"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." Matthew 7:6
Our present verse brings before us the seventh and shortest division of our Lord's Sermon, for it manifestly treats of a different branch of the Truth from any which has been dealt with in the previous sections. Though Christ's language here be figurative (as so often in this address), it is far from being ambiguous, yet its force and purport were probably more easily perceived by His immediate audience than by us. With few exceptions it is the state of our hearts rather than the obscurity of its language which prevents our understanding the meaning of some portion in Holy Writ. Such is certainly the case here. It is greatly to be feared that there are many in Christendom today who are much averse from heeding this Divine precept, and therefore they pretend it is hard to be understood. None so blind as those who refuse to see. How many smug professors in the churches today would be highly offended if the minister dealt with them in the same way as the Saviour did with the Canaanitish women, telling them, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs" (Matthew 15:26). Such discrimination does not at all suit this latitudinarian age.
"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6). It must be admitted that most of the commentators appear to have experienced difficulty with this verse, not because they found its terms obscure, but in the fixing of their precise reference. It was not its interpretation which troubled them so much as its application. The method we propose to follow in our exposition of it is the following. First, to ascertain its precise relation to the context. Second, to ponder it in the light of our Lord's own example, for most assuredly He ever practiced what He preached, and as we are called upon to "follow His steps" it is most necessary for us to examine the path He trod—here as everywhere. Third, to point Out its application to the ministers of Christ, for it enunciates an important rule to regulate them in their dispensation of the Word. And fourth, to show how this rule applies to the private Christian. May the Spirit of Truth deign to guide our pen.
In examining the relation of our text to the context, we must take into account both its more remote and nearer context. As we have so often pointed out in this series of expositions, the principal key which unlocks to us the contents of this Sermon is found in our Lord's words, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (v. 17). It therefore behooves us to inquire, What was the teaching of the Law and the prophets concerning the subject treated of in our text? The first thing we learn there is that under the Law "dogs" and "swine" were unclean and unholy animals, the Israelites being prohibited from using them either for food or as sacrifices unto God, yea, they were not permitted to bring "the price of a dog [the money from selling one] into the house of the Lord" (Deut. 23:18). Second, we should observe that the term "dog" was applied to persons of worthless character (1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Sam. 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13; etc.).
The sons of Aaron were required to "put difference between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean" (Lev. 10:10), to maintain the line of demarcation which God had drawn between the sacred and the profane. They were commanded to exclude the heathen from participating in any of the religious privileges of God's covenant people (Deut. 23:3). In the days of Israel's degeneracy God complained that "her priests have violated My Law and have profaned Mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean" (Ezek. 22:26): they had dealt with a latitude or "liberality" such as God had expressly forbidden. He had ordered that His priests should "teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean" (Ezek. 44:23). A most discriminating ministry was appointed unto Jeremiah, for the Lord required him to "take forth the precious from the vile" (15:19): that is, draw the line between the godly and ungodly, addressing to each their distinctive and needed message. To Malachi it was promised, "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not" (3:18).
Now, says Christ, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets." I have received no commission from My Father to break down the barriers He has erected, to obliterate the lines He has drawn. Rather am I come "to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17): to magnify the Law and render it honorable, to vindicate the prophets and make good their declarations. I am come to bring in the substance for the shadow, the reality for the typical, the vital for the ceremonial. I too shall discriminate between the clean and the unclean and p lace a fence between the holy and the unholy. Did Moses prohibit the people of God from intermarrying with idolators? Did he exclude the heathen from the sacred temple? Did he declare that the food of the priestly family was "most holy" (Lev. 10:12-15) and their exclusive portion or property? Then I likewise command you, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine."
Coming now to the closer context. Is there not clearly a link between our present text and what immediately precedes it? Did not Christ here intimate that something more than clear vision and a kind and steady hand was required if we are to succeed in removing a "mote" from another's eye? As we pointed out at the close of the previous chapter, the one with an injured eye must be agreeable to submit if you are to help him; the one at fault be willing to receive an admonition. But many are not so: so far from it; they will resent your well-meant overtures and revile you for them—treading your admonitions under their feet and venting their fury upon you. "Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words" (Prov. 23:9). Thus, having shown how to admonish, the Saviour now makes known who are to be admonished, or rather who are not to be. To reprove a son of Belial is wasted breath (1 Sam. 25:17).
In verse 5 the Lord had shown how an erring "brother" is to be dealt with—meekly and gently: the rebuke is to be given in a loving and humble spirit. But here in verse 6 Christ intimates that love must discriminate: all are not "brethren" and will not suffer a rebuke, no matter how graciously given. It is not sufficient then that we take care to be spiritually qualified for reproving another, but we must seek to make sure that there is some probability at least that our efforts will not be worse than lost upon the one we desire to help. Thus, after prohibiting evil-minded censures, Christ here warns against imprudent ones. "Reprove not a scorner lest he hate thee" (Prov. 9:8). Here, then, is a necessary caution: zeal must be directed by knowledge and holy prudence. Not every person is a fit subject for reproof. Unreasonable men will scoff at the mildest criticism of their evil ways, and to quote Scripture to them only incites them to blasphemy and is casting pearls before swine.
But we may discover a further connection between our text and the verses preceding. In seeking to guard against hasty and harsh judgments we must also beware of abusing grace. If on the one hand we should watch against unjust and unmerciful censuring, on the other we must not be guilty of judging laxly and loosely. There are not only the "sheep" of Christ, but the "dogs" and "swine" of the world, and they are to be treated as such. When an open worldling or obviously carnal person applies for church membership, it would be quite wrong to silence God-fearing objectors with "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Grace must not be allowed to override the requirements of holiness so that the unclean are permitted to enjoy those privileges reserved for those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. It is through failure at this very point, through a false "charity," by refusing to heed this command of Christ, that the grossest of evils have been tolerated in the House of God, until the mystical Babylon is "now a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."
Yet it must not be supposed that our text is to be restricted unto a prohibition against imprudent reproving: rather does it enunciate a general principle which is of wide application, for the better perception of which we now turn to ponder it in the light of our Lord's own personal example. A very wide field is here open for investigation, yet we can only now call attention to a few of its most distinctive features. If the reader will examine the four Gospels afresh from this particular angle, he is likely to meet with some surprises and find there the reverse of what the teaching he has imbibed would lead him to expect. For example, would not the ordinary churchgoer of today suppose that the Lord Jesus spent most of His time in preaching the Gospel to the unsaved; that lie sought out the unchurched masses, endeavoring to arouse them from their unconcern; that He made it His business to go after the giddy worldling and convince him of the folly of his ways; that He proclaimed the love of God to every soul He could possibly make contact with? Then turn to the first four books of the New Testament and see whether or not this was so.
We do indeed read frequently that Christ taught both in the synagogue and in the temple, yet even there He never so much as once mentioned the love of God to sinners—though He had much to say about the Father's love when He was alone with "His own." He frequently spoke of His approaching death unto His disciples, but where did He ever preach the atonement in the hearing of the multitude? lit is true that He spoke often in the open air (though never on the streets!), yet it was to those who sought unto Him (Mark 2:13; Luke 6:17)—He never pressed His company on them (Mark 7:17). He spoke many things unto the multitudes in parables, yet the interpretation of them was reserved for God's elect (Matthew 13:8, 9, 11, 36). Our Lord was not transfigured before the gaze of the vulgar crowd, but only in the sight of a favored few. Nor was He seen by the unbelieving world after His resurrection. The grand prophecy of Matthew 24 and 25 was delivered in the hearing of none but believers. He never cast pearls before swine: even when Pilate asked Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37), He did not say, "I am the Truth," nor did He explain to him the way of salvation.
But let us not be mistaken at this point. God forbid that we should be found writing anything which would deter exercised souls from seeking Christ, and giving them the impression that they would be unwelcome did they come to Him in their deep distress. Nothing is made plainer in the four Gospels than the glorious fact that the Lord Jesus is accessible to every poor sinner who feels his need of Him and that He is willing and ready to heal his soul. "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37) is His own blessed declaration. He declined not an invitation to eat with publicans and sinners, nor did He turn His back upon the leper who sought Him. But what we have directed attention to above is His attitude towards those who sought him not, to those who evidenced no interest in Him, to those who opposed Him. Read again the many recorded cases where the Pharisees antagonized Him: is there a single instance where He preached the Gospel to them? So with the Sadducees and lawyers who endeavoured to ensnare Him: He closed their mouths, but He never opened His heart to them or gave that which was holy unto dogs!
Third, our text enunciates an important principle for the minister of Christ to be regulated by—it is to be borne in mind that the first application of this Sermon is to ministers (Matthew 5:1, 2). That rule may be stated thus: discrimination is to be exercised when dispensing the Word of God. Nothing is more urgently needed and seldom found today than a discriminating ministry, by which we mean a "taking forth the precious from the vile" (Jer. 15:19). In our congregations both of those classes are represented: those who are dear to God and those abhorred by Him. Now though you cannot distinguish by name yet you can by character. When addressing yourself to the people of God you should make it quite plain that the unregenerate have "no part or lot in the matter." When preaching from the Divine promises it is necessary to describe the spiritual marks of those to whom such Divine dainties really belong—to those who are not conformed to this world, who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ. The line of demarcation must be drawn so plainly that each hearer knows to which side of the line he belongs.
The Word of God has to be "rightly divided" (2 Tim. 2:15) if each hearer is to obtain his legitimate portion. When the pulpit seeks to expose the hypocrite care needs to be taken lest Christ's little ones are stumbled, and when the minister seeks to comfort the distressed saints, the cordial must be expressly labeled so that the ungodly are not bolstered up in a false peace. Unless the minister exercises the most prayerful caution, he will be unable to escape that solemn charge, "with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life" (Ezek. 13:22). Again, Matthew vii, 6, is woefully contravened when those with the most barren profession are received into a church fellowship: the "judgment of charity" does not require of us to call darkness light. Laxity is as much an evil as censoriousness. Admitting to the Lord's table open worldlings is a flagrant violation of our text. And how often is it disregarded in "funeral services and sermons"!
It is very necessary that this precept, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs" should be pressed upon the rank and file of God's people. In certain circles it has been taught that as soon as a person has experienced the saving grace of God in his heart it is his bounden duty to preach Christ to all his acquaintances, to endeavour to become a "soul winner," and that if he declines such "personal work" and evangelistic endeavour, it is because he is cold and selfish, indifferent to the eternal welfare of those around him. But where did Christ or any of His apostles bestow such a commission on any young convert? "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul" (Ps. 66:16). That qualification warns us against publishing the most sacred experiences of our hearts to all and sundry, for the unregenerate have no more capacity to appreciate the sovereign operations of the Spirit than swine have to rate pearls at their true value. But is not the young convert to "witness for Christ"? Assuredly, but how? "Ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9): a changed life, an unworldly walk, is the most effective "witness" of all! (see Matthew 5:16).
Zeal needs to be tempered with knowledge. The holy things of the Gospel are not to be bandied about indiscriminately: the precious secrets of His love which the Lord has revealed to us are not to be communicated to His enemies. If believers defy this Divinely imposed restriction, they must not be surprised at meeting with insults and incurring the ire of those upon whom they attempt to force the holy mysteries of the faith. Of the Pharisees Christ said, "Let them alone" (Matthew 15:14), not attempt to convert them from the error of their ways. "Of some have compassion, making a difference" (Jude 22): what a discriminating word is that! We are bidden to "Go from the presence of a fool" (Prov. 14:7), and not lower our Christian dignity by arguing with him. But are we not bidden to "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in us"? Yes, when "asked" (cf. Prov. 22:21), and then "with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15) and not with bombast and impudence. The epistles of the New Testament are to be read to "holy brethren" (1 Thess. 5:27), but we know of no warrant to read them to worldlings.
It has long impressed the writer that that which takes place in the secular sphere is but a shadowing forth of what has first happened in the spiritual realm. For many years past the majority of the preachers jettisoned the Divine Law, and in the utter lawlessness which fills the world today we have the inevitable repercussion. They concentrated on the promises but ignored the precepts, and in their failure to urge upon God's children an obedient walk we have reaped the disobedience and uncontrollableness of the modern child. Women were given the place in the churches which Scripture prohibits (1 Cor. 14:34), and in consequence a generation of self-assertive "he women" has arisen who ape men in almost everything. Today we have a plague of dogs—over three million in Great Britain—making the night hideous with their howls, befouling the pavements and consuming vast quantities of food, while human beings are strictly rationed. In the cities they have become a curse, and we believe that this is a Divine judgment upon the general disregard of Matthew 7:6. It is a common sight to behold a child leading about a huge mastiff and silly women accompanied by two or three poodles. "Beware of dogs" (Phil. 3:2). "For without are dogs" (Rev. 22:15)—excluded from the Holy City.
In conclusion let us note the practical instruction hinted by the figure of the "pearls." First, it intimates what we should regard as our true riches, namely the contents of God's Word, for they constitute the Christian's precious treasure. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her" (Prov. 3:13-15). Second, it intimates wherein we should content ourselves in the calamities and casualties of this life. We may lose our health and wealth, our friends and fame, yet this treasure remains. Here is a lamp for the darkest night (Ps. 119:105): here is to be found comfort in the sorest affliction (Ps. 119:50): here are to be obtained songs for our pilgrimage (Ps. 119:54). Third, it intimates how we are to use the Word. A person possessed of valuable pearls is at great pains to secure them; how much more so should we be with this Pearl of pearls—storing it in our memories, locking it in our hearts: "Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9). This was David's practice (Ps. 119:11), and Mary's (Luke 2:51): may it be ours too.