(2) As anxiety about the things of this life hinders us Godwards (Matthew 6:19-34), so does censoriousness manwards (Matthew 7:1-12), our Lord thus tacitly opposing two typically Jewish faults. Censoriousness—the personal danger of having it (Matthew 7:1, Matthew 7:2), its seriousness as a sign of ignorance and as a hindrance to spiritual vision (Matthew 7:3-5), even though there must be a recognition of great moral differences (Matthew 7:6). Grace to overcome it and to exercise judgment rightly can be obtained by prayer (Matthew 7:7-11), the secret of overcoming being found in treating others as one would like to be treated one's self (Matthew 7:12).
Parallel passage: Luke 6:37. Judge not. Not merely "do not condemn," for this would leave too much latitude; nor, on the other hand, "do not ever judge," for this is sometimes our duty; but "do not be always judging" ( μὴ κρίνετε). Our Lord opposes the censorious spirit. "Let us therefore be lowly minded, brethren, laying aside all arrogance, and conceit, and folly, and anger, and let us do that which is written … most of all remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which he spake, teaching forbearance and brag-suffering; for thus he spake … 'As ye judge, so shall ye be judged,'" Clem. Romans, § 13; cf. 'Ab.,' 1.7 (Taylor), "Judge every man in the scale of merit;" i.e. let the scale incline towards the side of merit or acquittal. That ye be not judged; i.e. by God, with special reference to the last day (cf. James 2:12, James 2:13; James 5:9; Romans 2:3). Hardly of judgment by men, as Barrow (serm. 20.): "Men take it for allowable to retaliate in this way to the height, and stoutly to load the censorious man with censure."
Parallels to the second clause in Luke 6:38 and Mark 4:24, For. Explanatory of" that ye be not judged." The principle of your own judgment will be applied in turn to yourselves. With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. The judgment ( κρίμα) is the verdict; the measure is the severity or otherwise of the verdict. In both clauses the passives refer to judgment by God, as is even more clear in Mark 4:24. The saying, "with what measure," etc., is found in Mishua, 'Sotah,' Mark 1:7 ("With the measure with which a man measures do they measure to him"), where it is applied to the jus talionis in the case of a woman suspected of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31). Again. Omitted by the Revised Version, with the manuscripts. It was naturally inserted by the copyists, either as an unconscious deduction or from the parallel passage in Luke; but it is absent in the characteristically Jewish form of the saying found in the Mishna.
The heinousness of censoriousness as a hindrance to one's self and to one's work for others.
Parallel passage: Luke 6:41. And why—when it is so contrary to common sense—beholdest thou the mote, etc.? A Jewish proverbial saying, e.g. Talm. Bab., 'Bab. Bathra,' 15b, Rabbi Jochanan (third century A.D.),expounding Ruth 1:1, says, "A generation which when under judgment ( טפשנש) judgeth its judges. When one saith to a man, Cast out the mote out of thine eyes, he saith (in answer), Cast out the beam out of thine eyes." In Talm. Bab., 'Erach.,' 16b, "Out of thy teeth" seems to be the right reading. In these verses the "eye" is usually taken as belonging solely to the illustration, and as not itself representing any one object. It may be so, but it has been used so recently (Matthew 6:22) of the spiritual sense that it is more natural to take it so here. In this case the thought of the passage is of faults existing in a man's spiritual sense hindering his spiritual vision. The censorious man sees any fault, however small, readily enough in others, but does not see the much greater fault which he himself as a matter of fact has—his own censoriousness. This censoriousness is not a slight, but a great hindrance to his own spiritual vision, much more to his being of use in removing hindrances from the eye of another. The mote; τὸ κάρδος; Latt. festucam; any small vegetable body. The English word is from the Anglo-Saxon mot, "a small particle" (cf. further Luke 6:41, note). Observe that our Lord allows that there is something wrong with the brother's spiritual vision, just as he allows that the unmerciful servant had a real debt owing to him. That is in thy brother's eye (Matthew 5:22, note). Our Lord is here speaking of the relation of believers to fellow-believers. He tacitly contrasts the censoriousness of the Pharisees towards fellow-Jews (John 7:49). But considerest not ( οὐ κατανοεῖς). With any attention of mind; contrast Romans 4:19 (Abraham gave earnest consideration to his own age, and yet believed). The beam. So huge a piece of wood is there in thine own eye. That is in thine own eye. The order of the Greek lays still more emphasis on the fact that, though in thy very own eye there is a beam, thou payest no regard to that (cf. Romans 4:5, note).
Parallel passage: Luke 6:42. Or. A second case is supposed. You may only see the mote or you may offer to remove it. How; with any conscience. Wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out? Let me ( ἄφες, Luke 3:15). There is nothing here of the rudeness that so often accompanies censeriousness. Pull out; Revised Version, cast out ( ἐκβάλω). The thought is of the completeness, not the method, of the removal (of. Matthew 9:38). A beam; the beam (Revised Version); i.e. the beam already mentioned.
Parallel passage: Luke 6:42. Thou hypocrite (Matthew 6:2, note). The thought here is of the personation of a part (a man free from impediment in his vision)which does not belong to you. First cast out the beam out of thine own eye, In Luke 6:3 the order of the words lays the emphasis on "thine;" here, on the eye. It is in thine eye, of all places, that the beam now is. And then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Surely a promise as well as a statement. See clearly ( διαβλέψεις, δια- discriminatingly); as in the right text of Mark 8:25, itself after the recovery of full power of sight. See clearly. Not the mote (Mark 8:3), but to cast out the mote. The verse seems to imply that if the spirit of censoriousness be absent, it will be possible for us to remove "motes" from the eyes of our brothers. Thus the passage as a whole does not say that we never ought to try to remove such "motes," but that this is monstrous and almost impossible so long as we ourselves have a fault of so much magnitude as censoriousness.
Matthew only. Give not that which is holy, etc. While you are not to be censorious towards brethren (verses 1-5), you must recognize the great and fundamental differences that there are between men. You must not treat those who are mere dogs and swine as if they were able to appreciate either the holiness or the beauty and wealth of spiritual truth. Give Observe that "give," "cast," are naturally used of feeding dogs and swine respectively. That which is holy ( τὸ ἅγιον). The metaphor is taken from the law that the things offered in sacrifice were no longer to be treated as common food (Le Matthew 22:1-16, especially Matthew 22:14, τὸ ἅγιον). Unto the dogs. The scavengers of Eastern cities, which by nature and habit love and greedily devour the most unholy of things (cf. Exodus 22:31). Neither cast ye your pearls, Pearls. Only here and Matthew 13:45, Matthew 13:46 in the Gospels. In form not so very unlike swine's food of beans or nuts, they here represent the beauty and precious wealth of the various parts of the Gospel, in which Christ's disciples are accustomed to delight ( ὑμῶν). Ignatius ('Ephesians,' § 11) calls his bonds his "spiritual pearls." Before swine; before the swine (Revised Version). Probably in both cases the article is used with the object of bringing the particular dogs and swine to whom these are given more vividly before us. Swine. Which have no care for such things, but rather wallow in filth (2 Peter 2:22). Dogs... swine. The terms seem to so far indicate different classes of men, or more truly different characters in men, as that the one term points to the greedy participation of the wicked in open profanation, the ether to the sottish indifference of sinners to that which is most attractive. Lest they; i.e. the swine. Dogs, even though wild in the East, would not "tread down" the food. Trample them under their feet (Matthew 5:13). In ignorance of their real worth and in disappointment that they do not afford them satisfaction (For the future, καταπατήσουσιν, cf. Matthew 5:25, note.) It here expresses the greater certainty of the trampling than of the rending (aorist subjective). And turn again—Revised Version omits "again"—and rend you. In rage at the disappointment experienced. The clause expresses the personal enmity which those who wilfully reject the gospel often feel towards those that have offered it to them. It might be thought difficult to carry out this command, as it is evident that we cannot know beforehand who will accept the gospel or not. But in cases where the character of the person is not known (e.g. as when St. Paul preached at Athens, etc.), the command does not apply. Our Lord supposes the case where the character is apparent (cf. 1 Timothy 5:24). Theodoret, in quoting this verse, adds, "My mysteries are tot me and mine," which, clearly an adaptation of Symmachus and Theodotion's rendering of Isaiah 24:16, יל יזר (cf. also Targ. Jon.), seems to have become almost an authorized, and certainly a true, interpretation of our verse.
Ask, and it shall be given you, etc. Parallel passage: Luke 11:9-13. Nearly verbally identical, but in the son's request, reads "egg" and "scorpion" for "bread" and "stone," and reverses the order of the sentences.
In Luke the verses are closely connected ("and I say unto you") with the parable of the friend at midnight, which itself immediately follows the Lord's Prayer. It seems probable that, as with the Lord's Prayer (Luke 6:9-13, note), so with these verses, the original position is given in Luke; yet, as also with the Lord's Prayer, Matthew's form of the individual clauses may be the more original (cf. verse 11, note). With the general promise contained in these verses, cf. Mark 11:24.
The connexion with the preceding verse is probably not
Ask … seek … knock. Gradation in urgency. Further, the three clauses think of the Giver, the sphere in which the gift lies, the obstacles in the way of obtaining it.
For every one that asketh receiveth. Every one that asketh of God receiveth, for he is not the censorious Judge that you are inclined to be in your dealings with others. Therefore ask expectantly. He "giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not" (James 1:5).
Matthew 7:9, Matthew 7:10
Or what man is there of you, etc.? Or. Is not what I say true? or—if you think not—what man of you yourselves would act otherwise towards his own son? Our Lord appeals to the experience and natural feelings of his hearers themselves to emphasize the readiness of the Father—"your Father," whose nature you share, and from whom you derive your feelings of fatherhood (Ephesians 3:15)—to grant the prayers of his children. Observe:
Parallel passage: Luke 11:13. If ye then being evil. Application of the thought of Luke 11:9, Luke 11:10, with further emphasis on the evil of human nature. If you with your moral worthlessness (Matthew 6:13, note), etc. (cf. also Matthew 12:34). Being ( οντες). The presence here in the parallel passage of Luke of his common word ὑπάρχοντες points to St. Matthew's form of the sentence being the more original. Know; intuitively ( οἴδατε). Notwithstanding, then, the evil bent of fallen human nature, there is some good still remaining. How much more shall your Father which is in heaven. "In quo nulla est malitia" (Bengel). Give good things. Observe:
Matthew 7:12, parallel passage: Luke 6:31; 12b, Matthew only. All things therefore. Therefore. Summing up the lesson of verses 1-11 (cf. verse 7, note). In consequence of all that I have said about censoriousness and the means of overcoming it, let the very opposite feeling rule your conduct towards others. Let all (emphatic) your dealings with men be conducted in the same spirit in which you would desire them to deal with you. Even so. Not "these things" do ye to them; for our Lord carefully avoids any expression that might lead to a legal enumeration of different details, but "thus" ( οὕτως), referring to the character of your own wishes. (For this "golden rule," cf. Tobit 4:15 (negative form); cf. also patristic references in Resch, 'Agrapha,' pp. 95, 135.) On the occasional similarity of pre-Christian writings to the teaching of our Lord, Augustine (vide Trench, 'Serm.,' in loc.) well says it is "the glory of the written and spoken law, that it is the transcript of that which was from the first, and not merely as old as this man or that, but as the Creation itself, a reproduction of that obscured and forgotten law written at the beginning by the finger of God on the hearts of all men. When, therefore, heathen sages or poets proclaimed any part of this, they had not thereby anticipated Christ; they had only deciphered some fragment of that law, which he gave from the first, and which, when men, exiles and fugitives from themselves and from the knowledge of their own hearts, had lost the power of reading, tie came in the flesh to read to them anew, and to bring out the well-nigh obliterated characters afresh." (Compare also Bishop Lightfoot's essay on "St. Paul and Seneca," in his 'Philippians.') For this is the law and the prophets. For this. This principle of action and mode of life is, in fact, the sum of all Bible teaching (cf. Le 19:18). Observe:
(4) Epilogue (cf. Matthew 5:3, note). Dare to take up this position, which has been laid down in Mt 5:21-7:12, involving though it must separation from the majority of men (Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14); and this notwithstanding the claim of others to reveal the Lord's mind, whose true nature, however, you shall perceive from their actions (Matthew 7:15-20); they that work iniquity have neither present nor future union with me (Matthew 7:21-23). Finally a solemn warning (Matthew 7:24-27).
For Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14, cf. Luke 13:23, Luke 13:24, which, however (notwithstanding the similarity of Luke 13:25-27 to our Luke 13:21-23), were probably spoken later, and were perhaps suggested to both the disciples and the Master by this earlier saying. On the other hand, our Luke 13:14 seems so direct an answer to Luke 13:23 that it is not unlikely that this is one of the many passages placed by St. Matthew, or the authors of his sources, out of chronological order. Enter ye in. Show immediate energy and determination. Observe:
Because ( ὅτι); for (Revised Version); "many ancient authorities read, How narrow is the gate, etc.". The reading, "how" ( τί) is much easier, as avoiding the difficulty of the connexion of this verse with the preceding, but probably ὅτι is right. The connexion is either that it is parallel to the first ὅτι, and thus gives a second reason for decision in entering through the narrow gate; or, and better, that it gives the reason for the statement in Matthew 7:13—many pass along the wrong way because the right way requires at the very outset so much determination and afterwards so much self denial. Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way; narrow is the gate, and straitened the way (Revised Version). Not only is the gate narrow, but the way itself seems compressed ( τεθλιμμένη) by rocks, etc., on either side. That leadeth unto life ( εἰς τὴν ζωήν). Observe, Christ does not say, "life eternal." He only cares to emphasize the thought of life in the fullest nature of life—life as "the fulfilment of the highest idea of being: perfect truth in perfect action" (Bishop Westcott, on 1 John 3:14). And few there be that; Revised Version, and few be they that (Matthew 7:13, note). Our Lord here affirms more than the disciples ask in Luke 13:23; for there the question deals with those in a state of salvation ( οἱσωζόμενοι), here those finally saved. Find it; i.e. the gate and all it leads to. The narrow gate is here looked at as involving life. Find. It needs a search (contrast Luke 13:13). But there is the promise of Luke 13:7, "Seek, and ye shall find."
Matthew only in this form, though most of the separate verses have much matter common to other passages; viz.: verses 16, 18, parallel with Luke 6:43, Luke 6:44, cf. also infra, Matthew 12:33; Matthew 12:19, cf. Matthew 3:10; verse 21, cf. Luke 6:46; Luke 6:22, cf. Luke 13:26; Luke 13:23, parallel with Luke 13:27. (For the connexion of these verses, cf. Luke 13:13, note.)
Matthew only. Beware. The warning against being led from the right entrance and the right way is all the more emphatic for there being no adversative particle in the true text. Beware of false prophets. The whole class of them ( τῶν). Not, observe, "false teachers" (2 Peter 2:1), as though these persons only falsely interpreted fundamental truths, but "false prophets,'' as falsely claiming to bring messages from God. They claim to bring from God the true message of salvation, but their claim is false. These were doubtless found, at the time that our Lord spoke the words, especially among the Pharisees; but when St. Matthew recorded them, chiefly among Christians, either on the Jewish or on the Gnostic side (Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20, 1 Timothy 6:21; cf. also 1 John 4:1 and 'Did.,' § 12.). Which; qualitative ( οἵτινες); seeing that they. Come unto you in sheep's clothing. In, as it were, the skins of sheep ( ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), professing simplicity and gentleness, and (for, perhaps, this thought is also included) claiming to be members of God's true flock. Externally they are all this, but at heart they are something very different. But inwardly they are ravening wolves. The thought of "ravening" ( ἅρπαγες) is of both violence and greed. These false prophets are not merely wicked at heart and opposed to the truth, but they wish to injure you, and that for their own gain (cf Galatians 6:13). "Of the ravenousness of wolves among the Jewes, take these two examples besides others. The elders proclaimed a fast in their cities upon this occasion, because the wolves had devoured two little children beyond Jordan. More than three hundred sheep of the sons of Judah ben Shamoe were torn by wolves" (Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.;' cf. Ezekiel 34:4, on false shepherds).
Parallel passage: Luke 6:44. (For the first clause, cf also Luke 6:20 and Matthew 12:33.) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Their appearance and their claims are no proof of their true character. It may seem difficult to recognize this, yet there is a sure way of doing so, by their life. The emphasis of the sentence is on "by their fruits." Ye shall know. Ye shall come to know them to the full ( ἐπιγνώσεσθε). (On the greater strength of the compound, vide Ellicott, 1 Corinthians 13:12.) Fruits. All considered separately (cf. Luke 6:17, Luke 6:18, Luke 6:20), but in Luke 6:19 as one whole (cf. Matthew 3:8, note). It is, however, just possible that here and in Luke 6:20 the plural points to fruit growing on different trees. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? The visible outgrowth reveals the nature of that which is within. Those who "profess to combine fellowship with God with the choice of darkness as their sphere of life "(Bishop Westcott, on the suggestive parallel 1 John 1:6) only show that within they are destitute of fellowship with God. Observe, Christ does not say, "Do thorns produce grapes," etc.? (cf. James 3:12), but "Do men gather?" i.e. he desires to bring out the way in which men ordinarily deal with productions external to themselves. You, my followers, ought to use that common sense in spiritual matters which men show in matters of everyday life. Thistles; apparently Centaurea calcitrapa, the common thistle of Palestine; in the plains the only fuel.
Matthew only. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. The similarity between the fruit and the nature of the tree extends not only to the species, but also to the specimen. Good tree ( δένδρον ἀγαθόν); intrinsically sound. Good fruit ( καρποὺς καλούς); attractive in the eyes of men. As is the inner character of the tree, so is the obvious nature of the fruit. But a corrupt tree ( τὸ δὲ σαπρὸν δένδρον); "the" picturing it. Corrupt; unsound, rotten, worthless (cf. Matthew 13:48); also in the moral world (Ephesians 4:29).
Parallel passage: Luke 6:43 (cf. also infra, Matthew 12:33). A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. This correspondence of external product to internal character is necessary. It cannot (emphatic) be otherwise. It' the heart is good, good results follow; therefore, he implies, if good results are not seen in these "false prophets," it is because of their real character. A bad life cannot but spring from a worthless heart. Of course, our Lord deals only with the general rule. There are apparent anomalies in the world of spirit as of nature. Bring forth … bring forth; ἐνεγκεῖν (Westcott and Herr)… ποιεῖν. A good tree cannot have bad fruit hanging on it; a rotten or worthless tree cannot, with all its efforts, produce good fruit.
Matthew only (cf. Matthew 3:10, vide infra). Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. A parenthesis expressing the terrible fate of those the general product (verse 16, note) of whose life is not good. Christ will warn his followers plainly against listening to them. Observe that the form of the sentence ( πᾶν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπόν, κ.τ.λ.) implies that all trees will be cut down unless there is a reason for the contrary; that the normal event (the natural result of universal sin, apart, of course, from Christ's atonement) is that men are condemned and perish. In Matthew 3:10 this general statement is applied ( οὖν) to a definite time of impending judgment.
(Matthew 7:16, note.) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Wherefore ( ἄραγε). Matthew 7:16 is restated, but now in "rigorous logical inference" (Winer, § 53:8. a) from Matthew 7:16-18. Since it is a certainty that fruit is the result of inner nature, you shall from these men's fruits fully learn their true character.
These verses stand in close connexion with Matthew 7:15-20. Seeing that external actions are the result of internal life, it is they, not words nor even miracles, by which the true followers of Christ will be finally distinguished from others, and which therefore will alone secure admission to abiding with Christ in the kingdom of heaven. To these verses Luke 13:23-28 have many resemblances (cf. also Luke 13:13, Luke 13:14, supra). St. Luke thus omits the warning against false teachers. (For verse 21, cf. also Luke 6:46.)
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord. Professing obedience (Matthew 6:24). Observe the indirect claim to this title of reverential submission and the implied expectation that it will be given him by many. Shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. The final goal of our hopes. But he that doeth the will of my Father. Not "of me," but of him whom I represent, and to whom I stand in a unique relation (observe the claim). This man also says, "Lord, Lord" (Winer, § Matthew 26:1), but not merely says it. Such a man enters into family relationship to Christ (Matthew 12:50). Which is in heaven. Since you desire to enter the kingdom of heaven, be now obeying the will of him who dwells in heaven. (For the thought of the verse, cf 1 John 2:4.)
Matthew only; but cf Luke 13:26, from which the "Western" addition of eating and drinking is probably derived. Many will say to me in that day. The great day. Notice Christ's claim, so early as this, to be the future Judge of the world. Lord, Lord (cf. Hosea 8:2). In Luke 13:21 profession of service, i.e. as regards work; here, as regards wages. Have we not prophesied. Revised Version did, etc.? The thought is not of abiding effect, but merely of historical facts ( οὐ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι ἐπροφητεύσαμεν). In thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? Revised Version, by thy name. An important difference, for "in" implies some vital connexion. But in this case the revelation (Matthew 6:9, note) of Christ was merely the instrument by which these men proclaimed Divine truths, cast out; demons, and wrought miracles. With him, or even with it, they had no real union. The connexion of "prophesied" with the two other words seems to forbid this being only false prophesying (Luke 13:15; cf. especially Jeremiah 27:15 [Jeremiah 34:12, LXX.]; Jeremiah 14:14). Rather does the verse teach that spiritual results can be effected by unspiritual men. "Suggested by this and like passages. Augustine has many instructive words and warnings on the nothingness of all gifts, even up to the greatest gift of working nil miracles, if charity be wanting" (Trench, ' Sermon on the Mount').
(Cf. Luke 13:27.) And then will I profess unto them. Openly in the face of all men (cf. Matthew 10:32). I never knew you. Even when you did all these miracles. etc., I had not that personal knowledge of you which is only the result of heart-sympathy. There was never anything in common between you and me. Although this is, perhaps, the only example of this sense of ἔγνων in the synoptic Gospels, it is common in John. Depart from me. The absence of recognition by Christ, though not represented as the cause, yet will involve departure from his presence (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9). This clause reproduces verbally the LXX. of Psalms 6:8, except in St. Matthew's word used for "depart" ( ἀποχωρεῖτε), which gives more idea of distance in the removal than the word used in the psalm and in Luke ( ἀπόστητε). Ye that work. In full purpose and energy ( οἱἐργαζόμενοι, cf. Colossians 3:23), and that till this very moment. Iniquity. The assurance of the psalmist becomes the verdict of the Judge. Observe that at this, the end of his discourse, our Lord speaks not of sin generally ( τὴν ἁμαρτίαν), but of lawlessness ( τὴν ἀνομίαν). He has throughout been insisting upon obedience to the Law in its final meaning as essentially necessary for his followers (most recently verse 12). So that instead of saying, "ye that work sin," he uses the correlative (1 John 3:4), for sin is neglect of or opposition to the perfect Law of God in the three spheres that this regards—self, the world, God (of. Bishop Westcott, on 1 John 3:4). It is, perhaps, more than a coincidence that in 2 Timothy 2:19 we have again the collocation of the Lord knowing and of man's departing, i.e. either from him or from sin (of. especially the parallel Luke 13:27); vide Resch, 'Agrapha,' p. 207.
Parallel passage: Luke 6:47-49 (cf. also Ezekiel 13:10-16). A solemn close to the sermon. By the similitude of two builders our Lord warns his followers that to have heard his words will have been useless unless they put them into practice.
Observe that although the word "hear' in these verses cannot indicate that full "hearing" which it sometimes connotes (Matthew 10:14), yet it seems to mean more than merely listening, and to imply both a grasp of what is intended by the statements made and at least some acquiescence in their truth (Acts 2:22; Revelation 1:3; John 5:24).
According to the above explanation, it will be seen that in the imagery the rock represents practice; the sand, mere sentiment. There is thus a partial correspondence with the works insisted on by St. James in contrast to a bare orthodox faith (James 2:24). Assent is insufficient; there must be action.
Not uncommonly, indeed, the rock is considered to refer to the Lord himself, and the sand to human effort. Cf. Ford: "The parallel passage (Luke 6:48), where the words, 'cometh unto Me,' are inserted, indicates clearly the foundation of faith, the receiving the Lord Jesus as our Prophet, Priest, and King, which is the only basis on which good works can be built" (cf. even Allord). This, however, is hardly exegesis, but application, for the "coming to Christ" is in Luke only introductory to the hearing and doing, and is altogether omitted here. Although the statement is true in itself, it is only so far proper to this passage in that, apart from practice, there is (verse 23) no heart-union with Christ.
Therefore whosoever hoareth; Revised Version, every one therefore which heareth ( πᾶς οὖν ὅστις , Matthew 10:32). The relative used lays stress on the quality implied in the verb: every one who is of the kind that hears (contrast Matthew 7:26). These sayings (Revised Version, words) of mine, and doeth them. Not the individual utterances ( ῥήματα, John 6:63), nor the substance of my message considered as a whole ( λόγον, Matthew 13:1-58 :(19) 20), but the substance of its parts, the various truths that I announce ( λόγους). I will liken him; Revised Version, shall be likened, with the manuscripts. Not shall, in fact, be made like, Matthew 6:8 (Weiss), but shall be likened in figure and parable. Unto a wise man. Prudent, sensible ( φρόνιμος). Which built his house upon a rock; Revised Version, the rock. Which in not a few cases may be found at no great distance from the surface.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a (Revised Version, the) rock. The stages of the tempest are expressed more vividly than in St. Luke.
Matthew 7:26, Matthew 7:27
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell; and great was the fall of it. In the Plain of Sharon the clay seems to have been so interior that not only were the jars made of it often worthless, but the bricks could offer so little resistance to the weather that the houses were hardly safe. Hence a special prayer was offered by the high priest on the Day of Atonement that the Lord would grant that their houses might not become their tombs. In the parable, however, it is not the structure, but the foundation, that is wrong. The sand may refer, as Stanley suggests, to one locality, in which case it is probably "the long sandy strip of land which bounds the eastern plain of Acre, and through which the Kishon flows into the sea;" or, as would seem more probable, to the sand which would naturally be found on the edges of such a torrent as is here described. Beat upon; smote upon (Revised Version). In Matthew 7:25 the thought is more of the swoop of the tempest ( προσέπεσαν); here, of its impact on the house ( προσέκοψαν). It is possible that there is here less indication of force necessary for the destruction. "It needed only the first blow, and the house fell" (Weiss, 'Matthaus-ev.'). And great was the fall of it. Our Lord's solemn verdict of the utter ruin awaiting him who does not put his assent into action. The clause conveys an impression even stronger than Matthew 7:23. There the positive worker of lawlessness is banished from Christ's presence; here, on the mere non-worker of Divine messages received is pronounced ruin and (for such, at least, seems suggested) that irremediable.
Matthew 7:28, Matthew 7:29
The impression produced on the multitudes. With the exception of the formula, "It came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings" (cf. Matthew 11:1, note), the words are almost identical with Mark 1:22 (Luke 4:31, Luke 4:32), but the time is, as it seems, later. The oral statement of an impression which was probably often produced is affirmed of slightly different times.
Sayings; Revised Version, words (Matthew 7:24, note). The people; Revised Version, the multitudes ( οἱὄχλοι). In contrust to the scribes and ruling classes. Were astonished (cf. Acts 13:12). At his doctrine; at his teaching (Revised Version).
For he taught them. Such was his constant habit ( ἦν... διδάσκων). As one having authority, and not as the scribes. Who, indeed, never claimed personal authority. Jewish teachers lean on the fact of their having received that which they expound. They professed]y sink their own personality in that of those of old time, to whom the teaching was first given (Matthew 5:21). To this our Lord's personal claims stand in sharp contrast. The scribes; Revised Version, their scribes, with the manuscripts; i.e. the scribes to which they were accustomed to listen. Whether the reference is primarily to scribes of the nation generally or only to those of the neighbouring district, is hardly material, for these were representatives of the one class. A few authorities add, "and the Pharisees," which may either be derived from Luke 5:30 or be an independent gloss due to the fact that the Pharisees were looked upon as the typical Jewish teachers.
Various practical rules issuing out of the central duty of self-consecration.
I. CONDUCT TOWARDS OTHERS.
1. Gentleness in our estimate of the lives of others. The hypocrites trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others; they made an ostentatious display of their own supposed good deeds, and passed stern judgments on their neighbours. The righteousness of Christ's disciples must exceed that of the Pharisees in both respects. Indeed, Christ's words must not be understood in that literalness which was one of the characteristic errors of the Pharisees. The judge must pass sentence upon criminals; it is his duty to God, to society. The minister of God must "reprove, rebuke, exhort,": when God saith unto the wicked, "Thou wicked man, thou shalt surely die," he must warn the wicked of his sin; for otherwise (God himself hath said it) "that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand." All Christians must hate sin, and show that they hate it. "Woe unto them," saith the Prophet Isaiah, "that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" Sometimes it is our duty to judge others. When it is our duty, we are safe, if we do it with pity for the sinner and with grief for the dishonour done to God (see Psalms 119:136). It is a duty full of danger and temptation; there is need of prayer and self-examination and careful scrutiny of our own thoughts and motives. When it is not our duty, it is never free from the danger of sin against the law of love. Censoriousness is one of the great blots of social intercourse. People who have nothing else to talk about, talk about their neighbours; they discuss their conduct; they impute unworthy motives; they repeat slanders, they exaggerate them; they take a sinful pleasure in condemning others; they often sin against the ninth, continually against the new, commandment. And these unchristian judgments imply self-righteousness, pride, hypocrisy; they usurp the prerogative of the great Judge, who alone can search the thoughts of the heart; they bring the uncharitable into exceeding great danger, for the commandment of the Judge is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;" and surely those who judge their brethren harshly take part (awful as it seems) rather with Satan, the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before our God night and day, than with the Lord Jesus Christ, the most loving Saviour, who dearly loved the souls of men, who wept over impenitent Jerusalem, and said, "Father, forgive them," as they nailed him on the cross. Therefore "judge not, that ye be not judged." Men will judge harshly those who judge others harshly, and the human judgment passed upon the censorious is but a shadow of the more dreadful judgment that is to come.
2. Strictness in judging ourselves. We extenuate our own faults; we always have excuses ready. We magnify the faults of others; we have no excuse for them. Our faults seem to us as motes, theirs as beams; our judgment is often reversed by the just judgment of God. Consider your own faults, concentrate your attention upon them—that is your duty; not, as a rule, to pass judgment upon your neighbours. "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God." Of himself; then let him take heed to his own soul, let him look into its state narrowly and jealously, let him carefully remove every mote and every defilement, let him wash it white in the blood of the Lamb. This diligent self-examination will prepare us for the difficult and delicate task of helping others. He who would take heed to the flock must take heed first unto himself (Acts 20:28); it needs a clean heart, and a close fellowship with Christ, and a purified spiritual vision, to see clearly to cast out the mote out of our brother's eye. There is need of true humility and heavenly wisdom and deep spiritual experience, if we are to deal successfully with the souls of others. If we are to restore others, it must be in the spirit of meekness, by the help of the good Spirit of God, always considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
3. Holy caution in dealing with the worldly and the wicked. "Holy things for the holy," is a well-known direction in the ancient liturgies; it expresses the lesson which the Lord would teach us here. Judge not, but yet be careful. The deep things of spiritual experience are not for all men. The mysteries of the soul's converse with God are not to be lightly divulged in common talk. "My Beloved is mine, and I am his." The intercourse of the converted soul with the heavenly Bridegroom is a thing too sacred for ordinary conversation. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him … They that feared the Lord spake often one to another." The Christian can tell what God hath done for his soul only to the like-minded—the holy with the holy; and there are hidden things of which he speaks only to God in the silence of his heart. The deepest thoughts of that life which is hid with Christ in God, the blessed truths on which the soul leeds in loving faith, are far too sacred to be offered to the contentious, the unbelieving, the mere controversialist; far too precious to be thrown down to the gross and sensual, who despise the pearl of great price in comparison with their low and coarse enjoyments, who will turn angrily and scornfully upon him who introduces such subjects. Confessions of past sin, histories of conversions, spiritual experiences, are very sacred; but they are not for all men. They will do harm to the worldly; they wilt provoke them to scorn and derision.
II. OUR RELATIONS WITH GOD.
1. The duty and blessedness of prayer. "Ask … seek … knock." He bids us pray through whom all prayer is offered, in whose Name every knee must bow; he will hear us, we know. He has just taught us the blessed words of his own most holy prayer; he bids us use them, not as mere words uttered by the lips, but as true prayer prayed out of the depths of the heart. "Ask," he says, "and it shall be given you;… everyone that asketh receiveth." It is not asking, to repeat a few words without real desire. The heart must ask; the heart asks by its longings, yearning after God with groanings that cannot be uttered. Ask thus, and surely ye shall have. "Seek," he says, "and ye shall find." You ask for that which you need; you seek that which has been lost, that which is hidden. Original innocence has been lost; the true treasure of the soul is a hidden treasure. Seek after righteousness, seek the kingdom of God, seek Christ. Seeking implies perseverance, careful, watchful effort. The Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost. He sought on and fainted not through the thirty years of his quiet life at Nazareth, through the three years of his ministry—those years of unwearying labour, self-forgetting love. He sought on even as he hung dying in agony on the cross: "Father, forgive." He sought and he found: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." He sought, and we must seek; we must seek him who is seeking us. If we seek as he sought, in patience, perseverance, in love, we shall surely find him; for he is still seeking, still calling, "Come unto me." "Knock," he says, "and it shall be opened unto you." But knock now, while it is the day of grace. There are some who will stand without, and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open unto us;" and he shall answer,"I know you not." Knock now. Knocking implies importunity. It is not enough to be "not far from the kingdom of God;" we need to enter in, into the presence of the most holy One. He will open if we knock in faith and strong desire; for he himself, in the wondrous condescension of his infinite love, deigns to knock at the door of our poor unworthy heart. "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof." But he desires to enter, in his gracious mercy. "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Then we know that he will open if we continue knocking; he will not keep the door shut against those souls of men whom he loved so very dearly. He will admit us, if we persevere in faithful prayer, into his most gracious presence now, into the joy of our Lord hereafter.
2. Our Father hears the prayer of his children. Earthly fathers give their children what they need; they will not give a stone for bread, a scorpion for fish. They are sinful; the inherited corruption of sin cleaves to them all; yet they love their children and care for them. How much more does our Father which is in heaven, our Father who is Love, care for us, his children! Our Father listens to our voice, but he listens in wisdom and true holy love. We ask him sometimes for stones or scorpions, for earthly things which will only be a weight and hindrance in our heavenward journey, or perhaps may even tempt us to fall into sin, which is the sting of death. He will not give the evil things which we blindly ask; but it is in love that he refuses. "My grace is sufficient for thee." He gives the true bread—the bread which, if a man take, he shall live for ever. He gives good things to them that ask him; not always the good things of this world, which are not reckoned good in the world to come—" Son, thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things"—but things really good, things that the souls of the blessed can take with them when the world passeth away. He gives, in answer to the prayer of the heart, the best of all good things—the Holy Spirit of God.
3. We must imitate him. "Be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." To be like unto God is not to be strong and beautiful and brave, like Homer's godlike heroes, but to imitate God in that which, his apostle tells us, enters into his very nature. "God is Love." If we would have him give good things to us, we must give good things to our neighbours according to our power. Our Lord lays down a plain, simple rule to guide us in our daily walk: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We must ask ourselves how we would have our neighbour act towards us if our circumstances were reversed. Thus our own heart becomes our guide; it tells us just how we ought to act. Only let us be sincere, truthful with ourselves, and we cannot he deceived. The rule is wide in its range. It is not, "Do not to others what you would not they should do to you;" others before our Lord had said that much. The Lord's rule is far wider, far more stringent. It strikes hard at that selfishness which is the parent of so many sins; it extends over all the circumstances of life; it substitutes for the minute rules of the Pharisees one comprehensive principle; it implies the energy of holy love in the heart, for only true Christian love can enable a man to apply this commandment of the Lord to the government of his own life and actions. This is the Law and the Prophets. All the commandments of the second table are briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And it implies the commandments of the first table; for Christian love, that charity which is the greatest of all graces, flows out of the love of God. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his command-merits." Then this is the Law and the Prophets. All the practical teaching of Holy Scripture is contained in the one law of love; and one Teacher only can write that law upon our selfish hearts, and teach us to apply it to the details of our daily lives—the Holy Spirit of God, whom our Father which is in heaven will give (his blessed Son has promised it) to them that ask him.
III. THE OBSTACLES WHICH IMPEDE OUR OBSERVANCE OF THE SAVIOUR'S RULES.
1. Their difficulty.
Therefore the Lord bids us enter in at the strait gate; in his tender love for our souls he condescends to show us the way, entering there himself. Few find it, but the Lord Jesus is with those few. He is their Guide; his cross goeth before them; they follow him in trustful faith, though often with much fear and trembling, sometimes with many anxious doubts. For the path is very narrow; it is hemmed in on each side with difficulties and dangers. Many side-paths open out from it; they seem sometimes to follow the same general direction, but a slight divergence at first often leads very far astray. They are sometimes very tempting; they look smoother, easier, pleasanter, than the one narrow way. There is need of much careful thought, much self-restraint, to keep the right path; it is steep, sometimes very rugged, leading ever upwards. Few find it. Sometimes, in moments of depression, they seem to us very few indeed; but we remember that when Elijah thought himself alone, God could tell him that there were seven thousand faithful men in Israel. And if they are but few, they are the followers of the Lamb, "called, chosen, faithful." He himself is with them, cheering, comforting, strengthening them. The narrow path is often a vale of weeping—there is much sorrow, many trials; but there is much comfort. The Lord is with his followers; therefore "they go on from strength to strength, and at the last unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Zion." For at the end of the narrow path lies the strait gate. It is strait; there is need of self-denial, diligence, holy thoughtfulness, even to the last. It is strait; but there is room for all to enter in who have chosen the service of Christ; for he has passed through that strait gate himself, and he will open it wide to his followers. It is strait; but it leadeth unto life—to that life which is indeed worth living; the everlasting life with God in heaven. For the strait gate of the parable is, indeed, the pearly gate of the golden city; there shall enter the saints of God, ten thousand times ten thousand, when the fight with sin and death is over, and the redeemed of the Lord, more than conquerors through the precious blood, go up with singing to Zion into the city of the living God.
2. The influence of false teachers.
1. The Lord teaches the great danger of idle and slanderous gossip; take heed, listen, and obey.
2. Pray earnestly for grace to see your own faults, examine yourselves; be real, hate unreality, and hypocrisy.
3. Pray always, in trustful faith, m persevering earnestness.
4. Deny yourselves; only the way of the cross leadeth to the crown of life.
5. Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit; beware of false teachers.
Conclusion of the sermon.
I. THE NECESSITY OF OBEDIENCE.
1. Not all disciples will be saved. They all say, "Lord, Lord;" they all call themselves by the holy name of Christians; but not all can enter into the kingdom of glory at the last. For our Father which is in heaven is the King of heaven; and none can enter into his kingdom but those who do his will. They all pray, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." It is mere hypocrisy, it is mocking God, to say that holy prayer and not to try to do the will of God ourselves. It is done in heaven. There is room for no other will there; all wills in heaven are one with the blessed will of God. We must learn to do our Father's will in earth, that our will may by his grace be more and more conformed to his most holy will; so may we one day enter into that blessed place where all do his will lovingly and perfectly.
2. Not all teachers. In the great day men will call Jesus Lord. Could he say that, were he not what we know he was, the Lord God Almighty? He accepts the title, for it is his by right; he himself called no man lord. They will call him Lord then, some of them in terror and fearful anticipations; alas! he says there will be many such. They will plead, in deprecation of the dreadful judgment, their works done outwardly for him, and, as it seemed, by his help. "Did we not prophesy by thy Name?" But the gift of prophecy is nothing worth without the grace of love; there have been great preachers gifted with the mighty power of spiritual eloquence who yet knew not the Lord themselves, whose own hearts were cold while they kindled the love of others. "Did we not by thy Name cast out devils?" But so did Judas, who was the son of perdition, into whom the devil entered. "Did we not by thy Name do many mighty works?" But Holy Scripture tells us that though we had all faith, so that we could remove mountains, yet we should be nothing if charity were wanting. It seemed a great thing to have the gift of prophecy and the power of working miracles, but these great gifts will not save the soul; there is need of something deeper—the hidden life of holiness which the Father only sooth, the submission of the human will in love and faith to the holy will of God.
3. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." "I know mine own," he saith, "and mine own know me." "I never knew you," he will say to the false prophets; to many, alas! who once seemed to be doing great things for him, but yet in their hearts loved him not. "Depart from me." For they were really working iniquity when in the eyes of men they were working for Christ; their life was a lie, untrue, unreal; it was a piece of acting, nothing more. And now the mask is torn away, and the miserable truth is seen. He never knew them as he knoweth his sheep, his chosen. Oh that he may know us as the Father knoweth him (John 10:14, John 10:15), with the knowledge of holy, heavenly love; and that we by his grace may learn to know the good Shepherd with that blessed knowledge which is life eternal (John 17:3)!
II. PARABLE OF HEARING AND DOING.
1. The obedient hearer. He receives the Word with joy; he recognizes it as the Word of God. But he is not content with hearing. Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God ought to be listened to with solemn reverence. But there needs something more than solemn reverence, something more than intent listening. The Lord could look into the hearts and thoughts of the vast multitude gathered round the Mount of the Beatitudes. They were astonished at his doctrine; they had listened with interest, with admiration, and with wonder. They would go away. Sometimes they would remember the great Teacher; they would call to mind that look of Divine majesty, those holy eyes beaming with tender love, those tones of touching persuasion and more than human authority; they would tell their friends of the great audience, of the hushed silence, of the strange originality of the Lord's teaching, so utterly different from that of the scribes. But would their lives be changed? Would they live as many, most of them perhaps, had half intended to live while the sound of the holy words was yet falling on their ears? Alas! no. How many would very soon forget all that they had heard! They would relapse into their old ways; some of them would join the scribes and Pharisees in persecuting the great Master. The Lord knew it would be so; he forewarns them of the danger. The Word of God must be obeyed; obedience is greatly blessed. The obedient hearer is like a wise man, who built his house upon a rock. His religion is the house in which his soul is sheltered—the house which is to be his refuge in the storms of adversity, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment. The religion of the obedient hearer is real, deep, and true; it rests upon a rock. That Rock is Christ, the tried Stone, the sure Foundation. The faithful disciple had dug deep, below the surface of words and mere profession, and had reached the Rock; his house rested upon it, it was built into it, and in that union with the living Rock it was safe. Temptation might come, and suffering and persecution; sickness might come, pain of body and anguish of soul; it would come sooner or later; but the house that had foundations, the house that rested on the Rock, could not be shaken; it would stand even when the floods of the river of death were beating against it; for the faithful followers of the Saviour "die in the Lord," in vital union with him who is the Rock of ages.
2. The careless hearer. He heareth, but doeth not. Perhaps he hears with pleasure, with interest; but this is a very unworthy result, if this is all. The Word of God is very sacred and august; it brings a solemn responsibility upon the hearers; it ought to produce conviction, obedience. He that doeth not shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. It was without foundations; it rested not upon the Rock. That house is the mere profession of religion—outward worship, outward forms, outward conformity; there is no change of life, no reality, no obedience, no serf-denial; there are words only, and not deeds. And that house cannot stand. For a time it may seem fair and stately. It has a look, perhaps, of strength and solidity. But it has no foundations; it cannot give shelter to the trembling soul in sorrow and distress, in sickness and the fear of death. "It fell, and great was the fall of it."
III. THE FEELINGS OF THE AUDIENCE. The great sermon was over, but the spell of the Preacher's voice and manner vet held the people in astonishment. They compared him with the scribes; they were accustomed always to adduce the authority of others—Moses, or the prophets, or some famous rabbi. The Lord spake with authority: "I say unto you." He represented himself as the Judge who was to distinguish between the real and the unreal, who would say to the hypocrites," Depart from me.' Only the Son of God could use these words, only One who knew in the depth of his consciousness that he himself was God over all. He spoke with authority then on the Mount of the Beatitudes. He speaks with authority now from heaven. Blessed are the true children of the kingdom. Great must be the fall of the hypocrite and the disobedient.
1. Words will not save us; only holy obedience, the obedience of the heart: "Thy will be done."
2. It will not help us to hear the greatest preachers unless we try to live as we are taught.
3. Build upon the Rock; think of the end; the sand will not bear the house; the Rock is the Rock of ages.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The mote and the beam.
As we read the Gospel narratives we cannot fail to be impressed with a singular mingling of severity and kindness in the teachings of our Lord. His standard is lofty and he admits of no compromise, yet he deals gently with the erring, and he urges a similar line of conduct on his disciples. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He bids us not judge one another, while we are to be severe in judging ourselves. Let us consider the evil of censoriousness.
I. IT IS DANGEROUS. In judging others we court judgment ourselves.
1. From men. The critic becomes unpopular. By his irritating conduct he excites animosity, and induces people to be on the look out for his offences. They will be ready to use the tu quoque argument in sheer self-defence. None of us is so perfect as to be able to stand the fire of adverse criticism without a defect being revealed. The fierce light that beats upon a critic should quiet his censoriousness.
2. From God. It is unpleasant for our faults to be exposed by men; it is far worse, it is fatal, for them to bring down upon us the judgment of God. Yet it is the repeated teaching of Christ that God will deal with us as we deal with our neighbours. If we do not forgive them, God will not forgive us. With the unmerciful he will show himself unmerciful. So long as we make it our business to point out the sins of other people there is no hope that our sins will be blotted out (Matthew 6:15).
II. IT IS HYPOCRITICAL. The censorious person is the last to perceive his own sin. It may be huge as a beam, yet he is quite unable to see it while he is busy in hunting for the speck of dust in his brother's eye. There is nothing which so hinders a person from heart-searching self-examination, nothing which so hardens him in self-complacent pride, as the habit of finding fault with other people. The prophet may be a greater sinner than the people whom he is denouncing; yet the very act of denunciation blinds him to his own great wickedness. The English bear a reputation of hypocrisy on the Continent, and are not popular there as a nation, because they are constantly denouncing "continental vices," while dishonesty in trade, self-seeking in politics, and immorality in life belie their exalted pretensions. It is a common habit of Churches to thunder against the heresies and wrong-doings of sister-communions; they would do better to look at home first. Religious people are horrified at the sight of publicans and sinners; but have they nothing to be ashamed of? Comparing their advantages with the temptations of the miserable drunkards and harlots whom they denounce, they might well ask whether their pride, uncharitableness, and covetousness may not be veritable beams in the eyes of God.
III. IT IS FUTILE. While there is a beam in his own eye the critic cannot remove the mote from his brother's eye. To do so is to perform a very delicate operation. Any obscurity of vision will allow only of a bungling attempt, that will give much pain and yet will not effect its purpose. The beam must go first. While a man is blinded to his sin, he cannot save his neighbour. Christ, the Saviour of the world, was sinless. Christians must seek deliverance from their own sins before they undertake a crusade for the saving of their brethren. The humility that confesses personal unworthiness is the spirit best fitted for seeking to save lost and degraded fellow-men and women.—W.F.A.
Pearls and swine.
At the first blush of it this reads more like a motto of the scribes than a proverb from the large-hearted Christ. It is quite as important to see what it does not mean as to lay hold of its positive teaching, because we are all tempted to abuse it in order to excuse our narrowness and selfishness.
I. MISAPPRENSIONS OF THE PROVERB.
1. In neglect of the poor. This is the most gross and insulting abuse of the principle which can be thought of. No one would venture to express it in so many words when he was thus misdirecting it. Yet virtually such an application of it is very common. It is thought that any coarse fare will be good enough for the poor; not only coarse food and clothes, but coarse treatment, coarse methods of religion, coarse amusements, and the ministration of coarse men. To bring works of art and good music to "the lower classes" is thought to be wasteful. Refined people are not to spend themselves on the common people. This is Pharisaism without its religion—the pride of the cultivated Roman with the bitterness of the scornful Pharisee.
2. In contempt of the illiterate. The Gnostics reserved their choicest ideas for the inner circle of the initiated. Ignorant people might walk by faith; Gnostics had attained to knowledge. This is not the religion of Christ. He rejoices that God reveals his best truth to babes and sucklings.
3. In despair of the sinful. We are tempted to shrink from speaking of Christ to the very lowest people. It looks like a profanation to set the treasures of the gospel before them. They can hear the Law that condemns their sin; the beautiful thoughts of God's grace in Christ are too good for them. This, too, is unchristian. Christ brought his good tidings to all men, and the first to leap up and grasp it were the publicans, the sinners, and the harlots.
II. THE TRUE APPLICATION OF THE PROVERB. If these obvious uses of it are all contrary to the mind and method of Christ, how does he wish us to use it? Let us look at it on two sides—in regard to men and in regard to truth.
1. In regard to men. Who are the dogs and the swine? Not the poor and the illiterate; not only or always the abandoned and degraded.
2. In regard to truth.
Encouragements for prayer.
Jesus is revealing the Fatherhood of God, and now he is showing how that great truth is the basis of faith, and, in particular, the ground for confidence in prayer.
I. THE CALL TO PRAYER.
1. Thrice repeated. This threefold invitation shows us
2. In varied forms.
3. With promise of success. Prayer is more than confiding in God. It is not a voice crying in the dark for its own relief, and satisfied without any reply. It must be answered, or it will despair. Christ teaches us that God gives in response to prayer what we should not receive without it. This cannot be because God is ignorant of our needs (Matthew 6:32), nor that he is reluctant to help. It must be because he sees that blessings which it would not be fitting to bestow on the careless, the distrustful, or the self-satisfied, may be bestowed with wholesome results on those who humbly trust him and prepare themselves to receive them.
II. THE GROUNDS OF CONFIDENCE.
1. The Fatherhood of God. This is a greater reason for confidence than any definite assurance of help. We delight to plead the promises; but what if we need something lying outside the range of them? or what if we dare not apply some of them to ourselves? We assure ourselves by meditating on the Divine covenant. But how can we be certain that we are parties to the covenant? And are there no blessings to be had that are not named in that deed? Here we have assurances of uncovenanted mercies. The father does not bind down his kindness to the limits of his promises. Because God is our Father, there is no limit to his willingness to help and bless.
2. The analogy of human families. It is customary with Christ to use his parables as arguments. He is often found reasoning from what is generally accepted among men. With him religion is so natural a thing that the very course of nature is a ground of assurance. It would be quite contrary to nature that God should not show his love as a Father. To disbelieve it is to believe an amazing monstrosity of unnatural heartlessness.
3. The superior goodness of God. The argument is a fortiori. Blind unbelief will not credit God with the common paternal instinct found even in sinful human parents. Thus it places him below man. But he is infinitely above man. Then he must be a better Father than the best of human parents. If imperfect fathers on earth will not deceive their children, much less will the perfect Father in heaven. Apply this
The golden rule.
This is the great Christian rule of life. In some respects it was not unknown before Christ; the famous rabbi Hillel is said to have uttered a maxim somewhat like it. Nevertheless, it is distinctly Christian because Christ sets it before us as of primary importance, because it is the first rule of Christian conduct, because it is the law of our Lord's own life, and because he alone shows us how it can be carried out in practice and so makes it real and living.
I. WHAT IT MEANS. It is an application of the old principle of the Law that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. It sets before us an excellent test by which we may see whether we are doing so, an admirable standard by which we may measure ourselves. Observe its characteristics.
1. Action. It carries us beyond the love of sentiment to the love that is seen in action. It is useless to feel kindly to others if we do not act fairly.
2. Breadth. "All things whatsoever" are included under it. It is to apply to men generally—not merely to brethren, friends, neighbours, fellow-Christians, fellow-citizens. It applies to strangers, disagreeable people, foreign nations, the heathen, savage races.
3. Lucidity. Here is a clear guiding light. We can well perceive what we should like ourselves. We know how we should like to be treated under certain circumstances. Accordingly we may see how others would also wish to be treated. Thus we can perceive what is desirable, and instead of letting self-interest blind us to our duty to others, we may use the voice of self-interest as the very indicator of what should be done to them.
4. Reasonableness. Nothing unfair is here laid upon us. No one can possibly complain of this rule. It is a principle of perfect justice, and every man is to be his own judge in regard to it.
II. WHAT IT CONTAINS. "The Law and the Prophets," i.e. the whole Scripture. Here is the whole duty of man. Of course, it is evident that Christ is referring to that side of man's duty which belongs to his fellow-men. Yet even the further duty of serving God is here best fulfilled.
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small."
In human intercourse this maxim may be taken as a universal guide. Were it always employed no more would be needed. It is set forth in Kant's categorical imperative, "So act that thy conduct may be a universal law to mankind."
III. HOW IT IS PRACTICABLE. The chief distinction between Christ and moralists when he deals with moral questions is not so much the superior character of his teaching—though that must be apparent to all—as the power that accompanies it. The Utopian dream of the ethical thinker becomes a possibility, becomes a reality in the kingdom of heaven. The golden rule floats hopelessly above our reach until we come into personal contact with Christ. But it is the very law of the life of Christ, and when we are united to him the inspiration of his life makes it possible for us. Thus it is not just to say that this rule is Christianity, and that all else in our religion is needless. On the contrary, it is a living, spiritual Christianity—faith in Christ and devotion to him—that enables us to carry out Christ's great rule of conduct.—W.F.A.
Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14
The two ways.
The idea of "the two ways" seems to have laid hold of the mind of the early Church very strongly; a treatise known by that name was in use among the primitive Christians, and the first part of the recently discovered Church manual, entitled, 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,' embodies that treatise. It was not thought easy to be a Christian in the heroic days of persecution; it is not really any easier to-day, when the difficulty comes rather from the all-pervading atmosphere of worldliness.
I. THE ENTRANCE. The gate of the one way is narrow, the gate of the other wide. We are directed to think of beginnings. This is a subject to be studied in early life. It comes up at the great moment of decision. We must just think of the gate, for until we have passed through we cannot be in the way at all.
1. The straitness of the first gate. No one can become a Christian without an effort. We do not drift into the kingdom, nor do we grow up in it unconsciously. Even the children of Christian homes need to come to decision and make a deliberate choice. Moreover, there are sins to be repented of, evil habits to be renounced; pride must be humbled, and the simple trust of a little child attained. We become Christians by complete surrender to Christ.
2. The width of the second gate. We do not need to make any choice of evil. Evil is all around us. We have but to let ourselves go, and we shall be swept through the wide gate. This is so very wide that we cannot miss it if we merely permit ourselves to go with the crowd.
II. THE WAY. Life is more than its beginnings. We have to consider its whole course. But that course is likely to resemble its commencement. The strait gate leads to the narrow way, the wide gate to the broad way. The whole life has a character of its own.
1. Why the right way is narrow. This is not because there is a virtue in restraint on its own account.
2. Why the wrong way is broad. The very variety of evil makes it so. Then there is no law in sin. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Thus the way of evil is one of wild self-will; it is every one turning to his own way (Isaiah 66:3). A track across open country, if much used, tends to become wider and wider as each fresh traveller chooses what seems to him the best bit of ground on which to walk.
III. THE END. The two ways keep apart from beginning to end; neither issues in the other. The broad way is not a short cut to the narrow way. Each has a separate destination. We do not all come to the same end. But the character of the end is determined by the character of the way. This makes the way of great importance. It is not a city in which we dwell, nor even a temporary camping-ground on which we rest for a night. We are always moving along it. The great question is—Whither does it tend? Christ sets the alternative before us very clearly—eternal life or destruction. Here is reason for rousing ourselves and listening to the urgent entreaty of the Saviour, "Enter ye in," etc.—W.F.A.
The tree and its fruit.
It is not enough for Christ to spread his own wholesome teaching; he must warn against the dangerous influence of bad teachers. Later in his ministry he had occasion to speak of the pretended shepherds, who were really thieves, or at best hirelings (John 10:10, John 10:12). Here his reference to the tree and its fruit is meant to be applied to the teacher and his work. It shows that he expects people to be watchful over those who assume to be their instructors. Christians are to judge prophets.
I. THE QUALITY OF THE WORK IS DETERMINED BY THE CHARACTER OF THE WORKER.
1. Work is fruit. A man's true work is not something which he has chosen to do by free selection from any number of possibilities. It is the very product of his being; it is himself thrown out and expressed in action. All real work is a growth from a man's life.
2. The fruit must correspond to the tree. It is not just a miniature tree, but it is "after its kind." The teaching and life-work may not be merely photographs of the mind of the teacher and worker, but they will correspond in kind. This is necessary because it is natural. Christ's parallel goes beyond an illustration, and becomes an argument from analogy. The whole course of nature makes it monstrous to suppose that good work can come from bad men, or bad work from good men.
II. THE WORKER MUST BE JUDGED BY HIS WORK.
1. He should not be judged prematurely. We are tempted to form hasty prejudices about people, the results of first impressions. But these are most delusive. A pretentious or an attractive teacher may be worthless. One who vexes and offends us may be a very prophet of God. The present popularity of a preacher is a poor test of the value of his ministrations.
2. His work must be examined. Our Lord distinctly requires this. We are not to judge men in private life and as to their own individual conduct. But when any one takes on him the office of a public teacher he invites examination. It is not incumbent on us to criticize for the sake of the criticism, but we must decide whether a man whom we follow is leading us aright.
3. The test is to be found in final effects. There are snares in the judgment by results. We may look only at external effects; we may be impatient for quick returns; we may mistake quantity for quality. It is necessary to wait for some autumn fruit ripening. Then the question is as to kind and quality. If these are good, the teaching is wholesome. The best form of Christian evidences is the biography of Christian men. Honest missionary reports are an important element in apologetics.
III. THE BAD WORK WILL CONDEMN THE UNWORTHY WORKER. The tree only exists for the sake of its fruit. Its goodly shape, its vigorous growth, its luxuriant foliage, count for nothing, or worse them nothing, for they cumber the ground. What would be a merit in the forest is a fault in the garden. Trees planted for fruit must bear fruit, or they will be useless. It is bad to produce poisonous or worthless fruit; but it is also a matter of condemnation to be barren, like the fruitless fig tree of the parable (Luke 13:6-9). God's test at the great judgment will ignore the fame of popular preaching, the glitter of daring thinking, the honour of exalted position. All will go by the quality of the output. And on this test will follow more than the acceptance or the condemnation of the work. The worker himself will be judged—condemned or rewarded.—W.F.A.
The rock and the sand.
Christ turns from the judgment of the teacher, in the parable of the tree and the fruit, to the judgment of the hearer, in the parable now before us. The hearer is responsible as well as the teacher.
I. LIVING IS BUILDING. Every man is building himself a house, for all life-work is the putting together of a habitation in which the worker will have to dwell. Some build feebly and set up but slight structures, mere huts and shanties. Others work with more ambitious designs, and will make themselves spacious mansions, gorgeous palaces, or massive castles. Whatever a man builds, in that he must dwell. We cannot get away from the results of our own life-work. These will either become a shelter to protect us or a ruin to fall about our heads.
II. THE SECURITY OF A BUILDING IS DETERMINED BY THE SOLIDITY OF THE FOUNDATION. Our Lord's imagery would be particularly vivid in his own country. Nazareth is built in a cleft of the hills, some of its houses perched on jutting rocks. A similar character of foundation would be found in the neighbourhood of Gennesaret, where Jesus was now teaching. If the foundation is rotten, the greater the building the more insecure will it be, and the greater will be the fall thereof when it comes down. It is vain and foolish to be bestowing care on the towers and pinnacles while the foundation is giving way. Efforts spent on mere ornamentation are quite wasted if the question of the foundation has not been first of all carefully attended to. Yet in practical life this is the last thing that many consider. They would reach the goal without entering the strait gate; they would gather the fruit without grafting in the right stock; they would complete the house without attending to the foundation. Yet the first great question is as to what we are building on.
III. THE FOUNDATION WILL BE TESTED. All is well at first. The house on the sand looks as fair and solid as that on the rock. Perhaps it is of a more pretentious character. But the calm dry weather will not last for ever. The rainy season ensues. Torrents scour the mountain-sides and sweep the loose soil from the rocks. Wind and rain beat on the house at the same time that it is being undermined by the raging flood that washes the sand from beneath its foundation. This is like the persecution and tribulation that scorch the growth on the stony ground (Matthew 13:20, Matthew 13:21). Trouble is a test of the foundation of a professedly Christian life. Death is a great final test.
IV. THE SOLID FOUNDATION IS OBEDIENCE. A careless hearer of this parable might be ready to assume that Christ is the Foundation, and that faith in him is building on that Foundation. Of course, these are truths expressed elsewhere (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:11). But they are not the lessons of the present parable. Our Lord is distinctly warning us against a superficial profession of allegiance to himself (Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23). All is useless if there is not obedience. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). In other words, the only living faith in Christ is that which proves its existence by bringing forth fruit in active service. Only they are on the rock who do what Christ teaches.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Matthew 7:1, Matthew 7:2
The warning in judging.
Thus, at the early beginning of the new generations of the earth, did the Author of them, foreseeing their long and ever-broadening tumultuous streams, declare this among the essential conditions of a true inheritance in them, that men fear and avoid rather than rush into the seat of the judge. It is a great condition of membership in the new society. To the soundness and health of this society many an element must contribute; and to exist it must be healthy. No fencing of it from without, no careful tending of it from without, but only its innermost sound constitution can secure this. As we now survey the complex conditions of human society, we admire that prevision of the Organizer and ultimate Lord of it. And we wonder at the sanitary provision marked so clearly by the exhortation and argument contained in these two verses. Their injunction is indeed one that easily courts superficial lip-objection, but it is also one that does not fail to draw forth a deep "Amen!" from the "good and honest" heart, warned by the disasters, unnumbered and innumerable, consequent on the neglect of it, informed by careful observation of life, and matured by experience. When we ask what it really is that is contained in it, we may at once without hesitation reply that its purport is certainly not to affront reason and common sense; it does not bid us blind our eyes, either by disuse of them, or worse, by blank contradiction of their testimony; it does not forbid or put some dread ban on our sober use of our faculty of judgment. But, plainly, it is a great direction of life, essentially practical in its significance, and not better for others and the peace of the life of the community than safe for self. Just as those most emphatic and repeated directions of Scripture to guard the use of tongue and lips with all diligence do not ban the use of them, so the words of perfect wisdom now before us guard a dangerous power, and restrain a disposition ever too willing to assert itself against the fatal abuse of it. For—
I. To UNDERTAKE TO JUDGE IS TO USURP A POSITION BETWEEN GOD AND MAN, NOT ONLY UNAUTHORIZED, BUT BOTH ELSEWHERE AND HERE IN THE MOST IMPORTANT CONNECTION ESPECIALLY FENCED OFF.
II. AMONG A THRONG OF NECESSARY AND INEVITABLE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITIES, IT IS TO COURT AND EVEN CHALLENGE A GRATUITOUS AND VERY DANGEROUS ADDITIONAL ONE.
III. IT HAS IT IN ITS VERY GENIUS, AND ALSO AS A NOTORIOUS FACT TO ENGENDER AN INSTINCTIVE RESENTMENT ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO ARE THE OBJECTS OF IT, AND TO PROVOKE RETORT.
IV. IT BREEDS INTRINSIC DANGER TO THE DISPOSITION OF THOSE WHO EXERCISE IT, AND OFFERS INCENTIVE, WHERE DISCOURAGEMENT IS WHAT IS SPECIALLY NEEDED.
V. IT DARES CONSEQUENTIAL VERY PRACTICAL RISKS, FOR THOSE WHO INTRUDE, STIRRING FOR THEM JUDGMENT AND JUSTICE THAT MIGHT SLEEP, AND DANGEROUSLY SUGGESTING THE SELF-ASSIGNED MEASURE OF IT. If anything might be expected to operate as a deterrent upon the habit that has proved itself to have so strong a hold on men, it might well be this dread thought.—B.
The confronting question.
The question or questions of these verses arise only too directly out of the matter that immediately precedes. The habit, so human, of sitting in judgment on our fellow-beings is almost invariably aggravated by' other satellite habits, also very human, and that fail to amaze and to shame us only by reason of our too intimate familiarity with them. Thus—
I. LITTLE FAULTS IN OTHERS WE SEE VERY LARGE, AND LARGE FAULTS IN OURSELVES WE SEE VERY LITTLE.
II. LITTLE FAULTS IN OTHERS WE SEE VERY LARGE, FOR THE BLAMABLE REASON THAT LARGE FAULTS IN OURSELVES WE SEE VERY LITTLE.
III. THE LARGE FAULTS OF OURSELVES ARE IN A CERTAIN WAY MEASURABLE, AND THIS THE MEASURE OF THEM—THEY ARE OF JUST THE SIZE TO BLOCK OUR VISION OF ALL THAT IS OUR FIRST DUTY TO "CONSIDER," i.e. OF ALL THAT IS AS NEAR TO US AS OURSELVES.
IV. THEY DO AS A MATTER OF FACT BLOCK THAT VISION SO SADLY EFFECTUALLY, THAT THOUGH LABOURING UNDER ALL OUR OWN PERSONAL DEPRIVATION, WE PROFFER PATRONIZINGLY TO DO THAT OFFICE FOR OUR NEIGHBOUR WHICH lEONE RUT THE PUREST VISION IS QUALIFIED TO DO, AND NOTHING BUT THE IMPURITY OF PHARISAIC SELF-CONCEIT WOULD PRESUME TO VOLUNTEER OR DARE TO ESSAY EXCEPT ON SOLICITOUS ENTREATY.—B.
Christian economy, and gospel frugality.
This verse, apparently solitary and detached, depends for its effect certainly on no verbal connection with what precedes it, but throws itself fearlessly on its intrinsic virtue. It provides all needful counteractive, and counteractive very efficacious, to the verbally unqualified prohibition of the first and second verses of the chapter. Charity, moderation in our own inner judgments of others, and restraint of lip in the expression of them, are not to degenerate into lavish latitudinarianism, nor to presume on pleading the exhortation of Christ for sanction of any such perversion. To rule in one's own mind that any are "dogs" and "swine" sufficiently postulates, surely, an unemasculated judgment, and suffers none to tax it with want of vigour in expression. The language is, indeed, figurative under any circumstances, but it is some of the most trenchant of all left on record as proceeding from the lips of Christ. It may be termed another great direction of conduct, but probably in this case, if not in the last, specially of apostolic conduct. A certain wisdom, and restraint of judgment, and temperateness of language are an imperative necessity for those in responsible office, both for safeguard to themselves and example to others. To throw "holy" food to dogs must be counted a monstrosity of profanity. and certainly would very promptly be apprehended such by a Jew in particular; and to "cast pearls before swine' must be counted a monstrosity of prodigal wastefulness and insane folly pretty well all time and all the world over. But if these directions be plain for their meaning and very plain for their force, they are perhaps not so plain as regards the question to what possible conduct they apply. It may be necessary herein to guard their intent. They do not mean, e.g.,
I. FORBIDS THE DISREGARD (WHETHER THROUGH INDISPOSITION TO TAKE THE RIGHT PAINS, OR THROUGH UNSKILFUL INDISCERNMENT, OR THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF DEFIANCE) OF THE PERSONS TO WHOM, THE TIME WHEN, THE PLACE WHERE, THE PRICELESS BLESSINGS OF REVEALED TRUTH ARE OFFERED IN ALL THE WORLD. Before Christ himself it was ordained that the way be prepared by John the Baptist. Again, in every city and village whither he would go, he did himself appoint that two disciples should prepare the way. And we are told that once and again, where the field of operation was manifestly unhopeful, manifestly obstinately set against impression, he withdrew alike his doctrine and himself Perhaps it may be said that an instinctive, an almost unconscious appreciation, and approving from the heart of this powerful direction of our Lord, has through all the ages since guarded sacred, at any rate, the administration or even offer of the holy sacraments of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. FORBIDS THE RECKLESS OR THE UNADVISED AGGRAVATING OR ENRAGING OF A HUMAN WICKEDNESS ALL THE APPEARANCE OF WHICH PROCLAIMS IT IN VERY NEAR ALLIANCE WITH THE INFERNAL WICKEDNESS ITSELF.
III. FORBIDS ANY AND ALL EITHER MANIFEST OR SUBTLY-CONCEALED WASTEFUL SACRIFICE OF HUMAN EFFORT, ABILITY, OPPORTUNITY, WHICH, THE LESS THEY ARE, DO RATHER NEED ALL TO BE RELIGIOUSLY TREASURED AGAINST THE DAY OF INCONTESTABLY NECESSARY EXPENDITURE AND UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT.
IV. EMPHATICALLY FORBIDS THE PRESUMPTION OF COURTING MARTYRDON.
V. STILL MORE CERTAINLY FORBIDS WITH CONDEMNING EMPHASIS THE COURTING OF IMPERFECT MARTYRDOM, i.e. THAT IN WHICH THE GOAL INVOLVES A VERY POOR CHANCE—A MERE TRAVESTY—OF THE ACTUAL WITNESS OF BLOOD. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Granted, with deep-drawn "Amen" of acclamation. But the blood of pseudo-martyrs is very different seed! This seeds tares, and is another of those "devices of Satan, of which we are not ignorant." And the pseudo-martyr is not only the man who might from a guiltily presuming ambition dare a bid for the real martyr's crown hereafter, but also the man whose literal wreck of himself and of useful work has been paid as the tribute to despair on the one hand, or on the other to the unholy bravado of unspiritual and mere sentimental or even physical inflation. Such examples stand along the line of history not altogether infrequently. But they are to the discredit of -human reason and heavenly prudence; of Christian devotion and gospel frugality; of the Word which we have received, and of that all-gracious Personage from whom we have received it. They are not to the glory of God; they are not to the weal and service of the Church of Christ.—B.
Matthew 7:7 (first clause)
The generous challenge.
The trio clauses of this verse will all be best understood if they are sufficiently viewed as what may be called representative words. They stand for a whole type of thought, fact, truth. These same challenges and assurances linked, we find repeated much later in the life of Christ (Luke 11:29). It adds to our conviction that these utterances of our great Teacher were of the nature that might be designated very studied and deliberate, very designed and far on-looking. The three clauses cannot for a moment be supposed to be merely repetitions, nor even merely three ways of putting the same essential thing. They require to be considered seriatim. Each grows on that which precedes it, and the added force is only obtainable at the end. The first of the clauses is sure to be the most generic, elementary, fundamental. The prospect which it holds out seems to one sometimes vague, sometimes too comprehensive to be anything but the language of extravagance or exaggeration. It has had the effect perhaps of producing misgiving in the heart. Note then—
I. CHRIST IS NOT SPEAKING OF MEN IN THEIR WIDE, SCATTERED, UNCERTAIN RELATIONS TO THE WORLD AND TO ONE ANOTHER; HE HAS THE BEGINNING OF HIS OWN SCHOOL BEFORE HIM, WHICH SHOULD INDEED BECOME LARGE AND VARIOUS TILL IT GATHERED ALL IN ITS EMBRACE, AND IT IS WHAT THESE, AS HIS LEARNERS, HIS FOLLOWERS, HIS SERVANTS, MAY RELY UPON, THAT HE DECLARES. Let the world speak for itself, publish its manifesto, which it does large enough, loud enough, false enough. Jesus here speaks his own manifesto, and it is deficient by no means in largeness, but awaiting the test of quality and reliableness! Ever since, all who have in any sense, in any appreciable degree, really known Jesus, have been investigating, testing, pronouncing upon these two things—what his Word is good for, and how good he is to his Word.
II. CHRIST HAS AN OPEN EAR AND AN OPEN' HAND; FOSTERS EXPECTATION, AND DOES NOT DISAPPOINT IT; INVITES PRAYER—PRAYER WIDE, VARIOUS, IMPORTUNATE, LARGE—AND THEN' DEALS BOUNTIFULLY FROM HIS TREASURY AND WITH HIS OWN INFINITE RESOURCES. Facts all answer to these assertions. The very genius of Christ's truth points to them. That truth is not repressive to the mind, not contracting to the heart, not crushing to the life, not adverse to knowledge, to civilization, to brotherly fellowship, to practical benevolence. To all appearance Christ himself was nowhere without exciting a vast amount of inquiry and a vast variety of it. Never was breath of wind so healthful, so enlivening, so purifying by a millionth part, as was the breath of his Word. And wherever his truth has travelled, rested, paid the casual visit, or rooted itself, its force has been of similar kind. It has taught and provoked men to ask for things outside of and above themselves, and with no idle fancy and no unrewarded desire has their eye rolled from earth to heaven. Things they never dreamed of before have become visions of brightness at which they gazed, objects of attraction that never lost their power, and of solemn practical quest which they never rested till they found and secured. They have been led to want to ask, have asked, and have found. In all this world there is no asking which conies near to that which Christ has originated in it—so large, so various, so deep or again high in its nature, and so richly rewarded. Souls ask, and souls have given to them, beyond all ambition's asking, or love of money's asking, or love of pleasure's asking, or love of life's asking, or the goading of misery's asking. Most native, therefore, to the spirit of Christ was it, is it, to say "Ask," and in his radiant generosity of nature to "give" to the asking! Oh! wonderful fountain of fresh life, Giver of good, Pitier of sorrow, Rescuer from death—it is he whose free, unqualified invitation needs but one short word in which to express itself, and that word "Ask."—B.
Matthew 7:7 (second clause)
The challenge to the seeker.
When we pass on to the consideration of this second challenge, with accompanying assurance, of Jesus Christ, we may at once inwardly notice a leading difference between it and that which went before, and that difference one in the nature of an advance. It is true that when a child "asks" he expects to receive, and to receive "bread," and not a "stone," at the hand of his father. And Jesus emphasizes this fact to his present purpose: "if ye then, being evil, know bow to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall that Father of yours, which is in heaven, give good gifts to them that ask him?" On the other hand, it is a most certain thing that when as grown men we "ask"—not like children asking of their father—our voice is not very acceptable to the world, even when it is attended to, and very often is not attended to. "Asking" is not liked. And it is no little evidence of this that we do not like "asking." We all feel that a solitary act of asking means some sort and some little degree of humiliation; more asking means that we are run into some extremity; and perpetual asking, that we are lost to self-respect. Nor have we fashioned this rough code without some good reason; for we have been sometimes sharply reminded that stones may be sent for bread, and serpents for fish. But, again, who can deny that the world has some admiration for the man who "seeks"? The better part of the world despise those who live ever on the "ask" system, but are prone to respect those who set to work, "quit them like men," and "seek" with mind and heart and strength. May we not, then, note, that while Christ does love, for his own reasons and in his own sense, what the world and the better part of it do not over and above love, viz. the "askers," yet this is no reason why he does not love the "seekers"? "Faith without works is dead." And so in a sense is asking without seeking. Prayer and work are far too often divorced. Note, then—
I. SEEKING LOOKS LIKE HONESTY; SHOWS SINCERITY; PROVES REALITY; ADDS TO FAITH, AS SURELY AS DILIGENCE SCOUTS DOUBT; WAKES SLEEPING POWERS; PREVENTS THEM FALLING ASLEEP AGAIN; AND ACQUIRES FRESH FORCE. Whatever advantage genuinely belongs to the real observing of practical work in our worldly life, is the merest shadow of that which any one may find who shall heartily, lovingly take to it in the conduct of his Christian life.
II. SOME THINGS ARE IN THEIR VERY NATURE TO BE HAD MORE REALLY IN SEEKING THAN IN ASKING, THOUGH EVEN THE ASKING BE OF GOD. The great thing, sanctification as compared with justification, may illustrate this. The latter is to be had, from that first solemn moment which finds us, with all the deepest anguished desire of a sin-convicted conscience and soul, begging, crying, or "asking" for it. But sanctification is not to be had for the mere asking for it, any more than that "increase of faith" which the disciples so ignorantly, yet so innocently, "asked" from Christ. But sanctification needs a long, patient, earnest "seeking" for. How many are fatally faulty in this very matter! They wish for forgiveness, beg for pardon, cry for mercy; and these got, or supposed to be so, they do not continuously and with holy perseverance and patience seek sanctification. Other, perhaps we should rather say all, Christian graces demand the same earnest practical seeking; certainly those that follow on that root of all graces, faith—as, for instance, hope and love. We "seek" these by using them, doing the works of them, trying their strength.
III. SPECIAL PROMISES ARE MADE TO SEEKING. How wide is the range of these even through the Old Testament! "They that seek me early shall find me;" "Blessed are they that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways;" "Seek good and not evil, that ye may live, saith the Lord; yea, seek ye me;" "Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad;" "He is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him;" "To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life." Whatever best things diligent and honourable earthly seeking has found, as lesson and encouragement by the way, what are they all by the side of the things given to the seeking of what is contained in three such words as those, "glory, honour, immortality,"! It is surely this kind of "seeking" to which Christ here gives the sanction of his emphatic invitation. It is to this matter of seeking, to these objects of seeking, that an illimitable prospect of supply opens. For these none can seek too early, too perseveringly, too earnestly, too long. The seeker is blessed because he seeks, blessed all the while he seeks, and blessed in the entire escape assured to him, from illusion now or disappointment hereafter, in respect of the fact and the habit of seeking, which mark him.—B.
Matthew 7:7 (third clause)
The challenge of the closed door.
This clause marks the climactic challenge of the three which the verse contains. It certainly equally bespeaks the climactic stage in the inner experience of many a timid, or doubting, or unbelieving, or disbelieving soul. After many askings of mere words, their accents betraying distrust; after wayward and intermittent seeking, that scarcely earned its name, at length strife and conflict have wrought themselves up to the crucial point, the task of one distinct effort. Upon that one distinct effort close has come the answer, and with this answer content and peace, progress and happiness, have come. In this third part of the triplet of reviving impulse offered by the language of Christ, the preacher may bring up the subject, make general and comprehensive observation of the working of human nature, as baulked by the difficulties incident to individual peculiarities of character (legion by name), to the petty and untractable tyrannies of habit, and to the confrontings of the events and circumstances of (that element, which acts so largely on human nature) the outer world, with all its cotemporary history, looming large now, and now diminishing to the deceptively trivial. The instances of the places and the manners, the concealed, unconscious motives, and the manifest determining impulses of the resurrections of the soul's life and health, are as boundlessly interesting as they are various and innumerable. And they show for how much misery and ruin the pale features of hesitation and indecision are answerable. Against all this, like the sound of some welcome trumpet of morning, are these words spoken by the voice of heaven upon earth, "Knock, and it shall be opened." Consider—
I. THE NECESSITY TO CHRISTIAN LIFE, TO THE BEGINNING OF IT AND CONTINUOUSLY TO THE VERY CLOSE OF IT, OF HOLDING A DIRECT, UNDIVIDED CONVICTION THAT THERE IS AN ACCESSIBLE AND AN APPROACHABLE PLACE OF MERCY AND OF VARIOUS HELP.
II. THE NECESSITY OF AN UNDETERRED FORCE OF RESOLUTION IN MAKING DEFINITE APPLICATION AT THAT PLACE.
III. THE SUGGESTION WHICH THE FIGURE HERE EMPLOYED CONTAINS, AS TO THREE LEADING PETITIONS FOR MERCY AND VARIOUS HELP, APPROPRIATELY MADE AT THAT PLACE CALLED A DOOR OR GATE, VIZ.
IV. THE UNLIMITED, UNCONDITIONED PROMISE. "It shall be opened." That you are challenged to "knock" points to the supposition that you have arrived at a door, and that a closed door. It also means that the door need not certainly remain closed, for that there is a power on the other side, from within, that may open it, to your wish, to your need, and to your confession and expression of the same. But in this case it means all this and yet much more; the challenge is accompanied with a promise to the full as unconditioned and unlimited. "It shall be opened.." On the other side there is compassion and there is good will, there is mercy and there is love; and these all decide to "open;" and their promise is engaged thereto.—B.
Matthew 7:11, Matthew 7:12
The improvement upon the earthly pattern.
Although the "asking" in Matthew 7:7 was pressed on to the further developments of "seeking" and "knocking," our Lord returns here to the most generic form of application on the part of one person to another in his use of the word "ask," when he speaks of "them that ask him." But, perhaps, not only because this is the most generic description of application from one to another is the word used in this connection, but because further it embodies least of the participation of the applicant, and when the answer comes to him, and, it may be, the rich gift falls into his lap, then least can he claim it as the result of his own work, merit, co-operation. He must acknowledge it the sovereign gift of sovereign grace. Notice in this passage—
I. THE CONDESCENDING USE OF THE EARTHLY PATTERN FOR THE THINGS OF THE HEAVENLY PATTERN.
II. THE INCORRUPT FIDELITY OBSERVED IS THAT USE. The pattern is quoted, is used; but its imperfect adequacy is openly averred. The pattern is not only in a lower sphere, not only on a lower scale, but it is admittedly marred; it is a fallen pattern, a pattern obtaining indeed, subsisting indeed, actual; yet among the fallen, erring, faulty, and sinful, all in turn.
III. THE UNSTINTED ENCOURAGEMENT (TO OFFER WHICH IS THE MANIFEST CENTRAL AIM OF THE PATTERN QUOTED, ITS FIDELITY AND ALL INCLUDED) TO THE APPLICANTS AND CANDIDATES OF GOD'S KINGDOM. The perfection alike of willingness and of wisdom combined is now the sovereign Dispenser, the universal impartial Distributor.
IV. THE GRAND USE MADE OF AN OCCASION OF A PARTIAL SUMMARIZING (Matthew 7:12) TO PROCLAIM THE NEW COVENANT FORM OF THE SECOND TABLE OF THE OLD AND VENERABLE AND UNIVERSAL TEN COMMANDMENTS. With our Matthew 7:12 comp. Matthew 5:17. From the kind of giving and the manner of giving (i.e. in reply to asking) of fathers in imperfect and "evil" human society,, and from the supreme example of the perfection in both kind and manner of the Father which is in heaven, the grand dictum of most sacred heavenly lips utters itself forth for the regulating of men's mutual relations, wide as the world stretches, and long as the world lasts.—B.
Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14
The noblest provocation to sanctified imagination.
Supposing that it was certain that we were intended to have, in the recorded sayings of the discourse of the mount, a closely connected discourse, we might feel it difficult to pronounce with any confidence on the connection of this thrilling passage, and feel anxious and grieved proportionately that we could not discharge more satisfactorily the responsibility herein which lay on us. Both for extent and for significance and commanding point of view, what a domain this passage has conquered for its own in its journey down the unrolling Christian centuries! What thoughts, what feelings, what facts and illustration from life, do now, with solemn rich sadness, cluster round it! Though difference of opinion may justly prevail as to the link of connection between the matter we have here and all that precedes, or whether there be any specific link at all, yet it may safely be generally remarked that, nearing the end of the discourse, it speaks appropriately enough more directly of the things that near the end of life, that solemn end, regard it as we may. The great bulk of the matter of the discourse graciously and condescendingly and practically affects the conduct of life; but here, and in the two great following and closing sections of the discourse, the solemn event of all here, of all the passing, the fleetly passing present, seems to be intentionally borne upon our heart and conscience, fear and hope. It may further be well to note that, if in all three of the clauses concerned, the "gate" comes first, and in the two in which the "way" is spoken of it follows distinctly the "gate," nevertheless the "gate" is that which must be found after traversing the way, and at the end of it, as surely as the grave or gate of death is at the end of life (see Luke 13:23, Luke 13:24). And, once more preliminarily, hold up prominently to view this instructive and impressive fact—that the Light and the Love of the world, the Power and the Salvation of heaven in the world, thought fit to challenge, and did boldly challenge, thus soddenly the ignorance of those his first hearers, their surprised ignorance, as matter of fact (and leaving out all count of the causes of it, or the greater or less guilt of it), with these detached proclamations of eternal truth, as unseen by ordinary eye, and as unthought of as they were and ever are of matchless significance. What a model for the pronounced, dogmatic preaching of the Church to-day and for ever! From the Model how far in some quarters has the departure travelled! The many-sided, massive heart of the subject of these verses may then be treated thus. Invite to a reverent, humble attempt to meditate, to ponder, however afar off from the magnificent subject—
I. THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THE GATE THAT LEADETH TO LIFE.
1. How really great this mystery is; because we know so little of it; because we grasp so little of it; because, probably, we can at present grasp only so little of it!
2. How glorious the mystery is, as measured (with power to measure, which we do possess, which we certainly can command) by the mere subject of it—"the gate that leadeth to life"! What a gate this must be, what a way, out of all the dull, toilsome, overshaded, contrast, which we struggle on with here!
3. How wakening, rousing, fascinating, to the imagination, which herein has offered to it its supremest employment! Everything conspires to this end. The conterminousness and the coincidence in time of this "gate" of life, in its last and highest expression, with certain grossest facts of our experience, which tyrannize over us under the name of death and its gate, offer the noblest provocation to an imagination though only ever so partially to be called a "sanctified" imagination. Invite to a humble, penitential meditation of—
II. THE CAUSES WHY THIS GATE IS CALLED, AND IS, STRAIT. It is all even too certain that it is strait, and must be so, or evil and sin and misery would be perpetuated, not stayed; propagated on infinite scale and to infinite proportions, not cut off. The straitness of the gate secures that only those shall pass back again into the life of Eden—yes, yet higher and better life than that—in whom is left no love of these, no seeds of these, no infection of them—those only in whom have died the deadly fruits, the vain flowers, the subtle growths of them, by reason of
If the "gate that leadeth into life" were not strait with this straitness, it would be another and yet blanker abortion of life, misnamed, to which it would conduct. Necessities, absolute and essential, rule the straitness of this gate. And the transformation that sincerity, and truth, and purity, and the denial of the bodily self, and the denial of certain passions of the spiritual self, and the abhorring of all the cursed inspirations of the devil—the transformation that all these accomplish in one and another man, alike vindicate the straitness of the "gate," and pass him blessedly through it. Insist on the fact that—
III. THE STRAIT GATE IS ONLY TO BE COME AT BY THE NARROW WAY. This life not left to drift, not treated defiantly, not wasted recklessly, not passed in an ungodly, unrighteous, unsober temper—this life it is which must choose between the broad way or the narrow way, and which must "find" and follow the narrow way, if it is to find and enter through the strait gate into the city of life and of splendour "which is not strait." The narrow way is one of sorrow and carefulness, of confession oft and watchfulness constant, of severest self-condemnings, and of humblest clinging to Christ and obedience renewed again and again to a slighted and injured Holy Spirit. "But," said Chrysostom (fourteen centuries ago), "let us not be sad when many sorrows befall us here; for the way is strait, but not so the city; neither rest need we look for here, nor anything of sorrow, fear, there."—B.
The branded false prophets.
This passage brings us to the last but one of the great typical admonitions of this primaeval discourse in Christian ethics. Typical they must surely be regarded. Nor, as we scan them with ever so jealous eye, do we find it at all easy to make comparisons as to any imagined relative temporariness of application belonging to them, or the reverse. But if, on the contrary, we suffered ourselves for a moment to be the victims of mere plausible impression, and to court illusion therein, then, perhaps, we might be tempted to rule that this present admonition, though it should be the only one, was the one the importance of which had dwindled in the growth of time, however real it had once been. The impression cannot vindicate itself, but it might serve to convict us of the extent—the depth and breadth—to which the evil has spread which it fancied was not existent. And we come round to the persuasion that this last but one of the series of admonitions is not behind any other whatsoever in testifying to the foresight of Christ, to his forecast of the character of the history of untold Christian generations, and to his measured, faithful, emphatic warning of his Church respecting them. In language that cannot be mistaken, the passage certifies to us—
I. THE BRAND THAT CHRIST SETS UPON FALSE RELIGIOUS TEACHERS. They are ravening wolves, covered over with sheep's clothing. It may be that through the centuries of Christendom the name of these has been truly enough legion many times multiplied. And it may be that because of this our vexed thought blankly refuses to face the deadly field of slaughter, the widespread, disastrous havoc the ravening wolves have wrought! But on our wearied ear may not then these words of Christ fall, with all their original forcible simplicity, to waken a more natural conscience, graciously to exorcise its callous indifference, and to freshen young faith? E.g.:
1. They suggest how Christ would guard, and does guard, the springs and the rudiments and the inspirations of our higher life.
2. They give us to infer the genuine honour in which Christ holds our real teachers, though they be still only human teachers.
3. They caution us, if for the hundredth time, against deserting well-assured principles in favour of appearance, of soft voices, of smooth vestures, of complaisant manner. These all are but other versions of sheep's clothing, disguising the ravening wolf. Christ strengthens our faith in the sure landmarks of matter, of reality, of plain sincerity, howsoever plain.
II. THE CRITERION ACCORDING- TO WHICH THEY ARE TO BE JUDGED. The "fruits" of "false prophets," of false teachers, who invest themselves with the abused title of "religious," are both those fruits which appear in their own manner of life, and those which appear in their work, their ill work, among and in others. The false prophet often denounces himself in the utter incoherence of his doctrines, and in the inconsistency and impurity of his life. But whereas he is also a "ravening wolf," on the highest authority, it is because of the dissensions, divisions, malice, and schism that his path is strewed with; and because of the falseness of his creed—erring now by defect, now by invention and addition, and now by contradiction of the Word and the Spirit. Not all the hostile forces that array themselves from without against the Church compare for a moment, in the disastrous, ravening havoc that follow in their track, with the cunning, dissembling, subtle havoc of the ravening wolves—a widespread foe, that haunt the fold within—in the fleece of the flock that belong to it. And, lastly, it is to be remembered that, whereas it is not always of design, nor always of ill intention and pure malice towards souls, that false prophets work the havoc of ravening wolves, for this very reason—the criterion of their works, or "fruits," is the one given to men. For charity's sake we may not make ourselves judges by any assumed superiority of our own knowledge or wisdom; yet less may we arrogate the authority of the only omniscient, unerring Judge, nor offer to do the angels' work prematurely, and presume to separate the tares from the wheat; but, says Christ, "by their fruits ye shall know them." Let intention be what it may, if the fruit is bad, that prophet is a false prophet. Some of the less crew of ill quality, vanity, conceit of superior illumination—that worst ignorance that is so ignorant that it has not a suspicion of it—irresistible or certainly unresisted loquacity, presumptuousness,—these may have the dominion that effectually make the self-sent prophet, the false prophet. He wears the clothing of the sheep, and did not don it for the conscious purposes of deceiving; but he is deceived himself, and in nothing would be more individually surprised and mortified, if that could be brought home to him—than which nothing is more certain—that he is doing the odious work of the ravening wolf. Who can count the number of these deceived and deceivers, and the number of grievous wounds and rendings of limbs which these have made in the body of Christ in this one current half-century? We are entitled to say it, we are compelled to bewail it—"because of their fruits." And in the seething multitude of those who name the Name of Christ now, one warning, one merciful, gracious caution, needs to be uttered aloud and to be listened to, "Beware of false prophets!"—B.
The saying and hearing contrasted with the doing.
This passage bears internal and intrinsic evidence of standing in the original position at the end, and as the end of the discourse. Its connection with what precedes is also apparent. "Fruits" have been spoken of as the test of the false or the true prophet. And the discourse finishes with a forcible setting forth of the fact that practice, not profession, is the passport, whether into the kingdom of heaven on earth or into the kingdom of "that day." There would seem in form to be allusion to both of these, though we should confess their reality to be but one in either case. Notice—
I. THE INTRINSIC AND ESSENTIAL QUALIFICATION ]FOR CITIZENSHIP IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. "But," says the Supreme Authority on the matter, "he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Dwell on:
1. The highness of this type.
2. The encouragingness of it. It is not offered as a mocking of our feeble power of excellence, feeble grasp of high conceptions, or feeble, inconstant purposes.
3. The condescendingness, withal, of it. What life of reality should it pour into our pictures of the future and our attempts of the present! What happy natural agreement there is between this statement and the formal petitions of the prayer, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven"!
II. THE DISTINCT PROPHETIC DECLARATION OF MOST SAD, SOLEMN IMPORT, TO WHICH THE MIGHTY SEER COMMITS HIMSELF. Notice how:
1. Christ specifies the number of the deluded and the presumptuous: "Many."
2. Christ specifies the matters of their delusion and presumption. We have furnished to us hereby both constant warnings for all, and help, not extended for uncharitable use, towards judging of the too transparently impeachable motives of some very busy outer works of men.
III. THE THRILLING DISCLOSURE IN PART OF THE JUDGE OF "THAT DAY," AND IN PART OF HIS JUDGMENT. Notice:
1. The long forbearance that had been shown is here witnessed to: "Then I will profess to them." How long had he waited, tried, given room for repentance and for reality!
2. The terrible indictment of the wasted, deluded lifetime: "I never knew you." Christ will not disown, in his glory, majesty, power, and in the startling day of their astounding manifestation, those whom he had once in the day of his hiddenness, or in the yet earlier days of his mortal sorrows, acknowledged. But Christ will say what none had the sure right to say before, "I never knew you," if this be indeed the awful truth!
IV. THE SIMILITUDE BY WHICH CHRIST NOW SETS FORTH THE DECISIVE AND DISASTROUS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIM WHO HEARS ONLY THE SAYINGS OF CHRISTIAN REVEALED TRUTH, AND HIM WHO ALSO DOES THEM.
1. The man who hears and does the "sayings" of Christ makes knowledge, and the graces that abide, which are realities to abide, to abide here, and to abide evermore.
2. The man who hears indeed, and who does not, makes knowledge, perhaps very much knowledge; it may tower aloft, it may make him tower aloft among men; but he grows no grace; which can come only of work, of discipline, of "much tribulation," and which is the only structure that abides. The exceeding directness, simplicity, and force of these similitudes, and of the comparison instituted by them, have always arrested attention. To "do the sayings" of Christ is the way, and the one only way, to build that holy "house" called a holy nature, a Christian life, the enduring character. Anything less than "doing" the things Christ says may make show; may rise, a very vision, it may be; and may have some sort of foundation; but it will not be the foundation called a rock, and least of all that called the Rock, which is Christ Jesus.—B.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Sermon on the mount: 6. Against judging others.
This "Judge not, that ye be not judged," comes in unexpectedly, and seems out of its place. But the superficial, ostentatious righteousness which our Lord has been exposing betrays itself in nothing more certainly than in censoriousness. To sigh and shake the head over a sinful world is one of the easiest roads to a reputation for sanctity. The reasons our Lord gives for refraining from judging others are two.
1. If we judge harshly and unmercifully, we shall ourselves receive similar judgment. The person who uses false weights cannot complain if, in buying as well as in selling, false weights are used. If we judge without knowing all the circumstances, if we have no patience to give weight to explanations, no sympathy to put ourselves in the offender's place, we shall receive the same summary treatment. And this, not by the action of a mere arbitrary retribution, but by a law deeply laid in the nature of things. For at the root of such judging lies hatred of our neighbour; and if not hatred, indifference to righteousness; and where these exist in the heart, the very foundations of a godly character are yet to be laid. The man who is sincerely grieved at the sin of men has no heart to expose it unless this is clearly for the benefit of all concerned. In fact, this is a department of conduct in which the great law laid down by our Lord is our best grade: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We continually see that in judging our conduct men are entirely at fault, imputing motives, perhaps no worse than, but certainly different from, our actual motives, so that it is the part of wisdom, no less than of charity, to be slow to judge.
2. The second reason our Lord assigns is that our own faults so disturb our moral perception that we are not fit to eradicate those of our neighbour. It is proposing to pick a mote from our brother's eye while a beam is in our own. How can we understand the methods by which a man can be delivered from sin if we have made no practical acquaintance with these methods by seeking deliverance from our own sin? Two things are suggested by our Lord's words.
I. TO RID A MAN OF A FAULT IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT OPERATION. It requires the same absolute accuracy of vision and delicacy of touch which an operation on the eye requires. The blemishes you would remove are so closely connected with virtues or qualities essential to the character, that the vision must be purged by integrity and humility, and the band steadied by sincere affection.
II. AGAIN, TO OUR LORD, BEFORE WHOM THE MORAL WORLD ALL LAY as glaringly visible as the natural world lies to us, it seemed grotesque that a censorious, faultfinding person should try to rid men of their faults. In his judgment the uncharitableness which lies at the root of so many of the apparently pious criticisms we hear and make is a beam far more damnatory than the mote we find fault with. Yet judgment of a kind we must pass on those who come under our observation. If we are not to cast what is holy to the dogs, we must, of course, determine who the dogs are. There are vile, fierce, snarling people in the world; and if we are not to give them the chance of showing their contempt for sacred things, we must distinguish between man and man. And in other cases of daily occurrence we are compelled both to form and to pronounce our judgment. The law, therefore, is levelled against all uncalled-for malicious judgments. It is not enough that our judgments be true, we must not utter them until compelled. The law of the land recognizes the distinction, and punishes uncalled-for defamation. This sermon on the mount is a sermon describing righteousness and distinguishing it from current imitations rather than telling us how we may attain it. That is is a true fulfilment of the Law and the prophets which our Lord has described no one can doubt, and yet the very copiousness of illustration dazzles and confuses. It is true we have the Law of God marking out for us the great lines on which human conduct is to move, and we have the prophets—a series of supernaturally enlightened spiritual teachers who have indicated how it is to be applied, and enforced, it by stirring appeals. But what we still desiderate is that all the teaching of the Law and all the enlightening and moving power of the prophets be condensed into a summary which the frailest memory can carry, and which a child can apply. We instinctively feel that for righteous living all men should have guidance sufficient, that there should be a light like the sun, common to educated and uneducated; and this we have in the words, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: this is the Law and the prophets"—this is the sum and this the substance of all that has ever been said to guide men to right conduct. Our own experience, aided by our imagination, will enable us to understand the treatment a man desires in the different positions in life. And by the observance of this rule you get both your own view of the case and your neighbour's; so that you shall neither on the one hand refuse a lawful and fair demand, nor on the other yield to an exorbitant, imprudent, or wicked one. In proclaiming this practical rule, our Lord had in view the achievement of that righteousness which constitutes the kingdom of God. Evidently it is sufficient for this purpose. Almost the whole of life is in one form or other of the dealing or commercial kind; none of us being sufficient for ourselves, but each contributing for the good of the whole that which it is his calling to supply. This frame of society, if animated by Christian principle, by a genuine desire to be as helpful as possible to the common good, is as heavenly a state of things as need be; but empty it of this, and leave only the desire to advance our own interests, and then you have not heaven but hell upon earth—a grasping, struggling, hard-hearted, cruel competition. Yet to this latter state we are always tempted. We are throughout life under pressure to make too much of our own interests. It is obvious that nothing so effectually counteracts this pressure as the. expedient we are considering. That fineness of character and delicacy of feeling which every one admires and respects is formed, consciously or unconsciously, by obedience to this rule, by consideration of the feelings of other people, and a ready adjustment of our conduct to these feelings even in the smallest matters. Beyond the assurances given in the memorable words beginning, "Ask, and it shall be given you," very little answer is given in this sermon to the inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" But a man can walk, although he cannot name the muscles he uses. Believe Christ when he tells you that if you seek righteousness you shall find it; go on seeking it, assured that God is helping and will help you; and what further directions are essential to salvation? Our Lord here tells us God has a kingdom; he tells us what that righteousness is which constitutes his kingdom; and he assures us that he that knocks shall be admitted. These promises put the future in your own hand. The waiting, striving, seeking spirit will not ultimately be disappointed. The weak and sin-tossed creature, whose efforts to attain have only proved his weakness more clearly, is assured that if he asks he shall have all that he needs for purity, for righteousness, for love. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?" If we, who are ourselves entangled in much sin, can yet devise substantial benefits for others, how much more may we expect such substantial aid from our Father, whose title it is that he is "heavenly," above all the influences that narrow the heart! It is God's life to communicate, his delight to see his children grow in likeness to himself. There is no mystery about entrance into God's kingdom and attainment of righteousness. If you wish to enter, you can. Begin where Christ teaches you, and abide always in the assurance of the Father's love. "If the life be careless, bring back the mind to that; if the heart be unhappy or discontented, compel the thoughts to that; if the habits of our daily walk cause us many a conflict between conscience and inclination, anchor the will on that."—D.
Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14
Sermon on the mount: 7. "Enter ye in at the strait gate."
That is to say, life is difficult, not easy. To be saved is an exceptional thing. It is an unwelcome, saddening intimation; yet it is uttered by lips that spoke more comfortingly and more hopefully to men than any others dared. It is the Saviour of the world who admits that, in spite of all he does, many are destroyed. Our nature makes a strong resistance to such ideas. There is that in us which always says—Do not put yourself about; you may surely run the chance other men are running. These warning voices are but the moanings of fear or the ravings of fanaticism. It is manifestly absurd to suppose we are placed in a world in which our first duty is to begin to correct everything; that a life is granted to us which is but a veiled death, and of which the first strength must he given to altering the entire course and character it would naturally take. But notwithstanding the antecedent unlikelihood of our being born at such a disadvantage, the conclusion that it is so is forced on every one who has observed what men make of life. The terms on which the lower animals maintain life affords corroborative evidence. It is only with a struggle they keep their place in life at all. And, in fact, the truth is recognized by teachers beyond the Christian pale. "Badness," says Hesiod, "you may have easily, and abundance of it; for the path is plain, and she dwells close at hand. But before excellence God has placed toil and labour; long and steep is the road that leads to her, and very rough it is at first." The broad road and the narrow is an image that suggests itself to the serious observer of life—the broad, easy meadow-path in danger at last of being swallowed up by the stream which runs by it; and the narrow, upward path difficult and sometimes dangerous, but leading to prospects unconceived before. What do they say who have entered the narrow way and pursued it? Ask Paul; ask the most eminent of saints if they found the following of Christ easy? Best of all, ask the Leader himself whether the path was not easier than his words imply. What, then, mean those nights spent in prayer, the wrestling with temptation in the wilderness, and the strong crying and tears that escaped him? If his strength was taxed to the uttermost, will life be easy, safe, and victorious for us? We may say—Christians take life much as other people, and anything like cross-bearing and resolved self-mastery are quite exceptional. But our own experience can scarcely fail to have shown us this difficult, arduous life in actual example. Have we not seen righteousness preferred to advancement in life, the narrow way to the broad, inflexible self-discipline maintained that the power of sin might be broken? It was not that the persons who did so had more or deeper corruptions than others, but simply that they were in earnest, and recognized what the case required. It is vain to tell them to relax their vigilance; they know that there is no easier way. What constitutes the straitness of the gate, the narrowness of the way? Radically, just what the figure implies—that sin is easy and natural, holiness difficult because contrary to our propensity. Or, as our Lord says elsewhere, "He that will be my disciple must deny himself—must be prepared to accept another guide and law than his natural inclination." It is long before we get the idea thoroughly wrought into our lives that lawless life is simply destruction. Self-denial, therefore, is an absolute requisite of entrance into the kingdom.
I. IT IS FOR WANT OF SELF-DENIAL THAT SOME FAIL EVEN TO MAKE GOOD THEIR ENTRANCE TO THE KINGDOM. They acknowledge that outside there is no life; they see that there is something out of joint between God and their soul, and that it is largely due to their own shortcomings; and they think much and perhaps do what they can to bring about a change. But they lack the one essential thing—a true and clear submission of themselves to Christ; a deliberate and pronounced renunciation of self, in every form, self-government especially.
II. SUPPOSING THE GATE TO HAVE BEEN PASSED, NO PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE WITHOUT SELF-DENIAL. There is an old and true comparison, likening the soul to a chariot and the passions to horses. Only lay the reins on the necks of the horses, and the chariot is destroyed: only neglect self-denial, and the evil is done. For between indulgence and self-denial there is no middle place. And so it is that a man may seem not to be doing anything very sinful; he may even be denying himself much, and yet day by day tenderness of feeling departs, and a wall of separation seems to grow up between his soul and Christ. He has gone so far, but he has not been willing to go all lengths with Christ; and manifestly anything short of the self-denial which enables him to keep pace with Christ and hold fellowship with him is unavailing. This it is which constitutes the straitness of the gate, the narrowness of the way. And we may determine whether we are on the way or not by the self-denial and sacrifice it costs us to go forward. We can all recall the struggles we made, the hardships we endured, in gaming some position we sought. If we have no similar remembrances connected with our following of Christ, it is to be feared we have evaded the difficulties or diverged wholly from the path. If you have had no difficulties, no crosses, no struggles, where has been your self-denial? How have you found the way narrow? When we see clearly the unworldly, self-denying life to which Christ leads, we are tempted to think that in order to follow him we must change the whole frame and conditions of our life; we long to convince ourselves by some great sacrifice that we are truly his followers. And no doubt some are called to this; but for most of us there is enough in the small occasions of daily life to try our fidelity and test our self-denial. We shall find room enough for the exercise of these in striving to maintain habits of devotion, and to form our life throughout after the example of Christ.
III. FINALLY, OUR LORD WARNS US OF THE DIFFICULTY OF THE WAY,—not to discourage, but to stimulate; that we may not be dismayed when we find it hard to follow. We are in the same cause as he, and have all the help and encouragement and hope that are available in him. He means also that a thankful, watchful spirit should possess those who have found the way and are in it. If you are in the way, you have passed the grand difficulty in human life—a difficulty which few pass. You may have much to contend with in life, but if this grace has come to you that you are brought into the way your Saviour trod, and that leads ever closer to him, no evil can permanently assail or oppress you.—D.
Sermon on the mount: 8. Wise and foolish builders.
The righteousness required in God's kingdom is the subject of our Lord's teaching in this sermon. After contrasting this with various spurious forms of righteousness, he shows the ruin that results from false pretensions. This he does by means of three figures:
1. The mere pretender is like a wolf in sheep's clothing; you cannot turn a wolf into a sheep by merely putting on it from the outside a fleece.
2. Or he is like a thorn-bush that has artificial flowers and fine fruits stuck on to it. It may for a time excite the admiration of the ignorant, but the tree remains wholly unaffected.
3. Or he is like a man who builds a superb mansion, sparing neither pains nor cost upon it, and yet neglecting the one essential that it should have—a foundation. Two objections may be taken to this simile, the first a trifling one.
I. THAT OUR LORD WARNS AGAINST TRUSTING TO APPEARANCES. He indicates that there is a stronger tendency to this in religion than in secular life, and more unsparingly and thoroughly does he tear off the mask of the hypocrite than the fiercest assailant of Christianity has ever done. The tendency to display, though we sometimes smile at the ways in which it manifests itself in others, is no venial fault; it is a species of dishonesty which gradually corrodes the whole character. In religion it is damaging in various ways.
1. There is a large class among us, the class of respectable people, whose whole character and habits have been so formed under the influence of social opinion that when they wish to ascertain what is right or wrong, they think whether it will shock people or not. They unconsciously reverse our Lord's judgment; and to them the poor wretch who has fallen under the power of some evil habit, and ruined his prospects in life, is a far more hopeless and pitiable object than the hardhearted, self-righteous, respectable sinner, who has not a tenth part of the other's humility or longing after righteousness.
2. However quick we may be to detect and repudiate what is showy in other departments of life, we are all liable to be shallow in religion. The primitive idea of God that he is exacting, a Lord who must be propitiated, is one so native to the guilty conscience, that it lingers among the motives of conduct long after we have mentally repudiated it. We will not comprehend that it is all for our benefit religion exists; that it is an essential of human life and happiness. So we do those things which it is supposed God requires, but we remain in nature unchanged.
3. Or we may admire a certain kind of character, and set it up as our ideal, without possessing it even in its beginning. A man may have the reputation of being a Christian, and may learn to accept himself as one, while he has no foundation; it is only the appearance which is in his favour.
4. Or we may have such an eagerness to hear teaching about righteousness, that we feel as if the hearing itself were sufficient evidence of a devout mind; we make such efforts to understand what God's will is, that we exonerate ourselves from doing it; we make such profuse declarations of our obligation to obey, that we feel we have done enough. But do not believe in your purpose to serve God better until you do serve him better. Give no credit to yourself for anything which is not actually accomplished. Do not let us be always speaking of endeavours, hopes, and intentions, and struggles, and convictions of what is right, but let us do God's will.
II. THE RESULTS OF SUPERFICIALITY are portrayed in language intended to bring out their overwhelmingly disastrous nature, but not less their certainty. For what is it that brings the house about the builder's ears? It is nothing exceptional; it is the inevitable that tests it. So it is with character. It is tested by the ordinary emergencies of life. Time is all that is required to test anything. The wolf may pretend to be a sheep for an hour or two, but his natural appetite soon reveals him; the tree makes a fair show till autumn tests it. So some reputations are short-lived. Some sudden temptation may reveal to others, and even to a man himself, that his most rooted motives are not what his conduct indicates. Other reputations survive all the storms of life, and a man passes to another world undetected by himself or others. But the evil day is thereby only delayed. Under the eye of Christ all disguises must drop off, and we shall be known for what we really are. The catastrophe of which we are forewarned can be averted by spending pains on the foundation. Through the surface soil of inherited tastes and tendencies, of social restraints and traditional morality, of pious desires and righteous resolves, try and get down to the very basis of your character; make sure that it has such a foundation that it will stand all the shocks of time and last to eternity. Make sure that you know why you strive and labour to reach righteousness, why you hope through all failure that yet righteousness awaits you. Make sure especially that if you are not bringing forth fruit as spontaneously and as regularly as a good tree, you yet know what is changing your nature, and giving you every day an increasing love for what is good and a readiness to do it.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
In warning against hindrances to holiness, our Lord begins with judging; for in this young converts too often expend the zeal which is given them for better uses. The text admonishes us—
I. THAT THERE IS A JUDGMENT TO COME.
1. This life is under judicial rule.
2. But the judgments of this life are not final.
3. Revelation makes this clear.
II. THAT DIVINE JUSTICE IS RETRIBUTIVE.
1. In its principles.
2. In its sanctions.
III. THESE FACTS SHOULD INFLUENCE OUR CONDUCT.
1. The injunction "judge not" is conditional.
2. We must not judge rashly.
3. We must not judge harshly.
4. There is a sphere in which we must not judge.
This is kindred to judging, and so these are here closely associated. The Duty of reproving should be discharged with discretion.
I. THE REPROVING OF A BROTHER SHOULD BE CONSIDERATE.
1. Reproof is a precious and holy thing.
(a) Saves souls from death (see James 5:19, James 5:20).
(b) Frees our souls from the guilt of complicity.
(c) Leaves the sinner without excuse. So the fidelity of Noah condemned the antediluvians (Hebrews 11:7).
2. The office of reprover should not be lightly undertaken.
II. THE INCORRIGIBLY WICKED ARE BEYOND REPROOF.
1. They are described as dogs and swine.
2. Their dispositions are brutish.
3. Let tide incorrigible alone.
1. There are degrees in sin—the mote as compared with the beam.
2. There are those who have the beam in the eye, but do not consider it. They justify their enormities by pleading that "others do worse."
3. He is no enemy to sin who does not hate it in himself.
4. Let reproof begin at home.
5. Let the severity of our reproving be restrained by consideration of our own frailty.—J.A.M.
From the subject of giving our Lord turns to that of asking. The text instructs us in—
I. THE NATURE OF PRAYER.
1. It is asking.
2. It is seeking.
3. It is knocking.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY.
1. In the promises of God.
2. In the character of the promises.
III. THE CONDITIONS OF PRAYER.
1. These are given in the promises.
2. They are embodied in the golden rule.
3. Apply this rule.
The course of human action is in Scripture called a way. Of these there are two—the right and wrong, the good and the evil. There is no intermediate way. Here we have—
I. THE WAY OF DEATH.
1. It is broad.
2. Its gate is wide.
3. Its company is large.
4. Its end is destruction.
II. THE WAY OF LIFE.
1. It is strait.
2. Its gate is narrow.
3. The company is select.
4. Its end is life.
III. WHICH WAY WILL YOU TAKE?
1. You have the option.
2. Beware of false prophets.
4. Test them by their fruits.
4. Be warned of their doom.
The title to the kingdom.
As our Lord concludes his sermon, bringing us before the judgment-seat, so should we habitually judge ourselves as in the searching light of eternity. He advises us—
I. THAT BY TRUE OBEDIENCE TO THE WILL OF GOD WE PROVE TITLE TO THE KINGDOM.
1. That will is embodied in the "sayings" of Jesus.
2. Profession is no substitute for obedience.
3. Zeal in the cause of religion is no substitute for religion. The repetition of the word "Lord" suggests earnestness.
II. THAT IT IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE THAT WE BE THUS ABLE TO PROVE OUR TITLE.
1. For the testing will be severe.
2. The life-building founded on the Rock of Ages will abide.
3. The life-building founded on the sand will be wrecked.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The sin of unloving criticism.
This part of the sermon deals with the life of relationships and mutual obligations which the disciple of Christ has to live. The second part of the sermon dealt with his personal life of piety. Here our Lord shows how the new regenerate life will put a new tone and character on all the ordinary and everyday human relations. True piety must gain expression; if it be true piety it will be ever seeking to gain worthy expression. A characteristic fault in human society is the disposition to judge others in a suspicious temper, and that is misjudging, which hurts the man who misjudges quite as much as him who is misjudged. Never was the spirit of criticism, and even of unfriendly criticism, so rife as it is to-day; and never was the warning of Jesus more needed. It may be our duty to criticize things done; but we need to take great pains to find out whether we are really called on to criticize the doers. What our Lord condemns is the censorious spirit, which is opposed to the "forbearance," the "fairness in judgment," which duty allows for faults. Criticizing habits become a snare, in which even good men are often entangled.
I. WE MAY CRITICIZE THINGS DONE. These are fair subjects of mental exercise. We cannot be active-minded without forming a personal judgment on every incident and event of family, social, and public life. The man who has no views on anything is a tiresome man, and altogether below his manhood. He will be easily led by others. Thought is really criticism, estimate, judgment on things.
II. WE MAY CRITICIZE OPINIONS HELD. And these are distinctly separable from the persons holding them. This represents the higher range of human knowledge. In it man transcends the sphere of the material, and works in the range of the immaterial, the range of thoughts. Men's opinions are fair grounds of discussion; and we plead for absolute and unlimited freedom in dealing with opinions.
III. WE HAD BETTER NOT JUDGE PERSONS.
1. Because we can never be sure of doing that fairly. There are prejudices which blind our vision. There is imperfection of knowledge, which destroys the value of our judgments. There is inability precisely to appraise motives.
2. Because he who is unfair and severe in his judgments of others establishes a testing standard for himself. He can never complain if he is judged as he judged others. Judging our erring brother may come to be our public duty. Our Lord does not refer to this case. But then Christian judgment should be toned by "heavenly, Divine charity." And for us all the advice is good, "Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all."—R.T.
It is plain that our Lord's figure is paradoxical. Beams of wood in eyes is quite an impossible conception; and when he spoke of it it must have caused a smile. With a curious realism, the old Bible picture represents a man with a long beam of wood, standing straight out from his eye, and unsupported. Our Lord's teachings require to be read with our faculty of imagination in healthy activity. Probably in this case our Lord used a familiar Jewish proverb, which satirized men's readiness to espy small faults in others while they overlook large ones in themselves. Note that ophthalmia is very prevalent in the East, caused by the ],articles floating in the dry atmosphere. The similar rabbinical saying is thus given: "I wonder if there is any one in this generation who would take reproof. It one said, ' Take the mote out of thine eye,' he would answer, ' Take the beam 'from out of thine own eye.'"
I. HONEST SELF-ESTIMATES ARE DIFFICULT TO MAKE. Burns writes—
"O wad some power the giftie gie us,
To see oursels as others see us:"
But just that power is generally lacking. We all think we know other people well; we all, in fact, know ourselves most imperfectly. Many a man has been humiliatingly surprised to discover that the fault which he most blamed, and had least mercy on, in others, was his own characteristic failing. The inscription may be put on the Greek temple, "Know thyself;" but that is precisely what the people, who walk the pavements below, are not interested in doing. We all prefer to keep our self-delusions concerning our own excellences. A man must deal resolutely with himself who means to know the truth about himself. Honest self-estimates prove
Every man has his failing—his "beam in the eye."
II. HONEST SELF-ESTIMATES ARE INFLUENTIAL WHEN MADE. What our Lord intimates is that, if a man discovers his own beam, he will be so concerned about it, and so busy over it, that he will pay no particular attention to his neighbour's mote. And if it should come to be his duty to point out that mote, he will remember that is is but a mote in comparison with his own beam. The man who sees his own sin aright, and reads it in the light of its inspiring motives, can never see his brother's sin to be as big as his own. "Men who see into their neighbours are very apt to be contemptuous;" that is, when the feeling of their own beam does not hopefully influence their vision.—R.T.
Piety in the restraint of prudence.
Dogs are treated throughout Scripture as unclean animals. The usual thought is evidently of the pariah dogs, which are the scavengers of Eastern towns. Little is said of trained shepherds' dogs; and nothing is said of pet dogs. Swine are, by emphasis, the unclean creatures. Our Lord has spoken of carefulness in judging others. But his disciples are required to exercise discrimination. They should prudently estimate situations, opportunities, and occasions. The guilelessness and simplicity of the Christian disciple is quite different front incompetency and foolishness. Prudence should guide all the expressions of piety. "That which is holy" refers to flesh offered in sacrifice. This must not be treated as if it were refuse, and given to dogs. Pearls may look like peas or beans, but if you give them to swine, and so deceive the creatures, you may expect them to destroy the pearls, and turn the anger of their disappointment on you. In the ordering of Christian conduct there is hardly a more complex and difficult subject than the restraints in which piety should be held by prudence.
I. PIETY IS EVER SEEKING TO GAIN EXPRESSION. Both in word and in conduct. The activity and energy partly depend on natural disposition, and partly on the vigour with which the Christian responsibilities are taken up. Some Christians must be always speaking, ever finding or forcing opportunities. They easily come to think all self-restraint is sinful yielding to self-indulgence. No word can wisely be spoken that even seems to check the activity of sincere piety. It ought to be weighted with responsibility for conduct.
II. PIETY MAY BE UNDULY CHECKED BY PRUDENCE. Perhaps more among us are exposed to this danger than to the opposite one. So long as prudence deals with reasons, all is well; when it begins to take up excuses, there is peril. Then what we call "prudence" is really self-interest in disguise. Be sure they are "dogs" or "swine," to whom your good word is to be spoken, before you shelter yourself behind your Lord's carefully qualified advice.
III. PIETY SHOULD BE WISELY RESTRAINED BY PRUDENCE. Prudence deals with fitting
It estimates occasions, surroundings, individuals. It aims to secure adaptation. "A word spoken in season, how good is it!"—R.T.
The condition on which answer to prayer depends.
The reference to prayer seems to be introduced here as an "aside;" but the connection is not difficult to trace. Our Lord had been calling his disciples to duties which would make the most serious demands on them. They would be sure to feel the need of sustaining and supporting grace, such as comes only from God. Then let them be quite sure that they could always have this grace for the asking; but let them be also quite sure that they would not get the grace apart from the asking. In dealing with this familiar passage, it is usual to fix attention on the apparently unlimited promises of answer to prayer. "Ye shall receive." It may, however, be that thus our Lord's point is missed. He put emphasis on the "asking," the "seeking," the "knocking," as if he had said, "You must ask, if you would have a good hope of receiving." Compare "For all these things will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them;" "Ye have not, because ye ask not." The three terms, "ask," "seek," "knock," have been shown to represent an ascending scale. They are each what the man himself must do; the condition on which alone he gains the blessing. Are we ever conscious, then, of failing powers in the Christian life? we may never say that we are straitened in God: it must be that we are straitened in ourselves. We expected God to give, but we did not meet his conditions, and ask. An objection should be dealt with, which is perhaps oftener felt than expressed—If God knows everything we need, why does he require us to ask? The answer is twofold.
1. If he does require us to ask, there must be reasons for his so doing, in his Divine Fatherhood; and children should obey when they do not understand.
2. We can see that the asking becomes an agency of spiritual culture to us. It nourishes that dependence which takes us out of ourselves, and checks self-confidence. It might be added that it helps to keep before us the connection between our blessings and God's providings. The condition that we must ask may be shown to work out into
I. HE WHO "ASKS" MAKES REQUEST.
II. HE WHO "SEEKS" PRESSES HIS REQUEST.
III. HE WHO "KNOCKS" PERSISTS IN HIS REQUEST.—R.T.
Human and Divine fatherhoods.
God can only be apprehended by man through some relations that are familiar to man. It may be assumed that the highest, best, most universal, of human relations will be found most fittingly to represent him. The one relation which is universal, and universally esteemed the highest, is the parental. It is passing strange that any difficulty should be found in securing the thankful acceptance of the doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood. Probably men are hindered by the desire to attain abstract conceptions of the Divine Being; certainly they are hindered by observing the patent fact of the imperfection of human fatherhoods. But it is the ideal Fatherhood, which human fatherhoods do but suggest, which alone can be applied to God. We not only have references to God as the Father characteristic of our Lord's teaching—indeed, it is almost the only word he uses for God—but in this text we have his own comparison of the human and Divine fatherhoods, giving a precedent of which we may confidently take advantage. Probably theology would become altogether more human and more attractive if this comparison were more freely made. Man in the image of God is the best revelation of God. And it should be easy to separate man as man from man the sinner.
I. THE HUMAN FATHER IS A PRAYER-HEARER.
1. This he is by virtue of his relationship. A father has children; they are dependent on him. Dependence is the essence of prayer; it may be silent or it may be vocal.
2. This he is upon impulse of affection. His love inspires willingness to hear the needs of his children. Their good. is a personal interest to him.
3. This he is by the persuasion of duty. All relations involve responsibilities; and a father is under obligation to meet the wants of his children, whether he knows them upon fatherly observation, or they make them known to him by cry and prayer.
II. THE DIVINE FATHER IS A PRAYER-HEARER.
1. He also has been pleased to sustain relations as the Author of our being. And our dependence on our Creator is prayer to which he must respond.
2. He also has declared his personal love to us; and love must be heedful of the needs of its objects.
3. We may even think of God as being placed under honourable obligations by the relations into which he has brought us.—R.T.
Primary moral duties not original.
It is critically urged that our Lord's moral teachings were not original. We may gladly admit that they were not. How could they be? What are original moral teachings? Man was endowed from the beginning with the complete circle of moral principles. If he had them not at the very first, he gained them all in the first experiences of human relationship; and the "Decalogue ' did but state, in brief and formal sentences, the moral duties which man has always apprehended that he owed to man. Did any one arise now, and presume to teach us authoritatively new morals, we should know well what to say to him. "The new is not true, and the true is not new." It would have been the moralist's criticism of the teachings of Christ, if they had been original and new. Hillel, the great Jewish teacher, is reported to have said, "Do not unto another what thou wouldest not have another do unto thee. This is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary." If we expand this moral duty, it will at once appear how common, how human, and how universal it is. Every noble moral teacher will find expression for it in some more or less appropriate form.
I. THAT WHICH IS PLEASING TO SELF IS LIKELY TO BE PLEASING TO OTHERS. This is recognized as a good assumption to go upon; but it does not always prove a correct assumption. Probably it would if the "pleasing" were not too often made the equivalent of self-indulgence. Clearly we should try to please others. The standard to begin with is what pleases us; but this will be altered as we get accurately to know them.
II. THAT WHICH IS RIGHT FOR SELF IS LIKELY TO BE RIGHT FOR OTHERS. But we err in two ways.
1. We claim rights which we are not prepared to give.
2. We give ourselves liberties which we deny others. And universal morality stamps both these as unfair. My rights my brother can equally claim; my liberties are my brother's due.
III. THAT WHICH WE CLAIM FROM OTHERS WE MAY REASONABLY EXPECT OTHERS TO CLAIM FROM US. This may appear to fail in recognizing the various relations of classes in society. But it is based on what is the true equality of mankind. Equality of ability, place, opportunity, education, influence, even of character, there can never be. But equality in service, mutual service, there can be. The master serves the servant; the servant serves the master. Then Christ's Law is seen to apply. "The service I seek is the service I should give."—R.T.
The initial difficulty of all good enterprises.
"Strait is the gate … which leadeth unto life." Dean Plumptre gives the similar figure, taken from what is known as the "Tablet of Cebes, the Disciple of Socrates:" "Seest thou not a certain small door, and a pathway before the door, in no way crowded, but few, very few, go in thereat? This is the way that leadeth to true discipline". Buckingham, the traveller among the Arabs, has a striking illustration: "Close by the sarcophagus is a curious old mosque, with a large open centre, and colonnades, or wings of three arches each, on each side. Some of the arches rest on square pillars of masonry, and others on small circular columns of basalt. One of these pillars is formed wholly of one piece of stone, including pedestal, shaft, and capital; and near it is a curious double column, the pedestals of which are in one piece, the shafts each composed of two pieces, and the two capitals with their plinths all formed out of one block. These pillars are not large, and are only distant from each other, as they stand, about a human span. They are right opposite the door of entrance into the mosque, and we were assured that it was a general belief among the Mohammedans that whoever could pass through these pillars unhurt was destined for heaven, and whoever could not might prepare either to reduce his bulk, or expect a worse fate in hell."
I. THE BEGINNING OF COMMON HANDICRAFT IS DIFFICULT. So the apprentice ever finds it. A lesson in self-discipline is the first lesson every one must learn who means to do anything worth doing. This is readily illustrated in specific instances.
II. THE BEGINNING OF ALL MENTAL ACQUIREMENT IS DIFFICULT, A strait gate is at the entrance of all science. He who will not wrestle with the perplexities of the alphabet shall learn nothing.
III. THE BEGINNING OF ALL MORAL CULTURE IS DIFFICULT. As difficult as these other things. More difficult, because the moral nature has taken a bias to self-indulgence and evil. So there is the dead weight of self-resistance to overcome. The pillars at the entrance of the temple of all true good are only a span apart. No man who will not squeeze himself, deny himself, can hope to enter in.—R.T.
The test of the fruitage.
Whately says, "If you saw in any country the fields carefully ploughed and cleared and sown with wheat, and yet continually sending up a growth of grass and thistles, which choked the wheat whenever they were not weeded out again and again, you would not suppose wheat to be indigenous (that is, to grow wild) in that country, but would conclude that, if the laud had been left to itself, it would have produced grass and thistles, and no wheat at all. So also, when you see men's natural character so opposite to the pure, and generous, and benevolent, and forgiving character of the gospel, that, even after they have received the gospel, their lives are apt to be quite a contrast to its virtues, you cannot think it likely that such a being as man should have been the inventor of such a religion as the Christian." Our Lord would warn his disciples of the mischievous influence of false teachers. Those cherishing guilelessness and trustfulness would be especially exposed to the power of such teachers. It was necessary to provide a safe test for the trying of all such.
I. WHAT IS THIS MODE OF JUDGING MEN? Show that, all through creation, the mature of things is exhibited to us in their forms. Illustrate seeds. Qualities of the tree, or of the bud, or graft, placed in the tree. Creatures; and man. Everywhere disposition is seen in conduct; and we esteem it fair to judge disposition by conduct.
II. BUT IS THIS ALTOGETHER A FAIR MODE OF JUDGING? On the whole, we may say, "Yes, it is." It is our only mode, for we cannot read motive. It is a mode with which we are familiar, in which we ought to be practised and skilful. We never hesitate about testing by it our fellow-men. And yet it can hardly be a perfect test. Men are so often better than their actions. We must endeavour to find what they are trying after. True in the large, it often fails in the minute.
III. USE THE TEST TO JUDGE OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL LIFE. Can we safely let the world judge our fruitage as professing Christians? What fruits of holiness, worship, brotherhood, charity, service, do they see? Come searchingly to deal with minute things. Our fruit may be good-looking, but not good; it may be like crab-apples. Our fruit may be actually good—not crab-apples, and yet of very inferior value. Our Lord said, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit;" and that means "much and good."—R.T.
The self-deception of professors.
The professors here are the "prophets" of Matthew 7:15. But the sadness of their condition comes out in a very striking way when they are seen to be both deceivers and self-deceivers. There may be a designed allusion to the characteristic teachers of the day, some of whom were hypocrites, and some of whom were self-deceived. Illustration may be found in the mischievous influence of the Judaist teachers who followed St. Paul and eagerly laboured to destroy his spiritual work.
I. THE SELF-DECEPTION OF THE FLUENT SPEAKER. "Have we not prophesied in thy Name?" Reference may be made, not merely to glib and easy public speaking, but also to glib and easy expression in prayer; and in the utterance of religious feelings and experiences. Strange is the power of self-deception in these things. Because we can express, we feel sure we must feel. Because we can express earnestly, we satisfy ourselves that we must be feeling deeply. It costs great heart-searching, and continuous watchfulness, if our speech is made and kept strictly sincere. And it will soon be found that the talker is too often a mere talker.
II. THE SELF-DECEPTION OF THE EXORCIST. "In thy Name have cast out devils." Remember that, in our Lord's day, there were many who claimed power to exorcise devils. Noticing that Christ cast out devils, it was easy to deceive themselves into the idea that they could exorcise as they had been accustomed to do, only using Christ's Name. They stand to represent those professors who continue life on precisely the old principles, but think they secure themselves by freely using Christ's Name. Everything depends on their right, as disciples, to use the Name. They must belong to Christ first.
III. THE SELF-DECEPTION OF THE MIRACLE-WORKER. Miracle-worker, in those days; successful man in religious work, in these days. We are constantly deceived into saying of a man, "He must be a good man, for see how successful he is." Then, how the man may be sell-deceived by the success! Success may be won on purely human principles, and may have nothing Divine in it. Personal relation to Christ is the beginning of all good work.—R.T.
The distinguishing feature of Christ's teaching.
"As a rule, the scribe hardly ever gave his exposition without at least beginning by what had been said by Hillel or 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 upon his precedents." Geikie mentions one of the rabbis who "boasted that every verse of the Bible was capable of six hundred thousand different interpretations." But on such principles who could hope to know or find the truth? To venture on originality and independence in teaching was something hitherto unknown; and the difference between the method of Jesus and the method of the scribes forcibly impressed the people. The point which may be profitably opened, illustrated, and impressed is the difference in power exerted by those who must be classed under the term "scribe," and, those who may be classed along with the Lord Jesus. And all our teachers, in home, school, church, society, literature, will thus divide.
I. THE POWER OF THE SCRIBE-LIKE TEACHER. A very small power. Such men often do more harm than good by their pettiness, narrow limitations, quibbles, interest in trifles, and uncertainties of mere verbal interpretation. They are always seriously affected by the prejudices of the schools to which they belong. They find it impossible to grasp or to apply great, comprehensive principles. Such are dangerous teachers still.
II. THE POWER OF THE CHRIST-LIKE TEACHER. NO doubt Christ had an authority arising from his office which was unique; but we can recognize also an authority in respect of which we may be like him. He was strong in unquestioning, unwavering, convictions of the truth. That is the kind of authority that is still needed. Prophet-like authority. The age needs men, like Christ, who can speak with the "accent of conviction." Our fellow-men—and we ourselves—are always best helped by those who hold truth with a great grasp of faith, and have no quavering in their voice as they speak to us the message of God. They are not stubborn men, but believing men. What they say to us is this, "I believe; therefore have I spoken."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany