Sermon on the Mount: 8. Wise and Foolish Builders
Matthew 7:15-29
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

The righteousness required in God's kingdom is the subject of our Lord's teaching in this sermon. After contrasting this with various spurious forms of righteousness, he shows the ruin that results from false pretensions. This he does by means of three figures:

1. The mere pretender is like a wolf in sheep's clothing; you cannot turn a wolf into a sheep by merely putting on it from the outside a fleece.

2. Or he is like a thorn-bush that has artificial flowers and fine fruits stuck on to it. It may for a time excite the admiration of the ignorant, but the tree remains wholly unaffected.

3. Or he is like a man who builds a superb mansion, sparing neither pains nor cost upon it, and yet neglecting the one essential that it should have - a foundation. Two objections may be taken to this simile, the first a trifling one.

(1) It may be said no man is such a fool as to build in the situation here described. This, though the objection of a pedant, serves to bring out a point in the comparison. What no man would be fool enough to do with a house, many and many a man is fool enough to do in matters of religion. So ineradicable is the feeling that there all is mere show, that the rashness no man would be guilty of in practical matters is almost universal in religion.

(2) Our Lord here indicates that the wise man is he who not only hears, but does, while in the scene from the last day which he introduces he seems to make no account of doing. By this seeming inconsistency he brings out his meaning more exactly. There must be works, fruits, a shining light, a fleece; there must be a visible manifestation; the inward influence of the words of Christ must become apparent in the life; but there need not be a loud profession of Christ's name - a crying, "Lord, Lord!" a doing of wonderful works. The pretentious religion he seeks to expose abounds in these. It may be identical in appearance with the true righteousness. But the works in the one case are done for the sake of persuading either the pretender or others that he is a good and godly person; in the other case they are the natural, spontaneous, necessary outflow of what is within, and would surely be done though there were no judgment to be passed on them. They are produced as the apple tree produces apples - because it is its nature to do so. To gather up the practical teaching of this passage, we see -

I. THAT OUR LORD WARNS AGAINST TRUSTING TO APPEARANCES. He indicates that there is a stronger tendency to this in religion than in secular life, and more unsparingly and thoroughly does he tear off the mask of the hypocrite than the fiercest assailant of Christianity has ever done. The tendency to display, though we sometimes smile at the ways in which it manifests itself in others, is no venial fault; it is a species of dishonesty which gradually corrodes the whole character. In religion it is damaging in various ways.

1. There is a large class among us, the class of respectable people, whose whole character and habits have been so formed under the influence of social opinion that when they wish to ascertain what is right or wrong, they think whether it will shock people or not. They unconsciously reverse our Lord's judgment; and to them the poor wretch who has fallen under the power of some evil habit, and ruined his prospects in life, is a far more hopeless and pitiable object than the hardhearted, self-righteous, respectable sinner, who has not a tenth part of the other's humility or longing after righteousness.

2. However quick we may be to detect and repudiate what is showy in other departments of life, we are all liable to be shallow in religion. The primitive idea of God that he is exacting, a Lord who must be propitiated, is one so native to the guilty conscience, that it lingers among the motives of conduct long after we have mentally repudiated it. We will not comprehend that it is all for our benefit religion exists; that it is an essential of human life and happiness. So we do those things which it is supposed God requires, but we remain in nature unchanged.

3. Or we may admire a certain kind of character, and set it up as our ideal, without possessing it even in its beginning. A man may have the reputation of being a Christian, and may learn to accept himself as one, while he has no foundation; it is only the appearance which is in his favour.

4. Or we may have such an eagerness to hear teaching about righteousness, that we feel as if the hearing itself were sufficient evidence of a devout mind; we make such efforts to understand what God's will is, that we exonerate ourselves from doing it; we make such profuse declarations of our obligation to obey, that we feel we have done enough. But do not believe in your purpose to serve God better until you do serve him better. Give no credit to yourself for anything which is not actually accomplished. Do not let us be always speaking of endeavours, hopes, and intentions, and struggles, and convictions of what is right, but let us do God's will.

II. THE RESULTS OF SUPERFICIALITY are portrayed in language intended to bring out their overwhelmingly disastrous nature, but not less their certainty. For what is it that brings the house about the builder's ears? It is nothing exceptional; it is the inevitable that tests it. So it is with character. It is tested by the ordinary emergencies of life. Time is all that is required to test anything. The wolf may pretend to be a sheep for an hour or two, but his natural appetite soon reveals him; the tree makes a fair show till autumn tests it. So some reputations are short-lived. Some sudden temptation may reveal to others, and even to a man himself, that his most rooted motives are not what his conduct indicates. Other reputations survive all the storms of life, and a man passes to another world undetected by himself or others. But the evil day is thereby only delayed. Under the eye of Christ all disguises must drop off, and we shall be known for what we really are. The catastrophe of which we are forewarned can be averted by spending pains on the foundation. Through the surface soil of inherited tastes and tendencies, of social restraints and traditional morality, of pious desires and righteous resolves, try and get down to the very basis of your character; make sure that it has such a foundation that it will stand all the shocks of time and last to eternity. Make sure that you know why you strive and labour to reach righteousness, why you hope through all failure that yet righteousness awaits you. Make sure especially that if you are not bringing forth fruit as spontaneously and as regularly as a good tree, you yet know what is changing your nature, and giving you every day an increasing love for what is good and a readiness to do it. - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

WEB: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.

False Prophets and False Christians
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