“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” – Matthew 7:1
The Lord’s commandment “Judge not, that ye be not judged” is one of those passages in the Word which illustrate the necessity of knowing true doctrine in order to understand the Lord’s meaning. It would clearly be wrong to infer from this command that every kind of judgment is forbidden, for we are distinctly taught in the very chapter in which the text is found that we are to judge a tree by its fruits, and in the seventh chapter of John we are commanded to judge not according to the appearance but to judge righteous judgment. In fact our whole life from the cradle to the grave is little else than a continual series of judgments – judgments between the true and the false, between the good and the bad.
Consider what we should be without judgments. There would be no law courts, no judges, no jury. We should have no protection against fraud and violence, no power to guard ourselves against evils either from within or from without. Indeed without judgments human life could not go on at all. We have to judge for our children whether the influence of certain associates is good or evil. We have to judge whether or not one can be trusted, whether what he says is true or false. Judgment is a faculty given us for use.
“Judge not” is not a command to suspend judgment, but is introductory to a statement of the law of judgment, or of the effect of judgment upon us: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” There is an important lesson for us here. There is a kind of judgment against which we are warned. “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Any judgment that is based on thoughts of self will be wrong. Nor is it permissible for us to judge the spiritual state or the interior motives of anyone, for these are known to the Lord alone. We know little about our own spiritual states; how much less can we know the states of others! It is not in the power of any one of us, of any finite judge or any tribunal, to declare the spiritual state of any man living. This belongs to the Lord alone.
Not even in thought should we condemn a person as evil or attribute evil motives to him. If we do this, we bring our own character under condemnation. And this is true of larger groups and of nations as well as of individuals.
It is true that the idea of motives enters into our judgments, as all acts are from motives and in some instances an external motive can be known. We have to judge external acts, whether they are harmful or useful, good or bad. And we may go so far as to say that if the act is representative of the internal state of the man, if he is internally what he appears to be externally, he is good or bad as the case may be. But we are not permitted to say he is good or he is bad, and therefore that he is saved or condemned. One who is pleasing to us may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and one who exhibits many outward habits which we condemn may at heart be better than we are.
There are many secret motives that lie deeply concealed in the human soul, whose activity enters into every action. We know nothing about these motives. They may be good or bad. In fact, man’s highest and most essential motives have their seat beyond the sphere of ordinary human scrutiny. They do not lie within the civil or moral life but within the spiritual sphere of the mind, and no one can judge of these but the Lord alone. Of a man’s spiritual aspirations and of his actual spiritual state we can make no unconditional judgment.
“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” On first glance it may seem that such statements are too severe to be Divine laws. Yet these laws are spiritually true. We cannot destroy another’s light without putting out our own. We cannot use false reasoning without making our own reason false. Forgive and we shall be forgiven. If we do not forgive, the law of forgiveness can find no basis for operation in us. The Lord’s purpose is always to save, never to condemn.
In the Gospel of John we are told how to judge. We are to judge not according to the appearance, but to judge righteous judgment. We are to judge with charity. There must be the desire to help and not to condemn. Whatever is contrary to the truths of the Word we are to judge and condemn, but we are not to judge the spiritual state of others, nor are we to put the worst possible construction on the conduct of others. Evil conduct must be condemned and never condoned, and it must be ascribed to him who is guilty of it, but we must always without ceasing hope for the best – hope that there are in the sight of God extenuating circumstances. The person may have overwhelming inherited tendencies, or he may have lacked proper instruction in youth and the practice in self-denial that would have given him mastery over himself.
What we think and will is woven into our character. In judging justly, kindly, and wisely we make justice, wisdom, and kindness traits of our own nature. Judging with suspicion, narrowness, jealousy, and envy establishes these traits in our character. Our judgment is according as we are. One who is just and considerate will render a judgment like himself. We cannot be separated from our affections, thoughts, and acts. They make us; they shape us and form us. What we put into them we are. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”
We read in number 2520 of the Arcana Coelestia: “No one is recompensed on account of his doing good and teaching truth; the external does not matter, but the internal in proportion to the affection of good in doing good, and to the affection thence of truth in teaching truth, in so far as it is not from self.”
Where love is there is hesitation in making a judgment that anyone is evil. The spirit of good-will is hopeful of good, slow to condemn or to impute evil. The outward life of two persons may be alike; yet one may be inwardly good and the other evil. We do not help people by judging them to be evil, nor do we aid by searching out evils in others in order to condemn. The angels always seek for the good, and this they try to increase and make so strong that it can cast out the wrong. It is the evil spirits who search out evils, that they may inflame them and destroy the man. Evil spirits dwell in the evil, angels in the good.
In this we see our true method of greatest helpfulness, namely that we search for the good and endeavor to extend it. We are all under this law of judgment. We read in the Scriptures of a final Judgment which comes when life here is finished. In reality our daily life is this judgment. We are in a world where right and wrong, good and evil commingle. By making our daily choices we are passing judgment on what we shall be. So it is written, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee” and “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” We pass judgment on ourselves by every choice that we make, by every thought that we will, by every act that we do.
The springs and streams that flow into the lake make it what it is. The laws of the spiritual world are illustrated by those of nature, for they are both God’s laws. The laws of the spiritual world are those of the mind, for the mind is of the spirit.
We are to judge evils in ourselves and in the world at large, for evils will not go out of themselves. It is not charity to let evils go unnoticed and unchecked. But all judgment must be in the spirit of helpfulness.
We have much to learn and many errors to correct. In fact we are placed in this world that we may freely and honestly exercise our judgment, and by so doing determine our own eternal destiny.
The Word was given to instruct and to guide us that we may be able to judge between the good and the evil, and to induce us to choose the one and shun the other. “Judge righteous judgment.”