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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Matthew 7

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The Gospel According to Matthew

Commentary by DAVID BROWN

CHAPTER 7

SERMON ON THE MOUNT--concluded.

Mat 7:1-12. MISCELLANEOUS SUPPLEMENTARY COUNSELS.

      That these verses are entirely supplementary is the simplest and most natural view of them. All attempts to make out any evident connection with the immediately preceding context are, in our judgment, forced. But, though supplementary, these counsels are far from being of subordinate importance. On the contrary, they involve some of the most delicate and vital duties of the Christian life. In the vivid form in which they are here presented, perhaps they could not have been introduced with the same effect under any of the foregoing heads; but they spring out of the same great principles, and are but other forms and manifestations of the same evangelical "righteousness."

      Censorious Judgment ( Mat 7:1-5 ).

      1. Judge not, that ye be not judged--To "judge" here does not exactly mean to pronounce condemnatory judgment, nor does it refer to simple judging at all, whether favorable or the reverse. The context makes it clear that the thing here condemned is that disposition to look unfavorably on the character and actions of others, which leads invariably to the pronouncing of rash, unjust, and unlovely judgments upon them. No doubt it is the judgments so pronounced which are here spoken of; but what our Lord aims at is the spirit out of which they spring. Provided we eschew this unlovely spirit, we are not only warranted to sit in judgment upon a brother's character and actions, but in the exercise of a necessary discrimination are often constrained to do so for our own guidance. It is the violation of the law of love involved in the exercise of a censorious disposition which alone is here condemned. And the argument against it--"that ye be not judged"--confirms this: "that your own character and actions be not pronounced upon with the like severity"; that is, at the great day.

      2. For with what judgments ye Judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete--whatever standard of judgment ye apply to others.
      it shall be measured to you again--This proverbial maxim is used by our Lord in other connections--as in Mar 4:24, and with a slightly different application in Luk 6:38 --as a great principle in the divine administration. Unkind judgment of others will be judicially returned upon ourselves, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. But, as in many other cases under the divine administration, such harsh judgment gets self-punished even here. For people shrink from contact with those who systematically deal out harsh judgment upon others--naturally concluding that they themselves may be the next victims--and feel impelled in self-defense, when exposed to it, to roll back upon the assailant his own censures.

      3. And why beholdest thou the mote--"splinter," here very well rendered "mote," denoting any small fault.
      that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?--denoting the much greater fault which we overlook in ourselves.

      4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

      5. Thou hypocrite--"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--Our Lord uses a most hyperbolical, but not unfamiliar figure, to express the monstrous inconsistency of this conduct. The "hypocrisy" which, not without indignation, He charges it with, consists in the pretense of a zealous and compassionate charity, which cannot possibly be real in one who suffers worse faults to lie uncorrected in himself. He only is fit to be a reprover of others who jealously and severely judges himself. Such persons will not only be slow to undertake the office of censor on their neighbors, but, when constrained in faithfulness to deal with them, will make it evident that they do it with reluctance and not satisfaction, with moderation and not exaggeration, with love and not harshness.

      Prostitution of Holy Things ( Mat 7:6 ). The opposite extreme to that of censoriousness is here condemned--want of discrimination of character.

      6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs--savage or snarling haters of truth and righteousness.
      neither cast ye your pearls before swine--the impure or coarse, who are incapable of appreciating the priceless jewels of Christianity. In the East, dogs are wilder and more gregarious, and, feeding on carrion and garbage, are coarser and fiercer than the same animals in the West. Dogs and swine, besides being ceremonially unclean, were peculiarly repulsive to the Jews, and indeed to the ancients generally.
      lest they trample them under their feet--as swine do.
      and turn again and rend you--as dogs do. Religion is brought into contempt, and its professors insulted, when it is forced upon those who cannot value it and will not have it. But while the indiscriminately zealous have need of this caution, let us be on our guard against too readily setting our neighbors down as dogs and swine, and excusing ourselves from endeavoring to do them good on this poor plea.

      Prayer ( Mat 7:7-11 ). Enough, one might think, had been said on this subject in Mat 6:5-15. But the difficulty of the foregoing duties seems to have recalled the subject, and this gives it quite a new turn. "How shall we ever be able to carry out such precepts as these, of tender, holy, yet discriminating love?" might the humble disciple inquire. "Go to God with it," is our Lord's reply; but He expresses this with a fulness which leaves nothing to be desired, urging now not only confidence, but importunity in prayer.

      7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you--Though there seems evidently a climax here, expressive of more and more importunity, yet each of these terms used presents what we desire of God in a different light. We ask for what we wish; we seek for what we miss; we knock for that from which we feel ourselves shut out. Answering to this threefold representation is the triple assurance of success to our believing efforts. "But ah!" might some humble disciple say, "I cannot persuade myself that I have any interest with God." To meet this, our Lord repeats the triple assurance He had just given, but in such a form as to silence every such complaint.

      8. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened--Of course, it is presumed that he asks aright--that is, in faith--and with an honest purpose to make use of what he receives. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering (undecided whether to be altogether on the Lord's side). For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" ( Jam 1:5-7 ). Hence, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" ( Jam 4:3 ).

      9. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread--a loaf.
      will he give him a stone?--round and smooth like such a loaf or cake as was much in use, but only to mock him.

      10. Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?--like it, indeed, but only to sting him.

      11. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him!--Bad as our fallen nature is, the father in us is not extinguished. What a heart, then, must the Father of all fathers have towards His pleading children! In the corresponding passage in Luke (see on JF & B for Lu 11:13), instead of "good things," our Lord asks whether He will not much more give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. At this early stage of His ministry, and before such an audience, He seems to avoid such sharp doctrinal teaching as was more accordant with His plan at the riper stage indicated in Luke, and in addressing His own disciples exclusively.

      Golden Rule ( Mat 7:12 ).

      12. Therefore--to say all in one word.
      all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them--the same thing and in the same way.
      for this is the law and the prophets--"This is the substance of all relative duty; all Scripture in a nutshell." Incomparable summary! How well called "the royal law!" ( Jam 2:8; compare Rom 13:9 ). It is true that similar maxims are found floating in the writings of the cultivated Greeks and Romans, and naturally enough in the Rabbinical writings. But so expressed as it is here--in immediate connection with, and as the sum of such duties as has been just enjoined, and such principles as had been before taught--it is to be found nowhere else. And the best commentary upon this fact is, that never till our Lord came down thus to teach did men effectually and widely exemplify it in their practice. The precise sense of the maxim is best referred to common sense. It is not, of course, what--in our wayward, capricious, gasping moods--we should wish that men would do to us, that we are to hold ourselves bound to do to them; but only what--in the exercise of an impartial judgment, and putting ourselves in their place--we consider it reasonable that they should do to us, that we are to do to them.

      Mat 7:13-29. CONCLUSION AND EFFECT OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.

      We have here the application of the whole preceding discourse.

      Conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount ( Mat 7:13-27 ). "The righteousness of the kingdom," so amply described, both in principle and in detail, would be seen to involve self-sacrifice at every step. Multitudes would never face this. But it must be faced, else the consequences will be fatal. This would divide all within the sound of these truths into two classes: the many, who will follow the path of ease and self-indulgence--end where it might; and the few, who, bent on eternal safety above everything else, take the way that leads to it--at whatever cost. This gives occasion to the two opening verses of this application.

      13. Enter ye in at the strait gate--as if hardly wide enough to admit one at all. This expresses the difficulty of the first right step in religion, involving, as it does, a triumph over all our natural inclinations. Hence the still stronger expression in Luke ( Luk 13:24 ), "Strive to enter in at the strait gate."
      for wide is the gate--easily entered.
      and broad is the way--easily trodden.
      that leadeth to destruction, and--thus lured "many there be which go in thereat."

      14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life--In other words, the whole course is as difficult as the first step; and (so it comes to pass that).
      few there be that find it--The recommendation of the broad way is the ease with which it is trodden and the abundance of company to be found in it. It is sailing with a fair wind and a favorable tide. The natural inclinations are not crossed, and fears of the issue, if not easily hushed, are in the long run effectually subdued. The one disadvantage of this course is its end--it "leadeth to destruction." The great Teacher says it, and says it as "One having authority." To the supposed injustice or harshness of this He never once adverts. He leaves it to be inferred that such a course righteously, naturally, necessarily so ends. But whether men see this or no, here He lays down the law of the kingdom, and leaves it with us. As to the other way, the disadvantage of it lies in its narrowness and solicitude. Its very first step involves a revolution in all our purposes and plans for life, and a surrender of all that is dear to natural inclination, while all that follows is but a repetition of the first great act of self-sacrifice. No wonder, then, that few find and few are found in it. But it has one advantage--it "leadeth unto life." Some critics take "the gate" here, not for the first, but the last step in religion; since gates seldom open into roads, but roads usually terminate in a gate, leading straight to a mansion. But as this would make our Lord's words to have a very inverted and unnatural form as they stand, it is better, with the majority of critics, to view them as we have done. But since such teaching would be as unpopular as the way itself, our Lord next forewarns His hearers that preachers of smooth things--the true heirs and representatives of the false prophets of old--would be rife enough in the new kingdom.

      15. Beware--But beware.
      of false prophets--that is, of teachers coming as authorized expounders of the mind of God and guides to heaven. (See Act 20:29, 30 2Pe 2:1, 2 ).
      which come to you in sheep's clothing--with a bland, gentle, plausible exterior; persuading you that the gate is not strait nor the way narrow, and that to teach so is illiberal and bigoted--precisely what the old prophets did ( Eze 13:1-10, 22 ).
      but inwardly they are ravening wolves--bent on devouring the flock for their own ends ( 2Cr 11:2, 3, 13-15 ).

      16. Ye shall know them by their fruits--not their doctrines--as many of the elder interpreters and some later ones explain it--for that corresponds to the tree itself; but the practical effect of their teaching, which is the proper fruit of the tree.
      Do men gather grapes of thorns--any kind of prickly plant.
      or figs of thistles?--a three-pronged variety. The general sense is obvious--Every tree bears its own fruit.

      17. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit: but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

      18. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit--Obvious as is the truth here expressed in different forms--that the heart determines and is the only proper interpreter of the actions of our life--no one who knows how the Church of Rome makes a merit of actions, quite apart from the motives that prompt them, and how the same tendency manifests itself from time to time even among Protestant Christians, can think it too obvious to be insisted on by the teachers of divine truth. Here follows a wholesome digression.

      19. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire--(See on JF & B for Mt 3:10).

      20. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them--that is, But the point I now press is not so much the end of such, as the means of detecting them; and this, as already said, is their fruits. The hypocrisy of teachers now leads to a solemn warning against religious hypocrisy in general.

      21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord--the reduplication of the title "Lord" denoting zeal in according it to Christ (see Mar 14:45 ). Yet our Lord claims and expects this of all His disciples, as when He washed their feet: "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am" ( Jhn 13:13 ).
      shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven--that will which it had been the great object of this discourse to set forth. Yet our Lord says warily, not "the will of your Father," but "of My Father"; thus claiming a relationship to His Father with which His disciples might not intermeddle, and which He never lets down. And He so speaks here to give authority to His asseverations. But now He rises higher still--not formally announcing Himself as the Judge, but intimating what men will say to Him, and He to them, when He sits as their final judge.

      22. Many will say to me in that day--What day? It is emphatically unnamed. But it is the day to which He had just referred, when men shall "enter" or not enter "into the kingdom of heaven." (See a similar way of speaking of "that day" in 2Ti 1:12 4:8 ).
      Lord, Lord--The reiteration denotes surprise. "What, Lord? How is this? Are we to be disowned?"
      have we not prophesied--or, "publicly taught." As one of the special gifts of the Spirit in the early Church, it has the sense of "inspired and authoritative teaching," and is ranked next to the apostleship. (See 1Cr 12:28 Eph 4:11 ). In this sense it is used here, as appears from what follows.
      in thy name--or, "to thy name," and so in the two following clauses--"having reference to Thy name as the sole power in which we did it."
      and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works--or, miracles. These are selected as three examples of the highest services rendered to the Christian cause, and through the power of Christ's own name, invoked for that purpose; He Himself, too, responding to the call. And the threefold repetition of the question, each time in the same form, expresses in the liveliest manner the astonishment of the speakers at the view now taken of them.

      23. And then will I profess unto them--or, openly proclaim--tearing off the mask.
      I never knew you--What they claimed intimacy with Christ, is just what He repudiates, and with a certain scornful dignity. "Our acquaintance was not broken off--there never was any."
      depart from me--(Compare Mat 25:41 ). The connection here gives these words an awful significance. They claimed intimacy with Christ, and in the corresponding passage, Luk 13:26, are represented as having gone out and in with Him on familiar terms. "So much the worse for you," He replies: "I bore with that long enough; but now--begone!"
      ye that work iniquity--not "that wrought iniquity"; for they are represented as fresh from the scenes and acts of it as they stand before the Judge. (See on the almost identical, but even more vivid and awful, description of the scene in Luk 13:24-27 ). That the apostle alludes to these very words in 2Ti 2:19 there can hardly be any doubt--"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."

      24. Therefore--to bring this discourse to a close.
      whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them--see Jam 1:22, which seems a plain allusion to these words; also Luk 11:28 Rom 2:13 1Jo 3:7.
      I will liken him unto a wise man--a shrewd, prudent, provident man.
      which built his house upon a rock--the rock of true discipleship, or genuine subjection to Christ.

      25. And the rain descended--from above.
      and the floods came--from below.
      and the winds blew--sweeping across.
      and beat upon that house--thus from every direction.
      and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock--See 1Jo 2:17.

      26. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine--in the attitude of discipleship.
      and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand--denoting a loose foundation--that of an empty profession and mere external services.

      27. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house--struck against that house;
      and it fell: and great was the fall of it--terrible the ruin! How lively must this imagery have been to an audience accustomed to the fierceness of an Eastern tempest, and the suddenness and completeness with which it sweeps everything unsteady before it!

      Effect of the Sermon on the Mount ( Mat 7:28, 29 ).

      28. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine--rather, "His teaching," for the reference is to the manner of it quite as much as the matter, or rather more so.

      29. For he taught them as one having authority--The word "one," which our translators have here inserted, only weakens the statement.
      and not as the scribes--The consciousness of divine authority, as Lawgiver, Expounder and Judge, so beamed through His teaching, that the scribes teaching could not but appear drivelling in such a light.

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