Abstract of a Sermon Preached on February 23, 2000
I intend to speak to you tonight on the terms of discipleship. There is scarcely anything more important than this in the present day. I once thought the way to convict men of sin was to preach repentance, but long experience has taught me another thing. I have found that in knocking on doors to preach the gospel, I may preach repentance in the strongest terms, and every Roman Catholic, and every Pharisee of every description, will agree with every word I say, though they are obviously ungodly. But as soon as I begin to preach discipleship, they balk, and begin to argue. The terms of discipleship convict them of their actual condition, as it seems nothing else will do.
Now I believe that the terms of discipleship are the terms of salvation, though I will probably be called a heretic for affirming it. I have been called a heretic often enough, by the preachers of the antinomian gospel. All such preachers will tell you that the terms of discipleship cannot be the terms of salvation, and I know some who contend that they are standing against antinomianism, who yet contend that the terms of discipleship and the terms of salvation are not the same. To be a disciple of Christ, they will tell you, costs you all that you have, while to be a Christian costs you nothing. I used to preach the very same doctrine myself, more than thirty years ago, when I knew but little, and thought I knew a great deal.
Before I proceed to the terms of discipleship, then, I aim to prove that a disciple and a Christian are the same thing. This in fact is so obvious in the Bible that it really doesn't need any proof—-never would have been questioned but for antinomian theology—-but the Spirit of God is all-wise, and he has left us a direct proof of the matter in Acts 11:26. “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” First in Antioch, and afterwards everywhere. The disciples, then, are Christians—-and so the Christians disciples. Do you think that men saw a congregation of 500 unholy, antinomian believers, with half a dozen committed disciples among them, and gave the name Christian to the half dozen? What did they call the rest? Such a notion needs no refutation. The obvious fact is, they called the whole church Christians, and the corollary is, they were all disciples.
The great commission teaches us the same thing. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The word “teach” here is maqhteuw, which means intransitively, to be a disciple, and transitively to make a disciple of, or to teach. The second of these meanings is the only one allowable here. Modern Evangelicalism has determined that “discipling” is something we do to those who are Christians already, but the great commission overturns such a notion. The “teaching” which the Lord speaks of comes before baptism, and no one would dream that we are to merely teach these Gentiles, and then baptize them, without converting them. To “teach” them means to convert them. It means to make Christians of them. And the word by which the Lord enjoins this means to make disciples of them. We are to make disciples of them, and then baptize them. Again there is but one conclusion. A disciple and a Christian are the same thing. And if so, the terms of discipleship are the terms of salvation.
I proceed then to the terms of discipleship. In Luke 14:25-27 the Lord says, “And there went great multitudes with him, and he turned, and said unto them, If any man 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.”
For years I have contended that love is an emotion, and I strongly oppose the hyperspiritual notion that “love is a choice,” or “love is a decision.” Love belongs to the soul, not the spirit. It is something we feel, not something we do. Nevertheless, when the Bible speaks of love and hate in the spiritual sphere, I believe it does belong to the spirit, and it is a choice. It may be that in the spiritual realm the terms “love” and “hate” are used figuratively, but explain that however you will, I contend that when the Lord requires you to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and your own life also, he is not talking about any emotional aversion. I prove this three ways:
First, to hate father and mother, wife and children, or brothers and sisters, in an emotional sense would be sinful.
Next, to hate your own life in an emotional sense is impossible.
And finally, the first principle of discipleship is self-denial—-”If any man will come after me, let him deny himself”—-and there is no self-denial in giving up what we dislike, or have any kind of aversion to. It is no self-denial to give up pickled okra, if we hate it anyway. Chocolate is another matter.
To hate father and mother, then, means to renounce them, in spite of the fact that you love them. So of wife and children, brothers and sisters, and your own life also. Here is the real crux of the matter. This cannot mean that you hate your own life in an emotional sense, nor that you cease to care and provide for your own life. It does mean, however, that you renounce all its claims, and lay it all on the altar of sacrifice. Whatever you may put the word “my” in front of is your life. My position, my possessions, my plans, my pleasures, my pastimes, my ambitions, my family, my friends—-all this makes up my life, and all this I must renounce to be Christ's disciple.
Then I must take up my cross, and follow him. I need say but little about this. A cross never existed but for one purpose. When Christ took up his cross, this was not to bear it about his whole life, in order that he might be burdened and miserable. It was to die. When he took up his cross, it was to bear it out to Calvary to die, and he requires you to take up your cross for the same purpose. This is death to self. This is hating your own life also, and without this you cannot be a disciple of Christ.
Now the Lord continues, and says, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it.” So likewise of the king going out to battle. Remember, the Lord spoke these things to the “great multitudes” which followed him. It was his purpose to teach them what it meant to follow him, and to move them to count the cost. He lays down, therefore, the most stringent conditions, and three times reiterates that, except by these hard conditions, we cannot be his disciples. Having moved us thus to count the cost, he plainly indicates once more what that cost is. “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
The most of our modern preachers will tell us that this has nothing to do with salvation, but how they can do so with a clear conscience is a great mystery. If it be a question of forsaking all, the Bible says, “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.” And, as another gospel adds, “What shall we have therefore?” “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:28-30). If this is not salvation, what is it?
Again, if it be a question of hating our life, the Lord plainly says, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (John 12:25). And again, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matt. 16:25-26). If this is not salvation, what is it? Anybody who can make these scriptures refer to anything but eternal life, and the salvation of the soul, ought to hang his head for shame. He is not an honest man.
Now understand, the Lord requires all this of us precisely because it is right and reasonable. We have no rights. We are sinners—-criminals—-and have forfeited all our rights. We have made our plans without consulting the will of God. Acquired our possessions, made our friends, sought our pleasures, assumed our position, built our fortune, feathered our nest just as we pleased, without ever troubling ourselves about the will of God. Now God comes to us and says, You have no right to any of it. Forsake it all. Hate it all. Take up your cross. Die to self, follow Christ, and do the will of God.
This is plainly what Christ requires of us, or we cannot be his disciples. But how to go about this may not be so clear. It is plain enough that he speaks (for lack of a better term) figuratively. He certainly does not mean literally to forsake all that we have. If we forsook the clothes on our backs, and went naked, this would be sinful. If we forsook the means of our livelihood, and so ceased to provide for our families, this would be sinful. The Lord cannot mean to literally part with all that we have. I realize that the carnal will abuse this fact to the point that they forsake nothing. I am sorry for them, but I cannot conceal the truth because some will abuse it, and the truth is, we are not called upon literally to forsake strictly all that we have.
What then does he mean? I believe he means to forsake all in our hearts and minds, to lay all on the altar of sacrifice, to place all that we have at his disposal, to reserve no rights to anything, to withhold nothing from his control. The best illustration I can find of this is in the book of Exodus. Israel must be delivered not only from the stroke of the death angel, by the blood of the passover lamb, but also from the bondage of Egypt. This was their salvation, and this is the type of ours. But when God sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message “Let my people go,” Pharaoh refused. God therefore sent his plagues after his messenger. Feeling those plagues, Pharaoh began to propose various compromises to Moses. “Go now ye that are men,” but leave your little ones in Egypt. “Go not very far away.” Leave as it were one foot in Egypt. Moses rejected all these compromises, and God sent more of his plagues.
Pharaoh proposes another compromise. “Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you.” Moses rejects this also, saying, “Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the LORD our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD, until we come thither.” In other words, we must place all that we have at the Lord's disposal. We know not what he shall require of us in the wilderness pathway. Therefore we dare not leave one hoof behind. All that we have must be laid on the altar. All that we have must be placed at the Lord's disposal. We reserve no rights. We withhold nothing.
But at this point ten thousand of our modern preachers will step forth to decry this doctrine as some grave heresy, because, they will tell us, we are to be saved by faith. Yes! Yes! Exactly! And I tell you, Salvation by faith is precisely what I am preaching, and salvation by faith is precisely what they deny. It is precisely faith which yields its all to the hands of God, and trusts him to deal rightly, reasonably, and mercifully with us. But these men preach salvation by unbelief, and call it faith. What sort of faith is this which clings to that which God forbids? This is that faith which refuses to trust its happiness in the hands of God, which supposes itself better able or more willing to secure its own welfare than God is. This is that faith which reckons God so hard a master that to obey him will lead to misery, and the devil so good, that to hearken to him will secure my bliss. This was the faith of Eve in the garden of Eden, while she eyed and fondled the forbidden fruit, and chose to sink her guilty teeth into its juicy pulp. This is the faith which says, God cares nothing for my happiness, for he withholds from me the very thing which is essential for my well-being. The devil and I!—-we know how to make me happy. God cares nothing that I remain unsatisfied—-thirsting, pining, longing, craving. The devil and I!—-we know how to secure my fulfilment. God suppresses me. He holds me back. The devil will exalt me. God gives me prohibitions and threats. The devil gives me sweet promises. God says, “Ye shall surely die”—-if we but indulge in that which he knows very well is necessary for our advancement, our fulfilment, our happiness. The devil says, “Ye shall not surely die,” and freely gives us what God withholds. God denies me what my nature craves, and requires me to deny myself. The devil freely offers me what I want. Therefore I distrust God and trust the devil. Therefore I disregard the command of God, and act on the promise of the devil. Therefore I disobey God, and follow the devil. And all this is called salvation by faith. This is the faith by which Eve fell, being actual unbelief in both the love and the holiness of God, actual unbelief in both the goodness and severity of God—-a faith that “ye shall not surely die,” though ye trust the devil more than God, and have more confidence in your own will and way than in the will and way of God—-and by this faith men now think to be saved.
This is that faith which refuses to forsake all for Christ. It consists of a belief in the head of a few facts of the gospel, coupled with an equal belief in the devil's lie, “Ye shall not surely die,” though ye sin to your heart's content—-and all this tacked on to a heart full of distrust in the Almighty, and an actual heart-confidence that the ways of the devil are better than the ways of God, that sin is better than holiness, disobedience better than obedience, and that the world, the flesh, and the devil are either more able or more willing to secure my happiness than God is. And by such faith as this men think to be saved! Was ever delusion more complete?
True faith actually trusts God, and therefore lays its all upon the altar, entrusting its safety and its happiness into the hands of the God it trusts. It is precisely the faith of the Bible which forsakes all for Christ. It is the faith of the Bible which says, “Not an hoof shall be left behind.” I lay all upon the altar of sacrifice. I place all that I have at his disposal. I make no bargains with God, but trust in him who says, “Whatsoever is right I will give you.”—-expecting him to give me better than I deserve, and better than I can procure for myself. I go out, therefore, as Abraham did, not knowing whither I go, nor what awaits me. I know not what the Lord shall require of me in the wilderness pathway, but I trust him, believing that his every demand will be for my own best interest, and for my ultimate happiness. I therefore reserve nothing for myself, though I know full well how painful it will be to part with those things to which my heart is attached. That sort of faith which refuses this submission to Christ, which withholds from him what he asks, which clings to its own plans and provisions for its own happiness, is no faith at all, but precisely unbelief.
We do not believe that God requires perfect faith of us, but he requires real faith. We know that Christ sometimes called his disciples “ye of little faith,” but we know also that long ere this they had exercised a faith which actually forsook all and followed him. This is not some lofty pinnacle of faith, but only its beginning. This was the beginning of Abraham's faith, when by faith he obeyed, and went out, forsaking all that he had, for he trusted God to give him better. But if we so far distrust him as to refuse to yield up our all to him—-treat him as though he were a hard master or a robber for demanding it—-consider ourselves better able to secure our own welfare than he is—-how can we be said to trust him? This is not faith at all, but unbelief.