Matthew 7:3. Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4. Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye?
5. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye.
As a way of giving us an earnest warning to guard against this vice, He uses an extreme example to describe it. He pronounces this sentence: Everyone who judges his neighbor has a big log in his eye, while the one who is being judged only has a little speck; by the very fact that he is condemning others he himself is ten times as liable to judgment and condemnation. This is really a grim and terrible sentence. Where are the schismatic spirits now, the Master Smart Alecks, who know so much about lording it over the Gospel and criticizing it? All they can do is to judge us and other people, even when there is nothing wrong or when they discover a speck in us and gleefully blow it up. That is how the papists are slandering us now. When they do their best and look for just cause to judge and condemn us, the worst they can find is the fact that some of our supporters have taken possession of church properties.6 Or they accuse us of not fasting and of anything else that gives the impression of involving some transgression. But they fail to notice their own log, the fact that they are persecuting the Gospel, murdering innocent people on account of it, and, for that matter, acting as the greatest robbers and thieves of monasteries and church properties. What do the pope, the bishops, and the princes refrain from robbing? While they do what they please with all the church properties, they claim that everyone else is an uncanonical bishop and maintains his bishopric as a thief and a robber, not in a godly and honorable way. And all this is supposed to be just fine and not to be called stealing or robbing! And when we do not fast or strictly keep their style of “righteousness,” which they themselves do not keep—this alone is supposed to be wicked, while all their sin and shame is godly and honorable. That is the way of the world everywhere; the log judges the speck, and the big villain condemns the little one.
Now, it is true that we are not free of transgressions; in fact, no Christian will advance so far that he will be without a speck. St. Paul himself could not advance that far, as he complains in Romans 7:15. And daily all Christendom must pray: “Forgive us our debts,” and must confess the article of the Creed that reads: “the forgiveness of sins.” But these log-bearers and speck-judges refuse to stand for this article. They insist on having everything so pure that there is no inadequacy or fault in it. As soon as they see something wrong, they move right into their judging and condemning, as if they were so holy that they did not need forgiveness of sins or prayer. They want to reform the Lord’s Prayer and extinguish the principal article of the Creed. They are all full of demons and of blindness, while they mourn over other people’s specks. The same thing happens among us when we lose our senses. Those who are full of vices and wickedness cannot stop watching and condemning the tiny vices of other people. Thus the log is the master and the judge of the speck.
Now, anyone who is a Christian must certainly know and feel in himself that such immaculate purity is impossible and that daily the article “the forgiveness of sins” has to rule in us. Therefore it is easy to pardon other people’s faults and to put them all together by saying in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us as we forgive.” This is especially so when it is evident that the other person honors the Word and does not despise or persecute it. Where the Word is, there Christ’s kingdom is, and full forgiveness, which consumes the speck. Therefore, where we notice this, we should not despise or condemn anyone. Otherwise we shall make our own speck a log and fail to obtain forgiveness, because we refuse to forgive other people.
You may say to this: “Am I not to speak out when an injustice is being done? Am I to call it justice and condone it? Am I to find it pleasing when the properties of the monasteries are seized or when there is coarse behavior and no praying or fasting?” No, I am not telling you to do that. He acknowledges here that there is a speck and that it should be removed; but here He is giving you instructions about doing it properly. I have to admit that it is not very nice, this speck in the eye. But above all I must determine whether I have a log in my own eye, and take that out first. Make the villain in your own breast pious, and then go on to see to it that the little villain becomes pious, too. It is wrong when the big thieves hang the little ones, as the saying goes, and the big villains condemn the little ones.7 If the pope and his supporters began here, sweeping in front of their own door first and changing their thieving and villainous ways, we would have to follow or suffer the consequences. But now they refuse to surrender their log or to have it denounced, while they condemn us for having a speck and not maintaining the purity we should. In this way that big heretic, the pope, condemns the other little heretics.8 While the big thieves steal publicly and rob incessantly, the little thieves have to call them “pious” and be willing to hang for them and to pay for them.
“There shall be no such perversion in My kingdom,” Christ says, “but first you must make the big villain pious, the one you find in your own skin when you examine yourself carefully. Once you have accomplished this much, there will be time enough to make a little villain pious. But it will amaze you how much trouble the big villain will cause you every day. Therefore I am willing to guarantee and to stake My life on it that you will never get around to removing the speck from someone else’s eye, and will have to say: ‘How can I deal with other people and make them pious first? I cannot even make myself pious or get rid of my log.’ Thus you will probably leave your brother’s speck unharmed.” You see, what Christ means to say as a summary of this teaching is that we should willingly practice forgiveness, patient forbearance, and humility in our relations with one another; that is what the situation would have to be like if we followed this teaching. Then everything in Christendom would move along correctly and harmoniously, as it should, and God would be with us. But through his members and through Sectarianism the devil keeps this from happening.
The grim sentence that Christ pronounces here ought to make us tremble at this vice. As I have said, the one who judges always has a log in his eye as far as God is concerned, while the one who is being judged has only a speck. Now, the log is an infinitely graver sin than the speck, that is, the kind of sin that damns altogether and leaves us no grace. However great our sins and transgressions may be otherwise, He can forgive all of these, as He shows by calling the neighbor’s sin a “speck.” But you spoil everything when to these sins you add the abomination and the filth of judging and condemning someone else on account of his faults and when you refuse to forgive the way you want God to forgive you. You go ahead refusing to see the log, and you imagine that you are without sin. But if you recognized yourself, as has been said, you would also refrain from judging your neighbor. Thus your log would be called a little speck, and it would obtain the forgiveness of sins. You would also be willing to forgive and tolerate and excuse someone else’s speck, in view of the fact that God forgives and pardons your log.
But “log in the eye” is the right name for something which makes a man stone-blind, something which the world can neither see nor evaluate. In fact, it is so beautifully decorated that the world imagines it is something precious and very sacred. In speaking about the villainous eye (Matt. 6:23), Christ said earlier that greedy people light a lantern for themselves and dream up the lovely idea that this must not be called being greedy but worshiping God. So it is here, too. Those who have a log in their eye refuse to admit that they have, or to be denounced as blind and miserable people. They want to be praised for judging the doctrine and the life of other people from a truly Christian motivation. In this way the schismatic spirits can brag and swear that the reason they teach differently is not any pride or envy, but only their desire for the glory of God and the salvation of their neighbor. They make it all so beautiful and bright, and they make their humility and God’s glory so great that they cannot see anything else. In matters of life it is the same. As soon as people begin judging and criticizing one another, we see the same camouflage and the same boast: “I am not doing this out of hostility to the person but out of love for righteousness. I am a friend to the person but an enemy to the cause.”9 This tickles a person so gently beneath his lovely exterior that he never becomes aware of any log.
But it will not do for you to judge and pass judgment as you please, without the Word and command of God, and then to invoke the glory and the righteousness of God. This is a demonic addition, decorating and beautifying itself with this camouflage. Here it is said that God does not want us to take it upon ourselves to act as judges, either in matters of doctrine or in matters of life. Where judging or rebuking is necessary, those should do it who have the office and the commission to do it: preachers and ministers in the spiritual realm and the government in the secular realm, or a brother with a brother alone, on the basis of a brotherly love that bears and corrects the neighbor’s faults.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:219). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.