Matthew 7:1.Judege 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, Judege 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 (Isaiah 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.