By Harry Bultema

There are three divisions in this study: 1) The young man; 2) The three-fold test to which Christ subjected him; and 3) The manner in which the young man stood these tests.

 When Christ looked at this young man, He loved him. When Christians look at him, they usually loathe him. He has been called self-righteous, self-complacent, conceited, arrogant, shallow, bound to mammon and what not. Let us look fairly at him so that we can love him as our Lord loved him. He was young and youth is always interesting. He was rich and successful.  But this young man was not successful in ingratiating himself into the good graces of Christians. I do not exaggerate when I say that this young man is generally held up to stern reproof and as a warning beacon in the mountainous seas of time. Literally, everything he did and said has been weighed in the balances of orthodoxy and been found wanting. He is harshly condemned as one that loved riches above the Redeemer and gold above God. He is pictured as self-exposed and clinging to the god mammon, plunging deeper into idolatry, stifling his noblest urges, first soured at the Savior and later cynical, and finally plunging into the darkness of the damned souls forever. We cannot help but sympathize with this underlying dog of the Gospel page, and we want to try to find a picture of life’s other side.

 First of all, this rich young man stands  in marked contrast not only to the other members of the venerable Sanhedrin but also to the secret believers such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. These two men were ashamed of Christ, but not so with this young man for he openly takes the side of Christ.  He was of wealth and position but is dead earnest. He ran after Christ in the way. He was bound to see Him and have  an interview with Him. His earnestness was a white heat. While the other men of His day, and ours, too, ran madly after amusements, he ran after the Savior. Luke bears more fully upon the danger of riches than any other sacred writer; he does not condemn him for his love of riches. He describes him in his zeal and sincerity. He was not ashamed that the multitudes saw him running after Jesus of Nazareth. Old Adam ran away from God; this young man did not follow in his footsteps for he ran toward God.

Far from exalting himself, he literally humbled himself in the dust before Christ. All out of breath, he finally reached Christ and fell on his knees before Him and besought Him and made known that which burdened his heart. Visualize this picture well. Here is no trifler, no frivolous  insincere youth, but a dignified ruler of the people who prostrates himself in the sight of  a numerous company before the despised Nazarene. Have you ever done this? Can you defy the mob and fall on your knees before Christ in the sight of all? Is it not rather so that some of you can wait for years because you even quake to confess Christ with your back to God’s people? Blessed be the young ruler that had conquered the natural pride of his heart to such an extent that he was not ashamed to run after Christ and cast himself in the dust before Him.

 But listen to what he begs of Christ. He prays, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” When the commentators and preachers come to this point, they grow sarcastic because this young man wants to do something in order to inherit eternal life.

 Permit us to remark that it would be a blessed thing, and a most desirable thing, if all young men, or even all rich young men, would be concerned about eternal life at all. Is it not a fact that most young men today are concerned about every sort of empty things: easy riches, peppery, fast, jolly bon-ton life with no thought of eternal life? But this is the exception: a rich young fellow really concerned about the life that can never die. Yes, you say, but he said “do.” Well, didn’t Saul say this also on the Damascus Road? Did Christ not say, “Strive to enter in”? Is striving doing? Wasn’t this youth under the Law economy and didn’t the Law always say “do?” It is true that doing and receiving an inheritance are contradictory and exclusive of each other. You cannot do anything for an inheritance but we have here just as much right to emphasize the inheriting as the doing. If we lay stress upon the “doing” we can point to his self-righteous legalism, and if we wish to lay stress upon the word “inherit” we would have the same right to emphasize the free will and sovereign grace of God what bestows upon His sons and heirs the incorruptible inheritance. Neither thought should be unduly stretched. This young man, remember, did not live in the days of Grace, but in the age of the Law, when even the Lord Jesus “was made under the Law”  and was “the Minister of the Circumcision.”

 This thoughtful, earnest, self-humiliating young man could truly say that he had kept the commandments. He did not commit adultery; can you say that? He did not kill; can you say this, knowing that he who hates his brother is a killer already (1 John)? He did not steal; can you say that? Can you, with your hand on your heart, claim this? He did not  bear false witness; have you ever told a lie? He did not defraud; have you ever defrauded someone? He honored his father and mother. Now remember that this young man did not claim to have kept all this in self-exaltation and self conceit, but in truth, because Christ loved him. Christ loathed and flung woes at the heads of the Pharisees. His love, on this occasion, was not a love of mercy but the love of delight. Was it pride and presumption that caused him to keep the Law or was this exactly the will of God under the Law? Surely, the latter. Was it wicked of this young man of irreproachable character to know that he had kept all these things from his youth? While we praise the assurance of faith, dare we condemn the assurance of obedience?

 What was the way of salvation in the days of the Law? The answer to this question is: obedience to the Law. This was the result of believing the Word of God. According to the standard of the Law, this youth most assuredly was a saved Jew. The prodigal son of old was stoned “‘till he died” (Deut. 21:18). The killer was surely “put to death” (Lev. 24:16). The adulterer was “surely put to death” (Lev. 20:10). The Kidnapper? “Surely put to death” (Deut. 3:6). The worker on the Sabbath? “Put to death” (Ex. 35:2). The man with a familiar spirit?  “Surely put to death.” If this young man had done anything worthy of death, the Savior would have loved him, but at the least would have given him a lashing with His holy tongue; however, we find nothing of the kind.

 You say, but preacher, this young man went away sad. Yes, not sour, sullen or angry, but sad. Wouldn’t you be sad if you were to have an auction tomorrow to sell all your goods for an apple and an egg and then having liquidated all: your house, beds, furniture, equipment, business, car, etc. and then take the tidy sum of money received and give it away to those in the slum districts? I will be honest and frank; I would be sad if I were called upon to sell all my books. I think many would do like Ananias and Sapphira or Achan who tried to hid treasures from God.

 There are many reasons for stating that this young ruler was saved according to the standards of the Law. 1) He was a seeking soul and earnestly sought the Savior. According to Romans 3:11, there is no natural man that seeketh after God. 2) He came earnestly to Christ and Christ’s Word is applicable to him, too: “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise case out” (Jn. 6:37). 3) This man kept the Law; he knew and freely confessed it and Christ loved him for it. 4) He greatly humbled himself and openly confessed Christ as the One that gives the promised inheritance of eternal life. 5) This loving young man was beloved of Christ, hence, Christ in the day of judgment, can never say unto him, “Depart from Me, you accursed, for I have never known you.”

 Now let’s look at the three-fold test which Christ subjected to him. As a rule it is thought that Christ told him the simple way of salvation and that he completely missed this.

 The first test concerns the foundation of all belief: our view of the Savior. Men have often wondered why Christ mentioned only the second table of the Law and not the first, but this primary test dealt chiefly with the first table. He addressed Christ as “Good Master.” The Lord said that God alone is good. The silent assumption is that he acknowledged Christ to be God and this solved the whole question of his relation to the first table of the Law. The Pharisees called Christ a Samaritan and a Devil; he acknowledged and confessed Him as good and as the God of Israel.

 The  second test was the second table of the Law once given to Israel only. We have already seen that he gloriously stood this test. Standing right, then, in regard to both tables of the Law, which covered man’s relation to God and to man, we can rest assured that he, as a Jew, was saved; he was saved but not a Christian. He was  saved but not a member of the Body of Christ. He was saved as a circumcised, obedient covenant child, and he proved his salvation by seeking and confessing Christ as God.

 But now, the third test under which he miserably failed. This test has noting to do with our salvation today, nor with the salvation of a Jew in the days of the Law. Christ did not say: Give all to the poor and thou shalt have Heaven; NO, and “thou shalt have treasure in Heaven” were His words. Stripped of all things, he had to take up his cross and follow Christ. Thousands of times this has been put before Christians as a condition of salvation. Utterly nonsense! Unscriptural through and through. If this is the way of salvation, then salvation is not free but is of works; not by grace but by merit; not by faith but by doing; not by His sacrifice but by our own self sacrifice; not by God’s efforts but by man’s efforts. If man throws out his ballast, his balloon will shoot up to Heaven.

 We finally observe that this young man failed the last test and went away sad and grieved. Joseph of Arimathea was rich and did not measure up to this test, and yet, we never doubt his salvation. Nicodemus would have flunked if he was put to this test, and yet, no one doubts his salvation. If this is the way of salvation, we are all lost: hopelessly lost. If this were the way of salvation for Israel then all Israel was lost except the little handful that followed Christ. I hasten to this say this: Beloved, we have here the REWARD with the resultant treasure in Heaven. Christ emphatically taught that those in Israel who forsook all things for His sake, would receive a hundred fold in this life and the special Kingdom glory in the Kingdom Age. Peter understood it that way for he said, “Lord, we have left all, and what shall be to us?” Christ did not retort, “O, you foolish hireling!” No, listen. He promised a throne and a Kingdom to every one of them. They shall be Kings in His Day of Glory and in the Kingdom, each ruling one of the twelve tribes of Israel.