I. Here is a hopeful meeting between Christ and a young man; such he is said to be (Matt. 19:20, 22), and a ruler (Luke 18:18), a person of quality. Some circumstances here are, which we had not in Matthew, which makes his address to Christ very promising.
1. He came running to Christ, which was an indication of his humility; he laid aside the gravity and grandeur of a ruler, when he came to Christ: thus too he manifested his earnestness and importunity; he ran as one in haste, and longing to be in conversation with Christ. He had now an opportunity of consulting this great Prophet, in the things that belonged to his peace, and he would not let slip the opportunity.
2. He came to him when he was in the way, in the midst of company: he did not insist upon a private conference with him by night, as Nicodemus did, though like him he was a ruler, but when he shall find him without, will embrace that opportunity of advising with him, and not be ashamed, Song 8:1.
3. He kneeled to him, in token of the great value and veneration he had for him, as a teacher come from God, and his earnest desire to be taught by him. He bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus, as one that would not only do obeisance to him now, but would yield obedience to him always; he bowed the knee, as one that meant to bow the soul to him.
4. His address to him was serious and weighty; Good Master, what shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? Eternal life was an article of his creed, though then denied by the Sadducees, a prevailing party: he asks, What shall he do now that he may be happy for ever. Most men enquire for good to be had in this world (Ps. 4:6), any good; he asks for good to be done in this world, in order to the enjoyment of the greatest good in the other world; not, Who will make us to see good? But, “Who will make us to do good?” He enquires for happiness in the way of duty; the summum bonum—chief good which Solomon was in quest of, was that good for the sons of men which they do should do, Eccl. 2:3. Now this was, (1.) A very serious question in itself; it was about eternal things, and his own concern in those things. Note, Then there begins to be some hope of people, when they begin to enquire solicitously, what they shall do to get to heaven. (2.) It was proposed to a right person, one that was every way fit to answer it, being himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the true way to life, to eternal life; who came from heaven on purpose, first to lay open for us, and then to lay open to us; first to make, and then to make known, the way to heaven. Note, Those who would know what they shall do to be saved, must apply themselves to Christ, and enquire of him; it is peculiar to the Christian religion, both to show eternal life, and to show the way to it. (3.) It was proposed with a good design—to be instructed. We find this same question put by a lawyer, not kneeling, but standing up (Luke 10:25), with a bad design, to pick quarrels with him; he tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do? It is not so much the good words as the good intention of them that Christ looks at.
5. Christ encouraged this address, (1.) By assisting his faith, Mark 10:18. He called him good Master; Christ would have him mean thereby, that he looked upon him to be God, since there is none good but one, that is God, who is one, and his name one, Zech. 14:9. Our English word God doubtless hath affinity with good; as the Hebrews name God by his power, Elohim, the strong God; so we by his goodness, the good God. (2.) By directing his practice (Mark 10:19); Keep the commandments; and thou knowest what they are. He mentions the six commandments of the second table, which prescribe our duty to our neighbour; he inverts the order, putting the seventh commandment before the sixth, to intimate that adultery is a sin no less heinous than murder itself. The fifth commandment is here put last, as that which should especially be remembered and observed, to keep us to all the rest. Instead of the tenth commandment, Thou shalt not covet, our Saviour here puts, Defraud not. Me apostereses—that is, saith Dr. Hammond, “Thou shalt not rest contented with thy own, and not seek to increase it by the diminution of other men’s.” It is a rule of justice not to advance or enrich ourselves by doing wrong or injury to any other.
6. The young man bid fair for heaven, having been free from any open gross violations of the divine commands. Thus far he was able to same in some measure (Mark 10:20), Master, all these have I observed from my youth. He thought he had, and his neighbours thought so too. Note, Ignorance of the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law, makes people think themselves in a better condition than they really are. Paul was alive without the law. But when he saw that to be spiritual, he saw himself to be carnal, Rom. 7:9, 14. However, he that could say he was free from scandalous sin, went further than many in the way to eternal life. But though we know nothing by ourselves, yet are we not thereby justified. 1 Cor. 4:4.
7. Christ had a kindness for him; Jesus, beholding him, loved him, Mark 10:21. He was pleased to find that he had lived inoffensively, and pleased to see that he was inquisitive how to live better than so. Christ particularly loves to see young people, and rich people, asking the way to heaven, with their faces thitherward.
II. Here is a sorrowful parting between Christ and this young man.
1. Christ gave him a command of trial, by which it would appear whether he did in sincerity aim at eternal life, and press towards it: he seemed to have his heart much upon it, and if so, he is what he should be; but has he indeed his heart upon it? Bring him to the touchstone. (1.) Can he find in his heart to part with his riches for the service of Christ? He hath a good estate, and now, shortly, at the first founding of the Christian church, the necessity of the case will require that those who have lands, sell them, and lay the money at the apostles’ feet; and how will he dispense with that? Acts 4:34, 35. After awhile, tribulation and persecution will arise, because of the word; and he must be forced to sell his estate, or have it taken from him, and how will he like that? Let him know the worst now; if he will not come up to these terms, let him quit his pretensions; as good as the first as at last. “Sell whatsoever thou hast over and above what is necessary for thy support;” probably, he had no family to provide for; let him therefore be a father to the poor, and make them his heirs. Every man, according to his ability, must relieve the poor, and be content, when there is occasion, to straiten himself to do it. Worldly wealth is given us, not only as maintenance to bear our charges through this world, according to our place in it, but as talent, to be used and employed for the glory of our great Master in the world, who hath so ordered it, that the poor we should have always with us as his receivers. (2.) Can he find it in his heart to go through the hardest costliest services he may be called to as a disciple of Christ, and depend upon him for a recompence in heaven? He asks Christ what he should do more than he has done to obtain eternal life, and Christ puts it to him, whether he has indeed that firm belief of, and that high value for, eternal life that he seems to have. Doth he really believe there is a true treasure in heaven sufficient to make up all he can leave, or lose, or lay out, for Christ? Isa. he willing to deal with Christ upon trust? Can he give him credit for all he is worth; and be willing to bear a present cross, in expectation of a future crown?
2. Upon this he flew off (Mark 10:22); He was sad at that saying; was sorry that he could not be a follower of Christ upon any easier terms than leaving all to follow him; that he could not lay hold on eternal life, and keep hold of his temporal possessions too. But since he could not come up to the terms of discipleship, he was so fair as not to pretend to it; He went away grieved. Here appeared the truth of that (Matt. 6:24), Ye cannot serve God and mammon; while he held to mammon he did in effect despise Christ, as all those do who prefer the world before him. He bids for what he has a mind for in the market, yet goes away grieved, and leaves it, because he cannot have it at his own price. Two words to a bargain. Motions are not marriages. That which ruined this young man was, he had great possessions; thus the prosperity of fools destroys them, and those who spend their days in wealth are tempted to say to God, Depart from us; or to their hearts, Depart from God.
III. Here is Christ’s discourse with his disciples. We are tempted to wish that Christ had mollified that saying which frightened this young gentleman from following him, and by an explanation taken off the harshness of it: but he knew all men’s hearts; he would not court him to be his follower, because he was a rich man and a ruler; but, if he will go, let him go. Christ will keep no man against his will; and therefore we do not find that Christ called him back, but took this occasion to instruct his disciples in two things.
1. The difficulty of the salvation of those who have an abundance of this world; because there are few who have a deal to leave, that can be persuaded to leave it for Christ, or to lay it out in doing good.
(1.) Christ asserts this here; He looked about upon his disciples, because he would have them all take notice of what he said, that by it they might have their judgments rightly informed, and their mistakes rectified, concerning worldly wealth, which they were apt to over-rate; How hardly shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God! Mark 10:23. They have many temptations to grapple with, and many difficulties to get over, which lie not in the way of poor people. But he explains himself, Mark 10:24; where he calls the disciples children, because as such they should be taught by him, and portioned by him with better things than this young man left Christ to cleave to; and whereas he had said, How hardly will those who have riches get to heaven; here he tells them, that the danger arose not so much from their having riches as from their trusting to them, and placing their confidence in them, expecting protection, provision, and a portion from them; saying that to their gold, which they should say only to their God, Thou art my hope, Job 31:24. They have such a value as this for the wealth of the world, will never be brought to put a right value upon Christ and his grace. They that have ever so much riches, but do not trust in them, that see the vanity of them, and their utter insufficiency to make a soul happy, have got over the difficulty, and can easily part with them for Christ: but they have ever so little, if they set their hearts upon that little, and place their happiness in it, it will keep them from Christ. He enforces this assertion with, Mark 10:25; It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man, that trusts in riches, or inclines to do so, to enter into the kingdom of God. The disproportion here seems so great (though the more it is so the more it answers the intention), that some have laboured to bring the camel and the eye of the needle a little nearer together. [1.] Some imagine there might be some wicket-gate, or door, to Jerusalem, commonly known by the name of the needle’s eye, for its straitness, through which a camel could not be got, unless he were unloaded, and made to kneel, as those camel, Gen. 24:11. So a rich man cannot get to heaven unless he is willing to part with the burthen of his worldly wealth, and stoop to the duties of a humble religion, and so enter at the strait gate. [2.] Others suggest that the word we translate a camel, sometimes signifies a cable-rope, which, though not to be got through a needle’s eye, yet is of great affinity to it. A rich man, compared with the poor, is as a cable to a single thread, stronger, but not so pliable, and it will not go through the needle’s eye, unless it be untwisted. So the rich man must be loosed and disentangled from his riches, and then there is some hope of him, that thread by thread he may be got through the eye of the needle, otherwise he is good for nothing but to cast anchor in the earth.
(2.) This truth was very surprising to the disciples; They were astonished at his words, Mark 10:24. They were astonished out of measure, and said among themselves, Who then can be saved? They knew what were generally the sentiments of the Jewish teachers, who affirmed that the Spirit of God chooses to reside in rich men; nay, they knew what abundance of promises there were, in the Old Testament, of temporal good things; they knew likewise that all either are rich, or fain would be so, and that they who are rich, have so much the larger opportunities of doing good, and therefore were amazed to hear that it should be so hard for rich people to go to heaven.
(3.) Christ reconciled them to it, by referring it to the almighty power of God, to help even rich people over the difficulties that lie in the way of their salvation (Mark 10:27); He looked upon them, to engage their attention, and said, “With men it is impossible; rich people cannot by their own skill or resolution get over these difficulties, but the grace of God can do it, for with him all things are possible.” If the righteous scarcely are saved, much more may we say so of the rich; and therefore when any get to heaven, they must give all the glory to God, who worketh in them both to will and to do.
2. The greatness of the salvation of those that have but a little of this world, and leave it for Christ. This he speaks of, upon occasion of Peter’s mentioning what he and the rest of the disciples had left to follow him; Behold, (saith he), we have left all to follow thee, Mark 10:28. “You have done well,” saith Christ, “and it will prove in the end that you have done well for yourselves; you shall be abundantly recompensed, and not only you shall be reimbursed, who have left but a little, but those that have ever so much, though it were so much as this young man had, that could not persuade himself to quit it for Christ; yet they shall have much more than an equivalent for it.” (1.) The loss is supposed to be very great; he specifies, [1.] Worldly wealth; houses are here put first, and lands last: if a man quit his house, which should be for his habitation, and his land, which should be for his maintenance, and so make himself a beggar and an outcast. This has been the choice of suffering saints; farewell houses and lands, though ever so convenient and desirable, through the inheritance of fathers, for the house which is from heaven, and the inheritance of the saints in light, where are many mansions. [2.] Dear relations. Father and mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters. In these, as much as in any temporal blessing, the comfort of life is bound up; without these the world would be a wilderness; yet, when we must either for sake these or Christ, we must remember that we stand in nearer relation to Christ than we do to any creature; and therefore to keep in with him, we must be content to break with all the world, and to say to father and mother, as Levi did, I have not known you. The greatest trial of a good man’s constancy is, when his love to Christ comes to stand in competition with a love that is lawful, nay, that is his duty. It is easy to such a one to forsake a lust for Christ, for he hath that within him, that rises against it; but to forsake a father, a brother, a wife, for Christ, that is, to forsake those whom he knows he must love, is hard. And yet he must do so, rather than deny or disown Christ. Thus great is the loss supposed to be; but it is for Christ’s sake, that he may be honoured, and the gospel’s, that it may be promoted and propagated. It is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes the martyr. And therefore, (2.) The advantage will be great. [1.] They shall receive a hundred-fold in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters; not in specie, but that which is equivalent. He shall have abundance of comfort while he lives, sufficient to make up for all his losses; his relation to Christ, his communion with the saints, and his title to eternal life, shall be to him brethren, and sisters, and houses, and all. God’s providence gave Job double to what he had had, but suffering Christians shall have a hundred-fold in the comforts of the Spirit sweetening their creature comforts. But observe, It is added here in Mark, with persecutions. Even when they are gainers by Christ, let them still expect to be sufferers for him; and not be out of the reach of persecution, till they come to heaven. Nay, The persecutions seem to come in here among the receivings in this present time; for unto you it is given, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for his name; yet this is not all, [2.] They shall have eternal life in the world to come. If they receive a hundred-fold in this world, one would think they should not be encouraged to expect any more. Yet, as if that were a small matter, they shall have life eternal into the bargain; which is more than ten thousand-fold, ten thousand times told, for all their losses. But because they talked so much, and really more than became them, of leaving all for Christ, he tells them, though they were first called, that there should be disciples called after them, that should be preferred before them; as St. Paul, who was one born out of due time, and yet laboured more abundantly than all the rest of the apostles, 1 Cor. 15:10. Then the first were last, and the last first.