A Censorious Spirit

Matthew 7:1-5
       Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): What is this danger against which our Lord is warning us? We can say first of all that is a kind of spirit, a spirit which manifests itself in certain ways. What is this spirit that condemns?

ANDREW FULLER (1754-1815): The judgment which Christ forbids is that which arises not from good-will and a faithful discharge of duty, but from a censorious spirit, which takes pleasure in thinking and speaking evil of those about us, puts the worst construction upon actions of doubtful motive, and is severe in detecting smaller faults in another, while blinded to far greater ones in ourselves.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: It is a self-righteous spirit. Self is always at the back of it, and it is always a manifestation of self-righteousness, a feeling of superiority, and a feeling that we are all right while others are not. That then leads to censoriousness, and a spirit that is always ready to express itself in a derogatory manner. And then, accompanying that, there is the tendency to despise others, to regard them with contempt. I am not only describing the Pharisees, I am describing all who have the spirit of the Pharisee.
      It seems to me, further, that a very vital part of this spirit is the tendency to be hypercritical…The man who is guilty of judging, in the sense in which our Lord uses the term here, is the man who is hypercritical, which means that he delights in criticism for its own sake and enjoys it―this spirit hopes for the worst; it gets a malicious, malign satisfaction in finding faults and blemishes. It is a spirit that is always expecting them, and is almost disappointed if it does not find them; it is always on the look-out for them, and rather delights in them.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): There is a certain sweetness in this sin, so that there is scarcely a man who itcheth not with a desire to inquire after other men’s faults. This wicked delight in biting, carping, and slandering doth Christ forbid, when He saith, “Judge not.”

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): They censure others, because they take themselves to be wiser than others…Being blinded with self-love, and lifted up with self-conceit [is] the cause of his censuring and speaking evil of others.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): If any man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain, James 1:26.
      In a vain religion there is much censuring, reviling, and detracting of others. The not bridling the tongue here is chiefly meant of not abstaining from these evils of the tongue. When we hear people ready to speak of the faults of others, or to censure them as holding scandalous errors, or to lessen the wisdom and piety of those about them, that they themselves may seem the wiser and better, this is a sign that they have but a vain religion. The man who has a detracting tongue cannot have a truly humble gracious heart. He who delights to injure his neighbour in vain pretends to love God; therefore a reviling tongue will prove a man a hypocrite. Censuring is a pleasing sin, extremely complaint with nature, and therefore evinces a man’s being in a natural state…This has ever been a leading sin with hypocrites, that the more ambitious they have been to seem well themselves the more free they have been in censuring and running down others…In a vain religion a man deceives his own heart; he goes on in such a course of detracting from others, and making himself seem somebody, that at last the vanity of his religion is consummated by the deceiving of his own soul.

ANDREW FULLER: It is remarkable that those who are most disposed to detect the faults of others are commonly the most faulty themselves, and therefore the least qualified for that which they are so eager to undertake. And herein lies their hypocrisy: they would seem to be great enemies to sin, whereas, if this were the case, they would begin with their own. It is therefore nothing better than selfish rancour, under the mask of zeal and faithfulness. It also deserves notice, that he who is under the dominion of any sin is utterly unqualified to reprove; but he that has first repented of his own sin shall thereby be fitted to deliver his brother from his. “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): [King] Henry I made the length of his own arm a standard measure―since called a yard―throughout England. Do not bigots act much the same part in matters of religion?

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us, and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God. I readily believe, that the leading points of Arminianism spring from, and are nourished by, the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse was always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who, for want of clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord. And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to abase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): I rode over to a neighbouring town, to wait upon a justice of the peace, a man of candour and understanding; before whom―I was informed―their angry neighbours had carried a whole wagon-load of these new [Methodist] heretics. But when he asked what they had done, there was a deep silence; for that was a point their conductors had forgot. At length one said, “Why, they pretended to be better than other people; and besides, they prayed from morning to night.”
      Mr. S., [the justice of the peace], asked, “But have they done nothing besides?”
      “Yes, sir,” said an old man, “an’ it please your worship, they have converted my wife. Till she went among them, she had such a tongue! And now she is as quiet as a lamb.”
      “Carry them back, carry them back,” replied the justice, “and let them convert all the scolds in town.”


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