« 前へ次へ »
who, by often supposing himself in the agonies of death, learns 'to die daily,' and to look on his dissolution as a thing familiar and welcome, when it actually arrives. Blessed is he, who, by often supposing himself just newly arisen from the dead, and brought to trial before the judgment-seat of God, learns to rise, above the corruptions of his sinful nature, to a thorough newness of life; learns to ʻrise from dead works, to serve the living Lord ;' learns, by perpetually settling accounts with his conscience, to prepare his audit for the great day of account.
This man truly lives, lives with infinitely more satisfaction and comfort, than can possibly be tasted in all the wealth, pomp, and pleasure of an uncertain and perishable world. This man shall meet death with a joy, equal to the terrors of the wicked. This man shall behold the face of his judge with rapture, while others' call on the mountains to hide them' from that awful countenance. This man shall receive that happy sentence, Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.' This man shall be caught up into the clouds with Christ and his angels,' at that time, when this world, once a scene of triumphant wickedness, but now all in flames, shall be perhaps turned into a place of punishment for those who loved it more than God, and insulted him with a gross abuse of all his inferior creatures, bountifully bestowed upon them.
Now to him who killeth and maketh alive again, who shall raise us up at the last day,' to the King of heaven, and Judge of all the earth, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
BEWARE OF FALSE TEACHERS.
St. Matt. vi. 15, 16.
they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men
gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? The religion revealed to us by our blessed Saviour, and his Holy Spirit, could not have been discovered by observations made on ourselves, or the world we are placed in, as other sciences are ; nor does it naturally spring up in our minds, like instinct or desire; but approves itself, as soon as it is known, to right reason, as a system of truths, necessary to a thorough reformation of our corruptions, and a perfect government of our passions. Hence appears the necessity of instruction, and consequently of teachers, in order to the knowledge of Christianity.
But if such a reformation and government, and of course the real happiness of individuals, depend so absolutely on the knowledge of our religion; the happiness of every community, must, unquestionably, rest on the same foundation. The community can be neither better, nor happier, than the several members, whereof it is composed.
And, whereas, howsoever pure and clear the necessary religion may spring from its original fountain, there is danger of its being considerably corrupted or obstructed, if the channels, through which it passes, are not sufficiently clean and open; it must undoubtedly be the concern, indeed the most important concern, of all individuals, and of every community to see, that their religious teachers be men of wisdom and integrity, proportionable to the great ends of their office. Where religion is not imparted, the very soul of virtue, and the source of happiness, are wanting. Where it is perverted in the conveyance, an evil spirit, instead of a soul, is infused, and new enormities, whereat even the corruption of nature startles, are produced.
Now the danger, in both respects, is much greater than can be apprehended, before the idleness, the wrong-headedness, and what is still worse, the wrong-beartedness of mankind, among whom our teachers must be chosen, are well considered. The idle man will not labour in the office of teaching proportionably to the dulness or inattention of his hearers. The wrong-headed, especially if he is conceited (and a thousand to one he is highly so), will distort every thing he conveys; and like an uneven glass, present all awry to the understandings of his disciples. The wronghearted will add to, diminish, or change, whatsoever message he is charged with, according as the times, the occasions, the humours of his flock, or his own worldly interests, shall tempt him with views, detached, either from the original truth of religion, or the edification of mankind.
These causes of apprehension are not more plain to our experience, than it is, that.numbers of men, thus, unhappily minded, crowd daily into the ministry, with views of gain and ease only to themselves, and often with principles directly contrary to those they solemnly declare for at the entrance. One half of these give themselves little or no trouble about the duty of instructing their people; and the best wish we can form of the other, is, that they were as idle. But strange as it may seem, it is, to the full, as true, that many are found more active in spreading such opinions, as they themselves have renounced, than others are in propagating those principles, on which they believe eternal salvation to depend, and which, for that reason alone, if we may credit their sincerity, they undertook the sacred office. By what equally preposterous and wicked turn of mind it is, that truth and idleness, deceit and diligence, are thus unnaturally linked together into these moral monsters, is as difficult to account for, as it is to develope the other mysteries of iniquity, contrived by the great deceiver.
Thus circumstanced, however, the men, who are at all concerned for the salvation of their souls, ought surely to be on their guard, ought to watch over their own hearts, and 'try the spirits' of their teachers, with the utmost circumspection. If there are many who trade in heresies, making merchandise of men's souls ;' if many grievous wolves are gone out into the church,' to worry at once its members and
its provisions; and if these wolves have subtilely concealed the rapacity of their nature in the sheep's clothing, in order to get in among the flock, and devour the unwary ; the caution given by our blessed Saviour in my text, must be of the last consequence to every simple and well-meaning Christian. The safety of his soul depends on his being
aware of false prophets ;' that is, on his being apprized, in the first place, that such there are, and in great numbers too, who, with art and cunning not easily seen through, lie in wait for the unguarded mind, in order to steal into it, under the disguise of truth, such errors, as subvert, whereever they are received, the whole faith and practice of a Christian ; and, in the next place, on his knowing how to detect and distinguish these false prophets from the true.
That such there are (for by the word prophets, here as well as in many other places of Scripture, the teachers of religion are to be understood) our Saviour's warning, and our own knowledge of the world, are sufficient to convince
He desires his true disciples to beware of them, foreseeing, that no age of his church militant should be free from these corrupters of the truth, and foretelling, that 'many false prophets should rise, and deceive many.' St. Paul foretold the same event, when he said to Timothy, ‘Know this, that in the last days perilous times shall come,' times productive of men, who have a form of godliness' (some of the sheep's wool), ‘but deny the power thereof,' who,‘as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, do also resist the truth ; men of corrupt minds, and reprobate concerning the faith. Our own knowledge of the times we live in may satisfy us, that these prophecies are but too well fulfilled, otherwise why so many teachers contradicting one another on the fundamentals of our religion? We are sensible, surely, they cannot all be in the right, and that truth neither needs, nor admits, the artifice and sophistry practised by some of these controvertists.
But, being convinced, that there are such false prophets or teachers among us, as we are here cautioned to beware of; and that 'they go about by subtlety to deceive us ;' how shall we detect their arts, and how spy out the wolf within the sheep's clothing?
That this clothing does not always fit the wearer; that,
in time, it grows too thin and tattered to conceal him; and that, to a narrow inspection, it discovers shrewd signs of a counterfeit skin, I shall presently endeavour to shew.
But, first, let us take into consideration the method pointed out by our Saviour of detecting the false prophets, of whom he warns us to beware.
* By their fruits,' saith he, 'ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ?'
Now, it is a question with some, what sort of fruits our blessed Instructor means, whether the doctrines or the lives of such as pretend to teach others.
It is certain, the appearance of innocence and goodness in a religious teacher are very apt to infuse a strong prejudice in favour of that which he inculcates, and as certain, that the contrary appearance usually produces a contrary prejudice. The sheep, being so commonly given for an emblem of innocence, and the wolf, for that of wickedness, do naturally seem to point out this interpretation. For a farther confirmation of this construction, it is observable, that the words, their fruits,' are applied to the teachers, not their doctrines or principles. Besides, it is, with great shew of reason, presumed, that the wisdom of Providence will generally employ good and honest men for the conveyance of religious truths, and leave it to fouler vessels to carry heresies.
Whether this is a right way of thinking, or not, it is nevertheless so rooted in the minds of all men, as never to be dislodged; and therefore ought to be carefully laid to heart by every one who conceives himself to be a preacher of truth and righteousness. Few, we know, will take him for a sheep within, who is a wolf without; or believe, that the same man can both preach the will of God, and practice that of his enemy.
It is equally certain, however, that Christ, by the fruits of the tree,' intended to furnish the most simple sort of Christians with a plain and distinct mark, whereby they might know the nature of the tree itself. Now, it is a matter of no small difficulty to one unable to search his own heart, to search those of other men, and find out, in the midst of disguises, whether they are to be classed among the virtuous, or the vicious. To me it seems a much easier task