Thursday, January 17, 2013

Part 2: What It Means to "Count the Cost"

What does it mean to "count the cost" of our relationship with Jesus Christ?  As you read in the last post, J.C. Ryle lays out very specific points regarding the "religion" he calls Christianity and that we embrace.

The term "religion" had a very different connotation back in Ryle's day than it does in the present.  Some would say that the word "religion" has no legitimate place in our profession of faith in Jesus Christ in today's culture, that we should forgo using it because it situates belief in His atonement on the same level as all other false religious beliefs.  It does have the propensity to leave a bad taste on our tongue, especially when one considers the atrocities that so-called "religion" has inflicted.  But Ryle applies it with the simplicity, yet eloquence, of speech that was held in his day, rightly giving it its place in our Christian profession, giving us an understanding of the essence of the true "religion," Christianity: an atoning, crown-bearing, all-encompassing profession of faith in Jesus Christ, with ultimate and eternal reward.  As he states at the end of the first installment in chapter 5, "A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing!  A cheap Christianity without a cross will prove in the end a useless Christianity without a crown.

Before diving into the next installment of chapter 5, the following is a brief summation of Ryle's first exhortation on what it means to "count the cost" of our profession of faith and walk in Jesus Christ:

  1. It will mean the cost of our own self-righteousness.
  2. It will cost us our sins and the love we have for them, and our turning away from those sins and towards God's righteousness.
  3. It will cost a man "his love of ease" and compel him to watch himself closely, lest he neglect his spiritual health.
  4. And it will "cost a man the favour of the world," even to the point of "being mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated."
 As Ryle strongly impresses upon us, these things can be viewed as "hard" and "heavy," but they are vital to our walk with Christ.  If we are not mere pretenders giving the impression to others that we are something we're not, we should strive to "count the cost," fervently holding on to, and demonstrating in every aspect of our lives, the grace of salvation that has been bestowed upon us.
Now...on to the second part of chapter 5.  May it renew your determination to "count the cost" of your relationship with Christ Jesus.
II.  I have now, in the second place, to explain why "counting the cost" is of such great importance to man's soul.
I might easily settle this question by laying down the principle that no duty enjoined by Christ can ever be neglected without damage.  I might show how many shut their eyes throughout life to the nature of saving religion, and refuse to consider what it really costs to be a Christian.  I might describe how, at last, when life is ebbing away, they wake up and make a few spasmodic efforts to turn to God.  I might tell you how they find to their amazement that repentance and conversion are no such easy matters as they had supposed, and that it costs "a great sum" to be a true Christian.  They discover that habits of pride and sinful indulgence, and love of ease, and worldliness, are not so easily laid aside as they had dreamed.  And so, after a faint struggle, they give up in despair, and leave the world hopeless, graceless, and unfit to meet God!  They had flattered themselves all their days that religion would be easy work when they once took it up seriously.  But they open their eyes too late and discover for the first time that they are ruined because they never "counted the cost."
But there is one class of persons to whom especially I wish to address myself in handling this part of my subject.  It is a large class - an increasing class - an a class which in these days is in peculiar danger.  Let me in a few plain words try to describe this class.  It deserves our best attention.
The persons I speak of are not thoughtless about religion: they think a good deal about it.  They are not ignorant of religion: they know the outlines of it pretty well.  But their great defect is that they are not "rooted and grounded" in their faith.  Too often, they have picked up their knowledge second hand from being in religious families, or from being trained in religious ways, but have never worked it out by their own inward experience.  Too often, they have hastily taken up a profession of religion under the pressure of circumstances, from sentimental feelings, from animal excitement, or from a vague desire to do like others around them, but without any solid work of grace in their hearts.  Persons like these are in a position of immense danger.  They are precisely those, if Bible examples are worth anything, who need to be exhorted "to count the cost."
For want of "counting the cost," myriads of the children of Israel perished miserably in the wilderness of Egypt and Canaan.  They left Egypt full of zeal and fervour, as if nothing could stop them.  But when they found dangers and difficulties in the way, their courage soon cooled down.  They had never reckoned on trouble.  They had thought the promised land would be all before them in a few days.  And so, when enemies, privations, hunger, and thirst began to try them, they murmured against Moses and God, and would fain have gone back to Egypt.  In a word, they had "not counted the cost," and so lost everything, and died in their sins.
For want of "counting the cost," many of our LORD Jesus Christ's hearers went back after a time, and "walked no more with Him." (John 6:66)  When they first saw His miracles and heard His preaching, they thought "the kingdom of God would immediately appear."  They cast in their lot with His Apostles, and followed Him without thinking of the consequences.  But when they found that there were hard doctrines to be believed, and hard work to be done, and hard treatment to be borne, their faith gave way entirely and proved to be nothing at all.  In a word, they had not "counted the cost," and so made shipwreck of their profession.
For want of "counting the cost," King Herod returned to his old sins and destroyed his soul.  He liked to hear John the Baptist preach.  He "observed" and honoured him as a just and holy man.  He even "did many things" which were right and good.  But when he found that he must give up his darling Herodias, his religion entirely broke down.  He had not reckoned on this.  He had not "counted the cost." (Mark 6:20)
For want of "counting the cost," Demas forsook the company of St. Paul, forsook the Gospel, forsook Christ, forsook heaven.  For a long time, he journeyed with the great Apostle of the Gentiles, and was a actually a "fellow-labourer."  But when he found he could not have the friendship of this world as well as the friendship of God, he gave up his Christianity and clave to the world.  "Demas hath forsaken me," says St. Paul, "having loved this present world." (2Tim 4:10)  He had not "counted the cost."
For want of "counting the cost," the hearers of powerful Evangelical preachers often come to miserable ends.  They are stirred and excited into professing what they have not really experienced.  They receive the Word with a "joy: so extravagant that it almost startles old Christians.  They run for a time with such zeal and fervour that they seem likely to outstrip all others.  They talk and work for spiritual objects with such enthusiasm that they make older believers feel ashamed.  But when the novelty and freshness of their feelings is gone, a change comes over them.  They prove to have been nothing more than stony-ground hearers.  The description the great Master gives in the Parable of the Sower is exactly exemplified: "Temptation or persecution arises because of the Word, and they are offended." (Matt 13:21)  Little by little, their zeal melts away, and their love becomes cold.  By and by, their seats are empty in the assembly of God's people, and they are heard of no more among Christians.  And why?  They had "never counted the cost."
For want of "counting the cost," hundreds of professed converts, under religious revivals, go back to the world after a time, and bring disgrace on religion.  They begin with a sadly mistaken notion of what is true Christianity.  They fancy it consists in nothing more than a so-called "coming to Christ," and have strong inward feelings of joy and peace.  And so, when they find, after a time, that there is a cross to be carried, that our hearts are deceitful, and that there is a busy devil always near us, they cool down in disgust, and return to their old sins.  And why?  Because they had really never known what Bible Christianity is.  They had never learned that we must "count the cost."
For want of "counting the cost," the children of religious parents often turn out ill, and bring disgrace on Christianity.  Familiar from their earliest years with the form and theory of the Gospel, taught even from infancy to repeat great leading texts, accustomed every week to be instructed in the Gospel, or to instruct others in Sunday schools, they often grow up professing a religion without knowing why, or without ever having thought seriously about it.  And then, when the realities of grown-up life begin to press upon them, they often astound every one by dropping all their religion and plunging right into the world.  And why?  They had never thoroughly understood the sacrifices which Christianity entails.  They had never been taught to "count the cost."
These are solemn and painful truths.  But they are truths.  They all help to show the immense importance of the subject I am now considering.  They all point out the absolute necessity of pressing the subject of this paper on all who profess a desire for holiness, and of crying aloud in all the churches, "Count the Cost!"
I am bold to say that it would be well if the duty of "counting the cost" were more frequently taught than it is.  Impatient hurry is the order of the day with many religionists.  Instantaneous conversions, and immediate sensible peace, are the only results they seem to care for from the gospel.  Compared with these, all other things are thrown into the shade.  To produce them is the grand end and object, apparently, of all their labours.  I say without hesitation that such a naked, one-sided mode of teaching Christianity is mischievous in the extreme.
 Let no one mistake my meaning.  I thoroughly approve of offering men a full, free, present, immediate salvation in Christ Jesus.  I thoroughly approve of urging on man the possibility and the duty of immediate instantaneous conversion.  In these matters I give place to no one.  But I do say that these truths ought not to be set before men nakedly, singly, and alone.  They ought to be told honestly what it is they are taking up, if they profess a desire to come out from the world and serve Christ.  They ought not to be pressed into the ranks of Christ's army without being told what the warfare entails.  In a word, they should be told honestly to "count the cost."
Does anyone ask what our LORD Jesus Christ's practice was in this matter?  Let him read what St. Luke records.  He tells us that on a certain occasion "There went great multitudes from Him: and He turned and said unto them, 'If any come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:25-27)  I must plainly say that I cannot reconcile this passage with the proceedings of many modern religious teachers.  And yet, to my mind, the doctrine of it is as clear as the sun at noon-day.  It shows us that we ought not to hurry men into professing discipleship, without warning them plainly to "count the cost."
Does anyone ask what the practice of the eminent and best preachers of the Gospel has been in days gone by?  I am bold to say that they have all with one mouth borne testimony to the wisdom of our LORD's dealing with the multitudes to which I have just referred.  Luther, and Latimer, and Baxter, and Wesley, and Whitfield, and Berridge, and Rowland Hill, were all keenly alive to the deceitfulness of man's heart.  They knew full well that all is not gold that glitters, that conviction is not conversion, that feeling is not faith, that sentiment is not grace, that all blossoms do not come to fruit.  "Be not deceived," was their constant cry.  "Consider well what you do.  Do not run before you are called.  Count the cost."
If we desire to do good, let us never be ashamed of walking in the steps of our LORD Jesus Christ.  Work hard, if you will, and have the opportunity for the souls of others.  Press them to consider their ways.  Compel them with holy violence to come in, to lay down their arms, and to yield themselves to God.  Offer them salvation - ready, free, full, immediate salvation.  But in all your work, tell the truth, and the whole truth.  Be ashamed to use the vulgar arts of a recruiting serjeant (sic).  Do not speak only of the uniform, the pay, and the glory; speak also of the enemies, the battle, the armour, the watching, the marching, and the drill.  Do not present only one side of Christianity.  Do not keep back "the cross" of self-denial that must be carried when you speak of the cross on which Christ died for our redemption.  Explain fully what Christianity entails.  Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to "count the cost."

(End of Part II) 

 I hope you will all come back next week for the final installment of Ryle's exhortation to "count the cost" of your profession in Christ Jesus.  May today's reading strengthen you and encourage you to strive towards His holiness and righteousness.

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