Discipleship in an Evil Day
Address given at High Leigh, July 28th, 1924 on Luke 14:25-33
The word “Disciple” is a far more serious word than we have been accustomed to think: indeed, it is a word that has considerably dropped out of our vocabulary, or if used, it is in a very loose and general way.
One feels considerable diffidence in approaching a subject like this on account of the feeling of how far short one falls of the Divine standard of true discipleship. Though we may well feel humbled, we need not be disheartened.
What serious-minded boy would cease to appreciate and speak of the high standard of the headline of his copy book, because his attempt to copy it had been such an ignominious failure? Let us never give up a perfect object because of our imperfect attainments. In this case let us look again at this headline—the marks of true discipleship—and seek more ardently fresh grace to reproduce them daily.
Its General Application
The word “disciple” is derived from the Latin word “discipulus,” meaning scholar, learner, or follower. The word itself is not altogether a New Testament word, for we find it once in the Old Testament (Isa. 8:16); nor is the term limited to Scripture, it is applied also to Arts and Science. It conveys the idea of a school of thought, or design, initiated by some master mind, as for instance in Art, we speak of a Raphael, a Rembrandt, a Turner, each standing for some special school of painting. Others charmed and fascinated by them become their disciples or followers, and set themselves to catch the master’s spirit, follow his ideals, his methods of colour and design, and presently, you may recognize the traits of these masters shown in the productions of their disciples: in fact, to use a Scriptural expression in connection with discipleship, they “become as their Master” (Matt. 10:5). They come not into their discipleship by compulsion, they are lured into that path by their admiration for His lofty ideals and tastes, till they reproduce in their own works the traits of their distinguished Master.
I believe that is the only way by which we become “disciples indeed” of our beloved and illustrious Master. It is our response to His love to us and a Divinely begotten appreciation of His own personal charm and excellency, that will put us into His school and into the pathway of true discipleship. How often we have sung together—
“Oh tell us often of Thy love,
Of all Thy grief and pain,
That we may in some small degree
Return Thy love again.”
Now discipleship is just the way, the special way, by which we may “return His love again.” It is not the result of legal compellings, but by a sweet constraint—“The love of Christ constraineth us.”
In view of this it is not surprising that it is Luke, the great apostle of grace, that should be the one to write the conditions of discipleship, nor is it surprising that these conditions are given immediately after the parable of the great supper of grace in Luke 14, for such grace should naturally produce disciples. Grace is the character His love takes in its activities towards us, so utterly undeserving; Discipleship is the character our love takes in its activities towards Him, so altogether deserving.
Grace in its display cost Him. Discipleship in its display will cost us.
“Oh! let us freely count
Whate’er we have but loss,
The dearest object of our love
Compared with Thee but dross.”
Alas! our natural proclivity is to take the path of the least resistance. Under the circumstances of Revelation 14 there will be no difficulty to “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” The difficulty is here and now.
Conditions of Discipleship
It is Luke alone that gives the absolute conditions—the sine qua non of discipleship. May I use the academical term “Matriculation” to illustrate what I mean? To matriculate is to obtain the right or privilege to enter some university or school of learning, with a view to becoming a graduate or member of that school. Luke states the very sweeping terms that must be satisfied if we would enter the list of graduates or become “disciples indeed.”
We may see from Luke, too, that we might perhaps be more consistently called believers or Christians rather than disciples. Compare Luke 14:26 with John 6:37. Luke begins thus: “If any man come to Me”—Pause there and ask yourself what will happen to such a man? John will answer the question. “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out,” that means Christ will receive any such. What music have these few words made in the ears of many a poor sinner! To come to Him is to believe on Him, and to believe on Him is to be saved, to be forgiven, to be what is called a Christian, and as such to receive every Christian blessing that grace makes available to us.
Now let us read Luke 14:26 a little further. “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother . . yea and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple,” not he cannot be saved, cannot be a Christian, but cannot be My disciple, We are not called upon to do anything to be saved, but we are called upon to do very serious things if we are to be His disciples. Luke gives the Matriculation test, John on the other hand the distinguishing marks of the Graduate in that school (see John 8:31; 13:35; 15:8), Matthew introduces to the Master who invites into His school, saying, “Learn of Me, I am meek and lowly in heart”—I will be your teacher and lesson-book. Then again, it is well to note that there is progress in discipleship, but not in salvation, “It is enough that the disciple shall be—become—as His Master” (Matt. 10:25). Now while these terms are different in their conception, it was never the Divine mind that a Christian should ever be anything less than a disciple. This should be a very serious consideration for us.
It is easy enough to sing with exuberance “Where He leads I will follow,” but we need to observe that it requires more than exuberance of spirit to take that path. We often hear it said that “One volunteer is worth ten pressed men,” yet it is to be noticed that it was the volunteers that broke down so signally.
Peter said, “I am ready to go with Thee into prison and to death,” and before the night was out he had declared that he did not know Him!
Thomas said, “Let us also go that we may die with Him” (John 11:16), but he was found later in the company of the disciples who all forsook Him and fled.
One came to Him and said, “I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest,” but the Lord said tacitly, “First follow that bird and that fox, and at the end of the day you will find they have a place of rest, but I have not where to lay My head.” We hear no more of that would-be disciple. He failed in his matriculation.
Another said, “I will follow Thee . . . but let me first bid farewell to them at home,” and we hear no more about him. He failed to matriculate. He did not put first things first. He must learn that “ME FIRST” is not the feature of true discipleship, but rather “Him first, Him last, Him all day long”!
Why is the pathway of discipleship so thorny and difficult? Because it was so for the Master. He was “disallowed indeed of men,” and the disciple is not greater than his Master. You must be prepared to be disallowed of men, not perhaps by the rack, the fire and the sword, as were our illustrious predecessors, but by being “cut” by your friends, and maybe by your Christian friends too; to be left out of their circle of friendship, snubbed and sneered at, and in a thousand ways share His rejection. The personal charm and the constraining influence of the love of Christ alone can take us and keep us in the pathway of discipleship in an evil day.
You remember that historic figure in Scottish history, “Bonny Prince Charlie”! The story is told of one who had made up his mind to see him and try and influence him to pursue another course. One who knew him said, “Don’t go near him! for if once you look upon him you will do everything he wants you to do.”
Is there not enough in our Master to charm us into His path even if it is a thorny one? The one who wrote these lines knew something of Him:—
“But ah! the Master is so fair,
His smile so sweet to banished men,
That those who meet Him unaware
Can never rest on earth again.”
Referring again to Luke 14:26. It may be asked, “How is it that I am told to hate those whom Scripture tells me to honour?” Love and hatred are comparative terms. It does not mean that I am actually to hate my parents. What I really hate I turn away from as being intolerable to me; that is, anything that would stand between me and my Master must be turned away from as I should turn away from the thing that I loathed, no more to be allowed than a thing that I detested.
A dear Scotch friend of mine was talking to a relative about his desire to tread the pathway of discipleship, but his mother was so strongly against it. Her reply was, “If I kenned the truth as you ken it, I wouldna let my ain mither stand in my way, I would burn for it first.” That is the material of which “disciples indeed” are made. May the Lord give us something of that spirit.
You remember in Peter’s own history in Matthew 16, there came a moment when the Lord could say to him that he had been highly favoured by His Father in having this special revelation as to His Person, then a few verses lower down He turned to him and said, “Get thee behind me, Satan”! Why this sudden change?
It looked as if Peter had become an object as much to be loathed as Satan! Peter had only made a human remark when the Lord had told them He was to go to Jerusalem to suffer and to be killed. Peter feelingly remarked, “Pity Thyself, this shall not be to Thee.” The Lord recognized in that remark an effort of Satan to seduce Him from the path of obedience, and hence he turned from Peter who for the moment He saw had become a tool of Satan to that end. He did not love Peter personally the less.
Again it says, “Hateth his own life also.” Yes, the thing that I love best—my own life—must not be allowed to hinder my following Christ. We read of some in the Revelation “Who loved not their lives unto death.” All this must be faced, for the world will never change its judgment of Christ. Its opposition may change in character, but its nature never.
“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). To deny self is practically to put self in the place of death. The original word which our Bible translates deny is a very strong one, it is a word from which we get our word “suicide.” Self denial is not merely denying certain things to self, and thus practically recognizing, though curbing it. Self does not mind a self denial week, or the curb of a Lenten six weeks, so long as it can get the rein again at Easter.
When Peter denied the Lord he did not deny certain things to the Lord, he disowned Him altogether, as having no sort of link with Him, “cut” Him as you would “cut” a person in the street that you did not want to recognize. This is what discipleship calls for in connection with self. It does not mean “Some of self and some of Thee, nor even less of self and more of Thee, but none of self and all of Thee.”
It also says, “Take up his cross daily.” What may that mean? The cross is not every difficulty we may find in our pathway. One says, “I have a heavy cross to bear in a weak and sickly wife.” Another, “What a heavy cross I have to carry in having no work!” Remember unconverted people get those trials too. The cross is what I am made to suffer because follow a rejected Christ, and that kind of suffering I shall find daily, and my love to Christ will lead me not to shun it, but to take it up daily for His sake. “They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Happy disciples indeed!
Counting the Cost
Turning again to Luke 14 we find the Master preparing His disciples for following, not in the paths of glory, but in an evil day into a path that will lead to glory. He speaks of counting the cost, building a tower, and making war. His disciples were to be left in a hostile country, and must be prepared to take the offensive as well as be on the defensive. Building a tower is being on the defensive. But does not the building of a tower make you an object of attack? Surely: but it is your defence too. A person who makes a bold, bright, conspicuous stand for Christ is not subjected to so many tempting worldly invitations that half-hearted person would get and probably surrender to.
In counting the cost, the Lord would have us understand that we must not merely calculate the odds against us, but also that which is for us. To leave the Lord out is not the proper way of counting the cost any more than a person who calculates he cannot carry out a building scheme because he has not enough in his purse to do it, and forgets that he has a big banking account.
The record given of the twelve spies that went to spy out the land of Canaan furnishes illustration of these two things.
Ten came back and said “we are not able,” but the two said, “Let us go up at once, . . . for we are well able” (Num. 13:30). What made the difference? The ten measured themselves against the foe, and the two measured the foe against God. If we raise the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” our reply must be, “Our sufficiency is of God.”
It is true the fullest compensation will only be received in the kingdom, but it is not all loss here. Luke 18:30 tells us that the gain is “manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.”
Discipleship may mean that we have to leave all to follow Him; but it is leaving it as far as holding it for ourselves is concerned, as we sometimes sing—
“Nought that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver.
My heart, my soul, my life, my all
Are His, and His for ever.”
May the Lord grant us a deeper desire not merely to be recognized professing Christians, but such that He may pronounce as “disciples indeed.”