World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. 6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. 7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” 28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Profaning the Holy
Ask, Search, Knock
The Golden Rule
The Narrow Gate
A Tree and Its Fruit
Hearers and Doers
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7:1. Judge not These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears to be natural to us all. We see how all flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure on others. This vice is attended by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. All acknowledge, indeed, that it is an intolerable evil, that those who overlook their own vices are so inveterate against their brethren. The Heathens, too, in ancient times, condemned it in many proverbs. Yet it has existed in all ages, and exists, too, in the present day. Nay, it is accompanied by another and a worse plague: for the greater part of men think that, when they condemn others, they acquire a greater liberty of sinning.
This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says, Judge not. It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge: for otherwise the proper bounds of rigor will be exceeded by every man who desires to pass sentence on his brethren. There is a similar expression in the Apostle James, Be not many masters, (James 3:1.) for he does not discourage or withdraw believers from discharging the office of teachers, but forbids them to desire the honor from motives of ambition. To judge, therefore, means here, to be influenced by curiosity in inquiring into the actions of others. This disease, in the first place, draws continually along with it the injustice of condemning any trivial fault, as if it had been a very heinous crime; and next breaks out into the insolent presumption of looking disdainfully at every action, and passing an unfavourable judgment on it, even when it might be viewed in a good light.
We now see, that the design of Christ was to guard us against indulging excessive eagerness, or peevishness, or malignity, or even curiosity, in judging our neighbors. He who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments. Hence it is evident, that this passage is altogether misapplied by those persons who would desire to make that moderation, which Christ recommends, a pretence for setting aside all distinction between good and evil. We are not only permitted, but are even bound, to condemn all sins; unless we choose to rebel against God himself, — nay, to repeal his laws, to reverse his decisions, and to overturn his judgment-seat. It is his will that we should proclaim the sentence which he pronounces on the actions of men: only we must preserve such modesty towards each other, as to make it manifest that he is the only Lawgiver and Judge, (Isaiah 33:22.)
That you may not be judged He denounces a punishment against those severe judges, who take so much delight in sifting the faults of others. They will not be treated by others with greater kindness, but will experience, in their turn, the same severity which they had exercised towards others. As nothing is dearer or more valuable to us than our reputation, so nothing is more bitter than to be condemned, or to be exposed to the reproaches and infamy of men. And yet it is by our own fault that we draw upon ourselves that very thing which our nature so strongly detests, for which of us is there, who does not examine too severely the actions of others; who does not manifest undue rage against slight offenses; or who does not peevishly censure what was in itself indifferent? And what is this but deliberately to provoke God, as our avenger, to treat us in the same manner. Now, though it is a just judgment of God, that those who have judged others should be punished in their turn, yet the Lord executes this punishment by the instrumentality of men. Chrysostom and others limit this statement to the present life: but that is a forced interpretation. Isaiah threatens (33:1) that those who have spoiled others shall be spoiled. In like manner, our Lord means, that there will be no want of executioners to punish the injustice and slander of men with equal bitterness or severity. And if men shall fail to receive punishment in this world, those who have shown undue eagerness in condemning their brethren will not escape the judgment of God.
Matthew 7:3. And why seest thou the straw? He expressly touches upon a fault, which is usually found in hypocrites. While they are too quick-sighted in discerning the faults of others, and employ not only severe, but intentionally exaggerated, language in describing them, they throw their own sins behind their back, or are so ingenious in finding apologies for them, that they wish to be held excusable even in very gross offenses. Christ therefore reproves both evils: the excessive sagacity, which arises from a defect of charity, when we sift too closely the faults of brethren, and the indulgence by which we defend and cherish our own sins.
6. Give not that which is holy It is unnecessary to repeat oftener, that Matthew gives us here detached sentences, which ought not to be viewed as a continued discourse. The present instruction is not at all connected with what came immediately before, but is entirely separate from it. Christ reminds the Apostles, and, through them, all the teachers of the Gospel, to reserve the treasure of heavenly wisdom for the children of God alone, and not to expose it to unworthy and profane despisers of his word.
But here a question arises: for he afterwards commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature, (Mark 16:15;) and Paul says, that the preaching of it is a deadly savor to wicked men, (2 Corinthians 2:16;) and nothing is more certain than that it is every day held out to unbelievers, by the command of God, for a testimony, that they may be rendered the more inexcusable. I reply: As the ministers of the Gospel, and those who are called to the office of teaching, cannot distinguish between the children of God and swine, it is their duty to present the doctrine of salvation indiscriminately to all. Though many may appear to them, at first, to be hardened and unyielding, yet charity forbids that such persons should be immediately pronounced to be desperate. It ought to be understood, that dogs and swine are names given not to every kind of debauched men, or to those who are destitute of the fear of God and of true godliness, but to those who, by clear evidences, have manifested a hardened contempt of God, so that their disease appears to be incurable. In another passage, Christ places the dogs in contrast with the elect people of God and the household of faith, It is not proper to take the children’s bread, and give it to dogs, (Matthew 15:27.) But by dogs and swine he means here those who are so thoroughly imbued with a wicked contempt of God, that they refuse to accept any remedy.
Hence it is evident, how grievously the words of Christ are tortured by those who think that he limits the doctrine of the Gospel to those only who are teachable and well-prepared. For what will be the consequence, if nobody is invited by pious teachers, until by his obedience he has anticipated the grace of God? On the contrary, we are all by nature unholy, and prone to rebellion. The remedy of salvation must be refused to none, till they have rejected it so basely when offered to them, as to make it evident that they are reprobate and self-condemned, (αὐτοκατάκριτοι,) as Paul says of heretics, (Titus 3:11.)
There are two reasons, why Christ forbade that the Gospel should be offered to lost despisers. It is an open profanation of the mysteries of God to expose them to the taunts of wicked men. Another reason is, that Christ intended to comfort his disciples, that they might not cease to bestow their labors on the elect of God in teaching the Gospel, though they saw it wantonly rejected by wicked and ungodly men. His meaning is lest this inestimable treasure should be held in little estimation, swine and dogs must not be permitted to approach it. There are two designations which Christ bestows on the doctrine of salvation: he calls it holy, and compares it to pearls. Hence we learn how highly we ought to esteem this doctrine.
Lest these trample them under their feet Christ appears to distinguish between the swine and the dogs: attributing brutal stupidity to the swine, and rage to the dogs And certainly, experience shows, that there are two such classes of despisers of God. Whatever is taught in Scripture, for instance, about the corrupt nature of man, free justification, and eternal election, is turned by many into an encouragement to sloth and to carnal indulgence. Such persons are fitly and justly pronounced to be swine Others, again, tear the pure doctrine, and its ministers, with sacrilegious reproaches, as if they threw away all desire to do well, all fear of God, and all care for their salvation. Although he employs both names to describe the incurable opponents of the Word of God, yet, by a twofold comparison, he points out briefly in what respect the one differs from the other.
Matthew 7:7. Ask, and it shall be given you It is an exhortation to prayer: and as in this exercise of religion, which ought to be our first concern, we are so careless and sluggish, Christ presses the same thing upon us under three forms of expression. There is no superfluity of language, when he says, Ask, seek, knock: but lest the simple doctrine should be unimpressive, he perseveres in order to rouse us from our inactivity. Such is also the design of the promises that are added, Ye shall find, it shall be given to you, and it shall be opened Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard. Those who doubt can only pray in an indifferent manner; and prayer, unaccompanied by faith, is an idle and unmeaning ceremony. Accordingly, Christ, in order to excite us powerfully to this part of our duty, not only enjoins what we ought to do, but promises that our prayers shall not be fruitless.
This ought to be carefully observed. First, we learn from it, that this rule of prayer is laid down and prescribed to us, that we may be fully convinced, that God will be gracious to us, and will listen to our requests. Again, whenever we engage in prayer, or whenever we feel that our ardor in prayer is not sufficiently strong, we ought to remember the gentle invitation, by which Christ assures us of God’s fatherly kindness. Each of us, trusting to the grace of Christ, will thus attain confidence in prayer, and will venture freely to call upon God
“through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom (as Paul says)
we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him,”
But, as we are too prone to distrust, Christ, in order to correct this fault also, repeats the promise in a variety of words. He uses the metaphor seek, because we think, that those things which our wants and necessities require are far distant from us — and knock, because our carnal senses imagine, that those things which are not immediately at hand are shut up.
8. For every one that asketh receiveth Some think that this is a proverbial saying taken from common life: but I am more inclined to a different view. Christ presents the grace of his Father to those who pray. He tells us, that God is of himself prepared to listen to us, provided we pray to him, and that his riches are at our command, provided we ask them. These words imply, that those who are destitute of what is necessary, and yet do not resort to this remedy for their poverty, are justly punished for their slothfulness. It is certain, indeed, that often, when believers are asleep, God keeps watch over their salvation, and anticipates their wishes. Nothing could be more miserable for us than that, amidst our great indifference, or—I would rather say—amidst our great stupidity, God were to wait for our prayers, or that, amidst our great thoughtlessness, he were to take no notice of us. Nay more, it is only from himself that he is induced to bestow upon us faith, which goes before all prayers in order and in time. But as Christ here addresses disciples, he merely reminds us in what manner our heavenly Father is pleased to bestow upon us his gifts. Though he gives all things freely to us, yet, in order to exercise our faith, he commands us to pray, that he may grant to our requests those blessings which flow from his undeserved goodness.
9. Is there any man among you? It is a comparison from the less to the greater. First, our Lord contrasts the malice of men with the boundless goodness of God. Self-love (φιλαυτία) renders us malicious: for every man is too much devoted to himself, and neglects and disregards others. But this vice yields to the stronger feelings of a father’s love, so that men forget themselves, and give to their children with overflowing liberality. Whence comes this, but because God, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, (Ephesians 3:15,) drops into their hearts a portion of his goodness? But if the little drops produce such an amount of beneficence, what ought we to expect from the inexhaustible ocean? Would God, who thus opens the hearts of men, shut his own? Let us also remember that passage of Isaiah, “Though a mother forget her children,” (Isaiah 49:15,) yet the Lord will be like himself,466466 “Le Seigneur ne changera point;” — “the Lord will not change.” and will always show himself to be a Father.
11. Your Father will give good things This is expressly mentioned by Christ, that believers may not give way to foolish and improper desires in prayer. We know how great influence, in this respect, is exerted by the excesses and presumption of our flesh. There is nothing which we do not allow ourselves to ask from God; and if he does not humor our folly, we exclaim against him. Christ therefore enjoins us to submit our desires to the will of God, that he may give us nothing more than he knows to be advantageous. We must not think that he takes no notice of us, when he does not answer our wishes: for he has a right to distinguish what we actually need. All our affections being blind, the rule of prayer must be sought from the word of God: for we are not competent judges of so weighty a matter. He who desires to approach God with the conviction that he will be heard, must learn to restrain his heart from asking any thing that is not agreeable to his will.
“Ye ask, and receive not,
because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
Instead of good things (ἀγαθὰ) in the last clause, Luke says the Holy Spirit This does not exclude other benefits, but points out what we ought chiefly to ask: for we ought never to forget the exhortation, Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all other things shall be added to you, (Matthew 6:33.) It is the duty of the children of God, when they engage in prayer, to strip themselves of earthly affections, and to rise to meditation on the spiritual life. In this way, they will set little value on food and clothing, as compared to the earnest and pledge of their adoption, (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:14:) and when God has given so valuable a treasure, he will not refuse smaller favors.
Matthew 7:12. All things whatsoever you would wish The word therefore (οὖν) is superfluous, as we often find such particles occurring, and without any addition to the sense, in detached sentences.467467 Greek proverbs, even when exhibited in a detached form, are frequently introduced by ἀλλὰ and γὰρ, and similar particles, instances of which must be familiar to the classical reader. ̔Αλλ ᾿ οὐ τὸ μέγα ευ ἐστι, τὸ δὲ εὖ μέγα. “But not what is great is excellent, but what is excellent is great.” ́̔Ινα γὰρ δέος, ἔνθα καὶ αἰδὼς” For where fear is, there also is shame.” Πόνος γὰρ ὡς λέγουσιν, εὐκλεϊης, πατὴρ. “For labor, as they say, is the father of glory. The fact chiefly to be noticed here is, that such particles came to be regarded as a part of the proverb, and were hardly ever separated from it: though their use must originally have been elliptical, like that of γὰρ, which opens many a reply in Greek dialogues. — Ed. I have already said, that Matthew does not give here a single discourse, but a summary of doctrine collected out of many sermons. We must, therefore, read this sentence by itself. It is an exhortation to his disciples to be just, and contains a short and simple definition of what justice means. We are here informed, that the only reason why so many quarrels exist in the world, and why men inflict so many mutual injuries on each other, is, that they knowingly and willingly trample justice under their feet, while every man rigidly demands that it shall be maintained towards himself.
Where our own advantage is concerned, there is not one of us, who cannot explain minutely and ingeniously what ought to be done. And since every man shows himself to be a skillful teacher of justice for his own advantage, how comes it, that the same knowledge does not readily occur to him, when the profit or loss of another is at stake, but because we wish to be wise for ourselves only, and no man cares about his neighbors? What is more, we maliciously and purposely shut our eyes upon the rule of justice, which shines in our hearts. Christ therefore shows, that every man may be a rule of acting properly and justly towards his neighbors, if he do to others what he requires to be done to him. He thus refutes all the vain pretenses, which men contrive for hiding or disguising their injustice. Perfect justice would undoubtedly prevail among us, if we were as faithful in learning active charity, (if we may use the expression,) as we are skillful in teaching passive charity.468468 “Si nous estions aussi bons disciples a prattiquer la charite active (si ainsi faut dire) comme nous sommes subtils docteurs a prescher la charite passive.” — “If we were as good scholars in practising active charity, (if I may so express it,) as we are dexterous instructors in preaching passive charity.”
For this is the law and the prophets Our Lord does not intend to say, that this is the only point of doctrine laid down in the law and the prophets, but that all the precepts which they contain about charity, and all the laws and exhortations found in them about maintaining justice, have a reference to this object. The meaning is, that the second table of the law is fulfilled, when every man conducts himself in the same manner towards others, as he wishes them to conduct themselves towards him. There is no need, he tells us, of long and involved debates, if this simplicity is preserved, and if men do not, by inordinate self-love, efface the rectitude which is engraven on their hearts.
13. Enter in by the strait gate As nothing is more opposed to the flesh than the doctrine of Christ, no man will ever make great proficiency in it who has not learned to confine his senses and feelings, so as to keep them within those boundaries, which our heavenly Teacher prescribes for curbing our wantonness. As men willingly flatter themselves, and live in gaiety and dissipation, Christ here reminds his disciples, that they must prepare to walk, as it were, along a narrow and thorny road But as it is difficult to restrain our desires from wicked licentiousness and disorder, he soothes this bitterness by a joyful remuneration, when he tells us, that the narrow gate, and the narrow road, lead to life Lest we should be captivated, on the other hand, by the allurements of a licentious and dissolute life, and wander as the lust of the flesh draws us,469469 (“Comme facilement les appetits de la chair nous tirent en leurs filets;”) —(“as the appetites of the flesh easily draw us into their nets.”) he declares that they rush headlong to death, who choose to walk along the broad road, and through the wide gate, instead of keeping by the strait gate, and narrow way, which lead to life
He expressly says, that many run along the broad road: because men ruin each other by wicked examples.470470 “Pource que les hommes se poussent les uns les autres au chemin de damnation par mauvais exemple;” — “because men urge each other on in the road to damnation by bad example.” For whence does it arise, that each of them knowingly and wilfully rushes headlong, but because, while they are ruined in the midst of a vast crowd, they do not believe that they are ruined? The small number of believers, on the other hand, renders many persons careless. It is with difficulty that we are brought to renounce the world, and to regulate ourselves and our life by the manners of a few. We think it strange that we should be forcibly separated from the vast majority, as if we were not a part of the human race. But though the doctrine of Christ confines and hems us in, reduces our life to a narrow road, separates us from the crowd, and unites us to a few companions, yet this harshness ought not to prevent us from striving to obtain life.
It is sufficiently evident from Luke’s Gospel, that the instruction, which we are now considering, was uttered by Christ at a different time from that on which he delivered the paradoxes,471471 “Quand il a prononce ces sentences que nous avons veues par ci de-vant, monstrant tout au contraire de l’opinion commune;” — “when he pronounced those sentences which we have formerly seen, showing it to be altogether contrary to the common opinion.” which we have formerly examined, about a happy life, (Matthew 5:3-12,) and laid down to them the rule of prayer. And this is what I have repeatedly hinted, that the instructions which are related by the other Evangelists, at different times, according to the order of the history, were here collected by Matthew into one summary, that he might bring more fully under our view the manner in which Christ taught his disciples. I have therefore thought it best to introduce here the whole passage from Luke, which corresponds to this sentence. While I have been careful to inform my readers, as to the order of time which is observed by Luke, they will forgive me, I hope, for not being more exact472472 “Si je n'ay pas este plus scrupuleux ou curieux en conferant les passages tendans a un mesme poinct de doctrine;” — “if I have not been more careful or exact in comparing the passages relating to the same point of doctrine.” than Matthew in the arrangement of the doctrine.
Matthew 7:15. But beware of false prophets These words were intended to teach, that the Church would be exposed to various impositions, and that consequently many would be in danger of falling from the faith, if they were not carefully on their guard. We know what a strong propensity men have to falsehood, so that they not only have a natural desire to be deceived, but each individual appears to be ingenious in deceiving himself. Satan, who is a wonderful contriver of delusions, is constantly laying snares to entrap ignorant and heedless persons. It was a general expectation among the Jews that, under the reign of Christ, their condition would be delightful, and free from all contest or uneasiness. He therefore warns his disciples that, if they desire to persevere, they must prepare themselves to avoid the snares of Satan. It is the will of the Lord, (as has been already said,) that his Church shall be engaged in uninterrupted war in this world. That we may continue to be his disciples to the end, it is not enough that we are merely submissive, and allow ourselves to be governed by his Word. Our faith, which is constantly attacked by Satan, must be prepared to resist.
It is of the greatest consequence, undoubtedly, that we should suffer ourselves to be directed by good and faithful ministers of Christ: but as false teachers, on the other hand, make their appearance, if we do not carefully watch, and if we are not fortified by perseverance, we shall be easily carried off from the flock. To this purpose also is that saying of Christ:
“The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd; and a stranger
they do not follow, but flee from him,” (John 10:3, 5)
Hence too we infer, that there is no reason why believers should be discouraged or alarmed, when wolves creep into the fold of Christ, when false prophets endeavor to corrupt the purity of the faith by false doctrines. They ought rather to be aroused to keep watch: for it is not without reason that Christ enjoins them to be on their guard. Provided that we are not led astray through our own sluggishness, we shall be able to avoid every kind of snares; and, indeed, without this confidence, we would not have the courage necessary for being on our guard. Now that we know that the Lord will not fail to perform his promises, whatever may be the attacks of Satan, let us go boldly to the Lord, asking from him the Spirit of wisdom, by whose influences he not only seals on our hearts the belief of his truth, but exposes the tricks and impositions of Satan, that we may not be deceived by them. When Christ says, that they come to us in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves, his meaning is, that they do not want a very plausible pretense, if prudence be not exercised in subjecting them to a thorough examination.
16. From their fruits you shall know them Had not this mark of distinction been added, we might have called in question the authority of all teachers without exception. If there is a mortal danger to be dreaded in teachers, and if we see no way of avoiding it, we shall be under the necessity of holding them all suspected: and there will be no better or shorter method than to keep our ears shut against them all. We see that ungodly men, to screen themselves when rejecting every kind of doctrine, hold out this danger, and that weak and ill-informed persons remain in a state of perplexity. That our reverence for the Gospel, and for its faithful ministers and teachers, may not be diminished, Christ enjoins us to form our opinion of the false prophets from their fruits It is with a very bad grace that the Papists, in order to excite hatred against us, quote directly this exhortation of Christ, Beware of false prophets, and by their clamors induce ignorant people to avoid us, without knowing why. But whoever desires to follow our Lord’s advice must judge wisely and with just discretion. For ourselves, we not only acknowledge freely that men ought to beware of false prophets, but we carefully and earnestly exhort simple people to beware of them. Only we warn them that, agreeably to the rule which Christ has laid down, they should first make a strict examination, that simple people may not reject the pure Word of God, and suffer the punishment of their own rashness. There is a wide difference between wise caution and perverse squeamishness.476476 “Il y a grande difference entre une bonne facon de se donner garde d'estre trompe, et un deboutement temeraire sans savoir pourquoy.” — “There is a great difference between a proper method of guarding against being deceived, and a hasty rejection without knowing, why.” It is a heinous wickedness in the Papists to repeal the command of Christ, by infusing into unhappy persons an unfounded dread,477477 “Par une vaine crainte, qu'ils leur proposent;” — “by a vain dread which they hold out to them.” which deters them from making inquiry. Let this be regarded by us as a first principl that those who tremblingly reject or avoid a doctrine unknown to them, act improperly, and are very far from obeying the command of Christ.
It now remains to be seen, what are the fruits which Christ points out. Those who confine them to the life are, in my opinion, mistaken. As pretended sanctity, and I know not what masks belonging to greater austerity of life, are frequently held out by some of the worst impostors, this would be a very uncertain test. Their hypocrisy, I do own, is at length discovered; for nothing is more difficult than to counterfeit virtue. But Christ did not intend to submit his doctrine to a decision so unjust in itself, and so liable to be misunderstood, as to have it estimated by the life of men. Under the fruits the manner of teaching is itself included, and indeed holds the chief place: for Christ proves that he was sent by God from this consideration, that
“he seeketh not his own glory,
but the glory of the Father who sent him,” (John 7:18.)
Is it objected, that few persons are endued with such acuteness, as to distinguish good fruits from bad? I answer, as I have already said: Believers are never deprived of the Spirit of wisdom, where his assistance is needful, provided they distrust themselves, renounce their own judgment, and give themselves up wholly to his direction. Let us remember, however, that all doctrines must be brought to the Word of God as the standard, and that, in judging of false prophets, the rule of faith holds the chief place. We must also consider what God enjoins on his prophets and the ministers of his word: for in this way their faithfulness may be easily ascertained. If, for example, we place before our minds what Paul requires in bishops, (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9,) that description will be sufficient of itself to condemn the whole mass of Popery: for the Popish priests seem as if they purposely intended to present an opposite picture. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if they forbid men to form a judgment of false prophets. But this passage clearly shows, that their titles ought to go for nothing, and that not much regard ought to be had even to their calling, if those who receive the name of pastors, and are called to the office of teachers, do not faithfully answer to their charge.
Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? By these proverbs, which were then in common use and universally received, Christ confirms his statement, that no man can be deceived by false prophets, unless he is wilfully blind: for the fruits as plainly discover upright servants of God, and unfaithful workmen, as the fruits point out the nature of the tree.
Matthew 7:21. Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord. Christ extends his discourse farther: for he speaks not only of false prophets, who rush upon the flock to tear and devour, but of hirelings, who insinuate themselves, under fair appearances, as pastors, though they have no feeling of piety.478478 “Combien qu'au dedans ils n'ayent point d'affection de crainte de Dieu;” — “though at bottom they have no feeling of the fear of God.” This doctrine embraces all hypocrites, whatever may be their rank or station, but at present he refers particularly to pretended teachers,479479 “Les docteurs feints et doubles;” — “reigned and deceitful teachers.” who seem to excel others. He not only directs his discourse to them, to rouse them from the indifference, in which they lie asleep like drunk people, but also warns believers, not to estimate such masks beyond their proper value. In a word, he declares that, so soon as the doctrine of the Gospel shall have begun to bear fruit by obtaining many disciples, there will not only be very many of the common people who falsely and hypocritically submit to it, but even in the rank of pastors there will be the same treachery, so that they will deny by their actions and life what they profess with the mouth.480480 “Ce qu'ils enseignent et confessent de bouche;” — “what they teach and confess with the mouth.” Whoever then desires to be reckoned among the disciples, must labor to devote himself, sincerely and honestly, to the exercises of a new life.
In the Gospel of Luke, it is a general reproof: Why call you me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? But as this corruption proceeds, for the most part, from pretended teachers, and easily finds its way from them into the whole body, so, according to Matthew, our Lord expressly attacks them. To do the will of the Father not only means, to regulate their life and manners, (as philosophers talked481481 “Comme les philosophes ont voulu enselgner le monde;” — “as the philosophers wished to teach the world.” ) by the rule of virtues, but also to believe in Christ, according to that saying,
“This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life,”
These words, therefore, do not exclude faith, but presuppose it as the principle from which other good works flow.
22. Many will say to me Christ again summons hypocrites to his judgment-seat, as we showed a little ago from Luke. So long as they hold a place in his Church, they both flatter themselves and deceive others. He therefore declares, that a day is coming, when he will cleanse his barn, and separate the chaff and straw from the pure wheat. To prophesy in the name of Christ is, to discharge the office of teacher by his authority, and, as it were, under his direction. Prophecy is here, I think, taken in a large sense, as in the fourteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians. He might have simply used the word preach, but purposely employed the more honorable appellation, in order to show more clearly, that an outward profession is nothing, whatever may be its brilliancy in the eyes of men. To do wonderful works in the name of Christ is nothing else than to perform miracles by his power, authority, command, and direction: for, though the word ὁμολογήσω, powers, is sometimes confined to one class of miracles, yet in this and many other passages it denotes every kind of miracles.
23. And then will I confess to them482482 “Et lors je leur diray ouvertement;” — “and then will I openly say to them.” By using the word ὁμολογήσω, I will confess,483483 “Le mot Grec dont use l'Evangeliste signifie proprement, Je leur confesseray;” — “the Greek word, which the Evangelist uses, literally signifies ‘I will confess to them.’“ Christ appears to allude to the vain boasting, by which hypocrites now vaunt themselves. “They indeed have confessed me with the tongue, and imagine that they have fully discharged their duty. The confession of my name is now heard aloud from their tongue. But I too will confess on the opposite side, that their profession is deceitful and false.” And what is contained in Christ’s confession? That he never reckoned them among his own people, even at the time when they boasted that they were the pillars of the church.
Depart from me. He orders those persons to go out from his presence, who had stolen, under a false title, an unjust and temporary possession of his house. From this passage in our Lord’s discourse Paul seems to have taken what he says to Timothy,
The Lord knoweth who are his: and, let every one who calleth on the name of Christ depart from iniquity, (2 Timothy 2:19.)
The former clause is intended to prevent weak minds from being alarmed or discouraged by the desertion of those who had a great and distinguished reputation:484484 “D’aucuns qui auront en grand bruit, et auront este fort estimez;”— “of any who shall have made great noise, and shall have been greatly esteemed.” for he declares that they were disowned by the Lord, though by a vain show they captivated the eyes of men. He then exhorts all those who wish to be reckoned among the disciples of Christ, to withdraw early from iniquity, that Christ may not drive them from his presence, when he shall “separate the sheep from the goats,” (Matthew 25:33.)
Matthew 7:24. Every one, therefore, who heareth As it is often difficult to distinguish the true professors of the Gospel from the false, Christ shows, by a beautiful comparison, where the main difference lies. He represents two houses, one of which was built without a foundation, while the other was well-founded. Both have the same external appearance: but, when the wind and storms blow, and the floods dash against them, the former will immediately fall, while the latter will be sustained by its strength against every assault. Christ therefore compares a vain and empty profession of the Gospel to a beautiful, but not solid, building, which, however elevated, is exposed every moment to downfall, because it wants a foundation. Accordingly, Paul enjoins us to be well and thoroughly founded on Christ, and to have deep roots, (Colossians 2:7,)
“that we may not be tossed and driven about by every wind of doctrine,”
that we may not give way at every attack. The general meaning of the passage is, that true piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit,485485 “Qu'on ne peut pas bien discerner la vraye crainte de Dieu, d'avecques une feintise et vaine apparence d’ icelle;” — “that the true fear of God cannot be well distinguished from a dissembling and vain appearance of it.” till it comes to the trial. For the temptations, by which we are tried, are like billows and storms, which easily overwhelm unsteady minds, whose lightness is not perceived during the season of prosperity.
Who heareth these sayings The relative these denotes not one class of sayings, but the whole amount of doctrine. He means, that the Gospel, if it be not deeply rooted in the mind, is like a wall, which has been raised to a great height, but does not rest on any foundation. “That faith (he says) is true, which has its roots deep in the heart, and rests on an earnest and steady affection as its foundation, that it may not give way to temptations.” For such is the vanity of the human mind, that all build upon the sand, who do not dig so deep as to deny themselves.
28. When Jesus had finished these sayings By these sayings I understand not only the discourse which he delivered when he came down from the mountain, but the rest of the doctrine, which had already been made known to the people. The meaning therefore is, that, where he had given the people, on all sides, a taste of his doctrine, all were seized with astonishment, because a strange, indescribable, and unwonted majesty drew to him the minds of men. What is meant by his teaching them as having authority, and not as the scribes, I have already explained.486486 A parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark (1:22) having already occurred, the reader will find Calvin's exposition of these remarkable words at page 247 of this volume. — Ed.