"What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
Matthew 19:16, Mark 10:17, Luke 18:18
...Hence the young rich ruler, on another occasion, who anxiously came to him for advice; Christ perfectly knew his pride and vanity, and his covetous disposition, and where his heart was, even on his earthly treasures; (and like multitudes in our day, who would take the world and their riches in one hand, and heaven in the other;) and he addressed Christ as " Good Master," believing he could give him further instructions, "What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Matt. xix.; 16. Mark x 17. Luke xviii. 18. As he had been perfect, (as he thought, hitherto,) and still depending on his own works, he wished to know what he yet lacked. Christ immediately laid the axe to the root of the tree, and cut down all his pride and vanity, his self-confidence, and glorying in his own righteousness, holiness, and carnal wisdom; he told him what to do; that if he would enter into life, to keep the commandments ; he asked him which; Christ told him ; and he said, " All these things have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet ?" And Jesus said unto him, if thou wilt be perfect, (that is, according to his own legal system,) " Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and take up thy cross and follow me."
Now, as he had no idea of eternal life, but by the works of the law, Christ still set him to work to fulfill the law; and as he had boasted of his fulfilment of the law, Christ soon convinced him of his error; that he loved his riches more than he loved God, and himself more than his neighbour. This was a breach of the two great commandments, on which hung all the law and the prophets; (see Matt. xxii. 40) ; so that he set him to parting from his god (mammon) and loving his neighbour as himself, by dispensing his property to the poor, and thus fulfilling the law : this no man ever could or did do, but Christ himself. But it was a notion of the pharisees (and Christ was well acquainted with them, and this young man was one of the best of them, and held the same notions,) that they were to be saved by the deeds of the law, and that almsgiving was meritorious of eternal life; arid thus Christ put him to the utmost stretch of his own plan for perfection, and convinces him of his own insufficiency to perform it, in a way he knew would not be pleasing to him ; and yet he would not be able to disprove of the method, on the ground of his own tenets. And as he came to Christ for instruction, Christ likewise put him to the test as regarded his belief in him, as the Messiah, by telling him to take up his cross and follow him. " And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved ; for he had great possessions." Thus he went away in silent sorrow, having his affections fixed on his riches, and no heart to part with them; as those had who believed in Christ. Acts xiii. 44,45. One thing he lacked, namely a new heart of charity, so that he was like the man without a wedding garment, speechless. Thus Christ put this young man to sadness, sorrow and silence ; the same as he put to silence the Sadducees, and the Pharisees, with their clever lawyer. And no man was able to answer him a word. See Matt. xxii. 15-46.
But this young man came to Christ different to the generality who addressed him; he came in earnest, not tempting him; but courteously, and for instruction, and was thoughtful of the world to come : though it is evident he did not believe that Christ was the promised Messiah; yet it appears there was much about him amiable, and praiseworthy ; for Jesus looked upon him, with natural affection, and concern for his ignorance of the law, its spirituality, and large extent, requiring perfection in thought, and word, as well as deed; but he only looked at his deeds, or doings; and his coming to Christ, was only from natural and fleshly earnestness, and upon a legal bottom, the same as the rest of the Pharisees, not under spiritual conviction of sin ; that is a very different coming to Christ; and the flesh can never brook any thing but that which is congenial to itself; and is always enmity to God's way of salvation. Rom. viii. 7. Salvation being the bequest of God to his children, or those who were given to Christ, John x. 29, and is a free grace gift, not by the works of the law, Rom. iv. 14; for they that are under the law, are under the curse; and are not led by the Spirit of God. Gal. iii. 10—18. And Christ (as it is stated throughout the four Gospels) dealt with- such accordingly; and exhorted them to legal and moral duties, and not to Evangelical obedience; for he always knew the goats from the sheep, and the sheep from the goats; his own sheep heard, and knew his voice, and followed him, with joy and rejoicing. (Read attentively John x.) But this rich young man went away sorrowful.