A word to search the heart
It is timely that we should reconsider the Scriptural teaching on the subject of judging and judgment, for if we obtain the wrong viewpoint we can inflict grievous injury upon others as well as doing ourselves serious harm. As all know, there are various shades of thought in the original which must be clearly distinguished, and the essential theme of our present meditation is the definite Scriptural injunction to refrain from condemnation of others. If we fall into this snare we are anticipating our future work before qualified to engage in that work.
Even in human affairs the procedure is very clear. Judges are selected from practising barristers (in this land), and the honour of being one of Her Majesty's High Court judges does not come until towards the end of a brilliant legal career. No one would for a moment endeavour to deliver judgment other than the judge on the Bench, for to do so would be to offend against long‑established custom and all rules of proper procedure. Moreover, the judge himself does not pass sentence until he has heard all the evidence on both sides; with his trained mind he is able to sift that evidence and pronounce judgment accordingly. Let us apply these principles to the spiritual life.
It is understood that the new creation this side of the veil are in training to qualify for the exaltation to the Throne of the Kingdom from whence they will judge both men and angels. It is for this reason, among others, that various experiences come to them in the School of Christ whereby they may learn to develop the faculty of judgement. No one during his training is competent to exercise the functions of the office for which he hopes to qualify, hence why should we try to judge, in the sense of condemning, while in our training days?
There are several good reasons why we should not condemn others. Firstly, we cannot read the heart and, following the illustration given above, we are unable to have access to all the evidence. Time and again we make decisions which we afterwards find to be unsound because they are based on inadequate premises. If our decisions have manifested themselves in condemnation, then we often have occasions of sadness as we think of our immaturity; if full of grace, we do at least endeavour to apologise so that our brother may not be stumbled. Again, even supposing we had all the evidence before us, it must be appreciated that our judgment is faulty; even the best of us can be mistaken, and at times we are woefully deceived. Moreover, our knowledge of the law by which God judges us is far from perfect and if we do not have a thorough grasp of the law in question—the law of love—it is obvious that we cannot administer that law. (The function of an earthly judge is to know the law and administer its provisions.)
Among the many things which tend to stumble the Lord's people is this tendency to condemn others because they may not agree fully with us—not only on matters of doctrine, but on conduct and their course in life generally. "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt.7:1‑2). This outlook of condemnation inevitably tends to discourage, yea, to stumble others. Indeed, it is one of the many causes of the neglect of some to assemble together with those of like precious faith; they mistakenly feel that they are better at home instead of using that important means of grace—the ecclesia (church)—for the development of the new creature.
In any event, condemnation can do no good at all. The Heavenly Father and the Son—the latter as the Father's representative—have the honour of judgment, and the Church, will not share that honour until glorified. In many cases, the power of the message of truth is weakened because those who wield it do so in an unchristian‑like manner, and those who would otherwise heed, neglect to hear because prejudiced by what seems to them to be a spirit entirely foreign to the truth itself. Charles Russell aptly writes:‑ "The fallen or carnal mind is selfish; and proportionately as it is for self it is against others—disposed to approve or excuse self and to disapprove and condemn others…This habit is the more pronounced with advanced education. The mind recognises higher ideals and standards and forthwith measures every one by these, and, of course, finds something at fault in all. It delights in rehearsing the errors and weaknesses of others, while ignoring its own along the same or other lines,—and sometimes, even, hypocritically denouncing the weaknesses of another for the very purpose of hiding its own or giving the impression of superior character along the line in question."
Time and again, we hear brethren assigned to the Great Company class. (Rev.7:9) The writer has been so assigned himself on occasions, and this is specifically mentioned in order to emphasise the lesson before us. Moreover, this final condemnation is often called forth because of some more or less trivial difference of viewpoint not affecting the fundamental features of the "faith once delivered." This manifestly shows narrow‑mindedness associated with ignorance and weak judgment. Is such a description in itself condemnation? This brings us to the next point.
Let no one misunderstand these observations. While we must avoid condemnation of others, we must nevertheless be positive characters knowing what is right as regards both doctrine and conduct. But instead of condemning let us be an example of the believers, in line with our positive outlook, for example is far more forceful than precept, and when precept is couched in terms of condemnation it is worse than useless.
We need to develop discernment, but this is a different kind of judgment from that of condemnation. The Apostle everywhere counsels that we be no longer children in the faith—tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. On the contrary, we must grow so as to appropriate to ourselves the "strong meat" of the word which "belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb.5:14). We should give a bold witness for the truth, and refuse to compromise the message on any grounds whatsoever. The same Apostle Paul who is so outstanding in this respect also said: "It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Cor.4:3‑5).
There is a vast difference between criticism and condemnation, especially when the criticism is constructive. The saintly writers of the Scriptures frequently criticised those to whom they ministered; the Apostle Paul often spoke very plainly, as also did the prophets of old down to John the Baptist, while, above all, our Lord Himself made His witness very plain and clear. Even here, however, it is necessary to observe discretion and to follow the example of criticising wrong systems of teaching and unwise practices, rather than venting our criticism on individuals.
If we find it necessary to utter a word of criticism it must be spoken in love because it is designed to do good—to assist and not to stumble. If we witness definitely against systems and methods which we find to be unscriptural, then the individuals will readily heed if rightly exercised, whereas the personal method might not appeal at all.
We all probably think first and foremost of condemnation in relation to doctrine because this spirit of condemnation is so evident in this respect. But let us also emphasise the same wrong attitude in connection with conduct. The Apostle counsels: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal.6:1). While avoiding condemnation, it frequently happens that we feel it our Christian duty to point out in love certain apparently wrong courses taken by those who are brethren. To refrain from speaking would be to fail in our duty, yet it must be done in the spirit of meekness for the reason given by the Apostle.
There is a general tendency today towards slackness in this Laodicean period, (Rev.3:14‑22) but we often find on investigation that what we have taken to be slackness has been the very reverse. The writer realised this forcibly when one such an experience came his way, and the one whom he endeavoured to help remarked: "You only see my failures; you do not know of my successes, and how hard it is to overcome this fault." How striking! How cautious it should make us in dealing with others, yet ever remember that this does not give any authority for failure to perform our duty by others.
Never can we know the obstacles against which others have to contend. The Lord alone knows and can judge righteously. Finally, here is another pertinent comment:
"But few of the Lord's people realise to what extent they judge others, and that with a harshness which, if applied to them by the Lord, would surely bar them from the Kingdom. We might have feared that, under our Lord's liberal promise that we shall be judged as leniently as we judge others, the tendency would be to too much benevolence, too much mercy, and that 'thinketh to evil' might be carried to an extreme. But no! All the forces of our fallen nature are firmly set in the opposite direction. It is more than nineteen centuries since our Lord made this generous proposal to judge us as leniently as we will judge others, and yet how few could claim much mercy under that promise!"