And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:23–26 (ESV)
We have here Christ’s discourse with his disciples upon occasion of the rich man’s breaking with Christ.
I. Christ took occasion from thence to show the difficulty of the salvation of the rich people.
1. That it is a very hard thing for a rich man to get to heaven, such a rich man as this here.
Note, From the harms and falls of others it is good for us to infer that which will be of caution to us.
Now, (1.) This is vehemently asserted by our Saviour, v. 23, 24.
He said this to his disciples, who were poor, and had but little in the world, to reconcile them to their condition with this, that the less they had of worldly wealth, the less hindrance they had in the way to heaven. Note, It should be a satisfaction to them who are in a low condition, that they are not exposed to the temptations of a high and prosperous condition: If they live more hardy in this world than the rich, yet, if withal they get more easily to a better world, they have no reason to complain.
This saying is ratified, v. 23. Verily I say unto you. He that has reason to know what the way to heaven is, for he has laid it open, he tells us that this is one of the greatest difficulties in that way. It is repeated, v. 24. Again I say unto you. Thus he speaks once, yea, twice that which man is loth to perceive and more loth to believe.
[1.] He saith that it is a hard thing for a rich man to be a good Christian, and to be saved; to enter into the kingdom of heaven, either here or hereafter.
The way to heaven is to all a narrow way, and the gate that leads into it, a strait gate; but it is particularly so to rich people. More duties are expected from them than from others, which they can hardly do; and more sins do easily beset them, which they can hardly avoid. Rich people have great temptations to resist, and such as are very insinuating; it is hard not to be charmed with a smiling world; very hard, when we are filled with these hid treasures, not to take up with them for a portion.
Rich people have a great account to make up for their estates, their interest, their time, and their opportunities of doing and getting good, above others. It must be a great measure of divine grace that will enable a man to break through these difficulties.
[2.] He saith that the conversion and salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, v. 24.
This is a proverbial expression, denoting a difficulty altogether unconquerable by the art and power of man; nothing less than the almighty grace of God will enable a rich man to get over this difficulty. The difficulty of the salvation of apostates (Heb. 6:4), and of old sinners (Jer. 13:23), is thus represented as an impossibility. The salvation of any is so very difficult (even the righteous scarcely are saved), that, where there is a peculiar difficulty, it is fitly set forth thus.
It is very rare for a man to be rich, and not to set his heart upon his riches; and it is utterly impossible for a man that sets his heart upon his riches, to get to heaven; for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1 Jn. 2:15; James 4:4.
First, The way to heaven is very fitly compared to a needle’s eye, which is hard to hit and hard to get through.
Secondly, A rich man is fitly compared to a camel, a beast of burden, for he has riches, as a camel has his load, he carries it, but it is another’s, he has it from others, spends it for others, and must shortly leave it to others; it is a burden, for men load themselves with thick clay, Hab. 2:6. A camel is a large creature, but unwieldy.
(2.) This truth is very much wondered at, and scarcely credited by the disciples (v. 25);
They were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? Many surprising truths Christ told them, which they ere astonished at, and knew not what to make of; this was one, but their weakness was the cause of their wonder. It was not in contradiction to Christ, but for awakening to themselves, that they said, Who then can be saved?
Note, Considering the many difficulties that are in the way of salvation, it is really strange that any are saved. When we think how good God is, it may seem a wonder that so few are his; but when we think how bad man is, it is more a wonder that so many are, and Christ will be eternally admired in them.
Who then can be saved? Since so many are rich, and have great possessions, and so many more would be rich, and are well affected to great possessions; who can be saved? If riches are a hindrance to rich people, are not price and luxury incident to those that are not rich, and as dangerous to them? and who then can get to heaven? This is a good reason why rich people should strive against the stream.
2. That, though it be hard, yet it is not impossible, for the rich to be saved (v. 26);
Jesus beheld them, turned and looked wistfully upon his disciples, to shame them out of their fond conceit of the advantages rich people had in spiritual things. He beheld them as men that had got over this difficulty, and were in a fair way for heaven, and the more so because poor in this world; and he said unto them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
This is a great truth in general, that God is able to do that which quite exceeds all created power; that nothing is too hard for God, Gen. 18:14; Num. 11:23. When men are at a loss, God is not, for his power is infinite and irresistible; but this truth is here applied,
(1.) To the salvation of any.
Who can be saved? say the disciples. None, saith Christ, by any created power. With men this is impossible: the wisdom of man would soon be nonplussed in contriving, and the power of man baffled in effecting, the salvation of a soul. No creature can work the change that is necessary to the salvation of a soul, either in itself or in any one else. With men it is impossible that so strong a stream should be turned, so hard a heart softened, so stubborn a will bowed. It is a creation, it is a resurrection, and with men this is impossible; it can never be done by philosophy, medicine, or politics; but with God all things are possible.
Note, The beginning, progress, and perfection, of the work of salvation, depend entirely upon the almighty power of God, to which all things are possible. Faith is wrought by that power (Eph. 1:19), and is kept by it, 1 Pt. 1:5. Job’s experience of God’s convincing, humbling grace, made him acknowledge more than anything else, I know that thou canst do everything, Job 42:2. (2.)
To the salvation of rich people especially; it is impossible with men that such should be saved, but with God even this is possible; not that rich people should be saved in their worldliness, but that they should be saved from it.
Note, The sanctification and salvation of such as are surrounded with the temptations of this world are not to be despaired of; it is possible; it may be brought about by the all-sufficiency of the divine grace; and when such are brought to heaven, they will be there everlasting monuments of the power of God.
I am willing to think that in this word of Christ there is an intimation of mercy Christ had yet in store for this young gentleman, who was now gone away sorrowful; it was not impossible to God yet to recover him, and bring him to a better mind.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible