MATTHEW CHAPTER 7.
Warning against Unauthorized Judging and Admonition to Persevere in Prayer. Matt. 7, 1-12.
A lesson from the Eighth Commandment: V. 1. Judge not, that ye be not judged. V. 2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. The Lord's words, in this connection, do not exclude all judging. According to God's own creation and order, those whom He has placed as superiors have the right and duty to watch over those placed in their care and correct any wrong disposition and behavior. The executive and judicial officers of a country or a city, the heads of every household, the teachers in the schools, the officers of the church and the whole congregation, Matt. 18, 15; Gal. 6, 1, the voters in all democratic forms of government, — all these have the power and the duty to exercise judgment in their particular sphere. The word used by the Lord implies personal, unkind, uncharitable, unauthorized, condemnatory judgment. It was and is a common habit, "especially in religious circles of the Pharisaic type." Even an official expression of our opinion may run into a sinful extreme. And so far as the common slandering is concerned, what ignorance, haste, levity, prejudice, vanity, and egotism is often revealed in the sentences it pronounces; what an utter disregard of the law of love! How easily even permissible criticism is entangled with personalities! Therefore the warning: Lest ye be judged in the same manner. Uncharitable, unauthorized judgment will be punished here as well as hereafter. It usually pronounces its own condemnation, Rom. 2, 1. And this condemnation will measure up to the severity of the original transgression: Judgment for judgment; measure for measure. Many an ill report about us may be a just reward for an uncharitable criticism uttered by us, either in thoughtlessness or in spite. An unjust blow will recoil on him who has dealt it.
The proverb of the mote and the beam: V. 3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? V. 4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye, and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? V. 5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. This example or parable is an excellent comparison to bring out with the proper emphasis the warning against uncharitable judging. The mote, the tiny particle of dust, of wood, or of chaff, in the eye of another, is readily seen and commented upon, with many offers of assistance to remove the disagreeable object. But at the same time, the wooden beam, the log or joist, in one's own eye causes no discomfort, is, in fact, not even noticed. The Lord purposely uses an exaggeration to impress His admonition on the minds of His hearers, and we cannot weaken His picture by substituting "splinter" for "beam." 62) The contrast is essential for the success of His teaching. A petty theft is widely advertised, but commercial dishonesty and grafting is overlooked for reasons of policy; a single unguarded expression is severely blamed, but the continual use of blasphemous epithets goes without a rebuke. And the hypocrisy stands out all the more glaringly on account of the feigned sympathy: Permit me, hold still a minute! — as though the most disinterested, charitable motives were behind the question. In righteous indignation Christ calls such an offender a hypocrite, Ps. 50, 16, a base pretender at sanctification, and bids him above all remove the greater obstruction out of his own eye. After that he may consider, set himself the task, make a careful survey as to the need and possibility of, removing the mote out of the neighbor's eye. Let everyone first watch over the reformation of his own life. Then his tendency toward uncharitable criticism will be reduced considerably, and he will be in better position to be of assistance, kindly and carefully, to a brother that may be guilty of a fault.
An additional counsel: V. 6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. Moral criticism is necessary, religious teaching cannot be discarded. But it would be the height of folly and the very contrary of unauthorized judging to unload one's religious beliefs and experiences, tender sentiments, moral convictions, on any one that comes along, no matter in what condition he might be. For Christians especially the sacred doctrines of Christ are the precious pearls on the ring of His mercy. To cast these before dogs and swine, before people to whom nothing is sacred, that blaspheme everything holy, is to expose the most sacred beauty to coarseness. And the result is that those very people are encouraged to profane the holy name of God, to think it a proper subject of blasphemous attacks. And it cannot fail: some of the mud will spatter on him that lacked judgment; he will be responsible for the desecration, and therefore also guilty before God. Note the figure of speech used by the Lord, the second verb referring to the first subject, and the first verb to the second subject.
An admonition to prayer: V. 7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. V. 8. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. The Lord's entire sermon had dealt with the righteousness of life as expected from men by God. A great and hard lesson, demanding more strength than any man, even the most earnest Christian, possesses by nature and after conversion. But He from whom all spiritual strength must come is willing to help our infirmities, if we but approach Him with persistent supplication. Jesus piles up the verbs for the sake of emphasis; He builds up a double climax in order to teach men always to pray and not to grow faint, to be importunate in pleading, Luke 18, 1; 11, 5-10. To the mere asking must be added an eager seeking, and this must be supplemented with a persistent knocking. Such methods cannot fail; the promises of God are too plain. God will hear, He will give. He will let us find. He will open unto us. It may not always be at just the time and in just the manner which we think best, but it will, in the end, always prove the best. Only, note the repetition: "Ask," in all humility, but with firm confidence; "seek," with untiring application, but also with painstaking care; "knock," with both earnestness and perseverance. Every one, he says, shall receive if he will but come as a child to its father.
A parable to bring home this truth: V. 9. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? V. 10. Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? V. 11. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? He appeals to their love as parents. It is unthinkable that a father who is worthy of the name would substitute a stone for the bread, or a serpent for the fish, which his children ask of him. There is a resemblance, purposely. A father might find it necessary to refuse a child's petition outright, but he surely would not demean himself by mocking him. The grammatical construction is purposely made difficult in order to set the parent over against and yet beside the son. Such a selfish, grudging, mean spirit is considered unnatural even among men, from whom one might, according to the natural depravity of their heart, possibly expect a behavior of that kind. Natural affection is so strong in the average mother and father that it will not let harshness and heartlessness gain the upper hand; they have the knowledge and the common sense to give only good gifts to their children, if they give any at all. The word here used refers not only to the quality of goodness, but also to the measure in which they are given, generously, in larger amount than the children ask. Now he argues from the less important to the more important. That heavenly Father, whose benevolent power and beneficent kindness has been declared to you, that model of goodness and love toward all His children, will surely not do less! In bountiful measure, above all that we ask and think, Eph. 3, 20, He will give good gifts. Surely no vestige of doubt can remain with such an assurance.
The Golden Rule: V. 12. Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the Law and the prophets. Here is a summary which embraces in one short sentence all the admonitions to charity that are found in the entire sermon, all that is laid down in the sacred writings with regard to the behavior of men toward each other. As God's goodness is bountiful toward all men, so shall men pattern their conduct after this example, applying it in all their dealings, brother toward brother, in a full measure of generosity. If this rule were always followed, perfect peace, love, and harmony would obtain in the world. "With these words He closes His teaching, done in these three chapters, and gathers it in a small bundle, in which any one may surely find it, and every one put it into his bosom and keep it well. And it is surely a fine manner of doing which Christ here affects that He uses no other example than ourselves. He thus brings His commandment so near to us that it could not be brought any nearer, that is, into our heart, body, and life and into all our members, that no one need run far after it, but thou thyself art thy Bible, master, doctor, and preacher. Thou hast so many preachers, many a business, ware, tool, and other instrument in thy house and yard. That cries loudly against thee: My friend, deal with me toward thy neighbor as thou wouldest have thy neighbor act toward thee with his possessions. And the best thing in this passage is that He does not say: Other people shall do it to you, but: You shall do it to other people. For every one likes that, when others do good to him. But some say: I would surely also do what I should, if other people would first do so to me. But this verse says thus: Thou shalt begin and be the first one, if thou wilt have other people act thus to thee; and if they will not, yet do thou do it. He that wishes to be pious may not be hindered by other people's example. Thou mayest, then, by thine example, move people to do thee good in return, also those that formerly did evil to thee." 63)
The Conclusion of the Sermon. Matt. 7, 13-25.
The two ways: V. 13. Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; v. 14. because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. The Lord has finished the sermon proper, but He here adds, as a conclusion, a few warnings and gives a few hints with regard to various offenses in doctrine and life which His disciples are apt to meet with. Two ways are briefly sketched, leading from the present life to that beyond the grave. And the two ways are contrasted, either one being described by its distinctive marks and by its end. The one way is indeed a common road, no one is excluded from it. But it is narrow, with no room for frivolous liberties on either side. And it finally leads through a strait and narrow gate, which has nothing to commend it outwardly. Only comparatively few find this way. It is so untrodden that it may easily be missed. On the other hand there is a wide, broad, spacious, roomy road, with many factors that invite, that lead forward on that road. And at its end is a wide, welcoming gate. But this way and this gate, with all the qualities that commend them, with all the invitation to indulge in the free, unfettered life of the world, leads to destruction; its end is everlasting condemnation. There is no special warning necessary for the disciples of Christ. They shun that broad, inviting way as the way of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil. But the other way, which in itself offers no alluring promises, on which no noisy, jostling crowd beguiles the tediousness, nevertheless is the Lord's choice. For it leads to life, to the true life, to the only life worth living, to the life everlasting with Him whose way was just as much a narrow pass, a rocky defile, but who has entered into the glory of His Father. Enter in at this gate, is His loving call. Conquer, in His strength, all weakness of the flesh. Overcome through Him all assaults of the world and Satan, no matter in what guise they may appear. The end is worth a thousand battles, Rev. 2, 10; 3, 11.
Warning against false prophets: V. 15. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing', but inwardly they are ravening wolves. This shows one of the ways in which the disciples of Christ may be enticed from the narrow way to heaven, a fact which makes the warning necessary. Beware, take yourselves away from, have nothing to do with, pseudo-prophets, with false teachers. It is foolish even to stop and argue with them. For they are false prophets; they deliberately falsify God's Word, they substitute their own lies and the wisdom of fallible men for the eternal truth. They come, without invitation, without call; they make a practice of going to such people as are members of a church with the deliberate intention of coaxing them away from the truth. They are wise in their own conceit and in the forms of deceit; they come in a very inconspicuous manner, in the garment of innocence and harmlessness. They profess to have a commission from God Himself. and are adept at pretending gentleness. But their real character will show itself afterward, since they are by inclination and training ravening wolves. Their nature is to devour; they are greedy for money, ambitious for power, but anxious, above all, to destroy the soul. They are murderers of the souls of men.
The principle of testing false teachers and all frauds: V. 16. Ye shall know them by their fruits: Do men gather grapes of thorns or fig's of thistles? V. 17. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. V. 18. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. A significant point: Not only may the disciples of Christ distinguish these false teachers for themselves, but the Lord expects them to know them thoroughly, to understand them by making a study of their methods and their way of life. Christians are able, they have the sacred duty, to try the spirits, to examine and test the doctrine which is offered to them. They have an infallible rule, the teaching of Christ, the Word of Truth. According to this criterion, this standard, they should judge not only the doctrine, but also the works of the false teachers, which are here called their fruits. Men never think of collecting grapes from thorns or figs from thistles. They are not deceived by false resemblances, just as the botanist will tell at a glance the poisonous variety of berry or mushroom from the good. But even where so much botanical knowledge is not found, the good, the sound, healthy tree is readily distinguished from the unhealthy, the degenerate tree, standing in bad soil, or no longer fruitful on account of age. All these trees and plants bear in accordance with their nature, this test never fails. "As we perfectly know that a good tree will not produce bad fruit, and the bad tree will not, cannot produce good fruit, so we know that the profession of godliness, while the life is ungodly, is imposture, hypocrisy, and deceit." 64)
The end of the impostors: V. 19. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. V. 20. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. So far as the test of trees is concerned, men's judgment in their case is so definite and absolute that they do not hesitate to cut down and burn a bad tree, knowing very well that it is beyond all possibility for that tree to bring forth good fruit the next year. But this judgment will strike also those that are guilty of false teaching and living, whose fruits must finally reveal the condition of their hearts. Theirs will be the punishment of the fire of hell. In the mean time the Christians must not forget their duty to test and examine the doctrine and the works of the false teachers, lest they become guilty of laxness in spiritual matters. "No false doctrine or heresy has ever originated without having had this sign which He here indicates, that they have produced other works than those commanded and ordained by God.... Let him that wants to judge correctly do as Christ here teaches him, and take their works and fruits, holding them beside God's Word and commandments; then he will soon see how well they agree.... Thus thou hast a sure judgment which cannot fail, as Christ teaches thee to know them by their fruits. For I also have read up about all heretics and sects, and have found that they always made and brought forth something different from that which God commanded and enjoined, the one in this, the other in that article. The one has prohibited eating all things; a second, marriage; a third has condemned all government, every one choosing his own; and I conclude that they all walk on this path." 65)
False discipleship: V. 21. Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. False teachers have been characterized, spurious disciples are here described. Not all of those that make a practice of public confession are in truth confessors. They may try to cover their hypocrisy by publicly acknowledging and professing Jesus as the Lord, thus apparently giving Him divine honor and glory, 66) which is implied in this appellation. But a mouth-Christianity can never be a valid substitute for heart-Christianity. The fact that the lips readily form the name of Christ the Lord, make a practice of repeating it, will bring no one into the kingdom of heaven nor let him enter into the blessed communion of those that are one with Christ. Even a mere listening to His teaching with admiration and appreciation will avail nothing. But among those that profess Christ there are also others, such as have received Christ in faith and have by Him been renewed in heart and mind. They receive spiritual power from Him continually and are thus enabled to carry out the will of the heavenly Father in their lives. The performing of the will of God thus becomes the criterion by which the sincerity of their discipleship is tested. Christ calls God "My Father." In His deep humility He is not seeking His own glory. He has the right to bear the name Lord and to demand obedience to His will. But He impresses upon His hearers the sacredness of the revealed will of God; that should find expression in their lives.
Christ's warning of Judgment: V. 22. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works? V. 23. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity. In that day, in the great, dread Day of Judgment, when the thoughts and desires of mind and heart will be revealed, there will be many, a large number, that will make a plea in their behalf. They will point to all kinds of notable deeds that have the appearance of miracles. But whether this be prophecy, or whether it be the casting out of devils, or whether it be some other wonderful work; also whether the miracles were expressly made in His name and ostensibly in His power, — all this will avail them nothing. Though they repeat the phrase "in Thy name," clinging to it as to a forlorn hope that might soften the heart of the Judge, that very expression will prove their undoing. For He, on His part, also has a profession to make. Perhaps they are sincere in thinking that He ought to own them, acknowledge them, but He is of a different opinion. He finds it necessary to expose the hollowness of their confession. Never, during their whole career, while they were deluding themselves and leading others into delusion, while they were using His name in vain in the attempt to promote their gain, has He known them. They have never become His intimates, their hearts were always far from Him, they had no faith. To Him, therefore, all their works prove them to be workers of iniquity, having used His name without right or warrant in carrying out something which He had neither commanded nor sanctioned. Their sentence is brief, but terrible. "Depart from Me," Matt. 25, 41; be separated forever from the salvation, the glory and beauty which intimacy with Me implies. For in blessed union with Christ all is heaven; in separation from Him there is nothing but damnation.
A concluding parable: V. 24. Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; v. 25. and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock, V. 26. And every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand; v. 27. and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it. A majestic utterance referring to the entire discourse with all its lessons, intended, as they were, to teach wisdom and understanding in the lives of His disciples, as an outflow of the intimacy with Him and the power of faith. Jesus distinguishes only two classes of men, as in other parables and sayings, Matt. 12, 30. He here makes the distinction, the comparison which holds true even in this life, with regard to the foundation which men select for the structure of their faith and life. He bases His statement on the maxim that a proper hearing implies the obedience in life, Jas. 1, 22-25. There is the wise, the prudent, the thoughtful, the long-headed man, that uses his reason properly, that carefully weighs all propositions and selects judiciously what is suited to his purpose. When he builds a house, he lays the foundation firmly in solid ground, if possible, on rocky soil. Note the eloquence of the description, to denote the suddenness and the fury of the enraged elements: rain on the roof, river against the foundation, wind against the walls, — but the house stood, its foundation was laid in the heart of the mighty rock. But there is also the foolish man, whom Christ mentions only in deep sorrow, the man who neglects prudence and common sense. He may build a house whose outward appearance differs in no way from that of the wise man. But he neglects to look to the proper foundation; he chooses a place with loose sand, near the bed of a mountain torrent. And again the elements were unleashed. Down came the vehement rain; down rushed the mighty river; fiercely blew the winds. And in this case they not merely fell upon, like an enemy or a wild beast which may yet be put to flight, but they struck down that house, and the ruin of it was complete. Nothing was left of its proud beauty. Prudent is he that does, that fulfils, the sayings of Christ, and thus lays the foundation of his spiritual life in a rock. He will stand firm in the midst of all assaults of the enemies. Not that his doing, his obedience, make him firm. But his life is rooted in his faith in Christ; from Him he daily gains new strength; by faith he conquers and is more than conqueror, Rom. 8, 37. But foolish is he that hears the words of Christ with his ears only, but presents no evidence of the works that flow out of Christian obedience. He thereby furnishes proof that faith either never gained a foothold in his life or has died out of his heart. Tribulation and temptation will find such a one unprepared. Without faith in Christ he has no hold and will perish most miserably.
The impression made by Christ's sermon: V. 28. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine. V. 29. For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Christ's manner of teaching differed from that of the scribes, for they taught by authority only, droning out the traditions and precepts and injunctions of a Law which was, in effect, dead in their own life. Christ spoke with authority, His was the authority to teach all men to the end of time. Therefore this power also became evident in His teaching, carrying His hearers along with the force of a conviction greater than that of the polished orator. He spoke the words of eternal truth. Small wonder that the people were filled with surprise and admiration, and that they voiced their astonishment at once. Here was a teacher with a message. Not only were His statements clear, His examples apt, His arguments strong, His presence compelling, but He had a mission as teacher and must be heard: He preached the Word of God as His own.
Summary. Jesus warns against uncharitable judging, urges perseverance in prayer, points out the safe way to heaven, shows how to distinguish false prophets and guard against false discipleship, and concludes His powerful sermon with an admonition to keep His sayings.