OF THE BOOK OF
us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines:
for our vines have tender grapes.
these words are the words of Christ or of the church, is not so manifest. Some think that they are the words of the church, to whom the care of the vineyard was committed; which, though she had in some measure neglected, as appears from chapter 1:6, yet now is heartily concerned for the flourishing of it; and therefore calls upon her attendants and companions to assist in destroying those noxious creatures the foxes, which did so much mischief to the vines that grew in it; though they rather seem to be. the words of Christ, who is the owner of the vineyard, and has an authoritative power over the officers of the church, and ministers of the gospel, to stir them up to be sedulous and careful in the. discharge of their work; for the words seem to be directed, not to angels, nor to his bride, the church, nor to the civil magistrate, but to ministers, who are more particularly employed in the care of Christ's vineyard: and if we take them to be the words of Christ, it not only shews the power and authority of Christ over those he speaks to, and lays his commands on in so strict a manner; but also his love to, and care of his vines, the several churches, which his own right hand has planted: though perhaps they may be the words of them both jointly together; for the church, with Christ, and under him, has a right to stir up her officers to perform their work, and fulfill their ministry, which they have received of the Lord Jesus; the doing of which will redound to his glory, and her good; they both having an interest in the vines here mentioned; also the foxes, which they are ordered to take, were common enemies; both to Christ and his church; and therefore it is not said, “take for me or thee, but take for us the foxes.” In these words may be observed,
I. A command that is laid upon the ministers of the gospel, to “take the foxes, even the little foxes.”
II. Some arguments or motives proposed to stir them up to an observance of it.
I. The thing enjoined them is, to “take the foxes.” By foxes we are to understand, either,
1st, The sins and corruptions of our nature, which may be compared unto them for the following reasons: 1. As foxes have their lurking-holes in the earth, so have these in the hearts of men, where they lie a long time undiscovered; and that not only in the hearts of wicked men, but also in the hearts of God's own people; and therefore, says David (Ps. 19:12), “Who can under, stand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults;” now it is only the Spirit of God, who “searcheth the deep things of God,” that can search the inmost recesses of our hearts, discover our vile corruptions, bring them out of their lurking-holes, and slay them by the mighty power of his grace. 2. The sins and corruptions of our nature may be compared to foxes for their deceitfulness, therefore are they called “deceitful lusts;” and wed they may, for we are often imposed upon by them, and deceived with them, and that under the notion either of pleasure, profit, or honor, which they promise to us, but leave us entirely short of: there is a deceitfulness in sin, which makes our hearts so deceitful, and desperately wicked as they be. 3. For the crooked ways which they take: the fox does not walk straight forward, but with several windings and turnings; the ways of sin are all crooked ways; they are so many distortions from the ways of God and godliness which are straight and even; and are so many aberrations from the divine law, which is the rule of our obedience unto God. 4. For making places barren and desert wherever they come: sin makes persons barren and. unfruitful, both in the knowledge of Christ, and in the performance of duty; so that they look like “the heath in the desert,” and like “parched places in the wilderness.” 5. For their friendship with serpents: there is a secret correspondence held between Satan, that old serpent, and the corruptions of our nature; by virtue of which he often compasses his end, and gains his purpose, which he could not do on Christ, there being no such matter for him to work upon; he had none of his old friends there to let him in, as he has in our hearts.
Now the ministers of the gospel may be said to take these foxes, when they lift up their voices like a trumpet, and exclaim against them, expose the Wickedness and deceitfulness of them and shew souls the danger they are in by them; when they are made useful to bring persons under a conviction of them, and, as it were, to ferret them out of their lurking-holes: moreover,” by the power of the Spirit of God attending the ministry, the ‘strong-holds of sin” are pulled down, and the vain imaginations, of men's hearts subdued, and every vile thought brought “into captivity, to the obedience of Christ,” and a revenge taken upon all disobedience. Not but that private Christians, as well as ministers, should watch and pray against them; fight in order to take them, and, when taken, should bring them to Christ, as his and their enemies, to be slain by the mighty power of his grace; and not only gross sins, but even “little foxes,” the very first motions of sin, are to be watched against and struck at; we should abstain from all appearance of it,” knowing that lesser sins will bring us into the commission of greater, and insensibly grow upon us; so R. Alshech interprets these little foxes of little sins. Or else,
2dly, By these foxes may be meant false teachers or heretics; so the false prophets in Ezekiel's time were called by him (Ezek. 13:3, 4), “O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts;” and so may false apostles and false teachers now, and that for the following reasons; 1. For their craftiness, and subtilty. The fox is remarkable for its cunning and craftiness, of which some writers give us many instances: sometimes he feigns himself dead, lies upon his back, with his mouth open, and his tongue out, so that he looks every way as a dead carcass; by which means he invites the fowls of the air to feed upon him, but when come, devours them with open mouth; for the same purpose, at other times, he rolls himself in the red earth, that he might appear as bloody, and then, as before, lays himself down upon the ground as dead, and thereby lays a bait for the unwary birds: so when he is taken in a snare, and finds that there is no escaping, he prostrates himself upon the ground, holds his breath, and in all appearance seems dead, which the snare-setter supposing to be real, looses the snare, without any suspicion of his escaping; but finding himself free, gets upon his legs, and away he runs: also when hunted, he will run among a flock of sheep or goats, and leap upon the back of some one of them, which puts the whole flock into a fright, and causes them to run one after another, and, for fear of damage, the huntsman is obliged to call in his dogs: these, with many other instances of his subtilty, as his artful method of catching crabs and lobsters with his tail: destroying of wasps, clearing himself of fleas, tricking the hedge-hog, revenging himself upon the badger, and catching of hares, are recorded by several writers. Hence false teachers may be very fitly compared unto them, who act in disguise, lie in wait to deceive, walk in craftiness, and handle the word of God deceitfully, speak lies in hypocrisy, use good words and fair speeches, and thereby deceive the hearts of the simple. 2. For their malignity: foxes are cruel as well as cunning, they are very noxious and hurtful creatures; and so are false teachers, they are wolves though in sheep's Clothing; their heresies are damnable, their doctrines are pernicious, and their words eat as doth a canker; they subvert the faith of some, and bring ruin and destruction upon themselves and others, 3. For their hunger and voraciousness: all the cunning and cruelty that the fox uses, is to satisfy his greedy appetite; and so the principal end of false teachers, is not to serve Christ, but their own bellies; to devour widows” houses, and making merchandise of others, to enrich themselves, and indulge their own pride and vanity. 4. For their feigning themselves to be domestics: it is reported of the fox that when it draws nigh to a farm-house, it will mimic the barking of a dog, which the hens and geese being used to, walk about with less guards and with more confidence approach to him, and so are surprised and devoured by him; so false teachers put on sheep's clothing, transform themselves into angels of light, as their master before them has done; mimic the voice of Christ's ministers; use some phrases and expressions which they do, which serve as a blind to the people; and so craftily do they put their words together, that it is not an easy thing to discover them. 5. As foxes are filthy, abominable, and stinking creatures, so are these, not only to God, but to his people; and therefore are also compared to wolves and dogs; and are not so much as to be received into the houses of good people, nor to be hid God-speed by them.
Now the ministers of the gospel are to take these foxes; they being overseers of the flock, and keepers of Christ's vineyard; are to watch against them, and make a discovery of them, they are to oppose and refute their erroneous doctrines; and being detected, and convicted of heresies, they are with the church after proper admonitions given, to reject and cut them off from the church, and communion with it: it is true, they are not to take away their lives, but they are to exclude them, from fellowship with them, and not suffer them to continue with them, either as members or officers; nay; even the little foxes are to be taken. Heresy is compared to leaven; the erroneous doctrines of the Scribes and Pharisees are called so, and “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Heresies and heretics are to be nipped in the bud,, otherwise they will increase to more ungodliness; great things have rose from small beginnings: these things should be taken in time; for errors, seemingly small at first, have grown larger, have spread themselves, and have been very fatal to the churches of Christ; therefore no error or heresy should be connived at, under a notion of its being a small or a harmless one; for even little foxes are to be taken. Some connect the word little with the vines next mentioned; and so it strengthens the reason, why care should be taken to preserve them from the foxes, since they are small and tender.
3dly, Here are motives and arguments proposed to induce a compliance to this command of Christ's. 1. The mischief Which these foxes do to the vines, is made use of as one, which spoil the vines: it has been observed by many that these kind of creatures do hurt to the vines; and that by destroying the fences, knawing the branches, biting the bark, making bare the roots of the vines, devouring the ripe grapes thereof, and infecting all with their noxious teeth and vicious breath: so heretics and false teachers break down the church's fence, by making schisms and divisions, make bare her roots, sap the very foundation of religion, by corrupting the word of God, and denying the great doctrines of the gospel; and hurt her fruit, by disturbing the peace of her members, unsettling some, and subverting others. 2. Another argument that is made use of to stir them up to diligence in taking the foxes, is, because the vines have tender grapes; by vines are meant the several distinct congregated churches of Christ; by the tender grapes or flowers thereof, we are to understand young converts, whom Christ is very tender of, and has a particular regard unto; see Isaiah 40:11 and 42:3 and these having buts small degree of faith, knowledge, and experience, like children, are more easily tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness of these foxes, whereby they lie in wait to deceive: now generally they make their onset upon these, as being more easily wrought upon, and by whom they can with more facility compass their end; and this being then the case, the ministers of Christ ought to be more sedulous and diligent in the discovering of those foxes, from whom so much mischief may be expected, and more bold, vigorous, and courageous in opposing and rejecting them; seeing the churches of Christ are like to sustain so considerable a loss by them, and in danger of having a promising vintage spoiled. It is true, the foxes love the ripe grapes and devour them, and not when they are, blossoming and knotting; which shews Christ's care of his vines, to be the greater, that he would have little foxes taken .while the vines were blowing; for by such time, as the grapes were ripe, these little foxes would be great ones, and would be capable of doing more damage, and not so easy to be taken neither; so that the consideration also of there being less difficulty now, than there would be hereafter, might animate them to set about the work immediately. 3. Christ seems to intimate as if they had some interest in these vines; for which reason they ought to be the more heartily and vigorously concerned for the welfare of them; therefore they are called our vines: it is true, Christ has a sole right unto, and property in the vineyard; the vines are all of his planting, and the fruit of them belongs to him; yet those to whom the vineyard is let out, who are entrusted with the care of the vines, and who must give an account of them to the chief and principal owner, have also an interest therein; for though our great Solomon must have a thousand, whose the vineyard is; yet “those that keep the fruit thereof must have two hundred,” (Song 8:11, 12), so that if they should be negligent in their work, and suffer the foxes to overrun the vineyard, and spoil the vines, they would not only incur the displeasure of the owner of them, but sustain a loss themselves, by coming short of the fruit which otherwise would be distributed to them. Now such arguments as these, which have interest and profit contained in them, usually have the greatest influence upon persons; Christ: knew this, and therefore uses such an one here.
 Frantz. Hist. Sacr. Animal. par. 1. c. 17.
 Ibid, Aristol. Hist Animal. 1. 9. c. 1. Plutarch de Solert. Anin al. p. 981
 Vid Isidor. Origin.1. 12. c. 2.
 AElian. de Animal. 1. 4. c. 39. and 1. 6. c. 24, 64, and 1. 13. c. 11. Olans Magnus, Hist. Septent.1. 18. c. 31. and Frantz. Hist. Sacr. Animal. par. 1. c. 17.
 Olaus Magnus in loc. supracit.
 Vid. Theodoret et in loc.
 Vid. Theocrit. Idyll. 1. 5:48; 49. and Idyll. 3. 5:112, 113. So soldiers are compared to foxes, because they eat the grapes in the countries they come into, Aristoph. Equites, act, 3. sc. 1. p. 350.