Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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.
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.
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.
I. THAT THERE IS A JUDGMENT TO COME.
1. This life is under judicial rule.
(1) There is a Divine providence in human affairs.
(2) The sense of justice in human nature expresses this.
(3) Sin returns upon the head of the sinner.
2. But the judgments of this life are not final.
(1) They are incomplete. Virtue is often rewarded. But it is often trampled. Vice is often punished. But it often prospers.
(2) A future judgment is therefore necessary. Moral discrepancies and contradictions must be compensated and adjusted.
3. Revelation makes this clear.
(1) It sets before us the pomp and circumstance of a great assize. The Divine Judge. His throne of white light. tits myriad retinue. The assembled universe.
(2) It sets before us the final awards. The rewards of the righteous in heaven. The punishment of the wicked in hell.
II. THAT DIVINE JUSTICE IS RETRIBUTIVE.
1. In its principles.
(1) "With what judgment ye judge," etc. "He shall have judgment without mercy that hath shown no mercy."
(2) "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
2. In its sanctions.
(1) "With what measure ye mete," etc. The severity of our dealings with our fellows will react upon us.
(2) History abounds with illustrations of this principle. Witness Ishmael (see Genesis 16:12). Adonibezek (see Judges 1:7). Witness the crucifixion, at the destruction of Jerusalem, of the children of those who crucified Christ and imprecated his blood upon themselves and their children. (See Alison's 'Europe' for many remarkable examples of punctual retribution.) Witness the prophetic doom of the mystical Babylon (Revelation 13:10; Revelation 16:6).
(3) But there is the "greater measure" of an eternal retribution.
III. THESE FACTS SHOULD INFLUENCE OUR CONDUCT.
1. The injunction "judge not is conditional.
(1) It cannot be construed to teach tolerance to falsehood or wrong. Scripture cannot contradict itself (cf. Isaiah 5:20; Ezekiel 13.). Our Lord cannot contradict himself. He clearly authorizes righteous judgment" (see also Matthew 23:14, 33).
(2) It cannot be interpreted to condemn judicial decisions in courts civil or ecclesiastical.
2. We must not judge rashly.
(1) To pro-judge is to judge rashly.
(2) We are quick to see the failings of others (the mote), while we overlook formidable evils of our own (the beam). The way to righteousness is the reverse of this.
(3) We judge rashly by indulging evil surmises.
(4) We judge rashly in precipitate decisions.
3. We must not judge harshly.
(1) To pre-judge is harsh as well as rash. By such judgment we become so interested in the success of our prediction as perhaps to procure or facilitate its fulfilment. We should evermore hope for the best.
4. There is a sphere in which we must not judge.
(1) We have no jurisdiction over the consciences of our fellows. Here the words "judge not" express a direct and positive prohibition.
(2) We must not denounce to perdition as heretics those who differ from us.
(3) Nothing provokes more surely the judgment of God than the sufferings of his martyrs.
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.
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.
I. HONEST SELF-ESTIMATES ARE DIFFICULT TO MAKE. Burns writes -
"O wad some power the giftie gie us, (1) surprising; (2) humbling; (3) they culture gentleness and charity toward others. 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.
(3) they culture gentleness and charity toward others.
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.
I. THE REPROVING OF A BROTHER SHOULD BE CONSIDERATE.
1. Reproof is a precious and holy thing.
(2) It is sanctioned by the holiest examples. Moses; the prophets; Christ.
(3) It serves holy uses.
(a) Saves souls from death (see James 5:19, 20).
(b) Frees our souls from the guilt of complicity (see Leviticus 19:17, margin).
(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.
(1) We are naturally too prone to attempt to set others right. Envy and malice give us piercing vision to discern motes in their eves.
(2) Blindness to our own faults proves us disqualified to cure those of others. Reproof is too often an attempt to depreciate the reproved that the reprover may be better thought of.
(3) It is hypocrisy to pretend zeal for the amendment of others while we have none for our own. Since the prerogative to reprove is with the saint, hypocrites reprove to simulate the saint.
(4) To correct error in another requires moral principle as well as intellectual discernment. Sin destroys spiritual vision. In overlooking this parents err in correcting their children. The truly righteous are the most merciful.
(5) Our badness must not excuse us from reproving. Rendering us unfit to reprove, it does not release us from the obligation to become fit. "A man's offence can never become his defence."
II. THE INCORRIGIBLY WICKED ARE BEYOND REPROOF.
1. They are described as dogs and swine.
(1) Some, like the dog, are pronouncedly unclean. The dog does not part the hoof. He makes no profession of a clean walk. Neither does he chew the cud. lie does not ruminate upon spiritual things.
(2) Some profess to be better than they are., The hog parts the hoof. Here is the profession of a clean walk. But then he does not chew the cud. He is filthy in the thoughts and intents of the heart. Note:
(3) The hog is no less abominable than the dog. False-faced sinners are the more offensive.
2. Their dispositions are brutish.
(1) They would trample upon pearls. The ungodly see no more beauty in holiness than the hog sees in a gem.
(2) They would turn again and rend you. The more refined are your tastes and dispositions the more intensely will the wicked hate you, and the more viciously will they treat you.
3. Let tide incorrigible alone.
(1) "Give not that which is holy." The allusion is to the holy things of the sanctuary. These were things which had touched the altar and were of the nature of sacrifice.
(2) Such things were never intended for dogs. They were eaten by the priests and Levites. The gospel is the "children's bread." There is no gospel for the impenitent.
(3) Our respect for Christ should lead us to preach repentance first rather than faith to the wicked. Resentment against reproof is the sign of an unclean nature.
(4) We are not needlessly to hazard our lives in reproving the wicked. The hog will mistake the pearl of reproof for the stone of reproach (see Jeremiah 6:10; Luke 11:45). He will "turn again" in resentment. So Herod turned upon the Baptist.
(5) Our time may be better employed in preaching to those who will hear (see Acts 13:41).
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.
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.
(1) The cynical. Cynicism most effectually excludes the gospel. It is not best conquered by being offered the gems of Divine grace. It needs to be made ashamed of itself.
(2) The greedy. Dogs and swine are proverbially gluttonous. We must here think of the former animals not as we know them in England - as man's true friends and companions - but as they are in the East, pariahs of the animal world, surly scavengers of the streets. Low, selfish greed prevents its victims from appreciating Divine truth.
(3) The unclean. The animals named are typical of foulness. Now, we have seen that the gospel is for sinners. But it comes to their better selves. It has no contact with their corrupt imagination. Sensuous pictures of religious experience lead the degraded to defile the very religion of holiness.
2. In regard to truth.
(1) In personal experience. The Christian is not to hang his heart upon his sleeve. There is a spiritual modesty, a decency in religion. We need to be careful how we unveil the choice experience of communion between the soul and its Saviour.
(2) In revealed truth. All men may have all truth, but not at all times and in all ways. We must choose an opportunity. There is a word in season. Some aspects of truth are best for publicity, others for private meditation, though all are for every seeking soul. - W.F.A.
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.,
(1) that the gospel itself, even from the rudimental original of its expression on earth, should be prohibited to Gentile ears; nor
(2) that genuine ignorance should be visited with a denial or withholding of it; nor
(3) that deep depravity of life should similarly have that punishment meted out to it; nor
(4) that in the development of time an esoteric and exoteric treatment of it should plead here any foreshadowed sanction or justification. But the passage in its unity -
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.
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.
I. THE CALL TO PRAYER.
1. Thrice repeated. This threefold invitation shows us
(1) the importance of prayer;
(2) the backwardness of unbelief;
(3) the gracious kindness of Christ. It is not only permissible for us to pray; we are invited and urged to avail ourselves of the great privilege.
2. In varied forms.
(1) Ask. There are things that we want to receive. The simplest prayer is to ask for them.
(2) Seek. There are truths we desire to know - hidden treasures out of sight which urge our pursuit; and God himself is unseen, and at first seemingly distant and hidden behind the clouds. The soul cries in its distress, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" This is a deeper, a more spiritual prayer.
(3) Knock. Now we have reached the third stage of prayer - not to obtain a gift, not to reach after the hidden treasure, but ourselves to enter the kingdom. Nothing apart from God will satisfy. Our great evil is not our poverty, but our exile. Our great blessing is not an enrichment where we are, but our reception into the Father's home.
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
(1) to the cry for forgiveness;
(2) to the pursuit of the better life;
(3) to the hunger for a future life. - W.F.A.
Matthew 7:7 (first clause)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)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)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.
(1) INFORMATION AND DIRECTION ON THE ROAD;
(2) BREAD TO EAT, WINE TO DRINK;
(3) SHELTER FROM STORM PRESENT OR THREATENING, AND FOR THE CERTAINLY COMING NIGHT.
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.
I. THE NATURE OF PRAYER.
1. It is asking.
(1) Asking of God. He requires our prayer, not to induce him to give, but to fit us to receive.
(2) Asking implies want. We have needs for our fellows; for ourselves - temporal, spiritual (cf. ver. 11; Luke 11:13).
(3) We ask with the heart.
2. It is seeking.
(1) Seeking for the hidden riches of promise.
(2) Seeking implies loss. The loss of God. The loss of heaven. The loss of the soul.
(3) This term "seek" suggests the way, viz. to eternal life. To asking we add diligent endeavour.
(4) We seek with the understanding.
3. It is knocking.
(1) To seeking we add importunity. Our need is urgent. Our loss is serious.
(2) Knocking suggests perseverance. "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
(3) It suggests, moreover, the obtaining of admission to the house and kingdom of God.
(4) We knock with the life.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY.
1. In the promises of God.
(1) "Ye shall receive;" "Ye shall find; It shall be opened."
(2) They are free for all. "Every one that asketh," etc. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Bond and free. No sinner is too vile.
2. In the character of the promises.
(1) Our Father. We give good gifts to our children. He is the Author of our nature. He made us after his own image.
(2) The Father of goodness. We are evil: "If ye then, being evil. Here is a testimony to original sin. Yet natural affection will not allow us to give our' child a stone for bread, a scorpion for a fish. The good father cannot mock his children with false promises. He delights to give good things
(3) Note: Christ speaking in the second person, If ye then, being evil," excepts himself from original sin. Through the merits (,f the Son of God we receive.
(4) Sonship comes in with prayer. "How much more will your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
III. THE CONDITIONS OF PRAYER.
1. These are given in the promises.
(1) They are sometimes expressed in them.
(2) They are evermore implied.
2. They are embodied in the golden rule.
(1) Prayer, to have weight with God, must be in charity towards men. As our heavenly Father is kind to us, so in kindness to our fellows are we his children (see Matthew 5:45). Let our brotherly love be practical, and our Father will acknowledge us in blessing.
(2) The equity of this rule comes home to every conscience. Read it negatively: "What ye would not that men should do unto you," etc. Read it positively: "What ye would," etc. "If our heart condemn us, then have we not confidence before God" (see 1 John 3:19-22).
(3) This rule sums up the Law and the prophets (cf. Matthew 22:39, 40; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14). The Law, prophets, and gospel are essentially one. The gospel is the spirit and glory of the Law. The prophets bring the gospel out of the Law by anticipation. The golden rule is the law of heaven.
3. Apply this rule.
(1) In thought. Where, then, will be evil surmisings and suspicions?
(2) In word. Where, then, will be evil-speaking; abuse, backbiting, detraction?
(3) In deed. In buying and selling. In service and remuneration.
(4) This law requires, not exchanges of states, but simply of places. Exchanges of states would be exchanges of identity, so nothing would be gained.
(5) To fulfil this rule we need the converting grace and constant help of God. - J.A.M.
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
(1) we must ask earnestly;
(2) must ask persistently.
I. HE WHO "ASKS" MAKES REQUEST.
II. HE WHO "SEEKS" PRESSES HIS REQUEST.
III. HE WHO "KNOCKS" PERSISTS IN HIS REQUEST. - R.T.
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 (ver. 12) TO PROCLAIM THE NEW COVENANT FORM OF THE SECOND TABLE OF THE OLD AND VENERABLE AND UNIVERSAL TEN COMMANDMENTS. With our ver. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
(1) There is but one right way, while there is an infinite diversity of wrong ways. At every moment there is just one thing needful, one thing that it is our duty to do then and there. If we neglect that, we can make our choice out of any number of things that ought not to be done.
(2) Righteousness involves self-denial. We have to take up the cross to follow Christ.
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.
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, 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
(1) penitence unfeigned;
(2) repentance practical and thorough;
(3) mortification of self, through sanctification of the Spirit.
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.
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.
I. THE WAY OF DEATH.
1. It is broad.
(1) The "commandment" of God is "exceeding broad." It extends to all our works, words, and thoughts. No less broad is the way of transgression.
(2) It is even broader. There is but one way of keeping the commandments. The thing done must be right; so must be the manner of doing it; so also must be the circumstances. But there are many ways of breaking every commandment.
(3) The way widens as men walk in it. Restraints upon natural appetite are thrown off. The appetite becomes insatiable.
2. Its gate is wide.
(1) We need not seek it, for it is in our own minds. Self-indulgence opens it.
(2) We enter it by impenitence. Beware of the first temptation to sin. Let the young especially be cautioned.
(3) Return from the gate, that you may never walk in the way of persistent sinfulness.
3. Its company is large.
(1) The men of the world, who make no profession of religion, are in it. The atheist, the non-theist, the infidel, and the unconcerned.
(2) Nominal Christians are in it. Many who never enter a place of prayer. Many who enter to conform to custom. Men of pleasure. Men of "progress."
(3) How many! Of every age, rank, profession, employment. They go in it because it is "broad" Because the other way is "narrow."
(4) The good time is coming when the company will be great (see Psalm 37:9-11). Then will the words of the text be history.
4. Its end is destruction.
(1) The end of sin is the destruction of character. Vice intoxicates. It wrecks. Character is life.
(2) Sin is the gate of hell. Damnation is the closing of mercy's gate to the sinner (see Luke 13:22-28).
II. THE WAY OF LIFE.
1. It is strait.
(2) The way of holiness has its difficulties. Its restraints. Its sacrifices. It calls for circumspection and perseverance.
(3) It is the way of poverty of spirit, meekness, holy mourning, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart.
2. Its gate is narrow.
(1) Repentance cuts off every sin.
(2) Faith cuts off all self-righteousness.
(3) To some the gate is narrower than to others. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter!" How easy is the entrance to the child! The strength of our aversion to good makes the gate narrow.
(4) "Strive to enter in" (see Luke 13:24). Earnestness is required.
3. The company is select.
(1) "Few there be that find it." Majorities are not always right.
(2) How few be those who find the way even of heathen honesty!
(3) How few are free from unkindness!
(4) How few have hearts clean in the sight of God!
(5) How few have the courage to be singular! But the way of holiness is singularity all over to an ungodly world.
4. Its end is life.
(1) Existence is not life.
(2) Salvation from sin and death.
(3) Union with Christ.
(4) Holiness and heaven.
III. WHICH WAY WILL YOU TAKE?
1. You have the option.
(1) None go the wrong way of necessity. God will be justified when he judges.
(2) None go the right way by compulsion.
(3) We are persuaded. Therefore the admonition:
2. Beware of false prophets.
(1) Those who produce false commissions (Revelation 2:2). Enthusiasts who pretend to revelations of which they give no proof.
(2) Those who preach a broad way to heaven. Who do not preach the narrow, strait, way.
(3) We may be false teachers to ourselves. Listening to prejudice. Listening to inclination.
(4) They are wolves in sheep's clothing. They come with professions of innocence, of usefulness, of love. The man of sin has horns like a lamb (cf. Isaiah 30:10; Romans 16:18; 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14; Revelation 13:11).
4. Test them by their fruits.
(2) The fruits of their doctrine may be tested in their lives. The works of a man are the tongue of his heart. He cannot be trusted to show the narrow way who is walking in the broad.
(3) Plain persons may judge a teacher by his fruit as they judge a tree. The bark and leaves may deceive. We judge character, not by its occasional, but by its habitual fruit.
4. Be warned of their doom.
(1) To be hewn down as useless.
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.
John 10:10, 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 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 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.
(1) It may be said no man is such a fool as to build in the situation here described. This, though the objection of a pedant, serves to bring out a point in the comparison. What no man would be fool enough to do with a house, many and many a man is fool enough to do in matters of religion. So ineradicable is the feeling that there all is mere show, that the rashness no man would be guilty of in practical matters is almost universal in religion.
(2) Our Lord here indicates that the wise man is he who not only hears, but does, while in the scene from the last day which he introduces he seems to make no account of doing. By this seeming inconsistency he brings out his meaning more exactly. There must be works, fruits, a shining light, a fleece; there must be a visible manifestation; the inward influence of the words of Christ must become apparent in the life; but there need not be a loud profession of Christ's name - a crying, "Lord, Lord!" a doing of wonderful works. The pretentious religion he seeks to expose abounds in these. It may be identical in appearance with the true righteousness. But the works in the one case are done for the sake of persuading either the pretender or others that he is a good and godly person; in the other case they are the natural, spontaneous, necessary outflow of what is within, and would surely be done though there were no judgment to be passed on them. They are produced as the apple tree produces apples - because it is its nature to do so. To gather up the practical teaching of this passage, we see -
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.
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.
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.
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.
(1) The Sinai covenant emanated from him. It was given by the God of glory. But the Father is essentially invisible. The Son has ever been his Revealer (John 1:14, 18; John 5:37; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16, 17; 1 John 4:12).
(3) The gospel law is love. Loving our neighbour as ourselves. Loving our brother better than ourselves (John 13:34). Loving God supremely. Love is practical.
2. Profession is no substitute for obedience.
(1) Antichrist says, "Lord, Lord!" The Jewish. Mohammedan. Papistical. Infidel. Yet antichrist is the "man of sin" and the" son of perdition."
(2) Hypocrites say, "Lord, Lord!" There are modern Pharisees. "Talking about Christ, his righteousness, merits and atonement, while the person is not conformed to his Word and Spirit, is no other than solemn self-deception" (Clarke). Note: Everything short of doing the will of God is merely saying, "Lord, Lord!" and it is working iniquity (see Matthew 21:31).
3. Zeal in the cause of religion is no substitute for religion. The repetition of the word "Lord" suggests earnestness.
(1) "Workers of iniquity" may prophesy. True prophecy came from Balaam. So from Caiaphas. They may teach; write excellent books; preach excellent sermons; give good advice. A finger-post points out a road it never travels.
(2) "Workers of iniquity" may cast out devils. Origen relates that devils were sometimes cast out by wicked men, using the name of Jesus (cf. Matthew 12:27; Mark 9:39; Acts 19:13). The truth, though ministered by ungodly men, may be made the power of God to the salvation of the hearer. The minister of saving truth may himself become a castaway (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27).
(3) "Workers of iniquity" may perform" many wonderful works." There may be faith-miracles without love (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2). "Grace may bring a man to heaven without miracles, but miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace" (Henry). Wonderful works, viz. of party zeal.
II. THAT IT IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE THAT WE BE THUS ABLE TO PROVE OUR TITLE.
1. For the testing will be severe.
(1) It is compared to the striving of fierce elements upon a building. The "rain" in the East comes down in streams. The "floods" then rise with terrible suddenness. And the "wind" rushes with a violence seldom equalled in our climate. So by every kind of temptation - from above, from beneath, from around - from the world, the flesh, and the devil, are our principles tested even in this world.
(2) But in the day of judgment. "That day" (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14; Daniel 7:10; Matthew 24:36; Luke 10:12; 2 Timothy 1:12, 15). Then the heavens and the earth will be shaken; the severity of the testing will be most searching.
2. The life-building founded on the Rock of Ages will abide.
(1) Our work must be begun in him. "Other foundation can no man lay" (cf. Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20). The Founder of the earth is himself an immutable Foundation (see Hebrews 1:10-12). "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower."
(2) It must be continued in him. "Not every one that saith unto me. We have to deal with Christ. I never knew you" - never acknowledged or approved you. We must ever have the approbation of him" with whom we have to do." The materials of this building are spiritual. The building is for eternity.
(3) It must be ended in him. He claims to be our Judge. This doctrine astonished the Jews. Jesus spake with the authority of confirming miracles (cf. Matthew 4:24, 25; Mark 1:27; Luke 4:32, 36); but it was his doctrine that astonished (cf. John 6:42; John 7:46). The scribes never spake in this style. Even the prophets said, "Thus saith the Lord;" but Jesus, "I say unto you."
3. The life-building founded on the sand will be wrecked.
(1) Any foundation other than Christ is sand. Religious speculativeness. Orthodoxy, or right opinion, by abuse of terms is called faith. Innocence or doing no harm. Self-righteousness. Attendance upon the ordinances of religion.
(2) The fool is at as much trouble to build on the sand as the wise man on the rock. How many fools pass for wise men] How often those who pity fools are of their number! Wisdom and folly, in Scripture, express not intellectual but moral states.
(4) The doom of the foolish is dreadful. The more pretentious the building the greater the wreck. "Depart from me." Separation from Christ is hell. Note: The ending of this sermon teaches that it is not necessary that every sermon should end with consolation. But let us be wise, prudent, in time. - J.A.M.
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.
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 (ch. 13:20, 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 (vers. 22, 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.
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.