An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter our Lord cautions us against rash judgments, in order thus to escape the harsh judgments of men, and the just judgment of God. According as we are severe on others, or lenient, will they in turn treat us, and will God be inclined to pass a just judgment of condemnation, or a judgment of mercy on us (1–2). In order to meet the hypocritical pretext which the men he alludes to might allege, in harshly judging and correcting others, He admonishes them, that charity begins at home, and they should first commence with correcting their own graver faults, before correcting the lighter faults of their neighbour (3–5). He shows that correction is not to be indiscrimately administered to all; to some it may prove injurious and only provoke anger and retaliation, nor should holy things be given to those publicly unworthy (6). He inculcates the necessity, the conditions of prayer, its efficacy, when vested with the proper conditions, both as to its object and the dispositions with which it is offered (7–11). He summarily expresses all the duties we owe our neighbour, as contained in the leading principle of the Natural and Divine Law, whether in the Old Testament or the New, viz., to treat him as we would reasonably expect to be treated by him in turn (12). He exhorts us to enter the narrow gate, and strait road that leads to life, upon which but comparatively few enter, because this way of God’s Holy Commandments is so opposed to the dictates and corrupt inclinations of flesh and blood (13–14). He cautions us against trusting ourselves on this journey to the guidance of corrupt hypocrites, self sent, having no Divine commission, affecting the external garb of sanctity (15). He gives a sign for knowing these false teachers, derived from their doctrine and its consequences, joined to their own personal conduct (15–20). He next shows the absolute indispensable necessity of good works, and personal sanctity, in order to secure a favourable judgment, and eternal happiness in the end (21–23). He illustrates the necessity, not only of hearing His words, but also of carrying them into effect, by a very striking similitude of the house built upon a rock, and the house built upon the sand (24–27). The Evangelist describes the effect this wonderful discourse of our Lord produced on His hearers (28–29).

1. Our Lord, in the beginning of this chapter, censures another vice of the Pharisees, against which He cautions His followers, viz., that of indulging in false and rash judgments. In this, there is question of private judgments; but not of the exercise of judicial power, or of official sentences and judgments, which it belongs to judges, civil or ecclesiastical, to pronounce in public, in accordance with justice and the provisions of law. “If,” says St. Jerome, “He forbids to judge, how is it that Paul judges the incestuous Corinthian, and Peter rebukes Ananias and Sapphira for falsehood? He did not forbid us to judge, but He taught us how to judge.” Our Lord Himself judged and condemned the Scribes and Pharisees. Private individuals should never usurp the right of authoritative judgment. There is question also of private judgments, passed in cases of doubtful guilt. If a crime be public and notorious, its condemnation is not censured here; such condemnation is a homage rendered to the Divine law. But pity for the culprit should accompany the hatred of the offence (Kenrick).

Judge not,” unkindly and rashly. “That you may not be judged,” means, according to some, that you may escape the judgments of men, who generally pass a severe judgment on such as are themselves hard on others, and generally are lenient to such as are themselves kind. I say, generally, because there are exceptions, as we see in the unkind, rash, and unjust judgments passed on our Redeemer, His Apostles, &c. Our Lord quotes adagial sayings, common among men, admitting, however, of exceptions. Although the words may include the judgments of men, they probably refer, primarily and principally, to the judgment of God. Not that God will judge us, as we judge others, that is to say, rashly or unjustly; He shall do so, however, strictly and severely, in proportion to the severity of our judgment on others.

Judge not” your neighbour harshly, or rashly, that you may thus escape the unkind judgments of men, and the severe and strict judgment of God. The substance, but not the mode of judgment passed by God, is implied. If we are merciful and kind in our judgments on others, giving everything the best construction, excusing the intention, when we cannot excuse the act; then, God will, in turn, pass a merciful judgment on us, and this charity will incline Him to arrange the decrees of His providence, so to deal with us, so to guide our course, as to ensure our perseverance, if we are good, or effect our conversion if in sin; and that in the end, His just judgment will be tempered with mercy, while a judgment without mercy will be passed on him who himself showed no mercy.

We need not trouble ourselves with seeking to find any certain order or connexion of this with the preceding chapter. For, treating of different subjects (as our Redeemer does in this Sermon on the Mount), a speaker does not necessarily follow any particular connexion. Some of the truths He enunciates are quite independent of those which preceded them, and need have no connexion with them. Moreover, it may be that the Evangelists did not record the words delivered by our Redeemer in His Sermon on the Mount, in the order in which they were delivered. In St. Luke the words of this verse are read (c. 6:37), after the words, “Be ye therefore, merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (v. 36). Hence, if we sought to trace any connexion, we might say, that our Redeemer here reverts to the subject of loving our enemies (c. 5:44, &c.), after having interposed in (c. 6), the dissertation on purity of intention, and on avoiding undue solicitude.

In some editions, to the words of this verse are added the words, “condemn not, that you may not be condemned.” This is in accordance with the reading in St. Luke (c. 6:37). They are not, however, found in the oldest Latin copies of St. Matthew, nor in the Greek. Hence, it is most likely, they were transferred to this place from St. Luke.

2. “For, with what judgment you have judged, you shall be judged,” &c. These words, as understood of human judgments, clearly mean, that according as we treat others, whether in judging, or remitting, offences, or giving aid, or neglecting to succour them, we shall be treated by them in turn. Men will be lenient and indulgent, or severe and harsh towards us, according as we judge them leniently or severely. Understood of God’s judgment, to which they, most probably, refer, the words mean, that a judgment will be passed on us by God, of the same kind as that passed by us on others, injustice being always supposed to be excluded from God’s judgment. If we be lenient and merciful to others, so will God be to us. On the other hand, if we be severe or harsh in judging our neighbour, God will pass a judgment without mercy, that is, a judgment of condemnation on us, but, this judgment will be always most just. Although a greater amount of reward or punishment shall be given to us than we award to others—St. Luke says (c. 6:38), “good measure and pressed down,” &c.; St. Paul says, “Our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us beyond measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17)—thus showing the inequality as regards the amount—still, there shall be some proportion; a proportionate judgment, and a proportionate measure. If we judge mercifully, we shall receive a favourable judgment; if we judge harshly or unjustly, a just judgment of condemnation.

In this verse, our Lord proposes to inculcate the observance of the great principle of the natural law (verse 12), “All things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them.” The words of this verse (2), and several other expressions employed in this chapter, are clearly proverbial, and quoted in their proverbial and commonly received meaning, by our Divine Redeemer.

3, 4. Lest these men, whose vices are condemned in the foregoing, might pretend that in their severe strictures on their neighbour, they were only actuated by charitable motives of fraternal correction and amendment, our Redeemer here meets this false pretence, by showing, that as charity begins at home, if charity was their impelling motive, they should commence with self correction; since, their own faults were far more grievous than those they censured in their brethren. By “mote,” is meant a small particle of wood, like a straw or splinter, figuratively denoting trivial faults, at least, comparatively. By “beam,” a large piece of wood, denoting grievous and heavy crimes. By “beam” (δοκον), some understand a “thorn,” which would fit in the eye better than a beam or large piece of timber. The phrase is adagial, frequently found in the Rabbinical writings, to denote light and grievous transgressions, and employed in that sense by our Redeemer here, and Luke (6:41–42). Then, in this passage, our Redeemer censures this description of rash and unjust judgments, on the part of those who are guilty of the monstrous inconsistency of passing judgment, and that without necessity, on the light faults of others, while they themselves are loaded with grievous faults.

5. “Hypocrite.” For meaning (see 6:2). They are called “hypocrites” because they assume a false, a masked character, in pretending to be actuated by charity, which should begin at home, and commence with self correction; their love for themselves should be the rule of their love for their neighbours—or, because they would pretend, by noticing the slight faults of others, to a great love and zeal for sanctity, of which they were utterly destitute. If a zeal for virtue were their actuating motive, they would first attend to self amendment, which they much needed, before assuming the office of censors. By correcting the slight faults of others, while weighed down with heavy faults himself, in order to acquire a character for sanctity, one acts the hypocrite, and renders truth odious. This is all our Redeemer prohibits here, as is clear from his calling them “hypocrites.” But, He by no means, prohibits a man who may himself be subject to greater faults, from correcting his neighbour in those of lesser enormity, if he do so, not from motives of hypocrisy, but, from a sincere feeling and motive of charity.

6. This may be an injunction altogether disconnected with what either precedes or follows; or, if connexion be sought, it may be connected thus: Our Redeemer having shown in the preceding, who they are who should not venture to correct, to judge or teach, here points out who they are, who should not be corrected or taught, viz., those whom correction would render worse than they are, whom it would irritate rather than cure. This precaution was necessary, as those who were not allowed to correct others, till they had first cast out the beam from their own eye, and having done so, were free from fault, might imagine they were at liberty to exercise the duty of correction, indiscriminately, without any regard to the dispositions of those whose correction they might undertake.

By “holy,” was meant, among the Jews, whatever was set apart from all human use, and consecrated to the Divine service. Here, it is taken in the same sense, and refers to the doctrine of the Gospel, which is called “holy,” on account of its Divine nature, origin, and tendency, and “pearls,” on account of its excessive value and preciousness. “Pearls” bear some resemblance to acorns, the ordinary food of swine in the East. “Holy” and “pearls” refer to the same thing, viz., the doctrine of the Gospel; and, probably, they embrace the sacraments, called “holy,” because devoted to the Divine service, and “pearls,” on account of their priceless value; and this is especially true of the adorable Eucharist, which is holiness itself. “Dogs,” everywhere represented in SS. Scripture as impure animals, full of rage, aptly represent those refractory and rebellious men, who violently resist the truth, and assault its propagators. “Swine,” also—proverbially unclean—are a fit emblem of that unclean and sensual class of men, who are dead to every feeling of moral sense. The phrase is adagial, conveying, that we should not unnecessarily expose the doctrines or mysteries of faith to profanation, unless in circumstances where there is a prospect of promoting God’s glory, or of saving our neighbour. We should not preach the doctrines of faith, or extend the duty of correction, to the incorrigible class of sinners referred to, be they believers or unbelievers.

It does not militate against this, that our Redeemer and His Apostles, and St. Stephen, &c., preached the truth in circumstances where it was resisted, and they assailed. For, this they did in presence of believers also, whose faith was confirmed, although some unbelievers present may have been hardened; or, they did it in defence of the truth, when interrogated, under circumstances, when God’s glory or their neighbours’ salvation required them to speak out in vindication of the truth.

And turning upon you, tear you,” is, by some, understood of dogs. “Trampling under their feet,” of “swine.” But the former words may be also true of “swine,” or wild boars. The words, “pearls” and “holy,” are understood by many, of the sacraments, and especially of the Holy Eucharist. The prohibition here expressed does not prevent us from giving the Holy Eucharist to private sinners, as had been done by our Redeemer, for our instruction in this point, in regard to Judas at the Last Supper. Hence, as long as they are private sinners, we are not warranted in refusing them. But, if they be public sinners, the prohibition holds.

7. “Ask,” &c. These words are connected by some commentators (Maldonatus, &c.) with the Lord’s Prayer (6:9–15), as if our Lord was pointing out the mode in which we should pray for the petitions contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and they are so connected by St. Luke (11:9). Others connect them with the foregoing, thus: Our Lord’s precepts were very hard of accomplishment; the duties He imposes, beyond human strength, beyond the power of human nature, weakened by sin. He, therefore, points out both the source whence the necessary strength is to come, viz., from heaven, whence every good gift descends from the Father of lights, as also the infallible means of obtaining this necessary strength; and that is, prayer, offered up with the proper conditions and dispositions. Let them beg it of God, and He will give them grace and strength. “Ask,” “seek,” “knock.” These words are differently interpreted; but they, most likely, denote the different leading qualities of prayer. “Ask,” with confidence; “seek,” with diligence; “knock,” with unceasing perseverance. Of course, the words of this and the following verse being affirmative propositions, imply that we shall obtain the fruit of our petitions, all the other necessary conditions being observed; that is to say, provided we pray with the proper dispositions, both as regards the mode of praying and our own state of soul. For, we pray and receive not, “because we ask amiss” (James 4); and if we are determined to persevere in sin, or if we entertain feelings of vengeance, God will not hear us (Prov. 28:9; John 3:21; Prov. 21; Matt. 6:15). Also, the object of our petitions should be good, and conducive to our salvation, and sought for in a spirit of conformity to God’s holy will. Indeed, in every good prayer relating to temporal blessings, and immunity from temporal evils and sufferings, the condition, that God sees that they would serve our eternal salvation, is always implied (see 1 John 5:14, commentary on).

8. “For, every one that asketh,” provided he does so as he ought, both in regard to conditions and matter of prayer, and his own personal dispositions, “receiveth,” &c. In this general proposition, the last is repeated in a still more emphatic form. No one can allege his own weakness in excuse. To all, without exception, is given the grace of prayer, the expedite means of obtaining the necessary grace and strength from God. This is not confined to any particular person or class. “Every one,” be he saint or sinner, has the assurance of the Son of God Himself—infallible truth—that, if he pray as he ought, he shall be heard. From these words, it is inferred, that prayer is a necessary means of grace; that grace is given on condition that we pray for it. “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” Therefore, if we ask not, it shall not be given, is implied. This is particularly true of that great gift—that crowning grace—of final perseverance (Concil. Trid. §§ vi. Can. xvi.), which, if we obtain, we are saved; if we fail to obtain, we are lost. (Con. Trid. §§ vi. Can. xxii.) This is of faith (Concil. Trid. §§ vi. Can. xxii;) and although it is not of faith, it is still quite certain that there is only one means of securing this all-necessary grace. That one only means is prayer. It cannot be merited, but it can be infallibly obtained, by persevering prayer. “Suppliciter emereri potest” (St. Augustine).

9–11. “Bread,” though in nature and substance quite different from “a stone,” in form and colour, resembles it. The same is true of “a fish” and “a serpent.” Man is said to be “evil,” either compared with God, whose nature is Infinite goodness, “who in His angels found wickedness” (Job 4:18), “and the stars are not pure in His sight” (Job 25:5), or, rather, on account of his proneness to evil from his youth (Gen. 6:5; 8:21), not to speak of his own voluntary and sinful transgressions. The connexion seems to be this: If an earthly father, who is evil, as explained, will not refuse his son the necessaries of life, will our heavenly Father, whose nature is goodness; who, “although a woman should forget the fruit of her womb, will not forget us,” refuse His children the necessary good gifts they earnestly ask of Him? And again, if an earthly father will not give his children what they ask for, when he knows the objects of their petition to be either useless, as a stone in place of bread, or noxious as a serpent, in place of a fish, although they may earnestly seek for them, thinking them to be good, while they are really evil, how much more determinedly will our heavenly, benevolent Father withhold from us these objects of petition which He knows would be ultimately injurious to our eternal welfare? In the above reference to our Heavenly Father, and the comparison instituted, two things are conveyed. 1. That He will give us what He knows to be for our good, when we ask them as we ought. 2. That His goodness will prevent Him from lending an ear to our petitions, when He sees, that granting them would injure us, viz., when we ask for what we imagine to be “bread,” but, which He sees to be a worthless stone, He, then, will not grant it; or when we think we ask for a “fish,” which He knows to be in reality noxious, “a serpent,” He will, then, withhold it.

The connexion may also be this: “Ask, and you shall receive,” provided you ask for what is necessary and expedient. For, if you ask for what He sees to be injurious; if you ask for a fish, which He knows to be a “serpent,” this good, heavenly Father will withhold these noxious gifts, and give you something better instead, v.g., if He refuse to remove temporal evils, the removal of which might injure your salvation, He will grant the greater gifts of perfect patience and sweet conformity to His holy and adorable will.

Know how to give good gifts to your children.” The word, “know,” expresses custom or habit of doing a thing. Thus, it is said, “the sun knoweth his going down” (Psa. 103:19). The words of this verse (11), which are a sort of conclusion, clearly indicate the object of our Lord in introducing the example of the earthly father in the preceding verses to be—1st. That, as the earthly father gives gifts to his children, so will the heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him; and 2ndly, as the earthly father would not give noxious gifts, even when urgently sought to do so, so, neither will our heavenly Father. “He will give (not bad, but) good things;” or, as St. Luke has it, “He will give the good spirit to them that ask it” (Luke 11:13).

12. “Therefore,” may be inductive or inferential, as if He said: All that I have said in the foregoing regarding the love of our neighbour, including our enemies, regarding alms-deeds, forgiveness of injuries, &c. may be briefly summed up in this great principle of the natural law, this leading maxim of moral philosophy, “all things whatsoever you would” rationally desire, by a truly Christian wish (it does not, of course, embrace corrupt, sensual wishes) “that men would do to you,” &c. The connexion of this verse is traced by Maldonatus to c. 5:42. Besides being easily connected and aptly fitted together in sense, St. Luke, who probably observed the order and connexion in which our Redeemer spoke, connects them immediately (6:31).

For this is the law,” &c. By “law,” is meant the Pentateuch. By “the prophets,” all the other books of the Old Testament, whether prophetical or not. The Hebrews were wont to call the Books of Kings, the Psalms, &c., prophetical, (11:13; 22:40, &c.) The words, then, mean: This first principle of the natural law is the compendium of all that Moses and the other inspired writers have written on the subject of fraternal charity; or, if we understand by the love of the neighbour, the love of him for God’s sakeand this alone is the true Christian idea of the love of our neighbour—then, the words will mean, that this great principle is a compendium of the entire law, new and old, since in this sense, the love of God, too, is included. The whole law is summed up in this: the love of God for His own sake, and of our neighbour for the love of God (see commentary, Rom. 13:8). Some commentators connect this verse with v. 1, making the intervening verses parenthetical illustrations or examples. In this verse, our Redeemer inculcates brotherly love. The fulfilling of the precept of brotherly love adequately, including the love of God, as above explained, is the compendium of the entire law.

13. After having fully explained His law, which contained so many precepts opposed to flesh and blood, such as the love of out enemies, the contempt of earthly treasures, utter self denial, &c., like the paradoxes with which this Sermon on the Mount opens, our Redeemer employs the remainder of this chapter in earnest exhortation to all His followers to observe His commandments; and, in order to obviate an objection which might, possibly, be advanced, viz., that these precepts were very difficult of observance, and rendered the attainment of salvation very hard, He tells them that such is the case; because, the gate which opens on the road to heaven is very narrow, and the road which conducts thereto very strait, and entered on by very few; and while they needed the aid of God’s grace to fulfil their duties (verses 7, 8), they must, on their part, prevented and aided by this all necessary grace, earnestly co-operate in this work of salvation. This is more clearly expressed by St. Luke (13:24), “Strive to enter by the narrow gate,” &c.

For wide in the gate,” &c. The gate that opens on the road to hell is wide and spacious, and so is the road itself. Many are the paths that, from every side, lead to it. For, countless are the ways of committing sin, and of violating God’s commandments. Moreover, it is so perfectly in accordance with the inclinations of our corrupt passions, and the dictates of flesh and blood, that “many there are who go in thereat.” St. Luke (13:23) would insinuate that these words were used by our Divine Redeemer in reply to a question put to Him—“Lord, are they few that are saved?”

14. “How narrow is the gate,” &c. This is but a repitition, for greater emphasis’ sake, of the assertion implied in the preceding verse regarding the fewness of the elect. It is the same as if our Redeemer meant to convey to us, if you wish to secure eternal life, you must enter the narrow gate, through which but few enter. You must adopt their hard, penitential life, walk in their footsteps, and carefully follow their example. In interpreting this passage, commentators and spiritual writers are greatly divided about the meaning of what is conveyed regarding the fewness of those saved. Some understand the words to mean, that taking the whole bulk of Christians and members of God’s Church into account, we are to conclude, when we compare their lives with the Gospel precepts, that far the greater number are lost; and in proof of this view, they quote what they regard as the types of those who are saved and those who are lost. The 1st, is Sodom; 2nd, the Deluge; 3rd, the two who alone entered the promised land—a type of heaven—out of thousands, viz.: Caleb and Josue (Num. 14:30); 4th, the comparison made by Isaias (17:5), of the few ears left after the mowers, and the few grapes after the vintage; 5th, the words of our Lord (c. 20), “Many are called, few chosen.” St. Chrysostom (Hom. 4 ad populum); and St. Augustine (Lib. 4, contra Crescentium, c. 53), even understand the comparison to be true of Christians. Others, however, understand the comparison of mankind in general, and these hold, that the greater number of the children of the Church, the immense number who die before reaching the use of reason included, are saved; because, even the greater part of adult members of the Church are blessed with the use of the sacraments. The words of St. Peter (2nd Ep. 2:19, 20, see commentary on), seem to me greatly in favour of this mild opinion, which wonderfully “exalts mercy above judgment” (James 2:13), and which better accords with our ideas of the goodness of God, of His will to save all, shown in the mystery of redemption and the several abundant institutions of grace. The opinion of St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom seems very harsh, and utterly improbable.

15. As the way to eternal life is narrow, and the gate that opens on it difficult of entrance, and only entered by the few, one is wont to look for a safe guide on entering on such a path. Hence, our Redeemer here cautions us against trusting our destiny to the guidance of every one indiscriminately. “Beware of false prophets.” The word, “prophet,” in its strict etymological sense, designates one who, under Divine influence, predicts future events. Besides this common acceptation, the Greek word, προφητης, as well as its corresponding Hebrew term, Nabi, denotes one who, rendered conscious of the designs of God, through whatever medium, whether through visions, dreams, angels, &c., communicates, and interprets to men, these hidden designs of God, whether in regard to the past, present, or future. Thus, Genesis 20, Abraham is called a prophet; Psa. 104, “in prophet is meis nolite malignari” (Num. 12); 1 Kings 9, Samuel told Saul the business he was about: Elizeus (4 Kings 5:26), told Giezi what he received from the Syrian; Christ told Nathanael secret things (John 1); Peter, to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts), &c. It denotes those who spoke unto the edification of others from knowledge divinely imparted. (1 Cor. 14) Indeed, St. Paul, who received his Gospel, not from man, but from the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1), might be said in this sense, to have acted the part of prophet in all his writings. It sometimes designates those who sing the praises of God (1 Kings 10:5). It sometimes denotes one who is rendered delirious under the influence of a wicked spirit (1 Kings 18:10), “Spiritus malus Dei invasit Saul et prophetavit,” &c.

It is in the sense of teacher, or, one sent by God to instruct the people, the word is used here. The words, “false prophets,” according to St. Jerome and others, mean heretics, propounders of false, corrupt doctrines; false teachers, who affect a mission from God which they have not, and were thus apt to mislead the people, like unto the lying teachers mentioned by St. Peter (2nd Ep. 2:1). This is the meaning of the word (c. 24:11), of this Gospel, also in Mark, and Luke, and Apocalypse, where it is, three different times, employed in connexion with the beast, and elsewhere. In these several places it denotes men pretending to an extraordinary mission from God. Among the Jews, “false prophets” denoted men sent to oppose the true prophets of the Lord (St. Jerome).

Who come to you,” self-sent, without any commission from God or His Church, like the men of whom the Lord speaks (Jer. 23:21), “I did not send prophets; yet, they ran: I have not spoken to them; yet, they prophesied.”

In sheep’s clothing.” These words, although understood by some to refer to the dress of the prophets—“sheepskins”—expressive of their poverty and mortification (Heb. 11:37), or, rather understood to be allusive to the dress of shepherds, who were generally clad in sheepskins; still, are generally understood in a mystical or metaphorical sense, of the external appearance of simplicity and truth—the characteristics of true prophets—which these men externally put on, in order to delude the people. “But, inwardly they are ravening wolves.” They put on all this external garb of sanctity, in order the more effectually to ruin the souls of the people, and involve them in eternal perdition, “and draw disciples after them from the truth.” (Acts 20:29, &c.) St. Jerome understands the “false prophets” to refer to heretics, and every one knows what a sanctimonious appearance heretics generally assume, both in words and manner, in order to deceive the unwary and lead them away from the faith. Some are of opinion that in these words there is an allusion to the well known fable of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. There must surely be question of those who pretend to an extraordinary mission from God.

16. “By their fruits,” &c. Our Redeemer here gives us a sign, whereby we may know these false teachers, who lead us astray from the strait path that leads to heaven, so that we may avoid them. “Fruits,” is understood by some commentators of their doctrine or teaching. But, it may be objected, how can one know their false teaching by their teaching? Is not this confounding the sign with the thing of which it is a sign? Moreover, might not bad men teach true doctrine? Did not the Scribes and Pharisees, whom our Lord everywhere denounces, sit in the chair of Moses, and teach true doctrine? The reply is, we know their doctrine to be true or false by comparing it with the doctrine of God’s infallible Church; if it differ from this, it is false doctrine. Similar is the mark given by St. John of “the false prophets” or Antichrists of his day. (1 Epis. 4) Men possessing an ordinary commission from God, through His Church, would teach true doctrine, although wicked and sinners, as did the Scribes and Pharisees; while, on the other hand, a good man might inadvertently propound, in a particular case, false doctrine. But, in case of men pretending to an extraordinary mission from God—and it is to these our Redeemer here refers—a safe rule, absolute and unexceptionable in every case, would be to try their teaching by the touchstone of orthodoxy—the doctrine of that Church, with which Christ promised to remain Himself (Matt. 28:20), and deposit the fulness of truth through His Holy Spirit (John 14:16–26) to the end of ages. It seems quite clear that our Lord cannot refer to those men who receive their commission from His Church. These could not be called “false prophets.” Against these He would not caution His followers. On the contrary, He would tell them to obey them, and hear them. In this interpretation, which understands “fruits” of the teaching of men pretending to an extraordinary mission, the mark given will be an absolute, universal one. To it may be added the working of miracles. These are the credentials which one pretending to an extraordinary mission should exhibit; and the power of producing such “fruit,” in favour of false doctrine, God will never grant to any false teacher. That He refers to doctrine when speaking of their “fruits,” would appear probable from St. Luke (6:45), “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart,” &c.

Others understand “fruits” to refer to their personal conduct and morals, as well as to the consequences resulting from the principles which they disseminate. This note is very commonly given in SS. Scripture (Rom. 16:17, 18). In this interpretation, our Redeemer conveys only a probable, a morally universal mark, for distinguishing teachers of error pretending to an extraordinary mission. Although they may affect a character for sanctity (“in sheep’s clothing”) by the external practice of prayer, fasting, alms-deeds, mortification, &c.—in themselves equivocal and employed by hypocrites to delude and impose on the unwary—and by freely, and on all occasions, employing certain maxims apparently redolent of holiness; still, it is morally impossible that such men could perseveringly wear the mask without detection, and lead a continuous life of sanctity. Sooner or later, they shall exhibit the concealed wolf, in their own wicked actions, and the sad consequences of their teaching. This is borne out by the whole experience of Church history. The history of all heresiarchs, and the influence of their teaching, both in regard to civil and ecclesiastical authority, furnish the most lucid commentary that could be brought to bear on this passage.

Both these interpretations may be united; and it may be fairly said, that, “their fruits,” the mark by which the “false prophets”—the unsent teachers, “who come” of themselves, not sent by God—may be distinguished, embrace, first, their teaching at variance with the unchangeable doctrines revealed by God, and deposited in the safe keeping of his Church; secondly, their own personal morals, combined with the consequences of the principles they disseminate. They may, no doubt, announce some true doctrines, even redolent of sanctity. They may also perform certain good works, and practise externally, certain virtues, and have always ready at hand certain maxims of piety, and phrases calculated to mislead the unwary, and thus they will appear “in sheep’s clothing.” But, in regard to doctrine, their teaching, taken as a whole, shall not be free from grievous errors; and, in regard to their morals, the body of their actions shall, in the main, be found far short of what a Christian life ought to be; and some of their principles shall produce consequences involving the subversion of all authority, civil and ecclesiastical, as history too truly testifies. The “sheep’s clothing” in which they first appear, for the purpose of more easily devouring the flock, will, in course of time, disappear; and then it will be seen what they really are. Some commentators (among whom is Jansonius), “by fruits,” understand their conduct, and their works, not such as are equivocal, and may be practised by hypocrites to deceive, when they appear “in sheep’s clothing,” such as fasting, alms, &c., but their works of the flesh, referred to by St. Paul (Gal. 5:19). These, viz., “dissensions, envies, rontentions,” &c., shall accompany them, and thus show their true character, as “charity, peace, joy,” &c., shall be a mark of good teachers.

These men, “coming” of themselves, unsent by those vested with the ordinary authority of governing the Church, whom our Lord commanded all to hear, and whom He vested with the plenitude of power to rule and govern the Church, should produce the credentials of their extraordinary mission, viz., miracles; and these as being the seal of God Himself, shall never be granted by Him to false teaching or a false mission, without counteracting and opposing them by greater miracles, stronger evidences of truth. This He owes to His own Divine veracity. It should be always borne in mind, that in speaking of “false prophets”—the very term was calculated to remind the Jews of what their fathers suffered from that wicked class—our Redeemer does not refer to those who have an ordinary commission from His Church, but to those pretending to an extraordinary mission, and for these alone the mark given in verse 16 is intended.

Do men gather figs of thorns?” &c. In Luke (6:44) it is, “figs from thorns, and grapes from a bramble bush.” The meaning is the same. The metaphor, or rather parable, referred to in the word, “fruits,” is illustrated in those words. They are meant to convey the moral impossibility, if there be question of conduct; or, the absolute impossibility, if there be question of faith, for heretics or the false teachers in question, to produce permanently the wholesome, profitable “fruits” of faith or good works, in the sense already explained.

17. A further illustration. These words are read in St. Luke (6:42) immediately after the words, “Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye,” &c., as in verse 5 of this. The intermediate words, written by St. Matthew here, were probably used by our Redeemer, as St. Luke is more brief in his narrative; and the causal particle “for,” used by St. Luke, “for there is no good tree,” &c. (verse 43), shows that he connects this parable of the good and bad tree with hypocrites, and St. Matthew here does the same. For, there are no greater hypocrites than the “false prophets,” in connexion with whom St. Matthew here introduces the illustration.

Even, so.” This is consequent on the implied comparison in the preceding verse. As one cannot gather grapes of thorns, &c., “So, also, every good tree,” &c. The word “tree,” refers to fruit-bearing trees; it also includes bushes. By “a good tree,” St. Augustine understands, a good will. But, it more probably refers to men or teachers; for, it is to illustrate what is said of them the example is used; and, moreover, it is said (verse 19), they shall “be cast into the fire;” and St. Luke says, “a good man,” &c. (6:45). The words of this verse, understood of men, are literally true of the good man, the good teacher, or, “every good tree.” Such a man shall produce good fruit, both as regards faith and morals, in the sense already explained. “The evil tree,” likewise, “evil fruit.” The body of his teaching, and of his conduct, taken as a whole, shall be bad, although he may perform some good actions, and announce some truths; but, taken in its entirety, the fruit shall be bad. In order to be bad, it is not necessary that one be so in every thing or in every respect. “Bonum ex INTEGRA CAUSA, malum ex MINIMO defectu.”

18. “A good tree CANNOT yield bad fruit,” &c. May not a bad man do some good works? Maldonatus, in reply, says, he cannot do so naturally; it is not in his nature to do so. And he cannot, in the sense that he does not do so always or ordinarily; as a good man does not ordinarily do bad works. According to others (among whom Jansenius Gandavensis) the meaning is, it cannot be that all, or the chief and principal fruits of a good man would be bad; on the contrary, they must be good; as happens, on the other hand, in regard to the bad teacher, all, or his principal acts, cannot be good, so that by some fruits he may be distinguished or discerned from the good. This is the rule for distinguishing teachers—“igitur, ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos.” For, as “they come in sheep’s clothing,” their teaching and conduct must be externally good in some things. Our Redeemer did not give all their acts as a test or criterion for judging of them. This also appears from St. Luke (6:45), “A good man, out of the treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good.” But, He does not say, he always does so. So, in like manner, the wicked teacher must sometimes bring forth from “the abundance of his (wicked) heart” fruits by which he might be safely judged and discerned. From the false nature of their doctrine, in some points at variance with the SS. Scriptures and the unchangeable teaching of the Church, they are proved to be false teachers; and, as it is not of teachers deriving their ordinary commission from God’s Church, there is question here, but only of men pretending to an extraordinary mission, inspired by the Holy Ghost, this mark is given, their wicked life proves them not to be inspired by the Holy Ghost. With regard to those who come, commissioned by the Church, teaching what they learned from the Church, and acquired by study, and not by any extraordinary inspiration from God, it is not from their lives they are to be judged as teachers, but from their teaching, as far as it is in accordance with the doctrine of the Church.

Others understand the word, “cannot,” in sensu reflexo; inasmuch, as he is bad (quatenus malus), he cannot produce good fruit.

19. “Every tree,” &c. These words, which refer to the punishment of evil-doers in general, and of false teachers in particular, show, that by tree is meant, not the will of man, as St. Augustine explains it; but, man himself, who is the subject of punishment. This verse may be regarded as parenthetical.

20. “Wherefore,” since a good tree produces good fruit, &c., “by their fruits you shall know them.” This is an inference from the foregoing, having reference to teachers only, and to teachers pretending to an extraordinary mission, as already explained. It is not meant for ordinary teachers.

It should be borne in mind, with reference to the foregoing example of the good and bad tree, that it is introduced by way of parable, and that every property of an example of this sort can never be applied to the subject it is intended to illustrate; otherwise, in the present case, man would be regarded as devoid of free will; nay, of animal life, as a tree is gifted with neither. The extent of the application is regulated by the scope or object of the parable.

21. Some commentators (Jansenius, &c.) say, there is a transition here from treating of false prophets, and the marks whereby they may be distinguished, to the faithful in general; and this is rendered probable by the reading in St. Luke (6:46), “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say,” as if our Redeemer, after having carefully cautioned them against being led astray by false teachers from the path of the true faith, now points out the necessity for all, not alone of professing the true faith, but, also, of performing good works, and observing God’s commandments, so that true faith shall not avail, nor the repeated invocation of God’s name, without observing His law. Others hold, that this is a continuation of the former subject; that there is no transition at all; and that our Redeemer continues to show, that neither preaching, nor the invocation of the name of God, is among the fruits whereby they may be known, since many who invoke God, shall be excluded from the kingdom of heaven, if they do not faithfully observe His commandments. The words are used in the second person by St. Luke, “why call you,” &c. It may be that our Lord used these words on two different occasions, and in the way recorded by both Evangelists. St. Matthew records what He said of the false prophets in particular; St. Luke, of His hearers in general.

The will of my Father.” Our Redeemer, when speaking of the Divine will, speaks of His Father’s will, as if conveying that to His Father, by appropriation, He attributes the office of Legislator, and that of Divine Legate to Himself. This might be also more agreeable to His hearers, although Father and Son are both equal in all things. Certain qualities are, by appropriation, attributed to each of Three Persons of the adorable Trinity, although common to the Three Persons who possess the same Divine nature and attributes. In Luke it is, “the things which I say,” which shows the will of both to be the same. The word, “Lord,” is repeated, “Lord, Lord,” for emphasis’ sake, and to show the fervour of invocation, as, in next verse, its repetition indicates affright and terror.

The kingdom of heaven,” i.e., of heavenly glory, the meaning of the words, when joined to the word, “enter” (Maldonatus). Here, He speaks of entering into heaven, not by words, but by deeds. Moreover, it is clear from the following, that He is speaking of the rewards to be given not in the Church, but in heaven, from which some are to be excluded, “on that day.”

The will of His Heavenly Father includes, faith and love, with good works, according to the words of St. John (1 Ep. 3:23), “And this is His commandment, that we should believe … and love one another,” &c.

22. “In that day,” the Lord’s own well-known tremendous day of General Judgment, to which all look forward, when the kingdom of heaven shall be revealed. In this verse, our Redeemer adduces a still stronger illustration of the necessity of good works, as well as of faith, to insure an entrance into the kingdom of God’s glory. Even those who were favoured with the gift of prophecy and miracles, and possessed strong faith, shall be excluded.

Lord, Lord.” The repetition here is expressive of the terror and affright into which they shall be cast, on seeing their doom about to be sealod for ever. “In Thy name,” by Thy power, and authority, granted to us. “Prophesied,” according to some, means, explaining the SS. Scripture, as the result of the inspiration of the moment, and teaching the people, as in. (1 Cor. 14:2, &c.) Others understand it of the faculty of predicting future events. “Cast out devils,” “and done many miracles,” i.e., many other wonderful manifestations of Divine power. In these words, our Lord in general expresses what He had been expressing in detail in the preceding, regarding prophecy, casting out devils. In this verse there is, most likely, question of true miracles and prophecy; otherwise, if there were question of false miracles performed by diabolical agency, our Redeemer’s argument would not hold, which is, that good works are so necessary for gaining an entrance into the kingdom of heaven, that even the highest supernatural gifts, such as prophecy, or the faculty of working miracles, shall not avail without them. On the subject of miracles, whether they can be performed by Satan, and on the proof of truth which miracles furnish, see Murray’s, Very Rev. Dr., “Annual Miscellany,” vol. ii., for a splendid and exhaustive dissertation.

23. “And then,” hitherto I patiently dissembled my wrath and bore with them, waiting for them in mercy. But, “then,” when the reign of justice commences, “I will profess,” publicly proclaim, in the presence of the entire human race congregated together.

I never knew you,” not even at the very time you were performing wondrous works through the power I gave you, and while apparently doing my business. “Knew,” by a knowledge of love and predilection. The word, “know,” has frequently the meaning of loving, approving, &c., as in 2 Tim. 2:19. I did not know you, as my friends, my children, whom I predestined unto glory; I did not love you, because you did not practise what you preached. You omitted doing the will of my Heavenly Father.

Depart from Me,” &c. These words seem to be a quotation from Psa. 6:9, where the same words are used in the person of David. They correspond with the words to be addressed in judgment to the reprobate, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire,” &c. (Matt. 25:41) “That work,” the present tense, signifies, that they were engaged during life, and persevered, without repentance, unto the end, in performing wicked works, which is expressed by St. Luke (13:27), “ye workers of iniquity.”

24. “Every one, therefore, that heareth these my words,” &c. This conclusion, “therefore,” would favour the interpretation of those who, in our Redeemer’s words, at verse 21, see a transition from treating of the marks of false prophets, to treating of the necessity of good works for all men in general. Here, the same idea would seem to be conveyed in different words, by means of a very striking similitude, which could not fail to make a lasting impression on all His hearers, and bring the important truth of which He was treating, home to their minds. In verse 15, our Redeemer treats of the necessity of true faith, free from the admixture of error, conceived from false teachers. In this verse, He shows the necessity of good works, of fulfilling God’s precepts, by a very striking illustration. Hearing His words, will not suffice. “Not the hearers of the law are just before God” (Rom. 2:13). Doing them also is necessary; “but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Besides faith, good works are necessary for justification. This dogma of faith is clearly laid down in this eloquent and beautiful similitude of our Divine Redeemer.

These my words,” refer as well to the discourse just delivered by our Redeemer, as to all His words in general.

Every one, therefore,” as if to say, to conclude, then, and briefly illustrate all I have been saying regarding the necessity of good works for “every one,” without exception, as well teachers as those taught.

A wise man,” a prudent, provident man.

That built his house upon a rock.” These words may be accommodated to the spiritual sense intended to be illustrated by our Redeemer in this way: The man who not only believes, but observes God’s commandments, has placed the whole structure and tenor of his life on a most solid, unshaken foundation, viz., upon the observance of the Evangelical doctrine of Christ. Having intimately received the doctrine of Christ in the very bottom of his heart, and minutely examined its depths, its promises and threats, present and future, he is founded on a firm hope, and never shall be shaken by the storms of temptation, from whatever quarter or direction they may proceed, whether from above (“rains”), or below (“floods”), or laterally (“winds”); whether from the world, represented and denoted by the rains descending and enriching the earth—an emblem of swelling ambition and love of riches—the flesh, denoted by the flood, coming forth from the bosom of the earth—or, the devil, the chief of these airy spirits, that descend from all sides, these Princes of the power of the air who wage a fiendish war with mankind. The words may be also allusive to that dreadful day when the heavens and earth shall be moved out of their places (Isa. 28:2; Psa. 49:3; Wisd. 5:18). On that day, the man, who doeth the words of Christ perseveringly and persistently, shall not be moved, but “shall stand in great constancy against those who afflicted him” (Wisd. 5:1).

25. “The rains,” &c. The different elements denote the different kind of assaults, from above, beneath, and laterally—assaults from all directions. They are differently explained or applied by the Fathers. Most likely, the “rains” descending from on high, irrigating and fertilizing the earth, denote the love of wealth and honours, whereby the world allures men and turns them aside from the ways and service of God. “The floods,” arising from the bowels of the earth, denote the temptations arising from man’s own flesh. “The winds,” invisibly rushing on the house from all sides, denote the devil—“the (subtle) spirit of wickedness in high places,” “the Prince of the powers of the air.”

26. “Every one who heareth His words and doeth them not, shall be like a foolish man,” &c. The same is true of the man who neither hears nor does His words.

27. “And great was the fall thereof.” “Great,” entailing damnation which is irreparable, which is to last unchangeably for ever. No other conceivable ruin so great or deplorable.

28. “In admiration.” The Greek word means, to be in transport, or struck with astonishment, “at His doctrine.” So now, Divine, and heavenly, hitherto unheard.

29. “Having authority,” not like the Prophets of old, who only delivered the commands of God, “Hæc dicit Dominus.” He does not employ any form of words, implying that He was a mere legate. He employs the form, “Sed ego dico vobis,” “and not as their Scribes and Pharisees,” who merely gave expression to the traditions of men (23:23), and perverted the sense of Scripture, in their private interpretation. As regards their public capacity, as “sitting in the chair of Moses” (see c. 23:2). Moreover, He did what the Scribes, &c., dare not do, viz., as Legislator—“Sed ego dico vobis”—He added to and corrected the law itself. He also confirmed His doctrine by miraculous wonders. The words may also refer to His manner of delivering His discourse, with a holy zeal, energy, and earnestness proceeding from the Holy Ghost.

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