In these verses we have,
I. Christ’s discourse with a ruler, that had a good mind to be directed by him in the way to heaven. In which we may observe,
1. It is a blessed sight to see persons of distinction in the world distinguish themselves from others of their rank by their concern about their souls and another life. Luke takes notice of it that he was a ruler. Few of the rulers had any esteem for Christ, but here was one that had; whether a church or state ruler does not appear, but he was one in authority.
2. The great thing we are every one of us concerned to enquire after is what we shall do to get to heaven, what we shall do to inherit eternal life. This implies such a belief of an eternal life after this as atheists and infidels have not, such a concern to make it sure as a careless unthinking world have not, and such a willingness to comply with any terms that it may be made sure as those have not who are resolvedly devoted to the world and the flesh.
3. Those who would inherit eternal life must apply themselves to Jesus Christ as their Master, their teaching Master, so it signifies here (didaskale), and their ruling Master, and so they shall certainly find him. There is no learning the way to heaven but in the school of Christ, by those that enter themselves into it, and continue in it.
4. Those who come to Christ as their Master must believe him to have not only a divine mission, but a divine goodness. Christ would have this ruler know that if he understood himself aright in calling him good he did, in effect, call him God and indeed he was so (Luke 18:19): “Why callest thou me good? Thou knowest there is none good but one, that is, God; and dost thou then take me for God? If so, thou art in the right.”
5. Our Master, Christ himself, has not altered the way to heaven from what it was before his coming, but has only made it more plain, and easy, and comfortable, and provided for our relief, in case we take any false step. Thou knowest the commandments. Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to establish them. Wouldest thou inherit eternal life? Govern thyself by the commandments.
6. The duties of the second table must be conscientiously observed, in order to our happiness, and we must not think that any acts of devotion, how plausible soever, will atone for the neglect of them. Nor is it enough to keep ourselves free from the gross violations of these commandments, but we must know these commandments, as Christ has explained them in his sermon upon the mount, in their extent and spiritual nature, and so observe them.
7. Men think themselves innocent because they are ignorant; so this ruler did. He said, All these have I kept from my youth up, Luke 18:21. He knows no more evil of himself than the Pharisee did, Luke 18:11. He boasts that he began early in a course of virtue, that he had continued in it to this day, and that he had not in any instance transgressed. Had he been acquainted with the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law, and with the workings of his own heart,—had he been but Christ’s disciples awhile, and learned of him, he would have said quite the contrary: “All these have I broken from my youth up, in thought, word, and deed.”
8. The great things by which we are to try our spiritual state are how we stand affected to Christ and to our brethren, to this world and to the other; by these this man was tried. For, (1.) If we have a true affection to Christ, he will come and follow him, will attend to his doctrine, and submit to his discipline, whatever it cost him. None shall inherit eternal life who are not willing to take their lot with the Lord Jesus, to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes. (2.) If he have a true affection to his brethren, he will, as there is occasion, distribute to the poor, who are God’s receivers of his dues out of our estates. (3.) If he think meanly of this world, as he ought, he will not stick at selling what he has, if there be a necessity for it, for the relief of God’s poor. (4.) If he think highly of the other world, as he ought, he will desire no more than to have treasure in heaven, and will reckon that a sufficient abundant recompence for all that he has left, or lost, or laid out for God in this world.
9. There are many that have a great deal in them that is very commendable, and yet they perish for the lack of some one thing; so this ruler here; he broke with Christ upon this, he liked all his terms very well but this which would part between him and his estate: “In this, I pray thee, have me excused.” If this be the bargain, it is no bargain.
10. Many that are loth to leave Christ, yet do leave him. After a long struggle between their convictions and their corruptions, their corruptions carry the day at last; they are very sorry that they cannot serve God and mammon both; but, if one must be quitted, it shall be their God, not their worldly gain.
II. Christ’s discourse with his disciples upon this occasion, in which we may observe, 1. Riches are a great hindrance to many in the way to heaven. Christ took notice of the reluctancy and regret with which the rich man broke off from him. He saw that he was very sorrowful, and was sorry for him; but thence he infers, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! Luke 18:24. If this ruler had had but as little of the world as Peter, and James, and John had, in all probability he would have left it, to follow Christ, as they did; but, having a great estate, it had a great influence upon him, and he chose rather to take his leave of Christ than to lay himself under an obligation to dispose of his estate in charitable uses. Christ asserts the difficulty of the salvation of rich people very emphatically: It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God, Luke 18:25. It is a proverbial expression, that denotes the thing to be extremely difficult. 2. There is in the hearts of all people such a general affection to this world, and the things of it, that, since Christ has required it as necessary to salvation that we should sit loose to this world, it is really very hard for any to get to heaven. If we must sell all, or break with Christ, who then can be saved? Luke 18:26. They do not find fault with what Christ required as hard and unreasonable. No, it is very fit that they who expect an eternal happiness in the other world should be willing to forego all that is dear to them in this world, in expectation of it. But they know how closely the hearts of most men cleave to this world, and are ready to despair of their being ever brought to this. 3. There are such difficulties in the way of our salvation: as could never be got over but by pure omnipotence, by that grace of God which is almighty, and to which that is possible which exceeds all created power and wisdom. The things which are impossible with men (and utterly impossible it is that men should work such a change upon their own spirits as to turn them from the world to God, it is like dividing the sea, and driving Jordan back), these things are possible with God. His grace can work upon the soul, so as to alter the bent and bias of it, and give it a contrary ply; and it is he that works in us both to will and to do. 4. There is an aptness in us to speak too much of what we have left and lost, of what we have done and suffered, for Christ. This appears in Peter: Lo, we have left all, and followed thee, Luke 18:28. When it came in his way, he could not forbear magnifying his own and his brethren’s affection to Christ, in quitting all to follow him. But this we should be so far from boasting of, that we should rather acknowledge it not worth taking notice of, and be ashamed of ourselves that there should have been any regret and difficulty in the doing of it, and any hankerings towards those things afterwards. 5. Whatever we have left, or laid out, for Christ, it shall without fail be abundantly made up to us in this world and that to come, notwithstanding our weaknesses and infirmities (Luke 18:29, 30): No man has left the comfort of his estate or relations for the kingdom of God’s sake, rather than they should hinder either his services to that kingdom or his enjoyments of it, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, in the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit, in the pleasures of communion with God and of a good conscience, advantages which, to those that know how to value and improve them, will abundantly countervail all their loses. Yet that is not all; in the world to come they shall receive life everlasting, which is the thing that the ruler seemed to have his eye and heart upon.