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Matthew 7:3. Mote.—The Greek noun so translated means a stalk, or twig. The illustration seems to have been a familiar one among the Jews, and a proverb all but verbally identical is found as a saying of Rabbi Tarphon (Plumptre). Beam.—A graphic and almost droll representation of a comparatively great fault. The word means a log, joist, or rafter (Morison).
Matthew 7:6. Give not, etc.—The connection between this verse and the preceding section is not quite obvious. It seems to be this—although evil and censorious judgment is to be avoided, discrimination is needful. The Christian must be judicious, not judicial (Carr). Dogs.—Among the Jews dogs were unclean, and, as a rule, fierce and undomesticated. They are the self-appointed scavengers of the streets; and while engaged in their scavenging operations, or while lying basking in the sun, touch-me-not is the outstanding feature of their character (Morison). Swine.—The reference is to wild swine; for the animal was undomesticated among the Jews (ibid.).
Matthew 7:12. Therefore.—The practical result of what has been said both in regard to judgment and to prayer is mutual charity. The thought of the Divine judgment teaches forbearance; the thought of the Divine goodness teaches kindness (Carr).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 7:1-40.7.12
True brotherhood.—That duty towards our neighbour which is dealt with as far back as Matthew 5:38-40.5.48, is again discussed here; but from a somewhat different side. There we had the general principle, that all men should be loved. Here we have a word of caution as to the exercise of that love. Not everything that seems desirable is to be attempted in that line. Not every way of attempting it is pleasing to God.
I. Not everything to be done.—This is true, on the one hand, on the score of faithfulness and plain speaking. As a general rule this is binding on us in regard to our neighbour. Even the old law recognised this (Leviticus 19:17). If we can in any way help it, it is not being neighbourly to let our brother ruin himself. But there are cases in which to attempt to prevent this would not be profitable to him; and in which, therefore, such an attempt is not incumbent on us. One such case is where our doing so would have the appearance of sitting in “judgment” upon him (Matthew 7:1). That would have the very effect we desire to avoid. Instead of leading him to see his own sin and consequent danger, it would rather set him on looking for ours. He would “judge” us, in fact (Matthew 7:1-40.7.2), instead of judging himself; and would rather, so, be encouraged by us, than discouraged, in sin. Not to say, also, that this very anxiety of ours to be “judging” him would show our incapacity for the task. To be so very keen about our brother’s fault is to be ignorant of our own. To make so much of his “mote” is to make too little—at least an equal sin—of our “beam” (Matthew 7:3). Unless, therefore, you would make a double muddle of all in this matter, begin with thyself (Matthew 7:4-40.7.5). Rectifying thyself is sometimes the only way—it is always the best way—of effectually rectifying thy neighbour. The same caution applies, next, in the way of kindness and love. Here also the general rule is abundantly plain. Why is that which is “holy” entrusted to us? That we may make it known in our turn (1 Peter 4:10; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 10:8). Why are the precious “pearls” of truth placed in our hand? That we may give them—that we may “fling” (?) them—to others in turn. But there are marked exceptions, as there were before, to this general rule. There are those who, like “dogs,” do what you will, always “return” to their filth (2 Peter 2:22). It is only to profane what is “holy” to offer it here. There are others, like swine, who show by their actions, by their wallowing in the mire, that they cannot appreciate what is precious. No abundance of it, therefore, can be otherwise than offensive to them. Thus to waste our love, therefore—thus to do harm by it—is not incumbent on us. Rather, in fact, it is forbidden to us by the very nature of love.
II. Not every way to be followed.—Not every way, on the one hand, when we do feel that we ought to caution and warn. This on account of our relation to God. Do we not know, on our part, what God is to us? Always ready to listen and grant? (Matthew 7:7-40.7.8). More ready by far to do so, in His perfection, than we are, in our imperfection, even to those we love the best? (Matthew 7:9-40.7.11). Let us seek, therefore, on our part, so to be in our turn. Not warning men, like Elijah once, in impatience, as though altogether beyond hope (1 Kings 19:10). Nor yet like Jonah (Matthew 4:1, etc.), in anger, as though those he preached to were, in any case, too bad to be spared. For the worst we deal with are, after all, only “dogs” and “swine” in a figure. In God’s sight they are men like ourselves (cf. Acts 14:15; James 5:17). God, in past days, has often enlightened and converted men as brutal and as stubborn as any before us. Let Him, therefore, in this matter, be both our example and motive. In reasoning with others, let us be as full of hope and as full of love as Himself. That is to be like Him—that is to please Him as well. Also, next, when we refrain from speaking, let it be with discrimination and sympathy. Our relation to men shows this to be the only right way of so doing. Before we do thus refrain, let us be quite sure that we have sufficient ground for so doing. And, to be sure of this, let us try to put ourselves in our brother man’s case. This is the old rule about doing our duty towards our neighbour (Matthew 22:39-40.22.40). This is Christ’s rule as well (Matthew 7:22). No better rule can be found. No juster one. It carries its equity on its face. No handier one. It is always within reach. No simpler one. Anyone can apply it. Let it be applied then in this case as well as in others. Never refrain from speaking where such refraining—supposing you and your brother to have exchanged places—would seem a hardship to you. Stand where he stands, in short, and then do as you would have him do in that case.
Here, again, we see as before:—
1. How admirable is the wisdom of Christ.—Who else ever thought of such cautions as these? In what other teaching than His could the necessity for them arise? And who else could have seen such protection against the dangers involved in that simple rule which had been taught and studied for so many centuries past?
2. How admirable is the mercy of God.—Even this searching wisdom cannot see any blemish in it. If only man were to man what God is to man, much of the sin of the world would be gone. Also some of the worst of its griefs. So Christ teaches us here.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 7:1-40.7.6. Cautions against rash judgments.—
I. The caution given.—“Judge not.” The whole meaning of the passage depends on the meaning of the first word—“Judge” (κρίνετε), which has various renderings. Sometimes it means,
(1) to condemn (John 3:17);
(2) to pronounce guilty (Romans 2:1-45.2.3; Romans 14:22);
(3) to proceed against, accuse, arraign (John 12:48; Acts 23:6; Acts 24:21);
(4) to pass sentence of condemnation (John 7:51);
(5) but there is another meaning which doubtless is the meaning in the text—to express an unfavourable opinion of person or persons—censoriousness. Our Saviour does not forbid a righteous judgment. The judicial element is in our very nature and we cannot avoid it. Judges, preachers, teachers, parents, etc., must condemn the wrong and publicly censure it. But the great Teacher cautions earnestly against judging with a censorious or unkindly spirit—the spirit of animosity and illiberality and uncharitableness.
II. The reasons adduced.
1. It provokes retaliation.—That is, all such rash judgments will meet with due retribution (Matthew 7:2). We can never escape this law of reciprocity. A man receives back what he gives. Haman was hanged on his own gallows. Ishmael’s hands were against everybody’s, and every man’s hand against him. “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it.” Every act has its consequences. This retributive principle is:
(1) In kind. Kindness begets kindness; but censoriousness begets censoriousness.
(2) In quantity. Nature gives back in proportion as we give; society gives back as we give to it.
2. It condemns ourselves (Matthew 7:3).—Is not the disposition to be severe and censorious on others indicative of greater evil in ourselves? What a severe judgment David pronounced upon the man described by Nathan! But who was the man? “Thou art the man.” The Pharisee’s judgment on the publican was very severe; but who was he that went his way home justified?
III. The duty enjoined.—“Give not that which is holy,” etc. Though we are cautioned against rash and censorious judgment, yet we are urged in the passage to discriminate between what is good and evil. The lesson is one of discretion in dealing with certain classes of people—as to admission to the sacred privileges and functions of the church, and as to the reality of their Christian profession and the sincerity of their spiritual experience. Notice:—
1. The prudence required in church government.
2. The proper reserve or safeguard in the kingdom of God.—Do not admit the “dogs” and “swine” to your spiritual communion, for you will only infuriate them. The dogs will bark and snarl at everything holy and sacred, and the “swine” will only indulge in sensuality. “Dogs” and “swine” admitted into the church do more harm by far than out-and-out infidels.—J. Harries.
A twofold warning.—I. Against making too much of the evil we see, or think we see, in others (Matthew 7:1-40.7.5).
II. Against making too little of it (Matthew 7:6).—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 7:1. Rash judging condemned.—
I. Consider this prohibition in its relation to the scribes and Pharisees.—
1. They had a great deal of pride and self-conceit, as if it belonged to them to be dictators to all others (Luke 18:11).
2. They had in their minds a great contempt of, and a great uncharitableness towards, all other persons that were not of their own sect and party (Luke 18:9).
3. Agreeably to this inward disposition of their minds, they were very censorious of others; making faults where there were none, and aggravating them where they were.
4. When they had made this rash judgment in their own minds, they did not content themselves to contemplate it there, but took all opportunities to vent it in their words and actions; carrying themselves haughtily and superciliously to others (Isaiah 65:5).
5. In all companies they were the dictators, the reprovers, and monitors. It was a crime for a man to see with his own eyes and not with theirs.
6. In admonishing and reproving their neighbour, their aim was not so much his edification and amendment of life, as the gaining him over to their party; or if they could not compass that, the running him down, and exposing him.
II. The true meaning of the prohibition.—
1. Note some lawful practices which might seem to fall under this prohibition.
(1) We are not to understand that the office of judges or magistrates was intended to be prohibited by these words. Our Saviour was now preaching to a multitude of private persons, showing them their duty.
(2) Nor is the authority of any other superiors over their inferiors designed to be taken away or encroached upon. Parents may, and ought to, administer admonition to their children; masters and mistresses, and overseers, may, by authority, judge of their servants, etc.
(3) Nor is it designed that any man should not use a judgment of discretion as far as relates to the conduct of himself and his affairs (1 John 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).
(4) Far less are they guilty of the breach of this rule, who, in the execution of their office, do in ever so severe terms, exclaim against vice in general (2 Timothy 4:1; Titus 2:15).
(5) Nor are they guilty of the breach of this rule, who, with a spirit of meekness, and from a principle of charity, and with a design to reform, and not to expose, perform the duty of admonishing and rebuking the offending brother (Leviticus 19:17; Luke 17:3).
2. The evil forbidden is censoriousness, i.e. a love to find fault; and this has commonly some bitter root of vice from which it proceeds; such as pride and vanity, malice and envy, resentment and revenge, cruelty, or delighting in mischief, though often it flows from mere custom and thoughtlessness.
(1) In this censorious spirit there is always a secret joy and gladness to find fault; whereas in a good man there is always the quite contrary temper.
(2) The censorious man is forward to judge without any obligation from his office; perhaps without any clearness of evidences, upon some idle stories, or bare suspicions, surmises, and suggestions; whereas a charitable man is very unwillingly drawn into any such employ.
(3) He has a strong bias and inclination to find his neighbour guilty; accepts of very slender proof of anything that tends to his defamation, sometimes makes up what is wanting in fact, with his own malicious suggestions and fruitful invention.
(4) He usurps the ascendant in all companies.
(5) He allows himself an uncharitable sharpness in censuring other men’s faults; never reflecting on the frailty of human nature in general, nor his own errors and follies in particular.
(6) He is not contented to judge and condemn the evil actions of his neighbour; but commonly adds some aggravating remarks and aggravations of his own, with an intent to show with what an evil spirit and intention he did them. He enters upon God’s prerogative, and judges of his neighbour’s heart and thoughts.
(7) Another character of this judging, censorious temper is that the person in whom it resides never keeps it to himself; he is impatient till he sets it abroad.
(8) He endeavours to fix the crime of every single person upon his whole party, and to load any opinion which he has a mind to blacken with all the evil consequences that can be drawn from the errors and follies of any of those that maintain it.
(9) This spirit of rash and censorious judgment is near akin to schism in the church, sedition in the state, and a downright spirit of persecution.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
On judging.—If there be one thing more injurious to the harmonies and the best charm of life than another it is the habit of judging. The world is full of unjust judgments. Where is the mischief? What matter?
I. If we have any attachment to the gospel of Jesus Christ it ought to matter on this ground—that without any sufficient cause we think less kindly of a fellow-mortal.—It must be allowed, of course, that of many we are bound to think severely; though that in itself is a calamity, and by every follower of Jesus should be felt to be such. But in this case there is no certain or sufficient need. “Where’s the harm?” There’s the harm. Two children of the common Father, two travellers on the common road, two human beings, the pathos of whose life should of itself create a common regard, are unbrothered by an unnecessary and an unjust judgment. This is a habit quickly formed. You will find men, comparatively young, who can hardly indulge in any language but that of depreciation.
II. A soul of this species looks uncommonly lost.—To see meanness everywhere; to suspect and asperse everything; to detract from and to depreciate; to have no great enthusiasms, no great reverences, no admiration, no spontaneous and whole-hearted approval—the soul of a weasel is a better and larger thing than that.
III. Even if we were commanded to judge, we cannot judge.—What, beyond broadest facts, do I know of your life, or you of mine?
IV. There is something so private, so sacredly private, about every life, that this kind of thing should be felt as both irreverent and impertinent.—I am no more at liberty to pass gratuitous judgments upon another, I have no more personal right to enter those chambers, than I have to enter another man’s house.
V. Our hands are not clean enough for this kind of work.—There is a fine touch of humour in the Saviour’s saying here. A fellow with a joist—a huge rafter—in his eye, so anxious—so benevolently anxious—to extract a tiny particle of floating dust from the eye of another! It is ridiculous. It is sad too.—Jas. Thew.
Unseen Virtues.—To give an instance which the preacher knows to be an actual fact: A merchant of his acquaintance was thought to be very selfish with his money. He was known to be very rich, and lived something like a rich man; yet when asked for subscriptions he gave always a small sum—he gave £5 when his neighbours thought he ought to give £
20. He was, therefore, very selfish and miserly, and bore a nickname in consequence. Everybody was looking at this mote which seemed like a beam. This went on for years, and he was generally disliked. One of his neighbours, who respected him on all other points, was determined to bottom the matter. He learned with difficulty, and after careful inquiry, that during all these years this much-abused man was supporting handsomely a large family of poor relatives. He educated them well, and put them out in life with no niggard hand. They lived in another place; no one, not even his intimate friends, knew; he never spoke of it; but he did it for years. The same inquirer found, too, that if a real case of benevolence were put before this rich man, and he were told reasonably what he ought to give, the rich man often gave it. So here was a man whom all men were abusing, because they did not know enough about him.—R. W. Hiley, D.D.
Matthew 7:1-40.7.2. Charity in thought and speech.—The meaning of our Lord becomes clear enough when we turn to St. Luke’s words, and find that our Lord there adds, as if to guard against misapprehension, “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.” We cannot help criticising the conduct of others, but we can guard against the cruel, censorious temper which pronounces off-hand upon the misdoings of a neighbour. What are the reasons urged in the gospel for the suppression of this temper?
I. There is the motive given us in the text: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” “Condemn not, that ye be not condemned.” It is a thought, which ought to give us pause as we scatter our reckless verdicts on the doings of our fellow-men, that not only will God bring all that we ourselves do into judgment, but He makes us the authors of the very standard by which He is trying us now and will try us hereafter.
II. The second reason is to be found in those words which appear to have been so often on the lips of our Lord, and to have been, indeed, a constant refrain of His teaching, “many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”—It has been well said of those words that they must be meant to infuse a wholesome element of scepticism or diffidence into our present estimates of human character and conduct. St. Paul says: “Judge nothing before the time.” That does not mean that we are to suspend our critical faculty, to form no opinions about anything or anybody; but he warns us that all our judgments are provisional as well as fallible, and they proceed upon imperfect data. They are arrived at by observers blinded more or less by partiality or prejudice. The great tribunal before which we must all stand may reverse them.
III. I pass to a third reason for merciful treatment of our neighbours. It is that which follows the text as a searching argumentum ad hominem, applicable to us all.—“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,” &c. It is very certain that growth in self-knowledge is the best of all cures for self-confidence, and it is only the self-confident, the self-satisfied, who care to judge their neighbours most harshly. That man is most merciful to his neighbour who is least merciful to himself.
IV. According to St. Luke, our Lord prefaced His warning against censorious judgments by the precept: “Be ye, therefore, merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” This is, after all, the great motive for forbearance, as this is also its great reward—likeness to God.—Canon Duckworth.
Matthew 7:2. The give and take of life.—Christ says, in effect, that what you take to life determines what you get from it. What you see in the universe will be the reflection of your own nature. Apply the text:—
I. To the young while under the discipline and processes of their education.—Nay, to intellectual culture generally, whether in young or old. Bring evil habits, sloth, negligence, &c., instead of diligence, patience, the desire to know the truth and to accomplish your work, and what will be the result? You brought not the key of industry. Consequently the door will not open, and you carry away no spoil.
II. To the national and social life of the people.—e.g. Let the well-to-do and the educated keep all their good things to themselves, measuring out to the poor only neglect, and insolence. What will be the result? Illustration, French Revolution.
III. To our relations with the kingdom of God.—Whether the believer is going to have a life full of spiritual triumph and satisfaction, or one only meagre and barren, depends on the measure you mete out towards God and the spiritual world.—J. Brierley, B.A.
The cynical critic.—If he chooses to fight with a tomahawk, he will be scalped some day, and the bystanders will not lament profusely.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 7:3-40.7.5. The chip and the beam.—The case has only to be stated in order to carry the inference that he who has the large obstruction in his eye should first get rid of it, so that he may be fit to operate on his brother’s eye. In other words, a man should have his own errors and faults corrected in order that he may be able, first, to see clearly, and then, to correct firmly and wisely, the errors and faults of others.
I. It is a delicate operation to correct the faults of other men.—It may be likened to the feat of taking a chip of wood, a hair, or an insect’s wing out of an inflamed eye. A clumsy operator may easily make things worse. So may a clumsy or unkind censor offend his brother, and do no good, but rather harm. All the greater is the delicacy if one undertakes the task as a volunteer. Something might be said of the risk that attends all human judgment of the conduct of other men. It is not often that one knows accurately and completely the outward facts, and one never quite knows the temptation resisted or yielded to, and the inward motive, or the commanding and determining one among a group of motives, which influenced the action under review.
II. Self-ignorance and self-conceit incapacitate one for performing this operation.—The case indicated by our Lord is that of one who is insensible of his own faultiness, yet presumes to deal with the faultiness of others; and He addresses such a person by the strong term of disapproval, “hypocrite,” which He often applied to the scribes and Pharisees. Literally, it would be impossible for one who had even a small chip of wood in his eye to be unaware of it. The delicacy of the organ would produce acute annoyance. But, alas! one may so destroy the delicacy of conscience as to go about with a great fault obvious to every one, and yet forget it, and suppose that no one else can see it. It is a false zeal which flies at extraneous evil and spares that which is in our own homes, our own hearts and lives.
III. An honest Christian reserves his strictest judgment for himself.—Self-love will suggest excuses, and even tempt a man to ignore his own faults, or, at all events, to change their names; but a supreme love of righteousness, such as ought to possess the Christian mind, keeps conscience at work, and enjoins self-judgment and self-correction. “Have fervent charity among yourselves, for charity covereth a multitude of sins.” Such was the rule for the early Christians, and it is as much in force as ever.—D. Fraser, D.D.
Matthew 7:3. The mote and the beam.—We look at our neighbour’s errors with a microscope, and at our own through the wrong end of a telescope. We have two sets of weights and measures; one for home use and the other for foreign. Every vice has two names, and we call it by the flattering and minimising one when we commit it, and by the ugly one when our neighbour does it. Everybody can see the hump on his friend’s shoulders, but it takes some effort to see our own.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 7:5. Casting out the mote.—A blind guide is bad enough, but a blind oculist is a still more ridiculous anomaly.—Ibid.
Judging: true and false.—I. The first branch of the contrary duty to rash judgment is to employ our censoriousness first and chiefly upon ourselves: “First cast out the beam out of thine own eye.”
1. The more time we spend at home, the less we have to squander away abroad.
2. The better acquainted we are with our own sin and folly, we shall be so much the more charitable to the errors of others.
3. The better we are acquainted with our own sins, we shall be so much the freer from pride and vanity, which is the great cause of rash judgments.
II. The second branch of it is to look charitably on the actions of our neighbour, and not be too sharp-sighted in spying out his small faults.
III. A third branch is that we perform the friendly office of monitors to our neighbour himself, instead of exposing him to others.
IV. The fourth branch is that in administering our admonitions we use prudence not to throw them away where they will do hurt, but to contrive to give them when our neighbour is in the best temper and disposition to receive them kindly, and to make the best use of them.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 7:6. The dogs and the swine.—It is not an easy thing to be morally and spiritually useful to other men. Christian usefulness requires careful discrimination of what is fitting or unfitting, and a power of reserve as well as a faculty of speech. Our Saviour did not call men by opprobrious names. It would, indeed, be a harsh mode of speaking to stigmatise men as dogs and swine, as vile and stupid animals, but it is quite another thing to introduce such creatures in order to give point to an illustration of what would be unbecoming and unsuitable in the delivery of sacred truth to profane persons. The first case supposed is that of a priest or Levite, who, on leaving the temple, observed one of the ever-hungry dogs that prowled about the city of Jerusalem, but were never admitted within the gates of the sanctuary. Forgetting all considerations of manners and propriety, he returned into the court, took a portion of flesh which had been on the altar of burnt offering, and threw it to the dog. Such an action would violate the Divine law which assigned the flesh of the offerings to the priests, and it would indicate gross disrespect and want of the sense of fitness. The other case supposed is that of a lavish rich man, who for some whim, or intending a practical joke, threw pearls, as if they were seeds, before a herd of swine. The swine in Palestine never were tame creatures, as with us. Though in some parts of the country they were kept in herds, they were by the Jewish law unclean animals, and disallowed as food for man. Accordingly, they were at the most only half-tamed; and the genuine wild boar has always haunted the valley of the Jordan. Now, if one should cast pearls in the way supposed before those animals, they might rush for what seemed to be grain, since they are always voracious, but, quickly discovering the hoax, would trample on the pearls, as pigs commonly put their feet into and upon their food; and, not improbably an enraged boar would rend the foolish man who had played this dangerous game, by a side upward stroke of his tusk, as the manner of such creatures is. Extreme instances are chosen in order to put a much-needed lesson in a strong light. But what is the lesson? It cannot be that Christians are never to press the gospel on an indifferent, unsympathetic, or even hostile audience. In that case it would contradict all those counsels and charges which require a fearless and even an aggressive testimony to the name of Jesus; and it would be at variance with the example of our Lord and His Apostles, who preached the word in the face of angry opposition.—D. Fraser, D.D.
Reverence and discretion.—The positive lesson conveyed in this metaphorical saying of Jesus is one of reverence and discretion. We understand it thus:—
I. As to the preaching of the gospel.—While the preacher is not to evade difficulty or shrink from opposition or personal danger, he is to consult decorum and opportunity so far as not to expose names and things that are sacred, to open and egregious contempt. On this principle one is not to address religious truth to a drunkard in his cups, or to him who sits in the scorner’s chair. Open-air preaching, too, requires very especially to be placed under this rule of Christ. If conducted at fit places and times it is not merely an allowable, but a highly commendable practice; but the question of fitness is of far more importance than inexperienced preachers are aware.
II. As to statements of spiritual experience.—In this matter Christian men are apt to fall into one or other of two opposite extremes. Many pass through life with hardly a word, even to their pastors or their nearest friends, which indicates that they have received any spiritual benefit or have any inward experience of the grace of God. This is the one extreme of unreasonable reticence. On the other hand, a good many talk too much about themselves, and will even volunteer before indiscriminate assemblies an account of their conversion, and of their great peace and joy in believing. This is the opposite, the egotistical extreme. Between these extremes the wise and humble Christian ought to steer his course. He must consider his company and his opportunity.
III. As to the admission to sacred privileges and functions in the church.—The confusion into which Christian society has fallen makes it difficult for the most faithful churches to apply the sound principle of the separation of the holy from the unclean. Churches that have lost or surrendered the power of self-discipline enfeeble discipline in other churches also. But none the less does it remain a sacred duty to warn from the Lord’s table the carnally minded and such as do not discern the Lord’s body, and never knowingly to admit to church privilege or office any who are of impure or intemperate habits.—Ibid.
Perverted judgments.—I think it would not be untrue to say that on the right interpretation of this verse hangs our true understanding of the whole of the chapter. And yet I venture to think that the ordinary signification attached to the words will not satisfy any of us if we reflect. Take this thing judgment, what is behind it? Prejudice! Yes, and a hundred other things. It is not only prejudice which is like the beam in the eye, but also jealousy, and envy, and our own indolence. What Christ warns us against are the dogs within ourselves. He says, “You have capacity, but take care that that capacity is under righteous rule, take care it does not fall into the power of the dogs, the passions within you, which will trample that very faculty under their feet, for if it does so you imperil yourself.” There are two powers of judgment we may exercise in the world, or rather, for the purpose of illustration, we may select two.
I. There are our intellectual judgments.—Is it not a fact that all those who have reflected upon the operations of the human mind, and the evidences of that operation in the world, have reminded us that we are very seldom able to exercise judgment under the influence of what they call the true light of reason? There is a bias, a bias belonging to every race and class in the community; every profession has its bias, and you find it a most difficult thing—and this is the reason very often for the perpetuation of abuses—for the class to dissociate itself from its bias, which makes it judge the thing, not on its merits, but always upon the prevailing, predominating bias of that class. Just in the same way there is the bias of home and family. In our life, Christ says, ever coming to impair the calm, intellectual judgment of our nature, there lurk these evil passions which tend to pervert, and destroy perhaps, the noble gift which God has given us.
II. If you turn to moral judgments, I think the case becomes clearer. There is nothing in the world which is more open to the power of the wild beast within us than your moral judgment. Your conscience is just as capable of falling into bad hands as your reason is, and when the conscience falls into bad hands it is worse with you than when the reason does! The very justification of all the barbarities of the past has been the conscientiousness of the men who have done them. Thomas Lynch says, “We all of us need a conscience in order to keep a conscience.” Catch the spirit of Christ! I said that my text was the pivot of the whole chapter. So it is.—Bishop W. B. Carpenter.
Zeal and prudence.—It is bad to hide the treasure in a napkin; it is quite as bad to fling it down without preparation before some people. Jesus Himself locked His lips before Herod, although the curious ruler asked many questions; and we have sometimes to remember that there are people who “will not hear the word,” and who must first “be won without the word.” Heavy rains run off hard-baked earth. It must be softened by a gentle drizzle. Luther once told this fable: “The lion made a great feast, and he invited all the beasts, and among the rest a sow. When all manner of costly dishes were set before the guests, the sow asked, ‘Have you no bran?’ Even so,” said he, “we preachers set forth the most dainty dishes—the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God; but they turn up their snouts, and grub for guilders.” This precept is one side of the truth. The other is the adaptation of the gospel to all men, and the obligation on us to preach it to all. We can only tell most men’s disposition towards it by offering it to them, and we are not to be in a hurry to conclude that men are dogs and swine.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 7:7-40.7.8. Importunity in prayer.—
I. The duty of fervent prayer.—“Ask;” “seek;” “knock.”
1. The occasion of pressing the duty in this place.—Our Saviour had been recommending a great many difficult duties to His disciples. It was very natural for Him to think they would be mightily discouraged, considering how disproportioned their strength was to so difficult a task. Therefore it was necessary to put them in a way whereby they might be enabled to perform it. And herein especially consists the advantage of the Christian morals, beyond the morals of the heathen. They had all the great tasks of duty to undergo, only by their own strength, care, and endeavours, which was a very discouraging, comfortless business; but we Christians are taught where there is supply enough of grace to be had.
2. The nature and exercises of the duty.—It is an intent application of the mind to God, and comprehends the whole commerce which our souls have with Him, whether to pay our homage and adorations to Him, or to thank Him for all His mercies and favours, or to address Him for any mercies and favours to ourselves or others. But that part of it which is chiefly aimed at in this place is the begging of grace, whereby we may be enabled and assisted to discharge the great duties which He requires of us. Consider:
(1) The necessity of grace to enable us to do our duty.
(2) The fitness of prayer towards the obtaining of grace. (a) Grace is a treasure in the hands of God Himself. It is not like silver or gold, to be dug with hard labour out of the bowels of the earth. (b) The right dispositions for the reception of grace are all included in prayer. (c) God is more ready to grant than we are to desire.
3. The circumstance of instancy or frequency.—Taught us in the triple repetition of the precept, ask, seek, knock.
(1) It is not enough that we pray for a good thing once; but we must insist and renew our petitions often, for the words do each of them imply a further degree of industry and diligence. The easiest way of obtaining a thing is to have it for asking. Then the word “seek” implies a further degree of diligence, as when a thing is out of place, and we cannot have it for calling for, then we are at the pains to search and look for it. But the word “knock” signifies a yet greater degree of patience and perseverance in our suit. For it supposes that there may be several difficulties in the way, and that the passage may be shut up, yet that we should patiently wait, and drive on our suit with greater importunity.
(2) Asking, seeking, and knocking imply that we ought not to be discouraged with the difficulties we meet with, either in putting up our prayers to God, or in not receiving quickly a due return of them; but that we should strive to conquer and overcome all difficulties, and be incessant in our prayers to God.
(3) Asking, seeking, and knocking imply a careful watching and embracing the favourable opportunities of devotion, whether these arise from external providences or internal favourable dispositions.
(4) The words ask, seek, and knock import a great assiduity in devotion.
(5) Also that we use our utmost endeavours to obtain what we pray for.
II. Encouragements to this duty, taken from the promises and nature of God.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Prayer.—I. The qualifications of the persons that pray.
(1) They must believe in God’s being, ability, and goodwill.
(2) In the mediation and intercession of Jesus Christ.
(3) That God for Christ’s sake will hear and grant their prayers.
(4) That the good things needed cannot be obtained without prayer.
(1) There must be a care and endeavour to comply with all God’s commandments (1 John 3:22; Proverbs 28:9; Proverbs 15:8).
(2) If conscious of having committed sin, we must repent of it (Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 1:15).
(3) We must set about our prayers with our hearts free from malice, and full of charity to all men (Matthew 5:23, etc.; Mark 11:25).
(4) There must be no bad design in any petition (James 4:3).
II. The matter of our prayers.—
1. The expression. “Every one that asketh receiveth” must be understood only with relation to good things (Matthew 7:11).
2. The promise is limited to such things as are good for us that ask them. For it is possible there may be gifts good in themselves and yet not proper for us in our particular circumstances.
III. The manner of our praying.—
1. Fervent and hearty.
2. With patience and constancy.
3. With humility and submission.
4. With gratitude for former mercies.
5. With vigilance and the diligent use of other lawful means appointed by God.
IV. The grant of our prayers.—God performs this promise, not only when He grants the very thing we pray for, but in other cases when we are not so sensible of it (2 Corinthians 12:7).—Ibid.
The efficacy of prayer.—Jesus Christ did not mean that His followers may have whatever they like. The way to spoil a child is to give it all it asks, and He does not mean to spoil us. Therefore He must thwart our wishes till they run parallel with His will, and are fixed on higher good than earth holds. So, of course, this promise is true only in the spiritual realm, or in regard to the development of the Christian character. We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key of the treasure chamber into our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank, and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor? Whose fault is it that Christian people generally have such scanty portions of the free riches of God?—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 7:7. How to pray.—
1. Be short.—Jesus, by word and example, inculcated this. Persons who sought His aid offered short petitions. Peter in the water, the publican in the temple, and the thief on the cross made short prayers.
II. Be specific.—Prayer that is indefinite does not avail. “My son,” “my daughter,” “my servant,” “my sight”—that is the form of request: and the accompanying charge is, “Bring him to Me.”
III. Be importunate.—The midnight prayer, “Friend, lend me three loaves,” was short, specific, and importunate. And it was answered, not for friendship’s sake, but because of importunity.
IV. Pray with a forgiving spirit.—“When ye stand praying, forgive.” I once attended an ecclesiastical convention, and was entertained in a refined, Christian household. A young lady in the family in a conversation remarked, “I never offer the Lord’s prayer.” On my expressing surprise, she added, “I don’t dare to; I don’t dare pray, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’; I am so afraid that I have not a forgiving spirit that I dare not ask God to forgive me as I forgive others.” I asked, “What do you pray?” She replied, “I say, ‘as we ought to forgive others.’ ”
V. We must do what we can to answer our own prayers.—A little boy heard his father pray that God would feed the poor; and when the prayer was over, he said, “Father, if you will give me the key to the granary door, I will answer your prayer myself.” Frederick Douglass tells that when he was a slave he prayed seven years for liberty, but received no answer; at length it occurred to him that he must answer his own prayer; and when, with his eye fixed on the north star, he prayed with his legs, his prayer was answered. If we pray for the conversion of a child, a scholar, or a friend, we must speak to that person and do what we can to bring him to Christ.
VI. We must expect that our prayers will be answered. (Hebrews 11:6; Matthew 9:29).—L. H. Read, D.D.
Prayer a key.—“Knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
I. Prayer opens to us the door to the knowledge of God.
II. It opens to us the knowledge of ourselves.—“Now mine eye seeth Thee,” etc.
III. It opens to the soul the glory of the natural world (Psalms 92:4-19.92.6).
IV. It opens to us the clearest and most glorious knowledge of heaven.—The Study.
Asking.—Emerson tells how he arranged his first sermon in these divisions:
1. Men are always praying.
2. All their prayers are granted.
3. We must beware, then, what we ask. He had got the theme from the blunt saying of a field labourer, that men are always praying, and all their prayers are heard.—W. M. Macgregor, M.A.
Matthew 7:9-40.7.11. God’s love to us and our duty to Him.—
I. God’s readiness to give good things to His creatures.
1. His goodness to those who pray to Him, is really beyond anything we have to explain it by.—We know nothing in nature of a more sincere and steady love than that of parents to their children, yet it is much allayed and abated by other bad qualities.
2. The promise and encouragement of the text are limited to good things.
3. The promise is not restrained to the elect but extended to all that pray.
II. God loves to be asked and waited upon for good things. Three plain reasons for this:—
1. God’s honour.—Suppose a prince ever so merciful, would it be consistent with his honour to pardon his rebellious subjects if they refused so much as to beg pardon, or to petition for any favour?
2. The good of the persons themselves.
3. The right government of the world.
III. What duties are incumbent upon us, from the knowledge and belief of this paternal affection in God, toward His poor creatures. The loving Him out of gratitude, with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; manifested in
(4) filial reverential fear;
(7) disposition to honour Him;
(8) humility.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 7:12. The golden rule in the kingdom.—This is the golden rule—the Christian’s law of reciprocity, which will serve as a rule of conduct for all the life. Legitimately applied, it would serve all social life, family life, commercial life, political life, church life, and national life. To obey it out and out would soon bring the golden age.
I. The characteristics of this golden rule.
1. Its principle.—The principle here stated by our Lord is the second great commandment—“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Place thyself in thought, in the condition or the circumstances of thy neighbour, and judge accordingly.
2. It is fundamental.—It underlies all public and private justice, government, society, education, and religion.
3. It is reasonable.—Have not others the same rights as ourselves, be their condition or position what it may? It is universal for all classes—for employers and employed; for all lands and times.
4. It is equitable.—The equity of this law is clearly seen if we consider its grounds.
(1) The equality of all men by nature.
(2) The possible equality of all men as to condition and state of life.
(3) Wherein we may be unequal, the inequality is not such as to be the ground of unequal dealing with one another; for we ought to treat our neighbour as we would expect to be treated by him in the same circumstances.
(4) Wherein men may be unequal, the inequality is not fixed. They may rise; others may fall.
(5) Consequently, the great advantage and blessing of such a rule. It teaches that with us, as with God, there is no respect of persons. The law is mutual and universal, and if acted upon would bring social salvation.
5. It is portable.—It is not only easy to be remembered, but it is the handiest, readiest, and best of all moral maxims. “It is the ‘two-foot rule’ which the skilful artisan always carries with him ready to take the measurement of any work to which he is called.”
6. It is evangelical.—It is more than a moral maxim, it is an evangelical principle; for it teaches us that in order to be able to act it thoroughly, truly, and sincerely, we need the grace of God in a large degree. “The Emperor Alexander Severus was so charmed by the excellence of this rule that he obliged a crier to repeat it whenever he had occasion to punish any person, and caused it to be inscribed in the most noted parts of his palace, and on many of the public buildings. He also professed so high a regard for Christ, as having been the author of so excellent a rule, that he desired to have Him enrolled among the deities.”
II. The argument adduced for the enforcement of this rule.
1. “For this is the law and the prophets.”
2. The authority which enjoins obedience to it.—The authority of Christ.
3. The example of Christ also enforces it.—J. Harries.
The sum of our duty to our neighbour.—
I. The dependence of this rule on the foregoing doctrine.—“Therefore.”
1. By way of imitation of God in His goodness.
2. By way of gratitude to God for His goodness.
3. From His relation of a loving Father to us, which makes us all brethren.
II. The rule itself.—
1. It must be limited to the point of duty, and not extended to foolish and unreasonable desires.
2. It was not our Saviour’s design to set all men on a level, taking away all distinction between princes and subjects, masters and servants, parents and children, etc.
3. The rule we are to go by in our dealings with our neighbour is not what he doth by us, but what we should think his duty to do by us, in such and such circumstances.
4. It takes in all duty, and we should ask what we should think to be our duty if our neighbour were in our place and we in his.
III. Our Saviour’s honourable character of this rule.—“This is the law and the prophets.” Consider:—
1. The comprehensiveness of this rule.—It is a complete sum of all the rules set down in the Holy Scriptures concerning our duty to our neighbour; and it is likewise in the nature of a good casuist to decide all the particular cases and doubts which rise from those rules.
2. The brevity of this rule.—It helps both the understanding and the memory.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 7:13. Destruction.—The word implies, not annihilation, but waste (Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4), perdition, i.e. the loss of all that makes existence precious. I question whether a single passage can be adduced in which it means, in relation to material things, more than the breaking up of their outward form and beauty, or, in spiritual things, more than what may be described as the wretchedness of a wasted life (Plumptre).
Matthew 7:14. Narrow is the way.—Literally, pressed or hemmed in between walls or rocks, like the pathway in a mountain gorge (ibid.).
Matthew 7:15. Beware of false prophets.—The sequence again is below the surface. How was the narrow way to be found? Who would act as guide? Many would offer their help who would simply lead men to the destruction which they sought to escape (ibid.).
Matthew 7:16. Thorns.—Any land of prickly plant (Brown). Thistles.—Rather caltrop, a prickly water-plant (Carr).
Matthew 7:22. In that day.—The day of judgment. This is a forecast far into the distant future, when it would be worth while to assume Christianity, when hypocrisy would take the form of pretending to be a follower of the now despised Jesus (ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 7:13-40.7.23
True discipleship.—The end of this passage may be taken as a kind of key to all its earlier part. What is said about beginning the journey in Matthew 7:13, must be compared with what is said of the result of it in Matthew 7:22-40.7.23. “In that day” there will be “many” men claiming to be the Saviour’s disciples, to whom He will testify that He “never knew” them, notwithstanding that claim. How are His true disciples to be distinguished from these? In three principal ways, viz:
1. By the decision of their choice.
2. By the carefulness of their judgments.
3. By the consistency of their lives.
I. The decision of their choice.—See, for example, what such persons select. They select the “gate” which is “strait” (Matthew 7:13), in other words the gate which is easily over looked unless looked for; which can only be passed through with a good deal of effort; and which allows little more than the man himself to pass through. They select, also, the “way” which is “narrow.” In other words, the way of restriction, both on this side and on that; the way, therefore, from which much is shut out; the way of exactness; the way of limitation; and not, therefore (at any rate in appearance) the way of free will. Not many travel this road, for there is a “broad” way without these restrictions, which they can easily travel instead. Not many enter that gate; for there is a wide gate very much nearer, through which many are always entering; and which, therefore, as it were, thrusts itself on their notice. All the more manifest, therefore, is the earnest purpose of those who “find” that strait “gate” and pass through to its “way.” They are men, indisputably, even so far, who have “made up their minds.” See, also, what such persons refuse. They pass by that “wide gate” with all its facilities. They turn from that “broad road,” with all its allurements. They give up its apparent liberty; its many apparent enjoyments; its jolly companionships; its sure popularity; its resounding mirth; its appearance of ease. All this, and much more than this, which that “strait gate” will not allow to pass through, they leave behind when they begin this “way.” Doubly evident, therefore, is their resolution of purpose. Alike what they do not, and what they do; alike what others do, and what is done by themselves; prove that their minds are made up (cf. Genesis 5:22; Genesis 7:1; Joshua 24:15; Daniel 1:0; Daniel 3:0; Daniel 6:0; 1 Kings 18:21; John 6:67-43.6.69, etc.).
II. The carefulness of their judgments.—This goes, in great measure, with what we have said already. A man who is thus resolute and determined will feel it only right to be correspondingly careful. Careful, on the one hand, as to the guides he follows. He will be aware, as implied in Matthew 7:15, that there are many “false prophets” abroad in the world. The very conviction which has made him so decided—the conviction that he is dealing with a matter of the intensest importance—will make him feel this to be true. The more valuable the coin, the more numerous its counterfeits. For the same reason he will be the more anxious to avoid being cheated by them. The more in value such counterfeits ought to be, the more he loses by accepting them. The more they look precious, the more they injure. As the Saviour here says, looking like “sheep” (Matthew 7:15), they are not only “wolves”—they are “ravening” wolves—rejoicing to slay. On every ground, therefore, such “disciples”—such true learners—will desire to be taught only by teachers of truth. Every such true disciple will be equally careful, on the other hand, as to the kind of test he employs. How are teachers of truth to be known? This is what the great Teacher here teaches us next. “They are to be known by their fruits.” This is the beginning (Matthew 7:16), and this the end (Matthew 7:20) of what He says on the point. Nature, He reminds us, teaches us this (end of Matthew 7:16). Nature teaches us that this is always the case (Matthew 7:17). Nature teaches us that it cannot be otherwise (Matthew 7:18). Even the absence of good fruit on a tree is evidence enough, on the same authority, that it is only fit for “the fire” (Matthew 7:19). Every one who knows what “godliness” is will know this to be true, because he will know for himself what godliness does. He will know that it changes the life. Only, therefore, to teachers with “changed lives” will he look for his light. His spiritual “instinct”—if he be a true man—will make him act thus.
III. The consistency of their conduct.—What such a man looks for in others he will seek for himself; and will attain to, also, as a true scholar of the teachers of truth. Two great mistakes on this point are named, next, by our Lord. The true disciple will prove his consistency by avoiding them both. He will not mistake profession for practice. “Saying Lord, Lord” (Matthew 7:21), is only saying it, if there be nothing beside. Professing subjection is not subjection itself. To do homage is not of itself to be loyal. Merely to call the Saviour King is not to belong to His kingdom. There may be any amount of such “calling” without any result; any result but that of exposing the caller, and proving him nothing better than a traitor in heart, and, therefore, still outside the kingdom to which he claims to belong. The true disciple, the man within the kingdom, will know this to be so; and will, therefore, act accordingly in all that he does. Facta non verba, in short—deeds not words—will be the rule of his life. Also, he will not mistake work for obedience (Matthew 7:22)—a more subtle form of deception. There are those who, besides saying “Lord, Lord,” besides always saying it, so the repetition may mean, really labour much for Christ in their way. They prophesy about Him; they prophesy for Him; they make Him known; they do so with diligence; they do so with power; they accomplish His work; they vanquish His enemies; they fill the world with surprise (Matthew 7:22). All this the Judge Himself does not appear to deny. Yet all this may be in combination with not doing His will; these works of “power” with works of “iniquity,” or direct opposition thereto. The true disciple will be aware of this, and will avoid this, of himself; for his chief desire will be, instinctively, to accomplish that will. For what is a “disciple”? Is he not one who learns? And what has he learned if he has not learned to put his Master’s will first?
The one lesson to be laid to heart from this is that of keeping the heart (Proverbs 4:23; Psalms 51:6). From the heart come our words and our deeds (Matthew 15:19). By the character of these will all be tested at last (Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45). Nothing can be more public than the issue of all (Matthew 25:31-40.25.32). It is wide as the sea (Psalms 104:25). Nothing more secret than the beginning of all. Far away inland, in the depths of the forest, in the solitude of the mountains—in the innermost man—is the beginning of all. The beginning of search, therefore—the beginning of cleansing, the beginning of amendment, the beginning of life, the beginning of eternity—must be at that source (see Psalms 139:23-19.139.24).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 7:13-40.7.14. The broad and narrow ways.—
I. What is meant by the broad and narrow way.—By “the strait gate,” and “the narrow way,” are meant the difficulties both of the first entrance upon a serious course of life, according to our Saviour’s precepts, and the difficulties of continuing steadfastly in it. And by the “wide gate” and the “broad way,” are meant this way of vice which offers itself and allures us both with a more easy entrance into it, and with its greater agreeableness to our corrupt inclinations.
II. How little company there is in the narrow way of duty, and how much in the broad way of sin.
1. The truth of this assertion.
2. The danger we run from the prevalence of evil example.—Two duties are naturally consequent upon this observation:
III. The different ends to which these ways lead.
1. Destruction.—When we speak of an enemy’s destroying a country, we mean only that he makes it very miserable by all the calamities of war.
2. Life.—The union of the soul with God (1 John 5:12). It is called “life” by way of excellency, as signifying a happy life.
(1) The body will be greatly improved (1 Corinthians 15:53-46.15.54).
(2) So will the soul.
(3) Such happiness shall be provided for us as shall answer the utmost capacities of such a perfect and glorified creature. These different states result from the different courses of life of good and bad men—“leadeth.”
IV. The great duty here enjoined.—“Enter ye in,” etc. See also Luke 13:24.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
The two ways.—“The way” was one of the earliest designations for the Christian life. Our Lord here contrasts the two courses of discipleship and of worldliness in four particulars:—
I. The contrast of the entrances.
II. The contrast of the ways.
III. The contrast of the ends.
IV. The contrast of the travellers.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Two gates and two ways.—In all times and all languages human life has been likened to a journey. There is no difficulty in understanding that when Jesus Christ employed in His teaching the illustration of two gates and two roads, He meant to indicate two modes and tendencies of human life. In fact, He put vividly before His audience the same alternative which a great painter put on the canvas in the rival persuasions of Minerva and Venus—wisdom and pleasure—appealing from opposite sides to inexperienced and impulsive youth. It is a bold and comprehensive generalisation. As they appear to us, the paths of human conduct are very various; but under all the moral shades and circumstantial diversities of human life, our Lord saw two opposite lines of tendency, and only two.
I. A wide gate lying open invites your entrance, and a broad, smooth avenue gives promise of leading you to some mansion, castle, or pleasure-ground. Such is the gate, and such is the way of self-indulgence. The pleasure indeed is only for a season. The way becomes rough, and for one who continues on it smiling to the last you may find seven grumbling and out of humour. The road of pleasure is infested with stinging nettles of pain. Wounded pride, satiated appetite, foiled ambitions, disappointed plans, gnawing jealousies, spoil everything this world can furnish. It is one of the inducements to men to enter the wide gate, that “many go in thereat.” Men are very gregarious, and the crowd always draws a greater crowd. “Leadeth to destruction.” So said the faithful and true Witness. He did not set Himself to prove the statement, or enter into any argument to show that such is the necessary conclusion to a life of self-seeking and self-indulgence. He was not a reasoner, but a revealer. He saw the end from the beginning, and declared it with the calm authority of one who had complete cognisance of the issues of life in good and evil, in weal and woe. From this there is a possibility of escape; but at the beginning, not at the end. If one has unhappily entered the gate and proceeded on the way, he must, at the warning of Christ, be converted.
II. A narrow gate is overlooked by the crowd, or is avoided because it opens on a mere footpath closely hedged or walled in on either side. The presumption is that it leads to a poor man’s cottage or a cattle-shed. True, that over the gate indicated by Christ those who believe His word may see an inscription, “To the palace of the King.” But the heedless multitude do not see this inscription; or if their attention is called to it, make light of it, persuading themselves that there must be much easier and more conspicuous avenues to the palace. Mark the entire frankness with which Jesus Christ proclaimed the difficulty of being one of His disciples and walking in the way of His steps. Evidently He was conscious of a right to command the allegiance of men at whatever cost, and of a power to recompense those who might suffer for His name and “for righteousness’ sake.” Yet what mournful words are these that follow! “Few there be that find it.” There are two mistakes opposite to each other, to be avoided:
1. That the saved of the Lord in every generation must be few. Christ stated a melancholy fact in regard to His own generation, who “received Him not,” but did not predict that the same state of matters would last throughout all generations.
2. They err on the other side who think it due to charity to suppose that all, or nearly all men are to be saved.—D. Fraser, D.D.
The strait gate and the narrow way to the kingdom.—The text is the beginning of the epilogue. The peroration begins by proclaiming the hearty, free, and universal invitation of the gospel to all to enter into the kingdom, and enjoy its privileges, and joyfully anticipate the glorious end. In other words, Jesus Christ earnestly presses His audience to “lay hold of eternal life.”
I. The two entrances.—The gate suggests two important truths:—
1. That the beginning of true discipleship is not easy to flesh and blood.—
(1) The attainment of salvation is difficult. The gate can be none other than repentance.
(2) The attainment of salvation demands the exercise of self-denial. Everything good has its price.
(3) The attainment of salvation demands singularity. You must leave the multitude and follow the few.
(4) To attain salvation there is an inducement. Though the gate is strait it is always open. If some of Her Majesty’s soldiers had been taken prisoners by an enemy and confined in a fortress far in the interior of a foreign land, and if an intimation were given them by a merciful and friendly hand that at a certain point of the prison walls there was an opening, but it was strait and narrow, and the path beyond not very smooth, what do you think they would do? Would they mind the narrowness of the hole through which they might gain their liberty, or the roughness of the path beyond? Nay; they would leap for joy and push through, having the joy of liberty in prospect.
2. That the entrance to a sinful life is wide.—Above the entrance there is written by the enemy of our souls, “Do as you like.”
II. The two courses of conduct.—“The narrow way” and “the broad way.” From this we learn:—
1. That there are but two ways for human conduct.—There is no middle way; there is no such thing as neutrality.
2. There is only one way to eternal life.—It is the way of Jesus Christ; the way of truth; the way of humility; the way of holiness. It cannot tolerate self-pride, self-righteousness, and sin; it is the path of practical obedience to God.
3. That there is but one way to ruin.—“the broad way.” This is easy. The train will run down an incline without steam.
III. The two destinies.—“Life” and “destruction.”—J. Harries.
The narrowness of the gospel.—You are surprised at the expression. The narrowness of the church, the narrowness of Christians—such phrases excite no surprise, they are justified by facts; but the narrowness of the gospel? It is not narrowness you associate with the teaching of Christ, but breadth and breeziness, light and gladsomeness. It is true there is an extraordinary breadth in Christ’s teaching, but at the same time, and from another point of view, it is also true that there is an extraordinary narrowness in the gospel.
I. It is not easy to be a Christian.—You cannot fall into the Christian life by chance. A strait gate faces you which you cannot enter save by effort and sacrifice and self-surrender. The great tasks of human life are accomplished not by triflers, but by enthusiasts, who know how to spend themselves on their work. To be a Christian—that is the hardest and greatest work that is set before you, and for it you need enthusiasm, devotion, and self-sacrifice. Christ knows what forces there are in your heart warring against His claim on you. The broad way is just the way where spiritual struggles cease. The narrow way is known by its aspirations—its aspirations after Christ and the life of Christ.
II. You have a choice to make.—The narrow path is rough and steep; you will sometimes find yourself alone; Christ demands the devotion of your heart, and that devotion will cost you dear. It means that you crucify your evil passions, that you forego many a pleasure you love, that you let some of life’s prizes go past you, that you be willing to part with what the world counts success. The other path is easier—at least, it seems easier at the start. It is easy to let passion master you, easy to yield to the love of pleasure, of excitement, of position, of money, of self. On the broad path there is no panting for breath, no straining of the muscle, and there is no lack of company. But on that path you will lose your life—in that way lies death.—D. M. Ross, M.A.
Matthew 7:13. The wicket gate.—(To children). At the great Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia there were a number of little turnstile gates by which people went into the grounds. These gates would only admit one at a time. Every time a person entered, the gate clicked and registered the number of persons; and in this way, at the end of the day, by counting up the sum total of all the numbers of the register of the gates, the officers in charge knew just how many people had been admitted for the day. But when the time came for closing the gates, the great fog-horn sounded, and then wide doors were thrown open on all sides, and the people within the grounds flocked forth by hundreds and thousands. People entered at the narrow gate, and went out at the broad way. It would have been impossible for them to have gone in at the wide doors and come out at the narrow turnstile gate, one at a time. Each person who wanted to go into the grounds had to take his turn at the narrow turnstile gate. Every one was registered as they went in. Now, our Lord, in His Sermon upon the Mount, told those who were listening to Him that they must seek to enter in at the strait gate, or the narrow gate. What our Lord meant by entering in at the narrow gate, was getting started right for heaven. And the right gate to begin the Christian life with, is the strait or narrow gate of obedience to the will of God. When we go with the crowd, and please only ourselves, we are walking in the broad way. In Bunyan’s story of “Pilgrim’s Progress” Christian is represented as beginning his journey to heaven by entering in at the wicket-gate. Before this he had not been considered as fairly on the way to the celestial city. The old motto says, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead!”
I. We must find out what this strait gate is.—Our Lord Himself tells us, “I am the Door.” “I am the Way.”
II. We must find out why the gate is so narrow.—Even Jesus found the way of submission to the will of God a strait or narrow way. Gethsemane. It is always a hard or narrow way when we have to give up our own wills for the sake of another.
III. We are to find out why it is that we must enter in at this gate.—Just as surely as we must take the train south when we want to go south, and not the train for the north, just so surely must we enter in at the strait gate of obedience to Jesus Christ, if we want to get started right for heaven!—Sermons for Boys and Girls.
Matthew 7:13-40.7.14. The great choice.—In Xenophon’s Memoirs there is a striking story told by Socrates, the story known as the “Choice of Hercules.” The young Hercules, emerging from boyhood into manhood, is pondering how he is to shape his life. Two women appear before him—one voluptuous in form and luxurious in dress, the other severe and strict in mien, and clothed in a simple white garment. The name of one is Pleasure, the name of the other is Virtue. The one promises to lead the young Hercules by the shortest road, and without any toil, to the enjoyment of every pleasure. The other beckons him along another path—a path where he will meet labours and suffering, but where alone he will find a beautiful and good life worthy of his manhood. An old parable which is ever new, and an old parable which is made more meaningful by the words of our Lord.—D. M. Ross, M.A.
Matthew 7:15-40.7.20. Trees and their fruit.—The comparison of men to fruit-trees is a very obvious one, and of frequent occurrence in the Bible. Every tree brings forth after its kind. Every man acts according to his prevailing disposition and will. One of the chief dangers which beset primitive Christianity was the intrusion of false prophets. The Epistles are full of allusions to such men, as misleading the churches. The delusive professions of the false prophets and teachers were only so much “sheep’s clothing” worn for a purpose. The early churches were required to protect themselves from the false teachers. Apostles could not be everywhere to test every one who claimed to address the Christian assemblies. So the brethren were to exercise a wise and necessary caution, and not hearken to every teacher or believe every spirit. The development of doctrine had not proceeded far when our Lord taught on the mount, and His reference to the fruit-trees indicates a practical and not a dogmatic test. See how it applies:—
I. To the teachers of religion.—We do not admit that there were no doctrinal tests in the apostolic times (see Galatians 1:8; 1 John 4:1). But the moral test was a primary one, and could be applied by any man with a correct sense of right and wrong, even though he might not be much versed in theology. And the Apostles followed their Master in urging on the churches the application of this moral test.
II. To religious systems.—Religion, however taught, must stand or fall according to the moral effect it produces on those who embrace and obey it. On this principle Christianity may boldly invite comparison with any form of heathenism, with Mohammedanism, or with the negation of religion. The imperfection with which Christianity has been illustrated and obeyed by its own adherents may be cited as one of the proofs of its lofty origin. It is comparatively easy to be a thorough exponent and example of heathenism or Mohammedanism; but where can you find a perfect Christian? There is a consummate Christ, there are no consummate Christians. But in so far as men follow Christ and are imbued with His Spirit, they are good, virtuous, righteous. On the other hand, you cannot say that the more thoroughly heathen a man is, or the more intensely Mohammedan, or the more decidedly materialistic and secularistic in his convictions, the more sure he is to be good, virtuous, righteous. The same test will lead to just conclusions regarding the rival forms of Christianity, provided always that a sufficiently large induction of instances be taken, and that time enough has been given for the working out of genuine results.
III. To all men.—In this sense the saying is often applied, and has become a sort of moral adage—“The tree is known by its fruit.” Application of such a text to our fellow men must of course be with caution and charity.
1. Let us be sure of our facts; then, if it is our duty to judge at all, let us proceed on those facts as the evidences of character. Let us look not at leaves, but at fruit. And let us not be too severe on youthful faults. Trees sometimes yield poor and even bitter fruit when they are young which give sweet and finely flavoured fruit when they come to maturity.
2. Some estimate of our fellow-men we must form in order to guide our own behaviour towards them, and to warrant our trust or distrust. Then let our estimate depend not on professions, words, or appearances, all of which may be deceptive, but on solid actions and the sustained tenor of life.
3. The same test may be used in self-judgment. An honest man, trying to prove and judge himself, may be perplexed. It is hard to know the predominant motive or to detect the relative strength of desires that have twined together in the mind. Then comes in well this practical test, What, on the whole, is the bent of the character and will? What are the ends for which one lives day after day?—D. Fraser, D.D.
The true test of character in the kingdom of God.—Our Lord has just said that there are a few that find “the strait gate,” and that walk in “the narrow way” “which leadeth unto life.” But having said that He proceeds to warn His hearers against such as might mislead them. Hence the caution—“Beware of false prophets.” The text suggests:—
I. The true and false in human life.—“Beware of the false!”
1. In all ages the false has followed the true.—False money is never coined except where good money exists. Quack doctors obtain patronage only because there are true physicians. False remedies are sold only because there are good remedies. False diamonds could not be sold were there no real diamonds. Of course, the nearer the false approaches the true the more dangerous it is.
2. The Scriptures treat largely of the false, that we may be on our guard.—
(1) False gods.
(2) False doctrines.
(3) False hopes.
(4) False teachers. What irony! A prophet false? Yes. Such are found all along and down the line of history. “Mere talent,” says Mr. Spurgeon, “ought not to attract us. Carrion, well dressed and served on Palissy ware, is still unfit for men. As we would not be fascinated by the azure hues of a serpent, so neither should we be thrown off our guard by the talents of an unsound theologian.”
3. Seek the good, the real, and the durable.—There is a true God; there are true doctrines; there are true and blessed hopes and promises; there are true teachers—the chief of which is Jesus Christ; there are true Christians and true characters.
II. The infallible test by which the true and false may be distinguished, and therefore detected.—“Ye shall know them by their fruits,” by the practical results of their life and teaching.
1. Fruit is the natural production of life.
2. Fruit develops according to the nature of its root.—As in the natural world so in the spiritual, every species brings forth fruit “after its kind.”
3. Fruit may be seen as it tells on the future.—J. Harries.
Matthew 7:16. The test of fruit.—
I. There is a necessary distinction to be made between true and false teachers.
II. The making of this distinction falls within the duty and capacity of private Christians.—“Ye shall know them.”
III. What fruits these are from which even private Christians may know the difference between true and false teachers.—By their fruits, I think, must be meant the natural tendency and consequents of their corrupt doctrines, both on themselves and others, which are visible, and so may be easily known.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 7:20. By their fruits.—One can hardly make this figure plainer than it is. It is by the produce of the tree only that its innermost nature is revealed. Appearances may deceive. The thorns to which our Saviour referred bore a small black berry, very much like the grape, and the thistles put forth a flower closely resembling that of the fig-tree. So far as the show of things went, the worthless plants indeed had the advantage. It was the ripe, rich fruit alone that proved the generous quality of the tree. And so, says Christ, are the false prophets to be known from the true, and thus are religious professions to be tested, and religious systems, and everything that either is, or pretends to be, of God. That form of Christianity which shows the largest proportion of strong, unworldly, self-forgetting lives is proved by that fact to have most of the mind of Christ. Our common Christianity must always depend upon this in the long run.
I. We are witnessing a deliberate attempt in many quarters to prove that the moral fruits of Christianity owe nothing to its beliefs.—That were the creed of Christianity gone, its works might and would survive; that men of the most opposite schools, from the extreme Calvinist to the extreme agnostic, are equally lovable in character and equally great and generous in their devotion to self-denying aims and labours for human good; that men can be Christians in act and fact though they deny almost every truth which Christians have held sacred; and that, in fact, what we call religious beliefs may be put aside and yet leave all that is most attractive and generous in human nature. This is the insidious teaching of the books which are having a popular run—“Robert Elsmere,” “John Ward, Preacher,” “A Story of a South African Farm,” and in a somewhat less degree Edna Lyall’s works—all of them full of pure and tender thought, suffused with the finest Christian sentiment, and pointing to unexceptionable moral ideals.
II. There are a few who have cut themselves off from the original source of inspiration, yet carry with them still some, or all, of its moral effects, and unbelievers point to them and say: “See what great and generous and true lives men can live without your Christian beliefs!” But what was it that made those lives great and true? Many a man remains noble, though the mother who trained him to that nobility is dead. But is any one so foolish as to say that the mother had nothing to do with it because she is no longer present to influence that life? Last year one of my plum trees had a branch laden with fruit nearly smitten off by the storm. It hung on by a mere strip of fibre and bark, yet the fruit showed no decay. I gathered it a month afterwards sweet and ripe. But what insanity it were to suppose that the fruit owed nothing to its living connection with the tree. The effects of forces often remain long after the forces have ceased to operate. The locomotive does not suddenly stop when the steam is shut off; the tidal wave still flows for a while, though the attraction of the moon is no longer felt; and the glory of a summer evening lingers on, gliding into tremulous and beautiful twilight, long after the sun, which was the source of the illumination, has vanished below the horizon. The fruits of Christianity are often found in those who have drifted from Christian beliefs.
III. The instant Christianity and unbelief are brought face to face in this way and challenged to show their respective fruits, the question is settled beyond all doubt. Which of the two classes contains the high-minded and honourable members of the community? Who fill the positions of trust? Where do the active philanthropists come from except from the churches? Who are foremost in all educational matters? From what homes do the sober and industrious young men go forth, and the maidens who make the sweetest and the most helpful wives? Really, it is almost absurd to ask the question, because the answer is so self-evident. We are always confessing our inconsistencies as Christians, always lamenting that our churches are not sufficiently awake to their calling, that our church members fall far below their professions; and this is right. It is a necessity of our position. Our ideal is so great that the performance must always seem poor and incomplete. We are always apologising for the scantiness of our service, because we set it against the claim of a perfect Master. But set the church against the world and it has no need to apologise at all. If a Christian falls and becomes a scandal a thousand voices proclaim it. It was so unexpected there; yet the same thing is happening every day in the ranks of unbelievers, and the world takes it as a matter of course. No one looked for any particular fruits of righteousness there. So, also, we grieve over the want of unity in the church, over the jealousies and divisions in the church. Yet are there not more and far bitterer divisions, hatreds, and class alienations outside the church? And what brotherhoods are equal to those of the church—the staunch friendships, the lovely sympathies, the care and interest for each other? And, finally, where do you find the happy, joyous, patient, and serene lives, rounded off with sweet content, and holy calm, and strong hopefulness?—J. G. Greenhough, M.A.
Matthew 7:21-40.7.23. The true qualification for admission into the kingdom.—
I. That true religion is not a mere profession.—“Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord,” etc.
1. True discipleship is not merely nominal.
2. True discipleship is not merely official.—“Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, etc.” These words suggest,
(1) that teaching and active zeal for Christ is no guarantee for a holy life. Moreover, these words suggest
(2) a religion of merit. “May we not merit the favour of God by what we have done?” say many. The religion of merit is the religion of self-conceit, and self-deception.
3. True discipleship is not merely orthodoxy.—We may be up in theory but down in practice. We may be thoroughly versed in the principles of music, and yet not able to perform a single note. We may be able to teach grammar and rhetoric, and yet be very feeble and clumsy speakers. A clear-headed doctor of divinity may be able to work out the stiffest truth in theology, as he would reason out a syllogism in logic or a problem in Euclid, but yet lack experimental knowledge of the truth. A brilliant poet may rhyme admirably the virtues of the gospel, and yet be himself sadly wanting in a virtuous life. A physician may prescribe to others and restore them, and yet die himself for the want of taking the same prescription. A preacher may preach to others, and yet he himself become a castaway.
II. That true religion is real and practical.—“He that doeth the will,” etc.
1. Obedience to God is the sum of religion.
2. Obedience to God is faith in action.
3. Obedience is the test of love.—A child was told to bring her father’s slippers, but she wanted to play. At length she does it, but unwillingly, saying, “I’s b’ing ’um, papa; but I guess you needn’t say thank you, ’cause I only did it with my hands; my heart kept saying, I won’t.” Those who wish to see a splendid programme of a perfect obedience must begin at Bethlehem, and follow on the life of Christ to Calvary, “obedient unto death.”
III. The danger and doom of pretence and formality.—“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord,’ ” etc.
1. Deception exposed.—“I never knew you.”
2. Deception denounced and doomed.—“Depart from Me.” There are limits to Divine long-suffering and mercy.—J. Harries.
Matthew 7:21. Solemn warnings.—The gate to righteousness is a strait gate; the way to righteousness is a narrow way; it is the gate and way of obedience to the laws of God, for these are the laws of spiritual well-being. No man can violate the laws of health either in body or soul and preserve a strong constitution by morning and evening prayers. One of his contemporaries says of Cardinal Lorraine that he was avaricious, malignant, cruel, and deceitful, but “full of religion.” In no age of the world have there been wanting false prophets to tell men how they might have the Cardinal’s religion; how they might lie, cheat, rob, murder, how they might indulge their ambition, their avarice, their animal nature, and yet be secure of heaven. Sometimes these false prophets have told their hearers:—
I. To pay the church and the ministry liberally. E.g., Tetzel.
II. To join the church.
III. That a mystic rite brings salvation.
IV. That since God is merciful He will bring into the kingdom of heaven, every one, whether he has sought or not.—The condition of attaining the character of a child of God is twofold:
1. A high, spiritual aspiration—a seeking of glory, honour, and immortality.
2. That aspiration made the impulse and motive of lofty and persistent practical endeavour, manifested in a life of patient continuance in well-doing.—L. Abbott, D.D.
The great test.—Alas, for many hearers of the word! Alas, for many admirers of the Sermon on the Mount! Where will they be when everything turns on the question “Wert thou a doer of it?”—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 7:22-40.7.23. Self-deception.—
1. There is a day of judgment appointed for all men when Christ shall sit as Judges 2:0. Many build hopes of heaven upon great gifts and employments in the ministry, given to them with some success, who shall be rejected of Christ.
3. All men have need to beware lest they deceive themselves in the matter of their own salvation, when they hear that preachers and prophets and workers of miracles deceive themselves, and may be destitute of saving faith and sound repentance, which they do preach to others.
4. Such as Christ shall reject at the last day were never endued with saving grace, or accounted by Him for true believers, for He saith, “I will profess unto them, I never knew you.”
5. Such as are destitute of true faith and repentance, however specious their gifts and outward conversation seem to themselves or others, are in Christ’s account but workers of iniquity, and shall not dwell in His company in heaven.—David Dickson.
Matthew 7:27. Great was the fall of it.—How lively must this imagery have been to an audience accustomed to the fierceness of an Eastern tempest, and the suddenness and completeness with which it sweeps everything unsteady before it! (Brown). We see, from the present example, that it is not necessary for all sermons to end in a consolatory strain (Bengel).
Matthew 7:28. Doctrine.—Teaching (R.V.). Not only the matter, but the manner.
Matthew 7:29. Not as the scribes.—As a rule the scribe hardly ever gave his exposition without at least beginning by a quotation from what had been said by Hillel or by Shammai, by Rabbi Joseph or Rabbi Meir, depending almost or altogether upon what had thus been ruled before, as much as an English lawyer depends on his precedents. In contrast with this usual custom, our Lord fills the people with amazement by speaking to them as One who has a direct message from God (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 7:24-40.7.29
Striking home.—In the earlier part of these words we find our Saviour bringing His solemn discourse to a close. In the latter part we have an account of the effect it produced at the time. The two together may be regarded as showing us two opposite things, viz. on the one hand, the solemn testimony of Christ to His hearers; and, on the other, the open testimony of His hearers to Him.
I. His testimony to them.—This was such as to put before them, in the first place, a serious twofold choice. Just before (Matthew 7:21-40.7.23), He seems to have been speaking of more than one unsatisfactory way of dealing with His words; the way of mere profession, the way of mere preaching, the way of mere work. In reality and essence, these came to but one. These were all ways—however varied ways—of doing one thing, viz. of hearing Christ with contempt. Here is the vital point in this matter of hearing. To hear and obey is to hear with respect. To hear without doing is to hear with contempt. One of the two all His hearers must do (Matthew 7:24; Matthew 7:26). There is no other method; no middle course; no possible third. This testimony gives warning, in the next place, of a serious common experience. Both these ways of hearing will be tested in time in a similar way. Both “buildings” will be exposed, in the nature of things, to essentially identical perils, perils of waters, perils of winds, perils of both not only “beating” on, but as it were “smiting” their walls (Matthew 7:25; Matthew 7:27). Cf. also such passages as Job 1:11; Luke 22:31; 2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:10. Also such passages as declare that the “good fish” and the “bad,” the “tares” and the “wheat,” the “goats” and the “sheep,” are to be discriminated first and then divided asunder. A day of judgment—a day of testing—on whichever side we really are—is to come to us all. Lastly, this testimony speaks, in consequence, of a serious twofold result. There will be the result of failure, or else of success; of approval or of condemnation; of confirmed stability or of ruin. This is inevitable in the nature of things. The man who does as the Saviour counsels is treating those counsels with reverence; in other words, he is building on a “rock,” and doing as wisdom dictates. The man who does otherwise is practically despising them. He, on the other hand, is building on the “sand,” and doing as folly dictates. It is impossible, therefore, that such different courses, when they come to be tested, should have a common result. Hardly any amount of wind and water will affect the removal of a “rock.” Almost any amount of wind and water will do this for the “sand”; and therefore, of course, for all that which has been erected upon it. The more conspicuous this is, therefore, the more conspicuous also will be the magnitude of its wreck (Matthew 7:27).
II. Their testimony to Him.—In a general way, this may be expressed in one word. It was the testimony of astonishment. “They were astonished at His doctrine.” Astonished at it in two ways, and on two different grounds. Astonished, first, at its claims. All that their usual teachers even pretended to was very much less. They claimed only to sit “in Moses’ seat,” and to be the expounders of his teaching. Only up to that—not a step above that—did they venture to claim. Cf. Matthew 19:7; Mark 12:19; John 9:28. As to “adding to” his words, whatever they did in practice (Mark 7:13), that they professed to abhor (Acts 6:14). Yet this, on the other hand, though only in the way of confirming, is just what Christ claimed to do in this case. Moses said so much. I say to you more. Moses gave this law. I give you a further. Also the Saviour did this—which is of even greater importance—in a way of His own. The utmost that could be said of Moses was that he spake as he was told. He was faithful as a servant in all his house (Hebrews 3:5). Christ speaks here as a son. He adds and explains; He alters and modifies; He assures and predicts; He legislates and enacts—all on no authority but His own. No wonder, therefore, that His hearers compared this with that lack of authority which was so conspicuous with the scribes; and were astounded thereby. Equally astounded were they, in the next place, at His manifest power. It was not only that He claimed such authority. It was felt also that His teaching possessed it. There was that about it which compelled their attention. There was that in it which made it sink into their thoughts. From the peculiarity of the expression employed, ἦν διδάσκων, He “was teaching” with authority—it would appear that they felt this all the way through. All that they heard Him say they felt to be worthy of saying. All that His manner claimed His matter justified. There was a weight and lucidity and decision—a holiness also, and justice and mercy—a majesty, and at the same time a meekness—about all that He said which made them listen to it, if not as yet with perfect faith, yet with the profoundest respect. “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). “As He spake these words, many believed on Him” (John 8:30). “He was mighty in word” (Luke 24:19). These things, which were said of Him afterwards, describe what was felt concerning Him from the first.
From this account of the close of our Saviour’s great opening discourse several reflections arise:—
1. How completely it answered its purpose.—Coming when it did, its great object was to prepare men for His ministry. The verdict of His hearers shows that this was thoroughly effected. They left Him with the conviction that He was one who knew what He said, and who, therefore, was worth hearing again.
2. How comparatively limited, yet, was its scope.—It is full of our duties, less full of our hopes. It was not such an “invitation” as afterwards (Matthew 11:28). Nor had it quite such a result as afterwards (John 16:29). It was the “Sinai,” in short, rather than the “Zion” of the New Testament (Hebrews 12:22); an introduction to the gospel—as became its position—rather than the gospel itself.
3. How suggestive, therefore, its position.—Does it not point us, for fulness of knowledge, to the end of Christ’s ministry? And do we not find this fulness in those discourses pronounced by Him (Matthew 26:26-40.26.29; John 14:0; John 16:0.) on the night of His death? Here, as we have seen, we are taught principally about the nature of our duties. In Matthew, as above, we are taught where to find mercy for our failures in duty. In John, as above, where to find help in doing better in future.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 7:24. General observations from the Sermon on the Mount.—
I. The connection of this part with the foregoing in the particle “therefore.” From what has gone before it follows clearly that he is a very unwise man who bestows his pains and places his hopes in his knowledge, or faith, or profession, or in his gifts, or in the great esteem he acquires in the world, if he neglects the main thing, a sincere obedience to the laws of the gospel.
II. Our Saviour’s Sermon on the Mount contains all things which were then necessary to salvation.—As to faith in Christ, it is probable they had it as far as was then necessary for persons in their circumstances. As to Christian hope, besides what the Jews knew before of a future state, our Saviour had, in this Sermon, acquainted them with the great rewards in heaven, and everlasting life, to which the narrow way of duty leads, and with that destruction which attends the going on securely in the broad way of sin. He had acquainted them, likewise, with the great day of accounts, and what would and what would not be accepted as a discharge of their duty.
III. This doctrine of our Saviour’s, contained in the Sermon on the Mount, belongs to all men.—“Whosoever.”
IV. Christ’s doctrine is a practical doctrine.—“Doeth them.”
1. In its own nature it is all reducible to practice.—It is not a system of hard and unintelligible terms and distinctions, etc.
2. It is our Saviour’s great design that it be applied to this use.—For,
(1) God’s glory;
(2) our neighbour’s good;
(3) our own soul’s benefit.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 7:24-40.7.27. The wise and foolish hearers.—The contrast intended is not that between two men deliberately selecting different foundations on which to build, but that between two men, one of whom makes the foundation a matter of deliberate consideration, while the other, on the contrary, never takes a moment’s thought about a foundation, but proceeds to build at haphazard, on the surface, anywhere, just where he happens to be—on the loose sand on the banks, or even in the bed, of a river dried up by the severe drought and scorching heat of summer, as rivers are so apt to be in the East. Insight into the whole connection of thought in the Sermon might lead us to this conclusion, even were we to confine our attention to Matthew’s narrative; but it is forced on our attention by the way in which Luke reports Christ’s words (Luke 6:48-42.6.49). Evidently this foolish man is not one who makes a mistake in judgment as to the best foundation for a house, judging sand to be the best, which in certain circumstances it really is; but, rather, one who loses sight of the fact that the foundation of a house is matter of prime importance, and thoughtlessly begins to build, like children who amuse themselves by erecting miniature houses on the seashore, within high-water mark, destined to be washed away a few hours after by the inrolling tide. Let us now see what light this fact throws on the interpretation of the whole passage.
I. We can see the special appropriateness of the emblems employed by our Lord to represent two different types of men in reference to religion. On the general appropriateness of these emblems it is unnecessary to dilate.
1. The building of a house is manifestly an apt emblem of the profession and practice of religion.
(1) A house is for rest.—It is our place of abode, our home. In like manner religion is the rest of the soul (Psalms 116:7; Psalms 90:1).
(2) A house is for shelter from the elements.—In like manner religion is the soul’s shelter from sin, temptation, fear, and care (Psalms 91:1-19.91.2).
(3) A house is for comfort.—It is the scene of domestic happiness and peace. Even so is religion the bliss of the soul (Psalms 84:4; Psalms 65:4).
2. A difficulty may be felt in reference to the house built on the sand. A flood in a river is a thing of annual, or even more frequent, occurrence; and it seems to violate all natural probability to represent men as acting in entire disregard of so great a risk. But in this very violation of probability lies the very point and peculiar appositeness of the metaphor. For Christ would suggest that men do in religion things the like of which they would not dream of doing in the ordinary affairs of life; and the implied assertion is unhappily too true.
3. We are at the same time impressed with the peculiar appositeness of the other comparison, of the man who heareth and doeth, to one who being minded to build a house, begins by digging, and going deep in digging, for a foundation. It points him out in contrast to the other as one who considers well what he is about, bears in mind all the uses of a house, and all that it may have to endure. In a word, his characteristics are considerateness and thoroughness, as those of the other are inconsiderateness and superficiality.
II. What light is thrown on the difference between the two classes of men spoken of by the Preacher, by the contrast drawn between the two builders.—Our Lord Himself distinguishes the two classes by representing a man of the one class as one who heareth His sayings and doeth them, and a man of the other class as one who heareth His sayings and doeth them not. The distinction is sufficiently definite for practical purposes. We all have an approximately correct idea of the two types of character thus discriminated. It will be observed that in the figurative representation both men appear as building a house. The difference lies in the quality of their work.
1. Two points of difference in character are clearly hinted at.
(1) The wise builder has a prudent regard to the future; the foolish builder thinks only of the present.
(2) The wise builder does not look merely to appearance; the foolish builder cares for appearance only. His house looks as well as another’s, so far as what is above ground is concerned; and as for what is below ground, that, in his esteem, goes for nothing. Carrying these two distinctions with us into the spiritual sphere, we are supplied with the means of distinguishing very exactly between the genuine and the spurious professors of religion. The spurious look only to what is seen, the outward act; the genuine look to what is not seen, the hidden foundation of inward disposition, the heart-motive, out of which flow the issues of life.
2. But another equally marked distinction between the genuine and the counterfeit disciple is to be found in their respective attitudes towards the future. The one has forethought, the other none.
III. The infallible judges of the builders and their work.—The rain, the wind, the floods. Trial is to be expected and may come quite suddenly.—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
I. All men are building.
II. All builders have a choice of foundations.
III. All foundations will be tried.
IV. Only one foundation will stand.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
The wise builder and the foolish.—Moses descended a terrible mountain in the wilderness, bringing the law for Israel inscribed on tablets of stone. The Prophet “like unto Moses” sat on a mountain of Palestine in the sunshine, with His disciples and the multitude listening while He opened His mouth in blessings, and then proceeded to indicate the deeper meanings of the Divine law, and to explain the righteousness which belongs to the Divine kingdom among men. Sore punishments were denounced against those “who despised Moses’ law.” A grave responsibility fell on those who heard Christ’s teaching; on the mount. So in closing His discourse, He warned His hearers not to think it enough to pay an outward respect to His instruction. They should be doers of the word, and not hearers only. The admonition is for all who read His words, as much as for those who originally heard them. It is much needed; for scarcely any part of Scripture has been more praised and less obeyed than the Sermon on the Mount.
I. The two builders.—
1. To the wise builder “shall be likened” the obedient hearer of the words of Christ. To some this mode of describing a Christian appears to be scarcely evangelical. It seems to lay stress on doing, and not on believing. But in reality to “do the words” and to believe on Him who uttered them are not different actions of the mind, but essentially one and the same. It should be observed that the Sermon on the Mount was delivered at an early stage of our Lord’s career, when He showed Himself in Galilee as a prophet. In that capacity He spoke, and the proper mode in which to express faith in Him was to hearken to His sayings and keep them. When He came to be more fully revealed in His saving purpose and power, more emphasis was laid on faith in Him. Those who follow Him are disciples, as He is their Teacher; believers, as He is their Saviour. In fact, it is the adherence of the whole heart and mind to the Lord Jesus that is essential and fundamental. This is to base the house upon the rock.
2. To the foolish builder “shall be likened” the disobedient hearer of the words of Christ. He listens and seems to honour and approve, yet does not keep or do the word—is no true disciple.
II. The day of trial.—In fair weather the two houses described may look equally safe, but a day of storm soon tells the difference. Now there are many critical hours in life that test to some extent our spiritual character and hope; but the day of judgment indicated for the two houses is properly that day of which our Lord had spoken in which doers of His Father’s will will be received into the kingdom of heaven, and workers of iniquity, however they may cry “Lord, Lord,” will be shut out. The higher and larger the foolish builder’s house, the greater the ruin into which it falls. Disappointment of vain hopes confidently cherished, enhances the misery of perdition. With these sad words, “Great was the fall of it,” ended the Sermon on the Mount.—D.Fraser, D.D.
Builders in the kingdom: a contrast.
I. The two builders.
II. The two foundations.
III. The two results.—J. Harries.
Matthew 7:24-40.7.25. The right hearers of Christ’s sayings.—
I. The description of a good Christian.—He is a man well instructed in the Christian doctrine, and one that frames his life and conversation according to the direction thereof.
1. The right qualifications of a hearer.—
(1) It is necessary that he shake off whatever may obstruct his hearing, or attending to what he hears.
(2) Hearing must be mixed with faith.
(3) What is heard must be retained.
2. The doing.—There are a great many good Christian exercises comprehended under this practical part; namely, holy resolution, vigilance against temptations, fervent prayer for grace, repentance after lapses, courage against evil examples, and patience and perseverance to the end.
II. The good success of his labours.—Consider:
1. The comparison between the fabric of religion and the fabric of a house.—As building a great house is one of the greatest designs men commonly undertake, a design which ought to be well laid, and the expense of it well considered before it is gone about, so it is with religion.
2. The comparison between a lively faith in Christ, and the laying a good solid foundation for building upon.—This means,
(1) serious consideration and forecast;
(2) faith in Christ;
(3) a firm resolution to add practice to our knowledge of Christ’s doctrine. These three are the digging deep, and laying the foundation of religion so solidly that it will never fail.
3. The superstructure of a good life.
4. The proof of the excellency and solidity of his religion, beyond that of the hypocrite, in that it stood firm against all shocks and trials.
5. The consequence of this.—That his religion served him not only for his present temporary ends, but like a good, well-built, durable house, answered the ends of a lasting habitation.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 7:28-40.7.29. The climax.—The teaching of Jesus Christ all through His marvellous life excited not only admiration; it also excited wonder and amazement. The Evangelists record such several times. His majestic authority everywhere commanded reverence where it did not secure love. Such also were the effects and results after our Lord concluded His Sermon on the Mount, that the whole multitude who heard it were “astonished at His doctrine,” and doubtless scores were converted under the Sermon and sought discipleship. Observe:—
I. The doctrine which He taught.—“These sayings,” the gospel of righteousness. Jesus Christ did not deal in metaphysical subtleties, or philosophical abstractions, or theological mysticism, but in practical Christianity. His theoretic theology was always intended to lead to practical religion. He addressed the understanding always in order to reach the heart. The Sermon on the Mount is worth more than all human commentaries upon the law; infinitely superior to all codes and treatises on ethics, and incomparably above all systems of moral philosophy.
1. The teaching of Christ is practical.—Practice is the truth lived.
2. The teaching of Christ is practicable.—The Sermon on the Mount has given us a very high ideal, holding forth a standard of the highest excellence conceivable; yet, the ideal is approachable and attainable.
II. The impression produced.—“Astonished;” or, as the word is sometimes rendered, amazed or astounded. But what gave this extraordinary power to His teaching? Some might suggest as a reason His naturalness, others His originality, others His beautiful simplicity, others His catholicity, others His winning manner. Doubtless these characteristics had much to do in popularising the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, and in making it tell on the people; even “the common people”—that is, what we call in our day “the masses”—“heard Him gladly.” But there is a deeper secret in His teaching than the above characteristics, viz:—
1. His power lay in Himself.—He did not repeat lessons given Him. He did not teach from books or traditions. What would be offensive and intolerable egotism in other teachers was essential in Christ.
2. His power lay in His life.—His life is an expression of His Divine thoughts, is the melody, the charm, and the secret and the convincing power in all His teaching. But learn here—
3. The terrible possibility of being filled with amazement and yet not saved.—Astonishment or admiration will not save.
III. The reason assigned.—“For He taught as one having authority,” etc. As Dr. Caird puts it, “the truth we receive from the lips of another may either derive its authority from the teacher, or reflect on him the authority it contains. As the receiver of money may argue, either that the money is good because it is an honest man who pays it, or that the man is honest because he pays good money; so in the communication of truth, it may be a valid inference, either that the doctrine is true because it is a trustworthy man who teaches it, or that the man who teaches is veracious or trustworthy because his doctrine is true!” The word authority can be taken in both senses in the text.
1. The teaching of Jesus Christ came with authority, because of His inherent Divine character.
2. Because of the credibility of Him who taught.—J. Harries.
The Divine Teacher.—
I. The excellency of the doctrine.—Instead of a discourse of rites and. ceremonies, customs and traditions, wherewith the scribes and Pharisees used to entertain them, here was an instruction of the purest morals the world had ever been taught; morals, which do not rest in regulating only our external behaviour, but such as reach to the root of all our disorders, the thoughts and imaginations of the heart. The doctrine was:
1. Admirable in itself.
2. Well adapted to the condition and circumstances of the hearers.
II. The admirable design, order, and contrivance of the whole discourse.—It was when Christ had ended these sayings that the people were astonished at His doctrine. This Sermon was so contrived that though every particular part of it was beautiful, there is a new beauty results from the whole. The first part (Matthew 5:1-40.5.13) meets the carnal expectations of men, from the Messiah’s temporal kingdom, as they imagined it would be. And this gave our Saviour an opportunity to guard His disciples against all gross immorality and profaneness, and to principle them in the contrary virtues. Then in the second part (Matthew 5:13 to Matthew 7:7) which exposes the Pharisaical righteousness and describes at large how the Christian morals are to exceed it, we find the several parts of duty set off to a higher degree of perfection than ever the world knew before, and those vices of pride, covetousness and censoriousness, which are apt to stick to the better sort of people, most excellently guarded against. Then, lastly (Matthew 7:7-40.7.28) being now well principled against both profaneness and hypocrisy, great care is taken in the end to direct us to the best means of reducing these precepts to practice, and to guard against all the ways whereby holiness and virtue are commonly undermined; and we are excellently instructed how to stand against these.
III. The wonderful authority of the Speaker.—
1. He spake not like a common interpreter of the law, confirming his doctrine as the Jewish doctors commonly did, by the authority of their learned men, but with the air and authority of a prophet, and by that authority took upon Him to correct the doctrine even of the scribes and Pharisees themselves. And He showed His authority for this His mission and commission from God, by the many miracles which He wrought.
2. By His speaking with authority may be meant, His delivering those divine truths with a seriousness, gravity, and majesty, suitable to the great weight and importance of them, and not drily and coldly, as the scribes did the doctrines about their traditions and ceremonies.
3. By His speaking with authority, or with a powerful influence, so as to touch the hearers, may be meant, the inward grace, which accompanied His outward preaching.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Sources of pulpit power.—Jesus is pre-eminently the Preacher, and the Pattern and Inspiration of preachers. We therefore ask, what can we learn as to our work as students and preachers of the Word from the Evangelist’s report of the emotions of the crowd of listeners to the teaching of this marvellous Preacher? His words suggest at least five lines along which we may travel in quest of the chief sources of the preacher’s power; and at the head of each line we see the comprehensive and suggestive words, God, Character, Truth, Aim, and Sympathy. God: seen, trusted, and obeyed, the light of the preacher’s intelligence, the inspiration of his life. Character: based on the one foundation, and carefully built up after the likeness of Christ. Truth: as truth is in Jesus. An Aim that lifts out of self and places the worker at the centre of man, charged with and made victorious by the energies of a true human Sympathy. The most incisive element in this characterisation of the power of our Pattern Preacher is in the brief and forcible contrast between the teaching of Jesus and that of His contemporaries. A world of meaning lies in the phrase “not as the scribes.”
I. He was original.—Himself; sharply separated from the generation of mimics. True, as a Jew, He adopted some of the Jews’ ways, and even cast His discourses in the moulds used by the Jewish Rabbis. They used parables; so did He. They questioned their hearers and received and answered questions from them; so did He. They moved from place to place in the fulfilment of their teaching functions; so did He. But the resemblances went little further.
II. He inculcated inwardness and reality (Matthew 7:20).
III. The truth he taught was self-witnessing.—The “golden rule” will not need argument till the sun, shining in his undimmed strength, requires the labours of Euclid to demonstrate his presence. The blessing on the pure-hearted, on peace-makers, on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the parables of the good Samaritan, and of the prodigal son, are their own credentials. They do not ask for logic; they receive welcome. They make no call for argument; they are revelations, and force their way into the souls of men by their own light.
IV. His aim differed radically from that of the scribes.—They made more of the mechanism of worship than of its soul, and served systems till they became their taskmasters. Jesus worked for souls, not systems.
V. His aim was originated and sustained by intense love and glowing sympathy.—He who is most man works best for and speaks best to man.
1. Sympathy affects the preacher’s style, making it telling, direct, powerful and homely.
2. It kindles fancy, filling the mouth with parables, and the preaching with illustrations.
3. It gives persuasive power. Nothing gets hold of men like manly sympathy.
4. It renders the preacher a messenger of hope, a helper of joy, a source of brightness and sunshine.—J. Clifford, D.D.
Matthew 7:29. Christ’s originality.—
I. The manner of Christ’s teaching.—If we reflect on His three years of missionary work in Palestine, and on the specimens of His methods of work which are published in His biography, we shall find abundance of material for illustrating this. We can see at once how patient, how graphic, and how effective the manner of Christ’s teaching was. But withdrawing our thoughts from all these, the writer here directs our attention to one special feature of His teaching, viz. the authority with which He spoke. Nor is the matter in any way difficult of explanation. We all know that truth has a genuine ring about it which renders it unmistakable, while falsehood is characterised by cowardice and nervousness. And so the quibbling doctors, at whose feet the people sat, slavish, and speculative, and superstitious, were neither forcible in their utterances, nor commanding in their address. But when Christ taught He did so as One who came out from God to preach what was true, and who felt intensely the worth of what He spoke.
II. The matter of Christ’s teaching.—The particular cause of their amazement at this time was the teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount, which had just been delivered. And well might such a homily startle a Jewish audience! It announced ideas which were altogether unfamiliar to the Hebrew mind, and laid down principles of life and conduct which ran counter to much of their teaching and many of their traditions. Now on these topics we might dwell, as furnishing many points of contrast with the theology of the Jews, and as well fitted to excite surprise in their minds. But it will be more for our profit to select from the teaching as a whole one or two of the new ideas which Christ propounded, and, through the Jews, communicated to the world.
1. The idea of a spiritual empire and constitution.—“The kingdom of God,” “the kingdom of heaven.”
2. A new and second birth.
3. That the Holy Spirit is a real, living, personal presence in the world.
III. The results of Christ’s teaching.—Christ, with no pretensions to culture, came forth from the obscurity of a Galilean hamlet to startle Jerusalem with His wisdom, and make hundreds of bigoted Hebrews proselytes to the Christian faith.—J. Barclay.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent