The Cost of Discipleship
So likewise, whosever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.–Luke 14:33
These words of Jesus, as well as others by Him and by those whom He used as His mouthpieces, the Apostles, leave no room for doubt that the way of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, the way whereby any may obtain a place with Him in the heavenly inheritance was intended of God to be a very costly way—a way involving great sacrifice and self-denial so far as the present life is concerned. Not that one can actually purchase for himself a place in God’s Kingdom by enduring so much or by paying so much for it in the way of physical suffering or by the practice of self-denial. Something more important really than these is involved, and that is, complete and supreme loyalty to the will of God. It is only therefore inasmuch as the sacrifice, self-denial, and suffering are the result of the yielding of the heart to Him, of full consecration to Him that they are counted by God as of any value in His sight.
The Pearl of Great Price
Various parable uttered by our Lord are constantly calling our attention to the peculiar and difficult terms of becoming disciples of Christ and His royal Kingdom. The parable of the pearl of great price is amongst those that convey to the devout disciple an impressive message (Matt. 13:45, 46). In the days of our Savior pearls were represented amongst the most precious and most desirable jewels, and the larger and more nearly perfect the pearl, the greater its value. The parable represents one of the pearl merchants as coming across the finest pearl he had ever seen. He considered it so priceless that he was quite rejoiced to sell or trade all of his other pearls and property, that he might become the owner of that pearl.
This parable represents the Gospel offer of a place with Christ in His Kingdom as being superior to all other propositions in the world. The honor of the world, of name and fame, position and wealth, are truly desirable as the Scriptures say, “a good name is rather to be chosen that great riches;” but when our eyes behold the pearl of great price, the Kingdom offer of joint-heirship with our Lord Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom and the blessed association with Him in His ministry of service and love, which will mean the uplift and blessing of all the families of the earth, we realize that it is a priceless thing, worth more by far than all the honor and dignity, emoluments and treasures of the world. Those worthy to buy this pearl will gladly exchange all earthly things therefore—even their good name.
Cost of the Kingdom Pearl
Thus the Master virtually said that the pearl illustrated the value of the Kingdom with its glory, honor, and immortality, which He was inviting an elect company, a Little Flock, to share with him. Those who price it properly will show their appreciation by the amount they will be willing and glad to pay for it, whether a man be wealthy or poor, learned or ignorant, influential or otherwise, the cost of this Kingdom Pearl of great value will be his all. It cannot be had for less. The wealthiest or most educated person in the world could not obtain a share in that Kingdom if he kept back one single atom of his possession. The price of the Kingdom is self-sacrifice even unto death, and nothing less will secure it. Nor would any sacrifice that we could make secure a place in this Kingdom for us except as our sacrifice would first be made acceptable in God’s sight through the precious merit of our Redeemer’s sacrifice made at Calvary.
But besides and in addition to the sacrifice and self-denial involved in winning a place in the Kingdom of God, the “sufferings of Christ,” sufferings because of being a Christian, are represented as a most necessary condition and phase of discipleship. This was made prominent by our Lord when questioned respecting the occupying of positions very dear to Himself in the Kingdom, He said, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” His cup referred to represented the portion or dispensation of experience, trials, sorrows, misunderstandings and finally the humiliating death of the cross. The same thought is represented in His baptism which related to sacrifice, humiliation, and death. Our Lord was continually reiterating this line of thought, at times using one figure or parable or another to impress the lesson. He spoke of the cross and the necessity of bearing it after Him. He spoke of how His true disciples would be reviled, mistreated, and evilly spoken of, and added, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”
Because the Darkness Hateth the Light
According to the words of inspiration, the messages of our Lord and the Apostles, much of the suffering incidental to the Christian life comes as a result of the gross darkness that exists upon the earth and because the masses of mankind are groping blindly under the influence of the great Adversary. Under these circumstances, as Jesus explained, the darkness hateth the light, and therefore the various agencies of darkness have been generally active in obstructing the course and in making very difficult the pathway of the true children of light, the children of God.
As strange as it may seem, the purpose of God has really been served and advanced unwittingly by those who have been the cause of suffering to our Lord Jesus and His faithful followers: [It became Him,] says the Apostle, [for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.] In other words, development and refinement of character, proving and testing of character, the rounding out and ripening of character, are realized in connection with faithful submission to the will of God, to His providences, through experiences of distress and suffering. The trial of our faith as Christians is likened to the gold tried, refined, purified in the fire. And again we are instructed that suffering because we are Christians yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are rightly exercised thereby. All such learn to realize the sentiment set forth in beautiful verse:
Let sorrow do its work,
Send grief and pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers,
Sweet their refrain.
Our faith is greatly strengthened by considering the course of our Lord and noting the similarity between His experiences and those of His faithful followers. Both He and His Apostles were evilly treated and persecuted by their brethren of the Jewish household and faith. The entire Jewish nation professed to be God’s people and our Lord recognized them as His own, as it is written. (John 1:11). Again we have before us the strange paradox of those who have professed to be God’s chosen people, persecuting and rendering evil to their brethren, History shows that the majority of the persecutions and sufferings endured by Christians have come from those who professed to be the people of God, many of whom really thought they were.
Christ Left Us An Example
But the important consideration for the child of God is not so much who have been his persecutors or why professing brethren have persecuted him; rather the all-important question is, How is he receiving the persecution; and what spirit is he of, in the midst of his sufferings, and is he being properly exercised as he passes through these tribulations. Surely our Lord desires to see in His followers the disposition to triumph over the weaknesses and tendencies of the fallen condition and to follow in His steps. No one is properly able to do this in his own strength; therefore each one must fall back upon the Divine promise of grace provided, which is realized only in connection with the possession of a large measure of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of faith, of power, and of love.
Of the Savior it is written, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps. Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not” (1 Peter 2:21, 23.). It is evident that to be reviled is to be made to appear vile, to be evilly treated, slandered. The natural tendency of all is to resent injustice, to render evil for evil, to give as good as we get, and a little more, if possible. This is the inclination of the natural man and because all of the Lord’s people in the flesh still have the body marked with these natural proclivities, they are sure to realize more or less of a struggle in conserving the attitude of holiness and love that is dictated by the Holy Spirit. It was because our Lord Jesus was filled with the Spirit and thoroughly controlled by it that we find His entire course and conduct were the opposite of the spirit of reviling. No matter then how much we may be reviled, we are not to revile in return; no matter how much we are persecuted, we are not to persecute in return. This is undoubtedly the law of the New Creation, that they are to bless instead of to injure. This would signify that if the person who had done us injury became involved in difficulty and needed help, we should overlook altogether what wrong had been done to us, and be just as ready to render help to him as to any other person.
Your Brethren That Hated You
The spirit of the Lord’s people must not be anything else than the spirit of generosity and benevolence. they are to bless those who revile and persecute them by doing good and by explaining to them if possible the situation which evidently they have misunderstood. The true disciple is to bless his enemy by helping him if opportunity offers, out of darkness into light.
It behooves the Lord’s people to look with great sympathy upon those who may be their opponents and persecutors. We recall instances where persecution has been carried on with the thought that the persecutor was doing the will of God. Those who persecuted the Lord Jesus were to some degree ignorant of who he was, as the Apostle declared, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” St. Paul says, “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” And when Saul of Tarsus persecuted St. Stephen and others of the early Church, he verily thought that he did God a Service, as he afterward tells us.
The sufferings and persecutions of today are much the same kind as those endured by the faithful in the past; and they come from those who profess to be the Lord’s people. In harmony with this fact is the Scripture which says, “Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for My name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified; but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed” (Isa. 66:5). This statement applies also we believe to the members of the family of the one cast out, who are not in sympathy with a clear statement of the truth; that is to say, any persecutions coming from the members of one’s own family are frequently from those who profess to be Christians. And often their opposition is not for personal reasons, but on account of disagreement on some point which they do not see in the same light as the one whom they would cast out and injure. If those who do the disowning and casting out possessed more largely of the spirit of our Divine Master, they would show more tolerance, with them, especially on points that are really nonessential and do not constitute the foundation of the brotherhood in Christ.
Considering that we are living in the closing hour of the Age, it appears that our day has a peculiarity that other days have not had. The Divine Plan is now so beautiful that by its light it is very manifest that the masses are in darkness. As this is the time when God is concluding His work with the Church and preparing the last members for exaltation with Christ, the voice of God, the voice of conscience, the voice of enlightenment, calls His true faithful children out of every condition of bondage and confusion, calls them to be separate from everything that misrepresents God’s character, Plan and Word. But instead of feeling like bringing vengeance upon our enemies or those who would hinder, we should feel a compassionate sympathy for them—not with them, but for them. We should remember that with them it is very much as it was with the Jews in our Lord’s day and of others in the Apostolic period, who, had they known what they were doing, would have been very much ashamed of their course.
How Are We Bring Exercised Under Trials and Tests?
Our Lord’s warning that men [shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake] does not imply that those who malign the true Christian will say, [We do this to you for Christ’s sake, because you are one of His followers.] We have never heard of any one who was thus persecuted; and therefore such a course cannot be what our Lord meant. Evidently His meaning was that His followers, honorable, truthful, honest, possessing the spirit of a sound mind, like Himself, would be highly esteemed amongst the nominally religious were it not for their loyalty to the Word of God. Because of faithfully pointing out popular errors, because of fidelity to the Truth, they are hated by those who are still under the blinding influence of error.
These conditions and circumstances through which the disciples of Christ are passing are most certainly in the nature of a schooling, a test to them to prove whether they are willing to endure the terms of discipleship cheerfully, as a part of the cost of being associated with Christ. If, under the pressure of these trials and tests, they would render evil or revile in return, and slander and backbite, they would thus demonstrate their unfitness for a place in the Kingdom If, on the other hand, they receive these lessons with patience and long-suffering, they will develop more of the character-likeness of their Redeemer and thus become more worthy of a place with Him in the future glory.
Our Lord’s declaration, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” may very properly be applied to all those of His followers who are obediently heeding His teachings and who accordingly are cultivating His character-likeness. As salt is useful in arresting decomposition, so the influence of these faithful ones is preservative. This was evidently so in our Lord’s case. That influence is still manifest in the world where true Christians live. Even today, although the truly consistent, consecrated believers in the Great Redeemer are confessedly few in numbers, yet the soundness of the teachings of the Savior has a wide influence. In spite of it, of course, we see very corrupt influences at work everywhere; and the wider our horizon, the more general our information, the more we realize the truth of this statement that Christianity has had something of a beneficial and stabilizing effect upon humanity, even though it has not converted the world, as it was never intended for that purpose in this Age.
how truly comforting the Divine message which assures us that the Lord’s consecrated people belong so completely to Him that in all their afflictions He is afflicted. (Isa. 63:9) When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the early Church, our Lord called to him on the way to Damascus, “Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” And he said “Who art Thou, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Saul was not persecuting the glorified Savior directly; he was persecuting the followers of Jesus; but so near were these to their Master that what injury was done to them was considered by Him as done against His own person.
For Thy Sake are We Killed
Here then is the divine program for the Age, as summed up in the Apostolic teaching: As our Lord suffered in the flesh, so also will all those who are members of the Church, which is His Body. (Eph. 1:22, 23) St. Peter admonishes us to expect this, saying, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” It is the flesh, not the new creature that suffers. While we are suffering in the flesh, we are also being developed in the spirit, and the Holy Spirit existing largely in these, will in time enable them to sing cheerfully:
I fear no tribulation,
Since whatso’er it be,
It makes no separation
Between my Lord and me.
Since Thou, my Lord and Teacher,
Hast claimed me for Thine own,
E’en now with Thee I’m richer
Than monarch on his throne.
In Psalm 44:22 we read,[For Thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.] The Apostle Paul shows that this statement is a prophecy applicable to the entire membership of Christ, of whom our Lord Jesus is the Head. (Rom. 8:36) The day to which reference is made is the Gospel Day (2 Cor. 6:2), the great antitypical “better sacrifices” have been in process of offering up. They began with our Lord and continue with His Body, which is the Church.
In carefully examining and studying this subject we have seen that the real sacrificing began at the time of our Lord’s consecration, which was His full surrender of His life to God, to be used in any way that the Father saw fit and that His providence might direct. Those who are to be with Him in His Kingdom and compose His Bride, follow in His steps. Their consecration is their death to the world, to earthly hopes, human aims and ambitions. In our Lord’s case we see that His sacrificial death not only meant the giving away of His physical strength in healing, teaching, etc., but included also the suffering resulting from the opposition of those about Him. Even from members of His own family he experienced ostracism. Thus the Savior died daily.
Surely in proportion as we are faithful to our Heavenly Father, faithful in carrying out the terms of our covenant, our consecration, we shall have similar experiences. Faithfulness to our covenant of sacrifice will bring upon us opposition from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Often our distressing experiences will come as a result of the treatment received from professing brethren who are not developed sufficiently to appreciate matters from the true and proper spiritual standpoint. The great Apostle, in speaking of His own case, said that he was dying daily. This statement is applicable to all who are laying down their lives in the Lord’s service. Sometimes it is by the expenditure of physical strength; sometimes it is by an evil, unkind word from some one who is disposed to hurt and injure his fellow brethren with his tongue. In the picture in ancient times this kind of experience we believe is represented by the burning of the flesh outside the camp, a place which represents the outcast’s condition. Thus the faithful servants of the Lord are sure to experience ostracism by the worldly-minded, as out Lord foretold. Their attitude of full consecration to the Father’s will is not appreciated; for to the world it seems foolish. True disciples of Christ, by their holy conduct, are constantly reproving others around them, as our Lord said, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
The great and all-important consideration with all the Lord’s people is, We have a baptism to be baptized with and how are we straitened, how much difficulty we are in, until it be accomplished. To be faithful unto death is a part of the covenant of sacrifice. In some instances death may come early, in others it may come late. One of the early Church, St. Stephen, was faithful unto death, which came early in his Christian experience. St. Peter was also faithful, but met his death after a long lifetime. The promise to the overcome is “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).