Matthew HenryAlong with the instruction to build our spiritual houses upon rock, another passage in Matthew 7 from the Sermon on the Mount which bears close scrutiny is our Lord’s teaching on who will be turned away from the kingdom of heaven.

I Never Knew You

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

It is in the three-year Lectionary. One can only wonder about the sermons preached on it. Any number of clergy — as well as congregants — are guilty.

Matthew Henry’s commentary unpacks this passage brilliantly. Excerpts follow. Emphases in bold are mine.

We have an exhortation to sincerity in prayer and use of our Lord’s name:

I. He shows, by a plain remonstrance, that an outward profession of religion, however remarkable, will not bring us to heaven, unless there be a correspondent conversation, Matthew 7:21-23. All judgment is committed to our Lord Jesus the keys are put into his hand he has power to prescribe new terms of life and death, and to judge men according to them: now this is a solemn declaration pursuant to that power. Observe here,

(1.) That it will not suffice to say, Lord, Lord in word and tongue to own Christ for our Master, and to make addresses to him, and professions of him accordingly: in prayer to God, in discourse with men, we must call Christ, Lord, Lord we say well, for so he is (John 13:13) but can we imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven, that such a piece of formality as this should be so recompensed, or that he who knows and requires the heart should be so put off with shows for substance? Compliments among men are pieces of civility that are returned with compliments, but they are never paid as real services and can they then be of an account with Christ? There may be a seeming importunity in prayer, Lord, Lord: but if inward impressions be not answerable to outward expressions, we are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. This is not to take us off from saying, Lord, Lord from praying, and being earnest in prayer, from professing Christ’s name, and being bold in professing it, but from resting in these, in the form of godliness, without the power.

Then the call to obey Christ:

(2.) That it is necessary to our happiness that we do the will of Christ, which is indeed the will of his Father in heaven. The will of God, as Christ’s Father, is his will in the gospel, for there he is made known, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: and in him our Father. Now this is his will, that we believe in Christ, that we repent of sin, that we live a holy life, that we love one another. This is his will, even our sanctification. If we comply not with the will of God, we mock Christ in calling him Lord, as those did who put on him a gorgeous robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews. Saying and doing are two things, often parted in conversation of men: he that said, I go, sir, stirred never a step (Matthew 21:30) but these two things God has joined in his command, and let no man that puts them asunder think to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Some of us — ‘hypocrites’ — try to substitute legalism, ‘healing’, speaking in tongues and other wonderful works for obedience. This is a particularly sharp warning not to do so which bears rereading:

2. The hypocrite’s plea against the strictness of this law, offering other things in lieu of obedience, Matthew 7:22 … They put in their plea with great importunity, Lord, Lord and with great confidence, appealing to Christ concerning it Lord, does thou not know, (1.) That we have prophesied in thy name? Yes, it may be so Balaam and Caiaphas were overruled to prophesy, and Saul was against his will among the prophets, yet that did not save them. These prophesied in his name, but he did not send them they only made use of his name to serve a turn. Note, A man may be a preacher, may have gifts for the ministry, and an external call to it, and perhaps some success in it, and yet be a wicked man may help others to heaven, and yet come short himself. (2.) That in thy name we have cast out devils? That may be too Judas cast out devils, and yet was a son of perdition. Origen says, that in his time so prevalent was the name of Christ to cast out devils, that sometimes it availed when named by wicked Christians. A man might cast devils out of others, and yet have a devil, nay, be a devil himself. (3.) That in thy name we have done many wonderful works. There may be a faith of miracles, where there is no justifying faith none of that faith which works by love and obedience. Gifts of tongues and healing would recommend men to the world, but it is real holiness or sanctification that is accepted of God. Grace and love are a more excellent way than removing mountains, or speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, 1 Corinthians 13:1,2. Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace. Observe, That which their heart was upon, in doing these works, and which they confided in, was the wonderfulness of them. Simon Magus wondered at the miracles (Acts 8:13), and therefore would give any money for power to do the like. Observe, They had not many good works to plead: they could not pretend to have done many gracious works of piety and charity one such would have passed better in their account than many wonderful works, which availed not at all, while they persisted in disobedience. Miracles have now ceased, and with them this plea but do not carnal hearts still encourage themselves in their groundless hopes, with the like vain supports? They think they shall go to heaven, because they have been of good repute among professors of religion, have kept fasts, and given alms, and have been preferred in the church as if this would atone for their reigning pride, worldliness, and sensuality and want of love to God and man. Bethel is their confidence (Jeremiah 48:13), they are haughty because of the holy mountain (Zephaniah 3:11) and boast that they are the temple of the Lord, Jeremiah 7:4. Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

That’s quite a slap in the face of legalism, sensationalism and outward appearances! Sadly, however, these things are all the rage in our time. This bears repeating:

Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace.

As does this:

Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

It gets worse for people who base their lives on outward piety and hidden sin:

How it is expressed I never knew you [;] “I never owned you as my servants, no, not when you prophesied in my name, when you were in the height of your profession, and were most extolled.” This intimates, that if he had ever known them, as the Lord knows them that are his, had ever owned them and loved them as his, he would have known them, and owned them, and loved them, to the end but he never did know them, for he always knew them to be hypocrites, and rotten at heart, as he did Judas therefore, says he, depart from me. Has Christ need of such guests? When he came in the flesh, he called sinners to him (Matthew 9:13), but when he shall come again in glory, he will drive sinners from him.

Ultimately:

They that would not come to him to be saved, must depart from him to be damned. To depart from Christ is the very hell of hell it is the foundation of all the misery of the damned, to be cut off from all hope of benefit from Christ and he mediation. Those that go no further in Christ’s service than a bare profession, he does not accept, nor will he own them in the great day. See from what a height of hope men may fall into the depth of misery! How they may go to hell, by the gates of heaven! This should be an awakening word to all Christians. If a preacher, one that cast out devils, and wrought miracles, be disowned of Christ for working iniquity what will become of us, if we be found such? And if we be such, we shall certainly be found such. At God’s bar, a profession of religion will not bear out any man in the practice and indulgence of sin therefore let every one that names the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity.

This is such a stark and pointed truth — ‘convicting’, as Americans would say.

I have read Henry’s passage several times over the weekend. I hope that you, too, will find it beneficial to your Christian walk.

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