Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 4, 2016
Mat 7:6 Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.
This may be an injunction altogether disconnected with what either precedes or follows; or, if connexion be sought, it may be connected thus: Our Redeemer having shown in the preceding, who they are who should not venture to correct, to judge or teach, here points out who they are, who should not be corrected or taught, viz., those whom correction would render worse than they are, whom it would irritate rather than cure. This precaution was necessary, as those who were not allowed to correct others, till they had first cast out the beam from their own eye, and having done so, were free from fault, might imagine they were at liberty to exercise the duty of correction, indiscriminately, without any regard to the dispositions of those whose correction they might undertake.
By “holy,” was meant, among the Jews, whatever was set apart from all human use, and consecrated to the Divine service. Here, it is taken in the same sense, and refers to the doctrine of the Gospel, which is called “holy,” on account of its Divine nature, origin, and tendency, and “pearls,” on account of its excessive value and preciousness. “Pearls” bear some resemblance to acorns, the ordinary food of swine in the East. “Holy” and “pearls” refer to the same thing, viz., the doctrine of the Gospel; and, probably, they embrace the sacraments, called “holy,” because devoted to the Divine service, and “pearls,” on account of their priceless value; and this is especially true of the adorable Eucharist, which is holiness itself. “Dogs,” everywhere represented in SS. Scripture as impure animals, full of rage, aptly represent those refractory and rebellious men, who violently resist the truth, and assault its propagators. “Swine,” also—proverbially unclean—are a fit emblem of that unclean and sensual class of men, who are dead to every feeling of moral sense. The phrase is adagial, conveying, that we should not unnecessarily expose the doctrines or mysteries of faith to profanation, unless in circumstances where there is a prospect of promoting God’s glory, or of saving our neighbour. We should not preach the doctrines of faith, or extend the duty of correction, to the incorrigible class of sinners referred to, be they believers or unbelievers.
It does not militate against this, that our Redeemer and His Apostles, and St. Stephen, &c., preached the truth in circumstances where it was resisted, and they assailed. For, this they did in presence of believers also, whose faith was confirmed, although some unbelievers present may have been hardened; or, they did it in defence of the truth, when interrogated, under circumstances, when God’s glory or their neighbours’ salvation required them to speak out in vindication of the truth.
“And turning upon you, tear you,” is, by some, understood of dogs. “Trampling under their feet,” of “swine.” But the former words may be also true of “swine,” or wild boars. The words, “pearls” and “holy,” are understood by many, of the sacraments, and especially of the Holy Eucharist. The prohibition here expressed does not prevent us from giving the Holy Eucharist to private sinners, as had been done by our Redeemer, for our instruction in this point, in regard to Judas at the Last Supper. Hence, as long as they are private sinners, we are not warranted in refusing them. But, if they be public sinners, the prohibition holds.
Mat 7:12 All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.
“Therefore,” may be inductive or inferential, as if He said: All that I have said in the foregoing regarding the love of our neighbour, including our enemies, regarding alms-deeds, forgiveness of injuries, &c. may be briefly summed up in this great principle of the natural law, this leading maxim of moral philosophy, “all things whatsoever you would” rationally desire, by a truly Christian wish (it does not, of course, embrace corrupt, sensual wishes) “that men would do to you,” &c. The connexion of this verse is traced by Maldonatus to c. 5:42. Besides being easily connected and aptly fitted together in sense, St. Luke, who probably observed the order and connexion in which our Redeemer spoke, connects them immediately (6:31).
“For this is the law,” &c. By “law,” is meant the Pentateuch. By “the prophets,” all the other books of the Old Testament, whether prophetical or not. The Hebrews were wont to call the Books of Kings, the Psalms, &c., prophetical, (11:13; 22:40, &c.) The words, then, mean: This first principle of the natural law is the compendium of all that Moses and the other inspired writers have written on the subject of fraternal charity; or, if we understand by the love of the neighbour, the love of him for God’s sake—and this alone is the true Christian idea of the love of our neighbour—then, the words will mean, that this great principle is a compendium of the entire law, new and old, since in this sense, the love of God, too, is included. The whole law is summed up in this: the love of God for His own sake, and of our neighbour for the love of God (see commentary, Rom. 13:8). Some commentators connect this verse with v. 1, making the intervening verses parenthetical illustrations or examples. In this verse, our Redeemer inculcates brotherly love. The fulfilling of the precept of brotherly love adequately, including the love of God, as above explained, is the compendium of the entire law.
Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat.
After having fully explained His law, which contained so many precepts opposed to flesh and blood, such as the love of out enemies, the contempt of earthly treasures, utter self denial, &c., like the paradoxes with which this Sermon on the Mount opens, our Redeemer employs the remainder of this chapter in earnest exhortation to all His followers to observe His commandments; and, in order to obviate an objection which might, possibly, be advanced, viz., that these precepts were very difficult of observance, and rendered the attainment of salvation very hard, He tells them that such is the case; because, the gate which opens on the road to heaven is very narrow, and the road which conducts thereto very strait, and entered on by very few; and while they needed the aid of God’s grace to fulfil their duties (verses 7, 8), they must, on their part, prevented and aided by this all necessary grace, earnestly co-operate in this work of salvation. This is more clearly expressed by St. Luke (13:24), “Strive to enter by the narrow gate,” &c.
“For wide in the gate,” &c. The gate that opens on the road to hell is wide and spacious, and so is the road itself. Many are the paths that, from every side, lead to it. For, countless are the ways of committing sin, and of violating God’s commandments. Moreover, it is so perfectly in accordance with the inclinations of our corrupt passions, and the dictates of flesh and blood, that “many there are who go in thereat.” St. Luke (13:23) would insinuate that these words were used by our Divine Redeemer in reply to a question put to Him—“Lord, are they few that are saved?”
Mat 7:14 How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!
“How narrow is the gate,” &c. This is but a repetition, for greater emphasis’ sake, of the assertion implied in the preceding verse regarding the fewness of the elect. It is the same as if our Redeemer meant to convey to us, if you wish to secure eternal life, you must enter the narrow gate, through which but few enter. You must adopt their hard, penitential life, walk in their footsteps, and carefully follow their example. In interpreting this passage, commentators and spiritual writers are greatly divided about the meaning of what is conveyed regarding the fewness of those saved. Some understand the words to mean, that taking the whole bulk of Christians and members of God’s Church into account, we are to conclude, when we compare their lives with the Gospel precepts, that far the greater number are lost; and in proof of this view, they quote what they regard as the types of those who are saved and those who are lost. The 1st, is Sodom; 2nd, the Deluge; 3rd, the two who alone entered the promised land—a type of heaven—out of thousands, viz.: Caleb and Josue (Num. 14:30); 4th, the comparison made by Isaias (17:5), of the few ears left after the mowers, and the few grapes after the vintage; 5th, the words of our Lord (c. 20), “Many are called, few chosen.” St. Chrysostom (Hom. 4 ad populum); and St. Augustine (Lib. 4, contra Crescentium, c. 53), even understand the comparison to be true of Christians. Others, however, understand the comparison of mankind in general, and these hold, that the greater number of the children of the Church, the immense number who die before reaching the use of reason included, are saved; because, even the greater part of adult members of the Church are blessed with the use of the sacraments. The words of St. Peter (2nd Ep. 2:19, 20, see commentary on), seem to me greatly in favour of this mild opinion, which wonderfully “exalts mercy above judgment” (James 2:13), and which better accords with our ideas of the goodness of God, of His will to save all, shown in the mystery of redemption and the several abundant institutions of grace. The opinion of St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom seems very harsh, and utterly improbable.