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Judging Others

by J. R. Miller
 

"Do not judge—or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:1-4.

It is better to have eyes for beauty—than for blemish. It is better to be able to see the roses—than the thorns. It is better to have learned to look for things to commend in others—than for things to condemn. Of course other people have faults—and we are not blind. But then we have faults of our own—and this should make us charitable.

We have a divine teaching on the subject. Our Lord said, "Do not judge—or you too will be judged." We need to understand just what the words mean. We cannot help judging others. We ought to be able to read character, and to know whether men are good or bad. As we watch men's acts—we cannot help forming opinions about them. The holier we grow and the more like Christ, the keener will be our moral judgments. We are not bidden to shut our eyes, and to be blind to people's faults and sins.

What, then, do our Lord's words mean? It is uncharitable judgment against which he warns us. We are not to look for the evil things in others. We are not to see others through the warped glasses of prejudice and unkindly feeling. We are not to arrogate to ourselves the function of judging, as if men were answerable to us. We are to avoid a critical or censorious spirit. Nothing is said against speaking of the good in those we see and know; it is uncharitable judging and speaking, which Jesus condemns.

One reason why this is wrong, is that judging is putting one's self in God's place. He is the one Judge, with whom every human soul has to do. Judgment is not ours—but God's. "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?" James 4:12. In condemning and censuring others, we are thrusting ourselves into God's place, taking his scepter into our hands, and presuming to exercise one of his sole prerogatives.

Another reason for this command, is that we cannot judge others justly and fairly. We have not sufficient knowledge of them. Paul says: "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts." 1 Corinthians 4:5. Men's judgments cannot be anything but faulty, partial and superficial.

We do not know what may be the causes of the faults we would condemn in others. If we did, we would be more charitable toward them. Some people's imperfections are an inheritance which they have received from their parents. They were born with the weaknesses which now mar their manhood. Or their faults have come through errors in their training and education. The nurse fell with the baby—and all down along the years the man goes about with a lameness or a deformity which mars his beauty of form. But he is not responsible for the marring, and criticism of him would be cruel and unjust. There are hurts in character, woundings of the soul, which it is quite as unjust to condemn—for they are the inheritance of other men's wrong-doing.

There often are causes for the warpings and distortings of lives, which, if we understood them, would make us pity others—and very patient with their peculiarities. We do not know what troubles people have, what secret sorrows, which so press upon their hearts as to affect their disposition, temper, or conduct. "If we could read the secret history of our enemies," says Longfellow, "we could find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough, to disarm all our hostility against them." For example, we wonder at a man's lack of cheerfulness. He seems unsocial, sour, cynical, cold. But all the while he is carrying a burden which almost crushes the life out of him! If we knew all that God knows of his life—we would not speak a word of blame. Our censure would turn to pity and kindness—and we would try to help him bear his burden.

Our hearts are softened toward men, when they are dead. We hush our fault-finding when we stand by a man's coffin. Commendation then takes the place of criticism. We see the life then in new light, which seems to emphasize whatever was beautiful in it; and we place into shadow, whatever was unbeautiful. We are reverent toward the dead. Nothing but good should be spoken of them, we say. Death invests the life with sacredness in our eyes. Yes—but is the life any the less sacred—which moves before us or by our side, with all its sorrows and struggles and fears and hopes? We should be reverent toward the dead, speaking of them in hushed accents—but we should be no less reverent toward the living.

A great deal of our judging of others—is mis-judging or unjust judging, because of the fragmentariness of our knowledge of their personal lives and experiences. It would ofttimes grieve us, and make us sorely ashamed of ourselves, if, when we have judged another severely—we should be shown a glimpse of the other's inner life, revealing hidden sorrows and struggles which are the cause of the things in him, which we have blamed so much. We have only a most partial view of another's life—and cannot form absolutely unerring judgments on what we see and know. We see only one side of an act, when there may be another side which altogether changes its quality. On the back side of the tapestry, is but a blurred mass of yarn; while the other side, is exquisite beauty. Life is full of similar two-sided views of people and of acts. We see a man out in the world, and he appears harsh and stern. We see him some day at home where his invalid child lies and suffers, and there he is another man—kindly, thoughtful, with almost motherly gentleness. It would have been most unjust to this man—if we had made up our judgment of him from the outside view alone, without seeing him in his child's sick-room.

A young man was severely criticized by his companions for his stinginess and miserliness. He received a good salary—but lived in a pinched way, without even the plain comforts that his friends thought he could easily have afforded, and without any of that generous expenditure in social ways in which other young men of his class indulged. That was one side of his life; but there was another. That young man had an only sister, (as they were orphans) who was a great sufferer, shut in her room, kept on her bed continually. This only brother provided for her. That was the reason he lived so miserly, saving every cent he could save, and doing without many things which other young men thought indispensable, that his sister, in her loneliness and pain, might be cared for and might have comforts. That was the other side of the character. Yet he appeared so unattractive to his friends. We see how unjust was their judgment, based on knowledge of only the one phase of his conduct. Seen in connection with its motive, the quality so severely censured—became a mark of noble, manly beauty!

A tender story is told of Professor Blackie, of Edinburgh, which illustrates the same lesson. He was lecturing to a new class, and a student rose to read a paragraph, holding the book in his left hand. "Sir," thundered the professor, "hold your book in your right hand." The student attempted to speak. "No words, sir! your right hand, I say!" The lad held up his right arm, ending piteously at the wrist: "Sir, I had no right hand," he said.

Then the professor left his place, and going down to the student he had unwittingly hurt, he put his arm around the lad's shoulders and drew him close to his breast. "My boy," said Blackie—he now spoke very softly—yet not so softly but that every word was audible in the hush that had fallen on the classroom—"Please forgive me that I was so rough? I did not know—I did not know!"

Our own imperfections also unfit us for judging fairly. With "beams" in our own eyes—we cannot see clearly to pick "motes" out of our brother's eye.

One of the qualities which make us incapable of impartial judgment of others—is envy. There are few of us who can see our neighbor's life, work, and disposition without some warping and distortion of the picture. Envy has a strange effect on our moral vision. It shows the beautiful things in others—with the beauty dimmed. It shows the blemishes and faults in them, as exaggerated.

In other forms, too, the miserable selfishness of our hearts obtrudes itself and makes our judgments of others ofttimes really unkind and uncharitable.

The lack of experience in the particular struggle of another, makes many people incapable of sympathy with sorely tempted ones. Those who have never known a care nor felt the pinching of poverty—cannot understand the experiences of the poor. Thus, in very many ways, we are unfitted to be judges of others.

Another reason why we should not judge others is that our business with them, our true duty toward them—is to help them to rise out of their faults! We are set together in life—to make each other better. And the way to do this—is not by prating continually about the faults we see in others. Nagging and scolding never yet made anybody godly! Constant pointing out of blemishes—never cured anyone of his blemishes!

Perhaps there is a duty of telling others of their faults; but, if so, it exists only in certain rare relations, and must be exercised only in a spirit of rare lovingness. We are often told that one of the finest qualities in a true friend is that he can and will faithfully tell us our faults. Perhaps that is true—but not many of us have grace enough to welcome and accept profitably, such an office in a friend. A mother may tell her own children their faults—if she will do it wisely and affectionately, never in anger or impatience. A teacher may tell his pupils their mistakes and show them their faults—if it is done in true, loving desire for their improvement. But in ordinary friendship —one cannot accept the office of censor, even when besought to do so—except with the strongest probability that the result will be the loss of the friendship—as the price paid for the possible curing of the friend's fault.

Nagging is not a means of grace. There is a more excellent way, the way of love. It is better, when we wish to correct faults in others—to be careful to let them see in us, in strong contrast, the virtue, the excellence, opposite to the defect which we see in them. It is the habit of a certain good man, if one of his family or friends mispronounces a word in his hearing, never pedantically to correct the error—but at some early opportunity to find occasion to use the same word, giving it the correct pronunciation. Something like this is wise in helping others out of their faults of character of conduct. An example is better than a criticism.

That was our Lord's way with his disciples. He never scolded them. He bore patiently with their dullness and slowness as scholars. He never wearied of repeating the same lesson over and over to them. But he was never censorious. He did not keep telling them of all the blemishes which he saw in them. That was not his way of seeking their growth into better, sweeter life. His heart was full of love. He saw that in back of all their infirmities and failures—was the sincerity and the desire to do right, and with infinite patience and gentleness he helped them ever toward a holier and sweeter life.

We need to relate ourselves to others—as did Christ to his disciples, if we would help others to grow into spiritual beauty. Censoriousness accomplishes nothing in making people better. You can never make anyone sweet—by scolding him. Only gentleness will produce gentleness. Only love will cure infirmities of disposition. As a rule, fault-finding is exercised in any but a loving spirit. People are not truly grieved by the sins in others, which they complacently expose and condemn. Too often they seem to delight in having discovered something unbeautiful in a neighbor, and they swoop down upon the blemish—like a vulture on carrion! If ever criticism is indulged in—it should be with deep grief for the friend, that the fault exists in him; and with sincere desire that for his sake it be removed; and then the criticism should be made, not in the ear of the world—but "between him and you alone."

We should train ourselves, therefore, to see the good, not the evil—in others. We should speak approving words of what is beautiful in them; not bitter, condemning words of what may be imperfect or unlovely. We should look at others through eyes of love, not through eyes of envy or of selfishness. We should seek to heal with true affection's gentleness, the things which are not as they should be.

J. R. Miller, Judging Others, 1894

See also:

The Cookie Thief

Judging is permitted and even obligated

Contemporary Christians have been conditioned

Truly converted?

Uncharitable judgment is forbidden

The duty of fault-finding


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