The Sermon On The Mount
Verses 24-27 form the conclusion of our Lord's Address. Upon them Spurgeon said, "These were the closing words of our Say jour's most famous sermon upon the mount. Some preachers concentrate all their powers upon an effort to conclude with a fine thing called a peroration, which being interpreted means a blaze of rhetorical fireworks, in the glory of which the speaker subsides. They certainly have not the example of Christ in this discourse to warrant them in the practice. Here is the Saviour's peroration, and yet it is as simple as any other part of the address. There is an evident absence of all artificial oratory. The whole of His hill-sermon was intensely earnest, and that earnestness was sustained to the end, so that the closing words are as glowing coals, or as sharp arrows of the bow. Our Lord closes not by displaying His own powers of elocution, but by simply and affectionately addressing a warning to those who, having heard His words, should remain satisfied with hearing, and should not go forth and put them into practice."
"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" (vv. 24, 25). Simple as that language is, many have misunderstood its meaning and missed its import. No two of the commentators give a uniform exegesis of these verses, and though there is more or less substantial agreement with the older and soundest expositors, yet even among them there is considerable difference of opinion. When we consult more recent writers thereon, especially those who may be broadly classed as belonging to the "fundamentalist school," while there is much more of a saying of the same thing, yet we are personally convinced it is a saying of the wrong thing. A critical examination of the view they have taken obliges one to point out that they have read into this passage what is not there, that they have utterly failed to bring out what is there, and this because they have missed the scope of our passage through ignoring its context.
According to the antinomian interpretation of this passage our Lord ought to have said, "Whosoever believeth the Gospel and trusts in My atoning blood, I will liken him unto a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and everyone who endeavors to heed My precepts and then trusts in his own good works to obtain for him acceptance with God, I will liken unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand." But in the verses before us, Christ said nothing of the sort. And why? Because He was dealing with something more solemn and searching than what constitutes the ground of a sinner's acceptance with God. It is perfectly true, blessedly true, that every sinner who exercises a saving faith in the sacrifice of Christ is a wise man, and that he is eternally secure; as it is equally true that anyone who relies upon his own obedience to the Divine commandments in order to obtain a passport into everlasting bliss is a fool, as he will prove in the day of testing. But we say again, Christ is not here speaking of either the object or ground of saving faith, but of something far more probing and revealing, and we throw everything into the utmost confusion if we confound the two things.
Before we are ready to weigh the terms of our passage we must first ascertain and determine its scope, and that calls for a careful noting of its context. In the verses immediately preceding it is clearly the testing of profession which is in view, the making evident of the reality which lies behind all surface appearances, and in this closing section Christ continues to show what it is which distinguishes the genuine and living Christian from a nominal and lifeless one. In some passages the "house" or home is a figure of the place of affection and rest, but here it is viewed as a shelter and refuge from the storm. The stability and security of a house depend ultimately on the strength of its foundation. For if that be faulty, no matter how good the materials of which it is composed or how reliable the workmanship of those engaged in its construction, when a hurricane strikes it will fall. This obvious fact has been grasped by all the commentators, but as to what our Lord signified by the "rock" foundation there is wide difference of opinion.
Probably the passage which occurs most readily to the minds of many of our readers in this connection is Isaiah 28:16, "Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation," and from Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:5-7, we know that that precious "stone" and "sure foundation" is Christ Himself. Yet we make a great mistake if we suppose that every New Testament passage containing the word "foundation" looks back to Isaiah 28:16, or refers to the same thing. Not so. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth [loveth, and therefore preserveth] them that are His" (2 Tim. 2:19): as the contrast with the preceding verse denotes, the "foundation" here signifies the Divine decree or foreordination, which cannot be overthrown. "Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20) refers to the ministerial foundation, the Truth proclaimed. Hebrews 6:1, speaks of "the foundation of repentance from dead works," for one has not made a start in practical godliness until that has been laid. Thus there is a need for the teacher here who is qualified to distinguish between things that differ.
There is one other passage which it is important to consider in this connection, namely "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, hat they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Why is this passage so infrequently cited and still more infrequently expounded and enforced? For every time allusion is made to it, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11) is quoted twenty times. Is that handling the Word honestly? No, it is not, and the churches have suffered greatly because of such unfaithfulness in the pulpit. This passage, be it noted, is addressed to the minister of the Gospel. specifying one of the duties his office obligates him to perform, but has one preacher in a hundred, during the past fifty years, conscientiously discharged it? Have not the vast majority toadied to their wealthy members and withheld from them that which they most needed?
But does this passage teach that we are required to perform deeds of charity for the purpose of acquiring "merit" before God and thereby purchase for ourselves His favorable regard, or, as one has expressed it, "raise a cloud of gold-dust which will waft us to heaven"? Certainly not: there is nothing here which fosters the fatal delusion of papists. Nevertheless, there is important instruction which we cannot afford to ignore. It is Christians that are "rich in this world" who are to be thus charged: "Be not high-minded," affecting yourselves to be superior to the poor of the flock, "nor trust in uncertain riches," which may speedily disappear, "but in the living God," who changes not, and is your true Portion; "Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy," but not to squander on overindulgence; "That they do good" with what God has loaned to them, faithfully discharging their stewardship; "Laying up for themselves a good foundation" in their conscience, a reliable basis for their hope, a sure ground of assurance, thereby confirming their personal interest in Christ, for "good works" are the evidences of the genuiness of our faith.
"Laying up in store for themselves [not "before God"] a good foundation against the time to come": whether it be adversity that overtakes you through financial reverses, so that those you have aided will be the readier to assist you; or a bed of lingering illness, so that you may not have the additional anguish of a conscience accusing you of selfishness and callousness; or the hour of death itself, that you may have the comfort of knowing you have discharged your stewardship faithfully and that the poor call you blessed; or the day to come, when "they that have done good" will come forth "unto the resurrection of life" (John 5:29) and their "good works" will be owned and rewarded by the Judge of all the earth. "That they may lay hold on eternal life": obtaining a firmer conscious grip on the same, for the "good works" of the Christian are so many testimonies of his portion in heaven. Having our affections set upon Christ and our true riches in Him, let us act like wise merchants, not grasping at shadows and uncertainties, but using for His glory and the good of our fellows what He has entrusted to us, thereby laying up for ourselves "treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20) and acquiring additional confirmation that we already possess the "earnest" of "eternal life." The "house" of such a one is built upon a "rock"!
It will be seen from the last four paragraphs that the term "foundation" is found in different connections, that it is not always used to denote precisely the same thing, and therefore that its significance in a particular verse must be sought by ascertaining the scope and meaning of the passage in which that verse occurs; and that is no task for the "novice," but rather for the experienced expositor. What, then, is the scope (the dominating subject and design) of Matthew 7:24, 25? As already stated, it is the testing of profession, a furnishing proof of the reality or worthlessness of the same. Rightly did Andrew Fuller point out: "Our Lord is not discoursing on our being justified by faith, but on our being judged according to our works, which, though consistent with the other, is not the same thing, and must not be confounded with it. The character described is not the self-righteous rejecter of the Gospel, but one who, though he may hear it and profess to believe it, yet brings forth no corresponding fruit. It is not a passage suited to expose the errors of Romanists, but one which needs to be pressed upon Antinomians-they who hold only believe, and all is well."
Our passage opens with the word "Therefore," which indicates our Lord was drawing a conclusion from what He had just been saying. In the preceding verses He was certainly not describing work-mongers, those who trusted in their good deeds and religious performances to gain them acceptance with God. Rather is He there calling upon His hearers to enter in at the strait gate (vv. 13, 14), warning against false prophets (vv. 15-20), denouncing an empty profession. In the verse immediately before (23), so far from presenting Himself as the Redeemer, tenderly wooing sinners, He is seen as the Judge, saying to the hypocrites "depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." Thus to say the least, this would be a very strange point in His discourse at which to abruptly introduce the Gospel of the grace of God and announce that His own finished work is the only saving foundation for sinners to rest their souls upon: this would give no meaning whatever to the opening "therefore." Moreover, in what at once follows, instead of speaking of our need of trusting in His atoning blood, Christ shows how indispensable it. is that we render obedience to His precepts.
John Brown, the renowned Scottish expositor, brought out quite clearly the force of our Lord's "Therefore" both in reference to what preceded and to what follows. "Surely, if not every one who calls Christ 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he only who does the will of His Father which is in heaven'; if to all workers of iniquity, even although they shall have prophesied and cast out devils, and done many wonderful works in the name of Christ,' it shall at last be said by our Lord, declaring by His judgment the final state of men, 'depart from Me: I never knew you'; then it certainly follows that he who hears and does our Lord's sayings is a wise man, and that he who hears them and does them not is a fool. The one saves, the other loses, the salvation of the soul, the happiness of eternity." As Matthew Henry also pointed out, "The scope of this passage teaches us that the only way to make sure work for our souls and eternity is to hear and do the sayings of the Lord Jesus." They who think they are savingly trusting the blood of Christ while disregarding His commands are fatally deceiving themselves.
In many respects Matthew 7:24-27, is closely analogous to 25:1-12. Both passages treat of professing Christians. In each case those professors are divided into two classes, called the "wise" and the "foolish." In each case these radically different characters had something in common: in the former, both are likened unto builders and each erects a house: in the latter, both are termed "virgins" and both go forth to meet the Bridegroom with lamps in their hands. In each case the latter is found wanting when put to the proof and meets with irretrievable disaster: in the former when the storm bursts the house of the fool falls, in the latter when the Bridegroom arrives the fool faces a closed door. In each case the difference between the two classes was nothing external, but that which lay out of sight-the faulty "foundation" of the former and the lack of oil "in their vessels" with the latter. We have compared these two passages together not only to note the interesting correspondence which exists between them, but chiefly because the latter throws light upon the former and helps to fix its interpretation.
Let us duly note what Christ does not here say of the one He terms wise, "he that heareth these sayings of Mine and understandeth them," nor even "he that heareth these sayings of Mine and believeth in Ale": what He did say goes much farther than that. There are multitudes who believe in Christ who do not put His precepts into practice. In the same way that there are millions in India who believe in Buddha, millions in China who believe in Confucius, millions in Africa who believe in Mohammed, so vast numbers in Christendom believe in Christ. And because "they believe in Christ" they suppose that all is well with them and that when they die they will go to heaven. Nor are there many now left on earth who are likely to disillusion them. The great majority of the preachers in this apostate age are only adding to the number of the deceived, by telling them that all God requires of them is to believe in the Gospel and receive Christ as their personal Saviour. They quote such passages as John 3:16, and Acts 16:31, which contain the word "believe," but are guiltily silent on the many verses which insist on repentance, forsaking of sins, denying of self, and which call to obedience.
How often, for example, we hear quoted, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature [or creation]" (Gal. 6:15), especially by those who (rightly) wish to show that neither the ceremonial ordinances of Judaism nor baptism and the Lord's supper of Christianity are of any worth in the justifying of sinners before God. So, too, though not quite so frequently, we are reminded that "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6), that is out of gratitude to God for His unspeakable Gift and not from a legal motive which works only for what it may obtain. But how very rarely is this one ever mentioned: "Circumcision is nothing. and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Cor. 7:19). That which concerns our submission to the Divine authority, our walking in subjection to His will, is studiously kept in the background: such partiality is most reprehensible. It is only by placing these three verses side by side that we obtain a complete and balanced view. We are not vitally united to Christ unless we have been born again; we are not born again unless we possess a faith which "worketh by love"; and we have not this saving faith unless it is evidenced by a "keeping of God's commandments."
No wonder there is now so much dishonesty among those in the pew when there has been such dishonesty in the pulpit. The unsaved are frequently told, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10: 13), but who is faithful enough to tell them that none ever did or could savingly "call upon" Him out of an impenitent heart? Fewer still will remind them that Christ is "the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). In like manner, when addressing those who profess to be Christians, how many preachers give great prominence to the comforting promises of God, but say little about His holy requirements. There is also a certain class of Calvinists who are fond of citing "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," but they fail to add "ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:13, 14), which is the surest identifying mark of those for whom Christ died. There are thousands who glibly talk of their love for Christ, but how rarely are they reminded. "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3, 4).
In the passages before us Christ continues to insist upon the imperative necessity of practical godliness. The regard or disregard which we pay to His precepts in this life He likens unto building our house on a sound or a worthless foundation, and the issue thereof in the Day of testing is compared to a tempest which puts to the p roof our labours. Only those who have actually done that which lie enjoined, who have rendered sincere obedience to His laws, will endure the test. He who has heard Christ's sayings and talked about repentance but has never repented, he who has admired the statutes issued by Christ but never rendered personal submission to them, shall be put to utter confusion in the hour of crisis. For the last time in this sermon our Lord enforced what may be termed its text: "except your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." It is not sufficient to eulogize the practical righteousness which He taught: it must be embodied and expressed in our personal character and conduct. Saving faith is a practical persuasion of the truth of Christ's teaching which is followed by a wholehearted obedience to His authority.