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SERM. fhould be able to feduce, if it were poffible, XVIII. even the Elect; and therefore he forewarns his Disciples of these Men, who are the more dangerous, because they carry on their Designs privately, and make Use of the most innocent Difguises, to conceal the most villainous Practices: They come in Sheeps-Cloathing, but inwardly they are ravening Wolves.
BY falfe Prophets in the Text, are meant falfe Teachers, for fo the Word 1 Cor.xiv. Prophet is understood in the New Testament; and they are called falfe, because they vent falfe and erroneous Doctrines, and not only for want of a lawful Miffion; fuch was Barjefus, whom St. Luke calls Ψευδοπροφήτην, and thefe are diftinguifhed from falfe Chrifts; for the 21ft Verse of this Chapter makes it evident, that these Words were defigned for fuch falfe Teachers, as profeffed themselves the Disciples and Imitators of Christ, and yet perverted the Designs and the Precepts of his Gofpel; for they will be fuch as will call our Saviour Lord, Lord, and prophesy in his Name, and in his Name do many wondrous Works; and yet their Lord will command them to depart from him, because they are Workers of Iniquity.
FROM the Words we may obferve,
III. THE Means to difcover to whom
IV. I SHALL make fome Inferences from
I. THAT there will be falfe Prophets. It is well known how great Influence Religion has upon the Actions of Mankind; it is that which is the first Mover, which manages and fets on Work all the Powers of the Body, and Faculties of the Soul: Temporal Rewards and Punishments may, perhaps, work effectually on fome timorous Conftitutions, and fright the Bold alfo into an outward Compliance, but can never reach the Heart and Confcience; they are like Conduit-pipes, which convey the Water they contain no higher, than the Source from whence they derived their Original. It is only the Belief of an omnipotent Being can caft a Dread upon our Minds in our moft private Receffes, and not only bring our Words and Actions, but our Thoughts alfo into Subjection. And therefore as long as there are Men of cunning and defigning Heads,
SERM. and atheistical Principles, who make XVIII. Riches and Grandeur the chief End of their Lives; fo long we must expect that Religion fhould be their chief Engine, and the moft Holy Thing in the World, made Ufe of to furnish their Devilish Defigns: They will not fail to debase the Notions of Religion, or to forge new Opinions, when they find it profitable fo to do. Thus Jeroboam fet up Calves at Bethel, to fecure the Kingdom to himself, that the People might have no Occafion to go up and worship at Jerufalem ; Fefabel proclaims a Faft, when the designs to deprive Naboth of his Life and Vineyard; and it is St. Peter's Prediction, that there fhould arife falfe Prophets, who, through Covetousness, and that they may make Merchandize of their Profelytes, shall bring in damnable Herefies, even denying the Lord that bought them.
II. HERE is the Character of these falfe Prophets.
1. FROM their Out-fide they come in Sheeps-Cloathing, ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων; fome Critics upon the Place think it should be written ἐκδύμασι. Ignatius has it κωδίοις ήμ Heb. xi. PieσμÉVOL: The Author to the Hebrews, φιεσμένοι ἐν ἑλω]αῖς; denoting Garments made of
Sheeps-Wool, i. e. counterfeiting Poverty, SERM.
2. THAT they are ravening Wolves,
SERM. the Garb and Habit, but even the Graces XVIII. of true Prophets, there can be no Way of diftinguishing them by it, unless we take in the following Words for our Direction, in which our Saviour has laid down a plain and fignal Mark, to know them by, and to discover to whom this Character doth of Right belong :
3. YE fhall know them by their Fruits. Our Saviour doth not affix this Character upon any Church, Sect, or Party of Men; he doth not confine it to any one Sort of People; neither doth he take this Mark of Diftinction from their Profeffion, but from their Practices, ye shall know them by their Fruits, i. e. ye fhall know the Men by their Lives and Conversations, and ye fhall judge of the Truth of their Doctrines, by confidering what are their genuine Effects, and what is the Tendency of them; whether to make Men temperate, and juft, and peaceable, and holy; or debauched, dishonest, turbulent, and prophane.
(1.) YE fhall know the Men by their Lives and Converfations; it is God alone can judge of the Heart, Man must judge by the outward Appearance; and therefore let Men make never fo fair Pretences to Holiness and Purity, let them