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Matthew 7:12-20

In this part of the Sermon on the Mount our Lord begins to draw his discourse to a conclusion. The lessons he here forces on our notice are broad, general and full of the deepest wisdom. Let us mark them in succession.

He lays down a general principle for our guidance in all doubtful questions between man and man. “We are to do to others as we would have others do to us.”We are not to deal with others as others deal with us: this is mere selfishness and heathenism. We are to deal with others as we would like others to deal with us—this is real Christianity.

There is a golden rule indeed! It does not merely forbid all petty malice and revenge, all cheating and overreaching: it does much more. It settles a hundred difficult points which, in a world like this, are continually arising between man and man. It prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases. It sweeps the whole debatable ground with one mighty principle. It shows us a balance and measure by which everyone may see at once what is his duty. Is there a thing we would not like our neighbor to do to us? Then let us always remember that this is the thing we ought not to do to him. Is there a thing we would like him to do to us? Then this is the very thing we ought to do to him. How many intricate questions would be decided at once if this rule were honestly used!

In the second place, our Lord gives us a general caution against the way of many in religion. It is not enough to think as others think, and do as others do. It must not satisfy us to follow the fashion, and swim with the stream of those among whom we live. He tells us that the way that leads to everlasting life is “narrow,” and “ few” travel in it. He tells us that the way that leads to everlasting destruction is “broad,” and full of travelers: “many enter there be that go in there at.”

These are fearful truths! They ought to raise great searchings of heart in the minds of all who hear them. “Which way am I going? By what road am I traveling?” In one or other of the two ways here described, every one of us may be found. May God give us an honest, self-inquiring spirit, and show us what we are!

We may well tremble and be afraid if our religion is that of the multitude. If we can say no more than this, that “we go where others go, and worship where others worship, and hope we shall do as well as others at last,” we are literally pronouncing our own condemnation. What is this but being in the “broad way” ? What is this but being in the road whose end is “destruction?” Our religion at present is not saving religion.

We have no reason to be discouraged and cast down if the religion we profess is not popular and few agree with us. We must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in this passage: “ the gate is straight.” Repentance, and faith in Christ and holiness of life have never been fashionable. The true flock of Christ has always been small. It must not move us to find that we are reckoned singular and peculiar and bigoted and narrow-minded. This is “the narrow way.” Surely it is better to enter into life eternal with a few, than to go to “destruction” with a great company.

In the last place the Lord Jesus gives us a general warning against false teachers in the church. We are to “beware of false prophets.” The connection between this passage and the preceding one is striking. Would we keep clear of this “broad way?” We must beware of false prophets. They will arise: they began in the days of the apostles; even then the seeds of error were sown. They have appeared continually ever since. We must be prepared for them, and be on our guard.

This is a warning which is much needed. There are thousands who seem ready to believe anything in religion if they hear it from an ordained minister. They forget that clergymen may err as much as laymen: they are not infallible. Their teaching must be weighed in the balance of holy Scripture: they are to be followed and believed so long as their doctrine agrees with the Bible, but not a minute longer. We are to try them “by their fruits.”Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets. Let us remember this. Our minister’s mistakes will not excuse our own. “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch.” ( Matthew ).

What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the Word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105 ). The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would fain have us believe that “they are not learned, and do not pretend to have decided opinions.” The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.

May we all bear in mind our Lord’s warning! The world, the devil and the flesh are not the only dangers in the way of the Christian; there remainsanother yet, and that is the “false prophet”—the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Happy is he who prays over his Bible and knows the difference between truth and error in religion! There is a difference, and we are meant to know it, and to use our knowledge.

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