The Rich Young Man

Mark 10:17-27.

Let us examine what the Lord here says about the state of man. The young man addressed the Lord not as Son of God, but as a rabbi, that is, as a teacher in Israel: he calls Him "Good Master." The Lord will not admit that man is good; not one righteous man can be found amongst men - no, not one. He says, "Why callest thou Me good? No one is good except One: that is God." Certainly Christ was good, but He was God, although He made Himself man in His perfect love. He was always God, and God became man without ceasing to be, or being able to cease being, God; only He had hidden His divinity in human nature (at least His glory) in order to come nigh unto us; for by faith, divine power and love are more clearly manifested than ever. But here the young man comes as to a human teacher, a rabbi; and the Lord answers him in the same manner as he asks; but He establishes this important principle, that no one amongst the sons of fallen Adam is good. It is a humiliating truth, but one of immense weight. We cannot now find a man who is good by nature. We have seen that certain qualities remain of the first creation; but that which God had created good, and declared to be good, has been corrupted by the Fall. Man goes in quest of his own pleasures, of his own interests, and not of God and His glory; he may set these things honestly or dishonestly in the quagmire of sin; but he always seeks to satisfy his own will. He has lost God, and looks after himself.

Then the Lord, after having presented to him the commandments of the law, in which a man has life whilst he keeps them, adds in an exhortation the commandment which made Paul feel what the law produced, in the state in which man was - in death. "One thing thou lackest," says the Lord: "go, sell that thou hast, and come and follow Me." Here we see the lust of the heart exposed, the young man's true state laid bare by the Lord's powerful but simple word, which knows and tries the heart. The fine flowers of the wild tree are worth nothing; the fruits are those of a heart alienated from God; the sap is the sap of a bad tree. The love of riches ruled this young man's heart, interesting as it was as to his natural disposition: the base desire of gold lay at the bottom of his heart; it was the mainspring of his will, the true measure of his moral state. If he goes away grieved, and leaves the Lord, it is because he prefers money to God manifested in love and grace.

How solemn a thing it is to find oneself in the presence of Him who searcheth the heart! But the thing that governs the heart, its motive, is the true measure of man's moral state, and not the qualities which he possesses by birth, however pleasing these may be. Good qualities are to be found even in animals; they are to be esteemed, but they do not at all reveal the moral state of the heart. A man who has a hard and perverse nature, who tries to control his bad disposition by grace, and to be amiable to others and pleasing to God, is more moral and better before Him than a man who, amiable naturally, seeks to enjoy himself with others in a pleasant way, but without conscience before God - that is, without thinking of Him - loved by men, but displeasing to the God whom he forgets. That which gives moral character to a man is the object of his heart; and it is this the Lord shows here in so powerful a manner that it touches to the quick the pride of the human heart.

But the Lord goes farther. The disciples, who thought that men could do something to gain eternal life, like all the Pharisees of every age, and that man ought to gain heaven for himself, although they recognised the need of God's help, were astonished. What! a rich man of a very good disposition, who had kept the law, and who only sought to know what was the most excellent commandment from their Master in order to perform it - could such a one be far from the kingdom of God? Could it be extremely difficult for such a one to enter into it? If we do not understand that we are lost already; that we need to be saved; that it is a question of the state of the heart; that all hearts are naturally at a distance from God, and that they seek an object, the object of their own desire, far from Him; that they do not wish Him to be present, because the conscience feels that His presence would hinder the heart in following this object; - if we do not learn this truth by grace, we are altogether blind.

At the moment at which we have arrived in this passage, it was too late to keep concealed from man (at least from the disciples) the true state of his heart. This state had been manifested; man had been unwilling to receive the Son of God. Thus it had been proved that, with the best natural disposition, man, even whilst preserving outward morality, preferred to follow the object of his desire rather than the God of love present upon earth, or a master whom he had recognised as having the highest knowledge of the will of God. Man was lost - he had shown this fact in rejecting the Son of God - and he must learn it, and that with all his most excellent qualities he cannot save himself. "Who then can be saved?" The Lord does not hide the truth: "With men it is impossible." Solemn words, pronounced by the Lord, pronounced by Him who came to save us. He knew that man could not save himself, that he could not emerge from the state into which he had fallen without the help of God. With men it is impossible; but then God comes in His boundless love to save us, not to conceal our state and the need of this free salvation.

We must know our state. It is not a thing to be lightly esteemed, that the glorious Son of God should have made Himself of no reputation, and have died upon the cross - the only means of redeeming and saving lost man. We must know ourselves, and know that we are condemned in our hearts, in order to be able to understand that Christ has borne this condemnation in our place, and that He has accomplished the work of our salvation according to God's glory. Let the state of condemnation and sin be proved; and let the love, the perfect righteousness, and the holiness of a God who cannot tolerate the sight of sin (however patient He may be), be brought out clearly and glorified. "With men it is impossible … with God all things are possible." By the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by this work alone - a work which the angels desire to look into - all this can be done; salvation is obtained by faith - by faith, because all is accomplished. To God be the praise! The Lord is glorified as man in heaven, because this work has been done, and because God has recognised its perfection; it is on this account that He has placed Christ at His right hand, because everything has been done. God is satisfied, glorified, in the work of Christ.

"With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible." But what an immense grace which shows us what we are and what God is! "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Think of this, brethren. This means that we must expect a cross in this world. Be ready to receive the Lord's words, to take up the cross, in order to have the true knowledge of yourselves; that is, that you are lost in sin, that salvation is purely of grace, impossible for man, but that the work of salvation is perfect and complete, and the righteousness of God is upon all men who believe in Him who has accomplished it. In no part of Scripture is the fundamental truth of the need of God's salvation and of man's state more clearly stated. J. N. Darby.