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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.
When our Lord says, “Judge not”he 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 “try the spirits” (1 Thess.5:21 1 John 4:1 ). 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 anyone 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; wrong-doing would abound.
What our Lord means to condemn is a censorious and fault-finding spirit. A readiness to blame others for trifling offenses 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. It was common among the Pharisees. It has always been common from their day down to the present time. We must 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 (I Corinthians 13:7.)
The second portion of these verses teaches us the importance of exercising discretion as to the persons 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 persons. “Reprove not a scorner,” says Solomon, “lest he hate thee” ( Proverbs 9:8 ). It is not everybody to whom it is wise to open our minds 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 we try to do good to their souls. To name the name of Christ to such people is truly to “cast 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 ( 18:6 ), or like Nabal, of whom it is written that he was “such a son of Belial that a man could not speak unto him” ( 1 Samuel 25:17 ).
The lesson before us is one which 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” ( Ecclesiastes 3:7 ). It is lesson, however, which ought to stir up a spirit of self-inquiry in all our hearts. Do we ourselves never check our friends from giving us good advice, by our moroseness and irritability of temper? Have we never obliged others to hold their peace and say nothing, by our pride and impatient contempt of counsel? Have we never turned against our kind advisers, and silenced them by our violence and passion? We may well fear that we have often erred in this matter.
The last portion of these verses teaches us 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” and “knock.”He holds out the broadest, fullest promise to those who pray: “Everyone that asketh receiveth.”He illustrates God’s readiness to hear our prayers by an argument drawn from the well-known practice of parents on earth. “Evil” and selfish as they are by nature, they do not neglect the wants of their children according to the flesh; 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 generally tell us that “if we do not seek we shall not find.” But what is the good of knowing it, if we do not use it? Knowledge not improved and well employed will only increase our condemnation on the last day.
Do we know anything of this asking, seeking and knocking? Why should we not? This is nothing so simple and plain as praying if a man really has a will to pray. There is nothing unhappily which men so slow to do: they will use many of the forms of religion, attend many ordinances, do many things that are right, before they we 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 except 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. Those words have never yet failed: “Everyone that asketh receiveth.”
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