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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
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
thing else; but I should observe whether or not he agreed in all things with my Gospel; and thus, by divine grace, I should be armed and fortified against him, and should discover him to be a false prophet, and a ravening wolf covered with, and concealed under, this sheep's skin.
Thus diabolical spirits and false prophets overcome us by these two means.-Partly, because we are heedless, secure, and altogether light and vain. And partly, because they well know how to cover and conceal themselves under sheep's clothing. For by this "sheep's clothing," Christ does not mean such open, flagrant, and abominable sins as those with which the gentiles and the ungodly are defiled; but, baptism, the sacrament, Christ, and all the things of Christ: all these things must be borne and professed by these characters. For no one can come forward, and impudently say, 'I say so and so.' He must say, 'My dearest friends, Christ saith so and so ye have here the Word of God and the scripture: ye must believe this if ye will be saved: and he that would teach you otherwise seduceth you,' &c. In all which, they introduce the ineffable name of God and of Christ, and also those great but horribly perverted terms, honour of God, truth, eternal salvation, and whatever other expressions of this kind there are that are used in speaking of such things. A man of a simple mind hearing such great and important words, and being admonished in such weighty expressions as ‘by the salvation' or 'damnation' of his soul, stands astonished; and if he be not well fortified and instructed against such crafty attacks, he presently yields himself up. For such words are sharper than a razor cutting both into the body and the soul. This then is one part of the sheep's clothing with which these wolves are covered.
And then, they make to themselves another kind of external adorning by certain singular works of their own, and a particular mode of life. They go about clothed in grey jackets, and with a sad and miserable countenance, wearing themselves out with much fasting,
and afflicting their bodies with deprivation of sleep, with hard beds, and long prayers; and by conforming in no respect to the common way of living among men. And this also is a crafty trick that has much influence: for, by it, the eyes of men are so blinded, that they yield themselves up to such like so many blackbirds or jackdaws caught in a net. And one robber of this stamp may seduce and turn away, by one sermon, a whole city, which had heard the Word of God for some time; and, in one hour, hurl to oblivion that which had been heard for ten years. And I believe that I myself, if I wished to do so, could by one or two sermons, without any difficulty, change my little multitude of people, and at last draw them over to Popery, invent for them new pilgrimages, and institute masses, &c. having deceived them with such kinds of bugbears, and a singular sanctity. For the multitude (as I have observed) are given to change, and easily persuaded, being curious and naturally prone and inclined to hear any new thing.
Behold, in this manner also they endeavour to set off their life and doctrine; using exactly the same words and terms as we do, and living a singularly showy kind of life. And in this way the Anabaptists in this our day, seduce numbers of men, by their crying out, That the Gospel is not rightly taught and held by us, because (as they say) it brings forth no fruits, and wicked, proud, envious, and avaricious men still remain. That there must be something more than the mere word in the letter of it. That it is to be obeyed in the spirit. That the life must be powerfully bridled and mortified. That, if it were the Word of God, it would without doubt bring forth fruit.'-Thus, having acquired to themselves much fame, they go on and affirm that it is they who have the true understanding of the scripture, the right fruits of it, and the right kind of life. And when any simple unexperienced man hears these things, he is immediately persuaded, and says, This indeed must be the very truth!' And thus he permits himself to be led into a labyrinth of errors,