“GAIN OR LOSS”
Sermon preached by Mr. B. A. Ramsbottom (Bethel Chapel, Luton) at Shaw Street, Liverpool, November 2nd, 1964.
Mark 10. 21, “One Thing Thou Lackest”.
This solemn word was spoken by the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We find, my friends, that most who came to the Lord Jesus, came in sorrow and went away in joy. How many there are who came with hard cases, and yet they went away with their hearts filled with holy joy! But here is a difference. This rich ruler did not come to the Lord Jesus with a hard case; he did not come with a sad heart, but we read that he went away grieved, he went away sorrowful. Ever remember this, my friends, that the Lord Jesus Christ possessed an all-seeing eye and He knew what was in man. There was that dear woman and her desire was but to touch the hem of His garment; she spoke not a word, but the Lord knew the exercise of her heart and said unto her: “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole”. But the Lord Jesus also viewed the heart of those who came without a real exercise, without a real case. So it was with Nicodemus. You know Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus by night. He had much religion; he was self-satisfied; he thought that, being a Jew, was sufficient, but the Lord Jesus looked upon his heart and he knocked to pieces all his religion in one stroke as He solemnly spoke to him of the new birth, the need for the possession of vital, spiritual things.
Now so it was with this rich, young ruler. The Lord Jesus knew that here was one who wanted to have the best of both worlds. He wanted heaven and he wanted to cling to his idols; and the Lord Jesus put His finger right on the very spot, and putting His finger on the spot, how He knocked this man’s religion, this man’s pretentions to piecesÂ—and he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions. Vital godliness comes very close. There was much which was admirable in this man, but the Lord Jesus said: “One thing thou lackest”.
You know, it is a solemn thing if we possess many things in our religion, and for our religion to go wrong on the vital point. This rich, young ruler had many things which were good, but you know, we have just sung:
Partial service is his loathing;
He requires pure desires;
All the heart, or nothing.
It is a solemn thing to be right in many things and to lack something which is vital. To take an example: even in natural things, it is not sufficient to be right most of the time. If a child is walking through the streets, it is not sufficient that he should take care most of the time and then not bother before crossing the road. It is not sufficient for a person to prepare a meal and take great care about most of the food and then leave one part which might have poison in it. These are only examples; but in vital godliness, it is not sufficient to be right on many things and to be wrong on the vital point. “One thing thou lackest”.
My mind has gone today to a story that used to be told of the renowned George Whitfield, how, in the days of his ministry, he visited one house where he was always received with the utmost kindness, and he found that those people possessed many good things, and yet he was really exercised and concerned about them; they seemed to be wrong on vital things. He was very concerned as to how he should speak to them. He felt that it was very difficult to begin to speak and pull their religion to pieces, and the Lord made this opening. There was a diamond ring there, and he picked it up and wrote on a mirror: “One thing thou lackest”, and it pleased the Lord to use that word and to make it profitable to that family. The Lord applied it and they were concerned as to what the vital point was which they lacked. The vital point was concerning a never-ending eternity. “One thing thou lackest”.
Now, as the Lord shall help me, I would try first of all to show you some of these things in this rich, young ruler which were admirable but which, in themselves were not sufficient when the one vital thing was lacking. And then, I would try to trace out to you what the vital thing is which is needful to take a sinner to heaven. “One thing thou lackest”.
Now notice first of all, my friends, that this young man was possessed of much ZEAL and his zeal was exercised in a good way. We have two things set before us in which this young man was zealous; one was in the way in which he came running to the Lord Jesus. The other was in his diligence in desiring to keep the commandments. “But one thing thou lackest”. You know, my friends, the word of God solemnly speaks of a zeal which is not according to knowledge. O, beware of a blind zeal! Having a zeal for the things of God, having a zeal for religion is insufficient. You remember Jehu in the Old Testament; he was an ungodly man who perished in his sin, yet he said “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord”. Zeal in itself is insufficient for salvation. Here was a most zealous young man and the Lord Jesus said “One thing thou lackest”.
Now another commendable thing in this rich, young ruler was his REVERENCE. You know he spoke in a most becoming way to the Lord Jesus. We read that he came and he knelt down before Him. But this outward reverence in itself was insufficient. Beware, of being satisfied with an outward reverence for the things of God, with an outward reverence when found in the House of God; and yet lacking the one thing needful!
Now I would try to speak very affectionately on this point. There are certain circles in which conformity to the things of God is confused with grace. Reverence for divine things is a most commendable point, but an outward conformity to the things of God can never take the place of grace. We especially have that set forth in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Outwardly, there was no difference; they were all virgins, they all carried lamps, but the difference lay hereÂ—some of the lamps contained oil, and some of the lamps were empty. Now beware of having an outward reverence for the things of God and yet falling under this condemnation: “One thing thou lackest”! It is a solemn thing to have our lamps empty, our lamps gone out when the solemn cry goes forth: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh”. What does this oil signify? It signifies grace, and this is the vital point, to know something through mercy of the possession of a work of grace within. Now this rich young ruler had a commendable reverence which he showed outwardly for the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet he was destitute of the one thing needful. “One thing thou lackest”.
Notice this also concerning this young man, he was interested in ETERNAL LIFE. This was the very question with which he came. He was not finding fault with the Lord Jesus, he was not speaking on things which did not matter; he came and was speaking on a vital point: “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” How commendable was this! Surely, there can be no better exercise, no better concern than this, to desire to know how eternal life might be possessed! And yet the Lord said to him: “One thing thou lackest”. Where did the fault lie? It was here. He wanted the best of both worlds, he did not want to take up his cross and follow Christ; he wanted to have a smooth pathway, he wanted to be devoted to his earthly possessions and wanted eternal life at last; he wanted the best of both worlds. Beware of a religion like this! He was not like many who say there is no such thing as eternity. This man believed in eternity and eternal life and wanted to possess it, but this in itself was not sufficient. He wanted to reach heaven but he did not want to travel heavenwards. “One thing thou lackest”. Beware of a religion like this! There are thousands who want to possess eternal life at last and yet they have no desire to be identified with the dear people of God here on earth; no desire to be followers of the meek and lowly Jesus; no desire to walk in a way of gracious separation. “One thing thou lackest “.
And this man had much religion, but it is not religion that saves. It is Christ. O, beware of being satisfied with religion! This man possessed much religion and yet his religion was insufficient to take him to heaven. “One thing thou lackest”.
There was also this which was so commendable in the rich young ruler. Outwardly HIS LIFE WAS MORAL. He could honestly say concerning the commandments “All these have I observed from my youth”. But the Lord Jesus solemnly dealt with him on his own ground, the Lord Jesus dealt with him concerning
the tenth commandment, on covetousness. And when the Lord put him to the test of obedience under the tenth commandment “Thou shalt not covet” (his love for earthly riches) he was weighed in the balances and found wanting. Beware, my friends, of a religion which seeks to merit heaven through creature righteousness! Even outwardly, we are all found guilty here; but when the Lord goes further than this, shows how exceeding broad His commandment is, and when He reveals something of the spirituality of the law, then no sinner can stand before Him. “One thing thou lackest”.
It is a great mercy to be brought to this place as the Lord shows you how far short you come in obedience to His holy law; how you are condemned in thought, word and deed as you realise that one thing is lacking! It is a great mercy to be brought to this:
The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before thy throne;
But faith can answer thy demands,
By pleading what my Lord has done. (Watts).
“One thing thou lackest”.
Now I will just mention one last thing which, in this rich young ruler was so commendable but yet was not sufficient to merit heaven, and that was his SINCERITY. He came to the Lord Jesus as a sincere young man, but sincerity is not enough. Now this has been one of Satan’s delusions in all ages that if a person is sincere, then that person will reach heaven. My friends, there are many who are sincerely wrong. There was a young person once who was saying that he believed sincerity in itself was enough. An old person told him this story about a boy who was going to cross a bridge. He sincerely believed that that bridge was safe and that the bridge would bear his weight; but when he went to cross it, he found the bridge was rotten, it gave way and he was drowned. Sincerity was not enough when the bridge was rotten! There are many who are sincere but they rest upon a foundation which is rotten, which will give way and will land them in eternal perdition. Beware of trusting in sincerity! It is possible to be sincerely wrong. Now the Lord Jesus dealt very graciously and tenderly with this young man, but He said “One thing thou lackest”. He showed him the short-comings, the insufficiency of his religion. These things which the young ruler possessed were things which were good, things which were commendable, but not sufficient to merit heaven.
Now I would pause here and make these two observations. The first is this: this account clearly shows the vanity and emptiness of the best of earthly religion short of a saving knowledge of Christ. This young ruler possessed so much, but he lacked the one thing needful. The second is this: this passage solemnly shows the danger of earthly possessions; these exceeding riches which this ruler possessed did him no good as they took him away from Christ. The Lord Jesus so often spoke on this point. “For what
shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” “One thing thou lackest”.
Now I would try to pass on and speak on the one vital thing, the one point which is really necessaryÂ—a vital, saving knowledge of Christ. All other things are vain compared with this; all other things are insufficient that come short of it: a vital, saving knowledge of Christ. Now beware of coming short here! May it be your exercise before the LordÂ—”Lord, whatever else I lack, whatever else I do not possess, may I not be destitute of a saving knowledge of Thyself”. A knowledge of Christ, my friends, is the greatest blessing, and you will find this in sacred scripture that these two things are always linked togetherÂ—the knowledge of Christ and eternal life. This was the point the rich young ruler came enquiring aboutÂ—”What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The Lord Jesus, just before He suffered, spoke those sacred words of His own dear Father: “This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”. You know, if this rich young ruler had been favoured with grace, if he had possessed a right knowledge of Christ savingly, then all these other things would have been right. He would not have lost these things which were commendable, but they would have been displayed in a more blessed way. Those who know the Lord Jesus Christ, who are brought savingly to know Him and love Him and serve Him, they know what it is to possess a holy zeal. They have a true reverence for the Lord and His ways; they are exercised and concerned about eternal life; they are truly sincere; they are brought to walk outwardly in a moral way. This is the differenceÂ—and this is a vital point on which there is so much confusion: the Lord’s people possess these things but they do not make them their foundation. The Lord’s people possess these things but they do not rest upon them; they are not legal duties but they are the fruit of the love of Christ shed abroad in the heart. If this young man had been favoured with a right, saving knowledge of Christ, then he would have been willing to part with his riches for Christ’s sake. We read of the spiritual merchant seeking that goodly pearl of great price, and when he has found it, he is willing to part with all that he has that he might possess it. Now let me be clear on this point. In this present day, it is not often that actually the Lord Jesus does call His dear children to part with all their earthly possessions, but there are times when the Lord puts His people to the test and He makes them willing to leave all and follow Him. He does bring His people to the testing point and they have to say “Lord, whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee”. This makes all the difference! Had this young ruler been sweetly constrained by the love of Christ, then he would have been made willing to take up his cross and follow Him. “One thing thou lackest”.
Now I will try to dwell for a few moments on the vital point
which is not lacking in the souls of the dear people of God, that vital, saving knowledge of Christ in which is eternal life.
I would begin here. There is a difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Him savingly; a vital difference between knowing about religion and knowing Christ. This ruler, he knew much about religion and he knew much about Christ, but it was not a vital, saving knowledge of Him and following after Him. It is
To know my Jesus crucified
By far excels all things beside. (Burnham)
When the Lord graciously deals with a sinner in the new birth, when the Lord opens blind eyes, then that sinner is brought to know certain things which he never knew by nature; brought to know something of the solemnity of eternity, something of the vanity of earthly possessionsÂ—even the best of them; brought to know something of what it is to be a sinner and to possess a never-dying soul. And as the Holy Ghost leads and teaches and instructs the sinner, then He brings him to this vital pointÂ—that he might know Christ. Now beware of lacking this vital point! This is not some favoured possession of some highly honoured saintÂ—the word declaresÂ—”They shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord”. Now there is a solemn aspect of that pointÂ—”They shall all know me”, and that isÂ— “then, if I do not know Christ savingly, if I am destitute of this knowledge, then I am not found amongst the Lord’s dear people”. There is also a sweet encouraging point in it and that is this. You may feel to be the least amongst the Lord’s dear people, but you can plead the promiseÂ—”Thou hast said ‘They shall all know me’; then, do reveal Thyself to me and make Thyself known to me, and may I be blest with that vital, saving knowledge of Christ”. This is the vital pointÂ—to know Christ because of what Christ has done for you. Has Christ ever done anything for you? That sweet assurance that what He did upon earth in giving His life a sacrifice for sin, was in your place? The Lord’s people know Christ because of what He has done for them; and they know what He has done for them experimentally in calling them from death unto life, opening their blind eyes, putting their feet in the way which leads to heaven. This is the one thing needful. And Christ is known as His people are brought to pray to Him, to speak to Him and to receive answers from Him. Naturally, you know a person and you speak to that person and the person speaks to you. Now so it is spiritually. It is a solemn thing if this is lacking, no exercise, no personal dealings before the Lord. “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to hear it”. There is union and communion and fellowship between the people of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a vastly different thing to know of a person, to hear about him, than to have personal, vital dealings with him. The people of God know the Lord Jesus Christ in His blood and in His righteousness and in His
intercession. They are not content with knowing about Christ as an example. His good life. His teachingsÂ—but they want to know Christ and Him crucified. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”. Do you know anything savingly of Christ in the atonement? Anything of the value of His shed blood? Do you know Christ in His imputed righteousness? Do you know anything of the value of itÂ—that which we sing:
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress. (Zinzendorf)
Do you know anything of that dear Advocate:
Our great High Priest, before the throne,
Presents the merits of his blood;
For our acceptance pleads his own,
And prove our cause completely good. (Swain)
This is to know Christ in whom is eternal life. It is a solemn thing to lack this vital point, the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
With this knowledge of Christ is linked love to the Lord Jesus and a desire to follow Him. This rich young ruler did not possess it; he was willing to speak to Christ and listen to Him, but it was not sufficient love to leave his possessions and to follow after Him. But, says the Apostle, “the love of Christ constraineth us”. Do you know anything of the sweet constraining love of Christ, making Him precious to you and making you willing to leave all and to follow after the Lord Jesus? This is the vital point in real religionÂ—to be right here is to be right for eternity: to be wrong here is to lack the one thing needful.
I have thought at times of when the Gileadites were being separated from their enemies, they had to say the word “Shibboleth”. Now every true Gileadite could speak the word clearly, but anyone who was not a Gileadite stumbled and mispronounced it saying “Sibboleth”. The Lord puts sinners to the test. He did with this young ruler; the ruler stumbled over the word “Shibboleth”Â—he could not pronounce it and he said “Sibboleth”. How do you and I stand when our religion is put to the test? He brings us to this pointÂ—What think ye of Christ? Can you give a right answer through mercy that you have a sweet hope that the Lord has been made precious to you, and that your hope is built upon His blood and righteousness? Have you a sweet hope that you possess a knowledge of Christ which is eternal life?
Here true riches are to be found. This young ruler clung to earthly riches and turned away from true riches. The man who parts with all and follows Christ possesses true riches. Dear Moses knew this; never did any man give up such riches as Moses. Moses gave up greater riches than this young ruler was called upon to give up. He parted with the fabulous wealth of ancient Egypt, for he saw what it was to be found amongst the dear people of
GodÂ—”choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season”. The sinner with an interest in Christ is truly rich and can say:
Shall I envy, then, the miser,
Doting on his golden store?
Sure I am, or should be, wiser;
I am rich, ’tis he is poor:
I have an immortal store. (Newton)
True riches are to be found in Christ. The ruler clung to earthly perishing riches where moth and rust doth corrupt, and he turned away from vital, enduring riches. What are the riches which are to be found in Christ? The riches of His sacred Person; the exceeding riches of His grace; there are the riches of the promises; the riches of His divine attributes and of His gracious characters; there are the riches of that great atonement which is by blood; the riches of the robe of His righteousness; the riches of His intercession. And wherein lies their preciousness? Where earthly riches must all be left behindÂ—in Jordan’s swelling. Riches profit nothing in the day of divine wrath. What profit would all this man’s riches be to him when he was called to die? But those riches which are in Christ, they endure to a never-ending eternity; they are profitable beyond the grave; they endure for ever and they take the sinner to heaven and the sinner carries them with him beyond the grave. It is a great mercy to have a right estimation of these things; to know what is truly precious and what is only vanity.
Now, in conclusion, I would just mention this. There is one in the New Testament who is a contrast to this rich young ruler. The Lord said to this young ruler “One thing thou lackest”; but what did He say of dear Mary who sat at His feet? “One thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from herÂ”. Here was one who was made willing to part with the things of this life and her great desire was to sit at her dear Master’s feet, to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him. “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her”. O, that we might choose that good part which shall not be taken away from us!