The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.The conceit that the covenant of works has to do with something less than “perfect and personal obedience”, with simply being “a pretty good person”, and so that many of us are at most a detail or two away from eternal life, is hardly one that has ceased to be held since the young man’s time. A plausible case can be made that most of our “nice” neighbors think that way today, at least on the surface. So an important task in evangelism is disturbing that conceit. Of course, our Lord gives us a perfect paradigm for that. First, He challenges the notion that goodness is that easy: “There is only one who is good.”; Second, He insists on a standard: “... keep the commandments.”; Finally, He exposes the truth that, contrary to the young man’s self-assessment (“All these I have kept.”), the young man was, like us all, desperately corrupt, by, as Jailer put it, exposing the fact that “his riches were his god”. If we are to follow this paradigm, then the crux will come with that last step, as we’ll have to take the time and trouble to understand the particular person with whom we’re dealing. People are different, and have different characteristic sins. A “cookie cutter” speech won’t suffice.
Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved ...
We can hope that the young man “went away sorrowful” not just because “he had great possessions”, but, much more importantly, because he now realized that he had a desperate need of goodness, if he was to have any hope of eternal life. If our neighbors can be brought to that point, they may move with the original Philippian Jailer to the covenant of grace question, “What must I do to be saved!”
Jailer's Note: Welcome to the Presbyter, a man I have known literally all my life, as he is my father. We were saved at about the same time, through the patient love, prayer, testimony and teaching of the same man. I'm grateful to have the Presbyter on board, and I think you'll find his insights challenging and biblical, and his historical perspective illuminating.