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Matthew 7:1-12 - Homilies By Marcus Dods

Sermon on the mount: 6. Against judging others.

This "Judge not, that ye be not judged," comes in unexpectedly, and seems out of its place. But the superficial, ostentatious righteousness which our Lord has been exposing betrays itself in nothing more certainly than in censoriousness. To sigh and shake the head over a sinful world is one of the easiest roads to a reputation for sanctity. The reasons our Lord gives for refraining from judging others are two.

1 . If we judge harshly and unmercifully, we shall ourselves receive similar judgment. The person who uses false weights cannot complain if, in buying as well as in selling, false weights are used. If we judge without knowing all the circumstances, if we have no patience to give weight to explanations, no sympathy to put ourselves in the offender's place, we shall receive the same summary treatment. And this, not by the action of a mere arbitrary retribution, but by a law deeply laid in the nature of things. For at the root of such judging lies hatred of our neighbour; and if not hatred, indifference to righteousness; and where these exist in the heart, the very foundations of a godly character are yet to be laid. The man who is sincerely grieved at the sin of men has no heart to expose it unless this is clearly for the benefit of all concerned. In fact, this is a department of conduct in which the great law laid down by our Lord is our best grade: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We continually see that in judging our conduct men are entirely at fault, imputing motives, perhaps no worse than, but certainly different from, our actual motives, so that it is the part of wisdom, no less than of charity, to be slow to judge.

2 . The second reason our Lord assigns is that our own faults so disturb our moral perception that we are not fit to eradicate those of our neighbour. It is proposing to pick a mote from our brother's eye while a beam is in our own. How can we understand the methods by which a man can be delivered from sin if we have made no practical acquaintance with these methods by seeking deliverance from our own sin? Two things are suggested by our Lord's words.

I. TO RID A MAN OF A FAULT IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT OPERATION . It requires the same absolute accuracy of vision and delicacy of touch which an operation on the eye requires. The blemishes you would remove are so closely connected with virtues or qualities essential to the character, that the vision must be purged by integrity and humility, and the band steadied by sincere affection.

II. AGAIN , TO OUR LORD , BEFORE WHOM THE MORAL WORLD ALL LAY as glaringly visible as the natural world lies to us, it seemed grotesque that a censorious, faultfinding person should try to rid men of their faults. In his judgment the uncharitableness which lies at the root of so many of the apparently pious criticisms we hear and make is a beam far more damnatory than the mote we find fault with. Yet judgment of a kind we must pass on those who come under our observation. If we are not to cast what is holy to the dogs, we must, of course, determine who the dogs are. There are vile, fierce, snarling people in the world; and if we are not to give them the chance of showing their contempt for sacred things, we must distinguish between man and man. And in other cases of daily occurrence we are compelled both to form and to pronounce our judgment. The law, therefore, is levelled against all uncalled-for malicious judgments. It is not enough that our judgments be true, we must not utter them until compelled. The law of the land recognizes the distinction, and punishes uncalled-for defamation. This sermon on the mount is a sermon describing righteousness and distinguishing it from current imitations rather than telling us how we may attain it. That is is a true fulfilment of the Law and the prophets which our Lord has described no one can doubt, and yet the very copiousness of illustration dazzles and confuses. It is true we have the Law of God marking out for us the great lines on which human conduct is to move, and we have the prophets—a series of supernaturally enlightened spiritual teachers who have indicated how it is to be applied, and enforced, it by stirring appeals. But what we still desiderate is that all the teaching of the Law and all the enlightening and moving power of the prophets be condensed into a summary which the frailest memory can carry, and which a child can apply. We instinctively feel that for righteous living all men should have guidance sufficient, that there should be a light like the sun, common to educated and uneducated; and this we have in the words, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: this is the Law and the prophets"—this is the sum and this the substance of all that has ever been said to guide men to right conduct. Our own experience, aided by our imagination, will enable us to understand the treatment a man desires in the different positions in life. And by the observance of this rule you get both your own view of the case and your neighbour's; so that you shall neither on the one hand refuse a lawful and fair demand, nor on the other yield to an exorbitant, imprudent, or wicked one. In proclaiming this practical rule, our Lord had in view the achievement of that righteousness which constitutes the kingdom of God. Evidently it is sufficient for this purpose. Almost the whole of life is in one form or other of the dealing or commercial kind; none of us being sufficient for ourselves, but each contributing for the good of the whole that which it is his calling to supply. This frame of society, if animated by Christian principle, by a genuine desire to be as helpful as possible to the common good, is as heavenly a state of things as need be; but empty it of this, and leave only the desire to advance our own interests, and then you have not heaven but hell upon earth—a grasping, struggling, hard-hearted, cruel competition. Yet to this latter state we are always tempted. We are throughout life under pressure to make too much of our own interests. It is obvious that nothing so effectually counteracts this pressure as the. expedient we are considering. That fineness of character and delicacy of feeling which every one admires and respects is formed, consciously or unconsciously, by obedience to this rule, by consideration of the feelings of other people, and a ready adjustment of our conduct to these feelings even in the smallest matters. Beyond the assurances given in the memorable words beginning, "Ask, and it shall be given you," very little answer is given in this sermon to the inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" But a man can walk, although he cannot name the muscles he uses. Believe Christ when he tells you that if you seek righteousness you shall find it; go on seeking it, assured that God is helping and will help you; and what further directions are essential to salvation? Our Lord here tells us God has a kingdom; he tells us what that righteousness is which constitutes his kingdom; and he assures us that he that knocks shall be admitted. These promises put the future in your own hand. The waiting, striving, seeking spirit will not ultimately be disappointed. The weak and sin-tossed creature, whose efforts to attain have only proved his weakness more clearly, is assured that if he asks he shall have all that he needs for purity, for righteousness, for love. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?" If we, who are ourselves entangled in much sin, can yet devise substantial benefits for others, how much more may we expect such substantial aid from our Father, whose title it is that he is "heavenly," above all the influences that narrow the heart! It is God's life to communicate, his delight to see his children grow in likeness to himself. There is no mystery about entrance into God's kingdom and attainment of righteousness. If you wish to enter, you can. Begin where Christ teaches you, and abide always in the assurance of the Father's love. "If the life be careless, bring back the mind to that; if the heart be unhappy or discontented, compel the thoughts to that; if the habits of our daily walk cause us many a conflict between conscience and inclination, anchor the will on that."—D.

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