A Hopeful Youth Falling Short Of Heaven - Part III
Adapted from a Sermon By
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Mark 10:21
When our Saviour walked on this earth, he found a young man in the coasts of Judea, that preferred the riches of this world to all the treasures of heaven; and yet Jesus cast a loving eye upon him.
In previous weeks as we dwelt on these words, we have considered what sort of love Christ could show to a man, whose soul was so vain and carnal; and what good qualities appeared in this youth, that could engage the love of our Saviour, notwithstanding the guilt of his covetousness; and some remarks were made upon a man so lovely, and so beloved of Christ.
First, The love which our Saviour manifested to this person, was not properly a divine love, for that would have had the effect of changing the young man’s nature, of refining his carnal desires, and conferred grace and salvation upon him: we must, therefore, understand it only in this sense, that the affections of our Lord’s human nature were drawn out towards something that was valuable and excellent in this young Israelite: he approved of those accomplishments which he saw in him, and felt a sort of contentment in his person and character. He had an innocent and human desire of his welfare, he gave him divine instructions to this end, and pitied him heartily that he was so far gone in the love of the world, as to neglect the offer of heaven.
Secondly, The qualities which might attract our Saviour's love, were such as these: he was young and lively, and it was probable that he had something very agreeable in this respect: his manner was courteous and considerate, for he kneeled before our Lord, and graciously saluted him: he had a religious education, much outward sobriety and virtue, so that he was ready to think himself a complete saint. All these commands, says he, I have kept from my youth; yet he was willing to receive further instructions, if any thing else were necessary, in order to obtain eternal life. And to all this, that he was rich and powerful, he was a ruler among the Jews, and had large possessions, which made his humility and other virtues appear the more commendable, because they so seldom are found in persons of privilege.
Thirdly, The remarks that were made upon a person that had so many good qualities, and yet missed of heaven, might instruct us not to deny anything that is worthy and excellent, though it is mingled with much iniquity; but to pay respect and love, as our Lord Jesus did, to persons that have anything valuable in them, though their virtues are imperfect, and fall short of saving grace. We may learn also, that God does not choose as man would choose, nor saves all those that a wise and good man may well bestow his love upon. We are taught further, that many lovely accomplishments, joined together, are not sufficient to attain eternal life, unless we renounce this world, and follow Christ and we are divinely warned of the danger of riches, how great a snare they sometimes prove to persons of a hopeful character.
Fourthly, we now come to the last thing which was proposed; and that is, to address three sorts of persons, taking the occasion from the character in our text.
I. Those who have any thing lovely or excellent in them, but, through the power of a carnal mind, are kept at a distance from God, and have no title to heaven; such are beloved of men, but not beloved of God.
II. Those who are weaned, in some good measure, from this world, and have treasures in heaven, but are defective in those qualities that might make them amiable on earth ; such are beloved of God, but not of men.
III. Those that are blessed with every good quality, and every grace, that are the objects of the special love of God, and almost every man loves them too.
And so we begin with
I. an address to those who have anything lovely or excellent in them, but, through the power of a carnal mind, are kept at a distance from God, and have no title to heaven. Such was the young man in the gospel; and according to the several good qualities that he possessed, the exhortation will be divided and directed to several types of persons.
1. To those who are gifted with any natural qualities of body or mind. Youth and beauty, strength and health, intellect and reason, judgment, memory, or a pleasant disposition; all these are the gifts of God in the world of nature, and make persons so far amiable as they possess them. You that flourish in the vitality and glory of youth, and yet have no saving acquaintance with God in Christ, no right to eternal life; to behold you, one can only mourn over you with much compassion. What pity it is that the glory of your age should be used only to sooth your vanity! to decorate your guilty passions, and to dress up the scenes of sin! That glory will wither in old age, and it leaves no perfume behind, but what arises from virtue and goodness; or, perhaps, you will give it up to premature decay; by indulging in harmful pleasures, you may devote it to be blasted by the breath of Satan, and in the smoke of hell.
But is it not a pity, that a strong and healthy constitution should be wasted in slavery to your appetites, and in making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts of it? Why shouldn’t the powers of nature, in their first bloom and glory, adorn the kingdom of grace? Why shouldn’t our most lively days, and the best hours of life, be employed in some useful activity for the interest of God? What a decency and honour is added to religion, by its liveliest and youngest devotees? With what peculiar praises does the Word of God recommend the character of youthful piety? How is the young king Josiah celebrated in the Scriptures? that while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his Father. (2 Chron. 34:3) How is Timothy commended, who had known the holy Scriptures from his very childhood; (2 Tim. 3:15) And there are some young in years, to whom the apostle John might address himself with the same pleasure as he does to the Christian converts, whom he calls young men, strong in grace, who had the love of God abiding in them, and had overcome the wicked one; (1 John 2:14) And he gives them in the next verse a most needful and friendly caution against the love of the world, and the things of it, lest they shut the love of the Father out of their hearts. What an abuse and waste of life are they guilty of, who lay out the brightest moments of it upon the works of darkness? and treasure up to themselves everlasting darkness and fire!
It is with pity that one must look upon the young, the vigorous, the physically blessed examples of human nature, that neglect to seek after divine grace, that are ruined and made wretched to all eternity, by their excessive love of the pleasures, or the pomp, or the riches of this vain world. Thousands of such sinners, that were once the hope of their families, and the lovely ornaments of the place they lived in, are now cursing the day of their birth, and raging with despair in the midst of the wrath of God.
And what of those who are blessed with a rich intellect. Where we behold outstanding genius, solid reason, and deep judgment, we cannot help loving the possessors of them: we cannot help thinking "It is a pity that so much talent should be abused to ridicule religion, and do honour to foul iniquity; that it should be enslaved to all the arts of lewdness, and dress up the shame of nature in the charms of language." Or if it is not debased to so exceeding vile purposes, yet at best, it is pity it should be all employed in jesting and trivial talk, in laughing and banter and vain amusement. Might it not have been laid out infinitely better, to allure sinners to the love of God, to adorn the truths of our holy profession, and give credit to the gospel of Christ, even in the eyes of the clever and profane?
Another person who really should incite pity is the one who has a lively imagination without sanctifying grace. What a lovely wilderness of blossoming weeds! adorned with various colours, but useless and unpleasant, and it must, in the end, be burnt up with unquenchable fire. You are the persons whose happy talents enhance the common comforts of life; you diffuse joy and pleasure through all the company, and enliven the dullest hours; your presence is coveted by all men, and you are beloved of all: but how dismal is your state, if you neglect holiness, and are not beloved of God! Can you imagine that your happy disposition will brighten the gloom of hell ? or give relief to yourselves, or your companions, in those hideous regions of sorrow? It is a most saddening reflection to consider, that persons of your accomplishments should increase the number of the damned; and there is no sport or amusement admitted there, to divert the anguish of the tortured mind, or to relieve that heavy and everlasting heartache.
Also to be pitied is the man of strong reason and great sagacity of judgment, that has traced nature in her most secret recesses; that has sounded the depths of the sea, and measured the heavens; but has spent no time in searching the deep things of God, and lets the mysteries of religion alone as obscure and useless things. He has never meditated on the depth of his own misery and guilt, as he is a son of Adam: nor is he acquainted with the way of climbing to heaven by the cross of the Son of God. Reason is a faculty of supreme excellence among the gifts of nature, and it is dreadful to think that it should ever be engaged in opposition to divine grace. How great and wretched are the men of reason, who strain the nerves of their soul to overturn the doctrine of Christ! who labour with all their intellectual powers to shake the foundations of the gospel, to diminish the authority of the scriptures, and to unsettle the hope of feeble Christians!
There are others who employ the best powers of the soul in pursuing the interests of this life. They are wise in contriving to gratify their appetites, to fill their bank accounts, and to heap up to themselves wealth and honours; and wish to secure all these to their posterity after death; They call their lands by their own names, (Ps 49:11) and perpetuate their memory to the latest generations, but make no provision for their own souls. They are wise to set in order their houses in the day of their health, and all things prepared for their dying hour, but put off the concerns of their own eternity. These are delayed from day to day, and left at the utmost hazard; and still they think the next month, or the next year, it is time enough to prepare for heaven, when perhaps a summons is sent suddenly from on high ; Fool! This night your soul is required of you. (Luke 12:20) What confusion and fear, what hurry and distress of spirit will seize you in that hour? You that have laid out all your wisdom upon the little businesses of this life, and trifled with affairs of everlasting importance. You must go down to the chambers of death in surprise and anguish. You must leave all the fruits of your wisdom behind you, and be branded eternal fools.
And we may also fear for and pity those who are blessed with a large memory, and would plead with you this day for the sake of your souls. The memory is a noble repository of the mind, it is made to receive divine truths, to be stored with the ideas of God and his grace, with the glories of Christ and heaven. It is given us to furnish and supply the heart and tongue on all occasions, for worship, for conference, and for holy joy. What pity it is so wondrous a capacity should be defiled with vile images, with shameful scenes, with profane jokes, and idle stories! Or, at best, it is filled with gold, and silver, and merchandize; with lands and houses, cars and insurances; it is all inscribed with stocks, bonds, and purchases, and turned into a mere book of accounts, a trading shop, or an everlasting exchange night and day; the buyers and sellers are passing through this temple, which should be consecrated to God; and there is no room left for the thoughts of heaven there. Will these busy swarms of cares and vanities forever fill up so large a chamber of the soul? Will worthless things be forever pushed into this treasury? such things as will never come to your aid, when you are dismissed from the body, but will vanish all at once in that hour, and will leave your spirits poor and naked: or if they follow you to the world of spirits, it will be but as so much fuel gathered for your future burning.
Think a little with yourselves, you who are in possession of these rich endowments of the mind, when you have been honoured here on earth, can you bear to be doomed to eternal shame and punishment in hell? Will this cleverness and this reason be there employed to express your hatred against God, and to forge perpetual blasphemies against the Majesty of Heaven? are you willing to be joined to the society of devils, and be engaged in their abominable work? Will all this vigor and energy, this subtle reason, this large memory, serve for no purpose, but to aggravate your guilt, and your damnation? Will these fine talents sharpen your misery, and give edge to the keenest reflections of conscience; conscience, that inward sting of the mind; conscience, that immortal tormentor? Yet this must be the certain portion of those who spend their life, and lie down in death, with these talents unsanctified: for the anguish and torture of sinful souls must rise and grow for ever, in proportion to the glory of their abused endowments.
And before we leave this line of thought, one last group of persons ought to be remembered. That is those who are born with a sweet disposition, that seem to be cast in a softer mould than the rest of men. Worthy of love but also of pity are those who are blessed with so divine a temper, who have tenderness and goodwill in their very form and aspect, and one can only mourn to think that any of these should perish for ever. You are the favorites of all men, and beloved by all who enjoy the pleasure of your acquaintance; do you not long to be the favorites of God also? You seem to be made for the delight and comfort of mankind: but will this be all your portion?
Good humor is the composition of your nature, and the teaching of kindness is on your lips! (Prov 31:26) when the ear hears you, then it blesses you; and when the eye sees you, it gives witness to you. But is this enough to depend upon for eternal life? Perhaps you have borrowed part of the valuable qualities of that good man Job, you have delivered the poor that cry, and the fatherless that had none to help him; you have caused the widow's heart to sing for joy, and the blessing of him that was ready to perish, has come often upon you. (Job 29: 11, 12, 13) There is so much natural goodness in your constitution, that leads you on, by a sweet instinct, to the practice of many good deeds: but this is not saving grace. If Jesus Christ himself were upon earth in this humbled state, he would look upon you as person, and love you: but the holy God looks down from heaven, and beholds you as the object of his just and divine hatred, while you live in a state of vanity and sin, drunken with sensual pleasures, and at enmity with God.
This sweetness of character, which is the product of your genetic makeup, and happy physical constitution; or, at best, from the mere natural frame of your spirits, will never pass, before the great tribunal, for holiness and inward religion. With all this charming appearance of virtues, these colors that look like heaven, you will be doomed to hell, and perpetual misery, unless there is found in you some nobler qualities, such as love to God, mortification to this world, the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ. If these are not the springs of your charity and love to men, you will not be saved from the condemning sentence of the Judge, nor from the company of devils in the future world.
But, tragically, how will your soft and gentle natures bear the insult and rage of those malicious spirits ? How will your temper, that had something so lovely in it, sustain to be banished forever from the world of love? to be for ever excluded from all the regions of peace and harmony ? How will your souls endure the madness and contention, the envy and spite of wicked angels; You that delighted on earth in the works of peace, what will you do when your sensibilities will be hourly ruffled by the uproar and confusion of those dark regions? and instead of the society of God and blessed spirits, you will be eternally tormented with the perverse characters of your fellow-sinners, the sons of darkness?
In closing, Isaac Watts’ desire along with the desire of every concerned believer, is that these realities might be conveyed with heart moving language, or in the language of effectual terror, that they might by any means awaken your souls to jealousy and timely fear! That so many natural excellencies, as God has distributed amongst you, might not be wasted in sin, abused to dishonour, and aggravate your everlasting misery.