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Matthew 7:16

Matthew 7:16

Ye shall know them by their fruits
By "fruits" are meant, not so much their external works in life and conversation; for a false prophet may so behave, as not to be discovered thereby. So the Pharisees were outwardly righteous before men; and false teachers among Christians may have the form of godliness, and keep it up, though they are strangers to, and even deny the power of it: but their doctrines are here meant, and the effects of them. When doctrines are contrary to the perfections of God, repugnant to the Scriptures of truth, tend to depreciate the person and offices, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice of Christ, to lessen the glory of God's grace, to exalt the creature, and to fill men's minds with notions of the purity, self-sufficiency, and ability of human nature; when they are calculated to feed the pride and vanity of men, to get money, and gain applause, to serve their own interests, and gratify men's lusts and passions, they may be easily discerned who they are, and from whence they come. The Jews have a proverb pretty much like this F21, (eydy hypjqm Nyuwb) , "a gourd is known by its branches". The gloss upon it is,

``it is, as if it was said, from the time it buds forth, and goes out of the branch, it is known whether it is good or not;''

i.e. the goodness of the gourd is known by the fruit its branches bear. So a good preacher is known by the good doctrine he brings, and a bad one, by his unsound doctrine. Christ is not speaking of these false prophets, as men, or as private professors of religion, but as prophets, or teachers. "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" Grapes and figs were common fruit; there was great plenty of them in Judea; we often read of the "gathering" of them. It is a matter in dispute with the doctors F23,

``if a man intends (Mybne jqwlw Mynat jqll) , "to gather figs, and he gathers grapes", black ones, and he gathers white ones, white ones, and he gathers black ones, whether he is guilty of a sin offering or not.''

One says he is, another says he is not. These words of Christ put me in mind of another passage, which seems to speak of grapes of thorns {x};

``he that marries his daughter to a scholar, it is like to grapes of the vine, with grapes of the vine, a thing beautiful and acceptable; but he that marries his daughter to a plebeian, it is like to grapes of the vine, (hnoh) (ybneb) , "with grapes of the thorn", a thing ugly, and unacceptable.''

Though (ybne) , in the last sentence, must be taken for berries which grow on some thorn bushes, and not what are properly grapes; for grapes do not grow upon, and are not to be gathered from thorns, and bramble bushes. The meaning of our Lord is, that from the false doctrines of men comes no good fruit of faith, holiness, joy, peace, and comfort. Their doctrines are like "thorns", which prick and pierce, give pain and uneasiness; and, like "thistles", choke, and are unprofitable, afford no solid food and nourishment; yea, their words eat as do a canker, are contrary to vital religion and powerful godliness. This sense I prefer; because, on the one hand, it is possible for a false teacher to do works, which may be externally good; though indeed no good works, properly speaking, can be performed by an unregenerate man, because he has neither good principles to act from, nor good ends in view: and, on the other hand, a man who is destitute of the grace of God, and lives ill, may yet have right notions of the Gospel, though he has no experimental knowledge and relish of it; but where false doctrines are imbibed, and propagated, no good fruit can follow upon it.


FOOTNOTES:

F21 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 48. 1.
F23 T. Bab. Ceritot, fol. 19. 1, 2. & 20. 1.
F24 T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 49. 1.
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