The Sermon On The Mount
Dissuasives From Judging Others
"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 eve, 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 eve?"
Two chapters have already been devoted to the opening verse of Matthew vii. Following our usual custom we first dealt with it in a topical manner. There is now so much confusion and misunderstanding of what is meant by that prohibition "Judge not" that we felt it was necessary to show at length what is not there forbidden and then point out what is reprehended, seeking to set before the reader the fact that God does not forbid us making use of the critical faculty with which He has endowed us, but rather that we are required to exert it and form an estimate of whatever we meet with in the path of duty-otherwise, how else shall we escape being deceived by false appearances and imposed upon by every impostor we meet? On the other hand, there are many forms of unlawfully judging others, against which we must be much on our guard, the principal of which we sought to describe. Second, we endeavoured to explain the first reason by which Christ enforced this prohibition-"that ye be not judged." This is a far more solemn dissuasive than is commonly believed: referring not so much to the treatment we shall receive from our fellows, but of the Divine disapproval at the judgment seat of Christ.
"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (v. 2). These words contain an amplification of the dissuasive employed by our Lord against unlawful judging at the close of the preceding verse. They warn us that there is One above whose eye is ever upon us and His ear open to every word we utter. If that solemn fact were more seriously laid to heart by us, it would act as a powerful restraint upon us. If we add to that weighty consideration the yet more awe-inspiring truth that we shall yet have to render an account unto God and that His dealings with us in that Day will be regulated by how we have dealt with our fellows, well may we take heed to our ways. "Your judging of others shall afford materials for your being judged, and the measure we have dealt out to others shall be employed, in part, as the ground of determining what measure shall be awarded us. It is just as if our Lord had said, Judging is a serious matter, for it brings after it a fearfully important consequence (John Brown).
Though the Christian stands in a radically and vitally different relation to God than the reprobate, yet both the regenerate and the unregenerate are alike the subjects of His righteous government, and He will no more wink at the sins of the one than He will at the sins of the other. True, the believer does not and will not suffer the penal consequences of his sins, for those were visited upon his gracious Substitute. True he will not have to answer for any of the sins he committed in the days of his unregeneracy, for they have all been "blotted out" by the precious blood of the Lamb and removed from before the face of God "as far as the east is from the west. Nor do we believe that those sins committed after he became a Christian, and which he has truly repented of and confessed to God, will come up before him at the judgment seat of Christ, for they are "forgiven" and from their unrighteousness he is "cleansed (1 John 1:9). Nevertheless, it seems clear to us from Scripture that those sins which the Christian has not repented of and confessed, and those wrongs against his brethren which are not put right in this life, must be reviewed and put right in the Day to come.
"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Surely these words of Christ are very far from conveying the idea that His people may unlawfully judge others without fear of any unpleasant consequences attending such a course of conduct: that they mar unjustly, uncharitably and unmercifully pass judgment on their fellows, yea, upon their brethren, and then console themselves that they will not be called upon to give an account of such reprehensible behavior in the Day of Judgment. The fallacy of such a concept should at once appear in the light of all that is revealed of the Divine character. It is not so much a matter of appealing to specific statements of Holy Writ, as it is of bearing in mind the general Analogy of Faith: the ineffable holiness of God, the uniform dealings of Him who is no respecter of persons, the One whose throne is founded upon justice and judgment. It is the basic and broad principles of the Divine government which enable us to envisage its particular exercise and application to any given case.
In all of God's dealings with His people grace and righteousness are outstandingly manifested, and never one without the other. It is by grace they are saved, yet that very salvation is the proof of Christ's having satisfied every demand of Divine righteousness in their behalf. Though our God be "the God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10), yet His grace reigns and is ever exercised toward us "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21) and never at the expense of it. Why then should it be thought strange if both the righteousness and the grace of God should be displayed when He deals with His own people at the judgment seat of Christ? While it be blessedly true that "grace" will be brought to us "at the revelation [second coming] of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13), yet will not the dark background of sin be needed in order that grace may shine forth the more illustriously? If the believer is confronted with his unrepented sins, will he not then perceive as never before that doom which he justly deserves and marvel at the grace which delivers him from such a doom? If his sins be. not brought up then, what need would there be that "he may find mercy of the Lord in that Day" (2 Tim. 1:18)!
In view of what has been said above it may be replied, But does not God visit upon His wayward people the governmental consequences of their sins in this life? Are they not made to reap here what they have sown? If they are harsh in their judgment of others does not the overruling and righteous hand of God so order things that they meet with similar treatment at the hands of their fellows? And even if that be not always the case, yet does not retribution smite them in their conscience, so that their peace is marred and their joy greatly diminished? Against this we have nothing further to say, except that God in His sovereignty may deal more gently with one than with another offender. But what we would point out is that there is nothing whatever said in this passage (nor, so far as we are aware, in any other) that the judgment which Christ announces as coming upon the offender is one that is limited to this life, and where He has not so qualified it, we dare not.
In reply to our last remark it may be asked what Scriptures we have which warrant the idea that the sins of believers are to be dealt with (or as we would prefer to express it "be reviewed and righted") in the Day to come. Answer: In addition to those alluded to at the close of the preceding article we would cite, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season" (2 Tim. 4:1, 2). In this passage the apostle is urging Timothy to persevere in the work to which he had been called, warning him that the time would come when sound doctrine would be objectionable to the hearers of it, when they should turn away their ears from the Truth unto fables: nevertheless, says Paul, "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions" (vv. 3-5). That pressing injunction was enforced by the solemn consideration brought before him at the beginning of the chapter: the living and the dead should be judged at the appearing of his Master. But how could that judgment be a powerful persuasive unto fidelity and diligence unless his ministry was to be thoroughly reviewed in that Day? Wherein lay its solemnity unless he would have to give a full account of his stewardship?
"So speak ye and so do as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (Jas. 2:12). This is a most weighty and solemn exhortation, one which professing Christians of this heedless generation need seriously and honestly to ponder. The "Law of Liberty" is a Divine appellation of the Moral Law (the ten commandments), as is made unmistakably clear by the immediate context. In verse 9 believers are warned that if they have "respect to persons, that is, cherish and exercise a spirit of partiality, esteeming the wealthy member of the church more highly than the poorer ones (see vv. 1-5), they are guilty of sin, being "convinced [brought in guilty] of the Law as transgressors," for the Law requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Those who committed this offence might deem it a trivial one, far less heinous than adultery or murder; so the apostle reminds his readers that the Law is a unit and its authority uniform, and therefore to break any part of it brings in the transgressor as guilty of breaking it as a whole (vv. 10, 11).
From what had been affirmed in verses 9-11 the apostle draws a seasonable exhortation, one which would be really startling unto many today if they pondered and believed it: the Lord's people are bidden to conduct their lives now in the realization that they are yet to be judged by the Law, they should order their speeches and actions in the light of the Day to come if they would then survive the test of the Law. So far from the Christian having nothing to do with the Law, he is yet going to be examined by it, as to how near or how far short his behavior has come in meeting its requirements. For though believers have been delivered from the Law as a covenant of works, yet it is still their rule of conduct; though they have been freed from its terrors (its curse), they have not been freed from its requirements-obedience. To unbelievers that Law is a Law of bondage and death, but to those who have by grace been made partakers of the nature of the Lawgiver it is one of freedom and life: said David "I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts (Ps. 119:45).
Though the Law be one of liberty, it is not one of license: so far from it, the Law will be the rule of the Christian's judgment and therefore is he bidden so to order his speech and conduct that he may endure its trial in the Day to come. Solemn indeed is it to know that our speeches, as well as our actions, shall come under the judicature of God. Still more solemn is the next verse: "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (Jas. 2:13). Those who have dealt unmercifully with others shall find no mercy with God, but they who have acted leniently and charitably shall then receive fulfillment of that promise "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7)-their having dealt mercifully with their fellows is not the cause why God will then extend mercy towards them but is the evidence they will receive it. They who have been merciful will endure the test of the Law, for they shall not only find judgment tempered with mercy but overcome by it, for God will rejoice to deal mercifully with those who imitated Himself.
"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again" (v. 2). In this amplification of the preceding sentence it seems to us our Lord declares that the more rigidly or strictly we judge others, the more strictly will God yet judge us. In other words, the more light we had, the more we expected and demanded that the conduct of others should square with our rule or measure up to the standard of our apprehension, then let us know that God will deal with us accordingly. There will be no room for us to plead ignorance, for we shall be judged by the very light we had and insisted that others should walk according to-compare Luke 12: 47, 48, for an illustration of this principle. As Matthew Henry's commentary says on James 3:1, "Those who set up themselves for judges and censurers shall receive the greater condemnation. Our judging others will but make our judgment the more strict and severe. Those who are curious to spy into the faults of others and arrogate a power in passing censures upon them, may expect that God will be as extreme in marking what they say and do amiss."
"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 of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" (vv. 3, 4). These verses contain a second dissuasive from forming unlawful censures upon our brethren. Reduced to its simplest terms the reason may be expressed thus: no one is qualified or fit to censure another while he is himself an even greater offender. One would think this so obvious that there was scarcely need to state it, still less to urge it; yet experience proves that all of us are so corrupted by sin, so prone to act the part of a Pharisee, that we have real need to be warned thereon and to translate the warning into earnest prayer. Unless we take heed of the corruptness of our nature and are constantly on our guard against indulging depravity, breaking forth in this reprehensible and vile form, we shall soon find ourselves guilty of the very species of hypocrisy which our Lord here condemned, yea, it is much to be feared that if we reviewed the past and diligently examined ourselves, not one of us -could truthfully claim to be free from this fault.
The first thing taught by this parabolic utterance of Christ's is that sin exerts a blinding influence. Most clearly is this evidenced by the unregenerate, for though blind to their own terrible condition they are quick to perceive the faults and failings of others. And regeneration does not free the believer from this evil tendency, for sin still indwells him, and just in proportion as he fails to judge himself unsparingly will he be inclined to censure others. The second thing intimated by Christ's figurative language is that there are degrees of sin, as appears from the "mote" and the "beam," just as when He charged the scribes and Pharisees with straining at a "gnat" and swallowing a "camel" (Matthew 23:34). Not that we may draw the conclusion that any sins are mere trifles, for there can be no such thing as a little sin against a great God, nevertheless there are degrees of heinousness and guilt in different transgressions, as is clear from Matthew 11:23 24; John 19:11; Hebrews 10:29. The contrast pointed by Christ is between one who allows some lust to prevail over him and yet presumes to criticize another for some infirmity or minor offence.
Our Lord's questions "Why seest thou the mote?" and "How sayest thou to thy brother, Let me pull out" have the force of, With what face, with what honesty, can you act thus? Upon what ground do you set up yourself as a scrutinizer and critic of the actions of others? Does such a course of procedure issue from a good conscience? Here our Lord teaches us that our deeds and words, yea, our very thoughts also, must be conceived and uttered on a good ground and in a proper manner. In Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2, we are forbidden to speak rashly in the house of prayer or utter anything which has not been duly weighed, and here our Saviour extends this rule to every thought of our hearts and word of our mouths which concern our brethren. For by "brother" here we understand a fellow member of the Household of Faith, which is what makes Christ's admonition the more solemn and searching, for it is a far more serious offence to wrong a brother or sister in Christ than a worldling: in wounding the former we are wounding Christ Himself (Acts 9:1, 4).
"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye?" The majority of the commentators take the view that "brother" here has merely the force of "neighbour," for they consider it is quite inadmissible to regard as truly regenerate one whom our Lord designates a "hypocrite": whatever difficulty that may raise we shall deal with it when we come to verse 5. To us it seems clear that it is two Christians who are in view, from the circumstance that the "eye" mentioned is not altogether blind (which is spiritually the case with the regenerate) but merely contains some foreign substance which needs removing. Another thing suggested by the figure used by our Lord on this occasion is that the "eye" (the understanding or faculty of spiritual discernment) may be quite sound in itself though temporarily damaged or put out of action by the presence of an intruding particle: hence there is a tacit but real warning for us against being too ready to denounce the inward condition of a brother simply because of some outward act, which may be but the temporary result of neglect in watching and prayer, followed by a temptation from without.
The first thing which Christ here reprehends is what we may term the deliberateness and partiality of such conduct. The offender is pictured as one who is definitely on the lookout for blemishes in his brother, fixing his gaze on such: "why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye?" has the force of, How can you justify this wretched practice of so eagerly searching for and so fixedly concentrating upon his infirmities?-for a "mote" in the eye of another could only be detected by one who was watching him very closely. It is as though he is determined to overlook all that is good in his brother, fixing his unfriendly gaze upon the tiniest fault he can discern in him. This is indeed a deplorable state of soul to get into, one which we require to watch diligently and pray earnestly against. To overlook all that which the Spirit has wrought in another and to be occupied only with that which is of the flesh is displeasing to God, unfair to the brother, and highly injurious to our own good.
Far worse is such a course of conduct when we ourselves are guilty of much greater sins than the one we condemn in our brother, which is the principal thing which Christ is here condemning. The glaring impropriety of such a wretched procedure must at once be apparent to all fair-minded people. What right have I to complain at a tiny mote in another's eye when I suffer a beam to remain in my own? To appear so very solicitous about the welfare of a brother as to be concerned over his minutest failings and anxious to correct his slightest faults, while I completely disregard my own sad and far worse state, is nothing but a species of downright hypocrisy. Thus it was with the scribes and Pharisees, who condemned Christ for healing the sick on the Sabbath and censured His disciples for plucking ears of corn on that day to appease their hunger and for eating with "unwashen hands," yet themselves were guilty of encouraging men to hold their parents in contempt. But again we must remind ourselves that we too are Pharisees by nature, and so deeply corrupted are our hearts and so prone to this sin of rashly judging others that nothing but Divine grace-definitely and daily sought by us-can preserve us from the committal thereof.