HERE we are introduced, as it were, into the bosom of a holy family; and hear, in part at least, the instructions given to them: “One thing is needful.” Let us now suppose that we ourselves are that family; and that, in the place of our blessed Lord, I am called to instruct you. My subject shall be, that “One thing is needful:” and whilst I deliver that truth, so necessary to be received by you, I would deliver it as myself feeling its importance, and declare it with all the fidelity that such a subject demands.
Let me then,
Shew what this one thing needful is—
In general terms, it may be called, The care of the soul. But, that we may have the precise view of it which was conveyed at that time, I will speak of it,
[Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his instructions. This was the tiling complained of by Martha, and the thing applauded by our blessed Lord. Now, this is the one thing needful for you also. True, you cannot have the same access to him that Mary had: but he speaks to you in the written word, and through the ministration of his servants. What, then, should you do in relation to the written word? You should sit at the feet of Jesus there, from day to day, and ponder every truth that is there recorded. If you read, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me;” you should instantly determine, through grace, to come to God by Christ, and to make him all your life and your salvation. Do you read that you are “not to live henceforth unto yourselves, but unto Him who died for you and rose again;” you should determine, through grace, to devote yourselves altogether to the service of your Lord, and to live for him alone. In like manner, when you attend upon the ministry of the word, you should “hear it, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God.” You should come in the very spirit of Mary, and sit as in the very spirit of Mary, and hear as in the spirit of Mary; not from curiosity, not in a cavilling spirit, not to perform a customary duty, but to get instruction for your souls. Your whole soul should be swallowed up, as it were, in the subject proposed for your consideration; and every word that is spoken should be treasured up in your heart for the regulation of your faith and practice. This attention to the interests of your soul should be the one employment of your minds from day to day.]
In a way of contrast—
[The one thing needful is not contrasted with vice of any kind. The man who indulges in any evil course is far enough from the one thing needful: he goes in the high road to perdition, without so much as dreaming of the one thing needful. No: the thing of which Martha complained was, that when there were household concerns which called for her sister’s attention, she was attending to the concerns of her soul. This was what she blamed; and what our Lord commended. Let me not however be misunderstood, as saying that any person is at liberty to neglect his worldly business; for an attention to that, in its place, is necessary for every living man: but it must not be suffered to interfere with the more important interests of the soul. On the contrary, where the two duties come in competition with each other, that must invariably be deferred. We blame not Martha for performing the rights of hospitality towards the Lord Jesus and his friends: but her care about this was excessive, and unseasonable too; inasmuch as, through her anxiety about this minor concern, she lost an opportunity for the benefit of her soul: and our Lord informs her that this was wrong. This, then, is the comparative view of the subject. The one thing needful is, to feel the paramount importance of eternal things, and to have the things of time and sense entirely subordinated to the concerns of the soul.]
Having explained the one thing needful, I will now,
Commend it to your choice—
Mary had chosen it, as I wish you also to do. And that I may induce you to choose it, I will set before you,
The importance of it—
[This is “needful,” more needful than any other thing under heaven. It is altogether needful both to your safety and happiness. Suppose you are ever so little engaged in worldly business, you may go to heaven: whatever relates to the world may be done for you: but no one can act for you in relation to the soul: if all the people in the universe were to unite their efforts, they could not supply your lack of services in the concerns of your soul. They must be attended to by yourself: and without the strictest possible attention to them, you never can secure heaven, never can be approved of your God. Nor can you be happy without this. You may be happy in the want of earthly things, even if you were as destitute as Lazarus himself: but can you be happy without the favour of God? without an interest in the Saviour? without a renewed heart? without a title to heaven? No, you cannot: you cannot know what peace is: you cannot look forward with comfort to a dying hour: you cannot contemplate, with any kind of satisfaction, the terrors of a future judgment, or the realities of an eternal state. Then, if without an attention to the one thing needful you can be neither safe nor happy, is it wise to neglect the concerns of your soul? It is well said, What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall he give in exchange for his soul? Methinks I have already said enough to engage you on the side of Mary, and to impress on you the necessity of following her example. Remember, this is “the one thing needful;” and, in this view, the only thing that is needful.]
The excellency of it—
[Two things our Lord speaks in commendation of it: first, it is good; “Mary has chosen the good part:” and next, it is permanent; “It shall never be taken away from her.”
Consider now these two points. First, it is good. Worldly labours, I grant, are good in their place, as means to some end: but there is nothing intrinsically good in any worldly office whatever. But spiritual exercises are good, irrespective of any end whatever. The love of God is good: the love of Christ is good: the love of holiness in all its branches, is good. The world may cry out against these things as they will, and load them with every opprobrious name: but they are good. They are reputed good by God, who expressly calls them so; and by angels, who know it by sweet experience; and by all the saints that ever lived, and who chose them on this very account. Yes, in the estimation of the ungodly too, even by the very men who hate and despise them, they are good: for it is in consequence of this conviction, that in their hearts they venerate a holy man, and wish to “die the death of the righteous,” though they cannot be prevailed upon to live his life. What does every man feel on his dying bed? He may not feel any great desire to serve God; but he feels a secret wish that he had served him: and that clearly shews what his judgment of this subject is. As for those who are gone into the eternal world, ask one of them what he now thinks of the one thing needful? There would be no difference of opinion between one that should come from heaven, and one who should come from hell: they would be equally decisive in their judgment, though, alas! with widely different feelings: and the very instant any one of you shall open his eyes in the eternal world, I will venture to say, he, if suffered to come back and deliver his sentiments, would speak more strongly and more decidedly upon it, than I ever have done, or ever can do. Will any of you, then, be so mad as to go on seeking the poor contemptible vanities of this world, in preference to what, by all in heaven, earth, and hell, is acknowledged as supremely good?
But consider, also, its permanency: “If you choose this good part, it shall never be taken away from you.” Can this be said of earthly things? Possess crowns and kingdoms, if you will: experience proves, that, by popular commotion or the events of war, you may soon be hurled from your eminence, into a state of bondage and misery. But of common possessions how soon may you be bereaved, by fraud, or violence, or inundation, or fire! And how soon must you, at all events, be deprived of them by death! But if you have sought for eternal happiness, who shall deprive you of that? God will not; and no other can. What can men do? All that they can do, is, to kill the body: they cannot touch the soul. And devils, what can they do? They can tempt, but they cannot force you to any single act. They could not even enter into the swine, without leave: how, then, shall they destroy a child of God? Your final enjoyment of the blessings you seek is secured to you by covenant and by oath: and whilst others, at death, lose all their possessions, you at death come into the fullest possible enjoyment of yours, an enjoyment that shall endure through all eternity.
Need I then say more? Surely, there can be but one common sentiment amongst you all. Would to God that there might be one determination also, a determination to devote yourselves unreservedly to God, and to mind from henceforth the one thing needful!
Think not, however, that this can be done without great and abiding efforts. For the ungodly world will surely cry out against you, as acting a most absurd part, and as carried away by a heated imagination. Yes, and even good people of a worldly cast, notwithstanding they be amongst your nearest and dearest relatives, will, like Martha, complain of you as carrying matters too far. And no doubt your minister also will come in for his share of the blame: for even Christ himself was blamed, and that by a pious person also, for encouraging Mary in an extravagant attention to her spiritual interests, to the neglect of her worldly business: “Lord, carest thou not that my sister has left me to serve alone? Bid her, therefore, that she help me:” for I cannot but consider you as encouraging her to carry matters to excess. As for me, brethren, I am willing to bear my share of the blame: it is no pain to me to bear what my Lord and Saviour bore before me. But be not ye discouraged. You see in Mary what you have to expect. You see, however, on the other hand, what approbation she met with from the Lord himself. And that sufficed for her. Let it also suffice for you. Only approve yourself to him, and you need not mind any thing that man can either say or do. It is decidedly “the good part” which I recommend to you; and therefore “choose it,” and follow it, and adhere to it, under all circumstances. Never will you repent of this line of conduct. Sit now, with unwearied perseverance, at the feet of Jesus; and you shall, ere long, receive his applauding testimony, and be seated with him on his throne of glory to all eternity.]