Adam Clarke Commentary
Our Lord warns men against rash judgment and uncharitable censures, Matthew 7:1-5. Shows that holy things must not be profaned, Matthew 7:6; gives encouragement to fervent persevering prayer, Matthew 7:7-11. Shows how men should deal with each other, Matthew 7:12. Exhorts the people to enter in at the strait gate, Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14; to beware of false teachers, who are to be known by their fruits, Matthew 7:15-20. Shows that no man shall be saved by his mere profession of Christianity, however specious, Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23. The parable of the wise man who built his house upon a rock, Matthew 7:24, Matthew 7:25. Of the foolish man who built his house, without a foundation, on the sand, Matthew 7:26, Matthew 7:27. Christ concludes his sermon, and the people are astonished at his doctrine, Matthew 7:28, Matthew 7:29.
Judge not, that ye be not judged - These exhortations are pointed against rash, harsh, and uncharitable judgments, the thinking evil, where no evil seems, and speaking of it accordingly. The Jews were highly criminal here, and yet had very excellent maxims against it, as may be seen in Schoettgen. This is one of the most important exhortations in the whole of this excellent sermon. By a secret and criminal disposition of nature, man endeavors to elevate himself above others, and, to do it more effectually, depresses them. His jealous and envious heart wishes that there may be no good quality found but in himself, that he alone may be esteemed. Such is the state of every unconverted man; and it is from this criminal disposition, that evil surmises, rash judgments, precipitate decisions, and all other unjust procedures against our neighbor, flow.
For with what judgment - He who is severe on others will naturally excite their severity against himself. The censures and calumnies which we have suffered are probably the just reward of those which we have dealt out to others.
And why beholdest thou the mote - Καρφος might be translated the splinter: for splinter bears some analogy to beam, but mote does not. I should prefer this word (which has been adopted by some learned men) on the authority of Hesychius, who is a host in such matters; Καρφος, κεραια ξυλου λεπτη, Karphos is a thin piece of wood, a splinter. It often happens that the faults which we consider as of the first enormity in others are, to our own iniquities, as a chip is, when compared to a large beam. On one side, self-love blinds us to ourselves; and, on the other, envy and malice give us piercing eyes in respect of others. When we shall have as much zeal to correct ourselves, as we have inclination to reprove and correct others, we shall know our own defects better than now we know those of our neighbor. There is a caution very similar to this of our Lord given by a heathen: -
Cum tua praevideas oculis mala lippus inunctis:
Cur in amicorum vitiis tam cernis acutum,
Quam aut aquila, aut serpens Epidaurius?
Hor. Sat. lib. 1. sat. 3. l. 25-27
"When you can so readily overlook your own wickedness, why are you more clear-sighted than the eagle or serpent of Epidaurus, in spying out the failings of your friends?"
But the saying was very common among the Jews, as may be seen in Lightfoot.
Or how wilt thou say - That man is utterly unfit to show the way of life to others who is himself walking in the way of death.
Thou hypocrite - A hypocrite, who professes to be what he is not, (viz. a true Christian), is obliged, for the support of the character he has assumed, to imitate all the dispositions and actions of a Christian; consequently he must reprove sin, and endeavor to show an uncommon affection for the glory of God. Our Lord unmasks this vile pretender to saintship, and shows him that his hidden hypocrisy, covered with the garb of external sanctity, is more abominable in the sight of God than the openly professed and practised iniquity of the profligate.
In after times, the Jews made a very bad use of this saying: "I wonder," said Rabbi Zarphon, "whether there be any in this age that will suffer reproof? If one say to another, Cast out the mote out of thine eye, he is immediately ready to answer, Cast out the beam that is in thine own eye."
This proverbial mode of speech the Gloss interprets thus: "Cast out? קסים kisim, the mote, that is, the little sin, that is in thy hand: to which he answered, Cast out the great sin that is in thine. So they could not reprove, because all were sinners." See Lightfoot.
Give not that which is holy - Το αγιον, the holy or sacred thing; i.e. any thing, especially, of the sacrificial kind, which had been consecrated to God. The members of this sentence should be transposed thus: -
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,
Lest they turn again and rend you:
Neither cast ye your pearls before swine,
Lest they trample them under their feet
The propriety of this transposition is self-evident. There are many such transpositions as these, both in sacred and profane writers. The following is very remarkable: -
"I am black but comely;
"As the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon."
"I am black as the tents of Kedar,
"Comely as the curtains of Solomon."
See many proofs of this sort of writing in Mr. Wakefield's Commentary.
As a general meaning of this passage, we may just say: "The sacrament of the Lord's supper, and other holy ordinances which are only instituted for the genuine followers of Christ, are not to be dispensed to those who are continually returning like the snarling ill-natured dog to their easily predominant sins of rash judgment, barking at and tearing the characters of others by evil speaking, back biting and slandering; nor to him who, like the swine, is frequently returning to wallow in the mud of sensual gratifications and impurities."
Ask - seek - knock - These three words include the ideas of want, loss, and earnestness.
Ask: turn, beggar at, the door of mercy; thou art destitute of all spiritual good, and it is God alone who can give it to thee; and thou hast no claim but what his mercy has given thee on itself.
Seek: Thou hast lost thy God, thy paradise, thy soul. - Look about thee - leave no stone unturned there is no peace, no final salvation for thee till thou get thy soul restored to the favor and image of God.
Knock: Be in earnest - be importunate: Eternity is at hand! and, if thou die in thy sins, where God is thou shalt never come.
Ask with confidence and humility.
Seek with care and application.
Knock with earnestness and perseverance.
For every one that asketh receiveth - Prayer is always heard after one manner or other. No soul can pray in vain that prays as directed above. The truth and faithfulness of the Lord Jesus are pledged for its success. - Ye Shall receive - ye Shall find - it Shall be opened. These words are as strongly binding on the side of God, as thou shalt do no murder is on the side of man. Bring Christ's word, and Christ's sacrifice with thee, and not one of Heaven's blessings can be denied thee. See on Luke 11:9; (note).
Or what man is there - whom if his son - Men are exhorted to come unto God, with the persuasion that he is a most gracious and compassionate Parent, who possesses all heavenly and earthly good, knows what is necessary for each of his creatures, and is infinitely ready to communicate that which they need most.
Will he give him a stone? - Will he not readily give him bread if he have it? This was a proverb in other countries; a benefit grudgingly given by an avaricious man is called by Seneca, panem lapidosum, stony bread. Hence that saying in Plautus: Altera manu, fert lapidem, panem ostentat altera. - In one hand he brings a stone, and stretches out bread in the other.
If ye, then, being evil - Πονηροι οντες, who are radically and diabolically depraved, yet feel yourselves led, by natural affection, to give those things to your children which are necessary to support their lives, how much more will your Father who is in heaven, whose nature is infinite goodness, mercy, and grace, give good things - his grace and Spirit (πνευμα αγιον, the Holy Ghost, Luke 11:13;), to them who ask him? What a picture is here given of the goodness of God! Reader, ask thy soul, could this heavenly Father reprobate to unconditional eternal damnation any creature he has made? He who can believe that he has, may believe any thing: but still God Is Love.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men - This is a most sublime precept, and highly worthy of the grandeur and beneficence of the just God who gave it. The general meaning of it is this: "Guided by justice and mercy, do unto all men as you would have them to do to you, were your circumstances and theirs reversed." Yet this saying may be misunderstood. "If the prisoner should ask the judge, 'whether he would be content to be hanged, were he in his case,' he would answer, 'No.' Then, says the prisoner, do as you would be done to. - Neither of them must do as private men; but the judge must do by him as they have publicly agreed: that is, both judge and prisoner have consented to a law, that if either of them steal he shall be hanged." - Selden. None but he whose heart is filled with love to God and all mankind can keep this precept, either in its spirit or letter. Self-love will feel itself sadly cramped when brought within the limits of this precept; but God hath spoken it: it is the spirit and design of the law and the prophets; the sum of all that is laid down in the Sacred Writings, relative to men's conduct toward each other. It seems as if God had written it upon the hearts of all men, for sayings of this kind may be found among all nations, Jewish, Christian, and Heathen. See many examples in Wetstein's notes.
Enter ye in at the strait gate - Our Savior seems to allude here to the distinction between the public and private ways mentioned by the Jewish lawyers. The public roads were allowed to be sixteen cubits broad, the private ways only four. The words in the original are very emphatic: Enter in (to the kingdom of heaven) through This strait gate, δια της στενης πυλης, i.e. of doing to every one as you would he should do unto you; for this alone seems to be the strait gate which our Lord alludes to.
For wide is the gate - And very broad, ευρυχωρος, from ευρυς, broad, and χωρος, a place, a spacious roomy place, that leadeth forward, απαγουσα, into That destruction, εις την απωλειαν, meaning eternal misery; intimating, that it is much more congenial, to the revengeful, covetous heart of fallen man, to take every advantage of another, and to enrich himself at his expense, rather than to walk according to the rule laid down before, by our blessed Lord, and that acting contrary to it is the way to everlasting misery. With those who say it means repentance, and forsaking sin, I can have no controversy. That is certainly a gate, and a strait one too, through which every sinner must turn to God, in order to find salvation. But the doing to every one as we would they should do unto us, is a gate extremely strait, and very difficult, to every unregenerate mind.
Because strait is the gate - Instead of οτι because, I should prefer τι how, which reading is supported by a great majority of the best MSS., versions, and fathers. How strait is that gate! This mode of expression more forcibly points out the difficulty of the way to the kingdom. How strange is it that men should be unwilling to give up their worldly interests to secure their everlasting salvation! And yet no interest need be abandoned, but that which is produced by injustice and unkindness. Reason, as well as God, says, such people should be excluded from a place of blessedness. He who shows no mercy (and much more he who shows no justice) shall have judgment without mercy. James 2:13.
Few there be that find it - The strait gate, στενη πυλη, signifies literally what we call a wicket, i.e. a little door in a large gate. Gate, among the Jews, signifies, metaphorically, the entrance, introduction, or means of acquiring any thing. So they talk of the gate of repentance, the gate of prayers, and the gate of tears. When God, say they, shut the gate of paradise against Adam, He opened to him the gate of repentance. The way to the kingdom of God is made sufficiently manifest - the completest assistance is promised in the way, and the greatest encouragement to persevere to the end is held out in the everlasting Gospel. But men are so wedded to their own passions, and so determined to follow the imaginations of their own hearts, that still it may be said: There are few who find the way to heaven; fewer yet who abide any time in it; fewer still who walk in it; and fewest of all who persevere unto the end. Nothing renders this way either narrow or difficult to any person, but sin. Let all the world leave their sins, and all the world may walk abreast in this good way.
Beware of false prophets - By false prophets we are to understand teachers of erroneous doctrines, who come professing a commission from God, but whose aim is not to bring the heavenly treasure to the people, but rather to rob them of their earthly good. Teachers who preach for hire, having no motive to enter into the ministry but to get a living, as it is ominously called by some, however they may bear the garb and appearance of the innocent useful sheep, the true pastors commissioned by the Lord Jesus, or to whatever name, class or party they may belong, are, in the sight of the heart-searching God, no other than ravenous wolves, whose design is to feed themselves with the fat, and clothe themselves with the fleece, and thus ruin, instead of save, the flock.
Ye shall know them by their fruits - Fruits, in the Scripture and Jewish phraseology, are taken for works of any kind. "A man's works," says one, "are the tongue of his heart, and tell honestly whether he is inwardly corrupt or pure." By these works you may distinguish (επιγνωσεσθε ) these ravenous wolves from true pastors. The judgment formed of a man by his general conduct is a safe one: if the judgment be not favorable to the person, that is his fault, as you have your opinion of him from his works, i.e. the confession of his own heart.
So every good tree - As the thorn can only produce thorns, not grapes; and the thistle, not figs, but prickles; so an unregenerate heart will produce fruits of degeneracy. 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. A man cannot be a saint and a sinner at the same time. Let us remember, that as the good tree means a good heart, and the good fruit, a holy life, and that every heart is naturally vicious; so there is none but God who can pluck up the vicious tree, create a good heart, plant, cultivate, water, and make it continually fruitful in righteousness and true holiness.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit - Love to God and man is the root of the good tree; and from this principle all its fruit is found. To teach, as some have done, that a state of salvation may be consistent with the greatest crimes, (such as murder and adultery in David), or that the righteous necessarily sin in all their best works, is really to make the good tree bring forth bad fruit, and to give the lie to the Author of eternal truth.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit - What a terrible sentence is this against Christless pastors, and Christless hearers! Every tree that produceth not good fruit, εκκοπτεται, is to be now cut down; the act of excision is now taking place: the curse of the Lord is even now on the head and the heart of every false teacher, and impenitent hearer.
Wherefore by their fruits, etc. - This truth is often repeated, because our eternal interests depend so much upon it. Not to have good fruit is to have evil: there can be no innocent sterility in the invisible tree of the heart. He that brings forth no fruit, and he that brings forth bad fruit, are both only fit for the fire.
Not every one - Ου πας, a Hebraism, say some, for no person. It is a Graecism and a Latinism too: ου παντων θεων, not All of the gods, i.e. not Any of the gods, Hom. Odyss. Z. 240. So Terence Sine omni periclo, without All danger, i.e. without Any danger. And Juvenal: Sine omni labe, without All imperfection, i.e. without Any. See more in Mr. Wakefield. The sense of this verse seems to be this: No person, by merely acknowledging my authority, believing in the Divinity of my nature, professing faith in the perfection of my righteousness, and infinite merit of my atonement, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven - shall have any part with God in glory; but he who doeth the will of my Father - he who gets the bad tree rooted up, the good tree planted, and continues to bring forth fruit to the glory and praise of God. There is a good saying among the rabbins on this subject. "A man should be as vigorous as a panther, as swift as an eagle, as fleet as a stag, and as strong as a lion, to do the will of his Creator."
Many will say to me in that day - Εκεινη τη ημερα, in that very day, viz. the day of judgment - have we not prophesied, taught, publicly preached, in thy name; acknowledging thee to be the only Savior, and proclaiming thee as such to others; cast out demons, impure spirits, who had taken possession of the bodies of men; done many miracles, being assisted by supernatural agency to invert even the course of nature, and thus prove the truth of the doctrine we preached?
Will I profess - Ομολογησω, I will fully and plainly tell them, I never knew you - I never approved of you; for so the word is used in many places, both in the Old and New Testaments. You held the truth in unrighteousness, while you preached my pure and holy doctrine; and for the sake of my own truth, and through my love to the souls of men, I blessed your preaching; but yourselves I could never esteem, because you were destitute of the spirit of my Gospel, unholy in your hearts, and unrighteous in your conduct. Alas! alas! how many preachers are there who appear prophets in their pulpits; how many writers, and other evangelical workmen, the miracles of whose labor, learning, and doctrine, we admire, who are nothing, and worse than nothing, before God, because they perform not his will, but their own? What an awful consideration, that a man of eminent gifts, whose talents are a source of public utility, should be only as a way-mark or finger-post in the way to eternal bliss, pointing out the road to others, without walking in it himself!
Depart from me - What a terrible word! What a dreadful separation! Depart from Me! from the very Jesus whom you have proclaimed in union with whom alone eternal life is to be found. For, united to Christ, all is heaven; separated from him, all is hell.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine - That is, the excellent doctrines laid down before in this and the two preceding chapters. There are several parables or similitudes like to this in the rabbins. I shall quote but the two following: -
Rabbi Eleasar said, "The man whose knowledge exceeds his works, to whom is he like? He is like a tree which had many branches, and only a few roots; and, when the stormy winds came, it was plucked up and eradicated. But he whose good works are greater than his knowledge, to what is he like? He is like a tree which had few branches, and many roots; so that all the winds of heaven could not move it from its place." Pirke Aboth.
Elisha, the son of Abuja, said, "The man who studies much in the law, and maintains good works, is like to a man who built a house, laying stones at the foundation, and building brick upon them; and, though many waters come against it, they cannot move it from its place. But the man who studies much in the law, and does not maintain good words, is like to a man who, in building his house, put brick at the foundation, and laid stones upon them, so that even gentle waters shall overthrow that house." Aboth Rab. Nath.
Probably our Lord had this or some parable in his eye: but how amazingly improved in passing through his hands! In our Lord's parable there is dignity, majesty, and point, which we seek for in vain in the Jewish archetype.
I will liken him unto a wise man - To a prudent man - ανδρι φρονιμω, to a prudent man, a man of sense and understanding, who, foreseeing the evil hideth himself, who proposes to himself the best end, and makes use of the proper means to accomplish it. True wisdom consists in getting the building of our salvation completed: to this end we must build on the Rock, Christ Jesus, and make the building firm, by keeping close to the maxims of his Gospel, and having our tempers and lives conformed to its word and spirit; and when, in order to this, we lean on nothing but the grace of Christ, we then build upon a solid rock.
And the rain descended - floods came - winds blew - In Judea, and in all countries in the neighborhood of the tropics, the rain sometimes falls in great torrents, producing rivers, which sweep away the soil from the rocky hills; and the houses, which are built of brick only dried in the sun, of which there are whole villages in the east, literally melt away before those rains, and the land-floods occasioned by them. There are three general kinds of trials to which the followers of God are exposed; and to which, some think, our Lord alludes here: First, those of temporal afflictions, coming in the course of Divine Providence: these may be likened to the torrents of rain. Secondly, those which come from the passions of men, and which may be likened to the impetuous rivers. Thirdly, those which come from Satan and his angels, and which, like tempestuous whirlwinds, threaten to carry every thing before them. He alone, whose soul is built on the Rock of ages, stands all these shocks; and not only stands in, but profits by them.
And every one that heareth - and doeth them not - Was there ever a stricter system of morality delivered by God to man, than in this sermon? He who reads or hears it, and does not look to God to conform his soul and life to it, and notwithstanding is hoping to enter into the kingdom of heaven, is like the fool who built his house on the sand. When the rain, the rivers, and the winds come, his building must fall, and his soul be crushed into the nethermost pit by its ruins. Talking about Christ, his righteousness, merits, and atonement, while the person is not conformed to his word and spirit, is no other than solemn self-deception.
Let it be observed, that it is not the man who hears or believes these sayings of Christ, whose building shall stand, when the earth and its works are burnt up; but the man who Does them.
Many suppose that the law of Moses is abolished, merely because it is too strict, and impossible to be observed; and that the Gospel was brought in to liberate us from its obligations; but let all such know, that in the whole of the old covenant nothing can be found so exceedingly strict and holy as this sermon, which Christ lays down as the rule by which we are to walk. "Then, the fulfilling of these precepts is the purchase of glory." No, it is the Way only to that glory which has already been purchased by the blood of the Lamb. To him that believes, all things are possible.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, etc. - A fine illustration of this may be seen in the case of the fishermen in Bengal, who, in the dry season, build their huts on the beds of sand from which the rivers had retired: but when the rain sets in suddenly; as it often does, accompanied with violent northwest winds, and the waters pour down in torrents from the mountains; in one night, multitudes of these buildings are swept away, and the place where they stood is on the next morning indiscoverable.
The people were astonished - Οι οχλοι, the multitudes; for vast crowds attended the ministry of this most popular and faithful of all preachers. They were astonished at his doctrine. They heard the law defined in such a manner as they had never thought of before; and this sacred system of morality urged home on their consciences with such clearness and authority as they had never felt under the teaching of their scribes and Pharisees. Here is the grand difference between the teaching of scribes and Pharisees, the self-created or men-made ministers, and those whom God sends. The first may preach what is called very good and very sound doctrine; but it comes with no authority from God to the souls of the people: therefore, the unholy is unholy still; because preaching can only be effectual to the conversion of men, when the unction of the Holy Spirit is in it; and as these are not sent by the Lord, therefore they shall not profit the people at all. Jeremiah 23:32.
From one of the royal household of George III., I have received the following anecdote: -
The late Bishop F. of Salisbury having procured a young man of promising abilities to preach before the king, and the young man having, to his lordship's apprehension, acquitted himself well, the Bishop, in conversation with the king afterwards, wishing to get the king's opinion, took the liberty to say, "Does not your majesty think that the young man who had the honor to preach before your majesty, is likely to make a good clergyman, and has this morning delivered a very good sermon?" To which the king, in his blunt manner, hastily replied, "It might have been a good sermon, my lord, for aught I know; but I consider no sermon good that has nothing of Christ in it!"
Having authority - They felt a commanding power and authority in his word, i.e. his doctrine. His statements were perspicuous; his exhortations persuasive; his doctrine sound and rational; and his arguments irresistible. These they never felt in the trifling teachings of their most celebrated doctors, who consumed their own time, and that of their disciples and hearers, with frivolous cases of conscience, ridiculous distinctions, and puerile splittings of controversial hairs - questions not calculated to minister grace to the hearers.
Several excellent MSS. and almost all the ancient versions read, και οι Φαρισαιοι, and the Pharisees. He taught them as one having authority, like the most eminent and distinguished teacher, and not as the scribes and Pharisees, who had no part of that unction which he in its plenitude possessed. Thus ends a sermon the most strict, pure, holy, profound, and sublime, ever delivered to man; and yet so amazingly simple is the whole that almost a child may apprehend it! Lord! write all these thy sayings upon our hearts, we beseech thee! Amen.
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