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ction ought to be made between true and false Teachers.
2. The second Thing I am to explain is more difficult, that the making of this Distinction between true and false Teachers falls within the Duty and Capacity of private Christians. Te jhall know them by their Fruits. What Te are these he speaks to? The fame Te, to whom he preached all the rest of the Sermon, as has been often said, all his Disciples, that is, all Christians.
But how can private Christians be able to discern between true and false Teachers? and are they obliged to do it, to examine this Matter themselves? Or is it not sufficient to believe their spiritual Guides in this Matter, and with an implicit Faith to commit themselves to their Conduct? These are Questions of great Importance, and some of the most fundamental Differences between us and another Church; and therefore it will be necessary to take some Pains to set this Matter in a clear Light, which I shall endeavour to do in the following Account of it.
The Church of Rome contends, that private . Persons are not obliged to satisfy themselves of the Truth of the particular Doctrines which are taught them; that it is enough that they give up themselves to the Conduct of their Teachers, and believe whatever they require of them; but the Reformed Churches unanimously teach, that it is neceflary we should fee with our own Eyes, and believe for ourselves; and explode that lazy and senseless Faith of believing confusedly, and in the Lumpy as the Church believes. And tho' ye may think it difficult for private Men to exa
mine the particular Doctrines, yet without this it is not to be imagined how they can either understand or believe them. They are required, in order to this, to study the Scriptures, to consider what Doctrines are proposed to them, and to build up themselves on their most holy Faith. This is not to be so understood, as if we laid aside the Use of Guides; they are certainly great Helps to discover unto us the right Way; only we are not so implicitly to give up ourselves to their Conduct, but that we are to make use of our own Eyes, and Reason, and Understanding, to try the Doctrine of our Teachers, especially if we have Reason to suspect that any of them are false 'Teachers; of which there is no surer Sign, than when they pretend to make us swallow, without chewing, whatever they have a Mind to. Ye know how the Berceans were commended for searching the Scripture, and for their examining the Apostles Doctrine by it. And this is so far made our Duty, that we are expressly taught to reject the very greatest Ministerial Authority, if it contradicts that Doctrine which we have already received from Christ and his Apostles. It is a famous Passage, Gal. i. 8. But though we, or an Angel from Heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed; and then he adds presently, As we said before, so say I now again, if any Man preach any other Gospel unto you, than that ye have received, let him be accursed. What signifies all the Doctrine of the Gospel, if it is in the Power of a false Teacher to impose his false Doctrine upon us, by which he can make the Doctrine of the Gosoel of none Effect ? Before we
thus thus tamely yield up our own Understanding, we must be well satisfied that there are any such in* fallible Guides established by Christ, that we are obliged to believe whatever they deliver, whether it agree with the holy Scriptures or no. For if we find no infallible Judge of Doctrines and Controversies established by Christ, but if all Doctrines are to be examined by the Rule of God's Word; if we are to carry them to the Law and to the Testimony, then it is certainly the Duty of private Men to be upon their Guard what Doctrines they receive, that they be not imposed upon by false Teachers, of which we are assured a great many were to go out into the World. Now it is very certain, that no one Set of Men by Name, nor no one Church, has any such Privilege annexed to them, that they cannot err. All Men are liable to Errors and Temptations; and we are not to judge of the Doctrine by the Men, but of the Men by the Doctrine.
One Thing must be remembred, that we do not pretend private Men are to judge of the Doctrine for others, but only for themselves; for every Man shall give an Account of himself unto God; and therefore it is his Duty to guard himself, as well as he can, by the Light of Reason, and the Light of Scripture, (for the understanding of which, among other Helps, he will do well to consult learned Men) and by a careful Consideration of the Purport and Tendency of the Doctrines which are proposed to be believed; and to admit of nothing which will endanger those excellent Morals taught by our Saviour; for after all, this was the Point our Saviour was aiming to secure, that we should have no Evasion or Subterfuge from the Obedience he required to these excellent Rules of Duty he had laid down, Since then it is our Duty to know and discern false Teachers, let us,
3. In the third Place, enquire what is meant by those Fruits, by which, our Saviour says here, we may know them. Some think they are the Fruits of their bad Lives and Conversations; but I can by no means be of this Opinion; because we are told in the Text, that they come in Sheeps Clothing j that iSj as to the Exterior at least, they put on a great Shew of Holiness, Innocence, and good Life. And for their Interior, who can know it except God?
By their Fruits then, I think, must be meant the natural Tendency and Consequents of their corrupt Doctrines, both on themselves and others } which are visible, and so may be easily known. This seems to be somewhat out of the common Road and Method of examining Controversies j and the directing us to a better Way, both plainer and surer, and a Way of greater Consequence and Importance; and therefore it will be very material to enquire a little into it. Our Saviour, for the discerning offalse Prophets, doth not send us to any Ecclesiastical Judicatory; for, as I have often observed, he is not treating here of the Government of the Church, but of the Method which every private Man is to take to save his own Soul. For which Reason also we are not limited to a Method, which is very proper indeed for learned Men, but not so sit for the common People, I mean, the critical Search
Vol. IV. T ©f of the Scripture, the enquiring into the Sense of the Original, with the Propriety of the Translations, the Light which isncast on the Text by the Context, and the Design and Purport of the whole Discourse; all very proper to be enquired into by learned Men, who are capable of this sort of Study and Learning. But now here seems to be prescribed a plain, easy Way of discerning false Teachers from true; and a Way which lies level to the meanest Capacity; it is only by observing the Fruits and Consequents of every Doctrine; what it is apt to produce, where it is thoroughly sucked in and believed; and then judging how far those Fruits resemble the Doctrine and Spirit of Christianity; e. g. The Spirit of God, being a Spirit of Order, and not of Confusion, whatsoever Prophet or Teacher shall preach up such a lawless Liberty, as to exempt People from Laws and Order, from Rules and Government, it is an easy Thing, by comparing such Doctrine, both With the Law of Nature, and with the Laws of the Gospel, to find out that such are false Prophets, and that their Doctrine, if received, and followed, and obeyed, would introduce abundance of Disorder and Confusion into the World. So again, the Spirit of God having given us a clear Rule to waik by, namely, the Rule of the Holy Scripture, whatsoever Preacher shall deliver any Doctrine, either in general disparaging the holy Scriptures, and preferring Enthusiasm; or in particular, setting up the private Spirit to assert any Thing contrary thereto, it requires no great Depth of Learning to observe, that such Doctrine strikes at the Root of all Revealed Religion, and opens a Door for