We have here Christ’s discourse with his disciples upon occasion of the rich man’s breaking with Christ.
I. Christ took occasion from thence to show the difficulty of the salvation of the rich people, Matt. 19:23-26.
1. That it is a very hard thing for a rich man to get to heaven, such a rich man as this here. Note, From the harms and falls of others it is good for us to infer that which will be of caution to us.
Now, (1.) This is vehemently asserted by our Saviour, Matt. 19:23, 24. He said this to his disciples, who were poor, and had but little in the world, to reconcile them to their condition with this, that the less they had of worldly wealth, the less hindrance they had in the way to heaven. Note, It should be a satisfaction to them who are in a low condition, that they are not exposed to the temptations of a high and prosperous condition: If they live more hardy in this world than the rich, yet, if withal they get more easily to a better world, they have no reason to complain. This saying is ratified, Matt. 19:23. Verily I say unto you. He that has reason to know what the way to heaven is, for he has laid it open, he tells us that this is one of the greatest difficulties in that way. It is repeated, Matt. 19:24. Again I say unto you. Thus he speaks once, yea, twice that which man is loth to perceive and more loth to believe.
[1.] He saith that it is a hard thing for a rich man to be a good Christian, and to be saved; to enter into the kingdom of heaven, either here or hereafter. The way to heaven is to all a narrow way, and the gate that leads into it, a strait gate; but it is particularly so to rich people. More duties are expected from them than from others, which they can hardly do; and more sins do easily beset them, which they can hardly avoid. Rich people have great temptations to resist, and such as are very insinuating; it is hard not to be charmed with a smiling world; very hard, when we are filled with these hid treasures, not to take up with them for a portion. Rich people have a great account to make up for their estates, their interest, their time, and their opportunities of doing and getting good, above others. It must be a great measure of divine grace that will enable a man to break through these difficulties.
[2.] He saith that the conversion and salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, Matt. 19:24. This is a proverbial expression, denoting a difficulty altogether unconquerable by the art and power of man; nothing less than the almighty grace of God will enable a rich man to get over this difficulty. The difficulty of the salvation of apostates (Heb. 6:4), and of old sinners (Jer. 13:23), is thus represented as an impossibility. The salvation of any is so very difficult (even the righteous scarcely are saved), that, where there is a peculiar difficulty, it is fitly set forth thus. It is very rare for a man to be rich, and not to set his heart upon his riches; and it is utterly impossible for a man that sets his heart upon his riches, to get to heaven; for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1 John 2:15; Jas. 4:4. First, The way to heaven is very fitly compared to a needle’s eye, which is hard to hit and hard to get through. Secondly, A rich man is fitly compared to a camel, a beast of burthen, for he has riches, as a camel has his load, he carries it, but it is another’s, he has it from others, spends it for others, and must shortly leave it to others; it is a burthen, for men load themselves with thick clay, Hab. 2:6. A camel is a large creature, but unwieldy.
(2.) This truth is very much wondered at, and scarcely credited by the disciples (Matt. 19:25); They were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? Many surprising truths Christ told them, which they ere astonished at, and knew not what to make of; this was one, but their weakness was the cause of their wonder. It was not in contradiction to Christ, but for awakening to themselves, that they said, Who then can be saved? Note, Considering the many difficulties that are in the way of salvation, it is really strange that any are saved. When we think how good God is, it may seem a wonder that so few are his; but when we think how bad man is, it is more a wonder that so many are, and Christ will be eternally admired in them. Who then can be saved? Since so many are rich, and have great possessions, and so many more would be rich, and are well affected to great possessions; who can be saved? If riches are a hindrance to rich people, are not price and luxury incident to those that are not rich, and as dangerous to them? and who then can get to heaven? This is a good reason why rich people should strive against the stream.
2. That, though it be hard, yet it is not impossible, for the rich to be saved (Matt. 19:26); Jesus beheld them, turned and looked wistfully upon his disciples, to shame them out of their fond conceit of the advantages rich people had in spiritual things. He beheld them as men that had got over this difficulty, and were in a fair way for heaven, and the more so because poor in this world; and he said unto them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. This is a great truth in general, that God is able to do that which quite exceeds all created power; that nothing is too hard for God, Gen. 18:14; Num. 11:23. When men are at a loss, God is not, for his power is infinite and irresistible; but this truth is here applied, (1.) To the salvation of any. Who can be saved? say the disciples. None, saith Christ, by any created power. With men this is impossible: the wisdom of man would soon be nonplussed in contriving, and the power of man baffled in effecting, the salvation of a soul. No creature can work the change that is necessary to the salvation of a soul, either in itself or in any one else. With men it is impossible that so strong a stream should be turned, so hard a heart softened, so stubborn a will bowed. It is a creation, it is a resurrection, and with men this is impossible; it can never be done by philosophy, medicine, or politics; but with God all things are possible. Note, The beginning, progress, and perfection, of the work of salvation, depend entirely upon the almighty power of God, to which all things are possible. Faith is wrought by that power (Eph. 1:19), and is kept by it, 1 Pet. 1:5. Job’s experience of God’s convincing, humbling grace, made him acknowledge more than any thing else, I know that thou canst do every thing, Job 42:2. (2.) To the salvation of rich people especially; it is impossible with men that such should be saved, but with God even this is possible; not that rich people should be saved in their worldliness, but that they should be saved from it. Note, The sanctification and salvation of such as are surrounded with the temptations of this world are not to be despaired of; it is possible; it may be brought about by the all-sufficiency of the divine grace; and when such are brought to heaven, they will be there everlasting monuments of the power of God. I am willing to think that in this word of Christ there is an intimation o mercy Christ had yet in store for this young gentleman, who was now gone away sorrowful; it was not impossible to God yet to recover him, and bring him to a better mind.
II. Peter took occasion from hence to enquire what they should get by it, who had come up to these terms, upon which this young man broke with Christ, and had left all to follow him, Matt. 19:27 We have here the disciples’ expectations from Christ, and his promises to them.
1. We have their expectations from Christ; Peter, in the name of the rest, signifies that they depended upon him for something considerable in lieu of what they had left for him; Behold, we have forsaken all, and have followed thee; what shall we have therefore? Christ had promised the young man, that, if he would sell all, and come and follow him, he should have treasure in heaven; now Peter desires to know,
(1.) Whether they had sufficiently come up to those terms: they had not sold all (for they had many of them wives and families to provide for), but they had forsaken all; they had not given it to the poor, but they had renounced it as far as it might be any way a hindrance to them in serving Christ. Note, When we hear what are the characters of those that shall be saved, it concerns us to enquire whether we, through grace, answer those characters. Now Peter hopes that, as to the main scope and intendment of the condition, they had come up to it, for God had wrought in them a holy contempt of the world and the things that are seen, in comparison with Christ and the things that are not seen; and how this must be evidenced, no certain rule can be given, but according as we are called.
Lord, saith Peter, we have forsaken all. Alas! it was but a poor all that they had forsaken; one of them had indeed quitted a place in the custom-house, but Peter and the most of them had only left a few boats and nets, and the appurtenances of a poor fishing-trade; and yet observe how Peter there speaks of it, as it had been some mighty thing; Behold, we have forsaken all. Note, We are too apt to make the most of our services and sufferings, our expenses and losses, for Christ, and to think we have made him much our debtor. However, Christ does not upbraid them with this; though it was but little that they had forsaken, yet it was their all, like the widow’s two mites, and was as dear to them as if it had been more, and therefore Christ took it kindly that they left it to follow him; for he accepts according to what a man hath.
(2.) Whether therefore they might expect that treasure which the young man shall have if he will sell all. “Lord,” saith Peter, “shall we have it, who have left all?” All people are for what they can get; and Christ’s followers are allowed to consult their own true interest, and to ask, What shall we have? Christ looked at the joy set before him, and Moses at the recompence of reward. For this end it is set before us, that by a patient continuance in well-doing we may seek for it. Christ encourages us to ask what we shall gain by leaving all to follow him; that we may see he doth not call us to our prejudice, but unspeakably to our advantage. As it is the language of an obediential faith to ask, “What shall we do?” with an eye to the precepts; so it is of a hoping, trusting faith, to ask, “What shall we have?” with an eye to the promises. But observe, The disciples had long since left all to engage themselves in the service of Christ, and yet never till now asked, What shall we have? Though there was no visible prospect of advantage by it, they were so well assured of his goodness, that they knew they should not lose by him at last, and therefore referred themselves to him, in what way he would make up their losses to them; minded their work, and asked not what should be their wages. Note, It honours Christ, to trust him and serve him, and not to bargain with him. Now that this young man was gone from Christ to his possessions, it was time for them to think which they should take to, what they should trust to. When we see what others keep by their hypocrisy and apostasy, it is proper for us to consider what we hope, through grace, to gain, not for, but by, our sincerity and constancy, and then we shall see more reason to pity them than to envy them.
2. We have here Christ’s promises to them, and to all others that tread in the steps of their faith and obedience. What there was either of vain-glory or of vain hopes in that which Peter said, Christ overlooks, and is not extreme to mark it, but takes this occasion to give the bond of a promise,
(1.) To his immediate followers, Matt. 19:28. They had signalized their respect to him, as the first that followed him, and to them he promises not only treasure, but honour, in heaven; and here they have a grant or patent for it from him who is the fountain of honour in that kingdom; Ye which have followed me in the regeneration shall sit upon twelve thrones. Observe,
[1.] The preamble to the patent, or the consideration of the grant, which, as usual, is a recital of their services; “You have followed me in the regeneration, and therefore this will I do for you.” The time of Christ’s appearing in this world was a time of regeneration, of reformation (Heb. 9:10), when old things began to pass away, and all things to look new. The disciples had followed Christ when the church was yet in the embryo state, when the gospel temple was but in the framing, when they had more of the work and service of the apostles than of the dignity and power that belonged to their office. Now they followed Christ with constant fatigue, when few did; and therefore on them he will put particular marks of honour. Note, Christ hath special favour for those who begin early with him, who trust him further than they can see him, as they did who followed him in the regeneration. Observe, Peter spoke of their forsaking all, to follow him, Christ only speaks of their following him, which was the main matter.
[2.] The date of their honour, which fixes the time when it should commence; not immediately from the day of the date of these presents, no, they must continue a while in obscurity, as they were. But when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory; and to this some refer that, in the regeneration; “You who now have followed me, shall, in the regeneration, be thus dignified.” Christ’s second coming will be a regeneration, when there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, and the restitution of all things. All that partake of the regeneration in grace (John 3:3) shall partake of the regeneration in glory; for as grace is the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6), so glory is the second regeneration.
Now their honour being adjourned till the Son of man’s sitting in the throne of his glory, intimates, First, That they must stay for their advancement till then. Note, As long as our Master’s glory is delayed, it is fit that ours should be so too, and that we should wait for it with an earnest expectation, as of a hope not seen. Rom. 8:19. We must live, and work, and suffer, in faith, and hope, and patience, which therefore must be tried by these delays. Secondly, That they must share with Christ in his advancement; their honour must be a communion with him in his honour. They, having suffered with a suffering Jesus, must reign with a reigning Jesus, for both here and hereafter Christ will be all in all; we must be where he is (John 12:26), must appear with him (Col. 3:4); and this will be an abundant recompence not only for our loss, but for the delay; and when our Lord comes, we shall receive not only our own, but our own with usury. The longest voyages make the richest returns.
[3.] The honour itself hereby granted; Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. It is hard to determine the particular sense of this promise, and whether it was not to have many accomplishments, which I see no harm in admitting. First, When Christ is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and sits on the throne of his glory, then the apostles shall receive power by the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:8); shall be so much advanced above themselves as they are now, that they shall think themselves upon thrones, in promoting the gospel; they shall deliver it with authority, as a judge from the bench; they shall then have their commission enlarged, and shall publish the laws of Christ, by which the church, God’s spiritual Israel (Gal. 6:16), shall be governed, and Israel according to the flesh, that continues in infidelity, with all others that do likewise, shall be condemned. The honour and power given them, may be explained by Jer. 1:19; See, I have set thee over the nations; and Ezek. 20:4; Wilt thou judge them? and Dan. 7:18; The saints shall take the kingdom; and Rev. 12:1; where the doctrine of Christ is called a crown of twelve stars. Secondly, When Christ appears for the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:31), then shall he send the apostles to judge the Jewish nation, because in that destruction their predictions, according to the word of Christ, would be accomplished. Thirdly, Some think it has reference to the conversion of the Jews, which is yet to come, at the latter end of the world, after the fall of antichrist; so Dr. Whitby; and that “it respects the apostles’ government or the twelve tribes of Israel, not by a resurrection of their persons, but by a reviviscence of that Spirit which resided in them, and of that purity and knowledge which they delivered to the world, and, chiefly, by admission of their gospel to be the standard of their faith and the direction of their lives.” Fourthly, It is certainly to have its full accomplishment at the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the saints in general shall judge the world, and the twelve apostles especially, as assessors with Christ, in the judgment of the great day, when all the world shall receive their final doom, and they shall ratify and applaud the sentence. But the tribe of Israel are named, partly because the number of the apostles was designedly the same with the number of the tribes; partly because the apostles were Jews, befriended them most, but were most spitefully persecuted by them; and it intimates that the saints will judge their acquaintance and kindred according to the flesh, and will, in the great day, judge those they had a kindness for; will judge their persecutors, who in this world judged them.
But the general intendment of this promise is, to show the glory and dignity reserved for the saints in heaven, which will be an abundant recompence for the disgrace they suffered here in Christ’s cause. There are higher degrees of glory for those that have done and suffered most. The apostles in this world were hurried and tossed, there they shall sit down at rest and ease; here bonds, and afflictions, and deaths, did abide them, but there they shall sit on thrones of glory; here they were dragged to the bar, there they shall be advanced to the bench; here the twelve tribes of Israel trampled upon them, there they shall tremble before them. And will not this be recompence enough to make up all their losses and expenses for Christ? Luke 22:29.
[4.] The ratification of this grant; it is firm, it is inviolably immutably sure; for Christ hath said, “Verily I say unto you, I the Amen, the faithful Witness, who am empowered to make this grant, I have said it, and it cannot be disannulled.”
(2.) Here is a promise to all others that should in like manner leave all to follow Christ. It was not peculiar to the apostles, to be thus preferred, but this honour have all his saints. Christ will take care they shall none of them lose by him (Matt. 19:29); Every one that has forsaken any thing for Christ, shall receive.
[1.] Losses for Christ are here supposed. Christ had told them that his disciples must deny themselves in all that is done to them in this world; now here he specifies particulars; for it is good to count upon the worst. If they have not forsaken all, as the apostles did, yet they have forsaken a great deal, houses suppose, and have turned themselves out, to wander in deserts; or dear relations, that would not go with them, to follow Christ; these are particularly mentioned, as hardest for a tender gracious spirit to part with; brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children; and lands are added in the close; the profits of which were the support of the family.
Now, First, the loss of these things is supposed to be for Christ’s name’s sake; else he doth not oblige himself to make it up. Many forsake brethren, and wife, and children, in humour and passion, as the bird that wanders from her nest; that is a sinful desertion. But if we forsake them for Christ’s sake, because we cannot keep them and keep a good conscience, we must either quit them, or quit our interest in Christ; if we do not quit our concern for them, or our duty to them, but our comfort in them, and will do it rather than deny Christ, and this with an eye to him, and to his will and glory, this is that which shall be thus recompensed. It is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes both the martyr and the confessor.
Secondly, It is supposed to be a great loss; and yet Christ undertakes to make up, for he is able to do it, be it ever so great. See the barbarity of the persecutors, that they stripped innocent people of all they had, for no other crime than their adherence to Christ! See the patience of the persecuted; and the strength of their love to Christ, which was such as all these waters could not quench.
[2.] A recompence of these losses is here secured. Thousands have dealt with Christ, and have trusted him far; but never any one lost by him, never any one but was an unspeakable gainer by him, when the account came to be balanced. Christ here gives his word for it, that he will not only indemnify his suffering servants, and save them harmless, but will abundantly reward them. Let them make a schedule of their losses for Christ, and they shall be sure to receive,
First, A hundred-fold in this life; sometimes in kind, in the things themselves which they have parted with. God will raise up for his suffering servants more friends, that will be so to them for Christ’s sake, than they have left that were so for their own sakes. The apostles, wherever they came, met with those that were kind to them, and entertained them, and opened their hearts and doors to them. However, they shall receive a hundred-fold, in kindness, in those things that are abundantly better and more valuable. Their graces shall increase, their comforts abound, they shall have tokens of God’s love, more free communion with him, more full communications from him, clearer foresights, and sweeter foretastes, of the glory to be revealed; and then they may truly say, they have received a hundred times more comfort in God and Christ than they could have had in wife, or children.
Secondly, Eternal life at last. The former is reward enough, if there were no more; cent. per cent. is great profit; what then is a hundred to one? But this comes in over and above, as it were, into the bargain. The life here promised includes in it all the comforts of life in the highest degree, and all eternal. Now if we could but mix faith with the promise, and trust Christ for the performance of it, surely we should think nothing too much to do, nothing too hard to suffer, nothing too dear to part with, for him.
Our Saviour, in the last verse, obviates a mistake of some, as if pre-eminence in glory went by precedence in time, rather than the measure and degree of grace. No; Many that are first, shall be last, and the last, first, Matt. 19:30. God will cross his hands; will reveal that to babes, which he hid from the wise and prudent; will reject unbelieving Jews and receive believing Gentiles. The heavenly inheritance is not given as earthly inheritances commonly are, by seniority of age, and priority of birth, but according to God’s pleasure. This is the text of another sermon, which we shall meet with in the next chapter.