The King, the Carrot, and the Horse

Why do you do what you do as a Christian? A previous post, Christianity is the End of Religion, contrasts Religion with the Gospel. As a Christian, we do something in order to get something, if we functionally operate from the perspective of Religion. We repent and change so that God will bless me with what I want. But the Gospel compels us to do what we do because God has already blessed us by giving us His Son Jesus Christ (Rom 8:32).

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) understood the difference between Religion and the Gospel when he told the Tale of the King, the Carrot, and the Horse:

Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. He took it to his king and said, “My lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go, the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift, so you can garden it all.” The gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.

But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this, and he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot, what if you gave the king something better?” The next day the nobleman came before the king, and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses, and this is the greatest horse I’ve ever bred or ever will; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said, “Thank you,” and took the horse and simply dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed, so the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.

I first heard this story a few years ago, which I love, for it intrigued me. It seemed to have some profound point and deep meaning. But it took me quite awhile to “get it.” Still, I often need to be refreshed. Do you see what this teaches? If you know that God offers you his salvation freely, and there is nothing to do but to accept the perfect righteousness of his Son, then you can serve God just for the love of God and for the love of people (Matt 22:37-39). But if you think you are getting salvation and “other blessings” in return for serving God, then it is yourself you are serving and yourself you are benefiting.

Why do we serve our king, Jesus? Do we serve Him because we love Him, or because we love ourselves? Do we serve Him because we delight in the Giver, or because we want His gifts? There is a big difference. So, as a Christian, why do you ever do what you do? Be honest now.


  1. Hmmm, ok doc, great illustration. What if my answer is BOTH! So we definitely should love God for who He is and what He has done. And yet Jesus also tells us to seek treasure that will last forever, and that the kingdom of God is like a treasure that a man found in a field and re buried and then sold everything he had to buy the field and gain that treasure. in other words what John Piper would call Christian Hedonism. Now, what is the treasure? God Himself! So Piper would say that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Therefore, is it wrong to serve God for the ‘selfish’ end of eternal gain? In Jonathan Edwards’ resolution number 22 he says that he is, “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”

  2. Thanks, Dave. I’d agree in theory and principle. By Piper’s definition I am a Christian hedonist (Psalm 16:11): I do long for eternal pleasures in God. But, as CS Lewis puts it, the practical reality is that we Christians sell ourselves short:

    “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    Perhaps, Paul expresses a similar dilemma in Rom 7:14-15,18-19. So yes, we want to choose both. But don’t you think that our sinful default causes to become like the nobleman offering his horse for a “larger mud pie,” rather than the farmer giving his carrot with total joy, gratitude and contentment?

  3. Yes, good point, I think that is true. At least for me it is! I find myself wanting larger mud pies all the time. And I think that is part of the deceitfulness of sin, those mud pies look like rubies and pearls to our natural eyes

  4. Yup. Even though I know some things are mud pies in a slum, every day I am still tempted to dive in for a sumptuous and comprehensive mud bath!
    On a different note, I’m thinking that this Spurgeon tale is not that easy to grasp and nail down, though I still love it.

  5. Honestly, I’m like this Nobleman man now and then. The story made me think of my actions towards God, even with my simple contributions, asking myself, am I doing this and that because I want Him to pass me on this damn board exam? or because I love Him that I wanted to please and glorify him? This question plays tricky in the heart and mind of every Christians. 

    • Hi Noah, thank you for sharing. We do need to be reminded often of God’s love and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?”

  6. Thanks for the posted Dr. Ben. Thanks Noah telling me about it this article. Its quite interesting and so true as Christians we must be careful and always examine our heart when we serve him. The only way when we are careful it when we are honest before him through the word of God. I am like the Noblemann but May God change my heart to be like the gardener out of love and respect gave his best gift to the king with no expectations.

    • Hi Lina, thank you also for sharing. Your words remind me that it is God who changes our hearts. I am finding that my heart is moved toward God these days by “no expectation” discussions and meetings.

  7. Noah, Lina, Brian, I think that everyman’s sinful default is to be like the Nobleman, especially yours truly. Without God’s mercy and grace working a miracle of grace, we cannot will ourselves to be like the Happy Thankful Farmer. But by the work of the Holy Spirit, God transforms us to be his grateful people and children.

  8. I love this story and I am looking to use it.  Could you provide me with the source of the quote?  Which Spurgeon sermon is it found in?  Thank you for any help! 

  9. Hi Mark, I couldn’t find which sermon of Spurgeons it is from. I first read it a few years ago when it was cited by Tim Keller in his excellent book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008), 60-62.

    Since then, it seemed to be quoted in countless blogs, for it addresses our heart’s utmost desire: Do I truly want Jesus? Or what Jesus can give me?