The Sermon On The Mount
"And every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall he 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 heat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (vv. 26, 27). It is scarcely necessary to point out that our Lord was here using parabolic language, but what is the force of the figure He employed? What is signified by this building a house upon the sand? Clearly He had in view those who claim to be His followers, but whose profession has no reality behind it: a class of people who expect to go to heaven, but whose hopes rest upon a faulty foundation; those who trust in something which will fail them in the hour of testing. Unspeakably solemn, then, are these verses, containing that which should cause every reader who values his soul to tremble at them, and to re-examine himself with sevenfold thoroughness, to discover whether or not they describe his own perilous condition.
For the last time in this Sermon our Lord enforced the text on which it is based: "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (v, 20). Wherein lay the defectiveness of their "righteousness"? First, there was a total neglect of their internal condition: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27)-there was no mortification of their lusts. Second, they failed to put first things first: "Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith" (23:23). Third, they wrought for their own glory, from a principle of self-interest: "But all their works they do for to be seen of men" (23:5) and not for the purpose of obeying and honoring God. Fourth, they practiced not what they preached: "they say, and do not" (23:3)-their talk was all right, but their walk was all wrong.
Spirituality of soul, purity of heart, integrity of conduct, the scribes and Pharisees had no regard for. They were forward in fasting, praying at street corners, and giving of alms ostentatiously, but it was all done with the object of enhancing their reputation among men. And in their religion we have an exemplification of what is the natural persuasion of men the world over, namely that a religion of external performances will suffice to ensure a blissful eternity. Undoubtedly there are many who would in words deny this, but who in their works substantiate it. They bring their bodies to the house of prayer, but not their souls; they worship with their mouths, but not "in spirit and in truth." They are sticklers for immersion or early morning communion, yet take no thought about keeping their hearts with all diligence. They boast of their orthodoxy, but disregard the precepts of Christ. Multitudes of professing Christians abstain from external acts of violence, yet hesitate not to rob their neighbours of a good name by spreading evil reports against them. They contribute regularly to the "pastor's salary," but shrink not from misrepresenting their goods and cheating their customers, persuading themselves that "business is business." They have more regard for the laws of man than those of God, for His fear is not before their eyes.
After dwelling at such length in the previous chapter on the "wise" builder, there should be little difficulty in identifying the various groups which are commonly classified as the "foolish." They are all those, no matter what their profession and pretensions, who do not the "sayings" of Christ. Even F. W. Grant, in his brief notes on this passage, said: "He who puts His sayings livingly into practice shall build a house that will endure the storm. None else and nothing else will": though we are very much afraid that scarcely two out of a hundred of those wont to read his Numerical Bible really believe any such thing. In Luke's account of the "wise" builder an additional item is added: "Whosoever cometh to Me, and heareth My sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock" (6:47, 48). The "foolish" ones failed to "dig deep." As this is the vital point which distinguishes the two classes let us endeavour to show what is signified by this "digging deep."
If ever there was a time when these words "digged deep" needed to be pressed upon the notice of professing Christians it is today. We are living in an age characterized by superficiality and shallowness, when religion itself has degenerated into a mere surface thing. There is no deep ploughing, no spade work, no foundation exercises, no brokenness of heart. If I have never mourned over my waywardness, I have no solid ground for rejoicing. "Want of depth, want of sincerity, want of zeal in religion-this is the want of our times. Want of an eye to God in religion, lack of sincere dealing with one's soul, neglect of using the lancet with our hearts, neglect of the search-warrant which God gives out against sin, carelessness concerning living upon Christ; much reading about Him, much talking about him, but too little feeding upon His flesh and drinking of His blood-these are the causes of tottering professions and baseless hopes." If Spurgeon found occasion for making such complaint as far back as 1870, how sadly conditions have worsened since then!
A saving apprehension or laying hold of Christ is not the simple thing so many suppose. Man must be humbled into the dust before he will, as a beggar, betake himself to the Redeemer. The Divine Law is the appointed schoolmaster to drive sinners to Christ, but so many people play truant-run away from school. Not a few attempt to build upon Christ, but there has been no proper foundation-work, and so in the day of testing the floods of opposition and persecution come in between their hearts and Christ, and temptations part them to the overthrow of their profession. By nature our hearts are so filled with self-love and self-pity that there is no room for Christ. Many are willing to receive Him for His benefits who have no love for His person and no resolution to bow to His Lordship, which is like a woman marrying a man solely for his money. Observe Paul's order: "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:8, 9)-first Christ Himself and then His righteousness!
1. He "digs deep" who does not enter upon a Christian profession hurriedly and lightly, but instead "sits down and counts the cost" (Luke 14:28). There are some who say they are saved before they have any feeling sense that they are lost. There are others who profess to receive Christ who yet have no realization of the claims of His sceptre. There are those who present themselves for baptism who know nothing about the terms of Christian discipleship. Such people rush into a profession of religion, and in most cases rush out of it again. They receive the Word "with joy" rather than with painful convictions of sin, but they have "not root in themselves" and so "dureth for a while" only (Matthew 13:20, 21), Hence it was that when one said unto Him, "I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest," Christ told him that he had not "where to lay His head"; and when another lightly said, "I will follow Thee," He answered, "No man, having put his hand to the plough [and ploughing is no easy work!], and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:58-62); while to His apostles He gave the warning "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).
2. He "digs deep" who labours to be emptied of self-righteousness, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency. The sinner needs first to be convicted of his utter inability to come to Christ-that God must give him a heart which is willing to receive Him as King to rule over him. Observe how the Lord Himself pressed this fact upon His hearers: "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (John 6:44)-but who believes that today when the "free will" of man is so much cried up! "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Matthew 9:12). Why should I seek unto the great Physician for strength when I have no consciousness of my weakness, for cleansing while I am quite unaware of my foulness? Only God can subdue our innate pride and self-complacency, and in order thereto there must needs be ardent wrestlings of soul with Him that He would graciously put forth His power and overcome that in me which rises up against Him.
3. He "digs deep" who strives after an experimental and inward knowledge of the Truth. A mere notional or theoretical acquaintance with it will not suffice him. He longs to have a practical knowledge of the Truth so that it becomes deeply rooted within him, so that it finds a home in the "hidden parts" (Ps. 51:6). Truth has to be bought (Prov. 23:23), and the wise builder is quite willing to pay the necessary price-sacrificing worldly interests so to do. As Spurgeon said, "Seek an inwrought experience of Divine Truth. Ask to have it burnt into you. Why is it that people give up the doctrines of grace if they fall in with eloquent advocates of free will? Why is it that they renounce the orthodox creed if they meet with smart reasoners who contradict it? Because they have never received the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit so as to have it sealed in their hearts. . . . It is one thing to have a creed, it is quite another thing to have the Truth graven upon the tables of the heart. Many fail here because Truth was never made experimentally their own."
4. He "digs deep" who balks not at the work of mortification, who follows Christ as the grand Exemplar of mortification. What the Saviour suffered in His pure flesh by way of expiation, those who would be saved must suffer in their corrupt flesh by way of mortification. It is true the flesh in us is reluctant, as was the holy humanity of Christ, saying, "let this cup pass from Me," but the spirit is willing, crying "Father, Thy will be done" even in the crucifixion of my dearest lusts. Christ died a violent death, and sin must not die an easy and comfortable one. His body was nailed to the tree till His soul was separated from it, and the body of sin must be so nailed till the soul of sin-the will and love of it- depart. Christ died a tormenting death, in pains and agonies, and we must so die to sin that we "suffer in the flesh" (1 Pet. 4:1). Christ died a lingering death, and so does sin languish little by little, mortification upon mortification, dying "daily." Alas, how few dig deep enough to come to the denying of self!
5. He "digs deep" who endeavors to hide God's Word in his heart so that he may be kept from sinning against Him (Ps. 119:11). By "hiding" is not here meant concealing but treasuring, so that it may be preserved. To so "hide" means, first, to obtain a spiritual understanding of it-and for that, diligence and labour are required (Prov. 2:1-4). Only then does "wisdom" enter the heart and knowledge become pleasant unto the soul (Prov. 2:10). Second, when it is assented unto by faith, otherwise it will quickly vanish: "The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Heb. 4:2). Third, when it is kindly entertained: Christ complained to the Jews, "ye seek to kill Me, because My word hath no place in you" (John 8:37). Fourth, when it is deeply rooted, settled in the affections, so that it becomes the "engrafted word" (Jas. 1:21). The Word must not be studied out of curiosity, or for the object of teaching others, nor for our comfort, but with this prime end in view: that it may deliver us from sin-storing our minds with what is holy, resisting Satan's temptations with an, "It is written," its promises sustaining us in times of trial.
6. He "digs deep" who sincerely endeavors to have his heart sensibly affected by the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Since sin be that abominable thing which God hates, that which occasioned the death of Christ, and that which is the cause of all his own misery, the believer seeks to obtain a deeper horror for and hatred of sin. To this end he frequently reminds himself of and meditates upon the fearful tragedy which the first sin introduced into Eden, how that it corrupted at its source the stream of human nature. He constantly ponders the fact that all the sorrow and suffering in the world is the immediate effect of sin. He essays to view sin in the light of eternal punishment. "When I meet with professors who talk lightly of sin, I feel sure that they have built without a foundation. If they had ever felt the Spirit's wounding and killing sword of conviction, they would flee from sin as from a lion. Truly forgiven sinners dread the appearance of evil as burnt children dread the fire. Superficial repentance always leads to careless living. Pray earnestly for a broken heart" (Spurgeon).
7. He "digs deep" who makes diligent search and thorough examination within to make sure that God has written His Word on his heart (2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Pet. 1:10). He is so concerned about his eternal welfare, so aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart, that he dare not take anything for granted. He is determined to prove his own self, that a supernatural work of grace has been truly wrought within him. He spares no pains to measure himself by the Word to see whether the fruits of regeneration are really being brought forth in the garden of his soul. He earnestly seeks the Divine assistance in the all-important matter, crying to God, "Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart" (Ps. 26:2): let me not be mistaken, but graciously make known to me my real condition, and if I be one of Thy redeemed cause Thy blessed Spirit to bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of Thine. And if the seeker be sincere and importunate his quest will not be in vain, neither will his request fall upon deaf ears.
Let us now describe several kinds of "foolish" builders. First, they build "upon the sand" whose hope is based upon a round of religious performances. The one who counts upon church membership, church attendance, the saying of prayers and the reading of the Bible as being all that is needed to ensure for him an entrance into the everlasting kingdom is resting on a broken reed. That was the case with the Pharisees. They fasted and tithed, made long prayers and were most punctilious in attending to ceremonial rites, but they were outside the pale of God's mercy. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3) no matter how zealous he be in attending "communions," how liberal in supporting "missionaries," or how "faithful to the cause." Until I have a heart which receives Christ as my Prophet, Priest and King, which unfeignedly loves Him, which obeys Him, there is no hope for me.
Second, they build "upon the sand " whose hope is based on visions, dreams and happy feelings. There is a class in Christendom, larger than some suppose, whose trust reposes in those very things. Ask them to tell you their experience, inquire what ground they have for concluding that God has met with them in saving grace, and they will relate to you so me mysterious vision, some remarkable dream, some voice which spoke to them, many years ago, saying "thy sins be forgiven thee," which produced an ecstasy of joy and assurance which nothing can shake. Now we will not positively affirm that they were deluded into imagining such things, yet we would point out that Satan transforms himself as an "angel of light" and can produce remarkable impressions. Whatever remarkable experience you met with in the past, unless you are now trusting in the blood and righteousness of Christ and sincerely endeavoring to perform His precepts, you are trusting in what will fail you in the Day to come.
Third, they build "upon the sand" whose hope is based on a "faith in Christ" which produces no obedience to Him. Unto such He searchingly says, "Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). A mere intellectual assent to the Gospel or a belief in the historical Christ is worthless, for it brings forth no spiritual fruits. To hear and acquiesce and then perform not is a mocking of God. As there were many who "believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did" to whom the Saviour "did not commit Himself" (John 2:23, 24), so there are thousands today who non-savingly "believe in Christ" yet have not "the root of the matter" (Job 19:28) within them. The faith of God's elect is one which in a vital and practical way is "the acknowledging the truth which is after godliness" (Titus 1:1), which issues in "purifying their hearts" (Acts 15:9), which "worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6) and which "overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4). Only such a faith will suffice for time and eternity.
Fourth, they build "upon the sand" whose hope rests on a merely intellectual knowledge of the Truth. The difference between theoretical and practical knowledge is one both of kind and of degree. Theoretical knowledge is fluctuating and evanescent, constantly subject to alteration; but practical knowledge is deep-rooted and permanent. Once I have experienced the burning effects of fire no sophistical arguments can persuade me it is harmless. Once I have tasted that the Lord is gracious none can convince me that He is not. The difference between the two is apparent also from the effects produced. Pilate had a theoretical knowledge that it was contrary to the evidence before him to condemn Christ to death, but when the issue of his own interests with Caesar was raised (John 19:12) his practical judgment determined him to save his prestige. One who has a theoretical acquaintance with the precepts may talk well about them, but only one with a practical knowledge will walk according to them. One with a theoretical knowledge of the Truth may admire it, but only one with a practical knowledge thereof would die for it.
Fifth, they build "upon the sand" who make not conscience of confessing sin. There is a radical difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate in this matter. The former, being dead toward God and having but light thoughts upon sin, are not weighed down by it; but to the latter it is their heaviest burden, and therefore are they thankful to unbosom themselves unto the Lord. Christ has bidden them pray to their Father "forgive us our sins" (Luke 11:4). Scripture warns them, "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Prov. 28:13), and so David proved: "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long"; but eventually he said, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Ps. 32:3, 5). After his sad fall, Peter went out and "wept bitterly." Read through the second half of Romans vii and observe how keenly distressed Paul was by indwelling corruption. The believer has a sensitive conscience and keeps short account with God; but the conscience of the unbeliever is calloused, and he neither mourns over nor confesses his sins.
To sum up. No matter what experience I have had, or what be the character and strength of my faith, or how deep and steady be my assurance, or how eminent my gifts, unless any or all of these issue in a life of practical obedience to Christ they will avail nothing when death overtakes me. And that is no harsh verdict of ours, but the decision of the Son of God: "every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand." Not that the Christian will "do" them perfectly-"For in many things we offend all" (Jas. 3:2)-though he ought to, and must not excuse but rather mourn over and confess his failure. No, the obedience of the Christian is not a faultless one, yet it is real and actual. It is not flawless, yet it is sincere. It is the genuine desire, resolution and endeavour of the Christian to please Christ in all things, and it is his greatest grief when he displeases Him. Lord, "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments; for therein do I delight" (Ps. 119:35).