The young man said to him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
What lack I yet? Plainly the young man who put this question was in earnest. He was not one of those who approached Jesus merely from curiosity, or for the sake of measuring themselves with this renowned Dialectician and Teacher. With him the search for life eternal was an important personal matter. He went away sorrowful, with no heart to prolong the conversation, as soon as his own case was pronounced upon. Probably he had an idea that our Lord would recommend him to build a synagogue, or ransom some of his countrymen who were slaves, or do some striking religious act. For when our Lord replies, "Keep the commandments," he asks, "What commandments?" - fancying he might refer to some rules for the attainment of extraordinary saintliness not divulged to the common people. And so, when Jesus merely repeated the time-worn Decalogue, the young man was disappointed, and impatiently exclaimed, "All these have I kept from my youth up," not so much vaunting his blamelessness of life as indicating that he had had these commandments in view all his life, and that to refer him to them was to give him no satisfaction. All the help they could give he had already got. "What lack I yet?" He belonged to the "Tell-me-something-more-to-do-and-I-will do-it" class of Pharisees. He thought he was ready to make any sacrifice, or do any great thing which would advance his spiritual interests. Remark -
I. HOW ENTIRELY EVEN AN INTELLIGENT MAN MAY MISAPPREHEND HIS OWN SPIRITUAL ATTAINMENT. It was natural this young man should over-estimate himself. He was not only well disposed, very much the model of what a rich young man should be, but was interested in religion, as too few wealthy young men are. He was generally esteemed, and had already become a ruler of the synagogue. He came to Jesus, not to be taught the rudiments, but to receive the finishing touches of a religious character - and he is told he is wrong to the foundation. He is in the position of a person who goes to his medical adviser complaining of a slight uneasiness which he supposes a tonic will remove, and is told that he has heart disease or cancer. Or he is in the position of a sanguine inventor, who has spent years on the elaboration of a machine, and at last puts it into the hands of the practical man, merely to get steam applied and the fittings adjusted, and is told by the practical man that the whole thing is wrong in conception, and can by no possibility ever be made to work. He sees himself as he never saw himself before. He never knew how much he loved his money till he found he would risk his soul rather than part with his money. He never knew how little he cared for the poor till he found he was not prepared to help them by becoming one of them. He never dreamt he was ungodly till he found he preferred his few acres of land to that Person whom he had confessed to be Incarnate Goodness.
II. A MAN MAY NOT ONLY MISAPPREHEND HIS ATTAINMENT, BUT HIS WILLINGNESS TO ATTAIN. This young man fancied he would welcome any light upon duty. He thought himself willing to do anything that would advance his spiritual condition. He finds he is by no means willing. Thousands are in this state. "Give us," they would say, "something tangible to do, and we will do it; but religion seems always so much in the clouds, we do not know where to begin." Put present duty to such persons in an attainable form, and it is not always so welcome as they expected. Tell them that to be holy is, in their case, to say ten words of apology to some one they have injured, to set apart some fixed time daily for thought and prayer, to abandon some indulgence, or spend money for a relative; and they turn sullenly away, like this young man.
III. BETWEEN OUR PRESENT ATTAINMENT AND PERFECTION THERE MAY BE A SACRIFICE EQUIVALENT TO CUTTING OFF A RIGHT HAND OR PLUCKING OUT A RIGHT EYE. This young man was plainly told that, in order to attain life eternal, he must abandon his pleasant home, his position in society, all his comforts and prospects, and become a poor wanderer. It seems a hard demand to make of a well-intentioned youth. But it was no doubt justified by his state. Riches are not the only hindrance to attainment, and we may ourselves be in need of treatment as sharp. To begin the world with a penny would be no great trial to some of us; it would, indeed, be precisely what some of us are already doing; and there are probably few who would not gladly sell all they have if the price would buy perfection of character and life everlasting. But it is no such bargain our Lord means. He merely means that to us, as to this young man, salvation is impossible if it be not the first thing. This young man's possessions happened to be that which prevented him from following Christ; but some pursuit of ours, or some cherished intention, or some evil habit, or mere indifference, may be as effectually preventing us from holding true fellowship with him and becoming like him. And discipline as penetrating and sore may in our case be required.
IV. FOR THE ONE THING ESSENTIAL, IF WE ARE TO ATTAIN PERFECTION, IS THE FOLLOWING OF CHRIST. This young man respected Christ, and was no doubt willing to do much to please him. He would probably have given up half his possessions, but he could not give up all for Christ. He did not scoff or argue: he "went away sorrowful," feeling that the demand of Christ was reasonable, and that by not responding to it he was condemned. But he had not love enough to obey. It is not our judgment, but our affections, our real tastes and likings, which make us what we are, and determine where we shall ultimately be. Love to Christ, which will compel us to cleave to him in preference to all else, - that alone is security that we shall reach perfection. This is the answer to the question which we all ask, "What lack I yet? What is it that prevents me from becoming a purer, stronger, holier, more useful man than I am? I desire growth, and I pray for it; but still it is chiefly my natural propensities that appear in my life. I do not seem to get the help promised; I do not make the growth required. Why is this? What is it always keeps me at the same point? What is it that always thwarts and baffles me?" Radically, it is the lack of deep and genuine devotedness to Christ.
V. OTHER THINGS MAY ALSO BE LACKING, AS, FOR EXAMPLE, DETERMINATION TO BE HOLY. It is in religion, in growth of character, as in other things, we succeed when we are determined to succeed; we fail when this determination is awanting. In certain physical and mental attainments, indeed, determination carries no efficacy. No amount of determination will make you as tall as some other man, or as long sighted, or as imaginative, or as witty. But to determine to be holy is already to be holy in will, that is, in the spring of all amendment of character and conduct. Determination is everything, on the human side, in the matter of sanctification. It is needless, therefore, seeking for mysterious causes of failure, if this first and last requisite be awanting. Are you determined to be holy? Are you bent upon this? Because if you are not determined, common sense should forbid you to wonder why you do not grow in character. If you are not determined to be holy, the very root of the matter is still lacking in you.
VI. Remark, in conclusion, that THE LACK OF ONE THING MAY MAKE ALL OTHER, ATTAINMENTS USELESS. One mistake vitiates a whole calculation. One disease is enough to kill a man; his brain may be sound, his lungs untouched, all his organs but one may be healthy; but if one vital organ be attacked, all the other healthy organs will not save him. So it is in character. One vice destroys the whole, if a man is malicious, it does not avail that he is temperate. If his heart is set on the world, attention to religion or domestic virtue will not save him. Many do cultivate all points but one. How often do we say, "What a pity so good a man should give way in this or that one respect!" So may it be said by others of ourselves. To some this question, "What lack I yet?" may come with a tone of irony. "What lack I?" we are tempted to say, "What have I, rather, that is not stained with sin, spotted by the world, unsafe, unproductive? When shall the time come when I shall be able in sincerity to say, 'What lack I yet?' when so much good shall have been achieved by me that I shall be at a loss to see whether further attainment is possible? My youth was very different from this young man's. Instead of the ingenuousness, the unbroken hope and ardent aspiration of youth, there was its passion, its untamed desires, its selfish love of pleasure, its impatience, its folly." There is, at least, the same choice now laid before you that was laid before him. To you Jesus says, "Follow me." He will infallibly lead you to perfection; he sees to it that every one who forsakes aught for his sake receives in this life a hundredfold, and in the world to come life everlasting. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?