Our Lord, in drawing to the close of his discourse, is unusually solemn and impressive. He anticipates the last judgment, and places his hearers before the great tribunal. The sum of what he says is, that mere profession will avail nothing, and that real practical godliness is the only thing which in that day will be approved.
Ver. 21–23. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord,” &c. The greater part of those who in that day will have to stand before him have not acknowledged him as their Lord; and not every one of them that have will be accepted. Professions, though repeated with earnestness, will avail nothing. It is not what we say, but what we do, that will be admitted as evidence in that day. As to what we do, unless the Father’s will be our will, Christ will not regard us. Such is the union between the Lawgiver and the Saviour, that each is guarantee as it were to the honour of the other. If the Father’s wrath abide on all who believe not on the Son, the Son no less excludes from the kingdom of heaven all who obey not the Father. Many who in this world have said, “Lord, Lord,” in a way of high profession, will in that day repeat their words with very different sensations, and with earnest importunity for admittance, but all in vain. They may plead their having been not only professing Christians, but Christian teachers, and some of them possessed of extraordinary gifts, but all in vain. Having been workers of iniquity, whatever else they have wrought, it stands for nothing. They were never known as his friends in this world, and shall be utterly disowned in the next. Nothing will avail in that day but what is holy. Holiness is made of little account here; shining talents carry the bell: but there the meanest Christian is approved; while the most distinguished preacher who has lived in sin will be cast out.
Ver. 24–29. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them,” &c. The regard or disregard we pay to the doctrine and precepts of Christ in this world is here compared to building a house on a good or a bad foundation, and the issue of things at the last judgment to a tempest that shall try our work. Still he presses the necessity of practical godliness. It is he that heareth his sayings and doeth, them whose religion will stand the test; while he that heareth them and doeth them not—he who has heard and talked about repentance, but never repented—has heard and talked about believing, but never believed—has heard and applauded the morality of the gospel, but never walked by it—his building shall fall, and “great will be the fall of it!” Other losses have been repaired by time, but this will be irreparable and eternal.
There are two ways, and perhaps I may say three, in which this solemn passage has been perverted. We see here, say some, that it is by doing, rather than by believing, that we shall stand approved. But though doing, in the article of justification, stands opposed to believing, (Gal. 3:10–12,) yet here, being introduced as the evidence of a state of salvation, it is opposed to saying, or to mere profession, and includes believing. Faith itself is a practical persuasion of the truth of Christ’s sayings, and is followed with a course of obedience to his precepts. Moreover, the doctrine of Christ’s sayings is not the rock, but the building upon it.—We see, say others, that it matters but little what doctrines we believe, provided we lead a good life; it is not by what we have believed, but by what we have done, that we shall be judged! But if doing Christ’s sayings, instead of being opposed to believing, include it, this remark is altogether unfounded. Finally, Others, overlooking the scope of our Lord, are from this passage continually insisting on the doctrine of justification by faith, in opposition to the works of the law, and comparing those who believe in the Saviour for acceptance with God to the wise man who built his house upon a rock; and those who depend upon their own righteousness to the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. But this way of treating the Scriptures betrays the truth into the hands of its adversaries, who, perceiving the force put upon them in supporting a favourite doctrine, conclude that it has no foundation in Scripture. The truth is, our Lord is not discoursing on our being justified by faith, but on our being “judged according to our works,” which, though consistent with the other, is not the same thing, and ought not to be confounded with it. The character described is not the self-righteous rejecter of the gospel, but one who, though he may hear it, and profess to believe it, yet brings forth no corresponding fruits.
The impressive manner in which he who will be our Judge enforces the practice of religion reminds me of the words of that miserable man, Francis Spira, who was a fearful example of the contrary. “Take heed,” said he to the spectators who surrounded his bed, “of relying on that faith which works not a holy and unblamable life, worthy of a believer. Credit me, it will fail. I have tried; I presumed I had gotten the right faith; I preached it to others; I had all places in Scripture in memory that might support it; I thought myself sure, and in the mean time lived impiously and carelessly; and, behold, now the judgment of God hath overtaken me not to correction, but to damnation”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Last Judgement,” in Illustrations of Scripture. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 591–592). Sprinkle Publications.