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Good Words 1860
Lessons for Young Men


"And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."—Mark x. 17-25.

When we read this passage of Scripture along with Christ's invitation to the weary and heavy laden, each suggests, perhaps, very different thoughts of Jesus Christ. In His invitation to the weary, and in His promise of rest, all recognise the voice of the loving Friend, the gentle and sympathising Teacher; while, in His actual dealings with the rich young man, He will appear to some as if Ho had acted with mysterious and unaccountable severity. Had that young man, for example, heard Christ utter the peculiar words recorded by St Matthew, and had he, anxious to avail himself of His gracious offers, immediately gone to Him with the prayer— "Lord Jesus, weary and heavy laden, I come to Thee, seeking rest, and I desire to take from Thee the easy yoke and light burthen which Thou art pleased to promise: hear my prayer!" and if, in answer to his request, our Lord had said to him, "Sell all that thou hast, and come, take up thy cross, and follow me;"—do we not feel how natural it would have been in that young man to have replied in his heart, "Surely that yoke is not easy, that burthen is not light," and to have wept, as he did, in sorrow?

These supposed feelings probably express our own.

Now, our object in stating these apparent differences in the spirit of our Lord's teaching is not to reconcile them. This would be a most easy task; for we know how He was ever the same wise and loving teacher in all He said and did. But we desire you rather to receive the unity of the teaching, the oneness of the truth taught in those passages, and, still more, to have impressed upon our hearts the vast importance of the principles contained in Christ's promise of rest to the weary, and as manifested in His actual treatment of the rich young man, for on no other principles will our Lord give us rest; so in no other way can He bestow eternal life than that in which He offered it to him who sought it on his knees, yet went away mourning. There are. few narratives in God's Word more profoundly interesting than this one. Let us consider it. You will first notice the outward and inward life of this seeker after life eternal. He was a young man, at that period of life when "the world"—"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," and that sum of things which is "not of the Father"—can afford a life to the natural man, and which is enjoyed with a greater relish than at any other period. He was, moreover, a young man ''having great possessions," and, therefore, having the means of nourishing this kind of life. From his wealth and from his character he could always gain admission into what we now term the best society. His large possessions would occupy him, so that time need not hang heavy upon his hands; and if disposed to do so, he could be clothed in purple and fine linen, eat, drink, and make merry, and fare sumptuously every day.

But when we come to look into this man's inward as well as his outward life, we cannot help being struck by the remarkable features which it presents to us. Though a young man, and a man of fortune, he is not ashamed—so earnest was he—to kneel down on the high road before Jesus Christ, and, in the presence of His poor disciples, to ask, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" But such earnestness was quite in keeping with the tone of his moral character. For how excellent had this life hitherto been, which he, a young man of fortune, had led from his boyhood! When he says, with reference to the commandments enumerated by Jesus, "All these have I kept from my youth," he spoke the truth. If he even had not kept them according to their inner spirit—if they were not to him expressions and outgoings of the great law of supreme love to God—at all events he kept them in their outward form; for assuredly he was no hypocrite or pretender. This we know from the fact that "Jesus beholding him loved him," which He would not certainly have done had the young man come to Him with a lie in his right hand, and with the spirit of a Pharisee. So thus you see that, though young and rich, he was pure in his outer life, honest in his dealings, truthful in his words, a good neighbour and a good son, with earnest longings and prayer to Jesus for life eternal. For this young man felt a want of rest in his inner being. He possessed a life indeed; but he felt that it was not an eternal life. He had a life in himself and in his possessions, in his pursuits, in his family and friends; but was this an eternal life ? Is this a life that will last as long as the person who enjoys it? Will it be as good after death as before it?—a million years hence as now? "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth, whatsoever these things may be." So this man, with his youth and his riches, felt and acknowledged. Was he mistaken? Had he any real grounds for doubting the reality of his peace and of his safety ? Could it indeed be that one so earnest, so sincere, so moral, lacked any element essential to the possession of true life? I fear that many in our day, who do not profess to reject the Christian standard of what is really good in the sight of God, would not hesitate to smile at this young man's anxieties as unnecessary, pity his doubts as groundless, and strengthen him in self-confidence. But such was not the judgment which Christ formed of his condition. We know His judgment to be truth.

Let us, then, consider further, how Christ taught him.

We are told that "Jesus beholding him loved him." Do not forget this fact; for, otherwise, we cannot understand Christ's teaching of him, unless we read it in the light of His love, and as the answer of love to his prayer, " What shall I. do?" Some people are unwilling to receive these words according to their apparent meaning, and are more anxious to harmonise Scripture with their own theories, than their own theories with Scripture. They begin to question, as if it were a matter of doubt, how Christ could have loved one who had not yet entered into true life, but was only seeking it, and one, too, who eventually went away from Him sorrowing. But, nevertheless, Christ did love him with that love which brought Him to seek and to save the lost, and which made Him weep bitter tears of anguish over Jerusalem, even when the things of its peace were for ever hid from its eyes. Deeper than we can fathom was the love with which He gazed on this young man kneeling at His feet, and asking from Him, the Lord of life, how true life was to be obtained. Need we say that love was in every word uttered by Jesus to the suppliant, and that in love He would lead him by the easiest, the shortest, because the best and only road possible for him, into His own kingdom, and to the possession of life eternal.

The first thing which our Lord did was to reveal to this anxious inquirer himself why it was that he was not finding life eternal. And just as a physician might enable a patient to ascertain the real seat of his disease by making him assume some attitude of body which in health could be done without pain, but which he now finds cannot be attempted without acute suffering, so would our Lord instruct this young man as to the nature of that evil in him which was his chief hindrance to possessing true life. For let it be understood that "eternal life" is not merely existence, or undefined happiness, but the knowledge and possession of God in love, as " our eternal inheritance and portion for ever," even as our Lord himself hath said, "This is eternal life, to know thee the only living and true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Accordingly, to prepare the young man to enter into this life, by quickening in him a sense of his need, and of that barrier which self had erected in his soul between him and his God, Jesus enumerates the commandments. "These I have kept from my youth," was the reply. If so, then not in the habitual breach of any of these lay his deadly complaint, nor the peculiar form in which sin manifested itself in him. Jesus does not therefore bid him lead a pure, or an honest, or a righteous life as a neighbour, a friend, or a son; but He commands him to sell all thai he has and to follow Him. A pang of agony shoots through his whole being, for the Divine Physician has laid his finger upon the disease, and has revealed it to his conscience.

What was the disease? What was that which was his individual hindrance in finding life only in God?

It was not, certainly, the mere possession of riches ; because riches and rank, like health or strength of body, or like intellect or genius, are gifts bestowed by the self-same Master, who "divides to each man severally as He will," and to be used for God's glory, and our own increase in good and happiness. Our Lord himself tells us, that the young man's evil was trusting in riches, for ''he saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them who trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!"

Now let us see further what is meant by trusting in riches. It is not a trust in mere gold and silver, though it may be in what gold and silver can obtain for us. It is rather a trust for our life in the perishable, in that which does not last as long as the soul, and which, from its very nature, cannot satisfy it. It matters not, therefore, whether our possessions are those of science or of art, belonging to the intellect or the taste; or those of friends and kindred, belonging to our affections; for however ''great" such possessions may be, yet if they belong to the finite, and are not enjoyed as parts of, and subordinate to, our only true life in the living God, then of all of them it may be said, "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." Our readers will remember our Lord's solemn comment upon these words. ''And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee : then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God." This young man was "rich toward himself," and therefore poor, and needy, and blind, and naked. Our Lord desired to quicken in him a sense of his poverty, that so He might answer his prayer by giving him the true riches in Himself, thus making him "rich towards God."

But this leads us to remark, further, that our Lord desired to deliver the young man from his evil when He commanded him to sell all that he had. Some are disposed to ask whether our Lord really meant His words to be taken literally, for if so, they are disposed to think, ''' This is a hard saying: who can bear it?' Surely in this Jesus was a hard master! Surely this burden was not light!" So can we imagine a child reasoning when subjected to a severe operation by a loving father, who, unless from the love which he bore his child, could not himself endure the infliction of such suffering. If indeed it is more profitable to gain the world than to save the soul; if indulgence to the flesh is better than good to the spirit; if self in any form can be our eternal rest, instead of the living God,— then such discipline as Jesus was pleased to subject this rich young man to was uncalled for and cruel. On the other hand, if he was making riches his god, and his possessions his life, then was it most loving, because righteous, in the Divine Physician to cut off this right hand, or to pluck out this right eye, rather than that the whole body should be cast into hell. Oh, with what feelings of unutterable interest did our Lord behold this kneeling suppliant! young, earnest, moral, seeking the way to possess life eternal, yet ignorant of the hold which things seen and temporal had upon his whole being; beholding dimly the glittering crown which he desired to wear, yet not beholding the path by the cross which led. to it; desiring to " find life," but not understanding how "he who findeth his life must lose it!" Now there is hope for him if he will only peril his all for Christ and follow Him; but let him depart and follow self, and the eye of the Lord sees him going further and further into darkness, confusion, and misery; by and by storing up his goods and increasing his barns, and, in the ignorance of unbelief, saying, "Soul, take thine ease!" yea, departing further still, and, though "clothed in purple and fine linen," and faring sumptuously every day, yet with a heart wholly given to covetousness, the love of God and man driven out of it by the demon possession of unbridled selfishness, until all at last is ended by the cry of despair, which would beg a drop of cold water to cool the tongue! Our Lord "beholding him, loved him !" and understanding well what a crisis this was in his life, and desiring at once to set him free from the iron chain that held him fast to the earth, and hindered his flight to heaven, said, "Sell all that thou hast, and follow me!" In no other way could Ho answer his prayer for eternal life. In this way alone could he find life, by taking up His cross and following Him in spirit, who "though rich, yet for our sakes became poor."

And now we ask with anxiety what effect this teaching had upon the young man! Alas! we are not left in any doubt regarding his decision. ''He went away sorrowful, for he had much riches!" And so this mighty crisis of his life passed. He could not serve God and Mammon, and he preferred Mammon. He went away sorrowful from the Prince of Life, the Son and Heir, the Lord of all things, and returned to his much possessions. He prayed to Christ, and asked the most precious gift that Christ could give, and the gift was offered, but refused. He professed to come to Christ as a disciple, but would not accept of His discipline. Jesus loved him, and would have saved him, by saving him from himself, and bringing him to his God; but the young man loved not Jesus in return, and would not trust Him or receive His salvation. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! how often would I have sheltered thee, but thou wouldest not!" O sad delusion! O blind folly of unbelief! Where are the rich man's "great possessions" now? Where his oliveyards and vineyards, his well-stored barns, and his earthly grandeur? All have passed away as a dream! And the young man himself, where is he? For he has not passed away; he yet lives somewhere, and will live for ever, on, for ever on, throughout eternal ages; but what eternal life does he now possess to be the happiness of his undying spirit? Ah, it is easy for us to see and to lament his folly now; but is not this the sad tragedy which is repeated in the history of thousands every day? Young men! will you bear with us, while we would, on an early occasion, make a more direct and practical application of this touching history?

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