Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What It Means To "Count the Cost"

Last year, my Mom bought me a Kindle.  I inherited my love of books and reading from her and her family, especially her father, Duncan.  He was an Irishman with a wonderful gift for telling stories.

I wasn't sure I wanted a Kindle, though.  I love the feel and smell of a thick tome; its pages filled with the author's ability to convey a good story.  Because there are so many books available to us - some good, some not so good - I decided to start re-reading the classics:  Robert Louis Stevenson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens, to name just a few.  The price is also very affordable.  Most, if not all the books I've purchased, have cost me a mere 99 cents each.   The book I'm currently reading at night is The Complete Works of Charles Dickens, including a biography and illustrations, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

However, I quickly realized how beneficial the Kindle would also become as I scanned through Amazon's list of books written by trusted theologians and pastors.  I have spent the last year absorbing the likes of C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, A.W. Tozer, John Bunyan, and recently downloaded  free books from John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.  Currently, there are several waiting in queue to be read and I'm constantly looking for more.  But my practice is to not merely sit down and read through a book from beginning to end.  I like to take my time, usually reading one chapter each day with my Bible open next to me, and benefiting greatly from the time-honored words of men who preached the word of God with faithfulness, and who were unwavering in their deliverance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its purest form.   Many of you will probably agree that to find such exegesis in today's church is a difficulty, if not  improbability, at best.

Each morning, I spend some time reading my devotion, then move on to the latest apologetic that I'm reading through.   I am currently absorbing J.C. Ryle's "Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrance, Difficulties, and Roots," and it has proven to be extremely beneficial.  With that said, I have decided that I would like to share a particular chapter with my readers, hoping I'm not breaking any copyright laws by doing so.

As I read through the chapter bit by bit, I felt that its title bore some significance to the title of this blog.  My intention three years ago was to remind all of us that we do bear a great responsibility in "counting the cost" of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Proclaiming Him as the LORD and Master of our lives is one thing.  But when trials and tribulation come, are we caught off guard and unwilling to believe that each and every thing that comes into our lives is ordained of God?  Ryle is able to more eloquently answer the question, "What does it cost?", than I.

The chapter will be divided into more than one post because of its length.  After reading this first installment, I hope you will return to finish the chapter.
So, without further ado, let's see how Ryle answers this important question.  I hope and pray that, as you read through this chapter, you, also, will be strengthened and renewed.

"Which of you, intending to build a house, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost?" ~ Luke 14:28
The text which heads this page is one of great importance.  Few are the people who are not often obliged to ask themselves, "What does it cost?"
In buying property, in building houses, in furnishing rooms, in forming plans, in changing dwellings, in educating children, it is wise and prudent to look forward and consider.  Many would save themselves much sorry and trouble if they would only remember the question, "What does it cost?"
But there is one subject on which it is specially important to "count the cost."  That subject is the salvation of our souls.  What does it cost to be a true Christian?  What does it cost to be a really holy man?  This, after all, is the grand question.  For want of thought about this, thousands after seeming to begin well, turn away from the road to heaven, and are lost forever in hell.  Let me try to say a few words which may throw light on the subject.
I.    I will show, firstly, what it costs to be a true Christian.
II.   I will explain, secondly, why it is of such great importance to count the cost.
III.  I will give, in the last place, some hints which may help men to count the cost rightly.
We are living in strange times.  Events are hurrying on with singular rapidity.  We never know "what a day may bring forth"; how much less do we know what may happen in a year!  We live in day of great religious profession.  Scores of professing Christians in every part of the land are expressing a desire for more holiness and a higher degree of spiritual life.  Yet, nothing is more common than to see people receiving the Word with joy, and then after two or three years falling away, and going back to their sins.  They had not considered "what it costs" to be a really consistent believer and holy Christian.  Surely these are times when we ought often to sit down and "count the cost," and to consider the state of our souls.  We must mind what we are about.  If we desire to be truly holy, it is a good sign.  We may thank God for putting the desire into our hearts.  But still the cost ought to be counted.  No doubt Christ's way to eternal life is a way of pleasantness.  But it is folly to shut our eyes to the fact that His way is narrow, and the cross comes before the crown.
I.   I have, first, to show what it costs to be a true Christian.
 Let there be no mistake about my meaning.  I am not examining what it costs to save a Christian's soul.  I know well that it costs nothing less than the blood of the Son of God to provide an atonement, and to redeem man from hell.  The price paid for our redemption was nothing less than the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary.   We "are bought with a price."  "Christ gave Himself a ransom for all." (1Cor 6:20; 1Tim 2:6).  But all this is wide of the question.  The point I want to consider is another one altogether.  It is what a man must be ready to give up if he wishes to be saved.  It is the amount of sacrifice a man must submit to if he intends to serve Christ.  It is in this sense that I raise the question, "What does it cost?"  And I believe firmly that it is a most important one.
I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian.  A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion.  All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice.  If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, "Wide is the gate and broad is that way that leads to heaven!"
But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible.  There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run.  Conversion is not putting a man in an arm-chair and taking him easily to heaven.  It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory.  Hence arises the unspeakable importance of "counting the cost."
 Let me try to show precisely and particularly what it costs to be a true Christian.  Let us suppose that a man is disposed to take service with Christ, and feels drawn and inclined to follow Him.  Let us suppose that some affliction, or some sudden death, or an awakening sermon, has stirred his conscience and made him feel the value of his soul and desire to be a true Christian.  No doubt there is everything to encourage him.  His sins may be freely forgiven, however many and great.  His heart may be completely changed, however cold and hard.  Christ and the Holy Spirit, mercy and grace, are all ready for him.  But still he should count the cost.  Let us see particularly, one by one, the things that his religion will cost him.
(1)  For one thing, it will cost him his self-righteousness.  He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness.  He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another.  He must really feel as well as say the Prayer-book words that he has "erred and gone astray like a lost sheep," that he has "left undone the things he ought to have done, and done the things he ought not to have done, and that there is no health in him."  He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ.
Now this sounds hard to some.  I do not wonder.  "Sir," said a godly ploughman to the well-known James Hervy, of Weston Favell, "it is harder to deny proud self than sinful self.  But it is absolutely necessary."  Let us set down this item first and foremost in our account.  To be a true Christian it will cost a man his self-righteousness.
(2)  For another thing, it will cost a man his sins.  He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God's sight.  He must set his face against it, quarrel with it, break off from it, fight with it, crucify it, and labour to keep it under, whatever the world around him may say or think.  He must do this honestly and fairly.  There must be no separate truce with any special sin which he loves.  He must count all sins as his deadly enemies, and hate every false way.  Whether little or great, whether open or secret, all his sins must be thoroughly renounced.  They may struggle hard with him every day, and sometimes almost get the mastery over him.  But he must never give way to them.  He must keep up a perpetual war with his sins.  It is written, "Cast away from you all your transgressions."  "Break off thy sins and iniquities."  "Cease to do evil."  (Ezekiel 28:31; Daniel 4:27; Isaiah 1:16)
This also sounds hard.  I do not wonder.  Our sins are often as dear to us as our children; we love them, hug them, cleave to them, and delight in them.  To part with them is as hard as cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye.  But it must be done.  The parting must come.  "Though wickedness be sweet in the sinner's mouth, though he hid it under his tongue, though he spare it and forsake it not," yet it must be given up, if he wishes to be saved (Job 20:12-13).   He and sin must quarrel, if he and God are to be friends.  Christ is willing to receive any sinners.  But He will not receive them if they will stick to their sins.  Let us set down that item second in our account.  To be a Christian it will cost a man his sins.
(3)  For another thing, it will cost a man his love of ease.  He must take pains and trouble, if he means to run a successful race towards heaven.  He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy's ground.  He must take heed to his behaviour every hour of the day, in every company, and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home.  He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life.  He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible-reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace.  In attending to these things, he may come far short of perfection; but there is none of them that he can safely neglect.  "The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat." (Prov 13:4)
(4)  In the last place, it will cost a man the favour of the world.  He must be content to be though ill of by man if he pleases God.  He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated.  He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn.  He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic, to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented.  In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad.  The Master says, "Remember the word that I said unto you.  The servant is not greater than his lord.  If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20)
I dare say this also sounds hard.  We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause.  We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbours.  It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone.  But there is no help for it.  The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples.  They must be "despised and rejected of men." (Isaiah 53:3)  Let us set down that item last in our account.  To be a Christian it will cost a man the favour of the world.
Such is the account of what it costs to be a true Christian.  I grant the list is a heavy one.  But where is the item that could be removed?  Bold indeed must that man be who would dare to say that we may keep our self-righteousness, our sins, our laziness, and our love of the world, and yet be saved!
I grant it costs must to be a true Christian.  But who in his sound senses can doubt that it is worthy any cost to have the soul saved?  When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo.  When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any sever operation, and even to amputation, to save life.  Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven.  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.
(End of Part I)

I hope this first installment is helping you to gain a better understanding of the cost of following Jesus Christ, and that professing Him is more than just words or feelings.   The next part of chapter 5 will deal with explaining why "counting the cost" is of such great importance to a man's soul.  I hope you will come back.

Until next time, may the Holy Spirit lead you in righteousness and instill in each of you a striving after holiness, and may He impart upon all the necessity of "counting the cost" of our profession of Christ Jesus.  To Him be given all glory, honor, and praise.

No comments: