggles will attend your progress, and you fciay expect but few to keep you company: but it leadeth unto
life! Whosoever, therefore, chooses the broad way, enter Ve in at the strait gate.
Vtr. 16—20. Beware of false prophets, &c. As this warning was designed for Christians in every age, the term rendered prophets must here, as it often is elsewhere, be understood of ordinary teachers. There are few, if any, more dangerous temptations, than those which arise from false teaching. Men are led on by one another, and by preaching more than by most other things. As the true doctrine directs to the narrow way which leadeth unto life; so false doctrine directs to the broad way which leadeth to destruction. It is the characteristic of false teachers that they recommend a loose religion, a flesh-pleasing scheme, the effects of which are commonly fatal. A criterion therefore, by which they may be known and avoided, must needs be of the greatest importance.
It is remarkable that this criterion does not consist of any external distinction conferred by others. Whatever may be said in favour of ordination from any order o£ men, it is not this that will render us true ministers. It is not any profession that may be made by the parties; for they may come in sheep's clothing, and yet be wolves. Loud professions of zeal and sanctity may be resorted to merely as means of success. It is the spirit and conduct, by which we are directed to judge of men and of the tendency of their ministry. Ye shall know them by their fruits.
The principle on which this rule proceeds is this; true teachers have imbibed the true doctrine, which is productive of good fruit, both in themselves and others; and false teachers have imbibed a false doctrine which is productive of evil fruits both in themselves and others. There may be difficulties in applying the rule: we may be mistaken both on the favourable and the unfavourable side; yet as a general direction for those who sit not as final judges, but metely for the practical purposes of the present life, there is none like it. Men may put on the demure and the devout for mere selfish purposes, but follow them into private and domestic life, and they will ordinarily declare themselves. We may at least know enough of men by this medium, to guide as m our choice of men; and that is the end to be answered.
There are two kinds of fruit, by the presence or absence of which we are directed to judge of teachers; namely, good and evil. With respect to the first, every true minister of Christ is a.good tree, and bringeth forth good fruit. Having believed the gospel himself, he speaks it from the fulness of his heart. The love of Christ constrains him. The love of souls induces him to labour, and to deny himself for their salvation. He seeks not theirs, but them. And where it is so, it will appear and approve itself to the consciences of those about him. A false teacher, on the other hand, can no more bring forth this good^fruit, than a thorn can bear grapes, or a thistle figs. There will be a manifest want of those fruits of the Spirit, enumerated by the apostle; namely, of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Even in those who may have maintained a fair character, as it is commonly accounted by the world, you will often perceive a shocking vacancy with respect to these things. When the pharisee, full of scorn and self-complacency, thought ill of Christ, even for his suffering a sinner to wash his feet with her tears, he was told of his own sins. But what were they 1 Neither himself nor his acquaintance might know of any that could be laid to his charge. Jesus, however, was not at a loss to find them; and they consist, not so much in what he had done, as in what he had not done. In this view, how naked does the poor creature appear, and what a disparity is there between him and the sinner whom he had despised! / entered into thy house; thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet: mine head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
With respect to the presence or absence of evil fruit, a true minister of Christ cannot live in sin, no, not in private, any more than a good tree can bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a false teacher suppress for any considerable time, the ruling propensity of his heart, nor forbear to manifest it, though undesignedly, to those about him. A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
The motives which influence these different characters being opposite, their effects will ordinarily correspond with them. All the labours of a false teacher originate and terminate in self. Some, under the disguise of apparent sanctity, are seeking to gratify the foulest propensities. Others flatter their audiences either as to what human nature is, or what they are in distinction from the many around them. Some are adepts at gaining an ascendancy over the minds of the people, and so of getting possession of a considerable part of their property. Others, less addicted to avarice, are eager after applause; hence their chief study is to obtain the graces of a public speaker, or that elegance of diction which shall render them admired. Where such things are, they cannot be concealed, unless it be from those who are willingly ignorant. But how opposite to every thing of the kind is the spirit and conduct of the man of God! Read 1 Thee. ii. Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor ofuncleanness, nor of guilt: but at we reere allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness! nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others. Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. False teachers will often be on their guard before euemies, but when with their friends only, will throw off their disguise, and indulge in licentious freedoms, under the name, it may be, of the liberty of the gospel: but it was not so. with the apostles and true ministers of Christ: Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe.