"But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful." Matt. 19:22
C. E. Walters: "He went away sorrowful." Here is a tragic ending to one of the most remarkable interviews in all history. One who came to Christ to learn from Him the way of life - the secret of happiness - went away sorrowful.
Let me paint in word picture the incident of my text. Jesus had just blessed the little children. With infinite compassion and wonderful pity He had called the little children unto Himself. "Suffer [Allow] the little children and forbid them not to come unto me; for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 19:13-14). In that word He manifested His interest in the weak, the helpless, and the dependent. But His religion was not alone to aid the weak, it sought to inspire the strong. And it is significant that after blessing little children, Our Lord should have manifested His interest in strong, active and vigorous life.
The time of the interview was at a critical period in the ministry of Jesus. He was at the parting of the ways. Until then He had been popular. The people had compassed Him with love and admiration; the North had gone after Him - would have taken Him by force and made Him King. But now all was changing. He had declared to His astonished disciples that He "must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed ..." (Matt. 16:21). He had deliberately turned His face to Jerusalem and the Cross.
As He is commencing that journey a young Ruler - rich, and influential, one who had won a high place in the councils of his nation, and, I imagine, a man of charm, distinction and intellectual power came running unto Him, falling down before Him, and kneeling in the dust, he asked, "Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16)
I want you to notice the young man's splendid courage. He was not like Nicodemus, cautious and even timid, coming to Jesus by night. He was not like others who came with plausible, but subtle, questions seeking to entrap Jesus. He was brave, honest and sincere. He knew that already Jesus was regarded with suspicion, and was an outlaw in the mind of many religionists, but in spite of this, he came in broad, open daylight, in the eyes of all who cared to observe him, falling on his knees, with homage and reverence seeking from Jesus the way of Life.
Yet it is strange that he should have come thus! Notice, he was no beggar, who had not where to lay his head, no palsied wretch beseeching healing, no guilty criminal longing for peace - he was a gentleman, honest, upright, true! A moral man - religious, earnest and courageous. By his questions he was evidently a man of thought and keen intellect. Why should he come to Jesus?
Ah! He had discovered what many of us have discovered, what all seeking souls learn sooner or later - that morality, culture, education, position, do not answer the questions of the soul, and do not reveal the way of life or the secret of happiness. This man sought the truth - evidently he was immensely impressed by Jesus. He had listened to His incomparable teaching. I picture him at the edge of the crowd whilst Jesus was teaching. Gradually there dawned upon him the conviction that Jesus was a Teacher come from God; that He had the secret of life - the key to happiness. That He was able to answer the questions of the heart, to satisfy the yearlings of the soul. Therefore he came to Jesus, kneeling before Him in lowly homage.
I shall always honour the rich young Ruler. He is amongst the pioneers of those men of intellect and position who acknowledge the supremacy of Jesus. You, young men and women listening to me, hear sneers from the superficial and ignorant concerning Christianity. Remember Jesus won the homage of this young gifted ruler; of Nicodemus, of St. John and of St. Paul, and that in all the ages since men of intellect have rendered Him homage. Dr. Geikie, in his Life of Christ, has written of the long line of mighty men who have paid their tribute to Jesus - Shakespeare, Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Newton and Milton.
"I esteem the Gospels," says Goethe, "to be thoroughly genuine, for there shines forth from them the reflected splendor of a sublimity, proceeding from the person of Jesus Christ, of so divine a kind as only the Divine could ever have manifested upon earth."
"How petty are the books of the philosophers with all their pomp," says Rousseau, "compared with the Gospels!"
"Jesus of Nazareth our divinest symbol!" exclaims Thomas Carlyle.
Not long before he died [British Prime Minister] Gladstone declared, "I am asked what a man should chiefly look to in his progress through life, as to the power which is to sustain him under trials and enable him manfully to confront his afflictions. I must point to something which in a well-known hymn is called `the old, old ,story,' and taught with an old, old teaching, which is the best gift ever given to mankind. The older I grow the more confirmed I am in the belief that Jesus Christ is the only hope of Humanity."
Yet, as this splendid young Ruler, with his keen intellect and transparent honesty, kneels before Him, Jesus is in no way flattered. Indeed, on the surface, His reception seems almost cool and critical. St. Mark's record gives perhaps the clearest record of the penetrating word; and questions of the Master. "Good Master," cries the Ruler, "what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)
And Jesus said unto him, "Why callest thou Me good? None is good save One, even God." What did Jesus mean? These are hard sayings and I cannot venture their complete explanation. But if you put together the records of the interview in the three Gospels - St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke - I think you get the real meaning. "Why," in effect said Jesus, "do you use as a mere title of courtesy the word `good' ... goodness is the highest attribute of God ... You ask me the way of life - you know the Commandments: 'Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honour thy father and mother.'"
"Master," quickly answered the Ruler, "all these things have I observed from my youth. What lack I yet?" It was as if he said, "Lord, I have been upright, moral, straight, but there is something wrong with me. I want peace. I want to know the way of life, the secret of real happiness - what lack I yet?"
St. Mark in his record of the interview has a lovely touch, "Jesus looking upon him, loved him" ... loved his courage, his sincerity, his earnestness, and his high purpose. I am glad to learn from the New Testament that Jesus loved poor broken sinners, guilty wretches, helpless castaways, I am also glad to know that He loved a man like this!
If you forget all else in my address remember these words, "Jesus looking upon him, loved him!" And that may change your life and thought and action!
Now comes the paradox - because Jesus loved this man He proceeded to hurt him. He who loves often hurts those whom He loves. Some people have a strange idea of love - as a weak sentiment, a milk-and-water emotion. They libel love and essentially the Love of God. I urge that love often hurts.
I remember being in Whitehall [London] in the fateful August of 1914 and saw a never-to-be-forgotten sight. Crowds of men seeking to enter the War Office to enlist [for WWI] - rich, poor, cultured and ignorant men - not conscripts, volunteers. The ideals that shone in the early days of the war led to disillusionment and disappointment. But then these ideals were lofty and noble. Why were these men crowding to the War Office? Behind those doors there were no bags of gold nor crowns of glory, but a way to poison gas, liquid fire, and hell let loose. Yet these men went. Why? They loved their country and their love was to maim, blind and kill them! That's what love means.
A mother loves her child and because of that when the great surgeon says, "Only the knife may save the child," she will let the surgeon hurt her dear one that the life so precious may be saved! That is love.
The love of some is a mockery. Here are parents who profess love for their children, yet are too cowardly, or too lazy, to reprove their children or punish them. Many a boy or girl lives to curse the memory of parents who were too weak, too sentimental to reprove them and pull them up when dangers beset their pathway. True love hurts.
Jesus hurt the Ruler: "One thing thou lackest; go, sell whatsoever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven and, come, follow me." It was as if Jesus said, "Ruler, you want to know the way of life, follow me. I go to Jerusalem, to a Cross, join my company and you shall have the fulfillment of your desire ... follow Me!"
Do you not see what was wrong with the Ruler? It was not simply that he was rich. He wanted the best of both worlds. He had an eager desire for the right, but he loved the present world - its ease and luxury ... he was quite willing to follow Christ's teaching if he could still live the old life, keep his old friends, walk the "primrose path." And this was impossible. He could not live the luxurious life of the world and at the same time follow the Galilean. Jesus must have all or nothing. Hence, "When the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions."
What a tragic mistake. Do you remember Watts' great picture of the Ruler, "He had great possessions." The haunting look on his face as he turned from Jesus - the great refusal.
Oh, Ruler, why did you turn away? You might have been one of the greatest figures in history! You might have stood by Jesus at His trial! You might have comforted the Holy Mother at the foot of the Cross! You might have been a preacher on the Day of Pentecost! You might have been greater even than St. Paul! Men, women, and children might bless your memory.
You missed your opportunity. You are forgotten. No one knows your name; you only live as the man who might have been; as the man who was loved by Jesus and yet who turned away from Him. Ah, men and women, listening to me now - be warned by this Ruler ... see to it lest you "go away sorrowful!"
The turning away of the young Ruler stands out as a warning and a perpetual reminder of these truths:
(1) Jesus, and Jesus only, reveals the way of life and the secret of happiness;
(2) He reveals this on one condition:-that of Full Surrender to Him and obedience to His will;
(3) Such Full Surrender and obedience brings happiness, peace, and the consciousness of life eternal!
(1) Jesus, and Jesus only, reveals the way of life and the secret of happiness. And He does this because in His light we see God, and the way to God and the life which is eternal. The Ruler expressed the unrest of the human soul, the yearning for God, "Oh, that we may know where we might find Him." Jesus answers the cry. He leads the sons of men by the hand into the presence of the infinite and He says: "When ye pray, say our Father." In His light we see the life eternal. He banished the blackness of death, and He revealed the never-ending life, "I am the resurrection, and the life!" (John 11:25). He said, "He that believeth in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die." (John 11:26).
I remember in my mission work entering a slum dwelling in London. There, upon a filthy bed, a London costermonger [street vendor] was dying and his mates were seated round drinking beer out of pots as they watched him. The scene was never to be forgotten. I stood by the bedside and the man moaned: "God! God! Who is God - where is God." That ignorant man in a slum had the same heartache as the wealthy young Ruler. He wanted God, life, peace ... Taking him by the hand as I knelt at his side I said: "God is our Father." "Father?" he said. "Yes," I answered, "and He Sent Jesus Christ His Son to tell us that"; then I looked towards the men who sat round the bed drinking and told them to put down their beer pots and kneel, saying after me, "Our Father." Like little children they prayed, "Our Father ... Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever, Amen." Then I saw the poor coster was gasping - dying. I bent over him and said, "For Jesus' sake, say My Father." "My Father, for Jesus' sake," he gasped out and was dead. Poor London coster, born in a slum, surrounded by misery and vileness in all his life, even he yearned for God and was willing to learn from Jesus the only way.
I repeat, Jesus only reveals the way to happiness. There is no other way; that is why the Ruler "went away sorrowful." Men ever seek another way. Watch such in our day - they follow pleasure and the world, and all in vain. Again and again in my contact with men and young men I have found this.
Some years ago I was preaching in one of the Halls of the West London Mission. As I looked at my congregation, a young man's face - cynical and sad impressed me. I was determined to speak to him, and at the close of the service hastened to the door through which he would pass in leaving. As he passed through the door I shook him by the hand and told him I was glad to see him at the service. "I didn't come here to listen to you preaching," he somewhat rudely said, "I came in because it was raining." "Oh!" I said, "I do not mind why you came." "If you knew the kind of fellow I am," he added, "you would kick me out of the hall." "No," I answered, "we do not usually dismiss our congregations in that fashion." His hardened look went; my humor had touched him.
He came into my private room and told me a pitiable story. The son of wealthy parents, earnest Christians, he had come to London, determined above all else to enjoy himself - to find happiness. He had indulged in vice of the lowest kind. "Don't talk of Hell," he said, "I have been there." And he was only twenty-three years of age. Would to God that thousands of men and women fascinated by the glamour of the world could have seen him and felt the pathos as I did. He was a wreck of noble humanity.
The next day I visited him. He was living in a slum dwelling; the only furniture in the room he occupied was a miserable bed and a small wooden box. After conversation he brought out of the box a Bible wrapped in white paper. "Mother gave me that," said he, "when I came to London." With penitence he knelt and confessed his sins to Jesus Christ. He submitted all his being to the Saviour. And in Christ he found peace and joy. "Warn men," he said before I left, "the world will give them nothing - that is the way of misery and heartache!"
(2) Jesus reveals the way, life, and the secret of happiness on one condition - full surrender to Him and obedience to His Will. We must keep back nothing. "One thing," may spoil all. The young Ruler's refusal to count the cost and yield all - sent him away sorrowful. Put yourself in the Ruler's place; of him it is said, "He had great possessions," of us it may be said, "He had a jealous nature;" "he has lustful thoughts;" "he has an evil temper." That one thing robs us of happiness and peace. The watch I have in my pocket may be perfect in appearance - a gold case and jewelled fittings, but if the mainspring is broken it is useless. An orchestra may be wonderful, clever musicians and fine instruments - but one man "out of tune" spoils the music. One Judas may ruin the reputation of the Twelve, and betray the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Cast out the one evil thing.
"The dearest idol I have known:
Whate'er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And Worship only Thee."
(3) There follows the full surrender - happiness, peace and the consciousness of the Life Eternal! Here is another paradox - the apparently hard way is the Easy Way. The Ruler refused the hard way and "Went away sorrowful." If he had but accepted Christ and journeyed the way of the Cross, happiness and peace would have been his lot. It is ever thus in life. Study the selfish, the idle rich, the sensual, the pleasure seekers - their inevitable end - boredom, sorrow and disappointment. I often think of the lines of Byron - the brilliant man, who early in life lost his way:
"My days are in the Yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker and the grief
Are mine alone."
Contrast with this the happiness of those who surrender all for Christ. I was once the Chaplain of a "Home of Peace for the Dying." I have watched the nurses in their loving care for broken cancer and consumptive patients, and have witnessed their self-sacrifice. Their faces were a benediction, their joy an inspiration - they had learnt the way of the Cross is the way of peace.
I say to you, my hearers, thirsting as you are for happiness and peace - yet holding on to the world - you will never find what you desire, until by surrendering all to Christ you discover the only away.
Finally, I say, "Jesus looking" on you - loves you! Yes - He loves you - loves you in spite of yourself, your ignorance, your foolishness and your waywardness. To you He says, "Follow Me." To follow Him will mean sacrifice, self-denial and faith; but it will also mean happiness, peace and the knowledge of life eternal. Refuse, and like the young Ruler, you will go "away sorrowful." Accept and you shall have life and have it "more abundantly." (John 10:10)
Sermon by C. Ensor Walters, Secretary of the London Wesleyan Methodist Mission, 1925. BV3797.A1T4
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