By J.R. Miller
The Sermon on the Mount tells us the kind of people Christians should be. The Beatitudes with which it opens, show us pictures of the character that is like God.
There is a legend which says that when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, an angel broke the gates into pieces, and the fragments flew all over the earth. The gems and precious stones which are picked up now in different parts of the world are these fragments of the paradise gates. It is only a fanciful legend--but it is true that in the Beatitudes, the Commandments, and other divine revealings of heavenly character we have fragments of the image of God which was on the man's soul at the beginning--but which was shattered when man fell. The Sermon on the Mount is full of these gleaming fragments. We should study them to learn God's thought for our lives. Some of these shining words we have in our present study.
The Master said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye--and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Luke 6:41. It is strange, how blind we can be to our own faults and blemishes; and how clearly at the same time we can see those of other people! A man can see a very small speck of dust in his neighbor's eye, while he is entirely unaware of the plank in his own eye. We would say that a plank in a man's eye would so blind him that he could not see the mote in his brother's eye. As Jesus expresses it, however, the man with the plank is the very one who sees the mote--and thinks himself competent to pull it out!
So it is in the common life. No man is so keen in seeing faults in another--as he who has some great fault of his own. A vain man--is the first to detect indications of vanity in another. A bad-tempered person--is most apt to be censorious toward another who displays irritability. One with a sharp, uncontrolled tongue--has the least patience with another whose speech is full of poisoned arrows. A selfish man--discovers little motes of selfishness in his neighbor. Rude people--are the first to be hurt by rudeness in others. If we are quick to perceive blemishes and faults in others--the probability is that we have similar and perhaps far greater faults in ourselves! This truth ought to make us exceedingly careful in our judgment, and modest in our expression of censure.
"How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?" We do not know through what experiences our brother has passed, to receive the hurts and scars on his life which seems so ugly, so disfiguring, in our eyes. It would scarcely be in good taste for a dainty civilian, at the end of a day of battle, to criticize the soiled and torn garments and blood-stained face of the soldier just out of the struggle. We do not know through what fierce battles our brother has fought, when we look critically upon his character and note peculiarities which offend us. The marks which we call faults--may be but the scars received in life's hard battles, marks of honor, decorations of bravery and loyalty--if we only knew it.
If we knew the real cause of all that seems unlovely in those we meet, we would have more patience with them. "But is it not a kindness to a friend--to take the mote out of his eye?" someone asks. "If we meet a neighbor with a cinder in his eye, would it not be a brotherly thing to stop and take it out for him? Even if we have whole lump of coal in our eye at the same time, would it not be a kindly act for us to desire to relive our suffering fellow-man? Then it is not just as true a kindness, to want to cure another's fault, even though we have the same fault in more aggravated form in ourselves?"
If we did it in the right spirit--it would be. But the trouble is, that we are not apt to look at our neighbor's faults in this loving and sympathetic way. It is the self-righteous spirit that our Lord is here condemning. A man holds up his hands in horror at the speck he has found in his neighbor's character; and his neighbor sees in him--an immensely magnified form of the same speck! Will the neighbor be likely to be greatly benefited by the rebuke he receives in these circumstances? Suppose a bad-tempered man lectures you on the sin of giving way to temper; or a dishonest man lectures you on some apparent lack of honesty; or a liar lectures you on the wickedness of falsehood; or a rude-mannered man lectures you on some little discourtesy of yours; or a hypocrite lectures you on insincerity; what good will such lectures do you, even admitting that you are conscious of the faults? "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye!" Luke 6:42
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers." This is very clear in the matter of trees. Nature never deviates from her fixed laws. No one expects to gather grapes off a bramble bush; nor does one ever find thorns growing on an apple tree. Every tree bears its own kind of fruit. The same is true of life. A bad heart does not make a good character; nor does it produce acts of beauty and holiness. It is a law of life that "as a man thinks in his heart--so is he."
We have it all here in the following verse. "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart--his mouth speaks." The thoughts make the life. The temple rose in silence on Mount Moriah; no noise of hammer or ax being heard in the building all the time it was in rising, because down in the quarries under the hill, and in the shops in the valley, every stone and every piece of timber was shaped and fitted perfectly, before it was brought to be laid in its place.
Our hearts are the quarries and the workshops, and our thoughts are the blocks of stone and the pieces of timber which are prepared and are then brought up and laid in silence upon the temple-wall of our character. Think beautiful thoughts--and your life will be beautiful. Cherish holy impulses, unselfish feelings, gentle desires--and your conduct will show beauty, purity, and gentleness to all who see you.
The picture upon the canvas if first a dream, a thought in the artist's mind. Just so, all the lovely things we do have their birth in lovely thoughts within us. On the other hand, think unholy thoughts--and your life will be unholy; think impure thoughts--and your character will be stained and blotched; think bitter, unkind thoughts--and your life will be full of unkindness, resentment, and bitterness. No wonder that we are told in the Bible to "keep our heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life!" If we would be godly and live well, we must have our heart renewed by God's grace. If Christ lives in us, then all will be well.
"Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Confession of Christ is a good thing--but unless the life corresponds, it is only a mockery! It is not enough to honor Christ before men, praying to Him and ascribing power and glory to Him. Jesus tells us that those alone shall enter heaven--who on earth obey the will of the Father who is in heaven. Every confession of Christ--must be confirmed and approved by obedience and holiness.
"Simply to Your cross I cling" is not all of the gospel of salvation; it is only half of it. No one is really clinging to the cross--who is not at the same time faithfully following Christ and doing whatever He commands. We never can enter heaven--unless heaven has first entered our heart. We shall do God's will in heaven when we get there; but we must learn to do it here on earth--or we never shall get there.
"I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice, is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." All turns on the doing--or not doing of Christ's words. Both the men hear the words of Christ--but one of them obeys, and thus builds upon the rock-foundation. The other hears--but does not obey, and builds upon the sand.
Both men built houses which were probably very much alike, so far as the appearance was concerned. But there were two kinds of ground in that vicinity. There was a wide valley which was dry and pleasant in the summer, when the men were looking for building sites. Then there were high, rocky bluffs. One man decided to build in the valley. It would cost less. The digging was easy, for the ground was soft. Then it was more convenient, for the bluffs were hard to reach. The other man looked farther ahead, and decided to build on high ground. It would cost far more--but it would be more safe. So the two homes went up at the same time, only the one in the valley was finished long before the other. At last the two families had settled in the two residences and were happy.
But one night there was a storm. The rain poured down in torrents, and floods swept down off the mountain. The house that was built in the valley was carried away with its dwellers. The house on the bluff was unharmed.
The illustration explains itself. He who has built in the valley is the man who has only professions--but has really never given his life to Christ, nor built on Him as a foundation. The man who built on the rock is the man who has true faith in Christ, confirmed by living obedience. The storms that burst--are earth's trials, and the tempest of death and judgment. The mere professor of religion, not a possessor, is swept away in these storms; for he has only sand under him. He who is truly in Christ is secure; for no storm can reach the shelter of Christ's love. It is a terrible thing to cherish a false hope of salvation throughout life, only to find in the end--that one has built upon the sand!