The perfect selling all to follow Christ.
'Jesus said unto liim, If thou wouldest be perfect, go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'—Matt. xix. 21.
FTIO the rich young ruler poverty was to be the -*- path to perfection. 'The disciple is not above his Master, but every one who is perfected shall be as his Master.' Poverty was part of the Master's perfection, part of that mysterious discipline of self-denial and suffering through which it became God to perfect Him: while He was on earth poverty was to be the mark of all those who would be always with, wholly as, the Master.
What does this mean 1 Jesus was Lord of all. He might have lived here on earth in circumstances of comfort and with moderato possessions. He might have taught us how to own, and to use, and to sanctify property. He might in this have become like us, walking in the path in which most men have to walk. Eut He chose poverty. Its life of self-sacrifice and direct dependence on God, its humiliation, its trials and temptations, were to be elements of that highest perfection He was to exhibit.
In the disciples whom He chose to be with Him poverty was to be the mark of their fellowship with Him, the training school for perfect conformity to His image, the secret of power for victory over the world, for the full possession of the heavenly treasure, and the full exhibition of the heavenly spirit. And even in him, who, when the humiliation was past, had his calling from the throne, in Paul, poverty was still the chosen and much-prized vehicle of perfect fellowship with his Lord.
What does this mean? The command, Be perfect, comes to the rich as well as the poor. Scripture has nowhere spoken of the possession of property as a sin. While it warns against tho danger riches bring, and denounces their abuse, it has nowhere promulgated a law forbidding riches. And yet it speaks of poverty as having a very high place in the life of perfection.
To understand this we must remember that perfection is a relative term. We are not under a law, with its external commands as to duty and conduct, that takes no account of diversity of character or circumstance. In the perfect law of liberty in which we are called to live, there is room for infinite variety in the manifestation of our devotion to God and Christ. According to the diversity of gifts, and circumstances, and calling, the same spirit may be seen in apparently conflicting paths of life. There is a perfection which is sought in the right possession and use of earthly goods as the Master's steward; there is also a perfection which seeks even in external things to be as the Master Himself was, and in poverty to bear its witness to the reality and sufficiency of heavenly things.
In the early ages of the Church this truth, that poverty is for some the path of perfection, exercised a mighty and a blessed influence. Men felt that poverty, as one of the traits of the holy life of Jesus and His apostles, was sacred and blessed. As the inner life of the Church grew feeble, the spiritual truth was lost in external observances, and the fellowship of the poverty of Jesus was scarce to be seen. In its protest against the self-righteousness and the superficiality of the Eomish system, the Protestant Church has not yet been able to give to poverty the place it ought to have either in the por
traiture of the Master's image or the disciple's study of perfect confirmity to Him.
And yet it is a truth many are seeking after. If our Lord found poverty the best school for His own strengthening in the art of perfection, and the surest way to rise above the world and win men's hearts for the Unseen, it surely need not surprise us if those who feel drawn to seek the closest possible conformity to their Lord even in external things, and who long for the highest possible power in witnessing for the Invisible, should be irresistibly drawn to count this word as spoken to them too: 'If thou wouldest be perfect, sell that thou hast, and follow Me.'
When this call is not felt, there is a larger lesson of universal application: No perfection without the sacrifice of all. To be perfected here on earth Christ gave up all: to become like Him, to be perfected as the Master, means the giving up all. The world and self must be renounced. 'If thou wouldest be perfect, sell all, and give to the poor; and come, follow Me.'