(2) As anxiety about the things of this life hinders us Godwards ( Matthew 6:19-34 ), so does censoriousness manwards ( Matthew 7:1-12 ), our Lord thus tacitly opposing two typically Jewish faults. Censoriousness—the personal danger of having it ( Matthew 7:1 , Matthew 7:2 ), its seriousness as a sign of ignorance and as a hindrance to spiritual vision ( Matthew 7:3-5 ), even though there must be a recognition of great moral differences ( Matthew 7:6 ). Grace to overcome it and to exercise judgment rightly can be obtained by prayer ( Matthew 7:7-11 ), the secret of overcoming being found in treating others as one would like to be treated one's self ( Matthew 7:12 ).
Ask , and it shall be given you , etc. Parallel passage: Luke 11:9-13 . Nearly verbally identical, but in the son's request, reads " egg " and " scorpion " for "bread" and "stone," and reverses the order of the sentences.
In Luke the verses are closely connected ("and I say unto you") with the parable of the friend at midnight, which itself immediately follows the Lord's Prayer. It seems probable that, as with the Lord's Prayer ( Luke 6:9-13 , note), so with these verses, the original position is given in Luke; yet, as also with the Lord's Prayer, Matthew's form of the individual clauses may be the more original (cf. verse 11, note). With the general promise contained in these verses, cf. Mark 11:24 .
The connexion with the preceding verse is probably not
Ask … seek … knock . Gradation in urgency. Further, the three clauses think of the Giver, the sphere in which the gift lies, the obstacles in the way of obtaining it.
Various practical rules issuing out of the central duty of self-consecration.
I. CONDUCT TOWARDS OTHERS .
1 . Gentleness in our estimate of the lives of others. The hypocrites trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others; they made an ostentatious display of their own supposed good deeds, and passed stern judgments on their neighbours. The righteousness of Christ's disciples must exceed that of the Pharisees in both respects. Indeed, Christ's words must not be understood in that literalness which was one of the characteristic errors of the Pharisees. The judge must pass sentence upon criminals; it is his duty to God, to society. The minister of God must "reprove, rebuke, exhort,": when God saith unto the wicked, "Thou wicked man, thou shalt surely die," he must warn the wicked of his sin; for otherwise (God himself hath said it) "that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand." All Christians must hate sin, and show that they hate it. "Woe unto them," saith the Prophet Isaiah, "that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" Sometimes it is our duty to judge others. When it is our duty, we are safe, if we do it with pity for the sinner and with grief for the dishonour done to God (see Psalms 119:136 ). It is a duty full of danger and temptation; there is need of prayer and self-examination and careful scrutiny of our own thoughts and motives. When it is not our duty, it is never free from the danger of sin against the law of love. Censoriousness is one of the great blots of social intercourse. People who have nothing else to talk about, talk about their neighbours; they discuss their conduct; they impute unworthy motives; they repeat slanders, they exaggerate them; they take a sinful pleasure in condemning others; they often sin against the ninth, continually against the new, commandment. And these unchristian judgments imply self-righteousness, pride, hypocrisy; they usurp the prerogative of the great Judge, who alone can search the thoughts of the heart; they bring the uncharitable into exceeding great danger, for the commandment of the Judge is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;" and surely those who judge their brethren harshly take part (awful as it seems) rather with Satan, the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before our God night and day, than with the Lord Jesus Christ, the most loving Saviour, who dearly loved the souls of men, who wept over impenitent Jerusalem, and said, "Father, forgive them," as they nailed him on the cross. Therefore "judge not, that ye be not judged." Men will judge harshly those who judge others harshly, and the human judgment passed upon the censorious is but a shadow of the more dreadful judgment that is to come.
2 . Strictness in judging ourselves. We extenuate our own faults; we always have excuses ready. We magnify the faults of others; we have no excuse for them. Our faults seem to us as motes, theirs as beams; our judgment is often reversed by the just judgment of God. Consider your own faults, concentrate your attention upon them—that is your duty; not, as a rule, to pass judgment upon your neighbours. "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God. " Of himself; then let him take heed to his own soul, let him look into its state narrowly and jealously, let him carefully remove every mote and every defilement, let him wash it white in the blood of the Lamb. This diligent self-examination will prepare us for the difficult and delicate task of helping others. He who would take heed to the flock must take heed first unto himself ( Acts 20:28 ); it needs a clean heart, and a close fellowship with Christ, and a purified spiritual vision, to see clearly to cast out the mote out of our brother's eye. There is need of true humility and heavenly wisdom and deep spiritual experience , if we are to deal successfully with the souls of others. If we are to restore others, it must be in the spirit of meekness, by the help of the good Spirit of God, always considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
3 . Holy caution in dealing with the worldly and the wicked. "Holy things for the holy," is a well-known direction in the ancient liturgies; it expresses the lesson which the Lord would teach us here. Judge not, but yet be careful. The deep things of spiritual experience are not for all men. The mysteries of the soul's converse with God are not to be lightly divulged in common talk. "My Beloved is mine, and I am his." The intercourse of the converted soul with the heavenly Bridegroom is a thing too sacred for ordinary conversation. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him … They that feared the Lord spake often one to another." The Christian can tell what God hath done for his soul only to the like-minded—the holy with the holy; and there are hidden things of which he speaks only to God in the silence of his heart. The deepest thoughts of that life which is hid with Christ in God, the blessed truths on which the soul leeds in loving faith, are far too sacred to be offered to the contentious, the unbelieving, the mere controversialist; far too precious to be thrown down to the gross and sensual, who despise the pearl of great price in comparison with their low and coarse enjoyments, who will turn angrily and scornfully upon him who introduces such subjects. Confessions of past sin, histories of conversions, spiritual experiences, are very sacred; but they are not for all men. They will do harm to the worldly; they wilt provoke them to scorn and derision.
II. OUR RELATIONS WITH GOD .
1 . The duty and blessedness of prayer. "Ask … seek … knock." He bids us pray through whom all prayer is offered, in whose Name every knee must bow; he will hear us, we know. He has just taught us the blessed words of his own most holy prayer; he bids us use them, not as mere words uttered by the lips, but as true prayer prayed out of the depths of the heart. "Ask," he says, "and it shall be given you;… everyone that asketh receiveth. " It is not asking, to repeat a few words without real desire. The heart must ask; the heart asks by its longings, yearning after God with groanings that cannot be uttered. Ask thus, and surely ye shall have. "Seek," he says, "and ye shall find." You ask for that which you need; you seek that which has been lost, that which is hidden. Original innocence has been lost; the true treasure of the soul is a hidden treasure. Seek after righteousness, seek the kingdom of God, seek Christ. Seeking implies perseverance , careful, watchful effort. The Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost. He sought on and fainted not through the thirty years of his quiet life at Nazareth, through the three years of his ministry—those years of unwearying labour, self-forgetting love. He sought on even as he hung dying in agony on the cross: "Father, forgive." He sought and he found: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." He sought, and we must seek; we must seek him who is seeking us. If we seek as he sought, in patience, perseverance, in love, we shall surely find him; for he is still seeking, still calling, "Come unto me . " "Knock," he says, "and it shall be opened unto you." But knock now, while it is the day of grace. There are some who will stand without, and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open unto us;" and he shall answer,"I know you not." Knock now. Knocking implies importunity. It is not enough to be "not far from the kingdom of God;" we need to enter in, into the presence of the most holy One. He will open if we knock in faith and strong desire; for he himself, in the wondrous condescension of his infinite love, deigns to knock at the door of our poor unworthy heart. "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof." But he desires to enter, in his gracious mercy. "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Then we know that he will open if we continue knocking; he will not keep the door shut against those souls of men whom he loved so very dearly. He will admit us, if we persevere in faithful prayer, into his most gracious presence now, into the joy of our Lord hereafter.
2 . Our Father hears the prayer of his children. Earthly fathers give their children what they need; they will not give a stone for bread, a scorpion for fish. They are sinful; the inherited corruption of sin cleaves to them all; yet they love their children and care for them. How much more does our Father which is in heaven, our Father who is Love, care for us, his children! Our Father listens to our voice, but he listens in wisdom and true holy love. We ask him sometimes for stones or scorpions, for earthly things which will only be a weight and hindrance in our heavenward journey, or perhaps may even tempt us to fall into sin, which is the sting of death. He will not give the evil things which we blindly ask; but it is in love that he refuses. "My grace is sufficient for thee." He gives the true bread—the bread which, if a man take, he shall live for ever. He gives good things to them that ask him; not always the good things of this world, which are not reckoned good in the world to come—" Son, thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things"—but things really good, things that the souls of the blessed can take with them when the world passeth away. He gives, in answer to the prayer of the heart, the best of all good things—the Holy Spirit of God.
3 . We must imitate him. "Be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." To be like unto God is not to be strong and beautiful and brave, like Homer's godlike heroes, but to imitate God in that which, his apostle tells us, enters into his very nature. "God is Love." If we would have him give good things to us, we must give good things to our neighbours according to our power. Our Lord lays down a plain, simple rule to guide us in our daily walk: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We must ask ourselves how we would have our neighbour act towards us if our circumstances were reversed. Thus our own heart becomes our guide; it tells us just how we ought to act. Only let us be sincere, truthful with ourselves, and we cannot he deceived. The rule is wide in its range. It is not, "Do not to others what you would not they should do to you;" others before our Lord had said that much. The Lord's rule is far wider, far more stringent. It strikes hard at that selfishness which is the parent of so many sins; it extends over all the circumstances of life; it substitutes for the minute rules of the Pharisees one comprehensive principle; it implies the energy of holy love in the heart, for only true Christian love can enable a man to apply this commandment of the Lord to the government of his own life and actions. This is the Law and the Prophets. All the commandments of the second table are briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And it implies the commandments of the first table; for Christian love, that charity which is the greatest of all graces, flows out of the love of God. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his command-merits." Then this is the Law and the Prophets. All the practical teaching of Holy Scripture is contained in the one law of love; and one Teacher only can write that law upon our selfish hearts, and teach us to apply it to the details of our daily lives—the Holy Spirit of God, whom our Father which is in heaven will give (his blessed Son has promised it) to them that ask him.
III. THE OBSTACLES WHICH IMPEDE OUR OBSERVANCE OF THE SAVIOUR 'S RULES .
1 . Their difficulty.
Therefore the Lord bids us enter in at the strait gate; in his tender love for our souls he condescends to show us the way, entering there himself. Few find it, but the Lord Jesus is with those few. He is their Guide; his cross goeth before them; they follow him in trustful faith, though often with much fear and trembling, sometimes with many anxious doubts. For the path is very narrow; it is hemmed in on each side with difficulties and dangers. Many side-paths open out from it; they seem sometimes to follow the same general direction, but a slight divergence at first often leads very far astray. They are sometimes very tempting; they look smoother, easier, pleasanter, than the one narrow way. There is need of much careful thought, much self-restraint, to keep the right path; it is steep, sometimes very rugged, leading ever upwards. Few find it. Sometimes, in moments of depression, they seem to us very few indeed; but we remember that when Elijah thought himself alone, God could tell him that there were seven thousand faithful men in Israel. And if they are but few, they are the followers of the Lamb, "called, chosen, faithful." He himself is with them, cheering, comforting, strengthening them. The narrow path is often a vale of weeping—there is much sorrow, many trials; but there is much comfort. The Lord is with his followers; therefore "they go on from strength to strength, and at the last unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Zion." For at the end of the narrow path lies the strait gate. It is strait; there is need of self-denial, diligence, holy thoughtfulness, even to the last. It is strait; but there is room for all to enter in who have chosen the service of Christ; for he has passed through that strait gate himself, and he will open it wide to his followers. It is strait; but it leadeth unto life—to that life which is indeed worth living; the everlasting life with God in heaven. For the strait gate of the parable is, indeed, the pearly gate of the golden city; there shall enter the saints of God, ten thousand times ten thousand, when the fight with sin and death is over, and the redeemed of the Lord, more than conquerors through the precious blood, go up with singing to Zion into the city of the living God.
2 . The influence of false teachers.
1 . The Lord teaches the great danger of idle and slanderous gossip; take heed, listen, and obey.
2 . Pray earnestly for grace to see your own faults, examine yourselves; be real, hate unreality, and hypocrisy.
3 . Pray always, in trustful faith, m persevering earnestness.
4 . Deny yourselves; only the way of the cross leadeth to the crown of life.
5 . Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit; beware of false teachers.
Encouragements for prayer.
Jesus is revealing the Fatherhood of God, and now he is showing how that great truth is the basis of faith, and, in particular, the ground for confidence in prayer.
I. THE CALL TO PRAYER .
1 . Thrice repeated. This threefold invitation shows us
2 . In varied forms.
3 . With promise of success. Prayer is more than confiding in God. It is not a voice crying in the dark for its own relief, and satisfied without any reply. It must be answered, or it will despair. Christ teaches us that God gives in response to prayer what we should not receive without it. This cannot be because God is ignorant of our needs ( Matthew 6:32 ), nor that he is reluctant to help. It must be because he sees that blessings which it would not be fitting to bestow on the careless, the distrustful, or the self-satisfied, may be bestowed with wholesome results on those who humbly trust him and prepare themselves to receive them.
II. THE GROUNDS OF CONFIDENCE .
1 . The Fatherhood of God. This is a greater reason for confidence than any definite assurance of help. We delight to plead the promises; but what if we need something lying outside the range of them? or what if we dare not apply some of them to ourselves? We assure ourselves by meditating on the Divine covenant. But how can we be certain that we are parties to the covenant? And are there no blessings to be had that are not named in that deed? Here we have assurances of uncovenanted mercies. The father does not bind down his kindness to the limits of his promises. Because God is our Father, there is no limit to his willingness to help and bless.
2 . The analogy of human families. It is customary with Christ to use his parables as arguments. He is often found reasoning from what is generally accepted among men. With him religion is so natural a thing that the very course of nature is a ground of assurance. It would be quite contrary to nature that God should not show his love as a Father. To disbelieve it is to believe an amazing monstrosity of unnatural heartlessness.
3 . The superior goodness of God. The argument is a fortiori. Blind unbelief will not credit God with the common paternal instinct found even in sinful human parents. Thus it places him below man. But he is infinitely above man. Then he must be a better Father than the best of human parents. If imperfect fathers on earth will not deceive their children, much less will the perfect Father in heaven. Apply this
Sermon on the mount: 6. Against judging others.
This "Judge not, that ye be not judged," comes in unexpectedly, and seems out of its place. But the superficial, ostentatious righteousness which our Lord has been exposing betrays itself in nothing more certainly than in censoriousness. To sigh and shake the head over a sinful world is one of the easiest roads to a reputation for sanctity. The reasons our Lord gives for refraining from judging others are two.
1 . If we judge harshly and unmercifully, we shall ourselves receive similar judgment. The person who uses false weights cannot complain if, in buying as well as in selling, false weights are used. If we judge without knowing all the circumstances, if we have no patience to give weight to explanations, no sympathy to put ourselves in the offender's place, we shall receive the same summary treatment. And this, not by the action of a mere arbitrary retribution, but by a law deeply laid in the nature of things. For at the root of such judging lies hatred of our neighbour; and if not hatred, indifference to righteousness; and where these exist in the heart, the very foundations of a godly character are yet to be laid. The man who is sincerely grieved at the sin of men has no heart to expose it unless this is clearly for the benefit of all concerned. In fact, this is a department of conduct in which the great law laid down by our Lord is our best grade: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We continually see that in judging our conduct men are entirely at fault, imputing motives, perhaps no worse than, but certainly different from, our actual motives, so that it is the part of wisdom, no less than of charity, to be slow to judge.
2 . The second reason our Lord assigns is that our own faults so disturb our moral perception that we are not fit to eradicate those of our neighbour. It is proposing to pick a mote from our brother's eye while a beam is in our own. How can we understand the methods by which a man can be delivered from sin if we have made no practical acquaintance with these methods by seeking deliverance from our own sin? Two things are suggested by our Lord's words.
I. TO RID A MAN OF A FAULT IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT OPERATION . It requires the same absolute accuracy of vision and delicacy of touch which an operation on the eye requires. The blemishes you would remove are so closely connected with virtues or qualities essential to the character, that the vision must be purged by integrity and humility, and the band steadied by sincere affection.
II. AGAIN , TO OUR LORD , BEFORE WHOM THE MORAL WORLD ALL LAY as glaringly visible as the natural world lies to us, it seemed grotesque that a censorious, faultfinding person should try to rid men of their faults. In his judgment the uncharitableness which lies at the root of so many of the apparently pious criticisms we hear and make is a beam far more damnatory than the mote we find fault with. Yet judgment of a kind we must pass on those who come under our observation. If we are not to cast what is holy to the dogs, we must, of course, determine who the dogs are. There are vile, fierce, snarling people in the world; and if we are not to give them the chance of showing their contempt for sacred things, we must distinguish between man and man. And in other cases of daily occurrence we are compelled both to form and to pronounce our judgment. The law, therefore, is levelled against all uncalled-for malicious judgments. It is not enough that our judgments be true, we must not utter them until compelled. The law of the land recognizes the distinction, and punishes uncalled-for defamation. This sermon on the mount is a sermon describing righteousness and distinguishing it from current imitations rather than telling us how we may attain it. That is is a true fulfilment of the Law and the prophets which our Lord has described no one can doubt, and yet the very copiousness of illustration dazzles and confuses. It is true we have the Law of God marking out for us the great lines on which human conduct is to move, and we have the prophets—a series of supernaturally enlightened spiritual teachers who have indicated how it is to be applied, and enforced, it by stirring appeals. But what we still desiderate is that all the teaching of the Law and all the enlightening and moving power of the prophets be condensed into a summary which the frailest memory can carry, and which a child can apply. We instinctively feel that for righteous living all men should have guidance sufficient, that there should be a light like the sun, common to educated and uneducated; and this we have in the words, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: this is the Law and the prophets"—this is the sum and this the substance of all that has ever been said to guide men to right conduct. Our own experience, aided by our imagination, will enable us to understand the treatment a man desires in the different positions in life. And by the observance of this rule you get both your own view of the case and your neighbour's; so that you shall neither on the one hand refuse a lawful and fair demand, nor on the other yield to an exorbitant, imprudent, or wicked one. In proclaiming this practical rule, our Lord had in view the achievement of that righteousness which constitutes the kingdom of God. Evidently it is sufficient for this purpose. Almost the whole of life is in one form or other of the dealing or commercial kind; none of us being sufficient for ourselves, but each contributing for the good of the whole that which it is his calling to supply. This frame of society, if animated by Christian principle, by a genuine desire to be as helpful as possible to the common good, is as heavenly a state of things as need be; but empty it of this, and leave only the desire to advance our own interests, and then you have not heaven but hell upon earth—a grasping, struggling, hard-hearted, cruel competition. Yet to this latter state we are always tempted. We are throughout life under pressure to make too much of our own interests. It is obvious that nothing so effectually counteracts this pressure as the. expedient we are considering. That fineness of character and delicacy of feeling which every one admires and respects is formed, consciously or unconsciously, by obedience to this rule, by consideration of the feelings of other people, and a ready adjustment of our conduct to these feelings even in the smallest matters. Beyond the assurances given in the memorable words beginning, "Ask, and it shall be given you," very little answer is given in this sermon to the inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" But a man can walk, although he cannot name the muscles he uses. Believe Christ when he tells you that if you seek righteousness you shall find it; go on seeking it, assured that God is helping and will help you; and what further directions are essential to salvation? Our Lord here tells us God has a kingdom; he tells us what that righteousness is which constitutes his kingdom; and he assures us that he that knocks shall be admitted. These promises put the future in your own hand. The waiting, striving, seeking spirit will not ultimately be disappointed. The weak and sin-tossed creature, whose efforts to attain have only proved his weakness more clearly, is assured that if he asks he shall have all that he needs for purity, for righteousness, for love. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?" If we, who are ourselves entangled in much sin, can yet devise substantial benefits for others, how much more may we expect such substantial aid from our Father, whose title it is that he is "heavenly," above all the influences that narrow the heart! It is God's life to communicate, his delight to see his children grow in likeness to himself. There is no mystery about entrance into God's kingdom and attainment of righteousness. If you wish to enter, you can. Begin where Christ teaches you, and abide always in the assurance of the Father's love. "If the life be careless, bring back the mind to that; if the heart be unhappy or discontented, compel the thoughts to that; if the habits of our daily walk cause us many a conflict between conscience and inclination, anchor the will on that."—D.
From the subject of giving our Lord turns to that of asking. The text instructs us in—
I. THE NATURE OF PRAYER .
1 . It is asking.
2 . It is seeking.
3 . It is knocking.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY .
1 . In the promises of God.
2 . In the character of the promises.
III. THE CONDITIONS OF PRAYER .
1 . These are given in the promises.
2 . They are embodied in the golden rule.
3 . Apply this rule.
The condition on which answer to prayer depends.
The reference to prayer seems to be introduced here as an "aside;" but the connection is not difficult to trace. Our Lord had been calling his disciples to duties which would make the most serious demands on them. They would be sure to feel the need of sustaining and supporting grace, such as comes only from God. Then let them be quite sure that they could always have this grace for the asking; but let them be also quite sure that they would not get the grace apart from the asking. In dealing with this familiar passage, it is usual to fix attention on the apparently unlimited promises of answer to prayer. "Ye shall receive." It may, however, be that thus our Lord's point is missed. He put emphasis on the "asking," the "seeking," the "knocking," as if he had said, "You must ask , if you would have a good hope of receiving." Compare " For all these things will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them;" "Ye have not, because ye ask not." The three terms, "ask," " seek ," "knock," have been shown to represent an ascending scale. They are each what the man himself must do; the condition on which alone he gains the blessing. Are we ever conscious, then, of failing powers in the Christian life? we may never say that we are straitened in God: it must be that we are straitened in ourselves. We expected God to give , but we did not meet his conditions, and ask. An objection should be dealt with, which is perhaps oftener felt than expressed—If God knows everything we need, why does he require us to ask? The answer is twofold.
1 . If he does require us to ask, there must be reasons for his so doing, in his Divine Fatherhood; and children should obey when they do not understand.
2 . We can see that the asking becomes an agency of spiritual culture to us. It nourishes that dependence which takes us out of ourselves, and checks self-confidence. It might be added that it helps to keep before us the connection between our blessings and God's providings. The condition that we must ask may be shown to work out into
I. HE WHO " ASKS " MAKES REQUEST .
II. HE WHO " SEEKS " PRESSES HIS REQUEST .
III. HE WHO " KNOCKS " PERSISTS IN HIS REQUEST .—R.T.