Notes on Matthew 19

Matthew 19
Next the Pharisees raise the question of marriage, which gives the Lord occasion to lay down some principles as the basis of natural relationships, and of grace in the Christian; then, at the same time, to bring out man's true moral state according to nature; and, finally, the consequences and the principle of devotedness according to grace.
That which God ordered in the beginning is strictly maintained. God created man, male and female; he united the two to be but one flesh, and this union is indissoluble according to God. Sin may break the bond, but divorce is totally forbidden under any condition, but that of the fact by which the bond is thus already broken. It is God who has formed this link; man has no right to break it. Since then a power was come to work in man, outside and above nature, which can put him outside natural relationships, it can take and endow him with energy, in order to keep him, apart from those relationships, for the service of the kingdom. The relationship of marriage is fully recognized, its holiness, its indissolubility; but God has taken possession of man, so that he might be for Him. In His creation, that is, God has made marriage; but the Holy Ghost, acting in power, appropriates to Himself a man, who, from that time, recognizes marriage, and yet does not marry for love of the kingdom of God.
Next (ver. 18) we have nature viewed on its beautiful side: little children, and a young man of charming character. In the Gospel of Mark we read, “Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him;” but his heart had to be put to the proof. Little children, with whom malice, falsehood, and the spirit of the world were not yet in action, furnished the model of what was suitable to the kingdom of heaven; the root of evil, no doubt, was there, but it was the creature in its simplicity and confidence, things which the world despised, and not will, bearing fruits of wickedness and corruption. Thus their character, being such, served as a model. The difference between the amiability of nature and the state of the heart before God, was to be shown in the case of the young man. Irreproachable in his conduct, be sought the Teacher, who appeared to his conscience able to give the most excellent directions for well doing. He comes with the thought that there is goodness in man, and in his eyes goodness was manifested more in Jesus than anywhere else. He seeks His counsel as to how to gain eternal life by his doings. He addresses the Lord as a man, a Rabbi, attracted nevertheless by what he had seen in Him. He calls Him good. The Lord stops him short, “'One only is good.” Now the young man did not know Him as such. He had not asked what must be done to be saved, but to have eternal life. The Lord reminds him of the commandments, the rule for the man who wishes to have life through the law: “This do, and thou shalt live.”
Now the young man did not know himself, nor what the law of God was in its holiness. He wanted to do in order to gain eternal life. The Lord does not speak of eternal life; He takes the young man on the ground of the law, which promised life to those who fulfilled it. The young man, irreproachable in his conduct, like Saul, and not knowing the spirituality of the law, replies that he has kept the law in everything the Savior speaks of. What lacked he yet? If he would be perfect, he must sell that he had, and follow Jesus. The state of his soul is at once made manifest. The heart of the man, irreproachable in his morals, was under the yoke of attachment to what he possessed. He leaves the Lord sorrowful, his heart having been shown out in the light which poor human nature can never endure. Nature, however amiable it may be in its character, is morally entirely at a distance from God. Here is an amiable young man, seeking to do well, showing what is called the best dispositions, with the means to do a great deal of good, as soon as the light comes, convicted of being under the dominion of an idol—of preferring his ease and his riches to the One whom he knew to be good, to whom he had come to seek direction as to the One who could best direct him. His heart was entirely possessed by evil, by an idol.
The Lord had already judged man, when declaring that none was good save God Himself; nevertheless, He goes still farther. The disciples, astonished at such a result, and at that which the Lord had said about riches, which, in the eyes of a Jew, were the sign of the favor of God, and which, at all events, furnished the opportunity for doing good works, cry out, “Who, then, can be saved?” If none were good, and if good dispositions, with the means of doing good, were worth nothing, if these means were rather a hindrance, who could be saved? The Savior's answer is categorical. If it was a question of man, no one. As far as man is concerned, it is impossible; good is not in him; he is the slave of evil by his will and his lusts. But God is above evil—He can save. It is evident that we are on an entirely new ground—on the ground, not of a law which pats to the proof, but of the truth itself, which, while magnifying what is created by God, declares the entire moral ruin of man. God can save. This is the only resource. This is the fundamental truth as to the natural man. Now let us see what is the effect and the principle of grace, where it acted, and where men had left all to fellow the Lord.
The apostles had done what the Lord had invited the young man to do; they had left all, and followed Jesus. What should they receive The Lord answers by turning their eyes towards the kingdom established in glory. They would be on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The Son of David, the Son of man, seated on the throne of His glory, would have His princes over the twelve tribes, judging them, and themselves also seated on thrones. But He will be Son of man, and will have taken out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; then princes shall rule in judgment. (Isa. 32)
And not only the apostles, but everyone that had forsaken that which nature loves, which God Himself owns in its place; everyone who should renounce himself for Christ, renouncing also everything that was dear to him, should have an hundredfold in reward, and inherit eternal life. It is not a question of the special position of Israel, as in the case of the twelve companions of Christ at the time of His humiliation in Israel but at all times, in every place, he who should lose the present life for His name's sake, should receive an hundredfold, and eternal life. This is the principle, for we have already an hundredfold down here, and afterward everlasting life. The Lord says here, “eternal life;” to the young man he only said, “Thou shalt enter into life;” for the law had no formal promise of eternal life, it only said, “This do, and thou shalt live.” Life and incorruptibility have been brought to light through the gospel. God had promised it before the world began, but in due times manifested His word through the preaching of the apostle. (Titus 1:2, 82In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2)
8But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; (Titus 1:8)
.) Eternal life is twice mentioned in the Old Testament (Psa. 133; Dan. 12), but the two passages refer to the millennium. No doubt there were facts, such as those of Enoch, of Elijah, and passages like Psa. 16, which gave ground for that belief which the Pharisees had rightly received. The Sadducees had known neither the scriptures nor the power of God. But the passage which the Savior quotes shows how obscurely this doctrine was revealed, save for a spiritual eye. Christ was the eternal life come down from heaven. (1 John 1) With Him, and specially after His death, it was fully manifested. This already takes place here; one gives up the good things of life here below, oneself; one receives an hundredfold, and inherits eternal life. When He says, inherits, He turns our eye towards that which is properly eternal. I have already said one may have an hundredfold here below, even with persecutions, as Mark says; but then the inheritance surely is not limited to this world, and the eternal life, although we possess it already down here, belongs to another world, and never ends. The Lord here reveals it clearly, while carrying our thoughts to new things, and declaring that this denial of oneself should bring advantages a hundred times greater.
There was a danger, as did not fail to happen, that man might think of a kind of bargain with God: so much labor and sacrifice, and a proportionate recompense. Wretched principle! but which man is quite capable of inventing. The Lord, therefore, adds verse 30, that many first should be last, and last should be first.