What Do I Still Lack?
Archibald G. Brown, February 13th, 1870, Stepney Green
"The young man said to Him: All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Matthew 19:20
These are the words of the young ruler, who running to our Savior, and kneeling down before Him with earnestness betrayed in every line of his countenance, said, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Our Lord, meeting him on the ground which he himself had taken, namely obedience to the law, answered him, "You know the commandments: do not commit adultery — do not kill — do not bear false witness — honor your father and your mother." The young man quickly and joyfully replied, "All these things I have kept from my youth — what do I still lack?" You have the answer of our Master, "You still lack one thing; go sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor, and take up your cross and follow me." The sad conclusion of the short interview was this — the young man went away exceedingly sorrowful, for he was very rich.
Now we feel that in this special service to young men there is need for us to be exceedingly careful what words we utter, and what motive prompts them. Perhaps there may be some in this great company who have come here this evening expecting to hear something new, or something startling — some hard question discussed, or something speculative debated. We say to such, "you will be bitterly disappointed, friend." The burning desire of those who conduct the Young Men's Bible-class in connection with which this sermon is preached, is not that you may have your ears tickled — not that you may be merely pleased and spend a happy hour — but that you may be saved!
It was good advice that dear old Mr. Jay gave to a young minister, "When you preach, aim at getting something that will strike and stick," and it is our desire to say this evening, by the Spirit's help, some words that will strike to the heart, and having struck home, stick there. May the Lord now put His hand upon our hand, as the prophet did upon the hand of the young man; so that when we draw the bow at a venture, the arrow may be divinely aimed, and carried directly to the heart by the great Master. May the Lord grant that some arrow taken from the quiver of his Word may pierce its way between the joints of the harness, and force its passage through coats of triple steel — that the slain of Jehovah may be a great multitude!
Let us notice:
first of all, the young man's character;
then secondly, the young man's question;
and then lastly, the answer given to the young man.
I. First of all let us look at the young man's CHARACTER, and see if he is not a representative of a great many who are found here tonight. The first thing I notice in the character of this young man, is that he was no Sadducee — he had not linked himself with those who held the theory that the grave was the end of all, that there was no resurrection — no hereafter — no eternity. The young man, from his question, evidently believed that there was a hereafter: "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Whether he mixed with the Sadducees or not, whether they tried to influence him or not, we are not told — but if they did, they completely failed. Eternal life was a reality to him; he felt and believed that beyond death and the grave there was a ceaseless duration of being. He knew that he had to enter upon it, and he yearned that his eternity might be one of life and endless joy — and not of death and never-ending woe; hence the question.
Friends, most, if not all of you, hold the same belief that this young man did. You believe that there is a hereafter. In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, you cannot help but believe that eternity is an awful reality, and no mere nightmare of weak minds. Although called upon perhaps to mix with many bold scoffers, and to work in company with desperate infidels; although perhaps necessitated to hear these old-fashioned theories as they are called, laughed at from Monday morning until Saturday night, and although called to do business with the numerous Sadducees of the nineteenth century, you have not been able to persuade yourselves as yet that there is not a hereafter. And if in some small measure you sometimes succeed in doing so, do you not find that all of a sudden there comes a mighty conviction that sweeps away your theories like cobwebs or autumn leaves from the forest boughs, and there comes a voice that will make itself heard, saying, "there is, there is a hereafter, and after I am dead I shall yet live." Does unbelief say, "if a man dies, shall he live again?" The answer echoes in your heart, Yes! he will.
With the young man then, you believe most firmly in the existence of a future state; no, even more, you not only believe in a future state of joyful life — but you also believe that there is a Hell, even though that dreadful fact has been so boldly and blasphemously called into question, and even though many holding a high position in the religious world, and who ought to know better are disposed to dispute it. You, friends, have not yet been able to throw it aside as an exploded dogma. Hell is a belief of your soul, and I can imagine many a young man standing up and saying, "although it is a terrible thing to believe, yet I believe it; and although I know I am not prepared for eternity, yet at the same time I believe with all my heart that there is not only an eternity of bliss for those who die in the Lord — but there is also an eternity of woe for those who die out of Christ. I often wish I could think otherwise, for I condemn myself in my belief; but it is a sheer impossibility. Hell stares me in the face as a declared fact, and I accept it as such."
Sometimes perhaps, you have tried to grasp what eternity really is, and you have said with the speaker over and over again, the words — forever! forever!! forever!!! and the more you have uttered the words, the deeper the depth seemed in them, until at last you have been obliged to come to the same conclusion as the deaf and dumb boy, who, when asked "what is eternity?" wrote, "Eternity — eternity is the life-time of the Almighty"
Thus I think in this first characteristic of the ruler, we have displayed as in a polished mirror, the character and belief of the majority present.
But notice further, that not only did he believe that there was a hereafter — but he was thoughtful about it. There are a great many who believe in an eternity — but by their life they make a lie of their faith; they not only believe there is a Hell — but they seem desirous to have their faith confirmed by actual experience of Hell! Believing in a perdition — they nevertheless rush madly into it.
Not so it is with you. Like this young man, you cannot be thoughtless about it. You believe it, and more than that, you cannot shake off its influence; you may have tried — but the word ETERNITY has haunted you and followed you like your own shadow. Doubtless this young ruler had plenty of other things to occupy his attention, and an abundance of pleasures sufficient to amuse him; but wherever he went, an unknown fathomless future stared him in the face, until at last, unable to bear the crushing anxiety any longer, he cried, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Has it not been so with some of you? No matter where you have been, or how engaged, the thought of an eternity beyond the grave has lowered over your head like some huge storm-cloud — you have been forced by some irresistible power to take your stand on the shore of that boundless ocean, until the roar of its waves has deafened you to every softer sound. Horror-struck, you plunged like a maniac into scenes of licentious pleasure and mirth, in the vain hope that in them its solemn tones might be escaped. Fruitless effort!! Amidst wild and riotous mirth, you have heard its funeral dirge, and notes only become more fearful by contrast. In every cup of sparkling joy, you found a dash of gall — it was eternity. In every song you heard a jarring note — it was eternity. Like a horrible nightmare, that word ETERNITY has filled you with fright, and the more you struggle to escape its horror, the more intense it grows.
I remember having read an instance of the marvelous power this single word will sometimes wield — it was as follows: A lady having spent, as was her custom, an afternoon and evening at the card-table and in the ballroom, came home late at night and found her servant, who was a godly girl, occupying her time in reading a pious book. She bent over the girl's shoulder, and looking for a moment at the open page, laughingly said, "Poor melancholy soul! I wonder that you don't get tired of reading such dry stuff as that!" She retired to bed — but not to sleep, for all night long she tossed to and fro, weeping and sighing. Coming down in the morning, the servant noticed how ill she looked, and kindly asked her if there was anything wrong. At last bursting into a flood of tears, the lady said, "Oh! it was one word I happened to see in your book, when I looked over you last night, that troubles me; it has haunted me ever since." "What word, mistress?" said the girl, "That dreadful word ETERNITY!" replied the lady. "I wish that there was no eternity — or that I was prepared for it."
O eternity, you word of boundless meaning — let your majestic tones completely drown all other sounds in every young man's heart tonight; until, without a solitary exception, they all shall be awakened into earnestness. Thank God! Many of you, like the young man in our text, have been led, not only to believe in eternity — but to seek a preparation for it.
There is another thing about this young man that speaks well for him; namely, that his life had been without reproach. With all truthfulness, he said in answer to the duties enjoined upon him by Christ, "All these I have kept from my youth up." When our Lord spoke of purity, no guilty shudder passed through him, no damning remembrance of immorality oppressed him. He had lived a life free from sensuality, and had no pale sorrowful face haunting him in his midnight dreams, and whispering in his ears, "I will charge you with my ruin at the Judgment day!"
In answer to the command "Love your neighbor as yourself," he could reply "My hands are clean." For if I am wealthy, it is not through building my fortune on the ruin of others. I have never distilled my comforts from the lifeblood of my neighbors, or surrounded myself with luxuries by taking the poor man by the throat. If I have sometimes prayed at the corners of streets, it has not been with a "widow's house" sticking in my throat, and the curses of desolate orphans hurled on my head. What I have, has been obtained honorably; and with all my getting, I have not lost the love of the poor. "Well said, young man! I honor you for it, and I wish that it could be the boast of more who roll in affluence."
'Honor your father and mother.' "This also I have done," he replied, "I have never tried to prove my right to be called a man, by speaking slightingly of the one who gave me birth, and my father's grey hairs have ever received a tribute of respect from me. The old people at home will bear witness to what kind of a son I have been." "Good again young man. I do not wonder that my master loved you; filial affection must ever command esteem."
Now I do not doubt that many present have felt themselves described in this third particular of the young man's character, and there has been in the hearts of some of you a feeling almost akin to self satisfaction, as hearing the good points mentioned, you said, "Yes; that is my character. I am just like him."
I do not for a moment suppose that I am speaking this evening to many who are openly licentious and profane. Such may be here — I think there are. But most are young men who possess many amiable qualities, and who in many respects might serve as examples to those who make far more of a profession; and this brings us to the second point, which is,
II. The young man's QUESTION.I think I can almost see the self-satisfied smile that plays on his countenance, "surely," he says, "I am right now. I have said 'yes' to all the requirements mentioned, and now what do I lack beside?"
Let us do justice to the young man and say first, this question was not asked boastingly. There was nothing of the Pharisee in the young man. His meaning was not "I challenge You, O Lord! to show me a single flaw in my character, or point out a solitary excellence that I do not possess." Not at all so. He asked the question perhaps ignorantly — but at the same time earnestly.
We willingly grant that you ask the question in the same spirit. You say tonight, "I do not pretend to represent myself as perfect. I would not boast of what I am; nor glory in my own excellence;" and in the simplicity of your heart you ask: what do I lack beside?
But if it was not asked boastingly — it was asked ignorantly. This young man had never seen the spirituality of the law. He did not understand what the law actually required, or he would not have ventured the question. What the law really requires, perhaps is the last thing we learn before we come to Christ. Until convinced by the Spirit, we are perfectly satisfied if we give a formal and partial obedience to the law's commands. But when the light of heaven-given knowledge shines upon the law — then we see it is an utter impossibility to be saved by obedience to it. It is not only "You shall not commit adultery," "but you shall not lust." It is not only "you shall not kill," but "He who hates his brother is a murderer." It is not only "You shall not steal," but "You shall not covet."
The requirements of the law, as explained by Jesus, strike far deeper than the actions of the life — and reach to the desires and motives of the heart. It is only when the spirituality of the law is thus perceived, that all hope of ever being saved by it dies within us. And thus seeing our miserable condition, we cry with all pride crushed out of us, "God, be merciful to us sinners!" Ignorant of the requirements of the law, he asked the question, as many of you do, "What do I still lack?"
I think that this question was one more of earnestness than anything else. Give the young man his due; he meant "just show me what I lack — and I will go and do it at once. Just tell me what is lacking — and I will supply the deficiency immediately." I grant you that when he was told, he did not do it — but that was because he did not know his true character, or his own weakness.
Are not you like him, friend? Are there not some here saying and meaning it, "Lord, just show me what I lack — and I will go and do it at once." As an eloquent preacher not far from this neighborhood once said: "If God were to say to sinners, walk from London to Newcastle with spikes in your shoes and you shall be saved — there would be a general pilgrimage there; but the simplicity of the plan of salvation staggers them."
And now the question having been asked, let us be all attention to hear the answer.
III. The ANSWER to the young man's question.
Before giving in detail our answer to his inquiry — let us listen to Christ's answer. The young man came to our Savior on the ground of legal obedience, so he was answered in the same manner. "If then you would be perfect, go and sell all that you have and give to the poor — and you shall have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow me." Our all-seeing Lord at once put his finger on the weak point in the young man's character — and pierced him through the flaw in his armor. He made him see in a moment how little he knew of himself when he asked the foolish question.
With all mere moralists it is the same; there is always some weak point which, when touched, causes the true man to spring into sight. At our Lord's touch, the concealed character came out — and the hidden devil manifested itself. He turned his back upon the Savior, and went away.
But let us now enter more into detail as we attempt to give the answer requested, and God grant that even now the Holy Spirit may exert his mighty power, and drive the words home to many a heart.
"What do I still lack?"
He lacked, young men, what alas some of you lack — a knowledge of himself, and of God's plan of salvation. He had never seen himself as he really was — a lost sinner. Had he known himself, his language to our Lord would have been far different from what it was; it would have been more after this sort, "Lord a Hell-deserving sinner bends before You, and seeks mercy; if you were to spurn him from your feet, and consign him to endless misery, you would be infinitely just, and I could say nothing against the sentence; yet for your own name's sake, have pity and forgive."
He, with many of you, would never have known what it is to be tried before the bar of God and hear the verdict "Guilty!" passed, and feel himself condemned. He came to Christ with a heart that had never felt its guilt or been broken with repentance. This knowledge of himself he lacked, and a fearful lack it is — for he who has never felt his disease — will never taste the medicine; and he who has never seen himself as lost, will never rejoice at being saved.
He also lacked a knowledge of God's way of a sinner's salvation. That one word "do" — "What shall I do?" — reveals his ignorance, for if he had known how God saves the sinner, he would have also known that his doing was unrequired.
"Do," is the religion of the law.
"It is finished," is the religion of Jesus!
There is just this difference between salvation by the law — and by the gospel. The former is a way of two letters, DO. The latter of four, DONE. Until convinced by the Spirit, the cry of the man is what must I DO? But when taught by the Spirit, his exclamation is, "I trust, O blessed Jesus to what you have DONE."
What, dear friend, is your trust — is it trust of two letters, or four? If of only two, then, like the young man in our text, you are still lacking the knowledge of God's way of saving the sinner.
And now let us for a few minutes have some close conversation together. Will you please forget that I am a minister, and only think of me as a young man like yourselves, who having tasted the joy of being saved, is anxious that you should do the same. I wish to ask you a plain straightforward question, and ask you with equal frankness to give a truthful answer — not to me but to the God before whom we shall both have to soon appear in judgment.
I ask you, young man, and you, and you — have you ever known what it is to feel yourself condemned? Has the sentence of your doom ever rung in your ears? Are you now willing to be saved in God's way, even though it puts you into the dust, or are you still clinging to some imagined goodness of your own? If so, I ask you tonight, before you retire to rest, to pray this prayer before God until he answers it, "Lord show me myself."
A young man some years ago prayed this prayer for weeks, until at last the Lord answered him, and showed him such terrible things about his own defilement, that in an agony he cried, "And now, Lord, show me Yourself." That prayer was also answered, for Jesus manifested himself to him as his all-sufficient Savior.
My dear friend — would that I could say brother — let both these prayers be yours tonight. "Lord show me myself, and let me see my depravity — let me feel my sinfulness though the sight blasts all comforts and breaks my heart." And then pray, "Lord, show me Yourself. Show me what Christ has done and suffered for me. Now that you have shown me my malady — show me your medicine for it. Now that you have struck my heart and broken it — graciously bind it up."
"What do I still lack?" He lacked life, or a change of heart. He was what we attempted to describe to many of you the other Sabbath afternoon — a white-washed sepulcher. Outwardly, fair to look at; yes, even lovely in its purity — but do not go within. If you were to enter, you would only find it icy cold — dreary dark — full of the smell of death, and inhabited by corruption itself! So it was with the young man, a character outwardly spotless — yet hiding a heart full of impurity and spiritual death.
My brother, let me again ask you a question. "Have you been converted? Has the heart as well as the life been changed? Is there beneath your breast a heart as cold and lifeless as a stone — or is there one of flesh? Take my Master's word for it: if your heart is not changed, you are a lost man. If there is not that radical change within, I do not care what there is without. You lack the new birth, and with that you lack everything.
This thought leads us to our closing one, namely, that he lacked the one thing needful. It is possible to lack only one thing — but that one lack is such as to render everything else valueless. Let me try in one or two illustrations to show you what I mean.
There is a man in yonder blazing house that seems one sheet of flame from basement to garret. I see him as he vainly shouts from the upstairs window. There is only one thing he lacks — but that is the fire escape. See in his danger, dear friend, your own position.
But I will multiply similes, if by any means I may wake you up to your great lack. A fearful tempest is brewing — the clouds, charged with omnipotent thunder, are lowering over your head — the first heavy drops are just beginning to fall — the lightning already scathes the distant horizon, and every successive flash comes nearer — the heavens above are contracted into one black frown, and threaten to blast you forever. You just lack one thing, and that is a refuge from the storm, a covert from the tempest. Again, I see a deluge poured out upon you — the waters spread on every hand, and every moment their black angry waves rise higher. Hill-top after hill-top is covered, and still the waters deepen.
Ah! I see you now as you fight like a madman for a foothold upon the only mountain peak that rears its head above the advancing tide. You are now alone, the only one left, and the cold waters seem to mock your agony of soul as they rise inch by inch. There is but one thing you lack to save you, and that is the ark that glides silently by and soon disappears within the gloom.
Friend, you are called to pass through an icy stream called death. Already you stand upon its bank and an irresistible power urges you forward. You can see its depth is fathomless, and awestruck you put your foot within its stream. There is but one thing you lack, and that is the ferry-boat.
Yet once again: In a few short years at most we must meet at the Judgment throne of Jehovah. Yes, we must meet. In a few minutes this great throng will have dispersed, and in all probability I shall never again behold some of you on earth — but I shall meet you again. There is not a young man present that will not be found in that crowd before the throne.
The day has come. The trumpet of the archangel sounds, "Come to judgment!" and tremblingly you obey its summons. Why tremble so? Because you find out when alas it is too late, that you lack only one thing — but that one thing is the only thing that can make you stand in that solemn hour. "Rocks fall on me, hills cover me!" is the cry of anguish extorted by the lack of the one thing needful.
Thinking over this subject in my study, and trying, if possible, to pierce the future of some, I suddenly conceived myself standing at the death-bed of one of tonight's hearers. I heard your voice as it grew husky in death, and watched, with tearful eyes, your last desperate struggle for breath. Your mother sobbed in my ears, "He is gone! He is gone!"
Anxious to know your end, I thought I followed your spirit in its upward flight! Oh, how intently I watched you, and said, "He was at the special service for young men on February 13th — is he safe?"
I followed you up and up, and lo, I saw the gates of pearl before you, and my heart leaped for joy, as I exclaimed, "Thank God, all is well." But just at that moment, one of the shining ones met you, and placing his hand upon you, said, "Stop, young man, what is your warrant to enter?" Eagerly I listened for your answer, hoping it might but be "The Blood of Christ!" but no! I heard you say, "I have not been guilty of this crime, or committed that sin. I have done this good work, and tried to do that; in fact there is but one thing I lack, and that is conversion." "Sir, said the angel, that one exception damns you." My heart bled, as I beheld you hurled like lightning from Heaven's gate to Hell's abyss!
What do I still lack? God grant that this question may ring in your ears until, convinced that you are lacking that one thing needful, you cast yourself as a lost and undone sinner into the arms of Christ, and find your all in him. May the Lord save you all, and give you all that one thing you now lack, for Jesus' sake. Amen.