*From the Author’s Book: ‘Entrance Into The Kingdom’.
“Let any one consult the commentaries of anti-millennarians on this passage, and he will see how unsatisfactory they are: how they set themselves to break down the force of the words.”
“…the ‘narrow gate’ into the kingdom, answers to the ‘needle’s eye’ of Matthew.”
“ ‘If thou wishest to enter into life:’ v, 17, where ‘life’ means the state of reward, and the award made to works. So again in a succeeding passage, ‘What shall we have therefore?’ From which it is clear, that apostles understood the meaning to be that of a time of reward. And our Lord’s reply completely proves their idea to be correct.”
and Barnabas returned to the churches. ‘Confirming the souls of the disciples, and that we must, through much
tribulation, enter the
Riches and the Kingdom
The Saviour’s interview with the rich young man is by the Holy Spirit esteemed to be of such deep importance to right views of the believer’s position, that He has caused it to be thrice recorded. Let us then regard it principally as it is related by Matthew, who gives the fullest account of it. He alone adds the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, which sprang out of it.
16. “And behold one came up and said unto Him, ‘Good Teacher what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’”***
17. “But He said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? none is good but One, that is God.”
* Some critical authorities adopt a different reading here, but I have adhered to the received text. Either will not interfere with the purpose of this tract.
[**NOTE. The Greek word ‘aionios,’ translated above as ‘eternal’ in our English text is misleading. Regenerate believers already possess ‘eternal life’; and it was not acquired through our obedience to Christ, as the above text would suggest! Hence the false interpretation circulating throughout our churches today! Rather, it was obtained by ‘grace’ through ‘faith’ in our Lord Jesus Christ, (Eph. 2: 8, 9. cf. John 3: 16).
“This word though should be understood about thirty of these seventy-one times in the sense of ‘age-lasting’ rather than ‘eternal’; and the occurrence in Heb. 5: 9 forms a case in point. Several good examples of other places where aionios should be translated and understood as “age-lasting” are Gal. 6: 8; 1Tim. 6: 12; Titus 1: 2; 3: 7. These passages have to do with running the present race of the faith in view of one day realizing an inheritance in the kingdom, which is the hope set before Christians.
On the other hand, aionios can be understood in the sense of “eternal” if the text so indicates.
Several good examples of places where aionios should be translated and understood
are John 3: 15, 16, 36. These passages have to do with the life
derived through faith in Christ because of His finished work at
“Textual considerations must always be taken into account when properly translating and understanding aionios, for this is a word which can be used to imply either ‘age-lasting’ or ‘eternal’; and it is used both ways numerous times in the New Testament. Textual considerations in Heb. 5: 9 leave no room to question exactly how aionios should be understood and translated in this verse. Life during the coming age, occupying a position as co-heir with Christ in that coming day…” - A. L. Chitwood.]
The word “Master” takes a different sense in our day from that which it sustained in the days of our translators except where it is joined with some word which determines it to its old signification, as ‘drawingmaster,’ ‘fencingmaster.’ I have therefore substituted the word ‘teacher’ as more clearly expressing the meaning of the evangelist.
The young man addressed our Lord as an instructor, capable of giving him light upon the momentous subject of his inquiry. But he also addresses Him as the “good.” “Good,” in our common usage, when applied to men, means “pious.” But in this sense it could not apply to God, of whom our Lord uses it in His reply. It means then, in this and other passages in the New and Old Testament, ‘kind, benevolent, bountiful.’ Thus, at the conclusion of the parable with which the Saviour closes the subject, the householder says to the envious labourer who murmured against his kindness, “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” And in the inquiry, “What good thing shall I do,” the word bears the same sense. “What acts of benevolence or bounty shall I perform?”
This title Jesus seemingly refuses. “Why callest thou Me good?” And some have stumbled at it; but without sufficient reason. The young man appears to have used it as a compliment, suitably addressed to a religious teacher: or peculiarly so, as applied to one, of whose many disinterested cures he had heard. But Jesus loved not empty compliments: He would have him give it in its full force, and with its deepest significance; or not at all. The young ruler seems also to have entertained too lax views of human nature. He did not accept the doctrine of its entire depravity. Therefore Jesus meets him with the strong declaration, “None is good but One, that is, God.” Man by nature is the reverse of good. Far from being bounteous, he is cold, covetous, selfish, unjust. Thus the Saviour states the matter when He contrasts the nature of man with that of God. “If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” Matt. 7: 11.*
* In this verse “good,” as spoken of things, does not, of course take the signification of bountiful, which can only strictly apply to persons.
God alone is good. He is the fountain of all bounty. All generosity in the hearts of His creatures, springs from Himself. The various capacities and enjoyments of His creatures, bespeak His goodness who grants them. Only in a derived and subordinate sense, is any creature “good.”
If then the title really belonged to Christ - if He were prepared to give it to Him in its fullest sense, he must admit him to be more than man or angel.
The goodness of God is taken up in the parable which follows, and is displayed in that mirror of His future dealings. But, beside this, the demand which the Saviour makes upon the youthful inquirer, is an exhibition of His own goodness. He was indeed the Teacher of a bounty and grace hitherto unknown among men.
“But if thou wishest to enter into life, keep the commandments. 18. He saith unto Him ‘Of what kind?’ But Jesus said, ‘Thou that shalt not murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness: 19. Honour thy father and mother: and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ 20. The young man saith unto Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth, what lack I yet?’”
is not the only attribute of God. He is
also just. And
hence, he who would win and earn eternal* life, must pay its price. The
young man had put himself upon that ground.
thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The
Lord Jesus therefore sets before him the terms of law and justice, as declared of old by Moses. The commandments must be kept in their
perfection: one breach of them drawing down the penalty, “Cursed is he.” “He is guilty of all.” The ruler had
not read aright the law, nor the message of God by
John the Baptist. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” And
the cry of John to all
But, as the law of Moses consisted of several classes of commandments - moral, ceremonial, and judicial - the inquirer asks, which of these classes was in the mind of his instructor? The Saviour replies, by referring him to the second table of the Decalogue. Instead of the tenth commandment, He gives the general principle, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” To these Mark adds, “Defraud not,” which probably was intended to sum up the precepts contained in Lev. 19: 11, 13. “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.” “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him; the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.”
But why was there no reference to the first table? Why was he not set upon trying himself by the demands of God upon his heart? Methinks we may obtain an answer from the question of the young man. He desired to know what acts of goodness would win him eternal life? Now our goodness extends not to God; and therefore our Lord offers to his notice only his neighbour’s claims upon him.
Jesus can but own the law in its place; though He was the Teacher of the kingdom, and came to ordain its better rule. If any would earn eternal life, they must ever be referred to the law: and the great pillars of it are the Ten Commandments. As just, Jesus teaches the law and eternal life as its reward: as good, he instructs concerning grace, and the kingdom.
To the Capernaites who put to Him a similar question, He in His wisdom gave a very different response. “What shall we do,” said they, “that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He sent.” John 6: 29, 30.
Each answer was perfect in its place. The one now engaging our attention brings out truths, which that in John would not display. But the inquirer, like Paul, “alive without the law once,” asserts that he had always kept these commands from his earliest youth. He has won then, in his own estimation, eternal life as the reward of his obedience. Yet his assertion was not so bold, as not to ask for confirmation from the “Good Teacher.” “What lack I yet?”
21. “Jesus said unto him, ‘If thou wishest to be perfect, go, sell thy possessions, and give to the poor; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow, Me.’ But when the young man heard it, he went away sorrowful; for he was possessed of great property.”
Hitherto the present exposition has agreed with the ideas generally entertained. But what is the bearing of the Lord’s answer to the young man’s inquiry? At this point I am compelled to turn off from the usual path. I differ in my sentiments (1) concerning Jesus’ design in the demand of the young man; and (2) in the bearing of the words uttered on his refusal.
It is commonly asserted that Jesus intends to convict the inquirer of disobedience to the law by proving him to be avaricious. Thus Barnes – “Jesus commanded him to do this therefore to test his character, and to show him that he had not kept the law as he pretended; and thus to show him that he needed a better righteousness than his own.” Such would be our own ordinary proceeding in a similar instance; and it is not wonderful, therefore, if it is thought that our Lord adopts the same plan. Such a procedure too would quite fall in with Paul’s argument in the Romans.
I. But the attempt to prove that this was our Lord’s drift, fails. Disobedience to a command which never formed any part of the law of Moses, can never convict any of trespass against it. But the command that the rich should give up money, house, and lands to the poor, never was framed by Moses. What the Lord by Moses did require was:
That the produce of the seventh year should not be gathered in; but be left to
the poor, whether of
2. The corners of the field and the gleanings were to be left for the same classes: as also the remnant of the olive-yard and vineyard. Lev. 19: 9, 10.
3. The poor brother, though a stranger or a sojourner was to be relieved. Lev. 25: 35.
4. Loans were to be granted to the poor. Deut. 15: 7-11.
5. The Hebrew, who had been sold as a slave to an Israelite, on his leaving at the seventh year, was to be furnished liberally out of the floor, the flock, and the winepress. Deut. 15: 12-15.
But to give up all was to love our neighbour, not only as ourselves, but beyond ourselves.
II. Again was the non-fulfilment of the Saviour’s command, a proof of avarice? Are those proved to be grasping after more ([See Gk. …]) who refuse to give up all they have? Or does it prove them unjust, in keeping back what is due from them? ([…]). If either of these charges be true, then the command of the Saviour extends to every rich believer sti1l or he is an avaricious man!
III. But that is a conclusion from which all commentators
it was only a solitary case. To refuse to part with our whole property now,
is no proof of avarice; but when Christ Himself specially enjoined it, then it
was.’ But this supposition
overthrows the previous argument. If the
precept was a special one, binding
on this man alone, and not before Christ spoke it,
then it was no demand of the law of Moses. And therefore the non-compliance of the young
ruler was no proof of disobedience to the law. If Moses made the demand, it was
binding on all the rich of
IV. But not only is the first demand not of the law, but the condition, the promise, and the succeeding command, are all of the gospel. “If thou wishest to be perfect.” But Jesus teaches this lesson to His disciples. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” “The law made nothing perfect.”
The promise too, whereby the Lord would cheer the young man on to the sacrifice, was a gospel promise, not a legal one. “Thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Treasure on earth, in the basket and store, was the promise of the law.
lastly, the closing command, “Come, follow me,”
to which Mark adds, “taking up
the cross,” is manifestly not of the law, but of the
Gospel. The law fixed each on his own estate. The
law promised ease, enjoyment, honour, to him who kept its precepts. Deut. 28: 1. The cross,
and the following a rejected Messiah, belong to the
The truth is, that Jesus now drops the question with which the young man began; and sets before him the new conduct, and the new reward, to which He came to call men. That indeed was the direction in which the young man’s question leaned. “Can you add any new requirement to those of the law?” “What lack I yet?” The Lord then does give him a higher rule, the reward of which is, the kingdom of glory. The righteousness of the law simply, will not admit into the kingdom. “I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” But the young man’s righteousness was only that of the Scribe and Pharisee.
Jesus, we suppose, might have justly challenged the assertion of the young ruler as incorrect. But it is rather our Lord’s manner to press His opponents on their own ground. And answerably, in the parable which follows, the steward does not call any class of the labourers in question, as not having fulfilled their work; not even the boastful murmurers. Thus both portions correspond; for the young ruler was one of the first order of labourers; as we shall see. But having considered what is not the bearing of our Lord’s words, let us attend to their real force.
“If thou wishest to be perfect.” The law could
not make him so. It was mainly an
exhibition of God, as the God of justice. Jesus would set before him a higher rule, and
a higher reward than the eternal life to be attained by keeping the law. ‘But how can there be any reward beyond
eternal life?’ There is the thousand-years’
“And come follow Me.”
is a new dispensation, a new law-giver. Moses
was sent to lead
parting with all was but a momentary act; but the following Christ was to be
his abiding attitude. This was necessary, no less than the other, in order to
an entrance into the kingdom. There were religionists, in the days of early
Christianity, who made such sacrifices as are here called for by the Saviour,
but in obedience to other lords and teachers. For such there would be no reward in the
* This class will soon arise again, and shame the luxurious Christians of the present day. But they will be thistles only, not bearers of grapes.
not a consequence, most important to us, flow from our Lord’s words? The young man supposed himself in possession
of eternal life, as having the righteousness required by the law. Even to one in such a position the Lord asserts, that there was a higher rule than the law, and a further
reward. This is true then even at the present day,
and addresses itself to every [regenerate] believer. He
really has already eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God. John 5: 24. He has a perfect righteousness
in the imputed merits of Jesus. What
then does he need more? He is to seek to
be “perfect, even as His Father who is in heaven is perfect.” He is to
endeavour to attain the active righteousness which admits into the
Thus did Jesus manifest Himself as the Good, the Benevolent Teacher. But the young man, though he seems to have valued himself on his benevolence, found this a height to which he could not climb. Not that he was the insincere, avaricious hypocrite which some would depict him. There is every guarantee for his sincerity. He came running to our Lord and kneeled before Him, as Mark informs us. This bespeaks his eagerness. He asked no captious question, as the Saviour’s enemies did; but one of the most solemn and important that can be uttered by human lips. He was teachable. “What lack I yet?” For anything we know, he might be a converted person. Even after he had made his bold assertion of having kept the law, we are told that “Jesus looked upon him and loved him.” And even when he turned away from the precept of the Great Instructor whom he had sought, he did so with a mien that manifested his sincerity. “He went away sorrowful.” Not so the covetous Pharisees. When Jesus was asserting only the general truth of the impossibility of uniting the chase after riches, with the service of God, these unscrupulous opponents “derided him.” Luke 16:14.
Nor is there any evidence of his being covetous. The reason assigned by the three evangelists is the same; and it is not that he was covetous, but that he was rich. “He had great possessions,” say Matthew and Mark. “He was very sorrowful,” writes Luke, “for he was very rich.”
23. “But Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, that scarcely shall a rich (man) enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
But again I say unto you, it is easier that a camel should go through the eye of a
needle, than that a rich (man) should enter into the
How did Jesus know that the young stranger was rich? How was He aware, that his sorrowful turning away arose from his unwillingness to part with his riches? By his supernatural acquaintance, as the Son of God, with the condition and heart of all.
The young man now leaves the scene, but the disciples abide and to them as disciples, not merely to apostles, he addresses the solemn lesson before us. It is then, I suppose, instruction given to believers concerning believers. A rich person, even though converted shall scarcely enter the kingdom.
Jesus regards the young ruler as a specimen of the lesson delivered. He had propounded to him the terms of entrance into the kingdom; and the discouraged inquirer had turned away. It does not follow from the Saviour’s words, that the young man was lost, for ever. There is great difference between losing the kingdom and losing eternal life.
But the contrary is always assumed. “Though reluctant to give up hopes of eternal life,” says the Tract Society’s Commentary, “he would not at that time part with his riches for the sake of it.” “What then would the sorrow be afterward, when his possessions would be gone, and all hopes of eternal life gone also?” But Jesus had not called in question his claim to eternal life. Even now, He pleads only, that the offer which He made of treasure in heaven, was rejected.
The Lord’s comment then on this his action proves, that our view of his former words was not a mistaken one. Had He been pressing on the inquirer the claims of the law, and non-suiting his hopes of eternal life, He would naturally have remarked to His disciples the blindness of the unconverted heart to its own state, or the presumption of men in supposing themselves better than they are. Or, he might have noticed, how hardly the avaricious give up their love of wealth, and seek eternal life. But neither the words nor ideas appear. He leaves the law and eternal life, to speak of riches and the Kingdom. Are these things equivalent? It had been no wonder to the disciples, that the avaricious should be excluded. “He blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth,” saith the Psalm 10: 3.
Next, it is commonly supposed, that by “the kingdom of heaven,” the Lord Jesus means, the church on earth. And as there is no difficulty in the rich
entering the church on earth in our days, the advocates of the opinion confine
it to those times. “Dr. Maltby maintains, that the expressions of
the text only apply to the circumstances of the Gospel then, and that no conclusion can be drawn
from them unfavourable to any order of men in the present day.”
But this view of the matter is so unsatisfactory, as to lead others, who have the same idea of the expression, to expound it as signifying, “That it is very difficult indeed for a rich man to be converted.” “He saith, that the conversion and salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”
Against such a view, we may remark;
1. That entrance into the kingdom of heaven never has the sense of conversion.
2. Conversion, far from being the entrance, is a previous condition, necessary in order to entrance into the kingdom of heaven. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” John 3: 5. “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18: 3. But very many, without these spiritual requirements, have joined churches of Christ therefore, the kingdom from which the unconverted are excluded, is the future kingdom of glory.
3. No such question was raised by the former conversation with the young man. He was not challenged at all on his duty towards God. The supposition that he had eternal life was not called in question before his face; nor was it likely to be, behind his back. But whatever our thoughts may be regarding the sentiments likely to be expressed by Jesus, certain it is, that his actual words convey no such sense.
4. The Saviour’s reflection has reference to the ruler’s refusal to give up his wealth. Now is it a prerequisite to conversion to do so? or is it necessary to eternal life after conversion? The surrender of all was the difficulty from which the young man turned away; and unless this self-stripping be necessary to conversion the demand could have no bearing on the case. But it is confessed, that the giving up of riches is not necessary in order to conversion; nor to eternal life after conversion. This then is an argument that the bearing of the Saviour’s words has been misunderstood.
II Again, there is another erroneous assumption at the basis of the usual ideas on the subject. It is taken for granted, that “the kingdom of heaven” and “eternal life” mean the same thing. But has this ever been proved? That they are not the same, will appear from the following considerations -
1. Jesus does not contradict the young man’s thoughts of possessing claims to eternal life. The requirement which our Lord afterwards puts forth is no condition of eternal life; but it is, to this day, an all but necessary condition of the entrance of a converted rich man into the future [millennial] kingdom as will presently appear.
2. Eternal life and the kingdom differ, in point of duration. The kingdom of heaven and of Christ is a temporary thing; eternal life as the words import, is endless duration. That the kingdom of heaven is but for a time, is proved by such passages as the following:-
1. It is called an “age,” “the age to come:” a “day,” “The day of judgment,” “The day of redemption.” Eph. 4: 30; Phil. 1: 6; 2 Tim. 4: 8; Jude 6. “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but they which shall be accounted worthy to attain that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” Luke 20: 35, 36.
2. As its scene of display is on the present earth, and the earth itself is, at the close of the thousand years, to be burned up, it can but be temporary. Thus it is said, that – “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom (the earth, whereon the tares grow) all stumbling-blocks, and them which do iniquity.” Matt. 13: 41.
3. “This ye know, that no whoremonger nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and God.”* Eph. 5: 5; 1 Cor. 6: 9, 10. But the [millennial] kingdom of the Christ, and the reign of the apostles and martyrs with Him, is but for a thousand years. “They lived and reigned with the Christ a thousand years.” Rev. 20: 4, 6. The same truth appears, from its being the throne of David which Jesus then takes. Luke 1: 32.
* A very remarkable expression.
kingdom is to be given to
* But are there not other passages, which speak of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus as eternal? Luke 1: 33; 2 Peter 1: 11. Yes: but they speak of another kingdom, which He takes in another character.
3. The mode of entrance also on our part into the kingdom of heaven, is quite different from that of obtaining eternal life. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 6: 23.
entrance into the kingdom is according to works, to those adjudged worthy of
it. “They that shall be accounted worthy to attain that
age, and the resurrection from the dead,” “Which
is a token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted
worthy of the
4. Where eternal life is in question as being the gift of God to faith in His Son, there the differences of condition among men are not noticed as affecting the issue. And hence, so long as Jesus is speaking to the young man on the conditions of eternal life, his riches come not into notice. But as soon as the Kingdom of heaven is the topic, then they are the subject of the Saviour’s lesson. Hence John’s gospel does not mention them as a hindrance; for he treats almost exclusively of Jesus as the Son, and of eternal life, with scarcely a word concerning the kingdom. But the three other gospels, which are chiefly engaged concerning the kingdom, more than once touch upon riches, as a condition of life highly unfavourable to the participation in the kingdom.
After eternal life is possessed, the
kingdom is still a further object to be sought. He who obtains the
* It is observable, that this and the passage now under consideration are the only two places in which “eternal life” is named by Matthew, while it is a continual subject with John.
6. Eternal life was the reward attached to observance of the Mosaic law. But the kingdom was a reward first preached by Jesus, after Moses and the prophets as dispensations had passed. Luke 16: 16. The parable proves it not unjust in God to give the Gentiles the kingdom, as a further reward beyond eternal life.
this young man, the kingdom of heaven is set forth as a further object, and a
higher rule as the way to it. The scribe
who admired our Lord’s reply to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and who answered
well His question, receives from Him the commendation, “Thou art not far from the
Jesus, to the young man states the way into the kingdom positively. But when he refuses, He points out the hindrance which existed in his case as a general one. At first He says, “Thou shall have treasure in heaven.” Afterwards, “A rich man shall hardly enter.” And to illustrate the whole we have the advantage of two opposite cases realized in fact before him. On the negative side, was the young ruler and his refusal, whereupon Jesus speaks of loss of the kingdom: on the other, is the obedience of Apostles, and their consequent enjoyment of that [coming] day of Messiah’s glory.
The whole phrase of entering into the kingdom will take one or other of two senses, according as we interpret the expression, “kingdom of heaven” to import the present dispensation, and its product - the church; or the future kingdom of millennial glory.
1. Now it is evident from facts and Scripture, that there is no hindrance on the Church’s part against admitting rich men into the assembly of the saints. James is obliged to speak against the partialities that leaned toward the rich. And many rich persons are found amidst the churches.
2. But take the expression to
signify the Saviours adjudication of entrance on a time of reward, and all is clear and harmonious. This is evidently the meaning of the phrase
in other passages. “Not every one that saith unto
me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth
the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Matt.
7: 21. The two succeeding verses prove,
that the entrance is granted or refused, after the death [and before the time of resurrection] of the petitioners, and on a certain fixed and
foretold day. Again, Paul and Barnabas
returned to the churches. “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and that we must, through much
tribulation, enter the
Such is the meaning of the expression in the immediate context. “If thou wishest to enter into life:” v, 17, where “life” means the state of reward, and the award made to works. So again in a succeeding passage, “What shall we have therefore?” From which it is clear, that apostles understood the meaning to be that of a time of reward. And our Lord’s reply completely proves their idea to be correct.
The kingdom is for the “perfect,” in the sense given in the Sermon on the Mount, and here. Had the young ruler been willing to follow the Saviour’s precept, he would have been “perfect” in the sense supposed; and possessed of treasure in heaven. But this treasure laid up under the keeping of God in heaven, is to be brought forth to the depositors in the kingdom of heaven, or the millennial reign.
But that he refused: and it is on the basis of his refusal that the Saviour grounds his declaration,‑ that the rich shall scarcely enter the kingdom. Now the difficulty of their entrance turns upon the just judgment of God. It is scarcely possible to admit a rich believer into the kingdom, consistently with the principles which the Father has laid down. The rich believer’s very position, as rich, distinct from all question of the misuse of riches, lies against his obtaining permission to enter. That this is the evident force of the Lord’s words, will, I feel convinced, be seen by all who will duly reflect on them. I will presently proceed to explain some of those principles which militate so strongly against the rich Christian’s reception.
us first however, notice the repetition of this weighty sentiment, which the
Saviour gives under the form of a comparison.
I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the
The eye of a needle is the smallest of the holes made by human art, with the design of passing something through them. The camel* is the tallest and largest of the beasts common in the Saviour’s country. His tall body and long neck render such a creature a thousand times too large to pass through so narrow an aperture.
* Some have proposed that we should read, “It easier for a cable to pass through a needle’s eye.” But the reading [See Gk. …] is only conjectural. Its meaning of “cable” does not rest on good authority. And the Saviour’s comparison of the rich man’s entrance to an animal’s voluntarily passing through, is far more spirited, and accordant with the context, than the involuntary transmission of a dead substance by force from without.
But the entrance to the kingdom answers to the minute needle’s eye. God has made the opening so narrow of set purpose. It is rigid too, like steel, admitting of no enlargement by elasticity.
The rich man answers to the camel. He is too great every way; even if he be not tall in pride, and bulky in self indulgence.
The gate of entrance to the kingdom being then so small, and so rigid in its material, the only way of traversing it must be by the diminution of the animal. It is to this point that our Lord’s words tend. By stripping himself of his greatness, the young man would have so diminished himself, as to be capable of entering at the narrow gate.* And had he followed Jesus as the way, he would hereafter have entered the kingdom and obtained the riches of it beside. Thus Jesus’ command proceeded really from his goodness towards himself, as well as towards the poor whom the ruler’s riches would benefit. It was the benevolent counsel of a friend; not the judicial process of a judge desiring to convict him of sin.
* To the same effect Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks of the
smallness of the gate and the narrowness of the way. But there the Saviour describes the gate as
the entrance into “life.” Does not it
therefore apply only to the entrance into eternal
life? I think not. The one great subject of the Sermon on the
Mount is “the kingdom,” or the Millennial reign. And
“life” is an expression used of the kingdom
9: 43, 48. In verses 43 and 45
that is predicated of “life,” which in verse 47 is spoken of the “
The force of the Saviour’s observation upon his turning away is – “This young man will [willing to] retain his riches. But the entrance into the kingdom is too small for such. It is for the poor* [and obedient] that the kingdom is provided.” The young man was stopped by the gate, and did not [want to] follow the Saviour in the way of obedience].**
[* See James 2: 5.
**It is my firm belief,- - (from having had a similar test of my faith) - that had the ‘young man’ been willing to obey Christ’s command to surrender his riches, he may well not have had to do so! When Abraham was called by God to place Isaac on the altar, he obeyed; and it was immediately afterwards - (after he passed God’s testing of his faith) - that he received His blessing, (Gen. 22:11-18; Heb. 11: 19. cf. Gen. 13: 14, 15; Acts 7: 5.)]
Let us now consider the principles of exclusion, which in the Just judgment of God would apply to the case of the rich believer.
1. The kingdom is the time of “consolation;” of compensation
for annoyances, sufferings, losses, sustained for Christ’s sake. Hence the Saviour lifts up a woe to the rich,
as excluded by the operation of this rule.
Addressing disciples, He says: “Blessed be ye
poor, for yours is the
2. To retain riches is a hindrance, as the young man found, to present following of Christ. Attention to his property would [tempt him to] keep his feet and heart elsewhere. And he who would preserve his wealth now, must more or less take the attitude of justice and of law, rather than of goodness and of the Gospel. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Hence, with the treasure upon earth, the heart will tend towards it.
3. The kingdom is for the self-denying: riches tend strongly to self indulgence. They can gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. And seldom is temptation, so perpetually alluring the heart, steadily resisted. Hence, the expenditure of wealth [on self] will, in most cases, shut out of the kingdom.
4. It tends to foster pride, and the desire to be ministered unto by others: whereas the way into the kingdom is by lowliness and patient service.
5. Wealth is an enemy to faith in God. The Saviour (in the parallel place in Mark), teaches, that having riches, and trusting in them, are almost always found in union. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; and as an high wall in his own conceit.” Prov. 18: 11.
6. Riches are noted as a great means of preventing the spiritual effects of the good news of the kingdom. “The care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and he becometh unfruitful” Matt. 13: 22.
The mere possession of riches, then, is a strong and all but insuperable barrier to entrance into the millennial glory. And it is quite a perverting of our Lord’s words, and destruction of their practical bearing, to make them turn upon a positively sinful state of heart in the possessor of them. He who can enter into the kingdom only with greater difficulty than the camel shall thread the needle’s eye, is simply the rich person. Hence Barnes’s comment is unfounded. He says – “A rich man.* This means rather one who loves his riches, and makes an idol of them, or one who supremely desires to be rich.” No; the difficulty stated by the Saviour attaches to the simple possession [and unwillingness to the surrender] of riches. As rich and not covetous, the entrance was difficult, as covetous, whether rich or not, it was impossible.
is then a choice of two paths proposed to the rich believer, who desires to
obtain the [millennial]
1. He may give up all; distributing to the poor: as is here recommended, or commanded.
2. He may retain all; determining to make the best of his way through the difficulty. This, as the Saviour knew, would be the ordinary choice; even where the difficulty which riches raise against the future entrance into millennial glory is perceived. The less hazardous path would indeed be to surrender wealth, and to receive instead the promised treasure in heaven. Thus glory would be brought to Christ, and faith’s testimony to the men of the world be the strongest.
But ordinarily, as the Lord knew, this would not be done. Therefore, to meet the common case of the believer’s retaining his riches, the Spirit by Paul gives the following directions. “Charge them that are rich in this age, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God, who affordeth us all things richly to enjoy:* that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, treasuring up for themselves a good foundation for the future, that they may lay hold of that which is really life.”** 1 Tim. 6: 17. Here five different expressions are used, to express the readiness which the rich believer should exhibit, in giving away of his abundance. If he will not give away the principal, he should give away his income liberally.
* I suppose this to mean, that the things of the world are given to be used, in opposition to the Gnostic sentiment, combated in this epistle, that some creatures were evil, and not to be touched by the intelligent and holy. 1 Tim. 4: 1.
** [See Greek …] So read the critical editions.
We have, thus, to a considerable extent, forestalled the question ‑ Whether this precept of our Lord was designed to apply to the young ruler only, or to all the rich saints of Gospel times? The answer, as a merely intellectual question, is easy enough. But as running counter to the passions of the heart, it presents most formidable difficulties. The unbeliever, who cared not about the decision of the question, as disregarding the authority of the Son of God, would often give a truer answer than the professed Christian. But let us look at the bearings of the case.
1. The narrative is given by the Holy Spirit in the first three Gospels. This proves, that it was deemed by Him to convey important general lessons. And those lessons are for the conduct of disciples. For it is to them that Jesus turns, when making His observations upon the case.
2. We may ask then. - Will rich believers continue to the end of the dispensation? Will riches continue to be of the same nature as in the Lord’s time? Will the principles that fix the entrance to the [millennial] kingdom continue unchanged, till the coming of the Lord Jesus? If so the same counsel applies still. Manente ratione monet etiam lex says the Roman maxim. As long as the difficulty applies, so long does the remedy. As long as there shall be rich believers, desirous of entering the kingdom, so long will the Saviour’s counsel be in force, that they should leave the ranks of the rich. Riches in themselves are an abiding obstacle. But they who at Christ’s word sacrifice them, not only get rid of an impediment to their entrance, but turn uncertain riches into real wealth; and except they forfeit the blessing by after sin, will obtain certain admission into millennial glory. “They cannot recompense thee, but thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”
3. So thought the Christians of the apostolic age: and hence we find a general sale of landed and house property among them. Faith in the kingdom at hand overpowered that love of wealth, which is supposed to be peculiarly strong in the Jew.
4. If this be the way to obtain “treasure in heaven,” it is but a carrying out of the Sermon on the Mount, which code is confessed to be of general application. The same command is addressed to disciples in general. Luke 12: 32-34.
5. Had the apostles been mistaken in their supposition that the command to the young man was general, doubtless the Saviour’s reply would have shown it. When Peter said – “What shall we have therefore?” he assumed the general application of the words. The Saviour then would have given them to understand, that the command was a special test intended for the young ruler alone. But His words establish the general application, expanding their reach far beyond the apostles. They apply to the rich as a class, both as regards the difficulty of the achievement now, and the glory hereafter.
25. “But when His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, - Who then can be saved?”
The Saviour’s first requirement at the hands of the young man was new. But His after explanation of His reason for so doing was wholly unexpected and extraordinary. It was as if He had said – ‘My design in asking this ruler to give up his wealth, is a general one: it is founded on the all but insuperable obstacle which riches interpose against admission to My kingdom of millennial glory.’ Riches are not evil. It is wonderful then, that any condition of life not involving evil should set up such a barrier. We do not wonder at the covetous, or the abuser of riches being excluded. But that the possession of wealth, which was to be the very blessing attendant on the fulfilment of the law (Deut. 28: 8, 11, 12), should exclude from Messiah’s Kingdom, was wonderful! It is as marvellous now, as then. Why do not we wonder? Is it not, only because we never hear the doctrine asserted? If stated, would it not be accounted as strange as then? And where reverence did not withhold from free utterance of thought, would it not be derided as extravagant and absurd? It is one proof of the sameness of a doctrine, if in all ages it draw forth the same feelings of men and of disciples.
The comparison that followed it intimated, that the difficulty was insuperable. There is a physical impossibility that a camel should pass through a needle’s eye. It is on this that the disciples found their objection. “Who then” - as the consequence of your words – “can be saved?”
The stress of the disciples’ objection falls on the impossibility of the entrance – “Who then can be saved?” This is manifest from the Saviour’s answer, in which the matter of possibility alone is met. And their question, I believe, turns alone upon the case of the rich: for of that only was the impossibility asserted. It does not appear, that this assertion concerning the rich involved to their minds any a fortiori consequence, as regards the poor. Their meaning then is – “As no camel can thread the needle’s eye, who of the rich can enter the kingdom?” Thus the fathers understood it; Clemens Alexandrinus, and others, wrote treatises taking the title: ‘What rich man shall be saved?’
But a difficulty arises against this view. It may be said, ‘You distinguish between “eternal life” and the “kingdom of heaven.” The disciples do not; they understand by entrance into the kingdom nothing more than salvation; as their words prove. – “Who then can be saved?” ’
To which I would reply ‑ That it may be admitted, that the disciples did not then see the difference, without any prejudice to the distinction laid down. This, it may be, was one of the points on which the Holy Spirit’s enlightening was needed.
it may be objected further, that the Saviour does not, as we might have
anticipated, correct the error in which they lay, if it be an error. To which I would answer that it does not appear,
that the Scriptures or the Jews confine the word “salvation” to the sense in which we of modern times apply
it. “Salvation” in Scripture means, not
only eternal life, but temporary deliverance also. “Stand still,”
says Moses, “and
see the salvation of the
Lord, which He will show you today:”
13) where the word is used of the
deliverance at the
[* See A. L. Chitwood’s remarks on the Greek word translated “eternal” in most English translations. If the context is one of our works, (as is the case above); then the Greek word must be translated “Age-lasting”. “Eternal salvation” = “Eternal life” and is therefore a “free gift” of God, (Rom. 6: 23, R.V.)]
26. “But Jesus looking upon them said unto them, With man this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
The Saviour’s eye rested upon His disciples, it would appear, with a look of compassionate surprise, as marvelling that they should disregard the consideration which with Himself always stood first. They had omitted to look at the subject, as beheld in the light of the power of God. True it was, that the young man who thought too much of man’s powers, and too little of God’s, had turned away: true, that the difficulty was insuperable to the unaided inclinations of men. But what difficulty, physical or moral, exists with God? Thus the Saviour twice gives the glory to His Father, when men diverted it. When the young man overlooks the goodness of God, He claims it wholly for the Father. And now, when the disciples forget His power, He strongly reminds them of it. How many questions may be settled, by the simple plan of looking at them through the power of God!
He had first spoken of the entrance of the rich into the kingdom as difficult. “How hardly.” He had gone on to state it as more difficult than a physical difficulty. He now admits – “With men this is impossible.” It was shown to be so, by the actual case before them - by their own perceptions of the difficulty of such a course - and by the words of our Lord. Yet He intimates, that this difficulty would be met and overcome by the grace of God. Some would make that surrender of wealth, which they had seen resisted. But this would be effected, not by mere unaided human power; but by the grace of God. Here then, a second time, the goodness of God comes in. The parable exhibits this feature at the close.
27. “Then Peter answered and said unto Him, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee; what then shall we have?”
The apostle, naturally, though perhaps too complacently, reflects on the difference between the young man and the twelve: he had received a like call with them; but they had given up all, and had followed Christ: both which commands the young ruler had declined. The Saviour had promised him treasure in heaven. His words implied, that they too should have something as their reward: what then was it to be?
We may observe both in the young inquirer and the apostles, too strong an idea of human power and merit. “What shall I do, that I may have eternal [‘age-lasting,’ i.e., ‘life’ during the coming the ‘age’] life?” We have forsaken all, and followed Thee.” A sense of God’s grace as all-efficacious and all-sufficient, would prevent us alike from being elevated by thoughts of our own goodness and ability; and from being depressed by a sense of inability, when duties of much difficulty are laid upon us.
The question – “What then shall we have” - as well as the answer of Jesus, are peculiar to Matthew; Mark and Luke mention the apostles’ sacrifices, but only that part of the Lord’s answer, which refers to disciples generally.
Peter speaks in the name of a class, not of himself alone. “We have left all; ... what shall we have?” And even thus, the parable which follows treats of classes not of individuals.
“What shall we have” in the way of reward? Thus then the entrance into the kingdom was understood by them as the participation in the kingdom of glory, and not of a time of trial, like that in which the church is now placed. The Saviour’s words, which follow, prove that they understood Him aright.
28. “But Jesus said unto
them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have
followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of
Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of
“Ye which have followed Me.” In the general application of the principle to the disciples, contained in the next verse, no mention is directly made of following Christ, as here no mention is made of their forsaking any thing for Him. The promise is knit to their attendance on Him; as he makes mention also in another place of their having “continued with Him in His temptations.” Their following of Christ was as peculiar, as their reward, in consequence, should be. No promise was given to them at their first call. They had trusted Him, and not in vain.
They had treasure in heaven: and it was to be brought forth to their joy in “the kingdom of heaven.” If now the kingdom mean, as we suppose, the millennial kingdom, we might hope for a confirmation of it here. Accordingly we get as bright a glimpse of it in this place, as can be pointed out in the New Testament.
The Saviour defines the time of their recompense, as being “in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory.”
The generation of the heavens, earth, and man, was at the creation.* Then to the first man was granted dominion over earth and its animated orders. But sin crept in, and His empire was blasted. The worm was made conqueror of the lord of earth. But now, the second man, the new Adam, “the Son of Man,” has come in the power of a law obeyed, and of an endless life, to regenerate earth and man. He is coming with resurrection to overcome death for His departed saints; and with the Holy Spirit’s might to turn the living, whether Jews or Gentiles, to the knowledge of God; while regenerated nature shall bloom anew; and the animals, losing their fierceness, shall return to the innocence of Eden. The Jew also is to be the centre of the nations of earth, while the apostles are to be promoted to reign over them.
* The book which describes the creation is called Genesis; the regeneration is called Palin-genesia.
would connect “in
the regeneration,” with the
preceding words, “Ye who have followed Me in the regeneration.” But most see,
that this yields a sense not to be accepted.
It would follow then, that Christ had preceded them in
regeneration. But they were regenerate,
only as sinners begotten again of the Holy Spirit. This then is to put Christ on a level with
sinners. The regeneration, therefore,
spoken of is physical, belonging to a
future dispensation. For the only “regeneration” going on now, is that of the soul of the individual
believer, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Tit. 3: 5. But the regeneration here spoken of, is that of the earth, as well as of
man. For of this Peter afterwards,
by inspiration, speaks. “Repent ye therefore and turn, that
your sins may be blotted out that*
the times of refreshing may come
from the presence of the Lord. And He
may send Jesus Christ who before was preached** unto you, whom the heaven must receive
until the times of the restitution of all things, which God spoke of by the mouth of His holy prophets since the
world began.” Acts 3: 19-21. The restoration
of all things in that day, answers to the regeneration spoken of here. And both are but
another expression for the
* See Greek. Never “when.”
** The corrected editions read – “before prepared” for you. But the difference is not important to the point in hand.
In that day, “the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory.” This connects
the promise with Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man’s coming in the clouds of
heaven, and taking His kingdom, which is to supersede that of the previous four
empires. Dan. 7: 13, 14. Surely these words are decisive, as regards
the personality of the reign of Jesus.
He is to be present as “the Son of Man,”
in His human nature: not figuratively by His Spirit. He is to sit on the throne of His glory. “Glory,” in the Scriptures
means visible brightness. “The sight of the glory of
the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of
other passages, quoted above, assert also the personal reign. The heaven must receive Jesus till the Jews
repent; then God shall send Him, who now is only preached to them. This supposes the Saviour’s return in
person. If His coming then be
only the Spirit’s presence, that is already true. He is already by His Spirit on earth, during
the time of
The kingdom supposed is only temporary; for it is the kingdom of the Son of Man. Now Paul tells us, that after all enemies are subdued, the Son is to deliver up the kingdom, that God may be all in all. 1 Cor. 15: 24. Thus this period stands distinguished from the endless ages, which constitute eternal life.
Messiah’s kingdom should have come, and the throne of the Son of Man be set, the twelve too should take their thrones, each
ruling a tribe of
Let any one consult the commentaries of
anti-millennarians on this passage, and he will see
how unsatisfactory they are: how they set themselves to break down the force of
the words. Barnes,
for instance, affirms that Jesus’ throne of glory is not to be taken literally,
nor those of the Apostles either. “To sit on a throne
denotes power and honour, and means here that they should be distinguished above others,
and be more highly honoured and rewarded.” Their judging denotes “not so much an actual exercise of the power of passing
judgment, as of the honour attached to
the office.” The twelve tribes of
But the Apostles are not only to sit on thrones and judge, but to eat and drink at Christ’s table in His kingdom. What room is there for such employment in the judgment of the dead?
some would make the words to signify the glory of the apostolic office in the
church, during the present dispensation. To which idea, one who is not at all in favour of millennial views,
makes answer, that it does not “appear how the apostolic office, conjoined with
its innumerable troubles, labours, and dangers, could be said to compensate
them for the evils which they had borne for Christ’s sake.”
this, the expression “the twelve tribes of
Jesus has gone on expanding our views of the time of reward! (1) He promised first to the young man “treasures in heaven.” (2) He then
speaks of the time of reward as the entrance into the kingdom of heaven and the
29. “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal [‘age-lasting’] life.”
We have had first pointed out the apostles’ special place, as having obeyed the call given to the young man. They assume that the precept given to him is general, and Jesus Himself, we now see, allows it, and states how it will apply during the rest of the dispensation, in similar cases. This proves, then, beyond reasonable question, that the precept given to him is designed as a general one.
Our Lord taught, that the dispensation was to be one of self denial, and of the surrender of earthly goods and advantages. He therefore constructs His words so as to apply to all. The kingdom is still to be obtained, obstructions to the entering abide still as before, and the rewards of self-conquest are still held forth. So therefore does the call of our Saviour to the rich continue in force. But not to the rich alone. All who will follow Christ truly, must give up something. And, therefore, while “houses” and “lands” begin and close the catalogue of what might require to be forsaken, intermediately we find persons, and the dearest relatives mentioned. The very poorest may have to surrender these for Christ’s sake, and such would be embraced by the promise.
But where, in this general statement, have we the command which was given to the young man and to apostles – “Follow Me?” Since the Redeemer was about to leave the earth, it would be no longer possible to follow Him in the sense in which apostles did. But it would be possible to make this surrender, in obedience to His word. And therefore, I suppose, that the words – “For My name’s sake” ‑ answer to the previous command – “Follow Me;” and are designed to keep up the same principles, under altered circumstances. For the mere giving up of wealth, except in obedience to, and faith in, Christ Jesus, would be no real ground of reward.
In regard to these words, however, there are remarkable differences between the evangelists. Their respective reports are as follows:-
‘Whosoever shall forsake aught’ –
Matthew (1) – “For my name’s sake.”
Mark (2) – “For my sake and the Gospel’s.”
Luke (3) – “For the
difference is interesting, and very confirmatory of the views above taken. Jesus, it is evident from these narratives,
mentioned two motives as producing the abandonment of earthly goods. Of these Matthew has mentioned only the
first; Luke only the last, and Mark both. The “for My
sake” of Mark, answers, of course,
to the “For My
name’s sake” of Matthew. “For the Gospel’s sake” of Mark, answers to “for the
The love of Jesus, then, and the desire of partaking in His kingdom of glory, are harmonious motives, which may alone, or unitedly, produce this result!
forsaking of house or relatives, “for the
Again, as the act is recognized as lawful and right, so it is implied, the reward will be in the [millennial] kingdom, for which the surrender is made. This is made certain, in the case of apostles, by the Saviour’s explicit statement. It is implied, then, by valid consequence, with regard to those who have acted similarly; the differences in forsaking and following, being only of form and degree.
But a difficulty arises. How is it that Matthew does not at all mention millennial glory, as the portion of those making such sacrifices in later days? He says only, that they “shall receive an hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”* And, when we turn to Mark and Luke, the hundredfold is most explicitly asserted to be granted in the present life.
[* Note. No one can inherit (by their works), what we, through faith alone, receive as a ‘free gift’ by the ‘grace’ of God, on the basis of Another’s works: but the inheritance which disciples of Christ can lose, will be explained later in this exposition. The adjective ‘eternal’ (when it has reference to ‘life’ as an inheritance and a reward for a believer’s good works, must be understood as referring to ‘life,’ to be enjoyed in the coming “age”. That is, ‘life’ after resurrection, at the time when Jesus will return to raise the souls of the worthy dead from Hades, and establish His millennial kingdom in this earth (1 Thess. 4: 16; Matt. 16: 18, 27). Compare Eph. 2: 8, 9 with Eph. 5: 5.]
Mark says, “He shall receive an hundredfold now in this present time, houses and brethren and sisters, and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions.”
And Luke says, “He shall receive manifold more in this present time.”
is a difficulty well worthy of consideration.
I will give the answer, which is to my own mind sufficient. First, let us weigh the statements of Mark
and Luke. They assert that a hundredfold
shall be given now in this present time.
And, as Mark alone tells us, that the Saviour bid the young man take up
the cross in following Him, so, He alone adds, that “persecutions” should be the accompaniment of all present
recompense. This of course confines our
Lord’s words to the present dispensation and present life. Neither of these evangelists gives Matthew’s
strong outline of the millennium, as “the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne
of His glory.” But then there is a marked compensation in
both of them, for this omission. For, as we have seen, Mark adds to “for My
sake,” (which in Matthew stands
alone) the clause – “and the Gospel’s,”
which as we have seen, means the good news of the millennial day. And Luke gives what is equivalent – “for the
If then those who have made such sacrifices are to be presented with eternal life, which is to begin in the coming age, they will be partakers of millennial glory, as well as of the hundredfold of present reward.
‘But this’, it may be said, ‘does not wholly remove the difficulty from the statements of Matthew.’ True; but its weight is much diminished. And the suggestion now to be offered, will, I think, remove it altogether. I understand, then, that we are to take verses 28 and 29 as parts of one sentence; or, at least, as both qualified by the same preceding condition of time stated in the former of the two verses. Then our Lord’s teaching will run thus:-
“As for you My apostles - in the regeneration - you shall sit on twelve thrones. And, as regards all others who imitate you - in the regeneration - they shall receive an hundredfold, and obtain eternal life.”
The latter promise of inheriting eternal life must evidently apply as well to apostles as to believers. All who obtain the [millennial] kingdom, in resurrection, obtain also eternal life; though not all who receive eternal life inherit the [millennial] kingdom. I suppose that the word “inherit” is emphatic; that it marks out its being received by those who obtain an entrance into the [millennial] kingdom, in the way of gift. They obtain eternal life, not as the due of their works; but as a gift granted to their new birth, as sons of God.
30. “But many shall be first last, and last first.”
In what sense are the words “first” and “last” to be taken in this designedly obscure sentiment? Some would regard it as intending, that those first in privileges, would, on account of their abused responsibility, be inferior in position at last to some possessed of inferior advantages, who make a better use of them. (2) Others, that those first in dignity in the church would be degraded from a like cause. But the parable which follows proves, that “first” and “last” are words of order; and that they refer to the call of God, and the times of reward.
“but” with which the sentence begins, stands as a limitation
of the “every one” that had preceded it in the former verse. ‘Every one that forsakes for My sake shall be richly rewarded, but many among God’s anciently-recognized
people will not accept the terms I bring; and many, not recognized now as his
people, will accept them, and be first in reward.’ The terms are open to all; but few of those
that boast themselves as God’s servants already, will enter into the [millennial] kingdom.
The sentiment then is parallel with
another, to which the Lord Jesus gave utterance, on the occasion of the Roman
centurion’s plea for his servant. “But I say unto you, that many
shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac
and Jacob in the
“Many” of the first-called, that is, of the Jews, will have no place in the kingdom. Not that all of them will be excluded. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and [all] the prophets are twice mentioned, as destined to obtain it. Nor will all the last-called, or the Gentiles enter; for many of them will be found workers of iniquity. But many of the last called will be first in reward; enjoying eternal life a thousand years before the others.* Thus though last in regard to the call, they are first in regard of reward; as many Jews, though first called, shall be last in receiving eternal life, only entering thereupon, after the millennial reign is over.
[* This is why so much attention is placed on attaining the “First Resurrection” of the dead, who are presently in the underworld of Hades/Sheol. See Phil. 3: 11; Rev. 20: 4-6; Heb. 11: 35b; Luke 14: 14; 20: 35, etc.]
II. “And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market place, and said unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is just, I will give you.’ But they went their way.
III. “Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
IV. “But about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’ They say unto him, ‘Because no one hath hired us.’ He saith unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is just shall ye receive.’
V. “Now when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, ‘Call the labourers, and pay them their hire beginning from the last unto the first.’ And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every one a denarius.* But when the first came, they supposed that they shall receive more, and they likewise received every one a denarius. But when they had received it, they murmured against the householder saying, ‘These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the burden of the day, and the heat.’
* One of the fathers suggests, that perhaps the one-hour labourers were paid a denarius, because they in that hour wrought as much as the first workmen in a day. But this is exactly to invert the intent of that portion of the parable. The Saviour wishes us to see, that their payment turns, not upon their desert, but the householder’s good pleasure. And it is on that ground that he puts it. “May I not do what I choose with mine own?” He must have set it on very different grounds, had he maintained the desert of those of the eleventh hour.
VI. “But he answered and said unto one of them, ‘Comrade, I do thee no wrong; didst thou not agree with me for a denarius? Take up that which is thine, and go. I choose to give to this last even as unto thee. May I not do as I choose with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?’
VII. “So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few chosen.”
Into the parable it is not my purpose to enter minutely. I would just sketch what appear to be its principal points of connection with the foregoing conversation. For some principles are involved in that, which our Lord, I believe, designed to elucidate and settle hereby. The parable is given by Matthew alone; because he was the fittest person to settle questions connected with the Jews rights. For his Gospel specially addresses the circumcision.
The interview with the young ruler awoke the two questions concerning God’s justice and His goodness; and the parable settles the respective spheres of these.-
The justice of the householder appears, in his paying to the first labourers the denarius agreed on. His sovereignty, in His giving as many calls as he would, and appointing the order and extent of recompense to each of the other classes. Under this story then, an important question concerning the character of God, which was virtually mooted by the previous interview, is decided.
Lord first regards the youth as a rich man simply, and deduces the suited lessons therefrom. But he was also a Jew; a Jew who believed
himself to have kept the law, and to have earned its wages - eternal life. He then is paralleled in the parable, by the
first order of labourers, by whom are meant the men of
The denarius then means eternal life.* This is proved by the following considerations.
* Having changed my idea of the meaning of the denarius, and being very doubtful whether the parable be prophetic, I have withdrawn from circulation the former explanation of the parable of the Labourers.
1. It was that which the young man, who stands in the moral position of the first order of labourers, supposed that he had won by his works. It is that also which the Saviour asserts to be the result of the fulfilment of the law.
2. In the parable, both the first and the last receive a denarius; and the Lord promises, in the previous conversation, eternal life both to the fulfillers of the law, and to the forsakers of aught for His name’s sake. “What shall I do that I may have eternal life?” “They shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life.”
3. The young man, it is supposed, for his non-compliance with our Lord’s terms, is excluded from the kingdom. That, therefore, is not the reward which is common to the first and the last.
if the previous interpretation be right, the millennium would also appear in
the parable; for apostles and others were to partake of that as well as of
eternal life. And so indeed it does. It is
seen, as the difference in point of time, at which the last begin to be paid.
The millennium is but the first-fruits
of eternal life; and, long as it were to wait a thousand years for eternal
life, when others were already in enjoyment of it, it still is but a short
space compared with eternity. The day of labour spoken of in the parable answers to this present
evil age. The evening and its
cessation from labour with the hire paid to the last answer to the “rest” that remains for the people of God, or the
There are two kinds of terms made by the householder. Those first hired conclude their exactly-defined bargain with the owner of the vineyard. The others enter it, leaving much to his decision. He would give them what was just; and they were content to trust him. But so also, in the previous conversation, it was shown that two classes of terms are put forth; those of the law, and those of the kingdom. The former terms were known to the Jew, and referred to as such. The latter were new, and unknown even to the twelve; as Peter’s question discovers. They were new, in regard to the nature of the reward. They were new also in regard of the class of persons to be rewarded. The law was given to the nation of the Jews alone. These terms are universal to “every one that hath forsaken” aught for Christ.
The whole parable turns on the assumption, that the terms put forth by Jesus were new. If the Lord’s demand of the young man were only the old condition, and the kingdom were only another word for eternal life, what ground in the previous interview was there for the objection taken up by the parable? Further, in order to carry out the principles of the conversation, the steward should have denied, as has been already observed, that the murmuring labourer had done his day’s work.
As the conversation recognizes God, both as just and as good, so the parable displays how the two attributes may appear together in the millennial dispensation without clashing. The plea for God’s justice comes first. The stipulators had not been wronged. They had got what they agreed for; let them go! So the disciple of Moses should have as much as the Law awarded him, if he fulfilled its demands. But if there be none who can be justified by the law, the plea of injustice to the Jew is still more entirely proved groundless. At that point however the Redeemer does not attack it here.
But a difficulty appears in the lesson with which the Great Teacher concludes the parable. “So the last shall be first, and the first last, for many are called, but few chosen.” When the like sentiment was uttered before, it was with restriction. “Many first shall be last, and last first.” Here the article proves that the terms are taken universally. The solution of the difficulty lies in this, that on the first occasion, our Lord regards the called; in the last, the elect, or rewarded ones. Of these latter, who possess the full characteristics of their respective classes, it will be universally true, that the last, or the obedient Gentiles will be first in reward, or partakers of the kingdom; while those who cling to Moses will not enter it.
The call of God constitutes each class; the rewarded are the “Jew” or the elect of each class. The words, “many are called,” apply to each class, whether those of the law or of the gospel. God’s equity is seen in the general and public terms thrown open to all. “Every one” that forsakes aught for Christ shall be rewarded to the extent specified.
But not all those to whom the public terms are proposed will obtain the prize. The open door, owing to the unwillingness of man, avails not. The call is made to “many,” but the obtainers of the recompense are “few.” To both the apostles and the young ruler the same word, “Follow Me,” was uttered; but the ruler turned away.
“Few are chosen.” Here is the secret acting of God’s sovereignty. That the call is effectual in any case, is due to that divine grace which leads the un-willing to comply. It enabled those who are rewarded to fulfil the terms to which the recompense is attached. So that, while in public, and before the presence of Christ as the Righteous Judge, they will be esteemed worthy of reward, they will still, in secret, be indebted to the grace of God, which bent their wills to obey, and to persevere in obedience. This was therefore an opportune lesson to Peter and the other apostles, that they should not be self-complacent in contemplating the difference between themselves and the young man, but should attribute the difference to the goodness of God and to His grace, the outflow of His goodness. And this election regards even the “last.” All those who obtain only eternal life, having lived under the law, will receive it as being graciously elevated above the mass of the Jewish nation, who were perpetually rebelling against God.
‘Then,’ it may be said, ‘there is sovereignty, even with regard to entrance unto the kingdom: and yet you make it to depend on good works.’ This is true. Both principles have place. Only those judged worthy, according to their works, shall enter the kingdom: but grace enables any to perform the works to which the reward is attached. But with regard to eternal life, election is absolute, and attached to faith only, not to works.
The law will have its elect partakers of eternal life, even though they should not be partakers of the kingdom. But I would suggest, whether those may not be reckoned of the first class, who, as justified by faith, obtain eternal life, while, nevertheless, they take the law of Moses as their rule of life, and refuse to obey that higher standard of conduct which the Lord Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. Have we not also something akin to this in the Epistle to the Galatians? There, those who were of the Gospel are found turning back to the law. The issue of such conduct, as the apostle warns them, would be the loss of the inheritance proper to their previous position. The law itself decided, that the two sons of the different mothers should not inherit together. Gal. 4: 28-31.
To the eye of many, the parable is intended to teach, that all will be equal in reward, whatever their labour in the cause of God. But this is wholly a mistake. The denarius which all the labourers partake is indeed eternal life: but there is a difference in regard of reward between the last and the first. And above all, most clearly is the inequality of recompense established by the previous conversation. There are some who shall hardly enter the kingdom, some to whom it shall be richly ministered. There are those who enter eternal life only, and those who enjoy its first-fruits in the Day of the Lord. There are apostles, whose thrones shall be conspicuous in the kingdom; and disciples who are to be rewarded in proportion to their sacrifices for Christ, whether of houses and lands, or of the ties of nature. Now these sacrifices being unequal, the recompense must be so too. But the parable does not treat of the recompense of individuals, but only adjusts the claims of classes. “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us who have borne the burden and heat of the day.” Thus in regard to masses and the common reception of etemal life, there will be equality; in regard to individuals, and the kingdom of heaven, the utmost inequality.
There is yet one passage which so strongly corroborates some of the points here asserted, that the present remarks would be incomplete without it.
“Now one said unto Him, ‘Lord, are the saved
few?’ But He said unto him, ‘Strive to
enter in through the narrow gate,*
for many I say unto you will seek to enter in, and will not prevail. When once the householder is risen up and hath
shut to (or ‘locked’) the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the
door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open unto us;’ and he shall answer and say unto you,
‘I know you not whence ye are;’ then, shall ye begin to say, ‘We ate, before
thee and drank, and thou didst teach in our streets.’ And He shall say, ‘I tell
you I know you not whence ye are, depart from me, all ye workers of injustice.’
Weeping shall be there and gnashing of
teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the
* Some critics read “door,” (…) instead of “gate” (…).
The points of agreement with the preceding observations furnished by the passage before us, are briefly these:
1. First and last are the Jews and Gentiles as in the previous case. “There are first which shall be last,” is just the limitation found in Matthew 19: 30. “Many first shall be last.” Some of the Jews are specified as being ultimately found in the kingdom. “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets.” The Gentile elect are implied in the words, “Men shall come from east and west.” And so in Matthew 8: 11, 12.
2. The inquirer asks concerning “the saved.” But
Jesus’ answer respects those that attain “the
4. Lastly, the “narrow gate” into the kingdom, answers to the “needle’s eye” of Matthew. Only, in the passage from Luke, the workers of iniquity are addressed, and not disciples, as in the former case.
To conclude; the passage from Matthew divides itself naturally into three parts; in the first, or the Lord’s conversation with the young man, we have the terms of the law; and its recompense - eternal life. In the second, or the Saviour’s discourse with the disciples, founded on the young ruler’s refusal, we have the terms of the Gospel, and its reward - the kingdom of heaven. In the parable, we have the adjustment of the two terms, and of the two recompenses. The young man’s circumstances as rich, and the circumstances of apostles and disciples in general, come into view, only when the kingdom of heaven is in question. When eternal life is the subject, the young ruler is regarded only as a Jew, conversant with the terms originally set forth to the fathers.
If these views be true, how solemnly do they rebuke the ordinary pursuit of many believers? How fitted are they to destroy the worldliness and trade-spirit, which are so desolating the churches of Christ! Let no one take this doctrine as his belief, on the assertion of the writer; but let him weigh well whether this is not the teaching of our Lord, upheld by many places of the New Testament! If any one is assured of the truth of it, may he seek grace to carry out its principles! For this is no speculation, but deeply practical. And of the foundation of our practice we cannot be too well assured.
Let each also guard against flinging the truth aside, because so contradictory to his natural feelings. Let each ask for the single eye; for to that alone is abundance of light given.