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ARE any of you, my brethren, surprised at the choice of the text that has been read to you? Do you say, that the prohibition contained in it is so well known by Christians, that there is no need to address them concerning it? Such a remark would indeed display little knowledge of the world : wherever we go, we see this precept violated. Every where we find persons hastily and malignantly judging their neighbours. No virtue is so spotless, no piety so ardent, no sex so tender, no age so venerable, no function so sacred, as to exempt from these assaults. Is it possible, that those who thus judge others, know the guilt of their conduct, and reflecton the rigorous doom which awaits them at the last great day? This is inconceivable. They cannot have made this truth the subject of their'examination and reflections. In such circumstances, what is the duty of a minister of Christ? Is it not to call your attention to a subject so important; a subject which
our eternal Judge assures us is most intimately connected with our future destiny? Is it not to exclaim in the words of Jesus, “ Judge not, that ye be not judged ?"
These words present two points for our consideration:
1. The duty, Judge not, and,
Listen to their illustration, with that attention which their importance demands.
I. From examining the context, it evidently' appears, that the Saviour here speaks only of those
, judgments that we form concerning our neighbour. Even these are not without exception prohibited. There are favourable judgments, which so far from being forbidden, are commanded. As far as circumstances permit, we are bound to think advantageously of those with whom we live, to render to them the praise and the justice which is their due, to cultivate that charity which believeth all things, hopeth all things that can reasonably be believed and hoped. Nay, further, there are judgments unfavourable to our neighbour, which Jesus does not here prohibit: I mean those which the duty of our station obliges us to form, and those which the clearest evidence sometimes compels the most charitable to make. Civil and ecclesiastical judges, parents, teachers, and in general all those who are placed in any authority over others, must frequently, not only inwardly condemn a criminal, but also publicly censure, and inflict upon him that punishment which his crime merits. In such cases, silence, connivance, would not be virtues, but crimes. And besides, my brethren, there are a thousand cases in which the guilt of our neighbour is so clear and indubitable,
that to wish to justify him to ourselves or to others, would not be reason and religion, but weakness and passion. In such cases the Saviour has not required us to close our eyes against evidence, and to combat against the truth.
These are the cases to which the rule in my text does not apply. Far from wishing to extend this prohibition beyond its just limits, I enter upon its illustration with the most scrupulous precautions. Let this inspire you with renewed attention, whilst I show what is the true object of the prohibition.
When our Lord prohibits us to judge, he condemns two crimes which are both aggravated and common. He condemns first, that inward disposition of the mind and heart which inclines so many persons to judge the actions of their neighbour with precipitance, with malignity, and with rigour; and, secondly, the habit of communicating to others the rash and severe judgments we have formed, when no necessity engages us to it. Let us resume these two ideas, and whilst we are illustrating them, let each of us examine and judge himself in the fear of the Lord.
Do we not very frequently judge with precipitance? What precautions are not taken at human tribunals, before sentence is pronounced upon an accused person! The most exact investigations are made; the defence of him who is accused is received ; those circumstances which appear favourable to him are attentively observed; he is confronted with the witnesses who testify against him; and complete proofs are required to condemn him. Would to God, my brethren, that in the ordinary intercourse of life we were as circumspect before condemning our neighbour! Would to God, that we always re
flected, that when unjustly condemned by us, they will appeal, in a manner most terrible for us, from that tribunal, which we have without authority erected, to the tribunal of the Judge of men! Then we should not judge our brother on vague reports; then we should feel that, until we are assured of facts, of the principal circumstances connected with the conduct of our neighbour, of his dispositions and intentions, we are bound to suspend our judgment concerning him; then we should remember, that appearances are often deceitful, that a thousand actions seem censurable, which cannot be blamed when we know all their circumstances, and all the motives impelling to them: then, in one word, we should not judge with haste and precipitance.
Malignity is too often united with precipitance in the judgments which we form of our neighbour, and inclines the greater part of men to believe evil of him, and to put the least favourable construction on his words and actions. Envy, pride, hatred, and innumerable other motives, daily lead persons to convert the appearance of evil into reality, and the feeblest presumption into full certainty. Animated by such sentiments, they eagerly listen to every report, they supply all circumstances that are wanting; what is not found in the actions they seek in the intentions and motives; and of two explanations that can be given to the same fact, they always prefer that which is least advantageous. Do you wish to know, my brethren, whether you have been animat
, ed by this malignity in judging others? The point can easily be determined, if you will faithfully consult your souls. When you formed these unfavourable judgments concerning your neighbour, was it with a sincere pain, with a true grief, that you felt yourself compelled to do so ? Or, on the other hand, did you feel no repugnance: did you feel even an inward satisfaction, a confused sentiment of pleasure, although you would not acknowledge it, but strove to conceal it under the veil of an apparent regret, a studied compassion ? If this be the case, be assured that your judgment was prompted by malignity; be assured that it is to you that the Saviour cries, “ Judge not.”
The Saviour, in these words, condemns not only precipitance and malignity, but also that rigour which is so often discerned in the unfavourable judgment of our neighbour. If after we are clearly convinced of his failings; if after thoroughly examining, we are reluctantly compelled to believe that he is criminal; if after this, we contented ourselves with inwardly esteeming that conduct blameworthy, which is so in reality, and with profiting from his fall to strengthen ourselves in duty, we should do nothing but what reason and religion approve. But look around you, my brethren, or rather look within you, and see whether this moderation is always observed. Do you not find, that those same persons who judge with precipitance and malignity, condemn without pity or charity? They add new rigours to the law of God; they exaggerate the crime committed; they consider him utterly inexcusable who has fallen into it; they display every thing that can aggravate his guilt. From this single failing, they deduce the darkest consequences with regard to his whole character and conduct; they make a merit of this rigorous severity; they deck it with the beautiful names of love to virtue, zeal for religion, regard to the glory of God. But what article of religion authorizes him, who has such need of mercy, to show none to others? What precept of the gospel justifies this inhuman severity? What part of the revelation of the God