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none good but one, that is God.” In the passage parallel to this, in Matthew's Gospel, a different reading is exhibited by some of the best manuscripts and most ancient versions—Why dost thou ask me concerning the good which thou must do?” To this reading an eminent critic objects, that it furnishes a less pertinent and intelligible reply, than what we have in Mark and Luke. But the weight of authority in its favour, is too great to be counterbalanced by a consideration of this kind, even if there were more intrinsic force in the objection than we think there is. The truth is, that the scope and spirit of the Saviour's answer, are not essentially affected by the difference in the readings. It was his object to show the young querist, that there was no connexion between eternal life, and the merit of human conduct. Now, to attain this object, the heavenly Teacher began by asserting, as a fundamental principle, that the only being in the universe really good, was God. To no other does absolute and independent goodness belong. His creatures all derive from him, whatever rectitude and purity they may, at any time, possess; and consequently they can do nothing to deserve, in the proper sense of the word, his approbation. Every blessing that they enjoy is a pure gratuity on the part of the Father of lights;" and so must be every blessing to which they can ever attain. After they have done the utmost that they can possibly effect, they are unprofitable servants. Their highest merit consists in this, that they have employed the means which their Creator confers, in acquitting themselves, to some humble degree, of the obligations under which his bounty has brought them. Such, briefly, is the nature, and such the precise amount, of human desert. And O! will any one of you, dear hearers, rely on this for salvation? Tell us, will you attach the fearful destinies of an undying soul, to such a brittle thread? Ah! you might as well throw yourself over the brow of the precipice, and trust to the strength of the spider's web to preserve you from destruction.
We have seen, then, that the first remark of our Lord involved an exposure of the mistaken views on religion, embraced by this young inquirer.—The Saviour's next observation was, “ Thou knowest the commandments ;" or, as the Evangelist Matthew has it, " But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” This language, of course, cannot be understood as implying, that the happiness of heaven may be merited by a regular and faithful observance of the precepts of the moral law. Jesus certainly intended to convey no such idea as this. But he thought that it might be well to take the querist on the ground which he had selected for himself—to reason with him, for a moment, on his own principles. He therefore referred him to the decalogue, which consists of an admirable summary of all our moral and religious duties. There can be no doubt, that if it were in any respect practicable for man to purchase the favourable regards of his Maker, a result so desirable and important could be connected only with a tenour of faultless and perpetual obedience to this heaven-descended code. To this effect speaks the apostle: “If there had been a law given, that could have given life, verily righteousness would have been by the law.”—Besides, the decalogue is one of the scriptural tests by which we are to try our conduct, for the purpose of ascertaining whether we are in the way to heaven. It is a rule of duty—a standard of rectitude-without which we cannot advance a single step in the great work of self-examination. You would like to know, anxious man, what is your chance for salvation. You would give us any thing, if we could only
take down the massy book of God's decrees, and remove your doubts, by assuring you that your name has a place in the register of the redeemed. We cannot do this. But we can put you in a way of obtaining the information which you seek almost as certainly and as accurately. We demand, then, whether you obey the moral law-obey it, we mean, in the spirit, no less than in the letter of it? Urge this query upon your conscience, remembering, at the same time, that the code of duties to which we refer, is designed to control the thoughts and emotions of the mind, as well as the actual movements of the body—a system of precepts, which, besides denouncing crime in the later and grosser stages of commission, extends its interdictions to the earliest impulsesthe incipient propensities of the spiritual being. If you thus keep the commandments of God-not perfectly, indeed, but so as to avoid the known and habitual violation of them in any one point-you shall inherit eternal life. Your obedience, though it is far, very far from investing you with a title to everlasting happiness, is an evidence, that you have an interest in the blood of Christ, and have been regenerated by the Spirit of the Most High. No one can observe the decalogue, in that strict and comprehensive sense of its requirements on which the New Testament insists, who does not also possess, at least in some humble degree, the entire assemblage of moral or religious qualities for which the Redeemer looks in his devoted followers. He who takes the law of Sinai for the rule of his life and of his heart, will ever be an individual, whose soul has been visited with penitence for sin, whose expectations of pardon rest on the death and intercession of Jesus, and in whose bosom love to God, with all its kindred sympathies, has become the master feeling. Thus we see, that the Saviour did not act improperly,
nor inconsistently with the spirit of the evangelical dispensation, when he referred this inquirer to the moral law, and repeated to him some of the most prominent of its requirements—“Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother."
The ingenuous youth, on hearing these commandments, promptly averred, that he had kept them all from his earliest years. We are not to consider this declaration as the offspring of vanity or arrogance. His conscience did not reproach him with the open and literal transgression of any one precept pertaining to the decalogue. He well knew, that he had never been guilty of what the world accounts and calls adultery, murder, theft, slander, fraud, or disobedience to parents; and surely it was not unbefitting for him confidently to say so. He had no just conceptions relative to the spirituality of the divine law. He was not aware, that it demanded more than external compliance with its injunctions, and so far he was sure, that he had not been delinquent. Instead of indulging in any thing like gross or obvious sin, he had, from his very youth, been assiduous in the cultivation of every moral virtue, and the observance of every religious institution. And he conceived, that in so doing he had fully obeyed the whole will of heaven, as revealed in the writings of Moses and the prophets.
Our Lord, pleased with the good qualities of this young inquirer, and pitying the error into which he had fallen, is described as contemplating him with more than ordinary interest. We are told, that “Jesus beholding him, loved him." He saw, that he was an amiable and a promising youth, and was anxious to benefit him, by turning his attention to the point in which he was still deficient, and needed amendment, ere he could become
fit for that eternal life of which he was in quest. “One thing," said Christ, “ thou lackest; go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, take up the cross and follow me.” But this is rather a strange requisition, you say. What? Can it be the duty of every individual who aspires to the rewards of heaven, to go at once and sell all he has in the world, and distribute the proceeds among the indigent? We answer, Not at the present day, though in the first age of Christianity the peculiar exigencies of an infant church struggling against persecution, and every other conceivable obstacle, rendered it expedient for the devoted friends of the Saviour to relinquish their individual possessions, and have all things in common." They who then refused to make this sacrifice were counted unworthy the cause of Jesus. The test was a simple and decisive one. It settled speedily and effectually the question, whether the heart was more attached to temporal than to spiritual blessings. Thus in the case of this young inquirer, it soon showed, and in the most conclusive manner, that he was still too fond of this lower world that his desire for eternal life was not at all commensurate with the magnitude and importance of the object—that he was unwilling to purchase heaven by the abandonment of earth. As soon as he heard the condition of salvation which our Lord, for wise reasons, thought proper to impose, his countenance and conduct evinced, that he deemed it too hard. Compliance with it was out of the question. The saying made him “sad," and he “ went away grieved;" and for his thus going away, the reason is assigned, that, “ he had great possessions."
Now, from this interesting portion of the New Testament, we may deduce the practical conclusion, that,