Matthew 7:16
It is not enough for Christ to spread his own wholesome teaching; he must warn against the dangerous influence of bad teachers. Later in his ministry he had occasion to speak of the pretended shepherds, who were really thieves, or at best hirelings (John 10:10, 12). Here his reference to the tree and its fruit is meant to be applied to the teacher and his work. It shows that he expects people to be watchful over those who assume to be their instructors. Christians are to judge prophets.


1. Work is fruit. A man's true work is not something which he has chosen to do by free selection from any number of possibilities. It is the very product of his being; it is himself thrown out and expressed in action. All real work is a growth from a man's life.

2. The fruit must correspond to the tree. It is not just a miniature tree, but it is "after its kind." The teaching and life-work may not be merely photographs of the mind of the teacher and worker, but they will correspond in kind. This is necessary because it is natural. Christ's parallel goes beyond an illustration, and becomes an argument from analogy. The whole course of nature makes it monstrous to suppose that good work can come from bad men, or bad work from good men.


1. He should not be judged prematurely. We are tempted to form hasty prejudices about people, the results of first impressions. But these are most delusive. A pretentious or an attractive teacher may be worthless. One who vexes and offends us may be a very prophet of God. The present popularity of a preacher is a poor test of the value of his ministrations.

2. His work must be examined. Our Lord distinctly requires this. We are not to judge men in private life and as to their own individual conduct. But when any one takes on him the office of a public teacher he invites examination. It is not incumbent on us to criticize for the sake of the criticism, but we must decide whether a man whom we follow is leading us aright.

3. The test is to be found in final effects. There are snares in the judgment by results. We may look only at external effects; we may be impatient for quick returns; we may mistake quantity for quality. It is necessary to wait for some autumn fruit ripening. Then the question is as to kind and quality. If these are good, the teaching is wholesome. The best form of Christian evidences is the biography of Christian men. Honest missionary reports are an important element in apologetics.

III. THE BAD WORK WILL CONDEMN THE UNWORTHY WORKER. The tree only exists for the sake of its fruit. Its goodly shape, its vigorous growth, its luxuriant foliage, count for nothing, or worse them nothing, for they cumber the ground. What would be a merit in the forest is a fault in the garden. Trees planted for fruit must bear fruit, or they will be useless. It is bad to produce poisonous or worthless fruit; but it is also a matter of condemnation to be barren, like the fruitless fig tree of the parable (Luke 13:6-9). God's test at the great judgment will ignore the fame of popular preaching, the glitter of daring thinking, the honour of exalted position. All will go by the quality of the output. And on this test will follow more than the acceptance or the condemnation of the work. The worker himself will be judged - condemned or rewarded. - W.F.A.

Know them by their fruits.
The two criteria on which men most chiefly rest for the guidance "of their religious opinions would here be of no avail; authority would be claimed by the prophet; and private judgment might possibly lead his votaries astray. Both these useful, but require caution. Let us get a clear conception of the notion of utility as a criterion. It is an acknowledged fact that every human action and word is followed inevitably by certain consequences, which are good or bad. Those acts which produce happiness are useful; those which do not are injurious. We must extend our notion of happiness beyond the ancient conception of it. Christianity. has made happiness in worldly good things alone impossible. It must now include peace with God. This a criterion which cannot be mistaken. Apply this test.

I. As AN ARGUMENT FOR CHRISTIANITY in the widest sense of the word. "When Christianity appeared in the world, Roman civilization had practically failed. The privilege of Roman citizenship had done much — had kindled a feeling of community of interest; but needed a higher sanction. The Incarnation taught men brotherhood; nations which possess this truth have the principle of vitality.

II. Let us apply this test to our ENGLISH CHRISTIANITY. Doubtless there are physical reasons which make the English race so strong; but also moral, latent in our Christianity.

III. As an argument supplying to us each practical reasons for FOLLOWING IN OUR CONDUCT THAT LINE OF DUTY, which conscience tells us to be right. It is a solemn thought that we can be like a good tree or a bad one. It is the uses of a man which determine his status before God.

(J. T. Coxhead, M. A.)

I. The rule laid down by Christ in the text is INFALLIBLE IN CHARACTER AND UNIVERSAL in application. It is true in the natural world as in the spiritual.

II. By their FRUITS ye shall know them.

1. This test is a reasonable one.

2. It is a sensible one.

3. It is a simple one.

4. It is a just one.

5. It is a sure one.

6. It is one which men apply continually in judging of each other's conduct.

7. It is one which the Judge will apply on the final day.

(J. N. Sherwood, D. D.)

I. That THERE IS A STANDARD of good and evil.

1. It is fixed.

2. It is just.

3. It is evidenced by experience.

4. It is knowable.

5. It is practical.

II. By this standard GOD WILL JUDGE.

1. Men cannot plead ignorance, it being written in the hearts of those who have not the Scriptures.

2. Judgment will not be according to profession.

3. Nor with respect of persons.

4. Conscience approves these principles.

5. The Holy Spirit will, if we ask, teach us the will of God.

III. By this standard CHRISTIANS ARE TO judge.

1. False prophets must needs be, they are foretold, and are busy perverting the truth.

2. We must judge them by the Word of God.

(Flavel Cook.)

I. Doubt loosens the moral hold of the principle of the Bible upon our personal obedience.

II. The position of antagonism into which doubting throws a man is, in itself, unfavourable to growth in moral virtue.

III. Doubt presents no incentive to holiness like that which Christianity offers.

(Bishop Cheney.)

We do not usually connect fruitbearing with children. This is a mistake. Notice three things.

I. WHAT ONE FLAVOUR SHOULD THERE BE IN ALL FRUITS? Many different flavours in fruits, yet there is something common to them which makes us approve of them all. This may be applied to children. There are many varieties of disposition, but we can call all children good, if we can detect in them the flavour of godliness — Christlike-ness. That is just the wonderful, beautiful thing about the Lord Jesus; He can he a model for all — for the young and for the old.

II. WHAT PECULIARITIES OF FLAVOUR SHOULD THERE BE IN CHILDREN'S FRUITS? Unselfishness, thoughtfulness, truthfulness, gentleness. These flavours are to be found in our words and in our deeds.

III. WHAT IS THE SECRET WHICH ACCOUNTS FOR THE BEST FLAVOURED AND MOST ABUNDANT FRUITAGE? For even in fruits of one kind of flavour, we find differences, "From me is thy fruit found" — the Lord Jesus, the life.

(R. Tuck, B. A.)


1. Their deception.

2. Their artifice.

3. Their end.

II. THE SATISFACTORY AND EQUITABLE TEST by which they are to be ascertained, Of this rule we remark

(1)that it is infallible;

(2)it is easily comprehended;

(3)it is of universal application — to personal religion and doctrine, etc.;

(4)it will apply to the several views of Christianity which are propagated in the world.

(J. E. Good.)

Monday Club Sermons.
I. That action, and not appearance, is the test that determines the genuineness of religion.

II. The announcement of the law of moral certainties — "A good tree cannot," etc.

III. That mere sincerity is not salvation.

IV. Christ and His gospel are man's only security.

(Monday Club Sermons.)

It has pleased God to make every tree and herb "after its kind." There are three reasons for this: —

1. That people may know what to expect.

2. That diligent work may be rewarded.

3. That great results may be caused to grow out of small beginnings.

4. We reap what we sow.

(E. R. Colder, D. D.)

Expository Outlines.
Conduct indicates character.

I. As illustrated by the WELL-KNOWN COMPARISON which is here employed.

II. In reference to the SPECIAL CHARACTERS which are here described.

1. Their office.

2. Their outward aspect — sanctimonious.

3. Their evil designs. "Inwardly they were ravening wolves."

III. In its general APPLICATION.

1. This is the only true standard by which to judge either ourselves or others. Profession, feelings, are deceptive.

2. According to this rule the decisions of the great day will be regulated.

(Expository Outlines.)

1. Upon the laws of nations.

2. Upon the liberty of nations.

3. Upon the morality of nations.

4. Upon the charity of nations.

5. Upon the literature of nations.

6. Upon the acts of nations.

7. Upon social life and domestic relationships.

8. Upon individuals. Thus judged by its fruits it is a good book.

(J. H. Hitchens.)

Not by our acquired knowledge, or fancied experience, or creed; but by fruits.

I. THE PRIMARY AND IMMEDIATE DESIGN OF OUR LORD IN THE DECLARATION BEFORE US. This text connected with the preceding (vers. 15-20) — "Wherefore." The greater part of the Sermon on the Mount was designed to rectify the errors of the Pharisees.

1. The false prophets whom our Lord condemns were guilty of lowering the standard of moral duty by explaining away the spirituality and extent of the law, and reducing the whole of human obedience to a few unimportant ceremonies.

2. They frustrate the free grace of the gospel by insisting on the meritoriousness of human obedience. Thus did the Judaising teachers in Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus.


1. The influence of genuine Christianity is always practically holy.

2. Let the actual results of the influence of Christianity upon the world be examined, and it will be found that they are uniformly of a holy and felicitating character.

(J. Savill.)


I. The man who expects to obtain happiness without a holy life.

II. The man who expects to obtain a holy life without a renewed heart.

III. The man who expects to obtain a renewed heart without faith in evangelical truth.

(R. Halley, D. D.)

There is a schoolboy, yawning over his lesson. He sits with his books before him, but he is not working. If we ask him why, he says, "Oh, I hate Latin! .... Well, perhaps you like arithmetic better? .... Oh no, I hate doing sums." "Well, do you like geography? .... Oh no, I hate geography worst of all." The real truth is, he hates work. He is sowing thistles; and by and by, when his school-days are over, the prickles will sting him, and the empty, useless seed be a plague in his neighbours' fields.

(E. R. Conder, D. D.)

The apples appear when the sap is not seen. It is the operative and lively graces that will discover themselves. A man may think well, or speak well; but it is that grace which governeth his actions which most showeth itself.

(T. Manton, D. D.)It is all very fine to plead, as some have done, that they are doing inside work; if their fruit is all within, they will have to be cut down that it-may be got at. A true epistle of Christ is not written in invisible ink, and then sealed up, but it is known and read of all men. A tree of the Lord's right hand planting bears fruit to His glory, visible to all about him.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Those who travel through deserts would often be at a loss for water, if certain indications, which the hand of Providence has marked oat, did not serve to guide them to a supply. The secret wells are for the most part discoverable from the verdure which is nourished by their presence. So the fruitfulness of good works of the believer, amidst the deadness and sterility around him, proclaim the Christian's life.


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