The Sermon On The Mount
The Single Eye-Concluded
"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" In these words Christ continues to illustrate and enforce the principle which He had inculcated all through this part of His Sermon, namely the vital importance and imperative necessity of a pure motive and right aim in all we do. First, He had shown this in the matter of our "alms" or deeds of charity, if the same are to meet with God's acceptance (vv. 2-4). Second, He had insisted thereon in connection with our "prayers," if they were to meet with God's approval (vv. 5-15). Next, He had pointed out the same in regard to "fasting," if we are to receive anything more than the hypocrite's portion (vv. 16-18). Then He had applied the same principle to the laying up of riches, pointing Out that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also (vv. 19-21). And how are we to obtain right views of what the true and imperishable " treasure" is, and where it is to be found? This is the question which our Lord here anticipated and proceeded to answer.
By use of a striking figure Christ proceeded to urge upon His hearers that their undivided gaze must be fixed upon the things which are above. "The light [or better, "lamp"] of the body is the eye." This refers in the first instance to the light of reason, which distinguishes man from the lower orders of creation: animals are guided by their instincts, but man was to be regulated by his intelligence, an intelligence which capacitated him for communion with his Maker, and so long as he remained in communion with Him who is Light, his mind would so inform and govern his soul that all his ways would be ordered to God's glory and meet with His approbation. But alas, man forsook the Fountain of all blessing, left the place of dependency, apostatized. As the consequence his "eye" became "evil" or, in other words, his understanding was darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart (Eph. 4:18). Hence the imperative need of his being renewed in the spirit of his mind (Eph. 4:23).
In seeking to ponder the verses which are now before us, it needs to be carefully borne in mind that Christ was not here addressing a heathen audience or part of the profane world, but Jews who professed to be the Lord's people. As such they were far from being atheists or infidels, rather did they acknowledge the Supreme Being and perform outward worship unto Him, though for the most part their hearts were far from Him. Their aims and intentions were divided: that is why in verse 24 the Saviour warns them, "No man can serve two masters," which was the very thing they were vainly attempting. Hence it should be carefully noted that Christ did not here say "if thine eye be good" (which would be the most obvious antithesis from the "evil eye" in the next verse), but "if thine eye be single," which both anticipates and forms a link with verse 24. Yet it is also to be pointed out that our Lord used the most suitable word pathologically, for a good or sound vision is a "single" one-to see double or to look at different objects or different parts of an object with each eye is proof that our visual organs are defective, a sign of approaching blindness.
Now at regeneration the eye of the soul is renewed and its vision rectified, the eye of faith is opened, the understanding is Divinely enlightened, and God becomes its all-absorbing object and His glory the chief concern of its possessor. In consequence, the whole of the soul is now "full of light," all its faculties come under its beneficent influences: the conscience being informed, the affections warmed, the will moved to action in the right direction. An enlightened understanding and a Divinely instructed conscience are now able to distinguish between things that differ, between good and evil, things heavenly and things earthly. Thereby the child of God discriminates between the voice of Christ, the true Shepherd, and the voices of all false shepherds; between the Source of true happiness and those broken cisterns which hold no water. Thus the believer, by means of his spiritual judgment (which is informed and educated by the Word of God), determines and gives sentence of things: what is to be done and what is to be avoided; endowed with heavenly wisdom he learns the secret of real blessedness and joy unspeakable.
But let it be pointed out that it is only so long as the believer's "eye" remains "single" in a practical way that his whole body (soul) is "full of light." As the physical eye, the organ of sight, has no light whatever of its own, but must be illumined from without, so the renewed understanding is entirely dependent upon God for constant enlightenment. As the physical eye is the receptacle of light, and by means of its rays gives light to the body, so the understanding and conscience are the medium through which spiritual instruction is received into the soul. And as the body is left to grope its way in darkness as soon as its eye no longer takes in the light, so the soul is devoid of discernment when communion with God is broken. It is in His light, and there alone, that we "see light" (Ps. 36:9). While the glory of God be truly our aim and His word our rule, "good judgment" will be ours, so that we shall see and avoid the snares of self-will and the pitfalls of Satan; but when the gratification of self becomes our end and carnal reason be our regulator, we shall be given up to folly, confusion and disaster.
"But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness" (v. 23). The "evil eye" is the mind or understanding of the unregenerate man, having some light of intelligence in it by nature, yet terribly blinded and darkened by the corruption of sin through our fall in Adam. That the reader may have a more definite conception of the havoc which sin has thus wrought in us, it should be pointed out that man's understanding has lost the gift of discernment and judgment in spiritual things, so that he mistakes evil for good, earthly for heavenly, things to be refused for things to be chosen. This is clear from the natural man's ignorance and blindness in the real knowledge of God. It is true that the mind of the natural man possesses some knowledge of God: he believes in His existence and professes to own His supremacy. Yet such knowledge as he possesses, though rendering him accountable to his Maker, exerts no spiritual influence upon his soul and life. Proof of this appears in the following facts.
The natural man does not realize and own in a practical way the presence of God, that "the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3): if he did, he would not, without fear and trembling, dare to commit those sins in God's sight which he is afraid and ashamed to commit before the eyes of his fellows. The natural man does not realize and own the particular providences of God, for in time of want and distress, when outward springs dry up, his heart is dead within him and the promise of help from man does more to cheer him than any hope he has in God. How plain it is then that he trusts more in the creature than he does in the Creator. Again, the natural man does not realize and own the justice of God, for he imagines that though he sins yet he shall escape punishment: by his very conduct he says, "I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst" (Deut. 29:19). Though the natural man knows God must be worshipped, yet he is quite incapable of discerning the right kind of worship: the vast majority bow down before idols and images, and even those who pretend outwardly to honour the true God have their hearts far from Him while engaged in such exercises (Matthew 15:8).
What lamentable proofs are these that sin has debased man, corrupted the very springs of his being, and blinded his understanding. What unmistakable and irrefutable evidences are these that the "eye" of the unregenerate is an evil one. Though blessed with rationality, though endowed with the perception that God is and that He is to be owned and worshipped, though capable of receiving intellectual instruction concerning the character and claims of God, yet such knowledge avails him nothing in a spiritual way. The unregenerate is blind to God's glory, unaffected by His majesty, unawed by His sovereignty, unsoftened by His goodness, unable to worship Him aright or do that which is acceptable to Him. How clear it is that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them; because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Before he can have any spiritual discernment or experiential acquaintance with God, before he can obtain an effectual and transforming knowledge of Him, he must be born again (1 John 5:20)
Not only does the blindness of the natural man appear in his crass ignorance of God, but also with respect to himself. His mind is totally lacking in spiritual discernment. This is evident from the following facts. The unregenerate are completely unaware of the awful darkness which rests upon their understandings. They deem themselves to be wise, when in the things of God they are veritable fools: "the way of peace have they not known" (Rom. 3:17). When really awakened by the Holy Spirit they are made aware of this, for their cry then is, "What must I do to be saved?" So blind is the natural man that he cannot discern aright of his own sins nor see the vileness of them: if he did, he would not continue therein as he does. He judges wrongly of his frailty and mortality: others may be cut off in youth, but not so himself; no matter how old, he still gives himself several more years. This is why we are instructed to pray, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Ps. 90:12).
So blind is the natural man that he is incapable of discerning aright the scope and end of his life, which is to aim at the glory of God and be a help and blessing to his fellows. But so far from this characterizing them, the unregenerate think little or nothing about these things, but seek their own praise and are a stumbling-block unto their neighbours. Nor can the natural man judge rightly of his own true happiness. So stupid and sottish is he that he measures happiness by outward things, esteeming the wealthy to be envied and the poor to be pitied. Therefore does he regard phantoms as realities and realities as phantoms, and spends his time and strength in pursuing the shadows while he misses the substance. That is why we are exhorted to set our affection "upon things above" (Col. 3:2), for by nature they are fixed upon things below. From all of this it is unmistakably evident that the eye of the natural man is an "evil" one, that sin has debased his faculties, darkened his understanding, destroyed his spiritual perception. And unless God is pleased to perform a miracle of grace upon us, "the blackness of darkness" (Jude 13) must inevitably be our portion for ever.
"But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall he full of darkness" (v. 23). Here is the fruit of an evil eye: the whole man is affected. If the understanding be Divinely illumined and the aim be the glory of God, the whole soul will be rightly directed and its activities be holy; but where the mind is blinded by sin and Satan, all the faculties of the inner man are vitiated and all his actions are evil. It is a striking fact in the natural realm that an injured optic cannot bear the light, which solemnly shadows forth the awful spiritual state of the unregenerate. They cannot endure the presence of God, nor His Word which condemns them. Their eye is evil, their judgment is blinded by love of the world, and therefore their whole life is full of disorder and unrighteousness. How can it be otherwise, when their most important faculty, which should discern between good and evil and direct accordingly, is vitiated, disabled thereunto? Thus, "The way of the wicked is as darkness, they know not at what they stumble" (Prov. 4:19).
What cause is there for humiliation and self-judgment: that by nature we are utterly unable to judge rightly either of God or of ourselves, that we have a mind which is so corrupt that it produces nothing but disorder in the whole of our life. How greatly we dread natural blindness: what horror strikes the heart when we have reason to think we are in imminent danger of being deprived of bodily vision; yet how much worse is that spiritual darkness whereby the soul is kept from God under the power of Satan! Fearful beyond words is such a state, yet the vast majority of our fellows are quite insensible of their wretched plight and indifferent when it is declared unto them. What cause for thankfulness, then, if the writer and the reader have been enabled to discover their blindness: in such case, how diligently should we heed that word of the great Physician, "I counsel thee to buy of Me . . . eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Rev. 3:18). We must seek from Him that enlightening of His Spirit, through the Word, for this is that "anointing" which "teacheth us all things" (John 2:27).
Hereby we perceive how the course of the world, in regard to the state of their minds, is to be reproved, for on every side we behold those who are quite content with an evil eye. Even those who acknowledge, in a formal way, that God is and He is to be loved and worshipped, and that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, yet they seek no farther. They have nothing more than the mere light of nature, the remnants of intelligence left to them since the Fall. They are still in spiritual darkness, "having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Their life is full of darkness, and they shall yet be "cast into the outer darkness" unless the Lord is pleased to have mercy upon them. A natural knowledge of Divine things will save no man. The homage of our lips and the external reformation of our lives will not secure God's favour. Nothing but a new creation in Christ, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, God commanding the light to shine "in our hearts" (2 Cor. 4:6), will avail any for eternity.
Since this "evil eye" is in each of us by nature, what care we need to take lest we be wise in our own conceits, especially in matters of salvation: herein the Word of God must be our wisdom. "Ye shall not do . . . every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes," but "all that I command thee," says the Lord (Deut. 12:8-11). It is not for the creature to say how the Creator is to be worshipped, nor for the sinner to determine how he shall he saved, yet such is their blind presumption that men will be their own masters in such things. The Jew, the Mohammedan, the papist, has each his own different manner of worshipping God and of seeking salvation, yet though they all depart from the Truth, each is thoroughly convinced that his worship meets with the Divine acceptance and that heaven will be his eternal home. And so it is with the majority who have been brought up among Protestants: either they rely on their own works, trust in their own faith (such as it is), or else they persuade themselves that if they repent at the last and commit their souls unto God all will be well.
Since this evil eye is in each of us by nature, then how earnestly we should pray for and labour after the eye of faith, by which alone we look unto the mercy of God in Christ and rest in His promises, for all things needful both in life and in death. This eye looks out of self for those supplies of grace which are lacking in natural knowledge. By means of the eye of faith we are enabled to discern aright both of God and of ourselves: His holiness and claims, our vileness and wants. By this eye we are enabled to see things afar off, to be persuaded of them, to embrace the same (Heb. 11:13). Yea, by it we are enabled to perceive things which are invisible, for "faith is the substance of the things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). By it Abraham saw the day of Christ, and was "glad" (John 8:56). This will enable us to walk in the steps of the patriarchs unto the heavenly city. Then let us earnestly beg God for this eye of faith, that by becoming the children of the promise we may be counted for the seed.
"If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (v. 23). Unspeakably solemn is this. "The light that is in thee" is the light of nature, the remnants of that moral and intellectual perception with which man was originally endowed. It is that knowledge of God and that discernment of good and evil which though greatly dimmed and corrupted by the Fall has not been utterly extinguished, for the veriest atheist and the most voluptuous wretch still has some stirrings of conscience left within him, some inklings that there is a God and that he is accountable to Him. But if that remaining "light" be stifled, if no use be made of it, if its promptings be constantly resisted, if the voice of conscience be deliberately silenced, until God is denied and His Word rejected as a Divine revelation, then even that "light" becomes "darkness" and its possessors are given over by God to a reprobate mind. And then "how great is that darkness": sin is committed greedily, without remorse; there is then nothing in that man's life but brutish confusion and devilish actions.
"If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" These words may also be legitimately applied unto those who are led astray by religious error and given up to fanaticism. When men deem themselves to have been extraordinarily illumined, to have received some voice or vision from heaven which will not stand the test of Holy Writ, some fancied "baptism of the Spirit" which renders them independent of the Scriptures, supposing that this special light within is all that they need, "how great is that darkness." Finally, there is a yet more solemn application of these words of Christ to those who have sat under a sound ministry: the light of the Truth has shone upon their minds, only to be resisted and the Spirit quenched, and how great is their darkness! "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Pet. 2:20).
If then the very light of nature may be put out and the light of the Gospel quenched by us, how seriously we ought to meditate upon our vileness, for we have within us such brutish lusts and devilish desires that unless they be restrained and kept under, they will surely plunge us into the blackness of darkness for ever. How the realization of this should humble us! And hereby we should be admonished to mortify our corrupt desires and unruly affections. Before the Fall, the mind ruled the will and the affections, but now these inferior faculties overrule the mind, so that they lead us into folly against our better judgment. Our only safeguard is to deny our perverse wills and corrupt desires, and strive to bring them into subjection unto the Word of God. And how we need to heed that injunction, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). Then let us seek grace to embrace the Gospel, walk according to its precepts, and beg God to unite our hearts to fear His name.