Matthew 7:1-5

THE ERROR OF JUDGMENT

Matt. 7:1-5

Do not judge others, in order that you may not be judged; for with the standard of judgment with which you judge you will be judged; and with the measure you measure to others it will be measured to you. Why do you look for the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and never notice the plank that is in your own eye? or, how will you say to your brother: “Let me remove the speck of dust from your eye,” and, see, there is a plank in your own eye? Hypocrite! first remove the plank from your own eye; then you will see clearly to remove the speck of dust from your brother’s eye.

When Jesus spoke like this, as so often in the Sermon on the Mount, he was using words and ideas which were quite familiar to the highest thoughts of the Jews. Many a time the Rabbis warned people against judging others. “He who judges his neighbour favourably,” they said, “will be judged favourably by God.” They laid it down that there were six great works which brought a man credit in this world and profit in the world to come–study, visiting the sick, hospitality, devotion in prayer, the education of children in the Law, and thinking the best of other people. The Jews knew that kindliness in judgment is nothing less than a sacred duty.

One would have thought that this would have been a commandment easy to obey, for history is strewn with the record of the most amazing misjudgments. There have been so many that one would have thought it would be a warning to men not to judge at all.

It has been so in literature. In the Edinburgh Review of November, 1814, Lord Jeffrey wrote a review of Wordsworth’s newly published poem The Excursion, in which he delivered the now famous, or infamous verdict: “This will never do.” ln a review of Keats’ Endymion, The Quarterly patronizingly noted “a certain amount of talent which deserves to be put in the right way.”

Again and again men and women who became famous have been dismissed as nonentities. In his autobiography Gilbert Frankau tells how in the Victorian days his mother’s house was a salon where the most brilliant people met. His mother arranged for the entertainment of her guests. Once she engaged a young Australian soprano to sing. After she had sung, Gilbert Frankau’s mother said, “What an appalling voice! She ought to be muzzled and allowed to sing no more!” The young singer’s name was Nellie Melba.

Gilbert Frankau himself was producing a play. He sent to a theatrical agency for a young male actor to play the leading male part. The young man was interviewed and tested. After the test Gilbert Frankau telephoned to the agent. “This man”, he said, “will never do. He cannot act, and he never will be able to act, and you had better tell him to look for some other profession before he starves. By the way, tell me his name again so that I can cross him off my list.” The actor was Ronald Colman who was to become one of the most famous the screen has ever known.

Again and again people have been guilty of the most notorious moral misjudgments. Collie Knox tells of what happened to himself and a friend. He himself had been badly smashed up in a flying accident while serving in the Royal Flying Corps. The friend had that very day been decorated for gallantry at Buckingham Palace. They had changed from service dress into civilian clothes and were lunching together at a famous London restaurant, when a girl came up and handed to each of them a white feather–the badge of cowardice.

There is hardly anyone who has not been guilty of some grave misjudgment; there is hardly anyone who has not suffered from someone else’s misjudgment. And yet the strange fact is that there is hardly any commandment of Jesus which is more consistently broken and neglected.

NO MAN CAN JUDGE

Matt. 7:1-5 (continued)

There are three great reasons why no man should judge another.

(i) We never know the whole facts or the whole person. Long ago Hillel the famous Rabbi said, “Do not judge a man until you yourself have come into his circumstances or situation.” No man knows the strength of another man’s temptations. The man with the placid and equable temperament knows nothing of the temptations of the man whose blood is afire and whose passions are on a hair-trigger. The man brought up in a good home and in Christian surroundings knows nothing of the temptation of the man brought up in a slum, or in a place where evil stalks abroad. The man blessed with fine parents knows nothing of the temptations of the man who has the load of a bad heredity upon his back. The fact is that if we realized what some people have to go through, so far from condemning them, we would be amazed that they have succeeded in being as good as they are.

No more do we know the whole person. In one set of circumstances a person may be unlovely and graceless; in another that same person may be a tower of strength and beauty. In one of his novels Mark Rutherford tells of a man who married for the second time. His wife had also been married before, and she had a daughter in her teens. The daughter seemed a sullen and unlovely creature, without a grain of attractiveness in her. The man could make nothing of her. Then, unexpectedly, the mother fell ill. At once the daughter was transformed. She became the perfect nurse, the embodiment of service and tireless devotion. Her sullenness was lit by a sudden radiance, and there appeared in her a person no one would ever have dreamed was there.

There is a kind of crystal called Labrador spar. At first sight it is dull and without lustre; but if it is turned round and round, and here and there, it will suddenly come into a position where the light strikes it in a certain way and it will sparkle with flashing beauty. People are like that. They may seem unlovely simply because we do not know the whole person. Everyone has something good in him or her. Our task is not to condemn, and to judge by, the superficial unloveliness, but to look for the underlying beauty. That is what we would have others do to us, and that is what we must do to them.

(ii) It is almost impossible for any man to be strictly impartial in his judgment. Again and again we are swayed by instinctive and unreasoning reactions to people.

It is told that sometimes, when the Greeks held a particularly important and difficult trial, they held it in the dark so that judge and jury would not even see the man on trial, and so would be influenced by nothing but the facts of the case.

Montaigne has a grim tale in one of his essays. There was a Persian judge who had given a biased verdict, and he had given it under the influence of bribery. When Cambysses, the king, discovered what had happened, he ordered the judge to be executed. Then he had the skin flayed from the dead body and preserved; and with the skin he covered the seat of the chair on which judges sat in judgment, that it might be a grim reminder to them never to allow prejudice to affect their verdicts.

Only a completely impartial person has a right to judge. It is not in human nature to be completely impartial. Only God can judge.

(iii) But it was Jesus who stated the supreme reason why we should not judge others. No man is good enough to judge any other man. Jesus drew a vivid picture of a man with a plank in his own eye trying to extract a speck of dust from someone else’s eye. The humour of the picture would raise a laugh which would drive the lesson home.

Only the faultless has a right to look for faults in others. No man has a right to criticize another man unless he is prepared at least to try to do the thing he criticizes better. Every Saturday the football terracings are full of people who are violent critics, and who would yet make a pretty poor show if they themselves were to descend to the arena. Every association and every Church is full of people who are prepared to criticize from the body of the hall, or even from an arm-chair, but who would never even dream of taking office themselves. The world is full of people who claim the right to be extremely vocal in criticism and totally exempt from action.

No man has a right to criticize others unless he is prepared to venture himself in the same situation. No man is good enough to criticize his fellow-men.

We have quite enough to do to rectify our own lives without seeking censoriously to rectify the lives of others. We would do well to concentrate on our own faults, and to leave the faults of others to God.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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