A Hopeful Youth Falling Short Of Heaven - Part IV


Adapted from a Sermon By

Isaac Watts

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

When our Saviour dwelt upon 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 an eye of love upon him.

Two weeks ago we began to hear the final part of this sermon: an address to three sorts of persons taking the occasion from the character in our text.

The three sorts of persons were:

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.

This morning, as we come to the last part of this sermon, we continue with a second type of person of the first category, 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.

2. The next exhortation will be addressed to those who from their youth have been trained up in all the skills of civility, and have acquired courteous and graceful manners. There is something lovely in such an appearance, and it commands the love even of the rude and uncivil. It so nearly resembles the fruit of the Spirit that it often passes before others as the real thing and achieves many valuable results in human society. But where both these are happily joined, how shining is that person, and universally beloved? We are pleased and charmed with your conversation, whose manners are polished, and whose language is refined from the rude and vulgar ways of speech. You know how to speak civil things, without flattery, on all occasions; to instruct, without assuming a superior air, and to reprove without a frown, or forbidding appearance. You have learned when to speak, and when to be silent, and to perform every act of life with its proper graces; and can you be content with all this good breeding, to be thrown into hell? Is it not a pity that you should be taught to pay all your honours to men, and practise none to the living God? Have you not read those duties in connection: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pet. 2:17) And why will you divide what God has joined, and give every one their due, besides God your Maker? how dare you treat the creatures with decency and ceremony, and treat God the Creator with neglect? salute all men with their proper titles of distinction, and not learn how to address God in prayer? pay due visits to all your acquaintance, and yet scarce ever make a visit to the mercy seat, or bow your knees before the Majesty of Heaven.

They are to be pitied who are perfectly obliging, and practise civility in every form; but know very little of the forms of godliness, and have never yet felt anything of the life of religion, or the powers of the world to come. How mournful a sight is it to behold a well accomplished person, yet a vile sinner! A pleasant and obliging youth among men, but deaf and obstinate to all the calls of God, and the entreaties of a dying Saviour! A person whose conduct is free and open, yet in chains of slavery to corruption and death! and how unspeakably sorrowful will it be at the last day, to see such as these, the cheerful, the affable, the fair-spoken, and the well-bred sinner, in the utmost agonies of horror and despair, mourning a lost God, a lost soul, and a lost heaven!

And may the following words provoke you to jealousy. Will the rugged and unrefined part of mankind press forward into that kingdom which you despise ? Will you be patient to see some of the un-bred and unpolished set at the right hand of the Judge, and yourselves with shame, be divided to the left? How will you endure to see the honours of heaven put upon those whom you have so often despised in your hearts on earth? Can you imagine that that tribunal will be bribed with fair speeches? or that anything will be accepted in that court, besides solid and hearty religion? Take to heart this exhortation then, and receive this advice, you that are not used to deny anything to your friends, you that love to oblige those who ask any reasonable favor at your hands.

3. To those that have enjoyed the blessing of religious parents, and a pious education; that have been raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, in the knowledge, and practice of the moral law, and in the outward performance of religion, according to the appointments of the gospel. You know the catechisms, you have benefited from exposure to divine truths and have been kept from the common snares of this world; but we pity you, from our very souls, when we behold you break the bars of your education, and making haste to ruin when, at best, you go on and tread the circle of outward duties, as you are led by custom and form, with a neglect of inward Christianity, and wholehearted godliness.

Did your parents love God above all earthly things, and will you prefer the love of this world above all things heavenly and divine? Have you had such good examples of holiness brought so near you to no purpose! Do they pray for you every day? Do they mourn over you day by day, and hope, and wish, and exhort you to take care of your souls? And are you resolved that their counsels, their prayers, and their tears, will be laid out upon you in vain! Is this the return you make for all their care and compassion? They tell you frequently that they can have no greater joy than to see their children walking in the truth, and will you cruelly disappoint their pleasures, and bring down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave?

There has often come a time for the children of godly parents to part with them, as their spirits went to be at rest; and it has sadly often been the case that neither their life, nor their death, made any serious and lasting impressions upon them. They were entreated in their last dying moments, by all that is dear and sacred, to make sure of heaven. But they abandoned these entreaties, and sold their souls to the world, and to death, for a few perishing temptations. They laid a solemn charge upon them, at their last farewell, to travel in the paths of piety, and meet them on mount Sion in the great day; and tragically many have wandered from this high road of holiness, and forgot the solemnity of the charge. Will this be your case? Will your parents dwell for ever with their God, and will their children for ever dwell in fire prepared for the devil and his angels?

Your sin is even less excusable than others. You have to break through stronger restraints, and do bolder violence to your consciences, before you can indulge iniquity, and pursue wickedness. Your temptations to sin have been less than others, and your advantages for salvation have been much greater. It is painful to think of your double guilt, and your aggravated damnation; to think that you should not only be separated from your parents, and their God, for ever, but that your place of torment will be the hottest also among all your companions in misery.

What anguish and inward exasperation will seize you, when you will reflect how much you were raised in outward privileges, and how near you were brought to heaven! and how you neglected your interest, and your hopes there, for the trifles of this life, for a base lust, or a foolish vanity! What will you say, when you will see many coming from the east, and from the west, from families of wickedness, from the ends of the earth, and from the borders of hell, and sit down with your fathers in the kingdom of heaven; while you, the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 8:11, 12)

4. To those who have made some efforts in seeking after eternal life, and are still searching for the way there. Be careful not to rest in the mere practice of moral duties, or in the outward profession of Christianity: never content yourselves with the righteousness of the Pharisee. Were your virtues more glorious than they are, and your righteousness more perfect, they could never answer for your former guilt, before the throne of a just and holy God. It is only the atonement of Christ, and his all-sufficient sacrifice, which can stand for you there; and it is a tragedy that a youth, of so much virtue, should fall short of heaven, and be but almost a Christian. It is a pity that you should have gained so large a share of knowledge, and so honourable a character of self control, and, after all, lack the one thing needful, an universal change, and renovation of your hearts, by receiving the gospel. Have you gone this far, and will you not go on to perfection? Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. (2 John 8)

It is a sad thing that you should inquire about the way to heaven, and not walk in it, when it is marked out before your feet with so much plainness: it is a sad thing that you should indulge in the love of this world so far, as to allow it to prevent you from searching out a better one; or at best, when you receive instructions about your souls, you let the affairs of this life overwhelm and bury that good seed, and it never grows up to practice. What would you say of the folly of a man, who has a long and difficult journey to make, to take possession of a large inheritance, and once a week he comes to ask about the way, and hears a promising description of all the road. Perhaps he mourns his long neglect, and resolves to finally undertake the journey; but the next six days are filled up with a thousand trifles; and when the seventh returns, he has not taken one step forward in the way?

Realize! Be aware that it is not an easy thing to be saved: laziness, and mere inquiries, will never bring about your happiness, nor secure your souls from perdition: and all the pains you have already taken will be lost, if you give up the pursuit. Let me call some of you this day to remember your former labours, the prayers and tears that you have poured out in secret before God; remember your days of darkness, and your nights of terror, the groans of conscience, and the inward agonies you felt, when you were first awakened to finally see your guilt and danger; remember these hours, and these sorrows; and love and pity your own souls so far, as to continue the work, and do not let your pains be lost: Have you suffered so many things in vain, if indeed it was in vain; (Gal 3:4) You have wrestled with some sins, and have in part got the control over them; and will a secret, cherished lust overcome you at last, and slay your souls with eternal death? You have resisted the tempter in some of his assaults, and put the powers of hell to flight; will you give yourselves up at last to be led in triumph by Satan, and become his everlasting slaves? There is such promise in those victories you have already obtained, that I can only be hoped you will press onward through the field of battle, fulfil the warfare, and receive the crown.

Christian friends look upon you with concern and pity: they love you, because you have progressed so far in religion; but you will not be the beloved of God, if you stop here, or go back again to sin and folly. There were hopeful prospects for you once, and some might have said to our Lord in prayer, "Surely these will be one day the inhabitants, and pillars in your house; these young plants will one day be fruitful trees in your vineyard; they will be pillars in your holy temple." But sadly! there is a chill upon these hopes, there seems a darkness and a lethargy upon your souls: to look upon you in all these your abilities and talents, one can only mourn over you with compassion, and with whatever zeal we can express our grief and our concern: "Awake, young sinners, who have deserved our love; awake, that you do not sleep into everlasting death."

5. Next, as for the rich in this world who also possess the good qualities of the young man in our text, though none of us may now be in this category, who knows but that we may be in the future. And if we have friends or family who fit the description what can we say to them?

You are wealthy yet kind and courteous to those below you, like the young man in our text; you pay due respect to the things of religion; you go out of your way to ask the same question, What shall we do to inherit eternal life? And you receive the response from the word of God, Do not love the world, or the things of the world; for if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15) If riches increase, do not set your heart on them. Put to death your affections for the things of the earth, and deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow Christ: become his disciples, without reserve, in faith, and love, and universal holiness. While we propose these paths to eternal happiness, will it be said concerning you, they went away sorrowful, having great possessions ?

Your kind and gracious behavior, stand out all the more the bigger your circumstances are, the more commendable is your humble attention to the ministers of Christ, and your readiness to hear their words: but will you be hearers only, and never practise? The time is coming, and the hour fast approaches, when you will stand on the borders of the grave, and look into that world of spirits, where all the honours and distinctions of this world are irrelevant. You will be stripped of those vanities which you loved above God and heaven. Think how mean and despicable a figure your souls will make amongst fallen angels, if the love of this world, and neglect of God, should bring you into that dreadful company. What cheerful and swelling figures soever you have made on earth, you will make but a poor and wretched one in that world, if you are found destitute of the riches of grace; and it will be a mournful inscription written on your tomb, "This rich man died—and he lift up his eyes in hell ." (Luke 16:23) But, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. (Heb. 6:9)

And so we come to the end of the first general exhortation, to those who possess some valuable qualities, but through the love of this world are tempted to neglect heaven.

II. The second exhortation is addressed to those who are weaned, to some good degree, from this world, and have treasures in heaven, but lack those good qualities which might make them amiable while on earth. Granted that there is no direct commission from our text to address you here: but it is sad that a rich young man should go to hell possessing some more lovely virtues than you have, who are actually in the way to heaven.

You have chosen God for your eternal portion, and your highest hope; you have chosen his Son Jesus for your only Mediator, and your way to the Father; you have chosen the worship and the ordinances of God as your dearest delight; you are the chosen objects of the love of God, and his grace has inclined you to love him above all things. Would that no blot would be cast upon so many excellencies. Be advised therefore to seek after that agreeable temper and conduct which may make you beloved of men too; that the wisest and best of men may choose you for an honour to their acquaintance and company. This will render your profession more honourable, and make religion itself look more lovely in the sight of the world.

What a dark stain it is to our Christianity, when we hear it said, “Here is a man who professes the gospel of grace, but he does not practise even basic social decencies! He tells us, that he belongs to heaven; but he has so little of humanity in his behavior, that he is hardly fit to be in company on earth." Will it be said of any of you, "Here is one that pretends to the love of God, but he is ill-tempered, rude in his behaviour, and makes a very unattractive impression amongst men? Let him fill what role he will in the church, he is of a disagreeable character in his house, and disgraces the family or the city where he dwells. What his secret virtues or graces are, these are all hidden, for they shine all inward: he keeps all his goodness to himself, and never allows his light to shine out among his neighbours.

Could I let it be said concerning me, "He seems indeed to have something of the love of God in him, but he is so rough in his natural character, and so uncorrected in his manners, that scarce any one loves him? He may go to God in prayer, but he does not have common civility towards men. His morality and honesty do not adorn him with honour: his virtue does not seem to sit well around him, and his religion is dressed in a very unpleasing form." Is this the way to enhance the gospel’s reputation? Is this to adorn the doctrine of our Saviour in all things? (Tit. 2:10) When we become Christians, we put away bitterness and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, and filthiness, and crude joking; Eph. 4:31, 5. We are commanded to speak evil of no man, not to be harsh; but to be gentle, and show meekness to all; Tit. 3:2. to prefer one another in honour; to bless, and not curse; to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep; to associate with the lowly; and, if possible, to live peaceably with all men; Rom. 12:14, 15, 16, 18.

And do you see any of these unpleasant traits in yourself! Did you ever read these words in your Bibles? Do you think these are the commands of Christ, or not? You profess to love him above all, but what care have you taken to obey these precepts of his? or do you think the sublime practices of faith and adoration will make those lower duties needless? Have you found the sweetness of being at peace with God, and tasted of the pleasures of his love; and can you disregard all the practices and pleasures of love and peace among men?

We are not required indeed to sell truth for peace, nor strict godliness for the forms of civility. There is no need that we should conform ourselves to any of the sinful practices of this world, in order to fulfil the law of love. But wheresoever the customs of the place where we dwell are consistent with the strict and holy rules of Christ, we should practise them so far, as to make ourselves agreeable to those with whom we interact, that we may shine in the world to the honour of Christ, and that unbelievers may be won by our conversation, to come and hear our gospel, to learn the same faith, and embrace the same hope: Not only the things that are true, and honest, and just, and pure, but the things that are lovely in the sight of men, and things that are of good report, must be the subjects of our meditation, our learning, and practice; Paul, that great apostle, did not think these things unworthy of his care; Phil. 4:8. He enjoins them upon the early Christians from his own example, and promises them the presence of the God of peace. These are the things which I have taught you, said he, these you have heard and seen in me; conform your manners to these rules, and the God of peace will be with you; ver. 9.

Surely the natural tendency of Christianity is to decency and goodness: We disguise the religion of our Saviour, and make it look unlike itself, if our demeanor is sour and fretful, if our manners are coarse and rude, and our speech is rough and wrathful. A Israelite of old might have a better excuse for a harsh and severe demeanor than a Christian can have; he might put on a gloomy air with better reason, and plead the dispensation he was under, the bondage of the law, and the terrors of mount Sinai. But we, under the gospel, are free-born; Gal. 4:26, 31, and our manner should be innocent in all respects. John the Baptist, in his garment of camel’s hair, may be indulged in a roughness of speech; he was but a forerunner of the gospel, and can hardly be called a Christian: But the followers of the Lamb should have such a mild aspect, a pleasing manner, that every one who meets them may love them too; that the Son of God, if he were here upon earth, might look upon us, and love us in both his natures: with a divine and human love.

III. Thirdly, The last address is to those who are blessed with every good quality, and every divine grace, who are beloved by God and men. Such a one was our Lord Jesus Christ in his days on earth: He, from his very childhood, increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men; Luke 2:52. He must have grown daily in the knowledge of God’s love: and as his acquaintance increased in his younger years, the number of his friends must have increased also, until his divine commission made it necessary for him to oppose the corruptions of his country, and reform a wicked age, and in this way expose himself to the anger of a nation that would not be reformed.

There was something lovely in his human nature, beyond the common appearance of mankind; for his body was a temple, in which the godhead dwelt in a peculiar and transcendent manner, and his soul was intimately united to divinity. The psalmist says of him You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Psalm 45:2. If the Jews saw no beauty in him, if his face was marred more than the sons of men, it was because he was a man of uncommon sorrows, and acquainted with grief; which might cast something of heaviness or gloom upon his appearance, or wear out the features of youth too soon. But surely our Lord, in the whole composition of his nature, in the mildness of his demeanor, and in all the graces of conversation, was the chiefest of ten thousands, and altogether lovely. How amiable are those who are made like him!

Such was John the beloved disciple; you may read the nature of his soul in his epistles: What a spirit of love breathes in every line! What compassion and tenderness to the infants in Christ! What condescending affection to the young men, and hearty good-will to the fathers, who were then his equals in age! With what kind language does he treat the beloved Gaius, in his third letter; and with how much civility, and hearty kindness, does he address the elect lady and her children, in the second! In his younger years, indeed, he seems to have had something more of fire and vehemence, for which he was surnamed A son of thunder; Mark 3:17. But our Lord saw so much good temper in him, mixed with that sprightliness and zeal, that he expressed much pleasure in his company, and favoured him with peculiar honours and endearments above the rest. This is the disciple who was taken into the holy mount with James and Peter, and saw our Lord glorified before the time: this is the disciple who leaned on his bosom at the holy supper, and was indulged in the utmost freedom of conversation with his Lord; John 13:23, 24, 25. This is the man who obtained this glorious title, The disciple whom Jesus loved; that is, with a distinguishing and particular love. As God, and as a Saviour, he loved them all like saints; but as man, he loved the apostle John like a friend; John 21:20, and when hanging on the cross, and just expiring, he committed his mother to his care; a most precious and convincing pledge of special friendship.

O how happy are the persons who most nearly resemble this apostle, who are so privileged, so divinely blessed! How infinitely are you indebted to God your Benefactor, and your Father, who has endowed you with so many valuable accomplishments on earth, and assures you of the happiness of heaven! It is he who has made you attractive, or wise; it is he who has given you ingenuity, or riches, or, perhaps, has favoured you with all these; and yet has weaned your hearts from the love of this world, and led you to the pursuit of eternal life: it is he that has cast you in so refined a mould, and given, you so sweet a disposition, that has inclined you to sobriety and every virtue, has raised you to honour and esteem, has made you possessors of all that is desirable in this life, and appointed you a nobler inheritance in that which is to come. What thankfulness does every power of your natures owe to your God! that heaven looks down upon you, and loves you, and the world around you fix their eyes upon you, and love you: that God has formed you in so bright a resemblance of his own Son, his first-beloved, and has ordained you joint-heirs of heaven with him; Rom. 7:17.

Watch hourly against the temptations of pride; remember the fallen angels, and their once exalted position; and be careful lest you also be puffed up with pride and fall into the same condemnation as the devil; 1 Tim. 3:6. Walk before God with the greatest care, and in deepest humility. Let that divine veil be spread over all your honours, that as you are the fairest images of Christ, you may be dressed like him too; for he who is the highest Son of God, is also the holiest of the sons of men; he who is personally united to the godhead, and is one with his Creator, is the humblest of every creature.