Seventh Sunday After Pentecost The Gospel Mat. 7.v.15 Sunday Meditation
GOSPEL Matthew 7:15-21
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith to Me: Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Wolves clothed in sheepskins, may signify Hypocrites, ill-living Governors, Heretics. The sheep's clothing of hypocrites,is fair words, good works,and outward shows of virtue, love, and friendship, for vain-glory,applause of people, their own advancement, profit, or the like: Which like wolves devour,and evacuate the merit and reward of their own good works, (because they do them not for the right end, it being that which giveth life to our works) and often times make a prey of others, whom by their crafty dissimulation and fair shows, they oftentimes circumvent, and bring to their own ends.
The sheep's clothing of ill-living Governors is the Name & Office they bear, which import outwardly the Peace, Protection,and welfare of those that are committed to their charge, but because their sins and ill example do much harm to their subjects (& a great deal more then if they were private persons) in their souls, & sometimes they make a prey of them in their bodies and fortunes by bribery, extortion, servitude, oppression, and the like: therefore inwardly in their deeds, (howsoever they are outwardly sheep, or rather shepherds by their name and office) they may in some sort be called Prophets, because they are ordained for the good and welfare of others; but because they use it not so,but for their own ends, and hurt of others, therefore they maybe called false Prophets, & ravening wolves, in the skins or clothing of innocent, and harmless sheep, or shepherds.
But neither of these doth Christ seem here to mean directly, howsoever they may be indirectly included in others.Not hypocrites though they be hard to be discerned, because they be not so hurtful to others as to themselves, depriving themselves of the merit of their good works; nay their outward fare shows, and good examples, do good unto others, or if they chance to hurt others,it is but in their temporals, which is the uttermost they aim at; but Christ seems here to speak of spiritual, or soul hurt.
Neither doth Christ mean ill-living Governors, for though they do much hurt to their subjects, even in their souls, by their evil examples, yet is it so apparent by their outward and public sins,that we need no forewarning to discern them, their fraud is written in their foreheads.
Wherefore by false Prophets, clothed in sheep-skins, and inwardly are ravening wolves, Christ meaneth Heretics, who under the pretence of the word of God, the Gospel, the doctrine of Christ, & the like fair shows, go about to instill into us a false faith, and erroneous doctrine, which they themselves are deceived withal (for I suppose they do it not of malice) whereby like ravening wolves, they devour and damn men's souls, wherein Christ the king of kings doth towards us, as kings and great noble persons do toward their children, when they are newly born, who seek out the best & most exquisite nurses, the most healthful, & of the best complexion and condition they can find, & especially whose milk is most nourishing and wholesome, in so much that to discern of their milk,they will not content themselves with the goodness of the complexion and constitution of the nurse, but they will weigh it in a balance,and use other arts to discern thereof, because the milk imports the good of the child most of all.
So Christ, whose children we are,knowing that preacher of his word , are nurses of our souls,and the word of God our milk, wherewith we are to be nourished to everlasting life, according to that which St.Paul sayth of himself to the Corinthians: I have given you as little ones in Christ, Milk to drink, meaning the word of God: Therefore Christ here admonishes us seriously, that we use great care and diligence, to beware of false prophets, that come to you in sheep's clothing,but inwardly are ravening wolves.