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principle, the promoters of false doctrines under pretence of zeal for the truth, the hypocritical professor, who, while all is fair without, cherishes every deadly design within, will at length be “cut down" by the righteous sentence of an holy God. If the unprofitable servant is to be delivered to the tormentors; “if the salt that hath lost its savour, must be cast out and trodden under foot of man,” what will not the end be of those who disseminate false hood, or “who hold the truth in uprighteousness?" Be not, therefore, carried about with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." Believe not every doctrine, which is announced unto you, in a fair and flattering form. Try the spirits whether they are of God.” Look to their moral influence," for by their fruits ye shall know them." Let us, therefore, proceed to consider,
II. THE SATISFACTORY AND EQUITABLE TEST BY WHICH THEY ARE TO BE ASCERTAINED.
“ Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ?" Does not every tree, as though He had said, produce fruit of its own kind? Some of my hearers are accustomed to “ till the ground,” and then to sow it with grain according to its nature; but if you sow wheat, you do not expect to reap barley! Or if you plant a vine, you do not expect that it will produce apples! And this may be reversed. f you were to scatter an inferior grain over your
cultivated soil, would you calculate on a crop of a higher order of grain in the day of harvest? In all cases, that“ which a man soweth, he also reaps.” Every seed and root produces its own kind and quality. It is good or bad — poisonous or salutary-according to its own genus. This, therefore, is the appropriate test by which character and principles are to be brought, that their value or worthless
ness may be discovered. The idea is simply this; that as it is in the natural, so it is in the moral world,—the fruit of the tree shows its nature, and the proper or improper effects of our opinions upon our life, shows their correctness or their falsity. Of this rule, let me remark,
First. That it is infallible. The maxim is undisputed; that like causes will produce like consequences. It is the established order of the Divine Governor, that the same amount of power will always affect the same amount of operation, provided the way for its exercise be always the same. The sacred writings, indeed, record some instances of exception to this general principle. Thus, iron has been made to swim in the waters of Jordan, and the flames of the furnace, though seven times hotter than usual, have been restrained from burning the servants of God. Daniel escaped from the den of hungry lions unhurt; and an apostle once walked on the water to meet and embrace his Lord. But these are extraordinary cases, and are distinctly ascribed to the special interference of the Most High. They show us how He can protect his friends, and promote his purposes of love, in defiance of opposition ; but they are not his established methods of procedure. In the case before us, we have, however, a test that never fails or changes. If the fountain be pure, such will be its streams; and if the tree be good, such will be its fruits. In all cases, the heart is the seat of life and action; and the human will is determined by motives which the heart generally supplies. If that be renewed, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, the life will, as a natural consequence, be holy. According to our moral feeling and perceptions, will be our moral acting. A good tree may have a withered bough, or blighted fruit, and a regenerated heart may not be perfect ; such was never known to be the case in the present world of sin; yet these are no proofs against the general principle of the text. To fail in any given case, through the imperfection which attaches to every human being on earth, and to fail through deliberate and wilful design, are quite different things. The former, every Christian, in some measure, does to his daily sorrow; the latter, he cannot do. “Every one that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself.”
Secondly. This test is also easily comprehended. It requires no depth of understanding to perceive its force and aptitude: it lies level to the humblest capacity; the philosopher and the fool may see its meaning. Some of my audience have beautiful gardens, in which they delight to walk, and behold the wonderful works of God in the productions of his hand. How wide the contrast between the field of the sluggard, and that of the diligent! The former is uncultivated, undressed, and over-run with weeds; the latter is cleansed of every noxious root, and brings forth abundantly,—“ some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.” Nothing is easier determined, in passing through a country, than the skill and general competency of the proprietors of the soil, to conduct their agricultural pursuits. It is on the same intelligible principle that we are to ascertain the moral state of the heart. When the rank weeds of wrath, revenge, pride, luxury, and sensuality, are uppermost and thriving, we cannot but conclude, that the moral soil which bears such a deadly crop, must be without the holy, and benign, and purifying influence of the Great Husbandman of the soul. “ Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”* The conclusion is, that by personal conduct,
1 John iii. 9, 10.
we are to judge of false teachers; and by their moral influence, we are to judge of false doctrines.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of his evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.”
Thirdly. This test is of universal application. It will apply to the truth of our personal religion. There are, doubtless, many persons, whose real character cannot be determined either by themselves or others. But if we are frequently unable to discover, to our satisfaction, the piety of every one, yet " we have a sure word of prophecy” with respect to the multitude. The Scriptures furnish us with certain marks of the ungodly, which, wherever they are found, leave their state quite unequivocal. The man who can live without prayer, humility, love to Christ and dependance on Him, may be assured, that he hath never
passed from darkness to light, nor from the power of Satan unto God." There are two passages in the New Testament of sufficient clearness and authority, to decide this question. We read in one place these solemn words : “ If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”* And in another: “ They that are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” + “Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them.” And this will also apply to doctrine. Let us bring all the religions of the world to this test, and if they shrink from it, reject them instantly; they cannot be “from the Father of lights.” Compare the fruits of pure Christianity, with what the sceptic calls natural religion; have they any thing to fear from the comparison? Revealed religion teaches us to rejoice in a glorious Being of unmeasurable benignity,who looks down from the throne of his loftiness on " the poor and contrite,” and supports them with his presence ;
but natural religion leaves me cold, cheerless,-a wretch unsupported; miserable now, and uncertain as to the future. And try the divinity of these pages also, in conjunction with the systems of heathen nations. Think on the sensualities which the religion of the false prophet allows; on the cruelties of Hindostan; the babe exposed to the vulture in the tree, or consigned to the Ganges to be devoured by the monsters of the deep; and contrast these revolting barbarities with the mild and merciful spirit of the Christian faith, and ye may know their respective origin by their fruits. Even men of deistical minds have made the noble confession, that it would be well for the world to follow the sublime morality of the word of God. envenomed opposition to the gospel,” it has been well observed, “ is founded in a dislike of its pure and spiritual nature. Every honest infidel, who has any regard to true goodness, must be disposed at least to wish that the Christian revelation were true; and that men would rather observe than neglect its precepts. Every person of this character, who has such a conviction of its moral tendency, will not be inclined to revile its principles, or to resist its influence. And, therefore, when any are found to speak bitterly against the gospel, and madly hating its light, there is too much cause to fear, according to its own declaration, that they do so chiefly for this reason, because their deeds are evil.'”
Finally. It will apply to the several views of Christianity, which are propagated in the world. It is not to be expected, that on every subject men should always agree in judgment. And this allowed diversity of opinion is equally true on religious questions. Hence there are various forms of discipline adopted and preferred in the Christian church, according to the honest convictions of those who severally espouse them. The same also is to be remarked of the shades of difference which are to be found