The Sermon On The Mount
Helping Erring Brethren
"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."
The rule of conduct which the Word of God sets before us contains far more than a series of negative prohibitions, forbidding certain things: it also marks out a path to be walked in, setting forth positive directions of action. To be preserved from sinning is good, but to be impelled unto practical holiness is far better, the one being the means of the other. It is not sufficient for the branches of the vine to be kept free from blight and pests: they must produce fruit if they are to justify their existence. It is not enough for a garden to be clear of weeds: it must yield healthy vegetables if it is to be of service to its owner. So of the Christian: "be not overcome of evil" is only the first part of the duty laid upon him-"but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21) is what is especially required of us. An illustration of this important principle, so frequently inculcated by Christ and His apostles, appears in the passage now before us. Our Lord did not stop short by merely condemning the evil habit of unlawfully judging our brethren, but went on to give instructions as to how we should deal with those needing assistance, and particularly how we must deal with ourselves if we are to be qualified for a ministry of helpfulness unto others.
From what our Lord has said in the opening verses of Matthew 7 it might possibly be concluded that it is not permissible for us to admonish a brother or seek the amendment of his fault, yet further reflection should show us that that inference is entirely erroneous. Christ has plainly warned us, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17)-"fulfil" it not only in His mediatorial and atoning work, but in His teachings and by inspiring His followers to act according to the requirements of the Law (Rom. 3:31; 7:22). Now the Law had expressly enjoined, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him" (Lev. 19:17), and therefore it must not be supposed for a moment that there was anything in the teaching of Christ which set aside that statute. It cannot be insisted upon too strongly today that there is not the slightest conflict between the Moral Law and the Gospel, but rather the most perfect harmony. It cannot be otherwise, since the Author of the one is equally the Author of the other, and He "changeth not."
One of the most disastrous errors and follies of many preachers and "Bible teachers" fifty years ago, the terrible effects of which are now spread before those who have eyes to see, was their idea that during the Old Testament era God's people were under the stern regime of Law unrelieved by Divine grace, and that Christ came here to set aside that harsh regime and bring in a much milder dispensation. Not so: Christ came here to "magnify the law, and make it honorable" (Isa. 42:21). That Law needed no apology and no amendment, for it is "holy and just and good," being "spiritual" (Rom. 7:12, 14). The sum of its requirements is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves: and every requirement of the Moral Law is enforced in the precepts of the Gospel. The great difference between the Mosaic and the Christian dispensations lies not in any change in the rule of conduct set before us, but in the more effectual motives by which that rule is now enforced and the Divine enablement which is now vouchsafed. As a nation Israel was unregenerate and therefore the Law was "weak through the flesh" (Rom. 8:3); but Christians have received the spirit of "power" (2 Tim. 1:6) and a holy nature which delights in the Law.
"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him" (Lev. 19:17). How different is the tenor of that from the maudlin sentimentality of this effeminate generation. Nowadays, one who seeks to be faithful to the standard of holiness and to his brethren is, in the vast majority of instances, regarded as "lacking in love." People who speak thus have no idea of what spiritual love is. Spiritual love is no sickly sentiment but a holy principle. God is love, yet that prevents Him not from using the rod on His children when they require it, but rather moves Him to employ it. That parent who follows the line of least resistance, allowing the children to do as they please and never chastising them for their faults, is lacking in love towards his offspring; but he who truly seeks their good, lays aside his own feelings and inflicts corporal punishment when it is needed, is the father who evidences the most love. Genuine love is faithful, sets aside one's own interests and feelings, and ever seeks to promote the well-being of the object of it.
Thus should it be between Christian brethren; thus it must be if obedience is rendered to the Divine precepts. It is not love which ignores a brother's failings, which refuses to perform the unpleasant duty of seeking an amendment in his ways. No, it is a species of hatred, as Leviticus 19:17, plainly intimates, for there is no third quality between love and hatred, as there is no third alternative between right and wrong. If I really have my brother's welfare at heart, then love itself requires that I wink not at his sins, but rather endeavour to save him from them-just as much as it would demand me warning him when I perceive the first wisp of smoke issuing from one of his windows: why wait till his house be half burned down before giving the alarm? Furthermore, to ignore the sins of one with whom I am intimate makes me (in some measure at least) a "partaker of them" (1 Tim. 5:22), as is intimated by the alternative rendering of the last clause of Leviticus 19:17: "that thou bear not sin for him" (margin).
There was therefore nothing in Christ's teaching in Matthew 7 which in any wise conflicted with Leviticus 19:17, but rather that which threw light thereon. It was not the act of admonishing a brother which He here forbade, but the wrong manner in which it may be done. This is clear from the verse at which we have now arrived: "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the beam out of thy brother's eye." Here our Lord makes known the course which we must follow if we are to be of real help to those in whose case the old saying is likely to prove true, "a stitch in time saves nine-helping to correct a man's fault often saves from having to go to him about a much graver offence. But even here, the removing of a tiny particle from the eye of another is not one which any careless hand can successfully undertake, rather will such a hand irritate the other's eye and make bad matters worse.
First a word needs to be said on the epithet used by Christ on this occasion. It looks back to the case described in verses 3 and 4, where this evil habit of rashly censuring others, to which we are all so prone, is represented as one steadily fixing his unfriendly gaze upon the mote that is in his brother's eye while indifferent to the beam which is in his own-undertaking to correct some lesser fault in him while allowing a much graver sin in himself. What else could our holy Lord designate such a despicable person but a "hypocrite," that is, the actor of a part, one pretending to be very zealous as to the requirements of holiness while himself living in neglect of and violating its plainest dictates? Uncompromising faithfulness would not permit of Christ's using any milder term. Yet there is no more reason why we should conclude from this word that the one to whom it is applied was unregenerate than from His declaring to Peter "thou art an offence to Me" (Matthew 16:23) or His terming two of His disciples "fools" (Luke 24:25).
Had the one whom our Lord here addressed been an unregenerate soul, not only would He have refrained from designating the one whom He censured as "a brother," but we can scarcely conceive of Him going to the pains of instructing one who was still dead in trespasses and sins what he must first do in order that he might "see clearly to cast out the mote out of his brother's eye." No, it appears to us that the Lord designated this careless believer who failed to judge himself unsparingly (though seeking to correct another) a "hypocrite" to express His detestation of such conduct, to let us know how it appears in His eyes, and therefore to bring home to our hearts the gravity of a practice which we are so ready to tolerate in ourselves. Nothing is more hateful to God than play-acting, and we are guilty of this very thing when we pose as faithful guardians of our brother's interests while we are faithless in our personal dealings with God Himself; while nothing is more pleasing in His sight than honesty and sincerity, which is the opposite of hypocrisy.
"First cast out the beam out of thine own eye" means be faithful in dealing with yourself, unsparingly judging yourself before God, putting away out of your heart and life whatsoever you know to he displeasing unto Him. This is the grand remedy for the disease of unlawfully judging others, as it is the chief requirement if you are to be of any real help in ministering to your erring brethren. Not only is it utterly incongruous for one who is allowing and indulging in some flagrant lust to pose as being grieved over some infirmity in another, but one who is almost totally blinded spiritually (by arrogance and hypocrisy) is utterly incapable of performing such a difficult and delicate operation as the removal of a mote from his brother's eye: one who is under the influence of any gross sin not only has his spiritual discernment obscured, but his spiritual sensibilities are so blunted that he is unable to sympathize with a suffering one: such a one is not only unfit to judge others, but thoroughly disqualified as a critic and censor of their minor failings.
Casting the beam out of my own eye signifies unqualified judging of myself before God (1 Cor. 11:21). My first responsibility is to diligently examine my own heart, carefully consider my own ways, critically measure myself by the unerring standard of Scripture and honestly and constantly confess my many sins to God (Lam. 3:40). If I am sincerely desirous of pleasing God in all things, I shall beg Him to show me what there is in my own life which is displeasing to Him (Ps. 139:23, 24). If I truly long to show forth His praises (1 Pet. 2:9), I shall not excuse my fleshly conduct, but shall condemn it and earnestly seek grace to forsake the same. And if I genuinely wish to be of real spiritual help unto my erring brethren, I shall rigidly purge myself of everything which would defeat such efforts. Only as I am unflinchingly faithful with myself can I hope to be of any assistance to others. Clear vision is needed to locate and remove a "mote" from the eye of another, and clear vision comes only from my own close walking with Him who is light (Ps. 36:9; John 8:12). How much longer are we going to suffer the beam in our own eye?
One principal reason why we are so slow in casting the beam out of our own eye is that we fail to "perceive" it, as is intimated by Christ in verse 3. Obviously this does not mean that we are totally unaware of its presence, but rather that we fail to make conscience of the same. The expression "perceive it not" has reference to an act of the mind which follows upon the bare sight of anything. consisting of serious consideration and prolonged meditation. It is the word used in "consider the lilies" of the field (Luke 12:27): that is, not only look upon them but ponder them over in your mind. It is the word used in "a man that beholdeth his natural face in a glass" (Jas. 1:23): that is, who gazes steadily at it and considers each feature. Thus, "perceive not" in Matthew 7:3, means a failure to consider and regard attentively. If we are truly to perceive" the beam in our own eye, with the purpose of casting it out, we must make conscience of the same, seriously considering its heinousness in God's sight, laboring to have our hearts affected by it. It should be obvious that we shall never voluntarily and deliberately eject from our hearts and lives that which we still love and cherish, and therefore we must labour to have our hearts so affected by our lusts and sins that we shall sorrow over and hate them. The converse of this is that awful deadness of soul and security in sin, which if undisturbed is certain to lead to the most fearful if not fatal consequences. Proof of this appears in the case of the antediluvians, of whom Christ declared they "knew not until the flood came and took them all away" (Matthew 24:29): though they may have had some consciousness of their carnality and madness, yet they thought not seriously thereon, and so remained secure in their wickedness. A similar state of affairs existed in Israel in the days of Jeremiah: the Lord complained that the people made no conscience of their sins, remaining secure therein: "No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?" (8: 6). Nothing is more serious and fatal than to commit sins and refuse to be humbled by them, but instead to remain unconcerned. Sins must be laid to heart and sorrowed over before they will be forsaken and expelled.
In order to be helpful at this point, it is necessary to be explicit, so let us mention one or two things which are so often a "beam" in the eyes of God's people. First, hypocrisy, which whenever it dominates the heart prevents all spiritual growth and fruit. Christians are guilty of allowing this vile weed to flourish far more than they are aware of. This is the case where we are more anxious to please men than the Lord; where we are more diligent in seeking to perform the external requirements of the first table of the Law than of the second-note how Christ pressed the commandment of the second table on the rich young ruler (Luke 18:20)-where we are more careful to please God in the outward action than we are with the strength of our hearts. Another great "beam" is spiritual pride, which also is most abhorrent unto Him with whom we have to do. This it is which makes us pleased with ourselves, self-confident, and to look down upon others. It is an inward poison which prevents the health of grace within. It is that which marks Laodiceans (Rev. 3:17). Finally, any particular besetting sin or lust which is not resisted and mortified soon assumes the proportions of a "beam" and effectually blinds our judgment.
An important practical question which needs to be answered at this stage is, What course should be followed in order that we may feel the weight of these "beams" pressing upon our hearts? Surely it must be by counteracting that tendency within us to regard our sins lightly, to look upon our own constitutional faults as mere "motes," and that must he done by faithfully examining them in the light of God's Word. More particularly we ought to compare the sins of which we are guilty with the original transgression of Adam. Are we not tolerating things in our hearts and lives which are even greater evils than Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit considered in the act? Yet by that sin he not only brought death upon himself, but also upon all his posterity! Again, if we would perceive and feel the exceeding sinfulness of our sins we must view them in the light of Calvary, and observe the fearful price which had to be paid for the atonement of them. Finally, we must contemplate the heinousness and guilt of our sins in view of the lake of fire and brimstone, for nothing short of everlasting suffering is what they deserve.
It is only as we feel the dreadful weight of our sins and their enormity in the sight of the Holy One that we shall really cry out, "Hide Thy face from my sins and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Ps. 51:9, 10). But it is not sufficient that we sorrow over our sins and seek God's forgiveness of them: we must labour to break them off and amend our evil ways, striving by all means that sin may be weakened in us more and more. It is the one who confesses and forsakes his sins who finds mercy (Prov. 28:13): on the other band, "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18). Unless I cast the beam out of my own eye, how can I attend to the mote in another's? Unless I disallow and mortify my lusts I am totally disqualified to rebuke sin in my brother. "Create in me a clean heart, O God. . .Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways" (Ps. 51:10, 13); when thou art converted, [recovered] strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32)!
"And then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." In order to remove a "mote" from another's eye one must be close to hum! Therein Christ intimates who are the ones we should seek to help by correcting their faults, namely those who are near to us and not strangers: those who are members of our own family, intimate friends, and those with whom we are in close church fellowship. Much harm has been done through ignoring this obvious and simple rule. My responsibility is first unto myself, then unto those bearing intimate ties: alas, not only do many think highly of themselves, but they allow sentiment to hinder faithful dealings with those dear unto them. But this necessity of closeness to one from whose eye I would remove a mote not only connotes a nearness of relationship, but also a moral nearness, winning a p lace in his affections and esteem; I cannot get close to another while standing on a lofty pedestal of assumed self-superiority!
No service calls for more prayer, delicacy of feeling, spiritual wisdom and meekness, than does this one. The motive impelling it must he love: the end in view the glory of God: our aim the recovery of an erring one. The eye is the most sensitive organ of the body and the most easily damaged. A steady and gentle hand s required to extract the foreign substance from it. Care should be taken in selecting the best time to approach an erring brother, so that the reproof is likely to be effectual: before Abigail admonished her husband for his churlish conduct unto David, she waited till the wine had gone out of his head (1 Sam. 25:36, 37)-never correct one while he is in a towering rage. The nature of the fault in the erring one must be weighed: whether it proceed from human frailty or be some deliberate and high-handed sin, if we are to speak to him a word in season." Pains should be taken to make him see that he is at fault, that he has acted contrary to God's Word, for we are required to reprove and rebuke "with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2) and thereby deliver the admonition not in our own name but in God's.
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). Only he who "spiritual"-who allows not sin in himself, walks softly with God- is fit to approach a fellow believer for this necessary and difficult task. We are to remember that we are so united together in one family and fellowship that the wrongdoing of one concerns all, and that it is in the interests of the whole household of faith to seek the restoration of the erring one. Such restoration can only be per. formed "in the spirit of meekness"-gentleness and lowliness of heart-for harshness and arrogance repel, not win. Whatever fault he has committed, let us not forget that but for Divine grace we too would fall in the same way, as we acknowledge to God whenever we pray "lead us not into temptation." What we say to him must not only be "a word in season" but "fitly spoken" (Prov. 25:11)!
Finally, it should be pointed out that if we are to remove the mote from another's eye he must he willing for us to do so-any spirit of resistance makes the operation impossible. The very figure used by Christ here plainly connotes that each of us should freely submit ourselves to brotherly correction-"submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21). It is very reprehensible and evidences a sad state of soul when we resent and oppose the faithful admonitions of our Christian friends, like the Israelite said to Moses when he reproved him, "Who made thee a prince and judge over us?" (Ex. 2:14). "Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured" (Prov. 13:18). "He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding (Prov. 15:32). "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools" (Eccl. 7:5): though the song of fools may be more pleasant to our ears, yet the reproofs of the wise are more profitable to our souls, if we heed the same.