The Rich Young Ruler
George Everard, 1885
"What more do I lack?" Matthew 19:20
A mountain of self-righteousness lay at the back of this question. He who asked it, was rich in his possessions, but still richer in his imagined merit. So he comes to Christ and seems to say something of this kind, "I have done my duty. I have fulfilled the law, and this from my youth. I have kept every precept. But tell me — is there any top-stone I can lay? Is there any good work I can do that may still further adorn my life?"
With a few words Christ touches this grand, imposing edifice of human goodness, and it falls with a crash to the earth. All is gone, not a stone or a brick remains. Humbled and crest-fallen he goes back. He kept his gold, but beyond recovery he lost his wealth of goodness.
In many respects the young ruler was a pattern of what a young man should be. He bore a stainless character, in spite of the temptations that wealth brings. With earnestness, and something too of humility, he came kneeling at the feet of Jesus. O that there were more of the same spirit! Would that our rich young men were leading pure lives, and had a serious regard for the claims of religion!
There seems to some a difficulty about the Lord's first answer to this young ruler. He had said to Christ, "Good master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" He was full of ideas of human goodness. "You are good and I am good — but tell me how I may be still better." Such was his spirit. But Jesus will not hold with this for a moment. "Goodness, do you speak of? Where shall it be found? Go the wide world over, and not one particle will you find that is not of God." "Why do you call me good? There is none good but One, that is, God."
Surely, then, Christ must be God, for was He not good? Did any man convince Him of sin? Was there one blemish on His holy and beautiful character? Was not every act one of true, unselfish love?
When asked by Christ as to the commandments, he imagines himself to be blameless, "All these have I kept from my youth up. What more do I lack?"
Was he right? Did he speak the honest truth? "Yes," and "No."
Yes, for he was no hypocrite. He believed what he said. He had been no profligate, no thief, no defrauder, no murderer, no willful deceiver. As to the letter of the law, he was blameless.
No, for he had never sounded the depths of the law. He knew not that it had respect to thoughts and motives, to omission as well as commission.
Then Christ makes the great demand. He gives the young man a test. He may prove, if he will, his supreme love to God and his unselfish love to man. He bids him go and sell all he has and give to the poor. Then let him follow Him, and he shall have treasure in Heaven (Matthew 19:21).
It was a hard command, but was it too hard? If the love of God had reigned within — would not the Son of God have been more to him than all his wealth? If he had loved his neighbor as himself — would he not have been willing to strip himself of all for the sake of the poor?
Was it so hard a command as that which Abraham obeyed in yielding up his beloved Isaac at God's bidding? Was it a harder command than Moses fulfilled in giving up honor, treasure, and the pleasures that Egypt could bestow?
But the command was too much for the young ruler. He goes back, as Orpah to Moab. He goes back, like the man in Bunyan's allegory, holding fast the muck-rake, and despising the crown held out for him to seize. How much he lost, who can tell? He forsook the substance for the shadow; and to keep the gold that perishes, he rejected the unsearchable riches which for time and eternity he might have obtained.
"What more do I lack?" Is this your question? If standing in the same position as he of whom I have spoken, you lack much. You may be moral, yes, even religious in your own way — but do you heartily yield yourself and all you have to Christ? Do you know the meaning of a broken and contrite heart? Have you cast off forever all dependence on your own goodness or merit? If not, you lack the one thing needful. You lack pardon and grace and the robe of righteousness. You lack the teaching and comfort and inner power of the Holy Spirit.
But Christ will give all if you ask Him. Never turn away from Him. Rather cleave to Him and wait upon Him. He will care for you, and love you, and supply all your needs — and then through Him you shall lack nothing. He will give both grace and glory!