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ENTERING THE KINGDOM

‘And they brought unto Him also infants, that He would touch them: but when His disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16. But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 17. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. 18. And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 19. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. 20. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. 21. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. 22. Now when Jesus heard these things, He said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. 23. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. 24. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful He said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God? 25. For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? 27. And He said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. 28. Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed Thee. 29. And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, 30. Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in world to come life everlasting.’—LUKE xviii. 15-30.

In this section Luke rejoins the other two Evangelists, from whom his narrative has diverged since Luke ix. 51. All three bring together these two incidents of the children in Christ’s arms and the young ruler. Probably they were connected in time as well as in subject. Both set forth the conditions of entering the kingdom, which the one declares to be lowliness and trust, and the other to be self-renunciation.

I. We have the child-likeness of the subjects of the kingdom. No doubt there was a dash of superstition in the impulse that moved the parents to bring their children to Jesus, but it was an eminently natural desire to win a good man’s blessing, and one to which every parent’s heart will respond. It was not the superstition, but the intrusive familiarity, that provoked the disciples’ rebuke. A great man’s hangers-on are always more careful of his dignity than he is, for it increases their own importance.

The tender age of the children is to be noted. They were ‘babes,’ and had to be brought, being too young to walk, and so having scarcely yet arrived at conscious, voluntary life. It is ‘of such’ that the subjects of the kingdom are composed. What, then, are the qualities which, by this comparison, Jesus requires? Certainly not innocence, which would be to contradict all his teaching and to shut out the prodigals and publicans, and clean contrary to the whole spirit of Luke’s Gospel. Besides, these scarcely conscious infants were not ‘innocent,’ for they had not come to the age of which either innocence or guilt can be predicated. What, then, had they which the children of the kingdom must have?

Perhaps the sweet and meek little 131st Psalm puts us best on the track of the answer. It may have been in our Lord’s mind; it certainly corresponds to His thought. ‘My heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty. . .. I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother.’ The infant’s lowliness is not yet humility; for it is instinct rather than virtue. It makes no claims, thinks no lofty thoughts of self; in fact, has scarcely begun to know that there is a self at all. On the other hand, clinging trust is the infant’s life. It, too, is rudimentary and instinctive, but the impulse which makes the babe nestle in its mother’s bosom may well stand for a picture of the conscious trust which the children of the kingdom must have. The child’s instinct is the man’s virtue. We have

‘To travel back

And tread again that ancient track,’

regaining as the conscious temper of our spirits those excellences of humility and trust of which the first faint types may be seen in the infant in arms. The entrance gate is very low, and, if we hold our heads high, we shall not get through it. It must be on our hands and knees that we go in. There is no place in the kingdom for those who trust in themselves. We must rely wholly on God manifest in His Son.

So intent is Luke in pointing the lesson that he passes by in silence the infinitely beautiful and touching incident which the world perhaps knows better than any other in our Lord’s life—that of His taking the infants in His arms and blessing them. In many ways that incident would have been peculiarly suitable for this Gospel, which delights to bring out the manhood and universal beneficence of Jesus. But if Luke knew of it, he did not care to bring in anything which would weaken the lesson of the conditions of entering the kingdom.

II. We have self-renunciation as the condition of entering the kingdom. The conversation with the ruler (vs. 18-23) sets forth its necessity; the sad exclamation to the bystanders (vs. 24-27) teaches its difficulty; and the dialogue with Peter as representing the twelve (vs. 28-30), its reward.

(1) The necessity of self-renunciation. The ruler’s question has much blended good and evil. It expresses a true earnestness, a dissatisfaction with self, a consciousness of unattained bliss and a longing for it, a felt readiness to take any pains to secure it, a confidence in Christ’s guidance—in short, much of the child spirit. But it has also a too light estimate of what good is, a mistaken notion that ‘eternal life’ can be won by external deeds, which implies fatal error as to its nature and his own power to do these. This superficial estimate of goodness, and this over confidence in his ability to do good acts, are the twin mistakes against which Christ’s treatment of him is directed.

Adopting Luke’s version of our Lord’s answer, the counter-question, which begins it, lays hold of the polite address, which had slipped from the ruler’s lips as mere form, and bids him widen out his conceptions of ‘good.’ Jesus does not deny that He has a right to the title, but questions this man’s right to give it Him. The ruler thought of Jesus only as a man, and, so thinking, was too ready with his adjective. Conventional phrases of compliment may indicate much of the low notions from which they spring. He who is so liberal with his ascriptions of goodness needs to have his notions of what it is elevated. Jesus lays down the great truth which this man, in his confidence that he by his own power could do any good needed for eternal life, was perilously forgetting. God is the only good, and therefore all human goodness must come from Him; and if the ruler is to do ‘good,’ he must first be good, by receiving goodness from God.

But the saying has an important bearing on Christ’s character. The world calls Him good. Why? There is none good but God. So we are face to face with this dilemma—Either Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh, or He is not good.

Having thus tried to deepen his conceptions, and awaken his consciousness of imperfection, our Lord meets the man on his own ground by referring him to the Law, which abundantly answered his inquiry. The second half of the commandments are alone quoted by Him; for they have especially to do with conduct, and the infractions of them are more easily recognised than those of the first. The ruler expected that some exceptional and brilliant deeds would be pointed out and he is relegated to the old homely duties, which it is gross crime not to do.

A shade of disappointment and impatience is in his protestation that he had done all these ever since he was a lad. No doubt he had, and his coming to Jesus confessed that though he had, the doing had not brought him ‘eternal life.’ Are there not many youthful hearts which would have to say the same, if they would be frank with themselves? They have some longings after a bliss and calm which they feel is not theirs. They have kept within the lines of that second half of the Decalogue, but that amount and sort of ‘good thing’ has not brought peace. Jesus looks on all such as He did on this young man, ‘loves’ them, and speaks further to them as He did to him. What was lacking? The soul of goodness, without which these other things were ‘dead works.’ And what is that soul? Absolute self-renunciation and following Christ. For this man the former took the shape of parting with his wealth, but that external renunciation in itself was as ‘dead’ and impotent to bring eternal life as all his other good acts had been. It was precious as a means to an end—the entrance into the number of Christ’s disciples; and as an expression of that inward self-surrender which is essential for discipleship.

The real stress of the condition is in its second half, ‘Follow me.’ He who enters the company of Christ’s followers enters the kingdom, and has eternal life. If he does not do that, he may give his goods to feed the poor, and it profiteth him nothing. Eternal life is not the external wages for external acts, but the outcome and consequence of yielding self to Jesus, through whom goodness, which keeps the law, flows into the soul.

The requirement pierced to the quick. The man loved the world more than eternal life, after all. But though he went away, he went sorrowful; and that was perhaps the presage that he would come back.

(2) Jesus follows him with sad yearning, and, we may be sure, still sought to draw him back. His exclamation is full of the charity which makes allowance for temptation. It speaks a universal truth, never more needed than in our days, when wealth has flung its golden chains round so many professing Christians. How few of us believe that it gets harder for us to be disciples as we grow richer! There are multitudes in our churches who would be far nearer Christ than they are ever likely to be, if they would literally obey the injunction to get rid of their wealth.

We are too apt to take such commands as applicable only to the individuals who received them, whereas, though, no doubt, the spirit, and not the letter, is the universal element in them, there are far more of us than we are willing to confess, who need to obey the letter in order to keep the spirit. What a depth of vulgar adoration of the power of money is in the disciples’ exclamation, ‘If rich men cannot get into the kingdom, who can get in!’ Or perhaps it rather means, If self-renunciation is the condition, who can fulfil it? The answer points us all to the only power by which we can do good, and overcome self; namely by God’s help. God is ‘good,’ and we can be good too, if we look to Him. God will fill our souls with such sweetness that earth will not be hard to part with.

(3) The last paragraph of this passage teaches the reward of self-renunciation. Peter shoves his oar in, after his fashion. It would have been better if he had not boasted of their surrender, but yet it was true that they had given up all. Only a fishing-boat and a parcel of old nets, indeed, but these were all they had to give; and God’s store, which holds His children’s surrendered valuables, has many things of small value in it—cups of cold water and widows’ mites lying side by side with crowns and jewels.

So Jesus does not rebuke the almost innocent self-congratulation, but recognises in it an appeal to his faithfulness. It was really a prayer, though it sounded like a vaunt, and it is answered by renewed assurances. To part with outward things for Christ’s sake or for the kingdom’s sake—which is the same thing—is to win them again with all their sweetness a hundred-fold sweeter. Gifts given to Him come back to the giver mended by His touch and hallowed by lying on His altar. The present world yields its full riches only to the man who surrenders all to Jesus. And the ‘eternal life,’ which the ruler thought was to be found by outward deeds, flows necessarily into the heart which is emptied of self, that it may be filled with Him who is the life, and will be perfected yonder.

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