Matthew 19:21 MEANING

Matthew 19:21
(21) Jesus said unto him . . .--St. Mark (Mark 10:21) adds the striking and interesting words, "Jesus beholding him" (better, perhaps, gazing on him), "loved him." There was something in the young seeker after holiness which drew to him, in a measure altogether exceptional, the affection of the Great Teacher. The same word is used in regard to him which is used in relation to the "disciple whom Jesus loved," and (here the coincidence takes its place in the chain of evidence for the view above suggested) to Lazarus, and Martha, and Mary (John 11:5). There was the fervour, the longing after a higher life, the personal trust, which made him a not unworthy object of the love of Jesus, and therefore He would not spare the discipline which the questioner needed, the test which, being such as he was, was required for the completeness of his life.

If thou wilt be perfect.--Better, if thou wishest. St. Mark and St. Luke report the words, "One thing thou lackest," reminding us forcibly of the "One thing is needful" of Luke 10:42. (See Note on Matthew 19:16.)

Go and sell that thou hast.--It would be altogether a mistake to see in this either an obligation binding on all seekers after eternal life, or even what has been called a "counsel of perfection," a precept laying down an indispensable condition for all who aim at its higher forms and powers. It was strictly a remedy for the special evil which hindered the young ruler's progress to perfection, applicable to others so far only as their cases are analogous. It would be idle to deny that there have been and are many such analogous types of character, and so far as any one is conscious of being under the power of wealth and its temptations, so far there is a call to some act asserting his victory over those temptations, in the spirit, if not in the letter, of the command thus given. But it is, we must remember, the spirit, and not the letter, which is binding. Distribution to the poor was then almost the only form of charity. A wider range of action is presented by the organisation of modern Christian societies, and the same sacrifice may be made in ways more productive of true and permanent good; in the foundation, e.g., of schools or hospitals, in the erection of churches, in the maintenance of home or foreign missions.

Treasure in heaven.--The parallelism with the Sermon on the Mount should not be forgotten (5:20). The "treasure" is the "eternal life" which the young ruler was seeking, the memory of good deeds, the character formed and perfected, the vision of the presence of God.

Come and follow me.--Here again St. Mark adds words that are pregnant with meaning, "Take up thy cross, and follow Me." The seeker could not then understand all their significance. To the Teacher that cross was now coming, day by day, nearer, and He saw that each true disciple must be prepared to follow Him in that path of suffering, which was also the path of glory. "Via cruris, via lucis."

Verse 21. - If thou wilt (θέλεις) be perfect. I believe what you tell me. You have led a religious life in the ordinary way; now yon aspire to higher things; you have a noble ambition to serve God more completely; yon have the power, if you have the will, to do so; I will tell you how. To be "perfect" is to be lacking in nothing that is required for life eternal. It is spoken of Noah and Job; it is required of Christ's disciples (Matthew 5:48). Christ is here giving a counsel of perfection, as it is called, not of obligation on all men, but suited to the idiosyncrasy of this particular inquirer, and of others who are capable of such absolute self-surrender and trustfulness. Go and sell that thou hast. Go back to thy home, and sell all thy substance, all thy possessions. This was the counsel which Jesus gave, denoting the stumbling block which lay in the way of the ruler's endeavours after perfection. He was voluntarily to deprive himself of the earthly thing to which he fondly clung, his wealth, and to embrace a life of poverty and hardship. Give to the poor. The money obtained by the sale of his possessions he was to distribute, not to relations and friends, who might make some return, but to the poor, from whom he could expect no recompense. And thou shalt have treasure in heaven (Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:20). Thou shalt obtain that which thou desirest, eternal life. Not that stripping one's self of goods and giving to the poor does necessarily ensure the great reward, but, in this youth's case, such a sacrifice, such a victory over the besetting sin, would be the turning point in his character, and enable him to conquer all lesser temptations, and win the prize of his high calling. Here was to be proved love of man. But there was one more element in the required perfection, viz. love of God. Come and follow me. St Mark adds, "take up the cross." If he would have apostolic perfection, he must embrace the apostolic life. He must give up wealth, position, earthly ties, earthly occupations, must cast in his lot with the despised Jesus, suffer with him, and, if necessary, die with him. The twelve apostles had accepted Christ's call on these terms; from him was demanded the same sacrifice the same test of sincerity. He had wished to be exceptionally good; exceptional conduct was required from him in order to reach this high standard. The condition imposed, severe as it undoubtedly was, exactly suited the case, showed the weak spot in the ruler's character, and, if accepted fully and heartily, would have led him to perfection. Reading these words of our Lord, St. Anthony was so stricken in heart and conscience that he obeyed them literally, stripped himself of everything that he had, distributed to the needy, and went forth poor and naked, trusting to God to provide for him. Many in all ages, inspired by ardent love of life eternal, have done the same. We shall do well to recognize that there are two ways of serving God acceptably - there is the good life required from all religious Christians, and there is the life of perfection to which some, by God's special grace, are called, and which they embrace and fulfil. It was the latter life that Christ put before this young man.

19:16-22 Christ knew that covetousness was the sin which most easily beset this young man; though he had got honestly what he possessed, yet he could not cheerfully part with it, and by this his want of sincerity was shown. Christ's promises make his precepts easy, and his yoke pleasant and very comfortable; yet this promise was as much a trial of the young man's faith, as the precept was of his charity and contempt of the world. It is required of us in following Christ, that we duly attend his ordinances, strictly follow his pattern, and cheerfully submit to his disposals; and this from love to him, and in dependence on him. To sell all, and give to the poor, will not serve, but we are to follow Christ. The gospel is the only remedy for lost sinners. Many abstain from gross vices who do not attend to their obligations to God. Thousands of instances of disobedience in thought, word, and deed, are marked against them in the book of God. Thus numbers forsake Christ, loving this present world: they feel convictions and desires, but they depart sorrowful, perhaps trembling. It behoves us to try ourselves in these matters, for the Lord will try us.Jesus said unto him, if thou wilt be perfect,.... Wanting nothing, completely righteous, according to the tenor of the covenant of works, having no evil, concupiscence, or worldly lusts: our Lord signifies it was not enough to be possessed of negative holiness, and do no hurt to his neighbour, to his person, property, and estate, but he must love him, and do him good; and therefore, though so far as he had complied with the law, it was right and commendable; wherefore it is said by Mark, "that Jesus beholding him loved him"; had an affectionate regard to him as man, and approved of his intentions, seriousness, and actions, so far as agreeable; yet tells him,

one thing thou lackest: not but that he lacked many more, but he was only willing to observe one thing to him, as a trial of his love to his neighbour, which is the fulfilling of the law:

go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: not that either the law of God, or Gospel of Christ, require this to be done of all men, and at all times; for though it is a duty binding upon all, and always, to relieve the poor and the needy, yet a man is not obliged to give all that he has to them; see 2 Corinthians 8:11 nor does either legal or Christian perfection lie in doing this: a man may give all his goods to the poor and yet be destitute of the grace of God, 1 Corinthians 13:3 much less can such an action merit the heavenly treasure of eternal life. Nevertheless of some persons, and in some cases, it has been required, that they part with all their worldly substance, for the sake of Christ and his Gospel; as the apostles were called to leave all and follow Christ, as this man was also; for it is added,

and come and follow me: between these two, Mark puts, "take up the cross"; all which to do, was much more than to sell what he had, and give to the poor; and indeed, in this branch lies Gospel perfection, or to be really and truly a Christian: for to "come" to Christ, is to believe in him, lay hold on him, receive and embrace him as a Saviour and Redeemer; and to "follow" him, is to be obedient to his will, to be observant of his commands, to submit to his ordinances, and to imitate him in the exercise of grace, and discharge of duty; neither of which can be done, without "taking up the cross"; bearing reproach and persecution with patience; undergoing hardships and difficulties, of one sort or another, which attend faith in Christ, a profession of his name, and following him the Lamb, whithersoever he goes. The consequence of this now, not by way of merit, but by way of grace, is the enjoyment of the rich treasures of eternal glory: but this man was so far from complying with the latter, with coming to Christ, taking up the cross, and following him, that he could by no means agree to the former, parting with his worldly substance; and which is mentioned, as a test of his love to God and his neighbour, and to discover his sinful love of the world, and the things of it; and consequently, that he was far from being in a state of perfection. Moreover, it should be observed, that Christ is here speaking, not the pure language of the law, or according to the principles of the Gospel, when he seems to place perfection in alms deeds, and as if they were meritorious of eternal life; but according to the doctrine of the Pharisees, and which was of this man; and so upon the plan of his own notions, moves him to seek for perfection, and convicts him of the want of it, in a way he knew would be disagreeable to him; and yet he would not be able to disprove the method, on the foot of his own tenets: for this is their doctrine (e);

"It is a tradition, he that says this "sela", or shekel, is for alms, that my son may live, or I may be a son of the world to come, lo! , "this man is a perfect righteous man".''

The gloss adds,

"In this thing; and he does not say that he does not do it for the sake of it, but he fulfils the command of his Creator, who has commanded him to do alms; and he also intends profit to himself, that thereby he may be worthy of the world to come, or that his children may live.''

And so in answer to a question much like this, the young man put to Christ (f);

"How shall we come at the life of the world to come?''

It is replied,

"take thy riches, and give to the fatherless and the poor, and I will give thee a better portion in the law.''

(e) T. Bab. Pesach. fol. 8. 1, 2. & Roshhashanah, fol. 4. 1.((f) Zohar in Gen. fol. 60. 4.

Courtesy of Open Bible