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SERMON XXI.

ON THE INFLUENCE OF FALSE TEACHERS.

St. Matthew, vii. 15.

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's

clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

We find Christ here warning his disciples against the influence of false teachers. His allseeing eye, pervading futurity, saw what the malice of ungodly men would attempt against those who embraced the sublime doctrines which he preached, and knowing, moreover, the tendency of the human mind to error, he warned his followers, in terms of the most impressive admonition, to beware how they allowed themselves to be misled by deceitful instructors. This warning he designed should be perpetual, and it is, therefore, addressed to all Christians in every age of the world.

The false teachers in the primitive christian church were numerous, and well instructed in all the arts of sophistical learning. They were, therefore, but too successful in corrupting those pure doctrines which the Saviour of the world had so mercifully promulgated, and in seducing many from his simple but perfect worship ;-exhibiting, under the mask of Christianity, a speculative religion, which could adapt itself to all circumstances, and offer an easy atonement for every human infirmity; a religion, in short, which was rather calculated to extenuate vice than to promote virtue.

A system of faith, which flatters the infirmities of men, and provides an agreeable remedy against the penalties of sin, will always be greedily embraced by those who are not anxious to acquire godly dispositions at the expense of sacrificing their sensual enjoyments. They have greater satisfaction at being justified on such easy terms; and, therefore, a plausible declaimer, who seeks for disciples only among the profligate, will not fail of securing followers, if he can only bring them to assent to the seductive doctrine of universal impunity for sin, and persuade them that good works are not essential to salvation. Such were the arts adopted by the first schismatics in the christian church ; " with lies they made the hearts of the righteous sad, whom the Lord had not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life.” “Through covetousness, with feigned words, they made merchandize" of their

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disciples : so that their religion was rather a mercenary traffic in the interests of this world, than a becoming preparation for the felicities of another.

The gnostic heresies, which almost immediately succeeded the death of Christ, did incredible mischief, by confounding the simplicity of the primitive worship with a number of crude but complicated theories, which reduced religion to a mere recondite science, after our blessed Saviour had left it intelligible to every capacity. Those subtle but cloudy logicians dazzled the ignorant with the false lights of a barbarous and perplexing mysticism, in which were blended the mythic extravagancies of Pagan superstition with the pure doctrines of Christianity. They fed their deluded proselytes with “ meat” which their dull faculties were unable to digest, instead of “milk”; thus corrupting their spiritual appetites with a new and unsalutary aliment, and rendering them anything but “ wise unto salvation.” “ For when they spake great swelling words of vanity, they allured through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them that lived

While they promised them liberty, they themselves were the servants of corruption : for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.”

Such were the false prophets of whom the Saviour bade his disciples beware. Such were the dangerous enemies against whom Christianity had

in error.

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to contend during the early stages of its progress, combined with the whole strength of the Pagan world; and yet how signal was its triumph, when, opposed by such formidable obstacles, it ultimately bore down the huge structures of infidelity and error, shaping its gradual but majestic course to the very remotest regions of the earth! Let us remember that the mightiest powers of human intellect were employed to subvert that religion which, at the first, had only been advocated by a few unlettered artizans, but which finally obtained a most signal triumph over the malice of its powerful opposers. All that philosophy had taught—all that it could teach—all that the most learned, most ingenious, most astute minds could oppose to it, was employed to shake it from those impregnable foundations upon which it had been so immovably fixed by its divine author. Threatenings, tortures, death, were successively tried, but in vain, to subdue the patience, corrupt the integrity, or weaken the faith of its early advocates. Though heresies were encouraged by its opposers; though schisms prevailed and errors multiplied through the industry of false and interested teachers in the early stages of its progress, its ultimate success against such amazing impediments, attests at once its divine origin and immutable truth; since no system of religion, which had not descended from above, could have so completely triumphed over the united opposition of

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