« הקודםהמשך »
1. To explain what is meant by false Prophets.
2. To consider the external Hypocrisy of their Sheeps Clothing. And,
3. Their internal bad Designs; inwardly they are ravening Wolves.
4. What Caution we are to use against them, when we are exhorted to beware of them.
But before I begin, it is briefly worth the observing, that this Exhortation is made to the very same Persons to whom all the rest of this Sermon is directed; that is, as I shewed
before, to the Multitudes, and our Saviour's Difciples; not only to the Twelve, but to all the rest who came to learn of Christ; that is, all Christians, who were called Disciples in those Days. From which Observation we may learn, that this Cautiousness against false Prophets, is every Man's Care and Duty. St. John gives the same Advice to the Christians in his Days, to whom he wrote, 1 John iv. 1. Beloved, says he, believe not every Spirit, but try the Spirits, whether they are of God: because many false Prophets are gone out into the World. It seems our Saviour and his Apostles thought this a Duty not fit to be limited to a Pope and a Council, nor even to the Bishops and Pastors of the Church ; but thought it necefsary to oblige every Man, by the Light of Reason, and the Use of the Scriptures, to guard himself as well as he can against Impostors; as every Man, though he be not a Physician, is to guard himself against Quacks and Poisoners. This being premised, I proceed now to the first Thing proposed, viz.
1: To enquire what is meant here by false Prophets ; for there is some Difficulty in this Compellation. The Word Prophets sometimes signifies those extraordinary Teachers, who had the Gift of foretelling Things to come; and sometimes it is taken in a larger Sense, for all that publish or interpret the Mind and Will of God, whether they foretel Things to come or not.
It is in this last Sense the Word is to be taken
for the Thing our Saviour had in View was, to guard them against such false Teachers, as should corrupt the Christian Morals, or find out Ways to excuse Men from the Observation thereof. By the Word Prophets then, I understand here all Teachers, who interpret or expound the Word of God. By false Prophets, are not to be understood all that are any way mistaken, or in an Error concerning divine Things; many Errors are very innocent ; and no Person being infallible, this would be to make all Teachers ravenous Wolves whenever they fall into any sort of Error or Mistake in religious Matters. But by falfe Prophets here, I think are to be understood either such Teachers as lead us into some very dangerous Soul-destroying Error, whether it proceed from an Error of their Understanding, or not; or rather, such as are Enemies (at least in their Capacity of teaching or prophesying) to those excellent Morals our Saviour had been delivering; for that (as I have often observed to you) was the Thing he was driving at in all these Cautions, which he gives in the End of this Sermon, even to secure their Obedience to what he had taught, and to guard them against every VOL. IV..
Thing that might hinder or destroy it. Now he forefaw how much this Christian Obedience would be endangered from false Teachers; of which there has been a great Number fince, whose Doctrine has proved very pernicious to Christian Morals, and has a plain Tendency to the overthrowing of Holiness and Virtue. And because I think it may both tend to your better understanding what sort of false Prophets are to be meant in this Caution, and likewise to the cautioning you against their pernicious Opinions and Practices, I will give you some Instances of the principal of such as I think fall under this Caution of
Text. (1.) First then, Many of the Scribes and Pharisees were such false Teachers, who taught that we fulfil the Commandments, if we abstain from the gross Act prohibited by them, though we indulge ourselves in the secret Pollutions of the Thoughts, nay, even break out into several Words and Actions flowing from the inward carnal Principle, and directly leading to those gross external Actions. For in our Saviour's Sense, inward Malice and Hatred, and contumelious Words, and provoking injurious Actions, are Breaches of the Sixth Commandment, as well as, though not so great, as actual Murder. And inward Lust in the Heart, with other impure or obscene Words and Actions, are Breaches of the Seventh Commandment, though they should not break out in the gross Acts of Uncleanness. And by a Parity of Reason, all rash judging, censuring, and, defaming, is a Breach of the Ninth Commandment, as well as false Witness bearing; and all Discontent with our own
Circumstances, and envying those of our Neighbour, is a Breach of the Eighth and Tenth Commandments, as well as the more grofs injuring him in any of his just Possessions.
(2.) Thefe fame Scribes and Pharisees were false Teachers, or false Prophets, when they taught the People to spend all their Zeal about Ceremonies and Circumstantials of Religion, with the Neglect of the great and weighty Matters of Duty. Nay, though they should not expressly or directly teach this latter Part, it is a necessary Consequence of the former; as he who divides a great Stream into a great many little Rivulets, by fo doing incapacitates it from turning a Mill, or from carrying any great Burden. And in Imitation of this Pharifaical Righteousness, they are false Teachers, whoever they are, that in after Ages teach Men to spend all their Zeal about dry Opinions, or empty Ceremonies, neglecting the great and substantial Duties of Religion, as, alas, this is the most fatal Rock that almost all Parties have split upon.
(3.) The same Scribes and Pharisees, and some other Teachers of those Days, were false Prophets, when they taught People to depend confidently on their being Descendants from Abraham, and on their Profession of the Jewish Religion, without Renovation of Heart and Amendment of Life. A true Prophet, John the Baptist, severely exposes this Error, Matth. iii. 7. O Generation of Vipers, says he, who bath warned you to flee from the Wrath to come ? Bring forth therefore Fruits meet for Repentance. And think not to say within yourselves
, we have Abraham to our Fatber: for I say unto you, that God is able of these Stones
to raise up Children unto Abraham. And, by a Parity of Reason, they are to be accounted false Prophets, whoever they are, that in these latter Ages do teach, that their giving up their Name to any one Church, or any, one Denomination of Christians, is sufficient to entitle them to a future State of Salvation, while they themselves continue wicked Livers.
(4.) They are false Prophets, who, in their Descriptions of the Terms of Salvation, give such slight Notions of Faith, Repentance, and new Obedience, as tend to feed the false Hopes of meer nominal Christians and loose Livers; making Faith to be only a confident Persuasion that they are the Elect of God, though there are few or no Signs of Election to be found in their Lives: And making Repentance only some Degrees of Sorrow for Sin, without sincere, and vigorous, and continued Endeavours after Amendment of Life ; and making new Obedience, but some few Degrees of formal, partial, or temporary Obedience, instead of that hearty, universal and constant Obedience required in the Gospel.
(5.) They are false Prophets, who teach People any other false Principles, such as have a Tendency in them to excuse from the obeying our Saviour's Precepts; of which there are too many, which have been sent abroad in the World. I shall name some of the chief of them.
(1.) There are many who have taught false and dangerous Doctrines concerning the Decrees of God, as if he had so absolutely predetermined from all Eternity whatever comes to pass in Time, even in the most sinful Actions of Men, that it is an easy Thing from that Doctrine to make