One Thing Needful.
"One thing thou lackest." - MARK x. 21.

IT is not raw recruits, beardless boys, that are thrown into the fiery breach, or placed in the front of battle. On the contrary, where the bullets fly the thickest, and the carnage rages fiercest, the ground is held by veterans - men that, inured to war, and familiar with the sight of blood, the flash of steel, and the roar of cannon, wear stern determination on their faces, and scars and medals on their breasts. The post of danger is assigned to veterans. Heavy burdens are for the back, not of boys, but men. This is common sense; and to deal otherwise were to deal unwisely and unfairly. It were little else than murder to bid a boy who had just left his mother’s side, nor set foot before on a deck, climb the shrouds to reef the top-sails in a storm, when masts bent to the breaking, and the ship was reeling down into the trough of the sea. What man who loved his son, and possessed sense and consideration, would put inexperienced youth to so severe a trial?
Why, then, since Jesus really loved the young ruler, did he try him in a way that would have put the faith of the oldest Christian to the strain? Samson’s hair is left time to grow; nor is it till his shoulders are covered with flowing locks that he has to confront the shaggy lion. He is grown to manhood before he is called to the work, not of one, but of a thousand men. But here Christ calls one young in years, and younger still in his regard to himself, to undertake a gigantic task; and when the boy who, so to speak, has never seen the flash of steel before, is ordered to the front - into the very thick of the fight, and shrinks back, I confess that at first sight I wonder less at that, than that Jesus should have exposed a stripling to so sore a trial. Let the best and oldest Christian imagine himself in this young man’s circumstances! Suppose his case to be yours! Think how you would feel were you suddenly called on to give away all the earnings of a life-time or to part with an ancestral estate - the old house, the old trees, the lands that had been in your family for many generations - or to leave a pleasant home, the scenes of your boyhood, the society of dear friends, reputation, wealth, rank, to descend at a step into the condition of a beggar; and follow the fortunes of a man himself so poor, that he had not a place where to lay his head. Would not that make the boldest of us hesitate ; the strongest stagger? It was a dreadful trial. How many of us could stand it, God only knows! But if any look more with scorn than sympathy on this faltering youth, I do not; and such as feel quite confident that they would have acted a nobler part would do well to remember the warning "Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as he that putteth it off."
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest - Take my yoke upon you, for it is easy; and my burden, for it is light," said our blessed Lord. Most gracious words! And what object could this loving Saviour have in laying what appeared so heavy a burden on the back of this youth? It was his real good. It was not to break the back of the man, but of his pride. It was not to repel, but to attract him; not to quench the smoking flax, but to blow it into a flame. By the use of a test whereby he might be convinced that he was not what he seemed to others, nor even to himself, our Lord sought to bring him to a true knowledge of himself; and that, in fact, so far as genuine faith and piety were concerned, these words were true of him, "One thing thou lackest."
I. How important one thing may be.
The want of one thing may make void the presence of all things else. Lacking its mainspring - which is but one thing - a watch with jewels, wheels, pinions, and beautiful mechanism, the finest watch indeed that was ever made, is of no more use than a stone. A sundial without its gnomen, as it is called, time’s iron finger that throws its shadow on the circling hours - but one thing also - is as useless in broad day as in the blackest night. A ship may be built of the strongest oak, with masts of the stoutest pine, and manned by the best officers and crew, but I sail not in her if she lacks one thing - that trembling needle which a child running about the deck might fancy a toy; on that plaything, as it looks, the safety of all on board depends - lacking that, but one thing, the ship shall be their coffin, and the deep sea their grave. It is thus with true piety, with living faith. That one thing wanting, the greatest works, the costliest sacrifices, and the purest life, are of no value in the sight of God - are null and void.
Still further, to impress you with the valuelessness of every thing without true piety, and show how its presence imparts such worth to a believer’s life and labours, as to make his mites weigh more than other men’s millions, and his cup of cold water more precious than their cups of gold - let me borrow an illustration from arithmetic. Write down a line of cyphers! You may add thousands, multiplying them till the sheets they fill cover the face of earth and heaven, they express nothing; and are worth nothing. Now take the lowest number of the ten, the smallest digit ; and place that at their head - magic never wrought such a change! What before amounted to nothing rises instantly by the addition of one figure, one stroke of the pen, into thousands, or millions, as the case may be; and whether they represent pounds or pearls, how great is the sum of them! Such power resides in true faith - in genuine piety.
It may be the lowest piety - but one degree above zero; it may be the love of smoking flax ; the hope of a bruised reed; the faith of a mustard seed; the hesitating, faltering confidence of him who cried, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." Still, so soon as it is inwrought by the Spirit of God, it changes the whole aspect of a man’s life and the whole prospect of his eternity. It is that one important thing, wanting which, however amiable, moral, said even apparently religious we may be, our Lord addresses us, as he did the young ruler, saying, "One thing thou lackest." Sad to say, the one thing lacking is the one thing needful.
This interesting and alarming case suggests two or three cautions, which we would do well to ponder and attend to. Our heart being by nature deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, we are prone to say, Peace, peace, when there is no peace to be found; and I pray you, therefore, to observe -
II. That we may be amiable without being religious.
It is sad to find grace associated in some Christian people with an unkindly, uncharitable, sour, severe, stern, or sullen temper. It should not be so. It presents a most unhappy and incongruous conjunction - one that, to borrow the wise man’s figure, is "like a jewel in a swine’s snout." If the world’s enmity to God and his image is such that a Christian is not a man loved, be it so; but let him be lovely and loving - let him be like Christ! What a lovely example his! Into whose eye did Jesus ever bring a tear; in whose pillow one thorn? The very look he bore bred hope in the bosom of despair, and invited the guiltiest to his feet. The voice that ruled the wild elements of nature was low and sweet to win the confidence of childhood; and he who was more than a man among men became a child to children. Ready to serve all, he had tears for them that wept, and ears for them that begged; a helping hand for such as needed, and forgiveness for such as sinned; peace for a weeping Magdalene; prayers for murderers; paradise for a dying thief; and for all that suffered such ready sympathy, that on his visit to Bethany, after Lazarus’ death, Martha, never doubting it, passionately exclaimed, "If thou hadst been here my brother had not died." Well did a woman, as she hung on his lips, drink in his words; and looking up into a face where human mildness was blended with divine majesty, raise her hands to exclaim, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked."
His life is a picture not to admire only, but to copy; a pattern to imitate by constant attention to such counsels as these: Be courteous; be merciful; forgiving and forbearing with one another; be kindly affectionate toward one another in brotherly love; condescend to those that are of low estate ; let not the sun go down upon your wrath; let no wrath, or malice, or evil speaking, proceed out of your mouth; love one another, as I have loved you; love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. Alas! that Christians should, as thay often do, mar the appearance and impair the influence of their piety by neglecting these beautiful rules! They shine; but like a lamp where the flame gleams dimly through foul and smoky glass. John Baptist was not only a burning but a shining light; and we should never forget the emphatic word of this saying - "Let your light so shine" - shine so bright, with such a smokeless flame, through a life of such transparent purity - "that others seeing your good works may glorify your Father which is in heaven."
Though to be lamented, it is not to be denied, that grace has a hard struggle in some with a naturally harsh, imperious, uncharitable temper. If I sought among good men, not a resemblance, but in one aspect a contrast, to our Lord himself, I find in Jonah, as he stands here in Scripture, rather a beacon to warn men off, than a light to guide them on. Though a great sinner, and one who had experienced much mercy and a most remarkable deliverance from death at the hand of God, see how that stern and gloomy man can calmly contemplate the destruction of Nineveh, with its six score thousand children who knew not their right hand from their left! The city is spared ; and now, lest his reputation should sustain some injury, and he, forsooth, be accounted a false prophet, he frets and fumes! What is man? What a pitiable exhibition this, of pride and selfishness! It has led some to doubt whether, with such an ungenial and ungracious temper, he did not belong to the Balaam order of prophets - whether he was really a true man of God. We feel no such doubt. Still his case proves how much the grace of God has sometimes to contend with; how much it has to overcome; and how true the saying, Grace will live where neither you nor I could. Grace living in Jonah’s heart appears a greater wonder thai Jonah living in the whale’s belly; and his final deliverance from a temper so proud and rugged was, at least, as great a miracle as when the monster, cleaving its way through the deep, struck the shore and vomited him out safe on dry land. No true Christian shall die, and therefore no true Christian thould be content to live with such dispositions, and in such a state; for though fruit when first formed be green and sour, it always sweetens as it ripens, and mellows to its fall. All whom God justifies, he will certainly, sooner or later sanctify. While saving grace, as is shewn by the case of Jonah, may be found where there is a sad want of natural graces, as they are called, on the other hand, these have adorned many who were entire strangers to the grace of God. Beware of confounding them: mistaking the one for the other; or imagining that natural graces ever can compensate for the grace that is to salvation. We may be possessed of much that is beautiful, without anything holy - presenting features of character more or less analogous to those of nature. The moor with bushes of golden gorse, the hills robed in purple, the woodlands where bright sunbeams play on a carpet of many-coloured sorrel, hyacinths, and anemones, the banks by the waterside fragrant with thyme, or studded with modest primroses - these uncultivated wilds have beautiful flowers; and in affectionate parents, sweet children, gentle sisters, loving brothers, kind acquaintances, and when a man’s back is at the wall, friends true as steel, our unsanctified nature presents beautiful specimens of humanity. What an example of this, the man before us! Yet turning his back on Christ, and going away sorrowful because he had great possessions, how does he warn us that the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, may want the one thing needful! However lovely and loved you may be, and indeed deserve to be, except you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.
III. There may be much moral correctness without true religion.
To us there seems a wide difference between the judge, with the robes of office on his back, mind in his eye, and dignity in his mien, and that poor, pale, haggard wretch at the bar, who throws stealthy glances around, and hangs his head with shame. Yet the difference that looks so great to man may be very small in the eyes of God; and would look small in ours if we knew the different upbringings and history of both. The judge never knew what it was to want a meal; the felon often went cold and hungry to bed. The one, sprung of wise, kind, reputable, and perhaps pious parents, was early trained to good, and launched, with all the advantages of school and college, on an honourable and high career; while the other, bred up a stranger to the amenities of cultivated and Christian society, had no such advantages. Born to misery, his struggles with misfortune and evil began at the cradle. None ever took him by the hand to lead him to church or schoof. A child of poverty, and the offspring of abandoned parents, he was taught no lesson but how to swear, and lie, and drink, and cheat, and steal. The fact is, it is just as difficult for some to be honest as it is easy for others. What merit has that judge in his honesty? None. He had no temptation to be else than honest. Ad so, I suspect, much of the morality of that unblemished character and decent life in which many trust, saying to some poor guilty thing, "Stand aside, I am holier than thou," and pluming themselves on this, that they have not sinned as others have done - is due, less to their superior virtue, than to their more favourable circumstances. Have they not sinned as others have done? I reply, They have not been tempted as others have been. And so the difference between many honest men and decent women on the one hand, and those on the other hand on whom a brand of infamy has been burned and the key of a prison turned, may be just the difference between the green branch on the tree and the white ashes on the hearth. This is bathed in the dews of night and fanned by the breath of heaven, while that, once as green, has been thrust into the burning fire - the one has been tried in a way that the other has not. No doubt God’s grace can preserve man in temptation as his presence did the bush that was wrapped in flames and burned unconsumed. Not otherwise, however, can any be preserved. Therefore it becomes us to be clothed with humility; ever praying, Lead us not into temptation. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
Taking into account the fortunate and favourable circumstances in which some are reared, we can thus explain this youth’s reply to our Lord’s repetition of the commandments, "Master, all these have I observed from my youth." A child of fortune, the heir of affluence, reared perhaps with pious care, with a noble property to supply his wants, an honourable station to sustain, and kind parents to win his affections, it is easy to account for his observance of the law - such as it was. It did not require an element of divine love in his heart, or of true piety in his character. His purse filled with money, what temptation had he to steal? Blessed with an amiable temper, he had none of those quick and fiery passions which explode into acts of violence, and hurry others into unpremeditated crime, having the honour of a holy office to sustain, no wonder that he was not addicted to the grosser sins! Possessing kind affections, and blessed with indulgent parents, no wonder that he honours them if living, and if dead, cherishes their memory and adorns their tomb.
This man did not know the spiritual nature of God’s law, and how is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and how there may be adultery in a look, theft in a desire, and murder in an angry passion. Otherwise he had not replied, "Master, all these things have I observed from my youth ;" but cried, Alas! alas! my Master, all these things have I broken, from my youth - save me, I perish! And since, with affections so amiable, and a life as fair as ever won the esteem of mankind, he yet lacked the one thing needful; since he had nothing of godliness but a form of religion but an empty shell; since the eye of Jesus, under his fair exterior, detected a selfish and unregenerate heart, what need have we to try ourselves? Your temper may be sweeter than Jonah’s, still you may lack the one thing needful; your life may be purer than David’s, still you may lack the one thing needful; you may be more honest than one to whom a dying Saviour opened the gates of Paradise, and a pattern of filial obedience, you may be able to say with the elder brother of the prodigal, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment," still you may lack the one thing needful. This goodly exterior may be but the garish paint and odorous wrappings of a mummy case; within, is only dust and death. Let a man, then, examine himself, who may have still to be saved. Look within. Is the heart right with God? Unless it is right, all is wrong. Nor only try yourselves, but ask the Searcher of hearts to try you, crying, "0 Lord, search me, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
IV. We may feel some interest and even anxiety about good things without true religion. In this case, the path, as we advance, grows gloomier; the subject more solemn; the gate seems to straiten, and the road becomes narrower that leads to eternal life. How much is there here to alarm the careless, and to warn us all! Here is a man so amiable that he won our Lord’s affections - "Jesus loved him," yet without saving grace; here is a man of the highest nature, yet without saving grace; here is a man repairing to the very fountain-head of life, seeking it in Christ, yet a stranger to the grace of God - lost, forever lost, so far as we know or read in Scripture. The curtain drops on him, with his face turned to the world, and his back to heaven.
I look on. this as one of the most alarming cases in the sacred record. How loudly it calls professing Christians to try the foundations on which their hopes are resting! Are there not many who in their life, their manners, their disposition and deportment, come far short of one who himself came short of eternal life? and if he missed the prize, what feasible, possible ground have they to hope for it? He had something, but they have nothing in them for Jesus to love; nor can they in any sense whatever say, "Master, all these things have I observed from my youth." If a man outwardly so good did not get to heaven, then how are they to get there? "If these things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry ?" If the righteous, not like this man the nominally, but the really righteous, those who have been washed in the blood of the Son, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, are scarcely saved, where shall the wicked and the ungodly appear? "Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
This ruler gave more apparent evidence of saving grace perhaps than you do - than many certainly do who repair to the Lord’s table and bear an excellent character in the church. Look at his earnestness! He did not postpone to some more convenient period the concerns of his soul; on the contrary, these engrossed his attention, and eagerly bent on this great object, like a man thoroughly in earnest, engaged in an affair that brooked no delay, "he came running to Christ." Look at his humility! A noble by birth, a ruler by office, a man of high position and immense wealth, see him kneeling at the feet of one who drew his first breath in a stable, and wandered the world so poor that he had not a place, other than the cold ground, where to lay his head. Look at this respect and reverence! Others called Jesus a glutton and wine-bibber, the associate of publicans and friend of sinners; not so this man. He may call others Rabbi, but the carpenter’s son and maligned of Pharisees, he esteems and honours above all - Jesus is not Master merely, but good Master; "Good Master," he says, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life ?" Then look at the object he sought to grasp! Though possessed of everything this world could afford, or its worshippers desire - a happy temper, the affection of friends, a noble reputation, possessions greater than his wants, he felt a void within that the world could not fill. Aspiring after honours which God only can give, and seeking a house eternal in the heavens, he looks beyond this world; and more than that, as if he knew the avenger was at his heels, and heard his step and breathing close behind, see with what speed he runs to the City of refuge! Yonder is Christ. He makes right for the crowd; dashes into it; elbows his way through; and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, cries, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? No wonder that the disciples, when they saw such a man turn his back on Christ,. and heard our Lord pronounce it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, were astonished out of measure; and said, Who then can be saved? If this good ship does not make the harbour, what hope for others?
"Who then can be saved ?" We are prepared to answer the question. All, the greatest sinners, may be saved that seek what this young ruler lacked. If a man, clinging to this wreck, will stay in it, he shall perish - sink with the sinking ship. But accept the offer Christ makes of peace by the blood of his cross, and you are saved; saved in spite of your riches, as well as of your sins. This man went away sorrowful. But you may go away joyful; not gloomy but glad; rejoicing in the Lord, and joying in the God of your salvation. Mercy to pardon all your sins, and blood to cleanse your guilty souls, faith to believe in Christ and grace to follow him, are at your acceptance. God makes a free offer of them now. Close with it! Cast yourselves at the Saviour’s feet, and you shall rise to say, Jesus! lead on! I follow. Farewell father and mother; farewell brother and sister; farewell lover and friend; farewell riches and reputation; farewell ease and indulgence. I accept this cross. Lead on, Lord! where thou goest I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God shall be my God.

Home | Links | Sermons | Literature | Biography | Photos