Remarks on Matthew 7

Matthew 7  •  30 min. read  •  grade level: 7
We now come to a very distinct portion of our Lord's discourse. It is not so much the establishing of the right relations of a soul with God our Father—the hidden inner life of the Christian, that which alone is the true source from which strength in our ways before men is found; but now we have the mutual relations of the disciples with one another, their conduct towards men, the different dangers which they have to dread, and, above all things, the sure ruin for every soul that names the name of Christ, if bearing and not doing His sayings. The wise man hears and does. And so the chapter closes. I would desire to dwell a little upon these various points of instruction which our Lord brings before us. Of course, it will not be possible to enter thoroughly into all; for I need not say, the sayings of our Lord are peculiarly pregnant with profoundness of thought. There is no portion of God's word where you find a more characteristic depth than here.
The point with which the Lord Jesus opens is this. He had before this shown fully that we are to act in grace as children of our Father; but that was more particularly with the world, with our enemies, with persons that wrong us. But then a serious and practical difficulty might elsewhere arise. Supposing that among the wrong doers were some that bore the name of Christ, what then? How are we to feel about and to deal with them? No doubt, there is a difference, and a very weighty one. Still there is a thing that we have to take care of, before we touch the question of another's conduct; and that is, to watch against the spirit of censoriousness in ourselves, the habit of tendency to impute evil motives in that which we do not know, and which does not meet the eye. We all know what a snare this is to the heart of man: and that it is more particularly the danger of some, through natural character and unwatchfulness as to the allowed habit. There is more discernment in some than in others, and such ought peculiarly to watch against it. It is not that they are to have their eyes shut to what is evil, but they are not to suspect what is not uncovered, nor to go beyond the evidence God gives. This is a most important practical safeguard, without which it is impossible to walk together according to God. People may be together as so many separate units, without any real sympathy or power to enter into the sorrows and difficulties and trials, and, it may be, the evil of others. All that has a claim upon the heart of a disciple. Even that which is wrong calls upon love to find out God's way of dealing with what is contrary to God. For the essence of love is, that it seeks the good of the object that is beloved, and this without reference to self. It may have the bitterness of knowing that it is not loved in return, as the Apostle Paul knew, and this too in early days, with real Christians, yea, with persons singularly endowed by the Spirit of God. And yet God has been pleased to give us these solemn lessons of what the heart is, even in saints of God.
Under all circumstances, this great truth is obligatory on the conscience: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” No principle, on the other hand, could be more easily abused by the selfishness of man. Were a person going on in an evil course, and using this passage to deny the title of brethren to judge his conduct, it is clear that he betrays a want of conscience and of spiritual understanding. His eye is blinded by self, and he is merely turning the Lord's words into an excuse for sin. The Lord did not, in any wise, mean to weaken the holy judgment of evil; on the contrary, He, in due time, binds this solemnly upon His people: “Do not ye judge them that are within?” It was the fault of the Corinthians that they did not judge those that were in their midst. It is plain, therefore, that there is a sense in which I am to judge, and another in which I am not. There are cases where I should be sinning against the Lord, if I did not judge; and there are cases where the Lord forbids it, and warns me that to do so, is to bring judgment upon myself. This is a very practical question for the Christian—where to judge, and where not to judge. Whatever comes out plainly, what God presents to the eye of His people, so that they know it for themselves, or hear of it on testimony which they cannot doubt, that they are surely bound to judge. In a word, we are always responsible to abhor that which is offensive to God, whether known directly or indirectly; for “God is not mocked,” and the children of God ought not to be governed by mere technicalities, of which the cunning craft of the enemy can easily take advantage.
But what does our Lord mean here: “Judge not, that ye be not judged?” He refers not to that which is plain, but to what is concealed; to that whereof, if it did exist, God was not pleased to lay the evidence before the eyes of His people. We are not responsible to judge what we do not know; on the contrary, we are bound to watch against the spirit of surmising evil. It may be that there is evil, and of the gravest character, as in the case of Judas. Our Lord said of him: “one of you hath a devil;” and purposely kept the disciples in the dark about the particulars. Just remark, by the way, that it is only the Gospel of John which shows us that our Lord's knowledge of Judas Iscariot was that of a divine person. He says it long before anything came out. In the other gospels all is reserved till the eve of His betrayed; but John was led by the Holy Ghost to remember how the Lord had told them it was so from the beginning: and yet, though He knew it, they were only to confide in His knowledge of it; for if the Lord bore with him, were not they to do the same? If He did not give them directions how to deal with the evil, they were to wait. That is always the resource of faith, which never hurries, especially in so solemn a case. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” We need not trouble ourselves about that which is not certain. All is open to God, all is in His hands; and we can confide in Him. Patience is the word, until the Lord's time for dealing with that which is contrary to Him. The Lord lets Judas manifest himself thoroughly; and then it was no question of bearing with the traitor. While there are certain cases of evil that we are to judge, there are questions He does not ask the Church to solve. The worst of all are those that go out, not those who are put out. What more condemns a man than that he cannot stay in the presence of the Lord, even on earth? Of course, no evil can consist with the Lord's presence in heaven; nor can it, in the long run, on earth. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” These are characterized as being antichrists. It was not merely evil of a moral sort, but against Christ personally, and thus directly struck at the foundation of everlasting truth. “They went out.” Thus, wherever there is that which is decidedly contrary to Christ's personal glory, that He deals with. There may be cases, as in 2 John, which it becomes the saints to deal with too; but we generally find that such go out. God prefers, if I may say so, that Himself should dispose of them, even here below. They could not continue in the Lord's presence, though it were simply by the power of the Spirit of God that that presence was made known upon earth. But while there are these cases where the saints judge, and where the Lord judges, still there remains this word: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” We must guard against imputing motives, or pronouncing upon the absolute state of a person before God.
We have to take care that we go not before God, lest we might find ourselves in detail, if not in the main, against God. We must not break that which is bruised, by yielding to embittered personal or party feelings. What a danger this is! The inevitable effect of a judging spirit is, that we get judged ourselves. The soul whose habit is censorious is universally ill spoken of. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” Then He puts a particular case: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” That is, that where there is this proneness to judge, there is another thing found still more serious: it is habitually unjudged evil in the spirit of a professor or saint of God which makes a person restless, and desirous of proving others to be wrong too. “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 The mote of course was but little, but it was made a great deal of and the beam, an enormous thing, was passed by. It was the Lord bringing out, in the most emphatic way, This own truth, and the danger of a suspicious judicial spirit. And He shows that the way to deal rightly, if we desire the good of His people, and their deliverance from evil, is to begin with self-judgment. If we really wish to have the mote out of our brother's eye, how is it to be done? Let us begin with the grave faults we know so little corrected and confessed in ourselves; and this is worthy of Christ. What is His way of dealing with it? Does He say of the mote in our brother's eye, Bring it to the judges? Not at all; you must probe yourselves. The soul is to begin there. When I judge the evil that my conscience knows, or that, if my conscience does not know now, it may learn in God's presence—if I begin with that, I shall then see clearly what concerns others; I shall have a heart fitted to enter into their circumstances, an eye purged from that which makes the heart oblique, and which unfits the heart to feel with God about it. “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.” This may be found in a believer in principle, though when the Lord says, “Thou hypocrite,” He alludes to the evil in its full form; but even in ourselves, we know it in measure, and what can be more opposed to simplicity and godly sincerity? The Lord skews that this very thing leads to the most hateful evil that can be found under the name of Christ—a hypocrite—a thing that even the natural conscience writhes under and rejects. “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.” Often and often have we found that, when the beam is gone, the mote is not to be seen, having already disappeared. This is a great comfort; and where the heart is set upon the Lord, would we be sorry to find ourselves mistaken about our brother? Should I not rejoice to find the grace of the Lord in my brother, if I discover in self-judgment it is only I that am wrong? This may be painful to one, but the love of Christ in the believer's heart is gratified to know that Christ is spared this further dishonor.
This, then, is the first great principle our Lord here enjoins. The spirit of judgment is to be watched against solemnly; and this, too, because it brings bitterness upon the spirit that indulges it, and unfits the soul for being able to deal rightly with another: for we are set in the body, as Paul shows, for the purpose of helping one another; we are everyone members one of another. The Lord is inculcating the spirit of grace that seeks the good of others, even if it be in self-condemnation.
But there is another thing. In watching against hasty and harsh judgment, there might be the abuse of grace. And the Lord immediately couples this with the former— “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.” We must carefully remember that the Lord is not here speaking about the Gospel going out to sinners. God forbid that we should not carry out the grace of God to every quarter under heaven, because nothing less than that ought to be the desire and effort of every saint of God. All ought to do it; that is, to have the spirit of active love going out after others, energetic desires for the salvation and the blessing of souls: for it were a sad shortcoming, if it rested with souls being brought to Christ. The only thought worthy of a Christian is the glory of Christ; and therefore should one be seeking to grow up into Christ in all things, to know and to do the will of God. In this verse, the Lord is not taking up the question of the gospel going out indiscriminately; for we know that, if there be a difference, the gospel best suits those who have been dogs; which, in the language of the Jews, was a figure of all that is abominable. “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” The apostle had been speaking just before about thieves, drunkards, extortioners, &c. It might have been asked, is not the wickedness of one man greater than that of another? On an earthly platform, one might say, Much every way; but God does not, in saving souls, make these distinctions. So, speaking of believers, when Jews, Paul says, they were “children of wrath, even as others.” There may have been highly moral characters among them. Did this dispose them better towards God's grace? Alas! where the soul finds a justification of itself in what it is, nothing can be more dangerous. It is a hard thing for a man who feels this to bow to the truth that he can only enter heaven upon the ground of a publican and a sinner. But so it must be, if the soul is to receive salvation from God through the faith of Jesus.
The Lord, then, is not in any wise restraining the gospel from going out to every quarter; but He speaks of the relations of His own people with those that are walking unholily. The Christian is not to treat the worldly man on common ground; he is not to bring out for him the special treasures that are the Christian portion. The gospel is to be lavished; it is the riches of God's grace to the world. But, besides the gospel, I have the special affections of Christ to the Church, His lordship as regards His servants, His priesthood, the hope of His coming again, &c.
If we were to talk about these things, which we may, perhaps, call the pearls of the saints, with those who are evidently not Christians, you are on wrong ground. If you were to insist upon the duties of the faithful in worldly company, then it is giving that which is holy unto the dogs. There is blessed provision for the dog: there is that which the Lord intends for it—the crumbs that fall from the master's table. And such is the great grace of God toward us, that the crumbs which fall to our portion, poor dogs of the Gentiles as we were, are the best. What is there like that which falls from the Lord's grace? Whatever may be the benefits promised to the Jew, the grace of God has brought out in the gospel fuller blessing than ever was promised to Israel. What can Israel ever learn, compared to the mighty deliverance of God that we know now? the consciousness of being in a moment completely cleansed from all sin, and having the righteousness of God for ours at once and forever in Christ. As the Lord Himself said to the woman of Samaria, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Where Christ is received now, by whomsoever it may be, there is this fullness of blessing. We have not even to go to the well now, for the well is within the believer. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.” So that I may see in many a word of God how wide and perfect is His grace, while it forbids certain things being thrown indiscriminately among worldly persons, as not being suited objects. Any act that implies fellowship between a believer and an unbeliever is false. Take, for instance, the question of worship, and the habit of calling the whole round of devotions worship. But worship supposes communion with the Father and the Son, and with each other in it. There is not nor can be real communion in the usual forms of prayer. Indeed, you will find that evangelical people do not generally care for the prayers, but bear with them for the sake of the sermon. But the system which, founded on an easy rite which pretends to regenerate all, unites believers and unbelievers in one common form and calls it worship, is casting what is holy unto dogs. Is it not a thinly disguised attempt to put the sheep and dogs upon the same ground? In vain! You cannot unite before God the enemies of Christ, and those that belong to Him. You cannot mingle as one people those that have got life and those that have not. The attempt to do so is sin, and always ends in failure and disappointment, as well as in the constant dishonor of the Lord. All effort to have a worship of this mixed character is going in the very teeth of this 6th verse. Whereas, preaching the gospel, where it is kept distinct from worship, is most right and blessed. When the day of judgment comes upon this world, where does the worst judgment fall? Not upon the openly profane world, but upon Babylon, because Babylon is the confusion of what is of Christ with evil—the attempt to make communion possible between light and darkness. There is what we are responsible for, as the apostle says, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” It is the being partaker of her sins that is the grave affair with God. It is the acceptance of a common ground upon which the church and the world can join; when the very object of God, and that for which Christ died, was that He might have a separate people unto Himself; so as to be, by their very consecration unto God, a light in this world; not a witness of austerity, saying, “Stand by, I am holier than thou;” but Christ's epistle, that tells the world where the living water is to he found and bids them come: “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” The light of the church, reflected from Christ, shines upon the living water that Christ gives to him that will. Where we do not confound the religion of the world with the worship that goes up to God from His people, there you will also have the true line of demarcation—where we ought to judge, and where we ought not. There will be active service towards the world with the gospel, but yet the careful separation of the church from the world. This is also true individually. If there were only a single saint in the place, he is not to cast his pearls before swine; and if it be an assembly, they have to guard against it corporately. What a test is this for the heart! Thus persons take advantage of the word of God that says, “If an unbeliever bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go,” ; but take care how you go, and for what. If you go self-confident, you will but dishonor Christ; if to please yourselves, this is poor ground; if to please other people, it is little better; if it were really to serve God and please our neighbor for his good to edification, it would be with pain to oneself, with reverence, I may say, and godly fear, lest one might forget the living God, and that He is a consuming fire. For the God of the believer is a consuming fire; He is such in His dealings with us, and let us thank Him for it. He does not spare our evil any more than He wishes us to spare it. There may be occasions when the love of Christ might constrain a soul to go and bear a testimony to His love in a worldly company; and if we know how easily words may be said, and things done, that imply communion with that which is contrary to Christ, there would be fear and trembling; but where there is self-confidence there can never be the power of God.
But now the Lord, having finished the subject of the abuse of judgment and the abuse of grace, shows us the necessity of intercourse with God; and this is very particularly in connection with what we have been seeing. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Here we have different degrees, increasing measures of earnestness in pleading with the Lord: “for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
And then He gives them an argument to encourage them in this. “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?” There is a very interesting difference in the passage that answers to this in Luke 11, where instead of saying, “give good things to them that ask him,” it is said, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” The Holy Spirit was not yet given; it was not that He did not act in the world, but He was not yet personally imparted, because that Jesus was not yet glorified. Scripture says this expressly; so that, until the time when He was poured out from heaven, it was quite right to pray for the Spirit to be given: and the Gentiles, in particular, being persons that were ignorant about it, this is expressly mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, which especially contemplates the Gentiles. For who can read that gospel without having the conviction that there is a careful eye upon those that have a Gentile origin? It was written by a Gentile and to a Gentile; and all through it traces the Lord as Son of man, a title which links itself, not with the Jewish nation properly and peculiarly, but with all men. This is the great want of man—the Holy Spirit which was about to be given, and He is the great power of prayer, as it is said, “Praying in the Holy Ghost.” Luke was led to specify that special good thing which those that pray would need in order to give them energy in prayer.
But returning to Matthew, we have the whole passage wound up by this word: “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.” This is in no way dealing with men according to their ways, but the contrary. It is saying, as it were, “You who know the heavenly Father, who know what His grace to the evil is, you know what is comely in His sight; always act upon that. Never act merely according to what another does towards you, but according to what ye would that another should do to you. If you have the slightest love in your heart, you would desire that they should act as children of your Father.” Whatever another person may do, my business is to do to them what I would that they should do to me: and that is, to act in a way becoming the child of a heavenly Father. “This is the law and the prophets.” He is giving them exceeding breadth, extracting the essence of all that was blessed there. There was this which was clearly the gracious wish of a soul that knew God, even under the law; and nothing less than this could be the ground of action before God.
But now we come to dangers. There are not only brethren that try, but now He says, “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, add few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” There is a moral connection between the two things. One main feature of that which is false is the attempt to make the gate large and the road broad; to deny the special manner in which God calls souls to the knowledge of Himself. There is not an arrangement in the religious world that does not interfere with this. Take, for instance, the parceling out of those that belonged to God into different companies, as if they were the sheep of man: what people do not scruple to call “our church” or “such an one's flock.” God's rights, God's claims, God's calling a soul to walk in responsibility to Himself, are all set aside by such a state of feeing. We never find even an apostle saying, “my flock.” It is always “the flock of God,” because that brings in responsibility to God. If they are God's flock, I must take care that I do not lead them astray. It must be the object of my soul, in having to do with a Christian, to bring his soul into direct connection with God Himself, to say, this is one of God's sheep. What a change would this make in the relation of pastors, if it were viewed as the fleck of God! It is the business of the true servant to keep them in the narrow path on which they have entered.
But there is also the broad-road-going world, who think that they can belong to God by profession of Christ and trying to keep the commandments. There has been the widening of the gate, the broadening of the road, and the Lord says in connection with this, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” There may be true teachers sent from God; but they suffer with the false ones, if they are mixed up with the world. Being all bound together for common objects, whether they belong to God or not, those that are really true are often drawn of the rest into what they know to be wrong. And remember another solemn thing. The devil never would be able to accomplish any plan in this world, if he could not get good people to join the bad in it. Unbelief constantly uses as an excuse, “such a good man is here;” “the excellent Mr.—does that.” But is the opinion and conduct of a Christian to be that by which I judge? If so, there is nothing that I may not fall into: for what evil thing is there that a man, and even a believer, has not done? You know what David had to confess before the Lord. There is nothing too bad; and this is the way that the devil takes to keep other persons quiet in evil. Presumption has nothing to do with the matter, nor is it a question about good men. The only question for the Christian is the will of the Lord; and therefore it becomes a matter of searching into Scripture. The sole standard for the believer is the written word of God; and this is the special security in these last days. When Paul was leaving the Ephesian saints, it was to God and to the word of His grace that he commended them. Grievous wolves might enter in among them, not sparing the flock; and of their own selves men might arise, speaking perverse things; but the sole safeguard, as a rule of faith and conduct, for the saints, is God's holy writ.
Mass is the most wicked act of the most corrupt thing under the sun; but if the grace of God could enter there, and work by his Spirit, spite of the elevated host, who shall put limits? But is that a reason why I should go to chapel, or pray to the virgin? God, in His sovereign grace, can go anywhere; but if I desire to walk as a Christian, how am I to do it? There is but one standard—the will of God; and the will of God can only be learned through the Scriptures. I cannot reason from any amount of blessing there, nor from any apparent weakness here. Persons might be allowed to seem very weak, for the express purpose of showing that the power is not in them, but in God. Although the apostles were such mighty men, they were often allowed to appear weak indeed in the eyes of others. It was that which exposed Paul to be thought not an apostle by the Corinthians, though they, of all men, ought to have known better. All this shows that I cannot reason either from blessing, that God's grace may work, or from the weakness of God's children. What we want is that which has no fault at all, and that is the word of God. I need it for my rule as a Christian man, and as walking together as all saints. If we act upon that word, and nothing else, we shall find God with us. It will be called bigotry; but that is part of the reproach of Christ. Faith will always appear proud to those that have not got it; but it will be proved in the day of the Lord to be the only humility, and that everything which is not faith is pride, or no better. Faith admits that he who has it is nothing—that he has no power nor wisdom of his own; and he looks to God. He is strong in faith, giving glory to Him.
But, again, “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.” The Lord does not here speak simply of men being known by their fruits, but of false prophets. (Ver. 15-20.) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Where grace is denied, the holiness is hollow, or, at best, legal. Wherever grace is really held and preached, you will find two things—much greater care in what concerns God, than where it is not equally known; and also great tenderness, forbearance, and patience in what merely touches man. Winking at sin is one thing, but miscriptural severity is very far from divine righteousness, and may co-exist with the allowance of self in many a form. There are certain sins that call for rebuke; but it is only in the gravest cases that there ought to he extreme measures. We are not left to make laws about evil for ourselves: we are under responsibility to another, even to our Lord.
We ought not in this to trust ourselves, but learn the wisdom of God, and confide in the perfectness of His word; and our business is to carry out what we find there. Let the help come from where it may, if we can thus but follow the word of God more fully, we ought to be exceedingly grateful.
Solemn, most solemn, are the words that follow, as the Lord's eye scans the field of profession. “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.” The Lord shows the stability of His word, for the obedient heart, from the figure of a man building upon a rock; He shows also, as none but He could, the end of every one who hears and does not His sayings: but I must not enter upon this now.
The Lord grant that our heart may be towards Himself! We shall be able to help one another, and we shall be helped of His own grace. Weak as we are, we shall be made to stand. And if through unwatchfulness we have slipped, the Lord will set us upon our feet again.
May He grant us singleness of eye!