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against the Pope? so many, that we hoped the whole world would have been brought over to our side. But at the time, when the greatest effort was to be made, and the Gospel was most firmly to be stood by, those very persons began that tragic scene, which was far worse, and more pernicious than any that all the princes, kings, and Cæsars ever could have raised in their persecution of the Gospel. And what could we do to these things ? when those same persons were bringing on us the greatest injuries, and comforting, at the same time, and fostering the malice and determined opposition of our enemies, by calling out thus ;- From this it is plainly manifest, of what kind this doctrine of ours is ; seeing that, we are all quarrelling among ourselves. For it is evident that the Holy Spirit cannot be with us, because we are persecuting, and continually criminating and abusing each other,' &c. And this is what we have to bear.-Our enemies are to be comforted and feasted by our mutual offences, while we are weakened and reviled. And thus, we have to endure both our enemies and brethren as adversaries. So that, it is plainly manifest, that there is no greater trial in Christianity than that which befals us from without, and which concerns our doctrine.
But as these offences are to be expected by us in every age and time, and as they cannot be avoided, Christ has in this sermon of his fortified us against them both, by consolation and admonition.
The consolation is this that we suffer not ourselves to be cast down in mind, or filled with much trembling, when any offence of this kind shall take place; that is, when at the first sight we see and feel, that we, who boast of the Word, are ourselves quarrelling with each other ; but that we take instruction from that same Word, and say, in reply to our adversaries ;-I was not ignorant, when I first began to be a Christian, that these things would certainly take place. For Christ my Lord foretold me, that it would come to pass, that I should have both these characters for my enemies; that is, both those who should attack me
from without, and also my own brethren who should cause me all this distress from within. But this shall not frighten me back; much less shall it cause me to depart from the true doctrine, as if it were false, because these my brethren are become my adversaries. For Christ himself had his betrayer Judas with him ; and yet, his doctrine was not therefore false, nor was that unjust which he did, though a disciple revolted from him: and therefore, our Judases also are not to be considered of so much consequence.
And the admonition is this. It is certainly declared to us before-hand that these things shall be so : in order that, we may with all diligence guard against them, and take heed unto ourselves that we be not deceived such sects : but that we fortify ourselves against their attacks, and carefully learn to know such characters. For when Christ says, “ Take heed unto yourselves,” he would teach us not to be inactive in these matters, but to open our eyes, and watch diligently and providently. For, with respect to external enemies, we do not need many things, besides patience, to endure all those evils with which they may afflict us with an undaunted and unmoved mind. But in the latter case, there is no room left for patience; we must have caution and watchfulness. We must not trust our brother that is by the side either of me or thee; no ! not so much as in one word ! But we are, like Arguses, to look with open and steady eyes into the Word of God only: and to see, that we trust not any one man in any one thing : because, he may agree with me to-day, and teach against me tomorrow. And let no man promise to himself security in these matters, as if he had no need of any such admonition as this. For this temptation is so perilous and insidious, that the most spiritual men can scarcely take full heed to themselves therein, so as not to be deceived. But as to the other multitude, who are of a secure mind and without watchfulness and caution, they cannot escape these snares, so as not to be led away and seduced. Therefore, it is not in vain that Christ makes use of these words, “ Take heed unto yourselves!” For so great is
the attraction of any thing splendid, and so great is the applause attending a name, that no one can discern and distinguish these things, (as we shall more fully show hereafter,) who has not the right meaning of, and does not well understand, the Word of God; and who does not, moreover, give all diligence, study, and care, to hold the purity of that Word.
Now THEN, only observe, I pray you, in what descriptive colours Christ paints forth these false prophets or teachers, according to their appearance, and as they are seen! First, he gives them this appellation of prophets; and says, that they are so called and appear to be such; that is, teachers and preachers; of which name they themselves also boast, priding themselves upon being so denominated and considered. Thus, they have the same office of teaching, the same scriptures, and the same God, (of whom they pompously boast) as others, and yet, they are false prophets. (For Christ is here speaking of those to whom the office of preaching is committed. Because others who thrust themselves in, not being preachers are not of so much consequence as to be denominated “false prophets."). He then says that they come in sheep's clothing: so that, they cannot be accused, nor externally discerned from true preachers. And these are the two things that cause all the mischief. — Their having the office of preachers : and their coming set off with such adorning and fairness of appearance. So that men cannot say but that they are right and true preachers, seeking the salvation of all: and that they themselves pompously and boastingly profess: and when they swear, it is only by the name of God, and in the words of scripture. By which means they sweep away all men in the stream of their own opinions like a mighty torrent; and in such a way, that no banks or mounds can stop their impetuous course. For who of the commonalty could summon audacity enough to resist such men, and to condemn their doctrine? Or who can guard against them when they come in the name, and with the Word; of God, (as they boast they always do ?)
But Christ gives us a full admonition respecting both their office and their appearance, that we may not be moved at all on account of their holding the office; (though this is necessary and peculiarly requisite for a preacher :) for there is no man who can, on that account, claim to himself the right of being believed ; because a wicked man or a cut-throat may hold an office. And hence it is by no means a rare thing in the world, that there are in all offices and stations robbers and
vagabonds who abuse those offices. They may indeed be called prophets; that I will readily grant. But be thou wisely watchful in this matter, and take heed to thyself that they be not false prophets. And in the same manner, they are by no means to be regarded by thee if they should come in sheep's clothing and under the cover of great names; for thou hearest in this scripture, that ravening wolves may come in that clothing. Therefore, again take heed, that this sheep's clothing do not deceive thee. For all those whose design is to deceive men, always use an elegant and fair covering of this sort.
BEHOLD then, if we would but listen to this admonition of Christ and follow his words, then we might easily guard against all false prophets and preachers And the reason why they thrust themselves in thus on all sides, is, because we who hear the true Gospel do not embrace it in heart, and are not concerned about cleaving to it with certainty and holding it fast when gotten. We act with so much inadvertency and inattention in so weighty a matter, as if it never could slip away from us. And this is the reason why we are thus deceived in a moment by any specious appearance and external show. For as soon as any new teacher or preacher rises up and comes forth in public, then immediately these words “ Take heed” and “ Beware” are thrown away to oblivion, when we ought to be admonished by them, and to hear every one as if we did not hear him; attending only to the true doctrine and the Word. For they are light, vain, and unstable spirits, who listen only at the mouths of them that preach, and immediately, from mere curiosity, attach and glue themselves to such; and
then, after they have been tickled with a little pleasure, say, I have heard this man before. I must now hear such an one, for I understand that he is a very learned and holy man,' &c.
By these words, and in this way, a great door is opened to the devil: and he deceives such before they are aware of it ; driving them about, as if (according to the common saying) he made them swim about in such waters just after his own pleasure, from one sect to another. Hence Paul says of such, Ephesians iv. 14, that they are tossed to and fro like a reed in the wind; for they permit themselves to be “ carried about with every word of doctrine;" so that, if any new preacher should come forth to-day or to-morrow, they are ready also to give their ears unto him. And the reason of this is, because they are not established in their hearts with any true understanding of the Word of God. And moreover, they lightly esteem the Gospel : imagining, when they have heard it once or twice, that they understand it to a nicety, and comprehend it fully. And therefore, they become satiated with it, and with all avidity wait for some new one to come forth who shall bring with him something new. And thus, it happens unto them as it did unto Adam and Eve with the serpent, who also opened their eyes to, and cast into their minds a desire after, the forbidden fruit, injecting such plausible cogitations as these against the Word of God ;
-Why should we abstain from this one tree only?' And then such a pleasure and curiosity seized them, that, loathing all other trees in Paradise, they most impatiently longed to taste of this ?
Therefore, if the Gospel were seriously our delight; and if we were but a little anxious about preserving that treasure pure and sincere; we should not be so easily deceived. For I feel a firm persuasion, that no factious spirit would so easily subvert me, if I knew that the Gospel I held was right, and from my heart desired not to lose it. If any one were then brought to me in sheep's clothing, I should not look at his outside garb, as if I wished or desired to have any thing new, or to hear any