William Kelly Major Works Commentary - Matthew 7:1 - 7:29

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William Kelly Major Works Commentary - Matthew 7:1 - 7:29

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Matthew Chapter 7

We now come to a very distinct portion of our Lord's discourse. It is not so much the establishing of the right relations of a soul with God our Father - the hidden inner life of the Christian - but now we have the mutual relations of the disciples with one another, their conduct toward men, the different dangers which they have to dread, and, above all things, the sure ruin for every soul that names the name of Christ if hearing and not doing His sayings. The wise man hears and does. And so the chapter closes. I would desire to dwell a little upon these various points of instruction which our Lord brings before us. Of course it will not be possible to enter thoroughly into all; for, I need not say, the sayings of our Lord are peculiarly pregnant with profoundness of thought. There is no portion of God's word where you find a more characteristic depth than here.

The point with which the Lord Jesus opens is this. He had before this shown fully that we are to act in grace as children of our Father; but that was more particularly with the world, with our enemies, with persons that wrong us. But then a serious and practical difficulty might elsewhere arise. Supposing that among the wrongdoers were some that bore the name of Christ, what then? How are we to feel about and to deal with them? No doubt there is a difference, and a very weighty one. Still there is a thing that we have to take care of before we touch the question of another's conduct; and that is, to watch against the spirit of censoriousness in ourselves, the habit or tendency to impute evil motives in that which we do not know and which does not meet the eye. We all know what a snare this is to the heart of man, and that it is more particularly the danger of some, through natural character and unwatchfulness as to the allowed habit. There is more discernment in some than in others, and such ought peculiarly to watch against it. It is not that they are to have their eyes shut to what is evil; but they are not to suspect what is not uncovered, nor to go beyond the evidence God gives. This is a most important practical safeguard, without which it is impossible to walk together according to God. People may be together as so many separate units, without any real sympathy or power to enter into the sorrows, difficulties, trials, and it may be the evil, of others. Yet all that has a claim upon the heart of a disciple. Even that which is wrong calls upon love to find out God's way of dealing with what is contrary to God. For the essence of love is, that it seeks the good of the object that is beloved, and this without reference to self. It may have the bitterness of knowing that it is not loved in return, as the apostle Paul knew, even in early days, and with real Christians - yea, with persons singularly endowed by the Spirit of God. God has been pleased thus to give us these solemn lessons of what the heart is, even in saints of God.

Under all circumstances, this great truth is obligatory on the conscience: "judge not, that ye be not judged" (ver. 1). On the other hand, this principle can be easily abused by the selfishness of man. Were a person going on in an evil course and using this passage to deny the title of brethren to judge his conduct, it is clear that he betrays a want of conscience and of spiritual understanding. His eye is blinded by self, and he is merely turning the Lord's words into an excuse for sin. The Lord did not, in anywise, mean to weaken the holy judgment of evil; on the contrary, He, in due time, binds this solemnly upon His people: "Do not ye judge them that are within?" It was the fault of the Corinthians that they did not judge those that were in their midst. It is plain, therefore, that there is a sense in which I am to judge, and another in which I am not. There are cases where I should disregard the Lord's holiness if I did not judge, and there are cases where the Lord forbids it, and warns me that to do so is to bring judgment upon myself. This is a very practical question for the Christian - where to judge and where not to judge. Whatever comes out plainly - what God presents to the eye of His people, so that they know it for themselves, or on testimony which they cannot doubt - they are surely bound to judge. In a word, we are always responsible to abhor that which is offensive to God, whether known directly or indirectly; for "God is not mocked," and the children of God ought not to be governed by mere technicalities, of which the cunning craft of the enemy can easily take advantage.

But what does our Lord mean here: "judge not, that ye be not judged?" He refers not to that which is plain, but to what is concealed; to that which, if it does exist, God has not yet laid the evidence before the eyes of His people. We are not responsible to judge what we do not know; on the contrary, we are bound to watch against the spirit of surmising evil or imputing motives. It may be that there is evil, and of the gravest character, as in the case of Judas. Our Lord said of him: "One of you is a devil;" and purposely kept the disciples in the dark about the particulars. just remark, by the way, that it is only in the Gospel of John, which shows us that our Lord's knowledge of Judas Iscariot was that of a divine person. He says it long before anything came out. In the other Gospels all is reserved till the eve of His betrayal: but John was led by the Holy Ghost to remember how the Lord had told them it was so from the beginning; and yet, though He knew it, they were only to confide in His knowledge of it; for if the Lord bore with him, were not they to do the same? If He did not give them directions how to deal with the evil, they were to wait. That is always the resource of faith, which never hurries, especially in so solemn a case. 1' He that believeth shall not make haste."

All is open to God, all is in His hands, and patience is the word, until His time comes for dealing with what is contrary to Him. The Lord lets Judas manifest himself thoroughly, and then it was no question of bearing with the traitor. While there are certain cases of evil that we are to judge, there are questions that He does not ask the Church to solve.

We have to take care that we go not before God, lest we might find ourselves in detail, if not in the main, against God. We must not break that which is bruised by yielding to personal or party feelings. What a danger this is. The inevitable effect of a judging spirit is that we get judged ourselves. The soul, whose habit is censorious, is universally ill spoken of. "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged." Then the Lord puts a particular case: "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (ver. 3). That is, where this proneness to judge is, there is another still more serious evil - an habitually unjudged evil in the spirit, which makes the person restless, and desirous of proving others to be wrong too. "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?" (ver. 4). The mote, of course, was but little, but it was made a great deal of, and the beam, an enormous thing, was passed by. The Lord is bringing out, in the most emphatic way, the danger of a suspicious judicial spirit. And He shows that the way to deal rightly, if we desire the good of His people and their deliverance from evil, is to begin with self-judgment. If we really wish to have the mote out of our brother's eye, how is it to be done? Let us begin with the grave faults we know so little, corrected and confessed, in ourselves: this is worthy of Christ. What is His way of dealing with it? Does He say of the mote in our brother's eye, Bring it to the judges? Not at all; you must probe yourself. The soul is to begin there. When I judge the evil that my conscience knows, or that, if my conscience does not know now, it may learn in God's presence - if I begin with this, I shall then see clearly what concerns others; I shall have a heart fitted to enter into their circumstances, an eye purged from what unfits the heart to feel with God about others. "Thou 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" (ver. 5). This may be found in a believer, in principle; though when the Lord says, "Thou hypocrite," He alludes to the evil in its full form; but even in ourselves, we know it in measure, and what can be more opposed to simplicity and godly sincerity? Hypocrisy is the most hateful evil that can be found under the name of Christ - a thing that even the natural conscience writhes under and rejects. "Thou 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."

Often and often we find that when the beam is gone, the mote is not to be seen, having already disappeared. And where the heart is set upon the Lord, would we be sorry to find ourselves mistaken about our brother? Should I not rejoice to find the grace of the Lord in my brother, if I discover in self-judgment myself only to be wrong? This, may be painful to one, but the love of Christ in the believer's heart is gratified to know that Christ is spared this further dishonour.

This, then, is the first great principle our Lord here enjoins. The habit of judging others is to be watched against earnestly; and this, too, because it brings bitterness upon the spirit that indulges it, and unfits the soul for being able to deal rightly with another: for we are set in the body, as the apostle Paul shows, for the purpose of helping one another; and we are all members one of another.

But there is another thing. In watching against hasty and harsh judgment, there might be the abuse of grace. And the Lord immediately couples this with the former: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." We must carefully remember that the Lord is not here speaking about the gospel going out to sinners. God forbid that we should not carry out the grace of God to every quarter under heaven, because nothing less than this ought to be the desire and effort of every saint of God. All ought to have the spirit of active love going out after others, energetic desires for the salvation and the blessing of souls; for it were a sad shortcoming if it went not beyond souls being brought to Christ. Seeking to grow up into Christ and glorify Him in all things, to know and do the will of God is our calling. In this verse the Lord is not taking up the question of the gospel going out indiscriminately; for, if there be a difference, the gospel best suits those called "dogs", which, to the Jews, was a figure of all that is abominable. Speaking of thieves, drunkards, extortioners, etc., the apostle says: "Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."

It might be asked, Is not the wickedness of one man greater than that of another? On an earthly platform, one might say, Much every way; but God does not, in saving souls, make these distinctions. So, speaking of believers from among the Jews, the apostle says they had been "children of wrath, even as others." There may have been highly moral characters among them. Did this dispose them better towards God's grace? Alas, where the soul finds a justification of itself in what it is, nothing can be more dangerous. The apostle himself had been an example of this very thing. It is a hard thing for a man who had been building on his righteousness to bow to the truth that he can only enter heaven upon the ground of a publican and a sinner. But so it must be, if the soul is to receive salvation from God through the faith of Jesus.

The Lord, then, is not in anywise restraining the gospel from going out to every quarter; but He speaks of the relations of His own people with the unholy. The believer is not to bring out for these the special treasures that are the Christian portion. The gospel is the riches of God's grace to the world. But, besides the gospel, we have the special affections of Christ to the Church, His loving care for His servants, the hope! of His coining again, the glorious prospects of the Church as His bride, etc. If you were to talk about these things, which we may call the pearls of the saints, with those out of Christ, you are on wrong ground. If you were to insist upon the duties of the faithful in worldly company, then it is giving that which is holy unto the dogs. There is blessed provision for "the dogs" - the crumbs that fall from the Master's table. And such is the great grace of God toward us, that the crumbs which fall to our portion, Gentiles as we were, are the best.

Whatever may be the benefits promised to the Jew, the grace of God has brought out in the gospel fuller blessings than ever was promised to Israel. What can Israel have to compare with the mighty deliverance of God that we know now? The consciousness of being completely cleansed from all sin; of having the righteousness of God for ours at once and for ever in Christ; of present access to Him as Father through a rent veil; and made His temple through the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. As the Lord Himself said to the woman of Samaria, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." Where Christ is received now, by whomsoever it may be, there is this fulness of blessing, and the well is within the believer. "The water that I shall give hilt shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." Thus we may see how wide and perfect is His grace, while it forbids certain things being thrown indiscriminately among the ungodly. Any act that implies fellowship between a believer and an unbeliever is false. Take, for instance, the question of worship, and the habit of calling the whole round of devotions worship. Worship supposes communion with the Father and the Son, and with each other in it. But the system which, founded on an easy rite which pretends to regenerate all, unites believers and unbelievers in one common form and calls it worship, is casting what is holy unto dogs. Is it not a thinly-disguised attempt to put the sheep and dogs upon the same ground? In vain. You cannot unite before God the enemies of Christ and those that belong to Him. You cannot mingle as one people those that have got life and those that have not. The attempt to do so is sin, and constant dishonour of the Lord. All effort to have a worship of this mixed character is going in the very teeth of the sixth verse.

On the other hand, preaching the gospel, where it is kept distinct from worship, is right and blessed. When the day of judgment comes upon this world, where does the worst stroke fall? Not upon the openly profane world, but upon Babylon, because Babylon is the confusion of what is of Christ with evil - the attempt to make communion between light and darkness. "Come out of her, My people," says the Lord, "that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." Partaker of her sins is the grave affair with God. It is the acceptance of a common ground upon which the Church and the world can join; when the very object of God, and that for which Christ died, was that He might have a separate people unto Himself, so as to be, by their very consecration unto God, a light in this world - not a witness of pride, saying, "Stand by, I am holier than thou," but Christ's epistle, that tells the world where the living water is to be found, and bids them come: "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."

Where we do not confound the religion of the world with the worship that goes up to God from His people, there you will also have the true line of demarcation - where we ought to judge and where we ought not. There will be active service towards the world with the gospel, but a careful separation of the Church from the world. This is also true individually. Yet persons take advantage of the word of God that says, "If an unbeliever bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go," etc.; but take care how you go, and for what. If you go self-confident, you will but dishonour Christ; if to please yourself, this is poor ground; if to please other people, it is little better.

There may be occasions when the love of Christ would constrain a soul to go and bear a testimony to His love in a worldly company, yet if we knew how easily words may be said, and things done, that imply communion with that which is contrary to Christ, there would be fear and trembling; but where there is self-confidence, there never can be the power of God.

But now the Lord, having finished the subject of the abuse of judgment and the abuse of grace, indicates the necessity of intercourse with God, and this very particularly in connection with what we have been seeing. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (ver. 7). Here we have different degrees, increasing measures of earnestness in pleading with God: "For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (ver. 8). And then He gives them an argument to encourage them in this: "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? 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?" (vers. 9-11). There is a very interesting difference in the passage that answers to this in Luke 11, where, instead of saying, "give good things to them that ask Him," it is said, "How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" The Holy Spirit was not yet given. It was not that He did not act in the world, but He was not yet personally imparted, because that Jesus was not yet glorified. Scripture says this expressly. Thus, until the time when He was poured out from heaven, it was quite right to pray for the Spirit to be given; and the Gentiles in particular being persons that were ignorant about it, this is expressly mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, which especially contemplates the Gentiles. For who can read that Gospel without having the conviction that there is a careful eye upon those that have a Gentile origin? It was written by a Gentile, and to a Gentile; and all through it traces the Lord as Son of Man, a title which links itself, not with the Jewish nation properly and peculiarly, but with all men. This is the great want of man - the Holy Spirit, which was about to be given, and He is the great power of prayer, as it is said, "Praying in the Holy Ghost." Luke was led to specify that special gift which those that pray would need in order to give them energy in prayer.

But, returning to Matthew, we have the whole passage wound up by this word, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (ver. 12). This is in no way dealing with men according to their ways, but the contrary. It is saying, as it were, "You who know the heavenly Father, who know what His grace to the evil is, you know what is comely in His sight; always act upon that. Never act merely according to what another does toward you, but according to what you would that another should do to you. If you have the slightest love in your heart, you would desire that they should act as children of your Father." Whatever another person may do, my business is to do to them what I would that they should do to me; namely, to act in a way becoming the child of a heavenly Father. "This is the law and the prophets." He is giving them exceeding breadth, extracting the essence of all that was blessed there. This was clearly the gracious wish of a soul that knew God, even under the law; and nothing less than this could be the ground of action before God.

But now we come to dangers. There are not only brethren to try us, but now He says, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (vers. 13-15). There is a moral connection between the two things. One main feature of that which is false is the attempt to make the gate large and the road broad; to deny the special manner in which God calls souls to the knowledge of Himself. How the arrangements in the religious world interfere with this! Take, for instance, the parcelling out of those that belonged to God into companies, as if they were the sheep of man, which people do not scruple to call "our church," or "such a one's flock." God's rights, His claims, His calling a soul to walk in responsibility to Himself, are all interfered with by such things. We never find even an apostle saying, "My flock." It is always, "The flock of God," because this brings in responsibility to God. If they are His flock, I must take care that I do not lead them astray. It must be the object of my soul, in having to do with a Christian, to bring his soul into direct connection with God Himself, to say, "This is one of God's sheep." What a change this would make in the tone and ways of pastors, if it were viewed as the flock of God! It is the business of the true servant to keep them in the narrow path on which they have entered.

But there is also the broad-road-going world, who think that they can belong to God by profession of Christ and trying to keep the commandments. There has been the widening of the gate, the broadening of the road, in connection with which the Lord says, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." The true teachers sent from God suffer with the false ones if they are mixed up with the world. Being all bound together for common objects, whether they belong to God or not, those that are really true are often drawn of the rest into what they know to be wrong, And remember another solemn thing. The devil never would be able to accomplish any plan in Christendom if he could not get good people to join the bad in it. Unbelief constantly uses as an excuse, "Such a good man is here "; "The excellent Mr. - does that." But is the opinion and conduct of a Christian to be the criterion by which I judge? If so, there is nothing I may not fall into; for what evil thing is there that a man, and even a believer, has not done? You know what David had to confess before the Lord. And this is the way the devil takes to keep other persons quiet in evil. The sole standard for the believer is the written word of God; and this is the special security in these last days. When Paul was leaving the Ephesian saints, it was "to God and to the word of His grace" that he commended them. Grievous wolves might enter in among them, not sparing the flock; and of their own selves men might arise, speaking perverse things; but the sole safeguard, as a rule of faith and conduct for the saints, is God's holy writ.

Mass is the most wicked act of the most corrupt thing under the sun; but if the grace of God could enter there, and work by His Spirit, spite of the elevated host, who shall put limits? But is this a reason why I should go to a Roman Catholic chapel, worship the wafer, or pray to the Virgin? God in His sovereign grace can go anywhere; but if I desire to walk as a Christian, how am I to do it? There is but one standard - the will of God; and the will of God can be learned only through the Scriptures. I cannot reason from any amount of blessing there, nor from any apparent weakness here. Persons might be allowed to seem very weak for the express purpose of showing that the power is not in them, but in God. Although the apostles were such mighty men, they were often allowed to appear feeble indeed in the eyes of others. It was that which exposed Paul to be thought not an apostle by the Corinthians, though they, of all men, ought to have known better. All this shows that I cannot reason either from blessing that God's grace may work, or from the weakness of God's children. What we want is that which has no fault at all, and this is the word of God. I need it for my rule as a Christian man, and as walking together with all saints. If we act upon that Word, and nothing else, we ,;hall find God with us. It will be called bigotry; but this is part of the reproach of Christ. Faith will always appear proud to those who have none; but it will be proved in the day of the Lord to be the only humility, and that. everything which is not faith is pride, or no better. Faith admits that he who has it is nothing - that he has no power nor wisdom of his own, and he looks to God. May we be strong in faith, giving glory to Him!

But, again, "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." The Lord does not here speak simply of men being known by their fruits, but of false prophets (vers. 15-20). "Ye shall know them by their fruits." Where grace is denied, the holiness is hollow, or, at best, legal. Wherever grace is really held and preached, you will find two things - much greater care in what concerns God than where it is not equally known, and also greater tenderness, forbearance, and patience in what merely touches man. Winking at sin is one thing, but unscriptural severity is very far from divine righteousness, and may co-exist with the allowance of self in many a form. There are certain sins that call for rebuke, but it is only in the gravest cases that there ought to be extreme measures. We are not left to make laws about evil for ourselves: we are under responsibility to another, even to our Lord. We ought not in this to trust ourselves, but to learn the wisdom of God and confide in the perfectness of His word; and our business is to carry out what we find there. Let the help come from where it may, if we can thus but follow the word of God more fully, we ought to be exceedingly grateful.

Solemn, most solemn, are the words that follow, as the Lord's eye scans the field of profession. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven, Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (vers. 21-23). The Lord shows the stability of His word for the obedient heart, from the figure of a man building upon a rock; He shows also, as none but He could, the end of every one who hears and does not His sayings. But I must not enter upon this now.

The Lord grant that our hearts may be towards Himself! We shall be able to help one another, and we shall be helped of His own grace. Weak as we are, we shall be made to stand. And if through unwatchfulness we have slipped, the Lord will graciously set us upon our feet again.

May He grant us singleness of eye!