Judge Not, That You May Not Be Judged
The plan and sequence of the discourse is, as has been said, less apparent in this last portion. Whether this be the result of omission or of insertion, thus much at least seems clear, that while Matthew 5 is mainly a protest against the teaching of the scribes, and Matthew 6 mainly a protest against their corruption of the three great elements of the religious life–almsgiving, prayer, and fasting–and the worldliness out of which that corruption grew, this deals chiefly with the temptations incident to the more advanced stages of that life when lower forms of evil have been overcome–with the temper that judges others, the self-deceit of unconscious hypocrisy, the danger of unreality.
Judge not, that ye be not judged.–The words point to a tendency inherent in human nature, and are therefore universally applicable; but they had, we must remember, a special bearing on the Jews. They, as really in the van of the religious progress of mankind, took on themselves to judge other nations. All true teachers of Israel, even though they represented different aspects of the truth, felt the danger, and warned their countrymen against it. St. Paul (Romans 2:3; 1Corinthians 4:5) and St. James (James 4:11) alike, in this matter, echo the teaching of their Master. And the temptation still continues. In proportion as any nation, any church, any society, any individual man rises above the common forms of evil that surround them, they are disposed to sit in judgment on those who are still in the evil.
The question, how far we can obey the precept, is not without its difficulties. Must we not, even as a matter of duty, be judging others every day of our lives? The juryman giving his verdict, the master who discharges a dishonest servant, the bishop who puts in force the discipline of the Church–are these acting against our Lord’s commands? And if not, where are we to draw the line? The answer to these questions is not found in the distinctions of a formal casuistry. We have rather to remember that our Lord here, as elsewhere, gives principles rather than rules, and embodies the principle in a rule which, because it cannot be kept in the letter, forces us back upon the spirit. What is forbidden is the censorious judging temper, eager to find faults and condemn men for them, suspicious of motives, detecting, let us say, for example, in controversy, and denouncing, the faintest shade of heresy. No mere rules can guide us as to the limits of our judgments. What we need is to have “our senses exercised to discern between good and evil,” to cultivate the sensitiveness of conscience and the clearness of self-knowledge. Briefly, we may say:–(1.) Judge no man unless it be a duty to do so. (2.) As far as may be, judge the offence, and not the offender. (3.) Confine your judgment to the earthly side of faults, and leave their relation to God, to Him who sees the heart. (4.) Never judge at all without remembering your own sinfulness, and the ignorance and infirmities which may extenuate the sinfulness of others.
Verses 1-12. –
(2) As anxiety about the things of this life hinders us Godwards (ch. 6:19-34), so does censoriousness manwards (vers. 1-12), our Lord thus tacitly opposing two typically Jewish faults. Censoriousness – the personal danger of having it (vers. 1, 2), its seriousness as a sign of ignorance and as a hindrance to spiritual vision (vers. 3-5), even though there must be a recognition of great moral differences (ver. 6). Grace to overcome it and to exercise judgment rightly can be obtained by prayer (vers. 7-11), the secret of overcoming being found in treating others as one would like to be treated one’s self (ver. 12). Verse 1. – Parallel passage: Luke 6:37. Judge not. Not merely “do not condemn,” for this would leave too much latitude; nor, on the other hand, “do not ever judge,” for this is sometimes our duty; but “do not be always judging” (μὴ κρίνετε). Our Lord opposes the censorious spirit. “Let us therefore be lowly minded, brethren, laying aside all arrogance, and conceit, and folly, and anger, and let us do that which is written… most of all remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which he spake, teaching forbearance and brag-suffering; for thus he spake… ‘As ye judge, so shall ye be judged,'” Clem. Romans, § 13 (where see Bishop Lightfoot’s note; el. also Resch, ‘Agrapha,’ pp. 96, 136 ft.); cf. ‘Ab.,’ 1:7 (Taylor), “Judge every man in the scale of merit;” i.e. let the scale incline towards the side of merit or acquittal. That ye be not judged; i.e. by God, with special reference to the last day (cf. James 2:12, 13; James 5:9; Romans 2:3). Hardly of judgment by men, as Barrow (serm. 20.): “Men take it for allowable to retaliate in this way to the height, and stoutly to load the censorious man with censure.”
Categories: Audio Book