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Christ, ending his sermon on the mount, reproveth rash judgment, forbiddeth to cast holy things to dogs, exhorteth to prayer, to enter in at the strait gate, to beware of false prophets, not to be hearers only but doers of the word; like houses built on a rock, and not on the sand.
Anno Domini 30.
Matthew 7:1-2. Judge not, &c.— Our Saviour, having condemned worldly-mindedness in the general, proceeds to forbid allrash and unfavourable judgments, whether of the characters of others in general, or of their actions in particular. See Luke 6:37. Though he does not level his discourse against the Pharisees in this chapter as in the two foregoing, he seems evidently to glance upon them in this and other expressions which he uses in it. That they were very culpable on this head appears from Luke 9:14; Luk 16:14-15 and John 7:47; John 7:49.; compare Isaiah 65:5. Indeed their unjust censures of Christ are the strongest instances of it that can be conceived. God proposes and recommends his mercy to our imitation: he commands us in this, in mercy, to be perfect as himself; but, judgment is his reserved prerogative, and they shall feel the weight of it who rashly invade its office. To judge is an act of sovereignty; it is an exercise of such authority as is indeed very considerable, if we were really possessed of it. Pride, among its other usurpations, arrogates to itself this province; it raises us above our brethren in an imaginary tribunal, whence we affect to distribute praise or blame in the sentence that we pass on them, and which is commonly to their disadvantage, because the firstborn of pride is malice: he who loves himself more than he ought must love others less than he ought; and the same principlewhich makes us overvalue ourselves makes us undervalue our neighbours; for, as our notions of excellence are by comparison, we cannot ascribe it so immoderately to ourselves, but upon a supposed defect of it in others. Their abasement seems to set us higher, and we erect trophies to ourselves upon their ruins; and this is the reason why we err so much oftener to the prejudice than to the advantage of our neighbour. Mere ignorance has an equal chance either way: what is thrown in the dark, and at random, might as probably hit above as below the mark; the reason why we are so often under it, is the malice of our hearts, which makes us delight to find faults in others, as excuses for our own faults, or as foils to our virtues. The expression, with what measure ye mete, &c. is proverbial, and was much in use among the Jews. The words are certainly most awful. God and man will favour the candid and benevolent: but they must expect judgment without mercy, who shew no mercy. See Heylin, Chemnitz, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 7:3. And why beholdest thou— Τι βλεπεις . "Why dost thou observe, or take notice of?" For the original word βλεπεις here signifies not only to be acquainted with other people's faults, but to pry into them, with a design to censure and reprove them. Eye here, as in ch. Mat 5:29 and Mat 6:22 signifies the intention, which is the usual subject of rash censures; because actions are self-evident, and not so liable to misconstruction, as the intention wherewith they are performed. This latter is not apparent, and therefore leaves room for that rash judgment which our Lord had just before prohibited. The word which we render mote signifies a splinter or shiver of wood; in Latin festuca, whence the English fescue (see Johnson's Dictionary). This, and the beam as its opposite, were proverbially used by the Jews to denote small infirmities and gross faults; each of which proportionably obstruct the moral discernment. See Stockius on the word δοκος, Heylin, and Horace, Sat, 3: lib. 1: Matthew 7:26.
Matthew 7:4. Let me pull out the mote, &c.— Hold still, and I will take the mote out of thine eye. This seems to be the exact meaning of the words Αφες εκβαλω in the original, which, translated thus literally, elegantly intimates, how ready men are to shrink from reproof. The simile here used implies, that it is as absurd for a bad man to set up for a reprover of others, as it would be for one who is almost blind himself to pretend to perform operations on other men's eyes. How wilt thou say, means, "How wilt thou have the confidence to say?" See Doddridge, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 7:5. Thou hypocrite— As by the eye we judge of things relating to the body, so by the understanding we judge of things pertaining to the soul. You may therefore lay this down as fixed and certain, that the more grace and holiness you yourself possess, the better will you be able to judge of your brother's faults; and the better qualified, both in point of skill and authority, to reclaim him through the grace of God. Your judgment of his character and actions will be so much the more charitable, and for that reason so much the more just. Your rebuke will be so much the more mild, prudent, and winning, and your authority to press the necessity of regeneration and reformation upon him so much the more weighty. It is hypocrisy to pretend a zeal for others, if we have not first had it for ourselves. True zeal is uniform, and, in dependence on divine grace, begins within to remove the beam from our own eye; which is its proper and peculiar work, and a necessary qualification for reforming others. Yet even when it is so qualified, it must still proceed with a prudent caution, as our Lord instructs us in the next verse.
Matthew 7:6. Give not that which is holy, &c.— Lest these trample,—and those turn again and tear you. There is a similar maxim to this in the Talmudical writings: "Do not cast pearls before swine;" to which is added, by way of explanation, "Do not offer wisdom to one who knows not the price of it." This was one reason why our Saviour taught in parables. Compare Acts 13:45-46.
Matthew 7:7. Ask, &c.— There is often a latent connection in the discourses of our Lord, which obviates difficulties and answers doubts that may arise from what has been said; as here, when he had taught how they who take upon them to instruct others ought to be qualified, and had cautioned them who were so qualified not to prostitute the precious truths of religion to such as were not in a condition to profit by them;—a doubt might justly arise in their minds, how they should be able to discern who were proper or not proper subjects of admonition; and to answer this, he subjoins what immediately follows: Ask, and it shall be given you. When the case is dubious, and the monitor himself so far purified by grace as to have no beam in his own eye, there will be no danger of enthusiasm, if, after lifting up his heart to the Father of lights, he in simplicity does what he believes tobe the will of God. See Heylin. But, though this be the immediate connection of the words, they may be understood in a more general sense, as referring to all mankind; teaching us, that God always grants our requests, provided we ask in faith, and pray for what is agreeable to his will. See 1Jn 5:14 and compare John 9:31. See Calmet.
Matthew 7:9. Or what man, &c.— Is there any man among you? Blackwall. And indeed what one man is there among you? Doddridge; who observes upon this verse, "Young preachers I hope will remark, how much life and force it adds to these discourses of our Lord, that they are directed so closely through the whole of them, as an immediate address to his hearers; and are not loose and general harangues in the manner of those essays which have of late grown so fashionable in pulpits. If any are become too polite to learn true oratory from Christ, I wish they would at least learn it from Demosthenes, who, I doubt not, would have admired the elegance of this sermon."
Matthew 7:11. If ye then, being evil— The words Τις εξ υμων, which of you, in the 9th verse, are well explained by this: "If," says our Lord, "you, imperfect and evil as you are, and some of you perhaps tenacious, froward, and unkind, readily give good gifts to your children when they cry for them; how much rather will the great God, who is perfect in goodness, and unbounded in loving-kindness, bestow blessings on his children, who endeavour to resemble him in his perfections, and for that end ask the assistance of his Holy Spirit?" for by good things are meant the true goods, Luk 11:13 the gifts of the Holy Ghost; whatever in general is proper and necessary for them, and will prove to them a real good.
Matthew 7:12. Therefore, all things, &c.— The Ουν , Therefore, is by no means a mere expletive in this passage, for there is a force in the connection beyond what has been generally observed. Because our Saviour was referring his hearers, observes Macknight, to what passed within themselves, he took occasionto engraft upon those feelings one of the noblest, plainest pieces of morality, which Doddridge thus connects with the preceding verses: "Being animated, therefore, by his goodness, study to express your gratitude for it, byyour integrity and kindness to your fellow-creatures; and take it as a most sacred rule, All things, &c. Treat men in every instance just as you would think it reasonable to be treated by them, if you were in their circumstances, and they in yours; for this is in effect the summary and abstract of all the humane and social virtues recommended in the moral precepts of the law and the prophets, and it was one of the greatest ends of both to bring men to this humane [divine] and equitable temper: I say one of the greatest, that this may be reconciled with our Lord's declaring the love of God to be the first and great commandment, ch. Matthew 22:37-38. And it is indeed a most absurd and fatal error to imagine, that the regulation of social life is the only end of religion." We may just observe, that this precept, which includes in it the rules of equity, justice, and even of charity, was familiar to the Jews, and one of theirmaxims. See Tob 4:15. And a similar precept has been delivered by several heathens writers; many quotations from whom the reader will find by referring to Grotius and Wetstein on the place. Thus far proceeds the doctrinal part of the sermon: the exhortation to practise it begins at the next verse. See Bengelius. The reader will find in Bishop Atterbury and Dr. Evans's Discourses the sense, reasonableness, and use of this golden law illustrated in a manner which deserves the most attentive perusal.
Matthew 7:13-14. Enter ye in at the strait gate— That is, strive to enter. See Luke 13:24. By the figurative expressions used in these verses, our blessed Saviour gives us to understand how easy it is to enter into destruction, and how hard it is for proud man to come to him for salvation through the infinite merit of his blood and by the power of his almighty grace: intimating at the same time,that the generality of mankind tread in the wide paths of error, and follow their passions; while few, comparatively, find out truth, and adhere thereto, in opposition to all the obstacles and discouragements that they meet with in their way. See Proverbs 14:12-13. The reflections of Erasmus upon the strait gate are lively. How strait, says he, is the gate, how narrow the way, that leadeth to life! In the way nothing is to be found which flatters the flesh, but many things opposite; poverty frequently, fasting, watching, injuries, chastity, sobriety. And as for the gate, it receives none who are swollen with the glory of this life, none that are elated and lengthened out with pride; none who are distended with luxury. It does not admit those whose spirits are laden with the fardels of riches, nor those that drag along with them in affection the other implements of the world. None can pass through it but naked men, who are stripped of all worldly lusts, and sealed with the image of God. In order to reconcile what is here advanced with those passages which assert Christ's yoke to be easy, and the ways of wisdom to be ways of pleasantness, &c. some think it necessary to suppose, that this text refers entirely to the case of persecution; and that the strait gate is a violent death, which lay at the end of the narrow way, and concluded the injuries and calamities which persecutors would bring upon Christians. See Hallet's Discourses, vol. 3: p. 24, &c. But nothing is more certain than that Christ requires from all his disciples, in all ages and places, a life of mortification and self-denial; which, though it is mingled with and introductory to pleasures abundantly sufficient to counterbalance it, yet to corrupt nature is difficult. See Doddridge; and Whitby, Grotius, and Wetstein, for many parallel passages from heathen writers.
Matthew 7:15. Beware of false prophets— The connection here is remarkable, says Dr. Heylin. One characteristic of false prophets, that is, false preachers, is, that they widen the narrow way. It is their prophesying, their teaching the broad way, rather than their walking in it themselves, which is here chiefly spoken of. All those are false prophets who preach any other way than that which our Lord has marked out. A wolf in sheep's clothing is grown into a proverb, for a minister or pastor who makes a great profession of religion, yet cannot dissemble so well as not to be discovered by attentive observation; which was just the character of the Pharisees in our Saviour's days. See ch. Matthew 23:23-28. Luke 11:39-42.
Matthew 7:16-20. Ye shall know them by their fruits— That is, by the evil tendency of their doctrines, as well as by the immorality of their lives. Compare 1 John 4:1. 1 Corinthians 13:3. What follows seems to be a kind of proverb, and there occur in heathen authors many similar sayings. Several commentators are of opinion, that the fruits here referred to are rather the nature and tendency of the doctrine, than the actions of the false teacher's lives; but I rather think that our Lord here spoke of actions, which are often called fruits. Compare ch. Mat 3:8 Matthew 21:43. Joh 15:2; John 15:5. Col 1:6 and see 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 Timothy 3:9. It will be objected, that bad men may teach good doctrines, and the worst have been known to do it in some instances. But to this I answer, that our Lord does not exhort his disciples to reject whatever such men taught; but only to be upon their guard against them, that they might not credit any thing merely on their authority.
Matthew 7:21. Not everyone that saith, &c.— That is, "Among those who acknowledge me for the Messiah, none but such as do the will of God shall be admitted into his kingdom:" not a bare profession of religion, but a conscientious performance of the duties of it, as the fruits of living faith in him, will stand the test in the great day of account. Here the kingdom of heaven must signify that of glory above. Compare ch. Matthew 8:11. Luk 13:28 and Olearius on the text.
Matthew 7:22. In that day— That is, the day of judgment so called by way of eminence. Instead of devils, Dr. Heylin reads daemons; for as an evil spirit is called by two different names in the original; namely διαβολος, where it is spoken of as the tempter or accuser of mankind, and διαμων, where bodily possessions are spoken of, it would be proper to render the first by devil, and the second by daemon. There certainly is a material difference, though we can give no satisfactory account of it. Have we not prophesied, in this place, means preached; and indeed they are often synonymous terms in the New Testament. Bad men, on some occasions, have, in the wisdom of Providence, been commissioned by God to signify his pleasure, and have been furnished with powers to prove their commission; witness Judas Iscariot, who was admitted into the college of apostles by our Lord himself. Prophesying and preaching, ejecting of devils, and other miracles are mentioned, to shew that no gift, endowment, or accomplishment whatsoever, without faith and holiness, will avail with God;—a caution very proper at all times, and particularly in those days, when the gifts of the Spirit were to be bestowed in such plenty on those who made profession of Christianity. See Macknight and Calmet.
Matthew 7:23. I never knew you— To know frequently signifies, in Scripture, to acknowledge or approve. The meaning is, "Though I called you to be my servants, and you professed yourselves such, I never knew you to be such, nor approved of you. I knew indeed that ye were the slaves of other masters,—mammon, your own belly, and ambition; therefore, as your lives have been contrary both to my precepts and your own profession, I will have nothing to do with you." There is an incomparable dignity in this whole passage. The poor despised Jesus not only calls God his Father, but speaks as the eternal Judge, before whom men should plead and beg for their lives, dreading banishment from him as their final destruction. See Doddridge and Chemnitz.
Matthew 7:24-27. Therefore &c.— The meaning of these verses is, that whoever expects to enter into the kingdom of glory, when his religion amounts to only a mere outward profession of the Gospel, will see all his ill-grounded hopes vanish, and come to nothing, when he appears before the judgment seat of that God who will judge all men according to their works.
Matthew 7:28. Astonished at his doctrine— Or, his manner of teaching. See Mar 1:27 for he taught them (Matthew 7:29.) as one having authority. This authority plainly appeared in these words, but I say unto you, &c. and in Matthew 7:22-23 have we not prophesied in thy name, &c. from which it is evident that the Lord Jesus Christ was not a teacher only of God's will, but a law-giver, and invested with a much greater authority than any of the prophets that went before him;—and not as the scribes. The Vulgate and Syriac versions add, and the Pharisees, whose lectures, for the most part, were absolutely trifling, being drawn fromtradition, or from the comments of other doctors, which these ignorant and corrupt teachers substituted in the place of scripture, reason, and truth. If we may judge of the teaching of the scribes in Christ's days, by the Jewish Talmuds, or even by their Mischna, nothing could be more generally contemptible; and their frigid and insipid comments and lessons could no more be compared with those strains of divine eloquence with which our Lord's discourses abounded, than a glow-worm can be compared to the sun. Beza has observed that Ην διδασκων, he taught them, or rather, he was teaching them, refers to the continued course and general character of his teaching; of which this divine sermon is a noble specimen. Most of the things contained in it were delivered by our Lord oftener than once; for they were of such importance, as to admit of a frequent repetition. Therefore, says Macknight, in agreement with Doddridge (see on ch. Matthew 5:1.), the sermon which St. Luke has related, although the same with this in the matter of it, may very well have been different in point of time. The commentators, indeed, are generally of another opinion; swayed, I suppose, by the similarity of the discourses, and of the incidents attending them. Farther, although throughout the Gospels we meet with almost all the precepts contained in this sermon, we are not to infer hence, that there was no such discourse ever pronounced by Christ, but that it is a collection made by St. Matthew, of the doctrines and precepts which he taught in the course of his ministry, as some learned men have affirmed. The reflection wherewith the Evangelist concludes his account of this sermon seems evidently to prove that the whole was delivered at once. It came to pass when Jesus had ended these sayings, &c. that is to say, had ended this discourse to the people, &c. See Chemnitz and Hammond.
Inferences.—All our religion should begin at home; and, instead of being uncharitably severe in censuring others, we should be carefully looking into our own hearts and ways, observing and condemning all that is amiss in ourselves, and labouring by divine grace to reform it. Without this, what will all our pretended zeal, professions of Christ's name, gospel privileges, prayers, and either preaching or hearing of the word, come to? And what a dreadful disappointment will many formalists in religion meet with at the last day! Our corrupt hearts must be changed by renewing grace, before we can be truly holy in our lives; and our principles must be right before our practices can be so. The best way, therefore, of knowing persons and doctrines is by their fruits, according as they are agreeable to the word of God or not.—How should we dread the thoughts of following the multitude to do evil, lest we follow them into hell; or of building our hopes of happiness on insecure grounds, lest they fail us, to our final destruction! And how earnest should we be in our applications to a throne of grace, that we may go along with the happy few to everlasting life, or may be wise unto salvation! Blessed be God for the high assurances we have, that the humble, importunate prayer of faith shall not be in vain; that our heavenly Father will, in the riches of his mercy, hear and answer us, and freely bestow the best of blessings upon us; and that by a faith which is productive of real holiness, we shall rest on a sure foundation, weather every storm, and get safe to glory. But, oh! how concerned should we be, not only to hear and admire the doctrines of Christ, but to be lovingly acquainted with them!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The proud and self-righteous are ever most censorious.
1. Our Lord forbids all rash judgment, unreasonable jealousies, evil surmising, and rigid censures. Judge not, uncharitably, unmercifully, under a spirit of revenge or prejudice; decide not concerning a man's spiritual state from some single act or circumstance, nor pretend to know his heart, much less to determine concerning his everlasting state: to his own master he standeth or falleth. This precept does not forbid the judgment of the civil magistrate, nor our forming conclusions of others' state as well as our own, agreeably to the word of God; for, though our own judgment may be fallible, his must be according to truth.
The prohibition is enforced by a weighty reason: Judge not, that ye be not judged. Our charity and mercifulness to others will be the means of securing the like favourable judgment to ourselves; whilst a spirit of censoriousness will provoke the resentment and ill-will of others, and be returned generally in as liberal abuse: besides, what is infinitely more to be feared, God will give judgment without mercy to those who shewed no mercy, and with rigour of severest justice will call those to his bar who dare usurp his throne, and sit as self-authorised judges of their brethren.
2. He gives us some rules about reproof; not forbidding the kind jealousy of love, but condemning the magisterial rebukes of self-sufficient pride. Before we look at the faults of others, we should well consider if there be not greater in ourselves. For how unreasonable and unjust would it be with malignant eye to mark, aggravate, and with severity condemn, the infirmities and follies of others, the mote which is in their eye; while we extenuate, excuse, or justify, what is far more culpable, the beam which is in our own? or with what face of hardened effrontery can we dare set up for reformers of them, while greater evils, unredressed, lie at our own door? This is the grossest hypocrisy, and such pretended zeal against sin but a greater abomination in God's sight, who trieth the heart. Before we presume to correct others, we should therefore reform the evils in ourselves; lest they should retort, Physician, heal thyself; and our admonition, though just in itself, be rejected with contempt.
3. Christ forbids not only uncharitable censures and magisterial rebukes, but imprudent and unseasonable reproofs. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine. Where men discover their profaneness and impiety; professedly infidel, or avowed enemies to the truths of God; who despise instruction, and are but more exasperated by admonition; there it would be folly, and abuse of things sacred, to persist in rebuking them; and we can only expect insult and harm to ourselves, without any profit to them, or glory to God: but, while prudence is enjoined, we must take care not to make our caution an excuse for our cowardice; not to think men swine till we have found them so; nor be afraid of any consequences when duty calls us, even in the face of persecutors, to bear a faithful testimony to the truths of God.
2nd, Prayer is the means appointed of God to obtain of him the supply of every want, spiritual and temporal; and therefore,
1. The command given is; Ask, seek, knock; implying the fervour, diligence, constancy, and importunity, which must be used, if we would obtain the relief of our necessities; and a deep and humbling sense of our wants, and faith in God's promises, will engage us so to do; without which there can be no availing prayer.
2. A gracious promise is annexed. They who thus pray shall surely succeed: God will hear and answer them according to their various wants. Every petitioner, without respect of persons, who thus in faith draws near to God, receives an answer of peace, finds acceptance and favour with him, has the door of mercy opened, and is welcome to enter, and freely take out of God's fulness whatever blessing he needs. Note; They who refuse or neglect to ask, deserve to want. The prayerless soul will be left inexcusable.
3. As an engagement to pray with assurance of being heard, our Lord enforces his command by an argument drawn from the compassions of our earthly parents. Evil as we are by nature, scarce one can be found so unnatural as to be deaf to the cries of his own flesh and blood, much less inhumanly to give his children things noxious, instead of the food that they want. If then, in such corrupted creatures as we are, such compassions and regard are found towards our offspring, much more will the Father of mercies graciously hear and grant the petitions of his dear children who wait upon him: his love, his power, are infinitely greater than ours, and therefore they shall want no manner of thing that is good. Their own requests, perhaps, may be sometimes improper, unnecessary, unreasonable; and these prayers he will best answer by kind denials; whilst all that his wisdom and goodness see fit shall be given them, in such manner and measure as shall be most for their benefit and his own glory. 3rdly, We have, 1. The conclusion and sum of the foregoing commands; the golden rule, universally applicable in all cases,—To do unto our neighbours as, according to reason and religion, we might expect they should do for us, if our situations were reversed:—to do them no injury; to give them every assistance in our power; to deal with them in uprightness and integrity, without making the least advantage of their ignorance or necessities: and this doctrine both the law and the prophets inculcate; and in this the commands of both, respecting our duty towards our neighbour, are summed up. The rule is short, and easy to be remembered; but how wide and difficult the practice!
2. Christ urges us to all diligence in securing eternal life, and points out the only way thereto: Strive to enter in at the strait gate. The gate is Christ, his infinite merit and intercession: it is strait; as it admits none of the trappings of pride and self-righteousness, and calls us to part from all our most beloved sins, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. And as this will require much labour, prayer, and self-denial, Christ urges the necessity of striving to enter in.
[1.] Because of the ruin and danger which attend the ways of sin, in which the multitude walk unconcerned; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction. There no restraint withholds the unbridled appetite; there pleasure, riches, honour, spread their lure; there all may find the gratification of their darling poison, or are engaged so to hope by that wily tempter, who welcomes all with fairest promises of joy and happiness; and many there be which go in thereat, naturally disposed to follow the bent of their fallen minds, and walking every one in his own way. To swim therefore against the stream of besetting temptations, and the tide of custom too, is difficult: but let us remember that the end of these things is destruction; that these paths lead down to hell; that, whether they be those of carelessness and neglect about the soul, open immorality, or self-righteous hypocrisy, all tend to eternal misery, and meet in the place of torment.
[2.] Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. There we must stoop low, our pride be mortified, all self-dependence be renounced; there the restraints of God's law hedge up the way, and leave us the narrow path of holiness only to walk in; there our very nature must be changed, our inveterate evil habits subdued, our corruptions mortified; there we must expect to meet with many trials, afflictions, and temptations; there every inch must be won with perpetual war against sin, earth, and hell; and every step must be taken with watchful care, since dangers and snares are at the right hand and at the left:—no wonder then there be few that find it, comparatively few at least. When therefore the difficulties are so great, the diligence should be proportionable; and if there be but few, comparatively, saved, we should strive to be of that number; and the issue will repay our pains: eternal life will infinitely more than compensate for all the struggles of the way.
4thly, False Christs and false prophets would shortly arise; and false teachers were already abundantly numerous. Against these the Lord therefore cautions his disciples, and sets down marks whereby they may be distinguished.
1. Our Lord describes them as wolves in sheep's clothing; such as the Pharisees and Scribes were, who, with exterior marks of sanctity, and austerity in their manners and garb, were inwardly full of enmity against the doctrines of grace and true holiness, and in their spirit hypocritical, proud, and covetous. And probably our Lord has respect to the false apostles, the judaizing teachers, and all who should ever afterwards appear in his church, preaching the abominable doctrines of man's self-sufficiency, justification by works, and the like; grievous wolves, Act 20:29 whom gain, not godliness, Rom 16:18 has drawn into the ministry. Beware of them.
2. He lays down the rule by which we must prove all who pretend a mission from him: Ye shall know them by their fruits, just as easily as a tree is known. They who are evil can no more preach the truth, and live it too, than a thorn can bear grapes. And, on the other hand, where the soul is right with God, there the fruits of truth and holiness are necessarily produced. Two ways the prophet may be known;
[1.] By his life. Is his conduct exemplary; self-denying, humble, meek, zealous? Does the love of God and of men's souls appear to influence and actuate him in all his works and ways? At least, in the general temper of his mind, and tendency of his conversation, is this manifested? These are good fruits of a good tree. But is he worldly-minded, proud, sensual, indolent, more willing to fleece than to feed the flock? rigid in exacting the wages, but unwilling to be employed in the work, of the ministry? encouraging, instead of reproving sinners, by his example; conforming to the ways of a wicked world, instead of being transformed in the spirit of his mind? These are evident proofs of the falsehood of such a prophet's pretensions.
[2.] By his doctrine; which seems chiefly intended here: for a false prophet may with the veil of hypocrisy cover his iniquities so as to appear righteous unto men. But are his doctrines according to truth, and drawn from the sacred fountain? does he preach the dignity or the desperate wickedness of man by nature? does he declare the damnable nature of sin, the utter guilt of every man by nature and practice, and the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness; or encourage the false hopes of sinners by smooth prophesies, and soften the harsh terms of hell and damnation, that he may not offend the ear with such inharmonious sounds? Does he exalt the divine Redeemer, his person, his offices, or slightly pass over these glorious subjects, for dry ethics, and lectures on morality? does he enforce religion as an experimental thing, as the work of God's Spirit in the heart, purifying the inner man? or does he dwell on mere external forms and duties; as silent about divine agency as if he knew not whether there were any Holy Ghost? Does he offend sinners by the freedom of his rebukes, and the formal and self-righteous by his scrutinizing detection of their hypocrisy? or does he study to please men, and, like the false prophets of old, secure the good word of the deluded and misguided world? By these and the like fruits shall they be known. Try therefore the spirits, whether they be of God; for many false prophets are gone out into the world; 1 John 4:1.
3. He declares the terrible end of these wolves in sheep's clothing. As the barren tree is only fit fuel for the flames, so are these marked for ruin; the axe of death shall shortly be laid to their root, and ruin eternal be their portion. Beware therefore of false prophets; lest, deluded by them, you partake of their plagues.
5thly, We have the conclusion of this awakening discourse, and the deep impression it made on the hearers.
1. Our Lord shews that no profession of religion, destitute of the power of godliness, will stand a man in any stead at a judgment-day.
[1.] It is not saying, but doing, that must prove our genuine religion. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, in boasting profession and noisy devotion, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, be enrolled as living members of his church, or be admitted inheritors of his glory; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is heaven, who truly believes on him whom God hath sent, takes him for his Lord and Master, not merely in word and tongue, but in deed and in truth; obedient to his commands, following him in righteousness and true holiness, desirous to do his will on earth as he hopes shortly to do his will in heaven. Reader, is this character thine?
[2.] Many in the day of Christ will appear to have deluded themselves with false hopes, whose pleas will then be fearfully silenced. Many will say to me in that great day of judgment, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? Many of those who may have filled the highest stations of the church on earth, have been to appearance the most zealous preachers, or public professors in it, yet proved no better than Balaam or Caiaphas: yea, and in thy name have cast out devils, as Judas, and many others, no doubt; and in thy name done many wonderful works? even working the most astonishing miracles: and yet Christ declares, Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, all ye that work iniquity. Notwithstanding all your pleas, your hearts have been false and faithless, and your professions utterly unsound; and therefore your portion must be, to depart accursed with the devil and his angels. Learn hence these awful truths (1.) That a man may be a minister of the gospel, yea, distinguished with gifts and successful in his labours, and yet be finally cast away; may be the instrument of saving others, and perish himself; may cast out devils from the hearts of others, and harbour them in his own. (2.) Names may pass upon men, but God searcheth the heart. There are secret sins to be found in many under the cloak of most glaring profession; and they shall receive greater damnation. (3.) In the day of judgment, terrible will be the disappointment of those, who all their lives long were working, as they thought for life, were esteemed as patterns of piety, and cried up as the excellent of the earth, and yet will be found not only to have deceived others, but to have deluded themselves, falling from the height of self-righteous hopes into the depths of endless despair, and from the gates of heaven driven into the belly of hell. Let every man prove well his own work, and judge himself, that he may he found sincere and without offence at the day of Christ.
2. He enforces the truths that he had delivered, by an opposite parable of a wise and foolish builder, describing the different foundations they laid, and the different issue of their labours.
[1.] The wise builder, his labours, and success, are described. (1.) His character is given; He heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them. Herein is seen the mind that hath wisdom: he receives the truth in the love of it, obeys the precepts, is influenced by the Gospel as a living principle of action, and seeks conformity in heart and life to his divine Lord and Master. (2.) He builds upon a rock, on Jesus Christ, the only sure and safe foundation, depending an his infinite merit, powerful intercession, and free, rich, and unmerited grace alone for pardon and acceptance: and under the teachings of his word and spirit, and the supports of his grace, the glorious superstructure rises of righteousness and true holiness. As he builds for eternity, he is jealous in labouring to make his calling and election sure; and in every good word and work seeks to approve himself to the great Master. (3.) He who thus faithfully and perseveringly builds upon and rests upon this rock, stands against every storm. He may expect, and will meet with many a severe blast: the rain of temptation within, the overflowings of ungodliness without, the wind of persecution, all may unite their fury against him, to move him from his steadfastness, to shake his confidence in Christ, to discourage or seduce him from the good ways of the Lord; but, resting on this rock, and cleaving to this Saviour, the faithful soul shall stand: he shall stand in the day of evil; in the hour of death he shall be supported; his work shall stand the fiery trial; and in the day of judgment he shall be approved and rewarded by the Lord of life and glory.
[2.] The foolish builder, and his sad end, are set forth for our warning. (1.) His character is, that he heareth the sayings of Christ, and doeth them not. He makes profession of religion, and attends upon the ordinances, but goes no farther; the doctrines of the gospel have no deep effect upon his heart, nor an universal and abiding influence on his conduct. (2.) He builds upon the sand, leaving Christ to rest upon something in himself, and looking for acceptance, in whole or in part, on account of some external things wherein he differs from others, whether moral duties, alms, honesty, and the like, or on the form of godliness, baptism, prayers, frequenting the house and table of the Lord, &c. Or if he has a speculative knowledge of the truth, and knows the vanity of these things, he rests on that knowledge, without any experimental possession of the blessings of the gospel; and then it profiteth him nothing: or if his notions are yet more spiritualized, he makes his inward feelings, or supposed gifts and graces, his confidence, depending upon what he calls the Christ within, which is but a more refined self-righteousness, and a more subtle delusion: and therefore, when the time of trial comes, his house will fall, and crush him under its ruins. If persecution arises for the word's sake, such are quickly offended; in times of affliction and trouble, their hopes cannot support and comfort them; and in death they utterly fail; at least, if the hypocrite's hopes stand out to the last, they die with him; destruction and despair from that moment seize him; and too late he discovers the fatal mistake, when it is irremediable, and his eternal state is determined.
3. Great was the impression made by this discourse of our Lord on his audience: they were as men thunder-struck; astonished with the uncommon power, weight, and energy which attended his preaching. They admired the dignity with which he spoke, addressing them in his own name as one invested with authority: and his sentiments were new, as well as weighty; utterly unlike the flat and spiritless comments of the scribes, who servilely adhered to the traditions and decisions of their rabbis. And yet, alas! the impression soon wore off from many, from the most of them. So easy, so common, is it to hear with admiration the eloquent or powerful preachers of the Gospel, to feel a transient glow, and notwithstanding to continue in ignorance and unbelief, under the power of sin, and perish everlastingly.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 7". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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