Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Part 3: What It Means To "Count the Cost"

In the last segment, J.C. Ryle began by addressing the importance in understanding that "counting the cost" of our relationship with Jesus Christ is vital to our soul's spiritual health.  He states, ""that no duty enjoined by Christ can ever be neglected without damage," and that it "costs a 'great sum' to be a true Christian."

Far too many souls initially look upon their profession of Christ as an easy transition from being worldly to striving for His righteousness.  They believe that it will be a simple matter to maintain their walk with Jesus; that they will be able to put behind them their sins and desires, only to discover, after a time, that they were mistaken and their feet caught in the quagmire of the yearnings of sinful flesh.  As Ryle states regarding those who continue in this pattern until late in life and death hovers at the door, "...they open their eyes too late and discover for the first time that they are ruined because they never 'counted the cost.'"

However, Ryle goes on to address a particular class of Christian, one who is not "thoughtless about religion" and what is required of him to genuinely profess Christ Jesus.  This type of person knows his religion inside and out, perhaps from being raised in a Christian family, or was persuaded through sentiment, emotions, a trial in his life, or a desire to be like the next guy - a sort of fanciful clique who meets each Sunday to socialize and be fed only enough to keep him coming back.  Sadly, the world is littered with churches that neglect the duty that has been given them in exhorting their congregations to "count the cost."   I must thoroughly agree with Ryle in his declaration that those churches whose only goal is a head count and "instantaneous conversions," without a true understanding of the immense importance of what the so-called convert is acting out, is doing great "mischief" to the body of Christ, and bringing grave danger to the soul of the one who has been misguided.

Preaching the Gospel in its fullness is vital to the health of the church.  To disregard it by avoiding the "hard" teachings is to deceive and destroy what God is building up: a body of Christians who truly know the meaning behind "counting the cost" and are prepared and equipped to face whatever adversity comes their way.  The shepherds of Christ's flock must attend to it, to "tell the truth, and the whole truth," or there will be many who will stand in judgment one day and be told, "You did not  count the cost."

Now, on to the final installment of chapter 5.

 III.  The third and last thing which I propose to do is to give some hints which may help men to "count the cost" rightly.
Sorry indeed should I be if I did not say something on this branch of my subject.  I have no wish to discourage anyone, or to keep anyone back from Christ's service.  It is my heart's desire to encourage everyone to go forward and take up the cross.  Let us "count the cost by all means, and count it carefully.  But let us remember, that if we count rightly, and look on all sides, there is nothing that need make us afraid.
Let us mention some things which should always enter into our calculations in counting the cost of true Christianity.  Set down honestly and fairly what you will have to give up and go through, if you become Christ's disciple.  Leave nothing out.  Put it all down.  But then, set down side by side the following sums which I am going to give you.  Do this fairly and correctly, and I am not afraid of the result.
(a)  Count up and compare, for one thing, the profit and the loss, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian.  You may possibly lose something in this world, but you will gain the salvation of your immortal soul.  It is written, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"  (Mark 8:36)
(b)  Count up and compare, for another thing, the praise and the blame, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian.  You may possibly be blamed by man, but you will have the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Your blame will come from the lips of a few erring, blind, fallible men and women.  Your praise will come from the King of kings and Judge of all the earth.  It is only those who He blesses who are really blessed.  It is written, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven."  (Matthew 5:11-12)
(c)  Count up and compare, for another thing, the friends and the enemies, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian.  On the one side of you is the enmity of the devil and the wicked.  On the other, you have the favour and friendship of the LORD Jesus Christ.  Your enemies, at most, can only bruise your heal.  They may rage loudly, and compass sea and land to work your ruin, but they cannot destroy you.  Your Friend is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him.  None shall ever pluck His sheep out of His hand.   It is written, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him."  (Luke 7:5)
(d)  Count up and compare, for another thing, the life that now is and the life to come, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian.  The time present, no doubt, is not a time of ease.  It is a time of watching and praying, fighting and struggling, believing and working.  But it is only for a few years.  The time future is the season of rest and refreshing.  Sin shall be cast out.  Satan shall be bound.  And, best of all, it shall be a rest forever.  It is written, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; the but things which are not seen are eternal."  (2Cor 4:17-18)
(e)  Count up and compare, for another thing, the pleasures of sin and happiness of God's service, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian.  The pleasures that the worldly man gets by his ways are hollow, unreal, and unsatisfying.  They are like the fire of thorns, flashing and crackling for a few minutes, and then quenched forever.  The happiness that Christ gives to His people is something solid, lasting, and substantial.  It is not dependent on health or circumstances.  It never leaves a man, even in death.  It ends in a crown of glory that fadeth not away.  It is written, "The joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment." and,  "As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool."  (Job 20:5; Eccl 7:6)  But it is also written, "Peace I leave with you, My peace give I unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  (John 14:27)
(f)  Count up and compare, for another thing, the trouble that true Christianity entails, and the troubles that are in store for the wicked beyond the grave.  Grant for a moment that Bible-reading, praying and repenting, and believing, and holy living, require pains and self-denial.  It is all nothing compared to that "wrath to come" which is stored up for the impenitent and unbelieving.  A single day in hell will be worse than a whole life spent carrying the cross.  The "worm that never dies, and the fire that is not quenched" are things which it passes man's power to conceive fully or describe.  It is written, "Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and thou art tormented."  (Luke 16:25)
(g)  Count up and compare, in the last place, the number of those who turn from sin and the world and serve Christ, and the number of those who forsake Christ and return to the world.  On the one side, you will find thousands; on the other you will find none.  Multitudes are every year turning out of the broad way and entering the narrow.  None who really enter the narrow way grow tired of it and return to the broad.  The footsteps in the downward road are often to be seen turning out of it.  It is written, "The way of transgessors is hard."  (Prov 4:19; 13:15)  But it is also written, "The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day."  (Prov.4:8)
Such sums as these, no doubt, are often not done correctly.  Not a few, I am well aware, are ever "halting between two opinions."  They cannot make up their minds that it is worthwhile to serve Christ.  The losses and gains, the advantages and disadvantages, the sorrows and the joys, the helps and the hindrances with that faith we shall set things down at their true value.  Filled with that faith we shall neither add to the cross nor subtract from the crown.  Our conclusions will be all correct.  Our sum total will be without error.
(1)  In conclusion, let every reader of this paper think seriously whether his religion costs him anything at present.  Very likely it costs you nothing.  Very probably it neither costs you trouble, nor time, nor thought, nor care, nor pains, nor reading, nor praying, nor self-denial, nor conflict, nor working, nor labour of any kind.  Now mark what I say.  Such a religion as this will never save your soul.  It will never give you peace while you live, nor hope while you die.  It will not support you in the day of affliction, nor cheer you in the hour of death.  A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing.  Awake before it is too late.  Awake and repent.  Awake and be converted.  Awake and believe.  Awake and pray.  Rest not till you can give a satisfactory answer to my question, "What does it cost?"
(2)  Think, if you want stirring motives for serving God, what it cost to provide a salvation for your soul.  Think how the Son of God left heaven and became Man, suffered on the cross, and lay in the grave, to pay your debt to God, and work out for a complete redemption.  Think of all this and learn that it is no light matter to possess an immortal soul.  It is worthwhile to take some trouble about one's soul.
Ah, lazy man or woman, is it really come to this, that you will miss heaven for lack of trouble?  Are you really determined to make shipwreck forever, from mere dislike to exertion?  Away with the cowardly, unworthy thought.  Arise and play the man.  Say to yourself, "Whatever it may cost, I will, at any rate, strive to enter in at the strait gate."  Look at the cross of Christ, and take fresh courage.  Look forward to death, judgment, and eternity, and be in earnest.  It may cost much to be a Christian, but you may be sure it pays.
(3)  If any reader of this paper really feels that he has counted the cost, and taken up the cross, I bid him persevere and press on.  I dare say you often feel your heart faint, and are sorely tempted to give up in despair.  Your enemies seem so many, your besetting sins so strong, your friends so few, the way so steep and narrow, you hardly know what to do.  But still I say, persevere and press on.
The time is very short.  A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over.  We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more.
The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer here below.  When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart.  We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown.  We shall marvel that in "counting the cost" we could ever doubt on which side the balance of profit lay.  Let us take courage.  We are not far from home.  IT MAY COST MUCH TO BE A TRUE CHRISTIAN AND A CONSISTENT BELIEVER, BUT IT PAYS.
End of Chapter 5

~ ~ ~ 

In order to save space in these installments, I chose not to include the notes at the end of the chapter.  However, I felt it essential to impress Ryle's disdain for what not only was occurring during his day, but also what we see harming today's church: "instantaneous conversion," the "invitation of unconverted sinners to come to Christ," and "the possession of inward joy and peace as a test of conversion."

Ryle goes on to clarify that the "nearness of peace and comfort in Christ should be proclaimed to all men," but that too much emphasis is placed on the "triumphant feelings" many claim to experience without first understanding "the holiness of God's law, the depth of their sinfulness, and the real guilt of sin."  Mere "feelings" is not true faith; "pressure" from others, "animal excitement and temporary feelings," including mass conversions in revivals, lead to false conversions.  "And all this time, the thoughtless and ungodly look on with contempt, and find fresh reasons for neglecting religion altogether."

Ryle's summation in his notes are thus:

  1. "Let all the counsel of God be taught in Scriptural proportion, and let not two or three precious doctrines of the Gospel be allowed to overshadow all other truths."
  2. "Let repentance be taught fully as well as faith, and not thrust completely into the background.  Our LORD Jesus Christ and St. Paul always taught both."
  3. "Let the variety of the Holy Ghost's works be honestly stated and admitted; and while instantaneous conversion is pressed on men, let it not be taught as a necessity."
  4. "Let those who profess to have found immediate sensible peace be plainly warned to try themselves well, and to remember that feeling is not faith, and that 'patient continuance in well-doing' is the great proof that faith is true."  (emphasis added) (John 8:31)  
  5. "Let the great duty of 'counting the cost' be constantly urged on all who are disposed to make a religious profession, and let them be honestly and fairly told that there is warfare as well as peace, a cross as well as a crown, in Christ's service..."
I will end with a word from our Savior Jesus Christ, and pray that all who read this will consider the weight of His words:
Now great crowds accompanied Him, and he turned and said to them,  “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.   Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple..."  Luke 14:15-27 ESV
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.   So Jesus said to the Twelve, Do you want to go away as well?   Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,   and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”  John 6:66-69 ESV
Examine yourselves.  Test that which is good and lasting, lest you be found to be lacking the very thing that gives you the right and privilege of bearing the name "Christian."  (2Cor 13:5 ESV)

May you count the cost, and count it well.

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