But one thing is needful.—Luke 10:42
It was a characteristic of our blessed Redeemer to go about doing good. This motive brought Him to the house of His friend Lazarus at Bethany. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, seated at the feet of Jesus in a posture of a disciple. Martha, “cumbered with much serving,” complained about Mary to Jesus. He answered her with these words,
Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful; and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Now, in a few words, the one thing needful is the care of the soul, opposed as you see in the text to the excessive care of body, about which Martha was gently admonished by our Lord. This is a general answer and it comprehends a variety of important particulars which is the business of our ministry often to you at large. The care of the soul implies a readiness to hear the words of Christ, to receive both the law and the Gospel from His mouth. It supposes that we learn from this Divine Teacher the worth of our souls, their danger, and the remedy. It assumes the sincere dedication of ourselves to the service of God and a faithful adherence to it, notwithstanding all oppositions arising from inward corruptions or outward temptations.
This one thing needful is represented in various Scriptures by various names. Sometimes it is called “regeneration” or “the new creature,” because it is the blessed work of God’s efficacious grace. Sometimes it is termed the “fear of God” and sometimes “His love, and the keeping of His commandments”; and very frequently in the New Testament it is called “faith” or “receiving Christ and believing in Him,” which therefore is represented as the “great work of God.”
Our Lord, you see, speaks of this “one thing” as needful in the general sense. He says not, for this or that particular person or for those of such an age, station, or circumstance in life, but needful for all. And indeed, when discoursing on such a subject, one might properly introduce it with these solemn words of the Psalmist, “Give ear, all ye people, hear, all ye inhabitants of the earth, both high and low, rich and poor together” (Psalm 49: 1-2).
As Solomon says of wisdom, that it “is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her” (Proverbs 3:15), so I may properly say of this great and most important branch of wisdom, namely soul care. Whatever can be laid in the balance with it will be found lighter than vanity. This is strongly implied when it is said in the text, “one thing is needful”; one thing and one thing alone is so.
The care of the soul is of so comprehensive a nature that everything truly worthy of our concern may be considered as included in it or subservient to it. As David observes that “the commandment of God is exceeding broad” (Psalm 119:96), so we may say of this one thing needful. Solomon also, very justly and emphatically expresses it, “to fear God and to keep His commandments is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
In the Proverbs God speaks of those who neglect Him and their souls as fools, while the godly alone are designated as wise. If we enquire what our Lord judged to be needed most, the words of the text contain as full an answer as can be imagined; and the sense is repeated in Matthew 26:26.
The wisest and best men of all ages have agreed in this point, that this has been the unanimous judgment, this the common and most solicitous care, of those characters who are most valuable, to secure the salvation of their own souls and to promote the salvation of others.
The care of the soul is the one thing needful because without it you cannot secure peace of mind nor avoid the upbraiding of conscience. It is necessary because happiness depends upon it. It is needful in order to avoid a state of eternal misery.
Since the care of the soul is true wisdom, then surely we have reason to say with Solomon that madness is in men’s hearts (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Look on the conduct of mankind in general and you will imagine that they consider it the one thing needless, the vainest dream, and the most idle amusement of the mind. Can we, my Christian sisters and brothers, behold such a scene with indifference? The Lord awaken our compassion, our prayers, and our endeavors to bring them to Christ.
Let me entreat you to remember your own concerns in it and enquire: Have I thought seriously of it? Have I seen the importance of it? Has it lain with an abiding weight on my mind? Has it brought me to Christ, that I might lay the stress of these eternal interests on Him? Am I willing to give up other things, my interests, my desires, to this? Am I conversing with God and with God and with man as one who believes these things?
May this care be awakened in those by whom it has been neglected! May it be revived in each of our minds. In order that you may be encouraged to pursue it with greater cheerfulness, let me conclude with this comfortable thought: in proportion to the necessity of the case through the merits of Jesus Christ is the provision which grace has made for our assistance. If you are disposed to sit down at Christ’s feet, He will teach you by His Word and Spirit.
By faith I keep pressing on!