Matthew chapter 7
J.C. Ryle, 1856
1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
The first portion of these verses is one of those passages of Scripture, which we must be careful not to strain beyond its proper meaning. It is frequently abused and misapplied by the enemies of true religion. It is possible to press the words of the Bible so far that they yield not medicine, but poison.
Our Lord does not mean that it is wrong, under any circumstances, to pass an unfavorable judgment on the conduct and opinions of others. We ought to have decided opinions. We are to "prove all things." We are to "test the spirits." Nor yet does He mean that it is wrong to reprove the sins and faults of others, until we are perfect and faultless ourselves. Such an interpretation would contradict other parts of Scripture. It would make it impossible to condemn error and false doctrine. It would debar any one from attempting the office of a minister or a judge. The earth would be "given into the hands of the wicked." (Job 9:24.) Heresy would flourish—and wrong-doing would abound.
Verses 1-5. What our Lord means to condemn, is a censorious and fault-finding spirit. A readiness to blame others for trifling offences, or matters of indifference—a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments—a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors, and make the worst of them—this is what our Lord forbids. This was common among the Pharisees—and it has always been common from their day down to the present time. We must all watch against it. We should "believe all things," and "hope all things" about others—and be very slow to find fault. This is Christian charity. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Verse 6. The second lesson contained in this passage, is the importance of exercising discretion as to the person with whom we speak on the subject of religion. Everything is beautiful in its place and season. Our zeal is to be tempered by a prudent consideration of times, places, and people. "Don't reprove a scoffer," says Solomon, "lest he hate you." (Proverbs 9:8.) It is not everybody to whom it is wise to open our minds and hearts on spiritual matters. There are many, who from violent tempers, or openly profligate habits—are utterly incapable of valuing the things of the Gospel. They will even fly into a passion, and run into greater excesses of sin—if you try to do good to their souls. To name the name of Christ to such people, is truly to "cast your pearls before swine." It does them not good, but harm. It rouses all their corruption, and makes them angry. In short, they are like the Jews at Corinth, (Acts 18:6,) or like Nabal, of whom it is written, that he was "such a worthless fellow, that a man could not speak to him!" (1 Samuel 25:17)
This is a lesson which it is peculiarly difficult to use in the proper way. The right application of it needs great wisdom. We are most of us far more likely to err on the side of over-caution—than of over-zeal. We are generally far more disposed to remember the "time to be silent"—than "the time to speak." It is a lesson, however, which ought to stir up a spirit of self-inquiry in all our hearts. By our moroseness and irritability of temper—do we ourselves ever check our friends from giving us good advice? By our pride and impatient contempt of counsel—have we ever obliged others to say nothing? Have we ever turned against our kind advisers, and silenced them by our angry passion? Alas! we may well fear that we have erred in this matter.
Verses 7-11. The last lesson contained in this passage is the duty of prayer, and the rich encouragements there are to pray. There is a beautiful connection between this lesson and that which goes before it. Would we know when to be "silent," and when to "speak"—when to bring forward "holy" things, and produce our "pearls?" We must pray. This is a subject to which the Lord Jesus evidently attaches great importance. The language that He uses is a plain proof of this. He employs three different words to express the idea of prayer. "Ask." "Seek." "Knock." He holds out the broadest, fullest promise to those who pray. "Everyone who asks, receives." He illustrates God's readiness to hear our prayers, by an argument drawn from the notorious practice of parents on earth. "Evil" and selfish as they are by nature—they do not neglect the needs of their children. Much more will a God of love and mercy attend to the cries of those who are His children by grace.
Let us take special notice of these words of our Lord about prayer. Few of His sayings, perhaps, are so well known and so often repeated as this. The poorest and most unlearned can tell you, that "if we do not seek—then we shall not find." But what is the good of knowing it, if we do not use it? Knowledge which is not improved and well employed—will only increase our condemnation at the last day.
Do we know anything of this asking, seeking, and knocking? Why should we not? There is nothing so simple and plain as praying--if a man really has a desire to pray. Sadly, there is nothing which men are so slow to do—as sincere secret prayer. They will use many of the forms of religion, attend many ordinances, do many things that are right—before they will do this. And yet without this, no soul can be saved.
Do we ever really pray? If not, we shall at last be without excuse before God—unless we repent. We shall not be condemned for not doing what we could not have done—or not knowing what we could not have known. But we shall find that one main reason why we are lost is this—that we never asked that we might be saved.
Do we indeed pray? Then let us pray on, and not faint. It is not lost labor. It is not useless. It will bear fruit after many days. That promise has never yet failed, "Everyone who asks, receives."
12 So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you—for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
In this part of the sermon on the mount our Lord begins to draw His discourse to a conclusion. The lessons He here enforces on our notice, are broad, general, and full of the deepest wisdom. Let us mark them in succession.
Verse 12. Jesus lays down a general principle for our guidance in all doubtful questions between man and man. We are "to do to others—as we would have others do unto us." We are not to deal with others—as others deal with us. This is mere selfishness and heathenism. We are to deal with others as we would like others to deal with us. This is real Christianity.
This is a golden rule indeed! It does not merely forbid all petty malice and revenge, all cheating and taking advantage of others. It does much more. It settles a hundred difficult points, which in a world like this are continually arising between man and man. It prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases. It sweeps the whole debatable ground with one mighty principle. It shows us a balance and measure, by which every one may see at once, what his duty is.
Is there a thing which we would not like our neighbor to do unto us? Then let us always remember, that this is the thing which we ought not to do unto him. Is there a thing which we would like him to do unto us? Then this is the very thing which we ought to do unto him. How many intricate questions would be decided at once—if this rule were honestly used!
Verses 13-14. In the second place, our Lord gives us a general caution against the way of the many in religion. It is not enough to think as others think, and do as others do. It must not satisfy us to follow the fashion, and swim with the stream of those among whom we live. He tells us that the way that leads to everlasting life is "narrow," and "few" travel in it. He tells us that the way that leads to everlasting destruction is "broad," and full of travelers. "Many are those who enter in by it."
These are fearful truths! They ought to raise great searchings of heart in the minds of all who hear them. "Which way am I going? By what road am I traveling?" In one or other of the two ways here described, every one of us may be found. May God give us an honest, self-inquiring spirit, and show us what we are!
We may well tremble and be afraid, if our religion is that of the multitude. If we can say no more than this, that "we go where others go, and worship where others worship, and hope we shall do as well as others at last," we are literally pronouncing our own condemnation. What is this but being in the "broad way?" What is this but being in the road whose end is "destruction?" Our religion at present is not saving religion.
We have no reason to be discouraged and cast down, if the religion we profess is not popular, and few agree with us. We must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in this passage: "The gate is narrow." Repentance, and faith in Christ, and holiness of life, have never been fashionable. The true flock of Christ has always been small. It must not move us to find that we are reckoned singular, and peculiar, and bigoted, and narrow-minded. This is "the narrow way." Surely it is better to enter into life eternal with a few, than to go to "destruction" with a great company.
Verses 15-20. In the last place, the Lord Jesus gives us a general warning against false teachers in the church. We are to "beware of false prophets." The connection between this passage and the preceding one is striking. Would we keep clear of this "broad way?" Then we must beware of false prophets. They will arise. They began in the days of the apostles. Even then, the seeds of error were sown. They have appeared continually ever since. We must be prepared for them, and be on our guard.
This is a warning which is much needed. There are thousands who seem ready to believe anything in religion—if they hear it from an ordained minister. They forget that clergymen may err as much as laymen. They are not infallible. Their teaching must be weighed in the balance of Holy Scripture. They are to be followed and believed—only so long as their doctrine agrees with the Bible, but not a minute longer. We are to test them "by their fruits." Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets. Let us remember this. Our minister's mistakes will not excuse our own. "If the blind lead the blind—then both will fall into the ditch."
What is the best safe-guard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt, the regular study of the word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Psalm 119:105.) The man who reads it aright, will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible, which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that "they are not learned, and do not pretend to have decided opinions." The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers—so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.
May we all bear in mind our Lord's warning! The world, the devil, and the flesh—are not the only dangers in the way of the Christian. There remains another yet, and that is the "false prophet"—the wolf in sheep's clothing. Happy is he who prays over his Bible, and knows the difference between truth and error in religion! There is a difference, and we are meant to know it, and use our knowledge.
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
The Lord Jesus winds up the sermon on the mount by a passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets—to false professors; from unsound teachers—to unsound hearers. Here is a word for all. May we have grace to apply it to our own hearts!
Verses 21-23. The first lesson here is the uselessness of a mere outward profession of Christianity. Not every one who says "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of Heaven. Not all who profess and call themselves Christians, shall be saved.
Let us take notice of this. It requires far more than most people seem to think necessary, to save a soul. We may be baptized in the name of Christ, and boast confidently of our ecclesiastical privileges. We may possess head-knowledge, and be quite satisfied with our own state before God. We may even be preachers, and teachers of others, and do "many wonderful works" in connection with our church. But all this time—are we practically doing the will of our Father in Heaven? Do we truly repent—truly believe on Christ—and live holy and humble lives? If not, in spite of all our privileges and profession—we shall miss Heaven at last, and be forever cast away! We shall hear those dreadful words, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"
The day of judgment will reveal strange things. The hopes of many, who were thought great Christians while they lived—will be utterly confounded. The rottenness of their religion will be exposed, and put to shame before the whole world. It will then be proved, that to be saved means something more than "making a profession." We must make a "practice" of our Christianity—as well as a "profession." Let us often think of that great day. Let us often "judge ourselves—that we be not judged," and condemned by the Lord. Whatever else we are, let us aim at being real, true, and sincere.
Verses 24-27. The second lesson here, is a striking picture of two classes of professing Christian hearers. Those who hear and do nothing—and those who do as well as hear. Both classes are placed before us, and their histories traced to their respective ends.
The man who hears Christian teaching, and practices what he hears—is like "a wise man who built his house on a rock." He does not content himself with listening to exhortations to repent, believe in Christ, and live a holy life. He actually repents. He actually believes. He actually ceases to do evil, learns to do well, abhors that which is sinful, and cleaves to that which is good. He is a doer as well as a hearer. (James 1:22)
And what is the result? In the time of trial, his religion does not fail him. The floods of sickness, sorrow, poverty, disappointments, bereavements beat upon him in vain. His soul stands unmoved. His faith does not give way. His spiritual comforts do not utterly forsake him. His religion may have cost him trouble in time past. His foundation may have been obtained with much labor and many tears. To discover his own saving interest in Christ may have required many a day of earnest seeking, and many an hour of wrestling in prayer. But his labor has not been thrown away. He now reaps a rich reward. The religion that can stand trial—is the true religion.
The man who hears Christian teaching, and never gets beyond hearing—is like "a foolish man who built his house on the sand." He satisfies himself with listening and approving—but he goes no further. He flatters himself, perhaps, that all is right with his soul—because he has feelings, and convictions, and desires, of a spiritual kind. In these he rests. He never really breaks off from sin, and casts aside the spirit of the world. He never really lays hold of Christ. He never really takes up the cross. He is a hearer of truth—but nothing more.
And what is the end of this man's religion? It breaks down entirely under the first flood of tribulation! It fails him completely, like a summer-dried fountain, when his need is the sorest. It leaves its possessor high and dry, like a wreck on a sand bank—a scandal to the church, a by-word to the infidel, and a misery to himself. Most true is it, that what costs little—is worth little! A religion which costs us nothing, and consist in nothing but hearing sermons—will always prove at last to be a useless thing.
Verses 28-29. So ends the sermon on the mount. Such a sermon never was preached before. Such a sermon has never been preached since. Let us see that it has a lasting influence on our own souls. It is addressed to us—as well as to those who first heard it. We are those who shall have to give account of its heart-searching lessons. It is no light matter what we think of them. The word that Jesus has spoken—"the same will judge us in the last day." (John 12:48)