See how Christ in his doctrine suited himself to those to whom he spoke, and gave every one his portion of meat. To Pharisees he preached humility and charity. He is in these verses directing his discourse to the multitudes that crowded after him, and seemed zealous in following him; and his exhortation to them is to understand the terms of discipleship, before they undertook the profession of it, and to consider what they did. See here,
I. How zealous people were in their attendance on Christ (Luke 14:25): There went great multitudes with him, many for love and more for company, for where there are many there will be more. Here was a mixed multitude, like that which went with Israel out of Egypt; such we must expect there will always be in the church, and it will therefore be necessary that ministers should carefully separate between the precious and the vile.
II. How considerate he would have them to be in their zeal. Those that undertake to follow Christ must count upon the worst, and prepare accordingly.
1. He tells them what the worst is that they must count upon, much the same with what he had gone through before them and for them. He takes it for granted that they had a mind to be his disciples, that they might be qualified for preferment in his kingdom. They expected that he should say, “If any man come to me, and be my disciple, he shall have wealth and honour in abundance; let me alone to make him a great man.” But he tells them quite the contrary.
(1.) They must be willing to quit that which was very dear, and therefore must come to him thoroughly weaned from all their creature-comforts, and dead to them, so as cheerfully to part with them rather than quit their interest in Christ, Luke 14:26. A man cannot be Christ’s disciple but he must hate father, and mother, and his own life. He is not sincere, he will be constant and persevering, unless he love Christ better than any thing in this world, and be willing to part with that which he may and must leave, either as a sacrifice, when Christ may be glorified by our parting with it (so the martyrs, who loved not their lives to death), or as a temptation, when by our parting with it we are put into a better capacity of serving Christ. Thus Abraham parted with his own country, and Moses with Pharaoh’s court. Mention is not made here of houses and lands; philosophy will teach a man to look upon these with contempt; but Christianity carries it higher. [1.] Every good man loves his relations; and yet, if he be a disciple of Christ, he must comparatively hate them, must love them less than Christ, as Leah is said to be hated when Rachel was better loved. Not that their persons must be in any degree hated, but our comfort and satisfaction in them must be lost and swallowed up in our love to Christ, as Levi’s was, when he said to his father, I have not seen him, Deut. 33:9. When our duty to our parents comes in competition with our evident duty to Christ, we must give Christ the preference. If we must either deny Christ or be banished from our families and relations (as many of the primitive Christians were), we must rather lose their society than his favour. [2.] Every man loves his own life, no man ever yet hated it; and we cannot be Christ’s disciples if we do not love him better than our own lives, so as rather to have our lives embittered by cruel bondage, nay, and taken away by cruel deaths, than to dishonour Christ, or depart from any of his truths and ways. The experience of the pleasures of the spiritual life, and the believing hopes and prospects of eternal life, will make this hard saying easy. When tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, then chiefly the trial is, whether we love better, Christ or our relations and lives; yet even in the days of peace this matter is sometimes brought to the trial. Those that decline the service of Christ, and opportunities of converse with him, and are ashamed to confess him, for fear of disobliging a relation or friend, or losing a customer, give cause to suspect that they love him better than Christ.
(2.) That they must be willing to bear that which was very heavy (Luke 14:27): Whosoever doth not bear his cross, as those did that were condemned to be crucified, in submission to the sentence and in expectation of the execution of it, and so come after me whithersoever I shall lead him, he cannot be my disciple; that is (says Dr. Hammond), he is not for my turn; and my service, being so sure to bring persecution along with it, will not be for his. Though the disciples of Christ are not all crucified, yet they all bear their cross, as if they counted upon being crucified. They must be content to be put into an ill name, and to be loaded with infamy and disgrace; for no name is more ignominious than Furcifer—the bearer of the gibbet. He must bear his cross, and come after Christ; that is, he must bear it in the way of his duty, whenever it lies in that way. He must bear it when Christ calls him to it, and in bearing it he must have an eye to Christ, and fetch encouragements from him, and live in hope of a recompence with him.
2. He bids them count upon it, and then consider of it. Since he has been so just to us as to tell us plainly what difficulties we shall meet with in following him, let us be so just to ourselves as to weigh the matter seriously before we take upon us a profession of religion. Joshua obliged the people to consider what they did when they promised to serve the Lord, Josh. 24:19. It is better never to begin than not to proceed; and therefore before we begin we must consider what it is to proceed. This is to act rationally, and as becomes men, and as we do in other cases. The cause of Christ will bear a scrutiny. Satan shows the best, but hides the worst, because his best will not counter-vail his worst; but Christ’s will abundantly. This considering of the case is necessary to perseverance, especially in suffering times. Our Saviour here illustrates the necessity of it by two similitudes, the former showing that we must consider the expenses of our religion, the latter that we must consider the perils of it.
(1.) When we take upon us a profession of religion we are like a man that undertakes to build a tower, and therefore must consider the expense of it (Luke 14:28-30): Which of you, intending to build a tower or stately house for himself, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost? and he must be sure to count upon a great deal more than his workmen will tell him it will cost. Let him compare the charge with his purse, lest he make himself to be laughed at, by beginning to build what he is not able to finish. Note, [1.] All that take upon them a profession of religion undertake to build a tower, not as the tower of Babel, in opposition to Heaven, which therefore was left unfinished, but in obedience to Heaven, which therefore shall have its top-stone brought forth. Begin low, and lay the foundation deep, lay it on the rock, and make sure work, and then aim as high as heaven. [2.] Those that intend to build this tower must sit down and count the cost. Let them consider that it will cost them the mortifying of their sins, even the most beloved lusts; it will cost them a life of self-denial and watchfulness, and a constant course of holy duties; it may, perhaps, cost them their reputation among men, their estates and liberties, and all that is dear to them in this world, even life itself. And if it should cost us all this, what is it in comparison with what it cost Christ to purchase the advantages of religion for us, which come to us without money and without price? [3.] Many that begin to build this tower do not go on with it, nor persevere in it, and it is their folly; they have not courage and resolution, have not a rooted fixed principle, and so bring nothing to pass. It is true, we have none of us in ourselves sufficient to finish this tower, but Christ hath said, My grace is sufficient for thee, and that grace shall not be wanting to any of us, if we seek for it and make use of it. [4.] Nothing is more shameful than for those that have begun well in religion to break off; every one will justly mock him, as having lost all his labour hitherto for want of perseverance. We lose the things we have wrought (2 John 1:8), and all we have done and suffered is in vain, Gal. 3:4.
(2.) When we undertake to be Christ’s disciples we are like a man that goes to war, and therefore must consider the hazard of it, and the difficulties that are to be encountered, Luke 14:31, 32. A king that declares war against a neighbouring prince considers whether he has strength wherewith to make his part good, and, if not, he will lay aside his thoughts of war. Note, [1.] The state of a Christian in this world is a military state. Isa. not the Christian life a warfare? We have many passes in our way, that must be disputed with dint of sword; nay, we must fight every step we go, so restless are our spiritual enemies in their opposition. [2.] We ought to consider whether we can endure the hardness which a good soldier of Jesus Christ must expect and count upon, before we enlist ourselves under Christ’s banner; whether we are able to encounter the forces of hell and earth, which come against us twenty thousand strong. [3.] Of the two it is better to make the best terms we can with the world than pretend to renounce it and afterwards, when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, to return to it. That young man that could not find in his heart to part with his possessions for Christ did better to go away from Christ sorrowing than to have staid with him dissembling.
This parable is another way applicable, and may be taken as designed to teach us to begin speedily to be religious, rather than to begin cautiously; and may mean the same with Matt. 5:25; Agree with thine adversary quickly. Note, First, Those that persist in sin make war against God, the most unnatural, unjustifiable war; they rebel against their lawful sovereign, whose government is perfectly just and good. Secondly, The proudest and most daring sinner is no equal match for God; the disproportion of strength is much greater than that here supposed between ten thousand and twenty thousand. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? No, surely; who knows the power of his anger? In consideration of this, it is our interest to make peace with him. We need not send to desire conditions of peace; they are offered to us, and are unexceptionable, and highly to our advantage. Let us acquaint ourselves with them, and be at peace; do this in time, while the other is yet a great way off; for delays in such a case are highly dangerous, and make after-applications difficult.
But the application of this parable here (Luke 14:33) is to the consideration that ought to be exercised when we take upon us a profession of religion. Solomon saith, With good advice make war (Prov. 20:18); for he that draws the sword throws away the scabbard; so with good advice enter upon a profession of religion, as those that know that except you forsake all you have you cannot be Christ’s disciples; that is, except you count upon forsaking all and consent to it, for all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution, and yet continue to live godly.
3. He warns them against apostasy and a degeneracy of mind from the truly Christian spirit and temper, for that would make them utterly useless, Luke 14:34, 35. (1.) Good Christians are the salt of the earth, and good ministers especially (Matt. 5:13); and this salt is good and of great use; by their instructions and examples they season all they converse with, to keep them from putrefying, and to quicken them, and make them savoury. (2.) Degenerate Christians, who, rather than part with what they have in the world, will throw up their profession, and then of course become carnal, and worldly, and wholly destitute of a Christian spirit, are like salt that has lost its savour, like that which the chemists call the caput mortuum, that has all its salts drawn from it, that is the most useless worthless thing in the world; it has no manner of virtue or good property in it. [1.] It can never be recovered: Wherewith shall it be seasoned? You cannot salt it. This intimates that it is extremely difficult, and next to impossible, to recover an apostate, Heb. 6:4-6. If Christianity will not prevail to cure men of their worldliness and sensuality, if that remedy has been tried in vain, their ease must even be concluded desperate. [2.] It is of no use. It is not fit, as dung is, for the land, to manure that, nor will it be the better if it be laid in the dunghill to rot; there is nothing to be got out of it. A professor of religion whose mind and manners are depraved is the most insipid animal that can be. If he speaks of the things of God, of which he has had some knowledge, it is so awkwardly that none are the better for it: it is a parable in the mouth of a fool. [3.] It is abandoned: Men cast it out, as that which they will have no more to do with. Such scandalous professors ought to be cast out of the church, not only because they have forfeited all the honours and privileges of their church-membership, but because there is danger that others will be infected by them. Our Saviour concludes this with a call to all to take notice of it, and to take warning: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Now can the faculty of hearing be better employed than in attending to the word of Christ, and particularly to the alarms he has given us of the danger we are in of apostasy, and the danger we run ourselves into by apostasy?