"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to my brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 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." (Matthew 7:1-5)
We often hear this advice quoted, and always applauded, but we seldom see it practiced. Every one is ready to rebuke another with it; but, with a strange inconsistency, few ever follow out the lesson themselves. Alas for the perverseness, the blindness, and moral obliquity of human nature! But we must not suppose that the Lord in this rebuke forbids all judgment, but only rash, uncharitable judgment. His reply to the pharisees who brought before Him the woman taken in adultery completely illustrates His meaning here: "Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone at her." (John 8:7) He did not mean that the wretched woman was without sin, but that her accusers were all sinners. He did not mean that all her accusers were guilty of the same sin with which they charged her; but that they were a lot of censorious hypocrites, who were as deeply guilty in another way as she was in that peculiar way, and that they had better look at home. Oh that we all could look within ourselves, when we are ready to pass judgment upon others! Would that we all knew that we ourselves are fallen, hell-deserving sinners when we are ready to be mercilessly severe upon others. "Who art thou, O man, that judgest another man's servant?" (Rom. 14:4) But it requires the light and grace of God to refrain from rash and uncharitable judgment. Without further preface, I would, first, open up this text for you, and prove that Christ does not forbid all judgment of others; and, secondly, I would explain what He does mean; and may the Spirit of God be with us to lead us into all truth and keep us from all error!
I. The context amply proves that Christ does not forbid all judgment. Look into ver. 6 "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."
First. Christ here speaks of certain men under the name of "dogs" and "swine." He warns His disciples against presenting holy things (holy doctrine, holy experience, holy truths) to dogs or swine. Paul uses the same expression, "Beware of dogs," says he, "beware of concision." (Phil. 3:2) "Beware of evil workers." Now in order to carry out these precepts, we must judge, those who are capable of forming an accurate judgment must use their judgment, in discerning between "dogs" and "sheep," between "swine" and "sheep." And how are we to do this? No man, not even an inspired apostle, has the power to judge off-hand as to who is a "dog" or who is a "sheep." There is many a "sheep" that to all outward appearances seems to be a "dog," and many a "dog" that to all outward appearances seems to be "sheep." How are we to judge them? By testing them by the word. We must try what effect the word of God has upon men. A passage in the Acts of the Apostles illustrates what I mean: "And the next Sabbath-day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:44-46) Those Jews rejected the word of God and blasphemed when they had heard it. The apostles then concluded the rejecters and blasphemers were "dogs," and consequently troubled themselves no more about them. And even here, we must not be final in our judgment, for you remember that Paul himself, at one time, was a blasphemer, and consequently to all appearance a "dog," yet he was all the while a dear sheep of Christ's. But we must try men by the word of God, and, if they reject it and blaspheme, we must conclude they are "dogs" or "swine," and not trouble ourselves any more with them. Now, there are very many who call themselves Christians who are nothing but dogs to all appearance. They reject the word, they declare their hatred to it, and blaspheme when they hear it. We must judge those people. For instance, I put the plan of God's salvation before men, I tell them that God has a right to do what He wills with His creatures, that it is by the merits of Christ only that men are to be saved, that human works have nothing whatever to do with salvation, etc. If I find that men reject these truths I conclude they are dogs or swine.
Secondly. That Christ does not forbid all judgment is apparent from ver. 15-20. Christ here speaks of certain men who were "false prophets," and puts us on our guard against them. Now in order to profit by this warning, it is clear we must judge, we who are capable of forming a correct judgment must compare and consider. No man can possibly distinguish between a false prophet and a true one off-hand. And how are we to carry out Christ's injunction? False prophets are very cunning, very plausible, very subtle. They assume the humility of sheep though they are really treacherous and devouring wolves. How are we to judge, then, between the false and the true? "By their fruits," says Christ. But then there are imitation fruits as well as genuine fruits. There are "apples of Sodom" that to all appearance are like the fruits of paradise, and there are "grapes of Eshcol," and "wild grapes," too. Ay, quite true; and here again we must judge. But how can we judge according to righteous judgment, except we have wisdom--except we have had a proper training or spiritual education? There are thousands of professors of Christianity who are wholly incapable of judging between the fruits of a hypocrite and the fruits of a real child of God. I might illustrate this by the case of the pharisee in the parable. He bore fruit--a deal of fruit, and to all outward appearance good fruit, too. He bore prayer, morality, honesty, purity, self-denial. All beauteous, glorious fruits. But still Christ rejected him, and to all intents and purposes pronounced him a "dog," a "false prophet." And why? Simply because this man's apparently-beautiful fruits came from a bad tree, a self-righteous stock. See you not the difficulty of judging, then? Yet we must judge if we would beware of false prophets. How are we to judge? By going direct to the stock or trunk of the tree, and this no man can be a judge of who is not a regenerate man. To follow out the figure: if the stock be hard and stiff and unbending, the fruit must be bad, no matter how lovely it may look. If, on the other hand, the stock be unsightly (like the vine) and bent, and needing props, its fruits, though not so attractive to look at as that of the other tree, is beauteous in the sight of God. In other words, a false prophet may be known by his self-righteousness, to begin with. A true prophet may be known by his whole dependence upon God for acceptance.
Thirdly. That Christ does not forbid all judgment is apparent from the directions left to the saints by the apostles.
1. We are commanded to turn away from certain sorts of professors. This we could not do except we judged between professor and professor.
2. We are commanded to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." This we could not do except we judged between doctrine and doctrine, precept and precept.
3. We are commanded to try the spirits, whether they be of God. (1 John 4:1) This we could not do except we judged between teacher and teacher. In short, magistrates must judge, ministers must judge, and saints must judge; so that the Lord's command in our text does not all bear upon necessary, unavoidable, indispensable judgment. We must judge, and we must call things by their right names, if we would not be led away by every wind of doctrine, or deny the evidence of our senses.
II. And now I will tell you what the Lord does mean by the caution and rebuking of the text.
First. It is all rash and unwarranted or uncharitable judgment He forbids.
Secondly. It is that curious, meddling, censorious inquiry into other men's faults, so common amongst pharisees, that the Lord denounces.
Thirdly. It is that daring assumption that we are intrinsically better than others--that accursed pride that induces some to say, "Stand by, for I am holier than thou," that Christ rebukes in our text.
Oh, let us all beware of it! My dear hearers, let me tell you this is no uncommon sin amongst professors of religion. Many seem to gloat over the shortcomings, the infirmities, the sins of others. They seem to take a pride in magnifying the iniquities of their fellow-sinners, whilst they take care to observe a perfect silence about their own. It has been well said, "Men are more apt to use spectacles than looking-glasses." Ay, and so they are. Not only spectacles, but telescopes and microscopes do men employ for the purpose of searching out faults and magnifying sins in others, but they never take the looking-glass to get a glimpse at their own deformity and hideousness. How seldom do we hear of professors looking at home. Searching their own hearts and their own houses for sins, that must be as abominable in God's sight, and, unless God interferes, will as assuredly be the damning of them, as the sins of the most notorious profligates. "Blinder than beetles at home, keener than eagles abroad." as an old writer has it. What a shocking state of mind is this! How plainly it bespeaks the hardened heart, the unsubdued spirit, the unawakened and unjustified soul, the seared conscience. I warn some of you. I do not say that you are to pretend to believe such or such a one is a sober, moral man, when you know him to be the opposite; but I would have you ask yourselves this question, "Is there not something in us which is as hateful to God as insobriety or immorality? Have we no pride, no covetousness, no hatred, no malignity, no selfishness, to be pardoned or covered over by atoning blood?" I would have you ask yourselves, "Is there not another side to the question to what we have heard? May there not have been some extenuating circumstances, which, if known, would have placed this man's or that man's character in a more favorable light?" "If such or such a one committed sins that we have not, who has made us to differ from another?" Ah, my hearers, thus does Christ speak to you and me in my text. Take the beam out of your own eye before you proffer to take the mote out of your brother's eye. Let us all handle sin gently in the judgment of charity, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted. Let us judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord. Let us remember it is the office of angels, not ours, to separate the sheep from the goats, the tares from the wheat, the elect from the reprobate. We have nothing whatever to do with this. And now let me conclude with two great truths. The greatest censurers are commonly the greatest hypocrites. They who have the deepest sense of their own sinfulness are the most merciful to their fellow-sinners, and are most severe against themselves.
The recent death of a parishioner, and the comments freely passed upon him, have led me into this strain. I am not his apologist, I am not his judge. His life certainly gave no evidence of the great change that all must pass through if they would inherit heaven; but who knows, or who will dare say, what took place upon his deathbed? That is a secret between him and God! But this I will say, he did not reject or blaspheme the doctrines of sovereign grace which many high-sounding professors in this village hate with a most cordial hatred; and, knowing as we do, that salvation is wholly irrespective of goodness or badness, who can say that this sinner may not prove to be a monument of everlasting mercy? I pronounce no opinion. Let us all remember the text.