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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 19

Verse 14


‘For of such is the kingdom of heaven.’

Matthew 19:14

What do we see for ourselves to copy in the matter of childhood?

I. Weakness.—Now every little child is, and must be, very weak. It is its nature to be weak. It could not be a little child if it were not weak. So it is with every child of God. What is weakness? Emptiness,—for God to fill with Himself. What is weakness? Room where God may work, and His grace expand. What is weakness? To be nothing, that God may be everything.

II. Undertaken for.—But a very little child acts in the consciousness of weakness. He is a receiver in everything. He is taught, he is guided, he is supported, he is carried, he is undertaken for. So must you. It is all receiving, leaning, learning, feeling, committing, resting, trusting. And you are undertaken for in everything—just as the father for his babe, so Christ for you. Provision for all your wants,—to feed your body and your soul,—to pay all your debts,—to carry out all your true wishes,—to carry you,—to train you,—to perfect you,—to make you quite happy in Him, and to glorify Himself in you.

III. Trust.—And the little child is characterised by trust. The greatest lesson you have to learn in life, the hardest thing you have to do, is to take God at His word. Do not stop to ask questions,—why? when? how? where? A very little child never does any of those things; and ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’

IV. Ruled by heart.—But why does the little child exercise such confidence? Because his heart rules,—not his head. He is actuated by his affections. If you would have a true faith, you must find that faith in your heart; you must trust because you love; and you must love because you are loved. It is not greater power of mind you want, it is more singleness of the eye of the affections. So, a little child sees everything, and ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’

—The Rev. James Vaughan.


‘In this one chapter, our Lord’s ministry, in a beautiful succession, touched, and by touching, hallowed, almost all the stages of human life. First, He defined, and fenced and dignified matrimony;—matrimony, of which the root, or the meaning, of the word is,—the mother’s right. Then He passed naturally to the fruit of matrimony,—little children,—and laid His hands upon them. But it would be little boon if He noticed us when we were babes, and passed us by when we were grown up to youth. And therefore, next, He received, and guided, and loved a young man, who had great possessions. And still the chapter closes with the highest duty and privilege of manhood,—a self-denying, consecrated life for God, leading on to the same life to be renewed beyond the grave, and for ever. “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” ’

Verse 16


‘Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’

Matthew 19:16

Even the most superficial reader of the New Testament can scarcely fail to remark the attitude adopted by our Blessed Lord towards all young people.

I. The young man’s characteristics.—Our Blessed Lord’s whole heart is filled with a yearning love for this young man. He had great possessions, yet there was with him modesty, manly reserve, frankness, and simplicity of heart. ‘All these things have I kept from my youth up.’ Then he was brim full of intense earnestness. He had selected a lofty ideal.

II. God’s gifts to man.—To all of you there has been allotted by Almighty God a Divine work to do in the world, and for the accomplishment of that work you have all received certain gifts. This thought compels us to pause and reflect. In some way or other, sooner or later, often by means of very strange incidents, God speaks this message to us all as He did to the young man of the Gospel—‘Come, and follow Me.’

III. The Saviour’s call.—Now the Saviour’s call to this rich young man carried with it very special force. It cut right down to the quick of his life. On the face of it, it would appear that the call involved display of tremendous self-sacrifice. It is useless to evade, or whittle down, or explain away the fact. Some sacrifice is required by Almighty God from us all, some detachment from this world and its own immediate interests, if we would serve the Lord heart and soul.

IV. The call neglected.—But this great fact, this eternal law of sacrifice, is just one of those truths which we all to-day cannot abide. On all sides in this England of ours we see people ignobly surrendering themselves to the spirit of self-indulgence. It is one of the most serious signs of our times. The organisation of pleasure has never attained to so high a pitch in England as that which it occupies at this moment.

V. Individual responsibilities.—God will call, is perhaps calling, each one of you to work for Him in some particular path of life, to fling to the winds all the wretched desire for self-indulgence, the worship of money, the worship of self which is eating into the very heart of this old England of ours. To all of you there is entrusted the shaping and the moulding of the future. Guard and cherish with deepest reverence those Divine qualities of youth which drew from our Lord that look of love.

The Rev. J. H. T. Perkins.


‘It was the lot of Charles Kingsley to witness during his boyhood the awful scene of the Bristol Reform Riots, and all the hideous consequences of that wild outburst of human frenzy displayed by the unhappy city. Long years afterwards one of his pupils, a mere boy, asked him the question: “Whose fault is it that such things can be?” “Your fault and mine,” came the unexpected reply. What did that great preacher and teacher mean when he uttered that amazing statement? Just this: All of us are members of a great family, all of us share in a weighty responsibility, each one of us, no matter how humble, is his brother’s keeper, and if we shirk or minimise that responsibility we are simply uttering the murderer’s excuse—the excuse of Cain.’



The young ruler was attracted to Christ by His wonderful morality, by His wonderful doings. He admitted, what men who do not profess to believe in the Divinity of our Lord admit to-day, that Jesus was the greatest moral teacher that ever lived. But we know that Jesus is something more—He is still the King amongst men and he lives and reigns amongst them.

I. The great question.—This young man was perfectly satisfied with himself, and yet he felt a void. He felt within himself that keeping the commandments was not enough, and he asked the Lord to show him the way to eternal life. The Lord gives him one commandment far and above all the rest. He was to sell all that he had and give to the poor and follow Jesus Christ. The Master dealt with him in exactly the same way he ought to have been dealt with. He thought himself very good, but after all, while his conscience inclined one way his will inclined another. He would have liked to be with the Saviour and to keep continually with Him, yet his love of riches kept him away.

II. The clear command.—To forsake all and follow Christ! Do you know what it means? It means to forsake father and mother if need be, and to give up everything. We speak of some sacrifice that we make for a religious object, but what sacrifices do we really make? Our sacrifices are very small compared with the sacrifices of the early Christians. But Christ promises this—that the man who hath forsaken all, father and mother and children and position, for His sake and the Gospel’s, shall receive an hundred-fold. Self-denial for Christ! How very few of us, comparatively speaking, practise it. Each one has his own besetting sin. It may be love of pleasure, it may be something else; but it is something that keeps us from following the Master as we should.

—The Rev. J. T. Thompson.


(1) ‘Self-denial lies at the foundation of the Christian character. The influence of great possessions unfits men for any self-denial whatever. Few men can resist the temptation of wealth to luxurious habits, modes of life that become more and more exacting. Pleasure is a tyrannous master; indolence is begotten of easy circumstances; reflection languishes while desire is nursed. It is so easy, too, to purchase Christian labour: “We will give and others will work.” Then many men seek relief from the call of Christian duty. This is the reason why many a man trained up in a godly home, and familiar with Christ’s teaching, is yet not one of Christ’s followers. He knows the Christian life to be a self-denying life, and he has wholly unfitted himself for self-denial; sadly, drearily, hopelessly he turns away.’

(2) ‘A poor woman looked longingly at the flowers which grew in the king’s garden, wishing to buy some for her sick daughter. The king’s gardener repelled her: “The king’s flowers are not for sale.” But the king chancing to come by, plucked a bouquet and gave it to the woman, remarking, “It is true the king does not sell his flowers, but he gives them away.” So, too, the Great King does not sell eternal life: He gives it.’

Verse 21


‘If thou wilt be perfect … follow Me.’

Matthew 19:21

Man is an artist, and he is working at himself. When we speak of perfection in the sense in which our Blessed Master commanded it, seeing that He never commanded to any of us the impossible, what we mean is that each of us must be trying, and trying in earnest, to have thoroughness and completeness and soundness of character. That is the meaning of perfection as Christ puts it before each of us, and that is taught by the Cross of Christ.

I. Difficulties in the way.

(a) Your sin. Your sin, whatever it may be, is quite the most serious thing in your undying history. Whatever men may say, however they may argue, if you or I break the law of God we find uneasiness, and we get the sense of guilt. You say, ‘Talk about perfection, talk about soundness and thoroughness of character—why, I have sinned, and in my better moments I remember passages in my existence that I should like to forget.’ But then there stands before us—and no other system of philosophy has dared to meet the question—there stands before us the Cross of Christ. Your sin can be abolished and swept into a pitiless oblivion, if you turn in faith and repentance to the Cross of Christ.

(b) Your darkness. Another difficulty, before I get you to the perfect life, is your darkness. ‘I want to know,’ you say. ‘Life is dark. God is hidden. Where can I be illuminated? My difficulty is ignorance, and so I am thinking of joining the lazy conclusions of your modern agnostics.’ I acknowledge an ignorance, but the Christian Church comes forward and says: Have you not got reason? And to fight against reason is to fight against God. And that reason came from the Second Person of the blessed Godhead, the Light that lighteth every man. Cannot you read His story and find He sanctioned all by a death of desolation crowned by an Easter Day? And cannot you see on principles of right reason that there you have got One Who whatever else He was shows you what God is, what life is worth, what duty means, what death may be? You have got wisdom in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

(c) Your want of power. And then there is your demand for a really permanent and progressive and powerful force. Again you say, ‘You say Christ takes away my sin if I have faith and do repent.’ I do. ‘You say Christ shows me what God is, and what is life, and what is death, and what is duty.’ I do. And then you say, ‘And can I do it? Is there an enabling power?’ Go to the solemn spectacle of the crucifixion; realise that there you have got a power without which you can do nothing, with which you can do anything; you have got a power that will meet temptation and conquer covetousness, and slay lust, and help on purity; enable you in a quiet hidden life to fight your battle, to conquer your sin, to aim at perfection, to bring about completeness, thoroughness, and soundness of character. There is the enabling power.

II. The life of faith.—The aim of our life is perfection, thoroughness, completeness, soundness of character. We must live by faith. We must live loyally to truth. We must live in hope. We must go to a Redeemer in repentance to be forgiven. We must go to an Illuminator to be instructed. We must go to the great sacrifice of the Passion to get the grace of God, and then we can go on to the perfect life.

Canon W. J. Knox Little.

Verse 22


‘But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.’

Matthew 19:22

Part of the young man’s ‘sorrow’ was the discovery which he was making at that moment of his own heart. He had seen the object which he knew he ought to seek,—he had had set before him the price, the terms on which that object might be secured,—and he could not bear it. The heaviness of his heart was, though mixed, yet in the main a right heaviness. At least, there was some grace in it. True, as he ‘sorrowed,’ his steps were for awhile in the wrong direction, for ‘he went away,’—his back upon Jesus,—‘sorrowing.’ But can you doubt that he came back again?

I. The love of the world.—What about the heaviness of heart, and the difficulty which you may have? Many of you may be worldly; but yet, all the while, you are retaining, in the midst of your worldliness, many good feelings, and many pious desires. And what is the result? A certain sorrow. You see it a very dull, stern thing to become religious, and you shrink back to your societies, your excitements, your selfishness, and your sin, and you go away from the cross ‘sorrowfully.’

II. Anxiety about eternal life.—And yet, strange though it may seem, at the very same time that you ‘sorrow’ to give up the world, you cannot be happy to give up eternal life The worst sorrow of all is that in allowing this struggle, and letting the world get the victory, you have a continual gnawing sense in your own conscience that you are wrong; and is it any wonder that you ‘go away sorrowful’?

III. ‘Will ye also go away?’—And yet that ‘sorrow’ is a very good sign. It marks struggle; it marks desires; it marks life; it marks the Holy Ghost. The ‘going away’ is the dark part. Sorrow, with its face to Jesus, is a transient cloud that melts into sunshine, but sorrow that looks away from Jesus, goes on and on to gather blackness and blackness for ever! Let me speak to any one who has a good desire, and they are quenching it;—What are you going to do? will you go away? where? where? Do you really expect,—nay, in your heart of hearts, do you really wish to find satisfaction away from Christ? That is said of a rich man which is never in the Bible said of a poor man,—‘Not many rich,’—I never read ‘not many poor,’—‘not many rich.’ ‘How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of God.’

The Rev. James Vaughan.

Verse 30


‘Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.’

Matthew 19:30

These words are fulfilled under the Gospel in many ways. In the context they embody a great principle, which we all, indeed, acknowledge, but are deficient in mastering.

I. Under the dispensation of the Spirit all things were to become new, and to be reversed. Strength, numbers, wealth, philosophy, eloquence, craft, experience of life, knowledge of human nature, these are the means by which worldly men have ever gained the world. But in that kingdom which Christ has set up, all is contrariwise. ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.’ What before was in honour has been dishonoured: what before was in dishonour has come to honour. Weakness has conquered strength, for the hidden strength of God ‘is made perfect in weakness.’ Spirit has conquered flesh, for that spirit is an inspiration from above.

II. Since Christ sent down gifts from on high, the saints are ever taking possession of the kingdom, and with the weapons of saints. The visible powers of the heavens—truth, meekness, and righteousness—are ever coming in upon the earth; ever pouring in, gathering, thronging, warring, triumphing, under the guidance of Him who is ‘alive and was dead, and is alive for evermore.’

III. We have by nature longings more or less and aspirations after something greater than this world can give. In early youth we stand by the side of the still waters, with our hearts beating high, with longings after our unknown good, and with a sort of contempt for the fashions of the world—with a contempt for the world, even though we engage in it. While our hearts are thus unsettled Christ comes to us, if we will receive Him, and promises to satisfy our great need—this hunger and thirst which wearies us. He says,’ You are seeking what you see not, I give it you; you desire to be great, I will make you so.’ But observe how—just in the reverse way to what you expect. The way to real glory is to become unknown and despised.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 19". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.