Judge not, that ye be not judged. The words point to a tendency inherent in human nature, and are therefore universally applicable, but we must remember, a special bearing on the Jews. They, in the religious progress of mankind, took on themselves to judge other nations. All true teachers of Israel, even though they represented different aspects of the truth, felt the danger, and warned their countrymen against it. Paul (Romans 2:3, 1Corinthians 4:5) and James (James 4:11) alike, in this matter, echo the teaching of their Master. And the temptation still continues. In proportion as any nation, any church, any society, any individual man rises above the common forms of evil that surround them, they are disposed to sit in judgment on those who are still in the evil.
The question, how far we can obey the precept, is not without its difficulties. Must we not even as a matter of duty be judging others every day of our lives? The juryman giving his verdict, the master who discharges a dishonest servant, the bishop who puts in force the discipline of the church, are these acting against our Lord’s commands? And if not, where are we to draw the line? The answer to these questions is not found in the distinctions of a formal casuistry. We have rather to remember that our Lord here, as elsewhere, gives principles rather than rules, and embodies the principle in a rule which, because it cannot be kept in the letter, forces us back upon the spirit. What is forbidden is the censorious judging temper, eager to find faults and condemn men for them, suspicious of motives, let us say, for example, in controversy, and denouncing, the faintest shade of heresy. No mere rules can guide us as to the limits of our judgments. What we need is to have “our senses exercised to discern between good and evil,” to cultivate the sensitiveness of conscience and the clearness of self-knowledge. Briefly, we may say, Judge no man unless it be a duty to do so. As far as may be, judge the offence, and not the offender. Confine your judgment to the earthly side of faults, and leave their relation to God, to Him who sees the heart. Never judge at all without remembering your own sinfulness, and the ignorance and infirmities which may extenuate the sinfulness of others.