Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
[The Anglican preacher-writer here expounds on a subject too readily misunderstood: the Sermon on the Mount prohibition against judging. The writer correctly associates the prohibition with forming opinion. The prohibition is not addressing church discipline, which Jesus dealt with in Matthew 18:15-18, or gross sin and immorality. That the criminal code exists and the law punishes crimes and misdemeanors is evidence enough that serious issues should be taken seriously and that matters of fact are to be distinguished from matters of opinion.]
Our Lord here condemns all rash judgments. We know not the motives of other men’s actions, and therefore have no right to pass a sweeping condemnation on them. From our ignorance, we ought to be cautious and merciful in our judgments, and from our own weakness, we should be forgiving to those who have trespassed against us.
Rash judgments arise from pride. It is because we are puffed up with a high opinion of our own selves, our own goodness, the soundness of our judgment, the sharpness of our perception, that we are so prompt to pass judgment on others.
This same pride urges us to something else: persistency in maintaining that on which we have determined, even after we know it is unwise. It is of this that I am going to speak today. This fault is so closely akin to rash judgment of others, that I may well address you on the subject on a Sunday when our Lord warns against the other.
Many a man, out of pride, sticks to what he says after he knows that it is wrong. He will not admit that he is wrong, or he is moved by a false sense of what is due to himself to hold to his word, or to his opinion, when his conscience tells him that he is in error. You must have met with those stubborn persons who are not to be moved by any argument, not to be convinced by any proof, that they are wrong. They have made up their minds once for all, and are no longer open to reverse their decision.
Let us look to Scripture, and see if we have any examples of such. I find two; and one of these is in a man of whom we might have hoped better things—King David.
When David came to the kingdom, he was anxious to show kindness to any son of Jonathan whom he might find; and he heard of Mephibosheth, who was lame in both his feet, and at once made over to him all the landed property that had belonged to King Saul, his grandfather.
After seven years, Absalom, David’s son, conspired against his father, and David was obliged to fly from Jerusalem, with a few friends. As David was escaping, there came to him Ziba, a servant of Mephibosheth, with a couple of asses saddled, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred bunches of raisins, and a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. When David asked Ziba what these were for, Ziba answered that he had brought them to the king as a present, thinking he might need them in his flight.
When the king asked after Mephibosheth, Ziba said, “Oh, he is at home in Jerusalem. He said in my hearing, A good time is coming to me. Today shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father” (2 Samuel 16:3).
Now, all this was a wicked lie. Mephibosheth had sent the present, and Ziba had promised to tell David why his master could not come with him, because he was crippled in both his feet, and could not get about. As for any idea of recovering the throne of Saul, it had not once entered Mephibosheth’s head.
Now when David heard the slander of Ziba, he was angry with Mephibosheth, and at once he judged him, and condemned him, without waiting to hear more. David said to Ziba, “Behold, I will give you all that belonged to Mephibosheth, if ever I get back to Jerusalem and recover my power” (cf 16:4).
Not long after, there was a great battle, and Absalom was slain, and the enemies of David put to flight. Then David returned over Jordan from the wilderness where he had taken refuge, and Mephibosheth met him. This good man, full of love for David, “had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes” (19:24) all the time of David’s absence, to show his great grief.
David at once reproached Mephibosheth for his disloyalty. “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephibosheth?” (19:25).
Mephibosheth explained, “My servant, Ziba, deceived me, for he said, I will go to the king, because your servant is lame. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king” (19:26, 27). Only then was it known how great a lie Ziba had told.
Then David answered, “Why speak anymore of your matters? I have said, You and Ziba divide the land” (19:29).
Mark the wicked injustice. The lying, slanderous servant Ziba is rewarded with half the property of poor Mephibosheth. Why? Because David had promised him the whole when misinformed. David knows that Ziba has acted falsely, yet, because he had said to him that he should be given the land of his master, he keeps his word to him, though he knows he is doing an injustice to Mephibosheth.
There you have a pretty example of an obstinate man sticking to what he has said, after he is convinced that he has been misled, and doing a great wrong rather than acknowledging that he had judged rashly, and condemned on no good grounds.
I can give you another example. King Herod was pleased with the dancing of the daughter of Herodias one evening at a supper, and he swore to her, when he was half-tipsy, that he would give her what she liked in reward for her display. Then she asked him to cut off the head of John the Baptist, and give it her in a dish.
Now, as soon as she asked this, the king was sorry, for he knew that John was a good man, and he knew also that he had no right to have a man murdered in prison to please the whim of a wicked woman; however, because he had passed his word, he was too proud and cowardly to go back from it, and refuse her what she had no right to ask.
Then he sent an executioner, and he cut off the head of the saint, and put it in a dish, and it was brought thus to the girl, and she carried it to her mother.
A man is right to stick to his word, if his word be right. He is right to stick to his promise, if he have promised that over which he has a just right. He is right to stick to his opinion if his opinion be founded on good grounds, and if he have heard nothing that ought to cause him to alter it.
But—no man has any right to stick to his opinion simply because it is his opinion. He has no right to hold a promise which he had no right to make. He has no right to adhere to a harsh judgment simply because he has formed that judgment.
When our Lord bids us not judge, He bids us be cautious in forming a decided opinion, and in sticking to it through thick and thin. We know so little here, and so imperfectly, that our opinions must be formed on uncertain grounds, and therefore we have no right to be tenacious about them. Yet many persons are as touchy about their opinions as though it were a sacrilege to dispute them. Some of the greatest injustices have been done through obstinacy, in clinging to opinions that have become untenable.
Remember then the lessons taught you by our Lord in this day’s Gospel, and also by the conduct of David. Be cautious of forming a judgment; and when you have formed one, do not allow pride to stand in the way of confessing your fault, and changing your opinion, when you are given reasonable grounds for so doing.
“In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Start Point Light, Devon, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 41. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.