Judge not, that ye be not judged.Matthew 7:1-6The law kept by sympathy. "Judge not, that ye be not judged." This word of Christ's implies—
I. That we are not to be eager to spy out our neighbour's faults, for that is not worthy, not Christian, not fulfilling the law of God. The more vigilant we are over him, the more careless we are of ourselves. The less we spare his faults, the more tender we grow of our own. The men who are most censorious are just the very men who are themselves the least faultless, the most indulgent to their own cherished sins.
II. That neither are we to speak hastily of the sins of our neighbour. A readiness to spy out faults is one thing; it is another thing to be eager to speak of them and point them out to others. The two things are generally combined. And this is indeed the mischief of that kind of character, that it seldom, if ever, refrains from proclaiming the faults which it is so prone to discover, reckless of the pain or the injury which it may thus inflict; were it otherwise, the evil resulting from such a habit would be mainly limited to the man himself who indulged in it.
III. This implies also that we are to watch against that uncharitable spirit which is ever ready to ascribe the worst meanings and the worst motives to our neighbour's conduct. If there is any moral duty which, more than another, stands out as the very badge and symbol of Christianity, it is charity.
IV. In all such matters we must be regulated by the great law of moral sympathy, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Judge not your neighbour in a way in which you would not like him to judge you. Do not spy out his faults in a fashion which you would consider unkind and ungenerous if done to yourself; do not talk of his errors as you would feel it unfair to have your own discussed and babbled about; do not ascribe base motives and wicked meanings to him, which you would hold to be unjust if ascribed to you. So do ye to others whatsoever ye would that they should do to you.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 276.
References: Matthew 7:1.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 42; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 27. Matthew 7:1, Matthew 7:2.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 172. Matthew 7:1-6.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 234; J. Oswald Dykes, Manifesto of the King, p. 529.
Matthew 7:2The New Testament is full of a natural and necessary reciprocity between man and the things by which he is surrounded. Every gift has its return, every act has its consequence, every call has its answer in this great, live, alert world, where man stands central, and all things have their eyes on him, and their ears open to his voice.
I. Even with man's relations to the material earth this law is true. "They treated nature as they would." So all men—all races—treat nature according to their wills, whether their wills be the deep utterance of their characters, or only the light and fickle impulses of self-indulgence. And what they are to nature, nature is to them—to one man the siren, who fascinates him to drunkenness and death; to another the wise friend, who teaches him all lessons of self-restraint and sobriety, and patient hope and work.
II. But after all, our relations to the world of nature are little more than illustrations of our relations to the world of men. Let us see how true the law which we are looking at is there. I think there grows in us a strong conviction with our growing years that for a man to get bad out of the world of fellowmen is not necessarily a disgrace to the world of fellowmen, but is certainly a disgrace to him. There are men in the world today who are being made worse by living with the best and purest. Souls are darker for the sunshine, souls are colder for the warmth, with which they live in daily company. And why? Because heaven does not make holiness, but holiness makes heaven; because if you do not give yourself in sympathy to goodness, goodness cannot give itself in influence to you; because with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you. Each man gets out of the world of men the rebound, the increase and development of what he brings there.
III. And now in that great giving in, that supreme self-consecration, does our law still hold? Indeed it does. Nowhere does it so completely hold. For there are different measures in which men give themselves to Christ, and Christ despises none of them, but in different measures He again is compelled to give Himself back to them. With what measure each gives himself to the Saviour, the Saviour gives Himself in His salvation back to each. As when in some foreign land, in some strange shrine of Romish or Pagan worship, all glorious with art, all blazing with the light of precious stones, there bend around the altar the true devotees who believe with all their souls; while at the door, with heads uncovered and with faces solemnized by the presence of a ceremony in which they do not believe and in which they take no part, lingers a group of travellers full of joy at the wondrous beauty of the place; and as when the music ceases and the lights go out they go away, each carrying what it was in him to receive—the devotee his spiritual peace, the artistic tourist his spiritual joy; so men bestow themselves on Christ, and by the selves that they bestow on Him the giving of Himself to them must of necessity be measured.
Phillips Brooks, Sermons in English Churches, p. 265.
References: Matthew 7:3-5.—S. Cox, An Expositor's Notebook, p. 266. Matthew 7:6.—Ibid., p. 279.
Matthew 7:6, Matthew 7:12Consider:—
I. The reserve which will not give things holy to dogs. The dog was reckoned, with the swine, among the unclean animals. They were both of them types of the grossly sensual kind of sinners, given over to mere brute appetite, and insensible to any higher life. Hence it was a common saying, "Without are dogs," to indicate the general carnality of the Gentile world. Things holy belong to the holy, or at any rate to those who recognize them to be holy, and will treat them, therefore, with the reverence which is their due. We are bound to act so that these sacred things shall not be despised, and that our good shall not be evil spoken of, and that we shall not needlessly arouse the opposition and hatred to spiritual concerns which these carnal minds are so ready to indulge in.
II. There is also a similar reserve with regard to things precious: "Neither cast your pearls before swine." The things precious, indicated by pearls, may be also, no doubt, very sacred, but they do not belong to the holy privacies of religious life. On the contrary, they are meant for use and free circulation; for by the pearls I understand chiefly the truths of the Gospel. This second proverb implies that even in the performance of the great Christian duty of preaching the Gospel there is still left room for some discretion and reserve, lest by unwise speech we bring dishonour on the truth and needless persecution on ourselves. These two things must combine ere we shall be justified in keeping silence.
III. For our practical guidance in such matters it seems to me we must always read these words in the light of the great principle, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them." That is to say, it is our duty in certain cases to consider how we ourselves would like it if the truth were forced on our attention at such a time, or in such a way, as to provoke our opposition to it, and lead us into sinful rejection of its claims.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 292.
Matthew 7:7God is not only a great Giver, but He is sometimes a great Hider of His gifts. The subject to which the text applies pre-eminently, as the context shows, is the matter of the soul's welfare, and the things that accompany salvation. The promise is not, "Seek, health and ye shall find it. Seek fame, seek fortune, and ye shall find them;" but the whole discourse bears on the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness thereof, and the promise of the true and faithful witness is tantamount to this: "Seek God, and ye shall find Him. Seek His friendship, and He will not refuse it. Seek the Holy Spirit, and He will not withhold it."
I. Seek knowledge. To true religion a pre-requisite is a certain measure of enlightenment.
II. More especially, as comprehending the best knowledge, and as the most effectual means at once of reassurance Godward and of all progress in goodness, seek the Saviour. Seek not only to know about Him, but seek confidence in Him; seek to know Him as your own. Come boldly to the throne of grace; come, and you will obtain mercy now, and will find help in all your future times of need.
III. Seek certainty. Give all diligence so as to attain a full assurance of sin forgiven, and of your own acceptance in the Saviour. Dark shadows of apostasy will flit across your path, and your energies will be paralyzed by dreary forebodings. So cry to the Captain of salvation to deliver you from the hand of this enemy, and as for life, as for heaven, watch against his furious onsets or sudden surprises. And if you have any doubt as to the reality of your religion, solve the doubt by becoming definite and decisive now. You know who is the rightful claimant of your services; therefore, take up the cross, deny yourself, and follow Christ.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. vi., p. 351.
I. In considering these words I would first inquire to whom such exhortations are rightly addressed. Now, it is to be remembered that these words occur in that great discourse of our Lord's which is called the Sermon on the Mount. And for the right understanding of that great embodiment of Christian morality, and of its relations to the whole body of Christian truth, it is, I think, very needful to remember that the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to Christ's disciples, that it presupposes discipleship and entrance into the kingdom, and has not a word to say about the method of entrance.
II. Consider in what region of life these promises are true. They sound at first as if they were dead in the teeth of the facts of life. Is there any region of experience in which to ask is to receive, to seek is to find, and in which every door flies open at our touch? If there be, it is not in the ordinary workaday world that you and I live in, where we all have to put up with a great many bitter disappointments and refused requests, where we have all searched long and sorely for some things which we have not found, and the search has aged and saddened us. But yet it seems that the distinct purpose of our Lord is to assert that the law of His Kingdom is the direct opposite of the law of earthly life, and that the sad discrepancy between desire and possession, between wish and fact, are done away with for His followers. The region in which we receive this great and liberal charter of entire response to our desires is simply and only the spiritual region in which the highest good is.
III. Note on what conditions the promise depends. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, Nov. 20th, 1884.
References: Matthew 7:7.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 340; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., pp. 29, 71; S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 146; H. M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 33.
Matthew 7:7-8I. We have in these words, not a formal definition of prayer, but an incidental definition of prayer, and a most complete definition. We have it in the little word "ask." To pray to God is to ask of God. "Ask," said Christ; and the more simple and childlike the asking the better.
II. We have here a recognition of the hindrances which we meet in prayer. The blessings that we want are sometimes visible in God's hands; God seems to be standing before us with the very mercies that we require, holding them out to us—then "ask." But mercies are sometimes hid, as in God's treasures—then "seek." The blessings are sometimes deposited, as in holy places—then "knock." In one word, instead of being hindered by hindrances to prayer—"ask"—"seek"—"knock."
III. Observe, there is here a positive injunction. The text is not, you may pray, but "ask." Prayer is not optional. I must pray, if I be a true disciple, and if I be an obedient child; and if I cannot pray with these eyes open, regarding prayer as a privilege, then I must pray as a duty.
IV. Christ stimulates to obedience by words of encouragement. (1) In the first place, He calls attention to universal experience. "Every one that asketh receiveth." (2) As a further encouragement, Christ points to the conduct of parents towards their children. (3) Christ gives force to His illustration by a gentle reference to our common depravity. "If ye then, being evil." The very incidental nature of the recognition of our sinfulness shows how constantly it was before Christ, and how much He thought of it.
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit, 4th series, No. 20.
The Strength of Wishes.
The text certifies in truth to the power of strong wishes. Asking, seeking, knocking—all these express earnest wishes of the heart, which have put themselves in the shape of addresses to God. If we do not become believing or serious Christians, Scripture says it is because we have no real wish to become so. We do not ask, or seek, or knock: if we did we should obtain.
I. Think of the keenness and force of the wishes we form with respect to various temporal advantages, whether of mind or outward fortune. The sight of success in any human faculties, in any particular kind of address, or in science or art, or manner, stirs up at once the natural emulation of the human heart, and sets men thinking and dreaming of it and wishing it for themselves. Who can live in the world without becoming aware that the very air which surrounds him is cut through in all directions by wishes—eager, impetuous wishes; wishes happy or sad, according as they promise or not their own fulfilment.
II. What, then, if people, instead of wishing for art, or quickness, or dexterity, or other such gifts, with that sharpness of desire they do, could from the heart wish that they were religious—the teaching of Scripture is that the strong wish for this state of mind will be itself the means of obtaining it. Only wish for this temper really and steadily, and your wish will fulfil itself. Wish devoutly, not as if your own will and power could accomplish the wish, but under a deep sense of the power of God to work what He will within us, and to move us from the bottom of our hearts to good, and your wish will be fulfilled. Religion, while it promises so much, takes high ground in its conditions; it must be felt as the first want, as an imperious need of the soul; otherwise the wish for it does nothing and has no power. So deep is the instinctive feeling in the human mind of the power of a real wish in spiritual things, that a worldly man rejects it and puts it from him, as if it would be only too sure to effect the change in him if it stayed; and he does not want to be changed.
J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 213.
Reference: Matthew 7:7, Matthew 7:8.—R. Lee, Sermons, p. 57.
Matthew 7:7-11I. Our Lord enjoins us here to pray; and He assures us that we shall not pray in vain. It does not indeed follow that God will grant any and every thing we may choose to ask; for there are some things which, without irreverence, we may truly say, it is impossible for Him to bestow. But our Lord's words do involve that prayer is not merely effectual in producing a devout frame of mind, but also in securing, to some extent, the object of our requests. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." But—
II. For the perfect assurance of our minds on this subject, it is to be remembered that this whole question rests on the Fatherhood of God; and unless we hold fast by that, the grace and truth of our Lord's saying here will soon vanish from our minds. For unless we come in the faith and love of children to their Father, we might as well be dumb, like the prayerless atheist, who holds the throne of heaven to be vacant and impotent, as indeed it virtually is if there be not a Father there to hear us.
III. While prayer is thus effectual because it is made to a Father who feels with us and is willing to help us, we are not to suppose that everything we ask of Him shall be given to us, neither should we murmur when our requests are refused. It is well to ask of Him, but not to dictate to Him. He will withhold no good thing from them that fear Him, but then He knows better than we do what it is good to give; and sometimes the best answer to our requests is in reality to deny them. We are but as children here, ignorant of the real qualities of many things, taken with the glitter of others, and likely enough to ask for a boon what would be far from a blessing. Therefore it behoves us ever to school our hearts to say, "Not as we will, but as Thou wilt."
IV. In order to be effectual, our prayers must be real; but for the highest efficacy, they must be both real and also spiritual. God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. He will not give you something else in reply to that petition; for that is a boon which can never be amiss.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 256.
References: Matthew 7:7-12.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 245. Matthew 7:7-14.—J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 551. Matthew 7:8.—S. Cox, Expositions, vol. iv., p. 60.
Matthew 7:9Sham Immortality.
I. So much is there in the Christian doctrine of immortality that captivates the imagination and touches the heart, that the apostles of unbelief are constrained to find a substitute for it, and they preach an immortality in words which are anointed with the unction of the pulpit. But all that is true in their doctrine has been a conscious Christian possession, and I may say a human possession, since men became capable of reflection; and all that is new is the sight of infidelity strutting in garments stolen from Christianity. They teach that the dead live on in those who come after them, that the dead have a real place in succeeding generations, and make them what they are; that the dead are the true rulers of the present, and are often more powerful than when they were alive. When they say that "the dead are still living round us, and are as active as ever they were in life," they do not mean by living what men usually mean. For they do not believe in the immortality of the soul—that is, in the continued existence of the conscious, rational being, of that unity we call the ego or self. Their "raptures conjured up to serve occasion of poetic pomp" simply come to this—conduct of every kind has its consequences, and these consequences reach to future generations. If there is no other immortality than this, that a man's conduct will continue to have its effects in the future, it is for the greater part of mankind an immortality which is uninspiring, and for many an immortality of hopeless night.
II. How insignificant must be the effect of a single life such as that lived by thousands and millions of human beings, on the next generations. When we remember that if every act has its persisting effects, then our bad acts, our silly acts, our mean acts, have their effects, their immortality, just as our good ones have. There cannot be much inspiration in the immortality of our vices and follies. If this is to be the life to come, we may well wish for a great sword long enough to smite the future, and strong enough to strike off the heads of the offspring which will bear our names.
W. Page Roberts, Liberalism in Religion, p. 112.
References: Matthew 7:9-11.—J. H. Jellett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 158; J. Burton, Sermons on Christian Life and Truth, p. 121.
Matthew 7:11In our text Christ tells us what we are to expect of God, in His treatment of us. There is mystery about God's nature; we cannot fathom it, and as God is thus mysterious, our kind Redeemer takes something that all men will know. He appeals to feelings that are lacking in very few human hearts. He goes to the love and care of parents for their child, and He says if you want to know how God feels towards you, and how ready God is to give you everything that is really good, here is something to go by. God feels towards each of us as a kind and wise father feels towards his child; and the difference is just this, that God, our Father in heaven, is infinitely better than the very best earthly father.
II. These points of superiority are so plain and simple that they need very little illustration. (1) For one thing, God knows what is good for us, as no human parent can know what is good for his child. (2) Another point in which appears the superiority of the great Father, to whom Christ points as above all earthly parents, is His power. He is able to do all He wishes. He has all power to give us all good things, to help and save. (3) Then God is always kind. There are unnatural parents; let us hope very few: "They may forget, yet will I not forget thee." (4) Our heavenly Father excels the best earthly one, in that He is always near; always within hearing; always within reach; never leaving, never forsaking; Father of the fatherless, Friend of the friendless; yea, "when father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up."
A. K. H. B., Grave Thoughts of a Country Parson, 1st series, p. 18.
I. Look first at the relationship of the father to the child. Christ takes as the basis of His argument the relation of the father on earth to the child on earth. Amongst all the affections of the world there is none like it, because this alone is free from the imputation or the suspicion of selfishness. Here, out of the wreck and ruin of humanity, there emerges this one affection, strongly triumphant amidst all circumstances that have tested it. This it is which is purest and strongest; and Christ says, "Even more than that is the love of the great Father towards you."
II. Can you not trust in the loving-kindness of God for that? Can you not believe that when He selects that title He is your Father, that He meant you to realize it, that He intended that you should not simply say it, but meant it to be a fact? Not alone are you to say that as there is a father in every human family, so probably there may be a fatherly feeling on the part of the great God in heaven towards His children. God rather wishes you to reverse the thought, and say that He gave you this in life, which is only a shadow after all of the fatherly relationship, that you might in that shadow learn the realities of heaven.
III. Therefore, also, we must learn to trust the wisdom of that parent. If we, as His children, receive sometimes in answer to our prayers that which we are tempted to think is a stone, we must learn to think that though the bread may be as hard even as a stone, it is still bread, sustaining bread; for we cannot doubt, knowing the Father's loving purposes, that His wisdom surpasses ours, and that He gives what we really need.
Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 177.
References: Matthew 7:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 93; W. Gladden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 200; J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, p. 128.
Matthew 7:12I. If we look into this precept more closely, and discuss the ground upon which love to our neighbours appears to be made dependent, an objection may be raised which is worth while to notice. The objection is this, that the rule of brotherly love is apparently made by the text a selfish rule; that is, that our conduct towards others appears to be made to rest upon their conduct towards ourselves. To which it may be at once answered, that any notion of limiting our kindness to others by the kindness of others towards ourselves, could never, for one moment, have been harboured in the mind of Him who bids us love our enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again, after the example of our Father in heaven; who is kind to the unthankful and the ignorant, and makes His sun to shine upon the just and unjust. In this rule our Lord neither recognizes nor fosters any feeling of selfishness properly so called. He only refers to a method of measuring the character of our actions which we may easily perceive to be the only method by which our actions can be estimated aright.
II. He who prefers to this golden rule the harsher rule of leaving every one to take care of himself, of seeking in all things our own advantage, and leaving others to do the same, can hardly remember that parable of our Lord concerning the hard-hearted servant—he who had been forgiven a thousand talents laying hands upon his brother, who owed him "an hundred pence." He had a right to the money—well—but would he have thought the right to have been one which ought to be exercised had he been the debtor instead of the creditor? That was the point which he ought to have considered; there comes in the application of Christ's golden rule.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 6th series, p. 196.
I. Consider the precept itself, and the limitations with which it is to be understood, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Here is the great Gospel legislation, and no rule, it would seem, could be more simple to comprehend or more easy to apply; for in considering how we ought to act towards any person we are just to imagine that we change places with him. We are to be what he is, and he is to be what we are; and this transfer of conditions being mentally made, we are to give just so much as we should like to take, and withhold whatever we would wish to have refused. "Whatsoever ye would." But how if ye would do something which is not right and not reasonable and not consistent, if generally carried out, with the interests and well-being of human society—would the rule of our text apply then? Clearly not. A judge, administering the laws of his country, knows very well that if he were in the situation of the prisoner there is nothing which he would desire so much as an acquittal. Must he, therefore, pronounce nothing but pardons? A bold beggar comes to a rich man for alms. Imagine a reversal of their positions, and the rule of doing as you would be done by would require that the rich man should give up the half of his property. These and similar cases, arising out of the necessary dependences and relationships of social life, sufficiently evidence that the rule of our text is to be received with a certain understood limitation, and imply that it is not what we do, or might wish others to do to us, that is to be the gauge of our conduct to them, but only what, according to the principles of equity and fairness and right, we ought to wish.
II. Consider the excellence of this rule, and the grounds on which it claims the respect and homage of mankind. These are (1) its reasonableness, as founded on the original equality of all men one with another; (2) its capability of easy and immediate application; (3) the kindness and beneficence of such rule in relation to ourselves. Self-love itself has made God's standard of Gospel morality: "Love thy neighbour as thyself, and all that the Lord thy God hath required of thee is done."
D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3,046.
Something like this golden rule was contained in the old writings of the Jews, but mark that wonderful discrimination and wisdom of Jesus, that He should have seized upon it, that He should have taken it out of the great mass of their writings and traditions; that He should have seized upon it and brought it out. With them it was but a negative; now, they said, if there is anything that you do not like, that is very hateful to you, do not do that to another. Jesus Christ comes with the positive, and tells us about the doing: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."
I. Observe, the teaching of the New Testament is a teaching of general principles assuming a vast variety of complexions, but you are to apply general principles which are laid down. The great thing, therefore, for Christian men is to understand the culture of the conscience, the intelligent training of the moral and spiritual faculties, that there should be in the man, by culture through the truth, by the Divine Spirit and the culture of the finer faculties of his nature, a nice perception of the lights and shades of his moral obligations. The New Testament gives us a grand general rule, and it tells us, as those whose reason is enlightened, whose conscience is educated, and who under the influence of that can apply a general rule, what to do.
II. "This is the law and the prophets." It is the law and the prophets in relation to this matter, in relation to social morality, in relation to the second table of the law; but it is not the law and the prophets with respect to both tables of the law. Our Lord did not come merely to be a teacher of social morality; He did not come to confine Himself to that, but to be a Redeemer and a Saviour, and to teach His disciples in the Divine life, that out of that Divine life should come all social virtue which, coming out of the Divine life and being done unto God, is worthy of being called holiness, something very different from mere social virtue.
T. Binney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 8.
References: Matthew 7:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1723; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 260; J. L. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 136.
Matthew 7:13-14There are only two ways—the broad and the narrow. Along one or other of these has every mortal pilgrim gone. By one or other of these is every living man travelling now.
I. Look first at the broad way. It is the most manifest and obtrusive, and the nearest to us naturally. (1) It has a gate. A gate is a place of entrance to a city, or a field, or a country. As a religious term it means the beginning of a course or onward career. It points to the great moral truth, that there are critical and decisive points in life to which men come. (2) The way is broad. All kinds of persons may walk in it. Some are much worse than others; some are on the darker side of the road, some are on the side nearest the narrow way, "not far from the kingdom of God."
II. We come next to the strait gate. There is thus an undisguised difficulty in salvation. The way is narrow, but the gate that gives entrance to it is narrower still. The gate can be none other than repentance, the leaving of one life behind, and entering on another. The turning and the change are the greatest that can possibly be. The principle of the life is changed. The affections must follow the principle. The habits must follow the affections. It is a change throughout the whole being.
III. Note these inducements to walk in this narrow way. (1) The gate is strait, but it is always open. Always open and strait as it is, there is not a man living who cannot, if he will, get through. (2) The narrow way is narrow, but it grows wider as you go on; not that Christians ever cease to deny themselves, but that the self-denial becomes easier, more full of recompense, more the normal law of life. (3) The end is everlasting life. Who can tell the meaning hidden in the heart of God that these words contain? It leadeth unto life.
A. Raleigh, Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 62.
The Strait Gate.
Why should this gate be called strait? In order to understand the language of our Lord, let us call to mind the four great laws of the kingdom, and it will not be difficult to understand why this gate should be called strait.
I. Christ enjoins us to love our enemies. If you consider what that means, you cannot but feel that such a gate is a very strait one, and hard indeed to enter in at.
II. Moreover, the Lord also laid down a principle of unostentatious sincerity, which forms a very strait gate to all manner of hypocrites and formalists.
III. Jesus goes on yet further to say, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." The carnal, worldly mind finds it a very hard thing—a very strait gate indeed—to set its affection on things above, and trust God for all that may be needed. And yet we cannot enter in at the strait gate, unless we take no thought for the morrow, but seek first the kingdom of God, and trust Him to provide the rest.
IV. And now add to all these difficult requirements the further demand made on us, that we should do to others as we would that they should do to us. Now here again is an extremely strait gate. It implies that we should never judge hastily, but take pains, and be at some trouble to understand our neighbour's case, and to feel what he may be expected to feel, and to follow up our sympathy with active help and kindness. And it is hard for the selfishness of our hearts to take the same interest in another as we do in our own affairs. Yet we cannot really enter in at the strait gate, unless we are prepared to bear each other's burdens in this spirit, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 308.
There are two things which Holy Scripture sets before us in every possible way—the exceeding desire of the Almighty to save mankind, and the exceeding unwillingness of mankind to turn to Him and be saved, on account of the extreme corruption of our hearts.
I. It has been well observed, how easy it is for God to create is evident from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, for He has only to speak the word and all things are made. But how difficult it is, even for almighty power, to redeem will appear from the sufferings of Jesus Christ, from all the history of the world, and from the fact that, after all that has been done, the way of life is narrow. And this was very apparent when our Lord was manifest in the flesh, for He went about with almighty power, exceedingly desirous to restore and to do good to all, to heal every disease and remove every shape of evil, but still He could not do, it is said, what He wished to do, because of man's unbelief. It was easy for our blessed Lord to walk upon the waves of the sea; it was easy for Him to feed thousands with a few loaves; but not so easy was it to get one child of Adam to repent and be forgiven. And therefore, perhaps, it is that there is joy among the angels of heaven over one sinner that repenteth, so great and difficult a matter is it to get one sinner to be converted that it makes a movement, as it were, and a stir among the blessed societies of heaven.
II. As eternal salvation is of all things the highest object on which our hearts can be set, so it is the most difficult. And a great part of the difficulty consists in this, that we will not be persuaded it is so difficult in our own case, but think that on account of the unbounded mercies of God, we may ever secure our pardon, and can repent whenever we please. And therefore, when worldly things go well with us we are full of self-confidence, we are full of care about everything but our spiritual condition, and when we are afflicted we are too much cast down; whereas in adversity we should learn Christian hope, and in prosperity we should fear always and exceedingly.
III. It is very awful, and enough to make the hardest heart serious, to consider that if there are many who go the way of destruction, and few that find the way of life, then each should reflect that the chances are that he himself will not find it. He is more likely to be of the number of the many than of the few. If each person would seriously consider this, such a thought would make him very earnest about his salvation.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ii., p. 233.
References: Matthew 7:13.—A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 1; T. T. Lynch, Sermons for My Curates, p. 353. Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. i., p. 164; E. Bersier, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 82; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 255; W. Wilkinson, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iii., p. i.
Matthew 7:14I. The faithfulness of a holy God is the meaning which lies on the surface of the text. Sin has separated man from God, and the whole world lies in an outer darkness. The way that leads down to destruction is broad and easy. It requires no exertion, no self-denial, no crucifying of sinful desires. But to turn from this broad path into the narrow way of life is difficult. The gate unto life is strait. The compassionate Redeemer of men has told us that it is strait. He will not make it wider that the carnal may get through. Although a whole world should remain without and perish because it is strait, God will not make the entrance easier. The terms are clear and fixed. There is no ambiguity, and will be no change.
II. The tenderness of a merciful Father. (1) There is a gate. When a window is opened in heaven to display a terror, the gate is strait, we see within and read the mercy. There is a gate. While the ostensible announcement is, Your corruptions must be excluded, the covert intimation is, Yourself may go in. In form the text is a stroke directed against a sinful man; but in nature it is intended to take effect only on the man's sin, to destroy it, and so permit the emancipated man to enter into the joy of the Lord. (2) The gate leadeth unto life. If the passage is dark, narrow like the grave, the mansion in which it issues is as bright as heaven, and as large as eternity. If the pleasures of sin must be left behind, the pleasures of holiness await you at God's right hand for evermore. (3) Those who enter neither make nor open the gate; they only find it. It is not written, Few there be that can force their way through it; but, "Few there be that find it." Men spend their strength for nought in efforts to escape from condemnation when God has not made a way. All the delay and all the loss occur through the error of trying to make a gate, instead of seeking the gate that is already made. (4) He who made the way, and keeps it open now, is glad when many "go in thereat."
W. Arnot, Roots and Fruits of the Christian Life, p. 237.
I. In proportion to the importance of any kingdom is the stringency of the conditions of entrance. (1) Here is the kingdom of human learning—knowledge, critical acquaintance with letters, ample and accurate information about history, all that is known by the name of learning—and over the gate of that kingdom I find this inscription, "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way." (2) Here is a man who wishes to excel in authorship. You read his book. You don't see all that lies behind the book. You don't see the rough outline which he first sketched—blotting and interlining and erasing. What is it that is written over the man's study and over the man's desk? This, "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way." (3) We are thus enabled to say that the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is necessarily the straitest, narrowest of all. What are other kingdoms to the kingdom of life? As this is the highest kingdom of all, where is the unreasonableness of making the conditions of entrance into this kingdom the most exacting and stringent of all?
II. There are two gates, and only two; two destinies, and only two—the way leading to destruction; the way leading to life. The question now is, Will you have life according to the interpretation of the Son of God, or will you not? He that believeth shall be saved.
Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 169.
Matthew 7:15-20I. Christ warns us here to beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing. There is allusion here, no doubt, to the symbolical garments of the prophets, with which His hearers would be so far familiar, having in their minds John the Baptist's girdle of camel's hair. It is likely enough that sheep's clothing was even more frequently used by them than camel's hair—being symbolical at once of their shepherd character and also of innocence and guileless simplicity. Now Christ gives us to understand here that others will come, wearing the prophetic robes, which are easily put on, but not being true shepherds of the sheep, being rather like ravening wolves, who care not save to rend and to kill and to destroy. The sheep's clothing here is not a matter of dress only, but of religious profession and moral bearing, for without some plausible semblance of godliness the false prophet would be easily detected and would soon lose his errand. (1) The false prophets come, they are not sent; they come on their own errands, they are not sent on their mission by God. (2) These false prophets make a wide gate and a broad road for us; and that is perhaps the essential idea of their sheep's clothing.
II. Christ gives us a test by which the false prophet may be tried. "By their fruits," He says, "ye shall know them." By this is meant the truth, not in its mere intellectual aspect, but in its practical results. The proof of a man's grace and truth and godliness is to be sought in two ways. (1) It may be seen first and chiefly in himself. He who calls on us to enter in at the strait gate must show some tokens that he has himself entered in. We must not inquire merely what are his views, but what practical illustration does he give of those views in his life; for if there is no indication that he has been grafted into Christ, how shall I hope to gather grapes of thorns, or good fruit from a corrupt tree? (2) The fruit may be seen in others too. The effect of his teaching may be witnessed in those who hear him. The true shepherd goes before his flock, and they follow him; and if they are all on the narrow road, surely this will be more or less apparent, both in him and in them.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 323.
References: Matthew 7:15-21.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 16; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 344. Matthew 7:15-20.—J. Oswald Dykes, Manifesto of the King, p. 595.
Matthew 7:15-29I. The object of our Lord in this Sermon on the Mount was to convey an accurate idea of the righteousness required in His kingdom. He did so mainly by contrasting it with the spurious forms of righteousness current among men. The mere pretender is placed before us under three figures: (1) the wolf in sheep's clothing; (2) a thorn bush that has artificial flowers and fruits stuck all over it; (3) a man who builds a very superb mansion, spends no end of pains and money on what can meet the eye, and exposes himself to public criticism. People pass by and admire. On visiting the spot afterwards, they see nothing but a heap of ruins. The house was fine in appearance at first, but lacked the essential thing—the foundation. The semblance of the thing is by no means the thing itself.
II. We are liable, however opposed to shams in ordinary life, to be shallow in religion. When a man is recognized by society as a Christian, he soon gets to deem himself one. Appearances are all in his favour. The hearing of the Word seems sufficient evidence of a devout mind. We listen so respectfully to instruction in duty that surely more cannot be required from us. Are we not often as much satisfied when we see the reasonableness of a thing, and feel as if we were already become righteous, as when we experience the reality?
III. The results of trusting in superficial appearances are stated in language intended to set forth their overwhelmingly disastrous nature. The rain-storm mentioned is such as every winter is sure to bring about in Palestine. It is no extraordinary calamity. The inevitable tests the house, and shows its faultiness or its strength. Time is all that is required to test everything. It forces nature to the front. Make sure that you have such a foundation as will stand all the shocks of time and last eternally.
M. Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 397.
References: Matthew 7:15-29.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 265.
Matthew 7:16The religion of Jesus Christ is one of deeds, not words; a life of action, not of dreaming. Our Lord warns us to beware of any form of religion, in ourselves or others, which does not bring forth good fruit. God does not look for the leaves of profession or the blossoms of promise. He looks for fruit unto holiness. If we are selfish, self-willed, proud, lovers of our own selves, our religion is but the sheep's clothing covering the Wolfish heart, or the white paint hiding the corruption of the sepulchre. It is easy enough to assume the character and manner of a Christian, but to live the Christian life is not so easy. What are some of the fruits which God looks for in the life of a Christian?
I. At the head of all we must place love. If you really try to do God's will it is a proof of your love. A true Christian cannot be selfish. If we love God we shall try to lead others to Him.
II. Another fruit for which God looks in a Christian's life is humility. Every act and word of our Saviour's earthly life teaches us to be humble. Let the haughty, the proud, the self-satisfied man open his Gospel, and he will find a reproof to his pride on every page. We preach humility to others, we expect to see it in others' lives; are we humble ourselves? Have we learnt to walk humbly with our God?
III. Another fruit which God expects in the lives of His people is forgetfulness of self. Let us strive by God's grace to get away from self and the eternal thinking and talking of our own concerns. Even Jesus Christ pleased not Himself, and we are no Christians unless we are trying to forget ourselves and to deny ourselves.
H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 69.
References: Matthew 7:16.—H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 97; C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 276; E. R. Conder, Drops and Rocks, p. 175. Matthew 7:17.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xv., p. 16. Matthew 7:18.—J. Hiles Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 99. Matthew 7:20.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 33; Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 253.
Matthew 7:21-29The Wise and Foolish Builders.
I. The Lord describes the false disciples as men who cry, "Lord, Lord," to Him, but who bear no fruit. The language clearly implies that there are some who profess to be Christians, who acknowledge Jesus to be the Lord, and pray to Him as Lord, and praise Him as the Lord, who nevertheless have no part in Him. This confession, "Lord, Lord," is symbolic of a sound creed, as well as a religious profession. It is as much as to say that there are many who have an unhesitating belief in the doctrine of grace and of God, who, nevertheless, are not true disciples of Jesus. Our Lord gives us to understand that the true disciple is one who not only cries, "Lord, Lord," but also doeth the will of his Father which is in heaven.
II. Having thus described the false and true disciples, the Lord goes on to remind us that there is a day coming when their characters shall be discovered and their judgment settled.
III. The Lord concludes the whole sermon with one of those exquisite parables whose pictorial beauty and spiritual insight, always remarkable, are in this case elevated into a strain of solemn grandeur and awful impressiveness. Of course that parable rises most naturally from the immediately preceding warning in reference to the day of judgment. But equally, of course, it stands in close relation also to the whole discourse which it so fitly concludes. You may say the foolish builder is the man who heareth the words of the Lord and doeth them not, and who persuades himself that all is well because he crieth, "Lord, Lord," or because he prophesieth and doeth many wonderful works in the name of Christ, whom, nevertheless, Christ will one day utterly disown, so that his house shall fall about him in a great and sorrowful ruin. Or, on the other hand, you may gather up the whole teaching of the sermon—its introductory beatitudes, its profound laws of love, truth, faith, and sympathy—and say that the foolish builder is the man who has not entered in at the strait gate, thus clearly described and asserted to be the only way of life, the only sure foundation on which our hopes can rest.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 338.
References: Matthew 7:21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1158; R. W. Dale, The Evangelical Revival, p. 104; C. Girdlestone, A Course of Sermons, vol. ii., p. 203. Matthew 7:21-23.—J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 615; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 15. Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2,317. Matthew 7:23-27.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 248.
Matthew 7:24-25Building upon the Rock.
I. True religion is here likened to a man's own house. For, after all, every one's real life is his home. We move, indeed, amidst many an outdoor scene, and we meet there with all the varieties which give to our world its chequered lights and shadows. But, in comparison, these external things are very little to a man who can retire into the bosom of his family, and command for himself the repose, and the refreshment, and the welcome, and the smiles, and the affections of that sanctuary of the heart. So it is with religion. We go out to other things, we come home to that.
II. Now, of this home of the mind, the Great Teacher tells us that it must be "built upon a rock." And a home, whatever it may be besides, is a poor home if it be foundationless. A few err in looking at foundations too much; many more commit the far more dangerous and vital mistake of not searching into them enough; they are busy, these men, in filling their houses with pretty fancies, and putting on many ornaments, and rearing pinnacles of sparkling hope—while the whole, from end to end, is hollow, and the entire fabric, at any moment, totters to its fall. And so it happens to them, in some awful hour when they most need the refuge, lo, the building, the baseless building, is gone, and they are left, shelterless and naked, to the fury of the storm.
III. How are we to get upon the Rock? I answer, By dealing with God's Word, whenever it meets you, as a reality. Handle the Word of God as a fact. Follow it implicitly where it leads you. God's promises are all to effort. Obedience is faith. Therefore for every hearing let there be a doing. Let every received truth have a reflection in behaviour. For he that "heareth and doeth" is the wise man who builds his house upon a rock, and it stands for ever and ever.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 8th series, p. 259.
Matthew 7:24-26Doing and Dreaming; Houses on the Rock and the Sand.
I. In the course of my travels I have met with three distinct dreamers. (1) There is the rationalistic dreamer. He beholds his face in a glass, and stands before it, admiring it. His religion is just a looking-glass for himself; but as the looking-glass is made by himself, it is worth little. To him religion is a system of ideas, and no idea represents reality. (2) There is the sentimental dreamer. He will talk to you for hours of the presence of God in nature. But religion is not that; it is more than that. Sentiment is eminently "a face in a glass," and just reflects what we are ourselves. A house of sentiment is the last place I should fly to, to shelter me from the storm. (3) There is the pietistic dreamer. Contemplation without action is disease. Idle self-contemplation is the paralysis of the soul.
II. The religion of the dreamer is a religion of theory. The religion of the doer is one of experience. It has been too much the method in religion to put knowing beyond doing. Knowing has been regarded as the highest faculty; in reality, it is the lowest. Knowing should result in doing, which is the intellect resolved into the will; and doing should merge into being, which is the intellect and will in unconscious unity—man's highest state. Short of this, religion is a mere reverie.
III. The religion of the dreamer will always be one of doubt. The religion of the doer will always be a religion of evidence. This follows the last remark, because doing leads to knowing.
IV. The dreamer confines his religion to solitude; the doer finds a vent for his in society. Religion comforts solitude and consoles it; it does not encourage the spirit of it. If we are to enter the solitude, it is that we may collect the moral forces of our nature, and come forth, inspired by the Divine Spirit, to cry aloud, "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!"
V. The religion of the dreamer is a religion without love. But the life of the doer is love. Our love, in fact, is proportioned to our labours—our labour proportions our love. Love is the fountain of all true knowledge. Every man understands more by his affections than by his reason.
VI. There is no salvation for the dreamer. Ten virgins went forth to meet the bridegroom; and five were wise, and five foolish. Work while it is today. Shadows fall; life is closing round you. All things settle into seriousness. Opportunities are flying. Work alone is imperishable.
E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 413.
References: Matthew 7:24-27.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 918; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 55; A. B. Bruce, Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 90; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 637; E. R. Conder, Drops and Rocks, p. 76. Matthew 7:24-29.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 273.
Matthew 7:28I. Note some characteristics which the Sermon on the Mount possesses. (1) The wonderful literary beauty of the language cannot have been unobserved by any one. (2) We have all marked the desultory arrangement, and the apparently disconnected progress of ideas. (3) From beginning to end there is no allusion in it to the atonement made by our Redeemer. Christ is here as the preaching prophet, not in any disclosure as the atoning priest. (4) The history of the sermon affords a conspicuous example of the way in which men sometimes pervert God's Word. For those sceptical moralists who reject the notion of sin—of the awful curse denounced on sin and due to it, of the need and provision of a ransom for sin—calmly and superciliously appeal away from all warning by saying, "Our sufficient creed is the Sermon on the Mount." Most of us would admit this statement, for we remember a startling and supernatural reach of requirement in this discourse: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
II. What was the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount? (1) We find in it the description of a character. The Sermon on the Mount pictures a character perfectly easy to recognize anywhere, if we could meet it. (2) We find in this discourse a rule of life. It is a thing to be acted and breathed, as well as read and quoted. Jesus of Nazareth lived this wonderful discourse. He put it forth to be lived by everybody under the New Testament dispensation. (3) We find here, likewise, a standard of spiritual and experimental attainment. (4) We find in this sermon an instrument of condemnation. It is astonishing that any man can take comfort in turning away from the Gospel scheme of atonement, and resting on this sermon for peace; for there are verses in it crowded and awful with monitions of coming wrath. (5) We find in this discourse an incitement to holiness.
C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 248.
References: Matthew 7:28.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 288. Matthew 7:28, Matthew 7:29.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 284.
Matthew 7:29This was the impression made by our Lord on those who heard Him teach and preach. He spoke as if He had a right to be heard, as if He had a message to deliver, as if His declaration of the truth were enough.
I. Just what distinguishes our Lord's teaching from the teaching of uninspired teachers distinguishes the Bible from all other books. It speaks with authority. Other books may teach the truth; other books may give precepts of holiness, may give examples of excellence; other books may set before us the loftiest, the purest ideas—may demonstrate the truth of their teaching by unanswerable arguments. But the characteristic of the Bible is not merely the truth which it teaches, the examples which it holds before the eyes, the ideals of life which it compels us to revere; but, beyond all these, the love of supreme authority with which it speaks. It is not merely that the Bible claims this authority; it compels the conscience to allow the claim. It speaks with authority, and it speaks with power.
II. Whence came this authority and this power? What do we mean by our conscious, and still more by our unconscious, acknowledgment of it? We mean that it is overshadowed by the presence of God. Just as the religious man is distinguished from the man of high moral character, and from the man of excellent natural graces, by the ever-present sense of a relation to God running through all his life, just so the Bible is unlike all other books, because it always seems to take us at once into God's presence. Not by any means that it professes to be, or seems as if it were, dictated by God Himself. No, plainly enough, it is written in human language: the thoughts are human thoughts; it is stirred by human feelings; it is addressed to human understandings. It is as thoroughly human as our Lord was man. But there is brooding over it, there is dwelling in it, a Divine authority which makes it quite unlike anything else which the world has seen. It lays hold of the conscience as nothing else has ever done, nothing else can do. It speaks with an authority which other teachers cannot claim.
Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 2nd series, p. 33.
References: Matthew 7:29.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 132; T. T. Lynch, Three Months' Ministry, p. 217.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.