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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
Matthew 7

 

 

Verses 1-29

As we continue our study of the instruction given by Jesus Christ to His disciples on the Mount, let us remind ourselves again that we have to do here, not with the gospel for the unregenerate, but with the holy principles that should control the lives of those who profess allegiance to the Lord Jesus and who recognize Him as earth’s rightful King, even though a false usurper, Satan, is acknowledged by unsaved men as the prince of this world (John 12:31; Joh_14:30). Loyalty to the true King necessarily involves obedience to His words (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

His kingdom, as far as its outward aspect is concerned, is now in abeyance. He has gone “into a far country,” even heaven itself, to receive a kingdom, and to return (Luke 19:12). At His second advent, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15). But while He is personally absent, though present by the Spirit, yet unseen to mortal eyes, all who are born again are in the kingdom of God and, though in the midst of a rebellious world, are responsible to maintain allegiance to the One whom that world rejects. Thus they know the reality of the kingdom, which is not meat and drink (that is, it has not now to do with temporal things), but is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). It was concerning this aspect of the kingdom that our Lord instructed His disciples during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:2-3). This was the burden of the apostles’ message, as they called upon men to acknowledge the lordship of Christ (Acts 2:36; Act_20:25). And this was the theme of Paul’s preaching to the very end (Acts 28:31). The risen Christ is Lord of all, and He gives remission of sins to all who believe on His name. Those thus brought into this new place before God, saved by pure grace, are now called upon to own His lordship in all things. They are left in this scene to witness for Him and to make known His grace toward those who still belong to the world. They are to seek the good of all men. In doing this, they will be misunderstood often, and will be subject to cruel persecutions and vindictive treatment. But they are not to retaliate in kind but, by manifestation of the Spirit of Christ, are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), showing themselves to be law-abiding citizens, ever seeking the blessing of their fellow men.

The more we meditate upon that which is set forth in the present chapter, the more we shall realize how far short we come of rising to the heights of unselfish devotion to Christ which is here inculcated. As the Holy Spirit brings these instructions home in power to our hearts, we shall find ourselves searched more and more deeply by His solemn utterances. He who desires truth in the inward parts (Psalms 51:6) was speaking through His Son in a manner calculated to lay bare all the hidden springs of character, and to cause every honest soul to realize how much we need to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, in order that we may represent Him aright in this world where He is still the rejected One.

In the first five verses of this section the Lord exposes that almost unconscious hypocrisy, so common to us all, which leads us to judge our fellows so severely, while overlooking or excusing our own sins as though they were of little moment. Then He goes on to show the necessity of being on praying ground ourselves if we would receive the expected answer to our petitions.

The broad and narrow ways are placed in vivid contrast. The first is the road followed by all who ignore the grace of God revealed in Christ and its claims upon mankind; the other is the path of devotion to Him who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Note that it is the way that leads to life, not merely to heaven at the end of life.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (vv. 1-14)

“Judge not.” It is a question of motives. There are circumstances when the people of God are commanded to judge (1 Corinthians 5:12), in the sense of dealing with offenders against the Christian standard of morals, even to excluding them from church fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 1Co_5:13). But we are not to attempt to sit in judgment upon the hidden springs of action. We are so easily prejudiced, and our snap judgments are wrong so often. “We cannot read the heart or discern the thoughts. This is God’s prerogative alone. If we disobey this command, we need not be surprised if others pass judgment on us in a similar way.

“With what measure ye mete.” We will be measured ourselves by the same stringent rule that we apply to other men.

“The mote… the beam.” There is a fine irony here that is very striking. The two words used in this passage stand out in vivid contrast. The word translated mote signified originally a bit of dry twig or straw, such as the wind often carries into the human eye, thus causing blurred vision and tears until it is ejected. The word for beam really means a stick of timber, but was used colloquially in the Greek speech of our Lord’s days on earth as a synonym for a splinter, which, though small in itself, seems a veritable beam because of the pain it causes. In one of the papyrus notes found in Egypt some years back, a youth writes to his mother telling of the suffering he had endured because a “beam” had been driven into his thumb underneath the nail. This makes clear our Lord’s meaning. No one is fit to rebuke another when there is something in his own life that is as much worse than that which he thinks he detects in the other, as a beam or splinter of wood is greater than a mote or speck of straw.

“How wilt thou say to thy brother…” Even the world says, “Consistency, thou art a jewel.” One cannot expect to correct a fault in another if he has an even more glaring one in his own life.

“Thou hypocrite.” The original word was used by the Greeks to designate an actor. It means, literally, a second face, as actors of old wore masks to represent the characters portrayed. We speak of being “two-faced.” God demands reality. Our Lord insists upon this. No shallow, empty religiousness will do for Him. We cannot know Him as our Father, who loves to meet our needs in His grace and mercy, unless we are honest in seeking His face. To judge others superciliously, while living in sin ourselves, is abominable in His sight. If we are honestly seeking to know Him and ready to do His will. He will guide us to the strait gate-the submission to the claims of Christ-thus leading into the narrow way of unselfish devotion to God and to the interests of those for whom Christ died. This is indeed the way to life.

“Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” It is folly to endeavor to present the deeper and more precious things of the divine revelation to men who have no desire for holiness.

“Ask…seek…knock.” In these words our Lord stresses the importance of prevailing prayer, which is not just a casual or thoughtless repeating of certain words. We are bidden to ask, that is, to make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6-7), and if not answered at once we are to seek further by endeavoring to learn more clearly the mind of God in the matter, that we may pray with enlightened intelligence (Isaiah 26:9). Then we are to knock with that importunity which implies sincere exercise and faith which brings the answer (Luke 11:5-10). God does answer prayer. This is one evidence of the supernaturalism of what is commonly called “revealed religion,” as distinguished from mere human philosophy. The word religion is too broad a term for Christianity itself but is used here because it is a convenient expression to cover the full setting forth of man’s relationship to God as made known in both Old and New Testaments. In all past dispensations, as well as in the present one, God has been revealed as the Hearer and Answerer of prayer (Psalms 65:2; Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). It is He Himself who invites us to come to Him with our petitions, and He promises to give according to our need (Philippians 4:19).

“Every one.” When God’s conditions are complied with, the answer is sure- not for some, but for all who approach Him in prayer in accordance with His revealed will. It is not necessarily true that we receive always exactly what we ask. God reserves to Himself the right to answer as His wisdom dictates. But He never ignores the cries of His children.

“Will He give him a stone?” A stone might bear an outward resemblance to a loaf of bread, but it could not be eaten, nor if it could it would not nourish and sustain. Earthly fathers are considerate of their children’s needs and do not ordinarily mock them by ignoring their requests for food or by giving something they cannot use when they plead for sustenance.

“A fish… a serpent.” One is food to strengthen and build up; the other is poisonous, dealing death. No one with a real father’s heart gives that which is harmful to a child, but rather that which will be for good.

“How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things?” Human parenthood is only a feeble picture of the Father-heart of God, who delights in giving to His children that which is for their good. In the family, the father should be an example of the love and forethought of the heavenly Father, who delights to bless His children by giving to them what will be for their lasting profit. Prayer is the appointed means whereby these mercies are received.

“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” This is indeed the Golden Rule. It is linked with prayer, for no one can pray aright who is not characterized by active benevolence to his fellows (1 John 3:17-22). This is not the gospel; it is the fruit of the gospel. People often speak glibly of the Golden Rule, as though the keeping of it were a comparatively small matter, and as though it involved the whole of Christianity. How frequently we hear the assertion, “The Golden Rule is good enough for me. It is all the religion anyone needs.” But who, judged by this standard of unselfish living, would ever pass muster before God’s holy tribunal? It is but another way of insisting on the demand of the law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” No one save our blessed Lord has ever fully lived this out. Consequently, the Golden Rule but adds to our condemnation and emphasizes the need of salvation by grace. Only as Christ is received and dwells in us by His Spirit can we come up to this high and holy standard.

It has been said frequently by those who would disparage the Lord Jesus and His teaching, that the Golden Rule was in no sense original with Him, but was simply an adaptation of what others had taught before Him. K’ung Fu-tsze (Confucius), the Chinese sage, is said to have proclaimed this some hundreds of years before Christ. But there is a vast difference between the positive instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ, commanding His disciples to do to others as they would have others do to them, and the negative teaching of the Master K’ung, who said, “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” The one is the manifestation of divine love; the other is but ordinary human advice.

“Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction.” This is the way of self-will, of disobedience to God’s Word. All are on the broad way who refuse to own their needy condition and who ignore the claims of Christ. It is entered by a wide gate, for all men naturally choose this road.

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way…unto life.” There is no real life apart from the knowledge of Christ (1 John 5:12). It is as we yield our wills to Him that we enter the strait gate and pass into the narrow way. This leads to life-life in its richest, fullest sense-to be embraced in measure here on earth but enjoyed in all its fullness in a blest eternity.

In the next section we are warned against false prophets who would seek to mislead and turn aside those who are seeking the way of life.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (vv. 15-20)

“False prophets … in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly… ravening wolves.” The metaphor is a very striking one. It suggests a prowling wolf with the fleece of a sheep drawn over its body as it roams about the outskirts of the flock waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon an unsuspecting lamb or sheep. In like manner, teachers of that which is false do not come out in their true color at first, but seek to hide their actual identity and intentions in order that they may draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30). The only safe way is to try all such by the Word itself, and particularly by the doctrine of Christ, as in John’s second epistle.

“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” This is the test for any system of doctrine, and for those who propagate it. That which is of God will result in fruit in the life for His glory.

“Every good tree…a corrupt tree.” The two are put in vivid contrast, as picturing men and women who are born of God and those who are still unregenerated. This is a parable from nature, designed to impress upon our minds the great truth that we are all like trees, either good or bad, and our behavior will betray or indicate our true character. Goodness and badness are used here, as throughout the book of Proverbs, in a relative sense (Proverbs 12:2; Pro_13:22; Pro_14:14). Actually, there is none good until changed by regeneration (Romans 3:12). The testimony of the lips indicates the state of the heart.

“Evil fruit… good fruit.” A heart in rebellion against God cannot produce in the life that which brings honor to Him, even as one who is subject to His will cannot go on in sin, bringing discredit on His holy name.

“Hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Though God has long patience, even with wicked men (James 6:7; 2 Peter 3:9), the day draws on apace for each one when judgment must fall on those who persist in their unrepentant course. This was what John the Baptist also proclaimed (Matthew 3:10).

“By their fruits ye shall know them.” Whatever the professions men may make, it is the life that tells (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1Th_2:10). Good men delight in purity and righteousness. Evil men grovel in that which is sinful and corrupt. Where grace operates in the soul, the good fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) will be manifest in the life. That which is really of God will produce godliness on the part of its recipients.

In bringing His great discourse to an end, the Lord sets forth in a most graphic arid solemn way the eternal results which depend upon our attitude toward the Word which He had proclaimed.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 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. (vv. 21-27)

“Not every one that saith … Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Mere lip profession is of no avail if the heart and life are not subject to the Word of God. We are not saved by our works, but good works are the test of reality. He who is born of God will delight in obedience to the Father’s will (Ephesians 2:8-10).

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, … in thy name [have we] done many wonderful works?” There may be much of outward show and apparently successful service coupled with a Christless profession. In the day of manifestation, nothing will avail but a personal faith in Him whom we profess to own as Lord.

“I never knew you.” To none will He say in that day, “I used to know you, but I know you no more.” His word to the lost will be, “I never knew you.” Of all His own He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” (John 10:27).

“A wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” He who hears and heeds the words of Christ makes it evident that he is a genuine believer and has built his house upon the Rock which is Christ Himself.

“It fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” No storm of adverse circumstances, no assaults of him who is the prince of the power of the air, can avail to destroy the house that is based upon this Rock of Ages.

“A foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” He who hears with the outward ear, but takes no heed to obey the truth, is as one building on sinking sand.

“It fell: and great was the fall of it.” When the testing time comes, the one who has built his hopes for eternity on anything short of Christ Himself will come to disaster. Because Jesus is Lord, He calls for unqualified obedience to His Word. He speaks as the King and sets forth with clearness and conciseness the principles upon which His kingdom is founded, so utterly opposed to the selfish policies of earthly rulers and nations. To own Him as Lord and obey His Word is to build a house that will stand in “the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.” To fail to heed His voice means both temporal and eternal loss.

Christ is presented in many Scripture passages as the Rock foundation on which the church is built. He is also the Rock upon which each individual believer is established. He who trusts in Him builds on a sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16; Romans 9:33) that will never fail. To build our hopes on any other person, system, or fancied meritorious behavior is to erect our house on shifting sands. In the day of judgment, all who have relied on anything save Christ and His finished work will find themselves lost and hopeless for eternity.

Never had such words as these been heard in Israel. There was something so definitely authoritative about them that the hearers were deeply moved, though we are not told to what extent they gave heed to the message and indicated their allegiance to Him who proclaimed it. Their attitude is summed up in the two closing verses of the chapter:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes, (vv. 28-29)

“The people were astonished at his doctrine.” Although He had addressed Himself primarily to His immediate disciples, the throngs drew near to listen, and as the great discourse reached its dramatic conclusion they were amazed at the clarity and profundity of His teaching.

“He taught them as one having authority.” Ordinarily the scribes and other teachers in Israel based everything they put forth upon the authority of noted rabbis who had preceded them. But Jesus spoke directly as giving the last and final word on every subject He set forth. This was what astonished His hearers. This sermon was like a plumb-line, testing all their pretension to righteousness. Did they face it honestly before God and recognize their sinfulness and need of a Savior? We are not told, but we may be sure that many went to their homes pondering the great truths that had been set before them.

When our Lord returns and the kingdom of God is fully displayed upon earth, the principles proclaimed in this sermon will prevail everywhere, for then righteousness and praise will be made to spring forth among all nations (Isaiah 61:11). That will be the time of earth’s regeneration (Matthew 19:28). Now when the individual is regenerated (Titus 3:5), he is given power to walk before God in holiness and righteousness (1 John 3:7-10).

Did Jesus set aside or belittle the moral law? He did not. He referred to what was said of old as that which was divine and authoritative. But He added to or explained it in its deepest spiritual meaning so that men would understand its true application. Moral principles are unchanging. They are the same in every dispensation. But the child of God today is lifted above mere legal obedience through love for Christ and the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Matthew 7:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/matthew-7.html. 1914.

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Friday, May 29th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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