A Hopeful Youth Falling Short Of Heaven - Part II


Adapted from a Sermon By

Isaac Watts

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Mark 10:21

The gospel of Mark in chapter 10 verse 21 has these amazing words: And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.

We are in a series of sermons which focus on the following remarkable doctrine. The doctrine that our Savior had some love for a person that preferred this world to heaven, and neglected his salvation.

In order to prove this thought we have already considered

I. What is meant by the love of our savior to this young man, and to persons of his character.

II. What was there in him that might attract our Savior’s love.

This morning we will consider:

III. What remarks may be made upon the sin and folly of a person so lovely, and so beloved of Christ.

And in the weeks to come, God willing, the last part of the sermon will be

IV. An appeal to three sorts of persons, from the consideration of the character of the person in our text.

III. And so, in the third place, let us consider some remarks upon this mixed character; upon the folly, the guilt, and misery of a man so lovely, and so beloved of Christ.

1st Remark. Consider how much good and evil may be mingled in the same person. What lovely qualities were found in this young man! And yet there was found in him a carnal mind in love with this world, and in a state of secret hostility towards God. Our nature at first was a glorious composition of all that was good. How has sin ruined human nature from its initial glory, and mingled a large measure of evil in its very frame! And yet how has restraining grace kept our nature from losing every thing that is good and valuable, and from becoming universally monstrous and repulsive!

Let us take a survey of the world, and see what a mixture there is of amiable and hateful qualities among the children of men. There is beauty and decency; there is vigor and liveliness; there is good-humor and compassion; there is discernment and judgment, and hard work, even among those who are depraved and abandoned to many vices. There is sobriety, and love, and honesty, and justice, and decency among men that do not know God, and do not believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are very few of the sons and daughters of Adam, who are not possessed of something good and agreeable, either naturally or through education or training. Therefore, when it becomes necessary to mention the vices of any man, I should not speak evil of him without restraint, nor heap a torrent of reproaches on him. It is very harmful to talk-up and magnify scandal, as though every man who was a sinner, was a perfect villain, the very worst of men, completely hateful and abominable.

How sharply should our own consciences reprove us, when we give free rein to our pride and malice, to demolish the character of our neighbors, and deny all that is good concerning them, because they have something in them that is criminal and worthy of blame! In this way our judgment is corrupted by powerful passions; and sometimes this folly reigns in us to such a degree, that we can hardly allow a man to be wise or discerning, to have a grain of good sense or good-humor, that does not agree with us, in matters of church or state. Let us examine ourselves, and blush to think that we are so prone to indulge in such prejudices, such as sinful partiality.

2nd Remark. A man that does not have true grace, nor holiness, may be the just object of our love. We see this in that several instances and several degrees of love were paid by Christ, the wisest and best of men, to a young man who was clearly covetous and carnal; one who preferred earth to heaven, and valued his present possessions above those eternal treasures that Christ had promised him.

But what are we to make of passages in the Old Testament such as in Psalm 139 where David says to God, Do I not hate those who hate you, and then adds, I hate them with complete hatred. (Psalm 139:21, 22) But this need not be taken to mean any malice in his heart against them, as a private person; but rather his intent to fight against them, and suppress them , as a soldier, and a king, because they opposed themselves publicly against God; for he adds, do I not loathe those who rise up against you and count them my enemies? Besides, these persons were of so abandoned a character, that they seem to have had nothing good in them, and he might justly hate them, considered merely as sinners, in the same sense that we must hate ourselves, so far as we are sinful.

To all this it might be added, that they were cruel and bloody with regard to men, and they spoke wickedly against God, and were God’s professed enemies as we see in verses 19 and 20 of the same Psalm. And after all, it was much more allowable in David the Jew in the heat of his zeal, to talk in this way, than it can be for us, Christians, when we have read the words of our Savior in Matthew chapter five: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt 5:43-45) And while we consider also in what a divine manner our Lord Jesus has exemplified his own command, and has loved many of his enemies, so as to die for them; and manifested so much natural affection, even for the young sinner in our text, because there were some good qualities found in him.

Therefore, we ought never say within ourselves concerning any man, “I hate him utterly, and reject him in all respects, because he does not have true holiness.” But, rather, we ought to look at him and consider whether there may not be some accomplishment in him, some moral virtue, some valuable talent, some natural or acquired excellence, and we should not neglect to pay do esteem to every deserving quality, wherever we find it. It is a piece of honor due to God our creator, to observe the various signatures of his wisdom, that he has impressed upon its creatures, and the overflowing treasures of his goodness, which he has distributed among the works of his hands.

And so, we may very justly love a person who shows no signs of being of the family of God. That is, such a one as we have every reason to believe is in a state of sin and death, and have no present hope of his or her salvation. How could holy parents fulfill their duties of affection to their wicked children? Or pious children pay due respect to sinful parents? How could a believer fulfilled the law of love to an unbelieving brother, or a dearer relative, if we ought to have no love to persons that are in a state of enmity to God? How can we be followers of God as dear children, if we are not kind to the unthankful, and the evil? (Luke 6:37) To those who have nothing of serious religion in them let us do good … and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10)

As God has a peculiar love for his own children, those who are renewed, and sanctified, and formed into his likeness, so are we to love all the saints with a peculiar kind of affection, and take special delight in them. We should express a love of intimate fellowship with them, a love of divine friendship, of spiritual pleasure, and hearty communion. We ought to rejoice together with them in God our common father, in Christ Jesus our common head, and in the hope of our common salvation. And we should ever be ready, in the first place to assist and support them, and supply all their needs according to the calls of providence. But sinners also must have some share in our love.

3rd Remark. How different is the special love of God, from the natural love of man! God does not see as man sees. He does not appoint persons to eternal life, because of some good qualities they have in this life. Jesus Christ himself, considered as God, did not bestow his special and saving love upon that young Israelite, whom, as a man, he could not help loving. So Samuel was sent to choose a king for the Jews, among the sons of Jesse in 1 Samuel 16. When he saw Eliab appear, looked at him and said to himself, Surely the Lord's anointed is before me. But the LORD said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. (1 Samuel 16:6,7) Old Jesse, it may be, was ready to look at his eldest son too, being pleased with his tall and handsome figure, and to say to himself, “It is a pity that Eliab was not made king.” But David was God’s beloved.

If the question were put to us, Who are the persons that are fit to stand in the court of God above, to be the inhabitants and ornaments of heaven? We would be ready to say, the beautiful and the intelligent, the souls of a sweet disposition, and the persons of graceful behavior. We are tempted to think that those who are born into good families, the wise, the affable, and the well-accomplished, should all be made saints, and the favorites of God; but he sees with other eyes, he determines his special love by other principles, and makes another sort of distinction by his sovereign saving grace, unguided and unmoved by the merit of man. Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1Co 1:26-29)

What would become of the moody, the rough natural tempers, if God loved only those who were lovely in our eyes? What would become of all the deformed and the most unattractive; the clownish, the weak, and the base things of this world, if God should choose none but the respectable, and the well-bred, the well-figured, and the honorable? If this were the rule of his conduct, what a horrible dark cloud would rest over thousands, and some good people too, who must suffer the knowledge, in this world, of the dreadful sentence of their damnation in the next. But the great and sovereign God acts by other measures; he lays down for himself divine rules, that are unknown to us, and may be forever unsearchable.

Some who are blessed with excellent qualities, he adorns with heavenly graces, and they shine as jewels set in rings of gold: Others, who have scarce anything in them amiable by nature, are objects of divine love, and made vessels of grace; though these do never make so charming an appearance among men. Moses the meek and obliging, Jonah the rough and the peevish, were both beloved of God for he made saints and prophets of them. Abraham the rich, and Sarah the beautiful; Peter the poor fisherman, and Paul the man of a weak and contemptible bodily presence; were all beloved of God and made heirs of eternal life. The conduct of the great God, in this matter, is so varied, and his reasons so sublime and impenetrable, that it is in vain for us to attempt to trace out his rules of action.

Sometimes he chooses a man of great intellectual powers, and sets an invisible mark of divine love upon him. At another time he takes pleasure to pour contempt on all the pride of human reason, by choosing a foolish man, and making him a humble believer. Sometimes he exalts the man of natural virtue into a saint; and again he spreads shame and confusion over all our own pretended righteousness and vain confidence, by culling out, here and there, a profane and miserable man, and converting him to faith and holiness, and in the meantime he leaves some that are sober and have many human virtues, and good appearances, to perish with the Pharisee and hypocrite forever, in their pride and self-righteousness. Jesus, the Man, looked upon this handsome youth that was well-born, sober, and virtuous, and he loved him; but the eternal God did not choose him for a saint, for he allowed him to run blindly after his many possessions, and to despise heaven.

And here, it is appropriate for us to be silent and adore. And to consider the depths of divine council! To consider the awful and glorious sovereignty of the grace of God, that could pass by so desirable a person, whom the man Jesus could not look upon without pity and love! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom 11:33)

And although this is a very painful and awful thing to meditate upon, yet it can be very profitable. We see here how no man should despair of salvation, and the love of God, no matter how mean and despicable so ever his appearance may be among men, or how far removed he may be from all that we call lovely. Only, let him forsake all sin and be happy forever. Nor should the most amiable of creatures, in the natural or civil world, flatter themselves that they are, because of this, beloved of God, and will certainly be partakers of eternal blessings in the world of glory. Rather, let them follow Christ, and be saved.

But we should dwell upon this last thought a little more, and therefore we have the fourth remark as follows.

4th Remark. Many lovely accomplishments, joined together, will not carry a natural man to heaven. All the finest combination of beauty and youth, strength and riches, and all of this embellished with many forms of godliness, and some shining outward virtues, will not obtain eternal life. The man who has all these fine qualities, if he prefers earth to heaven, and loves the possessions of this world, above spiritual treasures, remains in a state of the condemnation and death. Grace is not a flower that grows in the field of nature, nor is it made by the heart of man; it is a divine seed; it is planted in our hearts by the spirit of God. (John 1:13) The saints are born not of blood; that is, by natural generation; nor of the will of the flesh, that is, by our own powers of nature; nor of the will of man; that is, by the influence that others have over us; but of God.

A man may determine to work for a while for the good of his soul, and yet miss the way of salvation. The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:14) And many will seek to enter and will not be able.(Luke 13:24) They seek, but not with all their might: they are not willing to forsake all for heaven, and therefore they do not obtain it. They seek, perhaps, with diligence for a time, and give up before they have obtained it. They tire, and grow weary, and lose the prize. They seek, but not in God’s appointed way, and according to the rules of the gospel; and no wonder if their labor is in vain, for an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:5)

And this was the case of the rich young man. He sought eternal life, but not with all is soul, for he could not take up his cross and follow Christ. He sought the kingdom of God for a time, but when he came to the hard work of self-denial, he would not venture into that thorny path, but turned back, and went away sorrowful. He sought justification and peace with God, but not in the right way. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness, and did not attain it. (Rom 10:3) He love heaven well, but he loved this earth better. He chose his portion and happiness in this world, and lost his soul.

The eye of God, our judge, is sharp and severe. He sees the hidden the vices of the mind, through all the nicest veils of nature, and the most pleasant coverings of outward virtue. We may cheat others with the disguises of religion, and allure the love of the best of Christians. We may cheat ourselves by these fair appearances, and entertain a fond opinion of our own saint-ship. But the great God can never be fooled in this way. He knows well what is lovely and excellent and his creatures. But when he sits on his throne of judgment, all their shining qualities of body and mind are blemished, are darkened, are lost in his eyes, if he discovers a secret love of sin in the heart. Where the love of this world prevails, it outweighs all other good qualities, however valuable these may be in themselves. And though these qualities may create love in every beholder, yet the love of God is not to be purchased, nor persuaded, contrary to his own settled and eternal rules of judgment. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, (1 John 2:15) nor does the Father love him. The devil himself has many noble qualities, and intellectual glories. The natural powers of an angel still remain with him, but his inward enmity to God confine him forever to hell, and in the sense of the apostle James, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God, (James 4:4) though in many other aspects he might be a companion of angels.

Wise and happy is that soul who fears to build his hopes of heaven on the sand, on a shining but weak foundation. Wise and happy is he who does not mistake the glories of nature for divine grace, who does not satisfy himself to seek a little after heaven, but resolves to find it, and abandons all else for the knowledge and the love of Christ. While others, who pretend to have much wisdom, base their vain expectations of happiness, on a few natural accomplishments, and devout wishes, this man pursues the work on more divine principles, and brings it to perfection. And when others, at the great day of judgment, meet with shame and terrible disappointment, he will be applauded, in the face of angels, as the only wise man, and will find himself forever happy.

The 5th, and last remark, is this: how dangerous a snare is great riches! They become a sore temptation (even to well-inclined persons) to tie their souls fast to this world, and persuaded them to neglect God, and Christ, and heaven. This was the case of the young man in our text. He went away from our Lord sorrowful and grieved, that he could not join Christ and the world together. He had great possessions, and therefore he refused to be a follower of Christ, under the poor and transient influence of his high standing among men. And our Lord himself makes this same remark, How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is hard for those who possess great riches not to love them too well, and to trust in them as their chief good.

How many outstanding qualities do we see spoiled here at once, by the love of this world! and a man that was not far from the kingdom of God, divided from Christ, and driven to a fatal distance from heaven, by this dangerous interfering snare! A wretched chain, though it was a golden one, that withheld his soul from the loving arms of his Savior. He was young, he was modest and humble, he had a desire to be saved, and he went far in the outward forms of godliness; all these commands, he had said, I have kept from my youth, or childhood; and he had a mind to follow Christ too: but Jesus was poor, and his followers must take up their cross, and share in is poverty. This was the dividing point; this was the barrier to his salvation; he was almost a Christian, but his riches prevented him from being altogether so. What fatal wealth and, sadly, what a foolish possessor.

It was fitting for our blessed Lord, the heir of all things, to divest himself of wealth and majesty, and to renounce all the pomp and glittering symbols of this world, when he came to introduce a religion so spiritual and so refined, as the gospel was. And it was fitting for him to put such a test as this to such as pretended to be his disciples: whether they would indeed venture to exchange the present world, and the visible enjoyments of it, for future, invisible glories? It was appropriate that he should test whether they could deny themselves, and become poor for his sake, who made himself poor for their sakes, and promised them unknown treasures in heaven. But the test proved too hard, and the gate too narrow for this young man, with all the bulk of his estate to enter in at it.

Well might the apostle teach Timothy, the young preacher, As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but … to do good, to the poor, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, because men are so ready to think that a store of gold, or a large back account, is a good foundation to trust in for happiness here, while they forget the eternity to come.

Well might he admonish them to take hold of that which is truly life, because they are so ready to hold fast to their earthly possessions, and let eternal life go. They that have much money, talent, success in this world, are often greedy for more, and in this way often fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith, have forsaken Christ, and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:9,10)

And so we who are rich in so many ways, ought to be aware of our danger, and be watchful against the shining allurements that beset us all around. Let us be careful for fear that our eyes be dazzled with this glittering world, and effectively blinded to the gospel of Christ.

And here is also a comfort for the materially poor; a reminder of their privilege; how much more free they are from this golden snare. Those who have been accustomed to lowliness and poverty, may find less offence with the plainness and simplicity of the gospel; that the doctrine of the cross, and the poverty of the Son of Man, who hung on it for their sakes, will not be a scandal to them nor a barrier to their faith. In the days of Christ, the poor received the gospel, and not many wise, not many powerful have in any age been followers of a despised Jesus.

And may the rich among us be led by divine grace to break through all our temptations, and devote ourselves to our Saviur, though his name, and his disciples here on earth, be surrounded with all the forms of contempt and poverty! And if we are ever led to feel poverty in any aspect of our lives, may this be to our advantage, that we may take up our cross, and follow our Lord, until we are all joined to the glorious assembly above, and made possessors of everlasting riches.