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The Blinding Effect of Indulged Sin.


by the Rev. John Keble

Sermon XII.

from Sermons for the Christian Year:  Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity

Part I, Sundays I - XII



S. LUKE. vi. 41. 

"Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam, that is in thine own eye?"

OUR blessed Saviour is here giving directions, in the first place, to His Apostles and the other ministers of His Word, and through them to us all.  He had just before asked a question, which every man's own heart and conscience answers at once.  "Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?" Can one bad ignorant man be a propel guide for others who are bad and ignorant? When a traveller had lost his own way, should he meet another traveller in the like case, how senseless would i1 be of him, how cruel, if, instead of confessing his ignorance, he should pretend to give a direction! Ye' this is nothing to the folly and cruelty of one wicked and ignorant person taking on him to guide another in the way of eternal life.   Shall they not both fall into the ditch? Who can bear to think of the fearful end of such presumption and madness? "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord."  If he that teacheth, knows not the way, or if, knowing, he will not walk in it; how is it possible that he who learns should find it?  This is Jesus Christ's own fearful warning to careless unworthy men, setting up to be teachers.   And of course the universal feeling of mankind goes entirely along with it.   We all know what we think of a careless, wicked, unprincipled clergyman.   We know what feelings we had, when we heard in the Bible last Sunday of the two sons of Eli, the priests Hophni and Phinehas, how by their horrid impurity and greediness and profaneness they brought ruin on themselves, and caused men to abhor the offering and service of the Lord.   We know what our words and thoughts would be, if we should come to hear of the like conduct in any of those who now wait on God's Altar.   All the severe sayings of the Judge of all men, uttered here on earth, would come into our minds.   "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye are like unto whited sepulchres: ye are like unto graves that appear not: ye make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but their inward part is full of extortion and excess."


But now our Saviour seems to go on and teach us, that, in this and all our other indignant feelings, we have need to look at home.   The very same temper which in them we so fear and dislike, we may well apprehend, exists in ourselves, like a smothered fire, a spark beneath embers, only waiting for temptation and opportunity to fan it into a deadly flame.   So we may understand our Lord to signify, and not to mean His Apostles and ministers only, when He follows up His first parable, in this part of His sermon, with a second.  The first parable is that of the blind leading the blind, and seems to relate especially to those, who at any time shall venture to be teachers in His Church.  The second is that in the text, the parable of the mote and the beam: and this seems to touch not teachers only, but all persons, more or less.  It touches us all, with respect to the disposition we all have to look to other men's faults instead of our own.  It signifies not how much greater or more glaring our own bad doings and habits are: we seem in comparison to have no power of understanding or discerning their malignity.  "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but the beam which is in thine own eye thou considerest not?"  The mote, i.e. the least possible fault, something no bigger in comparison than the grains of small dust, which we see floating in the air on a sunshiny day.  The beam, i.e. something considerable, a large scale or chip, such as sometimes gets somewhere about the eye, and when it is there men cannot help seeing it, whether the person, on whom it is seen, thinks of it himself or no.  The motes then in the parable are the lesser faults and sins of infirmity, to which even the best Christians are subject, concerning which S. James speaks, "In many things we all offend:" [S. James iii.2] and the Psalmist, "Who can tell how oft he offendeth?' [Ps. Ixi. 12.]  Such are occasional bursts or acts of anger, fretfulness or sloth, idle words, hasty censuring of others, or whatever other faults even a good man may be overtaken in, though he earnestly struggle against all sin, and permit not any to get the dominion over him.  These are the motes; blemishes indeed, but neither large nor lasting enough to obscure a Christian man's inward sight, his power of knowing right and wrong: although it is true that the least one of them, wilful1y indulged and allowed to gather others to it, will grow into a beam, a serious mischief, such as evil darken and pervert our heart and mind.  These are the motes: but what our Lord calls beams are the presumptuous habitual sins, when people wilfully go on with something which their conscience reproves them for; when they resist good advice or the motions of the Holy Spirit within them; when they look out for excuses, and try to make out that such and such things cannot be helped, and are not so very bad.  Such faults as these, whether in thought, word or deed, our Lord likens to beams in the eye, because they are great and lasting mischiefs: they do not come and go, like motes, or little specks of dust, but once encouraged or neglected, they fix themselves there, they become, as it were, part of the eye itself, and prevent its discerning anything rightly. 


Such being the difference between motes and beams, our Lord here warns us, that, how plain so- ever we may think it, we are in great danger of being wrong about it in our judgement of ourselves and others.  There is a tendency in all men to think much of the mere infirmities of their neighbours, and very little of serious faults in themselves.  We see it very remarkably in almost, all that the Gospel history tells us of the Pharisees.  They watched our Lord to see if He would heal on the Sabbath day; they reproved the people who came to be healed on that day; but they were not afraid themselves to employ that day in contriving how to shed the innocent blood of the most Holy Jesus.  So great was their blindness, that they were even active in correcting and finding fault with others for offences, very much less than themselves were notoriously guilty of.  They said of our Saviour, "This Man is not of God, because He keepeth not the Sabbath day;" they found fault with His disciples for so simple a thing as rubbing the corn out of the ear, that they might eat it, on the Sabbath day; they pretended to be sorely offended, if one did but eat one meal with a publican or sinner: yet these same persons could, without scruple or remorse, consort with the wicked heathen Pilate, in contriving false witness against the Blessed Jesus, preferring a murderer to Him, and giving Him up to an undeserved death by torments.  It seems strange, as we read or hear it: but what say our own consciences, if we would consult them fairly?  Surely it is no uncommon thing for persons to speak harshly and deal strictly with others, for sinning in the same kind, in which they are themselves notoriously guilty.  Proud people, for example, can very ill bear to see others proud or assuming, and are continually complaining of it.  Angry and passionate people seldom fail to remark on the ill-temper of those whom they have to deal with.  Covetous men may be often heard to speak scornfully of their neighbours, especially those with whom they have any dealings, for their inordinate selfishness and love of money, and for being always too much on tneir own side.  It is not that they think of their own doings but resolve not to seem ashamed of them, to put a bold face on the thing, to sin with a high hand in despite both of others, and of their own consciences.  No doubt some have brought themselves to this: but it is not of such that I now speak, but rather of persons who by long use have brought themselves to go on without ever thinking of the bad part of their own doings at all.  Their conscience, perhaps, smote them at first, but it was unpleasant, and they would not listen to it: and now they have been so many years accustomed to disregard it, that it has quite left off speaking to them on the very points which they most need warning on: they are proud, or covetous, or slothful, or discontented, without in the least suspecting it themselves: no wonder then, if they freely blame in others proud, covetous, slothful, discontented behaviour, being quite unaware that they are all the while blaming themselves.  I suppose indeed, that when some remnant of good feeling does begin to disturb them a little, and make them doubt if all be going on quite right, this very way they have of blaming others serves in some measure to reconcile them to themselves: they talk eagerly against such and such sins, which they see their neighbours guilty of: their eager talk kindles a sort of feeling, and they encourage themselves to think that they really dislike those sins, and cannot of course, in God's sight, be guilty of them: and yet all the while they only dislike them so long as they are themselves free from temptation to commit them: when their own turn comes to be tempted, then their excuses are all ready at hand.  Some: times they are really anxious, for one reason or another, to keep those who depend on them right: parents, e.g. are really vexed and shocked to have their children do wickedly, while yet the same wickedness, unrepented of, is down in God's book against their own names.  David, as a king, could not endure the thought of the rich man's cruelty and oppression in taking the poor man's ewe lamb, but considered not the far greater cruelty, oppression and impurity, which he had himself been guilty of in the matter of Uriah.  It needed a Prophet sent from God, to say plainly, "Thou art the man," before he could see or feel his own wickedness: so blinded was he by the beam in his own eye, while yet he could see and complain of what was but in comparison a mote in his brother's eye.  It may be, had the prophet not spoken plainly out, and said to David, "Thou art the man," he would even have been the less inclined to repent, because of the honest indignation he felt on hearing the account of the cruel rich man.  He would have been silently pleased with himself for his good feeling, and this would have gone along with the natural blinding power of the sin itself, in delaying his repentance and making it imperfect when it came.  Such is the fearful case of those whom our Saviour speaks of, as saying to their brother, "Brother" let me pull out the mote out of thine eye, while yet the beam is in their own eye."  He sentences them in one word by calling them hypocrites, that word of severest wrath, which He was used to utter against the incorrigible Pharisees. 


And yet, while He so threatens and reproves, of His great mercy He shews the way to repentance.  "Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Repent in good earnest; overcome your wilful sin by those remedies which the holy Gospel ordains; obtain of the Almighty the casting out of the evil spirit of pride or lust or whatever it be which possesses you, and you will bye-and-bye receive a blessing more than you can understand, in your endeavours to amend others.  While your inward sight is darkened by anyone wilful and indulged sin, all that you do in God's cause is of course confused, doubtful, unsteady: what you do right, you do it as it were by chance, like a person feeling his way in the dark.  But in proportion as you improve in the true fear of God, and in obedience to His holy laws, you will be guided more and more certainly in what you do for His sake.  I do not say that your duty will be more easy and comfortable to you, or that you will seem to see your way: but that you will on the whole know how to do God's work better, and will prosper more in the thing, whereunto He sends you.  This is one of the great encouragements offered to timely, hearty, zealous repentance, in parents especially, or in teachers, or in those who are in any way entrusted with the souls of their brethren.  As the beam becomes gradually purged out of their own eye, they shall see clearly to cast out the mote out of their brother's eye.  As their conscience becomes more tender and exact, they will feel for others as for themselves, will be more alarmed and shocked at their sins, more anxious to do them good, more busy in praying for them, and in seeking all means of their amendment.  And, besides, they will have more and more of the secret aid of God's gracious Spirit, putting it in their hearts to do the best for their brethren.  Thus it was, for instance, with S.  Paul; no one was ever more thoughtful for others, because no one ever was more severe to himself.  Every day, and all day long, he was keeping under his body, his soul and imagination, and bringing them into subjection, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Jesus Christ: every day, therefore, and all day long, he was better able to become all things to all men, to discern men's spirits, to look on their doings with the same eyes that the Angels do.  Ordinary persons, neglecting to walk by faith and to purify their own hearts, grow more and more hardened daily, as they indulge in good sort of talk, and in correcting other men's faults, without trying to cure their own.  It deadens their sense of shame, causes them to suspect all real goodness in others: for how do they know but they are secretly as bad as themselves?  It makes them also cold and indifferent to the judgement passed on sins such as theirs by the natural conscience of all men: they care not what even good men think of such things, much less what the Angels think.  Hearing His voice continually and not obeying it, what do they but harden their hearts?


To conclude: it cannot be but that every hour as we go on through the world, we shall see faults greater or less, motes or beams in the eyes of such as are with us: and the sight will surely do us harm, if we be not always severe in forcing ourselves to be moved by it to the remembrance of our own faults, and of Him Who dwells in us to help us in triumphing over them.  But let us keep Him always before us, and humble ourselves always before Him: so shall no wickedness of man shake our faith or do us harm.