Matthew 7:16
You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
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(16) Ye shall know them by their fruits.—The question, What are the fruits? is not directly answered. Those who attach most importance to the ethical side of religion, see in them the practical outcome of doctrine in life, character, and deeds. Others, who live in a constant dread of heresy, dwell on doctrines rather than acts as the “fruits” by which we are to discern the false teachers and the true. Good works, they say, may be but the sheep’s clothing that hides the heretic wolf. The analogy of Scriptural language, and even of that of most theologians, the familiar phrases which speak of good works as the fruits of faith and the like, are, it is believed, entirely in favour of the former view. Still more decisive are the “fruits meet for repentance” of Matthew 3:8. We are to judge of the teaching of those who claim authority by the test of the measure in which, in the long-run, it promotes purity, peace, and holiness.

7:15-20 Nothing so much prevents men from entering the strait gate, and becoming true followers of Christ, as the carnal, soothing, flattering doctrines of those who oppose the truth. They may be known by the drift and effects of their doctrines. Some part of their temper and conduct is contrary to the mind of Christ. Those opinions come not from God that lead to sin.Ye shall know them by their fruits - The Saviour gives the proper test of their character. People do not judge of a tree by its leaves, or bark, or flowers, but by the fruit which it bears. The flowers may be beautiful and fragrant, the foliage thick and green; but these are merely ornamental. It is the "fruit" that is of chief service to man; and he forms his opinion of the nature and value of the tree by that fruit. So of pretensions to religion. The profession may be fair; but the "conduct" - the fruit - is to determine the nature of the principles. 16. Ye shall know them by their fruits—not their doctrines—as many of the elder interpreters and some later ones explain it—for that corresponds to the tree itself; but the practical effect of their teaching, which is the proper fruit of the tree.

Do men gather grapes of thorns—any kind of prickly plant.

or figs of thistles?—a three-pronged variety. The general sense is obvious—Every tree bears its own fruit.

See Poole on "Matthew 7:20". 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 (u), , "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 (w),

"if a man intends , "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, "with grapes of the thorn", a thing ugly, and unacceptable.''

Though 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.

(u) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 48. 1.((w) T. Bab. Ceritot, fol. 19. 1, 2. & 20. 1.((x) T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 49. 1.

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Matthew 7:16-18. Ἐπιγνώς.] Ye will know them, not ye should (Luther).

The καρποί are the results of principles, as seen in the whole behaviour, the works (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:23; Matthew 12:33), not the doctrines (Jerome, Calvin, Calovius).

ἄκανθαι κ. τρίβολοι] Thorns and thistles occur together in a corresponding figurative sense in Hebrews 6:8.

οὕτω] application of those images to the false prophets, in such a way, however, that the latter, in keeping with ἀπὸ τ. καρπ. αὐτ. (comp. Matthew 7:20), just before, appear again as trees.

A δένδρον ἀγαθόν is, as contrasted with the σαπρόν, a sound, healthy tree; for a σαπρόν is not some tree of an inferior species, but one whose organism is decaying with age, etc., rotten, the σαπρότης of which (Plat. Rep. p. 609 E; Diosc. i. 113), owing to a defective and corrupted state of the sap, admits of nothing in the way of fruit but what is bad, small, and useless. Comp. ξύλον σαπρόν, Job 41:19. σαπροὶ στέφανοι, Dem. 615. 11. “Bonitas arboris ipsius est veritas et lux interna, etc.; bonitas fructuum est sanctitas vitae. Si fructus essent in doctrina positi, nullus orthodoxus damnari posset,” Bengel. With the οὐ δύναται of the corrupt tree, comp. Romans 8:7 f. In this emphatic οὐ δύναται lies the progressive force of the simile.Matthew 7:16-20. An enlargement in parabolic fashion on the principle of testing by fruit.16. thorns] The Greek word means, probably, a kind of acacia, or perhaps “thistles.” There is a Greek proverb οὐ γὰρ ἄκανθαι, “no thistles,” i. e. “nothing useless.”

thistles] Rather, caltrop, a prickly water-plant.Matthew 7:16. Ἀπὸ[326] τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν, κ.τ.λ., from their fruits, etc.) This declaration is solemnly repeated at Matthew 7:20.—καρπῶν, fruits) The fruit is that, which a man like a tree puts forth, from the good or evil disposition which pervades the whole of his inward being. Learning, compiled from every quarter, and combined with language, does not constitute fruit; which consists of all that which the teacher puts forth from his heart, in his language and conduct, as something flowing from his inner being, like milk, which the mother gives from her own breast: see ch. Matthew 12:33-35. This is the true force of ποιεῖ, produces, in Matthew 7:17-19 : cf. Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:23-24; Matthew 7:26. It is not his speech alone which constitutes the true or the false prophet, but his whole method of leading[327] himself, and others with him, by the one or the other road or gate to life or death (see ch. Matthew 15:14; Matthew 15:13); whence it arises that doing and saying are closely connected in ch. Matthew 5:10. The fruits indeed are the tokens (Gnorismata) or evidence of the truth or falsehood of the prophet, and therefore also of the doctrine set forth by the prophet. The doctrine, therefore, is not the fruit by which the prophet is known; but it is the form of the true or false prophet which constitutes him the one or the other, and is itself known from its fruit. The goodness of the tree itself is truth and inward light, etc; the goodness of the fruit is holiness of life. If the fruit consisted in doctrine, no orthodox teacher could be damned or be the cause of another’s destruction.—See Schomer,[328] Theol. Moral. p. 252.—ἀπὸ ἀκανθῶν, of thorns) although their berries resemble grapes, as the heads of thistles do figs. In Luke 6:44 the same comparison is differently turned, for ἄκανθα, the thorn, and βάτος, the bramble, are very closely allied. The grape therefore (σταφυλὴ) is denied to each of them. Certain thorns (ἄκανθαι) also have large shoots:[329] figs therefore can be denied to them as well as to thistles.

[326] However the margin of Ed. ii. of N. Test, more readily allows the omission of this particle than the larger edition.—E. B.

[327] See Matthew 7:14, “leadeth.”—ED.

[328] JUSTUS CHRISTOPHER SCHOMER, a celebrated Lutheran divine, was born at Lubeck in 1648, and died in 1693, professor of Theology at Rostock. In 1690 he published his celebrated work, Theologia Moralis sibi constans, quoted in the text.—(I. B.)

[329] i.e.—resembling figs in some measure.—(I. B.)

Bab Hil. 1245 read ἀπό: but c Lucif. ‘ex,’ Vulg. ‘a.’—ED.Verse 16. - Parallel passage: Luke 6:44. (For the first clause, cf also ver. 20 and Matthew 12:33.) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Their appearance and their claims are no proof of their true character. It may seem difficult to recognize this, yet there is a sure way of doing so, by their life. The emphasis of the sentence is on "by their fruits." Ye shall know. Ye shall come to know them to the full (ἐπιγνώσεσθε). (On the greater strength of the compound, vide Ellicott, 1 Corinthians 13:12.) Fruits. All considered separately (cf. vers. 17, 18, 20), but in ver. 19 as one whole (cf. Matthew 3:8, note). It is, however, just possible that here and in ver. 20 the plural points to fruit growing on different trees. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? The visible outgrowth reveals the nature of that which is within. Those who "profess to combine fellowship with God with the choice of darkness as their sphere of life "(Bishop Westcott, on the suggestive parallel 1 John 1:6) only show that within they are destitute of fellowship with God. Observe, Christ does not say, "Do thorns produce grapes," etc.? (cf. James 3:12), but "Do men gather?" i.e. he desires to bring out the way in which men ordinarily deal with productions external to themselves. You, my followers, ought to use that common sense in spiritual matters which men show in matters of everyday life. Thistles; apparently Centaurea calcitrapa, the common thistle of Palestine; in the plains the only fuel. Ye shall know (ἐπιγνώσεσθε)

The compound verb indicates full knowledge. Character is satisfactorily tested by its fruits.

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