Lately I’ve been working on a Wesleyan interpretation of Matthew, so I’ve been reading a lot of Wesley, particularly his thirteen discourses on the Sermon on the Mount. Going back through his corpus of sermons reminds me what great treasures they are, and how he always attempts to deal with theological issues in a practical and pastoral manner. In his sermon, “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth,” he deals with the issue of judging others, particularly with reference to Matthew 7:1-5.
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,”while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
Part of what is so difficult about this passage is that it seems inconsistent with what comes next:
‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you (7:6).
To discern from whom we might wish to withhold “holy things” and “pearls,” we would need to exercise some degree of judgment. So what are we to do with this passage?
Mr. Wesley offers some helpful advice on the matter. The judgment we give, he says, is what we will also receive, so we should be most cautious in our judgment. As is his practice, Wesley then attempts to show how Jesus’ saying might be applied in real-life situations. Take a robber or murderer, for example, or someone who blasphemes God’s name. Can they not be judged? Wesley says that in fact they can, and that there is no evil in such judgment. God teaches us that robbery, murder, and blasphemy are sinful. It is therefore appropriate that we should hold those who commit such sins accountable.
There are several areas in which we might go wrong in judging, however. First, we err if we fail to recognize our own tendency to sin. As Jesus puts it, “Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (7:4). To those who would judge without consideration of their own shortcomings, Wesley has this advice: “
Know thyself. See and feel thyself a sinner. Feel that thy inward parts are very wickedness, that thou are altogether corrupt and abominable, and that the wrath of God abideth on thee (7).
The judging Jesus condemns, he says, is “thinking of another in a manner that is contrary to love” (9). This might involve thinking someone is guilty of sinful actions or intentions when he or she is not, condemning the guilty to a higher degree than is deserved, assuming that someone who commits a particular sin must be guilty of other sins, or condemning someone without sufficient evidence.
What about Jesus’ admonition, “Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs”? (7:6). To discern from whom we might wish to withhold “holy things” and “pearls,” we would need to exercise some degree of judgment. Wesley cautions that we should not think that anyone deserves to be put in this category without incontestable proof. Nevertheless, once it becomes clear that a person is dead set against fellowship with God, we should not cast before them the “holy, the peculiar doctrines of the gospel” (16). Such a perspective is consistent with Wesley’s view of free will. It is possible for one to reject God. It is possible for one willfully and knowingly to become an enemy of God. To cast the pearls of the gospel before such people is simply to provide them another opportunity for blasphemy. As Jesus teaches, “They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you” (7:6).
For Wesley, then, we should undertake judgment as Christians with the utmost caution, but unfortunately it is sometimes necessary in the life of the church.