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to discover the truth or falsity of their doctrines by the use of sound reason in a diligent perusal of God's word; especially, if the doctrines have been tried on others beforehand, and either healed or poisoned the minds into which they were admitted. It is a fact, not to be questioned, that very bad men, such as Balaam and Judas, have been authorized by God himself to deliver and preach the most sacred truths. Nor is it less apparent to the experience of every man, that others, believed by all their acquaintances, or at least taken by the general opinion, to be men of very good lives, have nevertheless been strenuous preachers of error and heresy; for, most evident it is, that men of very good characters, as well as a looser sort, have appeared among the foremost champions of opinions, equally important, and wholly repugnant. How shall the simple in this case choose his guide, if he hath no other rule to go by, but the lives of such as offer their service? Is he to halt between two opinions, till the day of judgment comes, and shews him which of those opinions had the advantage in point of exemplary teachers ? To what purpose is the word of God laid open to him, if he may not ‘search the Scriptures, whether the things' delivered to him are so indeed,' as they are delivered, or not? If he is to pin his faith on the mere appearance of morality in a teacher ? It is acknowledged, Christ calls the fruits, whereby we are to judge, the fruits of the prophets, or teachers, and not of their doctrines; but then it should be noticed, that this figure, in putting the teacher for the thing taught, is the same with his putting the disciple for the doctrine learned, when he explains the parable of the sower. That' (seed) he saith, which fell among thorns, are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares,' &c. Yet the seed is the word of God. He uses the same figure also in the parable of the tares : ‘Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them.' The tares, it is true, are put for bad men, in the parable, and are said to be sown by the devil;' that is, their bad principles and sins were infused into them by the enemy, who can, in no sense, be understood to have created the men themselves, without running into downright Manicheism. Most true it is, the argument of God's employing none but good men in his ser
vice, proves nothing, because brought to prove too much; for, as all men are sinful, as none is good, Providence, if tied to this rule, must have given us angels for teachers, and not men of like infirmity with ourselves. Providence, therefore, instead of being complimented by such reasoning, is really arraigned for placing his treasures in earthen vessels,' and not in golden shrines.
We commit no mistakes in attempting to gather fruits from plants we are well acquainted with ; we do not, for instance, look for grapes on thorns, or figs on thistles. But if foreign plants, as yet unknown to us, are imported and propagated in our country, as some of them may produce fruits, nutritious or medicinal; and others, poisonous ; it will be more prudent to let them be tried on swine, before we venture to make a meal on them; at least it will be a safer way to smell and taste them in extremely small quantities, ere we trust them, in larger, with our constitutions. Thus, without too great a risk, we may know the tree by its fruit.
In like manner should the teachers of all religious doctrines be judged of. They who teach us such as have been already revealed, and found by long experience to be productive of virtue and happiness, may be safely listened to. But, if both the teacher and his doctrines are new to us, for that
very reason they are to be suspected, till they are tried on those who greedily swallow every thing; or, at least, till their agreement or disagreement with known truths, with unprejudiced reason, and, above all, with the holy Scriptures, is better examined. By these rules we may canvass the new opinions with others better versed in such matters than ourselves; and by observing what effects they have on the preacher himself and his disciples, more especially, how, on giving a little into his principles ourselves, the state of our own minds is altered for the better, or the worse, is warmed, or cooled, to God and goodness, may, without too great a risk to our faith and salvation, know of the doctrine, and consequently of the man, whether either is of God; since all our care and inquiry is only to find out the will of God, that we may do it. And what is his will in the caution before us, but that we should be careful to discern the false teacher from the true, and avoid
him? Who, then, is the false teacher ? He, no doubt, who teaches that which is false, erroneous, or seductive. Were not this our Saviour's real meaning, he had not applied the epithet, false, to the prophet or teacher, but rather to the man, whom it must have fitted in its full propriety. He, therefore, certainly points at that teacher, who, not as an angel, or a man, but purely as a teacher, is to be branded with the name of false, on account of his false doctrine, of whom we are to beware. It is not ours to judge the man. To his own master he standeth or falleth. Neither are we, by any means, so much concerned with his life and morals, as with the nature and tendency of his principles, which, if right, may lead us, through saving truths, to perfect happiness; and if wrong, through pernicious errors, to eternal misery.
If we consider what it is we are to receive from a religious teacher, as we gather fruit from a tree, we shall find, it is his doctrine, that which he teaches; and that, on only examining this a little, we may easily perceive whether it is confirmed or contradicted by the word of God, just as we distinguish an haw from a grape, and know that this is the fruit of a vine, and that of a thorn.
But, that the fundamental articles of our religion, both in regard to faith and practice, are fully and clearly laid before us in holy Scripture, the same Scriptures do strongly maintain ; how otherwise could St. Paul have said to us, as well as to the Galatians, If we,' the apostles, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.' Where now are we to find this gospel, but in the word of God? And if, notwithstanding the holiness of a heavenly angel, and of an inspired apostle, both are to be accursed, in case they give us any thing else for gospel than that which God himself hath given us in his word ; why is the supposed righteousness of any preacher whatsoever to be set up for a test of truth, and a proof that his doctrines must all be perfectly sound ?
If bad principles, that is, principles that naturally tend to relax the ties of religion, and tempt me to be vicious, should have made this teacher virtuous, it might seem a miracle to my understanding; yet miracle though it should
be, I am not to be carried away with it, for it was, long ago, foretold, that the false prophets should shew great signs and wonders ;' and none greater, I am sure, they can shew, than a life of piety and virtue, planned on antichristian principles, which is the same as the production of good fruit from an evil tree.
What then, you will say, is the disciple to sit in judgment on his master? If the taught is to examine the soundness of his teacher's principles, must he not have more knowledge than that teacher ? And if so, why such a teacher ?
A man may possibly know whether the principles of another are sound or not, who is not near so learned. In each leading article of faith or practice, one plain sentence of Scripture may enable him to do this ; or, if one is not sufficient, there are a hundred. David found the truth of what I am saying, experimentally; ' I have more understanding,' saith he, 'than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. When God is the chief instructor, there is an effectual check upon the documents of lower teachers. A plain understanding is, by no means, the worst commentator on the simplicity of the gospel. Although learning is a necessary qualification in a translator of the Scriptures, and a teacher of Christianity, yet are the learned to be heard with caution, on account of the infinite contradictions and extravagancies, which their refinements have introduced into this most sacred branch of knowledge. These are the wise men after the flesh,' and 'the vain disputers of the world,' on whom St. Paul sets this characteristic mark, that the plainer Christian may not be led astray by their specious subtilties. As the present times abound with such, the counsel of our Saviour, to take heed how we hear,' was never more necessary.
But, had the simpler and more illiterate hearers nothing else to guard against, than the fancies and refinements of learned men, there would be the less danger of imposition. They have artifice also, and that of the deepest and darkest kind, to apprehend in many of their teachers, on whom the sheep's clothing sits so well, and looks so natural, that it is very hard to discern the ravenous wolf, the wily fox, the mimic ape, that lurks within.
Let us however examine this clothing a little. Perhaps, on a nearer view, it may be found less genuine, than it seems at first sight. If the very disguise should betray itself, either by exhibiting hair, instead of wool, to the
eye ; or by falling off, on a reasonable freedom of hand, the inspector will start back from the apparent beast, which it now conceals.
Here now it is to be noted, that this clothing, like all other dress, put on more for show than utility, is neither uniform, nor always the same, but varies according to the times, and is now of one fashion, and then of another, as may be most conducive to the designs of the wearer. In one age it is a pretended zeal for orthodoxy; in another, high respect for the outworks of religion; in another, scrupulosity of conscience about the gnats of opinion and practice ; in another, a puritanical ostentation of righteousness; in another, bold pretensions to the gifts of inspiration, prophecy, and miracles. Of these, and such-like, the antiquaries of controversy have preserved a large wardrobe, torn from the masquerading teachers of former centuries in the many unsightly scuffles about the very principle of peace and love.
In this age and country, the sheep's clothing consists of high pretensions to liberty, charity, morality, and veneration for the holy Scriptures. Fine indeed! and fit, not only for a real sheep, but for an angel of light. It is more than the wolf can want, and sufficient to conceal the infernal deformity of Satan himself, should he have occasion to transform himself into' one of those heavenly beings. As, however, we are commanded ‘not to judge by the appearance, but to judge righteous judgment,' let us go a little closer, and inspect the particulars.
And first, as to liberty, or rather, in this case, Christian liberty, the skin here seems to be so well gathered about the wearer, and the wool so artificially stuck on, that none, but a practised eye, can discover whether he is a sheep or wolf. He teaches, that the gospel having set us free from the bondage of ordinances, and enjoined us an internal or spiritual service, we can in nothing act more like Christians, than in withdrawing our attention and dependance from outward usages, and fixing both on that which is truly