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Ques. Matt. 19:21. Why did Jesus tell the young man to „keep the commandments” in order to „enter into life” instead of making faith a ground of salvation? and how does this harmonize with Rom. 3:20? In verse 20 he replies that he has kept all these; but still he lacked, and Jesus says (v. 20): „If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” What is implied in the word perfect more than what is covered by the commandment, and what was the treasure he should have in heaven aside from eternal life?
A. In his answer to the young man, Jesus declares just what Moses had declared (Lev. 18:5), that under God’s covenant with them, keeping the Law would insure eternal life to any Jew; but from the days of Moses to Christ not one had merited life by keeping the law. Hence death still reigned even as it had reigned from Adam to Moses, though many prophets and faithful men of the past had tried, in all sincerity, to keep the commandments. Hence every Jew should by this time have been convinced that none were able to keep the law, because of their imperfect, degenerate condition. God’s perfect law is the full measure of a perfect man’s ability. Had Israel acknowledged this, the law would have answered its purpose to them, for God knew beforehand that they could not keep it, and never expected them to. It was simply given to them to prove to them their shortcomings and their inability to measure up to its requirements, and hence should have prepared them to accept deliverance through Christ.
This young man had not learned this lesson, and therefore Jesus bade him go on trying to keep the law. But a little doubtful lest he might not be any more successful in winning life than had his forefathers, the patriarchs and prophets, although he thought he kept the law perfectly, he inquired, „What lack I yet?” Jesus’ answer is designed to convince him that he had not kept the law perfectly—that he did not love God with all his heart, nor his neighbor as himself. He proved to him that he loved himself and his possessions more than either. And the young man evidently understood it, for he went away sorrowful, evidently convinced that he yet fell short of the requirement of the law. To keep the law perfectly in this age requires sacrifice. Who can love his neighbor as himself and see that neighbor suffer while he has enough and to spare? All mankind are suffering under the weight of sin, ignorance and misery, and whensoever we will we may do them good. Natural benevolence sometimes plans and arranges for the comfort and blessing of fellow-creatures, but the Body of Christ, all in whom the Spirit of the Master rules, will be ready and anxious to follow His example of doing good to the extent of self-sacrifice in order to do good to their fellows. In giving they will, above all else, seek to bestow spiritual food and clothing to the hungry and naked.
To keep the law in the next age, while it will still require a measure of restraint and self-denial until perfection is reached, yet will not require sacrifice of things lawful, even unto death, because of the changed condition of mankind and his surroundings.
Had the young man sold all and followed Jesus, he would have obtained more than the law promised. The law promised life everlasting, human existence—restitution, a treasure on earth; but the treasure in heaven to which Jesus referred is a change of nature from human to spiritual, and not only so, but to the highest order of spiritual being, the divine nature, as explained by Peter. (2 Pet. 1:4.)
The treasure in heaven is reserved for all those who, like Jesus, keep the law in this age, when its requirements amount to and imply a sacrifice even unto death. And only those do keep the law who, being justified by faith in the precious blood of Christ, henceforth walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit. Such are reckoned of God as perfect, and as having kept the commandments; and are thus joint-sacrifices and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ their Lord.
This is in harmony with Rom. 3:20. By the actual deeds or doing of the law shall no flesh be justified, but by faith in Christ we are reckoned as perfect, and our sacrifice therefore acceptable. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit. (Rom. 8:4.)
Ques. Bro. R. With the understanding that we have—that death, not dying, is the penalty of sin, how shall we harmonize the statements that Christ gave his life as a ransom (substitute) for many (John 20:28), and the statement, „I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” John 10:18. Does not it in both cases refer to the same thing?
A. That the penalty of sin was death, is most clearly and emphatically stated—”The wages of sin is death”—”Dying, thou shalt die.” The imperfect and dying condition which we enter at our birth, is simply the process which culminates in the full penalty—death—cessation of life—extinction of being—non-existence. If death is the penalty, then when will the penalty end? There is no inherent power in us which can ever deliver us from non-existence—death. The only way which the Scriptures disclose for man’s restoration to existence is by the payment of his ransom, an equivalent price, a substitute. And this ransom was found in the Son of God who became a man—was „made flesh” [transformed from the spiritual to the human nature,] in order that he might give himself a ransom for all.
That which Jesus laid down for our redemption was his being or existence in the condition he then possessed it—i.e. life or existence as a human being. We must not consider life (vitality) in the abstract without regard to nature the thing referred to, which he had power and commandment both to lay down and to take again. But in the sense of being or personality, the human Jesus gave HIMSELF his LIFE, his BEING, a ransom for all. And likewise he received life, being, or personality, in his resurrection; but it was a new being that arose of a new nature. Jesus arose a spiritual and no longer a human being; existence „it” was recovered, but not under human conditions, not human existence, for he never did and never will take back our ransom price, thank God.
It remains the equivalent price of our condemned race; and because it was laid down forever, we may live forever. It is life in the abstract sense that the pronoun „it” refers to in the text mentioned.
„If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law,” and not by a sacrifice. But commanding a man could never make an imperfect man capable of meeting the requirements of justice; and even if able to do so fully, there were penalties against each of us through and because of Adam’s sins which must be met, paid, settled by some one, and for each to meet them for himself, would be death—extinction. Hence the need of first a ransom, and secondly a life-giver; both of which needs are supplied to us by God in Christ Jesus our Lord. A thousand or a million years in death would not pay man’s penalty, as there is no limitation of time either mentioned or implied, in the terms of the prescribed penalty nor in any scriptural reference to it; there is no escape except through the ransom provided.
The human existence of Jesus, our ransom, our substitute, was surrendered to everlasting death; but thank God he lives as a divine being to claim and restore to its perfection that purchased by his human life—mankind.
— January, 1886 —