I met lately a young man of considerable intelligence who answered as nearly as possible to the case described in Mark 10:17-21. There we read that “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 things have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest.”
Now we may reasonably hope that as this young man was not guilty of having borne false witness of others, neither did he bear false witness of himself. He had not violated any of the above commandments. He had “observed all these things from his youth.” The page of his history was clear of every moral blot, and his character unstained by transgression. He could readily throw open his bosom to the keen and all-discerning eye of the Master. He meant what he said. He was honest. The witness he had borne of himself was correct. He had observed all these things from his youth. Could anything more be claimed? With the letter of these commands he was acquainted, and he had obeyed them to the letter; but the spirit of them—their real, vital, spiritual significance—their moral import—reached much further. When carried to their conclusion they affected not the mere overt conduct only, but they touched the springs of the heart. They said, “Thou shalt not steal”—but they signified “Thou shalt love.”
To refrain from appropriating another’s goods may be easy enough; but to love the other so as to share your goods with him is a very different matter. But this is implied in the command which this earnest young man professed to have kept. That he did not understand it in this light is plain. He had viewed the decalogue as addressing itself to outward actions only, as did Saul of Tarsus in a later day. He too was alive without the law once! Not that he broke it, or proved himself to be an open and incorrigible transgressor; but he lived under it without its keen spiritual point being forced on his conscience. “When the commandment came,” then, said he, “sin revived and I died.” When in his soul he conceived by Divine teaching the searching nature of the commandment—how that it forbade not only transgression, but lust; not only open disobedience, but the motions and pulsations and breathings of sin within—then he found his lost estate. And so with the rich young man of Mark 10. To him the Lord, in His own masterly way, brought the commandment home by bidding him go his way, sell whatsoever he had, give to the poor; come, take his cross, and follow Him! A tremendous test to one who clung to his earthly possessions, and one which laid bare in a moment the unrevealed and hidden spring of covetousness. What! sell all that he had, leaving himself destitute, so that he might enrich others and make them comfortable at his own cost; then take up the cross, heavy as it would be, and lastly, follow Jesus, who had no possessions, no place, who was the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief!—how could he do this? The demand was excessive; he declined to meet it. He “went away grieved, for he had great possessions.” He “lacked one thing.”
But to lack only one thing is to lack everything. God demands perfection. Nothing short of that which is perfect can possibly meet His approval. To offend in one point is to be guilty of all. Absolute righteousness alone can answer the claims of Divine holiness. Eternal life cannot be inherited on any other basis, ground, or platform whatever. God can have nothing less. But then there can be no hope, since, irrespectively of outward conduct, man himself is unclean—his heart is “desperately wicked,” and his nature “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Lust, covetousness, sin, dwells by nature within, and, even if checked as to any expression of itself, still it is there, and on that ground alone man is lost. He is therefore hopeless! True, he is lost indeed—“dead in trespasses and sins,” and in that sense thoroughly hopeless—has “no hope” in the world. But, strange to say, this is the very ground of hope. Had the young man known he was lost, he would never have said, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” A dead man cannot do anything. He needs life, even as a lost man needs some one to find him. But to say “What shall I do?” was at once to throw himself into the awful crucible of law which, when applied, fails not to upset everyone. So it proved in his case. “Sell whatsoever thou hast,” that by giving to the poor be might “love his neighbour as himself”, the stern demand of law, and that demand, as indeed every similar demand of law, proved itself too heavy. It was a “yoke that could not be borne.” I was, may I say, a mirror, which made known most faithfully his moral defects and shortcomings.
Is it not strange that people should look into this mirror with eyes so blinded that their sins remain unknown to them? Yet so it is. They keep the letter—the bare wording of the law, but fail to apprehend the true character of it.
And so it was in the case of the intelligent young man to whom I have made reference. He told me that he had scrupulously avoided all outward sin, and that he had always discountenanced bad company or language. I had no doubt in my mind that he spoke the truth of himself; surprised though I may have been. When I found him proof against the charges of open sin and violation of the law, I applied another test. “His righteousnesses,” I said, “were but filthy rags,” and that what settled the whole question of his fitness for heaven was the truth of the second birth; I asked him if he had been born again. On this I noticed that his countenance fell. He appeared as one condemned—“He was sad at that saying, and went away grieved.” His great possessions of good works proved to be of no value when nothing short of the second birth could avail. He found it difficult to part with them all and take the ground of being lost and unclean. It was a hard saying, and withering to natural pride—yet a tremendous necessity! And down, down, down, to the low dead level of lost and unclean must come all, whether Pharisee or publican, prince or pauper, professor or profane. Down must they come to the common platform. Pride must be broken; self-righteousness must be swept away, and the soul must
“Stoop down and drink and live.”
This is no doubt most humbling. A proud man, possessed of a quantity of good works, to be classed along with the openly reprobate and abandoned. It must shock his feelings. Nevertheless it is written, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and this truth in one broad sweeping stroke makes short work of all human pretension. If all have not sinned, equally, still all have sinned. They are in kind the same, and God cannot look on sin. Some may be on the clean side of the broad road, others on the unclean; yet, if on that road at all, they are lost.
But I would repeat the truth that “the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Such are the objects of His grace. Did not the shepherd seek and find the lost sheep? Did not the woman seek and find the lost piece of silver? Did not the father say, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found”? Has this no meaning? What shepherd would seek a sheep that was not lost? And what necessity was there for the death of the blessed Son of God if man was not dead and lost? But, precious truth! because man was dead Jesus died, and His death is the way of life—and the only way! “The Son of Man must be lifted up.” “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” But on the other hand “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” The demand of Divine justice is fully met. No more is asked. The death of Christ shows me the extent of my sin; but, through grace, it also shows to me the sword of justice sheathed, the stroke having fallen on my holy and blessed Substitute. He now is my “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” and in Him I glory.
My beloved reader, can you make all this personal? Has it no application, no voice to yourself? It is full of meaning and of blessing too. Say, do you purpose to cling to “good works” and still continue on the broad road that leads to destruction, or come down to the dead level where Christ is found?