The qualifications of his real disciples. Two short parables illustrative of the high pries such a real disciple must pay if he would indeed be his. The halfhearted disciple is compared to flavourless salt.
Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand! Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace . It is not improbable that this simile was derived from the history of the time. The unhappy connection of the tetrarch Herod with Herodias had brought about the divorce of that sovereign's first wife, who was daughter of Aretas, a powerful Arabian prince. This involved Herod in an Arabian war, the result of which was disastrous to the tetrarch. Josephus points out that this ill-omened incident was the commencement of Herod Antipas's subsequent misfortunes. Our Lord not improbably used this simile, foreseeing what would be the ultimate end of this unhappy war of Herod. The. first of these two little similes rather points to the building up of the Christian life in the heart and life. The second is an image of the warfare which' every Christian man must wage against the world, its passions, and its lusts. If we cannot brace ourselves up to the' sacrifice necessary for the completion of the building up of the life we know the Master loves; if we shrink from the cost involved in the warfare against sin and evil—a warfare which will only end with life—better for us not to begin the building or risk the war. It will be a wretched alternative, but still it will be best for us to make our submission at once to the world and its prince; at least, by so doing we shall avoid the scandal and the shame of injuring a cause which we adopted only to forsake. The Swiss commentator Godet very naturally uses hero a simile taken from his own nationality: "Would not a little nation like the Swiss bring down ridicule on itself by declaring war with France, if it were not determined to die nobly on the field of battle?" He was thinking of the splendid patriotism of his own brave ancestors who had determined so to die, and who carried out their gallant purpose. He was thinking of stricken fields like Morgarten and Sempach, and of brave hearts like those of Rudolph of Erlach, and Arnold of Winkelried, who loved their country better than their lives. This was the spirit with which Christ's warriors must undertake the hard stern warfare against an evil and corrupt world, otherwise better let his cause alone. The sombre shadow of the cross lay heavy and dark across all the Redeemer's words spoken at this time.
The time and the room for calculation in religion.
What room is there in the religion of Jesus Christ for calculation? What amount of reckoning before acting is permissible to the disciple of our Lord? When and in what way should he ask of himself—Can I afford to do this? Have I strength enough to undertake it?
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCE WHICH SUGGESTED THE IDEA . It was the temporary popularity of Christ that led him to the strain of remark we have in the text. "There went great multitudes with him" ( Luke 14:25 ), fascinated by his presence and bearing, or struck by his teaching, or marvelling at his mighty works. And these men and women were far from entering into his spirit or sharing his high purpose; it was necessary that they should understand what discipleship to Jesus meant, what absolute self-surrender it involved. So the Master gave utterance to the strong and trenchant words recorded in the context ( Luke 14:26 , Luke 14:27 ). And the words of the text itself are explanatory of this utterance. Their import is this: "I say this because it is much better you should know what you are doing by following me than that you should enter upon a course which you will find yourselves obliged to abandon, than that you should undertake a duty to which you will find yourselves unequal. All wise people, before they definitely commit themselves to any policy carefully consider whether they can carry it through. Every wise builder calculates the cost before he begins to build; every wise king estimates his military strength before he declares war. So do you consider whether you are prepared to make a full surrender of your will to my will, of your life to my service, before you attach yourselves to my side; for whoever is not able to 'forsake all that he hath at my bidding, cannot be my disciple' Ponder the matter, therefore; weigh everything before you act, count the cost, decide deliberately and with a full understanding of what it is you are doing."
II. THE PLACE THERE IS FOR CALCULATION IN PERSONAL RELIGION .
1 . At the entrance upon a Christian life. It would seem as if there could be no room for reckoning here. We may well ask—When God calls us to himself, when Christ invites us to come unto him, what time should we allow ourselves before responding to his summons? Should not our response be immediate, instantaneous? We reply—Time enough to understand what we are undertaking to be and to do; time enough to take the Divine message into our full and intelligent consideration; so that our choice may be not the impulse of an hour, but the fixed and final purpose of our soul. God would not have us act in ignorance, in misconception. In malice we may well be children, but in understanding we should be men. There is no step any man can take which is comparable in importance with that which is taken when a human soul enters the kingdom of God: on that hang everlasting issues. Let men, therefore, diligently and reverently inquire until they understand what it means to have a living faith in Jesus Christ, to enter his spiritual kingdom, and become one of his subjects; let them understand, among other things, that it means the cheerful and full surrender of themselves to the Saviour himself, with all that such surrender involves ( Luke 14:33 ).
2 . At the entrance on a public profession of personal religion. Here is a visible "Church" which we are invited to join, taking upon ourselves the Christian name, and openly avowing our attachment to our Lord; thus honouring him before men. This is a step to be taken deliberately. Before taking it, a man should certainly ask himself whether he is prepared to act in accordance with his profession everywhere, in all circles and in every sphere; not only where he will be encouraged to do the right, but where he will be solicited to do the wrong thing; not only in the midst of genial influences, but in the throng of perilous temptations. But while these things are to be carefully taken into account, there must be reckoned, on the other side, the assurance which genuine piety may always cherish of needed Divine succour. If we go forth in the Name and in the strength of our Lord to do that which is his own command, we may confidently count on his support; and with him at our right hand we shall not be moved from the path of integrity and consistency. Look the facts in the face, but include all the facts; and do not forget that among these are the promises of the faithful Friend.
3 . Before undertaking any post of sacred service. It would be worse than foolish for a Christian man to go forth to any enterprise requiring an amount of physical strength, or of intellectual capacity, or of educational advantages, which he knows well he does not possess. That would be to begin to build and to be unable to finish, to declare war with the certainty of defeat. At all times, when we are thinking of Christian work, we must carefully consider our qualifications. A wise and modest refusal is a truer sacrifice than an indiscreet and unwarrantable acceptance. But, again, let our judgment include the great factor of the Divine presence and aid, and also the valid consideration that competency comes with exercise, that to him that hath (uses his capacities) is given, and he has abundance (of power and of success).—C.
The cost of discipleship.
The Pharisee's banquet being over, our Lord continues his journey towards Jerusalem, and, as a crisis is evidently at hand, he has a goodly multitude of expectant followers. Have they any notion of the cost of discipleship? Are they prepared for all which it involves? Jesus determines to make this unmistakable, and so he gives them the admonition contained in the present section. He gives point to his advice by mentioning the folly of beginning to build a tower without calculating the cost of finishing it, or of beginning a war without calculating the reasonable chances of success. Each follower would have a costly tower to build in the devoted life he must lead, and a costly war to wage in the contest for the faith. It was every way desirable, therefore, that they should go carefully into the meaning of discipleship, and undertake it intelligently.
I. NOTHING LESS THAN THE FIRST PLACE IN THE HEART MUST BE OFFERED UNTO JESUS . ( Luke 14:26 .) He insists on being put before father and mother, before wife and children, before brothers and sisters. All relations are to be put below him. He must be more than them all. It is a great demand, and yet a most reasonable one. For:
1 . The love of Jesus anticipated all parental love. In fact, the love of our parents is only the latest expression of his far-seeing and foreseeing love. The generations to whom we owe so much have only mediated for us the love of Jesus.
2 . The unity of marriage only feebly illustrates the intensity of Christ's love. Husband owes much to wife, and wife to husband. The marriage union is a close and intimate one; but Jesus comes closer to our hearts than husband or wife can. He is nearer, and should be dearer, than either.
3 . The rising generation does not lay so much love and hope at our feet as Jesus. Children are dear; the promise of their young lives and hearts is precious; they come as pledges for the future; they are prophecies of the world about to be; but "the holy Child Jesus" comes closer to our hearts than even they. He is the prophecy of all coming time, the goal and ideal at which, not the rising generation only, but generations yet unborn, are to aim.
4 . He gives us a more profound brotherhood than brothers or sisters can. The brotherhood of Jesus, "the elder Brother born for all adversity, and who can never die," is an experience which brothers and sisters can only help us to understand. £ Jesus consequently claims first place, because in his manifold relations he is not only more than each, but more than all combined.
II. WE MUST PRIZE CHRIST MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF . ( Luke 14:26 .) Life is another precious benefit which we naturally prize. Satan, in the trial of Job, imagined that Job would give all that he had rather than lose his life ( Job 2:4 ). He fancied that the patriarch, who would not curse God under the loss of children and property, would break down if God touched his bone or his flesh. But Job was so spiritually minded as to be ready to trust God, even should he, for some mysterious and hidden reason, slay him ( Job 13:15 ). Now, Jesus comes and insists on being put before life itself. When the two come into competition there must be no question about yielding the palm to Christ. Jesus is more to us than physical life, because he is our spiritual life ( John 14:6 ). We can never forfeit blessed existence so long as we trust in Christ, and the mere existence of the body is but a bagatelle in comparison.
III. SELF - SACRIFICE IS THE MARCHING ORDER OF THE REDEEMED . (Verse 27.) The idea of cross-bearing is often interpreted as if it simply meant enduring those "crosses" to which life is heir. But much more is meant than this. In the Revised Version it is put, "Whosoever cloth not bear his own cross." Now, as Christ carried his cross to die upon, so must we take our lives in our hands, and be ready at any moment to sacrifice them for Jesus. He was crucified for us: are we ready to be crucified for him, or to die in any other way he wishes? It is the martyr-spirit which Christ here insists upon. He is surely worthy of such self-sacrifice.
IV. WE MUST FORSAKE ALL AS A GROUND OF CONFIDENCE IF WE WOULD FOLLOW JESUS . (Verse 33.) Christ, having insisted on disposing of our lives as he pleases, next insists on disposing of our property. He comes in with his right to tell us, as he told the rich young ruler, that we must give up our all for his sake. Not, of course, that he exercises this right often. Voluntary poverty has been an exceptional way of serving him. But we may all show plainly that our property is his, and that, when Christ and our possessions come into competition, all must give way to him. If we prize property more than Jesus, then he is nothing to us. We must be ready to put him before everything which we have, and to sacrifice everything when he claims it from us. In this way we make Christ first and all in all.
V. THE WORLD NEEDS SUCH PRINCIPLES IN PRACTICE TO KEEP IT FROM CORRUPTION . (Verses 34, 35.) Were it not for the self-sacrifice of souls, the world would become utterly corrupt. Now, it is this heroic element which Christ's cause has par excellence supplied. Only by the martyr-band, whose pure self-sacrifice was unmistakable, has the world been kept from utter selfishness and corresponding corruption. It was mindful of this martyr-spirit which his gospel ensures, that Jesus told his servants they were "the salt of the earth" ( Matthew 5:13 ). Unless this wholesome antidote to natural selfishness be supplied, society must go to pieces. It cannot be built on selfishness. The economics which assume no higher ethical element than each man looking after himself, may give expression to tendencies; but they must be overpassed by realities if the world is to keep moderately sweet and habitable. £ But suppose that Christ's servants make a mere profession of self-sacrifice, and do not carry out the spirit of their Master, then they become but insipid salt, which can only be trodden underfoot of men on the highway, where nothing is meant to grow. In other words, the Christians who are not genuine are sure to be despised. They are trodden down by a world whom they have vainly tried to deceive. A false professor is the most contemptible of all men.—R.M.E.