Great Texts of the Bible
One Thing Thou Lackest
And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.—Mark 10:21.
Christ was leaving the Jordan valley, where for some time He had been, “as he was wont,” teaching the people. Already He was on His way before the ruler could overcome his reluctance to seek His spiritual direction. Then the young man came running, late, but not too late, and kneeling, he asked, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” “Jesus looking upon him loved him.” This statement, following on the declaration that he had kept from his youth all the commandments which Jesus had been quoting, sheds light on his character. He was real, both in his earnestness and in his stainless life. If, in this assertion of his obedience, there had been either insincerity or self-sufficiency, it would have aroused disgust. Instead, it awakened the Lord’s profoundest sympathy. This was his burden; he had intended a full piety, and it had not brought him rest of soul. The words of Jesus, though stern, are of tender compassion and deep meaning. The young man felt that the secret of his heart was laid bare. “One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But his countenance fell at the saying”—a shadow as of a lowering sky overspread his face—“and he went away sorrowful: for he was one that had great possessions.”
Three of the Evangelists have preserved the incident. Each one adds something to the completeness of the picture. The wealth of the inquirer is brought into view by all of them; but St. Matthew alone tells us that he was young, and St. Luke alone speaks of him as a ruler, while St. Mark gives several most interesting particulars of the interview itself—the running and the kneeling, the earnestness and the reverence, the look which Christ gave him, and the love which Christ felt for him; and then again the look which Christ threw upon the disciples as He drew the moral, and the repeated expressions of astonishment with which they received His unexpected words as to the spiritual dangers of worldly wealth. All this variety, so picturesque and so natural, would be ill exchanged, we all feel, for a dry and sterile uniformity of narrative, taking out of it all the life and all the play, and suggesting the idea of an inspiration merely mechanical, out of which the human element would have departed, and with it (rightly understood) also the Divine.
Christ’s Look of Love
“Jesus looking upon him loved him.”
1. The word “looking” implies a searching look. It is used twice in the Fourth Gospel—once of the look of John the Baptist upon Jesus (Mark 1:36) and once of the look of Jesus upon Peter when He called him to be a disciple (Mark 1:42).
2. “Loved him.”—There are few words more touching in all Scripture. They mark so decisively the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ. He is not one that cannot sympathise—no, but in all things. He is “of like passions with us,” only “without sin.” The holy Saviour had a loved one among His disciples. He did not command, He did not exemplify, a dead level, a dull monotony, even of feeling, even of affection. There was for Him a friend among the friends—one chosen among the elect—one heart with which His heart beat yet more sensitively than with other hearts all loved.
Many of the older expositors, from Victor of Antioch downward, wondered at this statement. It surprised them that our Saviour should be represented as loving one who was not prepared to give up all on earth for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Hence various attempts were made to find in the expression something less inward than real love. Some supposed that the words loved him meant kissed him. Field1 [Note: Notes on Translation of the New Testament, 34.] says, “Perhaps we might translate ‘caressed him’ ”; and refers to John Lightfoot, who quotes examples of Jewish Doctors getting up and kissing their disciples when they were pleased with them.1 [Note: Notes on Translation of the New Testament, 34.]
3. Why did Jesus love him? Because He saw him as he was—pure, enthusiastic, unspoiled though unproved. It is a false and forlorn view to take of man, that there is nothing beautiful in him before he becomes saintly. The very attractiveness of an unregenerate soul makes us the more desirous for its regeneration. But often, as a cultured tree knows nothing of the husbandries which beautified the stock from which it sprang, and thus caused its beauty, so youths know nothing of the spiritual husbandries of past days, to which they are indebted for the moral attractiveness they have to others, and the moral strength which they themselves deem sufficient. It is often very evident that the children of Christians have by nature an advantage. Often they are more lovable than others. But they must not trust a “nature” in themselves that would never have been so lovely but for the “grace” that was in their parents. There is much in common, and even in perverted, men that has a rude native grace. There is yet more in the sons and daughters of the sincerely pious that has a natural hopeful bloom about it. God loves this, and so may we.
Do you suppose that the Blessed Lord now in heaven looks with equal love upon opposite characters amongst ourselves; say, upon the young man of pure life and clean heart and beautiful feeling, and the young man whose very soul is “a cage of unclean birds,” whose tongue is profane, unchaste, or cruel, whose conduct towards his own is selfish, unmannerly, hard, ungrateful? Ought He, we ask it with reverence, ought He so to do? Ought Jesus Christ to confound all differences even amongst those who still “lack one thing”? Such teaching is as unscriptural as it is immoral. It would make us shut the Bible if we read it there. It would be an argument against Christianity which all the Evidences could not parry. It would be the indication of a looseness and a roughness and a coarseness of judgment which could not be attributed without impiety to the Judge of all men. Because we believe that there is a discriminating quality—and the Gospel calls it faith—visible already, in the case of each one, as present or absent, to the eye of God; shall we go on to say that without this or apart from this there is no essential difference between vice and virtue? Let “the Judge of all the earth do right,” however it may fit in with our ideas or with our theologies. Be not rash in fixing the great gulf—wipe not out the “Jesus loved” in your zeal to hurry towards the “one thing thou lackest.”1 [Note: C. J. Vaughan.]
It was not in vain that the young ruler kept the Commandments; it was because he kept them that Jesus loved him. It is not in vain that any man has lived bravely outside religion; it is because he has done so well that Jesus desires to have him for a disciple. No faithfulness of service in any province of life, and no ministry of charity, have passed unnoticed by Him who alone understands human nature, and who is our Judge. Our Lord has a welcome for all men who will come to Him, even the thief upon the cross; but of only one seeker in the Gospels is it written that Jesus loved him. He was not a reprobate, nor was he a Pharisee; he was a well living and high minded man. If he had been able to make the last sacrifice, then one dares to think the young ruler would have become a chief apostle, and the rival of St. Paul. When, therefore, one like the young ruler approaches Jesus, the Master sees a man after His own heart. When such a one refuses the cross which alone can raise him to his full manhood the Master is bitterly disappointed. And that man suffers the chief loss of life.
It is a wholesome change in ethics from the modern hymns to the Old Testament Psalms; it is rising from the warm enervating plain of Italy to the cold bracing highlands of the Engadine. Not only have the Psalms an incomparable majesty which no hymn except the Te Deum rivals, and an unaffected tenderness which no hymn, except perhaps “Rock of Ages,” has ever touched, but the Psalms have also an ethical tone which is wanting in many popular hymns. If the soldier of Christ wishes to brace himself for strenuous living, and the discharge of daily duty, he can hardly find a hymn to make the blood move in his veins. He turns with satisfaction to Psalms 1, where the doctrine and the practice correspond. The man who walketh in the law of the Lord, that man shall stand; the man who does not walk in the law of the Lord, believe what he may or say what he please, will be scattered like chaff before the wind of heaven.1 [Note: J. Watson.]
4. Was there anything in particular in this young man to elicit love? There were at least three things.
(1) He had an eye for goodness in others.—He knew real worth when he saw it. He was irresistibly attracted to Jesus. He ran towards Him, and with a gush of admiration exclaimed, “Good Master.” It was not easy then to see that Jesus was good. It was not easy to say it. For if the Scribes and Pharisees were good, Jesus was far from good. His “Good Master” was courageous as well as discerning.
(2) He understood the superiority of the ethical over the ritual or ceremonial.—In other words, he understood the importance of the commandments of God as compared with the commandments of the Scribes. Notice the word “which?” in Matthew’s Gospel. It was the lofty morality, not the low, that attracted him. He had kept the great commandments of the Law. He did not say he had kept the little commandments of the lawyers.
(3) He was dissatisfied with himself.—This was a remarkable feature also. He had striven from youth to live an honourable life, but he had not succeeded in realising his own ideal. Self-dissatisfaction is a true sign of moral ability. A self-dissatisfied man all can love. God loves him; Christ loves him; the Holy Spirit loves him; all wise saintly men love him.
There are two classes of discontented people, those who are discontented with what they are, and those who are discontented with what they have. To the latter class very many belong, and of these the rich no less than the poor; for an insatiable desire for more, to mass wealth on wealth, to add land to land, to get more power and more position in the world, often possesses those who have of this world’s goods. The young ruler was not of these but of the former class, who are dissatisfied with what they are.2 [Note: J. B. M. Grimes.]
“Love, we go
To the Island of Forgetfulness, for lo!
The Islands of Dancing and of Victories
Are empty of all power.”
“And which of these
Is the Island of Content?”
“None know,” she said,
And on my bosom laid her weeping head.1 [Note: W. B. Yeats.]
One Thing Wanting
“One thing thou lackest.”
1. One thing.—Often have we said, of friend or neighbour, He has but one fault. Perfect in uprightness, in diligence, in devotion, he lacks temper, or he lacks courtesy, or he lacks charity. Perfect in kindness, in consideration, in humility, he lacks strength, or he lacks courage, or he lacks exertion. Sometimes we have to say a more serious thing. So faultless in one aspect, in one half of the man—so tender, so generous, so unselfish, so useful—he cannot quite be trusted when the question is of truth, or of sincerity, or of integrity, or of virtue. He has one fault, and it carries unsoundness into everything. We all know that there are vices which no number of virtues can counterbalance, in the judgment of the world, or in the judgment of the Christian.
I have in my possession a watch, and by competent judges it is pronounced to be one of great excellence. Gold, chains, pivots, stones, are of the first order. Yet if it lacked one thing—the mainspring—it would be of no service to me, in the sense in which a watch is expected to serve, namely, recording the time of day. The mainspring is only “one thing,” but that one thing is all important to the value and usefulness of my watch.
Some time ago the writer was travelling on the London and North-Western Railway from Birmingham to Euston. Among the passengers was a lady. On reaching Willesden tickets were demanded. By some means or other she had mislaid or lost that simple little article. She searched her pockets, satchel, purse, and everywhere she could think of, but it was of no avail. The “ticket” was lost. She had a number of cards, much larger, and more artistic and beautiful, than the simple little “ticket,” yet they were of no use. It was the “one thing,” in accordance with the London and North-Western Railway Company’s arrangement, which was required, and no other card could be taken as an equivalent. It was only “one thing,” but very important.1 [Note: F. Andrews.]
Many years ago an American whale ship was in the South Seas. A monster of the deep getting wounded, ran out the distance of a mile by way of getting a run race, and returning, struck the ship with such tremendous force that she began to fill and to sink. The sea was like glass. The crew were not only far from land, but far from the track of ships, so that there was no probability of rescue until they could regain those latitudes through which the thoroughfare of nations runs. The mandate was given, all went busily to work, and the boats were quickly filled with the necessaries of life. The deck was nearly level with the water when the boats moved away for safety. When about one hundred yards away, two men jumped into the sea, went into the sinking ship, and disappeared down the hatchway. They were after “one thing,” and, grasping it with a death grip, returned to the boats with it in their hands. They appeared to value it more than life. It was the compass. It was only “one thing,” but vastly important, because their safety and life depended upon having it in their possession.2 [Note: Ibid.]
2. This “one thing” is nothing less than the crucifying of the old man (which in the case of this youth existed in the form of attachment to riches), and so is equivalent to “all things,” inasmuch as in the one thing all things are included. The entrance into this one thing is also the way to “perfection” (Matthew 19:21), for this reason, that it can be effected only in the strength of God; and man can become perfect and good only in this way, that the one perfect and good God make his heart His temple.
A poor drunken man once reeled up to old Bishop Wilberforce in St. James’s Square, and said, “Bishop, how am I to be sure of getting to heaven?” The bishop looked at him, and said, “Don’t you know that? My mother taught me that as I knelt at her knee in my childhood. My poor friend”—the poor wretched creature under the power of strong drink was reeling at his side—“my poor friend,” said the bishop with that calm, quiet face that we remember so well, “turn to the right and go straight on.”3 [Note: G. H. Wilkinson.]
3. There are four stages in the development of our nature—animality, intellectuality, morality, spirituality. Most people will allow that morality stands above the first two, but many forget that there is something higher. Moses brought men to the level of morality, Jesus led them to the level where morality passes into religion. It was not His business to enforce the Ten Commandments, it was His to replace them by the principle of love.
Much may be done to the tree by training, much to the man by teaching, but you cannot learn to do what you have not the heart to do. You cannot learn to manage, on any stream, a vessel that draws more water than the depth of the stream supplies.1 [Note: T. T. Lynch.]
4. We are confronted with two opposite schools of doctrine, and hear the one saying, The man is worse than a profligate; and the other, The man is safe, and only wants perfecting. The one says, Better any immorality than the vice of self-righteousness. The other says, Morality is the differentia of human being; give me virtue, and for all else let bigots fight. The one says, No case so hopeless as that which has no need of repentance; which, not having consciously fallen, can dispense with a Saviour; saying I am rich, is deaf to the counsel, Buy of Me without price. The other says, The end of religion is virtue—reach virtue any way, and God cannot condemn. Against the former of these views is the “Jesus loved him”: against the latter is the “went away sorrowful.” It is better to be moral than to be profligate; yet to be moral is not salvation. We must not sever what the text has joined in one. “Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest.”
You will admit that the dahlia in gorgeousness of colour falls not a whit behind the choicest productions of the best cultured nursery. But it is minus one important thing—scent. If its scent were only equal to its beauty, its aroma to its colour, it might even enter into friendly competition with the rose, the acknowledged sovereign of the garden. Art has done its best to supply this deficiency of Nature—botanists have strained their skill to perfume this magnificent flower, but in vain. No fragrance can be imparted or developed. The dahlia is very beautiful, but not sweet. The perfection of a flower, however, consists in exquisiteness of colour and deliciousness of fragrance.2 [Note: F. Andrews.]
Treasure surrendered on Earth is Treasure laid up in Heaven
“Go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”
1. There are very few extraordinary openings of any kind in most men’s lives; but there are sure to be at least a few very testing hours. And these hours often come just as the youth is turning man. He has professed, and has really felt, much admiration for noble things and noble persons. Education has directed his enthusiasm, and the world has not yet damped it. What lacks he? Courage, perhaps, to become a foremost advocate of an unpopular truth, which truth he has privately seen and honoured: or, perhaps, “hardness” enough to become soldier for anything. He has a silver tongue, but not a strong hand; he will be trumpeter on gala days, but must not be looked for among the slain, or the surviving, in decisive hours. Many have preached the Kingdom of heaven, saying, “It will come, it is at hand,” who, when it has come, but with “garments rolled in blood,” have fled, not tarrying to welcome it. How indeed could they welcome such a coming!
I heard a clergyman tell this story of a Jewish maiden brought to Christ through his instrumentality. She lived with her mother, whose only daughter she was, in Germany. Her mother was a widow, and very well-to-do. At first she kept secret from her mother her acceptance of the Christian faith, from fear of the pain it would cause her. One evening she felt she could keep the secret no longer. She asked her mother to kiss her, which the mother did, wondering at the request. It was the last embrace between mother and daughter. For at midnight the clergyman and his wife were roused by the young girl, driven from her mother’s house, penniless. Work was found for her to do; but, unfitted for battle with the hard world, she early succumbed. When her end was very near the clergyman, raising her head to put a glass of water to the parched lips, asked, “Are you happy?” Unhesitatingly came the answer, “So happy!”1 [Note: J. B. M. Grimes.]
Riches I hold in light esteem;
And love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream
That vanished with the morn:
And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is “Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!”
Yes, as my swift days near their goal,
’Tis all that I implore;
In life and death, a chainless soul
With courage to endure.1 [Note: Emily Bronté.]
2. Christ does not challenge the truth of what the young ruler has said; but bases on it an immeasurably higher demand, one to which he was not prepared to respond. What a contrast is here to the method most of us would have pursued—spiritual directors, evangelical pastors, helpers in the inquiry room. Almost certainly we should have challenged his assertion; should have set him judging himself by the law, pointing out its “exceeding breadth,” especially in the light of its spirituality as interpreted by Christ. We should have said, “Were you never disobedient to your parents? never angry with any one without cause, or in excess of the occasion? never lustful, never covetous of anything belonging to another man, never untruthful, evasive, unfair in your judgment of your neighbour?” And we should perhaps have wound up with the words—“Whosoever offends in one point is guilty of all.” This is what we should have called “searching the young man’s conscience”; and it would have revealed ignorance of the fact that, in Christ’s world, the conscience is searched, not by the law, but by His Spirit. The self-dissatisfaction of the virtuous cannot be reached by casuistry; their conscience is to be touched by pointing out, not what they have done, but what they are unready to do. Repulsion from the law of Christ, refusal to follow Him—until this is exposed and repented of, these troubled spirits can have no peace. The Spirit of truth, the Comforter, when He is come, will work in the world conviction concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. “Concerning sin, that they believe not on me; concerning righteousness, that I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; concerning judgment, that the ruler of this world is judged.”
The story told of Mary of Bethany is that she went to a shop to buy a box of ointment. The man in charge showed her a box, but she said that she must have something better. He showed her a second box, but even that was not good enough. The third box, costly as it was, did not seem sufficiently worthy. Then the merchant said, “I have a box, but its price is so high that I do not dare to show it to you.” “That is what I want,” she said; “there is nothing too good for my Lord.”1 [Note: J. G. K. M’Clure.]
3. The sale and distribution of his property were the necessary preparations in this man’s case for the complete discipleship which admits to the Divine Kingdom. The words are not a general counsel of perfection, but a test of obedience and faith which the Lord saw to be necessary in this particular case. The demand of the Divine Lover of souls varies with the spiritual condition of the individual; for one equally great see Genesis 12:1; Hebrews 11:8 ff. Whether this precept led to the sacrifices described in Acts 2:44 f., Mark 4:34 ff., cannot now be known; the Life of St. Anthony relates its effect on the great Egyptian hermit.
One day the little group of worshippers upon the plain at the foot of the rock-strewn summit of Sang-keh-soa found themselves in a difficulty. It was necessary to replace the lowly room which served them as church by a larger building, and the funds were difficult to find. Time had been spent in making plans and gathering money, but little had come of it, and the brothers of the “Jesus Church” were losing heart. They met together and prayed about it. Next morning Ah-Chhoang walked a distance of fifteen miles to Chinchew city, to the house of a friend, who might, he thought, help in the matter. They had discussed the matter in every way at Ho-Chhi, he told his friend, but talking was no use. The funds were short; alas! nothing would make them button over. “Have you prayed about this matter?” “Yes; prayer is good. I have prayed, and—” Here he lifted the edge of his cotton jacket, and, thrusting one hand into his pouch, worn sporranwise, produced a paper package. It proved to be a roll of ten dollars. “But, brother Chhoang, you cannot afford to give ten dollars.” “I sold one of the fields, a field I bought myself,” he added deprecatingly, as if to avoid the possible imputation of having alienated any of the ancestral possessions of his family. The eyes of his friend dimmed, and the words came surging to his lips—“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.” No wonder that churches are built in China, when the love of money lies shivered in humble hearts, and simple people like Ah-Chhoang bring such messages from the hills.1 [Note: G. Campbell Brown, China in Legend and Story, 160.]
4. People secretly wonder at what seems the extravagance of our Saviour’s demand. Yet it is not thought at all extraordinary that passion should do what this man had not heavenly love enough to do. Nature’s love and nature’s hate will alike empower a man to impoverish himself. And that a man should be able to spend his all for a woman, even for one unworthy of him, and yet be quite unable to spend his all for God and goodness, is wonderful, though not at all inexplicable.
Must it not be so, that the more we possess, the less we want to part with it; the more we have got to make us contented here, the less likely we are to be crying, “O God, come back in Thy glory; O Father, make me ready for the Kingdom of heaven”?
Eyes, which the preacher could not school,
By wayside graves are raised;
And lips say “God be pitiful,”
Who ne’er said “God be praised.”
When we have lost our all, whatever it be, we are driven to God. How difficult for those who have great possessions to enter into the Kingdom of God!2 [Note: Bishop Wilkinson.]
5. There are few, if any, of us that have not known some who have placed this ideal before them, who have tried to live by such a standard. Not one of us but knows one or two human beings who are better, nobler, simpler than we ourselves are, who live, not for this but for the other world; men in whose presence it is hard to think ignoble thoughts, men who seem to come direct from the immediate presence of God. If Christianity is capable of producing even a very few of these men, it has attained a far greater success than if it had made tens of thousands of moderately religious men. For such men tell us that what they are we too may one day be. Such men raise our whole conception of manhood. Such men bring God down very near to us, within reach of us; they show us Him in whose image they are made.
I know how difficult it is, as I look back over my own ministerial life; as I think of those who have come to talk with me, when the voice has spoken; as I think of those servants, feeling that they could not go to Communion and could not get to church in that situation, and therefore must go out from a home of perfect comfort, not knowing whither they were going; when I think of that poor woman who came to me in Windmill Street, with her little shop that brought in nothing all the week, and on Sunday brought in enough to keep her in comfort, and, without a word from myself on the subject, said, “I feel I ought to go to church and shut up my shop”; when I remember that man in the prime of life, one of the most popular men that ever came to this church, whom everybody liked, his business was prospering, bringing in three or four thousand a year, and increasing every year, and the voice came to him, and he said, “I feel there is nothing else to be done but to part with all this at once; leave me three or four hundred a year, and I must go out and work for God where others will not go; I am free, I must do it, and sell all that I have.” Oh, when they came to me, I remember how my heart shrank and sank within me! I thought what it would be, what it would cost, what a trial—the poor woman without bread, or almost worse, kept by charity—the poor thing! Yet it was not I who told her, but God. She felt sure the voice was from God, and she said, “I must do it, or I shall go back, back, back in my spiritual life.” And all that man’s friends saw the influence that he would lose in London; how, instead of being looked up to as a man whose opinion would be taken in a moment by all the young fellows in London, they would say, “Lost his head; that St. Peter’s ruined him!”1 [Note: Bishop Wilkinson.]
Love is a flame; once set it well alight,
All but the Beloved vanishes from sight.2 [Note: Jalaluddin Rumi, in Claud Field’s A Little Book of Eastern Wisdom.]
The Heavenly Treasure is Found in the Following of Jesus
“And come, follow me.”
1. There is one element in our hearts always to be reckoned with if we are to understand human nature. That element is the necessity of committal to a cause if we are to have sustained interest in it. Men must be anchored to be held. Human nature is like a boat upon the seas, it will stay only where it is fastened. This is true of men so generally that scarce an exception can be found. When bridges are burned behind soldiers, and they then have no chance of retreat, courage and purpose assert themselves. Many a soul that has been weak and vacillating up to the hour of a great surrender of itself to a cause is from that hour strong and steadfast. The greater the amount involved in a self-surrender, the surer the purpose to stand by the surrender. The larger the investment made in an enterprise, the more we desire the enterprise to succeed. If we hold stock in a bank, we often think of that bank and we wish it to prosper. When the people of Ephesus brought their books of magic, the value of which counted up to thousands of dollars, and for Christ’s sake burned them in the market-place, they took away their chief means of retreat to heathenism. Christ was now their all. Immediately it became easier for them to be devoted to the principles of Christ’s Kingdom and to the success of His work.
One afternoon in the year 1210, as Pope Innocent iii., surrounded by a sumptuous retinue of prelates, was walking on the terrace of the Lateran, a company of mendicants laid at his feet the articles of a new association. At their head was a young man who, but a few years before, had been foremost in every scene of merriment; he had been a “successful merchant, a gallant soldier, and one of the most popular of the sons of Assisi.” But, while seeking military service and adventure, he had endured a protracted sickness; and when, upon his recovery and his return, his friends gathered at the gates of Assisi to welcome him, and merrily placed in his hand the sceptre of frolic, to their astonishment he remained grave in the midst of their festivities, as one not of them; and, suddenly breaking loose from his companions, he proceeded to the church, and before its high altar there was witnessed a wedding which has been celebrated by Italy’s great poet, and is still represented in the same Cathedral by Giotto’s art; and at the wedding of St. Francis the name of the bride was Poverty. The solemn espousal of poverty by this youth of Assisi was no meaningless ceremony. To him the vow of his soul before that high altar meant emptied coffers, surrender of the comforts of life, patient endurance of evil, and even self-torture, and withal a love of all created things so joyous and overflowing that, as he wandered among the mountains or over the plains of Italy, he would speak of the beasts of the field as his brethren, and the twittering swallows as his little sisters. The vow of self-sacrifice, and his espousal of poverty, meant the unflinching prosecution of a work of moral purification for which Europe for at least two generations was better, and the founding and resolute administration of an order of missionary monks whom, it has been justly said, the violent learned to love and fear, the rich to respect, and the poor to love. The command of Christ, “Come, take up the cross, and follow me,” was understood by St. Francis of Assisi to mean a life given up as entirely to a noble aim as the bow gives up the swift arrow to the Mark 1 [Note: Newman Smyth.]
2. All is mysterious, all is repulsive, all is terrific to the hearer—one word alone lights up the darkness; one word alone blends severity with goodness—Follow me! Be my companion as I tread the way of homelessness and poverty, of reproach and ignominy, at last of torture, murder, martyrdom; share my reviling, desertion, and repudiation by mine own; soothe with thy companionship sorrows which thou canst not partake in; listen day by day to my teaching, drink in my revelation of a life above and beyond this life; print my likeness upon thee, that thou mayest represent and reproduce it when I am unseen. This shall be the present recompense of the self-devotion which I ask of thee. A thousandfold now in this time it shall be to thee for all that thou sacrificest—riches and lands, kinsfolk and friends, honours and affections; with—yes, I hide it not—with persecutions, and in the world to come, just out of sight, just beyond death, in the world to come—promise above all promise—eternal life.
Now I will give you an impossible illustration of what I mean. One of you elder girls is to take a little brother out for a walk through Kensington Gardens, and see the boats and the flowers and all the rest of it. But when you get there you put him on a chair and you fasten him into the chair with a strap, and then by-and-by you take him home, and when you are asked whether he enjoyed the walk, you say, “Oh, no; you see, I had to spend all my time in seeing that he did not tumble into the Round Pond.” What an idea! “Why,” they would say, “if you had only taken him to look at the flowers and the birds you need not have troubled about the Round Pond at all.”2 [Note: C. Silvester Horne.]
3. In the Divine order sacrifice is the means, and the blessedness of God the end. The Cross of Christ on earth is for the joy of heaven; it was not borne for its own sake, as though God could have pleasure in beholding suffering. Let us then ask the question whether every day our lives are held truly under that law of sacrifice, whether, when that supreme Character may appear before us in some supreme hour, we shall go away grieved to our possessions, or follow Christ to Jerusalem. This is a question not so much of the quantity of our gifts, though that may help to determine it, but of the spirit of our giving. And by giving I do not mean merely giving money. I mean personal giving, often including money, but above all personal giving, like Christ’s giving of Himself to the world. I mean giving which begins in the heart, and becomes a power of the character, and, working from within as a new birth of the love of God in the soul, sweeps all obstructions of habit and obstacles even of inherited temperament before it, and is the outflow of the life, the influence of the man, filling his whole possible opportunity of good,—even like that virtue of which we read, that it went out from Jesus and healed the suppliant who touched the hem of His garment. How much of that inward sacrificial virtue is there in our characters ready to respond to the slightest touch upon us? How much consecrated personal power is there in our churches, flowing out in all possible ways upon the city, and into this world for which Christ, in the glory of God, went up to Jerusalem to die?1 [Note: Newman Smyth.]
In his essay “Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature,” Bacon says, “ ‘Sell all thou hast, and give it to the poor, and follow me.’ But sell not all thou hast, except thou come and follow Me; that is, except thou have a vocation, wherein thou mayest do as much good with little means as with great; for otherwise in feeding the streams thou driest the fountain.”
4. The ruler who came to Jesus was young, and the gospel which Jesus preached to him is peculiarly appropriate to the young. There is a gospel of flattery which is sometimes preached to the young. It dwells on the innocence of youth. It speaks of early life as beautiful in its sinlessness. It encourages the idea of natural grace. And it soon becomes an excuse for indolence and the vague listless waiting for perfection. Christ did not bid the young man do without Him; He invited him to come to Him and follow Him.
Side by side with the gospel of flattery is the gospel of indulgence. Young men are excused their self-will and self-pleasing, sometimes even their gross sins, on the ground that young men will be young men, and that it is better for a man to sow his wild oats in youth. Taught by experience it is supposed that he will grow weary of the world, sick of sin, and become at last steady, moral, and exemplary in his day and generation.
The gospel of Christ is none of these. And yet it is suitable to the young. For—
(1) It speaks to their conscience.—There is no part of a man’s life in which his sensibilities are so keen, his mental pain, his spiritual remorse so bitter. Happy he whose conscience at a late stage, even of a Christian experience, has recovered one-tenth part of the sharp edge it had in childhood.
(2) It speaks to their affections.—The longing for love is one of the first and strongest impulses of our nature. This gospel, “Come, follow me,” says to thirsting hearts, to the young who have none to love them, or not as they would be loved, “there is One who loves you, you personally, with as much concentration, as much warmth of affection, as if you were the only being in His universe; who loved you when you loved not Him.”
(3) It speaks to their energies.—For there is in the young a capacity of activity. It is the Creator’s gift and the creature’s glory. This gospel offers the fullest scope to the energies of mankind. It makes it a solemn duty that a man should work; it looks forward to the great future when every one will be judged by his works.
(4) It speaks to their aspirations.—I believe there are moments in the early life of all of us when we long after a perfection which is not ours. We have an ardent desire to be better, to be able to say “No” to temptation, to be able with more steadfastness to pray to God and to praise Him. Christ says to us then, “Come, follow me.” His gospel recognises and respects these aspirations. Only in following Him can we meet temptation; only in His presence can we hold steadfast communion with the Father.
The white doves brood low
With innocent flight.
Higher, my soul, higher!
Into the night!—
Into black night!
Beyond where the eagle
Soars strong to the sun.
Nought hast thou, if only
Earth’s stars be won—
Earth’s stars are won.
Beyond, where God’s angels
Stand silent in might,
Higher, my soul, higher!
Into the light!—
Straight to God’s light!1 [Note: Maarten Maartens.]
One Thing Thou Lackest
Andrews (F. R.), Yet, 92.
Arnold (T.), Sermons, v. 246.
Church (R. W.), The Gifts of Civilisation, 39.
Clayton (J. W.), The Genius of God, 90.
Cobern (C. M.), The Stars and the Book, 60.
Horne (C. S.), The Souls Awakening, 71.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year; Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, 293.
Little (J. A. S.), Salt and Peace, 99.
Lynch (T. T.), Sermons for my Curates, 175.
M‘Clure (J. G. K.), Loyalty, 89.
Mackennal (A.), The Eternal Son of God and the Human Sonship, 135.
Martineau (J.), Endeavours after the Christian Life, 265.
Matheson (G.), Messages of Hope, 185.
Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, ii. 267.
Pulsford (J.), Loyalty to Christ, ii. 238.
Robinson (F.), College and Ordination Addresses, 102.
Smyth (N.), Christian Facts and Forces, 170.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Evening by Evening, 54.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, li. No. 2946.
Vaughan (C. J.), Family Prayer and Sermon Book, ii. 218.
Vaughan (C. J.), My Son, Give Me Thine Heart, 129.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xii. No. 905.
Watson (J.), The Inspiration of Our Faith, 98.
Wilkinson (G. H.), The Heavenly Vision, 85, 91, 100.
Christian World Pulpit, xi. 137 (Thring); xxii. 168 (Duckworth); xxxiv. 171 (Pearson); li. 42, 396 (Ross); liv. 359 (Bruce); lxxii. 346 (Grimes); lxxvi. 56 (Herbert).
Homiletic Review, iii. 97 (Cuyler); xlix. 150 (Garvin).
Interpreter, v. 167 (King).
Preacher’s Magazine, ii. 414 (Wakinshaw).