Matthew 19:21
Jesus said to him, If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) Jesus said unto him . . .—St. Mark (Mark 10:21) adds the striking and interesting words, “Jesus beholding him” (better, perhaps, gazing on him), “loved him.” There was something in the young seeker after holiness which drew to him, in a measure altogether exceptional, the affection of the Great Teacher. The same word is used in regard to him which is used in relation to the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and (here the coincidence takes its place in the chain of evidence for the view above suggested) to Lazarus, and Martha, and Mary (John 11:5). There was the fervour, the longing after a higher life, the personal trust, which made him a not unworthy object of the love of Jesus, and therefore He would not spare the discipline which the questioner needed, the test which, being such as he was, was required for the completeness of his life.

If thou wilt be perfect.—Better, if thou wishest. St. Mark and St. Luke report the words, “One thing thou lackest,” reminding us forcibly of the “One thing is needful” of Luke 10:42. (See Note on Matthew 19:16.)

Go and sell that thou hast.—It would be altogether a mistake to see in this either an obligation binding on all seekers after eternal life, or even what has been called a “counsel of perfection,” a precept laying down an indispensable condition for all who aim at its higher forms and powers. It was strictly a remedy for the special evil which hindered the young ruler’s progress to perfection, applicable to others so far only as their cases are analogous. It would be idle to deny that there have been and are many such analogous types of character, and so far as any one is conscious of being under the power of wealth and its temptations, so far there is a call to some act asserting his victory over those temptations, in the spirit, if not in the letter, of the command thus given. But it is, we must remember, the spirit, and not the letter, which is binding. Distribution to the poor was then almost the only form of charity. A wider range of action is presented by the organisation of modern Christian societies, and the same sacrifice may be made in ways more productive of true and permanent good; in the foundation, e.g., of schools or hospitals, in the erection of churches, in the maintenance of home or foreign missions.

Treasure in heaven.—The parallelism with the Sermon on the Mount should not be forgotten (5:20). The “treasure” is the “eternal life” which the young ruler was seeking, the memory of good deeds, the character formed and perfected, the vision of the presence of God.

Come and follow me.—Here again St. Mark adds words that are pregnant with meaning, “Take up thy cross, and follow Me.” The seeker could not then understand all their significance. To the Teacher that cross was now coming, day by day, nearer, and He saw that each true disciple must be prepared to follow Him in that path of suffering, which was also the path of glory. “Via cruris, via lucis.

19:16-22 Christ knew that covetousness was the sin which most easily beset this young man; though he had got honestly what he possessed, yet he could not cheerfully part with it, and by this his want of sincerity was shown. Christ's promises make his precepts easy, and his yoke pleasant and very comfortable; yet this promise was as much a trial of the young man's faith, as the precept was of his charity and contempt of the world. It is required of us in following Christ, that we duly attend his ordinances, strictly follow his pattern, and cheerfully submit to his disposals; and this from love to him, and in dependence on him. To sell all, and give to the poor, will not serve, but we are to follow Christ. The gospel is the only remedy for lost sinners. Many abstain from gross vices who do not attend to their obligations to God. Thousands of instances of disobedience in thought, word, and deed, are marked against them in the book of God. Thus numbers forsake Christ, loving this present world: they feel convictions and desires, but they depart sorrowful, perhaps trembling. It behoves us to try ourselves in these matters, for the Lord will try us.If thou wilt be perfect - The word "perfect" means complete in all its parts, finished, having no part wanting.

Thus a watch is perfect or complete when it has all its proper wheels, and hands, and casements in order. Job was said to be perfect (see the notes at Job 1:1), not that he was sinless, for he is afterward reproved by God himself Job 38; 39; Job 40:4; but because his piety was properly proportioned, or had a completeness of parts. He was a pious father, a pious magistrate, a pious neighbor, a pious citizen. His religion was not confined to one thing, but it extended to all. Perfect means, sometimes, the filling up, or the carrying out, or the expression of a principle of action. Thus, 1 John 2:5; "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected." That is, the keeping of the commandments of God is the proper expression, carrying out, or completion of the love of God. This is its meaning here. If thou wilt be perfect, complete, finished - if thou writ show the proper expression of this keeping of the commandments, go, etc. Make the obedience complete. Mark says Mark 10:21, Jesus, beholding him, loved him. He was pleased with his amiableness, his correct character, his frankness, his ingenuousness. Jesus, as a man, was capable of all the emotions of most tender friendship. As a man, we may suppose that his disposition was tender and affectionate, mild and calm. Hence, he loved with special affection the disciple John, eminently endowed with these qualities; and hence he was pleased with the same traits in this young man. Still, with all this amiableness, there is reason to think he was not a Christian, and that the love of mere amiable qualities was all the affection that was ever bestowed on him by the Saviour.

"One thing," adds Mark, "thou lackest." There is one thing missing. You are not complete. This done, you would show that your obedience lacked no essential part, but was complete, finished, proportionate, perfect.

Go and sell that thou hast ... - The young man declared that he had kept the law. That law required, among other things, that he should love his neighbor as himself. It required, also, that he should love the Lord his God supremely; that is, more than all other objects. If he had that true love to God and man - if he loved his Maker and fellow-creatures more than he did his property, he would be willing to give up his wealth to the service of God and of man. Jesus commanded him to do this, therefore, to test his character, and to show him that he had not kept the law as he pretended, and thus to show him that he needed a better righteousness than his own.

Treasure in heaven - See the notes at Matthew 6:20.

Follow me - To follow Jesus then meant to be a personal attendant on his ministry; to go about with him from place to place, as well as to imitate and obey him. Now it means:

1. to obey his commandments.

2. to imitate his example, and to live like him.

Mt 19:16-30. The Rich Young Ruler. ( = Mr 10:17-31; Lu 18:18-30).

For the exposition, see on [1330]Lu 18:18-30.

Mark repeats it thus, Mark 10:21, 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. Luke, Luke 18:22, repeats it as Matthew, only he begins it with, Yet lackest thou one thing. Mark saith, that Jesus beholding him loved him: not with a special saving love, for he sent him away sad; upon his going he tells his disciples, that it was a very hard thing for a rich man to come to heaven; he tells him one thing was wanting to him: but he loved him with such a common love as he loveth all his creatures with, and more especially such as are better than others. All that can be concluded from hence is, that acts of moral righteousness are pleasing to God. He saith to him, If thou wilt be perfect, that is, in keeping the commandments of God. The papists make a great deal of stir to found upon this text their counsels of perfection; as if Christ here were advising only the young man to do something beyond what the law strictly required, in order to a more perfect state than others. But that this cannot be the sense of the words will appear to him who will diligently consider;

1. That this had been needless, for our Saviour, in directing the young man to keep the commandments in order to his obtaining everlasting life, had sufficiently declared that the keeping of the commandments was perfection enough.

2. He says, One thing is wanting to thee, that is, in order to thy obtaining everlasting life, which had not been true if our Saviour had granted him to have kept all the commandments, for he had before let him know that the keeping them was sufficient. Our Saviour therefore, by this speech, only endeavours to convince him that he had not kept all the commandments.

But it may be objected, How could that be, for there was no commandment that obliged him to go sell all that he had, and give to the poor? I answer, there was a commandment that he should love the Lord his God with all his heart, and soul, and strength, which he could not do unless he had a heart ready to obey any command God should lay upon him, which our Saviour puts upon the trial by this special precept:

3. There was a commandment of God that he should love his neighbour as himself, and that he should not covet. Now not to be ready at the commandment of God liberally to relieve the poor members of Christ, argued a covetous mind, more in love with his estate than with God; so as though this was not before specially commanded, yet it was commanded generally, and that he would have understood had he rightly understood the law of God; especially having such a promise annexed as thou shalt have treasure in heaven.

4. Nor must all the command be taken to be included in those Go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor; but the following words must also be taken in, and come, take up the cross, and follow me. Perfection here is not made to lie in a voluntary poverty only, but in coming after and following of Christ, with a free taking up of the cross.

In short, no man can be perfect in keeping the commandments of God, that doth not love God with all his heart, soul, and strength; nor can any man pretend to this, that hath not a heart ready to obey God in all things, whether more generally or more specially commanded. Nor can any man fulfil the duties of the second table, without first fulfil the duties of the first: for if our love to our neighbour flow not from a love to God, it is no act of obedience, and consequently no fulfilling of the law; which is not fulfilled by mere doing the external duty of it, but by doing what is required in it out of an obedience unto God, which cannot be without a first loving God. Jesus said unto him, if thou wilt be perfect,.... Wanting nothing, completely righteous, according to the tenor of the covenant of works, having no evil, concupiscence, or worldly lusts: our Lord signifies it was not enough to be possessed of negative holiness, and do no hurt to his neighbour, to his person, property, and estate, but he must love him, and do him good; and therefore, though so far as he had complied with the law, it was right and commendable; wherefore it is said by Mark, "that Jesus beholding him loved him"; had an affectionate regard to him as man, and approved of his intentions, seriousness, and actions, so far as agreeable; yet tells him,

one thing thou lackest: not but that he lacked many more, but he was only willing to observe one thing to him, as a trial of his love to his neighbour, which is the fulfilling of the law:

go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: not that either the law of God, or Gospel of Christ, require this to be done of all men, and at all times; for though it is a duty binding upon all, and always, to relieve the poor and the needy, yet a man is not obliged to give all that he has to them; see 2 Corinthians 8:11 nor does either legal or Christian perfection lie in doing this: a man may give all his goods to the poor and yet be destitute of the grace of God, 1 Corinthians 13:3 much less can such an action merit the heavenly treasure of eternal life. Nevertheless of some persons, and in some cases, it has been required, that they part with all their worldly substance, for the sake of Christ and his Gospel; as the apostles were called to leave all and follow Christ, as this man was also; for it is added,

and come and follow me: between these two, Mark puts, "take up the cross"; all which to do, was much more than to sell what he had, and give to the poor; and indeed, in this branch lies Gospel perfection, or to be really and truly a Christian: for to "come" to Christ, is to believe in him, lay hold on him, receive and embrace him as a Saviour and Redeemer; and to "follow" him, is to be obedient to his will, to be observant of his commands, to submit to his ordinances, and to imitate him in the exercise of grace, and discharge of duty; neither of which can be done, without "taking up the cross"; bearing reproach and persecution with patience; undergoing hardships and difficulties, of one sort or another, which attend faith in Christ, a profession of his name, and following him the Lamb, whithersoever he goes. The consequence of this now, not by way of merit, but by way of grace, is the enjoyment of the rich treasures of eternal glory: but this man was so far from complying with the latter, with coming to Christ, taking up the cross, and following him, that he could by no means agree to the former, parting with his worldly substance; and which is mentioned, as a test of his love to God and his neighbour, and to discover his sinful love of the world, and the things of it; and consequently, that he was far from being in a state of perfection. Moreover, it should be observed, that Christ is here speaking, not the pure language of the law, or according to the principles of the Gospel, when he seems to place perfection in alms deeds, and as if they were meritorious of eternal life; but according to the doctrine of the Pharisees, and which was of this man; and so upon the plan of his own notions, moves him to seek for perfection, and convicts him of the want of it, in a way he knew would be disagreeable to him; and yet he would not be able to disprove the method, on the foot of his own tenets: for this is their doctrine (e);

"It is a tradition, he that says this "sela", or shekel, is for alms, that my son may live, or I may be a son of the world to come, lo! , "this man is a perfect righteous man".''

The gloss adds,

"In this thing; and he does not say that he does not do it for the sake of it, but he fulfils the command of his Creator, who has commanded him to do alms; and he also intends profit to himself, that thereby he may be worthy of the world to come, or that his children may live.''

And so in answer to a question much like this, the young man put to Christ (f);

"How shall we come at the life of the world to come?''

It is replied,

"take thy riches, and give to the fatherless and the poor, and I will give thee a better portion in the law.''

(e) T. Bab. Pesach. fol. 8. 1, 2. & Roshhashanah, fol. 4. 1.((f) Zohar in Gen. fol. 60. 4.

Jesus said unto him, If {n} thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

(n) The young man did not answer truly in saying that he had kept all the commandments: and therefore Christ sets forth an example of true charity before him, to show the disease that lay lurking in his mind.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 19:21. Τέλειος] perfect, one, who for the obtaining of eternal life, οὐδὲν ἔτι ὑστερεῖ. In accordance with the moral tendencies and disposition which He discerned in the young man, Jesus demands from him that moral perfection to which, from not finding satisfaction in legalism, he was striving to attain. The following requirement, then, is a special test for a special case,[3] though it is founded upon the universal duty of absolute self-denial and devotion to Christ; nor is it to be regarded merely in the light of a recommendation, but as a command. Observe that the Lord does not prescribe this to him as his sole duty, but only in connection with ἀκολούθει μοι. It was intended, by pressing this requirement upon him, that the young man should be led to realize his own shortcomings, and so be enabled to see the necessity of putting forth far higher efforts than any he had hitherto made. It was meant that he should feel himself weak, with a view to his being made morally strong; accordingly it is precisely upon the weak side of the young man’s character that Jesus imposes so heavy a task, for with all his inward dissatisfaction he was not aware of his actual weakness in that direction.

πτωχοῖς] the poor.

ἐν οὐρανῷ] thou wilt have (instead of thy earthly goods) a treasure in heaven, i.e. in the hands of God, where it will be securely kept till it comes to be bestowed at the setting up of the Messiah’s kingdom. Comp. Matthew 5:12, Matthew 6:20. For the whole saying, comp. Avoda Sara f. 64, 1 : “Vendite omnia, quae habetis, et porro oportet, ut fiatis proselyti.”

[3] The Catholics found upon this passage the conmlium evangelicum of poverty, as well as the opera süpererogativa in general. See, on the other hand, Müller, von d. Sunde, I. p. 69 ff., ed. 5.Matthew 19:21. εἰ θέλες τέλειος εἶναι (on τέλειος vide Matthew 5:48): if you wish to reach your end, the true life and the rest it brings.—ὕπαγε, etc.: go, sell off, distribute to the poor, and then come, follow me—such is the advice Christ gives: His final lesson for this inquirer. It is a subjective counsel relative to the individual. Jesus sees he is well-to-do, and divines where the evil lies. It is doubtful if he cares passionately, supremely for the true life; doubtful if he be τέλειος in the sense of single-mindedness. It is not a question of one more thing to do, but of the state of the heart, which the suggestion to sell off will test. The invitation to become a disciple is seriously meant. Jesus, who repelled some offering themselves, thinks so well of this man as to desire him for a disciple. He makes the proposal hopefully. Why should so noble a man not be equal to the sacrifice? He makes it with the firm belief that in no other way can this man become happy. noblesse oblige. The nobler the man, the more imperative that the heroic element in him have full scope. A potential apostle, a possible Paul even, cannot be happy as a mere wealthy merchant or landowner. It is “a counsel of perfection,” but not in the ascetic sense, as if poverty were the sure way to the higher Christian life; rather in the sense of the adage: of him to whom much is given shall much be required.21. If thou wilt be perfect] i. e. “if thou desirest to be perfect.”

go and sell that thou hast] Jesus does indeed bid him do something, but to do that would be a proof of being perfect, it is the test for his special case, not a universal rule. With many it is more difficult to use wealth for Christ than to give it up for Christ. St Mark has the touching words “Jesus beholding him loved him.” The incident recalls the parable of the “merchant man seeking goodly pearls” (ch. Matthew 13:45-46). Here is a seeker after good, the pearl is found: will he not sell all that he hath and buy it?Matthew 19:21. Ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, κ.τ.λ., Jesus said unto him, etc.) As the young man asks more, and binds himself to more, more is proposed to him.—τέλειος, perfect) He is perfect to whom nothing is wanting that he may enter into life eternal. As he urgently asks it, our Lord proposes to him the most glorious condition, the nearest to that of an apostle.—ὕπαγεκαὶ δεῦρο, ἀκολούθει Μοι, go—and come, follow Me) sc. immediately. It is a command, not a counsel;[870] necessary, not optional (cf. Matthew 19:24-25); but particular, not universal, accommodated to the idiosyncrasy of his soul, to whom it was addressed. For many followed Jesus, to whom He did not give this command. He may be perfect, who still possesses wealth; he may give all to the poor, who is very far from perfection.[871] Our Lord’s words laid an obligation on the man who offered himself ultroneously, and that so unreservedly; although to him, being as yet somewhat of a stranger, it was not expressly enjoined, but rather given in the form of advice to one seeking advice. In the case of others, who are not yet able to receive peculiar commands, a compensation is made by the leading of divine Providence.—πώλησον, κ.τ.λ., sell, etc.) If the Lord had said, Thou art rich, and art too fond of thy riches, the young man would have denied it: wherefore, instead of so doing, He demands immediately a direct proof[872] [of the contrary].—ἕξεις, κ.τ.λ., thou shalt have, etc.) A promise inserted in the command, and at once surely guaranteed: q.d. Thou shalt have, and thou shalt know that thou hast.[873]—θησαυρὸν, treasure) The inheritance is called treasure, in opposition to worldly goods. Dost thou wish to be rich? Seek this treasure.—ἀκολούθει Μοι, follow Me) Instruction in faith would not then be wanting.

[870] As opposed to the Romish doctrine of “counsels of perfection,” on which they build the notion of works of ‘supererogation’: quoting this instance in support of their theory.—ED.

[871] Zaccheus, as recorded Luke 19:8, when distributing one half of his goods to the poor, obtained the Lord’s commendation. [He was not required to give all that he had to the poor: nay, what he did give was voluntarily, not by command.—ED.]—V. g.

[872] In the original the words are, “ipsum statim documentum postulat:” lit. “he demands the very proof.”—(I. B.)

[873] For already now, in this life, those things which are needful are freely held out to believers from this treasure, Matthew 19:29.—V. g.Verse 21. - If thou wilt (θέλεις) be perfect. I believe what you tell me. You have led a religious life in the ordinary way; now yon aspire to higher things; you have a noble ambition to serve God more completely; yon have the power, if you have the will, to do so; I will tell you how. To be "perfect" is to be lacking in nothing that is required for life eternal. It is spoken of Noah and Job; it is required of Christ's disciples (Matthew 5:48). Christ is here giving a counsel of perfection, as it is called, not of obligation on all men, but suited to the idiosyncrasy of this particular inquirer, and of others who are capable of such absolute self-surrender and trustfulness. Go and sell that thou hast. Go back to thy home, and sell all thy substance, all thy possessions. This was the counsel which Jesus gave, denoting the stumbling block which lay in the way of the ruler's endeavours after perfection. He was voluntarily to deprive himself of the earthly thing to which he fondly clung, his wealth, and to embrace a life of poverty and hardship. Give to the poor. The money obtained by the sale of his possessions he was to distribute, not to relations and friends, who might make some return, but to the poor, from whom he could expect no recompense. And thou shalt have treasure in heaven (Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:20). Thou shalt obtain that which thou desirest, eternal life. Not that stripping one's self of goods and giving to the poor does necessarily ensure the great reward, but, in this youth's case, such a sacrifice, such a victory over the besetting sin, would be the turning point in his character, and enable him to conquer all lesser temptations, and win the prize of his high calling. Here was to be proved love of man. But there was one more element in the required perfection, viz. love of God. Come and follow me. St Mark adds, "take up the cross." If he would have apostolic perfection, he must embrace the apostolic life. He must give up wealth, position, earthly ties, earthly occupations, must cast in his lot with the despised Jesus, suffer with him, and, if necessary, die with him. The twelve apostles had accepted Christ's call on these terms; from him was demanded the same sacrifice the same test of sincerity. He had wished to be exceptionally good; exceptional conduct was required from him in order to reach this high standard. The condition imposed, severe as it undoubtedly was, exactly suited the case, showed the weak spot in the ruler's character, and, if accepted fully and heartily, would have led him to perfection. Reading these words of our Lord, St. Anthony was so stricken in heart and conscience that he obeyed them literally, stripped himself of everything that he had, distributed to the needy, and went forth poor and naked, trusting to God to provide for him. Many in all ages, inspired by ardent love of life eternal, have done the same. We shall do well to recognize that there are two ways of serving God acceptably - there is the good life required from all religious Christians, and there is the life of perfection to which some, by God's special grace, are called, and which they embrace and fulfil. It was the latter life that Christ put before this young man.
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