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must be content to be judged of, in the same manner with Paul the Apostle. By their fruits, they must be known; and not by the clerical decencies of their appearance; not by the mere profession of their faith; not by the soundness of their preaching; not by the regularity of their ordination only. If therefore, we would provide ourselves with means of judging, adapted to all ages of the church; and if we would be preserved safe, in spite of the degeneracy both of ministers and people, let our rule be that of CHRIST. Let us judge our very teachers, by their fruits. On the one hand, indeed, we ought to reverence the office of a Christian minister. St. Paul reverenced the office of High Priest; and once testified his reverence, in a remarkable manner: but, on the other hand, let us be cautious, how we commit the instruction of our souls, respecting the way to eternal life, to men unacquainted with that way: to men, especially, who show, by their works, that they are of the number of those false prophets, against whom we are expressly warned by JESUS CHRIST. Let it, moreover, be remembered, that ministers should be strict, with a truly Christian strictness; that they should be humble and selfdenying; raised above the love of this world; and above the fear of worldly persons; given to much prayer, as well as to much exertion in the ministry; alive to God, and spiritually-minded; being of that "kingdom which is not of this world."* These are the virtues of a Christian minister; and when these adorn the character, let us esteem the possessor of them, very highly in love, for his work's sake. It would tend much to the purification of the Christian church, and to the rectification of its very doctrine, if private Christians would agree to judge of the excellencies of their ministers much more by their works (taking works in their large and scriptural sense) than they are accustomed to do. And it would be well, if ministers also would bear in mind, that it is neither parts nor learning, neither pulpit eloquence, nor any power of attracting a congrega
* St. John xviii. 36.
tion; that it is neither a right understanding of doctrines, nor skill in interpreting prophecy, nor talent in explaining the more difficult parts of Scripture, nor knowledge of all the evidences of Christianity, nor rank and station in the Church, which constitutes their sufficient title to the ministry. We know, from Scripture, that if a man should possess even miraculous gifts, and yet be destitute of the one lasting grace of charity, he is but as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."*
ST. MATTHEW VII. 17-20.
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
OUR SAVIOUR having instructed the people to beware of false prophets, having observed that by their fruits they should be known, adds, in these words, a general truth of great importance. "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit :" that is, the nature of a tree is determined by its fruit; a good tree yielding good fruit, and a bad tree being known by the bad fruit which it produces.
This is the truth, which we are now to consider; a truth, which seems plain and undeniable. Many men, nevertheless, are far from adopting it, as a maxim of their religion.
* 1 Corinth. xiii. 1.
The bad fruit of a tree is, indeed, willingly referred to the evil nature of the tree; but is bad fruit in the life as readily charged to something bad in the heart? How ready are most persons to say, even while they acknowledge their sins, that they trust, it was not any fault of the heart, which was the cause of them: not knowing that sin proceeds but from the heart. The heart is that fountain from which flows every thing that is either good or evil. This is the doctrine of our SAVIOUR,-" A good man," says CHRIST, "out of the good treasures of the heart bringeth forth good things." And again, "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, falsewitness, blasphemies." This, also, is the doctrine of reason and of common sense: though some, who have been denominated" rational divines," seem to teach the contrary. "It is true," say these teachers, "that most men are in fact corrupt; but this corruption arises not from any thing wrong in the nature of man, but from external causes the corruption is accidental, adventitious, and superinduced. It results from a wrong education, from evil influence, from some particular temptation, and from bad example; and not from any root of evil in the man, not from any evil nature, and a naturally bad heart. The heart," say they, "is naturally good; though the life, we grant, is evil :"—that is, the tree is good, though the fruit brought forth be evil. How is it (it may be asked, in answer to the remark) that men are so easily turned aside by a bad education; and are with so much difficulty restrained even by a good one? are so ready to be operated upon by an evil influence; so willingly yield to every temptation, and are so prone to follow a bad example? How can this happen, unless there be a previous bias to evil? Surely a disposition to commit some sin, as soon as any temptation to the sin shall offer itself, is an evil disposition; and a heart and nature inclined to corrupt indulgences, as soon as the several occasions of corrupt indulgence shall present themselves, may, with St. Matt. xii. 35. + St. Matt. xv. 19.
great propriety of language, be called an evil nature, and an evil heart.
To apply, then, to ourselves this saying of CHRIST :— Let us learn from it to consider the several sins of our lives, not as so many separate, insulated, and merely external, and incidental acts; for if we do this, they will seem very slight and inconsiderable; but as so many indications of an evil heart within, as so many concurring proofs that our very nature is corrupt. This is the light, in which Christianity teaches us that all our particular sins ought to be considered. We shall err grossly and fatally for ourselves, if we do not bear about with us this sentiment concerning them. When we reflect on a sin which we have committed, we should trace the sin to its source, namely, to the evil disposition of the heart. Thus it was that David did, when he was contemplating his peculiar sin in the matter of Uriah: "Behold," says he, (after confessing his particular guilt,) "I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."* He did not plead, that his crime was accidental, and the mere effect of temptation; but while he is freely confessing his criminal act, he seems to be naturally conducted on to an acknowledgment, that the seeds of this sin had been in him from his birth; and that the particular corruption, which he was deploring, was only one instance of the general corruption of his very nature. He, therefore, cries earnestly to GoD, and says, "create in me a clean heart, O GOD, and renew a right spirit within me." This last expression of David declares, that since evil actions proceed from an evil heart, it is necessary, first, to make the heart good, if we would effectually reform the life. Make the tree good, said our SavIOUR, (in another place,) and then shall the fruit also be good. It was the error of the Pharisees, that they looked not to the heart, but only to the outward acts of the life: they minded not the motive from which an action sprung: and is there not among us the same error? Do the generality
* Psalm 11. 5.
+ Psalm li. 10.
of men, when they are considering the quality of an action, inquire whether the act be done in the true fear and love of GoD, and in obedience to the commands of JESUS CHRIST? Do not men think it sufficient, if, either from pride, from emulation, from a regard to character, from fear of temporal punishment, or from a sense of worldly interest, benefits to society are produced? It is but a scanty produce, at the most, of useful works, which is obtained by the help of corrupt and secondary motives. Make the tree good; and, then, shall the fruit also be good. Let the mind and heart be renovated; and, then, shall there be abundant as well as right fruit, in the life. The man himself must be new made: there is an old man in us, which must be changed. "Put off," says the Apostle," the old man; and put ye on the new man, which after GoD is created in righteousness and true holiness."* "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."t "Lie not one to another,"‡ says St. Paul; and why? Because lying is a shameful vice, or a very dreadful sin? No; not on this ground only: but lie not, ye Christians, one to another, "seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds."§"For in Christ JESUS neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncir cumcision, but a new creature.”|| "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of GOD;"¶ for "that, which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that, which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit."** The renovation of the heart, or inward man, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, or, in other words, the doctrine of regeneration, connects itself with the saying in the text. "Create and make in us, O LORD, a new heart. Grant unto us, that thing, which by nature we cannot have. May we be baptized not with water nly, but with the Holy Spirit and having made us partakers of a new nature, help us to walk in newness of life.”
* Eph. iv. 22, 24.
† Romans xii. 2. Il Gal. vi. 15.
Col. iii. 9. ¶ St. John iii. 3.